By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
No one is at the door, in a uniform or in line. The interior is strictly red checks and paneled walls. There's no band, but there is an old upright piano, an enormous rack of antlers, a collection of dusty paintings, including one of John Wayne, "the patron saint," says Waits, "of all Italian restaurants." And in wall-mounted glass cases, dozens of decanters of varying shapes and sizes -- nary an Elvis, however.
Me: Do you feel isolated out here?
Tom: I guess I used to, but I don't really anymore. I think what happens is that when people move to the sticks, they still want all their products and services, and they get out here and then gradually the place they thought was bucolic and serene starts looking like all the places that they left, because they brought with them all the things that made the place they used to live in look so . . . crappy. And they have to keep moving further away, but they're really bringing it all with them.
When I went back to Los Angeles after having not been there for a while, I was surprised at how many words you see when you're driving. It's shocking. Every square inch of space that you can see from your windshield there are words. Hundreds and hundreds of words. In places you never would imagine. And I found myself unable to drive safely. Even after seven years of traffic school, I was having problems with focus and attention. I was going to lose my diploma.
There was an earthquake in 1812 in the Midwest that changed the direction of the Mississippi River. Did you know that? Church bells rang as far away as Philadelphia.
Me: From the earthquake?
Tom: I don't mean it was Sunday.
Me: Is this how you spend your time?
Tom: I can't finish a book, you know, but I snack on information. The origin of pumpernickel bread, for example. Na-poleon's horse ate the best bread. All the soldiers were livid. What they really wanted was to eat as well as Napoleon's horse ate. And he ate pumpernickel. His horse's name was Nikolai. Nikolai . . . pumpernickel.
Me: I think of that as a German word, and yet it's apparently from the French.
Tom: And yet. And yet. It's just one of those things that . . . gives you a reason to live.
Me: Keeps you mystified.
Tom: Like this place. [Portentously:] Notice the plastic pitcher. The plastic tumbler. It was at one time glass. You know how the nicer restaurants have a piece of glass? They finally just said . . .
Me: Flew off the table too many times.
Tom: The overhead was just amazing.
[A waiter approaches.]
Waiter [noticing the tape recorder]: You're not going to tape me, are you?
Tom: No. We're going to listen to music. But only we can hear it. We're dogs.
Waiter: Well, crank it up.
Tom: It is cranked up. What do you mean, crank it up?
[A puzzled pause. After which Waits orders lasagna.]
Waiter: And some soup?
Tom: I'll have some soup. In preparation for my lasagna.
[The waiter withdraws.]
Me: You're really putting on the feedbag this evening.
Tom: It's a matter of being polite. If you don't eat, they'll get you later. "Well, why'd you come in here? To laugh at us? To laugh at our decanters? Our crooked floor?"
Me: When you were living in Hollywood 20 years ago, did you ever imagine you'd wind up a country squire?
Tom: Then, no. Now, neither. You do get addicted to noise living in the city. There's a great deal you have to recover from if you leave. When I first came out to a small town, there's a guy with a dustpan and a whiskbroom, a policeman, in the middle of the street, sweeping up glass. And then I ordered a coffee in a little café -- the waitress says [sweetly], "Hi, how are you?" "I don't think that's any of your business, how I am. I'm just drinking my coffee." Took me a while.
Me: You had the shell on. The protective coating.
Tom: It's a little drop of Retsin. That outer candy shell that seals in the freshness.
Me: Do you feel countrified yet?
Tom: I don't know. I hope I'm becoming more eccentric. More room, you know. More room in the brain.
Me: Did you feel limited by Hollywood or New York?
Tom: Well, gee, after a while, it just gets . . . change is good. I can go there if I want. They didn't get rid of it.
Me: No, they did. It's gone.
Tom: I was afraid that might happen if I left. But I have film; I have a lot of it on film . . . Western Avenue, you know, is the longest street in the world. I hear it runs down to Ensenada.
Me: Tierra del Fuego.
Tom: La Paz. You get on Western and you just keep driving and it's pretty unbelievable. A lot of hair-care places. I think there's probably more hair-care places on Western than there are in Hollywood. You think of Hollywood as obsessed with its hair, but folks who live way out on Western are just as interested in hair care and hair-care products.