Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 20, 2010

Brumfield at the Bird

10:30 am. I was at my desk. It was pouring rain outside. The phone rang. The display read Unknown Caller. “Sales call,” I thought, but I picked it up anyway. It was a slow day.

“Nixon here.”

“Well don’t just sit there, get over HERE.”

It was Brumfield. I had a feeling I’d hear from him again soon. I could swear I heard ice tinkling in a glass in the background. “Let’s start with where THERE is? Oh, and the fact that I’m at work.”

“I’m at some place called the Proud Bird, and I can just imagine how busy you are.” Then it sounded to me as if he snorted, if an imaginary recreated deceased journalist has the ability to snort. “Probably checking your stock options and looking for other jobs on Monster, ” was his reply.

“The Proud Bird, though; sounds like you’re getting oriented to life in L.A.”

“Yeah, I’m getting it. Not exactly the earthly paradise, is it?”

It figured that Brumfield would find the Proud Bird within a few weeks of arriving in LA. I was impressed. The Bird is out by the airport, and everything is aviation-themed. You look out the big windows and watch 747s on approach at about head-height, just a couple hundred yards away. There’s a big collection of vintage aircraft on display on the grounds. Inside, the decor has a throwback-to-another-era ambience that you think you’re going to find on every corner in LA if you’ve read enough Wambaugh or Kellerman novels (and one of Kellerman’s books has a scene that occurs at a scarcely disguised Proud Bird). You’ll never find ‘em, although if you send me ten bucks, I’ll give you some hints. Here’s a freebie, though: don’t try the Wild Goose just a few blocks up Aviation from The Bird. It’s a strip joint. Unless you like that sort of thing.

Criminy, I thought, Thomas Pynchon brings back historical people all the time for his work, and I’ll bet they don’t drag him out in the rain to meet with them.

I got there an hour later. I found Bob at a corner table under a photo of Clark Gable and Ava Gardner campaigning for War Bonds. The Bird is one of those places that makes even teetotalers think about a Rob Roy the moment they drive into the lot. Bob’s glass, though, gave off an aroma suspiciously like a vodka martini. I stared at it. “Stop staring at my glass,” he snapped. “In my day, you ordered a martini, you didn’t get something made with a communist product. Did the Russians win or something?”

“No, in fact, the Soviet Union doesn’t exist any more.”

“Did we bomb ‘em or something?”

“No, we sicced Ronald Reagan on them.”

“You are killing me. Ronald Reagan! I guess that’d make anyone want to fold their tent.”

“What do you think of vodka martinis?”

“I’d rather have a Hudepohl. I Asked. They don’t have any.”

I looked at him. “So, Bob, how are you doing?” I asked. He tilted his big bald head up at me,then looked back down at his menu, which happened to be closed. “Been to the beach? Caught a Lakers game? Been up to the Getty? (shakes of the head in response). “The Getty’s awesome. Drive up there. For a fiver, the docents’ll show you J.P’s dirty photo collection.” Even this obvious fiction failed to elicit any reaction. I sat for a minute. My iced tea arrived. I took a drink. A long drink. I set it down. “She’s not here, Bob.” I looked at him as he gave a deep sigh, stretched back his shoulders and sat up straight.

He looked at me and said, “OK. I know.”

Good. That was good. Then he shot back, “Where do you think she is?”

I sighed. “Bob, she’s gone. And the Jackie you’re looking for never existed. You invented her.”

“Well I’m here, and you, uh, invented me.”

“That’s the way it works. It’s my blog.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do? What’d you bring me here for?”

“Um, it’s hard to put into so many words.”

“Then you’re not much of a writer.”

“Well, maybe I brought you here because I thought we all could use some of the je ne sais crois whatever that you gave us. Man, you were Gonzo Journalism before Hunter Thompson invented it.”

“There was lots of that kind of thing around back then. I was just sipping from the zeitgeist. You can’t put me in some other time and place and expect the same thing.”

“Well, I disagree. As far as I can tell, this little blog of mine is the only place in the known universe that you exist, except in a few remaindered copies of your book and one or two articles that’ve made it to the Web. But those few of us who remember are standing on the shoulders of giants, and we like the view. We’d just like to keep getting more of the same.”

“Giants? You’ve got me in your blog along with Ward Cleaver and Ozzie Nelson. Who’s next, Captain Kangaroo?”

“Say…. That’s not a bad …”

“Stop! Don’t bait me like that.”

“As if you ever needed much provocation.”

“OK. So, you brought me here for whatever weird version of journalism you’re practicing. I still don’t understand where you’re publishing this stuff. I’ve looked at the LA Times and the Daily News, LA Weekly, I even paged through some issues of La Opinion in case you were writing in Spanish. You’re nowhere. What’s the deal? And, yes, I checked the gosh-darned weather columns, just in case you were into some sort of weird hero-worship of those old pieces I used to do for the Enquirer.

I knew this was coming. How to explain the Internet, the Web, even computers themselves to a guy who’s been, well, out of circulation since 1981? In his day, if it wasn’t on paper, it wasn’t writing. “Think of it as an advanced form of self-publishing.” I said. “Except the stuff is sent directly to people’s homes, kind of like a personal AP Wire.”

“Okay, self-publishing. I know about that. So nobody’ll print your stuff, huh?”

“Something like that. Look, Bob. You’ve been here for a while now. Look around you, man. You can’t drive three blocks without encountering something in this glorious abyss that is worth a week’s worth of columns. This place is a gold mine.”

“Or a dungheap.”

“Same thing, for a columnist. What d’you think?”

“So, I suppose in your vision, I roam around this tepid wasteland of excess and, pardon my perspective, exceedingly ugly architecture, and help you uncover the kind of thing that just makes me itch to get to a typewriter, then you write it. What’s in it for me?”



“What was there ever in it for you, anyway? Or for any writer? You see stuff that beggars description, things that you couldn’t make up on your best day, and you just do your best to put it out there in a way that everyone gets it, or at least part of it. Sometimes they get it. That’s all there is.”

“OK. Sounds familiar. Any ideas where you’d like me to start?”

“Um, ideas are cheap here. Everybody has ideas. We need attitude, perspective.”

“I am the King of Perspective. Okay, I’ll get back to you. I do have a question, though.”

“What’s that?”



“Yeah. There must be ten thousand strip malls in just the parts of LA I’ve seen in a month, and every last one of them has a nail parlor. I’ve missed something. Is there some law or something making it mandatory that no one has a hangnail?”

“Bob! That’s why you’re here! You tell us. We don’t even notice those things any more. That’s why we need you. Now.”

I watched him walk out of the Proud Bird, past the restored British Spitfire mounted outside the front door, into the rainy light of an LA winter day. Brumfield in LA. This had to be one of the best ideas I’ve ever had. I wondered how it would work out.

—— Background ——-

If you missed it, click HERE to read the introductory edisode with Bob Brumfield in Under Western Skies.

© 2012 Brad Nixon


  1. I like the way you twist fiction and non fiction with this Bob fellow. At first you had me thinking it was non fictional. Which then turned 180 to non fiction.

    Keep up the good work


  2. Well, your blog makes me wish I had read more of Brumfield when he was around. Assuming he was this entertaining, which I suppose he must have been since it seems you were saying as much at the time, this is really fun stuff and a shame to have missed. Maybe way back then it just didn’t hit home or maybe I didn’t listen so well or maybe I was only 6 years old. Whatever. Thanks for putting this up here and keep it coming.


  3. EXcellent bard! excellent!


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