Working for Satan in the City of Angels
I am in Los Angeles, and I want to kill. I want to kill the arrogant hotel valet who sneers at my rented Chevy Malibu, I want to kill the phony concierge who stumbles purposely over my name so I don’t forget I’m not a celebrity. I want to kill the guy behind me in the Lotus and I want to kill the guy in front of me in the Ferrari. I want to kill Mel Gibson, who walks out of the restaurant as I walk in, and I want to kill the photographers taking his picture, and I want to kill the woman who shouts “Leave him alone!” and I want to kill her friend who whispers, once he is gone, “What a letdown!”
I am reminded almost daily of the time God wanted destroy Sodom, and I think maybe I’ve been a little too hard on the Guy. I imagine Abraham here in Los Angeles, and I imagine God saying, “I am going to destroy LA,” and Abraham says, as he did regarding Sodom, “But what if you find fifty righteous men there, will you still destroy it then?” and I imagine a well-timed beat before Abe and God start laughing.
“Just kidding,” says Abe. “Burn it.”
I am in Los Angeles. And I want to kill.
I work part-time for Satan at a New York advertising agency. The days I am required to go into the office are torture. I hate cities. I hate the people, I hate the stink, I hate the noise. I try to convince myself to make the best of itI’ll visit a museum! I’ll catch a play downtown! I’ll think happy thoughts!but the only thoughts I can manage are thoughts of nuclear holocaust. Say, those are happy thoughts!
Now Satan has sent me to Los Angeles, where I am supposed to be helping my Satanic co-minions make a television commercial. I also have a manuscript deadline for this memoir looming; two and a half years in the making, it’s now due in just two and a half weeks. I hoped that secretly working on something of meaning while I am here would result in some occasionally happy thoughts, but thoughts of nuclear holocaust have already begun to cloud my mind. Say, those are happy thoughts!
The hotel at which we are staying is typical of Los Angeles: the arrogant clientele with their ironic facial hair, the raucous lobby with its ironic furniture, the inadequate overcrowded lobby bar meticulously designed by homosexual males for heterosexual males to comfortably solicit transsexual prostitutes. None of this, mind you, bothers me nearly so much as the televisions. You cannot escape television herethey’re in the bar, in the lobby, in the bathrooms. The treadmill in the fitness room has a TV in the display, as does the stationary bicycle, and neither of them operate properly unless the TV is on. The production trailer on the set of the TV commercial has a giant flat screen in the main sitting area, another in the dressing area, and one in each of the restrooms. Worst of all, though, is the one in my hotel room, which is hidden inside an armoire, but which housekeeping insists on turning on for me every afternoon, so that when I return from a long day of staggering vapidity and irretrievably wasted human energy, the 27-inch bottomless well of suicide incentives is shrieking at me before I’ve even entered the room. I need to have a sign made for the front door: We don’t swim in your toilet, please don’t turn on our television. I know this may seem odd coming from someone who freelances in advertising, but how many porn stars watch porn? We don’t watch television at homeeven the set that we are forced to keep in our playroom if we have any hope of finding a nanny who will stay past “Prime Time” irritates me to the point of wanting to smash its fragile face inand having not watched it in a very long time, every channel seems like the Nature Channel, a frightening documentary glimpse into a time I am reluctant to call my own.
I returned to my hotel room the first evening to discover a program on MTV where people insult one another’s mothers; afterwards, the crowd cheers, and a prize is awarded to the contestant deemed most vitriolic. I have a mother myself, so I can certainly understand the impulse, but the contestants on this program are insulting the other’s mothersseeming, as unlikely as may it seem, to be defending their own. I know that this program is supposed to be rebellious and ironic and In My Face (a claim I might be persuaded to believe if the object was to insult your own mother), but as it stands, I can’t imagine anything more desperate and needy; to craft a convenient analogy, the television is the hotel bar, MTV is the transsexual prostitute, the “outrageous” contestant the john on his knees doing his best to service her. In your face, indeed. At least in the actual hotel bar there’s no cheering crowd.
After wasting ten minutes trying unsuccessfully to turn the thing off (it’s not as simple as hitting the power switchthere are three of them, and they need to be powered down in a precise sequence; the power cord is buried behind the armoire, and even if I could manage to move the damn thing and unplug the beast, I worry the door would be kicked in and I would be arrested for Anti-Television Bias, or Conduct Unbecoming an American), I went downstairs to the lobby, hoping I could get some work done. After a few moments, I looked up from my laptop to find a woman sitting on the ironic white-leather couch beside me.
“I have a great idea for a reality TV show,” she said.
“What are you working on?”
“Nothing. A book.”
“For a movie?”
“That’s called a script.”
“I have a great idea for a reality show.”
“Isn’t that a bit of a contradiction?”
“I don’t follow.”
“Well, it’s reality. It doesn’t need an idea. It’s already being, you know, produced.”
“What’s your script about?”
“It’s not a script. It’s a book.”
“Well,” she said, “you can sit in your little shack in the woods and be an ‘artiste’ and all that, but people watch these shows, okay? People like them, okay? You can’t argue with that.”
“I’m still not sure what this has to do with me,” I said.
“Okay,” she said, getting up at last and walking away, “but it’s your loss.”
It’s been three days now since I arrived in Los Angeles. I tend to write from anger, but I can’t write with anger, and so it’s been three days since I wrote anything. Instead of writing, I’ve been reading about writing, and it’s that time of the year when people begin looking back on the year in publishing, bemoaning the fate of the novel, the fall of the book, the death of fiction. The remedies usually fall into two predictable categories: the “don’t worry, everything’s fine” category, and the “books need to respond to the changing culture” categorya book of people insulting one another’s mothers, perhaps, or books “reflecting our new technological life”books which read upside down and inside out, front to back and back to front, books with hypercontextual pretexts, contexts and subtexts which mirror the virtual, immersive and cyber realities of our boundless blah blah blah. Having been in Los Angeles for three days, I have my own solution: Let’s die. I say let’s go out with some dignity. In my travels with Satan, I have seen every sort of desperate company walk through the ad agency’s doors, desperate to stay alive, desperate to stay young. “Maybe something with Jimmy Kimmel,” they say hopefully. “Maybe Adam Sandler is available.” They want their breasts done, they want hair plugs, they want a corporate comb-over, and they get it. And, like women who get their breasts done, and men who get their plugs, guess what? They die. Maybe a week later, maybe a year later, but they die, the only difference being that now they die sadly. So let’s let books die as they are. No hyperlinks, no Sony Readers, no “approximating the nonlinear narrative of the information superhighway.” Let’s say “Fuck off.” Let’s say “The End.” Just a thought, from one miserable guest stuck for the next two weeks at a hotel in Downtown Sodom.
“How’s the script going?” asked my unreal reality TV friend.
I was back in the lobby, trying to give the writing one more shot, trying to get the blackness out of my mind and replace it, maybe, with some happy thoughts.
“Book,” I corrected her.
“I have a great idea for a reality TV show,” she said.
I passed by the front desk on the way back up to my room.
“Do you know,” I asked the man behind the counter, “where can I get some polonium 210 around here?”
“Polonium,” I said. “210.”
“Polonium. With an ‘n.’ 210.”
“210, okay. Is it a, uh, pill or something?”
“Or powder, either one. Pills will be good, too.”
“Okay,” he said cheerfully. “Sure. Let me make some calls.”
Maybe I’m just being harsh. Maybe I’m just away from my family, my routine, my sources of confidence and security, and I’m taking it out on an otherwise lovely city.
Just kidding. Burn it.