Telescoping in Time to Hollywood
October 5, 2011, Sherman Oaks Cigar shop
“Hi, Louie? This is the very busy and highly important Tom Dark. I just got a few minutes free and if you call back I’ll head for your place right now!”
The equally busy and highly important Lou Savage hasn’t called back yet. So I’ll start this essay now, here in my notebook, with ballpoint pen. I've found a cigar shop with a smoking lounge here on Van Nuys. The proprietor is sitting nearby listening to a Syrian news report on his laptop. “You sound Russian,” I told him. “I was born in Russia and grew up in Syria,” he told me. No time to get his story.
It’s been raining cats and dogs in L.A. since five a.m. Lance and I were up ‘til three trying to catch up. My client Lance Frank is having one of the very busiest and most highly important days of his life. This evening we’ll be sitting, along with the cast, in a big theater watching his very first movie, which he directed. The cast includes Eric Roberts and among the audience will be forty different film distributors, among whom Lance hopes for a bidding war afterward. It’s an offbeat comedy featuring two horizontally enormous hip hoppers, played by Jerod and Jamal Mixon. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2045621/
I’ll be attending it with my very favorite supermodel on my arm, Gisele Zelauy, who made her name on the runways of Paris, Rome, New York, Rio de Janeiro and elsewhere. She was also a favorite subject for legendary photographer Richard Avedon. Doubtless she still would be.
Gisele means to be a successful writer. That was her other childhood dream. One down, one to go. http://www.giselezelauy.blogspot.com/
She and I talked animatedly for about six hours before I managed to track Lance down and drink tequila with him until three in the morning. I almost never drink, except with stellar people. They don’t have to be rich and famous, just stellar. Lance had been at the studio putting out a fire. Someone had to drive four hundred fifty miles to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch to obtain a piece of processing gear and drive it back to the studio, or there wouldn’t be a movie to show tonight. We were all up before seven, I think it was. Lance and his team will be editing the film until the last minute for the 8 p.m. showing. That’s Hollywood.
Ah! Louie just called back and he knows right where this shop is. He’ll meet me here. We haven’t seen each other since 1984. We were bandmates then. I played my last-ever club gig with Lou at a bar in Sylmar. I don’t know where Sylmar is any more. The drummer at that gig eventually committed suicide. That, I remember.
You all know Louie, right? Well, you know his voice. You probably bought your first Lexus thanks to his convincing, sonorous baritone. He also played a “semi-bad guy” on “Days of our lives.” I think he should take over the “Naked Gun” movies where Leslie Neilsen left off. Louie’s that good. But that’s just me. Two old rock’n’roll farts are about to meet. We haven’t done so badly in the interim.
I left Abiquiu at five a.m. yesterday, on route 40 out of Albuquerque. I haven’t seen that segment of highway since I was a hitchhiking hairstack who’d just ascended from the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
A man named John Bell picked me up at the Grand Canyon exit, heading for California for my first time. John was a music producer. He trusted a young man dressed in blue wearing a silk top hat lugging those instruments. He needed help driving his tugboat-sized Cadillac as the power steering had gone out. Between us we would wrestle the half-dead luxury craft through the night to Pasadena, California.
John had two eight-track tapes to listen to. One was an album by Al Martino, a crooner rather forgotten even then; the other was by Kool and the Gang, rather forgotten now. We drove in silence, listening to Al once; then we lumped along meditating to Kool and the Gang over and over throughout Time Eternal. Whither goest thou in thy shiny car in the night, America?
Young man: “Kool? I’ve been thinkin’… what can I do to make this world a more beautiful place?”
Kool: You know, that’s a beautiful thought. We? are scientists of sound. We make the world a more beautiful place by making music that makes people move and be happy.” You’d think after hearing that over and over all night I’d remember it verbatim even now.
John dropped me off at an exit in Pasadena. It must have been about three a.m. He left me his card in case I wanted to audition for a studio musician job. I’ve wondered for over three decades what would have happened if I had. I’d have been a funk musician. I did have the chops. I did okay jamming with Earth Wind and Fire at a club in Five Points, Denver. John would have given me a place to stay.
Instead, I got off at the exit and in enough time for the aroma of orange blossoms to make me feel drunk, another black man stopped for me. He was driving a Ford Pinto. I inadvertently left my silk top hat in the back seat.
That hat had a unique flaw in the upper crown: a diagonal scoring where the silk veneer was permanently mussed.
Twenty five years later, Doctor Demento, famed for his weekly radio show of quaint and curious novelty songs, sent me an eight by ten glossy photo of himself, wearing his trademark silk top hat. It had a diagonal scoring across the upper crown, where the silk veneer was permanently mussed. Doctor Demento had started his show the same month and year that I left my hat in that man’s car. I assumed the man sold it to a pawn shop and the good Doctor found it. Similar had happened with “The Wizard of Oz” in 1939. Scouring pawn shops for a coat for the man playing the wizard, a costumer found a coat that, it turned out, had belonged to the late L. Frank Baum, the creator of the story. Nowadays the Good Doctor was playing my own quaint and curious novelty songs on his program and paying me nothing for selling my music. I’ve heard he’s still doing that.
My Russian Syrian cigar shop host is chatting on his cell phone. I can make out only the word “Libya.” By the tone of his voice, I surmise we both agree about it. Bombing Libyans isn’t a “humanitarian effort,” it’s just one more killing fiasco in a long series of killing fiascoes this decade. Down with evil. Up with goodness. Kill those who get caught in the middle.
I’ve been looking for reasons to use “enormous” lately – the world of Man seems to be preparing various enormous disasters. The drive here was spectacular. It was enormous.
The Great Southwest is the result of enormous geological disasters over the centuries. In New Mexico, we live at the edges of an enormous ancient volcanic disaster. They say that ten thousand years ago, a caldera exploded all at once. A caldera is like a carbuncle on a human being, only enormous. All hell breaks loose when either thing blows, but when composed of a circle of volcanoes, it’s enormous.
They also say that about 500 years ago, somewhere around the time Columbus popped in and killed all the Arawaks with slavery and syphilis and medieval theology, another enormous volcanic explosion splattered across Northern Arizona. The results were enormous volcanic rocks, tomb-like cliffs, buttes, mountains and valleys.
It’s now an enormous vista of enormous surreality, an enormous flat plain dotted with old volcanoes and cracked sawtooth mountains. It looks as though hundreds of miles of terrain simply floated up off the planet, did a graceful somersault and floated back down. An enormous catastrophe for who and what lived here, a playful roll in the sleep of dreamy mountains.
I played tandem with a train for hundreds of miles between Flagstaff and Barstow. Four enormous orange engines pulled a half-mile or so of enormous boxcars. It looked like an enormous graceful snake wending its way around mountains and across valleys that dwarfed it. The train would disappear and reappear periodically, sliding its own way through the fabulous enormousness. How did it keep up with me? I was averaging ninety miles an hour. Rent a Prius when driving to California. Gas is expensive and that little sneaker-looking box on wheels can keep up with just about anything else.
There's an electricity in California. You can feel it charging the sky a few miles past Kingman, Arizona. The invisible voltage increases until, just past Barstow, it transmogrifies into enormous long snakes of traffic, bumper to bumper, averaging about eighty miles per hour. Once in awhile vehicles collide. Electrical people will do that.
Finally, into Los Angeles, the electricity has turned all human, endless streets of one-story buildings, populated with electrical people, some of them crackling with artistic pursuits, ideas and ideals and hopes. Such are Gisele my supermodel and Lance my supermilitary man turned writer and movie director.
And such is my electricity, scribbling in this cigar shop. The cozy, funky chairs are now populated with comfortable-looking middle aged men, filling the place with plumes of smoke and chatting in Russian. I chat sporadically as I write. Yes Libya is a fiasco. Just another enormous oil grab, they agree. What am I writing? A story. You’ll all be famous. What’s your name? Pause. “Sam,” they all say. They grew up in Russia and know better.
Lance and Gisele, who haven’t yet met, are my kinda people. They started out with nothing and through the random magic of sheer determination, made something out of it. Gisele’s family considered her an ugly duckling. She succeeded beyond her childhood dream and went international through sheer natural grace. It’s really something to sit with someone crackling with natural grace. I’d meant only to let her know I’d arrived, but we spent six spontaneous hours together.
She speaks Portuguese, Italian and French. She learned English largely through watching movie subtitles. She’s a surfeit of movie recommendations.
Ah, here’s Louie!