This 4th of July, we drove up to Long Beach for a party at Murray Thomas' house. We had wanted to host him here for dinner, but he was already planning a bbq in his back yard near the beach, which is about 40 minutes away by freeway.
We didn't quite know what to expect either of the party or of L.B. in general. Years ago, when I first finished the M.F.A. program at UCI, I worked for a year or so at California State University at Long Beach. It was my first teaching job outside the University.
Because I took the bus, I didn't get to explore Long Beach very much, but it was clear from the characters who wrote the buses that it was a blue collar town, rather like Philadelphia, except that it was by the beach. Perhaps something like Atlantic City before the casinos yuppified the place.
But when we revisited the town yesterday, we found that while it definitely had an edge to it and appeared somewhat seedy in parts, there was a comraderie, a feeling that this was a small village where everyone said hello, and the barriers usually erected between kinds of people, social strata, and ages had come down. Young and old, male and female, blue collar and white collar mixed freely.
Murray lives with three other guys, musicians, who are members of a band that practices in the sound-proofed shed out in the back yard. When I stepped into that shed, I was transported back into the 60s. It was dark, with only a small window high up on the wall, which was covered with black soundproofing material.
The room needed only dayglo paint to reproduce the effect of the clubs where I listened to Janice Joplin and Ten Years After play their music to open-mouthed crowd. The room was just as small, the music just as loud. I was lots older though.
Richard happily played his harmonica with the band, finding it easier than he had imagined to improvise, though this was a new generation of music, one he wasn't familiar with.
I happily sat outside the shed, swapping stories with poets and yogis, musicians, and assorted folk from the neighborhood as fireworks started their first sputters of the holiday.