Category: Vagabond writer

Downtown L.A. 1984

The Rainbow Hotel in downtown Los Angeles was next to the Church of the Open Door.* The church was famous for its huge ‘Jesus Saves’ sign on the roof. The hotel and the church were on a section of South Hope Street that dead-ended at the Public Library.

Guido Michelini had stayed at the hotel before. The room cost $70 a week. The shower was down the hallway. There was a phone in the room. It hardly ever rang. It went six days without ringing. Guido only left the room to eat and drink at a bar.

He had sold an op-ed piece to the L.A. Times but the paper hadn’t paid him yet. He didn’t have the money for next week.

On the seventh day the phone rang. It was the housekeeper wanting to know if he wanted his sheets and towels changed. Guido told her no, never. She said okay and hung up.

When you get kicked out of the Rainbow Hotel you know you’ve hit bottom.

Guido and his canvas suitcase went to the library at the end of Hope Street. He sat down with a book. A woman sitting across the table said, You look beat. He looked at her. She had seen better days.

You look good, he said. Do you live around here?

Not far, she said.

Saved again.


*The church was demolished in 1988.

39,000 feet

He was lost. He took planes all over America. He became an expert on airports. He invested such large sums in airline travel he figured he must own a piece of the sky, or rather pieces of the sky — thin, high corridors of illusion between real cities; timeless strips of fantasy between pestilence and death. An ethereal investment to be sure; other men had pieces of the rock.

He flew back and forth across America like an insomniac pacing his room. Planes of all sizes and colors transported him north and south and east and west in an odyssey that skirted heaven and hell. He was searching for many things: Success, fame, the perfect woman, a new identity, freedom, independence, truth, cunning, honesty, immortality, a secret Swiss bank account, a cabin in the woods, a house in the desert, a job in a lighthouse, a penthouse in Manhattan, a pad in the Hollywood Hills, unlimited credit, inner piece, a new life, a tolerable death, immortality, and sometimes nothing more than a perfectly clear sky. 

At rare moments of clarity, perhaps at 39,000 feet, he felt he was on the verge of a breakthrough, on the edge of a great discovery about life and himself. Sometimes, he would doze off and suddenly awaken with the startling notion that he had heard the voice of God — not so much a voice as a perception of the idea of God, an ephemeral, wraith-like presence in his mind, a fleeting brush with fate, the briefest touch by destiny, a speck of understanding, a hint of cosmic truth that vanished as fast as it had appeared, but left him with, at that perilous moment of waking, an unmistakable impression of the meaning of life, and specifically, his purpose in that life, agonizingly elusive but sufficiently noticeable to excite him with new motivation and direction.

Desperately he would scribble down his ethereal notes at the very moment they dissolved into nothingness. But when he tried to pursue the clues, to pin them down, to put them together, bits and pieces of his mind flew off in different directions at increasing speeds and higher altitudes, and then he no longer believed he was on the verge of a great breakthrough, but on the edge of insanity. 

At the end of two years his mind was totally fragmented. On a physical level there was more chaos. He was broke, bouncing checks and exploding credit cards. His personal stuff — books, manuscripts, letters, documents, photographs — were crammed into suitcases, briefcases and footlockers in girlfriends’ apartments, and bus and train station lockers in cities and towns across America—

[Manuscript abruptly ends.]

Black python

Guido Michelini showered in the basement of Grand Central Station. Two quarters in the turnstile for a torn towel and a piece of soap with hair on it.

He wasn’t a bona fide bum. The night before he had $400 in crisp new $100 bills in his wallet that he had just withdrawn from an ATM. Alas, his last. He lost them to a  black whore in the Cavalier Hotel on East 36th Street. A black python of pure sex. She charged him $100 for a blowjob, and while he was still recovering, she lifted the crisp new $100 bills from his wallet and skedaddled out of there. He heard her yelling “Taxi!” on the street below. That’s when he looked in his wallet. She hadn’t taken any of his ID and had left him with a few $5 and $10 dollar bills, which he thought was very thoughtful.

It turned out to be a damn expensive blowjob, but almost worth it, in fact he’d say it was worth it, as he showered in the basement of Grand Central Station while men crapping in toilets without doors looked on. He had to laugh.

He had no credit cards with anything left, but he had girlfriends, and when he was cleaned up and was back in his Giorgio Amani suit, he phoned one of them collect in Los Angeles. He told her tearfully and with appropriate desperation that he had been robbed by a couple of thugs who held a knife to his throat and took his $400 in crisp new $100 bills.

She said, “Oh, baby, come on home,” and said she would put an airline ticket to L.A. on her American Express card. He used part of the cash the python had left him to take a cab to LaGuardia. Then he was on a plane heading for the City of Angels. Oh, baby, come on home!

Guido had several such “homes.” He was a loser, but in many ways he was a winner.


 

On the bum at Topanga Beach

I was down and out when I sold a story to California magazine. I knew they would pay me but until they did I had no money. I spent that night in the Greyhound bus station in L.A.

Next morning I called the magazine’s office from a pay phone. They said they’d mail me a check in a few weeks. I was getting mail care of General Delivery, Los Angeles, Calif. 90071.

I didn’t have a car. I had a few bucks in my pocket. I took a bus up the Pacific Coast Highway to Topanga Beach. The beach parking lot was packed with rust-belt refugees. It wasn’t a good time in America. There were a couple of laid-off auto workers from Detroit living in their VW van. They let me sleep on the back seat.

We bathed in the Pacific Ocean. We bummed money for food from rich people coming out of George’s Market. Movie stars used to stop there on their way home to Malibu. The guy who played Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. The fellah who played Oscar in The Odd Couple. I’m not good at remembering names these days. It was a long time ago and I’m old now.

I was still on the bum when the issue of California magazine came out with my story in it. I still hadn’t gotten paid. When I showed the story to the two guys from Detroit they said, You wrote this?! What the fuck are you doing on the beach, man?

They didn’t pay me yet, I told them.

Fuck, man, said Joe. We’re all getting fucked.