This book grew out of my experiences living in Laurel Canyon from 1976 - 1979, backdrafted into canyon life in the late 60's, which from the perspective of 1976 seemed as distant as 5th Century Athens. How clueless I was then to how close I was actually standing.

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THE LAUREL CANYON ALBUM

by

Gary Walkow


CHAPTER 1

     I had three hundred and two dollars in the bank.  My rent was one hundred and ninety dollars a month.  Figure a hundred bucks a month for food and everything else (three bucks a day which I could perhaps whittle down to two) and I had one month worth of freedom, max.  If I stayed on the current course, in the current place.

     Which is why I was standing in front of bulletin board at the UCLA Housing Office, studying the posting of rooms for rent. 

     Bedroom in a house.  Laurel Canyon.  $80 month.  Call 654-8160.

     The cheapest of the lot and the most exotic.     I had lived in Los Angeles for five months, most of it spent at the law school or the apartment on Veteran Avenue, either studying or avoiding studying, either on campus or avoiding campus.  I'd had my fill of Westwood; I'd been to Venice Beach several times, but, except for a failed attempt to find the fabled stretch of Mulholland Drive high above the city lights, not yet into the hills.

     Hadn't thought about a back-up address, a back-up plan, until I was walking away.  Didn't want to turn back, find another number, call another number.  If I had to start over then I would start over.

     As I walked toward Hilgard I saw David and Jerry out on the lawn, tossing a football.  I decided to circle past Schoenberg Hall to get off campus, so I didn't have to talk to them, didn't have to explain.  Not yet.  Maybe I was acting cowardly.  Just didn't feel like explaining, not until there was something to explain.

     My truck was parked east of Hilgard, on the first block after the No Parking signs.  Past the fail-safe point where most would be too intimidated by distance to save the parking structure fee.  Not me.  I voted for a penny saved.  Especially now. 

     Soon enough I was driving down Sunset Boulevard.  Those big houses might as well have been on the moon.  And where they ended, there the Strip began, with Schwab's Drugstore.  I'd never been on the Strip during the day, never seen it sun-washed.  But I had seen it at night -- a first semester law school misadventure that had ended in a two-drink minimum nudie bar (a drink per tit?).  I had wanted to go to see Love at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, but none of other aspiring barristers did and I wasn't driving and wasn't up for trying to hitchhike my way back to Veteran Avenue alone.  So no Whiskey that night.

     But what had stopped me from coming alone on any other night of my choosing?  I mean, the Whiskey had been here every night that I had, five full months of nights that I had been at the law library or in the apartment or... 

     The Whiskey looked like it was waiting for the daylight to be done.  The whole Strip looked that way.  Love was playing Friday and Saturday night.  No matter what happened with the room for rent, I vowed to finally go.

     Another Schwab's Drugstore was at Laurel Canyon Blvd.  Turned left and very soon was in a canyon with trees and wooden houses perched on hillsides.  It was a different city.  It wasn't the city.  It was something else.  I was looking for Lookout Mountain Road.  The ruins of some mansion, only the fire-blasted brick fireplace surviving, caught my eye and I almost missed my turn.  There was a log cabin.  Turn left at the log cabin, the guy had said.  Then take an immediate left on to Stanley Hills Drive.

     The street was impossibly steep.  And green.  And surprising.  It was all surprising.

     A left and a right and there was the sign for Appian Way.  I was looking for the first house on the left on Appian Way.  I found the address, nailed to a garage, with steps leading up from it.  When I got out of the truck it smelled nice.  It smelled of plants that I didn't know the name of.

     After a long run of steps, concrete with a thin metal handrail, I was finally at the top.  The house was old and stucco.  Rabbit hutches lined the sidewalk in front of the house.

     Knocked on the door and looked around.  There was lots to look at.  Pottery everywhere -- tiles stacked in moldering boxes, plates and jugs half-buried in the dirt, ceramic faces poking out of ragged clumps of grass.  The house looked cozy and abandoned at the same time.

     The door was opened by a man who looked like he had just woken from a nap.  He looked old.

     "Hi, I called about the room."

     "Ah, the room," he said, as if I was a surprise that he wasn't too surprised about.  His hair was sort of long, more that he had forgotten to get a haircut than that he was a longhair.  He wore a striped shirt and what might be called sensible pants.  I had expected a hippie and he was not a hippie.

     "Harry," he said.

     "Yes, hello.  What's your name?"

     "Harry."

     "Oh.  That's my name too."

     Inside it was cool and dark.  The shades or whatever was covering the windows, some bamboo thingies, were closed.  There was some lumber burning in the fireplace.  Even though it was January it was so sunny outside that a fire was unexpected.  The couch was plaid.  There was a swivel chair in front of the fire, pointed toward the daytime TV in the corner.

     "The room is upstairs."

     Tacked to the wall at the bottom of the stairs was a calendar stuck on October 1941.  The steps were red tile.  Outside the window, the hillside, raw and tan, was only a couple of feet away.  The upstairs hallway was an ancient white.  The room for rent was at the top of the stairs; Harry opened the door.

     There was an immense desk pushed in front of the window.  And through that window were hills stretching back into the distance, a freak view with a perfect vanishing point, the illusion that one was looking at the kind of misty purple mountain landscape that Mona Lisa had sat in front of.  It looked Italian to me, though I had never been to Italy.  I wanted that desk.  I wanted to sit at that desk and stare out that window.

     There was a walk-in closet that held a dresser and a couple of Army dress uniforms in polyethylene bags and another window that offered a view of hillside five feet away.

     I couldn't believe my luck.  "How long has the room been for rent?"

     "A couple of months."

     "Why hasn't anyone rented it?"

     "I don't know.  For some people it's too far from campus, and for others, well, I suppose it has to appeal to a certain type of personality."

     I loved the room.  I had to live in it.  I couldn't imagine not living in it.  I was worried that someone might call in the next second and take it from me.  When I said that I would take it Harry said okay.  He didn't seem pleased and he didn't seem displeased.  I sat down at the desk and wrote him a check for ninety dollars.

     "Where's the bathroom?"

     "I'll show you."

     Adjoining was a much smaller room with a single mattress and a stack of cardboard boxes out of which spilled a jumble of clothes.

     "That's Don's room."

     I wondered why Don didn't want the bigger, nicer room that was for rent.

     The bathroom was tiled in pink-beige with a bathtub and a separate shower stall.  The bathtub looked like it hadn't been used in years; lint and dust were collecting in it.  A brown skin of mildew covered the sink.  I wasn't fastidious.  At least I didn't think I was fastidious.  Not like some people I knew.  And I liked rundown.  The house was rundown.  It suited me.  But the sink was disgusting.

     "When was the last time you cleaned the sink?" 

     The Other Harry just shrugged. 

     Back in the hallway, I noticed a door with a hasp bolted to the door frame, and a Master lock dangling from it.  "That's my room," Harry said. 

     We went back downstairs.  I was starting to think of the place as home as we walked through the living room and into an alcove.  There was a desk somewhere under a pile of books and papers.  Four cardboard tubes were wedged into a homemade bookcase. 

     "That's where we put the mail."  I was assigned the empty tube.  The alcove led into a kitchen.  The linoleum had worn away and the concrete was scuffed dark, as it the floor was reverting back into the earth.  There was an ancient grease-splattered stove.  A small breakfast nook with windows on three sides extended out from the kitchen.  The built-in table and bench seats looked tired and faded in the sunlight.

     The Other Harry pointed to the door that seemed to lead into the hillside.  "That's where Barney lives -- it's a bomb shelter from World War Two.  When people were afraid the Japs would attack."  Inside was a small cavern-like room, dark and cool, a concrete and stucco grotto with an enlarger and photo trays.  A ladder led up to a loft.

     "He pays less rent because it's not really a room."

     "Who's the photographer?"

     "I am.  Or was.  Heh heh."

     Back outside in the daylight, very bright to my dilated eyes, I notice more pottery, more rabbit hutches, a garden with a scarecrow, some kind of shack either abandoned or under construction.  A lot to explore, when I returned.

     "What about a key?"

     "A key?"

     "For the front door."

     "You don't need one.  The lock doesn't work." 

     "You mean you can't lock the house?"

     "No."

     "And that's safe?  I mean, here in the city?"

     "So far."

     "How long have you lived here?"

     "Fifteen years.  Actually, I have a key.  I like using it when I come home.  Just a habit.  But the lock doesn't lock.  I'll walk down with you, I was just leaving."

     At the bottom of the steps, Harry took out a ring of keys and unlocked the garage door.  For a guy who lived in an unlocked house, he had a lot of keys.

     "You can park anywhere, just try not to block the garage door."   

     Harry opened the garage.  One side was filled with elaborate power tools  --  a drill press, a band saw, a table saw, and what looked like the foam and wood form of an airplane wing.  In the other parking space was a blue Ferrari 2 + 2 coupe.  A Ferrari was the last thing I expected to see at the house.

     "What do you do?" I asked.

     "Me?  I'm an assistant film editor.  At ABC."

     I nodded, impressed, though I wasn't sure what exactly an assistant editor did.  Assist an editor, of course.  He started the Ferrari.  As it rumbled out of the garage I did the friendly new roommate thing and closed the garage door after, fastening the Master lock.  Harry nodded appreciatively, then drove away, down the hill.  Looking at him behind the wheel of that beautiful car, you'd think he was some movie producer.  Or something.  Certainly not someone who lived down the hall from me.  Certainly not a guy who lived down that hall.

     Back in Texas Truck, driving down Stanley Hills Drive I kept thinking this is my neighborhood, this is where I live now.  And I was happy.  Driving and thinking that.  I was happy.

CHAPTER 2

     Back at the apartment on Veteran.  I used a key to unlock the front door.  Two keys, actually, deadbolt and doorknob lock.  It was that kind of apartment.  A normal apartment.  I was glad to be done with normal.  I had had quite enough of normal.  My room-mate David had the back bedroom, which overlooked the swimming pool.  I had the front apartment that overlooked the Veteran's Cemetery.  Overlooking the dead.  The walls were white.  Easy-to-spot-a-scuff-mark white.  Southern California Arctic White.

     What did I want to take with me?  Not the bed, not the mattress, not the tiny imitation Colonial desk.  Not the law books.    

     Pulled my two suitcases out of the closet and pondered what to stuff where, when the front door opened. 

     "Hey," David called from the living room.

     "Hey," I answered by rote.

     "Got me a powerful thirst," I heard Jerry say.

     Heard the familiar click and clack and needle drop.  I knew what was next: Jethro Tull.  David had been listening to the same side of THIS WAS for a week.

     Wondered what I should say.  Told myself that I should rehearse my arguments when David appeared in the door, a Heineken in hand.  "Hey...what's with the suitcases?"

     "I took a leave of absence."

     "What?"

     "I'm not going back this semester."

     "Why?"

     "I hate law school."

     "You're not quitting, are you?"

     I didn't answer. 

     "Have you told your parents?"

     "Yes.  I've got to pay my own way now.  I need a cheaper place."

     David took another look at the suitcase.  "When were you going to tell me?"

     "Today."

     David stayed in the doorway, slouching.  "When did you decide all this?"

     "I didn't want you trying to talk me out of this."

     "You're making a big mistake."

     I didn't think I was, but I knew I couldn't convince him of that.  We had been debate partners in high school.  He wanted to keep arguing and make money from it, lots of money.  I wouldn't mind making some money but I didn't want to have to be a lawyer to do it.  "I found a room in Laurel Canyon."

     "Laurel Canyon?!"

     "It was listed at the housing office.  Look, it's the fifteenth.  I'm paid through the end of the month.  I'll go post a notice for this room this afternoon.  I won't leave you high and dry."

     Jerry appeared in the doorway, beer in hand.  "Did someone say high?"

     "Harry's dropping out and moving to Laurel Canyon."

     "Radical."

     "Excuse us," David said as he stepped inside and closed my bedroom door.  "Look, I can cover the rent.  Don't worry about that."

     I was touched that he didn't want me to leave.  Debate partners.  Way back when (last year), way far away (Houston).

     "No, man.  Thanks.  I can't let you pay for my room."

     "But I can.  It's easy."

     "No, it would mess with our friendship."

     "And moving out won't?"

     "No."

     "But the money doesn't mean anything to me."

     "I need to pay my own way."

     I had to get the hell out of Westwood, split from the entire scene.  I liked hanging out with David but I didn't want to hang out with law students and talk law talk and money talk.

     Later, Jerry and David went out for tacos.  I said no I needed to pack but I also needed to watch my pennies.  Alone in that white room, thousands of white crosses in the green grass across the street.  Hadn't really hated this room when I woke in the morning, but the morning was a long way away and I hated the room now, was glad to be done with it.  Got out my camera and took a picture.  A picture of emptiness.  Why?  In case I needed to remember?  Felt my future self looking through the viewfinder, some future me witnessing this moment.

     Sunset on Sunset Boulevard.  Twilight, actually.  The electric lights claimed their place against the brilliant fading blue.  Texas Truck inched along with all the serious and circus cars, night's metal parade.  Heat was dying, night inviting.  Girls on the sidewalk.  What kind of girls?  Every kind of girl?  Felt excited that I was driving home, to my new home, excited that the Sunset Strip was my route home.  Just another day, no big deal, my elbow crooked on the door, nonchalant cowboy hand thrown over the outsize sea-green steering wheel.

     When I turned onto Laurel Canyon it felt familiar and right and exciting.  And I felt lucky, to be the one driving here, now.

     It was dark on the steep canyon streets.  Suddenly, instantly, I was extremely hungry, just as I drove past the Canyon Country Store.  Took some work to steer Texas Truck into the little triangular parking lot.  Parked next to a cream-colored Rolls Royce convertible.  Inside, brick and wood and a beautiful girl with bobbed blonde hair behind the cash register.  Two guys and two girls shopping.  They all looked glamorous.  Wondered which one belonged to the Rolls.  Maybe they all did.  Bought a loaf of Orowheat Wheatberry bread and a package of Alta Dena Swiss cheese slices.  A couple of days worth of sandwiches. 

     My second trip up the steps at 8508 Appian Way was in near darkness.  I carried two suitcases and counted the steps.  Sixty-six.

     I smelled night-blooming jasmine and saw the blue glow of a television coming from the living room.  And on the wall of the house...the shadow of an enormous bunny rabbit?  I looked behind me and saw someone holding a flashlight behind one of the rabbit hutches.  Then the light found me, pinned me.

     "Hello, there," said the voice behind the light.  "You're the new guy."

     The man holding the flashlight came from behind the hutch.  "I'm Barney Buck."

     Buck like a buck rabbit I thought but didn't say.  "Harry," I replied.

     "Harry the Second.  Or Young Harry."

     He gave me a pumping handshake.  I hailed from Texas and could give as good as I got in the pumping handshake department.  I saw his face now.  He was as old as the other Harry, but with a ruddy complexion, and he was big.  A big man who spent time in the sun, sort of a funny thing to notice at night, by flashlight.  He had a bottle brush mustache and curly blonde hair that sneaked over his collar.  A big strapping rabbit tamer, not a hippie, was pumping my hand up and down.

     "So...you raise rabbits?  As a hobby?"

     "For their pelts.  I'm making a rabbit skin blanket."

     "You kill them?"

     "My dad was a butcher.  But this one's a pet."  He opened the cage of the nearest hutch.  I now saw how precisely made the hutches were -- on solid stilts, water bottle and food dish neatly arranged, and below, fallen through the wire mesh, a tower of rabbit pellet shit growing between the stilts.  "This one's Floppy.  He's a Belgian Lop-Eared.  I won't harvest Floppy's pelt."

     For Floppy's sake I felt relieved.

     Inside, a fire was glowing in the hearth and "Get Smart" glowed on the TV.  Harry swiveled his chair to face me.  "Hey, you're back."

     "So this is the new guy?  You Harry, me Don."  Don was lying on the couch, in the wrinkliest shirt I had ever seen, a shirt that might have started out as white or as black but had settled into gray.  He had a scraggly beard and scraggly hair.  With great efforts and groans he struggled up to sitting and shook my hand.  He, too, was old.  Way older than college or just out of college.  Old enough to be my dad, all of them.  I was sixty-six steps up the hillside in the land that time had forgot with three old guys. 

     Don looked the most like a hippie, but he was just scroungy not hippie.  "You go to UCLA?" he asked me.

     "I did."

     "So did I.  Got an M.F. of A.  I'm a Mother Fucker of Art.  What are you?"

     "A semester's worth of lawyer."

     "Hey, Buck, we got a lawyer here!" Don called at the closed door.

     Buck mumbled something from the other side of the door and Floppy's shadow danced across the never been washed picture window.

     "Not anymore," I said.

     "No?"

     "I took a leave."

     "Yeah?  What kind of leave?" 

     "Permanent."

     "Heh heh," Harry laughed. 

     "Harry Ferrari went to UCLA.  He got a degree.  So you're a drop out?"

     "I guess."

     "You don't know?"

     Don was slouching to attention; he was having fun with me.

     "I know I didn't want to be a lawyer."

     "Then why did you go to law school?"

     "I got talked into it."

     "Hal -- can I call you Hal?"

     "No one else does."

     "Never?"

     "Actually, no."

     "Prince Hal, lawyers talk people into shit not the other way around."

     "Which proves my point.  I'm not destined to be a lawyer."

     "There, you sounded like a lawyer saying that."

     "Speaking off the record."

     "Heh heh," Harry Ferrari laughed.

     "You talk the talk, Prince Hal."

     Don had been smiling the whole time.  Even when he scowled, that was another kind of smile.  But now he really smiled, a gap-toothed, parched lip smile.  I felt at home.

     "Let Prince Hal unpack his bags," Harry Ferrari said.

     It was my first night in my new room.  Wedged next to the desk was a double mattress on box springs.  The wood floors and pale yellow walls were bare.  Last night, back on Veteran Avenue, everything had been carpeted and white.  Here, nothing was.

     I'd scrounged around and found a clamp light.  It served as both a desk lamp and a bedside reading lamp.  I'd also scrounged and found some cinder blocks and wood planks for my stereo and books.  I built the bookcase in front of the connecting door that led into Don's bedroom.

     It was colder in the hills and there was no heat in the room, so I crawled into my red mummy sleeping bag.  I had planned to read but instead I turned out the light.  There were yellow shades on the window that I left rolled up; the light from the full moon sliced into the room.  From where I was lying I could see the hillside behind the house curving up the sky, illuminated orange by city lights on the other side of the ridge.  It was quiet.  Just the creak of the door, and Johnny Carson's voice coming faintly up the stairs.

     I was too excited to sleep, thinking about my new room, and thinking about the guys downstairs, and the hills and streets that led down to the city to my old room.  I was so busy not being able to sleep that I didn't notice when I finally did.

chapter 3

     Woke to sunlight streaming through the windows.  Stumbled down to the bathroom.  The Master lock secured Harry Ferrari's bedroom door.  In the bathroom, the sink had been scoured clean, the only clean thing in the house.

     Downstairs, I was alone.  No fire.  No TV.  Just the emptiness of the new day.  Then I saw this beast -- a bobcat or a baby mountain cat -- and looked for a stick or something to protect myself -- until I heard a tiny little "Meow..."

     It was a gray cat, the biggest I'd ever seen.  With the tiniest squeak of a voice.  I put down the stick I had found, glad to have no witnesses to my crazy panic.

     Went into the kitchen and made myself a cheese sandwich for breakfast.  I could afford approximately two months of cheese sandwiches and rent.

     I needed a job, which meant I needed a newspaper.

     When I got to the bottom of the steps I saw the strangest thing across the street: a beautiful girl in the skimpiest of bikinis, balancing a mandolin on her toes.  Lying between her legs was a guy with a Nikon F scrunched to his eye.  With a free hand he was trying to grapple a reflector board just so.  She saw me staring, then he saw me staring.

     "Hey."

     "Hi."

     "Do you have a second?  Could you lend a hand?"

     "Sure."  It wasn't like I had to go to the class.  It wasn't like I had to go anywhere.

     "If you could hold the reflector to bounce a little light right into her crotch."

     I got what he was up to.  The board was to catch the sunlight and bounce it to the desired spot.  The girl smiled at me as if this was the most natural way to spend the morning.  An easy job.  Hold that board.  Catch that sun. 

     "Great.  Great.  Great."

     He started snapping photos.

     "Let's swap out the mandolin for the dobro.  I'm being rude, aren't I?  I'm Mel."

     "Harry."

     "There's already a Harry across the street."

     "Now there's another one."

     "Guess there can never be too many Harry's.  The dobro is the ax with the big metal resonator.  Yeah, right there."

     The yard was littered with musical instruments.  They looked too expensive to just be lying in the grass.  But that wasn't my worry.  Or it shouldn't be.

     "God, am I rude this morning.  Must get naturally rude when I start snapping.  This is Wendy."

     "Hi," Wendy said.

     "Hi," I said back.  I was in love but I didn't let her know it.

     Soon enough Mel had Wendy on her knees hugging the dobro like the lover anyone in their right mind would want to be.  I threw a little sunlight onto her face.

     "Perfect.  Purr-fect.  Yumm.  No smile.  'Fuck Me' eyes.  Fuck me."

     Wendy smiled.

     "Done."

     Mel collapsed onto the grass.  "Done."

     I put the reflector down.

     "You're a natural, Harry.  You do any photography?"

     "Yes, I've got a camera."

     "You a student?"

     "I was.  I just quit first year law."

     "Congratulations.  That calls for a joint."

     I helped Mel and Wendy carry the instruments and cameras inside.

     Mel's house was woodsy.  Wood beam ceiling, leather and wood couches, Navaho blankets, Indian fabrics.  Cozy.  The kind of pad you would gladly bring a girl back to.  A girl like Wendy.  A bachelor pad, as opposed to the bachelor place across the street.

     Like a smoothie in a Forties movie, Mel offered Wendy an antique silver cigarette box.  I tried to act like I was not noticing her bikini.  I noticed her noticing me trying to act like I wasn't noticing.   Mel took a Zippo out of his leather vest and set flame to the reefer.  I tried to act like I belonged there.  The joint would soon come to me.  Did I want to get stoned?  This morning, when I should start looking for a job?  If I didn't smoke would that seem unfriendly?

     "How much is Cros paying you?"  She passed the joint to Mel.

     "Cros?  Forget it.  The record company."

     "How much is the record company paying you?"

     "For the whole album cover?"

     "For what we just did."

     Mel passed the joint to me.  With no question asked (do you care to partake?).  I could just pretend to toke and keep my head clear.  As if I needed my wits about me to look through the want ads for a shit job.  But once I had the joint to my lips (with neither Wendy or Mel noticing) the smoke tasted so sweet I sucked a full measure into my lungs. 

     "For what we just did...let's see...I plan on about thirty photos for the inner sleeve.  I've got to figure out what shots to take, take 'em, then print 'em up.  That's three units of work -- not that I think of it in terms of work or money but since you're asking, let's dissect it that way as an amusing armchair exercise.  Thirty photos, three units of work per pic.  I think we just copped two usable shots, so count that as two units out of one hundred.  So two-one hundredths, or two percent of the inner sleeve.  That's what we just did.  With Harry's help."

     Mel passed the joint back to me.  I already felt this nice glow, a warm inner urge that was spilling inside out from hit number one and I was ready to pour on more coal onto the fire in my brain.

     "The inner sleeve I rate as about one quarter of the entire gig.  Front cover counts for at least half.  Back cover, a quarter.  So we just did two percent of twenty-five percent, which is, what, half of a percent of the entire gig."

     Wendy looked thoughtful -- or stoned -- or thoughtfully stoned. 

     "Why do you ask?"

     "I could use some bread."

     The joint was back to me -- why -- how -- so quickly?  Didn't want to get too high -- didn't want to get scary high -- didn't want to get scared.  And...had I been sitting here too long without saying anything?  Was I a dip a dolt a drudge?  I toked.  Mel and Wendy were doing fine, under the same influence.  I wasn't good at just hanging out.  They obviously had the gift.  To just sit in a room.  To just be.  Might as well see where the dope would take me.  It wasn't going to suddenly turn back into a normal day, was it?

     "Cros keeps saying...fuck, he made me quit my job...and he said...it's a drag...bread's always a drag..."

     Mel shook his head and smiled.  A folded bill made it's way from Mel's hand to Wendy's.  She looked grateful and hesitant.  She was all the colors of the rainbow.  "Is this your bread?"

     "I'll charge it back to the record company."

     Even to me it seemed like he was lying but I admired him for it.

     "Well, Harry?  What's rattling through your mind this fine morning?"

     "Right now I could be sitting in contract law."

     "But you're not."

     "No, I am not."

     "And that feels good."

     "Yeah.  Weird but good."

     Mel clapped his hands at something I had said.  I sort of pretended that I knew what.  "Weird but good, now there's a dynamite title for the album.  Here, take another toke and tell us what feels weird.  Wendy and I have lost a handle on what weird really is."

     I took a toke and used the time to try and figure out what to say.  I felt weird because law school was what I was supposed to do?  I felt weird because I had spent a lot if not all of my life doing what I was supposed to do?  That sounded like a cliché but wasn't I a cliché?  I am here because I am a stone rebel.  No, that would sound pretentious and unbelievable.  Or unbelievably pretentious.  Take your pick.

     "Ah, maybe I got too personal," I heard Mel saying from a great distance away, two feet at least, the stretchiest two feet I could remember experiencing.  "What are you up to today?"

     "I was going to go buy a newspaper."

     "I've got a newspaper, you're welcome to it."

     "I was going to start looking for a job."

     "Got one of those too."

     Huh? I thought but didn't say.

     "I got Wendy on the payroll, you might as well be too."

     Wendy smiled in a way that said she didn't like him saying that.  And there was this twinkle to Mel that made me think that he knew that but said it anyway to set some kind of record straight.  It made me wonder how long they had known each other, and how well.  "Ever done any darkroom work?"

     "He asked me that once," Wendy said.

     "Under different circumstances."

     "Involving the opposite sex."

     "Wendy, careful now, Harry might stop thinking we're innocent."

     "Better sooner than later.  How long have you been in the canyon?"

     "I guess this is my first official day."

     "I've been here three years and that's the first I've heard of official days," she said.

     "Well, I think it's great, what I've seen."

     "Nah, it's all gone, it was fading like a rose four years ago.  Sixty-five, even Sixty-six, it was still happening.  You got here too late."

     I looked to Mel.  It seemed he would know about canyon things.

     "Well..."  He took a last toke off the roach, as if the answer required it.  "Well, on a certain level of mind-body hassle, being pegged to look at the world through a single set of pre-assigned eyeballs, it's always too late or too early.  But tilt to look at things a different way, as if it is always too late and always too early simultaneously then that leaves you with only one thing which is now, which is where we are, so might as well enjoy it.  Which is what I am officially trying to do on this official morning."

     "If that rap works so well for you why are you just taking pictures?" Wendy asked, her whole swirling circle of grins getting lost in a grimace she maybe meant to keep hidden.

     "Because it's fun and I'm good at it and I like being good at having fun."

     "You are so full of shit, Mel," she said with a sad smile, her most natural one it seemed.

     "And if I could help you have more fun, I would."

     "Oh, I remember you trying."

     She picked up a key anchored to an enormous plastic flower key-chain.  "Gotta get back to the shack."

     She lunged at Mel with a smack on the lips that was an attack over before it began.  I watched that amazing body of hers sashay out of the room.  They seemed like adults and something adult was going on.

     "Wendy," Mel said to me, as if that were a proper and complete explanation.  I heard a VW purr to life, the gnash of gears, the press of pedals, the pulse and putter of Wendy's leave-taking. 

     With Wendy gone I noticed how beautiful the sunlight was as it sliced through the high windows.  The wood beams and the wood floor and the river rock fireplace and the trees swinging in the gentle wind outside -- I felt more like I was in a tree or a tree house than in a glued-to-the-ground house.  If I had money this is where I would live, and in this way, but I didn't have money, which reminded me, "Were you serious about loaning me that newspaper?"

     "I was serious about the job.  Ever worked in a darkroom?"

     "A little.  I had a cousin who was a photographer.  She used to set up an enlarger in her bathroom.  She showed me how to print pictures.  Not that I would remember."

     "Anyone who could handle law school can handle printing proof sheets."

     "But I couldn't handle law school."

     "Oh, no, you handled it very well in my opinion.  Come along."

     I followed Mel down a hallway that kept bending to the right.  On the walls were black and white photographs, rock and roll photographs, of the extremely famous (the Beatles) to the very famous to the maybe famous, photographs seen in passing because Mel had long legs and sauntered quickly, with a purpose.  I caught snapshot glimpses through various doors of...a bathroom tiled in yellow and purple and brown, trippy deco colors gleaming clean...a bedroom with a four poster bed and paisley curtains...a studio with shelf after shelf of neatly labeled boxes, worktables and French doors that opened onto a deck surrounded by dazzling greens and reds, plants and flowers seeming to spill into the house...then Mel disappeared through a door into blackness (how could it be so black?) but I followed him through and bumped into something soft that tasted like lint in my mouth -- "Ow...oh?" I said, and heard Mel's laugh from the other side, then his hand held the black drape aside and I passed into total darkness with a hit of amber light.

     The darkness slowly swam into focus.  I knew I was in a darkroom before I could see that I was.  "Okay -- chemicals, trays, faucet, john, paper safe, am I going to fast?  I'll start you on proof sheets, you can shoot a test roll of Tri-X, hone your developing chops before you soup a roll of the real thing.  Proof sheet you fuck up and it's just a piece of paper wasted, unless you scratch the negs, but you don't strike me as the careless type, quite the opposite.  Okay, here's the proofing frame, place the negative emulsion side up, six rows of six, numerical order please, paper from the safe, into the frame, emulsion to emulsion, do the lick test, the emulsion side tacky, set the timer for test strips of ten, fifteen, twenty, and twenty-five seconds, then into the developer tray, check the temperature is steady at sixty-eight degrees, god, do you feel speedy on this grass or what?" 

     He stopped to look at me and laughed.  "Appian Weed, man.  You're not used to this caliber of high.  I'll walk you through it again."

     "Do you mind if I take notes?"

     Mel laughed again.  I liked his laugh.  "You are too good to be true."

     The second time through I took notes.

     Mel hung around and developed the roll of film he'd just shot while I tried to make a proof sheet.  Even with the cup of coffee he gave me, I still felt very stoned.  I'd feel stoned until bedtime.  I'd probably even have stoned dreams.  But at least with my set of notes I could kind of keep track of what I was forgetting to do.  Mel was very happy with the proof sheet I printed.  He was overly effusive to try and make me feel better, but I didn't mind. 

     "Got places to go, people to see.  You're ready to fly solo.  This neg's almost dry.  Cut and proof these four rolls on the drying rack.  If I'm not back, lock the door behind you."

     "We don't have a lock, across the street."

     "You've got all those steps and tell me, what's worth robbing up there?  I don't want Goldilocks wandering in and smoking up my stash."

     After he stepped through the black curtain, I heard Mel sounds for a while, then not.  I felt higher, stranger, being alone in the darkroom.  A stranger in a strange land.  I started imagining myself as Mel.  In my own cool house with my own cool pictures.  I stopped fantasizing when I put on the white gloves and took a scissors to the negatives to cut them into six strips.  But the fantasy returned in force as I made up the proof sheet.  Which I fucked up by setting the timer wrong.

     Finally, I got the exposure times right.  I'd always loved the magic of watching the images appear in the developing tray.  But when I'd done it before they were my photographs.  The developing done, I turned on the white light and held a loupe to my eye.  I was amazed by what Mel had seen through his camera.  The photographs were all of Wendy.  In only a couple did you see enough of her face to be able to say "that's Wendy."  And in those few she looked more real than in real life.  Expression and gesture were isolated, heightened, etched clean and clear in singular searing images.  I wondered if someone else would see those same things about her in these photographs, or was that just me, having been next to her in the flesh?  The other pictures were of parts of her, wittily framed to meld her with whatever instrument she held in hand.  There was a photograph of her nose that mocked and mirrored the key hole of a guitar.  In the shot that Mel had taken between her legs, the mandolin neck was turned just so to appear to be a Pinnochio-nose.  I was especially proud of the splash of reflected sunlight that I had directed to her crotch.  I couldn't help but like the photographs that I had assisted more than the ones snapped before my arrival.  Those photographs were part of the enormous, glamorous world that predated my arrival, that I forever stood outside of.  But I actually got lost in those photographs.  Maybe because I didn't have to think or worry about me while I was looking at them.  They made me want to pick up my own camera and do something.

     I made an extra copy of the proof sheet to take home and study.

     When I stepped out of the darkroom it was dark.  There were no lights on in the house.  The only sound was a dog barking somewhere in the canyon.  My eyes adjusted to the moonlight.  As I walked down the hallway Mel's photographs were like shadowy ghosts on the walls.  I thought maybe I should turn on a light or leave a note, but staring at the couch where I had sat (how many hours ago?) smoking that basso profundo pot with Wendy and Mel, I felt like a ghost wandering through a space where my body had once been.  I had no idea if it was the beginning or the middle or the end of the night.  For a moment, in that quiet darkness of Mel's house, I felt free of being me.

     Outside, I checked to make sure I had locked the door behind me.  I had.  Now I felt exiled from the room.  There was a soft wind and I loved how it felt on my cheeks.

     Across Appian Way, a ratty Peugeot and a Toyota with it's front bumper crumpled were parked next to Texas Truck.  Something looked wrong.  Closer, I saw that the truck's front tire was flat. 

     As I climbed the sixty-six steps I saw lights on in the house.

     Inside, among other things, Barney and Don were watching TV,  Barney eating from an enormous salad bowl on his lap, Don working on a block of clay with what looked like a garrote.  They both swiveled to look at me.

     "Prince Hal."

     I knew he would never call me anything else.  "Hi."

     "The royal family is fucking freaking out."

     "Your parents have been calling every ten minutes," Barney said.

     "Why?"

     "They're worried about their baby."

     "Candy ass college boy."

     "I'm not a college boy."

     "Ooh and they do not dig that in the slightest."

     "You talked to them."

     "To Mommy."

     What outrageous things had Don said to M?

     The phone rang.  I stared at it on the mantle.  It was old and black and cracked and I feared what tone of voice might be on the other end.

     The phone rang again.

     "Every ten minutes, regular as clockwork."

     I quickly sized-up the lack of privacy -- TV speaking, Don and Barney listening. "Is there another phone?"

     "Nope.  Too noisy?  Here."  He turned down the TV.  Don and Barney were now without distraction.  The phone kept ringing.  It would not be denied.

     "Want me to tell them to leave Prince Hal alone?"

     "Don, cut him some slack."

     "His whole life is slack."

     Ring.

     "Don."

     "Candy ass."

     "Don."

     Ring.

     Moving quickly, without thinking, because thinking would surely stop me, and outwardly fearless, as a point of pride, I answered the fucking phone.

     "Hello?"

     ("Harry?")  P's voice. 

     "Hi."

     ("What the hell is going on?")

     P waited for my answer.  Don and Barney waited for my answer, Don staring at me, Barney staring into his salad bowl.  I knew that they could only hear my side of the conversation but I didn't have the conniving agility to imagine what my side of the conversation would sound like shorn of the voice on the other end that was driving it, much less to modulate my words so to appease both P and make myself seem as uncandy ass as possible.

     "Nothing."

     ("Nothing?  David says you've moved out and that's nothing?")

     "No, it's something."

     ("Are you being sarcastic?")

     "I'm agreeing."

     There was enough line to carry the phone into the stairwell and sit my butt on the cold red stair tiles.  Not private but at least there were no eyes on me there.  Only thing to look at was the October 1941 calendar, a DC-3 in the happy blue bygone skies.  Sat in that time bubble talking, my ear glued to voices from back where I had come from.  Look where I had come to.

     ("And you've stopped going to law school.")

     "I told you I was taking a leave."

     ("How's that different from quitting?")

     "The door is open, I can go back if I like."

     ("If you like?")

     "If I like."

     ("Well, I'm amazed that you can leave your whole future to a whim.  You might as well quit.")

     "I might as well."

     ("What's that supposed to mean?")

     "I'm agreeing with you."

     ("Agreeing with me?")

     "Fine, I quit."

     ("I thought it was a leave.  Make up your mind.")

     "I just did.  I quit."

     ("And I told you we would not support you financially if you quit.")

     "Fine."

     ("How are you going to live?")

     A hard question.  Until I remembered.  "I've got a job."

     ("A job?  What kind of job?")

     "As a photographer.  A photographer's assistant."

     ("What do you know about photography?")

     "Cary showed me how to print photographs, remember?"

     ("And that's enough to get a job?")

     "So it would seem."

     ("How much are you being paid?")

     Mel hadn't gotten around to talking salary.  "Enough."

     ("What exactly is enough?")

     "Whatever I say enough is!  I'm not asking you for anything.  I don't want anything from you."

     ("Calm down.")

     I faintly heard P talking to M.  Then:

     ("Harry?" she asked.  Amazing how much spin she could give to the two syllables of my name.)

     "Hi."

     ("We're worried about you.")

     "Don't be."

     ("You've worked very hard for this.")

     "This?"

     ("Law school.")

     "Don't remind me."

     ("Who are those boys you're living with?  They sound strange.")

     "Don has an M.F.A. from UCLA, Barney teaches elementary school, and Harry Ferrari -- Harry -- works at ABC Television."  Described that way they sounded deceptively normal and upstanding.  But I was looking around the chaotic tumble-down stairwell as I spoke those blandly descriptive words, and I was thankful that M & P were not.

     ("And you can go back next semester if you like?")

     "Don't count on it."

     ("A lot can change.")

     She waited for me to agree.  She stopped waiting.

     ("Will you call us tomorrow?")

     "No.  Sunday, as usual."

     When I hung up the phone, I felt free.  Well, freer.  I walked the phone back over to the mantle.

     "Mommy and daddy want you to come home?" Don asked.

     I knew enough not to speak.  This is home now, I thought.  But I didn't say that either.

     Stepped back into my room and closed the door.  Was I angry or glad or both?  Glad I was done with law school, glad to stop calling it a "leave."  Angry about having to fight about what I wanted to be.  Whatever that was.  Me.  Whatever me might turn out to be.

     I liked being in my new room.  Simply glad about that.  I liked that the window shades were yellow and frayed.  I liked that the desk was big and scuffed.  I liked that it felt lived in.

     Sat down at the desk.  The window gave me back my own wobbly reflection.  Belatedly remembered the proof sheet in hand.  Didn't have a loupe, so peered close to study the 36 exposures.  As my eyes traveled down the rows of images, images of Wendy and pieces of Wendy that were now something other than Wendy, I began to worm my way into Mel's head -- his eye, actually.  It wasn't just the image; it was what wasn't in the image.  What he chose to exclude had as much to do with the image as the image itself.  The photographs were so witty -- the way he used (what otherwise was) Wendy to say something about the music.  It would help to know whose album the photographs were for, what music he was matching the photos to.

     Got out my Canon FTb.  The camera familiar yet strange at the end of the long strange day.  Only two pictures had been exposed.  Felt eager then urgent to take a photograph of my room -- a still life with proof sheet and two unbitten bites of cheese sandwich and my wallet and a corner of my notebook, without rearranging anything.  Through the viewfinder I framed these objects into something that matched the order and disorder of me.

     Took that picture.

     Shot it.

     Shot it dead.

     One frame that felt perfect.

     Well.  The darkroom would tell.

chapter 4

     I woke to fog outside the window and fog inside my head.

     Felt good -- I had a job.

     Made myself a cheese sandwich, ate it as I descended the 66 steps to work.  Couldn't wait to find out what work was today.

     No answer to my knock on Mel's door.  Peered through a window: the living room where we had smoked, empty now.

     Well.

     What.

     Climbed back up the 66 steps.

     Said hi to Floppy.

     Wandered the garden, bound in fog.  Took a closer look at the scarecrow: hounds-tooth coat gone toothless, seersucker pants sucked dry, straw hat but no head.  Scarecrow guarding a zucchini plant gone wild, beat beets, a trellis of tomatoes on the verge of collapse.  Saw there were fingers in the dirt -- ceramic fingers.  Brushed the soil aside, saw a pedestal circumscribed by a lattice of glazed, interlocked fingers and the infinite circling motto see the trees see the trees see the trees...

      Descended the 66 steps.

     Knocked again.

     Again, no answer.

     Climbed the 66 steps.

     Wondered when I should go check again.  I knew I could spend all day up and down those steps.  I would leave a note.  Sat down at my desk, ripped a sheet of paper out of a spiral notebook, and composed it:

     Mel,

     Do you need my help today?  We never really talked about the details of the job.  Is it full time?  I'm available to work every day, if you need me.  But you probably already know that.

     I reread the note.  Did it strike the right tone?  I thought about rewriting it, but would probably just say the same thing at best slightly differently.  Maybe the best way was how I thought it first.  Like a photograph.  Like the photograph I took of this very desk last night.  You just find the place that feels right and you do it.

     Descended the 66 steps.

     Knocked again.

     Again, no answer.

     Tucked the note in the door.

     Climbed back up the 66 steps.

     Wandered the garden again.  See the trees.

     It all looked great.  Got tired of just looking.  Got out my camera.

     With camera to eye...a new pleasure and a new anxiety.  The milky light I now worried would burn or blow away before I was finished with it.

     Only when I saw what I thought was "it" did I click.

     I imagined that I was shooting the inner sleeve of The Appian Way Album.

     Framed and reframed until I felt it -- it -- and finally clicked.

     The headless scarecrow.

     See the trees see the trees...

     Floppy's prison.

     Rabbit hutch in the fog.

     Washing machine on the back porch.

     Rake and shovel leaning against the hill.

     Inside...a Ferrari manual covered with bird seed...an unopened roll of Navy Torpedo Camera Film (expiration date: August 1945)...light filtering into the under-the-stairs bathroom...moiré of dust in the upstairs bathroom...the spindly Master lock protecting the master bedroom...

     Camera low to the plane of my desk, outside a shaft of light scattering, smiting fog -- catch the light -- catch it --

     The film-advance lever froze -- roll done.

     The bomb shelter darkroom wasn't as spiffy as Mel's, but it was dark, it had all the chemicals.  If I fucked up developing the film roll, well, it wasn't exactly the Zapruder film.

     When I came out of the darkroom, in was twilight.  One photograph was pretty good, the scarecrow, but for something that I hadn't noticed at the time -- the gray cat licking his paw in the background.  I went far enough down the steps to see my note still tucked in Mel's front door.

     Up in my room, the yellow bulb light balanced the lilac fog outside.  I propped up a pillow and read some more of THE BIG SLEEP.  Marlow was living in a house in the hills.  It could have been this house, as I imagined the story now.

     I must have closed my eyes because when I opened them the twilight was gone and there was a knock on the front door.  As I stepped out of my room, I heard a woman ask, "Is Harry home?"

     "I'm Harry," I heard Harry Ferrari answer.

     "No, the other Harry."  Wendy's voice.  Wendy.

     "Heh heh," laughed Harry Ferrari.

     I hurried down the stairs three at a time to get to the front door.  "Hi."

     "Hi, Other Harry."

     I followed her outside.  Her long blonde hair moved in rhythm with her footsteps as we descended the steps.  We'd reached some unspoken agreement that we would walk side by side.  Tonight she has wearing an fringed and embroidered leather jacket.  I was cold in shirt sleeves but I wasn't going back.

     "Is everyone is the house named Harry?"

     "Half.  Two out of four." 

     "Mel didn't know your phone number.  He said for you to grab his camera bag and ten rolls of film."

     "From where?"

     She smiled.  "Mel figured you'd figure it out."

     "Mel said that?"

     "I'm reading between the lines." 

     Mel's front door was open.  Didn't see a camera bag by the door.  Philip Marlow would look in the studio: it was on a long table, along with cases of film.  Opened the bag -- two Nikon F's and several lenses were packed inside.  Grabbed five rolls of Tri-X and five rolls of Ektachrome.  Hoisted the bag to my shoulder.  It felt good carrying it, even better when Wendy saw it and smiled.

     "You could have found it," I said.

     "But I needed to find you."

     We got into a VW Microbus and roared away, climbing up the hill, the upper reach of Appian Way that I had not yet seen.  The music was loud and good, a song that I had not heard before.  The lane bent in crazy curves and Wendy leaned hard into them.  As we climbed, the hillside blurred past my window.  To the right, through Wendy's window I could see the canyon below.  The scattering of lights from the houses strewn at various heights gave the illusion of cliff dwellings, or the town of Bedrock, of modern stone age families.

     "God, this is a peppy bus."

     "It's got a Porsche engine."

     "Porsche?"

     "Hippie Power, Cros calls it.  How long have you been in L.A.?"

     "Since September."

     "And where before that?"

     "Houston."

     "Tex-ass.  Tell me about Tex-ass."

     "Well...it's big..."  Talking kept my mind off the possibility that she might drive us over the edge of the canyon.  The road slalomed in a big hooking right curve and then I saw the carpet of city lights -- we had crested the peak of the canyon.  And soon descended down another twisting lane. 

     "Wow."

     "Yeah.  Are you really from Texas?"

     "Yes.  Why would I make something like that up?"

     "To make yourself more interesting."

     "Where are you from?"

     "Right here.  I went to Hollywood High."

     "Now that's interesting.  To me."

     "Why?"

     "I'd probably find you interesting anyway."

     "Would you now?"

     She pulled into a driveway and parked behind a gray Porsche.  "We're here."

     I had been wondering for a while if she had a boyfriend.  It seemed very likely that she did.  She did seem to sort of like me but maybe she liked everyone.  That was one way of thinking about it.

     Carrying the camera bag, I followed Wendy to the front door.  It was a three story house and candlelight glowed in every window.  "Blue Jay Way" was playing.  Magical Mystery Tour.  Everyone I knew was listening to Magical Mystery Tour so that felt normal, that was something to hold on to.  "Mama Cass's house," Wendy said and opened the door.

     California Dreamin' I thought.  Another woodsy house, well-appointed, comfortable furniture, pillows, flowers.  People sitting, talking, smoking.  On the couch.  In the kitchen.  Everybody looked immeasurably cool without trying.  Without trying seemed the crucial, inherent, irreducible element.  Nobody in a hurry to do anything here but talk, drink, smoke.  No one was in a hurry.  Because they were here.  Because there was no place else they needed to go, ever.  It instantly felt like a party that hadn't started and wouldn't stop, that it was eternal, that it had been happening for a long time and I had just happened to step into it at this particular moment.  Which made it my moment.  Not that anyone other than me would notice that.  Not that anyone else would have to.

     I followed Wendy up a staircase -- either that or be left behind -- into a bigger, whiter room where The White Album was louder, the couches bigger, people spilling out the French doors to the blue night swimming pool.  The room smelled of incense and marijuana, the electric scent of sweet combustible magic.  And there was Mama Cass bigger than life, bigger in life, in a paisley caftan on a white couch, talking to David Crosby -- the Cros, of course.  Mama Cass noticed me in the middle of what she was saying and that smile seemed for me but she went right on talking.

     Mel was outside, sitting cross-legged on the deck, swathed in steam rising from the pool.  Felt relieved, a floating ship grateful to have found anchor.  But as Wendy continued on a line to Mel, Crosby reached out an arm and pulled her down close beside him.  That seemed to answer the does she or doesn't she have a boyfriend question, or did it?  Hesitated, unsure if I should continue, didn't want to be someone who stood around waiting for a rock star introduction.

     "Hi, there. I'm Cass."  As if that needed saying.

     "Harry."

     "He's Mel's friend," Wendy explained.

     Crosby didn't even look at Wendy.  He was looking me over; it felt like he was looking inside me.

     Mama Cass eyed the camera bag.  "You a photographer?"

     "Sort of."

     "You don't sound too sure," Cros said.

     "I've been helping Mel."

     "Mel needs some help.  Can you make me beautiful?"  he asked.

     "I'm not so sure."

     He grunted at that, a laugh with an undertone of being easily pissed off.

     "Hey, Harry," Mel yelled.  I was rescued. 

     "Well, nice meeting you, Mama Cass."

     "Cass.  Just Cass," she corrected.

     "Cass."

     As I stepped away, I regretted not saying good-bye to Wendy, or at least thanking her for the ride.  Then it felt too late to turn back.  Crosby's hand had disappeared into her shirt.  Turned back anyway.

     "Thanks for the ride, Wendy."

     "Any time."

     "Polite fucker, aren't you?"

     "Sure."  He wondered if I was tweaking him with that lone word. 

     "Pull up a chair," Mel said and I sat down cross-legged on the deck beside him, placed the camera bag at his feet.  There were a couple of girls and a couple of guys in the pool and there were no bathing suits.  "Hey, man, relax."

     Fuck.  Had hoped I looked relaxed.  Needed to work on looking relaxed.  "More inner sleeve?" I asked.

     "Inner what?"

     "Inner sleeve shots."

     "Nah.  Love's at the Whiskey.  I thought you'd like to come along."

     "Sure."

     "To keep the cameras loaded.  After you get loaded."  There was a joint burning in his hand that was now in mine.  Would it relax me?  I didn't think so.  But maybe...maybe...

     A Bottecelli babe climbed out of the swimming pool.  Gave me the eye.  If looks could talk: wouldn't you like to fuck me? well, you never will.  She walked over to us, reached out a hand for the joint; she was getting off being naked in my face, water dripping from her blonde triangle.  Smiled at me through a cloud of smoke, walked away with the joint without saying a word.

     "Sara," Mel said, as if her name explained her.  "You a lady killer?"

     "Hardly."

     "I see you watching everything."

     "Maybe that's the photographer in me."

     "Maybe."

     Sara pulled a towel around her.  Just as Crosby clomped outside.  He pulled Sara along by the towel.  She kept in step to keep that towel around her, I don't know why.  "What's that shit you're snarfing?"

     Mel offered Crosby the joint.  "Colombian."

     Crosby took a sip.  "The fuck it is."

     He pulled an enormous baggie of luscious hemp from his shoulder bag and dexterously rolled an enormous joint.

     "This is the real deal."

     He fired the thing to life and passed it to Mel.

     "You need a fuckin' helper now, Mel?"

     "Everyone needs a helper.  You need one or two yourself."

     "I don't need anyone to help me play guitar."

     "You need roadies."

     "This scrawny thing's a roadie?"

     "I meant that as an example."

     "So he's like your entourage?  You Mel's yes man, kid?"

     "I started in the darkroom yesterday and I'm sitting on a dark deck tonight ."

     "Can the kid take pictures?"

     "He's out of sight," Mel said.

     "He lives across the street from Mel," Wendy said.

     "The genius of proximity," I said.

     "Who said that?" Crosby asked.

     "I think I just did."

     I was three hits into that joint he had started.  It was me staring through my eye sockets but I had to flatten the palms of my hands against the redwood deck to make sure I didn't float away.  Crosby narrowed his eyes and leaned close to me, closer, "The genius of proximity...I like that..."

     Then, somehow, and soon it seemed, we were roaring down the canyon in Mel's silver Speedster.  I was scrunched in the not quite back seat, Wendy in the bucket seat next to Mel, the top was down, the wind cold as shit on my bare arms -- I was utterly and completely happy.  If I froze to death I would die smiling.  We came down the canyon and slammed into the lights of the Strip.  We got waved into the parking lot behind the Whiskey-A-Go-Go.  Music vibrated through the walls.  A big guy wearing fringed leather waved us through the backdoor. 

     Inside was messy psychedelia.  Everything looked sticky.  I followed Mel into the dressing room, white walls scuffed every inch from bottom to top, girls and guys in groovy threads, Mel inching up to some guy's ear to talk.  It was so loud, that was the only way to talk, mouth to ear. 

     Wendy's mouth to my ear, could feel the brush of her lips as she said, "I'm gonna go dance."  She was one of the groovy girls and like that she was gone. 

     Mel took the camera bag from me, put it on the linoleum counter, got a camera ready.  His ear to mine, scratchier, "Ever used a Nikon?"

     "No."

     "Load the second body with Tri-X.  Put all the extra Tri-X in your pockets.  You keep loading, we'll keep swapping cameras."

     My fingers fumbled with the camera back, searched in vain for the latch.  That damnable weed.  Marijuana was the occupational hazard here, if this was an occupation, the code of honor being to get loaded to the gills and then maintain.  Function under self-induced duress.  Which wouldn't be duress at all, shouldn't be, not my first trip to the Whiskey, but I was supposed to be doing a job, my whole fucking future depended on it. 

     Fuck. 

     I was acting like this was a law school final.  My whole future at stake?  Relax.  Fucking relax.  Somehow I got the camera back open.  It would have helped if I could have claimed ownership to those gawky fingers at the ends of my hand.  How to activate the motor drive?  Felt but did not hear the motor as the film caught in the gear and the first frame threaded into place.  I proudly turned to Mel. 

     But there was no Mel.  Stuffed the rolls of Tri-X in my corduroys and left the dressing room. 

     Walked down a short corridor painted black, busy with waitresses carrying drink trays.  Walked toward the music.  Stepped out of the corridor into the full blast of the Whiskey.  On the small stage, Love was in the middle of a set, a psychedelic prince singing when I was a boy there was a fat chance I would be a man...  Girls in bikinis danced in cages that hung above a mass of ecstatic dancers. 

     Where the hell was Mel?

     What if Mel needed the camera I carried?  My whole future depended on it --

     Fuck.

     Saw Mel crouched on a corner of the stage.  Fought my way upstream through the strum of arms and legs.

     Claimed a place beside Mel.  Felt less a stranger to be with him, to be on the job.  Crouching, he inched his way along the lip of the stage and I stayed right with him, until he was crouched right under the singer. 

     Turned to watch that music sail out into the air, into the faces -- and from where I was crouching it looked as if all those smiling faces, backlit by the spotlights in the balcony, were staring at me.  Hoisted the camera to my eye, pulled a strawberry blonde's face into focus, along with a ragged V of faces stretching back from the fulcrum of her smile, smiling up at out-of-frame guitar god, and felt the motordrive whir and click the frame.

     There was a tap on my shoulder -- Mel, smiling.  He gave me a thumb-to-finger "A-OK," that it was cool I had taken the picture.  He passed me his camera and I passed him mine.  The music pounded at my brain as I took out the exposed roll and loaded in a new one.  My job done, camera loaded and waiting, I scanned the room.  Saw pictures all around me, like golden nuggets just waiting to be panned from the riverbed. 

     Big chord.  Spike of feedback.  The set ended to sparkling, spanking applause.  The band quit the stage.  My ears buzzed in the sudden vacuum of silence.

     Mel followed after the band and I followed after Mel.  Mel entered with his eye to the view finder, snapping.

     "Hey, Mel," said Arthur Lee.  He was quite tall; he didn't need a stage to stand on.

     "Great set, Arthur."

     "You think?"

     "Oh, yeah.  Arthur, Harry."

     He shook my hand.  A firm handshake, perfectly balanced.  Beers were opened, faces toweled dry.

     "Can I get a group shot?"

     "Oh, man, you never stop."

     "Backstage at the Whisky.  Please."

     The group crowded in one corner, doubled by the mirror behind them, Mel contorted to get them into a crowded frame.

     "Don't smile...don't smile...don't smile...great!"

  Thanks."

     The group scattered like pinballs.  A comely woman handed Arthur a fresh shirt.  Comely woman had a friend Mel was chatting up.  I stepped back to give him some privacy but the room was too small to properly step back so I stepped outside.  The club was emptying.

     Except for the corner booth where no one was in a hurry to leave.  Wendy was wedged next to Crosby, who was rolling a fat one.  I thought he noticed me, as a prelude to ignoring me; but no, nothing, he was done noticing me for the night.  Wendy gave me a sign language hello -- or was it good-bye? -- which was nice, which proved that I wasn't purely invisible. 

     I felt the weight of the Nikon on my shoulder, and hefted it to my eye.  Through the viewfinder I saw Crosby give me another look ("hey asshole you gonna take a picture of this?") and was hit with paranoia that I was taking a picture, unasked and unauthorized, of my own tenuous volition, but what was stupider than holding the camera to my eye and not clicking, so I did.  The motordrive sounded like a hammer hitting heavy metal in the nearly empty club.  I lowered the camera and Crosby was still glaring.  But somebody said something to him and his eyes darted away.

     I wandered back to the dressing room, camera in hand.  What was I supposed to do?  The door to the dressing room opened and I saw Mel that much closer to the girl.  I leaned against a black wall and tried to act like I belonged.  A waitress balancing a tray of empty glasses gave me what seemed a more that purely passing smile.  What kind of smile?  Needed a dictionary, a lexicon of smiles, to try and interpret.  How could I look like I belonged to a patch of wall?

     Mel came out, finally, arms around the new girl.  "Malibu."

     "Malibu?"

     "That's the next station of the cross."

     I walked out of the club, a couple of steps behind Mel and Miss Nameless.  The cold air felt good.

     "Oh.  Pamela, Harry.  Harry, Pamela.  I'm fucking terrible at introductions."

     I scrunched back into the non-existent backseat of Mel's Speedster.

     Traffic crawled on Sunset, then the Strip ended and the road stretched dark and wide-open through the sleepy time money world of Beverly Hills.

     Girl in the front seat -- Pamela -- always a girl.

     A joint making its way back to me -- always a joint.  I was already grasping the rudiments of routine.  It was fun to feel like I belonged, that my life was contained in and spread out from this moment of hurtling through the night.

     Prop wash from the Speedster sent shivers up my bare arms.

     The blue street sign for Hilgard Avenue flashed past -- the boundary of UCLA.  A day ago -- or was it two now? -- impossible to imagine then that I would be in a silver Porsche now, joint in my fingers, headed toward an unimaginable party in Malibu.

     Raised my hand, waved a silent good-bye to my old life.

chapter 5

     Somewhere on the cold twisting moonlight drive down Sunset, my eyes must have closed because I now opened them.  The sudden absence of motion had stirred me from whatever stoned dream lurked on the dark insides of my eyelids.  Remarkable feat of getting from point A to point B alive.

     Mel offered me a hand.  "Jesus, fuck, no coat?  You're an ice cube!"  He took off his denim jacket and draped it over my frozen shoulders, ten miles too late.

     "Take the cameras inside?" I asked.

     "Always take the cameras."            

       Heard the surf.  Breathed cold salt air.  Eyed a gaggle of glamour cars.

     Following Mel across the threshold, I heard myself thinking Malibu house, I'm in a Malibu house.

     Inside, it was like Mama Cass's, but tidier, arranged just so.  Again everyone looked hip and rich.  Everyone looked like they belonged.  Nothing felt rushed or hurried.  Again, it felt like I'd stumbled into the middle of a movie.  But I didn't know what the plot was.  Not until I'd seen more of this Malibu movie. 

     A wave crashed.  Sea foam glinted in the light spilling off the deck.  Felt like a penetrator, a perpetrator, a hanger-on.  Rather than perch like a parrot on Mel's shoulder, I went through the sliding glass door and out onto the deck.  It was high tide and the sea lapped under the deck's pylons.  Stood on the stern of that Malibu houseboat watching the dark water swirl and surge out to sea.

     "Hi."

     An intense Jewish guy joined me outside -- curly hair, a smile belied by the unblinking shrewdness in his eyes.

     "Hi.  I'm David."

     "Harry."

     "You're a photographer?"

     How did he...?

     "I saw you at the Whisky."

     "I'm helping Mel.  Assisting."

     "Assisting?"  He made the word sound like something more -- something less, actually.

     "Helping."

     "An assistant just loads cameras."

     "I was loading Mel's camera."

     "You weren't just loading cameras.  You were taking pictures."

     "I...it..."  Something about this David made me careful about what I said -- I was at a rock and roll party and I was worried about being careful.  "What do you do?"

     "I'm a manager."

     "Oh.  What does a manager do?"

     "Make deals.  Make arrangements.  Make decisions.  Make money."

     "So you're here because..."

     "Because I like parties.  And because it's my house."

     "Oh."

     "Don't be embarrassed."

     "I'm not," I lied.

     "I'd like to see some of your photographs."

     "I don't really have any."

     "From tonight."

     "They might not be any good."

     "And then again they might.  Make yourself at home.  Lots to eat and drink."

     With a nod of his head that gave the sense of a bow, a sardonic bow, David stepped back through the sliding glass door, leaving me alone again with the ocean, with his little corner of the ocean.  Maybe he managed that too, made deals with the water, arrangements.

     Kept staring at the sea.  It was easier, simpler, to feign entrancement at the dark water than face the party where everyone except Mel was a stranger. 

     Realized I was ferociously hungry.  And Mel hadn't gotten around to discussing money much less giving me any, so free food was a boon opportunity.

     Went back inside.  So temporary, all those bodies, in this moment -- was anyone else thinking about death?  Was everyone?

     A spread of food, splendorous and ignored, on the kitchen table.  David gave me a tiny smile without breaking stride as he talked to a guy with a walrus mustache who stood a foot taller, and stooped to lean in close to his words.  Hadn't noticed that David was short when he was talking to me, but I did now.

     "Fifty percent of publishing will sound fair, Eliot."

     "To who?"

     "To them.  It sounds like fifty-fifty, and there's this reflex to buy into fifty-fifty."

     I tried to eat without seeming to seem too unseemly about stuffing my face.  Eliot looked like a hippie, except for his eyes, those were not hippie eyes.  Those eyes were wondering if I should be listening to this.  David, however, seemed to take some small pleasure in letting me eavesdrop.  But was it eavesdropping if he knew and I knew that I was listening?

     "...the beautiful thing is, we take the management fee for everything, including their fifty percent of the publishing, which moves us into the driver's seat which is where we are anyway."

     "They're going to be huge.  Bigger than they think."

     "Bigger than you think."

     "I'm thinking very big."

     "Bigger than that."

     "Groovy," Eliot said and gave me the eye as, fresh bottle of beer in hand, he made his way out of the kitchen, leaving me alone with David.

     "So you're a law student?  Don't look so surprised.  I know everything."

     "Then you know that I'm not a law student.  Not anymore."

     "You've got a lawyer vibe."

     "You sound like my mom.  Except she wouldn't use the word vibe."

     "So you've thrown aside the law for photography?"

     "Thrown aside the law quite apart from photography.  It's not quite cause and effect.  Or maybe it is."

     "You'll never make any dough snapping pics."

     "Mel seems to do okay."

     "If you're happy with okay."  David smiled.  Another smile to decode.

     "Do you have a girlfriend?"

     Which seemed a slightly weird question, the way that he asked it.  "No."

     "Just making conversation," he said in a way that clearly wasn't.

     "Do you like Picasso?"

     How to answer that question.

     "Would you like to see mine?"

     "Well...sure..."

     Followed him out the kitchen.

     And into more music.  Three guys on the couch, strumming guitars, singing in high tight harmony.  Sounded as good as a live album. 

     "My new boys," David whispered into my ear.

     "They're really good."

     "Aren't they?"

     Mel was on the floor, twisted across the glass coffee table, shooting pictures with the same smiling seriousness as at the Whisky or in his front yard.  The camera was his instrument, that he played with the same joyous intent as the guitar guys.  He lowered the camera and I felt him come back into focus as Mel in the room.  I mimed some sign language to him -- do you want me to load a camera for you?

     Mel mouthed a silent no to me, a thumbs up to David.

     "Yep, the next big thing," David said and started for the stairs.

     "Who are they?"

     "Don't have a name yet."

     Didn't feel like walking away from the Siren call of those sea surge guitars, but I followed.  For David, for Mel, for everyone else, was this really an ordinary night?  Had they lost all concept of ordinary?

     At the top of the stairs, a big white bed in a big white room.  Black ocean night outside the floor-to-ceiling windows.  Saw my own face in the pane.  My own face that I owned.  A spotlight flared to life.  And in the spotlight, a gnarled smudge of color-tortured face.  Bones on the outside.  If paint could scream.

     David smiled.  Pride of ownership.  Felt I was inside the web of his smile now.

     Distracted by his perfectly white perfectly tailored T-shirt.  Distracted by how he was looking at me.  And how had Picasso wound up in Malibu?     

     "You seem more impressed by my shirt than my Picasso."

     Gave the Picasso a closer look.  It was under glass, not just the canvas, but the entire frame.  He saw my questioning look.  He seemed to see everything.

     "Climate control.  Temperature, humidity.  Protecting my investment against the ravages of the sea."

     Didn't like being alone with him.  Was trying to sort out the reason why.  Marijuana clouded as much as it revealed.  That was my first conclusion.  What was I capable of deciding stoned on strange terrain?

     He kissed me.

     He kissed me.

     Which felt very weird.  Did that really happen?

     "I wasn't sure about you," he said, as if that were sufficient justification.

     What to say. 

     "Blame it on the moonlight."

     "What moonlight?"   Was I missing something?  Was I missing the moon?  Just the blank black window pane. 

     "Take it as a compliment.  I'm otherwise always sure."

     "So I'm something other than always."

     "You do have that lawyer vibe."

     That worried me, that next week I could tumble back to law school, that this was a dream and I would wake up rub my eyes and be back on Veteran Avenue with the cemetery across the road.  This week me versus last week me.

     "You might be gay.  Takes a while to know sometimes."  Quiet diffident diabolical certainty that came from his very white, very evenly spaced teeth.  "Did you like it just a little?"

     "No."

     Another smile, this one superior.  Why wasn't he embarrassed, even a little, by what he had just done?  He was a new kind of tricky.

     "It was just a kiss."      

     Then he on his way to the door, to the next person, the next chapter, the next deal.  The overhead light blinked out and my face vanished from the dark pane as a wave crashed, the ocean saying, remember me, I'm here, you might forget, but I'm still here.  David was gone from the doorway.  The Picasso looked friendlier in the dark.

     At the top of the stairs, David surveyed the party, sort of waiting for me, sort of not, because he paced himself to walk downstairs just a step ahead of me.  Felt contrivance lurking behind the smooth medley of his seemingly casual gestures.

     Descended the steps -- the three guys with their three guitars were still singing sweetly but no sign of Mel.

      The front door opened and I was face to face with Crosby, fringed in a nimbus of cold night air.  He scowled at the music and then he deigned to scowl at me.  "Are you everywhere?"

     Shrugged.  Should have asked back "Are you?" but by the time that riposte occurred to me the moment was past, as was Crosby, and there stood Wendy.  Was she everywhere too?

     "So are you having fun, Harry?"

     "It's been a little weird."

     "Weird can be fun."

     "A little intense."

     "That can be fun too." 

     She lurched away from me.  Belatedly saw that Crosby was pulling her by the hand.  She ran a finger along my shoulder blade as she stepped away, which gave me a thrill.  Crosby scowled in passing at the guitar guys. 

     Alone again.  Could sit on the couch.  And work at an appropriate smile.  Could and would wonder about Wendy.  Did not particularly dig being in David's house, feeling the icky lip smack echo of that fucking inappropriate kiss.  A kiss that had made me feel like a flower waiting to be plucked.  Flower on the vine.  Or meat.  Meat on the vine.  Somewhere between born and dying.

     A walk on the beach seemed the perfect antidote.  Remembered a set of wooden steps that led down from the deck to the sand.  Seemed like a very good idea as I stepped out the door.

chapter 6

     Stood alone in the salt spray night air.  Felt like I had escaped. 

     Sea spray, bare arms, goose bumps.  Sand pleasingly springy to the step.  Beach dark except for odd rectangles of light from beach houses, islands of light.  Ocean louder outside, the hiss and snarl of dying waves.

     "Hey!"

     Jumped at the voice.  Wendy's voice.  As if imagined.

     "Can I walk with you?" she asked.  "You look so surprised."

     "Sorry."

     "I love it.  No one acts surprised anymore."

     "No one else?"    

     "No one that I know."

     "Except me."

     She hooked her arm through mine.  "You're freezing. Where are we walking to?"

     "Away."

     "Did something happen?"

     Was I that transparent?  "Am I that transparent?"

     "You seem tense."

     "David showed me his Picasso."

     "Ah.  He invited you up to see his etchings."

     "Does that happen a lot?"

     "It's happened before.  Did you keep your virtue?"  Her playful smile was in the bounds of what I felt capable of interpreting. 

     "Yes."

     "Good, we need all the virtue we can get around here."

     Nodded, but didn't say anything.  She didn't say anything.  We didn't say anything, together.  Looked over at her.

     And she was looking at me.

     She stopped.  And I stopped.  Motionless, felt the wind.  Felt the moment.

     "Did you grow up in Malibu?" I asked.

     A smile.  For me.  With no agenda, it seemed.  "No one grows up in Malibu."

     "I meant, did you come here and hang out?  Way back when.  In high school."

     "You mean did I come here with boys?"

     "Not necessarily.  I'm here with you."  She placed her palms on my forearms.  She reached up for a kiss.  "Your arms are cold." 

     "Your lips are warm."  I quickly went from surprised to greedy.  But tried not to seem so.

     We kissed like that for a while, standing on the dark sand.  Thought about: courtship...an appropriate period of getting acquainted...did she really like me...why was I worth liking...

     Those kind of questions.  That slipped away because: the way she felt in my arms, us bending in the breeze, together.  Sometimes there is no time to doubt.  There is nothing to doubt.  And the sensation of someone else's skin suddenly and simply sort of being part of my own broke thoughts into words that were no longer thoughts.  Felt certain.   Felt acceptance.  Felt. 

     Slipped my hand inside her leather jacket, inside her Mexican blouse.  Felt her shiver as my cold hand cupped her breast.  Then she relaxed.  My hand warmed.  Fingers, lips found a balance.  A matching temperature.

     Found our way to the sand.  Didn't matter, it was where we were.  Felt the weight of her breasts leaning against me.  Felt her as weight, felt us as a couple, coupling, sharing gravity as we lay together on earth, at the edge of the sea, in nature, in what passed for nature outside that beach house, at night.

     "Was it yesterday you helped take my picture?"

     Her question threw me back into words, into the world where I formed what passed for sentences.

     "Day before."

     "That long ago?"

     "So you're in the middle now."

     We were.  That was an interesting word for it.

     Felt a glitch to what had been unforced rhythm.  Opened my eyes to find myself less than an inch away from her smile.  As close as humanly possible to being inside her smile.  That close.

     "How long have you been?  In the middle?" I asked.

     "Years and years.  Forever."

     "And how does the middle feel?"

     She giggled.  Wiggled.  And I wiggled with her.  "You tell me."

     "Surprising," I said.

     "What?"

     "It feels surprising."

     "Besides that."

     Wondered about her question.  Wondered if it was a question.  Until I forgot what the question was.  Because her body was so, well, nonverbal. 

     Falling into her, into the sand...

     Hiss of waves dying as they crawled up the beach.

     Caught between her warm breath and the cold sea air.

     Sand in her hair, her hand in my hand.

     Clutching her, clutching the earth.

     "You've stopped talking."

     How to describe all of it?  Any of it?  Was it just silly?  Was it just me?

     "You've stopped talking."

     "Because we started, you know..."

     "Fucking?  I can talk and fuck."

     "So I've noticed."

     Wendy smiled.  A smile inches from my eyes.  Less than inches.  A smile that was a laugh.  Then no more words, for the moment.  Except for speaking in tongues.  Us.  Wendy and me as an us.  A momentary us.  Us and the ocean.  This particular us, this particular corner of ocean.

     After. 

     My penis melted inside her.  Would the rest of me follow after?

     She squirmed around so that we laid side by side, eye to eye.  "Are we friends now?"

     Surprised by her question.  Surprised by her.  "Yes."

     "Were we friends before, Harry?"

     "I had hoped so..."

     "...but?"

     "But I didn't know."

     A pleased smile.

     Wondered: what now?

     Were we in love or headed that way?  Was that the last, most amazing of tonight's destinations?

     "What's that smile?" she asked me.

     Wasn't aware that I was smiling, not overtly, not outwardly, though I had every reason to be.

     "Don't know," I lied.

     I was afraid to say too much, to feel too much, to let her know how much I felt.

     "You live too much in your head," she said.

     How to get out of my head, how to say the right thing?  Had to say something.  Her eyes were not letting go of mine.  "Yeah..."

     "Give me more than that."

     To be lying in the sand with her, with the privilege of stroking her breast.  I thought the rest would be easy.

     Could mutter a platitude.  Or feign incomprehension.  Tried to act as if I had orderly thoughts, that there were options, that could be listed.  But what I felt, what buzzed in my beached brain, was terror.  That I would fail the moment and live the rest of my life as a ghost.  That this was the moment I would become either solid or phantom.

     Hazard the truth?

     "This is the best moment of my life."

     Those words hung in the sea breeze for a long unclocked couple of seconds.  I was afraid that I had gone too far, misinterpreted the moment.  And so quickly calculated possible disclaimers.

     "I'm glad you're not one of those guys who act like nothing's happened."

     But... I wondered

     "I probably slept with you too soon."

     "No."

     "Maybe we can't be friends now."

     "No."

     "Now that fucking is part of it.  Maybe I just fucked up any chance we might have had of being friends.  What do you think?"

     "I'm still trying to catch up."  Said without thinking, then thought better of it.  But had elicited another smile from her.

     "Are you going to get all hung-up on me?" she asked, as someone who seemed experienced at causing that effect.

     "It's a little too soon for me to be heart-broken."

     "Hope you don't mind that I had my way with you."

     As if I had a choice.

     As if it was me she was with, and not some lucky devil with the same name on the beach tonight.

     Her knuckles strummed my stomach as she rebuttoned her blouse.  Her body heat, gone.  Echoed her gestures, the two of us redressing, back to being two separate bodies.

     Noted the soft dent in the sand where we had lain.  A dent that wouldn't survive the next high tide.  Too dark to photograph.  Not enough contrast or definition.  An image that would mean something only to me. 

     Snapshot to carry in my head.

     Her bootheels tattooed the sand in a wavering line that led back to the beach house.  Soon we would no longer be alone.  A finitude to our walk, an exposure time, the shutter speed of us (because, in my head, there was, for another few moments, an unspoken, temporary us).

     In profile, caught a sideview of the sly smile she directed at the virgin sand in her path.

     "How much is Mel paying you?" she said to the sand.

     "Don't know."

     "Or won't say?"

     "Don't know."

     "I'm worried about you getting burned.  Her hand found mine, her fingers warm (which defined mine as cold).

     Nodded, didn't know what to say -- agree with her at the expense of Mel?  Or at the expense of me?  Disagree with her, out of perversity, and lose her good will?

     "We haven't gotten around to talking money."

     "Some things Mel never gets around to."

     "There hasn't been much time."

     "Never is."

     "And a lot's happened."

     "Always does."

     Saw Wendy's boots cross through a trapezoid of yellow light that beamed down from one of David's windows.  The cold sea breeze died and a ringing guitar chord drifted our way.  Wendy kept hold of my hand and pulled me along, up the creosote-stained steps, back across the gritty welcome mat.

     And so we walked back into that world inside walls, David's walls, the borders of a world that was a jigsaw puzzle to me.  There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear.  The guitar guy who sat center-couch, singing high harmony, gave me a disharmonious look.  If that was a correct interpretation of him.

     "Who's that?" I whispered into her ear.

     "Glenn," she whispered back, squeezed my fingers good-bye, and stepped away.  Didn't feel invited to follow.  Glenn's eyes tracked her, then, without missing a beat, drew a bead on me.

     Outside was the ocean, immense, ignored, but easier to understand than the gray zones of intrigue and alliance and palace revolt that seemed to fill the people and the negative space between them, but officers of the court, may the record duly state that I was stoned.

     Stoned enough to doubt.  And then dismiss that doubt in the next crashing insightful moment -- waves and troughs -- brain surf.

     Stoned or no, without a word spoken between us, on the fleeting evidence of Wendy holding my hand, Glenn did not like me

     Holding her hand as evidence of...what had happened on the beach...how could he know...unless...yes...he was a man of the beach, schooled in the clues...

     Jealousy.

     All while he kept singing about peaceful easy feelings.  Good vibes.  California wine, California women, California song.

     The song was his reason to be here.  But why was I in the room?  Felt his eyes accusing me, even as he closed them, unwilling to spend any more eye contact or contempt on whoever I was, a recent arrival, a hanger-on who had wandered in, soon to blow away, gone on the next wind or whim.

     Why was I there?  Why in this room, any room, why in the world?  Hadn't I just proved that I was no ghost?  Must I prove it again, and so soon, to myself?

     Glenn left his guitar on the couch, walked straight to me, as if provoked by my existence, or by me just thinking about him.

     "Who are you?" he asked with a smile as a disclaimer.

     "Harry."

     "You a friend of David's?"

     "He'd probably say so."

     "I know everyone else here."

     "You're outgoing."

     He acted like I should know who he was, that everyone should, and if they didn't, they expected those peaceful easy feeling songs to soon correct the situation. 

     Knew that I was in a room that I wasn't trained for.  Not yet.  Maybe in a couple of hours or minutes, unstoned...  Needed a moment alone to sort out how quickly this or that Glenn could decide to not like me.  Was there some ozone in the beach house air that provoked cunning?  Because I saw this as my big chance and had to keep that my secret.

     Glenn was waiting for me to be on my way.  Could see that in his eyes without his having to speak.

     Saw Mel's camera on the coffee table.  Gave Glenn a laconic cowboy nod -- so long, pardner -- and ambled away, picked up the battered Nikon F.  The camera had a nobility from the miles it had traveled.

     Felt Glenn's eyes on my back.  A question that I could leave hanging by walking away.  Then it clicked.  What I could do.  Exposure -- automatic.  Focus -- ten feet? -- set the dial.

     Turned around.

     Raised the camera.

     Eye to the lens.

     In the ground glass, Glenn's expression: what the fuck...   

     Press.  Click.  Whir.

     Lowered the camera.

     What the fuck still on his face.

     It's what I do, I replied without speaking.

     Then left the room.  Without looking back, without needing to.  Because I had his picture, had grabbed his soul in my black box.

     No.  Mel's black box.  Mel's camera.

     Into the next room, to find Mel, to stand next to him, to talk to him, to have him guide me again.  He had wanted me here, had driven me here -- his smile, his self, was uncomplicated by any designs on or for or against me.

     That need to be in his friendly presence powered my footsteps through the doorway.  Snapshot of my footsteps into the next room: on bleached white floor (painted pine), plump couch (gold fabric with climbing vines), rustic plank desk bare of clutter (fresh legal pad, green telephone, gilt-framed photo of David and Mr. X on a yacht), Tiffany lamp, desk angled against an enormous black window pane (the black being the sea).  Sitting on a white settee, a blonde (in black) whispering into the ear of another blonde (in white).  And, late in my scan of the room: David, slouching against a built-in bookcase, arms folded.  Leaning close, Crosby, rocking from balls to heels.

     Got caught a step too close -- stopped --

     David gave me a quick glance, and, a half-beat behind, a practiced smile, that froze and faded as Crosby breathed more words into his face.  Got caught a step too close -- stopped --

     "...you're going to the Apple anyway."

     "It's not what I do.  I'm not a dealer."

     "You make deals, man."

     "I'm a manager, man."

     "Bring me the hash."

     "I don't do that."

     "Hey, man, you're the manager.  Manage the delivery."

     Wanted to be nowhere near either of these two, certainly not together, I'd seen enough of their sharpened teeth, but as I reversed my course, Crosby's hand, heavy with silver and turquoise, grabbed hold of my arm.

     "He could get my hash."

     "Harry?"

     "Harry could be my manager, it's that simple, it just takes balls, and not even heavy ones.  What do you think, kid?"

     I thought he didn't think much of me.  I thought he didn't think.  Not about certain things.  I didn't care to say what I was thinking.  Not to him.  Nothing to be gained.  They both seemed keen to tally losses and gains -- they were alike that way.  That was my split-second reasoning of some of what I didn't like about them.

     "Don't think too long, kid."

     "Because you don't?"

     In a flash, in a twinge of his walrus mustache, he looked like he wanted to hit me, but that would be too uncool.

     "Leave him alone," David said.

     "You his protector?"

     "Cool it."

     "You cool it."

     "I am."

     "So, kid, you want to do a little work for a rock star?"

     "Cool it," David repeated.

     "No."

     "Got a better gig."

     "Yeah."

     "Mel?  He works for rock stars."

     "He works for himself."

     "That's where you're wrong."

     "He doesn't do errands."

     "Wrong.  Who the fuck you think the album cover's for anyway?"

     "Not just for you."

     That stopped him for a second.  Which seemed like the right moment to leave.

     "Don't mind Crosby," David said in a mock whisper.

     "Mind Crosby, " Crosby said.  "That's my fucking motto."

     "For tonight."

     I almost thought of David as my friend.  As the friendlier of the two.  Until I remembered the kiss he forced or foisted on me (which was hard to forget).

     Stepped away.         

     "You've got this look like you're looking for something," David said.

     "Mel."

     "He left."

     I nodded.  Tried to not look abandoned, stranded in Malibu. 

     David's wily smile:  You can spend the night here, Harry, lots of room, let me get you a toothbrush and a towel, you can borrow a pair of my jammies...

     Crosby's snarling smile: You're on your own kid, good fucking luck.

     Good-bye.  No need to say that, just do it.  Navigated my way back into the living room.  Wendy sat on the back of the couch, a hand lightly poised a breath away from Glenn.  Saw Mel's camera bag tucked under the glass coffee table. 

     Wendy's smile hello: no wile but some mild warning?  Hi there, we've got a little beachy secret, don't come too close, not now.  Or do?

     Dope paranoia? 

     Do not get stoned and swim with sharks.

     "Where's Mel?" I asked her.

     "Gone."

     "He left his cameras."

     "That can happen."

     "Where is he?"

     "Somewhere very warm.  And very blonde."

     Almost asked her what should I do.  But felt there would be less of me, at least to her, to mention Glenn, who, though mellowly strumming, looked all ears for whatever foibles I cared to blurt.

     Came with Mel, and I would leave with what he had left behind.  Was surprised that he had left his cameras behind, that seemed the core of his identity.  But hadn't I retrieved them for him, earlier, hours ago, years ago, miles ago, up in the distant Canyon of Laurel?  Had brought the cameras from his house and I would bring them back and so be invaluable, which would karmicly lead to him valuing my services. 

     Got down on my knees, unfortunately at Glenn's feet, and busied myself with the business of seeming professional as I stuffed the Nikon F into the bag and decisively zipped it shut.  I was on my way.  Back on my feet.  To someplace else, someplace intense.  I would quit the room with honor. 

     Walked to the front door, without looking back.  Not that my passing was noticed.

chapter 7

     Outside, Mel's Speedster was gone, a cream-colored Mercedes coupe in its place.  Several other Porsches parked in casual disregard, a Camaro, a Stingray, a Mustang.  The cars were having their own party in the dark.

     Which soon felt very cold.  Hoisted the camera bag higher on my shoulder and started walking down the dark lane, back toward the Pacific Coast Highway.

     "Hey, Harry!"

     Turned back to see Wendy framed in the doorway, warm yellow light that vanished as she closed the door.

     "Were you just going to leave?  Without saying good-bye?"

     "You seemed busy..."

     "Sitting on the couch?"

     "I didn't want to be a bother...or..."

     She stepped closer.  Stared me down.  "Why did you just leave?"

     "That party wasn't any fun"

     "No. You think it will be, you think it should be, but it isn't.  So where are we going?"

     "Back to Laurel Canyon, I guess."

     "You guess."

     "That's where I was going..."

     "Then come on."

     "I don't have a car."

     "I know that."

     She hooked her arm in mine.  I now noticed she was wearing her fringed leather jacket. Which meant that she meant to follow me as soon as she stepped outside.  As if I didn't already know that -- I was mired in looking for evidence for what had already happened, what already had been proven -- that she liked me, that she was with me.

     "It's a drag when you don't have a ride, when you're a girl.  It's easy enough to hitch one, but you can get really hassled sometimes.  This is cake, hitching with my old man."

     We were walking up a rise, beach houses on our right, some dark, others with a crowd of cars -- what other parties, what other intrigues in those sea-clinging houses?  And through the gaps between the houses, the blackness of what must be the moonless ocean, the thud of small waves crashing.  On the left was a small rise of scrub, the cut that led up to the highway.  An occasional pair of headlights cut a raking arc above our heads.

     "Did you tell Crosby good-bye?"

     In the darkness, saw the outline of her smile; she pulled my arm closer.  "He'll figure it out.  Eventually."

     "Is he your boyfriend?"

     She tried to act as if I hadn't asked.

     "Or is that too square of a question?"

     "Half a boyfriend."  For the first time she looked shy -- almost -- a dampered quiet soon hidden.  "He's into triangles.  You know, free and easy, no ownership, if you love something keep it free.  Which always seems to work in his favor.  But he's not as big an asshole as you think."

     "He is tonight."

     "Which is as long as you've known him."

     "Long enough."

     We reached the end of the lane -- Broad Beach, the road sign said -- and continued along the shoulder. 

     "So he's an asshole half the time?"

     "Why does that matter to you?"

     "Does it matter to you?"

     "Do you always answer a question with another question?"

     "Only when it works to my advantage."

     "You're a funny fucker."

     "Why does it matter -- so okay if I'm an asshole half the time?  And it doesn't matter?"

     "Not if you're Crosby.  No, I know, that doesn't sound right.  Look, I left with you.  I balled you and I left with you.  How much more do you need to know?"

     "When I'm fucking up.  If I'm fucking up."

     She stopped walking.  So I stopped walking.

     "Not so far."

     She noticed the pair of headlights upon us before I did and opened her body to the light.  I stood in her shadow, admiring the silhouette of her thumb.  She was as graceful as a matador turning a bull.  With a scudding crunch of gravel a VW Microbus pulled onto the shoulder, its lights dimming as it stopped.  Who wouldn't stop for Wendy, even with the baggage of me? 

     The side door slid open.  The dome light was broken.  Three longhairs in dirty denims and a young girl in a shapeless shirt sat on a mattress.  They scooted over to make room for us and one of the guys slammed the door shut.  We were surrounded by pairs of eyes.  It smelled of pot and dried sweat, a nasty tang of body salt.  Two more guys with matching ponytails rode in front.

     The van whined through first gear.

     "Howdy."  The driver spoke with a Texas accent.  The guy riding shotgun twisted around to look at us -- Wendy first, me as an afterthought.  As a streetlight streaked past, saw how acne-pocked his cheeks were.  He took the tar-stained bottom third of a joint from his lips.

     "You guys partyin' in the 'Bu?"

     "Yeah."

     "Have a toke, it'll warm your bones."  Shotgun's voice was flat and midwestern.  As he smiled and exhaled a lung full of smoke, a gold star glinted from a mossy buck tooth.

     I could sense Wendy's distaste as she politely accepted.  She offered the joint to the girl, who made no motion to take it.

     "Don't pay her no never mind, she's ripped on some pills supposed to be mescaline.  Got burned.  Take yourselves a toke and pass it along, sister."  In the brief flare of another passing streetlight, the guy sitting closest seemed to stare right through me.

     Wendy passed the joint along to me.  I'd had enough dope for one day and was glad my head was starting to clear and so politely pretended to toke, keeping the soggy slobbery wheat straw rolling paper clear of my lips, and passed it along to one of the guys.

     Where y'all headin'?"

     "Laurel Canyon," Wendy answered.

     There was neither nod nor answer.  The engine rattled and whined as if it wanted to die.

     "Motherfuckin' burn.  Angel'll be righteously pissed," the driver muttered.

     The girl whimpered.  She was sitting against the back door, head pointed down, her face hidden in a nest of long stringy hair.

     "You okay?" Wendy asked.

     "She's a runaway.  Misses her Mommy."

     "You okay, honey?" Wendy asked.

     "Don't mess with her trip."

     Wendy gave him a sharp look but said nothing.  He offered her a nubbin of roach.  She held up her hand, gesturing no, thanks.

     He offered it me.  "No, thanks."

     "Can never get too high."  Too small to hold, the roach hung on his lips as he sucked down the last scrap and, with a quiet fuck, spit the final spark out the window.  As we rounded a bend, there appeared a brief stretch of coastline without houses.  The shoulder had crumbled into the sea and a thin membrane of chain-link stretched along the roadside.

     The van slowed for a red light and pulled into the left turn lane.  There was a sign for Topanga Cyn.

     "We can get out here," Wendy said. 

     The driver downshifted and ran through the red light.

     "We'll catch another ride down PCH."

     "Nah, you gotta come party."

     "No, thanks."

     "Oh, yeah," said Shotgun.

     "We want to get out.  Now."

     "Hey, man, you climbed into our wheels and smoked our weed, you wanted to take a fuckin' ride so take a fuckin' ride."

     I looked to Wendy.  She shook her head and a made a point of not looking at me, but found my hand and squeezed.

     The streetlights and houses ended as the van slowly climbed into the dark canyon.  Crumbling stone hillside angled up to the sky, fragments seen though a square of dirty van glass.  Swayed against Wendy as the road twisted and turned.  Up ahead a pair of headlights ducked and bobbed in and out of view then angled past us -- a Porsche -- the other life we were living in, just minutes ago -- glimpses in passing -- gone.

     The girl moaned and threw up.  It smelled like sour chicken noodle soup.

     "Cunt!"

     The driver downshifted and turned off onto a rutted dirt road.  The headlights were misaligned, walleyed, lighting the dusty scrub that closed in and scraped the van as the road narrowed.

     "It'll be okay," I whispered to Wendy, not sure of the why or how.  It did seem like we could die, that that could happen tonight, and I wanted to calm her.  There must be some sequence of words that I could say to these guys that could get us back out of here. 

     The van stopped.  No one spoke.  The engine pinged as it cooled.

     A match flared.  The driver lit a cigarette.  "You guys got any bread?  We're getting our trip together and we need a little help."

     Wendy dug into her jeans and pulled out a folded bill.  Shotgun plucked it from her fingers and passed it along to the driver.

     Another match flared.  The driver smiled at the hundred dollar bill, the one that Mel had given her. 

     There were five guys, one blocking the door.  What chance did we have of getting clear, running up the road or into the woods? 

     "So what have you got for the cause?" he asked me.

     "I forgot my wallet."

     "What's in the bag?"

     My first thought was to defend Mel's cameras and the irreplaceable photos they contained -- but what irreplaceable photos?  Love at the Whisky?  A night with rock and roll elite at the beach?  Mel's cameras were just things, expensive, but replaceable.

     "Cameras."

     "Far out."

     I passed the bag forward.  Better to make that gesture than have the bag ripped away.

     The driver lifted out a Nikon. 

     "You can have the cameras.  If you let us go."

     "What if we don't let you go?  Can we still have the cameras?  Please?"

     That got a laugh from the guys.  Wasn't sure how to answer, but I needed to, somehow, with something.  "Take the cameras, use them to get your trip together."  I cringed at how get your trip together sounded coming from me.

     "Let's do whatever we're fuckin' gonna do," said Shotgun.  "It's too fucking cold and her puke smells like shit."

     "I'm thinking."

     "Let's waste 'em."

     "I'm thinking."

     "You've got everything," Wendy said.  "We're not worth it."

     "I fuckin' hate smart-ass chicks."

     "Let's ball her."

     "It's too cold to ball."

     "Never too cold to ball."

     "Stick to business."

     "Ballin' is business."

     What could I do but plead?  Needed an opening.  Needed something:

     "What do you guys need?"

     "Huh?"

     "Not what you want, but what do you need?  What are you really looking for?  With your head?  With your eyes?"

     "What the fuck are you talking about?"

     I didn't know.  Not yet.  But it was better to jam their head with words than not talking, better than going silent into the good night.

     The driver pulled a handful of badges out of the bag, lit another match and read (as I did) press -- backstage -- all access.  "What are these?"

     "Backstage passes."

     "No shit?"

     Finally, I had something to work with.  "I'm a rock a and roll photographer."

     "No shit?"

     "No shit."

     He looked at me differently.  "Like who?"

     "Like everyone.  Who's your favorite group?"

     "The Beatles."

     "I've taken their picture."

     "Bullshit."

     "No.  Two months ago.  In London."

     Wendy gave my hand a secret squeeze.

     "Karma."  He started the engine, twisted around as he reversed back down the dirt track, stared past me with stone cold eyes.      

     Drove deeper into the hills.  Through a field.  Across a cattle grate.  Along a tumble-down rail fence.  Past a rusting washing machine, a wheel-less Rambler, a cockeyed pile of lumber, a lopsided pyramid of garbage.

      The van stopped.  We were nowhere.  We were there.

     Uncoiled from the van.  Tang of eucalyptus in the air.  Stood at the bottom of a dark bowl of hills, firelight flickering in the windows of a low ranch house held together with tar paper and scraps of corrugated metal.

     The wasted girl was rousted from the microbus and, with much cursing, the bepuked mattress wrestled clear of the van and flopped puke-side down in the dirt.

     We were marched inside.  Watching Mel's camera bag clutched in a stranger's hand, I thought of the strange fate of objects -- what presentiment at the beginning of the night of Mel's cameras being here?  And where would Mel's cameras be tomorrow?  Where would I be?  Heard a guitar, everywhere tonight a guitar.

     Inside, an inner eyeball photo -- man with a guitar, over there, by the soot-stained fireplace, firelight haloing his Jesus H. Christ hair and beard, singing to a hand-clapping sing-along chorus (la-la-la-la-la...) of eager-eyed clean-scrubbed girls.  All of this happening inside water-stained beaver-board walls.  A smattering of flat dead-eyed guys who turned to regard me and then Wendy -- mostly Wendy -- as fresh meat.  Easier to think of the room as a photograph than as a dangerous place I -- Wendy -- we -- were being herded into.

     Do you mind

     My mind?

     Is your mind a brain

     that feels no pain?

     Except when it rains?

     Rain is tears

     Tears is fears

     Fears gets you near

     To my-my-my-my-mind.

     He strummed so hard he broke a string and then he was done with the song.  I wasn't surprised by the applause and neither was he.  It died just when he wanted it to.

     Stood shoulder to shoulder with the driver, who smelled of recent cigarettes and urine-crusted jeans.  He waited until he had the Jesus Singer-Man's eye.

     "Well, Bobby?"

     "The mescaline was a burn, Angel."

     "So you brung me the burn boy and girl?"

     "Hitchers."  Bobby, as he was now named, stepped through the girls, not careful about where he stepped, but they were quick to scoot out of his way.  Mel's camera bag was unzipped and proffered in recompense.  Angel stared into the bag, assessing the tribute.

     "He's a top dog rock and roll photographer," Bobby said and pointed at me.

     "Who he?"    

     Angel's eyes were on me.  He was a dark camera that sucked it all in. 

     "They were hitchin' in from Trancas."

     "Why is a top dog shutterbug on the thumb?"

     After X seconds of silently translating his jive I ventured, "An uncool cat borrowed my wheels without asking."

     "Hard luck," Angel said.

     "It evens out."

     "You hope."

     "Better than not."

     "Spin of the wheel."

     "Wheel of fortune.  Karmic wheel had a flat.  Pump it up," I replied.

     Angel nodded.  "And get it on down the road."

     How easy it was to be cryptic.  Scramble a thought, leave this or that out.  Let Angel or whoever fill in the blanks with whatever.  Like playing ping-pong with words, with part of the net missing.

     "Dig, it's about to completely happen for us, on every level."

     I was aware of Wendy next to me, in my peripheral vision.  Knew that she was watching my performance, but didn't dare look at her way and break the trance.  I walked a  knife edge of mumbo-jumbo, just shy of sounding smart-ass.  The man had radar.  One wrong word and we were done, maybe not dead, but hurt, some lifelong über ugly image never to be erased, Wendy being fucked senseless, or... 

     But I couldn't worry about being one word away.  Couldn't worry.  If I thought about it too much we were lost.  It was a guitar solo and I could not step back a note but had to press on, improvising the tune, making it up note by note without falling off the stage.

      "Those cameras should serve you well."

     "Should a could a would a."

     "Or sell them?"

     "Sell your cameras?"

     "They're not mine anymore."

     That raised a smile.

     "I've set them free.  If they come back to me, if it was meant to be, if not...?"  Couldn't remember the rest of that particular bumper-sticker homily, but the treacle seemed to naturally trickle to a close.  And in a flash I caught a sense of method -- The Stoned Socratic -- throw it all back, or up, as a question, then it couldn't stick, each question a mirror Angel could distort however he liked, without grounds for disliking me.  It was as if I had discovered a chord that I could jam against, thinking of it in musical terms, the musical terms of those three rock chords that I had failed to master (lack of aptitude or interest) in the way back when of after school guitar lessons.  No lack of interest here in wanting to get out of this room unscared, unscathed.  Amazing how many thoughts can ricochet in a single moment of calm panic, the clear lonely space between each word, each breath, each heartbeat.  Almost a life time in the long unclocked second before the next word, his or mine, who would chime?

     "Will your pictures make me famous?"

     "Won't you make yourself famous?"

     He broke into an Angel smile.  Unreal con man charm in those crooked teeth.  Not hard to see how those not so sweet sixteens ringed cross-legged around him had been taken in.

     "With a little help from my friends."

     Nodded.  Watch my head go up and down.  Not much danger in profuse agreement.

     "He shot the Beatles with those cameras," said Bobby the driver.

     "Happiness is a warm gun.  Motherfuckin' Beatles.  Geniuses, for sure.  Genius picks up the vibe in the air, bottles up the sound, sells it by the pint to teenybopper here, there, everywhere.  So any vibe I lay out for free -- the Beatles pluck it right of the air and sell it as their own -- until the record biz buttholes get their heads unstuck -- boom, the Beatles got more bread than me and Jesus combined."

     Yeah, right on, Angel, for sure... cheered his dirty cherub chorus, filled in the gaps between his sentences with all the extra words he wanted.

     "Like, dig, "Love Games" or "Mind My Mind" or "Head Games" -- the fuckin' Fab Four vibed out all those songs, and more, turned them around backwards and bought themselves a Fast Buck Palace.  You got any record biz buddies?" he asked, turning that Beatles-fueled anger at me. 

     Yes or no?  The Lady or the Tiger?  Would he be angry if I had record biz buddies or not?

     "Yes," I gambled.

     "My man."  And won.

     "Dig.  Sound and picture.  Word and flesh.  Music and mayhem."  He pulled out a Nikon F and handed it to the nearest suburban exile slave girl.  A nod was all she needed to snake her way back to me.

     "So shoot some righteous snaps of me and take our demo -- Bobby! -- and go forth to Beatle bopping Babylon."

     Yeah, Angel, yo, Angel, yeah, yeah, yeah...

     Angel picked up the broken string guitar.  "Six strings down to five don't make no never mind."  He bent over his guitar, his right hand caressing the strings while his left hand strangled the neck.

     I lifted the Nikon F that was loaded with Tri-X out of the bag.  Through the viewfinder the image was no longer dangerous to me or Wendy but something to capture, something to make mine.  Angel's voice surprisingly sweet but always threatening to explode.

     Got down on my knees and framed Angel through a pliant all girl all yes chorus.

     Oh my love

     There's trouble

     in your head

     Love has fled

     Blood has bled

     The song was good and terrible mixed together -- shrewd and naive cocktailed in wrong proportions.  You could almost believe his jive when he spoke, he had a way of putting it over, but it didn't work as a song, there was too large a gap between his voice and his intention, whatever that was -- couldn't help thinking about his mouth and the song words jangling-jumping out of it because that mouth was center of the split-diopter focus in the ground glass.  Each low-angled shots took me closer to him.

     Finally, I was at him.  He stared dead into the lens without shame or embarrassment or remorse at his naked need to be some sort of King.  Those eyes looking into mine -- daring, hoping, commanding me to believe in whoever he was in that one-sixtieth of a second, caught just on the edge of blurring.

     Then I turned around, as at the Whiskey, and saw that world of his dozens of over-believing breathing girls all nodding in time to his song, their eyes focused on the point in space (just past my left shoulder) that was Him.  That was the photo of Angel, of who he was -- the photograph that excluded him from the frame caught all the exclusions within and without him.  That was the snapshot theory that happened in one-sixtieth of a second in my brain as I snapped the picture.

     Your love is dead

     Dead in your head

     Dead in your bed     

     Dead in your bed

     And behind the girls was Wendy, stone still, arms folded, her eyes the only eyes not on him but on me.  Sensed the subtle poise of her trust in me to rescue us from this room.

     Sudden shift of angle -- intense point of pain on the back of my skull.  In the same instant that I heard and felt the twock of wood and the blank sound of an unfretted chord.

     Looked up from the floor at the red-veined whites of Angel's eyes.  "My picture, fucker.  Shoot the star not the whores."

     Where he had hit my head with the guitar I felt the warm trickle of blood.  A warning. 

     No, this was not the Whisky.  Thought I was on top of, beyond danger, once behind the lens.  Mistakenly, not fatally, not yet.

     Angry at myself.  For the mistake.  For the miscalculation of the power in the room.  And then angry at myself for the cowardice of raising the camera to my eye to shoot a picture of Angel, all Angel.  Angry at myself for such cowardice in Wendy's sight.  That she saw me servile.

     Angel did not look properly evil in the viewfinder.  Knew the failure of the image to damn him properly.  Which I needed, which I wanted, to redeem myself for being so craven.

     Die today

     Die okay

     Die today

     Die okay

     Was he really singing that?  And not just Angel, but all the girls, a chorus that I heard but dared not step back to frame (not the whores, shoot the star).

     Die today

     Die okay

     When he stopped singing they did.  His face loomed for in an incandescent instant into the lens and that was an evil image, certainly in my mind, but my fingers were too startled to press the shutter in the decisive moment before the camera was ripped from my eye and his cold powdery dry hands cupped my cheeks and drew me so close that I expected a kiss.

      "Fear is love.  Fear is just the other side of love.  You’ve got to learn to love fear just like you learned to love love.  Yeah, you got the fear.  You're with me now."

     I would have nodded if he needed that but he didn't.

     "Got some good ones?"

     Felt like there was a right word and a wrong word and nothing in between.  If I could just grasp the question.

     "Got a winner?"

     The pictures.  "Yes."  Willed myself to believe it, because of how he looked into my eyes, looking for the lie.  Certainly I looked afraid.  Because I was afraid.  No artifice needed.  Maybe fear was enough.  If fear was love.

     "Good."

     Saw Bobby lurking in the back of the frame, in what I thought was the frame but was the world.  I was a camera, that breathed and bent and broke.

     "Need any more pictures?"

     Nodded no.

     The blood blister under Angel's wispy damp mustache, his chapped lips in the firelight: that was the picture, the one I didn't dare take.      

     "Think you're walkin' out of this house?  That's your mind thinkin' good-bye.  No such thing as good-bye."

     Nodded as if I agreed.  It sounded half-true but the true half was slippery and that greased the rest.  Looked into the fire as a break from looking at him, and when I looked back up he was gone, but not his shadow, which clung to all the faces still sitting in the firelight.  Wendy gave me a look that I could not read. 

     Bobby took the camera from me and zipped it back in the bag.  "You got lucky.  You thumbed yourself the boss ride tonight." 

     It seemed we were leaving.  Without saying good-bye.

chapter 8

     With mattress gone, the floor of the van was hard and cold.  Through a rust hole road blurred past underneath.  The shock were shot and I absorbed every bump and bounce on the coast highway.  Wendy looked out the window and not at me.  Fog was roiling in, so thick is hid the imminent sea.  It was only Bobby driving us.  Maybe we were still under house arrest, though Angel would say we were still in the house, that you never left the house.

     We turned onto Sunset Boulevard, where that great street ended -- or started -- at its junction with the sea.

     Thought of my body as something moving through space.  In tandem with Wendy's body.  And Bobby's.  Imagined the van gone, an inner eye fantasy of our three bodies floating a few feet over the road.  Imagined all the metal car bodies gone, just the flesh bodies hurtling through the night.  And, for good measure, imagined myself and Wendy and all fellow travellers naked.  Hurtling naked.  Which in some sense we were.  Always.  Either in a car or simply on the spinning-through-space earth.  Maybe not a vision but something visualized, if only in my head.  Caused by...?  Everything?  Nothing? 

     Caused by my shame that, splayed on the floor like a dog, with legs open and paws up to signal defeat, I had in utter and abject servility snapped photographs of Angel after being slapped down by his rude guitar.  While Wendy had watched.

     Shameless then.  Shameful now.  Vision as buffer, as escape.  Lost in that.  Lost.  

     Wendy threaded her fingers through mine.  Naked-hurtling-through-space vision gone, no match for her index-middle-ring finger.  Squarely back in the metal box of a van, she gave me the hint of a smile.  Which was all I needed.  Saw the sign for Hilgard Avenue, which meant I had missed seeing Veteran Avenue and UCLA.

     Wendy and I had a silent agreement not to speak.  At least it seemed like a silent agreement to me.  Maybe, hopefully, fatefully, blissfully there were other silent agreements.  At least that was something to think about.  In the absence of words in the air there was a boil of words in my head.

     It was still night and it was still the Strip, but there were only a few cars, scurrying like vampires for a dark place to hide before first light. 

     "Where are we going?  Where in Laurel Canyon?"

     Wendy and I looked at each other.  We had no plan, no spoken plan.  "Lookout Mountain," she said.

     Bobby turned onto Laurel Canyon Blvd.  The canyon narrowed as we climbed.  The Canyon Country Store was dark, parking lot empty, we were alone on the road.  Four twists and turns and Lookout Mountain Road, a left-hand turn, came into view.

     "Pull over here. 

     "You said Lookout."

     "Across from Lookout."

     "You didn't say across."

     "I'm saying it now.  Here.  Here.  Here!" Wendy insisted.

     Bobby pulled over to the curb.  We were parked at the base of some overgrown ruins, from the twenties maybe, what passed for ancient here.

     Wendy gave a firm push to my ribs, a let's get out of here push, and I slid open the van's side door.

     "You live here?"

     "In the canyon."  This part was Wendy's show.  It was more her canyon than mine.

     He held up a thin white box of Scotch 456 Recording Tape.  He handed it to me, with reverence, expecting me to feel equally awestruck by such a divine artifact. 

     "I'm supposed to come with you," Bobby said.

     "Mo's a heavy weight."

     "Mo?"

     I picked up Mel's camera bag and stepped out of the van and into deep dewy grass. 

     "Mo.  Warner Brothers Mo.  Mojo Mo," Wendy said.

     Bobby pointed a finger at me.  "You're the guy.  What do you say?"

     "She knows the trip, she knows the scene.  Mo won't deal directly with unsigned acts until he's heard the tape." 

     "The demo does not leave my sight."

     Wendy got out of the van. 

     "I'm supposed to come."

     Bobby talked to us through the side door, reluctant to surrender the driver's seat.  "Get the fuck back in and we'll drive around to the front."

     "There is no front, wouldn't Angel say?" 

     We took more baby steps away from the van.  "Can you run?" I whispered to Wendy.

     "Can you fuck?" she whispered back.

     "What's that supposed to mean?"

     "Yes."

     "Get the fuck back in the van!"

     We ran for the hills.  No more lip service, no more illusion of compliance.  No such thing as illusion, illusion is illusion, Bobby, tell that to Angel -- I absurdly contrived fleeting, fleeing bon mots.  There was that part of my brain buzzing.

     "Our fucking tape!"

     Each step was up and away from Bobby.  My socks got soaked with cold dew.  Heard the huff and puff and hobnailed hooves of Bobby charging after us.  Opened the Scotch box, pulled out a six inch reel.  Threw it like a discus, the ribbon of tape unspooling against the gray-blue sky.

     "Motherfucker!"  Toothpaste out of the tube, his grail on the ground, no turning back.

     Wendy took my hand and pulled me behind a blackened tower of bricks and into a maze of tumble-down, weed-choked walls that bored into the hillside.  Ash-gray streaks made claw marks across the sky.  Wendy had a clear idea of just what dark corner she thought was safe.

     "What is this place?" I whispered.

     "Harry Houdini's mansion, the remains," she whispered into my ear.  "The basement."

     "Escape artist.  Perfect."

     "Sssh."

     Heard a car climb the hill, the shallow pulse of Wendy's breath, the yap-yap-yap of an irritable dog, glass grinding into concrete as I uncramped my leg.  Not for me to say what Wendy heard.  When exactly had we stopped holding hands? 

     Heard footsteps getting closer.  Leaned into the wall, cold and damp against my back.  She leaned into me and I leaned into her as if we could make ourselves smaller by squeezing into each other.  On the other side of the wall, a match flared, throwing a sulfurous plume of light on the bricks opposite.  In the brief glow I saw a nice fist-sized rock and the better half of a brick, and armed myself with them.  The light moved toward us.

     "Fuck!" Bobby muttered and the match winked out.

     Another match flared, further away. 

     I turned to Wendy as she turned to me.  Her face was just a dark shape cocked in the unmistakable posture of keen listening and close questioning.  In unspoken mutual agreement we uncrouched and, with quiet footfalls, crept out of the maze.  Details slowly resolved in the gloom, like a photograph being souped in weak developer.  I could now see the granular striations in the blackened bricks, ghost of a long ago fire.  It was too dark to take a photograph, and even if there was enough light, this was more about my mood than anything I could see or catch with a camera.

     Stop! Wendy gestured by holding up her palm. 

     Then she peeked around a yucca. 

     He's still there she mouthed.  The van was still there, the side door now closed.  Bobby was either waiting down there.  Or nearer.

     We stole quietly back to what I now thought of as our corner.  Our dark corner, losing it's darkness in like ragged increments.  Noticed it was brighter only after it was.  Looked at Wendy, as she looked away.  Had the pleasure of studying at length the plane of her cheek, the curve of her chin.  There was no hurry.  Except that there was more light.  When she looked at me, I looked away, suddenly shy about looking at her.  Why?  Why shy?  Maybe my mind had not caught up with my body, to be sitting with her in a basement with only a ghost house above at the end of a night that was as long as a lifetime.

     Heard the spluttering putter of the microbus, the whine of its under-powered engine, the not quite squeak of its tires driving off and away.

     Stepping out of the ruins of another Harry's home, just a blank piece of curb where the van had been, the negative space of where the van had been.  The grass underfoot was the palest green.  Glad there was still the world, and I was still standing in it.  Across the street was a big log cabin, as if the wilderness was being settled just over there, on the other side of Laurel Canyon.  Wendy saw me looking.

     "That was Tom Mix's place."

     "Tom Mix?"

     "Silent movie cowboy."

     I nodded.  So much history. 

     "Kind of like you."

     "Me?"

     "You're silent and you're kind of a cowboy.  You're from Texas, anyway."

     Nodded, silently.  We crossed Laurel Canyon Boulevard.  No cars.  Just us alone in the street, among sleeping houses.  Nothing I could think to say that wasn't a platitude (That was really something...glad we got away...), content to be a silent cowboy for the moment.

     We started to walk up Lookout Mountain.  It was only a dozen or so steps to where Stanley Hills Drive started, a sharp climb to the left.  That was my way home.  I hesitated.  Which slowed Wendy's pace.  Our footsteps were invisibly tethered.  Did we say good-bye here?  That didn't feel right.  Did I walk her home?  The quiet moment felt as momentous as anything that had come before.  Maybe because it was the knife edge of where I was living.  It was now.  The next moment to divide my life between past and present.  Funny thing about now, it never went away, even as the night unspooled back and forth inside my head in silent movie pieces.

     "Where do you live?" I asked her.

     "Up Wonderland."

     "Alone?" 

     She looked a bit stung.  The question hung.  Had I gotten too personal, even after what we had been through together?

     "With Crosby."

     "Oh."

     "And Sara."

     "Oh."

     "Should I walk you home?"

     Another hanging question.  Then she smiled, an old smile I remembered from days of yore (yesterday!) and we started up the first steep dog leg of Stanley Hills Drive.  The narrow road bent to the right and then it was a long straight climb up the hill.

     "Who was Stanley?" I asked.

     "Huh?"

     "That they named Stanley Hills Drive after."

     "Stan Laurel.  Laurel and Hardy."

     "Wow."

     "Just kidding."

     "You fooled me."

     She smiled again.  "That's not too hard."

     Walked for a while in silence.  My bones ached and the camera bag got heavier with each step upward.  I wanted to sit on a curb or lie on one of the postage stamp-sized lawns, just to catch my breath, to close my eyes just for a second.  Couldn't think of anything else to say.  Couldn't think.

     "Angel," she said.  "Wow."

     "Are there a lot of Angels out there?"

     "That's the first one I've had the displeasure of meeting."

     "So that was an unusual night?"

     "It was fucked up, the last part."

     "Yeah."

     "You were pretty great at being Mel."

     I was a great version of his shadow, I thought.

     "That didn't come out right.  You really did it.  Became it, what you needed to be, to save our asses."

     Us.  "I was a coward."  Not the best thing to say, but it was done before I thought to stop myself. 

     "No."  Then: "How?"

     "Taking pictures of him after he hit me."

     "No."

     "No?"

     "No."

     Felt much better that we had talked about that moment, the words -- it didn't take many -- that we couldn't speak back then.

     Mercifully, the road leveled off as it veered to the right.  At the top of Stanley Hills, Mel's house came into sight.  Our walk up the hill had gone from seeming too long to seeming too short -- we were mere footsteps away from saying good-bye.

     Mel's Speedster was not in his driveway.  More negative space, just oil stains in the driveway. 

     "No Mel," I said.

     "No."

     She stepped closer.  Smiled.  Couldn't pin an adjective or an explanation to it.  A smile good-bye?  Prelude to a chaste kiss good night?  Without taking her eyes from mine she found my hand and we started climbing the steps. 

     The first few steps I climbed -- with her! -- surprised. 

     The next steps, grateful that the dream -- trance -- spell -- was unbroken.

     But what would happen at the top?  Was the house too weird for Wendy, genuinely weird, not hip weird?  What if Don was already awake, watching TV (Look what candy ass has brought home!)?  Would it help to warn her?

     "Rabbits?" she asked.

     "Barney raises them."

     She nodded.  She was taking it all in.  Without stopping.

     Lost hold of her hand as I opened the front door.  Inside, Don was slouched asleep in the swivel chair, head thrown back, mouth wide open, as if being attended to by a phantom dentist.  Reached for Wendy's hand, and caught hold of her index finger.  She liked holding hands that way and did not correct my grip as I led her past the disreputable plaid couch, up the tiled staircase and into my room.

     There was a stutter in Wendy's step as she paused to kick off her shoes.  Saw my room through her eyes -- was proud of that enormous desk and wanted her to be -- but how much did she see as she pulled me along by my finger, climbed into bed with her clothes on?  I put down the camera bag, relieved of its weight.  Toe to heel, I wedged off my shoes and climbed into bed after her.  When she threw her arms around me, I felt her shivering.  I pulled her tighter as she pulled me tighter.  She was still shivering.  I didn't know what to do, but I knew enough to wait.

     The light was coming up, gray giving way to blue.  Dawn felt weird with no sleep to separate yesterday from today.

     "Does this kind of night happen often?"

     "You think that was typical?"

     "Hey, that -- this -- is only my second official day."

     Sensed a smile against my chest.     

     "God, those eyes."

     Felt her shivering less.

     "We could have died," her breath warming my neck.

     "Think so?"

     Felt her nodding yes against my chest.

     "Well, then, it wasn't just me being scared."

     "We walked into a very weird scene."

     "Hitchhiked into it."

     "My thumb.  Blame my thumb."

     "Blame me.  I was the one who walked out of the party at just the wrong second."

     "You ever wonder about stuff like that?"

     "I'm wondering now."

     Wendy scooted up until we were face to face, nose to nose, eye to eye.  "Say you're in a coffee shop having a cheeseburger and you wonder would I have a slice of the apple pie.  And you say yes and with that extra five minutes you step outside with a smile from the pie and BAM! a bus hits you."

     "Or you don't have the piece of pie," I counter.  "You don't have enough bread, the cheeseburger was a treat.  You get the check, you've got the exact change, you're on your way and BAM! the bus hits you.  So it can go either way.  Anytime.  The piece of pie could have saved you."

     She scooted a last fraction closer.  "I certainly didn't expect to wind up in your bed when the evening began." 

     "What about the beach?"

     "What about the beach?"

     "We wound up there."

     "That was different.  That was a whim."

     "And what is this?" I said before the part of my brain that stops me saying what I think could throw a block.

     "Whatever we want it to be."

     Do you mean we're in love? I thought secretly.  In the scant inches that separated us.  But she probably knew that I had fallen with love with her, in a superficial I just want to be close to your body your smile your eyes way the first second or minute or stoned better part of an hour yesterday (was that yesterday?) at Mel's.  She must have seen that I'm in love with you look a thousand times, every day.  She had to see it on me, in me.  But she had the grace not to say.  But, Wendy, I am in love with your grace, can't you see that silence just makes it worse?

     She kissed me.  The room was spinning.  In repose.  In relief.  Closed my eyes and still it spun.  We worked at each other's clothes with an urgency that was desperate and absurd after so many languid minutes where they didn't feel in the way at all.  Marveled that I had once felt shy, a brief lifetime ago, was it five minutes?  What strange clock was measuring this new morning's minutes?  Our clothes were all a tangle and then the tangle was out of the way and how could skin feel so warm, I had forgotten.  Confused her tongue with mine.  Who was to say who owned what tongue.  And it wasn't about us getting from here to there, about me getting from here to there -- most natural thing in the world to be inside her.  Saw her more clearly with my eyes closed.  Was greedy for her but didn't feel greedy as me.  Felt greedy as we.  As her breath answered mine.

     No clear boundary between us.

     No clear boundary to sleep.

     Her warm arms around me slipped away, my anchor to sleep gone.  Awoken by that new pocket of cold.  Wendy was trying to quietly separate her clothes from mine.  Hadn't pulled the shades down; it was a bright foggy day. 

     "Didn't mean to wake you." 

     She found her shirt and part of her disappeared inside it.  Started looking for my shirt, to not be left behind. 

     "You don't have to get up."

     "Neither do you."

     "Oh, but I do."

     "You don't have to walk me down.  Get some more sleep."

     As if that were an option.  "Get some sleep with me."

     "That's probably not such a good idea."

     Funny to feel so shy about getting dressed when our undressing had been so unshy.  But they were opposite acts.  Shouldn't opposite acts feel opposite?   A big space, a yawning gap, between my thoughts.  It felt wrong not talking but I didn't know what to say.  Heard the TV downstairs, which pulled my thoughts out of the room.

     Untangled, buttoned, zipped: we stood in our separate clothes, in our separate bodies.  We looked at each other.  Not as lovers or as strangers.  But as lovers acting like strangers.  Friendly strangers.  At least I was acting that way, because it felt like that was what she wanted.  As a way of easing out of the room.  It was a big moment, for me.  For her, I couldn't tell.  I knew that she wanted me to pretend like it was no big deal, just another canyon morning.

     She opened the door and I followed her out, the morning news getting louder with each step down the stairs.

     Don was still in the swivel chair, wearing the shirt he had slept in, Harry Ferrari and Barney were on the couch. They all had bowls of cereal that they stopped eating when Wendy walked into the room.

     "Good morning," she said.  She wasn't embarrassed, so I wouldn't be.

     "Meet Wendy."

     "Hello, Wendy"

     "Hello, boys.  Good-bye, boys."  She continued out the front door and I continued with her.  Outside, wispy fog wreathed the hills, the air was cold, I had forgotten my jacket again and again there was no time to go back inside.

     "Your roommates seemed nice," she said.

     "You could tell?"

     "Only takes an instant," she said and fixed me a smile.  Her confident smile.  One of her daylight smiles.  Was all that had happened between us last night a destiny that she had decided that first instant when I had bounced sunlight into her crotch?  At the bottom of the steps there was still no Speedster but I eyed the lawn as a piece of my history.  As if I could be nostalgic for who I had been the day before yesterday. 

     She started walking up Appian Way and I walked with her. 

     "You don't have to walk me home."

     "I know."

     "I mean, good-bye is good-bye, doesn't matter where it happens."

     "I like talking to you."

     "About good-bye?"

     "About anything."

     "Okay.  Let's talk about you."

     "Okay."

     "Do you have a girlfriend?"

     That gave me pause, an extra space between my footsteps, that I hoped she didn't see.  This world, this canyon, this girl walking beside, this that I was and this that I was not on this morning -- it was half honest and half not, and the trick (one of the tricks) was knowing which to make the honest half, without seeming too crafty or too naive.

     "It's not that hard of a question," she chided, bumping her shoulder against mine in a buddy-buddy way -- poking fun at the honest half?

     "No?"

     "Should just be a yes or no."

     "What if she doesn't know that she's my girlfriend?"

     "Then that answers the question right there."

     "Does it?"

     "Do you answer everything with a question?"

     "Do I?"

     She smiled.  Was she smiling at me like a girlfriend would smile? 

     "Are you my girlfriend?"

     "Not if you have to ask."

     "Are you a girl?"

     Smile.

     "Are you a friend?"

     Smile.

     A smile worth taking a leap.  "If it's for me to say, that you're my girlfriend, then I would say yes."

     "It's more complicated than that.  I'm more complicated than that."

     "I know."

     "Do you?"

     "At least in theory."

     Smile.  "I will say -- you sure can talk the talk."

     "That used to be my life.  Words."

     "Did I miss something?  Isn't that what you're using now?"

     "Not as a job.  Not as a lawyer.  Not as my future."

     I waited for her to say something about that and when she didn't I wasn't sure what to say next.  We trudged up a long slow upward S-curve, same way she had driven us to Mama Cass's long ago, last night.  Felt gravity as something to fight.

     "I'm not into being owned or into anybody owning me."

     "Crosby's your boyfriend?"

     "We're not into calling each other that."

     "Then why did you ask me?"

     "Because it's fun to hear you talk.  Because I was curious to know if there was a girl you called a girlfriend."

     Because you wanted to hear me call you that?  My head sort of hurt from trying to keep up, trying to hear my questions and answers as she might.  So what should we talk about next?  What should we talk about now?  Footsteps.  Yours.  Mine.  Those pebbles.  That A-frame.  Tiredness.  Fucking on the beach.  Fucking that you called loving.  Loving that you called fucking.

     She took hold of my hand.  Looked at her but she was looking away.  Deliberately.  Her way of answering the girlfriend question, in temporary terms, without having to say.

     As the road leveled out, Appian Way veered sharply to the right and the view shifted from inside the canyon to out.  On the left, at the crest, was a mansion with a neglected garden that Houdini might have walked in and no one since.  On the right, in the gap between houses perched on stilts was the city, softened by gray fog.

     "You've gotten very quiet."

     "Thinking."

     "About what?"

     "Girlfriends."

     She smiled, gave my hand a squeeze.  "Really?"

     "I was thinking it's beautiful here."

     "It was.  Errol Flynn used to live in that house, once upon a time."

     "So I got here too late."

     "You did."

     "Then why are you still here?"

     "I ask myself that every day."

     "And?"

     "Like I said, it's complicated."

     "Try me."

     "Not this morning."

     When? I wanted to ask but knew not to. 

     She seemed to have heard that when without me saying -- she gave my hand a squeeze.  "I'm not all that innocent."

     "Never said that you were."

     "But the way that you look at me."

     I tried to look serious.  Mock serious.  I was looking for a smile from her and I got one, but it was sadder than I wanted, and hopeless.  Had never seen such a hopeless smile.  And that might have been half me, feeling hopeless as she smiled.

     "I'm not the girl for you."

     I nodded and did not argue.  It was too late to win an argument. 

     There was a dirt lane down the back side of the canyon, signposted as Wonderland Drive.  No houses, just grass and rocks and rubble.

     "Let's say good-bye here."

     "This is where you live?"

     "Close enough.  That was hell of a hard day's night."

     "For someone who got here too late."

     "Exactly."

     She gave me a kiss.  As something that was hers to give.  Goodnight and good morning and what might come between.  I did not press for more.

     "I'm not worried about you," she said and awarded me a briefer kiss that was good-bye and nothing more.  I tried to not look sad and I wasn't, except that the night was really done and I knew there would never be another quite like it, knew it as I stood stock still and watched her walk away, the bob and sway of her coat's leather fringe, the counterpoint motion of her blonde hair moving in time with her footsteps, her body eclipsed by the raw brown crumbly hill as the lane curved to the left and she curved with it until she was gone and I was standing alone in a moment that I memorized without half-trying: quiet buzz of a bee, hard sunlight finally peeking out of dying fog, patch of hard blue sky I had not noticed a second earlier.  It's nice to think that one adventure will lead to another and why worry about this adventure when the next one is coming but I was back to being alone in the morning and if you can't see a great moment then what can you see?  It hit me that a photograph was grabbing a piece of time, like a hunk of birthday cake, and taking it home, forever.  I thought that because I wanted a picture of Wendy walking away after she had walked away.  But that image was only in my head now and nowhere else, ever.  I could return to this spot with my camera and catch what this lane looked like from exactly this spot -- not right now but, say, a half-hour later (after running to fetch my camera), but that wasn't the same.  You either grabbed the image or not.  And this was a case of not, one not on top of another.  Not Wendy.  Not last night (any longer).  Not a photo.

     Not.

     Me and my footsteps.  Was not going to wander down Wonderland Avenue, but I did.  Wondered about the houses.  Wondered which one Wendy was in.  Wondered about myself as someone who might someday live on Wonderland with Wendy.

     Was tired, tired of wondering, tired of wandering, tired period.  Found a patch of shade in a vacant lot where the grass was green and dry and high.  Which looked the proper place to rest in the great outdoors of Laurel Canyon, to take a moment to assess myself as a survivor of last night.  And what would today bring?  Another job for Mel?  Or me alone?  And money, when and what would he pay me?  Felt lucky to be in this vacant lot, wondering about this and that.

     Must have slept a bit because the sun was in my eyes when I opened them again.  Had I had a dream?

chapter 9

     Walked back down Appian Way, without Wendy, letting gravity pull me home.  Water tank at the top.  A red brick house overgrown with ivy.  A lone row of suburban split-level ranchhouses.  Jumble of old and new, measured slowly, in footsteps.  Around the last bend, home: Mel's driveway still empty.

     For Sale

     A "For Sale" sign staked to the bottom step.  Had it been there last night?  This morning?  With Wendy had I failed to notice?

     The arrogance of thinking I was a photographer, that I noticed everything?

     The arrogance of thinking I could live here forever.  Close cousin of the arrogance of thinking I could live forever, which I had let go of last night. 

     Climbed the steps two at a time, three at a time.

     Threw open the door.

     Inside, just another morning watching morning TV.  Don swiveled to regard me.  Harry Ferrari lay heavy-lidded on the couch, The Village Voice tenting his chest.

     "There's a "For Sale" sign at the bottom."

     "Who was that girl, Prince Hal?"

     "A friend."

     "Where'd a boy like you meet a girl like that?"

     "Why is the house for sale?" I asked the Other Harry.

     "Myra's wanted to sell it for a while."

     "Myra?"

     "Our landlord.  She lives down in Laguna Beach, painting watercolors.  She wanted me to buy it -- for one hundred thousand dollars."

     "One hundred fucking thousand dollars!

     An inconceivable amount of money for so picturesque a wreck.  The world seemed all that much crazier.

     "Guess she needs money for more watercolors.  Or her son does."

     "Is there any way we can stop it?"

     "You got a hundred thousand bucks, Prince Hal?  What about cashing in that trust fund?  Or some bonds?"

     "How long do you think we have?" I asked the Other Harry.

     "Until someone with a hundred thousand bucks come along and buys the farm," Don answered.

     The immovable couch, the eternal flame of the TV, the accretion of boxes, alluvial deposits of Village Voices, the sedimentary pottery, sedentary Don and Harry, the whole glacial land-that-time-forgot quality of the place, it was all temporary, as I was temporary.

     "I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep over it," the Other Harry said as he settled back to nap.  Easier said than done.

      Trudged upstairs and, with a weariness that caught me by surprise settled back into bed.  Tried to smell Wendy's hair in the pillow but couldn't.  Without looking reached up, found by feel The Big Sleep on my desk, found my place.  Read more of Raymond Chandler's words about rain in the canyon.  Which could be this canyon.

     Maybe I dreamed of that rain.  Sleep was something surmised after the fact.  A gap to puzzle out.

     To the sound of someone knocking on the front door.

     "Hello?  Hello?!"  A shrill, confident voice. 

     Then, sounding closer: "It's unlocked.  Hello?!"

     "God, who lives here?  It's a pig sty."

     "But the view."

     "It's undervalued."  The real estate agent.  And clients.

     "There's a half-bathroom through there..."

     "Disgusting."

     I didn't want to face the world.  Didn't want to face them or their world.  How their world was so swiftly and mercilessly overrunning mine.

     The voices became murmurs and then went away.  Into the breakfast nook?  The bomb shelter? 

     Then the voices came back "...the bedrooms are upstairs..."  Soon their faces would be in my door.  Examining, judging.  Didn't want to face their faces.

     Without thinking of it as a decision, just something my body did, I hurried into my walk-in closet and quietly shut the door.  I would wait them out, keep clear of seeing them. 

     A moment alone with those Army uniforms, starched and pristine in polyethylene bags, the well-worn hardwood floor (worn with phantom Myra's long-ago slippered footsteps?), my two Samsonite suitcases neatly tucked away on the shelf above, the crumbly brown hillside close outside the small closet window.  Did the moment memorialize itself or did I? 

     Footsteps, the click of heels of hardwood.

     "Well..."

     "It connects through the door behind those bookcases to what should be a sitting room." 

     Grabbed hold of the door knob.  Had boxed myself into a corner of weirdness.  It was too late to reveal myself. 

     "And that's the closet."

     Gripped the knob with both hands.  As if the keeping the secret of my existence where do or die.  Felt a hand try to turn the knob.  Gripped tighter.

     "It's locked."

     "I don't see a lock."

     "Maybe it's stuck."

     Felt one hand go away.  Then a stronger hand tried to turn the knob.  The knob slipped a bit but I held fast.

     "Is there someone in there?"

     Felt light-headed with the fear of discovery.  The embarrassment of hiding.  What was I doing in the closet? 

     And then the hand on the other side relaxed, went away, the voices and the footsteps. 

     No, they did not get to see the closet.  They did not get to see me.  They would not buy the house.  Twisted cause and effect. 

     "Oh, my God..."  The bathroom.

     "A padlock?"  The Other Harry's bedroom.

     Voices and footsteps receded.  I had won the battle.  The secret battle of my closet.  A battle of odd motive (why did I hide?) and unseen forces and imagined enemy faces.

       Heard the front door open and close, a single drum note of good-bye.  Cracked the closet door open, crept over to the window and peeked over the sill.  Three women walking down the steps.  Mother, daughter, realtor.  Fixed their roles from what I could see of heads and shoulders.

     My plan: to take stunning, searing images of an endangered species and an endangered situation: this house.  Purity of heart, purity of image.  As if it was merely mine to decide the when and where I would be a genius.  As if inspiration were merely a function of intent.  The camera was heavy in my hands, a dead weight held level with my eye, even as I lied to myself that it wasn't so, the weight of the lies heavier with each shuddering shutter click, because I knew without the final proof of darkroom truthfulness that my eye and brain and heart were not stretched or stitched properly together just now.

     In the bomb shelter I souped today's roll of the house and last night's of Topanga.  I was grateful for the inside-the-hillside darkness, for a task to occupy my hands.  Today's roll looked as leaden as I had felt shooting it.  Would those images look any better tomorrow or next week or next year? 

     The surprise of the Topanga proof was that the image I thought most searing -- of that rapt lost audience staring at out-of-frame Angel -- was the most potent.  Because I was too close, too green, to contradict what I had felt last night?  Mood affecting judgment?  Couldn't separate me from what I liked.  I was what I liked and would stand or fall by that.  That felt like something that could pass for an insight.

     Regretted that I did not have a loupe and was locked out of Mel's, but remembered there was a loupe next to the enlarger, thank you, Harry Ferrari. 

     Back in the bomb shelter.  Yes, the shot of Angel's audience was the best shot, but the images that I clicked as a kicked cur on the floor were just as craven as I had felt shooting them last night.

     Made a blow up, borrowing more of Harry Ferrari's paper, which needed to be replaced, as soon as I got paid -- and when would I get paid and how much?  And when to ask Mel about that?  Next time that I saw him?  Occasionally in that bomb shelter darkness I worried about money and a thousand other things but mostly I worried about nothing other than getting the print right -- exposure, f-stop, contrast, density.  Wasn't wearing my wristwatch and so did not know how long it took me to get a decent 8 X 10.

     It seemed good.  I tried very hard to think of it as an image that caught me by surprise, as it had in the camera, not as something I had done.  I really did try to be ruthless with myself about liking it or not.

     Didn't feel like fussing with it anymore and did not feel like stopping.  Decided to press on with developing and proofing Mel's rolls from last night.

     When I finally stepped out of the bomb shelter, blue twilight seeped into the house.  I was alone in the stillness, my eyes well-acclimatized to the near darkness.  Moved like a ghost through the kitchen -- mailroom -- living room -- stairs -- up to my room where the twilight was bigger and bluer in the upper-story windows.  Found the undeveloped rolls by feel in the camera bag and threaded my way back to the bomb shelter. 

     Mel had shot six rolls and I only had a single developing tank.  It was damp and monastic and there was a ritual to developing and proofing that I made my own.  A military precision to developer, stop bath, rinse, fix, dry, test strip, proof.  Repetition burned away wasted motion and there was a private poetry of being utterly precise utterly efficient utterly alone.  The messiness was in the world, in grabbing images from out there to bring in here, where it was private and quiet except for the voice of me talking to me.

     Heard a muffled knock.  It was darker outside the bomb shelter than in.  Not a light on in the house.  Found my way to the front door, fumble a floor lamp "on".   Unafraid of realtors, I opened the front door.

     Mel. 

     He looked older, as if the night had taken something from him that the day hadn't quite yet put back.  "Do you have my camera bag?"

     "Yes.  Always take the cameras," I quoted.

     "Please pardon last night's lesson in unprofessionalism."  He took a half-step into the living room.  "God, this place never changes.  You've fallen in with a disreputable lot.  Sorry about leaving you stranded last night.  As a photographer you will constantly be discerning and dissecting inner reality from sham shibboleth trickster external form.  I might look like a constant upright thoughtful bipedal creature but in reality, as it occasionally manifests itself, I am but a mere caboose following my dick down whatever track it chooses to choo-choo.  Shameful but true.  Don't let it happen to you.  You know that band we heard last night?"

     "Love?"

     "After Love.  The Malibu boys."

     "The band without a name."

     "Yeah, the band without a name.  We're going to shoot their album cover.  Tonight.  Usually there's an art director, but I'm a bit of a cowboy and Mister D wants to move fast on this one.  Bring a coat.  It can get cold as shit out in the desert.  The high desert, and I do mean high."

     "The desert?" 

     "There's not much time.  See you down at my house."

     Mel went down the steps and I hurried up the stairs to my room for his camera bag and my heavy coat, grabbing my turtleneck sweater for good measure.  Ducked back into the bomb shelter for the proof sheets and the one print I had pulled.  Fumbled Mel's negatives into sleeves, anxious to be on my way, as if this very second I was missing something important that might be happening across the street.  Five minutes ago I'd had all the time in the world and now I had none.  Another destination, further, immediately.  I was excited.

     Down the 66 steps, actually 65 when I stopped.  Always take the camera.  And so went back up the steps for mine.  My camera, my film. 

     Back down the 66 steps, all 66 this time, past the looming-dooming For Sale sign -- Mel's Speedster was in the driveway, Miles Davis blasting out his from open doorway.  Inside, cannabis wafted sweat.

     When I stepped into his studio he smiled hello, reached gratefully for his camera bag, handed me what was left of the joint he was smoking.  I took a toke without thinking.  And then thought better of it.  The situation was intoxicating; it didn't need further muddying.  When the joint came back to me I pretended to smoke.  That was easier than saying no, for which an explanation might be required.  Can't say that Mel noticed either way.

     He reached for the proof sheets I held at my side.  "Are these from last night?"

     "Yeah."

     "Yours?  Good stuff.  Where?"

     "Topanga."

     "Topanga?  Last night?"

     He pulled out the 8 X 10.  It looked different to me just watching him look at it.  Shabbier.  Less precise in it's framing.  "Oh.  There's Wendy.  Strange picture.  Sort of scary."

     "It was."

     "Who's playing guitar?"

     "A guy named Angel."

     "I've heard of him."

     "He's crazy."

     "Yeah, he's supposed to be really crazy.  How did you wind up there?"

     "Hitchhiking home."

     "Through Topanga?"

     "Not by choice."

     He regarded me closely.  With a photographer's eye.  Discerning inside from outside?  "Take you to a party at Mister D's -- there's the 'Cros and all the young guns and you leave with Wendy."

     "You make it sound like something I planned."

     "No.  But it was something you provoked -- evoked? -- something you caused, and I'm not saying intentionally, but it wasn't something that just happened to you.  Now, I happened to you, or should I say, placed you into a situation where something could happen.  That's all this is.  Happenings that we happen to photograph.  With a bit of craft and craftiness." 

     He laid the proof sheets aside, not bothering to separate his from mine.  "When the limo gets here, I need you to go round up these supplies."  He handed me a list written in an angular, loping hand: beer (3 cases), tequila (2 quarts), limes, salt, sirloin steak (15 lbs), chips, marshmallows, charcoal.     

     He handed me two hundred-dollar bills.  "That should be enough.  Ice chest and grill are in the garage.  Oh, yeah, ice.  Get ice.  Lots of ice.  And whatever else I didn't think of.  Whatever else we need for the desert.  We're picking up the band after their set and driving out to Joshua Tree.  Here's a key so you can lock up -- you should have a key anyway.  I've got some existential errands to run -- I'll meet you at the club."

chapter 10

     Which is how I came to find myself sitting alone in the back of a long black limousine, my Canon FTb slung over my shoulder, with a key to a house that I didn't live in (but no key to my own), gliding back down the same Stanley Hills Drive I had trudged up on foot this very dawn.

     Willy, the limo driver, didn't have a particularly interesting face, but I thought I should take a picture of him anyway, to document each novelty that came my way.  But the moment had passed and it wasn't like I'd missed something great.  I'd just missed something.

     And, now, in the opposite lane, climbing the hill, was Don, behind the wheel of his mottled gray Peugeot, grizzled and quizzical -- who was that waving hello from the limo?

     Good-bye, Don.

     The limo turned onto Lookout Mountain and stopped at the light.  Which gave me a moment to contemplate the ruins across Laurel Canyon Boulevard and what had and hadn't happened there.

     Good-bye, Houdini's ghost.  Good-bye, ghost of morning me, morning me and Wendy.

     The next novelty, which I also did not take a picture of, was buying out all the sirloin steaks at Ralphs.  A grocery cart laden with booze and meat.  The novelty of plunking down two large bills to pay for all that.  And having the pale blonde cashier smile with wonder (or something like it) at what I might be up to.

     "That's a lot of sirloin."

     "It's for an album cover."

     I'd lost her.

     "To feed the band that's on the album cover."

     "Oh."

     Felt the weight of my camera, strap digging into my shoulder, felt the weight of what I could do with it.  Took it in hand, found the angle: foreground meat, background girl smiling at the unexpected attention.  Not a picture that I simply saw but that I helped happen.

     "Six months working nights -- in Hollywood  -- and I've never had my picture taken.  Do you do this often?"

     "Buy so much meat?"

     "No, take strangers pictures."

     "More so."

     The total came to $202.32.  I put handed back two bags of Fritos and came away with a surplus of sixty-three cents.

     I helped her finish the bagging.  We were more or less alone.  It was already an empty hour.

     "Will you show me the picture?"

     "If it's any good."

     "Even if it isn't?"

     She was pretty and she was nice and she was flirting with me and the night could have stopped right there, turned in a different direction, gone to a different place, but I had a grocery cart to push out into the parking lot.

     "Even if it isn't, Becky."  I'd cadged her name from her badge.

     She smiled.  Now that was a picture I wanted but it felt too late to take -- fuck it -- raised the camera again -- but the smile changed into something else, which happens when a smile sustains too long past first impulse -- snapped the picture anyway.

     "Unfair advantage." 

     What, I wondered, the camera...?

     She pointed, then touched my chest.  "No badge.  No name?"

     "Harry."

     "Harry," she repeated, with another smile -- friendlier, ironic, more familiar (more than five minutes familiar) -- but I didn't chase after it with the camera.  Another customer had queued behind me but Becky paid him no mind.

     "Bye, Becky."

     "Bye, Harry."

     The limo was waiting just outside the electric doors.  Willy hurried around to open the trunk.  Was Becky watching?  She was.  Worried that she might think I was rich, might think I was something I was not, somebody who regularly trafficked in limos, how could she know this was a once in a lifetime, or at best, a first in a lifetime thing?  But she didn't seem worried.  Another wave good-bye.   Which is more times than I had ever said good-bye to a cashier.  She was more Becky than cashier, another spike of possibility.  Willy opened the back door before I could but I told him I wanted to sit in front -- more scenery to see out the front window, and that was how I wanted Becky to see me leave.

     Maybe she was my soul mate.  At the very least a soul on which I wanted to make a good impression -- was that dishonest?  Was that less me?  Hoped there would be another night when we would have a soulful conversation.

     As the car pulled away, another nagging question: would she have smiled and talked to the usual bread-and-cheese (not steak and beer) me?  Maybe if bread-and-cheese me had been carrying camera (like the new trying to always be ready for a snapshot me).  Becky now gone from sight, Becky only in mind, a memory, an undeveloped photograph.

     Becky.  A nice moment.  A moment to revisit.  A big moment?  Or a little moment that I foisted into big?  Unexpected, certainly. 

     As unexpected as gliding down Sunset in a limousine.  Crossing Laurel Canyon the traffic thickened.  The Strip looked different to me reflected in that long black hood.  I had again forgotten my wristwatch, not that the exact minute mattered, just the 1/60th of a second I picked to click, but it felt well past midnight.  Slid the shutter to 1/30th -- let it blur.  A blue Beetle buzzed in the lane beside, prowling eyes looking at me, past me, wondering who might be behind the smoked glass windows.  Searched for the lever to lower the electric window.  Raised the camera to my eye, focused on the mascaraed eyes of the backseat blonde, her face a question mark of wondering why the limousine shotgun rider was taking a picture of her.  But that question had an answer that surprised me -- it was not a just a picture of her, it was a picture of me, of what I was seeing in that moment, a self-portrait of who I was, moving through this specific piece of space and time with my particular eye.  Maybe it wasn't a great picture.  That didn't matter.  What mattered was that I had picked it.  That felt like a big idea, one that I needed to hang on to.  Wished I had a piece of paper, to write it down, but it wasn't a pencil and paper kind of night. 

     Lowered the camera; the backseat girl was still looking at me, her lips forming into a Why me?  Before I could answer their lane slowed and ours didn't and she was lost in the swollen tide of cars, face gone, another latent image, her question unanswered.

     There were other eyes in other cars, wondering.  Felt myself in the shadow of a phantom rock star not sitting behind me.  Curious eyes, greedy eyes, glazed eyes -- the black limo seemed to suck in the light, suck in eyes.

     The limo turned off of Sunset -- fewer cars, less aggressive lights, more like proper city night.  Until the car eased to a stop in front of a The Troubadour.

     "Thanks, Willy."

     "Anytime."

     On the this patch of sidewalk were shrewder eyes.  They paid no attention to me, but waited to see who came out of the back.  When no one did, they turned away, back to talking about who was with who and where to go with what was left of the night.  Felt various eyes sizing me up, deciding -- could I be helpful?  was I high?  was I worth a try? -- then moving on to the next body and face.  Could hear the muffled chorus of The Malibu Couch Boys (had to call the band with no name something) singing their a cappella peaceful easy feelings song.  There was a man at the door collecting money.

     "Mel's in the bar," Willy said quietly -- how long had he been standing beside?  So much for my ace eye.  He nodded to indicate another door.

     I never liked walking into bars.  Which I traced back to childhood, when once upon a time my Mom left my sister and I in the car and gone into the post office.  Bored, I took my sister into a store, or so I thought, to spend that nickel burning a hole in my pocket.  Remember that it dark and cool and empty inside.  Especially remember the strange looks I got from the lady.  But she did sell me a bag of potato chips.  There was a saw-dust primed bowling game, no coins required, all ours to play with.  Which was heaven until Mom came in, panicked, where the heck have you been?  Never go into a place like this, never go alone, never leave the car, never take your little sister in a place like this!

     A bar.

     I could retrieve the memory but not erase the well-examined scar.

     Felt this all in a flash memory echo of Mom's voice as I walked in and did not see Mel but a room of strangers. 

     "Harry!"  Mel was at the bar, just blocked from view.  He waved me over.  It was that easy, that lucky, to belong, to forget about Mom.

     "The madness should be in full flower tonight."

     Mel had without my noticing conjured a beer and so I clinked bottles with him.  Glugged and took a quick look around the room.  Everybody looked like they belonged and I looked, or at least felt, like a part of this aggregate everybody as long as I was talking to Mel.  Felt like an anybody who had been nominated for membership into this happenstance everybody, and the nomination had been seconded and...

     Saw Crosby.  The back of his head.  That unmistakable leonine mane.  Was he in every room?  Was it all the same room, just in different places, different set of walls?  It was like high school, but with money, though only sixty-three cents of it had trickled into my pocket.  And if there was Crosby, where was Wendy?  Not that I wanted them tethered.

     Hoots and applause came from the club into this clubhouse. 

     "You look anxious."

     "Shouldn't we be taking pictures?"

     "Tonight's the album cover, and the cover's out there in the desert."

     "What about the inner sleeve?"

     "Phenom," Mel said and gave my bottle another clink.  "I've already got my Troubadour shots, but have at it."

     Hurried to the door (trying not to seem to), hoping the band got an encore.  On the other side of the door, the applause was louder but on the verge of dying.  The Malibu Couch Boys sauntered out quickly, but not so quick as to belie the sauntering; the applause perked up a tad.  Maybe the crowd had once been thick but it was thin enough now for me claim a space at the edge of the small stage, at the foot of Glenn, whose first impulse was to scowl but when I raised my camera his eyes drifted elsewhere else and I wasn't there, No, ma'am, I ain't no cowboy who'd notice no camera, no. 

     Did not want to spend a frame of film on him.  But wasn't that backwards spiting myself?  I had to make him look like something, but I didn't want to make him appear as something he wasn't.  Such as humble and unaffected.  Had to trust that this was the first glance and not the last chance.  The Couch Boys had grown from three to four tonight.  The drummer, framed by foreground arms akimbo with guitars, leaned over his snare, cascade of hair brushing the drum skin, and he relaxed against the grain of tension each beat released.  Picked that moment to click.  With miserly discipline.  One image, enough to show them in this room.

     Lowered the camera.  Looked at the band.  Looked around the room.  Looked for Wendy, telling myself I was not, which was crazy, talking to myself like that.  A girl in the shadows was Wendy, then not.  Was Wendy in the bar?  And what would I say to her?  Start with hello.  Was waiting for the end of the song.  As if I was paid to wait, as if that was my job.  No.  As I eased away from the little stage, I noticed Glenn noticing me leave and I reflexively raised my camera to fake that I was just dropping back for a better angle.  As if it were a job and I had to be busy and on the ball.  And why?  That inner why? stopped me faking. 

     Turned about face and walked clean away, back into the bar.

     Crosby was gone.

     "You missed last call."  Mel handed me a beer I didn't want. 

     The Malibu Couch Boys entered with guitar cases as the bar was clearing.  Emptier it looked uglier, naked lunch twelve hours too late.  Straggling girls and boys sized each other up to try and find a fit for what was left of the night.

     Expected Glenn to ignore me but he did the opposite, walked right up and exhaled Marlboro breath in my face.  "What's your name again?"

     "Harry.  What's yours?"

     That gave him pause. 

     "Glenn.  Why are you here?"

     "Is that an existential question?"

     Another pause.  That got a smile.  That I didn't trust. 

     "I'm helping Mel."

     "He's never needed help before."

     Mel to the rescue, "Need all the help I can get."

     "Gonna get me famous?"

     "You're gonna get yourself famous.  But I am gonna get you out to the desert."

     Lingering girls and last beers and everybody was a long lost friend and Glenn was no longer interested in me. 

     The house lights came on.  Too late for such hard light.  "Ladies and gents, can't lose the liquor license.  Leave those bottles, please..."

     Last swigs.

     Out on the sidewalk.  No stars in the sky over Santa Monica Boulevard. 

     The band stood in a loose circle.  Fresh cigarettes were lit.  I leaned against the limo, tried to look like I belonged.

     "Want a smoke?"

     "No thanks."

     "I'm Randy." 

     Randy, guitar. 

     "Harry."

     He leaned against the limo, looking miserable.  "Sooner we start, sooner it's over."

     "No ladies, just the band, sorry, Lisa," Mel said to the lady the bass player had his arm around.

     "She's inspiration."

     "We're on a spiritual trip tonight, Joe."

     Joe, bass.

     "She's spiritual inspiration."

     "Got inspiration aplenty awaiting," Glenn said.

     "The band at one with the desert, with ourselves," the drummer said.

     Drummer, name?

     "Fuck, I can be at one with yourself and myself and herself.  All is one?  Ain't Lisa part of all?"

     "Not tonight.  Keep it pure," Glenn said.

     We would get into the limo, without Lisa, of this I felt reasonably sure.  The question was when.  Bored, enduring duration.  Was this shaggy dog sidewalk talk worth a picture?

     No.

     Mel opened the limo's aft door and waved Randy behind the wheel.  "Hi-ho silver and away!"

     The sidewalk circle broke apart.  Randy sighed and climbed in back.  Joe pulled Lisa aside for a last kiss -- that was almost a picture -- almost. 

     Climbed in front, in what I thought of as my seat.  Mel, in the jump seat, gave my shoulder a pat. 

     Joe removed his tongue from Lisa's throat -- that was a picture, fleeting -- and scrunched down to get into the car. 

     "Where's Danny?  Danny!" Glenn yelled.

     Danny, drummer.  I now had the complete roster of names.  He stepped out of the alley, zipping his zipper, the last man aboard.

     Willy gently closed the aft door and hurried around to the driver's seat.

     It felt like we were really going somewhere.

     I was on alert to notice moments.  I was a camera.  I was learning to be a photographer.  Willing myself to be that.  Willing myself to be.  That was the drama I felt -- silent, on the inside -- as Willy gently, almost imperceptibly, eased the limo into motion.

     A match flared.  Sweet smoke.

     "On the road!  This is gonna be so great," Glenn said.

     "There's plenty of room for Lisa."

     "Where?"

     "In my lap."

     "Nah, it's just us.  Keep it pure.  Keep it righteous," Glenn said.

     "Stick to the concept--" Danny said.

     "Lisa's part of my concept."

     "--the concept of us.  What we connect to -- who we are."

     "How you want to show who you are to the world," Mel amended.

     "Maybe I got a different concept of concept."

     "Hey, man, you were into it," Glenn said.

     "Concepts evolve."

     "You can dip your wick tomorrow -- tonight's for the long run.  The desert's eternal.  We're gonna touch a little piece of eternity, put our pinkie on it, make a pinkie promise," Danny said.  So Danny and Glenn were the band's philosophers.   

     "Group you in the right alignment, find the right harmonies between you guys and the rocks and the light.  Get it on film--" Mel said.

     "--and we got something."  

     "Okay," Joe said, wearied by the tag-team theory, Lisa long gone, the limo in the fast lane, heading east on the Santa Monica Freeway, I-10, one road all the way back to Houston, back to where I was, once, not anymore, not again, but it was that road, it did still go there even if I didn't.

     "There's only one first album."

     "Fuck, this is my third."

     "Our first.  Our only first."

     Mel passed the joint to me -- seventh in the batting order and there wasn't much left, just enough to hold without burning my fingers.  Could have just said no thanks.  Did not want to get high, regretted taking that one toke back at Mel's, which had made a slow fade from my brain.  If I did smoke it would feel the same as Malibu, tonight would be the same, blunted into the same feeling, and I wanted my head and eyes clear to see whatever might be in front of me.  So I held the ember to my lips for an appropriate moment and passed it back to Mel.

     "Hey."  Willy's eyes never left the road but he lifted a hand from the steering wheel, thumb and index finger pinched, poised to receive the last hit.

     Behind me another match flared.    

     Cracked my eyes open.  Just barely.  Felt the cozy urgency of being in motion.  Felt quite cozy slouched against that soft black limo leather, the heater blowing warm air on my legs.  The headlights illuminated a two-lane blacktop.  Couldn't see anything other than sagebrush and night outside of that ragged grainy cone of light.  Looking out my window, first saw a faint reflection of myself, just a blur, too close to focus, and beyond, with more staring, the silhouette of hilltops read as slightly darker than the sky, earth a denser black than the sky-black above. 

     Behind me, no voices, just the soft wash of Hank Williams singing jambalaya and a crawfish pie and a filé gumbo... 

     Creaked around for a peek.  Glenn and Danny were playing cards.  Everyone else was dozing.  I wanted a picture of that.  Felt shy.  Then felt that feeling shy was nowhere.  I cradled my Canon in my hands, thought through how to set focus (nine feet), aperture (wide open), shutter (1/30th, risk some blur).  When I turned back around to take the picture, neither Glenn nor Danny noticed. 

     At the shutter click, they looked up from their cards, Glenn quietly pleased by the attention.  Kept my eye to the finder and clicked again.  They turned back to their cards and I turned back to face the road, pleased to have not been shy. 

     My fingers caressed the rings and dials and contours of my camera, enjoying the finely machined metallic textures, learning it by feel not by sight.  Closed my eyes with the intention of thinking.  Thinking.  Thinking about.  The adventure I was on.

chapter 11

     My eyes bumped open.  The headlights over-exposed a narrow dirt road through dead of night desert.  Willy muttered fuck as cactus branches scraped the limo's flanks.  Up ahead, a rise.  Mel patted my shoulder, a split-second of shock, then not.  He leaned forward to rest his chin on the front seat.

     "We're here," he said softly. 

     As if cued by his voice, a scramble of rocks ended the road.  Willy eased the limo to a stop.  A train of dust overtook the limo, which the headlights focused into precise cones of particulate light.

     From the front seat, here looked like nowhere.

     What a long drive to nowhere.

     Was first out of the car, eager to see just what nowhere looked like.  With the nova of dusty headlight at my back, grass and cactus cast spidery shadows.  No wind, air cold, arms warm inside coat tonight. 

     Headlights went out.  Motor kept humming.  Blinded by  the after image.  Blinked my eyes clear.  Stars, so many fucking stars, shuddering, shimmering.

     Doors squeaked open, boots scraped on gravel.  I turned from the stars that were to the stars to be, who climbed out of the black car into the black night. 

     "Yeah!"

     "Oh, yeah!"            

     Matches flared, coals glowed, joints made orange arcs passing hand to hand.

     "Why here?" Randy asked.

     "It's a power spot," Mel said.  "Peter, Dennis, a lot of psychedelic minds have been tripping here for years.  Puts you in the lineage, on the continuum."

     "Feels karmic,"  Glenn said.

     "Feels fucking cold," Randy said.

     The cold now cut through my coat.      

     "There's a shrine on top of that hill," Mel pointed to a specific point of dark.  They stood in another sidewalk circle, without the sidewalk.  Glenn passed me the joint, offered me that bit of easy brotherhood.  Mimed it to my lips then passed it along.  I was already in an altered reality, it didn't need to be tailored any further, shaped any stranger.  Felt strange enough just to be standing in my body with these other bodies in the middle of the night in the middle of a dead dry ocean.       "Feels very far out."

     "Feels very far," said Randy.

     "Take a hit and get with it, man."

     "Hey, I'm here, aren't I?"

     "In body."

     Danny titled his head up and opened his mouth as if to drink in starlight.  "It's so clear out here!  Yip, yip, yip!  Nocturnal, man!  What's the plan?"

     "You're standing in it.  On it.  We commune with the land and document your spirit, record who you are at this point in space and time," Mel said. 

     "We are primed," Danny said.

     "Right on!" Glenn said. 

     "Right on," Joe said.

     Glenn put his arm around Randy.

     Who finally smiled.  "Right."

     "Break out the firewater and more laughing tobacco and let's go explore!  Got any night film, Mel?"

     "Oh, yeah, infrared and a flash."

     "Let's explore!  Where's the shrine?"

     "Up yonder," Mel pointed, "And there's a sweet little bowl of rocks just below, sort of a natural Stonehenge.  That'll be base camp, Willy."

     Willy, still wearing his chauffeur's cap, started unloading the trunk.  Randy laid claim to his banjo, comforted by the sweet twangs he prised from it.  Joe got back into the limo, pulled his sheepskin coat under his chin and fell back to sleep.  Mel sat on the jump seat, unzipped his camera bag, and took out three Nikon bodies.  I stayed close by his side. 

     "So what in the fuck will this be like I see you wondering?"

     "No..."

     "I've sort of thrown you into the deep end.  But this is an easy gig.  No suits, no girl friends.  Easier than last night at the Whiskey, more room to maneuver but longer lines of supply -- which tripped up Napoleon, among others, the bane of any military campaign.  Most important thing, keep me in film, keep the cameras loaded.  Here's some paper tape and a sharpie to label the cameras.  One camera is for black and white, one for color, one for infrared.  Here's the Dust-Off, the desert shutter bug's best friend."

     He opened a camera back and gave it a spray of compressed air. 

     "Infrared's tricky stuff.  Come back to the car to unload it, keep it out of direct light.  Freaky stuff.  Unpredictable."  He put a hand on my shoulder.  "Don't be nervous."

     "I'm not nervous."

     "The best stuff is unpredictable.  That's the hardest thing to learn."

     I nodded sagely. 

     He laughed.  "You don't have to agree with everything I say."

     "Okay.  I agree to disagree."

     "You do have a way with words."

     "I'd rather have a way with pictures."

     "It's happening."

     Danny climbed his head in the car.  "When should we do the buttons?"

     "At first light."

     "Yeah, that sounds right."

     Danny laid out a pack of Zig-Zag and an aluminum film can of cannabis on top of the fake wood grain side bar. 

     Mel pointed his camera at Danny rolling a J.

     "For the cover?"

     "For the inner sleeve -- it's a fold-out album and every head knows a fold-out's god's gift for cleaning stems and seeds."

     "Can I watch you explain that to David?"

     "Only if you get him high."

     Danny lit a joint.  And Mel took a picture of that.

     "Really, man, what are these picture for?"

     "Documentation.  It's all documentation."

     "Shit that we'll never use?"

     "Just tuning up my eye.  Practicing a few chords."    

     Danny passed the joint to Mel.  Held the burning reefer right into the lens.  From where I was sitting it didn't look like an interesting shot.  But it was Mel's eye, Mel's party.

     He clicked.

     Hint of blue in the sky.  Marching toward dawn.  Uphill.   Mel led the way, Joe roused from sleep and grousing, Danny smoking and smiling, Randy somewhere with the banjo, near enough to hear which could be anywhere, Glenn up at the shrine crying, a cajoling cross between coyote and cowboy.  "Hurry up!  Get it up!  Get-ty up!  Yup, yup, yup!  Yip, yip, yippie a-ki-o!"

     Forward march, Mel carried the bag of peyote buttons, lumpy in a pillowcase.  Rearguard, I carried the camera bag.  Wouldn't have known a peyote button if one came up and bit me.  Watched their backs. No one was watching mine.  Another dawn, another hill to climb, this one without Wendy, without houses.  Wilderness, except for us.

     Joe slowed down and fell into step beside me.  Saw me eyeing a strange looking cactus. 

     "That's a Joshua Tree.  Sort of looks like a Joshua, don't it?"

     I nodded.  It sort of did.  It definitely had personality, and a strange one.  I stopped to shift the camera bag to the opposite shoulder and the group climbed on without me.  My eye traveled down the contour of the hill, dotted with more Joshua Trees, some fringed with gray fronds and collapsing, others just a single young shoot not yet complicated by gnarling branches.  A tribe of Joshuas.  My eye dipped and climbed up and down the hills, plains, mountains, the remarkable complexity of emptiness, all of it very blue in the light that was neither night nor day.  Twilight but at the wrong end of the day.  When I looked back up the hill they were much further away.

     Started walking again, a bit faster, to close the distance.  I had the camera bag, Mel might need the camera bag, I might miss something, he might miss something, the moment was crucial.  Yes, it was like the Whiskey.  I was back to the panic of this moment is crucial and maybe it was -- to a photograph, to a magic 1/60th or 1/125th of a second that might come along once and never again.  Say I took a hundred great pictures in my life.  I'd settle for ten, or two, but say one hundred.  No, say two hundred.  Be an ego-maniac.  No one's listening.  We're among friends.  Two hundred photographs at 1/60th of a second added up to less than three seconds.  A career, a great career in less than three seconds, if they were well chosen.  And what of the lifetime that surrounded those three seconds?     

     At the top of the hill Glenn stood beside the shrine with a proprietary air.  He had gotten there first, discovered it, summoned it into existence.  The shrine was a cairn of rocks, an old tire, bits of broken mirror, a sun-faded troll doll, with an empty window frame in its center, much like the speck of dust a pearl grows around.  Closer, there were prayer beads, empty .22 shells, a dime store locket.

     Dawn streaked blue, unstoppable.  Mel decanted the peyote buttons from the pillow case.  I wanted nothing more than to take a photograph of that window in the desert, that window into the desert.  It had been there for how long, years?  Certainly it been photographed before, after all Mel was the one who led me here.  Maybe he had seen this image framed in exactly the same way.  Looked at that way I was late to the world and always would be. 

     We would be here all day and there might be there light later but I wanted to photograph that empty window now.  I saw it this way in this moment and that's what I wanted a photograph of.  I was thinking all those things as I put down Mel's heavy camera bag and hefted my own camera, surprised how nice it felt not to have the strap digging into my shoulder, a pleasant feeling of absence.  And as I framed up that empty window frame, and the emptiness that stretched into the blue desert beyond, I was rewarded for my urgency by a bluejeaned crotch that came into view inside the frame at an exquisitely oblique angle.  I clicked and manually advanced the film while still crouching.  Then a hand dropped into frame, holding a cigarette.  Even better.  Clicked again, advanced the film, held my crouch waiting for the next surprise.  Whoever it was stepped away, leaving that little corner of the world clean of people.  Clicked again.  Not just one image, but three, a sequence.  A very short movie.  That I couldn't wait to get into the darkroom with.  A very good day and it wasn't quite dawn.

     I uncrouched back to standing.  Saw that it was Glenn's crotch and hand, as he stood on the mountain top, frowning at his peyote button breakfast.  And frowning at me, for taking a weird-ass picture.  A strain of weird-ass that didn't measure up to whatever woo woo weird that he was after. 

     Everyone was nibbling the brown buttons, chasing them down with tequila, even Willy, still wearing his chauffeur's cap.

     "Tastes like shit," Joe said.

     "Spiritual shit."  Glenn passed him the bottle of tequila to help wash it down.

     "The bad taste is how the peyote protects itself from casual users," Mel said.

     "It sure as fuck has protected itself from me."

     "Acid goes down a lot easier," Randy said.

     "Peyote comes from the desert.  It'll make us one with the earth.  It'll make us one with each other.  When Glenn and I did it in Arizona, we really got into the totality of all," Danny said.

     "All," Glenn seconded.

     "How many of these suckers do you have to eat?"

     "As much as you can hold down.  At least three of the little ones.  Or one of the big ones," Mel said.  He held out a button for me.  It was assumed, a given, that I would partake.

     "Take your medicine--"

     "--said the medicine man."

     "What tastes so bad--"

     "--so fucking bad--"

     "--has got to be good--"

     "--so fucking good." 

     They all took it seriously.  Serious enough to eat shit.  They were doing it.  They had come a long way to do this together. 

     The peyote button sat brown and fibrous and hairy in my hand.  Took a nibble.  It tasted of bitter dust and scorched earth and a thousand miles of saliva-slicked mud.  What would it be like in my brain?  I felt as naked and raw and exposed as the land.  This was their plan.  I wasn't ready to put that in my brain.  Facing away from their faces, I secretly dribbled the foul brown-flecked spit off my tongue.

     "Show me the moment!"  Mel had his camera out and motioned the musical button-chewers into a cluster.  Behind them, just below the horizon, was a fierce point of yellow.  The Malibu Couch Boys had transmogrified into the Pioneers of Peyote Gulch and they chewed the sacrament with clownish frowns.  "Welcome to today!"

     "May it be magical!"

     "And weird!"

     "Amen!"

     Mel clicked.

     For a moment I felt on the outside of whatever was about to happen in their heads.  But we were all standing together at dawn on this great brown undulating immensity of open earth.  There was already plenty of All to go around.

     "How long does it take to come on?" Randy asked.

     "Heh-heh.  You tell me."

     "Glenn."

     "It's gradual.  A real slow burn--"

     "Depends on your chemistry," Mel amended.

     "--but it's a furnace, boy."

     "You've got the whole day to find out."

     "--who you are--"

     "--who we are--"

     "Today."

     "There's the sun! 

     Without me noticing, night had taken the last of its baby steps away.

     "Sunrise!  Just what we wanted!  Start our trip with the sun's trip across the sky."

     "See who gets there first," I said. 

     Glenn looked like I had wandered on stage in the middle of his solo.  "That's a funny thing to say."

     "I get it," Mel said.

     "Race you back down to the bottom, Glenn."

     "Danny..."

     "Race all you drugstore cowboys."

     "What's the prize?"

     "Your manhood."

     "Oh, man..."

     "On your mark, get set..."

     Danny drew a line in the sand with his boot toe.  They all toed the line.  I was quick with my camera, quick with panic -- it was the boots I wanted, in a ragged line.

     "Fuck it," Mel said and joined the race.

     Guessed at focus.  Clicked.

     "...go!"

     And they were off, yelling and yowling, a laughing stampede down.  Willy's cap went flying.  Randy kept a hand on his Stetson.  Took a picture and then regretted it.  Knew it wasn't good the second I snapped.  But you can't untake a picture.  Now the roll was imperfect.  But what wasn't?  Of all the things to regret.  But I did want to be perfect at it.  That was my ambition and so I notched every little betrayal of that attempted perfection. 

     Their voices carried back to me.  Glenn and Don were half-joking (but only half) about who had won because what was the finish line, that was under dispute.

     I was now alone with the shrine.

     Long shadows everywhere.

     The sun still a novelty this first few minutes of desert day.  My first day in the desert.

     Took the slightly gnawed peyote button out of my pocket.  Sniffed it.  Scratched it.  What made it more mystical, more mystic-inducing than any other piece of plant or dirt?  Threw it east, into the sun.  A brief arc in the air, a bounce in the dirt, and it was back in the desert, dust to dust.  Picked up the camera bag and followed them down.

     At the bottom, everyone was out of breath.  Someone wanted a smoke.  Someone wanted a drink.  Someone wanted a guitar.  Someone wanted a nap.

     Mel wanted to look at the rocks and I wanted to look at Mel looking.  It was an education.

     "Isn't that bag getting heavy?"

     "Yeah, but..."

     "Here."

     He took out the other two cameras, happy to wear them around his neck, and loaded his pockets with film.  "You can put the bag back in the car."

     No one was at the car.  Ditched the camera bag, ditched my coat.  It was that warm, that quickly.  And there was more light than I would have expected that many minutes into the day. 

     Went back to where Mel was.  But he wasn't there.  It was a complicated corner of earth.  Rocks here, a hill there, what appeared as flat veered into something else.  How quickly the group had gotten scattered.  Wandered further into the rocks.

     "Mel?"

     No answer.

     Heard a guitar.  One chord strummed over and over.  Hard to say from where.

     Tried to get interested in the rocks.  And they were interesting but my eye just wouldn't settle.  I had been with Mel and I felt derailed.

     Heard the guitar again, closer.  Rounding a bend, saw the guitar neck and then Glenn.

     "Hey, it's you," he said flatly.  "And me.  All alone."

     He looked at the rocks.  He looked at his guitar.  He looked at me.  "You coming on yet?"

     "No."  Which was the truth.

     "I am.  How much did you eat?"

     "Enough."  Which also was not a lie.

     "I know who you are."

     I nodded.

     "I said I know who you are."

     What to say?  "Okay."

     "And I know where you're at."

     "Right here."

     "Where your head is at."

     "Attached to my body."

     "You smart-assing me?"

     Suddenly it occurred to me that he could hit me.  That he wanted to.

     "Well?"

     A variety of right and wrong answers in any given situation.  Besides yes and no.  "Can I take your picture?"

     "Do you have to ask?"

     Yes because you're so fucking touchy I didn't say.  Instead, I shrugged.  The universal language of a shrug.

     He shrugged back.  Plunked his guitar.  One chord.  E.  Over and over.  Pretended that he was alone.  With All.  With himself.  With all of himself.

     With my eye to the camera I felt a great distance away, as if watching him from another room.  With that illusion of distance, I wandered closer, as wary as approaching a rattlesnake.  Call me scared.  Call me Ishmael.  Thought about the craziest things.  Blame that on the desert, the zap of all that light. 

     "Aren't you going to take a picture?"

     "I have."  Define picture.  Argue the point.  In your head.  In moot court.  In mute court.  Did you know I once went to law school?

     Circled around him, side, behind.  Back of his head.  An assassin's angle.  Guitar player without a face, without a name.  That was the one.

     Clicked.

     On he strummed.

     And on I wandered.  Gave him no tidy good-bye. 

     You hallucinated me, Glenn. 

     And then it wasn't exactly empty.  But it was just me.  And rocks and sand and sky and sun and the footsteps that took me from here to there.

     Silhouette of Mel.  Against the sky.  On his knees, inches from the ground, as if in prayer.  His bare back glistening with sweat.  Elbows bowed out.

     That stopped me dead.  The symmetry of him, seen from below and behind.  The vertical stack of elements -- earth, man, sky.  Centered Mel in the frame, in the split diopter focusing ring.

     Took that image.

     Took off my shirt.

     Took my time -- for the moment all there was was time, and light -- and climbed the hill to stand at his side.  He gave me no nod or notice and I did not want to interrupt whatever communion I was witnessing.

     "Amazing shit, huh?" he said, surprised that I had been noticed. 

     What I had seen was the illusion of stillness, because it wasn't, he was moving, slowly, his camera eye taking an inch by inch tour of the land just inches from his lens.

     "From deepest space I roam the surface of this strange moon I call my home.  You think it's the whole world and it is, but an inch away there's another world and you have to decide which is more beautiful or right for your eye."

     I was beginning to feel strange, pleasantly strange.  A contact high.  From contact with Mel or the desert or both.

     "You know what I'm doing, Harry?"

     "Taking pictures."

     "Keep going."

     "Of rocks."

     "Keep going."

     "Very close pictures of rocks."

     "I'm shooting a rock album."

     He kept inching along, eye to camera, camera to ground.  "When do you stop?  When do you say to yourself 'I've got it, best picture possible, the ultimate image of a rock' -- when do you stop?"

     "When it feels right?"    

     He stopped.  "Yeah.  When it feels right.  You got it.  When it feels right.  How are you feeling?"

     "Good."

     "Not too high?"

     "No."

     "We're nowhere near the peak."

     Of the drug for him.  Of the hill for both of us.

     "I always remember how it felt when I took a picture, and when I can pass that feeling along -- which happens with the good ones -- when it works.  This--"  He opened his arms. 

     "THIS--"  To embrace it all, rocks and sky and me.

     "THIS will be a great album.  THIS is all.  All we need."

     He laid out his shirt carefully on the ground and then lay on top of it.  "Trick here is to feel the earth and not fall off of it.  Pull up a seat, share some gravity with me."

     Untied the shirt from around my waist and spread it out on the hillside.  Laid down in tandem, in parallel to Mel.

     "Rock's eye view.  Not a bad life.  Slow it down to a sedimentary -- or is it igneous? -- time frame.  Kick back, watch the centuries roll by, oceans rise and fall.  What a view."

     He held his camera at arm's length for a self-portrait.  Was that the 28mm on his Nikon?  Did his self-portrait include me?  Heard the click and whir of his motor drive.  Then he lowered the camera, leaving only blank sky.

     "The rock album!" he shouted, and went back to bended knee, eye-to-ground supplication.  I studied a nearby patch of ground, to see what I could see.  There was brown and beige pattern to the pebbles but nothing that particularly miraculous or worthy of permanent photographic record. 

     "The sun's going to set in a while," I said.

     "It often does."

     "Are we going to do a group shot?"

     "We often do."

     "When?"

     "It'll happen.  Look at all this light.  Take the guys and add 'em up.  Four faces.  Put those four faces together and call it five.  Plenty of light left for that, whole sky full of light."

     The rocks, what was underfoot, had more urgency for Mel.  If they escaped notice they would escape, forever, perhaps.  Heard the long whir of the roll of film rewinding.

     "Do you want me to unload that?"

     "No.  I've done this all a thousand times high."

     "But you said to unload the infrared in the car."

     "Oh.  Yeah."

     He handed me the "infrared" camera body, then raised another to his eye.

     I took that as license to leave.  He seemed a bit too obsessed by those rocks.  But he'd done it a thousand times high and who was I?  A virgin, a pretender, a beginner.

     At the crest of the hill was a vista of badlands.  Bigger rocks.  More twisted.  More photogenic, in my virginal pretender opinion.  Felt good, having gained the high ground.   

     The limo cast a long shadow.  The windows were all up.  The smoked glass warped my reflection in a way I hoped I wasn't.  The door handle was hot to the touch.  Used my shirt for a glove.  Pulled the door open and felt a blast of hot air, hotter than outside.  Gave it a moment to vent and then climbed in.  The limo was a dark oven that smelled of melted leather.  Did not seem a friendly place for infrared film.  Climbed back out and opened all the doors, using my shirt as an oven mitt.  Waited for the temperature inside the limo to even with the outside.  Glad to have a defined task to do, to safely unload and reload the camera, get it back to Mel.

     The limo was a strange black beast.  Worthy of a photo.  Framed up its front grill.  As a face.  Noticed a column of dust behind -- a whirlwind?  Dust devil?  Sandstorm?  Biblical plague?  The Prophet Joshua visiting his flock of Joshua Trees?

     No.

     It was another limousine.  Gangsters?  Angels of death?  In such an empty place everything had significance or seemed to.  My intended photograph was no longer of solitude, but I framed out the approaching car and tried to use the background plumes of dust to good effect.

     As the limousine got closer the crunch of gravel got louder.  Like a hallucination that had doubled, there were now two limousines.  A chauffeur, in jacket and tie, smartly opened the back door.

     For David G.

     Aka Mister D., who stepped out of the black car in a perfect white T-shirt.  "Harry!" he said and opened his arms to greet me like a long lost friend.

chapter 12

     I was strung-out from too much sun and too little sleep.  He gave me a hug before I had the presence of mind to sidestep him.

     "How's the shoot going?"

     "Hard to say.  It's my first."

     "You're starting at the top, lad."

     Danny appeared.  Saw how his hand-tooled boots balanced the cowboy hat, and closer, those white boxer shorts were, in fact, a bit stained.  He nodded the merest of hellos to David, opened the trunk of "our" limo, and took a beer out of the cooler.

     "How's it going, Danny?"

     "It's going.  We're starting to peak, I think.  Still going up, anyway.  You want to do a button or two?"

     "A button or two?"

     "Peyote."

     "Where's Mel?"

     "I don't know.  Where is Mel?" Danny asked back.

     "Where's Mel?" David asked me.

     "He was over there."

     "Show me.  Stay with the car, Bobby."

     We started off together.  He had me alone again, and in a lonelier place than Malibu.

     "Are you high?" he asked.

     No was the honest answer.  It was also the answer he wanted to hear.

     "You're not high," he decided without me saying yea or nay.  "You can talk to me.  I won't bite.  I won't even kiss.  I actually am tactful."

     "I'm not high."

     "Tell me something I don't know."

     "Why don't you tell me something I don't know?" 

     "You'll never be a good photographer," he said without hesitation or doubt.  "Or maybe you will, but not as good as you could be at something else."

     Stole a look at him.  He was walking by my side, trudging actually, uphill, close enough for me to touch, should I so desire.

     "What do you think of that?"

     "What do you expect me to think?" I asked back.

     "I expect you to value my opinion."

     "More than my own?"

     "I've got a track record."

     "Not with me."

     "Okay.  You've convinced me.  You'll be a good photographer.  A great photographer.  Now do you like me?  Just a little?"

     As we crested the hill, there was Mel, sunburned and shirtless, lying on his stomach, camera to his eye, as motionless as the rocks.

     "What the fuck?  Mel?!"

     David marched in front of Mel's lens but not a muscle moved.

     "MEL!"

     "You're shadowing my shot."

     David didn't step aside.

     "What the fuck is happening out here?"

     "The rocks are happening."

     "What the fuck's going on?"

     Mel rolled onto his back, didn't seem to mind the pebbles digging into his skin.  "Travelin' down that ol' peyote road.  Walkin' with the king."

     "What's with the peyote?!"

     "That was always the concept.  At one with the desert.  Express the spirit of the band."

     "In a fucking photograph.  The concept was to take a bunch of good-looking guys out to a good-looking place and then whatever it takes to make them happy so you could take a photograph of them looking good and happy."

     "The dosage is imprecise.  That's part of the, um, challenge." 

     "You weren't supposed to get fucked up."

     "I've got to be at one with them for it to happen."

     "No, you need to have film in the camera and be able to focus the fucking thing for it to happen."

     "I will...I am...it's happening...I'm sorry, man, David.  It'll come together.  It always does."

     "Stand up."

     "Yeah, okay."

     "Stand up!"

     David crossed his arms.  If he could order Mel around then he could impose some order.  From where I was standing it was just angry David and mellow Mel and the big desert.  We were a little temporary human event disturbing the quiet of rock and sand, soon to decamp.

     "Stand up."

     "Yeah, I'm standing, I'm standing.  Feet are such weird things, don't you think?"

     "I'm not thinking about feet just this second."

     "You should."

     David started walking back up the hill, back toward the limos, expecting Mel to match his pace, but Mel was wrapped up in the drama of balance and gravity.

     "Sorry, man.  The peyote's never gotten on top of me before."

     David stopped and waited for Mel to catch up.  Mel was content to just stand.  Being an ambling biped again wasn't something he could just take for granted.

     David walked right up to me.  Got cocktail party close.  Close enough for me to smell breath mint.

     "Well, Harry?"

     "Well, what?"

     "Here's the deal.  Ready to be a real photographer?"

     David had no qualms or doubts about planting his feet in the sand and arbitrating the real.

     I looked to Mel, so far away, how many feet, fifty?

     "It's cool, Harry," Mel said in a whisper that sounded close and clear.  "The flower's still too singing in me."

     I was wondering what that snatch of poetry meant but that mongrel doggerel was all David needed to continue on his way.  "Come on, Harry," he said without looking back.

     "Are you okay?" I asked.

     Mel smiled.  "I.  Am.  Rather high.  But fine."

     So I had his blessing but he was blessing everything and I happened to be part of everything so how much did his blessing mean?  I wanted, needed, to feel better about Mel being in a bad way.  About this being my opportunity.  His loss, my gain.  Didn't like that game.  It was not nice.  Did that make me not a nice person? 

     Thought about this for however many footsteps if took to climb back up the crest of the hill.  On the other side, David and limos.  Civilization, so-called.

     "If he thinks I'm going to pay him for this bullshit, forget it."

     "Mel's been shooting all day.  I'm sure he has some good stuff."

     "He's not going to burn me.  I burn first."

     A blue bandanna bobbed between some rocks.  David set a pace for that bandanna.  "I can see you're taking notes.  Good."

     I was contemplating what kind of contract Mel had with David and what constituted breach.  Contract law.  Which had been my life long ago, way back when, last week.

     Out here everything was stripped away, no houses or streets or clutter of objects, and I could almost see the strings, the web of expectation and consent.

     If David walked faster than me then I was falling behind.  If I chose to walk to the same place.  I had been following him since he arrived.  How had he accomplished that?

     Past a scrim of rocks, seated just below the shrine -- enshrined -- was Glenn wearing guitar and bandanna.

     "Hey, I just hallucinated Mister D."

     That got a politic smile from David.  "You wish."

     "Did you bring Malibu with you?  Could use a splash of ocean out here."

     "How's it going?"

     "Oh, it's goin'."

     "You're fucked up."

     "That's cool.  It's the dawn of existence out here."

     Heard a tap, tap, tapping, a complex rhythm, getting closer -- Danny with drumsticks, playing his way along the  rocks.  He looked at us as if we three were a natural phenomena on par with the rocks. 

     "You want to sell some records?  You want to make some money?" David asked.

     "There's music right here, man."

     "I'm not in the desert business.  I'm in the music business."    

     Glenn stared at David as that sentence made its way around his brain.  His strumming and humming slowed from 4/4 to 2/2 to 1/1 time.

     "Mel's fucked up," David said.

     "That's cool."

     "Harry's going to shoot the cover."

     Glenn was surprised.  So was I.

     "Who's Harry?"

     "This is Harry."

     "Yeah, I know his name.  But who is Harry?"

     "I've got a good feeling about him."

     "I don't."

     Glenn picked up the rhythm that Danny was tapping on the rocks, fed it back to him.  Glenn closed his eyes.  Peaceful easy desert music.  Tried to look at them as if I didn't know them, that in particular I didn't know Glenn was an asshole.  He had a gift for looking like he just happened to be there, and I, the camera, didn't.  Took a picture of them in the guise of desert musical innocents.

     The improvised song ended more from inattention than climax.  In the customary pause for applause I heard a dry, scraping sound.  Willy appeared, dragging a dead Joshua Tree trunk, still wearing his chauffeur's cap, but no shirt, no socks, no shoes, looking sunburned and drug burned.

     "What are you doing, Willy?" David asked.

     "He's the keeper of the flame," Glenn said.

     "I'm the keeper of the flame," Willy said, grateful for the prompt.

     "What flame?"

     Willy hit another bump.  Twilight had arrived an hour early to his dilated eyes.

     "The campfire," Glenn hinted.

     "I'm gathering wood," Willy added.  "This is wood."

     "Why don't you gather Randy and Joe?"

     "For the fire, Mister D?  I mean, David?"

     "For the photo.  That's why we're here."

     "Find Randy and Joe?"

     "Find Randy and Joe."

     "Yes, sir."

     "David."

     "Sir David."

     "Just David."

     "David."

     Willy dropped the Joshua Tree trunk and hurried off on his mission.  I didn't have any faith his short term memory would hold the brief he'd just been given.

     "Where do you want to shoot?" David asked.

     Suddenly I felt the enormity of what I had the opportunity to do, in this enormous place.  Had the whole world to pick from for a backdrop, not in leisurely deliberation but now.

     "Figure it out.  There's not much light left," David said.

     I started looking.  Quickly.  Away from Glenn's doubting eyes.  Don't panic.  Needed to find the right thing, the best thing, now.  Don't panic. 

     The rocks.  Too stark of a background?

     The Joshua Trees.  Poetic or distracting?

     The plains below.  Too plain?

     Remembered my way back to morning.  The shrine.  The empty window frame.  The window into the desert.  Ran up the hill to see how it looked in this light.  To see how it looked to my eye, now, as it was and as I was, not how I remembered it or wished it to be, but as it actually was, as something to work with.

     The late afternoon sun bisected the shrine with a honey-colored light.  That was lucky.  The trick would be properly posing the four Pioneers of Peyote Gulch in the however many minutes of sunlight I had left.

     A quick look at everything else, the whole rest of the world that I was deciding against as I decided on the window frame.  No, I did not have time to decide not.  There was only time to do this one thing.  One chance to take.

     Ran back down the hill.  "Willy?  Willy!"

     Back through the scrim of rocks, Glenn and Danny had not moved since last seen, were still poised to strike the next chord, the next drum beat.  "We'll do the shot up at the top of the hill, up at the shrine, we need to hurry, there's not much light left."

     "All the light in the world.  Look at it," Danny said.

     "Not for the shot I want to do."

     "What shot?"

     "You'll see."

     Glenn pulsed in alternating current from smiley all is groovy to cantankerous.  "A minute ago you didn't know what the fuck you wanted."

     "Now I do."

     "Let's give it a try," David said.

     "I like the feel of these rocks, they've got soul, let's shoot it here," Glenn said.

     Because he could not be bothered to move.  Because he had to be the one to set the groove.

     "The light's no good here."  The light was fine but I knew I needed that lie to give my shot a try.

     "Humor him," David said.

     "He doesn't know what he's doing."

     "Then humor me."

     Glenn dragged his heels, but at least, at last, he was dragging them up the hill.

     Fast and slow collided.  The sun was dropping to the horizon too fast, Glenn and Danny were climbing the hill too slow.  Every second mattered.  Suddenly.  Every second came and went, suddenly. 

     "Willy?!"

     "Yo."

     The miracle of his answer. 

     "Willy?!"

`     "Here."

     "Where?!"

     "Here!"

     Saw three figures separate from a thicket of Joshua Trees: Willy the shirtless chauffeur with Randy and Joe in tow.

     "Up here!  Hurry!"

     "Why?" Joe yelled.

     "Fucking why is right," Glenn muttered.

     "For the group shot!" I yelled back.

     David was watching.  Arms folded, he was watching the show.  He looked suitably entertained.  His life didn't depend on it.  Didn't have to pretend that mine did.  But there was an urgency I felt that I couldn't stop and explain.  I just had to have that shot, as yet only a vague idea of four faces framed by a window frame.  In this instant of me, of my life, that was the most important thing.

     "Glenn, Randy, I need you guys to stand over here."

     "Why?"

     "Please, just give it a try."

     They looked to David but I didn't.  I ran back to look at them through the window frame that was embedded in the shrine.  "No, a little to the left.  No, your right -- step to your right a bit more -- stop -- there."

     I was fighting the geography of the hill, how it sloped away.  How to keep them centered in the window and to keep the window centered in the shot?  I hurried back around the shrine as Randy and Joe arrived.  They looked wasted.  They all looked wasted.  Was it just because I knew the source of that dull gleam that sheened those four sets of eyes?

     "Okay, you guys need to stand here."

     "Facing where?"

     "Me.  The shrine."

     "Why?"

     I knew what I wanted but it wasn't enough to just see it, I needed to explain it to them with an economy of words that would penetrate their Peyote-impaired understanding in the however many minutes of sunlight I had left.

     "I'm going to shoot you through the rocks -- the shrine is a foreground frame for seeing the group."

     Was met with a group of blank stares.

     "What about us?"

     "It'll look great.  It does look great."

     No one looked convinced.

     Kneeled down behind the shrine, framed them up through the window frame again.  A collection of legs. 

     "You need to get down."

     No one moved.

     "On your knees."

     "Fuck this fucking bullshit!"

     "Get down on our knees?  Who's giving head to who?"

     Lowered the camera.  Needed to stop and take a step back.  Persuade them of what I saw, of what could be.  Ladies and gentlemen of the jury.  Distinguished gentlemen of the bar -- of the band -- I respectfully submit that -- muster my arguments, quickly.

     "It's a window into the desert.  And you're standing in the window.  Except that the window is fixed in the stone, so if you kneel, from the camera's point of view, it'll look like you're standing.  And the beauty of the image is that the window into the desert is the window into looking at you, it's the window into your music, so please, just give it a try."

     They stopped arguing.  They got down on their knees.  All except for Glenn.  But that looked great.  The faces had arrived by accident into a nice balance of faces and instruments, and a pair of legs, Glenn's, just his body and the body of his guitar, a mystery to compliment the three faces.  Quickly, I knew the focus should be on them -- click -- but then tried refocusing on the foreground window-shrine, which made the band boys a mysterious desert blur behind. 

     But there was the matter of convention.  A shot with all their faces, even the face I didn't like.

     "You need to get down, Glenn."

     "What bullshit..."

     "Come on, man, give it a go," Danny cajoled.

     Glenn dropped into view.  He looked glazed.  I hated conflict.  My inclination was to humor him.  To ease it along.  Peaceful easy feelings like his music claimed to be.  To just take the shot.  But there would not be any good humor now.  And later there would be a bad shot.  Attributed to me.  Bad humor and bad shot. 

     "You look stoned, Glenn."

     "I am stoned."

     "You look fucked-up stoned."

     "Fuck you."

     "There."

     "Fuck you."

     "Don't move your lips."

     "Fuck" -- click -- "you."

     The blur might work.

     The others were laughing at his pique.  Three laughs and a scowl.  Click.  Better than expected.

     He smiled to prove that he could, that he could rise above his own pettiness.  One forced smile, his, that read as mysterious because there was such fury in it.

     Click.

     "What do we do now?"

     "Whatever you like," I said because I couldn't think of anything else I needed.  I got a surprised look -- click -- and then Glenn stood -- click -- and left -- click -- then Danny wandered away -- click -- and Joe, next to go -- click -- four little Indians wandering away -- Randy, the only one left, wandered back down the hill, lone man with a banjo, receding -- click -- gone -- click -- a sequence of them there and gone.

     Felt good.  The shots worked.  I'd been lucky.  Would I be lucky again and in the same way?

     Lowered the camera and stood.  Saw the world that wrapped around me.  That wrapped around my eyes.  There was still some direct sunlight left.  The last of it.

     David was smiling -- at me, at world, at his not so little piece of it. 

     The Pioneers of Peyote Gulch grouped themselves into a boxed circle and started playing a trance of a song.  Glenn had his back to me.  I set my f-stop to properly expose the sunset sky, which would turn their silver-nitrate figures into silhouette, the shape of desert music at the end of the day. 

     Then I opened up the f-stop and moved closer for shots of their faces, intent on making music.  Could convince myself that even Glenn looked childlike when so engaged.

     The advance lever froze -- end of the roll.  But I didn't need any more shots.  Could enjoy the twilight as a civilian not a soldier.

     David laid a hand on my shoulder.  "You did good."

     "Thanks."

     "I hate wasting money.  And you just saved a bunch from getting wasted.  How much is Mel paying you?  Well?  It's not that complicated of a question."

     "That's personal."

     "Not at all.  I pay Mel.  Mel pays you.  So I pay you."

     "I've been working with Mel on some other things."

     "What other things?"

     "An inner sleeve."

     "For who?"

     "Crosby, I think."

     "I own him."

     "And Love."

     "Not worth owning.  How much does he pay you?"

     "To own me?"

     "Come on, how much does he pay?"

     "We haven't discussed money."

     "You are a fool," which registered as too harsh to his ears as he said it.  "As in a fool being parted from his money.  Let me negotiate for you next time."

     "I don't need your help."

     "I beg to differ."

     "Or your money."

     "But you're already taking my money."

     "I'm not taking anything.  I haven't been given anything."

     "You're using my film, film that Mel bought with my money."

     "No, it's my film.  And my camera."

     "Why is this happening?  I'm complimenting you.  You remind me of me.  That's the ultimate compliment."

     "For you."

     "No, for you."

     Flames licked to life.  Without my noticing, without the sun or the sky asking my permission, it had gotten dark and Willy had started a fire. 

     David again put his hand on my shoulder.  "We got off on the wrong foot.  I'm just saying thanks.  You stepped in and did as well as Mel.  Maybe better."

     "You haven't seen the film."

     "My hunches are what got me here.  My hunches are right."

     "Like last night."

     He smiled.  It was any smile I wanted it to be.  "Point taken."  He patted my back.  "I'm your friend."  Another pat.  "I really am."

     The flames really did make him look devilish.  Sometimes you can't escape the cliché.  But you can still try to redeem it.  I reloaded my camera.

     "My film?" he asked with hybrid firelight smile.

     "Mine."

     The inconstant flames made sockets of his eye then fused his pupils to orange pinpoints.  The flames conspired to ferry him in and out of darkness.  The flickering light made each shutter press a guess.

     "I want a print of that."

     "I'm sure you do."

     "Are you just shooting these for your amusement?"

     "Is there any other reason?"

     "Money."

     "Because that's what amuses you."

     "You amuse me."

     "You don't amuse me."

     "But you find me interesting."

     "But not amusing."

     I could trade barbs without him all night.  Until I got barbed. 

     The boys in the band fed Joshua fronds, creosote twigs, mesquite, whatever would burn, and whatever wouldn't (beer cans) into the flames.  Rock and roll cave men.  I maneuvered into my best guess of the best place to photograph that.

     "LOOK AT ME!"

     Caught that startled moment.

     And in the 1/60th of a second after, Glenn scowled, Joe smiled, Randy was too stoned to figure out quite what had happened.

     "Good thing the desert'll still be here tomorrow.  And next week.  When we come back.  To get the album cover we just didn't get."

     "Glenn."

     "Hundred bucks says he fucked up."

     "Glenn."

     Turned away from the fire.

     "Where are you going?"  David asked.

     "To find Mel."

     "Why?"

     Why bother to explain that I was worried about him?

     Walked away.  Only the barest blue left in the sky.  In not too many footsteps I felt alone, though I could hear voices and fire-crackle and guitar.  Everything was close and far. 

     Enough light to see.  To see was enough.  Around those rocks, there, nothing to hear except air, wind, my breath in and out, maybe the beating of my heart.  Maybe.

     Mel was still sitting among the rocks, on higher ground now, at the crest, hugging his knees.  He was glad to see me, not at all surprised, no agenda hidden to his smile. 

     "How did we do?" he asked.

     "Pretty good, I think."

     "Get some good shots?"

     "Yeah.  How are you?"

     "Settling back to earth."

     We sat there for a while, without feeling the need to speak.  The light breeze was scented with burning meat.

     "Hungry?" I asked.

     "Not for that."

     "Do you need anything?"

     "No.  Just to sit.  Still."

     I nodded.  He was back to being Mel.

     "Want a jacket?" I asked.

     "No."

     We sat some more.  I thought about the pictures I had just taken. I tried to work backwards and reconstruct the chronology of today, but my thoughts bounced around and through today's faces and images and feelings.

     "And you?" Mel asked.

     "What?"

     "What do you want?"

     "To take a walk," a bit surprised by my own answer.  But I must have had that thought because I said it, sitting there with Mel, in the elements.  Elemental.  Elemental thoughts.  "To take a walk."

     He nodded.

chapter 13

     When I started walking, I didn't want to stop, except to get my coat from the limo.  And then the dirt road looked the easiest place to walk.  It was a path and it was away.  My reason for being there, in limo land, in rock and roll limbo land, had come and gone.  I had either gotten it on film or I hadn't.  Needed the darkroom to decide that.

     At the end of the dirt road was two-lane black top.  Turned left, back to the city, and started walking along that lonely lane.  Thought about Angel and his ilk -- dare I hitchhike again?  Told myself yes and no and yes and no and those vascillations passed the time until there finally appeared a distant pinpoint of leftward ho headlights.

     Dared to stick out my thumb.

     Those headlights rolled to a stop.  A cowboy in an old Ford pick-up leaned over and opened the passenger door.  Not a rock and roll cowboy, but a saddle tramp, with a beat leather saddle in his truck bed.  He looked friendly without half-trying.

     "Hell of a place to hope for a ride."

     "Thanks."

     "Where you headed?"

     "L.A."

     "It's your lucky day."

     He asked me where I lived and I said Laurel Canyon, as if that was a city, but he knew where it was.  He lived in Santa Monica, a Santa Monica cowboy of all things, and after the hellos was happy enough not to talk.  Thought about telling him that I was originally from Texas but there wasn't much conversation to work that into.

     Then he gently shook me awake as we were climbing up Laurel Canyon Boulevard, as if the desert had dissolved into the hills and there we were.  I was happy enough to be let off at the bottom of Lookout Mountain.  Houdini's ruins didn't look any more ruined than yesterday.  But he insisted on giving me a ride to the house and I was grateful not to make another trudge up Stanley Hills.

     "Do you mind if I take your picture?" I asked at the top.

     "Ain't it too dark?"

     "Not if you stay still."

     "Okay."

     He looked flattered but that look melted into laconic curiosity as I dialed the shutter down to 1/15th of a second and steadied my arm against the passenger door.

     "Why do you want a picture of me?"

     "You were part of the day."

     I waved him another good-bye as he turned his truck around.  At the bottom of the steps, a SOLD placard now swung from the yard arm FOR SALE sign.

     Sold.  And so quickly.  How long had I really been away?  It felt like a Rip Van Winkle kind of day.

     Counted the steps backwards, from 66 to 1.

     Inside.  Home.  For however much longer it lasted.

     Sat down in the swivel chair.  The fireplace was cold.  The TV was cold.  Felt good to just sit there.  Could I sit there forever?  Sold.  No.

     Didn't want to sleep.  Or eat.  Or go to my room.  Wanted to develop that roll of film in my pocket.

     Why not?  Not a reason I could think of.  Because the question I wanted answered, now, without waiting, without sleeping, was what were those 36 exposures?

     Stepped into the bomb shelter and turned on the safe light.  Felt that much more at home burrowed in the hillside.

     "Prince Hal?" Barney's voice, from the loft above.

     "Hi."

     "I'm trying to sleep"

     "Sorry I woke you, Barney."

     "Your Mom's been calling."

     "Again?"

     "And again and again."

     "Oh."  There was that.  The life I came from.

     "She's crazy."

     "Yeah."

     "Get some sleep, kid."  Heard a sleepy sigh from the loft and the rustle of sheets being pulled tight.

     Turned the safe light off and felt my way out of the bomb shelter.  Had a blank moment in the night kitchen.  What to do.  Remembered that I had a key to Mel's house, felt my pocket and it was still there after all those hours and miles and desert rambles.

     Walked back down the steps, the miracle of that thin sliver of metal, the difference between being outside or in Mel's castle.  Inside, all was orderly and quiet and Mel was so far away, outside for the night.

     Back in Mel's darkroom, another kind of home, the close and familiar darkroom darkness.  Enjoyed the carefully clocked minutes of developing and proofing the desert film.

     When I stepped back through the black felt curtain, the blue light of canyon dawn suffused the quiet calm of Mel's house without Mel, empty except for me. 

     Walked into his studio allowed, pretending for a moment  that it was mine, that I owned it, that it couldn't be sold out from under me, that today was everyday and everyday was mine, that I had all the time in the world to ponder these pictures.

     Hunched over the light box, loupe to my eye, travelling down the line, frame by frame, from Becky onward, relived the strip of images I'd grabbed from the night and day and night.  Tried to see them not as artifacts of where I been and what I had done, as the residue of selected fractions of moments now gone, but as images to be seen by someone who had not been there.

     The pictures seemed good.  Mostly luck, but I had something to do with it.  I had been present, I'd taken the pictures, I'd had the presence of mind to do that.

     Circled two frames with a white grease pencil, both of the band as seen through the rock-embedded window frame: one with the focus on the band, the other with the focus on the window frame, a mysterious blur of impending faces gathered behind.

     Back in the darkroom, the slow step by step of making prints -- test strips for exposure time, dodging and burning, cupping the light with my hands and tweaking the negatives into positive prints.

     Back in the hallway, hard sunlight now skittered off the polished wood floor and hurt my dark-adapted eyes.  Blinked myself back into the light of day.

     Sat down at Mel's work table to look at the prints, arranged them just so.  Suddenly (after two nonstop days and nights of suddenly) I felt very tired.

     The phone rang.

     Someone calling for Mel?  Or Mel calling me?  Mel in trouble, needing help?  Mel or not Mel?  To answer or not?

     "Mel's house."

     "Harry!  Just the person I want to talk to," said David G.

     "Mel's not here."

     "I wasn't calling Mel.  Can you come to my office?"

     "Why?"

     "I want to see those photographs of the band."

     Oh.  "Well..."

     "Three o'clock?  Four?  Or we could meet for drinks."

     "No."

     "Then four o'clock?"

     "Yes," I said as the easiest way of saying no to drinks.

     After he hung up, I sat wondering why I had said yes.  Because I was tired? 

     What did I really want to do?

     Wendy.  I wanted to see Wendy.

chapter 14

     It was comfort to be in my Texas truck again, climbing Appian Way in that familiar hunk of metal.  At the top, turned onto Wonderland Avenue, where she had forbidden me to follow her on foot.  Saw her flower power van parked in a driveway.

     Thought about all the reasons why I shouldn't be there as I walked up the old wooden steps.  Funny to feel so brave about just knocking on a door with a peace sign plastered to it. 

     The door opened and Wendy started to smile before she decided not to.

     "You can't be here."

     "But I am."

     "I don't want him to see you."

     "Can't we just talk?"

     "Why?  What are you expecting?  To fuck again?  Or fall in love?  You think falling in love is that easy?"

     "Which question should I answer first?"

     Wendy almost smiled.  That was a start.

     "Not here."  She grabbed her keys from a moose antler and walked quick down the porch.  "Take your truck, follow me."

     She wasn't waiting.  It took a three-point turn to get the truck headed up the hill after her.  The van went out of sight around one bend and then turned up a dirt track I wouldn't have noticed or dared take otherwise.

     When I got to the top of what had once been a driveway, she was already standing in a vacant lot at the tip-top of the canyon, her arms folded.  The sunlight was milky and hot and hurt my eyes.

     "What do you want?"

     "To see you again."

     "Look, I'm not the right person for you."

     "Are you sure?"

     "I'm not sure of anything," she said.

     "You're not happy.  With your situation."

     She smiled.  "Okay, you're a genius.  Think you can make me happy?"

     "I don't know.  We could have fun trying.  We had fun the other night."

     "That was an accident."

     "Was it?"

     "It's easy to have fun for one night.  Or it used to be.  I don't know.  I told you, I don't know anything anymore.  Shit, there he is."

     Down below, a black Porsche pulled into the driveway and the Cros got out.

     "You look different," she said.

     "A lot's happened."

     "Don't look so desperate."

     "I haven't had much sleep."

     "That goes with the territory."

     Without prelude I kissed her.  She was surprised then not.  I was glad I'd tried.

     "Most guys are afraid of me."

     "I don't blame them."

     "Look, I'll see you around.  You never know."

     "The house I live in got sold."

     "Wow, a lot has happened."

     "So much for my official canyon days."

     "I can't just stand around kissing you," she said.  But she did.  We did that for a while.  I rubbed my hand along the small of her back, felt the soft gingham fabric of her dress.  She was solid, she was flesh, she was a person, in proximity, I could imagine the rest of my life like this, with her.  Quietly, ridiculously, I indulged that dream.

     "You can't just walk into the middle of a scene and do anything."

     "I'll try and remember that, next time I walk into a scene."

     "I've got to go."

     I knew better than to ask her not to.  Knew better than to ask when can I see you again?  She liked me, I knew that much, and I would have thought that was enough.  I thought that before I got to Laurel Canyon, as well as I could remember what I had been thinking three days ago. 

     She drove away while I was thinking this and that.  Without waving good-bye. 

     Noticed that the sun burned my neck.  The sun did not feel like a friendly thing today.  The van reappeared below and screeched to a stop beside the Porsche.  Wendy looked up and waved a good-bye from below and I waved back and then she was hidden from my view by the hill.

     I was standing at the top but visibility was poor.  The milky light hemmed in the horizon.  Felt the weight of my camera hanging from my shoulder.  Had I been wearing it all this time?  There was no picture I felt like taking.  Stood there for a while hoping to feel something other than bad or sad but I didn't.  Whatever the moment had to offer had come and gone with Wendy.  I followed her shadow down.

chapter 15

     On a fool's dare I drove down Wonderland Avenue past the flower power van and the Porsche and the porch with the peace sticker and whatever was happening or not inside the rock star's house.

     At the bottom of the hill, The Strip was unclean gray, too much sun, too many cars, the worst kind of desert, pretending to be something else.  Camera on my shoulder and Manila folder of photographs in hand, I put sixty of the sixty-three cents I'd pocketed from the groceries into a parking meter. 

     Walked a hot stretch of sidewalk to David's building, two-stories of cream-colored stucco and faux Tudor timber. 

     David's offices were clean and white and air conditioned, pretending to be friendly.  The secretary recognized my name, offered me a choice of beverage (declined), and admitted me without hesitation to the inner sanctum -- Tiffany lamps, gold records, potted ferns, brown leather couch and chairs, no desk, and David, who smoothed his tight white T-shirt as he stepped forward. 

     "Harry!"

     By offering a handshake I avoided a hug.  

     He gestured for me to take my choice of brown leather seats, then sat in the seat next to me, close enough to pat my knee, should the need arise.   

     "You left without saying good-bye."

     "But here I am."

     "Here you are.  Let's see what you've got."

     I offered up the Manila folder.  He looked at the prints quietly, then laid them on the glass coffee table, laying the two 8 X 10s of the window-shrine side by side.  I'd formatted the borders to square up the images, to give the feel of an album cover.

     "Yes.  Oh, yes.  Front and back.  Shooting through the stones.  And the boys don't look too stoned.  How clever of you."  He studied the proof sheet.  "Do you have a loupe?"

     "No."

     "You should have made up more prints."

     "There hasn't been much time."

     "No, there hasn't.  And you haven't done this before, have you?"

     "Done what?"

     "Presented.  Well done.  Your first cover."  He looked in the folder.  "Where are the negatives?"

     "You're jumping a bit ahead."

     "A bit ahead how?"

     "We don't have a deal."

     "Deal?"

     "Isn't that what you do?  Make deals?"

     David smiled.  I was playing a game he liked.  I was playing.  "What sort of deal is required?  To reimburse you?"

     "To properly compensate me."

     "I've already compensated Mel."

     "Mel didn't take these shots."

     He handed me back the proof sheet.  "I don't need to use these."

     "No, you don't."

     "We can go back out to the desert."

     "Yes, you can.  I'm sure that Glenn and Danny and particularly Randy and Joe would enjoy that."  I gathered up the two prints from his coffee table.

     "And you won't get an album cover."

     "That's okay."  I stood up.

     "Sit down."

     I didn't.

     He smiled.  "Sit down."

     I sat back down.

     "How much do you want?"

     "How much are you paying Mel?"

     "Two thousand dollars."

     I wondered if that was the truth.      

     "Have you already paid Mel?"

     That got a smile.  "You think I pay in advance?"

     "I want you to pay me a thousand dollars.  And Mel a thousand dollars."

     "And what do you think Mel will have to say about that?"

     "I'll ask him.  And I'll write up a contract."

     "Mel and I have never had a contract.  What do you need a contract for?"

     "Credit.  A guarantee of photo credit."

     "Don't you trust me?"

     "Do you tell that to everyone you don't make a contract with?"

     His smile hardened.  "You're getting a break here."

     "I appreciate that."

     "You seem more interested in the contract."

     "We can worry about the art later."

     "'We can worry about the art later'?  You think a real artist would say that?"

     "I wouldn't know.'

     "God, what a waste.  Why in the hell do you want to just be a photographer?"

     Because for me it's not just a photographer I thought but did not say.

     I reached for the proof sheet.  He let me take it from his hand with utter neutrality, with neither clinging nor surrender, as a matter of complete indifference.

     I stood again.  And he did not ask me to sit back down.

     Stepping out of David's air conditioning, The Strip was an hour hotter and the air an hour dirtier. 

     My truck was parked pointing west, so I got in and drove that way, back to UCLA.  Back to the law school.  Where I never thought I'd again go.  Never say never, even to yourself.

     Stepping through the stone archway, abandon all hope ye who enter here, I felt like a snake climbing back into skin it had already shed.  No worse feeling than ill-fitting skin.

     I was grateful to see no familiar face.  I knew just what aisle in the law library to find the gilt-lettered contract law books I wanted to consult.

     Where was a legal pad when I needed one?  I took the photographs out of the folder, then, writing in a close hand, covered the Manila folder front and back with notes.

     "Whoa -- Harry!" David, The Other David, exclaimed in his library voice.  He looked the same and that sameness was, to me, today, utterly strange.  "Have you been at the beach?  Looks like you got some sun."

     "I was in the desert."

     "Palm Springs."

     "Not Palm Springs.  Somewhere else."  Realized that I didn't know the name of the place I'd been.  "Somewhere."

     "So you're coming to back?  To your senses?  To school?"

     "No.  I needed to research a contract."

     "For what?"

     "Me.  I just shot a rock and roll album cover."

     "Shot?"

     "As the photographer.  Shot pictures."

     "Bullshit."

     "Okay, right, bullshit."

     He saw the photos I'd emptied from the folder.  "You did these?"

     "Yeah."

     "Fuck.  What's the name of the band?"

     "They don't have one yet."

     "Then how can they have an album?"

     "I don't know.  They just can."

     "I don't understand.  How did all this happen?"

     "It just did."  But just didn't begin to explain it.  The Other David looked at me differently, as something other than the Harry of three or was it four days ago?  The old Harry anyway, Veteran Avenue Harry.  As opposed to Laurel Canyon Harry for however many more days that lasted.

     David slouched down, studying the photos, as if they were realer than me, proof of something that had happened elsewhere, proof of something about me.  "When I saw you sitting here I thought, great, cool, Harry's back."

     "Just for a visit."

chapter 16

     But it was all a visit.

     That's how it felt when I parked again up on Appian Way.  SOLD read the sign at the bottom of the steps.  The house at the top was someplace I was visiting, it no longer had any permanence as home.

     Got out of the truck and stood in the canyon twilight.  Purple mountains majesty.  Or, rather, purple hills.  The silver Porsche was back in Mel's driveway. 

     Knocked on the door; it swung open to my tap. 

     Smelled coffee and marijuana.  Embers in the fireplace, Miles Davis on the stereo.  A clean, well-lighted place.  It wasn't for sale.  It wasn't going away.  It had a pleasing permanence. 

     Called Mel's name as I walked through the house.

     "In here."

     Joined him in the darkroom.

     He was printing up his photographs of rocks.  Rocks that got in your face, that were faces, that were mountains, that were whole worlds.

     "They're beautiful."

     "Yeah.  Rocks.  But not necessarily rock and roll.  Let's see your stuff."

     I handed over the folder.  He nodded to himself as he studied the prints, lit a joint, offered it to me, didn't say anything when I didn't take it, just returned it to his lip after a sociable amount of time as he leaned into the proof sheet with his loupe.  He was communing with my photos, communing with my shots of the desert, seeing my night spread across those 36 exposures.  He came up for air.  Gave me a smile.  That meant everything to me.  "Good.  You got it."

     "I showed them to David."

     "I know, he called.  He's pissed off."

     "I asked him to give me a thousand bucks for my pictures."

     "So I heard."

     "You can have it, Mel.  I just didn't want him to get it from me for free."

     "I'll be generous with myself and say my peyote-spiced rock shots are half the inner sleeve--"

     "The inner sleeve being one quarter of the job."

     "You remember!  Half of a quarter is an eighth, the whole gig is two thousand bucks, one eighth of two thousand is two hundred and fifty bucks, throw in another five hundred for setting up the gig -- I'm up to seven-fifty, being overly generous with myself."

     "And overly generous with me, letting me tag along to the desert and--"

     "--save my ass."

     "Fifty-fifty?" I asked.

     "If you insist.  Which is what you asked David for."

     "A lucky guess."

     "When does it stop being luck?"

     "When I start guessing wrong."

     He offered me the joint again.  This time he noticed that I declined. 

     "You look tired," he said. 

     "That's the pot calling the kettle black." 

     He laughed.  "The pothead calling the kettle black."

     Walked out of Mel's darkroom, out of Mel's house.

     Walked past the SOLD sign and back up the 66 steps.

     Inside, Don and Barney and the Other Harry were watching TV.  Three bachelors.  Just another night in the middle of life.  As if it would all last forever.

     "Prince Hal!" Don said.  "You're sunburned."

     "You're not.  So the house got sold?"

     "Sold American." 

     "What are you guys going to do?"

     "Something," Don said.

     "Move in with my girlfriend," Barney said.

     "Move in with Barney and his girlfriend," Don said.

     The Other Harry just shrugged.

     "He's going to live in his Ferrari."

     "What are you going to do?" the Other Harry asked me.

     "Move back to the dorm?"

     "I didn't live in a dorm, Don.  I don't know.  I haven't had a chance to think about it."

     "Better get started."

     "Don -- leave him alone."

     "Better get started thinking."

     "Don."

     There was nothing exceptional about standing in the room, watching a few scraps of lumber burn, Don's scraggly beard backlit by the TV, Barney on the green plaid couch with the family-sized salad bowl all for himself, the Other Harry rocking peaceably in the duct tape-patched swivel chair.  Their was nothing exceptional about any moment in the room except that soon, not tonight or tomorrow, but some day soon thereafter, it would be gone, or rather we would, the history of us being in the room would be erased.

     Eased my camera off my shoulder.  From where I was standing nothing looked good.  What shot should I take, so that I would have an image of them, something to take back to the room?  I wanted to bank an image for some future self to have to hold in hand.

     Then I realized that the center of the room was the one place I had never stood -- at the television set -- the point of light around which they gathered every night.

     "What are you doing?"

     Didn't answer Don as I found my place in front of the television screen.  Through the camera it looked right.  It looked better than expected, their three faces looking at me, in natural balance.

     "Why are you taking our picture?"

     "Never ask permission," I said.  That got them quiet for a second.  Click.

     "What?

     "Never ask permission to take a picture."  Click.  "Someone told me that once.  A long time ago.  Day before yesterday, I think."  Click.

     "You're not making any sense."

     Don and Barney looked flattered, but the Other Harry looked shyly away from the lens.  Click.

     "Okay, Prince Hal, that's enough.  We're watching something."

     They were always watching something.

     Climbed the last 21 red tile steps to my room.

     Laid down my camera, finally, for the moment.  Laid aside the folder of photographs, covered inside and out with contract notes. 

     Sat down at my desk.  My desk because it happened to be in my room.  My room because I happened to be sitting here tonight.

     Pulled the typewriter to the center of the desk and rolled a sheet of fresh paper into the platen.  But that didn't feel right.

     Needed to pack and be on my way. 

     I was a photographer.  Felt the weight of calling myself that, even silently, to myself.

      The night window gave me back my reflection, wavy in the old glass.  I was a photographer now.  There was a whole world outside of this room to take pictures of. 

     After I got some sleep.