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An LA Picnic in a New Year

LA picnic -

Near the Hollywood Walk of Fame, we ate peanut butter and jelly and drank beer from a bag. An LA picnic in a new year.

In a couple weeks, I’m heading to LA to celebrate a friend’s 30th. We’re staying at a swank hotel and hoping to cause no end of trouble. I’m bringing my fancy camera so’s I can capture every damn thing.

Last time I was in LA I was 22. I went with Andy, who I met on Friday, October 9, 1992, in Washington, DC. I was at a Georgetown bar with my good friend Laurie, and I started chatting with a guy who announced his upcoming birthday. It’s October 11, he told me. Mine too, I said.

We high-fived and hugged, driver’s licenses laid side by side on the bar. I think you’re my twin brother, I told him. I don’t want to be your brother, he said, and just like that he kissed me.

Truth is, he could have been my brother, blonde, big eyes, bigger smile, jeans and a tee and black Converse high tops. He was in DC on a road trip over fall break. He was in an MBA program in Phoenix and was boarding a bus back home on Sunday.

The next day, we met at Arlington National Cemetery. Laurie was amused. Dude, you’re meeting him at a cemetery? Weirdo. But she was smiling when she said it. It was as it is, a perfect date spot, a cemetery made for strolling, gorgeous, somber, immense, the lawn lawn-green, memorial plots planted in perfect rows, headstones in a sage sea — all the headstones identical, for in death we are all one. Solemn white marble rising. Hand in hand through the cemetery. We continued on into the city to explore some more.

After he boarded the Sunday bus heading west, Andy and I kept in touch, talking on the phone, sending letters and photos and mix-tape musical compilations back, forth. We decided I’d fly to Arizona over New Year’s. The year now 1993, I’d barely arrived in Phoenix and was still adjusting to the man before me with the newly dyed jet-black hair (a look he pulled off like a rockstar) when he suggested we rent a car and drive. Where, I asked. Let’s find out, he said.

In a three-cylinder Geo Metro, we took turns at the wheel and chugged up highway hills. Five hours northwest to Hoover Dam, a night in Vegas. Five hours southwest, a night in Los Angeles. Two hours south, a night in San Diego. Fifteen miles south, two nights in Tijuana.

Andy kicked ass at cards, cooked spicy chili by the vat, ate the worm at the bottom of the tequila bottle. He grinned easily, talked global politics in Mexico, danced with abandon, tucked into peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like they were choice cuts of beef. He greeted strangers as friends, a slap on the back, a handshake, a hug.

And there in LA. We passed women glammed out at high noon, heels and hairdos and big beaded jewelry, skateboarders and Doc Martens and businessmen and suited ladies who lunch and dealers and prostitutes and picketers for causes that no longer exist and a private militia in berets and black vests, belts fashioned from ammo magazines. Legs crossed, Andy and I took up a stretch of a pocket park not far from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and dined on peanut butter and jelly and drank beer from a bag. The beer purchased  minutes earlier from a window-barred corner store. An LA picnic like and unlike our Mexican picnic. An LA picnic in a new year.

I wish this beer were a little bit colder, he said. And he grinned. And the day being what it was, an LA day in a new year, I grinned back and for once had no need to wish for anything at all.

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