Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thirty-Seven Years Later

I don’t know how many times in the past few decades I’ve found myself showing someone where I lived in the Hollywood Hills and have knocked at the front gate to see if anyone was home only to be answered by silence.  But just the other day on my way back from seeing my mother at her assisted living home, I decided, instead of driving back either of two routes I always use, I would drive up Laurel Canyon and give it another try.  It was about heading towards 6:00pm, and maybe at this time of day, someone would be home.

So up the long haul of narrow roads I drove, keeping an eye out for any down hill speedsters that one must always keep a cautious eye for since there is so little margin for passing error.  I drove by Wonderland elementary school, a seeming asphalt island between two converging canyons where several friends of mine attended while I was in Oakwood School.  I passed Doris and Neal’s house somewhere on the right.  It’s hard to remember exactly where it was anymore.  It was a small, rust colored wood home that sat up about twenty feet from the street.  Even at the time my parents knew these 1960’s hippie holdout’s well.  One time my friend Devin and I walked way down from my neighborhood to this part of Wonderland Drive as a sort of test to see how far we could irresponsibly wander, and we both decided we didn’t want to walk back up the hill.  I rang Doris and Neal’s doorbell to see if one of them would drive us.  My assumption that friends of my family would always want to be helpful to me was not so on target in this case.  Doris answered the door, somewhat stunned and flustered, and told us that we really shouldn’t just pop in like that.  She got her thin leather vest on, let us into her beaten old white sedan, and deposited us back up to where we belonged.  After that, I shied away from leaning on them again in that way.

Passing all of these memory markers has always been fresh to me each time I have gone up to the old neighborhood every five years or so.  There’s the corner house on Wonderland Avenue and Green Valley Street where there was once a large green lawn with a black and white bulldog that perennially sunbathed itself.  The owner has since replaced the lawn with dark ivy.  And then I headed up the final stretch of Green Valley Drive, where, as the road straightens itself out, our big neighborhood radio tower appeared looming through the white haze of a typical Los Angeles day.

With a quick left onto Green Valley Place, I arrive onto Crest View Drive, park my car near my old house in the cul-de-sac, walk up to the gate, and ring the door bell, which now has one of those security speakers attached.  “Hello?” a gentle man's voice answers.  “Oh my God,” I say to myself.  “Someone is actually home this time!” 

It’s a preposterous proposition, really.  Some guy off the street asking to get into someone else’s most intimate of havens. But I solidly blurt out my request.  There’s just no other way. “Hi, my name is Fred Herrman, and my parents built this house.  I was wondering if I might be able to see it again…”  I didn’t even complete my sentence when he says, “Who bought it from them,” as if he had been expecting me for a half hour already and he just needed the password from me.  I give him his answer and I immediately hear the front door open from within the gate. 

A good-looking, kind man in his late thirties opens the gate for me and we exchange greetings as he proceeds to let me in.  I throw out a few quick facts about the house that pretty much no one could know just to reassure him that I’m not a kook.  I walk into the entry and feel a little light-headed.  I have not stood in this house for exactly thirty-seven years.  Revisiting it has always been a dream of mine.  I look to my left, and a partition that separates the entry from the dining room is missing.  It’s not much of a loss.  The partition felt very 1960’s, and now the room feels more open.  My mom used to put the Halloween candy out there for the neighbor kids.  It’s also where I made my parents set up my record player with the original Disney’s Haunted Mansion album.  Each time kids came to the door, my parents were instructed to turn on the haunted mansion sounds on their record player each time the door bell range.  My dad was on door duty most of that night, and when I returned, he told me he had done it a good number of times until a group of smaller kids had come and gotten scared by the stormy, haunted sound effects.  Well, I determined that he had done a fine enough job for me on that front, so I had no quarrel with him.  Boy, what parents will do for you!

On the right of the entry I noticed regular window glass.  When I was younger, we had some kind of bottle glass that always frustrated me as a child because I wasn’t able to see the wind swaying the trees clearly when it was raining.  We proceeded into the dining room, which was the central hub of this home.  Going from anywhere to anywhere else, one had to pass through this room.  It was the site of my birthday parties, our putting out the Menorah during Chanukah, and also a center of play for me.  Were we the only Jewish family that also celebrated Christmas?  Well, we had a Christmas tree every year anyways. I could have a whole room myself; yet still keep my mother in ear’s reach during the afternoons.  My dad told me that I was “under foot” often since so much of my time was spent playing on the floors.

I looked down, and there was the same cross-pattern wood floor beneath me that I used to drive my Hot Wheels on.  This was really emotional for me.  My heart was soaring being back there again.  Most of what I remember after I was adopted happened right here in these few rooms inside this very house.  The gentleman walked me into the living room.  There was still the same white-painted brick around the fireplace and an adjacent wood built-in cabinet where we used to keep our long playing records.  My parents seemed to have everything on vinyl back then.  Lots of Broadway shows such as “My Faire Lady,” and “Hair.” They also had spoken comedy albums by Woody Allen and Allen Sherman (“Take me home, oh mudduh, faddah, take me home, I hate Granada”), and 1960’s pop and folk music such as Mammas and the Pappas, and The Beatles.  I would often come across the “Rubber Soul” album with the acid drippy graphics on the cover in that same stack and imagined my dad single and driving around in with his brown suede jacket in a little convertible red MG that he used to always talk about listening to the Beatles in his prenuptial days.  The time frame wasn’t really a match because they were married before the Beatles became known.  But that was the story I made up for that album. 

The living room had high ceilings and was always this long, tall, white box to me.  It was bigger than most of my friends’ living rooms.  As the contractor was laying out the stakes delineating the boundaries of the rooms and perimeter, my dad often told me that he moved all of the stakes for the structural boundary about one foot to the north to make our living room a bit roomier.  It made sense to me later as I recalled that the exterior north side easement had a very narrow set back.  And now, standing at six feet tall and one inch, it was still a large living room.  How nice! 

My parents designed this house to have a lot of light coming in with large plate glass windows facing out to the canyon.  The owner in between my parents and this gentlemen had removed slatted windows that one can rotate for airflow, which used to populate this house.  It had been a security risk in the intervening years. 

The gentleman walked me through the large sliding glass door of the dining room and out to our back yard, which overlooked the canyon on the other side of Wonderland Drive.  Still a majestic view, though there are more houses on that ridge than used to be.  My dad drove me to that other side, a barren dirt road at the time, to see our Christmas tree lit up one night.  I pointed out to this gentleman a spot of utility equipment still visible on the southern end of the ridge.  “See all that stuff over there?  There used to be an old air attack warning siren in amongst all of that.  Every last Friday of the month at about 1:00pm, we’d hear it go off if we were home.”  He chuckled, recalling something similar in his upbringing.  I also showed him where my parents had planned a spiral staircase to lead up to the roof over their bedroom for a sundeck.  They decided not to do it at the last minute for reasons of expense.  But I told the gentleman that the roof over the master bedroom was actually reinforced, unlike the rest of the house for that reason.  It was nice to tell a man who’s been living there many years a few things he didn’t know about the house.  And it made me feel still connected to it; some sort of mastery of the home.

We then walked to my parents’ bedroom, which has a master bath with a vanity on the outside of it.  I said, “Boy, I always thought that vanity area was larger.”  He replied, “Oh, that always happens when you revisit places.”  The bathtub and the bidet had been removed and the shower expanded, but all in all, it looked quite the same structurally. We exited the back door from the master bath to the part of the back yard, which wrapped around the side of the house, where now sits a swimming pool.  It used to be full of dichondra grass and is later where my jungle gym sat.  But still, the brick that formed the boarder of the flower gardens, which butted up against our neighbors’, the Norton’s property, was still there, only painted a light gray now.  My friend Kristian and I used to put my parents’ hose on one end of this flower garden, build a dam out of mud and let the water back up.  On the lower side of the dam, Kristian and I would carve out roads and a makeshift city built of dirt and twigs. When the city was built, and the water was high on the banks of the mud dam, Kristian and I would use the flat of our palms to bull doze through a couple of points on the earthen dam and the water would rush through the openings and obliterate the roads and town that we had built.  It was always a success!  Obviously, whoever the city planners were hadn’t thought out things too well in allowing construction of a town in the shadow of such a precarious dam!

We walked back inside back through my parents’ room and the dining room and into the kitchen.  On the dining room side of the kitchen, we used to have wallpaper which consisted of a light brown burlap.  It was stringy and because I used to grab at the door jam as I'd pivot from my hallway through the dining room and into the kitchen, this burlap began to ware thin.  The stringiness of the material eventually fell apart around that area from where I had worn it thin.  My mother was never pleased of this progress. 

Though the kitchen’s general shape and location of appliances had not changed, the mood was much different now.  When my parents built the house, they had chosen an avocado and gold color scheme.  It took my asking my aunt after visiting the home to recall that exactly what had originally been in there.  We had flowered wallpaper with these colors and with a texture of what my aunt remembers as being called, grass cloth. The paper alternated between a smooth paper feel and fine vertical striations, which one could feel by drawing one’s had horizontally across the wall, not unlike the feel of those pictures that change as you turn them, usually the prize in some children’s cereal box.  The floor was cream white linoleum with pinky-finger sized, amorphous-shaped splotches peppered throughout. 

On the counter next to the dishwasher was a metal breadbox that somehow we still had as late as about three years ago.  Amazing that it lasted that long.  In this breadbox were cookies.  My parents kept cookies for me, and also there was a dish of candy next to the entry.  My parents’ feeling was that I would never get obsessed with sweets if they were just always available and not to be fussed over.  Their plan worked with the exception of Oreo cookies.  I still obsess on those.  But my friends of yore were always amazed at the sight of candy sitting out in the house in a neat little dish by the front door.  When asked, “May I have a piece of candy, Ms. Herrman?” my mother always told them, “Take just two…moderation.”  She was always the teacher.  I had a lot of friends visit me there.

The breakfast nook where my dad and I used to build model airplanes together, and adjoining service porch looked almost exactly the same, minus a Pacific Bell wall-hung dial phone.  Looking into the service porch, I even asked him, “Are these the same machines?” referring to the clothes washer and dryer.  I realized the stupidity of the question as soon as it came out of my mouth.  He answered, “No, these are newer machines.”  “Of course,” I thought to myself, “There’s probably no chance this hip young man would have kept machines from the 1960’s, nor that they would even work anymore.” I wasn’t intending to fit every single thing that was currently in the house back into my own childhood experience, but the excitement of being there and also the spatial familiarity, well it was pretty overwhelming for me and distorted the reasonableness of my questions at times.

We then proceeded back through to the dining room towards the other two bedrooms.  Along the hall to the bedrooms was a full bath.  This bathroom now had a much different look.  Gone was the vertically striped blue, green, red and white wallpaper, and instead, present were more reasonably paint colored bare walls.  A much smaller mirror, nice tub and floor made it all look very modern.  This had been my bathroom. As we walked into the bathroom, I was reminded of the pattern that once occupied the floor.  It had been a cream color with dark green marbling.  When I used to go in there as a child to sit on the toilet, there was one pattern that looked like a skull winking at me and consistently freaked me out at night.  I would put my foot over it while doing my business.  I told this gentleman about the time I had crashed my bike on one of the empty lots near Glen Campbell’s house with two of my friends.  The kickstand on my Schwinn turned dirt bike, which had developed the habit of coming down, had done it’s thing in the middle of a jump between two lots, and acting as one leg of a tripod, had thrown me over sideways as I landed.  Oh, that hurt!  I knew that I was somewhat beat up more than usual when both of my older friends looked at me and said, "Oh wow.  We should ride back to your house, Fred."  Great, what did I look like now?  Was I a mutant?  This bathroom had been the triage site for clean up of my bleeding forehead.  My mom was probably upset seeing me all bloodied, but thankfully, seemed calm about the whole ordeal.  I guess that’s one of a mother’s pragmatic jobs in the face of bike wrecks.

We finally arrived at the last two rooms.  My room was the larger of the two.  Large closet space, one of those hutch doors you’d find in a barn, which lead to the back yard area where the jungle gym had stood.  This was the room where I learned about music.  Classical music from my mom and I listening to “Peter and the Wolf,” pop music such as, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” many of Glen Campbell’s hits, John Denver, and later Elton John and many more songs.  I played all of my music on a little blue and white record player that had a build in speaker covered by a sort of plastic weaving on it’s sides.  My room was dressed in Dr. Seuss furniture, which was comprised a single sized bed with multi colored slats in the head and foot boards, bright orange and green beehive and hanging lamps of varying shapes, tables, chairs, and at least two bean large bags.  It was like a Dr. Seuss book had exploded in this room.  I liked it a lot.  I had a fish tank with lots of guppies.  There seemed to always be a few that were pregnant in that tank swimming around obliviously their rectangular domain.  This was also the room that when I first came to live with my parents and was still quite unsettled in spirit, they would read to me until I fell asleep.  That was so sweet of them!  They told me later that I had recurring nightmares of dead animals floating in the sea, probably triggered by an afternoon when my parents and I happened upon a beached dead seal near our Malibu home.  But more likely, the dreams were a remnant signpost still bubbling up of having just lost my biological father just a few months earlier. 

Someone had made the suggestion to my parents of getting a pet who could sleep with me.  One day, three puppy Weimaraner-Lab mix female dogs were brought to my parents’ house by a man who’s female Weimaraner had gotten pregnant by a neighborhood chocolate lab jumping a six foot fence to mate with it.  The three puppies were lined up in the kitchen entry near the dining room (I can’t write this without tearing up), I walked over to them and one of the three puppies came to me.  I chose her and named her Willie, after the first book I ever read, “Whistle for Willie.”  She was my best friend always.

The gentleman and I went to the spare room, which was now his office, and I told him of the opare we had from Denmark, named Inger, who although she was with us for only a year or so until she missed her boyfriend aback in Denmark so much that she finally left, was always considered part of our family from that point on.  She was charged with keeping an eye on me and taking care of me while both of my parents were working a lot. She was a sweet, patient woman. After she left due to missing a boyfriend back in Denmark that her mother didn't approve of (and was why she was sent out to the U.S. by her mother), she always sent me these Danish calendars for the month of December where I could open each door for each day leading up to Christmas.  I always looked forward to these heading into the Holidays.

My tour that day never included the garage, but I can only assume that hasn’t changed much. It wasn’t so important for me to see it, though David Haskell (the famed arranger, Jimmy Haskell's son) and I used to park our bikes in the empty garage after school with water bottles in our hands and pretend that it was Station 51 from, “Emergency.”  We’d imagine getting the call,”Squad fifty-one, squad fifty-one, respond to a brush fire on the Norton’s lot.  Time out, 3:45.  Okay, this is engine fifty-one. We’re responding…KMG365” and then we’d holler our pretend sirens and be off to fight the fire with our water spritzers.  This was also the garage where when the lot catty-corner from our house was open, I used to ride my bike around, and one day an older kid from down the street started bullying me and telling me that I couldn’t use the dirt jumps with my bike as if he owned them.  My dad happened to come outside, walked over and yelled at the kid. “You don’t tell anyone what they can and can’t do,” and that was that. Yeah dad!!! He was my hero!  Although, ironically, my dad was telling him just that. With his tail between his legs, the kid then came over to our garage and showed me how to turn my stock Schwinn into a quasi-dirt bike, acquiescing to my father’s earlier confrontation with him. And in this same garage was a combo fridge and freezer in the garage too mostly stacked with meat to be rotated into the house refrigerator.  But sometimes, it contained the overflow of frozen ice cream bars.  I learned this pretty quickly.  My dad had his boxes of Playboys in this garage dating back to the 1950’s.  And my friends Devin, Nick and I used to scour all of the magazines for every picture, each article we could understand, and every cartoon.  To this day, I feel like I intuitively understand the evolution of Playboy Magazine’s looks, layouts and photography better than most people.  A lot of dedicated research went into this knowledge. 

My tour came to an end.  The owner was literally one of the nicest and most sincere people I had met in a very long time.  I thanked him profusely for allowing me to tour the house.  He could have just as well said no, as probably a lot of people might have in this day and age.  What made me happy, aside from seeing all of this again and reliving so many memories, was that this gentleman, who had lived in the home longer than the former owners and my parents did combined, was that he really loves the house.  He cherishes the privacy, and functionality, and the beauty of the home.  It makes me happy that he is the owner.

The sun was dropping behind the Hollywood hills now. I got into my Jeep, started off, partially running over a wooden pallet that had been left on the side of the curb next to some trash cans.  The pallet creaked and crunched until my right front tire passed completely over it’s edge and released the pressure from the pallet, and then I made my way up Crest View Drive.  I felt the excitement of just having been inside the place where my parents built their life together on the west coast, made their careers, and then later adopted a five year old child.  My mom and dad were strong, vibrant and alive.  They gave whatever they could of themselves, far beyond what could be expected from parents.  And as I continued driving home down Skyline towards Mulholland, I began to feel something else.  It was strong.  Sadness. The sadness of what wasn’t anymore.  My father is gone, and my mother is confused and frustrated in an assisted living facility.  I compared all of these things and asked myself how all of it, the early life on the hill, the traveling, their respective occupations, all of their friends of that time, how could it all could have been reduced to this; my mom with dementia in a place that is really not home to her.  It just seems unfair after all that they accomplished both individually and together, and yet, I know that this is all a part of life; the joy and the sorry.  I felt both feelings deeply as I turn onto Mulholland Drive and looked at the city below, a view that my mom, my dad, me and my best friend, Willie, once shared together on a daily basis.  

See Captions Under Each Photo.  The compass directions indicate which way the camera is facing, not which way the subject in the photo is facing. 

Facing West.
Facing West.
Facing West.
In Dining Room Looking East Towards Kitchen
In Living Room Looking North
In South Yard Looking Northeast
In South Yard Looking Northeast
In Cul De Sac Looking Northeast
In Cul De Sac Looking Southwest
On Property Line Of North Neighbor and Ours
In South Yard Looking Northeast
In South Yard Looking Northeast
In South Yard Looking Northeast
North and East Wall of Living Room
Looking Southeast from Dining Room into Kitchen
In South Yard Looking Northeast
Looking South out of Middle Bedroom

Looking East Across South Yard (The Pool Sits There Now)

Looking Southwest To Exterior of House

Looking Northwest in Living Room (I have no idea who this kid is)

In Kitchen Nook Looking North

In Living Room Looking West

In Living Room Looking North

In Living Room Looking West

In Dining Room Looking East into Kitchen

Outside of Dining Room Looking East (That's Dalton Trumbo's Daughter)
Looking East On Lot that Extends West Of House - The Awards Producer Lives In That House Now

Looking East Down Green View Place Towards Green Valley Road

Looking West at Our North Property Line - That is the arranger, Jimmy Haskell's, Son

Looking East Down From Our Garage Roof

Looking South at Ralph Matthew's Front Steps
Facing East in Southeast Bedroom

Facing East in South Yard (has pool now)

Facing Southeast in South Yard (has pool now)

Facing East in South Yard (has pool now)
Facing South in Master Bedroom Make Up Counter (Bathroom To Right)

Facing Southeast in Front of Neighbor's Garage To Our North

Facing Southeast in South Yard (has pool now)

On West Side of Master Bedroom Looking North

Outside Middle Bedroom Looking North

On Driveway Outside Our Kitchen Facing Northeast

Outside Master Bathroom Facing North

In Living Room Facing East

In West Yard Facing West Northwest

In Cul De Sac Facing North

In Living Room Facing West
In Cul De Sac Facing Southeast (Ralph Matthews' Garage Partially Visible)
West Yard Outside of Master Bedroom Facing Northwest

In South Yard Facing South (Norton's Property Is Over Fence)

In One Of Our Yard Areas

I Will Always Love Willie