Dancing

(2014)

There’s this wonderful old World War Two vet I know, well into his nineties, who I see at clubs and shows all over the place, always dancing. What a nut. I’ve seen him dancing to swing, country, blues, salsa, funk, jazz, western swing and rock. Even reggae. Always has a babe for a partner. Loves to dance, he says. Started dancing to the swing bands. Jitterbugging. All hell was breaking loose over in Europe but he was busy dancing. He was a kid. That’s what you did then, danced. Then came Pearl Harbor and his draft notice. Went through the war without a scratch, somehow, though his unit was mauled a couple times. Some of those Nazis, he said, were fanatics and would fight to the death. It’d be hopeless and they’d keep firing. Friends kept getting killed. Mines going off. Snipers, machine guns, 88’s. He was nearly blown to pieces more than once. The Battle of the Bulge was the worse, he said. They were all freezing cold, and a rifle isn’t particularly useful against a Tiger tank. Thought he’d bought it more than once. On top of all that the Nazis were massacring prisoners. If you were Jewish the last thing you wanted was to surrender to one of those SS bastards. His company had been cut off, and it looked bad, but somehow they managed to rejoin the rest of the battalion. Left a lot of friends there, he said. He saw one blown to smithereens. Should have been him but he had slipped out of the foxhole for chow or to take a leak or something–just before the mortar bullseyed his buddy. Nothing left. Somebody was looking out for you, I said. He laughed. No, just luck. That’s all it ever was, luck. Later, in Germany, all the towns were gone, flattened. The RAF had gotten their revenge. The people were giving up, meekly surrendering. But there were fanatics everywhere. Hitler Youth who kept fighting no matter what. You’d see them later, just kids in baggy grown up uniforms, dead. He kept losing buddies right to the bitter end. Still, he made it and now a zillion years later he dances every chance he gets. A lady comes by and taps him on the shoulder, and they spin slowly, lightly, across the floor.

USO dance, 1944

USO dance, 1944

 

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Elm trees

(2014)

We were driving through the endless northern expanses of Chicago, huge houses, huge cars, big money, and the last of the cicadas were whirring, and we turned and found ourselves on an elm lined street. It was a tunnel, really, the branches arching overhead, the sun dappling the street, and as we drove along I turned off the music and rolled down the windows and let the muggy air flow over us, the scent of elm, the bird songs, the chatter of squirrels, the cicadas. I was overwhelmed with deja vu. We had lived in so many towns up and down the Atlantic seaboard when I was a kid, and passed through so many more, that my days growing up were full of elm lined streets, and shade, and dappled sunlight. Every street of them was like stepping into a cathedral, hushed, dark, ethereal. Come fall the leaves came down like slow rain and filled the gutters. All winter long the branches creaked as the wind would howl through them. Come spring we’d wait for the hints of life, tiny specks of green, and by summer the elm hung over us again in great green arches. Most all are gone now. Disease swept slowly but inexorably, taking nearly all of them. Eighty per cent. They remain in small stands, on lanes full of carefully monitored trees, a mighty urban forest of a zillion trees all across America cut down, rotted away, dead. The sun glares down on the shady streets now, that particular magic is gone. We think of forests as unchanging, immutable, as if barring chainsaws they will always be there and have always been, the same forest. Like we could go back a hundred thousand years and pop out of a machine like Rod Taylor and all the trees would be the same. But it’s not so. Trees, like people, like anything living, really, are prey to plagues and parasites. Periodically something horrible and fatal fells them by the millions and other species, immune, replace them. So fell the elm tree. It had once conquered and become dominant, over the rotting trunks of spruce trees and now it survives in glades, tended by botanists and tree surgeons, so that those old enough to remember can be swept away by nostalgia driving down a shady street.

An elm lined street somewhere in suburbia, probably in the eighties.

An elm lined street somewhere in suburbia, probably in the eighties.

 

Elvis

(August 16, 2011)

It was a hot as hell August day in 1977 and I was working at a place in Fullerton, way out in Orange County, trying to make as much money as I could before heading off to U.C. Santa Barbara in the fall. My family was broke, I’d gotten a couple small scholarships, a student loan and anything else had to come from my summer job. You can imagine the wages in 1977. Nothing. Anyway, I was upfront in the office and heard that Elvis Presley had died. Wow. The King is dead. That’s all anyone could talk about. I went out into the warehouse a bit later and all the women were crying their eyes out. The manager out there was this bitter old geezer. Look at ’em, he said. They all lost their cherries with Elvis on the car radio. No wonder they’re crying. He said that aloud, and they cried even harder. He spouted some more vile crap. I couldn’t stand the guy, nearly hated him, but half the gig was working in the warehouse so I kept my mouth shut. I stayed away from the lunch table that day, it was too sad. Later the ladies were all red eyed, tearing up but in control of themselves. I don’t remember if I said anything smartassed. I was twenty and in college and probably did. Elvis was this ridiculous bloated thing by the end anyway. Though secretly I liked him. Burning  Love, the Ghetto, Suspicious Minds, I loved those songs. And of course the 50’s hits, Hound Dog and Little Sister and like that. Not much later I picked up his Sun Sessions album, all the first stuff he ever did. That was a life changer for me, hearing what rock’n’roll was like at the creation. You have no idea how it sounded back then in contrast to all the phony, pretentious, coked out, utterly bogus crap that rock had become by the mid-seventies. To this day it’s one of my favorite records ever. Even played some of those tunes in a band or two. That death of his, though, was something else. The country went mad. Utterly mad. They mobbed Graceland. Bought all his albums, even the awful ones, as if in their grief all those movie soundtracks sounded listenable.  And the funeral was crazy. Cadillacs, whole herds of Cadillacs. He’d bought them by the dozen for people he thought deserved them. Hell, you could serve him hamburgers at the drive-in and voila, a brand new Cadillac. That was Elvis. The women cried and cried. Soon Elvis walked again, appearing all over the South. Turns out he wasn’t dead at all people said.  But he was. So they made him a saint. Some kind of Baptist saint, there’s churches and everything. The preacher, of course, is an Elvis impersonator. You can’t avoid them. There’s a Thai Elvis on Hollywood Blvd. There’s a father-son Elvis at the farmer’s market in Eagle Rock. There’s fat Elvis impersonators and thin Elvis impersonators…the fat ones do Aloha From Hawaii, the thin ones do the ’68 Comeback Special. I saw a fat one do the thin Elvis once, he was squeezed so tight in that leather outfit he looked ready to explode and was sweating like the fat Elvis. We had a painting contractor come to our apartment once. He was Elvis. Elvis in painting duds.  He was all business. Ya gotta make a living somehow.

Still though, almost every time I see any off these Elvises, or hear Elvis on the radio, or catch a glimpse of one of those stupid, stupid movies Colonel Parker made him do, I remember him dying and the ladies crying and crying. And then I remember his very first single, and sing to myself That’s all right mama. That’s all right for sure. And I wish to hell I’d been smart enough to say it that day to the crying ladies. Just said that’s alright, mama, that’s alright for sure.

Good rocking tonight....

Orange moon

(2014)

Summer nights in L.A. just aren’t the same without a bright orange moon. I see that sad, wan little thing overhead now and I remember when I was a kid and looking up, wheezing, and seeing the prettiest orange moon you ever saw. Suns were gorgeous, too, though spookier, a deep orange, almost crimson….your eyes would sting and tear up and you’d think wow, what a groovy orange…maybe that’s not such a good thing. A goldfish upside down in the bowl bloatin’, the Captain said, nailing it. There were no mountains during a Stage 3 Smog Alert, and sometimes not even hills. Just thick brown air. Come dusk the whole sky to the west was on fire and the sun, huge, slipped into the sea. Darkness descended and with it that orange moon again, hanging there, lovely. We drank Bud talls and passed ragweed reefer and it hurt drawing it in and the moon became even more vivid, more orange, more beautiful. Someone called her a goddess once.  We’d gaze up and pray to her for a santa ana. Please, oh Moon Goddess, deliver us. Sometimes it worked, bringing gusts of desert air that would scour the city clean. Mountains magically appeared. Blue sky. We’d go up to Mulholland Drive and the city spread as far as the eye could see, and there was Catalina, there were the Simi Hills, there was distant Orange County. But sometimes the desert winds brought fire. Sirens and a pall of smoke. Cinders would rain down silently, you could hold out your hand and a tiny little carbonized flake of a house would settle in your palm and then vanish. The very air smelled charred, your clothes, your furniture, your hair (we had lots of hair then) all stank of smoke, and the moon on those nights was an angry goddess, crimson, warning of death and destruction and the end of the world. Distant sirens would send us to the television where every channel was breathlessly reporting the progress of the flames. Sometimes you could see them yourself, brilliant red lines that stitched along the side of the mountains. We’d watch with smarting eyes. The whole world stank of smoke. Come dawn, the sun appeared over the mountains again, angry orange, menacing, not good. Sunsets were gorgeous. The moon hung orange and perfect again. We’d drink our Budweiser by her light. As we cruised the freeways those summer nights, windows down, music blaring, shouting over the din, she raced along with us, a guardian angel. We’d stop. She’d stop. We’d go, she’d follow. The orange moon watched over us, beautiful and eerie. She wasn’t really orange, someone said, that’s the smog. No, someone else said, inhaling deeply, she’s a goddess. He coughed and the car filled with cheap weed smoke that blew out of the windows and into the poison air. I wonder about our lungs, sometimes.

Sunset

Here’s a orange sun over an L.A. Beach. I couldn’t find an orange moon. Maybe the film corroded or the lenses melted or the photographers asphyxiated.

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Ku Klux Klan

(2015)

Back before World War Two the KKK burned a cross on my mother’s lawn. It was the budget variety–the shape of a big cross splashed in gasoline on the lawn and set alight. It certainly caught everyone’s attention. Apparently the nice Philadelphia neighborhood my grandparents had moved into was restricted–Protestants only. No Catholics and certainly no Irish. The Irish back then were only white in color anyway, they weren’t really white, not like WASP white. Everybody knew that. They drank too much, bred like rabbits, were loud, obnoxious, always fighting and voting Democrat and were, well, thugs. Nice people didn’t want Irish people in their neighborhoods. But my grandfather had done real good for a shanty Irish, got himself a real job, an executive job, making good money working for a government contractor, getting bombers built for the war to come. So he moved uptown and even got the family a maid. An Irish family with a maid. There’s an irony for you. It apparently wasn’t lost on the neighbors. The local branch of the KKK–they were everywhere, back then, the KKK, saving America from negroes and papists and jews and intellectuals–well the local branch got together and decided that if one Irishman moved in there went the whole neighborhood. So some brave souls stole onto the lawn in the middle of the night and poured a few gallons of gasoline into the shape of the Holy Cross and set it ablaze. The light filled my mother’s bedroom and she looked out her window and screamed in terror. My grandmother collected her and rest of the children in a safe spot away from the windows and my grandfather waited for the fire truck. The firemen–all Irish–doused the flames. The police officers–all Irish–took down the information. Things were whispered between my grandfather and the police and firemen. They probably warned him there’d be more to come. They’d seen it before. Said it was a dangerous part of town for an Irishman and his children. We all know our place, they said, and it’s not on this end of town.

No one ever took responsibility for the act. No one was arrested. Not long afterward my grandfather took the family back across the river to New Jersey, where the local bars rang late into the night with Irish song, people voted early and often, and Mass was full all Sunday long. Those were his people, and he stayed with them and sang with them and drank with them till he died.

The KKK won that battle.

Raji’s

(2011)

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Heard the Small Faces “Wham Bam Thank You Mam” over the weekend and it’s been going thru my head, and just found myself wiki-ing Steve Marriott to see when exactly he died. I remembered he was an old geezer at the time, one of my heroes. Well, that was 1991, and he was the ancient age of 44. I was 34 then. Funny how ten years seemed a much longer time when you’re 34 than when you’re 54. But there was that whole musical revolution between us, too. He was a hippie, me a punk. But goddam was Steve Marriott cool. I remember being hit kinda hard when he died.  I suppose all the Humble Pie I’d grown up on. Then a couple days later when Johnny Thunders died it was more of a thank god he’s finally gone, that pathetic junkie. Harsh, maybe, yeah. But he was. I’d known too many junkies and junkies-to-be that idolized him. Poor Johnny. He might be alive if he was his hero Keith Richards, maybe. The stupid, stubborn fuck. Great sound he had on that guitar, though. One of the great rock stylists. Of course he wasn’t original, but then neither was Keith Richards. So what, it’s just rock’n’roll. Not art, just great rock’n’roll.

I was at Raji’s a couple weekends after the two of them died, at the bar upstairs. It was the coolest joint in Hollywood for a stretch there, God what a place that was in its glory days. Anyway I was at the bar there in the upstairs lobby talking about Steve Marriott dying with some pal of mine, can’t remember who. There was one of those Hastings Hotel junkies standing next to me, listening. He woke up. Steve Marriott is dead? Yeah, man, a couple weeks ago. He shook his head…..oh man. Yeah, he died just before Johnny Thunders died. Silence for a long second. Johnny Thunders is dead? I said yeah. Oh man. He shook his head and you could nearly see emotion on his face, and he slunk off.

That’s that story. The junkie wandering off into oblivion, all his heroes dead or dying. Nowadays you’d say LOL. Back then we just watched and shook our heads. Sometimes I wonder what happened to all those junkies when they tore the place down? I wonder if any are still even alive. Maybe the found Jesus. Or L. Ron Hubbard. LOL.

Actually, one of the most heartbreaking incidents in my entire life happened at Raji’s, though I didn’t know it at the time. Maybe you remember how the Hastings Hotel upstairs was notorious as a hang out for old queens and the young men who serviced them, the skinniest, creepiest, saddest little fags you ever saw in your life. You rarely saw the old queens, though. They were more into chanteuses and drag bars, like the Gaslight a few blocks over, but the kids, all in their teens and twenties, would sometimes hang inside Raji’s for the rock’n’roll and because so many of them were strung out and hell, so was a lot of the Raji’s crowd, gawd bless ’em. Well, way back in the early 80’s before there even was a club at Raji’s (it was all about the Cathay de Grande then, a couple blocks west) me and my buddy Chuck were trying to put a band together (which was realized in the madness known as Renfield Brick, but that’s another story.) One of the guys we tried out for a while was this kid we’ll call Ron. Ron from Ventura. He was a tall, lanky, good looking rock’n’roll kid, a great guy. He was paired up with Connie, one of those hot Debbie Harry-esque blondes all us guys were so taken with back in that era. Connie (we’ll call her Connie) was a hottie, too, a tightly built badass little thing. Everyone wanted to do her, even girls wanted to do her, but she and Ron were tight, to the point where Ron’n’Connie became like Brick’n’Fyl–one name. Anyway, they all lived downtown in a loft at 5th and Los Angeles, right at the epicenter of Skid Row, this horrible, stripped ancient wreck of a turn of the century flop house. It looked like what was left of Berlin in 1945. A great place for band practice, but a horrible place to live. (Remember the Fear song: “A man with no legs crawling down 5th street/Trying to die or get something to eat?” It was exactly like that outside.) Heroin, you’ll remember, was sold openly–no, blatantly–on Spring Street just a couple blocks over. You put some kids in the 20’s and heroin next to each other and experimentation is inevitable. A little chipping. They still call it that, just chipping a little smack. Just for kicks. Chipping turns into a habit in no time, sometimes just a couple weeks. Every one of the kids living there got strung out. Every fucking one. Even my best friend Chuck, who’s buried on a shady hillside far from all this. But I thought Ron had been spared. He and Connie moved out soon enough, into Hollywood. But Ron had been chipping afterall. Connie hadn’t. You can score junk readily in Hollywood too, a better class of junk off a better class of dealers. Go from that black tar crap to the nice white stuff preferred by rock stars. Soon Ron wasn’t just chipping anymore. I didn’t know that, though, and wouldn’t have believed it anyway. Not Ron. I did hear later that Ron’n’Connie were sundered, split into two words again. But she was a hot blonde chick, and hot blonde chicks who move to Hollywood from the sticks always eventually split their small town men. You can sleep with a better class of men in Hollywood, stars even. Amazing how hard and cynical you get in this town after a too many years living here, but that’s how we saw it then. And I had no idea she split because he was a junkie. Or maybe she split because he was chipping and then he became a junkie. That way you can pin the blame on her. I put the blame on him. My pal on her…but they’d dated somewhere at some point and he was still bitter years later. But who really knows why Ron and Connie split, and I lost track of him completely. Forgot about the two of them. We were busy, our lives full and exciting and that was so long ago and insignificant.

Five or six years later (an eternity at that age) I’m at Raji’s. Maybe 1990. This ghostly figure, thinner than thin, pale, made up and in ghastly drag right down to the ridiculous nail polish sidled up next to me while I was watching some band. Hi Brick. I looked and didn’t recognize him but said hi back. He tried to make conversation and if I remember right he even told me his name but I didn’t know who the fuck he was and he realized it and said see ya and so did I, ever polite. I remember he looked kinda hurt but seemed resigned about it. I’d been around the scene a long time and a zillion more people know me than I know them and my memory has been so wrecked by epileptic seizures that I’m used to not recognizing people. He was just another of those people I don’t recognize.  Raji’s was full of freaks, anyway, like all the best clubs were back then, and I was pretty buff in  those days and was used to confused if gutsy queers hitting on me every once in a while (thought typically they wore leather.) But there was something a little disconcerting about this time, like maybe I did know the guy somehow, enough so that it hung with me for a long time. But hey, that’s life in the big city. These were hard ass times, the tail end of the Reagan Bush years. Everyone was broke, embittered, fucked over and surviving despite all that. No room for sentimentality. Fuck all that. The world would end any day anyhow, the streets are full of crackheads, cops are shooting people, AIDS is epidemic and no one gives a fuck about us anyway. We just wanted to rock out, raise hell, fuck and party. Whoever the hell that dude/dudette was certainly never bothered me any.

Years later I was talking with a pal about Ron’n’Connie. Asked whatever happened to them. Connie was married or divorced maybe and working at a studio somewhere, just another aging blonde at some shit studio job in Hollywood. And Ron? My buddy looked at me funny. He’s dead, didn’t you hear? OD’d. They found him dead at the Hastings Hotel. What the fuck? He overdosed? Yeah, he was living there at the Hastings. Totally strung out. He was doing the old queens upstairs just to score enough shit to keep him going. He wore make up and painted his nails and was just this side of being a drag queen. He was a male whore. I looked stunned. Sorry. I thought you knew. No, I’d had no idea. Yeah, man, it was the saddest thing ever. Sadder than sad. It was better that he died, since he was already dead.

Fuck. Ron? Our Ron?

Yeah, Ron.

Holy Jesus.

And suddenly I realized who that ghostly figure had been–or once been–at Raji’s years before.  Why he came across like we were friends. Because we had been. Hell, we’d been band mates for a little while, something deeper than being a friend. We’d made rock’n’roll together. We’d hung out and played records and argued music and drank and smoked big fat joints and watched girls walk by and talked about their legs and asses. All the stuff young men do…. My heart just broke. Man, this town is rough.

Of course, the building that comprised the Hastings Hotel on the upper floors and Rajis underneath is long gone, a victim of the Northridge Earthquake. It’s a parking lot now. Every parking lot in Hollywood was once something else. We used to hang out in the parking lot behind Raji’s and pass joints around. We’d take deep hits and keep an eye out for cops. Then we’d all go back into Raji’s through the back entrance because the bouncer was cool and we’d rock out to the next band.  What a scene. What a blast. None of us knew then that the parking lot in back had once been the Hollywood Legion Stadium, the boxing ring. The stars would all hang there to watch the fights and bet and mingle with the mob. It was one of the hottest places in all Hollywood during Hollywood’s glory days.  Now you’d park your car there. $5 most nights. Today that lot is the Hollywood Athletic club, and where Raji’s stood is a parking lot. $10. Being a parking lot, there are no ghosts at all. Memories blow over the asphalt till the rememberers die. Then there’s nothing left at all. When that time comes, Ron will cease existing altogether. Not a trace left. Not a memory, not a name, not a meme. Like he’d never been.

Nothing beside remains.

Nothing beside remains.

Spike

(2014)

More memories from Spike. He’s now living the life of a retired insurance executive down in the tropics. We could sit over beers with Spike down at his perfect émigré abode in Mérida, ruins of ancient civilizations all around, and discuss old times. Un otra Pacifico por favor. A bowl of chops and guacamole, the sauce is very hot. The fan would spin slowly overhead and flies would buzz and we’d sip the ice cold beer and remember old times, laughing. Until then, though, he’s in Mérida and we’re still in LA and we chatter away over Facebook. He posts photos–I can’t believe all these photos–from thirty some years ago and brings back memories. We reminisce, combing the memories, teasing a narrative out of them. It’s a ball. Good times. Bad times, too, but they turn into good times with time. Younger days, crazy times. He digs up an account of a notorious party, only twenty seven words, and a whole universe comes rushing back, the feel of it, the sounds, sights, smells (cheap pot and poppers, mostly), the raw creativity of it all, in everything we did….

xxx

Craig Lee’s review of World Zero’s debut in the LA Weekly from 1983, I think.

We missed the fight–and the gig–because the little security guard out front wouldn’t let us in. This was Melrose and Western on the fringes of Hollywood in the bad ol’ daze where big scary drag queens hung out and mugged people and the security guard took one look at my big combat booted punk rock hulkingness and my wife’s fearless insults and death stares (not to mention all the beer we were carrying) and he hid behind the gate and wouldn’t let us in. No come in! No come in! There was a lot of commotion inside, feedback, laughter, shouting. Some sort of punk rock catharsis and there we were, out on the sidewalk. We’re invited we said. No come in! No come in! Go get Spike, he’ll let us in! But Spike wasn’t in condition to let anybody in. Spike was bleeding. Not that we knew that at the time. We just thought it was a helluva party. Feedback, shouting, laughter and curses meant good times back then. Go get Spike! No come in, he said. We gave up. I’m sure we were very nice about it. The next day we heard the eyewitness account from Chuck and Ellen. Ellen laughed her famous laugh. Some crazy chick had sucker punched Spike. Blood everywhere. Never did find out why. Did there have to be a reason? When we read Craig Lee’s blurb in the LA Weekly–it’s probably in our scrapbook–we probably said more nice things about the security guard. People said World Zero was good. Said you guys missed a good one. Don’t blame us, we said, we were outside with the beer. Well, you’ll see them next time. Big things were portended. Post-punk. New Romantic? No, post-punk. I was relieved. I loved post-punk, not much into New-Ro (or was it Nu-Ro?). Besides I couldn’t imagine Spike doing anything that wasn’t intense. I remember him in Publik Enema in ’78 or ’79. He blew my mind. I’d never seen a singer like that. Or a band like that. That band helped change everything I thought about rock’n’roll at the time. Like how you could completely reinvent it, and scare people, and blow their minds. At the time there seemed nothing more important. I doubt Spike even realizes the impact he had on me. So I couldn’t wait to see World Zero. Alas, somehow I never did see them. In fact, I had gotten it in my head that they had never played another gig. That there was some spectacular blow up at the party, Spike getting punched out, the band imploding. One of those bands that played one gig and broke up and we still talk about them thirty years later. Actually, World Zero were around a year and recorded a demo and everything. Seems I had gotten World Zero confused with a band with another band with Spike, one that I was in. Think we were called Worm Farmer, though I have no idea where that name came from. We practiced intensely for a gig up in Santa Barbara we weren’t even on. The Goleta Valley Community Center. Every punk on the central coast was there, misbehaving. Someone snuck us on the stage. Spike never showed up. Well, he had, but he and I had stood on the steps earlier screaming at each other–who knows why–and he stormed off into the night. We played anyway. It went well, no one got punched out or anything, no blood, but we never played another one.

We still talk about that gig thirty years later, too. I was in bands in my thirties and even forties that played lots of gigs but didn’t have the same impact on me. I suppose life is much more intense in your twenties. Things are more vivid, they mean more. Everything is new. Thirty years on, we’ve seen it all before. Even if we haven’t it seems like we have. Even writing something like this, I swear I’d written it before. Maybe I did, once, in my head. Or maybe in a scrap of a letter I never sent. Probably not, though. The brain is just so used to hearing the same damn stories over and over it just assumes I’m repeating myself. It probably just reflects the ennui all about us. Just look around you. These are jaded days. Textured. Emotionally distant. Art is all concept, writing is sucked dry by irony, music is trapped in genres. Back then, though, those were different times. The poets, they acted weird as fuck, and the ladies, they made them cry.

One hundred thousand potential victims

(2014)

Sitting in my cubicle, a guy hands me a CD-R. This contains the credit card data and personal profiles of a hundred thousand customers, he says. Social security numbers and credit scores. I took it and asked what I should do with it. Destroy it, he said. I looked at the disc. Nothing special. Just a CD-R. Who knows how much it was worth. A few pennies brand new. Now, used, somebody in Russia might offer what, a hundred thousand dollars? More? This wasn’t the first time I’ve held that kind of money on my hands. You’d be astonished at how many CD-Rs there are out there full of names and personal information and credit card data and social security numbers. Thousands and thousands and thousands of them. You’ll find them in drawers, in file cabinets, on shelves, atop people’s desks. A lot of loose data lying about. Data, this kind of data, is money. Money is power. I stared at the disc in my hand and imagined that data. Imagined a hundred thousand people. It was almost science fiction, all that information, all those people’s lives on one nothing little disc. It had been science fiction just a decade before. It could have been the plot of a novel. Robert Culp’s glass hand in an old Outer Limits. The whole of the thirteenth century Ralph Richardson lost in Rollerball. All that data that science fiction writers imagined could be kept in one tiny little space. And here it was, in my hand. I held the disc over the waste basket and began bending it. Kept bending it. If you ever tried this you’ll know just how much tensile strength a compact disc has. It arches to a degree you would not think possible. Suddenly it snapped in half with surprising violence, a loud crack and a puff of silvery dust. The dust settled on my slacks and shirt and hands. I let the two halves of the discs fall into the trash…an empty Starbucks cup, some wadded up paper and a hundred thousand potential victims. I walked over to the sink to rinse my hands and a dusting of data, all ones and zeros, went down the drain.

Demon With the Glass Hand

Demon With the Glass Hand…that’s a lot of data.

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Rock’n’roll Ralphs

(2013)

We go to the Rock’n’roll Ralphs for the thrill.

We have our own Ralphs here in Silver Lake, but it’s all normal now. Silver Lake is all normal now, Silver Lake used to be Silverlake and edgy and new and leathery gay but that’s long gone, gone with the punks and the freaks and the vatos. It’s all rich people and hipsters with kids and beautiful single women. Ours is a nice Ralphs. There’s a couple Ralphs across the river in Glendale…there’s an Armenian Ralphs and an upscale Ralphs and between them an eerie underground Ralphs that always make me think of Beneath then Planet of the Apes. You enter the parking lot above ground and way in the corner there’s a winding driveway that leads you into the Stygian darkness below. Inside, though, it’s just a regular Ralphs.

But Rock’n’roll Ralphs is special. We always park on the roof and take the elevator down. That’s fun. Our Ralphs doesn’t have an elevator. And our Ralphs doesn’t have all these people either, these Hollywood types, who can’t even roll a shopping cart down a grocery aisle without looking like they’re trying to hustle something. There’s a lot of rock’n’roll types, hardened roadie looking guys with too much thinning hair and baskets full of beer and TV dinners. There’s Hollywood lifers, people who have obviously lived in Hollyweird their whole lives and have that sort of otherworldly jadedness that comes from too many nights and not enough days. There’s wackos that talk to themselves or each other and you think they might smell funny but they don’t really. There’s gorgeous starlets buying healthy little things and a bottle of white wine. There’s children with dad for the weekend picking things mom never lets them have. And there are celebrities who slip in underdressed and un-made up and try to pass as just another extra. Which works with me, as I can’t tell a celebrity from a ham sandwich.

This was Oscar nite, too, and just a couple blocks down the street from Rock’n’roll Ralphs the street was full of ham sandwiches. They come in big limousines and wave at the crowds and a zillion cameras flash. The women shimmer and the men don’t shave. I don’t know who almost any of them are, but the crowd does, and they ooh and ahh and scream and yell and hold on tightly to their autograph books. They take pictures from afar with their cell phones and post them on their Facebook pages. They cram together on the sidewalk, stomping all over stars of people who probably once walked that red carpet. Billy Barty’s there, and Valerie Bertinelli and Bing Crosby and Dane Clark whose face you’d recognize even if you can’t place the name. The Doors are there, and the Carpenters, and Zsa Zsa and Jean Harlow and Godzilla. This scene was made for Godzilla. This scene was made for Nathaniel West. He set the final act of the Day of the Locust right here, in front of Grauman’s, where the mob got ugly and out of hand and deadly. Not now. The fans are well behaved. No one gets drunk. No one gets tased. The stars wave, and the people wave back.

I did see a genuine Day of the Locust out there once. In this very place. We had just turned left off Orange onto Hollywood Blvd and into a phalanx of slow moving squad cars, lights flashing and utterly silent. They followed the saddest little Toyota you ever saw, running on fumes and four flat tires. The car rolled to a stop right there in front of the Chinese theater. It was the middle of summer and there were a zillion tourists and they couldn’t believe their luck. The line of cops couldn’t hold them back and they poured into the street like ants. The lady got out of the car exhausted and broken and laid down on the pavement as ordered. The cops rushed in and cuffed her before the crowd could get to her. They stuffed her into the back of a patrol car and took off. The remaining cops tried vainly to clear the street. Last thing I saw was Granny posing in front of the dead car. We headed east down Hollywood Boulevard, away from the crowds of tourists, till only locals walked the sidewalks and winos begged for change.

But that was then. The now was inside this Rock’n’roll Ralphs. I wheeled the cart up and down the aisles people-watching as my wife shopped. There were none of the glamorous starlets…they were all at Somebody’s watching the Oscars and dreaming and sniping. In fact there weren’t many movie looking people at all…this was the rock’n’roll side of Rock’n’roll Ralphs. These people didn’t go to Grammy parties, they worked them. They might look like hell here, rumpled and unshaven, but give then twenty minutes and they’re the sharpest bar tender you ever saw, smiling and cracking wise, shaking, not stirring, raking in big tips. I know this because there on the frozen food aisle two scruffy dudes were perusing the pizzas while their even scruffier buddy stared at his iPhone. Hey check this out, he said, they want me to tend bar at Seth McFarlane’s Oscar party. His friends hmmphed a cool, you like pepperoni or cheese? I knew right then that Seth McFarlane’s Oscar party was a big deal. No one would hmmmph a cool at something insignificant, not at Rock’n’roll Ralphs. Their mumbled cools said volumes. It meant movie stars, big tips, maybe even getting laid. Or an audition. Or both. It didn’t mean a score necessarily, but it did mean the possibility of a score, which is what the Hollywood hustle is all about. The score, the gig, a step up. It meant his buddies would be at home eating pizza and watching the Oscars while he was getting hit on by you’ll never believe who. It was a Hollywood moment, an Oscar moment, right there in the frozen food aisle at the Rock’n’roll Ralphs. This doesn’t happen at the Silver Lake Ralphs. It doesn’t happen at the underground Ralphs. It certainly doesn’t happen at a Von’s.

Not that I had a clue who Seth McFarlane was. No idea. A ham sandwich maybe. Somebody who scored. Someone who wasn’t tooling around a Ralphs on Oscar night like it was Disneyland. Today I find out he was the man. He hosted the damn thing. Some people liked him. Some hated him. Whatever. I imagine it was a hell of a party, crawling with ham sandwiches. And George Clooney. And Meryl Streep. No ham sandwich she.

Poseur

(2015)

Poseur!

Pronounced po ZER, of course. I remember me and some punks being called poseurs (the French pronunciation) by a rich kid in an expensive leather jacket and all the right buttons. We would have been stung to the quick had one of us not poured beer on her head. It dribbled off her pink hair and down her jacket. It splashed on her anarchy and class war buttons. She called us more names–in English–and fled back to the Westside. The empty beer can bounced off her resplendent backside.

Of course, she’s probably fabulously wealthy right now, while I’m considering an invite to an event just because it’s free eats. Publicists prey on writers like that. Free food! Free drinks! You don’t have to buy anything! Sometimes I go for it. I have writer friends who I don’t believe have ever even stepped inside a grocery store, they live entirely off the rich and publicity starved. Night after night, quaffing wine and plucking delicate little things from platters offered by silent waiters. They eat and drink and circulate and don’t mention the time they poured beer on the hostess’s head, and hope she doesn’t remember. Or read this.