Jody and I had nowhere to go on our first Christmas in Hollywood. We’d only been in town for a couple of months, and the few friends I’d made working at the record store were as broke as we were. We couldn’t afford to go home for the holidays. We couldn’t even afford a telephone so that we could call home for the holidays. I felt like a little orphan boy.
And in good Dickensian fashion, I had to work on Christmas day. No leaning out of the window of the Su Casa Apartments and screaming, “What’s today, my fine fellow” at the junkies in the alley. They probably wouldn’t know where to buy a plump Christmas goose anyway.
“Who the hell goes to a record store on Christmas?” I said.
“Maybe people who need a last minute present,” my Music Plus buddy Pat said, and he winged a thumb tack at the cork board in the stock room.
“Fuck those guys. We have to work because they need a Debbie Gibson tape? This is the last holiday I ever work, that’s a promise.”
That evening my buddy Michael came over and we went up to the roof of the Su Casa Apartments. There are few sights more beautiful than Los Angeles at night.
“I didn’t expect it to be such a downer,” I said.
“Christmas in Hollywood. There’s no weather. Me and Jody don’t have any friends. We don’t have any money for presents or decorations, and even if we did what would we decorate, a fucking palm tree?”
“It’s like that for everybody, amigo. Nobody is from here,” Michael said.
“Tracy’s boss has a stray party every year. You should come.”
“A stray party? It’s a Christmas party for people with nowhere to go. Gary’s a good guy. You guys should come.”
Christmas Eve fell on a Saturday that year. We piled into Jody’s big gray Cordoba that evening and drove to Santa Monica. A warm breeze carried the smell of the ocean, no peppermint or gingerbread to be be found. His building was simple: small, boxy, stucco, not unlike our shitty Hollywood apartment building. I don’t know what I expected.
We climbed the stairs and knocked. A big guy wearing a Santa hat opened the door. “Hey, is this Gary’s place?” I asked.
“You found it. Come on in, I’m Gary.”
“Hey, we’re friends of Michael and Tracy.”
“Oh, right on. Hey, Mike, your friends are here,” Gary said.
“Hey, amigo, you made it,” Michael said. “Come on, I’ll show you around.”
There wasn’t much to show. Gary’s place was simple, almost spartan: kitchen, living room, small bath and two bedrooms. The tour lasted all of twenty seconds, and we covered everything but the second bedroom. “Check this out,” Michael said. He turned the knob and pushed the door open.
There wasn’t a stick of furniture in the room — not a bed, chair, dresser, or table. Every wall was lined with huge bookcases, and every shelf was packed with albums. Boxes of singles sat atop the bookcases, and more 45s rested on the floor in front of them in neat little rows. Gary must have owned 25,000 records.
“Holy shit,” I said.
“This is, like, your dream apartment,” Jody said.
“Holy shit.” I scanned the shelves for Public Image Ltd.’s Metal Box, my test of a quality record collection. Of course Gary had a copy — he had everything. Whatever rare album I thought of, I found in his stacks. “This is incredible,” I said.
“Keep working in record stores for another 20 years and this could be you, bud,” Michael said.
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, it helps to be a big shot at a label, too,” he said.
I don’t remember much of the rest of the evening. I remember that Gary was nice, and so were the guests and their invited strays. The lighting was dim. I’m sure there was music, lots of music.
But man, that record collection. The passion for music, for curating and preserving. The kindness — taking in a bunch of strays alone on Christmas Eve. I never saw Gary again, but I never forgot him.
The next morning Hollywood was deserted. On my way to work I saw one person: a pedestrian walking down Sunset Boulevard. Only a nobody walks in L.A. Christmas made the sight even sadder.
Music Plus was dead, too. A few husbands and boyfriends wandered in for a last minute Richard Marx CD, as if that was going to get them off the hook. Pat and I pissed away Christmas day in the stock room, playing thumb tack darts, homesick and bored, a couple of orphans lying about the great Christmases yet to come.
— illustration / Wikimedia Commons
Even being one of the 10 people actually born in L.A. – Christmas always felt kind of “off” unless we got lucky and it was raining. The hot, smoggy drive to grandmas house with the top down on my dads mustang – I’d seen ‘Scrooge’ enough times to know that was not the way the holiday landscape was supposed to look and feel.
When I was a kid, about eight or so, we saw the occasional person walking on the street. They could have been walking to their own grandma’s house down the block……but I never thought that. I always thought they simply had nowhere to go, and it set the slight melancholy tone of Christmas for me ever since.
Still, there were many Gary’s in L.A., way into my 20’s when I had nowhere to go. The kindness of a person opening their house and food and drink to strangers – – I never quite knew how to handle it.
I wonder where Gary is now and if his record collection has quadrupled.