September 23, _____
Hollywood isn’t what you think it is. It isn’t what anybody thinks it is.
Sure, there’s the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theater. There’s the Pantages, and the Hollywood Sign, and the Capitol Records Tower (Mom says it looks like a big stack of pancakes with a needle on top). Down on the Boulevard you can see people selling maps to Stars’ homes, and every once in a while a big double-decker bus rolls by full of gawping tourists. I guess some people find it exciting. But when you live here you can’t help noticing the grunge around the edges of the glitter and glitz. And behind it all, down the alleys and up the side streets, back in the neighborhoods where the real people live—well, that’s a whole different world.
It’s a world where men sleep in dark stairwells wrapped in dirty blankets. Where bag ladies in heavy overcoats stalk the streets pushing shopping carts filled with all their worldly possessions. It’s a place where hollow-eyed kids sit on the broken doorsteps of empty houses and play behind chain-link fences in parking lots littered with broken glass. It’s a land of noise and neon where almost everywhere you go somebody comes up and asks you for money. That’s the real Hollywood.
I still can’t get used to the sidewalks. They’re covered with black spots, like a leopard’s skin—blotches of discarded chewing gum. The medians are all dirt and asphalt and weeds, and most of them are thick with cigarette butts and beer bottles. Some of the walls are so loaded down with graffiti that they seem to be crumbling under the weight of it. And there are metal bars on all the windows and retractable padlocked gates, like steel accordions, on every shop front.
Mom and I are staying with my aunt Grania in her apartment on the south side of town. She’s the reason we came to L.A. We knew she’d take us in, and it seemed like a good place to be anonymous. Grania’s nice, but a little scatter-brained. She says she moved here to break into “the Industry.” So far she’s been in a couple of stage plays at the local “Actors Co-op.” She spends the rest of her time waitressing at a Thai restaurant. We don’t see a whole lot of her.
There’s a meal program for the homeless every afternoon in one of the big Sunday school rooms at the Presbyterian church. A sort of soup kitchen. Mom volunteers . Sometimes I stop by after school to help her serve. You see some interesting characters there. Up close and personal, too. Most of them don’t smell very nice.
School is kind of scary. The kids are tough and unfriendly—gang-bangers, some of them. It’s hard to connect. I’m new, and nobody wants to talk to me. A few of the girls make fun of my blue eye.
I eat alone at lunchtime, out in the sun. The “cool” people get all the shady spots. I guess September must be the hottest month of the year in Southern California. My dad used to say that the folks up north want to secede from the south and start a new state of their own. I’m beginning to see why.
No, you’re not bothering me. I’m always happy to hear from you, but I do wish you’d stop begging me to come home. You already know why I can’t do that. As for the other idea you mentioned, I’ve told you a hundred times why I can’t even discuss the possibility of going back to—well, you-know-where. There’s no way in the world that I can take you there. Not now. Not ever. Not even if I wanted to. Please don’t ask again.
I’m not angry with you, Morgan. I hope you’re not angry with me. I never asked for any of this to happen. It wasn’t my idea …
Morgan looked up at the sound of footsteps descending the stairs. Shoving the blue bundle under the table with his foot, he tossed the letter aside and swiveled in his chair to face the door …
(To be continued)