The Breath of the Ink of the Shadow

Le Deux Café was the new inside of the inside when I was 19.When you turned off of Hollywood Blvd onto the side street, the place looked like a cement wall with a sheet metal garage door. Rusted. You had to know where it was. I was with the band. As always.

I would go around the back, where the bougainvillea started to crawl. The bouncer came into view, backed by understated trip-hop loops from an unseen speaker.

The sounds of city and industry steamed off my body, when I crossed into the muted pulse of the “beautiful people.” All who pass through this womb will be luminous, and shall always be. The strung lanterns heaved with the heartbeat of this message, and a wave of whispered subconscious repeated the mantra.

This was the essence of Le Deux, the new “cooler than thou” but post-cool. This is where cool had finally come to rest, to drink, to speak softly in profound vagueries, suggesting that absence of depth is the evidence of it. I bought it, because I wanted to. It was a dream.

This scene was new for my friends in the band, but not entirely for me. I hadn’t been back to Hollywood for almost a decade before I started coming here, so the vibe was new, but the neighborhood still knew me. At this point, I still maintained frozen walls around any memory of my early years in Hollywood, so I threw myself into the plush, toxic, heartbeat. I felt vampiric, I sharpened my eyes to bite into what I saw, to drain the white blood of luxury. A friend of mine had taken to drinking a single shot of whisky out of a tall glass, just because. I adored his affectation.

whiky-glass

whiky-glass

But it crept in, you know, “the ghost of consciousness past.” It dripped up over the cream colored leather chair, up my shoulder, just outside my ear. A vapor made of ink, trailing shadow. Only I could see it. I tried to hide it from my friends. It was closer to me then my body-heat, and no blonde gossip, no touting of whiskey glassed or shot, no buzz from the bass string from the trio behind me, no crackle and moan from the man singing jazz through a bullhorn, no singing of my own, could drown it out. My old life was outside the metal wall, static, for years.

Static interference on a turn-dial TV: The program turned to snow. My dad said the signal would not be fixed in the near future, so we may as well go out. He put me in my purple windbreaker, jeans and Reebok high-tops, and we went out for a walk. It was December of 1987. Crusty, silver garlands webbed above the boulevard. Every once in awhile, a piece of tinsel would give up the ghost and feather down to the street, adding a hint of magic to the litter drifts. It could’ve been called quiet, if you could re-interpret the traffic sound into a seasonal white-noise.

The quiet ebbed, and my sneakers ran into a white cotton rug. “Do you want to go in?” My dad asked. I looked up, and the rug rolled out its tongue across the empty lot next to a tall stone apartment building with a Scientology sign. The back left corner of the lot opened its throat and burst into a ruby hive of miniature red-topped houses, green supports, glitter, and candycanes.

christmas-scene(small)

christmas-scene(small)

The texture of the rug got increasingly nappy and glittered as it reached the apex of the scene, Santa’s chair. I’ve always been itchy about Santa, truth be told. Why would I want to sit on his lap? I don’t really know him. Anyway, I stood in line, ascending slowly step by step as other children took their turns - the steps below the snow-rug felt hard and unwieldy.

He asked the Santa question, “What do you want for Christmas?” It seemed like a long moment sitting there “What do you want?” is a big question. My eyes drifted a little as I thought, “what do I want?” “I want to get out of here. I never want to come her again. I want you to promise me that when I grow up I will never have to come here. I will never have to go to a ‘Checks Cashed Here’ place. I will never fall between the decades, and float in an alcoholic neitherworld like the people at Thai Ice Cuisine. I want to forget this.”

When I came out of my thoughts, my eyes were focused across the street, on the Hollywood Wax Museum. I was sitting on a stranger’s lap, on a synthetic hill, staring at a sanitarium for dolls.  I think I told Santa I wanted a Barbie.

more-lights

more-lights

I hazed out of that memory, I’m 19 again, at Le Deux, staring at a living Barbie doll, draped over a man in long alligator shoes. I sipped my Cosmopolitan. The breath of the ink of the shadow was still in my ear, with more to say, more, more, the street was seeping in - and now it was time to leave.

I waited with some of the band, by the corner. The drummer was bringing the car around. The breath of memory was everywhere. The street itself remembered. This side street remembers everything, and she has no comfort. She is stone and we are her countless butterfly lovers. She will reach for me forever - and I will turn away - into myself, my little moments, my precious affectations.

I would try hard to stay away, for years. I would try to honor the wish of the 7 year old on cotton snow, to turn my head from the ink slither and the ashy whispering silhouette, but I would never out run it. The shadow was my own.

Raya Yarbrough

Singer, Composer, writer of absurd stories about LA, chanteuse on Outlander, BSG, DaVinci's Demons, & I used to date Dick Grayson.