Greg, one of the assistant managers who reported to him, stopped him in the undersized stockroom as Levi was headed from the little desk–which some idiot in corporate thought qualified as a manager’s office–to the salesfloor. “Lee–You live in WeHo, right?”
“Um, no. Hollywood.”, Levi said, slowing to a stand at the door to the salesfloor. “ Just a few blocks away”
“Oh, that’s strange. I thought you lived in West Hollywood.”
“No,” Levi said, annoyed by what he assumed was a stereotypical assumption. “They allow gay people to live almost everywhere these days. Apparently, you haven’t heard our latest public service announcement from the gay agenda: Homosexuals—We’re Everywhere!”
“I didn’t mean it like that, Lee!” But straight boy, Levi thought, didn’t have much “apology” in his tone. “Really—I didn’t.” This time, softer.
Levi blew it off.
“Well, regardless, as for WeHo—West Hollywood; I hate that WeHo moniker–I can’t live there,” he explained, trying to smooth the moment over. “I’m a West Hollywood refugee. I pissed off two West Hollywood queens who hold court most nights at The Abbey. They’re named Brad and Chad—you know, one of those power gay couples who look identically alike and even wear the same clothes because they think—hold down your lunch–‘twinning is winning!’? I swear to God, they have that on a custom doormat. ‘Twinning is Winning!’ Yeah, well, my ex—about who we will never speak so never bring this up again—was really good friends with that couple, Brad and Chad. They are nauseating. You can go on YouTube and you’ll see that they film their entire life–as if they forgot the camera was right there; thank God they’re camera-ready at all times!– and they’re always oh so happy and always in love and smiling and all their followers floss their ego and buff their self-confidence. Comments like, ‘Oh,Brad and Chad—you’re the best looking couple anywhere!’ and ‘Brad and Chad, I want your life so bad!’ and ‘Brad and Chad, you are so cute!’ Well, I loathed Brad and Chad. By the way, Chad’s real name? Ernest. I swear to whatever God you believe in. He adopted the ‘nickname’ Chad when he started dating Brad. Anyway, for two oh-so-happy queens, they really are an unpleasant, insecure mess and they were always being bitchy to me. Sniping about my being from Atlanta and always making fun of my accent. You don’t think I have an accent? Neither do I! Anyway, Brad and Chad loved, adored and probably wanted to have a three-way with my ex so they were always inviting us places. Or, really, inviting him. And when I showed up, they’d always act surprised and quite visibly pretend to be happy to see me—air kisses and ‘Oh—come‘ere; it’s so nice to see you!’ hugs and all that queeny affectation I don’t go for. Anyway, one day Brad or Chad—I swear, look them up. They are frighteningly identical—said something very snide to me, something like, “I wouldn’t expect a person like you to understand, being from flyover country—” and I just went off. Because I may not live there anymore but I love Atlanta. Do not put down Atlanta to me, especially if you’re so narcissistic your soul mate is your reflection. Damn—that was good; I wish I had thought of that then. Anyway, I stopped him and said, ‘Look—I don’t know who you are. No, really—I can’t tell. Are you Brad? Or Chad? Regardless, you’re a colossal asshole. So why don’t you go fuck yourself? Or fuck your boyfriend? Because that’s pretty much the same thing–isn’t it?’ And then I told them that they nauseated me and were a bad representation of what gay people had been fighting for when we were fighting for marriage equality. And I told them that that they were vain and superficial and so completely, totally unlikable. ’Oh, and by the way,’ I said, ‘ my boyfriend—who does not look like me because I’m not a freak—is never going to fuck either one of you. So give it up.’”
Seeing that Greg was surprised by this story—they never really talked about anything but work; Levi was friendly with Judy but pretty distant from the rest of the team– Levi smiled awkwardly.
“You just wanted to know if I lived in West Hollywood, didn’t you? I’m sorry. No one ever asks me questions. I’m not used to it.”
“Nah—” Greg said, waving his embarrassment away. “That was cool. It’s nice to see another side of you. WeHo Refugee!”
“Yeah,” Levi said, uncomfortably digging his hands into his pockets. “What did you want to know?”
“Oh—I’m looking for a new place and though WeHo might befun. Was wondering if you knew of any available apartments or anyone there looking for a roommate.”
“Yeah. I wanna be near the Abbey and Mickey’s and Factory—”
Levi was visibly baffled.
“I’m LGBT,” Greg told him.
“Really? Which one?” Levi asked, stunned. “There’s four things in LGBT. . .”
“Oh—the G,” Greg clarified, before adding, in case the letter was still too vague for someone from a generation before him, “Gay.”
Levi pondered this. He had apparently made some stereotypical assumptions of his own about sun-bleached surfer boy.
Greg smirked at him in camaraderie, as if reading his confused mind and jovially shouted, “Homosexuals–We’re everywhere!”
* * *
Located in a mid-century mid-rise on Larchmont, the office of Levi’s psychiatrist had a very private waiting room; exiting patients were sent out a different door than that from which they had entered so as to not see the next patient in the waiting area; Levi assumed this was because his doctor treated celebrities. And celebrities, more so than any other person in Los Angeles, must have their shrink sessions without other people knowing. It made him feel a bit. . .glamorous. . .about going to a psychiatrist once every two or three weeks. And this air of celebrity was helped by the appearance of her office.
There, a window as wide as the room looked up Larchmont to the Paramount Studios white water tower—a gleaming beacon on sunny days of blue skies and, in gloomy June, a white beacon against a brown one. Beneath that window was placed a sofa, a flower-dressed coffee table before that, and two high-backed, soft chairs at either end, facing each other. The furniture, the window, the view—it all pulled together to look like the set for a talk show, “Psychoanalysis Tonight.” Helping this illusion further along was a runner that ran from the door the patient entered to the wall opposite. To the left of the entering patient, the talk show set; to the right, in the strange black shadows of her office—where her desk and files sat—the audience. Whenever Levi entered, summoned from the waiting room by the camera-ready star shrink, he had to fight the urge to enter, waving to the audience as the house band in his head played Liza Minnelli’s “Losing My Mind”.
He never took a place on the couch but instead, in the chair against the far wall. That way, the imaginary cameras could catch him from his left side, three-quarter profile ;his best angle. The doctor took the chair by the door, crossed her legs casually, and opened the leather-bound volume in which Levi assumed she kept notes like, “Levi Hastings. Slut.” And“Levi Hastings. Unpredictable asshole.”
“So, what’s been going on since we last saw each other?” she asked him. “You’ve been taking the medications?”
“Yes,” Levi said. “You know, I didn’t feel anything at first. And I did get sick one night.”
“Puked. It was just the one time. And it was okay, nothing big in retrospect. Though I cried like a baby. God—I was just so angry that I had to start taking pills. Thank God I only puked in front of Barry—that’s the cop I sort of see but am not committed to. I mean, it wasn’t like I finally saw X again and puked in front of him. Now that would be awful. But, anyway, I was getting depressed—you know, I could feel my moods sliding around again–and then. . .I don’t know if it was the pills or what but. . .I got a little suicidal. . .and then. . .I got fine. Like, poof, all is okay. And I notice I’m talking a lot. Like, really, alot. Like, try, try, try to shut me up. Really. Try. You can’t do it. I just keep talking. Go ahead. Tell me to shut up. I won’t. I just keep talking. And I think, ‘This isn’t normal.’ Like, normally, I get depressed and I’m sullen and quiet. But I can not shut the fuck up. I just keep talking. Or humming. Or singing. Just last night, I was at Barnes and Noble—you know, the one at The Grove? I was having coffee with my friend Kyle—I told you about him before; the blind one. So I’m having coffee with Kyle and normally Kyle is the one who talks. I told you how everyone in my life just sort of talks, talks, talks, and then when they’re done talking, they go and leave me alone like I’m some kind of dirty whore. But last night, I could not shut up. Kyle even said, ‘Why are you so talkative?’ and doctor, I don’t know. Is it possible that one of these drugs I’m taking is too much? Like maybe one of the chemicals that were imbalanced one way before is now imbalanced the other way? Because I need to go to the library—Barnes and Noble didn’t have the book I wanted; it’s out of print–and I don’t want to get kicked out of the library because I can’t shut up. That would kill me. Not literally, of course. A person dies of cancer or getting hit by a car, not embarrassment. Who was the drama queen who coined that phrase and why do we even still use it when it’s been scientifically proven by all of us that one can not die of embarrassment? See? I can’t stop talking. Oh—and I joined a cult. Which—don’t worry; I know it’s a cult. And being atheist, they can talk God all they want and I can never believe them. So it’s safe for me to join a cult. See? I’m just observing. Like an investigative reporter or an anthropologist or something, watching how The Braunstein Center indoctrinates people and learning what it is they really teach behind the pseudo synagogue walls. It’s like I’m Diane Fossey among mystical Jews. Mystical Jews in the Midst. Oh—and before I forget—I can’t sleep. It’s not the ‘I can’t sleep’ that I get with mania or the ‘I can’t sleep’ that I get from remembering. . .you know. . .that thing in Atlanta.”
This last caused the only pause in Levi’s unrestrained ranting.
His ranting, amused tone gave way to a desperate one.
“It’s that I really can’t sleep.”
That’s what the doctor gave him. Apparently, it would give him a little less of the “that” he now had too much of, without sucking away the “this” of which he hadn’t enough. She said it was an anti-anxiety medication but that, in small doses, it would work to help him sleep. She had warned that it may actually be difficult to wake from at first and so she also prescribed a small dose of something for him to take in the morning, as well. Something to sleep, something to wake.
“So, I’m going to be like Judy Garland,” he had muttered. “Without the talent.”
He’d only take the additional morning pill until he got used to the Klonopin, she promised him.
But, desperate for sleep after the past few days of restlessness and the upwards spiraling he felt, that absolutely higher-than-high happiness and inability to shut up—he was even singing now, as he lay down to sleep, the pill swallowed alongside the rest of his nighttime dosages—he welcomed this new pill as much as he had resented the initial taking of its colleagues which had caused this.
“It takes awhile to get the medications balanced out; to find which ones work best with your individual chemistry,” she had apologized by way of impersonal explanation to him. Reduce this dosage, increase this one, add in this, eventually subtract that. . .it was like she was making a nice casserole and perfecting the recipe. Quiche a L’ Insane.
Now improved with Klonopin!
He did sleep that night, drifting off and away faster and heavier than he had expected. And it was a relaxing sleep, unlike the bits of fits of sleep he had managed to snatch in pieces and scraps over the preceding nights. In those tiny patches of dozing, he had nonetheless been immersed in an active daze, thinking even as he slept of the things he had to do, words he had to write, plans he had to make and what he’d say when he invited Amber and her latest soon-to-be-exboyfriend, or Kyle or maybe even Barry to those grand adventures he formulated. He had, even as he slept, seemed to make lists that were fresh on his lips when he woke.
But when the Klonopin hit him. . .there was sleep. An odd, eventless darkness. More like being knocked unconscious than sleeping. No dream—and that was not a bad thing. Dreams and his fear of them were what he credited with keeping him awake most nights. In dreams, his mind wandered backwards; it was always replaying and rewinding back. Back before the Braunstein Center. Back before the pills. Back before the psychiatrist. Back before he lost X. Back before he moved to Hollywood to begin life again. Back before he had woken up in the hospital in Atlanta to find his old life over. . .
Those dreams had given him a bedtime mantra. Where others prayed for forgiveness or to God to give them this, that, or the other, Levi often thought, “Mind, please be kind. Do not rewind.”
But on Klonopin? No, there were no dreams on that drug. No regressing reverie or catatonic choo-choo pulling him backa backa backa backa backa backa backa whoo-whoo to that place.. .not there. . .not there again. . .not back to Atlanta and that day and that hour when his entire world had changed and he survived only to lose his mind.
He just slept. Welcoming the calm and the darkness and the silent, still void.