by KAL and ROA
SECRET SHADOW GOVERNMENT
SALVATION ROAD by KAL
Chapter 2 - Secret Shadow Government
After Salvation finished his song they all squirmed away like quicksilver and melted into the flow of the dissipating Promenade traffic.
I stood there watching the crowd evaporate hoping he would not press me for money after all I had done for him.
Meanwhile all around me swirled the aristocrats of Santa Monica. Japanese women dripping velvet dresses and huge clogs tried to carry themselves with the air of a debutante ball but succeed only in clomping around clumsily like horses.
Everywhere men leaned against doorways or strutted like cocks of the walk, unbuttoned vests revealing their freshly exercised midriffs and tanned pectorals. Twelve year old urchins smoked cigarettes and braided each other's greasy hair near the grass of a water-spitting dinosaur.
Merchants spilled their jewelry on the sidewlk and began arranging it. Couples jautily stepped over them, their hands esconced into the back pockets of their mate's two-sizes-too- small cut-off jeans. Soggy old women with flowers under their arms hunched over and counted their change on the cement.
The great unwashed were commandeering the benches and mumbling to passers-by while gripping signs that read "Homeless man and cat need donations," or, from the more creative, "Lady Di seen drinking Beverly Hillbilly blood at swanky LA nightclub as part of exercise routine."
There were shaved-headed Mexican youths, white socks pulled all the way up to their knees, yelling one syllabled gay-bash slogans at anyone who dared go walk around them in a tanktop. There were club-crawling women dressed like majorettes in a parade. The more daring approached the look of trapeeze artists complete with blindingly sequined brassieres and glittery gold biker shorts or hotpants.
They pushed by chalk artists drawing charactures and washboard players belting cajun blues, past blacks with pulpy tomatoish eyes getting hassled by the bicycle-riding cops on Broadway, past ingenues swishing around in droopy bellbottoms, past whey-faced working waitress girls with soiled tuxedo shirts untucked and just gettting off work, past the European lobsters in pressed mustard t-shirts, past surfer blondes with ocean-stringy hair in macramae exposing their tanned-till-charcoal stomachs, past sweaty busboys on their cigarette breaks hands still wet with dishwater, past the high school hipster girls who turned down the waistbands of their Dickies to expose plaid boxers and the little bowls of their fat bellies, past Sean and Rai Roy the two classically trained painters rolling their canvasses out on the sidewalk and dickering around drinking coffee, past the rollerbladers gliding by in neon spashed lycra, past the thirty year old men in tailored aquamarine suits and Gauguin print ties fantasizing Hollywood playerdom over plates of angel-hair pasta, cellular phone in one hand, fork in the other, yes, those tartly done-up debutantes pushed past it all to finally halt at the line for a throbbing disco where even more statuesque goddesses turned up their noses at the throng and swished off to their waiting valet-parked convertible BMWs.
All around me the night buzzed with people waiting in movie lines beneath trees braided with Christmas lights. If you wanted some of any of it you had to be able to walk like you were fucking the air, like you had the libido to swallow it all up.
There was no place for a body that couldn't strut right, with just the right amount of disinterest and dollars. It took a lot of money to be able to sneer with that kind of confidence. It took hundreds of dollars worth of clothes and the right car. It took a sixty dollar meal for two complete with second bottle of wine on a patio overlooking the foot-traffic and beggars, the reflection of the sunset glinting off the windows of the bookstores to glimmer in your lover's money and wine glazed eyes. Who wouldn't want to stroll along a ten million dollar redevelopment project just before retiring to the twentieth floor of a townhome overlooking the Pacific?
Just being there made me full of longing. This summer I will grow my hair long, I thought to myself. This Summer's sun will grow long locks of golden hair.
These days do not darken sometimes until nine PM. Then it is a languid, humid darkness that doesn't cool. Last night in the house next door I heard two people making love. I can hear it now. Now, as then, I feel lonely.
That morning I climbed up to my rooftop to see the dawn melt the morning's cold pale apple-wedge of the moon away. Above all the rooftops of Los Angeles, except for the rush of the freeway traffic, I felt as though I were the only one awake. I've known people who were not fools in love but I am not one of them. If love is the little death then I want to die.
I was preparing to head to Santa Monica Boulevard where I could probably catch the #1 Blue Bus, get off, and walk the rest of the way home. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
"Hey Ossifer Bub." It was Salvation again.
"Hey," I said.
"Hey," He said again. "I want to thank you."
"Hey," I said again. "You going to give me a cut of that money?"
He looked stricken. "Fraid I can't do that," He said. He turned his head and kicked at his shoes.
"How much you make?"
"Not enough..That's what they call false profit."
I nodded. He nodded.
I said, "You got a lot of competition between the balloon man, the blind singer, that puppeteer, the string quartet, the jazz combo, that man who blows bubbles and shines the flashlight on them, the Peruvian folk group, the Aztec dancers, the hip-hop acrobats, the airbrusher, all those painters, all those other guitarists I just saw a guy upsidedown by his shoulders between two chairs while he played guitar. He was yodeling."
"They like that guy," he admitted.
"Seems like you changed your tune," I observed. "You don't think the world's gonna end after all?"
"Part of the act."
I asked, was he joking or was he for real? Was he a prophet of doom or an agent of redemption? Those days little chicken savants were running amok under the LA sky everywhere you looked. You couldn't sneeze without spraying somebody busy throwing up their hands to clamor about the sun about to fall into the earth or something. The rising tide seemed to promise some kind of sunburst cracking open the dam of time. All the television stations were letting themselves be swept up in the flood because it meant good ratings. Even the President had to consider going down in history as being the one who had presided over the rapture, except after that mayyber there wasn't going to be any more history; or perhaps it came every day anyway and in that case those not busy being born daily were busy burning.
"I got to exorcise my demons," He said. He flapped his arms like wings. "Feels good. I'll stairmaster the demons out. I'll wash the demons out of the dishes until I can hear them squeak when I rub them with my thumb. I'll do pushups to banish them from the muscles. At night I'll sweep them off the floor and out the door. With my special Reach I'll brush their plaque right out my teeth. Floss, too. Every day I do 105 situps penance and touch the scar on my stomach to remind me. I'm gonna wash those demons right out of my hair. I go to the Mat and launder them out of my clothes. This way I'm weeding them out of my Garden."
"Listen," he said seriously. "I owe you for going along with the act. Some do, some don't. Let me give you some pay-back. I got friends. I got friends in low places."
"Don't worry about it."
"Come," he said. "I'll show you the secret shadow government of Santa Monica." That was puzzling. "It's the secret homeless society. Underneath the streets in the sewers we meet and divide the territories of our inherited kingdom."
"I got to get home," I said, hesitating.
"Everybody's musicians," He said. "Tonight it's going to be jam. You play music." He said it like a statement.
I admitted I did.
"You're a singer."
I shrugged. "I shout, anyway. Guitar, piano..." I said.
"But you ain't like to jam?"
"I jam," I said.
"It's going to be about thirty of us," he said. He raised his eyebrows suggestively. "Plus ladies. A party. I could tell you looked like you like to jam."
"No thanks," I said.
He got a little red in the face. "Let me tell you, you don't know Santa Monica. You say you play but you don't know none of the ones that jam here all the time. There's Raymond the clarinet --damn good too, knows every standard and blows mean-- there's Kenny the comedian, Magic the balloon man. Angel's the blind guy Native American who always sings "You Got to Live Your Life." Listen, you don't know it, but there's a secret land beneath the land, a skin beneath the skin that everyone else knows about. You don't cause you're too afraid."
"Know that guy who wears the big rainbow hat and's always playing outside the bookstore?"
"He's going to be there."
"All those jazz dudes who got the drums and the stand up-- They gonna be there. It's going to be a jam! I'll show you the skin beneath the skin beneath the kin of the street's sewery tar-strip street skin beneath the stars."
I tried to picture it.
He limbered up and snapped his fingers to the rhythm of his pitch.
"Below the dermis detrius of the black top we do a surgery of cement. We leave a tarmac scar pavement -slick with cars and your head drunk with the anesthesia of exhaust. You think you own this city because you drive through it on your way home?
Beneath the below of eyes wide as sewerplates stream arteries of shit and black water to bowels of Hyperion. Beneath the skin of sun-cracked shuddering earth we don't choke on this world's mud-sludgy treatment plant stench slap in the face but plumb to the heart of it.
My friends the rats scurry inside the tunnels to the sound of leaking pipes and other subterra hisses. God's a sewer-snake sunk low and stinking sliding through the scum and gunk. That's the hiss. That's what lies underneath this city. The skin itself is just caked with makeup. The fleas still burrow theyselves up in there.
I know every sewerpipe and manhole cover from here to Pomona. I know every streetwalker and every john and every sucker and every officer by name. This whole city's just a transvestite, paste jewelry and stubble, sequins and lipstick orange as motel room carpet, strawwigged and polyester skirted, hiding his/her rheumatic hands beneath a waistband above ripped panties, flashing flesh and fishing for the dollar's famous roadside hotel room. If you look closely between the follicles you can see the lice selling scripts about vice cops to the vice cops. Producers roll up in German made cars, open their door and say, 'Get in and pitch me an idea that'll get this sagging flagpole saluting.'"
When he stopped he was flushed. He was smiling all over. "That's one of my raps," he said. I had to give him that.
He started walking west on Broadway toward the beach and waved me to follow. Every sewerplate we passed he jumped on like a hopscotch square, every pole we passed he rapped on to hear the submarine-like 'ting.'
He went on. "Listen, I ain't lying and I ain't going to mug you, ok. Ain't no real musician I know turn down a good jam. It ain't late. This'll be some pay-back." He shrugged.
"I'm not real interested in going in the sewers." I replied.
"This is going to be at the beach. They got a fire going on. Plus instruments extra. You need the practice."
It was true that the very next day I did have a gig with the band for whom I played, Undertoad. I hadn't practiced much because of a full work schedule.
"I could use some practice," I said.
"That's right," he said.
"Where on the beach?"
"Just down next to the park."
"I'll take a look," I said. "I'll take a look-see."
He was nodding vigorously. "That's it," He said. He started walking West on Broadway and I had to follow. "You'll get to meet the real government around here. You hungry? We'll buy me a cup of coffee at the Micky D's on Second."