September 13, 2011

Say Goodbye to Hollywood? Do I Have To?

Tom Wolfe says that you can never go home again. Well, sometimes I sure wish I could.

In the fall of 1964, when I was 2 years old, my father bought a house. Depending on who you ask, it was either in East Hollywood or Silver Lake, not far from Downtown Los Angeles. My grandmother called it "the old Spencer place," because she knew the previous owners. She and Grampa were less than a block away (it was my dad's childhood home), and not far beyond them lay what would become my elementary and jr. high schools. Two blocks in one direction, and we could catch a bus on Santa Monica Blvd; in another direction, Sunset. Location, location, location.  Our phone number was 213-662-0876.

About a month ago, due to a swift sequence of events that I never could have predicted, the house was sold. Handed off to to a stranger, a faceless investor group who won’t love her as she deserves and will probably wield a wrecking ball as soon as he discovers her crumbling brick foundation. Nothing I could do about it. For the first time in 47 years, no one named Hutson lives there. I still can’t wrap my brain around it. It was an era that I thought would never end.

Three bedrooms, 1.5 baths, three-car garage. Built in 1907. For many years, the large service porch served as the depository for thousands of boxes of Girl Scout cookies. Ugh. It was torture for a 10 year-old boy, so near yet so far. Sometime in the 1970s, my mom and my sister removed several layers of linoleum from the floor, and discovered a door to a basement. Who knew? (Quite anti-climactic: nothing in there but a table and a couple of empty liquor bottles.) The floors and walls of the dwelling still bear the scars of a half-dozen remodeling projects that my dad started but never finished.

In the driveway, one side was lined by a long row of roses; on the other, it was fuchsias. In the large back yard we had morning glories, peaches, lemons, passion fruit, blackberries, figs, and grapefruit. In the front yard it was bird of paradise and a huge hibiscus. We never cultivated them, but they came back each year with a vengeance. They’re mostly gone now. Hard to find good figs these days.

To the south of us lived the Marshall family; to the north, it was the Willoughbys.  Across the street were the Rudys. Back then we knew our neighbors (as did most people), and they knew us. I couldn’t get away with anything, because whenever I did something stupid, my mother knew it before I got home. Steve Marshall introduced me to the Boys’ Club down the street, which indirectly led to meeting my wife many years later.

My sister and I never had a babysitter. Not even once. If Mom had to go somewhere, we had Nana. If Nana wasn't available (a rare instance), we had about a dozen families who would be happy to take us in for the day.  Or overnight. Or longer. Then before the month was over, we returned the favor.

When Dad chose that house, he was on a mission. For he wanted to have an extra bedroom, one more than we needed. From the very beginning – and to the end – that 10 x 10’ room was continually occupied by a friend or relative who was down on their luck and needed a place to stay. At one point it was my Aunt Mary. Years later it was my friend Joe Fincher, when his parents put him out in the 10th grade. I still remember the grueling interview:

“No booze, no drugs, no girls, lights out at 10. Got it?”

“Yes, Mr. Hutson.”

“Gloria makes breakfast at 7.”

Dad passed away in 1995, shortly after meeting my wife. Mom held out four years more, just long enough to meet her grandson.

Jim’s Market. Nicola Twins Grocery. Jay’s Jayburgers. Blum’s Liquor Store. Pioneer Chicken. Gordon’s Mean Miserable Service (yes, it was really called that), the corner gas station. Dolly, the transvestite proprietor of Don Quixote Antiques. Pup ’n Taco, home of the Taco Burger. The Latino night club that changed hands (and names) every couple of years. All mere memories.

The subway station ate the old IHOP, and the nicest laundromat for miles around. The old Sears store, where my family shopped for about 70 years, is gone. No more pot roast or banana splits at the Woolworth's lunch counter.  The building where I was born, at Kaiser Permanente on Sunset, was torn down just a couple of months ago. Barely anyone speaks English at my childhood church anymore. Cedars of Lebanon Hospital is now the world headquarters for Scientology. The campuses of all of my schools, from kindergarten to college, have yet to fully recover from the great earthquake of 1971.


Still, there's hope: My cousin Traci now owns Nana's old house down the street; 78 years and counting. She and Dwain are taking very good care of it, and their kids play in the backyard, just as I used to. Her sister Nicole has restored an old house a few blocks away. I can still dine at the House of Pies, or Palermo, or Dresden. The old Los Feliz Theater shines. The ancient public library was recently restored to its former glory. All told, the old neighborhood looks pretty good.

Which still leaves me with a problem, even across the miles: The faded brass key in my pocket doesn't work anymore; but even if it did, it would probably get me in trouble. Yet every time I try to throw it away, some unseen force stills my hand. I lived there for 16 years (which once seemed an eternity), but now I've been away for almost twice that long. I've tried to resist this new reality, but all the wishful thinking in the world avails nothing. Farewell, Old Lady.

I suppose it was time to move on anyway.

1 comment:

  1. It's always hard to let go of that old house. My parents moved from a parsonage they'd had for almost 30 years. It was the only home I knew. But as the old cliche says, home is where the heart is, or where your mom is, or (fill in the blank here.)