by Ian Whitcomb
Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer,
composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and
Songbooks by clicking here,
or by going to ianwhitcomb.com
Waltzing multi-coloured lights atop the police cars encircle me, like redskins round a pioneer. Radios crackle out official information. Neighbors
click their weapons. All is on alert. Only Inspector, my dog, is sanguine, although he can't stop that Pavlovian tail from wagging on this crisp, clean
Boxing Day night in Los Angeles.
The circumstances leading up to my arrest are as follows:
This year, for the first time, I couldn't spend Christmas in London with my mother. She had set up shop in a nursing home in Esher. I have met her new
friends and watched the wheelchair races. I have enjoyed sherry from the fully-stocked bar in her room. Her doctor took me aside, tapped me on the elbow and
said, Quality of life is important at this stage' and I felt good about the box of 100 Silk Cut I'd bought my mother at Duty Free. There's nothing we can do
about the screams from the other end of the house', he added.
Back in Los Angeles the prospect of Christmas was daunting. But even worse was the realization that I'd have to spend the day itself with in-laws, watching
children watching videos or faxing and E-mailing each other from the various rooms in the vast house on the carved-flat mountain top near the Pacific.
There'd be no Christmas pudding or brandy butter or crackers. Try not to display negative feelings while we're there' said my wife. They tend to spread like a virus.'
Then the invitation arrived, addressed to Inspector The Dog' but he brought it straight to me, in his mouth, in immaculate condition. I read him out the invite edged in gold: Mrs. Rudy Valle & Friends request the company of Inspector The Dog on December the 26th at 6 p.m. at Condo #1245, The El Grande Paradiso Estates. Collar optional. Bring your companion by all means'.
This could be the making of my Christmas. This could really sweep the blues away. You see, I'd inherited Rudy Valle's favourite dog, a brown-haired mutt, several years ago from his widow. She had no room for him in a cramped San Fernando valley duplex amply-filled by her new lawyer-husband.
She recalls the pioneer crooner Rudy Valle? The very first star of the electric era, singing Heigh Ho, everybody!' into a megaphone and, more importantly, into a radio microphone where his plaintive but pleasing wobble was conveyed through the ether into all of America, making women's hearts flutter and their men harrumph.
The Vagabond Lover lived to a ripe old age in a sprawling wild the wooded estate on top of a Hollywood hill. There were public pay phones inside the house and a Rudy Valle museum under the tennis court. Rudy so loved Inspector that he allowed him to munch up tapes of his old radio shows and to sleep between him and his lovely wife. The dog had the run of the place, sniffing here, there, and up the skirts of visiting veteran stars like Dorothy Lamour (I have pictures of this). The hound ruled the roost and perambulated everywhere like a new Norman king. The old crooner, in police uniform, enjoyed taking Inspector to the supermarket in a de-commissioned squad car, turning on the siren when he took a dislike to another vehicle, encouraging the ramrod-backed dog to bark at bikers, skateboarders, mailmen and threatening ethnics.
It was a strong relationship and they were together at the end, at home on the hill, watching old friend Ronald Reagan deliver a speech on TV. Hurrah!', shouted the crooner, followed by "Aaaargh!' for coronary time was nigh. Inspector was discovered licking his dead master's face.
The old-time show business grapevine informed me that the dog was in need of a home. He came with his meagre belongings: a red leather lead and collar, a
Rudy Valle megaphone, a package of frankfurters, and a portfolio of photo of him annoying various celebrities. I took to him because he immediately took to me -
- and you can't do much better than that in this lonely old world. He's not handsome or well-bred. He has a whippet-like body and a rather Neanderthal
face; his eyes seem especially primitive, as if remembering mankind's Africanbeginnings, without conscience or morals. He showed no interest in the old
Valle films I screened him. Like a true Westerner he was staring life anew, with a clean slate and a nose pointed to the future. Now he was my dog and my
ally, and he curled up under my feet as I sat at the piano playing Lilly Of Laguna' and other suitable numbers for my club act. I hoped that soon he would
join me on stage.
I rang Mrs. Rudy Valle to accept the invitation on the dog's behalf. Every guest I've asked knew him personally', she said excitedly, breathily. It will be a gala evening. Dress casual -- but give the dog a bow, a red one'.
On Christmas Day we were offered a buffet lunch of honey-baked ham, but no Presents for the adults. It was children's day purely and simply, and Inspector
remained in the Honda. If you smile outwardly', suggested my wife, then you'll feel good inside'.
The next morning, Boxing Day' I told myself, a brown bag appeared outside our front gate. Inside was an audio cassette and a note. The tape was labeled
Night Voices' and the note was from Chuck Bonner, a good friend and a successful screenwriter.
I was thrilled to receive this present because I'd had a taste of Night Voices' a few months ago. Reporting for dinner with Chick in his split-level ranch-style eyrie high in the Hollywood Hills, I'd found him in a canvas director's chair, juggling on his lap a little black box sprouting several long aerials. From this box came the squawk of people having telephone conversations.
Chuck put his finger to his lips, beckoned me to take a seat, and went into some very animated rocking and bouncing, together with the juggling of the box. Zeroing in on the phone calls I was soon captivated by the stream of little playlets, each one without a beginning or an end. How had he come across this theatre of the ether?
At the bistro, over sand dabs and Merlot, his baseball cap pulled down conspiratorially, Chuck let me in on the boffinry of the black box: it's a scanner', able to pick up, like a radio, two-way conversations between cellular phone customers. When he's at a loose end, when there's nothing worth watching on his 400 channels of cable TV, Chuck listens in to the cellular folk, especially at night when the going gets tasty. I was now primed to hear more night voices. There's a time and a place' , said Chuck, nicely but firmly.
And now, on Boxing Day, as I prepared for my journey to Inspector's dinner, the right time had arrived. I dressed California casual, I tied a red bow onto the dog's collar and soon we were off, flying down the freeway, heading for the expensive West side of L.A. With my left hand on the steering wheel I used my right to unfold Chuck's note and read as we rode along creamingly, the dog relaxing in the back seat.
Dear old fellow', wrote Chuck. Knowing that your hold on reality is not very strong -- weakened by your retreat into antique songs about harvest moons and Dixie mothers -- I want you to accept this gift as an entry into today's world by way of virtual reality. Enjoy!' I re-folded the note and then opened the cassette and pushed it into the tape slot. The following is a selection of what I heard on my journey across L.A.:
* * *
--We could definitely have a good time together. I'm looking for real people that say who they are. Attitude is where it's at.
--Like, I could be at a wrinkle bar with a super-ugly and yet have a better time than with boy beautiful.
--Correct! But if I had a choice between being with a hunk-god who's a jerk or a homely bright guy, I'd tape the jerk's mouth and go for it!
--Well. Tell me again about you. The first time I kinda focused but didn't.
--They label me a surfer. I'm 32 and grew up on a farm in Ohio. I have no hair on my body. I'm hairless by nature.
--Oh, but I know you told me you had thick, long and very blond hair!
--On my head, silly! Also, I have a big dick and I'm cool.
--And you have a nice body?
--I have a real nice body. I swam for Ohio State.
--Uh-huh. What sort of men turn you on?
--Men that are men and not women. Men who are confident and have conviction.
--Cool. You're, like, pressing all the right buttons. And you're safe?
--You like to kiss?
--Sure. At the right time and with the right guy.
--You see, I'm into real passionate sex. I'm not into having somebody get on their knees and simple spend seminally. I'm not into that.
--Right. That kinda sex only happens when you're vacationing in Europe. Just kidding.
--Even though I'm an on-top guy I'm also into being equal, you know.
--I can balance cause I can go either way. But if I'm on bottom it'd better be convincing. Just kidding again.
--You know what's really hot? Back and forth, that's what's hot.
--We should work out our theories naked on a blackboard one fine day.
--We're going to. Tomorrow night.
--Cool. Well, I won't keep you. Gimme a call.
--One more minute, please.
--I'm seriously considering having you come over here this second. I need it so bad.
--I can relate. But I'm afraid it's become like an all-night deal.
--So I got an eight o'clock and a ten o'clock. And I have to be able to add fractions.
--I'm a general contractor.
--You wanna maybe mess around lightly and then come back tomorrow for the main course?
--See, it's been such a long time since I went crazy like this that I'd rather just wait for your call.
--Yeah. But don't get me wrong. I would job the earth, swim the channel for you, but I don't want to come over for fifteen minutes, get worked up, and
leave. Because then it'll be just another night of watching I Love Lucy'.
* * *
CHARLENE & MICHAEL
--Michael, you stink. You are never there for me and I'm always there for you. You disappoint me, Michael. You cause me to cry.
--Listen to me. It's good for you to cry. It gets all the bad stuff out. Did you know that they gave animals human tears -- they injected them -- and the
animals got cancer? Did you know that?
--Where were you tonight?
--At the Koo-Koo Bar.
--How could you be at the Koo-Koo Bar with noooooo money, Michael? Tell me.
--My friend Victor's girl is the bartender and she credits me.
--Well, Michael, the Koo-Koo Bar will always be there -- but Charlene Colasta won't. Do you hear me, Michael? Do you read between the lines?
--I totally understand, believe me.
--Bullshit. I'm sick and you are not here. You don't know what it's like to be at the doctor's with your mother and she's telling him I'm a drug addict and
need to be checked out because I'm flying East tomorrow. You don't know how that feels.
--No, I don't know. But I'm trying.
--I want you here right now. I want you to jump in that jeep -- steal it if you must -- but get your butt over here!
--Can I be honest? I'll have to wait till he falls asleep.
--Look, I'll call you back. I gotta work on something.
--At three in the morning? You know I'm not gonna be returning, Michael. I'm not gonna take second to anybody in this race. What's that you're saying?
* * *
A BLACK MOTHER TO HER SONS
--Now, you relate to me, Ezekiah, and you relate slow.
--Mamma, this nigger's in a burgundy Monte Carlo and he -- they -- shot my car. They shot my car with me in it!
--When what that, boy?
--'Bout five, ten minutes ago.
--Where was you at?
--Going up 90th.
--You know who they are?
--I seen the car before.
--Now don't you do nothing.
--Mamma, they shot out my driver's window, they shot my window, they shot out my tires. My new tires.
--OK. I'll be home in a minute. Bring the car over to the house.
--The car is in the house. I'm over at the house.
--Well, you better off at the house. Don't you take no gun and go no place.
--Yeah . . .
--I'm telling you, son.
--Look, I'm tired of these people . . .
-Take the gun and stay in the house.
--I called the police.
--Goood. And you just stay put. You stay with the police. Don't go no place. Let me speak to Reggie . . . Reggie?
--Reggie, you take nary a peek out of that door, you hear?
--I'm waiting. I'm waiting for them to come back. Mamma, they almost kill by brother!
--You hear your mother? You hear the only one who knows, who watches out, who understands?
* * *
AN ABORTED FRIENDSHIP
She: I did not break down. I had to go out anyway.
He: What for?
--For my fish.
--For fish to feed my fish.
--Your fish eat fish? What kind of fish do your fish eat, for god's sake?
--You mean guppies? You're saying your fish don't eat regular, normal food. They're cannibals?
--I guess so.
--If I could find a piranha I'd be a happy girl.
--I can't believe this conversation. I'm hanging up.
--C'mon! Don't be so gay!
--I should never have called. I should have known that this relationship had an in-built downhill element.
--What? Just because my fish eat fish?
* * *
A BUSINESSMAN TO HIS ESCORT SERVICE
--Sweetheart, I'm dying to nuzzle with you and your girlfriend.
--But what if she can't make it?
--She will when you tell her money. Sweetie, I've been traveling too much and I need to re-acquaint us. I want to see you and your girlfriend this Saturday for
some fun in Mexico.
--Let me get back to you.
--Oh, please baby!
--Let me call you at work.
--OK, but you have to identify yourself different than State Farm Insurance. That one's got whiskers. And you have to watch out for my son. He's plenty
sharp. Straight as an arrow.
--How about Marlene Lebbitt?
--My new name, stupid.
--Okay, Marlene. Whaddya do?
--I'm with Paramount.
--No, no, no! Try Lorber Industries. L ... O ... R ... B ... E ... R. So if I get a message from Marlene Lebitt or Lorber Industries I'll know there's gonna
be pokey-pokey in Mexico on Saturday?
--I have to think it over.
--Oh, honey baby, sugar pie! Please try!
--I have to work out the configuration.
--Well, there's me and there's my girlfriend. And her dog and then there's her child.
--What kinda deal is this?
* * *
A PRIVATE DETECTIVE TO HIS CLIENT
--Alfredo, believe me on my children's lives: they did not, I repeat, not fuck ... No ... Look, Alfredo, I've been engaged in this work for a long time and I
know ... Who is he? He's just a little chink guy. D'you know him? He's a geeky oriental, strictly a friend, about 120 pounds, probably went to U.C.L.A.
with her ... Yeagh, we looked through the window regularly ... They were eating, talking, eating, no bullshit ... Mark and me, we almost got caught when
he left ... Where? I told you, we were up at the window. E searched his little car too. All we found was a notebook. School stuff ... Yeagh, he arrived at
8:30 and he left at 10:30. How do I know? Because, Alfredo, I was there ... You want me to come round right now, at this hour?
* * *
A MOVIE AGENT
--I talked to them from the car and they love the structure of the deal. The next step is holding money ... holding money ... a sum of money you put in a
holding company. You form the company with whoever and then you gotta getta script developed and so you go out and hire a writer. What? Forget it! I'm
looking at fifty grand, minimum. And one thing we're very sensitive to -- we don't want a bidding war so if NBC don't bite then we go to CBS and etcetera
and etcetera down the line. If you got a problem send them to me. Just tell them to call Bernie Rosenlatter. But first see what they got to put on the
table, then call me. Where? I'm always in the car. And the ball is definitely now in their court!
* * *
A BLACK MONOLOGUE
--What you tryin' to say is you give me the two dollars when I axed you, that's what you tryin' to say, an' I'da hand my dish tonight if you give me the two
dollars when you said you was gonna, but you ain't understanding what I'm tryin' to say and you don't wanna realize what I'm tryin' to say, but you just wanna
get some itsy-bitsy point across, which I understand, but you don't wanna understand my point, do you! Do you? I'm askin', woman!
* * *
Inspector's joyful barks roused me back into the real world. My world. We were now passing through the outer defense walls of The El Grande Paradiso states, Mrs. Rudy Valle's condominium fortress high in The Santa Monica mountains. In anticipation of a grand reception Inspector moved to the front passenger seat and sat bolt upright with ears pricking, nose aquiver, and a very red erection.
There was not time to ponder the meaning of life or the cassette, for now there were security guards to wrestle with. Burly latino men in brown uniforms, epauletted and swinging with filigree, all stuck with guns and sticks and clipboards. But Inspector was the password and soon we were shuddering up a romantic winding driveway on industrially-produced black cobblestones closing in on a pink stucco palace that resembled a Doge's getaway place. As we pulled closer I saw a ragged reception line, headed by a man squeezing a conertina. Inspector, realizing the importance of the occasion, raised his head to the roof ad keened like a Bosnian victim.
What can I say about an evening that was not made for me? I was simply Inspector's escort. All the guests had known and loved the guest of honour in his days as Rudy Valle's boon companion. There was much patting, scratching, and whispered words in the animal's ears. But for his part Inspector seemed oblivious to all the attention, tugging me around the grand Italianate condo from marble floor to Persian carpet, gobbling a canape here and a whole Swiss cheese there, pursued by gurgling guests reminding him of episodes and escapades with long-dead stars.
At one point Mrs. Valle, in a glittering low-cut ball gown, took us out onto The hillside patio to show us the grounds. Waving her hand like a ballerina executing a tricky step gracefully, she said, I have no time for Spanish gardeners and so, you see, everything is gravel, granite, marble and Greek statuary'. Inspector lifted his leg on Eros. Quickly we admired theview of the busy freeway below and the new Getty empire compound being carved into a hilltop to the right of us. However, I enquired about the bustling hill on our left where a constant stream of vehicles was traveling up and down at a stately pace. Mrs. Valle, with a slight narrowing of the eyes, replied, That, I'm afraid, is the city garbage dump'. I said it seemed rather romantic but she swiftly directed our attention back to the freeway. Some nights, when life is slow, I enjoy watching the red tail lights going one way and the white front lights going the other. Quite a relaxayvoo'. There was a contemplative pause.
Then: But I do miss Rudy and his songs and stories'. With that she had a little cry and bent down to hug Inspector, who yelped. There was an appreciative murmur from the guests.
I never got to know these guests till dinner, when I pestered them with questions about their employment or lack of it. the swarthy man with corrugated hair, to my left, bought and sold bankrupt businesses. To my right was a woman who specialized in vampires in the 1940s movies. Emilio, the famous local restaurateur, made a late, but impressive, entrance, marching through the front door, shouting Neapolitan folk songs. We congratulated him on the tin-foil trays of lasagna he had provided and he gave a deep bow and placed a silver salver heaped with steaming pasta in front of Inspector who immediately stopped hospitably working the table from guest to guest and supped from the salver with gusto.
I kept grazing at the white grand piano in the corner, protected by a velvet rope on golden stands. I was so hoping to be invited to perform on it and thus prove that I was more than Inspector's new master.
But it was not to be. The evening ended early as is the Southland custom. There was a lot of beauty sleep to be worked upon. As we lined up to say goodbye Mrs. Valle's longtime companion, a retired actor called Bertrand, entertained us with a handspring and push-ups, performed in a black matador's outfit. Inspector, not to be outdone, started barking indiscriminately.
And so it was that a few minutes later, still within the estate, I stopped to take Inspector for a short walkie and a leg-lift.
That dog is pooping, isn't he?' screamed voice in the night. I couldn't deny the steaming pile that lay by the mansion gate. But I didn't like his tone and I didn't like this world and so, in due time, I gave the wretched queen the rough end of my tongue. And that's how the police got involved.
* * *
On a hot evening in March, two years after his party, Inspector was killed. Something hard, solid and fast hit him but he wandered home and died by our front fence. No one I know saw it all happen. The howls of our neighbour's dog raised the alarm. How he got out of our secured house remains a mystery.
But what I do know is that I am now filled with a new spirit: I see the best in people, I talk to perfect strangers, even to people I used to dislike. Wherever I go Inspector is beside me, in front of me, behind me. Frolicking and lead-less, full of unbounded knowingness. Something is happening and I'm very lucky.
* * *
Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here,
or by going to ianwhitcomb.com