Friday, July 16, 2010

Roof Hopping at Four in the Morning Rediscovering The Nighttime


My love of the night, which was reawakened when I was fourteen years old, happened due more to circumstance, rather than any deliberate attempt to reconnect with it.  I say reawakened because when I was very small, I had a tendency to wander around when it was dark out.  But that’s a whole ‘nother story!

Most of my friends’ upbringings were not unlike mine during Junior High School.  Growing up in a pretty safe part of the San Fernando Valley, we were all allowed some freedoms at that age, which inner city kids probably weren’t.  We could walk around our neighborhoods without much worry about too many terrible things happening to us. 

Although, once, when I was age twelve and walking home on Valley Vista Blvd in Studio City, which was generally considered a safe area, a middle aged man pulled up beside me in a convertible and told me that I was well-built, and asked if I needed a ride.  I said “no,” of course; I wasn’t completely stupid thank goodness.  When I told my mom this had happened, she was frantic.  And although at the time, I took the man’s comment as rather a compliment in some way, I later realized why she was close to hysterical, and am glad I didn’t end up in some quarry pit.  But that aside, this part of the Valley was a safe environment. 

Most of my friends’ parents required a bedtime of around 10pm, and we generally adhered to this with just a few innocent phone conversations under blankets to muffle the sound of talking  One close friend, Nick, had a situation that seemed vastly different to me though.  My parents were always happy when I stayed over there because he was a very close friend of mine who they knew well, and as a result, they could have a night or two of privacy without worrying about me.  Ha!

I always enjoyed staying over at Nick's because we could be up late.  And more specifically, we had control of how late we wanted to stay up.  That’s the real key anyways, isn’t it?  It wasn’t because of any major difference in parenting between Nick’s folks and my parents.  It was really due, I think, to the architecture of his house.  It’s funny how something like this can make all the difference in the world.

Nick lived in a castle-like home.  It literally looked like a Swiss or German storybook castle in North Hollywood, now designated as Valley Village, and was just a short bike’s ride from my house.  His home was comprised of two stories, and his folks’ bedroom was way up in the back of the upper story.  Nick, whose room moved a couple of times during our childhood, was always on the ground floor. 

His first room was way back toward the garage.  We could have been blasting Deep Purple at 1am, and his parents wouldn’t have been able to hear us.  In fact, I think we did just that a few times.  His bedroom was insulated by a large kitchen, then a breakfast nook, then stairs to a mid-level living room, from which the stairs led upwards.  Of all the times I was there, I literally never remember either of his parents coming down and telling us we were making a racket.  So we had the run of the ground floor.

This first bedroom of his had a window to the back yard and also had access to a side outdoor area from which we could go out to the front yard and on to the rest of the planet if we desired.  We could make ourselves snacks at whatever time we wanted in his very long kitchen.  The windowsill had one of those glass birds filled with red fluid that would dip its beak into water, then rise up, then dip down again, which had mesmerizing effects on me.  I was easily entertained in those days.

If this logistical independence of Nick’s weren’t enough, he somehow later earned, bargained or kicked his dad out of a rather large, wood paneled and wood floored den where he set up camp as his second bedroom.  His dad, who was an inventor, was apportioned Nick’s old bedroom as his new study den and gadget room.  I remember looking at his dad's diodes and electric graph-o-meters, wondering if they were medical or aeronautical in nature.

Nick’s new digs were slightly recessed from the ground level and looked onto the back yard, but he now had the additional direct access to a family room with a huge television (huge for those days).  This family room was closer to the stairs that led up to Nick’s parents’ floor, but to my amazement, was still buffered from disturbing them.

This was Nick’s pad during most of our teenage years.  Rock posters like the Queen naked bicycle poster, and The Beatles adorned his mahogany wood walls.  His crackling, slightly tin-sounding turntable spun deep Zeppelin tracks a lot of the time.  This new room felt like a netherworld for me; a pacifying stopover to throw out philosophical ideas about the world, as well as Silly Putty, and see if they’d stick to the walls.

It was a place and time of experimentation, and of starting to get a feel for doing things our own way  This was the bedroom in which Nick rented a bass guitar from Baxter Northup, took a few lessons and taught himself the bass lick to “Smoke on the Water,” and then, as far as I know, never picked the thing up again.  The same room where he would do anything but study for his school tests, until the very last night, and then cram and absolutely ace his exams.  (I'm tempted to place an expletive here!).  Wish I could have done that 'version' of studying.  It seemed like a more spontaneous and efficient use of one’s time.

With his move to this new room, and with the help of Nick, I began to rediscover the night.  There was a certain excitement I had about browsing through TV Guide and planning a schedule of late night TV.  Saturday Night Live repeats, (I remember being “slightly” inebriated and watching an SNL bumble bee sketch with John Belushi and enjoying it IMMENSELY!), Twilight Zone, Outer Limits; whatever the broadcasters were planning for us.  It was all there for us to enjoy late into the night without any interaction from the parental units.  Nick’s folks were rocks in their beds, and the black-inked night, calling, was continuing to unfold before us with no boundaries.

During one of these fabulous nights, which is the point of this story, Nick and I finished hours of watching television and then decided to wander on foot out into the neighborhood. Nick showed me that we could get to some neighboring streets via a barely visible sidewalk due to overgrowth, nestled next to the 101 freeway embankment. We probably had some goal in mind; a visit to Gelson’s Market, or a quick stop into a local liquor store.  But being that it was 3:30am, absolutely nothing was open.  We were urchins of the dark, softly floating through the neighboring streets of North Hollywood.  The houses were quiet and illuminated by the occasional lamppost on a lawn.  We heard the sound of a leaf falling here and there, enveloped by silence.

Nick, who loved to climb, led the way, and so we scaled some fences and gates and ended up jumping from rooftop to rooftop of some neighboring multi-family homes and carports.  The darkness of the night was starting to illuminate it's deep pre-dawn cobalt blue; our silhouettes quietly trespassing on the flat, sandpaper-like composition roofs, while people were sleeping heavily all around and below us.

This time in our lives, and this specific moment for me, when we were out on our own, not knowing where the depths of the night would take us, began in me a new love affair with that time during which only the stars and a hanging moon are out; a relationship that has never since ended.

As the sky began to lighten, Nick and I walked back to his house, fell asleep for a few hours, and then, meaning not to be too obvious to his parents that we had been up all through the night, we arose around 10:30am.  We rode our bikes the few miles to my parents’ house, and then went to my room, me in my bed, Nick on the floor, completely unconscious, and proceeded to sleep until 2:00 in the afternoon.  My parents must have sensed that we had been busy the night before.  Then again, maybe they knew that we were young adolescents.