One Thousand Words on Billy
A series based around the concept, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Exactly one thousand word essay to describe a photo.
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This is a photo of my friend Billy (on the left) and his roommate, (or ex-roommate?). I don’t think I ever caught his name, but he came up to the roof with us and he gave me a banana because I was hungry.
I met Billy when I first moved to LA. I remember the first night we hung out he wore this black turtle neck with a gold chain even though it was pretty warm outside. We ate pad thai and watched season 2 of SpongeBob, after arguing for a bit over which was better, season 1, or season 2?
Our friendship turned into jam sessions at an apartment I was sharing, family dinners with tequila and tacos, hanging out in his studio. If there were ever two guitars lying around I played simple chords while he riffed off almost mindlessly, patterns forming a life of their own. He is obviously a better musician than me but I never felt inadequate. He made me fall in love with Bob Dylan, taught me a Jimi Hendrix riff, and listened to my doubts about life and existence in general with wide eyes and agreement and usually something insightful to say in return, or at least make me laugh about how nothing is real.
I was in Los Angeles for just a week, and texted Billy to come pick me up at the coffee shop slash bookstore in Silverlake. We climbed into his car and passed the aux cord between each other, eager to share new songs and memories and catch up about the past… maybe seven months. We aren’t really the type of friends to call or text each other, but maybe that’s just how I am with everyone. The two times I called Billy in the past seven months was first: to invite him to crash on my couch in New York and second: to ask him if he wanted to get an apartment with me in Berlin.
Billy makes me feel crazy. He stops every block to point out red and blue, convinced we are in the matrix. Throughout the day we take around 30 photos of reds and blues side by side, in street signs, in clothing, in roadways and strip malls. Billy has taken to wearing exclusively red and blue as well. He scrolls through photos saved on his phone. Red, blue, red, blue. Do I see it?
He pulls out a vinyl from the backseat. It’s clear and holographic and trippy, very Billy. If you flip it one way you can look right through, and flip it the other way and it’s a mirror. Of course, red and blue are included. It’s a prototype for his next album.
He takes the aux and plays me a song he says he’s finally proud of, a song he worked on with a producer, a Pisces like me. He laughs as he starts the song, saying Pisces make no sense at first. I ask him what sign he is again, and he says he has transcended astrology. I don’t really know what that means, but the song he plays is a f*cking banger.
Later we scream in the car when a red convertible comes up on our right and a blue sudan comes up on the left during a particularly poignant line in a Bob Dylan song.
I ask him if he’s still in love with her, if he ever really was. He smiles because I’m the only one who would ask him, also because I already knew the answer.
I think what I love about Billy is he has no shame. If he feels something, he commits to it fully in every aspect. I love bouncing conspiracies off of him, turning my favorite “what the fuck is life” songs on full blast. His eyes go wide and he grips the steering wheel in disbelief. Someone else out there thinks the same way he does sometimes, we are all connected and we are all separate. He’s one of the only people I have ever shared my songs with. He helped me rearrange words and played piano over something I thought was nothing.
During the drive we stop at a lake to drink iced tea we bought at the grocery store. We had covered everything from ego death to life as a simulation, so we laid and stared up at clouds as worrisome Westlake moms pushed their babies past us in strollers. We spent a half hour flipping water bottles trying to make them land. For some reason we thought it might prove we are in the matrix.
I took this photo of him when we were up on the roof of his old apartment building. I’m not really sure why he moved out, or why he still has a key, or why literally everyone here knows him. Two sunbathing girls wave up at him, “Hey Billy,” he says hey, holds his hands up to a sunny, seventy degree sky and says, “What a crazy day right?”
We go up the steps and sit on the edge of the building and look down. He points out everyone walking around and says quietly, almost to himself, “nobody ever looks up.”
I watch for a while and he’s right.
Before we leave to get ice cream, he says he has to show me something.
We take the stairwell, a sort of criss crossed wire frame work that is outside of the apartment building. We stop at the last set of stairs and he gets down and lies on them, looking up at the set of stairs directly above us. I don’t question it and lie down too. If you look up at the steps, he explains, it’s hard to tell if they are coming towards you or away from you. It feels like you could flip the world around and walk on these steps instead. He looks at me. Do you see it?
Yeah, I say. I think I do.