recollections


It was briefly. VERY briefly. And to say “met” is to grossly exaggerate. “Met” implies an exchange of words, maybe a handshake… an assessment. My meeting Peter Falk consisted of him looking at me somewhat dubiously from the front door of his house just south of Sunset in Beverly Hills and me looking back at him from the driver seat of my 1965 primer-coated Mustang parked at the curb across the street. Between us was his daughter Jackie walking away from him and toward me. It was 1982. My senior year at Beverly. Her senior year, too, but I don’t think she graced the same halls I mostly skulked and slunked through.

For the life of me I can’t remember the particulars of how it came to be that I somehow managed to convince his daughter Jackie to go out with me. I don’t think there was begging involved, but there could’ve been. Such amnesia is disturbing because I had a desperately lousy batting average with dating through my years in high school, and with such little success you’d think I’d actually be able to recall all the details of this one positive standing out in a forest of rejection and unrequitedness. Especially since Jackie was a babe — and had a famous dad.

But such is my middle-aged mind, scrubbed of those details.

What I do remember of the date was that a few hours later after whatever dinner we had and whatever movie we saw, I was parked in the same exact spot only this time returning her home. We sat for a few moments reflecting on what fun we both had and on impulse I went to steal a kiss and she arrested me with a deft turn of her pretty cheek.

I sat back and saw out of the corner of my eye that she was looking at the house before getting out of the car and saying goodnight. I got the sense that maybe Jackie’s dad was watching — but not from an open front door this time. And not that his observing might have been the cause of her deflection. She just wasn’t that interested, as evidenced by the fact that there wasn’t a second date.

But if he was watching, I hope that he was relieved I wasn’t the scoundrel he might have initially thought me to be.

Rest in peace, Peter Falk.

And just one more thing: Coincidentally, Jackie wasn’t the only daughter of a famous TV detective (and later infinitely more infamous in real life), who I crushed on and dated — and just about as briefly. About four years later while in my first apartment in Van Nuys I met Robert Blake’s daughter Deli when she was visiting a girlfriend of hers living in the same building as me.

I’ve probably written about this incident before, but I’m too tired to verify my redundancy so if the tune that follows sounds familiar, sorry about that. But even if I have repeated myself, I’m writing about it again because I draw a measure of comfort from it since in some ways presently I’m in a similar place, facing a journey (but one far longer than 2.5 miles) into the unfamiliar toward a goal whose location I believe I know or at least hope I do – but I’m not quite sure.

I was 8 years old. Second grade. I don’t remember what school holiday it was but with the day off I was given the opportunity by my mom either to accompany her shopping on the Miracle Mile at the May Company and Ohrbach’s and Standard Shoes, or spend the morning at the Beverly Hills YMCA on Little Santa Monica Boulevard, fully at the opposite from where we lived in an apartment south of Wilshire Boulevard just inside the eastern limits of that city.

It was a no-brainer. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the department stores. In May Company I played this game for as long as I could get away with it where I’d hide on the floor in the center of those big circular clothing display racks and I’d wait until a particularly lovely leg came within my  reach and I’d reach through the outfits and grab myself a handful of ankle. The ladies weren’t so keen in playing so the game lasted usually for one ankle, maybe two. Both usually accompanied by startled yelps that would bring an end to my fun either in the form of a clerk and/or my mother arriving.

But the trip was bound to also include a visit to the Home Silk Shop where my mom could stand and stare at bolts of fabric and packages of Vogue patterns for hours on end.

So it was the YMCA that beckoned me and the plan was for me to occupy myself there until my mother could retrieve me after getting her fill of stuff, however long that took. That would have been no problem given the number of kids and the variety of activities that usually can be found there… carroms, basketball, gymnastics, tumbling, crafts. But it turned out there was a problem. I found this out after giving my mom a kiss, hopping out of her 1965 Mustang, slamming its door and sprinting to the Y’s entrance as she drove off down the street to the Fairfax Avenue department stores.

I found the front doors locked. Apparently the YMCA had taken the day off, too.

In a moment I was barreling down the street in the direction of my mom’s receding car, yelling after her and waving for all I was worth. But the frantic attempt to get her to see me in the rearview mirror was in vain and I stumbled to a standstill in front of the Friar’s Club building at the corner watching the metallic blue sedan get smaller and smaller until it made a right at Wilshire and disappeared out of sight. I stood there, and for a few desperate moments I was the loneliest boy in the world.

I returned to the Y’s door and tried to open it again, but it held firm. I looked around for any signage that at that point in my young life I could barely read, but found none. I knocked politely on the door. Then I knocked impolitely. Then I pounded on it with my 8-year-old fists hoping perhaps someone might be inside, but if there was anyone there they either ignored the noise I was making or didn’t hear it.

Leaning with my back against the door I slid down to a sitting position on the sidewalk with my knees pulled up to my chin. Scared. And angry. But far more scared. And beneath it all: bored. Despite somehow knowing that it was my duty to stay put, the thought of sitting there for hours upon hours upon hours until my mom returned soon become too much to bear, and I rose to my feet looking in the direction which she had gone.

Keep in mind, I was a veteran pedestrian by that time — they called me: The Latchkey Kid (cue the western music) — having walked to school at Horace Mann Elementary and back for more than a year since my first day of first grade. But Horace Mann was a scant nine blocks away. The Beverly Hills Y was much farther beyond my known and familiar perimeter.

And without more than a moment’s hesitation, I set out to walk home. Certainly I was in foreign territory and the navigational concepts of left and right or east and west and distance were still a ways out of my intellectual grasp, but I knew Wilshire was the street off of which I lived and whether it was common sense, an innate directional capability, stupidity, or dumb luck (or perhaps a bit of all four), I knew I could find my way home.

And I’m not kidding about my intellectual grasp. As an example one has only to look at the pride I had around that same time in my early development and reading comprehension in deciphering the name of a rental car agency across the street from Horace Mann, whose huge sign I passed regularly was one I had struggled to figure out. Eventually I decided triumphantly that its pronunciation involved two distinct syllables that formed words of their own.

Passing the brightly lighted sign one evening I proclaimed “Look mom: Bud Get!” from the back seat of the Mustang heading home. Preoccupied, my mother simply replied, “That’s nice,” nonetheless an affirmation that of course left me mispronouncing the word for however long it took until I absorbed the phonetic rule that a “d” and a “g” worked together in making the “juh” sound.

Boy did I feel like an idiot with that revelation.

As to how far that Bud Get sign might be from the corner of Little Santa Monica and Wilshire, I couldn’t even imagine as I stood there. Fortunately though, I turned in the correct direction and proceeded towards my destination.

I’d like to regale you with the high drama that must have certainly accompanied the oddyssey of an 8-year-old boy trekking by his lonesome across the breadth of Beverly Hills. Surely there must have been encounters with mad dogs, and grumpy old men, jaywalking, escapes from bullying teens and rescues of damsels in distress. But this is a work of nonfiction, and frankly, the only thing I remember during the heroic walk home — spent obeying all laws and signs and looking both ways before stepping off a curb — is that it took a lot longer than I expected, and I was becoming tired and disheartened enough in those last few blocks leading me to the Bud Get sign that I began to worry and doubt myself. Had I gone in the wrong direction? Is it much farther than I’d imagined or hoped? Am I… lost?

But then I got to Robertson and I saw the fence bordering Horace Mann’s playground and next I swung my head in the other direction and caught sight of the sign there across the street, and I knew I was home free. I counted down the nine subsequent blocks crossed and turned south on Tower Drive for home. letting myself triumphantly into the apartment with the key I never left home without.

The television and my toys conspired to drain away the ensuing time until my mom charged through the front door in the mid-afternoon yelling my nickname — Twig!? — even though I was right there on the couch in front of her playing with my dinosaurs. Her relief that I was safe narrowly defeated the anger and fear I saw in her eyes, and she swept me up in a big hug first before plopping me back down in the couch and demanding to know what happened.

“I walked home,” I said.

“You what!? Why?”

And I told her basically what I’ve just told you.

She was blown away. And to be honest all these years later, so a little still am I.

— • —

Mentioned Landmarks: The Beverly Hills YMCA is no longer there; the building still stands and above the large gym window one can still see the organization’s triangular logo built in to the wall, but the space is now occupied by the Beverly Hills Community Sports Center. Obviously a personal landmark than a cultural one, the Budget rental car branch on Wilshire just east of Robertson Boulevard rented cars at that same location until the past year or so when about half the block was demolished and is currently in the midst of redevelopment as some sort of office complex. And yes, even after learning the word’s proper pronunciation, in all my times passing the place up until its destruction I called it “Bud Get.” Lastly, the poor Friars Club building, a 1961 modernist masterpiece from architect Sidney Eisenshtat was razed earlier this year, in part because the city of Beverly Hills has no protections for its historic resources.

Tony Pierce went to see Roger Waters’ “The Wall Live” concert last night and it brought back memories of Pink Floyd’s original “The Wall” tour. The show was sold out for a week in February 1980 at the Sports Arena.

With no money to my name and a mother who was not a fan of the album and certainly not my obsession with it (I listened to it daily in its double-platter entirety for months), I tried my best to win tickets on radio show giveaways, but failed. So entirely desperate to see what was uncategorically The Rock ‘N Roll Event Of My Lifetime I even contemplated burgling a neighbor or worse robbing someone of their tickets outside the venue.

Fortunately I went neither of those felonious routes, and instead on Wednesday, February 13 — the last day of Floyd’s LA stay I pretended I wasn’t feeling well immediately after dinner, went to bed fully clothed, and after about a year-long 30 minutes of laying there, I stuffed clothes under the covers to simulate a body sleeping, snuck out the window, pausing while straddled half in and half out to not give a fuck if my mom decided to check-in on me and discover my escape. Then I went down to the garage, got on my battered BMX bike and pedaled out from the slums of Beverly Hills in the general direction of downtown via Olympic Boulevard, with neither a golden ticket nor knowing precisely where the Sports Arena was.

Come to think of it, from a cycling perspective that trip could qualify as my first-ever bike commute.

Anyway. When I finally arrived, sweaty, adrenaline filled and out of breath, the place looked and felt deserted with only a few people outside the entrance I was nearest, and I was gripped in horror that I’d screwed up and come all this way a day late. Then as if in reassuring answer “In the Flesh?” exploded from within the arena and I knew the concert was both going on and had only just started.

So ya thought ya might like to go to the show…

Increasingly and frantically desperate would be an understated way of describing how I spent the time basically pedaling around the arena begging a succession of rejecting gatekeepers that getting inside was a matter of life or death until finally finding a somewhat sympathic ear.

“I don’t even need a seat! Please just let me stand somewhere inside!”I implored.

I say the person was “somewhat sympathetic” because he didn’t let me in for free. I had to fork over the seven bucks I had in my pocket — and my bike.

I gave both over without hesitation.

And in I went. The moment I burst through the outer doors I was greeted with the acoustics of “Mother” and I almost cried. In fact I did, but for a different reason as I was immediately approached by a security guard wanting to see my ticket.

Instead, I showed him the performance of my young life, channeling that tearful relief into total sorrow as I turned on the waterworks and bemoaned losing my ticket and only being able to get in because the person outside made me give him all my money — and my bike.

Mother will they tear your little boy apart?

Miraculously, it worked. Embarrassed by my outburst, the guard led me to an access tunnel and told me to calm down. I did, a little. Then he looked around before telling me to go in but insisted that I couldn’t sit in a seat.

“If I find your crybaby butt planted anywhere it shouldn’t be I’m throwing you out!”

I nodded my head off in understanding and gratitude and when he looked the other way I did my best not to bolt headlong down the tunnel to experience what was indeed The Rock ‘N Roll Event Of My Lifetime.

Afterwards, given the amount of second-hand marijuana smoke I inhaled there’s little in the way of specifics regarding the looooong walk home other than I don’t recall my feet touching the ground and in getting back to the apartment not long before dawn I still didn’t give a fuck if my mom had discovered my absence. Slipping the screen off the window and sliding it open, I peered inside the darkened room and nothing appeared out of the ordinary. The door was closed. The clothes I’d stuffed under the covers still there.

Sure enough, the next morning I was awakened with my mom’s typically gruff and no-nonsense call to get up, but that was it. Though completely exhausted, I rose in triumph that the entirely AWOL evening excursion had been a total success. I had torn down several walls to see “The Wall.”

When my mom got home from work that afternoon you know what she found me listening intently to on the old Admiral hi-fi. Rolling her eyes, I turned the volume down and told her that my bike had been stolen. I pretended to be appropriately upset, then I turned up the volume and climbed back into the album with visions of the mindblowing concert in my head.

Call it coincidence, but it’s an interesting one. Like many dreams, I can’t quite remember when it exactly began, but an awareness about my lack of them has been in place for quite some time, and as someone who previously dreamed pretty regularly the prolonged dearth was a bit disturbing.

Well, in a curious case of timing wouldn’t you know after seeing the mind-blowing dreamscape epic  “Inception” over the weekend I blew my own mind with a remarkably vivid and detailed dream the likes of which I haven’t experienced in a long time — if ever. So intense was it that I awoke with an actual pounding headache. Or maybe the headache fed the dream? Whoa!

In it I was in trouble for something big and scheduled to surrender to authorities. But instead with Susan’s help I fled hoping to evade capture at the hands of a top-notch bounty hunter who was hot on my trail. Holed up in a dingy second-story flat straight out of film noir on Pico Boulevard in the Mid-City area and feeling the dragnet closing in, I arrange for Susan to come get me. But my attempts to get undetected to where she’s parked fail and I end up in a bullet-filled footrace to Susan’s SUV (foreshadowing of the Ford Escape hybrid we’re going to get soon?) with the bounty hunter in hot pursuit  and closing  — a chase so fear-filled and lifelike I can recall consciously acknowledging the physicality of how heavy my dreamself was breathing as I ran, very much like a spectator to my own movie. I dive into the truck and we make our getaway, barely evading my nemesis.

As a bonus the dream came to a conclusion, with me next sequestered out of sight near to the stark, post-modern hillside house that was our home, watching the bounty hunter try desperately to convince Susan that if I didn’t give up I’d be dead and she’d go to jail as an accessory. Doing the right thing, I step out hands-up from my hiding place and turn myself in.

The moment I feel the handcuffs tighten on my wrists, I wake up, eluding capture once again. But oddly left with a throbbing headache.

And in case you’re wondering, I thoroughly enjoyed “Inception.” Exceptionally original, wonderfully performed, masterfully directed and fully immersive, as an adult I haven’t so jaw-droppingly reveled in a motion picture since “The Dark Knight” (no surprise since they both were directed by Christopher Nolan), and “The Matrix.”



In honor of Bastille Day I resubmit a photo of the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral taken from our wonderful room at the Hotel le Notre Dame on Quay Saint Michel  in the Latin Quarter along the left bank of the river during our visit in May 2007.

Because I haven’t posted in a couple days, here’s a random photo from October in San Diego, where I’ll be these next three days…

Biking Around San Diego

… and a random circuitous School Daze story from some of the places I was a substantially longer time ago…

Early into fifth grade, I left Beverly Hills for Hollywood. One day I was a student at Horace Mann Elementary just south of Wilshire Boulevard that I’d attended since first grade, and the next I was a student at the now-defunct Founders School a private institution just south of Hollywood Boulevard. The quick change had to do in large part with my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Moore, an African American woman who apparently decided I was a junior white trash racist when it came my turn to tell the class that what I did that summer, which was that I spent part of it with my grandmother in the deep south of Carbon Hill, Alabama. Suffice it to say I had an educational year that Mrs. Moore seemed to relish making pretty miserable, and as a result there was talk of me repeating the 4th grade. But since murder is illegal my mother sought a less violent, more productive alternative, based on the knowledge that my lack of scholastic advancement was because of an idiot teacher, not because I was an idiot.

My teacher at Founders was an Austrian woman with a heavy accent named Mrs. von Hanwehr (which is probably spelled incorrectly, but was pronounced “von Han-vare”), and the class was very small — no more than 12 kids.

Each Friday Mrs. von Hanwehr gave everyone of her students a packet of Sugar in the Raw as a treat. To this day if I find them in a restaurant, I’ll take a couple and later dip a licked finger in and enjoy the stuff until the last crystal’s gone. Mrs. Von Honwehr was my favorite teacher, but not just because of the sugar. Because she made learning sweet again. I started at Founders  with a third-grade educational level. I ended the year at a ninth-grade level.

One of my classmates was a tiny hyperactive Asian kid named Harry who wore thick black-rimmed glasses. He was crazy intelligent. Always had to be moving or climbing or something — which Mrs. von Hanwehr allowed him to do — but he was never distracted. When she would ask him a question he’d fire back the answer while opening and closing a window or looking through an unrelated book or making his way halfway up the bookcase on the back wall of the room.

One day we were out on the playground during afternoon recess. It was one of those dreadfully smoggy days in mid-1970′s Los Angeles where your lungs would burn at the end of the day, but you could look prolonged and wide-eyed at the sun directly without it hurting your eyes. I was playing foursquare with others from my class when out of nowhere Harry charges through the court, grabs the ball and runs off. Immediately I’m in pursuit. And gaining. Gleefully he tosses the ball aside, but I’m angry at him for interrupting the game so I keep going and we rip around the asphalt with me closing on him. Suddenly he comes to a skidding stop and unable to avoid contact I barrel into him, one of my clenched fists connects with his shoulder and he gets knocked to the ground.

You’d think I’d shot him the way he picked himself up and glowered at me, his chest heaving with spittle-flecked inhales and exhales coming from his mouth as he worked himself into a rage. With no time to tell him it was an accident, I just took off, now with him chasing me. I ran until I’d opened up a few yards of distance between us, but in running out of playground and looking over my shoulder and seeing he wasn’t going to quit, I stopped and turned, facing him with whatever type of poor defensive stance I could muster.

All I was able to yell out was “Harry wait —!” before he beelined up at full speed and a full foot shorter than me and landed a hard punch right in my stomach. I fell to the ground gasping for air as other kids circled looking on while Harry stood triumphantly over me. A teacher quickly intervened and I was sent to the nurse. Harry was sent home.

When I next saw Harry Mrs. von Hanwehr told him to apologize to me, and he did from where he’d climbed to the top of his beloved back wall bookcase.

The following year my mom couldn’t afford Founders’ tuition so at the beginning of 6th grade I left Founders and  went to Cheremoya Avenue School at Beachwood and Franklin for 6th grade. My teacher was Mrs. Mulenthaler (pronounced myoo-len-thall-er) and one of my classmates was Janet Weiss who would later gain fame as the drummer for Sleater-Kinney. She had this huge mop of long curly hair and a penchant for Foghat tee shirts. As such, I had a huge crush on her.

After Cheremoya I went to Le Conte Junior High in Hollywood — the only school in my history of schooling I ever started and finished: seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. I saw Harry again that ninth grade year, entirely coincidentally, on 6th Street in the mid-Wilshire area. I had finished my Herald Examiner paper route for the afternoon and was just riding around when I passed him and his mom coming out of a store. I was still about a foot taller than him. He asked me if I remembered our “fight.” I told him I did. He apologized again. He said he was going to Hollywood High.

So was I or at least up until practically the last minute. Literally a couple weeks before my first day, our increasingly psychotic landlord forced my mom into an apartment search, but rather than just look around Hollywood, she broadened her search and found a two-bedroom flat back in the slums Beverly Hills where we’d previously lived, this time on Hamilton Drive, directly behind the historic Wilshire Theater (now the Saban Theater, though why it had to be renamed is just so much stupid ego bullshit).

Against my wishes we returned to that city for me to attend its high school, leaving me no notice or opportunity to tell the friends I’d made at Le Conte where I was going. By and large my three years at Beverly High was a miserable and lonely and discouraging experience initiated by my mom because of her rationale that Beverly Hills’ school district was so much better than its Los Angeles counterpart. Maybe that’s true, but looking back, I think if I’d had the wherewithal to remind her it was that same school district that had produced Mrs. Moore we would have stayed in Hollywood and my life would’ve ventured down a much different path.

I’m not dwelling on what might’ve been, just bumping into it like I did with Harry on 6th Street.

And while I didn’t encounter a Mrs. Moore during my three years in those shallowed halls, I did have an enthusiasm-crushing Mr. Stern for sophomore English.

Thanks to this post about failed parking meters I found on Atwater Village Newbie’s blog, this otherwise unrelated piece of parking meter nostalgia fell out of my mental archives so I just thought I’d take us back to the mid-1980s and share it.

Back then I worked for a company in Hollywood as a courier and one of my jobs was to go pick up the mail in the morning at its box in the post office on Wilcox south of Hollywood Boulevard.

It was a cool post office in part because there was always a chance you’d be in the line to get packages with a celeb of some sort. Once it was actor Dennis Franz who was familiar to me from his role on “Hill Street Blues.” Once it was the entirety of Guns ‘N Roses before they’d hit it big.

But the point isn’t that the place was a focal point for recognizables so much as it was for the area’s invisibles.

Most of the homeless would do the standard panhandling, but there was this one conniving and clever fellow who set up something of a cottage industry manning the parking meters out in front of the place. I got to know his con pretty well seeing as I saw him in action practically on a daily basis.

(more…)

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