Rock’n’roll Ralphs

(2013)

We go to the Rock’n’roll Ralphs for the thrill.

We have our own Ralphs here in Silver Lake, but it’s all normal now. Silver Lake is all normal now, Silver Lake used to be Silverlake and edgy and new and leathery gay but that’s long gone, gone with the punks and the freaks and the vatos. It’s all rich people and hipsters with kids and beautiful single women. Ours is a nice Ralphs. There’s a couple Ralphs across the river in Glendale…there’s an Armenian Ralphs and an upscale Ralphs and between them an eerie underground Ralphs that always make me think of Beneath then Planet of the Apes. You enter the parking lot above ground and way in the corner there’s a winding driveway that leads you into the Stygian darkness below. Inside, though, it’s just a regular Ralphs.

But Rock’n’roll Ralphs is special. We always park on the roof and take the elevator down. That’s fun. Our Ralphs doesn’t have an elevator. And our Ralphs doesn’t have all these people either, these Hollywood types, who can’t even roll a shopping cart down a grocery aisle without looking like they’re trying to hustle something. There’s a lot of rock’n’roll types, hardened roadie looking guys with too much thinning hair and baskets full of beer and TV dinners. There’s Hollywood lifers, people who have obviously lived in Hollyweird their whole lives and have that sort of otherworldly jadedness that comes from too many nights and not enough days. There’s wackos that talk to themselves or each other and you think they might smell funny but they don’t really. There’s gorgeous starlets buying healthy little things and a bottle of white wine. There’s children with dad for the weekend picking things mom never lets them have. And there are celebrities who slip in under dressed and un-made up and try to pass as just another extra. Which works with me, as I can’t tell a celebrity from a ham sandwich.

This was Oscar nite, too, and just a couple blocks down the street from Rock’n’roll Ralphs the street was full of ham sandwiches. They come in big limousines and wave at the crowds and a zillion cameras flash. The women shimmer and the men don’t shave. I don’t know who almost any of them are, but the crowd does, and they ooh and ahh and scream and yell and hold on tightly to their autograph books. They take pictures from afar with their cell phones and post them on their Facebook pages. They cram together on the sidewalk, stomping all over stars of people who probably once walked that red carpet. Billy Barty’s there, and Valerie Bertinelli and Bing Crosby and Dane Clark whose face you’d recognize even if you can’t place the name. The Doors are there, and the Carpenters, and Zsa Zsa and Jean Harlow and Godzilla. This scene was made for Godzilla. This scene was made for Nathaniel West. He set the final act of the Day of the Locust right here, in front of Grauman’s, where the mob got ugly and out of hand and deadly. Not now. The fans are well behaved. No one gets drunk. No one gets tased. The stars wave, and the people wave back.

I did see a genuine Day of the Locust out there once. In this very place. We had just turned left off Orange onto Hollywood Blvd and into a phalanx of slow moving squad cars, lights flashing and utterly silent. They followed the saddest little Toyota you ever saw, running on fumes and four flat tires. The car rolled to a stop right there in front of the Chinese theater. It was the middle of summer and there were a zillion tourists and they couldn’t believe their luck. The line of cops couldn’t hold them back and they poured into the street like ants. The lady got out of the car exhausted and broken and laid down on the pavement as ordered. The cops rushed in and cuffed her before the crowd could get to her. They stuffed her into the back of a patrol car and took off. The remaining cops tried vainly to clear the street. Last thing I saw was Granny posing in front of the dead car. We headed east down Hollywood Boulevard, away from the crowds of tourists, till only locals walked the sidewalks and winos begged for change.

But that was then. The now was inside this Rock’n’roll Ralphs. I wheeled the cart up and down the aisles people-watching as my wife shopped. There were none of the glamorous starlets…they were all at Somebody’s watching the Oscars and dreaming and sniping. In fact there weren’t many movie looking people at all…this was the rock’n’roll side of Rock’n’roll Ralphs. These people didn’t go to Grammy parties, they worked them. They might look like hell here, rumpled and unshaven, but give then twenty minutes and they’re the sharpest bar tender you ever saw, smiling and cracking wise, shaking, not stirring, raking in big tips. I know this because there on the frozen food aisle two scruffy dudes were perusing the pizzas while their even scruffier buddy stared at his iPhone. Hey check this out, he said, they want me to tend bar at Seth McFarlane’s Oscar party. His friends hmmphed a cool, you like pepperoni or cheese? I knew right then that Seth McFarlane’s Oscar party was a big deal. No one would hmmmph a cool at something insignificant, not at Rock’n’roll Ralphs. Their mumbled cools said volumes. It meant movie stars, big tips, maybe even getting laid. Or an audition. Or both. It didn’t mean a score necessarily, but it did mean the possibility of a score, which is what the Hollywood hustle is all about. The score, the gig, a step up. It meant his buddies would be at home eating pizza and watching the Oscars while he was getting hit on by you’ll never believe who. It was a Hollywood moment, an Oscar moment, right there in the frozen food aisle at the Rock’n’roll Ralphs. This doesn’t happen at the Silver Lake Ralphs. It doesn’t happen at the underground Ralphs. It certainly doesn’t happen at a Von’s.

Not that I had a clue who Seth McFarlane was. No idea. A ham sandwich maybe. Somebody who scored. Someone who wasn’t tooling around a Ralphs on Oscar night like it was Disneyland. Today I find out he was the man. He hosted the damn thing. Some people liked him. Some hated him. Whatever. I imagine it was a hell of a party, crawling with ham sandwiches. And George Clooney. And Meryl Streep. No ham sandwich she.

(Our neighborhood Ralphs is now gone.)

Turkey

So as always, I just went out to get the turkey. I always wait till Thanksgiving Eve, because I prefer a fresh turkey. The frozen ones are so plebian, so hoi polloi, so common. So I went to the Ralphs on Colorado in Glendale, since our Ralphs is now an empty shell where a Ralphs used to be. Made a bee line for the turkeys. Unfortunately the frozen turkeys were no longer common, they weren’t even uncommon, in fact they were gone. The fresh turkeys were gone too. All that remained were two organic, free range fresh turkeys for those easily guilt ridden, but $66 for a turkey seemed nuts. They had lots of hams, though, and even more chickens, and I briefly considered getting a roaster and a lot of breading. Instead, I got back in the car, and after a winding but traffic free excursion through hills with fabulous views of Forest Lawn, I made it to the Vons on Los Feliz. We used to shop there ages ago, but apparently Glendale is rich now, as the prices were ridiculous. But they had turkeys, lots of turkeys. Frozen ones. Ran out of the fresh ones days ago the guy at the meat counter said. He picked a bird out of the cooler. This one’s thawing nicely already. Just soak it in the sink and watch TV all night. Sigh. A people’s turkey. Feeling the Bern. I dumped it in the cart and headed towards produce. And what beautiful produce it was too. Lush and green and ripe and snappy apple red. All I needed were Brussels sprouts. They had one. One single Brussels sprout. It looked like an absurd little cabbage. All about were the bits and pieces of sprouts, like there’d been a Brussels sprout riot. I considered getting the last one and letting my family fight over it, but no. I even looked for frozen Brussels sprouts, but they too were gone, meaning there are more than a few people in Glendale who can’t cook. No one seemed to be interested in the frozen Brussels sprouts in butter sauce. So I wandered about doing some last minute shopping and marveling at all the beautiful women doing their last minute shopping too. Suddenly the Vons in Glendale, in the wrong part of Glendale at that, is a babe magnet, like an Armenian Beverly Center. Though they were of every race and color, actually, lovely, and young enough to be my daughters. Grand daughters. Life, even in a post-racial society, can be cruel.

In the car again, heading up Brand. How would I face my family tomorrow without Brussel sprouts? The only time anybody ever eats the damn things is at Thanksgiving when it’s the law. Somewhere in Atwater it hit me….Gelson’s. Maybe they would have them. They would be solid gold, but they would have them. Which they did. They even had parking. I grabbed two packages full of the things. Gelson’s wraps their Brussels sprouts in little mesh bags. Very neat. Not a hint of a riot. The pall of familial holiday disgrace fell away and I walked though the aisles full of confidence and swagger, two big mesh bags of Brussels sprouts dangling from my hand in one hell of a manly metaphor.

Incidentally, you can spend $120 on a turkey at Gelson’s. I saw one, eighteen pounds, $120. That’s twice as much as the organic free range bird at Ralphs. Maybe these turkeys were organic, free range and veterinarian-assisted suicides.

What an inane post. I wrote it in my head as I drove between stores. Maybe I need a hobby.