Tomorrow morning, if I walk down to the place where I get my coffee and if the light’s against me and I have to stand on the corner, waiting, I realize I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if a Model-T Ford drove past me, Oliver Hardy at the wheel, Stan Laurel in the passenger seat, on their way to another fine mess. Lately, I look at Los Angeles and experience a strange overlay of the present and history, or maybe not so much history as memory.
Nobody hates Laurel and Hardy. You either love them or ignore them. Kurt Vonnegut dedicated his novel Slapstick to Stan and Ollie, calling the team “Those two angels of my time.” And they were. A pair of pre-Beckett clowns appearing in a series of handcrafted movies about two men trying to deal fairly and honestly with an unfair and dishonest world that could turn violently surreal (or surreally violent) at the drop of derby.
There’s something about the image of the two of them together in a Model-T, their best remembered means of transportation, driving around Los Angeles, bound for fiasco and pratfall, that exists outside conventional time. As if the car and the two men occupied some sort of time-bubble, unbothered by Earthly clocks, cruising surface streets like a comic Flying Dutchman.
It’s an absolutely ridiculous idea. But it gives me great comfort.
Joe Gillis is a writer living in California.