In this extract from his semi-autobiographical debut novel, Ioannis Pappos conjures a Los Angeles that is lethargic, narcotic, and lonely.
Photo: Jork Weismann (from his book, Asleep at the Chateau)
Hotel Living, a new book by gay writer Ioannis Pappos has received more superlatives from the literary establishment than you can shake a stick at. Michael Cunningham has compared it to The Great Gatsby, “reincarnated in a contemporary hell even beyond F.Scott. Fitzgerald’s imagination,” while Edmund White described Hotel Living as the book Anthony Trollope would write if he were alive and living in New York today. For film-maker Ira Sachs it is Wolf of Wall Street-meets-Edith Wharton. How delightfully entertaining that sounds. Pappos, who has written for Out, was gracious enough to give readers of OutTraveler a few choice excerpts. Here, in the first of three excerpts, the author finds himself in the Chateau Marmont recalling a past lover.
I have never been to a city more lethargic than Los Angeles, nor lived in a hotel more narcotic than the Chateau Marmont. There is an off-season air to the place that makes loneliness feel like a natural state. Weekends, I lie on my sofa smoking with an ashtray on my chest, watching the dust float in the rays of sun coming through the drapes. I count the pastel tiles above the kitchen sink and mellow out in my idleness. Everything seems slower in LA, sedated, more tolerable, especially my perception of myself. I left New York a coke-addled, sex-hungry zombie, and I still am, but here I look the part less. By switching from West Village bathrooms to LA cottages, I see everything through a veil, happening behind a fence or a pool house. I like it. Fading out of sight is a privilege in the hills.
I moved into the Chateau’s main building the way a hyena hovers near lions, distressingly close to the cottage where I told Erik I loved him but far enough away to stare at the memory from a distance. Josh, at the front desk, gave me a junior suite on the third floor. “A quiet floor, far from—” he looked back at his screen—“cottage 88, where you stayed the last time you were with us.”
Three weeks in, I still have not done that 88 walk yet. I’m not ready to face the stoop where for a moment I thought I had Erik.
It’s after midnight and the only sound in my suite is the drone, the never-ending throb that, nightly, mesmerizes me in the Hollywood Hills. Close to two, I leave for the pool. People start showing up from the gardens, like ghosts: “ . . . my quasi-girlfriend . . . ,” I overhear, “ . . . enough blow to kill a small animal . . .” Things play out. There’s an interface in the hills that helps one come to terms with life, or at least become resigned to it.
The marquise-shaped clock in Teresa’s Maserati says two, but the sun begins to set as Ray and I drive up the hills. Ray gives the sky a wary look as it begins to rain. I turn and lean over, and through the back window I see red rays of sunlight spilling through the clouds as we enter God’s private road.
“This is a De Tomaso,” I say, touching the redwood dashboard. “They don’t make the Quattroporte like this anymore.”
“It’s a fucking toilet,” Ray slurs. “I had to get it towed to Costa Mesa last week to have the transmission replaced.”
“We used to jerk off to pictures of cars like this where I grew up. Do I get to drive her to BioProt?”
Ray gives me a you’re-kiddin’-me look. “What’s in it for me?”
“Tell Charlie to deliver to the Chateau,” I say, and his cowboy-angelic smile springs up. “Just this week that Teresa’s in town,” I add, to save face while I try to connect myself with his coke dealer.
“You got it.” Ray hits the clutch hard as we start up the hill toward God’s pergola parking lot. The Maserati complains and spins.
“Watch it!” I shout. Chickens cluck and flap their wings as they scatter. “God has chickens in LA?” I laugh.
“Crazy old bitch.”
We park next to God’s Alfa Romeo. Ray reaches into the glove compartment and takes out a .45 Glock.
“Brother, do you have to carry that everywhere we go?” I ask. “I need to protect kids like you from the cougars in the hills,” Ray says, and steps out of the car. He seems almost Greek, which gives me a blind spot. I can’t see him as dangerous, even when he mixes guns with drugs.
I get out of the car and stretch my arms, transfixed by the nonstop view from downtown LA all the way to Santa Monica and the ocean. I’ve seen rainy sunsets before, but never this apocalyptic: skyscrapers, smog, chickens, sun through the rain—they all blend into an end-of-the-world scene, like in a movie.
I step out from under the pergola, and the rain hits my face. A few feet onto the lawn and I’m surrounded by hundreds of anthills, perfect little cones, getting pounded by water. On my left is God’s house, a glass-walled hangar-like creation projecting hedonism and consent. Its wave-shaped roof cascades to three gentle boulders that touch the glass skin of the house. One of them is split between the terrace and the living room, penetrating the house. The other two flank a curved Noguchi swimming pool.