New Old New Ad Infinitum…

Hello Everybody,

Last week, my friend, Mia hired me to build a table out of two old wooden doors. The doors were coated in several layers of paint, applied throughout several decades, except on the corners where the paint had peeled away, exposing brittle and cracked wood.

20140327_141854Stripping all the paint off the doors would’ve taken more time than was worth putting into the project, so I sanded over the doors until the dull gray topcoat of paint opened up in spaces exposing a white coat, then a pink coat, then a blue coat. Also, since I wasn’t stripping off the paint, I thoroughly sanded the edges of the paint around the areas of exposed wood – the smoother the edges, the better the seal I’d get with lacquer. Sanding took most of the morning. When I was done, wiped the grit from my reddened eyes, blew from my nose paint and wood dust that was older than my parents and stepped back to see that both doors had an uneven, yet consistent appearance.

Then I built the frame for the table, mounted the doors atop it, applied wood filler into the screw holes, and ate lunch with Mia as I waited for the filler to dry. After lunch, I sanded the filled holes down, made a pass over the doors with a brush, wiped them down with a damp cloth, then wiped them down with a dry cloth, in preparation of applying the lacquer.

20140328_154735It was a still, hot day with few clouds. The afternoon sun was blinding, reflecting off the lacquer as I applied it. My arms turned from tan to pink to red as I brushed. My face was caked with dust and dried sweat and my eyes were a little irritated. When I finished brushing on the lacquer, I rubbed my eyes, looked real close at the finished doors. By then it was the evening, and in the gloaming the doors glowed as if they had a lights inside them. The lacquer Mia had chosen was clear, but oil-based, so a slight amber tone came with the shine. The grays, blues, pinks and whites were so rich, so distinct, but all colors blended subtly with each other, like the inside of a seashell – it was hard to see where one color ended, and another started. And, the exposed wood at the corners appeared younger, healthier than its previous ashen, brittle appearance.

I was shivering in the evening breeze, as I gathered my tools. Mia came out and liked what she saw. I said goodby to her and walked to the bus stop. By the time my bus arrived, the job had lifted from my shoulders and exhuastion had set in. I slouched in a seat, tucked my tools under my legs. I felt like a real artist – transforming matter from useless to useful again. However, I felt no grand sense of creativity. In fact, as the bus jerked from stop to stop down Hollywood Boulevard, I became convinced that Creativity was an illusion. All I really did was simply expose and illuminate what was already there. I just happened to be open to what was there, and by being so, and trusting my own capabilities, a process of transformation took place. Art is transformation, not creativity…it is discovering what’s within something – whatever’s in front of you – and…holy cow…it wasn’t the doors that underwent a transformation, it was…wow…

20140328_154915Two days later I flew to Texas. My friend, Luis Galindo, was staging the first reading of the book he wrote and I edited, Electric Rats in a Neon Gutter: Poems, Stories and SongsThe book is a semi-damn-near-completely autobiographical collection of musings about love and loss and booze and drugs and hatred and sorrow and ghosts and injustice over several bruising rambling years – though, all the way through, Luis searches for The True, The Pure, The Light. The reading would take place at Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston, a city where many of the tales within the tale take place.

I landed in San Antonio, spent a day with my mom, sister and her family, then hopped in my mom’s car and onto I-10 East to Houston. I sped down the interstate, bobbing and weaving around 18-wheelers, slowing to the speed limit when I saw State Troopers on the horizon, then speeding up again after passing them. The drive was old, familiar, which was odd because it’d been over 16 years since I’d been to Houston, for a wedding…

…my friend, Matt’s wedding. I remember pulling into Matt’s driveway, walking into his house, cracking open a Budweiser…then cut to me standing outside of the tent where the party after the wedding was being held…swaying slightly, smoking a cigarette, staring down at the patent leather shoes that came with the rented tuxedo…they are too small and my feet ache…I drink dark wine fast from a plastic cup…I want more wine, but I don’t want it to appear like I’m The Drunk at the wedding…granted I am The Drunk at this wedding, but what other people don’t know won’t hurt them…I lift one foot off the ground at a time like a flamingo, gazing up at the night sky, then back to the tent, to see if I could make an inconspicuous dart to the doesn’t appear that a covert trip to the bar and back without being noticed is possibility, but it’s a mission I’m obliged to undertake…I finish the cigarette, walk to the tent…but everything goes black after that…I hadn’t been to Houston since, or seen Matt, for that matter…

20140331_155557Luis was waiting for me at the theatre. Throughout the afternoon, we went over the order of the pieces Luis would sing, read. Then I timed him as he rehearsed the pieces, to get an idea of the length of the evening. When he’d rehearse a song, he’d pace the stage, strumming his guitar as if the chords he played told him where to step…


From the song “Adios Chica Linda”:

I’ve been sick

and I’ve sure been tired

I’ve been up, down, below the ground,

I’ve been stoned, drunk and wired

I’ve had every occupation that a man can hold,

I’ve lost every single thing but my heart and soul

and I sure got a bunch of problems, or so I’m told.

Brian, the lighting technician, played with the lights to find a good tone for the evening. One by one, each light – pink, blue, amber – illuminated Luis differently, as if he was a different person in each light. The familiar songs and poems came to me from unfamiliar directions, like new things that sounded older. The lights bounced off his glasses and guitar as he paced around. By the time Brian finally found the right lighting – a combination of all the lights, naturally – Luis had transformed from a guy rehearsing to a man onstage.

“It doesn’t seem real, man,” Luis told me, after rehearsing. “Feels like I didn’t write any of it.”

“The good stuff always feels that way,” I said. “The real stuff is always humbling, scary.”

“Feels like it all came from somewhere else.”

“Well, it’s all you.”

As 7:30 – the starting time for the reading – neared, Luis grew more and more nervous. “I don’t get this nervous when I’m doing a play,” he’d say, or, “Shit, I didn’t even feel like this when I did Macbeth.” People began to arrive and Luis greeted everybody, shook hands, smiled. The crowd gave him something to do but also drove home the fact that everyone was there to see him. Every now and then he’d rumble passed where I was selling books and tending bar, mumbling, “Jesus, I’m f#$kin’ nervous,” under his breath.

The book is about a certain periods of Luis’ life from which, now, he’s very different. And today, he knows those versions of his Self better than when he actually was those Selves. Time has revealed those Selves to Luis, and he is able to see clearly the transformation(s) he’s undertaken over the years. But no matter what, that’s a lot of Selves to handle, and when the clock hit 7:30, Luis saw all the Selves he’d ever been coming at him. All he could do was walk to them and greet them because the audience was already seated and waiting for the show…

The Heart’s Tangled Jungle

He was a fearful hunter

in the heart’s tangled jungle.

He made preparations

for failure but didn’t show them.


He ripped off time

and charged his wallet

and his watch

for the left over crumbs

of his unfinished business.

He would write promises

to God

to be good

and pure

but his scribbled notes

were unreadable

at the moments when it counted.

He walked through gardens

with his cousins

telling half-truths

as their grandma’s chiles ripened

and magnolias kept their mouths shut and the roses were busy

being perfect.

In those lonely moments

when there was no one to lie to

and no reason,

he would tell himself

that everything

was going to be alright

and the wind in his blinds and the Virgin Mary candles tried to tell him

the truth.

All the truth

for the lonely hunter kept the sun on his face but no light, no light no grace

to signify

that he

was walking,



…he was a little fast starting out. But he found the night’s rhythm and soon he had the crowd laughing, gasping, sighing, even tearing up with him at every turn. Luis commanded the stage, without the skin of a Macbeth or Galileo or Stanley Kowalski, or any of the other great roles he’s played, to cover himself. He was Luis, the simplest and most complicated character he could ever play.

Before we knew it, the reading was over, the free beer and wine was gone and the crowd had dispersed.

“The whole thing…none of it feels real,” said Luis, in the parking lot.

“It will tomorrow…maybe,” I said.

“Maybe. Alright, man, see you in LA.”


The next morning, I headed back to San Antonio to spend a few more days with my family. I-10 was fast, fast, fast. Truckers hogged the blacktop as they made out with smart phones. Black and white State Trooper vehicles lay beached on the side of the interstate like killer whales waiting for absent-minded seals. Every now and then there were multiple troopers around a car on the side of the road – it’s trunk open, the troopers searching the car as a Latino or white trash couple stood frozen with their heads down and 2 or 3 children holding their hands and crying. I would pass by these scenes within group of speeding 18-wheelers as if I were seeking protection within a school or some giant industrial-grade species of whale moving at the speed of Economy! and too big and stong for the little Orca troopers to catch in open water.

I got back to my mom’s house, walked in to find my 7-month old niece, Arabella Rose, sitting on the floor, staring up at me. She stared at me the entire time I was there. She’d smile, wave her hands like a bird, shout, cry, burp all over one pastel blue or pink or white jumpsuit after another, smile again, etc…always staring.


She does not like peas.

“It’s because you’re new,” my sister said.

“I was here just two months ago,” I replied.

“That may as well been 10 years ago to her little mind. To her, today, you’re brand new.”

Be well…

Storm Worlds

Hello Everybody,

A while back, I was walking up to Food-4-Less at Sunset and Western Boulevards where a bum was being ushered out of the underground parking lot by an employee. The old black, gray-haired bum didn’t give the employee any flack, and the employee appeared sorry to have to oust the old man into biting elements Wild Hollywood.


“Don’t you have anybody,” the young clerk asked, “a family member who’ll put you up?”

The old bum walked ahead of the clerk, slow, hunched shoulders, his jaundiced eyes wide and blank. “Naw’all families what’s left i’back in Texas.”

“Sorry, man, but-”

“Izz alright…I’ll be gon’ now.”

The old bum lifted on foot in front of the other slowly like he was a character in a butoh or kabuki play. The employee followed just long enough to be certain the bum wouldn’t sneak back into the parking garage. But the old bum looked to have already forgotten he’d been in the garage, already forgotten Food-4-Less on Sunset and Western, already forgotten Hollywood. One foot…then another foot…eyes forward…

Friday morning, I awoke to the steady fall of rain. The blinds on my window were shaded in a green-gray hue, much different from the usual orange-yellow that was most mornings. There was usually a soundtrack of chirping birds, too. Of course, no birds came with the sound of rain, but at about 7am, the siren’s began. For the next hour or so, one siren after another screamed down the boulevards, sounds of cars skidding and symphony of horns produced a cadence underneath the emergency vehicles. I could see the skidding cars on the wet streets in my mind. For two days, LA had been in the grips of STORMWATCH ’14 – a collective warning by the local weatherpersons about the oncoming rains which were sure to severely compromise driving conditions. It’s beyond cliche that LA motorists can’t handle driving in rain…

20140130_122817-1“Yeah, it’s ridiculous,” said my friend John, as he pulled a sharp U-turn on Hollywood Boulevard, later that day, as we sped through Hollywood. “But you gotta keep in mind, when it rains out here…mountains crumble. The world falls apart, bro. Like reality dissolves.”

After hanging out with John, I went to a cafe where I ran into “M”. M had been in and out of homelessness most of last year, but seemed to be getting back in the groove this year. He’d gotten his old job back as a scenic carpenter, got a phone, new clothes, etc. But every now and then I go several weeks without seeing him and I’d begin to worry. Friday marked the end of one of those “several of week’s.”

“I’m alright,” M told me, then she shook his head, “well, no, I’m not alright. My demons came back to me a few weeks ago. They wouldn’t leave so two nights ago I broke into a construction site, tide a rope to a scaffolding and to my neck and jumped. But the rope broke and I fell…only hung for about 3 seconds then I hit the ground. I just laid there on the ground, saying, “why am I still alive, God? Why?”

“How are you doing right now?” I asked.

“Better than I was two days ago. But I still don’t know why I’m still alive.” He was leaning on a parking meter, looking out across Vine St. It wasn’t raining, but the air was wet, cool. “Maybe there’s a reason, you know…”

The rain picked up in the evening and fell through Saturday morning. By the light of the green-blue window, I worked on my friend, Luis’ book that I’m editing…

***ELECTRIC RATS IN A NEON GUTTER: POEMS, SONGS and STORIES by Luis Galindo goes on sale MARCH 10th!!!! Support independent publishing and order a copy! (Psst…if you want, you can already purchase the ebook on AMAZON HERE or on Barnes and Noble NOOK HERE!!!***

***And…keep your eyes peeled for a compilation of El Jamberoo posts in book form! Details forthcoming so stay tuned!***

On sale March 10th! (Or get an ecopy now on or

On sale March 10th! (Or get an ecopy now on or

I thought about that old Texas bum that I saw at Food-4-Less Saturday morning. I thought of M, too, who was out there somewhere – under an awning of a coffee shop or liquor store, but maybe not. Maybe he’s just out in the rain along that long winding, painful road from Texas to Hollywood…that long winding, painful road from anywhere, where there’s no signposts of what’s ahead, where there’s drugs and alcohol and crime or nothing really too terrible at all but for some reason there’s still divorces or estrangement from family, firings from jobs, car wrecks and sickness and money never seems to comes in steadily, where the things you wanted and may have even needed are skylighted upon the horizons to the North or South as you continue to head West. You swore when you set out that you’d head in the direction of those things…swore aloud…but for some reason they’re off to the side…or worse…directly behind you, and you can’t recall for the life of you that you passed them by.

I finished work on the book and ok’d it for printing and online sales. By then the rain had stopped. The orange-yellow hue and bird chirps were back, so I put on my boots and headed to the Home Depot down the street to price materials for an estimate on a rabbit cage I was to build next week.

As I was approaching the hardware store, I saw a man standing out front of the Hollywood Star Inn. As I got closer, the man looked familiar, like…

“Bob Hawk?”

The man had been squinting at me, as if trying to figure out if he knew me, too.

“Oh my God, Todd Pate!”


I knew Bob back in New York. For years, I worked at a box office in the Theatre District in Midtown Manhattan. Bob came to all the shows there. We struck up a relationship and when I started getting my own plays produced…

“You know I saw everything you ever wrote.” He said, always said, every time he saw me. “You know, Todd, some of your plays were really out there…but I always sensed you were approaching some kind of edge with them, purposely, like you were seeking something on the edge. They were very exciting , even if some were…” He made a waving sign with his hand. “…really out there. But you were always looking for something…”

Once upon a time...

Once upon a time…

I was waiting for him to tell me more about this Edge, because it sounded like only a brilliant, dynamic, powerful…etc…kind of writer could reach that kind of Edge. I’d been working on Luis’ writing all morning, I wanted…no, needed to hear about how my writing goes to this Edge, that takes people to this Edge that, and how I may be the only writer in the history of Man who can take you to this Edge…

…but one sprinkle led to another and then the rain came and Bob Hawk and I ran under the awning of the Hollywood Star Inn. By the time he shook off the drops, Bob had changed subjects.

“So I’m out here for some work,” he said, ‘but I thought, if I need to be out here in LA, I’m staying a week. And I don’t care about the rain! It’s better than the cold in New York.!” A car pulled up, Bob’s ride. “Well, I gotta go.” He walked to the car, then turned around suddenly. “Oh, I’m not sure if you know, but that old building were all the bums hung out on 42nd and 9th, next to where you used to work. It’s gone. The whole corner’s completely torn down. It’s surrounded by the wooden fence but you can peek through the holes and see that they are building something new…probably a…” He held a hand high in the air. “…one of those big steel and glass things. But you can see the theatre clearly, and I think of you every time I go down there.”

Bob got in the car, they drove off. I headed toward the Home Depot. The rain was falling hard. The hardware store blurry as I approached it, as if I was crossing through a waterfall separating two worlds…into a world where I was a builder of rabbit cages. coming from a world where I was a writer approaching that Edge, the Edge. No…Bob Hawk and New York seemed more than one world ago. Way back behind me, several storms ago.

On my way back, I had to go to the bank and get rent money. Halfway there, as I walked down Hollywood Blvd, the rain fell the hardest it had yet. The roar of water falling and flowing drowned out all other sounds. Cars silently skidded at red lights, plowed through the huge stream of water that overtook the street – flowing down, to the west, taking the city to the ocean. Bums huddled under awnings, people ran down side streets with inverted umbrellas. I walked, soaking wet, too wet to run anywhere. The damage had been done. I strolled to the bank, pulled out the money, cursing my roommate for having the gall to charge me rent every month. The heavy rain continued on my way home. Thunder echoed every now and then. Well whaddya know,” I thought, “this really is a storm.”

By Sunday afternoon, the rains were gone. The sun made more than one appearance during the day. By evening, the city was clean and pleasant, like it just stepped out of a bath tub. The view of Mount Hollywood and the Observatory was unimpeded by smog or haze. The air was cool. I walked over to my friend’s house to get the keys to his car, so I could pick up his car in the morning, and get materials for the rabbit hutch on Monday morning. It was nighttime when I began my walk back home, I came upon a bum sitting at a bus bench on Hollywood Blvd. I smelled the alcohol from several yards out, before I could see him well. Over and over he’d let out something like a sneeze that he finished with a, “f#$k you…ah, ah, ah choo f#$K you! Ah, ah, ah choo f#$k you!…”

20140301_184242When he got all those out of his system, he resorted to traditional drunken babble. A car passed by and it’s headlights gave me a clear view of the bum. His clothes were damp and soiled. He was about fifty, bearded and nearly toothless. He also had two pair of handcuffs around his neck, worn like necklaces. I walked passed him, and moment later he came down with another case of the “ah choo f#$k you’s.” I turned around and watched him, just thinking that he’s not waiting for a bus. He’s just sitting there, sneezing and cursing. How did fifty or so years get him there? I walked on and he faded from my ears. The city was quiet, except for the coming and going of cars. They’d rush up, I feel their lights on my face, and they’d rush off. Then the dark and quiet again.

I’m ending this blog with that. Maybe there’s a little more to write, maybe not. But I have to get out the door and start building this rabbit cage. The window is yellow-orange and there are birds, even a lawn mower. It’s not a bad world out there today. One that’s pretty to look at, maybe. Pretty enough to keep from looking at the worlds ahead or behind, anyway…maybe.

Be well…

The Reward

Hello Everybody…

Surely some kind of metaphor.

Surely some kind of metaphor.

A couple of weeks ago, my buddy, Scott, asked if I would build a chest-of-drawers designed to fit into a specific space in his house.

“Sure,” I said. Then I drove out to his house in Pasadena, took measurements.

“Oh,” said Scott. “Make sure you take the measurements of the doorways and hallways. I had something built for me one time and the builder couldn’t fit it in the house!”

I took the measurements of all the doorways and the hallway, then Scott bought me lunch and as we ate I sketched out a design to his liking – just within all the measurements taken. Then I gave him an estimate.

“Sounds great,” Scott said. We went back to his house and he cut a check, handed it to me. “See you in a couple of weeks.”

Well I sought gold and diamond rings

My own drug to ease the pain that living brings

Walked from the mountain to the valley floor

Searching for my beautiful reward

Searching for my beautiful reward

(Lyrics from My Beautiful Reward, by Bruce Springsteen)

20140209_142912A few minutes later, I waited at a red light, peering through the heat waves that made the San Gabriel Mountains dance before me. Hmm, I’ve already been paid for the job. I rarely get paid-in-full before building. The check swelled in my wallet, made me sit lopsided. When I got to Hollywood, I went to the bank and deposited the heavy, bulbous check – a process which felt very weird, disrupting the flow of my blue-collar blood. The as-of-yet unearned money also felt weird to spend, the following week. But I spent it nonetheless. I was low on money and I had bills to pay.

From a house on a hill a sacred light shines

I walk through these rooms but none of them are mine

Down empty hallways I went from door to door

Searching for my beautiful reward

Searching for my beautiful reward

The next weekend, I bought oak plywood and took my time cutting out all the pieces of the chest-of drawers. After the last cut, I stood back and viewed all the individual pieces. I hope it all fits togetherIt will…trust the math.

Tuesday, I began assembling the drawers, making sure all the pieces matched up perfectly. If they didn’t, I took them apart, shaved a little of wood here and there with my wood file until I had a fine fit. Next, I sanded and stained the drawers. Ah, look at those beautiful drawers…cough. I cleared my throat, certain it was merely sawdust. Then I coughed again. Then another cough. A lingering tickle remained in my throat the rest of the night. When I awoke the next morning, I was caught in the grips of a full-on cold.

20140211_155323By Thursday, the cold was raging. My progress slowed as I began assembling the main structure of the chest-of-drawers. I couldn’t find the rhythm that led me to Zen Mode. There was much starting, stopping, and the project remained work. There was no harmony. Everything was a distraction…

…the mailman, the couple next door fighting, the couple next door having sex, the bubbling of hot grease and smell of fried food in the late afternoon, Spanish language, rap music, Tejano music, the car horns and squealing tires of rush hour…

…just as the first patrol of police helicopters hovered over Hollywood on Friday evening, I stood back and surveyed the chest-of-drawers. The piece of furniture seemed much larger than my measurements. I took out my tape measure, double checked the length, width and volume. It should fit, but it looks so huge. I imagined carrying the piece into Scott’s house, through the front door, into the hallway, rounding the corner into…what?…rounding the corner into…uh, oh…rounding the corner. I neglected to take the measurements of a corner from one hallway to another hallway that led into the room where the piece would live. But if it fits through all the hallways and doorways, then, theoretically, it should round the corner. Trust the math.

Trust. I’ve learned to trust over the last several years, but it still is one of the harder attributes I’ve had to practice. Doubt sprung from deep down in the well that the piece would, indeed, round the corner. Trust the math. Trust the math. Trust…cough, cough, cough. Oh, f#$k it. Just do a good job. At this point, you can undo anything. I went inside the bungalow and heated up some quinoa and forced myself to eat it.

20140213_161310Serrano peppers, cilantro, garlic, onions, you should be very tasty, but I can’t taste you, I mused as I shoveled forkfuls of the quinoa pilaf into my mouth. My nose ran and I sneezed, coughed. Night had fallen and the view out the window was black night accompanied only by soft Hollywood noise. The kitchen light painted sharp yellow over the dishes in the dish rack, the stove, refrigerator and my forearms. Groceries, bills, parking tickets, etc. My money’s spent. I relocated the remaining pile of quinoa from one side of the plate to another. And I’ve already been paid. There’s no money at the end of the job. No reward. I got up and scratched the uneaten quinoa into the trash, washed the plate. What if it doesn’t fit. WHAT IF IT DOESN’T FIT, TODD?! I switched off the kitchen light and made my way down the hallway, imagining pushing the chest-of-drawers down it. How can I keep living this way, I thought. With no security, from job to job, jumping from one lily pad to the next, with no idea where the next lily pad lay. I turned on the light to my room. Stop looking at the Big Bad Future, Todd. Just do a good job.

Well your hair shone in the sun

I was so high I was the lucky one

Then I came crashing down like a drunk on a barroom floor

Searching for my beautiful reward

Searching for my beautiful reward

I spent Saturday sealing all the pieces with polyurethane. As I waited for the first coat to dry, I set my alarm for 20 minutes and tried to take a nap. I was tired from coughing. But when I lay down, I couldn’t doze off, so I lay there with my eyes open…

…and watched my life passed before my eyes. Still frames from childhood to Now, as if someone were turning the pages of a family album in front of me. I saw things I did do, things I didn’t. My chest cavity sounded like a tire rolling over loose gravel, every time I exhaled. I’m hollow. There’s just a few pebbles inside. Hmm…I haven’t written a blog for a couple of weeks. I’m bereft of anything to say. I’m done writing. The room began to glow a bit, a little brighter at the apex of each inhale. What am I if I never write again? Cough, cough. My vision faded in and out. What if this is it? What if I died, right now? What if everything gently fades out for good? How do I feel about that? Am I satisfied? Am I satisfied, Todd? I…I…I think I…The alarm went off. The photo album slammed shut. I got up and went back to work.

20140215_191318I finished the job just as the sun was setting on Saturday. The rich, shiny wood shone in the golden light. A strong, beautiful piece of work. I built this? When did I do a thing like that? I put a blanket over it, cleaned up, took my tools inside, then I went out for some ice cream.

As I walked back to my bungalow, East Hollywood felt like a foreign land. People walked different, as if gravity were stronger or weaker than it had been the on Friday. The sound of cars motoring down the boulevard rang in the key of F-Sharp instead of F. The air hit my skin in a way I’d never felt before. A weeks old pile of human feces that’d stood just outside of the entrance to an open lot had mysteriously disappeared. The “L” in the neon sign of the Hollywood Premiere Motel had been repaired. For months, it read, Hollywood Premiere Mote. But now the “olly” in Hollywood was burned out, so the sign now read, H—-wood Premeire Motel. I walked toward the marquis as if I were navigating by stars. Or has it always been Motel, not Mote, and H—-wood, instead of Hollywood? Am I the foreigner? Was the pile of shit never here?

Tonight I can feel the cold wind at my back

I’m flyin’ high over gray fields my feathers long and black

Down along the river’s silent edge I soar

Searching for my beautiful reward

Searching for my beautiful reward

20140215_173955On Sunday, I delivered the chest-of-drawers to Scott’s house. My palms sweated in anticipation of maneuvering the piece around the curve in the hallway. I coughed, sneezed, my head pounded as I pushed, lifted and twisted…

…it fit just fine. I laughed in relief. Math is good, I said to myself. Math is pure, like string music, like supernovas. We should trust math.

Scott was very pleased with the final product. He also cut me another check for the extra time it took to build and for the extra materials I had to purchase. Then he tipped me generously. A nice, pretty, fat number graced the check. It felt good in my hands. But not as good as it felt sliding the chest-of-drawers around that corner.

“Thanks so much,” said Scott, as I left. “Hope you feel better soon.”

“I’m sure I will,” I said.

Be well…

I’ve Died There Before

Hello Everybody,

Last Tuesday, a new friend of mine, James, hired me to mount a large flat screen TV into a wall in his mancave – a separate building apart from his two-story house, next to the swimming pool in his backyard.

Stoned Glamour

Stoned Glamour

“I produce TV shows,” John told me, as we entered the cave – a home to several guitars, amplifiers, a drum set, stereo, computer and collections of cds and dvds. There was even a bed, just incase. “I love my wife and kids, but you know…” He held a hammer and pointed it a wall. “How ‘bout there?”

“Sure, that works, or maybe over-”

He started hammering holes in the wall.

“Yep, right there’s great.”

James was facing a deadline on his latest project, so he handed me the hammer.

“I much rather help you,” he said. “I don’t even want to do the project. But, it’s money, you know.”

I cut out the drywall around the hole to make a nice square, then sawed out the exposed studs of the wall. As I was sawing through the last stud, I ran an exposed nail deep into my left forearm. I stopped to watch the blood drip from my arm, thinking, Just when was that last tetanus shot? It’d been a lot longer than I’d wanted it to be, so I did the next best thing – washed out the wound with soap and water then pretended it never happened. Then I built a frame inside the wall in which to anchor the TV.

“It’s lookin’ good, man,” James said, poking his head inthe door. “Listen, I gotta drop my wife off at the airport. Here’s the keys to the Benz, go get whatever you need to at the hardware store.”

“Cool, how’s the project going?”

“Already finished it. It’s crazy, man. They’re gonna pay $10,000 for 2 hours of work today, and one easy day of shooting next week. That easy and I still don’t wanna do it? I gotta wife, two beautiful little girls and a job I love but all I really wanna do is get high and live in my head, all alone in this little room. You know, kiss everything goodbye just to do that…or go to Jumbo’s Clown Room and hang our with the nitwits…it’s f$%king ridiculous.”

Neon Scream

Neon Scream

That night, while walking down Hollywood Boulevard, I came upon a bum at the bus stop at Normandie Street. He held a rotting pumpkin close to his chest, digging inside it with one hand and throwing the green-gray contents onto the sidewalk.

“Damn, it’s the only pumpkin I have left!” He exclaimed with deep pathos. “The only one…the only damn one, dammit.”

There was nothing strange about this scene, within the context of The Hollywood Night. The strange thing was that it was barely 7pm. Daylight Savings Time ended the weekend before. On the previous Tuesday at this time, there was at least a hint of indigo in the sky. But this Tuesday’s 7pm sky was black, with the exception of a few stars and an apricot-tinted sliver of the harvest moon. Moisture from the cool night air shimmered on the street. Neon and halogen lights of storefronts belted visual screams that pieced the air like shrieks from a litter of premature babies. Outside Jumbo’s Clown Room, pretty girls smoked cigarettes as they shivered in their f#$k me clothes, like always, except now jackets were draped over their shoulders. Jackets? Really? Then it dawned on me – as the pumpkin digging bum’s lament faded behind me – that, damn, I’m wearing a jacket, too. What, when…Summer was so far away by Tuesday night, like an old memory that changes a bit here and there, gradually, the deeper it drifts into the past…then BAM…one day the memory is nothing it once was…and things you once swore had happened never even happened at all…you find yourself older, but with a new past. The cut my arm had grown red and puffy, I’d gently rub it, put pressure on it. Tetanus, tetanus, tetanus…

The next day, I went over to Jame’s and finished up the job.

“How was your night?” I asked him.

“It was great,” He answered. “Took the girls to soccer practice and just goofed around with them until they went to bed. Then I sat around and thought about getting high but didn’t.”

Friday, I spent the entire day recording a version of Early In The Mornin’, an old prison work song, for a friend’s web series. The hours disintegrated as I recorded one vocal track after another. The song required many vocals coming in on top of each other, like a chant. I’d record, listen, record, listen, etc, filling in the blank spaces with more tracks of my voice. It was quite a surreal experience, hearing that many versions of my voice singing over each other. By the evening, I envisioned several Me’s on a chain gang outside the high stone walls of a prison somewhere. The Me’s voices rose and fell like ocean waves…coming together on certain phrases, then echoing off and away from each other. Several Me’s…all down the line, condemned to swing an ax for eternity.

After I finished recording, I ventured into The Hollywood Night again. The harvest moon had waxed nearly to half, glowing fiery orange. There was the crowd of ladies outside of Jumbo’s – leather jackets, high heels, short skirts, skinny, giggly, stoned and glamorous. At Normandie Street, the pumpkin man was gone, but another street babbler had taken his place. A minimalist, this man mumbled quietly about “Mother” as he paced back and forth, running his hand along the back of the bench. The wound on my arm was producing a low constant itch and I had to keep myself from reaching up under my jacket sleeve and scratching it. My jacket…that night, everyone on the street wore a jacket. Were we ever not wearing jackets? Tetanus…

no caption

no caption

On Saturday, I headed over to a favorite cafe of mine, on Vine Street. During the summer, I hung out with “M”, a homeless man, there. It’d been a month since I’d last seen him, after he’d just gotten a job and phone and things were looking up for him. For a while, I received texts from him every morning, around 5am, before he left to go to work. Then the texts stopped and I stopped seeing him around. But he was back at the cafe on Saturday, wearing only one shoe.

“I was hit by a car,” M told me. “Down by 7th and Spring. They had to call an ambulance and take me to the hospital. I can’t put a shoe on this foot yet, but It’s gettin’ better. The thing was, though, the hospital gave me pain meds. Shoot, I was off to the races and the next the I know was I was in detox. The phone, my clothes…all gone. I’m having a hard time focusing and can’t stay still for very long, but they said that should clear up when everything’s completely out of my system.”

It just so happened that Saturday was my 7th anniversary of being sober. I told M that I’d had a lot of drunk dreams over the last few weeks, leading up to Saturday. M cringed and shook his head. These dreams are common for alcoholics once they try to get sober. Mine have always been more or less the same…

…I suddenly find myself drinking somewhere. At first, I’m shocked and scared, but then I realize that I’ve been drinking all along. Everybody knows I’m still drinking, and I know everybody knows. But I’m too afraid to tell anybody the truth, so I sit, drinking as much as I can, just waiting for someone to walk in and catch me, so I won’t have to pretend anymore…

These dreams never fail to wake me, and I’ll spend several moments overcome with shame, guilt, anxiety and some darker emotion that has no name. Then I’ll notice the gray light coming through the window blinds or the flashing lights of the modem, Reality gradually surrounds me, and I’m sober again.


Border of Heaven

But part of me believes those dreams are also a reality, and that there are multiple realities, as if every decision I’ve ever made had split my existence into different directions. Maybe another Me never got sober. Maybe another me falls off the wagon over and over. Maybe there are countless Me’s Out There. Maybe it is in dreams that all of these Me’s come together, check in with each other, give each other glimpses down the roads we didn’t take. Maybe another James put his little girls to bed, got high in his mancave, then ventured over to Jumbo’s and went home with a high-heeled regret. Maybe another M got out of the way of the car, or maybe he was killed. Maybe I died too, lonely and drunk in New York City. Maybe we all have…at least once.

Like it never happened at all...

Like it never happened at all…

I said goodby to M and walked home along Hollywood Boulevard. The sun burned down in the West, shooting pink and baby blue streaks across the sky. I became incredibly moved by the way the silhouettes of Hollywood’s palm trees, billboards, mountains and buildings created bottom of the sky – a pure, necessary and simple border of Heaven. I then tilted my gaze a few degrees downward. The city instantly regained its dimension and detail, and I sensed the onrushing despair of The Hollywood Night. But there was even something moving about that. The city’s despair was connected to Saturday’s beautiful sunset by a sweet and heartbreakingly thin tether. I looked down at my arm. The redness and puffiness was gone. Only a dried scab remained, itching slightly. Maybe another Me had to have his arm amputated. I’ll have to wait to find that out in a dream. But in this reality, I was healing just fine.

Be well…

All There Is

Hello Everybody,

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.

Behind the morning.

Behind the morning.

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.

The WInd must’ve got it up there.

THE WIND must’ve got it up there.

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.

Pasadena, California.

Pasadena, California.

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.

Old rotten deck.

Old rotten deck.

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.

No deck. Stay tuned...

No deck. Next week, new deck? Stay tuned…

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.

It’s good to be back...

It’s good to be back…

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.

Be well…