They say one can find something to do twenty-four hours a day in Los Angeles. Maybe.
And maybe one can't find anything to do at all.
The apartment manager told me I could expect to find girls sitting around the pool
in the evenings, and so when evening came and the lights went on in the courtyard
I sat listening for sounds from below. All was silent apart from the complex's
Muzak, on continuously, which played "Barefoot in the Park," and something that
might once have been "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."
I peeked out the window finally, turning my back on my rented bed, my stereo, and
the endless rolling contours of the sprayed acoustic ceiling, only to see a deserted
courtyard and the safety lights reflected from the surface of the still, green pool.
"I'm not going to stay here and be alone." Was I talking to myself or to an imaginary
cat? Shutting the apartment door firmly behind me, I stepped out on the landing that
ran along the three long sides of the deserted courtyard. I knocked first on the
door to my right. "Yes," came a girl's voice.
"I'm your next-door neighbor."
"I'm busy right now; could you come back later?"
"Sure. I'll be back," I added to the closed door.
I repeated the same procedure at the door to the left of my apartment.
No one responded. From below, I heard a man's voice call, "They're not in."
I looked down to see Arnie, the manager of the apartment complex, looking up at
me. "What are you doing?" Arnie demanded.
I explained I was just checking with my neighbor.
"Well, they're not in." He stood there, hands in his pockets, and waited for
me to go back inside my apartment.
"It's a quiet evening," I said conversationally.
Arnie was unresponsive. "People are trying to eat their supper," he replied
as if to suggest he would be inside eating his supper if he did not have to be
on duty policing me.
"Thank you," I said, feeling that perhaps a thank-you was expected.
Arnie glared, his face bright red in the reflections from the pool light.
"Well. Aren't you going in?"
I scurried inside my apartment and waited just inside the entranceway until
I heard Arnie's door close below. Then, I walked outside again and tiptoed
down the length of the long motel landing. When I felt I was out of Arnie's
earshot, I knocked on an apartment door.
"Yes?" A man came to the door, bare-chested, carrying a can of beer. He stood
blocking the doorway, the sweat shining on his muscular body. A slim blond was
setting plates on the table inside. She did not look up. "Yeah?" the man said again.
"I just moved in. I was trying to meet people in the building."
"What's he want honey?"
"Nothing." The man swiveled his head so he could talk to his wife (girlfriend?)
but his muscular torso continued to block the open doorway. He turned back to me:
"We're going to eat, O.K.?"
"Later." The man shut the door.
I continued down the landing. Sometimes I knocked, sometimes I just waited
expectantly outside a door as if trying to feel out the character of the people
within. Most weren't home. Some called through the closed door that they were
too busy to talk or they didn't want anything.
One man with a bushy mustache opened his door just as I was about to knock. He
pushed by me quickly with a "Hi" and a friendly nod, and clattered down the stairs.
As the man passed the manager's door, it opened and the Arnie, the manager came
out. "Hi Al," Arnie said. "Hi Arnie," Al called as he disappeared from the courtyard.
Arnie remained outside. His head turned slowly in an arc around the courtyard as
if searching for me hiding on the landing above. I shrank back in the shadows and
held my breath. Then Arnie went back into his apartment.
A woman came to one of the doors, finally, in response to my knock. I talked to
her, making up what I was going to say as I went along. "I'd love for you to meet
my husband," she said after a pause. The couple stood in their doorway chatting
with me for several minutes. "An awful lot of single girls do live here," they
both acknowledged, though they didn't offer any suggestions. The man thought
there was kind of a cute blond living back in the direction from which I'd come.
When he said this, his wife, a brunette, gave him a long slow look. They didn't
invite me inside.
At last, I risked crossing to the opposite side of the courtyard where I would
be in full view of the manager's searching eyes. A small card table stood outside
the manager's office with a deck of cards and three glasses sitting on it. I
figured I had at most a quarter of an hour before the manager reappeared.
"I'm new to the building," I told the tall angular brunette who answered my next
knock. For a while, we talked through her partially closed door. She shut the
door completely for an instant while she fumbled with the chain, but reopened it
again to invite me in.
"I'm a nurse," she said, after she'd brought two cups of coffee and a slice of
cake to the table.
"I work as a computer programmer."
"That must be interesting."
"Not really, though it's fun at first."
The girl was not attractive, but her smile was warm and friendly. She was the
friendliest person I'd met in LA, the only person I'd met really outside of work.
"Do you read your Bible?" she asked. Her question caught me off guard, uncertain
what to answer. I must have nodded my head. "I've got one right here. We can
She got up and fetched a very large Bible to the table. Her hips, I saw, were
slim and unformed, their movement almost sexless, though she still carried the
same warm smile that had first greeted me in the doorway. She can't have many
friends either, I thought, but I bet she's nice if you get to know her. I started
to undress her in my mind.
"You don't believe in evolution, do you?" she asked.
"Yes, I do," I said, my mind still not on the conversation.
"That's not what the Bible says."
"Some of the things, the Bible says, I believe and some I don't."
"You've got to believe them all," she dictated. For a moment, I had a vision of myself
in a long patriarchal beard, a Bible-bearing Christian with a thin, angular brunette
wife trailed by three angular brunette daughters. Then I got up, downed the last of
the cake in a single gulp and walked out of the room.
Outside in the darkness, the manager and his wife sat playing cards by the pool. They
watched me as I walked back to my apartment, all the way around the U. I'd planned to
knock on the door of the girl who lived in the apartment next to me, the one who said
come back in half an hour, but with the pair of them listening downstairs, I just went
back inside my apartment, turned on the stereo to drown out the Muzak, and went
to bed. Eight-thirty in the evening. So much for life in LA.