Walked into my polling place and was mistaken for an actor I never heard of, apparently famous. They all got very excited and I was afraid, for a minute, I was going to have to sign an autograph. Wouldn’t be the first time. There followed a bizarre moment where they were explaining to me who I was. Fortunately my name was there on the list of voters. As I left the polling booth they were still marveling that I looked exactly like a movie star. I retreated out the side door. This is my life in Hollywood, somebody else’s.
George Carlin reruns on the tube. He’s not so high strung yet, still doing the stoned schtick. The hippie dippy weatherman routine hasn’t aged well, but the rest has. Reminds me how my wife Fyl saw George Carlin get busted at an outdoor gig in Milwaukee for doing his dirty words bit. That was in 1972. Fyl was sixteen, a bad girl, sassy and curvy, smoking a joint with a couple of hippies she’d never met before. But they were cool, she was cute, and they had grass. They’d rolled it in an American flag rolling paper, hippie chic in Nixon’s America in ’72. Carlin began his bit about the seven dirty words you can’t say on television and rattled them off, fuck etc, and out came Milwaukee’s finest. Well, Milwaukee’s finest was a beer. Out came the Milwaukee cops. Cuffed him right on stage. Fuck the Pigs one of the hippies said. Yeah, fuck the pigs she said. She told me this story probably right after we met a lifetime ago, and it crystallized into permanence in my memory so vividly I was there. I can smell the weed, feel the paranoia, feel the breeze coming off the lake. She’d be wearing low slung jeans, flared, and a tight rock’n’roll tee shirt her mom hated, reveling in all this freedom and excitement, smoking pot with hippies. Every freak in Milwaukee was there digging George Carlin and he gets busted. Something to talk about in the rock’n’roll bars on Brady Street that night, George Carlin and the Man and revolution. She snuck into those too. Milwaukee was loose in those days, loose and a little wanton. Innocent girls turned bad, hung out with hippies and a little later morphed into punk rockers. Ahh, the seventies.
I’ve lived in Hollywood/Silverlake for almost forty years. Movie industry everywhere. Yet once again a famous actor dies I have never heard of. I look at his IMDB filmography. I recognize the title of dozens of the movies he’s been in, some of which even deserve that dreadful appellation iconic. I have seen exactly one of those movies. One. Apollo 13, on cable, many years ago. If anyone wanted proof of multiple universes in the same space at the same time, I am apparently in one, Hollywood is in the other, and neither of us is aware of the other, though my universe would be much, much smaller. Way smaller. We’re talking Whoville. This would also explain how I once spent a good fifteen minutes standing next to Tony Curtis, looking right at him, and having no idea who he was. He was in the vast Hollywood universe. I was drifting by in my tiny little one. We were probably both staring at the same chick, our dimensions crossing on hers. I was twenty something. He was a dirty old man. We didn’t have those in my universe, not yet anyway.
The universes do come together occasionally, though, in those weird times where people insist I am somebody and demand an autograph. There must be somebody just like me in Hollywood. Big and tall and hulking. He’s been in all these movies or was it TV shows, it’s on the tips of their tongues. Then the people leave me alone and the universes part again.
Woke up this morning, sleepily got out of bed with the blankets somehow wrapped around my ankle, took one step, pulling all the blankets onto the floor, lost my balance and toppled into them. It was as if someone had turned the volume off and there was no sound whatsoever, just a big giant guy falling into a pile of blankets noiselessly, poof, a clip from a lost silent film. They used to make those in this very neighborhood, westerns along what is now Glendale Boulevard, and Keystone Cops a bit further down. Sometimes the multiverses blend together and our narratives go in odd directions, and where once I would have risen and walked sleepily into the kitchen for a cup of coffee this time I wound up in a two reeler with Charlie Chaplin about to hit me with a pie.
I just said something out loud and scared myself. My voice is back. Way down low. It had been gone since the week of Christmas, when some Typhoid Mary (now there’s a nickname, though none of the earnest young breeders in my hetero’d neighborhood would understand) gave everyone at the xmas party the flu. Viruses are impressive, does anything alive spread faster? Actually no, dumb question, that is why they are so contagious. Indeed, it is debatable if they are even alive at all. At least the flu virus rarely kills anymore. Wait twenty years. That’ll be some christmas party. Octogenarians getting stoned and drunk and trying to remember the words to Blitkrieg Bop will drop like plague victims the next day. Maybe we’ll have a mass wake. But I am digressing, I was talking about my voice. It’s back and rumbling. I am a mensch again, finally. Basso profundo. Lesser voiced dudes shuffle out of the way. Barmaids give special attention. People assume I am a boss, or a movie star, or important. If only I could find my testicles.
So when our ancient loach died, half a foot long, some piscene balance of terror was upset, apparently, and the zebra danios went mad and ate the neon tetras and glass catfish and two of their own kind. There are three fish left in the tank, all of them zebra danios, all chasing each other madly throughout the underwater plants like crazy little cannibals. Soon, there will be two. Then one. At that point I will flush the murderous little survivor down the toilet and restock our tank with more sociable fish. We have had this tank for over twenty years and the two preceding it now for another ten or fifteen, a continuous aquarium for nearly all our thirty seven years of marriage. Once in the eighties we inadvertently bought a fish infected with ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis) and all the fish died but one platy, and for a year we had just the one platy as it slowly recovered, till we began adding other fish, cheap little neon tetras I’m sure, a couple at a time. No one got sick and eventually the tank was full of life again, and the platy lived several healthy years, even graduating to the next larger tank. That was probably thirty years ago. All has been fishfully peaceful since, the occupants remarkably long lived, until now. I watch the zebra danios in their mad dashes. They never stop. Even by a danio’s hyperkinetic standards this is frenzied. I had noticed that the nightly feeding wasn’t getting them as excited as it did just a couple weeks ago. But why would it? They crave flesh.
Speaking of Badlands National Park, the last time we drove through there I reached into the back seat for another can of Diet Dr. Pepper. Couldn’t get at it so I lifted up the little ice chest and put it on my lap. Sideways. A gallon of ice water poured onto my lap. I gasped a deeply profound gasp as my testicles froze solid into a billion tiny cryogenic Bricks. I could have fathered a city the size of Philadelphia. Instead, I turned off the air conditioner. We stopped at Wall Drugs afterward. She went looking for the animatronic dinosaur. I stood beside the car and let the hot Dakota wind blow through my pants.
The badlands, by the way, were stunning, mindblowing, primordial. Layers of history pressed into colors and layered like a cake, then carved into slow madness.