Hippie Squared: Compressed Impressions of a Los Angeles 4th of July Weekend


a blogumn by Jeff Rogers

mood-jeff-rogersThe tang of gunpowder mist hanging in the night time air over streets littered with exploded paper and starred with black powder burns when we drive home late. One concert, one dinner out and three barbeques. Three trips to two parks with four assorted dogs. And one errand of mercy for a great poet. Compressed impressions of a three-day 4th of July weekend in Los Angeles.

An archetypal LA story is a journey. The city is so spread out, so multi-ethnic, multi-cultured, multi-hued and multi-moneyed. An archetypal LA story—Raymond Chandler’s novels, for instance—takes you careening from one end of town to another, from high to low culture, from rich to poor, from eastside to westside, from mountains to flatlands to beach. It’s a journey between classes and ethnicities, professions and proclivities.

LA is a culture of subcultures—not necessarily clashing, as that evil bullshit movie Crash would have it; that vile, seductive, paranoid schematic fiction that for many across the world must seem like the truth of this city that I love and it slanders—but rather a sliding from one to the other, like one house sliding down onto the shoulders of another during a rainstorm mudslide in the Hollywood Hills.

Thursday evening found its point of origin in a house in Franklin Hills above Shakespeare Bridge, where Mark and Erica have lived for twenty years, a house filled with art and suffused with their intelligence and spirit, a patio with gazebo and fountain and a profusion of clay pots filled with flowers and succulents.

At the Musicians Union Local 47 on Vine just off Melrose we sat with the old lefties in folding chairs before a raised stage trouped over by Anne Feeney and friends spinning folk song tales on behalf of single payer health care. All the decades of picket lines and rallies and marches for the rights of races, of genders, of sexual orientations, against war, against poverty, for justice, that sat with the ancient butts in those chairs. And you’d never know it if you saw those mild-mannered, sweet little old ladies and gentlemen in the grocery store. But when Anne Feeney asked the audience to raise their hands if they’d ever been arrested for justice, sixty percent of the audience reached for the sky of the brighter day of their ideals and committed years.

But just a few miles down the road afterwards we ate sushi in a mini-mall, on Highland at Franklin, just around the corner from where I lived in the late eighties and early nineties on Cherokee a block and a half north of Hollywood Blvd, directly across from the last known address of the Black Dahlia.

We were probably the oldest people in the place, filled with hot young Hollywood. Black and white Japanese samurai movies without sound filled one whole wall. The saki was hot and the spicy tuna on crispy rice with jalapeno fused cuisines and bit back in the friendliest possible way.

First BBQ: Friday night. In Silverlake, just off the boulevard, by 7-Eleven and LA Mill—where the ritual of coffee is taken desperately seriously and you’re charged accordingly, though it’s a novelty and worth doing at least once.

He’s a union rep, and she’s an academic. It was such fun talking to her. I had four parents, all PhD’s, so I miss that academic talk. They served a marvelous quinoa salad and good burgers. “Olive oil and lemon, that’s the key to everything,”–so goes Jason’s philosophy of cooking. And Alex’s family makes olive oil in Argentina. So they’re a perfect match.

I read their kid to sleep and apparently myself while I was at it. Caught myself at one point holding the book wavering in one hand; I realized I had stopped reading some time before, whether five seconds or five minutes I could not tell. Though his eyes seemed to be open, he hadn’t said anything. Who was asleep and who wasn’t I’m still not quite sure. I’ve been working long hours lately and really needed this weekend.

Saturday afternoon I met C. Natale Peditto at my storage space, where I peeled open my life in boxes and stacked it in teetering towers to get at a box spring and mattress I gave to the great poet Charles Bivins, who has so many great tales to tell of San Francisco in the sixties, Charlie Manson and John Lennon. But who is now so down on his luck. One day I’ll tell you the story of when he punched me in the face while I was at the wheel and he rode shotgun home from a reading at Watts Towers.

On Saturday night we gathered for a poolside barbeque, in the common area of a loft complex downtown. An artist and animation producer couple invited us. The nucleus of this group was the Writing Pad school, around which a nice little writing community has gathered of which I’m lucky to be a part.

In the hot tub I compared notes on Mendocino with a lovely young woman in a purple and yellow striped bikini who grew up in Booneville. And I compared notes on Michigan with her friend in the pool, a bi-coastal actress in an aqua blue bikini who grew up in Ann Arbor, not far from my hometowns of Kalamazoo and East Lansing. Comparing notes with young women in bikinis is always a pleasant way to spend a chunk of 4th of July weekend, in Los Angeles or anywhere else.

The German lesbian artists appeared poolside as the evening wore on with their ferrets Josephine and Otto. Later we all stood on the third floor landing of the outside staircase and scanned the horizon from south to west and everywhere there were plumes and streaks and bursts of fireworks. Explosions thrummed the air and echoed in our chests. And we tried to figure out which ones were neighborhood shows and which ones were commercial events. It’s getting very hard to tell from a distance anymore in LA.

Back in the loft Michael, a comic book, novel cover and tattoo artist showed us the photographs he’d taken of an Asian acrobat model, for use in his illustrations. Her hair cut short and dyed blonde, topless, in black leather bikini bottom. A dancer and sometime prostitute perfect and fearless in her physicality; the photos a study of the human form in extreme positions, arching and stretching and standing on hands, legs spread out straight; her form graceful and uncompromising.

The final BBQ, Sunday night, was conveniently the closest—right next door. We had to walk down our two steep staircases and up the neighbors’ steep staircase to be at the patio separated by a chain link fence, some morning glories and bougainvillea surmounting a cinder block, from our own patio.

Red whined. Though he’s nearly deaf and blind, he must have smelled us next door, and he crouched by the bottom of the chain link fence and sort of whoof-whined for a long time, poor fellow, until I fed him part of a charred hamburger through the fence and cooed sweet nothings at him for awhile.

Red, who waded into the middle of a Latino family at Elysian Park on Saturday morning. They gathered around him and petted him and the two kids, boy and girl, maybe five and seven, said, “Oh, he’s so soft,” and he grinned from ear to ear. Red, who has a tumor in one lung and another on his spine. I took a photo of him with the kids on my iPhone and asked for the parents’ e-mail and sent it to them right there on the spot. I’d love to post it but I won’t because I won’t violate their privacy.

But tonight at Joy and Joseph’s we met Jimmy Merryweather, musical engineer, who worked with Leon Russell in the seventies. “Did you ever meet George Harrison?” Elise asked him. He had. Called him reserved. And the other guy in the conversation, Don, also on the musical scene in LA since the seventies, said he’d met Harrison once. “I was at a party and a group of us were sitting around, and he came up. He was wearing a suit. He stuck his hand out and said, ‘I’m George. Should I know you?’”

Then we were reintroduced to the couple who got married at the Vista Theater, where they ran “Abbot and Costello meet Dracula and Frankenstein” to the wedding guests. “Don’t ask me why,” he said, “somehow it just seemed appropriate.”

One more 4th of July in Los Angeles and I still love this place of minor journeys.