Funny Girl Meets Her Equal

concert

She sings Christian pop and very well, mind you. Let me stress: she is extremely talented. But even as I praise her, my guess is she would not be thrilled if I used her real name. Her husband/manger/lead guitarist probably would come me looking for me.

The reason is that people have a tendency to mistake my tastes as an insult when I refer to anything seemingly outside the bounds of those preferences. I know “Back In The Saddle Again” by heart, believe that Elvis could beat the Three Tenors all to heck, and think the best film music ever is a toss up between “Men of Harlech” from Zulu and Frankie Lane singing the theme from Gunfight At The O.K. Corral. As far as hymnity is concerned, if a church spent a whole year repeating “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” for the processional, offering and recessional, I’d be warming a pew more frequently than at Easter, and I’d put a damn sight more than a dollar in the collection plate too.

That I can prefer all the above yet find this singer extremely talented is true musical appreciation, a rare and wonderful thing, but as with so many treasures in this fallen world, expansiveness of taste is often overlooked or totally misunderstood.

Suppose for a moment that I am a student of human anatomy, and that my double-wide is packed with works by Doctors Galen and Gray, paintings by Rubens, L’trec and Vargas, every DVD Kyla Cole ever appeared in, plus a collection of almost new Hustler magazines published before Larry Flynn was confined to a wheelchair. Then suppose I am heard shouting something nice about the neighbor lady, the sweetness of her nature, the kindness of her spirit, that sort of thing. Just possibly I would be misunderstood. That’s why her hubby would barge in and pound the snot of me.

So here I am with Kip Attaway playing in the background, trying to keep everyone off my tail by calling this real life songstress.... Mary Melody? Lucy Tunes?

When Linda L’stesso and I were freeway close in L.A.’s biological sink, a songwriter and mutual acquaintance kept telling me how funny Linda was, and vice verse, each of us being assured how much chuckling, thigh-slapping amusement would come from meeting the other.

Expectations like that are usually doomed.

It didn’t help that I had heard Linda on both stage and CD and, frankly, didn’t like her style. It was hard to follow the bouncing ball, if you know what I mean, until it suddenly hit me. You weren’t supposed to. No one sang like her. Her range was like the distances between stars. She was part Charlotte Church, part Janis Joplin. An angelic, Celtic, chain-smoking, country bitch is what she sounded like.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s good in a gospel artist, so as I got to know more about her, I have to admit to some disappointment. Everyone said she didn’t smoke and wasn’t a bitch. Her husband, because of troublesome gig in Branson, Missouri, would have filed for divorced if ever a country tune passed her lips. She was wryly sarcastic, but humble and sweet. I’m sure a degree of her humility came from the heady early potential of a major record deal that fell apart as the ink was drying. Thus began a plummet into a long period of obscurity and poverty.

In that respect we were soul mates. But we were only nodding acquaintances until a week after the death of my third father-in-law. This sad event took my current wife out of the country, depleted our bank account and forced an abrupt cut in telephone service just hours before an expected phone call from a producer. The latter, I dearly hoped, would have me galloping off on the Comeback Trail.

I hopped my third hand ten-speed, wobbled and squeaked to the nearest pay phone, fed it coins and exchanged pleasantries with the producer’s secretary.

Sorry, I wasn’t on his call list. No, she couldn’t put me through because he was in a meeting. What was my number again so that he could get back to me at some other time?

Actually, I was doing lunch with someone, was already late and would be in meetings the rest of the afternoon. Would it be OK if I tried calling him from one of the studios? It’s a little hit and miss, I know, but—

“Don’t you have a cell phone? You could give us that number.”

Every drug dealer in Los Angeles had a cell phone, so they were catching on fast with the Hollywood crowd. Soon Mall of the Americas and Duckberg, Nevada, would be inundated. I got a cell phone seven years after these events. What did I know? I thought technology had run its course with the fax machine.

“It’s in the shop,” I said.

I peddled to the nearest gas station, filled the tires and used the ARCO courtesy phone just outside the executive dinning room of AM-PM Entertainment.

I called again from Ralph’s Supermarket Studios.

And again from Circle K Media and once more from 7-11 Pictures Corporation.

By now I was down to my last dollar, hungry from all the cycling and pretty well convinced that the producer and I would never connect.

Stomach growling, I suddenly remembered an invitation I received in the mail. By mistake, I was sure, but in spite of throwing it away, I remembered the gist. Some artsy Christian good works group was meeting for the first time that night in Malibu. Food was on the agenda because people whose last names started with A through E were supposed to bring drinks.

Usually such affairs—save the whales for Christ, feed the hungry for Christ, teach ghetto children to put some art into their graffiti for Christ—are very much like the secular counterparts from which they copy their concerns. But for Christ, you understand. Therefore you hear a lot of “Jesus Christ”s, first name or last name, but never thrown together as in the secular world to introduce a strong, negative opinion or as an exclamation of surprise, like when you accidentally wander into a ladies restroom whistling “In The Navy.” Either way, these occasions are attended by a few of the rich and famous, the odd true believer and a whole mass of folks looking to network their way to a higher place on the socio-economic dung heap.

Of course, the top of the heap doesn’t really want to rub shoulders with anyone on the bottom. There was a story, reputedly about someone the likes of Norman Lear or perhaps the great one himself, the television producer and social activist who founded People for the American Way. He was supposed to have jumped whole hog into environmentalism, but most greens in the Hollywood branch of the movement were a scruffy, unemployed lot. Hence he proposed an executive committee of his peers that would control the whole group but not have meet with them.

Among televangelists and mega churches you see similar inner circles. Getting in costs X amount of money. That makes you a special brother or sister, often called “Prayer Partner,” and puts you on the invite list for an intimate dinner of 100-plus with the pastor, during which he asks you to prayerfully consider giving more money so that you can become a member of Sea Org, the super tight inner inner ring. No, wait. I think Sea Org has to do with Scientology. But it's the same idea.

Groups that are just staring out can’t afford the snobbery, which is doubtlessly why I got my invitation to the Malibu shindig. Under any other circumstances I would have ignored it. Not that hobnobbing with holy rollers and Jesus freaks puts me off. My faith tradition is as strong as Al Gore’s, and I practice my religion as zealously as Jesse Jackson or Bill Clinton. My sticking point was networking.

Never liked networking. Don’t believe in it. Like, I am going to open my Rolodex and give you the names of people I’ve been cultivating so that you can bamboozled them with your superficial charm and flash-in-the-pan talent, making my ass creeping yesterday’s news. I don’t think so.

Free grub was what attracted me. Getting to it wouldn’t be a problem for Mrs. Blue. That’s what I called my 1988 Buick Century that replaced my almost classic 1976 Caddy. I never had time to cherry out the Caddy, but as our good Lord would have it, I ran out of gas near a family of farm workers needing shelter. I used the cash as a down on a previously owned Century. Friends who weren’t really friends joked that the Century is always driven by an old woman you can barely see except for the blue tint of her hair. Well, yes, maybe 97% of the time. But it is equally true that, if your daytime soaps are interrupted by local coverage of a car chase and the guys with no shirts have been lucky enough to mug an old lady in a Century, you will not see cops stopping them on the 405, the 5 or the 14. There will be no jumping out and running through neighborhoods in San Fernando. No, that Century is going to take two bullets through the engine block in Inglewood, shred its tires on spike strips west of Lancaster, blow the radiator at Apple Valley and only stop when it runs out of gas east of Barstow. Mrs. B was a muscle car, and even with only two-and-half gallons of hoochy mama in her tank, she could take me to Hell and back.

With a dollar to my name, bringing drinks to Malibu would be a cinch because, praise God, most show biz folks either are strung out on drugs and alcohol or have turned their lives over to the Higher Power of a 12 Step program. If I paid for the 99-cent special for a litter of Ralph’s house brand orange soda—“Get the second one free”— I could bring relief to the reformed drunks who would show up. Then I might be able to scrounge some wine from the delirium tremors crowd. A win-win situation if there ever was one.

Some people think that Christians don’t drink, or if they do, it’s only in the closet. But there is nothing in the closet about Mel Gibson and Gary Bussey, and there is nothing anywhere that Episcopalians won’t do. Tee totaling cultists like Southern Baptists are no about everything whereas Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans let it ride as a matter of personal conscience, which I've always found easy to tame. Unless it’s a very small private gathering, you won’t find Ketle One or Glenlivet, but I have seen a lot of Christians on their knees with wine, and that’s what I was willing to settle for in Malibu.

I parked some distance away from hillside address overlooking a color pallet awash with blues and grays, oranges and yellows. The sun setting over the Pacific. The last time I had a view like that was on the beach with Larry Hagman and a former C.I.A. agent, the three of us pretty well plastered. Hagman clapped his hands and said, “Encore! Encore!”

But that’s a different story.

This one took me into a huge foyer from whence a dusky maid led me to a paneled dinning room. As I plunked my orange sodas on a bare buffet table that was about half the size of a tennis court, I gave her a wink and smile, and said:

“Hay muchos guyinas pero pocos huevos.”

Translation: “There are many chickens but few eggs.” The idea was to show my solidarity with the working class. My being a cheapskate would be understood in a Third World Way, as merely the cards I had been dealt by El Señor in the great Lotería of life, and by the way, should remain our little secret.

She threw her hands to her face and ran off.

Sometime later an Hispanic friend pointed out that heuvos can be a colloquialism for testicles, and the way I pronounced his native tongue could make the unwary think I have the balls of a chicken.

But we’ll never know.

There were a few guests milling in the palatial living room, and the event’s host and hostess hadn’t yet appeared on the massive marble staircase. Obviously, I was among early arrivals, losers every one of us, but I didn’t care. I looked forward to grub and grog coming in abundance at any time.

I began to mix to keep my mind off my hunger, find out what all the idealism was about, show some empathy for seal pups for Christ or whatever. As more and more people arrived, it was clear there was general vagueness about what precisely we were doing together. Then the sudden nightmare.

Jumping Jimmy Carter! The organizers were about to ask for volunteers to pound nails in Honduras, work a soup kitchen downtown, pass out tracks on Santa Monica Pier, the possibilities were endlessly horrifying. Any networking to my advantage would be for a lackey position at Trinity Broadcast Network, what I secretly called “The Crying Channel.”

The only thing to do was to eat and run, so I weaved and dodged my way back to the dinning room, muttering, “Praise the Lord, excuse me, bless you, gimme back my resume.”

O God, please no. That half-a-tennis-court table was loaded with evidence of the non-denomination nature of this hellish confab.

Satan had arranged that only Southern Baptists would be in the A to E group. The majority of their sodas and sparkling waters needed but one thing to make them palatable, which was no where to be seen, and after Jim Jones who in his right mind would touch a punch bowl of Kool-Aid? I wasn’t in my right mind, and the Kool-Aid wasn’t spiked with anything except the block of ice watering it down.

Seventh Day Adventists had been singled out for the main course. So they live a hundred years. Who’d want to with nothing but fresh fruit and carrot sticks and tofu making up your entire diet? There were some apostates among them, judging by the can of Cheese Whiz and empty box of Ritz Crackers.

The dessert people could have been from any denomination. What was clear was that they were at least working professionals because none of them had time to bring anything except bags of stale cookies from the convenience store down the road.

I must have looked like I was drowning in the Slough of Despond. I shook the cracker box to reconfirm that God wanted to turn me to a martyr, suffering deprivation and persecution all the way to sainthood.

At that moment his appointed messenger whispered just off my shoulder. “Some dinner, hey?”

I turned to Linda. Her eyes twinkled with humor, but there was deep understanding behind them. It wasn’t a big laugh line, but it doesn’t take much to cheer someone up. I was so grateful I wanted to say something, anything, to repay her kindness and also speak to the situation.

“Hay mucha guyinas pero pocos huevos.”

I expected her to ask, “What does that mean?” so that I could show off my sophisticated wit. Instead, she was way ahead of me.

She snorted and gasped, “You’re kidding!”

Bulls eye, I thought. She started to double over but spun away, coughing back laughter. O it was a joyous sight. I beamed from ear to ear. I had not lost it. I still had the moxie. I was poor, but I rocked. I was the man!

Although we never connected after that, I can happily report that her career was rekindled. By the time I got to Phoenix from the Chicago Fire of my life, she and the Mister had moved to a ranch two thousand miles away. I keep track of her through mutual friends; I sometimes play those CDs I didn’t initially like. Mostly, I vividly remember that whispered question and the ironic smile that lit up the entire night, and how my little joke brightened hers. I still see Linda huddling with another woman, their glancing prettily in my direction and starting a wave of tinkling laughter that rippled around the room.