D’yer Maker The Deck?

Hello Everybody,

Last Monday, I rented a truck, loaded up the old deck that I’d torn out of my friend Scott’s backyard in Pasadena, and took it to a dump in Glendale. As I pulled the old planks of wood off the truck, the dumpers next to me were unloading the guts of an entire house. Mirrors, counters, walls, sinks were stacked in little piles. The house was no longer Home to anybody, just crap to be hidden under the ground and maybe laid over with new houses, someday.

The song...

The song…

It was just after lunch and the day had become hot and dusty. The house dumpers slowly carried the remnants of the house from the trailer to the junk pile like fellows on a chain gang – head down moving in easy rhythm. The long roaring line of city dump trucks kept coming on, forever, engulfing us all in a cloud of dust. After I threw the last plank of wood on the pile, I took a long look at the deck – just trash – dead, rotting, it’s memories scavenged by the vultures of time and decay. I walked back to the truck like the other dumpers, floating so far from the beginning of the day yet still unable to see the shore of it’s end.

But the day did end, of course, and the next day the materials for the new deck arrived at Scott’s place. The delivery guy from Ganahl Lumber helped me unload it all. He didn’t have to, so I thanked him for doing so.

“Everyone at Ganahl Lumber is so nice,” I told him. I meant it, too. I’d had nothing but pleasant dealings with everyone at the store.

“It’s not a bad place to work, man,” said the delivery guy. “No one gives you a hassle. The owner’ll come in, man…doesn’t ask you about work or nothin’…just asks you about your golf game, or your kids.”

Everyone I dealt with in Pasadena was kind and neighborly. Even the fellow at the U-Haul rental outlet by the freeway.

“Everybody in Pasadena seem so nice,” I told him, as he took my New York State driver’s license from behind the counter, later that day, upon returning the truck.

“Yeah, it’s a great town,” he replied, after handing my license back to me. “But has anyone out here given you a hard time for having a New York accent?”

“No, but some people in New York gave me a hard time for my Texas accent.”

“Texas is awesome. You guys have the best gun laws, man,” he replied. By now, he was standing at the large printer in the corner of the office, waiting for my receipt to print out – tapping out a beat on the sides of the machine, tapping his foot on the ground. “Hey, you guys can buy suppressors out there, for your rifles?”

“I don’t know. Those are silencers?”

“Yeah. I think you can buy suppressors in Arizona. They got great gun laws too, but still not as cool as the Texas laws. Here, you go.” He handed me my receipt, still wearing the same smile he had when I came in. “Have great day, man.”

...no matter how often played...

…no matter how often played…

I received many ”Have a great day’s” from the citizens of Pasadena on Monday and Tuesday, as I ran errands. But after the U-Haul guy, I didn’t talk to any other Pasadenos for three straight days. I had all I needed in Scott’s backyard, where I secluded myself and sunk into the building of the deck.

By Wednesday, I was in the zone and didn’t want to talk to anybody. I just wanted to work. However, it rained from late morning into early afternoon. I felt held back by The Universe as I stood at the window, watching the rain come down like I would back when I had to wait out rain delays from the dugout during little league games. As soon as I could, I went out and worked. I was loving the work, loving the solitude.

That night, I talked baseball for a few moments with my new roommate, The Great Warrior. Then I staggered to the room I’m renting from him, rolled out the mat and sleeping bag that was my bed, fell onto it, then plugged in my earbuds and listened to a Led Zeppelin album. I fell asleep a few songs in, waking up somewhere among the peaceful bars – between the canon blasts of John Bonham’s drums and artillary fire of Jimmy Paige’s guitar – of a song I’d heard many times before, but somehow sounded new. Then I killed the computer and fell asleep to the quieting Hollywood night.

I had very vivid dreams that night, but couldn’t tell you what a single one was about. One dream even shook me awake. Sitting straight up in the dark, my heart pounding, soaked in sweat, I could still see the bright surreal world of the dream as if I were looking at it from a key hole. But I couldn’t find the words to describe it, and the dream eroded into darkness. I sat there, trying to reach back just a few moments into time to find the dream again, but no dice. All I could see in my mind was the deck – and me, lifting, screwing, hammering it into place.



Thursday, as I worked, I let my mind go. Moments of my life passed between my two ears as I worked. Calm moments, crazy moments. Good times, bad times. Opinions, beliefs and speculations flowed between my ears like leaves on a stream. Chaos and order, I would say over and over, then something like, The Universe is chaos, one giant ongoing explosion in which we are hurtling at an incomprehensibly high speed toward a mysterious end. That’s scary, so we feel a need to make sense of things and create order, name everything, form cultures and create languages and make laws and governments and find safety in definition and build decks and houses down street after street and they fall apart and the people that built them pass on but they come back through other people who build more decks and houses and purchase suppressors for their guns and play golf and have babies and bosses and kill each other but help each other and starve each other out but take each other into their homes and dance with each other but ridicule each and why do we love while we also hate well because it’s ultimately impossible to make any kind of sense at all while you are spinning around real real fast inside of The Great Explosion and the only real certainty is that gravity will reduce every single deck or house we build into rubble and what kind of decks will we have built when we finally reach that mystery at the end of The Explosion

It’s the end of the day. I stop and step back from the deck to get a look at it. I’d made as much progress as I’d planned.

…Well, that’ll be for another Me to find out.

“I got this friend who paints houses,” The Great Warrior said, that night, after I told him about the wonderings of my working mind. “He loves it, says it’s like gettin’ paid to daydream.”

Baseball talk with The Great Warrior was short, just a quick inquiry to find out how the Dodger’s played that night. I was too tired to hold a real philosophical conversation about bats and balls. After I ate and showered, I rolled out the bed, lay down, put on Zeppelin…

Good times, bad times, you know I’ve had my share…

I closed my eyes, just saw the deck – lifting, screwing, sawing, hammering. I didn’t make it passed the first song.

We keep building decks...

…through order and through chaos…

Friday morning, the alarm rang and I staggered up from the bedroll like a gangly, newborn foal. My feet hurt, my hands were sore. I should’ve hired somebody to help me, I thought, but then I thought about the money and the thought of hiring someone went away. By the time I’d meditated and coffee’d up, I couldn’t wait to get to work on the deck. An obsession had developed. It was no longer a matter of simply finishing the deck, but of completing the deck, bringing order to the chaos of Scott’s backyard…epic stuff.

Friday came and went like the other days – slow in the morning, adrift at sea in the afternoon, the evening arriving before I knew it. I walked to the train stop that night, leisurely, stopping to take snapshots of Pasadena. You know, I thought, I could do this for a living. Build something one week, write the next, or take a drive through Nevada, or something like that, then build build something else, then write…etc. I can be my own boss. Then why don’t I just surrender and let myself do it, just say, “THIS is IT, I accept IT,” and let off the throttle a little…damn the ego and its thirst for the nectar of glory! I hobbled on with this heavy thinking a little more until I thought, Wait, I AM THIS. I have been THIS for some time. THIS IS ME…so take it and accept it. You’re not a movie star, a literary giant or a major league baseball player. You build decks and you write blogs…and you’re something else when you start doing something else. But today, tonight…

The song remains the same...

The song remains the same…

…a clear half-moon hung in the air. I could see its day and night seperated by a clear line. Day and night are so simple on the moon – just a matter of shading. Seeing both at the same time rendered them meaningless.

I looked down long, wide Allen Street. Pasadena was suddenly free of days and nights, and the rest of the world had no boundaries, either – no lines seperated anything anywhere in The Universe. Dreams and waking life, work and play, good times and bad times flowed seamlessly together, as they do along our path to the mystery at the end of the great long moment of Life.

Be well…

All There Is

Hello Everybody,

Early Friday morning, I woke up, creaked and cracked out off the sofa bed, stumbled into the kitchen, put on a pot of coffee. Then I sat Indian-style in the dark living room and meditated as the coffee brewed.

Behind the morning.

Behind the morning.

After the pot gurgled to stillness, I got up, poured the first of three cups, switched on the TV. LA’s weathermen and women were warning Angelenos of the dangerous Santa Anna Winds blowing down the mountains and bursting through the metropolis. One weatherwoman stood outside a warehouse, her microphone cutting in and out as she steadfastly warned, “KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR THE WIND!” She squinted into the camera as she shouted, her movie star hairdo whipping across her face. After finishing the third cup, I left the apartment – bracing for the wind as I opened the door – and began my journey to Pasadena to pull up an old deck in my buddy Scott’s backyard.

But it wasn’t windy, at least in Sherman Oaks. The world barely moved at all as I walked up Sepulveda Boulevard, toward the Orange Line cross-Valley bus. The morning cool hung low as the sun rose to an inch above the horizon. There was still no wind as I waited for the Orange Line bus, and it was a smooth straight ride to North Hollywood subway station. There wasn’t any wind there, either, as I joined the mass exodus of 9-to-5ers toward the Red Line subway stop. The new warm sun of the morning pacified us as we descended into the station like a giant class of 1950s elementary school kids being led to an underground bomb shelter. I transfered at Union station to the Gold Line elevated train to Pasadena. Still no wind. I knew the weatherwomen couldn’t have been wrong, her hair was a damned bird’s nest after her segment, her eyes were watery. I figured I was just in all the wrong places that morning. Or, right places. The train came and I sat across from a young pregnant lady, lazily stroking her stretched-marked belly as she stared past me, into the sun and and city toward all those Angels. Her boyfriend sat next her, his completely tattooed arm hung around her shoulders – relaxed, but protective. He stared out at the windless Heaven, too. One of his legs was curled between hers, his LA County issue ankle monitor reflecting the sun in a single, pure white ray.

The WInd must’ve got it up there.

THE WIND must’ve got it up there.

And, alas, still no wind, as I walked up the wide, well manicured streets of Pasadena to Scott’s house, amidst a city-wide cacophony of chirping birds. The morning had grown warmer, and it was so clear, it looked like reach out and touch the San Gabriel Mountains to the north.

The deck in Scott’s backyard was very old and rotten. It was soft as cardboard in some places – permanently moist and basically becoming part of the back yard’s eco system. Plant roots grew into it, moss grew on it. However, in other places, it may as well have been petrified wood. Pulling up the deck turned out to be harder work than I imagined. The wood would come apart at the soft places, but it was tough as hell to pull out the nails in the hard places. If I tried to pull up an entire plank without loosen all the nails, the plank would crumble into many pieces, creating more trips to the wood pile. So, I had slow the process, pull up every nail. Everything with me. Is Always. About. Slowing. Down.

Pasadena, California.

Pasadena, California.

It was the first hard work I’d had in over a month. I welcomed it. Sweat, dirt, grunting, cursing, banging, pulling, lifting. The ripping growl of nails being pulled out of wood echoed through the beautiful green neighborhood, silencing the birds, momentarily. My sweaty arms, neck, and face caught the dirt. My heart rate was up, I’d found a rhythm and operated like a machine.

Before I came out to LA, I rifled through my father’s toolbox – at my mother’s house in Jourdanton, Texas – for anything I might need while I was working out here. One of the tools was an old crescent wrench. Once the color of shining silver, it was now permanently browned by decades of oxidation. But it still worked fine. Friday afternoon, I used it to loosen old bolts that the builders used to secure to secure the deck to the concrete foundation of the house. The bolts were frozen with rust. I turned, bent, cursed, of course – crouched over, my head nearly upside down, until I was light-headed. I stood upright to catch my breath. After I did, I became very aware of the crescent wrench – how it felt in my hand – it’s weight, it’s warmth. I looked down at it. It was really old – probably around 45 years old, older than me.

Old rotten deck.

Old rotten deck.

Suddenly, I wasn’t looking at the wrench in my hand. I was looking at the wrench in my fathers’s hand, 30 years earlier. I’m a child. There’s his hand and the wrench – just his hand, no other part of him – turning and turning. The sweet smell of WD40 is in the air, and though I can’t see anything else, I know we’re in the garage next to the home I grew up in, in Orange Grove, Texas. Beads of sweat pop up on his hand as he tightens a mystery. I hear him mumbling to himself, in the darkness around the hand. I look on, not being of any use, just there. Then…whoosh!…I’m back in Scott’s backyard…

…and I’m looking down at the wrench in my own hand again. I’m at least as old as my dad is in that memory, I thought. Gee, how my hand looks so much like his hand when he was my age. I looked around. There was distant Spanish in between the roar of leaf blowers and lawnmowers. The backyard was now covered in shadow, the air smelled of freshly cut grass and clean earth. How the hell did I end up in Pasadena? I’m from Orange Grove, Texas, for Chrissake.

No deck. Stay tuned...

No deck. Next week, new deck? Stay tuned…

Just before he died – nearly three years ago – my father told me he never would’ve guessed he’d end up living in Jourdanton, Texas. I’m guessing, at my age, he’d never have guessed he’d be buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, either. I don’t know what he was thinking back then, but I’m pretty sure, if he saw me last Friday afternoon, he’d tell me I was using the wrong tool for the job. But so what? He was more of a mechanic than a carpenter, and I’m more of a carpenter than a mechanic. I wouldn’t call myself much of a mechanic at all, actually. But I’ve called myself a writer, an actor, and guitar player, among many other things that he couldn’t have called himself. Honestly, I don’t know what he thought of himself as being. Most of the time he just called himself Jerry. But whatever he thought he was, I used to think he and I were very different. However, I’m finding out I’m much more like him, as our hands continue to look more and more the same.

Gold Line to the Red Line to the Orange Line. No wind. But as I stepped off the bus in Sherman Oaks I was greeted with – not a neck-breaking gust – but a soft warm breeze presenting the wavy, sinking effect of a palm-full of painkillers yet without the dark hollowness, self-loathing and howling banshees that quantity of pills may bring on, later. I was naturally high as I walked slow on the way home, like I could walk forever. Life was really, really good. Everybody on the street looked pleasantly tired and smiled as I approached them. More so, everyone on the street seemed genuinely compassionate toward me. Maybe it was just because it was Friday. Maybe it’s just the way I wanted to see the world. Maybe it was just The Truth.

It’s good to be back...

It’s good to be back…

I’m sitting in an East Hollywood cafe on Sunday afternoon, as I type this post. I’ve decided to take my friend, The Great Warrior, up on his offer to rent out a room in his bungalow. After I build a new deck, Scott has some other things for me to build, repair. Then there’s also a few more bits of work here and there that will keep me in LA at least until the end of October. This post also marks the first anniversary of El Jamberoo! I didn’t know how long I’d be able to keep up these weekly posts, when I started. Back then, I was in Brooklyn. I had no clue I’d end up in Hollywood, a year down the road. Hell, two weeks ago, I didn’t know I’d end up back in Hollywood. And I don’t know where I’ll be after October. All I know is that I’m here, now. That’s alright. Here, now is all there is.

Be well…