Young Girls of the Sixties

So,  Ginger’s gone. Flown away.

Long ago, some thousand or so years it seems, the Firesign Theatre was forming itself through a series of accidents in the hills of Los Angeles and making friends among the artistic communities of Hollywood and Mixville and Silverlake.  In those hills live and have lived and will live many most inventive and strange people and generation by generation, the hills absorb these people and house them in the jungle of  little bungalows that dot the twisting lanes and canyons. We made friends with a number of women, younger than ourselves by seven or twelve years or so, the girls of the Class of  ’67 (in Oona’s case) and of the years and classes surrounding. In a couple of cases, we married into them (Oona and I, Tiny and David for a time) or lived with them (Phil Proctor and Cathy Cozzi) or romanced them (Peter and Liz Plum) but most were friends and associates and Ginger Russell was chief among them along with her friend Cappy, now known by her real name of Kathy O’Mara.  And the three friends from Nightinjail Jr.High – Tinika and Cappy and Ginger – were in attendance at virtually every early FST performance, had their pictures taken in strange masks, were witnesses to an older world  that, I suspect, they barely noticed through the hilarious fog of their youth and beauty and charm and – sorry – innocence.

And Ginger had the laugh.  She had such a ringing of a laugh, such a stunning laugh.  And it’s on every recording of everything we did; on  all the old shows, the old radio recordings. And I’ll always remember Ginger for her amazing forthright intelligence, for her immense kindness and mostly for her friendship.  She was one hell of a girl, among a bunch of women who were somehow smart and funny and exceptional.  We were lucky, us guys.

Christmas and Hollywood; Blood, Fights and Fun

Christmas 1011

I guess the things I like best about this time of year are the little lights in the dark.

He flies.  That’s what’s to think about.  He flies.  St. Lucy walks the northern nights unburned.  He flies. It doesn’t matter whether with reindeer or not, or with what other fanciful beasts or not. He flies.  He flies above the little lights, set against snow or darkness or moonlight.  He flies around as the darkest nights of the year push the darkest days aside, especially up here on Mystery Island where the sun is now going down at four, instead of at ten  six months from now.  The light comes and the light goes and when it goes, he flies.

Down below him, we set out the little lights. We don’t care about him, we care about them.  He doesn’t exist, after all, and they do.

Two months ago we went down to Hollywood for four shows with the Firesign Theatre at the 300-seat Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, a kind of adjunct to the famous Frank Lloyd Wright Hollyhock House, surrounded by a small park right off Hollywood Boulevard near Vermont.  Technically, that would be East Hollywood, edging closer to Mixville and the old haunts of the Early Firesign Theatre, but right in the middle of my past life – pre-FST – when I was a kind of Shakespearian actor stuck in a town where life revolves around film and other technologies unimagined – I imagine – by smartass college boys of the late Sixteenth century. I think I appeared in Twelfth Night outdoors in the little Barnsdall park, somewhere in the Sixties of the last lamented century.  I remember we dressed in the Hollyhock House itself. I always liked wearing tights in all those Shakespeare plays, because almost all girls would tell me that I had nice legs.  The way parts of my body looked were much more important then. I had a kind of brutal, intelligent approach to Shakespeare.  I figured it was my job to explain to the audience what the hell we were talking about and the actual acting and so forth came second.

So two months ago we had our own theatre for a little while, we four imitators of Sixteenth century smartasses. All partnerships become exercises in equality.  Shakespeare tended to write a lot about balance and imbalance and the teeter-totter of their union is a kind of exercise in equality and inequality.  We four partners are as interested as ever, each of us, in getting each his way.  The impossibility of ever fully achieving that had better turn to laughter, or we’re in the wrong business. It’s like four guys trying to operate four – not two – teeter-totters. There’s some running involved, some strategy, some things unsaid and some things way too said. You get the picture.  Laughing while desperately trying to reach the open end of a teeter-totter that’s low enough in your direction to get you onboard. Ah, the Firesign Theatre, back in business as big storms and rain swept over the City of the Queen of the Angels just before the Big Blonde’s birthday.

It really helps that we’re all getting along so well.  We had fun, through it all, and wound up at our house after the last show, up until two or three in the morning, drinking and smoking with friends we’ve all shared for over forty years. It’s really fun to watch Oona and Melinda at a party, because they’re both so incredibly personable.

And then the next night, she and I went to the last party of the week, about a quarter-mile over the crest of the hill toward Laurel Canyon to the rented home of our friend the Genuine Movie Star, who’s in town shooting a TV series and after staying in our house with his family for a minute, has rented a house a little ways away. We took the dogs because he and Mrs. Genuine Movie Star love dogs and have thousands themselves at their home in the East. It’s a long story.  Lets just say we laughed like idiots, that a cat attacked an actor, that an actor got really mad at a Sports Agent who made billions collecting stamps, that another Beautiful Movie Star told Oona the entire odd story of her romance and children by and with the Really Famous Good Actor Movie Star and where I finally got to meet Mrs. Invention, who’d lived a couple of hillside blocks away from us for thirty years, yet we’d never met. I just can’t tell you how much fun this all was, not only laughing with old and new friends, but searching for bandages in a household where ziplocs are considered tools of the Devil, where Green is a religion of everyday concern.  Blood everywhere and there are no paper towels (towels of the Devil) to be found.  In the bathroom, Mr. Star bleeding, surrounded by beautiful women whom he is making laugh hysterically while Mrs. Invention pours sugar on the cat wounds, Oona sends me out to the car for bandaids.  It’s a beautiful night in my old town and as fun as ever when it isn’t crapping all over you.

I hadn’t been in Hollywood in some nine months and our house there seems huge compared to what is basically a beach cabin up where we live so much now.  The Hollywood house is very small too, but an architectural gem a mile above Hollywood Boulevard in the hills between Laurel and Hockney Canyons.  We’ve got an acre there and it’s quieter and more filled with wildlife than the Mystery Island place.  I saw a bobcat at the end of the little street that bounds our bottom lot line.  A bobcat.  The towhees are still there and the hummingbirds and the wacky ravens that feed on the fig trees that arch over the garage on the flat roof of which the deer feed.  I’m going to hate to have to sell that house, but we’ve got to face the facts someday soon.  We’re Mystery Islanders now and Hollywood, strange and wonderful as it is, doesn’t need us or we it much more.

Well, two months later and the little lights are out and all the sacred stuff that covers every flat surface of our house up here up north is out.  All the little stuff among the little lights punching colored holes in the darkest dark of the year.

He flies above teeter-totterers.  He doesn’t care and neither do I.  We’re both imaginary.


About Oona

     So there she is. I carried this picture of The Big Blonde around in my wallet for years and even laminated it; thus the crinkles and reflections. She’s standing at the top of our steep hillside driveway at the house in Hollywood and below her is the vacant lot now filled with a house supposedly worth some three million dollars and inhabited by a TV star on some offshoot of Star Trek and her husband, the head of a company that books theaters all over the country at tremendous profits.

     That smile. There’s a summer sun warmth to Oona’s smile, a big encompassing expanse of pleasure in other people. She’s the most sociable and social person I’ve ever met.  She’ll walk into parties full of sullen Entertainment Types and beam at them: “I don’t know anyone here!” brightly and launch that smile at all the people she suddenly knows. She can talk bikes with bikers and science with sciencers.  One year at the TED conference, I found her surrounded by at least ten entrepreneurs and scientists, each falling over the other to engage her and the smile in their projects and dreams and schemes. There are guys on movie sets all over Hollywood who bring her pictures of their kids and their cars and their dogs.

     We used to talk on the phone for hours, before we fell in love.

     It’s not some whacky smile, that smile.  Look at her eyes.  She’s looking at you, she’s wondering where she fits with you.

     She’s in her twenties here in this laminated world, early Seventies of the Late Lamented Twentieth of Centuries. I took this picture, so she’s looking at me, wondering where she fits with me.  Over thirty-five years later, it’s turned out to be some fit. We figure we’ve only spent three nights apart in all that time, due to a couple of work problems in the Eighties of the …(yeah, yeah, yeah.)  We’ve never had kids, just kind of adopted stray relatives here and there.  We spend a lot of time together, more than most couples do, I think.

     We are each other’s kid, she and I.

     Lately we’ve started watching King of the Hill which is a cartoon series originally on Fox but now replayed on the Adult Swim program block on Cartoon Network.  We’re hardcore adult swimmers, our favorites being Aqua Teen Hunger Force, 12 Oz Mouse, Squidbillies and Family Guy, the Venture Bros. and their ilk, and we never watched King of the Hill, thinking it to be just the usual: either Rougenecks making fun of us or us making fun of Rougenecks.  We were wrong.  It’s strangely in the middle of all our favorites, the episodes beautifully written and occupying a kind of reality of place and reality of real missing in the more absurd denizens of the Cartoon Sump. Anyway, when we’re taking a shower in the morning, or eating breakfast, we’ll quiz each other on who woke up when and watched what episode of what at any given time of the night.  We’ll recount episodes to each other as if we were Jane Austen and – oh, I don’t know – Nathaniel Hawthorne recalling books we’d read.

     We’re readers, she and I. So this addiction to TV animation and it’s wonderful voices and artists is like our mutual lifelong addiction to reading.  One of the things we used to talk about on the phone, just before we fell in love, was Vanity Fair.

     She’s not Becky Sharp, it turns out, but her view of life is as full as Thackeray’s, as sociable and as wise and as detailed.  Maybe there’s something in the smile that works as a writer ought to work, something that bridges art and not art. Maybe she’s looking to see how the word fits with her, how she can work her way into its heart, as she is in mine.

     Spring in the Northwest.  We’re planting now and my friend James loaned me his tractor for a week and I dug a new thirty by forty pond and we’re starting to landscape it.  We bought another hundred native trees and plants to grow alongside the hundred we bought last year which are leafing out now. Aspens and Cottonwoods and Pacific Rhododendrons and Mock Orange and Oceanspray and Cedars and Willows and all, all growing now and shooting up.  Temperatures rose into the sixties last week and sun was here and there.

    Its year thirty-seven for me and the Big Blonde. My birthday is Opening Day and hers is the World Series. Nothing much has really changed in all those years, not with us.

Light Coming Out From Dark


The Big Blonde and her Small Animals

The Big Blonde and her Small Animals



     We’re moving toward  Christmas now; closer and closer we get, my children, my beloveds.  Listen to me, because I have a ceremonial theory that the celebration of death, which begins with the Day of the Dead or Halloween, progresses on to the Day of the Dead Bird – Thanksgiving – in which we eat the dead, finally, (although a dead of the avian kind) and,  saddened by this ritual murder  – and looking forward for one more month or so to steady decrease in light – we begin to manufacture light and therefore hope for our saddened selves in small and colored ways.  We make up elaborate Christmas fantasies, but each at its core has to do with the lightening of dark and not the darkening of light. We’ve finally had enough of darkening.  We want light. That’s my theory and that’s my story.

     When I was a kid in Fresno, the one thing we did each year at Christmas was the piling into whatever car my dad had – he was selling used cars through much of this time – and head for the rich people’s houses on Van Ness Avenue.   For two miles on a street where old people had planted trees tall enough to be lit at night in Decembers, for almost a hundred years, Fresnans had inched their cars with headlights hopefully off down that  tunnel of fantasy called Christmas Tree Lane.  In the Fifties of the late, lamented and thoroughly last of centuries, the cars were as beautiful to look at as were the Santas-in-Sleds or Playful-Elves-Around-The-Chimney or all the lighted mansions. (In Fresno, anything with two stories is technically a mansion.  We are a people of one-story ranch houses, for the most part, and any elevation is looked up to.)

     Out of the darkness come the little lights.  Up here on Mystery Island, it’s now the season of sundown at four-thirty and that just seems to give the Christmas lights an earlier opportunity to shine.  It’s been snowing this week and the little lights glint off the snow and the lightedness is doubled or so. The little lights shine in the dark. I feel much better once the lights are shining and I leave them on all the grey and snowy days as well.  My friend Mrs. Lobo gave us an eight-foot-tall snowman with an orange carrot nose who shines and waggles in the wind and wishes Happy Holidays to everyone who drives onto this island because we’ve set him up in the corner of the pasture that the whole island passes by every day. And night.

Did I mention the part about the little lights coming out of the dark?