Saturday, October 2, 2010

A River Runs Through Me

I took this photo of our house from a neighbor's lawn across the street during one of our typical storms.

From about 1975 to 1990, the street my parents’ house was on, which sat on the San Fernando Valley side of the Santa Monica Mountains, used to get flooded when it rained.  And I mean, flooded!  There were no storm drains installed until sometime in the 1990’s, so the accumulated water runoff from the canyons and the nearby hills all eventually funneled down our street.

We had a neighbor across the way, David.  He was a tall, balding, intellectual man, who luckily found humor in a lot of things.  He was the father of a slightly older friend of mine and he always called me, “the dwarf.”  I don’t know why David called me this, but it never quite sat right with me.  I was not short for my age.  Yet I would rush in and out of his house, often without knocking, to hang out with his son, my friend, Ritchie.  Maybe it was that I resembled an intangible blur racing up and down his staircase, that made him think of a dwarf.  I don’t know. 

But at age twelve, I did the occasional odd thing or two.  My cousin, Michael, had at some point in the past left a trombone in my parents’ garage in a handsome black case.  The inside was lined with purple felt, so whenever I took the instrument out, it seemed like I was handling something elegant, and it made me fancy myself a professional musician. 

And what did I do with this instrument that I had absolutely no training with?  Well, the sound that I was able to get out of it was that of a wounded animal.  And this I did regularly outside on the street in front our house for lack of any better use of my time. 

When it rained, that is, when the street was a torrent of tumbling stones in a rushing brown water and mud concentrate, I took this trombone, got calf-deep into the raging street-river decked out in cut-off jean shorts and bare feet, and I evoked the calls of a stranded elephant or a lion with a thorn in it's paw.  David saw me several times doing this strange thing.  He would step out onto his covered front porch, being careful not to get wet, and just ponder this scene, hopefully with at least some amusement, lest he call the men in the white suites garnering an over sized butterfly net.  Then, eventually, seeing that there would be no varying second act, he would step back inside his house. 

David passed away many years ago.  But I recall him re-telling the story of my one-man rainy brass band when he and his wife visited my parents’ house after they moved out of the neighborhood for reasons not attributed to my river dances.  It was a good laugh for all, and it made me happy and even a little satisfied with myself to know that “the dwarf” had left a bizarre and impenetrable image in David's head for the rest of his days.