The Lone Palm – Jordan Sullivan
February 25, 2021
I was staying at the Lone Palm Motel off Highway 1 trying to forget my name. I’d cut out the outside world except for a nameless surfer from the valley who claimed he was half Nazi, half Native American. This surfer had skin paler than mine, despite all the sun he was getting. We’d see each other in the morning when I went down to the beach to watch the gloomy sunrise and pretend that there was nothing more that could happen in life. It had all been so fucked.
The surfer would be out in the ocean, straddling his board, staring at the horizon, maybe thinking about the future, but he was probably thinking about pussy and money, and the money and pussy he’d get in the future. Maybe he was imagining he could actually surf – I never saw him ride a single wave. He’d just stare at that useless horizon, then paddle back to shore, roll a joint, and we’d say a few words. He’d lament the lack of surf, then tell me it was going to be a beautiful day, and that always made me laugh. I once asked what he did beside surf, and he shrugged and told me he was going to be the first guy to overdose on weed. He said that would be his legacy.
He always offered me a hit of his joint, but I never took it. I’m a narcotic guy. Narcotic guys look down on potheads. Potheads are usually into nature and technology and mortgages or just nothing at all. Potheads also get into shrooms and sometimes acid, and a thing called microdosing. I like mixing heroin with a bunch of ecstasy and coke and jamming it in my dick and seeing where the night takes me. I don’t like micro-anything when it comes to substances.
The surfer seemed harmless though, deluded, a liar, like everyone else. The surfer didn’t ask many questions, and if he had I would’ve given him mostly lies. I was starting to think both of us just needed the presence of another human and that was enough. It’s nice not getting to know someone you spend a lot of time with, really takes the pressure off. I suppose he was kind of like a coworker in that way. Each morning we’d be vague with one another then go our separate ways. I’d go back to the motel, and he’d get in his little beater Toyota, with his massive orange surfboard strapped on top, and take off to wherever it was he spent his days.
I spent my days sitting in the motel and trying not to get high. I’d just sit there thinking about it, all day every day, non-fucking-stop, dreaming about railroading junk, snorting coke, smoking crystal, that fucking rush. Just thinking about it got me hard. I was spanking it like six times a day. There was nothing else to do in that room but whack it and not get high.
I was an informant for the LAPD. I’d been one for almost four years. I was an addict, then a dealer, then a convict, then an informant. As an informant I still dealt, and I definitely still used, but I was useless. What were they even doing with my intel? In four years, all I gave them were names, a few recorded conversations, some photos. Who were they even going after? What kind of case were they even building? I don’t think they made a single arrest, but they were watching everyone, all those taxpayer dollars, all that cop money – where does it all go? I thought as an informant I would at least get some kind of backstage pass, but the world was even more confusing. I started getting more and more fucked up, racking my brain over what they were doing and what I was doing. I wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating, just getting high and occasionally getting hand jobs at this underground massage parlor. My life was disgusting.
One day I woke up butt-naked in the backyard of an old girlfriend’s house. No clue how I got there. She had a respectable house in a respectable part of LA, and I was passed out butt-naked in her son’s kiddie pool. Her husband chased me off, and he even called the cops. That night I threw my phone off the Santa Monica Pier, headed north on the PCH, and checked into the Lone Palm – a piece of shit motel that’s priced like it’s a resort.
I gave the front desk a fake name, paid cash. I had a plan to get clean, but beyond that I didn’t have a clue. I knew I would get caught eventually. My time had already run out. I just wanted to feel free for a few days, watch the sunrise on the beach and smoke cigarettes all night, but the withdrawals man! I’d been through them before, but these were really something else – hallucinations, demons, bugs crawling out of my mouth. The whole motel room was an apocalypse. I could see all the old guests and all their dark histories written in blood all over the walls. All the ghosts of all these dead junkies were laughing at me. I was staring straight into death.
Then one morning I woke up feeling shitty but not as shitty as the day before, and I asked the surfer what he was doing that afternoon. He asked me what I was doing.
I got in his Toyota, and we drove back into LA.
We were gridlocked on the 405 when the surfer leaned forward, peered out the windshield, a fat joint dangling from his lips. He said “Would you look at that…”
I looked out the windshield. A few hundred feet up the head of a massive skinny palm tree was on fire.
“What do you suppose caused that?” I asked.
“No telling,” the surfer said, ashing his joint behind his legs. The ash smoldered, burnt a little hole into the polyester car seat. There was a galaxy of little black holes from cigarette burns all over the upholstery of the car.
We crawled through the miserable LA traffic all the way to Echo Park. The surfer parked on Sunset, and I followed him into the Gold Room. It was Tuesday afternoon and packed inside. The Smiths was blasting. I knew a lot of the patrons. A couple asked me if I was dealing. My apartment was only two blocks away. I was just waiting for one of the detectives to show up and ask me where I’d been and bring me downtown. The surfer sat at the bar and started getting drunk. I was almost two weeks sober and trying my best not to join him. It didn’t work. In an hour we were a dozen drinks in.
“So this is what you do all day?” I asked him.
“I pick a different bar every day,” he said. “I’m going to do it until my inheritance runs out, or until I can think of something better to do. I don’t think I’ll think of anything better.”
He didn’t ask me what I did with my days, and I figured it was probably because he knew. Humans who are waiting for their luck to run out have a sense for one another.
“I’ve been to so many bars,” he said, “and they really are all the same.”
A Mexican man I recognized, not so much by his face, but by the smell of his breath – salami and menthol – sidled up to me, singing along to The Smiths in some horrible twisted key, then he whispered in my ear, asked me to front him. I ignored him.
“These people know you, huh?” the surfer said.
“Maybe,” I said. “You know me, too.”
“Of course,” the surfer said. “We’re old friends.”
Right then I knew. Got an old feeling that ran up my spine whenever I was in trouble, and all I could think to do was run. I told the surfer I had to use the bathroom. I found the salami breath Mexican, told him I’d front him if he gave me a ride. We went out the back door, headed for the Mexican’s old Nissan. The surfer grabbed me, cuffed me, dragged me back out to Sunset, he was stronger than I imagined he’d be. He tossed me in the back of his Toyota.
“You cops really do play a fucked up game?” I said.
The surfer/cop/whoever he was drove me back to the Lone Palm. He smoked weed the whole way and listened to some awful book on tape by John Irving. He looked different, he smelled different, like a desert. Neither of us said a word. Sometimes he’d make a snide comment to himself about something that was going on in the Irving story, but otherwise he said nothing. He looked and felt like a whole different person. I felt like I’d witnessed some sort of magic – the old surfer-turns-himself-into-a-pig trick.
Outside the Lone Palm he uncuffed me, and I got out of the car.
“So what now?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“You don’t know? You’re the cop. How do you not know?”
“I don’t much more than you, man. I do what I’m told. They tell me to drop you off here, so I drop you off here. They tell me to keep an eye on you, to show up every morning, and I do.”
“You really a cop?”
“I don’t even know, man.”
“Well, you sure aren’t a surfer.”
“Don’t be mean.”
I stepped back from the car. The surfer drove off.
I looked at the cars passing in the dark on the PCH. The headlights looked like fiery meteors just missing each other in the dark. I walked down to the ocean. The Pacific at night is pitch black and terrifying. It’s nothing like the tranquil thing you see in the morning or at sunset, and even those scenes are actually pretty grim. The sea at night is a monster. The waves crawl up the coast like massive claws. The water looks like a void, it stretches out forever… looks too big to even fit on earth. I stared at the ocean that night, and I realized how scared I was of dying, and I felt like a little bitch.
I walked back into the motel and up to my room. It felt good to be alone. In my fridge was a case of beer I hadn’t bought, or I didn’t remember buying. On the desk was a sack of blow, a bag of junk, a couple syringes. Goddamn! These cops play a really really fucked-up game!
I drank all the beer alone in bed, then I shot up. I didn’t really sleep, but I drifted off somewhere. When I was conscious again, I was more afraid than I’d ever been in my whole life. I didn’t know how much time had passed – a day, a week, maybe a year. I had this screaming hangover, and I was naked, and I realized I’d shit the bed. I tried to kill the hangover by sucking warm drops of beer from some of the empties scattered around the room. I scraped coke dust from grimy surfaces and rubbed it across my gums. Nothing worked because it never does.
Finally, I went down to the ocean. The surfer was leaving the beach.
“Almost missed, ya,” he said, like our history had never happened.
I got in the car with him. We went drinking in Hollywood. I let him pay for all my drinks, except for the last one. I bought the last round. We had a fake conversation about our fake lives, using our fake names and our fake histories. A lot of it I just made up on the spot. I remember we laughed a lot. So much laughter I felt like we really knew each other for a second. When we were done laughing, I was kind of exhausted, but in a good way.
The surfer drove me back to the Lone Palm, and I told him that every time I see him, I sort of think it’ll be the last time. He told me he felt the same way about everyone.
We went on seeing one another each morning on the beach for an immeasurable length of time. The days were over the minute the sun came up, but they also seemed to last forever. I no longer kept track of time. I was running in circles. If you ask me now, I won’t be able to tell you when things ended and other things began – it was all just sort of happening inside this annoying wheel. I remember sitting in the sand, watching him sitting in the ocean, straddling his board, staring at waves he’d never ride. Over and over, at sunrise, it was me watching him, and him watching the waves. Sometimes I’d imagine him actually catching a wave, actually surfing, then wiping out, and never coming back up, but it never happened, or maybe it did, because one morning he was gone, or maybe he wasn’t, and I just couldn’t see him anymore.
A few days before that he left his surfboard out in the ocean. He sat down in the sand with me, and we watched the waves take the surfboard away. “I never liked that board,” he said. Then he told me a few things that were probably lies, and even if they were true, they were too hard for even him to believe.
He did say something I thought was close to some variation of truth though… He said he remembered meeting me years ago in Big Sur in a big restaurant overlooking the ocean. He said I was with my girlfriend at the bar, and he was with his ex-wife. He described my girlfriend perfectly. It was the girl I was with before the cops even knew who I was – before I ever got into using, and definitely before I got into dealing. That girl was sort of a marker in my life, when she left me so did this whole version of me. Once she was gone it was like I turned myself inside out, became something else. We have this skin and these bodies to keep us from seeing what’s inside. Maybe the soul is even uglier than guts. The surfer told me I looked happy that day in Big Sur. He told me I looked healthy. He said he envied me that day. I went ahead and believed him, even though I’m pretty certain I’ve never been to Big Sur.