Scrambled Eves: Boredom and vodka in Eve Babitz’s tableau vivant of glamorous and boozy ’60s Los Angeles

Eve Babitz makes scrambled eggs alone, ostensibly preparing for a night in at home, in one scene; another day, she takes a bite of scrambled eggs in a restaurant booth with a musician friend as part of a “sinless breakfast” along with bloody marys, after a round or two of Scotch in her friend’s home. The mundanity of these images from Babitz’s drink- and drug- and love-laden biographical fiction “Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A.,” originally published in 1974 and reissued in 2015, has seared in my memory.

Babitz, as the book’s narrator, an artist in her late 20s and early 30s in 1960s Los Angeles, offers Technicolor observations of the city’s sunset glow and its heaving dryness to decorate other details a reader can cling and relate to: an arts scene, a creative community of sorts whose fruits and delights are elided to make room for gossip, like who’s sleeping with whom; for pondering the inner lives of the rich and powerful; and for lazing and lamenting how much was drunk the previous night, and why.

Babitz writes a universe that’s so suffused with sex and romance and all their permutations among her people that everything seems attainable, and basically everyone is a big ol’ flirt, including God, and you can make him send you something—or someone—nice, depending on your little ol’ actions down below. Scrambled eggs, an easy, innocuous, no-commitment effort, are like a burnt offering to God: “So, if you want to get invited to something not quite dinner, you could make scrambled eggs with no bread on the side but melted cheese in the scrambled eggs or something, to show God that you are serious about staying home and being virtuous,” Babitz advises in the story ‘Dodger Stadium.’ “His interest is then piqued as He seeks to devise an appropriate temptation for you to succumb to.” An occasional lover, an older married man in town from New York, calls her up and invites her to a baseball game (of all things) just as she finishes her “last delicious fluffy bite.”

But mostly she’s being clever, which she is throughout the book, full of funny logic, rules, and self-made mythologies. In the story ‘Sirocco,’ Babitz spends a few pages meditating on having given up a traditional love life—that is, an illusion of stability through monogamous marriage and children, or something—and then later gets into a threesome, which doesn’t exactly go the way she wants it to. But first she describes how she only hangs with three groups of people: lovers, “just friends” (men who are not lovers), and women friends, who seem far better than the first two because, as she quotes her agent Erica, “You know that when you have dinner with a girlfriend, you’re going to come home a whole human being.” Nothing is actually perfect; even the loveliest lovers wear on you.

And that boundary-breaking threesome (featuring one of her dear, previously-“just friends”-William) was the result of “passion from boredom and vodka,” but also the sirocco, or the Santa Ana winds. “Just think, if we didn’t have the Santa Anas, how straight we all would be,” she observes. And in a way, the morning after, the Santa Ana really pulled her away from William and Day, a woman she desired more than she did William, and flung her into the arms of another just-friend and later-on-in-another-story-lover, Shawn, who comforts her with this short lesson: “Sometimes if you can’t get what you want, you get what the person you want wants.” Shawn is, of course, heartsick for the man who left him in Charleston, which drove him to L.A., and it all grows more web-like from there.

There are all levels of drunkenness apparent in each story in “Slow Days” that range from purely exuberant to blithe and bored to miserable to angry, culminating in the final bender of ‘The Garden of Allah,’ where Babitz gets utterly hammered with two women (one of whom doses her with LSD), Mary and Gabrielle, whom she had spent the earlier portion of the story describing in alternating tones of admiration and fear.

Among those drunk-levels there is also a kind of lovelorn drunk person who at some point of the night, fully sloshed, spills it all. I mean, maybe she spills her drink or has to vomit some “gorgeous waterfall of yellow” (as Babitz describes Mary’s) but also, more so, she seems intent to unspool certain details of her private life. I have been her, perhaps you have too, and that figure is built into the whole conceit of “Slow Days.” Trying to reach some lover, “since it’s impossible to get this one I’m in love with to read anything unless it’s about or to him,” Babitz prefaces many of the stories with italic notes to him, almost like a “wish you were here” scrawled on a souvenir postcard. At some point along the way you forget that the italics are asides to someone who apparently wasn’t paying her enough attention—it is simply how things go sometimes, and her world didn’t stop moving for him or anything like that.

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