I remember at the house on Edgecliffe in the 80’s we had hundreds and hundreds of albums but I was so punk rock they were in no order whatsoever. Anarchy, I said. Sometimes if I was tired of hearing the same record every week—we were having parties almost weekly, loud obnoxious drunken punk rock parties that went on till dawn—I’d hide the record way in the back somewhere. Only the most determined digger—The Panther was the best—would flip through hundreds of LPs to find Sticky Fingers. Most would just pick something that looked cool and it might be some frenzied Yugoslavian punk rock or squealing Swiss saxophones or bad Lee Michaels. Then there’d be a drunken screech of the tone arm across once perfect vinyl, a pregnant few seconds, and Brown Sugar again.
We moved to Hollywood forty years ago this very month and have lived in Hollywood and Silver Lake since then. And in that long span of decades we’ve only watched the Oscars once, when we were invited to a viewing party, which was kind of a new thing thirty years ago. But we hadn’t seen any of the movies or recognized almost any of the stars and couldn’t give a flying fuck about what they were wearing and found ourselves with absolutely nothing to say. We were just staggeringly bored. In fact it remains the dullest party I can ever remember. An hour into the festivities we made some lame excuse and split early to go see some loud music in a no doubt dank and dark club. That party was our one brush with show biz fandom. That was our whiff of the Day of the Locust.
So I suppose there’s more than a little irony in us living in a place for thirty years now that was built in 1931 and has probably been populated by a whole series of people who worked in the Industry. Silverlake after all was a movie studio suburb, that’s why it’s here. Yet Fyl and I are in our own universe and show business in another, and neither we nor show biz are even aware the other exists. I even worked for a studio for 15 years and somehow maintained my abject ignorance of all things currently film related. I really don’t know how we’ve managed it, I mean it’s not deliberate, we’re not trying to make a point or be, ya know, different. We live surrounded by the film industry. Yet somehow year after year we’re blissfully ignorant of its biggest day, like a pair of atheists in Vatican City not realizing it’s Easter Sunday.
Back around 1980 and someone puts on the Cars or the B-52s or Joe Jackson and you bellow I don’t wanna listen to this shit, put on something real and they know exactly what you mean, though it’s almost impossible to explain what you meant to people now, and you might not even know anymore yourself. But sometimes, when the circumstances are just right, it comes welling up out of nowhere, that feeling, and suddenly you’re an asshole again, cackling at shit going wrong and heckling the musicians like some crazed geezer uncle the kids aren’t sure what to do with.
Not that I’ve ever done this.
When I first started working in offices back in the mid seventies all office space was open, unless you were literally in an office with a door. There was no email then anyway. All communication was done on the phone, by memo, verbally or whispered. People sat at metal or wooden desks and there were big metal file cabinets everywhere to store all the papers, as everything was done on paper and filed. Every desk had in and out boxes, and inter office mail came through twice a day at the very least. The clatter of dozens of typewriters filled the air like machine guns. Phones rang like fire alarms. Every office looked like a microcosm of the agoraphobic expense of desks and adding machines in The Apartment.
I first remember cubicles in the 80’s though they were pretty open still, three sided and often only waist high between neighbors. That was essential because there was no other way to communicate with the people around you unless you called them on the phone which was weird, as they were just a few feet away. I began to see floors full of three and four walled cubicles five feet high as the eighties went on. Once email and intranets became standard business practices in the late 90’s offices grew weirdly silent and the employees mostly invisible. They padded about on the wall to wall carpeting and even the chairs rolled silently on casters, with none of the squeak of wooden legs across wooden floors of the old days.
In the early 2000’s instant messaging (as they called it then) made it possible to hide in your four walled cubicle and gossip relentlessly and have virtual affairs and talk to corporate head hunters. And everyone had access to the internet, not just the company intranet, so an employee could surf away an afternoon if no one was looking. No one ever was. You really had no idea what your fellow employees were doing. Floors could be eerily silent. You’d walk around a couple corners and discover entire departments you didn’t know were there, people in cubicles hunched over computers typing silently on lap tops. The rat a tat of work station keyboards was becoming a thing of the past. Sometimes on a stroll you’d uncover the eerie remains of departments suddenly vanished, artifacts scattered about like something awful had happened and the people had fled, leaving behind pads of paper and office art and an Alice Cooper’s greatest hits cd.
Cubicles had evolved into these towering things so high you could look across your office and have no idea if half the cubicles were occupied at all. The last job I had I was specifically assigned to a floor to bring it back to life, my boss told me, get them talking, make them laugh, to see if I could get them to communicate with each other. It was a rough assignment. The last thing people wanted was to actually talk to each other, or let HR see them them there, ripe for a lay off. But I succeeded, and when I left what a happy bunch they seemed. Most of them had not even realized most of them were working in the same department. It was seen as a major achievement. It was my final culminating achievement of nearly four decades spent in offices. Then, beaten down by a life of epilepsy, I retired.
Last I heard the top brass was still discussing an open workspace. It seemed inconceivable to the employees, a crime against nature, a violation of basic human rights. It just sounded like 1975 to me, but with computers. I was gone before any of that happened. My last cubicle had the walls six feet high, and the lady next to me would come by and whisper about everybody else.
Four unanswered goals by the New York Islanders. We’d been up two zip at the end of the first. Another third period massacre. If hockey games lasted only two periods the Los Angeles Kings would have a solid shot at the playoffs. If they lasted only one period we’d be one of the best teams in the NHL. If there were no games at all the Kings would be unbeatable.
Still I watch. I can remember worse days, I tell myself. I am one with the universe. I am one with the universe. Nothing matters….
My name and office number came up in the fine print on every single url the Walt Disney Company owned. Thousands of websites. My phone was forever ringing with people really mad about something or other. Once back in the mid nineties J Lo’s publicist called me. I’m sorry, I said, who? J Lo, he said. I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with the name. I was extremely polite about it. It didn’t help. Her publicist could not believe that I did not know who J Lo was. He took it as a personal affront. He screamed. He ranted. He threw a really spectacular New York City hissy fit. She had just been on TV, he said. You do watch TV, don’t you? I lied. No I didn’t, I said, I couldn’t, because my television had busted. You could almost hear his eyes roll three thousand miles away. Maybe you should buy a new one he hissed and slammed down the phone.
I had no idea what the call was for. I turned to the lady next to me. Who is J Lo? Jennifer Lopez, she said. Who? With the big culo, she said. Oh, her. Why didn’t he say so?
So I got an email telling me I’d have a call yesterday at 10 am, a business call. So I set the alarm, showered, brushed my teeth, rinsed with mouthwash, put on black slacks, green shirt, black socks, black blazer, picked up my wallet, keys, watch with fob, grabbed coffee in one of the better mugs and went out on the sundeck to await the call. I noticed the shoes were scuffed and chided myself for not polishing them. Then it dawned on me I had become one of those old retired guys that overdresses to go to McDonalds. Well, they wear ties. So I took off the blazer and drank my coffee and snapped a picture of the view. When the call came the people never noticed my shoes anyway. I suppose I could have posted a picture.