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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.