Done with Cyndi Lauper, I make my way over from Swan Stage and across the park to Rooster, where I have a date with… Jackson Browne.
The quarter mile trek is almost more than I can handle, never breaking from within an inch of another human body. And approaching Rooster, it is clear that a seat in the field, with a view, is not to be had. No, it’s back around the fence to claim yet another hillside spot amongst the trees – sans view, and with the other, less game, festival attendees.
Working my way down from the path above, my flip flops kick up much dust, before my eyes spy an open spot on the far side of a Eucalyptus, next to some dude in a grey slacks and a grey Members Only jacket, about my age, who is also, seemingly, alone.
“This spot taken?” I broach.
And a grimaced, weathered face looks up at me, as it sizes me up and down, before grumbling back,
“Long as you don’t ask me fer nuthin’!”
Ah! Another warm, kindred soul!
I nestle in to sit alongside my new friend, just as Jackson’s sweet crooning vocal and piano begins to silence the masses. Well, everyone, BUT my companion!
“I hate this shit! Why doesn’t he shut up! God damned crap is what it is!”
Hmm. Why the hell are you here, then? Jeez, dude.
I go to calm the beast.
“Not only will I not ask you for anything. But here, let me GIVE you something!”
I reach into my backpack and extract a Bud, and hand over it to my new friend.
And he is pleased.
And it seems that now he is even MORE empowered to bitch about how much he hates Jackson Browne!
“THAT’s what it is… CRAP!!”
Right on cue, two older gentlemen with thick, grey mustaches down sitting in lawn chairs below at the base of the hill, on our side of the chain link fence, suddenly turn to look up at us, askance. And they’re shooting looks that scream, “SSSHHHHHH!!!!!”
But my friend takes no notice.
And instead of zoning out to 70’s intellectual soft rock, as I had intended, I find myself audience to this odd companion.
“You should see what this park looks like at night… WITHOUT all these damned people here! 800,000 of ’em, I hear! It’s beautiful, ‘CEPT tha cops! Wakin’ you up at all ungodly hours in the morning! Damn po-lice!”
I try to brush off this insight and turn my attention to the music, to no avail.
“Well, Jackson Browne is good dishwashing music, at least! (Heh, heh.) California cool!”
But my companion just cracks open his beer, and moves onto other talk.
“Them damn Illuminati, too! Followin’ me ev’rywhere! Can’t EVER get away from ’em! ‘N don’ even know WHAT those bastards want from me! Damn!”
And I relate.
“Yeah! I’m sick of that shit, too! The Illuminati TOTALLY suck! I try to get away from ’em, too! But I never can! How do YOU handle it!?”
As my man just pouts and does not answer, I figure maybe a warm bowl could soothe his sour outlook.
I break out my pipe.
But before I can pack it and make the offer, he grabs his own backpack and extracts a large badly homemade ceramic bowl of his own. It’s sloppy looking, lumpy, and out of sorts, with faded earth tones of ochre and mustard yellow.
I admit, I have begun to find this conversation interesting enough, and my companion an interesting dude. But, I really DID want to at least HEAR Jackson Browne! Even if SEEING him through the trees is not an option!
Suddenly, two pretty girls weave their way down the hill kicking up dust. They skid our way, before asking permission to scoot past from behind, between us and our Eucalyptus.
And my compadre barks back his tepid permission, “Long as you don’t piss there! ‘N with it all rollin’ down tha hill! Ha!!”
The girls move on, wedging past, as if nothing was said. And the two grey-mustachioed older gentlemen at the bottom of the hill AGAIN look up at us, and scowl annoyed.
With a follow up, my new friend jerks, looking off into the distance towards some imaginary agents of the One World Order and shouts out something about “cracking some skulls.”
I hit my pipe.
And, my compadre hits his.
“Hey, that’s a nice pipe you have there,” I compliment.
“Made it myself,” he retorts.
And clear as day, I suddenly see a light bulb illuminate above dude’s head.
“Hey! You wanna buy one? I got more here in my bag. Made ’em myself! Sold one before fer eightee dollars!”
Intrigued Potential Client, “Well, let’s see what you got. But, eighty dollars is pretty steep. I’m just a cab driver.”
He starts diving into his backpack, again, and ripping through big rolls of bubble wrap, digging… for another pipe.
“I got all sortsa things here I fired myself in tha kiln. Where’s that pipe. Where is it! … Ah! HERE!!”
And he unrolls a big pile of bubble wrap to extract a rather large, ugly, forest green and mustard pipe that’s fashioned seated in some unusual ceramic base that looks like a cross-braced, fenced-in bull pen. And as he unwraps the mass, pieces of broken ceramic fall from the fence and into his lap.
He quickly turns his back to me, to shield me from view of the broken bits, and he throws the broken pieces away, off into the bushes, in a nonchalant attempt at obfuscation.
And now gushing with pride, the artist shows me his work, as he goes off into detailed explanations and descriptions of all of his other kiln-fired knick-knacks. And again, he nervously digs into his backpack, and unwraps one at a time, several more bowls and other indiscriminate works of brittle art.
And I assure this gratified soul that his talent is unique.
One bubble wrapped nightmare after another, I am front row to a one man art show, with each piece reminiscent of some ash tray a 1st grader made for dad, once upon a time in a 1960’s era elementary school art class.
“Well, I’m just a cab driver,” I again downplay. “I can’t afford an eighty dollar pipe. But, I’ll give you twenty bucks.”
“Twenty bucks??” he gushes more, and begins cackling, as he shifts around nervously on his butt. “Well, hell! SURE!!”
And he excitedly makes the exchange, after first carefully wrapping the bowl, and its strange fence-like base, into a large wad of bubble wrap – of course, after first chucking a few more broken off bits off into the bushes behind him.
Suddenly, with the edgy snark now supplanted by a deep pride and passion in his art, he digs into his bag, yet again, through various wads of bubble wrapped creations.
And he now pulls out some baseball-sized, green and orange, goopy, pyramid-shaped piece which looks more like a glossy, pointy-tipped petrified dog pile.
And with a glint in his eye, the artist begins to proudly hand this over to me, as a “gift.”
“HERE! Keep THIS in yer cab! Fer PROTECSHUN!!”
Ah! A Charm! For good luck! (I think to myself.)
But then, the artist retracts from the hand off and expounds, with a demonstration.
Like a giddy little boy, he holds the hardened sharp-tipped goop upside down in the palm of his hand and high above his head, with the pointy side south… and he starts in wih making violent stabbing motions downwards, as cackling and gleeful, with,
“LOOK!! It’s got some reeeel HEFT! REEEEEL GOOD fer PROTECSHUN!!”
JAB! JAB!! JAB!!!
And as the warm euphoria from the music, artist company, and marijuana breeze over my buzzing mind and body, I receive the token. And suddenly take note of all I see below…
I see families, and a few young children dressed as penguins. I see Hippies. And old, ex-hippies. And techies dressed as hippies, for the day. I see an old Chinese woman in a sun hat, with tongs and a hefty bag, collecting discarded aluminum cans from the trash piles which are overflowing their bins. I see all walks of life staring head down into their iPhones and Androids. And there’s a woman with a black pet duck. There are three-legged dogs. Tourists and locals. And I see old people, young people, babies, blacks, Hispanics… (Well, not too many Hispanics.) And, I see every other walk of life.
And I hear Jackson Browne.
And as he breaks into ‘The Pretender,’ my compadre and I only now make our introductions.
“They call me Alex,” as I extend my hand.
“My name is Bob.”
And I admit to myself, albeit quietly, that I never saw it coming. It just blended in with the masses, the Eucalyptus, the foliage and dust: this Love of art.
Photo by Alex SacK