038.2: Chuck Rosenthal:: My Chicken, Obsidian 038

While we normally feature poetry here at The Offending Adam, we are delighted today to present Chuck Rosenthal's piece of magic journalism, "My Chicken, Obsidian," set in Topanga Canyon, a funky residential enclave located outside of Los Angeles. Historian Carey McWilliams' seminal work on California is entitled Southern California: An Island on the Land and while reading Rosenthal's funny, ironic, and poetic portrait, one cannot help but appreciate that sentiment of one who inhabits such a baffling and beautiful island on the land that is Los Angeles and its surrounding locale. Cody Todd

My Chicken, Obsidian


Because everything depended on a red wheelbarrow next to a black chicken in the rain. Or did it depend on Sting? Let’s start with the chicken. Diosa had a friend named Hoopie Harris, a gay Filipino-American-Jewish-Indian Chief who, like my lover, the poet, Diosa, was infatuated with Dolly Parton. And chickens. Long phone conversations consisting of Dolly Parton lyrics. That coat of many colors my mama made for me. Hoopie said he knew Dolly. She cooked him country breakfasts (eggs, eggs from his own chickens, and bacon) and woke him up with cocaine instead of coffee. Hoopie knew everybody. He’d slept with Richard Gere and Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol. Hoopie was always pulling that “she’d really prefer me over you if I wasn’t gay” thing on me. How do you explain to a woman that that bugs you? So maybe it wasn’t about chickens. Chickens were just so many flightless birds.

Until a chicken walked into my house on the winter solstice. Then we found out who liked chickens and who didn’t. I was standing at my front door watching a plumber and his assistant drain the septic tank when a big black chicken with green highlights walked into my kitchen.

“That your chicken?” said the plumber’s assistant.

“No,” I said.

“Is now,” said the plumber.

“Nice chicken,” the assistant said. He rubbed his stomach with his hand and licked his lips.

She was a nice chicken. I named her Obsidian.

Diosa was in Malibu with her mother, Jin-Jin, visiting from Laguna Woods. I called her cell. “A chicken came to our house,” I said.

“Is it a nice chicken?” said Diosa.

“It’s a pretty nice chicken.”

“I knew he was going to get a chicken,” said Jin-Jin. Beings from other spheres spoke to Jin-Jin and told her the future, which she kept to herself until it happened. When something already happened Jin-Jin always knew ahead of time. The past always confirmed the future. In other parts of the world that’s called schizophrenia, but in Los Angeles it’s called religion.

“Pick up some scratch at the Feed Bin,” I said.

“We should call Hoopie and ask him what to do,” said Diosa.

“I’m not asking Hoopie what to do,” I said.

“Because you’re homophobic,” said Diosa.

“Tell Shark I’m not sleeping with the chicken,” said Jin-Jin.

That’s where it stood with the chicken. Now Sting. My old friend Serum Pallapatti, a Dravidian-looking Indian born in Fresno had somehow become a wealthy Hindu masseuse to the stars, one of them Sting. How do these things happen?

I met Serum a long, long time ago up in San Francisco because I was fucking his roommate. She wasn’t Serum’s girlfriend, she was Diego Maradona’s girlfriend, but he wasn’t around much. Nonetheless, he always left lots of good coke. We made love sitting on her leaky waterbed, face-to-face, while Serum wrapped his twenty-foot python around us. Serum said that’s how Hindus did it. You think Tantric sex is hard; it’s not on a waterbed with a twenty foot python wrapped around you. This is the difference between San Francisco and Los Angeles and if I have to explain that, it’ll ruin it.

Ten years later I was running my dogs in Red Rock Canyon and there was Serum walking toward me down the road. It was hot. We were only a mile from where the killer bees were supposed to invade from Calabasas.

“I thought you’d be dead by now,” he said.

“I thought you’d be dead by now,” I said.

No, we’d been reborn in Los Angeles as responsible family men.

So one day he burned down his ice cream parlor near the Top o’ Topanga and used the insurance money to build a yurt. He’d decided to make a living giving bad advice. He figured there were two things people didn’t want, good advice and free advice. He went downtown and made love to a judge. That’s what he said, though you can’t believe Serum about that kind of thing. Regardless, he convinced her to send him Robert Downey Jr. who had just been arrested again for possession of cocaine. What could it hurt? Robert Downey Jr. was hopeless.

“What do you do for him?” I said.

“I hold his hand till he falls asleep,” Serum said.

Anyway, he convinced Downey that he’d feel a lot better if he unloaded all his worldly possessions. Downey was no fool and experimented by giving Serum a bunch of money and his wife’s BMW SUV. His wife divorced him. I don’t know what helped but something in that made him feel better. He found a new wife, got off coke. Serum still holds his hand, but the pay is good. On the other hand, it didn’t work for Mel Gibson.

Diosa and I were at Serum’s eating curried goat when Mel called.

“Serum,” said the voice on the machine. “It’s Mel. Help me. Serum, help me.”

“That’s Mel Gibson,” said Diosa.

Serum shrugged the shrug of ten thousand years of deep spiritual Hindu indifference.

“You’re not going to pick up?” I said.

“Everybody responds to him,” said Serum. “Nobody tells him ‘Fuck you.’” He opened a cigar box and started rolling a joint. “He’s a train wreck,” Serum said.

Was Serum a Hindu? Of course not. Did he have chickens? Yes, lots of them. Did this strategy help Mel Gibson? No. That was back during the Jesus and Apocalypto phase. Gibson was a coke addict. He was coked up on the night of his anti-Semitic outrage outside Moonshadows. When my friends visit from back east I ask them, “What do you want to do? Take the kids to Disneyland?” No. Moonshadows. So maybe Serum helped Mel. He’s more famous than ever. I saw him last night on Leno pushing his latest movie, new lover, new baby, chattering like a maniac, feet bouncing and repeatedly rubbing his finger under his nose.

“Isn’t he Catholic?” I said to Diosa.

“Like the Pope,” she said. “One of the ones with fourteen kids.”

Chickens, Catholics, Hindus, chickens. I see Mel up at Serum’s but he doesn’t say hello.

All of the homeless where I live in downtown Topanga Canyon were once famous. Eli discovered plate tectonics. Ted taught Stephen King how to write. Daryl wrote all the songs for Little Feat. Stephanie made nature films in the 70’s and taught Washoe sign language. Rafer gave Cameron the idea for Avatar. Maya ran the Latin Grammys for Michael Green. They bought homes, lost their jobs. If you own a home then there’s no hope for you. Famous people moved to the canyon, bought homes and fell into the abyss.

I ran into the once famous poet, Poet Dan, down at the General Store where Diosa sent me to buy a frozen pizza and a bottle of Smirnoff, a pack of Parliament Lights, you know, a break from our bad habits.

“Want to hear a love poem for fifty cents?” said Poet Dan. His red and gray mustache hair grew down to his chin.

I gave him a dollar. “I’m against love,” I said.

“How’s that chicken of yours?”

“She’s not my chicken. She’s a chicken of the world.”

“Chicken of the universe,” Poet Dan said. He wrote that down on his scrubby pad. “Heard you want to get rid of her.”

Well everybody in that canyon knew everything about everybody else or thought they did. I liked the chicken but for the fact that she did sleep with Jin-Jin when she visited and she liked to peck my daughter, Jesus, on the head and she pooped inside the house. Nonetheless, she made the cutest sounds when she sat on your lap.

“I like the chicken,” I said.

“Diosa says it’s going to be her or the chicken,” said Poet Dan.

“How would you know?” I asked him.

“Us poets know what other poets are feeling.”

Let me tell you, I know more about poets than you’d ever want to know. Shake a tree in Los Angeles and a poet falls out. I suppose I could have talked to Diosa about the chicken but it would have destroyed the texture of our implicit relationship.

“Talk to your neighbors,” Poet Dan said.

“What neighbors?”

“I’m a poet, not a messenger,” said Poet Dan.

I got home and gave Diosa her cigarettes.

“I’m leaving you,” she said.

“I know already,” I said. “For who?”

“I’m thinking about it.”

So I picked up my chicken Obsidian and went next door where my neighbor Clea Duval and her girlfriend, Radio, lived. Technically, Clea slept in her 1975 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am because she didn’t want to jinx the fame thing. That house had rickety stairs, no interior wiring, just extension chords. You could see through the walls. It was such a wreck that it was only worth a million dollars. The last guy who lived there, Ken Waverly, was the inventor of the skim board. You haven’t heard of him because he bought that house and dropped off the end of the world. He was Genevieve Bujold’s nephew and kept ferrets. Once he came back from Cabo and invited us to a big fish barbecue where Genevieve Bujold and her sister sat on my lap. They were still pretty cute and it pissed Diosa off.

Excuse moi!” said Diosa.

“You are excused,” said Genevieve Bujold.

Clea and Radio came to the door. They were both tiny. Radio was dark and Goth. She had a rock band and Jesus, who played sitar, went over and jammed with them sometimes. Clea was blonde though you wouldn’t know it because they both tucked their hair under black longshoreman’s caps pulled down over their foreheads. Jeans, boots, black leather jackets. Radio had a ’75 Trans-Am, too, a big firebird painted on the hood, Georgia plates, of course. She worked on the cars out front while listening to Southern rock.

“Heard Diosa’s leaving you,” Clea said.

“It’s an old story,” I said to her. “Sometimes she’s gone for minutes at a time, right in front of my face.”

Those two didn’t smile much but that got a smirk out of Clea, that same smirk you’ve seen on the screen.

“But it’s not our chicken,” Radio said.

“She could visit,” I said.

“We don’t want a chicken,” said Clea.

“We’re still getting the ferret smell out of here,” Radio said.

Clea petted Obsidian on the head, who clucked. “That’s a nice sound,” she said.

“But we don’t want her,” said Radio.

“You don’t have to live in your car,” I said to Clea.

“I’m on a roll. I don’t want to blow it,” she said to me.

“Look at me,” said Radio. “Doomed. Look at you.”

“I never fell from fame,” I said to her. “I rose to obscurity.”

“Nobody told us until it was almost too late,” Clea said to me. “I’m glad I never really moved in.”

“Close enough,” said Radio. “She’ll end up on television. Just wait.”

This is a town thick in the mystical. But clairvoyant as that interlude turned out, I still had my chicken. We tried locking her out but she flew from deck to deck and followed the cats through open windows.

“I thought chickens couldn’t fly,” said Diosa.

“She’s eating all the cat food,” I said.

“Why not give her to Serum?”

“He won’t take her from me. It’s a guy thing,” I said. “You give her to him.”

“He knows it’s your chicken,” Diosa said.

“If everybody knows everything around here then why does everybody know that Obsidian is my chicken but nobody knows whose chicken she was before that?”

So I finally called Hoopie.

“Emmy Lou Harris just made me breakfast,” Hoopie said.

“I think she’s a Christian, Hoopie.”

“So’s Dolly,” said Hoopie. “So what? She opened for the casino. Then Mick came by and gave me a watch for my birthday.”

“Richard Gere gave you a watch for your birthday last month.”

“Mick’s always late,” he said.

“I thought the casino was dead in the water,” I said to him. The last I’d heard, Coppola and the other wine makers put a thumb on Hoopie’s casino. The quiche crowd didn’t want low rent gamblers mucking up Sonoma County.

“These No-Cal liberals are Indian hating hypocrites. We had to build them a new sheriff’s department and a new jail and produce Coppola’s next movie,” Hoopie said. “But the metal buildings are up, slots are in, we broke ground last week.”

“Mafia money?”

“Wealthy Italians from Las Vegas, Señor Tiburon. Don’t throw that M-word around, it could get you in trouble.”

“Will you take my chicken, Hoopie?”

“I don’t have hens,” said Hoopie, “only roosters.”

“That’s baloney,” I said.

“Anyway, Alejandro keeps the chickens at his place.” Alejandro was his new boyfriend.

“Can I give her to Alejandro?”

“I don’t let him accept chickens from other men,” Hoopie said.

“You chicken lovers are the hypocrites,” I said to Hoopie. “Diosa’s going to leave me if I don’t get rid of the chicken.”

“It’s about time,” said Hoopie. “Tell her she can manage the stage at the casino.”

*

Anyway, you might think I’m friends with Serum, but I’m not. Neither of us is that friendly. He’s Diosa’s friend. They get stoned and drink coffee up at the Circle. Ignoring famous movie stars and charging them for bad advice or no advice had made Serum a wealthy man. He was a notorious womanizer and being rich helped a lot. Diosa, on the other hand, was notoriously beautiful, an ifriti, a huri. I don’t want to get into it, but men fell in love with her on sight, powerful men, celebrities. Gary Busey went down at the Malibu Pharmacy, Martin Sheen at the Cross Creek Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Brad Pitt in the Colony CVS. It’s why Angelina Jolie left him. Diosa said she had a very low voice. George Clooney swooned out at Topanga Days. Nick Nolte on the bumper cars at the Malibu Fair (back east we called them dodgems).

Nick Nolte really pissed me off. He already had two women half his age following him carrying big net bags full of stuffed animals. Turns out he’s great at carnival games. He got in his bumper car followed by fifteen middle-aged women all trying to hit him at once. He turned his car and hit Diosa head-on, fell out his car with his tongue out, stopped the ride. Drunk. Didn’t keep him from jumping up and following us to the basketball shoot. You know the routine, two tiny iron baskets eleven feet up. Me and Nick.

It was usually my element. I could hit baskets and give stuffed tigers and bears away to a standing mob of children until the carnie shut me down. But not that night. I missed. Nolte hit. “Ha!” he said and gave Diosa a stuffed panda. I missed and he hit again. “Ha! Ha!” he said and gave Diosa another panda. Again. “Ha! Ha! Ha!” Another panda until I pulled Diosa away, dragging her out of the Fair and into the parking lot with Nolte and his toy bearers hot on our heels. At our car door Diosa gave him back the pandas and he wept.

It was pretty quiet on the ride home.

“Nick Nolte crushed you at basketball,” said Diosa.

I’d been humiliated by a drunk celebrity. So she could leave me in a moment. Why not?

“I’d have to listen to them,” she said. “They have nothing to say.”

So anyway, all those people who didn’t know who really owned my chicken Obsidian figured Diosa was sleeping with Serum.

“So what do you talk about with him?” I said.

“Sting.”

Yes, Sting. After a day of listening to New Age music through Bose headphones in Serum’s mountaintop yurt, Sting felt so much rage for having spent the day downed out and listening to mediocre, New Age music that he discovered an even deeper rage, a deep rage deeper than his self had ever admitted—well, if not his self, than at least his persona—a rage which brought him to the realization that he needed to write his autobiography. Serum was good at what he did, whatever that was.

Now Serum was on my answering machine.

“Hey, Shark,” Serum said to the answering machine because, like him, I never answered the phone, “Sting’s going to write his autobiography. I know you’re there. He already got a million for it from McMillan and he hasn’t written a thing.”

My daughter, Jesus, picked up. “Dude,” she said.

“Dude,” said Serum.

“No, you Dude,” said Jesus.

“What did he have to say about it?” I asked her later.

“He said Ben Stiller wants to see one of your funny books.”

“He can see it at the bookstore. Everybody just wants free books,” I said.

“Dude,” Jesus said.

“Dude?”

“We use it facetiously, Father Dude,” Jesus said.

“Sting didn’t get a million dollars because he’s a good writer,” I said to her.

“Get some distance, Father Dude,” she said. “Engage space, the final frontier.”

“Do you mean ironic distance?” I said.

“Your education has alienated you,” said Jesus.

“Alienation is a kind of distance,” I said to my daughter.

“Serum needs me to baby sit for Robert.”

”Robert’s kids?”

“No, Robert. I do it all the time. He’s staying at Sting’s this week.”

But then Diosa came home from the Target with dozens of platform sandals, even three pairs for Jesus and a gray pocket T-shirt for me. Gray is my favorite color. Diosa always bought something for me so I’d be implicated in the purchase. She believed that the moment just before buying something, when a woman held her credit card in front of the salesperson, was the only time a woman held any power in Los Angeles.

“They were on sale,” Diosa said.

She dropped the black bags on the faint red
tile kitchen floor   I stood pale in
front of the bags of shoes   A white shoebox fell
out and fell open   Out the window, fog came
over the distant cliff as if from China and Diosa,
fingers like doves, bent slowly to the sandals lifting
one by a heel strap, stepping from one shoe
into another, and then again   Her hair fell
upon her shoulders, her ankles shifted, her skirt
floated  kissed her knees


Okay, she wasn’t wearing a skirt. In my mind she was wearing a skirt. But even in her black Capri pants her legs drove me crazy. Apparently they drove a lot of people crazy.

“They were practically giving these away,” said Diosa. And you couldn’t save a cent on them if you didn’t spend anything.

Diosa looked me in the eyes, her jewel blue eyes glowing with what she didn’t have to say about spending money: my sweet little horse. $2,500 a year on board. $600 a year on horseshoes, if you wanted to talk about shoes. Vet bills. Swimming pools. Movie stars. And two Xmases ago she’d bought me a motorcycle. Regardless that it was half my money, she’d bought it. Not a fat ride either, but a crotch rocket, the kind all the young organ donors rode up and down the canyon. She called it my Kawasaki Viagra.

She stepped into my arms. She wore her hair just over her shoulders, blonde and blue in the front and weaving into auburn, black, and red on her back and shoulders; high cheekbones, a strong nose. Though medium height, she could look down on anyone, so when she looked up, when she chose to look up at me the thrill was beyond description; her body so soft, so remarkably soft that I found the idea of someone living within it unimaginable, and yet there she was, fully willed and fully self-imagined. We went to her office, chased her brown dog off the futon. Shut the double shutter doors. She took off her clothes and my clothes and she put me in her. “Now,” she said, “about that chicken.”

*

So it was Diosa or the chicken. Without a plan, pulling at last straws, I got my chicken Obsidian out of the house. I took her to Sting’s. Sting’s place was the last one on the street of the Colony, a Moroccan castle with a retractable roof. In the front entrance, his swimming pool was surrounded by a jungle. Just indoors, the hot tub, filled with imported sulfur water, was so deep you could stand in it. He had a TV screen bigger than my house, a kitchen the size of Manhattan. Outside, through the giant living room window, a pod of dolphins leapt and frolicked near his private beach.

“That’s amazing,” I said to Jesus.

“They’re always here. He rents them,” Jesus said.

I’d brought Jesus and Serum’s two daughters, Ashley and Celine, and my chicken Obsidian. Robert sat on the couch holding the remote and giggling at the TV where the movie Chaplin was playing. “Hee-hee,” said Robert. He pointed at the screen. “That’s me! That’s me!”

“He loves to see himself in movies,” Jesus said to me.

“Think he’d want a chicken?” I said.

“I doubt it.”

“Do you think Sting would want a chicken?”

“Oh Father,” said Jesus.

Robert had his son there, Indio. “Indie, Indie, come here, look, that’s me!” said Robert.

“Oh Father,” said Indie, looking at Jesus. He held a soccer ball, dropped it, and he and Jesus headed into Sting’s huge kitchen to play soccer.

Ashley and Celine began opening and closing Sting’s roof. I put my chicken on the floor.

“This is my favorite movie!” said Robert to somebody.

For my part, I’ve always been amazed how such a funny guy like Robert could make such a tedious movie about such a funny guy as Chaplin.

Sting’s roof opened. Sting’s roof closed. The soccer ball hit Robert in the back of the head. Robert ignored it. “Come watch this movie!” he said. “I’m in it!”

My chicken Obsidian tried to jump on Robert’s lap, but he elbowed her off. “Next, Iron Man!” said Robert Downey Jr.

In the kitchen, the soccer ball rebounded from the huge pots hanging from the ceiling and brought them clanging to the floor. The roof opened. The roof closed. Celine emerged wet and naked from Sting’s hot tub. My chicken pooped on the Moroccan rug. “Look, that’s me!” yelled Robert Downey Jr. And then Sting came in the door.

Everyone ignored him. He ignored everything. He went to the kitchen, got himself a bag of dried Japanese kelp, came back into the living room and stood next to Robert.

“That’s me,” Robert whispered to him, pointing at the TV screen.

“What’s Robert Altman’s chicken doing here,” Sting said.

“Isn’t he dead?” I said to him.

Sting looked at me quizzically, I think noticing me for the first time.

Robert jumped up. He began to dance around with his hands clasped over his head like Snoopy in the old Charlie Brown cartoon. “Junior!” yelled Robert Downey Jr. “Junior! Junior! Junior!”

*

At home, Diosa was packing. She was moving to Sonoma, changing careers, abandoning poetry to run Hoopie’s Indian casino.

“You’ll be back,” I said.

“Not if that chicken’s here.”

“There are no shoes in Sonoma,” I said. “Everyone goes barefoot. They don’t wear makeup in northern California. There are wild animals and there’s nothing to drink or eat but wine and pie.”

“Pie?”

“The Indians gather at the Santa Rosa Carrow’s at midnight. They eat nothing but pie. You’ll be an alien.”

“I’ll be a fashion revolutionary,” said Diosa.

“Give me one last chance,” I said.

I got Bobby Altman Jr. on the phone.

“Bobby,” I said on the phone, “I think I have your chicken.”

“My chicken is dead,” said Bobby Altman Jr. “I no longer own a chicken.”

“You don’t own her because she’s at my house.”

“I saw her die,” said Bobby Altman Jr.

“On the solstice?”

“What’s the solstice?”

“Around Christmas.”

“A coyote chased her over my fence. I saw it.”

“She came to my house,” I said. “She’s black with green highlights.”

“I don’t think that’s my chicken,” said Bobby Altman Jr.

“I’m bringing her over,” I said.

“Oh please don’t do that,” said Bobby Altman Jr.

“Where are you going with our chicken?” Jesus said to me as I gathered up Obsidian from the cat food bowls.

“Our chicken? What have you ever done for this chicken?”

“A page on Face Book?”

“She’s Bobby Altman Jr.’s chicken.”

“Don’t go there, Father. There are Scientologists over there.”

Needless to say, this was only making too much sense.

Bobby Altman Jr. lived just on the other side of Clea and Radio. He bought the house from an iron sculptor named Norm Grachowski who sold the place because his wife, Ciri, left him. She moved to Arcata and he followed her. If you live in Los Angeles, then you know the progression: Venice Beach, Topanga Canyon, Arcata. Folks from Malibu move to Laurel Canyon and then Oregon. I don’t know why Ciri left Norm but I was beginning to suspect it had something to do with my chicken Obsidian.

When I got there, Jesus was right, the place was crawling with positivity. A naked blonde stood breast-feeding a two year old in the kitchen doorway. She had black concentric circles drawn around her breasts. “Bulls eye,” she said to me.

“Have you seen Bobby?” I asked her.

“You’re the chicken guy, huh,” she said.

“No he’s the chicken guy,” I said.

“You’re holding the chicken,” she said. “Is that your motorcycle down the street?”

“The yellow one,” I said.

“Why didn’t you ride it here?”

“Because it’s only twenty yards away and I’m holding a chicken?”

“You’re in denial. You’re afraid,” the woman said. “Face your fear.”

“If I were afraid,” I said to her, “then not riding my motorcycle would be facing my fear and riding it would be denying my fear.”

“Do you want to make love to me?” she said.

“I’m just going to leave this chicken here,” I said.

“Don’t leave that chicken here!” yelled Bobby Altman Jr. He came from the living room.
To be honest, until the day before, I didn’t know there was a Bobby Altman Jr., likely because of the huge mistake he made in buying this house.

“Take a look at her.”

He covered his eyes. “I can’t look,” he said. “My chicken is dead.”

Suddenly Scientologists came pouring into the room, through the doors and windows; it seemed they were walking through walls.

“Bobby Altman Jr. is in denial about this chicken!” I yelled at them.

But just then a pleasant, middle-aged red head, Evelyn Altman Jr., it turns out, came in from the yard. “Pepper!” she said. “You found Pepper!”

My chicken Obsidian jumped into her arms. Evelyn wept. Bobby Altman Jr. wept. Hell, I wept. Anyway, there was red wheel barrow in the kitchen and that’s where she put my ex-chicken, Obsidian.

I don’t think Sting ever wrote his autobiography. He just took the money and ran. Hoopie’s casino construction hit another snag. Zoning. Environmental waste hazards. Down here you can put a casino in your front yard, but up there you’d need a space ship. Bobby Altman Jr. moved. Diosa stayed, for now. I don’t know where my chicken Obsidian is. Everything’s the same. Nothing has changed. Everything in Los Angeles is illusion. It’s not a Hollywood thing, it’s a Hindu thing.