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.

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“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 amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com...

On sale March 10th! (Or get an ecopy now on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com

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!”

“Jesus…Bob!”

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…

Batter Up!

Hello Everybody,

Last Friday, I built a traveling collapsible throne for a friend of mine who hosts several Bon-Buddhist lamas throughout the year (See the Jamberoo: To Me Through Me To You Through You To…), who come to the United States from India to teach the tenants of Bon.

20140117_171309I worked outside my bungalow – sawing, screwing, sanding – as the neighbors blasted Tejano music out their windows. The neighborhood glass and bottle collector clicked and clacked about his work all day. When a woeful ballad would come on the radio, the collector’s clicking and clacking slowed as if he remembered someone he wished he still knew but knew he’d never see again. But then a faster song with mucho whooping and ahyayaya’s would come on, and the collector’d forget about that someone. But of course, there were more sad songs, and more cans and bottles, more memories…but ¿asi es la vida, no?

In the evening, after the neighbors turned the radio off, I was still going at it, sweating, covered in sawdust. The day’s hours dissolved, rather than ticked by. I peered through the thickening darkness of the neighborhood. All was calm, just a low hum of traffic and somebody shouting, a distant motorcycle, abulance. As the last sliver of sunlight slipped below the rooftops along Carlton Way, I heard the jingling bells attached to the shoes of the Court Jester of Time. I was a day older, just like that.

I delivered the throne to my friend on Monday, then devoted the next few days to The Ship’s Recorder, the play I’m rehearsing (click here for tickets!). Here’s the synopsis:

In this play about European expansion and cultural clashes at the dawn of the 16th century, a fictional world of magical realism materializes. The plot loosely borrows from the narrative structure of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and is rooted in language and events from the discovery journals of Bartolome de Las Casas, Christopher Columbus and Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. These chroniclers traverse a shipwreck story that probes the psychological depths of their brazen entitlement and utter disorientation. As the characters navigate dreamscapes informed by Taino and Mayan cosmologies and contemporary archeological and historical findings, poignant reflections on early struggles for human rights on the “American” continent emerge.

athoua2-283x300I play a Cristobal, the Christopher Columbus-like character hellbent on finding a western passage to India, refusing to believe there isn’t one. He’s well aware of other explorers who’ve all but proven such a passage doesn’t exist. His refusal to face facts only propels his lust for riches and power, to the point his men begin to mutiny. As the play proceeds, he roams about, beset with blindness and arthritis, but with an even more twisted and dark mind. Finally, Cristobal is caught and restrained by Alvar, a white explorer who’d “gone native” and befriended the Natives. But instead of rejoicing, Alvar sadly prophetizes:

An entire continent is waking up into a haze they call America. Soon, more than Spanish alone will be here. They would, without hesitation, take what they can, work people to death, and continue this bloody abomination.

So the gods of the Natives simply shake their heads, stop Time and try again, reshaping man from paste made from corn and water. Maybe this time

Each night after rehearsal, I’d drive down Sunset Blvd to the bungalow, my head still swimming around in the play. I’d have one hand on the wheel, staring down the long, long row of red and green lights down Sunset. All other lights in the city seemed to go out as if those lights never existed, excluding the dull, lifeless glow of the lights of Kaiser Permanente hospital…and the novacaine-blue light of the Church of Scientology which stood high like the palace of some seemingly sweet young raja but who secretly acted out devilish, drepraved scenarios on his subjects, burying their bones deep in the palace walls. But after passing both hospital and church, I was back to zooming down the dark void…red, green, red, green.

20131217_221826After arriving in Hollywood, I’d engage in the predatory act of parking. Down all the streets, cars crept about like giant steel beetles. One by one, they’d scurry to the nearest vacant space as if it were a hole leading into a giant dunghill, dodging red-eyed midnight crazies sucking on 40s of malt liquor with dirty duffel bags hunched over their backs. On the curb, pale hookers wearing fishnets tried to look discreet but not really, talking on their phone like they were preoccupied, but always giving you a little eye-play as you passed by. Over and over, block after block. Finally, after enough cursing and whatnot, a space across the street appears in the oncoming fog. Speed up, u-turn, back in. The great primal act achieved, for another day.

Thursday I had the day off, so I took a long walk in the afternoon. I let thoughts drift, away from the play, from work, etc and soaked in warmth of the sun. Before I knew it, I was walking north on Vermont Ave, the heart of the Los Feliz neighborhood. A cool breeze whispered down the shady sidewalk lined with quaint clothing boutiques, artisan shops and outdoor cafes.

But a curious thing happened on Vermont Ave. I kept seeing the same couple, over and over. The man wore sneakers, a black shirt, blue jeans, sunglasses and his forearms were covered in tattoos. The woman wore short shorts that sat at the hip, a billowy blouse, scarf and sunglasses. They walked ahead of me, gabbing away in syllables I couldn’t discern, incorporating lazy, vague arm gestures. But I also saw them on the other sidewalk – across the street – walking in the opposite direction, gabbing away, wearing the same apparel. I looked straight ahead again. They were still in front of me too. Then I saw the same couple walking out of a comic book store. And, I saw several of the same couple at a sidewalk cafe, mumbling the same syllables. There were more, still, walking in and out of the matinee showings at the movie theater. Black shirts, blue jeans, hot pants, blouses, scarfs…sunglasses, sunglasses, sunglasses and the same tattoos on all the arms. It was as if Los Feliz was in some kind of Huxleyian nursery that cranked out these clone couples.

Suddenly, the thoughts of all these clone couples became audible. And it was the same exact thought!

We are different from everybody else.

The couples repeated the thought over and over as they walked about comfortably. They had no pasts, no childhoods. They existed permanently at the dawn of thirty-ish, white affluency, and as far as any future was concerned, they’d only raise their eyebrows above their glasses as if to hint that…well, how bad can it be, whatever happens, right?

20140111_114543When I came upon a strung out kid decaying on a bus stop bench, I thought, Finally, an individual! He smelled like the inside of a dumpster. His eyes never closed but they weren’t open, either. Is this what individuality does to us? Seemed like a high price to pay. I was a bit glum as I walked away from the poor creature, but sadly relieved to find the same exact strung out kid on the next bus stop bench. Then the next…all with the same thought…

Nobody knows what it’s like to be me.

The thoughts of the clone couples and clone bums grew louder, but never louder than my own…

I’m a brilliant writer with something new to say.

I picked up the pace to get away from all the thinking. But when I caught my image in a cafe window, I stopped. There I was, in my Levi’s and work shirt, Chuck Taylor’s and cheap knock-off Ray Ban’s I bought solely for the reason that they looked like the kind worn by Hunter S. Thompson. Beyond my image, clone coupIes sat at tables, shoveling forkloads of salad into their gullets. A waitress moved in and out of me. For a moment The Universe was only that window. Then the air-breaks of a city bus phooshed behind me. When I turned around and my loud thought was gone. The clone couple’s and the bum’s thoughts, gone. I resumed walking, turned east on Fountain and headed for the public library to check out Philip K Dick’s The Divine Invasion. I hoped, wiith a child’s Christmas morning excitement, that it was available.

It was, but before I could get home and start reading it I ran into a buddy of mine.

“Hey, d’you hear about Gerald?” Gerald was a mutual buddy of ours.

“No. Uh-oh.”

“Yeah, he OD’d last night.”

Suddenly, the copy of The Divine Invasion weighed only as much as a feather.

“Heroin?”

“Yeah. He’s in a coma in Burbank.”

“All the way out in Burbank?”

“I know, right. They say if he comes out of it, he’s gonna be a vegetable.”

20140112_144011

Another one crossed over the mountain…

I wish I could say that Gerald’s overdose was something different…that it was a profound act of individuality. But of course it wasn’t. That happens every day. Every. Day. Gerald looked and sounded so good the last time I saw him, a week ago. “I feel so good this time,” he’d always say when I saw him, or something like it. He’s a big, jovial strong fellow, too. Too bad strength has nothing to do with it. Because addicts are fucking strong. They’d cross a mountain range to get high. Gerald did that. I knew him in Hollywood and he literally crossed the mountains to a needle in The Valley. Ok, so they’re called the Hollywood Hills, but come down to the flat boulevards of Barrio Hollywood and look at those hills, with the white Hollywood sign shining in the sun, the cliff side houses with balconies and glass walls and palm trees that tickle God’s toes. From that angle they may as well be the Himalayas, as seen from the distant viewpoint of a Buddhist monk on his throne. The monk smiles sadly, shakes his head as The Universe whispers, Man will always cross the mountains, man will always cross mountains, man will always cross the mountains…

“I just wanna be there for my son,” Gerald would say. But Gerald climbed a mountain and yet again Someone’s son, Someone’s parent, Someone’s sibling, Someone’s lover or whoever happened to the The Apple of That Someone’s Eye couldn’t keep Someone clean. And now Someone’s just another Somebody lying in a hospital bed over the mountains in a coma far away.

Friday, I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get my license switched over from New York to California. I took a number and waited for the female computer voice to call my number…

Now. Serving. F177. At. Window. 17.

Now. Serving. F178. At. Window. 9.

Now. Serving. G286. At. Window. 3.

Now. Serving…

…with many other Angelenos with names like Rosie, Michael, Lisa or Hector but each time a number was called one of us would stand up obediently as if these number had been assigned to us shortly after the Big Bang, then dance a vacant waltz toward the window to which we were instructed.

“Ok,” the clerk said, after I showed her my license, passport and filled out a form. “You’re all set. Now, you just have to take the written test and you’ll be good to go.”

“Written test?”

“Yes, you didn’t know you had to take a written test, did you?”

“No.”

“Well, you do.”

“Well, no problem, how hard can it be?” I smiled. She smiled.

I failed the test. By one damn question.

“It’s alright, honey,” said the clerk who graded my exam. “You can take it again on Monday.”

Chin up...there’s always tomorrow?

Chin up…there’s always tomorrow?

As I sulked toward the building’s exit, I heard my dad yelling at me from far away, about failing the test back when I was 16 – failed it twice. Then I relived every single strikeout from my baseball playing days. I heard the voice of the first girl who ever called me ugly, too, booing me as I walked back to all those dugouts. But the memories of failure dissipated just after I left the DMV and stepped out into gray hazy day, when I realized that I did, indeed, have another chance. I just hope Gerald does, too.

Be well…

Gee, It Really Is A Carnival

Hello Everybody,

On January 5th, I arrived in LA after traveling for the holidays. That evening, when I made it back to the bungalow, I opened the door to find my roommate, The Great Warrior, having a few beers in the kitchen with a friend of ours.

20140111_194847“How was Indiana?” I asked the Great Warrior. He got back from his hometown of Lafayette, Indiana, the day before.

“Well, not great…and it got worse. My mom passed away while I was there.” He looked down, took a deep breath and hissed it out with a sad little laugh. “It’s weird, I only choke up when I tell somebody.”

The Great Warrior’s mother had spent the last few years in a nursing home in Lafayette, as Altzheimer’s disease steadily conducted it’s onslaught on her mind. Every Monday, he’d skype the nursing home and talk with his mother, if she was able to. Graduallly, he’d taken charge of her affairs, paying her bills, was the liaison between her and the nursing home.

“I was at my dad and stepmom’s when the nursing home called. I got there, went into her room and there she was. But hard part was when I went back into the room later that day to get her things and her body wasn’t there.” Looked down, deep breath, hissed it out. “I’m going back at the end of the month for the memorial.”

The following week was a long quiet week for The Great Warrior. I’d walk by his room to see him working on the eulogy, sifting through stacks of photographs or curled up in a ball, sleeping but not really sleeping. Every now and then he’d come out for a cup of coffee, pace or stand in the doorway staring a million miles into the cobalt-blue California sky. Then more photos, writing, sleeping. Then more coffee, pacing, staring. Then night. Then morning and more coffee, pacing, staring, photos, writing, sleeping…

“Hey, check this out,” he said, holding an old, black and white photograph. “My mom. I’m guessing she’s about 20 years old there.”

The Great Warrior’s mother had porcelen skin, black hair in a pixie cut and her big dark pretty eyes stared up and to the left, far away to something that she so very much hoped would happen someday…surely IT must happen someday, right?…I looked up to The Great Warrior. I may have been staring at an old photograph, but he wasn’t holding a mere picture. He wasn’t even in the room. He was with his mother, my guess was that the two of them were putting their heads together trying to determine what exactly did, and didn’t happen in the ever shapeshifting Past. Then, suddenly, he re-entered The Now with a deep breath and a hiss, walked down the hall, went into his room.

20140110_165712A traveling carnival came to East Hollywood last week, setting up in a parking lot of a hardware store that’d recently gone out of business – on the corner of Sunset and Western Boulevards. A plethora of withered carnies draped in billowy, tattered clothing permanently caked in grease, moved about slowly like an army of last harvest’s abandoned scarecrows as they assembled the rides and booths. At the bus stop at Sunset and Western, The Vigilant Congregation of winos, wackos, drifters and drug dealers stood, gaping with deadened bewilderment at the carnies…Geea carnival, here? Well, alright…

One night, I walked by the carnival to see long lines of little Mexican-American boys and girls pecking at huge bales of pink and baby blue cotton candy as they waited in long lines at the rides. The screams from the little boys and girls already on the rides pierced the cooling night air like glass-cracking thunder. The tip tap tip taps of the shooting gallery served as a cadence to the evening.

Nobody knows the trouble I seen,” sang an old Black carny at the throw-a-ping-pong-ball-in-a-cup-and-win-a-prize booth, “nobody knows but- hey girl,” he shouted to a woman standing at the booth. “I know, you’s tryin’ figure out the trick of it, ain’t ya? Well, they may be one, but’chu gotta go to Carny College know it, ha, ha…” The girl walked off. “Hey! Come on now, I need a player! It’s so easy! Ha, ha...nobody knows the trouble I seen…”

...but Jesus

…but Jesus

All along Sunset Blvd, Mexican-American men and women grilled chorizo y peppers to sell, along with glow sticks and flashing pinwheels. Customers walked about, eating from one hand and held, with the other hand, the hand of a kid holding the hand of another kid holding the glow stick or pinwheel. The kids in the middle cried because they didn’t have there own glow stick or pinwheel. At the bus stop, stood The Vigilant Congregation. These Nowhere or Everywhere men and women stood like sculptures as the flashing lights bounced green, blue, yellow and red off their Nothing or Everything faces…Gee, IT really is a carnival? well, alright, then…

One afternoon last week, The Great Warrior and I were tossing a football around in the narrow driveway between our bungalow and the neighboring apartment complex – he’d begun to feel the need to leave the bungalow a little bit each day, in between coffee, pacing, photos, writing etc. It was a youth size football, which came out of our older, larger hands in a very wobbly manner. We kept adjusting our grips with each pass, to get a better spiral.

“How’s the eulogy coming along?” I asked, threw the ball.

“It’s not,” said The Great Warrior, after catching the ball. “For some reason I can’t think of any memories of her when I was a kid. None at all.” He threw the ball. “I’ve been going through her book, though.”

Catch. “She wrote a book?” Throw.

Catch. “Yeah. I feel horrible because I never read it when she was alive. I’ve had it for years.” Throw.

“You can read it now.” Catch. Throw. Our spirals were slowly improving.

“I’m trying to go through it, to maybe find something to talk about.” Catch. “But it’s a historical romance tragedy.” Held the ball to his eyes close. It was getting darker and he wanted to make sure his knuckles were on the right seams. “It’s a shame. By the time she finally had it they way she wanted it and was ready to begin the publish process, her mind…you know…” Throw.

The pass had a tight spiral, but was high and wide. I jumped up, caught it, nearly running into the cinder block wall of the neighboring apartment complex. I took a look into the sky and noticed the evening’s first stars were shining. It was too dark to throw anymore. “We should got to a park next time,” I said, following The Great Warrior inside the bungalow. “Then we’ll really be able to throw.”

“We should do that,” he replied.

20140114_194418Later that night I took a walk through Los Felis. The nearly full moon hung high in the clear black sky like a bright fresh mothball that I could easily pluck from the sky. The still, brightness of the Moon seemed to accentuate the twinkling of the stars near it, flashing in blues, whites and reds as they visually telegraphed their cosmic histories.

“See!” screamed a tweaking hipster from out of his long crinkled beard. He was standing in front of a line of people at a taco hut on the corner of Vermont where Hollywood Blvd turns into Prospect Ave. “I was about to tell you and you…!” He moved his body about in some weird kind of dance, slapping his thighs every now and then and pointing into the night. “But you keep hanging up…” he doubled over, laughed…”keep hanging up!”

The Moon brought down chalky white light on the scene. Nobody at the taco hut paid attention to the screaming fellow. Frowning people weating nice clothes and earbuds feeding them the numbing nectar of their smartphones passed by him like phantoms. Unfazed, the fellow kept screaming at whoever it was that hung up on him.

mystery

mystery

As I walked on, I kept seeing The Great Warrior’s mom, staring up and to the left at that marvelous and scary mystery before her. But from my view, it was nothing really mysterious at all: birth, youth, some good stuff, some bad stuff, older, a baby boy, divorce and some more good stuff and bad stuff, a twenty-something year old son. Friends, friends drifting away, a little more good stuff and not so good stuff. An thirty-something year old son. Getting older, new friends, friends passing away, a book. Then the tricky, perforating of the mind. Then death, and a forty-something year old son to eulogize her. That’s it. Life is simple. But when I look up and to the left with that same long stare as she has in the photograph, it all gets marvelous and scary. All I can see are the flashing lights of what must be exhilarating rides…surely they must be, right?…one ride after the other.

Be well…

Too Real Dreams

Hello Everybody,

Last week, I began rehearsing a play in which I’d been cast. The piece is a retelling of the European conquests of The New World – a sort of amalgamation of several documented events, centering around Columbus, Bartolome de las Casas, Cabeza de Vaca, and of course, the Native Americans they encountered.

20131221_180154-1It’s a dreamlike, poetic piece. Raging seas and storms are personified. The explorers hallucinate feverishly as their ship sinks. When they wake up on the shore of The New World, they don’t even know if they’re alive. They don’t even have language to describe their surroundings – they’re terrified, speak gibberish as they try to reconcile their consciousness to their unfamiliar settings. They encounter strange, eerily friendly people who believe all times are Now, whose gods walk the Earth from time to time, observing, walking among them. It is a beautiful, strange world. But soon the explorers regain their speech. With speech comes labeling and concepts, such as ownership and wealth. Then comes everything else – the greed, the madness, the murder – thus beginning The Conquest and the subjugation and genocide of The Natives. The gods watch with childlike sadness over what is being done – for yet again man’s base, fearful nature wins over his higher, spiritual nature. All the gods can do is wait for Mankind to die. Then, at the beginning of a new Time, they begin molding New Men out of Earth – like children with Play-Doh – in hopes that Higher Nature may finally prevail.

Wednesday night, I had your standard naked dream. I’ve had the dream many times, though I don’t consider it a recurring dream (see the El Jamberoo #19 to read about my recurring dreams) because it’s such a common dream I’ve bet even YOU have dreamt it, hmm?

Wednesday night’s dream played out like all the others: I’m naked, soaking wet, trying to get home…

…somewhere deep in LA, scurrying down street after street. For some reason, no one has seen me, despite heavy traffic on the street. I continue to move about like a pale dripping phantom. I’m not terrified, or even nervous. I just don’t want to draw attention to myself, which I manage until I get to Hollywood. There, one person notices me, then another, then another…they start following me. I start running. Soon, I’m being pursued by a giant mob of Angelenos. I’m nearly home but the crowd is gaining and I know I won’t make it. I see a friend in his car at the intersection and I jump in the backseat. He yells, “Get down, man!” I huddle down on the floorboard. The light turns green but my friend can’t drive away because the mob has surrounded the car. I look up, and the entire city of Los Angeles is staring into the car, ogling at me like I’m some red-assed baboon in a zoo…

20131113_211319The next day I went to the library to check out Haruki Murikami’s 1Q84I’d began reading it earlier this year, back when I was living in Brooklyn (see El Jamberoo #27 ). I’d made it through the first 700+ pages and was looking forward to finally finishing it. Murikami’s a favorite writer of mine. His works have a lot to do with multiple worlds with dreamlike realities. His protagonists usually jump between these subtle yet fundamentally different worlds, but usually by the end of the book they have to choose which world they want to live in – they have to choose a reality. “No matter how things may seem,” says a character at the beginning of 1Q84, “there is always only one reality.”

Usually something happens to Murikami’s protagonists – either subtly or in jarring manner – that transforms to these other worlds. From there – after a lot of suspense, darkness and danger – the books become about a chase after love or freedom, with the protagonist having to choose between the world he or she knows (this world) with it’s comforts and comfortable miseries, or the world of love and freedom…a world so foreign one has to relearn how to live, to survive in it. I’m not sure if my dream the night before spurred me on to finish the book. It probably didn’t, probably did.

20131221_180054-1It was a rainy cold day. Low gray clouds hovered over the Hollywood sign. I felt as comortable walking under an umbrella in Hollywood as I would reading a porno in a church. Heavy thuds of rain hit the umbrella – the cadence of a strung out jazz drummer. I had 1Q84 tucked under my arm to keep it from getting wet, but everything was getting wet. Other wet people appeared out of nowhere, crossed in front of me or passed me, then disappeared.

“Hey man,” said a man with a strong southern accent looking confused at a corner on Hollywood Boulevard, “you know where the Saban Clinic is. They say it’s one a those free clinics, you know? They say it’s somewhere in Hollywood but I cain’t find it to save my life.”

“Hold on,” I told him, as I juggled the umbrella and 1Q84 with one hand to retrieve my smartphone with the other, then punched in “Saban free clinic”.

“Wait, man,” he said with wonder, “you tellin’ me you can find it with one of those. Hell, I got one of those.” He pulls out an iphone. “Now, how do you do it…do you have some kind a…a…app…for that?”

“I just went to my map.”

He swiped his index finger across his phone, looking for the map app. While his head was down at his phone, I noticed he had a patch on his cap stating he was a veteran from the war in the Middle East. “Man, who’m I kiddin’,” he sighed, “I ain’t got the slightest idea how to work these things.”

“They got a way of making us feel dumb, don’t they?”

“Ain’t that the truth.”

I found the address to the clinic. “It’s further down, at Hollywood and Gower.”

“Aw, man, thanks. M’name’s Gregory.”

“Todd.”

We shook hands and walked together down gloomy Hollywood Boulevard.

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“I ain’t been down here in a while,” said Gregory. “Hollywood’s sumthin else, ain’t it.”

“Yep.”

“I use to be down here all the time. I dated the daughter a one a them famous directors of the 50s nad 60s. Her mother was a Golden Globe winner or a Emmy. They both told her it’ll be hard for her to make it here even with them two as her parents. But she didn’t listen, she went off to try to be a actress. Her dad made that movie, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

Stanley Kramer?”

“You heard a him, huh?”

“Yeah, he’s one of the big ones.”

“You must be in the movie business.”

“Well, I don’t know. Maybe. But I’m not in it, you know.”

20131217_215116“Well, I dated her for three years. She was real sweet but every now and then she’d look at me and tell me she’d be better off datin another actor or a doctor or anyone else. Shoot, I didn’t have nothin goin for me, no prospects, so well…” He stopped talking and walked around and through the memory for a while. When he came back, he said, “Lemme tell you, man, that world them Hollywood people are livin in is a different world from what you and me’s in right here, that’s for sure. Listen man, I’m gonna run and try to get to that clinic, but thanks a lot and it’s been real good talkin to ya.” Then he sped off through the rain and disappeared like the rest of us.

Just then, I realized I was at a corner where I saw something curious a few weeks back…

20131119_161444-1…it’s early morning. I see a young lady approaching the corner from the side street. The young lady’s barefooted, tip-toeing toward the corner – toward me – with one hand on the wall that bordered the sidewalk, to keep balance. She’s naked from the waist down – pulling her blouse down over her private parts with her other hand. When she pulls the blouse down in front, it rises up in the back, exposing her ass. When she pulls it down over her ass, it exposes her…well…hoo-hoo. She does this over and over. Her other hand never leaves the wall as if touching it is all that is keeping her from floating off Earth. Her hand brushes across a huge mural of Frida Kahlo. Frida’s dark eyes stare out from under her thick mono-brow – not at me, or at the girl, just somewhere far off, but somewhere she sees clearly. The young lady and I make eye contact, her head shrinks into her shoulders and she smiles an embarrassed smile through Last Nite’s makeup. I quickly look away and keep walking…don’t stop, you’ll only make it worse…a few paces down the street, I turn around to see if she crossed the street OK. But I can’t see her anywhere…

I hope she woke up from that dream, just then…woke up before The Crowd caught up to her.

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…

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…

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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.

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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…

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. 

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…

Doldrums

Hello Everybody,

I’m leaving LA soon, so on Wednesday I headed out to the beach at Santa Monica to jump in the ocean one more time. The beach wasn’t crowded. School had started and the vacation season was winding down. Only clusters of very pretty European women lay out on beach towels whilst solo men with thick accents pranced about in man-panties, too afraid to go all the way out to the breakers for the water was very cold. I lay down my towel next to some lovely French ladies and – fearless and American – ran at full speed into the water, dove under an oncoming wave, then swam out past the breakers.

Birdrain

Birdrain

It was a very hot day with no sea-breeze. The waves came in fat and slow. There was a strong riptide, too, so I’d get sucked out as the waves rose, then pushed back toward the shore as they crashed. For some time, I let the waves push and pull me wherever, floating on my back, barely stroking to stay above water.

A squadron of pelicans were out, flying close to the water. Some came within five feet of me. They glided so slow it appeared as if they’d simply drop into the surf if they flew any slower. They were huge, each one around the size of a year old pit bull. Their eyes twitched, feathers glistened as they patiently trucked across the sky. But after they’d pass me, they’d take a drastic upswing, twist in weightlessness, then dive bomb into the water. After they’d pop up above the surface, they’d float on their bellies with something flopping around in their gullet. It looked as if I’d floated into some feeding area of theirs. Pelicans began to splash into the water all around me, like birdrain.

I swam back to shore after my fingers turned blue. The temperatures of the air and water were so extreme. After a few minutes of shaking, panting, I lay down and instantly grew drowsy in the heat. I glanced across the beach to see visible heat waves dance, distorting the shapes of homeless people who call the beach home. I closed my eyes and listened to the French girls next to me say French things until I drifted off to sleep. The crashing waves stayed with me during my slumber – a soundtrack for little day dreams. But when a particularly large wave crashed onto shore I opened my eyes. The French girls were gone, as were many other beach goers. I was beginning to feel the sunburn, so I left, reluctantly.

I hopped on the bus back to Hollywood, but got off in Beverly Hills. I didn’t want to jerk about inside the bus as it wrestled with the rush-hour traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard. It was still very hot but my apartment was hotter, so I figured the long hot walk back to Hollywood would tire me out enough not to care about the heat, leading to a full night’s sleep, which had been rare over the last week. Six miles in flip-flops would do the trick, I was sure.

20130828_173351I waltzed through fancy Beverly Hills. Pretty people wore sunglasses as they enjoyed cocktails out on the sidewalks of cafes. But out in a park along Santa Monica Blvd were the homeless of Beverly Hills, scattered about the short green grass like casualties on a battlefield. The sun was behind the trees. Golden light lay over these wounded, clothed in many layers of dingy clothing. They’d noticed me walk to them, but all they could manage was the opening of one eye, and a turn onto their other side.

About an hour later I was smack dab in the middle of fabulous West Hollywood. It was passed the cocktail hour and the pretty happy people were now being served dinner at tables on the sidewalk. The waiters,dressed in white long-sleeve shirts and black pants, hustled tray after tray out to the tables. Their faces glistened with sweat as they explained the specials for the evening or listened to an order from a patron. They’d smile, say something like, “no problem, it’ll be right out,” but when they turned their faces dropped into exhausted frowns. In the kitchen, out the kitchen. Smile. Frown. Smile…

A few tweakers and drunks were out in West Hollywood but not until I got into Hollywood Proper did I see any serious winos and junkies. By then the sun had set, and I’d walked up  onto Sunset Boulevard. There, dark skeletal faces peeked out from door archways – not to plead, but more like to see if Earth was still out there. Satisfied they were still on terra firma, their hollow eyes would fade back into the darkness.

Hollywood

Hollywood

It grew darker and darker, two snakes of headlights hissed down Sunset. The tattooed and scabbed of Hollywood danced across intersections to music only they could hear. Outside the Palladium, a long line of sexy, short skirted, fish-netted, heavily eye-lined jail bait waited for a concert to start. Some smoked by the curb, jumping onto the street every now and then, oblivious to the speeding traffic or the Surgeon General’s warning. I weaved through them. I was almost to the bungalow. It’d been three hours since I got off the bus.

Tired as I was, I still couldn’t sleep that night. The bungalow was sweltering. I was also sleeping on the floor – Luis and Andre were almost completely moved out. So I lay on my back and tried not to sweat, in a state of semi-consciousness, where I wandered in and out of the visions of gloomy futures, deep into the quiet hours.

The next day, I helped my friend, Danny, fix up an apartment that he managed – new tenants were moving in. Danny was performing the role of The Porter in Independent Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth, this summer in Griffith Park. I met Danny while I was building the set for the production. Danny’s a great fellow and a hell of an actor. The Porter is a small role but one that requires a the balancing of comedy with foreboding, for the play only gets darker and bloody after The Porter exits. Danny definitely delivers. He begins the role passed out drunk in the audience, finally coming out of his stupor to answer a knock on the doors of Macbeth’s castle. As he makes his way to the doors, he improvises, plays with the audience – to hearty applause and cheers – then delivers this monologue:

Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were 
porter of Hell Gate, he should have old turning the 
key. Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, 
i’ the name of Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer, that hang’d 
himself on th’ expectation of plenty. Come in time! 
Have napkins enow about you; here you’ll sweat for’t. 
Knock, knock! Who’s there, in the other 
devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could 
swear in both the scales against either scale, who com- 
mitted treason enough for God’s sake, yet could 
not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator. 
Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there? Faith, 
here’s an English tailor come hither, for stealing 
out of a French hose: come in, tailor; here you may 
roast your goose. Knock, knock! Never 
at quiet! What are you? But this place is too 
cold for hell. I’ll devil-porter it no further: I had 
thought to have let in some of all professions that go 
the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire.
Anon, anon! I pray you, remember 
the porter.

Danny and his son after the closing performance of MacBeth.

Danny and his son, Malcolm, after the closing performance of MacBeth.

Danny improvises a bit more after the monologue, asking random audience members what they do for a living, always insinuating to that hell is an option for all of us, because equivocating is so easy to do for us humans. And no one is immune to resorting to equivocation. Really. Think about it. And, if you’re not sure what equivocation means, look it up here, like I did, then think about it.

“What are you gonna do, Todd?” Danny asked me as we worked in the hot afternoon. “What’s your plan after LA?”

I equivocated, of course, mumbling something about Texas but also about staying in LA. Danny processed my response, his equivocation radar – along with his bullshit detector – easily picking up on my uncertainty. He squinted his eyes as he peered close to the window trim he was painting with a very little brush as he told me, “You can go somewhere and work for a coupla’ years – Alaska or on ships – then come back, buy ya a motorcycle and just ride around. If nothing happens by the time the money runs out, worst case scenario is your right back to where you are now, right? You got nothing to lose. Me, I gotta wife and kids, I can’t do nothin’ like that.”

On Friday morning at 9am it was already 90˚. Luis, myself, The Great Warrior and our friend, Kelly, hung out in the driveway outside the bungalows.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” said The Great Warrior. “My computer told me it was supposed to cool off today.”

The Gloom...

The Gloom…

Later on I sat dumbly by the window, though no breeze came through at all. I had things to do but couldn’t wrest the willpower from my laziness to do anything. So I sat there, unsure of absolutely everything. Those gloomy visions came rushing in again.

Jason, the tenant in the neighboring bungalow was working on his motorcycle, just outside my window. He’d been working on the bike all summer – taking it apart completely, putting it back together, tuning the engine all day, then taking it apart piece by piece again. Sometimes I think Jason will never ride the motorcycle, that his work on the bike is the sole purpose of his having a bike. He was meant only to put that bike together, take it apart, I thought, a steady practice on his off days to bring together his physical being with his spiritual. Like Gandhi and his spinning wheel, or something like that.

“How’s the bike, Jason?” said John, another tenant in the compound of bungalows. John was from Georgia, and spoke in a high-pitched, slow, hung over and stoned southern accent.

“I’s good, man,” answered Jason – from Alabama – equally as slow.

“Gettin’ her runnin’?”

“Prolly pretty soon.”

“Man, it’s hot, ain’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“I gotta work in this shit.”

“Yeah,” said Jason, laying on his back, turning a bold with a wrench, “me too.”

“Hey, man,” continued John, “I checked out this video the other night. It was a bunch a videos all put together. Global warming and shit and floodin’ and stuff we all know’s happenin’ but when it’s all right there in front a ya it’s like ‘oh, shit, man’…you know?”

“Sure.”

“I mean the temperature’s risin’ all over the place with pollution and all, overpopulation and no more food left. And there’s no bees and entire flocks of birds are fallin’ out of the sky, man.”

“Uh, huh.”

“Well, were livin’ in some f#$ked up times, I tell ya.”

The stage is clear for another Run...

The stage is clear for another Run…

John wandered back into his bungalow. Jason continued working on the motorcycle. I got a text from my mother, letting me know my sister just had a baby girl. They named her Arabella Rose Cirio, after her great-grandmother who came here all the way from Italy in the old-timey days. It was exciting news. Another baby, another run at Humanity, another chance of another one of us to live a life beyond the scope of her imagination, as long as she keeps cool in the heat.

Jason was still working on his bike at 1:54pm, when the wind picked up and cooled things down a little.

Be well…

 

We Will Be…

Hello Everybody,

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

It’s about that time again...

It’s about that time again…

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

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

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

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

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

One crazy chapter after another...

One crazy chapter after another…

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

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

People are turning chapters all over East Hollywood.

People are turning chapters all over East Hollywood.

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

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

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

Art imitating life in the Hobo Jungle.

Art imitating life in the Hobo Jungle.

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

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

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

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

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

Dying summer...

Dying summer…

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

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

“De nada.”

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

“Si…moving.”

“Oh…we will miss.  Good boys.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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OK…

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

Be well…