Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Blog becomes a column

Hi, all,

I am pleased to announce that, after not-so-lengthy negotiations, the editors of "The Simon" will be running the "L.A. Nuts" blog as a weekly column.

"The Simon" is an online magazine covering arts, culture, and politics for which I've written several essays over the years. All the fine writing in The Simon can be found at

The first column will run this Friday, July 1, and will be a rerun of the first "Clyde" entry.

Much thanks,

Joe Dungan

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Clyde the Petitioner

MAY 19, 2005

This morning, I was heading back to my apartment from my car when Clyde caught me from the other direction.

“Hiya, Joe. How’s it going?”

“Oh, same shit, different day.”

“You gotta be more positive, man.”

“Same golden showers, different day. How’s the world of petitioning?”

Clyde is a professional petitioner. He shows up at retail stores and asks people to sign petitions. I think this his only job, and he and his wife manage to live on that money despite the fact that he only works a few weeks out of the year. The pay is apparently that good. Of course, in Clyde’s case, it helps that he saves money by doing his own auto repair and haircutting and only spends it on important things like herbal supplements and antiquated stereo parts.

He also travels to other states to share his skill during petition season. After all, not just anyone can sit outside a Wal-Mart all day and nag strangers to push laws that’ll help big business and screw the rest of us.

“Oh, we’re on a break for a few weeks. It should start up again soon. Ohio is the best place for it. You can call people twenty feet away, say the right word, they turn right around and come over and sign. Not like people in California.”

“Yeah, people in L.A. can be standoffish.”

“There’s a word for it.”


“No… I don’t remember. People are aggressive out here too. I almost got rear-ended three times.” Someone rear-ending Clyde? The mind reels.

He continued. “They must have been going sixty or seventy.”

“Oh. THAT kind of rear-ending.”

“Of course, it was partially my fault. I was putting the wrong thoughts out there or something.”

Clyde passionately believes all that stuff about the power of the mind and how it affects the universe. I do too, to an extent, but when Clyde discusses it, he just sounds ridiculous so I let it go. Besides, Clyde’s admission that he thinks the wrong thoughts is as unassailable as it gets.

More Clyde: “I really want to move to Florida but I’m sort of tied here for a while.” He articulates this dream out loud sometimes as if to make it more real. I’m still not sure if he’s trying to impress me or tease me.

“Do you need a ride to the airport?”

Only trying to be neighborly.


I was sitting at my computer, my front door open, working hard, which Clyde occasionally mistakes for an invitation to ask trenchant questions.

“Working hard?”

“Yeah. Clearly you’re not!” This was a joke, seeing as how he was in car repair clothes and his arms were full of crap.

He had no reaction. “I’m kidding,” I explained.

“No, I haven’t worked in a month. I’ve been working on my car.” I can always tell when Clyde’s been working on his car because it’s halfway sticking out of his carport parking spot. Sometimes he leaves it that way when he’s done, as if it needs the extra sunshine to recover.


“Looks like I’m going to Ohio.”

“More petitioning?”

“Yeah. Haven’t been there in three years. It’s gonna be tough to establish myself there again. All the store managers have changed.” He chuckled. Clyde’s idea of workplace humor.

“When are you leaving?”

“In a few days. I installed a CD player in the car. Do you know anything about MP3 software?”

“No, but I know you can take sounds on the computer and burn CDs to play on a normal CD player.”

“That’s what I gotta do. I have all these Hubbard tapes.”


“L. Ron Hubbard. I gotta make CDs out of ‘em. Otherwise they take up too much room in the car.” He made a little shape with his free hand as if I didn’t know what a cassette tape looked like. Apparently, he didn’t either; the shape he made looked more like a sandwich.

“They don’t take up that much room, do they?”

“There’s a lot of tapes. They come in these books….” He made another shape, something resembling a box. Large boxes of tapes by L. Ron Hubbard. Calvin Trillin should be so prolific.

“Isn’t it too much trouble to make all those transfers?”

“Plus they might melt in the car.”

“Mmm. Don’t want that.”

“These things cost a lot of money.”

I considered suggesting he attend a cheaper church, but that would have started another conversation and I was expecting company in half an hour.

It should be noted that during the entire conversation, he stood at the front doorway and his eyes kept darting around my apartment as if he were a cat that had just been rescued from the pound. I don’t know what was so fascinating to the guy. Upon reflection, I decided he was fascinated because he probably never sees the inside of anyone else’s apartment. I don’t think the other residents invite Clyde over very often.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Pimp Your Ride, Clyde

MAY 28, 2005, Saturday afternoon

Came home today to find Clyde working on his old Ford Taurus, 167,000 miles of hell on wheels. I can’t tell if it was originally painted powder blue or if it’s just sunbleached.

“Say, Clyde, what are these things on the front bumper?” I pointed at the two little black bullet-shaped projectiles, his latest additions.

“They’re supposed to whistle at deer to warn ‘em that you’re coming,” he said. “I can handle anything: windy roads, other drivers, rain, snow, ice…”

Instinctively, I took a look at a front tire: balder than Dick Cheney.

“…but I can’t handle deer.”

“Don’t get much deer around here, do we?”

“Not around here, no. But in other states. I’ve seen ‘em in, oh, Colorado. Central Colorado… maybe western Colorado.”

I didn’t bother to ask him how often he happens to be passing through Colorado. As usual, my biggest apprehension was that he’d answer.

Among the many things Clyde’s done to his car, one in particular is especially goofy, but I’d forgotten the details so I asked him again. If I’m going to blab all about nuts on these pages, I feel I have a responsibility to get the facts straight. Besides, the truth is far more hilarious than anything I could invent.

“Tell me again. What’s the deal with that?” I pointed at the hole he cut in the middle of the hood some time ago, a rectangle about four inches long and eight inches across, hinged back in place and controlled by a lever next to the steering wheel.

“Oh, that was to relieve high temperatures,” he said. Last time he told me about it, he used the term “vapor lock.” I was hoping he’d use it again only because it sounds funny when he says it. He makes it sound like psoriasis or dry rot or some other modern annoyance. It’s also funny because Ken the landlord, who knows plenty about cars, told me that it’s impossible for Ford Tauruses to get vapor lock.

He continued. “But I measured the temperature when it was open and again when it was closed and it didn’t make much difference. That was a dumb idea.”

Clyde’s developing humility. Amazing. Naturally, I had to fuck with him.

“You know, Thomas Edison had a thousand dumb ideas before coming up with the light bulb.”

Clyde smiled his gappy, I-don’t-trust-dentists smile.

He then went on about all the work he’s done on his car. Periodically, I’ll glimpse him speedwalking to his apartment and back in full car repair mode, covered in grease. So he’s definitely doing something to his car, and in his mind it’s called repairing.

“Now it purrs like a kitten.”

“What next? Racing stripes?”

He chuckled and actually got sarcastic with me, the sassy bitch. “Yeah, sure. I’ll put big flames on the side here.”

Why not? It IS hell on wheels.


More history from Clyde.

He knocked on my door. “You interested in this?”

It was a stereo console of sorts. I recognized a tape deck. It might have had an equalizer. It was long and black with lots of buttons. I don’t remember what brand, but that couldn’t possibly matter. If Clyde’s giving something away to the nearest neighbor, it has to be total crap.

“What is it?”

“It’s a tape deck.” He pushed the eject button to prove it.

“Not for me, thanks.”

And he disappeared. It was the shortest conversation I’ve ever had with Clyde when he was standing still. Sometimes the man has a pressing agenda. Can’t imagine why.

A little while later, I saw his car go by my window. Perhaps he was going to get new brake pads. His purring kitten squeals like an injured pig.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Meet Clyde Langtry

Clyde has been my neighbor for four years. After all my conversations with him combined with my careful observations, I’ve distilled the evolution of Clyde’s insanity to the following theory: Mother nut met father nut. They had Clyde.

One day, he was explaining to me that his cats run away. That’s right, cats, plural, run away, on a regular basis, proving that animals have an intuitive intelligence that humans can’t begin to approach. Ergo, Clyde took to hiring a cat psychic to tell him where his cats ran to so Clyde could go find them. The psychic, Clyde told me, had divined the location of the latest runaway to a neighborhood about a mile southeast of our apartment building, and that he had to find a time soon to go look for it.

This was the very first conversation I ever had with Clyde. This is how he introduced himself to me back in 2001. He undid that first impression by spending the last four years reinforcing it.

Furthermore, Clyde likes to talk. If I make the egregious error of walking out to my car while Clyde is around, I’m bound to get stopped and lectured on auto mechanics or nutri-biotics or whatever else is shorting out his hard-wiring that day. Being a polite guy, I try to listen, giving him the benefit of the doubt every time that what he’s about to say is going to lead to something remotely relevant. Doubt has long been erased. Now I just listen for the material.

He’s a fan of old stereo parts, which he proudly buys on eBay, all for a grand home entertainment system he’s building. He likes chatting about his cats, how he “trains” them to fear street traffic, how his orange cat is the reincarnation of his previous cat of the same name. He proudly refers to the lemon tree in back as “his,” though he doesn’t water or prune it. He also used to skydive. No word on whether or not the chutes opened a little late sometimes, if you know what I mean.

And oh yeah, he’s a Scientologist. Texts from his boy, L. Ron, as Clyde refers to him, have taught him much about human nature. I know this because, on lucky occasion, Clyde delivers impromptu lectures on human nature. One particular sub-topic warm to his heart is how most people don’t come close to maximizing their potential. I’m tempted to explain to Clyde either that L. Ron is L. Wrong, or that Clyde is failing the church classes he’s taking—unless Clyde’s maximized potential equates to living in a one-bedroom apartment and driving a trashed Ford Taurus.

Clyde occasionally criticizes President Bush. Not about his politics or the Iraq war or anything like that. Clyde criticizes Bush’s mind and soul, prattling on about Bush’s eyes or aura or something. “I’m very good at reading people,” Clyde likes to say during such conversations. He can’t figure out why he has no friends, but he’s very good at reading people.

The creepy irony is that Clyde is nearly the spitting image of George W. Bush. If he combed his hair and put on a suit, they could almost be twins. But Bush talks like a rich Texan and swaggers. Clyde talks like he’s constipated and strides like he just graduated from debutante school. Plus, I doubt Clyde owns a suit.

Sometimes the details of my chats with Clyde are a bit sketchy. The man just talks so much that I don’t have the capacity to memorize every word. This is compounded by the phenomenon that sometimes when Clyde’s talking to me, I tune out and think about women or beer or how serene the world must be to deaf people.

This leads to the issue of trying to end a conversation with Clyde. I’ve tried oblique approaches but they don’t work. As soon as we reach something resembling a lull, I might invite him in to join me for six or seven tequila shooters, knowing he doesn’t drink. He responds by telling me again that he doesn’t drink, bragging about how few drinks he’s had in the last thirty-odd years—and drones on about the evils of dissipation. When I try to go for a wrap with something more off-putting, such as, “Well, I gotta hit the toilet. My diarrhea’s about to explode on me again,” Clyde lectures me about my diet.

Clyde’s fascinating to me because I can’t figure out how he got this way, abovementioned theory notwithstanding. Believe it or not, though, I have figured out why his cats run away.

Some time ago, Clyde and his wife, Priscilla, who is not outwardly nuts except for her choice in husbands, were going out of town for several days and asked our landlord, Ken, to feed the cats. All the food was in the refrigerator, in little dishes, each covered with plastic wrap, each labeled for each cat. All Ken had to do was uncover and set out each dish on each day. Slam-dunk, right?

Not if you object to animal cruelty. Turns out that Clyde feeds his cats vegetables. That’s what Ken found in the fridge. Little dishes of vegetables. Clyde neglected to tell Ken that he thinks cats shouldn’t eat meat, especially that processed stuff made by pet food companies. Ken, however, embraced his humanity by going to the store for cans of Fancy Feast and tossing the vegetables. By the time Clyde and Priscilla came home from their trip, all the veggie bowls were empty and all traces of the meat were gone.

A few days later, Clyde thanks Ken and says, “What did you do to the cats? I’ve never seen them so happy and energetic.” Ken didn’t tell him.

That’s enough about Clyde for now. And this on a day when I read in Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success that one should train oneself to reserve all judgments about other people. Clearly, Deepak Chopra has never lived in an apartment building in Los Angeles.