I’m eighteen and it’s summertime in Los Angeles. Valerie Koskovich borrowed her dad’s 2008 champagne-colored Lexus to pick me up from my parent’s midcentury ranch on National and Overland every day for most of July and August. We take the 10 east to Fairfax and spend days going up and down Wilshire, exploring every part of K-Town and Hollywood and downtown where she shows me the corner of Seventh and Spring. Hot Hot Heat filmed their video for “Goodnight Goodnight” in stop-animation in front of the classic turn-of-the-century facade but now it’s a CVS.
She has jeans in every color and her legs look like Crayola crayons. I dress almost exclusively in tiny cotton high-waisted skirts and high-heeled espadrilles like a slutty Zooey Deschanel. We take pictures at the brand-new Urban Light exhibit and drive by the Scientology Center so Valerie can flip it off.
On the way home we pass Macarthur Park. I remember something my dad told me as a kid.
“You know, they drained that lake in the 80s or something and found a bunch of bodies?”
“That’s what my dad said.”
“I don’t think that really happened, Henry.” She’s the only person to call me Henry.
We listen to “In this City” by Igloo & Hartly on the way home. We probably had Tito’s for dinner.
I’m 23 and I’m driving my not-quite boyfriend back to his apartment downtown. I’ve borrowed my mother’s 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee because the windows and A/C on my car broke while I was spending all my money in Italy and it is essentially now a giant steerable oven that I can’t afford to fix. She has an Ireland bumpersticker outlined with swirling knotwork that every single guy I have ever dated likes to remark on.
“Oh, you’re Irish?”
“Very,” I always answer, holding out my printer-paper white forearms.
He says I can stay the night since it’s already late and I don’t know how to explain that, while I am an adult, I am still the adult daughter of an Irish Catholic immigrant who would die of shame and a broken heart to find out her firstborn was sleeping in boy’s lofts before marriage- or facebook relationship status changes, whichever came first. Also I have a thing about peeing in strange men’s apartments because when I was 19 my boyfriend at the time would stand outside the bathroom and say things like, “Are you peeing? I love you!” So I do the thing that all honest, mature adults do and change the subject.
“I have a spare room I use for Air BnB, you can stay there if you want, we don’t have to-”
“It’s not that, it’s uh-”
I’m driving down Wilshire.
“Oh, did you know they drained that lake to clean it once and found a bunch of dead bodies in there?”
“Like gang executions that they’d dump in the lake.”
“Wouldn’t the bodies float?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never murdered anyone.”
“I don’t think that really happened.”
“My dad said it did. He grew up in Canoga Park.”
“I think your dad made that story up.”
My dad has a long, illustrious history of lying to his children for the sake of a joke. If our family had a crest it would be a bear in a fisherman sweater exaggerating a story to make it funnier. If we made a movie about our family he’d be a Wes Anderson patriarch played by Bill Murray. We are a family of very funny, thick-skinned people who are a lot of fun at parties and we always visit the gift store if where ever we happen to be has one.
My father has carefully curated our pop culture consumption, supplementing it with strange facts and references that, as a writer, I am very thankful for. But every so often he’d slip in a lie so most of my obscure knowledge has the same quality as a fever dream- Did I actually order Thai food or did I fall back asleep mid-Yelp and dream it? How much early California history do I actually know and how much of it did my dad just make up? Are any of those conquistador names real? Is my order of Moo Yang skewers and sticky rice just late or nonexistent?
- People used to be six inches tall. That’s why the Natural History Museum has those tiny dioramas.
- Coconuts are actually cow eggs.
- My dad is a former Russian spy sleeper agent.
- Knives can’t be taken out of their sheaths and put back in unless there’s fresh blood on it.
- “Huevos rancheros, amigos!” is an actual Spanish-language greeting.
- The Cabazon Dinosaurs walk across Highway 111 at night.
But I always thought I had been unique amongst my siblings for never having fallen for any of the fake facts. I was always able to tell when he was joking. Everyone else always fell for them, but not me!
Except that they never found a bunch of bodies in Macarthur Park.
And I’ve been telling people for years that they found bodies in Macarthur Park.
…I owe my sister an apology.