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.
CD had recently turned three and (to the best of my recollection) he was Grandma and Grandpa K’s first great-grandchild (which makes sense since I was their first grandchild). There’s something special about seeing four generations together under one roof – probably because, inevitably, it won’t last long.
At this point in time, my grandparents were far from senile – they never did fall prey to dementia or lose their wits – but they unmistakably slowed down. After dinner, they spent most evenings watching TV. Grandpa favored what I considered “low-brow” shows like BJ & the Bear and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo. I was still enough of a snob to be uncomfortably aware our family forebears seemed a tad un-intellectual (not anti-intellectual, just not very) compared to the parents of most of my friends, including J’s cosmopolitan parents. I wouldn’t pass such harsh judgment today, having learned in the intervening years that reading great books does not necessarily make you a great person.
My grandmother was a gifted pianist – she could play anything by ear and took requests. She knew every hymn in the book but her secular favorite was “Red Wing”. played at Lutheran services for years – and she passed her love and talent for music on to her children and grandchildren in varying degrees. I, for example, missed out on the talent part but inherited the love. By contrast, my cousin Wayne – by virtue of hours of daily practice even as an adult – became the most amazing pianist in the family, as natural and accomplished as my grandmother.
She was a petite Midwestern woman, determined to make herself smaller so she didn’t take up a disproportionate amount of space. If we had chicken for dinner, she insisted her favorite part was the neck. I’m certain I inherited my Fuchs disease from her but she never complained about it (although she constantly rinsed her eyes with boric acid – which, in another time and place, might’ve been a clue). She was a true Norwegian. She didn’t complain about anything. I could learn a lot from her.
It’s typical that my mother and father asked about me before dropping their terrible news. If the situation had been reversed – if I’d been mugged – they wouldn’t have gotten a word out edgewise before I recounted every last detail. This particular episode shocked me on so many levels. Even though I know better, it stuns me when bad things happen around churches. As a child, I believed they were sacrosanct, safe. (That’s why I didn’t lock my first bike when I stopped by to visit my dad at his church office when I was 10. Of course it got stolen. I couldn’t believe it.)
It’s also typical of them that instead of crying about the injustice of it all, my father expressed gratitude it wasn’t worse. I couldn’t find much gratitude in my own heart. Forty years later, I’m grateful that this is one of few – if any – episodes of random violence to impact my family. Writing those words is a little scary – by calling attention to our good fortune, am I jinxing us? (That’s a silly, childish superstition. I hope.)
Looking back, it’s clear I over-reacted. At 23, I had yet to master the art of accepting rebuke – or any kind of criticism, really– without bursting into tears. Sometimes all it took to trigger the waterworks was a personal remark from an authority figure. Now that I’m old enough to be an authority figure myself, it happens less but I haven’t conquered it entirely.
I never could have worked for one of the notorious screaming Boss/Producer from Hell types in Hollywood. My tendency toward tears is one reason – but not the primary reason – why. I do not – and never will – respect an adult who behaves like that, regardless of their “talent” or “power.” Anybody who loses control of their emotions and inflicts damage on underlings is somebody I do not want to be around. (Just to be clear, this isn’t what happened in the above diary entry. Roger Corman wasn’t a screamer. Even when annoyed, he exhibited the self-control and class of a gentleman. I reacted inappropriately.)
These standards were ingrained in me by my father and mother, who always behaved like mature adult parents, never regressed to childish bullies having a tantrum. I don’t recall either of them ever screaming at us, let alone heaping on invective. They didn’t need to, which might at least partially explain my over-reaction to Roger. Growing up, I could sense parental censure in the subtext of “Please pass the salt.” I craved their approval so much that no screaming was necessary, the mere threat of their disapproval did the trick.
Given my lack of experience with open anger let alone rage, maybe it’s not surprising that an authority figure who “spoke sharply” might upset me enough to quit.
It’s not terribly surprising I was adamant about Santa Clara being my home considering my family left Santa Clara for San Diego a mere six months before I wrote this entry. In contrast, it astonishes me that 47 years later, I still regard Santa Clara as my home – despite the fact I never lived there again. Realistically, hasn’t LA – where I’ve lived the last 47 years – earned the right to be called home?
Yeah, objectively, no doubt about it. Emotionally, not so fast. I grew up in Santa Clara, it will forever be where I spent my childhood, it’s the backdrop for all my highly formative memories and experiences.
Unfortunately, the Santa Clara I regard as home ceased to exist shortly after I left. I’ve covered this in other blogs (July 18, 1969, August 26, 1969) and I’m loathe to repeat myself. Still, Santa Clara’s metamorphoses into Silicon Valley fascinates me.
Someday I’d love to write a historical novel about Santa Clara. I’d approach it as a multi-generational saga about a family who own an apricot orchard, tracing family members and the city itself as it evolves to Silicon Valley. I’ve been warned family sagas are out of fashion but by the time I finish, they might be all the rage again.
I was markedly unenthusiastic when someone in the congregation approached me to write a skit for my parents’ Silver Wedding Anniversary. Quite frankly, I was scared. What if I wrote something stupid and dull? What if nobody laughed at a joke? In first grade, I made the mistake of sharing a joke out loud with my classmates, who reacted with resounding silence. I never attempted humor in a classroom again. What if I revealed myself as talentless, an abject failure?
There was no gracious way to decline so I was forced to go forward – thank God. Sure, there was potential for disaster, but what were the odds, really? I had a front pew seat at Lutheran church social events before I could walk. If anybody knew what worked, it was me. Plus, I had a major ace in the hole – my sister Joyce and Clairemont parishioner Eric Onstad, gifted with comic timing, capable of wringing laughs from the corniest material.
Now, having lost both of my parents in the last year and a half, this long-ago celebration of their Silver Wedding Anniversary is particularly poignant. One of the last things my father did before he was hospitalized was walk to the local market to buy a Valentine’s Day card for my mother.
He adored her as she did him. No need to ask Lana del Rey’s question – “will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?” The answer was – is – and always will be –
By “one big pregnant blur” I meant seven more months. Little did I know it would be fourteen more months. What the hell happened?
A month prior, I took a pregnancy test at Verdugo Hills Hospital as opposed to a do-it-yourself pee stick. Why? Because I didn’t trust my ability to read the results accurately. I wanted professional eyes.
After the positive test, I packed on pounds like a sumo wrestler.
I quit nursing Sam to ensure adequate nourishment for the new baby.
Let’s back up. Three children weren’t part of John’s or my master plan. We were satisfied (and exhausted) by our current two, a boy and a girl. We convinced ourselves this third child was meant to be.
Our childless friends mocked us mercilessly. “What did you do, mount her on the way out of the delivery room?” they taunted John. Truth be told, back-to-back pregnancies struck me as a tad trailer-trashy and unseemly but I waddled on.
In March, at my monthly appointment, my OB couldn’t find a fetal heartbeat. (This was the first time she tried.) Alarmed, she ordered an ultrasound and – surprise!
Despite looking ready to drop, I wasn’t deep in my fourth month – not even close. I was two weeks pregnant. In other words, months ago – when I fretted about how 1984 would be one big pregnant blur – I wasn’t even a little bit pregnant. Instead of giving birth in July, as everyone I knew now expected, I’d deliver in October.
How could such a mix-up happen? The hospital stood by their initial positive pregnancy test, suggesting I subsequently miscarried (without noticing it) and promptly conceived again. I thought it far more likely they screwed up the test and – under the delusion I was already pregnant – I quit nursing after which I conceived for real.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter. By now, John and I were fully adjusted to the prospect of three children. The fact he or she would be a Libra rather than a Gemini was no reason to reconsider.
I have another more fantastical theory about what happened. It has no scientific basis in fact. In my myth, Alex and Sam knew each other in previous incarnations, different lifetimes. Maybe they were lovers, maybe one parented the other, maybe one saved the other’s life. Regardless of what bound them, their connection ran deep. In this lifetime, Alex wanted to be close to Sam – this time, to watch her grow up. The strength of his love and the sheer force of his will powered him through time and space and created that magical mishap with my pregnancy test all to bring them together again – this time as siblings.
Watching them grow up together might make you a believer too. I never want to spend two years pregnant again, thank you very much. But if I was required to be pregnant for ten years to bring Alex into the world, I’d do it. No regrets. It was meant to be.
I met Walter Hill in 1973 at a dinner party hosted by my screenwriting professor, Bill Froug.
Walter and David Giler were the only two other guests I remember by name. I was in awe of their talent and success as writers. Finding myself a guest at the same dinner party made me feel like anything was possible. My life could be as big as my dreams.
Walter and I dated for a few months. I was living in San Diego and commuting to LA for meetings so a serious relationship never developed – well, certainly not from his point of view. I was wildly infatuated with Walter; I thought I was in love.
In retrospect, I didn’t know him well enough be in love although there wasn’t anything not to like. He was witty, confident, talented, brilliant and kind. He introduced me to Randy Newman’s music. The problem – aside from the fact that he wasn’t looking for a long-term relationship then – was I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t really want to marry Walter so much as I wanted to be Walter. I wanted to absorb his talent, his confidence, his success, his work ethic.
Maybe he sensed I was a predator, out to steal his soul. Maybe he just liked someone else better. I’m pretty sure I scared him away. I did write one ill-advised insane letter I deeply regret mailing but that’s another story. He made the right decision when he cut me loose.
When we ran into each other again a year later, he was the nice, confident, talented witty guy I remembered. I’m grateful he forgave and forgot how close I came to being his stalker.
It was exciting to see his star rise over the years. I felt proud – and lucky – that I’d met him. By then, I understood that dating a famous writer couldn’t transfer his talent or confidence to me. Even marriage couldn’t have accomplished that. I was forever stuck with being myself.
This day magnified how much hinges on small things. If J and I had lived on the west side – closer to LAX than to Burbank – he would’ve been on the plane that went down. Since we lived in Glendale – primarily because we couldn’t afford to live on the west side – he flew out of Burbank instead. He was driving out of the San Diego airport – heading for his court appearance – when he saw the plane explode.
If I’d been widowed in such a shocking way in 1978, I can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like. I know it wouldn’t be anything like the lives J and I got to share for the next 38 years. (For one thing, two of our children don’t get born.)
If I stopped to consider how many near misses with death might occur in any given day, let alone month or year, I’d be too paralyzed with fear to leave the house (which, of course, is no guarantee the house won’t fall down on my head when the Big One hits California.) Every time I’m stuck in traffic for hours, I’m lucky not to be one of the fatalities that triggered the sig alert. If the 9/11 terrorists targeted the Empire State Building instead of the Twin Towers, I would’ve been two blocks away instead of two miles. So far, I’ve stayed healthy while friends who took better care of themselves struggle with terminal illnesses.
In 2001, Nassim Taleb published Fooled by Randomness which argues that modern man overestimates casuality in an effort to believe that our world is more rational than it actually is. If we can convince ourselves we’re alive due to luck or destiny, we don’t have to worry quite so much about getting hit by a bus.
I have no answers; only questions. A quote from Taleb’s book:
“Reality is far more vicious than Russian roulette. First, it delivers the fatal bullet rather infrequently, like a revolver that would have hundreds, even thousands of chambers instead of six. After a few dozen tries, one forgets about the existence of a bullet, under a numbing false sense of security. Second, unlike a well-defined precise game like Russian roulette, where the risks are visible to anyone capable of multiplying and dividing by six, one does not observe the barrel of reality. One is capable of unwittingly playing Russian roulette – and calling it by some alternative “low risk” game.”
As far back as I can remember, my sisters and I – usually with my friend Natalie – entertained ourselves with what we called “record acts” back in the day. Today, it’s called “lip-synching”. We performed as a trio for the first time in the diary entry above. Prior to that, we took turns doing solos.
Three of us sat side by side while whoever was up next selected a record – Paul Peterson’s LP “Lollipops and Roses” and Shelley Fabares’ “Teen-age Triangle” were huge favorites. Occasionally we recruited our parents for an audience. Janet did a mean Robert Preston on his iconic number “You’ve Got Trouble in River City.” Joyce and Natalie shared a knack for turning romantic numbers unexpectedly comedic. Given my total lack of rhythm, no one ever requested an encore but I was a great audience.
Our first – and last – two performances as a trio were Diana Ross’s “Ain’t No Mountain” and Aretha Franklin’s “Until You Come Back to Me”. (Joyce did lead lip-synch on both.) I was 21 that summer; I probably felt a little too old for silly dress-up routines.
I wish I’d known then that you’re never too old to dress up and dance!
Luckily, the “born to lip synch record act” gene passed to the next generation. In the photos below, Joyce’s daughter and my daughter produce their own show on my coffee-table stage.