Lost In OC: The Desert, a Dead Musician and a Disappeared Comedian

Desert dreams. Photo by Leslie Smith

Is it a sign of age that I really don’t care anymore where my toenail clippings land? Or if they’re still where they landed a month later? Just this morning, I found a large clipping on my office rug, so I naturally tried using it for a guitar pick and managed to drop it in the soundhole. Office cleanup complete!

I’m full of useful life hacks. For example, if you drive a boxy, non-aerodynamic automobile such as an old Scion xB, and you find yourself in the midst of a buffeting desert windstorm blowing you out of your lane, try opening all the windows. Instead of the side of your car acting as if it’s a sail, it’s now akin to a flow-through teabag. (A friend dealt with similar gusts by piling a ballast of rocks in his VW’s trunk, but the open-window approach yields better gas mileage, plus it rids your interior of errant nail clippings and parking citations.)

The wife and I encountered said winds on Highway 62 on the way back from a one-night getaway to Joshua Tree, from which I can share this advice: One night is not a getaway; it’s just a really long drive on your way to work.

That said, we crammed as much fun in as we could: We ate and drank at Pappy & Harriet’s (delightfully less crowded than usual thanks to that weekend’s Stagecoach Fest wicking drinkers away); wandered into the tiny, dreamlike Crystal Cave at the Sky Village swap meet; added our footprints to the desert floor in the national park; and stayed at the Joshua Tree Inn, perhaps the most charming place extant that’s famous for an opiate overdose.

Photo by Leslie Smith

Country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons loved Joshua Tree, and in September 1973, he had checked into the inn to relax prior to heading out on tour. Six relaxing double tequilas and a lethal dose of morphine later, Parsons permanently checked out of the inn’s Room 8. Such is the singer’s lingering legend that his fans pay extra to stay in that room, and it’s usually booked well in advance.

These days, the rooms come with a mini-fridge, a handy thing for those wishing the full Gram experience. After he overdosed, his girlfriend tried shoving ice cubes up his ass, which is evidently an old folk remedy for an OD. I don’t know if there is a physiological basis, but I can see how it might operate on the spiritual plane: There you are, heading up into the light when you get an urgent message from the material world below that you’re being butt-fucked by Frosty the Snowman. Your soul wonders, “Hmmm, maybe there are things I have yet to learn from the material world,” and back you go—sometimes, but not Gram’s time.

Paying respects. Photo by Leslie Smith

The inn’s rooms also have TVs the size of an old TV dinner, which might be a handy connection to the world in case of a natural disaster (though even a lava-spewing volcano can’t upstage Donald Trump’s hate-spewing mouth in the news), but the set was useless for serious viewing, which is why we stepped out to view the stars rather than trying to watch Killing Eve.

If you’re not watching that BBC America show, you’re missing the best thing on commercial-laden TV, possibly on premium-channel TV.

I spent most of my days in journalism as a rock-music critic, and it struck me decades ago that the immediacy, adventure and emotion that had driven rock had largely migrated to television. Killing Eve sure continues on that march. It’s outrageous. It’s thrilling. It’s soulful. Sandra Oh and the other female lead, Jodie Comer, are astonishingly good, particularly when playing off each other.

More than half the shows I’m enjoying these days have strong central female roles—including Outlander, Homeland, Billions—and I wonder: Does anyone else miss Louis C.K. yet?

Some of the best, most complex and insightful dialogue I’ve heard voiced by women on TV in recent years has been on Better Things, a show Pamela Adlon co-created with C.K. and which C.K. also often scripted, alone or with Adlon.

Now he is entirely scrubbed from the production. His other shows have been canceled, and his last film was shelved right before its slated release. He became an overnight non-person after a New York Times article last year cited instances of C.K. masturbating in the presence of women more than a decade earlier.

“Why should that even be in the news?” I questioned at the time on Facebook, which led to my promptly getting my head chewed off by several folks, some my former cohorts at the Weekly in its early days.

To my thinking, there is a tremendous gap between Harvey Weinstein and C.K., one hinging on power and consensuality. To recap, the article claimed that in the 1990s, while working on a TV pilot, C.K. asked a castmate if she’d watch him masturbate, to which she assented and he did in an office. In 2002, at an Aspen comedy festival, he invited two female comedians to his hotel room after the bars had closed. Once there, he asked if they’d mind if he took his penis out. When they didn’t object, he did and proceeded to whack away while, according to the Times, the two women “were holding onto each other, screaming and laughing in shock.” If they were now seeing more penis than they had counted on, they could have asked him to stop or left via the unblocked door.

The Times cited an account from another woman who in 2003 was on the phone with C.K. and had the distinct impression he was masturbating on the other end. Icky, and unlike the other instances, he hadn’t asked for consent, but every phone I’ve ever seen has a button that lets you hang up if you object to what you’re hearing.

The most recent instance the paper cited was from 13 years ago, when he asked a woman to watch him masturbate and was turned down, end of story except for him apologizing to her years later.

Back when these things occurred, none of these people’s careers hinged upon their acquiescence to watching or listening to C.K. whack off. He wasn’t famous. He wasn’t a movie mogul. He wasn’t the president of the United States. He was a guy who toiled alongside other unknown writers in the boiler rooms of TV shows and worked the same comedy club stages as everyone else. And who evidently had issues.

I remain unconvinced that sharing a kink after asking permission should be a career-killer, especially for a comedian who has been painfully candid about what sexually troubled dogs men can be, as well as about the burden women bear just by being in their proximity.

We’ve all found ourselves in situations—sexual, business, friendships, whatever—that left us feeling used and regretful. That’s why humanity came up with the word “mistakes,” and you try to learn from them. It seemed to me that the slant of the Times’ story was denying women’s personhood and toeing to the old “weaker sex” notion to think they couldn’t own their decisions about the situations they allowed themselves to be a part of.

Which may be so up on the shelf of pure reason. Here on Earth, though, friends let me know how different things can look from a woman’s world, where you grow up with pervs trying to get you in their car while walking home from school, where college dates rape you, where bosses view the workplace as a breeding ground, and where they desperately don’t want their kids to have to grow up with the same horrid crap.

So I’ve learned a bit. I’m still learning. I assume C.K. has as well, and I hope he’s allowed back in the human race one of these years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *