Judy Rae

49th Anniversary Easy Reader-Beach Writing Contest Winners and Honorable Mentions 2019

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Grand Prize Winner

Just a friend of a friend

by Dave Siemienski

He was the friend of a friend. I hardly knew him. Yet he would come to play an important role in my life.

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His name was Doug Somerville. He was a National Guard buddy of my good friend and neighbor Bill Nicholson. I met him for the first time when he visited Bill in Inglewood, where I lived next door to the Nicholsons. Somewhere in the mid1960s, I was invited by Doug through Bill to his home in the Hollywood Hills, very near the iconic “HOLLYWOOD” sign. Bill and I drove up there together. 

It was an unexpected invitation, but proved to be an interesting day. Without recalling any good reason, I did not care very much for Doug’s wife. Something about her felt cold and aloof. The house was quaint and cottage-like, and it was tucked on a very hilly, winding, typical mountain road that snaked through those ancient homes of the early Hollywood years. Parking was impossible. The neighborhood was unmistakably old California style and architecture. The conversations and experiences that day were unremarkable, but I did get to know Doug a little better. He found out things about me as well. This would prove to be significant years later.

I did not see Doug again for many months. One day, while I was working in a woodshop in Gardena owned by our mutual friend Bill, Doug walked in unannounced. Bill was not in, so he sat down, and we talked.

He was limping badly, and had a large bandage and brace on one of his knees. His explanation was a recent surgery for arthritis. “Arthritis!…” I exclaimed, “I never knew you ever needed operations for arthritis?” It was diagnosed as a very aggressive form called “galloping arthritis,” which can travel all over the body. This was still a few years before my first of many knee surgeries, so the whole breakdown of the human body was a little foreign to my experiences at the time.

Doug was a tennis player, so this was obviously not good news for him. However, his attitude was positive and he wasn’t whining about his condition. We talked a little while about what Bill was doing with this business, my career goals, his ventures, and other innocuous topics. He left and I wished him well, and promised to mention his visit to Bill.

A few more years went by before I heard anymore news about Doug. Bill told me he had more surgeries, was now in a wheelchair, and his wife had left him. He also had moved to Manhattan Beach, living close to Bill, who by that time had an apartment in El Porto.

A few months later Bill was leaving the South Bay area, and asked if I wanted to take over his apartment. I jumped at the opportunity to live at the beach. I asked about Doug since he had not been mentioned in some time. Bill told me that he and Doug had a falling out, and they didn’t speak anymore. This struck me as quite sad, considering how long they had known each other, and the physical problems that Doug had been suffering through the last few years.

After living in El Porto for a few months, I decided to look Doug up. He lived close, on 20 street, just up from Highland in Manhattan Beach. He was glad to see me.

I was shocked to see how badly his body had deteriorated since I had last seen him. Not only was he wheelchair-bound, but his hands, knuckles, and elbows were badly deformed. Without being able to see his knees or legs through his pants, I could still tell they were horribly atrophied as well. He was always a somewhat slight, very fit man, but now any semblance of athleticism had completely vacated his body. 

In spite of this massive arthritic attack on his body, Doug appeared to be surprisingly positive. He introduced me to his new wife Ellen. This was a jolt as well. He explained the callous way his first wife abandoned him as soon as his arthritic condition worsened. He recounted how he decided to move closer to his parents in Manhattan Beach, and how he also began focusing on real estate to replace his former job. He met Ellen shortly after moving to the beach area. The intervening years might have been brutally destructive physically, but financially Doug seemed to be thriving.

He now owned multiple properties in Manhattan Beach. With his wife and parents help, he had acquired many fixer-uppers in great locations. He contracted services to compensate for his lack of mobility, and upgraded these buildings for rental and sales. It all sounded like a remarkable rebound from the tragic circumstances of his health.

His wife was sweet, and seemed to provide all the other needs that helped mitigate his disabilities. He made sure she had everything she wanted in their home, and she managed whatever affairs Doug could not.

I told him about staying in Bill’s old place in El Porto. After some curt comments concerning Bill, Doug described the new apartments he was building on 20th Street. He asked if I wanted to rent the penthouse. When i said it would be way out of my price range. he said he would charge me less than I was paying in El Porto if I would agree to help him around the property.

Thus began some of the best years of my life. My third floor penthouse had two sun decks with an unreal view of the beach. It was the only unit on the top of the building, and Doug and Ellen lived on the first floor. I soon learned that Doug had designed every inch of this building himself. Although he never went above his first floor, he knew exactly where everything was located. It was uncanny to hear him describe little corners, closets, and nooks that he had never seen.

This paradise bachelor pad was a block-and-a-half from the Pacific Ocean. A few yards up the street the other direction and down a few levels was Live Oak Park. This just happened to be one of the best parks in the beach areas, and had basketball courts where top quality players often played. I was at the peak of my basketball prowess and played at a high level of competition, so this bonus was almost too much to dream for.

My daily routine was swimming morning beyond the breakers, and then running on the wet sand from the Manhattan to Hermosa piers  and back. Then I would lie in the sand and soak up the sun while perfecting my bronze tan. Afterwards, a quick walk to my place, a shower, and I was off to work at Inglewood Recreation & Parks. I was making good money, and had multiple girlfriends. When the second floor apartment was finished in my building, Doug took my suggestion of having my best friend from grade school as our other tenant. When Paul moved in it was beginning to seem very much like heaven. 

The little things I had to do around our building to help Doug were quite easy. The only hard part was having to listen to Doug so tediously explain everything else he was doing around Manhattan Beach while he watched me work. He so enjoyed my company, that I would always expect a call from him as soon as I got inside my apartment. When he heard the garage door open, he knew my Datsun 240Z was home and so was I. 

Doug often steered our conversations towards asking me what Bill was doing. He knew I still did a lot of things with him, but I was reluctant to play any “double-agent” role. I knew their estrangement had been somewhat ugly, but I never pried into the details. I could tell Doug continued to admire and care about his old friend. I also filled Bill in on developments with Doug when I would get together with him. The unfortunate irony never escaped me that I was now close to Doug, while the two lifelong friends were so distant from one another

My spectacular bachelor lifestyle on 20th Street flourished for the majority of the 1970s. Doug’s health seemed to stabilize (though never got any better), and he kept acquiring more valuable Manhattan Beach properties. He built another new place just up the street from our place for his parents. He also added a beautiful art studio apartment on top for Ellen. Doug paid for her art lessons, and wanted her to have an inspiring space to continue with her painting. His parents were happy seeing him overcome his disabilities and limitations, and the whole family seemed to be reaping the rewards of Doug’s genius as a real estate developer.

Anyone who knows anything about renting in Southern California, and specifically the beach cities, knows that premium prices are paid even when places are old and rundown. I was living in a brand new building, in the lone third floor penthouse, and I was paying $150 a-month in 1977! That was outrageous then, and would be impossible under any circumstances now.

How or why would I ever think of leaving Camelot on the beach? Only the prospect of owning my own home could have persuaded me to leave. On my 3oth birthday, I left Manhattan Beach. This ultimately led to marriage, a family, and a progressive rise in home ownership that sustains my comfortable retirement today.

It was several years before I wound my way back to to visit Doug again. When there was no answer from my knock, I tried the handle. It was unlocked, so I entered to see Doug in his wheelchair alone. He was an emotional wreck, and it was many minutes before he was composed enough to speak.

He told me of waking up that morning, and seeing Ellen was gone. A note was all she left. She had met a man in the art classes Doug had encouraged her to take at El Camino.

It was impossible to console him, but I did my best to remind him of the incredible mental strength that had brought him this far. He told me his parents were understandably upset as well, and they promised to help. 

I returned five days later, and Doug had lost an amazing amount of weight and he looked terrible. I called two days after that visit, and his parents answered the phone. They told me Doug had been hospitalized.

My immediate thought was to call Bill. I knew it had been over a decade since these two old friends had spoken or seen each other, but I knew these were desperate circumstances dictating desperate measures. Bill agreed to go with me to the hospital.

Doug was hooked up to multiple tubes in a glass-enclosed sterile unit. When he saw Bill and I standing together a few feet away, his eyes nearly exploded from his head. His mouth tried to form words, but he was clearly unable to speak. He weighed barely 50 lbs. It was a painful sight to see. Bill and I both knew at that moment how thrilled he was seeing us there.

He was just a friend of a friend. He died the next day.

Honorable Mention

Bellevue Ranch, 1942

There’s a bunch of trouble two youngsters can get into on a cattle ranch

by Glenn Michel

I grew up on a dusty cattle ranch just outside of Bakersfield, 200 miles and light years away from the Beach Cities, where I’ve lived the past 25 years. My mother laughed when I was 10 and asked for an allowance.

My father’s monthly salary had just skyrocketed from $150 to a whopping 250 smackaroos. We’d just moved from the Weldon Ranch, a few miles from Kernville, down to the San Joaquin Valley and Bakersfield. No doubt, this was the big time. Here, not one, but two movie theaters had huge canvas banners proclaiming, “AIR CONDITIONED!”.

It was 1942, and we were now living on the Kern County Land Company’s Bellevue Ranch. The Land Company welcomed married cowboys with families since they were more likely to stick around. They expanded a tiny little bunkhouse to include a kitchen. We had a chicken coop and rabbit hutches out back. Mom started a vegetable garden. If that little old house is still there, it would be on the southern edge of today’s Cal State Bakersfield Campus.

I never got the allowance.

Buena Vista Grammar School was twice as sophisticated as the one-room, one teacher Weldon school. We actually had two rooms, with two teachers: first through fourth grade and fifth through eighth. We even had a music teacher who visited once a week. Trumpet practice in that little old house must have driven my parents crazy.

My friend Julio, lived on the ranch, too. We’d walk a quarter of a mile through a cow pasture to catch the “school bus.” It was our teacher in her own sedan. She’d pick up a couple of girls as well. After school, we’d have to wait while she finished up in the classroom before she took us home.

There’ a bunch of trouble two youngsters can get into on a cattle ranch. Gophers holes can be disastrous for irrigation canal banks, and dangerous for cattle, horses and cowboys. Stepping in one can mean a broken leg for the animals and broken bones for the riders. Setting and maintaining gopher traps was a high priority. Julio and I would see them on our walks to and from the “bus stop.”

Walking home one afternoon, we couldn’t believe our eyes. We spotted skunk. His foot was caught in a gopher trap, and he was struggling to get out. Julio and I came to an instant agreement, “This just isn’t right! He’s not a gopher. He was just minding his own skunk business when that trap reached out and snagged him.” 

Being the more intellectual of the two, I quickly laid out a sure-fire plan. “I’ll hold his tail down while you get his foot out!”

I got nailed right smack in the middle of the chest. Julio got off Scott free. We never did get the skunk loose.

Mom was working in the yard when I got home. I chased her around the house a couple of times before all my clothes were buried in the back yard and I was thoroughly scrubbed in the tub – far more vigorously than I thought was necessary.

There was always plenty of trouble for our four kids to get into in the South Bay. But thank goodness, they never ran across a skunk who desperately needed their help.

Honorable Mention

Sparkle

When you look at them, think of me and pray for me

by Jacqueline Warstadt

On a Saturday morning this past June, I went off walking to the local grocery store, in search of batter mix and fresh fruit to compliment the waffles that would soon be steaming from our waffle iron. The sun was shining, something we hadn’t had much of in South redondo.

Ahead of me was a woman with a cart full of her belongings. A blanket for nighttime temps, bottles of water and only a few clothing items. 

I greeted her with “Good morning,” and asked her if I could buy her breakfast.

She smiled and said, “Thank you, I like to select my own food. If I want to eat green grapes, I buy them. Sometimes I like the red grapes, better. Many times, I am offered a meal, and while that is very kind, I am not always hungry”

She reached into her jacket pocket, pulled out a few tissues and then a gift card. “People sometimes give me these, and that makes me happy.” I buy my choice of food and still have some money left to go back another time.

She did not ask me for anything.

The conversation shifted to a setting that would lead me to feel I had traveled to places far and wide. A place of enlightenment, of joy, wisdom, sadness and of hope. I listened to her talk about traveling in Europe, about cultural differences and similarities. About fears, in time of war, about educated people, and those who didn’t have higher educational options.

She told me her Bulgarian birth name. She also told me the meaning of her name,  followed by a word association, so that I could remember her, in the days and weeks to follow.

She spoke with great wisdom. Me, a “chatty” woman by nature, had very little to say. 

The subject of her not having a place to sleep each night, entered the conversation.

“Homeless, we do not like the word homeless”, she declared.  “I walk, I walk all day long. Every night I look for a safe place to sleep.

“Sometimes I find that place, other times I am woken by a flashlight shining in my eyes from someone who is doing their job.”

She spoke with respect for the individuals who show her the “signage” rules. She picks up and finds another spot, only after engaging in a little conversation with the officer, some of whom she knows by name. She thanks them for keeping her safe, then lays her head back down.

In our half an hour together, I learned of the mountains in Bulgaria, with their natural, plants, some used to help control high blood pressure and other medicinal purposes.

I learned about her love for family members who did not have their U.S. citizenship, like she did.

As we were about to part ways, she thanked me for being nice to her. She told me she enjoyed our conversation and wished only good things for my life! I wished the same for her, especially for her to be safe. 

As I approached the grocery store, the bouquets of beautiful sunflowers in the front caught my eye. I quickly purchased a bouquet in hopes of being fast enough to give these to her. Then, thinking, sadly, she won’t get too far away, with having to cart her belongings.

She was standing in the same place where I left her, rearranging items in the cart. “Here is a little gift to brighten your day,” I said. 

She replied, “The water I have with me is only for drinking. Flowers are a spiritual gift and I thank you for them. There is nothing sadder, to me, than a wilting flower. Please, take them home with you. When you look at them, think of me and pray for me.”

I agreed to do as she wished. I brought the sunflowers home. In the days that followed, I gazed at them a few times each day. 

I had happy thoughts and a warm, new memory, to cherish for a lifetime. The meaning of her name is “Sparkle” she had said, as in sparkling water.

Honorable Mention

Eugene

“What shall we speak of when we are as old as you?”

-Cymbeline

by J.E. Marshall

11 a.m., Manhattan Beach, California

EUGENE’S PIZZERIA was becoming a landmark in Manhattan Beach. Madame Ethel Danglers, Eugene’s second wife, was keen on selling while it was hot but Eugene would not hear of it.

“Well, he cannot blame Baxter anymore,” Madame Danglers sighed while giving her landlord his usual free reading.

“Baxter has at long last returned?” Eddie Nathan perked up.

“No, but he has signed away his interest in the pizzeria. The feud has ended,” Madame Danglers smiled.

“Then our work begins.” Nathan darted out of Madame Danglers  before his tarot card reading was finished to begin the process of relieving Eugene of his substantial wealth. His intention was to purchase every property on the block in order to build a fabulous boutique hotel. Before he could enter the pizzeria next-door, a large can of sliced olives shattered the plate glass window. Nathan returned to Madame Danglers  forthwith.

Eugene chased his adopted son Westley out into the traffic.

“Married to my daughter! I took you in and this is how you repay me?” Eugene threw a can of tomato paste at Westley. Westley ducked. The can hit the window of a yellow cab.

“I will die for this!” Westley slammed his palms on the hood of the taxi and bid the driver let him pass by first.

“Husband!” Eugene’s daughter Evelyn cried out.

“My love!” Westley shouted before disappearing down a side street.

Ethel joined her husband on the sidewalk. Eugene stared out to sea in a trance of rage.

“They are married! Away with this wayward one. Lock her in her room!”

11 p.m., two Harbors, Cantal Catalina Island

Joaquin and Jacapo ate the last of the smores. A twig snapped. Westley stepped out of the shadows. The men drank beer and talked about the events of the day. Westley thanked them for giving him sanctuary at Camp Emerald Bay.

“No woman could ever be as perfect as she seems to you now. I’ll bet that I could turn her head,” Jacapo bragged.

“As I am unemployed and in need of cash, I will bet you cannot,” Westley wagered.

11 p.m., Hennessey’s Tavern, Hermosa Beach

A waitress and a busboy took their break in the alley.

“There is a help wanted sign at Eugene’s,” the waitress said.

“Are you thinking of applying?”

“I would but that gypsy lady gives me the creeps. The way she hovers. I don’t like her.”

“She has bewitched Eugene and made him forget himself. Since the kidnapping of his sons and the death of his wife, Madame Ethel has made herself available to him, going so far as to dress and speak in the manner of his deceased wife. 

“I bet Madame is boiling mad that her precious son Preston doesn’t get to marry Evelyn.”

“That oaf is claiming he would have beaten Westley to a pulp if he had not been held back by cooler heads.”

2 a.m., Eugene’s Pizzeria

“I didn’t get to tell him goodbye,” Evelyn said as she cleaned the countertop. Her eyes were red, swollen from weeping.

“Rest assured that he knows you love him,” Giovanni called out as he loaded the dishwasher.

“Show me again the bracelet he gave you.” The cashier paused to admire the token of love Westley had given his new wife.

10 a.m., Madam Danglers Parlor, Manhattan Beach

Dr. Kern had known Ethel Danglers ever since she opened her new age store by the sea. He was beginning to wish he never met her. Her heart was hard and cold. Slowly, but surely, she had taken him to dark places he never would have believed he would have ventured into before. She indebted him to her with gifts and extracted increasingly deadly medications from him. Her boldness spoke to her confidence that somehow she owned him. He gave her the new medication but it was not the medication she asked for. He gave her a potion that would cause a seeming death, but the victim would awaken refreshed in a matter of hours. Dr. Kern added a tracer that would stain the lips and tongue of each poor soul Madame Danglers tried to kill a bright, neon orange. Eager to test her poison, Madame Danglers dismissed the doctor and went to find her first victim, Westley’s best friend, Giovanni.

10:30 a.m., Eugene’s Pizzeria, Manhattan Beach

“Where is Giovanni?” Madame Danglers entered the pizzeria in a festive mood.  Madame Danglers found the hardworking employee and gifted him with what she believed to be a deadly potion, insisting that he deserved a reward for his excellent service. She claimed that the expensive, rare potion was a favorite of Eugene’s and had cured many ailments. She encouraged him to share the elixir with poor Evelyn to help her with her grief over the loss of her Westley.

Madame Danglers went back to her parlor. 

By and by Jacapo and his girlfriend Vampa came to the pizzeria to visit Evelyn with news from Westley. Giovanni informed them that Evelyn was surfing and where on the beach they might find her. Jacapo noticed Evelyn was not wearing the bracelet. He asked her permission to address a private matter but first excused himself to use the restroom. He called Vampa and told her to slip into Evelyn’s apartment and find the precious bracelet that Westley had described the night before. 

Jacapo presented Evelyn with a love letter from Westley and told her it was a pack of lies, that in fact Westley was cheating on her with many women. He attempted to seduce her while Vampa was stealing the bracelet. Evelyn rebuked him and sent him on his way.

When Evelyn returned to her room, she found Preston staring at Westley’s shirt which she had placed on the bed so she could smell his scent every night. Preston was outraged that Evelyn was so in love with Westley and had no feelings for him. He threw the flowers he had brought for her on the floor, snatched Westley’s shirt off the bed and stormed out of the room. When Evelyn could not find her bracelet, she suspected Preston was the thief.

8 a.m., Two Harbors, Canta Catalina Island

Westley, Jacapo, and Joaquin met for dinner and drinks at a pub called The Isthmus. The night soured quickly. Westley refused to believe that Evelyn had been untrue to him until Jacapo revealed the bracelet. Westley plunged into despair.

8 a.m., Eddie Nathan’s Real Estate Office, Redondo Beach, California.

“It was promised me and I will have it! You do not want me for an enemy!” Eddie pounded his fist on his desk.

“You obtained no promise from me.” Eugene maintained.

“Your business partner promised me,” Eddie insisted.

“I have no business partner and I’ll have no more of this,” Eugene let the door slam behind him.

8 a.m., Eugene’s Pizzeria, Manhattan Beach, California

Giovanni punched the pizza dough and read the letter from Westley again.

“Fake news! Fake news from my best friend about the love of his life!” Giovanni punched the dough again as if it had offended him.

“Fake news, Westley has into madness fallen and bids me murder his faithful wife!”

Westley instructed Giovanni to take Evelyn to the town of Julian under the guise of reuniting with him and in Julian murder her instead.

6 p.m., Belarius Orchards, Julian California

Belarius watched his sons picking apples. It saddened him to hear them speak of how small and unfruitful their lives were. He had meant well for them.

“Nothing ever happens to us!” Theodore declared.

“I will have tales to tell when I am old!” Caleb insisted.

“Tall tales, I’ll warrant!” Theodore laughed.

6:00 AM EUGENE’S PIZZERIA, MANHATTAN BEACH, CALIFORNIA

“Where is everybody? Where is my daughter? Where is Preston?” Eugene cried out. No one answered.

6 a.m., Julian California

“Why are we here? Why do you look at me so? What is wrong Giovanni? Is my Westley here?” Evelyn was frightened. The pine forest on the edge of the apple orchard was dark and full of strange sounds.

Giovanni was eaten with guilt. He gave Evelyn the letter where Westley bid him end her life.

“I dressed you in men’s clothes. I cut your hair. Escape. I must return or be suspected of helping you. Take this potion to assist you in your journey. Godspeed.”

Evelyn drank deep of the potion for courage and strength.

Unbeknownst to Giovanni, he and Evelyn had been followed. Preston stood in the dark, dressed in Westley’s clothing, ready to rape and torture Evelyn once Giovanni was away enough not to hear her screams. Just when Preston determined the moment had arrived, a farm tool removed Preston’s head.

“Father, we were too late! The lad is dead,” Caleb cried out when he discovered Evelyn. The potion had instantly taken her to a death-like state.

“Lay them to rest in the barn. We will give proper burial in the morning.

5 a.m., Eugene’s residence, Manhattan Beach, California

“What is wrong with my wife?” Eugene asked Dr. Kern.

“She is dying. She talks out of her head. A dementia has overcome her. She confesses awful crimes, terrible deeds. She screams that she never loved you, admits that she lied about your business partner to make Baxter appear guilty and made manipulations to take your money.” Dr Kern threw away a small vial. The contents of the vial worked their way through Madame Danglers’ veins. He took the action after Eddie Nathan died of suspicious circumstances and Eugene’s lips turned bright orange, indicating that Madame Danglers had indeed attempted to murder her husband with the potion.

6 a.m., Belarius Orchard, Julian, California

When Evelyn woke, she found herself next to a headless corpse. Immediately she recognized her husband’s clothing. Belarius and his sons took her in and nursed her through her grief. She told them her name was Gunther and lived on as the younger brother of the two men. She lost herself in tending the orchard with her new family. 

Months went by. One day while tending the apple trees, Gunther was interrupted by the questions of a man who wore a large floppy hat and kept his head down. He asked her about apples. He asked her about the weather. He asked her why she chose the name Gunther and if she would ever forgive him.

Belarius confessed to Theodore and Caleb that he had kidnapped them for revenge against their real father Eugene. He confessed that his real name was Baxter and that they were really Guido and Arturo, the missing sons of Eugene and that Gunther was in fact their sister Evelyn. Baxter had been wrongfully accused of embezzlement when in fact the culprits were Madame Ethel and Eddie Nathan. 

The family was whole again and the healing years began.

8 a.m., Eugene’s Pizzeria, Manhattan Beach, California

Eugene adjusted the new sign in the window of his popular pizzeria that read: “BEST APPLE PIZZA IN THE WEST.”

Honorable Mention

What Would Homer Say

I stood there on the sidewalk watching him go and I was wondering

by Spiros H. Mikelatos

I met him in a well-known LA Suburb.

He was pushing a shopping cart overloaded with his possessions. When he stopped on the sidewall, he looked past middle age. 

I met him in February 2019. It was an unusually cold and cloudy day.
The weather forecast was for rain. The same forecast predicted snow on the surrounding mountain tops, ski resorts and the Cajon Pass, gateway to Las Vegas.

I asked the man if he was homeless.

“Homeless for sometime,” he said.

I offered him a one dollar bill. I also volunteered to sing a Greek song of poverty. I even added to the song my own paraphrase and English translation:

What does a poor man have to fear?

Sometimes he lives under a roof,

Sometimes he lives without a roof out in the clear.

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter.

Dark clouds brought the rain.

Lucky for him, LA rain brought no hail.

Rain or hail it’s okay.

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter.

“Thank you,” said the homeless man. “I also liked that song.”

He pushed the overloaded cart away. Perhaps, he was going to search for a spot in the limited space of Los Angeles.

I stood there on the sidewalk watching him go and I was wondering.

Who was this man?

How did he become homeless?

How much has he suffered from his homelessness? Has he felt the pain of hunger?

Has he felt alone, forsaken, forgotten?

The answers to my questions were difficult for me.

When my mind becomes confused, my thoughts drift to the wisdom of the ancestors and the spiritual words of the Holy Bible.

The poet Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey. The ancients called him “The Godly singer.” What would poet Homer say about this homeless man today? Perhaps, poet Homer would say, “…he was a man who suffered so much…”

Another poet gave the Greeks their National Anthem. His name is Dionýsios Solomós. What would poet Solomós say about this homeless man today? Perhaps, poet Solomós would say, “Alone he took the road and alone he came back, the doors don’t open easily for those in need and those who lack.”

There was also the Nobel Prize poet Odysséas Elýtis. What would poet Elýtis say about this homeless man today? Perhaps, poet Elýtis would say that “He was searching in life for a few grams of happiness.”

Aside from the poets what would the Savior Jesus Christ say about this homeless man? Perhaps, the Savior would say:

“For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me, …in as much as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”

There are angels of mercy in LA, including the LA Skid Row. These angels are men, women and children. They provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care and comfort to the homeless in and out of the Skid Row.

In recent years, among the angels of mercy, there came a special couple in the LA Skid Row. They were the handsome Prince William of England and his beautiful bride princess Katie. They came to the Skid Row for a whole day on their honeymoon. They came to interact with and care for the homeless, especially homeless children.

The day Prince William and Princess Katie came to the Skid Row was, indeed, a very special day. That day Lord Jesus Christ forgot the nails of his hands and feet on the Cross. The Savior simply smiled from heaven as he enjoyed the grace and beauty of William and Katie caring for the homeless, especially the children on the LA Skid Row.
What a beautiful gesture on their honeymoon.

The homeless man with the overloaded cart whom I met was in an LA Suburb not too far from Skid Row. When this homeless man pushed his cart and departed he left me with questions, thoughts and afterthoughts.

One after thought was what to do for the next homeless I meet in LA. Perhaps, I may need to reevaluate my generosity. I may even need to change the words of the poverty song.
I could leave out words like dark clouds, rain and hail.

I could simply say hope and pray for the homeless in LA.

Honorable Mention

PCH throwback

As the years flew by, this building never seemed to change

by Pete Whalon

Over the past 48 years I have driven down Pacific Coast Highway, through Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach thousands of times. At some point I began noticing a business located in Hermosa Beach on the southeast corner of PCH and 7th Street. As the years flew by, this building never seemed to change. Same sign, paint job and display in the front windows. 

While others closed, remodeled, modernized, or were demolished, California Marking Device remained a steady beacon of old-school South Bay. About 2010, I decided, someday, I’d stop and pay a visit to this sole survivor of expansion and renovation. I instinctively knew that this place would have a colorful history. 

It took me nine years to fulfill this promise to myself. In early June of this year, as I cruised down PCH, I noticed an open parking space directly in front of the store. Impulsively, I pulled to the curb and parked. 

As I opened the door and stepped inside, I heard someone who I could not see, bark out, “Hope you got cash,” followed by boisterous laughter. It was Jimmy Beckwith, the owner of California Marking Device. Jimmy was the longest, single owner of a business on PCH and probably in the entire city of Hermosa Beach. Jimmy offered me a tour of his 2000-square-foot building and gladly related some of his shop’s history. The business is operated by Jimmy, his wife Mary and Billy, who began working there in 1978. Billy is the only employee Jimmy has ever had and ever will have. Billy operates the equipment that produces the shop’s wide range of stamps, signs, and banners. 

I got the strong sense that Jimmy’s wife, Mary was the brains of the outfit, the person to talk to for information or problem solving with an order. It quickly  became apparent this was not a politically correct environment. Suggestive posters and provocative signs compliment the irreverent exchanges between Billy and Jimmy. In fact, in the back room, Jimmy proudly displays a poster of Suzanne Somers, topless. It’s an old advertisement for Maherajah water skis. According to Jimmy, Somers denies it’s really her in the poster. There are no “safe spaces” inside the doors at 7th and PCH. It’s the Wild West in there, my friends.

Back in the says, Jimmy and his crew hosted a weekly “Flash Friday.” Jimmy got the idea from the Tom Leykis radio show. Leykis is a “Shock-Jock” who is still on the air today. At around three o’clock on Friday afternoons Jimmy would set up a table or two outside, on the sidewalk facing PCH. Friends and good customers would gather for snacks and various adult beverages as they watched the cars speed by. The highlight of Flash-Fridays was the nubile young ladies at the gathering who would flash their breasts whenever a passing car would honk or blink their lights. According to Jimmy, there was a substantial increase in traffic in front of his store on Flash Fridays. Unfortunately, for the motorists and pedestrians,  the unforgiving aging process took its toll, and Jimmy and his raucous gang reluctantly moved inside. With a fridge jam-packed with various sized drinking glasses, the party rolls on to this day, although, sadly, there’s no more flashing. 

Another popular Animal House West event that you won’t see taking place at Learned Lumber across the street or Enterprise Rent-A-Car next door, are the bachelor parties he has hosted over the years. There have been quite a few of these disorderly wingdings inside the walls of California Marking Device. Illegal you say? Correct. However, Jimmy had a Hermosa Beach Police Officer friend who was invited to every celebration. The officer assured Jimmy there would be no problem with the law if he was invited, which he was. 

At one point during my visit, while Jimmy assisted a customer, I strolled through the two rooms on my own. Every square inch was occupied by paraphernalia, necessary or not for the business. It reminded me of American Pickers. I could picture Frank and Mike rummaging through a shelf in the corner of the back room, asking Jimmy how much he wanted for the coffee can filled with hand stamps from 1973, or what it would cost to take Miss Somers home. I’m guessing Jimmy would shout out something like, “For you Mike, one-thousand dollars and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.”

The most unusual display in the back room proved to be the collection of empty beer bottles and cans lined side by side on top of every shelf, piece of furniture, table, and most precariously, on top of fluorescent light fixtures. I asked about an earthquake. Jimmy just shrugged. “I’ll drink more beer,” he said. Since an exact count would be impossible due to numerous obstacles, I did a quick, approximation in my head. I estimated between 1,000 and 1,500 empty beer containers. And, there are no duplicates.  When I asked which one was the oldest, Billy pulled a Lucky Lager can down from a shelf. Lead was used in the making of these cans.

If you pay CMD a visit, ask Jimmy to show you some of his pictures from the pile scattered on his desk. He will also educate you on the history of businesses that have come and gone on PCH since 1971 and amuse you with accounts of his global travels as a Military Brat. His dad served in World II, the Korean War and Vietnam. 

When I asked what his biggest sale ever was, he shuffled through his stack of pictures, picked one and handed it to me. It showed a guy standing in the front room of his place, leaning over a pile of 10,000 rubber stamps of varying sizes. The mound looked to stand between three and four feet high. In the background of the picture is a sign reading— Warning No Lifeguard on Duty.

Years ago, Jimmy filled an order for Muhammad Ali. Apparently, much of Ali’s memorabilia was being knocked off and sold as original. Jimmy developed a way to reproduce Ali’s thumbprint and have it placed on all his authentic pieces so no one could rip him off by selling them as genuine collectables. When thanking Jimmy, Ali shook his hand and remarked, “Jimmy, you are the greatest!” (Okay, I made that part up).

Jimmy’s product was also used at an entertainer’s funeral. His grieving wife ordered a stamp from Jimmy for the thank you cards to be handed out at the funeral service. This celebrity was the second most famous member of the iconic Rat Pack. No, not Dean Martin. The Candy Man himself, Sammy Davis Jr.

this place should be a museum Jimmy, Mary and Billy epitomize the time-tested adage regarding a person’s profession — love what you do. These people truly love  what they do.

Honorable Mention

Coounting cronuts

On the trail of the cronut’s birthplace

by Janice Nigro

My first bite into a cronut, a French-ified version of the American donut, was in a small bakery in Cebu City in the Philippines in January 2014. Pastries are not my go-to dessert. I love chocolate and gelato, but a deep fried pastry made out of croissant dough? I had to try it. Not long after that, I saw them at a small French bakery near my aunt’s apartment in Westwood. I resisted the cronut there after visits to my elderly aunt, until one time I didn’t.

I walked out the door of the French bakery with a chocolate filled cronut, taking a bite of my purchase out of a brown paper bag, as if I had something to hide. My actions caught the attention of a homeless guy. He asked, “Hey, what have you got there?” I handed it over to the man, after only a single bite.

Cronuts slipped into my consciousness again during a quick tour in 2019 of the food halls in Harrods, the famous department store in London. My willpower broke down in front of the indulgent display of glistening, sweet smelling combinations of sugar, nuts, and chocolate in the form of assorted baked goods. I went home with just one cronut, but when I showed it to my friend Vita, my gracious host in the city, she declared it a fake.

My first clue should have been that the dough of the cronut was chocolate. One bite made me realize my mistake.

“No, no, Janice,” she said in her Italian accent, “this is not the right one. If you like cronuts, I will take you to the place for the best cronuts in London.”

This was my kind of adventure.

We woke up early on a Sunday to take a double decker bus from Chelsea over to the shop on Elizabeth Street in Belgravia. You can’t miss it. A Rose Bowl-like faux flower facade, London’s version of the Instagram spot, welcomes you. The spring fresh entrance matched the weather, which was uncharacteristically warm and sunny in mid February. Everyone in London was out.

I hadn’t googled the bakery the night before. I have blind trust in the friends I visit living around the world. Or I’m just lazy as a traveler. Their favorite places are an easy way to get to know the big cities they live in. Our destination was Dominique Ansel London, a pastry boutique, not a donut shop. Only one flavor of cronut was available. There the choice was Nutella ganache and raspberry jam, or nothing. It was all very unAmerican.

I gazed at mine for a few moments, thinking about the effort I had put into reaching it. A trans-Atlantic flight, a second international flight (Germany to England), the Tube, a bus and a short walk.

I took a couple of less than inspiring photos with the words of my driver in Italy racing through my mind, “The food is for eating.” And then I let my teeth sink into the cronut. Only a little crunch — it is fried — until my teeth met the flaky pastry inside and released the fruit jam and chocolate ganache onto my tongue like they were a scandalous secret waiting to be told.

After that, we walked 32,032 steps through London, Hyde Park, and Chinatown.

I was now curious about this bakery. I discovered that Dominique Ansel had a location in LA. It is at The Grove. I don’t get there very often – it’s just another shopping area in LA with a sort of Disneyland look. But it was one time I could be grateful for globalization.

I started to follow the bakery on Instagram (definite diet mistake). The bakery posts a new cronut flavor each month.

March went by: Balsamic Fig Olive Oil Shiso-homemade fig jam with a hint of balsamic and creamy olive oil shiso ganache rolled in lemon zest sugar. Then April went by: Apricot Rose Mascarpone-apricot rose jam and creamy mascarpone ganache. And even a cronut holiday, 12 May 2019, celebrating 6 years since the birth of the pastry.

That Instagram post stimulated a craving only a cronut could cure. By 17 May 2019, I set out for my cronut. I strung out the anticipation by taking public transportation. Its a gritty way to get around LA, but it eases the guilt of eating a cronut. After three buses, I arrived at 3rd and Fairfax. I still had to walk the last mile. As only so many of the pastries are made each day, I was risking major disappointment by not preordering.

No one else at the pastry shop seemed to be crazed by cronuts. May’s flavor was Neapolitan-strawberry jam, chocolate ganache, vanilla sugar, and pink glaze on top, which matched the pastry graffitied wall in the bakery. My expedition had started at around 9:20 a.m. from Hermosa Beach, and by 11:42 a.m., I had ingested all the calories I was allowed to eat for one day.

The cronut is serious business. A registered trademark symbol follows the word at the shop. I discovered that Dominique Ansel, a Frenchman, is in fact the inventor of the Cronut. He released his invention in his New York City shop in 2013 and the pastry went viral. My first taste of the cronut in a pastry shop in the Philippines only nine months later proves the point.

The dough is similar to that used to make croissants with some adjustments to render it suitable for deep frying. The Cronut is not inexpensive ($6.57 in LA), but it takes three days to make. Once the pastry is shaped, it’s deep fried in grapeseed oil, pumped with the ganache and jam, rolled in a flavored sugar, and glazed.

 

Sugar from the Cronut dusted my cheek, leaving me exposed in an area of LA where many shops are empty, and the homeless have parked their tents almost as if in protest against gluttony of all flavors. The trip across town is as much about the view from the bus or the street, as it is about reaching my destination.

My neighbor laughed when I told her I spent the day traveling three hours across town and back just to get a Cronut. “No one does that,” she joked. But well “one Cronut at a time” is not a bad philosophy to use to learn to love living in LA.

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