Mark Mallman tour diary, Vol. 10: The sea! The sea!
The game is won on the field. Some bits of advice are impossible to follow to fruition. "The game is won on the field, Mallman." This is the kind of hodge-podge rhetoric that makes so much sense, you end up feeling like shit about yourself because you can never live up to it. Life is not won. If anything, death wins.
I first heard the saying when I was editing sports at the TV station nine years earlier. Mr. B came into my office. "Mark, I'm having troubles. I want to meet women, you seem to do well for yourself. Can you help me? I'm lonely." He was a stout man, and the stars were not kind to him. "I can't help you with loneliness, Mr B.," I said, and just that minute hit play on my tape machine. It was a sound byte from then Green Bay Packers quarterback, Brett Favre. "Well, you know, the game is won on the field," he said. I stopped the deck, turned my chair towards Mr. B, and just looked at him. "I guess Brett is telling you to start going to some nightclubs." But I couldn't help him with the loneliness.
I hadn't truly been alone, ever. Until now. Years of rock tours strung together into a ball of rubber bands. Dense. Coiled. I kept spacing that this might be a one way trip instead. My cousin, who is not actually my cousin, agreed to roll from Milwaukee to L.A. I met her eight years ago on account of her last name. "Hey, I have a cousin who is not actually my cousin, are you related?" And she said, "Yes, he is my cousin." So, when I mentioned to my friends we'd be stopping in Vegas, nobody asked if we had a thing, cause we're cousins -- but not actually. Either way, we didn't have a thing, which is why I asked her.
We split south through Des Moines for dinner. Then to Kansas City, and stayed up to the untold hour of sunrise drinking gas station boxed wine. I put a lampshade on my head. She deleted the pictures. Even though this wasn't a rock tour, I didn't know any other way to behave. I took to the highway without even a map, where late checkouts and wicked hangovers are commonplace. We put in a good 12 hours through Oklahoma rest areas and Texas truck stop buffets. Certain Econolodges are thumping on Saturday nights in Amarillo. I kept one eye out the window on the van. I quoted Laurence Olivier, "Is it safe? Is it safe?" My non-cousin insisted, "It's safe. It's safe." But it, and all the contents within, was everything I owned in the world. "Nothing is safe." I said under my breath. She rolled her eyes and read a New Yorker, I channel surfed. "What? It's true. We are an awful, malformed evolution. A mutation. Ooh, dirty cartoons!" She shut out the light.
Sunday, we stopped in Albuquerque for lunch with Little Bobby, a musician and Trekkie who speaks to his dogs in Klingon. For 10 years I'd shared New Mexico stages with Bobby's reckless, acid-induced bands. He has a studio in his living room. I gave a monologue about time travel. "We walked through the time door but it was to no avail. No, this time travel machine was calibrated precisely parallel to the same trajectory of time we were already on. It wasn't science fiction, it was science real." Bobby raised his eyebrows in disappointment. "It's not weird enough, Mallman." Was I losing my creative edge? On the way out, I passed a poster of my own face from 2005. It felt like the real me was dead forever years ago, and I was now the clone who killed him looking back.
The desert was a milestone of stones, and we didn't even need the air conditioning we didn't even have. At 8 p.m. I checked into the Luxor, Las Vegas. Snickering, "Two queens." Did I mean the beds, or us? We went downtown for steaks. Under the neon awning of Fremont street, a hair metal band was shredding "Round and Round" by RATT. Women in bikinis danced outside on bars and tables. The gin was overpriced, but the night was worth at least 13 dollars. A man dressed like a supermodel from a Robert Palmer video was half bent over near a garbage can. We decided to stay an extra day. I'd said before that rock and roll had taken me everywhere. But on the way to everywhere, I'd stopped in Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Times Square, Beale Street, Bourbon Street, and so on. No rock musician has the balls to be a trucker, no matter how bad ass they look in a CAT hat. Every rock band is a tourist. My non-cousin and I drank blueberry somethings in the hotel and lost all our nickels. I won't go into greater detail; just recount your own vacation and put me in there as well.
My non-cousin drove all Tuesday, I ate fried zucchini and read through scripts. We penetrated the Orange County line in the dark. Mr. B handed me the keys to the Santa Monica studio. My one-key life wasn't even a week long. We loaded into the large concrete loft, and I dropped the non-cousin at an airport Holiday Inn. "Good luck out here." Hug, but no kiss -- just shrinks away in the rear view mirror. I would spend my first night on a folding couch alone. And the next night. And the next night. Each day was a deeper solitude. And now I had windows, unlike the church basement. Already there was much work to be done. The studio needed to be set up with two composing stations because I would be working cross-platform. I blinked, and the sun was down. I scribbled "make it a point to catch the sunset."
Somewhere in the studio, a fire alarm chirped every seven minutes: "need batteries." I showered, then drove to Grauman's Chinese Theatre. W.W. was working on the latest Ryan Gosling/Rubin Fleischer flick, "Gangster Squad" there. The scene was a bunch of mobsters shooting fantastic blanks at extras. Highland and Orange were blocked off with caution tape. A crowd of women in painted-on dresses drooled for a far away glimpse of the heartthrob, Gosling. We were told to cover our ears. Kaplow, kaplam, kerplunk. The crew broke for lunch. W.W. and I went to the roof of the theater where some lights were rigged. He wanted to get some overhead shots of the set. I was standing on the most famous movie theater in the world with my fantastic friend of 20 years. Music had once again taken me to Los Angeles, but friendship gave it purpose. Woody Harrelson was visiting the set seven stories down, and Hollywood went on as planned. Drunk tourists swayed like palm trees at a bus top. A homeless caveman screamed "What's anybody's name!?" through the window of a pizza shop. Blocks away, the passenger door of a parked car flew open and an inflatable sex doll popped out. I passed it on my walk back to the van. A couple made out under the streetlamp. It was 1 a.m. "Should I go to a bar? Maybe I could fall in love for a couple hours?" I drove through Jack in the Box and ordered a breakfast burrito instead. I-10 East felt more like a schizophrenic synchronized swimming event than a freeway. I kept thinking of zombie movies. Possibly the only sober car in a 500 foot radius, it wasn't a virus at all the started the zombie apocalypse, it was flavored vodkas. Cake eaters will eat anything, but brain eaters are picky. Santa Monica would confuse them. Zombies. California drunk drivers aren't discreet.
When I pulled into the parking garage, a Siamese street cat was sleeping in a fat ball on the convertible top of a 2011 Porsche. The van was so very out of place amidst the luxury sedans of 17th and Broadway. He pranced out through a gate, and I thought "You and me cat, we're both pulling off this huge scam." All night, the fire alarm needed batteries. If I sleep through the fire, blame it on earplugs. "His body was burned beyond recognition, but once his earplugs melted out, he could hear the ambulance coming with the keen ear of a police dog."
Every morning I paged through a stack of mounting notes: "High string tremolo. Low buzz. Drone/Echo. Reverse?" I mixed cold pressed carrot juice and with Diet Mountain Dew. I ran the ocean to Venice Beach and turned around. Christmas music hummed from restaurant speakers fixed to palm trees. Along the shoreline past the Santa Monica pier, a man in a parking lot was training his dog to skateboard. It smelled like funnel cakes and the sea. To my right lapped the swollen tide. The sea! The sea! It was fucking holiness. But mostly, these days were music making. I massaged drum tracks behind frosted glass. The unringing phone had begun to ring again, but with new sensations. Each tone from the keyboard sounded more than just another note in a motif, but a reclaiming. Some days I spoke less than monks, and watched horror movies in my rolling chair. I'd come and go back from the co-op, making jokes to myself about the palm trees. I wanted say to someone on the street, "There's coconuts up there," pointing up. I remembered Miss R telling me, "Be as alone as you can be, until your hunger is replaced by calm. Then you are truly free. The only way to conquer loneliness is to be alone." People told me Miss R slept around, but at least I knew it was not because she was lonely.
One night, I had a meeting. Accountants have meetings in offices; rock musicians hold them in bars. On Sunset Boulevard I saw a man with purple hair and a woman in a three-piece suit. Parking attendants yelled in song waving orange swords toward the backs of office buildings. Tourists leered into the front doors of Hustler Hollywood as wet bums pushed shopping carts full of rain. I met M.G. and J.F. at the Rainbow Room. In a sleeveless skull vest and white sunglasses, I felt at home. We watched a speed metal band on the third floor as a medical supply salesman from Bakersfield asked if I was the singer of the Wombats. "No man, I'm just a dude, man." The room was drunk with eyeliner and guilty stockings. A woman was celebrating her birthday with an X-rated cake without a head. Her jeans zipped up the back. The bad speed metal vibrated an inner peace just above our red chakras. These days, I felt inner peace even filling the gas tank. I felt inner peace stuck in traffic. I felt inner peace buying chicken at Ralph's. What was it that felt so damn good? I hadn't had a doughnut in two weeks, so it wasn't that. It might very well be Ralph's grocery on Cloverfield, because they have an aisle for Scotch. We ended up in the Beverly Hills Hyatt Regency bar eating wasabi crackers, talking about how M.G. knows both Wayne Coyne and Wayne Newton. "Oh, I forgot to give you this." He handed me a picture of Wayne Newton autographed to me. "Thanks!" The speakers in the hotel lobby played the Nutcracker Suite. It was something out of "The Shining: Beverly Hills." I paid 18 dollars for 90 minutes of parking. Palm trees made Dr. Seuss silhouettes up and down Santa Monica Boulevard. I laughed to myself, "There's coconuts up there." When I pulled into the garage, that same cat rushed off the Porsche, just as it had the previous 21 nights. It stood in the plainly lit corner; the worst job of hiding I'd ever seen. I had a nightmare about a roller coaster flying off the tracks and everyone dying. I woke up thrilled. I hadn't lost my creative edge; my creativity was as edgy as ever.
W.W. and I met up in Venice and loaded his luggage in my van. Earlier in the week, he introduced me to six-time Academy Award winner Rick Baker. It was life changing. Rick gave us a two-hour private tour of his creature effects studio in Glendale. He showed us the masks he made for American Werewolf in London, a walking alien for M.I.B. 3 in his animatronics studio, and a plaster cast of James Spader's face. "James Spader is one of the best looking plaster casts ever," he said. Baker's been nominated for 11 Oscars. What I learned that day was that there were parts of me for years that I wasn't letting shine. I never started my career thinking, "Oh, the radio station will give me a trophy for being so weird one day." Though I wasn't disappointed when they did, I've always felt my ideas were valuable. Whether I hung from the ceiling, wore a pink gorilla costume, or performed non-stop for days at a time, it has not been some ploy for attention. It's always been simply an expression of how I see the world. Just because something is hilarious, doesn't mean it isn't valid or sincere. Rick Baker built an empire by following his own dark heart. The doorway to his personal studio is a secret wall. What touched me deepest about this visit, and the total of Hollywood, was I'd arrived at a place in America where pure imagination is rewarded, not mocked or pushed in a strange corner. W.W. was going back to Minnesota. Gangster Squad had wrapped and he was looking forward to sleeping in his own bed that night. "Hey, I know you got all this soundtrack stuff for the zombie thing keeping you busy. Just don't forget you gotta finish the album, Mark." "I will, but first the zombie thing. It will all work out somehow." "Here's a bottle of wine, I can't bring it on the plane." "Thanks, love ya." "See you at the New Year's show."
The 90-minute rush hour drive home from the airport was punched up by Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack to Poltergeist. Lightning was zipping across the horizon in clouds darker than the sea below. (The sea! The sea! I've longed for you so!) The needle scratched. She called. (She called! She called! I've longed for her like the Sea!) I won't say more. I put the car in the garage, and walked to a pet store to look around and clear my head. I like to call pet stores "The Free Zoo." What caught my attention this time at the free zoo were three little feeder mice, jumping and playing in their cage. These buddies would at some point in the near future be eaten by a snake. I thought to myself, "Whoever lives the longest must watch his best friends die. Of all the problems in the world." So I made a new mantra. At night, tucked in, I would line up all my problems. Then, I would think about getting eaten by a snake, and this would lessen the weight. It worked. For the first time in a while, my life was met with an achievable peace. While watching senior citizens of Wilshire Boulevard attempt the crosswalk toward IHOP down the street, I quite enjoyed my little break from the hipster apocalypse. Suddenly a sentence flashed in my head, something that would perhaps read nicely on a gravestone one day: "I never would have predicted this moment, yet it happened."
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