The Wastelander V
California Dreaming

[The Wastelanders are a form of prose-sketching I invented on the road. You can find all the sections of this sequence in the blog archives from this summer. Others are scattered in the deeper archives from last year and before.]

Last night I dropped my chains
and walked away.

My eyes were almost blind,
and yet I saw
against eternity’s blue slope
a shadow like myself,
pilgrim of blood and gold.

--John Haines

Sunday June 22

All the leaves are brown,
And the sky is gray….


Going to beloved Barney’s Beanery
on the tattered tail-end of Route 66,
unholy Santa Monica Blvd.
surrounded by the ghosts of insane David Thomson/Rick Elias 20 yr old
Hollywood living—nights of The Whiskey & The Rainbow---all night prowling
talking to street people, watching Gregg Allman nod off in midnight diner,
talking to hookers on corners about going to London some day,
pulling practical jokes in the street
& being rousted by cops at three a.m., tussling w/ punks
on Sunset strip.

Now, here
to eat brunch w/ our hero, Mike Cendejas—engineer
of my new movie career.
Auspicious e-mail today: Luis Mandoki
is going to Aspen for a week
to do Hummingbird prep work
w/ Antonio Banderas.
I said, “Gee—I was in Aspen a couple of time this year.
He didn’t come see me!” Ha ha.
Tony—call Luigi.
The girls wanna talk to you.


Barney’s, my favorite breakfast omelette.
Rock stars present—allegedly, that dude over there
is from Bowling For Soup. MTV in da house!
Megan’s stoked—Cendejas could care less.
We talk good stuff and laugh a lot and gossip.
We can’t believe that we got the van
into that parking space
and neither can the valet
who is mad we got there before he did
and aren’t paying him big Sunday tips.


We proceed to La Brea Tar Pits and groove on the blurp
brubb blapth of the oozing tar bubbles.

Black bones & a sweet madwoman
who follows me around babbling, “Gosh! I don’t know where
all this sketching talent came from! You take a class
& suddenly it’s just sketch and sketch and sketch! And
this place is so arty! So interesting, don’t you think?
All this amazing extinct wildlife right here in Los Angeles! Elephants!
Camels! Dire wolves! Why, I could just go on all day! Is that your child?
In fact, to tell you the truth,
just this morning
I was thinking.…”

I engage my Buddha Nature and exude love and compassion and joy
& beat it the hell out of there.


Million hour drive
to idyllic Santa Barbara—
ridgelines designed by Dali
covered in vast white propellers.
To the Fess Parker DoubleTree Resort.
A $750 room
that smells like a dirty diaper.

Out for a wild
beach ramble—Chayo in the waves
like a porpoise. C walking, smiling.
E shirtless, trying to get a hot drumline tan.
M snapping pix like a machine. And me, up to my ass
(sorry upright Texas lady) in ice water
catching all those crazy little sand crabs
--coquinas?—that body surf
up the beach.


When Cinderella and I walk into the lobby to see
what’s up w/ the Book Festival, several people
do an Oh-My-God-That’s-Him double-take.
It spooks me: I think someone famous is behind me, then I think
my zipper must be open.
I hide behind C at the Starbuck’s and avoid eye contact.
I thought I was invisible. I used to be invisible. What happened?
In the bookstore, I see I’m on the cover of the program.
I’m featured in the new issue of THE WRITER magazine.
All my books are stacked on the tables. Oh, OK.
Success happened.

All over the hotel, people stare at us as we walk by.
Smile, Dear.
It’s The Public.


We walk past a suite on the ground floor after supper
& there’s a crowded cocktail party in there
& the whole party stops and the folks inside
watch us through the window.
“Keep walking,” I tell her.


I feel like a giant ground sloth recently climbed out
of the tar pits.


When I went to dinner, I missed Joseph Wambaugh.
The waitress didn’t know what food they were serving.
She had to read the menu to figure out what we were ordering.
We waited an hour and forty-five minutes
for our food to come.

What Would Fess Parker Do?


Still, the resort is physically lovely.
Intoxicating us w/ flowers & vines & palms
& beach across the street.
It aint
my day job.


Monday, June 23

Waves on the shore.

George Carlin died last night.
Tim Russert died at the start of the trip.
How can it be the perfect
seaside morning? All sun, all
cool ocean breeze?
A genius dies—the world
doesn’t stop.
It’s the same for a reviled paisano
broiling to death on the border.
Millionaire. Artiste.
Child. Soldier. Political pariah.
Sun comes up.
Surfers surf.
All equal, all concerned
w/ lunch, w/ bowel movements,
cheap gas, beer prices.
everybody in church
hoping to come out, at least,
The tide
doesn’t care.


Call from our house-sitter: he came home
to find our bathroom remodeling crew
on the couch w/ the big screen going,
watching Polish TV on the satellite.
We coulnd’t stop laughing.
There is something so
about that!



Eric & I take Chayo on a beach walk of epic
sand-crab, pelican-chasing, body-surfing scope
for a mile down to the pier and a mile back.
Feeling smug because Cindy and Megan are doing laundry.
& because Meg is sunburned bright plastic red.

Coquinas? Coquilles?
Chayo calls them “Cocaines.”
“Hey Dad!” she shouts over and over.
“You want some
Passersby glance our way
w/ a certain curiosity.

C & M call.
“Guess who we just met.”
“John McCain!”
we shout.

There they were, washing out the skivvies, and
McCain ambles by and says, “Hey,
how ya doin’?” on his way
to the elevator.

We beat it back to the resort to get in on
presidential politics—hummingbirds everywhere
in the red blossoms. Secret Service agents
are suddenly everywhere, too—even the “Mexican gardener”
has a wire going to his ear. The “handyman” in coveralls
has a wire in his ear and talks
into his jumpsuit. SPYWORLD!

They surround a swarthy fellow at the pool. One agent in a blue blazer
holds up a cell phone and snaps a picture of the sunbather.
“Say cheese,” he says. Then they roust the guy.
His blonde cutie sidekick stands there as if entreating the heavens
to give her some explanation. Spy-bots are all over the pool enclosure.
the dark-skinned dude busts loose and runs away!
Secret Service agents scurry after him—running in neat
straight lines.
Holy moly!
It’some kind of terrorist event right next to the deep end!


McCain’s in room 331.
We’re in 254.
Cinderella wants to go over there
and give him my books.


CNN & MSNBC pool reporters
Slump around looking miserable & dragging bags.
Black SUVs line up.
Tourists are going, “Who’s that?
Is that somebody?”
We know,
but we won’t tell.
It’s a matter of National Security!



We send the kids off to ride rented bikes
& attend the Book Festival cocktail party.
All kinds of nice people corner me & say all kinds
of awesomely nice & generous things about me & my
books, & none of them seem to care one bit
about McCain, but I can’t shake the sense
that real history is here with us now & it isn’t

I am all AW SHUCKS when so many people tell me Hummingbird
is on their list of top 5 all-time favorite books, or top 10
or top 20, unless it’s a guy w/ a beer who says forget that
healer bidness—that Devil’s H book is the top-5 of all time!
What do you say?
Sip white wine & hang on to yr wife, wishing
the wine were Coke Zero, & you say, “Uh, well, thanx,
but did you see John McCain today?”

We leave our wine glasses on a table
& sneak away.
Tired & sun-fried.
Ten minutes of quiet time in the room—
no chance to strip naked as monkeys and ricochet off the walls—
when the kids come tumbling in loudly, in full-
argument mode.
“We want room service!” the young billionaires announce.

I watch George Carlin testimonials.
I don’t imagine he’d have swell things to share w/ McCain.
Napa fires. Big Sure fires. We started this trip
skirting floods, then we escaped tornadoes, now
we’ll drive thru massive conflagrations.
It’s the Armageddon Tour of the American West.


Out on the balcony.
Perfect Pacific wind
coming thru palms, carrying the smell of salt. Roses,
bougainvillea, honeysuckle, geraniums.
Succulents, my favorites,
grow as big as Christmas turkeys.

I have no shame, man. Buy me a $750 room. Get me an itty bitty
stucco cottage over by the water? I’ll register Republican,
vote the party ticket straight across
& to heck with it.
Let’s retire.


Invasion of the Bird-Men!

On the walkways outside our room,
Secret Service guys
line up, one every 50 yards
all across the grounds.
They whistle to each other.
Whistles move down the line.
Then they start to walk, single-file
while a woman in a black dress
circles the pool looking for evil scuba divers.
Our kids risk imprisonment by rushing to the lobby
to spy on the spies.

Supper: fish.
Dirty Jobs on TV. Kids
doing the dirty job of spying on the candidate.
Cinderella on the laptop, doing the edits and cuts
Geoff, the Little, Brown editor-god has asked of my novel.
Talk about a dirty job.
I’m on the balcony.
Thinking: nothing.


Late night: room still smells weird.
Eric says someone hid a dead body under the bed.
Cindy & Megan, the mature members of the crew,
sleep. But E, Chayo & I have a screaming gasping
insomniac laughing fit.
It begins when I say something apparently demented,
and E quips,
“Man, that’s a real smile
& shake your head moment.”

Then he says,
“OK, Dude—just promise me
you won’t get up and axe-murder us
in our sleep!”

Just when we pipe down, Chayo announces:
“I’m gonna call Senator McCain and say,
‘Mr. McCain, can you smell the poo?’”


Tuesday June 24

Cinderella and I, out early while the kids sleep in.
We take our morning constitutional for a couple of miles
along the sea.

On the sand, beside and below the pier,
an eloquent bit of—art? Protest? Scamming?
Faith? I don’t know what it was.

Homeless people had set up a sleeping bag, open, like a
table cloth. Red plaid part facing up. At one end, a cardboard box.
Up-ended. On the box, a paper plate, plastic fork, spoon, knife. Paper cup
holding wildflowers & weeds. Set up as though dinner were about
to be served.

Oh, and in the middle of the plate was a stone.

A sign on the blanket/sleeping bag:



Sitting at the near end of the sleeping bag,
there was a plastic bucket
w/ another sign:


Three or four quarters
scattered in the sand around it.

As our London pals often say—Brilliant.

No sound but sea birds
and waves.


My talk tonight at the Book Fest:
home run. Sold out all their books.
Signed books for so long
I got kicked out of the room.
Totally owned it.

Even though a woman asked me
if I was Megan’s grand-father,
I go to bed spent
& high.

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