I first heard these set to Hans Eisler’s music, as sung by Dagmar Krause on her wonderful record Supply and Demand. My favorite is the last one, “The Swamp”. It hits as hard as it did in the forties.
The village of Hollywood was planned according to the notion
People in these parts have of heaven. In these parts
They have come to the conclusion that God
Requiring a heaven and a hell, didn’t need to
Plan two establishments but
Just the one: heaven. It
Serves the unprosperous, unsuccessful
By the sea stand the oil derricks. Up the canyons
The gold prospectors’ bones lie bleaching. Their sons
Built the dream factories of Hollywood.
The four cities
Are filled with the oily smell
The city is named after the angels
And you meet angels on every hand
They smell of oil and wear golden pessaries
And, with blue rings round their eyes
Feed the writers in their swimming pools every morning.
Beneath the green pepper trees
The musicians play the whore, two by two
With the writers. Bach
Has written a Strumpet Voluntary. Dante wriggles
His shrivelled bottom.
The angels of Los Angeles
Are tired out with smiling. Desperately
Behind the fruit stalls of an evening
They buy little bottles
Containing sex odours.
Above the four cities the fighter planes
Of the Defense Department circle at a great height
So that the stink of greed and poverty
Shall not reach them
I saw many friends, and among them the friend I loved most
Helplessly sink into the swamp
I pass by daily.
And a drowning was not over
In a single morning. Often it took
Weeks; this made it more terrible.
And the memory of our long talks together
About the swamp, that already
Had claimed so many.
Helpless I watched him, leaning back
Covered with leeches
In the shimmering
Softly moving slime:
Upon the sinking face
I passed a store called PEANUT DUDES which had a banner advertising peanutdudes.com. Unfortunately the domain doesn’t work.
The Los Angeles/Long Beach harbor at night are a stunning sight. Container ships the size of town, sky-clawing cranes, and everything lit up like Christmas. It’s a spaceport. I bet a lot of locals have never been over the Vincent Thomas Bridge or up 103 and seen the refineries and ships and all that infrastructure glowing in the dark.
And speaking of spaceports, that part of town is a wretched hive of scum and villainy.
He was also wearing a FULL FACE SHINY METAL GRINNING SKULL DEATH MASK.
I have questions.
Do these guys often wear shiny skull masks?
If not, was he wearing the skull mask for a special occasion like an initiation or baby shower?
If not, was he wearing the mask in order to go do some crimes?
If not, was he wearing the mask because he’s a complete goofball and does stuff like this all the time and the other guys are all “there goes Eugene again!”
If not, was he perhaps not an African-American motorcycle club member at all but one of the numberless army of the dead who walk the earth until the end of days who decided to motorcycle instead of walking?
Jerrold (not his real name) was a coworker at the hospital. He was a trim, slightly built black man in his late forties with thinning hair. He and I were both transcriptionists and later I was his supervisor.
Jerrold clearly had high standards for his own behavior. He was invariably polite and friendly to everyone. If a contentious question arose he would find a way to bow out, and it was hard to drag a critical statement out of him about anyone. A few times someone played a prank on him and he just grinned for about an hour. The only time he was really concerned or upset at work was when we had a crazy prejudiced lady working there who made accusations (that’s another story), and when he realized no one was going to listen to her he went back to his phlegmatic self.
He’d gone into the service during the Vietnam War and done a tour overseas with the Air Force. He was in a group that was sent behind enemy lines to retrieve airmen, and it’s clear he had a rough war. After he got out of the service he went to work as a police dispatcher, working 12 hour days seven days a week. He then spent ten years as a Los Angeles bus driver. These experiences gave him a lot of stories to relate. Because life as a black man in Los Angeles is also bizarre and stressful, he had some stories like that, and some others about his family, all of which were extremely dramatic. But Jerrold told them in a curiously flat way. He had a kind of Midwestern male reserve that did not allow his voice to raise, or his tone to become excited, or even his adjectives to get terribly descriptive. This made the stories punch harder, because he was so clearly just relating a series of facts. I’ll try to recreate a couple of them.