Life in Santa Monica could not be more different from my life in Beverly Hills.
One day, a couple of months back, I was looking in shop windows, fantasising about what I might be able to afford if ever I won three lotteries in a row; the next, I was on Santa Monica pier, wondering whether to waste my money having my name engraved on a grain of rice.
The carbohydrate name engraving is one of the highlights of the pier, although I have never seen anyone queuing up to have it done. As my name is Jacqueline Margaret Stephen, I want to put the promise of the billboard to the test, just for the hell of it, but 25 letters on one grain? Even if it’s an extra length grain of Basmati, I’m just not optimistic.
Watching the sun go down at the end of the pier, however, is one of the joys of living closer to the beach; in Beverly Hills, the only thing that makes your jaw drop at close of day is your bar bill after just two glasses of wine. But every day in SM, there is breathtaking beauty.
The Pacific boasts one of the most moving, exquisite sunsets in the world, and while there is always sadness when the orange disc quickly disappears at the sea’s horizon (as quickly as my cash used to do in Beverly Hills), there is pleasure in the knowledge that it will rise again, equally wonderfully, in just a few hours.
It’s a metaphor I need at the moment.
I’ve always loved seaside towns, and fairgrounds in particular. There are only a couple of rides on SM pier (and not very spectacular ones, at that), but the place still resurrects the childhood memories I have of going to Barry Island or Porthcawl in South Wales: the excitement of rotating lights on the Big Wheel, the pink crinolines of candy floss, the smell of salt, and the sound of the incoming tide as the excitement of the day turned to a slight chill and the promise of a warm bed to come.
My new best friend on the pier is Zoltar, a very strange character in a turban, who sits in a glass case, beckoning you from afar.
“YOU THERE!” he calls, a little too loudly and personally for my liking. Upon approaching the glass, his cold blue eyes spin a little wildly, and he invites you to find out what the future holds.
I have paid a dollar twice to get Zoltar’s advice, hoping that he would tell me that my current stresses could all be solved without my having to resort to buying dolls and sticking pins in bodily parts that will make mincemeat of my real life enemies.
His first piece of advice was that I needed to get up earlier in the morning. On the day of this revelation, I had been up since 3.30am, working, so the only way I am going to get up any earlier is if I just don’t go to bed at all. Zoltar foresaw “a turn of events that will give you a great deal of happiness”, so maybe that lottery win is in the offing after all.
On my second visit to Zoltar, he declared that I had recently had to balance work and friends. He had this to say: “Better a person of humble standing who works for himself than one who plays the great person but lacks food on the table.”
As I am having trouble paying for any food on the table at all at the moment, yet still working for myself and trying to be humble, I think his philosophy has gone a bit awry. Humility hasn’t put a bean in my mouth. So stuff humility and stuff that McDonald’s down my throat.
There was a lot of other talk about branches and trees, but Zoltar is no Socrates, believe me. So, I’ve been taking solace, instead, from “Creating True Peace” by the Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. He’s rather good, and when you learn to pity people rather than feel anger towards them, his philosophy really works. Then I see another doll and a pin-cushion and I just have to buy it.
I’m also seeing a wider variety of people on the bus to the beach. This week, a creature (I have no idea if it was man, woman or alien) got on the 704 bus from SM, covered head to toe in flowing garments and wearing a headband and dark sunglasses. He/she/it proceeded to put a newspaper on a seat, before deciding that It wanted the Chinese man’s seat opposite; so It usurped the poor man, who willingly gave it up, not wanting to argue with the bizarre spectre.
All very strange. Naturally, as It was carrying a small bag, I was convinced that we were all about to be blown up, but luckily the creature alighted at SM/Wilshire, to wreak whatever hell It was planning on people who could afford to clean up afterwards.
Despite warnings about SM not being as safe as Beverly Hills, I still haven’t been approached once by the kind of weirdos who used to confront me on a regular basis in the supposedly more upmarket area. On Tuesday, shortly after midnight, the publicist Ronni Chasen was also gunned down in her car in Beverly Hills, as she returned from the premiere of Burlesque, so it just goes to show: you never can tell.
But for a dollar’s ride on the Big Blue Bus and a $9 frozen margarita, there are times when you just have to sit and take in the wonder that is nature, and these are moments to realise that the dickwits in your life are no force for the glorious otherness of the sublime.
Who knows how long we’ll have any of it.
That’s something not even Zoltar will be able to predict.