Saturday, March 2, 2013

Pictures at an Exhibitionist's

You are sitting before your principal tool of operation, a red Olivetti portable typewriter, which produces letters and words in an attractive Bodoni font.  Uppermost among your goals is figuring out act three of a novel for which you have already squandered the advance.

A royalty check in today's mail was almost to the penny enough to cover the total tab on your Visa card.

Sam, the cat who is not completely Sam yet because he has not been transferred to you yet by his owner, your next door neighbor, is visiting, perhaps for your company, perhaps for the can of Kitty Queen kidney you have opened for him.  Perhaps his visit is a touch of both.  Things are in a developing arc between you.

You have the upper floor apartment of a four-unit building on Barbara Court, jutting west from Highland Avenue in Hollywood, a pleasant walk from the Hollywood Bowl.

Act three is not showing any signs of making itself available.  Wads of manuscript paper surrounding a large wastebasket offer mute testimony to your attempts at connecting with act three.  HOllywood 78432, your telephone, begins to ring.  The time is just beyond three thirty of a Thursday afternoon.

"Do you have any idea what time it is?"  the voice on the telephone inquires.

"If you merely wanted to know what time it was," you respond, "there are other, local numbers you could have called."

"Thus we'd have not had this conversation with you."

You hear a mild uproar in the background, sounds of the clinking of cutlery, dishes, ice cubes in glasses, individuals being convivial.  Another voice emerges from the telephone.  "From where we're sitting, we can see fishing boats returning to the harbor.  There will be fresh crab this evening."

"Act three,"  you tell the voice.  "Money constraints.  Deadline."

In the background, you hear whispered voices.  "What did he say?"

The voice closest to the telephone at the other end replies.  "He says 'Fuck you.'  He says he has to work.  He says, 'Excuse, excuse, excuse.'"

You hear another voice.  "Let me talk to him."  You now hear yet another voice, up close.  "We will never be this young or talented or good looking again."

"Or unsober,"  you say.

"Be that as it may, you need to get in your car, drive over to Barham Boulevard, get your ass to the Burbank airport and take advantage of the low roundtrip flight from Burbank to SFO, where one or more of us will await you, bring you here, and cause you to join us in unsober behavior."

On the drive to the Burbank airport, you consider the options of being young, talented, and good looking.  One out of three isn't bad, you think.  Being young this way isn't bad.  Being young this way allows you to aspire to talent and good looks, whatever those two qualities may be.  You don't really know the persons who have called you, sought your company on this early day in the spring of the year, except that in so many ways, they are your closest, dearest friends, sharing time, ambition, dreams, and youth with you.  The last person you'd spoken to was someone you were desperate to fall in love with and at times thought you were.  Others shared your apartment and you theirs in San Francisco.

There was a combination of chemistry and magnetism.  You knew each other's favorite drinks, secret crushes, preferences for coffee or tea.  You met several times a year, sometimes in out-of-the-way places, such as the Hotel Leger in Mokelumne Hill in the Gold Rush Country, or perhaps the Mapes Hotel in Reno.  Always in San Francisco, and because you lived there, in Hollywood.

They were the kinds of friends you have when you are young, when you are reaching for talent that will give you the good looks of confidence in stature and stride.  They are, of course, scattered now, at least two of them long dead.  On a wall, not twenty feet from you, is a painting by one of them.  When you were in her studio in Sausalito, it called out to you and she cried when you insisted on paying more for it than she'd asked.  The painting is by any account impressionistic.  You know what it is an impression of, because she told you, but even before she told you what it was, you knew.  You look at it and see San Francisco, the San Francisco of your late twenties and early thirties.  San Francisco, seen from Sausalito.

A scant three feet from that picture is another portrait, done on a sheet of Masonite, then cut out with a bandsaw.  This portrait is a fanciful one of F. Scott Fitzgerald, once intended for a large mural, executed by Barnaby Conrad, another friend whom you'd first met during those San Francisco days, a friend who became more than a friend of youth to the point of being a friend for and beyond life.

Behind you is another painting, an abstract, done by Henry Miller, who frequently said in your presence that much as he loved writing, he loved painting more.  When he saw you looking at the painting on his wall, he said, "You should have this, you know."

Friends.  Persons with whom to share the vulnerabilities that romp through the human condition the way fires, floods, and earthquakes lumber through the California landscape.  Persons with whom to share as sharing was experienced in youth.

You were making an extra trip today on behalf of a friend, this one furry, noticing she'd gone through her stash of favorite snacks, a lamb-rice chew.  Somehow you were reminded of that drive from Hollywood to the Burbank airport that day so many years ago, when there was Pacific Southwest Airlines, and a fifty-nine-dollar round trip fare to San Francisco.

You were thinking how, because of these friends of the road and the friendships you've begun and enjoyed subsequently, you have access to fictional individuals you have created and will bring into your scenes, and the warmth spreads through you at the thought of the mischief you can share with them.


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