Monday, December 18, 2006

A Kamikaze at Tiny's

Jimmy is back from Texas: I ran into him today at that famous newstand at the corner of Las Palmas and Hollywood Boulevard.

I made him buy a copy of my novel from the trunk of my husband's car. It's $17.95 and I didn't have change for Jimmy's twenty, so I took it and told him I'd buy him a drink at Musso and Frank's. It was a perfect day in Hollywood -- low sixties, that bright California sun. It was only a block or two to Musso and Frank's and, freshly arrived from other places, we were both squinting in the sunlight. Then Jimmy decided he wanted to move his rental car so we climbed in and drove two blocks to some parking garage where he could leave the thing for two bucks. Jimmy knows the meter maids of Hollywood well and he knows when they want to be bitchy there's no compromise.

Jimmy used to run a barbershop on Las Palmas right next to my husband's awards and trophy store. I used to bring in a bottle of decent champagne every time I'd come into town and sit over in the barbershop because they had air conditioning and drink champagne with Jimmy until my husband got a break to take me to lunch. When Jimmy'd see me coming he'd holler out, "How's your pussy??" and I'd yell back "Satisfied." Mostly queens or lonely has beens came to get their hair done, including one guy who looked exactly like Humphrey Bogart and actually made his living doing standins. I always tried to get him to have some champagne but he would never take any. Once I brought in my CD of Elvis Costello and the Fairfield Four, a beautiful collection; Jimmy loves get down gospel sounds.

Jimmy's partner was Bobby, a tough little Latino who always wore black and had a black pompadour and lots of bling and who shot himself in the head out in his house in the Valley, hooked on too much Vicodin and despairing, we all thought, of his double life. Out there he had a wife and kids; in Hollywood it was a little different. After Bobby died Jimmy held on for about three years but finally decided to go to Texas to start a new life near his aged mother and her retired oil-business boyfriend. Jimmy thought the landscape, the fresh air of Texas might do him good. But after a year he was homesick and without work; he needed a license he didn't have and he didn't want to stick around and sit in class all day. His mom bought him a George Strait double album, thinking it might help, but while Jimmy says he liked a cut or two he really couldn't get into it. So he came back. He's always been a Hollywood queen, he'd tell you -- his father worked for Warner Brothers and he's got the place in his blood. And so here we were, coming at Musso and Frank's from the parking structure thirsty for something strong.

But we forgot Musso and Frank's is closed on Mondays: their ornate iron grate was solidly pulled closed and locked for the day. Jimmy thought he knew of another place, but when we got there, it wasn't open either; a black-clad waitress smoking on the sidewalk said we'd have to wait till 4, but we wanted our cocktails now. "Try Tiny's," she said, pointing back to the Boulevard. Motivated by thirst, we trekked past Cahuenga and found the little storefront with white marquis lights circling a square sign: Tiny's.

After our eyes adjusted to the dark interior, somebody yelled, "How can I help you" but there was nobody but us and a couple of deep red booths, an enormous wooden bar with a classic "bar nude" over the mirror; finally the bartender stood up from putting bottles in the frig so we could see where the voice was coming from.

We clambered onto the barstools and ordered: a double-olive martini for Jimmy and a kamikaze for me. Jimmy's favorite words are fucking and pussy and you know if you're sitting down for drinks with him you'll get an earful. He's about the happiest guy I know, though, especially his third day back in Hollywood, and when he slings the blue it's out of exuberance. The bartender was unfazed; eventually he told us every item in the place got bought off EBay, including the massive bar from some old drinkery in South Chicago. The drinks were excellent and we toasted to Jimmy's mother and Hollywood, and threw in another one for Bobby, may he rest in peace. Jimmy likes to talk about beauty -- and how it seems to be rapidly fleeing. I said Jimmy, what are you about 37? and he said, yeah, on one side! He said he used to spend hundreds on Lancome and the like, but they never worked. Now, he said, he uses Jergens, the one with the pink top, $3.99 from Walmart -- the same stuff his mother's been using for 50 years -- and he says it's just as good. I pledged to try it, but quoted WCWilliams, "Ach, we were all beautiful once" and told Jimmy in my view we'd just have to get used to getting old.

Anyway, I spent most of the money Jimmy gave me for the book on the drinks and left the rest for the bartender. It was bright outside, even brighter than when we went in, and even with those delicious drinks coursing through our bloodstream, nothing looked all that much better on the Boulevard. But it's fun to have Jimmy back, and fun to be back myself, finding a bar named "Tiny's" on a sunny December day just before the solstice.

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