Monday, January 27, 2014

Chapter 22 – Valentine’s Day Massacre

I was on the program. But was I really? Sure, I had abstained from alcohol but I was still smoking a little pot. Not really working the twelve steps to the best of my ability, but I felt better and my health was turning around. I had quit the booze on December 26, 1987 and was alcohol free for more than a month and a half. Then cometh the crash—literally!
AA was the Facebook of its time. It seemed to me to be the watering hole where sober and some pretending to be sober folks got together to meet and greet and exchange hard luck stories. Whatever works right? For some it did and others? Not so much. I remember seeing rock stars like Steven Tyler and Joe Perry at some of the meetings in Hollywood or Beverly Hills. Steven was telling the crowd of peers and fans that he loved AA and would use it as a temporary safe house to trying and get sober before going on tour. He knew, as well as the rest of the band knew, that once out there in places like Cincinnati and Akron, he would eventually pick up the pipe or the shotglass but he wouldn’t go full throttle, thanks to AA. It kept him relatively in check so he could make it through the tour. I shook my head thinking, “I guess it’s cheaper than Betty Ford and if it works for him, great.”
I was lonely and was still missing Maria who I hadn’t heard from in over a year. Sure, I had a few dates and casual sex, but it wasn’t fulfilling me in the least. I met this cute blonde by the name of Jacqueline at a meeting who invited me back to her apartment in West Hollywood afterwards. She asked me not to judge her too harshly when I saw her hobby. It would be self-evident. She turned the front door key and invited me inside. Normal place so far. No strangeness yet. She made some herbal tea and we sat on the couch in the living room talking and sussing each other out. She was maybe a few years older than I was but looked in great shape. To me thirty-five was older. Now if I had a thirty-five year old girlfriend I would be robbing the cradle. Plus, I don’t think my wife would be too happy about it either—just theorizing. Then she invited me into her den. Holy Shit! There were whips and chains and every imaginable torture device plucked out of the S & M shop dating all the way back from the Spanish Inquisition forward.
“What is all this?” I asked, not wanting to come to grips with what lay before me.
“What does it look like?” she responded without any defensiveness or animosity.
“Actually it looks like something out of Ripley’s Believe it or Not.”
I tried to be open minded, I always do. Who am I to judge somebody for their hobbies or interests? But what I saw turned my stomach. She could tell I was a bit put off.
“I am a dominatrix. I have a few clients— some of them were at the meeting tonight.”
“Jesus! I guess you have to do something to fill the void.”
“Do you want a demonstration?”
“Uh, I think I’ll pass.”
I couldn’t wait to get out of that dungeon. My hands were sweating and I’m sure my face was fifty shades of red, maybe gray, too. I looked at my wrist even though I wasn’t wearing a watch and feigned some excuse to leave. She looked hurt and a bit disappointed. C’est la vie, c’est la guerre—don’t want to know and I don’t care. I was gone like the cool wind.
I was now almost forty-five days sober, well alcohol free anyway. It was Valentine’s Day and I was at my parent’s house on Canton Drive playing the piano and waiting for my folks to leave to go out for dinner. My dad had left half a glass of scotch on the coffee table in the den. I was depressed and in a very vulnerable position. I should have called someone, Fieger, Terry Kirkman, even the operator, but I didn’t. I looked over at the glass of scotch and I swear it was like Alice in Wonderland. I thought I could hear it say “Drink me, drink me.” I succumbed. Big mistake.
I figured I had already broken my sobriety so why not go whole hog. I went to my dad’s liquor cabinet and poured myself a tumbler full of Chivas Regal. Then I went upstairs to my mom’s medicine cabinet and plucked out a few Ativans. I took one, then and wrapped a couple more in a tissue for later and stuck it in the pocket of my jeans. I thought I’d better get back to my apartment before the drugs and alcohol kicked in. I gathered my things, rounded up my two dogs, Bridget Bardog and Ginger and hopped into my maroon TR-6. I only lived about five miles away on Camrose Drive. I mapped out my route. I would take Berry Drive to Wrightwood and then left On Lankershim to Ventura. Easy-peasy. I would be home in twenty minutes and have a good buzz on, maybe watch some TV or play some music. The last thing I remembered was waiting at a light on Ventura and Lankershim in Universal City right near the Baked Potato. I must have taken off when the light turned green but had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel. I didn’t even hear the metal crunching when I smashed into a parked car on the right side of Ventura right in front of a playhouse with a crowd of people standing in line waiting to go in to see the show. I could have easily killed somebody maybe a whole slew of innocent bystanders. I guess I was lucky in that respect.
I was sitting on the curb totally whacked out of my brain. I didn’t even realize that the front end of my car looked like a metallic, Italian accordion playing the Apocalyptic Waltz. I knew I was busted. I wondered where my dogs were. Then I remembered I had the Ativans in my pocket and clumsily reached in and tried to dislodge them. I heard a woman’s voice shouting, “He’s taking something out of his pocket!” Maybe she thought it was a gun or a knife. I wasn’t sure and was too fucked up to do anything about it. My mind was a melted cheese sandwich on stale rye. The police finally came and read me my rights then handcuffed me. Someone had spotted my dogs on the sidewalk. They were okay and I gathered they must have jumped out of the backseat—I’m glad the top was down. They said for me to watch my head as they lowered me into the back seat of the black and white. I said, “I don’t really care what you do to me, but please can I call somebody to pick up my dogs.” They let me. I called Larry Harrison. He said he would be there in twenty minutes.
I spent a week in L.A. County Jail getting ready for my hearing. How did a nice Jewish boy end up incarcerated with gang members, dope pushers, murderers and rapists? Would I survive and make it to the hearing? Would my dogs be waiting for me when I was released, if I ever would be released? What would my parents say? Would they disown me? If it weren’t for Ernest, the six foot four and two hundred and eighty pound, black leviathan in my cell who read verses from the Bible, I would have been dead meat. I pretended to show an interest in the holy book and after awhile the stories perked my interest. I always thought Jesus Christ was just all right with me, but with my upbringing I could never accept him as the SON OF GOD. The jury is still out on that one. I always felt that if I was told I would lead a bunch of fisherman through the desert, walk on water, make the blind see and heal the sick, then to know that my best friend in the world would sell me out for thirty pieces of silver and end up with nails hammered through my palms wrists and ankles—I don’t think I would have taken the job. But I guess He had no choice. Or did He? It was a lot to think about but I had nothing but time—as I was doing time. I couldn’t wait to get out of the cacophonous confines of L.A. County jail and rush right over to the nearest liquor store and buy a bottle of the hardest booze I could find. I wasn’t quite ready to be sober. I felt betrayed by my forty-five days of sobriety only to be hit with the hammer of reality right in the face. It would take time to come to the decision that would lead me on the path of the straight and narrow, but I knew I would someday. I didn’t think it would take ten more years. One thing was for sure, if I was going to get drunk, I would never get behind the wheel again. At least I kept that promise—sort of.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Chapter 21 - Out At Home

I got my guitar back from Valdez’s Guitar Repair roughly two weeks after I came back from Detroit and I must say Art Valdez did an exemplary job repairing the decapitation, but the guitar was damaged goods. I could hardly see the hairline crack in the headstock but I knew it was there. It would never have the resale value it once had, and I also knew one day I would have to part with it. At least I still had my 1958 Telecaster and my 1964 Gretsch Anniversary which I am thankful to still have in my possession while I am writing this chapter.
It was now the summer of 1987 and the black top on my maroon TR-6 up was constantly down. I had met a bunch of guys at the park just down the road from the Hollywood sign who played a pickup game of softball every Sunday and I latched on to them. I hadn’t played the game in awhile but my chops were still pretty good. I was a pitcher and a second baseman. I remember one of the guys was Stuart Duvall who was Shelly Duvall’s brother. I loved her in the Shining and hoped that she would come by to watch the games but she never did. After the games we would all go down to the local pub and have a few beers and order food. It was a good time for all. I’ll never forget the time I was pitching and Jeff Conaway came to the plate. He was in the TV show, Taxi, which was one of my favorite shows ever! I had to let him get a hit. I didn’t want to see him fail since the show had wrapped up he wasn’t getting much work. I kind of felt sorry for him. I tossed an air ball that had the words hit me all over it and he smashed a line drive up the middle. Yes! Go Bobby Wheeler!
On Labor Day I had nothing better to do so I dropped the dogs off at my mom and dad’s house on Canton Drive and went up to the park to see if there might be a game. None of the regular guys were there but I did see a game in progress and asked if it would be alright if I played. They were agreeable so a trotted out to left field and joined in. In the bottom of the seventh inning I had gotten a single and made my way to third base with only one out. The score was tied and I knew I had to cross the plate or die trying. The next batter hit a slow roller to first base and I took off but I never made it home—not in one piece anyway. My spikes must have caught in one of the imperfections in the base path and I heard my right ankle snap and then snap again. It was bad and I knew it. I clawed my way over to the side of home plate and curled up into a fetal position. The other players came to my aid but when they looked my ankle I could see nauseated expressions on their faces and one woman even fainted. Imagine how I felt. I didn’t know a soul there and was starting to blank out. One of the players offered to give me a ride home but I couldn’t even remember the address on Canton. I was in shock. After taking a few breaths and a swig of vodka someone had brought to the game, I began to focus. The guy (I can’t even remember who he was but if you are reading this THANK YOU) took me up to my parent’s house and I limped in using a baseball bat as a crutch. He asked me if I needed a ride to the hospital but I told him I would get a lift from my mom or dad.
“Hello,” I cried out to anyone who could hear me, but no one did. The house was empty. Even the dogs were out of my sight. I had to call somebody but I couldn’t remember anyone’s phone number and I am usually very good at remembering things like that. I was afraid to look at my ankle but when I did I saw that it was a compound fracture and the bones were protruding from the skin. It was very bad. I finally remembered Paul Downing’s number and told him what had happened. He raced over in his Jag and gave me a ride to the UCLA emergency room. I don’t know why I told him UCLA when I should have said Cedar’s since it was a lot closer, but it’s all I could think of.
Paul helped me into the waiting room and I was soon, after filling out forms and such, was ushered into a room where I waited for the doctor to come. It seemed like an eternity but he eventually came in. He took one look at my ankle and said, “This is going to hurt a lot.”
“Great,” I said. “It can’t hurt much more than it already does.”
“Oh, it will. So I want you to brace yourself.”
I took my wallet out of my back pocket and placed it firmly between my teeth. Now if you have a week stomach you may want to skip this part. He grabbed my right foot and extended my leg out as far as it could go. He then twisted my ankle in an unnatural position with extreme force— like Linda Blair’s head in The Exorcist, not once, not twice but three times until he felt it was in place. I thought I was going to die right there and then on that gurney. The teeth marks in my wallet were so pronounced you could get my dental records from them.  It was the most agonizing pain I had ever felt in my life— like having fifteen pound triplets being delivered out of my leg without any anesthesia. The doctor said I had to have an emergency operation and they were going to install not one, but two metal plates in my ankle and I would have to keep it there for at least a year. My softball career was definitely forestalled.
I was in the hospital for three days and nights and when I got back to Canton Drive my dad told me the bizarre events of that Labor Day. Apparently when I got home with my injury it was assumed one of the larger dogs, Jean Claude, Danielle or Bridget Bardog, had attacked the little cockapoo named Oliver and had killed the poor little guy. I really liked that dog and I couldn’t believe all that had happened while I was struggling with trying to remember phone numbers so I could be taken to the emergency room.
Well, I was staying up at my folk’s guest room and taking too many pain pills and drinking single malt scotch as well. I thought I was bulletproof and didn’t even think I could have overdosed. I kept taking more and more pills and drinking because my resistance to the stuff was increased by all the usage. I was there for three months watching TV, listening to and playing my J-200. I had even persuaded a girl named Iris to come visit me and have codeine and scotch induced sex. I was headed for a bigger fall than I already had taken on Labor Day and I knew I had to get sober. I went to an AA meeting in late December, right before Christmas, and of all people, Doug Fieger was leading the meeting. We talked for awhile after and he told me some of the war stories in his life. He had gone over the top with his meteoric rise to fame and tried to balance thing out by ingesting as many pills and drinking as much booze as he could. He finally got sober but it had caused a rift in the band, especially with the drummer, Bruce Gary, who almost everyone hated anyway. Doug suggested I get a sponsor and I asked this guy Terry Kirkman, who used to be in the group, The Association, to be my sponsor. He agreed. He was tough on me and I hated him for telling me I was in complete denial about my problems. He also said I was one of the most negative people he had ever met. I dumped him but kept on with the program until one fateful day, Valentine’s Day 1988, where my dad would leave a glass of scotch on the coffee table before going out to dinner with my mom to celebrate the holiday festivities. That led to an incident which would alter my path and send me straight to jail without passing GO or collecting two hundred dollars. I guess it was inevitable.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Chapter 20 – The Last Straw

In October of 1986, I was walking Bridget and Ginger in the park across the street, our usual romp, when I saw a young woman arranging flowers in a planter box near a makeshift stage. She was a cute blonde in a goofy sort of way with large bazungas, which always appealed to me—her blue eyes were big and googly too. We started talking and she told me her name was Joyce and was working as a gardener of sorts for the festival the park was putting on the next day. I got her phone number and she told me she lived in Santa Monica on Bicknell Street. I knew she wasn’t “the one” but she would provide me with what I needed at the time—maybe what be both needed. I would drive my maroon TR-6 out to Santa Monica from time to time and she would also spend a few nights with me and the dogs on Camrose. She wasn’t too thrilled about the dogs so that was my first clue. I would never be with a woman who wasn’t an animal lover. That was rule number one. I think it lasted three weeks with Joyce.

In November I met another prospect whose name was Kathryn and I found out later her father was the famous actor from stage and screen, Eli Wallach. I knew Katherine was kind of a tomboy when on our first date we went to the YMCA and played basketball. I’m good at baseball and golf but basketball was not my forte—although I did have a killer skyhook. She wiped my butt all over the court. I could deal with that but there was something else that bothered me. Maybe it was the fact that she was a Jewish American Princess that had a lot of baggage—don’t they all! After my heartbreaking relationship with Marly, my one and only Jewish girlfriend, I was buyer beware, not that I was buying anything but you get the idea. Kathryn and I lasted about a week.
Next, after the New Year, I met a reporter that was on vacation in L.A. from The Detroit Free Press by the name of Carol. She lived in Troy, Michigan, the same town where my cousin Bobby Graff and his wife, Judy lived. It was also the next town over from where my Aunt Shirlee and Uncle Norman lived, too. Norman was my mom’s older brother and although she was born in Brooklyn, she had spent her formative years in Detroit and lived there until she married my dad in 1949.
Carol was a few years older than I was and she was a small framed, intelligent woman with curly blonde hair and she wore glasses. It made her look smarter than she actually was. After she went back to Detroit, I told her I was going to be in New York in March and would route my trip with a layover in Detroit on my way back to L.A. She said she would love to see me and we made plans to hook up for at least a night. If it worked out I might even stay a few days longer. I called the Meltzer’s that were friends of the family from when we lived in Jericho, Long Island and they lived in the neighboring town of Syosset. They were always kind and generous and happen to have a three bedroom apartment on 72nd and 1st on the east side of Manhattan. Since their daughters had all flown the nest and lived on their own, there was plenty of room for me.

I had met another Jewish girl in Aspen, Karen Speilberger, who had a nice apartment in mid-town. I was reluctant to call her because of my stigma of getting involved with female members of the tribe. It must sound like I am anti-Semitic, but I’m not. It would be a form of self-loathing since I am 100 percent Jewish, it is just that I know what I like— Shiksa’s. Karen had a whiny voice like Fran Drescher and she resembled her in a way with her dark curly hair, athletic feminine build. I was running out of things to do, or out of money, which would be more believable since you can never run out of things to do in New York, so I called Karen. She asked me if I wanted to stop by her place and that suited me and my wallet fine. I stopped at the liquor store and picked up a bottle of Cabernet and arrived at her apartment at around ten p.m.
She buzzed me in and I took the elevator up to the tenth floor. I knocked.
“James,” she said in that high pitched, tin foiled voice of hers. “It’s so good to see you.”
“Hi Karen,” I said as I took off my coat. The place was well heated. She took my coat and scarf then gave me a kiss on the cheek. I handed her the bottle of wine and she inspected it to make sure it met the demands of her nouveau riche existence. It must have since she directed me with explicit details to the kitchen for a corkscrew. Somewhere during the wine and cheese she asked me if I wanted to do some coke. I said, “Sure, why not.” That was a mistake. We did a few lines and talked about all sorts of nonsensical things and before I knew it the hour had grown late—it was after two-thirty in the morning. I was flying out to Detroit to see Carol the next morning so I knew it was time to leave. I thanked her for the coke and hospitality and I think she was disappointed that I didn’t want to spend the night. There was no way!
By the time I got out of there it was almost three a.m. and I dreaded the walk back to 72nd from 50th Street. I didn’t have much cash left and I should have broken down for one but I needed to save my money for the rest of the trip. I was wired beyond belief and paranoid to boot. I was thankful I had left my J-200 at the Meltzers’s thinking if I had it I would be easy prey for the creatures of the night that inhabited the streets of the east side. I was practically running all the way down Lexington Avenue constantly turning around to see if there were any unsavory characters on my tail. I think it only took me twenty minutes or less to finally reach the parking garage at 72nd. I had made it, Yes! I got out of the elevator and silently turned the front door key then crept into my guest bedroom. I took off my clothes and got into a t-shirt and tried to get some sleep. There was no way. I wished that I had a valium or something to induce drowsiness but I wasn’t about to rummage through the guest bathroom for drugs. I knew there probably wouldn’t be any there anyway. I spent the whole night staring at the ceiling counting the little holes in the sound proofing. There were 4,288 of them. I think I might have drifted off for half an hour but sometimes that little amount of sleep makes you feel worse. It was the LAST STRAW and I promised myself I would never, ever do cocaine again as long as I lived. And so far, I have been true to my word.
The next stop was Detroit and something would happen on the plane that made me wish I had never taken that trip. No, the plane didn’t crash or anything but my heart sank when I picked up my things at the baggage claim. God-damned baggage handlers! I opened my guitar case and saw in horror that the neck had snapped off. It was completely severed. I had insurance but they never made good on their claim. I knew I would take care of it when I got back to L.A. and let Art Valdez fix it.

I spent one uneventful night with Carol and was a bit put off when she went to the bathroom after we made love and I found a used condom on her bookshelf behind the bed. I was grossed out and knew it would be the last time I would be with her. The only saving grace was that I got to visit with my cousin Bobby and then went over to see Aunt Shirlee and Uncle Norman in their condo in Birmingham, Michigan. We had a great talk and I filled them in on the happenings of the rest of my family. It was the last time I would see my Uncle Norman; He died two years later a few months before the death of my father. I had my guitar repaired by Valdez but, although he did an exemplary job on the neck, it was never the same. Life went on as usual after that and soon I got into a softball league with a bunch of Hollywood characters at the park just below the Hollywood sign. I would drive up there with Bridget and Ginger and there would usually be someone, usually a pretty female who would watch them when I was out in the field. I loved driving my little roadster but little did I know almost a year after I bought the car, on Labor Day, something would happen that would put a major dent in my driving and softball plans, at least for awhile anyway. To this day I carry the scars on my right ankle as a painful reminder of that painful and life changing incident at the park. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Chapter 19 - The Entrepreneur

Seated at my round, blue kitchen table looking out at the expanse of the park across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, I studied the yellow invoices from the Virgin Islands. I wondered if those leads would still be good, and if the wonderful folks whose names were printed on the sheets of paper would be upset with the underhanded dealings of Premium Services and Central Supply. I knew that Jim Phillips and Jeff Henry were now retired and these calls were going to be made by James Haymer, the president of Universal Data Supply—my own company. I wore all the hats. I was salesman, shipping clerk, customer service rep, head of the complaints department and secretary. After making my first sale on May 15, 1986, I celebrated by taking Bridget and Ginger for a walk in the park where I would meet up with Campbell Lane. Campbell was from Chicago and was in L.A. trying, like half the population of the city, to make it in showbiz—a thespian. She had two huge dogs, both St. Bernard’s, she would religiously walk in that same park and I had called to see if she would meet me there. She was a very pretty, twenty something with short brown hair and cherubic cheeks. I was attracted to her, but there was something that told me not to make any moves. I guess it might have been the dogs.
I had recently reconnected with Paul Downing, a left-handed guitar player and one of the replacements after Michael Kennedy quit Silverspoon and retreated to Philadelphia. Paul is from Yorkshire, England that is seven years older than me and is a guitar and classic car aficionado. At the time we were a couple of practicing alcoholics—practice makes perfect. He had a 24 track tape machine and an Aces console that was wider than a Cadillac in the living room of his house in Laurel Canyon. After a few drinks at The Rainbow or The Cat and Fiddle, we would head up to his home studio and record. I don’t know how he could focus on the job at hand after drinking what seemed like gallons of vodka tonics. For that matter, I don’t know how I managed to play any semblance of music on my J-200 or my 1958 Fender Telecaster, but we managed somehow even as polluted as the brown, mid-summer Los Angeles sky. Paul was also producing two female artists at the time that way he could kill two birds with one stone. And pretty birds they were. He had three Jaguars, a red 1962 Series I XKE, a British Racing green, 1958 XK-150 and a beautiful white 1954 XK-140 which were bone fide chick magnets. Teresa, one of the singers he was producing, had a couple of good songs. One country ditty Paul had written was called “Close up the Door” and it reminded me of something Dolly Parton or Charlie Rich might have penned. The other song of note was entitled “Marble Light” which was more of a Pat Benatar or Blondie number. I was impressed and was asked to overdub a few acoustic guitar parts to add to the plethora of electric guitars on his wall of sound. Phil Spector ain’t got nothing on those babies. The other female artist, Tria, had a really cool song I thought could have been a chart topper. It reminded me of something by ‘Til Tuesday or an updated Buddy Holly song. I knew it needed something. Then I thought of that Holly song, Everyday, with that bell-like child’s piano played by Norman Petty’s (Holly’s producer) wife in Clovis, New Mexico, and I knew that was it. I overdubbed a bell part on a synth and the song became magical.
We did some originals, too. One was in a Neil Diamond style called “You’re Never Alone” which I sang lead vocals on, and the other was one called “True Light” which, unfortunately, we never finished. Maybe it was the booze or the women that distracted us? I told Paul that I wanted to buy an English sports car and I couldn’t afford a Jag. The only thing in my price range was an M.G. or a Triumph. He said the Triumph TR-6 was a lot of car for the money. It was a poor man’s Jag. So I bought a Recycler and looked in the classified of the L.A. Times. We had found a few prospects. Paul was my mentor in that department and was kind enough to accompany me on our ventures to the far reaches of Los Angeles County searching for the right TR-6 for around a thousand bucks. Those things now go for over fifteen grand, but back then they could be had for under two thousand. So I knew I was in the ballpark. Paul had a friend, Richard Boyd, who owned his own car repair shop in the North Hollywood, so if the TR needed some repair, Richard would be the guy to see. Sometimes he let Paul work on his Jag’s there free. Richard, I found out later, was a helluva nice guy who, besides Beau, his Golden Retriever, had nobody to hang out with at the shop. He appreciated the company and we appreciated his expertise and his tools. It was a win-win situation.

After test driving three Triumphs I settled on a black 1969 Tr-6. It belonged to a guy who lived in the hood near Baldwin Hills. The car was a bit tricked out in an African American sort of way and I knew I would have to have it re-sprayed. That was one of the bargaining chips. I think he was asking $1500 for the car but after a bit of haggling, and Paul was the master at this, I got the car for $1000 on September 29, 1986. It was a speedy little gem that handled like a Puma around the curves of Mulholland Drive. I was hooked. Richard helped me tune the little beast up and suggested a friend who worked near downtown L.A. who had a paint shop. I had it painted maroon that went well with the black interior—all for the cost of $450. So for roughly $1500, I had an almost mint British roadster. I was a single guy with a sports car and his own company that was starting to turn a profit. All I needed now was a pretty blonde on my shoulder as we cruised down Sunset. From September 1986 to September 1987 a few things of note happened but nothing monumental except for the trip back to Detroit by way of New York in March. After the night at Karen Speilberger’s apartment in mid-town Manhattan, I swore to myself it would be the very last time I would ever snort cocaine. It was. Thank God!