I was lectured by a new resident of Frogtown that they do not call it Frogtown. It’s called Elysian Valley, he said. They had just moved there from San Francisco. So you moved from Frisco to Frogtown, I said. That ended that conversation, but alliteration is like crack to a writer.
We’ve been four decades now in what are essentially the eastern suburbs of Hollywood. First couple places were in East Hollywood, which is sort of Hollywood’s Brooklyn (I’d say Queens but that’s West Hollywood). In fact East Hollywood was its own incorporated village separated from Hollywood by farmland until it was incorporated into the city of Los Angeles I believe in the early 1910’s. Not that the city fathers had a choice if they wanted water. They lost their independence but they got their water, enough that by the 1920’s in a building boom that would give today’s anti-growth people a seizure the once sleepy village of East Hollywood metastasized into instantaneous suburban sprawl, home to all the low level studio hands and movie proles. There are photos from the top of Barnsdall Hill twenty years apart that are mind blowing: the first an agricultural idyll, something out of Ancient Greece, all groves and fields of grain and vineyards stitching to the horizon; the second, twenty years later, crowded wall to wall with cheap construction and looking basically like it looks today, except for the Home Depot. Hence all the now charming but then just quick and cheap to build bungalows (many still with the original Murphy beds that wake entire neighborhoods with violent skronks and squeaks when fucked in). In the century that followed East Hollywood never has upscaled. Downscaled quite a bit for a spell. We saw that. Sleazebags haggling over a ten dollar blow jobs in the 7-11 parking lot. Ten dollars with no rubber the john said. A minute later he realized he’d been had. They were still arguing as we drove off and a police cruiser pulled in.
So we moved a mile east into one of the tonier and older Hollywood suburbs, Silverlake, though off Sunset amid the bohos and gays and working class, hundreds of feet below the rich folks up the hill. It was a wonderful spot, we loved it. We had loud parties every weekend, and otherwise listened to obnoxious music and screwed to all hours and the neighbors must have hated us. I’d hate us. But crime oozed east from Hollywood in the early 90’s—a crackhouse three doors down, heroin three doors up—so we fled another mile east to the very edge of the Hollywood suburbs on a ridge overlooking—gasp!—the Valley, tho’ Atwater residents refuse to acknowledge that fact, freed as they are from the SFV’s rigid street grid. But up here in our Silverlake aerie we know better—it gets hot as fuck down there on the wrong side of the 5. Plus they can smell the River.
I appear to have digressed from whatever stream of consciousness I’d been in. Whatever, this eddy might be just the place to mention that that heroin house just sold for a million bucks. The rents in the crackhouse are now twice what we’re paying in our hilltop pad. Progress. Anyway, back into the current:
It’s funny to remember that when I was in second grade I began school in San Diego, then Anaheim, then Tacoma, then Anaheim again, then finished on an island off the coast of Maine. That was what, five thousand miles in one year? In 39 years we have moved all of maybe two miles. Same goddamn phone number even. Same stores and streets and stories. Some of the same friends. Virtually my entire adult life and all of my married life in less than two square miles here on Hollywood’s eastside. Hollywood. All our streets run east-west through Hollywood. Our bus lines. Our consciousness. Downtown LA is still alien and exotic and exciting to me, and I worked there for years, in who knows how many of those skyscrapers. Yet Hollywood Blvd, in our downtown, while infinitely stranger than downtown LA somehow feels normal. It’s fucked up that something that bizarre could feel normal, I know, but I’ve been seeing it for four decades. It gets into your DNA, as the hackneyed and scientifically nonsensical meme goes. But it does. I got the shit kicked out of me by cops in the Hollywood jail even. I’ve earned this feeling of being at home in this crazy place. I’ve never even considered myself an Angeleno, not really. I live in Hollyweird.
Gorgeous crescent moon tonight over Los Angeles, tinctured orange from smoke I’m assuming. Seems magnified considerably by atmospherics. Raising my cup I beckon the bright moon wrote Li Bai, thirteen centuries ago. Of course his cup was filled with wine, mine only coffee. He drowned. I’ll just be up all night.
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.
We just don’t live in Silver Lake anymore, we live in Waverly Terrace Silver Lake. Or is it Silver Lake Waverly Terrace? This is what happens when Katy Perry moves into the neighborhood. Maybe we’ll be a gated community soon.
Anyway they even invited us to join their private online network. But we’re too stuck up. Stuck up on Waverly Terrace.
Life is rough.
Power’s been off and on, mostly off, all day here in our stretch of Silver Lake. Gotta love the DWP, delivering juice with all the intermittent excitement of a fourth world capital besieged or maybe Caracas on a bad day for socialism. I made dinner in the dark. Spilled milk. Didn’t cry. Ate in a candle lit room accompanied by our battery operated phonograph. I had listened to Chicago jazz all afternoon–found an extraordinary LP side of Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickinson, Wild Bill Davison and Bud Freeman from the 1950’s I don’t think I’d ever listened to, with a riotous Muskrat Ramble at be bop tempo, just nuts. At one point I realized I’d listened to three LP’s worth of tracks none of which had been cut less than ninety years ago. An afternoon like that. Then the power came back on halfway through some late forties Ellington. Cat Anderson hit a high note and switched on all the lights. So I put the turntable away and reset all the clocks and started laundry and got online when Elmer Fudd at the DWP tripped over the extension cord again and the whole neighborhood was draped in dusk. As it lingered, ever darker, I lit candles and pulled out the record player again and switched to the two Bowie LPs I have left (I used to have a dozen, but they’re gone) and cringed at Kooks, as always. Then power came back on finally and I put the record player away and blew out the candles and was about to turn on the computer when Jerry Lewis at the DWP beat me to it by falling onto the main off switch with his foot stuck in a waste basket. Darkness again. The whole neighborhood enveloped in darkness. I sat in the living room in the dark and listened to distant light. A siren cut the stillness and coyotes howled and it was like the end of civilization, like Paris in the depth of the 14th century, beset by plague and war and brigands and famine, when wolves haunted the night time streets and snatched the unwary. Like that. Well, not quite like that. It was dark, though. So I lit more candles, pulled out the record player, and listened to the first Buzzcocks LP which I bought forty years ago next year, and it sounded gloriously low fi like it did on cheap punk rock record players in 1978, and I sat in the dark and remembered what a great album it had been to fuck to, but never mind. The second album sounded even better, incredibly creative, and just as Late For the Train reached its swirling, soaring, pounding finish the power came back on, lights on everywhere. Damn, someone at the DWP has groovy timing.
And here comes the epilepsy, a buzzing numbing fog. I forgot.
Emerging from Griffith Park, the stoned lady forget to press the button at the crosswalk, though she never noticed the difference as she walked across Los Feliz Blvd staring at her iPhone. The traffic stopped and blew their horns in admiration. The lady never noticed.