A rollicking account of a paralyzed Gen Xer coming of age in the oft-times sordid Hollywood rock scene of the 1980’s
A day later, I sprang from Ma’s Kawasaki KZ 750 twin, semi-eager to enroll at my newest school. Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High boasts several illustrious alumni, but a girl named Norma Jeane Baker attended decades before me and tops the list. South of the campus, a golden trumpeter sat atop the Mormon Temple, and to the north, St Paul Catholic School. I’d often shortcut across that campus, at times loitering to chat up girls in those cute little Catholic-school getups until the nuns shooed me away.
Emerson had expelled my brother Joe, so his friend Bill showed me around and made introductions. I had received a buzz cut the week before, and without Bill’s vouching, it would have been tough blending in with the stoner crowd. No more haircuts for me; I became determined to never get sheared again.
I found it refreshing to once again attend a public school, where the system was super easy to game and nothing was expected from me. I’d ditch whenever I felt like it, and never got caught. But I’d always show to metal shop, even if I skipped other classes, and within weeks became a teacher’s aide. Every morning, a group of fellow stoners would meet up to smoke out before school, or we’d ditch and hit Yen’s Arcade on Westwood Boulevard. For me, arcades were all about pinball, but soon the cutting-edge video game Space Invaders also began robbing me of quarters.
Ma drove graveyard shift for Celebrity Cab, meaning between five at night and six the next morning, Joe and me had the apartment all to ourselves. She’d occasionally drop by to find us hanging out with friends and smoking pot. But if we weren’t, she’d say, “Spark it up.”
I eagerly embraced my new freedom, and soon was an everyday pot and cigarette smoker, as well as a beer enthusiast. Instead of battling for control of the TV, I’d spend hours listening to Ted Nugent and Aerosmith through headphones in my room, or reading Playboys in the bathroom for fifteen minutes at a time. In my youth, I could easily enjoy four or five articles a day, and every so often a handful more.
Those were days of “the Cold War,” when rational folks lived under constant fear that nuclear Armageddon lay a diplomatic misstep away. One morning, after a hard night of smoke and Schlitz Malt Liquor, I awoke to the ear-piercing wail of a civil defense siren. When I began freaking out, Joe laughed. I calmed down as soon as he explained that they gave them sirens a monthly test run, so when the time came, all us capitalists would be aware that we were minutes away from annihilation via incineration.
A few days after ditching Pops’ place, Joe ordered me to stop wearing his clothes. I pointed out that I only had one set of clothes. Figuring that he was being a complete asshole, I continued donning his spare attire. Next thing I knew, we were throwing blows, chokeholds, bellowing, and bouncing off walls, till the noise woke Ma. To my amazement and utter dismay, she said, “Those are Joe’s clothes, and if he tells you that you can’t wear them, get your own.” Before I stormed out, I yelled full-throated about what a bitch she was, and suggested a refresher course on parenting skills.
I still had a few bucks leftover after my escape from the O.C., and I bought a few things, while shoplifting the vast majority of my new wardrobe. To replenish my funds, I started working part time at Ma’s cab company, a forty-minute bus ride away. Joe was already working there a couple of days a week, pumping gas and servicing cars at the end of the day shift. It was tips only, but he made at least thirty bucks in just a few hours. I scooped up the leftover days, and every once in a while got a side job working on people’s personal cars. Thanks to “midnight auto parts,” those gigs were 100 percent profit.
Most of the drivers weren’t really “cab drivers,” but actors, writers, or musicians. A cool older guy, Ray Collins, told of hiring Frank Zappa into his band, The Mothers of Invention. Ray left the group about ten years before I met him. He wanted more input about the band’s new direction and, when he protested, the rest of the group chose Zappa’s vision over his. Ray was friendly and not bitter at all, or at least he never showed any to me while reminiscing and telling glory-days stories.
A young, rockabilly-looking driver really loved the band Levi and the Rockats, and insisted that I go check them out at The Starwood. I thought the band was just alright, but fell in love with that club. It was all ages, sported a disco, and down a long, blacked-out, tunnel-like passageway was a live music area with an elevated stage and mind-blowingly loud PA with its speakers stacked to the ceiling. They could fit more than five hundred humans in that room, and a few aliens. After bands went silent for the night and discs stopped spinning, even more excitement happened in the club’s parking lot, spilling out onto Santa Monica Boulevard. Drunks and druggies, rocker sluts and disco queens all making plans for after-parties while bands mingled, passing out flyers to let folks know when they’d be in the showroom or hosting a backyard kegger jam.
Someone who was actually just a cab driver, Ma’s degen cokehead friend, Tim, occasionally wound up camping out on our couch. One morning, I wandered into the kitchen as he chopped lines of cocaine on a mirror atop our dining table. Two minutes later, I had my first line of blow. First one actually was free. I liked it. I liked it a lot and set out on my merry way with an extra pep in my step. 70s coke was far superior, but far more expensive. I’d gladly pay that $120 per gram, even adjusted for inflation, if the “good shit” still existed. Actually, I’d probably chicken out, because it’s been over a decade since I had a bump. Okay, wait, maybe just one line?
My favorite weekend pastime was pinball at Westworld Arcade, next to the Bruin Theater, just south of the UCLA campus. I spent hours slapping that little silver ball around my favorite Bally machines, Playboy, Mata Hari, and Kiss, as the latest disco hits like “I Will Survive” blared from overhead. It wasn’t long before I began hanging out with a group of older dudes, fond of tagging “WW 714” on things. Not really a gang, just a bunch of Sharpie-owning heads who hung out in Westwood Village and dug an occasional Quaalude. Straight outta Westwood, yo. Ultra-sexy tobacco shills occasionally roamed the Westwood Village sidewalks amongst the swell of weekend crowds handing out free Camel filters; whole packs along with a coupon for a free carton. After a strategic stroll, I’d score two or three packs, and with the coupons I’d have a month of smokes.
When spring semester began, Joe reenrolled at Emerson. Within days, he complained to Ma, “He stole all my friends.” I am not making this shit up, but Ma actually told me, “You need to find your own friends.” Seeing as “Joe’s friends” were the whole rocker/stoner crowd, I was exiled by Ma’s fiat and separated myself from everyone that I had hung out with since my first day.
From sheer spiteful boredom, I started raising hell around campus while continually upstaging my own stupidity. Soon I was getting sent to the counselor’s office several times a week. After a few weeks of that, Ma and me were summoned to meet with an assistant principal, who seemed perplexed when he told us, “Before this month, I had never heard the name ‘Rached.’ Now you’re in my office almost every day.”
Ma told of Joe returning to Emerson right about the same time I began acting up. I admitted that it was my wish to get away from Joe, and suggested I go to another school. The principal was reluctant, and told me I had not done anything worthy of expulsion.
With no idea of what an absolutely terrible plan it was, I eventually persuaded him it’d be better, and easier, for everyone if he expelled me.
My third school of the year, Paul Revere Junior High, in Pacific Palisades, sat a few miles from the ocean. It was an hour bus ride from home, and it was the school OJ’s kids were attending when their mom was murdered. My friend Bill was already there, due to getting busted with weed at Emerson. Just like the semester before, Bill introduced me around to the stoner kids.
Not satisfied with having Emerson all to himself, Joe then complained about my working at the cab company. Ma agreed, so I was only allowed to work at “Joe’s job” during the night shift, at three in the morning. I needed more money than a couple weekend early-morning shifts provided, so I got me a part-time gig grabbing old rich guys’ balls – from the driving range of the Los Angeles Country Club. There were lots of famous members, but the only autograph I ever remember asking for in my life was from the very cordial Fred MacMurray, who hit a bucket of balls almost every day.
It was a pretty cake job. My favorite task was driving the tractor. I’d listen to AM/FM headphones while golfers took aim at my moving target. When a golf ball hit the top of a sheet-metal cage, it went BOOM, and the thunder made the lil’ delinquent boy jump and curse golfers up range. If the range was slow, and all the balls were clean and loaded in buckets, I was free to work on my golf game; driving, pitching, sand removal, and putting. A club pro even gave me a bunch of free lessons. Before then, whenever I’d hit a ball from the sand trap and it didn’t go in the hole, I thought I failed when it stopped a few feet from the cup. The pro told me getting so close was great. After that, I couldn’t get it so close.
I used to drive golf carts all over the property like I stole ‘em, and was quickly informed that it was taboo to drive a cart onto a green. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why the best burnout spots were off limits. I discovered an employee dining room with loads of free food and beverages, and began eating there several times a day until they changed the rules to one visit per day.
On the property’s northern border sat the fabled Playboy mansion, with tales of bunnies, monkeys, and exotic birds. I had to see the magical place with my own two eyes. It took several minutes for my slow-assed golf cart to get to Hefner’s wall, but only about two seconds to get over it. There I was, standing in the Promised Land, unsure of which direction to head to find naked women. The fully dressed security guard’s rapid approach helped me decide to hastily retreat back over the fence.
A few hundred yards into my flight, I happened upon a pile of rabbit turds – had to be seven feet high – and felt compelled to power over it. Halfway up, and stuck in shit, I switched to reverse. But the wheels just spun till the motors overheated. I abandoned the vehicle. Not far into my hike back to the range, I commandeered an unattended golf cart. As I pulled away, someone yelled, “Stop!” and then a caddie stepped out from behind the trees and jogged my way. Caddies weren’t allowed to drive carts unless a member was with them, but reportedly he had snuck off to smoke some pot. So we partied while I regaled him with tales of the Playboy Mansion and rabbit turds.
I began hanging out with that caddie dude, and even fronted him some weed. A week later, he still hadn’t paid, but I fronted him more because I’m an idiot. Later that day, when he got busted stealing a Rolex from a golf bag, they found that weed on him. It was subsequently discovered that the man had a fugitive murder warrant out of Texas, so it never made sense to me why he told them he got the weed from some white boy at the driving range. Even though I denied it, the next week the rules changed; no one under sixteen was allowed to work at the Los Angeles Country Club.
After picking up my final paycheck, I went to the bus stop and stuck my thumb out. Within minutes, a couple of babes in a 1965 Ford Falcon stopped to offer me a ride. I only planned to travel a few miles to the bank, but when they invited me along to the beach, I eagerly accepted. They were fun chicks who lived in the San Fernando Valley, where they worked as porno “actresses.” On the way home from the beach, I lost my cherry in the backseat of a car tooling along Wilshire Boulevard. That Bryan Adams’ song, “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” is an ‘n’ away from being super nasty.
A week before finals at Paul Revere, Bill and I had a little scuffle during lunchtime – nothing huge, just a disagreement amongst friends over a girl who was out of our league. When he shoved me to the ground, I landed right beside a trashcan. Seeming like a good idea at the time, I sprang up, grabbed the trashcan, and swung it hard. Bill turned away and I slammed him across the back, pro-wrestling style. The school didn’t dig our conflict-resolution methods, so we got booted. Bill and I literally made up by that night, but summer vacation started a wee bit early for us. They actually issued me a report card with straight Fs.
A week into summer vacation, early one morning before we woke, Ma stocked the kitchen with food, left a note – with no information about where she went or when she’d return – and rode off into the sunrise. After a week of us being home alone, her friend Rock showed up to see if we needed more food or medical attention, and brought reports of Ma being alive and well. Apparently Joe and me were driving her crazier than her normal state, so she had made like the wind and split.
One hot and smoggy afternoon, my buddy Max showed up and excitedly announced, “I got Van Halen II.” I had never heard of the band, but after three hundred and twenty-nine consecutive listens, we decided to have a party. Hell, we already had the soundtrack. After acquiring a new bong and an ounce of Columbian, we scored ten cases of Michelob, then loaded them brews into a bathtub full of ice. Back then, parties were driven by word of mouth. Seeing as it was summer vacation, and absent of social media, only about twenty dudes showed up. The sausage fest was on.
A dude told us about a nearby automotive shop that stashed car keys under the driver’s seats, so the next night, Joe and me hiked up there to test drive a Mazda RX3. A few blocks into our joyride, waiting in the left turn lane at Santa Monica and Veteran, a black-and-white police cruiser pulled up to our rear bumper. Then that lil’ Mazda decided it wanted to fuck with us and went completely dark and silent. While mumbling obscenities, Joe franticly turned the key. When he reached for the door to bail out, I calmly begged, “Wait, I got this.” A half second after the light turned green, I stepped out and strolled to the back of the Mazda as I yelled toward the cops, “Our car broke down! Can you help us push it around the corner?” I pointed to a spot.
The helpful officer riding shotgun popped his head out the window to shout, “Push your own damn car!” With that, they pulled around us and made a left.
I didn’t steal any other cars from that mechanic, and not just because they quit leaving the keys under the seat. I just figured it was stupid to steal cars that were in a repair shop, plus I knew a way to get an old Ford running with a short piece of wire. So I drove lots of other peoples’ 60s Mustangs or Falcons, but usually parked them near where I found them. I’d also regularly “borrow” a moped from my friend Wilmer’s driveway. Wilmer was a solid drummer alongside a pretty decent guitar player, Andy, for a garage band whose Jimi, Sabbath, and Zep covers I’d sometimes rock out to.
I met a very cool girl, Ilene, and for a few months, we shared many adventures. She lived above Westwood Village and we’d hang out there for hours. Despite the huge Robert Plant and Jimi Hendrix posters in her room, we mostly sang along to “Get the Knack” or “Candy-O.” I offered her the Lebanese sausage a few times, but we weren’t banging. We just had a lot in common – including our love of the vagina – and went on beaver hunts at the Starwood every chance we got. My childhood hero, no longer a Partridge, Danny Bonaduce, was there many nights, hanging out in front, probably as fucked up as I was. Even though he treated me like the little punk that I was, preferring to focus his attention on female club goers, I’m happy that he’s still cool, funny, and living a healthy life.
If there wasn’t a band that I cared about jamming in the showroom, I’d dance the night away in the disco with foxy ladies until “Last Dance” played. As the song faded out, the D.J. would say, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” Being only fourteen, way too drunk, and not wearing appropriate disco attire, I only got laid twice out of that dance hall.
This was the era of a rock vs. punk battle for hearts and minds. According to several loudmouths with shit hanging out their face, punk rock had taken over after rock ‘n’ roll died. Rock can never die, so because of those lies, I hated punk and punk-rockers. I do love me some pop and ballads, but there’s no reason to actually see a band perform that gay-ass shit live, so I avoided the showroom except when a heavy rock band played. In 1979, the club’s most popular heavy metal bands were Snow, Pegasus, and Quiet Riot. Even though Randy Rhodes was in the band, I have no distinct remembrance of him playing. Must’ve, though, because I saw Quiet Riot perform several times. Before heading into the club, Ilene and I would consume mass quantities of Jose Cuervo, straight from the bottle, chased with orange juice. And to this day I cannot even swallow a sip of Cuervo, but give me some Patron Silver and it’s on. One night, I staggered slur-my-words drunk out from the bathroom, and was mistook for a vandal by some old guy. He started pushing me and yelled, “Why you fuck up my club, you little punk?” I had no idea what he was talking about, but did know I didn’t like people pushing me. So I swung at Eddie Nash, the infamous club owner. I was too smashed to swing accurately, and we got saved by the arrival of the club’s behemoth security guards. Luckily, the bouncer that escorted me outside took pity on my drunk ass and didn’t beat the crap out of me. Fucking Cuervo!I really dug hanging out with Ilene, but our friendship was short lived. Like me, she’d grab anything that wasn’t nailed down. The last time I saw that girl, she was in the back of police car on Westwood Boulevard, looking sad after a failed attempt at procuring an unattended moped. It wasn’t her first run-in with the law, and she knew she’d be going away for a while. I missed her friendship more than the refuge I felt within the confines of her apartment.
Sometimes I wonder how I could have been so blind to my dishonorableness. Though I felt it absolutely wrong to steal from friends, everyone else was fair game. Plus, it didn’t count if someone merely believed we were friends, if I was only acting friendly to eventually rob them blind. Just around the corner from us was a big garage, with three padlocks to alert my value sensor. After months of intrigue, I walked by one afternoon while the door was raised and was awed by all of the toys within. The mother lode included a 1968 Plymouth Barracuda 340 Formula S, a couple of old-school Harleys, and tools galore. The klepto gears in my head started whirling and grinding. I had to drive that car.
All that great stuff belonged to a guy in his twenties, Henry, and to say that he was nothing but nice to me would be a gross understatement. I was welcome, and dare I say happily received, to hang out whenever he worked in the garage. On Wednesday nights, he’d head over the hill to cruise Van Nuys Boulevard. I tagged along a few times, and we cruised that badass Barracuda up and down the Boulevard a few circuits and then parked at the Bank of America parking lot to hang with his buddies.
One evening, as I passed by on my way to Westworld, I stopped for a brief chat, while out of the corner of my eye, I spied a rectangular Tupperware container nearly full of quarters. On my way home, sometime after midnight, the locks on his garage were hanging unlocked. I looked around to make sure that the coast was clear, jimmied the key plate with my pocket knife, touched the two electrical contacts, and the opener started with a hum. I rolled under and, disappointed the Barracuda was gone, departed with my second option in hand, the bucket-o-change. I limboed back out and had that door closing before it even made it halfway up. He pretty much knew I did it, so I wasn’t allowed over there anymore. If I could turn back the hands of crime. Sorry, man.
With summer past, the principal agreed that my original expulsion was not fully merited, plus Joe had graduated, so for ninth grade I was allowed to reenroll at Emerson. I assured everyone I’d be on my best behavior, and the first few weeks I flew low and avoided the radar. I raised my hand and, except for those situations that begged for humorous reflection, kept my class-clowning to a minimum. I wasn’t hanging out with the stoner crowd or meeting up to smoke out before school, and never ditched a class more than three times in a week.
I fell in with a kid, Perry, and we’d occasionally ditch school to play pinball at UCLA’s “The Coop.” One day, we stole a bitchin’ Honda SL 350 from campus, and then rode it all day before abandoning it near my apartment. When Perry showed my brother where it was, Joe rode that motorcycle around like he owned it, until getting busted for GTA several weeks later. My family loyalty blinded me to who was truly at fault, while giving me the perfect excuse to burglarize Perry’s apartment a few times.
My newest friend became the loser named Larry, a senior at continuation school, who loved to smoke PCP. One day, he spent hours trying to persuade me into snatching a purse, but I didn’t think it was a good idea. I kept picturing back to when I was four, how traumatized Ma was while holding the strap from her recently snatched purse. As I stalled, Larry kept coming up with several things we could buy with the money. Mostly Super Kools, or various other Angel Dust products. I never straight out told him no, and as we walked down Westwood Boulevard on our way back to Yen’s Arcade, he pointed to a lady across the street and said, “I bet she’s got a couple hundred dollars in her purse.”
I figured it was a great opportunity to get it over with, so told him, “Okay.” A rally point was set and then I was on my way. I crept up swiftly behind the little old lady, and then tapped her on the shoulder, smiled nicely, and said, “I’m sorry. I thought you were my Na Na’s friend,” then took off like a jackrabbit, bolted around the corner, and headed toward home. That night, I decided to avoid that guy, because I didn’t enjoy smoking Angel Dust – though I still did – and he seemed obsessed with stealing purses.
The next morning, Ma had a bug up her butt about some dress shoes she bought me for Christmas but I had never even tried on. I liked wearing Vans, and felt it’d look funny wearing dress shoes with Levi 501s and a Grateful Dead T-shirt. But to get out of the house, and not have to listen to anymore bitching, I gave in. Halfway to school, those dress shoes had me feeling like a circus clown at a formal dinner, so I decided to skip class for pinball.
There was only one other kid at Yen’s, Larry, and he picked up right where he left off with the purse-snatch scenarios. For some dumb reason, I cared if he thought I was a pussy. We ended up at the Westward Ho Market’s parking lot, ready to set his foolproof plan in action. I was to grab and then toss the goods over the railing to him waiting out of sight in the alley. The theory being that if I got caught, he’d be gone with the evidence. And they couldn’t do a thing to me without proof. Damn, we were brilliant!
I stalled for about an hour before telling him, “There’re too many people around. Let’s get out of here.”
He peeked over the railing and pointed. “Get that one. There’s no one around.”
Sure enough, there was an older woman – and not another soul in sight – loading grocery bags into her trunk. An unattended purse in the seat of a shopping cart beckoned me to crime. No more excuses or stalling, I went for the score. The woman facing her trunk would have never seen me, except for the ex-Marine watching, due to my suspicious loitering. About ten steps from that car, as I flung the purse toward Larry’s location, I was tackled and held till cops arrived. Oo-Rah! Larry bailed before anyone saw him, but the purse rested right where it landed. Instead of shutting up, I used an ultra-lame story about an older kid holding a knife on me and forcing me to steal the purse.
After the usual pretrial stuff, I found myself in court, charged with robbery. I explained to my public defender exactly how it went down: me just grabbing the unattended purse from the shopping cart, with absolutely no “force or fear.” Unfortunately, the purse’s owner told a completely different story on the witness stand. She swore that I had pushed and knocked her sideways, resulting in a large purple bruise all along her ribcage. I have no idea why she made up that crap, maybe to make it sound more exciting to her friends? The Marine who took me down backed up my side of the story, but couldn’t swear that I didn’t make contact with her. The verdict came back “guilty” of robbery.
Even though I felt guilty of nothing more than petty theft, I was fully aware I had put myself in that situation. If I would have stood up to Larry, the moment where I was grabbing a lady’s purse from her cart could never have occurred. The judge was actually quite lenient, considering I was convicted of a serious felony, and my sentence was a mere one year probation. Ma seemed convinced I wanted to get caught, to get some attention, and asked the judge to add some counseling to my sentence. Ma was right. I actually could have used more parental attention. But in the act of committing crime(s), I always hoped for the least amount of attention possible.
I visited a head-shrink weekly at the L.A. Free Clinic. I truly wanted to make therapy work and iron out some of my life’s issues, so made a conscious decision to be completely honest and open. After a few weeks of describing family interactions, the therapist suggested a group session. A week later, Ma, Joe, and me put on a grand old display of what a dysfunctional meltdown should look like. I started out by spilling some guts and making truthful accusations, and then Joe sat there denying while lying through his teeth as Ma remained doe-faced with nothing to add to or back up my accurate reports. It got me steaming mad, but I remained calm and rational.
Actually, I ranted and raved like a liquored-up lunatic with blood shooting from the eyeballs while screaming something about counseling wouldn’t work if everyone was going to fucking lie. The icing on the cake – before storming out, I flipped over a desk. I had given honesty a shot, but my family really wasn’t interested in actually working out our issues. For some strange reason, I was no longer welcome at the Free Clinic. But at my next mental health location, I just bullshitted my way through sessions and kept everything to myself while running out the clock on the court-ordered counseling.
The school year had barely begun, and there I was, in trouble with the law. Next thing I knew, some school adventures complicated my life even further. There was a social experiment called “bussing,” where they brought kids from different socio-economic backgrounds and enrolled them in schools offering greater educational opportunity. I think they might have shipped some white kids to the ghetto as well, but not sure. Transportation was provided, hence the term “bussing.” I was cool with all the black kids attending Emerson. I had actually made repeated attempts to make friends, but they pretty much hung out with each other and never really seemed to care either way for my friendship.
One day, I saw a kid in my history class had an autographed Dodgers’ baseball on his desk, so I smiled a friendly fellow-Dodgers-fan smile and said, “Cool, can I check it out?” I was met with negativity. Unfazed, I asked again, “C’mon, I just want to check it out.”
He was a prick and told me, “Fuck you, whiteboy.”
So I told him, “Fuck you,” and tossed in an N-bomb before heading for my desk. That kid told one brother, then another, and then another about my improper adjective selection. Then the foursome made it crystal clear that I would be receiving a beat down after class. When I lived in the hood, if a black kid called me honky or whiteboy, I’d occasionally drop the N-bomb. It was never that big of a deal. Things had changed drastically in five years. It had become a fighting word, and so when the bell rang and those guys blocked the exits, I took it like a man and jumped out the window.
Two days later, during lunchtime, I saw that young buck from history class walking straight toward me. He was a slightly built dude, no worries. The biggest concern was the two much stouter bros accompanying him. I decided that fleeing was prudent, so I turned to bail in the opposite direction, only to discover two other brothers closing in. I attempted to take flight over the table, but lo and behold, my escape was foiled by a brother at the back door. The pummeling began, and even though my “friends” outnumbered those guys at a three-to-one clip, none of those pussies jumped in to help. I don’t like double standards, but I like being beaten silly far less, so a lifelong lesson was learned on what not to say. Sticks and stones my ass. Words justify violence in some asinine scenarios, or make it understandable to many. Only I know what’s truly in my heart. But if you care – I hate no one who hasn’t given me reason. But I love you!
Within a week of that encounter, I found myself back-talking my fine-ass math teacher, a sister about twenty-five, built like a brick shit house, and quite popular with the male students. After I gave her a particularly harsh rebuttal, a young man got up in my face demanding I be respectful. I flipped him off and then decided it was time to get out of there due to the mood getting real tense real fast. When I headed for the door, she acted reasonably and professionally by ordering other students to stop me. A few kids eagerly obliged and blocked my departure. I don’t like being held prisoner, so it got a little physical. I took a few lumps before they could hold me down for security.
The vice principal came to the conclusion that I had a “race problem,” because all involved in the incident, except me, were black. He also referenced the other recent beat down, also delivered unto me by darker-complexioned schoolmates, to further prove his theory. It might seem unbelievable, but I was then expelled for being on the receiving end of two racially motivated beat downs, and for being a complete asshole.
The first Monday of December was the first day at my newest school. Daniel Webster Junior High sat only twenty minutes by bus ride away.
The student body was ethnically diverse, and seeing as I love all the women of the world, it was great there. The whites, blacks, and Mexicans all pretty much coexisted peacefully, and intermingled without thought of identity politics. Actually, the Mexicans ran that joint. Hola, chicas. Te quiero. Ma reminded me of her utter hatred for the hassle of jumping through the bureaucratic hoops required for school enrollment, especially because it was the fourth time in just under a year. I understood, and felt slightly embarrassed myself, so I decided to be on my best behavior.
I soon learned it was impossible avoiding extra-close scrutiny when enrolled through what they called an “opportunity transfer,” especially for rejects like me totally unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions. The Friday of my second week, running a wee bit late for first-period gym class, I rushed in to get changed and make it to roll call before getting a tardy. As I entered the locker room, some kid on the way out jumped up and slapped the alarm bell. The gym teacher heard the ping, spun around, looked at me, pointed, and bellowed, “Drop and do ten.” Looking back, I realize that even though I was totally in the right, things would have gone far smoother had I just done the ten pushups instead of arguing and refusing, which got me sent to the principal’s office.
I encountered a diminutive lad on my way to the office – who felt powerful because he wore a hall-monitor’s badge – demanding that I produce a hall pass. Another twenty-twenty hindsight would have stopped me from throwing his credentials onto the roof. Fucking around with that runt was like assaulting a teacher. At least that’s what they told me when they kicked me out. Half of me was bummed about getting booted after only two weeks, but the real me was thrilled about an extra-long Christmas Vacation of sleeping in and long hours of pot smoking while watching Hogan’s Heroes, Gomer Pyle, Andy Griffith, Gilligan’s Island, and I Love Lucy (I really do) on the boob tube.
Our downstairs neighbor scored an awesome, near-mint 1968 Chrysler 300. Beauty car, which I worked on, tuned up, and did the brakes, belts, or whatever I told him it needed. Instead of getting paid, I got his 1964 Chevy wagon. I gave it to Ma for Christmas, but often snuck joyrides. On a cruise up Beverly Glen, at the top of the hill where Mulholland slices the city in two, a Mercedes cut me off nasty. While contemplating what form my road rage should take, I mumbled, “Fucking assholes in Mercedes think they own the fucking road.” Then I thought, “That’s it. In this town, if you want something, you got to take it.” Right then and there, I vowed to take what I deserved, and never let anyone punk me.
If I had been convicted of a felony, or got booted from even one school while living with Pops, I would have likely required intensive care. Ma had a slightly different approach, and for Christmas she got us an Atari 2600, exactly what Joe and I had lobbied for. Her theory being, if we vegged out at home, there was less chance of arrest(s). It went together well with her often-stated reason for letting us smoke pot: “They’re going to do it anyway. I’d prefer they were at home.”
When the New Year began, it was time to find another school willing to accept my trouble-making ass. John Burroughs Junior High, a few blocks from the intersection of Wilshire and La Brea, became my next forty-five-minute bus ride. The student body’s diverse mix had no dominant group or ethnicity. Seeing as most of the black kids weren’t prejudiced, I hung out with a group of brothers. During lunch, we’d rock “Rapper’s Delight” on a boombox, while spittin’ the rhyme toward passing females. Soon I had the lyrics down pat, so I unlocked my inner popper by adding a few funky dance moves so I be hippin’ to hip the hop while hibbying to the something or another; chicken tastin’ like wood. On weekends, my buddy Max and me would hang at my house, drink beer, smoke out, and listen to Pink Floyd’s The Wall over and over.
Everything went fine for about a month, but, being a fun-loving thrill seeker, I ended up in a minor scuffle. When a skinny little kid with longish blond hair showed up to electronics class with a fresh buzz cut, I busted his chops relentlessly. I desperately needed to know if he had gone to the dark side, punk rock. A few days of endless ridicule later, he began wearing a baseball cap. One afternoon, as I passed by, I flipped his hat to the ground while he stood in the lunch line. Thoroughly fed up with my shit, he charged at me. That kid was considerably smaller than my five-foot-ten, hundred-seventy pounds, and because I had zero desire to hurt him, I merely placed two hands on his chest and pushed him away. He landed on his ass, and I chuckled.
A few more charges were followed by his butt planted to the asphalt. My snide commentary and laughing only added to his rage. While he worked himself into full psycho mode, a nearby lunch-line lady feebly yelled, “Stop… stop… stop, you two.”
I noticed a few exceptionally cute girls taking in the action, and couldn’t look like a pussy. Could I? Figuring I had the moral right to defend myself, and an immensely credible lunch-lady witness, I gave that kid the ol one-two: left to the stomach and, when he jackknifed forward, a devastating right uppercut to his jaw. There had been many huge gang fights at the school, thus a zero-tolerance policy for fighting. I was in the market for another school, and actually felt terrible the other kid also got kicked out for “fighting.”
I turned fifteen, and my future plan was to breeze through the year while saving up to score a car and hit the freedom road ten seconds after I turned sixteen. If you got a car, you ain’t homeless. The year started out awesome when, for my birthday, Ma got me a ticket to see Pink Floyd perform The Wall at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Max worked some kind of deal for Joe’s ticket and went with us. Max, Ma, her friend Steve, and I got to the venue about a half hour before the show to drop some acid, then washed it down with five joints before heading inside. That shit was strong, and right after the wall was completed, “Goodbye Cruel World” – I was pretty obliterated. The second half of that concert was a spectacular prop and light show that I tripped on way more than listening to the music.
Not long after the wall came a-tumbling down, I enrolled at the continuation school, West Hollywood Opportunity Center. It sat on a tiny, three-bungalow campus near Fairfax and Santa Monica Boulevard, where I was surrounded by like-minded boys. But the few girls who attended only dated twenty-five-year-olds. With only half-days, I took the afternoon shift and showed up after lunch to put in my three hours of “work.” Class was easy as pie. I spent many days reassembling scavenged pieces of The Wall posters that were glued up around the city to promote the concert, hoping to end up with one complete poster and an A in school.
All the while, things at home were getting tenser by the day, with Ma and Joe in full agreement that the entire shit storm was my fault. I was of the mind that we all shared in the drama-creating department, and would holler that sentiment in their direction. Ma never missed an opportunity to tell me how grand her life had been before I came along, and would always make sure I knew her parental responsibilities ended at the stroke of midnight on my eighteenth birthday. Every once in a while, she’d throw in, “You’re just lucky that abortions weren’t legal in 1964.”
I’d scream back, “It’s not my fault you spread for Pops,” plus lots of other mean, evil shit a boy should never yell at his mother. I did try a little, and sometimes when I fucked up I would say, “Sorry, mom.”
Her standard reply to that was, “Don’t be sorry. There are too many sorry motherfuckers out there already.” I believe she was quoting Dr. Spock.
One evening, I rolled up about twenty crappy, homegrown joints, stuffed them into a Marlboro box, and headed to the Starwood to see if I could get two bucks each. I eventually wound up at the Tiffany Theater’s midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where I met a girl in full Rocky Horror garb. When she invited me back to her house in Simi Valley, I went without hesitation. To my dick’s dismay, her only interest in me was as a present for her gay roommate. He was a cool dude, but we both agreed that there would be no rimming, kissing, or ass-fucking.
The next morning, they left for work and me on a corner near their house. I was stranded in Simi Valley, which might as well have been a 1950s Texas time warp, that I don’t want to do again. In search of a bus stop, I wandered east on Los Angeles Street, not aware that buses must be flagged down if one needed to ride. A few miles into my stroll, I happened upon a motorcycle dealership and formed a brilliant plan. Steal one of the cycles and ride it back to the future – Hollywood.
The dudes at the cycle shop were cool, and even let me take a wimpy little scooter on a solo test drive. As I puttered along, I just couldn’t envision it even remotely possible to get away on that bike, so I returned to the lot and hit the restroom before starting on my trek. Whilst draining the ol’ lizard, hanging on a hook to my right was a pair of pants with the distinctive bulge of a wallet in the back pocket. With almost three hundred bucks available, in the blink of an eye, my transportation plans changed. I procured forty bucks and set off to hike a few blocks till a bus happened along. At the end of the line, I would catch a taxicab back to civilization.
I didn’t even make it two blocks before them dudes came at me from all directions, apparently unimpressed that I didn’t take all the cash. They even retrieved the pack of joints I had tossed and turned them over to the arresting officer.
Fifteen minutes later, a cop slid the Marlboros pack into my shirt pocket and then loaded me into the backseat of a police car. At the station, after my handcuffs were removed and pockets emptied, the officer picked up the cigarette box from the car hood and said, “Since you’re a juvenile, I can’t let you keep these.”
I nodded and offered a friendly smile. “There yours, if you want ‘em,”
He flipped open the top, looked inside, and then grinned. “My brand, too.”
Not even fifteen minutes after getting caged, I was escorted to a room full of desks. No one could get ahold of Ma, and they wanted me to give it a shot. She had changed jobs to graveyard shift dispatcher, and routinely unplugged her phone from noon till ten. I was keenly aware that I needed to somehow get free before anyone spoke with her, or she’d have insisted they keep me.
The cops never put me back in a cell, and they let me keep trying to call. Around dinnertime, I called United Taxi and got Ma’s friend Rock on the phone. He was on it, and arranged with the Simi Valley Police Department to send a taxi to pick me up. My cab arrived about half an hour before Ma found out what was going on. Too late, I was already free and halfway home.
Just past midnight, we arrived at the Max Factor building on Hollywood Boulevard, directly across the street from Mann’s Chinese Theater, where United Taxi’s dispatch office was located. I told the driver, “Thanks for getting me. I’ll just head up to the office.”
He didn’t fall for my bullshit, and barked, “Not a chance. I signed for you and I’m not going to let you out of my sight until I deliver you to your mother.”
Upstairs, Ma looked ready to destroy every fragile object in that office, but kept her cool and thanked the cabbie for the favor. Her only words to me were “Your father is on his way.”