That was a lie, of course, at least as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t possibly co-exist with four other people (three of whom I didn’t live with) and not have one of them get on my nerves – but it’s entirely possible the problem is mine (too prickly, petty, over-sensitive to personal slights, etc.)
I opted to spend several days alone in the condo while the other four explored the island – partly because I had a writing assignment due, partly because I craved solitude. Some people can’t stand to be alone; I can’t stand to be with people for extended periods. Unless I get a requisite amount of solitude, I turn testy and obnoxious – given that I get on my own nerves, it’s safe to assume I get on everyone else’s nerves too.
That said, this was one of our last “young, unencumbered” vacations. J had just turned thirty and we had one child, not three; the three of them were single but wouldn’t stay that way for long. If they did, indeed, get on my nerves, I don’t remember why; only that we had a great time.
Robert Booth Nichols was one of the most fascinating, enigmatic people I’ve known. Although I spent many hours with him – and even more time reading and speculating about him (google if you’re curious), I’m no closer to knowing if he’s a patriot spy or an underworld thug/informant.
Bob lived well. In The Last Circle, Carol Marshall writes “in addition to his residences in California, he maintained residences in Italy, France, Australia, and London.” In the NY Times, Bryan Burrough said some people believe “Nichols was a celebrity, a star of the conspiracy theory world who was portrayed on the Internet as a longtime CIA operative linked to a shadow world government, the holder of secrets from the Kennedy assassination to a World War II – era hoard of Japanese gold.”
That’s a minority opinion. Usually, the press depicts Bob as a villainous super-spook, a fraud, a con artist, hit man, member of a crime family, money launderer or snitch. (Take your pick.) While I’m all for free press and investigative journalism, sometimes they get it wrong. On page 63 of the January 1993 issue of Spy magazine, this photo appears with this caption: “DANGEROUS FRIEND The “lethal” Robert Booth Nichols, 1992. He had a secret Casolaro knew.”
The “dangerous friend” in the photo is my husband J, Bob’s lawyer at that time. They are conferring before an arbitration (which J won for 9 million, the largest arbitration verdict in LA to that point). They were not plotting to murder Danny Casolaro. For what it’s worth, Bob’s father was a prominent LA surgeon and his brother is a highly-regarded LA attorney – not the family background that typically breeds mobster thugs.
Three FBI agents found time to personally attend Bob’s 2008 deposition in NY, a mere three months before his mysterious demise. Under oath, Bob testified the CIA and other shadowy government agencies hired him for sensitive matters. They paid in suitcases full of cash, delivered to Bob’s hotel by courier. To avoid pesky questions with potentially embarrassing answers, they advised Bob not to declare the income or pay taxes. His grateful government would give him a pass.
In June, 1992, J and I joined Bob at a conspiracy buffs convention (see flier).
In a crowd like this, Bob was a superstar. Powerfully built and towering over six feet, he was hard to miss. Some people said he resembled “Clarke Gable without the ears.” Being part of his entourage was how I imagined it might feel to hang with Paul McCartney at Beatlefest – an intoxicating blast.
In 1989, my family and I were in London at the same time as Bob and his wife Ellen. I watched him pocket over 100K “someone” wired into his bank account. Why? What for? Beats me. The next day, he flew to Singapore.
The so-called “facts” of Bob’s alleged demise in Geneva, Switzerland, are as mysterious as his life. Initially, a heart attack was deemed cause of death but later reports claim Nichols suffered a blow to his head. A “friend” arranged for swift cremation of Nichol’s body. Like everything else about Bob, we’ll never know for sure.
Some people don’t believe Robert Booth Nichols died. Samuel Israel, the guy Bob allegedly scammed for ten million dollars (who is currently doing 22 years in federal prison for his own Ponzi scheme), insists Nichols is very much alive. Bob might have faked his death. Israel gave that gambit a shot and added two years to his sentence. Perhaps a foreign government or rogue branch of US intelligence spirited Bob away for “debriefing.” This gets confusing, 250 billion in US Treasury notes might be in Bob’s London safety deposit box, or his Singapore place, or in the hands of the FBI, or simply mysteriously missing. Maybe Bob’s just “missing,” too. The truth tantalizes, beyond our reach, exactly like Bob liked it (aside from the being dead part). He was always all about mystery.
Looking back, our end-of-the-evening ennui seems inexplicable – it sounds like a pretty darn good day – but in 1984, J and I tended to focus on what we didn’t have– rather than what we did. Now that we’re older and wiser, we’re more inclined to gratitude. The days we took for granted look golden in the rear-view mirror.
I’d give anything to see my parents off on another cruise. After retirement, my father served as chaplain for many voyages. J and I took a few ourselves – one of them with my parents and extended family to celebrate their 66thwedding anniversary.
In 1984, CD had just turned seven and S wasn’t even a year old. I’d just begun to make it as a film and TV writer and we didn’t have household help. Sometimes, the pressure felt overwhelming. Today, the difficulties of raising small children and juggling a career seem insignificant. I’d welcome the chance to savor those moments of their childhood again.
I can’t justify the angst, today. We had it good. I need to remember this when I’m tempted to dwell on my daily disappointments. We’re alive and well. We still have it good.
The Sea Cat might’ve been a problem even if I hadn’t forced a healthy breakfast down my family’s throats – but for sure, that decision turned merely disgusting to dire. Like my sister Joyce, I’m neurotically phobic about vomit – I get nauseous if I see or hear it in films and, yes, “Monty Python and the Meaning of Life” is completely out of the question. And that scene in “Bridesmaids” sent me running, too.
Consequently, even though a responsible parent and considerate traveler would’ve initiated clean-up, I couldn’t even look. When the kids lost it, one after the other like dominoes falling, I curled into a fetal position. Luckily, J had a stronger stomach and received aid from a compassionate stranger in military uniform. Nobody died. That’s the kindest review I can give our voyage.
Due to the above circumstances, no photos document this segment of our journey so I’m illustrating today’s blog with fun things we did in England before we boarded the Sea Cat.
That summer, the Rowells rented a house at Lake Tahoe and CD and I spent a lazy week lounging by the lake. CD was eight and a half months old (those half-months seemed to matter back then).
J enjoyed what – in retrospect – can only be considered conservative gambling. Before he played the first chip, he settled on an amount he was willing to lose and stuck to it, no matter what happened.
That wasn’t good enough for someone with my Midwestern roots. The concept of gambling was – and still is – an anathema. Spending real money for what will probably amount to “nothing” violates my core values. Watching J do it – with our money – created unbearable anxiety and made me intolerable.
I hovered over his shoulder while he played, snatching every chip he won and stuffing it in my pockets on the theory that if he lost the rest, my stash would pull us closer to even. Not surprisingly, my oversight dampened the fun for him, (apparently, today such chip-snatching is against house rules).
My tolerance for games of chance – for any ambiguity, actually – is considerably lower than J’s, which explains why he’s a trial attorney – a profession in which no verdict is ever guaranteed – and I write fiction, where I control the ending.
Once you see the cracks in the fantasy façade, it’s impossible to pretend they’re not there. At sixteen, I prided myself on being a cynic and eagerly traded wonder for the worldly superiority of seeing through everything.
The enchantment came back when I took my children to Disneyland. I suspect most parents feel the same way.
According to this entry, I liked the Matterhorn. The way I remember it, the first time I rode it with my father, I howled, “Daddy, make it stop!” My final ride on a roller coaster – Space Mountain, at the urging of my sister Joyce who assured me it was a metaphysical experience, not remotely terrifying – ended in hysterics. I staggered off, simultaneously laughing and crying, dimly aware of nearby teens asking, “What’s the matter with you, lady?”
Apparently, on thrill rides, I easily suspend disbelief.
My family camped a lot – a lot – on our bi-annual drives from California to Iowa and back. My sisters and I were jubilant on the rare occasions we stayed at a motel, especially when they had a swimming pool – at the time, an almost unimaginable luxury.
We had the ritual down. Daddy and Momie pitched the tent and organized the campsite. Janet, Joyce and I ran wild through the campsite, usually role-playing games like Lewis and Clark or Annie Oakley.
Of the myriad national parks we camped in, Craters of the Moon is most vivid in my memory which begs the question – does it take a disaster (okay, maybe not a disaster – but serious pain for my previously unscarred 13-year-old self) to make something memorable?
This was the only occasion on which we broke camp before we slipped into our sleeping bags and raced back in the direction from whence we came. Twenty-two dollars seemed like an enormous sum. I can still remember the dusk light. I still have a scar on my left knee.
This crazy exploration was my first and only opportunity to do something like this – I wouldn’t consider it in Los Angeles but the risk seemed marginal in Graettinger, Iowa.
This type of adventure holds enormous appeal for me. I’ve read novels based on groups of kids exploring abandoned buildings. That’s why it’s so disappointing I don’t recall a single thing we saw inside the Hawkeye Apartments (and naturally I didn’t make notes about that). Let’s call this Missed Opportunity #1,
Missed Opportunity #2 was not choosing to fly with my Uncle Gilford in his small crop-duster plane.
Missed Opportunity #3 was my total inability to water-ski. I think the problem was that even though I witnessed my sister Janet gliding across the surface of Lake Okoboji, deep down inside I did not believe it was physically possible for water to support my weight. It was my lack of faith, not my total lack of coordination, that doomed me to failure.
In keeping with my soon-to-be-standard practice of quitting any activity that I stunk at, I never attempted to water ski again.
In those days, John was such a workaholic that on the rare occasions we did go somewhere for a vacation, his first order of business was to get sick – what I refer to here as the Maui Syndrome. On this particular trip, there was an alternate explanation. On his thirtieth birthday – which occurred a few days prior – John resolved to quit smoking. He did so successfully, cold turkey, with the aid of copious quantities of alcohol. (Giving that up would come three and a half years later.)
I’m embarrassed to confess I continued to smoke for a few more years, which surely must have been torture for John – especially when enclosed in a car. Mea culpa. I should’ve signed up for Smokenders sooner. In 1982, you could still smoke without being a complete pariah but that would change shortly
This was one of our final young-and-free vacations. The friends we travelled with were all unattached as was Mitch. Malcolm and Maya were married but no children yet. J and I left our five-year-old in San Diego with his grandparents (which he loved).
The summer after this I’d give birth to our daughter and the summer after that we’d have our second son. Our single friends, almost en masse, would marry and have children of their own. A new cycle of family-oriented (read child-oriented) vacations would commence. I don’t mean to sound critical – those family vacations hold some of the sweetest memories of my life.
It would be years – eighteen or twenty, really, around the time the kids are all off to college – before we’d vacation with adult friends but now it’s got an entirely different quality than those young-and-free days in 1982. We don’t run up and down mountains anymore (truth be told, I never did) and concessions must be made to health. Bathroom stop are more frequent (almost like traveling with a toddler!) and we no longer talk, smoke and drink until 4 AM about our lives because we all tire more easily. What will the next phase be like? All of these eras have their moments. In my life, I’ve loved them all.
Last year I wrote about one of the most magical days of my life, carnival in Venice on this same trip to Europe. Carnival in Munich was somewhat less spectacular. I was there with my sister Janet, her soon-to-be-husband Jim McCann, and brother-in-law extraordinaire Matt Rowell. I can’t recall why John didn’t go to Munich with us – he had a less than wonderful time back at the Sports Chalet in Austria where we stayed – a solitary dinner in a cabaret, surrounded by Germans laughing uproariously at jokes he did not understand.
There’s only so much eating and drinking one can stand, particularly when you’re the only one in the group who doesn’t drink alcohol. I really felt like shopping and Jani – with her razor-sharp sisterly instinct – said that proved that I was too consumer-oriented. Maybe she had a point; it bothered me shopping wasn’t an option. The fact that all the stores were closed – totally inaccessible – made the merchandise in their windows that much more attractive.
I didn’t carry my camera that day, but Janet was always ready to shoot. Alongside the furious little boy hurling himself in the snow, there were scenes and still shots of startling beauty. Jim suggested Jani shoot a bicycle posed against the Munich city scene. We both subsequently enlarged the shot and it still hangs in my home. Simple but so evocative.
Trains– especially trains at night – exert their own magic. They suggest so many stories to tell. Quite apart from their mood-inducing creative energy, the ease of public transportation in Europe – subways as well as trains – makes me long for the day it covers more ground in Los Angeles. In recent years, I discovered LA does have a Metro and the Red Line stops across the street from the Pantages Theater, my most frequent Hollywood destination. It’s so much easier than driving and parking in Hollywood, I can’t recommend it highly enough.