WHY DEL MAR


DEL MAR RACE TRACK

I am a diarist. I record life around me so I can understand, as if by understanding I will find peace. Recording the exaggerated emotion and incidents of life began as a young girl when my mother gave me a diary.  A good storyteller has to live life differently than the rest of us; otherwise, the stories will be predictable.

My father had those kinds of stories.

Allen Smiley: Illegal immigrant, Russian Jew, convicted criminal, hoodlum, extortionist, con-man, racketeer, bookmaker, tout, pimp, and high-ranking lieutenant and best friend of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

 “ Luellen, You have to come and get me out of here.”

“Daddy, what’s wrong?”

“Just come down here and get me.

“Daddy you’re in the hospital.”

“I know where I am. They’re coming to get me.”

The phone call had woken me up. It was the first of several that night. I sat up in bed and looked at the clock.

It was past midnight. Why was he up so late? I called the hospital and asked to speak to the head nurse. I told her about the phone call. She said he was hallucinating, and that he’d refused medication.  That was the first time I had ever sensed desperation in my father. He was afraid they were coming to get him. Who were they?

Several days later the phone calls stopped. He died as secretly as he had lived. There was an absence of publicity or concern. I knew what to do. He had given me instructions. I  was to go to the bank, draw out what money was in the account, and go on a vacation.

“Clear the hell out of town. Reporters may start calling, don’t talk to any of them. Don’t trust anybody; remember what I’ve been telling you all these years. “

I took his phone book, the photograph of Benjamin Siegel, and one of his baseball caps. I packed up his black El Dorado  Cadillac, and shot out of Los Angeles. It was the final scene of the first half of my life. I drove south on 405 hwy down to Del Mar. There was nothing waiting for me in Del Mar; no friends, or job, or anything to connect to. I only knew that when my feet touched the Del mar beach, I had to move there.

That summer I went to the Del mar Race Track and sat in the bleachers just like anyone else, wearing a hat, drinking Long Island Iced Tea and trying to see with the blinding sun in my eyes. It was strange to sit with the general public. The few times my dad took me to Santa Anita we sat in the Turf Club. I had no idea my father was part of the historical narrative of Del Mar race Track, and of Del Mar history.

After living in San Diego more than ten years, I returned to Los Angeles for a job offer. One afternoon I visited my father’s walking path along Ocean Park in Santa Monica. He walked from one end of path to the other beginning at San Vicente and ending in Venice. Afterwards we’d stop at the Lobster House for a plate of fish and chips, and a cold beer.  While I was walking in his memory, imagining him next to me, I looked up and recognized one of his walking pals, Sonny Barry. He looked like a retired Vegas dealer; dark shades, v necked open shirt, and Beverly Hills signatory gold chain with a Star of David.

‘Hi Sonny, how are you?” I called out.

Sonny turned and looked, raised his tanned arms up in the air, “For crying out loud, Luellen sweetheart.”

“Where have you been—how’s everything, gee you look terrific.”

Sonny called out to another man in the near distance, sitting on a park bench. “ Sandy come look whose here.”

“Luellen, you know Sandy Adler, he was friends with your Dad a long time ago. Sandy Adler, my father had mentioned his name, but I didn’t know how they met or when. He was another man that fit into the mysterious and unspoken years he was partner with Ben.

“Oh well, I haven’t seen you since you were a little girl.”

“You knew my Dad when we lived in Bel Air?”

“ Way before that; I knew your Dad when he was with Benny Siegel—and I knew your mother.”

It was the mention of my mother, who died when I was thirteen that pierced my antenna of interest. Sonny stood back while  Sandy took my hand, and said let’s take a walk. We walked along the bluffs overlooking the pacific ocean. He spoke slowly, and paced himself as if the memories were lodged in books and he had to dig into them.

“ I ran the El Rancho hotel in Vegas, and then the Flamingo. I knew your Dad very well, he was some classy guy.”

“ Oh I remember the Flamingo but not the El Rancho.”

“ Well, anyway-where are you living now?”

“I just moved back to Los Angeles, I was living in Del Mar.”

“ Del Mar?  I owned the old Del Mar Hotel –in fact your mother and father used to come down and stay there.”

“ He never mentioned Del Mar to me.”

“ He had his reasons; yea they came down during the race meet and stayed at the hotel. I remember them coming down, one time, and Allen got upset with your mother. They were having quite an argument. Your father left, and I walked with your mother on the pier, and tried to comfort her.”

I couldn’t utter a word I just listened. The Del Mar Hotel had burnt down before I moved there.  I’d seen photographs of the hotel, and heard stories about the Hollywood stars that stayed there. It was a magical legend in Del Mar, everyone who lived during its glory days talked about it.

It was sometime after that, that I walked in the sand where the hotel had been located.  I understood that one day I would begin plucking away at my family history.

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


DEL MAR BEACH, CA.

Deutsch: irgendwas ist an diesem Strand immer los
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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