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.
A vast hollow boom rent the silent night, followed by a ragged lseries 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.
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.
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.
Some deluded plant around here thinks it’s May and begins wantonly dispersing pollen as the sun sets in crimson fire and giving me hay fever–in December. Only in Silver Lake would some ridiculous exotic from Bali or Martinique or New Jersey go into a horny plant reproduction frenzy at Christmas time, leaving me involuntarily humming Feliz Navidad between sneezes and eye watering and Kleenex like new fallen snow.
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.
Corner of Effie and Lucile, a hill or two over, in another blackout, but you get the idea. That’s Sunset Blvd down there, looking awash in klieg lights. Photo by Armand Emamdjomeh, Los Angeles Times, from 2015.