THE ORDER OF DISORDER


Whispers of The Past
Whispers of The Past (Photo credit: tj.blackwell)

 The order of this week is disorder. Not the trivial disorder of a closet, or a work in progress; this week is the unraveling of the self which comes with separating from someone you love dearly.  It is the subject of: poetry, theater, film, literature, dance, visual arts and music — all forms of music from opera to rap. For all of you who have mothers’ and fathers’ close to death, and you don’t want them to leave.

Adults protect you from the brutality of death when you’re very young. They keep it behind locked phrases like ‘she had to go away to a better place; you’ll understand when you grow up.’

The camouflage of death may go on indefinitely until one day, you are hit over the head with a block of ice, and it splits you right down the middle. You can see your guts spilling out, and everything is all out of order. Walking is an effort. Thinking clogs with the big question: Why? Why can’t we all stay here together and live forever?

Flashback to 1966 — I was very young, not so much in years, but when I was 13 my mental and emotional age were more of an 8-year-old. I don’t know if I was ADD or DDT because those acronyms were not in vogue yet.

My development was arrested because I was raised on a fantasia of false identities, fiction, and privledge. I thought we were rich, happy, and would live together forever. The fantasia of falseness was abruptly taken away on June 19, 1966. On that day, I saw for the first time, my father weep uncontrollably. I was told my mother was in heaven.  My father was seated on my mother’s  avocado green sofa in our tidy mid-century apartment in Westwood. Nana — mother’s mother — was seated on the sofa next to my father.  Nana and Dad had reconciled for the period of time my mother was sick with cancer. They both were sobbing. I was not. There was nothing inside of me but resistance; a blockage of emotion that remained there for so many years.

I was left in my father’s care. He was busy out chasing government subpoenas’  and running the Fontainebleau Hotel in Florida.   He kept a command post on my emotions. He would not tolerate my grief, because he could not tolerate his own. So, I had to chin-up, chest out, walk up and down Doheny Drive in Hollywood where he lived and pretend I was going to be fine.

When I turned eighteen and left my father’s apartment was the first time I was free to unravel my feelings. The emptiness filled with confusion, anger and drugs. If college was supposed to be my best years, then I missed that chapter. Looking back, the real leap to personal growth came at that time when I was left unattended to wander through life with my own eyes as guardian, and my heart as my compass. That is when I missed my mother the most. It was my fortune to have my father back in Los Angeles, throwing his weight around from a distance. He kept me under radar by having a friend’s son working in the admittance office of Sonoma State College.

I remember days when my mental attitude needed electric shock therapy. Miraculously, I did find my way home, and to the matter of my mother, and growing up with gangsters. From a wafer of stability, very slowly, I’ve built a nice lifeboat to keep me afloat. My screaming, cantankerous, and intimidating father who loved me beyond measure is in this imaginary boat, and my mother who loved with a silent gentle hand she gave to me whenever I needed assurance.

All I have to do is look at her photograph placed in every corner of my house, and I regain momentum in my lifeboat. When I am particularly insolvent with life’s measures, I recall the years she spent fighting cancer so she could continue to hold my hand. How can I disappoint such a woman? I cannot, and I know that with more certainty than I know anything.

We all have a basement strength that rises up and balances us when we need it. Each time we cross that unpleasant road, and say good-bye to our friends, our pets, our parents, or our siblings, we have to find our basement strength.

You can read poetry and essays, listen to opera or rap and find five-thousand ways  of expressing the same painful stab of separation. If the comfort comes in just knowing — we all have that in common — then all you have to do is tap the shoulder of the man in front of you, and ask, “How did you handle it?”

Or as Henry Miller said, “All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without the benefit of experience.”

Any dice to throw, e-mail it to folliesls@aol.com.

WHERE DID SHE GO?


I feel myself crossing the double yellow line,

into the lane of a demon woman and full of hellish fire. It is the line that divides those that still care from those that just, whatever.  

Never thought I’d be a don’t care, no dreamer, no hope woman
but I am there.  What is God telling me? What is the message?

Why am I meeting pitiful people? Do they reflect me?
Do they mimic me? Do breasts mean everything?
Was my youth my only charm?

Why are men blocking instead of
buying me drinks?

Why do they
prick, instead of prune?

Only when they are detonated with insults do they respond.
Is the strong female driven Hollywood character
emblazoning every commercial, film, ad, and song
Stolen the testosterone?

I am going to look for the eighties woman I was. She was

full of laughter, confidence, romance and aspiration.

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ONE DAY AT A TIME


Reader View: Random chats make life sweeter

 

 

 

Posted: Saturday, June 8, 2013 10:00 pm

 

 

One day at a time. People with terminal illness, suffering from a shattered romance, a death of a friend, a natural disaster, always say the same thing: One day at a time.

Walking up Palace Avenue on a day spread with sunlight, and a continuum of power walkers, bikers and runners, passing by in whiffs of urgency, I took my time. I didn’t feel like flexing, just evaporating into the shadows and the moving clouds. I walked by a little adobe that once was a dump site for empty bottles, cartons, worn-out furniture and piles of wood. A year later, the yard is almost condominium clean. Just as I was passing the driveway, the little woman whom I’d seen walking up Palace with her bag of groceries, appeared like a gust of history in the driveway of her adobe casita. She wore her heavy, blanket-like coat and a bandanna on her head. Regardless of weather, she’s bundled up in the same woven Indian coat and long wool skirt. I stood next to her, a foot or so taller, and she unraveled history, without my prompting. She told me about the Martinez family, the Montoyas and the Abeytas, all families she knew, all with streets named after them.

Estelle asked me my name, and then took my hand in her weathered unyielding grip, “Oh, I had an Aunt named Lucero, and we called her LouLou.” She didn’t let go of my hand, and then she told me that the families, some names I’ve forgotten, bought homes on Palace in 1988 for $50,000, She shook her finger to demonstrate her point. “You know how many houses they bought? Five! Then they fixed them up and sold them.”

I could have stood there in the gravel driveway listening to Estelle all afternoon. She owns the oral history I love to record; but it is difficult to understand her, she talks with the speed of a Southwest wind. We parted and I thought about the times in my life when the smallest of interactions elevates my spirit. In older people, who are not addicted to gadgets and distant intimacy, I’m reminded of how speed socializing has diminished the opportunity for a sidewalk chat.

Luellen “LouLou” Smiley is a creative nonfiction writer and award-winning newspaper columnist.

 

 

 

 

 

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LAS VEGAS WHEN WE WERE YOUNG


I wasn’t allowed in the Copa when the Rat Pack performed; I listened to the uproar

The Sands 1963
The Sands 1963 (Photo credit: D’oh Boy (Mark Holloway))

from outside the door, and caught a glimpse when Uncle Jack let someone in. It was a wild charade of slapstick, improvisation, and politically incorrect slurs, swearing and insults, all dressed up in comedic song and dance.

That’s how I remembered Las Vegas. When I returned for the grand opening of the Mob Experience Las Vegas,  I bounced into the spot lights, press conferences,

introductions, and interviews in a shiny aquamarine pants suit, I hadn’t worn in six years. Congregating with the sons and daughters of my Dad’s associates, who were raised in a similar fashion of privilege and secrecy, was my homecoming to

Las Vegas. There I was, speaking into a microphone about my father, who obsessed over me, as I was now doing in Las Vegas. What was the importance of this seventeen year battle? To re write history that was written about him, by people who never even met him. They couldn’t get the camera off of me, “Luellen, we’ll turn it over to the station now,” while I am still stating the case of Allen Smiley. What would Meyer and Dad and Roselli think of all this. They’d say, “Wish the Brain (Arnold Rothstein) could have seen this racket.

MIDDLE CLASS, MIDDLE-AGE MAP TO WHERE??


I rolled the dice this morning; got seven. This always lifts me UN-proportionately to

the triumph.   What is a seven going to do? Nothing. The dice don’t do it;  what happens Is

I believe it’s a lucky day;  like the wind won’t knock down my outdoor writing arrangement,

and I’ll be able to write for hours, and not be interrupted by registered letters, construction noise coming

from the new Drury Hotel,  or tenant complaints.

What  we all treasure and wish we could stack up in a treasure chest is piles of peace from whatever our lives do to make us nervous, edgy, and cuffed. Or we stop the behavior which I think is more difficult.

If you’re a middle class, middle-aged person who expected  to be retired in Costa Rica by now with a book and a bottle, then you have to rearrange the internal map. 0414131321

I ‘ll never retire from writing; I hope one day I can live in my home again.

SNOW DRIFT TO DANCE


SMILEY’S DICE-ADVENTURES IN LIVINGNESS

White Wolf introduced himself to me when he worked Valet at La Posada Resort. He was the kool one with enough style and manners to attract attention. I learned he also provided private airport transportation and luxury limo service. A trip to Albany, New York was on my schedule, so I asked White Wolf if he’d drive me to the Albuquerque Airport.  When I told him my flight left at 6:30 AM, he didn’t flinch, ‘I’ll be at your house at 4:00 AM with Starbucks-what’s your drink?’

He showed up, loaded the car, asked me to select my own music, and off we went. I felt like I was riding with James Bond; smooth shifts, minor breaks, all the time engaging me in conversation. The combination relieved my pre-boarding stress and woke me up. From then on, I chose White Wolf’sairport service. When he picked me up from Albuquerque, he had Fiji water, Travel & Leisure Magazine, chewing gum, and he played Vic Damone. ‘Chill, sit back, tell me all about the trip.’

At my kitchen counter, on a twenty-below morning, White Wolf leaned back against a bar stool too petite for a swarthy 6’ 4” man. His Johnson & Johnson silky blond hair is swept back, and I want to touch it, but we don’t play with physical affections. White Wolf’s forty, looks thirty, and thinks like he served an attitude and values apprenticeship under a wise guru. He’s on a break; from plowing snow at Albertsons, the Yoga Center, and private homes. This is before he reports for work at Geronimo Restaurant, where he not only parks the cars, but walks the ladies indoors, keeps the Zapata’s outdoors, and directs traffic on Canyon Road until midnight. He’s wearing a sheet white Polo turtleneck and black slacks, his day look, and I’m about to serve pesto, prosciutto and feta cheese frittata for late breakfast.

White Wolf is sipping a sixteen-once Chai and unwinding his broad shoulders in a circular motion as he considers current consciousness of Santa Fe.       

     “It’s a different kind of materialism. You really want it but you can’t have it. The most simple things; a toaster, a new phone, pinion wood–cause we’re cold–it’s so cold! The guy in front of the Homeless Shelter was near frozen when I drove by to drop off a bundle of clothes. Why is it so cold? Even the valet has to wear BMW beanies. These are some funny times.”

     “What’s so funny about not having money?” I snapped.

White Wolf breaks into a full body laughing recess. His sailor-blue eyes are just slightly turned up when he laughs. This transmits his effortless humorous pitch on life.

     “It’s different,” I said. I mean everything feels unfamiliar.”

     “Yea, its okay to feel,” White Wolf said. “Things are rattling around. That’s why the Gorge Bridge felt so stable the day I drove up to Taos.  I think it’s the most stable thing in my life right now! Hah.”

I had placed the frittata in front of White Wolf, but he hadn’t touched it yet. Even when he’s starved; he lets the food sit there and cool off.  I’ve never seen a man not eat when food is placed in front of him. I was already biting into the frittata; relishing a real meal.

 I found a momentary silent inlet and asked him if the food was cool enough. White Wolf looked down, touched it with his index finger, and then his appetite fired off. After a few pensive moments, as if he were saying grace, he took a proper bite. He takes the food seriously, intensely. He’ll make a remarkable husband for some woman. He talks a lot about marriage, and the songs he’ll sing to his bride’s mother the day of the wedding. He confides in me uninhibitedly, as if we were two teenagers, cutting class. I feel youthful when he’s in the house; the absence of masks, emotional camouflage, and exaggeration is how I remember adolescence. When you’re so much yourself, even the most serious student, is humorous in his self-absorbance.   

    “What’d you say Wednesday was–on your new schedule?”   he asked.

    “Wednesday… I forgot since you showed up. I know! It’s Gallery LouLou marketing.”

     “We have to give out two cards a week. I want you to pass out two everyday.”

I nodded my head and bowed.     

     “Geronimo been slow, no A-list celebrity types, no mothers and daughters; cause the daughters don’t want to come here anymore.”  

     “Neither do single me, I interrupted.  And if they do they’re from Los Alamos. Can you see me with a scientist or an engineer? I’d make them crazy.”    

     “Listen–someone asks you out for an Ecco latte, don’t be a bitch. Just do it! You reverse sweat it. If he’s a jerk; deebo him.”  Deebo is the guy who shows up late, and should have been on time. His quip is unabashed, and he handles himself like Sean Penn; smoking and all smiles while he reverses blame.      

     “Can we change the subject?” I said.

     “No! I want to know why you’re not even trying to hook up?”

     “Because I’m convinced the man I want isn’t in Santa Fe. The ones I’ve met are looking for a caretaker, a fly-fishing partner, or a biker. Look, there are two types of men: one loves a woman because she’s not a man, and the other one seeks a mother who he can bash around.”

     “I want to rat those guys out–like the ones that pinch and don’t tip. Give a name to that.”  

      “ Listen to this; the newly coined slogan for New Mexico is Truth.” I said.

     “ Truth. About what?” 

     “ Exactly! What truth are they referring to? How bout’ the naked truth? Picture a Native American woman out in the arroyo in a leather crop top, her black hair elevated in strands by the wind, dust on her cheekbones. New Mexico is naked, isn’t it?” I asked.

     “It’s isolated. If you can afford to come to Santa Fe and not blow your brains out, or go broke, you deserve to be here. Right?”  He is smiling. Even the painful truths, are reformed as tests of endurance rather than complaints.   He developed his own poetic rap dialogue that I suppose comes from growing up in two cultures: one in the hood, and the other in the wealthiest homes in Santa Fe. 

      “ Then it’s a good place for you. Like your friend that takes her poodle to Hospice. I really respect her for that. That’s what she’s doing with Santa Fe.” He said.

     “What do you do with Santa Fe?” I asked.

     “I’m the union organizer for luxury limo drivers. Like, iron your shirt and shine your shoes, have CD’s in the car, and water. You know–like this is New Mexico but we can spell Burberry. On the weekends I’m the ladies traffic controller!”

     “ What is that?”

     “At the clubs. Some of the guys are okay, all suited up, hoping for a dance, but some are like, I’ll buy you a cocktail if I can follow you home. Someone has to protect them. Ladies can’t drive home cause they’ve cocktailed all night, or they can’t find their car keys, or they want to impress their friends with the Viking chauffeur. It’s chill; they’re good girls during the day.” 

The morning turned into afternoon, and now I was cleaning dishes, and watching the birds from the kitchen window. Every hour or so I stop responding to White Wolf, and let him talk. I can feel the rush of his life; how he sprints from limo driver, to Geronimo valet, then to Albuquerque, the gym, and his family. People who live intensely engaged in a variety of relationships; stir their surroundings like a human wind.  Every time White Wolf leaves, I’m bouncing through the living room and dancing.  

When I tuned into the conversation he was recounting his day in ardent animation. His laughter echoes; almost like he’s singing a song and it last a long time.

     “I don’t mind giving back to our greedy city tax roll.  I feed the meters at the Lensic; that quarter made a difference. Huh?”… more laughter and he repeats, ‘we’re down to quarters.’

     “Those meter guys were writing tickets like, here take that, and then on to the next car. Don’t bother coming back to Santa Fe, and it’s the weekend! That’s the barometer of my city—-hurry hurry write that ticket. Once it’s done it’s done.”  Suddenly he stands, positioning his legs a few feet apart, he leans over, picks up his keys, and his phone.

     “Come on let’s go for a quick creep.”

     “A what?”

     “Cruise the plaza, get you outdoors, come on it’ll make you feel better.”

     “I’m not dressed for outdoors..”

     “Put on a pair of low brow boots, and a jacket. Not fashioning this afternoon. You won’t even get out of the car. Come on.”

I listened because White Wolf is definitive in decisions. He doesn’t waver back and forth or want to argue. I rushed upstairs, zipped up my boots and grabbed a down jacket. He was standing by the window.

    “We have twenty-minutes.” He said pointing to his watch.

We hopped into his silver VW GTI and he told me to pick a CD. I shuffled through the stack, while he backed out. Just then I noticed a car pull out across Palace Avenue.

     “Wolf! Watch out!”

     “I got it.” He leaned back, shot eyeball calmness to me and asked what CD I wanted to hear. He didn’t scold me for my alarm and doubt. After that I knew my caution was unnecessary. You learn a lot about a man by his driving. It’s a graph of his responsiveness, confidence, and how he handles sudden movement. White Wolf cruised over the icy asphalt and into the empty Plaza, all white and brown like a two envelopes sitting side by side. He was now slouching back, one hand on the wheel, messing with something in the open compartment, and driving 15 mph. There weren’t a lot of cars, but I had the feeling White Wolf didn’t care if there was someone behind us. We drove past Santa Fe Dry Goods, and he stopped, “Empty– that’s sad. No one buying fuzzy boots or hats.”

He drove by every shop and looked in, as if he was monitoring shopping trends. His eyes swept the streets, the alleyways, and I mimicked him, because I knew this was for me. We went slow as a couple of tired horses, so the eyes could bring in the unknown: a homeless man on a corner, the Indian woman selling jewelry, the Mideastern jewelers smoking cigarettes, and a few locals trotting back to work from a break. I looked up to the sky and found a patch of blue, and pointed it out to White Wolf,” and he turned to me and said, “I’m happy you noticed.”

     “It’s two o’clock already.” I said.

     “How’d it get to be two o’clock?” White Wolf kept the engine at crawl speed all the way back to the house. “You have to go to Santa Fe Spa–at least go see people! And go after six.” I nodded my head as I got out of the car, went inside, turned on the Rolling Stones and danced. 

 

LADY OF PALACE AVENUE


0124130930

The throw of the dice this week lands on adventures in livingness; one day at a time. People with terminal illness, suffering from a shattered romance, a death of a friend, a natural disaster, always say the same thing; One day at a time.

Walking up Palace Avenue on a day spread with sunlight, and a continuum of power walkers, bikers and runners, passing by in whiffs of urgency, I took my time. I didn’t feel like flexing, just evaporating into the shadows, and the moving clouds. I walked by a little adobe, that once was a dump site for empty bottles, cartons, worn out furniture, and piles of wood. A year later, the yard is almost condominium clean. Just as I was passing the driveway, the little woman whom I’d seen walking up Palace with her bag of groceries, appeared like a gust of history in the driveway of her adobe casita. She wore her heavy blanket like coat and a bandanna on her head. Regardless of weather, she’s bundled up in the same woven Indian coat and long wool skirt. I stood next to her, a foot or so taller, and she unraveled history, without my prompting. She told me about the Martinez family, the Montoyas, and the Abeytas, all families she knew, all with streets named after them. Estelle asked me my name, and then took my hand in her weathered unyielding grip, ‘Oh I had an Aunt named Lucero, and we called her LouLou.’ She didn’t let go of my hand, and then she told me that the families, some names I’ve forgotten, bought homes on Palace in 1988 for $50,000, She shook her finger to demonstrate her point. ‘You know how many houses the Garcias bought? Five! Then they fixed them up and sold them.’

I could have stood there in the gravel driveway listening to Estelle all afternoon. She owns the oral history I love to record; but it is difficult to understand her, she talks with the speed of a southwest wind. We parted and I thought about the times in my life when the smallest of interactions elevates my spirit. In older people, who are not addicted to gadgets and distant intimacy, I’m reminded of how speed socializing has diminished the opportunity for a sidewalk chat.

PAIN OR PLEASANTRY- SHOVELING SNOW IN SANTA FE


WRITING BY HAND at my tiny Eurasian desk facing the window to the west; framed by time and familiarity into the branches of JD’s pine tree, today ward-robed in bacon colored leaves.   The black silky toned crows are still basking like prowesses on the branches, and waiting for the crumbs that fall out of the garbage cans at the hotel across the street. My bird family has already eaten through a full day’s feeding, and is fleecing each other to first place at the table. The silky drape of the winter sky sometimes adorned with lacy clouds is blue as sea and has shaken the clouds all night. N08041215581.jpgO SNOW. I am selfishly opposed to snow because  I don’t happen to get snow shoveling without gut-wrenching lower back pain.  How do you shovel snow?

I’m wearing one cotton camisole, one shapeless thermo  turtle neck, a down vest, and when I go outside I wear a down jacket. I’m so bundled up it feels like my limbs are bound in masking tape.  My teeth look whiter and my hair is flat instead of frizzy. Snow changes everything.   From my desk, I write, without thoughts predefined, just a drain of emotional threads from my heart, listening to Zap Mama as she takes me to the wild, naked, warm region of Africa.

This year isn’t like last year. The absentee man, fussing with the fireplace, making me afternoon espresso, kissing me when I cook, hugging me when I pull a folly, has excused himself from my adventures in livingess.  It is not at all like last year. Long time friend Rudy is in San Diego and so I am not interpreting the division of attention, between two men laughing at the kitchen table, and eating my blueberry pancakes, as they did last year.

I had the song of Judy Garland’s rainbow in my heart.  It was a time I will never forget, or regret, because I was satisfied for several years. Unabridged ecstasy poured out of body, and spread over my attitude, abundant spirit, mood, facial expressions, and my dreams were filled with amusement instead of nightmares.  I wander into unfamiliar snowy woods unsteady, juxtaposed between, acceptance and self anger for being so so… whatever it is that I pump into myself.  If I was judged by my adventures and not my accomplishments I would be a contender.

Growing up with gangsters teaches you to live with risk, to invite challenge, and  not complain if you loose. It’s wrong but it’s right.   Nothing is worthless; not one moment should be wasted because there is always that window of escape. Our minds are there to take us away. I’m escaping now, Zap Mama Pandora station on the headset, and writing. This is taking the moment out of frustration and into pleasantry.

My steps inward reply with emotional break-troughs, mundane tasks accomplished, solo ventures, match.com dates (another story) and a comedic sideshow as I wrestle with sealed boxes, make repairs, and toggle in my patent leather too stylish boots to actually be called snow shoes.   In these moments, I assure myself that evolving is never ending, and we do not ever know what to expect from ourselves.   If I write down the pleasantries surrounding my life, the blessings rise up and give me a softened comfort.  The sweet peace may vanish the next day, or be intercepted by the news, a wreck in the street, an unexpected phone call. The crossroads of everyday life comes and goes. Between all of these uncontrollable incidents we are writing stories that some day will be told in conversation, or written in journals and books. The essence of our changing lives is universal. Why am I doing this now, why am I feeling this now? Etc.

Remember your pleasantries, and bring them closer.   A few of my snow cold freezing feet remedies:  Kneipps Herbal Lavender Bath: Do not apply to the face!

Ralph Lauren Candles: I paid too much, but the scent is like having a man around the house.

Homeland.  Sunday nights Showtime. Clare Danes has replaced my empty strong female lead on television. I mean, this is one to Watch! ( season ended. Vegas on Tuesday’s is the other one to watch)

My friend Loren visits three times a  week at least: Snow means, silence, and hermitizing, so I  can’t wait to open the door to Luxury Limo Loren, and make him brunch.  We harmonize for hours;  on tones of fretful fear, wicked secrets, sex,  laughter, Santa Fe, immigration, buy American, and the crust of survival that is stale and must be reheated.

Treats: Snicker bars, Vodka and snacks that I can nibble on while indoors more than I’d like to be.

Bar Bells: For those combative moments on hold with Comcast, SWA or Verizon.

Books: Time for Virginia Wolf and Jack London.

Movies- Zorba the Greek, Auntie Mame, U-Turn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Once Upon a Time in America.

I AM PACKED FOR THE BEACH, JUST IN CASE.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY


I didn’t subscribe to this weekly trade rag, and I’m not in the entertainment business. Still they pile up on the island counter in the kitchen, because  it’s what’s happening baby. So I opened one last night. My younger than I look paradigm dissolved, as I viewed musicians, celebrities, TV, film/ trends that were as unfamiliar to me as I would be to them. Should I develop an interest in what they are pitching? I kept reading about bands I never heard of,

Thirty Something Kufiya
Thirty Something Kufiya (Photo credit: tsweden)

books, new killer thriller suspense series that will make my blood curdle,  single women who make love to themselves,  murderers to fall in love with, and ten pages on the OSCARS.

I’m grateful for those artists of mercy that I have been turned on to in my life. Those are the ones I’ll cherish. That first Stones concert, first performance artist,  exhibits at Mass Moca, an Afro-Cuban dance performance, Baryshnikov, Miles Davis, Cab Calloway, Tito Puente,  the movie Women In Love, and Thirty Something.

OUR NEIGHBORHOOD, OUR LIFE


 

 

As a child I understood in a subliminal fashion that my father was unlike other neighborhood fathers who left each day to go to the office.   My father worked from his home-office in Bel Air, California, and hotels: The Beverly Wilshire Hotel, the Bel Air Hotel, The old Beverly Glen Terrace, and restaurants:  La Dolca Vita, Matteos, Copa de Ora, Scandia, La Scala, Purinos, Chasens, and building lobby’s,  parking lots, telephone booths, and race tracks.   Sometimes he talked about a really  big deal he was working on, and other times he said he was returning favors.  The exchange of favors between my father and his associate friends was written about way before I came along, by Damon Runyon and Mark Hellinger.

Deals and favors is what I understood as my father’s business. This kind of business made him available to me during the day, while other father’s had left their homes to go to an office. From the outside looking in; we were a stylish Westside family, with colorful friends, members of Sinai Temple, and frequently seen in the company of established Doctor’s, Oilmen, and Attorney’s.  My mother went door to door as a Red Cross Volunteer, and my father’s charity went to the United Jewish Federation Fund.

Our next door neighbors were movie actors:  John Forsythe, Burt Lancaster, James Gardner and Peter Morton, the legendary Hard Rock Café founder.   Peter was a few years older than I, and I loved his  mess of tousled curly brown hair, and his gentle birch brown eyes, slanted into the curve of sadness. I waited for him on some mornings to walk me to the bus stop.  I remember he looked after his little sister, and maybe I needed looking after too.  The memory of his kindness is sealed.   Most of the families in the circle had children, and it was only natural that we played together. At some point, all the kids quit meeting up at my house, and even my friends at Bellagio Elementary quit coming  to our house.

In the foyer of our home, there was a wall mirror and wall mounted table. That is where my father kept his grey fedora and trench coat. I remember the times he dashed out of the house with the coat and hat.

“Daddy why are you wearing your coat and hat today; it’s not raining?”

“I have to be ready for anything little sweetheart.  Daddy never knows what the weather will be like out there.”    The answer was a riddle, like almost everything my father taught me. A  simplistic statement on the surface, and a double down meaning hidden inside.  That is how he communicated with me, and it had a purpose like everything else.

When I was five years old, my father took me out driving in his powder blue the Cadillac, and he made regular stops,  to meet a guy about something, had the car serviced and washed, visit a friend, have the poodle bathed, and a stop at Schwab’s to see if there was any action.   He loved to sing in the car, with all the windows rolled down, and his arm wrapped around the back of the leather seat. He was as relaxed driving his car as he was lounging at home on the sofa. He drove with one hand, while he sang,

“Que sera sera.” When I asked him what it meant, he said,

“Whatever will be will be, the future is not ours to see, Oue sera sera–that’s the song of life sweetheart.”  He didn’t pay attention to stop signs, signals or fellow drivers; he perceived them as second in line.   Once a policeman stopped us as we were driving out of Thurston Circle, and my father opened the car door, got out, and, moaned,  “Oh my God, Oh God I’m having a heart attack!”  I watched him, and yelled out “Daddy Daddy–what’s wrong,” but he kept howling.  The policeman didn’t take notice at all.   “I’m having a heart attack, let me go officer, I can’t breathe you SOB. You’re going to kill me!”  By this time I was crying, and making a lot of noise in the front seat.  The policeman then approached my father, and handed him a ticket, while my father continued to whale, “HEART ATTACK.”  After the policeman drove away, my father got in the car, steely eyed, and swearing. “Stop crying. “Stop that right now!  Can’t you see I’m all right? Daddy just pretended to have an attack.  That stinking cop is always hanging around here. He should be ashamed of himself.  Policemen have better things to do, then give tickets. ”

“ You’re not sick?” I mumbled.

“ No, of course not.  Don’t tell your mother about this sweetheart, she doesn’t understand these things.  Remember now what I told you, when I say something you listen, and don’t question it.  I have reasons for the way I do things. ”

Adults try to deceive children with whispers, false identities, and lies, but a child has a superior emotional vision.  From that day on, I was always watching my father closely to see if he was acting, or playing it straight.

The outings gave me a chance to meet dozens of men and women who exaggerated their feelings for me with overt gestures that sometimes I recognized as an act. Picking out genuine friends developed into a sense I couldn’t necessarily ignore.  It got in the way of my comfort around many of my father’s friends later on in life.  Nothing seemed to please him more than to present me to his friends, and wait for their praise, “You’re lucky to have such a beautiful little girl, and so well behaved.”  I remember this line because it is the same line I heard throughout adolescence.  My behavior was conditional on my father’s mood.  If I misbehaved, spoiled my dress, or broke something, it would ruin everything. My father would blame my mother, she would retreat from the living room, and I would be left alone.  This was the second of the lessons, I learned very young, not to make any mistakes.   One error can ruin your whole life, he told me on all the occasions that I erred.

Today, it’s not too surprising that I am ready to sit in the front seat with a man of choice, while he drives around and shows off his driving and leadership skills.  It’s not that I just don’t get excited about driving myself,  it is one of those childhood activities that evolved into a life long course of pleasure. I escaped working in offices in 1993 after ten years of tolerating the cubicle life, and I work out of my home office much like my father, only I am not involved in illegal activities, even though it seems everything is becoming illegal.

When now, I have finished this personal essay I began two years ago, I went looking for images.   A photo of the house I grew up in at 11508 Thurston Circle popped up.   Our home burned in the Bel Air fire in 1961, and so I peeked through the interior of the house that was built on the lot after Dad sold it.  All post modern, nothing like ours, except this photograph I chose, the swimming pool he built, another childhood activity that evolved into a life pleasure.  The house is listed for sale, $2,075,000.  Dad bought our home for $50,000.

 

SWIMMING WITH GANGSTERS


300px-Ella-fitzgerald-lullabies-of-birdland

Ella blew out tunes like a smoke stack and with each soulful sound, her face drew more sweat. By the second song, the sweat was pouring down her face and into that gorge like cleavage that heaved with each breath.  I didn’t understand the emotions that distorted her eyes and mouth. Ella, crowned by a sizzling hot spot light overhead, transmitted every flaw and feeling on her face.   I hadn’t seen a singer suffer before. I looked up at my mother and started crying.

“ What’s wrong sweetheart?”

“ I’m afraid she’s going to die.”

My mother whispered assurances that Ella was not going to die.  I kept crying. She then excused us from our table and I followed her into the Powder Room.  She sat me on a chaise lounge, and wiped my tears.  The expansiveness of the Powder room compared to the ones today, was like being in someone’s bedroom. Soft cushioned chairs, a long dressing table speckled with ashtrays, perfumes, and miniature toiletries. We stayed there until Ella finished her show. Mom didn’t show her disappointment, she rarely showed despairing emotions, or caused me to feel ashamed of my behavior. Looking back fifty years later, I’m reminded of my mother’s selflessness, and how a legend can drop down into your path, and you don’t even know it.

Again looking back fifty years later, my succession of travel diaries, dim by comparison to the Vegas memories.  Swirling amongst the élan of prohibition era abandonment, gangsters were the Rothchilds, the royalty of the scene, and the non-members loved it. That’s why the woman behaved  roaring twenties ZaZu Pitts and Louise Brooks emancipated. Everyone was free of their wrappings, an0287_0019(small) ENTRATTER & SINATRAd responsibilities. They were partying with the men who they’d first met on screen played by Bogart, Robinson, and Cagney. I remember them now as being childlike. The outsiders may have been living the childhood that was stolen by WWII, and the depression. Their veiled heroes were gangsters who’d been breaking rules since being ripped from their mother’s breast.

Then one day the in 1963 the Rat Pack landed in Vegas, wearing black Tuxedos and intercepted the public’s fancy imitations of living vicariously.  Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis and Frank Sinatra invited Vegas to drink, make love, and gamble. And they did. If you find anyone over seventy in Vegas today, ask them about the Rat Pack, Johnny Roselli, or Jack Entratter, and you’ll know I’m not exaggerating. Vegas was the time of their lives. The drugs were minor, an upper or a downer to sleep, but no one came to Vegas to OD or commit suicide.  The deaths were in the desert, between the gangsters’. This was al before Tony Spilotro got wheels on his greed and went speeding into his own death.  TO BE CONTINUEDAT THE COPA ROOM

AT THE COPA ROOM

SWIMMING WITH GANGSTERS-VEGAS 1960s


Lullabies of Birdland
Lullabies of Birdland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Photograph of Dean Martin with celebrities sta...
Photograph of Dean Martin with celebrities stage-side, Las Vegas, March 6, 1957 (Photo credit: UNLV Libraries Digital Collections)

PART THREE

THE CROWD TWITCHED IN ANTICIPATION, except for overly sensitive children, (OSC) without a prescription. My heart beat like a wild Pinto running from the rope as the doors to the Copa Room closed, and the lights dimmed. Streams of Parliament and Marlboro smoke desensitized the spring scent of Shalimar, Aramis cologne, and steaks grilling close by. The horizon of necks seen from the stage must have looked like a display at Tiffany’s.

Photograph of the Rat Pack performing together...
Photograph of the Rat Pack performing together in the Copa Room, Las Vegas, 1960 (Photo credit: UNLV Libraries Digital Collections)

We were in the front row of tables, two steps from the stage, so I had to raise my head vertically to see Ella.

I sat transfixed by this sensory tsunami at a table with a group of Uncles; Uncle Joey, (Joey Adonis, or Joey Fusco, or Joey whomever) Nick the Greek, Chuckie Del Monico (son of Charlie the Blade. I still squint when I read about him) and Uncle Charlie, (The Babe Baron) who enlisted or service in WW11 in Canada because the United State denied his application due an arrest record. Charlie was a stiff suited Four Star General under the hand of *General Curtis LeMay when he wasn’t managing the Riviera. Someone put that in “Vegas” the new television series.

The men and women composed a landscape of histories, though their costume like wardrobes were similar, except for the gangsters, who dressed according to Johnny Roselli standards. The women wore spaghetti strap cocktail dresses and strapless full length gowns, like a spring bouquet of color, transparency, and glitter. They, (I mean most of them that I met) were in a state of unconsciousness; shifting from cocktails, sun, lovemaking, gambling, and entertainment. Mad Women in the desert enjoyed their decorations of diamonds, fox fur wraps, and pointy spiked patent leather heels. Cocktail trays flew by in succession, because their husbands were not watching them. What was all the fuss about?

I could feel their panting exuberance before we even walked in the Copa Room. I felt it when we walked through the lobby, and everyone scampered before they knew where they were headed. It looked like an off stage performance; jittery anticipatory gestures that made any girl even without OSC dizzy. I was inside this swirl of liberation from the age of six to about twelve. We went to Vegas three or four times a year that I can recall. It was before I started my journal so the memories are part substance and part reflection.   TO BE CONTINUED

.

SIFTING THROUGH THE SNOW


The silky drape of the winter sky sometimes adorned with lacy clouds is blue as sea and has shaken the clouds all night so we have sixteen inches of snow   at the Santa Fe ski basin. I’d rather be sailing. I don’t happen to get snow shoveling without gut-wrenching lower back pain.  How do you shovel snow?

I’m wearing one cotton camisole, one shapeless thermo insulated turtle neck, a down vest, and when I go outside I wear a down jacket. I’m so bundled up it feels like my limbs are bound in masking tape.  My teeth look whiter and my hair is flat instead of frizzy. Snow changes everything.

From my desk, I write, without thoughts predefined, just a drain of emotional threads from my heart, listening to Zap Mama   as she takes me to the wild, naked, warm region of Africa. I wander into unfamiliar snowy woods unsteady, juxtaposed between, acceptance and self anger for being so so… whatever it is that I pump into myself.

Nothing is worthless; not one moment should be wasted because there is always that window of escape. Our minds are there to take us away. I’m escaping now, Zap Mama Pandora Radio station on the headset, and writing. This is taking the moment out of frustration and into pleasantry.

My steps inward returned  1210121316  accomplishments: emotional break-troughs, mundane tasks accomplished, solo ventures, match.com dates (another story) and a comedic sideshow as I wrestle with sealed boxes, make repairs, and toggle in my patent leather too stylish boots to actually be called snow shoes.   In these moments, I assure myself that evolving is never ending, and we do not ever know what to expect from ourselves.