writing


Cahuenga Pass, circa 1938CAHUENGA PASS

I dreamed there was no knife in my hand after I took the punch to the side of my head.

It was a nice dream while it lasted, but I came awake with a jump at the subconscious knuckle crunch of fist against temple, much in the same way people who are falling in their sleep jolt awake just before they impact whatever hard parcel upon which they are about to land.

Blinking the blur out of my eyes, the flood of relief I felt at the absence of the knife boiled entirely away in the instant I found myself still in the jail cell I’d been placed in after being booked for murdering the road-rager who’d thrown the blow.

Because there had been a knife in my hand. Funny thing, not only do I not remember how it got there, but I had initially planned on just accepting the slug. In a way, I totally deserved it.

I’d gotten off work. I was coming from Hollywood into the valley through the Cahuenga Pass where I’d been in a hurry to drop off a package for my boss at the FedEx near a curve in the road past Barham. I was in a rush to get home to my Encino apartmetn and cleaned up for a date later all the way back over on Melrose with none other than Elie Tolsen. I’d known Elie since high school, but back then crush be damned, I was a stoner fuck-up to whom such a princess wouldn’t give the time of day. Since then, I cleaned up nicely and got a promising job at Paramount. She’d filled out nicely and landed a co-starring roll on a popular TV cop show that just so happened to film at the same studio.

So there I was, FedEx package delivered and putting my car in reverse there on the driveway apron, trying to make every second count. Instead of backing out, heading east and turning around safely and sanely somewhere back in the direction from which I’d just come, I opted instead to back out across the clear eastbound lanes and arc into the space for left turns in the center of the street.

While I executed the obviously questionable maneuver perfectly, it surprised the driver of a car coming west around the bend who laid on the horn as he passed me, an alarm I fully deserved. After pulling into the lane I came up behind him stopped at a red light a couple blocks down. While the driver of the car was just glaring at me in his rearview mirror, it was the passenger who’d gone totally apoplectic with anger, turning fully in his seat full-throat yelling at me and flipping me off through the rear window. Seriously, there was spittle involved. Man overboard!

The irony is not only did the driver try to calm his friend down, but I also gave it my best attempt to placate the asshole. I mouthed sincerely that I was sorry and gestured as best I could to indicate I was certifiably the worst driver in the world who shouldn’t be allowed to walk the streets much less operate a motor vehicle upon them.

It didn’t translate to the guy riding shotgun. He just kept laying on with the fuckyous and the assholes and the middle fingers and the kickyerasses to the point where I had enough and returned fire. Then he gestured: let’s fucking go right fucking here, right fucking now.

Next thing, the light’s turning green, but he’s out of the car and moving towards me. Nothing about him was outwardly concerning — 5’10” maybe 175 pounds, no guns in his hands. But regardless of his lack of physical stature or weaponry, logic dictates that one should not stay frozen in a confined and hardly defensible space such as the interior of a vehicle as some stark and raving lunatic closes the distance. One should get out, the better to fight or to flee.

But for some strange reason, I stayed put — surprisingly calmly so. Ignoring the psycho as he arrived at the driver’s side window and instead looked straight ahead at the driver of the car who also remained behind his wheel but now in exasperation held his head in both hands.

I don’t remember what the fellow yelled and spit at me through the open window, neither is it important. What is important is that my failure to engage enraged him further enough to first slam his hand down on the roof of my car and then bitchslap at the side of my head, coming into contact with my left ear enough to cause an intense burning sensation.

Here’s the thing. I don’t take pain well. I don’t mean to say that I have a low threshold for it, it’s just that I woefully lack the ability to ignore whatever thing — be it animate, inanimate or in this case highly animated — that is the cause of that pain. I’ve destroyed chairs that I’ve stubbed toes on. I flushed a hamster down the toilet that bit me on the pinky. During my first year in junior high, I put a towering ninth grader in the hospital for suckering me into accepting a high five with a nail held between his middle and ring fingers. The school security guard had to pull me off him to stop me with hands full of his ears and hair from banging his head face first into the playground asphalt for the tenth time. It’s a byproduct overdrive impulse to inflict an equal or greater amount of damage to that which has been inflicted upon me.

Slim as it may have been, any chance of me not going batshit at the eird slap was taken off the table when his fist came in full contact to my temple, the force of which drove me across onto the passenger seat, upon which sat my backpack and in which resided the buck knife with a folding four-inch locking blade that was a gift from the warehouse manager of a previous employer back when I hadn’t quite cleaned up so well.  The job was in a bad part south and east of downtown and the manager told me for very good reason that I should never ever be without a knife.

In the ensuing daze of ear-ringing semi-consciousness I won’t deny going through the complicated process of opening the appropriate pocket of the backpack, removing the knife from its leather case, and locking it open. It’s just that I sincerely don’t remember doing so. All I recall is that when I felt him grabbing at my shirt and pulling me back toward him, I came up more quickly than he expected. With my left arm I pinned his right arm against pillar of the car frame and kept pushing the forearm away from me at an unnatural angle until there was a very satisfying crack and and even more satisfying a scream. Then what may have been the butt of his left palm connected with my forehead and I saw a light show before my eyes during which I drove the knife in my right hand into and out of and into and out of his midsection.

I couldn’t tell you how many times, other than I didn’t stop until he slumped and fell away from my car onto his back in the number one westbound lane just in time to be run over by a passing FedEx truck. Whether he was dead before he hit the street, or was finished off under the tire treads, I don’t know.

All I knew when sirens sounded in the distance and grew louder with each passing second was that I had killed two things, a man and my date with Elie. I was far more upset about the latter.

So KPCC’s Sharon McNary sent out an email yesterday soliciting thoughts from the station’s listeners about the upcoming expectedly cataclysmic shutdown of the 405 Freeway this entire weekend, and one her requests was for respondents to write a headline, haiku, or limerick about the impending doom.

So I tapped out this tribute to motorista angst:

No matter which way you’ll be headin’
You cannot escape Carmegeddon,
To this weekend say “Ciao!”
It’s Autocalypse Now,
Lock the doors and crawl under the beddin’.

While most of the city’s car-addicted will be doing their damnedest to stay as far away from the 405 or any of its ripple effect across the greater Los Angeles-area highways and byways, curiosity over what such an integral motorway looks like completely devoid of its cargo has me plotting a long bike ride to and through the eye of the storm (so to speak) that at this point will be departing from the Happy Foot/Sad Foot sign in Silver Lake (northwest corner of Benton Way and Sunset) Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m., to head up-river, across the valley (involving the Chandler and Orange Line bikeways), then over the Sepulveda Pass and back through the westside to our starting point. Before making the climb up there will be a side trip to the always intriguing Sepulveda Dam spillway.

Charted distance: 46.9 miles
Route: http://tinyurl.com/6khnsvc

Dear Verlyn Klinkenborg,

I just read your May 8 column about your ongoing failquest to find the “real” Los Angeles on nytimes.com today, and if I wasn’t so enamored with your entirely awesome name, I’d have sworn at you three times already, because normally when I read something like what follows, I just want to cuss like a sailor:

Something escapes me about Los Angeles. Wherever I go, I always imagine I’m finally going to grasp its essence. I try to feel its harmonics in my bones.

I watch the edges of the freeway to see if there is a clue in the debris the traffic sweeps to the sides. I wonder if there would be room for all these cars if they decided to find parking spots at once.

The iconic glimpses don’t help me in my quest — not the sudden view of the Hollywood sign I get from the Hollywood Freeway, not the view of downtown almost floating in the sunset from Pasadena. Every now and then, I turn a corner and think that something essential is about to be revealed. The feeling intensifies all the way up Venice Boulevard into Culver City, and then I’m on National taking one of those curious hidden freeway entrances and suddenly the feeling vanishes.

I’m new to you so I have no knowledge of how long you’ve been in Los Angeles and writing about it. Maybe you’re fresh and fully assimilated into the prevalent car culture. Or maybe you’ve been out here awhile and this is just more of what you’ve been writing. Gawd, I hope not. But either way, as someone who’s a native as well as a perpetual tourist in my own town, I’m the first one to admit your job ain’t easy. I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to feel the city’s harmonics in my bones and it don’t come simple. Having said that I can only wonder if you’re kidding or if you indeed really think you’ll find what you’re looking for strapped in behind the wheel of a vehicle, seemingly addicted to our freeways and one of the more soulless stretches of Venice Boulevard. As such, if you’re at all legitimately interested in ending your deadend game of seek and hide with this wonderful city, I’m going to tender you the following heartfelt advice.

  1. Get off the 101 or the 10 or the 134 or the 405 — and stay off!
  2. Get out of your goddam car — and stay out!
  3. Get somewhere. On foot, on a bike, on a bus or a train — but for gawd sakes as much as you might want to don’t go to City Walk, or LA Live or the Grove. Go to a Dodger game. Go to Boyle Heights. Go to Union Station. The LA River. Go to Leimert Park. MacArthur Park. Go to the Watts. West Adams. San Fernando Mission. Venice.

Of course if you sincerely think that eye-spying shoulder trash and stalking onramps is the way to go about grasping at any of this city’s essence then my advice will be lost on you. And if so, tell you what: get out. Because it’s never going to happen. You’re just going to pound out more banal columns bemoaning Los Angeles as always being beyond the reach of your vestigial intellect.

So either get your boots on the ground and get busy or do yourself and L.A. a favor and order yourself up a window seat back to NYC. and as the jetbird swings back over land after its LAX take off over the ocean, look down. You’ll have just as good a chance of harmonizing with our lost city from that removed and encapsulated a vantage point as you would from a car stuck in traffic on the 110. And when that fails to happen you should have no trouble picking out the 10 and the 101 and the 405 and the 134 from the grid below and remembering all the good times you had on them.

What a crazy busy wonderful last coupla days. If there’s ever been a 48-hour period where I’ve bitten off more than I could chew but still managed to swallow it all without choking, this was it. It all started Friday night coming home from work with an intensive trip to the market to procure all the ingredients for the Coca-Cola-Brined Fried Chicken recipe (that I wrote about here) I’d been salivating over since reading about it in the current issue of Esquire magazine.

I’d been thinking of cooking it for Sunday, but a late-breaking freelance edit/rewrite gig wasn’t going to allow that so I decided instead of just Susan and me I’d whip up a batch for us and however many cycling pals returned with us from The Village Idiot Ride (that I wrote about here). Keep in mind, I’ve never done much of anything from scratch. Also keep in mind I’ve never fried chicken or cooked for a group. As such I even had hamburger patties and brats onhand as a contingency if my culinary endeavor failed miserably — which it almost did, but more on that later.

So by 8 a.m. Saturday morning in preparation for the arrival of my friend Steve and Alice and Manny and Ingrid and everyone else who might be biking with us over to the restaurant on Melrose,  I had beers on ice in the cooler and was getting the outside and inside of the house in order and cleaned up, first tackling the front and back yards and then the weeks-overdue vacuuming and dusting of the first floor while Susan did the same upstairs.

We managed to finish all that in time for me to get down to the business of mixing the brining mixture and the batter mix and the relish, and getting the chicken marinating in time for me to get cleaned up and ready for everyone to arrive. And by everyone I mean all these cool cats who paused long enough for an awesome group picture in front of the house by Susan before we set out for the crosstown ride (click it to enlarge):

groupshotLeft to right, top to bottom:
Barleye, Alice, Steve, Ingrid, Harry
Lance, Esther*, Daniel*, Dak, Stephanie, Jeff
Roadblock, John, Some Guy, Manny
*Thanks to Steve for filling in the blanx I was having with these names!

While Susan and I are generally nice people, we’re not the most social of animals and thus haven’t had this many people at the house since our wedding reception back in ’05 — and certainly never so many cycling pals!

So off we rode to The Village Idiot restaurant, where owner and my next-door neighbor Dean greeted us, and Steve and his “guardian angel” in the form of the restaurant’s barkeep Simon got a chance to reunite under far happier circumstances (click it to enlarge):

sns

After leaving the restaurant, a majority percentage — including late arrival Marino (who showed up while we were at the restaurant) returned home with me. In addition Manny stopped off to bring his wife Cybele over, and I commenced to almost fail in my attempt to complete the relatively simple task of thoroughly cooking some battered chicken thighs in hot oil.

Instead as it turned out, I only half-cooked most of them. Fortunately Marino cut his in half and showed me the trouble before anyone could ingest the undercooked meat and Cybele came up with the plan to recover the distributed food and toss them in the oven for a spell.

Thus they emerged from the O’Keefe & Merritt cooked through now as Coca-Cola-Brined Fried Baked Chicken, and it was generally well received. Sure I was disheartened, but would have been decidedly moreso had anyone taken ill because of my failure. And if it’s any consolation, on Sunday Susan took the leftover batter and extra package of thighs and did them up right. Here are the thumbnails of  a photoset of the overall recipe-in-progress  (viewable here on Flickr):

sequence

Sunday was a horse of an entire different color. Whereas I was all over the place Saturday cleaning and riding and socializing and cooking (or attempting to), the seventh day found me in front of my computer from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (with only a few short breaks and a sole one-hour retreat in the mid-afternoon) trudging through a late-breaking editing/rewrite gig. But I wasn’t complaining (at least not about the job as much as about the article’s condition) because even though it effectively removed me from enjoying the last day of the weekend, it paid me for my freelance services as an editorial cleaner almost as much as what I take home for two weeks at the office.

Let’s just say it’d buy a lot of chicken. And some lessons on how to cook it.

I’m not fully letting go with the whooping and hollering just yet. I’ve done so with past job interviews that I thought I’d nailed only to be let down like a lemming off a cliff in a Disney film.

But at the same time I just got off the phone with an editorial director of a national company looking for someone to take the reigns of one of their trade magazine based in West L.A.  and I can’t help but be excited at how well the conversation went.

Fingers crossed.

I opted to bus it to my friend Joel’s regularly scheduled ExecTec networking event in Westwood via the No. 704 “Rapid” bus. Point of order: Nothing is rapid between Silver Lake and the westside at 6 p.m. and it took me an hour to get there from here. On the plus side, it also allowed me to chew up a travel-sized chunk of pages from my current read, John Gregory Dunne’s absolutely awesome “True Confessions,” and I just have to share with you a snip from chapter five when Detective Tom Spellacy is recalling his barely legal past as a repoman, and how during on particular grab a dog bit him badly on the backside and his future partner with the LAPD showed up, to save his butt — literally.

He rubbed his ass.

The dog who bit him in 1933 was named Wolf and Wolf had taken thirrty-seven stitches worth out of his ass when he was trying to lift a black Packard with nine thousand miles on it. Crotty was the cop on the beat and when Tom Spellacy screamed, Crotty showed up and drilled Wolf with one shot. You dumb fuck, Spellac had said, you could’ve got me. Not a chance, Crotty had said. He blasted Wolf once more for good measure. You ought to think about joining the department, Crotty said. It beats hot cars and you can shoot the fucking dogs.

That last line made me laugh out loud, right there in the back of the No. 704 bus westbound out of Century City on Santa Monica Boulevard, and as I looked up from the pages I found one of the MTA’s “Poetry in Motion” series placards hanging above the window across from me. It featured a work by Gwendolyn Brooks titled “Speech to the Young : Speech to the Progress-Toward.”

Say to them,
say to the down-keepers,
the sun-slappers,
the self-soilers,
the harmony-hushers,
“even if you are not ready for day
it cannot always be night.”
You will be right.
For that is the hard home-run.

Live not for battles won.
Live not for the-end-of-the-song.
Live in the along.

Who knew one could fall in love with two works of art and their artists right there in the back of the No. 704 bus as it crawled past the Mormon Temple.

Odd as it might be to some that deciding how I’m getting to an event would help me figure out what I was going to do once I got there, that’s how things worked out for last night’s inaugural L.A. Bloggers Live at Tangier in Los Feliz Village.

labl0.jpg

Neil from Citizen of the Month

In the throes of a potent cocktail a couple weeks ago I said why not and signed up to participate, hell yeah! Woot! But in the far more sober and less enthusiastic aftermath I kicked myself up one side and wondered down the other what in gawdz name was I going to actually read. With a proposed five-minute limit that ruled out the vast majority of my deathless posts and so up until a couple days ago I was at a total loss… until I decided to bike there and it hit me that I should do a post about biking. After all, I had an editorial in the L.A. Times on the subject recently and it’s an activity near and dear and hell, in my travels around the way me and my bright orange bike are even starting to get the occasional glances of recognition from people I pass. Certainly I’ve got years and a long way to go before I become the two-wheeled equivalent of the iconic Silver Lake Walking Dude, but more and more people are equating me and The Phoenix as fixtures around the neighborhood and the greater L.A. cycling world, too.

So the topic was settled and in short order the selection was made: my “The Butt Stops Here” post from March 13 in parts because it was within the suggested time constraints (I timed it), and had some confrontation and payback entertainment value.

labl2.jpg

After locking up The Phoenix outside the club and trying to cooldown a bit before entering, Blogging.la co-captain David Markland arrived and we went inside where he was kind enough to buy me a Newcastle which I used to help calm the nerves that are unavoidable whenever I’m set to stand up in front of a mic and bunch of people. New B.la contributor Julia arrived and just after things got underway with introductions from the happening’s organizer Leah folowed by Joe from Artlung, shortly thereafter Cybele arrived and things moved pretty quick down the list of readers:

  1. Deezee from Confessional Highway
  2. Neil from Citizen of the Month
  3. Jenn from Aka Jesais
  4. Abigail from My Life According to Me
  5. Peter from The Buddha Diaries
  6. Tim from LA Daddy
  7. Marissa from Engel’s Angle

My turn was between Abigail and Peter and when I downloaded the pix I snapped from last night strangely I found one of me that was physically impossible for me to take (I expect it was snapped by Cybele):

labl1.jpg

I think it went well enough. By that I humbly submit that I managed my nerves and I didn’t fall down going to or from the mic, my tongue only tripped me up the requisite thousand half-dozen times, there was some polite laughter at the appropriate moments and no impolite laughter at inappropriate moments. All in all I was glad to be one of the pioneers of what has the potential to become a regularly scheduled showcase. And as a bonus I had the pleasure of meeting Clifford of Asymptotia who was in attendance and introduced himself afterwards.

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