Uncle Fred lets us borrow his old, heavy El Camino. My dad doesn't have a license so I maneuver the massive weight myself, thankful we aren't leaving the park. We drive around Malibu Lake and the smell of my dad's cigarette mingles with the sulphur. There is no chalk at the clubhouse to play pool so we go back to the trailer and sit outside at the picnic table. We listen to the motorcycles wind up and down Mulholland. Dad smokes cigarettes and drinks Busch. I drink a can of Coke. The smell of sagebrush and asphalt baking in the hot sun.
Everyone has names here; Postman Jim, Big Jim, Hooker John, Hippie Frank, Missouri (pronounced Meh-zurr-uh), The Red Head, Too-Tall-Tina. My dad is Brother David. I'm Nataliejo. One word. Or Nappy Joe in handwritten letters.
Before it gets dark we drive to K-Mart in Agoura and my dad buys new socks. He is drunk and I am impatient. We stop at the corner store and Mo has my Uncle's deli sandwich ready. We get cases of beer, coke and cigarettes.
My skin is hot from a day in the sun. I dreamt last night that my journal fell in the ocean and I watched it sink.
Inside the trailer it is dark and it smells like beer and books, cigarettes and mildew. I don't take my shoes off except to shower or sleep and then I have them ready. I steady myself from the shower, drying one foot off and slipping it into my flip flop.
Vinyl records are stacked up on the carpeted floor, cassettes and cd's on dusty shelves. Everything is covered in a thick layer of dust, but that does not represent neglect. Unless there is a baseball game, or an episode of Meerkat Manor, there is music playing. The walls are covered in art by Kenneth Patchen, my grandmother, my Aunt Cindy and more recently mine, all equally covered in dust.
A Greg Brown cd plays on the stereo while my dad fumbles around in the small, dirty kitchen making tacos. The kitchen carpet is sticky and if something falls, it stays, smashing into the carpet. Uncle Fred is in his room "paying bills", which is where he always is, behind a closed door. Dad sings along to the music and cuts lettuce. He uses canned roast beef for his tacos.
When my dad is drunk I want to cry. I want to yell at him, or just walk away from it all. I get impatient, frustrated, embarrassed. I let it go knowing that in the morning, things will be different.
Dad eats his tacos standing at the kitchen counter. The yellow light spills over his hunched shoulders. At the end of the counter is a full-size black garbage can, the kind you see outside on the curb. Above it, attached to the wall is a can crusher. Dad crushes a can and drops it into the blue, silver, red and white collection of sour aluminum. Uncle Fred shuffles out from his room, retrieves his sandwich from the fridge and cracks open a Budwieser. He sits on the couch and unfolds the wax paper from around his food releasing the smell of onions and jalapenos.
Uncle Fred tells me that Either or Bookstore in Hermosa is going out of business and it's as if he has told me of a friend's death. I have heard all the stories of when my dad and uncle lived in Hermosa in the late 60's, after dad returned home from the war. I have been taken to all the spots and stood for photographs.
We discuss walking up to The Rock Store tomorrow afternoon. Dad wonders if Jay Leno will stop by with his steam engine car.
Uncle Fred's studio is at the front of the trailer and during this visit it is where my cot is set up. The room is covered in books, yellowing papers scattered over every surface and the walls too, covered in posters (Charles Bukowski, mostly) and old photographs. Kenneth Patchen's typewriter sits alone on a small desk, a talisman. There is a cheap dresser stuffed with more papers. Uncle Fred opens a drawer and looks at me with a grin, Someday this will all be yours.
When Uncle Fred died in 2012 he did not officially leave me his papers. But the papers, the music, the books, they all found their way to me as if by some magnetic pull. Now my own home clutters with books and art and music and all the papers that were once stuffed inside his dresser drawer. They are "organized" in rubbermaids, waiting for my attention. Recently an old friend of Freddie's from The Pub & Grub days found me and mailed me two more boxes of papers, watercolors and photographs. I don't know anything about what happens to our souls after our bodies leave this earth, but I promise you that my uncle is somewhere laughing his ass off saying I told you so.
Him and my dad were both a pain in the ass. They bickered with one another and fought demons I will never understand, but they were magical beings. I am only now starting to uncover the depth of my lessons.