The Pool in the Middle of the Hill by David Lott

Troy used to show up regularly in my dreams. Now he only makes select appearances like a character written out of a long-running series who’s still important to a small, charming subplot involving a lead. When I see him, I feel anxiously happy but also resentful. I corner him and ask where he’s been; he comes up with a fairly frivolous excuse to explain his 8-year, 10-year now 15-year absence. “I was traveling,” he said in a recent dream, his voice unfamiliar from across the room, still dressed in the colorful KISS “Destroyer” tee and angular, black Comme des Garçons pants he was wearing back then, his thick, dark-blue-black-dyed hair perfectly gelled in place, not aged a day. As the dreams occur less often, he avoids the question and keeps his distance. Many times, his back is turned and I can’t get a good look at his face, then he disappears altogether, leaving me searching down empty hallways for him in a post-and-beam in the hills overlooking the glimmering lights of high-rises in Century City and Beverly Hills before the architecture suddenly folds into forms of cubist madness until I wake up in distress needing an acid-reducer and a lorazepam.

I’ve sat up in bed many times after that dream and remembered the numbness that came after I got the call when I knew what had happened to him without being told.

The dreams that never come are the ones surrounding the routines, the joyful things the ones I still cling to: the days at the listening stations at Tower Records in our former “Strip” neighborhood, the lazy evenings in the red leather booths at Hamburger Hamlet, the hikes we did again and again untethered from electronics and phones not even capable of leaving photographic evidence two friends spending time outside rent-control apartments in West Hollywood a hair north of the Whisky a Go Go. My memories of those times now seem to focus on the places they occurred those about Troy, himself, turn more pitted and slight with each year lost.

But sometimes I close my eyes and remember one place well, high up in the Doheny Estates area of the West Hollywood Hills. Well, that’s what we called them. Realtors call them the “Bird Streets” that frame Beverly Hills and spread north from Sunset. Troy and I would go hiking up there from our apartments just buildings above the chaos of the Strip a few days a week. It was really more “street hiking” past residential architecture and stylized greenery, but it was just us, the cars zipping down sidewalkless streets and feeling a sense of exclusivity around places we could never fathom to afford.

Just a couple years after we stopped hiking, he was gone, and I haven’t been able to take myself back there since; I don’t know if I could. I haven’t written about him hardly dealt with his death. Time has managed to pave over many of the potholes of regret and shame that followed the overdose. Well, some of them. Sure, there were happy times before things went sour as he was drawn into drugs and behavior I didn’t recognize. And now, due to time, lack of ephemera, pictures taken and contact with people we used to know, back when stuff was in our heads and we passed along stories in “old,” analog ways well, I’m losing him, again.


Getting past Sunset’s crowded club scene and stained sidewalks darkened with decades of flattened, forgotten gum and cigarette ashings west of the former metal hangs The Roxy and The Rainbow was easy at a brisk pace, regardless of the season. (We might’ve felt a bit foolish walking past club kids in our workout shorts and the latest fluorescent Nike gels, though. We listened to indie music, too.) Once you made a right at decades-old Gil Turner’s Spirits neon sign, and began the 1.5-mile ascent straight up Doheny Drive, things got remarkably more difficult. Without some previous conditioning, you weren’t going to make it near the top. Troy and I had hiked this too many times. We walked fast, carried water and energy bars. We weren’t going to wait for you and your wheezing. We hardly ever brought guests. They slowed us down.

As the roads twisted and narrowed and Range Rovers and large, gas-guzzling, black SUVs pushed dangerously against the driveways, you still had to admire all the attention to detail: the specialty trees, flowers, the shapes, proportions, creativity. The homes (and their “starchitects”) out of the reach of most price ranges, especially as you climbed higher, really put on a good show. Of course, in the mid-to-late ’90s, houses were a bit more affordable. But millions were still millions.

A number of Mediterranean, Spanish Revival and modernist houses later, the road curved to the right and the “Doheny Estates” tan brick sign with the black lettering announced arrival to the area. With the Internet now, I realize how exclusive it is/was; back then, we just knew it was ritzy. We also knew how steep the hills were just getting to it. One of the last rises past a long row of perfectly molded conifers protecting the tall, terraced hill led up to a slightly flattened plain to provide a brief resting area before the final push to the top. We’d drive our strained calves upward, encouraging each other with subtle jibes followed by a long smile, usually from Troy, who was always out ahead. I forgot to mention: Troy was about 6’2, lean and muscular, good-looking, with what I could only call the sculpted features of a former Euro runway model. That’s because he was a Euro runway model in the ’80s. I remember him now in terms of archetypes, not entirely specifics, as I haven’t seen a picture of him in years. As faded memory serves, he was half French Canadian. Me, I’m from less vigorous and shorter stock: Eastern European and Russian Jewish immigrants who settled in the Midwest at the turn of the century my parents stole us away and moved to Southern California in ’83. So, many allergies and headaches, but I do what I can.

Troy was about 6’2, lean and muscular, good-looking, with what I could only call the sculpted features of a former Euro runway model. That’s because he was a Euro runway model in the ’80s.

The first time we saw Raymon, we were gasping for air, holding our cramping thighs and legs with our heads down. He looked at us across from the driveway he was standing on, laughing. “You guys do this for fun?” he asked. Raymon was Latin, a bit of an imposing figure with dark hair and olive skin, about 6 feet tall, and appeared to be in a uniform of some kind: khakis, a button-up shirt, a dark jacket long across the pockets and steel-toed boots. He had a Rottweiler seated on a tight leash, panting by his side. He noticed our apprehensiveness immediately and waved off the dog, “It’s OK, he’s cool. I’ve got him.” Troy, who people normally warmed to right away good looks, piercing blue eyes and all exuded the kind of confidence people who grew up wealthy have. That’s because he grew up in Denver and the show “Dynasty” reflected a lot of his friends’ families and his experiences, oil magnates and all, from what I remember him telling me. “The view up here is amazing,” he said to Raymon, looking out past the guardrail to the buildings of Century City straight ahead, Beverly Hills to the west, pronounced even on a smoggy day. “But that hill is a killer.” We were still breathing heavily and sweating. Raymon laughed again. “It’s like you’re on top of the world up here, right?” said Raymon. “I see it all day.” He pointed to the five-story, flat-stucco-and-stone modern home surrounded by more conifers and bushes that he was standing below: “I’m the security guard for this important guy. I’m here a lot.” That’s when we looked to the left of Raymon and saw a long Mercedes limousine extending from the closed garage door to the street. Seems like an important guy to me, I remember thinking.

Further hikes up that steep hill past the conifers that led us to Raymon revealed more info over time. He began to warm to us as we looked at the view together. Troy had a knack for engaging people in conversation. He was gifted that way, and I learned a lot over the years from him and others with that sense of charm. Raymon was still protective of his employer, the house, so things would trickle slowly, like water in the concrete-banked L.A. River after a rather devastating misting rainstorm. Yes, we don’t have much weather, the point I’m making. We began to learn that the man who lived there was an ambassador from a foreign country, and that the country most likely Jordan paid for the house. At least, that’s what he told us. The ambassador was always traveling, so Raymon guarded the home from the late afternoons to the evenings from the driveway and around the exterior of the property. He wasn’t allowed inside. He seemed a bit upset about that last point, especially as the summer months turned to fall and the temps dropped in the evenings. Raymon didn’t like the cold and made a habit of bringing that up.

We started bringing Raymon energy bars and coffee in a thermos to keep him warm. He seemed to appreciate that. He began to trust us more and share secrets. We found out he wasn’t paid what he thought he should be and he wasn’t treated very well. Raymon soon began leaving the Rottweiler who was actually a bit antagonistic on the side yard when we came by, as we had been chased by dogs who had escaped other people’s yards and one wounded coyote in the past and were somewhat traumatized. (Troy taught me how to stand up to barking dogs by yelling loudly and walking toward them aggressively it worked.) Troy carried doggie pepper spray as a precaution. Raymon even showed us the Glock pistol that was strapped to his left pocket. I don’t believe he wanted us to touch it. We didn’t exactly want to.

A couple months later, we made it to the driveway and Raymon wasn’t standing there. We were about to continue the short journey to the top of Doheny, which is what we normally did after talking to him, when we heard his voice: “Up here,” said Raymon. On the third story of the house, he was standing on the deck, looking at the view. Raymon walked down three flights of stairs to the street level and opened the gate. “You guys want to come up?” Troy and I looked at each other and nodded. It was a strangely warm March day and we’d never been beyond the house’s driveway. We walked up the narrow stairs past some modern steel sculptures and a fountain and began to weave around the outside of the house by large, full-story windows on the second and third levels on the way to the deck. Looking inside, although it wasn’t well lit, I remember seeing a Picasso on one wall and a Monet on another. Real paintings, not numbered prints. I had a membership at LACMA. Another looked like a Manet, but I wasn’t sure about that one. I guess I didn’t know Édouard as well. I tried whispering to Troy but I couldn’t find the oxygen.

In a moment, we were facing Raymon and he had his arms outstretched: “What do you think of this?” It was the most beautiful, slate-black-bottom infinity-pool-with-a-view I’d ever seen. “Reverse-osmosis, so it cleans itself, pretty much” he said. “I think it’s salt water. You’ll just float and float, I’ve heard.” Troy and I just marveled and couldn’t stop smiling. You could see the entire neighborhood from there, the entire city, it seemed. “You want to go in?” asked Raymon. “I’m going back downstairs. Take your time.” In a second, we were in the pool in our underwear. It was hot and we deserved it. The lip of the water seemed to splash lightly over the edge and off the cliff of the hill.

As the summer months approached, we were in that pool a few times a month, whenever we were allowed. One time, it was a warm early evening, the sun was still out, we were drenched in sweat from the climb, so we jumped in the pool and Raymon brought us flutes of prosecco from the outdoor fridge. He said it had been left from the previous weekend when he thought King Hussein was in town visiting and swimming. There was a helicopter pad in the terraced backyard, raised high above an elevated grassy area and a table with a lookout point that was like its own mini mountaintop. Raymon believed the king came in there, but he wasn’t working then. It was all fairly speculative, but it made a great story. I made a joke that if the king returned anytime soon, he might sniff around and say with great disdain, “I smell Jew!” We laughed loudly, snorting. I felt good about perhaps polluting the pristine waters.

As we were sipping the glorious bubbles, buzzily floating around in the cool water and looking out at the towers beyond, the sounds of Frank Sinatra tunes were suddenly wafting our way from below. We looked in the direction of a Spanish house nearby on the next street and saw men sitting at poker tables set up under a semi-covered patio. They were playing cards, smoking cigars, having cocktails, talking loudly. I could see a gold-plated wheelchair peeking out. Larry Flynt’s house. We knew that because it was surrounded by like 20 Greek statues and gargoyles in the front of the property yes, classy and a gate with a large security guard who was, let’s say, not looking like he was of the friendliest disposition. And he had his hand on his right pocket while staring at anyone who walked by. Raymon confirmed it was Flynt’s house. And at night, the windows were aglow with what looked like 100 Tiffany lamps in iridescent shades of blue, red and green. The man was a collector.

It was all a bit weird for two guys in their 20s to early 30s not making much at the time. I mean, Troy was working at Barney’s New York selling men’s haute couture to flush folks and some celebrities, pulling in dough when sales were good. I was a peon in the music industry and a struggling music writer interviewing bands and trading up clips to the next publication, trying to get somewhere, anywhere. I always wondered what Troy thought about being back in an area like this. Despite the “Dynasty” upbringing his family was in oil, minerals and gold, as I recall there was some kind of fall from wealth, and then some kind of return to stature. I think that’s what happened. It’s all a bit cloudy. He was very private about his family; I never met any of them even though we were close for years. (None of the friends were invited to the funeral, either.) But Troy had a trust fund. I don’t know how big it was, or that he collected from it often, but he was always generous with a cocktail or a meal if you needed it. I didn’t grow up with wealth like that, and I wondered if being in the ambassador’s pool felt like a way for him to reexperience it on that level again. It definitely wasn’t foreign to him.

Celebrity sightings weren’t rare around the ambassador’s we were in their habitat. Remember I said Troy was easy to talk to and approachable? We he once had a conversation with the ever-beautiful Cheryl Ladd in front of her house that looked a bit like a pirate ship behind massive gates, lower down Doheny. I stood there staring at my childhood crush, not able to stammer out more than a “Hi.” Ricardo Montalban lived down the street from the ambassador in a modern Mexico City-style house in bright colors on its own hill that you could see from the infinity pool. Leonardo DiCaprio lived down the street from him, surrounded by security cameras, next to Madonna’s old house. Lionel Richie was across the street from him. Jerry Seinfeld whipped around corners in one of his many Porsches. Rapper Heavy D drove around in a maroon Range Rover with the bass turned up, singing. It wasn’t our world, but we felt tangentially a part of it as we hiked into it, and out of it.


For reasons I can’t remember, we took a break from hiking Doheny for a few months. When we came back, Raymon wasn’t in the driveway anymore. A couple months later, the limousine was gone. Soon after, we stopped hiking altogether, as Troy’s and my relationship began changing. I went to grad school, he started hanging out with other people. At least, that’s as far as I can place things. Some things are more clear than others. As I said, the routines, the oft-repeated activities that brought happiness seem to stand out more to me. Although the resulting sorrow has stayed with me for a decade-and-a-half. The sad things always seem to trump everything else.

The last year or so of his life we saw less and less of each other. We talked on the phone occasionally. Troy had been going to raves during the week, on weekends, doing ecstasy for a while so much so, that he was facing regular “Blue Mondays,” with depleted serotonin levels and heavy depression. Troy even came to my apartment the week before and, while amped up on a high dose of an A-HD testosterone supplement (and who knows what else), he reenacted a story that ended with him aggressively pushing me halfway across my kitchen until I fell down and hit my head on the stove. He hadn’t even realized it. Troy called me out of the blue three days before the end, sounding very sad, like he had been crying. He shared with me some grandiose vision of what his life was going to be, something about a consulting business that would entail an all-white room and people paying him $10,000 just to enter it and get a moment of his time to take on their problems. I didn’t understand it because it was removed from reality. I felt like he had lost touch. I hung up, thinking, “Wow, he’s gone and I don’t know how to bring him back.”

I still remember the call from Troy’s longtime boyfriend that came two days after he died. He was crying. Before he said anything, I knew. Troy had been at a rave in the desert between California and Arizona, near Lake Havasu, and had taken a variety of drugs ecstasy, ketamine, some others and his heart had stopped. There was a medical tent, and a doctor tried to revive him. Other people did, too. I don’t know what happened after that. He was 36. That was less than a week before 9/11. And the funeral was family only. So no proper good-bye. Now you know why I hang on to the cheerier moments.

The numbness I’ve felt since that moment has stayed with me over the years. I’m not saying depression has been a friend because, really, it’s no one’s friend, but it has been reliable like one for some time. That sounds ridiculous, though. A few years ago, I finally looked up Troy’s name on the Web. His grave site came up. It’s in a cemetery on the south rim of the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. A simple carved rock with a shiny side that has the family name and a colorful rainbow. It looks like his parents’ names are on it now, too. I’m not a big fan of those gravestones that have people’s pictures on them, but I kind of wish this one had Troy’s face on it. I mean, it would help me a lot. Especially if I’m going to hike all the way up there to see it.

David Lott is a writer, editor, ghostwriter and has shown up in marketing departments from time to time. Formerly a rock and business journalist, his work has appeared in a number of publications including the Los Angeles Times, the L.A. Business Journal, Variety, Fortune, the Hollywood Reporter online and many others. A guitarist-singer-songwriter between bands, he is keenly interested in Los Angeles preservation issues, architecture and history. He is the co-founder of Angels Flight • literary west, the publication you’re reading now. He lives in L.A.