In April of 2017, I flew in and out of Southern California twice in less than week for job interviews. During this blur of travel, I happened to drive past a tattoo shop an old crony was said to be haunting. I admittedly showed up very early by tattooist time (noon) and chatted up his apprentice. I handed him a business card and asked him to pass it on with the warning I’d be back.
A short time later my travels took me by the same area and I once again stopped. Now, usually I am not a boisterous presence, but since I knew he was there, I decided to walk into the shop and loudly call out his name. I should probably mention that I have not seen this dude since the 80s. For real. Neither of us can recall if we ever saw each other in the 90s or not, but a voice out of the past might freak some people out – never crossed my mind.
He had cautiously leaned around the corner and said my name in a notably incredulous tone. This motherfucker has seen as much crazy shit as I have, so it takes a lot to rattle him. As his friend’s (ex)girlfriend, I had been cool by proxy. There were also crazy parties at my house, and again, I had a car. Never underestimate the importance of that currency in our formative years. But he and I had never been particularly close, but we were part of the same crew.
So here we were, almost three decades later, me grinning like an idiot and him standing there, gobsmacked. As he had said my name in the form of both a question and an answer, I finally spoke up ‘you act like you haven’t seen me since high school, homie.’ We chatted for a few hours and then I had to drive back to the airport.
Since that day, I have relocated to back to the area, accepted a job position and reacquainted with my old chum. We see each other more often than the rest, most likely the shop connection. I lived that life for a lot of years, and we came up as pups together – I get it. We also both have done a lot of drugs, so we can help each other fill in the gaps. Win-win.
Our most recent discussion was around a series of concerts that took place one summer, back-in-the-day, that we all attended. It had drawn a very wide crowd, and there had been a lot of LA-ites. He had graduated before me and headed off to art school in DTLA, so I asked him if he recalled a very specific car from that summer. One that I had somehow ended up spending an evening in with its bizarre occupants. He immediately remembered the car. When I asked who the fuck they were and why would I have been in the car, he replied, “I have no fucking clue who those people were.” Neither of us had any idea. And I had always presumed he had known these clownshoes.
Needless to say, my adult brain knows a lot of the answers to the whys of that night, but I am often surprised that I managed to survive and come out of it all relatively unscathed. My friend has gently reminded me of how unseemly we had all been back then. That combined with the reputation of the area’s occupants being druggies (or closely connected to) who could easily bury you in a hole in the desert had added to our uncanny abilities to evade calamity.
I remember weird details about that car, but that’s a whole different story.
I visited with the very ill mother of an ex-lover yesterday; more of a matter of convenience and proximity than anything else. I know that her son and his family live out of state and travel on a moment’s notice is not something a lot of working-class folks have access to. And I have always appreciated the spirt and will of the woman herself, whom I have known since she was in her early-40s. She made her way as single mother in the rough landscape that was once heralded as a 60’s desert utopia – let’s call it the greater Joshua Tree area.
Now having grown up in the lo desert myself, Yucca and beyond were always these places we associated with peers who had burnout hippie parents and names like Rainbow and shit. Oh, and drugs – lots and LOTS of drugs. It was bad enough being sequestered to the lower desert areas, making our way to those parts was always an entire production for my crew in high school. As one of the few who routinely had both a car and a job, I feel I can speak with authority on this matter. I had thankfully met this lovely woman’s son after high school, as there is no way I could have handled the roasting from ALL of my male friends had I done it sooner. Dating someone who openly listened to Depeche Mode back then was tantamount to treason, which is funny for someone like me who, as a tween, was (is) very much an avid Duranie. I had briefly dated one respectable punk rock boy from the area and that had been tolerated. Barely.
As is often the case, young love did not last, and once her son and I were truly a couple, it was over. That is a very pretty way to summarize a rather traumatic time, but that is exactly what time does, makes things prettier to look at. I have visited with her frequently since the advent of social media, which coincided with my begrudging willingness to return to the area. Her personality and stories of essentially being a groupie in the 60s were always amusing to an introvert like me. She lovingly tells the story of me being on the last bender she had that made her realize she needed AA. To me it was just another random night out in the high desert doing what we do best – getting fucked up.
Flash forward a few decades, and here we now sit in the emergency room of a prominent Coachella Valley hospital. I had snuck in under the guise of being her daughter and soon found myself in the room with her, her live-in boyfriend, and nary a blood relative in sight. And I feel that from the core of my soul as my mother has chosen to live several states away and I would be hard pressed to drop everything to fly to her aid. But I can drive to a hospital a few miles away and comfort an old friend.
I am blessed to have always unearthed wise elders to counsel me. Or perhaps I am blessed that I paid attention to what my elders were saying. Growing up in the area I did made it apparent that both fame and youth were fleeting, so enjoy the ride as you go because you will soon be dead or worse, irrelevant.
Creeping around the Burbank-area estate sales of old Hollywood as a kid profoundly impacted my worldview. With this lovely woman I have always listened attentively to her tales of what mid-century American women in Southern California endured. A generation that were raised to truly believe that their value was determined by the success of their husbands.
My friend was a tasty little dish when she hooked up with a married musician in the late 60s. She quickly found herself at the center of a messy divorce (not her own) and was then quickly married and expecting her first child with her older spouse. I try to wrap my head around how an eighteen-year-old girl handled all that, but the world she describes is such a patriarchal clusterfuck of beehives and miniskirts, it’s hard. Needless to say, drama, drama, drama, and she somehow makes her way to the high desert with her son in the 70s as a scarlet woman. And she wore that letter with pride and was always a thorn in the side of small-town gossip.
I recently read someone describe the process of living and aging as one having to “bear the weight of time,” And that gave me the feels. Maybe because of my age. Or perhaps it’s because I am surrounded by elders who I know have impending expiration dates. And it scares the shit out of my inner child because it means I will be left standing on the front lines. Alone.
Sitting on the edge of a hospital bed, looking into the face of a woman who wanted nothing more than the acknowledgement that her life mattered, I can report back from the trenches that the roads to the frontlines are rough and fraught with unimaginable terrors.
We laugh a lot about her missed opportunity to have me as her official daughter-in-law. And of course, the one that she does have never stood a chance against the memory of me. I can readily admit that. I gently remind her all the time that it would have ended, no matter when, and I view the ending of my relationship with her son as me having dodged a bullet Matrix style.
That is why our friendship so great. What I see as saving me, she views as having negatively impacted her life. And she truly believes in her heart that things would be different had I become her “official” daughter. She is also the second mother of an ex-lover who has plainly stated to me that their son has always been an asshole. Little consolation, but funny coming out of the mouths of seventy-something women. I do not share their beliefs because I have known for a long time now, in my heart of hearts, that neither son was ever the person for me.
Keep in mind, the drive home is down the same streets I drove as a kid and it’s very much returning to the scenes of the crimes. And as I drove I was overcome with nostalgia.
So here we are, words and the song that inspired it all on this rainy day.
Anyway, enjoy. No proof reading. just. hit. publish.