A few years ago I hitchhiked from North Carolina to Los Angeles. I didn’t have much money or much of anything else, but I did wrap my little Acer laptop in bubble-wrap and brought it with me. There was a girl I knew from high school who was living in Venice Beach and whom offered me her couch. She didn’t let me live in her living room for very long.
And the LA coast was fantastic – hours trolling Electric Boulevard and the Venice boardwalk, getting lost in alleys and in conversations with vagabonds and old hippies and the beautifully destitute who can See Through People; prostitutes, beaten boxers, a man desirous to Destroy Everything In The Void. I didn’t know anyone in Los Angeles and had nowhere to go and I wasn’t about to turn around and hitchhike back East. Besides, it was November.
So I went Urban Camping, and I kept my blog going: where to pitch your tarp, how to graft food from tables before the bus-boys clean them, where to find showers. I was having a blast.
Along the Venice boardwalk are a handful of stores with doctors who prescribe pot – it’s LA, the Pot Docs are everywhere. I’d gotten my hopes up of finding pot on the sidewalk, and had taken the habit of watching the gutters, and I found half a joint.
I was sleeping behind bushes in Marina Del Rey, right on the marina. I was warned by several other Urban Campers not to camp in the marina because security was very strict, and I took this to mean there wouldn’t be drug-addled manic-depressives to contend with for a camp site.
On the marina is a massive, ritzy apartment building, a dozen stories tall and a hundred yards long. Lining the front is an impenetrable hedgerow, ten feet tall. I found a hole through the hedgerow and on the other side was four feet of soft dirt and then a concrete wall. This was where I camped. On the other side of the hedges was a brick-paved promenade right on the marina, where spandex men would jog in the mornings and women would walk their manicured terriers.
I waited till it was after midnight before going back to my campsite. I had the half-joint and my Moleskine and a copy of the Beatnik Reader and I found a bench looking out on the marina. And then I got stoned.
Good drugs erase your sense of self. It’s the omniscient, tangible love of LSD; MDMA blowing you full into the Endless Moment; DMT replacing your consciousness with swirling crystal space-time; the paranoia of pot that takes out your sternum and exposes your soul to the inspections of others.
The docks on the marina had inset lights, sensuous glow-orbs on the hulls of clean yachts and sports boats; shimmering ritz of hotels and condos across the water; the promenade with antique lampposts disappearing into focal points on either side; the underwater echos of porpoises.
And I was alone. I didn’t know anybody in LA: the only person I knew in California had come to resent me. I owned nothing, had no food or money and was eating out of trash bins, sleeping in bushes. I had been doing well in school, I was going to have a good career as a journalist and I dropped out because I was impulsive and myopic and stupid. (I am an idiot and I have ruined my life.) And there was nothing but mercury in my stomach. The atmosphere thickened and the air was black, it was death, humid and thick and my skin was porous. I was sweating. My head was nauseated. I wanted to run into my mother’s arms. I’d abandoned everyone. I’d squandered the opportunities I’d been given and I’d never get out.
I took out my notebook and I began to describe the marina, the boats, the lights, the water. It wasn’t anything good or memorable, but it settled me, and I began to feel whole again. The pores in my skin closed and my heart focused on itself and I found control. The edges of the Void dissipated and I was here, alive and working, and in control.