At Home In Forever

Hello Everybody,

Last week, I built a portable picnic table to be auctioned off at Independent Shakespeare Co’s “Vaudeville in the Park”, the company’s annual fundraiser for their summer productions in Griffith Park.

VaudevillePostcard-11-689x1024

Get tickets HERE!

I built the table out of scrap wood from previous ISC productions. A few cuts with a saw, some screws, some glue, some sanding and shellac-ing and VOILA!…a little table that folds up to the size of a briefcase. Unfold it and you and a few friends can sit around it, partaking of wine, cheese, little sausages, vegetables or tofu or whatever you desire, whilst taking in the love, laughter, pain and tears of a Shakespeare play. You can enjoy simple Existence in a park on a planet rocketing through a rapidly expanding Universe as the sunset, coyotes calling from the hills and the cool evening breeze rattling the leaves of the trees will make you believe that IT’s all moving much more slowly.

20140416_102357

Last Friday, I checked out ISC’s production of Romeo and Juliet in the company’s studio space in Atwater Village. Only 8 actors were tasked with bringing to life the soaring melodrama of Romeo and Juliet, which they do so to great effect, effortlessly changing into other characters – donning a mustache here, a hat there – in between dancing, masquerading, falling in love, joking around, duelling, getting stabbed, getting married, getting stabbed some more and getting poisoned on a set constructed from the remnants of the set I built for last summer’s Shakespeare festival. Over the last year, the set has served as Scotland for Macbeth, the English countryside for She Stoops To Conquer, the Forest of Arden in As You Like It, Paris for Cyrano de Bergerac, and now Verona for Shakespeare’s timeless tail of underage love.

20140416_103128A utility ladder served as the balcony where Juliet famously asks the stars, wherefore art my Romeo? For that moment, I believed the ladder was a balcony. Romeo answered her from across the studio on little wooden bench which serves as a convincing tree. Little cut-out starts hung between the two teenagers to serve as the cosmos. Eternity spanned between the ladder and the bench, and the two lovers had so much hope in their eyes I almost believed they’d really be able to reach across Space and hold each other forever. But the gravity of the hatred between their families proved too strong, and the star-crossed lovers ultimately fell to an Earth. Romeo ends up poisoning himself, Juliet stabbing herself over her dead starlover’s body on the bench that used to be a tree, now serving as a crypt. A few scenes before it served as the honeymoon bed, on which the two stars collided, pawed at each other with so much sweet lust. But that happy scene felt like it never happened by the time the two dead children were carried offstage and their parents were left to live with the consequences of their rivalry…or former rivalry, for the two fathers looked to be void of hatred at the end, in fact, void of anything. They walked offstage together, two black holes caught in each other’s gravity for eternity.

My friend, Erica, wonderfully portrayed Juliet. After the show the following Sunday afternoon, I went over to her studio apartment in Burbank to build a divider wall.

R-J-2-short

Get tickets HERE!

“I have family coming to visit” she said. “I wanna break the space up just enough to be able to say, here is where we eat and where I sleep and here is the living room. It’s a teeny tiny place, but it’d be nice to feel that my home isn’t just one room, you know?”

Erica’s boyfriend Kevin – also performing in Romeo and Juliet – and I built the wall in Erica’s parking spot. Troy, the apartment superintendent, was repairing the railing on the second floor balcony of complex.

“Did Erica tell you, bro,” he said, after he finished working, “Erica locked herself out the other day, so I crawled up into her window to let her in…and some f#$king tenant, I don’t know who…yet…filed a complaint.” He was rolling up an extension cord, jerking the cord down the stairs. He had black paint all over his face and hands, clothes. “F#$king making this place nicer for people to live in, bro, and somebody does that? Shit…I don’t even wanna be here. I’m really an underwater welder. $80 and hour. But I got in a car wreck and ended up with this…” he lifted up a pant leg to reveal an artificial leg. “That’s the only reason I’m here.” He finished rolling up the extension cord and walked off, but seconds later he came back. “I mean that’s bullshit, right? Treating me like I’m some f#$king creep? F#$king right it’s bullshit, bro. You know, I can dive no problem with one leg, but shit…they won’t even let me drive.” Erica came down to see how we were doing. “He Erica?” Troy asked. “Can you give me a ride to the Red Line?”

Erica took Troy to the subway. By the time she was back, Kevin and I finished the wall. We carried it up the stairs, twisted and turned it until we got it in the tiny apartment. After a few adjustments, I mounted it to the ceiling and…BAM!…Erica had a wall in her home. The three of us squeezed into corner by the front door to get the best view of the place.

20140413_214154“Now it looks like I really have a bedroom! Kinda…” She said as she hopped over by the love seat that serves as a couch. “See,” she pointed throughout the room, “Eat there, sleep there, live here!”

A few days later, I hung out with my friend, Sean – also a friend of Erica’s and Kevin’s and member of ISC. A few months ago, he and his girlfriend found out they were going to have a baby.

“Granted…” Sean raised his eyebrows, cocked his head to the side, “…I’m not giving birth, but I’ve only felt a great sense of calm and love, since we found out. Where we’re gonna have the baby…they’re big believers on skin on skin as quick as possible. Like the baby comes out, and I open my shirt, and they put it him or her right on me, blood and all. They said bring an extra shirt. I can’t wait.” He raised his eyebrows, cocked his head again. “But four people were let go at work a while back, without notice. There’s not a great feeling of security right now. There never has been, really. I’ve always felt like any moment I’ll be let go, but now,” eyebrows, head shake, “you know, I…”

“I was let go by the restaurant,” my friend, Jason, told me, the next day as we drove around Hollywood. His four-month old daughter, Vivienne, sat in a car seat in the back – crying when we stopped, quiet when we moved. “I mean, I only took it because I had to travel so much with my other job. I thought I’d be nice to be home as much as possible, at least the first year of her life. It’s the first time I’d ever been fired from a job.” He pulled out his phone and began dialing a number on his phone. “I’m just gonna have to look in other directions to make money.” He looked in the rearview mirror. “She’s asleep.” He pulled over, slowly. “I gotta call my bank before it closes. My credit card was compromised and somebody in Connecticut’s been using it.”

Jason waited on hold for several minutes. By the time the customer service agent got back on the line, Vivienne had awoken, was crying. Jason told the agent what happened and the agent placed him on hold again. He resumed driving, Vivienne fell asleep.

“Oh,” he said, “did I tell you we almost moved?”

“No.”

“Yeah, to Echo Park. It was a real nice 2-bedroom. The owners liked us and everything. I was just about to call you to come help move. But they wanted way too much up front. For a week, though, we thought it was ours.” The customer came back on the line, and he pulled over. Vivienne cried. “Uh-huh…uh-huh…so, the bank is closed for the weekend, so…whoever’s got my card number can use it? Uh-huh…uh-huh…call another number?” Vivienne cried louder, Jason began to drive. “…alright, yeah, I guess. Give it to me and I’ll call them.” He quickly reached for a pen in the console, wrote the number on an envelope. “Thanks.” He hung up the phone. “Actually, it was a lot of stress and anxiety, hoping we’d get the place. I guess it worked out for the best. I don’t think we could’ve afforded it if we got it, anyway.”

20140419_135729I’d been looking for a new place to live, too (see the Jamberoo: Still Standing After The Great Shake) scouring the internet, walking around the neighborhood, calling any available apartment I saw. The rent in East Hollywood is skyrocketting, in perfect sync to the speed with which the Target Superstore on Sunset Boulevard is being constructed, which is in sync with the growing number of hipster bars, boutiques and cross-fit training gyms appearing on Hollywood Boulevard. A few months ago, I could afford quite a few places in the neighborhood. Now, most places were too expensive.

“The place was built in 1930,” said Patrick, the short, chubby superintendent of a bachelor-apartment building I inquired about. He sweated, panted as we rode up the tiny elevator together. “How many buildings you looked at with a elevator? But you’ll be using the stairs a good part of the time. Hey, it’s a elevator from 1930, it’s old, it breaks down.” We got out on the top floor and he led me into a tiny apartment. “One room, no kitchen except for the stove and fridge over there. Stand up shower, but hey, you get a great closet.”

The apartment was smaller than Erica’s. This is too small for me, I thought. And too damn small for the price they want! However, all I owned could fit in one corner of the closet. But what does it matter, if I can afford it? And I have all the room I need? And if I like the place, then…

“Listen, it’s Hollywoooooood,” Patrick said from across the tiny space. “This is a steal. You want it you can start now. But listen, I don’t want any bullshit, you know. You’re clean, you’re quiet, then we’ll get along. But you gimme bullshit…hey…I been a actor for 19 years, I’ll give you bullshit right back. So…it’s $125 to apply which, you know, I already like ya…and $900 a month plus all utilities, $500 deposit…”

…I could walk across the entire space in three good steps, my own little room in the world…

“For that you get a quaint, classy, classic place to live. This is Old Hollywood, you know. And look, the carpet’s brand new.”

…my own little place to call home, with new carpet…

“Oh, and no co-signers. I don’t deal with that bullshit.”

Damn.

20140410_184025-1I decided I would not get an apartment until the end of the summer, when I’ll have more money. Where’s your proof, Todd? What have you gathered from your life that convinces you there’ll be more money at the end of the summer? Till then, I’ll live in my car, since I’ll be traveling so much over the summer. Uh, what car, Todd?

For hours, I descended into internetland, hoping to find a low-cost vehicle that would get from place to place, in which I could store my belongings and on which I could load materials for jobs. Everything was A STEAL! that the owner was selling ONLY BECAUSE I NEED THE MONEY! that they HATE TO LET GO! that RUNS GOOD! but NEEDS JUST A LITTLE TLC! My eyes hurt as I hung suspended in the Paradox of Choice.

You are fooling yourself, Todd. You can’t afford a car either. No car?! No apartment?! Whadd’ya gonna do, Todd?! I looked away from the screen, cracked my fingers, then did what I usually do when I threaten myself with that question, I googled…

…jobs fishing boats Alaska…

But as much as I think I want to drift into obscurity in Arctic waters, I can’t do it right now. I have to be in New York in May to act in a film. I have to be back here in LA in June to build ISC’s set in Griffith Park. Then I’m in North Dakota for the month of July for an artist residency through the North Dakota Museum of Art. From there, I go to Chicago to act in a play. Then I’m back in LA at the end of August to strike the set for ISC. There’s simply no time for fishing.

20140418_183104My life has gotten real big and vibrant, with all kinds of cool shit to do. Friends keep popping out of thin air. Time flies these days and every now and when I grasp how fast IT’s all going, I quit being an individual and once again transform to stardust…my natural state. And stardust is eternal. I’m eternal. So are you. The settings change over and over and over, but IT goes on forever. And there’s always a ride, always a couch, out here in Eternity.

Be well…

The Real Stage

Hello Everybody,

Last Thursday, I went to Los Angeles’ City Hall to attend a meeting of the Cultural Heritage Commission. It was a cold wet morning for the city – 59˚ F with light rain. From every direction, Angelenos pitter-pattered hurriedly across puddles like wet cats, toward City Hall.

20131121_095450-1On the docket for the Cultural Heritage Commission was a review of the proposal for the building of a new, permanent performance stage on the grounds of the Old Zoo in Griffith Park. It was to be built on the exact same spot where Independent Shakespeare Company – an employer of mine – has performed for the last 4 years. I, along with several members and fans of ISC, attended the meeting to express my support for the new stage.

Those opposing the building of the stage first. Their argument was that mass groups of people would destroy the area and harm the wildlife around, that the area should remain a quiet, private urban wilderness for Angelenos to visit. Also, they argued that the Old Zoo was a part of LA’s history, and should be preserved and honored as hallowed ground.

Winter in Movietown

Winter in Movietown

At that point, I really wished animals could speak. I wanted a Zebra to trot up to the mic, clear his or her throat and say, “Preserve a Zoo?! Sacred? Historical? Are you f#$king kidding me?! Let the play actors and melody makers have their stage. Hell, build a hundred stages over any and all reminders of such pain and mistreatment placed upon we lesser mammals by you big-brained f#$k-ups.” The zebra takes a drink of water. “By the way…’PRIVATE urban wilderness’? Isn’t a public f#$king park? Isn’t shit like this a no-brainer?” The buzzer rings, the zebra’s alotted time to speak has expired. The zebra trots out of the chamber.

Several people supporting the proposal appealed to the commissioners. Most of them stated that such a performance space would further the cause to bring to the poorer masses entertainment of cultural importance – Shakespeare, classical music, etc – that they may not be able to afford to see in real theatres, opera houses, symphony halls. One supporter used the founder of the park, Griffith J Griffith’s own words to make such a statement:

It must be made a place of recreation and rest for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people. I consider it my obligation to make Los Angeles a happier, cleaner, and finer city.

Griffith J Griffith was not a member of the rank and file. He was a rich man of compromised repute. In 1903, he shot and nearly killed his wife, then served two years in prison for it. But in words and action, he advocated for a park that was to be home to all, especially the poor. And, hell, if the begetter of the park wanted to give the rank and file, those plain people, a place where they could relax, commune with other, and live free for at least an afternoon or evening before returning into a city where only toil and marginalization awaits  – well, shouldn’t it be so?

The president of the commission reminded both sides that the topic was only up for review and no voting would be done until another meeting in the future. He diplomatically stated he was all for art in the park but requested of the architects of the proposal to bring a detailed report of just what and how everything will be built, plus a report on the possible effects of the environment. Then that was it, they moved on to the next topic.

20131124_112918-1That night, I did my laundry. It was a cold, wet walk to laundromat. I usually go back the apartment while my clothes dry, but the laundromat’s dryers exuded a soothing, fuzzy warmth, so I sat on a bench, facing the folding tables – not reading, or smartphoning, just relaxing. There were several Mexican-Americans folding clothes in front of me – a man in work clothes, some mothers, children – not smiling, not frowning, just folding. They folded the garments steadily, without pause, like they were practicing some form of domestic tai-chi. They each appeared to have achieved a simple peace that evening, or at least looked like they weren’t looking too far into the future – short Spanish phrases to each other here and there, requiring no response. The tumbling dryers behind them looked like goofy, jiggling cartoon eyes. The man folded his underwear. The lady next to him held two corners of a sheet with both hands, her mija held the other two corners. They came together and the mother took all four corners and folded the sheet into an incredibly small square probably just like her madre, tias and her lovely old ‘uelas did.

I looked out the large window, behind me. The Persian family that ran the falafel joint sat at a table in front of the establishment. Business appeared to be slow but they looked content with just sitting there, bundled in their coats. They chain-smoked cigarettes as they talked, sat silent, talked again, sat silent again. The window was cold to the touch and my fingertips left little foggy prints. As I wiped them away with my shirtsleeve, the cold coming in from outside and the warmth from the dryers collided somewhere inside me and for a split second I dissolved into the ether. When I came back to form, I stated to myself, I’m Home. This moment is Home. I looked around, inside the laundromat and then outside. I saw no plain people anywhere. Only artists.

tick, tock, tick...tock...........tick.................

tick, tock, tick…tock………..tick……………..

The next day I walked up Western Blvd from Wilshire Blvd to Sunset Blvd – Koreatown to El Barrio de Hollywood. About halfway into the walk, the Mexican signage blended with the Korean signage on awnings of buildings constructed early on in the previous century. Along the waters of that cultural delta, I came upon a clock repair shop. I stood in the open doorway, stared into the profound emptiness the store. The old clocks on the wall may as well have been hieroglyphics dating back to antiquity. I was debating going further into the shop to see if I could witness the ancient craft of repairing a clock, when I heard piercing laughter behind me. Across the street at the Oriental Mission Church, a woman led a group of Black, Latino and Asian elementary kids into an entrance at the side of the church. The last three kids – Black male, Latino Male, Asian girl – laughed as they held hands and spun around.

These three kids were not the children of the rank and file, they were poets, articulating with their being their right to be happy, to live freely, wherever they are, whenever. Through this ode incarnate, they told me how simple Life really was:  All we have to do is hold onto each other as we spin around…there is absolutely nothing else to do.

At one point, the little girl spun free of the boys. She looked like a weeble wobble in her oversized hooded coat as she tried to balance herself. As soon as she did, she ran back to the boys and the three of them resumed spinning, resumed the laughter.

A day of very clear visibility...

Clear visibility…

It was a frigid 63˚ F. LA had made it to another winter. The sky was gray but the morning rain had cleared, taking with it any haze or smog. To the North were the hills of Griffith Park. It was such a clean, clear day that the Observatory and hiking trails could be seen in great detail. The fancy houses of the Hollywood hills could be seen, just below. And so clear, too, was the sprawling city, in every direction. It was one of those afternoons when it was clear enough to see just about everything.

Be well…

ECHOES FROM OTHER HOBOS #3: The Fast One, The Still One, and The Runner by Talia Gibas

The Fast One

She runs behind and slightly to his left, watching the quick, short puffs of his breath in the crisp winter air. He runs like water flows over rocks, elbows tucked against his body, feet hitting the asphalt in a smooth, soothing beat. She understands the mechanics of running downhill – lean forward, fall into it, take short steps, and let gravity do the rest – but rarely embraces them. She lacks his grace, his impossible beauty. But she wants to keep up with him, mechanics be damned. She tilts forward and feels her speed increase, her feet stumbling to catch her. She wonders how fast she is going. She is exhilarated.

Talia Gibas

Talia Gibas

Together they duck under the park gates and bound through the grass median on Vermont Avenue. When they burst onto the sidewalk at Los Feliz Boulevard he turns left and she follows, startling unsteady packs of revelers weaving their way home. “Happy New Year!” she calls. They respond by clutching one another’s shoulders and heaving boozy, heartfelt good wishes into the air. A giggly young couple whoops and sways under a streetlight. “Fuck yeah!” someone shouts from a car, while a near-middle-aged woman hangs out the backseat window with a noisemaker at her lips, delivering an absurd trumpet solo to the neighborhood.

Bleary-eyed bar employees sweep confetti from their path as they dart on and off the sidewalk. She plucks a party hat from an open windowsill and slides it over her beanie. He doesn’t notice until he slows to a trot on her street. “Look at you,” he says, and snaps a photo. “Green eyes.” Her face, already flushed from exertion, warms further.

Inside her apartment they exchange damp running clothes for old sweatshirts. He stretches across her couch to kiss her. “Are you happy?” he asks.

“Yes,” she murmurs. “Very.”

“Happy New Year,” he says. “The world didn’t end.”

“Nope,” she responds with a grin. “Not yet, anyway.”

They met in the fall. He was standing in a gaggle of people doling out stories and jokes but left them abruptly to stride toward her. “Green eyes,” he noted by way of hello. On December 30 he asked her to describe her ideal New Year’s Eve. “I want to be running,” she said. “I don’t want to be schmoozing with a bunch of people I barely know. I want to be in Griffith, on my favorite road, so if the world ends at midnight I am doing something that brings me joy.”

He tilted his head to the side. “That sounds fun.”

“You think so?”

“I do. Too bad the park’s closed.”

“Yeah. And too bad I didn’t think of this earlier, so I could berate friends into going with me.”

“You don’t think they would?”

“They have plans.”

“True.” He paused. “Too bad.”

Two hours later her phone rang. “T, what’s up?” he said in his bright, sing-song way. “My party fell through and I have this neat idea for New Year’s…”

He arrives at her apartment at 10:30 and they start running at 11. She has a tiny flashlight zipped in her pocket; he jokes about mace. They practically tip-toe past the stately mansions outside the park, as if running at night were a crime. Once they hop around the gate at the park entrance they ease into quicker strides, slowing every now and then again to take in the view, or to whisper to one another how fucking cool it is to be doing this. When they are well past the Greek Theater she switches on her flashlight and is startled by the eyes of coyotes staring out at her. Two dart across her path, but the rest watch and blink.

Outside the Observatory they crouch behind restrooms, dismayed by the security guard driving in circles near the entrance. “Champagne,” she whispers. “If we give him some champagne he’ll let us stay.”

“Champagne from a water bottle?”

“Worth a shot.” She takes three steps and the guard switches on his high beams. “Shit!” She darts back and they take off, giddy and giggling. Ten minutes later they stand at a break in the brush a quarter-mile downhill from the Observatory and look down at the city. “What time is it?” she asks.

He shakes his head. “I didn’t bring a watch. Did you?”

“No. Shit.”

“We could ask the security guard.”

“Maybe we – “ She stops. Something is rumbling against the bottom of her feet.

A half-second of panic splits through her body; her first instinct is that it’s an earthquake. Then a silver light flashes above downtown and she realizes, holy shit, it’s the city, it’s the millions and millions of people below starting to bellow and hug and cheer in the near-freezing air, their voices crashing into car horns and drums, fireworks, pots and pans, clashing together into a roaaaaaaar that jumbles and stumbles and rises and grows and grows, gathering speed, sweeping over the beaches, across the west and south and east edges of Los Angeles and over downtown, rising higher and higher with each scream and shout until it washes over them sending coyotes scattering to the hills and she realizes this is it, she is in love with him, this is what it is to be finally, completely sure, to know that he is the one for her, that together they are invincible and therefore meant to be.

As the roar recedes he turns to start back down the hill she launches after him, gasping and stumbling and gleeful in the darkness.

Months and months later, on the cusp of June, she sits across from him at a table in Thai Town and stares at a half-eaten egg roll. The pain in her left calf is unrelenting and her mouth is dry. She’d never noticed how his impatience radiated from his skin, how he couldn’t stop looking at his cell phone, how he called the waitresses “sweetheart.”

“Just tell me,” she stammers. “Tell me why you did it. Why you pursued me. You knew me, you knew how I felt about you. You knew that if I knew you were with someone else I would never – I would never have…”

He folds his arms across his body and stares at her. “I was attracted to you.”

It’s got a real clear view of things.

They exchange stiff farewells in the parking lot and she turns alone onto Hollywood to walk home. When she steps onto a crosswalk the strain in her calf brings tears to her eyes. Nice, she thinks bitterly. And you thought yourself a runner. The headlights of his car come up behind her and she tries to adjust her gait, determined not to limp as he passes. A sullen man on a bike approaches on the sidewalk.

I was attracted to you. As if explaining why he’d ordered chicken instead of beef.

She steps to the side to make room and vomits onto a fence post. An unsteady figure hoots from outside a liquor store. “Shit, baby, shiiiit!” he calls. “That’s no way to start your summer.”

It is a long time before she is able to cross the street, the Observatory winking above her.

 * * * *

The Still One

They sit on a bench on a mild summer night and she notes to herself that she never thought she’d fall for someone so quiet. In the short time she has known him she has been struck by the care with which he chooses his words, as if each were a precious marble he examines against his palm before sending it out in the world. In more playful and inspired moments he would take aim and send one hurtling her way, knocking her into a giggle fit or making her skin hum with the timbre of sunset. Tonight’s, however, are made of more fragile glass. He offers each politely, one by one, and she holds them to her chest, determined to keep any from falling and rolling away. They are nearing the end of August, and he will be leaving soon.

They wandered here side by side, walking along Franklin Avenue and up and down side streets to the top of Barnsdall Park, where they shared stories of a city oddly lovely from above. Finally they settled on this bench on a quiet street. They have been trying to determine why, exactly, they met when they did, at an inconvenient moment when they could do little more than pass through each other’s lives. It is getting late. She tucks her knees against her chest and he puts his head in his hands. She tries not to cry.

“What do you think some wise soul would tell us to do,” she says, “if they knew about this situation?”

“I don’t know,” he replies, his voice low. He pauses. “Actually. I do know. They would ask us, ‘Are you in love?’ Because if we are, then none of the rest matters.”

The word “love” lands like a hysterical toddler sprawled on the floor of her lungs. I don’t know! it wails. I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know! I don’t know because I don’t know how to know, and maybe I never will, but now I want to know you, and this knowing thing may be bullshit or it may be true, but let me sit here in this stillness and this not knowing with you.

Neither of them moves. The question bobs politely in the air for a moment before giving up and floating away – toward the Observatory, perhaps, where a less inconvenienced pair might make use of it.

A few days later, as a ripe, uncomfortable humidity descends on the city, she sits to write what she does know. This, she thinks, can be a parting gift, an homage to vague ideals like Transparency and Gratitude. The first draft is an inkblot of false starts, scribbles, and do-overs. The second is hastily copied onto fresh paper in a coffee shop. When she pauses to stretch out her fingers, a well-coiffed barista looks over her shoulder. “Hand-written,” he says approvingly. “Old school. I like that. Safe. You can’t google that shit.”

She is encouraged but when she squashes the envelope in her back pocket a fragment of bone and muscle trembles against her bottom rib. In deciding to write she had underestimated how difficult it would be to know that tangible evidence of her feelings existed in the world. It was one thing to express these things in person. It was another to write them down, and quite another to hand them over, relinquishing the power to rewrite, edit, or destroy.

She knows their goodbye will be stunted and chaotic, but as she stands before him, reaching into her pocket, she is startled by a craaack! in her side. He takes the envelope from her hand and she realizes with horror that he is taking a small chunk of flesh and bone with it.

“Thank you,” he says, apology, exhaustion, and hesitation curling the edges of his voice. “I have to… I gotta go.”

She feels the ground fall away. Oh god, what I wrote… It will bleed all over your hands…! Helplessly she watches as he drops it into the plastic bag he is holding, far outside of her reach. She tries to calm herself as she speeds home, clenching/unclenching/reclenching her steering wheel. Maybe in the bustle of uprooting his life he will forget about it. Maybe, as August mellows to fall, it will sit in that plastic bag, bleeding away. Maybe he will find it months or years from now, mixed in with his belongings, and sputter “Fuck!” in dismay when he realizes it has spilled all over his favorite shirt, as she does when she opens luggage to find a shampoo bottle has exploded inside.

Maybe she will never know.

Maybe knowing is overrated.

Maybe quiet stillness between two confused people is more akin to love than the feverish clamor of those who feel certain.

Maybe…

On the first day of September she jogs through the muggy twilight of Griffith Park, wincing at the pain in her legs. A car passes and the driver, a woman, glowers disapprovingly. It’s getting dark. You shouldn’t be running out here at night.

Her breath ragged, she shifts to a walk, giving each leg a brief shake in a futile attempt to dislodge cement from her muscles. She stares down at the city. The salt of her sweat is beginning to crust along her arms. The bottom of her right foot feels tender and her hip is cramping. She remembers a day before injury, when running was exhilarating. She ran carefree only to spiral into gloom when some inevitable, idiotic adventure would leave her sidelined with a fracture or pulled Achilles. She isn’t afraid of pain. Sometimes she relishes it. Whatever this is, however, is a little more complicated.

She looks around. She needs to determine her route home. Ahead of her the road slopes up and to the right. She is about a half mile from the Observatory, maybe less. She could sprint the hill toward it, collapse in a patch of grass at the top. Or she could turn and run back down the way she came.

The mechanics of running uphill are strangely similar to the mechanics of running down: lean forward, fall into it, take short steps, and let gravity do the rest. A key difference, of course, is the level of discomfort. Downhill is full of abandon and glee. Uphill requires patience to pace properly, acceptance of vulnerability, and faith that the body will recover at the top.

Below her Los Angeles shuffles and snorts. She looks up toward the Observatory and begins to run again.

imageTalia Gibas is known to her artsy friends as “that crazy triathlete” and to her triathlete friends as “that Shakespeare girl.” She manages arts education programs at the LA County Arts Commission and is Associate Editor of Createquity. She ponders, volunteers, nerds, and merrily verbs words in Los Angeles. She would like to put on a play. 

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…

The Heartbreaking Rarity of Vacuums

Hello Everyone…

My office.

My office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coyote Moon

Coyote Moon

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

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

I-5 and the speen of lies.

I-5 and the speed of lies.

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

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

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

A prophet sleeping before his shift.

A prophet sleeping before his shift.

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

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

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

Urban Wilderness

Urban Wilderness

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

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

Be well…