August, 2010:

Are We Gaga Over Sex?

Sex…just the word is titillating to most. Vanity Fair’s cover for September 2010 features Lady Gaga, the frequently outrageous pop star. She’s dressed in a fancy jeweled collar and nothing else; her long blond hair (is it a wig?) tantalizingly reveals some skin here and there. Inside, there’s a fuller body view but her hands cup small breasts and she’s in profile, showing a tattoo of three roses at waist level on her left side, which is the camera’s view.

I enjoy the thoughtful variety of stories in this magazine and have been a subscriber for years. The advertising pages in the front are typical of many publications these days: very sexual. I don’t think I paid much attention when I was younger, but it seems more blatant in the last decade or so. The models may be wearing long pants in the ad for Calvin Klein jeans but their legs are spread and poses are quite provocative. The Gucci ad’s female model sports a furry vest and thigh-high boots; a triangle of black cloth appears under the very short skirt, emphasized by her spread legs, as if a pair of bikini panties have been deliberately pulled down.

Sex affects us all in one way or another, obviously. We spend enough time figuring it out.  Can 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 the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Not to mention the Catholic priests’ scandals, etc.

I’m a person of mixed beliefs about how sex is presented in books, films, and TV, as I’ll wager most of us are. Prudery runs deep in American society. No tidy preferences for many of us; emotions can be jumbled. Perhaps our always evolving country and its varied mix of cultures will make sex seem less naughty, but perhaps we prefer it that way—a bit forbidden and nasty. 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. Oftentimes, 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.

Yet, 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. Except one: when the Chippendales craze hit, I wrote about women attending a show featuring men dancing and stripping provocatively. Most of the female audience at one of these early shows responded with glee, then went up to the stage to tip the entertainers by inserting a couple of dollar bills into his skimpy underwear. Some fondled a favorite dancer and a few were rewarded with a kiss.

Since I was writing my article for a family weekly newspaper, I chose to keep it humorous and friendly. Besides, the whole act just hinted at what could happen. At that time there was no “full monty.”

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 cautious, 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. I recently edited a highly sexual book and found it to be a enjoyable experience and sometimes titillating. Despite finding it salacious when I first read a sample, I changed my mind when I discovered the book 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 were very inexperienced in the early 60s.

I admired Dave Glenn’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 doesn’t treat himself as the stud king. He describes his mistakes, his rejections, and the hilarious escapades resulting 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.

Trying "cheesecake" at age 15!

Making a last connection

After a decade of battling the effects of Alzheimer’s, my stepfather, who raised me, was in the last stages of the disease when I planned a visit to make some kind of peace, at least with myself, regarding our complicated, difficult relationship. I hadn’t seen him for about a year—would he recognize me? He didn’t recognize my sister, who was supervising his care and visiting him consistently at a home for elderly patients. I didn’t know what to expect.

She had kept me informed of his decline and all the complications as he slowly withdrew from the world. She said he would get nervous around her sometimes, even though she saw him all the time. When she had come to pick him up for a photo session with a local photographer not long before, she had a difficult time getting him into his suit, shirt and tie, even with help from some of the home’s attendants. At one point he slammed his foot down on hers; he had acted like a two-year-old. Life had come full circle. The resulting

In Germany in happier days - me, Dad and Mom

photo showed a diminished man who looked older than his 78 years.

When I met my sister at the Salt Lake City airport, I was optimistic. But by the time we ate dinner, my stomach was queasy and I could hardly eat.    Most of the night I was either hugging the toilet or sitting on it, thankful I had chosen to stay in a hotel.

I was weak but over the worst the following morning when my sister picked me up for our visit. When we walked into his semi-private room, he was dressed in slacks and a red-plaid shirt and napping in an armchair. He was pitifully thin, his cheekbones stood out, and his once wavy brown hair, now gray, was reduced to a few strands. At least the red plaid gave him some color. What had happened to the imposing and strict Army colonel who had fought in Korea, commanded troops, and traveled the world, the father whose word was law? My sister and I would joke that if he said jump, we’d answer, “How high?”

I approached the chair and gently touched his arm. His brown eyes opened wide—sparkling briefly with recognition and love. They spoke volumes of understanding, a momentary meeting of souls, telling me of forgiveness, peace and farewell.

It was a miracle.

The following day I discovered just how much of a miracle it had been. Head down and refusing to look up at anyone, Dad had retreated to his own world. A few weeks later he had stopped eating and soon left the earthly world for good.

I was glad I had had the chance to say goodbye.

Dad in his senior years

YUGOS — THEY DON’T GO!

A Yugo from the 1980s

Remember Yugos, the cheap little car phenomenon from Serbia? It was an 80s hit with an initial price of $3990 and modeled after a Fiat. Almost 142,000 cars were sold between 1985 and 1991. Because of its unreliability, Car Talk named it the worst car of the millennium!

Jason Vuic, a professor at Bridgewater College in Virginia has written a book about the Yugo craze and mentions a few hilarious jokes. “What’s included in every Yugo owner’s manual? A bus schedule.” And, “What do you call a Yugo with brakes? Customized.” Like my Datsun a few years before, Yugos were small enough to walk when needed!

In 1997, a Manhattan School of Visual Arts professor, Kevin O’Callaghan, put an ad in the paper asking for Yugos that were either dead or alive. He ended up buying 39 Yugos for $3,600 and had his students make functional art from them. The exhibit toured the country.

In an amusing synchronicity, my Aunt Rosie and cousin Ray Scott, who’d taken the Northern California trip in my Olds (second installment of the car saga), got to experience riding in the Yugo. My kids and I drove to Ray Scott’s Navy training graduation in San Diego. To celebrate afterwards, I piled five people in that tiny car to drive to an oceanside restaurant. (Note: Ray Scott decided the Navy wasn’t for him and became a country western singer: look him up!).

Aunt Rosie, Hansi, Ms. X, & cousins Ray & Jackie - Anchors Aweigh!

Not long after, I had my Yugo’s oil changed before a long trip in afternoon traffic from the San Fernando Valley south to Orange County  on the 405, one of the busiest freeways in So Cal. Within a week, little Yugo decided to give out at the top of a freeway off-ramp. I was thankful I was close to home, and it wasn’t on the freeway at rush hour. As I’d done before, I pushed her out of the way and called AAA.

Her prognosis was grim: there was no oil in the engine and it was entirely “kaput” as they say in German. I couldn’t fathom what had happened but concluded a local quick lube place had had a malfunction in oil replacement. I went to small claims court and took along a friend of  my daughter Heidi’s, who had had his own gas station at one time. He made an excellent witness.

I won $1,000 but the lube place owner wasn’t happy with the decision and called me to say he wanted to appeal it. I didn’t have to pretend my anguish and told him right away that I was single and financially strapped. Graciously, he conceded and sent the check immediately.

Getting a new engine was not the ideal solution I had hoped for. My Yugo’s aging pains got worse and she had an early demise. Little did I know she might have ended up a piece of metal sculpture.  My luck was changing by that time. My brother had a used BMW (he had bought it new and she was well pampered) and he gave her to me when he got a new car. Nothing quite like German engineering. She lived with me until she’d clocked over 220,000 miles; she was still very driveable.

When I inherited some money, my fortunes turned very positive. I could actually buy a new car for the first time. I sold Ms BMW to my friend, Pat, who loves to provide good homes for used cars. My best car friend now is my Bondi Beach blue Mustang, and I bought her brand new. With low mileage for her age, she’s still running strong despite the scratches from parking (Heidi says she looks like she’s participated in a demolition derby). I continue to  like the good old American Ford.

My birthday falls in the Chinese Year of the Horse, and I felt a Mustang would bring me luck. She proved it when she was younger and parked on the street. A distracted fellow on his cell phone plowed into her rear end, and my wonderful blue steed was pretty squashed. Since she had very few miles on her, she got revamped completely and has run without a hitch ever since. I wish I could say the same about myself!

Don’t Judge a Car by its Appearance

1974 Olds 98

For about 20 years, I was challenged with one automobile crisis after another. Supporting myself by being a writer didn’t guarantee a big income.  Although my dreams of writing had manifested and I’d received some fame, appreciation and money, I realized I hadn’t factored in financial security. Life was almost a roller coaster ride.

When my ex and I separated and later divorced, I took the family car, a 1974 Oldsmobile 98. We’d bought it almost new at a good price during one of the gas crunches when gas was expensive and hard to get. We’d been proud of our used luxury vehicle: a soft blue exterior with a fairly plush and roomy interior.

By the early 80s, the Olds was a senior citizen. Her electric windows weren’t dependable and seldom worked for the back windows. Pretty soon I had to resort to leaving them permanently lowered, not too inconvenient considering California has a short rainy season. In 1984, she took me, my Aunt Rosie, my son, Hansi, and my cousin Ray Scott on a Northern California trip that included Yosemite, San Francisco and the Monterey-Carmel coast, and she didn’t break down. If she had, we would probably have laughed, which we did a great deal of during that journey! With her eight cylinders roaring, she made it up the winding road to the viewing spot for the Yosemite Valley below. My son and cousin enjoyed the view.

Beautiful Yosemite National Park

A nice family who ran a nursery school “adopted” the Olds when I bought a newer used car, thanks to selling my home and downsizing. My cute white Datsun, a shift transmission, had her problems and taught me not to judge a book, or a car, by its cover. She was fine if I was headed straight down the road, but she refused to back up. Fortunately, she was small and light; if I needed a backwards push, a handy friend could help. I learned to anticipate how to maneuver and avoid backing up—it was hell to park, however! Forget parallel parking! Being an optimist with a good sense of humor, I figured it was the Divine telling me I didn’t need to go backwards.

An acquaintance gave me a good deal on a rebuilt transmission but it didn’t prolong the car’s life for very long. My friend Bonnie knew a woman who wanted to sell her used Ford LTD for $400 (as I recall). It had hardly any mileage since for years she’d only used it to go the 8 miles back and forth to work. The fellow I was dating named it the Ghetto Glider, which was funny until one tire, which I didn’t know was a retread, came apart when I had to pick up my daughter, Heidi, at traffic school, some distance from home.

No cell phones in those days—it was leg power and public phones. No buses on Saturday either, so I had to hoof it for a mile to get Heidi, after I left the disabled car. The expensive results of that adventure included a costly new tire, a pricey cab ride, and a disgruntled dog groomer, who had to wait over an hour past closing time for us to pick up our Cockapoo.

Before the Glider left my possession, her timing belt was broken, the dashboard lights didn’t function (try estimating your speed at night!), and the trunk wouldn’t open.

In between cars, a new friend lent me his used taupe-colored Porsche since he’d bought a brand new one. What an adventure that was! I had learned to drive on a shift car, and Ms. Porsche just purred around corners and on the canyon roads nearby. Not long after, he took back the used car and lent me his brand new white Porsche 944. It’s a complicated story and so interesting I’ve written a long “short” story about it. I enjoyed it for a while and even crowded two friends into this gorgeous vehicle to attend Pasadena’s bizarre Do-Dah Parade, the humorous answer to the Rose Parade. Within a couple of months I was without transportation again as my friend Bill’s drama played itself out.

Being without an automobile in Los Angeles is a challenge. I was lucky to have available friends with cars, and that Agoura Hills, where I was living at the time, had cheap taxi service. I remember one Sunday I walked a couple of miles, roundtrip, to see a Whoopi Goldberg movie. Besides laughter at the movie and at my predicament, I’d gotten some exercise.

Isaac, a musician and poet friend, came to the rescue. He had an almost new Yugo and was ready to get a more expensive car for his wife and baby. All I had to do was take over the reasonable payments. It was a darling little blue car and smelled like baby crackers. The car didn’t have much gumption and we do have some steep grades between various valleys in Southern California. I put the pedal to the metal and prayed, in the slow lane.

The Yugo saga to be continued…

Cars — My First Experiences

Posing in a '62 MGB

In the US, most of us can trace our histories by the cars we owned, used, or learned to drive in. Not to mention the cars that provided room for early sexual  exploration. Whether you “made out” or “went all the way,” who doesn’t remember a few cars that were special?

My first driving lessons were in my dad’s  1953 white Ford convertible. My mother was my first instructor, but she was so nervous in the passenger seat she was already slamming on the imaginary brakes a half block from a stop sign in a residential area. The top was down so visibility was great, but my mom was a worrier. My dad didn’t fare much better, although he stayed calm during the lesson. “I need a beer,” he exclaimed to Mom when we got home safely. I got my learner’s permit but no car or permission to drive the family Ford.  I’ve recently used a photo of me sitting on that Ford’s hood in Tripoli.

Driving lessons in an old Nash Rambler were the perfect excuse for a boyfriend to get a few kisses and a little “petting,” as we called it then. After a little night driving practice and warnings about oncoming headlights, we found a likely spot for some action.  A few kisses later, we were in the sights of a large flashlight brandished by a policeman. It was just a warning that where we had parked was inappropriate (the grounds of an Episcopal seminary), but embarrassing nonetheless.

When the boyfriend took me home that night, he walked me to the door in his socks. The cops pulled up and, suspicious about the socks, questioned him, he told me later. When they got a close-up view and interviewed him, they realized he was quite reputable and not a potential burglar.

In college, one of my favorite memories was the white Corvette driven by the charming Army lieutenant who squired me about. He was stationed nearby and had more money to spend than the typical underclassman. Making out by a Virginia lake in spring, however, wasn’t a good choice. The next day I was taking semester exams and could barely restrain from scratching the hell out of the 40 mosquito bites on my legs. The car pictured here is similar to the lieutenant’s car, but he had the  US version with left-hand drive.

In my senior year I was trusted with my graduate student boyfriend’s MGB. He let me drive it by myself from time to time. I think he was serious about me, but I wasn’t ready to settle down, despite the nice car.

Years later, at the end of my marriage and the beginning of single life, my most vivid memories concern an aging Oldsmobile ’98, a Datsun, a near decrepit Ford LTD (retread tires and a trunk that didn’t open), a borrowed Porsche 944, a Yugo, a used BMW that was in great shape except for the broken AC,  and finally a brand new Mustang! Such is the brief version of my single life with cars.

I remember them all quite fondly, even when these cars were giving me grief. In Los Angeles, the best advice is to find a good and trustworthy mechanic.

FUNERALS OF THE MOVIE STAR KIND

Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke

Movie stars are people too—they live, enjoy some fame and notoriety and eventually die, like we all do!

Character actors, like Strother Martin, are oftentimes the more approachable kind of person in the movie trade. He and his wife Helen had lived near where I lived and worked in the Conejo Valley (Agoura Hills, Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks) for years.

Strother and Helen were active in the community. Helen was an enthusiastic member of the Topanga-Las Virgenes Resource Conservation District (TLVRCD), which dealt with the Santa Monica Mountains—the western boundary of the Conejo Valley. Coincidentally, Ronald Reagan’s first political job was his election to the Board of the TLVRCD: having a ranch in the area in the 1950s was the reason he got involved. We all know what that position eventually led to!

Strother had an active career in film. Who can forget his famous words as the prison camp superintendent of “prisoner” Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke? “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” He and Newman did several movies together—Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Slapshot among them.

Considering himself a member of the community, Strother volunteered to be part of the local chamber of commerce’s Christmas celebration at the Calabasas Inn one year. I believe he read something from Dickens, and we all felt honored to hear his dulcet tones.

I was the editor of the Acorn, a local weekly newspaper, in the early 1980s and had decided to do an interview with Strother. He was an interesting subject, especially since had made a movie not long before with John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn: Rooster Cogburn. He gave me some publicity shots from the film and then mentioned he was due to host Saturday Night Live on NBC. It was April 1980 and it was one of his last jobs.

Shortly after my story was published, I got the news that Strother had had a fatal heart attack. He was only 61. Helen informed their friends in the chamber of commerce about the funeral plans and we were all invited to attend. As the local newspaper editor, I was an active member.

The service and burial were scheduled for the famous Forest Lawn Cemetery; this one is in the Hollywood hills. I distinctly remember following Ernest Borgnine’s expensive car into the cemetery. I knew it was him by the personalized license plate.

Sitting in the small chapel, we chamber members were among some of Hollywood’s elite. I noticed Lee Marvin and Jimmy Stewart, both favorites of mine. Paul Newman, I was told, couldn’t attend but had sent his daughter. It was strange to see the once vital and entertaining Strother in an open casket as we filed by for the obligatory viewing.

After the funeral, a few of us (no one famous) were invited back to the Martin’s house. Helen let us know she was surprised and honored when President Jimmy Carter called personally to give her his condolences.

For a few years afterward I would see Helen Martin, who kept herself busy with the community and the Topanga-Las Virgenes Resource Conservation District. One night I was invited to accompany her to a play at the Ahmanson Theater at the Music Center in downtown L.A. She drove us in her huge yellow Cadillac.

At intermission, she introduced me to Strother’s former agent, whose name I don’t remember. What I do recall was that the man also represented Richard Dreyfuss, who had gotten married at the agent’s Beverly Hills home.

In Southern California it can be both odd and exciting to meet and perhaps be a small part of the lives of those you’ve admired on the silver screen.

SEXUAL INTERESTS — TABOOS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

An all British effort cartoon by British Servicemen

When my family lived in Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s, I was barely a teenager and in those long ago days, many of us had little inkling of sex or sexual practices. Movies we saw were innocent and only hinted at sex: a kiss, a little groping, a closed bedroom door. Television in those days wasn’t even a consideration—my family hadn’t even brought a TV set over with us and we didn’t miss it. Listening to Armed Forces Network radio at night was entertainment enough. A good actor could read a powerful tale and your mind supplied the details. I still remember the haunting story of an 18th century sailor who jumped ship and ended up swimming out to sea instead of toward land.

There was a popular music show on Saturday morning radio that accepted requests, in case you wanted to dedicate a song to a potential crush in high school. I remember requesting, “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation,” or maybe it was “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” if memory serves. I don’t recall to whom the song was dedicated.

Wheelus High School, on the Air Force base, sponsored dances and there was a teenage club where a talented student, Jon Jorgensen, led a band called Stardust. Close slow dancing provided its own stimulation.

In the city of Tripoli, American teenage girls were advised not to wear jeans because Libyan women were dressed in barracans (a idea similar to burkas except one eye could be shown. See painting in my first Tripoli story). I don’t remember that we were told why specifically, but I found out.

Libyan men, as the majority of men throughout the world, were interested in females and especially the female body. Females that weren’t completely hidden from view were especially intriguing, and jeans are form-fitting attire.

The Egyptian Ambassador lived across the street from me, and he was served by a few Libyan policemen who patrolled the walled perimeter of his compound. If my girlfriends and I walked the unpaved path outside the compound for some reason, and if a policeman were nearby, he’d try to walk beside us and brush against us with his body. We learned to avoid them.

One day, a girlfriend and I had an unpleasant encounter while walking to her house, a few blocks away from mine. We were in jeans, of course, and sauntering along in the middle of the street since there was very little traffic. We weren’t paying attention to a young male bicyclist trailing us. Most male Libyans had bicycles; they were relatively cheap and reliable. We were prime bait and he saw his opportunity as he swooped in front of us and made a grab for my crotch. He succeeded and then rode on a little ways. I started to tell my friend when he came back and managed to do the same to her. He was quite the adept cyclist but we were incensed. He rode on as if nothing had happened and we followed him, thinking we’d get revenge by attacking him. We couldn’t catch him and had to swallow our anger. Being street-smart from then on, we learned to be more aware.

My neighbor and good friend Gail, who lived around the corner, and I loved to play tennis on her street, which was seldom used by cars. We weren’t very skilled at the game and the ball often landed in the walled compound on one side of the street that was said to belong to a former Queen of Libya. The Queen’s lush gardens swallowed our balls. Sometimes our ball went into the smaller gated compound next door to me, which belonged to a British general. He had a few cute British enlisted men on duty. They didn’t seem to have much to do and always enjoyed our athletic efforts.

They kept one of the tennis balls and the next time we played, they tossed it over the fencing to us. They’d slit it and spent some time making an artistic rendering of us on a small piece of lined paper to insert into the slit. Gail was supposed to be Gail Storm, who had a TV show and I was supposed to be Marilyn Monroe. Between us was a “hound dog” named Elvis! We were flattered since both actresses were good looking in person. I saved the little cartoon, never knowing I would eventually put it on a blog! There was always a wall or fencing between us but it was fun to flirt and we did it when they were around. Probably a good reason to play tennis in the street!

A crude little poem, misspellings and all, was printed on the back of the cartoon to impress us:

Hi! Jirks

You squeeke and groan

And make queer noises

But o’er yon wall

We know ‘tis you

So if this ball you do trow back

Don’t be shy, come round the back

And have a chat.

E.P.

One day, in a break from our game, we were flirting with these congenial attractive servicemen, as usual. We were standing on the sidewalk and they were behind a gate whose bars were far apart. Suddenly, I noticed a Libyan man in paint-splattered overalls sitting on a bike nearby, leering at us.  Then I noticed another detail. He had removed his penis from his pants and was waving it at us enthusiastically. To me at that time, no expert on penis size or shape, I thought his penis was menacingly huge and seemed to be dotted with paint. Or was that my vivid imagination?

Disgusted and a little frightened, I tapped Gail’s shoulder gently to get her attention. She looked around without being obvious and saw him right away. We both struggled to maintain composure as we stepped closer to the gate and hung on. We didn’t know what to say to the young British soldiers, who probably couldn’t see the pervert, so we said nothing and hoped the crazed cyclist would eventually pedal away, which he did.

We felt confident that we had kept our cool! Weren’t we the savvy ones! Sex can be exciting and disgusting at the same time!

A Bang that was more like a car’s backfire – Dyno-mite part two

It was close to Christmas and those of us from my evacuated apartment building and others nearby who hadn’t gone to work were waiting to see what was going to happen with the dynamite.

A plump young blond with her hair in a flip sat next to me on the flower garden wall, gently lowering her nervous white cat in his carrier. She grumbled about having to leave her car; she’d told the cop at her door, in the apartment building north of mine, that she’d been ready to leave for work but he’d insisted she had to evacuate and leave her car. “There are a lot of cops here because they’re worried about finding a crystal meth lab—those things blow up easily,” she explained and added,  “There have been several incidents with these crystal meth labs on Whitsett.”

Many apartment dwellers had gone to work, but in entertainment-oriented LA, people work all kinds of odd hours. My ex-Marine neighbor had been asleep; even though he was long retired, he was used to going to sleep at 4 a.m. and getting up after lunch. He was still groggy but managed a few gruff-voiced opinions. Although we’d been ordered out over a half-hour before, a few stragglers lifted the yellow tape and strolled over to join the small crowd.

I noticed a painfully thin young man, all in black, with dark glasses, dark closely cropped hair and tiny silver earrings dotted around both ears. Recognized by the blond with the cat, he sat next to her. In a heavy accent he gave us a cynical look and softly said, “They wouldn’t go to such trouble in Israel.”

It was fairly warm, but I was grateful I’d brought the extra sweatshirt; the brick wall hadn’t yet been warmed by the sun. Since we were blocked from the action and so many trucks obscured our view, most of us sat or stood and offered various opinions about what the Bomb Squad was up to. Lacking information, we chitchatted about what we were missing. An attractive but no longer young, long-haired brunette in sports shoes and leaning on a cane complained to a man and woman that she’d been set to entertain sick children at an LA children’s hospital and had to cancel.

A tall young cop with a friendly face and dark curly hair held the arm of an elderly woman with a placid, accepting face as he escorted her past the caution tape. “Does anyone here speak Armenian?” he asked as he directed her to a seat on the wall. In heavy brown stockings and slippers, her hair pulled back into a scarf, the woman reached for my shoulder as she gingerly sat down next to me. Moments later, a middle-aged woman walked over and began explaining in Armenian what was happening.

One of my neighbors, a handsome immigrant from Romania who owned his own limousine service, stopped and sat down next to me. I had always been curious about his business and who his clients were. He’d just returned from a week in Las Vegas taking care of members of the Saudi Arabian royal family, who required a whole fleet of cars to drive them around. His most consistent family, he said, was Kirk Douglas and his wife. When Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones were in town they also used his service.

“Who has been your most difficult client?” I couldn’t resist asking.

“Jennifer Lopez. She’s a bitch and I’d never work for her again,” he said firmly.

We’d been outside for over an hour when suddenly we heard a male voice shout. It sounded like, “Here it comes!” but I wasn’t sure. There was a loud blast as most of us stood up and headed for the caution tape to see what had happened. From up the street we could see black smoke rising. “So, that was the dynamite!” someone exclaimed. “At least we were out here for a reason,” another voice chimed in.

An overweight cop with a buzz cut and a freckled face stood at the tape and told us, “You’ll be able to go home in about a half hour. First we’ve got to make sure there are no more problems.”

I forgot to watch the news that night to find out more about the dynamite, but the following morning I heard something about dynamite on TV news. According to the report, about twelve hours after our incident, there was another one in nearby Van Nuys. The police had found a cache of old dynamite in an industrial building. The only way they could eliminate it was to call in the fire department to set it on fire and make sure it didn’t involve the connecting buildings. Their action closed down the 405 freeway for several hours in the middle of the night. I knew it was connected because the dynamite in the freezer was mentioned.

The adventure was the talk of my apartment building for a few days, but as Christmas neared and shopping plans became more frantic, it was soon forgotten. It would hardly match the feelings and discussions of September 11, a few years before.

Author Victoria comments

To my readers:

I am a fairly new blogger so I haven’t figured out all the ins and outs of blogging and all the features on my blog. I have had requests recently from Sychov and Anton about exchanging links with me. I am interested and appreciate everyone’s interest, but am still investigating. Will you send me some more information on your blogs? Thanks for your patience.

Victoria

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