Friday is bright, with cumulus clouds piling over the mountains, the kind of light that makes you notice things. I notice that an actor has just plastered the telephone poles in my neighborhood with black and white postcards of his headshots. RIK MARTINO. He looks stereotypically Italian, in his forties or fifties. On the back of each and every card, he has scrawled YOUTUBE in black marker. He looks familiar.
If you never walk in Los Angeles, you never get to see the telephone poles. The telephone poles around here are a goldmine. At least, if you’re like me, and you crave a little dose of fantasy and broken dreams while you hit the yellow button and wait for the light to turn.
Band names: Black Delta, Death Kit, Letting Up Despite Great Faults.
Pictures of kitchen faucets and sliding doors and an empty bedroom with a mushroom stencilled on the wall.
Roommates Wanted! Four or Five people, Male or Female—Come and colonize a mansion in the Hollywood Hills with Creative Types!
The yearning eyes of a thousand lost and found terriers.
Right after I see the postcards, I walk by three sexy clowns. They are blond and hot and wearing pink tutus. One of them has a cigarette dangling from his lips. I walk by, and then stop, and then get out my phone to take a picture, and then decide to ask what they’re doing. One of them, not in clown make-up but with very odd glasses, says “Oh, it’s just for some production stills.” I recognize this as industry jargon, but I don’t think fast enough to to ask—production stills for what? a sexy-clown music video or a sexy-clown movie?
“Darlin’, don’t you want to be in the picture?” says glasses.
That’s not really what I want. But I like the way he calls me darling. He takes a lopsided snapshot that makes me look fun-house tiny. A pint-sized woman next to a smoking clown.
Saturday night, I have insomnia again. I don’t know what’s happening with this. On the one hand, I can come up with a perfectly reasonable narrative for why I can’t sleep. X stress. Y moment in my life. Z inner reality. On the other hand, for many years now I have been the one with the mad sleeping skills. In high school, I was the one who slept through earthquakes. Once, while camping, I fell asleep cross-legged with a plate of chips in my lap, and woke up an hour later, still cross-legged, plate of chips intact. I just kept eating. It is P. who has insomnia, who occasionally wakes me with an existential panic.
And yet here I am, at 3 am, googling Rik Martino.
I do know him. He’s the Birdman of Silver Lake. He pushes a shopping cart full of sixty pounds of birdseed. He feeds pigeons. I’ve seen him near the Trader Joe’s, scooping the seed out with a trowel and flinging it into the bushes.
Here is the Los Angeles Times article:
Martino’s love for birds began in 1984 when he rescued a pigeon hit by a car and nursed him back to health. “When I let him go and watched him fly off, I got so depressed,” he remembers.
A few days later he spied the rescued pigeon on a neighbor’s roof. When Martino tried to re-catch the distinctive-looking bird, the home’s owner called the police. “I explained what I was trying to do and the cops said I should get a little net. I finally caught him a few days later in a fishnet.”
He kept the pigeon for two years until he flew off. After that, Martino began using seed to attract birds.
Rik Martino’s videos are in black and white. He looks handsome, and strong, slightly older than in the headshots. He holds a gun and walks around the edge of a single-car garage, into a driveway filled with dead leaves. He holds the gun like it’s made of glass, like it’s too small for his hand. I have to watch with the sound off. A young man wearing a wife-beater gets shot through a beaded curtain. Eyes fade into another pair of eyes, then go glassy with unspilled tears.
The movie is called Sunset at Dawn. I can see the dawn, here, now, bringing the juniper outside my window into silhouette.
On screen, I can’t follow the plot. Franco Massimo—Rik Martino’s stage name—kneels in front of a bridge. He squints. He holds a paper bag. He throws birdseed to pigeons. They fly up, in a blur of motion, and obscure the lens.