I was thirteen the summer I moved into my father’s apartment in The Doheny Towers. My mother just died, and my father had weird habits. I didn’t understand why suddenly I had to ‘behave like a lady.’ It seemed like yesterday that I was running with a pack of friends up and down the hallways of the Hilgard House in dripping wet swimming suits, while Mommy was barbequing hamburgers on the balcony for all of us.
My father wasn’t prepared for a teenager; I had to grow up quickly, or pretend I was grown up. I sat on my bed in my new bedroom looking at the drapes. They matched the lime green and royal blue crushed velvet bedspreads. The drapes and spreads were so heavy I could barely lift them, and when the drapes were closed, the room was so black I couldn’t see my feet. My father had the room decorated by a friend who owed him a favor. Friends were always doing us favors.
Every morning I opened the drapes, and wrapped them around my body, pressed myself against the glass, and watched the Hollywood sunrise. Some days there was a coating of thick brown paste that hung over everything. Other days, after a rainstorm, or in the aftermath of a Santa Ana wind, all the soot dispersed. The colors splashed across the Spanish tiled roofs, palm trees, the big dreamy Sunset Boulevard billboards, and the crystal sharp edges of the San Bernardino Mountains. The East was my favorite view from the 12 th floor; because I didn’t know what was out there. It got me to thinking a lot about the East. The farthest I’d been was downtown Los Angeles to the Good Samaritan Hospital.
My father ran back and forth in the apartment barking orders to house maintenance, decorators, and telephone installers. He was adjusting things–furnishings, phone lines, new locks on the door; and he was removing guarded personal items. As I observed all this preparation, he kept telling me, ‘everything’s going to be all right, he has everything in order, new phones, more hangers, food in the refrigerator.’ I had no idea how many adjustments my presence required. Thinking back now, I know he was trying to erase any evidence of gambling, or mafia activities.
My father’s apartment belonged to him as a bachelor, and we did not fit together comfortably at the dining room table because it was really a card table. The hifi ensemble was polished mahogany wood with gold leaf trim. My father liked gold; it seemed to frame everything in the house, even the silverware. I ran my fingers along the corners of his record collection to see whom he liked: Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Johnny Mercer, and Tommy Dorsey. The records were in perfect condition and I wanted to play them.
“ I spent all my life in night clubs with music–I can’t stand it in my home. You can play the stereo when I’m out.”
“When were you in nightclubs all the time?” I asked.
“What? Don’t be concerned with my life; concentrate on yours.”
From our terrace facing west, the view was organized beauty. Every thing was in squares and straight lines in Beverly Hills 90210. I liked to sit on the terrace and look out; imagining all the lives going on at once. Every time I sat down, my father asked me to come inside and do something. He didn’t like me sitting on the terrace, exposed and vulnerable. When he came in to say goodnight, he reminded me to close the drapes. The drapes pestered him all his life; ever since the night the bullets shattered the glass of Benjamin Siegel’s undraped window.
I loved my father’s shadow in the door before I went to sleep. He blew me a kiss, and said, “Sweet dreams my little girl.” He liked me being a little girl at certain times.
I came to live my father in 1966, when he was fifty-nine. He wasn’t active int he oil business, but he received royalty checks every month . He had tiny gold oil-well paperweights on his desk. When his checks came in, he showed them to me and said, “That’s royalty income from my oil wells in Texas.” I heard him talk about his friend, Lenoir Josey, who sponsored him in business. Josey died the same year I was born, but my father wanted me to know the name–Lenoir Josey. I was proud to fill in “Oil Engineer” as my father’s occupation on school applications. None of my friends had fathers in the oil business. I imagined my father was very rich.
When he left the apartment, I studied his possessions. He had a black-and- white photograph of my mother hanging on the wall above the couch. It was one of those glossy modeling photographs that she had hidden from us. My father told me it was published in the newspaper, an advertisement for Bullock’s. After inspecting my own reflection in the mirror, I considered myself adopted. At thirteen, I was flat-chested, with thick frizzy brown hair that I continually tried to straighten, long shapeless legs, and braces on my teeth. My lips quivered when I was forced to smile, and my eyes were so light that the sun bothered them. I despised the way I looked.
There was a swimming pool on the roof garden of the Doheny Towers. On the weekends, a lunch counter opened and served hot dogs and hamburgers. Every Saturday my father went up to the roof to swim, and kibbitz with the neighbors. He cheerily demanded that I join him, because he said, “I want to get to know my girl.” I think he wanted me to watch him as he entertained everyone. He told the best stories. Even tough I didn’t understand most of them–the neighbors laughed like they do on television shows when the applause sign flashes on and off. All of them sat around Allen Smiley and listened. Telling stories was my father’s favorite past time.