The City of Angels adventure

(Note: It’s advisable to read the previous post, The New York City Adventure, before reading this one.)

* * * *

GETTING OFF the Greyhound bus from New York City, there I was in Nashville, Hillbilly Heaven, and where my parents had relocated three years earlier.

My father picked me up at the bus station, drove me back to their apartment, phoned my mother where she was working, and said: Brace yourself.

Those very words.

I soon had a job at a small firm that refurbished mattresses. I and another guy would drive a truck to homes and pick up tatty mattresses that would be cleaned and returned to the owners. I worked there just long enough to save money for another Greyhound ticket, back to California.

My parents were still bracing themselves when I headed west again.

The ride from Nashville was not quite so long as the earlier trip from Los Angeles to New York, but it was a long haul nonetheless. Only a few months had passed.

I got off the bus in downtown Los Angeles, and a friend from the Air Force met me. I quickly found a studio apartment in Santa Monica and a job parking cars in a Beverly Hills lot. Things went downhill fast, economically and emotionally.

Just a few weeks later, I was broke. And living in Los Angeles without a car ain’t no cakewalk. I phoned my parents and asked for bus fare. Soon I was back on a Greyhound heading east to Nashville.

Shortly after my return, I enrolled at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, but that did not last long. Nothing lasted long for me in those times.

My parents were in Nashville because my father was working on The Tennessean newspaper. Within a year after my second return, my parents moved to New Orleans. I jumped into the Rambler’s back seat, going along for the ride.

New Orleans. Now that was a place where I felt at home.

For 18 years.

Two wives, one divorce, two (almost three) degrees, the newspaper business, bars, motorcycles, airplanes, raw oysters, Dixie Beer, crawfish and ketchup, hangovers, Mardi Gras … and even more Dixie Beer. It was a city that suited me.

The New York City adventure

I WALKED OUT the front gate of Castle Air Force Base in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California a free, young man. It was the mid-1960s.

Taking a taxi the few miles into Merced, I got on a Greyhound down to the City of Angels where I boarded another bus headed to New York City, 2,451 miles away as the buzzard flies. It was a four-and-a-half-day ride.

I thought I was in love, and maybe I was. The object of my desires, my high school sweetheart, lived just outside New York City in White Plains. She was staying with her psychologist — or perhaps psychiatrist; I don’t recall — and his family, sent there from Jacksonville, Florida, by wealthy, worried parents.

Her name was Jane, a beautiful, teenaged Jewish Princess and only child.

Aside from one breakdown near Pittsburgh, Pa., in the middle of the night, and the fact that I had stupidly put all my clothes and toothbrush in my suitcase locked in the belly of the bus, the trip was uneventful.

I walked out of the Greyhound station in Manhattan and spotted a hotel across the street. I checked in, showered, brushed my teeth and combed my hair. Ah, that’s more like it. And I phoned Jane.

It was either that afternoon or the following day — it was over half a century ago — that she came into town to see me. We got naked in the hotel, just the second time in my life, and then we went out. The first had been with her too, a couple of years before.

I recall neither where we went nor what we did, but I do remember she was distant, which saddened me.

Over the next three days I found a studio apartment in Greenwich Village and got a job as a painter’s helper via an employment agency. The memories are quite vague now. I saw Jane one more time, and I walked her one evening to a subway station that would return her to Grand Central and on to White Plains.

I spent just one night in the apartment and never reported to my first day of work as a painter’s helper. Instead I returned to the Greyhound station and boarded a bus to Nashville, Tennessee, where my parents lived.

I did not say goodbye to Jane, and I never saw her again.

* * * *

(Tomorrow: The City of Angels Adventure, back to California.)

The in-between time

CHRISTMAS, FESTIVUS and Kwanzaa are all behind us, and we’re careening toward the New Year. It’s an appropriate time for memories.

I went to the photo album, found these shots and, being a sharing sort of fellow, I’m putting them here for you … and me.

jax

This is the house I grew up in, the Arlington area of Jacksonville, Florida. The house looked far better back then. This photo was taken by my daughter about five years ago. There was no sidewalk in my time, and the yard was well-tended by my father. There was a mimosa tree to the left. There were flowers everywhere.

The house was painted aquamarine.

My parents purchased this place brand new in 1952. I lived there from the Third Grade until I graduated from high school. The window on the left was my parents’ bedroom. The one in the middle was my bedroom. My sister’s room was in the rear. Due to my father’s drinking, this place does not hold fond memories for me.

houstonhouse

This small apartment is in a high-rise called the Houston House or, as it was known locally, the Heartbreak Hotel due to the number of divorced guys in residence. It was where I moved when my last wife decided to take up with an illegal alien yard boy half her age in 1995. Like the home above, it too holds no fond memories.

But it had a spectacular view. I was on the 22nd floor.

fly

I’m including this shot just for the heck of it. It was taken in rural Texas, as the time stamp clearly indicates, on July 30, 1994. That was about a year before my second wife developed goo-goo eyes for the yard boy.

That’s me on the right, and we’re about to take off in an ultralight. I already had a private pilot’s license, but I didn’t know how to fly ultralights. The guy on the left was the pilot. I never got around to learning ultralights. Life intervened, and not in a good way.

patio

The photo shows a happy time, my Mexican wedding in 2002. Well, for the two on the left, me and my child bride. I was 57 at the time, and she was 41. The not-so-happy folks are the other two, my wife’s sister who spent the evening glowering with jealousy. Yes, that’s a double-dip ice cream cone over her head. Irony.

The guy at the right was her husband. Long-time readers here may remember him as The Eggman. They later split up, and a couple of years after, in a cry for sympathy, he shot himself with a .22-caliber pistol. He did not intend for it to be fatal, but it was. He now lies beneath the floor of the Basilica here on the mountaintop.

Forevermore. Like the Raven.

Man does not live by stew alone

(I wrote this years ago, and it’s one of my favorites. It demonstrates how something as simple as a Broken Staircase, which was the original title, can change lives. It’s the story of a man named Alcott and a red-haired woman named Vulpine.

(Though I was not conscious of it at the time I wrote this, I have come to believe there is a wishful autobiographical element to this story.)

* * * *

Stairwell in old house of Old Faithful Inn

Five steps rotted and collapsed in the middle of the staircase, and that’s how it all began. Alcott was upstairs. He never left his home again.

He decided to write a history of mankind. It would be thorough, but due to having no reference materials upstairs, it would be fiction by necessity, a history of mankind as it should have been, the perfect people. He liked the idea, and dedicated the rest of his life to writing fictitious history.

. . . which should not be confused with historical fiction. No, he wrote history hidden by a mask, creating a dream world, but really, after all, it was not so different from actual historical writing at times.

But first there was the matter of survival. For that he turned to his old friend Beaman whom he had known since boyhood.

Beaman lived nearby.

There was the question of food.

Beaman tossed up a rope, and that was how Alcott received his daily meals, a basket connected to the rope. Beaman’s wife, Aldyth, simply made a bit more than she and Beaman ate each day, and Beaman took the leftovers to Alcott.

We should mention that Alcott was married too. His wife was Godeleva, but Alcott had not loved — or even liked — Godeleva in many years.

As luck would have it, Godeleva was downstairs when the five steps rotted in the staircase. She noticed the problem even before Alcott. She smiled, walked into the downstairs bedroom, packed two bags, and headed to the beach.

. . . and never returned.

* * * *

Alcott was not a social man, so the upstairs isolation suited him, plus there was lots of time to invent fictional history.

Luckily, there was a bathroom on the second floor of Bockingfold and an antique typewriter.

Bockingfold was the name of the home, which had been in Alcott’s family for generations. Godeleva had always found it dreary there.

About a year after the five steps rotted in the staircase, Alcott awoke one morning thinking of Godeleva whose body was as fine as her personality was foul. That afternoon, during their daily chat through the second-floor window, as warm stew was ascending, he asked Beaman for a woman.

Man does not live by stew alone, he said, or something like that.

There was an obstacle. The rope was medium-weight, and the basket had been bought at a discount outlet that imported from India.

The woman, they concluded, must be lightweight and short, a wisp of a girl.

This was acceptable to Alcott, desirable even, because Godeleva, although quite beautiful, was big-boned. And Alcott was ready for new adventures.

Find a mini-version of womankind, Alcott said to Beaman, but she must be over 21 because Alcott wanted no problems with the police.

One week later, Beaman stood beneath the window with Vulpine, which means like a fox. She said she was 26. And she was quite small, a midget actually, which should not be confused with a dwarf. She was well-formed, firm and fine.

Her hair and full lips were flaming red.

She fit perfectly into the basket, holding the day’s stew in her lap. Alcott, with a bit of extra effort, hoisted both dishes to the window sill and inside the room to which Vulpine hopped effortlessly and looked up at him, smiling.

* * * *

Vulpine did not speak much about her past. There was something about a circus, a prison and horse rides through the mountains with a man named Smoke.

Alcott and Vulpine hit it off immediately. She liked the security, the daily stews, and he liked the look of her, the red lips, the hair blazing like a bonfire.

redhead1And that’s how it stayed. The years passed, and Alcott wrote. In time there were 35 volumes of fictional history. He grew old and gray and stooped. But Vulpine never changed a bit.

She was like magic, and that was what he wanted. No one ever repaired the staircase of Bockinfold, and when Alcott died one day, Vulpine kissed his cheek, shimmied down the rope like a child and walked off into a sunny winter afternoon, her hair lit like Christmas candles.