L.A. Lary 

Who is this stranger sipping cappuccino?

Here is what I know about Los Angeles so far: Lary could live here. I know this because he kept repeating it. "I could live here," he said after his third cappuccino at the Grove, a famous outdoor market that happens to be around the corner from our motel. In Atlanta I had never once seen Lary drink a cappuccino -- he usually likes his coffee black as a bowling ball and just as thick -- but since coming here he's been sucking down caps like liquid oxygen. "I could definitely live here," he repeated.

"Who are you?" I asked, because I've known Lary for 14 years and, believe me, I've seen some personalities emerge from him -- like Evil Otis, the personality that occasionally lands him in jail for throwing bricks at police cars and for publicly fucking a blackjack dealer on the beach in front of the casino -- but this Lary, this L.A. Lary, is unknown to me.

"Have I met you?" I asked him again, but he was busy. Some professional L.A. photographer had plucked him from the crowd and was in the process of discovering him. I swear this is true. Lary gamely smiled his wicked, piranha-fish smile as the camera snapped away. I had never seen Lary act natural in front of a camera before. In his driver's license photo, for example, he looks like a stroke victim. On purpose. "Do we know him?" I asked Daniel and Grant, but Daniel had his head buried inside a watermelon, the only thing he'd eaten since the plane landed two days prior, and Grant was busy sending the sonic gay vibe to every Mexican busboy in southern California.

I swear, I thought Lary would have taken to L.A. like a baby to barbed wire. Of the four of us -- me, Daniel, Grant and Lary -- I am the only one who kind of quasi used to live here. I was born just up the way in Burbank, but I hadn't been back until 2003, when Jay Leno had me on his show. It turns out the hospital is right across the street from the NBC studios. No one seemed as marveled by that as me.

I know everyone needs to have been born somewhere, and maybe it's normally not that big a deal for them to see where it happened on occasion, but it seriously did not occur to me until the limo was pulling into the guard post at NBC that, hey, looky there, that hospital across the street is the same one listed on my birth certificate. Flukes, really, being there then and having been before. In the latter case my parents had been driving home after visiting a relative nearby, when all of a sudden my mother doubled over, figuring she'd eaten some bad fish, but it turns out it was just me wanting to be born early. "It was like you jumped out of me all on your own," she used to tell me, "like you sure were in a hurry to get somewhere."

She was from Kansas and my dad was from Alabama, and they'd met at a cocktail party six months after she'd graduated from UCLA and were married six months after that. She didn't know he'd been fired from his third job selling trailers until they'd returned from their Las Vegas honeymoon, but by that time she was already pregnant with my brother. I guess it says something about my mother that, in the late '50s and knocked up at that, she could land a corporate job as a mathematician at IBM. But "people do what they need to do," she used to say. I have since learned that it is, in fact, rare to find a person with that quality, a person who does what needs to be done.

That's why I asked Lary to L.A. with me. If nothing else, he gets things done, as almost all of his personalities are immensely productive. He constantly shows up at the Local with curls of wood shavings clinging to his clothes and dried plaster in his hair, all remnants of having done something, though what it was is often, even to him, a mystery. "What'd you do today?" I asked him once as I brushed shrapnel off his clothing. "I don't know," he answered, "but now there's a truck on my roof." I figured he would come in handy in case HBO changed their mind and canceled our meeting later that afternoon, leaving us no choice but to break into their headquarters and hold it hostage until they agreed to our terms. But that was the Atlanta Lary. This other Lary, this L.A. Lary, who is he?

 After the photographer finished, we hopped in the car so Lary could drive us to some thrift stores, because L.A. Lary likes to drive. But soon we hit La Brea, where traffic was stuck in Formica it was so slow, and there we stayed, suspended, like the Precambrian relics touted in the billboard advertising the Le Brea Tar Pits. "Look, Lary," we joked, pointing at the tar pits, "isn't that where you were born?" And isn't that where he'll return? Maybe that's what this is all about. Maybe Lary, like an ailing mastodon, is simply answering his call home. But as we laughed I looked over and saw immediately that L.A. Lary was gone. Atlanta Lary was back. "This blows," Lary groused at the insufferable traffic. "I could never live here."

Hollis Gillespie is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories and Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."

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