Hell House

How do you say no to seventy thousand for a five-minute video? You don’t say no to seventy thousand for a five-minute video. After moving into that “House,” Los Angeles seemed to mutate; Wildomar Street and those seafood shacks enroute to Oxnard and the bends of Coldwater Creek, they eluded me. Those wilting jacarandas, that heat pregnant with something like disappointment. The girls were just shy of sixteen and the managers were old enough to know how to capitalize the tension of children doing non-children things. One of the boys was studying to be a Barge Captain before his first video got 2.3 million views.

“Get me double what Artemis got. Fabletics was my brand partnership first.” Mommy Influencers and Instagram Yogis melting down alike. I took solace in the equalization for a while; all these people straining the same muscles in their neck, yearning for just one more sponsored trip to Anguilla. Outdoor cafes off Melrose Avenue were breeding grounds for massive wins and devastating losses, money ebbing and flowing with the sustained, stream-like rush of an impish body of water. It was all so hard to hold on to. I’m still trying to figure out if that was the catch of it, or the appeal.

Being an “influencer” felt a lot like being a parent, you must understand that.  Being a parent requires a certain element of theatricality. Everyone in their places, saying those things that should be said, doing those things that should be done. I was never quite good at reading the cues. When I try to go back now, assemble all the pieces, see the trajectory, I find myself at a loss. I guess I was a pretty girl who had some time to spare.

People think institutions don’t erode. Institutions erode. “Pretty people with time to spare.”

And it started out fine. I had a certain edge because I knew what the Santa Monica promenade looked like before 2010. All those kids flying out from Kentucky and tearing up at the sight of James Dean’s Hollywood Star… it had the capacity to make you shift in your seat. I could see it on the faces of the Company Executives: calculating whose parents were pushing all their chips to the center of the table, in lieu of keeping their cards close. Financial ruin riding on the back of a high school sophomore who lip synced shirtless for a living. I guess I didn’t see it as devastating back then. It was packaged as opportunity.

I never meant to see you at that party. Fucking Tommy never told me I’d see you at that party, and he usually knows about stuff like that. There were so many parties back then, congregations of the lonely in the back rooms of frigid clubs. Doheny, Tao, Bootsy’s. I took a Xanax and willed my arms to embrace people. There I was, dancing on the periphery of other people’s experiences again. How did I always find myself there? Tethered to others only by a shred of grocery-store-bump-in affection, by the shallowest and easily terminable relations? It’s my fault, I know it is. You told me I should learn to sit still, and I never did, and so I willed myself to be loved through a screen of plexiglass erected by my own insufferable motion.

I guess what I’m getting at is I’m sorry. I’m sorry for screaming at you and that paralegal girl. I’m sorry for the bad cocaine I tried to gift you.

It’s strange to think that someone who once spent a great deal of time inside you can become someone with who you’ll likely never speak to again. Sometimes I want to ask if you still remember that spring in Laurel Canyon when we were kids. Do you still remember that spring in Laurel Canyon when we were kids? Your name floats around in my mind whenever I see a Murakami book. Not because I miss you, but because you were once a person who spent a great deal of time inside me.

Are you still a decent person? I forfeited decency a long time ago and I can’t say I’ve seen much of a return. I’ve been paid to don the clothing lines of washed-up models, their thirties and post-pregnancy abdomens rendering them in dire need of a career pivot. An intern once painted my nails as she simultaneously helmed a self-driving car; I couldn’t bear the thought of natural toes at a desert music festival.

I’ve seen the inside of beautiful places. I’ve done nothing to earn that.

I suppose this all started at El Coyote, down that hallowed stretch of La Brea. I was shoved in between two teenagers talking about “numbers.” The kid with the earrings was found in a parking lot out near Valencia, death is good for analytics. A small bird-like woman at the table over screamed when I threw the first plate. If she hadn’t screamed, I really don’t think I would have ended up here. It was a few plates and I had finished my meal anyhow.

These days I swim mostly. They call the nurses “Mindfulness Counselors,” but we all know they’re just nurses. Per the request of my manager, I sold my account to some YouTube Prank Account that wanted to “shift to short form media.” I hope they treat my followers and bots well. But what do I care. I find my mind continuously turns to you, to that night I snuck out of my mom’s apartment to come meet you in Malibu. Do you remember? We squatted in that abandoned house that overlooked El Pescador…. when the heat became stifling, we jumped into the Pacific like only kids can do.

I didn’t have any accounts then. The only people I knew were the people I knew, and the only people who knew me were the people who knew me. No one comped my flight to New York, the only invitations I received were to wakes and christenings, and the word “event” meant little to me.

Do you still remember that spring in Laurel Canyon when we were kids?


Britt Astrid Alphson is a writer and filmmaker living in New York.