That Sonic Spicy Chicken roller coaster commercial is conceptually disturbing. I was innocently watching a dull hockey game–Calgary hasn’t won a hockey game in Anaheim in over ten years, though Canadians prefer not to think about it–and then thirty seconds later I was rendered speechless and bewildered. All I could think was Bob and Ray with a chicken sandwich. WelI, I could think other things, actually, I mean I’m not that stupid, but I did think Bob and Ray with a chicken sandwich. I love Bob and Ray. I have a couple years’ worth of Bob and Ray radio shows. One time I spent an entire day at work doing paperwork and listening to Bob and Ray. I came out conceptually disturbed. Like the day after an acid trip. Everything looked different, weird, funny. I kind of liked it. I had the same feeling after this Sonic commercial. Maybe I’m just unusually susceptible to the weird and amusing. Not chicken sandwiches, though, which I don’t especially care for. I once got a chicken sandwich at the Sonic in Tuba City. Not so good. Great commercial, though. Incidentally, if there are any tubas in Tuba City I didn’t hear them. Not like Drum City. But that’s drums, not tubas. If there are any tubas in Drum City, I didn’t hear them.
Was reading about the lost art of cassette tape spines at Dangerous Minds. Silly little bit of nostalgia, maybe,but it brought back some memories.
I have sooooooooooooooooooo many of these…Found a mess of wonderful compilation tapes I made back in the 80′s (before they were even called mix tapes) and I don’t even know what all the music is, even though I made them. I remember watching High Fidelity and knowing how infinitely cooler, crazier and non-bogus my compilation tapes were than their weak record geek little things. And I didn’t need no fucking theme either. Then again, mine weren’t plot devices. And it was a good movie. But I’d never invite any of those losers to a party at my place. Jack Black maybe, if he promised to be an asshole. None of the sensitive little fucks, tho’. The world is full of sensitive little fucks, and they all irritate me. Anyway, some of the tapes I found have this stoned spine art, of course. I can’t really get into the mindset of the stoner cassette (or K7, to use 80′s hipster speak) spine artist, tho’. LIke what was I thinking. Did we really have that much spare time back then? What a lazily analog world that was. We read books. Whole books. Imagine that. And we hung out and talked with people we actually knew, and could even reach out and touch, especially if we were drunk and they were female and probably played bass in a band.
And then the non-DIY variety cassettes used to be something you could pick up for a quarter (as in two bits, not weed) at your local used record store. They’d be tucked away in some hard to find nook, the shame of the store (8-Tracks you couldn’t find at all, and reel to reels were under glass, with gramophone cylinders and music rolls and quad LPs). Suddenly cassettes are collectible. Why they are collectible I have no idea. But they are. I asked my brother why. He said because they’re analog. I said but they suck. He said yeah, but they’re analog. I said but it’s such a lame technology. He said but they’re analog. I changed the subject. But it’s a shame. picking up some obscure jazz release on cassette for a quarter was s small thrill. But I will not pay three dollars for a John Coltrane cassette, I’m sorry. That is just stupid. Four bits I’m OK with though. But anything more than that seems fundamentally wrong. So I stopped seeking out the corner where they hid the cassettes away. But I have too many cassettes already. And having any cassettes at all is having too many cassettes. Not that I’m getting rid of them.
Part of the problem is that it’s virtually impossible to actually play them anywhere. I still have my ridiculously fancy double cassette deck I bought cheap in the technology’s final throes. It has all these sad features that attempted to match CDs. You can program a cassette and it will play the tunes in any order you want. One tune will end with a loud click, then the machine will whir, click, whir again, click again, and another tune will come out. All these tunes off a cassette played in random sequence. Both sides. Side A, track three followed by side two track seven followed by side one track one. Whatever. It seemed so sad and pointless. LIke making a really nifty adding machine to compete with calculators. A slide ruler that glowed in the dark to compete with personal computers. And I consider it a tragedy that cars no longer have cassette players built in. Best was a cassette/CD player. Ideal would be cassette/CD/mp3 player. Of course now cars come with a built in computer. So you have CD/mp3 player/infinite variety of web-based music. Which is when you crash the car. So you hire a chauffeur. A french maid/driver combo, ideally. She cleans the upstairs, she drives the BMW. So the perfect car would have a cassette/CD/Mp3/internet/chauffeur/french maid combo. With a back seat quintet option. For those warm summer nights on a wide open freeway going nowhere fast and East Broadway Run Down blasting from the back seat, live.
Maybe a motor home would be better. Can you imagine anything cooler? Hauling ass across the Mojave at three in the morning,, the craziest shit happening right behind you. That long sleepy night time stretch between Baker and State Line, all the scenery, the long dead volcanoes to the south, the vast beds of ancient lakes, the desiccated mountains all not there at three in the morning, utterly gone,, and you’d be ensconced in that driver’s seat, drinking coffee but thinking of whiskey and behind you some handpicked players playing as long. long set, hundreds of miles worth of jazz. Inner Urge? They’d tear into it. The Bridge? Like you’d never heard it. Giant Steps? Need you ask? Then next stop 88 miles and they break into East Broadway Run Down and you’re barreling past all those goddamn trucks. You’re flying. Like this is the most righteous motor home ever. It’s maxed out, tricked out, pumped up, and fully stocked. There’s a bar, a bartender even, and it’s like a 747 lounge but way cooler. I read about a party Jackie Gleason threw on a train from New York City to Los Angeles. A solid week of a rolling righteous party. People got off that train and they died right there in Union Station of shock. Too many sober people. Bad for the system. Well I’d throw a motor home party and zig zag across the states with live jazz and beautiful scenery and local eateries and picnics full of leftovers and produce from farmer’s roadside produce stands. Stop late at night, sit round a fire and talk and talk. Drinks, marshmallows, the sweet smell of reefer coming from somewhere. Low volume chatter, people are sleeping. Early next morning we’d relaunch with a scatter of gravel and an open road. Put something into the cassette/cd/mp3 player. Something easy to start with. And more coffee. There’d still be a little pink in the eastern sky. No fixed direction, no plan, no nothing. Just moving and looking and breathing all that air. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere the band would start., just jamming on a blues. A long lazy trumpet solo. A river off in the distance. Mountains ahead. A fork in the road. Someone flip a coin. Let or right. East, west, north, south. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. Just keep moving and jamming and living a crazy, beautiful life. Of course there’s the money thing, the reality thing. But if I were a Herb Alpert, say, that is what I would do.
Every time a prez or a pope visits Los Angeles, or a Michael Jackson dies, there are traffic jams for a couple hours. Except now they get on Facebook and the whole world shrieks. Remember when Carmageddon was gonna end civilization as we know it?
I was just down on the prez’s motorcade route a bit a go and had no idea he’d even been there a couple hours earlier. Traffic was normal, the secret service all gone, and civilization remained. Even the birds flew.
I think in a decade or two Facebook and Twitter will stop controlling our thoughts and actions, and we’ll all start thinking again.
I went to a fish boil in Wisconsin once. Take a cauldron, add fish and potatoes, bring to a boil, toss gasoline on the fire, the cauldron boils over, fish oil causes a flare up for a few seconds, then eat the fish and potatoes. I asked why not add a carrot or onion. Got cold Norwegian stares. Everyone ate in Lutheran silence, then went out to their cars and drove home. That was it? I thought we’d missed something. No, that was it. Oh. Silence. So how’d you like it? The fish was good, I said. It really was. And the potato was too. The Norwegians really know how to boil fish and potatoes. I liked when they threw the gas on the fire too. Yah, sure, he said, that was exciting.
How about some lutefisk? he asked. Some what? Lutefisk. Is that like a fish boil? Yeah, but without the excitement. And the water. It’s dried fish. Smoked? No, just dried. Kind of like fishy cardboard. Fishboard.
Fishboard? I imagined a room full of Lutherans, silently eating fishboard. I passed. You don’t know what you’re missing, he said.
They have fish boils out in California? Not anymore, I said. Why not? You can’t throw gasoline on an open fire in a restaurant in California. Why not? They’re afraid there’d be an explosion and a whole room full of Norwegians would be turned into fishboard. You mean peopleboard, he said. No, I mean lutefisk. Yeah, he said, like Soylent Green for Norwegians. Soylent grønt er lutefisk.
It’s a cookbook, I said.
Det er en kokebok, he translated.
Wow, I said,. Norwegian science fiction references.
Yeah, he said, we’re hipper than you think we are.
Lutefisk is hip?
Yah, sure, the hippest.
You know we do eat carrots and onions in Norway, you know.
Of course. Just not in a fish boil.
Why do you ask so many questions?
There you go again.
Actually, I don’t like lutefisk either. Never did.
Then why offer it to me?
Just being polite.
It’s polite to offer somebody lutefisk?
It’s not polite to offer somebody lutefisk in California?
I don’t know.
We don’t have lutefisk in California.
Then what do you have?
We have Disneyland. And movie stars. And girls in bikinis.
Yes, just like Baywatch.
More silence. Thoughts of Pamela Anderson, probably.
I sure like that Pamela Andersen, he said.
She’s alright if you like that type, I said.
Yah. She’s Norsk, you know, blonde and tits like a Viking queen.
Yet more silence. Hints of writer’s block.
This dialog is going nowhere, he said. Nowhere at all. Du står fast. Frustrert. Hjernen er en tom flaske.
He was right.
And I don’t even know if Pamela Andersen is Norwegian or not. I felt like an idiot saying she is.
Big tits, though. Really big–
That’s enough, I said. You wrote that yourself.
Better than anything you’ve come up with. Du kan ikke engang snakke norsk.
I never said I could. All I know is Yah sure. And ten thousand Swedes ran into the weeds followed by one Norwegian. And lutefisk.
Ha! So you have eaten lutefisk?
No. But a Norwegian told me about it. A Norwegian from Chicago. A lawyer. My brother-in-law.
Your sister’s brother? I thought she was Sioux or something.
No my sister-in-law’s husband.
That’s not your brother-in-law.
Whatever. He told me about lutefisk. Said it tasted like fishy cardboard. He hated it.
The fish boil really happened too. Just like I said. But it only came to one lousy paragraph. So I added you.
Am I supposed to thank you?
Sure, feel free.
Don’t mention it.
How about I drop you off at the bar. You can go in and get drunk and forget all this ever happened. Find your self a skirt and have a time.
Uh oh. He was quoting Hail the Conquering Hero. Preston Sturges. We must be drifting into a vortex where stories combine. And that was a story from the future. I hadn’t even thought about writing a story about Hail the Conquering Hero. There must be a tear in the fabric of narrative space time. It was time to end this quick before the universe blew up and I’d have to delete the whole thing.
So I did.
Two weeks later I get a postcard:
Glad you enjoyed the fish boil. Men stupisest Det var historien du noen gang skrev.
Sigh… One of those got to have the last word guys. In Norwegian.
It’s no wonder I never write fiction.
Don’t tell anybody, but San Franciscans used to call their town Frisco. I know, I know, perish the thought. But that was before they kicked out all the working class people. Now it’s strictly San Francisco or even worse, The City. Terrible what gentrification can do to a town.
A few years ago I unthinkingly let slip a Frisco while talking to a San Franciscan. He winced. I could feel his pain. Before I could apologize he told me, slowly, so that I could understand, that they really cannot abide “Frisco.” He winced at the sound. Please say San Francisco or “The City”.
I’d never been admonished over urban nomenclature before. I felt like a Cockney being lectured on enunciation by Rex Harrison. If I insisted on speaking to a resident of San Francisco, please use the correct designation. Otherwise leave them alone.
So I said you don’t like Frisco, huh? Another wince. What’s wrong with Frisco? Wince. I don’t see the big deal. Why do you care? He grew exasperated. How do you like it, he said, when people call your town Hollyweird?
But we call our town Hollyweird, I said. You do? Of course. We live in Hollyweird, and you live in Frisco. He winced again.
So what about San Fran?
End of conversation.
In the community grasslands in the middle of the Yankton Sioux reservation there is a herd of bison. We rounded a bend on the road and there they were, grazing and wandering. The land was communal and raw, wild and ancient. The grass grew high, South Dakota wild flowers were scattered about, and prairie dogs holes, and buffalo pies. We pulled the car off to the side of the road and watched the dynamics of this semi-wild herd. It was pretty sedentary that day, moving little, chewing, grazing, shaking off flies. A couple calves played tag. Vultures flew in wide circles, out of habit I guess. I doubted a bison had died and rotted here in ages, a feast for the birds. Meat’s meat and hide is hide and bones are ground into fertilizer. Vultures get by on road kill, or cacasses left as high water recedes on the banks of the Missouri.
But the sight of the herd was so completely unexpected–this was south eastern South Dakota, fenced and farmed and fertile and fallow–and probably because it was so unexpected it was utterly disorienting..We had rounded a bend and there they were. We saw a few dozen head, Did they ever stampede? I certainly hoped so. A clap of thunder and hundreds of pounding hooves headed where not even they probably knew. Just running.
It was disorienting, like the last century and a half hadn’t happened. No Sioux Rebellion in 1864, No Little Big Horn. No Sand Creek. No Wounded Knee. The Yankton missed most of these. They’d signed a treaty early. But their young men snuck off to join the other Sioux. My wife had two ancestors killed at Custer’s Last Stand. Though their side was the last one standing. II wonder how many ancestors she had who weren’t killed. I have no idea.
I watched the herd, It lolled about behind a farm. A nice looking farm. We’d passed a number of farms. Some of the Yankton had done well adopting western ways. But looking at the bison–the buffalo–I got the feeling that deep down these people, these Yankton, never had lost their real selves. That herd there, hidden away from outsiders in the middle of the reservation, that was their real selves. They may have signed a treaty long, long before that put them here, along the Missouri River–we’d been driving through the bottomland, which the river had inundated only a week before–but they’d cheated, and hadn’t turned white. They’d taken our names–no more Appearance of Breath or Smoke Tallow or Waiting For the Wind–but that was all, that and language and the military and taxes and watching television. Politicians came through and promised funds for the roads which never happened (you’d swear Lewis and Clark had trod that beat up asphalt). Indian kIds went to concerts in the little prairie city Yankton, an hour away. But that was all. That was just the outside. Inside the buffalo herd beat like the heart of the tribe. Breathed for the whole people. Huddled together for warmth when the cold winds blew. After all the wars and pestilence and long hikes to desolate land the Yankton had survived.
I looked at my wife in the seat next to me. She was one of them. Her mother was Oneida but her dad had been Yankton Sioux. She, her sister and her brother were the first on either side to be born off reservation. And while she had the blood of both in her veins, the DNA of each, you can’t ber both, tribes, not by U.S. law, So her parents signed her up as Yankton Sioux. These were her people, this her land. Those were her buffalo. And I realized that after three decades, I barely knew her. I knew her, but not all of her. I hadn’t known about that herd. She hadn’t either, but no matter, to her it was the most natural thing in the world to have a communal herd of bison. It made no sense not to have one.
I wondered what else I didn’t know about her. What secrets lie inside her. What about her is still Yankton, still a tad wild, maybe, and definitely not of the white man. Native Americans are different than you or I. It’s not just that they were here before us. It’s that not everyone wears European civilization perfectly. They don it like a nice silk suit, and get by pretty much unnoticed. But left to themselves they’d shed it all, all this western civilization, at least part of the time, and get back to their dances, their hunts, and their storytelling. And their buffalo, too. Sometimes I think that they think that the white man will just up an disappear someday. They don’t tell us this, but they think it. And when we’re not around, they talk about it, About the dancing and the hunting. Telling their stories about the buffalo. And about how we came once, and then disappeared, and were replaced by the vast herds of buffalo, who roam with the seasons north and south, and east and west. But if you stop and listen, and all is quiet, you can hear our spirits rustling in the wind, there, but not important.
So we went to Pizza Buona at Alvarado and Sunset yesterday, per Justin Burrill’s and Lee Joseph’s recommendation. The place is a lot less red than I remembered. She ordered a large Special, crispy, which was perfect. Called my brother about the chicken on the wall, tho’ he said it might be a rare Sicilian feathered cantaloupe. I’ll have to google that. The jukebox in the joint was gloriously unhip. Moon River is so unhip it’s not even ironic. Playing the Andy Williams version might be ironic, but this was the straight Mancini. They had Baby Elephant Walk on there too but I was afraid some hipster might walk in and it would show up on his next album. I dig unhip. There’s nothing unhip in Silver Lake anymore but it’s nice to see pockets remain in Echo Park. Got me a salad and I’d have shown you a picture but I hate it when people take pictures of their food. They invent digital technology and what do you all do with it? Take pictures of cats and salads. In the Polaroid days we didn’t waste precious film on pictures of cats or salads. Well cats, maybe. But not salads. Or cats and salads together.
OK, salad was good, beer was cold (Moretti), meatballs were good (we got meatballs), pizza was Jersey perfect. The vibe was good too (if not as red as it should have been) and the Burrito King across the street looked good. Never eaten there, but it looked good because it’s still there. That corner is pretty much unchanged since the days when Raymond Chandler could have mentioned it but never did. You used to be able to get brain burritos across the street at the carwash. Wash your car and eat a brain burrito. What is sesos a lady asked. Brains, the guy behind the counter said. Cow brains, I added helpfully. She changed her mind and walked off, suddenly unhungry. I shrugged. The guy laughed. It was a tough town then, full of drive-bys and crack and brains in your burrito. Jonathan Gold probably ate there. Had the brain burrito. Those Pulitzers don’t come easy.
One time a friend showed up at our house for a party with a dozen vegetarian bean burritos from Burrito King and a bottle of Cisco. Cisco looks like Orange Hi-C with a mean hangover. He spent the party out on the steps roaring drunk and digesting loudly. You can only hear a slurred Cisco Kid so many times before it loses its funny edge. The Panther showed up and joined him. They ate vegetarian bean burritos and passed the bottle back and forth and belched front and back. They sang and laughed and made loud jokes without punchlines. They became the best friend a man ever had until the bottle was empty. I’m sure neither remember this now, but I remembered while gazing out the window across Sunset Blvd. We waited for our pizza and I put quarters in the jukebox and listened to Enrico Caruso sing Vesti La Giubba from Pagliacci. He recorded that in 1907. The year before he’d been in San Francisco when the earthquake hit. The city fell down all around him and he didn’t like that one bit. But you can’t tell that hearing this. So I played it again, and the pizza came, and it looked beautiful and smelled delicious and I listened to Caruso in rapt silence. What’s he singing about my wife asked. He’s a clown, he killed his wife and her lover, I think. Were they clowns too? Yes, I said, they were all clowns. Sounds sad for clowns. Yeah, it’s a tragedy. She handed me a slice of the pizza, the music swelled, and we ate in silence, listening.
Here’s that same 1907 Recording of Enrico Caruso performing “Vesti la Giubba” from Pagliacci. If you don’t know it by name you’ll recognize the tune after a minute and a half, trust me.
Heard a good story on KPCC:
It’s hard to ignore the black and blue jerky-style letters scrawled all over curbs and alley walls near to the parallel streets of Mohawk and Waterloo. Garage doors, house gutters, curbs, even palm trees in this area are tagged with “C-Y-S.” On some walls, a layer of paint isn’t enough to hide the letters underneath.
“You come out and paint it,” said LAPD Sgt. Victor Arellano. “Then they come and tag it again. How many times you know, do you have to put up with it?”
Well….on the one hand, nobody likes gangs except gang members. Nobody likes the graffiti. The vandalism. The shootings. The murder. There’s six gangs you see tagging the area (EXP is Echo Park, say, and C-Y-S is Los Crazys). They all wish the others were gone. You all wish they all were gone. But on the other hand, Echo Park is being silverlaked. Exact thing happened here, whites with money moving in, Latinos moving out. Whites without money moving out too. Same with Filipinos and beatniks and hippies and old punks. Even the gays moved out. Now Silverlake is nothing but scads of nice white people. Very little crime. Like a Hancock Park but with hills and smaller homes. I used to write about this but it’s not even timely anymore, it’s just nostalgia. Hell, Silverlake is Silver Lake again. When the name changes, it’s over. And when EP rhymes with teepee, the end is nigh, too.
Lake looks great, tho’. But then so does ours. Nice white people love pretty lakes, too. Who can blame them?
Here’s an analog memory, one of those things that happened before digital cameras and Facebook and so, sadly, doesn’t exist…but back in the late 1980′s the Sunset Junction Festival happened at Echo Park lake. It was one of my favorites, and Universal Congress Of took the stage and tore it up. Play some more of that outside shit! someone hogcalled, and the sax screamed and Joe Baiza leapt in, funky and harmolodic. The mood was ecstatic, a huge party, a great band, beer, food, freedom, a beautiful lake. When the breeze was right we’d feel mist from the fountain and it was cool, Everything was cool. Joints were passed, furtively, and the colors and sounds and beautiful women became almost unbearably vivid. Psychedelicized. From the picnic tables EP eyed us all warily, sulking, wanting their turf back. We’d look away. Come Sunday night we all slunk away and it was their’s again.
That’s the way it was back then, that’s the way it should be, we thought. We couldn’t even imagine any different. I met a guy back then who was called down by the police to the lake one late night. It was cold and dark and they had fished a corpse out of the water. You know this man? He knew him. It was his neighbor, had been. A nice guy. A writer. He didn’t know what had happened, but we knew anyway. Wrong place, wrong time. That’s the way we figured it.
That’s the way we figured everything. Wrong place, wrong time. Don’t hang around the lake after dark. We didn’t. We remembered that story and scurried home as the sky reddened in the west. We’d walk past the vatos sitting on the picnic tables. We’d look at them and they’d stare at us. Stare through us. They had arms covered with tattoos when white people’s arms were bare. A tattoo meant something more than a drunken weekend back then. Tear drops tattooed down a cheek. Prison tattooed knuckles. Show respect those knuckles said. So we did. Vatos respected respect. We respected their respect. It worked out just fine that way. An ancient pattern. That was then. Can’t say I’m nostalgic for it. But the tension feels normal to me. All this niceness is alien. I just want to do something to make the hipsters jump, to irritate the lawyers, to make the power walkers wish they’d never left Santa Monica.
But no. That was an analog age. It’s over. So I blog these cloudy memories, without the fear and excitement. The talking and fucking shit up. The hate and sheer joy of not being rich. Living for the weekend. Living because we weren’t that guy fished out of the lake. Not this time.
One Saturday night a couple years ago we were out in Palm Springs watching their Christmas Festival of Lights parade. Fire trucks and marching bands and agricultural machinery and prancing queens and everything bedecked in lights and fiber optic cables, as beautiful as it is absurd. The parade goes down Palm Canyon Drive and we’d booked a room on Indian Canyon Drive a block away. Two minute walk. It was chilly, not a cloud in the sky, a bone chilling desert winter’s night. A zillion glittery stars over head, and faint smudges of galaxies unimaginably far away, so far and so vast it’s better not to think of them at all. We didn’t. Continue reading
Oh (he says to a seismically hypersensitive friend), you work in Culver City…. That explains how you felt an earthquake (technically a microquake) that measured 2.8 on the Richter scale. I try to notice nothing below 4.0, but then I am jaded. But Culver City is built on the Los Angeles River floodplain. In fact, the Ballona Creek that trickles unnoticed though the neighborhood was an alternate channel for the L.A. river in its carefree, unchanneled days. And the soil there must be many feet deep, sediments that go who knows how far back, and are more sandy than clay, given the source (the Santa Monica Mountains.). What this means for your nerves is that sandy alluvial soils are prone to liquefaction, and amplify the slightest of earthquakes, so that something beneath of dignity of an Angeleno sitting on bedrock, as in my neighborhood, is noticed by highly sensitive types in Culver City. Were it a more manly earthquake, something, say. in the vicinity of an 8 plus, the earth beneath you would be as water and you’d never be heard from again, and Amoeba could at last have what remains of your record collection.
Here’s a convenient map of the Culver City liquefaction zones. They’re in teal. This map is available on Culver City’s official website, though I doubt they tell anyone, since there’s more teal than is tasteful. Teal is best in small quantities. It’s a pungent off-blue and a little goes a long way, like a rank cheese. Also it makes Culver City look so fucked. Like beyond fucked. Like doomed. Which it’s not, really. It’s that damn teal. Pastels would have been much better.
Incidentally, Culver City is the Heart of Screenland.
Map of the Culver City Liquefaction Zone