A while back, I was walking up to Food-4-Less at Sunset and Western Boulevards where a bum was being ushered out of the underground parking lot by an employee. The old black, gray-haired bum didn’t give the employee any flack, and the employee appeared sorry to have to oust the old man into biting elements Wild Hollywood.
“Don’t you have anybody,” the young clerk asked, “a family member who’ll put you up?”
The old bum walked ahead of the clerk, slow, hunched shoulders, his jaundiced eyes wide and blank. “Naw’all families what’s left i’back in Texas.”
“Sorry, man, but-”
“Izz alright…I’ll be gon’ now.”
The old bum lifted on foot in front of the other slowly like he was a character in a butoh or kabuki play. The employee followed just long enough to be certain the bum wouldn’t sneak back into the parking garage. But the old bum looked to have already forgotten he’d been in the garage, already forgotten Food-4-Less on Sunset and Western, already forgotten Hollywood. One foot…then another foot…eyes forward…
Friday morning, I awoke to the steady fall of rain. The blinds on my window were shaded in a green-gray hue, much different from the usual orange-yellow that was most mornings. There was usually a soundtrack of chirping birds, too. Of course, no birds came with the sound of rain, but at about 7am, the siren’s began. For the next hour or so, one siren after another screamed down the boulevards, sounds of cars skidding and symphony of horns produced a cadence underneath the emergency vehicles. I could see the skidding cars on the wet streets in my mind. For two days, LA had been in the grips of STORMWATCH ’14 – a collective warning by the local weatherpersons about the oncoming rains which were sure to severely compromise driving conditions. It’s beyond cliche that LA motorists can’t handle driving in rain…
“Yeah, it’s ridiculous,” said my friend John, as he pulled a sharp U-turn on Hollywood Boulevard, later that day, as we sped through Hollywood. “But you gotta keep in mind, when it rains out here…mountains crumble. The world falls apart, bro. Like reality dissolves.”
After hanging out with John, I went to a cafe where I ran into “M”. M had been in and out of homelessness most of last year, but seemed to be getting back in the groove this year. He’d gotten his old job back as a scenic carpenter, got a phone, new clothes, etc. But every now and then I go several weeks without seeing him and I’d begin to worry. Friday marked the end of one of those “several of week’s.”
“I’m alright,” M told me, then she shook his head, “well, no, I’m not alright. My demons came back to me a few weeks ago. They wouldn’t leave so two nights ago I broke into a construction site, tide a rope to a scaffolding and to my neck and jumped. But the rope broke and I fell…only hung for about 3 seconds then I hit the ground. I just laid there on the ground, saying, “why am I still alive, God? Why?”
“How are you doing right now?” I asked.
“Better than I was two days ago. But I still don’t know why I’m still alive.” He was leaning on a parking meter, looking out across Vine St. It wasn’t raining, but the air was wet, cool. “Maybe there’s a reason, you know…”
The rain picked up in the evening and fell through Saturday morning. By the light of the green-blue window, I worked on my friend, Luis’ book that I’m editing…
***ELECTRIC RATS IN A NEON GUTTER: POEMS, SONGS and STORIES by Luis Galindo goes on sale MARCH 10th!!!! Support independent publishing and order a copy! (Psst…if you want, you can already purchase the ebook on AMAZON HERE or on Barnes and Noble NOOK HERE!!!***
***And…keep your eyes peeled for a compilation of El Jamberoo posts in book form! Details forthcoming so stay tuned!***
I thought about that old Texas bum that I saw at Food-4-Less Saturday morning. I thought of M, too, who was out there somewhere – under an awning of a coffee shop or liquor store, but maybe not. Maybe he’s just out in the rain along that long winding, painful road from Texas to Hollywood…that long winding, painful road from anywhere, where there’s no signposts of what’s ahead, where there’s drugs and alcohol and crime or nothing really too terrible at all but for some reason there’s still divorces or estrangement from family, firings from jobs, car wrecks and sickness and money never seems to comes in steadily, where the things you wanted and may have even needed are skylighted upon the horizons to the North or South as you continue to head West. You swore when you set out that you’d head in the direction of those things…swore aloud…but for some reason they’re off to the side…or worse…directly behind you, and you can’t recall for the life of you that you passed them by.
I finished work on the book and ok’d it for printing and online sales. By then the rain had stopped. The orange-yellow hue and bird chirps were back, so I put on my boots and headed to the Home Depot down the street to price materials for an estimate on a rabbit cage I was to build next week.
As I was approaching the hardware store, I saw a man standing out front of the Hollywood Star Inn. As I got closer, the man looked familiar, like…
The man had been squinting at me, as if trying to figure out if he knew me, too.
“Oh my God, Todd Pate!”
I knew Bob back in New York. For years, I worked at a box office in the Theatre District in Midtown Manhattan. Bob came to all the shows there. We struck up a relationship and when I started getting my own plays produced…
“You know I saw everything you ever wrote.” He said, always said, every time he saw me. “You know, Todd, some of your plays were really out there…but I always sensed you were approaching some kind of edge with them, purposely, like you were seeking something on the edge. They were very exciting , even if some were…” He made a waving sign with his hand. “…really out there. But you were always looking for something…”
I was waiting for him to tell me more about this Edge, because it sounded like only a brilliant, dynamic, powerful…etc…kind of writer could reach that kind of Edge. I’d been working on Luis’ writing all morning, I wanted…no, needed to hear about how my writing goes to this Edge, that takes people to this Edge that, and how I may be the only writer in the history of Man who can take you to this Edge…
…but one sprinkle led to another and then the rain came and Bob Hawk and I ran under the awning of the Hollywood Star Inn. By the time he shook off the drops, Bob had changed subjects.
“So I’m out here for some work,” he said, ‘but I thought, if I need to be out here in LA, I’m staying a week. And I don’t care about the rain! It’s better than the cold in New York.!” A car pulled up, Bob’s ride. “Well, I gotta go.” He walked to the car, then turned around suddenly. “Oh, I’m not sure if you know, but that old building were all the bums hung out on 42nd and 9th, next to where you used to work. It’s gone. The whole corner’s completely torn down. It’s surrounded by the wooden fence but you can peek through the holes and see that they are building something new…probably a…” He held a hand high in the air. “…one of those big steel and glass things. But you can see the theatre clearly, and I think of you every time I go down there.”
Bob got in the car, they drove off. I headed toward the Home Depot. The rain was falling hard. The hardware store blurry as I approached it, as if I was crossing through a waterfall separating two worlds…into a world where I was a builder of rabbit cages. coming from a world where I was a writer approaching that Edge, the Edge. No…Bob Hawk and New York seemed more than one world ago. Way back behind me, several storms ago.
On my way back, I had to go to the bank and get rent money. Halfway there, as I walked down Hollywood Blvd, the rain fell the hardest it had yet. The roar of water falling and flowing drowned out all other sounds. Cars silently skidded at red lights, plowed through the huge stream of water that overtook the street – flowing down, to the west, taking the city to the ocean. Bums huddled under awnings, people ran down side streets with inverted umbrellas. I walked, soaking wet, too wet to run anywhere. The damage had been done. I strolled to the bank, pulled out the money, cursing my roommate for having the gall to charge me rent every month. The heavy rain continued on my way home. Thunder echoed every now and then. Well whaddya know,” I thought, “this really is a storm.”
By Sunday afternoon, the rains were gone. The sun made more than one appearance during the day. By evening, the city was clean and pleasant, like it just stepped out of a bath tub. The view of Mount Hollywood and the Observatory was unimpeded by smog or haze. The air was cool. I walked over to my friend’s house to get the keys to his car, so I could pick up his car in the morning, and get materials for the rabbit hutch on Monday morning. It was nighttime when I began my walk back home, I came upon a bum sitting at a bus bench on Hollywood Blvd. I smelled the alcohol from several yards out, before I could see him well. Over and over he’d let out something like a sneeze that he finished with a, “f#$k you…ah, ah, ah choo f#$K you! Ah, ah, ah choo f#$k you!…”
When he got all those out of his system, he resorted to traditional drunken babble. A car passed by and it’s headlights gave me a clear view of the bum. His clothes were damp and soiled. He was about fifty, bearded and nearly toothless. He also had two pair of handcuffs around his neck, worn like necklaces. I walked passed him, and moment later he came down with another case of the “ah choo f#$k you’s.” I turned around and watched him, just thinking that he’s not waiting for a bus. He’s just sitting there, sneezing and cursing. How did fifty or so years get him there? I walked on and he faded from my ears. The city was quiet, except for the coming and going of cars. They’d rush up, I feel their lights on my face, and they’d rush off. Then the dark and quiet again.
I’m ending this blog with that. Maybe there’s a little more to write, maybe not. But I have to get out the door and start building this rabbit cage. The window is yellow-orange and there are birds, even a lawn mower. It’s not a bad world out there today. One that’s pretty to look at, maybe. Pretty enough to keep from looking at the worlds ahead or behind, anyway…maybe.