March 02, 2008

March 2008, Vol. 7, Issue 3

Welcome back to the third annual L.A. issue featuring some of your favorite L.A. writers sharing stories about Los Angeles.

1. Next to Mama Cass by Paul McGuire
Dulce was an attractive peppy girl from San Diego. She diligently saved up for grad school and her first job funded her future. Her second job funded her addiction to weed, whiskey, and cocaine. She loved all three when her shift ended at midnight... More

2. The Drug Store by Change100
I walked down a cement pathway into the shade of unkempt trees and saw a cloudy glass door that led into a deserted elevator lobby. It was open. Someone was here. The lobby walls were covered in cheap faux-oak paneling and the floors in decades-old linoleum. Next to the elevator doors hung a building directory. And there it was. Dr. Jerry Greenblatt, M.D. Fourth floor. I gingerly stepped into the sketchiest elevator in Los Angeles and prayed it wouldn't drop me to the basement... More

3. Today's Special By Joe Speaker
Brad's last night on Planet Los Angeles started at El Caballo, clutching his beer like a dog eared paperback. Starched white shirt glowing red in the bloody lights of the place, same color as the naugahyde booths behind him jammed against the textured and cracked yellow walls... More

4. Smoking Is Cool by Dan Keston
As a man, I truly believe that if you feel comfortable walking down the street with a Coors Light in your hand then you probably feel comfortable wearing your fraternity letters well past your 35th birthday. I also believe, contrarily, that walking down the street with a cigarette in your hand makes you look suave, debonair, independent and just aloof enough to be mysterious... More

5. California: The Garden of Eden by Johnny Hughes
It seemed Los Angeles was in this artificial super-Technicolor, compared to West Texas. The first thing I saw was a grade school class with black, white, and Asian children. I had never seen that, since our schools were segregated... More

6. My LA by Betty Underground
Accidents happening all around you on the freeway. The world's biggest spectator sport! Traffic is not because of the carnage in the road, it is from the rubberneckers trying to catch a glimpse of the blood and guts, only to be disappointed when it was a minor fender bender... More

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...

From the Editor's Laptop:

Welcome back to the special L.A. edition of Truckin' featuring several your favorite L.A. based writers. We have Change100, Joe Speaker, Dan Keston, and Betty Underground in this issue scribbling about the City of Angels, along with a short story from myself and a contribution from the legendary Johnny Hughes.

Please tell your friends and family about your favorite stories. It takes only a few seconds to pass along Truckin'. The writers certainly appreciate your support.

Also, feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you know anyone who is interested in being added to the mailing list.

Thanks again to everyone for wasting your precious time month after month with Truckin'. And many thanks to the writers who exposed their souls to the world and spilled blood to make art. And, they did it for free. Thanks for inspiring me and taking that leap of faith with me.

Be good,

"Sometimes you just have to pee in the sink." - Charles Bukowski

Next to Mama Cass

By Paul McGuire © 2008

Toe. That's what Rex called him in 2003.

"Because he's a fuckin' Toe-head. Damn skater kids from The Valley flocking to the hills. He's a total retard, too," lamented Rex.

Rex did not shy away from showing his disdain for Toe. The root of it all was Jupiter. She was one of my roommates in a house up on Lookout Mountain Avenue in Laurel Canyon. The house was not famous per se, except that it was located next to the house where Mama Cass used to live in the 1960s.

Rex had a crush on Jupiter, but alas, Toe was her boyfriend who moved in after he got evicted from his apartment in Studio City. That meant we had another freeloader in the house drinking up all my beer, or eating Dulce's fruit, or clogging up the toilet, or leaving a mess in the kitchen. Rex was already hoarding two runaways in the garage, so what was another person added to the mix? The house built for four had at least seven or eight people living in it at any given time.

Most of my housemates were twenty-something, with the exception of Rex and SK. They were the two oldest in the house. SK didn't say much and was rarely around. He supposedly worked as a camera man in the porn industry and kept odd hours. SK was a chubby balding guy in his early forties. He had lost his house in Sherman Oaks in a bitter divorce. He was exiled to shared housing with fucked up wannabe artists and other freaks living on the fringe of Hollywood.

"The SK stands for Serial Killer!" Jupiter explained to me on the night I moved into the house. His real name was Greg, and we never called him SK to his face, but we always referred to him as SK.

"SK is a total freakazoid!" said Jupiter. "He totally looks like a child molester. Those evil eyes? Come on! I catch him leering at me all the time. Creepy fuckin' tool if you ask me. Sick. Ugghhh. He makes me sick, it's so disgusting that he masturbates to me. I'm positive that he has a secret camera in the bathroom or shower or in my room. I mean, he's old enough to be my father. Ugghhhh... You know that he disappears for days at a time. I betcha that's when he does his killings. Like the Green River serial killer, he picks up tranny hookers on Santa Monica Blvd., and then slits their throats the dumps the bodies in a dumpster behind the Yukon Mining Company. We should call the fuckin' pigs and bust the sonofabitch."

"And what would you do when they showed up to talk to you and you had heroin, a bong, and god knows how many pills scattered around your dresser?" I said as I climbed up on my soap box.

SK was a world champion weirdo. Jupiter wasn't exaggerating. He was completely sketched out and he appeared as though he was on some sort of medication. Happy pills? Anti-depressants? Anti-psychotic meds? There was definitely something strange about SK. He emitted a dark and disturbing energy. He lacked of a soul and talking to him made your head spin because you could taste all the pain and feel all of the evil and hear all of the vileness sucking out all of the breathable air and you were instantly suffocated by a serious anxiety attack as you scampered off fearing your own life.

We lived with a psychopathic, serial-killing, child molester who worked in the porn biz. He was a ticking time bomb that could go off at any moment. However, he always paid his rent on time and was rarely home. Much to our dismay, he got to stay and we avoided him.

I always pictured myself in front of a frenzied mob of reporters saying things like, "He was a quiet guy. Kept to himself. I'm shocked that this happened."

Then my half-baked housemates would make up juicy fodder to feed the media machine.

"He listened to Tchaikovsky in the dark, totally nude wearing only a pair of rubber surgical gloves while he sniffed a pair of soiled panties."

"He had all these pictures of young Asian boys taped to his wall."

"Oh and did you know? He was a Republican. Voted for Reagan in 1980 he said. And again in 1984."

SK should have been institutionalized. Rex was no angel either. He was a severe pain in the ass and would steal the last dollar out of your pocket if given the chance. He had gotten kicked out of the house after failing to pay over four months of back rent. Instead of leaving the property outright, he holed up in the garage in the form of protest. There was a small sound-proofed room behind the washer and dryer in the garage. Laurel Canyon residents did creative things with their basements and garages. Some turned them into a practice space for musicians or constructed a grow room to cultivate marijuana. Many houses in the canyon did both.

When Rex was evicted, he sold his remaining possessions and used the money to buy a cache of drugs that both Keith Moon and Hunter Thomspon would have envied. He went deep into a wicked coke bender and locked himself in the garage for over a week. He was hallucinating and delusional and incessantly rambled to himself in the darkness of the basement where all the cockroaches scurried about.

Dulce tried to do laundry but Rex chased her out of the garage.

"He's turned into an animal," Dulce explained with a terrified look in her glazed eyes. "It's like Lord of the Flies down there. He's wearing cut off jean shorts and no shirt. He was sweating profusely as he muttered things about the corrupt judges in the government who have illegal written housing laws and how he's taking the owner of the house to court."

Rex sat around and snorted endless line after line of blow while watching an old black and white TV with horrible reception. He was lucky to get two channels up in the canyon. During Dodgers games, he shouted obscenities at the TV whenever the bullpen gave up any hits. In a juiced up rage, Rex viciously attacked the TV after Eric Karros grounded into his second double play of the afternoon. Rex ripped the TV out its socket and ran outside. He hurled the TV and it accidently slammed onto Toe's car.

Toe went apeshit when he found out that Rex cracked the front windshield. He took off his belt and twirled one end around his fist while the buckle dangled. He shoplifted the belt from the Gap (retail value $19.99), but that quickly transformed into a weapon. Toe chased Rex out of the garage and tackled him.

Jupiter stood in shock as her boyfriend whipped the shit out of Rex and knocked him unconscious. The two emo kids who lived next door in Mama Cass’ house were independent film makers. They grabbed a camera, rushed outside, and filmed the incident. One of them shouted directions at Toe.

"Whip his legs some more," the emo kid screamed. "Now back to the head. More blood splatter!"

I was at work and missed the entire incident, but I caught the highlights on video when I got home. Rex was rushed to the ER while Toe spent the weekend in jail. Jupiter did not have enough money for bail and asked to borrow some money. Dulce and I quickly turned her down. She got desperate and offered up a firesale of drugs. My mouth watered at Jupiter’s various pharmacopoeia.

"There's a $20 pile and a $40 pile," she said. "The $20 pile helps you tune out the world. A couple of Valium, four Vicodins, and three Percocets."

"And what's in the $40 pile?"

"Ritalin. That shit will get you fucking high. I only have two though. And then there's the Klonopin. That's a heavy anti-pyscho drug and will fuck your ass up. Like only take that if you're not gonna do anything for a while. Like, for at least five hours. No, maybe seven. Or eight? I took one and went to work and I was so faded and wasted that I almost got fired. They sent me home. That shit was heavy. Something fuckin' fierce. I had to take a Ritalin just to get back to normal, ya know?"

I scooped up both piles and gave her $50.

"What the fuck?" Jupiter screamed.

"Sorry. That's all I had on me. So, where did you get the anti-psychotic drugs?"

"Rex was supposed to be taking them, but he sold them to me. Gave me the bottle for like $20."

Rex was some sort of trust fund junkie. He got a small check every month and his family paid for all of his prescriptions. He would pick them up at the drug store but not take any of them. He sold what he could and used the profits to buy cocaine. When he was short on cash, usually towards the end of the month, he stole things like Dulce's books or CDs to feed his habit. Rex was always hustling to get high.

When Rex got out of the hospital, he met two street kids that were heavy tweakers. They could not have been more than 16 or 17 and said that they were from Fresno. The girl had angelic eyes and nice cheeks. She looked like she hadn't slept in days but there was some semblance of beauty underneath her baggy jeans and dirty tank top. I couldn't figure out why she was with a loser like Skate. Yeah, that was his street name. Skate. Pretty sad, eh? You could easily picture the guy... so stereotypical for a suburban wasteoid... scrawny fucker, very short, with lots of tattoos. He was white but thought he was black and dropped the n-word into conversation as many times as he could. Somehow, he managed to give Rex $100 to let him and his girl crash in the practice space for a week. What they didn't know was that Rex snorted all of their crystal meth.

With three addicts jonesin' in the garage, it was a matter of time before they raided the house and stole everything while we were at work. That made me hyper-Philip K. Dick-paranoid. Maybe it was all the Klonopin that clouded my judgment. It gave me intense buzz but made me think about weird things, like Rex and the tweaker kids were going pillage the house and take it over and make us live in the garage.

Our house in Laurel Canyon turned into a drug den in a very unglamorous way. It was just so matter of fact. Everyone in the house was using and abusing. Pills. Weed. Booze. Coke. Smack. Mushrooms. Ecstasy. Anything. Everything. We were all functioning addicts with service jobs. No wonder the service is so atrocious in L.A., it's because everyone is shitfaced wasted on something. Toe worked in a bar near UCLA that he actually showed up for once in a while. Jupiter worked at a Starbucks in West Hollywood and Dulce held two waitressing jobs.

Dulce was an attractive peppy girl from San Diego. She diligently saved up for grad school and her first job funded her future. Her second job funded her addiction to weed, whiskey, and cocaine. She loved all three when her shift ended at midnight. She'd get loaded with friends or come home and get fucked up with the rest of us and recant horror stories about her customers that day, like the couple from Brentwood that stiffed her or the father of three who grabbed her ass twice before the salad was served.

Jupiter and Toe smoked heroin four or five times a week, and sometimes before they went to work. I mean, a bong hit before breakfast was not that uncommon in our house. No one in Southern California is going to frown upon a little weed tokage before a cup of java. But chasing dragon before your Cheerios was some serious shit. That's a boisterous statement that screams, "Hello, I'm a fuckin junkie! Hope you have a great day."

They smoked H with their doors wide open and sometimes in the common areas. I had to be the voice of reason a couple of times and told them to hide their freak flag and keep the H on the down low. They were either completely stupid or had the biggest balls in the world. Rex was right about something... Toe was totally retarded.

A couple of times Dulce and I would steal drugs from Jupiter and Toe when they nodded out. We snuck into their room. Dulce went right for the coke, while I fed my voracious addiction to painkillers. Nothing in life compared to that warm punchy feeling that you got after you washed down a couple Vicodins with a cold beer. Heaven on earth. I called that the floating recipe. You don't move. You float. On smooth bubble of warmth, calmness, and no pain.

Dulce was a cooler and hipper version of Reese Witherspoon, like if the Tracy Flick character from Election did blow at work. I always had a fun time when we hung out, but sometimes she asked me to tag along with her on a drug deal for protection. I never liked that.

One night, she knocked on my door at 2 AM and asked me to take a ride with her. I was writing and didn't want to leave, but she practically begged me. She was too shitfaced to drive and needed a lift. She met a guy that could get her eight balls of blow for $120. She'd buy me one outright if I went with her. She was worried that she'd get jumped and raped because she got a bad vibe from the guy.

"Maybe because he's not trying to rape you, just trying to rip you off," I said. "For $120, he's probably selling you shit."

Sure enough, we met this guy in an alley behind an apartment complex on Yucca Avenue. He showed up forty minutes late and did the deal in less than a minute. That told me right away that Dulce was getting ripped off. But it was her money, not mine.

Just like clockwork, you will always drive past a cop car if you have cocaine in the car. Always. It's just one of those things that drug fiends have to deal with on a daily basis. It's like the drug gods are fucking with you and laughing their asses off somewhere in the lofty clouds and you're grappling with paranoid demons tormenting you about the cops nearby that know you're driving around a shitload of coke, even if it was cut a million times with baby powder and aspirin. Cops don't care. You have to find the courage to act normal and pretend that there's not an illegal substance in a deflated balloon at the bottom of Dulce's purse.

I drove slower than normal and clutched the steering wheel. My asshole clenched up and my posture got all rigid and stiff because I didn't want to get sent to prison and be cornholed every other hour for twenty-four months straight after I became some gangbanger's bitch.

Dulce got on my case to drive faster. She didn't care about the cops. She wanted to get home and get high.

"Fuck the racist pigs!!" she screamed. "Let's pick up the pace, McGrupp. And stop driving like such a fuckin' pussy!!"

Paul McGuire is a writer from New York City

The Drug Store

By change100 © 2008

I got a space in front of a health food store on Santa Monica Boulevard. Squinting against the winter sun, I foraged for change in the tray next to the gearshift and found barely enough to cover the meter's one hour limit. Surely I'd have to re-feed it to avoid a ticket, but nine times out of ten I didn't remember to. The clinic didn't open for ten minutes anyhow. There was a chance I could end up one of the first in line and be out by the time the last minutes ticked away on the meter.

Noon in West Hollywood brought out the lunchtime crowd. Impossibly perfect looking gay men gathered in the sidewalk cafes and coffee shops. A few jogged along the Boulevard, stepping in time with the music blasting through their ear buds. I passed a bookstore, a Russian deli, and a nail salon that I recognized from once living in this neighborhood. But still I couldn't picture the building I was heading to, though it's number and street placed it on a corner I've driven past hundreds of times. It had to be next to the motel. Or maybe the drugstore. I turned up La Cienega and power-walked it's steep incline as I looked for the number on the card.

At first, I walked straight past it. The weeds in front of the tan and white building were so overgrown I just assumed it was closed. But it matched the number, so it at least warranted exploration, even though it looked like some sort of abandoned apartment house straight out of post-war Eastern Europe. I walked down a cement pathway into the shade of unkempt trees and saw a cloudy glass door that led into a deserted elevator lobby. It was open. Someone was here. The lobby walls were covered in cheap faux-oak paneling and the floors in decades-old linoleum. Next to the elevator doors hung a building directory. And there it was. Dr. Jerry Greenblatt, M.D. Fourth floor. I gingerly stepped into the sketchiest elevator in Los Angeles and prayed it wouldn't drop me to the basement.

The smell of smoke hit me as the doors opened on the fourth floor, stale and lingering in the airless hallway. A sign that read "No Smoking or Your Referral Will Be Revoked!”" hung in protest on the door to the restroom. There were no other signs of life or business as I passed by dozens of closed doors. Did anyone else work here? Toward the end of the hallway, I found the door to the doctor's office. Just a closed door, no window, nothing else to tell you that it was, indeed, a doctor's office, except for the crooked sign bearing his name. I gripped the metal knob and turned it.

Inside, fluorescent lighting filled the small waiting room. I wasn't the first here, not even the tenth. A skater kid, complete with his board covered in stickers. A dorky-looking guy in a black turtleneck and glasses. An early-thirties professional woman flipping through Vanity Fair. And about five Latino guys wearing jerseys from various Los Angeles sports franchises. At the reception desk, a young black man with a huge smile beckoned me closer.

"Is this your first time?" he asked.

"Yeah. First time here."

"Well, welcome!" he said cheerily, erasing the sketchy vibes that had haunted me since passing through the building's doors. "Just fill out these forms and the doctor will see you shortly."

Mr. Happy handed me a clipboard with at least 10 pages for me to fill out. I took a seat next to a portly Mexican in a Nomar Garciaparra jersey and went to work. Name, address, Social, height, weight, medications currently taken. Do you have any of these health problems? Family history? Hopitalizations? Date of last menstrual period? Date of last pap smear? Countries visited in the last year? On that one, I actually had to think.

How did you hear about our services? Best friend is a patient.

How often do you use cannabis? As often as I can.

How much cannabis do you use per day? Maybe a gram?

At what age did you start using cannabis? At my junior prom when my date ditched me at the after-party to hook up with a model. (OK, so I really didn't write that even though it's true)

What ailment do you treat using cannabis? (Oh... and here's a list of the ailments that are legally treatable under CA Proposition 215.)

I'd decided weeks ago that I'd go with insomnia. I was no good at faking pain, cancer was out of the question, and headaches were just too, I don't know, vague? I knew enough about insomnia after dating an insomniac for over 2 years. So, I could conceivably and intelligently discuss insomnia with a medical professional. Yup, OK, there it was. I-N-S-O-M-N-I-A. I was officially, in the eyes of the State of California, an insomniac. As I finished off the forms, I wondered what Garciaparra's aliment was. Migraines? Stomach cancer? Glaucoma? Then I saw it on his form. "Neck pain from car accident in '06." Not bad.

I pulled out a novel and read while I waited. Mr. Happy was calling people back three at a time to wait in a second ante-room for the doctor, and they seemed to re-emerge in 15-minute cycles. My thoughts briefly turned to the parking meter when I heard my name called.

I went into the back with Dorky Turtleneck and Ms. Professional. Mr. Happy gave me more forms to fill out and I noticed the smiling, jeweled Buddha graphic on his t-shirt that nearly matched the perpetual grin on his face. Another huge black dude with neat cornrows and a NY Yankees shirt explained the procedure to me, as I was the only first-timer of our threesome. The others were in for their yearly renewals. First I'd talk to Kyle in his office and get my California ID copied and pay the fee up-front. If I didn't get a recommendation, I'd get my money back at the end. Then I'd get to see the doctor.

Kyle told me a lot of what I already knew as he copied my license and handed me more forms to sign. Don't medicate in the car. Always put your medicine in the trunk if you're transporting it. You'll always need your ID and a copy of your prescription to go inside a dispensary. It will take 24 hours to validate your prescription. Unless you need something today. Do you need something today?

"Yeah... sure I need something today."

Kyle pulled out a business card. He flipped it over and wrote "1 free pre-roll" on the back.

"Just tell them I sent you. They know us here and will set you up right away."

I went back into the ante-room and had just re-assumed my seat between Dorky Turtleneck and Ms. Professional, when Mr. Happy opened the door to the waiting room and ushered in two women in business suits. Each wore a badge that said "Investigator." They went directly into the doctor's office and closed the door. Two minutes later, the doctor came flying out of his office and rushed up to Mr. Happy. The two spoke in hushed tones before adjourning to a back room loaded with medical files.

Seriously, could I really be that girl? The one who just happens to be legally getting her medical cannabis referral when the Feds decide to raid the place? Fuck. This is what I get for going to the guy who ended up outed as “L.A.’s Pot Doctor” on a CBS News report.

Cornrows must have seen the panic-stricken look on my face, because he began to reassure me.

“Don’t worry, they’ll be out of here in a few minutes. It’s all good, happens every once in a while but they can’t do nothin’.”

“Seriously, can’t they like, go fight real crime or something instead of bothering people here? It’s legal in our state!” spat Ms. Professional, barely looking up from her magazine.

The Doctor and Mr. Happy re-emerged from the file room, the Doc clutching a file folder. He sped-walk past the three of us and closed his office door. Mr. Happy went back to his perch at the front desk and turned up the radio. Some R&B station was playing “What’s Goin’ On” and Cornrows started singing along as he did a little shuffle.

The investigators were ushered out five minutes later. I never found out what they wanted, because as soon as they were out the door, the Doctor called me back to his office. The room was fairly large, and his desk was positioned at its very center. Two chairs covered in dingy mauve upholstery sat in front of it. On the back wall behind him were perhaps a half a dozen framed diplomas. I cursed myself for not wearing my glasses as I squinted to make out the name of the hospital where he completed his residency. “New York Hospital?” Was there such a thing?

The Doctor was older, maybe 60, and had a thick New York accent. His nose was round like a department store Santa Claus and his face gentle and inviting. He asked me briefly about the insomnia, how long I’d had it, and how long I’d been treating it with cannabis. I gave him some line about discovering its benefits while traveling in the Netherlands and he immediately started writing out my prescription. After a brief lecture on medicating using edibles and vaporizers instead of smoking it, I was back on my way out to Mr. Happy’s enclave, where my prescription was officially stamped, and I was sent on my way. As I walked out the door to the waiting room, Garciaparra was coming in. We gave each other “the nod.”

I immediately headed across the street to the “Zen Wellness Center” per Kyle’s recommendation. I rang a doorbell and was buzzed in to a tiny waiting room. A man sat behind a panel of one-way glass with a tiny slit at the bottom. I could see his lips move but no other part of him.

“First time here?” the lips said.

“Uh, yeah” I said, handing over my ID and prescription.

“Take a seat, it’ll be about 5 minutes. We’re busy today.”

Just then, the door to the back opened, and two fifty-something women emerged, carrying small, plain paper bags stapled closed and headed back out into the afternoon sun, nearly giggling with excitement.

“OK, you can come in now.”

It was like I stepped into an Amsterdam coffee shop. Right here, in the middle of Los Angeles. I couldn’t believe these places really existed. In the U.S. of A. Trippy posters lined the walls, and a Foreigner song played on the stereo. Christmas lights lined the ceiling. A kid in a beanie cap took a long hit off a balloon over in the vapo-lounge off to the side. A tattooed man with olive skin greeted me with a smile as wide as Mr. Happy's as I walked in. He stood in front of a glass display case containing dozens of different strains, all neatly packed into plastic medicine bottles.

"First time here? Don't be shy, welcome to Zen Wellness! What are you looking for today?"

Two minutes later, I was walking back to my car with a plain paper bag containing an eighth of Afghooey and a free joint. I could see the parking ticket flapping off my windshield from half a block away.

But this time, and only this time... I didn't care.

Change100 is a writer from Los Angeles.

Today's Special

By Joe Speaker © 2008

Brad's last night on Planet Los Angeles started at El Caballo, clutching his beer like a dog eared paperback. Starched white shirt glowing red in the bloody lights of the place, same color as the naugahyde booths behind him jammed against the textured and cracked yellow walls. Still an early spring night out on Melrose, calm and clear like every other day in the city where its more generous inhabitants think of it as only slightly bigger than the universe.

"I'm an actor," Kirk said on the stool next to him and the buck-toothed blonde girl leaned in with her shoulders and parted her mouth just enough so he could see the glistening tongue stud.

"Awesome," she said, with a practiced awe and Brad almost spit out his chicken taco, retrieving it before making a scene, but he still mumbled a mouthful under his breath. Brad grabbed his Dos Equis and washed down his disbelief. "Dude, you're a waiter," he said to Kirk later as they walked the four blocks to work.

"She didn't know that."

"She will."

"Not before she takes her clothes off."

They'd known each other a few years, worked the same circuit and always caught up, even after Brad retreated to those bursts of motivation, climbing the food service ladder: steakhouses, chain joints, then up to the noveau boutique restaurants opening up everywhere. Wine bars with scant, overpriced appetizers, or the latest dischordant, harshly-lit sushi joint, standing over the tourists and massaging the industry types, spouting rote come hithers, and power verbs describing the latest Riesling or Pinot Noir and yes, the bruschetta is excellent, especially drizzled in the red pepper-infused olive oil.

"You're even dressed like a waiter," Brad said. "Might as well be wearing an apron."

"I look good."

"But you're not."

Brad shoved a garlic triangle into his mouth on the way to the kitchen. The dining room was nearly empty. Tuesday night crowd. He felt the two beers numbing him a little and leaned against the banquette in the alcove, out of sight from the sparse customers, but with a good look at the backside of Amy, the new hostess, 19, and filled with the dreamy nonchalance of someone certain life would fall at her feet. Brad felt pity for her. He thought about slipping a couple fingers of Glenlivet out the backdoor during his smoke break. Maybe take a bump. Just a little one. Fuck he was tired.

"Bonsoir monsieur, mademoiselle," Kirk said as he walked up to Table 14. He was as French as the Kaiser. His thing. All those acting classes and accents ("Dialects!" Kirk'd always correct). He had a horrible cockney one that made Brad laugh. The French one was just okay, though. At bars, he called himself Jean-Claude when he used it. Jean-Claude from Nice. Last night, he fucked some junior college girl from The Valley and she spent the night screaming "Jean-Claude!" like she had mashed potatoes stuck in her throat. The drunken gurgling kept Brad up most of the night.

He'd been sleeping on Kirk's couch for a month now, eating his dinners down at El Caballo during Happy Hour. Dos por uno cervezas and free chicken tacos. Elaine had kicked him out, finally, three years of disappointment in him, breathing down his neck, falling in love with a writer and ending up with a waiter. Kirk was letting him crash until he got enough cash for another security deposit. Probably would have had it already but for the coke. That's the thing about being a waiter, daily cash, easy to dump at the bar after work, easy to take out of his pocket if there was a lot in there. Kirk knew how it was. He didn’t seem to mind.

"Fucking Kansas motherfuckers," Kirk said as he barged through the kitchen door, which swung like a dagger behind him. "They don't have math in fucking Kansas? Fifteen percent of eighty bucks is not seven..." he counted the coins in his hand, "sixty-three." He sounded like he was from Brooklyn. Angry voice. A little Rocky Balboa in there, too. He really was a shitty actor.

"How do you know they’re from Kansas?" Brad asked, looking up from The Times sports section, flecks of garlic in the corners of his mouth.

"Wichita," Kirk said. "Out here visiting their boy at UCLA. Brought the young'un some new overalls."

"Probably should have went with something twangy instead of that bogus French shit. They probably hate you."

"Some people just have no class."

"Or the upper midwest. I can teach you to flatten your vowels."

"You have a table."

Brad mumbled his way through the specials, same as yesterday, ingredients on the verge of spoiling touted as inspiration, mixed together in slightly different ways, but still the same, like weekday traffic. The young couple (fourth date, probably the sex date, Brad guessed, from the way they reached across the table at each other) was etched out of marble, so perfect and envied, platinum card and a 5-series no doubt. He brought them two over-priced glasses of wine and a plate of olives.

He was agitated, bored. He wanted to scream, leave, go off on a three-day bender, wake up from this sunny, repetitive nightmare. He had come to L.A. ten years ago, dreamy and stupid, like Amy, and it didn't take long for him to hate everything about the city. He used that, however, avoided people and wrote, furious sharp language, holed up in that studio on Franklin. Months on end, only going out to watch, to note the frayed rituals of the locals which he turned into venomous stories and people who never got near happy Hollywood endings. And now, he was one of them.

Kirk glided by ("behind, behind") and ordered a round of drinks from the bartender in a surfer's dazed cadence. Brad laughed. Kirk was whoever he wanted to be. Brad couldn’t remember himself.

Brad stumbled out of El Caballo later, needing three reeling steps to right himself after barging through the padded door. He instinctively walked toward La Brea and the short hill to Kirk's apartment hoping against the drugs throbbing in his veins to fall asleep before Kirk got home with whichever of the three Mexican girls he had thrilled the most with his Tony Montana imitation.

Kirk had pissed him off, wanted him to wingman one of the girls, but Brad wasn't up for it. Ever. Small talk and the vacuous threads that vanished so you were left staring past each other waiting for the next drip of pretention. Kirk called him out in front of the other waiters and Brad slammed his beer on the bar, splashing something, throwing back the insult, and retreated to the corner where he switched to tequila and brooded, saw his face on the stained and plain linoleum that would never be clean again.

Outside, his mind spun him toward despair, alone again, unforgiven. From somewhere faraway, he heard kids, too young to be out this late, laughing at his uneven gait. Everyone artificially sweetened and shading their black stomachs here in Sodom, where he'd lost everything and he felt hollow, felt it acutely, like something taken from him, something important, his first bike, stolen off the porch when he was eight and back in Indiana, that little town he couldn't wait to leave, but which never left the acid taste he felt now. He quickened his pace in shame. Getting inside, away from the jackals. At the bottom of the hill, he was practically running, his exaggerated hips twisting up the sidewalk, unconsciously dodging tin cans and jacaranda branches on his way.

He crashed through the door of the apartment, ragged gasps of breath and spittle flying. He felt hot, molten, in his chest and his pulse raced past the redline. Sweating, he flopped on the couch and tried to breathe, but every attempt to pull air made his chest feel like an invisible hand had his heart in a clench, an impenetrable grip, and the pain radiated down his arms and legs. "I'm going to die," Brad thought, the idea coming from the clouds, and the emptiness rushed at him like a movie playing at the wrong speed. He struggled to his feet and lurched to the balcony, ripping the sliding glass open and jamming his head into the night. The sky glowed orange, its eternal shade, all the lights from the city mocking blackness and shrouding the stars, like some hackneyed symbolism. The stars are in Los Angeles, not the heavens. So fucking stupid. His heart skipped, little, little, thump, and the last made his arms flutter uselessly to his sides. He was looking at the end, off this balcony, and remembered things long past. Regret, sweet debilitating regret, seized him, choked him, like the heart he felt was ready stop.

Brad prayed, pleaded for relief, a litany of empty promises he'd keep for a few weeks but settle again into the familiar pattern. He knew who he was, deep down, who he’d become and would never be again and it paralyzed him, like this panic attack paralyzed him, and he briefly thought death would be preferable. He fell back into the apartment, sat and pulled his knees up to his chest, rocking back and forth. "Please, please, please," he chanted, examining every beat, thinking it was his last. He sat for an hour, his rhythm gradually slowing as he tried to block out all the guilt and gloom, fucking Kirk, that asshole, his Mom, who will be happy and disappointed at the same time. He fell asleep there on the floor listening to the sounds outside, horns, shouts and spinning rubber, all coming to him distinctly, discordant notes from a sinister song. The sweat was cold on his brow, like a sheet of ice, but he was breathing.

Brad ran his fingers through his unwashed hair, looking in the rear-view mirror at his sallow eyes, unrecognizable. It was hot already, barely 10 a.m. in the always perfect blue sky, and he chuckled to himself as he tried to remember the last time he’d been up this early.

She answered before he finished knocking.

"I saw you sitting out there," Elaine said, regarding him, her head tilted.


She led him in and offered some coffee. "Black, right?" and disappeared into the kitchen. Brad stood shifting his weight on the hardwood floor, hands jammed into his pockets.

"You look like shit, Brad," she said, offering the steaming cup. She sat on the overstuffed couch, pulling her legs underneath her and wrapping her red hair with one hand so it gathered on her right shoulder. Her face was expectant.

"I need my stuff," he said. She waved her hand. Go ahead.

She'd boxed up most of it, even labeled them in her easy script. He moved slowly through the room, their room, looking for his things and facing ghosts, the ashtray they'd bought in Ensenada and the way the moon cast a beam on the water that night they walked along the ocean’s edge and breathed the same salty air, tasted it on each other’s lips.

She came through the doorway behind him, holding a stack of legal pads, yellowed and frayed. "Don't forget these," she said. He cautiously grabbed them, five or six, he couldn't recall, and laid them atop one of the boxes. "Remember when you let me read those?" she asked. And he did, what he wrote in that studio apartment when he couldn't sleep, 4 a.m. and a spare bulb and the words ran out of him, blood from a gaping wound. He nodded.

"I read them again," she said. "They're still brilliant," and he nodded again. "I always believed in you, Brad."

"It's not your fault," he said.


"I'm leaving," Brad said. "Going home."

He started carrying boxes out to the car, heaving from the effort, the sweat rotten on his body. She watched him, impassive, from her spot on the couch. When he’d nearly finished, he stood in the doorway with the final box, looking around, finally resting his eyes on her face.

"I'm sorry, Elaine," he said.

"No," shaking her head. "No you're not." The color rose in her cheeks and she stood, crossing the room until she was inches from him. "That's just what you think you're supposed to say."

"I won't miss you," she said. "Not the way you are now." Her voice was defiant, but shaky. She pointed at the box in his hands, the one with the legal pads on top. "I'll miss that!" she spat.

"Here," he said. "Keep 'em," and he let the pads drop to the floor where they landed flat, echoing in the room, one final clap before he turned and headed down the walk. Elaine stared after him for a moment, then closed the door and left him for dead.

Joe Speaker is a writer from Southern California.

Smoking Is Cool

By Dan Keston © 2008
"Smoking is not cool it just makes you look bad in front of your friends."
Wilford Brimley, "One to Grow On", National Broadcasting Company.
I was watching "The Smurfs" on a Saturday morning back in October of '82 and here was the deal: Handy Smurf had a crush on Smurfette, because she was the Smurfiest Smurf around. Now I don't know if Handy was afraid to explain his feelings to Smurfette because he had social anxiety disorder, or if it was genital herpes, or if he just felt that in a town with only one female the local smurf handyman was unlikely to outsmurf the local smurf doctors, smurf lawyers, and smurf hedge fund managers - I don't know – but when NBC cut to commercial the big cliffhanger was that Handy (yes, the pining lonely smurf in town was named Handy) was debating whether or not to profess his love.

Commercial one was a PSA that began on a playground in Anytown, U.S.A. In the spot, a bunch of youths are playing handball when one boy calls out to his friend from behind the bleachers. Hidden from view are three boys passing around a Camel Light, coughing violently every time they inhale (of course). They subsequently try to persuade the fourth boy to partake, but he wisely says no and runs back to the handball court. We then cut to Wilford as he delivers the goods the way only Wilford can - "smoking isn't cool, it just makes you look bad in front of your friends."

I probably should have realized then that if Wilford Brimley is proclaiming that smoking is "not cool," then chances were it really "is cool," but I was nine and easily duped. However, as time passed I realized that not only IS smoking cool but it is as cool as the left side of a McDLT.

I say this as a native of Los Angeles, a place where smokers are only slightly more respected then pedophiles and slightly less respected than Beth from the Real World. Here you cannot smoke in restaurants and you cannot smoke in bars; and if you want to smoke at work you have to walk outside away from all other coworkers and covertly inhale inside the quarantined "smoke-friendly" area/leper colony. I mean really... is smoking this bad?

Let me interject here by saying that I am not a smoker. I do not "puff" at parties, I do not "take a drag" by the bus stop, and I do not "enjoy a butt" while hanging at the local mall. Overall, I am happy to leave restaurants not smelling like smoke and I am a proponent of clean air. Yet as a non-smoker even I find it offensive that you can't smoke in a bar. It is a BAR. If you don't want to load your system up with toxins, why the hell are you going there anyway? Go ride your pony to see Enchanted and leave Smokey McAdams be.

My second question for you smoker haters would be this, "Do you really think it is fair that tobacco companies have to spend THEIR OWN MONEY supporting ads that say how terrible their product is when beer and liquor ads do not? Joe Simpleton sits at home and watches commercials during his favorite show ("Two and a Half Men") and gets this message from commercials – drink 27 Budweiser's and you will frolic forever in a land of beautiful models who want to have sex with you - or - smoke a cigarette and die a horrible death with lung and throat cancer alongside the lab rat who warned you not to smoke in the first place. This, my friends, is bullsheezee, and not just for the fraudulent health claims. It is bulsheezee because in reality it is the cigarette, and NOT beer, that makes you look cool.

As a man, I truly believe that if you feel comfortable walking down the street with a Coors Light in your hand then you probably feel comfortable wearing your fraternity letters well past your 35th birthday. I also believe, contrarily, that walking down the street with a cigarette in your hand makes you look suave, debonair, independent and just aloof enough to be mysterious. When I was living in New York I would sometimes dangle a lit cigarette in my hand even though I had no intention of smoking it. When I went to a restaurant alone I would sit outside and smoke while waiting for my food and it would look like I CHOSE to be there by myself to enjoy some alone time with my Kafka hardback; without Joe Camel, I was just another lonely guy ordering Teriyaki take-out because he couldn't find someone to eat with. "Hey ladies, how are you doing tonight... okay then, guess not."

And speaking of ladies, do I need to say that women look sexy when smoking? Obvious phallic undertones aside, any man worth his salt knows that a girl smoking a cigarette is just a more respectable version of a girl with a lower back tattoo. She gets you thinking about the same things only she'll serve it up with a side of existential conversation, cool enough to know that even though she is going to taste like a commoner's ashtray if she makes eye contact with you from across the bar it is not going to matter to you what she’s been inhaling. Not even a little. Not a single bit.

Listen up, big tobacco. Don't feel bad about promoting your image and don't feel guilty about counting your fortunes on the porches of the massive plots of Carolina land upon which you once enslaved men. While you are responsible for lacing your product with arsenic, you are not responsible for the people who smoke it. For goodness' sake America, if you think cigarettes are bad for you don't make the companies that sell them run self-deprecating ads. JUST CHOOSE NOT TO SMOKE!!!! Take some responsibility for your life and stop blaming Uncle Phillip.

You know where I stand. I think smoking is cool.

Dan Keston is currently an independent film producer in Los Angeles. He has made, bought, sold, and written many things, including cigarettes.


By Betty Underground © 2008

You either love it, or you hate it. Makes no difference if you are living at the beach or the pit of the San Gabriel Valley.


It is spread out. Public transportation is still a joke, even with the recent addition of light rails from some outlying areas. It is still the most embarrassing display of a subway system. Not to mention, the whole thing could sink with a good hard November rain.

So, get used to it. You live in LA county, you are going to have to drive. Even when you get home to your "close to everything" overpriced apartment in a planned community, you are still going to have to drive.

Mapquest says that a trip from Manhattan Beach to Long Beach will take 35 minutes with traffic. Not with LA traffic! Double that time and bring a book. Murphy's Law of LA traffic; "When you allow for plenty of time, you will get there with a ridiculous surplus of time and nothing to do." Fall into the trap and cut that time down and you will be late. Sitting on any one of the dozens of LA freeways that look more like parking lots.

And parking. Forget it in certain areas. I was the World's Worst Parallel Parker. The. Worst. I would park super far away just to have enough room to pull my Ford Escort alongside a curb. I am not any better at it now.

I also avoided left hand turns like the plague. Would drive around the block to be pointed in the direction I wanted to go.

My apartment in Santa Monica Canyon had this ridiculously steep driveway. Simple right hand turn into it but then I had to quickly cut it hard to the right again to avoid plowing into the lower apartment. Getting out required backing out, blind, onto a major thoroughfare connecting Santa Monica commuters with both PCH and Sunset Blvd.

Accidents happening all around you on the freeway. The world's biggest spectator sport! Traffic is not because of the carnage in the road, it is from the rubberneckers trying to catch a glimpse of the blood and guts, only to be disappointed when it was a minor fender bender.

You drive in LA, you gotta be aggressive. Quick like a bunny with lightening reflexes. It is the only way to survive. Yeah a manual transmission gets better gas mileage, but there is no way you would get me worrying about an extra pedal when my life hangs in the balance as a Mack Truck barrels down my ass in the fast lane!

It takes skills, people. I had a friend who was terrified of driving in LA. She missed out on a lot and was tied to a job in the Promenade that she hated just so she could walk to it. Held hostage by LA drivers. Not that being a pedestrian is any safer. Seriously, the Car vs. Pedestrian accidents were some of the best gawking opportunities.

My father taught me to count to ten before I made a move when my light turned green. Whether I was walking or driving, you have to build in a ten second cushion to avoid loosing a limb.

I have been hit in crosswalks and wrecked my car plenty of times to offer up these warnings. Look both ways. Wait ten seconds. Look again and RUN.


While not the Number One most expensive place to live, it is in the Top Ten. Running around Number Seven last I checked.

One of my bestest friends left LA and moved to Alaska. Gave himself a 8.5% raise because Alaska has no sales tax! That is close to three times the annual salary increase nationwide. Granted, it is ALASKA.

While housing is plentiful, a neighborhood can go from good to bad just by crossing the street! I lived in the ritzy Hancock Park area of LA but because of my proximity to the largest crime street (Western) I was mugged and my boyfriend's car was stolen.

Ellen DeGeneres lived three blocks away and I was a victim TWICE in less than a year!

Crime pays, pays big! The threat is everywhere, everyday but if you live like a victim, move about like a small frightened woodland creature, they will get you. Devour your innocence and spit out the bones. Hold onto your kids!

If you do find parking, you will pay for it. Either pumping a meter or a monthly paid parking rate. Commuting? Awesome for you, that will be $50 on parking at the station in addition to your rail pass. Oh, and don't go thinking you can get drunk after work and crash at a buddies house. You don't move your car from that lot, they will tow it away. No overnight parking. $500, thank you. Don't forget to watch the street cleaning signs. A stack of those tickets because you forgot to move your car on Franklin before 5 AM on Tuesday, $45 dollars each, adds up to a months rent. Thanks!

The water is horrible in LA, so you will be paying to have it delivered in five-gallon jugs. Cha-Ching.

You name it, it will cost you more and take you longer to get to it!

Movies. Dinner out. Cocktails. Gasoline. Yes, they even charge you pick up your recycling.

LA is like a bad relationship. "But I love him (it)." I just can't stop myself from going back.

I learned how to drive in LA traffic.

Learned how to manage money based on the LA standards.

Know the best back alley route from Santa Monica to Venice.

The shortest route from the Valley to Hollywood.

I can make a left hand turn at Sunset and La Brea at 5:13 PM on a Friday without flinching.

Hold my own in stop-and-go traffic over the Sepulveda Pass.

Know all the back roads. The main drags and the location of every 24 hour 7-11, even a few 24 hour Home Depots.

And Pink Dot - need I say more?

For me, LA is comfortable. What I know. A nook that I can snuggle into. Inhale the smoggy air and exhale with a smile.

My first true love. Los Angeles. Wait for me, I will be home soon.

Betty Underground is a writer from Northern California.

California: The Garden of Eden

By Johnny Hughes © 2008

In John Steinbeck's classic novel and movie about the depression-era, dust-bowl Okies' migration to California, Grapes of Wrath, Tom Joad, portrayed by Henry Fonda, says this...
"Wherever you can look, wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be there in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be there in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they built, I'll be there, too."
My mother's family were the depression-era Okies so vividly painted by Steinbeck. This quote would represent their outlaw attitude and socialist politics, which changed. My mother had 12 older brothers and sisters. In my novel, Texas Poker Wisdom, they are the models for the O'Malley family. Most of the family made it out to Los Angeles over many years. When my grandfather and grandmother finally sold the farm in Duke, Oklahoma, they took a train to Los Angeles right after World War II. This was in the day of the Harvey House and the Harvey girls. My grandmother stole a fine Harvey House tea service that is still a family heirloom. In my next novel, I am going to look at four or five generations of gamblers and con artists around the old west, again using family stories when I can.

I lived in L.A. as a baby at the start of World War II, but my super-conning great uncle Ira ditched us in Lubbock on a visit, thank you Jesus! Two of his brothers were identical twins, gamblers in Dallas during Benny Binion's tight rein. Benny was the boss of all bosses. One of the twins got killed over some beef. Two guys called him out of the Sports Arena and beat him to death. Family legend has it Benny had it done over a debt and they got the wrong twin. I believe the second part.

So, with my mother's people living all over L.A., we crossed the desert from Texas for vacations and funerals in treacherous old Fords. My cousin says on one trip, when I was about six, we had eighteen flat tires. I do remember all of us hauling water from this pond in the Arizona desert. To me, going to Los Angeles was a very big deal!

It seemed Los Angeles was in this artificial super-Technicolor, compared to West Texas. The first thing I saw was a grade school class with black, white, and Asian children. I had never seen that, since our schools were segregated.

Two of my uncles were L.A. cops and were therefore rather rich. They had these big houses with massive lawns, my cousins had fine clothes, and there were fancy foods. I'd never thought of us as poor, just of them as rich, big rich by our standards. Here is a journalistically accurate excerpt from my novel explaining the Los Angeles police of the 1940s.

Guy McAfee built the Golden Nugget in 1946. Previously, he had owned a string of whore houses and gambling joints in Los Angeles where he served for years as the commander of the Los Angeles Police Department vice squad. When the political climate changed, he moved to Las Vegas.

Benny Binion had a very similar experience. He had been the boss gambler around Dallas until his Sheriff lost. Guy and Benny were neighbors and pals.

In 1960, my road buddy and I braved the desert in a 1953 Merc. The transmission went out in Albuquerque. We were beatnik-gamblers, a glorious way to live. Glorious! In Albuquerque, we read Kerouac, hit the coffee shops for embarrassing poetry, got drunk in the bars, slept on the ground, and talked in long, Dr. Pauly sentences late into the night, ever saying Yes. Yes. Yes., longing for the Mother Road, America's highway, getting our kicks and transmission fixed on Route 66.

In Las Vegas, we got jobs shilling poker for Bill Boyd at the Golden Nugget. I did a chapter on that in my novel. We cheated by signaling as instructed to do. We'd sign for an Ace or King in the hole in five-card stud, or lay over cards at an angle if we had a wired pair. The larcenous rake would have drowned any gambler, so I didn't know why we bothered to cheat. At the time, we were successful poker players in West Texas. We quickly realized we weren't be going to be tipping over large scores around Las Vegas so we pushed on for California. I always laugh when I read that word road gambler. Being beatnik-gamblers, we usually went broke on our trips covering thousands of miles. We didn't travel to build bankroll, although we may have that as our stated goal. The farthest we ever got from home broke was Acapulco, Mexico.

We headed for Gardena and the legal draw poker. We had never seen a room full of people playing poker. The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas had six or so tables in 1960. Hold 'em and Stud were thought to be without skill and were illegal. Being best-of-it realists, we quickly discovered this was no bird's nest on the ground. We played wheel low-ball. In the low-ball games back in God's own Texas, you got the best of it because the suckers, now called recreational players but they are still suckers, would draw two cards. In Gardena, nobody drew two cards. It was also the dreaded limit, which screwed us. If you missed your draw, you might as well give up. In Texas, everyone played no-limit, even in kindergarten.

It was also our first time playing against retiree, tight player, rocks of ages, cleft for somebody else poker players. The poker room at Gardena was this massive sea of patience. We were drowning in all that patience, so we gave up and pulled up. The alternative was the beatnik scene and the coffee houses of Venice Beach. It was all an eye-popping wonderment, dazzling to simple gamblers nursing a sick and terminal bankroll.

Some beats slept on the beach. I thought of Woody Guthrie's song, I'm going to California where they sleep out every night. In one coffee house there was this long line of gay dudes doing this intricate, choreographed dance, complete with tap dancing. Some were in drag and makeup. We'd never knowingly seen any gay folks. The cops told us all about it.

We'd lay up in this rooming house, cook burgers, drink beer, and watch old black and white movies all night on the TV. Another thing we didn't have in Lubbock, which we finally headed for with just enough cash to make it.

When my grandmother was pushing ninety, she rented to a gang of armed robbers, who shared her house. Later, the cops surrounded her house with the bullhorn and lots of fire power and the outlaws gave up. As happens, there are conflicting family stories about whether or not she knew their profession. Way back in Oklahoma, the heroes had been Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, and John Dillinger robbing the hated banks.

In the 1970s, my two cop uncles and a cousin opened two fancy, private clubs in Los Angeles. They had great food, decor, and the dancers and waitress's were topless and bottomless. A Boy Scout fantasy, a fancy joint where all the women folk employees were buck naked. These clubs were called The Ball and The Other Ball. They were on the Japanese Sex Tour of L.A. Buses would pull up and loads of Japanese would spend their money. They made millions, but were having varied troubles with the law. My mother used to go to L.A. to "help" them with the books and taxes. I'm hoping she still has her end.

My cousin got caught cooking speed at a place owned by several of the family in Palm Springs. There was also some problem with mob guys and race horses. The government confiscated a couple of houses, several acres, cars, race horses, and charged him with Organized Crime. He took it on the lam. They caught him on America's Most Wanted. He was flipping burgers at the McDonalds by the Stardust in Vegas. His first real job. They gave him life as a Kingpin but he got out.

In the late 1970s, I managed the Joe Ely Band. We signed to MCA Records and the William Morris Agency. I made several trips to L.A. to meet with the record company or to go to gigs, mostly at the Palomino Club. While we were dealing with Nashville, I was right at home with the same foods, language, cultural background. However, the record company-L.A. thing was a little too weird, even for me. They are a little careless with the truth.

Johnny Hughes is the author of the novel, Texas Poker Wisdom.