LISTEN TO WAITING


The throw of the dice this week lands on adventures in waiting. 

As children our waiting depends on how long it takes Mom and Dad to finish what they’re doing and pay attention to our needs.  It takes hold of us, like a fever, and we resort to nudging them, whining, even sobbing, if we are made to wait longer than we expected. During the school year, I waited all semester for the summer.  In Los Angeles that meant it was hot enough to go swimming in the ocean.

When I lived in Hollywood, I rode two buses, to get to Santa Monica.  The second bus dropped me off on Ocean Avenue, above Santa Monica Beach.   I ran down the ramp that connects to Pacific Coast Highway, and headed north to Sorrento Beach,   another long block away, and when I got there I stumbled in the sand in  my tennis shoes trying to run,  and find the place where my schoolmates clustered,  in a caravan of towels, beach chairs, radios, and brown bag lunches. I couldn’t just run to the ocean, I had to sit and talk and have something cold to drink, and then  I made myself wait, until I couldn’t stand it any longer, and then I ran down to the shore, and embraced the waves, tumbling inside their grasp until I lost my breath, and floated into abandonment.

After I moved to New Mexico, I stopped thinking about the ocean, I had to remove the memories from my thoughts, and so I could continue to experience this spark of the world. The dry sage ocean of pink soil, and radiant blue sky that pinches your eyes when you’re driving,   the sunlight, and the warmth of a desert night  and the white snow on pink adobe.  It has postcard perfection, even now, with fallen leaves spread like trash everywhere, and the trees almost naked, and the dead plants in the garden.  I try not to think of the ocean, the look of the sea from watery suntanned eye lids, or from the bluff at Del Mar, or the splashing of waves around my shoulders as I sink beneath the surface.

I waited, like I did as a teenager, for that summer to come, so I could return to the sea.  Last week,  I stood at the water’s edge in Del Mar,  it was like summer without all the kids playing ball and screaming, hey dude what’s up, and the running of the dogs, and  lifeguards  thrashing the beach in their jeeps shouting, , no swimming, no dogs off the leashes, no glassware,  and no surfing.  They were missing, so as the caravan of beach runners, and surfers. In fact, I was only one swimming, on that first day at the beach.   Before I went into the water, I reclined on a big black boulder, and faced the sea, and let my eyes wander amongst the scenes of the beach on a Tuesday afternoon. In front of me was an older man with graying hair, in a wal-mart beach chair reading. He must be retired, he looked perfected adapt to his spot about five feet from the shoreline.   I thought about that Dennis Hopper commercial, about retirement, and how I still cannot come to grips with retirement, and spending my days on park benches or in cafes watching younger men and women live.

There was one swimmer, on a bogey board, he was far out, and floating along, and I wished I’d brought mine with me, but it was in SC’s van, and the last time I used it was when I lived in Solana Beach.  I also wished I had a new bathing suit, because the one I was wearing was ripped, and the neck straps were tied together in a knot so I could swim without losing my top.   The sun baked my body, and I let it without abatement, without shading my limbs,  or wearing a hat, just enough sunscreen to keep the rays  from trotting over to my skin, and I closed my eyes and I opened them, and this is when the waiting business suddenly felt so important, so much so that I began to think about waiting as an aphrodisiac or something like a good cocktail that you have to make last for sometimes, years, while you wait for that moment that makes you feel immortal, and childlike, and senses sharpened as an animal.

I felt the beach flies, and the tang of salt water on my lips, and the when the seagulls swarmed above the water’s surface, like so many beads of a necklace, I thought, that this is about the most beautiful day I could have, and it’s all because I WAITED, I didn’t give up on the ocean, or my place in it, or believing that I would have my day in the sand, under a faded denim blue sky, with cotton ball clouds floating above me.   I baked until the sweat drenched my pours, and then I raised myself up, and walked slowly to the edge of the water, the flat surface made tiny breaks not enough to shatter my body warmth and I felt the first sting of the water on my feet, and then my knees, and then I submerged, and found that the best way to celebrate this day was to keep flopping backward on top of each wave as it crashed, and I did this for a dozen rounds, until I felt silly and weak, and dented with the surf, and I found that waiting thing again, meant something that I should write about because  all of us are waiting for the election, and the economy to recover, and our real estate to be worth something again, we are all waiting for this big change so we can feel secure and optimistic about the future.  There is something useful about waiting, something predisposed, that gives us the support and substance we need, so when the waiting is over, and we are all flush with success again, it will feel like the first time, it will overwhelm with us with power and joy, like the ocean.

When I left, I had enough jubilation  bouncing through my blood to take the risk of driving by Maurice’s home, the one he left three years ago, when he died under his favorite orange tree.  To be continued next week. Any dice to throw Email: folliesls@aol.com.

English: Ocean Avenue at sunset in Santa Monic...

Image via Wikipedia

ADVENTURES IN THE MAKING


The Roaring Twenties

The Roaring Twenties (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WHERE TO BEGIN THIS STORY OF A FATHER THAT I ONLY CAME TO UNDERSTAND BY READING HIS FBI FILES, BOOKS ABOUT MOB HISTORY WRITTEN BY LAW ENFORCEMENT AND COLLEGE PROFESSORS, AND DOCUMENTARIES PRODUCED BY FOES OF MY FATHER. 

My last year with Dad was 1981. Naïve, and unconcerned with where I was headed, or how I’d get there if I figured it out,  I was spinning around in an executive chair; waiting for the big hand on the black and white office clock to set me free.  Time didn’t pass; I hauled it over my head, in my bland windowless office, under florescent glare. I was trouble shooting for an ambitious group of USC guys as they gobbled up all of Los Angeles real estate. Without any real sense of survival or independence, my life was in the hands of my father.

“Meyer’s coming to see me; haven’t seen the little guy in twenty-five years.”   Dad said during a commercial break.

“Meyer Lansky?” I asked as casually as he’d spoken.

“Who else?”

“Why did you two wait so long?”

“It’s no concern of yours; he’s my friend, not yours.” I was twenty-nine years old and still verbally handcuffed.

The three of us went out to dinner, and while the two of them spoke in clipped short wave syndicate code, I noticed that neither one of them looked at all happy.  It was rare to catch my father in public with a friend, without raucous laughter, and storytelling.  My attempt to revive the dinner conversation with my own humor,returned two sets of silent eyeball commands to resist speaking.

Several months later I received a call from Dad asking me to come over to his apartment, he had collapsed on the bathroom floor.  When I arrived, he pleaded for me to stay close by.   “I’ll be all right in a few minutes; I just need to catch my breath. ”  I sat outside the bathroom door biting my nails, and waited, like our dog Spice, for my orders. For the first time in my life, he was weaker than I, and my turmoil centered on that unfamiliar reversal of roles.

“Daddy, you should go to the hospital, I’m calling the ambulance.”

“Nope, no ambulance, I’m not going to the hospital, hang up the phone right now.”  I pried the bathroom door open, and crouched down on the floor to hold him in my arms. It was the first time I’d held him like that, he felt so heavy and warm.   When his eyes closed I called the ambulance and waited.  Two attendants arrived, and immediately took his pulse. “Why didn’t you call sooner, within minutes he would have died?”

“ I couldn’t–you don’t understand, he wouldn’t let me. ” They grimaced at me, and removed him from my arms.  Over the next few weeks I learned only that he had a failing liver.  The mirage of doctors and nurses flowing in and out of his room, assured me that this was just a temporary set back. Soon he would be back at his favorite table at the Bistro Gardens, dining with young aspiring starlets.

When you love someone whose life is draining into illness, even their hollering and gripe is a relief.  For the first time in my life, my father did not frighten me. I don’t know if it was because he was vulnerable, and dependent on me for comfort. But the feeling was ecstasy, the feeling of being inside his world, and not excluded.

“Imagine sending nurses in my room at six in the morning. Boy did I give them hell. They won’t soon forget the name Allen Smiley.  They’re not treating me like a social service case. “ His voice came back and the salty blue color of his eyes. I took my father home, and sat on the crushed blue velvet sofa while he made his phone calls.

” Say what’s up buddy, what can I do for you?  I’m tougher than you think; my daughter and I are going for a walk later. What can I do for you?  When are you going to Vegas? Yea, I see all right, don’t worry about a thing, no I’ll handle it, I insist now, don’t argue with a sick man, you rascal. Don’t send flowers yet, send champagne!”

Within a few weeks, my father was back at his favorite table at the Bistro Gardens wearing tinted shades. His  passion for the company of females, was reciprocal, they loved him. He sent them flowers, and picked up their checks.  He could wave his magic wand of favors at the studios, or for concert tickets, and the chips rolled. He kept up that pace for six months.

All my life he had made things happen for me, now it was my turn. I collected the telephone messages, walked the dog, and cleaned up the house. It was strange, to putter amongst my father’s things. I opened drawers cautiously, thinking he may have alarms on things.  He had a pile of papers stacked on his desk, and unopened mail.  His personal toiletries were still in immaculate order, his brushes, and collection of colognes. A heavy sadness, presided over the room.  I noticed he was reading “Honor Thy Father.”

During his sickness, he presented a man only slightly off balance. He continued to camouflage his liver failure, like he’d masked his identity all his life.  I recognized the anguish in his eyes, but I had to pretend it wasn’t there.

My character changed overnight.  I did not hesitate over minor decisions, cower if he yelled, or hide inside myself. Something in him was now part of me. We were fighting together. One afternoon we took a walk in Holmby Park.

“What matter’s in life is that you don’t allow people to walk over you, see. No one looks out for your best interest, except your old father. You’ll see, it won’t be so easy without me.”

“Daddy, don’t talk like that, come on.”

“Why not, I’m telling you the way it is, what do you want, for me to lie to you? Everyone else will lie to you!  Now, I’ve told you that I’m donating my body to USC Medical center. I already have it arranged.”

“Daddy, I’m not listening. Don’t talk to me about that,” tears welled.

“You must listen little sweetheart. There’s no expense for you to be burdened with. I wish I put more away for you,  but I’ve always told you, haven’t I….that I spent everything I made. I only hoped that things would have changed…. be that as it may, you won’t have any expense.”

Smiley’s Dice Adventures in livingness

The throw of the dice this week lands on the adventures in the making.  How could I have known 15 years ago?

Back then I had but a  finger-bowl of resources, a blue chair, a desk, and a typewriter.  Everyday I wrote into the flame of discovery looking for my mother.  My notebooks were sketches of this woman I never knew.   The absence of the most ordinary information, like where she grew up in Newark, what sort of neighborhood, what her father did for a living, what schools, she attended, and later on, what experiences she had modeling in New York. The closest I got was by reading John Robert Powers book about the modeling agency he started in 1923.   He assigned unemployed Broadway talent to his agency to be photographed for corporate campaign advertising.  According to John he was the innovator of the modeling agency concept- beautiful women and men will sell products to the public, the public never would have thought of buying.

I found her name in the index, Lucille Casey.  She joined the agency when she was 16 years old.   John groomed the models; and assigned disciplinary perfection in dialect, manners, appearance, character, and intellect.  Powers Girls married anyone they wanted.  They were invited to all the important society events, they were given card Blanche at the Stork Club, and the Morocco and they were transported to celebratory city functions. They met men of all means, character, and class.

After I read the book, I thought about what my father used to say, “ Your mother could have had any man in the world, but she picked me. Don’t you make the same mistake.”

That is a complex summons for a teenage to understand.

I sat in the blue chair and waited for the flares of information to come down to earth.   After two years, I had very little to build a full page.  My mother’s  history was lost, her friends had vanished, or would not talk to me.  She did not leave a diary.  Her photo album as a model was all I had.  What could I see in those eyes, and smile? Perfection.   I gave up the search, and switched over to my father. The government documented his daily activities, and what they didn’t hear or see, was exploited in newspapers, documentaries, and books.

There was one woman who was alive, that knew intimate details of my mother, because I had met her, and she made it known to me she knew. That was Meyer Lansky’s wife, who went by the name Teddy.  Women have a distinctive look when they are withholding secrets.  Teddy always had that look when she brought up my mother.  I told her I was writing about my father and mother and she said, “Let them rest in peace.”    I didn’t take her advice.