According to a post in Facebook this photo was taken of the L.A. skyline the morning after the Christmas storm of this year, 2021. It’s been a while since the city of my birth has shown itself off like this.
If you look closely at the bottom right corner of the photo you can see a stepped, pointy building barely peeking out above one of the smallest buildings making up that skyline.
I was ushered into existence on this planet somewhere in the middle of that group of buildings. California Hospital at 12th & Hope. At the time that building you can just barely see (it’s City Hall) was the tallest building in downtown Los Angeles.
As a young boy growing up in the fifties I was always envious of New York and Chicago’s skyscrapers. Now we’ve got ’em and I’m not sure it’s a good thing.
I don’t think I’ve ever shared this photo before; at least not here in Systems Savvy. In 1984 I had a friend whose parents had purchased tickets to the opening ceremonies of the Los Angeles Olympics and to a day of track and field events. This friend’s mother got very sick and they knew they would not be able to attend, so they offered the tickets for sale at face value. That was $200 per ticket for the opening ceremonies. According to this site, in today’s dollars each ticket would have gone for slightly more than $500.00.
So, I was thirty-seven years old and making really good money at the time, and I purchased those tickets and invited my brother to attend on opening day. We headed over to the Memorial Coliseum early, found a place to park and, since we were there early, we managed to find a nice dive bar in which to have a drink prior to entering and finding our seats.
The picture was taken as the final participants, the “home team” as it were, the United States had pretty much entered the venue but was not yet off the track and in place in the field. The Coliseum itself was impressive, as it had been renovated and freshly painted. I believe the Olympic Torch was brought into the Coliseum by Rafer Johnson, who ascended the steps with it to light the flame that burned at the top of that column you can see above the portion in between the two Jumbotrons, one of which showed the name of the nation that was currently entered the field and the other of which showed its flag.
In writing the above paragraph I had to look up and make sure I had spelled Rafer’s name correctly. In doing so I discovered he died four days ago. I don’t recall hearing anything about it. How sad. He was an Olympic Champion. I can’t help but think this is at least in part because a certain someone is constantly sucking up all the oxygen in the country, and the media (for the most part) just keep salivating like Pavlov’s dogs. It causes me to wonder two things: 1. Will they ever learn? 2. Will I live long enough to see it? My suspicion is the answer to both questions is “No.”
For the third time in my life I’ve let my hair grow. It was always something I wanted to do, but back in the 60s it was very much frowned upon. In my very late teens I was the lead singer in a rock and roll band called “The Night Owls”, but I also had to still answer to my family, so I purchased a wig and wore it when I performed. I wasn’t terribly happy with it, but there wasn’t much I felt I could do at the time. I was rebellious, but not that much . . . not back then.
I don’t remember exactly when I stopped performing with them, but it was probably around the time my father stumbled onto an opportunity and, since I seemed to be heading in a direction no self-respecting, good Jewish boy was supposed to go, he took advantage of a chance to purchase a small snack shop in downtown L.A. He had spoken to me and expressed his wish that I take on the responsibility of running it. I was midway to my twentieth birthday when we took it over; the last week of 1966.
Somewhere in this house – quite possibly in a box hidden deep in the garage – is a picture of me in my teenage splendor, wearing the wig underneath a short-brimmed, felt hat, hanging from a walk/don’t walk sign that controlled pedestrian traffic to and from Deb’s Snack Shop and the May Company across the street.
Shortly after that picture was taken (with film, and it was developed on paper!) I told the old man I didn’t want to continue with the business. I knew I was letting him down, but I had grown weary of getting up at 4:30 am and getting home at 7:30 pm, Monday through Friday. On Saturday, I was usually home by 4:30, but it was still a long day. I remember going out on a date after I had been working at the business for a few months. It was a Saturday night and I fell asleep at dinner. Part of me was worried I was watching my life slip ignominiously away. I feared one day I would awake to find myself with a nice house, a car, who knows what else, and nobody to share it with and no time to enjoy it. Remember, this was at the height of the Summer of Love. 1967. The Haight was calling me to a field study.
Also, I was really sick of getting blasted by my father every day. My old man was one of those who was very good at pointing out one’s shortcomings, but highly averse to handing out praise or acknowledgement. When he was finished with his deliveries nearby at the Grand Central Market, where he sold distressed lunch meat and cheeses to a half dozen or so of the numerous stalls to be found there still, he would stop by to see what I had fucked up how I was doing.
Invariably, my youth, inexperience, naivete, cluelessness, or stupidity had grabbed me by one of my still wet behind ears and slammed me against a well-known business tenet or a shop-worn rule-of-thumb. Although I couldn’t win for losing, back then the cliches did not come so easily to me. So each and every day, with the exception of Saturday, he would be in my face.
But I digress, which (in case you haven’t noticed) I’m pretty darn good at.
So he sold the business. He lost $5K and was pretty pissed at me. It wasn’t until years later I decided to use a time value of money calculation to see what the present day value of his loss would be. I won’t say it was staggering, but it was a chunk of change I wouldn’t particularly want to part with. As of this writing, it’s value would be $36K. That knowledge would be somewhat disconcerting had my father and I not reconciled our issues a couple of years before his untimely death. It still bothers me to know I was such a jerk but, thankfully, guilt is not a component.
Oops! I’m digressing still.
Hair. I really want to talk about hair. Not because it’s all that important to me, but because I can . . . and I had one of those flashbacks today, when I thought about something I hadn’t thought of in many years.
I Called This My Hebro. It Does Look a Bit Like a Brillo Pad, I Suppose.
As I said, I’ve grown my hair long three times in my life. One of the reasons I’ve done it this time is that my hair is no longer as curly as it used to be. When I was a young man, and up into my late sixties – I think – I had really thick, really curly dark brown hair. It was somewhere between kinky and wavy. I still have a lot, but it’s not quite as thick, and most of it is gray. And the gray ones, which first started coming in with these weird, almost right angle bends in them, now are pretty straight.
Now to that flashback. Long ago, in Junior High School, I had a “friend” who gave me two very distinct nicknames. I’ll leave it to you to suss their significance. He called me “Brillo” and “KinkyJew”.
I hadn’t thought of these nicknames for many years until yesterday. The memory was interesting and caused me to think of how my hair has changed over the years. Since the last time I grew it out, I had pretty much decided not to grow it again; it was a giant pain in the ass to take care of. However, with it being so much straighter, it’s much easier to handle. It’s still not really straight straight, but you can see the difference pretty clearly in the two photos I’m including here.
I also find it interesting to recall I never took much offense to those nicknames. I suppose they were better than “kike” and “hebe” and I’d had to put up with a lot of that shit in my
Livin’ large, I’m enjoying the home stretch.
youth. In fact, the younger brother of the “friend” (he was a close neighbor) had once called me a kike and he and I had had a couple of fights over the years. Nevertheless, I considered these names mostly sorry distractions from what was really important; having fun and cutting school, which my “friend” and I did quite frequently.
I’m somewhat thankful I still have a lot of hair. Mine’s getting a bit thin in front on top, but I don’t see it going away anytime soon. If it does, I’m quite willing to shave my head. I’ve always wanted to discover if I have a curly scalp. It kind of feels like it, but it’s hard to be certain with all the hair what, exactly, is causing me to feel like my skull would look like a University of Michigan Wolverine’s football helmet.
It would be fitting. When I competed in swimming, I shaved my head, my arms, and my legs. That was about 53 years ago. I can’t quite recall what my head looked like. I was only interested in competing as best I could. Time is now threatening to leave me hairless, but I’m hanging in there. Either way, as long as I’ve got another decade or so I’ll be a happy camper. I want to see my daughters to adulthood; get to know them a bit before I check out forever.
Below is the text of a post I just made on Facebook. Rather than spending the time to edit it, I’m pointing this out so you understand why it reads the way it does. I welcome feedback here as well.
Protesters making their sentiments known on the streets
I am on the verge of taking on what I believe to be an important project. I’ve been thinking about it for well over a year and I have discussed it with several old friends who were part of the experiences the project will speak to.
I plan on writing a book. It will be a combination of my memoirs, as well as a history, of a part of the peace & justice movement, specifically in Southern California, from about 1968 until 1973. At the time I was part of a group of amateur, yet reasonably well-trained, people who provided much of the security for rallies, demonstrations, and numerous cultural events. We provided building and personal security, including occasional armed bodyguard work, for people like Jane Fonda, Daniel Ellsworth, Tony Russo, a group of Vietnamese students studying in the U.S., Roger McAfee and family (they put their ranch up for Angela Davis’s bail after Jonathan Jackson’s disastrous attempt to break his brother, George, out of the Marin County Courthouse), Mrs. Salvador Allende, and cultural groups such as Quilapayun, Arco Iris, and Holly Near – to name a few.
The book I propose to write would be a combination of my memoirs and those of many others (some of whom I have recently contacted and who expressed great interest in seeing this happen) who I worked with. I was a member of groups such as The Peace Action Council with Irv Sarnoff, The Indochina Peace Campaign with Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, and Bruce Gilbert, Vietnam Veterans Against the War with Ron Kovic, as well as individuals such as Dorothy Healey, Frank Wilkinson, and others – many of whom I will need to do some research on to refresh my memory.
Part of this piece will be aimed at setting the record straight. Part of it will be pointing out the many sacrifices lots of people made in speaking and acting out during that time. We thank members of the military for their “service”, regardless of what they did and what their motives truly were, yet the people who risked so much during those difficult times were – and frequently still are – vilified as traitors and un-American. I’d like to help set the record straight.
Those of my friends who have any experience or thoughts about those times and the activities I will be addressing are welcome – actually, encouraged – to share them with me. While I am willing to read, even address, contrary opinion, anyone who attempts to engage me in frivolous argumentation will be asked to stop and, if that doesn’t work, will be unfriended. I am interested in useful, thoughtful opinion even if it doesn’t agree with how I see or remember those days, but only if it helps me understand my perspective more completely. I have a well-established POV after all these years and I’m not interested in useless argumentation over its validity.
This also means I will be incrementally backing off of Facebook; posting far less and paying less attention to others, even with the all-important mid-term elections looming. I want to get this done while I’m still able to and I will have a lot of reading, interviewing, and writing to do.
I’m also thinking of using Kickstarter to raise some money so I don’t have to worry about further depleting what savings we’ve managed to accumulate prior to my somewhat forced retirement. I’m thinking, if a guy who’s merely making potato salad can raise $70,000, I might be able to find enough interest to get $15 – $20,000. I’m anticipating the need to travel for some interviews. Many of the people involved at that time likely won’t be available via online technology.
I will probably share this more than a few times in the next couple of days or so. Knowing there’s only a small percentage of my friends who will see this at any given time, I think it will be useful to share it at different times. Please forgive me if I annoy you. Feedback is, of course, more than welcome. I’ll also be sharing my progress as I go along.
Perhaps this may seem strange, especially to those who’ve not experienced it, but I just love being out in places where there’s a lot of foot traffic and commerce is humming along. Although I fairly recently left a large corporation, where I worked in a windowless environment for a mostly faceless organization, I spent my formative years in very small businesses. My father was – after he took the money I got for my Bar Mitzvah to purchase a truck – a food peddler, selling mostly meat and cheese to places like the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles.
I used to love going to that market and walking through it to get to a hand truck or a small four-wheeled cart I could bring back to our truck to schlep boxes of product to some of the stalls we sold to or, better yet, to one of the walk-ins where the vendors kept their produce, etc. they would then put in their cases to sell to the public. There was one place that sold a lot of chiles and spices. I think the dominant smell in that cooler was Cumin, or Cominos. I loved going into their walk-in and would usually loiter there after I had unloaded the cart with the boxes of product they had purchased from us. I was also introduced to things like lamb French Dip sandwiches and Orange Julius at the Grand Central. I can still hear my father pushing a cart loaded with meat and cheese, yelling “Wash (sic) your feet!” to warn shoppers of our presence.
I’ve been back a few times since my father’s death just over twenty-five years ago and it never fails to give me the chills and warm my heart at the same time. Now when I go out to talk with prospects for my business, I find I’m getting the same old feeling. There’s a connection I can’t fully explain, though I’m trying to here. I hope it never goes away. It’s part of what makes everything I do worthwhile.
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.