The blue and yellow color-scheme of the little café in Beachwood Canyon was, to Levi, eternally cheerful. He loved it. Even now, his mind sinking into that slinking abyss he knew so well, with his interest in all but his mood fading away, the blue and yellow cheeriness pleased him. If he ever bought himself that dream house—a little bungalow here in the hills under the Hollywood sign–he promised himself it would be painted a bright, cornflower blue and cheery, sunflower yellow.
At least. . .in the kitchen. Maybe not the whole house. Having to look upon so much cheerfulness in every room would seriously piss him off.
It was his day off—just one day that week; one assistant manager was on vacation and Judy was sick so he’d had to work on his other day off—and he was reluctantly meeting Amber for lunch. A former college classmate, he met her when she was still Beatrice. But sometime after college and her relocation to Los Angeles, following the path west blazed by their mutual friend Kyle, Beatrice had become Amber, the name matching the mane. And Amber found herself an Assistant Curator atThe Getty, while Levi. . .
Well, some career aspirations simply don’t work out.
He usually enjoyed Amber or, rather, the idea of her. He always looked forward to meeting her for brunch, lunch, cocktails, or a barbecue, but today’s slide into depression had brought with it the benefit of foresight; foresight earned from past experiences he usually ignored. She was one of the many talkers who filled his life. Like Barry. Mike. Rick. Chloe, Kyle. . . .hell, the whole universe. . .
It was as if he attracted people who liked to talk—about themselves and their ideas and their thoughts and their hurts and their happinesses—and as if they assumed it was his role and function in life to listen and absorb while they prattled endlessly. As if he never needed them to show any interest in him, any concern for him, or any awareness that friendships were not one way communication channels. It was as if, listening done, he became invisible until they next needed an ear.
He had a funny feeling he had done this to himself. Somewhere along the line with each of them ,he must have set the tone: You talk, I’ll listen. You talk some more, I’ll listen more. You never shut the hell up, I’ll still sit there and listen and listen and listen. Or maybe, Levi pondered, just maybe. . .just maybe his friends were selfish motherfucking assholes.
“You won’t believe the shit that just happened to me,” Amber said, announcing her arrival as she slid into the wooden, Swedish-sleek chair opposite him.
No “Good morning”, or “You look so cute in that hat!” or “Thanks for meeting me here.” Nope. Just straight into a monologue.
He decided he should start wearing a hat that read, “Monologue me.” He could go from town to town and everyone in the world could just come up to him and chat, chat, chat away his life. Never ask him questions. Never return his “How are you?” with a “How are you?” Just monologue. Just talk.
God, it was getting frustrating. He was in pain, his depression stabbing at him in the light of her complete lack of interest in it, in him, her ambivalence, she just like all the others. And why speak? Why bother? She wouldn’t listen. None of them would. She was ranting about how someone had cut her off as she turned from Franklin onto Beachwood. That was what was important. Not that he was beginning to feel like he just wanted to go home to his apartment, draw the blinds, and will his breathing to slow, still, and stop.
How nice would it be to just be able to decide, “Body? Die.” and have it do so?
As he smiled at her as if to say, “Oh, your day will get better”, he wondered about those pills his psychiatrist had prescribed. Could they be used to commit suicide? Would a psychiatrist actually put in the possession of a manic depressive-he had come to like that term better than bipolar—would she actually have given him the weapon by which he could kill himself?
“Am I boring you?” Amber was staring at him through her oceanwater-blue, apologetic eyes.
“Sorry,” he said. “No. Go on.”
“Damn,” he thought. “I do cause all this.” But. . .what was hesupposed to say? “Pardon me. I’m feeling sad. Depressed. My mind is catatonic and I can’t even form a sentence right now.”
Actually. . .yes. That’s what he should say, he berated himself. Lord knows, she would. Hell, she’d post it on social media, create an internet meme, a YouTube video, an Instagram story. Her whole life was naked to the world. Of course she’d say, “I’m sad and need you to listen.” And of course, Levi being Levi.. .he would. Even though he was eating a delicious sandwich with no joy, sitting with a friend and feeling no happiness, in a charming café in his favorite neighborhood and feeling none of the cheeriness of its bright colors, stained glass, and paper lanterns.
Lunch done and Amber packed into her car, Levi considered just going back home to his apartment. But he knew if he did that, he’d just stay there all day, swallowed up and allowing himself to be swallowed up by the mood which had crashed over him a few days ago and from which, thrashed about and trapped under in its currents, he had yet to find a way to the surface. He decided on his usual exercise of walking the hidden staircases of Beachwood Canyon, built in the 1920’s when the Hollywoodland subdivision had been built and the staircases crafted by German artisans of granite excavated from a nearby quarry to aid access between the terraced, steep streets of the hillside enclave. Each stairwell contained over a hundred stairs and, as they climbed throughout his favorite neighborhood—the first part of Los Angeles he had truly loved—the steep ascension each offered usually eased his mind as he passed the fanciful storybook architecture of the historic faux castles andTudor cottages and Spanish-Mediteranean villas. (But not the awful, modern white boxes that had come to populate and uncomfortably sit beside the architecture from the original Hollywoodland development. Those contemporary monstrosities proved thezoning board had no taste or understanding about what made Beachwood Canyon so magical.)
Before he set off on the heart-pounding climb, he popped into the small grocery near the café, a quaint little village market—the type of place one shows off to visiting relatives: “Oh, haven’t you a cute little village market in your neighborhood? I simply adore ours! Look—fresh milk and friendly faces! They know my name here! I just love it!”, he imagined saying to his cousin Vincent, that son-of-a-bitch who always overshadowed him. Well, he wouldn’t overshadow Levi when Levi was worth millions and had himself a nice castle in Beachwood Canyon and invited that asshole for a visit, nosirree!
Levi wondered for a moment where that reverie came from and then, leaving the store and crossing its compact little parking lot to head up Beachwood Drive, popped open the bottled water he had just bought, threw the pills he had to take into his mouth–pop, pop, pop, pop, and one more pop–now that he had eaten lunch, and chased them with his Dasani. Which is when he noticed two women at their respective BMWs staring at him. As if scandalized that he had just taken drugs. . .in broad daylight!
Did they think he was a drug addict? Should he tell them that his doctor had prescribed them? That he wasn’t abusing painkillers? Or—worse yet—did they think he was committing the ultimate LA sacrilege: Eating candy?
He assumed they were just a couple of snobs with nothing better to do than be judgmental. “I’m (BLEEP)ing bipolar! These are NOT Skittles!”, he imagined screaming at The Cunts of Beachwood Canyon. (He thought that would make a great reality show for Bravo.) For as much as Levi loved Beachwood Canyon, its residents were not high on his love list. The residents seemed to think that only they had a right to access the streets of Beachwood Canyon, even though their streets were maintained by Los Angeles taxpayers, not a private homeowners association. They resented the tourists and local strangers who came to drive and stroll through the neighborhood to get a good glimpse of the Hollywood sign. They even went so far as to post signs saying, “Visitors Not Welcome”, “Tourists Go Home”, and “No Access to Hollywood Sign”. As if, Levi thought of reminding them, when buying their home, they hadn’t noticed the giant white letters hanging off the cliff that loomed above their neighborhood; the forty-foot tall letters that spelled out, “HOLLYWOOD.” Those white letters—which originally announced, “HOLLYWOODLAND” until the “LAND” was excised in the 1940’s–had dominated the mountainside and predated any of the homes in the area, a billboard for the development beneath it, the sign itself, over the years, becoming a landmark synonymous with the myth and romance of Hollywood.
He wondered if people in Paris who lived on Rue Marinoni bitched and complained about tourists who came to France to see the Eiffel Tower.
Beachwood Canyon wasn’t a private community, gated off andfor the enjoyment of only its homeowners. They were living in a part of Los Angeles maintained by the taxpayers but they wanted the public out. Well, fuck them and their “No Visitors” signs, Levi thought, partly out of righteous indignation, partly out of jealousy that his dream to live there would always be unrealized. He absolutely loved the bumpy, steep, winding streets, streets that sharply turned as they climbed, as if to keep the mountain and hills from finding a straight road to run down into the Hollywood basin. He loved the charm of all but the newest homes, the myth that Clark Gable and Carole Lombard secretly lived in that castle there onWoodhaven, that Bela Lugosi once lived in that home there, and that Charlie Chaplin owned that house–yes, that little white one right there on the street! Yes, the roads were narrow—often too narrow for two cars to pass one another without one pulling to the curb, and the streets sometimes so winding and the drop below so deep he himself didn’t care to drive along them—but the neighborhood had a charm and a magic he had never before known. Having spent his pre-Los Angeles life in Atlanta, he had been used to red-or-white brick colonials and Georgians, bland commercial buildings, the occasional Arts-and-Crafts bungalow. In Beachwood Canyon, he had found architecture that reaffirmed an innocence, an almost Disney-like magic defiantly standing in tree-shaded shadows just a few miles from the harshest of Los Angeles’s realities.
It was home even though he lived a few miles away, in the flats of Hollywood, in an apartment building between Vine and Highland, just south of Sunset. To which, rather than return, he climbed the various staircases up and up, from near Beachwood Market up to Durand.
The climb cleared his head a bit, but his mood remained firmly in place. He took little joy in the climb today but did give himself credit that he had done something productive instead of simply going back to his apartment and fitfully trying to read or pointlessly watch a movie that his attention would slip from before the opening credits were over and the story begun.
He walked up the winding slopes of Durand until he reached the white stucco walls of Wolf’s Lair—the castle most recently owned by musician Moby—and then returned to walk back to the staircase which led from Durand down between trees and the walls of houses to Belden Drive. A sad sense of hopelessness began to well up within him. Down, down, down Durand and deeper and deeper and deeper into the downturn. He hated the slip into depression. The manic highs were so much more pleasant and there was never any telling how long a depression might last. Plus, making things worse. . .mixed states. He had once had a depression last for over a year—a lost, hopeless feeling that left him wondering each morning why he couldn’t have just died in his sleep. With depression the overruling state, his mind had continued to have manic highs but—coupled with the depression—those highs had come out as his being brittle and nasty andwildly impulsive and . . .
He didn’t want to think about it. He actually shook his head violently, like a child, as if that would deny the thoughts permission from playing before him like a puppet show of punishment for his personal psychosis. Embarrassed by the impulsive motion, he glanced about to make sure no one had seen him. Durand, thankfully, was empty, the hillside across the street empty of anything but trees, brush, and dirt and the homes behind him behind privacy fences. And across the valley from him, the Hollywood sign.
Someone had once committed suicide from the Hollywood sign.
It was all the sign meant to him today. It was not a symbol of the old films he loved and devoured on Turner Classic Movies or saw when the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard would drag some out for a film festival. Today it was all about suicide. Because he was beginning to feel that call again.
It had been an actress named Peg Entwistle, who had committed suicide there, jumping from the “H” he could see now. True, the letters had been replaced since then, the original letters having decayed and rotted over the years, but it was there, on that site, that the young woman–once a Broadway star but, in Hollywood, unable to duplicate her stage success on celluloid–jumped to her peace. On a September evening in 1932, she had left the home of her uncle, with whom she lived, and claimed to be meeting some friends for ice cream. Instead, she hiked almost to the very top of Mt. Lee, climbed the “H” of the Hollywood sign, and jumped to her death. The fall to the steep hillside forty feet below below and its jagged rocks killed her; the slope sent her body sliding even further down. In her purse was found a vague note of apology. The LAPD claimed it was a suicide—but Levi had doubted that story the first time he heard it. There were so many easier ways to kill yourself—and wouldn’t it have taken her all night to climb that rugged mountainside—and in the dark, no less?
While he would never be convinced Peg Entwistle was not murdered and either lazy police work or maybe even a police coverup had created the myth of the fallen former Broadway star who took her life from the Hollywood sign, Levi did know this: If she had indeed jumped to her death intentionally, Peg Entwistle was the Queen of all Drama Queens.
No. Let Peg Entwistle own the Hollywood sign and the dark side of its mythology.
One day, when his illness became too much, when he was alone and his illness had cost him everything and everyone–just as it had cost him X– he decided, he would end his life not by jumping from the Hollywood sign. Whether factual or anecdotal, let Peg Entwistle own that. Instead, he decided–as he gazed down to Beldin, far below him from where he stood on Durand–when his own illness got to be too much. . .he would toss himself head-first down those concrete stairs. The fall would likely snap his neck and crush his skull, killing him before he was even halfway down.
But not today. Not yet.
When he made his way down the streets and back to his car, which he had left near the café, his phone vibrated with a text message:
“Levi, hello! This is Chagai from the Braunstein Center. I know you start classes next month but why not come by tonight so we can get to know you? We are having a social mixer for new students at 7pm. We’d all like to see you there.”.
It was almost as if they sensed his loneliness. How odd, Levi thought. And how nice to see a text message of full words, sans emojis and emoticons.
As he got in his car and drove down Beachwood, he decided he’d go to this “mixer”, this likely attempt on Chagai’s part at indoctrinating Levi–an atheist–into their social circle–a cult. It couldn’t be worse than sitting at home in a lonely fog, he thought, and it might even amuse him.
At the red light at the intersection with Franklin, despite his logical self advising that it would be best to avoid having anything to do with the Braunstein Center, Levi quickly and impulsively typed back, “Thanks. I’ll see you tonight!”