Tag Archives: essay

Huston Street Is a Street

She just bought some bitchin’ clothes/Tosses her head/And flips her hair/She got a whole bunch of nothing in there–Valley Girl, Frank Zappa

I used to live on Huston Street. I’m not shuckin’ and jivin’ you here–look it up, it’s an actual street.  It’s a quiet and unassuming stretch in North Hollywood right off the 101 freeway, and it’s pronounced hyoo-ston just like the former ballplayer. I always had a hunch that it was named after Walter Huston, who had won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1948 for his role in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Huston was considered one of the top character actors of his era–but I couldn’t state as a fact that the street was actually named after him, it’s just a half-baked theory. 

world-famous!

The temperature is hotter and the architecture is sun-bleached and dull on the north side of the Hollywood Hills, which is generally seen as a cultural wasteland by the denizens of Los Angeles proper, and depicted as dusty, marginalized, lacking stimulus, and utterly hopeless in movies and pop culture. Lame. I mean, shit, the Bad News Bears were from the San Fernando Valley, and wasn’t coach Buttermaker considered an alcoholic has-been? Wasn’t the film narrative rowdy, working-class, profane, and consciously avoiding the cheap theatrics of a triumphant finale? The perfect metaphor for a place that breeds and exports scumbags with reptilian instincts for self-preservation. America in delirium.

Despite the negative reputation and mockery from friends,  I loved that street. I lived two blocks away from a gorgeous park filled with “brown-bagging” cholos with time aplenty, and trash-talking basketball players. There was also a tiki bar a block away that had a time-worn, paint-battered sign saying, liquor up front and poker in the rear that apparently had never been thought to be re-touched. Proud of its crumbling state was a tiny fish and chips stand next door for conveniently sopping up the booze and chatting with girls when the bar was too loud and bursting at the seams with out-of-work actors from bum-fuck-nowhere letting off some steam. Another favorite of mine was the dark and smelly comedy club on Vineland Ave, and sometimes the patrons standing out front, and even the comedians themselves would give you cigarettes or free drink tickets as you sauntered by, searching for the next sliver of excitement in the humid jungle.

Although I haven’t been back in many years, the Valley will always make me think of lime and salt Tecate, the most beautiful, iridescent, smog-choked sunsets, getting drunk on Boone’s Farm in skate parks, greasy junkyards, double-D bottle blondes in their 60’s, book stores with cats, screaming schizophrenic bums in a Ralph’s parking lot, and Mexican street parties with illegal fireworks and cumbia pouring from the speakers when the LA Lakers won the title (Kobe’s last)  And, of course, Huston Street.

An Ode To The Coliseum

“As a friend once said to me about getting old: what a strange thing to happen to a little boy.”–Paul Auster

The soon-to-be-extinct “piss trough.”

My grandfather took me to my first baseball game at the tender age of 10. There was no literal hand-holding, strategic explanations, or silver-spoon procurement. That just wasn’t his style. If I wanted to figure out the game I had to do it myself. If I wanted some food, well, here’s some money and go fetch it. There was Darwinian Law in effect here, and as far as I know, no child had ever been abducted at a baseball game. The law of averages were on my side, however, as I was left to my own devices, fortuitously discovering a piece to the puzzle while creating soon-to-be-clouded, timeworn memories in that long-ago foreign land known as the 1980’s. 

There was very little small talk and every so often the solitude would be broken by the snap of a Bic lighter touching a Marlboro cigarette. This was a time before the fancy new novelty stadiums with their retractable roof, craft beer, gourmet food, and yuppies making corporate deals in skyboxes. One afternoon a woman was nailed in the head by a foul ball and a group of freedom-loving, scurrying, rat-children (who would hang around the opposing bullpen before games to brutally heckle the starting pitcher while the ushers smiled with approval) gathered around what resembled a murder scene. She was battered and bloodied in the aisle, and it looked as if she had been shot in the forehead. There’s nothing to see here, said her husband. 

When I eventually had to go to the bathroom I was astonished as men were herded in like cattle to a room that smelled like beer, cigarettes, and vomit, all the while whipping out their dongs publicly to pee in what can only be described as a “large rectangular sink.” I would rather die than make a side-glance. Your very life depended on staring at that tiny pin fragment of wall in front of you. You had to embrace yourself in the warmth of your own microcosm for a moment before the vigorous shake, shiver, and hasty exit. Never acknowledge another’s hose/existence while in this slippery and pungent world that seemed to encapsulate the sporting event as a proletarian undertaking.

I’m going to miss the Oakland Mausoleum when it’s gone. It’s exactly what I look for in a baseball stadium. A classic feeling, a potent memory, and a working-class nostalgia. A piss trough in a dirty bathroom, hustlers selling unlicensed knockoffs in the parking lot, a hotdog on a stale bun, overpriced Budweiser, the faint smell of marijuana, broken plastic seats, and a field open to the high blue sky and blazing Northern California sun. 

Just as my grandfather used to watch games.