Smoke And Mirrors

Hello Everybody,

Late Summer heat over Hollywood Boulevard.

Late Summer heat over Hollywood Boulevard.

Last Monday, I helped my friend, Jason, move his wife’s – Jennie, also an old friend of mine – Pilates equipment from her old space to another, larger space in the same building on Hollywood Boulevard.

“I only really need help with this huge wall mirror,” Jason said. “It’s too big for me to move it myself. That’s about it. We’ll move it, remount it, then I’ll buy you lunch.”

The mirror was six feet by three feet. The walls of the old office building were uneven and had been patched and painted several times over the decades. The original installers of the mirror had to build a custom mount for it – the mirror was not meant to come off the wall. By the time we got the mirror off the mount, it was past lunchtime. But we needed to keep working because Jennie needed the studio set up in the new space for the next morning. She’d sublet the space to another Pilates instructor to bring in some extra cash. Jennie was six months pregnant and would be on maternity before long.

“I just remember that it took them days to put get it on the wall the last time, guys…” Jennie said, shrugging her shoulders, holding a broom and dustpan.

Jason and I hustled the mirror out of the tiny room, through the narrow doorway, down the narrow hallway, through the other narrow doorway, and into the new space. The building smelled old. The inner doors in the office spaces were wooden and glass, with names stenciled on them like doors of offices in newsrooms or police offices in TV shows from the 1950’s.

Remounting the mirror proved to be a very difficult task. Like the previous space, the walls in the new space were uneven, covered with old patchwork. Further, it appeared that the space was once adjoined to the neighboring space. Several studs in the wall had been removed to make a passage-way in between the two rooms, and when it was closed up – sometime later – it was done so with only one stud, simply to fasten the drywall in place. The mirror weighed about 150 pounds. It needed to be mounted well, and…

“Sorry guys,” Jennie said, still holding the broom and dustpan. She was sweating, her faced was red, and she looked a bit stressed. “It has to go on that side of the room, because,” she pointed to various light fixtures and electrical outlets on the other wall, “I need this wall clear, see?”

Baby season is coming...

Baby season is coming…

After some debating, Jason and I were able to safely secure the mount to the wall. Then came the task of sliding the huge mirror onto the mount. To do so, we needed to keep the mirror level with the ground, level with the wall, then twist it here and there so we didn’t bind the mirror on the mount, possibly breaking it and causing a horrific bloodletting. We tried this several times, but each effort lead to the same result – the mirror jamming on the mount, with Jason and I stuck holding the heavy, awkward piece of glass, breathing into onto the mirror as if we were staring at our doppelgängers through fog. Jennie – broom, red-faced, tired, stressed – smiled, shook her shoulders. “Sorry guys.”

We’d needed another person to help. I called up my friend, The Great Warrior, who lived just down Hollywood Blvd. “Sure,” he said over the phone, “I already ate, so they don’t have to buy me any lunch. But if it takes more than a few hours, I may look at you in a mean, threatening way.”

It took the three of us several attempts at holding, leveling, sliding – all the while adjusting for the uneven wall. Sunlight burst through the western window of the space, rendering the air-conditioner useless. Dripping sweat, our hands sore, knees shaking, we cursed and grunted until we finally managed to slide the mirror all the way onto the mount. We shouted, gave each other high-fives and did other manly gestures of dominance over the inanimate object for a few moments. Then we stepped back to admire our work. There, the three of us gave a collective, quizzical sigh, tilted our heads to the right. A lead-heavy silence ensued. The mirror was uneven. Tired Jennie and the broom appeared again. The smile, shrug of the shoulders, then “Sorry guys, but…”

Lunch was now dinner. After eating at the taco joint on the first floor of the building – The Great Warrior scowling at me from across the table – we went back and tried again. Lifting, tweaking, grunting, sliding – sweaty hands, shaky legs, weird feelings in the lower abdominal region – all three of us looking through the fog toward ourselves in the alternate universe of the mirror. Alternative Jennie and the broom were beyond the fog, too. She stood in the background, biting her lip, unconsciously stroking her baby-belly with her free hand – tired, blushed, uncertain, excited. After we hung it again, we stepped back to get a better look at the mirror, Then Jason, The Great Warrior and myself turned to Jennie in unison. She smiled, shook head up and down, then said, “Yep.” The sun was long gone and the room was dark and cool. The Great Warrior scowled at me, then smiled, said, “see you around, man,” then left.

Ventura Boulevard

Ventura Boulevard

Late Wednesday afternoon, I had to run errands in Studio City. As I walked down Ventura, a man – khaki shorts, tennis shoes, high white socks, a yellow tee-shirt with palm trees printed on it – came up to me. I’d seen him approaching from several yards ahead. He’d walked up to everyone else in front of me, extending his hand as he’d done so. Most of the people jerked away from him, or ignored him. I debated which to do as he neared me, but I simply froze in my tracks, instead. The man came face to face with me, held out his hand. His eyes were crooked under his raised, black eyebrows – his forehead crinkled under his shock of gray hair. His mouth hung open, exposing his big white teeth.

“Hello,” he said. I didn’t remember extending my hand, but there it was it was, floating between us, and he grabbed it. His handshake was energetic, exaggerated. His eyes were already looking behind me – for the next person – as he said, “Now you have a great day, sir.”

I turned around and watched him kind of hop down the street. More people veered away from him, looked at him like he’s crazy. I’m sure I looked at him that way, too.

An hour later, I’d finished my errands and was walking home when I saw the handshaker again – still at it. It was around 7pm. There were more people on the street – more people repelled from him as if they were of opposite magnetic poles. I froze again, stuck my hand out again just before he came up to me again. He said, “Hello,” as he shook my hand wildly. “Now you have a great day, sir.” I saw absolutely no recognition in his expression that we’d already shook hands. Then he was gone as quick as he came – “Hello sir’s” and “Hello ma’am’s” fading softly into the evening.

Cars began to turn on their headlights as they sped to the next red light on Ventura Boulevard. Across the street at a hot-rod repair shop, a mechanic revved an engine loudly for a long time. The sound pushed through me and rattled the windows of the storefronts. After the mechanic killed the engine, The Valley seemed quieter – a wide chasm was between sound an action. I saw a silent bus approaching and decided to hop on.

Valley Sunset

Valley Sunset

I put two $1 bills into the money-taker next to the driver. It spat one of the dollars out. I tried several times to get the machine to take the dollar – straightening it, smoothing the corners each time – but I had no luck. I held up the bill in the light, and noticed it was a $1 bill from 1957.

“Hey, look at that.” I said as I handed the bill to the bus driver.

“Wow, man. 1957!” exclaimed the driver, taking the bill. “That’s sixty years ago!”

“Well, 56 years ago.”

“Well, yeah, 56,” he said, handing the bill back to me.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t have anymore change.”

“Ah, that’s alright, man, take a seat. Man, sixty years. Tha’s a long time ago.”

I sat in a seat and examined the $1 bill, closely. 1957, I thought. That crazy handshaker was probably just a little boy back then. I wonder what he thought he’d be in 2013. Famous astronaut? A cowboy? The building where Jennie has her studio probably smelled of new lead paint, in 1957. People bustled about those narrow hallways to make deadlines or quotas. Of course, the hallways weren’t so narrow to then, probably. I always heard people were shorter in the old days. How short were Jennie’s parents in 1957, back when they had no clue there was ever be a Jennie at all? Hmm…1957…back when the future was one big happy surprise.

I watched TV late into that night…hmm, TV, only 10 years old in 1957…I haven’t had a TV since 2005, but I was raised in front of one…no one really knew the power of TV in 1957…so TV is in my DNA and I am powerless when I am in its vicinity for an extended period of time. Of course, I watched nothing in particular…so much power…just surfed. Masons ruled the world on the Discovery Channel, DB Cooper got away on National Geographic, The History Channel just couldn’t let Hitler die, AMC made heroes out of meth makers and misogynist ad-men – one re-run after the next, ESPN aired an hour-long show about fantasy football, and rednecks and hillbilly’s from all parts of America either fished, repaired cars, hunted ducks, repossessed airplanes, searched for ghosts in attics or just got drunk and stupid. FoxNews scared half the Americans off to the Right, MSNBC scared the other half to the Left. Infomercials promised me prosperity for just $19.99, or some kind of cooking tool for the same price. Evangelist asked for money…jeez, TVs were grand pieces of furniture in 1957then sometime in the wee hours something extraordinary happened. All the TV shows became the same TV show, presenting the same message…now TVs come in all sizes and prices at Wal-Marts on the edges of town…over and over, hour after hour, relentlessly, the same message. What was the message? I don’t have to tell you…moths to a flame…you know what The Message is.

It’s in our DNA...

It’s in our DNA…

I turned the TV off and went to bed. Before I slipped into dreamland, I pondered over The Message, imagined what life may be like without it. I didn’t imagine anything too clear, but I did see more people extending their hand to the handshaker. None of them were scared of him, either. They were all happy to say, “Hello,” too.

Be well…