"You know," Winston says during a brief break in the karaoke. "One of my goals is to make it into one of your stories."
"Really?" Since the first time I took someone from real life and wrote them in a story, I've always wondered people's reactions to becoming a character.
The music kicks on, the intro to the Quiet Riot song "Cum on Feel the Noize," while Erika, my roommate and Winston's girlfriend, hops up to the front of the room and dances with the energy of 10 kids diagnosed with ADHD.
"Oh my God!" Winston says. "Where is that voice coming from?"
Her singing voice during this particular song is, for lack of a better adjective, terrifying - this throaty raspy growl that comes from some darkness that she must be hiding within.
Earlier, we'd gone to "Rebel Bingo," half-bingo game, half-dance party. If you're curious, it's exactly what you'd expect to happen if a bunch of hipsters decided to start a Bingo game. At one point, the host of the show had yelled out, "This is not just Bingo. This is a REVOLUTION!" and I distinctly remember thinking, "Nah, it's just Bingo."
So here I am, hours later, in a private karaoke room at Soop Sok in Koreatown, watching Erika do an air guitar solo while a really weird Korean music video plays behind her.
After Erika's epic finale, the next singer gets up to sing "What's My Age Again?" by Blink 182. I laugh. "The first time I had sex was to this song," I say. "In a car."
"Oh my God, no!" Winston says. "How was it?"
"I mean, it was in a car. And it didn't last very long."
"Well the fist time I had sex it lasted forever."
"I was drunk."
I laugh. "Was it her first time, too?"
"Oh no," he says. "She had lots of sex with lots of my friends. I don't remember much about it. But I DO remember coming out of the room and looking around thinking, 'Well, I'm one of the sexually active people now. I did it.' I wanted to walk out and announce it to the world."
"So did the girl have a good time?"
"Oh yeah, she was really into it," he says. "I kind of feel bad about how I was to her, actually. Because I really liked this other girl at the time, and she'd be over, and I'd sneak her around so the other girl wouldn't see us together."
"Oh, I know," he says.
"Well, did you ever get with the other girl?"
"We went on like four dates." His voice suddenly loses its familiar joking tone. "Even dating was hard for her. Because, well, she'd been raped...isn't that awful? So she couldn't take any intimacy at all. We were hanging out, and she just said, 'I can't do this,' one day. So we ended it."
"It really did. I mean, on one hand, I liked her so much, and I wanted to be there for her, you know? But on the other hand, I totally understand why she felt like she did, and the best thing I could do was give her space."
Later, before I leave, I hand Winston a bouncy ball.
He looks up at me, surprised. "Really? Just like that?"
"Just like that."
Bouncy Ball # 32 - Breezsa
"Man, I messed up!" I say.
"That was seriously amazing," Sosa says, his giant brown eyes wide.
"But I messed up!"
"Where did you mess up?"
"On the part where I go down to the ground, I'm supposed to do this little thing before with my hips."
"Oh," Sosa says. "Well believe me, no one watching would be paying attention to that."
"Let me do it one more time." I walk over to his computer, restart the song, "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails, and then I get in position facing his closet, my back to him, and wait out the counts before my cue.
Earlier, I'd attended an Intro to Burlesque dancing class, where I learned about 40 seconds of this dance. I'd recruited Sosa to watch me before I forget it.
Because I'm me, I of course made the class into some sort of challenge. When we'd broken into smaller groups, I'd watched the others like a basketball coach scouting the competition. I need to put my hips out more there like she's doing, I thought. And that lady just has more ass than me. Nothing I can do about that.
Like most things I've been trying, I enjoyed the class. It demystified "sexy" for me. Before, I'd thought my athleticism and general "I say fuck a lot" persona made me fluid and strong, but not sensual. I never realized that it was a trick of presentation, that a swish of my hips or a jerk of my neck to flip my long brown hair is the difference between centerfielder and centerfold.
After the class, excited, glowing with sweat, I'd walked over to Breezsa, our instructor. "I want to give you this bouncy ball," I said. "I've been trying new things and giving people bouncy balls."
"Uh...ok," she said. She didn't seem to appreciate the gesture. Then again, I don't know what I expected her to do. Hug me? For a brief moment, I wondered why it's so hard for me to connect to people like Breezsa. And then it hit me.
I don't have to be best friends with the Burlesque dance instructor. I just have to admit that I can learn from her.
Sosa's perched on his bed eating candy and drinking orange juice while he watches me run through the dance again. I arch my back, I shake my hips, I flip my long hair, ending in a sexy pose, and then, poof! I turn right back into myself. "Goddamnit! I fucked it up again."
Sosa laughs. "I swear, Leah, that was amazing. It's so crazy to see you do that."
I hop up on his bed and sit cross-legged, pulling my hair up into a ponytail. "Why is it crazy?"
"Because you don't do things like that."
I shrug. "So was it sexy?"
Bouncy Ball # 33 - Mt. Wilson Revisited
I'm looking out over Los Angeles from the top of Mt. Wilson. The lights don't just shine - they move and sparkle from one end of the city to another, a fluid wave of human interaction seen from the top of a towering mountain. "Do you see that? It looks like magic."
"Yeah," Sosa says. "I'll never unsee this."
The original plan had been to make the drive up the mountain alone, a quest I'd assigned myself because a week earlier, when I'd ridden up the mountain with my friend Brent, we weren't able to see the view due to the dense fog. It bothered me: a quest left undone, a fear left unconquered.
Sosa had decided to tag along at the last minute. I'm glad he's here.
He tries to capture a picture with his phone. Before, I might've done the same thing. I might've spent five minutes trying to get the perfect shot to send to him, wherever he is, with the caption, "I got to see this with my eyes today."
But today, I don't think about sending him a picture. I don't think about anything except what's in front of me. For this second, I've let go of the thoughts that haunted me on the whole drive up the mountain: I should be doing an open mic right now. I should be working out right now. I should be writing right now.
I should be living right now.
Sosa pulls a bag of Berry Sour Patch Kids from his pocket, our favorite candy. He pours some in my hand.
"Oh my God, yes!" I say. "You've had these the whole time?"
"I was saving them for the top."
We stand side by side staring out over the city, chewing our Sour Patch Kids in silence. I feel like a little kid that found a secret path to a place where most of the people shimmering below us have never been.
I'd like you to share it with you, but an iPhone can't show you how it shimmers. That's something you have to see for yourselves.
Bouncy Ball # 34 - Lindsay
"We've never done this before," I say.
I'm at a Korean BBQ restaurant with Lindsay, an old friend from college who lives in Seattle. Her job has her working in L.A. a couple days a week, so here we are, staring at the pile of uncooked meat we ordered.
The server picks up the tongs and moves the meat to the center of our grill. "Don't put in right over the middle," she says, "but get it closer so it cooks all the way." She walks off.
I flip the meat for a few minutes. "Is it done?"
Lindsay shrugs. "It looks done to me."
"Well, okay." I cut the pork in half and put a piece on her plate. I take a bite, and then notice the pink center. "Does THIS look done to you?" I hold my fork out to show Lindsay.
The server comes back, picks up the shears, and cuts the chicken into smaller strips.
"Is this pork done?" I ask her.
"No," she says, barely even looking at it.
"Oh. So...are we supposed to wait for you to cook it?"
"Yeah, I was going to cook it for you."
"Oh. Well, I just ate a piece. Is that bad?"
"I mean, am I gonna get sick?"
"Yeah, you might," she says.
I exchange a look with Lindsay and we put our pork back on the grill. The server stays a few more minutes. "It's done now," she announces and saunters away.
"What the fuck? I told her we'd never been here." I rummage through my purse. "Man, I forgot my bouncy ball in the car. I guess I'll just have to give it to you today."
She laughs. "Is that bad?"
"No, no," I say. "Sorry. I just mean that you're the story tonight."
After the BBQ, Lindsay and I head to Echo Park to a stand-up show - I'm on the lineup. I go up first, seven minutes, but I can't break the crowd the way I want. They laugh, but not big laughs. They're holding back, and I can't quite reach them. The set itself is passable, not great.
I get offstage, frustrated, and Lindsay follows me outside to talk for a minute.
"That was really good," she says.
"No it wasn't. It was okay."
"They laughed," she says.
"Yeah, but I wanted to do better than that." What I really mean is, I wanted her to see me do better than that. I want her to think I'm good at what I do.
"You're better than the last time I saw you," she says. "You're better now than you were in Portland, and you were better in Portland than you were Chicago."
"Yeah, well, Chicago was the worst," I say, remembering the week I'd spent as the feature at Zanies, bombing night after night. Lindsay had seen me on the last show, a Sunday night, and we got in a fight a few hours later at a karaoke bar when I asked her what she thought of my set, and she basically told me I was the worst on the show.
"Well, you're better now. You know, when I was in there watching you just now, I thought, 'She might actually be a comedian.'" She catches herself. "Not that I thought you couldn't do it before. It's just really hard, you know?"
I laugh. A year ago, a comment like that might've ruined my night.
"The point is," she says, "I thought you were really good."
"Would you tell me if I wasn't?"
She smiles. "Did I tell you in Chicago?"
"Well, I tell it like it is."
While we ride down the 10 to Lindsay's hotel, she says, "I can't believe you live here."
"Me neither," I say. "I'm just now starting to feel like I do. It was hard to get used to it."
"What do you mean?"
"I think mostly it's just hard to connect with people here, you know? Where we lived in Norman, I had my best friends around me all the time, so when I moved here, I kept looking for those kinds of connections."
"You can't do that," she says. "You can't compare the present to where you've been in the past. I did that for so long. Everyone I met, I expected them to be like our old friends. But I just cut people off before I got to know them, you know?"
"Yeah, I get that," I say. "You know, I feel like we've known our friends so long that to them, I'm the same person I was when I was 19. I feel like no matter what I'm doing with my life, I'm always that crazy girl they met ten years ago. There's no room to grow." I pause, realizing that I've done that exact thing to Lindsay tonight. "But I guess I do that to you guys, too."
Bouncy Ball # 35 - Rockey
A few days into my bouncy ball project, my best friend Rockey texted me from Oklahoma. "Will you do this ab challenge with me?"
On February 12, I finished it:
And yes, if you're wondering, I do look like Superwoman.
Bouncy Ball # 36 - Dave Grohl
"I've been spending a lot of time driving up mountains lately," I say, winding up a dirt road that supposedly leads to some hiking trails.
"Huh," Doug says, ever the conversationalist. "Well, we're just looking for some kind of entrance or trailhead."
"You know, I've heard the word trailhead today more than I have in my entire life."
Doug and I are searching for tarantulas. He'd read on LA Weekly about a walking trail where you could see the spiders skittering across the side of the dirt path.
"So what are you gonna do with the bouncy ball?" Doug asks. "I doubt there'll be any other people since it's so late. Are you just gonna give one to a tarantula?"
I laugh. "Well, Doug, I know you're gonna hate it, but I guess I'll probably have to give it to you."
"No, that's fine with me," Doug says.
"You didn't take the last one I tried to give you."
"Oh yeah. I kinda remember that."
"Yeah, you should," I say. "I threw a big fit about it. But honestly, who doesn't take a bouncy ball? What's wrong with you?"
He laughs. "You know, I just had a thought. I know what we can do if this doesn't work out."
"Dave Grohl lives somewhere up here. I can Google his address."
"What? Oh my God, we have to do that! That's perfect!"
It is perfect, actually. Dave Grohl, from Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, is the reason I know Doug. In college, we had a writing class together, and we both sat in the back of the room for the entire semester, but we never said a word to each other.
On the last day of class, I'd come in hungover, took my usual seat, and immediately sprawled out over my desk, cradling my head in my arms to forget about my splitting headache. I felt a tap on my shoulder.
"Is that a Foo Fighters tattoo on your back?"
"Oh," I said, pulling down the back of my t-shirt. "Yeah."
He reached out his hand. "Hi, I'm Doug."
That was 12 years ago.
"It's this road up here to your right," Doug says.
There's a a driveway that leads up a steep hill and according to the internet, Dave Grohl is in a house at the top. I pull in front of the mailbox and put my hazards on. "Perfect."
I get out, drop the ball in the mailbox, and jump back in my car. "Fuck yeah! Dave Grohl gets my bouncy ball."
"Well, maybe. If that's his house," Doug says.
"Let's just say it is. That's what I'm gonna believe."
Bouncy Ball # 37 - Safari Dal
"Excuse me, do you mind if I plug my computer into that outlet?"
I look up from my screen. There's a guy standing there, his charger in hand. I'm in the Starbucks located in a laundromat on Sunset, the closest one to my house because my washing machine isn't working.
"Sure," I say.
He plugs it in, but it's not long enough.
"Just switch me seats."
"Are you sure? I don't want to make you move."
"Naw, it's no big deal." I pack up my computer and move one table to the left.
"So what are you working on?" he asks, opening his laptop. He pulls out a book, "The Four-Hour Work Week," and places it on the table next to his computer.
"I'm writing a blog right now," I say. "What about you?"
"Well, lots of stuff," he says. "Because I have this plan. I just finished getting my real estate license. I'm trying to think of the best way to make money so I can do what I want to do."
"What do you want to do?"
"I want to travel."
"Oh my God, me too. I think about that all the time." I abandon my blog, even though it's causing me all sorts of anxiety, and I have an interesting conversation with Dallas instead.
Dallas is a rapper in his spare time - he goes by the name Safari Dal. I listened to a couple of his songs on Sound Cloud, my headphones plugged into his computer, and they're actually really good. He used to play college baseball, third base, but after a couple years, he realized that when he's on the field, he's thinking about what he's gonna do off the field, and when he's off the field, he never thinks of baseball at all. Right now, he sells cars to make money, but he's hoping that he'll be able to make enough in the next few years so that he can build his savings, take a few years off, see the world. He also has some ideas: an electronic cigarette that contains healthy vapors, a shirt that has a removable hood so you can change the colors.
He's 20 years old.
"Holy shit!" I say. "You're 20?"
"Yeah," he says. "Is that weird?"
"No, it's just crazy how motivated you are."
"I just have a plan, and I feel like I need to start working toward it. I feel like I need to work as hard as I can right now because I'm just getting older."
"Oh God, wait until you're 30."
He laughs. "It's just hard for me to focus on one thing."
"No, I get that. I have so much going on that I constantly think I'm abandoning one thing for another." Like now, for instance. I'm abandoning the work I'm supposed to be doing to have this conversation.
But isn't this what I'm supposed to do? Isn't the point of this blog the experience rather than the writing?
Ok, guys, real talk time.
I wrote most of this blog in Vegas. I wrote it early in the morning while my friends were still asleep, sitting in the upstairs of a McDonald's because it's the only place nearby with free Wi-Fi.
That's the problem I've been running into - the difference between having experiences and writing about them. Following the bouncy ball premise I've set for myself is a standard that's proving to be more than difficult - it's a fucking pain in the ass.
If the problem were just that I haven't stopped moving once for the last five weeks, I'd shut up about it. After all, I've taken this on myself, and no one but me is holding me accountable for it. But there are more problems than that.
For one thing, I genuinely enjoy the things I'm doing, so much so that I want to continue doing them. I would've loved to learn a sexy dance to the entirety of that Nine Inch Nails song rather than have to stop at 40 seconds. During the first week of this project, I enjoyed my work Yoga class so much, I've attended every week since. But last week, because I went to that particular class and it ran over, a domino reaction went into effect, and I didn't make it home in time to complete my plan for the day, so I ended up making a split second decision to take my clothes off onstage at the Hollywood Hotel, manufacturing a story.
For another thing, I'm putting too much pressure on people, on moments, on the things I've planned that usually fizzle out to an uninteresting end or blow up in my face.
Take this past week, for instance. On Thursday, I had plans to meet Doug, but earlier that afternoon, I got in a very minor car accident in Culver City, a comical endeavor during which a small child with paint on his face stood next to me, asking me a million adorable questions while I took down his grandmother's insurance information.
I didn't think to give that kid a bouncy ball, but I should have.
On Friday, I was so worried about missing another opportunity, as soon as I met Safari Dal, I gave him my bouncy ball thinking it would take pressure off the rest of my day.
As it turned out, Dallas was interesting, yes, but it's also worth noting that at a horse race later that afternoon, I picked the winning horse three out of four times. And then later that night before my set at the Comedy Store, I saw the manager, Tommy, go off on possibly the best rant I've ever seen.
Tommy should've had the story that day. It should've been him.
So I'm going to continue doing this because I follow through with things.
But if I'm being honest, it's my job to report that I already do plenty of exciting things on my own and that everyday I meet someone interesting because I live and work and do exciting things in a city jammed to max capacity with people.
And It'd be nice, so nice, to have a minute to enjoy it.