Two: The Cheese Mule

Posted: September 24, 2012 in The Road to Skid Row

“Are you carrying any restricted items in your baggage?” A uniformed man with Humour Deficit Disorder asked.

“No,” I replied flatly.

“Are you carrying any animal products?”

“No,” I said again, a little firmer than before. I wonder if he noticed the flicker in my eyes, the minuscule dilation of my pupils.

I was smuggling a 2.5 kilogram wheel of brie in my suitcase and I was petrified I would be caught. I had just been through one round of customs and now I was being interviewed again. Shiny badges were asking everybody the same questions, pulling potential mules aside to rummage through their bags. As he looked me over my fear of authority figures started to take hold. What if they found my cheese? What could I say? Somebody planted it on me! It’s not my brie! Take it if you want, take the crackers too!

I kept my cool, more or less, and he waved me on. Evidently I did not look like a cheese mule.

I rode a bus to Union Station where I caught the metro to East Hollywood, my new neighbourhood. Getting off the metro at Hollywood and Western I saw a cute emo girl sitting on the steps. “Welcome to Hollyweird,” she said, as I hauled my suitcase onto the escalator.

Immediately I knew something was different. I saw signs written in Thai all over the place; palm trees stood lazily in the streets and sweet jasmine wafted through the cool evening air. This was the not the America I was familiar with: where was the stifling humidity of the east coast summer?

We ate at a nearby Thai joint called Jitlada; my sister’s neighbourhood straddled Thai Town, so that explained the signs I saw everywhere. I killed a beer and green curry as the exhaustion kicked in. People at a nearby table spoke with easy confidence and volume about places I didn’t know and TV shows I hadn’t heard of. Their conversation was right out of Steve Martin’s LA Story – not what they said but how they said it. Movies made their speech sound familiar to me – their intonations, their laughter, even their phrases.

I felt strangely like I had been to LA before. Palm trees, wide streets, fifties-style motels and the Hollywood sign – which I saw later that night from the rooftop of Kate’s apartment building – were all familiar from the interiors of darkened theatres. It was like I was remembering a dream or dreaming about a memory.

I crashed out that night. Tired and jet lagged, I dreamt about 2.5 kilograms of brie.

Tune in on Thursday for the next installment of The Road to Skid Row. (By the way, if you subscribe to my RSS feed you can read these in Google Reader.)

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