Echo Park, CA, 1990s
That day, we received a Fedex from Brazil for Alprazolam and a Fedex from Spain for Absinthe; we had a nice slotted spoon and sugar cubes to melt through the spoon to sweeten the absinthe; from our house we had a good view of downtown at sunset from the hill right above my favorite pink museum, the one where the diorama tunnel of Chumash Claymation dolls being epic in nature burrowed almost all the way up to our basement; therefore we had everything we needed for a nice night.
Somewhere in there, our hamster went missing. She just attached a tiny pink bow to her ear, applied lipstick, picked the lock on her metal cage with a teeny tiny paper clip and excused herself to go observe the great outside, perhaps the front yard pond where I was cultivating pickerel, duckweed, and water lettuce like Frida Kahlo tending her water gardens at her Casa Azul. Beckoned by the shiny full moon, high above the bay laurel tree, our hamster started her spirit journey. At least she was safe in her Lucite ball, the kind that rolls around the room, which I’d placed her in after she escaped her cage earlier. But all the doors were open, it was so warm that night, and she rolled down the steep back hill towards the black walnut gulley where the skunk nest was.
Or so I thought when I hadn’t seen her for a couple hours. Turns out the dog rescued the hamster in her ball, from rolling down the outdoor deck’s stairs. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah: The deck stairs were pink and there was a witch cave in the basement below it (as well as our laundry room). The dog had the Lucite hamster ball, clamped in his mouth when he came back inside, the plastic globe reminded me of a cheesy crystal geode, and the little panicky tan hamster was still in there, totally fine, just jittery and fixating on a sunflower seed. It was a miracle to witness animals saving animals, a memorable interspecies moment. I had a shot of Jack to slow the two glasses of absinthe down. The rodent’s transportation bubble gave it all an intergalactic feeling, like the dog had dug up a thousand year-old alien egg, and E.T. was about to pedal by on his dirt bike through the sky, en route to find his boy master. I remembered hamsters lived wild in Germany and figured ours had merely wanted to smell night air, completely innocent, which I can for sure understand. In fact, this whole melodrama inspired me to set her free a couple weeks after that—just took her out to the bushes and kissed her head and pet her with my index finger very gently, admiring her peach fuzz one last time, and put her down under the oleander. Thinking back on it now, that was unwise because oleander leaf is deadly to mammals and if she got hungry she probably stocked her cheek pouches up with it before her quest for Valhalla. Uh oh.
The eastside at that point was still graphite friendly, lots of doodlers and jammers lived there. The Jimi Hendrix wannabe next door woke me up every Sunday morning as he weekend-warriored his Stratocaster, before hangover brunches at Millie’s; the scrub jays were so cranky and loud some afternoons you wanted to get them stoned to shut them up; the pirate radio station was one canyon over; and a badass gang defended my street with meritorious efficacy. I could have an iguana pal anytime I wanted by just walking next door and petting one, and cumbia boomed on the weekends. Two doors down was a communal hammock that everyone in the hood stopped to swing in: rich and poor, tall and short, young and old, singers and creepers, anyone who wasn’t into corporate shit was welcome in it. The equality hammock. Up towards the top of the block, guys who dressed up like British Dandies with ascots smoked heroin and made bad music, and up at the very tippy top of the block where the houses dead-end into Chaparral, the high priest of dandyism decided to strut his black potbellied pig on a leash all the way down past all of us, to get a ground-level boulevard ice cream cone mimicking us commoners. The pig and the absinthe made a solid team, in terms of image building. I walked down to the bodega to get smokes; a crack dealer was working the storefront pretty hard and I felt right at home. I was past crack by then, way more into getting mellow and archiving the present tense with collage making, alphabetizing the record collection, and admiring our black and white kitchen linoleum, which resembled a chessboard.
Well anyway, I pet the dog’s head and said “good boy” and gave him some chicken in exchange for the hamster ball. I put some pantyhose on. I might have got sidetracked reading a book about gems & minerals. I made a beaded necklace. The neighborhood owl came out, freestyling like an alarm for smog levels. A uniquely striated Sphinx Moth flitted across our picture window outside, and the way it left a neon trailer in the air across the black night horizon reminded me of that David Lynch movie Mulholland Drive. Going outside to get a breath of fresh air myself, I decided then and there I loved street lamps.
The city is not a bad place to live, if you dial certain things in: wall to wall soundproofing so you enjoy the 3am vibe when the stars are aligned, a readiness for your intricately carved jack o’ lanterns to get smashed by buffoons, a canteen to walk with. The city is for people who get happy when they see vomit in the gutter because something real has gone down in that same spot. You’re like an archeologist giddily digging up dinosaur bones, relishing the filth of others. You’re like a stoner who just got his brown bag with a warm burrito in it, and you’re choosing which salsas to dump on it. You’re a green dragon slithering though life, noticing the Victorian lampshade trend evolving in your neighborhood and not minding a bit. It’s not a bad trend, with its low-light and fringe cloth lamp coverings. Kind of Jack the Ripper, but with a peaceful, opiated vibe. There have been worse looks in domestic lighting practices.
Trinie Dalton is author/curator of six books, and teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Forthcoming texts of hers can be found in monographs about Mark Grotjahn (Anton Kern Gallery); Chris Martin (Skira); Sam Falls (JRP Ringier); Cristina Toro (LaCa Gallery); Jessica Jackson Hutchins (CCAD Gallery); and Tannaz Farsi (Linfield College Gallery).