I couldn’t believe that we were ordering Rick’s Burgers online last night. Even as the DoorDash guy came to the door with my SuperBuy and Fyl’s cheeseburger and onion rings I didn’t believe it. It’s like the last two ungentrified things in Silver Lake were me and Rick’s burgers, and suddenly Rick’s is online with all the foodies and I’m using an app on an iPhone to order from them. Progress. It seems wrong, though. The first time I went to Rick’s seems impossibly far back in the eighties. I wrote on a typewriter then, and cut and pasted flyers, and sent and received postcards from weirdos. I made mix tapes for the blaster in the car after the radio died, while our parties ended with LPs and singles scattered on the floor. I had never used a computer at any job. How could something as impossibly analog as a Rick’s SuperBuy emerge from the ether in 2020 as tasty and sloppy as if a not yet thirty year old me had just ordered it from the little hottie at the window? And while she’s a grandmother now, the burger never changed. It’s the last ungentrified thing in Silver Lake.
Was out on the moondeck around midnight and the silence was something. A solitary siren set off the coyotes and for a minute there I could have been in the middle of the Mojave, but the siren keened away and the coyotes shushed. A bat fluttered by. An owl flapped from one tree to another without making a sound. There wasn’t a voice to be heard, or a laugh, or the sounds of love, no loud music or blaring TVs or anything else that lets you know there are people living around you, no dog barked or mockingbird sang, nothing.
Indeed, if it weren’t for the incessant 24/7 news on TV or the hysteria on social media or headlines in the paper we’d have no idea whatsoever that all hell is breaking loose. We’ve heard no extra sirens or helicopters, smelled no smoke, heard no gunfire, seen no angry people in the street, no police, nothing, and yet just a couple miles away in every directions the masses are marching and protesting and chanting. Shops were looted. Cars burned. People beaten with clubs. But you couldn’t tell up here. The one hint something was amiss was no mail for a couple days. That was it.
Otherwise we pleasantly isolate–there’s still a pandemic on, even in all this silence–and we get everything delivered. Just yesterday I got up late and ordered some marijuana (alas, for arthritis and not just getting stoned), some groceries and deposited a check while I sat on the couch drinking my first coffee of the day, and all online. The dope appeared in under an hour, the groceries in a little over an hour, and the check was in our account instantaneously. It seemed more like magic than technology.
The future is here and it is extremely pleasant, and our little neighborhood tucked away on the edge of Silverlake—behind us on the other side of our ridge is the Golden State Freeway and the river, and scores of ducks and geese fly from lake to river and back again at sun up and sundown—feels completely separate from the real world, like we’re in an episode of Twilight Zone, and this is Willoughby.
OK, the painters are done and gone. The place has been transformed from its faded Silver Lake glory into something, uh, different. The exterior is now lily white, much like me, with teal round the windows and doors. Teal. The front door itself is a sort of psychotic yellow, apparently visible from several space stations. I’m afraid to look at the back door. All in all it fits our new, bubbly personalities, bright and colorful and sunny, the kind of place that people in New Jersey look at and think Italians live there.
Inside is the same as before, though with an exciting new toilet. No, I won’t post a picture of the toilet. New floor coming in the kitchen. Fyl picked the color pattern. It’ll be a surprise. Anyway I better go practice smiling to go along with that teal. Any minute I expect Debbie Reynolds to come bursting in.
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.
[Just found this amid the drafts, it appears to have been pieced together from various bits and might be ten years old, and some of it perhaps twenty or thirty years old, I don’t remember. It’s a rough draft, obviously, but I’ll leave as is.]
Someone asked about the ON Klub. In Silver Lake, right? On Sunset? Facebook archaeology. Look for the old people that remember. A few of us did. Had actually been there even. I could even recite the address, though how I have no idea. But it was 3037 W. Sunset. Silverlake–it was one word then, though it’s back to two again now–was terra incognita then. People knew Hollywood, and people knew Echo Park was next to Dodger Stadium, but Silverlake was an amorphous area inbetween, and it’s stretch of Sunset Blvd was dimly lit and dark shadowed as night fell, dingy old gay bars and botanicas and liquor stores and abandoned storefronts. Everything old and if not quite falling down, aging less than gracefully. You could tell that a generation or two before this area had been something. If you dared to turn left or right and chugged up the steep hill in whatever beat up seventies lemon you were stuck in (it was the end of a decade of terrible American industrial workmanship, when everything was built just to break down, and a whole nation was topographically divided by whether the car could make it up that hill or not) the darkness would close in around you, the houses hidden behind steel bars and lush foliage, the apartment buildings peeling and battered, and who were those sketchy guys on the sidewalk? The streets twisted upon themselves immediately, dead ended or narrowed to the width of a single car and Sunset Blvd disappeared somewhere back there and you were lost, instantly. We were new in town, just a year or two, and lived in East Hollywood with the Armenians and Mexicans and gays and losers and ancient people who tended roses in yards in front of old clapboard houses they’d lived in since the silent days. We never explored Silverlake. We’d pass through it on the way downtown till we figured out a quicker route. But that was it.
Our car had died and we were dependent on the RTD–now MTA–for transportation for a year. That was a drag. You miss a lot of things that way. At some point we scraped up enough cash for a car and bought a Pinto. They were homely and cheap and deadly in a collision. Ours was blue and it rattled and it never saw the fast lane of a freeway. But it was wheels. I’m pretty sure this was the car we first went to the ON Klub in. We kept reading about the place in the LA Reader–never bothered with the LA Weekly back then, the Reader was much hipper and Matt Groening wrote the music column–and all these bands I’d hear on KXLU occasionally seemed to be playing there. Weird bands, crazy bands, punk rock bands that annoyed everybody. We had to go there. It was a Saturday night. We’d worked our shit jobs that week and collected our paychecks. Put almost enough in the bank to cover the bills, and the rest in our pockets. ATM cards didn’t exist yet, and credit cards were beyond most of us. It was a cash only economy at our level. Cheap restaurants, cheap clubs, cheap beer and rag weed. We had apparently just smoked a whole joint’s worth because I remember being stoned out of our minds as we crept down a darkened Sunset Boulevard looking for the address. We went right past it at least once, turned around, and headed back. 3037 Sunset, that’s it. There was a marquee I think above the door. I think it said Oriental Nights. Maybe it said ON Klub too. I can’t remember if that K was to make it punk rock or if it was some affectation left over from its history as a rather notorious gay bar from the days before Stonewall. Silver Lake–two words way back then–had been a center and hide out for Hollywood’s gays since the twenties. Fyl once described a bus trip down Sunset sitting behind two elderly queens. As the bus made its way slowly along, these two kept pointing to their old haunts and reminiscing. Remember that place? Oh and that one? Mary, this, Mary that. The Silver Lake Lounge. The Black Cat Tavern. Oriental Nights was one. They giggled and whispered something about the place. By the time she got off the bus downtown she’d had the whole tour. But that was twenty years later. I have no idea what we thought the place had been as we entered that night. You didn’t really ask questions about punk rock clubs, you just took them as they came, hoping it would last more than a week. When you’re twenty something the past isn’t especially important anyway. Or shouldn’t be.
The place was a dive. It was old, built into a hillside, almost a cliff, it was almost like it was built into a cavern. East Hollywood was flat as Kansas but here just two miles away weird bars were excavated into bedrock and the neighborhoods clung to hillsides along streets undulating who knows where. It was a different world. Gays and hippies and vatos, ancient bohemians and chattering Filipinos and breathtakingly beautiful Latinas that returned your stare with a sneer. It didn’t feel like home, yet, but I liked it. We found parking along Sunset somewhere near the joint and went in.
Think the place began booking punk around 1981? But only for a couple years. It was there for years afterward, first an empty shell, lonely and sad and weed choked, and then was a film studio storage place or something for decades, might still be. I don’t remember as much ska there as later at the ON Klub in Hollywood. I remember some really nuts underground shit, though. Nip Drivers in 82 or 83 remains one of my favorite shows ever, it was demented, plus some guy was fucking with Fyl and she poured her drink over his head, but it was the wrong guy, and he got mad, and Fyl told him to fuck off, and he got madder, and she told him to fuck off, bitch, so he got even madder, all dripping and sticky, and I told him to leave (think I just pointed at the door) which he did, but he wrote us a nasty personal ad in the LA Reader, called me a “hulking boyfriend”, which we still have pressed in a photo album somewhere. I loved punk rock.
Heard Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive and then Sister Sledge singing We Are Family on the radio just now and it was so nostalgic of another time in another Silverlake when those were the neighborhood anthems and not a Saturday night went by that you didn’t hear them blaring from some long lost bar or another.
(from a Facebook thread….)
I’m just a working class boho living the easy life in LA. My office is this iPhone, a red folder for a few bills, a calendar I scribble notes in, one drawer of a file cabinet, a few zines to be read, a zillion books, some records and cds, and a TV my pal Sarge gave us. My desk is a rock garden and a small army of trilobites watches me in silence. One side of the room is all windows, worth the rent all by itself; the million dollar view and weather are free.
Today the weather is blustering through every window in the house and swirling madly about, warm and a little humid with hints of a more southerly Pacific. It’s all so easy and unhurried. But then so are we. We’ve been here for thirty years and a hundred parties. We’ll be here for more years and more parties. We’re Silver Lake lifers, going on four decades, watching the old Beats turn to old hippies to old punks to aging hipsters, each loathing the generation just before them and venerating the generation that came before the generation they despise. So me, I’m nuts about the Beats. Their poetry, their jazz, their asshole attitude. I can dig that. Fuck you if you don’t. The hippies and hipsters just flinched. The punks grinned. That’s how it works. You want to see me flinch start talking about goat yoga.
Think I’ll spoon a little Bustelo in my coffee maker and have a cup, put on a record since the CD player died and the monitor to the PC is on the blink, and see if I can find something in my drafts that I can finish. I don’t feel right if I don’t write something every day. But I have to be careful now because I’m epileptic and words can set off seizures and weirdness (and if that ain’t Beat, what is?)
But then this’ll do. So maybe instead I’ll just get stoned and watch the sky turn slowly pink then red then purple then black and listen to the coyotes make their crazy music. Why not? It is Saturday, as if Saturday had any relevance to a retired man. The jazz is emanating from the record player and an obnoxious little zephyr just scattered paper all over the floor. It’s the wee people’s doing, my grandmother would have said, half believing it. And the banshees howl by night, looking for sinners and Englishmen.
That’s a wrap.
A vast hollow boom rent the silent night, followed by a ragged series of other booms, just as loud. The first one startled me, the others just made me smile. No matter how much they’ve gentrified Silverlake, there’s still little pockets of Mexico where somebody’s tio borracho breaks out the stash of unbelievably illegal fireworks he’d smuggled up from TJ or maybe bought off an ice cream truck across the river and sets them off in a ragged volley because, hell, Christmas Eve is a holiday like any other. Now Silver Lake is utterly silent again as I write this, even in here, where the Christmas tree lights throw crazy shadows on the ceiling and the entire room looks like a Van Gogh still life. Brick needs to take his seizure meds.
Merry Christmas, all.
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.