I’ve lost count of the number of people whom I’ve run into during the past several weeks (as opposed to the seven or so people I merely walked into), who have greeted me with a pleasant compliment, followed by one of two related questions. Something along the lines of:
“Your Divinity, I read with great interest your June edition, which you began by slamming Las Vegas and then moved on to a brief history of the Craig Ingraham Band and your reuniting after over 40 years… how you were chosen to participate in the Battle of the Bands at the Del Mar Fair and then doing a big concert in Balboa Park the next day…”
Then came the question. To the majority (who asked “So… how’d it all go?”) I would smile wistfully and sigh, “You just had to be there.” To the blessed handful of souls whose question was, “Where the hell were you?” I have extended and will continue to extend my love and thanks for having undertaken their fruitless pilgrimages.
These were two dates that had set my ailing heart aflutter like no others in years. I went up to Los Angeles to rehearse; many days I felt like I was walking on clouds. La dee da, welcome to the new Summer of Love!
And then illness knocked Craig Ingraham on his butt and we had to cancel both shows. Goodbye, Del Mar. Goodbye, Balboa Park. Goodbye, money and good times… goodbye, Grover’s Corners…
Hello, real world. May I offer a bit of unsolicited advice? You’ll enjoy your stay here a lot more if you can learn to reasonably handle disappointments. Unfortunately, I have a habit of being pathetically unreasonable. Combine that fact with 40 daily milligrams of Prednisone (“Don’t look it up on the Internet,” warned the doctor who prescribed it to me for a lingering cough, which it actually cured, while making me even more of a psychotic mess) and you get one miserably depressed freak.
Yes, there were days and nights of anguish such as I couldn’t have forseen – blackness and bleakness of such power that I would propel myself on long aimless walks in attempts to divert my mind from the relentless sense of cosmic assault. So it was that on one evening several hours after midnight I ended up alone on a path above Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach. I was in no danger of slipping off the cliffs, the path being adequately illuminated by the full summer moon. Shortly after I had stopped and taken to my knees, a soft, feminine voice slightly louder than the splash of the distant surf caused me to start.
“What are you so upset about?” it asked and I spun around and saw for the first time Stella (by starlight?), a dripping-wet, bathing-suit-wearing girl in perhaps her early thirties, her hands on her hips and her lovely head thrust forward, eyebrows scrunching downward in obvious concern. This vision before me couldn’t be real… but there she stood – and my first instinct was to dive tongue-first into the glorious grotto of her navel, until I noticed the piercing and the big shining stud that would endanger such an exercise.
How did she know anything was wrong with me? Surely she couldn’t have seen the tears skiing down my cheeks; my face had been turned away from her. It must have been the antique samurai sword I was holding in my hands, its gleaming point just touching my belly eight or nine inches below my breastbone. Suddenly embarrassed, I heaved it out into the sea. She came closer to me, sat down on her heels perhaps two feet away, and introduced herself, claiming to be a psychotherapist/relationship counselor with a practice in Solana Beach. She’d offer me her card, she explained, but her stuff was locked in her car a couple blocks east. Anyway, she said, smiling, if I felt like unburdening myself, this “would be a freebie.”
Go wash your mind out with soap. This is serious.
I told her the Craig Ingraham Band story from its beginnings in the early seventies up to the triumph and tragedy of the present days. She would occasionally hold up a dainty hand and request amplification or clarification of various facts and incidents, sometimes ooh-ing and aah-ing in a voice as comforting as a lullaby.
When I had finished I turned my head up to stare directly into her beautiful face. Now she knew my hurt. She knew my state, my being as well as anybody could on that night, and there she sat, wiping tears away from her own perfect eyes.
Before I was able to act on the absurd idea to ask her to remove the jewelry from her bellybutton, she sniffled loudly and said, “Everybody hurts.” I silently forgave her for innocently forcing me to think of the nauseating wail of Michael Stipe.
“Somewhere,” she continued, “there is a man on Death Row who all along has been innocent of any crime. Somewhere in England is a guy named Pete Best who got so close to making a fortune as a drummer that, to this day, he can’t listen to popular music without wincing…
“Somewhere here in San Diego – somewhere very close – is a woman who, as a girl, had a talent for dancing, singing, entertaining, and was chosen as one of the key New Musketeers when a big new program was being developed for the Disney Channel. Then this young girl was stricken with an ailment involving her vocal chords – right out of the blue – and she had to be replaced for the television show. The producers went back to the rejects from the original auditions, finally choosing a kid named Britney Spears to replace her.”
I was moved. “The girl who didn’t make it,” I said sadly, “was her name… Stella?”
“You mean me? Oh, no way. The girl’s first name was Frankie. Oh, her misfortune had nearly fried her. I’ve been helping her, as a therapist, for quite a long time now. Hose, it’s been wonderful meeting you. I wish I didn’t have to go…”
“Can I see you again? Can I come up to Solana Beach… maybe meet you after work…”
“I’d like that very much. How about tomorrow?” She described where her office was located and suggested I come by around 6pm. Then she kissed me and, still dripping, scurried off into the darkness, along with a large portion of my pain.
I showed up a bit early – about ten minutes – in Solana Beach, and the receptionist accused me of having a “twisted sense of humor,” demanding that I leave immediately. And that Stella and she had been best friends since childhood, until Stella’s lifeless body had been discovered floating in the surf off of Sunset Cliffs, exactly one year ago to that very day.
So there’s sadness and there’s maddening sadness and sadness that takes a long time to go away and even sadness that is determined to stick around you through your last breath. What really matters is that somehow, somewhere, there’s someone who has it even worse than you. Even if you have to make her up.
And on a mildly related front, a bit of irony: Las Vegas has started beckoning the Hose. Details next time.