Silverlake, Silver Lake, whatever

My wife and I have lived in Silverlake for over thirty years now. Excuse me, Silver Lake. Back when we moved to Silverlake people who had been here thirty years called it Silver Lake. Then they all died and it was Silverlake for a few years. Then it got on the cover of Los Angeles Magazine and was Silver Lake again.

Thirty years. Maybe 31. Maybe 32. Whatever. You think we would fit in by now. But every time we start to fit in the neighborhood changes again. Now we know maybe four people in Lago del Dorado, and none of us fit it. Sketch Hall, who lives over by the Bates Stage and does his laundry in the San Gabriel Valley because that is where all the Chinese restaurants are; Carey Fosse, who also lives over by the Bates Stage but never does his laundry; and Mikaleno, would hang out by the Bates Stage a couple sheets to the wind before heading off to Sketch’s for a night cap but who lives south of Sunset and you know how we north of Sunset people are. Actually all three of these guys lived south of Sunset. That just occurred to me. Shows you the class of people I have been hanging out with. But at least Mikaleno does some great laundry, perfect Navy creases, he gave me a lesson in folding a handkerchief once but no matter how I tried his looked like a guy who had folded handkerchiefs in the navy and mine looked like a guy who had been a college drop out. I can’t remember who the fourth person is. Maybe they bought a fixer upper in Highland Park and are being picketed as we speak.

Anyway, we used to be the cute straight couple on the street and now all the unstraights have moved to Boystown or out to the country to live in a cute little cottage and go mad with boredom and have been replaced by beautiful young starlets who could be my children if not grandchildren but they are far too beautiful so I must have adopted them.

And that is Silver Lake to me.

silverlake yoga

Man, you Google Silver Lake and you get this. Has this neighborhood gone to hell or what?

Raymond Chandler

Damn, man, I forgot.

I was gonna pass by Raymond Chandler’s place in Silverlake. Just drive by it. Slowly. Pass by slowly and think that Raymond Chandler used to live there. It’s was his birthday. He’d have been 125. People don’t get to be 125 years old. Not yet. And certainly not writers. Too many vices. Too little money. Too much truth, and lies. A lotta lies. But if you’re good no one can tell you’re lying.

He lived on Redesdale, on the eastside slope of Micheltorena Hill, maybe a third of the way down. The streets are like switchbacks there, the way they wind, and they send you back and forth, never really getting anywhere. You can get stoned and be lost forever up there, wending your way this way and that, at random. If you get to the top of Micheltorena Hill you can pull over. It’s dark there, with a view that goes all the way to Japan almost. The lights are intoxicating, scattered across the city’s plain, over that vast flat expanse of one story houses all the way to the beach. There would have been less lights in Raymond Chandler’s time. Less houses then. Less trees. Less cars. Less people, too. But the ones there were, what a lode of characters they must have been.

I started this a long time ago. I was gonna write about Raymond Chandler’s procrastination. But I waited so long I can’t remember just what I was going to write about. So now I’m never going to finish it. They call that irony. Like those pretty orchids reeking of corruption. Me, I like orchids. But I don’t write hungover.

The wife drew open the drapes and the sun is pouring in through the windows. There’s ten feet of window across, I think, another six feet high. You could see the whole city all the way to the ocean but for that ridge in the way. Because of it the rest of the world besides our hill and that hill and the little valley in between appears cut off from the rest of the city, the state, the planet. There’s just us and it, that ridge. It’s steep and green and cluttered with houses that go back to the late thirties and through the war years. We breathe art deco around here, scarcely notice it. The slightest little shop is deco, the fronts of houses, even an old gas station they just tore down and left an empty lot. Famous architects went nuts around the lake, building crazy wild modern homes for the moneyed hipsters of the day.  A lot of movie star money here once, long ago, a lot of industry people. A couple guys–now dead–told me about the old days. The castle across the way–it has multiple floors and a turret, and while it looks like a house from the front over there, it looks like a castle to us over here–would throw huge parties, with orchestras, and Judy Garland would sing into the wee hours, echoing everywhere, keeping people awake. Drove them nuts.

Raymond Chandler was gone by then, dead, unfinished. A little forgotten. Drunken writers, I mean the truly sodden, generally have to wait a generation to be discovered again. The people that knew them die, the fumes dispel, the sad later years are forgotten. Kids read the books, the wonderful classic books, and try to figure out what the hell is going on in The Big Sleep (I’ve watched it a dozen times, easy, and still I’m lost by the time he leaves the bookstore) and they marvel at just how good a writer Raymond Chandler was, and how he shaped in many ways who we are. You don’t live in Hollywood and thereabouts and not have your Philip Marlowe moments. The dame wraps her stems around the barstool and no way you’re not gonna answer her look, buy her a drink, take her up on the smoke. You might not even smoke cigarettes but there you are, looking cool, smoke wreathed around your head, thinking of detective novels and jazz and sex. I told a little prick off once, he was being an asshole to a couple dames next to me at the bar. He scuttled off, scared. I let him go. He gave me the eye. I laughed. The women laughed. He stumbled backward, fell. I reached out and helped him to his feet. Careful fella, you can break a leg that way. He laughed nervously and thanked me and came back to the bar. Scene ended. Just one of those things. Phil Marlowe wouldn’t have handled it that way at all. Phil Marlowe would have socked him one, the little wop, and the punch would catch him straight on the chin, knock him out cold. Glass jaw. The barroom beef would drag his crumpled form out and dump him on the sidewalk. The cops would pick him up. He’d come to, spluttering, say the wrong thing, get the hell beaten out of him. Thirty days. Later he and his paisans would come looking for revenge. Vendetta   A rough town this place used to be. Nothing hippie about it then. Men were men. Women women. They’d fight and fuck and cheat and fall in love. That took care of everything by the end of the book or the closing credits. The sad divorce tales were a generation in the future. Lana Turner. Mrs Robinson. One word: Plastics. But for now, two words: It’s Chinatown.

Raymond Chandler didn’t write Chinatown, of course. Getting way off track. Free associating made up stories. They didn’t free associate in Raymond Chandler’s L.A. That was far in the future. Things were too tough to wander off into random connections. Stories needed structure, narrative, had to make some sense. Even The Big Sleep‘s screenplay pretends to follow a narrative. Bogart pulls it off. The breathless pace that allows it to work. Had they stopped still for a couple scenes, the unconnected dots would stand out, drive you nuts, ruin the movie. But they don’t. You blow through that like Illinois Jacquet blowing through Flying Home in 1946, the Basie band a great roaring machine behind him, unstoppable. That’s Bogie in The Big Sleep. Unstoppable. But you couldn’t fool Raymond Chandler. He sat in his upstairs studio office, smoking, pouring rye after rye, wondering if he could ever write a good story again. The secretary walked in, said something, walked out. He watched the seams disappear up the back of her legs. She swished, each step perfectly placed, like choreography. He wondered if her lipstick tasted like apple or strawberry. He wondered, wandered, stared out the window, and a story disappeared, forever.

Raymond Chandler’s pad, on the left hand side, in 1934. Great view of the Silver Lake reservoir…which he called Gray Lake. “The last time I had been in the Gray Lake district I had helped a D.A.’s man name Bernie Ohls shoot a gunman named Poke Andrews. But that was higher up the hill, away from the lake…. [The house] stood on a terrace, with a cracked retaining wall in front….” (The Goldfish, 1934)

This story can also be found on Brickspicks.com, along side all the cultural stuff I’ve written about.

All out of vanilla Haagen-Dazs

(2010)

Was out  late last nite. Saw some great bands in a little Mexican dive in Lincoln Heights. I love the East Side. Silver Lake used to be East Side. Maybe not the tops of the Swish Alps, but in the lowlands, along the boulevards, and almost everything south of Sunset. It was Latino and gay and leather and punk rock and bohemian with traces of hippies and hints of jazz even, left over from the Soap Plant daze. Alas, Silver Lake is so Westside now. I remember years ago watching a blonde–one of those ultra blondes–walking down a nearby street with tits like grapefruit. Perfect orbs. You could teach geometry with those things. I stared a minute and thought Good Lord, what has become of my neighborhood? It wasn’t much later at the Mayfair (now Gelson’s) that a gorgeous power blonde–she had to be an attorney, just had to be–stormed up to the manager on perfect legs and screamed You’re all out of vanilla Haagen-Dazs! She was livid. Gave him hell, the poor bastard. He apologized. She said something wealthy and angry. My wife, watching, burst out loud laughing.

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This story can also be found on Brickspicks.com, with all my cultural stuff.

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Sweeping up the scraps

The tow guy hauled our shattered Buick away at 7:45 this morning and I was out in the street sweeping up the scraps and sparkly tail lamp bits that were revealed in the now empty spot. For some reason that seemed important. Apparently I am gentrifying. I was done by 8 am and soaking in sweat, which I took to be a bad omen for the day to come. I guess this heat spell isn’t over. It’s like Milwaukee in the summer, but without the beer and brats and polkas. I used to hear polkas in Silverlake, rancheras blaring from tinny radios at all hours, Mex 2 the Max, tri-colored accordions and huge hats. Whatever happened to Patricia Lopez anyway? I loved that show, back when you could buy elotes and tamales right on Sunset Boulevard for a dollar, right there in the heart of Silver Lake, and wash them down with cheap beer and when the earthquake struck at seven in the morning, toppling chimneys and dishes, the residents of the tenement across the street poured into the street with cries of ¡Terremoto! ¡Terremoto! They wouldn’t go back inside for days, sleeping on the sidewalk, memories of Mexico City falling down around them only a year or so before. But the building didn’t fall down, and they finally went back in, but are all gone again. The place is all prettied up now and pricey and full of screenwriters and actors and other desperate wannabes, as no doubt it had been once many decades before when Raymond Chandler lived a couple blocks away and noir was new. I wonder if the tenants know a whole era that came and went in their very pads only a generation before, and that the little park where they buy the expensive produce on Farmer’s Market day was once a tragic scene, the homesick waiter from the Mexican restaurant on the corner polishing off a bottle of tequila there on the park bench, and the liquor took him into a deep sleep and he slid off the bench and broke his neck without ever waking up. I think of him every time I pass that little park, and I never even knew who he was.

Rock’n’roll Ralphs

(2013)

We go to the Rock’n’roll Ralphs for the thrill.

We have our own Ralphs here in Silver Lake, but it’s all normal now. Silver Lake is all normal now, Silver Lake used to be Silverlake and edgy and new and leathery gay but that’s long gone, gone with the punks and the freaks and the vatos. It’s all rich people and hipsters with kids and beautiful single women. Ours is a nice Ralphs. There’s a couple Ralphs across the river in Glendale…there’s an Armenian Ralphs and an upscale Ralphs and between them an eerie underground Ralphs that always make me think of Beneath then Planet of the Apes. You enter the parking lot above ground and way in the corner there’s a winding driveway that leads you into the Stygian darkness below. Inside, though, it’s just a regular Ralphs.

But Rock’n’roll Ralphs is special. We always park on the roof and take the elevator down. That’s fun. Our Ralphs doesn’t have an elevator. And our Ralphs doesn’t have all these people either, these Hollywood types, who can’t even roll a shopping cart down a grocery aisle without looking like they’re trying to hustle something. There’s a lot of rock’n’roll types, hardened roadie looking guys with too much thinning hair and baskets full of beer and TV dinners. There’s Hollywood lifers, people who have obviously lived in Hollyweird their whole lives and have that sort of otherworldly jadedness that comes from too many nights and not enough days. There’s wackos that talk to themselves or each other and you think they might smell funny but they don’t really. There’s gorgeous starlets buying healthy little things and a bottle of white wine. There’s children with dad for the weekend picking things mom never lets them have. And there are celebrities who slip in underdressed and un-made up and try to pass as just another extra. Which works with me, as I can’t tell a celebrity from a ham sandwich.

This was Oscar nite, too, and just a couple blocks down the street from Rock’n’roll Ralphs the street was full of ham sandwiches. They come in big limousines and wave at the crowds and a zillion cameras flash. The women shimmer and the men don’t shave. I don’t know who almost any of them are, but the crowd does, and they ooh and ahh and scream and yell and hold on tightly to their autograph books. They take pictures from afar with their cell phones and post them on their Facebook pages. They cram together on the sidewalk, stomping all over stars of people who probably once walked that red carpet. Billy Barty’s there, and Valerie Bertinelli and Bing Crosby and Dane Clark whose face you’d recognize even if you can’t place the name. The Doors are there, and the Carpenters, and Zsa Zsa and Jean Harlow and Godzilla. This scene was made for Godzilla. This scene was made for Nathaniel West. He set the final act of the Day of the Locust right here, in front of Grauman’s, where the mob got ugly and out of hand and deadly. Not now. The fans are well behaved. No one gets drunk. No one gets tased. The stars wave, and the people wave back.

I did see a genuine Day of the Locust out there once. In this very place. We had just turned left off Orange onto Hollywood Blvd and into a phalanx of slow moving squad cars, lights flashing and utterly silent. They followed the saddest little Toyota you ever saw, running on fumes and four flat tires. The car rolled to a stop right there in front of the Chinese theater. It was the middle of summer and there were a zillion tourists and they couldn’t believe their luck. The line of cops couldn’t hold them back and they poured into the street like ants. The lady got out of the car exhausted and broken and laid down on the pavement as ordered. The cops rushed in and cuffed her before the crowd could get to her. They stuffed her into the back of a patrol car and took off. The remaining cops tried vainly to clear the street. Last thing I saw was Granny posing in front of the dead car. We headed east down Hollywood Boulevard, away from the crowds of tourists, till only locals walked the sidewalks and winos begged for change.

But that was then. The now was inside this Rock’n’roll Ralphs. I wheeled the cart up and down the aisles people-watching as my wife shopped. There were none of the glamorous starlets…they were all at Somebody’s watching the Oscars and dreaming and sniping. In fact there weren’t many movie looking people at all…this was the rock’n’roll side of Rock’n’roll Ralphs. These people didn’t go to Grammy parties, they worked them. They might look like hell here, rumpled and unshaven, but give then twenty minutes and they’re the sharpest bar tender you ever saw, smiling and cracking wise, shaking, not stirring, raking in big tips. I know this because there on the frozen food aisle two scruffy dudes were perusing the pizzas while their even scruffier buddy stared at his iPhone. Hey check this out, he said, they want me to tend bar at Seth McFarlane’s Oscar party. His friends hmmphed a cool, you like pepperoni or cheese? I knew right then that Seth McFarlane’s Oscar party was a big deal. No one would hmmmph a cool at something insignificant, not at Rock’n’roll Ralphs. Their mumbled cools said volumes. It meant movie stars, big tips, maybe even getting laid. Or an audition. Or both. It didn’t mean a score necessarily, but it did mean the possibility of a score, which is what the Hollywood hustle is all about. The score, the gig, a step up. It meant his buddies would be at home eating pizza and watching the Oscars while he was getting hit on by you’ll never believe who. It was a Hollywood moment, an Oscar moment, right there in the frozen food aisle at the Rock’n’roll Ralphs. This doesn’t happen at the Silver Lake Ralphs. It doesn’t happen at the underground Ralphs. It certainly doesn’t happen at a Von’s.

Not that I had a clue who Seth McFarlane was. No idea. A ham sandwich maybe. Somebody who scored. Someone who wasn’t tooling around a Ralphs on Oscar night like it was Disneyland. Today I find out he was the man. He hosted the damn thing. Some people liked him. Some hated him. Whatever. I imagine it was a hell of a party, crawling with ham sandwiches. And George Clooney. And Meryl Streep. No ham sandwich she.

Jon

(Preface for a collection of my brother Jon’s lyrics put that came out in Europe in 2010. It’s a remarkable book, incidentally, Jon’s very literary songs and his matching introductory essays. Good luck finding one though.)

We pick Jon up. He’s in one of those little pads that clings to a lane that’s tucked against the side of a hill. Right near Spaceland. Cool spot if you don’t mind the yuppie bohos moving in from the Westside, thinking a cool ‘hood will make them cooler. It doesn’t. You can paint yourself black in tattoos with Sanskrit that reads fuck me in the ass but they told you was something deep and meaningful. You can grow the tiniest, hippest beard. Drink wine at the local wine shop and listen to KCRW till you pass out but you’re still a nothing. Just Westside rich kid garbage that washed in with the 90’s boomtide. Now your life sucks, that mortgage is killing you and no one gives a flying fuck about your exotica collection. You’re just an aging little hipster fuck.

So that’s Silverlake.

We pick Jon up. He’s hanging out front of his little pad watching a stray pigeon in his dirt yard. Nothing grows there, not at ground level. Not enough sun. There’s bushes and shade trees and vines spindling up walls into the sunlight, there’s crabgrass by the curb, snatches of Bermuda grass left over from the sixties, when they thought it looked nice (maybe it does in Bermuda), there’s trails for skunks and raccoons and possums and coyotes and cats for coyotes to eat. There’s babes coming back from dog park, and the men who want to mate with them. There’s a lot of mating in Silverlake anymore.  Goddamn breeders colonized the place after the queers did all the work raising property levels. The gay bars turned straight. The gay bars book rock bands with Facebook pages for you to like. The gay bars turned into restaurants that would die for a visit by Jonathan Gold. Once heavy leather scenes now make delicate cups of coffee, and you can’t even tell where they’d hung the sling. And those who slung are dead. AIDS, baby. Fear. That dry cough and the look of death. Estate sales with all kinds of cool stuff. Gays always had the best taste. We’d pick and choose. Straight people houses full of the things of the dead.

We pick Jon up. He likes our car. He melts into the back seat and listens to me babble on relentlessly, or sits up front and watches Silverlake go by and I flip through the satellite radio relentlessly. An old hippie tune. Steve Winwood singing about Mr. Fantasy. Jon knows to be quiet when that second solo starts in. Older brothers have a lot of hippie in them, deep down. Jon never laughs at it. We go to clubs, to parties, to things with the family down in Orange County. There are six Wahls—me, a sis, Jon, Lex, another sis, another brother, the baby of the bunch, with all the kids. Mom died just a bit ago. Jon was there in the room with her, playing bits of Mozart on the piano. She shuddered and was gone. We’d had a family party the night before. Lots of goofing around and joking as always, a small feast, Mom laughed and joked and even ate. She was so thrilled we’d all made it out. The priest came by and delivered Final Unction. She was ready. We had a smallish wake that day, in the Irish way. A bigger one after the internment. It was beautiful. Jon and Lex and baby brother Jim jammed. They are all such great musicians. Dad died decades ago. Hit Jon hard. I can scarcely remember him. Jon fills me in. He remembers everything. Details you can’t believe, he doesn’t remember like you and me remember, doesn’t see things in dull washes of black and white, faded pictures, colors long gone. Jon sees the past like he’s there now. Say we picked Jon up fifteen years ago. Jon could tell you the car, the color, the weather, the party, the jokes we told. He can tell you how he felt, what bugged him, what scared him, who he longed after, why his neighbor was an asshole and not to forget we’re going to Mom’s next week and can you pick me up?  He remembers all that. His short term memory is long term memory. His emotional memory retains its vividness for years. He can tell you about some ancient painful moment and you can tell he still feels it likes it’s happening today, right now, as we’re picking him up. My memory has slowly been destroyed by epilepsy, huge chunks have vanished. I don’t miss them especially. And I’ve learned that having no memories is much easier than having too many. Jon has too many. You can see them in this book. Vivid details. He remembers the feeling of long ago fog on his skin. Who remembers that?

We pick Jon up. Turn onto Silverlake. Spaceland’s on the left. We saw Jon there a zillion times in the Clawhammer days. Most of the words in this book are from those days. When Clawhammer played the place was packed with intellectuals and freaks and hipsters and stoners and musicians and record collectors. The music was unbelievably, gloriously loud. Awesome rock’n’roll. You could light up the whole city with the energy they expended. The songs were so rocking, so smart, so weird. Jon’s passion was palpable. No wonder. Read these lyrics here. See how close to the bone he wrote. When I pass by Spaceland I always remember those days. The drunken forays to the 7-11 across the street for more money. Hanging out on a porch behind with Pope and Dean and Bomb and getting way stoned. Loving everything. Loving life. Wishing it could go on forever.

That was so long ago. I’m getting lost in the past. Jon’s an Amadan now, and plays sax for people. I write about jazz and get in places for free. We still throw huge crazy parties. Jon’s always there. Thanks, Jon, for being my brother.

Rock dove

We no longer have pigeons in Silver Lake. We have rock doves. Indeed, there was one on the sun deck. Just one. Very selective, our rock doves. The elite. Not like the mobs of pigeons you’d see in the Ralph’s parking lot, waiting for the crazy bird lady. But Ralphs is gone, the bird lady is gone, and the pigeons are gone, who knows where. There are other parking lots, other bird ladies. So there was just the one rock dove, gleaming after a winter’s rain. He landed on our sun deck with its million dollar view, and the mere mourning doves and finches and sparrows scurried out of its way. The rock dove carefully selected only the choicest seeds, looked about, and then, tired of slumming it, flew off to the rich people in the hills, where he can find a finer selection of avian cuisine and bird baths sculpted in Carrara marble. Meanwhile, back on our sundeck the mourning doves and finches and sparrows rushed back in, bickering, pecking, a disorder of tiny dinosaurs with no class at all. Gentrification has a long way to go among these birds.

A hoi polloi of pigeons, unwilling to discover their inner rock dove.

A hoi polloi of pigeons, unwilling to realize their inner rock dove.

I love this town

A wedge of Canadian geese just did their morning commute overhead from the Silver Lake reservoir–that’s why the grass is so green there–to the Los Angeles River behind me. Honking frantically. What a cacophony. They’ll come back a little less noisy at dusk heading back to the reservoir. I love the sound, and their ragged V’s are always perfect against the sunset. The sunsets have been lovely. Last night the sky to the west went from a gorgeous pink to a beautiful orange that filled the whole front room here with its light. Almost spooky. We went out onto the sundeck and watched till it turned to shades of grey and into black, and the lights in the hills came twinkling on and a last bunch of geese flew past, heading home.

And I wasn’t even stoned.

I love this town.

Canadian Geese (and a couple coots and a mallard) in the L.A. River.

Canadian Geese (and a couple coots and a mallard) in the L.A. River.


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Merry Christmas

I’m up early, staring at the tree. It looks good even in daylight which is good for a Christmas tree, sometimes they look strange then, things off, lights blinking ridiculously. But not this one. It’s pretty perfect. Our drunk friends did a nice job, though I still see a few Cheetos. No presents under it yet, we haven’t even started shopping, that’ll be today. We always do the last minute thing. Know where to go (which isn’t the Galleria) and be back in time for eggnog and A Christmas Carol. The one with Alistair Sim, the spooky one. Or maybe A Charlie Brown Christmas, which I’ve probably watched at least once every year since it came out in 1965. That was in Maine, there was snow on the ground, it snowed like crazy that year in Maine. Snowed even on the following Mother’s Day, a regular blizzard. Out here they were surfing and tanning and making stupid beach movies, in Maine they were shovelling and cursing the slush. The next year, 1966, How the Grinch Stole Christmas came out for the very first time, and I’ve probably seen it every year since. That was in Maine, too, and there was snow on the ground. Those two Christmases were rather remarkable for me, I remember, since we lived in the same house for both. I can’t remember us ever having two of any holiday in one house during my childhood except 1965 and ’66. Maybe that’s why I have such fond memories of Maine. Brunswick, the little town we lived in, was all dolled up in Yuletide everything, but in an old fashioned way. It was cold and snowy but just like a movie. We had a huge tree and decorating it was a blast. Mom had her own tree, too, in the den. It was aluminum, white, and decked with blue balls, with a blue spinning lamp that reflected on it, and it sparkled, and we weren’t allowed to touch it. That was very early sixties, that tree, very Jackie Onassis. I don’t know if they still even have trees like that. The real tree, though, was big–huge to an eight or nine year old–and had a zillion ornaments, some brought all the way from Austria-Hungary by my grandparents. We had to be extra careful with those, especially the perfect little bird’s nests with the tiny eggs. I wonder if you can still buy those? Or do you have to import them from Austria-Hungary, which hasn’t even existed for a hundred years. A Never-Never Land, like a fairy tale, or a drug induced hallucination, whatever. Leave it to me to have half my relatives from a place that doesn’t exist. The other half came from Ireland, and the tradition was to drape the tree with strings of popcorn and oranges if they could afford them and light it with candles. Whiskey and candles were a bad mix, the one leaving you to forget the latter, and houses would burn down in Irish neighborhoods every year, one or two. Or so my dear mother told me. We had electric lights. Everyone did by the time I was born.  We had a train too going around the tree. We still do.  Maybe you’ve seen it.

I loved Christmas as a kid, and I love Christmas now. I can’t help it. I’m just a sucker for the tree and shopping and wrapping presents and eggnog (lots of eggnog). I think I even like hating the same stupid carols they play over and over and over. Feliz Navidad, oh lord. In Maine groups of kids went door to door a-caroling, I remember that vividly. Out here no children have ever come a-caroling to our door–any of our doors, and there’s been four of them since 1980. Though one Christmas Eve we were at a friend’s place in Hollywood and gay carolers came to his door. Gay as in gay, though they seemed gay as in happy too. You’ve never seen carolers until you’ve seen gay carolers. They were dressed in Christmas to the nines. I’d never seen Christmas handcuffs before. Later I knew a lady who showed me her’s. L.A. is different from Maine, and Silver Lake was different from anywhere.

It’s still traditional in our household, though. Well, I did just notice that the gingerbread couple in the snow globe are anatomically correct. I’d never noticed that before. It was a gift, years ago. That’s a lot of snickering behind Brick’s back. And there are Cheetos hung on the Christmas tree with care. But otherwise it’s a traditional Christmas here, as always, and so I’ll deliver my traditional Merry Christmas to all of you who’ve read this far. And a Happy New Year. I hope your holidays are the best.

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Oral Surgery

At the last of the season’s summer BBQ’s last nite the dudes sat around telling macho scary oral surgery stories. Pain, lots of pain, pain so severe that even the strongest of men could not will it away, and teeth so big cocked and gnarly that the sweating dentist could only yank them from the jaw with supreme effort. Hot dental assistants look on, excited. Then come the painkillers, huge Charlie Parker sized bottles full of opiates and whatnot, then abuse and whiskey and rock’n’roll and dénouement. 

Which leads, as these things often do, to a story I’d already written a couple years ago, in which….

My wife Fyl had some oral surgery today, replacing a previously yanked front tooth that had gone rotten from neglect during her amnesia. The surgeon screwed in a big, well, it was a screw, a nasty looking thing in the x-ray….and when I got there to drive her home  there were spatters of blood everywhere. She’s a stoic Indian, though (that stereotype is 100% true from all the ones I’ve known) and said nothing, complained about nothing. She’s a trooper, the nurse said. She’s trooper the dentist said. Later we’d been home and hour or so when the oral surgeon called to check on any bleeding or pain. None. Gave her his pager number just in case. A good doc. (Fourteen hundred dollars worth of good, though.)

His call took me back nearly 25 years. I had an incisor gone bad. A major tooth, those incisors, deeply, massively rooted, the tooth that half a million years ago we’d tear fresh raw flesh off of bones. A tooth strong enough to shear though meat and sinew. Yanking one out takes a lot of drilling, anesthesia and sheer dental muscle. I remember the amazing sound it made pulling free, a huge crunch that went right up the jaw to the eardrum. There was blood everywhere.

I went home with a bloody cotton wad where my smile used to be, and a big jar of some kind of painkillers, probably vicodin. I ate one, smoked a joint, drank some beers. I was feeling good, even missing a tooth. There was an amazing band (maybe two bands, but I only remember Universal Congress Of) playing a performance spot called Olio around the corner. Maybe 100 yards away. I told Fyl that I was gonna go down there. She didn’t look so sure but no stopping me. At least I wasn’t driving. I took another vicodin (maybe two), rolled a couple joints, bought a bottle of Bushmill’s at the neighborhood liquor store and went to the show. I got so high, utterly wasted, a mouth fall of bloody cotton, polishing off the bottle (though a few others joined in) and smoking all kinds of weed—what I’d brought, what others brought. Joint after joint went round. The band was righteous, groovy, dissonant, rocking, funky, swinging…it was an incredible show, and a great party. I knew everybody. The men, the ladies, everybody. Or thought I did anyway. Eventually I reeled home, up the hill past a couple houses and down our long driveway, stomped up the steps and stumbled inside, singing. What a blast I yelled, and began regaling my wife with details. I was still really, really high on everything, the pills, the whiskey, the weed, the music and pure adrenaline. I kept talking and talking. Then I admitted ya know, I’m kinda fucked up.  She looked at me.

Your dentist called.

Oops.

He was concerned. Said he did some serious surgery on you, there was a lot of blood, a big open wound. He was worried about pain and bleeding. Told you to take it easy.  He wanted to talk to you.

Uh oh.

I told him you were asleep.

Perfect answer. For he never would have understood that perfect a night. I  passed out and slept like a baby.

Ya know, I really loved my thirties. I was such a crazy macho motherfucker, a hard drumming, hard fucking, hard partying and hard writing mass of epileptic energy. I was, all of us were then, these glorious nuts. Oh man have I settled down. I catch myself being boring, monotonous, and wonder how the hell did this happen?

Age, I guess, experience. Just getting old. Things break or wear out or just don’t stay up as long as they used to. Friends disappear into mundane lives. So that’s all you do? That?

Sigh…..

Funny how oral surgery—and not even my own oral surgery, for christ sake—set this off. Ya never know where memories will come from. Or how accurate they are.