The invitation arrived at Zoo House, in a conspicuous, thick, silver envelope, addressed in a hand of fine calligraphy, poking out of the top of my little black mailbox in our run-down lobby in Berkeley, I tucked it under my arm on my way up after class. I dumped my stuff and stared at it, this remnant of my former life — lived in Los Angeles, aspiring screenwriter, and the partner of a successful Hollywood writer — she low-rent Gay Mafia, at the time. I’d known it was coming, though. My friend, Charles, had told me as much.
I’d met him through Parker, my ex. We’d been good friends with Charles and his ex, Kevin, successful Hollywood writer, after work outings routine. I’d get the call around six, seven or so, just as the writer’s room wrapped up for the day, Parker’s excited voice across the line,
“Come meet us!”
Then I’d hop into Deborah to that night’s four martini dinner, after which we always seemed to find ourselves in some, a few, many West Hollywood gay bar(s). More often than not it’d be The Abbey or Eleven, both relatively up on the scale. Once in a while, though, we’d hit The Mother Lode around the corner on Santa Monica. I’m certain they felt they were slumming it, going there; while, for me, it felt like a return to my roots — gritty, fucked-up L.A. The Mother Lode was exactly that, with it’s damp floors, guys groping each other all over the place — just a mad shit show, the Lode is the bar you hit as you’re walking back to your car at the end of the night, properly smashed. Charles and Kevin were expecting their second daughter on one such night and we’d ended our celebration there, stumbling out of the bar as it closed at two. We got the news the next morning, still drunk, ourselves — the boys had rolled in around three or so, got the call at four, and were on their way to Bakersfield by five, to see their daughter born.
They’d broken up not long after Parker and I, Charles and I remaining close, as we’d always been, the camaraderie of wives, as it were. He’d met someone new, as is wont to occur, confiding in me then that some of his friends had taken sides, but he and Kevin and the girls were doing well, adjusting, but dealing. He didn’t say much about Matthew, his someone new, only the most important things. That he was happy. And in love. The less important thing, I discovered later, over drinks with Parker — Charles’ future husband is a founding partner of a Too Big to Fail & the architect of a Legendary Hollywood Deal. A Billionaire. Elite Gay Mafia.
I’d lived months of moral quandary by the time the invitation poked out of my mailbox that day. Settled in Berkeley and becoming, my world view expanded, radical. I’d grown out of my Hollywood dreams, feeding my mind and the artist. I was at City Hall the night of the raid in L.A.
I had risked my body and freedom trying to bring to light the thievery committed by men like Matthew. Just how, exactly, does one weigh the loyalty of friendship against a wedding paid for by the theft of people’s homes?
You’re reading my rationale.
I still couldn’t help but wait until the very last minute to RSVP, though, my conscience still quite cross with me.
The attire Summer Black Tie, I had to look it up. And I have to admit that I was tempted, at first, to fit in, still genderfuckery, of course, a tux — but straight-up formal. A hit of weed and I righted, decided I’d put my own kind of spin on it, knowing that Parker would, too, our aesthetic never far off from each other — I was certain she’d a riff on a suit with dressy kicks, like me. Both of hers bought from Barney’s, though, former of mine from Goodwill, the latter from Melrose, one of a kind Pumas, by the way.
Paul Frank slacks, a shirt by Hicks’ Laundry, Pierre Cardin vest and black jacket, my shit was tailored and fly, and my one of a kind Pumas, of course. Locs rolled, my tiny notebook tucked safely into my pocket, of course. I felt as I looked as I left my friend, Jane’s, place in Echo Park — beautiful and boyish. I pulled from the curb, full outlaw, a Korova 51/50 on board, as well, five hundred milligrams of THC baked into chocolatey-good deliciousness, and ate a chunk as I pulled from the curb, a playlist I’d made for a long-ago Muse floating out the rental.
I drove slow down Sunset, past Dodgers’ Stadium and the Short Stop, Sutherland Street, where Jane and I lived when we were together, both out of the Rabbit Hole and newly sober. Made the veer onto Hollywood, my stomach knotting slightly, my drug and the uncertainly swirling inside me, it seemed.
Hollywood Athletic Club. I pulled up to the Club, Hollywood Athletic, tossed the valet the keys, a nice, floaty buzz arrived just in time, bringing me back to former nights there. First, in the nineties, shooting pool on the regular, usually after my shift at the Rocket, little 50’s diner down on Melrose, way out of my price range, really, but Chaplin used to hang there. Then years later, once after it had closed, some random rave one night — the fuzzy photo of smoking cigs in the lot out back hanging just outside of my eyes, an echo of the roll of the bass buzzing faint, there, in my ear. My former nights there faded, though, as I stepped through the heavy wood doors and into pre-wedding cocktails.
I’d met wealthy people in the business we call show, as Hedwig would say. Most, though, at least those I crossed paths with, were just geeks at heart. Rich, sure, but still relatable, down to earth, somehow. These were different, the kind of wealth I’d not encountered before, Masters of the World sort of wealth, I’m telling you, on a whole ‘nother level. Fucking. Rich. People in gowns and tuxes bought on Rodeo, there must have been five hundred of them, all wondering who let the riff-raff in, I’m sure. I grabbed a flute of champagne from a tray and went off looking for Parker and her kicks.
I found her, chatting with Kevin and his boyfriend. I jumped in with my Veuve, Kevin and Parker talking shop, as always, the THC kicked up another notch, I found it hard to believe I used to live a life that brought me there.
A tap on my shoulder, it was Charles, Matthew’s hand in his. We’d talked about getting together some time, the months they were together, before I left L.A., I saw then why it never happened. Matthew looked terrified shaking my hand, but I wasn’t concerned with the reason. I shook his hand and offered my congrats. It was brief. Then back to Parker and them.
“There he is.”
I glanced around the room, women dripped in jewels while the men talked business, world mastery. Heads turned, and then the crowd parted for him, the Gay Godfather, namesake of buildings. It was one thing, you know, sharing space with those people, having no clue who anyone was, but quite another sharing space with HIM, a man you read about, while I had to scrounge a couple hundred bucks to drive down from the Bay — it felt like I was living the scene in Titanic where Jack has dinner in the first class dining room. Things were getting surreal, so I ducked into the corner, full gonzo, and had another bite of the 51/50.
We filed into another room in the club, this one just as large, lit in soft oranges and pinks. I was feeling nice by then, the THC in full flow and kicked up higher. I felt out of place, too. Happily so.
We all stood in the hall as they walked up the middle, serenaded by Gospel, maybe forty singers or so, Charles’ daughters their flower girls, just like any other wedding. A former Mayor stood waiting on the stage to marry them. That feeling again, sharing a space with him, a man you read about. He was at City Hall, too, the night of the raid in L.A, and made the call. I had risked my body and freedom trying to make men like him see. I could have sworn he was looking at me from across the room, but I couldn’t be sure, might have been real, might have been weed. It was then that I realized I no longer could feel my face.
I’d spent the ceremony in a rather deep exploration of the class issues at play —
- wondering how quote/unquote important one must be that the once-Mayor of a major metropolitan city performs one’s wedding,
- wondering just what exactly the cost would be to keep five hundred rich people drenched in Veuve Cliquot, filled to their gills with hors d’oeuvres and a five course dinner,
- wondering how many poor students could attend college on that sum,
- and so on and so forth.
So, I was thrilled when the fucking thing ended.
We’d been ushered in for another round of cocktails before dinner and I thought it best to have another bite. I was going full outlaw and I meant it.
I was seated next to Charles’ cousin for dinner, here from Colombia for the wedding, he ended up my touchstone, charming — we spent dinner spent talking literature and politics, social justice, labels, and I must admit here that I swooned. He reminded me just how far I’d come, traveling down such a different, beautiful road than the one I used to journey on. I had never fit in with Parker’s crowd, they all SC kids and Ivies, me the high school drop-out. I can’t even really say it was a former life of mine, it feels like I was living someone else’s. I thought of the Clubhouse, my apartment at City College and the impromptu salons we held there as we fell deeper into talking together.
And then Zoo House in Berkeley. Home for me, then. Hours spent on the porch goofing and smoking, waxing, debating. My life.
Then visited upon by Charles and Kevin’s daughters, little girls, I’d known them most of their lives. They slid into the booth, rowdy and rough, excited by the party, the sugar, and excitement.
Their second daughter, I pulled up my sleeve to show her her favorite, a purple star on the back of my forearm, on the right.
“Show me mine.”
Their first, her favorite on the inside on the left, another star.
They each took one of my hands and lead me into their fray, rowdy and rough, excited by the party, the sugar, excitement, and I had to laugh. The wedding ended like any other in the suburbs — children running around, high on cake and the day, running with them, the Pan, always.
I alighted into the night, happy to have ventured, happier still to return to my star. I jammed my hands in my pockets as I waited for the car out on Hollywood. It was August, the air balmy and warm, the chill of my drug ran through my body, easing up a bit, it seemed. I glanced over through half-closed eyes, at a long ago crush, a former teen actress. She smiled at me, with a flirty sort of glance, and I couldn’t help but wonder. I stopped myself, though, thought better of it and reminded myself — she’ll always be one of them and she’ll never be able to fly.