There’s a big Disney billboard on the corner of Franklin and Highland. I pass that billboard all the time and I’ve never seen it advertise anything that isn’t a Disney movie. I guess Disney owns that billboard? Or has a long-term deal with whatever company leases it out? I’ve noticed a few other themed billboards in this city — such as the always CBS billboard on the corner of Fairfax and Beverly or the electronic Showtime billboard I pass when I walk down Santa Monica — and they give me hope that some Hollywood marriages last.
My birthday is two weeks from today. I’m turning 28. This is the State of Raphael at 27.
Navel, start gazing!
I’ve lived in LA long enough now that I find mildly overcast days to be oppressively saddening, but not so long that I’m unaware of the ridiculousness of that fact and not so long that I’m not a little bit embarrassed by it. In about a month I’ll have not lived in Brooklyn for three years, which is as long as I lived in Brooklyn. I like LA. It’s been good to me. But part of me still thinks of myself as a transplanted New Yorker, even though I never once felt like a New Yorker when I lived in New York. Maybe I will always to some extent feel like a visitor, even if I live the rest of my life here.
I can tell that other people here see me as a New Yorker, by which I mean they see me as an intellectual, by which I mean they see me as not one of The Beautiful People. I was reminded of this yet again when Emily got me a pair of tickets to the MTV Movie Awards earlier this summer. It was pretty much wall-to-wall Beautiful People. “Everyone here looks exactly the same,” said Caroline. “I don’t mean they’re all attractive. I mean they all look exactly the same.” At one point, while waiting in line, a woman turned to us and said, “Oh, thank God. I was beginning to think I was the only person here over 35.”
I said, “Yeah, ha ha, okay.”
Charlie Sheen was a presenter at the MTV Movie Awards, and the crowd loved him, just as they loved Chris Brown at the VMAs ten months earlier. The house went crazy for Charlie, applauding every reference to his wild bad boy persona, drowning out my drunken shouts of “You’re a horrible human being!” and “You hit women!”
I chose to think it was The Beautiful People who were cheering for Charlie Sheen, just as I choose to think The Beautiful People are responsible for many of the world’s problems. They’re fundamentally empty, these Beautiful People (I grumble bitterly to myself) because they’re allowed to be so why wouldn’t they be?
My thick-framed glasses and perma-scowl are statements of allegiance to my not-Beautiful team. My crooked teeth and barely concealed receding hairline — people on both sides know what these things mean. I am guiltier than anyone of drawing these lines in the sand between the Tias and the Tameras, of fetishizing my own sophisticated ugliness. It was “over 30” the woman said at the MTV Movie Awards, not 35. But it’s a better story if it’s 35.
I tend to think of my body in similar terms as my car. It gets me places, but I don’t really understand how it works or what I need to do to take care of it. Sometimes, it makes weird noises that surprise me, or just stops working for seemingly no reason. I probably should clean it more often, but does it really matter all that much? It gets me places, my body, but it isn’t really me.
I mentioned this to someone recently, under the mistaken belief that it was a charming thing to tell someone, and she said, “Yeah, but if your car breaks down, you can just get a new one,” and this seemingly obvious observation shook me to my core.
My car broke down a couple weeks ago and I got a new one. I call the new one Deep Blue, because it’s blue. In many ways it’s an upgrade over my previous car (which I called The Mach Five, because I thought it looked like a race car), but instead of a CD player it only plays cassettes.
The one cassette I own right now is a tape I made for myself when I was a kid. It’s called “Twisters” and it’s me shouting out body parts and colors — “Left foot… red! Right hand… blue!” — over background Paul Simon music. The idea was I could unfold a Twister mat in my bedroom and put on this tape and play a round of Twister by myself. When I describe this tape to my friends I like to play up the foolish entrepreneur angle — “I thought this idea was going to make me a millionaire!” — and sidestep the convoluted Rube Goldberg loneliness of wanting to play Twister without other people.
I did a good amount of traveling this year. During an impulsive solo road trip tour of the American Southwest last winter I stopped for the night in Heber, Arizona, a small snow-speckled town at the top of Tonto National Forest. When I got in, the room at the Best Western was completely unmade. There were no sheets on the mattress, one small blanket was draped over a chair, and six naked pillows sat stacked on an end table. I told myself I was like a ghost, just passing through. Nobody would ever even know I was here, I thought. The alarm clock radio was the exact same kind I had when I was in high school, and I took this as a sign that this moment, like all moments, was just for me.
There’s a comfort in being a ghost, an outsider, in playing Twister by yourself, in being a New Yorker in LA, in being emphatically not one of The Beautiful People. But I think if you want to keep growing it’s important to never get too comfortable.
My goals for 28 are the same as they are every year — to take more risks, to tear down walls, to avoid the comforts of consistency, to be a little more open to being a little less lonely.
I’m getting there, I know it, slowly but surely.
I’m starting a new job in a week and a half which I’m very much looking forward to. Things are happening — it’s an exciting time to be Raphael.
I have good friends in LA, when I remember to call them. The weather is nice. I like it here.