I have been inside the West Hollywood Ralph’s on Sunset more times than I can count, never at a reasonable time, never for anything good. A late night in 2010, I remember very clearly. I had ended things with my boyfriend for the hundredth time with a hundred more “this is it I swear to God I’m done” ends ahead of me. But that night? That night I was free from manipulation and hurt and cruelty. The weight of two terrible years was gone. Needless to say, I was fucking miserable.
I don’t remember how the fight had started. We had too many to keep count. But I DO remember that I had come home from the beach, and the fight had started while I was still in my bathing suit, sand in my hair and salt in my skin. Through the entire angry, hateful fight, the back of my mind kept telling the front, “You are getting dumped in a bikini. You are getting dumped in a bikini.” I didn’t get a chance to change out of it for another ten hours.
A friend had picked me up to take me to a gross house party, the kind of party where you were going to wake up with a film on you. The kind of party where someone might lick your neck. The kind of party where a stray dog might show up. We had just stopped at the grocery store to pick up whatever would get us drunk quickly and in the parking lot, I told her that my relationship had ended. Again. No, but for real this time (not really).
“Oh, Alison. Thank God. You know we all hate him, right?” I did. She told me every time we broke up.
“This is really it. It’s over. It’s over. I love him so much and it’s over.” I started crying. This was, and still is, the kind of friend that I felt comfortable hard crying in front of; that hard cry where you dry heave just so you can sob more loudly? You know what I’m talking about? I was doing that. And she was doing her very best to care and be supportive, but you don’t know how many times I had put her through this.
CUT TO: 3 months earlier
Me: I went through his phone.
Her: Come on, dude.
Me: He’s cheating on me. He’s definitely cheating on me. It’s over. It’s over. (dry heaves)
Her: I fucking hate this guy.
CUT TO: 2 months before that
Me: He told me that he thinks we need a break? I don’t know what’s happening.
Her: What happened?
Me: He got a weird call late at night and when I asked him who it was, he told me that I needed to respect his privacy and that we needed a break. I think it might really be over.
Her: I’m really sorry, but it might be for the best. It doesn’t seem like he—
Me: Do you think he’s cheating on me?
Her: He has before, right?
Me: I’ve never been able to like, CATCH him.
Her: I really hate that you’re with this guy.
CUT BACK TO: Grocery Store Parking Lot (because you get it)
I’m slumped over, eyes in the palms of my hands and she’s rubbing my back. Even though she just wants to go to this gross party, even though she’s angry at me for making the same mistake over and over and over again; she is there.
“Are you wearing a wet bathing suit?”
I explain that yes, yes I am.
“Do you want me to go in? Give you some time?”
“No, no. I’m fine. I’m pulling it together.” I rub my forearm under my nose, leaving a snail-like trail of watery snot. I flip down the visor mirror which, was a mistake. I am puffy and red and even though I was twenty-three at the time, the stress of the last year and makeup wreckage left in the wake of HARD crying made me look much older. I didn’t care. We got out of the car and walked in and quickly located a terrifyingly inexpensive handle of vodka and a thirty pack of Tecate. We wove back through produce, past all the ghosts in leather jackets who shop at Rock N’ Roll Ralph’s and just then, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” started to play on the speakers.
Now, here’s the thing about Journey: I don’t care. Or, I should specify, I don’t care if you care. There are plenty of things I would happily argue for hours: The merits of the 1998 Yankees team, why mantis shrimp are God’s most beautiful creatures, gay rights, chunky over smooth peanut butter, the etiquette of a French exit, the cultural significance of former president George W. Bush’s recently released portraits, why Derek Jeter isn’t a douche, etc. But Journey just isn’t something I have the energy to debate (I don’t really want to debate peanut butter thing either, but I’d do it if called upon). I’m not by any means a fan of Journey, hell, I thought “Open Arms” was a Mariah Carey original until well into college. I’m certainly willing to admit that they have obvious lyrics, the cynical melodies of a band that wants to be used in every commercial from cars to erectile disfunction. Auditory kitsch, no doubt about it.
That is, except for this one song. In fact, I like to believe that they stumbled into it. While “Don’t Stop Believin’” mathematically adds up to Journey: bold, anthem instrumentals and foolishly optimistic lyrics that make little to no sense (I’ll come back to that); it is still, in my mind, perfect. From the moment the song starts, you know what it is. It is always a welcome surprise and always seems to pop up right when you need it. For me, my reaction is always the same, I suck air through my teeth and say “I love this song,” volume of this sentiment varying from a whisper to a yell, depending on location.
So, when it came on in that grocery store, on a night when I didn’t know how badly I needed to hear that dumb song by that dumb band in that weird grocery store; I did what I always do: I sucked air through my teeth and croaked out, “I love this song.” And then we sang the entire song in the produce section of that cruddy grocery store, amongst the bruised apples and gnarled, knotted carrots. Loudly, in fact, until we were politely asked to leave. Because apparently we were disturbing the drug addicts and off-duty Sam Ash employees.
We paid for our horrible alcohol and ran out of the store laughing like loons. We had the best night. I’m sure my neck got licked. I was back together with my horrible boyfriend one week later. But that night? That wonderful, gross night where I danced in a bathing suit until three in the morning was a gift I credit almost entirely to hearing that song. It’s not about the message of the song— because there isn’t one. Sure, I’m repeatedly asked to not stop believin’, but believin’ what? I’m not entirely sure. We’re introduced to three characters:
A small town girl, living in a lonely world
A city boy, born and raised in South Detroit
A singer who is currently in a smokey room (possibly a prostitute? Which is perfectly okay, there are many fine songs about prostitutes, I’m just trying to state the facts)
There is no conclusion to any of their stories. Just that they should keep on keepin’ on. You know? The song quickly devolves to Steve Perry belting “streetlights, people” repeatedly. Those are just two nouns. He could have just as easily said “CarFax, Skeeball,” it would have made just as much sense. The words don’t matter, it’s like when a beautiful idiot tries to talk to you about politics, the thrill you get just from having a conversation with them cancels out the nonsense. Hell, there is no “South Detroit.”
The next time I remember hearing it was nearly a year later in a Planned Parenthood sitting next to my horrible boyfriend. This time, although I couldn’t know it then, we were mercifully near The End. There was a girl crying next to her angry, stern mother as though picked out by Central Casting. Everyone seemed to be coughing at irregular intervals. I kept trying to think of loud excuses to bring up that we were only here for Plan B, that we were responsible sexually active people and hey, condoms break. After my second loud, “PLAN B PRESCRIPTION” he told me to knock it off, that I was just making the whole thing worse. And then Journey showed up. I whispered, oh so quietly, “I love this song,” and he glared at me coldly before returning to his phone. We were two people who had been angry at each other for a very, very long time. As the years go by, I’ve stopped blaming him for the way he treated me and have begun to wonder why I love people who do not like me very much. He is still the one that I irrationally loved the most because of his oh so alluring indifference.
The irony of a song with such forceful optimism playing in a room where everyone was reevaluating their life choices would have been such a sweet, ironic scene for me to enjoy if I had not been busy reevaluating my life choices. (I did once walk through the lobby of the Flamingo Casino while Creed’s “What’s This Life For?” played. No one at the nickel slots seemed to notice.) Planned Parenthood is such a wonderful public service but if you’re sitting in that waiting room, you fucked up. As Perry’s voice flirted with falsetto in the waiting room, I kept telling myself, “This is it. This has to be it.” And it finally was.
I’d gone years since having Journey alter my day, until this morning. Seven AM this morning, to be exact. Because in my deeply, painfully hungover state, the idea of laying in my bed as the sun began to spill into my curtainless bedroom was unbearable. I considered sleeping in my bathroom, because it’s dark and I am a nearly feral woman who lives alone, but opted insted to walk to the bodega around the corner, where I bought a pair of cheap sunglasses and the largest Red Bull they sell. I stood in line, proud of my purchases because they felt gritty and tough. I want nothing more than to be perceived as such, because I am so painfully and uncomfortably not. “WATCH A GIRL EMOTIONALLY CRUMBLE AFTER NOT RECEIVING A TEXT REPLY, WHILE WEARING A CAREFULLY CALCULATED LEATHER JACKET!” my freakshow barker would yell. “MARVEL AS SHE ASKS HER FRIENDS, ‘WHAT DID HE MEAN BY THAT’ FOR DAYS ON END!” “SHE’S CRYING TO A DOG FOOD COMMERCIAL RIGHT NOW, HURRY IN FOLKS!” Okay, we get it. The point is, I was waiting in line, looking gross and feeling cool.
The three-legged bodega cat came around the corner as I stood there, waiting for a man to buy what I’m assuming is every lotto ticket in the state of New York. Two cats live in this store, the three-legged one and a fluffy gray one who would be quite beautiful if he didn’t live in a bodega. I’ve always preferred the three legged one, he always rubs your leg and never judges your Cheeto purchase at two AM. Although I do enjoy imagining the fluffy gray one’s fall from grace. I like to imagine that he once belonged to a former executive at Washington Mutual and now? He had to slum it with this scrappy three-legged guy who everyone likes more. Also, the fluffy gray one is named Hank and you just KNOW he hates it, you can see it on he stupid fluffy face. Hank. But today, he didn’t come over, he just sat in the aisle and stared at me while I squinted back.
The opening keys of “Don’t Stop Believin’” came out of the one rusted speaker that sat on the checkout counter. I sucked in air, only a little because my head hurt, and told the three-legged cat, “I love this song.” He swished his tail and continued to stare at me. I have lived in this city for nearly six months, through the loneliest and coldest winter of my life, and now into this weird, horny spring. It is confounding how quickly this place consumes you with fun and culture and booze and stress. I thought I was handling it and still do, but while you and a cat are being rock-serenaded from the 1980s, it’s hard to be sure. It was only then that I realized that I had vowed to take a month off from drinking. Today was the fourth.
My point, whatever weak, disconnected and sickly thing it has turned into by the end of this, is that some songs are gifts. We live in a world where we can have anything we want whenever we want it and that is so great. Except that we lose the opportunity to miss things, to have unconnected events connect. To have a moment with a three-legged cat. I don’t know. Feet spice, pee hole.
50 years ago, America’s biggest employer was General Motors, where workers made the modern equivalent of $50 dollars an hour. Today, America’s biggest employer is Walmart, where the average wage is $8 dollars an hour. Which means you can share a room in a transient hotel with a drifter who cuts his toenails with a machete.
And Walmart released their annual report this month, and in it was the fact that most of what Walmart sells is food. And most of their customers need food stamps to pay for it. Meanwhile, Walmart’s owners are so absurdly rich that one of them, Alice Walton, spent over a billion dollars building an art museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, 500 miles away from the nearest person who ever would want to look at art.
And she said about it, “For years I’ve been thinking about what we can do as a family that can really make a difference.” How about giving your employees a raise, you deluded nitwit?
Take the case of Belle Knox. She’s the Duke University freshman who was recently outed as a porn star. But she doesn’t have the typical porn star biography… No, she’s a level-headed articulate 18-year-old majoring in women’s studies.
So people are saying, why the porn? Because Duke costs $61 grand a year! Since 1980, college tuition has increased 600% above the inflation rate. I’m surprised they’re not all doing porn. …
This is what the Paul Ryans of the world don’t understand — that this is not a country of lazy people and good people, so much as it is a country of rich people and desperate people.
Do you know how much Americans owe in student loans?
$1.3 trillion dollars.
We’re going to have to sell a lot of ass to pay that tab.