memories of LA: verklempt

A couple of days ago I returned from Izmir where I went to decide about a job offer and in my mailbox was an envelop from my old, dear friend Ren Weschler with a sales receipt from my old bookstore, Intellectuals & Liars, for books he purchased for $11.73 (including tax) dated 3/8/80 (just 2 months before I lost the store to the recession that year and a greedy new landlord who more than doubled my rent from 75 cents a square foot to $1.60) and a postcard with the picture of a hot dog (my professed all-time favorite food) with red, white, & blue toothpaste as a condiment. And the message contained the Yiddish word verklempt, which, of course, was what I felt, shared with Ren, even now as I write this post.

LA. A foreign country, much like New York and San Francisco, in what is America, though for entirely different reasons. It’s the end of the rainbow, and not a pretty end for most people filled with false hope and failed dreams, though the sunshine does make that pain more bearable if not less poignant. And so here I sit, in my den, playing Dire Straits, Linda Ronstadt, The Cars, J.J. Cale, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Graham Parker, Tom Waits, and, of course, Warren Zevon as I relive, in my mind anyway, what LA was, still is, to me.

There was the beach, of course, at Malibu when I lived just across Coast Highway in my bachelor’s pad with the Franklin stove that heated the place on those chilly winter nights. I’d cross the highway oblivious to the cars speeding by, half wishing, or at least not minding, if one splattered what was left of my brains across the pavement, a pint bottle of bourbon in my hand and the breeze in my face to sit there on the sand and watch the waves come in, forgetting the day, letting the night wash over me with hope in my heart for the woman to come in the middle of the night and the promise of poetry during the day, the newest novel half finished on my desk, a page still in the Smith Corona, a whiskey glass waiting to be filled next to it, and that view of the mouth of Topanga Canyon outside my window.

There were friends like Ren, Randy, Vimal, Alex, Bill, all within walking distance of the store, my second home, and Maureen just up the coast from me, a cable car ride up that cliff looking out to the Pacific to her place and the whiskey and espresso waiting. My dog curled up on a rug by the stove if not frolicking on the beach in front of me while I tried to erase the memories of angry young men in Hawaiian shirts spewing disgust at their lives at poetry readings I attended as part of my commitment to the poetry scene there in my adopted hometown.

It was the drives down to Redondo Beach with Vimal and Alex because Vimal insisted the best salsa sauce and chips were at this bar he knew there, or the trip to Tijuana with both of them to buy something, or maybe just for the hell of it, but certainly not to see the goat do whatever it was purported to do with some willing young, old woman, and Ren reading excerpts from some book he was thrilled with, or going to Pinocchio’s for those $5 dinners of what looked more or less like eggplant parmesan and spaghetti, or sitting in the Airlane Bar with Alex and Vimal watching Bill chair dance to whatever was on the jukebox and laughing as that drunk Mexican, a regular there who fell asleep every night to Sinatra’s My Way, buying Bill a drink for his performance. Or the two Cathy/Kathy’s, one with dark eyes and a sharp wit, the other with hands that knew how to touch books, or watching Neville Brand, one of my favorite customers, in painter’s coveralls wandering around the store stacking books on the counter to buy. Or the after hours animated discussions fueled by Gallo Hearty Burgundy about literature when the store was closed except to those who stayed after the poetry readings as we all read favorite passages from the many books that lined the shelves. And the sense of peace that descended on me sitting in the dark with the door locked, my eyes closed, and the voices reverberating in my ears.

The bookstore. The center of my world for 3 years, and the ghost that still haunts my memory. If I could have moved it, had it survived the recession, the lack of cashflow in what was laughably referred to as my bank account, had I the strength to stay in one place and not move off to lick my wounds on the other side of the country, light years away from where pieces of my heart still lie buried in the sand.

Ahhhh, Ren. You really know how to bring a fella up short to stare in the mirror and see beyond the reflection.

And I sit now, wine in my glass, not whiskey, listening to Warren Zevon singing Desperados Under The Eaves and remembering, yes remembering which eaves I stood under so very long ago that never did quite quite keep the sun out of my eyes.

Verklempt, Ren. Verklempt.

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