The crazy beauty of another Fourth of July in Los Angeles

I just love all the cacophony. It’s crazy beautiful. I’ve always loved the sight and sound of fireworks and this is one of best nights ever. We’re stuck at home this year, away from our annual Eastside hilltop vista, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. We can’t actually see much if the action here, with our view is blocked by a couple ridges and a zillion trees, but the sound echos amazingly up here, just extraordinary acoustics. The bursts close by are startling, while the most distant pile up in rumbling waves that have cone across miles of city. It’s an acoustic Jackson Pollock, random sweeps of explosions, low rolling waves of sound, the high treble of some rotten kid with strings of fire crackers across the street, the deep bass of enormous explosions big enough to blow off arms and legs. I really like the occasional concussion, a sound so big you can feel it, the aural gone tactile. All this madness really is a kind of anarchy, you know. It’s one of the things I most love about our city, all the backyard anarchy that comes every Fourth of July, the city so lawless with pyrotechnic misdemeanors that they’ve given up trying to enforce them. Freedom. A silly and fleeting sort of freedom, yeah, but a freedom from authority nonetheless.

Wow. That one was loud.

Rick’s Burgers

I couldn’t believe that we were ordering Rick’s Burgers online last night. Even as the DoorDash guy came to the door with my SuperBuy and Fyl’s cheeseburger and onion rings I didn’t believe it. It’s like the last two ungentrified things in Silver Lake were me and Rick’s burgers, and suddenly Rick’s is online with all the foodies and I’m using an app on an iPhone to order from them. Progress. It seems wrong, though. The first time I went to Rick’s seems impossibly far back in the eighties. I wrote on a typewriter then, and cut and pasted flyers, and sent and received postcards from weirdos. I made mix tapes for the blaster in the car after the radio died, while our parties ended with LPs and singles scattered on the floor. I had never used a computer at any job. How could something as impossibly analog as a Rick’s SuperBuy emerge from the ether in 2020 as tasty and sloppy as if a not yet thirty year old me had just ordered it from the little hottie at the window? And while she’s a grandmother now, the burger never changed. It’s the last ungentrified thing in Silver Lake.

Next stop, Willoughby

Was out on the moondeck around midnight and the silence was something. A solitary siren set off the coyotes and for a minute there I could have been in the middle of the Mojave, but the siren keened away and the coyotes shushed. A bat fluttered by. An owl flapped from one tree to another without making a sound. There wasn’t a voice to be heard, or a laugh, or the sounds of love, no loud music or blaring TVs or anything else that lets you know there are people living around you, no dog barked or mockingbird sang, nothing.

Indeed, if it weren’t for the incessant 24/7 news on TV or the hysteria on social media or headlines in the paper we’d have no idea whatsoever that all hell is breaking loose. We’ve heard no extra sirens or helicopters, smelled no smoke, heard no gunfire, seen no angry people in the street, no police, nothing, and yet just a couple miles away in every directions the masses are marching and protesting and chanting. Shops were looted. Cars burned. People beaten with clubs. But you couldn’t tell up here. The one hint something was amiss was no mail for a couple days. That was it.

Otherwise we pleasantly isolate–there’s still a pandemic on, even in all this silence–and we get everything delivered. Just yesterday I got up late and ordered some marijuana (alas, for arthritis and not just getting stoned), some groceries and deposited a check while I sat on the couch drinking my first coffee of the day, and all online. The dope appeared in under an hour, the groceries in a little over an hour, and the check was in our account instantaneously. It seemed more like magic than technology.

The future is here and it is extremely pleasant, and our little neighborhood tucked away on the edge of Silverlake—behind us on the other side of our ridge is the Golden State Freeway and the river, and scores of ducks and geese fly from lake to river and back again at sun up and sundown—feels completely separate from the real world, like we’re in an episode of Twilight Zone, and this is Willoughby.

Life expectancy

This Canter’s Rueben ought to make up for all the vegetarian meals I usually eat. I suppose the pickle is the vegan part. And there’s enough oil in these onion rings for a whole weekend of orgies. Slippin’ and a slidin’, gotta wash my hands. The pickle just squirted all across the table, iPad, and me. Eek. Pickle piddle everywhere. The Russian dressing is this wanton creamy stuff that must be fatal in large doses. I can’t possibly eat the other half of this sandwich. It’s perfectly decadent what you can have delivered to your door in Hollywood during a lockdown. When do the dancing midgets get here?

Angie

Back about 1981 a woman with a fraffully English accent left a message on our answering machine saying Hello, this is Angie and told us what was happening at the Brave Dog that weekend. The Brave Dog was a crazily hip and completely illegal nightspot for weirdos in Little Tokyo. It’s a subway station now. Who’s Angie? my wife asked. Somebody said it was Angie Bowie. David Bowie’s ex? Calling us? For a second I thought we’d made it. She must be calling everybody on the Brave Dog list, my wife said. Maybe it’s her job. I pictured David Bowie’s ex in some weird outfit and crazy make up and huge platinum hair, pressing all these 213 numbers with endless fingernails. I could almost feel the ennui. She used to hang with the Beatles. Now she was calling us. It was too ridiculous. It couldn’t possibly be Angie Bowie. It must be some other Angie. That was forty years ago almost. I wouldn’t be so easily thrilled now anyway. Too long in Hollywood. This town is full of exes. But I’ve always wondered who that Angie was, not that I thought about it much. But I’m retired now, and have more time to think.

No order whatsoever

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.

I’m told they make motion pictures here

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.

Fire

The air is deathly still atop our hill here in Silver Lake, till the hint of a breeze brings the smell and sting of a bad burn miles away. That’s not a little fire, that smell, that’s whole neighborhoods, and jillions of molecules from burned houses fill the air in brownian motion, we inhale them, exhale them, they stick to our skin till we wash them off in the shower and they flow toward the ocean and infinity.

Penultimate Sunday at Cafe NELA

So for I don’t know how many hours all these very creative types—some musicians, a writer, a couple artists, maybe some others—had settled in around a beat up table in an assortment of abandoned chairs at the very bottom of the Cafe NELA patio. Either gravity or our careers had left us there because you couldn’t get any lower than that table. We sat there drinking and smoking and laughing way too loud, the jokes were terrible and the insults mean and the stories were always old and sometimes true. Far nicer people than us gave us a wide circle, like plump fishes warily eyeing a circle of sharks. Sometimes one would foolishly come too close and be devoured, chomp, in a swirl of cackles and humiliation. It was all rather merciless and totally enjoyable and we sat there for hours laughing and basking in our asshole exceptionalism. We knew we were it. We knew it did not get any lower than us. More dumb jokes, each more offensive than the last, some bass players having no pride at all. Eventually three grown men were doing Jackie Mason impressions at the same time, though not quite in harmony. I’d never heard three bad Jackie Mason impressions at the same time. Probably never will again. Pipes went round. Holy vodka in a water bottle, Batman. Even friends were abandoning us by now. The Jackie Mason was getting weird, the sculptress was getting dangerously out there. We were starting to peak on our own delicious high. This is what I’m gonna miss, my painter buddy said, this. You can see music anywhere, he said, but this…. He gestured it in water colors, I saw it in words. This, he said, this is the life.

Leesa

Didn’t know I had this one, a shot of the Creamers from back in the mid 80’s, Sue Gorilla on guitar, and Leesa Poole just gorgeous at the microphone. I liked Leesa a lot, we were good buddies, and for a while she ran an office on Wilshire Blvd next door to where I worked, her day gig and my day gig side by side. I think we’re talking 1987. I can’t remember what she did, maybe corporate recruiting, while I worked then at the corporate headquarters of US Borax, running the mail room and shipping department and a small warehouse and sundry other sections. It was my sole stint as a manager, with a crew of ten or so. Leesa had called and said let’s do lunch in a couple days and at the appointed time she came down to my basement office to pick me up. I was in my usual blue collar business casual. She wasn’t.

No, she was dressed to kill in a leather mini miniskirt and crazily ripped black hose and wild heeled boots, while above she was in some tight spangled tee shirt and a studded denim jacket and her hair a platinum explosion. There was a billowy scarf and jangly bracelets and rings and necklaces and look at me earrings. There was even a tattoo. She looked fabulous and was probably the wildest thing seen on Wilshire Boulevard east of La Brea in years. I laughed—I mean I’d never seen her in this get up, on stage she looked positively puritanical in comparison, but this I assume was her daily office duds. My crew, on the other hand, did not laugh, or do anything. They were stunned into complete silence and just stared, eyes wide, jaws dropped. Remember, this was still the Reagan 80’s, dreary and conservative, and nothing had been seen like Leesa since the wild 70’s, and none of that even then had ever permeated my crew’s working class enclaves. As Leesa and I headed out they found excuses to follow us down the hall, one even ran ahead to hold the elevator door open, and when the door opened again on the first floor there was somehow a small audience trying to look like they weren’t staring. I have no idea how they collected there so quickly, but office buildings before the internet were like villages of a few hundred people, and juicy information could be passed from floor to floor with astonishing speed. Before we’d even left the building the chatter had begun.

I can’t remember where we had lunch or what we talked about, but I do remember that by the time I got back to the office the news of my supposedly wanton escapade had gotten all the way to the ninth floor. It didn’t help that I quite literally knew every single person in the building, especially the secretaries with whom I worked very closely. Every secretary, even today, is like a switchboard. If they heard that I was messing around with a real live movie star who looked exactly like Debbie Harry (as the report had it by the time it reached the ninth floor) then their entire department would know it as well, as any nearby secretaries. Over the next couple days I had to explain to the secretaries that no, I wasn’t having a fling with a wild rock star. It was just lunch, I said. Yes, my wife knows her, we’re all friends. Yes, my wife knew about the lunch. No, she’s not a movie star. No, she’s not a rock star. She’s a singer in a band. No, not a famous band…. I must have been convincing as the chatter and whispers faded away. Besides I was a nice guy. I wasn’t chasing anybody around any desks or being a creep. There wasn’t much to hang such a juicy rumor on. But lesson learned, and that was the very last time I ever let the day gig get a glimpse of my real life, something I stuck by for the next twenty five years of my professional life. It’s better that way. Let them think I’m normal became a mantra. Well, sort of normal anyway.

I hadn’t remembered any of this in years, perhaps decades, until I saw this photograph. Fun band, the Creamers. I doubt Leesa ever knew the stir she caused at US Borax. I doubt anybody I knew outside work ever did. I never told a soul. Some things are better left unspoken for thirty years or so.