Living in the French Quarter of New Orleans was hard work. I had lost my mind. My last month there was spent lost in a cloud of bourbon, the voices of ghosts, and my burgeoning hatred for all of mankind. I was a solitary man. I was hearing shit. I was seeing shit. I was nearly broke and I was fully terrified. So what else could I do besides flee to sunny California?
I took a Greyhound bus from downtown New Orleans to downtown Los Angeles. Having never spent any time in L.A., the task of surviving the first night seemed like an uphill battle. I caught a cab, asked the man at the wheel to bring me to Venice.
Cabby: Where in Venice?
Me: Uhhh… by the beach?
Cabby: Yeah, I got it. Venice Beach. But where?
Me: I have no idea. Wherever is easiest for you.
Cabby: Uhhh… okay, guy. Whatever.
I think it was about 10pm when I hopped out the cab with my guitar, a duffel bag, and $300 in my pocket. I walked around until I saw Mao’s Chinese restaurant. While I was sitting there, worrying and chowing down some orange ginger chicken, I saw the building across the street with the lights on. I don’t think there was even a sign, but I definitely saw a few hippies standing talking around a thing that looked like a hotel registration desk. Thought process: fuck it, let me at least attempt to sleep in a bed tonight.Turned out this place was the Venice Beach Hostel. I had never been to one of those places except for almost once when I was 19 and homeless and thinking about going to San Francisco and staying in a hostel until I could afford/find a room. Never happened. So yeah, I was a hostel rookie.
It was cool though. They checked me in and there weren’t many rules (no curfew, smoking was allowed, et cetera) and so I felt hopeful. There was still the daunting task of finding a job A.S.A.P. But I had arrived safely, and had bought myself the right to sleep in a bed for at least the first week. My head, which was then full of paranoia and booze and an obsession with the occult, felt slightly at ease for the first time in a couple months.
The first night I was there, I got drunk with a Canadian kid whose name I can’t remember. But he was the first person to ever tell me about Modest Mouse. We listened to The Lonesome Crowded West, and I loved it immediately. He also told me a band called Hot Hot Heat were amazing and they would be the next big thing; I shut my ears to this band after the first chorus of the first song. But my Canada friend was nice; we talked about New Orleans and Sonic Youth.
We were in this big common-area with old shitty books and old shitty couches, a few tables and chess boards, a pair of pay-by-the-minute computers, a loud stereo with CD player and tape deck, and an upright piano. In fact, I totally forgot about the piano until just now but yes! That thing was amazingly out of tune, and no one ever played it until we were very drunk and ready to butcher traditional Irish folk songs. This first night was good though. There were a few other folks coming and going as well, but I was not in a party mood. In fact, I went to bed quite early. For in the morning, it would be time to get up and work on finding a job somewhere…
This is a very long story about a very strange five months in my life, but I want to tell it. Right now, it feels good to remember these things. So I think what’s going to happen is that I will do this in bits and pieces. Because there’s way too much to tell, and I think breaking it up would destroy any possibility of dullness and, if we’re lucky, maybe it will feel a little suspenseful this way? Especially when I tell you that this story is about madness and healing and booze and sex and hilarity and jealousy and just… a lot of weirdness.
This story is about being 21, out of my fucking mind, and living in a very new city. There will be some romance and some missed romances. There will be devastating mudslides. There will be brilliant and hilarious and beautiful people from around the world. There will be roaches. There will be run-ins with celebrities, run-ins with holy men and philosophers, and run-ins with some very shady characters. The story will end with grand larceny, a big lie, and the Greyhound bus ride back to the coldest New York winter of my life.