Silver Lake when you could afford to live here.

(2013)

You know Silver Lake is not completely gentrified when the crackhead (possibly schizophrenic) babydaddy of your next door neighbor, who rants at all hours about how he is possessed by “el Diablo,” is caught sharpening a humongous machete in front of your house, spends one night in jail, and then he’s back in front of the door, macheteless but still screaming about the fucking Diablo.

G.T., Facebook

Ah wow, nostalgia. This was the Silver Lake  (though it was Silverlake then, before all the gueros moved back) that I knew and loved from the mid 80’s till sometime after its third or fourth cover of Los Angeles magazine.

Crack, cool. OK, maybe not cool, but you used to be able to buy that where the Silver Lake farmer’s market is now. Or on Micheltorena across from the school. Or at Parkman, right on the sidewalk, across from the liquor store where my pal Dave got beat up for badmouthing a couple cholos. Dave always was kind of an idiot that way. It didn’t pay to be an idiot back then. Now it does, and you get to write for the LA Weekly or be a reality star or an independent film maker. Back then you got beat up by cholos at Sunset and Parkman, or OD’d on junk or got AIDS. Maybe the cops busted you in somebody’s bushes with some bear you just met on Griffith Park Blvd. Try explaining that one to the new neighbors.

I heard the worst poetry I ever heard in a bar where Cheetah’s is now. A chick screaming in free verse about sodomy. Though she didn’t call it that. She’d written the poem while so engaged. Bent over and hating herself and writing bad poetry. Seriously, that’s what she told us. I wondered why I was there. But I digress.

There used to be lots of gays in Silver Lake too. No really, I remember. You could hear their sounds of love deep into the night, plus they threw great parties. And the dykes would beat the living fuck out of each other outside the club where the free clinic is now. They wore huge boots and drove big pick up trucks and beat each other up. No tea parties in Silverlake. Not then.

There were still a few hippies left, I knew some, theirs was a different world. Talk of soap factories and love ins. We just stared, blinking in disbelief. Then we’d smoke pot together out of some ancient bong. There even remained a few ancient beatniks. Embittered, angry, hating everything…they hadn’t changed a bit. And punks, though getting into their late twenties and beyond, still scared customers away.

There was a gay bookstore, a gay steakhouse, a gay hamburger joint, a gay coffee shop, and bathhouses you could emerge from sparkling clean. We had a zillion gay weekly papers, all outrageous, and one very serious Lesbian News. There was a lesbian auto mechanic.

We had crime too, lots of it. You could have your car battery, your car radio and your car itself stolen, sometimes in the same week if it was your lucky day. We had shootings and murders and a Colombian gang that specialized in pick pocketing and breaking and entering. Suicides were popular.

We had a laundromat that had poetry readings, next to a gay bar with oiled musclemen dancing on the tables. We don’t have that anymore. Plus we had a surplus store, and still do. That, and me and my wife, are still here. Surplus and antiques.

Nowadays we have breeders and lawyers and hipsters and a zillion lovely young women who I refuse to complain about.. And oh yeah, the food was better then. I mean it was worse, but it was better. At least you could afford it.

Anyway that story I opened with was from my former editor who yelled at me for spelling Esperanza Spalding wrong (I had whooping cough, no one can spell right with hooping cough) and who I once got in trouble because I said Lemmy beat me up. And that story of his brought all that wonderful old Silverlake back. Nothing like a good machete story. Especially if no one gets hurt. If it was a machete story and someone did get hurt, well, that was what Echo Park was for. Maybe hurt is an understatement. They fished him out of the lake. Maybe they found the head when they drained it.

Or maybe they’ll find it when they drain the Reservoir.

I like to think it was used by Santerias. We used to have them in Silverlake. The botanicas on Sunset sold powders and spells, and you’d find dead chickens in the park.

I’ve never told this to the lovely young neighbor ladies. They’d be outraged. Chickens have rights too, you know. Some stories are best left to the aged and cynical.

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Jazz Critics Awards

My favorite music columnist ever was Bob Tarte, who never let the fact that it was completely untrue get in the way of weaving an odd story into what should have been a collection of world music reviews. I mean he’d still review the cds, but the reviews would be worked into a strange narrative that sometimes was true and sometimes flat out bullshit. No matter. He wrote well, was funny as hell, and never met a genre he didn’t like.

One Sunday nite I was putting together the week’s Brick’s Picks and man what a dead week. It happens. I tried over and over to write a column that didn’t bore me to tears. No go. So I decided this was my Bob Tarte moment. And here was my opening paragraph:

Well, the Jazz Critics Guild had their awards ceremony, perhaps you saw it on TV. Stars galore, and world famous jazz musicians, and Hef and all the girls. Paparazzi and autograph seekers and Joan Rivers on the red carpet, trashing all our clothes. Billy Crystal couldn’t make it, but fill-in Ricky Gervais was sweet as pie. Quite the gentleman. Boney James grooved but unfortunately no one could understand anything he said the jive was so thick. Great hat, though. The presentation went on all night, and every critic went home clutching his Lenny except yours truly. Couldn’t even win the Tallest Jazz Critic award (who knew Kareem was reviewing jazz now?) All the critics left with their statuettes, Joan Rivers gushing and all the rock writers green with envy. Empty handed, I left for the after party. It was a drag. Kept getting mistaken for the bouncer.  Eventually everybody wound up in the recording studio under the pool at the Sunset Marquis laying down “We Are the World” in different time signatures. I couldn’t get into it and split for the Rainbow, got into an argument and was beaten up by Lemmy. This town will break your heart. 

I submitted and forgot about it.

A couple days later I get a panicky email from my editor. URGENT!!! Call me ASAP about column!!!!!!! So I called him. It was the first time we’d ever spoken actually…in fact he was one of the only of my thirteen editors at the LA Weekly to ever hear my voice. And to this day he’s still never met me. None did, I think, except the first couple. I preferred being the mysterious cat who turned in copy no one there could understand without ever being seen. That way they didn’t bug me and I didn’t demand they pay me what I was worth. (Writers got paid then. We didn’t yet owe it to our readers to write for the sheer privilege of having them read us. I have actually been told this, more than once.)  Anyway, my editor was freaking out bad. He said my first paragraph didn’t make any sense, and the other editors–his bosses–freaked. Apparently they couldn’t tell if it was real or not.  Maybe they were freaked out about lawsuits. Ricky Gervais would get all uppity English and sue. Joan Rivers would say something perfectly awful. Lemmy would beat them up. I have no idea. But my editor killed the lede. He editor was effusively apologetic. I think they expected me to throw a writerly tantrum. I guess we do that. But I just said no problem, I just made it all up anyway. It was a dull week. He sounded bewildered but relieved.

Hell, I said, I just thought it was funny. He didn’t. He would now, as he’s no longer there, but being an editor at the LA Weekly at the time was like working for Stalin in the 1930’s. A people’s hero one week, a non-person the next. All traces removed. At least the bullet to the back of the head was metaphorical.

Anyway, when the issue came out that Thursday the offending paragraph was excised, as I was told. In its place was the following:

“It’s awards season and even the Jazz Critics Guild got in on the red-carpet action.”

Which means they believed it. I don’t know who exactly–was it my editor (which I doubt), or the editors above him, or Stalin him or herself? I have no idea. But whoever it was, they believed it. The Jazz Critics Awards, the Jazz Critics Guild, Ricky, Joan, Lemmy, all of it. Even “We Are the World” under the pool ar the Sunset Marquis. I liked to think they fell for the whole bit, hook line and sinker.

I said to myself I can retire now.

And I did, a year later.