X IS FOR CHRISTMAS by Phil Austin

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“It’s a mystery, Christmas, that’s what it is,” the Old Detective grumbled.  “I mean Christmas in Hollywood. There’s no mystery to Chanukah in Hollywood, for instance. It’s a celebration tailor-made for creatures of the desert, it’s about victory and oil and counting and Jews, for all their intelligence, are not a basically ironic people, but Christmas in the desert of Hollywood is a kind of puzzle, you’ve got to admit, especially for someone from a more northern climate. Irony is kind of built in, if you see what I mean.”

The old man and I were sitting in a little bar on Hollywood Boulevard, one he’d liked to frequent in older, more violent days, when dolls and sharpies ruled the Boulevard. It was the day before the day that even down here in the chaparral we like to call Christmas. The bar was called the Blue Mechanism, for reasons I couldn’t begin to imagine, and it was frankly run down, a dive, in fact. I had to agree with his remarks about the holiday, however, much as I disliked his choice of hangouts. Through the dark thick blue glass of the windows I could make out Swedish tourists toppling in the December heat wave. Wilted palm trees were festooned with jolly melting plastic Santas. Garlands drooped sadly. We sat as close as we could to a dangerous old fan that vainly tried to stir up the turgid air. My friend was talking, however, and that was good news for me.  In fact, he seemed swept up in an odd wave of nostalgia on this searing winter afternoon that needed some cheer to it, given the imminence of the Big Day itself.

“You see,” he said, tapping the battered fedora back on his grizzled head, “I never, in the old days, had any visions of sugar fairies and reindeers and guys named Frosty, because all I knew was the seamy world of the police blotter, the rundown underside of what we called life, back then. Back in those days, if I saw some socks dangling from a mantle, I’d start looking for the rest of the body, see what I mean? There were no smiling faces upturned in their big wooly mufflers asking me for a free turkey.”

I told him his days as a detective had certainly hardened him.

“Now I’m as soft as soft-water taffy,” he said. “But in those days, I was hard, all right. I was as hard as a big rock candy mountain, until one Christmas, years ago …”

I found my notebook and searched for my pen, the one I hoped wouldn’t leak onto my shirt. We were drinking shots of Black Label in the late afternoon and smoking cigarettes just for fun.

“You see,” said the Old Detective, lighting up another with his old brass lighter, “I took on a case one Christmas for a guy named Kringle, an old guy with a white Santa Claus beard and an annoying twinkle in his eyes who beat the elevator up to my office one crisp December day when the new smog hung from the eaves in frozen stillness and the crunch of actual snow could be heard on half the soundstages around town. Kringle was an enthusiastic bird, full of fizz and he poured out a story as old as Time itself. It was all the usual stuff: flying fantasies, chimneys, large ungulates, whips, something about a red nose and implications about Montgomery Wards that couldn’t be proved. I’d been down that street before.”

“What street?”I asked. It was a stupid question, but I already had misgivings about the old man’s tale.

“In those days, Monkey Wards had a store over on Santa Monica Boulevard. You know what I mean.”

“Do I?”

“I’m feelin’ good today, I’m feelin’ frisky. Are you getting this down?”

I told him I was getting it down. Actually, I wasn’t. The minute he’d mentioned “Kringle” and “Christmas” in the same sentence, I’d merely written the word “Xmas” on my notepad and was now idly tracing over and over the x. I began to draw a snowman.

“Now, on that day of cheer and goodwill – you getting this all down? – there was a Christmas party goin’ on across the hall from my office. This was when I had magazines in nice magazine racks in the outside office and a great-lookin’ secretary named Ruby who used to sit out there with her legs crossed.

I asked him if the correct word wasn’t “gams.”

“If I’d meant gams, I’d have said gams. Ruby had legs a mile and a half long and a mother who couldn’t remember her name, she was so far gone on hooch. That?’s “hooch”, h-double-o-c-h.”

I pretended to write. Actually, I’d now drawn a reindeer on its back, legs straight up, two x’s for eyes, but the Old Detective seemed satisfied and continued on.

“After awhile, mostly because of Ruby, the party spilled over across the hall to my place. The usual crazies from the Five Star/Hopeless Talent Agency were around. You remember the name Paul Bunyan?”

“The giant lumberjack?”

“Yeah. Well, he was there.”

I asked him how that could be, since I remembered Paul Bunyan as mythical at best and imaginary at worst.

“You’re too young, you wouldn’t remember,” he replied, puffing smoke. “By that time in his career, he was good for occasional guest shots on the Garry Moore Show and such. He was getting bookings, is what I mean. Now Miss Mysterioso, Mistress of Mystery? Played the organ? Everybody remembers her. Well, she was there with some potato and something salad that was really good, as I recall, and she had on a green and red sequined number that showed the two or three things about her that were no damn mystery at all.”

I said I understood him to mean that Miss Mysterioso, the Mistress of Mystery, was a looker.

“You got that right, son,” he smiled. “Curves up ahead or whatever the road sign says, if you subscribe to my meaning.”

I asked him if perhaps she had great gams.

“If I’d meant she’d had gams, I woulda mentioned it,” he said stiffly.  “That Argentine guy who had the trained bears showed up with some fruitcake that had candied mushrooms in it, and the girls from downstairs at Henrietta’s House of Hair came upstairs and put on some Chet Baker records and started dancin’ with each other real slow. There was a big ol’ traditional roast albatross with that sage and treacle dressing. After awhile even old Kringle had a few shots of toddy and pretty soon he was doin’ the stroll or whatever they called it in those days. At one point, even the bears were doin’ it. The party got pretty wild and I lost track of Kringle. You see, I’d forgotten to tell Ruby to sweep my rod off the top of my desk.”

I asked if it was common practice in those days for a detective to leave a loaded weapon out on his desk. Was this Kringle so intimidating?

“I wasn’t intimidated by anything in those days,” he said roughly. “But you never know. I was as hard as the big rock candy mountains and thought that Christmas was just a fancy way of spelling burglary. I was on alert, lemme put it that way.”

“Fine,”I said and pretended to cross something out and write something in.

“Now, I was leanin’ in on Miss Mysterioso pretty good – and believe me, there was a lot to lean over – when we heard the shot.”

“A gunshot?”

“That’s what everyone figured.”

“Kringle shot himself?”

“Did I say that? Of course, that’s the first thing an amateur like you would think.”

I suggested that he tell me, then, what actually happened.

“It was the crack of a tree splitting. Seems this Bunyan guy was outside choppin’down a magnolia tree. He wanted a magnolia blossom to give to Miss Mysterioso, because he was so in love with her. Sometimes a guy like that will just go crazy over a woman.”

I replied that, of course, I’d been down that street before.

“Nearly everyone in this town has been down Santa Monica Boulevard, sometimes twice a day. You ain’t heard the half of it, kid.”

“Well, the half I’ve heard isn’t exactly worth writing down,” I snapped back. He stared at me for a long moment.

“Should I be getting royalties for these stories about me?” He looked serious.

“No,” I lied. “Because I don’t get any.”

“Good,” he said. “Royalty is a mistaken idea anyway, much like Christmas, or at least that’s what Kringle found out.”

I said, he was certainly aware – wasn’t he? – that there had been a famous old black and white movie made about a guy named Kringle who looked just like Santa Claus.

“This wasn’t the same guy,” he said defensively. “This guy’s name was Ferdinand Kringle. Ferdinand L. Kringle. I can see the name on the file folder to this day.”

I told him he certainly had a good memory. I looked around in vain for the bartender, who I suspected was lying on the floor behind the bar gasping for air.

“No,” he muttered. “I had the file out last night because I’m thinkin’ of writing up some of my adventures myself. Cut out the middleman, so to speak.”

“You mean me?”

“Do I? You be the judge. You getting this down?”

I started to write. “Yes,” I said grimly, “I’m getting this down.”

“Good. There was a shot later on, by the way, so if you were on a computer, you could save the word “shot” onto a file someplace and have it ready to re-insert when I get to the shot part.”

I said thanks and when was he going to get to the shot part?

“When I’m good and ready,” he snarled. “We better think about modernizing some. I think you ought to buy a computer and then you could get online and do some networking and maybe we could make some money off of these stories about me.”

I replied that I had every hope than in the future there might be some money from these stories, and of course, some of that money might be his and in the meantime I might see my way clear to advancing him a little something.

“Aha,” he said. “That’s the Christmas spirit. Now we’re talking. You write and I’ll talk. I’m thinkin’ of getting a hot tub, you know? I’ll soak and reminisce and you’ll get it all down on the mainframe. Now, Christmas was all humbug to me, remember? You’ve already got that down, right?”

“Right.”

“So, that night, when the boys in blue found Kringle under the Hollywood Christmas Tree of Light, strangled with those awful twisted green and red double wires they used to have, and bearing strange marks on his body, they normally wouldn’t have come looking for me. Unfortunately, he had my card in his pocket.”

I asked him if they thought he’d killed Kringle. He looked pensive and faraway for a minute.

“Well, they were hoping I’d done something. I didn’t have too many friends down at Hollywood Division in those days. I’d embarrassed those boys one too many times. They hauled me down to headquarters in a black and white and set me up under that one bare light bulb they were so proud of and they all sat back in the shadows and started firing questions at me that I couldn’t answer. Most of them seemed to be about a drunk reindeer and Mongomery Wards. I didn’t think much of it had to do with Christmas, frankly.”

I gritted my teeth and asked him if, by any chance, we were somehow talking about “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer,” a Christmas ditty that was originally composed, as I understood it, by a man in Chicago who worked for Wards.

“No,” he said firmly. “Wrong again. There was no singing on this one. This turned out to be only about a hard-drinking reindeer who may or may not have had a red nose. It’s immaterial whether it was red or not. Seems like he’d been letting himself out of those cages where he hung out with his buddies on top of that real estate office on Crenshaw. They had reindeer cages and white Christmas trees. I think they sprayed the reindeers white. Anyway, this one had been breaking into Wards and stealing power tools to take back to Alaska and sell for big bucks. It was logical. Kringle worked as a Santa at the same place, waving to cars. He must have caught on. The forensic boys noticed that the marks on Kringle exactly matched the dado head on a Power-Craft table saw, lucky for me. After twenty-four hours of questioning, they had to let me go.”

“That’s it?” I asked.

“Here’s the heart of the story,” he smiled. “When I got back to the office, the party was still goin’ on. I managed to find Miss Mysterioso. Paul Bunyan had her backed up against a moonlit brick wall covered with variegated ivy and was telling her a lot of lies. I said “Is this guy bothering you?” and she said, lookin’ up at me through half-closed eyes, “You bother me, big boy. This guy is just plain annoying.” I took a deep breath and told Bunyan to take a hike and he launched off into the same story he’d already told on the Merv Griffin show about some hike he took once with a Blue Ox and I pretended to look interested – same as Merv had – and after awhile he got so wrapped up in laughing at his own jokes that I just walked her away into the moonlight and the rest is history.”

“Where,” I asked, looking up from my notes, “is this history written?”

“In the newspapers. The print boys loved it:  ’Ripsaw Rudolph Ripsaws Santa!’  You get the picture. But the real story went right to the  hearts of mankind,” the Old Detective answered, seriously enough. “You see, she was very, very good to me. Kinda changed my mind about Xmas, after all. She had a pair of gams on her that would melt the heart of Black Peter himself.”

So there was some justice to the season after all in those long-gone days. I like to think there was, anyway, back when Santa had a tan and Mrs. Santa was named Monica and wore a bikini and sunglasses and high heels and after the parade down Hollywood Boulevard they’d get together a bunch of their friends and they’d all pile into the big old turquoise convertible and bomb out to Palm Springs for Christmas because it was the kind of place where the Prince of Peace himself might feel right at home, out there among the roadrunners and the cactuses and the Joshua trees, with the stars out at night – so many you couldn’t hope to imagine them all – and the natural evils of the human spirit damped down for once and calmed, on this one night of all nights in our mysterious town.

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This story was included in the 2004 edition of “Mirth of a Nation,” an anthology of humor from Harper Collins.

Young Girls of the Sixties

So,  Ginger’s gone. Flown away.

Long ago, some thousand or so years it seems, the Firesign Theatre was forming itself through a series of accidents in the hills of Los Angeles and making friends among the artistic communities of Hollywood and Mixville and Silverlake.  In those hills live and have lived and will live many most inventive and strange people and generation by generation, the hills absorb these people and house them in the jungle of  little bungalows that dot the twisting lanes and canyons. We made friends with a number of women, younger than ourselves by seven or twelve years or so, the girls of the Class of  ’67 (in Oona’s case) and of the years and classes surrounding. In a couple of cases, we married into them (Oona and I, Tiny and David for a time) or lived with them (Phil Proctor and Cathy Cozzi) or romanced them (Peter and Liz Plum) but most were friends and associates and Ginger Russell was chief among them along with her friend Cappy, now known by her real name of Kathy O’Mara.  And the three friends from Nightinjail Jr.High – Tinika and Cappy and Ginger – were in attendance at virtually every early FST performance, had their pictures taken in strange masks, were witnesses to an older world  that, I suspect, they barely noticed through the hilarious fog of their youth and beauty and charm and – sorry – innocence.

And Ginger had the laugh.  She had such a ringing of a laugh, such a stunning laugh.  And it’s on every recording of everything we did; on  all the old shows, the old radio recordings. And I’ll always remember Ginger for her amazing forthright intelligence, for her immense kindness and mostly for her friendship.  She was one hell of a girl, among a bunch of women who were somehow smart and funny and exceptional.  We were lucky, us guys.

Christmas and Hollywood; Blood, Fights and Fun

Christmas 1011

I guess the things I like best about this time of year are the little lights in the dark.

He flies.  That’s what’s to think about.  He flies.  St. Lucy walks the northern nights unburned.  He flies. It doesn’t matter whether with reindeer or not, or with what other fanciful beasts or not. He flies.  He flies above the little lights, set against snow or darkness or moonlight.  He flies around as the darkest nights of the year push the darkest days aside, especially up here on Mystery Island where the sun is now going down at four, instead of at ten  six months from now.  The light comes and the light goes and when it goes, he flies.

Down below him, we set out the little lights. We don’t care about him, we care about them.  He doesn’t exist, after all, and they do.

Two months ago we went down to Hollywood for four shows with the Firesign Theatre at the 300-seat Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, a kind of adjunct to the famous Frank Lloyd Wright Hollyhock House, surrounded by a small park right off Hollywood Boulevard near Vermont.  Technically, that would be East Hollywood, edging closer to Mixville and the old haunts of the Early Firesign Theatre, but right in the middle of my past life – pre-FST – when I was a kind of Shakespearian actor stuck in a town where life revolves around film and other technologies unimagined – I imagine – by smartass college boys of the late Sixteenth century. I think I appeared in Twelfth Night outdoors in the little Barnsdall park, somewhere in the Sixties of the last lamented century.  I remember we dressed in the Hollyhock House itself. I always liked wearing tights in all those Shakespeare plays, because almost all girls would tell me that I had nice legs.  The way parts of my body looked were much more important then. I had a kind of brutal, intelligent approach to Shakespeare.  I figured it was my job to explain to the audience what the hell we were talking about and the actual acting and so forth came second.

So two months ago we had our own theatre for a little while, we four imitators of Sixteenth century smartasses. All partnerships become exercises in equality.  Shakespeare tended to write a lot about balance and imbalance and the teeter-totter of their union is a kind of exercise in equality and inequality.  We four partners are as interested as ever, each of us, in getting each his way.  The impossibility of ever fully achieving that had better turn to laughter, or we’re in the wrong business. It’s like four guys trying to operate four – not two – teeter-totters. There’s some running involved, some strategy, some things unsaid and some things way too said. You get the picture.  Laughing while desperately trying to reach the open end of a teeter-totter that’s low enough in your direction to get you onboard. Ah, the Firesign Theatre, back in business as big storms and rain swept over the City of the Queen of the Angels just before the Big Blonde’s birthday.

It really helps that we’re all getting along so well.  We had fun, through it all, and wound up at our house after the last show, up until two or three in the morning, drinking and smoking with friends we’ve all shared for over forty years. It’s really fun to watch Oona and Melinda at a party, because they’re both so incredibly personable.

And then the next night, she and I went to the last party of the week, about a quarter-mile over the crest of the hill toward Laurel Canyon to the rented home of our friend the Genuine Movie Star, who’s in town shooting a TV series and after staying in our house with his family for a minute, has rented a house a little ways away. We took the dogs because he and Mrs. Genuine Movie Star love dogs and have thousands themselves at their home in the East. It’s a long story.  Lets just say we laughed like idiots, that a cat attacked an actor, that an actor got really mad at a Sports Agent who made billions collecting stamps, that another Beautiful Movie Star told Oona the entire odd story of her romance and children by and with the Really Famous Good Actor Movie Star and where I finally got to meet Mrs. Invention, who’d lived a couple of hillside blocks away from us for thirty years, yet we’d never met. I just can’t tell you how much fun this all was, not only laughing with old and new friends, but searching for bandages in a household where ziplocs are considered tools of the Devil, where Green is a religion of everyday concern.  Blood everywhere and there are no paper towels (towels of the Devil) to be found.  In the bathroom, Mr. Star bleeding, surrounded by beautiful women whom he is making laugh hysterically while Mrs. Invention pours sugar on the cat wounds, Oona sends me out to the car for bandaids.  It’s a beautiful night in my old town and as fun as ever when it isn’t crapping all over you.

I hadn’t been in Hollywood in some nine months and our house there seems huge compared to what is basically a beach cabin up where we live so much now.  The Hollywood house is very small too, but an architectural gem a mile above Hollywood Boulevard in the hills between Laurel and Hockney Canyons.  We’ve got an acre there and it’s quieter and more filled with wildlife than the Mystery Island place.  I saw a bobcat at the end of the little street that bounds our bottom lot line.  A bobcat.  The towhees are still there and the hummingbirds and the wacky ravens that feed on the fig trees that arch over the garage on the flat roof of which the deer feed.  I’m going to hate to have to sell that house, but we’ve got to face the facts someday soon.  We’re Mystery Islanders now and Hollywood, strange and wonderful as it is, doesn’t need us or we it much more.

Well, two months later and the little lights are out and all the sacred stuff that covers every flat surface of our house up here up north is out.  All the little stuff among the little lights punching colored holes in the darkest dark of the year.

He flies above teeter-totterers.  He doesn’t care and neither do I.  We’re both imaginary.

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Highest Tides, Lowest Tides, Longest Days, Shortest Nights

Mo at Gold Bluffs Beach

Those were the summer days of very high and very low tides and of very long days and very short nights. You found yourself using the word “very” a lot. Once past the springy solstice on Mystery Island the change of tides can be as much as 19 feet.  The water flows in and flows out four times a day.  The sun drags its long way, rolling along the Western horizon until almost ten at night.  We’d built a little greenhouse and all the gardens were pulsing.  Sweetpeas and real peas, corn and beans and rasberries. Very very.

Oona and I decided we’d camp out as the Firesign Theatre played a date at the Golden State Theater in Monterey, the theater owned by Warren Dewey, the same person from whose studio in Los Angeles we’d broadcast our XM radio show called “Fools in Space.”  Warren’s a (very)  nice man who’d offered us a rental deal for his beautifully restored theater that made us more money per man than we’d ever seen in any show in our endless history and this meant that dollar worries were way less than usual. And the big blonde and I therefore decided to take the tent-trailer down to California and spend a week at the Marina Dunes RV park in nearby Marina, at the bottom of the Bay of Monterey, where the sand has piled up over several thousand millennia into dunes now protected by careful stewards.  The RV park is right in the middle of the dunes. It was to be the first RV park we’d ever stayed in, given the fact that for  some thirty-five years of tent camping we’d had no need of plugging a plug into much of anything at all.

(The tent-trailer is a pop-up made by Coleman under their Fleetwood moniker and we bought it two years ago.  It travels nicely, barely showing up behind our suburban which boasts two Yakima carriers on top.  We had the usual five dogs with us: three cattle dogs and the two Chihuahua mixes who have lately come to rule our lives.)

The Monterey Peninsula was the beach for me growing up inland in Fresno, in the flat old San Joaquin Valley of Central California.  When I was a teenager, my parents spent two summer weeks or so of a couple of years or so renting a bungalow in the little town of Carmel, where the picturesque cottages are set among the twisted black shore trees and the Big Sur stretches south.  When I was a kid, in the Fifties, this was the world of everything desirable to me; it was literary in the sense that John Steinbeck and Gary Snyder were literary. I was from Fresno and therefore William Saroyan was the writer I most knew and was most mystified by.  It was always hard for me to understand how someone who could write might be from a town that seemed to me to be as familiar as the Fresno Bee, as mundane as well, as mundane as my mundane self, struggling with little poems and littler stories and my paper route. Carmel and Big Sur were the wild coast, the cliffs dropping to the surging water surface of the Pacific, the fogs set up on the hills like hats, the weather always sweater weather, the nights solid and black and dripping in the fogs with the smell of the Eucalyptus trees and the pines. On The Road was rumbling around my brain, the big flat records were red see-through vinyls from Pacific Jazz and Monterey was still an old town and Cannery Row seemed the same as in the book. This was my beach and I read and took long walks up into the old graveyard way up above Carmel Bay, in the days just before I could drive.

I hadn’t been back for some years.  We’d shot “Nick Danger and the Case of the Missing Yolks” there in the middle Eighties and there’d been one TED Conference in the Nineties and the Peninsula had dropped out of my life for many years and here I was going back, as if sliding backwards into my youth.

The show and the Firesign Theatre were alright. I approach each of these jobs as if they are in fact reunions, which, in fact, they pretty much are.   We’ve grown old together, the four of us, and we treat each other more kindly now. We’re more gentlemanly, all of us.  We adjust. We weather the storms.  We get through.

As if we are Lewis and Clark and Philip and Philip, on outings usually spaced five some years apart, we traverse the American West because we’d have to have a lot of dates set up in order to afford to play the East Coast. This way, we can try – for the first time in our over forty years together – to actually finance and produce one experimental show by ourselves; no promoters, no backers.

Monterey is still a little town with archaic parking restrictions and the kind of Old California mission charm dear to the hearts of plein aire artists and craftsmen carpenters. My dear old friends George Cromarty and Paul (then Ed) Rush were known as the Goldcoast Singers back in the Sixties and appeared at Kalisa’s on Cannery Row.  The song called “Plastic Jesus” is theirs.

We charged into the old piece we call “Forward, into The Past”  a little too quickly, but the audience caught up to us once they realized that Mrs. Darlene Yukamoto had knitted Barrage Balloons and that each and every Veteran had been promised a Dead Mule. We charged ahead.  We tried out parts of Dwarf and parts of Bozos and a kind of cut-down Danger. We listened to each other’s ideas about ourselves, we counted seats, set lights, we discussed sound cues, we talked to reporters, we rehearsed.

Then Oona and I spent a couple of days on the dunes:


Then we drove north and camped at Gold Bluffs Beach:

When we left, we drove up the coast all the way to the scary Astoria Bridge that arches out over the mouth of the giant Columbia River and connects Oregon to Washington like a thread that might one day become a web, the spider unknown and perhaps gone away, leaving only this single long frightening line.

Like Lewis and Clark, the weather turned torrentic

Like Lewis and Clark, we drove through Tilamook

Like Lewis and Clark, we stopped at the Tilamook Co-op

Like Lewis and Clark, we watered the dogs and walked away with nothing because it’s the Disneyland of Cheese, full of lines of tourists eager to buy curdled milk products

Unlike Lewis and Clark, we did not eat our dogs


About Oona

     So there she is. I carried this picture of The Big Blonde around in my wallet for years and even laminated it; thus the crinkles and reflections. She’s standing at the top of our steep hillside driveway at the house in Hollywood and below her is the vacant lot now filled with a house supposedly worth some three million dollars and inhabited by a TV star on some offshoot of Star Trek and her husband, the head of a company that books theaters all over the country at tremendous profits.

     That smile. There’s a summer sun warmth to Oona’s smile, a big encompassing expanse of pleasure in other people. She’s the most sociable and social person I’ve ever met.  She’ll walk into parties full of sullen Entertainment Types and beam at them: “I don’t know anyone here!” brightly and launch that smile at all the people she suddenly knows. She can talk bikes with bikers and science with sciencers.  One year at the TED conference, I found her surrounded by at least ten entrepreneurs and scientists, each falling over the other to engage her and the smile in their projects and dreams and schemes. There are guys on movie sets all over Hollywood who bring her pictures of their kids and their cars and their dogs.

     We used to talk on the phone for hours, before we fell in love.

     It’s not some whacky smile, that smile.  Look at her eyes.  She’s looking at you, she’s wondering where she fits with you.

     She’s in her twenties here in this laminated world, early Seventies of the Late Lamented Twentieth of Centuries. I took this picture, so she’s looking at me, wondering where she fits with me.  Over thirty-five years later, it’s turned out to be some fit. We figure we’ve only spent three nights apart in all that time, due to a couple of work problems in the Eighties of the …(yeah, yeah, yeah.)  We’ve never had kids, just kind of adopted stray relatives here and there.  We spend a lot of time together, more than most couples do, I think.

     We are each other’s kid, she and I.

     Lately we’ve started watching King of the Hill which is a cartoon series originally on Fox but now replayed on the Adult Swim program block on Cartoon Network.  We’re hardcore adult swimmers, our favorites being Aqua Teen Hunger Force, 12 Oz Mouse, Squidbillies and Family Guy, the Venture Bros. and their ilk, and we never watched King of the Hill, thinking it to be just the usual: either Rougenecks making fun of us or us making fun of Rougenecks.  We were wrong.  It’s strangely in the middle of all our favorites, the episodes beautifully written and occupying a kind of reality of place and reality of real missing in the more absurd denizens of the Cartoon Sump. Anyway, when we’re taking a shower in the morning, or eating breakfast, we’ll quiz each other on who woke up when and watched what episode of what at any given time of the night.  We’ll recount episodes to each other as if we were Jane Austen and – oh, I don’t know – Nathaniel Hawthorne recalling books we’d read.

     We’re readers, she and I. So this addiction to TV animation and it’s wonderful voices and artists is like our mutual lifelong addiction to reading.  One of the things we used to talk about on the phone, just before we fell in love, was Vanity Fair.

     She’s not Becky Sharp, it turns out, but her view of life is as full as Thackeray’s, as sociable and as wise and as detailed.  Maybe there’s something in the smile that works as a writer ought to work, something that bridges art and not art. Maybe she’s looking to see how the word fits with her, how she can work her way into its heart, as she is in mine.

     Spring in the Northwest.  We’re planting now and my friend James loaned me his tractor for a week and I dug a new thirty by forty pond and we’re starting to landscape it.  We bought another hundred native trees and plants to grow alongside the hundred we bought last year which are leafing out now. Aspens and Cottonwoods and Pacific Rhododendrons and Mock Orange and Oceanspray and Cedars and Willows and all, all growing now and shooting up.  Temperatures rose into the sixties last week and sun was here and there.

    Its year thirty-seven for me and the Big Blonde. My birthday is Opening Day and hers is the World Series. Nothing much has really changed in all those years, not with us.

Bebop Assumes the Mantle of Bebop

 

     Here’s how I like to start one of these things.  I lunge a bit forward and put my lips right on the mic and I breath into it:

     “Awlright.  Alright. awriiiight. Baby.”

     This is Bebop Loco, baby and I’ve had it with tragedy.  There’s just so much bad news lately. And I’m so old that the bad things seem to come in quick flushes with hardly a breath between.  I’m assuming the mantle of the Bebop Boy, the Loved One, the Descendant of the Desert, the Swift-Running One, one who gets off work in the middle of the night and gets into his luminous green egg and sails out the old roads to the outskirts of town and the inskirts of the Desert and goes home after a quick Burger at the Frisko Freeze in FunFun Town to sleep until mid-afternoon and get up and go to work again. 

That’s Bodie in the hat up above. I didn’t really run over him, I guess, but I did hit him while backing up slowly.  He’s about sixteen now and his back legs got strained pretty bad and I just felt like hell until some xrays were taken and the true nature of his injuries revealed. Still…..

I can’t make these kinds of mistakes.  Life is too swift.

Too much, too much of consequence. I’m looking forward now to summer, when the old guy will put on his stupid straw hat and waddle out to the pasture to search the ground underneath the posts where the crows get fed.

Two newish chapters of Beaver Teeth are up, over there on the right.  I’ll get this up and running and maybe notify the FST list of the fact that I’m doing something here after what? two months of zero nothingness? Lost the hardrive on my computer two weeks ago and had to replace everything. Trying to redo the kids house and sell it in the worst real estate market in human history. 

Ran over my own dog.

Summer better get here someday, that’s all I have to say.  That and some order to life. And purpose. And direction.

And meaning.

Light Coming Out From Dark

 

The Big Blonde and her Small Animals

The Big Blonde and her Small Animals

 

 

     We’re moving toward  Christmas now; closer and closer we get, my children, my beloveds.  Listen to me, because I have a ceremonial theory that the celebration of death, which begins with the Day of the Dead or Halloween, progresses on to the Day of the Dead Bird – Thanksgiving – in which we eat the dead, finally, (although a dead of the avian kind) and,  saddened by this ritual murder  - and looking forward for one more month or so to steady decrease in light – we begin to manufacture light and therefore hope for our saddened selves in small and colored ways.  We make up elaborate Christmas fantasies, but each at its core has to do with the lightening of dark and not the darkening of light. We’ve finally had enough of darkening.  We want light. That’s my theory and that’s my story.

     When I was a kid in Fresno, the one thing we did each year at Christmas was the piling into whatever car my dad had – he was selling used cars through much of this time – and head for the rich people’s houses on Van Ness Avenue.   For two miles on a street where old people had planted trees tall enough to be lit at night in Decembers, for almost a hundred years, Fresnans had inched their cars with headlights hopefully off down that  tunnel of fantasy called Christmas Tree Lane.  In the Fifties of the late, lamented and thoroughly last of centuries, the cars were as beautiful to look at as were the Santas-in-Sleds or Playful-Elves-Around-The-Chimney or all the lighted mansions. (In Fresno, anything with two stories is technically a mansion.  We are a people of one-story ranch houses, for the most part, and any elevation is looked up to.)

     Out of the darkness come the little lights.  Up here on Mystery Island, it’s now the season of sundown at four-thirty and that just seems to give the Christmas lights an earlier opportunity to shine.  It’s been snowing this week and the little lights glint off the snow and the lightedness is doubled or so. The little lights shine in the dark. I feel much better once the lights are shining and I leave them on all the grey and snowy days as well.  My friend Mrs. Lobo gave us an eight-foot-tall snowman with an orange carrot nose who shines and waggles in the wind and wishes Happy Holidays to everyone who drives onto this island because we’ve set him up in the corner of the pasture that the whole island passes by every day. And night.

Did I mention the part about the little lights coming out of the dark?

Halloween 2008

     Every year the Dead would visit him and when they did he would not tell them to go away nor would he welcome them quite.  He was polite, offering them what little he had in his cupboard, and he would extend himself for tidbits of conversation. Outside his little house, witches would fly aloft like cardboard blacknesses, brooms tucked tight between their legs. On his porch were orange heads with glowing eyes and jagged teeth and candles guttered in sconces on his sagging walls.

     When silences fell upon the little conversations, he would stay still as one does with Native Persons when there is no need to talk and so no one does. We ride in silence, we and the hitchhikers, in this case Navajo kids from Many Farms or thereabouts. In Navajo Country, the hitch-hiker will not look at you, walks quietly backwards so that when you stop and pull off to the side of the long red road and step out to motion him into your car, he is now looking at you for the first time. You must nearly beg him to ride with you and there is no conversation once inside and travelling. It was that way with him and the visits of the Dead.

     When the Dead came visiting, they often wished to dance and drink beer. When the Dead came visiting, they seemed to want to forget, to get a little high, to talk a little loud, to sing a bit.

 Dead in automobiles would slowly drive by outside his house, the booming thumps of their magnificent sound systems rumbling through the foundations of his house. Their blown V-8 engines purred like panthers, black in the Southern forests. The Dead preferred the big band sounds of El Salvador and the strange Norteno sounds of Los Tigres and would park their rigs and join the party. The strange skulls of the partiers were not good at showing emotion, but sometimes, as he sat in silence watching the dancers, he thought he could see a smile here and there.

 

    “I’m hungry for sugar,” said the child and her mother said “Quiet, little one. The nice man will feed us soon. He asks for nothing and fears us little and is quiet and unassuming and genteel.”

     “Still, I am hungry,”  complained the child.  She had travelled a long way from old high altitude caves where she had been bound in odd positions for some centuries, and her skin had shrunk down on her bones and the tragic story of her former wet and fleshy parts had been at least partially discerned by the producers of at least two semi-scholarly film documentaries commissioned by the Public Broadcasting System.

     “We are proud people,” whispered her mother. “We will wait for him to offer us sugar.”

     When he finished showing the big skull with the iron eyes how to plug in the CD player and the other skull thing with the necklace of thighbones had boosted the EQ to emphasize the rock-solid bass players of the South and the beer was flowing, he would motion to the skeletal child and offer her sugar in the form of little heads made of the stuff and other little things, butterflies and crosses and saquaros and woodpeckers, all of delicious sugar. All the Dead would eventually have a bite of sugar somethings, even the ladies with luscious hips and skeleton faces rouged and painted would have a tiny bite, so tiny that it posed no threat to their wonderful figures. The girls in the little skirts and halter tops and high, high heels who danced with each other out by the sulking lowered cars passed sugar from his kitchen each to the other.  All the dead would eat and dance and have a beer or two and slide away into the night until finally he was alone.

October Nineteenth


 

     Fall is fallen. The red trees are red and not faking green. The yellow trees have slipped in overnight and tower above humans chastened by diminished daylight.   It is not light at ten or nine or eight in the evening. It is not light at six in the morning. Our world is getting closed down.

     Two more weeks of electoral insanity, to be followed probably by lawsuits and recounts and insults and assaults. I have friends who have lost half their imagined wealth in the space of a year or two.   Our world is getting closed down.

    So the screen gets darker at the top and darker at the bottom and the light in the middle seems wider, perhaps.  Maybe that’s why ceremonies get more complex in Winter.  The light side of the year is all wacky fun and the dark side is severely ceremonial.    The dark is narrower and wider.  You have to stand back, all the way behind the last row of seats, leaning against the back wall, watching the little figures in the light and listening for their words.  It all means something, no doubt.  We await the reviews, the steam geysering out from the vents, the newsies dodging the delivered bundles, the playwright ripping open the edition to find the page.  It’s two in the morning and the reviews can’t be good.  The damn thing tanked in the third act.  People were slipping out the doors, giggling, right past the playwright still leaning against the back wall, no longer taking notes.  There was a stab at spirited applause, but it fell short and actors were left at the last call ducking their way back under a falling curtain to the silence of people standing up and looking for the exits.

      Or, there could be a Democratic victory and both houses of Congress and the battered but now powerful Executive Branch could line up and force the McCaniacs and Bushmen and Palindromes back into their huts for a moment while the foolish, well-meaning and left-leaning leftouts try to figure out what to do. You wonder at the Obama Dilemma.

     Cheneybush have so returned secret power to the presidency that The Kid would have to think once or twice about relinquishing what they’ve left him.

      Faust for President.

October 6

I’ve posted Chapter 21 of Beaver Teeth in the sidebar. And under the Blogroll category, I’ve included an interesting link to Goon Shows, if anyone’s interested.  It’s always fascinating to me to listen to Milligan’s work as a writer, and I must say it’s influenced me for years. The core of the Goons is his writing, once you get past the considerable charm of Sellers and Seagoon and Spike himself as performers.

This was the year when not only did we not go to the Big Fair, but didn’t go to Oysterfest either.  It’s been a rocky time with our kidz and their idiot parents and they’ve moved and we’re stuck with trying to sell their house (the one we bought out of foreclosure when Dad went to jail, etc.) in a stunningly evil credit market.  I’m sure we’re not alone here, but they trashed the house and now we’ve got to put yet more money-we-don’t-have into repairing damage, a new roof, etc. It saddens me to feel our influence lessening on the twins, but what can we do?  They’re in middle school now and inevitably change was going to happen and blah and blah.  Life goes on.  Presumably.

The new Firesign Theatre box set (Box of Danger) is just released and sits happily at the moment in the top ten of Amazon comedy albums as well as number one in Spoken Word and Radio there. No reviews yet. I’m happy with the package and, as usual, haven’t really sat down and listened to all of it and probably won’t. I did rewrite and re-record the final cut (called “Scaled-Down Danger”) so at least one thing is virtually new. The company that produced it is called Shout!Factory and is headed by Richard Foos who was one of the two original guys who invented Rhino.  Very nice and very honorable people. And Taylor Jessen, who sometimes contributes to this site, production-managed the whole project for us and did a wonderful job. 

If anyone gets a minute, please make a comment to this post so I can check and see if I need to nag people because somehow I’m no longer getting my usual email notification when someone posts. And to Dana in particular, if you post a link to any pictures, I can download and put it up into a post so everyone can see it.