"Ultimately, it was about catharsis, and the feeling of being totally unrestricted," said the thirty-two year old punt rocker across from me at the table. "I'll freely admit, I'd bought the media story about hardcore punk, and punks in general. I thought they were all just teenage heroin addicts. Lesson learned: don't judge a book by its cover. I'm glad Fang didn't."
Erica, the thirty-something punt, leaned over and kissed the cheek of the teenage girl next to her, another punk. The girl's name was Fang, she'd named herself after her favorite band. In homage to Sammy, Fang's singer, her hair was about a half inch long all over, except for a patch right up front, which was about five or six inches long, what is known as a devil-lock. Fang had turned sixteen a week earlier. Six days earlier, the correct paperwork for emancipating a minor had been collected from the Minnehaha County courthouse. Two days later, Fang's parents were bribed with a gram of crack cocaine into signing the paperwork. The next day, a judge declared her parents in contempt --- they never showed up for the court hearing --- and granted the emancipation.
The day after that, Fang, Erica, and a couple of Fang's larger friends arrived at Fang's parents' house in a van, and began emptying her room. Mom, Dad, older brother, and younger sister were ignored when they asked about where Fang was going. Erica stayed on guard duty inside the van, and Fang's room was never left unattended. Otherwise, the rest of Fang's family would steal anything they thought could be sold or traded for drugs. It was mostly personal stuff, clothes, records, the TV, and the stereo. What was abandoned would be out of the house within five days, sold or bartered by the others.
Now Fang was emancipated. She was still jail bait in the eyes of the law, but she had freedom of movement. Living with Erica could now happen with no legal repercussions, so long as they weren't caught in bed together. Erica was overjoyed, to her, Fang was the hottest thing since they first poured asphalt in Georgia during the summer. Fang was about five foot seven, skinny with tits that were a little out of proportion, wearing combat boots, ripped jeans, and a Fear t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off. To her credit, she really did seem enamored of Erica, not just treating her like a sugar mama.
We're sitting in Big Vinny's, a mafia-owned restaurant on Wilshire Blvd. just on the border of Beverley Hills. With me is Mallory Olaffsen, a Minneapolis transplant who is under contract as a writer with Inana Productions, knocking out intelligent porn scripts. Erica and Fang are also from Minneapolis. Mallory knew Erica from the dyke scene there, and also knew she had a lot of writing talent. We needed a third writer (Besides me and Mallory), so Mallory contacted Erica and asked if she'd like to try for the job. The upshot was that Erica loved the idea of writing for Inana, but wouldn't relocate if she had to leave Fang behind. Fortunately, Fang's birthday was a week away when Mallory first contacted Erica, so Mallory had instructed Erica to send copies of a few stories, and also submit two demo scripts, both for our half-hour mini-features that were going to slowly replace the standard jack loops we'd produced for years. Erica had a ten day deadline. She had the scripts to us, via FedEx, five days later. And by God, they were really damn good.
What concerned me was Erica's personal life. Erica had come out of the closet two years earlier, divorcing her husband. Mallory had described Erica as being at complete non-entity when she first started showing up at the dyke bars and clubs, dressed like a Baptist librarian, shy, totally lacking in confidence.. Then she met Fang, who was spare-changing outside a dyke bar. Erica bought beer for Fang, her friends, and herself. Then Erica invited the three young punks back to her apartment. Then, Erica decided she was interested in the overtures made by a fifteen year old girl, and they climbed in bed together. Both the music and ethos of punk rock were a revelation to Erica, and she threw herself in head-first, cutting and dying her hair, dressing the part, getting piercings and tattoo work. Her generous alimony meant she didn't have to work, but she was smitten with a teenage girl, and wanted the two of them to live together. Fang split time between her own house and Erica's, for business reason: she was dealing multiple drugs in her Edina neighborhood. (It was revealed later she'd dropped out of school after eighth grade.) Erica and Fang had been together four months.
So, here was a woman in her thirties who had suddenly and violently changed her lifestyle and way of living in a big way. Four months before, she barely drank. Now she was smoking weed and snorting meth. And, of course, she was head over heels for a teenage girl; the sexual aspect of their relationship (which seemed to be a big part of it) meant she'd be going to jail if they were caught, and have her registered as a sex offender. I felt she was demonstrating some rather reckless behavior. And, I was considering putting her on a one-year contract with Inana.
One thing that relieved me a bit was that when Fang looked at Erica, the adoration was clear on her face. At her age, being fickle is almost a legal requirement. But the two had been exclusive with each other four months, or about nine centuries when you're a teenager. Mallory would later comment on just how much Erica's personality had changed. Personally, it was probably for the better. Erica wasn't loud or brassy, she didn't go through nine beers at lunch, she seemed to me like a woman with decent self-esteem whose midlife crisis had kicked in about fifteen years early, hence the embracing of hardcore punk. I wasn't bothered by her behavior at all.
"I guess one of the questions is, if I sign on, where should I move to?" asked Erica. "Los Angeles or San Diego?"
I replied, "My recommendation is LA, and for reasons of your own comfort. San Diego is a pretty conservative town. People are disturbed enough by two women holding hands or kissing. Two punk rock girls kissing? You will attract attention. In San Diego, you'll be watched by the neighbors, who can't figure out those dyke freaks who moved in recently. If anyone learns Fang's age, somebody's gonna drop a dime on you, and then you're up shit creek. In LA, people mind their own business. This means your place could get burglarized in the middle of the day and no one would pay attention, but it also means you two will also be ignored. For the first three months of your contract, you and I will be meeting on a weekly basis, just to put our heads together and keep your scripts tight. We'll switch off weeks: you come down one week, I'll come up here the next. What do you drive?"
Erica replied, "I have a 1989 Toyota Camry...."
"Which is a total dork-mobile," added Fang.
".... And a 1966 Triumph motorcycle...."
"Which totally rules."
I gave a low chuckle and said, "Okay, we're gonna take an interlude in this interview briefly. I've gotta ask, why the hell did you buy a Triumph of that vintage? As a collector's item?"
Erica frowned and said, "No, I ride it. We both ride it. Why?"
With a sigh, then a pause, I observed, "Because old Triumphs are oil-leaking wrecks with primitive technology, tech that was primitive when the damn things were built. How long have you owned it?"
"About two and a half months."
"How many times has it bit the dust, and needed to go to a shop?"
Erica lost her defiant stare and answered, "Three times," while looking at the table.
"Screw you, stupid, our Triumph is awesome," Fang shot at me.
I smirked at the teenager and said, "No. No, not really. Keep the damn thing as a collector's item. Wait twenty years and sell it at a good profit. But as transportation, forget it. Especially in Southern California. When that fuckin' thing craps out on you when you're maxing along on the 405 at seventy, you are in some major trouble, there's a good twenty-five percent chance of you being hit while you try to stagger the damn thing to the shoulder. Then you've got to e have it towed someplace that will fix a Triumph, and pay for the repair. Keep it, garage it, ride it around the block a couple times weekly, and sell the goddamn thing when it's more rare."
"Don't you like motorcycles?" sneered Fang.
Mallory and I both started laughing. Mallory said, "Lenny owns a Harley-Davidson that's customized, it's a beautiful machine. And he prefers hot rods. Him and his wife both do, they have real slingshots. What is it Bekka drives again?"
"A 1964 Ford Falcon. 289 motor, four barrel Holley, and a supercharger. We also have a 1970 Plymouth Sport Fury, a 1971 Cutlass 442, and my Cadillac, which I had customized. It's a Fleetwood with the Police Interceptor package under the hood and dual exhaust. Also, Bekka has a custom purple Harley Sportster. Bekka and I are not conservative drivers. But we do insist whatever we drive is reliable, hint hint.
"Personal advice time. If we take you on, move out here, and get used to Los Angeles driving. It'll take some adjusting to, just ask Mallory and Jill. Then, decide if you'd feel comfortable riding am motorcycle of any kind in LA. You may get the feeling you're a hell of a lot happier being surrounded by steel. And if you do want a putt, talk to me, and I'll sniff around for a custom Sportster you can buy."
"Great, we'll be stuck with the dork-mobile out here," grumbled Fang.
Erica said, "I have to admit, everyone seemed to have horror stories to tell me about LA driving, when I told people I may move out here. That's got me kinda nervous. I know Mallory dumped her old AMC and picked up a big bomb from the Sixties when she got to LA...."
"Not quite accurate," said Mallory. "I got rid of the Eagle while I was still in Minnesota, no way would that thing have made the drive here. And uh, Lenny bought me the Tempest. He wanted me to feel safe on the road, so he got me a car where I'm swaddled in sheet metal, not fiberglass and plastic. Jill still has Pig Pen, of course."
"Huh?" said Fang.
"It's an old cop car Mallory's girlfriend Jill bought at auction," Erica explained. "Speaking of Jill, where is she?"
"At work," answered Mallory. "Besides, this is a business lunch."
"Is she still buff?"
"You better believe it," Mallory chuckled. "If anything, even more so. Remember, she's working as a personal trainer, and we live a ten minute walk from Muscle Beach. She goes there to lift and frustrate guys. The other bodybuilders are almost all guys, of course. Here comes Jill, a chick who takes her lifting seriously and looks great. And usually, I'm on Jill's arm. The other lifters are a bit crushed when they see us kiss, Jill is off the market, in a lot of ways."
"Whatever," asserted Fang. "Fuck the straights, fuck breeders."
I began snickering into my fist. "So, is Queer Nation still leafleting in downtown Minneapolis?"
Mallory was far more bugged thatn I was. To me, she was just some kid shooting her mouth off, and big deal. Mallory showed Fang her teeth and said, "Baby doll, check your attitude. I know the separatist bullshit flies in the Twin Cities, but this is Los Angeles, California. I'm very aware that homophobia is a league sport in the Midwest, so cultivating that reactionary, militant Queer Nation attitude as a defense mechanism makes sense out there. Guess what? In Los Angeles, you can walk down the street with a bullhorn shouting, 'I'm a dyke!' and nobody will give a toss. Okay, you're a lesbian. Did you want a prize? The straights out here don't really care if you're queer, it's your life, so live it. All you're going to do, if you hold onto that little bit of cultivated bigotry, is make everyone -- straight and queer --- think you're an asshole. There's no war to fight here. If you move out, you'd better drop the prejudice and drop the attitude."
Fang was giving Mallory a querulous frown. "So.... If I kissed Erica, right here and right now, nobody would care."
"Depends on the length of the kiss," I stated. "Heavy make-out sessions in public, whether you're queer or straight, is viewed as being in bad taste. Tacky. Ill-mannered. But go ahead, get your tongue in Erica's mouth for a few seconds. The level of indifference will surprise you."
Erica said, "So, in LA, Fang and I can be a couple, and not be harassed?"
"Pretty much, yeah. Honestly? Your neighbors are gonna see Fang and think, 'She looks awful damn young.' But they'll also feel it's none of their damn business. You two look happy together, so whatever. Nobody's gonna drop a dime on you to the cops. And LAPD isn't kicking anyone's door down on morality charges. Fang is still jail bait, legally speaking, but what circumstances the nature of your relationship would be examined by the law is beyond me. Don't get caught locked in a sixty-nine on the hood of your car, or whatever, and you're golden."
"So me and Erica could just walk down the street holding hands or with our arms around each other, or whatever," said Fang. "And nobody's gonna give a shit."
"Pretty much, yeah," I answered. "Nobody's gonna get all bent out of shape, going, 'Oh goodness me, two women together!' What will run through most people's heads is, 'Aw, they're happy together, how sweet.' That's if they bother thinking about you at all."
"Look, thee's always going to be a few bigots around," said Mallory. "But they're far more scarce, and they're marginalized. Back in Minnesota, a big percentage of the population would see you two together, or me and Jill, and immediately think, 'Perverts.' A percentage of those are serious bigots, the ones who would yell 'Dykes!' as they drove by. But that crap is almost totally absent in Los Angeles or San Francisco." She stared pointedly at Fang and said, "So, having a shitty attitude with people because they're straight will just make people wonder what your problem is. You're being an asshole, a jerk.... and a bigot. So there are people who hate dykes for being who we are. That doesn't make it okay to hate straights for being who they are. So if you move out here, you'd better adjust your thinking. Orientation isn't an 'us versus them' situation like it is in Minnesota. So long as you're not into little kids, nobody cares out here."
We got down to brass tacks and began laying out information to Erica. (Fang pulled a Gameboy out of her pocket and began beeping away.) For the minis, Mallory was creating a character bible for each series, providing detailed information about the recurring characters. That way anyone could jump into writing mini scripts very quickly, they'd just need to read and reference the character bible to stay in canon. We were currently producing four features a year, and were planning to expand upward. Vinny and I (Vinny even more so) were the ultimate arbiters on scripts. The scripts for the minis would remain static, easy enough to conform with, although I reminded her to have only one or two location shots per episode, and keep those simple: a parking lot, a street, a bus stop.
"So when you get an idea for a feature, share wit me immediately. You don't need to provide lots of detail, a three sentence summary is fine. I just want to know the genre, and what it's about. That way you don't waste time and energy writing something we can't or won't produce, like a space opera or an epic. That's one of the things about writing for Inana, you'll need to look at what you're writing through a lens of time and budget restraints, and also locations. The minis were developed the way they were because we could have a single, static set for each series. Everything in an entire episode could happen on that one set, like on 'Married: With Children' or 'All In The Family.' Shooting on location slows production down, and can also be expensive, depending on where you want to shoot. Yes, a feature will pretty much require location shots --- redressing sound stages is only so effective --- but a single location shot can eat up a full day. Basically, make locations count. No scenes inside a mall food court that only last thirty seconds.
"Above all, keep writing! And it doesn't matter what. Your brain is gonna knock around thoughts and concepts and notions, half-formed ideas, all the time. Write 'em down and save them. Saving the random gibberish you come up with will help you avoid what I call 'target fixation.' You'll be working on a feature script, and it will feel like the narrative is locked up, you've written yourself into a corner. Don't keep whaling away at the script, put it aside and leaf through your random thoughts. Find something, anything, that sounds interesting and start to expand on it. Don't treat it like a whole new script --- not yet --- but start filling out the random idea into a full treatment. Go back to your locked-up script in a while, when you're brain isn't tired of kicking around that problem anymore.
"Have you ever used a PC?" I asked Erica.
"No, never," she replied.
"Are you willing to try and learn the basics of using one? You don't need to be a geek, you just need to be able to turn the damn thing on, perform basic tasks, and use the text document program. Anything you create in that program is a file. Store files in folders, just like normal. Create folders to specify the groupings of each file. Like, you'd have four folders for each series, and in those folders you'd have another folder for collecting your brain waves, another folder for active scripts, and another folder for completed and produced scripts. All the information is right there, you're not spending a lot of time squinting at cocktail napkins. Personally, I carry a micro-cassette recorder with me while I"m driving. If a thought pops into my head, I tape it, then transcribe it into the computer. Same with written notes. Don't be intimidated by PCs, you only need to learn specific things, you don't need to be able to build an operating system."
"Can I write parts and have a specific performer in mind for that role?" asked Erica.
I considered and said, "To an extent. If you need serious comedic talent, you'd probably want Sky Tyler in the lead. Just try not to play favorites. Skye Tyler never could have played the lead in 'Succubus,' and Becky Page never could have played the lead in 'Temporary Pleasures.' Don't try and cram a performer into a role, just because you want that performer to be around."
"Speaking of Becky Page, will I ever meet her?" Erica asked.
"Yeah!" chimed in Fang.
"I'm sure you will. And to start getting you trained now, her name is Bekka Schneider in real life. If she knows you work for Inana and you insist on calling her 'Becky,' she'll assume you're either somewhat simple or very lazy, you can't be bothered to dredge her real name up. With Bekka producing part-time now, she'll be interested in progress with scripts, knock around ideas for scripts in progress. You'll be having meetings with me, Bekka, Steve Stillman, Vinny Morelli, and Mallory, although rarely all at once. Bekka is just.... around, all the time. Both our lives are very intertwined with Inana Productions at this point. She'll hang around when we're in pre-production and production of features, just to provide another ear for ideas, another eye for details. And if she's not at one facility, she's probably at the other."
"So, when I write a script, I drive it down to the studios?" Erica asked.
"No,' corrected Mallory. "We do a lot of work with fax machines. When a script is still in creation, you might want an opinion on how a particular chunk of dialogue or scene is going. So, you fax the appropriate pages to whoever you wanted to talk to. When the script is complete at your end, you send a copy to Lenny. He'll give you a big stack of prepaid FecEx envelopes. Stuff in the script and send it off."
"Then what happens to the script?" asked Fang.
"First, I read the thing," I said. "I'll find places that seemed to be bogged down or stilted, or where dialogue has gotten clunky. I'll call you and we'll hash through tings. I rarely make totally arbitrary changes that affect more than a line or two. If i have an issue with a whole chunk somewhere, we put our heads together. It's your name in the credits, you should be happy with the script.
"I write in all the changes, then send it off to the secretarial service for transcription. Then, it goes to Vinny. You'll also get a copy of the amended script. He almost never makes alterations, and if he wants to, he'll call you up to discuss them. No, what Vinny is good at is editing for time. He can read a script and guess very damn accurately how much screen time it will have. Say the script, at this point, looks like it's about 128 minutes long. There's too much script, then, we want it to be between 90 and 112 minutes. Vinny will start cutting. He's good at slicing off stuff without losing interrupting the flow of narrative, or having a whole chunk removed. He may re-word dialogue, to keep it shorter. Like I said before, he's the ultimate arbiter, the senior editor, and so his word is final.
"The script gets transcribed again. We both get copies, then the correct number of copies are made and distributed to cast and crew. And away we go. The cast starts read-through, then blocking and character refinement. We hammer out pacing, the performers polish dialogue, and get comfortable with their roles. After three weeks of that, we go into production."
Mallory added, "In Hollywood, a writer will submit a script and never see it again. The producers and director and director of photography and the flippin' caterers will start editing and adding and changing things, with no input from the writer. Personally, that's hooey, and Lenny feels the same way. I writer can go see a movie where his or her name is in the credits, and barely recognize what's on the screen. The attitude is the script belongs to the studio, not the writer, so the studio will do what it jolly well pleases with it, and the writer can cry a river if he doesn't like what the studio did with the script. And technically, the scripts at Inana are owned by the studio, but we don't play that 'Let's second-guess everything the writer produced' game. Lenny is hiring you to be creative, and your creativity isn't over with on a script until Vinny has it."
With a frustrated sigh, Fang looked up from her Gameboy and said, "But you guys are skipping the important part, which is, when doe we get to meet Becky Page?"
"Bekka Schneider, babe," Erica corrected with a smile and raised eyebrow.
I chuckled and said, "Well.... Erica hasn't even said if she wants to sign with us or not. I hope she does, I'll tell you right now that both the demo scripts she gave me will be produced. They're great, they work perfectly. So, Erica, what do you think? Do you feel like leaving everything familiar to you, so you can live in the town that gave the world, Charles Manson, the Rodney King riots, smog so bad you can chew it, the concept of 'super-commuting,' and making narcissism a lifestyle, not mental illness? Do you want to be legally committed to writing scripts for fuck flicks for a year? Can you handle living in one of the most multi-ethnic places in the world?"
Erica stared at a point somewhere above my head for three seconds, then said, "Yes. Where do I sign? I'll be paid to be creative, work from home, and write out hot sex." She looked at Mallory and said, "Girl, you have no idea how jealous a lot of the Sisters are of you. Not only did you and Jill move to California, you've both ended up with jobs you love and that pay well, too. As much time as people spend slagging on California, especially LA, I think everyone wishes they were here, and not Minnesota." Then, with a chuckle, "So when was the last time it snowed in Los Angeles?"
"1962," I replied. "A dusting downtown, maybe three-quarters of an inch at Griffith Park. Probably just enough snow on the streets to cause 438,000 bang-ups between cars. The insurance companies are still sorting through the claims."
Mallory said with a smile, "Girlfriend, don't even bother packing your parkas and boots and all your 'winter only' clothing. Sell it all before you leave. Do you know what they consider 'cold' around here? Fifty-five degrees. A couple other things missing are humidity and mosquitoes the size of pigeons. You have a favorite type of ethnic food? Here, there are entire neighborhoods populated by people from that culture. There are as many radio stations as there are spots on thband, and they're all playing different types of music."
I continued, "The tap waster tastes like you're sucking on an iron bar, even perfectly healthy people will have oxygen tanks at home, for when the smog is bad enough, commuting from Pasadena to Torrance is a multi-generational undertaking, certain forms of mold are more intelligent than the average LA schoolteacher, and Al Davis, owner of the Raiders, is allowed to walk free and un-muzzled. Oh, and many people think Barry Diller is a creative genius."
"Barry Diller?" asked Erica.
"He's the man behind 'Saturday Night Fever,' 'Laverne and Shirley,' and the existence of the Fox Network. He's also Hoovered the dicks of more nineteen year old white boys than every hooker in Manila combined."
"You don't like him because he's queer?" Fang asked suspiciously.
"Hardly. I've Hoovered a couple dicks in my own lifetime, no biggie. But Barry Diller keeps himself surrounded by these pretty-faced twinks twenty-four seven. Barry, you're fifty years old and bald as an onion, Grow a little dignity and stop acting like you're cruising glory holes in the bathrooms at West Hollywood High School." I snickered. "Really, I was surprised to learn Diller is gay. Given what I'd read about the man, I'm surprised he's interested in sexual contact with anything organic, much less human."
Mallory smiled, "There's kind of an ongoing war between Lenny, Inana, and Hollywood. Hollywood hates Inana Productions, and by extension Lenny. They hate that Inana has made porn an accessible and accepted form of entertainment, Inana is cutting into their profits by selling all these multi-millions of video tapes at each release, and hate that Lenny produces them for a fiftieth of what it costs the major studios to make a film.
"About eighteen months ago, Variety did an article on Inana, which included some rather bitchy quotes from various studio big-wigs. The press asked Lenny for a response, and boy, did they get one. He told them that he didn't care what Hollywood thought of him, since Hollywood was the most sleazy, pathetic, wasteful, and useless industry in the world. He capped it off by suggesting everyone in the board rooms of the studios should kill themselves. They should all commit suicide to escape the shame and guilt they all must suffer, from making so much money while being so useless."
I picked up the story. "So, Variety and other publications quoted me. The studios went apoplectic. I was a twenty-three year old punk rocker who ran a porn studio, I had no right to criticize Hollywood. They'd seen pictures of me, so they labeled me a criminal and a reject who somehow created these mega-hit features.... and they were porn, on top of it all. They all bitched to the press about what a scumbag I was, and when I came to Hollywood looking for a job, they'd be slamming the doors in my face.
"The press asked for a response to their response, and I just laughed and opened up on them again. I'd never work in Hollywood, I hated the place, Hollywood sucks shit. I'd rather pump gas for a living than deal with the worthless semi-humans in Hollywood. Oh, and once again, all the studio executives should kill themselves, and I was only half-joking when I said that. This was duly reported, which set off the howler monkeys in the studio executive suites again. And we've gone round and round for a while now. Hollywood says Inana's movies are just porn. I say, damn right, what's your point? But Inana's movies are porn that's entertaining to watch the whole way through, which is why we have the success we do. They say Lenny Schneider is a criminal punk who doesn't know his place. Well, boo fucking hoo. I know my place, and my place has no connection to Hollywood, so I don't give a fuck about their opinions of me. And they should kill themselves, anyway. Wash, rinse, repeat."
"We were thinking about visiting Hollywood...." Erica stated.
"Not a hell of a lot to see," I told her. "Universal is the only studio that offers tours to the public, and they're up in the Valley, not Hollywood. Melrose Avenue is pretty cool, really awesome trendy shops and stuff. But unless you feel like trolling for hookers, Hollywood Boulevard is just plain fucking grim. I mean, who gives a shit about the Walk of Fame anymore? Okay, maybe your favorite singer or actor has a star. You want to go stare at a plaque embedded in the sidewalk? Knock yourself out, I suppose. Go visit the Getty Museum, or Olivera Street, or MacArthur Park. You'll have more fun."
"Jill and I still have to show you around Venice," said Mallory. "You're gonna freak out, the boardwalk has the widest range of human beings imaginable, all of whom are doing whatever the heck they feel like, in public. And, of course, Muscle Beach."
I started laughing. "Ah yes. Now, Jill is turning her body into a work of art, she's very specific about where she adds mass, and how it's formed. The rest of the gym bunnies at Muscle Beach are all about adding more and more and more mass, until they resemble greased cauliflowers. Mallory, you remember when I got into it with that one lifter there. Did you notice how he walked? He was so bulked up, he couldn't swing his legs normally. He sort of waddled, he pivoted his whole body to set one foot in front of the other. And he learned that stronger is not always better."
"That reminds me. That guy, Mitch I think, was actually rather gracious with Mallory. She passed along your message, and he's fine with being on neutral ground with you. I guess he told Mallory in private that mentally, he literally could not process what happened. It was just too unbelievable to him, it didn't compute."
"What are you talking about?" asked Erica.
Mallory explained, "Lenny and Bekka were up visiting us after we'd moved into our place. We walked up to Muscle Beach. Jill started trying to have conversations withe lifters there. One of them saw Lenny standing there, with an unlit cigarette in his mouth. He yelled at Lenny no not smoke near the benches. Lenny pointed out he wasn't, the cigarette wasn't lit. So, the guy starts being a bully, telling Lenny, 'Throw away that cigarette now!' Lenny basically told him to back off, relax, and get bent, and the guy, he's this massive bodybuilder, came out and challenged Lenny. I guess he thought Lenny would run away when he came towards him. Um, Lenny pretty much beat him up, he...."
"I didn't beat him up," I interrupted. "I put him on the ground a couple times and he never laid a hand on me. The dude realized it was a lost cause, and stayed on the ground. I told him the only problem I has was he was being a bully, he was a grown man, he shouldn't act that way. His friends had all seen what had happened, so they came out and got him, then we took off. I wasn't looking for a fight, but I don't like bullies, and I wasn't going to put up with him."
"How the hell did you beat up one of those weightlifter dudes?" asked Fang. "Those guys are huge, all muscle."
"Exactly," I said. "All that mass may make you strong, but you're also slow. He'd try to swing at me, and I'd just step out of the way of his fist. And while it went past, I'd step back in and drill him in the face and head, where it's impossible to add muscle mass, you know? So long as I didn't let him grab hold of me, I'd be fine. I just kept away from his hands, and that was easy. Maybe he had more strength than me, but it didn't matter if he couldn't touch me. I wasn't as strong as him, but getting in solid shots to the face and head, over and over, wore him down. That's all it was."
"And as you pointed out, he probably hadn't been in a fight since seventh grade," said Mallory. "You used to get into fights for fun."
I rolled my eyes and said, "Not fun, exactly. I liked a good brawl, but it was more of a cathartic thing, than real pleasure. I also used to drink my breakfast and deal meth, one ounce minimum. When I very first started at Inana, way back when, I was a real piece of work."
We wrapped up that tangent and Erica moved to a practical matter: where should she live? How would she find a place? I knew LA, what was my suggestion? I asked her how close she wanted to be to the ocean. "As close as possible." I suggested the Venice/Santa Monica area, where two punk rock dykes (with an obvious age difference) could walk down the street arm in arm, and not get hassled.
"What about Redondo Beach?" asked Fang. "Both Black Flag and Pennywise are from there, that's gotta be a way cool place."
"No, not really," I stated. "Redondo is a perfectly nice, largish beach town in South Bay. There's no real counterculture to the place, it's just a town."
"Look at the bright side," commented Mallory. "We're not located in San Francisco."
"How so?" asked Fang. "Frisco is supposed to be an awesome town."
Deciding to correct the "Frisco" statement at a later time, I said, "Oh, it is, it is. It's also dense, expensive, and there's no place to park. I learned on my first trip up there, leave the car in the motel lot, then walk, take transit (which is actually practical in S.F.) or call a cab."
We worked it down to them living anywhere between Pacific Palisades and Palos Verdes: Redondo, Manhattan, Hermosa, Playa Del Rey, Venice, Santa Monica, even El Segundo.
Erica expressed concern over her car. Camrys are notorious dogs, and only as strong as any other Toyota sedan. She'd heard what LA freeways could be like, should she replace her car? ("Oh, fuck yes," Fang muttered.) I asked what sort of stories she'd heard about LA driving. It wasn't the fictions Jane had heard while in Europe (hundreds dead every week, gunfire, triple-digit speeds a norm), but was misinformed. The first correction I made was her assertion was that LA drivers are rude. "Not exactly," I told her. "LA drivers are self-absorbed, oblivious, and busy with other things while they drive. They are only vaguely aware of your existence, and anyone else's;. What you thought was rude behavior was nothing more than another driver unaware of your existence. You can't be rude to someone if you don't know they're present at all.
Other concerns: people shooting at each other on the freeway, days-long traffic jams, multi-car accidents, and corrupt law enforcement. I tackled these in reverse order.
"The CHP is as honest as they come, they're certainly easier to deal with than city cops. Regular cops just spend their time on duty waiting for something to happen. CHP actually has a job to do, they have tasks, number one being keeping the roads safe. That could mean running a traffic break to remove debris from a lane, or nailing a drunk driver, or calling for a tow truck for someone who's broke down.
"Big pile-ups are rare in LA. When they do happen, you hear about them because they're newx. The huge bang-ups happen in the Central Valley, during the winter, when there's tule fog." I paused to snicker. "Uh, days-long traffic jams? You're thinking of Woodstock. Things will eventually get moving again, the CHP is up front with whatever is causing the trouble, getting it out of the way. They'll stop traffic completely for a couple minutes so two trucks can drive down the freeway backwards from the ramp up. And the stories you heard about gunplay are considered a running joke in California. Yes, there were a few incidents, and they happened in a short period of time, so it seemed like some big thing. But it had been a long time since any shooting happened on the freeways. The odds just caught up. Haw, you know how tourism dropped in Florida after some foreign tourists were killed in carjackings and robberies? California has the freeway shootings to help run off the tourists."
"Perhaps you should go car shopping for Erica," Mallory smiled sweetly.
I considered this. Yes, a welcome aboard present besides the PC and fax machine. "Not a shabby idea," I tated. "Any suggestions as to what I should buy her?"
"Stick with your tradition of V8 American steel, preferably very fast."
"The Tempest isn't quick," I frowned.
"But it isn't slow, either," said Mallory. That V8 with the four barrel does a treat."
A sudden thought struck me. "On the subject of les.bians and hot cars, where's Gladys Krebsbach, our favorite post-menopause drag racer?"
"Still in Saint Paul, and hating it," answered Mallory, "Hubby freaked when she told him why the marriage was kaput. Obviously Gladys had been kidnapped by Satanic witches or something and had a spell placed on her, making her believe she'd been a lesbian her whole life without mentioning it. He actually tried to have Gladys committed to a psychiatric hospital, and was angry that 'lesbian' isn't a mental health issue. Gladys had to slog through the divorce, Roy being obstructive every step of the way. And then they got to working out alimony. Oh, boy. Roy was under the misapprehension that alimony is like a child's allowance, and just as large. His first offer was $50 a week. The judge asked him what he'd been smoking. Gladys highballed on purpose, asking $5500 per month. Of course Roy blew a gasket. But Gladys will be the one to come out on top in their adventures, she has bank statements and balances, tax returns, and other financial documentation showing that Roy is paid very well by his own company, and barely spends any of it. The bi-yearly new car for Gladys is the only sort of spending he does. He'll yell at Gladys for buying brand names.
"Effectively, what's happening right now is a slow-motion and contentious round of haggling. I've gotten the impression the judge is ready to award Gladys anything she wants, just to get Roy the heck out of his courtroom. Roy hasn't shown up drunk yet, but twice now a bailiff has smelled bourbon on his breath, and told the judge. At one point, Roy responded to an amount Gladys suggested with, 'She can't have that sort of money around!' The judge asked why not. He said, 'Because she's a lesbian!' The judge asked him to unpack that statement, and Roy began alluding to the vast number of drinks lesbians buy every night in 'those' bars, vast amounts of drugs consumed, incredibly large and complex mechanisms which are installed in every lesbian's bedroom to facilitate sex, traveling to San Francisco, Key West, and Bangkok, and of course large tithes to the Church of Satan."
I started laughing. "So every dyke's bedroom is a fun dungeon, huh? I guess when a dyke moves out of an apartment, she never gets her deposit back, due to the structural damage."
Mallory rolled her eyes and replied, "Personally, I have enough trust issues that I've never even played around with handcuffs when I was with someone. Jill has never suggested anything like that, and I'm glad. Anyway, I talked to Gladys about a week ago. She says it looks like at least six weeks before everything is settled. She had to get an apartment, staying in the guest house wasn't working. And by then, the first snows will be coming down, which may or may not play havoc on her actually moving. At least she didn't do what we'd suggested, and rent an apartment out here so it'd be waiting when she arrives.
Erica said, "Wait, Gladys? You mean Old Gladys? In her sixties, voice like a Duluth schoolmarm and the vocabulary of a sailor? Drives a big Lincoln?"
"That's probably her," Mallory averred.
Erica and Fang started laughing. "Oh wow, that old lady is nuts!" declared Fang. "Erica met her one night at Lush. Erica invited her over to visit the next day. There was a house party happening at a friend's place, a dyke rave-up, and so the three of us went. We took Gladys' car. She is insane at the wheel! She throws that Lincoln around like a go-cart! And she drives really fast, too. She was explaining about all these modifications she'd had done to the car to make it faster and handle better. At the party, people were a little confused. Here's this old lady, but she's wearing a black t-shirt with a pink triangle on the front, jeans, and Doc Martens. She was friendly with everyone, explaining she was divorcing her husband and coming out of the closet after, like, decades. She's this nice, quiet, little old lady, but every now and then she'll start swearing like crazy. Somebody will be a 'cocksucking asshole motherfucker piece of shit' and she says it in her quaint old lady voice. And she dresses to make it obvious where she stands, right? I'm surprised she hasn't joined Queer Nation.."
"And it's entirely me and Jill's fault," said Mallory. "She came out to visit, and we took her to a dyke bar in West Hollywood. She's sitting there in her plain dress and pearls and sensible shoes in the middle of a really hip lez bar, and.... I guess she had an epiphany, or something. She said she'd never even dreamed there would be places like that in the world, women dancing together and making out and generally being totally open. Erica, you know how 19 Bar can get a bit boisterous when it's late, and everyone's had a bit to drink? This place, it's just called Girl Bar, makes 19 Bar look like a church potluck. If you ask a girl to dance and she says yes, you WILL have her and on your butt within thirty seconds of hitting the floor. Some girls are there to seriously cruise, they just want a hookup, and they'll go in the bathroom and fool around, big time. It's like being in a queer bar, you'll see all kinds of things happening in the bathroom and dark hallways.
"Anyways, Gladys was driven to tears, she was so happy. All these Sisters in one place, acting how they felt like and not worried about the cops making a vice bust. We introduced her to people we know, and she'd tell them she was just recently out of the closet. They'd ask for how long, and she'd say, 'Oh, about forty-five minutes at this point.' So she's out in Minneapolis. Good for her. She lied to herself since the age of twenty-three about who she was, and it was killing her. Now she finally feels free."
We decided to go straight from lunch to Sunset Property Services in Santa Monica, the place Mallory and Jill had found their cottage through. We arrived and asked for Rod Watson, a man who had a high level of apprehension about Bekka and I. Especially Bekka. When we first met, the cottage had major problems with it, which needed to be fixed before Mallory and Jill arrived. Bekka, Watson, and I rode down to Venice Beach, Bekka at the wheel. She engaged in the sort of driving usually seen in a Hal Needham movie all the way there, Watson in the shotgun seat and convinced he was going to die at any moment. After inspecting the cottage, Bekka drove back the same way. (She offered to have me take the wheel but told Watson that I took more risks than her, and was a bit of a lead-foot. This from a woman who'd been hitting eighty-five on Lincoln Ave.)
Watson saw me and Mallory, and nearly choked on his own tongue. He asked how he could help, and I said our friends here want a place in one of the beach towns north of Palos Verdes, preferably Venice or Santa Monica. Move-in ETA, three weeks. Closer to the water, the better. Private parking, of course, Apartment or detached, it didn't matter. Two bedroom (to keep up appearances, just in case). They're more Minnesota refugees, and they want to experience seaside living, as best as possible.
"I'll warn you now, there's just no bargains up right now, not like Ms. Olaffsen and Ms. Gage got," Watson said. "Let's take a look at listings, locations, and prices."
We went in his office. He sat at his computer and tapped keys briefly, then his printer ran off a list of addresses and prices. He pulled a street map out, had Erica and Fang come over for a look, and began plotting out locations. I was close enough to see the relative location of an address. Erica's eyes got a bit big when she saw how much rents were. She wasn't worried about affording what she wanted --- not with $4000 monthly alimony coming in, plus the $3500 per month Inana was paying --- but it would be much higher than Minneapolis. Erica gestured to me, and began pointing at spots on the map. "Do you know anything about these areas?" she asked.
Watson had pulled the Venice and Santa Monica listings first, and marked the laminated street map with a dry-erase marker. I pointed at marks and said, "Okay, these two, don't bother. You're close to the beach, but your're also close to the pier, which will mean a constant onslaught of tourists. A headache. These through here, in the north end of Venice and south side of Santa Monica, pretty sedate residential neighborhoods, and they're close enough to walk to the beach. You can see how they're priced, though. Okay, these places, west of Lincoln and north of Venice Boulevard, those are all detached houses, but I have no idea what the neighborhood is like. Rod, your input?"
Rod looked at where I was pointing. He checked there was no one looking in the office and made a so-so gesture with his hand. In a quiet voice he said, "It's not barrio, but it's not exactly Bel Air, either. Minor gang problems, property crimes. like that." He paused and said, "These down here will be nicer."
He indicated an area east of the canals, bordered by Venice Blvd. and Washington Blvd. There were four listings available, two homes and two apartments. Gesturing at the apartment listings, I asked Watson, "Any feelings about the complexes?"
He tapped a finger on his desk, dredging up memories. Then he said, "Yeah, they're both good properties. Gated parking, you get a magnetized card you wave at a sensor to open the gate. Both have pool and spa, laundry on site, and if I'm thinking of the right people, their resident managers are on the ball. Built in the mid-Sixties, and maintained well. Worth the price."
I pulled out my pocket notebook and wrote down the addresses of all four listings, then stared at the map until I'd memorized the route in. Watson said, "If you'd like to see any of those places, let me know, I'll pull keys." He hesitated. "Uh...." he started.
"Mallory drove today," I said. "Besides, five in her car would be a bit cramped. You take Erica and Fawn, we'll follow you. Point out the sights as you drive."
We convoyed into the neighborhood. Watson stopped at the two homes first. One was okay by itself, but it was clear that unrepentant white trash lived next door: the weed-patch that had been a lawn was home to a 1961 Dodge pickup truck resting on its axles and a ratty slide-in camper. The other house was a three bedroom, not a two, and the backyard hadn't been maintained for at least two years. The tall grass was a genuine fire hazard. The dog in the yard backing up to the house didn't stop barking the entire time we were there, regardless of whether we were inside or out.
The first apartment complex screamed, "Built in the Sixties." We parked and headed towards the path in. Walking past the first building, I saw a small plaque that caught my eye. It said, "Medallion Homes." I called to the others and said I'd seen enough, we'd check the other place.
"What's the problem?" asked both Erica and Watson.
"This place was built by Medallion Homes, are you familiar?" Both shook their heads. "Every single appliance in there will be electric. Even the goddamn water heater. Mallory, you know what SoCal Edison's rates are like, you can probably see the flaw in having a completely electric apartment."
"Yes, I can," Mallory smiled. "Your electric bill each month would be about the same as a payment on a new Mercedes."
I continued, "I've also heard tell that Medallion's apartment buildings are steel framed, not wood, which sounds like a good thing. The problem was, their logic seems to have been, 'Well, the framing in the floor is so strong, let's cheap out on the actual flooring material.' They used, like, the cheapest, thinnest plywood they could locate. The floors flex under your feet."
On to the last. This was faux Spanish place, with lots of rough stucco and arches. Watson walked to the resident manager's apartment and knocked. An utterly normal couple in their late fifties answered the door. Watson explained he was showing one of the vacancies, that was fine with them. They looked at the four of us with no guile whatsoever and said they hoped we liked it.
This was an upper unit, at the top of the stairs. Apparently sixteen units per building, if the building was cut in half the long way it would be a mirror image. We went in. The carpet was thick and in good condition. To one side was a balcony. The glass slider opening onto it had insulating film on it, professionally done. Gas kitchen and water heater. One closet proved to have laundry hookups in it. The master bedroom was roomy, and also had a balcony. The appliances were late model. I listened, and couldn't hear any traffic noise, or other outside sound. Everyone was nodding and smiling, even Fang. Mallory asked about parking. "This is a two bedroom, so two spaces. There's also plenty of guest and overflow parking at the far end of the complex," Watson explained.
At one point while we were all poking around, Watson sidled up next to ma and quietly asked, "Are you.... importing lesbians from Minnesota?"
"Yeah," I answered. "The local ones are all stringy, too many vegetarians. I'm building a herd of grain-fed Midwest dykes. Gonna show 'em in the state fair next year." Catching Watson's facial expression, I said, "I'm making a joke." His face softened.
We wandered the complex a bit. The pool and spa were behind a locked gate, but they seemed clean and maintained from where we stood. The coin-op laundry area was tidy, had a decent number of machines, and also both a soda and snack vending machines. Erica asked how much rent and deposit were. Watson told her. Erica and Fang looked dismayed, Mallory and I were impressed.
"It's a good apartment in a good complex in a good neighborhood," I noted. "The rent is actually a bit on the low side, what I'd expect to pay in San Diego, not LA."
Mallory added, "Girls, you're in for a bit of sticker shock out here. Have you noticed gas prices?" They hadn't. "Check out prices when we go past a station. Groceries are higher, too. That's one of the reasons your salary is so high."
"Again, be glad we're not in San Francisco," I added. "Apartments are smaller but about fifty percent more expensive.... Shit, everything is a lot more in the City. Even going into Berkeley or Oakland greatly drops your cost of living."
"Fang and I are going to speak a moment," Erica said. "They walked over and spoke quietly about thirty feet away. When they finished, they kissed and rejoined us.
"We're gonna take it," said Erica. "How does it work, first month's rent down to hold it?"
"Deposit down, and non-refundable if you back out after signing an intent contract," answered Mallory. "That's how it was with our place."
Erica had evidently traded in a regular purse for an Army bomb bag, with the long strap. She reached into this and pulled out a checkbook. "Ready to rock," she announced. "How much and who to?"
Watson answered her, then asked an approximate date for their arrival. Erica and Fang both laughed, Fang responding, "Seven days from now is our goal. If that changes, we'll let you know."
We headed back to the office, so lease forms could be signed. Both Erica's and Fang's names would be on the lease. They filled out their respective information. Fang didn't have a lot. Name: Fiona Miller. DOB: 9/7/1976. Employer: none. School: none. Previous address: 1448 Hilldale St., Edina, MN. Rent paid at previous address: none.
Watson looked at the lease form, studied Fang's half, did the math for her birthday, and frowned at Fang. "You're sixteen years old? Um.... We can't have minors on a lease agreement. Why aren't you at home?"
"Because home sucked shit," Fang replied. "And I'm only sort of a minor now. The state of Minnesota legally emancipated me from my parents, sort of like a divorce. I can't buy alcohol or tobacco, I can't join the military, and I'm still jail bait, in theory. But I can rent and purchase real estate, sign contracts, have a checking account, shit like that. Here, I brought the papers with me."
She handed over her notice of emancipation. It was on nicer paper than a Florida emancipation. Watson looked at them inquiringly, then picked up his phone and dialed an extension. He said, "Ralph? I'm at a bit of a loss right now, could you come in here?"
Ralph from legal arrived in moments. Watson explained what was going on. Ralph read over the emancipation slowly, then set it on the desk. "It is what it says it is," he said. "She can be on the lease." He looked at Fang and asked, "If I may pry, what garnered the action of emancipation?"
Fang shrugged and pulled at her devil's lock. "Like I told him, home sucked shit. Mom's a crackhead, Dad's a drunk, a tweaker, and a rapist, my older brother is a junkie, and my little sister already has her first kid, at the age of thirteen. My dad is the father. Get it? Fuck my family, they're scum-fucks. Midwest white trash."
Erica volunteered, "No way was I going to let her remain in her house. We filed for the emancipation two days after her birthday. Her parents never showed up in court, so the emancipation was granted in absentia. Her home was, like, the Antichrist of the 'Father Knows Best' family."
Watson glanced down at the lease form and did the math for Erica's age. He frowned and said, "Are you two a couple? Are you romantically involved?"
"Of course not," smiled Erica.
"That would be illegal," added Fang.
"Besides, two women can't have sex together anyway. It's an impossibility."
Rather confused, Watson asked "It is? Uh, how do lesbians, uh...."
"We don't!" exclaimed Mallory. "Just ask the Reverend August Hoffman.... providing God's word in the North Star State!"
"It's true," snickered Fang. "Reverend Hoffman --- KMHR, 820 A.M. --- has declared repeatedly that while dykes are just as big of sodomites as fags are, it's a physical impossibility for two women to have sex. He has never presented any detail about this claim, but I'm guessing if there isn't a cock involved, then there is no sex at all, no matter how energetically you use your tongue and fingers and toys and strap-ons. Lesbians are directly mocking God, purposely giving Him the finger, by pretending we can have romantic and sexual relationships. Of course, we're not interested in men because of the decline of masculinity in this country. Us dykes all hate God, and want Him to know it. Me personally, I won't waste the energy in hating something that doesn't exist."
"Reverend Hoffman devotes a lot of time railing against the 'sodomite,'" said Erica. "Usually it's directed at the fags, but he'll call out dykes off and on, so we won't feel left out. He isn't aware that lesbians are actually God's chosen people."
"Oh, really?" asked Ralph.
"It's true. According to Hoffman, and others of his ilk, AIDS is God's punishment for homosexual promiscuity. Okay, given that reasoning. God loves lesbians, because we have the lowest HIV infection rates, well below straights. God likes him some dykes."
"Aw, nobody listens to those radio gospel preachers," Watson said reassuringly.
Mallory sighed and said, "Reverend August stays on the air somehow. His Arbritron rating must be good enough to retain sponsors in Minnesota."
A couple ticks passed, then Watson said,"So, is that why you and Ms. Gage, and you two, have moved to California? I never thought of Minnesota as a terribly conservative place."
"It's not the Bible Belt, shit isn't, like, overtly hostile," said Fang. "But Minnesota is conservative, bit time. They're all just Lutherans and Catholics, not evangelical holy rollers. There were phoned in bomb threats the first three years of the Minneapolis Gay Pride parade, but they were frauds. That's about as heavy as shit got. Minneapolis doesn't have big trouble with queer-bashing, and the queer bars are open about their clientele, but.... I feel sorry for teenage fags and dykes from upstate. Up there, if you outed yourself to your parents as queer, they'd try to put you in a psychiatric facility. You must have gone psycho, they didn't raise you that way! Fuckin' hicks."
"I complain about how conservative San Diego is, but it's a bastion of progressive thought compared to Minnesota, overall," I said. "In San Diego, people will get a little snotty if confronted by out queers. In Minnesota, especially upstate, they're horrified, they freak out. San Diego conservatives think queers are just perverts, sexually maladjusted. Upstate, queers are a direct affront to all that is decent in the world. Like Fang said, queers are purposely trying to piss off God by being queer, according to the locals. They made a conscious decision to directly anger God, for whatever reason."
"Amazing," murmured Ralph. "Remember, it wasn't until 1970 that the collective psychiatric profession stopped classifying homosexuality as mental illness. So things are getting better, slowly but surely. It's just taking longer in some places, I guess." He paused. "Wow, I'd never have guessed people were so close-minded. But then again, my only real exposure to Minnesota is listening to 'Prairie Home Companion' on public radio."
All three girls started laughing. "What's up?" asked Ralph.
The three girls looked at him and said in unison, "Fuck Garrison Keillor!"