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La La Land

It was a perfect afternoon to wait for a stranger, bright and sunny with the faintest hint of a breeze, just enough to rustle the leaves in the courtyard. I’m no stranger to oddities, but this was a curious errand even for me, I’d come to Starbucks in Beverly Hills to wait for a man who called himself Johnny Hanukkah.

We’d come to make an exchange that had been more than a year in the making. I’d come to recover an antique gold watch, a blue tie dotted with pink octopi and most importantly, an eagle scout medal. In return, I had a black cocktail dress, size 8, and pair of black high heels to trade. After a flurry of text messages we’d arranged to meet on a Tuesday afternoon to close the books on a failed Hollywood romance.

It hadn’t always been like this, in the beginning Joseph and Christine seemed like the perfect pair, a summer romance for the ages. They tore up the dance floors from Burbank to Santa Monica, always the center Los Angeles’ swing dancing scene. They made were for each other, and when Joseph proposed, giving her his Eagle Scout Medal in lieu of an engagement ring, everyone agreed they were the perfect pair.

Everything has its season and by fall, cracks started to show in that perfect facade. They drifted apart, sitting at different tables in Joe’s, neither deigning to look at the other. By winter it was over.

When a relationship ends there’s always a million loose ends, floating endlessly in the ether. It’s like an imploding star, friends and family sucked into the endless black hole.

It took a year, and thousands of text messages after Christine and Joseph broke up to arrange this tete a tete at Starbucks. Like the middle east peace process, both sides angling to get the best deal. Joseph was desperate to get the medal back, he’d spent an entire summer in high school renovating benches in a Whittier Park to earn it. For Christine, her life had become the movie “La La Land,” and it was nearly time for the credits to roll.

I was nearly finished with my coffee when Hanukkah walked in, clutching a battered J Crew shopping bag. At my feet sat a similarly worn Banana Republic bag, Joseph had neatly folded the dress before placing the shoes on top that morning.

He didn’t bother to order, he just lay the bag down on the table before sitting down. Maybe because we were so close to Hollywood, it was easy, to imagine myself as Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, cutting a deal with Shanghai crime boss Lao Che. I checked the bag, and then said a quick goodbye.

I’d tied up one of those ends, but what about all the others? Things end every day, and there must be a million Eagle Scout medals out there, tucked away in drawers. I didn’t have to go very far to find the answer, just around the corner in Hollywood was the Museum of Broken Relationships. Tucked into a small space at 6751 Hollywood Blvd., the museum was a block away from the famous intersection of Hollywood and Highland.

An original creative art project conceived by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić in 2006 the museum is a repository of love and loss. The first location opened in 2006 in Zagreb and has grown to include a satellite location in Los Angeles. All of the items in the museum’s collection are donated, and each one is accompanied by an anonymous note, which explains the provenance of each piece.

Intended as a statement about the ways we love and lose, the collection itself is varied. There’s a three volume set of Proust, a faded tank top, and even a gingerbread cookie. Alone, these things might be little more than bric brac of everything life, but it’s the stories submitted by their unknown donors that makes them feel weighty.

After a hour or so, I wandered back out into the LA sunshine, carefully clutching the battered J Crew shopping bag. I still had to meet Joseph to return his medal. It might seem like a small thing, but sometimes that’s all we have left at the end.

Contact David Dolmage

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