A Necessary Animal

Hello Everybody,

Last Tuesday, I hopped on the subway to catch an all night bus to San Francisco at Union Station. A massive drunk man sat cross-legged in the aisle, talking to an invisible Jesus.

It was a barkin’ moon...

It was a barkin’ moon…

“I will run to you…always, m…m…m’lord,” he loudly mumbled, “And I knowyerwayssmilin’ a’meee…it’s only…youfermeeelord.”

We both got off at Union Station. His huge frame – draped in an oversized Dodgers jersey  – stumbled out of the subway car. He looked left and right, his eyes wildly searching as he shouted, “Jesus?!” over and over. I could hear his cracked yet heavy voice as I ascended the escalator.

As I waited outside for the Frisco bound Megabus with the other passengers, crazed Angeleno’s roamed about the bus bays, howling at the full moon, cursing, spitting, etc.

“Nobody can make me do a f#$king thing!” exclaimed one fellow. He walked back and forth in front of us, punching the crisp night air. Many enraged voices broke the city night – in between the roars of incoming and outgoing buses – but there was never any real meanness. All the angst seemed to be merely the general madness that comes about when a full moon visits an overcrowded metropolis.

The bus pulled into the dock just before midnight. I, along with the other passengers were herded into the frigid double-decker. Teeth chattering conversation occured between strangers as we wrapped up in blankets, sweaters or whatever one had packed in their carry-on. When the lights went out and the bus pulled out onto the street, all talking stopped and everyone stared into their smart phone, laptop, ipad – surrounded in their own dull antiseptic glowing cloud.

One by one, as the clock tick-ticked into the wee hours, passengers powered down and slept or stared out the window. The moon lit up the flat land. Orchards, groves, vineyards. Way off in the distance, the black spine of mountains could be seen. But as the moon lowered, the land grew dark, and only the lights of far off towns could be seen, glowing like clusters of phosphorescent plankton in a black ocean.

The cold kept me from sleeping, so I was able to witness the gray Bay Area morning rise. Soon the bus was creeping through the rush hour of San Francisco. I could see down in the cabs of cars. The workforce commuters stared ahead, rigid, both hands on the wheel of their four-door or two-door micro-realities.

Gray morning in Frisco.

Gray morning in Frisco.

After arriving in downtown San Francisco, I took the BART (Bar Area Rapid Transit) out to Berkeley. Minutes later, I was walking down Shattuck Avenue toward my friend Gerry’s house. The high old hills of Berkeley were covered in tall green trees and I felt calmer, more serene, than I did in San Francisco. Young, currently hip students and old, retired hippies crossed the streets whether there was a walk light or not. No one was waiting, but no one was rushing, either. Everything seemed to be moving just as it should. The clouds began to lift as I neared the campus of UC Berkeley, and when the sun finally burst through, everything was just fine.

“I’ve lost six or seven real close friends in the last couple of years,” Gerry said, as he slowly wrapped prayer beads around his wrist, just before we his left his apartment to go hiking in the hills. Gerry was an actor with a long, successful career, but had devoted the last several years to studying Buddhism. In his sixties, Gerry was still an intense fellow, but the Buddhism lay a soothing tone to his overall nature. “And let me tell you,” he continued, while donning a San Francisco Giant’s cap, “those motherf#$kers don’t come back, man. Getting old’s no joke.”

Gerry’s altar.

We went up to the Science Center of UC Berkeley and took a trail leading into the hilly forest behind it. We spent the first mile or so catching up with each other – it’d been about a year since we last met. Then we discussed writing a play together, an idea we’ve had for some time. Further down the trail, Gerry told me all about acting on broadway and on TV and movies, told me about working with Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Sissy Spacek, Jim Carrey, and others. “I had a great time. I never got an Academy Award or anything like that, but you know…”

Buddhism came up next, along with his travels to India. “My rimpashey (spiritual mentor) treated me with nothing but kindness for 10 years. Then all the sudden – this year – he’s laid into me, man. I guess he’s trying to teach me something, but I don’t want to learn it that way. I tell him so, but he just smiles and nods his head. I don’t know, man. But damn, he’s been on my ass and it’s not fun.”

We turned around as evening approached. As we made our way back to civilization, talk drifted to our dead fathers, how we were raised by them, forgiveness, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer, exhaustion, nervous breakdowns, war, hatred and evolution.

“Sometimes I think, Gerry,” I said, “that it all comes down to big brains versus animal bodies. Our mind tells us there’s something more than just the fear-based reality we’re in. But like all the other animals in the jungle, we always rely on our fear to survive. Maybe we can transcend fear someday, but I think our brains are going to have to get bigger. But if they do get bigger, will we still be human? Do we need to transcend fear, to evolve as humans? Or will Life need to transcend humanity, to evolve beyond fear?”

The peaceful path.

Gerry silently walked next to me while I tapped myself on the back for making such a profound philosophical statement.

“I don’t know, man” he finally replied. “But I can say that, when my daughter was born, and I saw her wiggling in the little crib in the hospital, and I saw me in her and my wife in her and my parents and my wife’s parents in her…when I saw everything that had ever been in that little baby…I was filled with an emotion I have not been able to explain to this day. But I did know then that…” he thought for his next words as we crossed the street, “…that humanity is ultimately a good thing, and that we are necessary.”

The next day, Gerry and I went into San Francisco. It was hot as we wandered down the city streets, but once we got to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Pacific breeze came on and it was very cool. It was also rush hour. We had to lean in close to understand each other as the cars rushed along the bridge. Gerry talked mostly about his kids – the paths they took, how the divorce affected each one, or how the thought it affected them, and how the only thing he can really do for them is to support them and the coices they make. That, and send them money. “They can have my money,” he said, “I don’t need it. When I had a bunch of it, I was worried about losing it, worried about getting more of it. Always worried.”

We took a break from walking when we reached the first of the bridge’s towers. I stared out over the bay, toward San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge always deceives me. It doesn’t look very big or high, even when I’m on it. It seems as if it would be so easy to jump off and swim to the shore, until I look straight down and see a little boat or tiny windsurfers pass under the bridge. Then I’m suddenly aware of distance and gravity and the fragility of flesh and bone upon meeting water at high velocity and I get a queasy, tingling feeling. More people kill themselves on the Golden Gate per year than anywhere else in the USA. But at first glance, it seems like a harmless little leap.

View from The Bridge.

Gerry and I made it to the other side of the bridge then turned around. A vast fog bank was making its way in from the ocean, and by the time we left the bridge the fog had made landfall. Suddenly, it was cold, dreary. Night fell as we road the bus back into the city, and it was late when we got back to Berkeley.

“You know,” Gerry said, just before turning in for the night, “being journeyman character actor, some stars are nice to you because they don’t want you to say anything bad about them. They know you work with a lot of directors. But most of the them were genuinely supportive. They want you to do well, and will help you if you if you ask them. They support you as much as you support them, the good ones. I miss that a lot, I had a great time through it all and I’m proud of what I did. But one day my daughter sat me down to tell me how she felt about all the bad stuff that happened in our family when she was growing up…and there some bad stuff. I didn’t defend myself. I just listened. But she finished up by saying she was grateful to have a father that followed his passion, no matter what. She said by doing that, I’d taught her to do the same. That’s what I’m really proud of, you know, that my children saw me as a passionate man, and that they are passionate people, too.”

I said goodbye to Gerry the next day, just before Rachel picked me up. I didn’t know Rachel, but I connected with her through the online ride share website, zimride.com. Then we picked up David, a young student also heading to LA. In no time we were chatting away comfortably, listening to music as the golden California hills passed by.


After the hills were gone, the orchards, groves, and vineyards appeared again. The sea breeze no longer reached us and heat came through windows and vents. Rachel wanted an ice cream cone, so we pulled over at a truck stop. David went in with her to get a sandwich. I walked behind the store, out onto the dusty flat land to get a look at the mountains, far off in the distance. By the time I came back, Rachel had finished the ice cream cone.

“It’s so hot out here,” she said, “I don’t feel so well, ice cream was not a good idea.”

This world and The Real World beyond...

I offered to drive and she gave me the keys. Soon we were zooming along I-5 South. The music of Radiohead slowly ached out of the speakers. Only a few songs had played before Rachel and David were fast asleep. With one hand barely touching the wheel, I did what I always do when I’m driving long stretches: meditated upon freedom in search of an exact definition of it. I want to believe freedom is the act of constant motion, because I feel real peace and a disconnect from fear when I’m moving. But it’s not only that, there is another ingredient. It’s that unknown ingredient I try to discover when I’m rocketing through the flat spaces of solitude. I know it’s not wealth, or security, or anything else that makes it so easy to jump off bridges. It could be love, but I assume love to be  a main reason that leads many to take that little leap off The Bridge…but maybe what they feel is not love, but more like a craving to not be lonely, and when one craves “not” to be something, instead of passionately going toward something, then…

The hills came back and soon we were speeding through the mountain pass that would deliver us into LA. The traffic was thick but fast, so I stopped meditating and gripped the steering wheel with both hands, sat up straight, eyes and ears alert. Just another animal in The Jungle – but a necessary, passionate animal.

Be well…

We Will Be…

Hello Everybody,

The other night, I was sitting on the floor in the half-empty living room of the bungalow, reading a book next to a lamp. It was late. Luis and Andre had been packing all evening. I could hear Andre throwing things in boxes in his bedroom.

It’s about that time again...

It’s about that time again…

“You know,” said Andre, appearing in the doorway – beer in hand – not looking at anything in particular, “I was gonna live here forever.” He laughed. “I never thought I’d need to leave.”

Every so often, he’d come to me with something he’d found in his room.

“Oh wow, check this out!” he exclaimed, holding a little drawing book and a fresh beer. “It’s this book of drawings I did when I was a kid. I was probably seven or so. Parts of my life up to that point.”

I stood up, looked over his shoulder as he thumbed through the book with his beer hand. He kind of disappeared into each drawing, pausing just long enough to grasp the memory before turning the page.

“Look at this one, man!” The drawing was of his parents, brother and himself eating at a Japanese restaurant (spelled Janpenese with a crayola) in Chicago. “Get this,” said Andre, reading a caption at the bottom of the drawing, “‘Things I love in my life: my family, the Chicago Bears, and God.” He laughed, took a long drink the beer, slammed the book shut. “Man, I always wait ’til the last minute to pack,” he said, then went back to his room.

One crazy chapter after another...

One crazy chapter after another…

Luis didn’t wait until the last minute to pack. He’d been sending his belongings to his girlfriend and family members in Texas for the last several months. But both Andre and Luis had the same aura of hasty hesitance surrounding them as they packed. By seeing them pack together, I realized that packing’s packing, no matter how you do it. Both of them were heading to new places – Luis to work in New Orleans, then Houston; Andre was moving in with his girlfriend, Charity. Exciting things lay ahead for them both, but those things didn’t necessarily make the transition any smoother. They were still turning the last page of a chapter, which is always a tricky turn. You lick your fingers, but the page is still difficult to grasp. The anticipation of the ending of the chapter grows into frustration as you try to separate the pages, and when you finally do and turn the page, you speed through to the end. After reading the last sentence, you hang on it for a while. You read it over and over, trying to understand why, exactly, the chapter ends with that sentence. You put the book down, close your eyes, and look at the sentence in your head, searching for the meaning underneath the words…not wanting to face the possibility that there may not be any profound meaning in the sentence at all, that it’s simply the last sentence that needed to be written.

The next day, I was sitting in the kitchen eating a sandwich. Pictures of Luis and Andre, friends, newspaper clippings and cards still hung on the refrigerator. Pots still hung from the rack, but there were fewer things on the counter and table. I got up and walked around. In the hallway, the weird painting of Gandhi smiling and holding a ham-hock was gone. Throughout the apartment were boxes – or just empty space – where a couch, a chair, a lampstand used to be. The bungalow’s rooms were hollower. An echo rattled through the whole apartment. It was as if reality was disappearing, piece by piece. I imagined I would soon be standing in some kind of blank chamber. White walls, white floor, white ceiling. Nothing, just me in a pair of jeans holding a half-eaten sandwich.

People are turning chapters all over East Hollywood.

People are turning chapters all over East Hollywood.

When I saw my backpack by the front door, I suddenly realized something that I’d willingly put off realizing for a few weeks. I needed a new place to stay, soon. Then I imagined myself down the street, hanging out with the winos in the hobo jungle at the corner of Sunset Blvd and Serrano St. – boiling a shoe in a pot over a small fire, stirring it with a twig, my hand clothed in a glove with the fingers cut off. There was a tin can of something heating by the fire, for a side dish. I didn’t know what it was, the wrapper had been torn off. Some hobos down the way were engaging in spirited babbling, another was blowing sad on the harmonica. It was nighttime, and though we were in the heart of Jungle Hollyweird, we could all hear a far off lonely train whistle blowin’…

I finished the sandwich, put on a t-shirt and sent out a mass email stating I needed a place to stay for a week or so. I had three places to choose from within minutes, then more as the day progressed. I was spared from homelessness once more.

But homelessness was on my mind. Several times during the week, I met up with a man who was homeless, who I will call “M”. M is 49. For the last several years he’d been in and out of jail. He’d robbed, stolen, all of it. With two strike against him, he’d spend the rest of his life in prison if he got another felony.

Art imitating life in the Hobo Jungle.

Art imitating life in the Hobo Jungle.

“I go to a parking lot over there by Melrose at night,” he said. “It’s not so bad. There’re some strung out gang-bangers that go there, but they look at me and I just look at them. They don’t bother me. I just gotta hang in there until the 10th of next month and I get some housing and food stamps. Man, sometimes I think, how did…” the thought either left him or wasn’t worth completing, “…well, it’ll all be good, man. I’m just tired, you know.”

Luis’ and Andre’s next door neighbor, The Great Warrior, was tired too. He had a place to sleep, but he didn’t know for how long. He was unemployed and had about one month before he’d be broke. He was once again reshaping the resume and writing cover letters during the day…and repeatedly beating me at chess at night, while talking to me about it.

“I don’t know man,” he said. “I put a call out to all of my industry friends. If I’m lucky, I can get something through them. I’ll probably be the oldest PA (production assistant) in the city.”

Later, I rode with The Great Warrior to the farmers market in Silverlake, in his pick-up truck. We were carrying on a conversation of half-sentences with long spaces of silence in between. “It’s hard not to get down on myself,” said The Great Warrior, with potential to be the first to speak a fully structured, grammatically correct statement. But when steam started shooting out from under the hood of his truck, he finished with, “that doesn’t help.”

Early evening on Thursday, I was walking down Serrano St. It was still hot, but the heat seemed to be tired, lingering for posterity because it was still August. Summer was dying. It felt like I’d just arrived in LA. I have three whole months. That’s plenty of time to get it together, I thought as I steered the rental car down Sunset, back on June 1st. The evenings were cold then. They were hot in July. Now, they were cold again. The hot days and cold nights left me with a thick head, which made me not want to do a damn thing, lately, especially lick my fingers, grab the corner of the page and turn it.

Dying summer...

Dying summer…

As I neared Sunset Blvd, I ran into Edith and her son. Edith and family lived in the bungalow next to The Great Warrior. Back in July, Luis and I built a ramp for them, so the patriarch of the family, Miguel, could get in and out of the bungalow in his wheelchair. Earlier in the year, Miguel was injured on the job (you can read more about it in the Jamberoo: O’er The Ramparts We Are…). Miguel was undocumented, and though his Good Ol’ American Boss had no problem hiring him to work for her, she hadn’t much interest in him after he broke his back on the job. No insurance, no workers comp. He was, in short, screwed, and everyone in the family carried the same expression of bewildered fear on their faces.

“Gracias,” Edith said as we walked down the street together. “For the ramp. Thank you.” She thanked me every time I saw her.

“De nada.”

We walked awkwardly in silence for a few steps, before Edith asked, “You boys go, eh?”


“Oh…we will miss.  Good boys.”

She turned to her son and spoke rapidly in Spanish. I heard enchiladas. When she finished her son turned to me.

“My mother would like to cook for you guys,” he said.

“My place,” said Edith. “Es Monday OK?”

“Monday’s fine…si! I will tell Luis and Andre.”

The three of us shook our heads and smiled for a while. Then Edith thanked me for the ramp again.

“De nada,” I said again. “Are you guys OK?”

Edith looked at me with nothing in her eyes but honesty. Then she finally smiled, said, “We will be OK.”

I told them I’d see them on Monday and walked ahead, fast. I didn’t need to be anywhere but I had to get away because I got angry and hurt and sad and even a little happy, dammit, because it was yet another time when I’d heard someone say they will be OK when they may very well not be OK. I was completely and utterly baffled once again by our species’ oversized brains. Or is it some defense mechanism set deep in the lizard part of our brain, to stay alive, this “I will be OK.” People die hopelessly, sometimes, don’t they? People get f@#ked and know they’re f@#ked and the people who f@#ked them give them the old “f@#k you” and they’re left to wander in the white blank space until their last breath, right?! Surely, that will happen to Miguel, Edith and their children, right?! There are people all over facing real despair! Not little dilemmas over whose couch to sleep on, but real hard streets where things may kill you if you fall asleep. But if you ask them they will smile and say “we will be OK.” We WILL? What is it that keeps us saying, “We WILL?”



I went inside a donut shop and bought a donut and a Coca Cola. When I walked out on Sunset, the weather had changed for the evening. It was cool, just like that. To the west, down the boulevard, the sky was yellow-pink – the sun had moved behind the hills. The streetlights had a little more pop to them – brighter yellows, greens, reds, all down Sunset. I could see Edith and her son walking west, some distance ahead of me. They were talking, their hands moving, their steps not so heavy. They could’ve been any mother and son walking into that magnificent yellow-pink sky. I turned the corner and walked up Serrano. I was about to eat a donut and drink a coke. Edith and her son were alive. There was only Now and we were all, indeed, OK.

Be well…

Ok, It’s About This Guy…

Hello Everybody,

Just ‘cause you’re not paranoid don’t mean they’re not out to get you.

Just ‘cause you’re not paranoid…

Last Sunday, I was hired to review the 3rd Annual Zeitgeist Media Festival at the Avalon Ballroom in Hollywood. Musicians, comedians, visual and performance artists, along with various other speakers combined forces, touching on the political and social topics that give shape to the Zeitgeist Movement – an online crusade calling for the elimination of money, redistribution of resources, and for a technology-based focus to propel humanity out of its current dog eat dog reality (here’s their mission statement). In short, it calls for complete, global revolution.

The Zeitgeist Movement has a large, faithful online following, and on Sunday they had the chance to get revolutionary with each other in person. Many wore the expression of general distrust of the status quo upon their brow. In the cold dark ballroom, all conspiracies were fact. A Zeitgeister could freely profess his/her belief in aliens, androids, that 9/11 was an inside job by the U.S Government, that banks rule the world and We The People were no more than comfortable slaves. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were fabricated enemies to keep Americans punching the clock. Religion was for fat, dumb middle-America and IT WAS TIME FOR EVERYBODY TO WAKE UP, DAMMIT! One could condemn the dollar and all currency to rousing cheers, then donate to the non-profit companies in the lobby, or buy a vodka-tonic at the bar, then take a hit off their pipe and dance up against a hot Zeitgiestsita with rhinestones glued to her face – up against her real close, with one hand doing rave-y waves in the air and the other holding up their baggy yet skinny jeans, their Nike’s claiming great traction on the dance floor.



I agree with most of what the movement calls for. And I love a good conspiracy – sometimes a little too much – but I have to say I was a bald eagle raising, oil drilling Toby Keith t-shirt wearing Baptist compared to this lot of angsters. But there simply too many conspiracies caming together in the Avalon Ballroom on Sunday, begetting a cloudy atmosphere of unresolved emotion. This nameless energy only ended up festering, growing into itself – too many directions led to no direction. The bit of conversation below summed up the event better than I could.

“Yeah,” said a fellow chatting up a girl next to me, “Zeitgeist opened my eyes, like, to all the injustice and slavery around, you know. I mean, everything’s bullshit, everything we think is real is a lie.”

“It’s all f#$cked up,” replied the girl.

“Yeah, but I like, found my spirit since I got hooked into Zeitgeist. ‘Cause it’s all about the love, you know. Like, no god, but all spirit.”

“I was raised really Christian,” said the girl. “Like, it was God, all the time.”

“Oh yeah, me too, but man, but I just follow my heart, now. Hey do you smoke?”


“I just got my medical marijuana card, how cool is that?”

“That’s awesome.”

20130804_185413As I sat next to the two kids on the concert floor, questions flowed through my mind. Just what do I believe? Where do I stand with “this” or “that”? I want things to change too. But how do I want them to change, and what direction, exactly, do I want them to change? Does any of THIS have a damn thing to do with me? Do these two kids know I’m listening to them? Do they see me having this conversation with myself. When did I become a reviewer? I just came out here to build a set. I’m probably 15 years older than these kids. How the f#$k did that happen?

On Wednesday, I went hiking with Jason, an old friend of mine. I met Jason 12 years ago, in an alley outside an old warehouse in downtown Chicago at 4am while refilling my cup from a near empty keg of beer. The party had ended long before and we both felt an obligation to drain the keg. It turned out that we were both actors so we had a lot to slur about. Years later we both ended up in NY – continued our friendship there as we mellowed out, got older, careers got hazier. Now, Jason and his wife, Jennie, lived out here in LA and were expecting their first child.

“We went to the doctor yesterday and saw her on the sonogram,” said Jason, as he drove us into the Hollywood Hills. “She’s either very shy or not shy at all…she kept turning her butt to the camera. You could see everything, she’s definitely a girl. That’s the only naked picture I ever want to see of my daughter.”

Jason’s still an actor. But he works at a restaurant on the weekends, and travels all over the world teaching project-presentation workshops to corporate executives. Of course, he also has all the office skills from years of temping, too, which come in handy from time to time. But lately, he’s been looking into property management, in hopes to get a break on a more suitable living situation once the baby arrives.

“Everything’s so expensive,” he said. “But maybe we can find a fixer-up. I can ply my carpentry skills and get it into better shape and later on, if there’s a school district issue or something like that, we’d have capital to move. But Jennie and I gotta knock off a little more debt to do that…jeez, the student loans killed me, man. I will die in that debt. Man, I can’t believe you haven’t been to the Batcave yet.”

Jason and the Batcave

Jason and the Batcave

After parking the car and walking a short distance, we were at the cave featured in the old Batman TV series starring Adam west. Jason ran up to the entrance.

“The Batmobile came right out here and drove right down there! You remember?!”

I did remember, and time got flimsy, then. Suddenly, I’m sitting in the living room of some babysitter’s house out in the country, a million miles from anywhere. Duh nuh nuh nuh…duh nuh nuh nuh…duh nuh nuh nuh BATMAN!!! blasts from the speakers of an old TV festooned with rabbit ears wrapped in tinfoil. I’m sitting on my knees leaning forward – my face too close to the TV but my mother isn’t there to tell me I’ll go blind, and the babysitter doesn’t care. There’s Adam West in his bat-tights, saving Gotham again. He’s so cool. Man, when I grow up…

Later – as we walked up the path leading to the Hollywood sign – I practiced a pitch for my own TV show that I was to present to a producer on Friday. Jason listened thoughtfully, offered me suggestions to solidify the premise, etc. But after that, conversation came and went. There was no need to talk continuously, and the heat and incline made for labored speaking. We’d been silent for several moments when we passed a pregnant woman power-walking back down the hill. She huffed and puffed, wore jogging shorts and a sports bra – her bare, bulging belly glistened in the sun. Jason applauded her.

“Alright,” he said, smiling, “beautiful, so beautiful.”

The woman smiled. “Thanks,” she said, between deep inhales.

Further up the hill, we came upon a trail ride. Two vaqueros – one in the lead, one in the back – ushered several blonde, sunburned, scared Dutch tourists down the path, inches from the cliff’s edge. The horses followed each other closely – nose to ass, eyes down, not excited. The dull clop…clop…clops of their hooves couldn’t escape into echoes due to the final silence of the heat. A ghostly low cloud of red dust remained on the trail, after they were gone. When we rounded the next bend, the Hollywood sign came into view. I’d never been so close to it, and it was possible to get closer. But Jason stopped, looked at his watch, then looked to me and shrugged his shoulders.

“I gotta meet Jennie,” he said. “She needs the car.”

Later that evening, Luis and I hung out in front of the bungalow on the wooden frame of his futon. He’d sold it to a friend and we were waiting for her to pick it up – sitting on it so no one would steal it, and so no winos would make it their home. It was a pleasant evening – cool and shady, narcotic silence. For some reason, I spoke.

20130807_112538-1“Luis,” I said, “did you ever think that – at 40 – you’d be hanging out on a curb in Hollywood on an old-”


“I didn’t think I’d be doing it at 38.”

“Honestly,” said Luis, “I didn’t think I’d live passed 33. So I didn’t make a plan for 34…or anything after, so…”

Friday morning, I went to the producer’s office and made the pitch for the TV show. I checked in at security… I just came out here to build a set…at the front desk of the old building that used to be Warner Brothers Studios, at Formosa Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. The United Artists offices used to be in the building, too. Pictures of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. – UA’s founders – hung on the wall. Then I made my way up the old, leaning stairway. It was hard not to be awestruck in the ancient building. So many ghosts passed me in the narrow hallway lined with old wooden doors…I just came here to build a set. Time lost shape again. Once more, I’m a kid, watching some movie underneath those foil-wrapped rabbit ears. It’s an old black and white feature – maybe Abbot and Costello or The Werewolf or Tarzan – after the news on a Friday night. My mom hasn’t picked me up yet – the babysitter’s there, not really watching, just sitting on the couch. Crickets clack away in the night. A million miles away…I just came here to build a set.  BOOM. Time regained it’s rigor and I was back in the studio’s hallway. Some of the doors were open. Movie and TV chatter snuck out of the cramped offices. 

Who is anybody, really?

Who is anybody, really?

The meeting was set up by a mutual friend of mine and the producer. I’d written many scripts and played many roles over the last 17 years. I like to think they’re all readying me for loftier roles like Hamlet, Iago, Brutus, or maybe Lear when I’m older. But the show I had to pitch on Friday was about a actor-writer-type fellow who travels the country working wherever, however, to make ends meet, getting to know the people who hire him, take him in, drop him off at the next town – a 21st Century Hobo. Just before I knocked on the door, I asked myself, How did I get to this door? Just where do I fit in, in all of THIS? What do I answer if somebody asks me who I am? But the secretary answered the door much quicker than I expected, saving me from such a foolish line of questioning. Seconds later, I was making the pitch.


Buster Keaton, just for the hell of it.

“I like your idea, it’s interesting,” said the producer. “I want to be involved, and am willing to help you. But it’s going to be a hard sell. Right now the networks are only shelling out for drunk housewives and duck hunters. So there won’t be any money to start. But if there’s any way you can get some episodes shot yourself…if you can show them what you can do…then we might get a network interested.”

What do I got to lose? I just came out here to build a set.

Be well…

The Pipeliner’s Dilemma by Luis Galindo (Echoes From Other Hobos, #1)

Luis Galindo

Luis Galindo

He stopped the truck and threw it into park on a dirt road just after The Universe punched him in the face. It was as though someone who was sitting next to him had reared back and struck him across the jaw line, so clear and startling was the revelation.

He’d been working on the pipeline for several months now – an outfit called King Pipeline. His younger brother had got him the job, even managed to secure him a place on his crew in those first months. They worked together in the chemical plants and refineries of Pasadena and Channelview. It was good to work with his brother. He enjoyed it very much. But his brother had recently been sent to head up a new job in New Orleans, leaving him alone to work with men he did not know on a cattle ranch on the outskirts of nowhere while living in a cheap motel room in Goliad, Texas.

He’d started on the pipeline in the early Summer of that same year, a month after graduating from a university on the East Coast with an Master of Fine Arts in fakery and disguise. He’d vowed that he’d never take another job where he’d have to shower after work – just a few years before, sitting in his apartment in New York City with his friends, proposing a toast, “Here’s to grad school boys and to never having to lift shit for a living again.” But since then he’d done much lifting, continued lifting and had been lifting heavy objects until just a few moments before The Cosmos had tried to give him a knock out blow in the cab of the work truck which he now drove.

He’d just completed a ten-hour workday on the Polinski Cattle Ranch where he and the pipe gang were laying half a mile of thirty-two inch pipe, which was to be pulled underneath the Colorado River then used to transport natural gas to its final destination. Where that destination was he didn’t know or care.

As he sat in the cab of the work truck alone, a mile away from the main gate of the ranch he began seeing things in a different light and thinking things with a different means of process. The truck, the sky. The whole world seemed very familiar yet strangely different, more wondrous than it ever had, before this moment. And in a voice as clear as his own he heard the words, You could be happy doing this for the rest of your life. Maybe.

The sun was setting and it streaked the South Texas sky with swaths of purple, pink, orange and blue the likes of which he’d never seen before in his life. Cattle grazed lazily on that vast stretch of land. Pecan and Mesquite trees dotted the ranch as far as one could see to the south. Small flocks of birds winged through the twilight. Though the truck’s engine was off the radio still played low, but clear. It was a country music station and the song was pure honky-tonk heartbreak. Steel guitars cried and a man’s voice pleaded. The song, as far as he could tell, was about loss and moving on. Hands on the wheel. The enormous silence underneath absolutely everything – the light, his breath, the tightness of the muscles in his back and his legs all the way down to his steel-toe boots. All of the world, there, in that perfect moment. Precise. He was there.

Maybe I could do this forever? Maybe this is all I need? Maybe working hard, making money and living in motels until the right woman came along would be alright? I could pay off my student loan, buy a new truck, buy a house and be an eligible bachelor with something to offer. Hell, I might even quit drinking and doing drugs. Then he thought through the whole list again.

Could he give up trying to be an artist? Could he really work this way for the next thirty years? Would this be enough to sustain his spirit, his comfort level, while his loftier ambitions were put on hold? Could he pretend those ambitions were not there? Could he continue pouring vodka and pills on his problems? Would the fire that burned inside him be extinguished long enough for him to build an escape route to this life?

He thought of the long days of work. The sun or the cold beating him down one millimeter at a time. He would be beaten a little smaller every day. He thought of the intolerance of some, not all, of the workers on the crew, the bosses, the bosses’ bosses until it became one long chain of ignorance and fear. A chain of hate forged in the cold fires of the inability to reach out, to try and understand another human being. How many more “fuckin’ wetbacks” could he hear before exacting revenge?

He thought of the woman he might meet. Would he meet one that really loved him? One that read Thomas, Cummings and Shakespeare? One that would tolerate his penchant for carousing until the small hours? One that would stay?

Thought after thought, possibility after possibility. Scenarios from what he thought a normal happy life might look like flooded his head. Scenes with women, first dates, bank managers, car dealers, dentists, in-laws, doctors, children, little league games, all of these things filled his mind at once like some dry and desolate water tank with a rusty and reluctant valve which now broke open and flooded the parched and dry receptacle of his mind with hope and wonder. He looked at his reflection in the side-view mirror. He saw the face of a man he thought he knew staring back at him. A man only slightly familiar, like some distant cousin met only once or twice in childhood.

The sun had almost disappeared and the brilliant colors from a few moments ago were almost gone like ribbons being taken down after a birthday party. Deep indigo and lighter blues remained, hanging there in space like towels on a clothesline. He turned the key in the ignition. The engine started right away, a low loping murmur. He put his right foot on the brake, shifted into drive, released the brake and slowly made his way down the dirt road towards the ranch gate and its lock.

He arrived at the gate, put the truck in park and killed it. He got out, unlocked the gate and swung it open away from the highway which was just a few yards in front of him. He got back in the truck, started it, drove to through to the edge of the highway, got out and went back to shut the gate.

Before he returned to the truck he stopped and looked left on the highway then looked right. There was no traffic, no wind, nothing save the lights of the radio towers that dotted the horizon and what few stars had begun to shine. Time was swollen, pregnant with what The Universe had just revealed to him. Was it The Universe, or him? His own fear, intolerance and inability to reach out and understand another human being, namely himself?

He stood there in that dense stillness. Maybe this life isn’t so bad after all? Maybe I don’t need to be an artist? It could be this simple all the time. The distrust of these ideas made his shoulders tense. He drew a deep breath and sighed it out.

He needed a drink. He walked back to the truck, reached under the seat and pulled out a plastic pint bottle of vodka wrapped in an oil cloth and stored in a plastic bag. He unwrapped it and looked to see how much was left. A little less than half. Just enough to get him to the liquor store and refuel and to make the music on the radio sound better. It would also serve to help him forget the decision that was put to him, if just for the rest of the night.

He unscrewed the top and took a long hard pull. The jet-fuel vapors in the nose and the sweet burn down the throat were all too familiar to him now. He’d been drinking and drugging hard for a year now. It felt exactly right and completely wrong at the same time, like playing himself at chess and pretending not to know what his next move would be. He screwed the cap back on and shoved the bottle, rag and bag under the seat again. He got in the truck, put it in drive and headed west on the highway towards Goliad in the quiet night. The vodka had loosened his nerves like a hot bath and he turned up the radio.

The Universe had revealed itself, punched him in the face. The only question left was would he punch back and how hard? He pressed the gas a little harder and watched the needle on the speedometer rise. Night was now completely upon him and he wondered what he would do.

© 2014

The Scottish King in LA

The Scottish King in LA

Luis Galindo is an actor and writer. He is an ensemble member of Independent Shakespeare Company in Los Angeles, currently playing the title role in Macbeth, and the role of Jaques in As You Like It, in their summer festival in Griffith Park. In the Fall, he’ll serve as a guest artist/lecturer at Tulane University in New Orleans. The Pipeliner’s Dilemma is part of his upcoming book, Electric Rats in a Neon Gutter – Poems, Songs and Stories from the Cities of America – due out in early 2014 via Jamberoo Press. Luis is from Texas.

Billy Shakes And America’s Last Downtown

Hello Everyone,

I caught a cold last Sunday and spent most of last week laid up, caughing, sneezing, wheezing, reading post-modern liturature, watching documentaries about the dawning of robot intelligence and contemplated mortality. At some point, during this period of infirmity, I thumbed through Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It (which also happens to be Independent Shakespeare’s next production in Grifith Park this summer, go to iscla.org for the schedule!). The play has one of those famous speeches that we’ve incorporated into our Western DNA:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…

Griffith Park, every Thursday - Friday @ 7pm thru Labor Day!

Griffith Park, every Thursday – Sunday @ 7pm thru Labor Day!

It’s a weird thing, to be sick in the middle summer in Southern California, amid so much warmth and sunshine. Anytime I ventured out, I felt as if “UNCLEAN” had been marked upon my brow – an infectious threat set loose upon the season. Then, whilst I lay low with the chills in the middle of the day in the dark shade of the bungalow – as the lawnmowers, ice-cream trucks, sirens, and screaming East Hollywood street tramps compose summer’s song just outside my window – I felt like a child lunger too weak to play with all the other school children out here in the Wild, Wild West, left to gaze at all the Life out the window, until Death.  Here’s more of the speech:

His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part…

Exile in Downtown?

Playing his part?

Like most of Shakespeare’s comedies, As You Like It comes across as a rollicking whimsical tale, yet the threat of banishment, danger, heartbreak and even complete doom are never far away – like real life. Of course, goodness, virtue and hope are equally nearby, but, oh, how easily do we characters seem to forget that. Especially when one is exiled to a dark sick room in Hollywood – or the Forest of Arden, banished from court, like Jaques, the character who delivers the famous speech. Here’s more of it:

The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.

Jaques is a rather melencholy fellow. He doesn’t want to be so glum, but he just can’t seem to find the answers to life that he’s looking for. The search has led him to a dull despair. His fellow exilers try to cheer him up, but he only sinks further into gloom:

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Remind you, this is one of Shakespeare’s comedies. Sure, there’s jokes, a clown, poems carved into trees in the forest, music, general hullabaloo and tomfoolery, love and all that stuff, but the undertones of As You Like It are entrenched in Existentialism – in fact, it can be argued that Shakespeare invented Existentialism in its literary form. Based on my limited knowledge of Shakespeare, I’ve come to the conclusion that he wrote no comedies or dramas, he simply wrote everything. But everything’s a lot to handle when you’re sick in the dark, and I began to take on – willingly – the melencholic demeanor of Jaques. Luckilly, by Thursday I started feeling better, and was able to crawl out from contagious exile and live again.

To the Sun, their God.

To the Sun, their God.

Friday, I rode the subway to downtown LA. A few blocks from Union Station, I began to hear drums. I followed the beat to El Pueblo de Los Angeles – an old restored section of the city – sandwiched between Chinatown, Little Tokyo and City Hall. There, I found a troup of Native American dancers, gyrating to the beat of the drum. They were decked out in full costume, sweat dripping off them as they twirled, jumped and sang in the hot afternoon. Many people surrounded the dancers – watching, applauding everytime the drums stopped. During breaks, each dancer would stand next to a donation bucket.

“It is Aztec,” one of dancers told me, breathing heavily, “we were Aztec, then we were Spanish you know, then Mexcian, and now…well, we,” he put his finger on my chest, smiled, “we are all the same.” He looked out at the crowd. “All of us are the same. But when we dance, we don’t dance for anyone,” he caught his breathe, then pointed to the sun, “we dance for god.”20130802_150144

From there, I made my way to Little Tokyo, just southeast of City Hall. I always find it humbling to walk down a street, unable to read what any of the signs or marquees are advertising. For a moment, I couldn’t find one English word, and I began to feel a tingly lost at sea feeling. But I kept floating and soon English words began to creep into the store windows. But moments later I wound up in front of an American Apparel, a Pinkberry, etc, and…BAM…back on hard American land.

From Little Tokyo, I carved my way through the heart of downtown LA, along gridlike streets with tall glass and concrete buildings, hustlers, cops, shoppers, office workers, panhandlers and of course, both the mute and prophesying classes of the homeless. Then I got to Broadway between 2nd and 8th Streets, what I call America’s largest flea market. Bridal dress boutiques, menswear outlets, jewelry stores, music shops, religious iconography stores, shoe stores and liquor stores occupied the crumbling storefronts. Mustached men with slicked back hair spoke Spanglish into a microphone out on the sidewalk…Reeboks y Nike y Adidas, para only $29.99!!!…advertising as as far out as their mic’s cord will let them. Day laborers handed out flyers. Clerks lazed about on the sidewalk until a customer went into their store. Spanish music flowed out onto the street. Shoppers flooded in and out of the stores. Crazy drunks stumbled across the street, singing to Dionysus. Scabbed junkies swung about like lynched corpses. Young, dirty kids joyfully ran to nowhere. A vibrant scene.

The Grand Central Market, downtown LA.

The Grand Central Market, downtown LA.

The Grand Central Market  – an intersection of Chinese and Latino foodstands – takes up most of the area between 3rd and 4th Streets. The whole scene reminded me of the downtown LA portrayed in the movie Blade Runner – cramped, sweaty and loud, where the Chinese and Spanish languages blend into one – the odd English term popping up every now and then. Ah, I thought, as I waded through the humanity between butcher shops, produce bins and taco and dumpling stands, Philip K Dick was right. This is the future. America is blending and will continue to blend until it’s base only faintly echoes the cultures it’s made up of. Now, just who in here are androids?

To Dionysus...

To Dionysus…

Of course, I don’t believe the robots walk among us, as they do in Blade Runner…yet. I was confident all those participating in the commerce of the Grand Central Market were made of flesh and blood. There we were, playing the demanding roles we must play between birth and death, gracefully flawed, holding on tight to all we know but ultimately letting go in small increments, in order to continue performing. It’s easy to see the spectrum of life – that Shakespreare so clearly captures – in places like The Grand Central Market. People are forced deal with each other face to face, touch each other. It’s when there’s a lot of space between the giver and the taker that we often find ourselves in the wings – observing, not acting, just dying.

It’s murky now, but we will mix into One…whether we want to or not.

It’s murky now, but we will mix into One…whether we want to or not.

Saturday night, I went to Griffith Park and saw a performance of As You Like It. Independent Shakespeare Company does a hell of a job with the play – it’s a very tight, energetic and soulful production. The actors run about, falling in love, longing for love while singing, wrestling, conjuring and in the end all the lovers find each other, get married and dance. But there is no love or nuptials for Jaques. He leaves the celebration to pursue The Duke Frederick – the man responsible for his banishment who’d experienced a blinding spiritual experience and abandoned court and wandered off to be a monk. As everybody gayly prepares to go back to court, Jaques takes his exit – towards the darker woods of the forest – in search of his own awakening – the kind that has to be found outside of court and kingdom, outside of all he knows. This is the last we hear of him:

So, to your pleasures:
I am for other than for dancing measures.

To see no pastime I what you would have
I’ll stay to know at your abandon’d cave.

Funny thing is, Jaques, with all this weighty existential pondering, is not even a lead character in the play. He’s just a supporting character. Just like the rest of us.
Be well…