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(Apr. 27, 2010)

          I was driving around the other day. This is what you do in Los Angeles, a lot of the time. You drive around. Everyone drives around and around and around. Zip, dart, stop, roar, crash, screech, honk, crawl, idle, fuck you. You wonder, if humans didn’t have cars, would they do so much driving around?
          The fact that I was driving around was a sign of health. I had been unable to drive around for a couple of weeks, on account of a microorganism that took up residence in my bronchial tubes, and reproduced like Catholic tweakers (look it up.) After blowing my nose roughly 10,000 times, this situation improved.
          First I drove to a beach parking lot, where I cheated and did not put a few bucks into the slot. But Judge, is it really parking when you leave the engine idling? I had to leave it idling, you see, in order to use the heater, never mind that it was 72 degrees and sunny outside. I wanted to sweat.
          I do this when I’m sick. I turn my car into a Chumash sweat box. I sit for a half hour, 45 minutes, the heat on high, windows up, until I am literally drenched. And probably a little deranged from breathing recirculated hot air. Well, a little more deranged. I figure this helps kill the microorganism. (It might also kill brain cells, but I have brain cells to spare.) Sometimes, when I stop in a market on the way home after a sweat session, people surreptitiously give me and my soaked clothing the eye. I sort of enjoy that. Sort of.
          So I sat by the sea and sweated. Oh, and sang. I sat by the sea and sweated and sang. You’ve got to do something while you’re sweating, and it’s hard to read, as sweat gets in your eyes. So I blasted a Cream album, which made my eardrums sweat, and sang along. Funny thing: when I have respiratory infections, I can almost sound like Jack Bruce. At least on “She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow.” I figure singing helps break up congestion. So I sing, and I cough, and I sweat, and I sing some more.
          Some healthy younger people arrived and unpacked yoga mats, strollers, tote bags, before heading to the bright, picture-perfect, sparkling beige sands of Ocean Park Beach. A couple of women glanced my way a few times before deciding that I was probably not dangerous. The music was very loud, you see, and when I sing, only my mouth moves. I imagine I look something like one of the figures in ancient “Clutch Cargo” cartoons, which were totally static except for these weird, fuzzy moving lips. Must be a little scary. Guy with funny hat and sunglasses sits in idling car, singing and coughing with windows up.
          I mused briefly, as I usually do at Ocean Park Beach, about the ghost of Pacific Ocean Park, which sat right in front of me. The younger people in the vicinity couldn’t see it, but I could, extending out over the Pacific with its creepy, none-too-safe-looking roller coaster, and that diving bell into grungy, murky Santa Monica Bay, and the House of Mirrors, and the big aqua octopus, and that massive, scary wood pier framework that looked designed by Gustav Dore.
          I remembered my lone visit there, in 1963. I had come to visit my mother, who worked at Kirk Drugs in Westwood, and she set me up with a fellow employee to take the kid out for fun somewhere. The employee, I now realize, was a girl of perhaps 18, but seemed like a “nice lady” to me. “Hey, Rip,” she said, “Want to go to POP?” (She pronounced it “pop.”) “Sure,” I said, as I’d seen the place on TV when “Shindig” or one of those dance programs broadcasted live from there.
          So that evening we took a bus down to funky, flaky old Venice, stopping at a "friend's" great old house just off the boardwalk. The girl instructed me to wait outside on the nice porch, while she went inside a while, for undoubtedly chaste and noble purposes, eventually emerging to take me to POP. It was fun, a humid summer night that, I recall, also found me sweating. I especially enjoyed the house of mirrors. It piqued the part of my brain that delights in cosmic mysteries. I refused to go on the roller coaster, one of the few sound decisions I’ve made in my life.
          What I remember most from that day, though, was a “dollar ring” that the girl gave me. A dollar bill folded into a ring that you could wear on your finger. I’d never seen or imagined such a wonderful, improbable item. She pronounced it “DOLE-err,” which, I realized many years later, meant that she must have been from Canada. Funny thing, memories.
          POP went out of business a couple years later, and burned down a couple more after that. Merciful end, really. I once met a guy who claimed to have accidentally started the fire that wiped it out, which he said had was intended for warming some pals huddled under the POP pilings. Hmm. . .
          Picturing POP burning, there in the Toyota Chumash, I sang along with “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” badly, then decided I’d pushed my luck with illegal free parking. Time to drive around again, like a good L.A. citizen. Windows up, heat on, still sweating. No, officer, I’m fine. I just like to sweat. Withdrawal! Oh, no, sir! Just getting over the flu. When I drive around, I like to take sidestreets as much as possible (apologies to residents), in order to avoid “gridlock” and pissed-off people with ankle holsters, and besides, it’s prettier. Which brings up the greenery.
          L.A. is such an ugly place. I mean really. Literally, and especially figuratively. You fly in, and all you see below are cubicles. Stationary cubicles and moving cubicles. Ugly rectangular buildings and ant-trails of cars. People moving from ugly cubicle to ugly cubicle, doing ugly cubicle business. It’s almost horrific, and gives me the same headline of dread in my brain every time I see it: oh my god, I’m going to land in all that, and then live there. But the thing is, you land, and there is such greenery! Such bloom! Such verdancy! You cruise the sidestreets, and it’s a veritable botanic garden of palms, liquid ambers, eucalyptus, maple, ficus, floss silk, sycamore, cypress, roses, azaleas, camellias, fuchsias, lantana, wisteria, ranunculus, lilies, rhodadendrons, hollyhocks, plumeria, agapanthas, cherry blossoms, succulents of every ilk, loquat trees (starting to bear fruit now!). Without speedbumps that give you migraines and pinched nerves, and tailgating SUVs, and idiots on sidewalks smoking cigarettes, why, you can almost enjoy it. I was delighted to read recently that some of the insane cutbacks of city services will include “tree-trimming,” which in L.A. means jackasses with chainsaws pruning things down to stumps. Score one for the trees.
         I momentarily switched to radio, for some reason, which is almost always a bad idea, and there was the wonkiest wonk in the west, Patttt Morrison, on KPCC. Patttt was, as usual, packing more breathless (almost literally) information into sentences than a guy trying to recite his last will and testament in front of a firing squad, and examining the minutia of minutia of many crucial issues affecting your life (not.). As she always does. Which always leaves me with the same question, too often shouted impotently into automotive space: “Does any of this make the slightest goddamned bit of difference, or have the slightest impact on anything anywhere ever?” You know, I really don’t give a rat’s ass whether people put too much salt in their goddamn food, or what the murder rate in Juarez is.
          I eventually parked my cantankerous self on the roof of a new Trader Joe’s/Walgreen's on Olympic. Needed some free Trader Joe’s coffee to make me sweat more, and some chocolate to give me an imitation of energy. Plus I had lost my comb. Now, I don’t comb my hair much, but not having a comb in my pocket makes me feel like Marlowe without a wisecrack, a cat without cunning, a president without rhetoric, The Beatles without Lennon, a terrorist without a tract, a phoney without pose, a gardener without an illegal leaf blower, an airhead without an iPad, a TV anchorbimbo without facework, KPCC without political correctness, Frank without Zappa.
          So I walked into Walgreen's because I can longer walk into Thrifty Drug, and after less than a year, found the “hair care” section. There were a million types of combs there, all vacuum sealed in perfect little packets, which caused me to suspect that there could be some serious environmental implications at work here. I mean, it’s good that combs are no longer generally made from tortoise shell or ivory (though you know that goes on), but can the quadrillions of these petroleum-based plastic-molded devices for the purpose of arranging hair strands be a good thing? I’ll bet global warming can be traced in part to comb factories, especially considering that most seem to be in China, and you have the slightest suspicion that Chinese officials are not assiduous about minimizing their carbon footprint.
          Maybe, I thought, if people stopped paying so much attention to their hair, or just rubbed Jello into their heads until the entire race was dreadlocked, global warming could be---well, no. Jello probably contributes to global warming, too. Anyhow, the global warming cat is long out of the bag, claws extended, and the Earth is hissing-mad, as Eyjafjallajokull demonstrates (and if you think I didn't just copy and paste the name of that volcano, you don't know me very well.)
          I scanned the Wall of Combs, which made me think of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, which made me think of Phil Spector’s insane hair, which made me think of combs again. Perhaps Spector, too, has contributed to global warming, especially with that giant “natural.” You wonder: did he imagine the jury would be impressed by his coiffure? A man who places that kind of importance on hair couldn’t possibly have put a gun into a woman’s mouth in simulated fellatio, then “accidentally” pulled the trigger, could he?
         Funny old world.
          Well, there must have been 50 racks just packed with rows of little black Chinese combs. With American company names. Translation: child slaves making ten cents a day. Throwing impotent morality aside, I looked for the traditional “Ace” pocket variety, and of course, seeing as I am Rense, I had walked into the only Walgreen's in the western hemisphere that was completely out of pocket combs. That slot was as empty as the inside of Lady Gaga’s skull, Larry King’s wallet after his upcoming divorce, a Darfur belly, Villaraigosa's rhetoric, the combined intelligence of the KTLA Morning News staff. So I grabbed a “duet” package containing one pocket comb, and another one about a foot long, of the ilk that surfers in the early ‘60’s used to deliberately leave sticking way out of their right rear hip pants pockets. A clerk eyed me as I wiped sweat off my forehead and from under my eyes, and smiled at me nervously. I smiled back, my newly acquired comb making me feel profoundly complete as a human being. Hey, don’t laugh. Combs are among the very first tools ever invented. Right. Just after “fetch the termites with the stick” came “My hair looks like shit.”
          Paying for my comb(s), I was confronted with a rack of magazines topped by the latest issue of Cosmopolitan, and its big black headline, “ The 7 Best Orgasm Tricks in the World.” I considered making a comment about this to the pretty young latina clerk, something along the lines of, “Is it any wonder that humans are crazy, when they have to read crap like this everywhere they go?” But I figured that she probably saw nothing wrong with “The 7 Best Orgasm Tricks in the World.” Most people seem to want to learn orgasm tricks. And then, I was sweating and buying a pair of combs.
          Back on the rooftop parking lot, I noticed that my car had really heated up from cement-reflected sunlight---ahhhhh!----so I sat for another half-hour and blissfully re-drenched myself, listening to more Cream, and Bob Dylan’s “New Morning.” Love that song, “Day of the Locusts.” Wondered for the 10,771st time in my life why Dylan had such a lovely voice on this and the Nashville Skyline albums, and then abandoned it forever.
          And the locusts sang
          Off in the distance
          Yeah, the locusts sang
          Such a sweet melody
          Oh, the locusts sang
          My eyes were wide open
          Oh, the locusts sang
          And they were singin’ for me. . .

          So I sang some more, coughed some more, and sloshed my way a mile or so over to the popular Whole Foods on National, in order to pick up some organic cat food (for the cats) and some supplements that will make me young and virile again. I stood in line behind an imposing guy about seven feet tall, approximately the racial make-up of our president, with dreadlocks in a headband so he looked kind of like Carmen Miranda. Are those bananas growing out of your head or are you glad to see me? He was, as is the case with most of humanity at any given moment, on a cell phone.
          “No, I’m not going to do that. Yes, I’ll direct your movie, but I’m not going to agree to it unless. . .blah blah blah.”
          Ah, the glorious, romantic life of the filmmaker! I was next to a real live movie director! Listening to him brokering a deal! Wow! How many people in the world, I wondered, would have traded places with me right at that minute! Just to be thisclose to genuine Hollywood business! How many would have struck up a conversation with the Banana Man, given him a business card, a treatment, a pitch, offered him a free pedicure, blow job? This is certainly the beauty of life in Los Angeles!
          And he kept talking, no louder than the guy who shouts “Come on down!” on “The Price is Right,” while the grocery tabulation engineering specialist, or whatever checkers are called now, processed his purchase. Which, considering his nearly supernaturally healthy physique, not surprisingly consisted entirely of raw, undoubtedly organic, vegetables. Mushrooms the size of Oprah’s ass.
          “Yes, we can get together and discuss that. . .I don’t know if this is the right time to. . .blah blah blah.”
          Director never once made eye contact with the checker, who didn’t seem to notice or mind (ah, to be a part of the impervious, manner-less younger generation), and then stepped aside to continue his cellular negotiation, leaving his organic veggie groceries to clog up the checkstand. When neither the bagger nor the checker removed his bags to place them at the vacant checkstand where Director had now set up his Film Deal Office, I did. Banana Head never looked at me, but blurted, “Sorry!” Probably figured I was an old box boy, which, frankly, doesn’t sound so bad. Pays better than this.
          And then it was time to drive around again. This is what you do in Los Angeles. You drive around.

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