Thursday, August 15, 2013

CRAZY ARMS




Welcome to my new blog! The story you are about to read is from "Escape From Houdini Mountain", a memoir collection published by Manic D Press. 
My latest book, "Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage And On The Road" will be published this coming September, 2013 by Punk Hostage Press.




CRAZY ARMS

We started hanging out way before he’d ever considered a career as a rock musician, long before he became a cult star.  At the time, the early ‘80s, he was just a fun scenester, and I was like a punk version of Holly Golightly, with a few jobs that added to my Ultimate Hollywood Party Girl cachet.  I was not only booking the Cathay De Grande, the hippest club in town, I was writing LA De Dah, the rock gossip column in the “alternative” newspaper, the L.A. Weekly.  The icing on the cake was that I was also leader and singer of The Screaming Sirens.

The Screaming Sirens  were known for being completely out of control, especially during out shows.  Our existence was a surreal pastiche of malfunctioning musical equipment, broken glass, and home-wrecking, love-‘em-and-leave-‘em affairs.  People were scared of us, but they always wanted us at their gigs and parties to liven things up.  Don Bolles, the drummer for the legendary Germs, had summed up our infamous reputation by dubbing us The Semen Siphons.

One day I was sitting in my basement office at Cathay De Grande, and this guy shows up with a bag of tacos from Dos Burritos, the one on the Boulevard, near the Frolic Room.  He had an idea for a club, and he took a seat on the corner of my desk and started telling me about it—kind of like a glorified hangover party, the club would take place in the early afternoon on Sundays, serve cheap drinks, and feature diverse bookings.  It sounded great, and I couldn’t help but notice how funny and charming he was.  I guess I’d missed out on this fact before because he wasn’t exactly what you’d call good-looking.  At all.  He looked like he’d been, as the old song goes, “whupped with an ugly stick.”  He had a shapeless Brillo pad mop of dirty blonde, hair, his legs were a bit short for his torso, and he was missing most of a finger.  He wore thick Buddy Holly glasses and was blind as a bat without them.  Please note that this was a least a full decade before Nerd Chic took the world of Alternative Rock by storm.  Actually, the term “Alternative Rock” hadn’t even been coined yet.  Not only that, his teeth were crooked and he had acne.

Oh, and I was married, so it wasn’t exactly like I was looking for anyone whether they were cute or not.  He was fine company and had an instant, engaging familiarity with me, so we spend the rest of the afternoon comparing musical tastes, talking about the local scene, and laughing.

For the next couple of days, he’s show up and the same thing would happen.  That Friday, he took me to his favorite bar, just off the Boulevard on Highland, The Powerhouse.  We drank whiskey and beer and he played “Love On The Rocks” by Neil Diamond and “Crazy Arms” by Ray Price a number of times in a row on the jukebox.  He confided to me about how his relationship with his wife was falling apart, so I confided in him that my relationship with my husband was in the same state, except for the fact that my husband was also beating me up on a regular basis.  Domestic abuse wasn’t taken seriously by the cops (or anyone else, if it was even discussed) back then—my roomie Iris and I were regularly getting punched out or having our house trashed by our respective mates, but of course, due to the massive quantities of drugs and alcohol we were all ingesting, this seemed completely normal.  Nevertheless, I was sad a lot of the time, because in moments of lucidity, or perhaps I should say sobriety, I had a creeping suspicion that life—or at least the married life I was leading, wasn’t nearly all it could or should be.  But this one, he made me laugh.

That night at the infamous after-hours club  The Zero, my drummer Boom Boom, a steely-eyed filly with a tri-colored Mohawk, pulled me into the men’s room to question me about him.

“Yer not fuckin’ him are ya?” she hissed in her heavily nasal Cincinnati trailer trash voice.

 Not only was she the best female drummer on the planet, I always loved to listen to her talk because she sounded like a genuine honky-tonk angel.

“You’ve gotta be insane to even think that!”  I sneered, rolling my eyes as I wrenched out of her buff arms.

Practically on cue, I was making out with him in a broom closet… and loving it!  It didn’t seem to matter what he looked like, and it wasn’t just because there was no light in there.

The next day at band rehearsal, Boom Boom fixed me with a narrow-eyed gaze,  and said sternly,

 “If yer kissin’ him, yer gonna fuck him.”

Her arms were crossed and she looked pretty pissed.  I was perturbed because we usually championed each other in our respective acts of sin and degradation.  Boom Boom gave my beau a nickname that referred to his getting 86’d out of more places than we did.  And  that was no easy feat—I was regularly thrown out of Cathay De Grande, and I booked the fucking place! 

Then, Boom Boom began actually chaperoning our dates by sleeping over at his place, all three of us on the bed.  I was always in the middle, but she had to be there, to keep an eye on us fooling around.

“Quit yer moanin',’” she’d say.  “I wanna get some sleep!”

 See, even though Boom Boom was the kind of girl who’d change her underwear in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard in broad daylight, the kind of girl who’d smash beer bottlers inside clubs and give blow jobs in parking lots, she didn’t want me sleeping with him in particular because she thought if word got around, the general physical quality of our foxy groupies and conquests would go down.  Like I said, he wasn’t what you’d call good-looking.  Much to Boom Boom’s chagrin, the inevitable occurred.

I can’t remember when, exactly, the first time was, but I think it happened about six-thirty a.m. when, after a three-hour long physical brawl with my husband, I called my boyfriend.  He came to my rescue in a taxi, picked me up and brought me to his place at La Leyenda, a grand though crumbling old ‘20s starlet residence. We watched The Little Rascals while eating Animal Crackers and milk. I bawled my eyes out, and then we had sex. After that, there was no looking back, we were having a full-on affair.

Daily, he’d proclaim his love for me, and expect me to do the same.  Ray Price would be playing over and over his stereo, he’d pin me to the bed and holler, “Say it, Gehman, SAY IT!”

  “Say what?” I’d go, all faux-na├»ve.

“You know what,” he’d answer, and I’d torture him:

“Oh, you mean the thing I say to my cat six thousand times a day without even thinking about it?”
           
“YEAH! JUST SAY IT!”

I never said it, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t feeling it, or at least a reasonable facsimile.  I was just too shell-shocked.

We were constantly together.  Hollywood Boulevard became our oyster, and because neither of us had a car, we’d walk day and night through all the alleys, yards, shortcuts, and parking lots, exploring everything. He’d get armloads of art books, and bring them to Book City for cash, then we’d get burritos and go drinking at The Powerhouse because nobody knew us there, it was only old men.

 Even though both marriages were basically over and we were still trying to keep our relationship a secret, word was getting out.  I’d tell my husband the classic philandering line “I’m going to get cigarettes,” and stay gone for four hours.  Usually, my husband was too wasted on pot to notice the time elapsed, but after a while, even he started getting suspicious.  My boyfriend’s wife accused him of having an affair with me, and when he denied it, she produced a pay stub of my husband’s from Flip, the trendy Melrose boutique where he worked, which she’d found under the bed.  She was certain this was proof we were seeing each other, but my quick-thinking lover told her we’d been doing laundry together…which still doesn’t explain what I was doing in their bedroom.  As they say, the spouse is always the last to know.

When he’d run out of art books to sell to keep us fed and drunk, he’d take the keys to the illegal after-hours club he cleaned, and we’d rob the jukebox for change and comb the floor for drug bindles. Once, we went there during the week when it was closed, and removed a painting of artist Bob Zoell’s from the wall, put in on the floor, then had sex on top of it.  If memory serves me correctly, I think it was because I adored that work, which was a huge oil cartoon of Flower, the skunk from Disney’s Bambi, with the words “What Stinks?” painted beneath.  That was the night I noticed the stone in my wedding ring had cracked.

There was a lot of good speed going around Hollywood, and when we couldn’t find it carelessly dropped on the floors of clubs, we’d go in on it with friends, guys from No Mag and Fear and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.  All of us were tweaking constantly. By this time, his wife had moved out of the apartment and my husband and I had quit fighting, we just basically ignored each other.  I’d be at my boyfriend’s with the usual crew, up for three days in a row speeding our brains out.  After a certain point, I don’t think anybody hanging out in that apartment ever slept.

Meanwhile, this  local band the Joneses had started squatting in the abandoned Montecito Hotel on Franklin, just around the corner from La Leyenda.  There had been a night-time security guard there, but after The Joneses partied him down, he simply looked the other way, so they’d gone to the former front desk, gotten all the keys, and mix’n’matched the furniture to the coolest rooms, making a private multi-storied playhouse.

 Somebody discovered that you could see The Montecito from the La Leyenda apartment’s windows and vice-versa, and that both buildings were visible from the Boulevard.  A system was worked out so that whoever had beer or crank would hang a blanket out the window, so that everybody who was in the know would be able to figure out where the party was even if they just happened to be strolling down Hollywood Boulevard.

After my husband  moved out, on the rare nights I’d stay at my own house Disgraceland, my boyfriend would climb through my ground floor window in the middle of the night and crawl bed with me.  Hollywood was still safe enough back then to keep your windows unlocked at night.  Near the end of the summer, I stared trying to “be good” and “get my life together” and even though I wasn’t tweaking and paying attention to who had what blanket on display, we still hung out.

By the beginning of autumn, he began to lose interest... I guess because I would never “say it.”  Though we drifted apart romantically, we remained pals.  He found another beautiful girl at the Weekly to fall in love with, and she slept with him while simultaneously sleeping with her ex who was, at that time anyway, a new fling of mine.

It’s funny, I haven’t spoken to my first husband in years,  but even now,  if I’m ever at a dive bar, I’ll scan the jukebox for Ray Price doing “Crazy Arms.”  It’s only once in a great while I bump into that old boyfriend, but it’s always nice to see him.  From what I know about my own life and what I hear through the grapevine about his, we’ve both managed to somehow survive the never-ending romantic chaos. Some things never change.

A few years ago, I ran into Bob Zoell at a gallery opening, and in a moment of wanting to make amends, guiltily confessed the twenty-plus year old story about his “What Stinks?” painting.

 Far from being outraged or disgusted at our carnal trespassing, he told me he was glad, honored even, that one of his works could move viewers so profoundly.

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