WRITING MY WAY HOME.


This is a previous post (2011) that I am re posting for new readers.

MY FAMILY  history was brought to life in an unpublished memoir.   The stories lived on during a long arduous journey of research and trying to get published.   Sometimes I read pages to get close to my parents.  I squeeze in between them like a ghost, hear their voices, and see their expressions.  If I remove the outside world, the hum of the hotel air-condoning , the delivery trucks, and speeding motorcycles,  I can remember swimming in the pool with my mother.  I see her bathing cap strap pulled down across her chin, her red lipstick, and her one-piece strapless bathing suit. I can see her freckles, and her long slender arms backstroking as she swam.scan0013

Early in 1960 my father decided to build a swimming pool in the backyard of our house on Thurston Circle.  I had just completed swimming lessons and asked my father for a pool. Years later he told the story: “My little girl asked for a pool, and I built her one.”   I think he built the pool for my mother.   He was under investigation with the FBI and Department of Justice, and spent most days in court defending himself against a deportation order to Russia.   Subpoenas, arrests, and trials were routine events that tied my parents together against a world of misunderstanding.  After eleven years of nail biting suspense, my mother just wore out.  The pool was built with the intention of removing my mother’s anxiety and sadness.   My father designed the shape of the pool around the original pool at the Garden of Allah, a highly scandalous Hollywood hotel apartment that attracted starlets and gangsters in the early 30’s.  I know this tiny detail from photographs I’ve seen of the Garden pool.   More obscure details surrounding the building of our pool were found reading his FBI files.

MWSnap1562

My father accused the pool contractor of being an informant for the government.  One sunny afternoon he marched him out of the house. I was hiding behind a drape when the confrontation broke out.  I recall the big shouldered contractor running from my father’s threats.  Most likely an FBI agent was parked outside and  followed the man after he scampered out.

The pool was finally completed in mid 1961.   There are photographs of my mother and I in the pool; her smile is radiant and naturally composed.  She and I swam everyday.  My father  loved to swim too, but he was busy with court proceedings and meetings.  Before the year ended my mother filed for divorce, the house burnt down, and I was released from childhood. I don’t regret those events any longer.  They were steps that shaped my character, and what brings me back to the topic of growing up with gangsters.

The best memories of my childhood are in swimming pools and restaurants with gangsters and gamblers.  They were part of the family, and when they were around my father was on very good behavior, and my mother defenseless against their irresistible humor, pranks, and generosity.   She just sort of glided in and out of activities, and helped me ride the vibrations.   She didn’t laugh out of herself like I do, and she rarely yelled.   The older I get, the less I seem to be like her.  Maybe the passage of life experiences determines which parent you will take after. Had I married and had children, maybe I’d be more like her. Since I get into all kinds of tricky situations, and throw the dice, I need my father’s strength more.

Over the years, I have forgotten some of the dead reckoning discoveries I made about our family history.  Still nothing compares to reading about my Aunt Gertie.  She was my father’s sister. Until I read about her in the FBI file, I didn’t know she existed. I haven’t figured out why my father left her out of our life. According to the FBI files she was a remarkably loyal sister. Gertie was the one who confronted the federal agents when they arrived at the family home in Winnipeg, Canada.  She pushed my grandmother out of the interview, and spoke for the family.  The agents showed her a recent photograph of my father.   She told them that her brother left home when he was twelve and they had not seen him since.  She could not verify the identity of the photograph because almost twenty years had passed.  The agents left without any evidence and continued to search for the birthplace of my father. Every time he was arrested, he entered a different birthplace.  He named Chicago, New York, Detroit, and Los Angeles.  His origins were discovered through a letter that his mother had written when he was fifteen and confined to a boys reformatory.  The letter was turned over to the FBI, and that is how they discovered his parents lived in Winnipeg.  The government could not deport my father to Russia without verification from his family. Eventually my father won the battle. He was granted citizenship in 1966, two weeks after my mother died.

Gertie died after my father. I don’t know if they corresponded over the years.  I have learned enough about my father to know he was protecting her from further harassment.  Maybe if my father lived longer they would be coming after me.

FREE STEPS


The ripples of my life.
The ripples of my life. (Photo credit: Athena’s Pix)

 

Unprepared, who knows where

The leaves will fall

They don’t plan

Where to land

Maybe New York

Maybe Los Angeles

The postman can find

The house I live in

It is only walls

That keeps me inside.

Undisclosed strangers will walk in our paths

Cross our hearts and

Tread our minds

Unidentified

We traverse our hearts discourse

Shooting for dreams of undiscovered lands

More weightless plans

I don’t know if I can see ahead

My steps like stones thrown in the river

Ripple on the banks of everyone’s estate.

 

Skipping towards freedom

In summer rays of light.

Like a leaf I break free from the branch of life.

 

Revising from the Inside Out


 

  1. I’m sitting outside in a flowerless garden because no matter how many flowers I plant, they only last one season, if that long. The garden is erupting out of its winter coat, and lime green buds will have to do for now. The sky that seals me in is licked with revisionary hope;  the kind that comes back laundered and fresh after a  recess from disbelieving in the possibility of a life correction.

Behind the garden, a neighbor is drumming a soft tribal beat, and on Palace Avenue, the choir is singing inside the Episcopal Church. Between these distinctive tastes, there are sparrows fluttering from fan to nest to fountain. The chattering sounds like, “here she comes, don’t come over here, get out of my nest, watch out for that fat crow.”

It’s a mind drift, to be caught in such unstructured beauty, away from the manuscripts, remotes, doors, and phones. It’s like being on an island out here. Everything we bring into our experience can be revised; a work of art, a way of speaking, thinking, portraying yourself, your way of loving, or lusting, and we all know about appearance, because our society shoves it down our throat.

Look at the possibilities in revising our patterns of behavior. What we accepted 20 years ago doesn’t mean it’s carved in our organs. We can transmute. The interior life needs lifting and tightening, just as our mind and muscles do. You won’t find any immediate remedy, or advertisements, or books on the subject because we’re consumers of products that change and revise only the visible tangibles. I wonder if I traded in my 11-year-old Land Rover for a new one if I’d be really happy, and for how long?

images
ISADORA DUNCAN

My homework for the next few weeks.  Life corrections begin with edits, then revisions, and then you have a new story!

EDITS AND REVISIONS IN THE GARDEN


East Palace Avenue Santa Fe
East Palace Avenue Santa Fe (Photo credit: paigeh)

SMILEY’S DICE-ADVENTURES IN LIVINGNESS

By:Luellen Smiley

 SANTA FE,NM.

I’m sitting outside in a flowerless garden because no matter how many flowers I plant, they only last one season, if that long. The garden is erupting out of its winter coat, and lime green leaves, plants, and stalks will have to do for now. The sky that seals me in is licked with revisionary hope. The kind that comes back laundered and fresh after a chosen recess from believing in the possibility of a preferred life correction.

Behind the garden, a neighbor is drumming a soft tribal beat, and on Palace Avenue the choir is singing inside the Episcopal Church on Palace Avenue. Between these distinctive tastes, there are sparrows fluttering from fan to nest to fountain. The chattering sounds like; ‘here she comes, don’t come over here, get out of my nest, watch out for that fat crow.’

It’s a mind drift, to be caught in  such UN-structured beauty, away from the manuscripts, remotes, doors, and phones. It’s like being on an island out here.  Everything we bring into our experience can be revised; a work of art, a way of speaking, thinking, portraying yourself, your way of loving, or lusting, and we all know about appearance, because our society shoves it down our throat.

Look at the possibilities in revising our patterns of behavior. What we accepted twenty years ago doesn’t mean it’s carved in our organs. We can transmute. The interior life needs lifting and tightening, just as our mind and muscles do. You won’t find any immediate remedy, or advertisements, or books on the subject because we’re consumers of products that change and revise only the visible tangibles. I wonder if I traded in my eleven year old Land Rover for a new one if I’d be really happy, and for how long? Or if I flew to Los Angeles and bought cartons of antiques, hats, and perfume if I would be grinning from ear to ear.

I begin with revising the way I experience Santa Fe. I’ve lived on the outskirts, like a storm that blew in and is waiting to blow out. It seems my storm is here for now, and so I let go of the criticism and intolerances.  Beginning with my favorite activity, dancing, I returned to  El Farol, my chosen dance hall hullabaloo, then to La Posada across the street and mingled with an assorted group of locals, guests, and actors, (who were real as pippin apples)spent a day cruzing the ghostly town of Madrid to experience the cinematic sparseness, and walked up and down Canyon Road one morning before the shops opened, and was greeted half a dozen times by strangers out walking, uniquely different in attire, disposition and stride. I love that about Santa Fe. You don’t conform, it’s a religion here!

My homework for the next few weeks is revising the interior doors of emotion, and the exterior doors of expression. I’ve set aside the memoir, (did I mention I started that again) after a publisher suggested major rewrites and editing.  I mean you have to know when to give up because you’re not going to make the team.  I’m a six page essayist. If you get me into one hundred and fifty pages, I march all over the globe and lose the reader.

You guys are smart. You know all of this; I’m just learning. I am a case of insufferable arrested development. If I felt my age, which most of you know, I’d be looking at retirement brochures. Instead I’m planning on breaking into new territory. Its a joke between my dreamer self and my inner critic, but I’m not listening to the critic.

Today I swiveled in my desk chair trying to write the column I thought I was going to write. In between gazing out the window at sky scenery, I made oatmeal cookies, watched the birds, took care of business, had a hair cut, plucked at paragraphs from Anais Nin, and danced on the treadmill. The column didn’t come out of a conscious thought wave; it just rose up, after I typed the words, the throw of the dice. The odds were I’d find my way from there.

My dad the gambler, who laid a bet on everything from sports, horses, gaming, to the Academy Awards and elections, taught me many valuable lessons. He actually told me once, ‘Take a chance for heavens sake! Go out and get arrested.’ He knew the odds of that, which is why he dared me. Life corrections begin with edits, then revisions, and then you have a new story!

Any dice to throw email:folliesls@aol.com

THE MEMOIR IN PROGRESS


 

                                                                           MY HOODLUM SAINT

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. Naive, 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.

 

MY KENNY


Glaspalast München 1900 060
Image via Wikipedia

 

 

 

The Summer of 1973. Los Angeles.

 

Ken drove a rusty VW hippie van that configured around his restless and unpredictable patterns.  He was known to drive, stop, and stay in the same spot three days. Our adventures began on Pacific Coast Highway driving along without any direction or plan.  Ken would be singing the blues, and I’d be sitting in the back, stretched out, watching him in the rear view mirror. He had cloudy blue eyes that perpetuated the intensity of his tortured soul. The only time they didn’t appear preoccupied was when he was playing the piano. I’d noticed that the first time he took me home to meet his parents, Bernie and Anna Marie.

 

They lived in hillside split level home. The first level belonged to Ken.  As soon as we crossed the threshold he darted into a dimly lit carpeted room and sat down at the piano.

“Hi, I’m here!  I have Louellen with me.”

“What! I can’t hear you Ken,” his father shouted back.  It was apparent they were a family that communicated in various tones of yelling; the kinds of people who never consider finding the person they are talking to, they just yell from one level of the house to the other.

“Bernie, I’ brought Louellen– put on a pair of pants!”

“SuEllen did you say?”

“Come on Lou, you gotta meet Bernie.  I told him about you. But he takes so many pills he can’t remember anything.”

“Okay.”

We climbed the stairs to the living room and Ken shook his head as we reached the last step. “The television is always blasting.He thinks he’s deaf.”

 

As soon as I laid eyes on Bernie I could tell he lived his retirement in front of the television, clutching the remote as one does a cigarette. His form had molded the sofa into an abstraction of his physique.

“Bernie, you look great. Can you at least get up to meet her.” Bernie rose reluctantly, rubbed his lower back, and shook my hand. He smiled as if he was happy about meeting me, but I knew he was irritated because I was standing in front of the television set.

“Anna Marie, Louellen’s here.” Ken yelled.

I stood there feeling like a new chair they were inspecting. Ken sensed my predicament; he read people before they even opened their mouth.  Anna Marie came out with a pot holder in her hand.

“Okay Lou–this is the family. Now everyone back to their places.”  I was the only one that laughed.

“Your cooking smells so good.” I said to Anna.

”It’s nothing, just dinner for us.”

“Mom‘s the best cook in the world. Did you make my potatoes?”

“Yes Ken, I made your potatoes, brisket, coleslaw, blueberry blintzes…
“Mom, there’s four of us—you’re not cooking for the German army.”

 

Anna Marie grew up in Austria during the occupation; the Germans took her family home and everything with it.

Bernie was back on the sofa, and Ken seated next to him in a leather club chair. He was bantering his Dad about watching CNN all day. Bernie talked back to the news reporters, scolded the football players, and grudgingly laughed at the comedies. It appeared Anna Marie wasn’t worth talking to any longer. She masked her sadness poorly; it was written so everyone could read her.

“What college are you going to Louellen?” Bernie asked.     “ Sonoma State.”

“Somoa what? Never heard of it. Ken’s in law school– aren’t you Ken?”
“What? Did someone say something to me?” Ken winked at me.

“You wouldn’t know if someone clubbed you on the head for Christ’s sake. Why don’t you straighten up and start taking things seriously. All you do is drive around in that heap of junk in the driveway, that leaks oil by the way, and you need a bloody haircut!”

“What was the question?”

They went on like that and I recognized the mental match between father and son. I walked through the white carpeted living room feeling it’s history; safe and predictable, like coming home would always be the same. I noticed Anna Marie’s garden;, tiny rows of perfectly nurtured flowers set inside a large freshly mowed yard that looked untouched  since Ken was a teenager.

 

I found Anna Marie in the kitchen stirring and juggling pots.

“Would you like something to drink Louellen?”

“No, I’m fine. What a feast you’ve made.  Do you always cook like this?”

“Well, it never goes to waste. I got used to cooking for all the boys–Ken has three brothers you know.”

Just then Ken came in, kissed his mother on the ear and opened all the lids of the pots.

“Kenny,don’t you dare,” she said. Ken took a bite out of a potato and she yelped as if she was surprised. It was their playful match that had been going on for years.

 

Through out dinner I watched Ken; how he deferred their questions and manipulated the conversation so it remained directionless like his driving. After dinner we went downstairs to the piano room. Ken slammed his hands on the keyboard, and starting playing some Dixieland jazz. He looked over at me and smiled triumphantly.

“ Bernie hates it, he’s always hated it. I do this to drive him nuts. He can’t stand my playing the piano-the poor bastard doesn’t have a creative cell in his body. He used to break into my classical lessons and start yelling his head off. ”

“Kenny! I can’t hear a thing! Shut the door!” Bernie hollered.  Ken let out a thunderous roll of laughter and kept right on playing.  Each time we returned to have dinner with Bernie and Anna Marie, the routine slackened,  and I felt more at home. I grew to like Bernie, and the feeling was mutual. Anna Marie would not allow herself to feel something for me, in case I had any ideas of taking Ken away. I spent the rest of that summer trying to help Ken figure out what to do, while he unknowingly was teaching me about my essence.

One day towards the end of the summer my father called me.   “Ken’s father called asking if I knew where his son was.”

“Ken’s gone?” I answered.

“Apparently that’s the situation. What the hell kind of family is you mixed up in? What a thing to ask me. Ken told his father he was driving you back to Sonoma in September. Is that right?”

“Yes, he offered to.”

“Well, you can forget about that. If the bum does come back, I don’t want you going out any longer. His father isn’t all there.”

“That’s funny.” I said.
“What’s so funny about it?”

“That’s what Ken says about him.”

“Well in any case–forget the bum–he’s not going anywhere. His father went on for half an hour and I heard everything I need to hear. He had the audacity to tell me he read about me in the newspapers.”

“What about?”

“That’s irrelevant. The point is you don’t reveal what you know about someone.”

“Why not?”

“Because you have the upper hand.”

That fall I returned to Sonoma, Ken dropped out of law school, and my father was arrested again.  Bernie and Anna Marie remained together until Bernie passed away. Ken moved to the southern tip of Baja and plays piano in a resort. Every few years he drops me a line, and we talk about Bernie and my dad.

 

ADVENTURES IN LOVINGNESS


Carson McCullers photographed by Carl Van Vech...
Image via Wikipedia

The sky is brush stroked with rivers of grey clouds interceding the passing blue of the day. I feel breathed, my heart exhausted, and my spirit is groping for remission, like an Advil into a hangover.

I remember my childhood, my first kiss, the day I announced to a class of fellow writers that I was a writer too. Our teacher, Emily, instructed all of us to stand up and say it. I resisted internally, and afterward the effect was as she promised, it became second nature.

I don’t know how I will remember the dragon episode, which turn in the labyrinth will remain most vivid; until now, imagining a folder and how I would label it, The We of Me, the phrase borrowed from Carson McCullers short story, “The Member of the Wedding.” I read all of Carson’s books when I lived in Saratoga Springs, NY. Carson spent several seasons as an artist in residence at Yaddo Art Colony in Saratoga, and was known to escape at night down to Congress Street, and sit in a saloon sipping brandy. The story is entwined around Frankie, a young girl in love with her brother, who has just married and is moving to Alaska. Frankie wishes to go with them.  “A sweet momentary illumination of adolescence before the disillusion of adulthood,”[4wikipedia “It happened that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old. This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member. She belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world. Frankie had become an unjoined person who hung around in doorways, and she was afraid.”

Last summer, I was not hanging around looking out at the world, I was on the porch, serving wine and crispy chips, while Rudy loaded Pete Rodriquez in the CD player,” Can I play it one more time?” he shouted, and John basting chicken over the Barbeque, draped in my William Sonoma apron, and I am drifting through the epilogue unaware that these moments will turn into sculpted memories, of a summer in Santa Fe. But for then, we lasted until the sun melted in the horizon and Rudy ran out of Kelly’s Cove stories. We were joined, we had our own club. Sometimes Jewels joined us, or LimoLoren, and there was a ribbon around the house, all of us were tied to the harmony of the we of me.

John won’t be coming back; there is too much brittleness, and astonishment in my life. As before, but not the same, Rudy is here, he just appeared in the doorway, “Come see what I did in the garage.” Our garage was transformed into a movie theater after I mistakenly poked the wrong button on the gate remote, and the automatic doors crashed into Rudy’s van. Yesterday, he strung red lights along the perimeter of the adobe building. He does these things to cheer me.

A lot of people I know are falling out of love, or have been asked to stop loving someone they thought they loved. There’s a group of us at La Posada; Victor the Cuban singer just broke up with Ruth, “ I’m going crazy–I’m Latin, without a woman—I cannot do it.” And Eddie, who just broke up with his girlfriend, “Two years-Oh well, I just move on. What can you do?” and Tobey; who has figured out how to forget his girlfriend’s fatal fall from a hillside where she was hiking, he is now the master of mingling. Then there’s Sam Shepard, whose pain is transparent, without a spoken word, it’s in his vigilant Mustang eyes, and in the angle he looks at the world. There are a lot of us; who have fallen from grace with someone who thought they could love us. Then, comes the reoccurring incident; whether it is about money, lovemaking, or the act of communicating with anger or restraint, that suddenly bloats up to the size of a thunder cloud, and bursts through all the promises and collective dreams.

After my burst with John, I went over to La Posada to escape the chattering in my head. My pal, White Zen, who I’ve named for her constant calm joined me at the bar. Raul was on duty, he’s been there since before all the Anglos discovered Santa Fe. He’s seen the white lightning of movie stars, and the Indian Shamans with feathers and folklore.  Raul takes all of us in his stride; which is slow as molasses. Don’t try and rush Raul, because he will ignore you, and your drink will be watery by the time you get it.

I was sitting there, with a glass of wine, when I recognized the man next to White Zen. At the same moment, the juxtaposition of reckoning beckoned us off our stools and we hugged. Dancing Bear, I’ve missed you I said, or something like that. Dancing Bear is a New York Santa Fe success. Unlike so many people I’ve met, he lives here,   works globally, and he’s in big demand right now.

Dancing Bear smiles even if his mouth isn’t smiling, you know he is inside. He’s in the tidal wave of dreams coming true, but not without their own claim ticket on your soul. Someone is always disposed if you’re catching big tuna. Now this night, goes like this.

“ Look if I don’t fuck up this dance–if I don’t fuck it up; it’s going to be something I’m really proud of.”  He emphasizes this with one hand, raised eyebrows and a slight bend in his neck.

“And you won’t.  How long have you lived here?”

“Do you know how I ended up in Santa Fe?  I was living in Los Angeles, driving on that freeway all day, and a friend said, ‘ Hey, you otta come to Santa Fe.’ Never even heard of it, so I came, that was 1983(I think it was 83) and bought a house, and moved here permanent a few years ago.  I could live in New York–in a minute, I love New York, Los Angeles, no- what for, my daughter’s not growing up in the Palisades.” He looks at Raul, they share another story, because they’ve known each other years, then Dancing Bear slaps the wooden bar with one hand, his face creases into a private memory; “El Farol!” he shouts. “Those are the memories, everyone was there, it was the most amazing time.”

“John and I used to go every Tuesday,” Dancing Bear wasn’t listening; he was swept into the memory. His eyes looked right through the mirror behind Raul’s bar. I wished I had seen it then. I didn’t get to El Farol until 1998.

“ Now—okay–I mean right now, after all these years,

I have my ex-wife-ex-wives, and their children, husbands, whatever, and they are in my life-okay–they are in my life.” I tried to speak, but his bear mouth wiped me out.

“They are in my life.. forever.”

“What does Dancing Dora say about that?”

“I’ll tell you what she says; they all sit down to her table at Thanksgiving. All of them. And it’s cool. Not all the time… this one with that problem, the kid with that, but in the end it works.. it works.”

“ It didn’t work with John and me.”

“ You got nothing to be ashamed of.. okay. A lot of people cannot handle it.. my friends think I’m crazy.”

“So do mine.” I said.

Lula Carson McCullers adapted the book, A Member of the Wedding to stage in 1950, then to film in 1987, and into television in 1997.  Lula wrote until her body failed her, and her hands crippled. She dictated her unfinished autobiography “Illumination and Night Glare” (1999) just before she died. She wrote her first book at twenty-three, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

 Carson’s major theme; the huge importance and nearly insoluble problems of human love.” – Tennessee Williams.

 

AFTER MY FATHER DIED.. I DROVE TO DEL MAR, CA


DEL MAR BEACH, CA.
Deutsch: irgendwas ist an diesem Strand immer los
Image via Wikipedia

Dreams we all have; comfort, love, and health, peak through the brown stalked winter trees, through the blinding white cloud cover pushing through icy winds, and snow storms that settle on the lonely sidewalk, and rise to my drape-less window.

On such a Saturday, I am slacking on the downstairs sofa with a tray of coffee, and all that separates me from my dreams is the rustle of fear. The windows reflect snippets of promising outcomes to developing friendships, travel, a script in progress, and properties on the edge of default. Overlapping these is a mirage of life experiences tucked into memory prescriptions you take on a stormy day. A relic of my history rises, and reminds me of the fear I once broke through.

It was 1982, and I was poised on a terrace overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Venice Beach. It was March, the month my father died, and I stared at the horizon at dusk, and imagined my freedom taking flight. Where would I go? Without his presence in Los Angeles, and my sister who had already moved to New York, I was terribly alone. The replacement came in summer flings, with men who had crossed my path; a photographer, a New Jersey computer technician with a brassy voice and Joe Pesci humor, and every few days, Kenny, a former boyfriend, dropped by to smoke his pipe of philosophy and blow long-winded ideas on where I should move.

“I really want to move to Canada.” I said.

“For what? To go ice-skating?” He said between puffs.

“I have family in Vancouver.”

“What family? You’re an orphan now.”

“I am not. I have cousins in Vancouver. My father’s nephews.”

“Oh Yea. When was the last time you saw them?”

“When I was twelve.”

“Terrific! That’s a solid-ass plan. So what will you do in Canada?”

“Get a job in real estate.”

“Lue! Wake-up. You can’t get work in Canada unless you’re a citizen. Forget that idea. You’re better off staying here; look where you are; Santa Monica, the beach at your feet. Are you crazy?”

“I don’t belong here any longer.”

“You don’t belong to anywhere; what you need is to stop trying to be a big-shot like your father.”

“I am not.”

“When was the last time you left the country; when you were eighteen? Go to Rio, you’ll have the time of your life, or Italy, or Greece–it doesn’t matter. Just take the chance and see how you land on your feet. You’re a dreamer, it’s about time you made one of your dreams come true.”

In the next few weeks, I met with Larry, my boss, who was liquidating his real estate portfolio to retire at forty-five years old. Larry wasn’t just an investment visionary; he was passionate about social, political, medical, scientific and human interests. He was a genius.

“You can stay here another year–I’ll find something for you to do, but you’ll be bored.” Larry told me.

“Larry, I don’t know where to go.” I wiped a tear. He ignored it.

“You have to get out of LA. You’ll never meet anyone here. You think you’ll be introduced to someone riding up and down the elevator in Century City.  I’ve spent a lot of time in Del Mar, and Rancho Santa Fe. They’re nice people.  You have a chance there, go down and spend a few days and tell me what you think. I’ll help you. Now, stop crying. “

I drove down in Dad’s black El Dorado, and parked at Del Mar Beach right next to the life guard station at the Poseidon Restaurant.  I opened my suitcase, took out a bathing suit and went into the beach bathroom. The tile was wet and smelled of seaweed and salt. I walked barefoot down to the beach. It was early spring, the sand was unmarked.  A few surfers jogged past me, blonde and bronzed like the Beach Boys. I followed them down to the seashore.  In every direction, there was this untouched canvas of light and color; even the beach houses retained their natural sandy simplicity.

After I swam in the ocean, I went back to the bathroom, changed into dry clothes and walked into town.  A man with a beard rode past me on a horse and waved. I picked up a Reader and read the rental advertisements on the patio of Carlos n Charlie’s, corner café.  A roommate advertisement caught my eye; “Roommate Wanted to Share large two bedroom overlooking Torrey Pines Reserve.” I called and a man who went by the name of Smokey answered the phone. He invited me to come by for a look. His voice was predominantly ranch friendly, so I took a drive over. It did occur to me on the drive that I was taking that chance Ken was blowing in my ear, and I was listening to Larry who told me that people in San Diego were different.

“Hi, I’m Smokey. Come in—would you like something to drink? Too early for cocktails, unless you want one.”

“No thanks. How long have you lived here?”

His eyes were animal alert, his face tanned and his hair cut short but made to look long.  His smile was unfiltered with hidden motives, and he was bull-legged.

”I moved from Pittsburgh; I’ll never go back except to see my folks. This is paradise. Don’t you think? I’ve lived her two years. I rent out one room, because I hate full time work. I’m more entrepreneurial. You don’t have to worry about my motives. I have a girl-friend, and I’m in love with her. She doesn’t stay here. I go to her house. You’ll have your space, and if you need a friend I’m here. Come out on the balcony.”

I followed Smokey and we stood on the terrace overlooking the lagoon and marshlands of the reserve. To the west, the ocean and the stump of Torrey Pines Mountain.

“Wait till sunset; you’ll never want to leave. Come look at your room. I can help you move if you want.”

The room was downstairs, his upstairs, and a stairway of trust in between.

“I’ll take it. When can I move-in?”

“Whenever you wish.”

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.

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