The man you know as said man is no longer fit to write this. Shortly after arriving here, he lost himself again. His writings grew scattered and disjointed and he never had those moments of clarity (and if not clarity, then at least stability) that allowed him previously to step outside of himself and compile his notes and observations into comprehensible journals that he would then, unbeknownst to me, post here. This gave his writings an omniscient, almost hyper self awareness, as he would be editing and posting journals weeks after they were originally written. He was only barely able to piece together the last one, after which he continued to write, but as I’ve said his illness prevented him from posting anything more. By the time there was any “clarity,” he was already gone and writing would mean nothing to him. Los Angeles did something to him; I did something to him too. I will take some blame for what happened, but I cannot in good conscience take it all.
I’ve taken it upon myself to go through his notes and make sense of them, to compile them here to the best of my ability. I’ve allowed myself to correct typos and errors in grammar, but I am not adding anything he did not write. Having said that, what follows may be more claustrophobic than what you’re used to. Apologies.
His journals recommence with the two of us in Orange, California, shortly after our arrival…
The beginnings of things escape me. We’ve been in this [In-N-Out Burger] parking lot since we got here. When we got here, I think it was morning, we slept through the day and the following night as well. At least I slept. I can’t speak for Brian. He was here when I woke up anyway.
My head hurts. The wind hurts it. Everything is so open even the wind hurts it.
The In-N-Out reminds me of her. There’s a picture I remember, I might still even have it somewhere, of the two of us sitting on one of those white and red plastic benches and Annie has the straw of a milkshake lodged between her lips and she’s starting at the camera. I’m sitting next to her, hands in my jacket pockets, staring into the distance, but this can’t be true because within an In-N-Out there is no distance, just white walls and counters and the hallway leading to the bathrooms. I don’t remember who took the photo.
East of the college, down Chapman Ave and just past Prospect, the In-N-Out shares its parking lot with a 24-Hour Fitness, making it an ideal place to park overnight.
Across the street is another strip mall. I don’t think we’re the only ones living out of a car.
Brian goes inside to order. I give him my order first because I refuse to go inside myself. We eat both lunch and dinner in the car. Breakfast is leftovers, stale fries. We don’t talk. He won’t let me in. I’m not sure he knows what he’s doing any more than I know what he’s doing.
Palm trees spray up from the parking lot islands like geysers petrified in time. Clouds sift across the sky without a horizon. The world keeps going, forever flat in this desert of strip malls.
Sometimes it rains, but not often. When it does, everyone seems surprised.
I’m afraid to venture up into Los Angeles. Orange is as good of a place as any to camp out, to steel ourselves for our search for Annie. But I can’t bring myself to search for Annie. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? I want to ask Brian but I fear he’ll think the question is stupid. He’ll say something vague like, you know why we’re here, and I’ll be left where we were before I asked the question. Only now I’ll be feeling pretty stupid.
When we get restless, we drive. Brian always driving. We’ll wind through the backstreets, the suburbs, the Chapman campus, and sometimes Brian will venture onto the 22 heading west, then northwest on I-5, but never far enough north to reach LA. Which I’m grateful for.
I’m afraid of LA.
A lustful kind of fear.
Short pale-pink tank top, slim midriff exposed, pierced bellybutton, one arm resting on the black purse hanging low from her shoulder, her free arm swaying lazy on the other side. High waisted jeans. I watch her walk away.
Another. In the grass. A smear of dirt over her left shoulder. A mess of auburn hair falling across her back. Tired eyes drift open and closed. A Scottish Terrier nuzzles into her side. She rolls onto her back, sits up. She looks at me and I have to pretend I wasn’t watching her all this time. Suddenly I’m self-conscious — my skeletal arms, caved in cheeks evident through my unkempt beard. And my eyes—
There’s a romantic urgency to the city — any beautiful girl, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see her again. Very much unlike smaller towns where, chances are, you will.
Small towns breed romantic procrastination. Cities breed a lustful kind of fear.
Dreams of San Francisco, again. Revolves around something vague. There’s a center at the center of it that I’m missing. Clouds roll in from the ocean, erasing the bridge in their haze. The waters grow gray, the sky and water exponentially reflect each other until everything is black rather than gray. The wind sweeps in off the beach. It’s too cold to stay here. The sun is still in the sky, though muted, and feels more moon than star. I walk toward the center but I never reach it.
They’re just dreams. I tell myself that. There’s nothing there.
The van is so goddamn hot. So hot god-damn-it all, all the time.
I pace the parking lot. A breeze picks up, the palm trees bend. Fuck me, it’s cold.
In Southern California there’s nowhere to escape. Nowhere to be alone. Every person who sees me seems to take a piece of me with them, and I’m slowly drawn back into their world. People going to work, coming home from work, riding the bus, drinking in bars and talking about the surface. Suddenly I find that I’m lacking.
The crack is there. Everything inside me is open for the world. But there’s so much that’s escaped the crack — still escaping the crack — that there’s nothing to latch onto, none of the images take hold. I’m at the center of the delusions, watching the delusions, listening to the delusions, but I’m not part of the delusions, so I’m able to recognize them as what they are.
I’m grounded. I’m at the center of them. My fear is not in being taken by them — there’s just too many of them — but instead in losing sight of what’s real. Because from where I’m standing, I’m at the center of reality too. With all the images and voices flitting in and out of eye and earshot, I’m not sure of what’s really there. I have wondered, several times actually, if Brian is really there. Here. Since he hasn’t been too open, willing to talk, he’s more of a shade of what he once was. You could see that when he lured me from my parents’ home. He was different. He wasn’t all there. Something was wrong or something was missing or he wasn’t Brian at all.
But Brian proves himself to be real. The realization was simple — he smells. Though many of the images feel and sound real, they lack smell. Brian smells, of sweat and warm stagnant air, and this grounds him in the land of the real.
It’s when I can’t smell him that I begin to worry.
We drive through the drive-thru, only to park again in the parking lot to eat. I don’t have an appetite, so I sip at the milkshake but touch nothing else. Brian devours his burger, the last of his fries, he wipes the sauce from his lips and says to me, “We should get started.”
I tell him I think he’s right. We should get started. It’s understood we’re talking about Annie. He doesn’t elaborate, but it seems there’s something else he wants to say, something he needs to tell me, but I’m not [illegible handwriting]
I wonder it has something to do with the person who follows us. I haven’t forgotten about this. The presence of this pursuer is always there, though I’m still working out whether or not this pursuer is part of the “crack escapees,” or one of us, part of the land of the real. As the pursuer is always too far away for me to smell, there’s nothing to ground him in either world. The only thing that sway the pursuer to this world is the suspicion that Brian is also aware that he is there.
Brian is aware of many things but he can’t see the birds, the crosses, the dead baby cows, and the dreams of dead men that surround me, circling me, drifting further and further away. No, if Brian is aware of the one who follows, the one who follows is very real.
If I could just smell him.
I’m hesitant to take out Tinder again, but I do. I’m back at it. Swiping everyone left. I don’t see anyone. I can’t tell you about people I don’t see. My only hope is that when Annie comes across my phone, I’ll see her. And see her in time.
Names blur. Combine with other names. Every face becomes the same face. The One Face.
Brian’s swiping too. But sometimes he’s typing and I wonder to whom, we’re supposed to be looking for Annie, only Annie. Nothing else is important.
I keep swiping.
Outside, the palm trees are high and quiet. The last workers have left the In-N-Out. Brian is asleep. I want to fall asleep too, but my eyes are flooded with
I must’ve fallen asleep.
I wake with the first sifting of the light through the hanging tapestries. There’s the drone of cars passing but not much else. There’s the chirp of birds, but those might be imaginary. Music playing from somewhere. I sit up. Brian is still asleep, his phone hanging from his limp hand.
His phone buzzes, nudges itself from his hand. He doesn’t wake.
Two minutes later, it does it again.
I pick up his phone. It’s a text from someone named “T.”
I try to open it but the passcode screen comes up, and asks for five numbers. I take a wild guess, spelling out a name I once knew, a name that starts with “T.”
86669 is sufficient to spell it out. The phone opens, my stomach constricts, I open the messaging app where the recently arrived message reads—
“Good morning! Kisses, lol was pooping and cops were investing a crime. 100% ok, i wasnt who they wanted! Just interesting”
I look to Brian, who scratches himself in his sleep.
I type in a response to the text—
“Hi,” he types back.
“You know who this is?”
“Yes,” he types. “I know who this is.”
Then he adds a smiley face.
That’s Tommy for you.
join man next week for journal #42 (which brings the second coming of Tommy Tinder)