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Vignette New York City, Pt. 1

March 18, 2013

The thermometer said 29º in mid-town so I bought some full-fingered gloves from a street vendor. Having bundled up in three layers, I pedaled to Central Park. I tried not to think about how cold it was. During my last loop, I passed this tall scraggly long-haired kid in a leather jacket, weaving on a fixie and having a thundering conversation with himself in Italian. I tried not to make eye contact with him, because he looked rather unbalanced. I heard the booming monologue get louder behind me and as he went by a copy of “Junky” nearly inched out of corduroy back pocket and he started singing “Ru-dy Can’t Fail!” at the top of his lungs. He resumed his thundering soliloquy until I caught him again on the next incline and I went by singing the same chorus. He caught me again and we tried to have a conversation, but the only words we could agree upon was “Joe Strummer.” Then we sang Clash songs together, until I peeled off on 7th Avenue. This could only happen in one city.



August 29, 2012

(excerpted from The Ketamine Sun by Cole Coonce)

Mikal Kiev’s video shop was a storefront on the east side of Lankershim, just south of Victory. When I had searched online for Kiev’s place of business, at first I read the results as “Camelot.” When I blinked and saw it actually read “Come-a-lot,” I realized my mind’s eye had defensively conflated a vowel so my brain would not have to endure the pain of the puerile pun.

The shop entrance was in the back, accessible by an alley that buttressed a liquor store, a strip club and a medical marijuana dispensary whose signage featured a dancing, smiling tooth. It was called “Happy Mouth Mental Clinic.” On the sign, the word “Mental” appears to have altered and derived from “Dental” and was the only modification from the previous business’s verbiage. Indeed, before it was a reefer emporium, “Happy Mouth” must have been a dentist’s office, catering to hapless immigrants with or without Medicare or even insurance, but now it went after a more lucrative trade, one that was less bureaucratic, and, because of the vacuum of oversight and regulation, one unconcerned with nagging details like sterilizing instruments. Despite its name, apparently “Happy Mouth” only made its clientele only marginally satisfied, as a menagerie of broken dirty crack pipes circled the business’s entrance like the poison pedals of a fetid flower. Peering inside, I could see the dispenser—a white dude with dreads, sporting a yellow Shabba Ranks t-shirt—rocking on his heels, swaying in time to some mechanical and bombastic reggaeton braying out of high-wattage sound system. The office ambiance of the medical trade has come along way since the days of Muzak. As I walked by, the dispenser smiled wide like his business’s icon. I walked through the alley, looked over both shoulders and entered Come-a-lot.

Kiev’s space was not just a retail outlet, but also a micro video-production studio. Beyond a smattering of shelves housing adult tapes and discs, a concrete floor lay partially covered with a hodgepodge of Persian rugs. Off in the corner, stood a smattering of film lights on metal stands buttressing an unoccupied, unmade king-sized bed. Sex toys and half-empty bottles of water sat on a bureau and a night stand. A candy bar-sized camera on a tripod tilted precariously, limp and pointed towards the unforgiving concrete. Cremora Creamer and similar hot talent could ply their trade here after hours. This was the new dream factory for nubile flesh, streaming live in high-definition, pending confirmation of credit card numbers and three CVC digits, of course.

To than end, egg crates and video boxes were tacked to the walls in a clumsy attempt at sound proofing, but the dampening barely calmed the thumping reggaeton from the clinic next door, thus allowing for an incidental score. Blue smoke hung in the air inscrutably like oxygen-deprived paper moons. Apparently, if the clouds of chronic were any indicator, Come-a-lot and Happy Mouth had some sort of barter and exchange program. The entire place reeked of Bunny Wailer and strawberry-flavored personal lotion.

At the entrance of the store, a bored, stoned, tatted, gum-popping bleach-blond Armenian woman sat at a desk set with a laptop, a cash register and a credit-card scanner. She half-smiled, distorting a pair of lips smeared purple. She had an overbite made for a set of panpipes.


(excerpted from The Ketamine Sun by Cole Coonce)





August 29, 2012


(excerpted from The Ketamine Sun by Cole Coonce)

The room was as white as an albino elephant. Central air overwhelmed the heat, the climate control was as startling as an eskimo pie down a steelworker’s underwear. The decor was a tip of the fedora to both show business and modern metaphysics. A brass Buddha sat on the mantle, cold, next to a frame of Mahatma Gandhi. There was a hazy underwater photo of some semi-nude strumpets mounting a dolphin. A piano sat tangential to an eight-foot tall sepia print of a soft-focus Gloria Grahame headshot. This was the only understated element of the Second Sex in the house.

I sat down on a black leather sofa lined with candy-colored pillows and stared at Mrs. Chandra Nameesh the way a card player studies another but tries to appear as if he is not looking. She was facing away from me so I was rubbernecked and gawked out of habit, as I took in her backside and a bottom sheathed by a mini-Somalian sarong tied at the waist and a pair of shoulder blades framed by an authentically weathered scoop-neck tunic. A cozy, vintage worn-in feel isn’t cheap on this side of town, and the price of having no two shirts exactly the same is no object here, as that is what all the girls are wearing. Every body wants to be different. Everybody wants to to be the same. As Mrs. Nameesh knelt in front of the frigid Buddha, she began to chant. “Nam me ko ring ge ko, man me ko ring ge koh, Nam me ko ring ge ko,” ad blah blah blahseum. It was repetitive polysyllabic gewgaw, designed to tap into some greater consciousness and receive some vague spiritual enlightenment or, failing that, another luxury car. Whatever it was, it was self-important if not selfish. One couldn’t be more affluent than this woman, and yet she wanted more. To what end? Any real enlightenment might mean taking an actual vow of poverty and administering polio vaccines to pygmies, but she didn’t look like she was game for any actual sacrifice. Still, her sense of entitlement struck a libidinous chord. When she had reached a certain nirvana she stopped and turned around. She acted like she never heard me enter, like I was never a bamboo shoot away. She was prettier than a pair of queens, and my guess was she was as difficult to play. Apparently exhausted from all that ultimate spiritual truth, she stretched out on an adjacent couch, hiking up the cloth and showing a lot of leg.

“So Mr. Carbon: Welcome to the Palisades,” she cooed. “Is this always where you go when the Santa Ana winds blow?” You could’ve knocked me over with a heron feather.


(excerpted from The Ketamine Sun by Cole Coonce)


August 20, 2012


(excerpted from The Ketamine Sun by Cole Coonce)

Leaving the front doors ajar, Simon Drake prolonged his effected smile and escorted me through the echoing length of the vacuous domicile towards the rear of the estate. With its doors open, the Kamiokande place sucked in the blue and green essence of the ocean like the blades of a ramjet inhaling oxygen and exhaling existential smog.

Drake excused himself and handed me my shoes, implying that it was up to me to make my own introductions. Then he opened a set of French doors that led to a fecund backyard sculpted as a shrine to the game of golf. There was a touch of raked gravel here, a pavilion teahouse there, an obligatory stone lantern and a pond, but there was no doubt that this space’s primary function was that of a personal driving range.

To that end, a moist, rotund Japanese gentleman in a white-as-the-man-in-the-moon lycra shirt and tennis shorts prepared to poke at a golf ball. He clutched his putter with puffy little fingers and swung with micro-perfection. The ball rimmed around a hole and spit itself out. Undeterred, he set up another chip shot. He was Toshiro Kamiokande.

“Do you hit the links, Mr. Carbon?” he asked, never taking his eyes off of the divoted orb of his desire.

“I tried it, but I kept hitting the windmills.”

“Both you and Cervantes.” He flicked the putting iron again and sunk the ball with the precision of a puff adder pouncing on a field mouse. He then teed up another ball, and swapped the silver putter for some wood. With the ferocity of a lumberjack, he swung and whomped on the ball. It sailed off the property and dropped below the bluffs. I listened for a bounce but never heard it. I can only assume it bounced off parked cars on Pacific Coast Highway before pinging off a lifeguard stand and burrowing into the ocean, whereupon the currents took it back to Malaysia whence it was manufactured.

MORE – (excerpted from The Ketamine Sun by Cole Coonce)


August 16, 2012


(excerpted from The Ketamine Sun by Cole Coonce)

The sun didn’t care about stink. It didn’t care about money. It didn’t care about beauty. It didn’t care about tranquility. It was oblivious to its own reflection glimmering off the placid water, even if the ocean was the only element that could salve an otherwise stifling atomic fury that spoke of the new, inexorable radiation. I drove in to see Toshiro Kamiokande at his post-opulence palace in the Palisades, on an October Tuesday before noon in the heat of an all too obligatory Indian Summer. The planet was melting. The yellow fireball in the sky hadn’t yet crested, yet its sting cracked paint and melted the molded faces of gorgeous people stuck in traffic in West Los Angeles. When beauty gets sticky, it gets macabre and smells of chemicals and decaying flesh. The sun didn’t care about pulchritude either.

I wasn’t stuck in traffic nor was I wearing makeup, so the weather was no bother. Even in the heat and the haze, I felt cool and clean as penguin shit at absolute zero. My sport coat was pressed, my black slacks creased and my powder blue fedora kept my eyes from squinting.

It wasn’t always like today. I wasn’t always like today. Today, I was totally together. Today, I was Blackie Carbon, fit and working and in demand. I had been sought out by corporate Nipponese money to help control a pair of half-Japanese girls whose exploits were besmirching the family name.

I pulled off Pacific Coast Highway and dropped the transmission in low moan, softly careering up a desolate road that led to a secluded bluff buttressed by wrought iron. After sorting out security codes, passing the scrutiny of a cavalcade of private cops and finally parking, I walked past a chauffeur on his knees, detailing the chrome wheels on a neutrino black Cadillac Escalade. He was as overdressed as I was. After climbing a handful of marble steps, I was greeted by a soft-boned Caucasian man in stocking feet and whose suit fit. I introduced myself.

“Greetings Mr. Carbon. I am Simon Drake, Mr. Kamiokande’s personal assistant and the family’s life coach.” His hand was half-limp and wet. His expensive skin had begun to fall and had the tone and sallow consistency of a beached whale.

“‘Personal assistant and life coach?’ In another words, a go-fer with better public relations?”

“That would be a common and uniformed interpretation.”

It was his way of telling me he had heard it all before. In this town, we had all heard it all before. Everything was an echo, but one could suppose that repetitions beat silence—if only barely.

“Please remove your shoes, Mr. Carbon, and I’ll tell Mr. Kamiokande you are here,” Drake demurred and made himself scarce, his words bouncing between opposing 50-foot glass windows in an edifice that was part-Tuscany mansion, part split-level beach motel. The life coach’s words were still echoing in a hallway as wide as a hangar when a door cracked under a staircase.

A pair of hands with ten Kool-Aid fingernails grasped the door’s edge. A black-Japanese girl with metallic dreads and skin the color of green-tea ice cream poked her head around the door. It was a tease designed to paralyze a man like me, as if I had just bitten into the wrong gland of fugu. The hidden meaning of her soft sell being that whatever was still concealed behind the door was tantalizingly toothsome—and lethal.

I said nothing. I contemplated giving my wristwatch a cursory glance, but didn’t as that would be acknowledging the efficacy of her tease and her allure as sure as if I dropped on one knee and cited verses of John Donne from memory. Instead, I turned my back and feigned studying a Rothko on the wall. There was nothing to analyze. It was as blank as anything else in this town. I pretended to look anyway.

I heard the bombastic clacking of heels and caught a ghostly sight of the girl behind the door through a series of chiaroscuro reflections ping-ponging between the panes of the parallel glass. I turned around as she entered the room with a Newtonian bang, bouncing off the glass and then slamming against the door all equal and opposite-like. She wore a firehouse-red skirt whose abbreviated hemline said she was between parties. She looked old enough to drink or at least old enough to know she had the curves and the color to charm some under-sexed university-age geek into Photoshopping a California driver’s license. If there was any doubt about the dubious document, her 36C-cups would sway law enforcement, if not a nightclub doorman.

I went back to studying the Rothko. It was red.


(excerpted from The Ketamine Sun by Cole Coonce)


July 18, 2012

by Cole Coonce

(excerpted from Sex & Travel & Vestiges of Metallic Fragments)

They were in the middle of nowhere. Having heard no news for a couple of days, it wasn’t like they could make informed decisions about travel plans back to Los Angeles.

Iggy suggested they drive back in his silver Chrysler on Sunday night, as Jack had a flight to catch out of Burbank to Seattle the next afternoon and why thrash to catch a plane tomorrow, if they can make time now? Yes, leaving Death Valley late Sunday evening seemed like a good idea at the time. But seeing as how they had no access to weather reports—there were no newspapers nor TV nor radio nor cell reception in their motel in Stovepipe Wells, and the parallel mountain ranges of the Sierras and the Panamints that had sheltered them from the inclement weather that had been soaking these hapless flatlanders two hundred miles away in Los Angeles County—it was not an informed decision, really.

“I can have us back in LA in three and a half hours,” Iggy told Jack. He felt confident. So they blew off the ninety bucks they had already spent on another night’s sleep at the Stovepipe Wells motel and hit the road.

As soon as they crested Towne Pass at 5000’, they entered the mother of all storms. The raindrops started innocuously enough, all right, and seemed to trickle down and tickle the windshield with no more malevolence than soap bubbles out of a corncob pipe. During their descent into the Panamint Valley, however, the shit began to hit the Osterizer…

Instantaneously, the rain kicked with the ferocity of a burro peaking on angel dust and Iggy switched off the vintage punk rock on the CD player and switched on the AM radio. They needed weather information, so he began keying the “up” and “down” arrows from KFWB to KFI, the two stations with enough wattage to possibly penetrate hundreds of miles of a hostile ionosphere and dense mountain ranges that would work as earthly reflectors and bounce the radio signal back to Los Angeles like Marconi’s personal funhouse mirror.

In a word, they got static, and he cranked up the intensity on the Chrysler’s windshield wiper system until it threatened to swivel out of its socket. They were a mile high and descending a wet mountain buried in clouds, the radio told them nothing and Iggy used the transmission as a brake. Jack, meanwhile, was freaking. He had lost his glasses that afternoon during an unpleasant encounter with a park ranger at Zabriskie Point, and he couldn’t see squat except the blurry bounce of headlights off of soaked asphalt, or if he put on his prescription sunglasses, he could at least focus on the darkness by Braille.

They took the left turn to Trona, and it really got desolate. They were on the desert floor, in the country where the mass-murdering Manson family had been discovered thirty years ago and where flyboys from China Lake crank up the afterburners on their military jets and pretend the specks on the highway are rogue, bandit Sunnis or Shiites or whoever it is America is mad at this week in Mesopotamia.

As a Seattle boy, Jack had never been to Death Valley before and knew very little of its mythology. Filling him in on the local folklore—whether the exploits of the old silver miner Seldom Seen Slim or the gunplay of inept hippie assassins like Squeaky Fromme—seemed to Iggy like a necessary device of distraction from how hairy it would be driving to Los Angeles in the mother of all rainstorms. Iggy was, after all, traveling with a blind man who was justifiably afraid of drowning. In the desert. In a car. It was that kind of night. Read more…

BRAKES OPTIONAL: A speedy two-wheeled journey into an L.A. summer night with the ‘Wolfpack’

July 18, 2011

(excerpted from Sex & Travel & Vestiges of Metallic Fragments)

It’s Monday night outside of Tang’s Donuts, on the isosceles point of an East Hollywood minimall. At pigeon shit-spackled hard plastic tables, a coterie of immigrants of varying and indiscriminate green card status drink coffee al fresco and play games of chess and backgammon. In the bushes beyond the wrought iron that defines Tang’s boundaries, a handful of homeless guys have pissed themselves – or so it smells. Meanwhile, in a parking space adjacent to the bums and their shopping carts, a 40-something Japanese guy removes a deconstructed carbon fiber bicycle from his mini-pickup bed and begins re-assembling. As he works, he becomes randomly flanked by a slow gathering of lean, night-owl urban bicyclists who pedal up pell-mell from all five points of the city.

10 p.m. Monday at Tang’s is the staging point-slash-launch pad for a gonzo, nocturnal 40-mile bike ride known as the “Wolfpack Hustle.” What exactly is the “Wolfpack Hustle?” In cycling terms, a “hustle” is described as any ride other than a race where one is pedaling as fast and as furiously as one’s cogs and wheels allow. The “Wolfpack,” as defined by one of its members, is “an insurgent militia of bicycle creeps in perpetual training, pushing ourselves to ride stronger and to assert our rights to these gritty streets.”

Thus spake “Roadblock,” one of the ride’s pseudonymous organizers. When interviewed, Roadblock insists on “no real names, please” and his nom de guerre is apt: The young man towers over his road bike and is an absolute concrete Armco barrier of a human being (albeit vertical), and a reasonable ringer for L.A. Laker Luke Walton.

When I ask Roadblock what is the itinerary for the evening’s Hustle, he gets laconic and covert; the ride’s co-organizer “Wolfrider1” – slighter build, dark complexion, with a mug maybe reminiscent of Subcomandante Marcos – is within earshot and interrupts Roadblock’s silence with this stolid proffering: “Tonight’s coordinates are on a strictly need-to-know basis.”

Meaning, the Hustle is free-from, impromptu, and improvisational – and neither journalists nor anybody else needs to know the destination. They just need to see if they can keep up.

Anyway, soon enough a decision of sorts is reached: After heading east on Sunset to reconnoiter at an old transvestite bar, the ride will 180 and head west to Beverly Hills. First stop: Sunset and Doheny.

And just like that, the ride is on. Rocket launches are more sluggish. The peloton powers up Sunset at almost 30mph, and riders jockey for position and leapfrog each other like leptons in a particle accelerator. The pack’s percolations use all of the bike lane and more, spilling onto the boulevard.

Later, Roadblock summed up the plight of the cyclist in L.A., in a riff that was part Nathanael West, part Alvin Toffler: “It is especially harsh conditions here in the car capital of the world,” he said. “Every one that moves here has a dream and that dream for the most part involves ‘striking it big.’ So this whole city’s culture is based on bigger – better – more – money … and riding a bicycle doesn’t exactly fit that image. So people tend to feel embarrassed or shy about riding a bicycle. That’s just silly. What’s not silly is how ignorant most motorists are about giving cyclists a hard time.”

Read more…