Real Places are Difficult to Find

The Hollywood Hotel is not in Hollywood, although it is in Los Angeles, nor is it much of a hotel. There is no room service, no food for purchase, no bar, no minibar, not even a fridge. Of course, at <$200/night, you can’t complain. There is air conditioning. There is a tiny cafe next door. Most of the time, there’s a man downstairs at the desk, and there’s a smiling housekeeper who steals—or, at least, stole from me a pair of poison-green La Perla panties I’d unreasonably packed for the cross-country road trip that dropped me off broke in L.A.

I maxed out my overdraft to stay at this leaking armpit of star worship (lined with photocopied portraits of Jaynes and Gingers, advertised as “x number of blocks away from the cemetery”) and finish reading Raymond Chandler and review Frank Ocean at The Wiltern. After that, I wanted to meet a fellow expat and friend-of-a-friend who was living in Silver Lake; she suggested a wine spot near her. Having no money for a cab, I mapped my walk. On my phone, it seemed close. It was… two and a half hours away. I charged my phone, put on a slipdress, tucked a tiny bit of cash into my gun-embossed purse, and went.

This was not, I reflected, what you would call “a dry kind of heat.” It had no sense of humor at all. Even the shade was dispiriting, and held no relief. I stopped in the courtyard of a Catholic church to drink from a SmartWater so big God couldn’t lift it, and when the priest emerged I briefly considered a baptism.

If you’ve never walked in Los Angeles—and why would you, are you some kind of moron—you cannot understand how plotless its terrain really is. Before the church, I’d seen nothing but the brown backs of houses for half an hour. Next to the church, by which I mean three untidily hedged blocks down the road, there was a store with no front, only an open door, creaking steadily in the absence of wind. A clapboard sign advertised Mexican hodge-podge, and inside, a soft-voiced dwarf said “welcome.” I bought from her a black metal rosary. Thus guised, I thought about going back to the church for at least a confession, but when I stepped outside and gazed behind me I saw the steeple was now a good half-mile away, and it occurred to me I hadn’t eaten lunch.

Being two hours from the nearest cheap eatery on Google Maps, and two years past the borderline eating disorder that would have rendered this feeling triumphal, I cried. Then I looked for a place to rest and consider my career options, since obviously being a starving writer, not to mention broke, had gone out of style with road trips. Forty-five minutes, no food, and a sandal rash later, there was a bus stop. I sat. And when I looked up, there was a bodega.

One by one, I stuck whole chips into the darkening flesh, eating the thing up in chunks…

I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Lo, behold, the mirage effect was produced by extreme weatheredness on the outside and, on the inside, a generous layer of dust. Everywhere, dust. I felt like I’d broken into somebody’s bomb shelter. Tiptoeing past rows of Warhol-era soup cans and butter cookies, I opened the fridge, where the drinks stood unburied by silt, and grabbed one tall Mexican Coke. As you know, Mexican Coke contains real old-fashioned sugar, not the baby powder and/or laxatives that give American coke its buzz. It’s delicious. To go with it, I found a bag of Mexican lime-flavored Lay’s, which are likewise different from American lime-flavored products in that they’re good. Tart, salty—like a potato margarita in every bite. Plus, the expiration date was three weeks away.

At the cash, a miracle: Something fresh. A basket of avocados sat next to the battery-powered radios and oil lamps. Blinking, I poked one, and as it didn’t turn out to be a giant mold, I bought it.

Then I went back to the bench, where no one waited for the bus that didn’t come, and unscrewed the Mexican coke, ripped open the bag of Lay’s Limon, and peeled the avocado’s crust from its upper half. One by one, I stuck whole chips into the darkening flesh, eating the thing up in chunks, pacing myself with sugary black-brown sips, and I sound like I’m still exaggerating when I say that this ad hoc five-dollar lunch had the quality of a dying woman’s wish.

Sarah Nicole Pricket (@snpsnpsnp) is a writer in New York and a contributing editor at The New Inquiry. Alongside Berkeley Poole, she is the founder and boss of ADULT.