Early Friday morning, I woke up, creaked and cracked out off the sofa bed, stumbled into the kitchen, put on a pot of coffee. Then I sat Indian-style in the dark living room and meditated as the coffee brewed.
After the pot gurgled to stillness, I got up, poured the first of three cups, switched on the TV. LA’s weathermen and women were warning Angelenos of the dangerous Santa Anna Winds blowing down the mountains and bursting through the metropolis. One weatherwoman stood outside a warehouse, her microphone cutting in and out as she steadfastly warned, “KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR THE WIND!” She squinted into the camera as she shouted, her movie star hairdo whipping across her face. After finishing the third cup, I left the apartment – bracing for the wind as I opened the door – and began my journey to Pasadena to pull up an old deck in my buddy Scott’s backyard.
But it wasn’t windy, at least in Sherman Oaks. The world barely moved at all as I walked up Sepulveda Boulevard, toward the Orange Line cross-Valley bus. The morning cool hung low as the sun rose to an inch above the horizon. There was still no wind as I waited for the Orange Line bus, and it was a smooth straight ride to North Hollywood subway station. There wasn’t any wind there, either, as I joined the mass exodus of 9-to-5ers toward the Red Line subway stop. The new warm sun of the morning pacified us as we descended into the station like a giant class of 1950s elementary school kids being led to an underground bomb shelter. I transfered at Union station to the Gold Line elevated train to Pasadena. Still no wind. I knew the weatherwomen couldn’t have been wrong, her hair was a damned bird’s nest after her segment, her eyes were watery. I figured I was just in all the wrong places that morning. Or, right places. The train came and I sat across from a young pregnant lady, lazily stroking her stretched-marked belly as she stared past me, into the sun and and city toward all those Angels. Her boyfriend sat next her, his completely tattooed arm hung around her shoulders – relaxed, but protective. He stared out at the windless Heaven, too. One of his legs was curled between hers, his LA County issue ankle monitor reflecting the sun in a single, pure white ray.
And, alas, still no wind, as I walked up the wide, well manicured streets of Pasadena to Scott’s house, amidst a city-wide cacophony of chirping birds. The morning had grown warmer, and it was so clear, it looked like reach out and touch the San Gabriel Mountains to the north.
The deck in Scott’s backyard was very old and rotten. It was soft as cardboard in some places – permanently moist and basically becoming part of the back yard’s eco system. Plant roots grew into it, moss grew on it. However, in other places, it may as well have been petrified wood. Pulling up the deck turned out to be harder work than I imagined. The wood would come apart at the soft places, but it was tough as hell to pull out the nails in the hard places. If I tried to pull up an entire plank without loosen all the nails, the plank would crumble into many pieces, creating more trips to the wood pile. So, I had slow the process, pull up every nail. Everything with me. Is Always. About. Slowing. Down.
It was the first hard work I’d had in over a month. I welcomed it. Sweat, dirt, grunting, cursing, banging, pulling, lifting. The ripping growl of nails being pulled out of wood echoed through the beautiful green neighborhood, silencing the birds, momentarily. My sweaty arms, neck, and face caught the dirt. My heart rate was up, I’d found a rhythm and operated like a machine.
Before I came out to LA, I rifled through my father’s toolbox – at my mother’s house in Jourdanton, Texas – for anything I might need while I was working out here. One of the tools was an old crescent wrench. Once the color of shining silver, it was now permanently browned by decades of oxidation. But it still worked fine. Friday afternoon, I used it to loosen old bolts that the builders used to secure to secure the deck to the concrete foundation of the house. The bolts were frozen with rust. I turned, bent, cursed, of course – crouched over, my head nearly upside down, until I was light-headed. I stood upright to catch my breath. After I did, I became very aware of the crescent wrench – how it felt in my hand – it’s weight, it’s warmth. I looked down at it. It was really old – probably around 45 years old, older than me.
Suddenly, I wasn’t looking at the wrench in my hand. I was looking at the wrench in my fathers’s hand, 30 years earlier. I’m a child. There’s his hand and the wrench – just his hand, no other part of him – turning and turning. The sweet smell of WD40 is in the air, and though I can’t see anything else, I know we’re in the garage next to the home I grew up in, in Orange Grove, Texas. Beads of sweat pop up on his hand as he tightens a mystery. I hear him mumbling to himself, in the darkness around the hand. I look on, not being of any use, just there. Then…whoosh!…I’m back in Scott’s backyard…
…and I’m looking down at the wrench in my own hand again. I’m at least as old as my dad is in that memory, I thought. Gee, how my hand looks so much like his hand when he was my age. I looked around. There was distant Spanish in between the roar of leaf blowers and lawnmowers. The backyard was now covered in shadow, the air smelled of freshly cut grass and clean earth. How the hell did I end up in Pasadena? I’m from Orange Grove, Texas, for Chrissake.
Just before he died – nearly three years ago – my father told me he never would’ve guessed he’d end up living in Jourdanton, Texas. I’m guessing, at my age, he’d never have guessed he’d be buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, either. I don’t know what he was thinking back then, but I’m pretty sure, if he saw me last Friday afternoon, he’d tell me I was using the wrong tool for the job. But so what? He was more of a mechanic than a carpenter, and I’m more of a carpenter than a mechanic. I wouldn’t call myself much of a mechanic at all, actually. But I’ve called myself a writer, an actor, and guitar player, among many other things that he couldn’t have called himself. Honestly, I don’t know what he thought of himself as being. Most of the time he just called himself Jerry. But whatever he thought he was, I used to think he and I were very different. However, I’m finding out I’m much more like him, as our hands continue to look more and more the same.
Gold Line to the Red Line to the Orange Line. No wind. But as I stepped off the bus in Sherman Oaks I was greeted with – not a neck-breaking gust – but a soft warm breeze presenting the wavy, sinking effect of a palm-full of painkillers yet without the dark hollowness, self-loathing and howling banshees that quantity of pills may bring on, later. I was naturally high as I walked slow on the way home, like I could walk forever. Life was really, really good. Everybody on the street looked pleasantly tired and smiled as I approached them. More so, everyone on the street seemed genuinely compassionate toward me. Maybe it was just because it was Friday. Maybe it’s just the way I wanted to see the world. Maybe it was just The Truth.
I’m sitting in an East Hollywood cafe on Sunday afternoon, as I type this post. I’ve decided to take my friend, The Great Warrior, up on his offer to rent out a room in his bungalow. After I build a new deck, Scott has some other things for me to build, repair. Then there’s also a few more bits of work here and there that will keep me in LA at least until the end of October. This post also marks the first anniversary of El Jamberoo! I didn’t know how long I’d be able to keep up these weekly posts, when I started. Back then, I was in Brooklyn. I had no clue I’d end up in Hollywood, a year down the road. Hell, two weeks ago, I didn’t know I’d end up back in Hollywood. And I don’t know where I’ll be after October. All I know is that I’m here, now. That’s alright. Here, now is all there is.
I have the same revelations…More & more as I get older…Keep riffing, brother.
Yes. Here and now is all there is. Many of us forget that amid the churning, roiling, self-induced chaos of our lives. But you are smart to slow it down, to remember that all we have is here and now and to embrace that.
Thanks so much, Ramey!