For the last 25 years I have happily rented and traveled to and from a ramshackle dwelling in Venice a block from the ocean. I am away most of the time directing some play somewhere else, and lately I have been back in the game in New York, so moments at the beach have become rare and precious.
But a few days ago I was told to my horror that my crazy landlady of lo these many eons has up and sold the rent-controlled place without warning, and the new owner wants to meet with me to discuss his “plans.” Given current market realities, I fear the worst. So, after decades of complaining about how a life in theater has prevented me from owning a proper “grownup” house where a distinguished middle-aged artiste might have lived in times gone by, I am now overwhelmed with a belated appreciation for the funky charms of my dearly beloved beach pad.
It’s a Chekhovian moment, anticipated loss mingling with the savor of the moment. I’m writing this “at home” in residence by the sea. On the top floor of my place the light pours in from windows everywhere on all sides.
When I am not here, I sorely miss that light. (Like Oswald in Ghosts, I wander around the world’s dark cities — New York, Chicago, even London — screaming “More light! More light!”) And I can hear the ocean. I miss that every day when I am away from it. If you have ever lived by the ocean you are bereft when you can’t hear it. In times past, pals would flock here for beach days and we would frolic in the unhealthy surf with our suits off and around our necks when Venice Beach was the gay mecca we called the “Speedo Lido.” These days I adore riding my ancient bicycle along the bike path, which winds up the coastline for miles. You can go all the way up past Santa Monica and you don’t need to be Lance Armstrong because it’s all flat. This is a major treat at the end of the day, at magic hour. Those wintertime sunsets are riots of crazy color! And all the beach characters crawl out from under their precarious shelters and all along the boardwalk they are playing their instruments and moving through their goofy dance routines, weathered faces raised to the sky.
I miss that ride every day at sunset no matter where I am. I also miss my crowded, squashed little farmer’s market just across the street, where I go every Friday morning and fill my house with flowers for under $10. (For years an insanely handsome flower seller named Thomas gave me outrageous discounts and flirted, while I dreamed he would some day just give up and fall in love with me. His booth is gone now but my house is still ablaze with flowers.)
When I am eating in restaurants — which is most of the time — I miss James Beach restaurant around the corner, where Dennis the bartender (who was in the first play I ever directed in Los Angeles) makes the best drinks in the world, and where the proprietor James Evans has the uncanny knack of making you feel as if you were his only guest. I miss Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which is already disappearing into the morass of upscale consumerism, but where the Roosterfish, defiant survivor of all the shuttered gay bars at the beach, still maintains a more or less constant happy hour where you can actually shoot the breeze and imbibe at almost any time of day. The last of the neighborhood hangouts, still hanging on.
While I’m on this mode, lemme go out on a mild limb and confess to missing another unique late-night attraction in my neighborhood. The gay bathhouse has long assuaged the restless yearnings of us bachelors of a certain stripe. But there is one on Venice Boulevard, which is utterly unique — small, battered, resolutely unglamorous and absurdly diverse in its clientele, with the unlikely name of Roman Holiday. I never have any idea why the people who are there have turned up there, nor seemingly do the guys themselves. Some bewildered foreigners indicate that proximity to the airport is a factor. Others are just the flotsam and jetsam of gay life that collide in these joints. Young, old, often unsightly — then just when you least expect it, some radiant, grateful hunk. I have to say, I love this place. I have never encountered another like it. It’s completely contrary to the surface glamour cliché of L.A. gay life, yet possible only here where contradictions to that cliché are so striking.
Soon I will hear if I have to abandon my oceanside retreat.
Maybe it’s time.
I’m here now, but already I miss it.