I am a diarist. I record life around me so I can understand, as if by understanding I will find peace. Recording the exaggerated emotion and incidents of life began as a young girl when my mother gave me a diary. A good storyteller has to live life differently than the rest of us; otherwise, the stories will be predictable.
My father had those kinds of stories.
Allen Smiley: Illegal immigrant, Russian Jew, convicted criminal, hoodlum, extortionist, con-man, racketeer, bookmaker, tout, pimp, and high-ranking lieutenant and best friend of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.
“ Luellen, You have to come and get me out of here.”
“Daddy, what’s wrong?”
“Just come down here and get me.
“Daddy you’re in the hospital.”
“I know where I am. They’re coming to get me.”
The phone call had woken me up. It was the first of several that night. I sat up in bed and looked at the clock.
It was past midnight. Why was he up so late? I called the hospital and asked to speak to the head nurse. I told her about the phone call. She said he was hallucinating, and that he’d refused medication. That was the first time I had ever sensed desperation in my father. He was afraid they were coming to get him. Who were they?
Several days later the phone calls stopped. He died as secretly as he had lived. There was an absence of publicity or concern. I knew what to do. He had given me instructions. I was to go to the bank, draw out what money was in the account, and go on a vacation.
“Clear the hell out of town. Reporters may start calling, don’t talk to any of them. Don’t trust anybody; remember what I’ve been telling you all these years. “
I took his phone book, the photograph of Benjamin Siegel, and one of his baseball caps. I packed up his black El Dorado Cadillac, and shot out of Los Angeles. It was the final scene of the first half of my life. I drove south on 405 hwy down to Del Mar. There was nothing waiting for me in Del Mar; no friends, or job, or anything to connect to. I only knew that when my feet touched the Del mar beach, I had to move there.
That summer I went to the Del mar Race Track and sat in the bleachers just like anyone else, wearing a hat, drinking Long Island Iced Tea and trying to see with the blinding sun in my eyes. It was strange to sit with the general public. The few times my dad took me to Santa Anita we sat in the Turf Club. I had no idea my father was part of the historical narrative of Del Mar race Track, and of Del Mar history.
After living in San Diego more than ten years, I returned to Los Angeles for a job offer. One afternoon I visited my father’s walking path along Ocean Park in Santa Monica. He walked from one end of path to the other beginning at San Vicente and ending in Venice. Afterwards we’d stop at the Lobster House for a plate of fish and chips, and a cold beer. While I was walking in his memory, imagining him next to me, I looked up and recognized one of his walking pals, Sonny Barry. He looked like a retired Vegas dealer; dark shades, v necked open shirt, and Beverly Hills signatory gold chain with a Star of David.
‘Hi Sonny, how are you?” I called out.
Sonny turned and looked, raised his tanned arms up in the air, “For crying out loud, Luellen sweetheart.”
“Where have you been—how’s everything, gee you look terrific.”
Sonny called out to another man in the near distance, sitting on a park bench. “ Sandy come look whose here.”
“Luellen, you know Sandy Adler, he was friends with your Dad a long time ago. Sandy Adler, my father had mentioned his name, but I didn’t know how they met or when. He was another man that fit into the mysterious and unspoken years he was partner with Ben.
“Oh well, I haven’t seen you since you were a little girl.”
“You knew my Dad when we lived in Bel Air?”
“ Way before that; I knew your Dad when he was with Benny Siegel—and I knew your mother.”
It was the mention of my mother, who died when I was thirteen that pierced my antenna of interest. Sonny stood back while Sandy took my hand, and said let’s take a walk. We walked along the bluffs overlooking the pacific ocean. He spoke slowly, and paced himself as if the memories were lodged in books and he had to dig into them.
“ I ran the El Rancho hotel in Vegas, and then the Flamingo. I knew your Dad very well, he was some classy guy.”
“ Oh I remember the Flamingo but not the El Rancho.”
“ Well, anyway-where are you living now?”
“I just moved back to Los Angeles, I was living in Del Mar.”
“ Del Mar? I owned the old Del Mar Hotel –in fact your mother and father used to come down and stay there.”
“ He never mentioned Del Mar to me.”
“ He had his reasons; yea they came down during the race meet and stayed at the hotel. I remember them coming down, one time, and Allen got upset with your mother. They were having quite an argument. Your father left, and I walked with your mother on the pier, and tried to comfort her.”
I couldn’t utter a word I just listened. The Del Mar Hotel had burnt down before I moved there. I’d seen photographs of the hotel, and heard stories about the Hollywood stars that stayed there. It was a magical legend in Del Mar, everyone who lived during its glory days talked about it.
It was sometime after that, that I walked in the sand where the hotel had been located. I understood that one day I would begin plucking away at my family history.