Monday, February 24, 2014

Chapter 26 – Christmas Crackers and Kilts

At the end of the very first week after she had moved in to Camrose, Donna got a call from her best friend from Scotland who she had known since she was a year old. Her name’s Irene and she traveling with a friend, Fiona, who was also from the small town of Glenrothes in the Kingdom of Fife. They were on a world tour that originated in Edinburgh and ended in Australia. She was Irene told Donna she was going to be in Los Angeles for a day or two and would be arriving at the Greyhound bus terminal on Tuesday, December 20, 1988 at ten p.m.
When Albert Hammond wrote that song, It Never Rains in California, he must have been out of town that night. It was coming down in ten gallon buckets. My right foot was still in a cast after having the screws in my injured ankle removed from the accident I had at the Hollywood Sign Park a year earlier, so I handed Donna the keys to my Austin Healey. We had the hardtop secured on with bolts and latches but there were no windows in that car, only rickety, scratched and weather worn side curtains as she drove the impenetrable streets to Cahuenga and Hollywood Boulevards to pick up her two road-weary travelers. The car had no defrost system, or at least it wasn’t working, so we had to keep wiping the windshield with scraps of paper and rags to be able to see the road in front of us. I wished we would have had time to call my mom and borrow the Mercedes and wondered how in the hell we were going to get four people, two of which had luggage, in a small British roadster. The car did have two back seats but they were only meant for children or very small adults. I had no idea how big these girls were and Donna wasn’t sure since she hadn’t seen Irene or Fiona in a couple of months. They did pay a visit to her when she lived in Joliet, Illinois the previous spring but she assured me they were not porkers then, but a lot could happen in nine months. I hoped they weren’t pregnant.
We scrambled out of the car, huddled together under my jean jacket while Donna helped guide my crutch assisted body into the bus terminal. We were soaked to the bone in a matter of minutes. Donna spotted her friends and the hugs and tears of joy ensued. They were skinny enough and only had a couple of rucksacks.
“You’re joking.” Irene said in her thick Fife accent. “There’s no way on earth we are going to fit inside this wee car.” It was going to be a tight fit but I convinced her it was doable. Fiona was silent but I could see she was a bit skeptical. After a few minutes of arranging and rearranging the passenger and their bags we were on the road back to Camrose. Donna was a real trouper and handled the Healey like a champ. When we dried off in the living room and introductions were made to Bridget and Ginger, Donna made a pot of tea and instant coffee for me.
“Oh my God,” Irene said as she gawked at Bridget. “Is that a dog or a bloody horse? Donna I don’t know how you manage to put up with this man who lives in a kennel. He seems a bit daft but harmless.”
“He is a wee bit cheeky,” Donna said, “but I suppose I’ll keep ’im.”
“He is a handsome devil, mindin’ me of ole Tom Jones. James, can ya strum a bit a Delilah on that guitar of yours?” Irene said while pointing to the J-200 that was leaning against the bookcase.
“I think I could manage.” I said as I picked up the guitar and wailed my best attempt at mimicking the Welsh singer.
“That not too bad,” Fiona said after she sipped her tea. They were settling in now while Donna made up the couch for Irene. They had drawn straws and Fiona was relegated to the sleeping bag on the floor. At least we had a foam mat to cushion the burden of her sleeping directly on the hardwood floors.
The next morning Donna and I went to Ralph’s supermarket and did a little shopping while the two visitors slept soundly. She thought a nice Christmas dinner would be in order, so we bought a small turkey, Brussels sprouts, tatties and yams. We even purchased a couple bottles of Chardonnay and a six pack of beer. When we came back the coffee was brewing and Irene said she and Fiona had taken the two doggies out for a wee walk. I was a little concerned about Big Al Fohrman and wondered if he had laid into them with his usual gruffness. She said the dogs were well behaved and she hadn’t seen the big blowhard, but did have a conversation with a few of the neighbors. They had also done some vacuuming and had polished the furniture with Pledge. I told them they didn’t have to bother but they said it was the least they could do. Donna fired up the oven and by noon the turkey was thawed enough to cook.
There weren’t enough chairs in the kitchen for us to have a sit down dinner so I removed the legs from the round table and rolled it into the living room. We sat on the floor that evening drinking wine and eating our delicious feast. When Bridget wandered over to have a sniff, I snapped my fingers and she hopped on the couch, Ginger cuddled up to Fiona who sneaked her a few pieces of turkey skin. I later rewarded Bridget and Ginger with a few scraps I had put into a plastic bowl and they ate them with the manners of well trained animals that they were. They girls were impressed. After dinner Irene trundled over to her rucksack and brought out these funny looking paper hats in the shape of a king’s crown. She insisted we all put them on our heads and Donna told me it was a Scottish tradition. I felt stupid but played along with the ceremonial festivities. Then she brought out these things called Christmas crackers which were long paper tubes that had string on each end. Two people would pull on each end and the cracker would crack open with a pop. The one who ended up with the long end would be the winner and claim the reward inside which was usually a wee trinket or an amusing Scottish joke. I lost every contest but didn’t care. It was one of the most fascinating Christmas dinners I had ever had the pleasure of attending.
After the Pumpkin pie was devoured and the third cup of coffee was being served, I turned on the television. On the screen there was a special bulletin. The newscaster said that Pan Am flight 103 from Frankfurt to Detroit via London was destroyed by a terrorist bomb of Lockerbie, Scotland. We sat there stunned in disbelief watching the burning wreckage on the Sharp 26 inch TV screen. There I was with three Scottish girls watching a terrorist attack in their home country. I was at a loss for words, as we all were. Nothing like that had ever happened in the long history of the small country that had been through wars, famine, pestilence, floods, fire and subservience to England, Scandinavia and many other would be aggressors. Scotland always stood proud and tall and managed to keep a stiff upper lip. It was a night I will never forget as long as I live. Scotland forever!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chapter 25 – Camrose Drive

My Austin Healey was a joy and a pleasure to drive even though I was restricted by the courts. I would drive the loop that began at my driveway on Camrose, make a left turn and head uphill past the Hightower Court Apartments. The Hightower property, built by architect Carl Kay over nearly two decades from the mid 1930's to the mid 1950's, is constructed around a unique centerpiece— a five-story private elevator for residents. Hightower Court's seclusion, and mystery, has made it the setting for Raymond Chandler's noir detective Philip Marlowe. It was immortalized on film in The Long Goodbye Marlowe (played by Elliot Gould) lives in one of the apartments with half-naked hippie neighbors. It also appears in a few of Michael Connelly’s books and Connelly even rented an apartment there in the late 20th century to channel his muse.
Heading up the hill, I made a right onto Glencoe that would wind around the hillside offering spectacular views of the Hollywood landscape to La Presa Drive past the house where Jack LaLanne, famed exercise guru and noted strongman, lived. He made it to the ripe old age of ninety-six and a half. I guess his theories on longevity worked! After speeding past the LaLanne residence, I would turn right on Castilian Drive that would take me to Outpost Drive and from there I would head up to Mulholland. I would turn around there and drive the same route in reverse. No, I didn’t drive in reverse gear, just the opposite way from whence I came. It was a good five or six mile workout for the car and it kept it in good shape. Cars, especially British roadsters, need to be driven not stored away in some collector’s garage. The only problem with the car was it was badly in need of a ring job. It leaked oil and I knew I would have to rebuild the engine soon.
Donna was becoming a beloved mainstay at 6826 ½ Camrose Dr. She loved both Bridget and Ginger and the feeling was, much to my delight, extremely mutual. Ginger had a funny habit of jumping up on her hind legs and chewing the leash when it was walkie-walkie time. Donna found it hysterical, while I was amused; I was already used to it. We would still take long walks in the park across the street and I introduced her to Blue, the homeless park psychologist. By nine in the morning he was already on his tenth beer and would ramble on about how much he missed his home in Tennessee. Sometimes we would walk over to Milner Drive, a street that ran parallel to the south side of the park, and pay Chas a visit and listen to one of his self proclaimed and later actualized hit songs. Sometimes we would even jam on a few of my songs on acoustic guitars while Donna listened patiently sipping her Earl Grey tea. Chas is a living example of what the power of positive thinking can materialize. Having connections in high musical places doesn’t hurt either.
 On a sunny morning in December 1988, Donna was getting ready for a job interview in Inglewood at Centinela Hospital, the same place where Dr. Frank Jobe had his offices. Jobe was the man responsible for the elbow surgery that would prolong the careers of notable baseball players. His first success was Dodger pitcher, Tommy John. From there on out it was called, and still is called the Tommy John surgery.
I started up the Healey in the rear parking lot as Big Al Fohrman, my landlord, watched my every move. He was a pack-rat agoraphobic who never left his apartment. His booming voice could resound through the hills and valleys of Hollywood for miles with rants like: “Haymer, when are you going to get a real car.” Or, “You know I’m going to have to charge you extra for that teenager you have shacking up with you.” I tried to ignore him most of the time and always dreaded walking past his apartment that was below and catty corner to mine—or I should say ours. I talked as little as possible to the ornery old man and would usually give him the evil eye on my way up the stairs. He referred to me sarcastically as “Happy Haymer”.
Donna looked beautiful in her business suit as she glided her way into my yellow sports car. Even though I had lost my driving privileges, I took the chance. I took a lot of chances in those glory days. When we got to the corner of Highland and Camrose the car stalled out. I tried to turn her over but she wouldn’t start—the car not Donna.
“Oh no, James. I’m going to be late for my interview.”
“No you’re not. Just give me five minutes and I’ll get her going.”
It was a sight to see Donna in her Sunday best helping to push the car to a safe resting place and out of harm's way. She wasn't too happy about it to say the least.I got out the car that was hugging the curb like a coddling baby and got my toolbox out of the trunk. I opened the hood and removed all six spark plugs that I could see were drenched in oil. I got some sandpaper and thoroughly cleaned each plug and reinserted the plugs and connected the plug wires. I got back in the car and fired her up. She purred like a contented kitten. We made it to Inglewood with five minutes to spare and I was also spared the reading of the riot act if she missed her interview. She ended up being offered a job there and, after weighing the three other offers she accepted the one at Centinela.
Before she moved to L.A, the Healey was my only car and she needed a dependable vehicle to drive back and forth from work I had no idea at the time she would have to drive from Hollywood to Inglewood—a twenty-five mile trek. I picked up a Recycler, my acquisition bible, and scoured through the classifieds for cars. I saw a running 1969 Triumph TR-6 in the paper for $800. It was red and the top was in good condition, although the interior was a bit funky. I thought that was awfully cheap for a car in that condition so I wondered what else could be wrong with it—nothing, as far as I could tell. I knew Donna was from Scotland and was experienced with a manual transmission but would this car be reliable enough to be her daily driver? I have to admit I was a bit selfish thinking how I missed my other TR-6, the one that was wrecked and I had also sold “The Crate”, the second TR that I had swapped engines with from my first Triumph. I bought my third TR-6 and my second one built in the year 1969, the first year they made those beauties. I got it for $500.
The day we went on the interview at Centinela, the TR was down on Adams Boulevard near La Brea getting a nice new coat of red paint. She hadn’t even seen it yet but I showed her some pictures of my original one before the wreck and she was more than excited. The next week, when the car was ready, we drove down together to the auto body shop and when she saw that dazzling beauty in the parking lot it was love at first sight. She looked amazing in that car as I followed her back in my Healey to Camrose. Big Al Fohrman wasn’t too pleased about it. I didn’t care. I knew we were going to move out of that place which now housed two people, two dogs and two sports cars. It was back to the Recycler or Home-finders again. In the meantime, we would have to put up with the tub of lard downstairs stewing in his rancid, gastric juices for a little while longer. We could manage. We were in love and with love anything is possible.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chapter 24 – Blue-Eyed Blondes

It was early May of 1988 and I went down to visit Peter Gries who was assistant director of a film that was shooting in Santa Monica. Stephen had invited me down there and I brought along with me a phone number. Peter had a non-running Austin Healey 3000 parked in front of his house in Nichols canyon and I would see it there when I went to visit my sister, Susan. I had made him an offer once but he refused. The phone number was from an ad in the paper for a 1958 yellow Austin Healey 100-6 for $4200 in Marina Del Rey. I figured I would stop by and take a look at the car after schmoozing on the set. I took all the money I had in the world with me just in case— $4000. I would have to be crazy to spend everything I had on a car, but this was my dream car. I actually had several dreams about buying an Austin Healey 3000 (the same body style as the 100-6) in metallic blue. In my dreams I had paid $2700 for the car. Dream On. Today, that car would cost me almost fifty grand in decent shape.
It was around two-thirty when I called the guy with the Healey and I asked him if the car was still available. It was, and he said I could come by and take a look. I was driving my mom’s 1974 Mercedes 250 sedan and wondered what I would do with it if I decided to make the guy a low-ball offer and he accepted. I hoped that it would happen and I also prayed that it would be a safe enough area to leave the Mercedes, get a ride back and return it to my mom and dad before the sun went down. That was asking a lot—but what the hell, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Right?
When I drove down the quiet designated street I saw her. It was love at first sight. The body was straight and it was a nice shade of yellow. The Great Gatsby car (my mom would coin that nickname for her later). I don’t know why men always refer to cars or guitars as her. It’s a sexual thing I guess. There were two guys in their early to late thirties standing beside the car and I was checking them out and thinking to myself how I could grind them down to a price that was fair.
“Hi, I’m James. I called about the car.”
The older of the two guys extended his had to me and said, “I’m Terry, nice to meet you. This ugly dude next to me is Frank.”
I didn’t think Frank was any uglier than Terry so I laughed and shook his hand too.
“So you’re asking $4200 for her?” I think he liked the fact that I called the car, her. It’s a guy thing. “Is there room for negotiation?”
“Well, maybe a little but I’ve already got that much in the car. I need to sell it quick though. Money talks and I’m listening.”
“Why don’t you fire her up?” I asked.
Terry struggled to get his six foot two inch, two hundred and fifty pound frame inside the sports car. I, being five foot nine, would have no problems. He turned the key and the car whined and whinnied like a sick quarter horse. It finally started but was running extremely rough. I knew something was wrong but without the proper testing equipment I couldn’t be sure.
“Sound like it’s not running on all six cylinders,” I said to Terry. Frank was busy drinking a beer by the front porch and I realized that Terry was the brains in this operation.
“I know. I don’t think it’s serious though. Probably just needs a tune up.”
I had a sneaking suspicion I knew what was wrong and I made him and offer of $3500. He scratched his head and came back with $4000 cash. That was all the money I had and I knew the car was going to need some work just to get it home and I didn’t want to call a flat bed tow truck. We haggled and finally agreed on $3800. I paid him the money and asked him if he would keep an eye on the Mercedes. I would be back as soon as I could to pick it up. He said it would be no problem at all. I climbed into the car and drove away. The Healey lurched and was so underpowered it couldn’t get out of its own way. As soon as I was around the corner I pulled over and open the hood. I did another inventory of the vitals. I checked the distributor, the plugs and then it hit me. The plug wires were in the wrong sequence. I knew it was the same firing order as the TR-6 so I switched the wires to the proper places and fired it up. Beautiful! It ran like a champ. I made it back to Camrose by 4:30 and called my dad. He picked me up and we were back in the Marina by 6 p.m. He thought the Healey was beautiful too.
On the morning of the Fourth of July, I got a call from Paula. “You have to get out of the house today. You are going to meet her.”
“Yes her, the blonde with the blue eyes and round face.”

I was still living two blocks down from the Hollywood Bowl on Camrose Drive. That day I met not one, not two, but three women with blonde hair, blue eyes and round faces. The first one was photographing an old church on the corner of Highland and Franklin. She was wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket and jeans and looked kind of tough-cool but approachable. I asked her if there was some special theme she was going after etc. She said they were doing a restoration of the old church and wanted some before and after pictures. She had already photographed fifteen or sixteen other churches from all over the country. We started talking about our lives and about an hour later, when the time was right, I got her number. Her name was Rachel and I thought she was a possibility but I was not blown away.
I then went to lunch at a cafe down on Highland—I can’t even recall the name of the place. I saw a blonde haired blue eyed waitress. The nametag on her white cotton blouse told me her name was Colleen. She was nice and kept refilling my coffee and paying extra special attention to me. I invited her to sit down when the customer base thinned out. I didn’t say much about myself other than I was a musician and like The Beatles and Bob Dylan. She said she liked heavy metal music, film noir and had broken up with her boyfriend a few days ago—Prime material. She gave me her number but something inside told me it would never work out between us. Round two.
I went back home to sort it all out. I was restoring the Healey now at Richard’s place in the Valley, and I was covered from head to toe in oil and grease. My Grateful Dead T-shirt was ripped and my gray loafers had holes in them and were coming apart at the stitching. I weighed about 130 pounds soaking wet, when normal weight for me was around 155. It was starting to get dark, so I decided to go down to the Hollywood Bowl and check out the fireworks. I was standing in the courtyard by the ticket office when I noticed the sign read: sold out. I didn’t really care since it was Andy Williams performing that night. I only wanted was to witness the fireworks display and I could see that perfectly fine from the parking lot.
 I had resigned myself to the sad fact that Paula might have been getting some bad information from the psychic network and I was not going to find HER—at least not today. Just as I was thinking that, I heard a sweet lilting voice speaking in a Scottish accent. “Oh no, Shelley, what are we going to do it’s all sold oot?” I turned around and saw a young woman with blonde hair, blue eyes and a pleasing round face. She reminded me of Haley Mills. Round three.
“Excuse me lassie, where are you from?” I enquired. If she was all alone she never would have followed me, but since her friend Shelley, a compactly built specimen, was with her she felt safe. I told them I knew a secret way in to the Bowl, and I promised I could and would get them in to the show. All they had to do was walk right through the front entrance and then get in line at the concession stand and said, “If you have a coke or a hot dog in your hand they are not going to bother you, especially on Independence Day.”
 I rushed ahead thinking they were right behind me but they had slowed their pace and were twenty feet away. I walked back and asked what they were doing, but I guessed they were discussing the situation amongst themselves. They told me later they thought I was a homeless person sleeping on the benches in the park, but they decided that I was a harmless homeless person.
“Come on,” I said, “Just act like a roadie.”
The pretty blonde looked at me blankly and asked,” What’s a roadie?”
“It’s someone who carries the equipment for musicians. Just act like you work here, that’s all.”
They followed along and did what I had told then to do. We rushed to the concession stand and I bought them both a hot dog and coke, and the same for me.  Then we sat down in the middle section of the outdoor venue and listened to Andy Williams sing Moon River, and a few other of his hits. After the show, we wanted to get a drink. As we walked past my apartment on Camrose, she noticed the lights were left on and it appeared that the TV was on, too. I told her that my dogs felt less lonely if there were human voices around and that’s why I had the TV on. I knew I had scored point number one with her.
The night was mild and clear so we walked all the way to The Cat and Fiddle and got a table outside in the courtyard. I ordered a gin and tonic and she and Shelley ordered the same. While I was sitting there, a scruffy looking cat had wandered up to me and jumped on my lap. I was cleaning out its ears with a napkin –I noticed they were in pretty nasty shape. Although she thought it was a bit gross, I felt I had scored point number two with her. I found out her name was Donna and she was from Fife, Scotland, and had been living in Joliet, Illinois for the last few months on a one year working visa and was due to go back overseas that December. I got the phone number where she was staying in L.A. and I also got her home number in Joliet in case we didn’t have a chance to hook up while she was on vacation.
On the day she was heading back home, she called to thank me for the nice time she had on the Fourth, and wanted to say goodbye. I had to think fast. I spontaneously said, “You have a rental car, don’t you?” She said it was Avis. I told her that Avis Rental place was over a half mile from the airport and I would be more than happy to escort them to the gate. She agreed. That morning I took a nice, long, hot bath and washed up like I had never washed up before. I may be a slob by nature, but I clean up well. Later that day, I pulled my TR-6 into the parking lot at Avis and I spied them sitting on a bench outside the office. They squinted their eyes at me—probably wondered if I was the same guy they had met a few nights ago. Donna had a stuffy nose and we had a congested and awkward kiss goodbye at the gate.
A few days later, I called her and we had a delightful conversation. She had a great sense of humor and was worldly as any woman I had ever met at the tender age of twenty-four. The next day she called then I would call her and it went on like that for a more than a week. By the second week we were talking two times a day. She then said out of the blue, “I am coming back out there to see you.”
“Come on, really,” I said. “I’ll make a date with a girl to meet me at the local bar and they usually don’t even show up, but you’re going to come all the way from Joliet after a month and I am supposed to believe that?”
“Be there on August, 20th, American Airlines flight 1970 at 8 pm.”
I went there thinking she might not be on the plane. But when I arrived at the gate she was the second one off. She looked great and seemed to have lost five pounds of baby fat, not that she was fat or anything. I myself had put on about five pounds. We went to Magic Mountain, (which I failed to get to three times with Marly) Catalina Island and the Queen Mary, but it wasn’t until we drove in my Healey to the Laundromat on Fountain; the piles of dirty socks and holes in my underwear were stacked up in the rumble seat, I knew, yes I knew, she was the woman for me.
She went back to Joliet and I went to visit her there in September. We had decided that she was going to move in with me at the apartment on Camrose, so I started cutting out physical therapist job positions from the newspaper and mailed them to her. This was the day before email and fax machines were only seen in office suites, banks and insurance agencies. She had contacted several physical therapy clinics, and had six appointments lined up by the time she got off the plane and decided on Centinela Medical Clinic. Two days before the tragic incident at Lockerbie, we, along with her best friend from Scotland, Irene, who arrived at Camrose with her friend Fiona on the way to Australia, spent Christmas together. We all wore funny paper hats they call crowns, pulled Christmas crackers, and ate our Yule Tide dinner from a blue table without legs on the hardwood floor since there weren’t enough chairs in my humble apartment.
The year before, I had broken my ankle by sliding into home plate at a pick-up softball game at the park right underneath the Hollywood sign. The doctors had put in a plate and screws and I had them removed right before Donna came out to L.A., so I couldn’t drive my stick shift car. Donna drove and did an exemplary job at it. After all, she is from Britain and learned how to drive on a manual transmission.
To make matters more difficult, I had lost my driving privileges after smashing my first TR-6 into a parked car in front of a crowded theater on Ventura near The Baked Potato. I had sold my second TR-6 to John and Marion Hamilton and all I had left was my Austin Healey. I used to drive the back road loop around Camrose without a valid license just to keep it in good running condition. Other than that, Donna did all the driving until I got my driving privileges back a few months later. Soon tragedy would strike my family and I was comforted and delighted to have Donna in my life at that turbulent time. She was a like the Rock of Gibraltar to lean on. I wish there was more I could have done to let her know how much I loved and appreciated her strength and kindness. I am still trying to this day.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Chapter 23 – Looking Forward to Going Back

 I felt lost and in need of direction. After the ordeal with my broken ankle that led to my abuse of drugs and alcohol which resulted in a car accident and jail, I knew it was time to do some soul searching and trace the roots of my life. Maybe I would find some answers—maybe not, but it was worth a try, plus, I had nothing better to do besides stare out of the bedroom window at my once beautiful sports car now in twisted, metallic shreds serving as a constant reminder of the dreadful mistake I had made.
I booked a flight to New York and made plans to stay with my parent’s long time friends, the Meltzer’s again. It was a beautiful March day in 1988, clear and cool, so I decided to take a walk. First I headed up the west side and when I got to 96th and Amsterdam I saw a “Psychic Reader” sign on the second floor window. I walked up the staircase and buzzed the hand written psychic reader’s button. Less than a minute later a voice that sounded like sandpaper rubbing against an iron skillet wafted through the two inch speaker by the door. “Yes?” the voice shrieked. “I came for a reading,” I said noncommittally. She answered, “Go to 33rd and Madison.”
I didn’t think too much about it since I really wasn’t sure I wanted to spend a whole lot of money on a reading in New York where it cost almost ten bucks for a couple slices of pizza, the best pizza in the world, mind you. I found myself walking south and before I knew it I was nearing the Empire State Building, which was very near the place where that scratchy voice told me to go. I walked to the designated spot and saw the same sign in the window I had seen a couple of hours earlier. I rang the buzzer and the same voice answered. “Yes,” to which I replied the same answer. “Was this the same woman, and if so, how did she get here so fast?” I thought to myself as I was being buzzed in. I pulled myself up the stairs to apartment 1A and knocked on the red door that was ornamented with Egyptian symbols and a wooden cross. I could see a clouded eye looking at me through the peephole. I was let in. She was ancient, about ninety or so with long, thin gray hair tied back in a pony tail. She told me her name was Mama and she spoke with a thick Eastern European accent. I was invited into her kitchen and sat down on a wrought iron chair facing her. She took out an Aquarian deck of Tarot cards then lit a red candle and I noticed the flame was slanting to the left. I told her a little about myself and shy I had come to New York.
“I see you have two dark spirits that have been following you for some time now.” she said. “Do you ever notice that in your music you have a little success and then it all falls apart after awhile?” I nodded my head in agreement. “In your love life, you get together with a girl and then it also falls apart after a year or two. Am I right?” I was taken in by her accuracy even though I knew all about the parlor games psychics play, but this woman was different. She seemed totally authentic being half Romanian—the other half Iroquois Indian. “Here’s I want you to do. Tonight I want you to take a carton of eggs and put them under your bed when you sleep. Tomorrow morning at ten, I want you to come back here and bring the eggs. Can you do that?”
 I said I would and asked her how much I owed her for the reading. She said not to worry about it today and I could pay her twenty dollars after the reading tomorrow. That night I slept with the carton of eggs I bought at the deli earlier in the day. I was glad the bed had legs since it would have been awkward to sleep with the eggs under my pillow and I knew they wouldn’t have survived the night stuffed between the mattress and the floor. Back at 33rd and Madison I entered her apartment with the carton of eggs tucked firmly but gently under my arm then sat back down on the same iron chair in the kitchen. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how she did it. I didn’t see her get up from the table except to get a bowl from the cabinet watching her every move like a hawk. She placed the bowl on the table and cracked open the first egg. I could feel my hair standing up on the back of my neck as I looked down into the bowl. The yoke was jet black. She took another egg and it also was black. She then cracked open a few more and they were normal, as yellow as the sun that peeked through the kitchen window. “The two black yokes represent those two evil spirits that have attached themselves to you aura,” she said. I was flabbergasted. It was a shock and I then wondered how she was going to help me since I had to fly back to Los Angeles the next day. She told me not to worry because she had a daughter, Paula, in Van Nuys, California, who was also a psychic. “Is that very far from you?’ she asked. I told her it was relatively close.
 When I got back to L.A., I contacted Paula. She was a little ball of fire, about five feet tall in heels, with a round Slavic face and a Romanian accent kind of like her mother’s. I would drive my mom’s Mercedes over to her house in Van Nuys once a week and she would lead me into a small room in the back of her corner house on a modest neighborhood. There were pictures of what I assumed was her family on the walls right beside paintings of Jesus looking like a gypsy. I figured she was a Christian even if she dabbled in the Tarot and the occult.
 Paula would sit me down in this eight by eight room, light a few candles then take my hand a pray to her Lord and Savior, then a prayer for my career and my love life. At this point, I was more interested in love. I was a bit skeptical at first, hoping I wouldn’t have to burn another thousand bucks. I wasn’t about to do that again, I already felt stupid enough for doing that in New York the previous month. Then the Tarot readings would start and I began to realize that she was a gifted and insightful psychic, like her mother. She said I was going to meet a pretty blonde girl with a round face and blue eyes. In the meantime I had to find a new car.
My maroon TR-6 looked so pathetic parked in front of my parent’s house on Canton Drive with its nose all busted up like Rocky Balboa after his fight with Drago. I had plenty of time on my hand –time to heal, time to learn something new. I had a wreck of a car with a solid engine and transmission. Then it hit me. Why not find a TR-6 with a good, straight body and a blown engine? I could swap them out down at Richard’s and I think he would be more than cool about it. I called him and he said, Sure Jimmy, if you find a decent TR, you can use a space in the front, and if you need any help or you get stuck with anything, if I’m not too busy, I’ll help. Why don’t you call Paul? He’s got a lot of contacts with English cars.”
Richard Boyd was a gold mine of knowledge, and one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. His shop was in a little strip mall with a tire shop, another domestic mechanic’s garage, a body and paint shop and little Mexican mini-mart / restaurant. I could park my two Triumphs side by side near where Richard stored some of his other projects—the ones he hadn’t quite had time or energy to get around to fixing yet. The wheels were in motion.
I scoured the Recycler for what I needed and Paul checked the ads in Hemmings. Between the two of us I knew we’d find something. I really didn’t want to spend much more than $500 and that was a reasonable amount of money to spend on a TR-6 with a blown motor. Nowadays finding a wreck like what I was looking for would cost ten times as much.
I found one for $650 in the Recycler. It was a 1973 model with chrome bumpers and the body was perfect and even the top and interior were more than decent. All the engines in the Tr-6 from 1969 through 1976 were interchangeable so there was no problem in swapping them out. The only thing was—I had never done anything like that in my life. Paul helped me tow the two Triumphs over to Richard’s and I got to work. I removed all the wires, hoses, nuts and bolts and finally pulled the old engine from my maroon TR with an engine hoist then did the same with the ’73. It was hard, greasy work, but with Richard and Paul’s help it only took a couple of hours. I spent over a week, detailing the engine compartment and painting it black, installing the new engine and reconnecting everything. All that was left to do now was turn the key. I held my breath as I entered the cockpit and sat down in the driver’s seat. I said a little prayer to the gods of foreign sports cars and then—it started up. Yes! I had done it!
The summer was in full gear and it felt great to have a convertible again. I would still drive out to Van Nuys and get readings from Paula and slip her a twenty for her work and she would give me a candle to burn at home. I was starting to lose faith in her abilities since it had been over four months and I hadn’t met anyone promising. Then, on the Fourth of July of that same year, I got a call from Paula. “You have to get out of the house today. You are going to meet her.”
“Yes her— the blonde with the blue eyes and round face.”