Ray Liotta died. Damn. How quick are our years?Unforgiving. Exacting. But in an Aristotelian way Ray is immortal. They remember celebrity.
An “established” Hollywood actor. True. In his life he wore both masks – comedy and tragedy. I’d rather think of my dinner with a really normal fella 30 years ago.
The night before, at Fenders Ballroom in Long Beach, I was in the worst fight of my life. At a punk rock show three young vatos attacked me – an initiation. Perhaps.
I was in control until three older ones sucker punched and overwhelmed me, I was knocked to the floor. Countless legs kicking me. I could only cover my head as suddenly I was pulled to my feet.
It was two LADS – LA Death Squad members – a gang from my holly hood. They recognized me from the old days. We had beers at intermission.
As they got me to my feet, a vato was biting my left wrist, another tried gouging out my left eye. His finger slipped into my mouth and I bit it to the bone. We swung and kicked backing our way to the exit.
The next evening, cradling broken ribs a broken nose a black eye, other eye swollen, cuts on my face, I bump into Ray at my corner taquería on Cahuenga.
As he turned, he sees me, “ what the fuck happened to you” I said “I was in a fight last night, Ray”. “You know my name?”, he asks. I told him “sure. You were great in Something Wild” (his big break). Little did we know he’d be typecast as the same tough guy again and again but then again he was at his best.
But on this evening, he was wrapping up his big dramatic follow “working up on the hill” – Universal. He apologized that he had to run, as if we were friends and planned going to my flat for some bongs.
Young. Ambitious. Excited by the unlimited potential. “You gotta take care of yourself” as he left. A genuine fella. He hadn’t taken a beating yet. He didn’t know he was looking at his future.
He offered respect without needing to say it. Now I’m returning the favor. Respect. But now “i get to live the rest of my life like a schnook”.
The Spring sun shined down the branches of this old emaciated yet still vital tree. As I sit on my second story balcony, camouflaged from the pedestrians and street cars below, Spring arrived.
Warmth radiates from the branch tips down the trunk feeding roots. It’s been here a longtime. I breath it all in. This breath of renewal suddenly sparks a distant, long forgotten memory.
It has been fifty years since I sat, becoming apart of a tree over months. I know this feeling. Then I sat ten feet above the bustling traffic and sidewalk on Myrtle Avenue in Monrovia, California.
Please don’t believe that I’m comparing Heidelberg to Monrovia. God no. The scene. The emotion; that, solemn feeling, alone, friendless, I hover in the tree. A voyeur relying on the stability of old, established roots. Roots I never had.
I had no power over the situation. My father had lost his lathe machine job because America had lost its war with Vietnam. Huey helicopter parts no longer in demand, we had to sell the one house that he ever owned. A green lawn, pool in the back, a Levittown equivalent in suburban Los Angeles. Glendora. Selling beat being foreclosed and now Monrovia.
My step-brother lived down Altern Street with his third wife. He saw a for rent sign on the parched, weed covered parcel.
As my parents sought protection in bankruptcy court, I found protection sitting on a few 2×4 nailed together like a platform on a sturdy branch above the wall above Myrtle Avenue like the balcony I’m sitting on above Berlinerstraße.
We had moved from the one place where I had made friendships. I was in a neighborhood. Played. Fought. For nearly three years we lived in Glendora – the longest stay in one place in my life (and would be for a few more years to come).
Fifty years. These feelings return as easily as proverbially getting back on a bicycle. It brought back the isolation. The despair that I felt as a boy given away from his mother and saddled up on the caisson that my father so loved (and never quite adjusted after retirement).
Moving base to base, town to town. Like a ghost I am in strangers childhood and grade school photographs. They wonder “what was his name?”
It was a hot summer in 1970. I sat up in that tree. I knew the road stretched far in either direction. I pondered if it ended. I wanted to go in one direction or the other just to find something. Anything. I realize now the road, roads are my friend.
Here I am realizing five decades later how I’ve struggled with each long hour, always feeling that I’m not apart. I am floating above watching, listening to the roar of white noise and the laughter and conversations of friends.
A different language. A different country. A different continent. But, even though I have made it full circle back to where I was born, the emptiness returns. I could blame the coronavirus lockdown but I would fool myself yet again.
It is simply the hand that the dealer dealt. I will breath with the trees somewhere between earth and the clouds until I see the end of this road.
I have slept eighteen or more of the last fourty-eight hours. But I return to bed.
Two cups of coffee. A sweet German pastry filled with god knows what, just a filling in time. My life is a pudding knot.
The third cup of coffee is staring at me. I reject it. I am back on my bed. I’m tired. Tired of me. Tired of you. Tired of everything I can possibly think of with my tired mind.
Just then – what? The Grateful Dead? Who turned on The Grateful Dead in my head?
I never liked the Grateful Dead. I hesitate saying I hate them because I really don’t even know them. I’m too old to play that childish hater game.
“I will survive”. A chorus. Repeatedly. “I will survive”. Even in that perfectly awful “harmony “.
This? This comes in my mind as I consider the bleakness of the glaring sky that hurts my eyes. The roar of endless ambulance sirens ringing my ears. The chopping of the medical helicopter slicing my cranium. The hum of traffic and the gas station car wash swish and spray like a Spring cloudburst. Rain and gloom that I can no long tolerate. This.
This. From – of all things, the “Grateful” Dead. “I will survive” on a loop in my big fat fleshy bald, jowl drooping head.
Hippies. This cruel moment I get hippies. Hippies instead of some deity. Fucking hippies. It’s like the new Burning-bush. I’m Moses but I don’t want to cross the Sinai. I wish no one to follow me.
This just thrust upon me. Hippies. Make it stop.
This is more than irony. This is more than absurd.
Strange. How very strange. The first time probably in my life. I felt nothing. Absolutely nothing.
A lifetime absorbing all the pain globally, locally, personally. The pain. Real and imagined. Those feelings. Feeling of the flesh or feeling of the soul; that pain in your heart you feel occasionally, I’ve felt it my entire life. But now I feel nothing.
Nothing. Like a child again, I suppose. Yes, like a child. I feel nothing. Puzzling. Can I still tie my laces? Puzzling, if I wasn’t so blank. Nothing. I have been growing into it. Nothing. Nothing feels good. Let go. Let good.
Then the nurse needed me to leave. They need the chair for the next appointment. I’m removed from this sudden, strange euphoria.
It’s not the vaccination. It’s the reaction. A reaction the CDC won’t be able to quantify except for a blank. Nothing. As I feel standing here.
A blank euphoria that I hope death will replicate.
We are afforded by time to understand one another, our place and relationship to the immense universe that spirals around us.
From the moment we open our eyes we try to learn what is first within sight, then reach, every glistening star in each other. It falls upon time to allow any more knowledge than that. A vast shining possibility of sensations.
I watched a boy, gentle and harmless become a man caring and kind, starving for love, not riches. First from family, those who were within reach and secondly from beauty often times an abstract of earth, if not of a womb.
Time allowed for many teasing sensations to course through his eyes into his heart, tickle his mind but not love. Love he so desired.
He moved slowly, spoke slowly. Some would take him for slow. Though mocked and tormented by the blind who surrounded him, he did not give in to woe nor spite.
Head never bowed, he found love in the woods, the sea and sun that shined down on him. His only reward.
The rare beautiful soul. He did not give in to judgement and ridicule; that, damming assessment of children then men, lost in their own doubt and frailties, all which he possessed. But he did not give in to the howls and chants or those that surely hid in the shadows of his mind.
How this spark of life did not become a raging fire burning every atom in its path, I will never understand.
Life’s cruelty ricocheted off his enormous frame. He smiled and chuckled. Time’s cascading absurdity made his spirit only softer. He marched forward without harsh word or raised voice. The gentlest man. My friend. My kind of guy.
But how I deceive myself. His life’s genius I discover only by death. God damned retrospect.
His unfailing admiration toward me. His slow deception, a final joke played upon me. He had seen in me what he had not in himself.
Yet here I tell you, he had what I now wish most. A life at peace. To turn the other cheek. To grow into my own skin; that, achievement makes him far greater than me.
I wish that he knew I have caught on to his final prank, the genius but now time will not allow.
And now a little more than a year everyday is the same.
My coffee maker sounds like a raptor. Clicking at my presence I’ve come to delay making coffee each successive morning until I dare enter the kitchen.
The units above my apartment flush toilets; that, sound cascading down through my walls, it, for a moment, feels comforting like nature splashing over me at the base of a waterfall, where a raptor quite possibly watches me within the rainforest.
I feel beaten like many batons have bashed me in the night as I slept. I stand solely to shake off the ache of hours of long, lonely days and nights of rest. Sedentary for hours. Then standing, staring out at the concrete, as the cascading waterfalls flow, while the raptors click a communicateè of prey.
I take my daily cup to a flat long table that pins me safely into the corner like a ten foot tall tortoise shell on my back. I push three buttons to zoom out of this sterile square box through the ether into a computer screen filled with six other square boxes all looking back at me in a conference call.
As I stare not at my distant, pained colleagues who try to muster some intelligence, to work, to breath, smile or function, all I see is my neck. My old, sagging flesh, it hangs from my chin.
I want to think, “well you’re finally losing some weight” but the charade can’t conceal it, as I sit still in the screen, my god I look like a lizard.
Zooming through their comments, tasks, their facts, I can only nod, silently, yes to my colleagues.
For several weeks I’ve struggled with images that recall a time in my life, where the fortune of not being a young black male allowed me to live in relative peace the last 30 years.
I’ve spoken of it to total strangers this month. A failed attempt to ease my stress. I understand what has triggered everyone. It’s triggered me, as I see young people reacting in the present, what I reflect in my past. The fear. Anxiety. Stress. It doesn’t go away.
I’ll try again by the written word. See if it can clear the discomfort and emotion that this time in our collective lives has brought roaring back.
That’s Herman, the Austrian Bodybuilder who I briefly met one afternoon 30 years ago on Sunset Boulevard in the Tower Records parking lot. He sold me that car, a 1969 Olds 98 convertible. It nearly caused the end of my life.
I’d totaled my truck on Coldwater Canyon recently. Herman wanted $3600. I needed a car. It was over in 10 minutes. My proclivity for not asking too many questions would betray me.
Within a few weeks on a Saturday night, my friends Bobby Kennedy and Michael Paul joined me for a June cruise, top down. Turning right off Stanley, eastbound down Sunset Boulevard we saw some young ladies on the sidewalk that distracted from seeing two LAPD cruisers on my rear. They got my attention when they lit their lamps.
I heard a booming order from the heavens “put your hands up in the air! do not move!” In the rearview mirror I could see several officers, guns drawn shielded behind opened car doors. I was then commanded to use my right hand to open the door to my left, lay face down on Sunset Boulevard. My companions were ordered the same. A third cruiser arrives. Commander? Their doors still opened. Guns drawn on us prone on pavement.
At that time there wasn’t a moment to consider what would happen if we were young black men, young brown men, or if we moved indiscriminately in any manner. This was preRodney King.
For whatever protocols these four officers did not approach rather they had us crawl into the sidewalk gutter, only then allowing us each slowly to stand, fingers interlaced on our heads. Individually proceed to the brick facade of a store steps away. They approached, searched and started the questions.
Staring straight forward I heard, “driver you ever been arrested before?” Briefly I thought, damn that’s an Ice-T rap. I responded in that deep Ice-T vocal , “no neva”. Bobby wanted to giggle but swallowed it.
The questions continued but thanks to the reflection in the store window, Michael Paul broke my concentration, alerting me that the other officers were “going in your trunk, Max.” I couldn’t dare tell him, I can see that. And that it was fine. (Michael and I had spent the prior weekend up the coast shooting my guns. Guess he thought they were still in the trunk.)
As Michael repeated the warning, a very large LAPD motorcycle cop who had joined the interrogation fun stepped up behind Michael. In one fluid motion he asked, “what are you nervous about punk?” while simultaneously grabbing Michael’s interlocked hands a top his head and pulling them slowly behind Michael, as he tried to tell the cop, “you’re hurting me. You’re hurting me. You’re hurting me” until Michael’s left shoulder popped out of place and the cop pulled him down to the sidewalk.
Bobby Kennedy and I remained quiet. Michael wiggled and wailed in pain on the concrete. Watching in the reflection, several officers emerged from searching inside my new ride and another emerged frustrated, slamming the trunk shut and throwing my wad of keys on it for affect.
We couldn’t catch badge numbers. We just tried to survive the episode. Finally, in the reflection, officers securely seated in cruisers and on motorcycle, the one, the questioner half in, half out the passenger door, threatened us to never be seen by him again on “his streets”. He sat and they all drove off.
It wasn’t until Monday morning that I found the punchline that almost killed me. I went to my mechanic in Norh Hollywood. He fixed the cars of DEA and LAPD officials. I had him ask to run my Arizona plates.
Herman, the Austrian Bodybuilder hadn’t disclosed that he acquired my car at a LAPD Impound auction. He flipped it to me without putting it in his name. My new car had been used by the last registered owner to commit a spree of liquor store 287s around Hollywood until his apprehension.
The plate traced back to the title holder in Phoenix. When I called him asking for the title, he informed me that, “ I want nothing to do with that car.” He added “LAPD [had] detectives knocked on [his]door a month ago. I knew I shouldn’t have sold it to that guy! Who uses traveler’s checks at a car show?” and hung up on me.
How had the LAPD data processors not clear that all points broadcast for my Olds after the perp was arrested and the asset impounded and sold?
A data processing error had us on the wrong end of 9mm barrels. It had injured my friend, Michael. (And for Bobby it played out again outside my apartment months later when he and a friend had a LAPD cruiser miss identify his license plate, receiving a false positive that he was in a stolen car. Laid out again at gun point on my street until it got clarified.)
As the years of police killings of unarmed young black men and women pass, the PTSD of such moments in my life come raging back. The absolute absurdity that if I was perceived differently by virtue of my skin, I could have never lived to tell you this story.
Epilogue: Weeks later some Crypts stole my car from that mechanic’s lot. His insurance policy paid me $3600. I was cool with it. But randomly a week later, LAPD called me that it was recovered. Like a bad penny it was back in my possession. In an attempt to scrub the crazy arch of this whole nightmare, I had it renovated and painted for the boys of blue.
I’m certain that you’ll be disappointed once you get past the title. You see, I’m just writing about happiness and how it comes in small sizes.
Yea size matters but not when it comes to happiness. It is the simple happiness that a 13” television has brought me through the years.
Television was my only friend for a very longtime. A military father, who removed from the military, he couldn’t get the military out of him. We relocated often. Television was always there. My best friend.
Today I celebrate the USA Hockey team beating the USSR on the so called “Miracle on Ice” in Lake Placid 1980 Winter Olympics.
I watched it on a 13” black & white enthralled at the edge of my shitty motel bed where I lived in 1980.
Hell I did the same thing with the 1968 Mexico City Games from my bedroom. These were my first “all-nighters”. John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Bill Toomey, Dick Fosbury and my thirteen inches.
Yea thirteen inch black and white hooked up to an antenna on the roof. I received UHF and VHF, Joe Namath and Speed Racer, the Three Stooges and Gumby. All cultural signals lost to that century (that’s not on ROKU or HULU).
Sure. If you were losing like Iron Mike, Tretiak or Fetisov, you had not one care about the happiness of youth and that 13” television brought. It brought poor kids the world right into their closet sized bedrooms.
My friend, Bobby Kennedy reminded me a week ago that it was 30 years since he and I watched Buster Douglas breakdown the legend of Mike Tyson… before the legal system. Naturally we watched on a 13” black and white television as we leaned against a wall with a leaking gas line on a Tijuana street
It was a life changing at a time on this earth.
It’s not so special to have fifty inches now but it was to have a thirteen inch at all the right moments when our “culture” evolved before our eyes. It felt like these kids rolling around on ice.
I find jazz exceptionally beautiful driving in the dark wee hours of the morning. In its totality it’s greater than a clarinet driven composition of a miserably grey day of pelting rain.
I wholeheartedly relish desolate dark drives at these hours. These moments are soulful resurrections because at any other time, jazz can be bewildering busy like the day, and accompanied by others, it is taxing like a conversation with a stranger.
You desperately try to assemble a rhythm, find some thesis, a compatible spark that may connect to another. Not searching for anything enduring since, all great musical numbers have an end.
You simply wish to share perhaps a sublime moment of comfort and peace with a piece of god’s other art, a human, whose biorhythms sync effortlessly with you.
How that happened one late September Saturday evening at a Santa Monica pub, I will never know but it happened around sharing Mose Allison.
She knew what I was talking about and I felt the rhythm of our beat drive some improv into conversational places I’d only shared with my friend, Jackie White over cold San Miguel’s listening to Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Clarke in that comfortable, cold, dead dark countryside.
I never talk about Mose Allison, I thought, as I walked away to my car with Jeanette’s telephone number tucked in my pocket.
I hadn’t asked. Hell I’ve never asked. She’d felt the groove and offered to set up another gig because her best friend, she was playing sour notes. Our jam session interrupted.
I was seduced by our rhythm all the dark drive home. It was the right accompaniment to jam on another night. Yet, it betrayed memory.
The memory of how that seduction pacing like a ride cymbal in my head can abruptly end. It was once beating and squealing until I drove Jackie White that last night to pull an armed bar robbery.
He hit the road south as day broke and i lost my beat, as I turned course in the other direction.
Less ceremoniously and a decade later, this jazzy number ended abruptly with Jeanette as well.
I really never got to know her because after every subsequent gig, she became more acquainted with my bathroom floor, hugging my porcelain pedestal.
Though I wouldn’t leave them alone, I wasn’t jealous. I sat in the sink, drinking and jammed on about Chick Corea as he spun on my turntable.
But in the end; that, final day as I paid for some shitty Mexican meal on Santa Monica Boulevard for her and my roomie, I stepped into the parking lot to find them tongue wrestling. The musical klutz, my good friend, who was there at the pub, disinterested in Mose Allison and Jeanette diving in for a solo.
Day was breaking. It was the close to the night of the Hollywood Christmas Parade, a friend’s suicide in the day. I recoiled at the crescendo.
The glare; that, dissonance brought by coming light. The harshest of Light, reality. It ripped through that dreamy dark groove that I dig in the lonely, lovely sojourn of my life and all that jazz.
Another Veterans Day comes and goes. As I get older it’s harder to suppress my animus. But I cannot dare or it will eat me alive.
This time of year it rears the ugliness. The dark truth. It’s set off online and in line as I approach the entrance to shop benignly at Market Basket.
Those silver haired, VFW adorned veterans soliciting donations for other veterans. They form a charming, united front this pair, as they flirt with the 60 to 80 year old ladies that come their way.
The ladies eating up the suave advances of those gallant, once young, soldier boys. Those forever young devils. My mind spills into disgust as I imagine if this is sex after sixty-five.
But down deep, I battle my guttural instinct to ask if they knew the soldier boys who raped my teenage mother.
Perhaps they knew them. Occupying the Rhineland a good decade after death’s decay was sanitized from my Strasse.
Those fine young men who casually destroyed a young girl’s life before it had chance to start, leaving her with two baby girls and twenty months later with me. In a home with not enough food to feed us. I would have to go.
Yes. Those wonderful boys in uniform giving of themselves to have a good time away a year, maybe two from their wives and children back in the states, defending “our way of life”.
Imagine how many Vietnamese, Korean and European bastards they left littered about those lands this past century? Abandoned. No money. No husband. No father. They’re left to fend for themselves and their alienated child(ren).
Thank you for your service.
However you say, not all of these servicemen were such cads. They’re mostly kind hearted, well trained and mannered young men representing you like a high school football team playing at some one else’s field.
True, after my teen mother gave me away she found a half-decent serviceman who actually went back home and divorced his wife, abandoning his daughter to return for his foreign bride. How did they feel about his service in that small Pennsylvania town?
yes once again, he wasn’t so half-decent to destroy his little girl’s childhood. Nor was he anywhere near human as he molested his new bride’s daughters, once he relocated them back in the States.
They weren’t his daughters.
He left them without a single word or finances for a year hitch in the ‘Nam. Imagine what this monster did over there to young girls?
But hell. Those were children of that foreign land that he was entitled to by virtue of his armament and status as a freedom fighter for them this time.
They weren’t his daughters. None of them were.
The Veterans who raped our teenage mother are probably dead now. I can’t thank them for their service to the darkest instincts of humanity. For flag and nation. Duty.
No I can’t thank them for my mother and half sister’s brief lives, the other sisters’ drug addiction, their mother’s neglect and mental breakdown.
We just have to live with it until we die. And we are set free. Home of the free because we had to brave their (self) service.
I see patients in the clinic everyday. I am always saddened that I never discuss with them about what real health could be like or how to pursue the state of real health. Being healthy is much more than just being free of disease. The Dalai Lama believes that “ the purpose of life is happiness” – I would like to explore what is meant by happiness and how it is related to real health. This blog is for people wanting to explore the necessary components of real health and happiness. I will look at the ancient traditions and the scientific approach in moving towards my goal of real health and happiness. I would dearly like you to join me in this important task for the benefit of all humanity.