We Dropped Acid Under the Stars
I didn’t realize that I was unhappy until the weight of my foot stomped the worn out brake on my Y2K aged Impala. The tires sat half rimmed and the radio was a unique mixture of jumbled Spanish pop and ugly static. The delivery job I had taken to make ends meet usually caused me the kind of hefty irritation that would make you want to quit at the end of the eight hour shift. This morning it was a fucking Lexus. Some oversuited graying business boy that cut me off while I was on my way to some mildew seeping Little Caesars. The imagery of the acne coated teen who gave me the wrong pizza on my last shift slapped into my memory and in the moment I wished I’d collided with the goddamn graying asshole to get a free ride to Cedar and a few hours break.
I reached up to the miniature glove box hideaway where I kept my glory and took a few hearty tokes as my phone chimed. First order of the day. Great. The CVS on La Brea where the sidewalk smells like cat piss and broken booze bottles. I took a deep breath and counted my blessings as the smog filled clouds held ray of sunlight behind them. The last trip to this location was my end of the night delivery. I had two homeless men strung out on their own custom back alley combinations begging me for change and calling me sexy. I cringed at the memory as the red blocked letters came into view and put the car in park. My eyes attached to my scuffed, toe taped Adidas as I plugged my nose and prayed for a 20% tip.
My greasy Pho slathered fingers reattached to a creaking leather steering wheel as I jutted back down the winding roads of Mulholland. I loved to park where the rich lived. Oh how I envied the life they lived. What would it be like to not go into Food 4 Less and calculate the price on every pound of fruit? To have someone to drive you to the store. Better yet, to have someone go to the store for you! What a delight it would be with different people waiting on you hand and foot. Four o’clock was when the lull hit. I would usually ponder the lives of the glamorously rich and hideously famous while scarfing some local cheap fair. Usually it was peeled cantaloupe from a sidewalk vendor. Today, I went all out and splurged on the $4 special that was now starting to make my stomach snap, crackle, and pop in all the wrong places. My feedtime came to a halt the second my phone buzzed alive with a $25 delivery offer. It was some chicken joint in Hollywood. The location’s line was always too long and the air was too humid as the area held zero palm tree shade. However, that type of money stood as gas fair for the next day and I needed it. When I saw the line wrapped around the poorly lit brick building and the smell of green wafted into my eager nostrils, I knew I was in the right place. I got out of the shitbox and crept awkwardly into the scattered non-linear line of bodies. Glancing back down at the order, I was finally met with why it was such a pricey drop off...23 miles north. Wonderful.
`Blessings were the only thing rolling me onto the fanned out roads of the rich...The Hollywood Hills. Where the girls were supposedly as toxic as Tide Pods and the guys scorned num brained douchebags. As I found myself deeper into the gold mine, I started to wonder who exactly this was. Along the nearby streets were limos and girls wearing heels too tall for them. The intertwined cheap mall looking security guards gave me looks out of the corner of their eyes that screamed “Who the fuck invited that?”. The scent in the air was all liquid power seeping from high end booze bottle toppers and hemp infused cigarettes. My eyes grew wide in pure disbelief. I’ve seen well off but never like this. It was a fucking mansion made for Polly Pocket herself. Pink lights airing the glass stained windows. High end furniture that a Beverly Hills soccer mom would envy. And the bushes. They were trimmed like large green hearts. It was intriguing to say the least. And then she appeared. Her hair was a cliche light yellow hue of blonde. She had Pam Anderson’s lips circa the Tommy Lee boat fiasco. I could smell the high end cotton candy Sephora top shelfer from my closed windows. Her Rodeo seeped manicure tapped the glass. I cracked my window an inch.
“I thought I smelled cheap chicken,” her oddly welcoming grin spoke miles.
As I got a look at the pupils hidden by falsies I noticed she was slightly intoxicated. Her breath gave off a combo of high end vodka and spearmint Five Gum. I rolled down my to expose myself fully, giving her a firm Navy wave.
“Heyo,” I responded, holding the grease stained receipt up to her, “Cluck Factory. 120 wings, 100 crispy al la carte chicken tacos, and 7 soy chicken and waffles?”
She just looked at me and laughed. Bending over like a small child. At first I thought she was mocking me. I wanted to toss the food and floor it in reverse until she came back up for air, reaching a sunkissed hand out to grab my shoulder. The high end likely psychoactive strain reeked from her clothes. And then it made sense.
“Yep. So, is this you?” My eyes darted to the name on the receipt as my mind ran with it, “Elara G.?”
Shit. I knew this girl. She was big on some app. I’d seen her name a few times on the Reddit circuit. I didn’t have enough knowledge to commend her for anything. In my eyes, she was just a normal person which kept me unreactive as I stuck to treating her as such.
“At your service!” the lights in her eyes were back as the party essence wafted through her. Behind her came another girl with the same look calibur. They could have been twins. She looked about as distressed as the wealthy could be.
“E! We need help changing the keg. It’s like- sputtering and making this weird noise and the tile is covered,” she paused to give me a look of complete disapproval before turning back to her carbon.
“Okay Brittany do I look like a fucking bartender?” her tone far more snippy than before. She softened up as she looked back at me with hazy eyes, “Do you know how to change a keg?”
“Who’s your friend?” Britney interrupted, examining my aged ride. It was certainly a fitting ride for delivering grease soaked chicken. And it showed.
“I’m just delivering your chicken,” I pipe up, finally stepping out of my car with the overly salted plastic sack in my hands. I handed it out to the overly bitchy Britney, pleading to her with eager eyes to let me escape the situation. “Make sure you give me a good rating.”
“No,” Elara responded simply, reaching over to shut my car door. “Not before you help us solve the party foul.”
With that I was being dragged into the towering castle. It was cold inside equipt with different fog machines, the lights were that of a chic techno nightmare, and every corner seemed to hold some kind of drinking game. This was truly custom for a Hollywood kewpie doll. The girls were wrapped in tight sponsored brands and the guys were dressed to the fours with baggy street joggers and oversized Supreme tees. Every eye held that same glimmer of disapproval for my appearance. I stood frozen as my tidal smashed tour guide dragged me to a sputtering beer house and a party crashing frat boy. His attire was a tad more lively as he stood in a fuschia Hawaain shirt and scrunched khaki pants. I knew he was an asshole because his sunglasses were on and the bash was indoors. He smelled like bath salts and PBR. I was surprised he wasn’t the spectacle. Then again my actual thrifted mom jeans and oversized band tee did no justice here either. He looked at me, motioning to the disaster in front of our very eyes.
“Well are you gonna fix it or what?” he sneered, lips curling through the spritz of foam in the air. By the looks of it, he’d clearly gotten some enjoyment out of the mental tank before the sputter. I shot him a glance of utter annoyance as his ignorance came to light.
My eyes examined the different nozzles as all of the previous summers helping out at a local bar came back as memorized expert skill. My hands went to the different hoses, my clothing getting lathered in cheap beer foam as I twisted to stop the overflow. The room chanted a scattered, unenthusiastic thank you. I backed away, thankful for the quick falling action. My feet slid back on the beer towards the door but I was stopped by Malibu Stacy herself.
“No! No! No!” she rushed, slamming her hand glass panel. “You can’t just leave, bitch! You saved my party!”
I shrugged away, looking around at the uncomfortable atmosphere. “Listen I’d love to but I’m on the clock and I really need the-”
A cunning smile came over her lips as she shook her head, reaching into her handbag and snatching out a cigarette. “I’ll pay you. I need to re-pay you anyway.”
“I turned a few nozzles and your house is still going to be a sticky mess. It’s really not a big deal.” I repeat, placing my hand on the door handle.
She nodded at first, a hand snaking to her hip as she took a heavy drag of her smoke. “I have an idea,” her voice was loud enough to make me turn back.
I decided the second I met this girl that she was a spectacle so I just let her go on, my eyes making direct contact. I observed as she pranced over to the coat rack, her likely thousand dollar heels tapping the glass floor. She fished out what seemed to be a key and tossed it lineback style my way.
In my palm sat a set of Mercedes keys. “What are these for?”
“The white one. Left side of the lot. She’s parked on the outside,” she explained, turning back to the staircase. “I’ll be right there.”
“Wait!” she announced one last time, “Do you have a name?”
“Sure do. It’s Sarah.”
“Awesome! Okay, Sarah. I’ll be right there for real this time,” she laughed as she stumbled up the stairs.
I sat for a moment, watching her leave. A large part of me, the one I always listened to, told me to turn back and leave the keys. However, the devil on my shoulder was tapping me aggressively. I decided to take the trip wherever it may lead. Hell, it had to be better than delivering to late night weekend drunks.
The car had a heated steering wheel, an airplane TV sized GPS, and glowing neon interior lights. I’d never seen such a luxury in my life. How? Soon enough, Elara came back into my vision, the majority of the makeup mask wiped from her face. She slid into the passenger seat extending a drunken wave my way. I noticed the two Truly can’s in her lap. She held one out to me.
“Shotgun from shotgun?” she offered, holding the excitement of an inflated sorority girl.
I shook my head as she cracked one open and started chugging. “Where are we going?”
Her hand reached out to plug an address into the GPS that she seemed to know by heart, the way she punched the numbers and road name in with expert skill showed me that she was a frequent flyer of the mystery area.
“Drive there. It’s about an hour and a half. If you can manage about 80 on the freeway we can make it in forty five,” she crunched the booze can and tossed it at her feet. She reclined in the seat, closing her eyes. “Wake me when we’re there.”
“And what happens if I crash this thing while you’re knocked out?”
She reached into her purse, snatching out her wallet and handing me her credit card. “Feel the weight of that?”
I nodded with a pair of wide eyes as the black card held a peculiar weight.
“If you crash it, I’ll have it replaced by tomorrow morning,” she said, taking it back and slipping into her bag. “Now drive. And change the radio. I hate that mainstream shit.”
She reclined back into a napping stance as I started the engine and tore off out of the brightly lit hills.
We arrived at a field somewhere in Southern California. It seemed to be a smaller town, no overwhelming activity or real signs of life after nightfall. I reached over to wake Elara. She was groggy, sitting up to look around.
“Nice job.” she yawned, “I hate how windy the roads are on the way up. Looks like you took them like a champ.”
I officially eased off the stalled brake, easing back to look around. The girl may have been a little brash but she had a good taste in scenery. I noticed as she slid out of the car and reached into the backseat, unzipping her dress in front of me.
Taken off guard, I tossed my head in the opposite direction, “Hey, hey...I just met you.”
Her sigh was loud enough to fill the cab from the outside. “Fine, I’ll try to keep it a little more close legged Christian around you then.”
Now dressed in casual sweatpants and a cropped college hoodie, she really did take on the appearance of a kid. This was so different from the silly online world. This was realistic. It was … beautiful. The clouds were a match, a hazy shade of blue and green. My body began to go numb to pure euphoria as everything that stood so pure in front of me was tugging my attention. I was better than great...I was wonderful. I finally stepped out of the vehicle and took a deep breath of the cool night canyon road. My eyes linked on to the vibrant green grass above us.
“Is this where we’re going?” I asked, my heart pounding at the adventure at my fingertips.
She nodded, pointing to the path. And it was magic. We danced through pine straws and rough leafy ground on the way to the field. It was built like a small forest. The stars were like fairy lights above us as I chased her knowing movements down the path. Everything felt golden underneath my feet as I took in the large trees with their winding branches. I could hear the owls sitting on the branches cooing soft hellos. My movements were pulsed with pure power as I ran. There was a playful skip to my step as the path grew more narrow and I looked to the stars now coating the multicolored sky above. Everything was lit up.
I felt my tear ducts grow damp as we finally ended up on the hill slanted grassy earth. Childlike nostalgia snatched me up in a hearty undertow as everything stood animated and lively in front of my very eyes.
We lay out on the grass, our eyes stuck on the stars. “This is where you go?” I asked, my tone silent as if not to disturb the peace surrounding us.
“It’s beautiful,” I breathed out, “How did you find this?”
Her shoulders shrugged against the grass, “My parents would take me here when I was a kid. There used to be a playground but they tore it down so long ago. It’s a nice escape from everything, y’know?”
“Need an escape from the personal makeup artist and daily spa days?”
She scoffed, “There’s so much you don’t know about, Sarah. It’s more than just being treated like a princess.”
“I don’t have the basic human right of privacy. I can’t go to Whole Foods like this for almond milk. I need to plan in advance. I have to be in this different skin. The hair, the full makeup, the uncomfortable heels...it’s all day. And then when I finally get to the store, I’m mobbed by fans for over an hour asking for pictures and conversations. I love them. I’m grateful to them and everything. But it’s so hard to be authentic with people who don’t know the real you...it’s like Halloween everyday. I never know when I can take my costume off,” her voice withered into a type of hard hitting sadness that you could feel deep in your gut.
I sat stunned that she could project more than what I would ever expect of her. “Eh, you’re not missing much on the opposite side of life. It’s pretty boring down here. At least you have the flexibility to do whatever you want and bank off of it. You could take a picture of a piece of dog shit and it would go viral, right?”
“Oh no, I don’t get to bend that easily. We’re all signed under contracts. And with that comes a list of things you can’t do. I’m like a walking brand. If I sway from the usual step of things, I could lose that contract. And then,” she paused, pulling a blunt from her bra and lighting it, “My career would dry up, right? But tell me! What’s it like to be normal?”
“Totally mute. Me, I don’t have the money for much range in my schedule. I wake up too early and hop in a skin melting hot shower. Then I pop two anti-depressants to keep me from walking into oncoming traffic and work for ten hours on end delivering to people who won’t even look me in the eye. When I make at least $120 to keep my head above water, I go home, throw a Lean Cuisine in the microwave, and flop on my waterbed for five hours of typically interrupted sleep.”
“Sounds like neither of us hit the lottery, huh?”
I shook my head as my eyes morphed the stars above into familiar shapes. My class taught me that having money was a luxury and it was a key to most of life’s problems. But what happens when you have too much of it? You’d never be able to get the truth. I felt bad for thinking Elara had an easy way out. I began to wonder what it would be like if my career depended on my reputation. Publicly and privately. Is having everyone’s eye on you at all times really worth the enormous figures?
“I wish my life had more reality.”
I could feel the tense, sharp numbness washing over her..
“It’s a fucking mess. I can never fully show myself to the people I share every minute with. And if we get into a tiff, every enquirer is ready with a new cover,” her voice broke as the tears sprang to her eyes, “I hate the fact that I bullied myself so bad as a teenager. I would sit in my room and beat myself up for not blowing up yet or not being good enough for someone else. And now that it’s in my hands...I feel too grateful to complain. Sometimes I miss being a nobody. It’s not all bad.”
She took another hit of the blunt, the smoke o’s fading into the night sky. “Damn, I miss the Valley.”
“You came from the Valley?” I asked, the image of abandoned video rental stores, shady side street dispensaries, and the Circus liquor clown swiped my memory. “The vast majority is a shit hole.”
“Tell that to my 1,200 foot ranch house that I shared with my parents. My nails were always chipped. I had an oversized greasy sidebang that always gave me the most aggressive forehead acne...I also sported a gymnasts beer belly all through high school. So I basically took a mallet to myself, knocked down God’s shitty foundation, and built some new property. I took a few pictures, gained a few fans, and that was it. Now there’s always eyes on me and I just wish I could hug my 16 year old self.”
“Dial yourself back,” I suggested into the cool evening air. The breeze was soaring through me like a bedsheet in the wind.
“I can’t,” she laughed, “I signed a contract. I can’t walk out of the skin suit now. I’d have millions of people sending death threats, wondering if I died, and trying to find my new incognito.”
She railed the consequences off so casually I wondered how up in the clouds she really was. I reached over and took the blunt out of her fingers, taking in a heavy inhale. “You can’t break the contract? Like ever?”
“Oh I can break the contract tomorrow. But no one ever forgets. People know who I am. I’ll either be the person who makes it through the hoop and my name will be googled in a few households years from now wondering where I am now or I’ll get the alternative. I can’t decide what’s worse...death threats or being a total hasben.”
She rose from the grassy earth, now placing her fingertips at her tear ducts to prevent flow. “I spend a lot of time wondering where I’ll be in five years or even worse...twenty years. When I get wrinkles and nobody wants to take my picture anymore?”
Sarah scanned her over with a knowing smile, her head clearly buzzing
“Change your perspective.”
My eyes were glassy as I watched Sarah drive down the roads of my old stomping grounds. Every tree was more alive than the next as I saw pavemented roads from my childhood that would spend hours sidewalk chalking. The sky was a lovely blush of every color on the palette as we passed the convenience store my friends and I would steal candy from in elementary school. As we passed the milky oak park bench where I had my first kiss, my heart felt heavy. Everything was standing awake and beautiful in front of me. And suddenly I realized how much I really did crave a dose of simplicity. The rest of the night faded in a deep blacked out sleep before my very eyes and it was like I was never there in the first place.
The next thing I could feel was Britney’s cool palm shaking my arm violently.
“Oh my god guys! I think we need an ambulance!” she shrieked, my ears cringing at the unpleasant wakeup call.
“E! E! Wake up!”
My senses came alive again as the smell of stale beer hit my nostrils. I could puke. My hair felt glued to my body in some type of sticky mess. I sat up, eyes closed to the now overtly beaming sunlight peering in through large french windows. I was on the floor.
“GUYS! Nevermind! She’s not dead!” Britney called into the nearby room though no one was moving anyway.
“God,” I spat, my head feeling buzzed and branded, “Could you not be so annoying this early in the morning?”
“I’m sorry! I thought you were dead. You really need to lay off those Mad Hatter tablets.”
“Wait,” I paused, trying to recall the early evening events of the night before, “I tripped last night?”
“It was absolutely priceless! You popped a tablet before the party and tried to convince our delivery girl to be your personal schofur for the night. You also slipped and passed out in the beer spill from last night cartoon style in front of the entire party. I think that dress is well past ruined now,” she laughed, moving to stand from her crouched stance.
She started moving towards the front door, “I have a shoot in thirty, I’m gonna go beat Santa Monica bullshit traffic. You should probably shower. Your manager called, you have some kind of business meeting soon.”
Her words faded off to a pair of closed off ears as I sat still in the stale sticky mess below me, feeling emptier than I had the night before. The telling lucid dream over rode the psychedelic hangover that danced on my brain lining. My legs straightened out, taking me from the floor to lean against the staircase. The surrounding sunny luxuries assaulted my view again and this time I was left wanting less.
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