The Ends of Earth – Getting Lost in a Big World

The Summer of 1990 was vastly approaching. I was 30 years old, becoming restless. Since graduating college, I’d been back in Los Angeles a half dozen years, had a cramped apartment and a trophy girl friend return from a failed romance.

The year before, distraught by her apathetic return, I totaled my four-wheel drive truck along with a traffic light and telephone pole at Roscoe and Coldwater Canyon. It was the result of an emotional phone call with her.

Actually, it occurred when the coil mounted cellphone fell to the floor board when slamming the handset at my failure.  Reaching to pull it back in position, I faded right through the intersection into the street light and telephone pole, crushing the passenger side of the truck, sliding to a halt on the driver side like some movie stunt in front of a bus stop bench with three horrified patrons. (Should’ve seen their faces when I emerged top-side, passenger door like  a submarine.)

As luck would have it, the next day after I tore this first generation mobile technology from the mangled truck, I swapped it for a large shoulder sling first generation portable cellphone and qualified for a promotion – a free flight for two to Hawaii.

Thus at year’s end I found myself on Maui with said former girlfriend, who had a miraculous change of heart. The weather dismal but it was a good time.

Now summer loomed. I received a letter from the hotel chain where we stayed on Maui. They offered a free week in a condo tower in Fort Lauderdale, Florida that August. Flights to Miami were tremendously inexpensive, I booked us for Florida.

My naiveté had no bounds. No one goes to Florida in August due to the oppressive, heat and humidity.  Likewise, I found December is rainy season in Hawaii. Dumbass. And that girl was not in love with you. Romantic dumbass.

We hit Florida, walking out in a sauna. My eyeglasses fogged. Arriving in Fort Lauderdale I saw more Hassidic Jews on the beach than the Brooklyn D-Train platform at New Ultrecht. God they looked hot in those clothes.

A day after this scene, every day was necessary to journey out. One morning I decided “let’s go to Key West”. Under a blazing mid-morning sun, a couple ounces of psilocybin mushrooms and a joint in my pockets, we set out.

She wasn’t just a trophy girl because of her looks, she could bake and didn’t  smoke or do drugs. At Key Largo I set the rental’s cruise control and enjoyed the Atlantic Ocean on my left, the Gulf of Mexico on my right, as we rolled down the highway surfing the bridges and Keys.

Keys are islands. I noticed each of various size, alternating speed limits.  Roaring down Islamorada Key, I saw a sheriff cruiser in the brush. When he didn’t emerge I didn’t cancel the 65mph cruise control. Within a mile, a similar cruiser parked on the northbound lane, wiped around, he came after me.

Panicked I stabbed at my pocket for the mushrooms, swallowing them all along with the joint as a rotund Monroe County – as he repeatedly reminded me of the jurisdiction – sheriff emerged at my door. As he looked at my California license he asked “why the hurry, boy?”

Before answering, I noticed I’d given him my license with bleached blond hair and pulled it from his fingers, replacing it with a newer ID. “They let you have multiple IDs in California, boy?”, he asked. Quickly I said, “sure, don’t they here?”


He wrote me my ticket. We were off again on this never-ending drive. So weary by late afternoon, we stopped on Marathon Key for a beer, reconsidering the destination. Some local barflys insisted “ya’ll came this far, ya’ll might as well go to Key West”.

We walked out of that double-wide trailer posing as a bar, noticing it abutted Marathon’s airport. The propeller props whipped the air a convincing calm to my ear. The falling sun to the southwest – our destination, warmed by face and belly. I was digesting the psychedelics from the traffic stop.

By Key West I was a blaze in the late summer night. We bar hoped tourist trap to tee shirt shop, everything named Margaritaville it seemed.

We sat at some restaurant’s seaside balcony, a clawless lobster plated before me. The bastard was so rigid and coarse, his spiny shell ripping my left index finger open. I bleed over its vengeful corpse, as I forced down his tail.

We left Key West within the hour, starting the long, dark night drive back to Lauderdale. The radio station was oddly dated. I felt like I was driving in a 1952 Desoto as the radio played Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, the Platters and Cadillacs while my headlights spotted baby alligators, frogs and varmint darting ahead.

As Elvis ended “Teddy Boy”, suddenly the Star Spangled Banner played. The station signed off, not another could be found. Dead quiet. Mind blazing. Dark.

I had driven to the end of earth.

When I returned the rental car later, Hertz demanded I pay the speeding ticket – $125.00 or they wouldn’t allow me to return the car. Charges would apply. Almost late for the flight, the counter guy said, “we wouldn’t want you getting lost in this great big world without paying your ticket”.

I should’ve known nothing’s ever free.


First World & Fatherless

Set adrift fatherless sons, I recognize them with immediate intimacy. It doesn’t matter at what age because I have been through most of the stages as I pass through my middle age. Now closer to the end, it is with resignation rather rage at the circumstance.

My salvation  – that which tempered me was that one man had stepped forward, albeit unprepared, he provided security, some routine, the discipline to fight through the fear, as did he as a teen stepping into a world war of other fatherless men’s making.

You could find Alan routinely on my couch weeknights. Generally quiet. At times amused.  He took in every word, interacting only with regular visitors of equal age and status.

He was a decade my senior. California born, his straight stringy light brown hair still collar length since the Sixities. His face and body belayed a unambitious, unathletic, satisfactorily lazy laid back pay-check to pay-check existence.

He must of been a handsome teen as he graduated Van Nuys High in the Summer of 69. Physically he resembled a cross of Peter Fonda and Troy Donahue with a John Wayne voice but life was catching up quickly on Al.

Surviving his younger years without a father, never knowing who his father was, he, like me was a latchkey kid. His mother, Dolores had to rise for work every day before dawn to wait tables at Dupars on Ventura Boulevard.

Dolores had taught him how to rise every agonizing morning for a menial job and introduced Marlboro reds to pass time.  Later, suffering from emphysema and on oxygen, her example brought him to reduce a three pack a day habit to one as he watched her bring a lit cigarette to her oxygen, savagely burning her face.

Alan was an intriguing combination of integrity and sloth. He could be trusted with money and secrets. He didn’t ask questions but was oblivious to his appearance and body language.  So much so, employment became a revolving door of odd driving and delivery jobs in The Basin.

Lost in a generation and setting of dashing, gracefully aging middle-class suburban commuters, he felt strangely entitled but abandoned by his position in Tinseltown. Often racist, generally angry, his poverty was not of his doing in his mind.

Gentlemanly yet perverted, his contradictions were exposed only in private. His sadness at being alone apparent, his hatred at being white and looked over a constant dialogue.

To his credit, as the years on my couch went by, he once said, “I wish I would’ve had a father who taught me some skill, something of value for my life.”

I recognized this statement because my loving father, sparing me the orphanage and an uncertain life could only teach me “don’t lay down near a [Sherman] tank for a firing position” and “don’t break your back for 40 years working” like me.

Perhaps, Alan knew the latter advice of my father, he sat smoking every bit of free weed he possibly could on my couch, enjoying the socialization he never found in his little Reseda studio petri dish of a dungeon.

As I migrated permanently east, I often wondered how he was doing. I recognized the fatherless son and cared about his welfare.  My suspicion is that he has passed away, since I’m compelled to bring him alive to you.

Swingers revisited

Twenty years ago last month I met my wife.

It was just after Christmas and my roommate, Jim had been AWOL all of December.

I was fairly certain he was hanging out with a young lady we had met at the Ye Old Kings Head in Santa Monica one night in November.

Jeanette and I had chatted about Mose Allison and Ron Hubbard over drinks, while Jim prowled the pub. Left out, her friend wanted to leave. She offered me her telephone number.  We went out twice, both times concluded with her hugging my toilet bowl.

Anyway, Jim had two gal pals due to arrive from Boston.  He had barely said a word about it but I’d been on business all month between Austin and Chicago. When I returned he was still absent. Yet I assured the cute voice on the other end of the telephone that, “if I have to make a sign and stand there like a limo dude, look for your name, Kim, that’ll be me”.  Oh, by the way where you staying?” I asked. “I thought your place”, she says.

Jim hadn’t spoken to me since December 3rd, the night he played tongue twister with Jeanette outside El Torito on Santa Monica Boulevard, while I paid our check.

It wouldn’t have been so bad but it had been a really hard day.  Though I saw Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger – my childhood hero – ride by in the Hollywood Christmas Parade, a good friend had committed suicide that morning.

One can only take so much. I was mortified a “good guy” had gone badly while petrified by the action of a “bad guy” I had thought was good. All senseless.

As I got in my car to leave the Valley for LAX, Jim showed up. “Where you been?”, I asked. Nothing. Nervous. He spoke gibberish about “women” while we drove.

His late arrival made finding Kim and Lynn easier on a busy Sunday night at the airport. They commented that they had noticed me. Vainly I wondered what they had thought?

I asked them what they wanted to do? They were game for going out to have drinks so I drove them to Hollywood, near where I lived for a decade, off Cahuenga.

I parked down the street on Fountain.  We started at the Dark Room or Burgundy Room, one of which was a bigger darker sister bar of the other small dark bar across the street, both without signs. Since the door was in the back, we walked up the alleyway.

I could feel the ladies’ tension with every step. We came upon some men, one on his knees blowing the other behind that hot dog kiosk down from the newsstand on Cahuenga.

As  I assured them there’s a gay bar at the other corner, the shrill crackle of a laughing street woman and the metal wheels of her shopping cart rattled off the ally walls. It made Jim and the ladies jump; just another night off Hollywood Boulevard.

Safely inside, crowded we had a couple rounds as my eyes transfixed at the taller, porcelain faced Kim. Her light brown eyes shined, reflecting the glow of those dimples. It seemed she couldn’t stop smiling at me while Lynn was in sensory overload.

I thought we should move on to a more lit bar. I suggested The Dresden on Vermont. Maybe Marty and Elaine were playing. They can do the entertaining and give us a chance to unwind.

The Dresden is an old glam club from the 1950s. Classic tuck-and-roll booths, chandeliers, long curvy countertop bar. Between Boarderners and The Dresden I had wasted years with my goofy friends drinking, killing hours, being stupid.

Marty and Elaine were playing “Staying Alive” and it seemed Kim and I were coming alive. It was magic but I had to make sure and called a friend who lived in Silver Lake “to  come down here for a drink… I’ll buy. I want you to meet this girl”.

We didn’t speak of movies or bands, drop names, kiss or hug, we had no contact; that, she was under the same roof sipping coffee once I was done posing as some hipster that night made it all the more real.

Days later we kissed at the Tiki-Ti and the morning after we packed up a rental El Dorado, Jim, Jeanette, and Lynn heading for New Years Eve in San Francisco.

One night a year later at our first home in Providence, we saw this movie by Jon Favrue. It was called “Swingers”. He traced our entire first evening together (without the alleyway oral sex of course). “All the cool bars in Hollywood have to be real hard to find and have no signs”, went a line.  We looked at one another in shock.

The jig was already up though. I was just an extra in the phony, over-managed, repetition of a screenplay called life going nowhere as a L.A swinger.

As I always said, it’s seductive. So near to stardom, one can reach out and touch it, yet so far away most can’t pick up the check.  At least over the years, I proved I could pick up the check, even if not the girl.

As much as she enjoyed the thrill, this woman knew the end of a good script; what was the furthest from the regular lives of people outside that bubble;  what was of real import.

She trusted I knew deep down too but allowed me to decide. 20 years, two children, two houses, thousands of miles away, we swing happily to our own script every day.

baby N me