Wasn’t there forever…

deep inside my heart

My first apartment was a 3rd floor split-level walkup in a haunted old Hollywood-Tudor frame house. It had been built in 1908, by the developer of a then exlusive neighborhood called Carrol Park.

It was a time when houses, if they were big enough, had names. The name of my house was Brown Gables and it reached about four stories above the two story neighborhood.

Our living room and kitchen were on the third floor but my bedroom was on a split level in between floors, with my roomie sleeping on an elevated loft above that — a full floor above the living room. The peaked roof rose another 15 feet or so above the loft. My bedroom was on the split level. It was part of a large gable, with three three light windows across the street side.

I used to eat breakfast on the rickety, swaying two flight wooden stair that led dizzyingly down from our kitchen’s back door, a story and a half straight on each flight. Our landlord was a neighboring church that was renting out the scheduled-to-be-torn-down old house, divided into five apartments during the tough times of the depression, to students from the local university.

Growing up in the postwar suburbs of Orange County, California, I found the old house the most exotic place I could imagine for a first apartment. I never saw the ghost but my roommate said he thought he did. A Sikh engineering student the next floor down had felt its presence and heard things. Another tennant, a young woman, had seen the ghost, a middle aged man, several times.

House legend had it that the ghost was the former aide and companion of a retired WWI general, supposedly killed in a lover’s quarrel by his longtime boss, who was subsequently sent away to an institution for the criminally insane, as those facilities were quaintly known back then.

As one might imagine, the wiring in the old house — apparently mostly unimproved since its building six decades before, a time when electricity was pretty much used for lights and maybe those new-fangled toasters that had just started being manufactured — was primitive.

There were no circuit-breaker panels at Brown Gables.

There was just a dingey — and singed –row of old-fashioned fuses with grease pencil labels over them, protected by a little slanted awning, tucked under the bottom leg of the back stairs.

I should hope it will horrify modern readers to think that college students — about half of them grad students — would do something as absurdly dangerous as substituting a slug for a fuse but that’s exactly what happened when no one had a fuse and papers needed to be written or Coltrane listened to.

The smudged and blackened area around some of the fuse sockets attested to that danger, yet standard practice when confronting an overheating slug was to simply turn off some appliances and try to go on about normal life. And, of course, try to remember to pick up a box of fuses on the way back from class in the morning.

Brown Gables never burned down, happily for those of us more than three stories above the ground and safety, but they eventually herded us out under court order (at least I got something like a month’s rent free, that was nice). We tried a lot of last ditch efforts, invoking the building’s historic status (that was most of town in those days, though… much of it sadly gone, now), even holding a tiny protest before a bewildered reporter from the local daily, whose seemed considerably more sympathetic to soulless institution tearing our home out from under us.

Actually, the church caretaker who served as our property manager, was a real nice old fellow, so it wasn’t as though we were directly mistreated. Of course, the church tore his house down to build an old folks home.

They put a parking lot where Brown Gables had been.

What, you were asking yourself back when you still cared, does any of this to do with today’s song, which, for crying out loud, isn’t even about fuses but rather about a circuit breaker, which is really just a slightly goofy metaphor, anyhow…

Nothin’ much.

AYoS Thursday, October 13, 2005
AYoS Saturday, March 11, 2006

Internet Archive page for this recording

Circuit Breaker

Honey there’s a circuit breaker
deep inside my heart
late last nite I felt the whole thing blow
I felt all my feelings stop

Isn’t it amazing, doll
how fast it all can change
the twitch of a tiny hand
and today is yesterday

The love l felt for you
was like a frozen photograph
where you watch the ghosts appear
baby, step into the past

Isn’t it amazing, doll…

Wasnt there forever
at least for a little while
wasnt there a time for us
too bad that’s out of style

Isn’t it amazing, doll
how fast it all can change
the twitch of a tiny hand
and today is yesterday


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