Giant inflatable robots

I love Hollywood & Highland. Inside is that trippy interior courtyard with the Intolerance elephants overhead and tourists everywhere, shuffling and staring and wearing stupid tee shirts they picked up on the Boulevard. It can be surprisingly blissful in there though, and sometimes they have jazz concerts, and sometimes it’s just full of people chatting or reading or napping. Yet just a hundred or so feet away, out on Hollywood Boulevard, it is utter madness, with demented superheroes and people who will never wash their hands again after touching John Wayne’s boot prints. You never know what will be happening out there. One night a few years ago we left the courtyard after a concert and nearly walked into the path of a police chase at 5 mph. A hundred police cars with lights flashing proceeding ever so slowly down Hollywood Boulevard and the lady they were chasing ran out of gas right there and coasted to a stop right in front of the Chinese Theatre. You couldn’t imagine anything more cinematically perfect. The throng of tourists, like extras, rushed into the street to touch her car as she emerged. The cops pleaded through bullhorns for the people to stay clear of the vehicle, the suspect might be armed. But it was Day of the Locust, baby, and nothing could stop grandma from getting that selfie. The suspect emerged from her little car, unarmed and exhausted and infinitely sad. She laid down on the pavement. A zillion cell phone cameras flashed. A man in Superman get-up rushed into the street to pose in front of the scene. A Michael Jackson impersonator moonwalked past. Spiderman watched, then slunk into the shot. The cops waved him off, and he slunk away.

I’ve always wondered what ever happened to that car chase lady. It was the most pathetic car chase I ever saw. I mean you could have pushed that car faster, with all four tires punctured and running our of gas right there in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard. It was a scene from a Buster Keaton silent. Just a week before, though, in the very same spot giant inflatable robots stood for some movie premiere. Every premiere ever it seems has taken place there with crowds and limos and red carpets, but this one had giant robot balloons too. That was different. I remember we came out onto Hollywood Blvd after a one of the Tuesday night jazz gigs in the courtyard and saw them, those giant balloons, looming. Then, as we maneuvered around the premier on side streets, heading home, we came upon another giant inflatable robot balloon held in reserve, looming in an empty parking lot, just in case. Just in case what I’ll never know. As we stopped at a light I watched that extra giant robot in the rear view mirror, and it looked both spectacular and idiotic, like the coolest stupidest thing you ever saw. I can’t remember what the movie was that was premiering, it sank without a trace. But somewhere, somebody has three giant deflated robot balloons, and not a clue what to do with them.


Day trip

Rented a Dodge Ram pick up yesterday and headed out to the desert. No CD player. The low point had to be east of Pearblossom in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a 38 Special rock block to listen to. Hold On Loosely has been earworming its way into my skull since, breaking me down like my own personal Room 101, southern rock. Freedom is slavery, war is peace, you see it all around you, good lovin’ gone bad. The high point musically was…well, there was no high point. A lot of high desert hard rock and ranchera. We had dropped by Charlie Brown Farms in Little Rock for a date shake, then the long drive out to Barstow. The desert is great from the cab of a climate change special, you feel like Mike Dukakis in a tank. I watched the ruins of Job Harriman’s Llano Del Rio disappear in the rear view mirror, probably the only time all day I thought about politics. The 18 was closed, and they dog legged us along the 138 and then up another desert road to rejoin the 18 near Phelan. They farm a lot of meth out in Phelan. Cook it right on the rocks. A guy explained it to me one night, unbidden. I don’t think he had slept in years.

We passed through Barstow, picked up the 40 for a couple miles and got off at the Calico exit. Calico Ghost Town has been a slow favorite since I first went there when I was a kid. Hell, that was over half a century ago. Back then I thought it looked like a less fun Knotts Berry Farm (apparently Walter Knott had grown up in Calico, and used the proceeds from the mine to recreate Calico in Buena Park) but I didn’t know then that you could take your beer right on the train. Doubtless some of the appeal for me is how the old pre-Snoopy Knotts Berry Farm was cloned from the place, somehow redolent of ancient times in Southern California. Fantasy world and Calico girls I’m coming back. But to be honest my single favorite thing there is the extraordinary display of tortured seismology looming over the parking lot. Sedimentary layers bent all which ways, even straight up vertical. It screams earthquake, but all you hear is desert silence.

After Calico we went over to Rainbow Basin Natural Area, the reason for the pick up truck and 38 Special, it was perfect for driving the back roads. Not a bit of pavement in the place, just badlands bisected by narrow twisting graded road, gullies, loose rocks, and the occasional diamondback rattler. It is a perfect riot of geology, the land eroded for so many eons was absolutely gorgeous. This was once–actually several times–a large Miocene lake bed. Winter rains carve it anew every year, and tectonics torture the area–there’s a syncline to die for–though the black layers of ash are from better days, when nearby Amboy and the Cima Dome were alive with volcanos. Nearby are layers packed with fossils–most of the large mammal fossils you will see in our local museums that were not plucked from the La Brea Tar Pits came from the Rainbow Basin and thereabouts. The striations are vividly colored, everything from deep sandstone red to a brilliant green clay. So many colors, it would be a ball high on psychedelics and not driving or being way too old and epileptic for that kind of thing. Somewhere in the middle a Foreigner rock block came on and I turned off the radio. There was no other sound at all. Not a bird, not a bug, not even a breeze. Nothing.

After a glorious couple hours in Rainbow Basin, we tooled back on down Irwin Road towards Barstow in our giant pick up truck, trying not to go too fast. It’s the hemi, I explained to the wife, just to actually use hemi in a sentence. We hopped a left onto Old Highway 58 for Idle Spurs, still my favorite steak house ever. Incredible steak and a couple Jamesons. (You can pretend I took a picture of our food here.) We took our time eating, thoroughly enjoying it, and it was nearly dark as we climbed back into the cab of the pick-up, a little too late to drive all the way home on the 66. I love that old trestle across the Mojave, linking the two sides of Barstow, north and south of the tracks. Nearby was the old Harvey House, and I can only imagine the disappointment of Judy Garland fans who pilgrimage here. For a moment I thought On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe was going to stay in my head forever, like The Trolley Song did one terrible year after hearing it on a Palm Springs radio station twice in one weekend, but it disappeared back into the closet.

We turned right onto the 66 and as we headed west Barstow faded into Lenwood and then into nothing. It was too dark for sightseeing, and the excursion was nearing the twelve hour mark anyway, so we made for the interstate. All seemed perfect, the last of the light disappearing behind the mountains as we got back on the 15 heading south, nestled contentedly in the cab of our gas guzzling monster truck. There was just the night, the road, and us. There is something profoundly reassuring about driving through the desert in the dark, just you and the wheels and the stars. Then a rock block of Boston interrupted my philosophizing. Egad. People livin’ in competition, the singer complained, and all he wanted was to have some peace of mind. Bad seventies memories came flooding back and I realized that I was entering my 59th year to a soundtrack of lame classic rock. I hate these songs, with all their inane lyrics and uninspired riffs and soulless guitar solos. Can’t I find any good driving music out here in the desert? More Than a Feeling came on, and as the singer watched Marianne walking away, away, awaaaaay, I asked the Lord in a moment of existential crisis why, oh why, had He forsaken me. The Lord let the guitar solo finish before answering. The desert is beautiful but cruel, He said, like good lovin’ gone bad.


barstow sign

Halloween again


We went out to Elliott Caine’s pad in South Pasadena last night, like we do every year. We cover the door while he and Lei take the kids trick or treating. South Pasadena–as old as it gets in Southern California, full of Victorian homes–is Halloween heaven (now there’s a concept). All the houses are tricked out in ghoulish finery and kids are drawn from all over like moths to flame. They come in a trickle at first, then grow from bunches to throngs to armies to a vast herd of tiny little princesses two feet tall and rangy punk rockers in old Thrasher t-shirts and all the leggy moms herding them along. Trick or treat they all yelled, over the crazy screeching free jazz Elliott had put on–I remember a little bumble bee dancing to Ornette–and Fyl and I took turns dropping in a Snickers or Reeses or Butterfinger or whatever. We had more than enough candy, we thought, twenty bags full–about twenty pounds of it–but we didn’t, and after dropping them singly into an endless array of paper bags and pillow cases and plastic pumpkins, we were wiped out before 9 pm. Elliott Caine had already returned before then, exhausted. It’s crazy out there he said, giddy with it all. I dropped in the last few candies and apologized to the line of little ones that we were out. You try saying that to a pair of four years olds in matching Superman outfits without feeling guilty. Their mom smiled and walked them off to the next place. I would have given her two candies. Though I gave the dads candies too.

Empty of treats, we turned out the lights and blew out the jack o’ lantern and turned off the flapping bat with the glowing red eyes and shut the door. In the dark, ghostly, the armies of the night shuffled along, little ghouls and cowboys and monsters and superheroes. Elliott’s kids, home and exhausted, were packed upstairs to bed, and the neighbors departed with their own sleepy broods. The music had gone from screaming to swinging–Miles, Dizzy, Lee Morgan–and the air turned sweet and fragrant, the brandy was good, the beer cold, the pizza cold too. We talked of jazz and everything else late into the night and on into All Saints Day. Yawning. Time to break it up. As we drove home, grown up ghosts and monsters and super models and a Donald Trump or two walked unsteadily down the sidewalk.

I’ve never been much for grown up Halloween myself, I like to see all the kids in costumes. They’re mostly handmade now, little hand sewn princess outfits or zombie get ups made from shredded hand me downs and liberally applied make up. I like it better that way. As I drop candies into the bags it took me back to frosty harvest nights in Maine, the moon full, a chill wind blowing through the leafless trees. The ancient empty house up the street was haunted, the older kids told us, and we believed them. A whole family of headless ghosts lived there. They’d all seen them. None of us had, and we didn’t want to. We kept walking. There were unhaunted houses a half block up, with real people living in them, and big jack o’ lanterns out front. I tried not to look at the old cemetery as we passed it, wishing I wasn’t wearing a ghost costume. A cold wind blew across the headstones. Dead branches creaked and moaned. It was an endless walk, past the unruly dead in the cemetery, past the ancient wall, to the first house with all the squealing kids scurrying to the door. We were almost to the wall and I reached out to touch the lichen covered brick. A mistake. Out stepped a zombie. We shrieked and nearly bolted. Trick or treat he yelled, and laughed a dead man’s laugh.

It was the best Halloween ever, and as I drifted of to sleep that night I thought about the Great Pumpkin (that was its first year, 1966) wishing it was real. That was our last Halloween in Maine, and not a year goes by that I don’t remember just how perfect it was.


I got a $2 parking ticket in Los Angeles

I got a $2 parking ticket in Los Angeles.

It was in Atwater Village. Nice little neighborhood just across the river from us. I’d gone to a record store there to sell some old jazz LPs. It’s been one of those character building years in a jazz critic’s life, and I’ve built a lot of character this year. Anyway, I put 30 minutes worth of change into the meter. A quarter’s worth of parking. I had two quarters on me but figured why waste the other two bits? Selling the records took longer than I expected because some old couple came in for some inane reason and it took a while for the owner–a sweet, considerate guy–to answer their silly questions before they split. They had lots of questions, all beside the point. 35 minutes passed before the guy could give me $61. I stepped outside to see the parking cop pulling away. So that $63 parking ticket cost me only $2.

I call that a bargain.

After the crash

I was looking at a photo essay of abandoned buildings in Ireland. They’d had quite a tech boom there for a while, then came the crash. You know the story. And while I stared at bittersweet pictures of Ireland I couldn’t help thinking of stretches of Southern California. It was just after the our own crash, in 2009, way out in the distant suburbs, the ones that sprang from nothing in the nineties and oughts. Though unlike emerald Eire with all its rain, out there in the high desert or Inland Empire or Temecula the unwatered lawns withered and died. You could drive through a tract of beautiful homes and tell the abandoned places by the dead lawns. Dead, dead, dead, green, dead, green, green, dead, green, dead, dead…’d see the lone green lawn on a cul de sac and wonder how eerie it must be to live there.

Empty houses seem more than foreclosed. It’s like whole a family was snuffed out. Streets of them, just gone. Ghosts.

Dead lawn, Temecula.

Abandoned yard, Temecula.



I love this town

A wedge of Canadian geese just did their morning commute overhead from the Silver Lake reservoir–that’s why the grass is so green there–to the Los Angeles River behind me. Honking frantically. What a cacophony. They’ll come back a little less noisy at dusk heading back to the reservoir. I love the sound, and their ragged V’s are always perfect against the sunset. The sunsets have been lovely. Last night the sky to the west went from a gorgeous pink to a beautiful orange that filled the whole front room here with its light. Almost spooky. We went out onto the sundeck and watched till it turned to shades of grey and into black, and the lights in the hills came twinkling on and a last bunch of geese flew past, heading home.

And I wasn’t even stoned.

I love this town.

Canadian Geese (and a couple coots and a mallard) in the L.A. River.

Canadian Geese (and a couple coots and a mallard) in the L.A. River.


Bowlegged cowboy


(Another old one, written a good decade ago at least.)

Bowlegged cowboy contest.

Bowlegged cowboy contest.

We were heading west on the 18 driving through Adelanto–that’s the upper desert, between Apple Valley and Pearblossom*–and pulled into a brand new mini-mall to pick up some cold drinks. There was new all over the upper Mojave back then, the nineties boom was underway, credit was easy, cash plenty, and the L.A. megalopolis was overflowing its basin and spilling into the surrounding desert. Here on the edge of Adelanto you could see it. One side of the highway was scrub, creosote mostly, a few poppies, an abandoned farm house with the roof burned away. And the other side was a shiny new mini-mall. Homes were going up by the hundred just down the road, and we’d passed a big shopping center a little ways back. There wasn’t a patch of land anywhere in sight that didn’t have a for sale sign. The lot across the street did. A couple hundred acres. I can’t remember how much they wanted for it but it seemed like a lot of money for a dusty patch of desert.

That’s when I saw him, the spectre. A man on a horse. A cowboy, a real cowboy, all dusty and weathered and leathery. He trots up, boots, jeans, cowboy hat, no shirt. He got off the horse and was bowlegged like you can’t believe, like he never got out of the saddle. He walks into the store, the lady says he has to put a shirt on. He’s got one in his saddlebag, throws it on, goes back in. Buys a coke. Says thank ya ma’am and gets back up in the saddle and trots off again, across the 18. I watched him disappear into the desert.

Somewhere up there in the foothills he worked a herd of cattle. They were invisible. He was invisible. Maybe I dreamed up the whole thing. But I didn’t. He was there, alright, bowlegged and all. He always was there, if not him then cowboys just like him. Their herds ate up the springtime grass and come summer they drive them up to higher ground. It was just lately all this civilization popped up, filling in the lowlands with houses and Walmarts and cars. With people and sidewalks and police. Weird how you drop a megalopolis into a desert and it’s the desert dwellers that look strange. But they aren’t the ones.

I snapped out of it. We slipped back into traffic and drove off in air conditioned comfort past row after row of brand new houses, feeling as out of place as you can be.


* actually it’s between the more prosaic Victorville and Llano.



Santa Barbara


Sitting here and doing nuthin’ and enjoying every second of that nothing while it lasts. It never does. All that reality and shit. Got an email about a summer solstice party somewhere in town here which got me to remembering summer solstices waaaaaaaaaaaaay back in the late seventies when there didn’t seem to be so much reality and shit. It was a big hippie thing, the solstice, don’t know why, but Santa Barbara was about as hippie as it got back then and every solstice they had a big parade of hippies in Santa Barbara right there on State Street. Imagine that now. Anyway there’d be a mellow throng of longhairs with beards and hairy legs and body odor and acoustic guitars playing Friend of the Devil and Sugar Mountain and god it used to drive us punks nuts. We couldn’t stand hippies. So we’d make plans to harass them somehow, getting up early and raising hell, just to bug them.  We’d all get together the night before and conspire and get high and conspire and get higher and play loud records and get even higher and inevitably it would end up with us pairing off and spending the night screwing our brains out.  Morning would come and someone would try and get us up but we were all too hungover and fucked out to harass anybody.  Afternoon would come and we’d eat and start getting high and the cycle began anew, though the screwing part generally began first on the weekends. Then the partying. Then the getting wasted. And more screwing. Ya wonder how anything got done at all.

Come to think of it, nothing did.

Merry Christmas

I’m up early, staring at the tree. It looks good even in daylight which is good for a Christmas tree, sometimes they look strange then, things off, lights blinking ridiculously. But not this one. It’s pretty perfect. Our drunk friends did a nice job, though I still see a few Cheetos. No presents under it yet, we haven’t even started shopping, that’ll be today. We always do the last minute thing. Know where to go (which isn’t the Galleria) and be back in time for eggnog and A Christmas Carol. The one with Alistair Sim, the spooky one. Or maybe A Charlie Brown Christmas, which I’ve probably watched at least once every year since it came out in 1965. That was in Maine, there was snow on the ground, it snowed like crazy that year in Maine. Snowed even on the following Mother’s Day, a regular blizzard. Out here they were surfing and tanning and making stupid beach movies, in Maine they were shovelling and cursing the slush. The next year, 1966, How the Grinch Stole Christmas came out for the very first time, and I’ve probably seen it every year since. That was in Maine, too, and there was snow on the ground. Those two Christmases were rather remarkable for me, I remember, since we lived in the same house for both. I can’t remember us ever having two of any holiday in one house during my childhood except 1965 and ’66. Maybe that’s why I have such fond memories of Maine. Brunswick, the little town we lived in, was all dolled up in Yuletide everything, but in an old fashioned way. It was cold and snowy but just like a movie. We had a huge tree and decorating it was a blast. Mom had her own tree, too, in the den. It was aluminum, white, and decked with blue balls, with a blue spinning lamp that reflected on it, and it sparkled, and we weren’t allowed to touch it. That was very early sixties, that tree, very Jackie Onassis. I don’t know if they still even have trees like that. The real tree, though, was big–huge to an eight or nine year old–and had a zillion ornaments, some brought all the way from Austria-Hungary by my grandparents. We had to be extra careful with those, especially the perfect little bird’s nests with the tiny eggs. I wonder if you can still buy those? Or do you have to import them from Austria-Hungary, which hasn’t even existed for a hundred years. A Never-Never Land, like a fairy tale, or a drug induced hallucination, whatever. Leave it to me to have half my relatives from a place that doesn’t exist. The other half came from Ireland, and the tradition was to drape the tree with strings of popcorn and oranges if they could afford them and light it with candles. Whiskey and candles were a bad mix, the one leaving you to forget the latter, and houses would burn down in Irish neighborhoods every year, one or two. Or so my dear mother told me. We had electric lights. Everyone did by the time I was born.  We had a train too going around the tree. We still do.  Maybe you’ve seen it.

I loved Christmas as a kid, and I love Christmas now. I can’t help it. I’m just a sucker for the tree and shopping and wrapping presents and eggnog (lots of eggnog). I think I even like hating the same stupid carols they play over and over and over. Feliz Navidad, oh lord. In Maine groups of kids went door to door a-caroling, I remember that vividly. Out here no children have ever come a-caroling to our door–any of our doors, and there’s been four of them since 1980. Though one Christmas Eve we were at a friend’s place in Hollywood and gay carolers came to his door. Gay as in gay, though they seemed gay as in happy too. You’ve never seen carolers until you’ve seen gay carolers. They were dressed in Christmas to the nines. I’d never seen Christmas handcuffs before. Later I knew a lady who showed me her’s. L.A. is different from Maine, and Silver Lake was different from anywhere.

It’s still traditional in our household, though. Well, I did just notice that the gingerbread couple in the snow globe are anatomically correct. I’d never noticed that before. It was a gift, years ago. That’s a lot of snickering behind Brick’s back. And there are Cheetos hung on the Christmas tree with care. But otherwise it’s a traditional Christmas here, as always, and so I’ll deliver my traditional Merry Christmas to all of you who’ve read this far. And a Happy New Year. I hope your holidays are the best.




We haven’t had a good December cold snap like this in a few years.  Thirty eight degrees just before sun up this morning and people are freaking. People from Buffalo and Chicago and NYC and Erie and Canada feel betrayed. I thought I left this at home they say. As if thirty eight degrees in December would even make the news back home. Southern California thins the blood, they’ll say. Those deep winter days hovering in the eighties will do it. People suffering through the Ice Age back east watch pretty young things in shorts marching in the Rose Parade, see all the short sleeves in the stands, the palm trees and flowers and all that warmth and before you know it the car is packed and they’re heading out here never to see snow again. Then comes arctic air. It slips uninvited down the coast all the way from Alaska and temperatures plummet and the mountains are white with snow almost to the bottom. Angelenos dig out heavy coats from the recesses of their closets, ladies buy stylish boots they’ll never wear again. People complain about the frigid temps all day long, and Jackie Johnson almost gets excited. Somebody downtown dies of exposure.

There was a cold snap a few years ago that took some of the valleys down into the high twenties….I remember I’d gone out to Sierra Madre to the Cafe 322 to catch some jazz. (Chuck Manning was playing tenor, maybe it was his quintet.) Afterward a few of us stood outside talking, all macho and freezing. Finally someone gave in and we made for our heated cars. As I drove home via the 210 the temperature kept dropping till it hovered at the freezing point. I decided I needed to go past that and keep driving till it got below thirty degrees. I headed up the Angeles Crest Highway into the mountains at midnight till the thermometer read 27 and the signs warned of black ice. On the way down the cold air seemed to refract the light in ways we never see down here in balmy southern California, and the city glittered like diamonds all the way to the Pacific.  I pulled off and got out of the car and drank my coffee and all was utterly silent. Just me and the city and the arctic air. L.A. doesn’t do cold well, but it does it beautifully.

When I got home I wrote a long account of the night–the cold, the jazz, the black ice, the steaming coffee and the glittering diamonds. Even the music I was listening to in the car. I can’t remember what I was listening to now, or any of the details. I lost that story long ago. All I have now is this, a scant paragraph and a vision of what the city looked like from a couple thousand feet up, and how quiet it all was, hushed and brittle. At night I think maybe I should make that drive again up into the mountains to regain the details. The feel, the bite of the cold, the warmth of the coffee, the glittering diamonds of the city. The silence. But it’s so warm in the house, and there’s always a game on, or a movie, or music on the stereo or things to write. A book to read. Dessert. Whatever. And besides, maybe this time when I turned round way up there I wouldn’t see glittering diamonds at all. Just a big cold city, wishing it would warm the hell up. 

Rose Parade...and you thought it's be like this every day.

The Rose Parade…and you thought it’d be like this every day.