The House of Orson Welles
After breakfast, Jamie and I smoked some blue dream and flew to the moon. We wound through Hollywood hills, laughing like loons, on the way towards the house of Orson Welles. Dipping in and out of sun, through the Sunet Boulevard freaks, the Willy Wankas, Jack Sparrows and frozen disco dancers. We slip past five-dollar shade shops and brainstorms of how to keep going with our never-finished opus, Ted vs Ted. The doors of quantum physics are endless, and finally they led us to a shaded patch of North Stanley Avenue.
The house of Orson Welles. He’d lived here for his last fifteen years, before collapsing onto his typewriter, a shock of white hair spilling onto the pages.
I soften and quiet as I near his address. The significance and excitement trembling my core. Spent so much of my life imagining this mad hatter, swimming in his lore, and right there, just steps away, is his ocean’s shore. I slowed to a crawl, approaching a blanket of ivy sprawling across white brick. On my toes, I peak over the wall and there it is. Intimate, yet grand. His house at the end of a stone pathway, through kentucky-blue grass and tall pillars of a plantation porch.
Through the windows I could see the stairway he used to wind up, in a goliath bath robe, trailing cigar smoke behind him. I could see the upstairs rooms where he pounded at his typewriter, madly til the morning light. The front lawn, I imagine him sprawled on, too scotch-drunk to make it inside, trumpeting laughter while his muse, Oja dances round him. She swoops down, gently scraping nails across his chest.
I saw no movement inside the house, and the security box keypad has no doorbell to ring, so I turn to Jamie and say, “I understand if you don’t want to join, but I need to climb over this wall.” A beat. His stern jaw sighs, then slowly turns into a smile. “Of course you do.” He says he’ll walk to the end of the block and ‘cacaw’ if someone’s coming. Fingers holding the upper edge of the wall, I spring up, swing a leg, and climb onto its surface before jumping down to the other side. At once, my chest reverberates with excitement. I was standing … in Orson Welles’s yard.
I was drifting up his path. I was almost to his door. Almost as thrilling, to be walking the very stones he had, was the fact that any moment someone might appear from a corner and whisk me to the crossbars motel. But from somewhere deep, I knew there’d be no trouble. I’d explain how special this place was - Holy Toledo, did you know that Orson once lived here? Yeah! Orson fuckin Welles! Of course they’d know, and might still give chase with a hammer, but courage I seek to channel; not fear, so I step closer. Up to the window. Paintings of Jack Nicholson and Blondie on the living room walls. A grand piano with a stack of sheet music. A pen.
Did someone currently live here—was someone currently here? I noted a business card along the edge of a crystal table, calculating it was left by a realtor, who’d planted these decorative touches for perspective buyers. It was all so clean - it must be!
I poked my head around the left side: Another gate leading to a back yard, a wrap-around porch and kidney-shaped pool. Holding my breath, I slipped over the gate, and into the back yard. I noticed security cameras trained on me, and made sure my phsysicality expressed ‘polite observer’ and not ‘hungry-eyed thief.’
I laid down on the grass. Closed my eyes.
Heard Orson’s voice, honey over gravel, rolling his “r”s through Shakesperean sonnets.
I turn my head towards him. He smiles through cherub eyes and rumbles, “Only through love and friendship, can we create the illusion that we’re not alone.” I disagree, believing we’re all part of the same ball of fire, never truly alone, but keep this to myself, and listen to him rave on through countless enthusiastic theories. How to frame the shot, how to mix the paint, how to tell the story.
Finally, I open my eyes and see through waltzing blades of grass, the open porch which must’ve held endless backyard blowouts. Roaring laughter and chatter from the New Hollywood Class of 1970, alongside members of the Old Guard. Dennis Hopper and Jon Huston; blooming Scorsese and wilting Hemingway. The jazz kicks into fifth gear, and nearly topples into a splash of cymbals.
I hear my hushed sneakers, padding across wood planks. I relax a bit, deciding I’m alone in this place, save the countless ghost, sharing stories. I unfold into a wicker rocking chair that sings a C sharp, close my eyes, and drift back and forth, through memories of the man, dreamed up or true; it doesn’t really matter. In this moment, it’s all real. It always was for him, because none of it was. His imaginations were more alive than any photograph. He kailedoscoped over trickery and magic, seeing forgeries of Van Gogh more seductive than the originals.
A thought emerged from the background of this moment: Jamie was still outside, nervously pacing down the block and I don’t want to keep him waiting. So, I start transitioning into a reluctant good-bye, and good too, to not press my luck. But on the way back up the yard, I notice the door to the attached pool house is slightly ajar.
Ludicrous, to go inside, I know …. but Magnificent Orson.
He whispers in my ear. This life is for those who grasp it, and shy not into shadows of safety. Still, an open door most likely means someone lives here… is here. And I’ve already gone far beyond what I imagined I could. Would be a shame to startle a trigger-happy star and spend my last night in LA, bleeding out. But … still … I sense Orson winking. His palm pressing into my shoulderblade. Be bold, young squire. Come find me.
At once, I’m inside. I’m inside the house of Orson Welles. I’m breathing in the atoms of the wood paneling that he breathed into. I’m touching the marble he ate from, littered with cocktail sauce and shrimp tails. My hand sweeps the wall that Oja’s back pressed into while they made love, turbulent and sweet. Teeth and skin. Volcanoes oozing into the ocean, freezing movement into forever still.
Finally, it’s time to leave. Orson curves a smile, and proudly nods. Very well, my student. And for your bravery, I give you a piece of me, to carry always. An invisible talisman to guide you across film and sea.
Moments later I land on the sidewalk with an eternal clap of thunder and walk away with Orson by my side.
Haggis, Waverley Bridge & the Grayfriar’s Bobby
Landed in Edinburgh last night, in a fist of icy wind from the north. I stepped off the plane while imagining ancestors leaping from sea-torn ships, and was slapped by a gust of coldness that curled my toes, sending me scuttling to a bus that would take me through town. There were more shops than I’d anticipated, glossy and new with pinstriped suits hanging in the windows, as our bus careened through one town to the next. Finally, as the scenery grayed, I was dropped in the middle of Waverly Bridge, which felt much more like the ancient stories I’d dreamt of.
I tore the night mad with footsteps, exploring a million sections of what seemed to be a single monstrous castle. Bulky rocks cemented to form walls, climbing toward the moon, and parting ways around colored glass windows and swirling Celtic symbols of the Trinity. Steeples, climbing upward yet, defined by the clouds behind them, glowing from a werewolf moon, like a candle in fog, soft and wavering. It was all so fitting, as I climbed countless steps, wrapping around the walls of Castle Rock.
I made my way into the smallest pub I could find, and asked for a meal I couldn’t get elsewhere. In came haggis, on top of neeps and mashes, which I picked at shyly until my stomach gave way to hearty growls and I dove in head-first. It didn’t taste like anything I’d had before, and I couldn’t quite place if it came from the earth or the sky. Later that night, as I laid in my bed, hiding from the drafts of wind dancing through my room, my stomach churned like grandpa’s Chevy getting started in the winter. I googled haggis and a groan escaped my throat. It’s made from the heart of a sheep and its lungs and intestines—a strange realization to have, while it makes a home inside of yours.
These strange growls from inside were a pack of pit-bulls getting aquainted, after years of being locked in tight cages. Finally, the whirling in my stomach gave way to a series of lucid dreams, tossing me like a tugboat in a hurricane, careening from one vivid world to the next. A lover’s embrace to a street fight; bloody knuckles clench gravel and the other hand slides the small of her back. Silk spilling over silk. Teeth gnashing rocks. Wind swimming through feathers, as they dive, dive, rip beneath the surface of the ocean, hunting for darkness below.
Somewhere in the mist of this turbulence, howls and echoes of laughter began to weave themselves into the mix. I searched for the source of these voices, until my looking led to waking life, and I realized my room faced a giant courtyard, shaped by four ajoining towers, stretching a thousand feet into the air. I was somewhere between the 9th floor and heaven, and I wanted to be a part of it all. Heaving at the window, it reluctantly squealed and gave way to a gush of frigid night, awakening every inch of my skin. On the wings of the gust were more voices and laughter, strange and warped, which seemed to be falling from somewhere near the top of our converging buildings. I stood there, awake and dreaming into violet clouds painted across the midnight sky, and let those voices become my own.
It was still new and shakey, after having lost it a few nights ago on a tear through Chelsea. I was jazzed from a fellow film freak, Emery, and we passed back and a forth a bottle of Johnnie Walker, over cobblestone streets and electric conversation. He wore his hair past his shoulders and showed me the 8mm camera he’d lifted from film school. He claimed it to be the very same that Christopher Nolan had shot his first feature on, while passing it over his loving gaze and repeating over and over, “Such a goooregeous machine!” Since then I’d been learning to get by without words, replacing them with a series of smiles. It put a damper on meeting strangers, so instead I found solace in the company of windswept hills, lonely towers and bridges that stretched for lifetimes.
In particular, there was Waverley Bridge, the handshake across Edinerburgh’s New Town and Old, and the first place in Scotland I’d landed. As the story goes, it fell a dozen times while the Scots were building it, late in the 17th century. It became such a point of laughter and mistrust that when the last stone was finally in place, the town couldn’t find a soul to traverse it. They believed it to be cursed, and chose to swim the river, rather than take their chances of collapsing with the stones.
Finally, the clever idea was born to find the oldest Scot and have them lead a parade aross it for the opening celebration. It turned out to be Ms. Aileen May, a ripe 87, and as luck would have it, the dame died not two days before the ceremony. Scots, however, are not known for their delicate emotions, so alive or no, they tucked the old miss into a carriage and rode her across the bridge in a flurry of roses for all to see. If it was good enough for her, it was good enough for them, and so the people of Edinburgh claimed the bridge as their own, and used it without further pause to this day.
My wanderings spiraled on, until I found myself in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, an ancient graveyard in the middle of Old Town, searching every tombstone in hopes of finding one bearing my family’s name. No such luck, but I did happen to run across the grave of a dog, which I found peculiar, named the Grayfriars Bobby. A lady, wrapped in a scarves like thread around a spool, took notice of me, puzzling at the gravestone, and told me the story of John Gray, whom he had belonged to.
He was the night watchman for the Edinburgh City Police and when he passed away in 1758, faithful ol Bobby spent the next 14 years sitting at his master’s grave, until he finally passed away himself. His legend has far surpassed that of his master’s, and his likeness, cast in iron, sits at the corner of Candlemaker Row as a reminder for all who pass of the faithfulness, in his service. If John Gray had something to say, it may have been “Move on, lil’ homey,” but Gray lacked the voice, and Bobby the ears to hear, so there he sat, under a revolving sky until the grayfriars story became his own.
But stranger yet, than this story of dedication, is a sign I noticed at the entrance of the cemetery, no more than thirty feet from the beloved memorial, strictly stating, “NO DOGS.” One, I suppose, was quite enough.
Praying for the Pigeons to Save me