In the time that I’ve been in LA, I’ve had a lot of advice thrown in my direction. Everyone has their take on the town, how to get where you want to be and definitely the way to do it. We Angelenos enjoy sharing career advice almost as much as we like sharing surface street short cuts.
In the time I’ve been here, I’ve been told to write what is meaningful to you/only write what people are buying, don’t stand out with your dress code/don’t change your style to fit the place, be original/give them something they’ve seen before, don’t lose your accent/try to sound more American, go with the flow/be disruptive… it’s maddening.
But there were two very clear-cut moments in LA where the metaphorical clouds parted and I was given some advice that truly changed things for me here in crazy town. And it was from crazy people.
It was 2010 and I was doing some freelance at a design agency near Hollywood. I was living in Westwood and because that’s near UCLA, it’s bus line central. In a city that has an inside joke of a public transport system, you can honestly count on one hand the number of people you’ve met who use it on any kind of a regular basis.
But since there was a stop just one street away from my house, it seemed like a sensible idea to just take the bus into work instead.
So there I am sitting at a bus stop one day, waiting for it to come along and take me home. It’s the oddest feeling to be out on the street in LA and not moving. You hit the pavement only to walk to and from your car. So to sit and just be there as the traffic rolls by is kind of weird.
And it’s odder still when a homeless guy sits down next to you to start telling everything that you’re doing wrong with your life.
When you encounter homeless folks, it’s a strange feeling; wanting to flee, not wanting to seem like a douche, wondering if they are going to rob you or if they’re going to harm you in some way, wishing you were doing this from the safety of a car, wondering how far you could be from such a fall yourself – a mix of heady emotions all thrown into a blender.
He was pretty young actually as homeless people go, I’d say mid 30s, but it’s hard to pinpoint an age when all you can think is that he’s missing a lot of teeth.
And he was clean. This has always fascinated me about homeless people, there are the ones covered in dirt and the ones who showered that morning. I always wonder where they get cleaned up and if they can sleep there.
But I was soon brought back to the moment, there at the bus stop with him, as he began to tell me about my life and where it was going.
Homeless Guy: So what is it ya’ll do?
Me: Advertising. But I also write movies.
HG: Uh huh. How’s that movie thing going?
Me: Oh you know.
HG: That bad huh? I was in the movies.
HG: Yeah, I got a star outside that Chinese place.
HG: What you think?
Then he started laughing at me. Well, I’m pretty gullible.
He then launched into a whole thing about the movie industry and the people in it and all the usual stuff that you hear. I guess this guy had something to do with it at one stage. And there was something oddly comical about having an industry chat with a guy that was wearing a sleeping bag. But he made some good points; how stupid agents are, how producers are vampires, and all actors are narcissistic motherfuckers. He has a lot to say about all that.
Change his outfit and give him a cell phone and this chat would have been totally at home at the Soho House.
HG: What do you do in advertising?
Me: I’m a writer.
HG: Anyone love your ads?
Me: I guess some of them. They don’t really get reviewed.
HG: So you don’t know.
Me: Well, if the stuff I’m advertising sells, then I guess people like the ads.
HG: Sold a lot of shit lately?
Me: I don’t know.
Being check-mated about my professional career wasn’t really in my plan that afternoon and I found myself wishing this guy and his mirror would go away. Can’t we go back to the vampire producer thing? That was funny.
But then he zeroes in on my scarf. For those who know me, it’s no secret; I’m usually wearing some kind of neck adornment. A scarf, a neckerchief, a silk pocket square rolled up or a cravat. I can’t remember what I was wearing that day, but he was fixated on it.
HG: This one ain’t doin’ you no favors.
Me: I like this one.
HG: Yeah, yeah. It’s pretty and all. But that shit ain’t got no magic. Ain’t got no power.
Then he looks me squarely. There’s a joke that you should never look at the homeless right in the eye, it’s the green light for a conversation. But since we were way past that point, I didn’t turn away as he burrowed down deep into my corneas looking for something.
Then his face changed. He found it.
HG: Purple. Yeah. Purple, that’s what you should be wearing.
Me: I don’t have a purple scarf.
HG: Then get one bitch. Yeah I see it.
He starts flicking a mimed scarf around his neck. He really gets into it. Kind of goes half lidded. He kind of trances.
HG: That’s your power right there. That purple. Get that on, walk into a room and own that shit. Get that power on, wrap youself up in that purple and you be like Superman.
Fun fact: there are psychics all through my family. Everywhere in the world that I’ve traveled and lived, I always seem to attract them like a magnet. And I always take it as a sign. So while he had my interest before, he really had it now.
And of course, this is right when my bus arrived. I contemplated staying there more to talk to him, but I also got the feeling that my package had been delivered. A message like this always arrives by an unseen hand, a kind of cosmic postman, who let’s you know that this is as many letters as there are for you today coming through this psychic post box of a person in front of you.
So I get up, thank Homeless Guy for the conversation and head for the bus, purple scarves swirling in my brain as I step inside the bus. Then, at the last second, I stick my head back out.
Me: Hey mate, what’s your name?
HG: Oh, I’m Jesus.
Nice to meet you Jesus.
So when you meet the son of God and he delivers you a word from high, the only thing you can do is act on it. Or not. I, of course, chose the latter.
Fast forward to one year later. I’ve taken a full-time job at TBWA, I’m doing a stretch where my life has been taken away from me and I get home at that really weird time of 9:00. It’s too late to go out, it’s too early to go to bed. I wrestle with the crushing need to do something, anything so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on… on… I don’t know… everything.
Me: Paul, put on a jacket, we’re going out.
Me: I don’t know, anywhere.
Paul: Um, OK.
Me: Santa Monica Blvd. Drive to Weho.
I actually don’t like Weho that much at night. I don’t go out there. It’s fucking Tuesday. Nothing will be full or interesting, but I just needed to see my own kind and feel normal.
So we drive up the neon lit strip of SMB and I look forlornly out the window at the 20 somethings and try to remember when I felt that care free. Suddenly I see the Yoghurt Stop. It’s one of those self-serve yoghurt places and there’s always queens sitting outside, eating yoghurt and judging the passers-by. Perfect.
We park, we fill up some tubs, and we sit outside in silence. It’s a little thing, but it just feels so good to not be at home or at work and sitting with my man; that night the Yoghurt Stop was like the French Riviera.
And then the Drag Queen rolled up. Or maybe it was a tranny. I don’t know. You see, newly minted transexuals usually end up going through a kind of pubescent phase that they never had. They buy lots of makeup and girly clothes and indulge this part of them that they kept hidden in a box. The woman will come later, right now the princess has to play.
This however, can look a lot like a Drag Queen who didn’t have a lot to spend; K-mart mini skirt, sparkly eye shadow, a chiffon offcut as a hair ribbon.
So this drag queen drops in on a table just nearby and starts reading one of the patron’s palms. Oh my god, just what this night needs, a charlatan transdrag psychic fleecing the fairies of the forest.
But of course, it’s a night where I need the psychic postman to drop by, so I hope that she does/n’t come over to where Paul and I are sitting. Thank God she does.
Trans Drag: Hello babies, how are you tonight?
Me: Good thanks.
TD: So you want to get your palm read?
I wasn’t expecting much to be honest. Visually, she definitely deteriorated on approach and as she sat down, fluorescent lights caught her pancake. It was thick and a little crackly. But hey, it’s Tuesday night on Santa Monica Blvd and I’ll take a hint of a miracle in whatever form it comes.
And did the postman ever come knocking.
She started to trance out, and immediately I was pulled in. Oh, OK sister, you do have the goods. She held my palm, looked down and then launched into a psychic sermon.
TG: Oh, no, no, no… No sir… this new job you got… baby you gettin’ pushed around… fuck that… you gotta put your foot down. Yes, yes, you gotta put your foot down. Somebody come tell you how it is, kick that bitch. Kick with your foot and then put that foot down. They taking all kinds of your time. No, no, no. Put your foot down baby, put your foot down.
I can’t go into all the details of it here, but she then starts to talk about things going on at work, jobs that I’m on, people I work with – she’s in full tilt.
I’m suddenly transported back to the bus stop and comparing the tranced out face that’s in front of me now and Jesus, wrapping that phantom scarf around his neck, with the same half lidded expression on his face.
The postman rang twice.
I don’t really know what it meant. Maybe nothing. Maybe it’s another brick in the empire I hope to build, but it felt important. And not for nothing.
So I thanked her for her time, pressed a tenner into her hand, and Paul and I marveled all the way home; the precision might have been hazy, but the timeliness couldn’t be questioned.
It was a turning point for me. I stopped biting my tongue at work and saying what I thought at the time when I felt it. I tried to organize the place into something more ordered than it was. And most importantly, I bought a purple scarf a month later.
I wear it on the days when I need to gather my spiritual army. And I always think of Jesus and that Trans Drag Queen as I knot it and head out the door.
To me, it’s a reminder that the smallest moments can mean something. I can’t say that I rate a fortune cookie, but I think that when the universe finds a way to speak to you, sleeping bags and bad make-up aside, try to listen.
It reminds me that the smallest actions you take can amount to something greater. Truth is an undervalued commodity. But a piece of truth is like a brick; it’s real and when you utter it, you feel stronger for it. And you don’t ever have to think about what you should have said, after the fact.
And the biggest thing that that purple scarf tells me, is that I don’t have to be afraid. Of what might happen, of what will never happen, of what will happen in its own good time, not when I think it should.
I hope your purple scarf finds you all.