Saturday, July 31, 2004

Hollywood Dream

Here's a family story for you. In 1949, my Old Man was twenty-five, with a wartime Navy stint behind him, a brand-new college diploma (courtesy of his GI benefits), and a headful of Joseph Conrad. He was utterly at loose ends: the only logical thing to do was to pack off to Los Angeles to try to make it as a writer.

His savings probably paid for the bus ticket and the first month's rent... which meant that (since he wasn't exactly setting world on fire with his writing) he ended up waiting tables. I forget the name of the place, if I ever knew—some semi-famous Hollywood deli. Not the Brown Derby, but one of those. Morton's, maybe, or Schlotzky's—it doesn't really matter. Very busy place. Lot of industry clientele.

(This isn't anything he ever told me himself, you understand. I get this all thirdhand, from my mother and my aunts.)

So one day my Dad was working the crushing height of the lunch hour, and one of the busboys slipped on a wet patch of floor and fell. Crockery and flatware everywhere. The kid was groaning—he'd broken his arm. The Old Man helped him up, and helped him to the door.

The manager came out from the back and roared, "What the hell do you think you're doing? Get back here! We're in the middle of the lunchtime rush."

The Old Man said, "I've got to take this guy to the hospital."

The manager said, "If you leave now, don't bother coming back."

My father took off his apron and left.

He did go back, as it turned out, once the busboy was tended and mended—but only once, and only to the deli's back door, to pick up his final paycheck. And whether it was that same night or the next day, I don't know, but soon after that he started hitchhiking back East.

It was about that time that he stopped writing, too, come to think of it.

And that's the Hollywood story in our family.

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