Since Lindsay Lohan’s life seems to be playing out like a campy made-for-cable movie these days (She ran over a pedestrian! She’s going to jail! Her family is insane!), it should have made sense that she was tapped to play Elizabeth Taylor on Lifetime.  Who else would they get? Kate Winslet? Instead, when the news broke the Internet lit up with snarky speculation and gleeful derision. Then, months later, the reviews started popping up. Everyone from the Hollywood Reporter to Huffington Post urged us to watch this train wreck of a biopic and cackle until our abs ached. The reviews promised a Mommie Dearest “so bad it’s good” kind of flick. They told us to play drinking games. They said we’d have a great time. They set us up.

I moved back to California around two months ago. What brought me back home after fifteen years? Well, a few things. Personal things. Some things not so personal. In the end, I was feeling a bit tapped out in Vegas. The bones weren’t tumbling like they used to and I was almost at the point where I didn’t give a shit either way.

I weighed my options. Perhaps, a stint in Phoenix? Washington? One thing I knew for sure: I was staying on the West Coast. That’s what I knew. I didn’t care if it was a dinky little town in the green of Oregon or the pale hard concrete of L.A.

I lived on the East Coast. In Charlotte. Right in the middle of the Bible Belt, blatant racism, and heavy unapologetic ignorance. The experience crippled me. Life became less romantic overnight. When I moved back to Vegas a year and a half ago I returned a different person.

“Come to California,” a friend told me over the phone.

Maybe it was the way she said it. Maybe it was because thoughts of quaint rustic coffee shops and rolling foothills filled my head. Maybe it was because of who was saying it. I packed up in the middle of the night and headed for the California state line.

On my way to Sacramento I pulled over at a gas station just outside of Bakersfield. I took out my notebook to jot down some notes and came across some jumbled song lyrics that had a line that said: “So, what’s wrong with California?”

I found the line fitting.

So, what was wrong with California?

The long gold beaches?

The weather?

The culture?

Its politics?

Paris Hilton?

I got into Sacramento in the afternoon, rubbernecking the city from off of I-5. It was a beautiful day, a light blue sky stretched from side to side. Deep-green pine trees lined the freeway. Cars with white license plates that said CALIFORNIA (One reading CBlondie. No shit.) in fancy handwriting passed by me. Sure, it wasn’t home as in Southern California, but it was home nonetheless.

To celebrate, I found a bar and pulled over. It was a dark little thing loaded with neon signs and good beer. A couple was in the corner in conversation. There was a guy sitting at the end of the bar reading Sam Harris’ The End Of Faith.

Nice, I thought. A secular man. A fellow homeboy. I was on the West Coast indeed.

I looked bad. My face was drawn from the 10-hour drive. My clothes were wrinkled. My hair was sticky and dreading up. My baseball cap was on backward. The bartender carded me.

“That’s you?” she asked, raising her plucked eyebrows, looking at my ID and then at me. “Wow, you look real young for your age. Vegas, huh? I love that place. Just got back a few weeks ago. I want to move there.”

“Give her a try,” I said, my mind flashing over the Strip, the little condo in Henderson. ”You can take my place. She’s a good city.”

It’s funny when people want what the other has. What’s an old story to you is new one to someone else. She wanted out of California. I wanted in. She wanted my old city. I decided to let that city go.

I wondered what it was that made her want to move to Vegas. Did she fall for its hot neon lights like so many have before her? – like I did back in ‘95 with some electric guitars and a head full of craziness. Was she captured by the slow silence in the parched desert that surrounds her glow?

Or was it something else? Not so much with Vegas, but with California. Did she hate her boss? Her apartment? Did those quaint rustic coffee shops brew nothing but bitter memory?

So, what’s wrong with California?

The traffic?

Happy Hour?

Hollywood?

A friend took me to “the City” a few weeks back. “The City” is San Francisco to the locals. I haven’t seen San Francisco in years. What a sight. Blue-gray water. Blue sea skies. The skyline, bold and jagged and bursting at the seams.

That night we saw Patton Oswalt in concert at the Masonic Theater on Nob Hill. The crowd was in full force. The comedy crowd. Beanies and Buddy Holly glasses. Tight button shirts and mischievous faces. I’ve been a fan of Oswalt’s for years. Sarcastic. Sharp. Always in a state of shock by what he sees and hears. We busted up. He killed. 

“Thank you very much,” he said, before he left the stage. “Your city kicks fucking ass.”

After the show we walked in a biting wind to find something to eat. After a long haul that took us by some big-cash retailers and dozens of closed Chinese restaurants we found a worn down diner with slow service. While we waited for our food we talked about San Francisco, its kaleidoscope delivery, and watched the blurry show from inside the restaurant.

Artists and business folk walking side by side. Homeless people moving about in smudged footsteps. Taxis squeezing in between cars and bodies. And the wind: Sweeping around stop lights, faces, and gutters.

I thought to myself: I could live here. Forever.

So, what’s wrong with California?

The trees?

The Bees?

The blondes?

Arnold Schwarzenegger?

I found the move to California inspiring. Having somewhat of an idea of who I am, I figured this move would provide me with some new material. And sure enough I knocked out a few poems, took a couple of swipes at some fiction.

But the guitar took over and I started banging out songs. One song. Two songs. One night I woke up in the middle of the night after dreaming of some guy singing to me: “Been ninety days since I’ve seen her Spain.” I stumbled out of bed, grabbed my notebook and scribbled some lyrics, some chords, and passed out right there on the floor.

In the morning I had a skeleton of a song. By the time the day was done the song was done. It’s now a tune called “Bleed.” Five chords. In the key of A.

Hit the road under a sheet of stars/Headlights on in a rolling car/What was up ahead/Could drown her bed

Then more songs came:

Could Be Better.

All I Want.

These Horses.

Walk.

The black in me/How she comes then wants to leave/The girl’s alive/Dressed herself and walked on by/Now she’s sweet as apple pie/If I ate you once, I ate you twice

It’s been a good run and as I write this I know it’s not over. The last couple of days I’ve been walking around humming this tune. I don’t have my guitar with me so I’ll just have to continue walking around humming this melody until I get my guitar in my hands.

It’s in E minor. I know that.

The other day a friend asked me how long I was going to be in California as if it was an experiment of sorts.

(Hell, maybe it is.)

“I don’t know,” I said.

That was the truth. I don’t know. Could be six months. Could be six years. Maybe longer. Maybe not. But what I do know is that I’m here. I’m not in Vegas. Or Washington. Or L.A. Or some dinky little town in the green of Oregon.

But here.

In Northern California.

Or Nor Cal.

Riding down its streets.

Feeling its heat.

Writing songs, sipping coffee.

Eating it’s politics, it’s culture.

Living.

So, what’s wrong with California?

I don’t know.