Thursday, July 4, 2019

A Few Lines Back

Gave up on the laptop. Eyes angry from staring at the screen.

Writing in my notebook now. Trying to be productive.

Fooling myself.


Fits of creative inspiration fueled by bourbon and self-loathing. Fits of creative paralysis fueled… the same way.

But I scribble on. What if that next idea, that next sentence, turns out to be great?

I wrote a good line there, didn’t I? A few lines back?

Who knows where the ideas come from?

Thoughts that torment me. Never leave entirely. Come back with reinforcements.

Are there dark thoughts?

Define “dark.”

Have I held a .45 in my hand? Thought about that one flick of the trigger that would bring it all to a sudden stop? The power that gun in my hand gives me? The power I don’t otherwise have?

Nah. (chuckle) Never thought about it.

There’s always that chance, right? That line.

That was a pretty good line there, right? A few lines back?

Need a good game on television. Or some other distraction. A visit to the local pub. Cradling my notebook.

That woman at the bar looks lonely. Bored. We chat.

Not fooling myself.

She doesn’t like me.

I’m a recipe missing a few ingredients. Palatable but not desirable. Mildly entertaining but not marriage material.

Oh god, I wrote the "M" word.

It’s okay if you go. You’d be better off without me. I understand.

I’d be better off without me. How can I complain?

The mind of a writer, like a tilt-a-whirl at a shopping mall carnival. Emotional landmines with every revolution.

Oh, this is fun.

Oh, fuck.

Oh, this is fun.

Oh, fuck.

Oh, this is fun...

What can they do to me when it's over? I mean... when it's all over. What can anybody do?

Pry those dreams from my cold, dead hands.

"Let go," they’ll say. "Let go."

But I’ve seen it. When I'm sleeping. Thick blades of grass smothering my disregarded headstone. Do you really think the grandkids will visit? Or their kids?

Not fooling myself.

Not fooling anyone.

Making the case for irresponsible behavior. None of it matters. That’s what I’m saying. None of it matters. Nothing but now. And what I can get down on paper.

I scribble on. What if that next idea, that next sentence, turns out to be great?

That was a pretty good line there, right? A few lines back?

Having a hard time seeing. Having a hard time.

Maybe it’s not from staring at the screen. Maybe my eyes are just angry.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Unresolved (Just Once)

It’s a new year, which is a big deal to some people, but, to me, it just means I’m getting older. Like I need another reminder…

I don’t want to sound bitter. There are things I can control, and things I can’t control. Time, most certainly, falls into the latter category. So I try to embrace its passage, happy to still be on the planet, as tenuous as that existence sometimes seems.

I don’t engage in the frivolous but fashionable exercise of making resolutions. Let’s be honest. We’ve all tried it. And failed miserably. I’ve broken every one my new year’s resolutions, many within minutes of making them. I realized long ago I’m not fooling anyone. I’d like to tell you I plan to change certain behaviors. But we both know I’ll end up being the same old asshole I’ve been for a while now.

What I’ve decided to do this year is change my approach. As much as I feel like I’m spontaneous, sometimes to the point of recklessness, I’m also a creature of habit. I’m not too obsessive, but I do find comfort in routines. The problem with that is, eventually, every day starts to seem like the same old shit, because… it is. I’ve finally realized that the only way to keep from ending up with the same old shit is to start with different shit. I’m excited about this new path. And, despite the state of domestic politics, climate change and the millennial ADD epidemic, I feel strangely hopeful for the near future.

But I always try to be optimistic. To this day, I feel a glimmer of hope when I check my e-mail and find out there are still Russian women who are dying to meet me. And it’s reassuring to know there’s apparently some financial institution out there that will lend me almost anything short of the Crown Jewels.

And I’m pre-approved!

So this isn’t about resolutions for me. I’ve just realized that achieving different outcomes requires different actions. I guess you could say I’m… unresolved. But I do have some ideas on how to change my approach to some things.

I would like to see a different outcome in my personal relationships. In some ways, I would like to allow myself to be more vulnerable. I would also like to be less vulnerable.

I’ll let you know how that works out.

Just once, I’d like to pick my nose while sitting at a red light, and not randomly turn my head and see some supermodel-type in the car next to me staring at me in horror. Why couldn’t it be… George Zimmerman? Although I guess you don’t want to start a booger-flicking shootout with him. Ok, ok. No more nose-picking in traffic.

Just once, I would like to place a glass under the ice dispenser on the refrigerator door and not have a rogue cube go shooting off into some far corner of the kitchen floor. Screw the ice dispenser, I’ll open the door and stick my hand in.

I tell myself I’m going to eat better. You know. Healthier. More plants. Less dead animal flesh. But just once, I would like to eat spaghetti without getting that small-but-incredibly-noticeable sauce stain on the front of my shirt. So, I’m going to try eating spaghetti without a shirt on. No, no. Not really. Maybe I’ll just eat more slowly, and make an effort to enjoy my food… carefully.

Just once, I would like to be able to quietly pass gas in an elevator without giving away my guilt by giggling. I’m willing to listen to suggestions on how to change that one. Seriously, if you have any ideas, we should grab some chow and talk about it.

Anyone up for topless spaghetti?

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Tour de Stairs (Silver Lake, Los Angeles)

I used to love old slapstick comedy when I was a kid. It was always good for a hearty laugh.

It still is.

While preparing for my recent trip to Los Angeles, I was reading about Silver Lake - a cool neighborhood northwest of downtown - and I was pleased to discover that legendary scenes with two of my favorite comedy teams were filmed in the area. And they both involve... stairs.

 At one point, the city had the world's largest inter-urban public transportation system, employing trains, trolleys, and streetcars to get people where they needed to go. Beginning in 1901, the Los Angeles transportation system eventually grew to the point it included 20 streetcar lines and more than 1200 trolleys.

Access to that extensive system often involved people walking to a station or pick-up point in a nearby neighborhood. If you didn't know, the outer fringes of Los Angeles are hilly. So, occasionally, the easiest way to connect one neighborhood to another above or below it on a steep hill was to build concrete stairs. This saved the pedestrian from having to follow the road the entire way around - which, in some cases, was a considerable distance. With the stairs, you could just cut through from one neighborhood to the next, catch a train or trolley and be on your way.

During the 1920s the city built a number of steep connecting stairways. And at least two sets of slapstick stars made them the subject of their antics.

Laurel and Hardy made a film called "The Music Box." The plot involves a woman who has purchased a player piano as a surprise birthday gift for her husband. Laurel and Hardy have been hired to deliver it. But the woman lives near the top of a set of steps.

Very long steps, as it turns out.

And, of course, slapstick hilarity ensues...

"The Music Box" won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film (Comedy) in 1932.

The film location was a set of steps running from Descanso Drive at the top to N. Vendome Street at the bottom.

By the '50s and '60s, Los Angeles had fully embraced the automobile (which resulted in dire atmospheric consequences in the '70s) and given up on its rail system.  But a number of the stairways survived - many in use currently as an alternative to a strenuous gym workout.

The Music Box Steps are among the survivors. So I paid a visit...

As you can see in this shot below taken from the original movie when compared with a screenshot from my video - below that - the house on the right existed at the time of the filming, although it's had a number of alterations since then, including the addition of an entry stairway next to the original steps.

The additional structure to the left - and the railings - were added some time later, and the growth of surrounding vegetation has closed in the steps a bit, but, they're still there... in all their glory.

Nine years later - in 1941 - the Three Stooges used a similar opening plot in their comedy short called "An Ache in Every Stake."

The boys are delivering ice - the electric icebox was only just beginning to come into fashion - and a woman in need of ice calls down to them... from the top of a very long set of steps - 147 steps, to be exact.

I love the Stooges...

This film location was a set of steps running from Edendale Place down to Fair Oak View Terrace.

Although a little more off the beaten path, these steps also still exist. I drove over to take a look...

And it was awesome!

In the still shots below (from the colorized version of the film released in 2004) you can clearly see the roof of the garage on the right and the arched doorway of the dwelling behind it.

Here's a better shot, as "Mr. Lawrence" (Vernon Dent) pursues the boys after having the second of his birthday cakes destroyed...

The Stooges' ice wagon is just about where my car was idling when I visited.

The picture below is a screenshot from my video - with the garage roof (now with a wrought iron railing) and the doorway visible beyond that.

I climbed a couple of landings to soak in the view - and the moment.  I love places like this. When you're standing in the exact location where classic comedy was created, it's not quite like going back in time, but almost.

It's a little disturbing, too, when you realize it's been almost ninety years since Laurel and Hardy struggled up the first set of steps. Ninety years.

If Oliver Hardy had lived to witness the changes in the world since 1932 and to contemplate the current state of affairs, there's no doubt in my mind what he'd say.

"Here's another nice mess you've gotten me into."