Thomas Wolfe was half wrong. You CAN go home again, but everything’s gonna look much smaller.
Just got in Saturday night after nine days of W & W (West & Welaxation) in the Los Angeles area where I was waised. This was the first vacation that my brother Nappy and my sister Bonehead and I all took together since we were little kids and Ma and Pa were threatening to turn the car around and take us directly home. “This is the last vacation we’ll ever take you kids on!” Yeah, wight!
When Sis learned that Nappy and I were planning a trip to LaLaLand, she asked if she could tag along. All three of us kept remarking on how odd it was we should vacation together back “home.” We joked that perhaps California is about to drop into the sea (finally! It’s about time!) and God was giving us one last opportunity to visit our old haunts. On Interstate 10, heading East toward Phoenix, Airheadzona, at the conclusion of a mostly successful trip, we kept looking into the rear view mirror expecting to see a tidal wave gaining on us.
Well, Day 1 [Friday] went fine except we kept having to pull over so someone could pee-pee or poo-poo. Don’tcha hate it when that happens? Once the car’s engine turns over to begin a roadtrip, I don’t like to stop until we get “there.” Gotta go? Do it out the window at 83 mph. Sheesh! Anyway, we did make a worthwhile stop at Hadley’s in Cabazon where the dinosaurs roam. I wanted one of them banana/date shakes and Nappy wanted one of them ostrich burgers. Sis just wanted to pee-pee.
Day 2 [Saturday], we went to Topanga Canyon for their Topanga Days Fair because Kuzin J (our cousin) was performing with his band at the festival. Pooh picked us up at our hotel, then we stopped to get my sweet-hearted friend The Flying Aardvark who had found the courage to hang out with us for most of the day. Pooh went in to rob a bank but somewhere between the front door and the teller’s window, he forgot why he was there. This slowed us down some.
On the way to Topanga Canyon, I got Pooh to tune in my old favorite radio station: 88.1 FM - L.A.’s authentic Jazz and Blues station. This is the genuine article, no Kenny G or ZZ Top here. This is where you’ll hear Dave Brubeck, Art Blakey, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. The Real Deal, cool Jazz and Hot Blues 24/7.
The organizers of the Topanga Fair situated the activities on the top of a steep hill in order to prevent the out-of-shape riffraff from entering. But we parked the car, and crawling on our bellies and pulling butt muscles we didn’t know we had, we reached the top and fell through the entrance in record time (1 hour, 14 minutes: the slowest time from car to fairgrounds – a new record!)
Here’s my Cousin, J, singing like a Rock star in Topanga Canyon:
At the Topanga Days Fair everything was rainbow this, hemp that, and magic the other thing. My Sis, Bonehead, my friend, Aard, and my cousin’s wife, Adrienne, were the only females with brassieres and clean-shaven underarms.
At one point, this Gypsy woman began calling out to Nappy to visit her table. I warned him not to look her in the eyes but it was too late and the Gypshe drew Nappy to her. Then she cleared his energy centers by giving them enemas with her magic, rainbow hippie cards. “What have you done to my brother and his clogged chakras?” Oh well, rainbow sh#t happens.
After Kuzin J’s Rock ‘N’ Roll gig, we all decided to cruise down to Venice Beach for lunch at The Sidewalk Café. Yeah, good luck with that! This was Memorial Day weekend and every street was packed. No parking to be had at ANY price. Plan B: El Coyote Mexican restaurant on Beverly Boulevard near Hollywood. And of course, you can’t go to El Coyote without having a couple of their absolutely perfect margaritas. Hands and heads down (on the bar) the best margaritas ANYWHERE, EVER! Well, Pooh and Aard didn’t have a margarita (the non-margarita-havin’ M.F.s) but Bonehead, Nappy and I did. In 1976, when Warren Zevon sang, “All the salty margaritas in Los Angeles, I’m gonna drink ‘em up”, I have no doubt that it was El Coyote’s margaritas that Warren had in mind.
At the end of the meal, everyone just threw money onto the table and Pooh wound up with the thankless task of organizing the bread and checking it with the bill, making sure the waiter was getting an appropriate tip. So, while poor Pooh was struggling with that job – the job nobody else wanted - Nappy yelled, “Watch him! He’s fast with his hands!” I cracked up.
Day 3 [Sunday], First, Sis, Bro and I met Pooh again for B.C. (Breakfast Club) at Rae’s restaurant, a Santa Monica landmark on Pico Boulevard. A very 1950s diner with prices to match. Just about any weekend morning will find a line of people sometimes stretching almost a block long to get into Rae’s. The original diner style architecture has made Rae’s a favorite with photographers; it has been featured in numerous television shows and commercials and, unless memory fails me, even showed up prominently in the old Eddie Money music video for his song “Shakin’” (Aard, ya wanna check me on that?) Rae’s, a real blast from the past, and in the early ‘80s, one of our favorite hangover morning recovery sites. Recognize it?...
Later, Bonehead, Nappy and I spent the morning checking out our lost history: Grant, our old elementary school; Santa Monica high school (SAMOHI) which we all graduated from; the mall / business district; our Little League baseball fields; and the ol’ ‘Hood. The house we spent most of our formative years in was the only thing or place that was larger than we remembered. But that’s just because someone had razed the little box we were raised in and built an elaborate, yellow, two-story Spanish-styled house in its place.
Here’s a picture of Grant Elementary school, where I had a crush on a third grader named Yolanda, as I chronicled in “Dear Diarrhea”:
Sunday night, I got together with Aard for dinner at El Cholo, then we went to her West L.A. pad to watch Eddie Cochran in the movie Untamed Youth – a really bad 1957 movie that would have made Ed Wood proud. Afterwards, to cleanse our minds, we watched American Hot Wax, a movie about Alan Freed and the early days of Rock ‘N’ Roll, which I’d been wanting to see again for years.
On Monday, Memorial Day, We Two Kings And A Queen intended to do da Beach thang. We had visions of bodysurfing the Pacific Ocean and loafing all day long in the sand. I thought I’d check out the half-nekid babes on the beach, inquiring into availability and possible interest in an old and very white Old Schooler from the Lifeguard Station #26 ‘Hood. Unfortunately, there was no surf to speak of. Not a wave large enough to warrant suffering the cold water and the itchy post-surfing salt on back and shoulders agony. Poop!
So, we just soaked up the Venice Beach freak show and finally made it to The Sidewalk Café. Sis had the chorizo and cheese pizza while I had my usual, the Garcia Lorca omelette (green chiles and jack cheese). The Sidewalk Café offers the ultimate in Venice Beach atmosphere and it’s a must-visit for anyone vacationing in Los Angeles. All the omelettes at the Café are named after famous authors because the Café has an association with the Small World Books store next door.
After decades of eating the Garcia Lorca, I decided it was high time I read something the dude had written, so I bought myself a souvenir from Small World Books: “SELECTED VERSE (Revised Bilingual Edition) of Federico Garcia Lorca.” Lorca was a homosexual communist (a Homunist) whereas I am the opposite - a heterosexual Constitutionalist (a Heterocon), so I may not find Lorca’s poetry something I can relate to. So far, it’s not promising. Having now read a couple of Lorca’s shorter poems, I think I want my $16. back. His omelette may be better than his poetry, and hell, $16. is two or three El Coyote margaritas. Uhp! I’m an idiot!
Here’s a photo of a Venice Beach bum’s bum:
Perhaps you recognize Turban Boy, he’s Venice Beach’s most famous Zappazoid [I just made that word up]:
At my insistence, Nappy, Sis and I stopped in at The Townhouse saloon in the heart of Venice Beach for a drink. This is the bar I used as a principal location in the screenplay I wrote back in 1991. I told the bartender I wanted a margarita (still had the El Coyote margaritas melting my mind) and he replied, “Well, I don’t make anything that requires a blender. If you want a margarita, it’s going to come in a salted glass with no ice and no slush; straight up, the way God intended.” I gave him a big thumbs up and agreed that this is exactly the way God intended a margarita to be made and the only way I’ll drink ‘em (a la El Coyote style). Good bartender! Warren Zevon would have said, “You make ‘em that way, and I'm gonna drink 'em all up!”
Here’s what one internet reviewer has written about The Townhouse:
GOOD DRINKS! GOOD MUSIC! LOOSE WOMAN!
Have you ever walked into an establishment for the soul purpose of making a handful of bad decisions? Well if you ever get in that mood, I have the place! THE TOWNHOUSE/ Monday - Ladies Night!
We noticed that California’s Governator had the piggly wigglys out in full force over the Memorial Day weekend. Automobile drivers and bike riders were getting cited right and left. Everywhere we turned, someone else was getting a cheesy ticket for one thing or another. I guess the Governator is going to get that tax money for the state one way or another, and of course, piggly wigglys are always only too ready to spring into action “to protect and to serve.” Unless, of course, there’s a Rodney King Riot and things get a bit dangerous. That’s when the little Pigglys go into hiding and disappear from the L.A. streets. Yer on yer own then, folks. I think it’s past time that we as a society should at least be honest enough to stop calling cops “police officers” and begin referring to them as the more accurately descriptive “revenue officers.”
Heading back to the car, we walked past Aaardvark’s, a funky secondhand clothing store in Venice Beach. (No, not owned by my sweet-hearted friend The Flying Aardvark.) For a block and a half, nobody said anything until Sis eventually spoke up: “That was a pretty cool shirt hanging in the Aaardvark’s window back there.” It was like she had read my mind. “I know! I was thinking the exact same thing! Ya wanna go back?” Nappy didn’t want to retrace our steps (he’s like a shark that must always be moving forward or it will suffocate to death), but we insisted. There was some question as to who would get the shirt, but when I tried it on, she saw the fit and how “me” it was and Sis said it was meant for me. There was no price on the tag so the gal behind the counter asked, “How about five bucks?” I said “OK” calmly, hiding my pleasantly surprised pleasure with the price.
I asked Nappy if he liked the shirt and he said, “Yeah, just don’t wear it when you’re around me.” He has no aesthetic sense at all, but Sis and I do. The thing is styled like an old Hawaiian or Bowling team shirt with a 1950s hot rod theme, and yeah, it's loud but so am I. In fact, it looks sort of exactly like this because this is a picture of it:
Day 5 [Tuesday], I drove out to Lancaster to visit my old “Dummy Extra” friend Big Al. He’s got a great idea that’s going to make us a lot of money. Big Al owns a house on close to two acres of land in a place called Quartz Hill (which I call Nascarville). He had the idea of throwing a huge End Of The World party in December, 2012, and charging big bucks for people to attend. I told him if we get R.E.M. to play, we can call it the “It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) Party.” We’ll throw this Clam Bake on December 21/22 to celebrate the cataclysmic event that is going to destroy the world as we know it (hopefully), or not. We’ll run a shuttle up to Big Al’s compound and let people throw up all over the place. The booze and bands (and broads?) will come with the price of admission. If the world ends, we all went out partying, and if it doesn’t, well, Nascarville is going to be Hangoverville for many. Either way, me ‘n’ Big Al are going to be… IN THE MONEY and we’ll all have a real good time.
Day 6 [Wednesday] We Two Kings And A Queen checked out of our L.A. hotel. Before heading South, we paid a visit to the gravesite of my dear departed friend, Marty Brumer, at Hillside Memorial Park And Mortuary. You remember Party Marty, I wrote about him fairly extensively in “What I Imagine And What Imagines Me.”
Below is a photo of Marty’s headstone at Hillside. I left him some fresh squeezed orange juice in accordance with my tradition. It was either that or Evian bottled water, but since Marty was a California boy and this is the sunkist Golden State after all, I’ve always left him the O.J.
Afterwards, Nappy and Bonehead had a craving for a Tommy’s Burger, so we visited one of L.A.’s most famous and popular institutions. Tommy’s is a burger chain started in Los Angeles in 1946 (before my time) and it has spawned many formidable imitators. Their chili burger is the sort of stuffs we all ate after closing time and when the Jack Daniel’s at the homepad was dead. This is genuinely original Angeleno late night fare. If the Piggly Wigglys were smart, they’d just automatically arrest for the crime of public intoxication everyone ordering a Tommy’s Burger between the hours of 2 A.M. and 4 A.M. All the original Tommy’s and the Tom’s Number 1 through 666 imitators draw drunks like crap draws flies, and they could all be transformed into drunk tanks in those early morning hours. Drunks smell that chili and they gotz to have it. [Google: Tommy's Wikipedia]
Everything - the burgers, the dogs, the fries – EVERYTHING! - comes drowning in chili at Tommy’s. Here’s a picture of the Tommy’s Burger that Nappy downed. Just looking at it makes me feel simultaneously liquored up and hungover:
After Bro and Sis gobbled up their Tommy’s, we drove down to “The O.C.” But of course, when I was a little kid living in Orange County – from kindergarten (which I dropped out of) through 4th grade – the place didn’t have a posh nickname like “The O.C.”; at that time, it was thought of more as Trailertrashville.
We checked into this scuzzy little fleabag joint in Buena Park. The name of the place was a good clue: The Raid Motel. But we’re not stupid; it’s not like we didn’t know what we were checking into. But the other two places in the area with vacancies sounded even less appealing. I didn’t care for the disconcerting slogan of The California Hotel: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” And The Bates Motel was just out of the question.
On Thursday, Day number... Hmmm… I forget what day number we’re on now, but anyhow… on Thursday, the McCarthy Kids drove around The O.C., checking out our old neighborhoods and stuffs. Saw “The Magic School” and “The Bad School” and our own elementary school, Iva Meairs in Garden Grove. We saw what was once Mrs. Ruth Eckland’s Daycare Center where we were all corralled after school until Mommy got off work. Went by the house on Ward street and the one on Jennrich in Westminster. Good ol’ memories.
Early afternoon, we drove down to Huntington Beach hoping the surf was rideable but it wasn’t. There were a few surfers in wetsuits getting no more than three and occasionally four second rides on one and occasionally two foot swells. [See the photo at the top of this Blog Bit.] Not worth the sunblock bath. The lack of surf was the only real disappointment in the trip. But it was a major downer. All three McCarthy Kids spent the Summers bodysurfing, and spending a couple of days riding waves in the Pacific-O was one of the primary goals of the vacation for We Two Kings And A Queen. Fine, see if we ever go to California again!
We ate lunch at a cool little Huntington Beach joint called Sharkeez and then just dinked around the beach area. In one souvenir shop I found the advertisement card shown below. Now that’s what I call eye-catching advertising. Well, it caught my eye anyway and it made me as saxobuglebone as a longtime prison inmate. So, I called my doctor and he said I should take two of these semi-nekid Huntington Beach Beachez and call him in the morning. I like my doctor: he immediately - over the phone! - diagnosed my inflamed libido and prescribed the meds necessary to relieve my ossified osmanthus. Yeah, I got yer Pre-Sunburn Party RIGHT HERE! [*Ouch! That hurt.*]
Leaving Huntington Beach un-sunburned and disappointed, we decided to pick up some Deans Brothers Beer at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa. Unfortunately, they were out of stock on the Deans Bro Brew but - Holy Inebriation! – Hi-Time Wine Cellars has the greatest selection of beer I’ve ever seen ANYWHERE! I mean, they had beers I couldn’t have pronounced even if I had heard of them before. A guy could set out with the goal of sampling one bottle of every brew they carry and never sober up, dying of old age with a bad liver long before completing the assignment. Sheesh! I never saw anything like this in my life. Well, I settled on a novelty beer instead: Monty Python’s HOLY GRAIL ALE, “Tempered Over Burning Witches.” I knew it wasn’t going to be especially good but my sense of humor wouldn’t allow me to pass on it. But if yer a Bud, Miller, or Coors drinker, you’ll think this is pretty good stuffs.
Didja notice the avocado in the lower left? I never travel to California without picking up some great Hass Avocados and some of that wonderful Knudsen’s Buttermilk. Stupendous stuffs and as authentically Southern California as a Tommy’s Burger.
On Friday, Day Number Who Knows, Nappy and I went to Knott’s Berry Farm while Bonehead went lunching and shopping with her Mom-In-Law. We selected the wrong time for Knott’s as it was Munchkin Day or something. Lots of little screamin’ kids everywhere. Oh well, Kids Happen. But I got a kick out of it when the ride operator on the Calico Mine Ride told us after the train had come to a stop that we could now stand up and open the doors, adding: “This isn’t Disneyland; those doors aren’t going to open themselves.”
Below is a statue of a Westerner at Knott’s Berry Farm panning for gold. Nappy once said, “I sure would like to get HIM in a game of Butts Up!" *
But even at the Claim Jumper (a restaurant I love) our waitress had to come back twice, first to ask if we wanted vermouth in the martinis (uh, huuullooooo!) and then to see if we wanted a lemon twist or olives. Ya know, when a guy can’t even order a simple Old School Martini (the drink that made America greater) without first filling out a questionnaire, there’s definitely a problem in this country. I think the Martini problem is the U.S.A.’s great illness in microcosm. Martini: a drink made with chilled gin and vermouth and two green olives. America, what’s so freakin’ hard to understand about that?! What part of gin, vermouth and green olives do you not get? Sheesh! It’s enough to drive a man to drink.
Anyway, we finally got the damned martinis and we were feeling much better, thank you.
On Saturday, we made that nasty drive East across the desert to Phoenix, Airheadzona, but making a worthwhile stop at Hadley’s in Cabazon where the dinosaurs roam, so I could get one of them date shakes, so Nappy could get one of them ostrich burgers, and so Sis could go pee-pee.
I think one of the best things that happened on this trip was that I finally finished the Blues song I started writing in early 1986. In my youth, I wrote a number of (what I call) “poems”, but only once did I write something I intended to be a song. This was inspired by the most revered Bluesman of all time, Robert Johnson, and his great devil tunes like “Cross Road Blues”, “Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)” and “Me And The Devil Blues.” I titled mine “Devil On My Coattail Blues” only I never got around to adding a chorus to it in order to make it a legitimate song.
Well, driving back to L.A. from Big Al’s compound in Nascarville, I was listening to the Todd Snider Anthology that my buddy The Great L.C. had burned for me. Hearing Snider’s bluesy tunes “Doublewide Blues” and “Betty Was Black (And Willie Was White)” I was convinced I needed to put the final touches on my own song. So, on that long drive through the mountains, I came up with the decades-absent chorus. Here, I am publicly unveiling all the lyrics to “Devil On My Coattail Blues.” (Be kind!) Maybe I can get R.E.M. to play it at our “It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) Party.”
I wish I was a young man lyin’ in a riverbed
I wish I was a young man dead
Wish I wasn’t lonely, tired an’ sore
Wish there was something I could live for
I don’t fancy life, I guess it’s easy to see
I don’t talk with God ‘cause He don’t recognize me
I’m drinkin’ with the devil ‘cause I’ve little to lose
I’m drinkin’ with the devil ‘cause I’ve little to lose
I’m drinkin’ with the devil
Got the devil on my coattail blues
I Took a walk with satan up aroun’ the bend
He put his arm around me an’ called me his “friend”
We went to his apartment and sat down to tea
“Steve”, he said, “do a favor for me:
I’m one soul short of my quota for the year;
Perhaps we could strike a deal right here.”
I said, “I won’t sell today, but tomorrow I might;
I’m gonna try an’ make it through another night.”
Well, his eyes they danced like fire, his horns became uncurled
“Hell!” he said, “Choose your destiny in this world!”
So, we’re meetin’ again tomorrow, he’s buyin’ drinks ‘til I see double
And you know when I get drunk, I often get in trouble
[Repeat Chorus Twice:]
Well, finishing the song “Devil On My Coattail Blues” felt so good that I instantly got the idea to try my hand at another one eventually. Someday, I may write a second Blues song, this one retaining the theme of Robert Johnson’s classic “Hell Hound On My Trail.” Think I’ll call it “Man Bites Chili Dog (Chili Dog Bites Back).” Tommy’s might want to use it in a radio commercial. Yeah, wight!
~ Stephen T. McCarthy