In a Grieving Mood


The first anniversary of her death will be on September 1st.

In the year since my mother died, I have experienced days of grief that just came over me, an intense sadness: unshakeable, persistent and gripping.

And then, inexplicably, the darkness leaves and I’m set back into temporary equilibrium. I no longer cry easily and my laughing is real.

But the fragile happiness goes away again, and then the days of moodiness, anger, sadness, loneliness, self-destructive thoughts and a yearning to have someone hold and comfort me, comes back.

These are those days: these late August days.


 

Since I was a kid I’ve always hated August.

I hated its hotness and its humidity. I hated its interminable thirty-one days of family beach vacations. I hated coming back to “reality”, to school and to work. I hated August holding us in its grip of tall corn and short tempers, melted ice cream and burning asphalt. August is the threat of impending hurricane, school, and work held back by the ruse of calendar.


 

There is really nobody close to reach out to.

The advice, always, is to just get busy with something. If you had a full-time job, if you had kids, you wouldn’t be in this state-of-mind.

I think of that stinging indictment delivered by a friend in Chicago: “You’ve chosen a selfish life.”  How selfish to feel.

So I go to MacLeod Ale and have a few beers and talk to people I know, not about anything deep, just something human and non-virtual.


 

I hire a model and take photos and think I’m taking great photos. He puts them on his Instagram and I put them on mine. And then he takes my photos off his Instagram. And I close down mine.

There is no solace or satisfaction in art when you go online. What seems great to you is crap if it doesn’t garner 8,000 likes.

There is a mighty fine job interview with some super smart people and the opportunity to work on something interesting. It pays well, it’s nearby, it might turn out to be stimulating.

So I go in for the job meeting and then I wait for an answer.

And I must stop myself from imagining the rejection, even though that is what happens most of the time.


This morning I wake up and see a gruesome news story about the killing of a news reporter and her photographer, the wounding of another woman, and the pursuit and eventual death of the suspect.

It is just another morning of murder in America, refreshed every single day by the shooting of some other strangers in some other states.

I follow the story of the news crew killings on Twitter. They reveal the identity of the killer. Then he posts his POV video on Facebook and I watch it.

What kind of madness is this?

Is social media making people ill?

We are all enraged by something. The ubiquitious gun and smart phone make our most bestial and primitive urges possible. We can act, produce and distribute our own unspeakable fantasies for the world’s consumption and entertainment.

In this new epoch of human life we are  all Gods stage managed by the Devil.


I decide the cure is to lessen my place in the virtual world. I will delete something, I will stop doing something online, I will take my eyes and thoughts out of the Internet.


 

When you are in mourning, they say there is no time- table for recovery. You imagine that the hour will arrive where grief, a monster of no particular form, shall scatter and take with it remnants of memory, love, and attachment.

You go through the day, in motions: working, cleaning, driving, shopping, cooking, and watching television.

You drink a beer or two and feel something elating, calming, relaxing and pleasurable.

And when the beer wears off, you are deep in touch again with something you tried to forget. And you cry and cry but there is nobody to pick you up and hug you.

You are alone, facing something final.

You are in a grieving mood.

Awaiting redemption and answers and the return of normal life.

 

 

An Exploration.


Jesse
Jesse

An Exploration

Sometime over the past few months I found myself looking at a blog, “Mad Thirsty”, an honest and striking creation, in photography and small cap text, of Jesse Somera, a Los Angeles based model and photographer, who documents some of his world online.

Some titles of posts:

photos of two jobs, party&bullshit and the most maddening man i’ve ever met

basically me just fanning out on remi, getting weird at a random party and having fun

 all the behind the scene shots from the mentos commercial i did

There were models, long-haired and long legged girls, skateboarders and stylists, lofts full of junk food, late nights in the clubs, and a trip to Nigeria with a bed full of cash and people with automatic weapons.

Drawn in I was by lost youth, aimless and gorgeous, sullen and bored, making out and barfing up.

Sometime over the past few months, a time when I was otherwise watching my mother progress into death, I had another distraction online, the exact opposite of her illness, a ride into the night with models on their way to Malibu or dancing in the club.


 

On Wednesday, I made a plan to meet up with Jesse in Little Tokyo.  I didn’t know what to expect.

The day was hot. I parked in a concrete lot under ground, and walked to an alley of sushi bars and cafes. I sat down in one café, by the window, and sent a message to him.

I had brought my camera but then wondered if this might provoke anger. He makes his living getting photographed. So was this a violation?

I imagined him skateboarding up to the café as he did in his Mentos commercial. Would he sit across from me and stare into his phone as we talked? Would he look at other people passing by while we conversed? Would he explode in anger if I asked him how he liked: modeling, Los Angeles, his family, his ex-girlfriend, his career?

When he showed up, he had walked 20 minutes in the heat, but his face was dry and he was cool, dressed in a gray Rag and Bone sweatshirt, and gray sweat pants. He lightly embraced me and we sat down. He drank an unsweetened ice green tea I had bought for him.

Across from me, now, was a green-eyed young man, handsome, with a touch of Asiatic to him: a flat nose, small ears, wide set eyes, and a long, lean body remarkably broad on top, as if he had rowed on the surfboard for many hours a day in the Pacific near his hometown of Ventura, CA. But the rest of him was lean, and his hands were large, and when we talked, he had his full attention on me, and he never wavered. He was intense and polite. He rested his chin atop one of his large hands, expressive hands, hands that could also be the hands of a hand model.

We talked about movies, Terrence Malick and Michelangelo Antonioni; he told me about his favorite photographer Alasdair McLellan; we compared Pentax, Fuji, digital and film; we went around about his relationships, his loft, his ex-girlfirend, his dreams.

He asked me, naturally, that assassinating question for which I have no present answer: What do you do for a living?

He had gravitas, bearing and self-assurance. And his aura, boyish, contained sad, subtle, quiet, masculine rage that sometimes erupts, under the surface, in people with great gifts, be they artistic, physical or intellectual.

He had described himself, in his blog, of not being very good at certain things that I judged him to be very good at. And in his self-doubt I saw my own.

My self-torture silently screams: Bad at math, not a real man, no career, aimless, petty, childish, vindictive, self-pitying, suicidal.

His self-description, in the blog, of not always measuring up, this is the way I have seen my whole life, of imagining that I was destined to become someone admired, or read or watched or loved. He too was on that kick, a drug of perfectionism that knows no cure.

His writing, his photographs and his beauty brought me to meet him, but I think I was in search of something lost in myself, that aching desire to return to youth and dive into a paid profession rewarding, creative and thrilling.

It is obvious to me, now, that I will never have a mentor. There will be no father figure to sponsor me. There will be no boss to bring me along. And maybe that is good.

And I went down to meet Jesse Somera, strangely imagining that we were contemporaries in some alien way, the 25-year-old and the 52-year-old, two artists trying to work and get recognition.

Maybe I will end up like my mother, on my deathbed, enraged that I hadn’t yet begun to realize my life.

Or maybe I have been living the dream all along, as lucky as Jesse Somera, the beautiful and talented boy I met the other day in Little Tokyo.

The trick is to realize it before it’s too late.

 

END

 

May 15, 1994.


Twenty years ago, I packed a large green duffle bag, boarded a plane and flew from New York to Los Angeles.

On the flight, sitting beside me: Julie Garfield, daughter of actor John Garfield. She was an acting teacher and gave me her card.

I rode a van from LAX that travelled circuitously through the old city. It climbed up hills and down into the worn and painted-peeled stores along east Sunset, eventually making its way into the San Fernando Valley.

I moved in with a college friend- a tall, lumbering 31-year-old woman in pageboy hair, in therapy, in torn blue jeans and white oxford shirts. She rented a two-bedroom house on Teesdale Avenue in Studio City for $1,200 a month. And worked as a freelance TV producer (Woodstock ‘94; Saturday Night Live).

When I arrived, she was sitting on the back sunroom porch, smoking and talking on the phone. A high school era VW Bug convertible was parked in the driveway.

“You know what I mean…” was her introduction to endless monologues about her recent breakup with a comedian. She slept, until 10am every morning, on a white puffy bed under a chandelier, kept many cans of diet soda in the refrigerator and never emptied her ashtrays.

I paid her $100 a week and told her I would stay until I found a job and could move out.

I looked in the back of the Hollywood Reporter and mailed out resumes. And followed up with phone calls, eventually getting hired as PA for a small production company on Laurel Canyon.

It was summer in the San Fernando Valley: headaches, afternoon naps, walking down deserted Moorpark to a sweltering ice cream parlor with plastic sheeted windows. And working out at Bally’s basement gym in Studio City, a strange, creepy place where old guys masturbated in the showers all around me.

I had run away from New York, from my parents in NJ, setting up a life in a city I really didn’t like.

At the end of the summer my roommate was due to return.

On September 10th I cleaned the house and waited for her arrival. But she didn’t show up. She later called and said she had changed her mind and would come back September 19th. Then September 19th came and went and she wasn’t home. She never phoned.

On September 30th, her father called from Woodland Hills and said his daughter would be coming back on October 2nd. He asked me to leave her key under the back door mat. She arrived on October 5th. Without apology or concern. It was her house. Right?

It was my first introduction to the intrinsic selfishness of Los Angeles: the glib invitation, the plan forgotten, the lunch date blown off, the return flight missed, the good parent stepping in to save the bad adult child.

I learned that for some of the people who live here, only they matter.

She really didn’t care. Who was I? Somebody who lived in her house, cleaned and cared for it, planted flowers, washed floors and changed light bulbs.

We later fought because I told her that I had an overnight guest in her house sometime over the last four months. She screamed that my $400 a month did not give me the right to have friends over. She threw me out. We never spoke again.


That summer I went online for the first time and learned that there was something called the Internet with a dancing wizard whose wand conjured up websites.

That summer I drove around Burbank and Hollywood dropping off tapes to post-production facilities and learned what motion control and Barham Boulevard were.

That summer I ate alone at a Thai restaurant on Ventura Boulevard and met my future partner.

That summer I watched KTLA as a white Ford Bronco went down the 405 while helicopters, reporters and cameras tracked it for miles.

That summer I learned that there would no longer be front store entrances to enter, that I would go from parking lot to parking lot, that my walking would be on the treadmill and that restaurants stopped serving food at 9pm.

That summer I learned that summer would go on past September, into October and November, and start again in February.

That summer I came to a place where people without jobs own houses and cars, bad restaurants are beloved, and a friend’s success is the saddest thing on earth.


There would be no more clouds or rain. And the quaint old houses with front porches were inside Warner Brothers’ back lot.

Part of me died twenty years ago, the part that saw my life as a crew-necked male ingénue wandering the historic streets of Manhattan; invigorated by life, by potential, by the thrill of urban exploration.

Part of me died inside, even when the outer part found love, bought a house, wrote stories, took photographs, and woke up in a house surrounded by fragrant flowers and glistening grass cut and manicured weekly.

When the first hot days bake the asphalt and the blowing desert winds set in, I am carried back to the summer of 1994, my first summer of exile, when I blew here like pollen to the western edge of southwestern America.

Regretful

Angry

Sad

Futile

Directionless

Wandering

Aimless

Mercurial

Lost

Haunted

These thoughts. Did I carry them always?

Or were they brought out of me, the day I came to live in Los Angeles?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under the Tent Selling Salt


Will Lemay and son O'Shea at Hollywood Farmer's Market last Sunday. photo by ABH.
Will Lemay and son O’Shea at Hollywood Farmer’s Market last Sunday. photo by ABH.
Hepp's Salt Barrel.
Hepp’s Salt Barrel.

For the past few months, I’ve worked at an improbable profession, selling salt part-time at the farm markets, chiefly at Hollywood on Sunday and up at Yamishiro, on Thursday evening.

The work starts when I drive to a six-story high concrete storage facility in West LA, punch in a code, and ride up in a cavernous steel-floored elevator. The door opens, and in front of me are rows of metal doors, numbers and lights that turn on as you walk under them. Air-conditioning blasts down the empty corridors.

It’s a good place for murder because nobody would hear you scream. And your corpse can be locked up for years.

My key unlocks the unit and up goes the door. Inside is a hand truck onto which I load up two plastic tables, canvas cloths, plastic cash box containing money, inventory and a Square space reader to plug into my iphone. There is a large tent on wheels, a 5-gallon container for water, clip- on lights, extension cords, salt samples in Ball Glass jars, and the inventory consisting of various packets of spicy, finishing, smoked and imported salt.

I ride back down the elevator and load it all into my Ford Focus and drive on Olympic over to LaBrea and up to Yamashiro, arriving 4pm, on a day that will predictably be hot, sunny and baking. The market opens at 5pm, so I have an hour to set up on the asphalt.

Around 7pm, the sun gets lower, the winds blow up into the hills and it turns into a dusky and dark affair, lit up with wine, beer and beautiful girls, all seemingly thin, in torn denim and long shiny hair, wearing sunglasses hiding wide, wondrous eyes not yet exposed to sorrow. A band plays early 1970s mellow rock.

Under my tent I watch the guests arrive and walk past me and my fellow vendors. The other tents cover organic strawberries, heirloom tomatoes, a red-faced guy hawking “the world’s best cake”; candy apples, green juices, humus and olives, homemade peanut butter. The guests stroll until they reach the end, near a cliff, where lightly intoxicated beauties seduce at round tables in high altitude.

The people remind me of the ones I saw in Roddy McDowall’s 1965 home movies of his Sunday afternoon beach barbeques in Malibu attended by Suzanne Pleshette, Tuesday Weld, Lauren Bacall, Julie Andrews, Jane Fonda, Paul Newman and Lee Remick.

Those notables from the mid 60s would recognize the Yamashiro crowd: blonde children, skinny men in skinny jeans with checked shirts, greased back hair and razored sides, and those diaphanous, theatrical Hollywood moms: pretty bronzed women in straw hats and sundresses cavorting, dancing, posing and feigning happiness under the palms.

And for me it is all business as people come up, all night, and I give them tastings of truffle salt, smoked salt, and blithely talk of the magic properties of salt from Himalaya.

The old young me, who once walked fast down the streets of New York, and entertained guests at The Polo Store while doing the most monotonous and soul deadening work selling clothes, that magician who could take the long hours standing on my feet, he has come back to Hollywood and is appearing, for a command performance, selling salt and liking it.

The market closes a little after 9pm. The sky is dark and I am exhausted. It is time to count the salt and the cash. After paying the market, I pay me, take a pee, load up my car, and drive back to Van Nuys, feeling satisfied and wealthy with $80.

Sage Advice


I can’t tell you whether my heart is on my left or right side. And I have a breathtakingly vast ignorance about a wide variety of subjects: compound interest, compound fractures, car engines, childhood development; the definition of commonwealth, where Manitoba is.

But pushing the half-century mark, nearing 50, my visible intellectual naiveté is now receding behind a gray covering. And what I don’t know, haven’t learned, and never bothered to educate myself on, is- to the stranger and to the friend- immaterial. Because I now dispense sage advice on matters financial, medical and personal. And others believe that those conjurations of my imagination are fact based. My new age is authoritative.

A young guy is doing bench presses the other day at my gym. His bar is askew on the rack, angling to fall. I run up behind him and make sure he doesn’t drop it. He looks up and asks me how far he should bring it down, and how much he should lift. He doesn’t know that I don’t know but I tell him what I know and I know he is quite grateful.

I’m now a certified trainer…

My mom asks me how what she should put on her foot to treat a nasty foot infection. I don’t know, but I suggest an anti-fungal spray and stress that it would be easier for her to apply it because she won’t need to bend down.

I’m a podiatrist….

Like Hugh Beaumont on Leave it to Beaver or Fred MacMurray on My Three Sons, I can put on a cardigan sweater, settle into a leather armchair, and spout advice which will be swallowed whole by younger listeners. My confusion, panic, lack of direction, these old self-describing adjectives have faded. I’m now certain, calm and self-assured.

I’m sir in the line at Chipotle, choosing my black and pinto beans and guacamole for $1.60 extra.

I’m sir at Trader Joes, sir at Rite-Aid, sir at LA Fitness; sir at Jons, Vons, Ralphs, Peets and Pier One.

And now when I see all those experts on TV, those men and women in Washington and Wall Street, on the throne and in high office, I know something that I never knew before…

Nobody basically knows much of anything.

We only think they do.

An Atheist.


An atheist who gives his money to the poor is closer to God than a religious man who does not.

An atheist doesn’t justify his actions in God’s name.

An atheist doesn’t need to run for political office shouting out how “devout” he is.

An atheist won’t blow himself up on a bus to kill unbelievers.

An atheist doesn’t talk about “family values” in terms of magical belief systems.

An atheist might work to establish justice in his own lifetime, because he knows it’s his only life.

An atheist believes in protecting the environment because it’s heaven on Earth.

An atheist doesn’t need to practice tolerance for other religions, because to him all humans are divine.

An atheist knows that Man created God in his image and he mostly understands the psychology behind it, even if he doesn’t accept it.