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(Nov. 4, 2009)
rather be. . .
Singing in the old
Tehachipi Glee Club with
W. C. Fields.
On my bike, minus
training wheels for the first time, with my brother holding the
back end steady. Or so I thought, until I turned around, and saw
him about thirty feet behind me, smiling. At which point, I
promptly fell over.
On a tramp steamer, in
the mess, peeling potatoes.
Hiking through the hills
Thousand Oaks, after a big rain, when the sky was still
clouded over and all the greens of chapparal and sage were
almost luminous against the dark chocolate mud and dirt.
On the first
one-way spaceship to colonize Mars.
On my way to work at the
Valley News as a copyboy at 5 a.m., stopping at a donut
place and wolfing two or three chocolate cake donuts with
chocolate sprinkles and a large coffee, then going into the
office to rip the wires and sort and deliver mail before anyone
Where the sun don’t ever shine.
At the kitchen
table on a sunny Sunday morning with Moe, Ben, Betty, while
Shirley decked everything out with lox, bagels, bialys, cream
cheese, pickled herring, capers, onions, and endless refills of
At the same kitchen table
in the evening, with
The Three Stooges on the little
black-and-white, and Shirley talking on the phone to an
ever-flowing stream of friends who needed comfort or just an
ear, while Betty noshed, and Moe talked to me encouragingly
about my writing, or tried to explain lasers.
Art about music. Now I talk to music about
Dropping the needle of
the Garrard turntable on to the spinning disc with the rainbow
band and the words, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" on
it. For the first time.
Shaking hands with
Francis. I would have settled for just a handshake.
In the little village of
in Taiwan, at Chinese New Year, in the small hours of the
morning, watching bats chasing bottle rockets.
Thumbing my nose at Oprah
With my friend, Jeff,
half-way across Utah in his old Chevy Malibu, at 3 a.m., with
nothing to listen to on the radio but very loud mariachi music
piped in from Tijuana, broken up by the same commercial every
five minutes for “Laboratorious Camacho.”
Getting another prostate exam.
Well, not really.
In my desk in Mr.
Javitz’s 6th grade class with lots of other squirmy, goofy kids
on a hot, Santa Ana wind day, while Mr. Javitz made his way from
desk to desk, helping us with our Spanish or math work, his
sweat dripping on our papers.
Reclining in a hammock on
an island in the South Pacific, with coconut parfaits and many
friendly and personable women.
In the back row of desks
in the city room of the Herald-Examiner, with Schwada, Gulotta,
and Braxton. Smoking a cigar while Schwada fired up his pipe,
making obscene remarks about various editors until Gulotta
groaned and Braxton almost fell out of his chair, laughing.
Trick or treating.
Opening my Sherman Oaks
apartment door one 1977 Halloween evening to find two rather comely
female colleagues in full costume---one a tramp, the other a
Watching the wheels go
‘round and ‘round. I really love to watch them
In Isla Vista, in the
summer of 1967, in a
house full of nice hippies who treated me like a human
being. Who went for walks on the beach with me, asked me about
my life, my opinions.
Drunk on top of the
Empire State Building, daring the biplanes to get me.
Standing at a urinal at the Filmex science-fiction marathon next to Stan Freberg, asking him
when he was going to do part two of “The United States of
Playing poker with the
Dalai Lama, smoking cigars and exchanging ribald stories.
Meeting Bozo the clown
(Vance Colvig), refusing to believe it was him because he was
out of make-up, then having him reach down and tweak my nose
exactly the way Bozo does, causing me to exclaim, “It is Bozo!”
catch the wind.
On the blacktop
basketball court at Meadows Elementary School, alone, on a
Saturday afternoon, shooting about a thousand baskets while Queenie the dog wandered around the playground. Stopping cold
when KRLA played the new Beatles song I’d never heard before,
“Lady Madonna," on my transistor radio. And being unable to
figure out if it was Paul or Ringo.
Having a beer with
Steinbeck. Or four.
Smoking pot with a porter
on the Amtrak Empire Builder at 3 a.m., somewhere in Montana or
Idaho, then sitting in the observation car, alone, looking up at
one of those
skies that is more star than space.
to give up Hollywood and stick to opera.
Walking through the
streets of Taipei in a pouring rain, with no umbrella, singing
Fishing on the Venice
Pier around midnight, circa 1969, with my dog nearby, surrounded
by families with radios and Hibachis, listening to mariachi
music and idiotic talk shows. Then hauling up three great big,
shiny pompano, causing much excitement and exclamation among a
group of Japanese men, to whom I gave the fish. Causing even
more excitement and exclamation. (Hell, I didn’t know how to
clean them, anyhow.)
On a slow boat to
Leaning on the podium in
room 21 at Venice High, where Mr. A.H. Rotman taught journalism,
English lit, Shakespeare, and I spent three years on the school
paper, Oarsman. Listening to Rotman telling ribald jokes, carrying
on about politics or
Sibelius or Jussi Bjoerling or how to give
a ’63 Falcon a tune-up. Watching him make many a troubled kid
feel better about himself or herself, when it was very badly
Up Shit Creek. Wait a
Camping at Sunset Beach
in Monterey for a couple of weeks, alone, in 1978. And driving
into Monterey every day to interview many people who knew
Listening to Dave "the
Hull on KRLA. Or any of the great old
announcers: Fred Crane, Tom Dixon, Thomas Cassidy, Carl Princi,
Tom Franklin. . .
Putting my wrecked
apartment back together after the Northridge earthquake, and
telling the landlord to leave all the cracks in the walls alone
because, “They’re the scars of living in L.A..” And he went
along with it. Nice landlord, was David T. Feldman.
Watching “Superman” with
George Reeves and beautiful Noell Neill one afternoon in 1959 as
a reward for not crying while getting a shot.
in 1993 and telling her how I used to get up real close to the
TV and try to see up her dress, and having her respond, without
missing a beat, “You’d be amazed how many times I’ve heard
Doing the garden, digging
the weeds. Who could ask for more?
Getting up early in the
home of my landlady, Jean, on beautiful Grand View Boulevard in
Mar Vista during my senior year in high school, and having her
fix me breakfast: a glass of grapefruit juice, black coffee, and
a piece of toast. And trouncing her at Scrabble---well,
sometimes---on Thursday nights.
Having lunch again with
Yoko Ono at the Polo Lounge. Really.
Sitting in my apartment
on Prairie Street in Northridge, with “the boys,” smoking weak
pot and listening to music and laughing our
asses off. Or better yet, watching Sunday night preachers with
the sound off, and Lenny Bruce records turned up, waiting for
their lips to synch with Lenny. And laughing our asses off.
Riding one of the old
L.A. Red Cars with Ray Bradbury in 1946.
Sitting on the rooftop of
the house in Costa Mesa, watching the nighttime fireworks at
Disneyland “way far away.” Or standing in the front yard of that
same house on July 4, waiting for my mom to come back from the
Red Devil fireworks stand at midnight with fountains, Piccolo Petes,
sparklers all marked down to a buck a shopping bagful.
In Cannery Row, in
Monterey, in about 1932, drinking cheap red wine and discussing
the nature of things with Steinbeck, Ricketts, and Joseph
Sitting in the living
room on Christmas Eve, 1968, and being allowed to unwrap one
present early---The Beatles “white album,” of course---then
sitting and listening to the whole thing in wonder with my
brother. While my father grumbled things like, “I don’t think
much of that ‘Dear Prudence,’ and ‘they’re finished---they’re
Eating goober peas.
Taking Captain Beefheart
for a ride in my ’66 green four-door Rambler Classic, stopping
for dinner at The Apple Pan, where Don was transfixed by the
contrast of gleaming brushed steel and the paper hats of the
waiters. “That’s a good sculpture,” he said.
Swimming the English
Covering the wild student
body election at CSUN in 1973, writing news stories--- and at
the same time, a commentary endorsing candidate
(college papers: those were the days.) Watkins went on to become
the school’s first African-American student body president, and
today is vice-president of student affairs there.
The Beatles to take a temporary break in 1970, and get back
together in a year or two.
Washing boats in Marina
del Rey, as I did during the summer of 1974. Best job I ever
At the 1983 New Year's
Eve Grateful Dead
show, with a large rainbow moustache painted
across my kisser.
Giving George Harrison a
bootleg of all his BBC appearances with The Beatles, marked
"From Rip Rense," and having him ponder it quizzically, saying,
"What's this Rip Rense?" "That's me," I said. "Oh," said
laughing. "I thought it was something to do with 'rip-off,'
seeing as it's a bootleg. . ."
Driving through downtown
L.A. with my father around 1958, seeing the streetcars and electric
buses, and going for a ride on
Watching the great
artist, Tyrus Wong, fly his magnificent
kites on Santa Monica
Bagging groceries at the
Westward Ho Market in Westwood after dropping out of college,
wondering whether life was worth the trouble, having the
question rendered moot by getting stoned on the way to work
every morning at 6 a.m.. Worst job I ever had.
Hitchhiking across China.
Naked, painted head-to-foot in
Having my eyes bug out as
I watched my brother drive the length of the basketball court,
weave through stunned opposition, wrap the ball around behind
his back, and lay it in to the sound of the Thousand Oaks High
School crowd erupting in a roar of awe and applause. Then
sitting around with the team afterward at Du-Par’s, having a
cherry Coke, feeling like I was out on the town with
Making little kids laugh.
On my old lime green ten-speed, where I lived after
school and on weekends, riding to: “the store” (any store in
town), the high school pool, the golf course to hit buckets of
errant free balls my pals and I collected from over the fence. .
.Or on my way to a strange, short-lived record store one
incredibly hot day, where I bought
“I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to
Die” by Country Joe and the Fish, then pedaling home like a
madman and putting it on the stereo. Loud.
At the Fox Conejo
Theater, watching “Lilies of the Field” one Sunday summer
afternoon, all by myself.
Anywhere but on Facebook.
Sending Frank Zappa into
convulsive laughter by telling him the story of the 300-lb.
“blind date” (long story) who came to my home while I was
listening to his “Them or Us” album for the first time, and a
song called “Jumbo Go Away" came on.
Not driving in Los
With Terry and her mom
and dad, Maggie and Charlie, and her brother, Tom, in the Monte
Carlo, on our way to Sunday morning dim sum at Tai Hong, in the
late ‘70’s, then just tooling around with Charlie at the wheel
all afternoon. . .maybe stopping at
Sakae Sushi in Gardena. .
.or the Carnation coffee shop for some ice cream. . .
On the road
Listening to Chick Hearn
moan, "And the Lakers are STANDING," preferably while calling
any game in the late '60's or early '70's.
Herding cats. Wait a
second---I do that all day. Literally.
With four of five or six
great guys at one of the Ventura Fair Ground Grateful Dead
Shows, after chewing up a nice vegetable, contemplating the
energy relationships between the notes emerging from the
guitar of Jerry Garcia and the updrafts on
which seagulls floated overhead.
Organizing the first
“Persevering Through Relentless Absurdity” Awards banquet.
Sitting in a restaurant
with the great Joe Shinn, quaffing beers and chewing some good ceviche, as Shinn held forth about how, in his youth, “We used
to eat concrete---eat it like fudge.” Sending Scott Paul into
Setting all the cats and
dogs in animal shelters free.
Editing a definitive
version of the “Get Back” sessions into a proper album. (And I
could do it.)
Sitting in Tom Waits's
room in the Tropicana Motor Inn, circa 1976, listening to
explain why he had a VW bumper on his kitchen counter, and how
we was planning to saw off a chunk of the drainboard in order to
get piano in the living room.
Not talking to
self-serious, preening L.A. jackasses, not watching them on the
tube, not having to drive on the same streets with them, listen
to them prattle into their cell phones, or on radio talkshows, and not
having to read or hear their politically correct pontificating in the
Watching the night
silhouettes of the family cats creeping stealthily on the
ledge outside my childhood window, with rabbits or gophers
hanging from their mouths.
Buying and eating a pound
of See’s mixed chocolates in about a day.
Hearing Brahms' "German
Requiem" done by the L.A. Phil for the first time, at age 19 or
so, being so transported by the experience that I went backstage
to thank Zubin Mehta, who put his arm around me and said, "My
boy, you have no idea how much this means to me."
Chi-Tou in Taiwan,
high in the mountains, in a cottage in a bamboo forest,
listening to the silence.
Anywhere with Annie.
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