Lost in L.A.
Stick and Poke
It is four o clock in the morning. I am standing on a windowsill somewhere in Los Angeles, in clothes that are not my own. There is nothing quite like the rush brought on by a moment of clarity. A sudden realization that you have no idea what is going on.
This story begins at home. Home was an idyllic suburban apartment complex in Huntington Beach. We were surrounded by manicured lawns and strip malls. We were trapped in a maze of winding estates. Everything was immaculate. Sterile. It felt like purgatory.
Our existence in this place was nothing short of an intrusion. While our neighbours drove their SUVs to the beach and had garden parties, we were stuck in our apartment, eating food off of a bed box that we found on the street. Gradually, the more we were worn down by the staleness of suburbia, the more our presence there took on a sense of purpose. On a subconscious level we came to find a sort of pleasure in subverting the neatness that this neighbourhood had tried so hard to establish. Over time, our dinginess, our poverty, and our bare feet all became badges of honour that we displayed proudly in the face of the surrounding white-washed banality.
Ultimately, we simply stopped caring. I think it’s fair to say that Americana had worn us down to such a point that we were ready to do almost anything for the sake of a brief respite from The Boredom. I can attest that after a few weeks of doing nothing but drinking beers on a balcony, the human spirit begins to acquire a thirst for the strange. And sometimes, the strangest things have the most mundane beginnings.
That morning in particular was almost exceptionally ordinary. Waking up in our unfurnished crack den I remember racking my brain in an effort to think of a way to make the hours pass by. Right as I rolled off my air mattress the decision was made for me. Muck came home early from work eager to make something of the day.
‘Maybe a day-trip to L.A.’?
‘Fuck it’, I thought, ‘nothing has happened in days, this seems as good an idea as any’. Without a second’s thought or a shower we grabbed skateboards and headed for the bus stop.
It seems beyond reasonable doubt that public transport in Southern California was designed by a committee of sadists united by their passion for the Kafka-esque. It took us over four hours to travel what could have been a fifty minute drive from Huntington to downtown LA. By the time we got there we had already missed the last bus home.
Now even more eager to make our sojourn to the City of Angels worthwhile, myself and Muck headed in the direction of Echo Park, a neighbourhood which Google enthusiastically assured us was ‘the Brooklyn of LA’. As we disembarked from yet another torturous bus ride, we found ourselves on Sunset Boulevard. It was the evening time and all the shopfronts around us were closed. Starving and disorientated, we, like many lost tourists before us, decided to make our way towards a beacon of hope embodied in a nearby Burger King.
As we walked in we noticed a group of guys huddled over a table. Sporting a range of interesting haircuts, even more interesting piercings and a tiny dog, these guys, we thought, could be the clue to an interesting night on the town. Tentatively, we made our way over and made our introductions. In retrospect, we were a peculiar sight to behold. Two guys. Profoundly unkempt. Sweaty. Ripped clothes. Ripped shoes. Funny hat (Muck).
We explained our predicament. We’re Irish. We’re stranded. We can’t afford a place to stay. Where can we go if we want to stay out all night? They named a club, made polite conversation and we bid them adieu.
Not even two minutes went by and we saw one of them, dog in hand, making his way back into the Burger King. ‘Holy shit’, Muck whispered, ‘I bet he’s going to ask us over to their place’. Sure enough the guy went straight over to us and introductions were made again. Kyle, our newest friend, wanted to clear things up.
You guys are Irish, right?
And you’re stranded, for the night, in LA?
Shit. Well you’re free to stay with us if you’d like, we all live in a house around the corner.
As Kyle and his tiny dog led us to a large steel door with a toy lightsaber playfully dangling from the knocker it became clear that we were in for an interesting few hours.
We were promptly introduced to the rest of the Burger King crew. There was Seth, a fashion designer; Quentin, a promoter for ‘Moustache Mondays’, one of LA’s most famous gay club nights,; and Fitch, a model. The introductions were friendly but laced with an expectation of recognition on the part of our hosts. It turns out that the residents of our found abode were somewhat notorious amongst young LA scenesters.
As we were talking Quentin asks us if we were on Tumblr. I told him I dabbled but that outside of a poorly maintained photo-blog I wasn’t too involved. He asks if we’ve ever heard of Brooke Candy. This was met with blank expressions; philistines the both of us. Forced to clarify, Quentin semireluctantly elucidates on the nature of their missing housemate. ‘She’s an up-and coming pop singer’, he begins, ‘but she’s in London at the moment recording with Will.I.am’. This prompts a raising of eye brows from Muck and I. This only intensifies when Quentin nonchalantly adds, ‘her and Azealia Banks used to strip together’.
Quentin (L.A. 2013)
Our collective ignorance of their social status went down as a novelty. We hit it off and instantly began a cultural exchange of sorts. We bonded over a shared interest in nightlife. They were taken with our use of ‘craic’ and ‘The Session’ which we explained at length. In exchange, they divulged the significance of twerking and getting ‘rekt’.
Later in the evening we buy drinks for our gracious hosts, thinking that the least we could do to repay their hospitality is to drink ourselves under their table. As we prepare to leave we’re told that we’re going to have to change clothes. ‘You’re never going to get into anywhere dressed like that’, Seth explained matter-of-factly. ‘Here, you can wear these’, he says after emerging from within his coat rack. I got landed with a double-XL hoodie with a print of a mushroom cloud while Muck was lucky enough to be handed a t-shirt and shorts combo that made him look like a flight-plan for the Starship Enterprise. ‘If anyone asks, make sure to tell them you’re wearing Seth Pratt’, we were told.
From there, everything starts to get hazy. Most, if not all, recollections I have from that night are owed to whatever happened to be preserved by my camera. I remember getting picked up outside the club by someone who was driving a red convertible. We sped down LA’s boulevards, roof down, standing on the back seat, with Daft Punk’s ‘Doin’ it Right’ blaring from the car stereo. I remember thinking that this was one of the most bizarre things to have ever happened to me.
The next thing I remember is standing on that windowsill.
Turns out, when we got back to the apartment we were locked out of the bedroom where I had left my camera. Knowing that this was the one vital possession we had, the decision was made to climb out of the living-room window and break into the bedroom from the outside. While the mission was in progress, a small crowd had gathered beneath us. People from the apartment directly across the road from ours began leaning out of their window and enthusiastically yelling ‘Spiderman’ as Muck climbed down a gutter to safety.
By the time we got back into the house, an afterparty was in full swing. As I made my way to the bathroom I just about heard someone suggest that myself and Muck should get tattoos. By the time I came back Muck was already sitting on a chair with Kyle, needle in-hand, tapping a pattern onto his arm. As I walked into the room I was instantly informed that I had to get one too. At that point in time, having already witnessed so much insanity it didn’t seem like there was really an alternative. Five minutes later, I was the proud owner of three black dots and a sore arm. ‘That’s a Mexican gang tattoo’, Fitch cheerfully informed us. ‘It means “my crazy life”, people usually get it when they go to prison. I think it suits you two’.
And that was that.
Looking back on that day I remain totally bewildered. Nothing quite like that had ever happened to me before nor has it happened since. Whenever most people hear this story their first question is usually whether I regret it. Personally, I’ve never been too fond of regrets. I think––especially through being a photographer–– I am acutely aware of the ephemeral nature our memories. Ultimately, that’s why we take photographs. It is an act of preservation, of documentation, it is a desperate attempt to hang onto the things we find meaningful. Now, anytime I look at the three faded black dots that adorn my arm I am instantly transported to one of the most intense experiences of my life. I remember not only that night and the people that we met but also the feeling of a profound release from weeks of ennui. That in itself carries a certain value. I do not claim to be proud of what happened. But I am happy that it did.
Photos taken from Reprobates in the USA, a photo documentary of a summer spent slumming it around America.
Words and photos: George Voronov