Dear Dirty America


Walking Among the Fires of Hell

Walking Among the Fires of Hell
February 14
22:35 2014

(excerpt from the novel Orgasmo, posted with permission from the author)

“As I was walking among the fires of hell…” 

A hot Santa Ana wind blowing in from the desert inspired an all-night gabfest with Fausto and Cliff English at Sol Fingerbein’s studio on Seventh Street downtown near the Orpheum Theater. Helped along by great gulps of dry-as-dust Gallo pino noir, we pitched into William Blake’s apocalyptic writings, including The Bible of Hell.

In the early morning hours when the wine was gone and Sol Fingerbein was asleep at his easel, and Cliff and Fausto were at last winding down, I left the studio, heading for Maria’s at Grand Central Market.

Walking… Sixth Street. It’s almost daylight now and…I’m thinking about a tourist girl, a Minnesota blonde, whiter than white and innocent as an apple fritter, she stopped me yesterday on Hollywood Boulevard and asked directions to Grauman’s Chinese. When I pointed it out, just blocks away, she exclaimed proudly, “Billy Graham has a star there now! Did you know that?” After pretending to cogitate for a moment I was obliged to confess that I didn’t. We talked briefly, and when she learned that I was a writer she snapped my photo and asked me if I knew the Beach Boys and Jennifer Aniston.

Walking… Fifth Street: the runic graffiti, the cardboard villages, the medieval squalor. At dawn the city regurgitates its masticated prey, blackened faces raked by spiked teeth, the ragtag horde, these half human chiggers and bedbugs that infest God’s clean limbs. You’d be doing these poor blighted bastards a favor if you mounted a thirty-caliber machinegun on a tripod and chopped them up like so much sausage meat.

That Santa Ana wind, it not only makes you crazy, it makes you nostalgic. I can remember when skid row in Los Angeles was a chummy sort of place. You could find friends there, you could have a drink with a bona-fide Fifth Street wino. Now it’s a refugee camp, a cellblock, the Ninth Circle of Hell.

Look at those scarecrows huddled around that smoldering trash barrel, scratching themselves like apes in a zoo. They’ll kill you for your shoes up in this motherfucker.

Go home Minnesota! This isn’t any Walk of Fame church supper down here, darling. It makes me sick to think of grimy hands, the fingers shiny with ground-in dirt, on your little white teacup ass. Run, Minnesota, run like hell, cover your tracks, burn your high school yearbook, tear up your drivers license, dye your hair, change your name, hide under your bed and pray they don’t find you. There’s nothing for you here, girl. Billy Graham can’t save us now, and neither can the baby Jesus. The angels have poured out their vials; the rivers have turned to blood and the sea has turned to warm piss.

Later. It’s 8am and I’m standing at the top of the Bunker Hill steps with a belly full of menudo, looking out over the city, a mirror glass world of reflections lost in reflections.

I’m thinking about the Apocalypse. Is everything on schedule, I wonder? Will the Apocalypse come hurtling up on steel wheels, showering us with sparks and hissing jets of live steam? Will there be faces in the sky, and will they be weeping? Will there be angels with great shimmering wings, waving tambourines and cartridge belts? Will there be candy soldiers with melted guns, whose coffins are newspaper boats harnessed to swans? Will we fry on the pavement like strips of bacon, or will we simply dissolve–like tigers–into beautiful golden mush? Will…


Donald O’Donovan wrote the first draft of Night Train (Open Books, 2010) on 23 yellow legal pads while homeless in the streets of LA. His other novels include Tarantula Woman, The Sugarhouse and Highway. An optioned screenwriter and voice actor with film and audio book credits, Donald O’Donovan lives mostly in Los Angeles. He can be reached at:

Find a list of O’Donovan’s books here. See O’Donovan’s other pieces on DDA: The Novel As GraffitiCardboard Villages, and Simon Rodia, Architect of Dreams

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[Skid Row, 1971, photo by Danielteolijr]

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