A Moving Post

So I moved.
Marina del Rey was a great place to live in. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment that was right on the water, in a complex that boasted of perks and frills like no other. There was a gym 100 feet from my patio – oh, yes, I had a patio, and a gigantic one at that. A swimming pool with a jacuzzi and a steam room. Open pits outside in the courtyard for barbecue parties.In the summer, there was a $1 water-bus service from the harbor end of the building, and I have gone to get groceries from across the Marina on one, at times. The evenings that I would go out to run or walk around the marina, I would come back home with a shit-eating grin like you can’t imagine. And at night, if I left my patio door open, I would hear the sound of seals and the creaking of boats. And sometimes this neighbor having sex. Umm, really loud sex, and quite long too. My other next-door neighbors were an elderly, jovial English couple who would apologize every now and then about the House music they played, which I never really heard; a sweet old lady who would complain every now and then about the dreadful noise near the swimming pool; a young Jewish couple who invited me to my first Shabbat dinner and would occasionally come over for a drink or catch up when we passed by each other on the harbor. Everybody owned a dog or two; and a lady two doors down even walked dogs for a bunch of people in the building.

My first memory of Marina del Rey was pure relief, with a bit of financial trepidation. Relief because of adventures while house-hunting after my move to California. Case in point, I was visiting an apartment in – I don’t remember, Santa Monica, maybe – and the door was opened by an elderly gentleman wearing a leather jacket. And nothing else. Who then proceeded to show me around the place with a concerned arm on my shoulder, and also mentioned three times that he did not like dirty dishes in the sink, and anything else was acceptable. Before I left, he said he was off to a Playboy party that evening, and that if I moved in, I could join him if I so wished. I could feel Orpheus and Lot’s wife judging me as I walked away. Tough life. Another prospective co-tenant in Santa Monica had olfactory problems, according to her Craigslist ad. That was quite an understatement, because she ended up discussing which brands of laundry detergent and soap I should buy, and what time of the day I should shower, and which spices I am allowed to use – all to avoid triggering her strong sense of smell. I backed away as elegantly as I could.

But a different CL ad led me to share an apartment with ‘Drea the Awesome and her three cats. It was hard wrapping my head around the rent amount when I first heard it, but a glance at what I was getting for that money and I made my mind up. However, some time down the line, being a secondary room-mate got old soon, especially when my books came in from India, and I found out that a bedroom and a bit of the common area did not quite cut it. So I moved out to my own place. I found my slice of heaven two blocks away from Tahiti Way, where I lived earlier, and it took me all of thirty seconds to decide and not a whit of hesitation to say “yes, I do”, when the leasing agent asked me if I liked the apartment.

Three years of living in this apartment. In those three years, I managed to make a honest-to-goodness home out of it, edging it away from the ‘bachelor pad’ connotation that adheres to the single-guy lifestyle. It was the first place that I had set up entirely on my own, using a combination of Reddit interior design posts, aesthetic choices and thrift-store hopping. The results, I should say, were not overly impressive, but it was home. I organized dinner parties among my friends, and by 2015, these events had become happy, complicated affairs, where I could and did entertain 10-17 guests without breaking a sweat. In these three years, there has been two incidents that disturbed the Force – one being a call from security one night when we were having an office after-party at my place – where the guard was apologetic enough because he knew the person that had called to complain and said they did it all the time; the other time, a lady made passive-aggressive racist comments in the garage when friends were present; that was taken care of.

Why move, then? I guess a big part of it was the rent, which increased steadily over the years. It was possible indeed to take a deep breath every October, when the new lease agreement came in, and look around and feel hashtag blessed at the kind of lifestyle I was leading, and just grit my teeth and sign up for 12 more months. But it got to the point where I began wondering of how life would be a little outside this summery bubble. Because, yes, the Marina was a bubble that makes you feel like you are partying all year long, with beautiful people everywhere, on the way to the beach or walking around being all touristy near their water-facing hotel rooms. It was also apparent, especially when I headed back from a concert late in the night, from Hollywood or Downtown LA, that the Marina was out of the way from everything. LA is a big place, and I wanted to move somewhere closer to where the action was.

But the question was – would I find a place that lived up to my expectations?

I did, of course. Once my mind was made up, it took a week to narrow my options down, and one weekend to go around the areas with open houses, and suddenly there it was, the place I would soon call home. It passed the 30-second test (which is this – if within 30 seconds, I cannot think of a compelling reason why the house is not right, it will probably work out). It helped that my future landlady was a no-nonsense woman, all of 93, answering all my questions while seated in that chair in the center of the living room. I was the first to fill in an application, and two days later, it was done, and all that remained was the actual, physical act of moving.

So I moved, and it was all good.

Somewhere in Marina del Rey

The last box.

Myself, Other People

Marina Memories

So we arrived at the apartment at about 8 PM, after a long drive back from Vegas and through bad traffic. “Tired?”, I asked. “A little”, she said. “Hungry too, but let’s explore.” It was a little chilly outside, so we put on our jackets and I led the way.

(Not before the book tour, and the cat tour. The cats were a little bemused by this new visitor who crooned at them enthusiastically, but they coped. Except Elvis, whose default reaction is set to Distrust With Extreme Prejudice, and who scampered into his True Mistress’s room and locked himself in. Um, no, he did not lock himself in, that was just a figure of speech. Elvis The Scaredy Cat just refused to greet the new arrival until he was sure she did not intend bodily harm.

The book tour made an impact, the right kind, except for the unopened boxes. “You have too many books.” Don’t I know it.)

So we headed out, and I gave her a tour of the Marina behind my apartment, brightly-lit and welcoming as always. We passed the boats lapping gently in the water, and I pointed out the amusing names some of them had. One was called Mon Cherie.  “That’s not right”, she said. “It’s bad grammar.” “Sure”, I chuckled. “Maybe you should go correct it.” I showed her my favorite boat, one named Tooth Ferry. “Sometimes, in the evening, you can hear a pig squealing in the distance”, I said. “Or at least I thought it was a pig, but then I realized that it was probably a seal.” She had begun to laugh, but the mention of seals piqued her interest, and more so when I mentioned that we could probably go kayaking one day of the week.

We did not go kayaking, but we got to see seals. That is a different story.

By the time we reached the other end, it was clear that we were losing the hunger game. “I know just the place for dinner”, I said. “It’s a fifteen minute walk.” We doubled back, and there were joggers running by, and people with pets. “So people in LA do walk”, she exclaimed. “I thought it was only cars and more cars.” “Not necessarily”, I said. “I don’t have a car yet. And this is Marina del Rey, not Los Angeles.” “Same difference.” She had the happy grin I recognized, the kind of grin I usually have when I am walking through the Marina by myself. The only difference was the lack of a soundtrack in my ears, but the company more than made up for that.

When the lady at the front desk of the Cheesecake Factory asked us if we wanted to sit outside, facing the water, we looked at each other, a little hesitant about sitting in the cold. “We have the heater turned up, don’t worry”, the girl smiled. Outside it was, then, facing the beach and the distant lights. By the time the drinks arrived, both of us were grinning at each other, happily munching on the bread that in our hunger tasted like the Greatest Bread Ever Baked. When we waited, I told her about the cute waitress who once served me there last year. “Hi, my name is Penny”, she had said. And I looked up at her, looked down at my menu, and hoped she did not realize I was trying to conceal my grin. “Oh, it’s fine”, Penny from the Cheesecake Factory grinned. “I get that all the time. Just don’t knock on your table three times when calling my name, and I won’t throw a plate at you.” It was probably rehearsed, but I collapsed with laughter. Penny wasn’t there this time, but Micah made us feel comfortable. The food, when it arrived, was delicious. She could not finish her’s, as I knew she wouldn’t – dang American portions. I bulldozed through mine with the rugged pace of a Terminator model T-1000. I ate every slice, sipped every drop, and I knew I would be back.

“Are you ready to walk some more?”, I asked. She was, or so she said.

By the time we got to Venice pier, we had decided that ice-cream for dessert was out of the question, tantalizing as the Creamery looked. Thankfully, last-minute moral dilemmas were avoided by the closed sign on the door. Besides, it was too cold for ice-cream – the wind whistled in our ears and tickled our necks. As we got nearer, the sound of the waves drowned out the music from the bars nearby. “We could drop in at the Whaler later”, I said. “Uh huh”, she said, with a huge grin on her face, all her attention focused on the ocean. I had a feeling the Whaler wasn’t going to be part of the night.

The pier glowed bright and welcoming, with a row of lamps leading inward. I hadn’t been there in a while – I preferred to walk there in the afternoon, where the warm sunshine tamed some of  the sea breeze, and when it was teeming with the strange variety of visitors that Venice Beach was known for.

“How much further does this go?”, she asked. All we could hear was the rushing of the waves below us, and the lights on the beach turned smaller and smaller. The lamp posts that marked our way just showed us the path, but a few meters beyond lay the darkness of the ocean. For a second, I thought of what would happen if there was a power-cut just then, if we would see anything but black, and keep walking until we plopped into the ocean. I stifled a mental giggle, and thoughtfully did not say anything aloud.

When we got to the end of the pier, we found out we were gatecrashing a quaint little soiree. A couple slow-danced in the middle of the circle, oblivious to our presence. The guy sang softly and the girl hummed along to a few phrases. “Is that… German?” I whispered. “Spanish”, she whispered back. Somehow it felt necessary to whisper, and disrespectful to interfere with their mood by declaring our presence. From time to time, they laughed together, full-throated laughter that merged with the whooshing of the waves and made us smile to ourselves.

Confession: the ocean at night always reminds me of this Buz Sawyer story that I read as a kid. It was just that the colors in the cheap Indrajal reprint were very evocative, and the story itself, about a seagull’s egg and Buz’s down-on-his-luck brother and his family was poignant enough to be the main point of association in my mind for an evening stroll by the sea.

After sometime, the song died away, the lovers bid their adieu, and exited stage right. We stayed. We sat on a solitary bench that faced the darkness, and though our jackets felt paper-thin against the wind, after sometime the cold bothered us no longer, and the bench felt more comfortable than it should have. We looked up at the stars twinkling through the parts of the sky that were free of clouds, and at the city lights shimmering behind us. Every now and then, a plane hummed above,  drowning out the constant, reassuring ocean roar with its own banshee scream. That and the distant sirens in the city reminded us that the world existed beyond that well-lit circle, that time and our ears had not really frozen.

We sat there for a long time. Silent. Happy.

Life, Myself

The Marina on a Foggy Evening

Winter’s almost here, and the season in LA right now reminds me of Assam. My kind of winter. A delicious chill in the air after dusk, and the rolling mist makes everything seem muted and somber – lights, passing cars and the boats.

The perfect weather to go walking and to take some pictures. It was brilliant, and as I went around the complex, part of me hoped that somewhere in the fog, I would come across a vendor selling roasted peanuts in a cart. And I would start to pay him and then realize that – shit, I have only dollars in my pocket, and paying a dollar instead of 5 rupees for a bag of roasted peanuts would be sacrilegious. I was glad I did not meet a peanut vendor, finally.

But there were only solitary people walking their pets, joggers panting as they thudded past me; strangely, a pig squealed from afar – I have no idea why, and I could hear sounds of laughter from the buildings nearby, presumably unrelated to the squeals. The air felt clean and fresh, I smiled at people, and they smiled back at me, and I came back home. Where there was Thai lemon and chicken soup, roasted duck and Thai iced tea to wash it all down. Was your evening better than mine? I don’t think so.