It was well into the afternoon on July 4th. Two old Russian men jibbered away in their foreign toungue as they slammed dominos on a table, just outside our window. Spanish could be heard every now and then down the street. Andre – Luis’ roommate – was finishing up his plate of tacos. Luis and I were staring blankly into our empty plates. The impending food coma had set upon us like spider venom. Soon, we would succomb, spun tight in La Siesta’s web. Andre never rushed through his meal like Luis and I. He’s half French.
The tacos were from Luis and Andre’s neighbor, Edith. Earlier in the day, Luis and I built a ramp to the back door of her family’s bungalow, so her husband – Miguel – could get in and out of the house in his wheelchair.
“Broke his back,” Luis told me. “And an arm, a leg. He got messed up bad. And he’s undocumented. His boss’ insurance wouldn’t touch him. It’s bad, man.”
Andre had one, slow taco left. I leaned back in the chair – eyes still on my empty plate – and felt something closer to real content than I’d felt in a long time. I wish I could tell you that I wake up everyday looking for ways to help people, but I don’t. However, the only other option for me on Independence Day was to sit on the couch in my pajamas with my laptop, travel the whole wide virtual world for hours and drink, drink, drink coffee until the isolation hardened and I could no longer fend off the harbingers of self-loathing who would then whisk me away to the Real Dark Space. I’ve been to that space many times. It’s totally empty – always – until a drunk, pill-addled Tennessee Williams magically POOFS!!! in front of me and whispers his brilliant words over and over, Hell is yourself and the only redemption is when a person puts himself aside to feel deeply for another person. I didn’t want to go to hell on The Fourth of July, so when Luis told me about Miguel’s situation, it was easy to say yes, let’s build a ramp. So Luis and I walked to Sunset Boulevard, passed the bums preparing for The Fourth outside Bill’s Liqour, through the packs of trajabaderos shooting dice and waiting for someone to point to them and say ¡andale! outside the Home Depot. Inside the Home Depot, we got some lumber. In no time we cut up the lumber and Whahlah! – ramp. When Andre got there, the three of us set it in place at Edith and Miguel’s door. It was all so very easy, and we got a free meal to boot.
The whole day had EASY written all over it. There were some plans – the beach, watch the big fireworks over the water, a bbq – but they just didn’t happen, and we didn’t mind. Moments later, I dozed in La Siesta’s web as the intermittent pops and whizzes of illegal fireworks echoed throughout East Hollywood.
I awoke in the early evening. The sun came into the bungalow sideways and dark yellow. The pops and whizzes had multiplied by a substantial factor. Andre texted that he and his girlfriend, Charity, were going to Barnsdall Park – just down Hollywood Boulevard – for a picnic. When Luis woke up, he and I, along with Luis’ other neighbor – who would rather me not use his real name, so I will refer to him as The Great Warrior – joined them just after sunset. As we got into The Great Warrior’s pick-up, a rocket whizzed down the street.
“It’s gonna get crazy in the neighborhood tonight,” said The Great Warrior, a longtime resident of East Hollywood. “I don’t know where they get the fireworks, but they get a lot of ’em, man.”
We found Andre and Charity at the park. Our friend Karen – plus an old friend of hers – joined us to complete the party. Barnsdall Park lay atop a hill, offered a great view of the city below. Other people were there – picnic-ing, frizzby-ing, dog-ing, or just laying around drinking. It was a cool mellow vibe. After the sun disappeared beyond the Hollywood sign, the sky burst into a brilliant apricot tone. The tips of the city’s palm trees just touched the sky. The Griffith Observatory glowed on top of one of the hills, like the head of a robot who’d been buried up to the neck.
“Todd, do you want some pate?” asked Andre, as he handed me a cracker covered in brown stuff. I’d never tried pate, so I took a chance. I wasn’t crazy about it. “It’s basically pork fat, salt, pepper, some other stuff,” said Andre. “I had to smuggle it back from France. It’s illegal here.” Despite my lack of zeal for the stuff, I pondered its aftertaste in hopes to form a question in which to ask Andre, in regards to the specifics of its illegality -it seemed like harmless goo. But when the question reached the tip of my tongue, fireworks began erupting all over town, and asking the question then seemed like a slight act of treason.
First, there were little bursts all over the city – Hollywood, Culver City, mid-city, downtown, way out at Marina Del Rey. The explosions would die down, then come back with more intensity. Concussion blasts echoed as if recorded on a loop, bouncing off the mountains surrounding Los Angeles. Smoke flowed over the city as the sky went from light blue to dark blue to black. Hollywood’s underground street-level fireworks show began to escalate, too. Roman candles zipped down streets, back and forth – rockets blasted off the roofs of apartment complexes. Sirens, flashing emergency lights. And more and more, the city’s legit firework displays grew larger and more elaborate. All atop Barnsdall Park ooh-ed and aah-ed, collectively.
“I feel like we’re the Gentry watching a Civil War battle,” said The Great Warrior.
I didn’t. I felt as if I was tuned into CNN on a giant holographic TV – watching footage of a pre-emptive strike somewhere, far removed from any danger, but able to watch it all unfold during prime time. Bombs and missles rained down – curiously missing their “targets” yet always finding the peasants who aren’t even represented by their country although they literally break their backs to build it’s infrastructure in which the more fortunate and represented classes are free do their Stuff and Things. Then the whole scene turned further into an Orwellian direction, because it was clear to see – from so far away – the bombed country was, in fact, dropping the bombs. But instead of revolting at such madness, everybody was celebrating, bombers and bombed alike.
“GOD BLESS AMERICA,” shouted a drunk man, bringing me back from this Dystopia. He’d stood up on his blanket to make the statement. His gangly swaying silhouette dangled like a marrionette in front of the exploding sky. “GOD BLESS THE USA AND GOD BLESS JESUS CHRIST!” Then the Almighty Puppet Master cut his strings and he fell to his blanket.
Dark clouds rolled in from the ocean. They were illuminated in eerie greens, blues, reds, yellows, pinks, purples as the fireworks exploded, like there was some kind of whacky lightening circus storm rolling in from Japan. But minutes later – around 9:30pm – the main fireworks died down and people began to leave the park. The Celebration was over, but as The Great Warrior walked back to his truck, it was easy to see The Bombing of Hollywood was really just getting started, with no end in sight. Whiz, band, pop! The neighborhood was at war. A short time later, The Great Warrior drove us slowly, carefully down Hollywood Boulevard. Hollywood seemed dark and desolate on the surface – the explosions only happening on the periphery – like the eye of a stom. But when The Great Warrior almost hit two ladies crossing Serrano Street and we screeched to a halt, I was relieved, not only because we didn’t run them over but also because they proved Life did, indeed, go on as best it could despite the chaos of war. The women merely looked at us like we were idiots and continued walking.
A huge blast went off just above us as we got out of the truck, shaking the windows of the bungalows.
“It’s great, man,” said The Great Warrior, laughing. “They just don’t give a f$%k around here. And, there’s not enough cops to do a damn thing about it.”
Moments later, I lay in bed, enshrouded by a Symphony of Anarchy – explosions, echoes of exposions, sirens, car alarms, barking dogs, Spanish and laughter – until I floated away from the war ravaged land and to the Dreamscape.
I washed clothes at the laundromat the next day amidst a score of Mexican-American ladies. Each woman had an impossible mountain of clothes to wash. I dumped my one bag into a washer, turned around and saw Edith. She thanked me again, in the same slightly embarassed yet immensely grateful manner as she did the day before. I felt embarassed too, dumbly thanked her again for the tacos. The heat from the dryers wafted over us, dizzied me to the point that I left my body for a moment, and from that ephemeral position in the ether I was able to regard the scene clearly. There we were, both engaged in this weird dance of awkward bowing and hand motions and shuffling of the feet while she uttered gracias and I stuttered out thanks. I saw two people who’d done something for one another…and both felt grateful. Tacos for a ramp. Seems like a fair trade. But it wasn’t, not at all. All I did was put some wood together. Edith rescued me from Hell.
Tennessee POOFED!!! again. Floating in that laundromat like a drunk moss covered Southern Buddha, he took a big drag off his cigarette, smiled, then disappeared.