Got to our pals’ Lincoln Heights hilltop eastside estate about 2 pm yesterday. We were there for party prep. Apparently we have a reputation for that skill set. The neighbors have guard chihuahuas, a whole herd of them. They yammer and woof and charge the fence like scary little tribbles, and their racket sets off that perfect eastside chorus of chihuahuas and pit bulls that echoed up and down the endless stairs on the way up. A lot of stairs. The hills of old LA are full of them. There’s some that lead to the top of our own hill even. People used to walk in the old days. Every neighborhood had Laurels and Hardys and pianos back then. You trudge up these long stairways, the street far, far below, and suddenly you’re in a sky island full of your friends, like those forests that sit atop mountains in the middle of the desert, lush and green and full of birds and rare trees. You walk into your friends’ little sky island and settle in and the city is all around you yet seems so far away. You feel one with all the other sky islands you can see, the hills in Echo Park and Silver Lake and Mount Washington and even Dodger Stadium looming across the river atop its own hill. There is the teeming city below and the sky islands above it, each one full of rare species and entire herds of chihuahuas.
The first guests arrived about four. They came in all night a handful at a time, went out to the deck, drank and ate and partook. Everything was perfect, the chatter continuous. The last of us left at four. Though it was actually 3, as the clocks had all magically jumped forward an hour at 1 a.m. So the twelve hour party was actually an 11 hour party and we can all pretend we blacked out in there somewhere and lost sixty minutes. There was a covered deck in the back yard, brought piece by piece up those zillion stairs, like Gold Rush saloons that were carried by mule and man power up mountain trails and reassembled in their Edwardian glory at the top of some Sierra peak. The bar here was limitless, endless tequilas in crazy eastside bottles–Aztec skulls, lovely hearts, tall thin phallic shapes, everything. Other boozes too, and beer and wine up the wazoo, but I stuck with tequila, though on ice, please don’t tell anyone. And this crowd had all kinds of glaucoma and arthritis and back strains–guitars are heavy–and was thoroughly medicated. Someone put on the Grateful Dead (Europe ’72) and I knew every goddam song without every having owned it or any Dead LP. There was a price to paid for living in California in the 70’s-The Dead. Well, the Dead and the Beach Boys. Sometimes even now you’ll be at a party somewhere and be surrounded by obsessives of both, the people on one side talking about Jerry, the people on the other about Brian–we have no last names here in California–and you just want to scream but don’t because screaming would bum the Deadheads’ long strange trips as the Beach Boys fans bolted for the nearest sand box. Anyway, that Europe ’72 is peak Dead, as our former Russian ambassador said (he did, I saw it on Twitter, he was a Deadhead. Imagine a Deadhead dealing with Vladimir Putin who, shirtless, looks a bit like Ted Nugent), and its stony acid hippie groove atop the hilltop sounded good, with Los Angeles spilling out in all directions in front of us. The music had a mellower vibe all afternoon–Jack Black, getting his inner Nashville on, spun a few times, and Faces (Oh La La), and that mellow live Velvet Underground album (1969, which was also perfect hilltop listening) and back to the Dead. Rambling Rose. The grass ain’t greener/the wine ain’t sweeter/either side of the hill, sang Jerry. And maybe that’s true. But up here on top of the hill, listening to his mournful solo, everything actually was greener and sweeter. Everything was just fine.
Night fell slowly, squeezing every last bit out color out if the horizon, fading out in a mellow tangerine and the night sky, at first an inky Russian blue, became black, starlit, only a tinge chilly. The lights flickered on one by one till at last LA was tiny splashes of light, and the endless geometry of street lights, and signage in red, blue, green, golden arch yellow. Sonically things took on a harder edge with the pre-Minutemen Reactionaries (a great CD), and MIA sounded good, and Antibalas was a dream up there on the sky island, the city everywhere before us and crazy West African rhythms swirling polyrhythmically about our heads. We sat round a fire that took the hint of cold out of the breeze, and drank and partook and munched and yammered and laughed and told stories and gazed out across Los Angeles and fell madly in love with the place again as you do every time you see it by night from a hilltop. Occasionally sirens rent the scene, but there were no gunshots, no visible police action, no nothing but people long in bed as we still sat up there in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth hour of this endless party. This city has calmed down from a couple decades ago, when nighttime hilltop views brought a vista of flashing lights and police helicopters as far as you could see. Now it sleeps. At last, fearing dawn before we even got home, we said our goodbyes. No one was driving, we all called Lyft to take us home. We weaved down those endless steps amid that vast orchestra of chihuahuas and pitbulls making its crazy music at the sound of our voices, and the friend with us took my wife’s arm and escorted her down the steps in the dark. I watched from fifty feet back their silhouettes stepping with a shaky grace, till they hit flat ground again and parted with a thank you. The dogs all settled down, our car showed up and we sped away though the winding hillside streets in the dark.
Said I’d make dinner. Fridge and crispers pretty bare, cupboards barer. We need to do some shopping. Found a package of Farmer John maple breakfast links in the freezer. No idea where they came from. Thawed ’em and fried ’em slowly. I let a pot of water get to a rolling boil and slipped in a mess of rigatoni. Then I found a small can of tomato sauce, diced up some onion and black olives and stirred them up together in a sauce pan, plus a few seasonings. OK, now what. Flipped on the kitchen radio. A sax solo, sharp, kind of crazy. Grabbed a bigger skillet, heated up some olive oil and tossed in a mess more of that chopped onion and black olives. I’m digging this saxophone, Johnny Griffin I think, with hints of Lester Young. Found three grape tomatoes, quartered them and added them. Then grabbed a bag of broccoli and tossed maybe a dozen florets into the skillet with the onion and olives. Stirred it all around, then let it sizzle. Added a few various seasonings, plus a couple sprinkles of garlic powder. The sax solo was done, the sausages were done. I took them off the heat and onto some paper towels to get rid of the grease. Drum solo. Maybe Roy Haynes. The rigatoni was ready, so I tossed that into a strainer. Now what? Drummer drops big beats on the bass drum, I dumped the pasta into the skillet, stirring it around. Diced up the links, tossed them in. Kept stirring. High hat splashes. More olive oil. A few seasonings. Low heat. Sizzles. Definitely Roy Haynes. Did some of the dishes. Gave it a few more stirs. Made a fresh pot of coffee. Thelonious Monk on the radio. Got out the plates. Sliced up a cucumber. Got in a last couple stirs. Tried to remember the tune Monk is playing. In Walked Bud. Found some parmesan from a pizza delivery. Called Fyl into the kitchen. A final stir. In walked Fyl. Taste test. Very solemn. She’s letting her taste buds take their time, then nods in the affirmative. That’s good she says and smiles. Monk solos. I hand her a plate and she spoons herself out a big helping, graces it with parmesan, and gives me a kiss.
I don’t know how, or even what to call it, but it sure was good.
Walked into my polling place and was mistaken for an actor I never heard of, apparently famous. They all got very excited and I was afraid, for a minute, I was going to have to sign an autograph. Wouldn’t be the first time. There followed a bizarre moment where they were explaining to me who I was. Fortunately my name was there on the list of voters. As I left the polling booth they were still marveling that I looked exactly like a movie star. I retreated out the side door. This is my life in Hollywood, somebody else’s.
George Carlin reruns on the tube. He’s not so high strung yet, still doing the stoned schtick. The hippie dippy weatherman routine hasn’t aged well, but the rest has. Reminds me how my wife Fyl saw George Carlin get busted at an outdoor gig in Milwaukee for doing his dirty words bit. That was in 1972. Fyl was sixteen, a bad girl, sassy and curvy, smoking a joint with a couple of hippies she’d never met before. But they were cool, she was cute, and they had grass. They’d rolled it in an American flag rolling paper, hippie chic in Nixon’s America in ’72. Carlin began his bit about the seven dirty words you can’t say on television and rattled them off, fuck etc, and out came Milwaukee’s finest. Well, Milwaukee’s finest was a beer. Out came the Milwaukee cops. Cuffed him right on stage. Fuck the Pigs one of the hippies said. Yeah, fuck the pigs she said. She told me this story probably right after we met a lifetime ago, and it crystallized into permanence in my memory so vividly I was there. I can smell the weed, feel the paranoia, feel the breeze coming off the lake. She’d be wearing low slung jeans, flared, and a tight rock’n’roll tee shirt her mom hated, reveling in all this freedom and excitement, smoking pot with hippies. Every freak in Milwaukee was there digging George Carlin and he gets busted. Something to talk about in the rock’n’roll bars on Brady Street that night, George Carlin and the Man and revolution. She snuck into those too. Milwaukee was loose in those days, loose and a little wanton. Innocent girls turned bad, hung out with hippies and a little later morphed into punk rockers. Ahh, the seventies.
I’ve lived in Hollywood/Silverlake for almost forty years. Movie industry everywhere. Yet once again a famous actor dies I have never heard of. I look at his IMDB filmography. I recognize the title of dozens of the movies he’s been in, some of which even deserve that dreadful appellation iconic. I have seen exactly one of those movies. One. Apollo 13, on cable, many years ago. If anyone wanted proof of multiple universes in the same space at the same time, I am apparently in one, Hollywood is in the other, and neither of us is aware of the other, though my universe would be much, much smaller. Way smaller. We’re talking Whoville. This would also explain how I once spent a good fifteen minutes standing next to Tony Curtis, looking right at him, and having no idea who he was. He was in the vast Hollywood universe. I was drifting by in my tiny little one. We were probably both staring at the same chick, our dimensions crossing on hers. I was twenty something. He was a dirty old man. We didn’t have those in my universe, not yet anyway.
The universes do come together occasionally, though, in those weird times where people insist I am somebody and demand an autograph. There must be somebody just like me in Hollywood. Big and tall and hulking. He’s been in all these movies or was it TV shows, it’s on the tips of their tongues. Then the people leave me alone and the universes part again.
Woke up this morning, sleepily got out of bed with the blankets somehow wrapped around my ankle, took one step, pulling all the blankets onto the floor, lost my balance and toppled into them. It was as if someone had turned the volume off and there was no sound whatsoever, just a big giant guy falling into a pile of blankets noiselessly, poof, a clip from a lost silent film. They used to make those in this very neighborhood, westerns along what is now Glendale Boulevard, and Keystone Cops a bit further down. Sometimes the multiverses blend together and our narratives go in odd directions, and where once I would have risen and walked sleepily into the kitchen for a cup of coffee this time I wound up in a two reeler with Charlie Chaplin about to hit me with a pie.
I just said something out loud and scared myself. My voice is back. Way down low. It had been gone since the week of Christmas, when some Typhoid Mary (now there’s a nickname, though none of the earnest young breeders in my hetero’d neighborhood would understand) gave everyone at the xmas party the flu. Viruses are impressive, does anything alive spread faster? Actually no, dumb question, that is why they are so contagious. Indeed, it is debatable if they are even alive at all. At least the flu virus rarely kills anymore. Wait twenty years. That’ll be some christmas party. Octogenarians getting stoned and drunk and trying to remember the words to Blitkrieg Bop will drop like plague victims the next day. Maybe we’ll have a mass wake. But I am digressing, I was talking about my voice. It’s back and rumbling. I am a mensch again, finally. Basso profundo. Lesser voiced dudes shuffle out of the way. Barmaids give special attention. People assume I am a boss, or a movie star, or important. If only I could find my testicles.