I can’t tell you whether the charbroiling burger smells that emanate from Carl’s Jrs are unique in their aroma, but I can tell you that when I biked by the one on the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue yesterday morning and got a good whiff in passing, I boarded the sense-memory express on a nonstop flight that took me and my olfactory system all the way back to when my age was in single digits and I made numerous trips by bike to that very same franchise location from where I lived at the time about a mile away in the slums of Beverly Hills.
But not for the food. For the drinks. Or rather the glasses they came in. I don’t remember the particular connection between the fast-food chain and Warner Bros., all I know is that in the early 1970s Carl’s Jr began selling glassware emblazoned with pretty much every Warner Bros.cartoon character you can imagine.
Mind you, these were not the cheap thin crap glass you get in promos nowadays. These were thick and sleek, with a heavy bottom from which the sides rose and tapered out and surrounded some 16 ounces of the beverage of your choice. And the artwork? Equally awesome. Whether it was Bugs Bunny or Sylvester or Tweety Bird or Yosemite Sam or Foghorn Leghorn or anyone else in the Looney Tunes cavalcade of cartoon legends, the images were authentic, the colors perfect and the paint thick giving it a bit of dimensionality off the glass — as if they’d jumped straight out of the TV and into real life.
Even at my unadvanced age, I knew these were well-crafted things I’d cherish forever.
Needless to say I saved my nickels and dimes and would make regular trips every weekend to that very Carl’s Jr I biked by yesterday morning, and I would march inside to the display at the front counter in high hopes that a new character glass had arrived.
If it was one I already had, I’d withdraw, bummed out. Maybe I’d bike over and hang out with the Dan the Miner statue in Carthay Circle, scuffing the grass with my sneakers in impatient frustration — in large part because I was playing catch-up in something of a gotta-get-’em-all competition with my best friend Randy, who lived in Van Nuys and was collecting them as well. In fact I’m pretty sure I only found out about the glasses during a visit to his house when he showed off the ones he’d already obtained from the Carls Jr near his house on Woodman Avenue and Burbank Boulevard. So envious was I that I’m pretty sure I contemplated stealing them from him. Instead from that point on the race was on.
If I arrived at the Carls Jr and there was a new glass available, I was overjoyed and I’d buy it full of cola. Maybe I’d drink it all or maybe I’d have a sip and them just pour the rest out, eager to bike home with the prize carefully tucked into my shirt so I couldcall Randy and brag that I got Porky Pig or Daffy Duck — ha!
Eventually we both collected them all. I think it was a set of 12, but it could have been 16. And the reason I can’t specifically recall the exact number is because I don’t have them any more. They were lost to me five or six years later by the vindictive elderly landlord bastard of the apartment building we lived in at 1933 Holly Drive, north and east of Franklin and Cahuenga in Hollywood.
It’s somewhat ironic that they were destroyed because I had in fact been trying to protect them. To elimiate the risk of breakage that might come from everyday use in the kitchen cupboard, mom wrapped them up and packed them protectively and we put them in the storage compartment that came with the space in the garage where mom parked her 1965 Ford Mustang.
I can’t recall the origins of the dispute between the owners and my mom, but it resulted in my mom not paying rent and after a couple months of us dodging process servers, the landlord decided one day the right and proper thing to do was willfully and destructively evict our possessions from the garage storage space.
And of course that included my carefully packed box of hard-earned and beloved Carls Jr Warner Bros. cartoon character glasses, which I’d been hoping to cherish and admire for the rest of my life, but instead I found them shattered across the oil-stained garage floor after coming home one day from Le Conte Junior High. There were a lot of tears shed while picking through the shards and frags, seeing bits and pieces of what had been the Tasmanian Devil and Speedy Gonzales and Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote and Elmer Fudd and Pepe Le Pew. All of them gone.
What I insist was an entirely appropriate response: I went in, got a screwdriver, let out the air from all four tires of the landlord bastard’s Buick Riviera, and then drove the screwdriver through the white sidewalls several times just for good measure. Such was my rage that when that wasn’t satisfying enough a revenge I thought about burning the garage and the landlord bastard’s car down with a bunch of newspaper from a stack still leftover after a newspaper drive the year before at Cheremoya Avenue Elementary School where I completed 6th grade (with Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, by the way, who I of course had a totally huge unrequited crush on).
But before I could put such an insane plan into action I heard my mom’s car come up the driveway and when it came in to view and she saw the mess she jumped out and I told her I’d found it this way. Ballistic, she ran to the landlord bastard’s front door banging on it and calling him every kind of motherfucker. Occasionally he’d yell back saying he’d do what he did again if he had to and that it served her right and that the cops were on there way, but she just camped out there waiting for them for as long as it took to realize the chickenshit was all talk and hadn’t called them.
And that was pretty much that. Not for me though.
When the chickenshit landlord bastard got those four tires replaced, I punctured the next four. He quit parking his car in the garage after that, thinking the street was a safer place. But it wasn’t, and after the next four flats he finally got wise. We’d often find him berating us from out a window inside his apartment, but I never found his car again.
Eventually the process servers found us and a couple months later we were duly evicted and moved in to our next apartment, a desperation duplex on Wilton Place south of Melrose (owned by a crazy motherfucker named David Bruns who once tried to attack my mom… with a fork, but that’s another story). A few days after we’d finished unpacking I found that screwdriver and biked back up to 1933 Holly Drive in hopes of finding the landlord bastard’s car back in the garage. But he was either still being careful or wasn’t home.
I thought about lighting the rest of the newspapers on fire, but without a match instead I decided enough was enough. But it’s not. Never will be. In fact, should the landlord bastard still be alive and should fate ever conspire to reconnect us I’d like to think I’d be far more mature than he was in so vindictively destroying a childhood treasure, but then again it wouldn’t surprise me even so many years removed if I had to fight off the urge to flatten his tires. Or him.