1990s

IMAGINATIVE ADVERTISING in PERSONAL ADS

Does it look better than it tastes?

A sucker for imaginative writing, I’ve learned a few lessons about the truth or fiction behind “personal” advertising. I answered an ad from a man who called himself handsome and a talented writer of energy and spirit. He claimed that trumpets would blare and cymbals would crash when he met the right woman. When we talked, he told me he lived in Redondo Beach and had a view of the Pacific Ocean. He owned some unusual decorations, like a six-foot hand-carved Polynesian alligator, but his prized possessions were a line drawing by Picasso and a Spanish bullfighter’s cape.

When I met him, I discovered he was much older than I’d thought (he hadn’t admitted his age). He had difficulty walking, was hunchbacked and had prostrate problems. He told me he wasn’t expecting Dolly Parton, and I took that as a compliment–I was in shorts and a low-cut blouse. His beach apartment balcony had an ocean view if you leaned over and squinted through the buildings in front of his. The treasured wooden alligator made walking difficult, but it was one of the few mementoes that had survived five marriages and lots of alimony.

Turned out he was a child psychiatrist, a rival of the famous Dr. Benjamin Spock of Baby and Child Care fame. He had written five books and claimed he’d coined the term “parenting.” I did find a couple of his books in my local library afterward.

He bought lunch after showing me all his treasures, but it was a litany of his complaints about all his former wives. He was looking for someone to take care of him and listen to all his misery. I wondered why I’d spent so much time listening to him. Was I too polite or just not savvy enough yet?

The most daring experience I had was flying to New Orleans to meet an Israeli biochemistry professor at Tulane University. He had read my ad and didn’t care that we were geographically challenged. We had had several interesting conversations and after he’d seen my photo, he was convinced I was the one a psychic had said was perfect for him. He made good money, evidently, and wanted to fly me to New Orleans for a weekend. I felt he sounded trustworthy and I’d never been to the “Big Easy.” One of my girlfriends thought I was out of my mind, but agreed to keep an eye on my kids.

The professor was fairly recently divorced and had come to the States to forget his troubles with his former wife, who had custody of their children and had remained in Israel. He was polite for the most part and did show me around New Orleans, but after he’d shared all his anguish with me, he soon realized he’d made a mistake and wasn’t ready for any kind of relationship. I left a day early.

It seems my psychic reading of a few years before was coming true. She had told me that I would not leave any stone unturned in life. I hadn’t found the right stone yet, apparently.

STAR STRUCK OR NOT?

Mel Brooks & Anne Bancroft in one of Brooks' movies

My daughter Heidi accuses me of being star-struck. I will admit to some part of that description, but I think I’ve just been fortunate and in the right place at the right time. Or, I have had occasion to interview a star or to meet a famous person serendipitously.

One of my favorite encounters happened during my position as editor/writer of the Beverly Hills Country Club Magazine, about 1995. I was in Santa Monica, right on the ocean, to interview Robert Pritikin, the owner/president of the Pritikin Longevity Center, a forward-looking proponent of health through proper diet and exercise.

The Pritikin Institute, no longer in Santa Monica, was quite a place—there were accommodations for seven day or longer visits for a choice of health regimens. The facility had exercise rooms, easy access to the beach, and a very large dining room that offered a buffet of healthy and delicious food.

After a tour of the place by the owner and an interview, he invited me to enjoy the dinner buffet. He was apologetic that he had commitments and couldn’t share the meal, but he encouraged me to partake since it was early evening by that time.

I gladly accepted, filled my plate with some tasty-looking items and found a table with a woman who was eating alone. The dining room area was quite spacious and the huge window at the western end faced the ocean. I ate as I talked to my tablemate, a very cordial woman. I don’t remember the food, eating made no impression when I noticed an interesting older couple walk by us with their trays to sit down at a nearby table.

“I think that’s Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft,” I said excitedly to my dinner companion. My announcement didn’t seem to make any impression on her.

Deciding not to disturb the famous couple right away, especially since they were eating, I finished my meal.

After anxiously waiting until an appropriate time, I finally decided to approach. I was a fan, I reasoned, and they both looked approachable. I had recently seen Mel Brooks’ comic film, “Robin Hood, Men in Tights.” I had always liked his zany sense of humor, from silly and ridiculous to the sublime. And I had always admired Anne Bancroft, never forgetting her film roles as Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate,” and when she played Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s amazing teacher in “The Miracle Worker.”

As I walked over to their table I felt I could have been a sleuth: they were both very casually dressed. Mel had on a baseball cap, and they were both in jeans and sports shoes. I don’t think anyone else had noticed them. When I nervously introduced myself as the editor of the magazine doing a story on the Pritikin Institute, they immediately gave me a welcoming smile.

I felt a bit like a blubbering idiot telling Mel how much I loved his movies and had seen “Spaceballs,” his most recent Robin Hood movie and almost all the rest. I quickly added a small comment for Anne and wished I were more calm.

It’s ironic how I can interview almost anyone calmly but when I’m a fan, I get nervous and tongue-tied. We humans are full of contradictions!

Mel and Anne couldn’t have been nicer and began praising the healthy and tasty menu at the Pritikin Institute. They lived in the neighborhood and came for dinner often. They recommended me doing the same if I had the chance.

I didn’t overstay my welcome and thanked them both for their time. During my fairly long drive home along Pacific Coast Highway, I was grinning from ear to ear. I couldn’t wait to share my story.

When I saw “The Producers” on stage and at the movies, I remembered my brief visit with Mel Brooks. Anne Bancroft died in 2005 and I feel even more privileged that I had had the opportunity to briefly chat with this happy couple who had been married 40 years.

Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks

CHRISTO AND THE UMBRELLAS – Triumph and Tragedy in a World of Umbrellas

Umbrellas, like giant poppies, dot the California 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.

The imposing umbrellas we saw were part of a project Christo and his wife installed in both Japan (blue umbrellas) and California (yellow umbrellas). The umbrellas were formidable: about 20 feet high with a diameter 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 went 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.

Sally appreciating Christo's umbrellas

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 pepper the landscape with huge unwieldy umbrellas. The day was overcast and the yellow stood out even more: almost like seeing a 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 with the words—“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 as she stood outside a small place that was selling memorabilia. At 448 pounds, it’s easy to see she had no chance.

Ironically, I heard later in another 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.

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