writer’s bonk: Edward Hopper on the 560 to Lakeview Terrace

I’ve been trying to write about Los Angeles from the pedestrian-and-bus perspective from my decade there, and it’s not flowing. I just get some bits and snapshots:

The asphalt from this perspective is way more broken and sticks up higher, so that waiting for the bus is like looking out at a moonscape.

Way more businesses are closed that you think when you drive by. The flyers stuffed into their mail slots have soaked and rotted into papier-mâché.

Shitty parts of town are dark. The streetlights are weak and few. Even in the day time a place like East Hollywood or Hyde Park is dark somehow.

People are friendly when you’re on foot, and you can talk to them and hear their stories. It’s only when you’re en route to your car and back that the city is socially forbidding.

The emotional memory is harsh. It’s very lonesome and demeaning to wait so long for a bus, knowing that you’ll wait so much longer for the transfer, while watching the city zoom by you and the other lost souls on the bus bench.

The L.A. buses smell like a drunk guy. No matter how often they’re swept and cleaned, the cheap beer and sweat and smoke and just a bit of vomit never quite leave.

Only the poor, the old, the young, the disabled, the addicts, and the unsuccessful criminals ride the bus in that town. A decade in their company is humbling.

Three friends, or not

It was the three of us for a few months. The amigos. We ate together, joked together, shared our good and bad. We were far apart in every way but friendship, so of course we met online.

I still remember all the jokes: about the real meaning of “Swedish,” or what it meant to go to the ribcage, all that crap. I’m still not even sure what we shared apart from a sense of humor and a sense that things were awfully wrong outside our friendship.

Two of us made the mistake of sharing an apartment and it broke. Now I have two friends who don’t speak, and I’m still not sure why. We were and are all wounded creatures. So of course we met online.

I’ve always wanted good times with friends, and always wanted stereotypes busted, and always wanted a handshake in the middle of a war. Anti-romantic that I am, I’m an awfully sentimental guy when it comes to human relations. Hit me with a heartwarming story of principle over greed or friendship over hate and I fall right over. That’s what I wanted from us, and in retrospect it was my own failing. I didn’t let them own their own darkness.

There’s the real world where they live, and then there’s my little movie in which we’re still back at the crappy chain restaurant. You’re hitting on the waiter, you’re cracking a joke a minute, and I’m having my third beer and my tenth spoonful of bad chili and loving you both.

Is the remembrance enough to kill the pain of the end of the thing, I wonder?

Anti-Club Calendar

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Anti-Club Calender, originally uploaded by J. ‘Doh.

Wow.. I was at some of these shows. In fact, I was at both the July 4 Minutemen Show (they did the song “Substitute”! and the July 5 night, at which my best friend Greg’s band played: The Blasphemous Yellow.

It will come, it will come, it will surely come

My love of weird underground “popular” music began in my teens. I subscribed to LMNOP and got the New Music Distribution Service catalog to find more of it. I listened to KPFK’s “12 O’Clock Rock” with Andrea ‘Enthal, Chris Morris, Beau Clifford and company. And at the time the local teen radio station, KROQ, was inventing the Rock of the 80s format and hadn’t quite got it down yet, so they played a lot of weird stuff too.

Sometimes it was hard to find out what anyone had played, though. There wasn’t any Internet for looking stuff up. The stations were terrible at saying what they’d played, too. If I was at home I could call the station and ask, but there weren’t any cellphones either, so if I heard it on a portable or in a car I was SOL. What was that SONG? It was so GOOD!

When I was in high school, my mother and I went to see Diva in Santa Monica. I liked the movie and the soundtrack. But in the theatre before the movie I heard a song, too. It was catchy and fun, and the bits of lyrics I could catch were funny. And it had that New Weird Sound I liked so much. I couldn’t catch the refrain properly, though. On that sound system it was hard to pick things out, and the lyrics were obviously obscure and hard to intuit. What was that SONG? It was so GOOD!

I spent more than a year tracking the thing down. I only heard it twice more on the radio. The first was on KROQ when I was in a car. I totally had a full-on cow due to my inability to find out the name of the song, and of course the DJ only backannounced two songs and not the whole set. Asshole! What was that SONG? It was so GOOD!

The second time was on KPFK and I was at home, months later. I ran out of my bedroom in the middle of the night and called. Andrea was surprised that anyone didn’t already have the record, of course. The song was “King’s Lead Hat” from Brian Eno’s album Before And After Science. It remains one of my favorite songs and favorite albums. Here it is: King’s Lead Hat (.mp3, 3.7M).

The lyrics are mysterious and loads of fun. There’s a tiny bit of a story line and a lot of nonsense.

Twenty-five years later I finally hear that the song title is an anagram of “Talking Heads.” I wonder what other mysteries lurk? That song is so GOOD!

Bizarre dog triangle

When I lived in Los Angeles I was broke and so were all my friends. One of the many people I know named Mary rented a room from someone with a house on the Westside. The other occupants of the house were the owner, her boyfriend, and a dog.

The owner was successsful enough to have the house but not quite enough to afford it, so her boyfriend paid rent too. It was difficult to keep the household going but the dog was very important to her, and the dog’s comfort required a yard. So sacrifices were made.

Increasingly it was apparent that the boyfriend himself was one of the sacrifices. The owner of the house preferred solitude to companionship generally and was also clearly fed up with her boyfriend in particular. She was distant and chilly with him, and made frequent references to his flaws. She was a driven person, locked on to career success and work, and he was pleasantly ineffectual and not a big earner. A general lack of respect for him prevailed. He kept trying to win her affection in a puppyish way without effect.

The dog herself was aged and arthritic. She was a friendly if suspicious black Lab who mostly sat on her dog bed or ambled slowly around the yard barking at butterflies. Her hip sometimes dislocated and it was clear she was usually in pain, but she seemed to be enjoying life as much as possible under the circumstances. She ate with gusto and would happiliy lie with her head on someone’s lap if ear-skritching seemed possible.

Mary figured out the dynamics of the household after a few weeks. The house’s owner could barely afford the place even with a paying boyfriend and a roomer. She longed to dump the thing and move into a small apartment on her own so she could save, and do so on her own. Her boyfriend was an annoyance, and his presence and sexual attentions weren’t a pleasure. But she couldn’t leave the house. She owed it to her dog to maintain a pleasant environment at the end of life.

So everything depended on the old retriever. When the dog’s life became obviously unsatisfactory, she would go. And with her the need for the house. And with that the “relationship,” since the only reason for the boyfriend’s presence was the few hundred dollars a month he paid. Watching the boyfriend pet and feed the dog and talk in encouraging ways about her health, you could feel desperation in the air. Good girl. Doing so well. Oh, wagging tail, I like to see that.

Mary moved out before the denouement, so the story remains frozen at that point. My father wanted to write a short story about it but asked my permission and I was terrified that they’d read it. He would have published it in the short story collection that came out later that year, and these people were exactly the type who would find out. He very courteously chose other topics. Would have been a great story, though.

I still have a visual memory of the dog in the kitchen of that place, walking a bit painfully but looking around in that friendly expectant way dogs have in kitchens, and the sad useless boyfriend feeding her a treat of some kind while his girlfriend told him he was behind on his chores.

a jaded hack is me!

Okay, so you all read “Perry and Me,” my account of how a $2.50 blurb caused famed rock star Perry Farrel to stalk the fuck out of me for months. I just ran across evidence of another bit of similar hilarity.

Another $2.50 blurb I wrote was for Henry Rollins in 1987. This was when Henry was just starting out on a literary career by doing “spoken word.” “Spoken Word” meant rock musicians doing standup comedy with occasional blank verse.

One of the regular venues for music and other things was BeBop Records, a little store on Reseda Blvd owned by a guy named Rich. In the mid to late 1980s Rich booked an impressive series of events there: live music, performance of all kinds, and art. Henry was slated to do one of his “spoken word” gigs there. I’d just seen Henry do this thing at UCLA and I wasn’t very impressed, but I didn’t pan it or tell anyone to avoid it; I just described in a very few words what it looked like.

Henry’s response is here: Hack Writer (.mp3, 5.3M). It went into a book, too, not sure which one.

The funny part was that not much later I interviewed Henry for publication. He actually came to my apartment in Hollywood on the bus from where he was living in Echo Park. I opened the door to see a very tentative and anxious rock star in black t-shirts and black shorts. He was clearly worried that I had taken his shtick to heart, but we had a good laugh and did the interview. I was impressed with how serious he was about publishing and writing.

By the time I saw him again, for another interview when he and Weiss were putting out Wartime, it was a running gag.

And now, of course, he’s Dick Clark. But that’s another story.

You know what I’m lookin’ at.

what you lookin at

They sell this as a Teen Wolf shirt, but I vividly remember a college classmate who was blessed with very large and beautiful breasts who wore this, and that was before that movie came out. She certainly enjoyed the triple-takes she got on Bruin Walk this way.

What Are You Looking At Dicknose T-Shirt

Oh, I still have an extra Romp Star babydoll shirt for whichever one of you LADIES would APPRECIATE it.

#1: The Tu-144

I was an airplane freak as a kid. I read about airplanes, watched TV shows about them, watched them take off and land from the neighboring airport, and haunted the local airplane museum. I didn’t want to expect to become a pilot, but I loved airplanes. When we flew overseas I was ecstatic the whole time.

I spent my second grade year, ages 7-8, in Paris. My dad had a sabbatical year from his university job and was using it to teach and research at the University of Paris.

Near the end of our stay in Paris, the big air show occurred. I desperately wanted to go, so my brother, who is ten years older, took me. I was in heaven the whole day. All the world’s civilian and military planes show off there; it’s the big one. Not only did I see all sorts of supersonic fighter planes and huge weird transports, but the airliners were new and all of the planes did weird maneuvers to show off. The Paris show is not only a big entertainment event, but also the big marketplace for airplanes, so everyone wanted to make a big impression with their product.

At the time, the prestige plane was the Concorde, the Franco-British supersonic airliner. There was nothing like it in the world; even the U.S. had failed to build a supersonic liner. It hadn’t entered commercial service yet but was already famous, and was doing the air show circuit to drum up sales.

Since this was also the middle of the Cold War, the Russians felt the need to one-up the West. They built their own SST: The Tupolev 144. Due partly to spying and partly to their own considerable expertise, they got the Tu-144 up and running pretty quickly. It was not only intended as a propaganda victory, but as a tool; their empire was so huge that being able to send a liner across it at Mach 2 was an attractive idea.

At the ’73 Paris Air show they showed it off. The Concorde flew first, demonstrating its supersonic capability with a nice kaboom. Then the Tupolev took off. As I recall there was a flyby to show off the speed, and then the plane went out to a distance and dove. There was a tiny wisp of smoke, which I pointed out to my brother. “You’re always too dramatic,” he said, “there’s no smoke.” The plane didn’t come out of the dive. Instead, there was a gigantic explosion, impressive even at several miles distance. A fiery cloud rose up and then there was just this drifting huge black ball of smoke as the blast noise hit us.

The plane had augered down into a small French town, killing everyone on board and some people on the ground and taking out 15 houses. We all quietly went home.

I never lost my enthusiasm for airplanes, nor have I had any fear of flying since. But I don’t go to air shows. That’s where they take airplanes to their limits and beyond, whether out of sheer macho, the need to sell, or national pride. At 8 years old I had just learned an important lesson about hubris.

Edward Hopper at Dolores Restaurant at 3 am, 1987

When I lived in Los Angeles and didn’t have a car, I walked the city a lot. Frequently I did this at night because I was nocturnal and having depressive problems.

There were a lot of hours spent on the streets of West L.A. and Hollywood. I peered in store windows, read newsboxes and flyers, talked to street people. I read cheap paperbacks in all-night coffeehouses to keep my mind off whatever was eating me. When they were running, I took buses, but walking was more reliable.

When you’re a pedestrian at night on a street like Pico Boulevard or Bundy, you’re invisible. Cars blow past you at 50 all lit up and blasting music. Buses will leave you at the bench yelling and waving as the driver zones out heading for his turnaround. Even the other night pedestrians keep their heads down and look straight ahead much of the time. Only an occasional cop will see you, slow down and shine his light for a moment, or maybe even get out and make you play “who am I?” in case you’re trouble.

That’s how I learned that the world is made of broken concrete and asphalt. It’s a dry, chilly place lit by fluorescent bulbs. In the distance you can always hear a freeway and a siren or two, and there’s always an airplane in the sky. Other people are crazy, dangerous, or just boring. Everything costs money. And a cup of bad coffee and a book are not much of a defense against that or the enemies within.

The end of the old library

Mariners Library Sign

They closed my childhood library and opened a newer, bigger one next door.

I haven’t been to the new one yet. Apparently they didn’t buy any new books but there are laptops and iPods and expansive expanses of formica. The library is now to be run like a business by business-like people, and multimedia is the future.

Mariners Library Closed

I was well-educated in our local public schools and by my parents, but the real autodidactic core of my learning happened at this local branch library. I first read through the children’s section, checking out as many books as I could carry each time. Classic children’s fiction, books about cars and guns and planes, biographies, history books, science, the whole damn thing probably except for the girly books and the sports stuff. I have a vivid mental image of the children’s librarian, a very large redheaded woman with impossibly big arrms covered in freckles.

I then moved to the adult section and chewed on it for a decade. When I got interested in a subject (history of architecture! the invention of the atomic bomb! Wales!) I went through the Dewey Decimal number for that and related interests and read every book that was not obviously stupid. I haunted the new books shelf for anything I knew was coming. I read all of the science fiction, all of the nonfiction on any subject that interested me, and a good two-thirds of the fiction. I went through the records and found peculiar worlds and visited them: who is this Warren Zevon? What does Blue Öyster Cult sound like? Why would someone switch on Bach?

Mariners Library Checkout

The library employees all knew me, and they were my friends. I’d go back and forth in that checkout, sometimes more than once in a day. The paper library card with the little metal number stamp in it went CLUNK! as each book was checked out, and they said “Now remember to read them all!”

The park outside the library contained my first ever school, a play group for pre preschool kids. It was the site of countless family picnic lunches, a thousand ball games, the annual 4th of July Bike Parade, and later on for long reading stretches after school and before I went home to deal with being a teenager.

Mariners Park

I left and moved to Los Angeles for a decade. When I came back I had got out of the library habit, which still bothers. Mariners Branch was part of my past by then anyway. It was a small place with a small collection, and I’d read most of it. I’m sad to see it gone, though. When I left that place and went out into the world, I was as prepared as books can make a boy.

Mariners Library - Looking Out

Other pictures in the set are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ch/sets/72057594129847160/