I Move for Love

I Move for Love

In 1987, I moved for the only reason I ever have: love. We’d met at Boy Bar, a club on St. Mark’s in the heart of NY’s East Village. Doug was bound for St. Kitts, a family vacation. We shared two intimate nights before he jetted off to the isles. While there, he sent two colorful postcards, illustrating dark exotic island natives in vivid beach scenes.

Doug returned to Los Angeles the week between Christmas (which as a Jew, he didn’t observe) and New Year’s. Our lengthy phone calls prompted me to spring for a round-trip ticket, arriving on New Year’s Eve.

It was my first trip to the west coast. Exposed to the chilly December evening air, we sped down Sunset in his Cabriolet convertible, top down,  heat blasting. I was charmed by the immense palms and the roller coaster effect of the canyon roads, the varied colors of the apartment buildings, ubiquitous neon signs, unfolding neighborhoods: Westwood (where Marilyn Monroe was buried), Belair (where the Clampetts lived), Beverly Hills (omigosh- Rodeo Drive). Seeming like the dreamy pages of a glossy magazine, it was intoxicating, fresh, and fascinating.

On New Year’s Day, I called a pal in New York to wish him a happy birthday. Tom mentioned an apartment that our friend was subletting in East Hollywood. When I called, Robin was enthusiastic. She said the manager lived in the adjacent unit. Things were progressing nicely with Doug, so we drove over that afternoon. Doug lived in cushy West Hollywood, and was wary about the location. Howard, the manager, showed us the spacious two bedroom duplex. After, we stood on his front porch facing the beckoning Hollywood sign framed by the Santa Monica Mountains. I asked the rent, expecting it to be pricy. Two-sixty he said. I thought he meant per person, so I did the math. 520? Nope, he shook his head: that’s the entire rent. I was shocked; it was considerably less than my New York flat, and easily quadruple in size.

I called my room-mate, Gregory. We’d often daydreamed about California while attending college in upstate New York. He was easily convinced. We gave two weeks’ notice and early in February, loaded my Mustang and hit the road. It was our first cross- country car trip. It took an entire week and we slept in raunchy highway roadside motels. We learned about rocky mountain oysters in Colorado. In New Mexico, we were certain we spotted UFO’s in the evening sky. We stopped at the Grand Canyon and sat on the wall overlooking the immense abyss.

Los Angeles was quite different to New York. They’re compared constantly, and yet there is no similarity. People would say, hello, how are you, and I’d think, whaddya want? Groups are a big Los Angeles trend, and Doug was affiliated with Young Artist United. It was fledging actors and writers motivated to help high school kids with social problems: druggies, rebels, outcasts. I got involved with a speaking network where Meg Ryan, Daphne Zuniga, Sarah Jessica Parker or Bruce Toms would go to a school and just talk with kids. It wasn’t preaching to them as much as telling our own stories, and identifying with their problems. It was a huge success, and the concept began to get attention from the media. Eve Plumb, who’d played Jan on The Brady Bunch, was on the Board of Directors, as was Doug.

Shortly after Doug’s parents visited that March, our relationship dissolved. Perhaps they weren’t smitten by his unemployed writer boyfriend. On the other hand, Eve and my roommate, Gregory were getting cozier. I’d call Andrea, my best friend in NY, and laugh about my room-mate sleeping with Jan Brady, all grown up. Los Angeles was like that; a magical 1970s sitcom, without the conventional laugh track. Jennifer Jason Leigh lived directly below my writing partner. We’d see Charlie Sheen during brunch at Brite Spot on Sunset. When a friend became Billy Idol’s hair and make-up artist, I was hired as his stand-in for the “L.A. Woman” video, and actually appeared, dancing atop a staircase. Don’t blink, you might miss me!

The bubble came crumbling down in early May. I arrived home from my job at Hamptons, slinging burgers and fries. While scanning my mail, I listened to a phone message from my eldest sister. Her formal tone suggested something was wrong. I took a quick shower, then made green tea and slowly dialed her number. She asked if I’d read the Sunday paper. I said no. She went on to explain that my close childhood friend had been murdered. According to the New York Times, his body was found in a hotel room in Bangkok. James had finished his doctorate at the University of Tokyo, and I knew he was traveling. His last postcard was from Hong Kong, and I was expecting him any day in Los Angeles.

I was beyond devastated; heartbroken and numb. I made two quick calls; first to Gregory, who was a fitness trainer at the Sports Connection. He’d also known James, and he came home immediately. Then I called Doug. We’d remained friends, and he stayed those first few nights with me. It seems like a blur now, twenty years later, but my entire experience of Los Angeles changed that fateful day. I probably experienced some kind of break-down, but it was undiagnosed, and I embarked on a two year odyssey in search of some  reconciliation for my soul. James and I had made a pact: we’d be Oscar and Felix from The Odd Couple. He was supposed to be the guy who’d outlast all the others.

That summer, I helped a friend move to San Francisco. Bobby was HIV positive and wanted to experience his last days in his favorite city. I painted his new apartment, played piano for him, read my poetry aloud. For catharsis, I’d write every morning at Café Flore or New Dawn. One morning, I met Herb, who was co-producing an evening of new One Act plays at Merry The Dog Theater. I said I’d been working on a one act. Intrigued, he listened to my pitch: it’s about a married couple: Wife’s bedridden, but screams orders from the bed, like a raving lunatic. Husband is a caricature of a man, puppet and clown- like, nervous, skinny, jerky. There’s a narrator on the sidelines, maybe just a voice in the dark. It’s revealed that Wife was bedridden from loss of a baby. Husband becomes fed up with her hostility and is seduced by the Narrator into trying to snuff out her life with a pillow at the end. Audience sees her legs flailing as he suffocates her while the lights slowly fade to black. A match is struck to reveal the Wife standing beside the bed, and the Husband lying there, presumably dead. She throws the match at the bed, and walks through the audience and out of theater.

Herb loved the concept, asked if it was completed. I lied and said that I had the beginning written, but it was at my Los Angeles apartment. He said he could try to hold a spot for me based on our meeting. But to convince the other producers, he’d need at least a page or two of dialogue and the plot summary. I said no problem thinking, can I actually do this?

I returned to Los Angeles, and wrote the play in less than a week. The title, BOINK: THE MARTYRDOM OF SAINT SEBASTIAN had nothing to do with the piece, but I liked the way it sounded. It was selected for the January 1988 festival and I moved to San Francisco to cast and direct my first play.

Some time during this process, I realized that I’d set some internal wheel in motion.

James, my childhood friend, was a writer. Before turning 25, he’d co-authored a book with a professor at Cambridge University. I have no doubt he would have had a brilliant writing career. When his light was extinguished, I eventually realized the desire to write for both of us.

And twenty years later, I’m still doing it.

Felix, I still am.

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About Robert Vaughan

Originally from NY, writer, editor, and workshop leader, his poems and fiction are widely published in print and online magazines, such as Necessary Fiction, BlazeVOX, Connotation Press, Metazen, Thrice, Literary Orphans and Housefire. He is Senior Flash editor at JMWW and Lost in Thought magazines and leads round- tables for Redoak Writing. He is a six times Pushcart Prize Nominee and his fiction and poetry have won awards, including a Micro-Fiction runner-up (2012) and twice a finalist in the Gertrude Stein Fiction Award (2013-14). His collections are: Microtones (Cervena Barva Press); Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (Deadly Chaps): Addicts & Basements (Civil Coping Mechanisms) and RIFT, co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press).
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13 Responses to I Move for Love

  1. Dez says:

    Nice memoir (?) style, and sad about the loss of James. He would be honored to be remembered in such a lovely way.

  2. Andrea says:

    James. I was just telling someone that very story the other day.
    I love you and I still miss him too.

  3. Suzi says:

    I never imagined when I dated Gregory that he would move on to Jan Brady. What a moving and beautiful tribute to your friend James. Sending hugs your way.

  4. Betsy says:

    This is a beautiful piece.

  5. christine says:

    It’s a long way from Macedon. Quite a journey.

  6. Don says:

    This is a strong testament to your writing powers. And although I didn’t know James, I could tell how close you both were. Sorry to hear how much this probably still impacts your life. But if James was the reason why you write (or even part of it) then I thank him, also. Thanks!

  7. Shari says:

    Lovely piece about the tenderness of two close friends. I wish I might have known James, or if not him, then his life work. And yet, just reading your stories, perhaps I do know him, even if just a little.

  8. heidums says:

    My favorite one yet… perhaps due to the fact that this is not fiction. So long ago, yet it was just yesterday, wasn’t it?

    Love you

  9. david says:

    I’m moved by loved you dang fool.. ok.. still crying.. ok no one was spared.. no changing the names to protect the innocent.. so glad you wrote everything down… someone has to.. oh man.. like a baby at his first AIDS ride.. ZOO PIG NA!!!

    • Angela says:

      That was so moving and beautiful. Thank you for that window into your world. I am grateful for James also, although I never had the pleasure. Currently I continue to miss my best friend…here’s hoping things can be repaired at some point!Keep it up Robhair…you are amazing! Much love from the Bange.

  10. Beverly says:

    I got a little confused at times, there are lots of names in this memoir, but I read through it and the relationship between the narrator and James is just lovely. That is what hit me the most. The things about Los Angeles are not as important to me, probably because I am a New Yorker. Oh well. Either way, lovely writing, as usual. Thanks for inspiring me!

  11. rontuaru says:

    Poignant! I think writers often tell their experiences and feelings through their characters and plot. However, your own personal voice is truly one of your best. Love, laughs, loss. As we trudge toward middle age we glance back, but with filters changed. Raw, but not bleeding, melancholy but not desperate, the truth scratched in ink on paper can be cathartic for a soul that has experienced many rich and colorful things.

    Beautiful, beautiful work!

    I can close my eyes and see him, hear his voice, remember his laugh, the deep searching eyes. He will always remain a gangly, goofy, (somewhat annoying) teenager to me. He adored you, Robert. That was always, always evident. He would have been thrilled by your passion and determination to write. He would have been so proud to have been your muse.

  12. Tom Froehlich says:

    Made me very melancholy. I guess all things are fleeting aren’t they? You made LA sound so glam. That is what reels most of us in and then we realize it’s not all that glam! LOL.

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