(Photo: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times)
Act 1: "It's the Memory of Our Betters"
By this time next week, the Cat & Fiddle will be no more. It will have shut down its bar, turned off the lights strung across its lovely courtyard patio and closed the gates under its archway entrance forever. It's difficult to express how unfortunate this is. The company that owns the 85-year-old Spanish-style building on Sunset Boulevard which is home to the Cat claims to have found a new tenant willing to pay twice as much for the location and so, despite its history, its status as a Los Angeles institution and the fact that it still draws one hell of a crowd, the restaurant and pub will close on December 15th. Its proprietors say they're looking for a new location, but no one who's ever sat under the warm glow of those patio lights and thought to him or herself, "They shot Casablanca here," can honestly say it will ever be the same. This Cat & Fiddle is gone.
There's a big party being planned for the 14th, the Cat's last night on earth. In the almost 30 years that the place has occupied its current location, it's been a regular haunt for rock stars and celebrities, so it won't be a surprise if at least a few of them show up to say a final goodbye. The owners of Cat & Fiddle, Ashlee Gardner and her mother, Paula, are likely to have plenty of shoulders to lean on, regardless, since a good number of people who call Hollywood home are aware of and detest the free market gentrification that's pushed dozens of old businesses out to make way for new hotels, condos and chain restaurants. The Cat & Fiddle is just one of several beloved establishments on Sunset being crushed under the wheels of "progress," but what's been done to the Gardners, not to mention the Cat's loyal denizens, feels especially grievous -- like those wheels rolled over them then backed up to finish the job.
The company in control of the Cat & Fiddle property isn't local; it's based out of Atlanta. According to Ashlee Gardner, Branch Properties simply refused to offer her a lease extension, saying that she was already paying well below market value and that the area surrounding her was booming. "That's just a function of the market. I don't want to get demonized by this process," says Jesse Shannon, director of acquisitions at Branch. The short version here is that it doesn't matter how much money Cat & Fiddle makes or will make in the future, it will never be more than the tenant that can come in and open a place surreally designed to look like Cat & Fiddle -- in the same way a TGI Friday's looks like somebody's basement rec room -- but at twice the monthly nut.
What was once genuine will now be counterfeit and after a time no one will care. The memory of what occupied the space at 6530 Sunset Blvd, in Los Angeles, California for almost 30 years will vanish. This is the natural order of things. The old is replaced by the new, no matter the old's dignity, history or contributions.
Act 2: "45 Turns Just as Fast as You Can"
I turn 45 on Thursday. This birthday feels infinitely more daunting than my 40th, mostly because over the past five years I've finally begun to feel my age. There are people who tell you that age is simply a number or a state of mind. They're lying. You can try to "think young" all you'd like but eventually your body tells you to go fuck yourself, and the realization of that is what adjusts your overall attitude whether you like it or not. I'm not who I was even a few years ago and there's no way around it. Granted, my life changed drastically in 2006 when I had a tumor the size of a pinball -- does anyone even play pinball anymore? Is that a dated reference? -- pulled out of my head. My brain chemistry and various aspects of what made me me were altered overnight, but in spite of a few hiccups it didn't feel like it had the power to truly cripple me until the years piled on top of the trauma. Now, at the age of 45, I can't tell how much of the figurative weight I feel on me as I get out of bed each morning is my age and how much is the aftermath of the surgery, even all these years later.
One aspect of myself that I can't blame on outside intervention is the thing that haunts most people my age: fear. Fear of what's ahead. Fear that my best days aren't -- that they're well behind me. Fear of deterioration. Fear of obsolescence. That last one, that's what's most striking. At some point between 40 and 45 I crossed the invisible barrier that everyone dreads: the generational boundary, the one that separates the cultural touchstones you and your peers share from those now coming up in the world, the generation the planet is now focused on appealing to. Ask any surly Gen X writer at any stage of his or her development and that person would've almost certainly bemoaned being overlooked. The relatively small group between the Boomers and the Millennials has always felt neglected, but maybe that's what made us an oddball combination of scrappy and nihilistic. Removing the big picture, though, any individual can identify with that moment when he or she becomes aware that there's a giant group of young people lurking below who have no idea what the hell you're talking about nor do they much care.
I'm like a lot of my Gen X brethren in that I never fully settled down or got my life completely together. Throughout most of my time on this planet, I've delicately tip-toed along that very last nerve of mine that's connected one crisis and the next. I never padded out my bank account or invested wisely, never bought the perfect house, never created the life my parents had by the time they were 17 years younger than I am right now. I can't even begin to fathom leading the kind of life the generation before me seemed to revel in at every stage. Sure, I rode my psyche into oblivion so assuredly for such an extended period of time that it gave me plenty to write about -- enough to write a book -- but what I gave up for that kind of existence is never lost on me. Especially now that I'm "of a certain age." I spend a lot of time wondering whether it would have been worth it to trade off my experiences for a little prudence and security at some point, but I also know at least a few people my age who did manage to settle down early and who now envy the life I've lived. For what reason I'll never understand. I'm betting that being sure you won't be homeless when you're 75 beats laying on your living room floor rolling your ass off at 25. I think, anyway.
It's hit me like a brick lately, though, that the music, the movies, the culture and the references to that culture that are an integral part of my life and have been for decades are thoroughly meaningless to an entire generation beneath me. Worse -- they're irrelevant. I wonder whether my excitement over a new album from the Foo Fighters or Nine Inch Nails -- or the return of Mad Max -- appears to those in their 20s the same way the Boomers' joy over a Woodstock anniversary did to me at that age. I didn't give a shit about what came before me. I openly mocked it. Because that's what you're supposed to do when you're young. I'm sure Millennials and the kids still in high school feel the same way about those now trudging through middle age and desperately holding on to the milestones of their youth. And maybe this is what I've been trying to get at: I'm now aware of my place in the world. I'm cognizant of my receding relevance. This is what has, for the first time in my life, made me truly insecure.
Maybe this is the price you pay for refusing to grow up. Ultimately, you do. It's unavoidable. And it hurts like hell when you realize it.
Act 3: "If the Trip and the Plan Come Apart in Your Hand"
When I was in my mid-20s and lived in L.A. for the first time, the Cat & Fiddle was one of my regular haunts. I sat under those lights in that glorious courtyard when it was warm outside and when it wasn't I relaxed inside in a comfortable chair by the fireplace, with my pint of Boddington's and my friends from work. I got drunk there one night and woke up the next morning beside one of my reporters. I tried my hand at the pub's dart tournament (and lost badly). I danced (also badly) to English folk music on the patio, with the moon hanging high in the sky above me and the city suddenly seeming very far away. The place felt like home. It still does. My girlfriend and I go there quite a bit, even now. Cat & Fiddle is a place that's grown old with me, even though I haven't always been around to appreciate it. While so much about me has changed over the years, so much about the Cat has stayed the same. Passing through that gated archway is like slipping back through time. There's comfort and reassurance there, the reassurance which the madness of the outside world denies someone.
But the Cat & Fiddle isn't immune to the passage of time any more than I am. Things change and now the Cat as it's existed for nearly 30 years is going away. It will be replaced by something new. It's just how it is.