Manny, Summer’s Done and Gone.
I was at this party in the Hollywood hills and everyone was reading poems aloud. Really. And not even a bunch of poets. There were artists and curators and human rights activists and lawyers. There was a famous actress. There was a journalist who’d been imprisoned in Iran for a hundred days. It was beautiful and also typical of this city. Los Angeles. My heart. My home. Every dream I ever had and how the light looked when I shut my eyes as a child.
There was a beautiful man there. He was wearing a white t-shirt. When we parked and walked to the house he was standing on the deck above and leaned over and smiled down at us and said, “Hi!” His girlfriend was wearing one of those long summer dresses so particular to LA in the 70’s all the way up to now. Elegant. It made my heart hurt in my chest a bit. Or, it made my heart want more room to grow and be able to replicate the intensity and pleasure of gorgeous people smiling at you as you walk up the stairs of a house on the hill so you can sit around and eat pizza and read poems.
We all read. Someone read Jack Gilbert. Someone read Yeats. A man got up and said, “I was late to my first meeting today because I was looking for this cummings poem.” A woman read Milosz off of her Blackberry. I thought how impossible it is to make anyone understand the beauty of Los Angeles. Then the man in the white t-shirt got up and said, “I’m going to read from this poem by Tennyson.” And he started to read from, “The Lotus Eaters.” He had this battered Norton and he would sometimes read a note about a line. At some point he looked at us and said, “I think this is the only city where you can read this poem without any irony.” Which was funny. The famous actress got up and read two versions of a Neruda poem. She seemed nervous. It’s funny how poetry can do that to people. I remembered how much I love Neruda. How the first girl I really loved used to read those poems aloud. I stopped reading him for awhile after graduate school. It was so great to hear those poems again, to just love poems and not worry anymore what anyone says.
I feel the same way about the Beach Boys. Lately I’ve been listening to “Good Vibrations” on loop. It reminds me of Sunkist soda because they used to play that song on the commercials. I think I asked my dad to buy me a Beach Boys album because of it. I couldn’t listen to that song sitting down. I had to run around or play basketball with the outdoor speakers on. There’s just so much pressure in that song. From the beginning all that sound and it is like getting caught in the ocean, isn’t it? When you think you’re about to get out and you just get swept back and spun. That deep rumble and at some point you have to let yourself go and get pulled back past the break and then it’s calm again. “Close my eyes, she’s somehow closer now…” Brian Wilson wanted to get down all the different sounds in his head and something he heard about dogs being able to get vibrations off of people that could tell them if the person was “good” or not. He spent months working on the track while the band was recording Pet Sounds. A pocket symphony, that’s what he called it. There are twenty-two musicians on that track. It’s that Wall of Sound. That’s the pressure and the release. Phil Spector moving from the Bronx to Los Angeles as a little kid. Ocean and sky and the relentless traffic. Gold Star Studios with the echo he loved that everyone in the world ended up loving. “Little symphonies for the kids” he said. Brian Wilson liked that sound.
It’s sort of impossible to talk about Phil Spector anymore. Isn’t it?
Oh. And Manny left. A few days after that party in the hills I opened the paper and Manny Ramirez was gone. Off to Chicago. Gosh, we loved him here. I still love him. When he got to LA there was this feeling in the city like everyone had stepped right into a movie. Mannywood. Proof that even in this city of celebrity nobody is more famous than an athlete. He was more approachable than Kobe. He spoke Spanish. One cannot underestimate the importance of that to the people of this city. The billboards went up, “This is my town.” Manny in his Dodgers uniform looking out over all the cars. Yes. This is your town. We love you. He was strange and funny and he made mistakes. He showed up in LA and finished the season with 21 homeruns. And then things got ugly. And then he went away.
It’s been that kind of summer. Beauty and dreaming and endings with their attendant heartache. There was a man from New York at the party. He said, “I come here and everyone is happy. Even when they’re unhappy they’re just happier here. I always just fly in and out but I thought I’d stay for a bit this time.” And our host said, “You know people come and visit and they hate it and say there’s nothing here. And it’s true that it’s a terrible place for a tourist. I tell them they should stay awhile and then they’ll see.” He was sitting on the deck wearing the loveliest straw fedora. Most of us were from somewhere else so we talked about that. Everyone seemed to have lived in New York for awhile and loved it but probably wouldn’t move back. I thought of that Beach Boys song and tried not to stare at the actress or the woman in the 70’s dress or the man in the white t-shirt. And then I realized it’s okay to love things so I let myself look and smile when they smiled at me. The actress said, “I just love this poem so much.” And I said Neruda was amazing. It felt like two minutes and fourteen seconds into the Beach Boys song, which is one way I keep time in Los Angeles. It’s another kind of tide here.
The day after Manny left I went and watched the Dodgers with Amy Gerstler and Benjamin Weissman. We sat in the seats his dad had before him. Manny’s picture was still up on the entrance to the stadium. I figured I’d ask Amy and Ben how they felt about it. It’s so Los Angeles so I made a movie. I’m not very good at it so take a little Dramamine before you watch. But Amy And Benjamin? Worth the price of admission:
From Los Angeles.