Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Special Edition #1: Chicago

I've never really lived in the city of Chicago, but I have a close relationship with it. I know and love Chicago. I've spent weeks at a time there, spent weekends, spent hours. As a child--not more than five years old, in the early 1960's (for god's sakes)--my family went to Chicago because my father had a meeting there. I do remember some of it. I remember the buildings and streets, I remember my being very afraid and refusing to ride the el/subway, I remember a man offering me candy in the street (butterscotch) and I took it from him but then recalled being told to never take candy from strangers and so I threw it in the street. But after that, I didn't go to Chicago until my twenties, when I was at the University of Iowa.
Cin was from Chicago--from the north burbs: Highland Park. Later she had an apartment in Skokie and she worked--for her father--off Addison in Wriglyville. Cin, who I'd met at Iowa, quit school and returned to Chicago but our relationship continued, so I'd go visit her often enough (and she'd come visit me). I lived with her for about a month in Skokie, after I was done with college, and I'd take the El along Clark Street and go downtown and around. I'd go to Cubs games, the Art Museum, the Loop and other places. We'd go places, too; the Brookfield Zoo.
Fru was from Chicago, though by the time I met her she'd been living in Champaign, Illinois for many years. Still, we went up to the city quite often. Don--our good friend--moved to Chicago and, over the years, Fru and I would go up and visit him, stay with him (even after we moved to Montana). Fru loves Chi-town and she'd planned to move there before she met me. She'd still love to live there. 
Seattle is my favorite American city, but of the big three true cities--New York, Los Angeles, Chicago--I'll take Chi-town hands down. I can't deny NYC's energy and excitement, it's stately and labyrinthian beauty; L.A. is way down my list, but it has it's cool factor and a cultural, landscaped beauty of its own. But Chicago is a solid town, a rough but cleanly beautiful place. I've known it intimately in winter, in summer, have been there for spring and fall. It's archtecture--the Carbide and Carbon Building is my favorite, black and coal-looking with graces of gold, tall and thin yet solid, beautiful in a non-beautiful way, and only slightly ornamental. That's Chicago. I feel the city's vibe each time I'm there and I can't even count how many times that has been. . . I like their sports teams: Cubs, Bears, Bulls. I don't follow the Blackhawks, but I'd root for them.
I remember the first time I went to the city as an adult, as a young man. I'd gone to see Cin and she took me downtown--sightseeing--with a couple of her local friends. It was winter and the clouds were low, gray, foggy. You couldn't see the tops of the buildings. The streets were packed, but everyone wore big coats, breath trailing as they hugged themselves along the sidewalks. News paper vendors, crowds, traffic, cabs, the soot-like city air and low winter light, the raised tracks of the El racked above some streets, streets like tunnels, and the real tunnels (so much of the city is literally underground, the streets having been raised after the great fire), the sun-blocked streets of downtown, the cold lake looking like an inland sea. . . Sure, it would have been nice to see the sun, to have bright views and a warm cleansing wind, but that first view (since I was a very small child) was a proper one. Chicago is not a bright and sunny city; it is a sternly beautiful, stoic and serious city.
Fru went to Chicago this summer, while I went to Iowa, to Des Moines.
Dang. Now I wish I'd gone to Chicago.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Coming Into Los Angeles: 1985

I had no intention of ever going to Los Angeles.
By September of '84 I'd come back from New Mexico--Santa Fe--and had gone to Iowa City, then Chicago to stay with Cin, then back to Des Moines by the onset of winter. I was working, planning my next move (I don't recall where), when I got a call from Mike, who had graduated from Iowa and was back in Chicago himself. He called me out of the blue and asked if I'd like to go out to California with him and work for him. . . Like I said, I'd had no intention. Southern California, L.A. in particular--like New York and the Northeast--was a place to be avoided. To me, it was too big-cityish, too American Dream-like. I liked smaller venues, more unusual in the thought-scape of most people: New Mexico, Mississippi, Idaho (even Colorado was too common), the Florida Keys (not Miami or Fort Lauderdale or Daytona). But, having been asked and knowing there was work in-hand, I said, "Sure."
So, by New Years Eve, I was back in Chicago, spent time in the loving company of Cin, and come New Years Day 1985, I said goodbye to her once again and Mike and I took off in his little brown Mazda RX7, headed for Californyiaye.
We made it to Lawrence, Kansas before the car broke down.
The RX7 was a speedy little sports car and we'd driven it on the winter midwest roads with no problems, and it was a new car, but there was--it turned out--a factory problem with the gears and it became disabled and the local shops didn't have the part, it had to be shipped from somewhere to Kansas City and then shipped to Lawrence. So, we holed up in a cheap motel and Mike rented a car. Lawrence was the home of the university of Kansas, so we wandered around on the campus, feeling at home among students and young people. But the bars in Kansas were not like Iowa or Illinois--they had restrictions on alcohol sales, had bars and clubs and such. It was strange. But we figured it out and in the days were were there had a routine down, had met some people. I met some girl who was home for winter break from Vassar (whose parents were both professors at UK) and we hit it off. It was a pleasant diversion. But Mike was tired of being stuck in Kansas, so eventually we took the rental up to Kansas City to get the part ourselves (saving a day or two for it to be shipped to Lawrence) and they fixed her up and we were on the road agin. That is, until the snowstorm in Flagstaff.
 In northern Arizona it began to snow like crazy. It was also crazy beautiful: the sharp green pines, the red earth and hills against the bright white snow. I loved it. And I liked Flagstaff. Flagstaff was more the kind of town, the type of landscape, I was drawn to rather than L.A. But the snow was so bad--a blizzard, really-- that we barely got off the road and into another motel. From the motel we called a cab and told the driver to take us to some bar. He took us to this big old log cabin-like bar--very western--where Mike and I drank beer and played pool and had a groovy time. Then we took a cab back.
The next day the snow was clear enough for us to take off. And off we took, stopping in Needles Ca, then towards L.A., hitting the San Gabriel Mountains where it was sunny and warmish. Mike sped that car up to a hundred MPH. And he got pulled over. Cop gave us a ticket: Welcome to California.
We made it into L.A. at night, down to a hotel around Santa Monica where Mike's dad was. Mike's dad was setting the business up--construction--for Mike in California and he had flown out from Chicago and was waiting for us to make it there. We had drinks by the pool, dinner by the pool, everything warm and delightfully SoCal, lights twinkling, palms rustling. You get the picture. Of course I was enamored (but I still preferred Flagstaff).
We spent the next days looking for an apartment--found a month-by-month one in West Hollywood, near Burbank, the Oakwood complex. I think Mike's dad found that for us. Then we went to work, remodeling, changing some place in Santa Monica into the very first Jenny Craig Weightloss Center in the USofA. Jenny Craig and her husband were there, in from Australia. After a while we had to go find a work vehicle--got a big red windowless extra-long van. Called it the Sex Oven for reasons I won't go into at this time.
So, I settled in. Worked for Mike, but I was never astounded by L.A. (unlike the way I was with NYC years later). Even in those first months, I knew I'd leave. I mean, I learned to like and appreciate Los Angeles. I had a great time and met interesting people, but it never really stuck with me. Too big and noisy and money-oriented.
The thing was, though, when I went back to Iowa and said I'd been living out in L.A., people were very impressed. I'd been gone before, living in Key West, Santa Fe, Alaska. No one seemed too impressed about those places, really. But mention California, mention Los Angeles and Hollywood, they were all curious and jealous. . . Oh well, the American Dream is a dream of fame.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Coming Back to Grayton Beach: 1986

I'd left Grayton (the first time) in December of 1985, going back to Iowa. The Paradise Cafe had closed for the season and I was ready to hole-up for the winter, write and get some cash in my pockets, then be off wandering again. I'm thinking I took the bus to Chicago, where I looked up Cin but Cin wanted nothing to do with me, so I headed on to Des Moines. In Des Moines I got a job at Younkers at the Merle Hay Mall (again) and lived at my parent's house. (I did go to Iowa City for a spell, staying with Matt and Roger, who had made their way there after being in New Mexico for a spell.) I'd been reading a lot of Henry Miller and Norman Mailer, a little Knute Hamsun, and so my plan was to take off on my own for Eugene, Oregon with little money and do whatever I needed to do when I got there. But as spring approached, I got a call from Johnny--chef and kitchen king at the Paradise--and he asked if I wanted to come back and work at the cafe.
So, I went to Iowa City first for a few days, then took the Greyhound down to Grayton.
The bus trip itself was strange. Long hours sitting, stopping in small towns, seeing and feeling the shift from cold untrustworthy weather to the sleepy drooping-leaved trees of the Deep South. I recall stopping in Dothan, Alabama where the bus station was like a place back in time. It had a little cafe attached to it with worn formica-topped tables in swirling green and homemade sandwiches in plastic that looked like they'd been sitting on the shelves since the 1950s, and beans and cornbread and gravied meats and all that very southern atmosphere and voices and just old old foreign world stuff (to me). Along the ride we'd picked up some guy in Alabama and he said he'd been in jail and the bus driver let him off on the side of the road, where his car sat--evidently he'd been jailed for drunk driving and now he was taking the bus from the town to where he'd had to leave his car. And in Florida, in the panhandle, the bus only had a few people in it and the driver talked with us about his experiences, about hitting a mule once, about a buzzard flying, crashing through the windshield once and he--the driver--had to grab the big ugly bird to take out the door and it was still alive and it puked on him (a natural defense of buzzards, it turns out): "Ain't nothing stinks worse than buzzard puke. High heaven," the driver said.
Finally, in Walton County at night, the driver could only let me out at the IGA store in Santa Rosa on Highway 98 (not in Grayton on little 30A) because, after the stop in Panama City, his next scheduled one was in Ft. Walton before heading to Pensacola. So he let me off the bus and said I'd have to get my bag in Ft. Walton when I could (he wouldn't unload it). So, I was left there--no car, no luggage, little money--and I used the pay phone to call Johnny. He sent Ron to come pick me up.
It was great to be back in Florida, in Walton County: the warmth, the fetid smells and heavy humid air, the southern voices and talkative southern people, the beach and sea and pines and magnolias. Friends who had not become truly close friends yet. Yes, I was down in the panhandle essentially by myself: no Matt or Brock or Holly, just the semi-local folks I'd met and worked with the year before. But I was glad to be back and not starving in Oregon.
And there was a party going on.
Much like the first time I'd come into Grayton Beach, the young people were whooping it up at Sam's place outside of Grayton, some second floor spot in Seagrove Beach, I think it was. Ron took me there, straight from the long bus ride and my baggage-less wait at the IGA. And inside were some of the same people but also some new ones as I was handed a beer, a cigarette, some smoke, maybe a bump of coke. They were happy to see me and I happy to see them and I fell right back in to the hedonistic laid back beach world. It was Sam's place and she had a roommate whose name I can't recall, some southern lass who had a boyfriend named Melvin but everyone called him Smellvin. Doug was there, Tommy and Jack and maybe even Brad, Randall and Van and others. There were two other new people who were going to work at the Cafe: Eva and Shumae, both Asian--which was very unusual for the beach there. A good guy named Chas--a smart southern man who wanted to get into the restaurant biz (and did end up owning a cafe, with Shumae, years later (I think he's still down there). So, I partied with everyone, reacquainting myself with them, with what had changed. I had a room in Grayton--an apartment upstairs on the main road which Johnny was letting me use. But eventually I rented my trailer (also on the main drag).
So that was my first return to Grayton Beach. And it was actually the last time I lived in town, last time I worked for the Paradise Cafe. I came back twice more, living in Gulf Trace and Seagrove Beach. I saw Monica again for a while, but not Gretchen, I met Pat and her daughters, I met Tee and Tee ended up moving into the trailer with me (as did Matt, as he returned also). Maybe Holly was still there. Good old Duke and his wife, Rebecca. Bobby and a host of other characters from the cafe and not. Keith, who we called Chief, who was an African-American down from Detroit, he and I became good friends. It was all fun and disastrous. But I left in August to go to the Iowa Writers Workshop, which was also disastrous in its own way.
The next two times I returned to "Grayton" were different, but I still came back.
I'd still go back, I think.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Coming Back To Des Moines

I don't know how many times I came back to Des Moines. I guess it depends on what you mean by "coming back". That is, I came back the first two summers from Iowa City, when I was in college, to live and work and I returned to Des Moines after I graduated. But like all other times, Des Moines was but a way station, a place to go between going to other places, a place to be when I didn't know where else to be.
In Des Moines I almost always stayed with my parents in Urbandale, at their house, usually in the basement. Yes, I know it sounds bad, cliched, insipid, but that's what I did. I could live rent free, eat for free, had the use of a car when I didn't have a car and I could work, save money, write, visit old friends. I always had a lot of friends in Des Moines (though now they have all moved on, except for Scott and Larry, it seems). In Des Moines I could touch base with who I was or used to be. In Des Moines I could make my plans to leave Des Moines.
I love Iowa. I love Iowa City and other towns and have a begrudging affection for Des Moines. I like Iowans and, though I was born in South Dakota, had grown up in Washington State and Tennessee and didn't live in Iowa till I was thirteen, Iowa is still "home" to me and Des Moines is a hometown in its most emotional sense of the term. Still, I don't live in Iowa and have not "come back" to Des Moines in over twenty years. Just visited.
It's hard to piece together each return and what happened and who I hung out with and where I worked because I returned so often. I know I worked full time at Younkers twice--once at the department store at the Merle Hay Mall, another time--after graduating from the U. of Iowa--at the 9th Street Warehouse. Maybe I worked there one other time, maybe not. I also worked full time mowing lawns for Truegreen, I worked many many temp jobs, worked construction, for UPS unloading trucks late at night, worked washing dishes at a company cafeteria for the Meredith printing plant and other simple, often strange, jobs. Usually there was Kevin and Larry and Bill still in town. There was Scott and Keith and an assortment of their friends--like Lowell--who I got to know and went around with. There were also Yonkers pals: Mark, Bruce, Tim, Craig.
Kevin, Keith, Scott and Lowell lived in different old big falling-down houses at different times in the north side of Des Moines when I'd come back and I hung with them. They had other people living with them too, like John and Randy. John was a furniture salesman, a drunk driver and drug user and a Christian. Randy was a cocaine addict who spent all of his time alone up in his room snorting away--nobody knew he was doing it because it did it all alone and by himself. I barely knew him. He worked for his father's Tv appliance store and would steal TVs from his father's business--sell them in the street--to fuel his addiction. John was funny and a good person to drink with but was a wreck of a young man. Don't know what ever happened to him. Lowell got married--after dumping his long time girlfriend--and moved to Topeka, Kansas ( I think). Kevin, who was one of my best friends coming out of high school, eventually married and moved to Wichita, Kansas. Keith married, moved to Cleveland, Ohio, divorced, remarried and still lives outside of Cleveland. Scott, after a bit of rambling and an MBA at Iowa and being jobless for a long spell, bought a house in Des Moines, across from Waveland Park. Larry married, worked with computer programing, met another woman and has lived a dual life for as many years as I've been married. Very Weird. He lives in Windsor Heights. Bill is married and is a gentleman farmer in Kansas also. (I don't have the slightest idea why in the hell anyone would move to Kansas.) My Yonkers friends left and stayed and I lost touch with them as easily as I had made friends with them.
Hanging out really meant drinking. Drinking cheap beers at their houses or going to the small bars of the city. The Waveland Tap was a favorite, but there was the Bon Ton, Sully's, the Duckblind, Wellmans, the Greenwood Lounge, King Tut's, the Alpine, the Westend and others. Johnny's Hall of Fame Lounge, downtown. I do recall one day drinking beer at Keith and kevin and Scott's house where they had a big front porch with a fat porch rail. The wooden rail was big enough to stand on and so I initiated some contest to see how far we could jump from the rail out into the weed-grass yard. The railing was at least three feet high with a broad top, and it was another, what, two feet at least down from the porch to the yard, So I clambered on up there, stood, swung my arms back ready to jump big. And as I jumped, pushed off from the rail, the whole thing collapsed. The balustrade became disengaged from the pillars and porch and went down into the shrubbery and I went down also. We all laughed. I wasn't hurt.
I saw Scott just a couple months ago in Des Moines and he brought this up, said Keith had been in town and Keith had retold the incident. Had to have been there, really, for it to be that memorable.
But Des Moines is a good city. Most people have heard of it or driven through it. To some friends--who were from the small towns of Iowa--it is the Big City. But overall, I don't think Des Moines gets much respect in a national sense. I like it, but was always ready to get out of it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Greatest Game of Pool: Seattle 1987

Let me set this up properly. When I was in Seattle I was in a deep no good drunk-and-stoned-most-of-the-time depression. I'd dropped out of the Iowa Writers Workshop, I'd gone back to the beach in Florida's panhandle (Walton County) to live with Tee and that had ended very badly. I'd driven by myself in my ugly powder blue Ford Maverick from Pensacola to L.A. and up to Seattle in the middle of winter. Seattle was--of course--gray and rainy and I lived with Matt and Brock in a junked-out apartment in Queen Anne next door to Brock's father's print shop (where I worked briefly). I slept of the floor. The downstairs of this building was used for storage for the shop, but the only kitchen was down there and so when we made meals we had to take our plates and silverware and drinks and go out one front door, turn, go inside the other front door and up the narrow stairs into the dusty unkempt old place. There was no shower, just one bathroom with a single white unclean tub. I lived out of my duffel bag. I was down, almost out, and we wandered the slick streets of Seattle being absurd and acerbic and getting drunk in lowly bars (many which are no longer there).
I was a failure. Unhappy, forlorn and not even getting laid.
I first worked at a restaurant (Duke's) as a damned busboy when I got to Seattle, then at the print shop. I'd left, went up to Bellingham to live and write to stay, but that fell through and I came scurrying back. I worked remodeling the apartment, which only made the place worse as rooms were sealed off with sheets of plastic and dust and debris settled everywhere. I was going broke and getting worse.
We had our places: the Mecca for late breakfasts and Bloody Marys; the Ginza, Sorry Charlie's, the Otter--the rundown Seafarer's Lounge on 1st Street--and other bars whose names I can no longer recall for drinking; the Safeway up the street on First Avenue West for groceries (cheap fatty bacon cuts with grits was a staple) and cases of cheap cheap Heidelburg beer; Matt got pot from some source or another. But the main watering hole we went to was an Irish bar. A pub, maybe Dave's Irish Pub, and I can't for the life of me remember it's name. Maybe I've purposely placed it out of my memory. Anyway, the Irish Pub was where we hung out and knew the bartenders (Greg was a true Irishmen and became a great friend of Matt's--he also was a alcoholic and eventually almost died from it and he and Matt got into great amounts of serious trouble, even wanted by police at one point, over the years) and some of the cliental. 
  So I was deep into my internal misery by the time--at the Irish Pub--I played my greatest pool game ever.
The bar was half-crowded and a group of younger people came in, two guys and two girls. Like I said, I wasn't getting laid in Seattle and of course I perked up seeing the females. I was drunk. They were semi-drunk, maybe not even so much as that. Matt and Brock were there, but we were playing singles and I had the table. I've never been the best pool player in the world. I could be quite good, but had a tendency to get bored with the game, to lose interest down the stretch. (I recall the days in Iowa City, at the Vine especially, when Brock and I would team up and win and win all night long even though we were bad players; we had some kind of good game karma at the Vine.) And, as said, I was not in a good frame of mind personally, so even my pool game had been off for months. But we talked to the new group of people. I tried flirting with one of the girls--even though they were with the guys--but it went nowhere. Big surprise. But that girls guy put his quarters down and we started the game of eight ball at the Irish Pub.
And I played horribly. Stinkily. Bad bad bad. I hadn't sunk a single ball and he had made all of his but one. I watched me beating me and quaffed my Red Hook beer--expensive beer I shouldn't have been buying--and knew I was going down to an embarrassing defeat. And the girl was watching the game the whole time. Finally the guy missed a shot, on the eight--my many balls in his way, no doubt--and I went up for my last round.
I hadn't made a ball. I was gone if I didn't make some now, at least to save face.
But the feeling came over me. A feeling like at the Vine in Iowa City. I had nothing to lose, really. I had nothing but open green, since he had conveniently shot all of his balls into the pockets. And I hunkered down, aimed my cue, and began to drop my spheres into the pockets like they wanted to go there. Like gravity was pulling them into the six black holes on the table. Man, I could not miss.
I just smiled. Took a shot. Drank some beer. Smiled. Took a shot. Drank some beer. He and his girl watched me and I could see him sweat. Could see the girl interested in me now. I was down to a few balls left but felt no pressure. And I made one, made one more, so that all that was left on the green felt was the eight.
"Call your shot."
"Call the shot. Or do you want to play bank it only?"
"I was going to call my shot," I said. "It's a little late to play bank the eight but . . ." And I didn't give a damn. I thought I'd lose and I'd redeemed myself, so, if he wanted to add late rules, so be it. "Okay."
My only possible bank was a long one--across the far table and back to hit the eight and drop it in--the long-cue-ball-first kind of bank. And, without further ado, I let it fly.
In went the eight. Cue ball was safe. I'd won the game. The patrons of the Irish Pub in lower Queen Anne in Seattle cheered (those that were watching, that is). And I was delighted.
My competitor was pissed. The girl came over, facing me, said, "That was great", her eyes lit, swimming with alcoholic intoxication and admiration, sexually flirtatious, until her partner gently grabbed her by the shoulders and directed her away.
And that was it. My big game. My single savory moment of an otherwise unsavory existence that year. . . Oh, sure, I had plenty of fun and good times in Seattle--I love Seattle, as I've said before--but that was a moment I still recall quite clearly out of the rainy gloom. And it isn't much, really. So I came from behind, ran the table, and won a freaking pool game? So some girl briefly shined her bright eyes at me? So the people at the bar on that one miserable night gave me a little cheer? So?
So, it was a goddamn great game of pool, that's what it was.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bob and Brenda: Los Angeles 1985

So Mike and I moved out to L.A. and we didn't know anybody. Mike's dad put us up in a month by month apartment off Barham Boulevard in North Hollywood (or West Hollywood or somewhere very close to Burbank)--Oakwood Apartments--and from there we were on our own. We worked by ourselves: Mike was the boss and I was the underling. Our first job was a series of remodeling old places into Jenny Craig Weightloss Centers, and the first of those was in Santa Monica. That was fine. But we were just down the street from Burbank's main drag--Olive Avenue--and we had seen a little hole-in-the-wall bar there called Charlibar. I don't recall why exactly, but one day after work, we stopped in.
It was a dive. Kind of hapless. It had been owned (we found out) by a guy named Charlie, who died (I think) and then it was sold to two couples who had been regulars at the bar. Their daily cliental had slowly dissipated so that by the time Mike and I showed up, they were very happy to see some young people patronize the place. One owner-couple--whose names I can't recall--were nice enough. He worked at the studios, maybe with lighting or something, and she worked somewhere as well. The other couple were Bob and Brenda.
Brenda was from Ohio, Bob was from Gary, Indiana originally. They were in their forties, had two kids (boy and girl) and lived across Olive in Burbank, on Keystone Street. As Mike and I began to hang out at Charliebar, it was Bob and Brenda who we related to, who we got to know. Charlibar is also where we met Jeff--a guy our age with a common-law wife and young son, who ended up working with us, who lived across the street from Bob and Brenda on Keystone. But Bob ran the bar rather loosely as we became regulars. (And why did we become regulars? Because we didn't know anybody and did not want to go to the usual clap-trap meat markets that were around, but preferred the down-and-out dives of the area.) It got to where we could go behind the bar and grab our own beers from the cooler, where he let us smoke pot in the little concrete court yard out back, where--as the bar lost even more customers--he'd close up and let us stay late, drink for free with him and Brenda, play pool for free (usually nine ball) and punch as many songs on the juke box we wanted, again, for free). Yes, Charlibar became a failed business, especially when a new landloard took over and raised the price of their lease.
After Charlibar closed, we followed Bob over to the Pago Pago, right across the street from the Disney Studios in Burbank. The Pago was a lively dive with a good strong low-life customer base. Again, we played pool, drank and smoked and got to know new people (Jeff transported to the Pago also, having broken up with his "wife" and child), customers and bartenders. Some of these new people also ended up working for Mike now and then and I became a Crew Chief for a while. Even Bob--who was a tile setter at times--worked for us.
I liked Bob and Brenda. We went to their house now and then--mainly to drink and smoke dope. Brenda got a job at the cosmetics counter at the Sears in Burbank, but mainly they hung out at the bar (their poor kids went a little wild on them due to the lack of governance, I must admit). Bob was, essentially, a James Dean imitator. he had the hair cut, the same face, wore the same types of jeans and t-shirts--even if he was in his early forties. Bob was also an alcoholic, Brenda one by default as she was loyal to him. Because as we got closer to them, to him, he took us to many other bars: the Forge in Glendale, the Viking in the San Fernando, the Blue Room and other spots in downtown Burbank. He had a string of bars, it turned out, where he and Brenda were quite well known. But as I said, I liked him and did not pass judgement. He was intelligent, really, but careless with his health, family and ambition. Or maybe, he was just an alcoholic. But what interested me, personally, was that it was the first time in my life that I had become good friends with someone out of my age bracket. I was in my mid-twenties and here I was talking to a man in his forties just like I would anyone else--this is a small thing, but I was conscious of it. I also struck up friendships with men older than Bob while in L.A., women too, and I guess I was mildly surprised to find out adulthood wasn't too much different than young-adulthood in many personal ways.
But I recall once, at the Pago, after a night of debauchery and when I saw him at the bar the next day, I said, casually, man you were drunk last night. Now, saying you were drunk to my friends was common, a half-joke, almost a badge of honor. But Bob took great offense, insisted that he was not drunk, that he did not get drunk. "Okay, okay," I said. But to me, that revealed that he could not admit to a drinking problem, despite his world slowly crumbling about him.
When I left L.A., I stayed in touch with him and Brenda through letters. Then it was only Xmas cards. But he was good at staying in touch that way, at least. Many years later, when I lived in Montana and I was heading to Mexico for a visit, I stopped in Los Angeles to see Mike and talked him into finding Bob and Brenda. We stopped at the Pago and asked around and Lenny, the bartender still there, told us Bob was a regular at the Blue Room, downtown, now. So we went to downtown Burbank, went into the dark shimmering light of the Blue Room Lounge and sure enough, there was Bob sitting languidly at the bar.
He was pleased to see us. We were pleased to see him. But Bob was cold towards Mike. When I talked to him alone, I saw that he was against Mike because Mike had moved out of the Burbank area (was in Thousand Oaks, I think), had bought a house, was making money. Bob didn't like success, I guess. But I said he was still the same old Mike, that Mike was just doing what he wanted to do and where was the harm in that? So, Bob settled down and became friendlier . . . We didn't stay too long, but Brenda did come up to the bar. She said that her kids were now "bad": drugs, sneaking around, staying away from home. I gave sympathy, but thought, 'what did you expect?'. They were the children of alcoholics living in L.A.. There was a certain amount of neglect going on. But, I liked Bob and Brenda and life is tough and parenting is tough and I just hope everyone turned out just fine. I can think that, can't I?
Bob did ask when I was coming back to SoCal to stay. I said that I wasn't. "Oh, you'll be back," he said. "Everyone always comes back." Intimating that the lure of Los Angeles, of sunny Hollywood beachy Southern California, was too great for anyone to stay away.
But it wasn't.
I never did go back again--not even to visit--and I never saw or heard from Bob and Brenda again.