faust seduced by palms

4/27/10

When I was in college, I helped throw some of the greatest parties of our day; I had no trouble meeting anyone I wanted, and was positively fearless in love and lust. This was probably a grand correction from my childhood and early adolescence of forced introspection and monkhood, but it didn’t matter. I carried a sense of purpose, of survival, of fun and effortlessness all mixed together, even through my twenties, building a castle wall lined with arrow slits of sarcasm and disarming self-deprecation, depending on the situation. I was doing pretty well until I pulled my Volkswagen Fox up Beachwood Drive in 1997.

That began three years in LA that left me utterly confused on how the world functioned, where none of my survival mechanisms seemed to work, and contentment was replaced by calcified scales of deep cynicism. I was dipped in shit, and there was nothing I could do to cleanse myself of it.

Many of these people in LA had been some of my closest confidantes in a broad circle extending from North Carolina. I tried being gung ho; I was met with disdain. I tried being laissez-faire and cool; I was met with boredom. I tried removing myself from any potentially volatile situation, and was summarily forgotten about.

I couldn’t maintain any old friendships, get any gigs, make any money or get arrested. When I would go to a gathering, I’d have out-of-body experiences, suddenly seeing myself as “that guy”, whatever “that guy” was. It reached its apotheosis one night in late 1999, when the last of my old ego crumbled away.

I was at a party thrown by old friends who had become fairly successful, and through months of vague osmosis, I had gotten to know the names of the producers and agents that filled out their circle. A bunch of us – about 15 folks of varying genders – had ended up in this tiny room with no windows. A joint was being passed around, drinks were being filled, and there was the usual repartee of single people trying to be funny.

I joined in a few times, directing my comments at a guy named Peter, a successful producer I’d known from several readings over the preceding months. Everyone was getting a bit higher and a bit drunker, and I remember thinking I was finally having a little fun after a few years.

You never really knew what was going to be your ticket to the inside – a friend of mine ended up editing a huge movie because he happened to drive back from the desert with the right guy. Favors were passing left and right, little phone calls were placed for buddies, and scripts made their way to actors’ nightstands on suggestions and nudges. I had to participate; to do anything else would be insane, and leave you back at the bus station with the schlubs.

On the way home from the party, I had this creeping realization: the big producer, the guy my age who I had been joking with in front of so many people all night… I… I don’t think his name was Peter. In fact, I know it wasn’t Peter.

And I replayed the night in my head, all the times I said something, and the looks from others, trying not to be embarrassed for me, and the producer himself, giving a gentle laugh as I called him the wrong name, someone else in the room quickly saying something else so that the uncomfort wouldn’t linger… how did I not see it at the time? And I had even talked to his girlfriend, oh god, and none of the people I’d called friends ever pulled me aside…

And that’s when I said “fuck it, I give, I’m folding.” That was it. This place had an allergy to me. I was done. I didn’t go to any more parties, no more dates, no more going anywhere for six months. At the end of six months, I moved to New York without telling anybody, and started my life over.

I can’t believe, so many years later, with all I’ve managed to do, and coming back here and having a fair amount of success… I can’t believe how much pain that one night 11 years ago still causes me. I cannot let it go. It represents something bigger. Maybe I need it for navigation, so that I never go back.

0 thoughts on “faust seduced by palms

  1. LFMD

    I can’t ever imagine you being “that guy.” I have always thought of you as the kind of person who can be thrown into ANY group of people and be universally loved by all.
    I completely relate to your initial CA experience. I have been there, (and continue to be there), ever since graduating law school. I continue to feel out of place and misunderstood in the workplace, among the other parents at my daughter’s private school, with my husband’s friends, with my in-laws, in my suburban neighborhood. I have to work hard to seek out people who “get” me, and I wonder if it is because of my own personality “irregularities”. Who knows. All I know is that I have a harder time connecting with people than I have ever had in the past.
    Truthfully, this is part of the reason I love your blog and your blog community so much. Xtcian is the little bomb shelter I turn to when I am feeling on the outskirts. I am interested in everything you and your commenters have to say each day. I wish I could say the same about all the other people I encounter on a daily basis! I “get” what you are saying, and I am genuinely happy when other commenters “get” me. Sometimes you folks are interested in what I have to say, and to my amazement some folks think I am funny at times. It is so refreshing!

    Reply
  2. Anne

    Your writing is so vivid in a totally unstudied way. Like this great metaphor: “calcified scales of deep cynicism”. Bingo — exactly.
    Do you think anyone else who was in that little room with you all those years ago remembers that you called the wrong guy “Peter”? And if they do: big deal; by now they’ve probably come to the realization that we’re all only human.
    Laurie: “Xtcian is the little bomb shelter I turn to when I am feeling on the outskirts.” YES. And Ian built this shelter for us, without even meaning to. Some of you knew Ian “back then.” I came here for Coastopia and stayed. My own sense of not fitting in is eased, a bit, by working (for a few more months anyway!) and socializing in a university community. I find I”m more apt to find kindred spirits inside the ivory tower, although one then has to endure a certain smug, self-aggrandizing faculty contingent. But oh well.
    Ian, why do you think you hold on to that watershed experience if it causes you pain? Is there another way to think about it? What brings you back to that incident? It must have been a powerful slap indeed. I sympathize.

    Reply
  3. CM

    I still grimace at dopey things I said or did years ago, most of them likely forgotten about by other people. Hey, it keeps us human.

    Reply
  4. tregen

    The reason physical and mental assaults are so evil is because of the pain they cause years after the initial sting. Constant replaying of the event, fantasies of what you would do differently, etc. are all balms we smooth on the wound that never heals. There is a root infection that has to be cleaned and it is called forgiveness. Forgive yourself completely, forgive everyone from that period for everything. Then, with a little time, all wounds heal and the depths that you swam through can become, with more of the “glass half full” mentality, a deep reservoir of happiness.

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  5. mom

    I really like tregen’s comment. And I believe in the great power of and necessity for forgiveness. Especially of one’s self. Still, it’s easier said than done
    A very similar gaffe I made a age 12… TWELVE, for heaven’s sake, has haunted me in a similar way forever, replaying itself with terrifying clarity just often enough to cause me real pain. None of the people (all older adults) remembered it for more than a nanosecond. In fact, all of them are surely dead. But that moment still lives in my head and confirms that I am imperfect whenever I need reminding.
    As usual with so many of your posts, the writing was stunning.

    Reply
  6. Kathy

    Tregen is right about forgiveness but I find it impossible to forgive myself for some of the stupid things I’ve said, done, not done, etc. The cringy-ness of it all. It comes down hardest when I’m feeling the worst about myself, when the meds aren’t working quite well enough, when it’s that time of the month.
    I wish there were a cure for it – the rehashing of it all followed by the wish to jump off a bridge (not really but sort of). It does ebb in times of great happiness but always sneaks up on me again.
    All I can say is that without that moment, that painful miserable moment, you would not be where you are now. But you know that already.

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  7. jersey

    Wow. That was a great read. Maybe it’s just the sociopath in me, but when shit like that happens to me, I think about the line from Clark Griswold in “Vacation” after he renders his daughter deaf: “Ahh, what’s the difference? It was fun anyway!” I will say, I do think that LA sucks. I’m probably biased because I grew up 30 minutes from NYC here in God’s Country, but the last time I was in LA was for the 4th of July in 1999. It took over an hour to drive everywhere, everybody was looking for someone more important to talk to (and I am a VERY important person, mind you), and I thought the bars, the restaurants, and the overall “scene” couldn’t hold a candle to New York. Haven’t been back since – and no interest in returning. I officially give the finger to Kobe Bryant and all things LA. That is all.

    Reply
  8. Paul G

    We all have this story. Whether we can admit it or not. Whether we know it. Or not.
    Thanks for having the courage to tell us yours, Ian.

    Reply
  9. kate

    Totally and completely OT, but did anyone catch the Dook hate on Glee last night?
    Kurt’s dad is watching basketball and comments, “I hate Duke like I hate the Nazis.”

    Reply
  10. Joanna

    Great post. I like tregen’s comment, too. Forgiveness and letting go of guilt certainly lighten the burden. I think, though, that these memories haunt us because they remind us of our vulnerability. If it happened before, what twist of fate could land us in the same predicament – isolated, misunderstood, unappreciated? I also suspect that, like a whiff of Drakkar Noir brings you back to 1987 (or is that just me?), a hint of the prevailing emotion of a painful past experience in your otherwise stable present can bring you back to the painful past. Resolving those emotions in your current situation may help you to revisit the past a bit less.

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  11. summer

    Au contraire. I think this story should not carry away more feelings of shame and regret. Seems to me you left LA with a flourish.
    When is the last time someone called that bigwig producer by the wrong name, and KEPT DOING IT?!? Hilarious. Like movie-hilarious. As far as I’m concerned, you out-alpha’d the alpha-dog. Maybe everybody at the party just thought you were a crazy don’t-give-a-shit genius. Ever thought of that?

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  12. Joanna

    anonymous, I’m not sure if you’re laughing with me or at me, but your comment made me laugh! I realize my Drakkar reference was out of nowhere.
    Several years ago I stopped to smell Drakkar in a dept. store after not encountering it since high school. I was instantly back in my 12th grade physics class, flirting with my lab partner who always wore Drakkar. I generally don’t like any perfume or cologne, but I swear that stuff is an aphrodisiac. Those teenage boys need to quit the Axe and go old school!

    Reply
  13. ally-k

    I love your suggestion that we need those times for our navigation. That gives me much solace for the late night fretting over similar moments and periods of my life. Recently I moved to a completely different place for work and it has set me back to a constant state of that old familiar cringe feeling. I miss having people around who get me. Here it’s like my foot is always in my mouth or that people see me as some kind of freak. I love my job, otherwise, I’d leave. And I’m hoping this is all part of the process of being new in town.
    Thank you for so wonderfully expressing what I cannot.

    Reply
  14. tregen

    I feel the necessity of saying that the thoughts are not mine but that of Khalil Gibran that I’ve just tried to apply to my life.
    Of pain:
    Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses
    your understanding.
    Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its
    heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
    And could you keep your heart in wonder at the
    daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem
    less wondrous than your joy;
    And you would accept the seasons of your heart,
    even as you have always accepted the seasons that
    pass over your fields.
    And you would watch with serenity through the
    winters of your grief.
    Much of your pain is self-chosen.
    It is the bitter potion by which the physician within
    you heals your sick self.
    Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy
    in silence and tranquility:
    For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by
    the tender hand of the Unseen,
    And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has
    been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has
    moistened with His own sacred tears.

    Reply
  15. anonymous

    Joanna,
    We are completely in synch on this one! The scent of Drakkar takes me back to high school as effortlessly as clove cigarettes and Alphaville’s Forever Young (the Jay-Z version is blasphemy, I tell you!). Secret confession: I still have the remainder of a bottle from 1987 that I hang onto, just to satisfy the occasional desire to time travel. :)

    Reply
  16. Tater

    Ill follow up the excellent Gibran quote with one from shitmydadsays:
    “It’s Los Angeles, son. It’s the epicenter of the asshole earthquake. They’d fuck you twice if they had another dick.”
    You should not feel pain about that episode. Your inner disgust at that group got you out of that situation. It would have been much worse to have continued along with that group. Think that you were smart enough to hit the eject button.

    Reply

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