Saturday, December 20, 2003

David St. John - Venice, CA

I see "the actor" before my wife does. We're killing twenty minutes in a Mexican restaurant in Venice while waiting for my interview with David St. John. "The actor" is not famous. He's not George Clooney or anything. I mean, if he was, I'd be sitting here typing this minus one wife. (I'd wish them well, you know, I'm not a bad sport.) 

But anyway, "the actor" is a TV guy. You'd know him. He was on a sitcom in the 90s. He's well known enough that he's wearing a sort of disguise, dark glasses (though it's dusk), and one of those stocking hats that he probably thinks suggests "hip hop" but makes me think of sledding.

This is the only reason I might live in L.A. I don't get the appeal of the weather. It's 71 degrees in my house 365 days of the year, too. The freeway thing is okay, but my enjoyment of them only extends for a few days. Now I just feel like getting a moped and staying on surface streets. But of course those paths have their own risks as well. Let's just say that there are a lot of reasons to want to live in L.A. They just aren't right for me.

"The actor" gets his chicken burrito and scurries over to corner stool/table combo and faces the corner to eat. His cellie rings and he gets into it with Paul, giving directions or giving them. He's getting lousy reception so goes out onto the street leaving his food behind. A little girl, about 9, pokes her Mom and they both look out the window. "Is that him?" she asks her mom. And the mom nods. When the little girl looks over at me she smiles and then points out the window, making sure I see him, too. I give her a nod and a smile. She's a nice little kid.

"The actor" is talking on the phone still but walking away now. I can see he's left about 85% of his burrito. Never took a swig of his bottled water. I can't remember when, but my wife says his show went off the air years ago.

David St. John lives in a friendly and warm little house in Venice. We stand on the street in front of it for a couple of minutes when I first get there to get some photos. It's late in the day and I don't want to miss the last of the light. Usually we shoot these photos at the end of the interview, once we've grown comfortable with each other. But I ask the favor and David says, "Sure." We make small talk and I shoot David against a backdrop of towering palm trees and his pretty, quiet street. He's interested in the crazy trip so asks some questions that I'm happy to answer.

We go in after a while and settle at dark wood table (I'm thinking arts and crafts) and talk about a variety of things. David's work is majestic, serene, literally shimmering on the page at times. He's a literate guy, but his poetry is only better for it - this is not always the case.

He talks beautifully about growing up in the nearby San Joaquin Valley, living and working in Italy, and being a teacher and writer for almost 20 years here in L.A. He's clearly thought about how place works in his poems, and I rarely need to say a thing. We fill one side of a tape, flip it, and just keep going. At the end we talk about some other folks I've seen or am scheduled to see. David knows them all. He has a message he wants me to take along to someone and I'm happy to.

He walks me outside to my wife and our rented car. He says hello to her and goodbye to us both. He tells us to keep enjoying the trip, which I think is a better send-off than almost anything else.