The only journey is the one within.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
She asked what time I’d be home. And I told her, underestimating by
about an hour, as is my way. She figured I needed the time to stop by
an In-N-Out on my way into town, and I didn’t correct her. It was a
familiar, somewhat seedy feeling.
Here I was, an adult on vacation in Southern California, yet I was
sneaking away from my mom’s house to visit an old high school fling.
Some things never change, I guess. It was weird to see SK—he looked
exactly the same as he did 19 years ago…
The desert has developed a lot over the past few years I’ve been
camping out on Maui. Casinos have apparently sprung out of sagebrush.
My Indian-muraled high school has been whitewashed and now has a
security fence. There’s a Starbucks where my favorite
liquor-store-to-fish-for-wine-coolers used to be. But for the most part
in Palm Springs, people are just as old or gay—never both—as I remember
and everybody still drives those Jaguars and convertible Bentleys.
I spent the next couple days catching up with mom, as we tooled
around the desert, looking for shoes and the proper martini: hers—Ketel
One straight up, chilled, with a frosted strawberry at Shame on the
Moon; mine—vodka with mottled strawberries and basil, drizzled with
aged balsamic vinegar at Bing Crosby’s.
I also met up with a Desert Sun reporter/Re:Generator
magazine editor who had a ticket to sell for Coachella Festival. I
didn’t realize it when I planned my vacation, but all my current
favorite bands—Peeping Tom, Peaches, Noisettes, Amy Winehouse, Rufus
Wainwright, etc.—were going to be playing on the one day I’d finally
get to check out this huge fry-fest so I was stoked.
One night after dinner with the folks, I went to the bar at The
Parker—a hip, upscale hotel that used to be Merv Griffin’s classic
resort but in the past few years has been redesigned and was enjoying a
fastidious following of the nouveau riche and Hollywood elite. As I
walked in, the first thing I noticed was a neon sign that read “Drugs”
hanging over a mantel surrounded by cushy love seats. Next to that, a
larger lounge area seemingly lined in fur and sueded-tweed couches in
half-circles with fluffy sequined pillows, futuristic lamps skewed in
different directions and spiderwebby colored yarn art covered walls
like graffiti—very Dr. Seuss meets Barbarella.
Various palms were placed beside leather stools and white hexagonal
tables with gold trim, as the sound of ice clinking in glasses and
drunken smooches by kids too rich for their own good filtered through
the room of sheepskin chairs and hanging bassinet orbs with hookah
shaped lights, and a fire pit that glowed hazily in the center…
Although I enjoyed the luxe surroundings, I craved more amiable
company. And I got it—at Hair of the Dog in downtown Palm Springs.
Surely there can’t be a dive bar in Palm Springs, you say! Ah, but the
dive bars are sweetest in the places you least suspect them, my
It was a jovial joint, due in large part to a boisterous group of
jarheads from the base in Twentynine Palms. After watching them down
their umpteenth round of Jagermeister shots, and being introduced to
“Matt” just as many times, I thought it best to leave before things got
It was then that I noticed “Billy” to my right, pouring out some of
his beer directly onto the bar. He looked at me and smiled drunkenly.
He was a big, tall man but suddenly to me he looked like a sad, little
“I went crazy a couple days ago,” he said, with a slight Southern twang. “No, really, I literally lost my mind.”
He went on to tell me that he, along with the other guys in the bar,
had just come back from an eight-month stint in Iraq—where he was
initially told he wouldn’t be going, as he was “just a civilian” in the
National Guard. He was angry, incredulous and a bit traumatized by the
“I saw my friends die,” he said. “And a couple days ago, my best
friend was killed. He was a good guy, a really good guy…” Billy poured
some more of his beer out on the bar. “I’m just a construction worker!”
he said. “This wasn’t supposed to happen!”
I stayed a few more minutes, poured out some of my beer in honor of
Billy’s friends, introduced my new comrades to the “Duck Fart,” then
slipped out to make a quick call back home.
“I’m not re-enlisting,” said the boyfriend, even before hellos were exchanged.
“You have no idea how happy that makes me,” I said.
Samantha Campos wants to know what the hell happened to the dinosaurs in Cabazon. MTW