If I Knew Then

October 13, 2007

October 13, 2007

 In my diary blog two days ago, I congratulated myself for being a good mother and exposing CD to new things. It’s ironic that in today’s entry, I chastise myself as a bad (let’s revise that to less good) mother even though I did essentially the same thing for different reasons. In the ‘81 entry, I was all about cramming CD full of life experience and knowledge. In ’07, it was more about getting myself out of a life experience by foisting it on my daughter.

TThe Knutsens - Christmas 2007

In my defense, treating an adult child to spectacular seats at a Genesis concert hardly qualifies as child abuse and apparently Sam had a good time. I might’ve enjoyed the show if I’d gone – why not give it a try?

Sometimes I hit social overload and fear I’ll die without alone time. In the above entry, my urgency leaps off the page – “couldn’t stand” “just unbearable.” Looking back, it was a weird over-reaction to a rock concert and dinner. Unfortunately – for Sam, not me – she’s even less extroverted than me but at least she’s a better sport.

Sam, Alex and cousin Carly
Sam, Alex and cousin Carly

In the spirit of true confession, my youngest recently recalled my most egregegious bad mother moment.  Alex and I were outside when we spotted a demonic possum drinking out of our dog’s water dish. Beyond phobic and hysterical at the sight of anything with a rodent tail, I shrieked, vaulted inside and double-locked the door behind me – stranding Alex on the wrong side of my barricade, face to face with a hissing possum. Alex hurled himself at the door, pounded it with his fists. “Mom! Let me in! Let me in!”  I was too distraught to do so until the possum departs.

J, Alex, Me and Sam
J, Alex, Me and Sam

Alex emerged unscathed, aside from the psychological damage of believing his mother valued her personal safety above his life. First, his life was not in mortal danger. Possums don’t kill suburban homeowners and their children (yet).  Second – I’ve got nothing.  (Other than sheer terror shot my adrenalin up to fight or flight levels which disabled my higher brain functions. Otherwise, I would’ve remembered possums can’t jimmy a lock.)

October 11, 1981

October 11, 1981

With Mom and Aunt Janet exploring Catalina Island
With Mom and Aunt Janet exploring Catalina Island

 CD was four, going on five, at the time of this entry. I thought he’d be mesmerized by the dinosaur bones but his attention span splintered in a million different directions. In my efforts to be a perfect mother and raise a perfect child, I exposed CD to as many cultural experiences as I could find – and there’s a lot of them in LA. In addition to museums, I took him to profound films which we discussed on the drive home. I signed him up for sports and science classes at the local YMCA and sent him to Lutheran school to be grounded in religion.

Look! Mt. Rushmore!! Okay, don't look. Whatever works for you.
Look! Mt. Rushmore!! Okay, don’t look. Whatever works for you.

Unlike me, J worked 40-60 hours per week, so he wasn’t available 24/7 for our cultural outings. In these cases, I recruited one of our friends – usually without children (because those with children couldn’t be suckered into this stuff) to stand in.

CD intrigued by a door on the Paramount lot. A door to what?
CD intrigued by a door on the Paramount lot. A door to what?

This was my one and only visit to the La Brea Tar Pits in my nearly 50 years in LA. I’m not a dinosaur afficianado – I think that tends to be a guy thing – but it was fascinating. Who would’ve guessed one of the world’s most famous fossil localities – displaying Ice Age fossils including saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and mammoths – can be found on Miracle Mile in Los Angeles? The Carnation restaurant (product placement, anyone?) used to be within walking distance but – like so many other LA institutions – it’s gone the way of the dinosaur, replaced by trendier restaurants and food trucks.

Jack Palance has a face the camera loved - and CD is clearly fascinated too but I don't think he wants Jack to know he's staring (with Holly Palance)
Jack Palance has a face the camera loved – and CD is clearly fascinated too but I don’t think he wants Jack to know he’s staring (with Holly Palance)
Silly fun in bed in Park City Utah on a ski trip with Mom and Aunt Joyce (among others)
Silly fun in bed in Park City Utah on a ski trip with Mom and Aunt Joyce (among others)

They’ve excavated significant new material since my visit 36 years ago. Maybe this time I’ll drag J along with me.

October 9, 2016

October 9, 2016

When my sisters and I bought tickets for the awesome Desert Trip last year, it never occurred to us we’d be too wiped out to cross the finish line – Sunday’s double bill of Roger Waters and the Who. I can’t recall who broached the subject of leaving early first – not me. I objected strenuously but my heart wasn’t in it. Desert days were sweltering and nights didn’t cool fast enough plus my feet hurt. As painful as it was to admit my lack of stamina – another way of saying, I’m getting old – there’s nothing like some first-class pampering at a spa to ease the agony.

The Players
The Players

For the record, we were disappointed with Dylan (who won the Nobel Peace Prize the following week) due to his disregard for the audience. No hello, goodbye, or introduction of his band – his face hidden under a hat, rarely visible even on the huge video screens. I’m a fan of his music, not so much his performance. The Stones, as expected, were spectacular.

The three of us K Girls at Desert Trip
The three of us K Girls at Desert Trip

The next night, Neil Young was great and what can I say about the love of my life, Paul McCartney?  Spectacular, as always. Realistically, a third rock concert the night after McCartney couldn’t help but be anti-climactic. There’s no one like Sir Paul.

Aglow with the excitement of the evening.
Aglow with the excitement of the evening.

Then there’s my embarrassing behavior in the tiff with my sisters You’d think somebody too old to handle three consecutive rock concerts would be mature enough not to act like a baby. Unfortunately, the most obnoxious sides of my personality surface with my sisters, who I love dearly.  I’m guessing echos of old behaviors from the childhood we shared seep into our present interactions and catapult us back to primitive childhood emotions.

Oh Gosh!_edited-1

Sour Lemon

Mom! Kathy is doing all the talking again!

It was nice of Janet to take a picture of Joyce and me.
But, it was nice of Janet to take a picture of Joyce and me.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just a bitch.

Who, moi!
Who, moi!

 

 

October 7, 1971

October 7, 1971_edited-1

Marjorie Arnold A

I don’t recall how I came across Marjorie’s ad for a roommate but we clicked instantly. As the photos show, Marjorie was beautiful – she was frequently compared to a young Natalie Wood. Someone so pretty might have intimidated me – put me off –  if Marjorie hadn’t been so refreshingly candid, unpretentious and down to earth. Since the age of 16, she supported herself. When we met, she worked weekends clerking at the Med Center.

Marjorie Arnold B

We had a lot in common, since both of us were in the Theater Arts department. Luckily, she was an actress and I was a writer so competition wasn’t an issue. At the time, she was dating a moody Scottish playwright who’d won the Eugene O’Neill award. He proved it was possible for somebody with no Hollywood connections whatsoever to succeed as a writer.

Marjorie Arnold CMarjorie and I shared apartments for two years and our lives ran on parallel tracks for a while. We married within a year of each other (she to a doctor, me to a law student) and had our first children within months of each other. Her daughter, Jenny, stole the spotlight from my son, CD, when the two of them were extras in the day-care scene of “Nine to Five”. (Sterling Hayden picked up Jenny, because clever Marjorie armed Jenny with an attention-getting near-lifesize doll – an actress trick that would never occur to a writer, at least not this one.)

9 to 5 Daycare Scene - Jenny being held, CD to the far left
9 to 5 Daycare Scene – Jenny being held, CD to the far left
Marjorie and I together
Marjorie and I together

 

October 3,1969

October 3, 1969

Abbey Road played everywhere, all the time, that fall – to my mind, the most melancholy Beatles album. They hadn’t officially disbanded, but their imminent break-up rippled through the sad melodies.

Abbey RoadDespite my lunatic decision to pledge and unpledge a sorority in less than ten minutes (December 9, 1969 Diary Entry ), I had almost no involvement with Greek life at UCLA. The incident described above – the casual cruelty of that nameless guy who mocked Louise (not her real name) – was reason enough to give fraternity row wide berth.

My UCLA Student ID
My UCLA Student ID

There’s always a girl like Louise on the fringes of my friendships and I never knew quite what to do for her. In a perfect world, I’d offer sage advice and smooth her path but – as readers of my diary blog have no doubt discerned – I wasn’t a font of wisdom at 18.

Looking for guidance

Louise and I lost touch after sophomore year and I have no idea where life took her. Looking back, I wish I’d been a fearless heroine who stood tall for defenseless underdogs like Louise.

If I was wisked back in time.....
If I was wisked back in time…..

I’m ashamed of my silence but I’m not sure I’d do much better if a time machine whisked me back to that Fiji frat house. While conflict and confrontation of any kind freak me out (because my family didn’t do that), what really terrified me was being identified with Louise – becoming Louise. I was too much of a social coward to do more than be a sympathetic observor – and I knew, even then, it wasn’t enough.

 

October 1, 1998

October 1, 1998 Much like every other Baby Boomer girl, I grew up playing with Barbie. My first – and still my favorite – was the classic titian ponytail. Much like my own wardrobe, we rarely splurged on store-bought Barbie clothes – my mother sewed them. And, unlike little girls today, I had one Barbie and probably a Ken, Midge and Skipper too. We spent hours playing the Barbie board game, trying not to get stuck going to the prom with Poindexter. Feminism was far in the future, as a casual perusal of the rules and goals of the Barbie board game make abundantly clear.

Barbie Characters

When I left for college and my parents prepared to move to San Diego, they asked me what to do with my dolls. “Give them away,” I said cavalierly, confident that I was far too sophisticated to ever miss them.

Barbie Images

I was wrong. As an adult collector, you could argue – as my long-suffering husband does – that I spent a fortune trying to reconnect with those dolls I so casually gave away. After years of being oblivious to 11 inch fashion dolls, in the mid-nineties I browsed a Barbie Bazaar magazine while shopping for toys for my children at FAO Schwartz  – and I was hooked.

Barbie image

Naturally, I didn’t collect in moderation – I don’t do anything less than obsessively. Meeting Chris Varaste was a lucky fluke.  He was writing a book about Barbie (Face of the American Dream) and many of my dolls were immortalized in photographs for the book.

book cover

With affection, I call Chris my “idiot savante” of the Barbie world. He knows which shade of eye color appeared which year and which ones are rare (example – say what color and year). Thanks to his eagle eye and willingness to curate,  my collection was elevated in class almost instantly.

Chris and I last Christmas with Miss Zelda
Chris and I last Christmas with Miss Zelda

Neither of us are as mad about Barbie as we were then although she’ll always have a place in our hearts – how could she not, being an American icon? More important, Chris has a place in my heart. We’ve talked about far more than Barbie over the years and he’s proven himself to be as trustworthy as I intuited on the day we met – nineteen years ago today.

 

September 30, 1979

September 30, 1979

When this was written, J and I had been married four years and CD was two, going on three. Looking back, I can’t help wondering if my assessment of J’s restlessness wasn’t pure projection – I was just as edgy and impatient, I just didn’t cop to it. Our role models were better at this than we were. My parents routinely spent similar Sunday afternoons with me and my sisters and if they wanted to be somewhere else, they didn’t show it.

John and I with CD circa 1979
John and I with CD circa 1979

Why weren’t J and I better at this when it was our turn to parent? Arguably, we were too young to be married with a child. While that excuse only goes so far, maturity did play a part. I’d enjoy lazy afternoons like the one described above more today than I did then.

On the beach
On the beach

As proof, J and I have maintained a family membership at Descanso Gardens for at least fifteen years. Unlike the vanished LA landmarks I wrote about a few days ago (see September 24/73) Descano Gardens stands more or less intact since the late thirties although the camellia named for John’s grandmother has disappeared.  The miniature banana-yellow Enchanted Railroad gives toddlers and their parents a tour of the 150 acre gardens. There’s an elegant Japanese Tea Garden and ducks! On some summer Sundays, you can enjoy live music in the ampitheater.

Close-up of a camellia
Close-up of a camellia

Admission is reasonable General $9; Seniors 65 and over/Students with ID $6; Children (5 to 12 years) $4; Descanso members and children under 5, free). Parking is free and the gardens are open from nine to five every day of the year except Christmas. If you’re looking for someplace to enjoy natural beauty in LA (especially in the Pasadena/Glendale/La Canada area), check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

John at Descanso a few years ago.
John at Descanso a few years ago.

September 28, 1965

September 28, 1965

Usually, when I brought dilemmas like this to my parents, they strongly advised me to stick it out and argued against the change (read escape) that I wanted. For example, I was miserable in third grade. For the first time, I was not teacher’s pet, a situation I considered unbearable. If anything, the teacher (whose last name rhymed with cruel – seriously) actively disliked me. I wanted to transfer to another third grade class and tearfully pleaded my case to my parents.

With my sisters, circa 1965
With my sisters, circa 1965

Unmoved, they pointed out that in the course of my lifetime, I would encounter many people who – like Mrs. Cruel – not only didn’t favor me, actively detested me.  In most instances, transferring would not be a possibility. I might as well learn to cope with this unpleasant scenario now since I’d surely have to face it later. I managed to survive third grade, even though the situation never improved and it remains my least favorite year of elementary school.

In Elgin with my sisters (pre move to California)
In Elgin with my sisters (pre move to California)

This wasn’t the only time they failed to rescue me. Going back further still – to when we lived in Elgin, Iowa, and I was under five – a neighbor boy encroached on my toys. I raced inside to enlist my parents on my behalf. “Kathleen, you’re old enough to fight your own battles,” my father said.

I'm the tough little girl on the far right.
I’m the tough little girl on the far right.

I took him seriously and upended my plastic wading pool on top of the neighbor boy, trapping him until my parents intervened. I don’t think I’ve fought my own battles quite so effectively since then.

 

September 26, 1988

September 26, 1988

Père Lachaise Cemetery, where Jim Morrison was buried
Père Lachaise Cemetery, where Jim Morrison was buried

I call on this memory in times of trouble because circumstances reversed so drastically. In less than thirty minutes, utter despair about losing a dream turned to exhilaration about a vastly improved, doubled version of the dream – all with no great effort or sacrifice on our part. It was a gift we didn’t expect or deserve, but there it was – almost as if there was someone watching over us.

John doesn't remember as much of his high school French as he hoped.
John doesn’t remember as much of his high school French as he hoped.

I’m not suggesting God has a hot line to reservations at American Airlines or that J and I are so special, travel angels stand ready to perform miracles on our behalf. What the experience says to me is, don’t judge so hastily. What appears to be a disaster might be a blessing in disguise. If you’re too focused on life’s injustice, you might miss the boon fortune wants to grace you with.

Me, streetside in Paris

This insight is a lifeline when everything in my life simultaneously goes south and it looks like there’s nothing left – a situation I’ve faced more than once. I remember that afternoon at LAX when instead of losing we won more than we knew to ask for. If that could happen – and it did – my present disaster might turn around too, even though I can’t imagine how. I don’t have to. The trick is to open my mind to possibilities instead of bemoaning my bad luck.

Another shot of me at Père Lachaise Cemetery

[1] A word of explanation. In 88, we wouldn’t – couldn’t – indulge in a trip to Europe unless it was free – which it was, thanks to a MasterCard promotion offering a free flight and lodging in Paris to customers who racked up 25 thousand Mastercharge points. Challenge accepted! We charged everything humanly possible and paid our bills on time, thus avoiding interest. Hence, the trip was free.

John posing by AA sign

 

September 24, 1973

September 24, 1973

I wish I’d known this was the one and only time I’d set foot in the historic Ambassador Hotel – let alone that the Ambassador would cease to exist in 2005. I’ve bemoaned the changes to the Santa Clara I used to know – what about my Los Angeles? Much like how it’s hard to observe my aging process when I look in the mirror, LA’s changes frequently slip under my radar because the landscape is so familiar.

The Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles
The Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles

Objectively, a lot has changed since I moved to LA in 1969. Almost all of the iconic clubs and restaurants of the 60s and 70s are gone. Chasen’s – once so trendy, their chili was flown to Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra – closed in 1995. Today it’s a Bristol Farms. Scandia’s been gone since 1989. The Brown Derby that used to stand on Vine is now a parking lot. The Cock’nBull is now a Jaguar dealership and alas, the Formosa Café – down the street from one of my first apartments – recently closed although I’ve heard it’s been purchased by someone with plans to reopen it.  Musso and Frank’s remains alive and well (I think).

Chasen's & the Cock 'n Bull
Chasen’s & the Cock’n Bull

Most rock’n’roll clubs from the sixties or seventies have disappeared or changed hands. It’s Boss became Kaleidoscope which became Acquarius (where I saw “Hair” in 1969) which became Art Laboe Oldies Goodies and later became a headquarters building for Nickelodeon. Ciro’s was a West Hollywood nightclub that opened in the 40’s and that location is now The Comedy Store.

Hullabaloo-Aquarius
Hullabaloo – Aquarius
Ciro's - The Comedy Store
Ciro’s – The Comedy Store

Gazzarri’s was demolished in 1995. Two venues that stood the test of time are the Troubadour and the Whisky-A-Go-Go.

Gazzarri's

Troubador & Whisky-A-Go-Go
Troubador & Whisky-A-Go-Go

TheAquariusTheater1967-1Schwab’s Pharmacy on Sunset – where legend has it Lana Turner was discovered – closed in 1983. Today it’s part of a shopping complex anchored by Virgin Records. Rexall Drugs at Beverly and La Cienega is now Beverly Connection. Bullocks Wilshire, built in 1929, once an iconic department store, declined as high-end retail trended west. Today, it houses Southwestern Law School but the original 1929 building has been restored. The famous Max Factor building, where I once bought fake blood for Roger Corman’s New World Films, is now the Hollywood Museum. Even Tower Records on Sunset went bust.

Schwab's, Rexall & Tower Records
Schwab’s, Rexall & Tower Records

In the past few weeks, the Writer’s Store closed; I was especially sorry to see that one go. Because the changes have been gradual, though, it still feels like my city – at least for a little while longer.

Very sad when the Writers Store closed
Very sad when the Writers Store closed

If you are interested in the history of LA’s clubs and restaurants, please check out the research section of my website (Sixties Venues/Clubs). A lot of information is collected in one place!

 

 


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