Tamara Sussman: From Another Los Angeles

JANUARY 1 – 31, 2009


Jan. 31

Today was the first day that I woke up not expecting to go back to the hotel. I felt peaceful for a minute until the nerves set in. I got out of bed to get rid of the feeling of being in free fall, picked some mint from the garden and made some tea. The warmth slowly calmed me down and I was in a fairly decent mood by the time that James woke up. It was clear that he had no second thoughts. He seemed genuinely pleased with everything: the tea, the slightly burnt toast, even the coolness of the kitchen tiles.

The hours slipped away and the sun was setting before I felt that much time had passed. After dinner I walked into the livingroom and ran into this scene.

It’s uncanny. Just like the dream I had a few weeks ago. Well ok, not exactly the same – different time of day, different light – but similar enough to make me start. J asked if something was wrong. I said no, and walked into the bedroom, got the camera and took this shot.

Looking at this photo reminds me of the small but real sliver of well being I think I am beginning to have. I hope I can hold onto that.


Jan. 30

James reached some kind of limit today. We were hanging out in one of the couch lined pods, making out here and there when all of a sudden he sat up straight, with more purpose than I’ve seen, and said that he had an idea. He got up and I followed him downstairs. In the lobby, he walked up to a granite desk I hadn’t noticed before. He rang a bell on the desk, and to my surprise, a uniformed man came out to meet him.

I didn’t want to crowd him so I hung back, but later James told me that this was the only hotel employee he had seen in all his time there. This was easy to believe – I had never seen one. This guy is the Bell Captain, apparently, and has also been the only bell hop for quite some time. J asked him if he had ever seem an Employment Officer there (the hotel is one of a few meeting places downtown.) The Bell Captain said no, and smiled a little in a slightly sheepish kind of way. Had he seen people waiting? James asked. Yes, the Bell Captain said, They wait for a while and then he doesn’t see them anymore.

That was enough for J. He walked back to me, took my hand and led me towards the exit, explaining what he had just heard. I’m done, he said, you can stay if you like, but I can’t stand it anymore, I need to leave. I was ready to quit too. I squeezed his hand and we walked out of the hotel together. It was bright and warm outside, and it felt so good to breathe the relatively fresh air outside. It seemed like the only place to go was mine, so we headed back here. On the way home, I couldn’t stop smiling.


Jan. 29

Tile. Rug. Tile. James. Tile. Concrete. Tile. Concrete.

Hotel. Home. Hotel. James. Hotel. Garden. Hotel. Garden.

Today made me realize that I am using this place backwards: I sleep at home and spend the day at the hotel. All of the former services, the restaurants of varying expense, the out of business microbrewery, the drained pool, seem so lonely, so alien to what is now happening here. They reinforce the feeling of profound reversal; they stand as monuments to an age that was lost so recently that it seems impossible that it is gone. But it is, and there they are, empty, some with the signs still lit.

Panda Hut, with it’s faded menu, stares out blankly at a now disused food court. It’s sandwiched by a parking structure and an empty gym. Spending so many hours here has started to rub off on James. He needs a way to get out of here. He never talks about it, but it’s obvious. He comes alive once he leaves. In here he withdraws, or hibernates… it’s a little hard to explain. I’m going to take him to look at some chickens tomorrow evening. They are cheap! And then we’ll have fresh eggs. I’m looking forward to watching J come back to life as we leave the heart of the city.


Jan. 28

Today when I came to the hotel, The lights on the top two floors of the atrium were turned off. I hadn’t thought about it before, but it must cost a lot to keep everything lit. That’s why I had to take this today:

They may not keep this witches cauldron with ginger plants forever. Pre-seasoned witch’s brew! Looks like the gardener is enjoying himself. I hope she gets to keep her job….

I don’t like to imagine this place with the rest of the lights off. It would be tough to spend the day here if it were always dark. It could become dangerous.

Waiting here all day every work day has felt silly, and now it is starting to feel really stupid. At first it was the only thing I could do. It was natural to get to the hotel and wait, and I believed that eventually someone would come to meet me. It just seems so unlikely now. Instead, waiting has become a thing in itself. A thing I have gotten to know intimately. I am becoming ready to do something else.

I’ve been poking around on line and reading a few chat boards of urban subsistence farmers here in LA. It really makes me want to amp up my garden, build a chicken coop, and get a dairy goat. Living off the land, in the middle of the city…. it’s my new American Dream.

What do you think?


Jan. 27

With nothing else to do, I am trying to make waiting into an art. Or at least turn it into a delicacy.

What is the best way to savor the moments as they slide by? Lounging or strolling? Observing or reflecting? Meditating or fantasizing?

Is it possible to enjoy the procession of pointless minutes if you have no choice but to watch them drip past?

I am going to try.


Jan. 26

Hi, I’m back. Sorry for my absence. I didn’t take any pictures this weekend. I didn’t have much time to myself. James came over on Saturday morning and stayed until this morning, and then went we went back to the hotel together.

It was incredible. For two whole days I did not worry. I was distracted, busy playing host and happy. Solano Canyon can feel like a small pastoral village this time of year, and I allowed myself the luxury of becoming completely absorbed, pretending that there was nothing for miles and miles around.

Once we got back to the hotel this morning, the spell of the weekend dissipated quickly leaving only a vaguely sweet aftertaste. James had been talkative all weekend. He told me about growing up in South Carolina, where he was the only Asian kid in his small quasi rural elementary school. About moving to LA with his family when he was nine, about his parents moving back east to retire, and how he was worried because he did not know when he would have enough money to go visit them. We chatted all weekend while taking care of a bunch of things around the house that were in desperate need of attention.

But when we got back to waiting this morning, he became very quiet. For a few hours, he barely looked at me. Finally I got a few words out of him. He said something about how much fun he’d had over the weekend, and how nice it had been to be in a home. He didn’t finish his thought, but he didn’t have to.

This place is not a home.


Jan. 23

High pitched euphoria is difficult thing to maintain.

Before I left for the hotel this morning, I received a letter from the National Employment Office acknowledging the “extended delays.” It did not say when the wait will be over. Everyone is supposed to keep checking in and waiting around for 8 hours a day. Blech. James seems pretty depressed. I suggested he come over and help me maintain my vegetable garden tomorrow, which cheered him enough for me to get him to follow me into a broom closet I discovered on the third floor. Now, I think we both feel a little better about the state of the world, and I’m looking forward to having someone help me pull out weeds.


Jan. 22

This was taken around 5 pm. The sky was getting dark, the hotel which had felt empty was becoming desolate.

Ten minutes later, we were making out behind a large office plant that had been left in a hallway.

Every two minutes I think: I am going to get up now and go back to him. But I haven’t yet. I seem to still possess enough dignity to keep me here until I am due back in the morning.

I can ever so slightly smell him on my skin. I would like to fall asleep to this smell, but I don’t think I can sleep. We shall see, we shall see. Goodnight!


Jan. 21

This morning there was again no sign of James. I wandered around for a bit. Didn’t see anyone I wanted to run into. Vaguely looked around for someone in an Employment Officer’s  uniform. No luck, of course. Surprised myself by crying. It sort of snuck up on me, and I had to quickly try to find a dark corner where I could wipe my nose in private. I was just sitting on the stairs, and then I remembered how I shot a picture of J sitting in the same spot, and I thought about his slight snaggletooth, and then I just lost it.

Once I was finished blowing my nose and felt fairly confident that my eyes weren’t totally bloodshot, I ventured out into hallway again and immediately ran in to J. That’s how things go, I guess.

“Where have you been?” he asked. “I dunno, here.” I told him. He thanked me for the sandwich and other things I’d left him yesterday. “I couldn’t sleep the night before,” he explained, “I’m sorry I slept through our date.”

I hadn’t really thought of it as a date. But it did not make me unhappy. I think I may have giggled, although I’d prefer to forget that part.

He went on to explain that he had been living in the hotel for quite some time. He had lost his home right around the same time he’d been given his Employment Meeting Assignment, and after spending a few days waiting around the hotel, he became fairly certain that no one would notice if he never left. He’d been living there ever since. Dumpster diving for food, which was easy in this part of town, sleeping on benches and in chairs in different parts of the hotel lobby. Staying indoors in a place with plenty of public bathrooms made it easy to keep clean.

I listened closely and couldn’t help but think of my dream again. I wanted to bring J home with me. But that was crazy. I bit my tongue, told him how sorry I was about him losing his place, promised him some home cooked food tomorrow and suggested we head up to the fifth floor to look into some of the abandoned restaurants and J obliged.

There are a bunch of these places, especially on the upper floors, and mostly they look like nobody told the staff that they were going to close until the last minute. The floors are swept, the tables are clean, but these places feel dead, almost sterile. J, true to his word, pretended not to notice as I took his picture.

Oh, and if you can find me in this photo, I’ll be impressed.


Jan. 20

This morning I got up, packed a picnic lunch, and left in home in a good mood, a true novelty. But I couldn’t find James all morning. I didn’t want to seem desperate. Above all to myself.  So I tried to walk slowly,  casually around the hotel. I tried to channel the feeling I had on my second day of waiting – pure listlessness. I have no idea if I failed or succeeded.

Eventually I got hungry enough to nibble at lunch.

Half an hour later I stumbled on this.

I packed two beers, a sandwich, and an apple into his bag and snuck off. I didn’t see him again for the rest of the day.

On my way home, I remembered the dream I had last night. In it James was sitting on my couch, reading. The sun was coming through the window, and he was in shadow, so I couldn’t see his features clearly, but the scene made me feel more peaceful than I have in a very long time. I woke up with this same calm, but didn’t remember the dream until the end of the day. When I concentrate on the image of James reading in my living room I can bring back a taste of that peace, but it disappears very quickly.


Jan. 19

James liked the stew, and he seemed happier in general than he did last week.  He promised to pretend he doesn’t notice me when I’m taking his picture, like old times. I can’t get a straight answer out of him about when he first noticed me shooting him. Oh well. As long as I get to wander around and take pictures I guess I don’t really care if it’s sneaky or not. We made a plan to meet tomorrow for lunch on the 5th level in the pod closest to the red elevator. I will bring beer. Shh! It’s a surprise.

So all in all today was more fun than usual, I guess. But it’s strange that it’s been nearly three full weeks of waiting and no sign of the stupid Employment Officer. Once again I find myself wondering if having to be somewhere from nine to five is supposed to be comforting, and is actually designed to keep people calm by giving them a sense of purpose. Because right now it sure doesn’t seem like an effective way to get people back to work. I looked at some chat boards online tonight, and it seems like there is some unprecedented post-holiday backlog, and I’m not the only one who has been waiting three weeks. It’s a little comforting, but only a little. I certainly can’t afford to miss a chance at getting a job, so I’ll be back at the Bonadventure in the morning.


Jan. 18

Today I made a stew. It was comforting, all that chopping and stirring and sipping and tasting. For a few hours the nervous chatter in my head quieted to a dull whisper. But then the sun set, I packed the stew safely into the fridge and went out to wander with my camera. While I was walking around, the power went down in the neighborhood. The stars were out, which was a novelty, but without much of a moon, I could hardy see a few yards ahead, houses and plants blended together in dark and darker grays, and I felt I was no longer in the city, but in some strange countryside. With everything so unfamiliar, a primal kind of fear settled into the pit of my stomach. I felt like a mouse creeping along the edge of the sidewalk, avoiding cats, coyotes and traps. I had been turned into prey pure and simple and I could be attacked at any moment. I was trying not to panic, and walking as fast as I could towards home. A few blocks from my house, the lights slowly flickered on again and I found myself in front of this fence.

This dead plant looked like it was crawling over the fence to get me, and like a little kid waking from a nightmare, I was incapable of rationalizing what I saw. I ran home, and I am quite sure that I looked nuts. Good thing I live in a sleepy neighborhood – I don’t think anyone saw.

A few hours later I was relatively calm (and embarrassed), so I decided to go out and photograph the scary dead plant, so here he is, in all his icky glory. Yup, I conquered that fear. Onward and upward.


Jan. 17

Another glamorous Saturday night on the east side of Los Angeles.

There is something about looking at a mattress covered in gravel and dirt that makes me deeply uncomfortable. (That may be why Rauschenberg makes me cringe a little, now that I think of it.)

This one seems to have been abandoned altogether. I hope you find a better life, futon! I will not, however, hold my breath.


Jan. 16

It may be stupid to be nostalgic for something as recent as yesterday morning. And it may also be stupid to prefer a fantasy to getting to know someone. But this is starting to make me sad. Just look at him.

We only spoke a little more today, but I am realizing that the global economic crisis has hit him harder than it has hit me. I grew up here, and it really sucked when I had to move home with my mom. If I had a penis, I could say that I felt castrated in a very straightforward kind of way, but you’ll just have to take my word for it – I know how it feels and it’s not pretty.

That said, lucky me, my family’s been here a few generations. My mom has a cute place in Solano Canyon with a guest house, which I now live in. I can bitch and moan about not being able to support myself anymore after proudly doing just fine, thanks, for years, but I know I have it good. I guess a lot of my friends are from around here too, and are in similar situations.

I don’t know anything for sure, but I’m starting to suspect that my new friend, James, is in a pretty bad spot. I think I’ll bring him some soup on Monday, and some bread.

And maybe I’ll photograph some more plants over the weekend, at least they can’t look at me in a way that makes me want to cry.


Jan. 15

Giving up can feel pretty good.

There is that moment where every cell screams out, in unison, “Fuck it all! I don’t care anymore, I am done!” It’s a moment that leaves a person both strong and vulnerable.

Maybe that’s why when I saw this scene and took this picture I hoped that today would be a little different. And perhaps it was just a self-fulfilling prophesy, but later today I ran into him near one of the fountains and I was able (finally!) to say hi. We chatted awhile. He’s been waiting too, of course. And he said he had noticed me taking pictures and that he didn’t mind… He has nothing else to do.

To be totally honest, it was pretty awkward, but I can’t help feeling that I’ve made some huge kind of progress. He seemed really nice, and his laugh sounds pretty deranged, which from my point of view is not a bad thing. I don’t know his name yet, but maybe I’ll talk to him again tomorrow.

There is one other thing that this dead man’s sprawl brings to mind. I didn’t consciously remember this until my ride home, but maybe it’s why I felt like I could approach him today: when I was little and I would try to lie still enough to feel the earth spinning. I would concentrate, and focus and try to feel the gentle but unstoppable twisting of our planet through space and eventually, I’d get dizzy and worry that I was going to fall until I remembered I was already lying down. (Click on the picture for a closer look, maybe you’ll see what I’m trying to get at.) Even now, sometimes just lying down and trying to understand how the world works is enough to make me lose my balance.


Jan. 14

At this point I really feel like I might go nuts without the camera. It’s amazing how the act of looking through the view finder both makes me feel connected to the place I’m in, and happier to be there, at the same time that it protects me from that same place and all the circumstances around it. The camera lets me hover like a disembodied eye and see everything without feeling personally affected. I’m like one of the angels in Wings of Desire. It’s easy to imagine being all sympathy if you spend day in and out like that.

I guess having a subject helps too. Doesn’t he look nice by the fountain? I wonder what he’s reading… Well, I guess I won’t find out until I grow a pair and ask him. Some day, some day…


Jan. 13

Blech, everyone must being feeling like crap. Look at this.

I took this right after I witnessed a little tantrum. You can see the evidence spread out on that stained carpeting. I feel for him, just staring at those stupid exercise machines. What are they doing there anyway? It’s so weird. Who wants to work out in a hanging pod hovering over a fountain pretty much on display for the entire building? Did a facilities person with an odd sense of humor just leave them there?

For some reason, I feel particularly frustrated today. I’m not even sure the waiting has anything to do with it anymore (or maybe that is it, who knows). For some reason, looking at this picture brings it all back. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s that guy’s posture. It pretty much describes how I feel. It’s like being caught in a giant sweater with no openings. I can move around and struggle, but ultimately I can’t get out, and there isn’t quite enough oxygen.

On the brighter side, I guess I’m following that guy around again. Maybe, if I get truly fed up with all this crap, I’ll stop caring and just go up to him and casually ask, “Why is it that you are always wearing the same outfit?” Because honestly, I’d like to know.


Jan. 12

Sometimes the Bonadventure feels like a pale echo of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, built out of concrete. There is a pathos to this place: it feel a like a temple that was built to honor the stores, ballrooms, gyms, restaurants and bars that it housed, all of which are now closed.  The Hanging Gardens of Babylon have been gone so long that no one really has any idea what they looked like. I try to imagine what it would have been like to walk through that ancient green eden. The pang of knowing I will never wander through those trees is so much sweeter than watching this place and so many others like it slowly become extinct.

By the way, he snuck into this one. It was like old times, I didn’t even notice him until I got home and looked at the pictures. I’ve been feeling too down to stalk much lately. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be more in the mood.


Jan. 11

A series of sandbags in the middle of a gently sloping field, with a cinder block on the middle sandbag, for reinforcement. Thank goodness for that cinder block!

Otherwise, I’d be really worried about this situation. The city really has this whole thing under control.

I’d like to think there was something magical about about stumbling onto this scene, but I find it absurdist in a depressing Bureaucracy-Gone-Wrong kinda way instead.  I like the way the grass is growing through the sandbags, though, that’s nice.

This next picture sums up how I’ve been feeling lately.

Look at the bottom of the photo. The sidewalk seems even, but everything else is tilting off to one side in a way that isn’t immediately obvious, but becomes increasingly disorienting with time. By the time you want to put everything right, it’s almost impossible.


Jan. 10

Ahhhh, it’s Saturday again.

I’ve gotten so used to taking pictures all week long, it’s starting to leak into my weekends. After all, taking digital pictures is pretty much free, which is not something I can say for going out to a bar on a Friday night. So this is how I kicked off the weekend:

Around here (Solano Canyon) there is so much land that lies ambiguously between public and private, and also happens to be nicely lit at night. I spent my Friday night wandering around and snapping pictures. I’m afraid I’m in danger of becoming an isolated geek, but I have to admit that deep down inside it feels really good.


Jan. 9

heh heh heh.

In an odd way this makes up for some of the frustration of the week. It’s Friday, and I feel like I’m being smiled upon by the gods of human wildlife photography. Found my partner-in-pointless-waiting fast asleep on a bench, and did not hesitate to snap this before sneaking off. I’ve never been so close to him, never really seen his face before. Photography is truly an incredible invention. It’s so democratic, so easy, so satisfying when you are able to capture exactly what you want. Mmmmmmm….

This will give me something to think about over the weekend, and something to look forward to on Monday, although this photograph will be difficult to equal or beat, but it feels like progress somehow, when there isn’t much progress to be made in any other area of my life.


Jan. 8

I guess it’s nice that there is a government agency that is supposed to help you become financially solvent, but when the country is on its knees, and it is clear that there is not enough pie for everyone to get a slice, this whole Work Bureau thing (with all of its invisible Employment Officers) is starting to feel more like an Anti-Riot Insurance. Imposed order in the face of chaos that can only be held back so long. I can feel it rise up in me a little more every day. This chaos, this not knowing, but doing as I am told, only because I don’t have a better plan.

At least Someone-We-Know has given up on hiding. Or maybe he has just given up. Hard to say in this picture….


Jan. 7

Ok. So maybe I’m not as smooth as I’d like to think. Exhibit A:

Is it just me or does it look like he’s hiding from me? Godammit that would be really embarrassing. Here I am thinking I’m all discreet, shooting from behind some plant. I hope it’s a coincidence. Maybe he just likes being in shadow. Perhaps he is living out some noir dream while he’s waiting for the Employment Officer who never comes. I kind of am….


Jan. 6

I am getting used to nothing happening all day – or at least nothing that I am supposed to be waiting for. Today, for the first time, I followed that guy, the other person who seems to be waiting too, and I took this picture of him. It’s amazing how much more quickly the day passed.

I’m not ready to introduce myself.

But I would like to. No wait. I would like to accidentally run into him maybe and find out what he used to do before the crash, I could tell him about my product designer days etc.

Or talk about how he’s dealing with things.

But don’t those things always go wrong? Am I doomed to be disappointed? I think I am. I mean if I talk to him. He’ll turn out silly or thoughtless, or only interested in sports. Shit.

Taking his picture is enough for now. Good night, we’ll wait together again tomorrow…


Jan. 5

Ah, the first real Monday of the year. And if all the upheaval could have made me forget about it, the government won’t let me. A bright and shiny new pile of paperwork! And here I was convinced they had forgotten about little old me. I mean I’ve already been waiting a week and not a single sign to show me I’m in the right place until today. There is something oddly reassuring about this new pile of unemployment paperwork. Something to do, busy work! work! Do I sound like I’ve gone off the deep end? I feel kinda giddy. But maybe that’s because I had some company while I was filling out all that official crap:

I am not alone, and that is worth something.


Jan. 4
I can’t believe I spent all of Saturday at the Bonadventure!! Arg. All this holiday and unemployment has made me loose track of the days. Of course no one met me there on the freaking weekend. At least today was relaxing. I worked in my garden; my mom worked in hers out front. Gotta love California for the year round garden action.
Back to my idiotic break up… ah, fuck it. Don’t feel like blogging about that today either. Well, I get to return to waiting for the absent Employment Officer tomorrow. Wish me patience!


Jan. 3
I’m starting to appreciate the futuristic look of this place. It hovers tastefully between optimism and pessimism. I mean, there is something idealistic about creating a space that is such a pleasure to look at. There are majestic vistas everywhere you turn, and visual echoes throughout the space. On the other hand there is vertigo, confusion and disorientation. Elevators only go to every other floor. Places can be difficult to find. Most poignantly, a person walking though often sees a little nook or table here or there that looks so pleasant, so peaceful and cozy and then is left with the task of trying to reach it, a task that becomes and exercise in frustration. Let me try to show you what I’m talking about here:

And here he is again today, as if to illustrate the point. I still haven’t noticed this guy until I get home and see the pictures. I guess in an odd way it makes me feel a little less lonely waiting there like and idiot, especially since D and I seem to be breaking up. I can’t get into this now, I am too angry to try to tease out if our fights are caused by the price of gasoline and the 433 miles that separate us or if there are just an excuse… More soon… Alright, I gotta get some sleep…(No sign of my Employment Officer today, although I am starting to feel like that goes without saying.)


Jan. 2
Another fruitless day of waiting, or almost fruitless. I took a few pictures I like, at least. I didn’t see anyone at the hotel at all – until I got home. I was looking through the pictures I shot and I noticed this guy in one of them. I’ve never seen him before, although I guess he must be hanging around there. Anyway here are my two favorite shots from today, including the one with the stranger.


Jan. 1
I must be the losing-est loser that ever lost. I do not have any hard evidence aside from my obvious unemployment, and spending the first day of the new year waiting for someone to show up at some weird-assed hotel, someone who never materializes, but all the same, it feels like it’s true. This does not bode well.
The days now are quite short. When I left the Bon today it was completely dark. I passed this patch of land on my way out. If I have to wait here much longer, I think I’ll plant some things and tend to them here. Might as well do something useful.

To give you some context for this little fantasy of mine I should tell you that at this point, I am mainly eating from my garden. It is not the Eden I imagined when I first laid out my little patch, but it is providing me with the makings for a thick vegetable soup, so I’m not complaining.

Here’s another shot from earlier today:

This place feels like an alien spaceship.


Dec. 30
Another impossibly slow day. Saw a few people, but they all looked like some of the few lucky ones employed by the hotel. At least I brought something to do:

A dizzying place as you can tell.
More soon.


Dec. 29
Spent the day at the Bonadventure again. And again there was no one and I mean not a soul. As an isolated fact, this doesn’t bother me as much as seeing The Grove deserted. The Grove is a hideous sort of place, but before the crash it was always lively. The Bonadventure is sublime empty.
But then there is what it means: I haven’t had any work in months, and I was finally informed last week that my Work Assignment Location is the Hotel Bonadventure. I’ve been waiting there for two days and haven’t seen anyone yet. This is disconcerting, of course, but I have friends who have waited over a week before their Employment Officer showed up. And getting assigned in between Christmas and New Years means I can expect to wait until next year for someone to show. I don’t have a choice; I can’t risk missing the guy. It doesn’t help that the place is one of the most disorienting spaces I’ve ever been in.
I’ve been completely bamboozled at least twice in my first two days of hanging around there. The worst was when the building somehow tricked me (while looking for a bathroom) into crossing a bridge to another building where the door locked behind me. I ran around that other building trying to find an exit. Once I finally got out on the street, I couldn’t figure out how to get back in the Bon, somehow always ending up on the wrong level or street. It took at least half an hour for me to get inside.
Tomorrow I think I’ll bring my camera. That’ll give me something to do while I wait and try not to get lost.