Most of the time nostalgia waltzes in of its own accord, like a sizzling waft of the neighbor’s barbecue, but sometimes I get this curious itch to seek out a particular time from my past. I’m not sure “time” is the right word. It’s usually an object, a song, a place or a person, but it brings me back to a particular time and, more importantly, a particular feeling. By no means am I one to dwell in the past, but I think revisiting these feelings is important. It’s easy to surround ourselves with certain situations and get lost in familiar patterns, sometimes losing sight of what got us there along the way. The memories might be painful, joyous, sad or exciting, but they are part of us nonetheless. Accessing those experiences is, I believe, a way to keep ourselves connected to all the different facets of ourselves and deepen our wisdom.
This morning I saw a link on twitter to a celebrity’s favorite old building in Hollywood. Immediately I got a little excited hoping it was the same as my favorite building, the one I resided in for the better half of 2006: the Villa Carlotta. Alas, Moby’s favorite building is the 7th Day Adventist Church, but at this point my synapses had started firing and they weren’t about to stop. A flood of memories came rushing into my brain. The incredibly serendipitous way I got the apartment in the first place (people have been on the waiting list for years to get a spot) and the fact that I leased it from one of the celebrity carpenters on Trading Spaces, so it had all the latest appliances and was pretty nicely furnished. I began to wonder if there are still tiny bb pellets in the cracks of the aging floorboards. I had a birthday party where I was generously gifted my very own bb machine gun. The night started off innocently enough, with tentative and willing victims standing far from their shooter, and getting carefully pelted with equal parts pain and excitement. As the night wore on, however, let’s just say “don’t try this at home kids!”
When I moved in, the previous tenant (a cool young German writer who I became friends with and was working for Michael Bay, I wonder what he’s up to…) warned me about the neighbor below being a grumpy old curmudgeon who complained about stomping and too much noise. So before I had aforementioned birthday party, I slid a little card under his door warning him of the event and letting him know to call me if anything bothered him; basically an advanced apology. Even before the night came, he wrote me a note thanking me for my gesture and encouraging me to enjoy my party. From that experience, I learned that most of the time, grumpy old curmudgeons just want to feel considered and treated like human beings; and for the most part, there’s no such thing as grumpy old curmudgeons, just lonely people who want to feel cared for and considered.
I had heard rumours about the building being haunted, and certainly if there ever was a setting for a classic ghost story flick, this was the perfect place. There were odd noises, flickering lights and the decor likely hasn’t changed since it was built; added to maybe, but never redone. I’ve always felt a little nervous in new places I’ve lived for the first couple nights. I think there’s a natural reaction to unfamiliarity that breeds thoughts like, someone's breaking in my door!?! You need to acclimatize your brain to the noises and ambience so it doesn't trigger your fight or flight. Having said that, during my first few nights at the Villa Carlotta I had some pretty, I don’t know what to call them, “spiritual” experiences? I don’t know if I believe in ghosts or simply the power of the human brain to generate whole body sensory experiences, but I woke up (or at least entered that weird in between waking and sleep state) completely paralyzed. I couldn’t move. I felt petrified, and I became aware of another presence in the room, or what my mind perceived as such. The thoughts I had were in the vein of, “I need to show them I’m not afraid. I need to face this on my own. I need to make peace and they’ll leave me alone.” I immediately vowed not to have any overnight visitors (that lasted a little while) and face these demons on my own. Whether they were my own demons or those haunting the Villa Carlotta, I’ll never know, but it was a really intense experience, and made me ever the more fond of the place.
Another thing that made the building unique was the manager, Tom. He was incredibly friendly, jovial, mostly drunk, and would stop at nothing to give you a hard time (all in the name of humor, of course). I bond well with characters like this, so we hit it off immediately. I also paid my rent on time, so we were in good shape. I had numerous interactions with him during my stay there, but my favorite one was when he called me out of the blue months after I’d moved back to Vancouver. When I saw his number come up, I couldn’t even guess what he’d wanted. For some reason I decided not to pick up, but later I got this rambling message about how I hadn’t paid my rent on time and that he was upset with me and he wasn’t sure what to do, etc. I immediately called the guy I had leased it from, fearing that somehow they didn’t know I moved out and that some big misunderstanding had taken place, but he immediately burst into laughter and said, “He’s just drunk and fucking with you.” I was totally shocked. Not that it’s not completely in line with my sense of humor, but it was so random and out of the blue. I loved Tom a little more after that.
Living at the Villa Carlotta also amounted to many nights spent eating pasta and talking about poetry at La Poubelle, drinking coffee and "working” on my laptop at the Bourgeois Pig, spending whatever savings I didn’t have on used books from Counterpoint, waking up at 7 a.m. to move my car on street cleaning days (or getting tickets, I alternated), getting a constant view of the bustling and mysterious Scientology Celebrity Center, and being part of a small and eclectic scene of young actors, artists, musicians and writers. I used to be at parties with Katy Perry, who was working hard on some demo, I heard she had a good voice. Same goes for others, both previously unknown, still unknown, once known or flat-out famous. It didn’t really matter though, we were all just trying to make sense of our lives. Find meaning in books about philosophy, art and history and try to find a sense of place in a city that seemed to feed off superficiality and satiation. As you can tell, my nostalgia for the time is rich with fond and happy memories and laced with some of my richest moments of existential angst. I treasure all of them, and find it pretty frickin’ cool that I got to be part of a history that lives on not only in my mind, but in all the people and stories that weaved themselves in and out of that building.