What Comes To This Tree?

It's a beautiful Fall day in Sitka.  Distinct puffy clouds as if they were drawn by cartoonists in a blue, blue sky.  The wind off the ocean is not menacing, but gentle.  Yesterday people were working on their costumes for the big dance and there was a run on fabric tape and cheap hair dye at the five and dime store.  How could the air smell like apples if there are no apples on the trees?  It must be my imagination.  

Yesterday was Pablo Picasso's birthday but no one went as him to the Stardust Ball.  I have a favorite quote of his;  once, someone asked him why Paris was the center of the art world back in the early twentieth Century and he said, rather obscurely, "The Orange naturally comes to the Orange tree,  never the Apple."   I love that.  I don't know why.  

Last weekend Jan and I made a trip to Los Angeles to visit young Finn Straley.  This was Jan's birthday wish for herself, to see her son and watch him perform and to go to a health spa and get out of town for a bit.  My gift to her was to calmly, and uncomplainingly, go along and do the driving.

Living in Alaska, it is easy to get haughty about places like L.A.  People get damn near snobbish and rude about it, when Finn is back here and he tells people he lives there he is met with distain and sour faces.  More than that, what is irksome to him now, he has told me, is a sense of outright moral superiority of some Alaskans who feel that just because they have gutted a few fish and have slept out twice in a tent, they have been anointed by the nature Gods to look down now on all urban people who drive cars.  I have to say that was his father off and on during his growing up I'm sure.

So, I'd like to write a bit of a cautious apology to Los Angeles here.  I'm going to do it in two parts, because I felt like I really did see two parts of the city: the light and the dark.  I'll start with the dark, of course, because that's what always draws me and it's what I love best, or at least what I'm used to. 

Dumped at the airport... and we pick up a brand new rental car.  This I always like: some sparkling new Japanese marvel full size that costs us only $140. for five days.  It is nicer than any car we have ever owned.  Jan sits with her iphone and navigates.  I have taken a half a dose more of my anxiety medication on the plane and I am mellow but sharp,  No alcohol, only caffeine drinks on board.  I have the perfect blend running through my bloodstream.  The first thing I always notice about diving in LA as opposed to Seattle is... they really thought about this road design...  It is a car culture from the ground up.  Okay, there are things not to like about that but if you have to drive.... which you do... it's nice that streets flow into one another and most of them have signs that tell you ahead of time..   Driving.  First thing to remember, keep the fuck up and make up your mind or don't.  Speed Limits are apparently advisory for a time in the distant past... unless there is a police car in the area.  If you miss the exit don't get in a snit.  You are on an adventure.  On this trip particularly... the birthday girl is to be happy at all times, and that it the prime directive.  That's easy enough for me.   The chemical balance is cool.  The mock orange smell in the air mixes with exhaust is tonic, fried food, and salt air,  I don't miss any exits.  No one honks.  I'm driving like a pro.  Towards our first destination my dyslexic brain has trouble sorting out the separation from 110 and 101.  Totally my fault and not the navigator's.  She is an angel and when I miss the exit she doesn't get mad and start one of those domestic blaming whisper tension explosion fights.   We just pull off into Chinatown and she resets the iPhone.  (yeah I love that now too) and I wander through the fried fat dark streets to find a way to double back. I cut back up and under.

We look to the left and there,as if a hallucination, in the middle of Chinatown is a Coyote. Not running but standing on a piece of dusty ground surrounded by concrete.  It is panting.  Looking very scruffy.  It may be injured.  I cannot tell.  Panting and looking straight ahead.  I make my signal and turn right, and leave the wild animal there in the dark.  Then I turn onto Sunset.  

Later I learn that because of the severe drought the coyotes are being drawn closer and closer into the City, looking for water and food.  More are getting hit by cars.  More are eating small dogs and pet cats.

When we get to the bed and breakfast we have rented Finn and his sweetheart Emily are there and they have made dinner for us:  Chicken and humus and flatbread.  It is a sweet homecoming.  

My sister, Mary who has lived in LA more than fifty years has always said that LA is a much nicer place to live than it is to visit and I'm beginning to see how that can be.  Finn and Emily have a wonderful little apartment built in the thirties: walk up to the second floor on black and white old tile floors, a tiny studio, in an old Armenian section of town.  They sometimes take public transportation, sometimes they take these internet "Lifts" I don't quite understand. They walk a lot and they drive.  Their food bill is about a quarter of what Jan and mine is here in Sitka and they eat better food, except for our seafood.  They have an extraordinary coterie of talented friends.  

Finn's first gig we saw was in a converted garage turned bakery in Pasadena.  The audience was largely suburban looking college folks and their families.  Seven comics on the bill.  Two black, Three woman, one other white man,  Finn was the only straight white man on the bill,  which he said he enjoyed because there "are so many straight white men in comedy, my material had a chance to stand out a little bit tonight."  Which, in itself I thought was kind of funny. One of the women was a Christian High School teacher and I thought she had an outstanding set.  

The other gig was in the "Corner Bar" in Burbank which was classic booths and round tables bar with lurid David Lynch red lighting on the stage and hipsters in the audience and three Armenian gangsters sitting at the bar in leather jackets not laughing at a word.  It was wild and hysterical with the last, more seasoned comic of the night hectoring the gangsters until she finally got them to laugh by resorting to direct confrontation and dick jokes.    I learned a tremendous amount about getting people to laugh by watching Finn and his cohorts last weekend.  

Mostly what I learned was diversity isn't something that you can just talk about.  You have to go out and find it.  Finn has found it.  What he wanted when he left Sitka, was the Orange he tasted in his comedy albums, in the TV shows and in the books he read in Sitka.  He wanted to meet these people and he wanted to see it for himself.  Just as Picasso knew when he went to Paris and saw Manet's paintings, and Gauguin's.  

After the late night gig with the Armenian Gangsters we went to an all night Pizzeria on Sunset, near a rock and roll club.  The Pizza was exquisite.  Jan and I had two pieces.  It was one thirty in the morning and way later than we were used to being up but we were all happy from all the laughing we had done.  A guy walked in with a pompadour and a leather jacket, looking to me like a character out of a Tom Waits song, and he nods at Finn, "Hey man."  and he nods back, and a couple of minutes later it happens again with a skinny guy in a thrift store plaid coat.  "Who are these guys?"  I ask Finn, and he says,  "Comics,  I've seen their sets around town." 

Coyotes naturally come in from the dessert.   Tricksters, looking for Oranges I suppose.  It's a beautiful and fragrant town, if you can avoid getting hit by a car.  Our son has found another place where he belongs. I sat up and noticed when he said to the audience,  "I'm from Alaska...originally,"  it was the first time I had heard him say that,  "Originally"...    That's what people from Los Angeles say, and it came naturally to him.  It stabbed my heart a little. 


Halloween Party

is over now, your costume

has a hangover.                            

jhs..... Sitka