It All Comes To Not a Quite Perfect Circle (The Lines are Sometimes Squiggly and Faint Like Not Just the Ink is Running Dry But the Pencil is Running out of Lead).
I just discovered Hal Ashby
directed the life story of Woody Guthrie. I didn't know that. I saw that movie for the first time in a remote area in the early '80s, in a rural town theater that charged $2 or $3 for admission. I almost didn't see it because I was having the shocks and struts replaced on my car. The repair took hours longer than it should, and I killed extra time wandering around the hills because this haphazard establishment was located in the middle of nowhere, miles away from the next small hick town that likely wouldn't have any place more pleasant to wile away the time. I mean you can only browse for so long in the hardware store. Before leaving the mechanics, because I had a long drive through the mountains ahead of me, I'd made a point of asking him if he was certain he'd tightened all he should.
I was trying to be nice about it -- this struck me as an awful place to work, there was a lot of pneumatic hammer noises and loud clanking, and some of the people were working on cars out in the dirt. This was summer and the ground was hardpan, and had it been winter they'd be working out in the mud. And there was a bunch of cars and these people were working pretty steadily, sometimes running from one vehicle to the next. After he'd assured me the vehicle was tight as a drum and his boss took my money, once I hit the highway the car began bouncing dangerously, and I'd had to return and ask him again to take another look. So he discovered his mistake and apologized and fixed it, and I drove off and ended up at the movie theater seeing a movie that was by no means first run, and in fact I wasn't sure if I ever knew it had even been made. But I wanted to see the movie I guess because I liked the idea of Woody Guthrie and had read his biography years before and because of who I was in the past and the people I knew then, I felt I had a distant kind of attachment with him and it was nice to know he was still around, so to speak.
Back along the beach in 1965, I generally rode a bicycle around town. And once as I was headed down a side street, I saw a beautiful old black Jaguar saloon. Sometimes all people in that neighborhood would find would be parking tickets on their cars. Well, I liked this car and decided to write a poem for the car and put it under the windshield wiper. That's the last I thought of it. Then a few days later, I was riding past the car again and walking out of the house was someone I actually knew with the owner of the car. It was kind of embarrassing. And I kind of forget how this happened, because things were so casual then. But it ended up I was asked to a little get together and because I went to that get together and talked with a guy a bit about poetry, I went on a date with the son of a Hollywood actor. Now, this is not because I happened to move in such circles, but they all clump together, and here this son of a famous Hollywood actor in an oblique way asked me out. Well, I didn't know he was the son of a famous Hollywood actor, he looked like anybody else.
You can guess I was a pretty shy person, and I was doing my best to avoid "show biz types" which is where all my other friends it seemed were heading and purposefully and with some determination, because there was some kind of cultural collateral jingling. I avoided show biz because I genuinely didn't fit in there.
I didn't even decide at that point to really branch out and hang with show biz types. How it came together was he had said "oh, poetry" in response to something someone or I had said at the party, if you could call that a party, just a small handful of people and I couldn't for the life of me see where the people were connecting, except they'd all come from upper middle class families and went to the same high school or something and now were hanging in a beach town til they decided what to do with their lives and their own careers took off. That is to say, I guessed they just knew each other. As we never even set a day or time or anything that would make this "a date" per se, just maybe run into you again down the road kind of thing, I essentially forgot about the conversation.
He just showed up at the door of my place, there was no appointed time, and we hopped into his old Thirty-Five-Dollar-Mobile, it was maybe 1940-ish, the year and model indistinct, and unrecognizable and indistinguishable as being a moving vehicle. We started driving up towards Wilshire Blvd while deciding where to go to eat. The car was billowing lots of gray smoke that became darker and more frequent as we made our way to the first traffic light a scant three blocks from where I was living at the time. There were a lot of loud sounds of backfiring and rods going through the engine block despite him pulling the choke in and out repeatedly. The vehicle had lost power. I had my hand on the doorhandle in case the dashboard erupted into flames and I needed to jump out or just leap and help push the car through the busy intersection.
He just managed to make it through the intersection before aiming towards the curb. He hopped out, the car engine was still running despite the fact he’d turned off the ignition. I remember seeing him running around back of the car and suddenly standing on the sidewalk at the passenger side, and he may have gone so far as to pry open the passenger door for me. Then he stood at the pavement with his thumb out as a way of inviting me to hitch hike with him on up to wherever it was we hadn’t decided to go yet. I told him it was kind of chilly as I didn’t have a jacket, he was just in levis and a t-shirt, so I said maybe I would catch up with him later, I was going home. But I probably thanked him for taking me out. As I crossed with the light and looked over my shoulder, he was still standing there with his thumb out. I probably waved, "Adieu! Au revoir! Auf Wiedersehen!"
Weeks later, that car with the key still in the ignition was still sitting by the curb on that major thoroughfare with a few more parking violations building up under the windshield and I saw this guy driving his new wheels up the street, another beat-to-hell thirty-five-dollar-mobile that was destined to last maybe as long as the last one had, or maybe not. That was one way to thumb your nose at the status seekers and the notion of planned obsolescence. But it was a good thing he was accustomed to hoofing it barefoot as it gave him good practice for his later role in television. He was the guy who played "Woody Guthrie" in that Hal Ashby movie.
So you see I can say, as many, many, many can, "I once went out with a Hollywood actor."
What made me uncomfortable back in 1965 was a trend that I felt would just become worse over time. 1965, that was also the year I became aware of the vast numbers of poor people living on the edges in run-down hotels or alleys there. There were a lot of older poor who spent their times on the waterfront or on the park benches. As for the hoboes, they just kept migrating until they hit the ocean. A rather nice guy who ran a cheap pastrami sandwich place painted yellow with red lettering would hand out leftover sandwiches at closing to these folks.
If You Can’t Say Something Nice ...
So some of the people I knew were going into a new show biz that they were claiming to invent as they went along. They believed it would in any way be different from what went before because they were on the premises. What distressed me the most about the kind of "nouveau" society that was forming as I was leaving it behind were what I considered to be the negative aspects of humanity. The "nouveau" society was expressing the same lack of values that distressed me in the little village I came from. There were too many false friends, too many climbers, too many fortune hunters, too many and too much of all the things I didn’t value. As I had been raised in a community that included many wealthy and powerful people, I’d watched people’s maneuvers, using one social group for a foothold and then casting them off once they’d achieved that rung, only to clamber to the next limb to get close to the people with real influence. People would use other people miserably, their friends, their connections, their talents, their ideas, and succeed, then they’d conveniently forget about the person who’d given them the leg up. Finally, all social artiface was disgarded and people would try to buy other people and sometimes succeed at that, as well. Just watching it and hearing about it was bad. The very rich are quite sensitive to any hint of being used, and have a real paranoia that way that is quite contagious and some of that had rubbed off on me, too. Some society.
It seems everything moves in circles sometimes. The fellow with the black saloon
also became an actor, and you've likely seen him in some movies along the way, and it turns out I can mention him here because he narrated a little something about the history of rock and roll and this blog is devoted to music.
And some of the older beatniks back then had whined a bit about Hollywood moving in because it seemed they would ruin the Venice neighborhood, whereas I kind of agreed, but saw it as a near inevitability as this happened to be beachfront property after all. But I don't mean the guy with the old black Jag.