Friday, January 26, 2007

Space and Time in L.A.

Thinking about Baumholder brings thoughts of "Rich," another Army friend with whom I kept in contact as a civilian, both of us being from L.A. I saw Rich last summer when I went down for another friend's 75th birthday party. Rich said, "You have a gray beard." It had been that long. Rich's wife told me, "Thank you for my life," meaning that I had introduced them to the couple who became their closest friends.

Rich was a big drinker in those days. Also a big gambler. He quit drinking and kept gambling -- in fact, a retired TV editor (he edited "Dallas"!), he now lives outside Las Vegas. At any rate, when I had a new play opening in Portland, he'd come up to see it, mainly to "get away" for a weekend and also to gamble across the river in Vancouver before they "cleaned" the town up. I'd see him opening night and then he'd disappear into the card rooms.

In L.A., time and space have a different meaning than here. Rich and I lived about 20 miles apart. Yet when we both were going to UCLA, it was nothing to drive across town for a study break, have a beer or two together, then return home -- 40 miles of driving without batting an eye! A 40 mile drive, say going down the freeway to Salem, is like a major trip to me today.

One of the funniest drinking stories I've been involved in has Rich in the lead role. One morning around 8 I got a phone call. Rich, pretty drunk. He'd been playing cards all night, had a lot of money, but was too drunk to drive home. Would I pick him up? Sure. He gave me an address on Sunset Blvd.

I drove to the address but two things were wrong: one, it didn't exist; two, where it should be was in a ritzy residential area, and he was in a tavern, he said. I lived just off Sunset Blvd in Pacific Palisades at the time and had driven practically the entire length of Sunset looking for him.

On the return drive I was at a stoplight when I glanced over and saw the number he gave me hanging above a doorway. One of the numbers had fallen off of the rundown tavern! I parked and entered and found him shooting pool. Very drunk. Losing money.

He had a table. A pitcher of beer had spilled onto its side, soaking a huge stack of bills. I gathered up about $100 of soggy money, grabbed Rick and headed out. He wanted to get something from his car.

Where was his car? He couldn't remember. So we did a widening spiral from the tavern and finally found his car about three blocks away. He had a ratty sportscar that he started by hotwiring it. That was Rich at the time, our future editor of the Dallas TV series. Editor of such films as Return to Peyton Place. In his informative years ha ha.

So we find the car. Sprawled on the back seat is a young woman in only panties and bra. Rich, who the hell is this? He couldn't remember. Maybe he'd picked her up earlier last night. Apparently so. She knew him, though he couldn't recall her. We got her dressed and brought her along. I dropped her off, then Rich.

Rich was maybe the craziest drunk I knew. Once, at a Thanksgiving gathering in San Jose, he went out for a pack of cigarettes. No one heard from him again for the rest of the night. His wife called the police, of course. Ends up he had seen a hitchhiker near a freeway on-ramp and gave the guy a lift to Oregon! He finally called his wife many hours later.

No wonder Rich stopped drinking. He never did stop gambling, though. Fortunately, he won most of the time.

In the Army, women flocked to Rich. He had a Kirk Douglas chin and was built like the gymnast he had been in high school. Today he is shaped more like a bowling pin. Aren't we all.

In Kerouac's Scroll, I have a scene in which Hooker and Bear are picked up on a beach in southern Spain by two middle-aged women from Madrid. This is based on an adventure on leave shared by Rich and me. Ah, the adventures of youth. Sometimes I marvel that I survived it all. More or less.

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