Selling Day for Night

In 1975 a recently divorced man who, coincidentally or not, also had given up wearing socks, passed the following witticism to his two offspring: “They say that if you took the United States, put it up on one end and shook it really, really hard... everything loose would fall into Los Angeles.” He chuckled, we didn’t. Dad was “loose” — he’d moved to L.A., and judging by his lack of socks, he’d clearly fallen.

Years later, having “fallen” myself, I know there’s no better way to witness the loose-stuff mosaic the city provides (free of charge) than by taking a late-night drive down Hollywood Boulevard. If nothing else, it’s a way to appreciating the essence of the joke I’d heard in lieu of an apology so long ago.

I start around midnight, commencing at La Brea, and head east toward the street’s eventual termination at Sunset. The action begins promptly on the right as a too-skinny goth girl hunches in mid-puke-slouch — a vinyl-clad comrade holds hair out of harm’s way while Tom Cruise’s star gets the putrid acid bath it deserves. I imagine they hail from one of the Dales (Glendale? Lawndale? Irwindale?). Nothing like a trip to Hollywood to let it all hang out, literally, on the boulevard, hey?

The abandoned Galaxy Multiplex glows like a fogged-in ghost ship to the north. The empty marquee, barely lit, is fittingly dim for a relic from the pre-mega-mall ’90s. I extend the once-despised structure the same kind of respect one extends other once-irksome icons, like the Coreys (Feldman and Haim) — a grudging acknowledgment of untold degradations sustained in a ruthlessly metamorphic metropolis.

A carnival train of souvenir shops erupts across the street, bolstering my mood with thunderous handles like: Winner Gifts, Best Souvenir, Fashion Hollywood or Fame Market. The best retail therapy around — if you believe their names, that is. Katie Holmes wall-clock, anyone?

Boulevard newcomers American Apparel and Hooters taunt the aging Hamburger Hamlet like precocious rich kids with too-shiny shoes. Across the street, Grauman’s Chinese, like an enormous faux-Asian Roach Motel, lures hordes of appliqué- and Abercrombie-clad tourists who ogle celebrity-appendage impressions like inner-city kids at their first petting zoo.

Crossing Highland, I pass under the ominous green Scientology sign that dominates an old red-brick apartment building. Sect mothers suffering post-partum depression could well be locked up here — wolfing down vitamins whilst waiting for L. Ron to whisk them far away in the company mother-ship.

Farther on, air moistens as a busboy hoses down the star-pocked sidewalk in front of Musso & Frank. The scent of wet terra cotta jogs my memory and I briefly reminisce about my belligerent ex, who’d nearly run me over near Orson Welles’ star on a rainy night five years ago. Ah, sweet memories — this town’s so full of it... I mean, them.

At Frederick’s of Hollywood, LAPD officers harass a carload of non-Caucasians while a wild-eyed man in pink slippers walks haughtily by — they are clearly fortunate, judging by his hostile glare, to be bothering someone else this night.

Another block east, a cowboy with a Stars and Stripes ascot gives a blond a haircut in front of the Cahuenga International Newsstand. He snips her tresses amongst stacks of meaty Vogue magazines and British tabloids. Half a block later, hipsters swarm in front of Star Shoes; watching them doing not much at all but doing it so damn sexily, I yearn for younger days. Fifty feet later a Lycra-clad woman nibbles on a white paper napkin at a bus bench — all possessions squared away in a Sunkist box atop a babyless stroller. She’s got padded headphones on — I wonder what she listens to as I pass her.

At Hollywood and Vine, sanitation workers blast pink terrazzo stars dedicated to W.C. Fields and Desi Arnaz — the water cannon erases the street’s grime just like the drive erases a day’s clutter from my head. As the night cools, it occurs to me that minutes seem to pass much more sanely here than they do in, say, Beverly Hills or Echo Park at noon.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve fallen not far from the proverbial tree. If my father’s story — by some incredible Hollywood-ending chance — is true, and there is someone shaking the country, I guess I’d tell that whoever-it-is to keep on shakin’. It’s just starting to get good down here in the City of Angels.

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