#96: David Bowie – Hunky Dory (1971)

Throughout 2022 I’ll be counting down my 100 favorite albums, because why not. I’m up to number ninety-six.

2003. March, the fifth month of winter in New York. Seven months before my birthday. I cannot turn 40 in my 200 square foot apartment (far below the acceptable ratio of 15 square feet per years on earth).

The phone rang. It was a business associate at a record label on the west coast.

“What would it take for you to move to Los Angeles?” His company was looking for someone to head up Licensing and Contract Administration.

L.A.? Vomit. What would it take for me to move there? A lot. I threw out a salary that was 60% more than I was presently making. I knew that would kill it, but at least I can tell myself that I considered the opportunity.

Two days later he called me back. “Your salary is approved.” It was? I should have asked for 70% more. Still, it looks like I’m moving to L.A. “You’ll love it here. You can’t beat the weather, and it’s more laid back than New York.”

While I looked for a place to live, the company put me up in corporate housing, a place called The Oakwoods, where everybody who’s nobody trying to be somebody stays when they first come to L.A. I recalled an interview with my New York City neighbor Rufus Wainwright where he mentioned he stayed there. Is that where he wrote his lyric “life is the longest death in California?” I don’t know, but even though I’ll miss New York, I’m excited to begin a new life in a new place with a new salary.

I looked up The Oakwoods on-line. They have a swimming pool, tennis courts, an exercise room, a convenience store, a hair salon, dry cleaners, a car rental agency, and free cable television! With HBO! It’ll be like living at Helmsley Palace for free!

I arrived in Los Angeles on the last Saturday in May 2003. The taxi from LAX dropped me off at The Oakwoods. Suitcase by my side, I approached the check-in desk. A cheerful twenty-something woman wearing colors not found in a Manhattanite’s closet, i.e. colors, i.e. not black, greeted me and pulled my file.

“You’re from New York?,” she asked. “You’ll love it here. You can’t beat the weather, and it’s much more relaxed.” What is the preoccupation with being relaxed? They need to chill with that.

She gave me the key to my temporary home along with a map of the grounds and a list of local restaurants (Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Ribs USA, Pizzeria Numero Uno, Weinerschnitzel).

This resort did not have a bellhop, so I lugged my suitcase to my new apartment. It’s huge! It must be at least 600 square feet! There is a dining room table that seats six, a kitchen that can fit two people AT THE SAME TIME, a living room with a desk and a coffee table and a couch and two recliners, as well as a bedroom. Get this – in the bedroom was a bed! The only furniture I had in New York was a mattress on the floor and a folding tray table. I left my suitcase and walked the grounds. I said hi to strangers I passed, as I heard people outside NYC do that. I saw lots of palm trees. People think Manhattan doesn’t have trees, but we had one down the street from my apartment on 16th Street.

Needing a nap after a long day of traveling and exploring my new environs, I returned to my apartment and took advantage of my new couch, the first couch of my adult life. Sofa so good!

I awoke at 10 PM, my usual dinner time. Too groggy to drive around, I decided to find something to heat up at the convenience store. When I got there it was closed. Inconvenient. I called the restaurants on the list the lady wearing colors gave me, but all closed at 9 or 9:30. I settled for eating the other half of the turkey sandwich I bought at the airport.

At 11 PM, upon finishing my sandwich in the dining area, I walked into the other room (I love being able to say that) to go to bed. Finally, for the first time in my adult life, outside of a hotel, I’m going to sleep in something that isn’t merely a mattress on the floor. Could it be any bedder?

I was a second away from greeting Mr. Sandman when I was jolted by the sound of screaming from the hallway. “WHY ARE YOU SO LATE? WHERE WERE YOU?” I got up, put on a robe, and opened my door to learn that the screaming came from behind the closed doors of the apartment directly across the hall.

“YOU WERE WITH THAT WHORE AGAIN! SHE’S GOING TO GIVE YOU THE CLAP!” She raged on for another 40 minutes, and while I did need my sleep, I was enjoying this one-sided argument. I think what really made it for me was the reference to “the clap.” Learn from this, Hollywood.

Once my neighbor ceased her shouting about that whore, it was so quiet. In New York, one got onto their mattress and heard sirens and cars honking and construction on the street, lulling one to sleep. How does one fall asleep without the white noise of a real city? The stillness was unsettling, but eventually I drifted off.

My peaceful sleep was interrupted shortly after 6 AM by a very bright light in my eyes. It wasn’t burglars shining their flashlights in my eyes while deciding if I was worthy of dismemberment before they steal from my home things that aren’t mine. (Why would you think that? Are you from New York, too?) Rather, it was the damned sun everybody here is so crazy about. It shone through the crepe-paper blinds into my eyes. I rolled over. The sunshine reflected off the mirrored closet doors into my eyes. (By the way, when I got to looking for my permanent L.A. home, I observed that every closet door in every apartment I saw was mirrored. That’s how vain people are here. All these mirrors and they still go out wearing lots of bright colors.) The light from the sun was accompanied by the most horrific sound coming from just outside my window. It was an incessant, excruciating, high-pitched chirping. It was birds. You know what birds sound like? They sounded like birds, like in the movie Snow White. We had birds in Manhattan, but they didn’t chirp or tweet or peep or trill or warble or chitter or chatter. The worst they would do is give you the finger.

Seeing as I was awake and it’s sunny out, I checked out The Oakwoods’ pool. It was crowded with my fellow transients. I found an empty chaise lounge and observed my new neighbors.

A heavyset woman wearing a Garth Brooks t-shirt over her bathing suit was yelling “Use your hips more. Move slowly. Pout! Not a sad pout. A kissy pout. Try it again!” Listening to her mother, the six-year-old with the blond curly hair strutted around the pool. Mom interrupted the catwalk. “Come here! Let me re-apply your lipstick.”

Sitting on the edge of the pool were three guys engaging in a game of “Who Fuckin’ Rocks.” “They fuckin’ rocked the House of Blues last night!”, said the guy with the ponytail and the tattoo on his chest of Lynyrd Skynyrd (all twenty-two members of each incarnation of the band).

“My band played there in the spring. We fuckin’ killed the audience. They fuckin’ loved us,” replied his friend with the mutton chops.

“You’re fuckin’ shittin’ us dude. You never played the fuckin’ House of Blues on Sunset,” protested the Skynyrd fan.

“Oh, not the one on Sunset, dude. That one fuckin’ sucks. We played the fuckin’ House of Blues in – what the fuck’s the name of that fuckin’ city?”

“Fuck, it’s, um, fuck. Fuck fuck fucky fucky fuck fuck and fuck.”

“Hey – watch your language! I have a child here,” yelled the lady teaching her daughter how to be more appealing to pedophiles.

On the lounge chair to my left a skinny young woman was laying on her stomach, reading a script. She lifted her head and said to nobody in particular “Drop the gun!” She paused a few seconds. “Drop the gun!” She said it a few more times, sometimes accenting the word drop, sometimes gun. I had a good feeling that before the day was over she’d have that line memorized. She rolled onto her back, pulled a cigarette out of her purse and lit up. I thought smoking was illegal in Los Angeles. I turned my head the other way and noticed a cute guy on the chair to my right. Our eyes met.

“Hey. How’s it going?,” he asked. Look at Glenn, meeting a cute guy on his first full day in L.A.

“I’m doing alright,” I replied. “I just moved her yesterday from Manhattan.”

“New York? You must love it here – relaxing in the sun.”

“It’s June – the sun is out in New York now, so I would be doing the same thing if I were there.” Look at Glenn, engaging in conversation with a cute guy.

“You had a pool?”

“No, but we had the beach.”

“There’s a beach in Manhattan?”

“No. It’s in Long Island. You walk to the subway station, then take the subway to Penn Station. From Penn Station you take the railroad to Queens, where you switch trains. Then you get off the train in Long Island and hop on a shuttle bus and twenty minutes later, you’re at the beach.” Look at Glenn, making sexy talk about public transportation. “Where are you from?”

“North Dakota. I moved here to pursue acting.”

“You certainly have movie star looks.” Look at Glenn; he got game.

He smiled his Pepsodent smile. “Thanks!”

“How does this compare to North Dakota?”

“I love it, but my girlfriend blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah girlfriend blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.”

Look at Glenn, remaining single.

After a couple of hours tanning I headed back to my apartment, stopping by the convenience store to pick up some bottled water. The wall behind the checkout counter was lined with photos of who I assume are former or current denizens of The Oakwoods, future superstars such as Mary Ellen Bethany, Elizabeth Covington-Fordham, and an aspiring pop star who, like Madonna and Prince and Beck, went by one name – Kevin. It blew my mind to think that I may have been at the pool lounging near the next Kevin.

Come lunchtime I got into my white Ford Focus rental car and found a diner-esque restaurant just a few blocks away. I ordered a tuna sandwich. A few minutes after she brought it to me, the waitress stopped by my table. “How is everything? Can I get you anything else?” I found that in L.A. they do this in EVERY SINGLE RESTAURANT. It always threw me, as in New York, the waitperson takes your order and you never see or hear from that person again until it’s time for the check. How should I even answer the question “How is everything?” I’m by myself, eating a tuna sandwich in a nondescript restaurant in a strange city with strange customs. Everything is hunky dory.

Come dinnertime, newly adjusted to 7 PM, I stopped by Pizzeria Numero Uno and had an individual size pie of what the people here call “pizza.” It made me nostalgic for New York, where cheese and sauce and dough and oregano blended together to form an entirely different food, one that can be eaten and enjoyed. You know how the movie Titanic was loosely based on the actual events of that ship hitting an iceberg? What I ate that evening was loosely based on pizza. It wasn’t a shipwreck, but it wasn’t a happy food, either. It was missing something. It tasted empty, lost. I ate it, though it as far from what I wanted.

When I got back to The Oakwoods there were no parking spots near my building, so I had to park further up the hill. I saw a couple of white dogs outside unleashed. Their owners were nowhere in sight. Wait! Those aren’t dogs. They’re coyotes! Fuck fuck fucky fucky fuck fuck and fuck. I wouldn’t get out of the car until they left, an arrangement I failed to run by them first. Minutes passed, and I lowered the seat back so I could sleep there as comfortably as possible. After twenty some-odd minutes of the coyotes and mine standstill, I saw a car near the entrance of my building pull out, so I drove to that spot and ran inside, locking my apartment door behind me, just in case the coyotes followed me and knew how to turn doorknobs. Anything can happen in L.A.

My first weekend as a resident of Los Angeles was coming to an end. I felt out of sorts, but knew that’d change the next day, for that Monday was my first day of work at my cushy new job. I was excited about the new job. I was excited to meet my new co-workers. I was excited about the challenges of the position. I was excited to start house hunting. Though this weekend had some rough patches, I was optimistic about what lies ahead. I looked forward to getting a good night’s sleep in my real bed in my spacious apartment, behind closed doors, safe from coyotes. I was at peace.


Fuck fuck fucky fucky fuck fuck and fuck.

I reminded myself this home was temporary. It was a time of change for me, becoming the music executive I wanted to be. It’s a similar realization to the one David Bowie comes to in the first verse of “Changes,” the classic opening track to his Hunky Dory album. As a native New Yorker, adjusting to life in L.A. meant dealing with a lot of ch-ch-ch-changes, and to survive, I had to turn and face the strange. I also related to Hunky Dory’s “Life on Mars?,” where in a young girl is bored by her life and tries to escape through art, and finds herself disappointed that the movie scenes are not reality. Hollywood is nothing like Hollywood. Nineteen years later I’m still trying to figure out this city and why they can’t make a decent pizza. However, I have no intention of leaving. It’s more laid back than New York, and you can’t beat the weather. My other favorite cuts on Hunky Dory are “Kooks” and “Oh! You Pretty Things.” It was a landmark album for David Bowie, and it’s my 96th favorite album of all-time. There is more Bowie to come on this list.

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