A Shady Lane, Everybody Wants One

Dear Millicent,

It is strange that one of the first things that comes up under the Google search “my neighbor was found dead” is a fertility forum on TCOYF, where many of the userIDs include data about blighted ovums and blastocysts. The other strange thing, as Google often proves, is that, to quote a recent Tweet by B. Rudofsky quoting Slacker: “there’s too much direct evidence against uniqueness.” There are a lot of people wondering if their neighbor is dead, and a lot of them are right. And none of us know what to do about it.

But this is not about me. It’s about me going to see Pavement.

And that my neighbor was dead upstairs for at least 5 days. In those days, there was an immense heat spell.  I waffled between certainty that the neighbor was dead, and an absolute sense of the opposite.  The symptoms were very easy to talk oneself in and out of.   Angry, difficult to approach, and often terrorizing, the neighbor was the kind of neighbor you will move to get away from.  The neighbor was toxic. Screamed often. Threatened often. Never presented as happy. I admit to expecting suicide. If I heard loud thumps followed by silence late at night, my thoughts immediately went to a chair kicked over, a body hanging. Scared of the neighbor, my only actions (small, but extremely difficult to actually do), were to quasi pray/meditate for him by picturing a large blue Buddha sitting on top of our building, calming all of us, and to call the police when the rants upstairs became violent.

TV static was the clue that something was off. TV static for days.  Dead, absent, or a neighborly over-reaction.  We talked ourselves out of the death because of a lack of smell and the misbelief that death is far-fetched.  Our biggest action was to call the landlord, who was our echo, suggesting pretty much anything except a body.

And now the terror upstairs is gone. My first reaction was minor surprise and immediate relief, and the notion of how quickly I wanted to assert myself into the story, to tell the other neighbor what we had thought, what we had seen, etc. And the other neighbor summed it up nicely when we had run out of things to mutter: “Well, I guess we now all have this story to tell,” and this was against a gorgeous sunset on the first cool day after the heatspell, and things felt spectacularly Californian. I thought of Patton Oswalt describing his first apartment in LA, with a woman next store who had raucous night terrors about the devil.  How had any of this become so successfully picturesque?

That night we went went to see Pavement and Sonic Youth at the Hollywood Bowl. The Hollywood Bowl is a fantastic place to whip up a plate of nostalgia.  The last time I was there was when we had just moved to the city, were just realizing how difficult it was to live under a screaming neighbor, and were wobbily smitten with Los Angeles.  Now we were back as much more formed versions of our newbie selves (including huge career changes, less overall wobble, health insurance), and we were watching a band that we had found as truer newbier selves at least a decade before. And I didn’t even really understand Pavement until after 200o when all my friends were boys who had at least 5 years on me and insisted on hangovers with beer and coffee and Pavement.  The joy was the twisted ennui  that made perfect sense, the sense of being represented. The fandom.

We brought wine, tuna tartar, and Vosges chocolate. The first song was the radio hit “Cut Your Hair.”  Malkmus was wonderfully windblown and muscular. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth was wonderfully windblown and muscular (Note* when I say windblown, I mean that the wind came from their own gyrations).  Thurston Moore was wonderfully beshirted. The lights were well strung. They were a commercial for themselves. Everything that they had beaconed as cool almost 20 years ago has made it.  This isn’t a cry against selling out, I don’t think that’s the case. It’s the Hollywood Bowl on a hot night, rock music with seats, the expected accoutrement of taste, the fact that it was all really comfortable, nobody exactly an asshole, and nobody exactly not an asshole. And the same question from the afternoon: how did this all get to be so successfully picturesque?

I don’t claim an original seedy knowledge of any of these bands from the days when they were in small clubs or anything like that.  I do claim to see our generation taking on the mantles of younger middle age.  I bet we look as good as our parents did at Paul Simon Live in Central Park.  It makes just as much sense to us.  The grand venue, the picnic, the music we deem as important and very good. I’m not sure Pavement was happy about us or any of it.  That first song felt classically snide, and the show covered the basics without a lot extra. I kept calculating whether the bands looked like they had money or not (they did). The entire show all felt representative, but entirely within bounds. Either they weren’t interested in pushing a limit, or we had all caught up to the one they built for us when we still shopped at Sam Goody. A minor whammy of age, but a surprise.

I keep thinking of David Foster Wallace’s definition of a tourist as a “parasite on a dead thing.” It doesn’t work for either of the experiences of this week, but it brings up the question of proximity and responsibility.  The neighbor’s bedroom is over my bedroom. I imagine that is where the body was found, and that it still hasn’t been cleaned.  And my insistence on how this affects me, when it was a stranger who died, and yet in my heart of hearts I think of it foremost as an interesting story, a tidbit of citylife, a lesson that works against ideas of merit or salvation.  A relief.

I’ll let this collage relax and quit getting forced into meaning.  It was weird, is all. And it was chorus.




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