After he finished his work at the premiere and received his insincere thank you from the upper ranks of the Braunstein Center—an amusing, empty “thank you”now that the event was over and no one but other volunteers were about to witness the false smiles and lack of appreciation found in pseudo spirituality—and now wandering to his car parked somewhere up on Olympic, he felt a draining in him. Not all that unlike a basin with the stopper pulled out, his mood—not so much his restless energy, but his mood—seemed to be emptying out of him, like the colored breath he visualized exhaling in a Kabbalistic meditation exercise.
With each step up the street, as cars whooshed past in either direction, under the yellowy lamplights and over the patchwork tar, manholes, and cracking pavement of Robertson, he could feel something oozing from him, down from his head, out of the tips of his fingers, draining past his knees and out his feet, and he wanted all this emptying to stop. It was as if the night had provided him a surge in sugar and now the napping was knocking to be let in. And the napping was something sad, something disappointing—an end to a fun party, an unwelcome low in the face of the high of having a movie star not just talk to him but remember him. And choose talking to him over talking to anyone else for a few moments. No, that high had to stay, even if the star himself was once again up, high up in the Hollywood Hills or on a ranch in Encino or a historic Los Feliz Spanish Mediterranean, behind guarded gates and out of the reach of people like him who worked unpleasant jobs and lived in unpleasant apartments and walked to their cars because no one sent a limo for them and saw not a world of red carpets but the homeless man curled up there in the doorway of a doctor’s office and found happiness not in the adoration of the public or multi-million dollar contracts to read some dialogue but in the comfort of a snack made of pills taken four times daily, with food so as to not cause stomach upset.
He wondered, as he walked further up the street, under the branches of the trees lining Robertson, past cars parked beside the curb, what would become of him. If at an age he knew to be relatively young (although he would joke of it being old) he already needed all those pills he took just to get through the day. . .what would become of him in the future? What type of future could he have if he had to spend the remainder of his life as the prisoner of a series of prescriptions? And when would they ever find that perfect recipe of pills to fix him? Always, always, there were the slips, the sudden ups through the medication’s haze, the little dips—as he feared he was experiencing now—when reality bluntly bullied its way to his forefront and stood before him, daring him to try to pass. Hard hands on his chest, slamming him back. Where was the protection of the medicine?
That was why he had begun taking more of this pill or that pill than he was directed. He would sense somehow that certain pills would do something, add a texture to his mood like a painter mixes in subtle hues to deepen their art. His moods were wild things; his medicating of those moods, the art of taming. Take more—not too much; you want to remain alive!—than prescribed to give himself a slight peak here or a slight downturn there. He was, through this personal experimentation simulating the very highs and lows he was prescribed the medications to avoid. As if once having visited Maniaville and Depressionton, he found a way to virtually recreate those little hamlets of his damaged mind. A way of returning to his natural state of a chemical imbalance by balancing out the chemicals meant to defeat the place in which he was meant to live.
And now, turning onto Olympic, its wide boulevard giving him a sense of vulnerability, of being exposed that protective, tight Robertson did not, he found himself trying to remember where he had parked his car. It had been curbside, but had it been west or east of Robertson? On the north or the south side?
Jesus, he hated when this happened. When the haze would cause him to forget the simplest—and freshest—of things even though it was failing to prevent his moods from slipping out from his casing. If it were overworking to numb him, he would be more forgiving of this haze that made his self seem less than he knew it to be, but no—it failed at even that. He could feel through his confusion about where he could have parked his car, as he stood looking up and down the street, peering past parked trucks and cars, that draining, that emptying of all the joy he had felt earlier that night. How special he had felt, for just a few minutes, when Damien Lanchester had talked with him and laughed with him as if he were one of the most wonderful people on the earth. No—it wasn’t so much that as it felt normal. He felt normal. Just two men talking and laughing and sharing a few private words. And the drug haze had not been present to fog it up. That moment, he imagined, must be what it’s like when your mind isn’t broken like some shitty toy better discarded than repaired. And he assumed that moment’s sequel—Damien had said he would bring Track by the store on Sunday—would be lesser somehow. Less familiar, less friendly, less we-might-possibly-become-friends. Sequels always paled beside the original. . .
He saw his car, walked hurriedly toward it, got inside and, once the doors were locked, reached into the glove box where he had a stash of pills. He popped two green ones in his mouth—something new the doctor had prescribed—and one of the pills he had been given to wake up from the Klonopin, a prescription which had been drained but renewed as Levi had difficulty clearing his head from the unconsciousness the Klonopin knocked him into. He chased them with a swish of water from the bottle of Vav Mem Bet he had been given by the Braunstein Center as thanks for his hard work, and decided he was in no mood to simply go home.
Factory was just a few hours from its opening time of ten at night when he arrived near midnight and it hadn’t yet become as fully packed as he knew it would be by its closing time of three in the morning, when the booze, MDMA and cocaine in the bloodstream of the clubgoers edged out the oxygen and white blood cells. He didn’t care to hang around that long; his intent was merely to pop in and maybe dance a little and maybe find someone to go home with. He had considered calling Barry but—goddamnit!–he was just too infuriatingly slow. What the hell were they? A few days filled with a few dates or a few nights with a few fucks were often, if not always, followed by a week or more of silence. Not the right type of company for tonight. He needed to be shocked out of himself, not stuck listening to Barry ramble on endlessly about God knew what and in so much painstaking detail Levi never knew by the time a story finished where it had begun, so lost would he be in all the tangents and specifications Barry would call out along a tiresome verbal route. “If we could just fuck and cuddle and he never spoke, he’d be almost perfect,” Levi thought. “But, he has to talk. Talk, talk, talk. Never listen. Just talk. And I just can’t listen tonight. Not to one of his boring stories.”
Something about that made him angry, switching off the calm and pushing him immediately into one of his furies. Why the hell did Levi always have to listen? It wasn’t as if Barry came pre-loaded with interesting stories. He was such a dullard that the mundane, to Barry, became fascinating. How often had Levi had to hear, “What’s interesting about that is. . .” and restrain himself from shouting, “There’s absolutely nothing interesting in that!” And that was often very hard to do, requiring him to fight against his sometimes manic impulses. Why the hell couldn’t Barry listen every now and then? When did Barry ever listen to him? What did Barry even know about him? He talked so much, all Barry knew was that Levi was a good listener. Fucking selfish asshole, always talking and never listening.
His head began spinning into fury and he momentarily feared what was coming. In the past—a past he had tracked himself for a decade or more—this type of fury, this sudden rage, if preceded by a night like tonight, where something had made him happy and thrilled him—as the party had done and to which Damien Lanchester had added a whole new element—there came a dull draining. . .and then a fury. An anger. Because it was all going away. Tomorrow would be the same as always and a depression would come sooner rather than never and life would be the same old same old thing he hated and why the fuck did this have to happen in his god-damned life?
Look at all those guys in the club. Why couldn’t it happen to one of them—like to that guy there with the black hair and the crappy attitude etched into every centimeter of his otherwise handsome face? Or that one, the fey one giving off so much attitude, you’d almost think he was as important as he thought himself to be. They were mean and unkind and insulting and rude whereas he was kind and sweet and thoughtful and giving. They deserved this hell, he thought. Not him. But he was the one cursed with it, cursed with a good day going bad like day old bread covered with decaying mold. As if for every happiness there needed to be a penance, for every good day a string of bad, for every laugh hours of emotional loneliness and intangible misery that threatened to smother the very life out of him. A toll on a road he had never asked to travel and from which he was yet unable to exit.
The vibration of the music, the pulsing bass making its way from speaker to bone, blasting through them all like a rhythmic wave of energy. Like light. Light. A Flame. And above, the light rig, coming down and up from the ceiling, flashing away the darkness in blinks and strobes. And in that rig, he saw ten lights. Ten lights like the sefirot of Kabbalah. The sefirot shining down upon him, he Malchut, he lowest rung of the Braunstein Center’s “Map to Whole”, the Tree of Life. And all those on the floor, all their arms reached out, up, waving in the air, as if exhalting in a religious fervor, a revival like those he had observed back home. As if the arms were celebrating the almighty above, or maybe, just maybe. . .they were all just kabbalists summoning the Flame to eradicate their personal poisons and shine Light upon them from above, lifting them higher, higher, higher.
“Holy fuck.” Levi shook his head as if to free it from something. “I’m beginning to think like those Braunstein Center idiots.”
He made a mental note not to ever again sip on a martini after taking the combination of those pills he had ingested on Olympic ever again. Swapping out a few pills every now and then was fine, he told himself. But to think like a cult member?
That was the beginning of something bad.