Totally reorganizing everything…far too many words on here and even I am getting confused. So I have set up a new site called brickpicks.com that covers broadly cultural things. It’s me in my critic persona. There’s another new site called brickspolitics.com that is my shill site, in Bernie-speak, though I thought shills got paid. And brickshistory.com is about the past. Finally (for now anyway), bricksscience.com is about (or vaguely about) things scientific. There might be more sites to come. Meanwhile, this here old site, brickwahl.com, will emphasize my usual storytelling and pretty writing that makes the ladies roll their eyes.
Signing my wife up for Indian Health Services to see if she can get a break on increasingly expensive dental care (even with dental insurance), the case worker asked my wife what tribe she was. She pulled out her tribal ID. Yankton Sioux. Don’t get many Sioux in here, the caseworker said. What tribe are you, my wife asked. My father was Lakota Sioux, the caseworker said, my mother Rosebud Sioux. They talked about South Dakota and I thought to myself in like Flynn. Sioux Nation looking out for its own. She wrote my wife’s name in at the top of the list.
If there was only an Irish equivalent. Somehow free drinks at Harrigan’s doesn’t quite cut it.
I remember my grandfather explaining Lace Curtain versus Shanty to me. I was probably five years old, maybe six, and was his first grandson, and he was taking pains to teach me in the ways of life. Nothing seemed more important than Lace Curtain versus Shanty. The Lace Curtain, he said, they think they’re special. They kiss a lot of arse to be special. They think it makes them better than the rest of us. He took a swig of fortified wine. But listen to me boy–and I listened intently, remembering this all these years later–lace curtains don’t make them any different from us. They’re just shanty Irish putting on airs. Don’t ever be lace curtain, boy, promise me that. I promised. You’re shanty through and through like your grandfather. He took another swig. And your grandfather’s father. And his father. Another swig. It was a smallish bottle, green, and I remember the screw on cap. Yup, he said, you’re shanty through and through, aren’t you boy. I said I was. I had no idea what it meant. Still, a promise is a promise, especially to the departed, and I kept my promise, and shanty I remain.
I woke up this morning and immediately turned on the a/c. I can’t recall the last time I had to do that. Its hot!
So posted my friend Hope. I envied her. Air conditioning. We’re in Silver Lake, in one of those California Spanish houses that Walter Neff in Double Indemnity said everyone was nuts about 10 or 15 years ago. Which would be about 1930, on the money for this place. It’s one of those pads people slow down to look at as they pass. We did. Came down our street once by mistake and turned around in the driveway. I remember saying to my wife that I wished we lived in a place like this instead of the cute but shaky bungalow we had off Sunset. We had earthquakes then, and the slightest temblor would wrack the joint and it would shudder and creak and let us know in no uncertain terms that the earth was shaking. We got used to it. But when a crackhouse opened up next door in what is now an overpriced if charming brownstone it was time to move. We couldn’t believe that the place we’d seen by mistake that day a year before was available. There had been a gang killing on the street a few months back, some innocent kid cut down, wrong place, wrong time, and that made prospective renters nervous. The landlord thought we were the nicest and sweetest married couple he’d ever seen. Gosh. I didn’t tell him about playing drums in punk rock bands. Said we hated parties. Swore we were virgins. Didn’t mention the cats. We got the place.
But this place is old school. In fact so old school that it doesn’t have the kind of windows you can put an air conditioner in. Not one. That’s old school. When Silver Lake grew from hunting lodges to rich people those rich people sweltered in front of metal fans. Raymond Chandler typed and drank and sweated over there on Micheltorena Hill. Air conditioning back then was the stuff of modern office buildings. Mulholland had an air conditioned office atop his big dam-shaped building downtown. Is the building designed to look like the San Francisquito dam? I’ve always wondered that, though no way to compare the two now. And the Bradbury Building you’ve all seen a zillion times without knowing it (though not Double Indemnity, unfortunately) was no doubt air conditioned back then. I worked there once, for a week. Worse job I ever had. When the secretary tells you on the first day that the problem with her boss is that she needs a good fuck and no one will ever give her one, you know it’s time to leave. I lasted a week. But I loved the building. I think that’s why I stuck it out a whole week. You can’t believe how ornate the place is, like walking around inside a baroque sculpture. You couldn’t help touching everything. And it was very air conditioned, unlike our place. But the Bradbury Building is in the middle of paved over everything downtown, the streets and walls and cars and buses and sweaty pedestrians all radiating heat, while we live on top of a hill, with breezes, even a zephyr or two, nearly all of the time. Plus we have an ingeniously designed fan system, lots of fans, strategically placed. They suck out hot air and blow in cool air and swirl it around and all the calendars flap and papers are blown off the table and I stay up late writing and thinking and listening to strange African music in all that moving, flowing, billowing air. It works. Not as good as air conditioning. There’s nothing like being buried beneath the covers in a cold bedroom on a hot night. But sleeping in a continuous stream of air works too.
We moved in here on one of those hottest days in forever. We have two flights of stairs, but as I was much younger then and macho to the core, I had planned on doing it all myself. My wife hired a friend to help me, fifty bucks and beer. We tossed in a pizza and laughs. We have so much more stuff now that when we finally move we’ll probably just burn it all and pretend we lived in the hills and lost everything in a summer inferno. Easier that way. This being California I’ve met several people who’ve lost everything to the flames. They seem well adjusted enough. Of course summer infernos imply a dry wind, which would actually be nice right about now. I’d turn off the fans and open the windows and let it flow though the house. Sheets of paper would lift like little magic carpets and float about the room. The vase full of flowers would blow over. My wife would yell and pick up the flowers. I’d turn up the music and the strange sounds of Mauritanian guitar would bother the neighbors out on the sundeck next door and they’d wish I go back to jazz again. Wait till the weather breaks, I’d tell them, wait till it’s cool again. Right now it’s gnawa time. And the music drones and circles and I can’t understand a word but it blends with the wind and I disappear entirely.
I have a hot Brazilian babe angry at me because I owe her some writing. This stuff didn’t happen before I became world famous and then world unfamous. There’s a price for fame and a price for unfame. Is there a happy medium? Maybe the psychic in El Sereno is a happy medium. Passed her office today. It was on Huntington Drive with a big evil eye painted on the window. Malocho. Huntington Drive must have the biggest parkway in the world. Enough once for two Red Lines. Now there’s a bike path and old men playing bocchi ball. Progress. We turned right for the hell of it because the street looked so steep. It curved and curved and wound and wound and turned to dirt and a dead end with a view you wouldn’t believe. We decided to get lost in Montecito Heights. We did, aimlessly, driving all around just looking and peering over edges. Gorgeous up there, abandoned in places, Appalachian. Down a bit the moneyed people show up. At the bottom was a house with huge metallic grasshoppers in the front yard. Art. Cool. Highland Park. Silver Lake used to be Highland Park, crazy, arty, weird, gay and dangerous. Now our Silver Lake neighborhood is very nice, very quiet chockfull of gorgeous, moneyed hipster chicks. I’m nearly 56 years old and grandfatherly. Oh the irony. Bored by our pleasant surroundings, we explore, like today. We wandered home from Highland Park down historic boulevards and up crazy backroads. Our secret way. L.A. is full of mysteries, lost continents, other dimensions, freaks. No wonder I live here.
Heading east from Santa Maria yesterday, we watched a guy in a nice SUV at 75 mph passing on blind curves on two lane Highway 166. Quite impressive. He had been passing while going uphill just before the crest, and it was so exciting a flock of other cars joined in. We slowed way down to avoid any unnecessary annihilation and let them get far ahead of us. At one point we crested a hill and had a spectacular view of the white SUV, without any accomplices now, occupying the oncoming lane as it rounded a curve between cliff and canyon. Any second we could have had a cinematographer’s dream of a fiery head on collision. But no, by sheer luck the white SUV pulled ahead of the other cars and over just as a another SUV came round the bend, its driver never knowing how close he came to being on CNN.
Blood Alley, someone at Jocko’s in Nipomo had warned us over lunch. All the three day weekend beach traffic trying to get back to Bakersfield asap. It had been calm and bloodless for the most part. The drivers had been behaving. I remember crazy scenes on the 126 (in Ventura County) and the 138 (in the upper Mojave) in their two lane days, blood alleys both, but nothing so far on the 166 equaled either. Then appeared the driver in the white SUV. He took reckless passing to a whole new level, made all the more exciting because our view was so cinematic. I felt like Sir David Lean about to watch the train plunge into the River Kwai. Madness, I would have said, madness. Alas, the moment passed without death and violence and nightmares for who knows how long, and the drive was safe and groovy and from thereon quite sane, and we made Maricopa with 8 miles to spare in the gas tank.
Gorgeous drive, the 166, one we’d never done. One waits a lifetime for perfect days on empty highways in the middle of nowhere. This had those moments, only three or four hours from L.A. and in the middle of nowhere. It had been 64 on the coast and 95 in Cuyama. 93 in New Cuyama. 95 again in Maricopa and 95 all the way down deep into the Central Valley. So flat that, the Valley. A perfect graben. Right there, in fact, on the Antelope Plain just north of Buttonwillow might be the flattest surface on the face of the globe. The horizon seems to extend northward forever without any topography at all between you and the curvature of the earth. The land is empty of people but lush with carefully arranged vegetation. Vineyards stitch away into the distance, almond groves stand silent and thirsty. The 166 ends without flourish at the 5 and we headed south. The 99 folded into the traffic flow. Suddenly, brake lights. The Grapevine was a parking lot, you could see cars parked all the way up the grade. So we got off at the last exit in the San Joaquin Valley, turned round and headed back towards Bakersfield and headed east on the 58, up and over the Tehachapi Mountains. Lots of trains there. Trains going round and round in tight circles, engines passing over cabooses. The Loop, they call it. You hang around Keene, California and you see little knots of Englishmen in engineer caps with binoculars watching those trains go round and round the Loop. Trainspotters. Every nation needs their hobbies. They watch trains, we play chicken on a two lane road at 75 mph.
At the top of the Tehachapi Pass the land levels out into a wide plain. We stopped for coffee and a stiff wind blew over us and into the arms of giant turbines. Another train passed, bound for the Loop. We got back in the car and headed east on the 58, plunging headlong into the Mojave desert in the dark.
I see a Filipino has made it onto the FBI’s ten most wanted list. I believe that is a first. You know you have made it when one of your own makes it onto the ten most wanted list. For years it was all Irish and Italians. We knew we’d made it. Anyway, this guy committed a particularly heinous murder right in the neighborhood, just a couple miles away, on Virgil Avenue. South of Sunset, as they say. It’s actually smack dab in the middle of Virgil Village, but they’re calling it East Hollywood in the news stories. To be honest that stretch of Virgil is a lot closer to Silver Lake and is road dieted and everything, two big empty bike lanes just like in my part of Silver Lake, but it’s only Silver Lake adjacent when you are trying to sell a house or open a Vegan restaurant there. If it’s homicide, it’s East Hollywood. No need to drag the good name of Silver Lake into it. Anyway, the guy split for the Philippines where the new president will probably want to hang him. He was driving a BMW. That’s right, he drives a BMW and makes the Ten Most Wanted List. If that ain’t Silver Lake adjacent then nothing is. Astig!