L.A. Affairs

L.A. Affairs (Johanna Goodman, For the Times / September 7, 2012)

From the moment we met, everything about our relationship was broken. I was bicycling at Gold's Gym in Hollywood, listening to Bob Dylan. I barely noticed the guy to my left. I'll call him Jay — tall, lumbering, utterly confused. He fiddled with the controls to his bike, trying not to look embarrassed.

"It's broken," I shouted, not bothering to remove my headphones. He sheepishly climbed off that bike and on to another. More fiddling with the controls. I sighed, pulled off my headphones and pressed his start button.

"Thanks," he said. "I just quit smoking. I also quit drugs, and drinking, and sugar and white flour."

He was handsome in that helpless-boy way. I could tell he was an actor by the way he insisted on making eye contact. He kept talking — something about a motel in Del Mar, Miles Davis, Nietzsche and a pig farm in Utah.

He asked for my number. I could have slipped him a fake one. But I didn't.

How I later found myself in his decaying station wagon — shredded floorboards, untrustworthy brakes, scent of dead fish — remains something of a mystery. We would drive for hours into the desert to sit on sacred land, or pick strawberries in Oxnard, or listen to an obscure jazz band in Thousand Oaks.

Jay was decent and thoughtful. He bought me unconventional gifts: a framed print of Ganesh, a book about the Chumash Indians.

I would report back to my girlfriends about this peculiar guy whose hidden potential came with tie-dyed shirts, pajama pants and strings of puka shells.

After one night of constellation gazing in the high desert, we went back to his apartment. He tinkered with the broken lock, then laughed when the doorknob fell into his hand. "Oops."

By now, I expected things not to work, but I was still startled by the sheer quantity of broken items: televisions, toilets, the refrigerator. Even his roommate, who appeared out of nowhere, walked with a limp.

We drank some warm Cokes, then entered his bedroom. I lay on the futon and noticed the maharishi's face beaming down on me, his left eye askew because of a fracture in the glass frame.

Just as Jay lay down, bam. The futon collapsed. We crashed onto the hardwood floor. I was horrified. Jay chuckled.

"Normally I'm much better at this," he offered. "I mean sexually. Do you want to meditate?"

"Thanks," I said, "but I better get going."

I left thinking I should just erase this entire episode of my life. Why did I even have feelings for this guy?

Back in L.A., I pulled onto my street in the Fairfax district and saw a commotion — fire trucks, ambulances, dozens of pajama-clad onlookers. Then I noticed the fire hoses were directed right into my second-story window.

"What happened?" I said. "That's my apartment!"

"Well, maybe you can tell us what happened," a firefighter said. My place was destroyed, he said, but no one was hurt.

I looked at the crowd of mostly older residents, and my face turned red with shame. Had I forgotten to blow out the aromatherapy candle Jay gave to me, the one that I stupidly left on the wicker table?

"Miss, do you have someone to call?" the firefighter asked.