Wednesday, February 24, 2016

DARK INTERLUDE


 Moonrise
 

I have recently been doing Hollywood posts in honor of Oscar week. This is a rude interruption to update my status here in the mundane mountain wilderness.

The wicked wintery weather has abated, turning into endless torrents of mud-inducing rain. It slacked off enough on Monday for me to make the dreaded trek into town. If nothing else, I now have sufficient supplies. And cat food. And litter (for the cats, not me).

I was plagued with alarming health issues all last week, which were so bad at times that I actually left a letter in case I dropped dead. I very seldom mention health issues in my blog, for two reasons:
1. It's unbecoming to selfishly bitch
and
2. Nobody really gives a rat's ass

After plying myself with aspirin and trying to lower my insanely high stress level, I'm presently feeling better....or at least adequate. Yesterday I forced myself to do a lot of long-neglected housework. My Texas house used to be absolutely spotless. Here in my remote Tennessee shack, I've been annoyingly indifferent.

Weather forecast:
Rain will continue today (Wednesday) and turn into snow by mid-afternoon.
If I'm still alive, I plan to make more homemade soup.

It's not quite dawn as I'm writing this. Earlier tonight there was a power outage. Imagine being totally isolated, surrounded by forests, with no lights anywhere. Fortunately there was a full moon (or nearly full) which kept peeking out from behind clouds. It was very windy and actually intriguingly beautiful. I went outside to watch the ever-changing midnight clouds and the evasive moon.

I was in the process of making coffee and toast just when the lights went out. Had to finish my midnight snack by candlelight. 

I'm not complaining. I love the wilderness, the solitude, the inspiring forces of nature..... 

Now, just before dawn, the power is miraculously back on. My cats are sleeping. The rain has stopped for the moment. It is getting colder. I'll patiently await the snow....
and I'll post a few more Hollywood stories later this week (as if anyone cares....).

an excerpt from Love Letters to Ghosts

IV
 
Listen to the distant song
of the wandering wind.
You will almost hear it
whisper my name.
Things once forgotten
breathe in unison
with the soft touch of your memory.
Imagine a gentle light
sifting through parted clouds,
bathing the broken paths
of passing storms.


Songs of remembrance are like that.
They expunge the haze of faded hours,
heal the crush of broken days.
In unexpected moments
they ignite the sun's first splash of light
and dare to sing in unrehearsed gratitude.


It is there, in the dawn of yearning everafters
that the cathedral of my love will embrace you.


Jon V.

 

 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

SUICIDE SIGN







The Hollywood sign. The ultimate Hollywood landmark. A potent symbol of the Hollywood dream.....and a grim reminder of the underlying nightmares......

The Hollywood sign graces the 1,680 summit of Mount Lee, located in Griffith Park, a part of the Santa Monica Mountains. A rugged remote wilderness, ironically close to Tinsel Town glitz.

The original Hollywoodland sign was erected in 1923, as a real estate promotion. It was funded by L.A.Times publisher Harry Chandler and cost a whopping (at that time) $21,000. The sign remained on the hillside long after the real estate venture and became an essential part of Hollywood lure. In the late 1940's the "land" part was removed, but "Hollywood" remained. Twenty-five years later the neglected sign was crumbling and in a pitiful state of disrepair. In 1978 it was finally rescued and repaired, courtesy of the Hollywood Sign Trust and generous donors.




I lived in Southern California during the crumbling era and the rescue era. I witnessed the sign's death and resurrection. My main interest in the sign was its connection with suicide and ghosts. At that time very few people knew about the tragic tale of the young actress Peg Entwistle, who leaped to her death from the top of the sign at age twenty-four. Even fewer people knew about the ghost of a lady in white who reportedly haunts the sign on moonless nights.





Peg Entwistle (1908-1932)



 When I was young and living in Hollywood details about the Entwistle suicide were very scarce. Only a few old-timers remembered the incident. Nowadays information (and misinformation) abounds. The story has inspired articles, books, documentaries, and even (heaven help us) a potential musical. Amature and rank amature ghost hunters have latched on to the legend.

Millicent Lilian ("Peg") Entwistle was born in Wales, raised in London, and came to New York with her father after her parents divorced. Peg's father was killed in a truck accident when she was fourteen. Afterwards, she and her two step-brothers were raised by their Uncle Harold. Peg eventually became a fairly successful stage actress in New York, but her career (along with Broadway) floundered after the 1929 stockmarket crash. Her marriage to actor Robert Keith also ended when she discovered that he had a previous wife and child. Ironically, that child was Brian Keith, who later became a well-known actor. (even more ironic is the fact that Brian Keith committed suicide in 1997).

Peg moved to Hollywood in 1932. where her uncle and two brothers were living on fashionable Beachwood Drive. She landed a role in the RKO film Thirteen Women, but unfortunately most of her footage ended up on the cutting room floor. Her desperate attempts to keep her career alive were futile.
By September, 1932, she was out of work and deeply depressed.

The Hollywoodland sign in the 1920's



Beachwood Drive in the early 1930's
(the white building in the distance is a private residence)

 
On the evening of September 16, 1932, she told her uncle that she was going out to meet friends at a local drug store. Instead, she walked north on Beachwood Drive, scoured the hills to the Hollywoodland sign, and prepared to extinguish the agony forever. She climbed a workman's ladder to the top of the fifty-foot  letter "H" and leaped to her death. A suicide note was found in her purse which said:

 "I am afraid I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E."

From what I heard, she didn't die instantly but suffered for nearly two days before her body was found. 

The story is very tragic but sounds simple enough. A trek to the sign and a leap. Only those who have actually climbed up to the Hollywood sign and experienced the remote, desolate area at night, can understand the true horror.

When I was in my early twenties, a friend and I (he knew the area very well) climbed up to the Hollywood sign at night. It was a momentous undertaking (no pun intended) and a memorable endeavor.

Today the Hollywood sign is heavily guarded and largely inaccessible to tourists, vandals, and potential leapers from letters. It's surrounded by a chain link fence with razor wire, motion sensors, electronic surveillance, security guards, and helicopters. You can still walk up a long, winding trail and view the rear of the sign, but getting anywhere close enough to touch it is an impossibility.






The sign in disrepair

My friend and I visited the sign when it was still in a state of major disrepair and wasn't heavily guarded. Those were the glorious days when remnants of old Hollywood were still around and accessible. Getting there was much more treacherous, dangerous, and tedious than I had ever imagined. It was early autumn. We started out in late afternoon, walking north on Beachwood, the same route that Peg Entwistle took. It was nearly two miles just to get to the hills. We were armed only with a six-pack, a couple of flashlights, and youthful audacity.


Hollyridge, the trail to the sign


I don't know how we made it to Hollyridge Trail, but that's where the real hike begins. The isolated dirt trail winds aimlessly through the hills and eventually leads to the back of the Hollywood sign. I think we wound up on Mt. Lee Drive (it's been a long time). At any rate, the trek took seemingly forever.

It is nearly sunset when we finally get to the sign. It clings haphazardly to the hillside like a gigantic, tattered remnant of a haunted dream. The looming, crumbling letters are fifty feet high.

I'm wondering how Peg Entwistle was ever able to accomplish her formidable, suicidal feat. She was much more courageous than she is given credit for. If she was brave enough to conquer the sign, she certainly would have been brave enough to conquer life......




Back of the sign and view of Hollywood


The distant, sprawling view of Hollywood is  spectacular and the fiery, melting colors of the setting sun cast a surrealistic spell over the entire scene. It's a once in a lifetime moment. We sit in the shadows of the sign, savoring the view and drinking beer. We smoke a joint or two.

As twilight dissolves into darkness the chilly mists and absolute isolation cast a haunted spell. A strong spiritual presence seems to linger by the sign but we didn't see any apparitions. We joke and laugh and make feeble half-hearted attempts at climbing the tattered "H" letter. The very real prospect of danger fails to penetrate our foolishness. In time, the dreamlike aura of our surroundings becomes unnerving and almost sinister. In absolute blackness, guided only by the pale light of our flashlights, we retrace the trail and eventually make it back down the hill. Exhausted, cold, and aching.

I was delighted to see Beachwood Drive and vowed that I'd never go back to the sign again. I never did.


One afterthought:
It is widely rumored that the day after Peg Entwistle died, a letter arrived offering her the leading role in a play. This isn't true. According to her two surviving stepbrothers, it never happened.
                              Jon V. 




Friday, February 19, 2016

CITY OF ANGELS: DOWNTOWN


  


I often write about Hollywood but seldom mention downtown Los Angeles. Although only a few miles apart, they are on complete opposite ends of the gamut (I'm sure things have changed now - I'm writing from a long-ago perspective). For me, Hollywood was always a safe haven. Downtown L.A. reeked with danger.

When I was a young teen we lived in Orange County, near Disneyland - about 25 miles away from L.A. My parents worked all day and I didn't yet drive. I'd often take a bus to L.A. and spend the day exploring the city. These were relatively innocent times - before my corrupt years in Hollywood. I'd always buy a pack of cigarettes and smoke - just to look "tough".

From a distance, downtown L.A.  had a surrealistic look - seemingly floating in a shroud of eternal smog and haze. For many years, tall buildings had been prohibited due to earthquake safety restrictions. Later, some of the new structures became daringly tall. The steel company that my father worked for was responsible for most of these new L.A. buildings.

I'd visit the always-intriguing art exhibits at the Biltmore Hotel and the Hilton. I'd haunt the bookstores and record shops, and I'd buy used gear at the big Army Surplus store on Main St. Often I'd walk up to the Music Center on Grand and eat lunch there (since then, an appalling structure called the Walt Disney Music Hall has been built next door).

 The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the L.A. Music Center, which I knew extremely well


The hideous Walt Disney Music Hall which now overshadows the L.A. Music Center (right)

Sometimes I'd sit in Pershing Square and just watch the people. Pershing Square is a small park across the street from the Biltmore Hotel. Long ago, the park was lush with palm trees and exotic shrubs and was a notorious gay cruising area - especially after dark. When I frequented Pershing Square, the park had been cleaned up and most of the trees removed in an attempt to discourage "undesirables".

Once, when I was in Pershing, a stout old man with a white beard approached me. He was dressed all in black, with a black hat, overcoat, and walking cane. He kinda looked like Heidi's grandfather puttin' on the Ritz...

He approached me and bluntly asked if I'd like to make porno movies. "I know some really hot twelve and thirteen-year-old boys," he said.

I told him "No, thank you" and immediately regretted being so polite.

"Do you mean you don't like boys?" His question sounded accusatory. 

"Not that much," I said.


Vintage Pershing Square as it looked about 65 years ago, and the Biltmore Hotel.

Pershing Square in more recent times - the hotel hasn't changed at all

Once, on a wicked whim, I went to a sleazy porno theater on Main Street. It was the first adult theater I'd ever been to and I was scared witless. My fear turned to disappointment when I discovered that the flick was only "soft core". There were a few flashes of female boobs and male butts, and some poorly simulated sex. What a waste of $1.25.

Years later, I still spent an enormous amount of time in downtown L.A. - attending concerts at the Music Center, working as a ballet rehearsal pianist, going to galleries and museums. I used to frequent Frasher's Music Store - which had an enormous selection of orchestral scores and piano music (those were the primitive days before the ease of shopping on the Internet).

L.A. at night was a whole different scene. When I knew it, the place was extremely dangerous after dark. My nighttime excursions were very limited and always fraught with unwanted adventure. Once, I was chased by a group of drunken Mexicans, simply because I was a gringo (and, fortunately, a damn good runner).

Another time a huge black dude followed me for several blocks with obvious criminal intent. I finally ditched him by going into a lesbian bar (no lie). 

My worst after dark downtown experience happened in front of the L.A.County Library on 5th Street. I was completely caught by surprise. A short, swarthy guy tried to mug me - demanding money and roughing me up. My switchblade was my savior. I pulled it out, jabbed the bastard in the hand, and then ran like an Olympic champion. I managed to zigzag away and save my ass.

 The L.A. Library on 5th Street
Dangerous at night

If I remember correctly, switchblades were illegal in L.A. County. I had purchased mine in New York and smuggled it home on a plane (try doing that nowadays!).

I've always considered myself to be a sissy with a faux tough facade - - but in truth I could be fairly tough when I had to.  

This post is much longer than initially intended and I haven't even scratched the surface. I didn't tell about my wild experiences at the ultra-sleazy Midtowne Spa on Kohler Street.
Or some of the downtown characters that I knew - like the fifteen-year-old male hustler whom I called Midnight. My very first published poem, Midnight Blue, was about him.
"His eyes are electric. They will execute you."

(are my California posts boring? I love to reminisce)



http://cabinetofcurioustreasures.blogspot.com 

  




Tuesday, February 16, 2016

MELTDOWN BEFORE DAWN



 








Well, not exactly a meltdown. It was more like freaking out (is that term still in existence?). I'm generally calm and reasonably patient, but occasionally I  lose it and freak. It depends on how much I'm provoked. And how many unpleasant things are overwhelming me at once. Tonight I felt overwhelmed.

Perhaps I'm merely tired of winter. And cold. And snow. There was more snow on Valentine's Day (and for those of you who read my previous post - yes, I did have pizza on Valentine's Day).

 Valentine's Day

Since Tennessee - God, will I ever learn how to spell it?? - is considered to be a southern state, I assumed that the winters would be mild here. I expected snow and fairly cold winters - but my expectations were also fanciful and -perhaps - delusional.

I had envisioned this mountain wilderness to be inhabited by Heidi, Old Yeller, and Bambi, with the Waltons throwing innocuous snowballs and the Von Trapps singing Edelweiss. 
Instead, I feel like a member of the Donner Party, The Forlorn Hope. I'm fastening snow shoes out of birch bark and imagining the cats roasting on sticks over an open fire.

Speaking of cats, in the middle of my meltdown tonight I accidentally tripped over the cat food dishes that I keep in the kitchen. Two full dishes of food and a bowel of water went everywhere. It's not the first time. Nor the second time.

Then, my laptop refused to accept my computer password. I couldn't get online for over an hour. This caused genuine panic. I finally figured out it was the Num Lock key. 

Then I remembered that Bosco had been messing around near my keyboard earlier. Damn cat! Bosco is the same culprit who knocked the "i" key off my computer keyboard a few months ago. No, it isn't fixed.

 Bosco

And then there is the nightly visitation of the coyotes. At around 3:00 a.m. almost every night a pack of coyotes comes on my property and seemingly surrounds the house - howling and yelping and making bone-chilling taunting sounds. They never stay for very long.

I had to put some important letters in the mail box, so I summoned my courage and decided to go just before the crack of dawn. It's a very long walk, down an icy, muddy, tedious hillside (mountainside) and I always dread it immensely. I put on my heaviest winter coat and took a walking stick, cell phone, and flashlight.

Just as I got to the box I heard the coyotes howling again, but this time in the distance. I had a major adrenaline rush as I was laboring up the steep hill to get back to the house.

I've thrived on danger most of my life. It's some kind of a pseudo-masochistic thrill that I crave. I'd probably be lost without it.

More of my Hollywood stories coming up. I know you're enthralled at the prospect.


Check out my Oscar Fashion Bombs at
http://cabinetofcurioustreasures.blogspot.com

Sunday, February 14, 2016

IT COULD BE VALENTINE'S DAY



My cat Scratch knows that I accidentally posted this yesterday, long before it was ready to be seen. She just read the "revised" version and told me that it isn't any better than the first one was. The only thing she likes is her photo.

BTW - I did read the comments that were posted. Sorry for the mess up.


Nothing interesting here. Just random, disjointed thoughts possibly inspired (instigated?) by St. Valentine's Day.

Picture this:
I'm in my early 20's, the sole guest invited to a Valentine's Day supper. The setting is a lavishly impressive  old Spanish-style mansion in Beverly Hills. It's dinner by candlelight in an opulent dining room with a massive wood-beamed ceiling and intriguing alcoves. Braised Greek chicken, artichokes, vintage white wine......
It's the first time I've ever tackled artichokes. My congenial host graciously demonstrates the rudiments - plucking off the "leaves" and dipping them.
Supper was only the first part of an incredibly romantic evening....

I was young and reasonably desirable.  I had my pick of everything good. My life was very full. Chaotic, reckless, devastatingly dangerous, but full nevertheless.


Long Ago


Picture this: 
It's a helluva long time later (let's not count the years - it's too painful). I'm now living alone with three cats in a drafty mountain shack in the wilds of Tennessee. No Valentine plans. No Valentines. No nothing - but dreary snowdrifts, perpetual problems, and persistent annoyances in various  degrees throughout my rapidly deteriorating body.
Translation: I'm falling apart.

California is now a faraway memory. Most of the people that I once loved are dead.


My empty days yawn with dusty recollections. 

Am I complaining? Naw. Just thinking. And marveling at how quickly time can pass

So, what would I like for Valentine's Day this year? Besides a blank check from a wealthy benefactor... 

I'll settle for a pizza. Maybe a big box of chocolates. And an even bigger bottle of wine. Nothing fancy. I just want to unscrew the cap and guzzle.
I'm easy to please.


I'm now a raunchy shadow of my former self
(mercilessly sunburned and far too much beer)

Love? I'm all for it.
Do I believe in it? Only in varying degrees. Love is largely an illusion, a fantasy, it's very often confused with lust or infatuation. True love is extremely rare and enormously complicated. It isn't an easy ride. Love requires dedication, hard work, compromise, tolerance.

But this isn't an essay and I'm no expert. I'm just tossing random thoughts around the room. And they're bouncing off empty walls. I've always been adamantly opposed to marriage - possibly because I'm fiercely independent and selfish. I've never needed another person to feel whole. Perhaps I've simply endured too much shit in the past - - from my parent's insanely dysfuctional marriage....and from others who have seriously complicated my life.

I've never known a truly happy marriage. The happiness is most often feigned. Couples simply learn to tolerate each other. Eventually they grow to be exactly alike - which is scary.

Have I ever been in love? Absolutely. I've been in lust hundreds of times. I've been in true love several times. My biggest problem? Fear of commitment, unwillingness to commit. I squandered many golden opportunities. Many.

Regrets? It's far too late for regrets.

So, what is your opinion of Valentine's Day, Jon?

Hey, I thought you'd never ask. I am extremely romantic, passionate, and sentimental. But I'm not about to be forced into expressing it all on one designated day. I prefer to express my emotions spontaneously....and honestly. Valentine's Day is crass commercialization and craftily organized bullshit.

If you believe in the prospect of love, if you think you have obtained it, even if you've lost it and it only lives in memories....

keep it eternally in your heart,
and, well......

Have a pleasant Valentine's Day.




 

  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

ROMANCE AND DEATH ON A WINTER NIGHT





Snow again. Monday night, Tuesday, today. Finally dwindling to flurries this afternoon. Soft, wayward, drifting flakes. Annoyingly cold. My fingers and toes are numb. Everything is very still, except for the occasional squabble of hungry birds - and random, distant blasts from hunter's rifles.

It's 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) this afternoon. The nights are bitterly cold. This is the coldest house I ever lived in (ha, that's what I said about my Texas house, too). Bosco always sleeps under the covers, which helps keep me warm.

my back yard this morning

I summoned the courage to drive into town last Friday. Got groceries in anticipation of the predicted storm. Very early this morning I made soup from the turkey leftovers. I'm actually going to make two pots of it. I forgot to buy bouillon and V-8, which always enhances the flavor, but what the hell - I'm the only guest. And I never complain about my cooking.


 This is just before I started cooking the soup. Raw veggies and onions floating on top (it looks much better now...)

Had an unbelievably bad migraine last night. My vision was so impaired that I couldn't see. I get migraines frequently. My mother used to get them.
The migraine induced a panic attack. I'm miles from civilization. An ambulance could never get here on icy mountain roads.....
I'm really f***k up. Or screwed up. No matter how you look at it. 



Paris, snow, romance, death

I immensely calmed my nerves by watching  a performance of La Boheme.
( a snowy, winter story of romance....and impending death - - what could be more appropriate on a frigid winter night?).
This was the 2009 film version, with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon.
(it's available on YouTube)

Villazon is not exactly my favorite Rudolpho....
but Netrebko is exquisite as Mimi...I'm hopelessly in love with her.

And as for all of you little sniveling, nitpicking Netrebko critics - - you're just jealous.


Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon

Here's an old, raw & unedited rehearsal tape of me playing shreds of music from La Boheme. (music by Puccini, in case you didn't know).
Taped in my San Angelo music studio on a broiling 110 degree (Fahrenheit) summer day. 
I was way past my prime and hopelessly out of practice, but - what the hell.....