SYNCHRONICITY WITH THE FAMOUS

I love “accidental” encounters with interesting people of all types; they don’t have to be famous or notorious. Because I enjoy it so much, I’m sure I probably attract it. A couple of years ago I attended a fundraiser luncheon for a local private Catholic high school and sat next to Catherine O’Hara, an actress who had been in several of Christopher Guest’s movies, like “Best in Show,” which I had really enjoyed, as well as in “Home Alone” and “Frankenweenie,” and is very active in show biz. Since we were next to each other for a couple of hours we discovered we had things in common–liberal views, enjoying people, and movies, to name a few. Afterwards, I saw her in a TV documentary and expressing her opinions on the last page of Vanity Fair magazine, a publication I’ve subscribed to for years.

Airplanes are an ideal place to meet people. I have had some very entertaining conversations with seatmates. On the flight to Dallas for Thanksgiving not long ago, my seat mate volunteered that he had been raised in Puerto Rico and had worked all over the US. He and I had no trouble bonding over Stephen Sondheim songs from West Side Story—“I Want to Be in America,” for example. Soon he was telling me about his childhood in Puerto Rico, how the females in his family firmly ran the household, and the foods he liked. We laughed a lot.

On the return flight, my neighbor turned out to be an LA sportscaster on the local ABC-TV station. He was returning from a family visit in time to cover the yearly classic USC-UCLA football game. If I’d been a sports fan, I’d have known his name. We talked about how life had changed because of the Internet, and how we could use it to further our careers. It didn’t hurt that he had a great smile and was very attractive.

Ventura Boulevard in the Valley has every type of restaurant. I particularly enjoy the inexpensive Chinese food at Bamboo. Next door is a ritzy French place, Cafe Bizou. After one lunch, while waiting for the valet (shared by the two restaurants) to get my car, I spotted actress/singer Della Reese a couple of feet away: she had eaten French food. I decided to approach her and told her  I was a fan and we talked a bit. I even gave her my business card. Was she being polite or did she keep it?

Catherine O'Hara, comedian and actress

Catherine O’Hara, comedian and actress

Lunchtime can be an ideal time to spot the rich and famous and perhaps spark a conversation. I was with a friend at a place called Gaucho Grill a few years back when she spotted her lawyer. At the table right behind us, my friend’s lawyer was with TV and Broadway star Kelsey Grammar. At that time I was writing a weekly column for the Daily News newspaper and was always looking for new interview possibilities. Besides, Kelsey had met my son at a restaurant not long before and had invited him and a few other young men back to his home. I introduced myself, mentioned my son, and Kelsey couldn’t have been more gracious and down to earth. Before I had a chance to schedule the interview with him, my life changed and I ended my column.

My daughter and I love Hamburger Hamlet, which has been on Van Nuys Boulevard for many years. Last time we had a late lunch there, Heidi spotted “Mr. T,” who had been on TV’s “The A Team” and also in the famous “Rocky” movie. Our favorite waiter was telling us the most famous person he’d seen in the restaurant over the years was Marlon Brando. Brando was very overweight by then and ate a lot, the waiter said.

One of my favorite places to start a conversation is Trader Joe’s, the unique grocery store that started in Southern California. They hire sociable, highly individual people who may have tattoos or wear crazy hats; perhaps that’s just part of the SoCal lifestyle. I wonder if they take a friendliness test before they’re hired! The atmosphere must affect the customers because they’re usually quite affable as well.

A few months ago, I spotted Sally Kellerman, famous for playing “Hot Lips O’Houlihan” in the original 1970 MASH movie (Remember actor Robert Duvall’s famous quote–“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”) She and I were shopping for fruit and vegetables, and I took the opportunity to tell her how I’d enjoyed her acting. She welcomed the conversation and told me she really enjoyed singing professionally. Her distinctive low sultry voice is very much in evidence and I can imagine it would translate easily into song.  SallyK

When I was much younger, I remember being a little embarrassed by my mother, who was a friendly Southerner who loved to talk to everyone. Now I find I have been doing the same thing for years. From mothers or fathers of babies to clerks or fellow customers, I’m not afraid of making a joke or coming up with a witty comment, and these days I can sometimes embarrass my own daughter!

BRUCE SPENCER – THE PELICAN HAS RETREATED

It takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, and a day to love them, but it takes an entire lifetime to forget them.

I met Bruce Spencer, one of the founders of the six Pelican restaurants in Los Angeles (Santa Monica, Venice, Manhattan Beach, Panorama City were a few locations) when he and his partners opened the newest one in Calabasas, Pelican’s Retreat, in the early 1980s. I was in the midst of big changes in my personal and business life and welcomed attending the grand opening of a new restaurant, especially one that featured seafood and live entertainment.

John, Gert, Bruce & the Pelican

John Perram, Gert Just (Bruce’s brother-in-law who passed in 2010), gun-toting Bruce & the Pelican. Don’t know the horse’s name!  Getting ready for the Agoura Hills Pony Express Days Parade.

The opening drew a big crowd and I could tell by the friendly ambience and the atmosphere that I would enjoy coming back for happy hour, lunches and dinners. I didn’t imagine then that I would spend lots of time there in the coming years and would be working for them as their advertising and public relations person. It was a pleasure to plan parties and special events, especially when the restaurant owners were a congenial bunch. Fishing excursions, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, live entertainment, participation in nearby Agoura Hills’ Pony Express Days, and mixers for various chambers of commerce were a few of the activities. We even had a Living History party since the Pelican’s Retreat was once a one-teacher schoolhouse built in 1925. It was nestled on a hill adjacent to the 101 Freeway and the Calabasas Grade, which led to the Conejo Valley.

Bruce was a model restaurant owner: always friendly and smiling and eager to take care of customers. A California native who was raised in Santa Monica, he had that joie de vivre about life, which made him a born salesman—a smile most of the time but with his husky build, it was easy to switch into command mode. He was very creative and full of ideas of fun events or promotions for the restaurant, especially since it was a big place with two patios.

Patrons of the Pelican’s were loyal, and they enjoyed talking with Bruce, who was always eager to exchange jokes or other banter. He organized a few fishing excursions (I wrote about one of them in a recent blog), which were well attended.  After we caught the fish, we came back to Calabasas to eat as many of them as possible. The yearly Halloween party was a rousing success—I’d never seen such imaginative costumes. I felt like a family member instead of a patron and their PR/Advertising person.

When the small chain of Pelican’s restaurants broke up, Bruce decided to embark on a new restaurant adventure and redesign an old building, this one in Agoura Hills, which was just minutes from his home. He loved using his hands and imagination as he worked on expanding and decorating what had once been a small home on a chicken ranch. Bruce owned and ran the Adobe Cantina until 1999 when California’s El Nino weather patterns caused flooding that destroyed many properties. The restaurant, however,  still exists in the same location and serves Mexican food,

I used to stop by and visit Bruce as he was creating the Cantina, mostly by himself. He admitted he enjoyed the creation of the restaurant more than actually running it. He finally gave up on restaurants a few years later. As he got older, he wanted to keep active. He thought it would be fun to be a crossing guard for schoolchildren in his neighborhood, and he did so for three years. Always looking for new opportunities, his last enterprise was selling sunglasses, hats and gloves. His wife Ingrid told me she joked with him that he was a peddler at heart.

Although we didn’t get together as the years passed, Bruce would call me occasionally and tell me his latest adventures. He liked to go fishing in the Pacific Ocean or on the Kern River and he was good at grilling the fresh fish. No wonder he liked the ocean, as a young man he joined the US Navy and was stationed on the island of Guam. Bruce always had a story to tell me about old friends or family, so many of them the recipients of his good will and helpfulness. Sometimes we’d reminisce about the Pelican days and the people who had been loyal patrons — like the afternoon Bruce and I and two other guys decided on the spur of the moment to go to a Dodger game. Being escorted by three men was flattering for me. There was always plenty of laughter when we talked.

With friends or family, we tend to think there will always be another phone call to look forward to. But I was recently alerted by Ingrid, Bruce’s loyal wife of 47 years, that Bruce, only 75, had passed on to the Great Beyond. He must have sensed he was ready to go: toward the end he kept telling Ingrid how much he loved her. He left behind two adult daughters–Nicole and Michelle. His granddaughter, Coralee, (daughter of Michelle) told Ingrid that everything was fine: she’d seen Bruce in her dream and he had a big smile.

 

 

 

 

CHRISTO AND HIS UMBRELLAS IN SO CAL

ChristoUmbrellasChristo’s Umbrellas
Huge Sunny-colored Umbrellas Dot Southern California Mountain Landscape

Giant yellow umbrellas whimsically dotted the hillsides, the dips in the rolling landscape, appeared near trees, a billboard and a gas station and decorated a few ponds on various sections of the 270,000 acres of the private Tejon Ranch in the Tehachapi Mountains of Southern California. It was October 1991 and my girlfriend Sally and I were inspired to take the hour-long drive up the Grapevine on Interstate 5 to see this much-touted artistic statement by Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude (who died in 2009) were known for designing and installing temporary but overwhelming environmental works of art. Before the umbrellas they did several projects—wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris with material, for instance. In February 2005 they erected gates hung with yellow nylon material in Central Park. Christo is still at work creating ideas for installation.

The imposing yellow umbrellas we saw were part of a project Christo and his wife installed in both Japan and California. The umbrellas were formidable: about 20 feet high with a diameter of about 26 feet. They each weighed 448 pounds, without the base, which in most cases was steel and anchored to the ground. Not a small project by any means: 1,760 were installed!

Sally and I had both driven the so-called Grapevine before: it led from the San Fernando Valley through the mountains and down into another valley that led north to Bakersfield. At this time of year, before the California rainy season, which usually doesn’t get underway until November, the hills were brown, or golden, depending upon your outlook. The yellow umbrellas added a unique touch to the fairly barren area.

Although it was reported that almost 3 million visitors since October 9 had driven through the area, we easily negotiated the Interstate and were able to get off at the various viewing sites when we chose. I loved the bravado, the sheer uniqueness of the idea to take so much trouble to dot the landscape with huge unwieldy umbrellas. The day was overcast and the yellow stood out even more: almost like seeing an enormous garden full of massive yellow poppies.

The visitors we saw were enthusiastic and smiling at the incongruity of it all. There were a couple of places to stop and buy sweatshirts—“I saw the Umbrellas,” and similar sayings—and other memorabilia.

After meandering the 18-mile long area, taking photos and finding some refreshment, we headed home, satisfied we’d seen and participated in an event worth remembering.

That day, October 27, turned out to be the last day of the art project. We heard on the news that a young woman visitor had been killed by an umbrella just after Sally and I left. In a fluke of circumstance, an immensely strong wind had caused one of the umbrellas to come loose, and it had flown through the air and impaled her against a boulder. At 448 pounds, it was easy to understand why she had no chance. Apparently, she and her husband were there just to view the artwork.

Ironically, I heard in a later news report that the woman was suffering from a probable fatal disease. Perhaps, instead of suffering, she decided to leave the planet in a particularly dramatic way.

BOOKS BY VICTORIA GIRAUD

Mel book cover #1

What’s a girl going to do when she wants adventure in her life, and men have all the fun? Melaynie Morgan is an independent-minded young woman in Plymouth, England, but it’s the 16th century, and women are expected to dress elaborately and attend to womanly duties. Forget about doublets, swords and sailing ships.Melaynie refuses to let her conventional background deter her. She disguises herself as a captain’s boy and signs on with privateer Francis Drake to plunder Spanish treasure in the exotic Caribbean. In the chess game of Renaissance politics it’s an undeclared war of opposing religions, but Queen Elizabeth’s Protestant England and King Philip’s Catholic Spain are maintaining a guarded peace. Into that mix comes Plymouth’s Drake, waging his own private war with Spain.

Melaynie finds more than she bargained for during her year in the tropics serving Drake – from disease, death and danger to a romance with a Spaniard and a friendship with an ex-slave. She returns to England wiser but secretly pregnant. In volume 2, Melaynie’s daughter Joan grows up unaware of her true parentage until the Spanish Armada brings a bittersweet and surprising reunion. To order these books, go to Amazon: Victoria Giraud Books

An Army Brat in Libya Ebook cover

An Army Brat in Libya Ebook cover

An Army Brat in Libya is a memoir chronicling the adventures of living in Tripoli in the 1950s. World War II was over and the world could breathe again for a while. Libya was ruled by King Idris, and the US Military held sway at strategic Wheelus Air Force Base. Attending high school amidst sand and palm trees, camels and donkeys, in a small cosmopolitan city along the Mediterranean was about as unique and full of contrasts as an American teen could get in the mild 1950s.

American teenagers sported jeans while Libyan women were covered from head to foot. Americans brought their cars; most Libyans rode bicycles. Despite the differences, East and West cohabited peacefully for the most part. It’s a new century today, but the American military still has a presence in these exotic areas of the world.

Weird Dates and Strange Fates#1

Weird Dates and Strange Mates features two unusual but true short stories. Sandy’s blind date serves her brunch while wearing a French maid’s costume, a blond wig and 4-inch heels in A Single Girl’s Guide to Cross-Dressing. She’s even more puzzled when he changes to a G-string and a lacy negligee. In The Dark Side, Barbara meets her perfect man, but one day he disappears from his apartment, leaving a downloaded computer and all his business attire behind. She could hardly believe the secret he was hiding.

 

 

 

 

 

Pink Glasses#2dup

Pink Glasses

The divorcees in the chic Los Angeles bar/restaurant were attracted to Will’s spirited zaniness, which mixed well with his gentle nature. They had no idea what mental turmoil it masked. He was a Viet Nam vet, a Navy pilot, and far from rich. Will had to rent a room from one of his new friends, yet he bought a brand new Porsche and kept his old one. What was he concealing?

 

 

FISHING in SoCal – Channel Islands

Summer in Southern California this year has been relatively mild but more humid than usual. Fortunately, we’re blessed with a very chilly Pacific Ocean, only minutes away and always refreshing. The water doesn’t get into the 70’s until September. In contrast, the Atlantic Ocean off Florida is like swimming in a bathtub. In So Cal, we remember to take sweatshirts to keep warm.

Thinking of the ocean brings to mind my fishing adventure off Santa Cruz Island a few years ago. This island (20 miles off the coast from Ventura) was once home to ancient Indians like the Chumash, and archeologists are currently trying to save as many artifacts as possible before ocean waves carry them away forever. This fishing adventure was long before I’d decided to write a seafaring yarn about Francis Drake in the Caribbean– Melaynie’s Masquerade. I was one of three women and nineteen men on the brief trip. I’d never handled a fishing pole or even had a desire to catch a fish, but I’d always loved the ocean. I’ve spent most of my life near the ocean: Jacksonville Beach, Florida; Tripoli, Libya; and Los Angeles. The fishing trip was being hosted by Pelican’s Retreat, a seafood restaurant in Calabasas, that had hired me for advertising and public relations. Owners Bruce and Gert were part of the fishing gang, a gregarious and rowdy bunch of restaurant patrons. After our sporting efforts, we were taking our fish back to the restaurant for a fish fry/grill with all the fixings.

PeliFishTrip

One of the fishermen just as the sun was coming up off Santa Cruz Island.

The large group gathered about 1:30 a.m. in the Oxnard Harbor area, ready to head out at 2 a.m. on the Pacific Dawn for Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands. By leaving at this hour, we’d get a few hours to snooze before we anchored and the sun rose. Sleeping accommodations were below and consisted of very basic wooden rectangular compartments with a plastic covered mattress pad: room for one or two squeezed together. Since I was a novice and was curious about the ocean views, I didn’t hit the bunk right away and stayed up to see the oil platforms lit up like huge Christmas trees. When I was married, we’d taken our two kids to explore Anacapa, one of the smallest of these islands, and I remembered the weather along the California coast can change quickly and a calm sea can turn into a roller coaster ride. Being confined to a constantly moving boat for 15 hours made me very thankful for my “sailor’s stomach,” which has enabled me to enjoy ocean ventures. No time for sleeping late on a fishing excursion, a loud and disgustingly cheery voice called us to breakfast in the galley about 6 a.m. It was chilly and overcast and the anchored boat was rocking, but many enthusiasts in the group had already eaten their bacon and eggs and were fishing.

MyFish -80s

The fish I caught!
When the sun came out, so did the beer. Thanks to beer and the stronger stuff, there was as much laughter as fishing. With many capable fishermen around, I had plenty of help with a borrowed fishing pole and the slimy bait. I didn’t participate in the jackpot for largest fish, but as luck and persistence would have it, I caught the second biggest fish on the boat. They told me it was a whitefish, but it looked pink to me. The highlight that day was consuming the freshest sushi I’d ever had. Several just-caught fish were filleted and handed out with a slice of fresh lemon to those who weren’t afraid of chowing down on uncooked denizens of the deep. It was delicious and tender.

Warm sun and a calm sea blessed the day and after making an excellent haul of over 300 fish, we headed back to land in the afternoon. We’d carpooled to get there and on the drive home, which was less than an hour, one of the show-offs in the camper in front of the car I was in decided to make his inimitable statement on the crazy day by mooning us. I still have the photo of the fisherman we all dubbed “Dr. Moon.”

ENCOUNTERS WITH THE KENNEDY’S

Robert F. Kennedy and his dog Freckles

Robert F. Kennedy and his dog Freckles–I kept this magazine

When the magnetic Robert Kennedy was shot and killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in June 1968, I was living in the San Fernando Valley. It was sad and depressing to know he was killed in Los Angeles, my new hometown. I couldn’t help but remember the times I had seen him years before in Virginia and Washington, D.C. in the early 1960s. This Life Magazine cover of June 14, 1968, (I still have my copy) makes me tear up even now. RFK was running along an Oregon beach followed by his dog Freckles. I had also seen President John Kennedy in person a couple of times–my first glimpse was when he was serving in the U.S. Senate before he ran for President.

I had first seen Robert Kennedy when I was a freshman at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and RFK was campaign manager for his brother John Kennedy’s election as president of the U.S. At that time I wasn’t very political and was probably influenced for the most part by my dad, who was a Republican. I didn’t realize until years later that I was really a liberal Democrat. Kennedy was talking to students at an evening event not long before the 1960 November voting.

My real thrill came a couple of years later, in 1962, when President John Kennedy created an educational Summer Seminar program for college students working for the government in offices in the Washington D.C. area.  We were going to learn something about the inner workings of government, which was to take place several times during the summer at Constitution Hall, an auditorium near the Washington Mall that sat 4,000 people. Student workers were bussed from various offices around town to spend a couple of hours listening to important members of government. I was picked up where I was working at Washington National Airport. On the day of the last seminar in August, all of the student workers saw and heard  both President John Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

The President invited us to the White House lawn for his farewell speech about the program. According to my dairy for 1961-62,  7,923 college students were employed that summer, but I doubt there were that many attending that morning even though it was quite crowded. I remembered some of his inspirational words: “Jump in the stream (of government service). It isn’t so cold. Government work is challenging and rewarding.”

As I left the lawn in high heels that sunk into the thick grass, I got a good look at young Caroline Kennedy’s play area, which included a playhouse, and the nearby tennis courts. All the students at the White House were bussed the short distance to Constitution Hall for another part of our farewell “government education.” We would hear Robert Kennedy speak about the Justice Department and government investigations. I noted that it was very interesting, but didn’t specify why in my diary! But I did comment that “Bobby is quite popular–a rather magnetic personality and good looking. He was sunburned and his  blue eyes stood out. He got a standing ovation.”

When the speeches were over, a friend and I walked back to our busses and passed by Robert Kennedy’s limo with him in it. Here’s what I wrote: “People crowded around, including me, to look, touch and shake hands. I was wondering how long it might take for the car to pull out. I stood near the wall of the driveway so that when he came by and looked my way, I was only two feet away. I waved and he waved back.”   Needless to say, I was thrilled and never forgot that moment.

 

TRIPOLI CONTRASTS IN 1950s

My father was a Colonel with the US Army Corps of Engineers in Tripoli, Libya, from 1955-1958, and he was entitled to bring his family along: my mother, me and my brother and sister. I was lucky enough to be old enough to remember a great deal about living in this fascinating area of the world. When my adventures were still fresh in my mind, I wrote a term paper for my Virginia high school and that paper later became a small book I published on Amazon: An Army Brat in Libya. Memories of Tripoli in the 1950s

Because Libya was one of the poorest countries in the world at that time (oil hadn’t become their black gold yet),  Americans and British were often involved in helping the local populace. As part of a Wheelus Air Force Base church youth fellowship group, I visited the North African Mission in the heart of Tripoli’s old city. We went there to help sort old clothing collected from the Americans to aid unfortunate Libyans.

Old City Tripoli

Old City Tripoli

Any trip into the old city brought up the contrasts between affluence and typical Libyan life at that time. Streets were dark and narrow, in some places no more than three feet wide, and had no gutters or sewage system. Meat shops advertised their wares by hanging raw meat on a hook outside the door, which attracted flies and added to the already pungent odors of the area. The two-story Mission, one of the largest buildings in this part of town, was styled with rooms situated around a paved courtyard. The director of the place was an English doctor, who had been there for nearly twenty years, and his staff included several older English and American couples. Besides medical aid, the Mission provided a small school for Libyan children.

Before Gadhafi deposed him and became dictator, King Idris sat on the throne, rotating his rule between his co-capitals, Benghazi in the east near Egypt, and Tripoli in the west. His golden-domed palace, which was lit up at night, was less than half a mile from Garden City, where my family lived, and was available for tours when he wasn’t in residence. I joined my mother’s ladies club for a tour one day and marveled at the huge gardens: a patchwork of ice plant, pools, fountains and palm trees intersected with pathways. In this garden, grass was a weed. Inside, we were greeted with a mosaic-tiled entryway and treated to a red-carpeted throne room accented with gilt mirrors and chairs. A formal dining room hung with rich tapestries was highlighted with an elaborate chandelier. His countrymen were living simply for the most part (some of them in makeshift homes of cardboard and tin), but the king had radio, television, air-conditioning and several cars, a Cadillac among them.

The King’s Palace serves a different purpose in modern times: it’s a very large library.

King's Palace in 1950s

King’s Palace in 1950s

 

GHOSTLY ENCOUNTERS IN SO CAL

Paraphrasing Shakespeare–Hamlet said to Horatio: There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

I have always been interested in the supernatural; I’ve had some experiences and know many friends who have had them as well. It’s a great topic for articles and stories.  I’ve written a short book on Amazon  about a true fascinating positive encounter—Angels in Uniform—and I interviewed a man who was living in a haunted house. The interview, upon which I based this blog,  was published in the Daily News newspaper when I had a column.

Glen Peterson had bought a dilapidated “castle” in the Santa Monica Mountains and began restoring it years ago. Resembling a German castle on a hill with its bell tower, gables, decorative wood beams, courtyard and guest house, the home was built in 1939 by Theodore Spurkuhl, a Paramount Studios director of photography known for his pioneering use of spotlights. Spurkuhl worked with many of the film greats: Ronald Coleman, James Cagney and Fred MacMurray, for instance, and was noted for his work on “Beau Geste” starring Gary Cooper.

SparkuhlHome

Spurkuhl put a great deal of energy into building the home. Since it was wartime, he even added a secret room in case the Japanese invaded or the Germans won the war. His descendants, who visited the site while Glen was restoring it, thought the cinematographer might have put too much intensity into the building project since he died in 1940.

Before Glen bought it, the home was owned by actor Nick Nolte, who purchased it in 1975 during the filming of the TV miniseries, “Rich Man, Poor Man.” The other primary actor in the series, Peter Strauss, had also bought property nearby. Coincidentally, Strauss’ property was later sold by Glen, who had been a real estate agent, to the National Park Service. This 1970s miniseries was featured on a PBS documentary “Pioneers of Television” not long ago.

The 70s were wild and crazy for Nolte. I remember seeing his old yellow Cadillac broken down by the side of a mountain road one day. Nolte and his friends partied quite a bit and the house suffered a good deal of damage. It was finally abandoned to birds of all types, squirrels and various other animals. It was a mess of animal droppings and the like when Glen began his restoration.

One evening after the house was beautifully finished, Glen was home alone enjoying a quiet evening. While listening to a new Terence Trent Darby recording and near the end of the song, Glen heard a loud knocking on the back door. He checked both inside and out and found no one. Back inside he restarted the song. The knocking began again at the exact same place.

This time he checked the windows, “I had repaired the windows just that morning,” Glen recalled, specifically to keep them from opening due to strong winds. They were all still closed, and he began the recording once more.

Glen played the song eight times, and he told me, “the pounding kept happening at the same time each time.” Every time it happened, he checked for a reason for the knocking, but found none. On the ninth try, the record played through to the end, and there were no further knocking sounds.

The mysterious last two lines of the song that finally played were: “No grave can hold my body down; this land is still my home.”

SEX — In Books & TV

Emerging by Heidi Giraud, symbolic depiction of emerging from the tangle of the past

Emerging by Heidi Giraud, A woman pondering the confusion of sex!

Sex may make the world go round and the population go up, but how do we approach it in writing? Gingerly or full bore? And yes, you can interpret that as you wish.

Sex affects us all in one way or another, obviously. We spend enough time figuring it out: what sexual preference does our invented character prefer, and can he/she or we be put so easily into the box (label) of heterosexual or homosexual or something in between? Didn’t Kinsey, and Masters & Johnson open the door to open-mindedness and acceptance? Yes and no. Consider Caitlyn Jenner, LGBT, not to mention the Catholic priests’ scandals, etc. I won’t open that Pandora’s Box, but the subject of sex is always an attention getter.

I’m a person of mixed beliefs about sex and about sexually-oriented books, films, and TV, as I’ll wager most of us are. No tidy preferences for many of us; emotions can be jumbled. As a voracious reader, I can enjoy a book that hints at sexual dalliance as well as one with specifics. I’m not a prude but I can also be quite conservative. I speak or write more bravely than I act. I’ve seen a few porn films but prefer soft porn, which excites without being as explicit. That preference extends to books, for the most part. I’ve read the first two Fifty Shades of Grey books and while it was certainly titillating, I got tired of all the specifics. Perhaps I like more mystery to the process. I’ve been watching Masters of Sex about sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson on Showtime. It’s been fascinating to discover how they did their research and with whom for their 1966 book, Human Sexual Response.

I wrote two fairly graphic sex scenes for my book, Melaynie’s Masquerade, and enjoyed the process. It was my first novel and my first attempt at a genuine sex scene. All the newspaper/magazine articles I wrote over the years steered clear of sex.

As a child of the 50s, my sexual education was a definite mix. Don’t get pregnant was the big fear before the 60s ushered in free sex. As we learned in no time, nothing is free! Sexual diseases, the usual STDs and then AIDS, soon took over. I’ve been married and single and not always prudent, but I’ve escaped dire consequences. Experience, however, does provide an edge in writing about sexual subjects. Imagination goes only so far!

It’s fun to debate the issue: to write or not to write the sex scene. Not long ago I edited a highly sexual book and found it to be a pleasurable experience and sometimes stimulating. Despite finding it salacious when I first read a sample, I changed my mind when I discovered it was very humorous. It was written by a young math teacher in his 30s and he didn’t have outdated compunctions about sex. When I’d grown up, sex was a sinful thing to be hidden and whispered about. The majority of us were not so innocent but pretended we were pure. Lots of hypocrisy exists concerning sex and that will probably never change. I went through a time in college when I was asking girlfriends if they were still virgins! Hilarious now, (I wonder who was lying?) but some of us kept our virginity longer in the early 60s.

I admired Dave’s easy way of writing about his adventures; he’d already put them on a blog; in case you’re interested—www.daveglenn.com. His writing is quite explicit; he doesn’t mince words. And he didn’t treat himself as the stud king. He described his mistakes, his rejections, and the hilarious escapades from meeting all sorts of women, both young and older, in bars or online, as well as encountering foreign girls available on travels to Europe, Australia, etc.

Dave told me he thinks casual sex and having sex buddies is fine, if it’s done responsibly so that no one’s feelings are hurt. He’s not averse to masturbating but having the real thing is more fun. And he doesn’t need a commitment or marriage to sanctify his sexual urges.

Editing his book brought me up-to-date. My, my…Sex was treated as a perfectly natural part of life (Kinsey had thought so in the early part of the 20th century: wish I’d read him earlier!) Modern girls are just as anxious as guys to crawl into bed or wherever the assignation might be, despite emotional or sometimes physical risks. One night stands.

Sex may be freer and more open now in the Western World but, being humans, there are usually emotional strings of one sort or another, especially for women. I must conclude I’m still betwixt and between. At least many of us can read about sex these days without having apoplexy.

LA — FULL OF CAMERAS AND FILM LOCATIONS

Old Army truck from MASH

Old Army truck souvenir from MASH TV series in Santa Monica Mountains – Malibu Creek State Park

In Southern California, the entertainment capital of the world, it’s not unusual to see large white trucks parked on local streets—film crews have come for a day or two of filming. It could be for a commercial, a TV show or perhaps even a glamorous exciting movie! On my way to Trader Joe’s to get groceries recently, I saw them lined up about a block long on the street bordering a local park. I get a kick out of seeing the long trucks full of dressing rooms and imagining who will use them. When the rooms are small, it’s not going to be anyone famous.

Not long ago, one of the local car washes looked like it was open for business, but they were using it for some kind of film shoot. Since the car wash didn’t want to lose its regular clientele (it was on the weekend), a man and woman were sitting near the entrance handing out free washes because of the inconvenience. Recently, an Italian restaurant had cameras outside for some kind of production. It’s an older restaurant that was remodeled not long ago, and that factor may have made it more appealing for filming.

The Los Angeles Times prints a map and a list of “permitted shoots” for the week in the Business section. Not long ago NBC was filming in Studio City, and a couple of other productions were being shot in other parts of the San Fernando Valley. And then there are the commercials, like Purina One being made in Encino, and Mazda whose shoot was in Griffith Park.

One of the best, almost perpetual film sets is a natural one: Malibu Creek State Park, 7,000 acres located off Malibu Canyon Road in the Conejo Valley. I was living with my family in that general area when it opened to the public in 1976, and we were eager to hike through it. The State of California combined the old 20th Century Fox movie ranch, extensive property owned by Bob Hope and 250 acres belonging to Ronald Reagan from 1951-1967. The valley and surrounding Santa Monica Mountains were once the territory of the Chumash Indians and later to Spanish settlers.

On one of our first family hikes, there were still some movie sets around—the dome-shaped homes of the apes in “Planet of the Apes,” which starred Charlton Heston, for instance. What looked like a shallow concrete pool was the miniature set for “Tora, Tora, Tora,” a movie about World War II. The lovely home used for Cary Grant’s film, “Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House” is still there and used for an administrative office for California State Parks.

Some of the many movies made in that scenic area included: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The park was supposed to be South America and one of the characters actors in it, Strother Martin, lived nearby in Malibu Lake. Elvis Presley made “Love Me Tender” there, and in the classic 1941 film, “How Green Was My Valley,” the area posed as Wales.

A more recent film made by Mel Brooks: “Robin Hood, Men in Tights” was filmed there. I met Mel Brooks shortly after his film came out. I was doing an interview in Santa Monica at the Pritikin Institute. He and his wife, Anne Bancroft, were having dinner in the Pritikin banquet hall and I introduced myself. I couldn’t resist telling Mel how much I liked his funny movies, particularly the Robin Hood movie. He had one particular joke in the film that applied to the area’s history: the actors used a real fox as a messenger and as it ran away, the line was, if I remember correctly: “There goes the 20th Century Fox!”

One of the most popular shows on television, “MASH” was filmed in Malibu Creek State Park. The area must have resembled Korea. I missed the opportunity to ask my dad, who had fought in the Korean War, if he had ever watched “MASH.” The TV set is now long gone, but they left behind an old Army truck, which stands as a souvenir in the area that was once the set.