Jim Hosking is the director of the feature film The Greasy Strangler, which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. He is to release his second feature film An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn in October, a mysterious meditation on identity, love and folk music. He lives in London.
I am writing whatever is occurring to me to write right now as I stay in Los Angeles, far from my family back in London. I am living in a house that some might say has a peculiar charm unto itself. Personally, I think it’s spooky.
Yes, I am living in a spooky house and I saw a snake on my road today. The snake is fine. As long as it carries on in the direction it was going and doesn’t have any mates who want to pop round. I only worry about snakes because I have to leave the back door open 24/7 so that the cat can use its litter tray which is outside. So I worry about the snakes getting in.
The cat could take care of the snakes. But the cat has gone missing. And it isn’t my cat. So I worry about the snakes. And I worry about the cat. I should be thinking about work. But I am only thinking about this cat.
In the evenings, when I come back to the house, I sit out on the big balcony and I look out over Los Angeles. I find it peaceful and quiet, but I wonder what’s going on down below in my field of vision. I know what’s going on. Everything is. But, as of tonight, I shall be a little less peaceful. The gaps in the slats underneath my feet are wide enough for that snake or any other snake to wend their way up my trouser leg. The snake is in my mind. And it will not go away.
I remember being a little boy and being very scared of the dark. My bedroom was at the top of the house. My sister and my mother slept downstairs. We had a cat called Lucy. We didn’t give her the name Lucy. Lucy was given to us already named Lucy by a friend of my mother’s because Lucy was being bullied by another cat. Lucy was very timid and unsettled when she was with us. When it was time for me to go to bed, I would take Lucy upstairs with me and I would close my door and keep the lights on and put Lucy on my bed and hope she would stay with me. But she would always jump off the bed and start crying and eventually I would open the door and she would leave. I’d be left alone at the top of the house in the dark.
On the nights when I couldn’t find Lucy, I remember my mother would sing to me. She would sit on the end of the bed and sing a song called “Mary Hamilton.” I loved her singing, although the song itself disturbed me. In the song, Mary Hamilton is the Queen’s servant but she becomes pregnant by the King. Naughty. She then kills her illegitimate baby, and the song is her telling of this sad story on the day of her tragic execution. It’s a sad song for a child to hear when he goes to bed and he can’t find the cat who doesn’t want to be with him anyway. It’s a Joan Baez song. I have never liked Joan Baez.
My mother couldn’t sing in tune. Not a single note. But even at a young age, I knew this was a rare attribute, and so I found her singing beautiful. My father hated it, but by then my father and mother had already divorced. She was my mother, I was her blood, I liked her singing more than Lucy liked my bedroom.
I’m typing this in my underpants, occasionally pausing to look out of the window, through which I can see across the whole city. I have a very wide view. I am renting a house from a friend. Her cat was here with me. The cat disappeared three days after I got here. I don’t know where it went or how it left, but I imagine it probably won’t be coming back. You see, I’m right up at the top of Los Feliz by the Griffith Observatory. I wonder what patrols the area at night. It’s spooky. There’s something in the palm tree next door. One of the huge leaves snaps into very loud metronomic vibrations. It moves rhythmically and quickly with a repetitive clicking sound.
Earlier this morning I wrote this:
It’s hot. There is no AC. I should open the doors. But I want to lie down. I did some nei kung this morning. Is that how you spell it? I think that’s how you spell it. It’s what Iggy Pop does, apparently. I do not look like Iggy Pop, although we both share the name James. I once saw Iggy Pop play a solo show in a small venue in a Madrid shopping mall. His trousers were round his ankles from halfway through the first song. He had his todger out the whole time. Now, I know for a fact that people in the States do not use the word “todger” or know what it means. But I think if you really got involved in my Iggy story, then you would be able to guess exactly what a todger is.
I’m now listening to The Field as I write. Minimal Swedish techno. Its clicking vibrations click in time to the clicking of the palm tree. I’m watching the palm tree pulsate in time to the music. There must be something in the palm tree causing it to move like that. When I was in Los Angeles shooting The Greasy Strangler, I stayed in a small rental with a large palm tree outside. The palm tree would be covered in rats at night. I know this because one night a fire engine blasted its siren close by and the rats all ran out of the tree along a neighboring telephone wire.
I look over the city, and I imagine the cat is not there. I keep wondering if it went out the front of the house when I took the recycling out. Or did it just jump off the balcony? Did it walk away? Did it run away? Was it glad to leave? Did it leave because I was here? Does that make it my fault? I am perhaps responsible for this. If it had never run away before, then the only time it ran away was just after I got here. But I am renting this place. It was agreed that I would be here. I didn’t build the house. I didn’t buy the cat. I didn’t find the cat. I didn’t speak to it and ask it to please live with me. I didn’t move the cat in after I had moved in. The cat was here first. Then I came. Then it left.
If I sound like I don’t care, that’s completely untrue. I feel terrible about the fact that this cat has disappeared. But I am not the cat owner. My friend is. And I am sure she is feeling worse. If you feel weird being in a remote house in the hills with a not particularly friendly cat, then just wait until the cat disappears and then you are left on your own there with just a neglected cat bowl for company.
Maybe the cat did jump off the balcony. It’s very high up. But it’s not impossible. I haven’t looked online for videos where cats do amazing jumps or tightrope walking. But I bet they do. This cat seemed like it wanted to be loved, but it also didn’t want me anywhere near it. It’s not an it. It’s a she. She hissed at me when I tried to stroke her.
She may have jumped off the balcony. She might have wanted to see what it felt like. Or to see if she could do it. Like a nervous English child on holiday in France visiting a public pool with a very high diving board. All the local French children are bronzed and brave and they keep diving off it. And the English child is pale with a large head and can’t dive. The English child can jump but can’t dive. And finally, after standing and waiting and wondering, finally the English child jumps. Maybe because the English child couldn’t stand the French children staring any longer shouting at the English child, “Why you no jump? You so stupid – what horror you are, oh English child!” Am I this English child? I can’t remember.
Maybe the cat jumped. Finally. Maybe the cat had been thinking about jumping for weeks or years. Maybe the cat hated how feeble and tiny its life was. It wanted to get up into the hills. I feel sad when I think what might have happened to the cat. But then what is a life without risk? The cat took a risk.
Like I said, I have no air conditioning in this house. I am listening to minimal Swedish techno in my underpants and I can feel my armpits dripping with sweat. It’s quite a delicious feeling. OK, that line is lifted from my new film, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, which comes out this month. That quote was stolen by mistake. I was simply thinking that my armpits felt delicious. They felt more than moist. The word “moist” is upsetting. We can all agree on that.
I don’t mind hairy armpits in the least. I have no problem with them on anyone. I remember there was a boy at school who had very hairy armpits when he was only eight. Nobody told us that this was perfectly fine. We all wondered how he felt about it. Did he feel ashamed? Was he proud? Had he noticed? Did he care? He got hair before the rest of us. Some of us are still waiting. I’m not waiting. But somebody is. Somebody somewhere is still waiting and waiting for the hair to come in. And wait? Is that the hair I can see in the distance? Is it coming here right now? The hair! I’m talking about the hair! Hair! Here! Finally! One clump or two? It’s a possibility?
I remember hitting my teens and inspecting my armpits every night under lamplight looking for those hairs to come in. The previous year, I had played Phyllis the goat-herder in a school play. Phyllis would never have had hairy armpits. My Phyllis, I mean. I couldn’t grow hair in my armpits and I was so cherubic and innocent. I have photographic evidence in my black bustier positioned just beneath my cherry cheeks. But as for the real Phyllis, if there ever was one? I can’t vouchsafe for the real Phyllis. She might have had armpit hair down to the elbows.
Phyllis the goat-herder appears in the play Iolanthe by Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s a musical. From the nineteenth century. Did women have hairy armpits then? Was it fashionable? Maybe. I could research this, but I don’t want to know the truth. I like to create my own truth. I like to think about what this world might have looked like, my version of it, not what it really was like. I think about women in loose, ruffled low-cut bustiers. They raise their arms above their heads to display their hairy armpits, not in an ostentatious fashion, but instead it’s just another beautiful part of nature, of the landscape.
When I was a child, I got a job with my mother delivering the Kensington and Chelsea Times. We were meant to deliver it door-to-door. But instead, my mother had the idea to instead deliver them directly to a dumpster round the corner. One big delivery of all the newspapers. Straight into the dumpster. Job done in five minutes. Then back home. Full payment received. But after only one shift, we were discovered and fired.
A few years later, my mother said she had a courier job working for a company called Special Delivery. She said that all the Special Delivery drivers would greet each other with the words “Special Delivery! Boom Boom!” My sister and I would always ask our mother what it was like working for Special Delivery. And she’d tell us about how she would always greet fellow courier David by saying, “Come on, David! Special Delivery! Boom Boom!” My mother never worked for Special Delivery. It was all lies.
My mother had to go for an MRI last year. A brain scan. My father said to me, “Good luck to them trying to find her brain.” My mother was with me and my daughter a month or two ago. My mother started singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” but she changed the words to “In the garden, the mighty garden, the pussycat fucks tonight.” When I was interviewed for The Greasy Strangler, I was told by a journalist that I seemed like the last person who would make The Greasy Strangler. I said, “You should meet my mother.”
It is now Monday morning. I just received a text. The cat has returned. After 10 days in the Hollywood Hills.
It is back. In the house. But for how long?