Adversity struck soon afterwards. Said friend, a motorcycle messenger, crashed and thus couldn’t work. I offered my nest egg and a bit turned into a year.
The crazy thing about L.A. was how anonymous everyone was. Few talked, and most that did were either foreigners or crazy. We lived in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood called Vista Del Mar, which boasted no “ocean view.”
The closest such thing was Venice, where I would spend my days listening to Hare Krishnas exult while wishing I had money to get my hair wrapped by one of the pretty girls on the sidewalk. I wrote instead.
My long-distance girlfriend having called it quits, I soon realized that it had been months since I had a conversation with a woman. I was so lonely, one night I found myself at a bus stop asking a pair of panties lying in the gutter if I could buy it a drink.
My roommate, on the other hand, had no problem meeting women, and when he met a particular one, he disappeared. I had the place to myself.
But the money had run out, the phone had been turned off and then the electricity, too. I remember sitting in candlelight, feeling like I was a million miles away from anyone. I was down as you could be, but I wrote a poem anyway, one that ended: “You put me in the dark/All the better to lie in ambush in.”
In other words, no matter where I was, I always had this.
That said, the most tactile manifestation of loneliness I ever experienced was six years later, long after I moved back to Cincinnati.
I was invited to a motorcycle rally in Chillicothe by a workmate.
I had never been camping, so I agreed to meet him. I prepared by doing the blow I bought for the occasion the night before I was to drive up there, and thus was in raw shape as I did.
When I finally arrived, I was surprised by the circus that greeted me. Despite being intimidated by the hundreds of Harleys that didn’t seem impressed by my Honda Civic attempting to make its way through the campsite, I nonetheless found my workmate.
That night, after the sun went down and the psychedelics had begun to wear off, we stood near our campsite pulling from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. One of my co-worker’s friends was pointing to a star in the sky, saying, “Just think: On that very star the same thing is happening.” I pointed out that the star he was talking about had moved, because it was a plane. To which he replied, “No, man, you got to come down a bit.”
Shortly afterward, they left for the motor home they were staying in. I sat by myself in a lawn chair not far from a dying fire, feeling as if I was at the end of the world, impossibly tired, realizing that my recent ex-girlfriend Alonyda was really gone, Michael had moved to Florida and Lance was no longer talking to me because of my drunken antics.
And just as I thought about all my departed friends, I caught the strains of a song. I hadn’t even heard a radio up to that point, but there it was, the beginnings of “Wish You Were Here” emanating from a distant transistor radio.
I sat there listening to its muted, plaintive chords, choking back tears as I thought this:
All my friends are gone, regardless if they are still alive. Every one of us was born friendless and will die alone; will remain that way except for those momentary connections that are few and far between, no matter how crowded the room. There’s a magic inside each of us that no one will ever truly understand, destined as we are to be wishing upon different stars, in the end only appreciating each other when we spy glimpses of ourselves in the glint in each other’s eye…
And when the song ended without positing any answers to its myriad questions — “Do you think you can tell?” — I polished the bottle and shambled to my car’s backseat, my pathetic, urban tent.
Years later, I find myself surrounded by so many wonderful friends I can’t even begin to fulfill my responsibilities. How that happened, I have no idea. Maybe it’s the fact that I will never forget the times this wasn’t the case, its true import and beauty. Or maybe it only happened once I no longer needed it?
You tell me, my friend. If you can, I mean.
Contact Mark Flanigan: firstname.lastname@example.org