The Only Living J in LA

Of course, like all Jews who came to Los Angeles, he had originally heralded from New York. He was sick and fucking tired of the goddamn weather there. In the end, everything in life comes down to weather. And that’s when you know you’ve truly gotten old. Except David wasn’t old at all. And certainly not in the least by the standards (or lack thereof) for men. He was twenty-nine years old and had never so much as set foot outside of the Midwood area, save for an occasional “bath” at Coney Island. It was an old friend from school, Miriam, whom, yes, he had harbored a longtime crush on, even to this day–but he still maintained that had nothing to do with why he ultimately left (particularly when speaking to the police about the matter later)–that started to play the proverbial satyr’s flute about LA. She herself had only moved there a year ago. Granted, she had made greater strides in leaving her original geography than David, having at least lived in Manhattan before she took the plunge out west. 

She left town when a vice president at the publishing company she worked for decided he wanted to start a production company, and he needed the best “secretary” in the biz. Yes, he was still calling her a secretary, but Miriam didn’t mind. She relished the opportunity, as much as anyone, to get the hell out of NYC. An oppressive prison, to say the least. And despite its vast population of Jewish men, she seemed to have already been on a date with every last one of them. The sprawling of the Jews in LA might at least make it so that she went through them all more slowly. Or, hell, maybe the smaller population there would justify her excuse in going for a goy. I had no choice, she would tell her parents, anxiously awaiting to become grandparents. What, did you want me to date the son of some ex-studio head? They’re all taken. And she would present them someone with a name like Michael Smith, and they would be as appalled by him as he was by them. He for their “weird food” and they for his patent “white breadness.” We raised you better than this, they would tell her, reminding her that it was her responsibility to carry on a “pure family lineage.” That it was the only way to undo the work of Hitler in the Holocaust. She didn’t bother pointing out that their stance on “purity” was not much better than Hitler’s. 

And then she saw David that summer. He was as hairy and pale as ever. The black swimming trunks he was wearing to careen down the sandy beach at Coney didn’t do much to help any illusion of a tan. She had never really considered him before. Always saw him as too bookish and concerned with “making something of himself” to treat him as a viable romantic prospect. Then, all at once, it hit her that she ought to plant the seed in his head to come out to LA. Of course, she knew he never actually would. But this attempt on her part would at least make her feel as though she was trying all avenues to match up with a Jewish man so as not to totally disappoint her parents. When she introduced the “Michael Smith” prototype to them eventually, she would be able to say, “I tried to pair with a Jew, honestly. I even told David Rosenfeld to move to LA under the pretense of making it seem like it would be beneficial to him and not me.” 

Had David truly known what was going on behind Miriam’s eyes when she suggested David take a chance on the west coast, he might have moved there right at that moment, instead of at the end of the summer, when Miriam had already returned. Miriam truly had no idea how long he had been carrying a torch for her–and it had always upset him that she had left Midwood for the city before he could really do anything about it. He was a slow-moving man, shy to an almost monosyllabic degree. In this sense, he might just be the perfect LA candidate. Eloquence had never been what the City of Angels was known for. Sure, the few literarily-concerned were always boasting of Charles Bukowski and Joan Didion, but when one got right down to it, LA would forever be the city concerned with appearances. The exterior. David might just be able to work with that if he was willing to go to a tanning bed. 

And he was. In fact, this was the first order of business after he moved into a small one-bedroom on San Vicente Boulevard. While David lived in the North of Montana area, Miriam lived nearby in Wilshire Montana. He hadn’t planned it that way, but then, destiny will always have its way in the end. And who was he to fight it when he ran into her at a screening of Touch of Evil at the Aero Theater on Montana? She was with her boss, the VP whose coattails she had escaped from New York on. David realized then that he would have to move more quickly if he was going to get what he had really come for in “whimsically” moving to Los Angeles. It had been three weeks, and he hadn’t even called Miriam to set up a time to meet. Running into her now was a chance to do so. Except that Bertram was doing all the talking. Not just about what a wonderful “assistant” (one supposed that was a lateral upgrade from “secretary”) Miriam was, but how relieved he felt to be in the fresh California air, and away from all the iron-handed ruling of New York, so gray and devoid of any inspiring scenery.

He might have babbled on for another hour if David didn’t cut him off rudely to say, “Well, I’m planning to see the next feature as well, so I really need to get back in.” Miriam took this as an invitation, remarking, “Oh? I’d love to join you if you’re going to stay. I’ve never seen The Manchurian Candidate.” David was delighted. “Well, please, let’s find a seat then.” They ditched Bertram with an almost overt aura of glee, though he was still too self-involved to notice. In the middle of the movie, David found a level of emboldenment he had never known in choosing to slowly extend his hand out to take Miriam’s. She let it happen, not acting in the least scandalized or surprised. David never knew life could feel so simple. Was this truly what everyone was always going on about when they talked of California? 

***

Being that “Jewish things” were still in scarce supply, the best David could do on short notice for finding work was to get a job at Canter’s. He hadn’t exactly thought it was the most dignified role to be a waiter, but he could at least pass himself off as an aspiring actor rather than merely doing this job to make ends meet. No actual “eventual goal” in place other than to be with Miriam. The pay was predictably low, but he could subsist on all the free challah and matzo ball soup he wanted. He told this much to Miriam over dinner at his place the following week, but her reaction to his “joke” was more wooden than he expected. Indeed, she seemed to bristle whenever he told her a work story–even about a celebrity who came in and treated him like less than boot polish. After they finished the spaghetti he had cooked, he poured himself another glass of Manischewitz and blurted, “Jesus Miriam, what’s the matter with you tonight?” 

Miriam sighed. “We’re bringing Jesus into this now?” 

David rolled his eyes. “It’s a turn of phrase, don’t avoid the question.” 

She poked at the remnants on her plate, as though they might help her find a way to politely say what she had been thinking. “David I–”

“Stop right there. I have a feeling I know what you’re going to say.”

“You do?” 

“Yes. And baby, it’s all I’ve ever dreamed about.” At that moment, he pulled a ring box out of his pocket and got down on one knee. Miriam’s expression was one of undeniable horror, yet David wrote it off as shock as he continued, “Will you m–”

“David please stop right there. I can’t do this.” 

“What?” he uttered, his voice quavering so much the word was barely audible. 

“I wanted to tell you that, while I admire how quickly you’ve set up a life here, I still don’t think it’s of the variety that’s on the right track. At least not a track I want to join up with. I’ve been spending a lot of time with Bertram outside of work, as you know, and he’s made his feelings for me clear. He wants to take care of me. He can afford to take care of me. I’m not sure if I ever see you being able to do that.” 

David was absolutely stunned. He would never have imagined Miriam to be so shallow. So utterly non-progressive. Why was it his job to take care of her? Especially with all the bullshit women were prattling on about with regard to equal rights. He couldn’t believe her gall–her sheer bravado in speaking to him as though love were not intended to be a communistic construct. Putting these bourgeois parameters around it automatically tainted the emotion he had, only a moment ago, felt for her.

Now, all at once, he felt nothing. Save for contempt. He supposed that’s how he found his hands around her neck, wringing it until no further breath sprung forth. As she lay in his arms, completely limp, he took the opportunity to put the ring on her finger. He loved her again. At least like this. She was quiet, said nothing to betray the sweetness of her countenance. He did, however, instantly draw the depressing conclusion that, apart from the non-tourists that came into Canter’s, he was now pretty much the only living “J” in LA. It would be too difficult to remain now, and so he packed his bag that very night to return from whence he came, to that enclave in Midwood he had so hastily left for this shiksa at heart. Only she didn’t have a heart now. He was taking that with him as a souvenir.

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