The Businessman sat at the same restaurant every day during his lunch break. Every day was the same for The Businessman, and one of his few joys was ordering a different thing for lunch every day. He would take the specials each day, and if the specials contained something he absolutely hated or was allergic to, he would take one his favorite regular dishes. In this way, he managed to keep the favorites special, and he never got sick of them.
The Businessman had the same routine at the restaurant every day. First, he would find a table outside. Rain or shine, he had to sit outside. If there were no tables available, which happened sometimes during tourist season, he would wait. The waiters, the servers, even the manager knew him, and they always managed to find him a seat quickly. Once he found a suitable table, he would sit down and reach into his bag. He had a worn black leather briefcase, one that looked dignified but not stuffy and too new. He would take three things out of his bag at first.
The first was a bag of tobacco. The second was a box of rolling papers. The third was a lighter. Until the waiters came over – and indeed, the waiters knew not to come over until this ritual was over or they would need to deal with a very flustered man – he would meticulously roll himself three cigarettes. He would smoke one before the meal, the second after the meal, and the third after his post-meal coffee. He felt that rolling his own cigarettes was the one roguish behavior that he’d kept from his college days when he’d been wild and carefree.
The Businessman considered himself to be rather homely. He didn’t think he had particularly interesting features, and he knew that he blended in with the endless flow of suited men in their late forties. He didn’t realize that his eyes were a beautiful and rare light blue. He didn’t seem to notice the fact that he cut a fine figure. He wasn’t entirely aware of the fact that his face, lined as it was, was full of character and intelligence. He only saw himself as The Businessman, a man who knew and understood his trade but couldn’t explain what he did to others very well. Because of this, he was convinced that he was boring.
The Businessman ordered a different thing every day at the restaurant. He hoped that one day he would take a last meal there, shake the waiters’ and the servers’ and the manager’s hands goodbye, and turn his back. He hoped he would have the opportunity and the courage to go somewhere different one day and leave the business district forever. He hoped.
As darkness settles, the air grows cool and crisp, promising rain later to those who can feel it in their bones and guaranteeing a cold night for those who can’t. The smell of the air becomes almost a living thing, damp and thick; the smells are of the ponds, of the moist greenery, faint smoke coming from far off, and lastly, the smell of woods in the night. It all smells musty, in a cold sort of way, as if the whole outside world has become the den in an old house.
The woods in the night are magical. Bare though they are of leaves, they brim with a foreign power, a promise of mystery, adventure and danger that can be found in their depths. The branches of the trees seem to be like a hundred arms reaching out towards the sky, some leaning down and beckoning to the watcher to come in, to look closer.
The prospect of being lost in those woods is both frightening and enchanting. There is a feeling that anything could happen amongst the tree trunks, between the wild roots, inside knotholes. The onlooker can easily be hypnotized, drawn into the New England woodlands as if by invisible Fae. With the right sort of courage, perhaps those wild creatures could be discovered.
As you enter, you hit not so much a wall, but rather a whole cathedral of sound. There is no escape, no corner where relief from it can be found. If you’re there, you’re not looking for that kind of relief anyway. No, if you’re there, if you’re one of the mass and crush of bodies that fill the place, you’re looking for the kind of relief that can be found only in surrounding and drowning yourself in sound.
Darkness – though punctured by swirling colored lights one moment and a bright flashing white light the next moment – is still the feeling and the living presence that dominates the space. You can feel it in every square inch, the darkness being beckoned and welcomed as a savior, as a necessity, as a living thing to be worshiped. The throng of people treat the darkness as a blessing, a way to keep their anonymity, a way to overcome shyness or fear, a way to live out their wildest sides.
The music is no less important than the darkness. It seems to induce madness, or perhaps levitate towards ecstasy, as people lose themselves in the movement, in the noise, in the never-ending thrum of the bass in their hearts and stomachs. Smoke coils endlessly in the air, the pungent smell of strong alcohol mixing with it, as cigarettes are lit one after another, as drinks pass from hand to hand.
Standing at the edge of the yard, beyond the pool, beyond the odd bust of the Indian chief, right in the flower garden, trying hard not to step on the precious buds, is a girl. She’s wearing a short t-shirt and hugging herself against the cool morning breeze that ruffled her sleeves and her long hair. She closes her eyes and smiles into the morning sunlight, feeling glad despite having slept only a handful of hours.
When she opens her eyes again, she really looks, really stares hard at the view in front of her. So strange to have a yard end and have the wilderness begin right after the fence. The valley stretches out below her, and she gazes at it intently, trying to see wildlife – a few deer perhaps, a coyote. As usual, she sees nothing but the shrubs and trees and the vast greenness of the hills.
At last, she raises her eyes beyond the valley, beyond the hills, to stare at the tiny patch of blue, slightly darker than the sky, that is right there in that little break between the hills. The ocean. Sometimes she can even smell the salt-air from here, despite being miles away.
Eventually, she’ll walk in her bare feet back into the house and have breakfast with her family, who will all be waking up early due to jet-lag, just like her. That first morning of every visit to Los Angeles’s beautiful hills is always like this – magical.