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.
The fires up north are 600 miles away. The ones around Lake Elsinore an hour away but the winds are blowing the smoke inland, away from us. Until the winds begin blowing from the east we’ll smell very little smoke here in Silver Lake between Hollywood and downtown L.A.
But when the winds do begin blowing from the east, they’ll be bone dry and our local mountains and hillsides will go up like tinder. Our eyes will sting, our clothes will smell like smoke, ash will come down like a light summer rain. By day the sky will be filled with palls of smoke and by night the mountains will glow orange with rippling flame extending for miles. It’s weirdly beautiful. Sometimes we’ll drive the freeways that follow the foothills just to watch the eerie sight of fires burning in the mountains all around us, like we’re a city besieged. All day long sirens follow caravans of fire trucks hurrying to the front and sometimes immense helicopters hover over the Silver Lake reservoir like dragonflies drinking their fill before soaring off to drop the water on some doomed foothill neighborhood. They pass overhead in a roar every ten minutes. Flip on the local news and you can watch them drop their load with Norton bombsite precision. Minutes later they’re back overhead. The dogs bark excitedly and the neighbors watch from their sun decks awed and concerned.
Fire season is an overwhelming sensory experience, even the coyotes pitch in to howl and keen at every screaming, honking fire truck, and the local television stations follow it all day and all night and it’s all anyone talks about. Fire season is as Los Angeles as Raymond Chandler and as unnerving as The Blitz. An earthquake would almost be a relief. But that is all still to come: the air is clean now and a tad humid with the sea breeze and we sit here nervously waiting our turn.
An incredibly drunk writer went off on me at a party last night. That’s not unusual, writers and drinking kind of go together, and writers love to talk and, when drunk, they love to argue. It’s their charm. But this was different. This was intense. She came out of nowhere and was suddenly there, right in my face, ranting. Ranted at me about the LA Weekly–which I haven’t written for in two years–and editors and the business and how nobody pays writers anymore. She began crying once or twice. Outright weeping another. A lot of incoherence. She had me cornered with my back to an incredibly steep drop down the hill and I couldn’t move. Or say anything. What do you say? You slip outside to smoke a cigar and some demented chick in an Attack of the 50 Foot Woman tee shirt starts ranting at you. Yelling, crying, cursing, weeping, confiding and telling me I’m awesome. I’m not sure where the awesome came from. I had never seen her before in my life. I finally managed to break away. I saw her inside later, tear streaked, broken hearted, inconsolable, shitfaced. She avoided everyone and they her. She apparently made a beeline for her poor ex and totally went off him. He got the full treatment, without the awesomes. Ugly scene. Glad I missed it, or maybe I wish I’d been there for it. Because that was a great party. And if a great party doesn’t have a disaster or two it’s not a great party.
One time at a crowded anarchic bash at our house my wife Fyl slipped on a rug while dancing and fell and struck the coffee table. Tore a three inch gash in her back. This was the night that the seven foot tall homeless schizophrenic (who’d been off his meds for some time) suddenly hated Jews and women. He’d liked them fine earlier in the evening, been quite pleasant. But he’d been partying…. He wasn’t violent at all about it, just verbal, right to their faces. Intense, this big giant dude looming over chicks and telling them how much he hated all women. Odd, even for our parties. Then Fyl slipped and fell and the whole houseful of drunken stoned people went into a panicking herd mode. They shouted advice, orders and admonitions. Concerned en masse, even the schizo one. They crowded around to help, which was useful. They crowded and freaked and weirded out and panicked. If I didn’t do what they said right now then I was the worst husband ever. They followed me around the house, admonishing me as I tried to recruit somebody sober to take her to the emergency room. I finally had to do a Sgt. Bilko routine–Attention! Shut up! Attention! You! Shut the fuck up!–to get them to calm down and get out of the way of the front door so Fyl could get out. They massed there, in our tiny slip of an entrance hall, so tight they could barely move. I managed to get them out of there, not quite by force, but almost. Somebody took (a very calm) Fyl to the emergency room and someone took the (also suddenly calm) homeless guy back to the park he lived in. Fyl, stitched up, tough as nails, returned from the emergency room and resumed partying. On top of all that I’d forgotten to invite the guy who’d been at every party we ever threw. Every one. An omen, the inebriated Greek chorus said, you should have known. But how does one know ahead of time what one his forgetting? This is the stuff of Aeschylus, not a mere blogger. So to ameliorate Fate, the gods and the drunks, we threw another party the following week. The missing man was there, and all the people from the first party except the homeless guy. They bitched at me for being a party nazi and yelling at them the week before. They all remembered themselves as being perfectly calm and logical at the time
Drunk people do that when they’re not drunk. Think they were logical. Remember things they can scarcely remember. See things through rosé colored glasses. Well, cheap red wine and beer colored glasses. If they’re drinking whiskey they can’t see anything at all.
I have a zillion more stories I could tell but I still know all the people. They still come to the parties. In fact I just deleted a charming anecdote involving a pretty lady and a pair of roller skates, but nevermind. And then there’s the time I accidentally punched out the shortest guy in the room. Totally by accident. My knuckles connected with his eye socket with an audible crunch. He dropped to the floor trying to draw a penalty, but it was my party so I couldn’t be thrown out. Got a lot of stares for unsportsmanlike behavior, though. And I’d done nothing. Totally innocent. But when the biggest guy in the room punches out the littlest no one believes the big guy is innocent. None of you do reading this. You’re thinking what a brute
My favorite party ever was at our pal Edwin’s place on the 4th of July some time ago. A bottle rocket set the hillside on fire and mere anarchy was loosed upon the world. With minutes it was a regular conflagration. The fire department helicopter showed up and dumped a load of water which missed the fire but completely soaked a guest. He came back sopping wet and disgusted. Those things look so accurate on TV. Some idiot hipster chick parked her car in the middle of the lane and ran off screaming. I remember she left the car door open and music blaring for who knows what reason. I saw mini-dressed party girls in brightly colored fuck me pumps trying to run down the street. Their heels clicked and clacked crazily on the pavement. The firefighters couldn’t get their trucks through and were pleading through megaphones for people to move their cars. A valiant bunch of party dudes got a hose and held it aloft to douse the flames which would have worked had it been connected to a water line. The young and hip were in a complete panic, though you can’t blame them, really. San Diego county had just gone up in flames, houses gutted, people dead, the moon a vivid orange. But the geezers couldn’t give a flying fuck. We sat around swilling beer and cooking hamburgers and cracking wise, having a helluva good time watching the show. A party-side view of a brush fire is a rare thing. They’re usually off in the distance engulfing houses but this was right across the street. Flashing lights and screaming sirens. The crackle of two-way radios. The sky filled with rockets and whizbangs and Roman candles. Whistling Petes shrieked like incoming shells and festive projectiles big as bombs exploded loudly. Someone had dragged an old Wurlitzer organ out on the lawn and above all the din you could hear the strains of Light My Fire.
Hours later some of the hipsters came back to retrieve things they’d left in the panic. Hats, ice chests, a purse, a boyfriend. The geezers made fun of them, not to be mean…well hell, of course it was just being mean. It was funny. The kids looked ashamed. Sometimes you have to be tough to have a good time. And so a crazy drunk lady flipping out last nite at Mona & Jeff’s was just the sign that the scene was rocking. Mona and Jeff would tell you that too. Anarchy is a good thing. We’re all old punk rockers anyway. We may not act like it, much, or look like it, but put a bunch of us together with too much beer and it’s fuck you, weirdness and laughter all night long.