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TODAY

Wednesday, July 17

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Airbags

This morning, I wake up with two words written on my hand. Abrogate, assiduous. I look at my hand for a long minute before I remember why they're there. I woke up before dawn and the two words were my first conscious thoughts. No idea what they meant or why I was thinking of them. Before I fell back to sleep, I wrote them down.

I have a fascination with words and their meanings. My friend Andy and I sometimes exchange our favorite word-of-the-moment.

"Hey, here's something, I just heard this one," I say. "Mellifluous."

"Ah, rich soothing voice, yeah, nice one. Here's one: crepuscular." The word rolling off his English accent sounds like a clean knife spreading butter on toast.

"What the fuck is that?" I ask.

"It means, a sort of dim or grey light - or, you know, implies a sense, a sort of dystopian landscape."

"Kind of like sepulchral?"

"No, no. Too gloomy." Over the phone, I can hear him taking a drag of his cigarette. "More like a fine dusk, a filtering haze that covers the landscape."

The sort of thing I see vanishing in my room, with dawn breaking hard against the blue curtain on the eastward windows. I take my hand over to my computer and look up the foreign words. Abrogate means to publicly abolish something; assiduous means patient care and abiding concern. I think about the past and it seems to make sense, at least to a tired mind. Today is a personal anniversary. Two years ago today, I started letting go of a six-year relationship. I first broke things off with her, then tried to patch things up and jump back onto the mountain. The mountain said no. It shrugged me off with heartbroken civility. Life has gone on and the only remaining mental pothole is that I wake up with these things written on my hands.

The cats sense me moving around and start whining for chow. "Abrogate," I mumble at them as I follow them to the bowl. "Abrogate!" They both look at me. "Just put the ball in the basket, Showboat," says one cat. Assiduously, I pour the kibble.

~*~

The people queue up outside the LA bars like donkeys at a petting zoo, some here in short whiskery lines and some there in long challenging snakes controlled by stoney two with headsets. Once inside, the routine is the same. Wait for that noisy guy to get out of your way, wait for the bartender to notice you, wait for the restroom and, finally, wait to be noticed by or talk to members of the opposite sex. Discuss the waiting as you wait. Then leave and wait for your car to warm up. Wait for a call. Now wait to fall asleep while the room settles into a pleasant spin. At least you've got the whole bed to yourself.

Jack and Rami, two of my friends, are originally from Chicago. Jack is a former video technician from Ravenswood and I don't know where Rami lived before. Maybe somewhere on the South Side. He's a cinematographer. They are roommates, sharing an apartment in West Hollywood. They live modestly, a large entertainment center in the middle of a spartan living room. In the kitchen, there is a grease-covered pan that Rami used once and now openly refuses to wash. Jack keeps it on the stove as a reminder of his sanitary superiority. They occasionally argue in sharp tones but get along fairly well most of the time.

On Friday and Saturday nights, they go to the bars. Hit the bars, drink and see the crowds before finding the last call escape hatch. Then they move on to diners with slick booths and unspoken requests for coffee and sobriety. They sometimes meet women at the bars and take them to diners for after-drinking chatter. Mostly, they stand around in the unsmoky dark and stare, saying things like 'Damn, she's killing me. She's perfect. That ass. That ass! That ass is perfect!'

When questioned about his lack of ambition in initiating contact with the perfect woman, Jack is evasive, swearing off interactions as though he were a prince absently shaking out his harem. 'I'm through with all that,' he says, self-mocking as he takes another swig of his PBR. Jack has had several one and two act relationships since he arrived in LA. After a few dates with someone he's met at a bar, party, screening, etc, he steadies himself in the starting blocks. Then something happens - maybe she doesn't call back. Or she does and Jack realizes that he might not have that much in common with a twenty-one-year-old staying in a parent's basement bedroom.

Rami is more resigned to his lack of steady companionship, but also watching out for the right woman. He smokes in the back alley of the bar and studies his cigarette. 'It's harhd to figua out,' he says in a Chicago accent, making a smoky parabola in the air with his hand. 'On the one hahnd, you got the ladies. They want it - and yet! They know you want it more. Everybody knows it. So! They make you work for it until you don't know what you want. Then, you get it and it's all - ugh. I don't want to go inta it. It's futile. Like resistance,' he says, smiling widely. Someone next to him asks for a light and the leather on his Chicago police jacket squeaks as he searches his pockets.

~*~

The IPDE process stands for Identify, Predict, Decide and Execute. It's a driver's education rule, longhand for 'fight or flight'. It's also a useless acronym. Remembering IPDE when you're about to t-bone a minivan spinning down the highway won't do a damn thing for anyone. IPDE is the same as deciding to think about thinking. Maybe acronyms like this came in handy back in 1950, when everyone drove less than 35 miles an hour on the highway. I imagine if I found and asked my driver's ed teacher about this today, he'd look at me blankly.

There is a learning curve that seems to grow steeper as you grow older. These ideas that were so easily planted in our heads as children have deep roots, deeper than the things we learn from day to day in adult life. One minute you're remembering all the words to the pledge of allegiance, the next you're struggling to remember if it was Jim or John Belushi who died of a drug overdose and where the hell Jordan is on a map of Asia. It's interesting to me that this stupid acronym, survival for dummies, is still stuck in my head. The real words I don't remember are written down and stared at without comprehension, like telephone numbers after a long night out. When I think about the break up, it comes back faintly, as though I'm seeing the effects and not remembering anything. I can only assume it was one protracted and painful turn away from an inevitable crash. I couldn't have seen it then as it really was, in full color and warbley stereo sound, surprised pedestrians dodging a reckless driver with nothing in particular on his mind.

~*~

Tonight, I go to the bar alone. I drink and talk smart with the bar staff and the few people I know. Afterward, Damien the doorman and his two lady-friends drag me out for food at the Brite Spot. We find a cosy booth and give advice to one member of our party. She seems flustered that a drug-dealing friend of hers continues to stalk her by text messaging her cellphone. We order our food and, as in many dining situations, I go into my personal vegetarian history. I field a few confessions from the women.

Finally, the food arrives and everyone passes around their plates of chicken parmesan. When I start to tear into my grilled cheese, Damien asks why I still don't eat meat. "You broke up with her long time back—you still just doin' it for yourself or something?" I nod though a mouthful. "Yeah, s'kinda my own thing. Or it's become that." Damien sips his hot chocolate. "You likin' that hot chocolate, hot chocolate?" asks one of his friends. Damien beams and pats his belly—he's six-foot-four, 235 pounds and gay. "My boys all call'n me hot cocoa, get it straight," he says, picking up his fork and knife. The drunk I had at the bar is loosening its grip and I'm enjoying the decaf coffee that the waiter continues to bring. He keeps coming over to our table to refill our coffee, bring and remove plates and flirt with Damien. The night drifts on and I wake up bookended by cats, tasting french fries from the night before.

IPDE, I say out loud as I pull to a stoplight. The woman in the car next to mine looks over as I stop. She smiles at me and I turn right, briefly smiling back. The buildings behind me swing away as I drive. A small flock of tiny birds wheels past my car, circling the lightpole. They change course so very rapidly, without any forethought. As they disappear, I look back and suddenly brake hard to avoid another car. There's a scratchy sound outside, coming from the vehicle in front of me. I look at the near-accident coasting along. He's driving with a mangled tire boot still attached to his car. It makes a loud scraping noise, rattling against the wheel-well as he drives. He's playing the radio and laughing with his girlfriend, heading up toward Sunset and Silver Lake boulevard. The car disappears around the corner. I wave after them for no good reason. After glancing at the errand list written on my hand, I turn off toward the store, down a sleepy sidestreet with a smooth grey sky high above the overpass.

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About the Author(s)

Sean U'Ren is a video editor who recently moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. In this occasional column, he shares his experiences transitioning from one city to another.

Movie Make-Out will return next week.

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