“Stories” by Chris Camargo (FICTION)

He drove East on Sunset, past Alvarado and around the curve at Glendale Boulevard and turned down Logan Street to where he lived. He went inside, changed, picked up a book from his desk and walked the block back toward Sunset away from the lake. Nothing was recognizable. It was a place, when he was growing up, you never went. He remembers his parents keeping him and his brother inside after school because it was not safe among the gun shots and sirens. It was not like that now. The cholos don’t stand in the street to dozen at a time and people don’t leave Dodger stadium in a panic until they got on the 101. He cut across the parking lot hating that he liked a lot of what was happening to Echo Park and walked through the back entrance of Stories. He browsed quickly choosing a book he had no time to read and took a coffee onto the patio. The canopy over top, bright in winter evening, kept the patio cold but the thick sweater and hot coffee made the cold enjoyable. He liked when Los Angeles got cold. It was a change from what it usually was and, because of it, never lasted long enough for him to get tired of it. He drank his coffee and quickly losing the sick feeling he had after the job interview until all that was left was the warmth of the coffee inside him.

“I like the mural. This whole area makes me feel like this isn’t LA…and that LA can make me feel that way makes me love it here.” Her voice was of someone who has had alcohol poisoning three times and her stomach pumped double that but without having done any of it recklessly. Rather it was that her frame wasn’t yet enough to withstand what she was going to do so she had to train it like an athlete who’s sport was going to take some years off her life – or maybe the alcohol and cigarettes will kill off all the disease like it did for Burroughs and she’d outlive everyone. “What’s that say on your arm?”

Cogito Ergo Sum,” he said pulling up the sleeve to his elbow. “It means…”

“I know what it means. But who’s doing the thinking? You? Or something else? It’s not clear. Descartes just assumes it’s himself, but he shouldn’t. All that can be said is that something is being thought.” She finished by closing her laptop and turned toward him.

“You like Russell?”

“No…he’s not all bad, but no.”


“Not especially…certainly not the Tractus. The people that do are worse than Christians.”

She went on about Kierkegaard and Baudelaire’s “On Wine and Hashish” going back to Nietzsche and the misunderstanding of death of God. “People don’t realize it was a terrible thing. That it was the beginning of our responsibility for the world and our place in it. We weren’t ready for it and just sought out new things to worship.”

“Where Sartre gets the idea for existence precedes essence.”

“Exactly…what are you reading?”

“Finishing City of Night, but I bought this Zizek I’ll probably never get around to reading.”

“What do you think of Rechy?” she asked.

“The parts on LA are great. The other half is ok. Do you know Zizek?”

“I’m familiar with him. I’ve only read a few short things and watched a few lectures online. I love his lecture on garbage. After I heard it I started flipping over the garbage cans the night before trash day to show everyone the reality of what they were throwing away, of what they were contributing to the world. What they were hiding from each other…I didn’t stay at that place long…have you disregarded Derrida yet?”

“Yes and quickly.”

“I remember when I was in school, I was stuck on Derrida and one of the best people I’ve ever met, his name is Carlos, told me that Derrida, once you realize what he was saying, was a just firecracker posing as a box of dynamite. And that was it. I was done.”

“I love that,” he said.

“Postmodernism,” she said, “is a lot like cocaine. A little and you’re alright, even feel pretty good, but too much and you’ll blow your septum out like the girl from Boogie Nights.”

“You were in school?” he asked.

“I came out her to go to Cal State LA.”

“You don’t go anymore?”

“I don’t go anymore.”

She said it in a way that made it clear that though it was the school which had asked her to leave, she’d decided it long before anyone else. She stayed only for the lectures and conversations while turning in no papers, taking no exams, and paying no tuition after that first year.

He then said something which later he could not recall and she sat with no reaction, only holding her coffee with both hands arming them, until she said, “’You don’t meet nice girls in coffee shops.’”

He paused, “’Well God bless your crooked little heart’…and good thing this is a bookstore.”

She said her name was Reyna.

“I’m Eli.”

“I’d just heard that song a month ago,” she said. “My taste isn’t great. It’s better than before but I’m still not sure what taste means. I think it has something to do with autonomy and the opinions of people not trying to make money off of me, or not a lot of money at least. It’s hard to find good music – at first. It’s too easy to pretend to like something or pretend so hard that you fool yourself. Taste is subjective, but then is also not. The only way I found is to start with a small piece that you’re sure of and keep going – learning. You learn that no one makes a love song better than Nick Cave and no sex playlist is worthy of the name unless it has at least one song from The Boatman. But you start…with…the Stones and that leads to the blues, and blues to jazz, and jazz is Coltrane and then you hate that it took however many years you’ve been alive before you heard In a Sentimental Mood, though it’s actually Duke Ellington’s song. Then you see that there’s too much to ever get all of it. When this happens you’re different. Not anything better or worse. It’s more like virgin and then not. It doesn’t matter what does it for you – Desolation Row or any Nirvana song – after it you’ve lost the taste for the sugary stuff the Das Man wants you to like. You’re not just listening for some mindless escape. Listening isn’t even the right word what you’re doing now. You’re getting something more, something better…I feel like I’m not getting it right. Like I’m missing it…but if you’ve been through it you know what I’m trying to say. You look like you’re getting it. It’s not that you take it seriously. Anyone can choose to take something seriously and then be an asshole about it. This…it’s that you can’t help but take it seriously.”

“There’s this picture I love. It’s Jack Kerouac kneeling before a stereo and the focus is soft and the picture has this warmth to it. He’s there tuning with his eyes closed and he looks likes he’s praying or mediating. It looks like there is something on the record being voiced that was more important than anything ever said or sung and he had only ever gotten pieces of it, never the whole thing. Like he was searching for that last part of the fifth Gospel of Christ on and if he could get it all the pain in the world – or at least in him – could be dealt with. Or maybe he was just high. Either way, he was doing something more than just listening.”

“He surrounded himself with it. With things that made him feel connected. Things that made him feel. I’d rather make a playlist than burn a cd and playlists can tell you something about a person, not everything, but something worth knowing, but I need to have it around me. Physically in my place. Where I live. It’s a different kind of commitment when you surround yourself with something real. You make space for them, you build shelves for them. You risk having them stolen by some ex or them just wearing out. You get to run your finger across them. You get to have that feeling when you walk into Ameba…I’m told I shouldn’t be so nostalgic. But why is it nostalgic to want to hold something you enjoy? I don’t understand why that’s a bad thing? Why this is something we no longer have room for? It’s depressing to get a pdf version of cover art. You don’t even have to buy it. Steal it. But really steal it. Not that bit torrent bullshit. That doesn’t count. Have some skin in the game. The only thing worse than getting caught would be getting caught with…I don’t know…a Smith’s album.”

“What’s wrong with The Smiths?” he said.

“Nothing – in 1995. But now, there’s just too many happy people pretending to be sad.”

“So there’s nothing wrong with the band,” he said. “It’s the people.”

“Yes, but there’s no separating yourself from the hordes of 500 Days of Summer fans. Capitalism will eat anything – even The Queen is Dead. The only surprising thing is that we’re still surprised.”

“I thought you said you didn’t have great taste?” he said.

“I still have opinions.”

“…and you like Tom Waits.”

“I really do.”

It was here, in a rush, in all that talking of hers, that it hit him. She was someone who had read books and listened to records he had never heard of and all he wanted was to hear her talk more about them. Everyone knows something about it but usually keep to themselves or deny it completely – this feeling where their self-imposed miserableness just leaves. He knows what it is and in his mind he’s waking up somewhere in a secret part of the city, in that cinematic LA where Hollywood got their idea for what the world would see and would disappoint tourists when they saw all the dead wide streets and box buildings expecting to see this small avenue he found with her. That place where people wished to live but they found it. Not anyone else. Just them. Those large, cheap apartments, that don’t exist, with brick walls in non-retrofitted buildings with fireplaces and balconies where they have their coffee in the pleasant late morning with a quaint domesticity absent sexism and the coffee doesn’t get cold – and she pretends to not know how to use a French press because she likes hearing him talk as his grinds the beans, measure the water, watch the temperature, steep, press, and pour slowly for her. Drinking without cream or sugar in a ceremonial bliss beyond something needed to wake up or say up late but lets them have time away from others and be together letting their minds work quietly. A place where the ocean feels close and they would have cool nights with OG Kush in the air and records scattered while watching the glittering blue and red lights of planes flying low as all their anxiety filled breathes went easily out of them. Laying finger tip flush with her being more than he’s ready for and she’s so kindhearted and charitable that she says, “I know what it means to you…do what you what you’re going to…I’ll get you where I want you to be,” all within a her whispering, “It’s ok.” So that when it’s over his long concatenated love letter written on his arm is washed away and only that space on the top of his shoulder is blooming with her name. Then laying with eyes adjusted to the darkness of their room she tells what she’s been through and he won’t care because he has plenty to tell her and she’ll be relieved as will he that it’s not them who are crazy but everyone else who thought to make them feel they were – now knowing it’s ok to not be ok around someone. These things we only show another in the dark and him done and gone in love with her scotch whiskey voice and scarred over brown eyes.

Unaffected by warnings from desperate and unrepentant people that say things like this won’t last, it’s not real, and it will only end badly. What good comes from their words, he thinks. If they’re speaking from experience didn’t they at one time hear the same whinny talk and go against it to get their experience? There is no way to know the true cost of something until you begin to pay it back. And this cannot be done without risking yourself. That you’re going to get hurt is a terrible reason to not love someone. There’s no choice in this. You’re already in it. Avoid it now and you’ll regret it and never knowing is the worst kind of hurt because you did it to yourself. Love isn’t complicated. It’s just brutal. But he doesn’t hate them for anything they say. If he thought too long about it he might agree with them but instead all he is left with is that feeling that all the things that have happened in the past to ruin so many good things will not happen this time and to get this once in your life is pure luck. For things such as these which bring a hope that despite everything, you still have the ability in you – that you still have, amid the dark and spent parts, a clean and unjaded place with the ability to know and feel the most wonderful thing to befall any man or woman.

So all he could do was listen and wonder how much further gone he can get as whatever awkward self-conscious sabotage in him was falling fast away in the cold dim light of that half broken string of lights overhead – lost in that pagan, pre-Christian guilt sweetness that is so dangerous holy books needed centuries of threatening hell to convert men and convict women -as if it was Delilah’s fault that Samson was so overwhelmed. But they still made her name mean “she who weakens,” and they called what Samson felt weakness. “Let them say it. What does it matter what they say?”

The coffee that was warming her hands as now empty and when she got up she walked to the heater and felt the heat on her face and then went inside. He sat waiting, thinking that he was ruining it by not following her. It was the beginning of something and everything was still true and possible and however long this was to last the time limit had not started. He also thought that where ever there is something good something bad is on its way but we can never see it coming.

Perhaps there is no difference among lost, forgotten, and never happened but he felt there was.

Chris Camargo is a writer living in Los Angeles. He was once a graduate student at CSULA studying Political Theory until leaving with one class unfinished and the comprehensive exam left wanting – the inevitable result of reading too much Nietzsche and Heidegger.. His work has appeared in The Altar Collective, Yay! LA Mag, The Women Group, and was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s New Writers Award in August 2014.