Monday, October 06, 2008

The Early Nineties

There's a time that I keep hidden, in reserve until it's needed. And it seems that it's never needed. Yes if you're a careful reader of BpB, you notice that I speak frequently of my past, sometimes through the filter of pop culture or, more specifically, music and sometimes through no filter but my memory. Going backwards: In this blog and in my conversations with some of you, you learn about the early '00s - the marriage and its fall, the legendary incidents (Sbarro, The Anonymous Pop Star and the French fries, "Grandma's got a hot date tonight). You hear about the mid and late '90s - the "Amherst August" and its crisscrossing moving vans, the Hal Hartley years in Minneapolis apartments, Professor Edwards and the difference between relative and absolute zero, the night a runaway horse ran down First Avenue. You discover the '80s - the basketball obsessions, my job at the movie theater when Purple Rain and Ghostbusters screened simultaneously (!), wine cooler parties on Xerxes Avenue, the Billy Joel and Springsteen and Violent Femmes concerts, the Stellfox Duel, and Amy's red mustang in the Davanni's parking lot. And of course - Brea, '89. You even hear about the distant faraway years before then. Have I told you about seeing Muhammad Ali at a freaking McGovern rally and later procuring his autograph on a paper towel in the Allentown (PA) Airport, me and Patrick being dropped off with each other's parents in fast food parking lot meeting places in central Jersey, my mean first grade teacher making me stand out in the hallway because I wasn't singing freaking Frere Jacques with the rest of the kids (I didn't sing until '79), picking mangoes off the tree in Alexandria, Egypt. Yeah, you've heard it all.

But what's missing? If you read that last paragraph carefully, you'll notice that I didn't mention the EARLY NINETIES. Yes, these are the lost years that I dare not speak of, the time that spanned, to paraphrase Office Space, the best years of mid-20s. Why do I keep this time a secret from you - my friends, my ex-wife, my cousin, my readers - why indeed? Well, I really have no valid reason. Ostensibly it's to forget about a particularly strange and "difficult" relationship that spanned the years 1991 to 1994. (Disclosure: I did tell a "3/4 True Story" about one event during these years. But that one was sort of fictional.) Or maybe it's to bury the frustrating loneliness that consumed me during this time (but still - not like it went away). Maybe I made some bad decisions (like moving back to California in 1991, after a brief return to Minneapolis during the Twin Peaks years) that I spent too much time regretting.

Recently, two people from this time of my life have sort of re-entered my life, as much as being "friends" on a social networking site can signify life re-entry. One of these people is my ex-girlfriend. Let's call her Lauren. The other person is Lauren's friend Jennifer.

So, with the understanding that one or both of these people could actually be reading this, let me proceed in my discussion of 1991 to 1994. These were not bad times. These were not always good times but they were often interesting times. These were lonely times but they were also filled with odd trips out of town and freaky late nights in lovely L.A. These were the years when I first wrote good poetry and when Seymour entered my life as a skinny little white kitten. He's now a fat old creamsicle cat, my favorite creature in the world. Sure, I managed to live in bad apartments in three different cities (Monrovia, Newbury Park, and Ventura (the last being in '95/'96 but I'll count it anyway) but I lived in good ones in Pasadena and North Hollywood. I traveled to San Francisco and Seattle, to Monterey and Mexico, to Las Vegas and Phoenix, to Minneapolis and the hotels around LAX.

My social circle then consisted of three people: Lauren, Jennifer, and, toward the end of these years, my cousin Sharif, then matriculating at UCLA. Thinking back, there were a few memories that make me cringe. But in a good way. Lauren had a thing for trannies. She also had a bullhorn. The bullhorn worked in one of two ways: in the normal bullhorn way (speak into it and everything gets amplified) and a second function that wasn't typical of bullhorns: the bullhorn had songs pre-programmed into it that one could also play loud. So back to the trannies. Back in the day there used to be a lot of transexual and transgendered prostitutes working Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, roughly between Highland and La Brea (or, more vividly, between Shakey's and Del Taco). Lauren loved these prostitutes. She appreciated their beauty and their work ethic. She empathized with them. She believed in them. So she would open the window of my eventually stolen '91 Honda Civic and scream words of tranny encouragement into the bullhorn: "Woo-hoo." "I love you." "You're beautiful." If the phrase existed then she surely would have said "You go girl." Luckily it did not yet exist.

So there's that. She also liked to play the preprogrammed Hava Nagila on the bullhorn as we drove past Jewish pedestrians on Saturday evenings as they walked to temple. She liked to play the mariachi song as we drove past groups of Mexican people. She loved to play the German songs when we drove past anyone really. That's the bullhorn.

There were also the weekends we would drive up to San Luis Obispo, where Jennifer was attending college. Those were great, more normal times. We walked down Bubblegum Alley. We ate at Hudson's Grill. We saw The Fugitive (Harrison Ford version). (Brief aside: Lauren gave Seymour his name but liked to call him Harrison because of his resemblance to the actor.) We watched some strange local San Luis Obispo fishing show. Jennifer had a boyfriend named Bill. Lauren used to say Bill was boring but he seemed alright to me. Later Jennifer had another boyfriend whose name I can't recall. I think he was from Iowa.

I remember driving back to Los Angeles from San Luis Obispo on one particular occasion. Jennifer was driving back home with Lauren and me, to her Mom's house (I think) in Glassell Park (where, it's been told, the aisles of Sav-On were lined with pyramids of canned corned beef). I recall listening to Weird Al Yankovic and fucking Toad the Wet Sprocket. I remember Jennifer reading aloud from a book called 13th Gen about the generation after Generation X (the 13th Gen name never really took). But I remember being thoroughly entertained and interested in the generational differences and divides the author was describing and Jennifer was narrating. There was a bit of generational divide between me and them anyway - I was six or seven years older.

Back in L.A., Lauren and I saw lots of movies, mostly midnight shows on Friday nights (many at the claustrophobic and now dated Beverly Center theaters). It should be noted that Lauren nor I lived nowhere near the Hollywood/West Hollywood/Beverly Hills nexus we socialized in. She always believed it was important to leave the area where she lived (Highland Park and, eventually, Glendale... they ALL move to Glendale). So yeah we saw lots of movies. We even saw that John Ritter/Pam Dawber movie, whatever it was called. We had many late night meals at 24-hour restaurants. The ones that are still around (Canter's, Jerry's, Astro Burger), ones that have died unfortunate deaths (Beverly Hills Cafe, Pennyfeathers), and one that is still around but should have died a thousand fortunate deaths (French Marketplace).

Lauren didn't like to go out before 11 at night. She wasn't really a Goth but she admired them. What else did we do? We went to the Museum of Tolerance but not any of the other museums. We saw The Cure at the Rose Bowl in the afternoon. We saw Ween at the Jabberjaw on Pico at night (different night). We got into altercations with innocent restaurant employees (Sizzler, '94) and obnoxious restaurant customers (Jerry's in Encino, '92). We drove slowly past her ex-boyfriend's place on Edgemont in Hollywood (later the street of Jason and Monica). We went to a few parties at my sister's house (birthday parties for the kids mostly) but eventually we stopped getting invited. We lived through the Northridge Quake, the L.A. riots, and the O.J. Simpson Trial. On the night of the double murder (for which I'm only 98% certain was committed by O.J.), Lauren and I ate at Viva La Pasta on Wilshire and Bundy, blocks from the murder scene. Don't know why that's important but we ate there. Viva La Pasta was a small L.A. chain. Their hook was that you could get any one of their 30 pastas in combination with any of their 40 sauces, for a total of 1,200 different combinations. Anything you want! Viva La Pasta no longer exists.

After the relationship ended, my friendships with Lauren and Jennifer continued. Late 1994, 1995, and 1996 were filled with "friend" dates with Lauren, UCLA parties with Sharif, and time spent with the Mormon (another story, for a different time). I remember going to Jennifer's graduation during this time with Lauren, both of us in new relationships at the time (the Mormon for me, the Hockey-playing Goth for her). It was a bittersweet drive to San Luis Obispo. We had to share the same tiny bed in Jennifer's tiny apartment the night before the graduation. Which was odd. But it was a fun weekend. We saw a young man vomit in a Mexican restaurant (end of school year partying). We went to the wretchedly over-the-top Madonna Inn to check out the bathrooms (Google it.) We listened to Shudder to Think, the Judybats, and more fucking Toad the fucking Wet fucking Sprocket. Everything we listened to was on cassette. Later, we all went to Lauren's graduation in L.A. and, a short week and a half later, her mom's funeral in Glendale. That was the only time I was ever in Jennifer's L.A. house. I remember her new boyfriend (the one from Iowa) was talking too much. I remember the actor Harry Morgan was arrested that day for spousal abuse.

(Note: Does that Judybats album cover define sincerity circa 1994 better than anything you've ever seen or what?

Then we all went separate ways. Lauren eventually moved to (and from) Minneapolis while I was living there. The late '90s happened and then it all changed. I saw Jennifer one other time on one of my visits back to California (at the coffee house in Pasadena that was used for a scene in the first Brady Bunch movie). And then no word, from anyone, from me. I invented the fiction (sprinkled with only a tiny morsel of fact) that the early '90s were bad times and they should be purged from my memory. No, they were good times. I was surrounded by good friends who reminded me that not all...... (no I shouldn't finish this sentence; certain personal issues should only be discussed in private, perhaps in therapy).

Today Lauren is in Wisconsin. I don't know the details. She moves around (California to Connecticut to Minnesota to Hawaii to Wisconsin). Jennifer is in Pasadena, with a son and an Oscar-nominated husband. And having two more friends is fine with me. I wouldn't even mind hearing that bullhorn again.

10 Seminal Songs of the Early '90s (in no order but the order in which they come to me)

1. Girlfriend - Matthew Sweet
2. Lulu - Trip Shakespeare
3. Pain Makes You Beautiful - Judybats
4. London's Brilliant Parade - Elvis Costello
5. Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
6. Under the Bridge - RHCP
7. Nothin' But A G Thang - Dr. Dre (feat. Snoop D. Dogg)
8. Summertime in the LBC - Dove Shack
9. Birthday Boy - Ween
10. That screen door song by Shudder to Think

1 comment:

Lauren said...

OH MY GOD. My stomach hurts. Well, thats what happens when I am confronted with the past. Or anything these days. I LOVE those much. If I had a time machine, Id do it again. It hurts though. What hurts?
Time passes. People get older, lives change, the fun dissapears and ends. Im very much going to admit that I was a dysfunctional gf and that I treated you unfairly. I will always be so grateful I met you. You were the prince that rescued me from the trauma of having been with "T". And God I had fun with you! But I say...I'm sorry. For how I was and who I was. I dont know what lies in my future...but I hope I can pick myself up again and have that verve I did then...without the temper.