First it was the grass. I’ve done some things I’m ashamed of and things I pray my father never finds out but perhaps the deepest shame I’ve ever felt was in receiving a summons from our village for not mowing the lawn.
The grass was just too long when I returned from traveling the last time. The regular old push mower couldn’t cut it. I wasn’t able to face the idea of buying, let alone owning, a riding mower. Yes there have been times I’ve pictured myself astride one of these beasts, grimly swerving and swooping the far reaches of the yard, mistress of all I survey…but I’m terrified of being that person too.
I’d put out calls to lawn service companies but they were all “yeah, uh – probably in about a week or, sometime…IF the weather holds.” I even called the village and pleaded with them to not fine us. Apparently they will send a guy over to cut, charge you for that and a $100 fine on top.
I was on my way to the first yoga class in over a month, just pulling up in front of the studio feeling holy when the phone rang. It was the most rustic of the lawn guys: “So I’m outside your house right now.”
Wait – didn’t you tell me MAYBE you’d be around over the weekend – it’s Thursday?
“I’m here now, yeah this is gonna cost – I’d say $200.”
What? I was hoping more like …$100?
“Yeah, that’d be nice but – listen lady, liittle neighbor boy Johnny isn’t gonna cut your grass for ten dollars any more. Do you want me to do it or not?”
But…there’s ten and there’s…Okay, please just get it done so I don’t have to hang my head in shame anymore and avoid calls from my dad because he’ll hear the embarrassment in my voice.
Once I’d paid the guy I felt huge relief at the same time I realized if we’d just gone ahead and taken our punishment from the village, their guy would’ve probably charged $50 to cut and then the hundred dollar fine on top – we were out fifty dollars but it was worth it to not feel the scorn of Ray and Carol up the street.
Then it was time to start touring again. I’ve been in four rental cars in the past week and I don’t know who I am anymore.
First there was one to drive to NYC & Baltimore shows, because my Subaru is in the shop and the idea of driving Eric’s big old truck-type SUV just sounded too cumbersome plus the a/c isn’t working. I’ve done my time in unairconditioned cars and can never go back there again. Instead of the nice tidy little economy car I requested, they gave me (no extra charge!) a roomy Dodge Caravan, which kind of negated the whole economy car thing…There’s a nice review of the NYC show here. The Baltimore concert was odd but fun – hello, it’s Baltimore?!
To get to LaGuardia Airport, I rented another car rather than pay a fortune to park the big old truck (my car’s still in the shop or maybe it’s ready and I can’t face the bill yet) at the airport for a couple of weeks. I think this one was a Nissan Sentra. So anonymous and our relationship so short-lived, I had a hard time finding it on the street in Brooklyn when I met up with my daughter for lunch before catching a flight out west.
The next car, from LAX, was a 2018 Toyota Corolla where the air conditioner blew hot air. Isn’t the point of a rental car the chance to be that normal person sitting in traffic in a car so generic you don’t consider making an impression on anyone or even yourself – in my aged Subaru Forester I always think there is at least an implied acknowledgement from other vintage Forester drivers but I don’t imagine current Corolla drivers feel the same…you buy a Corolla for the privilege of feeling nothing but safe and efficient, secure enough in your shopping wisdom you don’t need to declare your personality to the world.
I went to Burbank Airport to swap out this bum car, thinking I’d save myself the time and effort of dealing with massive LAX, but the nice young attendant said since it was such a small airport I’d have to wait for somebody to return a car. He suggested I treat myself to breakfast at the Denny’s across the way, and as much as I hated the missed opportunity for some real L.A. culinary treats, it was a southern California cultural cross-section in Denny’s, complete with Trump fans talking loudly about all the great things he’s done (“he took a nuke out of our ass, what more do you want?”) – is someone paying people to sit in public places and spout this stuff? I wonder.
When I went back to the airport there were still no cars. He asked why I was in California and I did the “oh just here for a nice trip, see the sights” bit, because it’s too complicated to go into the whole “I’m a musician – anyone I’d have heard of – no – my uncle/brother/I play guitar too” routine. But after standing around another fifteen minutes in a dull Burbank parking garage while all of California was being California outside, I broke down and said “Look – I lied. I’m a musician, I’m here to work and I need to get up to Ojai to play a party, they’re waiting for me. I need a car with a trunk, as soon as possible.” The young guy sprang into action and I was out of there in minutes.
To stay awake while driving to Ojai, I tried to remember every Los Angeles hotel or motel I’ve ever stayed in, beginning with the Tropicana for one night on the way back from Hawaii in 1979 or 80 (remember People’s Express $99 flights to Honolulu?); the Sportsman’s Lodge in 1996, Hollywood Roosevelt, Beverly Garland, Best Western Hollywood, LAX Hilton, that cool mid-century Viceroy hotel in Santa Monica when it used to be a seedy dump…happy I’ve been staying with my friend Ilene in an amazing Airbnb in Eagle Rock because even the bleakest fleabag by the airport is at least $150 a night now. I started drifting off and realized thinking about places to sleep is not a good way to stay awake while driving.
Ojai was as beautiful as I’d imagined but in a different way – I’d pictured it perched on the side of a mountain but it is actually a valley. There were blackened trees everywhere and I remembered they had terrible fires here back in the winter. The show was in a fairy tale stone backyard belonging to Rain Perry who is a wonderful singer songwriter herself. Everybody enjoyed the show but I hadn’t gotten the borrowed amp to work so well and became convinced it was my electric 12 string that was messed up. Now Eric is not the greatest texter – I have sent him dozens sometimes without a reply, or maybe like a fellow Subaru driver I know there is an implied answer, a nod across the highways, and he will call me when he has a minute. But a message along the lines of “I think there is something wrong with my guitar” elicited a response in less than thirty seconds. My phone rang and it was “Right, you need to plug the guitar into the amp right now and…” It was like being back in our living room at home only Eric was in Marfa and I was in Ojai. One possible culprit was the sizable Joe Walsh Analog Alien effects pedal lodged in the back of the amp, in my haste to get set up I hadn’t bothered to remove various items stowed should I need them.
I drove back from Ojai the next day, the Ford Focus proving to be a much better car than Ford Focuses I have rented in the past. Not much power but decent and now that the air conditioning was working wonderfully, the temperature outside had dropped to the mid-sixties. I stopped for fresh juice and Mexican breakfast in a neighborhood spot in Eagle Rock – it was filled with young guys in soccer jerseys watching Brazil play Iceland (?) in the World Cup. I heard this beautiful song in an Apple ad: “I’ll tell you a story, `bout an artist growing old..some would try for fame and glory…” Who? It was one of those moments so perfect it could be an ad itself – me, the older artist in a little Mexican cafe, still dazed from my gig the night before, the young guys in their jerseys watching football on TV, this perfect song…Daniel Johnston. Thank you, whoever thought to use his song.
The Wild Honey backyard show benefiting Autism Think Tank made me happy to be playing in Los Angeles again – looking out the audience was a cross-section of old friends and great musicians and all-around interesting folks. I played a solo set and got to hang out and play a few songs with Ilene, Danny, Max, Billy and Robby (Oliver from the Brady Bunch, I’m not kidding!) the 7 Deadly Five whose album I loved back in the 90s, every tune a hit, every line memorable (She Must’ve Got Her Monks Mixed Up…We Go Together Like A Hammer Goes With Matches) and the amp was working okay and I left feeling a pure joy like I never expect to feel in L.A.
Then it was the grass. Okay, since I saw a billboard near the airport advertising Medmen, I’ve been wanting to go to a weed dispensary, but I was nervous, like I’ll do it wrong and (hello Dad) bring shame on the family even though in the end that fear never stops me from doing anything, probably has the opposite effect of making me the world’s most bumbling potential criminal.
I entered this discreet one-story building on a busy street at the edge of a residential neighborhood and stood nervously before the receptionist. She waited for me to pull out my ID while every card in my wallet tumbled out: MTA, CTA, donut club, coffee clubs, Catskill Library. Sweetheart didn’t even roll her eyes. She told me to go through and I wasn’t sure which door she meant and worried I’d do like at that bbq place in Texas, open the door to the broom closet thinking I was about to enter the fire pit. But I took a chance and it was just a room with some display cases. I told the girl I wanted this package with a drawing of a guy like an old prospector I’d tried at a friend’s. She smiled at me with a look of complete confusion. “Or sort of like one of the Smith Brothers? But alone?” In the end I just went along with what she suggested, like I do when tending bar for people who say they like IPAs but not too hoppy. I emerged into the sunlight carrying my regulation shiny black pouch and of course there was a cop sitting right next to my car.
Good morning officer. It’s 9:15 AM and I just bought drugs – all strictly above board of course. He regarded me with absolutely no interest through his mirrored shades.
I got in the rental car and remembered I needed to call the guy back home who told me he could cut the grass for $45 while we’re away.