At Home In Forever

Hello Everybody,

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

VaudevillePostcard-11-689x1024

Get tickets HERE!

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

20140416_102357

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

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

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

R-J-2-short

Get tickets HERE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn.

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

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

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

…jobs fishing boats Alaska…

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

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

Be well…

The Real Stage

Hello Everybody,

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

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

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

Winter in Movietown

Winter in Movietown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tick, tock, tick…tock………..tick……………..

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

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

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

A day of very clear visibility...

Clear visibility…

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

Be well…

17 Years

Hello Everyone…

Last week, I helped set up the stage for Independent Shakespeare Company’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac, at the company’s studio space in Atwater Village.

Andre Martin, translator and title character...

Andre Martin, translator and title character…cleck HERE for details!

There wasn’t much building to be done. Cat, the set designer for Cyrano, had managed to create a design out of the remnants of the set I built for Macbeth, ISC’s flagship show in their Shakespeare Festival in Griffith Park this passed summer, which had been stacked away in a corner of the studio. One by one, Cat and I – along with Kevin and Andre, two actors performing in Cyrano who’d come to help out – pulled wall pieces off the stack and set them up according to Cat’s design.

Kevin and Andre would run lines with each other as we worked, shouting dialogue to each other across the room, over the music playing from Cat’s iPhone. Andre was tasked with performing the title role of Cyrano. He also translated the play from French to English for the production. This production was his baby – he had a lot invested in it, artistically. Even during periods where he wasn’t running lines with Kevin, he’d quietly mumble lines to himself as he wandered the stage or held a flat in place as I screwed it to the floor.

Some of the flats were stained with stage-blood from the Macbeth production. Dead leaves were stuck in spiderwebs of the many arachnids who’d made homes in the crannies of the wall flats – more than once I found one of the 8-legged creatures crawling up my arm. The wood of the flats was also hard and dry, due to outdoor exposure in the park over the summer. It would crack into pieces when I screwed into it, if I wasn’t careful. But the flats held together and just before midnight…voila!…Scotland had become Paris. When Cat unplugged her iPhone from the PA, a deep quiet fell over the studio, like when birds stop chirping just before a tornado. As the silence began to lift, I could hear Andre mumbling away, somewhere behind the set.

From Scotland to Paris...

From Scotland to Paris…

The next day, Cat and I continued working on the set. Her friends, Lexie and May, came in to paint. The three women were attending UCLA together. They were good hearted 21 year olds and fun to be around.

“Oh my god, The Backstreet Boys!” exclaimed Lexie, when one of the band’s tunes came up on Cat’s iPhone. “I think it was the first CD I ever got! Wow, they were such a big part of my childhood.”

The Backstreet Boys were not a big part of my childhood. In fact, I was already 21 years old when they were popular the first time around, 17 years ago. I didn’t listen to the Backstreet Boys, then. I was still mostly listening to country music, still living in the small South Texas town of Orange Grove, population 1,212. But in the fall of 1996, I felt I needed a change, so I cut off my nearly shoulder-length mullet, quit my job pumping gas at the Exxon station in Orange Grove, then nervously stumbled into the Acting For Beginners I class at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The professor of the class had taught a speech class I took, a few semesters before. I was horrible in that class – froze or stuttered everytime I had to speak – and eventually stopped showing up. But he remembered me when he saw me on that first day of acting class.

“Well,” he said, curiously, “Mr. Pate. Welcome.”

It felt real good to be remembered and welcomed, so I listened hard in the class and did whatever the professor asked of me. He ended up taking me under his wing and for the next three years I acted in most of the University’s productions. I also knew how to use all the power tools in the shop, which gained the attention of the technical theatre professor. He ended up giving me a job and I built sets for the productions, until I graduated. From there, I went on to act, write, build, produce and go broke in the theatre all over the country. A million things happened along the way and The Road took a million turns as one show led to another – all of it leading me to Cat, Lexie and May on a Sunday afternoon in a theatre in the Atwater Village neighborhood of Los Angeles, California …as if the only purpose of those 17 years was to lead me to them, at that location of spacetime. Those years passed by so, so fast. That Sunday, I could still feel that mullet against my neck, smell the gasoline on my fingers as those three giggly 21 year olds bounced around to the swingin’ hits of the 90s. But my aching back and throbbing knees made it clear that 17 years have, in fact, passed by…and I was no longer the young one in the group.

It’s been 17 Halloweens since that first acting class.

It’s been 17 Halloweens since that first acting class.

Later that week, I went back to ISC and continued working on the set. A number things needed to be made safe or more cosmetic. Squeaky flooring needed to be fixed. Wires needed to be run for light and sound. Furniture peices needed to be built. Cat and I goofed off here and there as we worked, but Opening Night was getting nearer, so there were long quiet stretches here and there, as the two of us focused, worked faster and moved from one task to the next. Kevin was there on both days, working hard right up until rehearsal time. And so was Andre, helping, wandering, mumbling…

Just before rehearsal on Friday, the set was nearly complete. I was getting ready to leave when my buddy, Sean – who was also in the play – came in. We caught up and made plans to start working on a short film we’ve wanted to make together. I was tired from working, but talking with Sean about the project invigorated me, and my knees and back didn’t ache so much anymore. By the time Sean and I were finished discussing the project, the other members of the company had arrived. The stage manager was setting the props. Actors were running lines or discussing parts of the play. Every now and then, one of the actors would grab Andre by the arm and run a few lines with him, then leave him to his mumbling and wandering.

Everyone came in from there own long, real day. Their few short hours of make-believe together would begin when Melissa, the director, arrived. When she did, she looked just as tired of as the rest, yet bounced around – energetic, in good cheer – also like everybody else. Everyone was ready to work on the Life that rages on in Cyrano de Bergerac.

20131018_185338-1

Between the Real Long Day and the Few Short Hours of Make Believe.

If you’re not familiar with the play, it centers on Cyrano, a archetypal Frenchmen – a duellist, poet, musician, an all around Renaissance Man, possessing a profound panache. But he’s also cursed with a ridiculously long nose which puts a pretty big dent in his self-esteem – and, therefore, his panache – everytime he enters the presence of the beautiful Roxanne. Cyrano loves Roxanne, but doesn’t have the stones to tell her. Another man, Christian, loves Roxanne, too, but doesn’t have the panache to adequately express his love for her. So, Cyrano writes beautiful letters dripping with panache on Christian’s behalf. Roxanne reads the letters and falls in love with Christian, leaving Cyrano to wander alone, as the odd man out, unable to reap the benefits of his panache. Not until many years later, after Christian has died, and Cyrano is dying, does Roxanne find out that the letters that triggered her love for Christian were written by Cyrano, that it was his panache that awoke the love inside her. But by then, it’s too late. Cyrano est mort…the panache is gone…c’est la vie. The play’s filled with love, longing, fellowship, happiness, loneliness, death, deception, there’s tender moments with poetry, harsh moments filled with danger, it’s funny and sad and a there’s even sword fight.

Just like the last 17 years of my life, probably your life, too…avec ou sans the swords, big nose or not.

Be well…

The View From X

Hello Everybody,

“I like to think of it as my own secret entrance to The Bowl,” Karen said, as she steered off Cahuenga Blvd onto a side street and into the Hollywood Hills.

20130905_192153

The Hollywood Bowl.

We were heading to the Hollywood Bowl to see the Diavolo Dance Theater perform to music by Philip Glass, which would be performed by the LA Philharmonic. After parking, we hiked up a winding, narrow residential street. It was the golden hour – sunlight light came in soft and yellow through the green trees between colorful houses. The temperature cooled noticeably as the sun continued to lower. It was a fine evening after a long, hot day.

Moments later, we fell in line with the flock of other Angelenos walking up from the venue’s parking lots. After presenting our tickets, Karen and I found our section in the nosebleed seats. Below us, tiny people filed into the mezzanine and orchestra sections of the amphitheater. Straight ahead – above and over the stage – stood the HOLLYWOOD sign, lit to a brilliant white by the dying sun. A dusk, a few bats fluttered across the sky. The sound of crickets grew louder, and more little humans filed into the venue. Karen’s friends were sitting just behind us. By the time she introduced me to everyone it was dark, the HOLLYWOOD sign had been consumed by the night. When the houselights lowered, the orchestra began to warm up. Everyone stopped talking and I drifted from the vast silence of the place…

…to earlier in the week on Monday afternoon, when the founders of Independent Shakespeare Company – David Melville and Melissa Chalsma – held a party for the cast and crew at their house. The company’s 2013 festival in Griffith Park had closed the night before. Everybody was in a good mood, drinking, laughing, eating.

“Our first show was ten years ago,” said Melissa. “14 people showed up. And a dog. The dog left at intermission. Last night, 2,600 people showed up.”

Many of the actors and crew had other gigs lined up, day jobs, husbands or wives, boy or girl friends, or children who required their focus, bringing them further out of the fading summer. As people began to leave, there was much hugging and many fare-thee-wells and see-you-soons with just a hint of but when?

Same goin' up as it is comin' down...

Same goin’ up as it is comin’ down…

Tuesday, David, myself and a handful of volunteers met up at the park to load up set pieces and props. We couldn’t take the set down, because the Symphony In The Glen would be performing on the coming Saturday. This delayed my exit from LA for a week, but that was fine. I was having a good time floating around LA. It was hot on Tuesday, however, and we all dripped sweat as the day reached infernal temperatures.

“My god,” said David, panting, wiping the sweat from his brow after we loaded a piano into the U-Haul truck. “It was uphill when we unloaded everything out here, and now it’s uphill loading everything out. How does that happen? Isn’t that a violation of the laws of the Universe, or something?”

“Theatre warps space and time,” I replied, wiping my stinging eyes with my shirt, sucking in hot air. “It’s been three long months. But now that were moving stuff out, it seems like we put it all up only yesterday.”

The large TV screens on either side of the Hollywood Bowl’s stage came on to air a taped statement by Jacques Heim, the artistic director of Diavolo Dance Theatre.

“Ze idea of ze piece,” said Jacques, “izz zat we are moving away from ze cubed, angled, sharp world and moving to ze…ah…curved, liquid and spiritual world. Zat izz Humanity’s next leap. To embrace wholly ze unknown, ze spiritual.”

Only the center of the stage was lit. It floated in the quiet blackness. The orchestra began playing the score by the repetitive minimalist Glass. The cadence had a curious effect on my brain, cutting out the rest of LA, even Karen and everybody else attending the show. Way up there in section X, it was only me.

20130905_212404One by one, the dancers crawled out of a perpendicular, clear plastic tube, located at stage-left. They then reconvened at center-stage, around an oval-shaped orb covered with many holes resembling a giant, slightly melted glob of Swiss cheese. The dancers danced around it with caution. But their curiosity was stronger, and the dancers couldn’t help but get close to the orb, touch it, crawl on it. Suddenly, a dancer was sucked into one of the holes of the orb. The other dancers danced real scared-likebut one by one – as if compelled to do so – they danced toward the holes, and one by one they were sucked in. For a moment, the droning music played to a stage devoid of Humanity…

On Wednesday, I went to a cafe I like to frequent on Vine Street. I thought it would be my last time to visit it before I left. There I ran into my buddy, M, who was homeless. I hadn’t seen M for a few weeks and had begun to fear the worst. But there he was, in a clean shirt, smiling.

“I been real good,” said M. “I gotta job. But it’s down further west so I just find a place near there when I get off, to sleep. A guy offered me a job in Hollywood, but they’re big on personal hygiene and I can’t get to a shower before the shift starts. But it’s all good. I get my first VA check next week and my food stamps, and I’m on two housing lists, so…”

“Man, I been dreaming so much,” said Usef, an old, bald, all-night Persian cab driver whose bluetooth was always wrapped around his ear as if it were permanently screwed into his skull. The three of us drank coffee at a table on the sidewalk. “I tell you, I haven’t dreamed in twenty years, man. Now, all the time when I get off work in the morning, I dream. Nothing strange, just something like I’m telling my cousin or brothers something funny and they laugh. Then I wake up.” Usef laughed. “Stupid stuff. But I hope I keep having the dreams.”

I gave Usef and M my own fare-thee-wells with a little bit of but when?

“Hey,” shouted M as I walked away, “say hello to all my ex’s in Texas for me, ha, ha!”

20130904_175250-1

Homeless in The Valley.

That evening, I took the subway to North Hollywood and then the 183 bus down Magnolia Boulevard. Magnolia is a long straight road that traverses most of The Valley. I stared out the window, at the endless sprawl of apartment complexes along either side of the street. The heat came in through the window but the other side of my face was cold from the air-conditioning in the bus. Plump, pleasant ladies chatted away in Spanish, laughing heartily at something as I pressed my head to the window, daydreaming deep into the wide, flat sprawl of The Valley as it was slowly and steadily subdued by longer and longer suburban shadows. The view out the window could’ve be anywhere in the U.S. – Grand Junction, Colorado, way out by the Interstate; Sioux Falls, South Dakota somewhere out by the Indian casino; or basically anywhere in and around Orlando, Florida.

“Last stop, man,” shouted the bus driver. We were at the corner of Ventura and Sepulveda Boulevards. All the plump ladies were gone, I was the only one on the bus. Space and time was dancing and bending again…

The giant ball of Swiss cheese began to open. Inside, the dancers danced to figure out where the hell they were. They writhed about, scared and fascinated with a desire to…what? I don’t know, but I didn’t need to. Whatever they desired, the dancers owned it in their bones and emotion came forth from their moves and that was good enough for me. The dancers were incredibly strong – lifting, tossing, throwing each other. One misstep could have meant serious injury. But they kept at it, gyrating inside the orb, hoping to comprehend it in some way. The music and movement escalated until suddenly, only a lone female dancer graced the stage. The music stopped, then came in low but fierce and the woman jerked from side to side, jumped, crouched, searched, searched, searched. Then she did something I’d never seen before. After arching backward and balancing on her feet and hands, she lifted her hands, balancing only on her feet, and held the position. From all the way where I was, I could see her leg muscles twitching, her face grimmacing. Then, she straightened from that position, and danced as if she’d found Something. The rest of the dancers came out with the plastic tube. The orb began to close over the dancers. The woman crawled into the tube. The dancers then thrust both tube and woman through one of the holes just as the orb closed.The woman climbed out of edge of the tube and reached as far out as she could out into space, her eyes peering into the dark, beautiful unknown. Then blackout, end of show.

Don't know what this picture symbolizes in this blog but it doesn't matter.

Don’t know what this picture symbolizes in this blog but it doesn’t matter.

As I sat in Karen’s kitchen Friday morning, drinking coffee, the dancers still danced around in my head. There they were, scurrying around that porous orb, not running away, or to, or in or out, but through…Something. But after my second cup, I swept them off my mind and got dressed. I was staying at Karen’s place in return for a little handy-man work and I needed to work finish up some things before I could go a Zen House in Central LA to meditate that evening. I’m not Buddhist. But I am curious.

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…

 

The Pipeliner’s Dilemma by Luis Galindo (Echoes From Other Hobos, #1)

Luis Galindo

Luis Galindo

He stopped the truck and threw it into park on a dirt road just after The Universe punched him in the face. It was as though someone who was sitting next to him had reared back and struck him across the jaw line, so clear and startling was the revelation.

He’d been working on the pipeline for several months now – an outfit called King Pipeline. His younger brother had got him the job, even managed to secure him a place on his crew in those first months. They worked together in the chemical plants and refineries of Pasadena and Channelview. It was good to work with his brother. He enjoyed it very much. But his brother had recently been sent to head up a new job in New Orleans, leaving him alone to work with men he did not know on a cattle ranch on the outskirts of nowhere while living in a cheap motel room in Goliad, Texas.

He’d started on the pipeline in the early Summer of that same year, a month after graduating from a university on the East Coast with an Master of Fine Arts in fakery and disguise. He’d vowed that he’d never take another job where he’d have to shower after work – just a few years before, sitting in his apartment in New York City with his friends, proposing a toast, “Here’s to grad school boys and to never having to lift shit for a living again.” But since then he’d done much lifting, continued lifting and had been lifting heavy objects until just a few moments before The Cosmos had tried to give him a knock out blow in the cab of the work truck which he now drove.

He’d just completed a ten-hour workday on the Polinski Cattle Ranch where he and the pipe gang were laying half a mile of thirty-two inch pipe, which was to be pulled underneath the Colorado River then used to transport natural gas to its final destination. Where that destination was he didn’t know or care.

As he sat in the cab of the work truck alone, a mile away from the main gate of the ranch he began seeing things in a different light and thinking things with a different means of process. The truck, the sky. The whole world seemed very familiar yet strangely different, more wondrous than it ever had, before this moment. And in a voice as clear as his own he heard the words, You could be happy doing this for the rest of your life. Maybe.

The sun was setting and it streaked the South Texas sky with swaths of purple, pink, orange and blue the likes of which he’d never seen before in his life. Cattle grazed lazily on that vast stretch of land. Pecan and Mesquite trees dotted the ranch as far as one could see to the south. Small flocks of birds winged through the twilight. Though the truck’s engine was off the radio still played low, but clear. It was a country music station and the song was pure honky-tonk heartbreak. Steel guitars cried and a man’s voice pleaded. The song, as far as he could tell, was about loss and moving on. Hands on the wheel. The enormous silence underneath absolutely everything – the light, his breath, the tightness of the muscles in his back and his legs all the way down to his steel-toe boots. All of the world, there, in that perfect moment. Precise. He was there.

Maybe I could do this forever? Maybe this is all I need? Maybe working hard, making money and living in motels until the right woman came along would be alright? I could pay off my student loan, buy a new truck, buy a house and be an eligible bachelor with something to offer. Hell, I might even quit drinking and doing drugs. Then he thought through the whole list again.

Could he give up trying to be an artist? Could he really work this way for the next thirty years? Would this be enough to sustain his spirit, his comfort level, while his loftier ambitions were put on hold? Could he pretend those ambitions were not there? Could he continue pouring vodka and pills on his problems? Would the fire that burned inside him be extinguished long enough for him to build an escape route to this life?

He thought of the long days of work. The sun or the cold beating him down one millimeter at a time. He would be beaten a little smaller every day. He thought of the intolerance of some, not all, of the workers on the crew, the bosses, the bosses’ bosses until it became one long chain of ignorance and fear. A chain of hate forged in the cold fires of the inability to reach out, to try and understand another human being. How many more “fuckin’ wetbacks” could he hear before exacting revenge?

He thought of the woman he might meet. Would he meet one that really loved him? One that read Thomas, Cummings and Shakespeare? One that would tolerate his penchant for carousing until the small hours? One that would stay?

Thought after thought, possibility after possibility. Scenarios from what he thought a normal happy life might look like flooded his head. Scenes with women, first dates, bank managers, car dealers, dentists, in-laws, doctors, children, little league games, all of these things filled his mind at once like some dry and desolate water tank with a rusty and reluctant valve which now broke open and flooded the parched and dry receptacle of his mind with hope and wonder. He looked at his reflection in the side-view mirror. He saw the face of a man he thought he knew staring back at him. A man only slightly familiar, like some distant cousin met only once or twice in childhood.

The sun had almost disappeared and the brilliant colors from a few moments ago were almost gone like ribbons being taken down after a birthday party. Deep indigo and lighter blues remained, hanging there in space like towels on a clothesline. He turned the key in the ignition. The engine started right away, a low loping murmur. He put his right foot on the brake, shifted into drive, released the brake and slowly made his way down the dirt road towards the ranch gate and its lock.

He arrived at the gate, put the truck in park and killed it. He got out, unlocked the gate and swung it open away from the highway which was just a few yards in front of him. He got back in the truck, started it, drove to through to the edge of the highway, got out and went back to shut the gate.

Before he returned to the truck he stopped and looked left on the highway then looked right. There was no traffic, no wind, nothing save the lights of the radio towers that dotted the horizon and what few stars had begun to shine. Time was swollen, pregnant with what The Universe had just revealed to him. Was it The Universe, or him? His own fear, intolerance and inability to reach out and understand another human being, namely himself?

He stood there in that dense stillness. Maybe this life isn’t so bad after all? Maybe I don’t need to be an artist? It could be this simple all the time. The distrust of these ideas made his shoulders tense. He drew a deep breath and sighed it out.

He needed a drink. He walked back to the truck, reached under the seat and pulled out a plastic pint bottle of vodka wrapped in an oil cloth and stored in a plastic bag. He unwrapped it and looked to see how much was left. A little less than half. Just enough to get him to the liquor store and refuel and to make the music on the radio sound better. It would also serve to help him forget the decision that was put to him, if just for the rest of the night.

He unscrewed the top and took a long hard pull. The jet-fuel vapors in the nose and the sweet burn down the throat were all too familiar to him now. He’d been drinking and drugging hard for a year now. It felt exactly right and completely wrong at the same time, like playing himself at chess and pretending not to know what his next move would be. He screwed the cap back on and shoved the bottle, rag and bag under the seat again. He got in the truck, put it in drive and headed west on the highway towards Goliad in the quiet night. The vodka had loosened his nerves like a hot bath and he turned up the radio.

The Universe had revealed itself, punched him in the face. The only question left was would he punch back and how hard? He pressed the gas a little harder and watched the needle on the speedometer rise. Night was now completely upon him and he wondered what he would do.

© 2014

The Scottish King in LA

The Scottish King in LA

Luis Galindo is an actor and writer. He is an ensemble member of Independent Shakespeare Company in Los Angeles, currently playing the title role in Macbeth, and the role of Jaques in As You Like It, in their summer festival in Griffith Park. In the Fall, he’ll serve as a guest artist/lecturer at Tulane University in New Orleans. The Pipeliner’s Dilemma is part of his upcoming book, Electric Rats in a Neon Gutter – Poems, Songs and Stories from the Cities of America – due out in early 2014 via Jamberoo Press. Luis is from Texas.

Space Travel Will Save Us

Hello Everybody,

Just insert your own caption.

Just insert your own caption.

Last Monday, I was walking through Wino’s Alley on Serrano Street toward Sunset Boulevard. A couple of winos were laying on the the sidewalk ahead of me, their bodies curved to fit in whatever shade was available, on the sidewalk outside the Food 4 Less. Across the street, against the wall of Bill’s Liquor, three other winos – babbling, drinking, seeing things I couldn’t see – kept counsel on the other side.

“BLAH!” Exclaimed one.

“Blah, blah…blah,” Said the other consolingly.

“Bl…bl…bah, blah. Blah. Blah,” Conceded the first.

“Blah, blah,” said the second, shaking his head in affirmation.

“Blah?” asked the third, who’d been destracted by a sunray.

It was an unusually clear day. To the north, the beautiful Hollywood Hills could be seen in sharp detail. Mini-palaces with big shiny windows and large balconies teetered over the sharp drop-offs of the bushy green Hills. Palm trees popped up in clusters here and there. The Hills looked so close in the smogless sky – floating in the heat waves of the hot day. It was as if the visage was projected out of the brain of the sleeping wino just ahead of me – a good dream about The High Life in 3D. The wino lay there – a crumpled up pizza box for a pillow – covered in grime from his gray hair to his one dingy sock next to a spattering of unidentifyable, dry organic matter. At first, I thought he was dead. But just after I leaned in for a closer look, he twitched slightly, as if an angel nudged him, or a gnat flew in his nose.

...perchance to dream...

…perchance to dream…

Across the street, one of the babbling winos crushed his empty 24oz. beer can and threw it in the gutter. His gin-blossomed face went blank as his fine day suddenly got hotter and longer. He sat in absolute disgust, listening to a slow clock ticking somewhere, pretending not to hear the howls of the dogs of despair that would be on him by evening. His two compadres babbled on. They still had some booze left. Their day was still Just Fine.

I found myself anxious, later that afternoon. My job in Los Angeles – building the set for Independent Shakespeare Company’s summer play festival in Griffith Park – all summer long folks, go to iscla.org for the schedule! – had finished up, for the most part. I’d been spent the last few days writing and trolling the internet for writing jobs, adding up to a lot of computer time. By Monday, I felt as if I’d just crawled out of one of those cryo-jelly pods like Keanu Reeves in the The Matrix, just after he took the Red Pill. Now that I was back in the carnal world, my body needed to move, so I decided to hike up to the Griffith Park Observatory – up in those Hills of that wino’s dream.

Just beyond the entrance of the park, people of all kinds lounged in the thick dark-green cool shade the park offered. Frizbees, picnics, books. A group of Buddhists meditated. A group of Muslims prayed towards Mecca. A steady flow of couples, joggers and dogs and their owners moved up and down the trail leading to the observatory. I joined the assembly line and headed up the switchback trail.

The idle time had taken it’s toll. I was sucking in air as I neared the observatory, sweating profusely. The sweat had a consistency of thin oil, and burned my eyes as I humped it up the hill. Everybody else looked fine. There were too giggly girls just ahead of me, talking about there dudes and what they ate for lunch. Behind me was a young couple, both wearing capris, skipping along, talking to each other like lovers do.

Halfway there...

Halfway there…

“Well, that’s a bit of history that they don’t tell ya’ in school, isn’t it?” said the girl.

“I know, it’s crazy, right?” replied the dude.

“You’re so smart.”

“Ah, well, you know.”

About two-thirds of the way up, there was stony water run-off that served as a shortcut for the more adventruous pilgrims heading to the observatory. I ascended the steep incline – slipping now and then, catching myself on rocks to stay upright – and crawled up to the last stretch of the switchback. Sweat stuck to my hands like hamburger grease. My shirt and jeans were soaked and covered in dirt. There was a tree by the trail and I went under it – my wet clothes cooled me in the breezy shade. A few moments later, the young couple in capri’s walked by, nuzzling against each other. They looked un-alone, un-worried, as He directed She’s attention to various parts of the city.

“Oh, that’s it, way over there?”

“Yeah, way over there, isn’t that cool?”

“That is so cool!”

The bounced up the trail like Raggedy Ann and Andy. Renewed with vigor, I followed.

20130714_170202The observatory is closed on Mondays, but many people were there, laying about on the greens in front of the entrance, peering out from the observatory’s balcony. I shouldered my way into the crowd on the balcony and looked over the city. Los Angeles sprawles so far out it finally just disappears, like there’s only the city and there’s never been anything else. I could see East Hollywood from the balcony pretty clearly. I could even see the corner of Serrano and Sunset. I couldn’t see the wino’s. But they were there.

Next to me, a girl held her smartphone to her ear, smiling to herself over what she was hearing. On the other side of me, a woman subconsiously put her arm around her husband – or whoever he was – as they stared out to the west. Behind me, a happy man carried his happy little son on his shoulders. Behind him a guy was taking pictures of his reluctant girlfriend on the concrete walkway, where there is an ebedded, brass diagram of our solar system.

Its all just stuff, spinning around.

Its all just stuff, spinning around.

In the center of the diagram, is a little brass dot, representing the sun. Then you have a brass circle representing the orbit of Mercury around the Sun. Then you have one respresenting Venus’ orbit, Earth’s, Mars’. There’s nothing after Mars for a while – you have to walk several pace before you come to Jupitor’s orbit. Then there’s Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and then there’s poor, demoted Pluto. When I was little, Pluto was a planet, I thought. Suddenly, I was rocketted back to the first grade, learning the planets in a little small town classroom with my childhood friends. But I was back in LA almost instantly, sweaty, older, and a long way from that little classroom.  When I was little, Pluto was a planet…a planet…

I walked back to Earth’s orbit, stared at it. Looking down on it, it was an incredibibly simple place, planet Earth. Spins around while circling the sun, that’s all. I thought about what that astronaut said…

If somebody’d said before the flight, “Are you going to get carried away looking at the earth from the moon?” I would have say, “No, no way.” But yet when I first looked back at the earth, standing on the moon, I cried.  Alan Shepard, Apollo 14 astronaut, second human in space.

Well, that’s nice, but that’s not what I was thinking about…

Oddly enough the overriding sensation I got looking at the earth was, my god that little thing is so fragile out there. Mike Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut; interview for the 2007 movie In the Shadow of the Moon.

Close, but nope, wasn’t him, either…

This planet is not terra firma. It is a delicate flower and it must be cared for. It’s lonely. It’s small. It’s isolated, and there is no resupply. And we are mistreating it. Clearly, the highest loyalty we should have is not to our own country or our own religion or our hometown or even to ourselves. It should be to, number two, the family of man, and number one, the planet at large. This is our home, and this is all we’ve got. Scott Carpenter, Mecury 7 astronaut; speech at Millersville University, Pennslyvania. 15 October 1992.

Not quite, but we’re getting closer…

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small. Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 Astronaut, first man on the moon.

THUMB!!!! THUMB!!!! Thanks for the hint, Neil Armstrong! Now, this is what I thought about…

We learned a lot about the Moon, but what we really learned was about the Earth. The fact that just from the distance of the Moon you can put your thumb up and you can hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything that you’ve ever known, your loved ones, your business, the problems of the Earth itself—all behind your thumb. And how insignificant we really all are, but then how fortunate we are to have this body and to be able to enjoy living here amongst the beauty of the Earth itself. Jim Lovell, Apollo 8 & 13 astronaut;   In the Shadow of the Moon.

So simple.

Simple…

By the time I descended the hill and got back to Hollywood, it was dark. I walked along from one dark pocket of shadow to the next along Hollywood Boulevard. The sidewalk was sprinkled with panhandlers, charged from the energy of the night into a near euphoric state. They almost looked happy they rattled about, their thin frames swinging inside their baggy clothes…say man, you got a dollar…bus fare…listen, I’m outta gas…I just need a fu#$ing quarter, man…ok, how about 20 cents? Man, what’s 20 cents?!

Sorry, buddy…sorry, buddy…sorry, buddy…

“Hey what’s up, man?” asked a different kind of voice coming out of a shadow.

I looked to my left and saw an old, black ashen hand sticking out of a shadow, holding a nearly full pint of gin. The bottle glowed in the streetlight, the shiny liquid sloshed around. I peered into the shadwow. The old man sat in a wheelchair, rubbing his abdomen as if to soothe the open wound caused by the jagged, sharp scales of the craving that crawled in and out him. But the craving seemed to be pacified for the time being, for he sported a large, gaping smile under his blooshot eyes. He held the pint higher, to me. He looked so happy.

“Say, wan’chu have a drink wimme?”

His smile was infectious, so I smiled back. But I didn’t answer. He leaned closer.

“Come on, man…drink wimme.”

The gin was strong. I lingered in its bouquet long enough for it to start smelling real good and perfect and absolute and the only thing I’ve ever wanted.

“No, thanks, buddy.”

As I left him, he reached out to grab me, just missing my arm.

“Hey, come on, man! HEY! HEY!”

“I’m sorry, buddy…”

Then his smile broke and on rushed the despair.

“GODAMMIT, MAN. JUST TALK TA’ ME!!!”

See me?

They’re still there…

There was a wounded brutality to his voice. But after he shouted, he looked down at the ground. Tick, tock, and the howls growing nearer. But he was laughing when I made it to the corner. I turned around. He laughed, took a long drink, then laughed some more. The dogs of despair had passed him by, and his night was back to being Just Fine.

Be well…

The Bad View Of Tomorrow From Behind Today

Hello Everyone…

The projectors are rolling...

The projectors are rolling…

Last week, I spent a lot of time looking at the back of people’s heads – on the bus, behind the wheel waiting for red lights to turn green, in line at grocery, hardware and art stores. I didn’t see a lot talking – or communing in other ways – with anyone else. But I saw a lot of thinking. Or, I chose to see only their thoughts – their silence. In each little head in front of me was a miniature IMAX theater screening Le Grande Epic – but interpreting it differently. Behind the skulls of all the little heads, I saw lists of things that needed to get done that day. I saw worry over the possibility of some of those things not getting done that day. And, I saw the weary mixture of disappointment and consolation stirred by the fact that some of those things would have to wait until tomrorrow. That is, if the Great Projector didn’t break and our little IMAX went black – the only sound being Le Grande Epic spooling off the reel and falling, hollowly, to the floor.

When I am angry and tired, I tend to interpret Le Grande Epic as some kind of mockumentary-farcical-drama – comedic when I expect it to be serious and sad just when I think I’m going to laugh. Real people play puppets who the lead character can’t control. The lead character sacrifices himself over and over to spite his enemies – enemies impecably disguised as true friends, so well disguised, they treat him ill in no manner, whatsoever – those devious foes. It’s a bad film, to say the least. But when I’m angry and tired I proudly wear the lead actor’s thorny crown, and place the thoughts I want to see into all the little heads before me.

The beginning...

The beginning…

Why so angry and tired, you ask? No real reason, although I felt a little overworked, which was to be expected. The first show of Independent Shakespeare Company’s season in Griffith Park – She Stoops to Conquer – opened on Thursday, and all involved pushed through much exhaustion to get the show running. Producing a show is like herding cattled through a pencil sharpener. In the beginning, you can’t even see the pencil sharpener, and the bovine hoard moves along like a slow deep predictable river. This goes on for some time, and for a while time seems to be in abundance, even maliable. Then the pencil sharpener appears on the horizon – shakes a little from the pounding of hooves – so we work a little faster, longer, but we don’t go crazy. But suddenly – as if two or three weeks were completely cut from Time’s thread – the pencil sharpener is exponentially approaching. And – before anyone can do anything about it – the pencil sharpener is pulverized by the first hoof of the first cow, and only then do we think that maybe driving cattle through a pencil sharpener wasn’t the greatest theme to follow for a theatrical production. But we stick with the idea, for it is too late to change. We seek solutions – theatre magic – to make it appear as if cattle really are being driven into a pencil sharpener. This happens usually about a half-hour before the curtain goes up for the first show which, absolutely, must go on.

All shows are like this – to lesser or greater degrees – in my experience, and I have to say She Stoops to Conquer was a lesser degree or two than usual. But as opening night approached, the the time between searching for solutions, finding solutions and building those solutions amplified the electric currents in my head to sizzling levels and frazzled some brain wires.

But last week also offered a few moments of serenity and stillness. Tuesday night, I stumbled into one of these peaceful interludes, after the tech rehearsal started. In the calm, I was able to regain a sense of presence, to find the moment. The rehearsal started just after dusk. The hot day was gone and a cool invisible blanket covered the meadow. Not half an hour later, I was wearing a hoodie to keep warm. A few groups of people had wandered to the meadow and sat down to watch the rehearsal. Another group was having a party atop the abandoned bear cages of the old LA Zoo. Every now and then they would shout, cheer at nothing in particular while waving flashlights in all directions. When darkness had fallen, the lighting techs started to tweak the lighting. The light onstage flickered, shut off, brightened as the actors did their best to incorporate what they’d rehearsed onto a new stage. I felt far away from everything.

Watching the watchers watch.

Watching the watchers watch.

A technical rehearsal is a profoundly human portrayal of the human condition. The actors act, with no one “on-book” to feed them lines they can’t remember. They search their tired brains for the next word like grasping for life vests in blacknight water. Just as they are about to sink below the surface, another actor picks up somewhere further into the script and they continue on. They shake off the mistake and move about the semi-lit stage – getting used to costumes as they stumble further into the landscape of the writer’s mind. They a vague sense of this world, but the reincarnated souls of the characters obey the rules and do not inform the actors in which they reside. As the rehearsal continues, a few more pieces fit together. The show looks almost complete, as if one more spell by the Great Theatre Witch needs to be cast. A candelabra breaks, flowers fall out of a vase, and the sword fight looks a bit sloppy, but that’s the way it goes. Maybe things will be a little tighter tomorrow. At a certain point, the only solution is tomorrow. You don’t take groceries out of the bag, put them on the shelf, then put them all back on the counter and start checking out again if you bitched at the clerk. And the bus driver’s not going to turn around if you miss your stop. It’s just “sorry” to the clerk and a longer walk home – and you’ll be damned if you’re so cruel or absent minded tomorrow.

The cool darkness grew heavier during the second act. The actors moved about the stage like Scooby Doo and the Mystery Gang. I walked from side to side, behind everyone – checking out the stage from all directions to see if anything needed to be fixed. I noticed the back of everyone’s heads again. There was the director, Melissa’s head, Marcos’, Liam’s and Cassady’s – the interns – heads, and there was the back of Cat’s head as she viewed the show on a ladder next to a light, Laura’s – the stage manager’s – head. All were watching the same production, but their views of the world unfolding in front of them were as vastly different as they were as individuals.

The coyotes in the park began to call to each other. This excited the gang of flashlighted humans above the bear cages, and they began to shout and howl back at the coyotes. For a simple quick moment, there was absolutely no difference between humans and coyotes. Then suddenly – as if on a timer – both packs of animals stopped howling. Slowly, I began to hear crickets. Then, softly, the voices of the actors reached my ears. I became aware that it was really cold, despite the hoodie I was wearing. As I rubbed my arms to warm myself, a very old memory came back to me. I was sitting in a movie theater in Corpus Christi, Texas – I was around 7 years old. There was a clock jutting out of the wall, to the side of the screen, near the exit. It’s hands were illiminated – just before 3pm. I remember’d thinking that time didn’t matter as long as the movie was playing. Time – with it’s brutal potential to hover like God over us – could be obliterated as long as we continued to tell Our Story. That was about as Cosmic as I got last week.

Come out and see a show! Griffith Park, 7:30pm, Thursday thru Sunday until August 31st.

Come out and see a show! Griffith Park, 7:00pm, Thursday thru Sunday until August 31st.

She Stoops to Conquer opened Thursday night. I heard people really loved it. I would think so. It’s a big, busy, fun farce that has a lot of heart and it’s performed and directed really well. You actually believe you’re seeing the cattle enter the pencil sharpener. Some things came together perfectly, some didn’t, but the things that didn’t were probably not even noticed by the crowd. And any mistakes that were noticed were hardly minded at all. My friend, Claudia – a performer in the play – lost her skirt onstage. It got caught on the door. “The crowd got a good laugh when I slowly pulled offstage from behind the door,” she said. How do you start over after something like that? There’s only tomorrow.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

The Light behind Reality.

The Light behind Reality.

That’s the famous sililoquy in Macbeth, spoken by the title character. Macbeth is Idependent Shakespeare Company’s next show of the summer. It opens next week. It’s much heavier, much darker than She Stoops to Conquer, but immediately after humanity’s last recorded syllable, all our dramas and comedies will have appeared to be the same tale.

I fixed a few things on the set before the show on Friday, but left before the curtain went up. The heat of the day had gone, but the concrete at the bus stop released all the heat it had absorbed during the day. It was that dusty end-of-day summer heat that – even without a speck of dirt on your person – sinks into every wrinkle and crevace on your body and makes you feel nasty. I praised all the All-Mighties when I boarded the air-conditioned bus, then stared at all the little heads before me with all those little thoughts and all those little tomorrows. But for some reason, I slipped into Dark Yesterday. Soon, I was thinking of ways I could’ve made the set better. This, that, not that, or even that, Jesus, that would’ve been much simpler, you idiot! From there – naturally – I began to think of ways I could’ve treated ex-girlfriends better, then to things I should’ve told my father and close friends before they died. Then came the flood of a million other shoulds and shouldn’ts until I found myself reaching out in the blacknight water for life-preservers of memory – those moments when only just words were spoken and just actions were made in the moment.

A blurry fountain. No, I did not take a picture of her boob.

A blurry fountain. No, I did not take a picture of her boob.

I couldn’t find those moments, however, and when the bus stopped, all I had to save me from the stagnant waters of The Past was a young Mexican-American mother with a boob hanging out of her blouse. I let her exit the bus before me. She was holding an infant – and with one arm fastening child-to teat, and the other lugging her grocery bags, baby bag, purse and stroller, she stepped out on the curb and waited for another bus. She wasn’t even home yet, she had at least one more bus to go. Or, maybe she wasn’t going home. Maybe her tomorrow had already begun. Wherever she was going, she looked too busy juggling that baby to be stuck in The Past.

Be well…

We Always Have Been

Hello Everyone,

Really?! Me?! Well, shazam, shazam...

Really?! Me?! Well, shazam, shazam…

At the end of a long work day last Tuesday, me and my buddy, Luis – who’s been helping me build Independent Shakespeare Company’s set in Griffith Park, and will be portraying Macbeth later this summer – were cleaning up, talking about stuff we normally do.

“DMT (dimethyltriptamine),” said Luis, “is found in just about every animal. It’s generated from your pineal gland, or your Third Eye – your connection to the rest of the Universe, connection to God. If it gets calcified, it stops producing DMT and your Third Eye is disabled. Flouride’s a big reason it can calcify. And they put it in our tapwater, our toothpaste. We stop gettin’ curious, then we’re happy with shit like cable TV, jobs, cars…and were shut off from the power of the Universe. You can get online and see all you need to do to decalcify your pineal gland.”

The work on the set is winding down. The next phase in the project is to tackle many tiny and annoying problems – tweaking elusive little things that aren’t usually seen until the producer walks the stage with you and – for some reason – are shining like gold bars. You need to fix that. Oh, that needs to be rebuilt. My only answer is an Oh, of course combined with a goofy shake of the head. I’ll do that today, sure thing. However, for now, the intense labor is finished, so I decided to take Wednesday off.

“You completely decalcify your pineal gland,” continued Luis as we walked to his bungalow in Hollywood, later that evening, “then you’d be like what Terrance Mckenna talked about, visiting the Machine Elves that exist behind Reality and you’d be speaking a language language that is all powerful, in that your ideas manifest themselves as soon as they are spoken.”

Eyeballs of the approaching Machine Elves

Eyeballs of the approaching Machine Elves

The downtime on Wednesday threw my operating system out of whack. I was tired, but awoke in the early morning and couldn’t sleep. Later that morning, I was alert but could barely stay awake. I fooled around and drank much coffee until early afternoon – when I could justify taking a nap. Luis’ Hollywood bungalow is a fine locale for a siesta. It’s well lit, though no light shines directly into it. If you open the windows and doors, a cool breeze comes through, rattling the window blinds that rattle you to slumber. But it’s never complete slumber, more like a slightly narcotic stupor – or covering up under a magic blanket – you are keen to the sounds of the reality around you, but the sounds take on new shapes, with more dimension and meaning than I am capable of explaining. But you know what I’m talking about, anyway.

Luis’s neighbor has been on a Pink Floyd trip, lately – blasting the The Wall album over and over at all times, day and night. I enjoy hearing it slightly muffled by the paper thin walls of the bungalow. Roger Water’s baselines gently thud me toward slumber…his voice is my Virgil guiding me deeper into Dreamland…

Did-did-did-did-you see the frightened ones?
Did-did-did-did-you hear the falling bombs?
Did-did-did-did-you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter
When the promise of a brave new world
Unfurled beneath a clear blue sky?

20130622_100745“Thomas! Thomas!”

A man was shouting the name and pounding on the neighbor’s door. A baby was crying. Another neighbor’s pet birds were chirping loud in their cage in the narrow walkway just outside the door. Then, many Spanish voices talked fast over each other. I checked the time, it was nearly 4:30. I sat up on the couch just as an ambulance hit it’s siren to begin the nightly ambulance drag races that occur up and down Hollywood Boulevard. I was no longer sleepy, but signals from my brain to my appendages were running like a city bus on a nearly forgotten holiday’s schedule. I sat there – watching my slow feet dangle as if I was observing two baby apes stumbling from tree trunk to tree trunk. Pink Floyd was still playing, or had started over, or had always been playing, long before there was a Pink Floyd and the band was merely an instrument for an eternal message…

I am just a new boy,
Stranger in this town.
Where are all the good times?
Who’s gonna show this stranger around?
Ooooh, I need a dirty woman.
Ooooh, I need a dirty girl.

I didn’t know what to do with myself. Hmm, Self. Is there even a self? I asked my Self. Did you create this Self simply to make sense of the phenomena of Life – the energy of the Universe? I stood up, slid into my flip-flops and headed to Freaktown around the corner of Hollywood and Vine. There I could see existentialism instead of talk to myself about it.

Evening along the Hollywood Walk of Fame is an interesting time. Sunburnt tourists are still out – tired but starry eyed, nonetheless. They stand between orange and yellow alert at street corners – hands on their purses or children – amongst the hustle of the panhandlers, street performers, tattooed and dirty women who cry into cellphones while lugging all their belongings in an old suitcase, underfed actors posing as superheroes, winos, and junked out boygirls dancing to a tune that has only ever been played in their head. They slow-boogie on skinny legs covered in loose, torn fishnets. The tourists keep their eyes down, burning stares into Gregory Peck’s star, praying the walklight comes soon.

“I know, I know…” said a drunk man teetering on the curb – inches from the speeded cars. “Say…I gonna..gon’ get so nah! But she don’t…know (no?) Wa my sayin’? Whaa?!”

Where Disney meets Bad Gin

Where Disney meets Bad Gin

The poor freckled ponytailed tourist with the rosey cheeks. who the slurring man was rubbing against, was stiff as a statue. I could see into her mind as she mouthed text of To Kill A Mocking Bird – Atticus Finch was tucking Scout in for the night with a look of great concern – a need to protect young Scout. Lawyer Finch knows there’s real Evil out there. Not all the freaks can end up being a harmless Boo Radley. But he also knows she’s going to grow to a place where father’s can’t protect their little girls, and he will have to let her go. Damn the letting go! Atticus frowns, then smiles, kisses Scout on the forhead and turns out the light. The walklight flashed and we crossed The River Hollywood to another bank strewn with mostly dead stars.

It was dark when I got back to Luis’ place. A helicopter was circling just above – a nightly occurance. Sirens. Shouting. It makes sense that the desperados run around in circles out here. They keep bouncing off the water. They don’t run the other way because Americans don’t Head East. We rush west all the way the end of the line. The outlaws bounce, run, bounce, bounce, run…almost like they are spanked mericessly by tongs in a pinball machine played by a Great Creator until he gets tired, lets his silver balls fall into the abyss and leaves the arcade.

Later, I lay in bed, bathed in the light of my laptop – not looking at the screen, just above it, listening to a fiery Spanish argument between an senor and a senora. The senora screamed, the senor shouted. Then it was only the senora screaming, the senor silent. Then they habla’d soft and sweaty until they spoke no more.

I saw the lovers clearly in my mind – embracing each other and kissing hard against a 1999 dented Honda Accord. Beyond them I saw an ambulance cruise down Hollywood slowly. The EMTs have finished their shift – winning some, losing some like every other night. I watched them go further into Hollywood. Freaktown’s lights were still shining but the tourists had all gone to bed. On their slumbering faces I saw peace, but also a little disappointment for having realized they visited a place where they always are, have always been, for in slumber they are given glimpses of the Eternal and the Everywhere and the Everything – and they know themselves completely, if only in inarticulate fragments of dream chaos.

I turned from the sleeping tourists and saw one of the junky boygirls standing at the corner of Hollywood and Gower – just beyond the edge of the Hollywood shine. He taps his foot on Stanley Kramer’s star – the last star on the Walk of Fame – waiting for yet another walklight. I see his past, future and present. Most of his life is at the mercy of a walklight. When he does fall into a stride all his own he smiles down at his legs only to look up and see “Don’t Walk” flash again. I saw his loneliness in the black night, as he jerked and twitched – the Night Things were lurching to him, closer, closer. They began by lightly scratching his cheek, but in quick order they are carving into his flesh. He’s too consumed by despair to know that he is already loved – has always been loved – by a benevolent and non-judging force that is impossible to name. It’s so powerful, it can be scary when one realizes he or she is in contact with it – more so, part of it. So powerful most of Humankind can only call it God. But with names comes the burden to define, then doctrine, then before we know it we’ve created Pinball Wizards in our own image.

"I don't need no drugs to calm me!"

“I don’t need no drugs to calm me!”

Was I honest to everyone I came in contact with, today? I asked myself. The question came out of thin air. I proceeded to re-live the day to find out. Honest? Did I tell the truth, through kindness, to everybody, especially myself? After surveying my day I found the answer. No, I did not.

Myself gave a tsk, tsk, tsk, then transformed into a tiny pine cone. But it kept talking. Is there, indeed, a Self? Hmm, is there? Or is the Self simply your connection to the Big IS? Don’t you feel -if you search way deep down – that you can loosen from Reality, and therefore live free, in constant connection to…ME? Hmm? You might know the answer if you quit brushing your teeth.

That’s when I felt a sharp pang of unlabled fear that broke my understanding of anything whatsoever. My chest hurt. I closed my laptop. Dark Hollywood was silent…except for Pink Floyd…

Hey you! out there on your own
Sitting naked by the phone would you touch me
Hey you! with your ear against the wall
Waiting for someone to call out would you touch me…

Trust the Shaman

Trust the Shaman

The fear kept coming. I tried to fall asleep before Panic became a logical reaction. But I couldn’t sleep. Only when the Night Things were about to crawl through the window, did I do the only thing I could do in such a moment – I prayed. It worked. I slept.

Be well…

The Heartbreaking Rarity of Vacuums

Hello Everyone…

My office.

My office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coyote Moon

Coyote Moon

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

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

I-5 and the speen of lies.

I-5 and the speed of lies.

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

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

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

A prophet sleeping before his shift.

A prophet sleeping before his shift.

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

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

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

Urban Wilderness

Urban Wilderness

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

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

Be well…