painful though it may be, this is in itself a gain–for what is inferior or even worthless belongs to me as my shadow and gives me substance and mass.

meet up with m. at the good luck bar on hillhurst. besides the tacky chinese lanterns and red wall paper, if i dim my eyes, i can just sorta pretend i’m in bushwick. m. arrives and looks exactly the same: blond shoulder length hair, blue sloe eyes ( a la renee zellwegger), a kind of calm buoyancy in her face. she has always been pretty. i haven’t seen her in almost 20 years.

we talk for nearly 3 hours straight. about everything. hard, dark shit, about the korean girls we knew in jr. high who were so pretty and skinny and angelic. i tell her what i know, this one ended up sorta slutty and working retail in santa monica, that one who was always a bully, stayed one, j. who borrowed money and bailed. but most of them grew up plain and married dentists and live in irvine now.

she’s not married, no kids. me too. she’s a therapist now who helps troubled youth and poor immigrants. i format data points. we recall how hilarious it was for her, the single white girl in a sea of korean kids at sepulveda magnet. she had parents who smoked pot and wore shoes inside the house. i gave her a bible and took her to a church retreat and afterwards she asked her parents why they didn’t go to valley korean presbyterian.

the same fluttered hand gestures and honest laugh. she’s survived.

i ask her if she has a cigarette and she says she was hoping that i was packing. we go outside and befriend a group of men. they are new yorkers too, esp. i see the chubby one, bearded leaning against the wall who doesn’t know how to smile even though he is exceedingly polite. we talk about new york, no one is that enthusiastic about LA. there’s more space here, the blond one offers, a statement which hangs in the still, hot air.

the next day instead of hitting the gym, i drive towards home. i’m really tired. on a whim, i park my car on vermont and eat sandwich, read jung, buy a poetry anthology and walk into a clothing store. in the clothing store is bryan, the storeowner, half black, half german, pleasantly married. the store is empty, it is the late afternoon and we begin to talk about germany, clothes, brooklyn (bullshit in his opinion), williamsburg (the epicenter of everything wrong), bushwick (he admits is sorta cool), george romney and desegregation, racism in america and abroad, french colonization, topeka kansas, chicago, juggalo, freud (also bullshit), the elitism of art, the future, the holocaust and the victim and the perpetrator, the la riots, my novel. it’s the longest conversation i’ve had with a stranger since i arrived in la. when i leave the shop, the sun is setting.

ishmael from time to time will text me. he is happily dating a girl. i think he will marry her, i can tell cause all of a sudden he wants to make a bunch of money. which he never cared for until now. to buy a house, a ring, for children, i imagine. i quietly make a note to self. i tell him he should move west, it’s like canaan out here, the land of milk and honey, cause new york doesn’t matter if you have a wife and love.

he agrees.