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 notes from the terrace. . .

          Here at the Green Tea Terrace on a lugubrious, gray, pre-summer afternoon in Westwood, the Beatles are playing, which is fine with me. It’s the “Love” album, soft, with all the “mash-up” tracks where Ringo’s “The End” drum solo ushers in “Get Back,” and “Hey Bulldog” crops up in the middle of “Lady Madonna.”
          The thing I like about mash-ups is that they reflect the way my brain stores stuff. Maybe yours, too. In my head, Mahler fragments routinely segue into Zappa, the Four Tops, the theme from “The Mickey Mouse Club.” But don’t tell anybody. They’ll think I’m nuts.
          “Love” reminds me that although it’s 2007, there is still Beatles news. “Sgt. Pepper” is having its 40th anniversary June 1 (see my article on the album), and senior citizen Paul “Sir” McCartney is releasing what could be his swan song, “Memory Almost Full” June 5.
          McCartney hasn’t had a great album since “Band on the Run,” by my reckoning, but the three songs I’ve heard from the new one are promising. One of them is “The End of The End,” which could be about what Bush and Cheney have done to the United States, if not the world, but is actually a moving little essay about how the old Beatle would like to be remembered on the day he dies.
         Who would have thought “yeah yeah yeah” would have ever come to this?
          Now Lennon’s backwards version of “Sun King” (from "Love") is on the GTT stereo, and boy, does that sound appropriate.
          By the way, I should have told you that Santa Claus is sitting outside, squawking, shrieking, grunting. I guess he’s given up on the North Pole, what with the melting and all. He’ll have no home at all by 2050, scientists say, so he seems to have gone homeless early, in Westwood. He’s on a bench, eating a bag of “Wavy Barbecue” potato chips, perhaps in a subtle comment on global warming.
          Santa’s goose-down-soft white beard and curly locks are stiff, gray, and matted, the beard all crooked and pointy, like the wind is blowing it. No red suit, either---he’s clad entirely in grimy, black indeterminate wrappings. “Awk!” says Santa every 20 or thirty seconds, and “Weee!” and "Ooof!" He sucks on a cigarette, and once in a while mutters something to a passer-by, which I don’t think is “Merry Christmas.”
          An impish homeless fellow with red hair---one of the elves?---stops at Santa’s bench, grabs a handful of “Wavy Barbecue” chips, inspects them, then flings them on to the sidewalk, declaring “Yech!” A homeless man of discriminating palate.
          Speaking of palates, have you heard “Apple Pie,” by The Bastard Fairies? What a great song, a song of laconic dismissal of just about the entire loused-up cunning greedball murderous asswad contemporary world. I’ll buy that for a dollar. I haven’t found a “young person’s” pop musical utterance so thrilling since “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” These Bastard Fairies are on to something, and I think it’s something good. Music, melody and lyric are all of a piece to them. They do not contrive or assemble songs, they let them happen, and they happen deftly, smartly, deliciously sarcastically, infectiously.
Oh, me? I was only fourteen, too goody-goody to have imagined running away (but I should have!.)

         Santa Claus has departed now, almost as if he had somewhere to go. Force of habit, I would imagine, from countless millions of chimney runs. He left the barbecue chips behind, though, and after a few minutes they were picked up by a heavy set African-American homeless man wearing what were probably once $150 basketball shoes, now laceless, the tongues flapping like thirsty dogs. One man gathers what another man spills, as the Grateful Dead used to sing.
          Hmm. . .All this talk of the Grateful Dead and the 40th anniversary of “Sgt. Pepper” reminds me that it is also the 40th anniversary of the so-called “Summer of Love,” when countless thousands of kids more or less ran away from home to have a hell of a good time, and mostly wound up hungry and dirty in San Francisco. I like what Bob Weir said about the Summer of ’67---that the summer of ’66 was a lot better.
Naivete ran dazzlingly thick that summer, and juvenile “let’s be hippies” whim, and ingestion of powerful drugs by still-growing brains that were not equipped to handle them (think: horse wears blinders all its life, then has them suddenly yanked away), but so did a hell of a lot of good intentions, noble spirit, happiness, and superb music. I’ll take that summer over today, or any year since, I’ll tell you that.
          Oh, me? I was only fourteen, too goody-goody to have imagined running away (but I should have!.) Still, I had been invited by my parents to stay away from home as much as possible that summer, so my big adventure was to take the Greyhound to the seaside hamlet of Isla Vista near the University of California at Santa Barbara, where my brother lived. They might as well have posted a sign, “Rabbit Hole.” I.V. was full of long hair with daisies, and white madras with no bras underneath, a haze of pot and sandalwood incense, surfing, Frisbees, sunsets watched like movies, and you could walk the length of the place and never be out of earshot of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Somebody put a hash pipe in my mouth, but nothing happened.
          I know it’s just a little more than a few eons since then, but inside I still feel very fourteen, much of the time. Don’t you? It’s the rest of the world that has grown old, nasty, ugly, not me! I’m like Jerry Garcia, who every time he saw someone in a suit, carrying a briefcase, thought “there’s an adult”---even when the "adult" was 20 years younger.
          Here in the about-to-be summer of 2007---"the summer of hate?"---at the Green Tea Terrace, I have just spoken with a sweet kid who shall be known here as Gwen. Gwen is as pretty as a painting by Childe Hassam, with a smile that makes you remember that frozen old Presbyterianist cliché about people being “basically good.” Her face practically radiates light and love. I guess she’s about 22 or 23, and last I heard, she cleans houses for a living and saves money for school.
          Gwen and I had a long talk several months ago, you see, where she did most of the talking, largely because she was on at least two powerful drugs at the same time. My guess: ecstasy and speed. Her monologue consisted of describing all her drug experiences, and how her mom gave her hash and speed on a recent trip to Vegas or something, and how you should “never mix LSD and ecstasy” (I’ll remember that), and so on.
          I nodded and smiled, mostly, as she seemed to need someone to nod and smile. Funny thing: her innate goodness was not marred by the intoxicants.
          Anyhow, Gwen just said hello to me, on this June Gloom day, and I didn’t even recognize her. It wasn’t just that she had died her hair blonde, there was something else going on.
          “I’ve left the drug world,” she said, with a smile that should be harnessed and traded like oil. “I’m in recovery. I’m healing. I quit two months ago.”
          After I made my little congratulatory spiel and told her how much courage it takes to do that---which it does---she went on about how all her friends had abandoned her, and how her boyfriend dumped her, and she’d left her band (she’s a musician, and a good one.) But that none of this was deterring her from “healing.”
          Then I realized why I had not recognized her. Her eyes were clear, her face relaxed, her skin healthy.
          I think the summer of ’07 might be a good one for her.
          Better than it will be for Santa Claus, that’s for sure.

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