HOME IN SOLANA BEACH

1930’s

Looking west to a smear of dusty crimson sunlight, a young man of twenty stood on the shoulder of Highway 66 waiting to hitch a ride. A powder blue Cadillac pulled up and the lad was caught in a puff of loose gravel. When the dust settled, a woman dressed in a two piece matching suit leaned over from the driver’s seat.
“Say fella, can you drive one of my cars to California? I’ll pay the expenses,” she yelled out the window. Another Cadillac pulled up next to hers with a jerk stop. 
The lad stared into the shine of the car. It looked like wet paint and he was tempted to touch it.
“Sure will, yep I’ll do that. Should I get in now?” The young man answered.
“I need to see your driver’s license.” She added.
The man hastily drew out his license from a dusty plastic cover inside his billfold. She looked it over, and smiled. “All right Maurice, keep in close to us on the road, don’t get lost. We’re going far as Needles.”
Maurice held tight to the steering wheel, ‘Geez, ain’t this great, what a car. I’m going all the way from Nebraska to California in a Cadillac.’ He’d forgotten about the sharp pains of hunger, and bloody sores on his feet. Now he was sitting on warm leather seats, with the cold night air off his back, and ten dollars in his pocket.

Sixty five years later, I’m walking down the street where Maurice lives. We haven’t met yet. I don’t meet my neighbors. I move before I have a chance to care about them. It comes easy to me, being a loner. Then I met Maurice. 

SINGULAR DAYDREAMING


DAYDREAMING
When I watch my wild birds, I daydream of their freedom.

When I listen to Wes Montgomery I dream of Brazil, and riding on a float at Mardi Gras, just once, with a feather hat, and dressed like Rita Hayworth.

When I sit at my desk and look at my mother’s photograph, I dream of the lunch we never had, and the lunch we did have, in  Bullock’s Garden Room, watching the fashion show and discovering tuna salads.

When I lie in bed at night I dream of him, whomever he is, wherever he is, and his strong shoulder cupped around my head, watching an old Cagney movie.

When I shovel snow I dream of California, of old Del Mar and running along the shore barefoot.  When I walk along Palace Avenue in Santa Fe,  I dream of walking in Brooklyn, or 5th Avenue at about 6 pm, when everyone pours into the street, a fountain of limbs and accessories.

Daydreaming unlike night dreaming where we are flying, conquering, or battling some inner masked trauma, illuminates where we want to be, and who we want to be, and if you take it seriously, how to get there. The medicine of daydreaming is unmatched by books, health food, vitamins, yoga, religion, mind altering experiences, it’s the essence of who we are, it defines our reality.

Mostly these days, I daydream6a011168668cad970c0120a94abd12970b-400wim of finishing the longest work-in progress book and as my pal Blair says, finish and move on with your life. For those of you who know me, when the time comes for a diligent writing routine, the act is outwardly selfish. Engagements canceled,  phone is not answered, and my email correspondence drops off.  If a trauma settles in my mind while I’m writing, the rhythm dissipates. Avoidance of the temptations that can draw me away from the work; men, my gal pals problems, Rudy falling off the ladder, and a vacant income.

As I assemble my columns, government transcripts, book excerpts, and emotions into a page of writing what is different this time is I know what belongs and what doesn’t. The worst part of writing for me is vacillating, that mind twist of indecision. It is like the indecision of moving, or breaking up, or taking a different outlook, one you’ve never even considered before.

The world we are living is not familiar; everyday it erupts with an inconceivable corruption, act of violence, and viciousness against humanity. It’s not the Italian roast coffee that wakes me up, it’s world news.  I feel less and less a part of the humanity and more like a wild creature that is fighting for the past. My outlook on social clubs, synagogue and church congregations, group classes, and all that let’s meet up organizing makes a lot of sense now. Especially if you don’t have children, or a life mate the temptation to retreat into your own world of fantasy is irresistible. My next thread will be on the single life, I can claim expertise in that!

Last night a stranger in a sports jacket, silver hair, and polished shoes sat beside me at the Staub House. He struck a conversation and within fifteen minutes he said, ” I’m going to the Chamber Music Concert series tonight  and next week I go to three operas. ” My interior dialogue is assessing him; he’s very presentable, wears glasses well, and loves the arts. Maybe he will invite me. We continue chatting and then suddenly he switches tenses; it is no longer I, now it is we don’t live in Colorado in the winter, we have a house in Tuscon.

After a few travel stories he says,” I have an extra ticket for tonight. Would you like to go? I’m meeting some friends afterward at the Compound.”  A second of hesitation on my part, as this is the temptation I was talking about.

” I’d have to change and you’re running late.”

”  I guess you’re right. Will you be here tomorrow night?”

” Maybe.”

What’s interesting today looking back, is that he didn’t even lie about being married or involved long-term.  Men use to lie about that didn’t they?  I mean what’s so unusual about having a tryst with a married man today? Daydreaming is not indecisive or dishonest. Maybe one of the most genuine of vices.
http://www.positivelypresent.com

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.

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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.

SMILEY & SIEGEL


THE SIEGEL SMILEY LEGACYReuniting with Millicent at the Mob Experience.
BY: Luellen Smiley
When I was eleven years old  our home burnt to the ground in the Bel Air fire, and everything we owned fell to ash. Shortly after my mother moved us to an apartment in Brentwood, a mammoth carton arrived and was placed in the center of the living room. My mother cut it open and urged me to look inside. I sat cross-legged on the avocado green carpeting and discovered bundles of garments; Bermuda shorts, blouses, sweaters, and shirts.
I quickly shed my worn trousers and stepped into a new outfit, dancing about as I zipped myself in. My mother watched, and echoed my childish yelps of elation.
“Mommy, who are these from?”
“They’re from your Aunt Millicent.”
“Who is she? I don’t remember her.”
“You were a little girl. She loves you very much.”
Years later, my father, Allen Smiley, called and told me to come over to his apartment in Hollywood.
“Why Dad?”
“Millicent is coming by; I told you she moved here, didn’t I?”
I’d learned Millicent was Benjamin Siegel’s daughter, and Ben was my father’s best friend. Dad was sitting on the same chintz covered sofa the night Ben was murdered.
“You mean Ben Siegel’s daughter?”
“Don’t refer to her that way ever again; do you hear me? She is Aunt Millicent to you.”
When my father answered the door, I watched as they embraced. Millicent had tears in her eyes. She walked over to me, and took my hand. I looked into her swimming pool blue eyes and felt as if I was drowning. She sat on the edge of the sofa and lit a long brown Sherman cigarette. I studied her frosted white nails, the way she crossed her legs at the ankles, her platinum blonde hair, and the way her bangs draped over one eye. What impressed me most was her voice; like a child’s whisper, her tone was delicate as a rose petal.
I spent the rest of that afternoon memorizing her behavior. She emanated composure and a reserve that distanced her from uninvited intrusion.
Over the next few years, Millicent and I were joined through my father’s arrangements, but I was never alone with her. When he died in 1982, she was one of only three friends at his memorial service.
As the years passed, and my tattered address books were replaced with new ones, I lost Millicent’s phone number. I had been researching my father’s life in organized crime, and had gained an understanding of my father’s bond with Ben Siegel. My discoveries were adapted into a memoir and recently into a film script about growing up with gangsters. During this time, I had reconnected with several of Dad’s inner-circle, but Millicent was underground, and now I understood why.
Last year I received an email from Cynthia Duncan, Meyer Lansky’s step-granddaughter. She told me about Jay Bloom, the man behind the Las Vegas Mob Experience, a state of the art museum that will take visitors into the personal histories of Las Vegas gangsters. Cynthia contributed her significant collection of Meyer Lansky memorabilia, and assured me Jay was paying tribute to the historical narrative of these men by using relatives rather than government and media sources. She wanted me to be involved.
Despite my apprehensions about the debasing and one-sided publicity that characteristically surrounds gangster history, I contacted Jay. In his return note, he invited me to participate, and added, “Millicent would like to contact you.”
A month later I was seated in Jay’s office waiting for Millicent. When she walked in, I stood to embrace her, and this time the tears were in my eyes.
Millicent’s voice was unchanged and so was her regal posture. “Our fathers were best friends, attached at the hip. Your Dad was at the house all the time. I’ll never forget when he and my mother met me at the train station to tell us about my father’s… death. Smiley was very good to us. My mother adored him too.”
Jay took me on a tour of the collection warehouse, and the history I’d read about unfolded before my eyes. The preview room was like a family room to me, because some of the men had been my father’s lifelong friends and protectors. I stopped in front of the Ben Siegel display case and saw an object that was very familiar.
“My father has the identical ivory figurine of an Asian woman. I still have it.” So much of their veiled history was exposed; between these two men was a brotherly bond that transcended their passing and was even evident in their shared taste in furnishings.
Jay showed me a layout of the Mob Experience in progress. I turned to him and asked, “Is it too late to include my father? All the rooms are assigned.”
“Millicent and I already spoke about it. She wants your Dad in Ben’s room.”
After I returned home, Millicent and I talked on the phone.
“Your father belongs in my Dad’s room. They’ll just have to make Mickey Cohen’s room smaller.”
“My father hated Mickey,” I said.
“So did mine! When are you coming back? I’ll kill you if you don’t become part of this.”

Reuniting with Millicent at the Mob Experience.
Reuniting with Millicent at the Mob Experience.

 

A LADY LIKE AUDREY


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The throw of the dice this week lands on new adventures in selfless livingness.
There is assurance that most of all, above the tasks, aspirations, dreams and commitments; we are dead beats without love. The feeling has to pass through our veins and arteries, as often as possible, from one suitor or another. You can love a moon in a black sky, as much as a man or woman. I believe the feeling it gives us is medicinal. It gives us something no other prescription can. That is why when sickness comes, all the love pours out from friends and family.
This comes at a time when a beautiful woman who is more saintly and then anyone I’ve met, except my mother, is suffering. You wouldn’t recognize the heaviness she is carrying; she remains light and sprite. Her doe birch brown eyes flatter her high forehead, and her silky mane of brown hair that moves like a Clairol commercial, do not interfere with her life. She devotes much of her time to the Good Samaritan manifesto. She regularly offers her time to the various shelters, serves food, and provides loving comfort to the sick with her registered lap poodle. She told me that the residents of the hospice all wait for her to show up.
“It’s amazing; they are all standing there waiting for me to come in. No one visits them. Can you imagine living like that??”
“No.
“You should come with me sometime; it’ll give you a whole new perspective.”
I agreed; and thought about what she said. We all have our way of disposing of selfish acts. Some pray, some donate money, and what I’ve found that works for me is to spread my kookiness and follies without prejudgment. If someone looks sour and glib; that’s the person who needs me. It is a branch of love that will keep on blooming.

 

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.

 

DAYDREAMING


When I watch my wild birds, I daydream of their freedom, and how free I was when I was eighteen.

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

When I listen to Wes Montgomery  I dream of Brazil,  and riding on a float at Mardi Gras, just once, with a feather hat, and dressed like Rita Hayworth.

When I sit at my desk and look at my mother’s photograph, I dream of those few luncheons in the formal  Garden Room on the top floor of Bullocks Westwood, watching the fashion show with her, proud of my model mother, and imitating how she ate the tuna salad.

When I lay in bed at night, I dream of him, and his strong  shoulder cupping my head, watching an old Cagney movie.

When I shovel snow I dream of Southern California, of old Del Mar and sitting on the bench under the crooked tree, in a triangular postcard of the crashing surf, prancing dogs, and the meter maid marking the curb.  When I walk along Palace Avenue in Santa Fe, New Mexico  I dream of walking  5th Avenue at about 6 pm, when everyone pours on to the Avenues, a fountain of limbs and accessories crisscrossing patterns of human tolerance.

Day dreaming unlike night dreaming that takes us on the back of fairy tales and science fiction  battling some inner masked trauma,  illuminates where we want to be, what we need to do,  and intercepts the embroidery of our life.  The medicine of daydreaming surpasses self-help books, health food, vitamins, yoga, religion, or mind altering experiences. It is the essence of our rising emancipation from complacency.

dramatic dream
dramatic dream (Photo credit: unNickrMe)

MY FRIENDS ARE HOME


My friends are beside me once again. It’s been five years since  their faces like postcards of my life, are in my room, lifted out of the box. I  can almost see their wisdom, and lessons floating above the birdcage hanging from the ceiling.  I had forgotten how much I depend on them, a collapse of friendship because my room wasn’t really mine, I shared it with guests, and then New Year, rang out like a jazz quartet of answers to puzzling life questions.  I am not sharing my bedroom anymore. And I am not looking for a job. And I am not going to stop wearing tightjeans, and high heeled boots.

Hello Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Carson McCuller, Nelson Algren, John Gardner, Damon…my books are home.

 

 

CESAER’S SALAD


I moved in with my Dad when I was thirteen years old.  My mother had just passed away, and I arrived with innocence and untrained cooking skills.  Mom was an Irish Catholic meatloaf and corn-beef cook.  Dad was a Russian Orthodox raised  moderate vegetarian, and decided to hire a chef to teach me how to cook.

I came home from school one day, and found Caesar  in the kitchen. He was a stand-in for Paulie in the Godfather, only he had curly black hair, and apple red cheeks.  Caesar was dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and an apron that fell short of fitting him.  Dad instructed Cesar to teach me how to make salads, baked fish, and spaghetti with oil and garlic. Everyday after school, Caesar was in the kitchen preparing dinner for us, and I  stood beside him, observing his chubby knuckled fingers, slice and chop vegetables. We started with what Dad ordered; a meal in a salad, and later coined it Farmer’s Chop Suey. The salad was not just prepared, it was a decorated masterpiece when he finished. During the preparation, I noticed beads of sweat on Caesar’s face, and a jittery nervousness, surfaced just before my father arrived home, “What do you think?  Will Dad approve?”  He asked. I assured him Dad would love the salad.    Cesar and I became pals, and waited anxiously for Dad’s arrival.  He wasn’t all that agreeable. Fastidiousness and perfection are common traits amongst gangsters.  Usually, Dad remarked there wasn’t enough garlic, or there were too many croutons, and Caesar would swiftly correct the complaint.

After Cesar went home,  Dad would talk to me about food, and how everything starts in the stomach, and how the vegetables have to be scrubbed, and the seeds removed.  Three or four times a week Dad dined out, and he didn’t order salads.  He frequented Italian restaurants, and his favorite was Bouillabaisse, with a side of pasta.  I never saw him enjoy any food as much as Borsch with sour cream, and smoked white fish. That was his favorite childhood meal. His  father was a Orthodox  Butcher, a very scared skill that requires a thorough  understanding of Kosher preparation.

About six months had passed, and I came home one day and Cesar wasn’t there.  Instead I found my father in a rage. I asked about Cesar and he told me it was none of my business, and to start preparing dinner.  After my first salad preparation, Dad applauded my presentation, and assured me everything he was teaching me would serve me later on in life. He explained he had to be  harsh and demanding,  because he wanted me to be able to take care of myself properly.

I developed into a moderate vegetarian and have used that salad as a blueprint for most of my meals. Now I create a variety of salads, and a lot more ingredients:  like white beans,  garbanzos, walnuts, tuna, or shrimp,  artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes etc.   My friends call me a free-style cook  because I only use recipes when I’m making soups or stews.

I was very fortunate to grow up with a father who spent hours teaching me what I would need to know in life.  This is something you won’t read or see in a film about growing up with gangsters.

LIVING ON THE EDGE


Fifteen years ago, the summer of 1993, I was having lunch in a restaurant in Los Angeles. Across from me was the only other woman of importance in my father’s life, besides my mother, that I had known. Sandy Crosby, a leggy brunette with bark brown eyes, arched brows, and a showcase smile.

She always had a response that outwitted her opponent, including my father, who relied heavily on, ‘don’t be so smart.’  Half-way through the first course at Jimmy’s, she looked at me and grinned.

“You’re so much like your father.”

“I am?”

“Oh yes.”

“Your father loved living on the edge, he really did.”

I rested on that thought for a long time. I was temporarily living with a friend in Los Angeles. I lived out of a suitcase, with a broken down Cadillac, and a folder of resumes.  My dad  never lived out of a suitcase, or needed a resume to find a job. After he met Benny Siegel, he had multiple offers in organized crime.

What I discovered, is Dad didn’t truly settle down until he had to raise my sister and I. He was 56 years old when Mom died, and we were tossed into his lacquered bachelor pad in Hollywood. The same age I was two years ago.

Living on the edge is a term used to describe infinite lifestyles. The momentum, or ignition that fuels that lifestyle, is uncertainty. We live by impulse and imagination. Our plans are last minute, we never buy in bulk, and we are always dreaming of the voyage. We run from stationary life because at heart, we are gamblers.

This time, the edge is the very place I spent two years creating, the photography gallery and home in Santa Fe. Up until this winter, it operated as a gallery by appointment, while I polished my memoir proposal. After several months, I went to the edge and decided to convert the gallery into a vacation rental. I needed to roam; I longed to gather new material.

The winter climbed back into bed, and then spring ripped through the ground, and the roses and poppies bloomed. The memoir remained unpublished, and the house began to transform from gallery to a real home. The long uneventful winter punctured my prudent habit of writing, remaining secluded, and avoiding everything but the essentials. By May, I made a silent vow under a stream of sunlight, to enlist into the human race.

The reinvention resembled nature, like today. The day began with  a feverish sky of culminating clouds, a long dreary silence, and an absence of light. The street was empty, just the valet from La Posada running to the garage to fetch the cars. They were bundled in winter coats, while the party rental truck loaded the furniture from last evening’s wedding. The storm struck with impetuous force. The valet’s ran with umbrellas, small children yelled for cover, and I took a seat on the back porch. Suddenly, the storm rescinded, and the sun burst through the cloud cover.

My emancipation back into the flow of mixing strangers and friends was alchemy to the house. Now it’s a home; to cook, entertain, and fill with music, laughter and conversation.  I can see the faces of the people I’ve met, imagine the next meeting, and anticipate the next outing. The windows and doors are opened, the people who pass by look in. I was cooking dinner one night this week, and noticed a man peeking in the window. He looked like Harrison Ford, just back from the Lost Arch.

“ Is this a museum?” he asked when I went to the door.

“ No. It’s a gallery, a home. Well come in, and take a look around.”

Opening the door to a stranger returned the affirmation that impulse socializing is still possible in the banal and sterile world of FACEBOO.   You don’t have to be a teenager to recognize a good time, but you need to be an adult to recognize a good fellow.

Some of us lone roamers cannot reverse the inclination to retreat from life; because we find too much confusion, agitation and adversity in the world. Between all of those elements, there are treasures waiting to be discovered: opportunity collaboration, adventure, and most of all companionship.

Even though the comfort of this home has replenished my spirit and temporarily produced a yawn of security, I am preparing to go to the edge. Though I imagine it is another place of endearment, another address, and another gamble, it may be the inner voyage that will transcend.

When I tell people we’re renting the house, they ask me where will you go?

I don’t know yet. Sandy was right; I am like my father. The edge I picked wasn’t a green felt jungle of dice and chips, it’s an artists’ life.

Any dice to throw Email: folliesls@aol.com

 

LIVING WITH TWO MEN PART TWO OF MICE AND MAYHEM


 
The scent and scenery of August on Palace Avenue is a perfume of Plaza pushcarts selling burritos and beef skewers, afternoon thunderstorms splashing the soot and dust from weekend fiestas,low riders spinning and smoking up Palace Avenue, and the  blasting booty bump bass in tempo with the wheels as they rise and fall to the concrete, the motorcyclists on four wheels, with jet black hair flapping the wind, like long tongues, and the bicycle riders, glazed eyes, and head-phones, detached, and daringthe driver to predict their next turn, sometimes women, in street shoes, and hats, gliding by, smiling independently, and then the two grumpy men. Five days a week they walk to and from work past my house.  One wears a chef’s coat and never raises his eyes from the sidewalk, and The Walrus, whose mustache and face, are griddlded into an expressionless tolerance for all things that happen
I left the porch, went inside, where I felt the absence of John and Rudy.
John was in Los Angeles at a screenwriting meeting; a triumph for a guy whose waited more than ten years to get an assignment. I imagined him in a trendy restaurant, seated at a table, one foot tapping the floor,and his right hand clutching the corner of the tablecloth his own peculiar fetish to feed the nerves during suspenseful situations. He‘d be dressed in the outfit I picked out, but the shirt would be loosely tucked because that’s his style.  Rudy was on his way back to Santa Fe, and eagerly waiting to take out his new Bird, a gal he met at our Baron Wolman book signing. 
 
Absence of their conversations, frivolity, dancing, feasting together, two men who share nothing in common except me, sort of like Jules & Jim, only Rudy and I have been like brother and sister, since 2003. He was the only man I ever trusted before John, and thattook many years, but once he went into the vault of truth and loyalty, I trusted him as I did my mother.
 
Then after so many days, my bounce and blush started shedding. It was as if someone tied me to an anchor and I dragged my litheness from room to room trying to fight it, with chores, writing, and then all the structure started crumbling, and I left the lights on all night, and didn’t empty the trash, or go out on the front porch to wave at the La Posada crew I didn’t leave the middle bedroom, the one with the big screen, and I snuggled the silence with old movies,and half read books, and Gummy Bears.  I was a heap, unlike the temporarily tide pools we fall in and out of constantly, this was a tidal wave.

The window facing west is an aquarium of pine and cotton trees, and between them, there is JD’s Tree Tee Pee, left over from Fiesta week, but he’s too busy working on his winter addition, to bother with it.  I can see the 2nd floor of La Posada, Julia’s room, the daughter that killed herself in the bedroom, and is widely known as the Ghost of La Posada I’ve listened in on these stories, and staff members see her. New Mexico storytelling is checkered with ghost stories. I saw the light as it transcends the hours of the day, and found the most beautiful time was four in the afternoon. The sunlight turned the light peach walls to pomegranate, and I felt like I was inside the fruit. If we stop, we see everything so clearly.

I was waiting for Saturday, when Rudy would drive up in the white van, filled with tools and purchases he’d made over the last three years.  He was officially coming home to stay. He’d completed the New Mexico Contractors License Exam and was going to start renovating adobe homes and gardens and spend his days in the place he loved as much as San Francisco.

It might have been a Carole Lombard movie, that got me untangled from the
Gummy bears and Kleenex, and I went out to dinner Friday night with the gal who introduced the Bird to Rudy.  Sipping wine with faces I like, and food that nourishes brought back a flash of light to me, and I was animatedlike an old person right before they die. You ever see that? 
    
Rudy’s room was tided: new soap, washed towels, the closet rearranged so he was able to unpack all his belongings. I was sure there would be a new rattlesnake head. 
     “I have a present for you.” he said on arrival.
 He brought out an Emporio Armani garment bag, his only brand of clothing, and out came a pair of black silk balloon pants. 
” Thought they’d be good for the Cuban Carnival party.
I fancied them, hugged him, and then he scampered in a hundred directions, as he does, and I returned to myself. Rudy was home. To be continued.
 

Out of Control


This week is on control, and losing it. You hear that phrase often enough, “she has control issues.” I’m not sure what that means. I don’t understand how a society of rules and regulations that delivers more commands every day is expected to produce a society without control issues. I lost control of my life and so I am getting in touch with “out of control.”
Bohemian living was always in my dreams, having been raised in a perfectly pressed pinafore and seated on fragile furniture. I am not really very gypsy like when it comes to home. Once upon a time I lived in a suitcase, but I have since been corrupted by the joy of controlling all the things that come into the house and find a place there.

Once faced with this alarming epiphany I vowed to give up control and accept the disorder and disruption. What I’ve rediscovered is that without a lot of stuff to organize the mind is free to think. The house chores are minimal, leaving more time to create and effect important things. Narcissism is sacrificed and replaced with more visceral reflections.

Once I place myself inside the double yellow line of society, I feel those controls closing in on me. Losing control is a replenishment of youthful spirit. It’s free and painless. Try it, take off the leash and run free.

Two days later I was in a hotel, preparing for a reunion, a day of shopping, and luxuries of a woman on the road, when the news broke.. How did you feel when you heard the news. John and I went silent, and drove two hours in more conscientious silence.

JAMMING UP HIP-HOP


Free your mind and the rest will follow; the words from EnVogue’s latest release played all day on the radio. Every time I got in the car to hunt up real estate listings, I heard that song.
I worked in an industrial building along an industrial highway in San Diego. I shared a warehouse with twelve men, eleven of them tall, weight trained football on Sunday guys, who ate at expensive restaurants amongst a club of commercial real estate agents, where they’d be noticed. They were pretty decent guys, except the partners who each had severe a case of ego malnutrition and competed for attention like two tottlers. Greg was the only short one in the bunch, and he wore a rug, manicured his nails, and surfed on the weekends. He was always talking about his Karate black belt, and how he knocked guys out. He rarely laughed and when he did he sounded like a chirping bird. Greg used to give me his wife’s unworn clothes and waited in my living room while I tried them on. It was sort of strange, but he never played the trump card and asked for anything in return.
One day in the summer of 1992 I called the office secretary.
“Gail, I’m not coming in for awhile. Will you forward my calls to my home?”
“Are you all-right?”
“Oh yea. I’m fine.”
“What should I tell Sam?”
“Tell him I’m on leave of absence.”
I lived in a little cottage house in North Park. It was all white with a picket fence and a squared grass yard where my dog played. The front room was small but the carpeting was new, so I could curl up on the rug and watch the clouds from the windows.
I threw my nylons and navy pumps in the garbage, and folded the business suits into boxes. I knew I wasn’t going back, but where I was headed was a throw of the dice.
Mornings I ran through Balboa Park before the crowds arrived, and got to see the zoo keepers feeding the animals, and the actors going into The Old Globe Theater. I filled my senses with virgin light and morning silence, unfamiliar sensations to office workers living with florescent lighting and partition walls. In the afternoon I lounged around in sweats watching music videos, reading magazines and dancing.

I watched some new music videos, maybe EnVogue or Bobby Brown, and tried to imitate the hip-hop moves on the carpet. It was like watching a cat in the snow. I called all the dance schools, and no one was teaching hip-hop. I didn’t know back then my mother was a dancer; so this impulsive and implausible scheme to start a dance troupe startled me as much as everyone I told.
The last lease deal I did was for a group of soccer players from Jamaica. They needed a space to open a reggae dance club. They told me they’d called other agents and no one would take their business. I found a disheveled warehouse and struck a deal for them. They fixed up the warehouse themselves, with colored lights, and some tables, but Rockers was really about the dancing. I walked into the club one night, and they were all doing their part; greeting customers, spinning vinyl, and serving drinks. I danced with Leroy, the leader of the group, and watched him unfold from the waist down. He danced so low to the floor, he appeared boneless.
“Leroy, I’m going to start a dance troupe. You guys inspired me.”
“What kind of dance?’
“Hip-Hop and jazz funk.”
Leroy covered his mouth with one hand and laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“You’re a business woman; I didn’t know you was a dancer.”
“Well, I took lessons a long time ago.”
“Hip Hop?”
“No, Jazz. I’m going to find the dancers to teach. I know there out there.”
“Yea, they out there all right; lots of them.”
“Well see! I’d like to use your space, pay rent of course, when you’re not open.”
“Well that’s all right. You don’t need to pay me.”
I hugged him, and he shook his head. “I don’t think there’s much money in teaching hip-hop.” he said.


At the community college I posted a sign for dancers, and observed some classes. When I got the call from Piper, he asked me to come see him teach at the Church on University Avenue. I drove over one night, and found Piper in a little room upstairs, teaching Jazz Funk to one woman. He was tall and lanky with a smile that creased his whole jaw. He came over, shook my hand, and said, ‘How you doing? I’m Piper.’ He wore an immaculate shield of confidence that defied his nineteen years, and moved at the intersection of Michael Jackson and James Brown. The groove spiraled through his body.
“I’ll help you get it started; if you’re not a trained dancer you need help.”
So Piper and I met every week and finally landed on a group that incorporated Jazz-Funk, Hip-hop and Afro-Cuban. I named the company United Steps Dance Productions, and the Jammers were the hip-hop troupe.


I’ll never forget the look on the partner’s faces when I told them I was starting a multicultural dance troupe. They just stared at me blankly. Then within weeks all five of my unclosed lease deals were signed at the same time. I walked out with enough money to live six months. That was real security in my mind.


Piper and I held our first audition at Rockers. When I opened the doors that morning, dancers were already lined up outside. They came dressed in street clothes; wearing scarves, baseball caps, loose pants, and tank tops. I watched them leap, kick, split, and turn inside out for the job. I knew that I was in the right spot.  One dancer walked out, stood still for a moment, and then leaped into a break-dance pop-lock routine that silenced the crowd. “Him Piper, definitely him.” He’s bad, yea he’s real bad.” At the end of the auditions, Piper mocked me.
“Lue, we can’t sign every dancer just cause they hip-hop. Anyone can do that.”
I can’t hip hop and it’s my company.”
“Yea, and you’re crazy. I swear, Lu you’re crazy.”
We agreed on pop-locker Vince-Master Jam, and Monique, a young Afro-Cuban dancer. That was the beginning.
When Vince and I met, he told me he lived in Escondido.
“But that’s an hour away.”
“It’s cool, I’ll be here. Just give me the chance.”
Vince showed up twice a week at night for his class. Many times, we sat in the cold damp club, listening to music and Vince tried to teach me to pop-lock. I apologized for not having students and he looked at me, and said, “ Don’t worry Lue, will get it going on.”


Our first performance was at the Red Lion Hotel. I hired a video tech to record the performance. We got a free dinner and a hundred dollars. We had a good crowd, and everyone loved them. Afterwards in the dining room, they were talking, laughing and elbowing each other. Piper was ranting about Monique taking too much time, and Vince was telling Piper to chill because Monique was so good. I sat there just listening, with a big smile on my face.
The Jammers belonged to the no smoking, no drinking, no drugs group. For the first few months, they taught on tiled floors under a leaky roof, without any heat. But they kept coming back to teach and their dedication moved me to find a better location. We relocated to a well-heeled Health Club downtown San Diego and the classes filled up with students, dancers, and office workers searching for a new lunch. They came from all different races; Asian, White, Hispanic and Black. I danced with the classes and promoted our troupe. The Jammers laughed at my attempt to be a soul sister, and I laughed with them. We were reviewed by KPBS magazine, and a photographer took pictures of us and featured us in the magazine.
Searching for gigs proved to be an exasperating struggle. I called department stores, festival producers, shopping centers, nightclubs, hotels and everyone had the same line, “I don’t think hip-hop is right for our clientele.”
When I ran out of money I took a job managing a condominium project, where I lived rent free. After a time of observing the Jammers self expression, I asked myself, what is mine? I still refused to get on stage. Vince used to bawl me out because I made Piper introduce the group.
After two years Piper moved to Los Angeles to launch his dancing career, and I let Vince take the troupe where he wanted it to go. He turned it around, adding twelve dancers and broke more ground in San Diego. Monique developed into a serious stage actress and we all lost touch. They were the sparklers in my life; like that star you think you’ll never hold. I left the Jammers a different woman. They put the rhythm back in my spirit and soul.
When I recently located Vincent on an Actors website, I called him right away. He is a missing link in the chain of my life. Without that adventure, I might still be imitating the kind of business woman I wasn’t. We met in Los Angeles, and watched Vince perform in a club. He kept his vision and now acts on television and video. “ Lue, now you have to find Piper.”
It was Piper, who said to me one day after reading some of my poetry, “ Lu, you’re not a dancer. You’re a writer.”
Any dice to throw Email: folliesls@aol.com

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