It is no secret that I’m a fan of Ernie Mannix and his book Six Devils in the San Fernando Valley, a classic tale of good and evil. However, Mannix started as a musician, with a pop album in the early 1980s that led to a job as musical director for an advertising agency in New York. From there, Mannix wrote a film score for Men Lie, which led to more music and television work.
“I always wrote words and music, so writing words wasn’t too foreign to me,” he said, “I had this idea for a novel, and that became Six Devils in the San Fernando Valley.”
It’s not always easy to work in a creative field but, for artists like Mannix, there’s no choice. “it’s the only thing I really do well. I only know how to be creative.” He said that it’s just inherent to who he is, but that it’s not the path he would recommend to those who can work in another field.
“Make sure that they can’t do anything else,” he advised, “In other words, that they have to do this in order to survive with their soul. This is a very tough road.” He also warns against struggles. “It’s a very difficult life, so you’d better be sure you’re ok with struggling, because there will be a lot of times you will struggle. Not everyone becomes an instant overnight success”
Is it worth it? “I wouldn’t know the difference. I had to do it, I didn’t have a choice. I just didn’t have a choice, it’s just who I am.”
Below, read I’m Not in Love, a companion short story to Mannix’s novel.
I’m Not in Love
by Ernie Mannix
It’s been two months since my strange events stopped, two months since my heart was broken. Since then I haven’t been out much, I haven’t wanted to meet up with anyone or go anywhere. Life is hollow, and in attempting to shake off futility, I immerse myself in the stark and menial. I mark my days in and out on a calendar, and hope with each “X” that I scribe, that some kind of worthy life will appear. As another day dawns and I take pen in hand, I realize that growing old isn’t framed by what you do, it’s framed by what you don’t do.
There are moments when I want to pretend that I didn’t see what I saw that last day. I want to make believe that I didn’t see that pickup truck driving down Lankershim. I would love to blame the Jack Daniel’s or the sun, or something that a doctor would prescribe to cure insanity, but… it was real. The hardest part has been coming home to face the hyper-stark and sad reality of my posttraumatic loneliness. Even the dishes have a glum look to them as they sit there in the drain board. The orange juice in the fridge just gets another day older, and that damned humming air conditioner poses solemnly center stage, with all other sounds in the house rendered silent by its hypnotic song.[quote style=”boxed” float=”left”]Insanity doesn’t thrive in weird dreams, we all have those; it grows in those real-life moments when you realize that you don’t have anything left to lose…[/quote] I stroll up to the corner to see the spot where I last saw my two ladies. Yes, I doubt my sanity at this point for I know it wasn’t merely a dream. Insanity doesn’t thrive in weird dreams, we all have those; it grows in those real-life moments when you realize that you don’t have anything left to lose… the moments when your back is to the wall and it becomes impossible to see any remaining choices. The brink of craziness grabs you, gives you a violent shake, then whispers in your ear; “shout out, act out, or run out.”
So, today I find myself running fast on the freeway. I don’t know where I’m driving to; I’m just heading north past Magic Mountain and the Santa Clarita Valley, then probably I’ll continue on up over the Grapevine. Arriving at just about the top of that stretch I see one of them and pull off the road. He sits looking across the lanes at me from the southbound side. Yes, it’s the pickup truck piled high with mattresses along with its driver, and he begins slowly waving to me. He points back south and makes a rounding come-on motion with his arm. I know what he is telling me:
Go back. Go back to your haunted life. Go back to your loneliness… there’s another mission for you.
I shake him off like a smart pitcher and gun the throttle of the ‘64 Dodge. The car lurches forward with the bulletproof transmission deftly handing the load and chirping the tires with each gear change. I drive hard and fast away from him for about thirty seconds until the car starts stuttering and coughing. He’s stopping me I know; I’ve seen this before. Being that I had at least tried is good enough for me today, and I sheepishly turn the car around and head back south. It’s totally pointless to run.
I lived a bit today, and won’t feel too bad when I cross off this day. But hey, my little run-away-tantrum has taught me that I am indeed not insane, and that in going back to be a little man, I’m possibly becoming the big man that I’ve always wanted to be.
Heading towards home I watch resignedly as the mattress truck flies past and disappears into its trailing blue smoke. As I ride along, I actually feel comforted and cared for. Even though I feel emotionally alone, it is nice to know that the mattress men care for me enough to shepherd my little sojourn.
It’s become a pleasant ride back. The ticking of the car-keys swaying back and forth in the ignition sounds hypnotic and warming. The smell of the Dodge’s vintage interior is like a rich old friend, and although my initial ambition has been aborted, this day becomes most comfortable and enjoying. The broken white lines of the road shoot at me like love arrows and the sun… that glowing old advocate of the Southern California myth, carves a beautiful gold path back down the freeway towards my waiting little home.
An old song comes on the radio, “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc. It was a wonderful song from my youth that has always reminded me of my first girlfriend; a lovely girl that I lost touch with a long time ago. Her family decided to move far away, and after that I never heard a word from her or found out what ever became of her. She’s forever remained a beautiful young ghost to me, with the major downside of that relationship apparent in my mirror nearly every day.[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]Only music (and sometimes scents), have the power to transport us back in time[/quote] Only music (and sometimes scents), have the power to transport us back in time and this tune always does a very good job of that. As I listen to the song, the old feelings do come upon me—those fleeting intangible ones that have been lost in that long ago. Part smell, part image, part soul; the memories magically alight from my mind—the part of my mind that devils, work and stress haven’t destroyed.
When I was young, we treated a summer night like it was a vehicle of wonder—like it was a gift from God. Adults treat summer nights correctly scheduling vacations or dinners out. The unwelcome arrival of rain on an adult-scheduled summer evening can turn the occasion into a cursed event. Youth, on the other hand, takes off its hat and opens its mouth to the rain. It swallows and looks to the sky for more, then to the skin under the wet clothes, treasuring every sensual moment of the mistake, welcoming the new path set down by the ruined plan of the ordinary. We didn’t have or need any iPhones, texts, connections or wires to be validated back then. We had our feelings and usually shared them in person.
My reckless youth is far-gone now. It is just a smattering of photographs (not many survive of me from that time), and a thimble full of fleeting memories. The special ember that I hold dear and will keep fanning is the one from that summer. The summer of magic, the summer of wonder, the summer of her.
The song plays on, and here I am; a sixteen year old with a golden tan and a burst-open heart for a girl that was soon to fade-away into the cicadas of a hot summer evening——that one long-ago summer that I’d thought would never end.
And there she is once again, standing under the overhead moth-fluttered blue light of a 7/11 on a July night; two kids sneaking away beers from a preoccupied clerk enabled by some poorly faked driver’s licenses. (You could do that thing back then and not cause federal agents to raid your home.) There’s her welcoming soft smile that greets me now that our grand plan is underway. We look at each other, marking the moment of mischief and walk off into a night like no other.
“Do you think we’ll get caught? I mean so many people walk through this park at night” she said very quietly so as not to increase our chances of being caught and ruining our little private beer party.
“No, I don’t think so, all the kids in this neighborhood are watching TV now, or in bed. I think we’re cool.”
The sky was a bit hazy that night as we threw down the blanket and laid back staring up at the few twinkling stars that poked through the earth’s stratosphere. The blanket smelled a bit like her garage, but was clean and comforting. We both smiled again.
“I’ll bet you someone beyond that star is staring out the same as we are and wondering if they are going to be caught too.” I told her.
She reached over and held my hand. My heart leapt.
“Truman, if my dad caught us here, he probably would kick you right over that star.” She then giggled a bit louder due to the half a can of beer already consumed. “Why do people drink beer anyway? It tastes so sour.”
Trying to focus back on the hand holding, I intertwine my fingers with hers and thankfully she doesn’t resist. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that, and wow, it feels wonderful. Two young hands finding their way to a stirring embrace. An embrace that moves the very basic human chemicals of passion and has ignited all the youthful hearts that have ever stared up at these same bewitching stars. The rush is pure physical poetry, but I desperately try not to betray my excitement and offer a metered response.
“Well, hopefully your Dad is not out hunting us down right now.”
“No, he actually likes you. He thinks you’re trustworthy because you looked him in the eye and shook his hand before our first date.”
“Well, that’s good, but I wouldn’t call riding bikes to the movies a date, would you?”
“Come on, you know what I mean, you went off with his little girl and he wasn’t following along.”
We turn towards each other and try to find each other eyes in the darkness. I could barely make hers out and watch as she slowly brushes back her beautiful hair. Her perfume arrived… probably of the dime store variety, but more intoxicating than every drop of our illicit brew.
“We should make a pact”, she says. “In thirty years we should come back to this spot and see what we both look like. You’ll be bald and cranky, and I’ll be…”
“Just as beautiful as you are now I bet”.
My interruption sets off a timeline. We both know what should come next, but also know that it isn’t right… not now. So, we settle for a slight kiss, a kiss that lasts only about two seconds. I had kissed her before, but not like this. We had graduated to exchanging real romance, and this was a special kiss filled with the wonder of the night, a musty blanket, her Dad’s respect and all that the universe held above for two young and beautiful kids. She removes her hand from mine, puts it to her mouth, then giggles.
“I found out that my Dad drove by the movie theater to double check our bikes were there that night.”
I join in the laugh almost too loudly, because it stirs the dog in the bordering backyard. And then, just like that, wouldn’t you know it; the damn dog has broken the spell.
We both stiffen a bit, and failed to rejoin our digital embrace. After checking the time on her glow-in-the-dark Timex, we both decide that if I were to remain in her dad’s good graces and ever see each other again, we had better ditch the rest of the beer, chew some gum, and get back home.
That was the last time we were ever together. Her dad was in construction and few weeks later she was whisked off with her family to a new city, and a new opportunity. There was no private goodbye, just a group of kids that showed up at her house on bikes and watched as their U-haul pulled away. She barely looked at me until the last second when her hand reached up to brush her gorgeous hair from her forehead. She then curled the ends of her fingers twice in a final small goodbye.
The ticking of the car keys against the dashboard snap me out of my daydream, and quite surprisingly I realize that I have been driving without remembering much of the trip. Pulling up the Dodge to my North Hollywood condo I press the button on the dongle and open the gate to the subterranean garage. It clanks open then bangs closed swallowing me back in to my boring life. I look over and in the advancing evening light,
I see my shepherding mattress truck driver sitting across the street. He smiles at me as if he’s proud of what he has done, and unless I am mistaken, has an expression of sadness on his face. I look him square in the eye, just like I did her dad.
Farewell sweet girl, wherever you are. I hope you’re okay. I’ll always remember—I hope you will too.
Editor’s note: Watch for more content from Ernie Mannix on Phantom Sway and read Ernie’s review of the Coen brothers’ latest film Hail Caesar.