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.

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