The final straw came on a warm March evening just outside Ralph’s supermarket on La Brea and Third. I was 13, and at that age, didn’t care to roam up and down the aisles with my mom while she shopped. As was my habit, I was hanging out at the magazine rack, trying discreetly to flip through the latest issue of “Cosmo” in the hopes of glimpsing a bare breast.
Then I heard the blood curdling scream.
I ran outside and found my mom just outside the exit door, hysterical. Some young guy had just fought with her for her purse and won. She wasn’t injured, but emotionally, that was it. She’d had enough of LA. Her purse had been snatched once before, I had been jumped by four guys for my new Schwinn World Sport ten-speed the second day I owned it (an extravagance my grandparents could scarcely afford),
and, before that, in elementary school, I was beaten up a couple times in an underground tunnel designed to keep kids from crossing the “unsafe” street above.
My mom had had enough.
A few months later, we packed up and moved to the sleepy, safe burb of Glendale, California, just over the Hollywood Hills from the mean streets of LA. So began the two loneliest years of my life. I was fourteen and twenty four long months away from the driver’s license that would liberate me. I attended an all boys high school in LA, and that didn’t change – except for carpooling to and from school, I was stranded in Glendale in the 80′s.
My mom and I moved into an apartment on the border of Burbank, near the train tracks which pass along sun baked, desolate San Fernando Road.
I tried to make the best of things. I bought a bus pass. I would catch the bus from our apartment and ride it to Brand Boulevard, which back then was not the lively shopping district it is today. There was, of course, the Glendale Galleria mall, but that building turned in on itself, and the rest of Brand was still pretty sleepy.
Downtown Glendale’s hey day had passed twenty years earlier.
But I did find two places I liked: Brand Bookstore – probably one of the last independents – which had a fantastic collection of used books. It’s where I bought a musty old paperback copy of Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey,” the pages brown and brittle.
And a few blocks away there was a pool hall, I can’t remember the name of it, seedy by Glendale standards, but perfectly safe. I would rent a table for an hour and knock the balls around, killing time.
And then there was Neal’s Records, a tiny shoebox storefront, cluttered floor to ceiling with vinyl records. Here my own life of petty crime began and ended when I stuffed a copy of The Blues Magoos’ “Psychedelic Lollipop” ($10) into the jacket of a Bob Seger record ($2).
I must’ve appeared nervous pulling out my ripper wallet, as Neal, a skinny pasty man with an unusually tall forehead, looked grimly at me, pulled the Magoos record out of the Seger sleeve, and told me never to try something like that again. My heart was pounding. I was relieved he didn’t call the cops. In a town as quiet as Glendale back then, a fourteen year old kid pinching a collectible record would’ve earned me two squad cars, if not three.
My lowest point came about a year later. For one brief, shining, moment, an all ages mod nightclub opened in Burbank (I think it was called Bullet, but I’m almost certainly wrong). And I was a mod. I had even bought a fish tail parka with fur lined hood (absolutely essential in frigid southern California) and made my own patches for it. I drew an “Untouchables” patch and the English Beat’s “dancing feet” diagram.
And there, at what may or may not have been Bullet, I met a girl named Lily. She went to Burbank High. I tried to impress her with my knowledge of obscure bands like the Blues Magoos. We talked about music and school. As with many girls I met in those days, I had an instant crush on her. But she was different. There was a confidence and self-possession to her which I found very attractive. Her smile was demure and composed, but not cold. Unlike me, she was comfortable in her own skin. Which was all the more impressive to me because she had a withered arm. But because she paid it no heed, no one else did either.
I didn’t have the nerve to ask her on a date or even for her number, but she was still on my mind. So what did I do about it? I made up a flyer, of course, one of those flyers with my phone number written on the bottom of it eight times, cut in strips with a scissor so you could pull one off and call me.
I drew lots of modish paisleys on it and collaged in images of decked out Vespa scooters.
The flyer was about trying to create a mod scene in Glendale. I believe I wrote something to the effect, “You wanna get together and see shows, go record shopping, find a way to Melrose?” (Melrose Avenue had a few mod-themed stores at the time, and Vinyl Fetish was far and away the best record store around). I put the flyer up at Neal’s, at a few other stores, and, of course, in the hallway of Burbank High, and waited. Days passed. I wondered if Lily would see it, remember me, and pick up the phone.
She never did. Who knows if she ever saw the flyer, but I was so shy and reserved that even if she had seen it, she probably had no clue I liked her. She wasn’t the only one not to call. No one else did, either. Maybe my desperate loneliness came seeping through the superficial cheer of the flyer.
I remember my mom seeing a copy of it and telling me how proud she was that I was extending myself and trying to make friends. I wanted to scream back at her: “Of course I have to make flyers! You moved us to planet Mars, and now I’m stuck here, oxygen tank running seriously low!”
But I didn’t. What could I do? She was right: she never had another purse snatched, and I was never jumped again. I would’ve gladly given up another ten speed for a single few phone call from a stranger, but in the end, I held my tongue and renewed my bus pass. As trying as our escape to another planet was was, my oxygen did hold out, and by the grace of God, one year later, I passed my driver’s license test on the first go round.