[Just found this amid the drafts, it appears to have been pieced together from various bits and might be ten years old, and some of it perhaps twenty or thirty years old, I don’t remember. It’s a rough draft, obviously, but I’ll leave as is.]
Someone asked about the ON Klub. In Silver Lake, right? On Sunset? Facebook archaeology. Look for the old people that remember. A few of us did. Had actually been there even. I could even recite the address, though how I have no idea. But it was 3037 W. Sunset. Silverlake–it was one word then, though it’s back to two again now–was terra incognita then. People knew Hollywood, and people knew Echo Park was next to Dodger Stadium, but Silverlake was an amorphous area inbetween, and Sunset Blvd was dimly lit and dark shadowed as night fell, dingy old gay bars and botanicas and liquor stores and abandoned storefronts. Everything old and if not quite falling down, was aging less than gracefully. You could tell that a generation or two before this area had been something. If you dared to turn left or right and chugged up the steep hill in whatever beat up seventies lemon you were stuck in (it was the end of a decade of terrible American industrial workmanship, when everything was built just to break down, and a whole nation was topographically divided by whether the car could make it up that hill or not) the darkness would close in around you, the houses hidden behind steel bars and lush foliage, the apartment buildings peeling and battered, and who were those sketchy guys on the sidewalk? The streets twisted upon themselves immediately, dead ended or narrowed to the width of a single car and Sunset Blvd disappeared somewhere back there and you were lost, instantly. We were new in town, just a year or two, and lived in East Hollywood with the Armenians and Mexicans and gays and losers and ancient people who tended roses in yards in front of old clapboard houses they’d lived in since the silent days. We never explored Silverlake. We’d pass through it on the way downtown till we figured out a quicker route. But that was it.
Our car had died and we were dependent on the RTD–now MTA–for transportation for a year. That was a drag. You miss a lot of things that way. At some point we scraped up enough cash for a car and bought a Pinto. They were homely and cheap and deadly in a collision. Ours was blue and it rattled and it never saw the fast lane of a freeway. But it was wheels. I’m pretty sure this was the car we first went to the ON Klub in. We kept reading about the place in the LA Reader–never bothered with the LA Weekly back then, the Reader was much hipper and Matt Groening wrote the music column–and all these bands I’d hear on KXLU occasionally seemed to be playing there. Weird bands, crazy bands, punk rock bands that annoyed everybody. We had to go there. It was a Saturday night. We’d worked our shit jobs that week and collected our paychecks. Put almost enough in the bank to cover the bills, and the rest in our pockets. ATM cards didn’t exist yet, and credit cards were beyond most of us. It was a cash only economy at our level. Cheap restaurants, cheap clubs, cheap beer and rag weed. We had apparently just smoked a whole joint’s worth because I remember being stoned out of our minds as we crept down a darkened Sunset Boulevard looking for the address. We went right past it at least once, turned around, and headed back. 3037 Sunset, that’s it. There was a marquee I think above the door. I think it said Oriental Nights. Maybe it said ON Klub too. I can’t remember if that K was to make it punk rock or if it was some affectation left over from its history as a rather notorious gay bar from the days before Stonewall. Silver Lake–two words way back then–had been a center and hide out for Hollywood’s gays since the twenties. Fyl once described a bus trip down Sunset sitting behind two elderly queens. As the bus made its way slowly along, these two kept pointing to their old haunts and reminiscing. Remember that place? Oh and that one? Mary, this, Mary that. The Silver Lake Lounge. The Black Cat Tavern. Oriental Nights was one. They giggled and whispered something about the place. By the time she got off the bus downtown she’d had the whole tour. But that was twenty years later. I have no idea what we thought the place had been as we entered that night. You didn’t really ask questions about punk rock clubs, you just took them as they came, hoping it would last more than a week. When you’re twenty something the past isn’t especially important anyway. Or shouldn’t be.
The place was a dive. It was old, built into a hillside, almost a cliff, it was almost like it was built into a cavern. East Hollywood was flat as Kansas but here just two miles away weird bars were excavated into bedrock and the neighborhoods clung to hillsides along streets undulating who knows where. It was a different world. Gays and hippies and vatos, ancient bohemians and chattering Filipinos and breathtakingly beautiful Latinas that returned your stare with a sneer. It didn’t feel like home, yet, but I liked it. We found parking along Sunset somewhere near the joint and went in.
Think the place began booking punk around 1981? But only for a couple years. It was there for years afterward, first an empty shell, lonely and sad and weed choked, and then was a film studio storage place or something for decades, might still be. I don’t remember as much ska there as later at the ON Klub in Hollywood. I remember some really nuts underground shit, though. Nip Drivers in 82 or 83 remains one of my favorite shows ever, it was demented, plus some guy was fucking with Fyl and she poured her drink over his head, but it was the wrong guy, and he got mad, and Fyl told him to fuck off, and he got madder, and she told him to fuck off, bitch, so he got even madder, all dripping and sticky, and I told him to leave (think I just pointed at the door) which he did, but he wrote us a nasty personal ad in the LA Reader, called me a “hulking boyfriend”, which we still have pressed in a photo album somewhere. I loved punk rock.
Just saw an article about how there are only two Pioneer Chicken restaurants left in Southern California, where once there were hundreds, or flocks of them anyway. Now I’ve never eaten at Pioneer Chicken. Not a fan of greasy fried chicken. But back in the ‘80’s my wife went to interview for an executive secretary gig at the Pioneer Chicken corporate headquarters on 6th Street in Los Angeles. The whole Pioneer Chicken Empire was run from there, all those restaurants, all those chickens. She was ushered into the president’s office. He looked at her. We’re here to sell chicken, he said. My wife giggled. Sorry, she said. He started again. We’re here to sell chicken. My wife giggled. Sorry she said. He tried again. We’re here to sell chicken, he said. Again my wife giggled, she couldn’t help it. What’s so funny, he asked. Chickens are funny, she said. Interview over, he said. She got up to leave. But they are funny, she said.
She didn’t get the job.
There’s all this bright, shiny, silent, scary, dry stuff outside everywhere and it’s creeping me out. Apparently it’s supposed to be there all afternoon. Some of it got inside the living room where it stains the floor mimicking the window and is warm to the touch, as if alive. The wife tells me it’s been creeping slowly across the room. This is like the lamest Outer Limits ever.
Weirdest thing that happened to me in 2018 was being mistaken for Ray Charles’ son. She was elderly and very sweet and had known Ray Charles and his son and I apologized and said no, I’m not and felt quite guilty about it as she looked so painfully bewildered that I wasn’t.
So I woke up on the couch at 4 a.m. and as I stumbled off to bed I noticed a kitchen completely untouched since dinner. Pots, pans, plates, leftovers, utensils up the wazoo. A spattered stove. Half dreaming it I washed everything, then dried everything, then put everything away. Then I sleepily cleaned up the stove and countertops. Did I mention the carefully wrapped leftovers in perfect stacks in the fridge and freezer? I got to bed at 6 a.m. This must be the retired life, clockless, unrestrained by civilized standards of time. And then oversleeping.
Today’s the day that we on the left hand side of the Atlantic (and just downstairs from Canada) celebrate not having a clue what Boxing Day is nor knowing that we don’t. It’s my favorite holiday aside from Februaries 30th and 31st, which have been stacking up uncelebrated forever.
First it was Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray square dancing. Then Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan square dancing. When it came to dance Barbara was down to folk. But every time I see square dancing I break out in hives. From second to sixth grades inclusive I went to ten different schools (or maybe nine schools, one twice) in I think six states and every time we moved to the next school they were just beginning square dance lessons. Everything was folk music then, autoharps and hoe downs, Michael Rowed The Boat Ashore and square dancing. I hated square dancing. I hated it so much I can still feel the tightening in my stomach when they announced that lucky us, today we were going to learn to square dance. I hated learning how to square dance in San Diego, Anaheim, Tacoma, Anaheim again and on an island off the coast of Maine. I hated it in rural Brunswick ME and inner city Woodbury NJ and somewhere outside Boston. I hated it in Placentia CA and in Virginia Beach. And by the end of my endless square dance tour I still couldn’t dosey doe without tripping over my own feet. It took some effort to maintain that sort of hapless clodhoppery from California to the Gulf Stream waters in the 1960’s. But I did it.
I learned to sing all the folk songs, though. Apparently I liked singing. I learned all the cowboy songs they taught us too. Goodbye Ol’ Paint, I’m leaving Cheyenne. Cool, clear water, Tumbling tumbleweeds, and the eerie Ghost Riders in the Sky. Though I thought it was ghost writers in the sky, and wanted to be one. Some things do come true, sort of.