The Bad View Of Tomorrow From Behind Today

Hello Everyone…

The projectors are rolling...

The projectors are rolling…

Last week, I spent a lot of time looking at the back of people’s heads – on the bus, behind the wheel waiting for red lights to turn green, in line at grocery, hardware and art stores. I didn’t see a lot talking – or communing in other ways – with anyone else. But I saw a lot of thinking. Or, I chose to see only their thoughts – their silence. In each little head in front of me was a miniature IMAX theater screening Le Grande Epic – but interpreting it differently. Behind the skulls of all the little heads, I saw lists of things that needed to get done that day. I saw worry over the possibility of some of those things not getting done that day. And, I saw the weary mixture of disappointment and consolation stirred by the fact that some of those things would have to wait until tomrorrow. That is, if the Great Projector didn’t break and our little IMAX went black – the only sound being Le Grande Epic spooling off the reel and falling, hollowly, to the floor.

When I am angry and tired, I tend to interpret Le Grande Epic as some kind of mockumentary-farcical-drama – comedic when I expect it to be serious and sad just when I think I’m going to laugh. Real people play puppets who the lead character can’t control. The lead character sacrifices himself over and over to spite his enemies – enemies impecably disguised as true friends, so well disguised, they treat him ill in no manner, whatsoever – those devious foes. It’s a bad film, to say the least. But when I’m angry and tired I proudly wear the lead actor’s thorny crown, and place the thoughts I want to see into all the little heads before me.

The beginning...

The beginning…

Why so angry and tired, you ask? No real reason, although I felt a little overworked, which was to be expected. The first show of Independent Shakespeare Company’s season in Griffith Park – She Stoops to Conquer – opened on Thursday, and all involved pushed through much exhaustion to get the show running. Producing a show is like herding cattled through a pencil sharpener. In the beginning, you can’t even see the pencil sharpener, and the bovine hoard moves along like a slow deep predictable river. This goes on for some time, and for a while time seems to be in abundance, even maliable. Then the pencil sharpener appears on the horizon – shakes a little from the pounding of hooves – so we work a little faster, longer, but we don’t go crazy. But suddenly – as if two or three weeks were completely cut from Time’s thread – the pencil sharpener is exponentially approaching. And – before anyone can do anything about it – the pencil sharpener is pulverized by the first hoof of the first cow, and only then do we think that maybe driving cattle through a pencil sharpener wasn’t the greatest theme to follow for a theatrical production. But we stick with the idea, for it is too late to change. We seek solutions – theatre magic – to make it appear as if cattle really are being driven into a pencil sharpener. This happens usually about a half-hour before the curtain goes up for the first show which, absolutely, must go on.

All shows are like this – to lesser or greater degrees – in my experience, and I have to say She Stoops to Conquer was a lesser degree or two than usual. But as opening night approached, the the time between searching for solutions, finding solutions and building those solutions amplified the electric currents in my head to sizzling levels and frazzled some brain wires.

But last week also offered a few moments of serenity and stillness. Tuesday night, I stumbled into one of these peaceful interludes, after the tech rehearsal started. In the calm, I was able to regain a sense of presence, to find the moment. The rehearsal started just after dusk. The hot day was gone and a cool invisible blanket covered the meadow. Not half an hour later, I was wearing a hoodie to keep warm. A few groups of people had wandered to the meadow and sat down to watch the rehearsal. Another group was having a party atop the abandoned bear cages of the old LA Zoo. Every now and then they would shout, cheer at nothing in particular while waving flashlights in all directions. When darkness had fallen, the lighting techs started to tweak the lighting. The light onstage flickered, shut off, brightened as the actors did their best to incorporate what they’d rehearsed onto a new stage. I felt far away from everything.

Watching the watchers watch.

Watching the watchers watch.

A technical rehearsal is a profoundly human portrayal of the human condition. The actors act, with no one “on-book” to feed them lines they can’t remember. They search their tired brains for the next word like grasping for life vests in blacknight water. Just as they are about to sink below the surface, another actor picks up somewhere further into the script and they continue on. They shake off the mistake and move about the semi-lit stage – getting used to costumes as they stumble further into the landscape of the writer’s mind. They a vague sense of this world, but the reincarnated souls of the characters obey the rules and do not inform the actors in which they reside. As the rehearsal continues, a few more pieces fit together. The show looks almost complete, as if one more spell by the Great Theatre Witch needs to be cast. A candelabra breaks, flowers fall out of a vase, and the sword fight looks a bit sloppy, but that’s the way it goes. Maybe things will be a little tighter tomorrow. At a certain point, the only solution is tomorrow. You don’t take groceries out of the bag, put them on the shelf, then put them all back on the counter and start checking out again if you bitched at the clerk. And the bus driver’s not going to turn around if you miss your stop. It’s just “sorry” to the clerk and a longer walk home – and you’ll be damned if you’re so cruel or absent minded tomorrow.

The cool darkness grew heavier during the second act. The actors moved about the stage like Scooby Doo and the Mystery Gang. I walked from side to side, behind everyone – checking out the stage from all directions to see if anything needed to be fixed. I noticed the back of everyone’s heads again. There was the director, Melissa’s head, Marcos’, Liam’s and Cassady’s – the interns – heads, and there was the back of Cat’s head as she viewed the show on a ladder next to a light, Laura’s – the stage manager’s – head. All were watching the same production, but their views of the world unfolding in front of them were as vastly different as they were as individuals.

The coyotes in the park began to call to each other. This excited the gang of flashlighted humans above the bear cages, and they began to shout and howl back at the coyotes. For a simple quick moment, there was absolutely no difference between humans and coyotes. Then suddenly – as if on a timer – both packs of animals stopped howling. Slowly, I began to hear crickets. Then, softly, the voices of the actors reached my ears. I became aware that it was really cold, despite the hoodie I was wearing. As I rubbed my arms to warm myself, a very old memory came back to me. I was sitting in a movie theater in Corpus Christi, Texas – I was around 7 years old. There was a clock jutting out of the wall, to the side of the screen, near the exit. It’s hands were illiminated – just before 3pm. I remember’d thinking that time didn’t matter as long as the movie was playing. Time – with it’s brutal potential to hover like God over us – could be obliterated as long as we continued to tell Our Story. That was about as Cosmic as I got last week.

Come out and see a show! Griffith Park, 7:30pm, Thursday thru Sunday until August 31st.

Come out and see a show! Griffith Park, 7:00pm, Thursday thru Sunday until August 31st.

She Stoops to Conquer opened Thursday night. I heard people really loved it. I would think so. It’s a big, busy, fun farce that has a lot of heart and it’s performed and directed really well. You actually believe you’re seeing the cattle enter the pencil sharpener. Some things came together perfectly, some didn’t, but the things that didn’t were probably not even noticed by the crowd. And any mistakes that were noticed were hardly minded at all. My friend, Claudia – a performer in the play – lost her skirt onstage. It got caught on the door. “The crowd got a good laugh when I slowly pulled offstage from behind the door,” she said. How do you start over after something like that? There’s only tomorrow.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

The Light behind Reality.

The Light behind Reality.

That’s the famous sililoquy in Macbeth, spoken by the title character. Macbeth is Idependent Shakespeare Company’s next show of the summer. It opens next week. It’s much heavier, much darker than She Stoops to Conquer, but immediately after humanity’s last recorded syllable, all our dramas and comedies will have appeared to be the same tale.

I fixed a few things on the set before the show on Friday, but left before the curtain went up. The heat of the day had gone, but the concrete at the bus stop released all the heat it had absorbed during the day. It was that dusty end-of-day summer heat that – even without a speck of dirt on your person – sinks into every wrinkle and crevace on your body and makes you feel nasty. I praised all the All-Mighties when I boarded the air-conditioned bus, then stared at all the little heads before me with all those little thoughts and all those little tomorrows. But for some reason, I slipped into Dark Yesterday. Soon, I was thinking of ways I could’ve made the set better. This, that, not that, or even that, Jesus, that would’ve been much simpler, you idiot! From there – naturally – I began to think of ways I could’ve treated ex-girlfriends better, then to things I should’ve told my father and close friends before they died. Then came the flood of a million other shoulds and shouldn’ts until I found myself reaching out in the blacknight water for life-preservers of memory – those moments when only just words were spoken and just actions were made in the moment.

A blurry fountain. No, I did not take a picture of her boob.

A blurry fountain. No, I did not take a picture of her boob.

I couldn’t find those moments, however, and when the bus stopped, all I had to save me from the stagnant waters of The Past was a young Mexican-American mother with a boob hanging out of her blouse. I let her exit the bus before me. She was holding an infant – and with one arm fastening child-to teat, and the other lugging her grocery bags, baby bag, purse and stroller, she stepped out on the curb and waited for another bus. She wasn’t even home yet, she had at least one more bus to go. Or, maybe she wasn’t going home. Maybe her tomorrow had already begun. Wherever she was going, she looked too busy juggling that baby to be stuck in The Past.

Be well…

We Always Have Been

Hello Everyone,

Really?! Me?! Well, shazam, shazam...

Really?! Me?! Well, shazam, shazam…

At the end of a long work day last Tuesday, me and my buddy, Luis – who’s been helping me build Independent Shakespeare Company’s set in Griffith Park, and will be portraying Macbeth later this summer – were cleaning up, talking about stuff we normally do.

“DMT (dimethyltriptamine),” said Luis, “is found in just about every animal. It’s generated from your pineal gland, or your Third Eye – your connection to the rest of the Universe, connection to God. If it gets calcified, it stops producing DMT and your Third Eye is disabled. Flouride’s a big reason it can calcify. And they put it in our tapwater, our toothpaste. We stop gettin’ curious, then we’re happy with shit like cable TV, jobs, cars…and were shut off from the power of the Universe. You can get online and see all you need to do to decalcify your pineal gland.”

The work on the set is winding down. The next phase in the project is to tackle many tiny and annoying problems – tweaking elusive little things that aren’t usually seen until the producer walks the stage with you and – for some reason – are shining like gold bars. You need to fix that. Oh, that needs to be rebuilt. My only answer is an Oh, of course combined with a goofy shake of the head. I’ll do that today, sure thing. However, for now, the intense labor is finished, so I decided to take Wednesday off.

“You completely decalcify your pineal gland,” continued Luis as we walked to his bungalow in Hollywood, later that evening, “then you’d be like what Terrance Mckenna talked about, visiting the Machine Elves that exist behind Reality and you’d be speaking a language language that is all powerful, in that your ideas manifest themselves as soon as they are spoken.”

Eyeballs of the approaching Machine Elves

Eyeballs of the approaching Machine Elves

The downtime on Wednesday threw my operating system out of whack. I was tired, but awoke in the early morning and couldn’t sleep. Later that morning, I was alert but could barely stay awake. I fooled around and drank much coffee until early afternoon – when I could justify taking a nap. Luis’ Hollywood bungalow is a fine locale for a siesta. It’s well lit, though no light shines directly into it. If you open the windows and doors, a cool breeze comes through, rattling the window blinds that rattle you to slumber. But it’s never complete slumber, more like a slightly narcotic stupor – or covering up under a magic blanket – you are keen to the sounds of the reality around you, but the sounds take on new shapes, with more dimension and meaning than I am capable of explaining. But you know what I’m talking about, anyway.

Luis’s neighbor has been on a Pink Floyd trip, lately – blasting the The Wall album over and over at all times, day and night. I enjoy hearing it slightly muffled by the paper thin walls of the bungalow. Roger Water’s baselines gently thud me toward slumber…his voice is my Virgil guiding me deeper into Dreamland…

Did-did-did-did-you see the frightened ones?
Did-did-did-did-you hear the falling bombs?
Did-did-did-did-you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter
When the promise of a brave new world
Unfurled beneath a clear blue sky?

20130622_100745“Thomas! Thomas!”

A man was shouting the name and pounding on the neighbor’s door. A baby was crying. Another neighbor’s pet birds were chirping loud in their cage in the narrow walkway just outside the door. Then, many Spanish voices talked fast over each other. I checked the time, it was nearly 4:30. I sat up on the couch just as an ambulance hit it’s siren to begin the nightly ambulance drag races that occur up and down Hollywood Boulevard. I was no longer sleepy, but signals from my brain to my appendages were running like a city bus on a nearly forgotten holiday’s schedule. I sat there – watching my slow feet dangle as if I was observing two baby apes stumbling from tree trunk to tree trunk. Pink Floyd was still playing, or had started over, or had always been playing, long before there was a Pink Floyd and the band was merely an instrument for an eternal message…

I am just a new boy,
Stranger in this town.
Where are all the good times?
Who’s gonna show this stranger around?
Ooooh, I need a dirty woman.
Ooooh, I need a dirty girl.

I didn’t know what to do with myself. Hmm, Self. Is there even a self? I asked my Self. Did you create this Self simply to make sense of the phenomena of Life – the energy of the Universe? I stood up, slid into my flip-flops and headed to Freaktown around the corner of Hollywood and Vine. There I could see existentialism instead of talk to myself about it.

Evening along the Hollywood Walk of Fame is an interesting time. Sunburnt tourists are still out – tired but starry eyed, nonetheless. They stand between orange and yellow alert at street corners – hands on their purses or children – amongst the hustle of the panhandlers, street performers, tattooed and dirty women who cry into cellphones while lugging all their belongings in an old suitcase, underfed actors posing as superheroes, winos, and junked out boygirls dancing to a tune that has only ever been played in their head. They slow-boogie on skinny legs covered in loose, torn fishnets. The tourists keep their eyes down, burning stares into Gregory Peck’s star, praying the walklight comes soon.

“I know, I know…” said a drunk man teetering on the curb – inches from the speeded cars. “Say…I gonna..gon’ get so nah! But she don’t…know (no?) Wa my sayin’? Whaa?!”

Where Disney meets Bad Gin

Where Disney meets Bad Gin

The poor freckled ponytailed tourist with the rosey cheeks. who the slurring man was rubbing against, was stiff as a statue. I could see into her mind as she mouthed text of To Kill A Mocking Bird – Atticus Finch was tucking Scout in for the night with a look of great concern – a need to protect young Scout. Lawyer Finch knows there’s real Evil out there. Not all the freaks can end up being a harmless Boo Radley. But he also knows she’s going to grow to a place where father’s can’t protect their little girls, and he will have to let her go. Damn the letting go! Atticus frowns, then smiles, kisses Scout on the forhead and turns out the light. The walklight flashed and we crossed The River Hollywood to another bank strewn with mostly dead stars.

It was dark when I got back to Luis’ place. A helicopter was circling just above – a nightly occurance. Sirens. Shouting. It makes sense that the desperados run around in circles out here. They keep bouncing off the water. They don’t run the other way because Americans don’t Head East. We rush west all the way the end of the line. The outlaws bounce, run, bounce, bounce, run…almost like they are spanked mericessly by tongs in a pinball machine played by a Great Creator until he gets tired, lets his silver balls fall into the abyss and leaves the arcade.

Later, I lay in bed, bathed in the light of my laptop – not looking at the screen, just above it, listening to a fiery Spanish argument between an senor and a senora. The senora screamed, the senor shouted. Then it was only the senora screaming, the senor silent. Then they habla’d soft and sweaty until they spoke no more.

I saw the lovers clearly in my mind – embracing each other and kissing hard against a 1999 dented Honda Accord. Beyond them I saw an ambulance cruise down Hollywood slowly. The EMTs have finished their shift – winning some, losing some like every other night. I watched them go further into Hollywood. Freaktown’s lights were still shining but the tourists had all gone to bed. On their slumbering faces I saw peace, but also a little disappointment for having realized they visited a place where they always are, have always been, for in slumber they are given glimpses of the Eternal and the Everywhere and the Everything – and they know themselves completely, if only in inarticulate fragments of dream chaos.

I turned from the sleeping tourists and saw one of the junky boygirls standing at the corner of Hollywood and Gower – just beyond the edge of the Hollywood shine. He taps his foot on Stanley Kramer’s star – the last star on the Walk of Fame – waiting for yet another walklight. I see his past, future and present. Most of his life is at the mercy of a walklight. When he does fall into a stride all his own he smiles down at his legs only to look up and see “Don’t Walk” flash again. I saw his loneliness in the black night, as he jerked and twitched – the Night Things were lurching to him, closer, closer. They began by lightly scratching his cheek, but in quick order they are carving into his flesh. He’s too consumed by despair to know that he is already loved – has always been loved – by a benevolent and non-judging force that is impossible to name. It’s so powerful, it can be scary when one realizes he or she is in contact with it – more so, part of it. So powerful most of Humankind can only call it God. But with names comes the burden to define, then doctrine, then before we know it we’ve created Pinball Wizards in our own image.

"I don't need no drugs to calm me!"

“I don’t need no drugs to calm me!”

Was I honest to everyone I came in contact with, today? I asked myself. The question came out of thin air. I proceeded to re-live the day to find out. Honest? Did I tell the truth, through kindness, to everybody, especially myself? After surveying my day I found the answer. No, I did not.

Myself gave a tsk, tsk, tsk, then transformed into a tiny pine cone. But it kept talking. Is there, indeed, a Self? Hmm, is there? Or is the Self simply your connection to the Big IS? Don’t you feel -if you search way deep down – that you can loosen from Reality, and therefore live free, in constant connection to…ME? Hmm? You might know the answer if you quit brushing your teeth.

That’s when I felt a sharp pang of unlabled fear that broke my understanding of anything whatsoever. My chest hurt. I closed my laptop. Dark Hollywood was silent…except for Pink Floyd…

Hey you! out there on your own
Sitting naked by the phone would you touch me
Hey you! with your ear against the wall
Waiting for someone to call out would you touch me…

Trust the Shaman

Trust the Shaman

The fear kept coming. I tried to fall asleep before Panic became a logical reaction. But I couldn’t sleep. Only when the Night Things were about to crawl through the window, did I do the only thing I could do in such a moment – I prayed. It worked. I slept.

Be well…

The Heartbreaking Rarity of Vacuums

Hello Everyone…

My office.

My office.

I spent most of last week in Griffith Park. After working nights at Independent Shakespeare Company’s studio the week before – building the set for their summer productions in the park – it was refreshing to work in the daytime and outdoors, assembling the set. It’s been pretty smooth, so far. I haven’t run into any of the million or so snafus that a carpenter can run into when building something somewhere other than where it will stand. So far, things have gone as planned, and I’m on schedule – it’s weird to type that.

The stage overlooks a fine meadow bordered by the cages of the old LA Zoo. The empty pens add a haunted feeling to the pretty scenery – ghosts of lions, tigers, bears are observed by ghosts of human mothers, fathers and children in the heat waves of the day and are gone by the cool evening breeze. I like a little ghostliness mixed in with my beauty, and I can think of far worse places to work. Mountains hover above the zoo cages – covered in splotches of dark green trees and blanketed in beautiful golden grass. Yes, it’s a fine place to spend a day, and not without company. Many Angelos y Angelas – for one reason or another – frequent the park on a daily basis.

Here’s a general rundown of my day in Griffith Park:

Morning. The sun is behind the trees and it is cool. Chipmunks pop in and out of freshly dug holes. Men and women – sentenced to community service for their crimes, wearing neon orange vests – rake leaves in the sleepy calm. They’re pretty efficient at it when the supervisor’s around. But when he goes, they usually lean on their rakes and talk on their phone. Of course I listen as I set up for the day.

“I mean,” says a bright-oranged female low-level danger to society, on her phone, “it’s not like I was drunk or anything. I just didn’t pass the sobriety test. Yeah, they let me go the next morning.” She laughs. “I had no idea where I was…my feet were blistered and I had to do the walk of shame in my party dress…whatever, it’s not so bad.”

Luis, soon to be Macbeth - and the set, soon to be his castle. The weird sisters predict much blood.

Luis, soon to be Macbeth – and the set, soon to be his castle. The weird sisters predict much blood.

Around noon. The criminals have paid their debt to society for one more day. Just after they leave, large Mexican-American families come out for picnics. Abuelas, madres, mijos and mijas set up camp at one of the large picnic tables. The little girls and boys run around while the women set up. I don’t know Spanish well enough to follow along with what is being said, but they laugh big and often and that says enough. Then the women yell at the kids and everybody sits down to eat. After hot dogs and sandwhiches, the kids run around a little more. The women clean up. Spanish. Laughing. The day is now officially hot. Many of the kids – and some of the women – take a siesta under a shade tree. Noticably lower Spanish, laughing, etc. By this time I’m plugging away at the work, just trying to get stuff done until the weather breaks. I breathe heavy, think slower. Soon the siesta ends and the Spanish Laughter is renwed with gusto. The little kids run around in a new world and not a damn thing is wrong with anything. The happiness I hear gives me a little push through the heat. Then – around 4pm – the families pick up and leave.

Late afternoon. The film students replace the Mexican families. They spill out onto the meadow, shoot some footage, congratulate each other after they wrap for the afternoon, then proceed to drink and smoke pot around picnic tables. Half the young people mill about in the shade, the other half in the sun. They are mostly white harmless looking kids, although some ride it out to the edge and sport lip and or nose piercings and neon pink or purple hair – some fishnets, some tattoos. But for the most part, they look like bleached zombies – half awake, half something else – with a little bit of punk attitude but no real punk, more of an acceptance under duress of inherent suburban identification. After drinking and smoking themselves to  the level of “Just Right” they waywardly roam about the meadow in two’s or three’s. Their conversation is juevenile, flirtatious – touchy-feely good time talk that may well land one or two of them across that line between heavy pursuasion and possible rape by Late Nite. But while the sun’s still up, they’re just God’s little chil’ren unwinding after living the dream. May they sing We Are Young by Fun for the millionth time.

“Say,” says one of the young filmakers who’d wandered into my work area, “you got a…ga…blah…uh…sinsellll…right? I mean…gee…seh s’one of those kindazzzzzz a for a screwdriver? Huh?”

I don’t lend the fellow a screwdriver because he looks the way a baby does when it wants to stick its finger in an electrical socket. And I don’t want to enter into drunken negotiation to get it back when he was done, and had forgotten it, and would enlist the other good little drunk undead to prowl the meadow to search for it, though it would’ve been fun to watch. So I say no. “S’alright.” He walks off with Universal Acceptance and joins the others. Soon, the whole crew leaves the park in two’s, three’s and pouty, angry one’s as the world spins them further into adulthood.

Coyote Moon

Coyote Moon

Evening. Joggers run up the hill and around the meadow. They pitter-patter around me – huffing about, arms swinging, furrowed brows. Then back down the hill. Then again and again. I hear their trainer but for some reason never see him running – like a boss who’s always on the phone. The runners sweat out their workday one lunge at a time, slowing down the clock as they do. They just make noises – there is no talk, no laughter. They all have slight looks of painful worry across their face, as if there’s just too much running left in the evening. I’ve found my third wind, and I’m working away, and start to pity the runners and start to fantasize about whipping the trainer up and down the hill to see how he likes it. But the runners hold their heads forward and down in resignation that they will run all they have to run. Because it is necessary to run. The trainer is a mere instrument of fate. They are fated to run up the hill, around the meadow, down the hill, and to do it again and again. Everyday. The runners suck it up, find the Eye of the Tiger, and take the hill again.

There is a cool and consistent breeze at this time. I’m usually putting the tools away when the coyotes start to howl. These coyotes are not afraid of man. They wander to the edge of the meadow, lazilly trotting in a jerky manner, head swaying left and right. I love coyotes, they are majestic creatures. Sure they’re scavengers, and will also kill your rabbits and chickens and whatever you choose to keep in captivity, but they do that because they have to. Coyotes have to be coyotes. They kill because they need to eat. They run because they need to catch something, or run from larger predators. They don’t choose to run. They don’t choose to kill. They don’t hire cross trainers. I see a loan coyote on the path around the meadow. He stops and is completely still for a brief moment. Then whisps away like smoke back into the hills shortly before the clanking joggers lumber by for the last time.

I-5 and the speen of lies.

I-5 and the speed of lies.

Sometimes – after I finish working for the day – I have a ride. Sometimes I don’t, and on these nights, I walk the thirty or so minutes down to the entrance of Griffith Park. It’s an easy downhill walk. As I herk and jerk wearilly down, I hear a roar – faint at first but growing louder. It is the eternal traffic of Interstate 5 that runs by the park, reminding me that I am indeed, in a metropolis, that the nature and slow time I have experienced in the day are oddities, here. I-5 tells me I am far from real wilderness.

But I think I-5 is a liar. Because a few minutes later I get off a bus at the corner of Hollywood and Western smack dab in the middle of Jungle Hollyweird.

“THAT IRAQI BLACK MOTHER%#CKER,” shouts a black man to a black Iraqi man I can’t see anywhere, I think no one can, “BEEN FOLLOWING ME AROUND ALL MOTHER%#CKIN’ DAY. THAT’S RIGHT…I KNOW YOU, MOTHER&#$KER. Everybody hears the black man, and walks a step quicker across the street. WHAT THE F#$CK DO YOU WANT, MOTHER$%CKER?” It takes a second for me to realize he’s directing the question to me – just after I realize I am staring at him. Before I answer, however, he sees the invisible black Iraqi again, and resumes his verbal assault upon him and I make my getaway. “Happy birthday,” says a dirty white bearded man spooning some chili into his mouth but most on his chest. His beard looks like a housing tree for beans. His eyes point in two different directions and he monkey chirps “Happy birthday” over and over to anything that moves.

A prophet sleeping before his shift.

A prophet sleeping before his shift.

All the voices in the Hollyweird night usually come from a place of general fear and self-hatred that I’ve been very aquainted with a time or two in my life. Generally they are misguided energy emitted off of the deep longing to know love – distorted echoes off the cave walls where the Safety is after our Long Search – funny how our voice makes us run in every other direction than where we want to go. If we were more like coyotes, our voices would only be the half of it  – life would be as much about the calls of the other coyotes coming back to us. Then we’d follow the voices through the dark across the mountain, or wait out the darkness until our fellows came to us. “Scavenger” is a horrible ranking for the coyote.

The bums have made camp around the bus stop –  hunkering down for their night shift of staring through the fabric of Spacetime. Regular people wait for the next bus, too, staring out into the night with less depth than the Wine and Urine Soaked Mute Prophets – but still only staring.

The other night, I pulled my key chain out of my pocket to open the door to Luis’ place (my friend with whom I am staying). I couldn’t find the right key in the dark. I held the keys up in the light. As they glistened in my hand, I thought, Gee, I have keys again – keys to Luis’ place, keys to Independent Shakespeare Company’s studio and office, keys to gates at Griffith Park, keys to a power station in the park. I had no keys when I left for California, save for the rental car’s key. Now, a week later, so many keys were ready to fill the vacuum of a free and empty pocket. I continued to hold the keys up into the night. They gleamed, as a mysterious voice in the night told me, These keys were destined to for you, Todd. These keys have had they’re eye out for your pocket since you arrived in LA – no, since the time the keys were made.

Urban Wilderness

Urban Wilderness

No, it’s deeper than that, the voice continued, correcting itself. In fact, it was you, Todd, who was fashioned out of Stardust for the specific purpose to lock and unlock with these keys. I know you’re glad for the work, but it is the keys that use you and they won’t be done with you until you lock and unlock a number of times that was etched in stone so long ago in a timeframe you can’t even hope to grasp.

Locking and unlocking – way out here at the End of Man’s Western Trip.

Be well… 

In The Middle Of A Crap Game

Hello Everybody,

20130607_131229Greetings from Hollywood, just a few blocks away from the last Star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, just east of Highway 101. This part of Hollywood is the location to both Thai Town and Little Armenia – an interesting mix. The Thais control all the restaurants and massage parlours and the Armenians have a stronghold on the clothing boutiques, specifically the male jogging suit, a popular garment in the neighborhood that – seems go great with chain smoking, gold chains and shaved heads.

But I don’t think either group has control of the motel industry here on Hollywood Blvd. The motels possess a character that can only be linked to Pure-Blooded Faded Americana. Real classy joints like the Premier Motel (“Direct Dial In” & “King Sized Water Beds”), the Harvard Motel (“Adult Movies”) and the Hollywood Star Inn (“Clean Rooms”) are abound in the neighborhood. All harken from another time when Farm Boy or Farm Girl got off the bus in Tinseltown, checked into a modest room at one these fine establishments ran by a mothering motel clerk who would keep an eye out for starry-eyed kid as they made their way in pictures. Today, the motels are more like watering holes in the Land of Nod. Red-eyed wanderers meander outside the motels displaying the mark of Cain. Just like Cain, the land is not friendly to them – their crops never yeild. So they hover, underneath the neon Vacancy sign – bad Houdinis trying to disappear until they pass out somewhere.

Wasting in the Land of Nod.

Wasting in the Land of Nod.

The other day, I wandered through a group of Mexican day laborers outside the Home Depot on Sunset Boulevard. The weather – of course – was beautiful and one is never without view of a palm tree. I guess I was looking at one of these palm trees when I heard one of the trajaboderos yelling something at me in Spanish. He was walking toward me – the movement of his mouth seemed out of synch with his words – waving a fistfull of dollars, money bursting from his clenched hand. The money and his voice combined with the cool breeze in the warm sun made me feel – for a moment – as if I’d entered some sort of inverted universe where Working People controlled their lives instead being controlled by all-mighty Currency. Here in this new cosmos, a person could literally start with nothing and – through their own capabilities – build a fulfilling life that is its own reward and security and freedom and money is merely a thing to be waved in the air as if it were a party favor, to be thrown aside after it is used. What a world, I thought, but stopped thinking that when I noticed all the guys were frowning at me. One shook his head, looked down at my feet. I looked down to see spinning dice. I’d walked right into their crap game – rudely, according to the apparent disappointment of the fellows. I smiled and shook my head in a typical white aloof manner, then disappeared into the Home Depot.

Rollin' the bones...

Rollin’ the bones…

After picking up a few things that I needed for the carpentry job I’ve been hired to do – I was hired by Independent Shakespeare Company to built the set for their summer productions in Griffith Park – I continued to walk along Sunset. Moments later, I passed the Bronson/Sunset Studios, then the Gower/Sunset Studios, and a few other studios. None of these were the giganto blockbuster studios, but they still carried a bit of that magical appeal the movies always give me, and they were surrounded by high walls, interspersed with wrought-iron gates and checkpoints like the bigger studios. Above the walls I could just see the tips of buildings – beyond the gates I could glimpse a little of the backlot. Walking next to the walls on the sidewalk, they seemed to actually lean over me. The tips of the iron gates were like speares. Then everything went Kafka – the walls started to talk to me. We show you, said the walls, just enough to know the magic is there. But we will not show you the magic. Go forth, back into Nod, and pay for the magic when we offer it to you.

“Man,”said Luis, my buddy who I’m saying with, who teaches an acting workshop in Burbank. “Where I teach, we have these giant windows that overlook two big studios. You can see right down into them and see what’s going on. Like it’s just a matter of getting on the other side of the glass.”

Luis is a company member of Independent Shakespeare – he’ll be protraying McBeth this summer. He’s a profoundly talented artist who like most others of the breed has to do a million different other things to pay the bills or almost pay them, then maybe eat afterwards. Something cheap. We walked passed some winos, then Luis jumped on the subway to go to teach in front of those windows and I walked further into Nod.

20130607_131216-1I spent the last 3 days building the set. I rode to and fro on the bus with various and sundry Mexican-American workers wearing polo shirts sporting the logos of grocery stores, bus boy or cook uniforms, or a name tag. Coming or going, they looked tired. I worked 12 hours each day – starting in the evening and working into the early morning. I was tired too, but I didn’t mind. I was fortunate, I suppose. My job wouldn’t last forever and I could look forward to whatever came around the bend next.

“Nice shoes, man,” said a man to the man sitting beside me.

“Thanks,” said the other man. His shoes looked to be nothing more than fancy tennis shoes.

“Say, you a lawyer, or somethin?”

“No man.”

“Well, you gotta be somethin’ to get some shoes like that, right. Say, I’m gonna be 57 on June 23rd. 57, can you believe that? My earliest memory is of my mamma buying me some shoes. Funny how that’s my first memory, right. Man, all growing up, we wore shoes until they fell off. Hey, you know if the Dodgers won last night?”

Weirdly, transcendence can often be indistinguishible monotony.

Weirdly, transcendence can often be indistinguishible monotony.

I sink into carpentry. I feel light on my feet and sweat buckets doing it. I kind of transcend into a meditative state, too. I used to hate carpentry – and hate being good at it – because back then I was an artist of the highest caliber and if you didn’t know that then I would be more than happy to tell you, then tell you that people like me have to toil the hours away because I don’t have it as easy as you. Carpentry nursed my victimhood, for I could walk around in my dirty sweat-stained clothes and artistic zeal and shout that, I will, nonetheless, continue the toil because that’s what strong artistic people do…and so forth.

I made my peace with carpentry some time ago. Since, then putting wood together has become some sort of cosmic transference, maybe even a type of madness that makes everything else disappear, even myself, especially myself. Caked in sawdust, bent over with my nose nearly touching the wood…saw, glue, staple, screw…whatever gets the job done…another piece down, another, another, then it’s 3am…stretch my neck…I’m a little dizzy…I smell the lumber in the air and I dare say I’m happy.

The night before I started the job, I took a walk into the Hollywood Hills. I walked up Beachwood which offers a clear view of the Hollywood sign, looming high just beyond a few small hills.The evening was cool after the sun had fallen. In the gloaming, pleasant people walked their dogs. They stopped to talk to each other as their dogs sniffed each other’s asses – the curious little creatures seemed content, never barked.

Go ahead, roll 'em...

Go ahead, roll ’em…

Lights in the houses on the hills started coming on, one by one. As more lights clicked on, these houses seemed to be suspended in an  milky ether with a little static electricity mixed in. I looked up at the Hollywood sign but couldn’t see it anymore, though I was much closer to it. All of the hills below the sign Hollywood that seemed so insignificant and small when I began my walk to the Hollywood sign, now surrounded me, towered over me – they even seemed downright impossible to climb, but for fortune, I suppose. Or something like it.

Be well…



The Next Desert?

Hello Everyone…



Last Friday, I left for California in a 2013 Chevrolet Impala. I ordered a tiny economy model, but the clerk offered to superzize me, so I took the Impala. The car didn’t idle and I had to press the pedal thoroughly to get the car to even move. But when I did the engine roared and before I knew it, I was going 70mph. The car was not a muscular beast in the great hierarchy of motorcars, but compared to the gerbils under the hood of the economy cars I’m used to renting, the Impala contained something not unlike a pride of lions under it’s hood. I spent the ride out to the interstate just getting used to the extra power under my foot.

And I listened to Willie Nelson’s latest song on the radio. “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” is an old standard written by Irving Berlin in 1936. Willie’s version is a mello yet haunting tune with kind of a dark jazzy-nightclub feel, and his guitar picking is brilliant in his own simultaneously delicate and rough way. The recording is smooth the way folks say whiskey is smooth, which is not smooth at all, but potent with dizzying fumes, slightly sweet and flammable.

By the time the song ended I’d found the rhythm of the Impala and in no time I was past San Antonio, heading west on Interstate 10. The speed limit was 80mph. I set the cruise control at 82 because I’m a rebel and handled the purring car with two fingers on the steering wheel and settled in for the long straight ride to El Paso. Soaring into spacetime as the satellite radio fed songs into the car from an invisible umbilical cord. I’d made the same trip on I-10, 13 years ago, when I moved to LA to make it big. I remember dead spots along the drive, where I couldn’t get any radio action.

Where were those dead spots? I thought. What was I wearing? Ah…Levi’s, t-shirt, Converse, just what I’m wearing now. Gee some things never change. The sky was big, just as it was back then. But it was cloudy 13 years ago, remember? I did. But this time, it was hot and dry – barely a cloud in the sky, less clouds than circling buzzards. I ran into rain storms back then, remember? Remember how excited I was to set forth into the world? Remember? I believed I was fated to head west, remember that, silly? I told myself to shut up, then, and focused on the view. Closed down motels and gas stations were sprinkled along the west Texas drive. I’d already passed Junction, the next town would be Fort Stockton, 100 miles away. I checked my gas gauge to find I was nearly on empty. Back then I didn’t even have a cell phone. Running out of gas was a real drag back then. But wait, you have no cell service out here, so if you run out of gas…Shut up!

Luckilly, I came upon a tiny gas station. I got out of the car and immediately felt the heat. The horizon glimmered all around me. The tiny store’s air-conditioner rattled like it was filled with half a million Mexican jumping beans. 18-wheelers roared down the interstate. Buzzards were silent, high in the air. The fuel pump shut off and only then did I realize that the gas was marked up 50 cents more than the bigger stations closer to the cities. I thanked the clerk inside – despite the mark up – because I’m sure 50 cents would’ve seemed absolutely insignificant if I was on the side of the road and nobody was stopping as I wandered in the ditch with my phone in the air trying to get service.

20130531_18344118 wheelers owned the road – long frieght trains sped along side the interstate. What will become of the semis and freight trains now that we have the 3-D printer. Then somewhere east of El Paso my thinking inevitably drifted into philosophy. Will the 3-D printer do to to the long haulers what the Yucatan astroid did to the dinosaurs. Will the next species of mammal to rule the planet dig up the semis and locomotives from out of this desert and put them in a museum next to clay models of us?

The desert changes before your eyes as you drive through it. Mesquite trees and huisache bushes give way to cedars, then the cedars disappear and ocotillo cactus grows everywhere. Then the giant saguaro cacti replace the ocotillo. It’s like the desert is moving along with you, and from such movement I can grasp the impermanence of reality a little better. From such impermanence, I gain a better understanding of the nature of freedom. I know there’s a destination ahead – there always will be. But before I reach it I can be anyone, anything I want. I can say anything. Nothing holds me down, there are no bills, no jobs, no place I have to reach in life at this age or that age and regrets can’t travel at the speed of the desert. When I am Moving – Out There – I am perfect in the image I want to be. But as soon as I slow down I become aware of destinations, gas gauges, bygone eras…

…traffic. Road work. Highway patrol. The remnants of a blown out tire. The Carnal World will always find me and bring me back from Out There. What can you do but obey? Shut up! But you know I’m right. Yes, I know, I know. I flow – slower – with the traffic toward El Paso. There’s no cactus – only tumbleweeds. But there will be cactus again. Yes, there will be. See that closed down gas station, crumbling and broken? I see it. It was a lifesaver in the wilderness another time. Quite possible. Has progress tamed the deserts? Do our trusty cars get us to the cities more efficiently? Have we lost the need for outposts? I didn’t answer my own questions, but I didn’t stop philosophizing. I went deeper, all the way to…Did we tame it, or has the desert rejected us, instead? Like skin rejects broken glass or thorns. Are we the foreign object that Mother Earth is trying to purge?

I turned the radio up loud to prevent my philosphy from drifting into prophesy, for I’m only able to predict doom. I’d arrived in El Paso and it was getting dark, but I kept going, leaving Texas until I got to Las Cruces, wher stopped for the night. After checking into a motel, I took a walk on jello legs. The day’s lingering heat lay over the night like lace.

20130601_081223-1The next morning – in Arizona – I pulled over to take some pictures of an old gas station. It had a No Trespassing sign on the wall. There was an old trailer house behind it, also displaying a No Trespassing sign. It’s door swung open and its windows were dusted over. Snap. Snap. I was creeping closer to the trailer to get a better a shot when a dog jumped out from the open door and barked at me. It had a leash around its neck, which was holding it back from coming toward me. I ran-walked back to the Impala, the dog barking all the way. It was barking as I pulled out of the station and drove off. Somebody lives there. I guess so. What do you thing they’re like? I don’t know. Can the radio go up any higher? Yes, it can.

Satellite radio changes the journey across a desert, completely. There’s no falling in love with a cool local station only to have it snap, crackle, pop and leave you in the middle of your favorite song like a well-meaning yet flighty lover who only an hour ago was happy and wanted to be with you forever. With satellite radio, your favorite songs don’t disintegrate into static. You may always finish the song, and listen to the same DJs clear across the country. You are in control. But that kind of control comes with a drawback – I got tired of listening. Period. Even satellite radio stations play set lists. I began to feel a visceral negative reaction to songs – even great songs – if I’d heard them two or three times. Maybe we need the heartbreak of the fading radio waves. Back to philosophy, dammit. Maybe we need things to be beyond our control. Maybe we need things taken away from us just when we think they will be there forever. Maybe its the longing that gets us to the other end of the desert. And 3-D printers be damned, there will always be a desert to cross.

Saguaro cactus...desert nobility.

Saguaro cactus…desert nobility.

About 100 miles east of Tuscon, my mind went blank. It came back briefly in Phoenix, when I realized I was staring at a sign in the sky and reciting the words of that sign over and over in a German accent…

“Vaffle Haus! Vaffle Haus! Vaffle Haus!”

This concerned me, so I tried to focus. There were only whirlwinds and memories for many miles past Phoenix. Both were popping up anywhere and anytime, then were gone just when I realized they were there.

Then I crossed the Colorado River into Blythe, California. Blythe’s like any sub-city you’ve ever been to – dudes with ponytails, smoking outside a grocery store that was across the street from a closed down grocery store. I got a coffee to stay awake. It went down harsh in the 107 degree weather as I walked back to the car.

And it only kept getting higher. It was 112 when I pulled off I-10 and into Joshua Tree National Park. The interior of the Impala grew warmer and warmer – the air-conditioner losing to the heat. Higher and higher – in degrees and elevation – I drove into the desert. For some reason, I kept going slower and slower until I pulled over, killed the engine, got out.

Killer Whales protecting the cheese in Blythe's grocery store.

Killer Whales protecting the cheese in Blythe’s grocery store.

The hot air immediately embraced me as I walked further into the desert. I sucked in deep labored breaths – felt moisture rise to my skin, then disappear. Joshua trees stood here and there. There was absolutely no wind. Dust – kicked up from my footsteps – hovered just over my ankles. Nothing was moving. No sound, only those sounds I made as I moved. I walked to a bluff and saw the interstate far below. I could make out the 18-wheelers, but the roar of their motors couldn’t reach me. I liked the quiet – it had shape, like the hills, the trees and the sun that all worked together to create the silence. It’s too hot. I walked back to the car, gasping slightly for air, my legs heavier with each step. The car looked so far away, it didn’t seem like I walked so far. A beautiful barren land of silence, but deadly, should one feel foolish to become part of it.

I drove down the hill onto I-10. There was 29 Palms, then 10,000 Palms, then only Palm Springs and after it the long wide road to LA.

I am writing to you from sazzy Hollywood. I was hired to build a set for the Independent Shakespeare Company, in Griffith Park. I have friends in the company and I’m looking forward to a lot of fun and hard work in the sun at the edge of Western Civilization. My friends’ little bungalow apartment – just between Sunset and Hollywood Blvds – will be El Jamberoo headquarters for the summer. Then who knows? Maybe another desert journey – of one kind or another.

Joshua Tree National Fore

The shape of desert life…

But I won’t get ahead of myself. I will be Here, with my friends, and that is good enough for now. Talented friends, too, for, much like a cactus thriving in a desert, Independent Shakespeare Company thrives by doing theatre in Movie Town. They do it out of passion, and because – so many years down the road – Shakespeare is still relevant. The modern world needs Shakespeare, just like we still need deserts, longing and broken hearts.

Be well…