The little boy seemed to positively thrive in his new home. Of course, he couldn’t care less if it was Christmas, Easter or National Arsehole Day, he was getting endless attention in an exciting new environment with his niece and nephew on hand to, er, to play with.
The nephew (six) pretty much gave up on his cousin from day one when he was on the receiving end of a slap in the eye socket followed by an arm-clawing, my son’s classic, opening. To his absolute credit, my nephew didn’t react to this assault with anything more than an expression of deep sorrow and spent the next nine days being careful to avoid a chuckling little boy determined to administer further abuse for his own gratuitous entertainment. My niece (eight) wasn’t exempt from the odd slap (or a bite for the ladies) but she countered his cheerful aggression with periods of intense affection, in which he’d be carried about like a Ken, before causing him unintended confusion by suddenly buggering off to do something else. This put the little fella on the back foot so for the most part his violence was replaced by curiosity.
While she may have got off lightly the two cats weren’t spared his devious attention. When he was very little, the sight of a cat would inspire him to go ape. He never minded dogs, he’s excited when he sees one even now, but cats have taken a while to come around to his style of thinking. For a while the cats were left to their own devices, a couple of days later he toddled over to where they were hanging to check them out. A few days before we left to go back to London he’d progressed to standing on their tails, dropping toys on their heads and attempting full-on body-contact wrestling moves that he never quite pulled off. Thankfully, in a fashion not dissimilar to my young nephew, the cats were more inclined to wearily move away rather than lash out, which could’ve had serious facial consequences.
It wasn’t just the people and cats he enjoyed hitting/interacting with. I’m loathed to admit that in spite of my previous imaginings that Bill Hicks’ negative opinion of the LA weather was on point (‘Only reptiles feel that way about this kind of weather. I’m a mammal, I can afford coats, scarves, cappuccino and rosy-cheeked women’) I think I’m happier in hot and sunny climes than a constant stream of pissing, cold rain. We were only a twenty-minute drive to Santa Monica (forty to Venice, hour to Malibu) and where lay endless, sandy beaches, caressed by a crystal-blue ocean that whispered under cerulean skies fading, it seemed, into the outer edges of fucking space. If we didn’t fancy driving to the ocean the apartment complex featured a private swimming pool which was far more decadent than it ought. The only downside to all this aqua-based entertainment was the ensuing tantrum when trying to remove the little fella from the ocean/pool; even when he’d turned into a shivering prune he insisted that he wanted to remain banging about in the water long after we’d all agreed to go for a much-needed drink.
On a couple evenings, when the missus was out with her sisters, my bro-in-law, bro and I had a chance to hang out as team, with the kids (when the bro-in-law and I experimented with a bit too much tequila in a Mexican place) and without at a Korean all-you-can-eat barbeque joint in which we, bros, stuffed ourselves rigid and drank ourselves silly. The better half and I got a precious night or two out, but mainly evenings were at home just talking, drinking.
These times were just as memorable as the drive through the Hollywood Hills or the rather profound visit to the Rainbow Bar and Grill on my 49th birthday where we drank in Lemmy’s bar as the little bloke ran in and out of his statue. Sitting here now, I’m missing that LA family stuff as much as I’m annoyed I can’t go downstairs right now and have a swim.
But the day that really sticks in my head was penultimate one when just DD and I decided to walk to Melrose Avenue and pay a visit to the LA branch of The Great Frog. The better half had ordered me a pair of cufflinks for Christmas from the London shop and I wanted to check ’em out, so while everyone was out doing other stuff, I figured a good walk would be of benefit, especially to my hangover from the bros big night out.
The boy and I set off, it was sunny and bloody hot, I decided en-route I’d get the boy a baseball hat because I could. I walked into a K Mart and spoke to a lady with way too much make-up.
‘Excuse me,’ I quothed, ‘do you have baseball hats for boys?’
‘Pardon, Honey… You wanna baseball hat for a bi-cycle?’
‘yes,’ I said ‘Yes. I want a baseball hat for a bi-cycle…’
‘I’m sorry, Honey, we don’t keep those here.’
‘Thank you,’ I said, and with that we left, unsure about everything.
The walk took us through a through a variety of neighbourhoods, all of which rung with that air of familiarity, now justifying itself from a first-hand perspective. One block was occupied by a gang of moody kids shrouded in a mist of weed. I continued through them with the pram, the little fella waved and they collectively softened and waved back, which was a good thing, really. A few streets later a couple of dudes on vintage Harleys (one definitely a Panhead) slowly turned right in front of us at an intersection. I could see the boy’s little legs rise up as he attempted to peer further into the shiny engine block. As they drifted past one of the guys called out to me, ‘hey dude, how you doing!’ I was just fine, thank you.
We left The Frog after checking the links and, after a quick chat with the shopkeep, headed back home, deviating slightly to see some different stuff. I took a dilatory pace, so I could drink in the sunshine and city sights, not taking a single step for granted. Tomorrow we’d be going home to London and the idea of leaving had begun to bite. As I walked the last few blocks back to the apartment I saw the better-half across the street, at that very moment it dawned on me with a jolt, it didn’t feel like the end of a holiday, it felt like a chunk of my life was coming to a close; it was only a few days after we’d got home that I managed to figure out why.
That Christmas in LA had been unique, something that would be impossible to replicate on any basic level. More than simply the moment-in-time circumstances of our all being at an apartment in La Brea, it marked the passing of an age. The little bloke had noticeably entered into a new phase of his life. Whether this was on account of external factors, environment, family, circumstances, or just a coincidence wasn’t relevant, the little fella that left London wasn’t the same that returned home. The baby was gone, in its place was a little boy.
There was something else that had been bugging me too, I turned 49 in LA, my 50’s were less than a year away. LA wasn’t just about the sunshine, family stuff or even the little fella, a chunk of my life was quite literally coming to a close in a way that was neither profound or enchanting. And the jet lag was awful. Awful.
‘Sir!’ the security man at the airport boomed after me.
‘Sir!’ the man said again, I turned back to face a fat bloke stood next to the bag-scanner with a peaked-cap obscuring his eyes…
‘Yes?’ I said, very, very carefully, ensuring that it was a neutral ‘yes’ that erred towards the congenial and agreeable.
‘Did anyone ever tell you that you resemble one David Grohl?’
I tried to say something witty but conflated the one about not having his money and, actually, him looking like me, into a garbled mess that fell onto the floor and hid behind my dignity.
At least I was pissed.