Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lunch Date

My Dad has a cell phone but it might as well be a shoe horn or a banana. He turns it off when he's not using it and there is nothing you can say, nothing, to stop him from doing this.  He powers off. He loves powering off. He loves it so much he says it out loud to himself under his breath every time he does it.

"Dad, now the person you just left that long voice message to isn't going to get through when he calls you back".

"That's okay".

We stare at each other in silence for 7 seconds, an eternity during which we each consider unanswerable and mysterious questions of life, and then he shuffles past me to go put the phone back into the top drawer of his desk.


"Hi Dad" this is how I answer when he calls.

"What? Oh".



"Dad, can you hear me?"

"Hello?" he says it the way you do when you walk into a creepy abandoned house by yourself at night.


"Who is this?"

"Come on".


"Woodland Hills Funeral Home, can I help you?"

He's laughing now. "All right," He's chuckling. He could do this all day. "Well, nice talking to ya".

"Yeah, you too". Just for fun, just to go to the end of the joke, we both hang up.

While I wait for him to call back I imagine him looking at the tiny little thing in his hand, tilting his head back so he can see it better, pressing each number with one finger. When I answer this time he says "Come get me out of here". (for the record, he is calling from home)

"Where do you want to go?"

He thinks. I can hear him thinking, I can hear him considering this as though for the first time in his life. "Hmm"

"You want to go to the Clew?"

"What's the Clew?"

"You know, where you drink champagne, wear gold chain, make it rain".

"Nah..." he keeps thinking; he snorts as an afterthought, he knows what I'm saying, but this is serious business, this is a date, this is lunch. He keeps researching his files, "What's that Tomato place?"

"The Tomato Patch?"

"No, I don't want to go there".

"How about sushi".

After a long pause he says,"Yeah, okay". He says it like he'll have to settle for that. "Sushi. Okay. That's fine". And then, before I have a chance to figure out the time and the day, he says "See ya later. Love you".

Powering off.

to be continued...

Monday, March 24, 2014


Dear Person Who Wrote This All Over My Neighborhood,

I like your style. Did you resort to this after 100 phone-calls/letters/texts went unanswered? Or did you, right after you wronged Justine and in a moment of clarity, go straight to the spray paint store, buy a couple of cans and do what had to be done. Did you know how many of us would slow down when we saw this, maybe even circle back just to look at it again? Or say out loud, Oh, there's another one, and then think about you, and her, and what happened? Did you know that some of us would even think about all the times we should have said that but didn't? How a simple thing can be so difficult? Did you know we would wonder about your character, weigh the wrong against right, and hope that Justine, whenever she sees this, will forgive you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

We All's Fine- (w.i.p.)

Would you like to know the truth? This is what I was thinking when the receptionist tilted her head at me and asked: How ya'll doin today?  Instead I said, "We all's fine", not sure if that was rude, but not too concerned about it. She told me the doctor would see me in just a minute. I eased myself into a chair. I looked over at her. She smiled in my direction and went back to her business. Southerners: slavery, red necks, lynch mobs, big porches, sweet tea, plantations, strong women, weak men, slow conversation, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor... Oh, y'all, how do you do it? How do you stay polite and righteous? How do you stay strong but seem weak? Which one is the facade and which one the core? I stared at her and drummed my fingers.

She looked up, "Sir?"

I stopped and looked up.

"Oh, I thought you were trying to get my attention, " she smiled, looked back down.

"No, ma'am".

She shook her head at me. You can always count on their humor though. I liked that. I could have fallen in love with her just for that. Even with the accent. I watched her looking at her book, still shaking her head at me, still smiling.  She looked up at me, "You doing all right?"


"Just had your last treatment, right?"

"I did, yes".

I didn't want to go into it. I liked her but that didn't mean I wanted to talk to her. I looked at her sitting at the desk. I thought about sliding my hands up her skirt, one hand on the outside of each leg; my fingers over skin, under elastic. She glanced at me from the side of her eyes. I sighed. She laughed.

"I'm old".

 "You're not that old Mr. Ollery".

"In cancer years I'm 95".

"You're 52. And that's not old".

"It is if you've already picked out a plot in the cemetery".

"Are you tryin to hit on me?"

"If only I could".

She got up and walked around into the waiting area, leaned on the desk, crossed her arms, "You know I think that's just about the nicest thing anyone's said to me all day".

"I'm sure you hear things like that all the time".

 "I really don't".

I shrugged at her. What else could I do?

After a while, she said, "You know what I did this morning? I don't why I'm telling you this, it's silly really, but... I took my son's turtles to the park and let them go in the pond. My son had three turtles. They were too big to be in the tank. They needed to get out. We got them a few years ago--"

I looked at her mouth while she talked. I looked at her ankles and her legs, the curve of her hip, her breasts, her neck, the line of her jaw, and back to her mouth again. It was a shame about the talking, the question mark at the end of each sentence, the lilt-n-twang. Women: small, vulnerable, curve, ass, boobs, pussy, wet--

"And you know it was strange because when we first got 'em, they were the size of fifty cent pieces, I swear, just tiny little things. You're not supposed to touch them though because--"

-- talking. On and on. Forever on and on. Even the ones that barely speak. Even the great ones. They've still got to explain. I sometimes think they'd be a lot better off with a piece of duct tape across the mouth area.

She stopped talking, "What are you grinnin' about?"

"You do not want to know". Women: psychic, mysterious, intuitive, frightening--

"You should be more patient, Mr. Ollery".


"And not so quick to judge," she stopped to let that sink in, "There is a point to this story, believe it or not".

There was no following this girl. Even though I wanted to.

"By all means, continue" I said.

"Y'all might be surprised if you really listen".

"Surprise me then".

"Do you ever pray?"

"Well that's a sharp left".

"I know it's a strange question, but you know, because I work here, well, it's something I think about from time to time."

"Do you?"

"And I talk to my son about it, and in fact when we let the turtles go, he wanted to say a little prayer--"

"Wait. Are you religious?'

"No, I'm not actually".

"Thank Jesus".

"And anyway he said his little prayer, kind of to himself, and then he said to me 'How do we know our prayers are heard?'"

"I'd like to the know the answer to that one myself".

"And I said you'll know it because afterwards something good will happen".

"Like what?"

She laughed at me; it was a good laugh, "That's exactly what my son said. And he's seven."

"He's obviously a genius".

The phone rang and she held up a finger and swished past me. Gone: old, sick, past, finished, over, dying, dead, forgotten. It is always such a burden to love someone. I listened to her voice. There were definitely worse things to hear.

"No it's not, sir, no problem", she was talking into the phone but she was looking at me, smiling. I was in the goddam doctor's office and she was looking at me like that. I had no idea about anything. All I knew for sure was that I didn't have a clue about a single thing, and then she said, "It's not a burden at all, really". Really. I watched her hang up the phone and lift her chin to look at me; I thought: I'm done. In every possible way, I'm done.

"What are you thinkin about Mr. Ollery?'' she asked me, finally.

"Would you like to know the truth?" I said.

What's It Gonna Be?

                                      Mo did not want to have her picture taken so she put this on.

Sometimes it is an effort to look into another person's eyes while I am talking to them. Not that I don't care about communicating. Not that I don't mean what I say. But it's just physically difficult. It's like the part of my brain that controls getting the words out and the part of my brain that's in charge of me connecting with someone are in two separate rooms. Maybe that's true of everyone. I can always look at the person's eyes after I'm finished talking, I can check in and connect then; but otherwise there's just too much going on.

Sometimes, when there is a conversation going on beneath the one you're having, it is amazing and wonderful and exciting. Other times it is like an exhausting work-out. You never really know which one it's going to be until it happens.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Semper Fi (sketch)


Four of us, all under the age of 11, looked up from the monopoly game at Uncle Walt.

Henry said, "Ooo swear!"

Walt picked up the tiny metal wheelbarrow he had just stepped on, and dropped it onto the middle of the game board. Uncle Walt, who wasn't wearing a shirt or shoes, whose jeans were unbuttoned, whose hair was long and uncombed, had been back from Vietnam for a month. He was staying with us for the summer or until he, as my mom put it, got his head together.

"Goddam fucktool," he murmured on his way past us into the kitchen. It didn't seem like he would be getting his head together any time soon.

"Lemme see," said Miles, picking up the piece, "That's the one I wanted".

"You're the shoe now, you can't switch, " Henry said and he held out his hand. He placed it next to his neatly stacked pile of money and pushed his glasses up with one finger. I picked up my cup and stood. "You can't leave," Henry said.

"I'm just gonna get some juice".

In the kitchen Walt had his back to me. He was pouring coffee into a cup and some spilled. He put the pot down and held his hands out straight and flat; they trembled.

"Uncle Walt?"

He put his hands on the counter and hung his head. He didn't say anything.

"Uncle Walt, can you get me some juice?"

"Hold on"

"The pitcher's too heavy"

He stood there, his head still hanging. I put the cup next to him on the counter. He eyed it and stood up straight, took a sip of his coffee and turned to face me.

He stared at me. I stared back. He studied. I studied.

"What are you doing today?" I asked him, finally. He shook his head at me. He didn't want to talk. I picked up the cup and wiggled it, "Can I get some juice?"

He sniffed; considered me.


He started to smile. It was like watching a curtain being pulled up and the sun shining through. He put his hand on the side of my face and rubbed his thumb across my cheek.

"Why are you doing that?" I said, giggling a little.

He laughed and turned to the refrigerator, grabbed the pitcher and poured some juice into my cup, "Because you're soft".

Click here.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014


This is not about what you think it's about. It almost never is. Sometimes you look at a person, place or thing and you think you recognize something familiar, or that you understand it, but you really don't. You listen to a person speak and you think "I know him/her" but then as you get closer to them, maybe even after years and years of fairly intimate contact, you think who the hell are you? And what are you doing in my house? On the other hand, sometimes you look at them and think you can see through them to their core, you think, "I understand why you did that stupid thing even though you don't", or  "I know you better than you know yourself". But, almost 100% of the time, you are wrong.

When I used to visit L.A. over 16 years ago, I used to see this guy, shirtless and in golf shorts, walking top-speed around Silverlake. I thought he seemed like a maniac, like a weird, possibly schizophrenic, guy who had nothing better to do with his time. It was because of the way he walked that I thought this. He plowed. It would have been hard to keep up with him if I was jogging, and he had that weird lilt that happens when you walk fast. On top of that, he read the newspaper, always folded into quarters, always held at arms length; not just glancing either, this guy was riveted. If you could only see his face you would have thought he was lounging in a chair at the library, fully absorbed in some fantastic story.

He was around every day. Sometimes you'd see him at 10 am plowing down Hyperion, and then at 2pm there he'd be plowing up Sunset. Sometimes you'd see him plowing around the reservoir and then plowing some more down Micheltorena. "Toot Toot Comin Through! Full speed ahead!" He did this every day, rain or shine, 100 degrees or 50. There he was.

When I moved here 10 years ago, I saw him again. Still going strong. Still plowing. I found out from someone that he was actually a doctor. That he still saw patients. That he was a nice guy. Not weird at all. For years after I continued to see him. At dawn. At dusk. Going to work and school. Coming home from the grocery store. I wondered when he had time to see patients; I wondered who his patients were, and whether he put a shirt on when he gave them a check up, or if he just wore a white lab coat over his shorts.

I had finally gotten used to this guy's type of strange, I may have even waved once or twice at a red light, when last year he was found dead in his hot tub. After they investigated, they determined it was a suicide. He had taken some pills, gone into the hot tub, and pulled the doors closed. It's weird how all this time that he was walking, seeing patients, having a local artist paint a mural of him on the main street in Silverlake, getting interviewed in magazines, no one knew where he was headed.

This song was inspired by him, and if you try to walk to the rhythm , you'll only be walking 1/2 as fast as he did.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Repost: Walter's Camera Shop

I don't want to say life is hard, because that doesn't really mean anything. "Shit happens", "Life is hard and then you die"doesn't really come close to describing the feeling of sitting in your car at 9pm crying with your head on the steering wheel so that no one can hear you, not to mention the whole day that led you there, with the driving 17 places and the job you just gave your notice on, and the crap health insurance you need to pay for but can't because you are already in the negative, and the conversation you had with your 13 year old where you are both standing in a hallway leaning your heads against the wall, while she cries and says she hates herself and everything, and there is no single thing you can say will magically and instantly change that (in fact everything you do say actually makes it worse).

Even saying all that doesn't really get it, in fact it only makes you think: oh shut up you big baby, waaa waa waaa, you don't have cancer,  you're not in jail or addicted to crack, you haven't watched your child get hit by a car, or taken him, every day, to a burn unit, you don't live in a tent in the mud with 60 other people, or stand in a line a mile long to get a bowl of rice.

Everyone has problems. Just shut UP.

But still.
Life is hard.
Is this thing on?

Walter's camera shop. That's what I wanted to write about. I'm not going to tell you he was some kind of magical person who told me the meaning of life. He did not. That's really a photo of him up above.  He's a big guy, like I said, gruff, with fingers like cigar stubs. He came out from behind the piles of crap holding my camera. But he didn't say anything right away. I started talking.

Should I go get cash, I don't have cash.
I haven't told you how much it is yet.
I know but--
I have to tell you what is wrong.

I took a deep breath.
He took a deep breath.

He explained it to me. The whole problem. He showed me the part, the size of an eyelash, that was damaged; explained how he tried working it with a different lens; told me how Nikon was going under, like Kodak did. He told me why. We talked about different photographers and the ones he liked and the ones who were just so-so. There was nothing he didn't know about cameras or photography.
Where are you from? I asked him.
Um. ( I was afraid. I was thinking Middle East but worried that if I guessed wrong, that I might offend him and he'd choke me out in 3 seconds) Israel?
He shook his head.
Give me a hint.
It is old place.
I laughed, Well that sure narrows it down.
Come on, you're smart.
(Now I was really intimidated) I give up.
I was just about to say that!
He told me about Egypt. He said he knew everything about his country including the exact day that Anwar Sadat would be assassinated. He said he went to Las Vegas the day before to place a bet on it but no one would let him. "They thought I was crazy."
Makes sense, I said.
"So I bet my friend a bottle of whiskey (he pronounced it whisk) and the next morning he calls me on the phone and says, I have your whisk."
We talked about Egypt, about the food, the people, the architecture and then worked our way back to my camera.
How much?
You know, I think I may still be covered by the warranty.
He shrugged, that's good. What you need to do is write a letter. You can't be nice. You have to demand that they fix it. He told me the exact wording and went over it twice. We shook hands and I told him my name. He said I'm glad I met you. This made my week!
Mine too! I'll come back to tell you how it turned out.
I turned to walk out the door which he had to buzz to let me out. He looked at me and said: Write that letter. Demand! And don't be sweet like you are.
I smiled and walked out, wondering if someone, 50 years ago standing in front of the Pyramids, had ever said that to him.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Angel -sketch

If you're going to get gold caps on your teeth, you have to first get them filed into V shapes so the cap can slide on and fit properly. I know this because of Angel who lives across the street. He used to have caps on his top four front teeth, but had to sell them. I don't know when things started going down hill for him, but last year around this time he was taken away in the back of a police van because he was being belligerent, knocking on people's doors, telling them they were being watched and that they'd better be careful. He screamed when they took him. He yelled, "I'm just trying to help" and "They're going to get them" and "It's on the roof". When he came back, he had gained about a hundred pounds and a thousand yard stare. Now he just sits outside drinking beer all day and watches the neighborhood, his head tilted to the side, his shirt barely covering his stomach.

I think about him because he is always there in front of his house or walking up the street from Bob's corner store swinging his black plastic bag with two 40s clinking. I think about him because he knows my name, even though we were never introduced, and occasionally calls out to me from across the street. I used to think it was creepy and weird and I wouldn't turn or wave.  I'd just walk into my house with my head down, feigning distraction. But then I started thinking about his name and how he's always there, and how, like me, he's a champion time-waster and people-watcher; and I thought, if I do, in fact, have a guardian, then, at least while I'm living in east LA, of course this is what he would look like.