The first time I had seen coke was during a trip to California the summer after I finished undergrad. I’d never been involved in that scene; the closest I came to raving was playing a, now indelible, mix of The Chemical Brothers, LCD Soundsystem, and Digitalism while driving down the interstate that connected one small town to another. It was in the middle of nowhere, and as I seemingly happened to be on the Road to Nowhere, at any point in my life, there was nothing more appropriate than blasting my drug music in my ride and trying to dance away my anxiety without getting pulled over.
We planned the trip to California because I had convinced myself I was destined to move out west to continue my education, or work at some esteemed publication. I really needed to come into my own, and the West Coast was where I had decided that was going to happen. I’d never been further than Denver, but as a 21-year-old, nothing seemed more appealing. My friend met a guy randomly on New Years and one evening in the summer, we found ourselves on Facebook, and later on the telephone, coordinating plans to meet up with that guy who happened to live in California. I’m sure by the end of the call we had mutually decided that the trip was to help me find my way- apartment searching, job searching, life searching. We were both unbearably convinced with the depth of this idea that had been procured no doubt over a glass of Everclear and a bottle of $1 punch from the local supermarket, though the only thing super about that market were its prices.
Our second day in California, I found myself at the steering wheel of a beat up car, driving from Orange County to San Diego, playing “California Gurls” on repeat on the radio and desperately trying not to hit the motorcyclists who crept in my lane without my knowing. All seemed well in life, the mountains on one side, the ocean on the other. Without any conceivable care in the world, we drove on, pretending that this whole trip, this whole life-changing adventure, was well within our control.
After what felt like hours of nervous driving, and not enough drug music to calm my anxiety, we ended upon a beach house in Pacific Beach- walking into a rager of a party early in the afternoon. There was beer pong in the driveway between somewhat normal looking people in bikinis and board shorts. Two girls stood next to the beer pong match cheering on the team, while also managing to look more out of place than my friend and I. They donned tight hot pink dresses, black stilettos, and so much makeup I was sure they were in drag. Even now, I can’t quite make out that scene on that day in San Diego- it was an odd combination of the stereotypes I housed for people who lived in California.
That night, after numerous vodka concoctions, we were sitting in a room with about four or five well-tanned guys, and a sprinkle of blonde girls. Some visitor (they didn’t know who we were so we thought this anonymity made us less of an outcast) had on short, white Hollister shorts. We had an aside with one of our guy friends; I think the one whose car I was driving.
“No one who ACTUALLY lives in California wears Hollister. It’s weird,” he said very matter-of-factly.
Later that afternoon I hid my Hollister v-neck and short, white Hollister shorts at the bottom of my suitcase. I was too cool for Hollister, after all.
The girl next to me on the bed, laughed too loudly at the jokes the guys made, no doubt out of sheer desperation. She wasn’t ugly, she was short, blonde, and had a relatively pretty face. But, those Hollister shorts did nothing good for her image. We were all trying to find our place in this beach house party; luckily for my friend and I, we knew the guys who were friends with the owner of the house. Knew, as in we had a couple of nights out with them and a couple of pre-California phone calls, but that was nobody’s business as long as we weren’t the ones donning the Hollister apparel or stilettos on the front stoop at four in the afternoon. We were the cool girls from the middle of fucking nowhere. Well, all right.
Someone got out a guitar, soon the drunk guy in the room was singing along; someone had a video camera. The guy playing the guitar had an awful black wig, and channeled his inner KISS while his friend, in a ratty blonde wig, sang along. Those were our guys; we were in the circle. The party moved outside. Some people left, others closed their doors and had sex with a girlfriend or beach house floater. My friend and I stood in the kitchen and watched a marine from Chicago, who was a few years older than me, do Japanese yoga moves that he learned while in Tokyo.
A tall, tan guy in a brown coat, we claimed was the “chinchilla coat” led us all upstairs- about a group of four or five of us- and we sat down in a spare bedroom with a white comforter, my friend and I sat on the bed next to a guy whose face I was either too drunk or too unaware to remember. Before I knew it, there were lines of coke spread out on a black DVD case. It seemed a lot less offensive than I expected this moment would feel like.
“You want some?” the chinchilla guy asked me.
“Nah, I’m cool. Thanks though,” I said. Is there a cool way to turn coke down without looking weird to your druggie “friends?” Figuring it was best to politely turn down a coke offer, I added the “thanks” so he knew we still had some remnant of friendship.
Everyone passed the DVD case around, using a rolled up bill to snort. My friend and I sat next to each other, trying desperately to not look as mortified as both of us were. We left a bit after that moment, ducking out without coming off weird or rude, and spent the entire walk back to Ocean Beach talking about how weird of a situation we were in, and how furry that guy’s coat was.
We ended up sleeping over at the marine’s house, in Ocean Beach, a place the locals would refer to as “Oh Behave.” He lived in a small 1-bedroom apartment that was the size of my grandmother’s garage; there was an older marine with dark brown hair sleeping on the couch. I slept next to the skinny, surfer dude- blonde and well traveled, and aloof enough that I felt comfortable. My friend and her guy- one of our friends whom we came to California to visit- slept on the air mattress next to the bed. Our other friend, another marine, slept on the floor nearest the window.
That next morning we hopped in my friend’s jeep to drive to the beach while he met up with his Dad for Father’s Day, maybe for his birthday. Once the four of us were in the car, I asked:
“So how do you know Mikey?”
“Mikey? I thought you knew him,” my guy friend answered from behind the wheel of the jeep.
“How would I know him,” I responded, “I’m not even from here.”
It took about five minutes of this circular discussion before we realized that no one knew the hot surfer dude whose apartment we had slept in. My friend and the two guys laughed- how on earth did we end up at this marine’s house in the middle of Ocean Beach and no one knew him. I cuddled with the guy for fucks sake. And, while no sex and no coke happened, everything about that night made me feel like I had somehow come out of the situation as a fucking rock star. But, I wouldn’t let on. Pleased that I didn’t get raped or killed in this cracker-jack house with my friends, we drove to the beach, listening to a story about how my guy friend went to high school with a kid whose immediate family member owned Jack in the Box and they would get free tacos, burgers, and shit for their parties.
When I think of California, that’s what I think of. Cocaine, Jack in the Box, chinchillas, and a Chicagoan marine who does yoga very well.