Thursday, May 12, 2016

Transmission

The daily job wasn't bringing enough money in so I decided to work as a driver. I never wanted to be one, but I needed money badly. My girl practically hung her head in shame at the news. But she did something worse. She left me.

I was left with an apartment I couldn't afford and bills I couldn’t pay. And she was gone. In spite of the bad news, being a driver wasn’t such a bad job. You didn’t have to listen to a bunch of bullshit from office people. You drove around in your own plastic bubble.

My car was a 2007 Toyota Prius with a hatchback trunk and enough cargo space to carry virtually anything a sedan could handle. The car was so well manufactured I never had any major problems with it.

I had three garment bags from Prada in my trunk. I was assigned to take them to a home in Bel-Air. My mp3 player was pumping out some killer dubstep and the air conditioning was flowing pretty easily. The GPS advised me what turns to take to get to the home. My car was going to take good care of me.

With the proper temperature, ambient sound and flawless female voice giving direction it was the closest thing to traveling around in a mobile womb.

I drove up to the gates and showed my badge to the security guard.
“I’m from Style Runners”, I handed him the ID card.
The guard leaned out of his kiosk window to take it. He scanned my name on the card.
“Tracy Milton”, he read slowly as he typed out my delivery pass.
“Melton”, I corrected.
“Oh! Sorry!” he retyped.

“So how far is Mrs. Killebrew’s home from here?” I asked as he handed my ID card back with my temporary pass.
“Three streets down and then you make a right”.

The gates slowly opened up as in an old storybook film and I drove through. It seemed easy at first until I saw that the street signs were printed on boulders set on the corner. The printed names of the streets were largely obscured by overgrown plants hiding the names.

“Paseo de la Rosa is on the right”, the GPS pleasantly advised, her robotic voice sounding more sure of herself than I was. “And then left turn”.

This gated community wasn’t as pretty as the other ones I’ve driven through. This one looked like an overly protected suburbia. The homes all shared the same color scheme: beige, light gray and cream colors. Many earth tones and not a pastel color in sight. I was in Vanilla City.

I turned down Paseo de la Rosa, made my left at Paseo de la Teresa and the GPS announced, “You have arrived at your destination. The route guidance is now finished”.

I pulled up to the driveway and killed the engine. I took out the garment bags, and each bag was ridiculously long. There were ball gowns inside them, meaning they were at least seven feet long in that they all had trains. It was impossible to hold them up since they were higher than me, so I folded them over my arm and carried them with an almost butler-like reverence.

It’s pretty tough carrying three garment bags and a clipboard at the same time. The clipboard had my trip sheet on it. The trip sheet is where you write down your delivery information – name and address of pick up and then the name and address of the delivery. On the far right is an area where the delivery prints and signs their name.

When you’re in a gated community half the time you’ll deliver straight to the resident. The other half of the time it’ll be to the domestic care working the home. I pressed the door bell and heard the faint thumping of footsteps accompanied by the barking of a dog.

“Style Runners”, I said through the door. “Your Prada is here”.
An elderly woman with silver hair wearing a house dress opened the door with a German Shepherd by her side barking his head off at me. We had to speak over the loud barking.

“Please print your name and sign over the line in the pink”, I instructed her.
“Grrrr”…The dog tried leaping over the woman’s legs to get to me. It no longer barked but settled into a moan, giving way to growling.

“Oh, don’t mind him, he’s just a big old softy”, she smiled as she signed the sheet.
“A softy with wolves’ teeth”, I said, keeping my eyes on the angry, impatient beast.
“Pardon?”

The dog was pushing harder against her legs, growling even more now.
“PIERRE!”
A German dog with a French name. This woman was crazy. The dog had large fangs.
“PIERRE! STOP!!!”
The beast continued growling and budging against her.

“Oh, he’s usually not like this! He’s having a bad day!”
“I’d like to catch him on a good day”, I said, handing her the Prada bags.
“Sorry?”
“I said, Have yourself a great day”, I smiled.

The dog pushed so hard he almost broke through but the woman held him back.
“Oh wait, I forgot to give you a tip. Let me get you some money”.
She tried stepping backwards over the dog with the heavy garment bags in her hands.
Once she walked away there was no telling what the big dog would do.

“No thank you, ma’am. I got to run. I still have a lot of deliveries to make”, I backpedaled towards my car and shot out of there as fast as I could.

I drove down the hill towards the exit gates, which magically opened up like out of some fairy tale and let me out. I drove down streams of private roads until I reached Sunset Boulevard.

I hung a left on Sunset and then pulled over for a moment. I picked up my cell phone and texted the dispatcher “DELIVERY MADE”.

I texted another message, this time to someone else: “It’s me, Tracy. Are you coming back? I miss you”. DONE. SENT. I sat there for a minute or two, waiting for a response. She’s been gone for awhile. A message would be nice, but there was no reply,

I took a deep breath and looked out the windshield at the tree lined street. It was so wide it put a highway to shame. It was a Saturday afternoon and I kind of drifted off a little bit.

GLEEPGLEEP! The radio shook me with its abrupt signal.
“Driver 757, go to the Hermes Store at the Westfield Mall in Sherman Oaks. I’ll send you the stats in a minute”, the dispatcher said.
“10-4, copy that”.

I snapped out of my cloud and started the car, pulling out into the street. A tiny Fiat trailed behind a large soda truck, trying to jump into the next lane so it could pass it. I was in that lane so it nervously waited for me to speed up so it could get behind me and cut in front of the truck.

I finally sped up and the Fiat got behind me and then cut right in front of the soda truck by less than ten feet, instantly pissing off the truck driver. He blasted his large Godzilla horn angrily at the tiny Fiat. He might have even sped up to scare off the Fiat, but I turned down to Santa Monica Boulevard.

I jammed it up the freeway to Sherman Oaks and hit the Hermes Store in the Westfield Mall. I picked up a tiny wallet in a tiny shopping bag> It was so tiny it almost looked dainty.

The delivery was in Sylmar, a very intense working class neighborhood. It’s only claim to fame was that it had one of the worst faults in Southern California, the one which caused the legendary 1971 earthquake.

Going from Sherman Oaks to Sylmar required getting back on the freeways and watching a lot of motorists pull a bunch of daredevil tricks on the freeway. I kept my pace nice and slow to avoid any involvement with these Steve McQueeners.

The GPS directed me to my off ramp. I drove up to the main drag in Sylmar and thought I’d made a wrong turn somewhere. Pavement on the streets were cracked up with hundreds of potholes. Stores all around were either boarded up or closed down.

Tall weeds were more prominent than lawns and if there were any lawns they were long dead and left as dirt mounds. Not much grew around here. I pulled over and double checked the trip sheet. Yes, this was the right street.

I drove down the road, trying unsuccessfully to avoid hitting a pothoie. POW! The car made a large boom driving over a pothole.
“OHHHHHH!” I groaned, feeling like I just got hit.

POW! POW!
“You have arrived at your destination”, the GPS cheerfully announced.
I cussed quietly under my breath over the shitty road my poor suffering car just took a beating on. Plus there was the even shittier street I had to deliver on.

I got out of my car and pulled out the dainty Hermes bag, shaking my head. Some karmic clown was laughing his ass off somewhere. Every house had rusty wrought iron gates in front of their driveways. The houses all had iron doors as well as iron bars over the windows.

Something tells me I’m not going to get a tip this time. Just a funny feeling.

Some of the houses had address markings, while others clearly did not. Guess which ones belonged to law-abiding citizens?
“23529 Fairfield, 23529 Fairfield….here’s 23533, it’s marked”, I said to myself. I walked over to the next house, which wasn’t marked. It could be 23531 or it could be the 23529 Fairfield I’m looking for.

There were two unmarked homes next to each other. One home had a surly pit bull behind the gate eyeing me menacingly. The house looked pretty ramshackle and the car parked in the lot looked primered to hell.

The next home was better kept and had a fancy Camaro parked in front with no guard dog in sight. The only way I was going to contact my delivery was if I phoned him and made him come outside.

I dialed the number on my cell phone, and a man quickly answered.
“Hello?” he had a guttural voice.
“This is Style Runners. Your Hermes wallet is here. I’m right in front of your house for you to pick up”. I felt like a drug dealer just talking like that.
“I’ll be right out”.

I assumed correctly. My delivery lived in the house with the vintage Camaro in the driveway. The delivery came out in a wife beater and baggy pants. He had tattoos all over his arms and on his neck. He probably had ink on his ass, too. Not only did he look mean as hell but he had his trusty pit bull come with him. The pit bull almost looked as mean as he did.

“Hey”, I said. “Here’s your wallet, but please sign first”.
The dog eyed me suspiciously. As the delivery signed I felt someone behind me. I turned around and saw a very old woman dressed completely in black. She smiled at me and I smiled back.

“Buenos dias”, I said. She just smiled.
“She can speak English”, the man grunted.
“Oh! Hi, good morning, ma’am”.
“Que?” she asked.
“I lied”, he smirked. Nice little joke.
“Okay, take it easy!”

I walked back to my car, hopped in, picked up my cell phone and texted the dispatcher “DELIVERY MADE”. I drove off, twisting and turning to avoid the potholes, but some were unavoidable. KAPOW! POW!

I drove a few blocks down to the main drag, I heard a beeping sound from my cell phone notifying me I had a new text. I pulled over to the curb to read it.

“I’m not coming back any time soon. I don’t think I want to be with you any more”.
I closed my eyes. Everything just stopped. I opened my eyes after awhile, looked at my side view mirror, and pulled out into traffic.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ripoff Magazine (Hot Wire MY HEART Chapter 3)

The storefront on Mission Street was beat, badly in need of repairs, paint chipping off wooden slats in the front, windows speckled with dirt and dead flies pressed against old newspaper taped over the windows. The view within was covered, and the faded sign above was for a shoe repairs.

The front door was protected by a mountain of trash piled waist-high. A leaky spigot under the front window had a splash of green moss growing out of the sidewalk. It was one of those storefronts that was so worn out to death that it was invisible to anyone walking by it.

The little shoe repair store could be entered from the rear with a credit card along with a good jimmying from a pen knife. There was no heating inside, but a few tables and chairs kept the squat alive. A few lamps pulled in from the trash supplied indoor light needed to produce a punk rock fanzine. This was the headquarters or more appropriately the "deadquarters" of Ripoff Magazine.

Warren Arrest gently placed a few photographs from the previous night's show around some quickly typed copy, moving the photos around the page in a semi-circle. He analyzed the layout, deciding which looked more intense for the Live Reviews Section. Sitting a few feet away cutting out captions with a rusty pair of scissors was Just Plain Sally, looking industrious with her cutting.

The back door frame shook a little with a knob jiggle. The squatters inside tensed a mite and relaxed when they saw Dante creeping inside.
"Hey, why didn't you get the door for me?" he asked, slightly hurt.
"Doorman's on vacation", Arrest drawled. "We're kind of busy here, as you can see".
"Yeah", Sally chimed in.

Dante walked over, peeking over everyone's shoulders, perusing their work. "No, the guitar player jumping in the air should be on top. The singer getting flipped the finger isn't news. You see that shit every night".
"You think I should move it down?"
"Yup".
"I was thinking the same thing".

Dante walked over to Sally's corner and watched her fight the paper with her rusty tools.
"Hey, Sally, I have a decent pair of paper scissors you can borrow. I mean, Jesus".
Sally looked up with her customary blank look.
"No, these are my tools". She proudly held the rusty scissors up like Lady Liberty.

Dante snorted and walked back to Arrest.
"So, here to help out?"
"Noooooooo", Dante crooned. "I'm just coming by to let you know that the next column's going to get done earlier than usual. I got some pretty hot info the other night and I'm dying to blast it in the zine".

"Um, like what? More high school photos?"
"No, better, much better. Why, it's almost too good for this rag, but I'll give it to you 'cause I'm a pretty cool guy".
"Are you going to tell me?"

Dante held out, walking over to a bunch of snacks and drinks sitting atop a scarred wooden table. He reached into a bag of ridged potato chips and jammed them into his maw, crunching loudly. He picked up a styrofoam cup of coffee and took a pull, puffed his cheeks up and spat it all over the floor.

"HEY!"
"Ugh! That fuckin' coffee's cold! And it's black, too! It tastes like piss! BYAKKKK!" Dante coughed up coffee grounds, spitting them out from his purple face.
"Ask before you guzzle, dick head".

Dante continued his coughing and spitting as Warren stared at him. "So, dumbass, are you going to tell me about this hot item you're just dying to burst...or what?"

Dante finally caught his breath after several tries. Without a word, he pulled out the paper he typed at home and handed it to his editor.
Arrest grabbed the copy and read it slowly.

As he scanned the paper a low moan giving way to a low growl rose higher and higher in volume.
"Mmmmmm....ohhhh....oh....AH.....SHIT!!!!"

His face turned several shades of white and gray and he handed the paper back to Dante.
"Where...did you...get this...stuff...from?"

Dante hemmed and hawed, eventually just wordlessly staring at his editor.
“This is all bullshit, isn’t it?”
“No, honest. It’s all real, I just don’t want to start narking my sources out, heh heh”.

Warren walked over to Dante and threw his arm around his shoulders conspiratorially. He turned his head just to check to see if Sally was watching and then around.
“I’ll publish this if it’s true, but honestly, guy, take a tip from me. Let’s have a little less scandal and a lot more positive energy. Make more friends. Don’t try so hard to piss everybody off, know what I mean?”
“Play it slower, like what?”

“We need money, see? Money will get us a cool little office space, not some bullshit squat. I mean I’m all for living humble, but let’s get what every other zine like Creem and Circus get, y’know?”
“I still don’t get you”.
“Dante, it’s like this. If you write up twenty bands per issue, that comes to twenty bands with five members each in every band and you sell a hundred copies alone just so these fuckers can see their stupid names in print, see? At three dollars an issue that’s three hundred dollars profit right there”.

“So I go find ten bands to write about? Is that it?”
“No, just make nice with these bands and get them to want to be put in the zine, like we’re doing them a big favor. They get their mention and we make our money. Leave me this item and go get these boobs interested in us. Oh, and here”.

Arrest discreetly pulled out a tiny folded piece of paper. “That’s for you. Enjoy. Put it away so Sally doesn’t see it”.
Dante pocketed it as quickly as he could.
“It’ll make you a lot nicer to everybody. Right now we need that. Go!”

********************

Dante walked by the corner drug store with its floppy awning and wooden slatted sides. He saw a flip-top box of cigarettes by the phone booth and swiped them. Opening the box, instead of expecting a cockroach to come racing out, he saw three fresh unsmoked cigarettes in the pack. Since he always carried matches with him he lit one up and took a deep drag on the smoke.

He walked further down the street with the sky in a gray patina, puffing smoke signals, adding more gray palette into the ozone. He walked a few feet ahead and then slowed down his pace. At the next block was a dented Ford Econoline van with the band name The Double Crossers spray painted over a vomitous splash of colors.

Dante tossed his cig into the curb and leaned against an empty storefront wall. A nervous, twitchy scarecrow of a young man in soiled tee, army pants and boots got out of the van. Looking around nervously, he opened up the rear van doors and pulled out a PA sound board with speakers.

“No way”, Dante grinned. “This is great”.
What made it great was that the store the van parked by had three round bulbs, the sign of a pawn shop. The young man pulled out a dolly and carted them into the pawn shop. Dante chuckled with glee.

“Wonder if the boys in the band know about this”, he mumbled to himself with no shortage of amusement.

He walked slowly and cautiously to get a closer look at the shop window. Most bands on the scene knew who he was so walking in there might be a bad idea. He found a nice sideways angle to the window without being seen head-on.

“Look at him twitch”, Dante chuckled again. “Scratching himself….”
The young man could be seen haggling with the pawnbroker inside the store.
“That’s Spider….shit. Never let a junkie handle your stage gear for you. Well, I never thought those guys in The Double Crossers were very bright”.

After much gesturing and nervous looks out the window (once Dante had to jump back a few feet) Spider finally managed to unload the sound board. He could be seen signing something and then taking a thin wad of cash and jamming in the back of his combat pants.

“How are you gonna explain that one, junkie?” Dante sniggered.
Spider then quickly jammed out of the pawn shop with two big 32” speakers on the dolly, quickly throwing them back into the van. Dante ran back to his original post.

“No takers on the speakers, asshole. I could have told him that”.

The van tore out from the curb. Dante slowly emerged from the corner and walked back to the sidewalk.
“Well, thanks for the item. That’s one band that isn’t going to be happy tonight. One missing sound board and one overdosed roadie. Wish I had my fuckin’ camera”.

******************************

Animal led Dante around a club called Kiki’s Deluxe at The Stockade, a gay bar that was having one of their drag nights. The club was packed with men looking for love, looking for entertainment and probably a load of party drugs.

Although Dante wore his usual punk uniform of leather jacket, jeans, tee and sneakers, Animal was dolled for Discoland, wearing a feather boa, violet satin tube top, black vinyl miniskirt and old platform wedgies. She even had some glitter glued to her cheeks.

“Come on”, Animal pulled Dante’s arm, dragging him around the club. “The dressing room’s around here somewhere!”
Dante yawned, wondering why he was even there.

Animal spotted a fat man in makeup but not in female dress.
“Hey!” she yelled. “Which way to the dressing room?”
The fat man appraised her sourly. “Well, doll, that’s for me to know and for you to find out!”

“I work with Mabel at Picasso’s Art Supplies. Is she back stage?”
“Mabel Mildew? Why didn’t you say so, girl?” The portly man stared at Dante in his tight leather jacket. “Back of the room to the left”.

“Can we go home now?” Dante groaned.
“No! I want to see Mabel!” Animal yelled over the bad dance music. It was Disco Tex and The Sex-O-Lettes doing their hoary classic “Get Dancin’”.

Dante wished he was home listening to The Ramones. Animal continued fighting the crowd, struggling to get towards the dressing room. Strobe lights and sirens were going off in the club and a DJ was screaming over the music – “GET DANCIN'……..KIKI'S DELUXE!!! STOMP YOUR FEET STICK UP YOUR ASSES OUT PUT YOUR HANDS UP IN THE AIR LIKE YOU GOSH DARN IT JUST DON’T CARE!”

They finally reached a black door which kept getting thrown open and then slamming shut, over and over again like some demented puppet show. The smell of beer and poppers filled the air.

Animal tried the door knob. “Shit! It’s locked!”
Suddenly the door flew open again, and a eight-foot tall black queen towered over the brightly lit room. Steam and body sweat emanated from the tiny dressing room.
“Yeeeeessssssssss?” the giant queen imperially asked.

“Is Mabel there? Tell her Animal’s here!”
“Oh, well…..Miss Mabel, you have company!”
Animal leaned over the large queen. “Mabel, Mabel, Mabel, it’s me! Animal!”

Mabel shrieked from the back of the dressing room. “Oh darling I’ll be out in a minute!”
The giant stared at Dante. “Well, he’s welcome to enter, but you‘ll have to wait, sweetheart”. Animal frowned.

The door slammed shut again. People shoved against them. “That bum, hustling my boyfriend in front of me. Well! Mabel’s going to hear about it!”
Dante just looked around nervously.

The door flew open and a dark figure fronted by a large bouncer raced out quickly towards the stage. Mable Mildew approached the stage resplendent in a gold liquid satin dress, her reed hair piled high in an upsweep with heavily rouged cheek, offsetting a short black goatee. She resembled a Milan runway model in crossfire with a Roman gladiator.

“KIKI’S DELUXE PRESENTS AND PREVENTS AT NO GREAT EXPENSE, THE WONDERFUL MABEL MILDEW!” Everybody screamed and applauded wildly.

“Mabel! Mabel! Mabel!” Animal yelled while jerking Dante around in a demented dance. Dante behaved like a surly puppet having its strings yanked wildly. Mabel lip-synced to Diana Ross singing “Over The Rainbow”. Shirtless men were bumping wildly, sweat flying around and splashing on Dante. Animal was in bliss, dancing like crazy.

The disco music pounded loudly while Mabel Mildew lip-synced her heavily padded heart out. Dante smelled more than a few asses in the fragrant darkness. Animal jumped up and down happily.

“Yaaaayyyyy Mabel! THAT’S MY GIRL!”

Monday, April 18, 2016

We Are The One: A Look At Mickey One

One of my favorite films of all time is Mickey One. It was released by Columbia Pictures in 1965 and directed by Arthur Penn and starring Warren Beatty. Mickey One is the story of a lounge stand-up comedian who’s on the run from the mob for reasons left open to conjecture: Were there unpaid debts? Was he playing around with the mob boss’ mistress? Was he in arrears for countless favors from the mob?

Mickey runs away after being called on the carpet by club owner Ruby Lapp (played by Franchot Tone in one of his last performances). He hits the skid row section of Chicago and lifts the social security card of a rolled drunk named Mickey Wonjhowcski. which he shortens to Mickey One.

Living in a flophouse and working as a pearl diver, he has a tenant forced on him by his insane landlady. He falls in love with the girl and she recognizes his talent, prompting him to badger a tenth-rate burlesque agent, who books him into a string of dogwater lounges.

Gingerly working his way back into the nightclub grind, he hopes he won’t attract much attention, but of course with his Warren Beatty looks and enormously successful comedic talent he eventually attracts all the attention he previously hoped to avoid. Mickey One ends with him performing to a dark, empty club with a blinding spotlight burning into him with an unknown figure behind the light (the mob boss?). The moral of the story: you can run but you can’t hide.

Mickey One was made in the Sixties, an era when the mystery of the John F. Kennedy assassination greatly disturbed the country and provoked endless meditations on conspiracies, innocent people on the run for unknown transgressions, and questions of personal identity. It was an era of Kafkaesque entertainment which spawned television shows like The Prisoner, The Fugitive, Run For Your Life, Coronet Blue, and other weird programs.

Arthur Penn once said that Mickey One was his attempt to make his version of a French New Wave film, and in that regard he considered the film to be a minor failure. Part of the French New Wave influence was the casting of Alexandra Stewart as the love interest, who was Francois Truffaut’s girlfriend at the time.

Mickey One is so much more than a Nouvelle Vague homage, though, in fact it’s one of the most American films ever made. The film looks like a Tom Waits album cover from start to finish with its scenes of Salvation Army bands, hobo jungles, wrecking yards and burlesque queens (and with no Barbara Nichols in sight!). If you liked Robert Frank’s book The Americans you will love the beautiful cinematography of Ghislain Cloquet.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Mickey One: it was in 1978 and I was living in The Canterbury Apartments in Hollywood at the time. I had a terrible case of the flu and had that thing where you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. I turned on my black and white portable TV and watched The Late Show and there it was, Mickey One.

I felt as if I was getting a broadcast from outer space. It was the parallel reality I thought I’d never see. Warren Beatty and his absurd America oif exploding industrial art called YES really sold it for me. From that moment on I called myself Andy Seven and I’ve never looked back, just like Mickey One.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Long Haircuts

It's been awhile since I've had a haircut, and I'm accustomed to having my hair a certain length. If my hair gets too long I start looking like Geronimo or some other cigar store Injun with my old face peeking out of a mop. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, and I had to give myself a haircut.

I once gave myself a haircut when I was a teenager and it was so savage in butchery that I ended up looking like a shock therapy patient, big bald spots in my scalp followed by long, stringy strands of hair. It was truly horrorshow, but things would be different now.

I did my best to remember the way my hair was cut in the past. I used a tiny, delicate pair of snips, not some garden shears. I set up a large circle of mirrors around the bathroom so I could see my head from all angles.

Cutting the front and sides was never a problem for me, that was always simple. The real challenge lay in cutting the back of my head and making sure that it was done as evenly as possible. Wearing my barber's cape, I snipped gingerly around the left side rear....SNIP! Then the right side rear...SNIP SNIP!!!

Then moving up towards the middle of the head, gently combing out longer strands of hair...SNIP!! Again, a little to the left...then the right....SNIP SNIP!!

Getting towards the top in the back...don't take too much off the top, easy...easy...SNIP! I could actually feel my hair feeling stronger and healthier with each cut, the strands shorter and thicker. When it felt like I'd cut enough (who knows?) I appraised myself in the mirror and liked the job I did. And I'd be a liar if I told you it wasn't one of the hardest things I've ever done.

***************

It's funny that my internet friend Linda Bloodworth has a novel called A Raven's Touch because I know what that feels like. When I worked in Koreatown the blackbirds would get excited by my jet black hair and land on my head!

I'd feel their claws gently resting on my scalp while their wings would flap above me. It was like wearing a crown of black wings! You could say it was their way of saying, "WE ACCEPT YOU ONE OF US">>>>>>>>>>>>

***************

When I went into Sunland I saw a lot of beat trailer-style homes with cars parked on the front lawn, their guts pulled out sitting on blocks , not even finished, some even getting rusty from overexposure to the elements. There were kids' toys strewn about the yard, dirty and sticky from use and abuse. The odd mattress lay about here and there, springs sticking out like spikes from an old cactus.

The roads were not only poorly paved but looked like a pothole convention. My shock absorbers got a mad workout bouncing up and down the poverty roadwork. The car bounced like a bumper car from some long condemned carnival.

As beat as the homes looked, there was that constant of the American flag waving loud and proud in front lawn poles or at the very least stretched out over a stumpy porch. The poor always let you know what country they're living in , even though same country was giving them the rawest deal of their lives.

They definitely loved their horses as much as they loved their fucking flag. Every once in awhile I'd spot a horse trailer, empty, no horses, sitting in the driveway of the folks. An empty horse trailer looks a lot like an iron outhouse with no toilet inside.

Another block ahead and the veneer of the area changed completely. Trailer homes gave way to a lush suburb of beautifully manicured lawns with large driveways and luxurious mid-century homes. I felt as if I'd been dropped into an entirely different town within the course of a few blocks.

I came to a full stop when a willowy teenage girl walked her horse across the street in front of me. She glanced at me fro a moment, her chestnut brown hair falling into her bright green eyes as she gave me a small smile. The horse loped slowly as if it were ill.

The path cleared I drove to my delivery. She lived in a home that looked more like Cheviot Hills then Sunland. I pulled into her driveway and parked. I brought out her boutique order and rang her door bell. A very distinguished looking elderly lady opened the door. I saw a very bright chandelier sparkling behind her.

"Yes?"
"Your Oscar De La Renta is here, ma'am".
"Oohhhh...good!" She had a large pile of silver hair piled atop her head, immaculate makeup worn with a magnificent string of pearls adorning her neck.
"Have a great day, ma'am".
I handed her the long black garment bag and returned to my car, the sun baking everything inside my auto. I flipped on the air conditioning and sped back to Santa Monica.

***************

Made a delivery at this beautiful park in the Hollywood Hills to this rich Jewish couple. They were putting together this Easter Egg Hunt picnic and screaming at each other while I was dropping their stuff off. It was cool, though, because they tipped me while they were screaming.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"Fearless" - Family (1971)

The first time I heard about Family was when I saw a photograph in Rolling Stone of a scrawny man with wild, stringy hair flying all over the place in shirttails on stage screaming into a microphone. He had a wild, unkempt look that was jarring. It was a picture of singer Roger Chapman, and the music his band Family played was equally jarring.

My interest piqued, my first audio experience with Family was their album Anyway. The cover was a famous sketch by Da Vinci of a cannon, all packaged in a clear vinyl sleeve.

The music contained therein was some of the most violent I’ve ever heard. Chapman sang in a booming rustic bray that was downright scary in conjunction with the violent music. One of the violent performances on Anyway was Strange Band, “Strange looking band were we”. Standing out in contrast to the band’s violence was a bright, pretty vibraphone played by band multi-instrumentalist Poli Palmer.

The vibraphone added a jazzy element to all the sonic ultra-violence. Chiefly notable was Palmer’s pretty vibes solo on Good News Bad News, bringing a lot of texture to the pummeling fisticuffs sound.

Family fully realized their vision in 1971 with the release of their fifth album Fearless, which deftly combined all the anger and beauty in one brilliant package. The album cover shows a clever computerized photo of each band member in a cascade, with the cell of each picture becoming more and more distorted until each member begins to resemble this one face at the bottom.

Fearless shows a wider breadth and scope than many bands’ efforts, as evidence din tracks like Sat’dy Barfly, a bouncy, drunken saloon number complete with barroom piano and a bevy of booming tubas. Chapman gives a Rod Stewart-styled vocal about a pub regular making his big Saturday night appearance, blowing his dough and cadging free drinks, eventually tearing things up. The tubas do a good job of creating images of a drunken man trying to keep his balance walking.

Crinkly Grin is a brief Zappa-influenced instrumental with Poli Palmer playing the lead melody on vibes. I thought it was a little too brief, to be honest with you. I could have listened to a lot more of that cool jazziness. Definitely not a filler track!

Larf And Sing is a jazzy number with an understated blues guitar lead by Charlie Whitney. The chorus is delivered acapella by the band in wonderfully layered harmonies.

Spanish Tide has a great ascending vocal line with the melody moving from gentle to violent, and when it’s Family violent the vibes come out to play a wild, distorted solo. John Wetton does a terrific job on bass and does some singing on this number. When I met him on a Roxy Music tour several years later I asked him to autograph my copy of Fearless, which registered a surprised look from him.

Save Some For Thee is a soul rocker with a punchy horn section. The song ends with a perky marching band playing the melody, years before Fleetwood Mac did that whole thing.

Family had an endless line of bassists and keyboardists coming and going in their band (some of them were John Weider from The Animals, Ric Grech of Blind Faith, John Wetton and Tony Ashton, among others). They released two more albums and right after Chapman and Whitney formed Streetwalkers, a soul/R&B influenced combo. Not quite the manic art school rage of Family, but still a good way to spend a Sat’dy night.