Carter’s Blue

Best stuff on the street, they said. Just ask the old man, he’s got it. Orleans Reinette rubbed her hands over her arms and looked both ways down Melrose. But there was no sign of the old man.

Maybe she should keep moving. It wasn’t like she had to stay in this place. But this place was just as good as the rest of them. She glanced at the shops around her. Maybe a tad more trendy than she was used to, but that didn’t matter. It was the Blue she was after.

It was always the Blue.

A police car drove past, the mustached officer on the passenger side giving her a considering onceover as it passed. She turned away, casually window shopping, leaning down to study something in the huge front window of Aardvark’s Odd Ark. If they circled around, if they came back she would have to go.

She shivered and rubbed her arms again. Who said California wasn’t cold?

She moved farther down the street, toward Fairfax. More people this way. She would look less suspicious. ‘Not going to break in, officers. Just waiting for the old man.’ Whoever he was. Wherever he was. She could wait here all night for nothing. But her connections in the Valley had dried up. Arrested, dead, who knew? Gone. Just gone.

The way she would be at sunrise.

If only she were a vampire, able to suck her life out of her latest victim. Then the world would be full of what she needed. Great gushing gouts of it, hot and salty and free. Anybody on any street corner could be her supplier, her pusher, her lifeline. But her salvation was a different color altogether. When she was younger, it had been so easy. The Blue had been everywhere. But times had changed. Now if you got caught with it, no matter how little, it was the end.

The silence was broken by the growl of a helicopter patrolling from above, its all-seeing spotlight playing along the store fronts. The patrol car must have phoned her in. She stepped back into an alcove, letting the beam travel along the sidewalk where she had been, her heart thudding in her ears.

She waited for the voice from the sky to command her out of her hiding place. Lie down. Put your hands on the back of your head. But there was no sound except the whoop whoop whoop of spinning blades, kicking up a little dust devil in the gutter.

The old man wouldn’t come now. Not with death circling in the sky above.

The chopper made one more pass, then soared off on other business. She took a deep breath of the safe new darkness. There was a touch of fog in the air, a marine layer coming in off the sea, blessing the plants with the gift of moisture. She could feel it on her arms. The cold and the dampness. So cruel, so cruel.

A rustle from the landscaping across the street. She pressed back into the alcove, but the creature that emerged from the bushes was human, a man so old his body was bent double, draped in an ancient raincoat. He stepped out onto the sidewalk, his cane feeling the way.

“Hey.” She cringed. Her voice sounded huge on the empty street. He turned her way, his eyes half blinded with cataracts.

“Hey.” Softer this time.

He nodded, once, twice. But she would have to come to him.

She took a quick look in both directions and dashed across the street, coming to a stop a step away, dust settling at her feet. He took her in, the way the cop had, that half-superior, half-pitying gaze people reserved for a junkie. Relishing the power they had over you, but recognizing the wreck you had become. Not everyone could cope though. Not everyone could embrace change so easily. Other people had moved on.

She could not.

“I heard you had the Carter’s Blue.”

He gave her that half-mocking smile, that acknowledgement of his control over her, her life and death in his gnarled old hands. “I got it. What you got for me?”

“Fifty dollars. I have fifty dollars.” She shoved the bills at him. Fives mostly, earned begging from tourists up on Hollywood Boulevard. Fives from Austin and Florida and Minnesota, now clutched in her cracked fingertips. “Please.”

He grinned, almost toothless. “I got you. I got you.” He counted the money, slowly, just to watch the look on her face as she willed it to be enough. “All here.” He folded the bills twice and stuffed them in the pocket of his stained slacks.

She scanned the sky. “Please hurry.”

“Just hang on, little missy.” He reached into his tattered raincoat and pulled out a battered plastic bottle. 12 ounces. It had been so long since she’d seen 12 ounces. The blue label was faded, worn on the corners from traveling in who knew how many pockets. Carter’s, it said, Bottled at the Source. There was a picture of a waterfall.

She licked her lips. “Please.”

He laughed and tossed it to her as if it were nothing. She juggled it, almost dropped it, wrestled with the plastic top. The seal broke and the lid came free. Finally. Finally. She lifted the bottle to her lips, let the warm stale water flow over her dry tongue, gulped it down as fast as it would flow, savoring every drop.

The old man laughed and unwrapped a stick of gum. “I just don’t understand you water addicts. All you have to do is get the auto-hydration implant and you’ll never need water again.” He patted his pocket. “Save you a lot of money.”

She wiped her mouth, licked off her fingers. “You got any more?”

He patted his pocket again. “You got any more?”

“Tomorrow. I’ll have some tomorrow.”

He smiled that toothless smile. “See you then.”

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California Browns and Blues

Brown is the New Green

So we’re having a drought here in California. A serious dry-up-and-blow-away-in-the-wind kind of drought. Lawn watering is strictly rationed. No watering before 7pm and you can’t use sprinklers except on your designated days (Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday if you’re even. Monday, Wednesday, Saturday if you’re odd.) The lawns are mostly dead, bare patches of dirt with a little oasis of oat grass or a solitary dandelion adding a splash of color, but I water for the sake of the trees. The jacaranda has cut out the middleman and pried its way into the sewer line so it’s nice and green and stopping up the plumbing now and then, but the citrus trees out back need some help. Laden with green lemons and oranges, halfway to being edible fruit, they need a drink now and then.

So, after 7 on my designated night, I turned on the back sprinklers. Long ago they used to be automatic so the switch in the yard is a bit dicey with wires and electrical tape all around in a way that makes me a little nervous to touch it. I carefully grab a tiny black knob at the back and twist it once, twice. A hissing noise starts and then suddenly the air is filled with arcs of cold water. The wet dirt and the thirsty trees immediately begin giving off wonderful smells in celebration. I get a little damp turning the knob because the sprinkler controls are right there at the edge of the lawn in perfect range of the two closest sprinklers. But I turn it on and dash inside with hardly a splash.

I keep one eye on the time, let the poor parched growing things outside have their three minutes before I go to turn off the sprinkler.

And it doesn’t turn off.

I keep turning and it keeps sprinkling. On me. And it’s cold.

I turn a little more frantically, anxious to stop the unwanted shower.

And the little knob comes off in my hand.

A tiny geyser of water bursts from the hole it should be in.

Great.

I try to shove the knob back into place, but now I am not only trying to find a tiny hole on the backside of a scary sprinkler head by porch light, but that hole is spewing enough water to push the knob back out again. I push and turn. The knob pops out. I push and turn. The knob pops out. I push and turn. The knob pops out of my hand and lands in the only long green grass in the entire lawn.

Somewhere.

Water is starting to drip out of my hair and run down my face. And I’m getting a little panicky. I can’t leave the sprinklers running all night. The water Nazis will come and take me away.

I run into the house, dripping as I go, grab the phone, call the local plumber. But at 9pm, he has apparently shut off his phone. Okay, I guess I’m on my own.

I find a flashlight and run back into the sprinkler spray, which is becoming less fun by the minute. The extra light is just what I need. There is the knob, all wet and shiny in the grass.

I grab it and shove it back into the hole. Water spurts up through my fingers. Water rains down onto my wet hair and soggy shirt. Pretty soon I’m going to be wearing my monthly ration of water.

I think it’s reached my underwear.

As I start to turn the knob for what feels like the hundredth time, I suddenly realize that I’m turning it the wrong way. I shake water out of my eyes and try again, turning to the right instead of the left. The knob wiggles a bit, still not quite seated in whatever spot it belongs in, then suddenly the screw bottom catches, rotates, actually does something. The sprinkler hisses and the water stops.

I stand there, grateful, freezing, happy Lawn Dude won’t be coming to drag me away.

No way I’m watering the front lawn.

Dungeons and Day Trips

San Juan Capistrano small

San Juan Capistrano. The mission the swallows come back to. Built by Father Junipero Serra three centuries ago. Real California history.

And I have a piece of it.

Well, maybe not a piece of the actual mission, but a piece of the stone the Great Stone Church was built from. Probably. Well, okay, it looks really similar. And it did come from the mission gift shop.

But let me start at the beginning with Elaine and her Groupon ticket. Because I’d dragged Elaine to a bunch of cemeteries, she thought it was her turn to drag me somewhere. Not that I actually had to be dragged to see the mission, but it did take us a while to get down there.

I was in the mood for some Mexican food and the guy in the information booth told us that the El Adobe was a good place. So we walked the few blocks down to the restaurant which the guide book (sheet of paper from the information booth) said had been made from two adjacent adobe buildings. Before becoming a restaurant, it had been a courthouse and a stage stop.

Cool.

El Adobe Patio

Since it was a nice day, we decided to eat outside on the patio. After a yummy meal, we headed inside to use the restrooms. While I was waiting for Elaine, I read a history of the building which they had hanging on the wall. All about how Richard Nixon used to eat there and how they’d found a dungeon when they were remodeling one of the dining rooms.

No way I was leaving without taking a look at that.

So when Elaine got out, I asked the hostess if we could see the dungeon. She smiled and led us through two dining rooms and into a small storage area before pointing down three brick steps. “It’s down there.”

At the foot of the steps was a door with steel bars. Apparently this had been the jail when the main building was the courthouse. In the center of the small room was a dark circular table with red napkins on it. Around the walls were bottles of wine. And behind the bottles were adobe walls with carvings in them, left by long ago prisoners.

Some of them are still supposed to be haunting the place.

Dungeon Room

Elaine has accused me of being more interested in the dungeon than the mission which is absolutely ridiculous.

Did I mention the dungeon is haunted?

Okay, the mission is haunted too so I guess it’s a tossup.

The mission grounds are beautiful, but there actually isn’t much left of San Juan Capistrano building-wise. A huge earthquake in 1812 took out most of the Great Stone Church, although what remains is pretty impressive. The earthquake did quite a number on the little town too so the townsfolk decided that instead of rebuilding the church, they would use the ruins to rebuild their own houses.

Can’t really blame them.

One of the buildings that may have been repaired with bits of the Great Stone Church is the El Adobe Restaurant. The one with the dungeon.

See how this all ties in?

Camino Bell

The bell on the walking stick is the sign of El Camino Real, the road (or more commonly a footpath) that ran between the missions.

Swallow Condos small

Swallow condos. No swallows around, though. Wrong time of the year for them. They come around on March 19th.

Great Stone Ruins

The remains of the Great Stone Church. Huge and haunted.

Tallow Vats

Tallow vats. Because who wouldn’t want to see tallow vats.

Serra Chapel Altar

Serra Chapel. The oldest building in California and the only place remaining where Father Serra is known to have celebrated Mass.

Lizard on a Hot Rock small

One of the local residents.

Doorway

Arches. I love arches.

Relic

Gray cross, blue sky.

Of course on the way out, we had to go to the gift shop and I noticed that some of the displays had a little piece of cream and rust sandstone holding the descriptive cards. Now these little pieces of sandstone were exactly the same color as the sandstone in the Great Stone Church and seeing as how pieces of it were “liberated” after the earthquake, it seemed logical to me that these rock markers might be actual chunks of the mission itself.

There happened to be one sitting on the counter when I went to buy my official souvenir refrigerator magnet so I asked the lady behind the counter if it was indeed a piece of the mission. She picked it up and studied it a moment. “I don’t know. These are made for us by the woman who does our crafts. I don’t know where she gets them.” She dropped it down beside the cash register. “It might be.”

When she picked it back up again, I saw that a nickel-sized chip had broken off. She saw that too and smiled. “Here.” She started to give it to me, then laughed and put the fragment in a little plastic jewelry bag. “Just in case.”

And THAT was just as cool as the dungeon.

Fine Dinning

Green Water Blue Sky

So every year, Lisa and I and whoever else we can drag along go to the Irish Fair in Pomona. They hold it at the L.A. County Fairgrounds which they make a bit more festive by adding Irish banners to the flag poles and green dye to the fountains. Half a dozen little stages are scattered around outside the huge concrete commercial buildings. Little food stands line the main thoroughfare hawking hamburgers, hot dogs, bangers and mash.

But we never eat at those places.

Not that they’re bad. It’s just that after you’ve spend $12 for fish and chips and another four bucks for a drink, you’re left standing in the sun with a plate in one hand and a soda cup in the other with no place to sit and no way to eat your meal.

Enter the buffet. Where, for twenty dollars, you get not only a seat, but bangers, mash, salad, corned beef, shepherd’s pie, peas, potato salad, corned beef, cabbage, dessert and a drink. All you can eat, in the shady cavernous interior of one of the commercial buildings.

Perfect for a warm day, especially if you’ve left your third arm at home.

I checked the website the night before to make sure that the buffet was happening this year. And there it was. “Fine Dinning,” it said. Ha ha.

Except that it wasn’t a typo.

Because this year, right next to the tables with their little white tablecloths, was a stage.

With a Celtic rock band playing on it.

Loudly.

With every decibel reverberating through the big concrete jet hangar-sized building around us.

We ate there anyway because we were starving and the food was good. But next year I’m bringing my earplugs.

Taking the Characters for Chili Dogs

 

Sometimes you write the story; sometimes the story writes you. I generally have more luck when the story does the telling. When I jump in, it usually ends up like it does when I jump into someone’s conversation at a party and suddenly realize that they were talking about real saints and not the New Orleans football team.

Anyway, the current story takes place in Hollywood. Mostly. Important bits of it do anyway. And when I think of Hollywood, I think of faded glamour and hot dog stands, not movie stars and Kim Kardashian.

Which means that I would be a lot less disappointed on a sightseeing tour of the Sunset Strip.

But I digress.

The story needed a location in Hollywood and I immediately thought of Carney’s. Carney’s is a hot dog stand in an old train car, well, actually, two old train cars, that has been selling chili dogs on the Sunset Strip for almost forty years. Back in my Hollywood days, we used to pass by it many times a night as we cruised aimlessly down Sunset, but I’d never actually been inside. Still, there are photos on the Internet, so I figured I could wing it.

I figured wrong.

Because me randomly picking a place I don’t really know is not the same as a character grabbing hold of a location himself. The characters know what they are going to do before I do. I’m not sure how that happens, but if I get out of the way and let them, the story comes out much better.

So here I am with a scene that could best be described as useful. It moves the action from here to there, but it is about as energetic as a dead possum. This left me with two options. Go to Carney’s or just make stuff up. I chose Option A.

Because Option B does not involve chili dogs.

Elaine took pity on me with my broken down car and my broken down foot and agreed to drive me up to Carney’s for some lunch. She was a little concerned about the traffic. She needn’t have worried.

Turns out there is nothing more deserted than the Sunset Strip on a Sunday morning.

We pulled into the driveway beside Carney’s. No one at the picnic tables. No one at the windows of the train car. Only one car in the parking lot.

“Are you sure it’s open?”

“Well, if it isn’t, we’ll go to Canter’s.”

Which wouldn’t help the story at all, but they have a Reuben to die for.

So we park and get out. I’m at least going to take a few photos of the outside of the place. As I’m framing my first shot, another car drives in. A friendly couple from Texas gets out and they immediately volunteer to take a photo of Elaine and I with the train car if we will take a photo of them with the train car.

Which leaves me in the embarrassing position of having to explain that I don’t really want any photos of anyone in front of the train car, just photos of the train car, all by its lonesome.

For a story.

About vampires.

On the Sunset Strip.

Damn it.

I may not have mentioned the vampires because I usually don’t if I can get away with it. I don’t remember. I was too busy feeling awkward.

Elaine saves the day by offering to take a photo of them. I go back to taking shots of various angles of the train car, hobbling around as much as my foot will let me.

I took pictures of everything because I wasn’t sure exactly what I needed. I took pictures of the tiny train car bathroom. I took pictures of the zigzag handicap ramp. I took pictures of the picnic tables out front. I took pictures of the view of the hotel across the street from out of the train car window. Pretty much everything but the far west end of the train car because it was far and I was gimpy.

So I get home, full of chili dogs and inspiration. Things are flowing nicely. I know almost every inch of Carney’s now. I can use anything.

Drac decides he needs to make an entrance from the far west end, the only part of the entire building I hadn’t had a good look at.

Thank goodness for Google Maps.

Meanwhile in the Santa Monica Bay…

Another photo challenge from Mark. (Mark provides the photos, I provide the story.)

It was hot. Stick to the car seat hot. Burn yourself on the door handles hot. So four friends, Lenny, Charles, Steve and Michael, who all happened to be cotton swabs, decided it was a perfect day to escape the Valley and go down to Santa Monica for a dip in the ocean.

Luckily the woman who owned the purse they lived in had the same idea.

When she took out her sunscreen, they spilled out onto the remarkably wood-like looking sand in a rather neat row.

Lenny jumped to his…other end. “The beach! We’re here! Let’s get wet!”

Charles frowned and tugged at the white plastic cap on his fluffy head. “Why do we have to wear these stupid bathing caps?”

“The Olympic swimmers wear them.”

“We aren’t Olympic swimmers, Lenny. This makes me look like a Q-Tip.”

Michael shook his head. “You are a Q-Tip, Charles.”

“We can pretend we’re Olympic swimmers.” Lenny hopped into the surf. “Come on, come on, let’s go.”

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Charles asked.

“It’s a great idea.” Steve floated out farther from shore.

“Charles, just go with it.” Michael shoved Charles into the water.

Lenny bobbed excitedly. “Oh, look. Is that a dolphin?”

Michael squinted in the direction his friend was…tilting. “Wait, Lenny. Don’t go over there. That’s not a dolphin. It’s a tweezer shark!”

“No, it’s not. It’s a cute little…”

But it wasn’t.

“Oh my gosh, the tweezer shark killed Lenny!”

Charles rolled his eyes. “Who didn’t see that coming?”

Michael turned to him. “Charles, try to focus. Lenny’s dead and we’re stuck in the water with a killer shark.”

“I was hoping Lenny had filled him up.”

“Charles.”

Steve pointed at the surface of the hard brown water. “Hey, look, a slushie cup.”

Charles shoved it away. “Damn it. Doesn’t anybody read those ‘Drains into the Ocean’ signs on the storm drain outlets?”

Steve grabbed the cup. “Maybe we can use this to muzzle the shark.”

Michael nodded. “Yeah, if he’s got a cup on his nose, he can’t bite us. We’ll be safe.”

Charles shook his head. “Not if we’re close enough to the storm drain outfall to be finding discarded slushie cups.”

“Charles, are you going to help or not?”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Pull his tail.”

“What?”

“Pull his tail. Then while he’s looking at you, Steve and I will sneak up and seal his mouth closed.”

“Unless he’s got me in it.”

“We’re not going to let him eat you.”

“You let him eat Lenny.”

“Lenny was an idiot. Now when I give the word…”

“Look out, it’s coming again.”

“He got Steve!”

“Okay, Charles, it’s you and me and the Slurpee cup.”

“We could just get out of the water.”

“Charles.”

“It’s not even very deep here. Look.”

“Just hold the other side of this cup and when he swims between us, shove it onto his nose.”

“So if you lose your left hand to a shark, do people start calling you Lefty?”

“NOW!”

“Wow, it actually worked. Maybe they ought to change those signs on the storm drains to do not throw anything but the occasional slushie cup.” Charles’ voice trailed to a stop.

“What’s the matter now?”

“The cup fell off.”

“Uh-oh.”

Life in the Not-So-Fast Lane

So last night I’m on the 405 driving home from my niece’s baby shower when suddenly my Check Gauges light starts flashing. In a frantic panic-stricken sort of way. But I’m not too far from home so I think that maybe I can tough it out. People go weeks with their warning lights blinking. I can make it a few more miles.

But I was wrong. Less than a mile later, my headlights start to dim.

Now the last thing you want is to be on the freeway with no lights so I take the next off-ramp.

Into the darkest, most deserted area in the entire state of California.

Part of the darkness may have been due to the fact that I was pretty much done in the headlight department and my dashboard lights were beginning to go, irising in until there was just a barely visible glow in the center of the speedometer.

So I could watch the speed drop closer and closer to 0.

The street I am on, which seems to be a large street, comes to a sudden end at the next light. Maybe it’s the airport. Maybe it’s not. Whatever it is, I need to make a decision. Turn onto the dark scary street to the right or turn onto the dark scary street to the left. Since the light was red and slowing down seemed to accelerate the death throes of the car, I went right. Without even trying to stop. Half hoping a cop would see me and pull me over and give me a ticket and call me a tow truck.

But there was no one anywhere. No cops, no pedestrians, nothing. Just empty industrial buildings and streets without streetlights. Just me and my car and whatever was lurking in the dark.

So I flip a U and go back the other way. Ahead I can see something brightly lit. Gas station maybe, mini mart, football stadium. I’m not really picky at this point.

I just want to be anywhere but here.

It turns out to be a car dealership. I have to make a left into the driveway. Traffic is coming, but my car is threatening to die right there in the street, so I’m inching into my left turn, hoping the three other drivers coming toward me will take the hint and speed past before I die crossways in the road.

They do.

I pull my twenty-year-old car up to the front of the luxury car showroom. Hallelujah, there’s a security guard. I roll down the window.

“Excuse me, can I park here a minute to call AAA?”

“I’m sorry, the dealership is closed for the night.”

“Is there a service station around?”

“About four blocks that way.”

“Thanks.”

I step on the gas. My car flashes the Check Engine light, gives a little death rattle and ceases to function.

Great.

But the security guard is sympathetic and tells me that there are a few guys left inside the building. Maybe one of them can help me. I leave my poor burnt-smelling vehicle and walk into the showroom. It is full of cars I could never hope to buy ever. I wander up to the first person I see, a nice-looking man with a goatee.

“Excuse me, I’m broken down in your driveway. Would it be okay if I hang out in here while I call AAA?”

He smiles. “Of course. I’m stuck here until my clients finish up in Finance anyway.”

I thank him about a million times and pull out my phone. The battery is almost dead. For a moment, I have visions of being stranded in the dark with no phone and feel a surge of gratitude for this small oasis. In fact, if you have to get stranded somewhere, this is pretty much breakdown nirvana. Lights, bathrooms, water fountains, snack machines and a security guard.

I mean seriously.

Anyway, the tow truck comes an hour later. The driver apologizes and says that they are having a super busy night. He’s not sure why. Maybe the heat. I wave goodbye to the security guard as we pull out of the lot. She waves back.

Enough adventures for one night.

I’m going home.