According to my MapQuest map, Maryanne's apartment was only a block off Santa Monica Boulevard, not far from the Jack In The Box.
Santa Monica Boulevard was lousy with lumbering buses--buses which I would come to know intimately soon enough--and a fleet of sports cars with their tops down being driven by beautiful women wearing sunglasses that made them resemble prehistoric bugs. But a mere half block off of Santa Monica Boulevard, things abruptly got far more peaceful. Birds were chirping. I could smell the salt in the air blowing in from the Pacific. After the millions of terrible things I'd heard New York people say about L.A., it didn't seem too bad so far.
All the buildings on Maryanne's street looked modern and clean. They weren't old and crumbling with huge banks of garbage cans crawling with rats out front like they were in Brooklyn. In fact, I didn't see any trash at all. Where did California people put their trash? New York people put their trash out front, as if they were proud of it, as if they were saying, "Fuck you, here's my trash."
Maryanne's building was a humble, sand-colored structure with a large, clean glass door and not one bit of trash out front. Per her instructions, I peered into the planter next to the building's entryway. It's the second ficus tree in the concrete planter from the left, she had said on the phone. As nonchalantly as possible, I began to dig through the cedar chips at the base of ficus, not wanting to draw attention to myself.
I dug a path with my bare hands around the base of the ficus. I dug casually at first, and then with an increased amount of urgency, as my digging turned up no balls of tinfoil. I double checked the building's address. (I was at the right address.) I re-counted the ficus trees. (I was digging beneath the second ficus from the left.)
"It's not here," a voice said. I recognized the voice. It was my father, only as usual, he sounded like he was using one of those voice-changing things to make him sound like Darth Vader. "You went to New York, and you made a fool of yourself, working that terrible, shit job and running up loads of debt," the voice said. "And now you're here, looking for a key left for you by a total stranger that's supposedly buried beneath a tree. All in the name of doing what? So you can go to a videogame convention. Look at yourself. You've got your hands buried in the dirt on a strange street in a strange city, looking for something that simply isn't there. Do yourself a favor and go home before you permanently erode the last shred of dignity from the Skywalker family name."
My dad, to put it mildly, hasn't always been supportive of my life decisions.
As much as I try to ignore The Voice, it still has power. Just as the voice began to work its strange voodoo on me, just as I began to feel sick to my stomach with doubt and anxiety, I found it.
I fucking found it.
The ball of tinfoil was there, exactly as Maryanne had promised. I unfolded it quickly, feverishly, peeling back the layers, until--voila--a pair of keys fell out. I wiped my hands on my pants, brushing off the dirt, then picked up the set of keys off the sidewalk. I inserted Key One into the lock on the glass door and turned. It opened. I dragged my crummy suitcase inside.
"Fuck you, Voice," I said, wheeling my suitcase into the elevator. "Eat my ass, Voice."
I knew that this wasn't the last time The Voice and I would battle. But in this particular moment, I was right and The Voice was wrong. And that felt really fucking good.
Maryanne's apartment was located on the third floor of the building. It was clean and neat and very adult, with photographs on the wall, a few pieces of semi-tasteful art, and a glass dining room table that appeared to be slightly too big for the apartment. A water cooler stood in the center of the kitchen. I'd never seen a water cooler in a private home before. (Yes, I had led a sheltered life up to this point.) To have one in your apartment seemed terribly indulgent to me. I found a glass in the cupboard, and filled it up, watching the air bubbles rise to the surface inside the cooler.
Man, I don't think I've ever enjoyed a glass of water as much as I enjoyed that glass of water.
I found the spare bedroom where I'd be staying. An extremely large piece of exercise equipment that appeared to not have been used in long time occupied the bulk of the room's square footage. A bathroom with a shower was across the hall.
I thought, I will be OK here. I thought, I am safe now.
As I mentioned earlier, Maryanne is the mother-in-law of one of my classmates from graduate school. I knew that this very spare room where I was staying was where my friend and his wife slept when they visited Maryanne. Thinking about my friend and his wife using this same exact bed made the place feel much less foreign to me.
The show floor opened at 10 a.m. the next morning. According to my MapQuest map, the L.A. Convention Center was an incredibly long way from Santa Monica--probably at least several hundred dollars by cab. I had to figure out some other, much more cost-effective way to get there.
I switched off the light and tried to get some sleep.