Rights of Man

April 14, 2011

My last vacation was October 2006, when I visited my brother in Redondo Beach, CA for a month. It was my first time in Los Angeles, the Internal Combustion City, and I was totally into it and can’t wait to go back next time I get a month off.

A couple of nights before I left for back home, I spoke on the phone to my friend, Marty Reisman, a veteran table tennis champion and ping-pong hustler who spent his youth honing his skills in the pool halls of old Broadway.

Watch Marty break a cigarette in half with a sizzling forehand here.

Marty suggested that I contact his friend, Dexter Gray, who lives in the Hollywood Hills.  I waffled, stupidly, but took Marty up on the introduction, and Dexter was thrilled to have us.  Dexter is a virtuoso pianist, who played a legendary concert on the Great Wall of China.

We scheduled a time to come by Dexter’s place. Turned out we also promised a friend we would get him at the airport around the same time. “So, before we head to your mom’s, we’re gonna stop at my friend Marty’s friend Dexter’s place, okay?”

Dexter greeted us at the door in track pants and a leather jacket. His hoary blond hair fitfully swept to his shoulders, weathered by a life of music wrought and blast of his hands and mind.

Dexter lived in a Spanish revival house set lordly on the lower slope of Laurel Canyon. Dexter calls it the Holly Mont Castle, with a sign outside. The firebrand actress Barbara Stanwyck lived there in the 1930s, unhappily, with her first husband, Frank Fay.  Ghost-hunters have visited Holly Mont looking for spirits.  In the 60s the house was a scene for psych head bands like Buffalo Springfield.

Dexter showed us around.

A famous, unplayable piano.

Dexter had arranged a cozy viewing nook for Jesus.  The pianist explained that he wasn’t particularly religious, but one day when he ends up at the gates of Almighty, he can show the angels that he did his part.

He let us try on the jackets once worn by Liberace.

Dexter posed at the Marty Reisman shrine.

Dexter described to us the rejuvenation that possessed him after a recent near-death experience. Before we left, Dexter repeated what seemed to be his mantra: “The Unstoppable Force Meets the Immovable Object!” It was the first time I’d heard the phrase, and apparently its a saying.  Among others, The Joker says it to Batman at the end of the movie The Dark Knight.  It’s catchy.  No other than a binary universe.  Forces at odds make life.  Human history is the story of self-awareness, and the rights which may or not be given, are fought for. The brain negotiates truth against the powers who kill over power.  Those who cannot control themselves naturally move to control others.

In the 1960s, FBI agents visited the sites of protest and violence in the Deep South, but did not intervene, and instead took notes to record an account of the actions of individuals and groups getting their heads bashed in by rednecks.  James Forman, a revolutionary, and other veterans of the Civil Rights movement have published their own accounts, as counteragents of memory to the history told by the Justice Department.  As the FBI created  private files on figures in the Movement, it also investigated sicko members of the Ku Klux Klan.  J. Edgar Hoover believed he existed at some realizable point between the unstoppable force and the immovable object.

Watch a vintage example of James Forman on the soapbox here.

Norman Mailer took the quip as his pontificate’s pose each time he addressed the public when running for Mayor of New York City in 1969, as when Mailer & running mate Jimmy Breslin roiled the campus of Queens College.

(Norman Mailer & Jimmy Breslin speaking at Queens College, 1969, QC yearbook Silhouette).