"Thanks for doing it," Steve says, shaking my hand. "Hey, so I read your last blog. Are you really done with the thread about the guy?"
"Yep." I'm hesitant to give up anymore information. Talking to Steve is a chess match - he's always looking for places where your defense is weak, a back way in to personal information that you forgot to guard.
He shakes his head. "But you don't ever tell us what happened."
I shrug. "That's because nothing really happened. There's not really much to tell, other than what I said. It's not a thing anymore."
"So you're not going to talk about it?"
"Well, there's just not much to talk about," I say. "I mean, I write about how I feel when I feel it. So I started writing this blog when I was upset, but that's not the case anymore. I got other stuff going on."
"I'm just saying," Steve says, "as a reader and a fan, I feel cheated if you don't tell me what happened."
"But why do you need to know that?"
"Because look," Steve says, "you hooked me at the beginning because you're all upset about this guy, and now you're fine, and you just expect me to be fine, too, but you're the one who introduced the story. How are you going to keep that part away from the readers? You're robbing us of a happy ending."
"But that's not what the story's about. Why does the happy ending have to mean it's about a guy?"
Steve holds his hands up in surrender. "Look, you can do what you want," he says. "I'm just telling you how I feel."
I shrug. "Okay. Thank you. Noted."
I don't say what I want to say, which is this:
You've followed me this far into a web of insanity. Don't you trust me to lead you out of it?
Bouncy Ball # 92 - Crestwood Park
"Oh my God, this is the longest detour ever," I say. "I mean, are we even still in California?"
"There's a sign," Sosa says, pointing to an orange construction sign, a big black arrow prompting us to make our third left.
We'd just left Crestwood Park in Brentwood, where we attended a fundraiser carnival for the school where I work. Nothing of interest happened at the carnival.
On the way out, while we climbed some concrete stairs to the parking lot, I remembered the bouncy ball in my purse and placed it on one of the concrete steps. Halfway up the staircase, I passed an old lady with her hand on the railing, taking each step one at a time, and I ran back down to grab the bouncy ball.
"Oh my God," I'd said to Sosa while we walked to my car. "What if that old lady stepped on my bouncy ball and fell? That would've been a terrible story."
We followed the route back to the 405 freeway, but the on-ramp we needed was closed, a bright orange detour sign pointing us in a different direction.
That was about ten miles back.
"Why do I even trust these detour signs right now?" I ask. "How do I know they're leading anywhere?"
Sosa laughs. "That's a good point. What if the construction workers were bored, and they just pointed us in random directions? They're like, 'Just get the fuck out of here.'"
"That's what it feels like," I say. "Look, there's another sign." We approach yet another intersection, the orange sign pointing left. The only problem is, there are two possible lefts you can take, one sharp left that turns onto a two-lane highway, and one soft left that leads down a hill. I take the sharp left.
"I don't think this is right," I say. "Everyone else went the other way."
Sosa shrugs. "Well, turn around."
I pull off the road into some gravel, turn my car around and head back to the intersection. "No fucking way," I say.
At the light, there's another orange detour sign, pointing back the way we came.
"How is that even possible?" I ask. "Are we in a maze right now? Did we switch detours halfway through our detour?"
Sosa and I crack up laughing as I take a left at the light. "All right," I say. "I'm giving up." I map out the directions on my phone, and it leads us
toward the 101. Within two miles, we both recognize our surroundings.
"We're in the Valley?! We're in the fucking Valley right now? How is that even possible?" It's like we'd found some secret chute that sucked us through hills and woods and gravel roads and spit us out nowhere near where we started.
I get on the freeway. "Well," I say, "I definitely know the way from here."
I'm at work one morning when I get a Facebook message from my comic friend, who lives in Chicago. "Hey, if I don't actually give the ball to someone, does it still count?"
"Sure, it counts," I say. "Anything counts." I don't care what my friends write about the bouncy ball - I'm just happy they're writing something. "Drop the ball near where you saw it, if you want to feel justified."
"Thank goodness," he replies. "Because I saw an old lady fall down on my way to work, and I really wanted an excuse to write about it."
Huh, I think. That's a weird coincidence. Just a few days before, I'd almost made an old lady fall by leaving a bouncy ball in her path, and now a friend of mine will be dropping a bouncy ball in Chicago in the spot where he saw an old lady fall.
Stories of Bouncy Balls Past - Logan Airport
I'm in the shuttle on the way to the Logan Airport, helplessly watching the minutes tick by. 30 minutes until my flight departs, and we're not even at the terminal. We've been stuck in traffic for a few hours now. I'm about to miss my flight.
This is already an unplanned trip. I flew in to Boston the day of my grandpa's funeral, attended the night service and the graveside memorial ceremony the next morning, and then immediately turned around to fly back to L.A. Tomorrow morning, I'm supposed to be in my car driving to Oklahoma for the holidays.
While we finally pull up to my terminal, I'm on the phone with some guy from Orbitz, who's not really helping me. "Never mind, I gotta run!" I hang up and burst through the airport doors.
There's a line in front of the airline desk. I make eye contact with the first security guard I see. "Help me!" I yell. "My flight leaves in 20 minutes! I checked in online!"
He actually rushes over and helps me - I really have no idea why. He grabs my luggage, throws a tag on it, and points to the security checkpoint. "Gate 12," he says, shaking his head. "And you'd better run!"
But I'm already running, my back to him, shouting, "Thank you!" over my shoulder while I take my shoes off, one at a time, mid-stride. I reach the security checkpoint - there's no line, just one girl in front of me.
"I'll give you a million dollars if you let me go first," I say.
She laughs. "Just go!"
I toss my stuff on the conveyor belt, check the time. 10 minutes until my flight departs.
The guard gestures for me to walk through the metal detector. I rush through, but it beeps. "Oh my God," I say. "I don't even have anything."
"Check your pockets," the guard says.
I reach in my pocket. There is something in there. I pull it out. "It's a bouncy ball!" I hold it out in front of the guard. "What do I do? I don't even need this!"
He rolls his eyes. "Just hold it in your hand."
So I clutch the ball in my hand, holding my arms up over my head as they x-ray me. 8 minutes. There's no way I'm making this flight.
Still, I grab my shoes, my backpack, and run down the terminal in my socks until I land in front of Gate 12, out of breath, 7 minutes before the flight is supposed to leave.
But they're not boarding the plane. The gate is full of passengers, and they're all staring at me. Probably because I look like a crazy person.
I walk up to the help desk. "Excuse me, is there a problem with the flight?"
"We'll be boarding shortly," the lady says. "The flight crew got held up in traffic."
I sit down and put on my shoes, exhausted, sad, and a little bit confused. In all my years flying on planes, I've never been delayed because a flight crew got stuck in traffic. I pull the bouncy ball out of my pocket. Did I make this happen? Did I stop this plane?
Am I magic?
I'm on my drive home from work when I receive a Facebook message from one of my LA comic friends. It's about another bouncy ball story that I'm waiting to receive. "Hey btw, what I wrote was incredibly sad, so I scratched it."
I'm bummed, but I don't want her to know. It's not her fault that I can't distribute bouncy balls at the rate I'd set for myself. "That's cool that you wrote something," I respond, "even if no one sees it. And you can always try it again if you want."
"Well I still have some balls," she writes. "Maybe I can try to make it fun and less sad this time."
"Some of my stories are pretty sad, too," I say. "Just so you know."
Bouncy Ball # 93 - Evan
Wednesday night, I'm at the House of Pies with a group of comics after the mic at the Hollywood Hotel. One of the comics, Evan, announces that he's going to try the apple pie with a slice of cheese on it.
"Is that a thing?" I ask.
They point it out to me on the menu.
"Oh cool! I'm gonna try that, too."
Evan and I get our pie before the rest of the food. It's delicious. I pass it around the table, offering bites to all the other comics.
After a while, there's a lull in the conversation, and right then, I miss the easiness of my old friends, how silence is rare, but when it happens, it's never accompanied by the sudden panic that sets in over a group of comics, whose biggest fears are appearing as awkward as they feel.
I loudly sigh. "You guys," I say. "I just feel like, well...why is everyone here always so...I don't know."
I continue. "It's just that my friends are always giving each other shit, you know? I mean, my old college friends. Not that you guys aren't my friends."
They all stare at me.
"I mean, they made fun of each other, you know? It was easy. And I feel like there's just not that easy feeling here. Why are we all so polite?"
"God Leah," Ryan says. "Sorry we're not as good as your real friends."
I know he's joking, but I immediately feel bad. "No, no, that's not what I meant," I say. "It's just..."
But I don't know what to say. I don't know what I mean. I can't tell what's bothering me sitting at this table, but there's something just a little off about it. I feel disconnected and isolated, even here with five other people.
"I still have your ball," my friend Megan says. "I haven't done anything yet, but I promise I will."
"Ha!" I laugh. "There's no rush, really."
"No, I have the perfect thing," she says, "but I'm afraid to do it. It's dumb, but I've never done it before."
"Really? Wow, I can't wait."
"Yeah," she says. "I thought about what I wanted to do, and then I got this idea, and now I can't think of anything else."
Bouncy Ball # 94 - Meah
I've been driving around for over an hour trying to find something to do with this goddamn ball. I pass by a shop with the sign "$6 haircuts." I'd do that, but I don't have six dollars. I only have two dollars.
I'm running out of daylight and options. Finally, frustrated, I pull into a gas station. I take my last two bucks, and I go in to buy a Powerball ticket. I get a quick pick number from the friendly cashier.
"Can I give you a bouncy ball?" I ask him, holding a large yellow one in my palm in front of him.
The cashier grabs it. "What is this?"
"It's just a bouncy ball," I say. "They're for good luck. I like to give them to people."
He smiles, turning the ball in his hand. "You know," he says, "it's crazy you gave me this. I have a son, and he loves these. He plays with them all the time! I'm going to give it to him, if you don't mind." He examines the writing on the side. "What's this say here?"
"It says my name," I say. "Leah."
"Oh, I see," he says.
I glance at his name tag. "Is your name Meah?"
"Wow," I say. I start to leave.
Me holds the ball up. "Thank you so much for this. My son, he will love it. Really, it's perfect."
On my way to my car, I hold my $2 slip of paper, and I think about odds. What are the odds that this is a winning ticket? One in a billion? And what are the odds that I randomly give a bouncy ball to a man who's son collects bouncy balls? One in a million? One in a billion? Once in a lifetime?
I'm walking out of High Fidelity at the end of The Casual when I run into a comic friend on the sidewalk. "Hey," he says. "I'm glad I saw you. What's your email address? I got a bouncy ball story for you!"
"Oh great!" I say. I rattle off my address and run to catch up with Sosa, who's walking ahead of me on the sidewalk. "He's got a story," I say. "Thank God. He's saving me."
I wait, but I don't receive an email.
On Sundays, I record a podcast with my friend Andy. It's his baby - I'm just the co-host that tries to keep him on topic when his ADHD sees some shiney conversation nugget off in another direction.
The podcast, called "People We Know," is about fictional characters. Every week, Andy invites a guest to come talk to us about their favorite character from a movie, a book, a TV show, really anything.
I'm an interesting addition to the podcast, mostly because I'm notorious for not seeing movies or TV shows that apparently everyone else in the world has seen. For instance, I've never seen "The Godfather." (GASP!)
So most of the time when we record, I'm just sitting there with nothing to add to the conversation because I have no idea what super-villains Spider-man has encountered, and Andy can stay on this topic for hours.
Today, though, we're talking about Scrooge McDuck of "Ducktales" fame with LA comic and my good friend, Greg. I still don't know shit about the topic, but since I know Greg, the conversation is easy, smooth.
"So why do you think you connect so much with Scrooge McDuck?" Andy asks, laughing at the absurdity of it. He's asked this question in different versions several times, but I get the feeling he's looking for something deeper than what Greg's given.
"Well, I don't know if I connect with him," Greg says. "But I like the show because it's a treasure hunt. You know? I just like that idea of looking for treasure. The adventure of it."
"We should go on a treasure hunt," Andy says.
"Hell yeah," I say. "I'm in! For sure."
"All right," Greg says, "Let's do this. We just need a map."
"But where can we get a map?"
I shrug. "Maybe we could go to a thrift store or an antique store and look for one."
"No, no, no," Andy says. "That's not how it works. The treasure map has to find you. You can't seek it out."
Later, after we're done recording, Andy, Greg, John, and I are in John's kitchen, eating donuts and discussing whether or not there's a Higher Power.
We're not arguing about it, though we have different opinions on the matter. Andy and John are Atheists, Greg and I aren't necessarily religious, but we entertain the idea that there's something out there, something supernatural, something magical.
"I just think there's some connection between all of us, you know?" Greg says.
"I agree that we're all connected," John says, "but I just think of it like we're all made out of the same thing. That in itself is fascinating enough to me."
"Yeah," I pipe in. "I guess that's true. But don't you ever feel like you can manipulate things? You know, like if you wake up and you're in a good mood, then your day goes better than if you start out pissed?"
"Oh sure," John says, "but that's really more about your psychological mindset."
"I guess," I say. "But I mean, I just feel like I'm able to manipulate things that I shouldn't have any control over. I can make things happen. What comes to me is a direct result of what I put in the world."
Bouncy Ball # 95 - My Neighborhood
After work one afternoon, I walk around my neighborhood with a large trash bag. I scour the fence lines, the sidewalks, the edge of the streets, picking up any trash I find. I don't live in the nicest area - within one block, I've filled an entire bag.
Why am I doing this? Well, during Week 12 of this project, one of my guest writers had referred to dropping her bouncy ball on the ground as "creative littering." I never thought of bouncy balls as litter for some reason, but I guess they are made of rubber, of plastics and man-made chemicals that take years to decompose.
I figure that by the end of this, I'll have released close to 200 bouncy balls in the world. So, in an effort to make right on what I'm putting in the world, I picked up well over 200 pieces of litter around my block.
During my short neighborhood cleanup, I only have one interaction. A man pulls up next to me, parks his car, and smiles. "Thank you for doing that," he says.
"It's nothing," I say. After all, I'm just cleaning up to make up for the messes I've made, the debris like fragmented pieces of my life, my friend's lives, scattered around the world.
Late Friday night, I receive a long text message from an Oklahoma friend and this picture:
"That's exactly what it IS!" I write. "I put it there in my dream."
I text that because I know she'll like it, the idea of me sending good vibes her way in the form of bouncy balls. She likes things like that. But I also text it because I believe that it's true. I believe I did put it there somehow, that the earth has rotated in such a way that my existence made that circumstance occur. And even my existence is against the odds - I was born because my grandmother survived the Armenian Genocide and came to America, an 8-year-old orphan.
Whatever the reason for it, the fact that I exist has put bouncy balls out in the world in certain spots that seem inevitable, like points on a treasure map that only appear in a certain light, like pieces set up on a chess board that show up and disappear when you let your guard down, like points of connection between me and the world.
Between me and you.
Bouncy Ball # 96 - CityHunt Scavenger Hunt
"I just want you to know," Sosa says, "none of that was fun for me."
I laugh. "Really? I had fun. You didn't like it?"
He shakes his head. "It was definitely more stressful than I thought it'd be. I thought it was gonna be just a fun game thing, but that's not what it felt like. You were really serious about it."
"Oh, I'm sorry! Was I being obnoxious?"
He sighs. "No, but you wanted to win."
Sosa and I just met back at the rendezvous point to find at least 8 teams had finished this scavenger hunt before us, including several teams of older ladies who'd also apparently stopped and done some shopping along the way.
Technically, it doesn't matter if we finished first, just as long as we finish in the allotted three-hour time span. Sosa and I spent two and a half hours running up and down Hollywood Boulevard to find certain stars on the Walk-of-Fame, to count the stairs leading up to the entrance of the Dolby Theatre, to find the answers to questions on random plaques outside the Chinese Theatre. I'd mostly just asked him to Google things, rushing from one place to another while I went over and over our clues.
Now we're sitting on a bench, our scorecards turned in, waiting for the remaining teams to finish. "I'm sorry you didn't have fun," I say.
"It's not that," he says. "I just felt like we weren't on the same team. Like I was just there to Google things."
"You helped a lot!" I say. "You pretty much found all the answers, actually."
He shrugs, takes a sip of water. Once all the teams return, the scores are tallied, and one of the women in charge of the event stands front and center. "Okay," she says, "I'm going to name the top ten teams."
"Huh," I say, looking at the bottom of our stack. "Ours is on the bottom. See where I wrote stuff on the back?"
Sosa turns to me. "Wait. Did we win?"
"No way," I say. "There's more than ten papers in her hand."
But as she counts down, naming the placing teams, she gets closer and closer to ours until it's the only one remaining in her hand. "And the first place team has a very appropriate name..."
Sosa and I exchange a look.
"It's The Winners!" the lady says. That's the name we chose: The Winners.
Sosa jumps up. "Yes!" he says, incredulous. "We won!"
We high five. The lady hands us a paper bag with some silly prizes: a couple of boxes that I assume are candy and two medals that say, "Winner," which we put on right away.
We're both ecstatic. We can't believe it. Sure, it's just a silly scavenger hunt, but we WON! We won because we were fast and diligent and competitive.
On the drive back to my house, Sosa goes through the bag and pulls out the prizes. One of the boxes is some hard candy - he opens it, dropping a few pieces in my hand.
"What's this?" he says, pulling out the other object.
It's a box of cards, slightly bigger than tarot cards. The front says, "City Walks: Los Angeles: 50 Adventures on Foot."
Sosa unwraps the plastic, opens the box. "Oh wow." He pulls out the cards. "Look, Leah. They're all different maps to places in LA where you can walk."
He hands me the deck, and I pull out card number one. On one side, there's a map of Olvera St., the oldest street in LA. "Oh wow, I have this on my list of places to go." I flip it over - there are directions that include historical landmarks, facts, places with stories and history.
"You can use these for your bouncy ball things," Sosa says.
"Holy shit," I say. "That's exactly what I'm supposed to do with them."
"That's why we won," he says. "You were supposed to get these."
I'm speechless. I guess Andy's right. You can't look for a treasure map. A real treasure map finds you.