I got a call a few weeks ago from a woman, let's call her Electra, who used to live out here in L.A. in the 1980's. Back when I first met her she was one of that constant flow of people who come to The Coast in search of a career in the entertainment field. She was a singer, a very good one, and she set about exploring the inroads to success as a vocalist. She moved into an apartment on Sepulveda with some friends of mine and, long story way short, she never really managed to "make it," get rich, or Go Large. Eventually she made her way back to Philly and got into an entirely different career.
The way I see it, her time here was still real success. It was risk and courage and action in the face of incredible odds. Gobs of people have dreams. Few manage to commit and act upon them. Fewer still achieve them. So hers is neither a strange story, nor a necessarily tragic one. Every life needs an arc no matter where it's going, and it's a bonus if you can gain a perspective that allows you to see the curve of its slope. After all, the river of life is not a canal.
Well, Electra came out for a visit last week and spent four days revisiting old haunts with me and my family, and I think I aged by going back in time.
The main attraction of the week was Friday night's Halloween party thrown by one of the major players in our merry band of revelers from 15-20 years back. He recently bought a house in the West Adams District, a once and future neighborhood of grand homes of L.A.'s own major players. This one in particular was built in 1902 as the residence of Los Angeles' first Coroner.
What better place could there be for a Halloween party?
Of course it was a blast from the past. Two live bands, kegs of beer, an open bar, a hundred people of every age dancing in every form of dress and undress, all in a setting reminiscent of the historic residences of Fred Sanford, Fibber McGee, and the Addams Family and, well, it was wild, to say the least. It took me back.
Best of all was the reunion with some old friends of mine. My relationships with all of them are a combination of forced estrangement on my part (I sort of left the radar screen in the late 80's when I quit drinking booze), shared memory of youth and longing, and the sense that we probably all have of a clearer individuality that comes from just getting older. It was clear we had matured since last meeting - we were mellower, tired, settled, or trying on settled to see how it fits for the third or fourth time.
I don't know what my connection to them will be in the future. I guess I have a choice here. A couple of those folks have developed their artistic sides to a curious degree and I want to explore what they've discovered. We seem to be like a family where us kids got older and moved away but still feel uncomfortable sitting at the grown-up table for Thanksgiving.
If we have enough time to share where we've been and what we've seen there, we could end up as tightly knit as we used to be. But we were ghosts this Halloween. Friendly ghosts. Some of the friendliest ghosts I know.
Anyway, it was good to see them all again. We do measure ourselves against one another, however Darwinian or Machiavellian or Yossarian it may be. I know that some of my old friends have gone to very frightening places in their consciousness, and I want to know what they've felt. My fear is that my seemingly permanent attachment to the mainstream may serve as too thick a barrier to their trust. I hope I'm not so far gone into the American Dream that I can't wake up and smell whatever it is that may be burning.
Gosh, this sort of thinking couldn't be the residue of a culture strewn with the mangled psyches of over-achievers, could it?
We all just want to be assured we're doing okay, right?
I've just reminded myself here of a story that Garrison Keillor tells of taking a trip with an aunt of his. As a young boy, he traveled with his teenage aunt on a bus across Minnesota. To pass the time they would play a game where they pretended to be strangers who struck up a conversation. As happenstance seatmates, they casually introduced themselves to one another and went on, fictitiously, about the fabulous places they were traveling to. Their stories were each dramatic and compelling, full of flourishes and glimpses into grand but imaginary successes. Their folly grew until the point when the aunt took the game to a higher level by insisting, even after Keillor pleaded with her to quit the charade, that he was a stranger. "Leave me alone." she said, as if deeply offended, "I don't know you. Go away. You're bothering me." No matter how much he begged his aunt to stop pretending, she kept on. "Leave me alone or I'll tell the bus driver to have you thrown off this bus." she snapped. Keillor was shaken to his bones. "Stop. You know me!" he insisted. "Say that you know me!"
That's all any of us really wants, I suppose.
"Yes Sir, That's My Baby" -- Frank Sinatra -- STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT
"The most important thing a man can know is that, as he approaches his own door, someone on the other side is listening for the sound of his footsteps."
- Clark Gable