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 The memoir remained unpublished, and the house began to transform from gallery to a real home.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

ADVENTURES IN EXPECTATIONS


“It has been a time of writing for me. The doctors have all decided that my crippled leg must be amputated. They cannot do it right away because the hospitals are so full. So, in the nights of glare I just cuss out the doctors for making me wait, and cuss out my leg for hurting. I have read Sarah Bernhardt and her superb gallantry and courage have comforted me.” From “Illumination & Night Glare” by Carson McCullers.

More on the adventure in expectations.
I wonder how all of us really accept this incongruity of life. If we experience continuous disappointment, our inner oars, the ones that carry us over the tidal waves, must be accessible so we can bash back at the unsettling news, the absence of truth, the winter storms, the lagging economy, the pain of puttering, and expectations unrealized.
At a window table of Il Piatto, a favorite Italian bistro in Santa Fe, my friend Baron, (www.fotobaron.com) John (no website) and I fervently discussed the state of the people. What we observe, think, fear, and ruminate over at home when the lights are out, the street silent as a meadow, and shadows from winds through the winter branches play like puppets on the walls.
“Baron, if something doesn’t break soon—I’m going to need anti-depressants, or heroin.”
“Have you ever tried it?”
“Heroin? No, never. I tried Prozac for a few weeks years ago. It was ineffective.”
“Look, things are tough everywhere; the shops are closing, and the restaurants empty– look around. This is weird. And where’s the god damn snow?”
“It’s in New York. Rudy was there for a few days.”
“What the hell for?”
“Court. And guess what? He flies across country on Monday, appears in court the next morning, and is asked, ‘Why are you here?’ So you can see Rudy standing there in a cotton zip-up jacket, his face flushed with snow and wind. The judge informs Rudy he didn’t have to come to court.”
“How’s business for you?” I asked.
“Terrible! I keep inventing new prints, new sizes, new shows, a book, you just gotta keep it going, LouLou.”
“I keep it going; but it is beginning to feel like neat little circles.”
John tipped his head, the tip of understanding between two writers whose fingers are bleeding, amongst a country of bloggers, Twitters, and Facebook fetish writing. We wait, as all writers and artists, and in these times, everyone must wait, until our soil is fertile, and the illumination returns.
“Any bites on the script?”
“Yes, we get them, and then you wait, you may wait two or three months to hear anything.”
“Let me explain,” John interjected. “ It’s because ninety-nine percent of the scripts submitted are passed on, and the reason for that is the executive of creative development puts his job on the line when he green lights a script, so it had better be good!”
“In the interim, I repurpose the house as a vacation rental.”
“Then where will you go?”
“I don’t know.”
“LouLou!”
We talked about Egypt, Fox News, CNN, Tunisia, mobsters, photographers, business strategy, and the next Gallery LouLou event, a work in progress. There is visceral nourishment when you congregate over the same obdurate situations. The singular frustration festering inside is softened when commingled. We lingered over coffee, still unloading the burdens of a questionable wintry month.
That night John and I rushed through the front door, seeking warmth. I was on my way upstairs when I noticed a man with long black hair seated at my porch table. I could see his whole upper body through the drapeless French windows. His hand seemed as close to the door knob as my fingers are to this laptop.
“JOHNNNNNNNNNNN, there’s a man on the porch!”
Five “hurry up’s” later, John came running into the living room.
He opened the front door and announced in his radio deep broadcast voice, “We’re closed.” John nodded several times, and closed the door.
“What were they doing?”
“Attempting to light your kerosene lamp.”
“Why?”
“They thought the porch was charming.”
A few days later, another man appeared on the porch, this one wandering back and forth. After all the times a wanderer has been loose on the porch, in the garden, at the front door asking where someone lived (they do that in Santa Fe), and then the night someone climbed on the porch and ripped off the Stratocaster guitar from the hook on the eaves (a rock n roll prop), I had to apply more caution than negligence. If someone wanted to assault me, my defense would be worthless. When all the girls started learning self-defense, and carrying tear gas in their purses, I started locking the doors. Though I am not expecting intruders and assaults, it feels like it is time to take responsibility for myself. The fear of being alone is more tormenting than loneliness.
“I brought the shot-gun. Are you ready to learn?”
“Yes.”
TO BE CONTINUED

A WRITER ALONE


The throw of the dice this week lands on the lost dice.  It was an unusual time to be writing the dice, around four  in the afternoon. The sunshine drew me up  to my writing  desk where the rays of light teased me into believing it  wasn’t cold outside.  I decided to write the column.

I knew I shouldn’t write on my laptop because it is deconstructing. The ports and CD player have malfunctioned, the screen  dotted and the audio goes on and off.  I can’t part with this laptop until I finish the book, ( 5 pages to go). The warmth of the sun and the window that enables me to see the sky, drew me to the desk, and so I work around the errors.

I only had a few paragraphs from the afternoon, and  when I returned to the column after dinner, the whole piece took another course, and I was writing not what I intended but it was like sailing on a perfect course.   It was writing without the editor, meaning the inner editor that sometimes swoops down and cuts your nails off. I was writing about many things that happened.    When I finished I went to the save the document and the laptop responded negatively. It vanished.  I thought about trying to recapture the column, trying to reinvent the stream of consciousness that seemed to be marathoning through my soul.

There were so many voices speaking all at once. I had to figure out how to connect the moment the leaves reminded me of Saratoga Springs,  and how we must place our print, on the tablet, on the screen, and dismiss the resentful reader who judges where writing takes us. Sometimes,  a reader knows me from   the halcyon days, when light was brighter than dark. They don’t want to remember the way I feel it, they want to burn me for my  feelings. And such an email buckles my knees and drips from my eyes. I am sorry they never achieved  more  than hatred.

DREAMS OF A FLAMINGO HOTEL WEDDING


On Sunday afternoon, while I was sitting in the bridal room at Neiman Marcus, I was in a head on collision with the past and the present. I was not in the bridal room to buy a wedding dress; I was there to store my mink coat. While I waited for a sales clerk, I imagined myself in the chic trench coat with diamond buttons hanging from the rack. If I did have to choose a bridal gown, it would have to be something unconventional, like my mother chose. She wore navy blue taffeta to her wedding. If I did get married, I would have to save my coins for a long time to pay for the reception. Where would I get married? At one time, I dreamt of the Bel Air Hotel, but that was in the 1970s. With inflation, the wedding would cost no less than $100,000 today. By the time, I saved that much, I would be 100 years old! Besides the hotel is not the same. The last time I dropped by, I was chased out of the river walk for taking photographs of the swans. Just before my father took ill in 1982, he told me my wedding would be at the Flamingo in Las Vegas. I remember it, as if it was yesterday. We were walking together in Holmby Park, where he walked his five miles everyday. Very often, he stopped at the public phone booth and made a few calls. He whispered so I could not hear his conversation. I know now he was laying his bets for the day. I waited on the green lawn watching the older men and women playing Croquette. When my father returned from the phone booth, he looked perturbed. That meant he lost money on that day’s sporting event. We walked a long time in heavy silence until he decided to break it.

“You know, I’m very proud of you.” He said looking straight ahead.

“You are?” I was stunned.

“Of course I am! I hope you don’t think any different. I have not said it often, because I’m coaching you all the time, so you will be independent, and know how to look after yourself, after I’m gone. I don’t want you to fall into a rut with the wrong fellow, like so many women. It can ruin your whole life.”

“But I haven’t accomplished anything really great…. like you.”

“What the hell are you talking about!” he stopped in the middle of the path. “I made more mistakes than you ever could. Are you kidding sweetheart, I broke all the rules, and made some new ones, and I’ve paid. Like I’ve always said, you make your bed, and you lie in it. I’m proud of the career you made in real estate, without any help from me. Now you have to concentrate on the right fellow. When you do get around to finding the right one, we’ll have the wedding at the Flamingo.

“The Flamingo? Do you still know people there?” I asked timidly.

“Of course, I was a major stockholder … at one time.” Then he cleared his throat, and I wondered if he was choking on the memories. “That’s where Mommy and I had our wedding reception.” I thought of the photographs of Mommy cutting the white cake. It was the first time he ever mentioned my wedding. It was the first time, he seemed to say, okay find a fellow, and I’ll let you go. I sensed his detachment from everything around us except for me.

“I would like that. How long has it been since you were there?”

“I didn’t want to set foot in that place after Benny… (Benjamin Siegel) I didn’t care if the whole place burnt to the ground. There’s no reason why you can’t have your wedding there. I can still arrange a few things.”

The vision of father, my future husband, and me was an aberration without incident or purpose at that age. However, he was dreaming that the day would come soon. When the sales clerk finally appeared, I was glazed over, in some marbled state of melancholy, clutching the mink coat on my lap. The mink is the oldest garment in my closet. My father gave it to me in 1978.

It’s as if it happened yesterday. My father called one Saturday and asked me to meet him at Mannis Furs in Beverly Hills. When I arrived, my father was seated in a chair, facing a three-way mirror. Manny rushed over to greet me. “This is my daughter, Luellen, “Manny bowed and kissed my hand. In the other hand, he was holding a mink jacket. “Try it on for size,” my father ordered. I hesitated, and looked at him for explanation. It never occurred to me I would be trying on mink coats. He was always asking me to meet him in shops, and restaurants. He held meetings wherever he knew people, so I assumed he had a meeting with Manny.

“Go on—try it on. I didn’t say I was buying it, I just want to see what it looks like.” Manny tucked me into the mink coat, and pulled the waist sash through. He stroked the fur up and down, and then I did the same. The coat was solid, like a cloth wall that buried my body in warmth. I stood before the mirror and watched the transformation.

“Turn around, “my father ordered. I took a few steps in a half circle and slipped my hands into the pockets, and turned around slowly as I’d seen my mother do. Suddenly his eyes welled up with tears and he took out his handkerchief.

“If you dressed in a proper outfit and not those silly jeans all the time, you might look like something!” he barked.

“Well I didn’t know I’d be trying on minks today.”

“What the hell did you think you’d be trying on, pianos? For crying out loud! “I don’t know what you’re thinking sometimes. Take it off.” Manny untied the sash and took the coat. My father was in a mood, it was my fault again. I shouldn’t have worn jeans. Why did he start crying? Manny disappeared, and my father stood in front of the mirror to affirm his reflection. After he took off in his Cadillac, I stood in front of Manny’s and looked at the mink coats. He never mentioned it again, but I knew the coat was going to show up one day. Six or seven months after that first meeting at Mannis, the mink appeared at Chanukah.

“Daddy, this is so extravagant, I won’t have any where to wear it.”

“Oh yes you will! Just wait and see. If you quit going out with those misfits and find yourself a decent fella you’ll have numerous occasions. That’s the reason why I gave it to you, so don’t misuse it!”

When I left Neiman’s I was drenched in his memory. The mink coat has outlived all of my possessions. Every time I put it on, I’m reminded of his wisdom. It’s not the expense or signature status. When I put it on, I feel transformed. I discovered the bill of sale from Manny’s, and the balance due, after my father died. I called Manny and asked him for more time, to pay it off. He told me to forget about it, my father had brought in so much business to the store.

Last year I called Manny to see if I could have the coat remade into a vest; as the sleeves were too short.   ” It’ll cost you the same as the mink,”  he told me.  I had the holes repaired, and the coat glazed and will pack it in the suitcase for the trip to New York, now thrity two years later with a decent fella.

LYRICAL JIM MARSHALL


JIM MARSHALL AT THE OPENING OF GALLERY LOULOU TAOS. 2006

“Americas ‘true romantics will be the jazz musicians and jazz writers, living by their lyrical emotions, senses.”

From The Diary of Anais Nin volume Six.”

The throw of the dice this week lands on mysteries of character. We all have our closet of masks that we reach for when we need to camouflage our fear, insecurity, disdain, or judgment.

I wore a mask the day I went to pick up Jim Marshall at the Albuquerque airport. I didn’t want to appear unprepared, inexperienced, or effusive. As soon as I recognized Jim taking his last step off the escalator, my mask cracked. I ran to him, hugged him, and clichés poured out of my mouth: I’m so happy to see you, how was the flight, welcome to New Mexico. He nodded, smiled with closed lips, and asked,

“How long does it take to get to Taos?”

“An hour and a half.” Jim’s lips tightened.

In the car, Rudy and I whisked up conversation, but the results were drippy. Jim stared out at the window. We were in the valley of lunar like scrub rush, broken down sheds, and absentee human life.

“WHERE THE FUCK ARE WE?” Jim growled

“We’re almost there, another half-hour.”

“WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE PEOPLE?”

I tried, unsuccessfully to assure Jim, there were lots of people in Taos.  I read his mind; why did he make the decision to exhibit his iconic rock and roll photography in a gallery in  boon-dust Taos. How much longer before he can unwind with a scotch, and call home for a taste of civility.  Who are these morons driving this car anyway?

Inside the B & B suite we’d rented for Jim, I breezed across to the adobe terrace, and opened the curtains, “You like it?”

“THERE’S NO FUCKING HAIR DRYER?”

“You can borrow mine.”

“Are you hungry Jim?”

“No.”

“I have a bottle of your favorite scotch.” He picked it up, and looked for a glass. I ran to the bathroom and brought him a glass.

“See you tomorrow. “ He growled.

“What time?”

“I’ll call.”

The next day, I waited for Jim’s call. Instead I heard from Dave Brolan, Jim’s operator to the world; friend, translator, mediator and stabilizer.

“Dave, is Jim all right?”

“He’ll be all right. He’s tired and cranky. He’ll be fine tomorrow night.

“What can I do anything?”

“No, just take care of your opening business. I take care of Jim.”

I sighed deeply, and returned to the chaotic events preceding the grand opening of our gallery. Jim agreed to exhibit along with Baron Wolman and Michael Zagaris, because they hadn’t been together in a long time. I was about to ease-drop on history, with three distinguished rock and roll photographers.

My heart raced ahead of me, until 6 o’clock when Jim and Dave walked into the gallery.

“How are you Jim?” I followed behind him as he viewed the exhibition.

“Looks good.” He said. Then he was swallowed up into a crowd of guests. He stood patiently for photographs, greeted strangers with a boyish smile and brotherly handshake. He sat down at my desk and began to sign books for a tickly line of buyers.  I filled his glass with scotch and he said, “Thanks sweetheart.” My heart returned to my chest. The evening transcended into a kinetic overture of rock n roll music, reminiscing of the sixties, and feverish excitement. Around midnight, after being the center of 250 to 300 Taosaneos, Jim said, “Let’s eat.” It was snowing and pitch black outside.

Our party of seven charged in and rearranged the vibe of the banal atmosphere. Once inside the dining room Michael Z, was exhibiting impersonations of Jim, while we all laughed. Marshall didn’t twitch, or sneer; he accepted being the force of raucous laughter.

A young professional looking man approached our table.

“I apologize for interrupting. When I got to the opening, you all were leaving.  I’m really sorry I missed it; I’m a huge fan of your work Jim.

“How did you know we were here? I interrupted.

“I followed you.” He said.

“Join us.”

That night and the next three nights, Jim was host to a crowd of fans that followed him around.  I watched the mystery of his character, revealed, untouched, in focus, on what the photographs brought back to him. He was anointed by their admiration, without becoming inflated.

At the airport, Jim took me into his arms, “You did good LouLou.”

Two Years later.

I am in Santa Fe, and my social life is Camus strange. While I try to sell my photographs and write, my life is stifled by the absence of friends and parties. Jim called one afternoon.

“Loulou, my friends just moved to Santa Fe. Take down their number and call them.”

I called these new friends of Jim’s, and a week later, a man drove up, and leaped out of his car.

“Hi LouLou, I’m Jock.”  He sat down, but his spirit was an unbolted kinetic burst of energy.

“I brought this for you.” He handed me a beautifully hand crafted book of his Cuban Series photographs.

A month or so later, I received a party invitation from Jock and his wife, Annaliese. The evening was lyrical, as friends circulated between the portals, while Jock mixed  molita’s and Annaliese served Cuban food. That night, I was introduced to their friends. Now, a year later, I consider them my friends.

I called Jim after the party.

“I called to thank you.”

“What for baby?”

“For introducing me to Jock and Annaliese. Now I have friends.” Jim chuckled.

Jim passed away March 23, 2010. He was a romantic and lived by lyrical emotions and senses.

JAMMERS PART TWO


ME AND MASTER JAM, AND RUDY IN LA
ME AND MASTER JAM, AND RUDY IN LA

San Diego was still into rage and rock and roll. The people I was calling for gigs didn’t know Hip-Hop yet.   That was too bad, because we were  having the greatest experience of our  life.  When I ran out of money I took a job managing a condominium project, where I lived rent free and had weekends and evenings for Jammers.  After a time of observing their self expression, I asked myself, where is mine?  I still refused to get on stage, Vince used to bawl me out because I made Piper introduce the group. We were good for each other, the three of us. After two years Piper moved to Los Angeles to launch his career, he had showmanship in the way he held his hands.  Vince took over the troupe and added twelve more dancers.  These two young men, they were the sparklers in my life, like that star you think you’ll never hold.  When I left the Jammers I was a different woman. They put the rhythm back in my spirit, and faith into my soul. I mean there are things a business career will never offer, you have to go into the arts for this kind of stuff.

THE JAMMERS LAUNCH


Free your mind and the rest will follow, the words from EnVogue’s latest release became a sort of mantra.

 It was a decision that came at a moment when everything else stopped making sense, except my happiness.  I tossed out the two-piece suits, and turned off the world outside. Insulated in my tiny North Park bungalow, I merged into  music and dance. During the hottest of summer days I was seated cross legged on the worn carpeting  watching MTV and flipping through magazines. 

       Imploded with music videos, magazines, and dancing;   Hip-Hop was the most exhilarating choreography around.  I watched the music videos over and over. When I searched the yellow pages for dance classes; no one was offering Hip-Hop.  With that, I thought why can’t I be the founder of a dance troupe?  

  I needed to find the  dancers to suit my concept of integrating  jazz funk, hip-hop, and Afro-Cuban  into a collage workshop.   

      Piper Jo was the first dancer to join. He came at me with everything he had; talent, faith, intelligence, and belief in this crazy white chick who wanted to hip-hop.  Piper played Miles Davis, emulated jazz-funk, and moved like Michael Jackson.  He was twenty years old and this was his first teaching job. When I asked him who taught him to dance he answered;

“Michael Jackson and James Brown. I danced in my living room every day. My mother couldn’t get me out of the house. God blessed me with this gift, and I want to share it. So if you put me in your dance troupe I guarantee, you won’t be sorry. NO, you won’t.”  

 At our first audition Piper said,  “How you expect to pick dancers, if you don’t know what to look for.  I swear Lue, you are crazy.  But don’t worry,  I’ll show you. And don’t be picking every guy out there cause he can Hip-Hop, there’s nothing to that. We want dancers with classical training.”  He was right.

“Vince Master Jam”  was a former break-dancer and studied classical dance. Vince was the coolest; he sat back and waited for his chance, unhurried, relaxed, but when the music came on, he flipped everyone out. He was thirty. Both of them belonged to the no smoking, no drinking, no drugs, group

At that first audition  I wanted to select half of the thirty some dancers that showed up.  They came dressed in street clothes, wearing scarves and bandannas.  I watched them leap, kick, split and turn inside out for the job.  I knew that I was in the right spot. Then we added Monique, a startling beauty with Afro-Cuban dance training, and a perpetual attitude of carefreeness. 

For the first few months, the Jammers taught classes under a leaky roof, on a tiled floor, without any heat.  Piper rode a bus from the other side of town to get to the building.  Vince drove an hour each way to teach one class at night. The first few months no one showed up for Vince’s Hip-Hop class.  But he kept coming back every week.  When I apologized, he said, “ That’s okay Lue. We get it going on,  they’ll show up soon– I’m sure.” 

They did show up and we moved into a well positioned Health Club downtown San Diego. The classes filled up with students, dancers, and working women looking for a new challenge. They came from all different races;  Asian, White, Hispanic and Black.  I danced with the classes and promoted our troupe. They laughed at my attempt to be a soul sister, and I laughed with them.  We were reviewed by KPBS magazine, and a photographer took photographs of us and featured the Jammers  in the magazine. People began to think I knew what I was doing. The Jammers thought I could take them places.  I pictured them on the front page of Variety, the problem was I was too early. 

CONFESSIONS OF A MOB KID


SOME children are silenced. The pretense is protection against people and events more powerful than them. As the daughter of Allen Smiley, associate and friend to Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, I was raised in a family of secrets.

My father is not a household name like Siegel, partly because he wore a disguise, a veneer of respectability that fooled most.

It did not fool the government. My father came into the public eye the night of June 20, 1947, when Benjamin Siegel was murdered in his home in Beverly Hills. My dad was seated inches away from Siegel, on the sofa, and took three bullets through the sleeve of his jacket.

He was brought in as a suspect. His photograph was in all the newspapers. He was the only nonfamily member who had the guts to go to the funeral.

When I was exposed to the truth by way of a book, I kept the secret, too. I was 13. My parents divorced, and five years later, my mother died. In 1966, I went to live with my father in Hollywood.

I was forbidden to talk about our life: “Don’t discuss our family business with anyone, and listen very carefully to what I say from now on!”

But one night, he asked me to come into his room and he told me the story of the night Ben was murdered.

“When I was spared death, I made a vow to do everything in my power to reform, so that I could one day marry your mother.

“Ben was the best friend I ever had. You’re going to hear a lot of things about him in your life. Just remember what I am telling you; he’d take a bullet for a friend.”

After my father died, I remained silent, to avoid shame, embarrassment and questions. But 10 years later, in 1994, when I turned 40, I cracked the silence.

I read every book in print – and out of print – about the Mafia. Allen Smiley was in dozens. He was a Russian Jew, a criminal, Bugsy’s right-hand man, a dope peddler, pimp, a racetrack tout. I held close the memory of a benevolent father, wise counselor, and a man who worshipped me.

I made a Freedom of Information Act request and obtained his government files. The Immigration and Naturalization Service claimed he was one of the most dangerous criminals in the country. They said he was Benjamin Siegel’s assistant. They said he was poised to take over the rackets in Los Angeles. He didn’t; he sold out his interest in the Flamingo, and he went to Houston to strike oil.

I put the file away, and looked into the window of truth. How much more could I bear to hear?

Born in Kiev, Ukraine, my dad’s family immigrated to Canada. He stowed away to America at 16, and was eventually doggedly pursued for never having registered as an alien. He had multiple arrests – including one for bookmaking in 1944, and another for slicing off part of the actor John Hall’s nose in a fracas at Tommy Dorsey’s apartment.

He met my mother, Lucille Casey, at the Copacabana nightclub in 1943. She was onstage dancing (for $75 a week), and my father was in the audience, seated with Copa owner and mob boss Frank Costello.

“I took one look, and I knew it was her,” was all he had told me on many occasions.

On a trip to the Museum of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, I was handed a large perfectly pristine manila envelope, and a pair of latex gloves with which to handle the file.

Inside were black and white glossy MGM studio photographs, press releases, and biographies of my mother’s career in film, including roles in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “Ziegfeld Follies of 1946,” “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Harvey Girls.” She was written up in the columns, where later my father was identified as a “sportsman.”

The woman who pressed my clothes, washed my hair, and made my tuna sandwiches was an actress dancing in Judy Garland musicals, while her own life was draped with film noir drama.

My father wooed her, and after an MGM producer gave her an audition, he helped arrange for her and her family to move to Beverly Hills, where she had steady film work for five years. He was busy helping Siegel expand the Western Front of the Costello crime family and opening the Flamingo casino in Las Vegas.

They were engaged in 1946.

Still, the blank pages of my mother’s life did not begin to fill in until I met R.J. Gray. He found me through my newspaper column, “Smiley’s Dice.”

One day last year, R.J. sent me a book, “Images of America: The Copacabana,” by Kristin Baggelaar. There was my mother, captioned a “Copa-beauty.”

Kristin organized a Copa reunion in New York last September. I went in place of my mother, but all day I felt as if she was seated next to me. I fell asleep that night staring out the hotel window, feeling a part of Manhattan history.

Now, the silence is over.

I don’t hesitate to answer questions about my family. I have photographs of Ben Siegel in my home in Santa Fe, NM, just as my father did. Every few months I get e-mails from distant friends, or people who knew my dad.

It seems there is no end to the stories surrounding Ben and Al. I am not looking for closure. I’ve become too attached to the story.