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.

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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.

(2012)