I had to see Nancy, no matter what. I did try persuasive and reasoned, impassioned arguments for a while but to no avail. Then, as I nudged some shingles between my boots and smoked my fiftieth cigarette, it occurred to me that Security guards like to speak in riddles. To get the answer you want, you firstly have to ask the right question.
‘No pink Cadillacs,’ said Steve. ‘Yep,’ said Ernie. Then I said, ‘How about I leave the Cadillac here? Can I go in without it?’
And the gate opened, shrieking on its massive hinges.
Before me rose a long drive of blazing white shingles, which shimmered with dust catching the last of the light and heat. The entrance was bordered with olive trees and cherry tomatoes in giant terracotta pots. It was easy to imagine Frank Snr here, pottering around pleasantly like an old Italian man. But the scent of citrus and the shade soon gave way to the famous Sinatra talent for cunt acts.
Now, most people do not approach Casa Sinatra on foot; the drive went on for some time, winding up the hillside, through a rocky, desert garden. It was rough going, with the pebbles reflecting heat and shifting under my Beatle boots.
On and on and on and on. The road took several scenic detours past various points of interest in the desert mountainside garden. There was a natural rock formation, a rock feature, a tumbled dyke, a pile of smoothed heaped stones; a wilderness area for small desert beasts, ornamental cacti and aposematic lizards which crawled idly over the crumbling walls, occasionally poking out their muscular purple tongues to spit out a shell or a bird’s leg.
Next the drive took me to a view facing west; a view facing north, a modernist pagoda, an outcrop of rock hanging over a quarry.
I passed several Frank Snr memorial statues which showed him at various stages of his career, cast in bronze or carved in malachite or rising out of the living mountain. (The statues buzzed with the sound of security cameras, concealed in Frank’s suit buttons or prismatic blue eyes).
Continued next post: The Second Gate At Casa Sinatra
There are three great walls in concentric rings going around the mountain, built originally as defenders of Nancy’s most precious pearl. As I pulled up to the gate at the foot of the mountain, two security guards appeared from the plastic bushes and bade me stop.
They both wore reflective specs, sailor pants and shirts so small they could have been henchmen in 60s Batman. ‘Good evening, gentlemen,’ I said pleasantly. But they were not having a particularly good evening.
Henchman # 1 (let us call him Steve) leaned over the door and breathed sourly into my face, while Henchman # 2 (let us call him Ernest) went round behind me and said, ‘Yep,’ while sneaking peeks of his bulby forearms in the shining hubcaps of my pappy’s sugar-sweet pink Cadillac.
When he had temporarily done with using his mouth for breathing, Steve said, ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I’ve come to see Nancy Sinatra.’
‘She expecting you?’
‘No. I just thought I’d pop over.’
‘Yep,’ said Ernest earnestly, and spat gum onto the gravel.
‘This your car?’ said Steve, leaning against the bonnet.
‘Sure…’ said I.
‘It’s just that we got very particular instructions not to let a pink Cadillac pass,’ said Steve.
‘Oh, really,’ said I.
‘Yep,’ said Ernest.
‘Well,’ said I. ‘Is it the make or the colour you object to more?’
That got him. ‘Don’t really know,’ said Steve. ‘Hang on a minute there.’
So Steve gestured to Ernie and Ernie came round to the front of the car and then he phoned up to the house. Now both men were leaning on the hood like a couple of hep cats. There was a crackle on the phone. Ernie said, ‘Yep, yep.’ Then the henchmen conferred saying rhubarbrhubarbrhubarb. Then Steve turned back to me and said, ‘Both. No pink. No Cadillacs. No pink Cadillacs. The order was to shoot on sight.’
As a matter of fact I could imagine Nancy coming home after she broke up with Archie, saying, ‘If you see a pink Cadillac coming up the drive, shoot to kill,’ over her thin shoulder, with a Menthol stuck to her bottom lip. I don’t suppose she meant it really, but then again she was quite upset, and my father certianly has a knack for provoking people to murder.
More to the point, the things that Sinatras say have a way of happening. In his Mafia days Frank Snr set up a very intricate protection racket around his daughter, comprised of many cells which went on dividing and adapting like the most protean virus. He has been dead for fifteen years but there’s no doubt that the number of defenders of Nancy’s elderly virtue still go on multiplying like the worms and bacteria eating out his ol’ blue eyes.
Now as the great gate rose before me, I saw it as Archie must have seen it all those years ago when he first starting paying court to Nancy. There were spotlights roaming over the wall, and illuminating clumps of sagebrush on the hill, which left a residual glitter on the back of your eyes when the spots moved on; a shadowy shape hanging in the darkness below flashed a strange green light in from the sea. Then a volley of shots sounded from one of the security towers, and all of the birds rose up, screeching.
Fuck me. Archie was always going on about attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, and c-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate… So this was it: the Tannhäuser Gate, first defence of Casa Sinatra.
It is always a little unsettling to discover that people you believe to be mad aren’t quite as mad as you thought they were.
Continued next post: The road to Casa Sinatra
I couldn’t take anymore. He was never going to let it go. He was going to sing tunelessly into the mournful wind forever. I took to bumping my head against the table-top to block the pain in my ears and knock some cells out.
But it wasn’t long until Archie and Greg Stone returned to Casa Estonia to play mandolin-banjo versions of Lana Del Rey. This was my chance. I jumped into the Cadillac and rolled on down the hill to see Nancy.
As I drove I was still trying to think of a plan; but short of murder or suicide, the only other option was to get down on my hands and knees and put my face on the floor and plead with Nancy from the bottom of my withered soul that she take the mad bastard back.
Casa Sinatra was built in the 50s along the lines of a model prison, with a central guard tower and five diverting wings. One wing is the bedroom wing; one is a mile-square Rec room with sunken lounge, heated pool and a nice floor for jazzercise; one wing contains an oratory, where Frank used to practise his little-known trick for ventriloquism; one is an atrium full of succulent specimens harvested from the deserts of the world (the atrium is mercifully free of rat’s heads); the fifth wing contains a rococo-style restaurant capable of seating 400, which Frank Snr would fill with paid actors, so he could pretend to be an anonymous Joe while he ate. People in planes permitted to fly overhead often remark that the building hangs on the cliff-face like a star.
Continued here: The Tannhäuser Gate at Casa Sinatra
This type of thing went on a for a day or two: Archie staring sightlessly at a spot on the far wall, stirring only to scratch himself, neck the gin or spit between his knees. And then I would pass him on the stairs, and he would rouse himself to say something fatherly or philosophical, like ‘Ten percent off at Bunnings today,’ if he had been listening to the radio, or ‘Never let them tell you that drink isn’t the answer…’ and other gems of cowpoke wisdom.
Perhaps the strangest thing that happened to Archie in the depths of his alcoholic fog was that pieces of his Classical education came back to him. He would wave at me two-fingered from the stone patio and mumble something that sounded like Dum Spiro Spero (While I breathe there is hope). But when he was sober he’d say, ‘What in hell. What do you mean Latin. I’m not a wop.’
On the third day he began to take the house apart. He gathered up everything that Nancy had left behind: odd socks and stockings, a mangled packet of Menthols, some violent smelling nail varnish to stop her biting her nails, her toothbrush, a bottle of Alka Seltzer, and a plastic bubble pipe she’d once hidden behind the CD stacks in a moment of festive whimsy, and tossed them in the fire. Then he extracted all of the Nancy Sinatra records from the collection (Boots, How Does That Grab You? Nancy in London, Woman, and For My Dad) and hurled them one by one from the top storey window into the algae-green faux lagoon far below. The last I heard of Nancy in London was a faint gurgle-plink, like frog spawn bursting.
Then Archie started on anything Nancy may have touched: a vodka glass which bore a trace of lipstick, a cushion where she had once left a long golden hair, the coffee table on which she once grazed her beautiful thigh, all smashed on the faux jagged rocks. (The whole time he was weeping like a woman, saying ‘Nancy, oh Nancy, Nancy…’)
Finally he took the poker and started hacking stones out of the fireplace, since Nancy had once fondly run her nail-bitten fingers over them to clear out the cobwebs. It was at this point I began to worry I might soon receive an alarmed letter from the Mies Van der Rohe Preservation Society and had to step in.
‘Dum spiro spero, pop,’ I said.
But he said, ‘Credula est spes improba,’ with great dignity. (‘He that lives on hope will die fasting’, which is the Shitsville family motto.)
Continued next post: I’m longing to linger til dawn, dear / Just saying this