All you can eat


It ainít cool, but we decide to have one last big meal before the money runs out, picking out the place with the purple awning just off Hollywood Boulevard for our feast.

All you can eat is for squares, people tell us, and yet weíre so hungry weíre willing to be square just to get a square meal.

For months, we passed the sign, saw commercials on TV, and even saw the crowds gathered outside, but we never went in.

ďAll you can eat,Ē is not a place for LAís hipster, but rather the kind of joint tourists go to, rubbing shoulders with senior citizens, soldiers and traveling salesmen.

Most hip people stand on the corner and make rude remarks about the rubes that go in. But weíre desperate Ė and broke, and disregard the warnings other people give us about the place.

All you can eat.

I am so hungry I want to climb up the side of the building and eat the sign.

Louise doesnít care about hip any more if she can feel full.

LA is a hard place to go broke in Ė even though most of the people we know are broke, and those who arenít are busy dying, getting busted or hitting the road for back east.

Going back east scares me as much as dying or getting busted.

But I never thought I would go hungry here in California, the place I dreamed my whole life getting to, always seeing in my mindís eye as something perfect.

Iíve learned, this is a graveyard of dreams, a place of illusion, where it is hip to believe in Charlie Manson, but not in a cheap meal.

I ache so much I want to tear down all the ďFree MansonĒ signs I see, but I would only get busted, or cast out from the hip community to violating some article of faith.

Just as we are as we climb the steps up to the place eat, me feeling the way I did when I first went to church Ė only here we get a fat man smelling of garlic telling us we need to cough up two bucks to get in, and we do, passing under the arched doors into a large cafeteria like place where tables and chairs stand in the place pews once did, and tables overflowing with food stand under the curved roof of the alter.

Some lady in a blue pullover shirt hands us a tray and tells us to move along.

Iím in high school again, feeling like Iím in a herd of cattle, staring at great mounds of crap that only desperation would make me eat.

A small sign at the end tells us drinks cost extra and I dump our last dollar into the vendorís hand and receive two plastic cups half-filled with flat soda we take with our trays to find seats.

I keep looking around for a familiar face, someone else we think as cool, so we donít feel so down and out. But a room filled with unfamiliar faces stares back, most of them dressed like they just came from Hawaii, most of them carrying cameras filled with pictures of every tourist trap along the Boulevard.

Someone takes our picture as if we are exhibits at the wax museum.

We sway as if we took LSD before we came in here, everything is so weird.

Why are we so out of sync with the real world?

Why canít we go to Disneyland and feel good about it?

Why canít we admire movie stars houses, taking the memory home acting like we accomplished something important by knowing where Clark Gabel lived?

Like LA itself, the food tastes phony even as it fills us up.

This place, this city, this life we live, loaded with calories but no content.

Suddenly Iím not hungry any more Ė even though I still ache.

I need to get out into the open air, suck in some smog, and lean against a wall pretending Iím still hip.

I want to get out of this city, this world, this hip life and find some place where people arenít dying, being busted or eating all you can eat crap in some old church.

I keep thinking all you eat really isnít all you can eat, itís just a different kind of starvation.




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