The Friends of California Libre...

21 December 1999

Make Your Own Holiday

When I was about ten, the old Indian woman next door finally drank herself to death, and I sat on the low wall that separated our lawn from the sidewalk and watched six old men in black suits carry her coffin to a hearse across the street, which looked sorely out-of-place among the tiny ranch homes of Kenwood Street, Burbank, USA. A month later a young couple moved in, Shirley and Mike, Shirley an English teacher and a weaver from Northern California, and Mike a nurse at the VA and an avid collector of records. The whole garage was filled with boxes of records, from floor to ceiling, and in the front windows you could see wild paintings, twisted sculptures, long wall-hangings and quilts in progress, all past the whirly-gigs spinning on their front lawn, which shrank every years as wildflowers and herbs encroached on it.

Every year Shirley and Mike have a brunch party before Christmas, with cookies and frittatas and stuffed grape leaves and ham and pineapple soda. Even though I moved away 17 years ago, and my parents 9 years ago, we still go every year, because they are so glad to see us, and its the only occasion where we meet any interesting adults in Burbank, USA. This year their son, Steven, is graduating from high school; I remember when I graduated from high school, he was a sickly baby in-and-out of the hospital for his asthma. He's going to study film somewhere, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, ANYTHING to get out of Burbank, and I have to smile a little to hear it. Well, the more things change...

And with that, my mother and I go out into the backyard and peer over the fence, to see what the yuppie couple that bought our house in 1990 have done with it. They've cut back the walnut tree and put in a treehouse with two levels, and under it a goldfish pond (right where I used to dig my own holes and fill them up with the garden hose; there's still a few Matchbox cars entombed in there somewhere.) They replaced all the windows with fancy French doors, and tore down the fence by the pool. They tore out the concrete that I used to run on to jump in the pool (I was floating in there when Elvis died) and replaced it with sharp flagstone. They built a fountain where the diving-board used to be. The "rumpus room" by the garage, where my sister and I and our friends used to sneak beers and joints, is now a studio. They tore out the orange tree and put in flowers. They tore out my cactus and put in a hedge.

Driving away, I see the city put speed-bumps in Kenwood Street, probably because of the Warner Brothers Studio a block away. Some houses are chipped and faded, and some look surprising different, remodeled with a Nineties touch, Sixties ranch homes with glass domes and satellite dishes.

They put a satellite dish on our house, and bars on the window to my room, my room that I lived in for 12 years, learned to read in, learned to lock my sister out of (adjoining bathroom), wet the bed, learned to masturbate, laugh, cry, drink, smoke, hate, love, write. My manual typewriter, my Olvetti, my IBM Selectric all knew that room, with olive green walls and punk rock flyers and sci-fi books dusty in the corners, model airplanes and rockets hanging on strings from the ceiling, and a heater grate that moans year-round, and they put bars on the window, a long narrow window about five feet up along one wall, with sliders so I could open them and listen to the rain out in the alley, bouncing on the little palm under the window, which they also ripped out.

Driving away, I see a kid walking down Hollywood Way, about fifteen, wearing a Cramps T-shirt, listening to a Walkman and scowling. And I wished him a lot of luck. Instead of crying I got on the Ventura Freeway, like I used to everyday, and didn't turn back until I had passed the old mental hospital in Camarillo, white Spanish among the strawberry fields, and drove back on PCH, the motorcycles and the cars and the houses and the cliffs and the ocean just as perfect as they were in 1983, after six Coors Lights and a joint.

I may see you again tomorrow, friend, or I may never see you again, perhaps by mutual consent. But 31 December 1999 is upon us, and I will see you all on the other side. Spin your own tale, then push it all back into the past, look forward, and find yourself reborn, most excellent friends,

"If you're not bored you must be stupid."
-- Geri Soriano-Lightwood

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