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
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.
is why I was standing in front of bulletin board at the UCLA Housing Office,
studying the posting of rooms for rent.
in a house. Laurel Canyon. $80 month. Call 654-8160.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
street was impossibly steep. And
green. And surprising. It was all surprising.
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.
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.
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.
door was opened by a man who looked like he had just woken from a nap. He looked old.
I called about the room."
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.
hello. What's your name?"
"Oh. That's my name too."
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.
room is upstairs."
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.
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.
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
couldn't believe my luck.
"How long has the room been for rent?"
couple of months."
hasn't anyone rented it?"
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."
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
was a much smaller room with a single mattress and a stack of cardboard boxes
out of which spilled a jumble of clothes.
wondered why Don didn't want the bigger, nicer room that was for rent.
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.
was the last time you cleaned the sink?"
Other Harry just shrugged.
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.
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
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.
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.
pays less rent because it's not really a room."
am. Or was. Heh heh."
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.
about a key?"
the front door."
don't need one. The lock doesn't
mean you can't lock the house?"
that's safe? I mean, here in the
long have you lived here?"
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
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.
can park anywhere, just try not to block the garage door."
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.
do you do?" I asked.
"Me? I'm an assistant film editor. At ABC."
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.
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.
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.
did I want to take with me? Not
the bed, not the mattress, not the tiny imitation Colonial desk. Not the law books.
my two suitcases out of the closet and pondered what to stuff where, when the
front door opened.
David called from the living room.
I answered by rote.
me a powerful thirst," I heard Jerry say.
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
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
took a leave of absence."
not going back this semester."
hate law school."
not quitting, are you?"
you told your parents?"
"Yes. I've got to pay my own way now. I need a cheaper place."
took another look at the suitcase.
"When were you going to tell me?"
stayed in the doorway, slouching. "When did you decide all this?"
didn't want you trying to talk me out of this."
making a big mistake."
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."
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."
appeared in the doorway, beer in hand.
"Did someone say high?"
dropping out and moving to Laurel Canyon."
us," David said as he stepped inside and closed my bedroom door. "Look, I can cover the rent. Don't worry about that."
was touched that he didn't want me to leave. Debate partners.
Way back when (last year), way far away (Houston).
man. Thanks. I can't let you pay for my room."
I can. It's easy."
it would mess with our friendship."
moving out won't?"
the money doesn't mean anything to me."
need to pay my own way."
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.
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.
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
I turned onto Laurel Canyon it felt familiar and right and exciting. And I felt lucky, to be the one driving
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.
second trip up the steps at 8508 Appian Way was in near darkness. I carried two suitcases and counted the
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.
there," said the voice behind the light. "You're the new guy."
man holding the flashlight came from behind the hutch. "I'm Barney Buck."
like a buck rabbit I thought but didn't say. "Harry," I replied.
the Second. Or Young Harry."
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.
raise rabbits? As a hobby?"
their pelts. I'm making a rabbit
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."
Floppy's sake I felt relieved.
a fire was glowing in the hearth and "Get Smart" glowed on the
TV. Harry swiveled his chair to
face me. "Hey, you're
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.
looked the most like a hippie, but he was just scroungy not hippie. "You go to UCLA?" he asked
did I. Got an M.F. of A. I'm a Mother Fucker of Art. What are you?"
semester's worth of lawyer."
Buck, we got a lawyer here!" Don called at the closed door.
mumbled something from the other side of the door and Floppy's shadow danced
across the never been washed picture window.
anymore," I said.
took a leave."
"Yeah? What kind of leave?"
heh," Harry laughed.
Ferrari went to UCLA. He got a
degree. So you're a drop
was slouching to attention; he was having fun with me.
know I didn't want to be a lawyer."
why did you go to law school?"
got talked into it."
-- can I call you Hal?"
one else does."
Hal, lawyers talk people into shit not the other way around."
proves my point. I'm not destined
to be a lawyer."
you sounded like a lawyer saying that."
off the record."
heh," Harry Ferrari laughed.
talk the talk, Prince Hal."
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.
Prince Hal unpack his bags," Harry Ferrari said.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
into the kitchen and made myself a cheese sandwich for breakfast. I could afford approximately two months
of cheese sandwiches and rent.
needed a job, which meant I needed a newspaper.
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.
you have a second? Could you lend
"Sure." It wasn't like I had to go to the
class. It wasn't like I had to go
you could hold the reflector to bounce a little light right into her
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
"Great. Great. Great."
started snapping photos.
swap out the mandolin for the dobro.
I'm being rude, aren't I?
already a Harry across the street."
there's another one."
there can never be too many Harry's.
The dobro is the ax with the big metal resonator. Yeah, right there."
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.
am I rude this morning. Must get
naturally rude when I start snapping.
This is Wendy."
I said back. I was in love but I
didn't let her know it.
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."
collapsed onto the grass.
put the reflector down.
a natural, Harry. You do any
I've got a camera."
was. I just quit first year
"Congratulations. That calls for a joint."
helped Mel and Wendy carry the instruments and cameras inside.
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.
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?
much is Cros paying you?" She
passed the joint to Mel.
"Cros? Forget it. The record company."
much is the record company paying you?"
the whole album cover?"
what we just did."
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.
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."
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
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."
looked thoughtful -- or stoned -- or thoughtfully stoned.
do you ask?"
could use some bread."
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?
keeps saying...fuck, he made me quit my job...and he said...it's a
drag...bread's always a drag..."
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?"
charge it back to the record company."
to me it seemed like he was lying but I admired him for it.
Harry? What's rattling through
your mind this fine morning?"
now I could be sitting in contract law."
I am not."
that feels good."
"Yeah. Weird but good."
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."
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.
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?"
was going to go buy a newspaper."
got a newspaper, you're welcome to it."
was going to start looking for a job."
one of those too."
I thought but didn't say.
got Wendy on the payroll, you might as well be too."
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?"
asked me that once," Wendy said.
the opposite sex."
careful now, Harry might stop thinking we're innocent."
sooner than later. How long have
you been in the canyon?"
guess this is my first official day."
been here three years and that's the first I've heard of official days,"
I think it's great, what I've seen."
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
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."
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.
it's fun and I'm good at it and I like being good at having fun."
are so full of shit, Mel," she said with a sad smile, her most natural one
if I could help you have more fun, I would."
I remember you trying."
picked up a key anchored to an enormous plastic flower key-chain. "Gotta get back to the
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.
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.
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
was serious about the job. Ever
worked in a darkroom?"
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."
who could handle law school can handle printing proof sheets."
I couldn't handle law school."
no, you handled it very well in my opinion. Come along."
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.
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?"
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."
you mind if I take notes?"
laughed again. I liked his
laugh. "You are too good to
second time through I took notes.
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.
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."
don't have a lock, across the street."
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."
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.
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.
made an extra copy of the proof sheet to take home and study.
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
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.
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.
I climbed the sixty-six steps I saw lights on in the house.
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.
knew he would never call me anything else. "Hi."
royal family is fucking freaking out."
parents have been calling every ten minutes," Barney said.
worried about their baby."
ass college boy."
not a college boy."
and they do not dig that in the slightest."
talked to them."
outrageous things had Don said to M?
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.
phone rang again.
ten minutes, regular as clockwork."
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
me to tell them to leave Prince Hal alone?"
cut him some slack."
whole life is slack."
quickly, without thinking, because thinking would surely stop me, and outwardly
fearless, as a point of pride, I answered the fucking phone.
("Harry?") P's voice.
the hell is going on?")
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? David says you've moved out and that's
you being sarcastic?")
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
you've stopped going to law school.")
told you I was taking a leave."
that different from quitting?")
door is open, I can go back if I like."
I'm amazed that you can leave your whole future to a whim. You might as well quit.")
might as well."
that supposed to mean?")
agreeing with you."
("Agreeing with me?")
thought it was a leave. Make up
just did. I quit."
I told you we would not support you financially if you quit.")
are you going to live?")
hard question. Until I
remembered. "I've got a
job? What kind of job?")
a photographer. A photographer's
do you know about photography?")
showed me how to print photographs, remember?"
that's enough to get a job?")
it would seem."
much are you being paid?")
hadn't gotten around to talking salary.
exactly is enough?")
I say enough is! I'm not asking
you for anything. I don't want
anything from you."
faintly heard P talking to M.
she asked. Amazing how much spin
she could give to the two syllables of my name.)
worried about you.")
worked very hard for this.")
are those boys you're living with?
They sound strange.")
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.
you can go back next semester if you like?")
count on it."
lot can change.")
waited for me to agree. She
you call us tomorrow?")
"No. Sunday, as usual."
I hung up the phone, I felt free.
Well, freer. I walked the
phone back over to the mantle.
and daddy want you to come home?" Don asked.
knew enough not to speak. This is
home now, I thought. But I didn't
say that either.
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.
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.
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.
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.
frame that felt perfect.
Well. The darkroom would tell.
woke to fog outside the window and fog inside my head.
good -- I had a job.
myself a cheese sandwich, ate it as I descended the 66 steps to work. Couldn't wait to find out what work was
answer to my knock on Mel's door.
Peered through a window: the living room where we had smoked, empty now.
back up the 66 steps.
hi to Floppy.
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...
the 66 steps.
the 66 steps.
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:
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.
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.
the 66 steps.
the note in the door.
back up the 66 steps.
the garden again. See the
all looked great. Got tired of
just looking. Got out my camera.
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.
when I saw what I thought was "it" did I click.
imagined that I was shooting the inner sleeve of The Appian Way Album.
and reframed until I felt it -- it --
and finally clicked.
the trees see the trees...
hutch in the fog.
machine on the back porch.
and shovel leaning against the hill.
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...
low to the plane of my desk, outside a shaft of light scattering, smiting fog
-- catch the light -- catch it --
film-advance lever froze -- roll done.
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.
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.
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.
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
Harry," I heard Harry Ferrari answer.
the other Harry." Wendy's
heh," laughed Harry Ferrari.
hurried down the stairs three at a time to get to the front door. "Hi."
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.
everyone is the house named Harry?"
"Half. Two out of four."
didn't know your phone number. He
said for you to grab his camera bag and ten rolls of film."
smiled. "Mel figured you'd
figure it out."
reading between the lines."
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.
could have found it," I said.
I needed to find you."
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.
this is a peppy bus."
got a Porsche engine."
Power, Cros calls it. How long
have you been in L.A.?"
where before that?"
"Tex-ass. Tell me about Tex-ass."
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.
"Yeah. Are you really from Texas?"
"Yes. Why would I make something like that
make yourself more interesting."
are you from?"
here. I went to Hollywood
that's interesting. To me."
probably find you interesting anyway."
pulled into a driveway and parked behind a gray Porsche. "We're here."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
there. I'm Cass." As if that
Mel's friend," Wendy explained.
didn't even look at Wendy. He was
looking me over; it felt like he was looking inside me.
Cass eyed the camera bag.
"You a photographer?"
don't sound too sure," Cros said.
been helping Mel."
needs some help. Can you make me
beautiful?" he asked.
not so sure."
grunted at that, a laugh with an undertone of being easily pissed off.
Harry," Mel yelled. I was
nice meeting you, Mama Cass."
"Cass. Just Cass," she corrected.
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.
for the ride, Wendy."
fucker, aren't you?"
"Sure." He wondered if I was tweaking him with
that lone word.
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,
Fuck. Had hoped I looked relaxed. Needed to work on looking relaxed. "More inner sleeve?" I asked.
"Nah. Love's at the Whiskey. I thought you'd like to come
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
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
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.
Mel said, as if her name explained her.
"You a lady killer?"
see you watching everything."
that's the photographer in me."
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
offered Crosby the joint.
took a sip. "The fuck it
pulled an enormous baggie of luscious hemp from his shoulder bag and
dexterously rolled an enormous joint.
is the real deal."
fired the thing to life and passed it to Mel.
need a fuckin' helper now, Mel?"
needs a helper. You need one or
don't need anyone to help me play guitar."
scrawny thing's a roadie?"
meant that as an example."
he's like your entourage? You
Mel's yes man, kid?"
started in the darkroom yesterday and I'm sitting on a dark deck tonight
the kid take pictures?"
out of sight," Mel said.
lives across the street from Mel," Wendy said.
genius of proximity," I said.
said that?" Crosby asked.
think I just did."
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
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.
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.
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.
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?"
the second body with Tri-X. Put
all the extra Tri-X in your pockets.
You keep loading, we'll keep swapping cameras."
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.
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.
there was no Mel. Stuffed the
rolls of Tri-X in my corduroys and left the dressing room.
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.
the hell was Mel?
if Mel needed the camera I carried?
My whole future depended on it --
Mel crouched on a corner of the stage.
Fought my way upstream through the strum of arms and legs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
followed after the band and I followed after Mel. Mel entered with his eye to the view finder, snapping.
Mel," said Arthur Lee. He was
quite tall; he didn't need a stage to stand on.
yeah. Arthur, Harry."
shook my hand. A firm handshake,
perfectly balanced. Beers were
opened, faces toweled dry.
I get a group shot?"
man, you never stop."
at the Whisky. Please."
group crowded in one corner, doubled by the mirror behind them, Mel contorted
to get them into a crowded frame.
smile...don't smile...don't smile...great!"
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.
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
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.
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?
came out, finally, arms around the new girl. "Malibu."
the next station of the cross."
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
scrunched back into the non-existent backseat of Mel's Speedster.
crawled on Sunset, then the Strip ended and the road stretched dark and
wide-open through the sleepy time money world of Beverly Hills.
in the front seat -- Pamela -- always a girl.
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.
wash from the Speedster sent shivers up my bare arms.
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.
my hand, waved a silent good-bye to my old life.
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.
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.
the cameras inside?" I asked.
"Always take the cameras."
the surf. Breathed cold salt
air. Eyed a gaggle of glamour
Mel across the threshold, I heard myself thinking Malibu house, I'm in a
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.
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.
intense Jewish guy joined me outside -- curly hair, a smile belied by the
unblinking shrewdness in his eyes.
"Hi. I'm David."
saw you at the Whisky."
helping Mel. Assisting."
"Assisting?" He made the word sound like something
more -- something less, actually.
assistant just loads cameras."
was loading Mel's camera."
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
"Oh. What does a manager do?"
deals. Make arrangements. Make decisions. Make money."
you're here because..."
I like parties. And because it's
not," I lied.
like to see some of your photographs."
don't really have any."
might not be any good."
then again they might. Make
yourself at home. Lots to eat and
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.
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.
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.
back inside. So temporary, all
those bodies, in this moment -- was anyone else thinking about death? Was everyone?
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.
percent of publishing will sound fair, Eliot."
them. It sounds like fifty-fifty, and there's this reflex to buy
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?
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."
going to be huge. Bigger than they
than you think."
thinking very big."
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.
you're a law student? Don't look
so surprised. I know
you know that I'm not a law student.
got a lawyer vibe."
sound like my mom. Except she
wouldn't use the word vibe."
you've thrown aside the law for photography?"
aside the law quite apart from photography. It's not quite cause and effect. Or maybe it is."
never make any dough snapping pics."
seems to do okay."
you're happy with okay."
David smiled. Another smile
you have a girlfriend?"
seemed a slightly weird question, the way that he asked it. "No."
making conversation," he said in a way that clearly wasn't.
you like Picasso?"
to answer that question.
you like to see mine?"
him out the kitchen.
into more music. Three guys on the
couch, strumming guitars, singing in high tight harmony. Sounded as good as a live album.
new boys," David whispered into my ear.
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
mouthed a silent no to me, a thumbs up
the next big thing," David said and started for the stairs.
have a name yet."
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?
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.
smiled. Pride of ownership. Felt I was inside the web of his smile
by his perfectly white perfectly tailored T-shirt. Distracted by how he was looking at me. And how had Picasso wound up in Malibu?
seem more impressed by my shirt than my Picasso."
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.
humidity. Protecting my investment
against the ravages of the sea."
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.
felt very weird. Did that really
wasn't sure about you," he said, as if that were sufficient justification.
it on the moonlight."
moonlight?" Was I
missing something? Was I missing
the moon? Just the blank black
it as a compliment. I'm otherwise
I'm something other than always."
do have that lawyer vibe."
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.
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?"
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.
was just a kiss."
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
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.
the steps -- the three guys with their three guitars were still singing sweetly
but no sign of Mel.
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?
are you having fun, Harry?"
been a little weird."
can be fun."
can be fun too."
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.
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
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.
alone in the salt spray night air.
Felt like I had escaped.
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.
at the voice. Wendy's voice. As if imagined.
I walk with you?" she asked.
"You look so
love it. No one acts surprised
one that I know."
hooked her arm through mine.
"You're freezing. Where are we walking to?"
I that transparent? "Am I
showed me his Picasso."
"Ah. He invited you up to see his
that happen a lot?"
happened before. Did you keep your
virtue?" Her playful smile
was in the bounds of what I felt capable of interpreting.
we need all the virtue we can get around here."
but didn't say anything. She
didn't say anything. We didn't say
anything, together. Looked over at
she was looking at me.
stopped. And I stopped. Motionless, felt the wind. Felt the moment.
you grow up in Malibu?" I asked.
smile. For me. With no agenda, it seemed. "No one grows up in Malibu."
meant, did you come here and hang out?
Way back when. In high
mean did I come here with boys?"
necessarily. I'm here with
you." She placed her palms on
my forearms. She reached up for a
kiss. "Your arms are
lips are warm." I quickly
went from surprised to greedy. But
tried not to seem so.
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
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.
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.
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.
it yesterday you helped take my picture?"
question threw me back into words, into the world where I formed what passed
you're in the middle now."
were. That was an interesting word
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.
long have you been? In the
middle?" I asked.
and years. Forever."
how does the middle feel?"
giggled. Wiggled. And I wiggled with her. "You tell me."
about her question. Wondered if it
was a question. Until I forgot
what the question was. Because her
body was so, well, nonverbal.
into her, into the sand...
of waves dying as they crawled up the beach.
between her warm breath and the cold sea air.
in her hair, her hand in my hand.
her, clutching the earth.
to describe all of it? Any of
it? Was it just silly? Was it just me?
we started, you know..."
"Fucking? I can talk and fuck."
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.
penis melted inside her. Would the
rest of me follow after?
squirmed around so that we laid side by side, eye to eye. "Are we friends now?"
by her question. Surprised by
we friends before, Harry?"
had hoped so..."
I didn't know."
we in love or headed that way? Was
that the last, most amazing of tonight's destinations?
that smile?" she asked me.
aware that I was smiling, not overtly, not outwardly, though I had every reason
know," I lied.
was afraid to say too much, to feel too much, to let her know how much I felt.
live too much in your head," she said.
to get out of my head, how to say the right thing? Had to say something. Her eyes were not letting go of
me more than that."
be lying in the sand with her, with the privilege of stroking her breast. I thought the rest would be easy.
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.
is the best moment of my life."
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.
glad you're not one of those guys who act like nothing's happened."
But... I wondered
probably slept with you too soon."
we can't be friends 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?"
still trying to catch up."
Said without thinking, then thought better of it. But had elicited another smile from
you going to get all hung-up on me?" she asked, as someone who seemed
experienced at causing that effect.
a little too soon for me to be heart-broken."
you don't mind that I had my way with you."
if I had a choice.
if it was me she was with, and not some
lucky devil with the same name on the beach tonight.
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.
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 carry in my head.
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).
profile, caught a sideview of the sly smile she directed at the virgin sand in
much is Mel paying you?" she said to the sand.
worried about you getting burned.
Her hand found mine, her fingers warm (which defined mine as cold).
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?
haven't gotten around to talking money."
things Mel never gets around to."
hasn't been much time."
a lot's happened."
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.
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.
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.
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.
enough to doubt. And then dismiss
that doubt in the next crashing insightful moment -- waves and troughs -- brain
or no, without a word spoken between us, on the fleeting evidence of Wendy
holding my hand, Glenn did not like me.
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...
while he kept singing about peaceful easy feelings. Good
vibes. California wine, California
women, California song.
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.
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?
left his guitar on the couch, walked straight to me, as if provoked by my
existence, or by me just thinking about him.
are you?" he asked with a smile as a disclaimer.
a friend of David's?"
probably say so."
know everyone else here."
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.
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.
was waiting for me to be on my way.
Could see that in his eyes without his having to speak.
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.
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.
to the lens.
the ground glass, Glenn's expression: what the fuck...
Press. Click. Whir.
the fuck still on his face.
what I do, I replied without speaking.
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.
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.
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.
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 --
going to the Apple anyway."
not what I do. I'm not a
make deals, man."
a manager, man."
me the hash."
don't do that."
man, you're the manager. Manage the delivery."
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."
could be my manager, it's that simple, it just takes balls, and not even heavy ones. What do you think, kid?"
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.
think too long, kid."
a flash, in a twinge of his walrus mustache, he looked like he wanted to hit
me, but that would be too uncool.
him alone," David said.
kid, you want to do a little work for a rock star?"
it," David repeated.
a better gig."
"Mel? He works for rock stars."
works for himself."
where you're wrong."
doesn't do errands."
"Wrong. Who the
fuck you think the album cover's for anyway?"
just for you."
stopped him for a second. Which
seemed like the right moment to leave.
mind Crosby," David said in a mock whisper.
Crosby, " Crosby said.
"That's my fucking motto."
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
got this look like you're looking for something," David said.
nodded. Tried to not look
abandoned, stranded in Malibu.
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...
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.
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?
not get stoned and swim with sharks.
Mel?" I asked her.
left his cameras."
very warm. And very blonde."
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.
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.
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
to the front door, without looking back.
Not that my passing was noticed.
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.
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.
back to see Wendy framed in the doorway, warm yellow light that vanished as she
closed the door.
you just going to leave? Without
on the couch?"
didn't want to be a bother...or..."
stepped closer. Stared me
down. "Why did you just
party wasn't any fun"
You think it will be, you think it should be, but it isn't. So where are we going?"
to Laurel Canyon, I guess."
where I was going..."
don't have a car."
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.
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."
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.
you tell Crosby good-bye?"
the darkness, saw the outline of her smile; she pulled my arm closer. "He'll figure it out. Eventually."
he your boyfriend?"
tried to act as if I hadn't asked.
is that too square of a question?"
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."
is as long as you've known him."
reached the end of the lane -- Broad Beach, the road sign said -- and continued
along the shoulder.
he's an asshole half the time?"
does that matter to you?"
it matter to you?"
you always answer a question with another question?"
when it works to my advantage."
a funny fucker."
does it matter -- so okay if I'm an asshole half the time? And it doesn't matter?"
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?"
I'm fucking up. If I'm fucking
stopped walking. So I stopped
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?
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.
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.
guys partyin' in the 'Bu?"
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.
could sense Wendy's distaste as she politely accepted. She offered the joint to the girl, who
made no motion to take it.
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.
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.
Canyon," Wendy answered.
was neither nod nor answer. The
engine rattled and whined as if it wanted to die.
burn. Angel'll be righteously
pissed," the driver muttered.
girl whimpered. She was sitting
against the back door, head pointed down, her face hidden in a nest of long
okay?" Wendy asked.
a runaway. Misses her Mommy."
okay, honey?" Wendy asked.
"Don't mess with her trip."
gave him a sharp look but said nothing.
He offered her a nubbin of roach.
She held up her hand, gesturing no, thanks.
offered it me. "No,
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.
van slowed for a red light and pulled into the left turn lane. There was a sign for Topanga Cyn.
can get out here," Wendy said.
driver downshifted and ran through the red light.
catch another ride down PCH."
you gotta come party."
yeah," said Shotgun.
want to get out. Now."
man, you climbed into our wheels and smoked our weed, you wanted to take a
fuckin' ride so take a fuckin' ride."
looked to Wendy. She shook her
head and a made a point of not looking at me, but found my hand and squeezed.
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.
girl moaned and threw up. It
smelled like sour chicken noodle soup.
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
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.
van stopped. No one spoke. The engine pinged as it cooled.
match flared. The driver lit a
cigarette. "You guys got any
bread? We're getting our trip
together and we need a little help."
dug into her jeans and pulled out a folded bill. Shotgun plucked it from her fingers and passed it along to
match flared. The driver smiled at
the hundred dollar bill, the one that Mel had given her.
were five guys, one blocking the door.
What chance did we have of getting clear, running up the road or into
what have you got for the cause?"
he asked me.
forgot my wallet."
in the bag?"
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.
passed the bag forward. Better to
make that gesture than have the bag ripped away.
driver lifted out a Nikon.
can have the cameras. If you let
if we don't let you go? Can we
still have the cameras? Please?"
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.
do whatever we're fuckin' gonna do," said Shotgun. "It's too fucking cold and her
puke smells like shit."
got everything," Wendy said.
"We're not worth it."
fuckin' hate smart-ass chicks."
too cold to ball."
too cold to ball."
could I do but plead? Needed an
opening. Needed something:
do you guys need?"
what you want, but what do you need? What
are you really looking for? With your head? With your eyes?"
the fuck are you talking about?"
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.
driver pulled a handful of badges out of the bag, lit another match and read
(as I did) press -- backstage -- all
access. "What are
I had something to work with.
"I'm a rock a and roll photographer."
looked at me differently.
everyone. Who's your favorite
taken their picture."
"No. Two months ago. In London."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Is your mind a brain
that feels no pain?
Except when it rains?
Rain is tears
Tears is fears
Fears gets you near
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.
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.
mescaline was a burn, Angel."
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.
a top dog rock and roll photographer," Bobby said and pointed at me.
eyes were on me. He was a dark
camera that sucked it all in.
were hitchin' in from Trancas."
is a top dog shutterbug on the thumb?"
X seconds of silently translating his jive I ventured, "An uncool cat
borrowed my wheels without asking."
luck," Angel said.
of the wheel."
of fortune. Karmic wheel had a
flat. Pump it up," I replied.
nodded. "And get it on down
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.
it's about to completely happen for us,
on every level."
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...
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.
cameras should serve you well."
a could a would a."
not mine anymore."
raised a smile.
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?
your pictures make me famous?"
you make yourself famous?"
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.
a little help from my friends."
Nodded. Watch my head go up and down. Not much danger in profuse agreement.
shot the Beatles with those cameras," said Bobby the driver.
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."
right on, Angel, for sure... cheered his
dirty cherub chorus, filled in the gaps between his sentences with all the
extra words he wanted.
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.
or no? The Lady or the Tiger? Would he be angry if I had record biz
buddies or not?
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.
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...
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.
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.
down on my knees and framed Angel through a pliant all girl all yes chorus.
Oh my love
in your head
Love has fled
Blood has bled
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
up from the floor at the red-veined whites of Angel's eyes. "My picture, fucker. Shoot
the star not the whores."
he had hit my head with the guitar I felt the warm trickle of blood. A warning.
this was not the Whisky. Thought I
was on top of, beyond danger, once behind the lens. Mistakenly, not fatally, not yet.
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.
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.
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).
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
"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."
would have nodded if he needed that but he didn't.
some good ones?"
like there was a right word and a wrong word and nothing in between. If I could just grasp the question.
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.
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.
any more pictures?"
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.
you're walkin' out of this house?
That's your mind thinkin' good-bye. No such thing as good-bye."
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
took the camera from me and zipped it back in the bag. "You got lucky. You thumbed yourself the boss ride
seemed we were leaving. Without
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.
turned onto Sunset Boulevard, where that great street ended -- or started -- at
its junction with the sea.
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.
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.
then. Shameful now. Vision as buffer, as escape. Lost in that. Lost.
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.
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.
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.
are we going? Where in Laurel
and I looked at each other. We had
no plan, no spoken plan. "Lookout Mountain," she said.
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.
didn't say across."
saying it now. Here. Here. Here!" Wendy
pulled over to the curb. We were
parked at the base of some overgrown ruins, from the twenties maybe, what
passed for ancient here.
gave a firm push to my ribs, a let's get out of here push, and I slid open the van's side door.
the canyon." This part was
Wendy's show. It was more her
canyon than mine.
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.
supposed to come with you," Bobby said.
a heavy weight."
picked up Mel's camera bag and stepped out of the van and into deep dewy
"Mo. Warner Brothers Mo. Mojo Mo," Wendy said.
pointed a finger at me. "You're the guy.
What do you say?"
knows the trip, she knows the scene.
Mo won't deal directly with unsigned acts until he's heard the
demo does not leave my sight."
got out of the van.
supposed to come."
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."
is no front, wouldn't Angel say?"
took more baby steps away from the van.
"Can you run?" I whispered to Wendy.
you fuck?" she whispered back.
that supposed to mean?"
the fuck back in the van!"
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.
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.
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.
is this place?" I whispered.
Houdini's mansion, the remains," she whispered into my ear. "The basement."
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
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.
Bobby muttered and the match winked out.
match flared, further away.
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.
she peeked around a yucca.
still there she mouthed. The van was still there, the side door
now closed. Bobby was either
waiting down there. Or nearer.
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.
the spluttering putter of the microbus, the whine of its under-powered engine,
the not quite squeak of its tires driving off and away.
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.
was Tom Mix's place."
nodded. So much history.
of like you."
silent and you're kind of a cowboy.
You're from Texas, anyway."
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.
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.
do you live?" I asked her.
looked a bit stung. The question hung. Had I gotten too personal, even after
what we had been through together?
I walk you home?"
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.
was Stanley?" I asked.
they named Stanley Hills Drive after."
Laurel. Laurel and Hardy."
smiled again. "That's not too
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
she said. "Wow."
there a lot of Angels out there?"
the first one I've had the displeasure of meeting."
that was an unusual night?"
was fucked up, the last part."
were pretty great at being Mel."
was a great version of his shadow, I
didn't come out right. You really
did it. Became it, what you needed to be, to save our asses."
was a coward." Not the best
thing to say, but it was done before I thought to stop myself.
"No." Then: "How?"
pictures of him after he hit me."
much better that we had talked about that moment, the words -- it didn't take
many -- that we couldn't speak back then.
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.
Speedster was not in his driveway.
More negative space, just oil stains in the driveway.
Mel," I said.
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.
first few steps I climbed -- with her! -- surprised.
next steps, grateful that the dream -- trance -- spell -- was unbroken.
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?
nodded. She was taking it all
in. Without stopping.
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.
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.
light was coming up, gray giving way to blue. Dawn felt weird with no sleep to separate yesterday from
this kind of night happen often?"
think that was typical?"
that -- this -- is only my second official
a smile against my chest.
her shivering less.
could have died," her breath warming my neck.
her nodding yes against my chest.
then, it wasn't just me being scared."
walked into a very weird scene."
thumb. Blame my thumb."
me. I was the one who walked out
of the party at just the wrong second."
ever wonder about stuff like that?"
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 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."
scooted a last fraction closer.
"I certainly didn't expect to wind up in your bed when the evening
about the beach?"
about the beach?"
wound up there."
was different. That was a
what is this?" I said before the part of my brain that stops me saying
what I think could throw a block.
we want it to be."
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?
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
clear boundary between us.
clear boundary to sleep.
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.
mean to wake you."
found her shirt and part of her disappeared inside it. Started looking for my shirt, to not be
don't have to get up."
but I do."
don't have to walk me down. Get
some more sleep."
if that were an option. "Get
some sleep with me."
probably not such a good idea."
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.
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.
opened the door and I followed her out, the morning news getting louder with
each step down the stairs.
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.
morning," she said. She
wasn't embarrassed, so I wouldn't be.
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.
roommates seemed nice," she said.
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.
started walking up Appian Way and I walked with her.
don't have to walk me home."
mean, good-bye is good-bye, doesn't matter where it happens."
like talking to you."
"Okay. Let's talk about you."
you have a girlfriend?"
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.
not that hard of a question," she chided, bumping her shoulder against
mine in a buddy-buddy way -- poking fun at the honest half?
just be a yes or no."
if she doesn't know that she's my girlfriend?"
that answers the question right there."
you answer everything with a question?"
smiled. Was she smiling at me like
a girlfriend would smile?
you my girlfriend?"
if you have to ask."
you a girl?"
you a friend?"
smile worth taking a leap.
"If it's for me to say, that you're my girlfriend, then I would say
more complicated than that. I'm
more complicated than that."
least in theory."
Smile. "I will say -- you sure can talk
used to be my life. Words."
I miss something? Isn't that what
you're using now?"
as a job. Not as a lawyer. Not as my future."
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.
not into being owned or into anybody owning me."
not into calling each other that."
why did you ask me?"
it's fun to hear you talk. Because
I was curious to know if there was a girl you called a girlfriend."
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.
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.
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.
gotten very quiet."
smiled, gave my hand a squeeze.
was thinking it's beautiful here."
was. Errol Flynn used to live in
that house, once upon a time."
I got here too late."
why are you still here?"
ask myself that every day."
I said, it's complicated."
When? I wanted to ask but knew not to.
seemed to have heard that when without
me saying -- she gave my hand a squeeze.
"I'm not all that innocent."
said that you were."
the way that you look at me."
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.
not the girl for you."
nodded and did not argue. It was
too late to win an argument.
was a dirt lane down the back side of the canyon, signposted as Wonderland
Drive. No houses, just grass and
rocks and rubble.
say good-bye here."
is where you live?"
enough. That was hell of a hard
someone who got here too late."
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.
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.
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
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.
have slept a bit because the sun was in my eyes when I opened them again. Had I had a dream?
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" sign staked to the bottom step. Had it been there last night? This morning?
With Wendy had I failed to notice?
arrogance of thinking I was a photographer, that I noticed everything?
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.
the steps two at a time, three at a time.
open the door.
just another morning watching morning TV.
Don swiveled to regard me.
Harry Ferrari lay heavy-lidded on the couch, The Village Voice tenting
a "For Sale" sign at the bottom."
was that girl, Prince Hal?"
a boy like you meet a girl like that?"
is the house for sale?" I asked the Other Harry.
wanted to sell it for a while."
landlord. She lives down in Laguna
Beach, painting watercolors. She
wanted me to buy it -- for one hundred thousand dollars."
hundred fucking thousand dollars!"
inconceivable amount of money for so picturesque a wreck. The world seemed all that much crazier.
she needs money for more watercolors.
Or her son does."
there any way we can stop it?"
got a hundred thousand bucks, Prince Hal?
What about cashing in that trust fund? Or some bonds?"
long do you think we have?" I asked the Other Harry.
someone with a hundred thousand bucks come along and buys the farm," Don
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
wouldn't lose a lot of sleep over it," the Other Harry said as he settled
back to nap. Easier said than
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.
I dreamed of that rain. Sleep was
something surmised after the fact.
A gap to puzzle out.
the sound of someone knocking on the front door.
"Hello? Hello?!" A shrill, confident voice.
sounding closer: "It's unlocked.
who lives here? It's a pig sty."
undervalued." The real estate
agent. And clients.
a half-bathroom through there..."
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
voices became murmurs and then went away.
Into the breakfast nook?
The bomb shelter?
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.
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.
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
the click of heels of hardwood.
connects through the door behind those bookcases to what should be a sitting
hold of the door knob. Had boxed
myself into a corner of weirdness.
It was too late to reveal myself.
that's the closet."
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.
don't see a lock."
one hand go away. Then a stronger
hand tried to turn the knob. The
knob slipped a bit but I held fast.
there someone in there?"
light-headed with the fear of discovery.
The embarrassment of hiding.
What was I doing in the closet?
then the hand on the other side relaxed, went away, the voices and the
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.
my God..." The bathroom.
padlock?" The Other Harry's
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Love. The Malibu boys."
band without a name."
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
not much time. See you down at my
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.
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.
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
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.
reached for the proof sheets I held at my side. "Are these from last night?"
"Yours? Good stuff. Where?"
"Topanga? Last night?"
pulled out the 8 X 10. It looked
different to me just watching him look at it. Shabbier. Less
precise in it's framing.
Wendy. Strange picture. Sort of scary."
guy named Angel."
heard of him."
he's supposed to be really crazy. How did you wind up there?"
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."
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
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,
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."
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.
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.
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?
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
Good-bye, Houdini's ghost. Good-bye, ghost of morning me, morning
me and Wendy.
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.
a lot of sirloin."
for an album cover."
feed the band that's on the album cover."
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.
months working nights -- in Hollywood
-- and I've never had my picture taken. Do you do this often?"
so much meat?"
take strangers pictures."
total came to $202.32. I put
handed back two bags of Fritos and came away with a surplus of sixty-three
helped her finish the bagging. We
were more or less alone. It was
already an empty hour.
you show me the picture?"
it's any good."
if it isn't?"
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.
if it isn't, Becky." I'd
cadged her name from her badge.
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.
I wondered, the camera...?
pointed, then touched my chest.
"No badge. No
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.
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.
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.
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
Becky. A nice moment. A moment to revisit. A big moment? Or a little moment that I foisted into big? Unexpected, certainly.
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.
the camera; the backseat girl was still looking at me, her lips forming into a Why
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
could retrieve the memory but not erase the well-examined scar.
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.
madness should be in full flower tonight."
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...
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.
and applause came from the club into this clubhouse.
we be taking pictures?"
the album cover, and the cover's out there in the desert."
about the inner sleeve?"
Mel said and gave my bottle another clink. "I've already got my Troubadour shots, but have at
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.
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.
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.
about face and walked clean away, back into the bar.
missed last call." Mel handed
me a beer I didn't want.
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
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?"
gave him pause.
"Glenn. Why are you here?"
that an existential question?"
pause. That got a smile. That I didn't trust.
never needed help before."
to the rescue, "Need all the help I can get."
get me famous?"
gonna get yourself famous. But I
am gonna get you out to the desert."
girls and last beers and everybody was a long lost friend and Glenn was no
longer interested in me.
house lights came on. Too late for
such hard light. "Ladies and
gents, can't lose the liquor license.
Leave those bottles, please..."
on the sidewalk. No stars in the
sky over Santa Monica Boulevard.
band stood in a loose circle.
Fresh cigarettes were lit.
I leaned against the limo, tried to look like I belonged.
leaned against the limo, looking miserable. "Sooner we start, sooner it's over."
ladies, just the band, sorry, Lisa," Mel said to the lady the bass player
had his arm around.
on a spiritual trip tonight, Joe."
inspiration aplenty awaiting," Glenn said.
band at one with the desert, with ourselves," the drummer said.
I can be at one with yourself and myself and herself. All is one?
Ain't Lisa part of all?"
tonight. Keep it pure," Glenn
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
opened the limo's aft door and waved Randy behind the wheel. "Hi-ho silver and away!"
sidewalk circle broke apart. Randy
sighed and climbed in back. Joe
pulled Lisa aside for a last kiss -- that was almost a picture -- almost.
in front, in what I thought of as my seat. Mel, in the jump seat, gave my shoulder a pat.
removed his tongue from Lisa's throat -- that was a picture, fleeting -- and scrunched down to get into the car.
Danny? Danny!" Glenn yelled.
drummer. I now had the complete
roster of names. He stepped out of
the alley, zipping his zipper, the last man aboard.
gently closed the aft door and hurried around to the driver's seat.
felt like we were really going somewhere.
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
match flared. Sweet smoke.
the road! This is gonna be so great," Glenn said.
plenty of room for Lisa."
it's just us. Keep it pure. Keep it righteous," Glenn said.
to the concept--" Danny said.
part of my concept."
concept of us. What we connect to -- who we are."
you want to show who you are to the world," Mel amended.
I got a different concept of concept."
man, you were into it," Glenn said.
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.
you in the right alignment, find the right harmonies between you guys and the
rocks and the light. Get it on
film--" Mel said.
we got something."
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.
only one first album."
this is my third."
Our only first."
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.
me another match flared.
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.
me, no voices, just the soft wash of Hank Williams singing jambalaya and a
crawfish pie and a filé gumbo...
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
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.
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.
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.
here," he said softly.
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.
the front seat, here looked like nowhere.
a long drive to nowhere.
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.
went out. Motor kept humming. Blinded by the after image.
Blinked my eyes clear.
Stars, so many fucking stars, shuddering, shimmering.
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.
flared, coals glowed, joints made orange arcs passing hand to hand.
here?" Randy asked.
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."
karmic," Glenn said.
fucking cold," Randy said.
cold now cut through my coat.
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."
very far," said Randy.
a hit and get with it, man."
I'm here, aren't I?"
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?"
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
are primed," Danny said.
on!" Glenn said.
on," Joe said.
put his arm around Randy.
finally smiled. "Right."
out the firewater and more laughing tobacco and let's go explore! Got any night film, Mel?"
yeah, infrared and a flash."
explore! Where's the shrine?"
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."
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
what in the fuck will this be like I see
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."
opened a camera back and gave it a spray of compressed air.
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
best stuff is unpredictable.
That's the hardest thing to learn."
laughed. "You don't have to
agree with everything I say."
"Okay. I agree to disagree."
do have a way with words."
rather have a way with pictures."
climbed his head in the car.
"When should we do the buttons?"
that sounds right."
laid out a pack of Zig-Zag and an aluminum film can of cannabis on top of the
fake wood grain side bar.
pointed his camera at Danny rolling a J.
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."
I watch you explain that to David?"
if you get him high."
lit a joint. And Mel took a
picture of that.
man, what are these picture for?"
"Documentation. It's all documentation."
that we'll never use?"
tuning up my eye. Practicing a few
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.
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!"
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
slowed down and fell into step beside me.
Saw me eyeing a strange looking cactus.
a Joshua Tree. Sort of looks like
a Joshua, don't it?"
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
was nibbling the brown buttons, chasing them down with tequila, even Willy,
still wearing his chauffeur's cap.
like shit," Joe said.
shit." Glenn passed him the
bottle of tequila to help wash it down.
bad taste is how the peyote protects itself from casual users," Mel said.
sure as fuck has protected itself from me."
goes down a lot easier," Randy
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
many of these suckers do you have to eat?"
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.
the medicine man."
tastes so bad--"
got to be good--"
all took it seriously. Serious
enough to eat shit. They were
doing it. They had come a long way
to do this together.
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.
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!"
it be magical!"
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
long does it take to come on?" Randy asked.
"Heh-heh. You tell me."
gradual. A real slow burn--"
on your chemistry," Mel amended.
it's a furnace, boy."
got the whole day to find out."
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."
who gets there first," I said.
looked like I had wandered on stage in the middle of his solo. "That's a funny thing to
get it," Mel said.
you back down to the bottom, Glenn."
all you drugstore cowboys."
your mark, get set..."
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.
it," Mel said and joined the race.
at focus. Clicked.
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.
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.
was now alone with the shrine.
sun still a novelty this first few minutes of desert day. My first day in the desert.
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.
the bottom, everyone was out of breath.
Someone wanted a smoke.
Someone wanted a drink.
Someone wanted a guitar.
Someone wanted a nap.
wanted to look at the rocks and I wanted to look at Mel looking. It was an education.
that bag getting heavy?"
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."
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
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
a guitar. One chord strummed over
and over. Hard to say from where.
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
the guitar again, closer. Rounding
a bend, saw the guitar neck and then Glenn.
it's you," he said flatly.
"And me. All
looked at the rocks. He looked at
his guitar. He looked at me. "You coming on yet?"
"No." Which was the truth.
am. How much did you eat?"
"Enough." Which also was not a lie.
know who you are."
said I know who you are."
to say? "Okay."
I know where you're at."
your head is at."
to my body."
it occurred to me that he could hit me.
That he wanted to.
variety of right and wrong answers in any given situation. Besides yes and no. "Can I take your picture?"
you have to ask?"
because you're so fucking touchy I didn't
say. Instead, I shrugged. The universal language of a shrug.
shrugged back. Plunked his
guitar. One chord. E. Over and over.
Pretended that he was alone.
With All. With
himself. With all of himself.
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.
you going to take a picture?"
have." Define picture. Argue the point. In your head. In moot court.
In mute court. Did you know
I once went to law school?
around him, side, behind. Back of
his head. An assassin's
angle. Guitar player without a
face, without a name. That was the
on I wandered. Gave him no tidy
hallucinated me, Glenn.
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.
of Mel. Against the sky. On his knees, inches from the ground,
as if in prayer. His bare back
glistening with sweat. Elbows
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.
off my shirt.
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
shit, huh?" he said, surprised that I had been noticed.
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
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."
was beginning to feel strange, pleasantly strange. A contact high.
From contact with Mel or the desert or both.
know what I'm doing, Harry?"
close pictures of rocks."
shooting a rock album."
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?"
it feels right?"
stopped. "Yeah. When it feels right. You got it. When it feels right.
How are you feeling?"
nowhere near the peak."
the drug for him. Of the hill for
both of us.
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
"THIS will be a great album. THIS is
all. All we need."
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."
the shirt from around my waist and spread it out on the hillside. Laid down in tandem, in parallel to
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."
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.
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.
sun's going to set in a while," I said.
we going to do a group shot?"
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."
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.
you want me to unload that?"
done this all a thousand times high."
you said to unload the infrared in the car."
handed me the "infrared" camera body, then raised another to his eye.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
the shoot going?"
to say. It's my first."
starting at the top, lad."
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.
it going, Danny?"
going. We're starting to peak, I
think. Still going up,
anyway. You want to do a button or
button or two?"
don't know. Where is Mel?"
Danny asked back.
Mel?" David asked me.
was over there."
me. Stay with the car,
started off together. He had me
alone again, and in a lonelier place than Malibu.
you high?" he asked.
was the honest answer. It was also
the answer he wanted to hear.
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."
me something I don't know."
don't you tell me something I don't know?"
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."
a look at him. He was walking by
my side, trudging actually, uphill, close enough for me to touch, should I so
do you think of that?"
do you expect me to think?" I asked back.
expect you to value my opinion."
than my own?"
got a track record."
"Okay. You've convinced me. You'll be a good photographer. A great photographer. Now do you like me? Just a little?"
we crested the hill, there was Mel, sunburned and shirtless, lying on his
stomach, camera to his eye, as motionless as the rocks.
the fuck? Mel?!"
marched in front of Mel's lens but not a muscle moved.
shadowing my shot."
didn't step aside.
the fuck is happening out here?"
rocks are happening."
the fuck's going on?"
rolled onto his back, didn't seem to mind the pebbles digging into his
skin. "Travelin' down that
ol' peyote road. Walkin' with the
with the peyote?!"
was always the concept. At one
with the desert. Express the
spirit of the band."
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."
dosage is imprecise. That's part
of the, um, challenge."
"You weren't supposed to get fucked up."
got to be at one with them for it to happen."
you need to have film in the camera and be able to focus the fucking thing for
it to happen."
will...I am...it's happening...I'm sorry, man, David. It'll come together.
It always does."
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
I'm standing, I'm standing. Feet
are such weird things, don't you think?"
not thinking about feet just this second."
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.
man. The peyote's never gotten on
top of me before."
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
walked right up to me. Got
cocktail party close. Close enough
for me to smell breath mint.
the deal. Ready to be a real
had no qualms or doubts about planting his feet in the sand and arbitrating the
looked to Mel, so far away, how many feet, fifty?
cool, Harry," Mel said in a whisper that sounded close and clear. "The flower's still too singing in
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.
you okay?" I asked.
smiled. "I. Am. Rather high.
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
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.
he thinks I'm going to pay him for this bullshit, forget it."
been shooting all day. I'm sure he
has some good stuff."
not going to burn me. I burn
blue bandanna bobbed between some rocks.
David set a pace for that bandanna. "I can see you're taking notes. Good."
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.
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.
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
a scrim of rocks, seated just below the shrine -- enshrined -- was Glenn
wearing guitar and bandanna.
I just hallucinated Mister D."
got a politic smile from David.
you bring Malibu with you? Could
use a splash of ocean out here."
cool. It's the dawn of existence
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.
want to sell some records? You
want to make some money?" David asked.
music right here, man."
not in the desert business. I'm in
the music business."
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.
fucked up," David said.
going to shoot the cover."
was surprised. So was I.
I know his name. But who is Harry?"
got a good feeling about him."
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
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.
are you doing, Willy?" David asked.
the keeper of the flame," Glenn said.
the keeper of the flame," Willy said, grateful for the prompt.
hit another bump. Twilight had
arrived an hour early to his dilated eyes.
campfire," Glenn hinted.
gathering wood," Willy added.
"This is wood."
don't you gather Randy and Joe?"
the fire, Mister D? I mean,
the photo. That's why we're here."
Randy and Joe?"
Randy and Joe."
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.
do you want to shoot?" David asked.
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.
it out. There's not much light
left," David said.
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.
rocks. Too stark of a background?
Joshua Trees. Poetic or
plains below. Too plain?
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.
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
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.
back down the hill.
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
the light in the world. Look at
it," Danny said.
for the shot I want to do."
pulsed in alternating current from smiley all is groovy to cantankerous. "A minute ago you didn't know what the fuck you
give it a try," David said.
like the feel of these rocks, they've got soul, let's shoot it here,"
he could not be bothered to move.
Because he had to be the one to set the groove.
light's no good here." The
light was fine but I knew I needed that lie to give my shot a try.
him," David said.
doesn't know what he's doing."
dragged his heels, but at least, at last, he was dragging them up the hill.
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.
miracle of his answer.
three figures separate from a thicket of Joshua Trees: Willy the shirtless
chauffeur with Randy and Joe in tow.
why is right," Glenn muttered.
the group shot!" I yelled back.
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.
Randy, I need you guys to stand over here."
just give it a try."
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
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?
you guys need to stand here."
"Me. The shrine."
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.
going to shoot you through the rocks -- the shrine is a foreground frame for
seeing the group."
met with a group of blank stares.
look great. It does look
one looked convinced.
down behind the shrine, framed them up through the window frame again. A collection of legs.
need to get down."
this fucking bullshit!"
down on our knees? Who's giving
head to who?"
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.
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."
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.
there was the matter of convention.
A shot with all their faces, even the face I didn't like.
need to get down, Glenn."
on, man, give it a go," Danny cajoled.
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.
look stoned, Glenn."
look fucked-up stoned."
move your lips."
-- click -- "you."
blur might work.
others were laughing at his pique.
Three laughs and a scowl.
Click. Better than
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.
do we do now?"
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.
good. The shots worked. I'd been lucky. Would I be lucky again and in the same
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.
was smiling -- at me, at world, at his not so little piece of it.
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.
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.
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.
laid a hand on my shoulder.
"You did good."
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."
at all. I pay Mel. Mel pays you. So I pay you."
been working with Mel on some other things."
worth owning. How much does he pay
on, how much does he pay?"
haven't discussed money."
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."
don't need your help."
beg to differ."
you're already taking my money."
not taking anything. I haven't been given anything."
using my film, film that Mel bought with my money."
it's my film. And my camera."
is this happening? I'm
complimenting you. You remind me
of me. That's the ultimate
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.
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."
haven't seen the film."
hunches are what got me here. My
hunches are right."
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."
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.
film?" he asked with hybrid firelight smile.
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.
want a print of that."
sure you do."
you just shooting these for your amusement?"
there any other reason?"
that's what amuses you."
don't amuse me."
you find me interesting."
could trade barbs without him all night.
Until I got barbed.
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.
that startled moment.
in the 1/60th of a second after, Glenn scowled, Joe smiled, Randy was too
stoned to figure out quite what had happened.
thing the desert'll still be here tomorrow. And next week.
When we come back. To get
the album cover we just didn't
bucks says he fucked up."
away from the fire.
are you going?" David asked.
bother to explain that I was worried about him?
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.
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
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.
did we do?" he asked.
good, I think."
some good shots?"
"Yeah. How are you?"
back to earth."
sat there for a while, without feeling the need to speak. The light breeze was scented with
you need anything?"
"No. Just to sit. Still."
nodded. He was back to being Mel.
a jacket?" I asked.
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.
you?" Mel asked.
do you want?"
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.
thoughts. "To take a
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.
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.
to stick out my thumb.
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.
of a place to hope for a ride."
your lucky day."
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.
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.
you mind if I take your picture?" I asked at the top.
it too dark?"
if you stay still."
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
do you want a picture of me?"
were part of the day."
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
the steps backwards, from 66 to 1.
Inside. Home. For however much longer it lasted.
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.
want to sleep. Or eat. Or go to my room. Wanted to develop that roll of film in
not? Not a reason I could think
of. Because the question I wanted
answered, now, without waiting, without sleeping, was what were those 36
into the bomb shelter and turned on the safe light. Felt that much more at home burrowed in the hillside.
Hal?" Barney's voice, from the loft above.
trying to sleep"
I woke you, Barney."
Mom's been calling."
again and again."
"Oh." There was that. The life I came from.
some sleep, kid." Heard a
sleepy sigh from the loft and the rustle of sheets being pulled tight.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
calling for Mel? Or Mel calling
me? Mel in trouble, needing
help? Mel or not Mel? To answer or not?
"Harry! Just the person I want to talk
to," said David G.
wasn't calling Mel. Can you come
to my office?"
want to see those photographs of the band."
o'clock? Four? Or we could meet for drinks."
I said as the easiest way of saying no to drinks.
he hung up, I sat wondering why I had said yes. Because I was tired?
did I really want to do?
Wendy. I wanted to see Wendy.
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
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.
door opened and Wendy started to smile before she decided not to.
can't be here."
don't want him to see you."
we just talk?"
"Why? What are you expecting? To fuck again? Or fall in love? You think falling in love is that
question should I answer first?"
almost smiled. That was a start.
here." She grabbed her keys
from a moose antler and walked quick down the porch. "Take your truck, follow me."
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
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
do you want?"
see you again."
I'm not the right person for you."
not sure of anything," she said.
not happy. With your
smiled. "Okay, you're a
genius. Think you can make me
don't know. We could have fun
trying. We had fun the other
was an accident."
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."
below, a black Porsche pulled into the driveway and the Cros got out.
look different," she said.
look so desperate."
haven't had much sleep."
goes with the territory."
prelude I kissed her. She was
surprised then not. I was glad I'd
guys are afraid of me."
don't blame them."
I'll see you around. You never
"The house I live in got sold."
a lot has happened."
much for my official canyon days."
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.
can't just walk into the middle of a scene and do anything."
try and remember that, next time I walk into a scene."
got to go."
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
drove away while I was thinking this and that. Without waving good-bye.
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
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.
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.
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.
a hot stretch of sidewalk to David's building, two-stories of cream-colored
stucco and faux Tudor timber.
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.
offering a handshake I avoided a hug.
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.
left without saying good-bye."
here I am."
you are. Let's see what you've
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?"
should have made up more prints."
hasn't been much time."
there hasn't. And you haven't done
this before, have you?"
"Presented. Well done. Your first cover." He looked in the folder. "Where are the negatives?"
jumping a bit ahead."
bit ahead how?"
don't have a deal."
that what you do? Make
smiled. I was playing a game he
liked. I was playing. "What sort of deal is required? To reimburse you?"
properly compensate me."
already compensated Mel."
didn't take these shots."
handed me back the proof sheet.
"I don't need to use these."
can go back out to the desert."
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
you won't get an album cover."
okay." I stood up.
smiled. "Sit down."
sat back down.
much do you want?"
much are you paying Mel?"
wondered if that was the truth.
you already paid Mel?"
got a smile. "You think I pay
want you to pay me a thousand dollars.
And Mel a thousand dollars."
what do you think Mel will have to say about that?"
ask him. And I'll write up a
and I have never had a contract.
What do you need a contract for?"
"Credit. A guarantee of photo credit."
you trust me?"
you tell that to everyone you don't make a contract with?"
smile hardened. "You're
getting a break here."
seem more interested in the contract."
can worry about the art later."
can worry about the art later'?
You think a real artist would say that?"
what a waste. Why in the hell do
you want to just be a photographer?"
for me it's not just a photographer I
thought but did not say.
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.
stood again. And he did not ask me
to sit back down.
out of David's air conditioning, The Strip was an hour hotter and the air an
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.
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.
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.
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.
-- 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."
was in the desert."
Palm Springs. Somewhere
else." Realized that I didn't
know the name of the place I'd been.
you're coming to back? To your
senses? To school?"
"No. I needed to research a contract."
"Me. I just shot a rock and roll album
the photographer. Shot
saw the photos I'd emptied from the folder. "You did these?"
"Fuck. What's the name of the band?"
don't have one yet."
how can they have an album?"
don't know. They just can."
don't understand. How did all this
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.
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."
for a visit."
it was all a visit.
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
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.
on the door; it swung open to my tap.
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
Mel's name as I walked through the house.
him in the darkroom.
was printing up his photographs of rocks.
Rocks that got in your face, that were faces, that were mountains, that
were whole worlds.
"Yeah. Rocks. But not necessarily rock and roll. Let's see your stuff."
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."
showed them to David."
know, he called. He's pissed
asked him to give me a thousand bucks for my pictures."
can have it, Mel. I just didn't
want him to get it from me for free."
be generous with myself and say my peyote-spiced rock shots are half the inner
inner sleeve being one quarter of the job."
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."
overly generous with me, letting me tag along to the desert and--"
you insist. Which is what you
asked David for."
does it stop being luck?"
I start guessing wrong."
offered me the joint again. This
time he noticed that I declined.
look tired," he said.
the pot calling the kettle black."
laughed. "The pothead calling the kettle black."
out of Mel's darkroom, out of Mel's house.
past the SOLD sign and back up the 66
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.
Hal!" Don said. "You're
not. So the house got sold?"
are you guys going to do?"
in with my girlfriend," Barney said.
in with Barney and his girlfriend," Don said.
Other Harry just shrugged.
going to live in his Ferrari."
are you going to do?" the Other Harry asked me.
back to the dorm?"
didn't live in a dorm, Don. I
don't know. I haven't had a chance
to think about it."
-- leave him alone."
get started thinking."
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
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.
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
are you doing?"
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.
are you taking our picture?"
ask permission," I said. That
got them quiet for a second. Click.
ask permission to take a picture."
Click. "Someone told
me that once. A long time ago. Day before yesterday, I
not making any sense."
and Barney looked flattered, but the Other Harry looked shyly away from the
Prince Hal, that's enough. We're
were always watching something.
the last 21 red tile steps to my room.
down my camera, finally, for the moment.
Laid aside the folder of photographs, covered inside and out with
down at my desk. My desk because
it happened to be in my room. My
room because I happened to be sitting here tonight.
the typewriter to the center of the desk and rolled a sheet of fresh paper into
the platen. But that didn't feel
to pack and be on my way.
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.
I got some sleep.