Sunday, June 19, 2011
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
On the eve of April 6th, 1971, my father was perusing the aisles of the “Radiant Radish” in search of a midnight snack. The RR was one of many badly lit and open late health food stores in LA, but the only one made famous by the Beach Boys. LA is a strange planet. You really do see famous people at every turnstile. You still do, but in the 70’s, they’d talk to you. Invite you over for a cuppa tea and a speedball. Break Essene bread with you before blowing you in the hot tub. LA in the 70’s was cool in a way that it definitely isn’t now. It was a scene. THE scene. And to grow up here in the era of Roller Skates and Helter Skelter, to hang out with those famous people, to swim in the pools of legends and sit in math class with Zappa’s and Barrymore’s and Pollock’s and other nepotists well…wow. That would be something. It was something. It is something…
It's my childhood.
So here we go.
Back to the 70’s, back to the good old days, back...to the health food store.
Christ, can I ever escape them? I'd be happy to never eat granola again...
Anyhow, since this was the land before cel-phones, my mother couldn’t just text message my father…
STAN…IN LABOR…COME HOME…DRIVE FAST.
Instead, just as my father was about to toss some carob raisin clusters into his mouth from the bulk bin, the manager walked up to him and said…
“Mr. Freberg, your maid is on the phone”.
Why was the maid on the phone and not my mother?
Because mom was busy chain smoking and making herself a Dubonnet on the rocks, duh!
My father ran to the phone and Frances said, as only Frances* could,
*FRANCES: (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH SWEETIE, MY SISTERS NANNY)
HOUSEKEEPER/COOK/NANNY TO BABY BOY/KILLER OF RATTLESNAKES/HERALD OF NEWS
“Come home Mr. Freberg, The Baby’s On Its Way”.
My father jumped in his 1969 Jaguar XKE and headed west on Sunset Boulevard.
When he got back to the house,*
BIG (See also: Friggin Huge, Enormously Large, Castle-Like)
Francis had already packed him a bag and a tuna fish sandwich.
My mother was chain smoking and saying over and over, “This is just ridiculous!”.
She was, you could say, in denial.
For the majority of her pregnancy, she said that I was “just gas”.
Some eight months prior to my arrival, as my mother sat drinking her black coffee and smoking her Kents and calling the shots on the set of what was to become my fathers most famous commercial, she began to get woozy and nauseous.
The doctor (I think his name was Feelgud) was called to the set, and he announced that my mother should not blame the craft services table for her malaise. She should blame my father, for knocking her up.
“That’s impossible!” , she said.
It should have been impossible, because my mother (due to a prior ovarian cyst) was down to a sliver of one ovary. It would take the Mark Spitz of sperm to crack that egg.
I’ve always been a good swimmer.
So skip ahead 240 days or so, back to our story.
I arrived just in time to see the dawn.
When I began to cry, the doctor (whose son would later become my agent) held me up to my mother.
“Now do you believe me lady!?”, he said.
“Oh For God Sake!, I Really WAS pregnant!!!”, said my mother, a glint of morphine in her eye.
The birds tweeted in the early morning light, the sun cast its mustard rays into the maternity ward of Cedars, the doctor wiped his brow.
My mother lit a cigarette.
I’ve been a night person ever since.
Had I been born a girl.
My parents, in their infinite wisdom, had a girls name all picked out.
April, in honor of my birth month.
My mothers doctor, upon listening to the little hummingbird heartbeat emanating from my mothers womb, declared that I was an XX chromosome, not an XY.
"This one's got the heart of a girl", he said, explaining my future flaming metrosexuality.
"Are you sure?", inquired my mother.
"Could be wrong, but I'd be willing to bet it's a girl. The heartbeats too fast to be a boy".
Guess I was nervous already, no doubt from the second hand Folgers that I was being fed in-utero.
"No, I mean are you sure that I'm pregnant"?
"Yes, that I'm positive of. Whether it's a girl or a boy, well, lets just say I'm almost never wrong. Yep, definitely a girl".
Almost never wrong.
So, my parents decided to trust this quack and went out and bought some cute little dresses and pink booties and in their infinite wisdom, neglected to choose a boys name. Just in case.
"Congratulations young man, you have a young man!", said the doctor to my father as he presented me to my pop.
Not too many Aprils have penises, even in Hollywood, so they had to think quick.
"We need a name for the birth certificate", said the hospital clerk.
'Baby Boy Freberg', read the little blue index card above my bassinet.
And that was the name I would answer to...
For the next sixty three months, give or take.
It was five years before another name was to replace it. That name would be given in honor of my fifth birthday. Since my parents were late on top of late with a tardy cherry on top, the name "Donavan" would not come my way till way past my fifth birthday.
July to be exact.
So let's just back up a second, shall we?
I wasn't named till I was five years and three months old.
I was named by Santa Claus.
The family dog, a Yorkie, was also named baby.
We both had bells, he on his red collar and me on my pink booties.
My mother would call "Baby!", and we would come running from opposite sides of the house.
We kept the Christmas tree up for nearly all of the calendar year, adorning it with bunnies on Easter and hearts on Valentines. Sometimes even pumpkins.
So, sometime during my fifth July, underneath the sparkler and flag laden bone dry noble fir, rested my stocking.
With a little note sticking out of the top.
"What's that?", I inquired, munching on a fudgesicle.
"Why, I don't know, why don't you pull it out and see?", said daddy.
As my little heart skipped a beat, I reached my tiny hand into the bright red stocking (which had the word BABY stitched on the side).
On the onion skin paper, was a short letter, hand typed in bold.
YOUR NEW NAME IS DONAVAN.
"Donavan!", I exclaimed, already literate.
"What's it mean?", I said, curious as a Cheshire.
"It's your name", said my dad proudly.
"If you don't like it, we have backup names".
My dad was big on backups. He had two identicals of every shirt, typewriter, car.
"Donavan...I like it!", I said.
"Good", he said.
"If you change your mind, we also thought of Buckminster, Einstein, or Picasso"
"Donavan's neat!", I said..."But what's wrong with Baby?"
"Baby's fine for around the house, but when you start school it might be better to call yourself 'Donavan'".
I had heard the name "Dominic" being bandied about by some people, first uttered by my sisters friend David Cassidy, but had no idea that a variation of it would become my name. I also had no idea what this "School" thing was, but I didn't like the sound of it at all. Any place where you had to be something other than your true self couldn't be good.
"Guess we'd better get you a new stocking", said my father.
"By The Way, Your Middle Name Is Stanley. That Way, If You Ever Want To Work In Show Biz, You Can Just Call Yourself Stan".
I skipped off in my pink footsy pajamas, note held tight in my chocolatey hands, shouting "DONAVAN!" at the top of my lungs, with baby the terrier chasing me through the great white halls of Castle Freberg.
Should I mention that my mothers name and my sisters name, is DONNA?
For most people, when you say "Nine-Eleven" or "Nine-One-One", one of two things come to mind.
The horrible tragedy of 2001.
The number to call when you need help.
These things come to my mind also, but another thing immediately leaps to the front of my brain when I see two ones preceded by a nine...
My former address.
The house I grew up in.
The stage from which this play on words actually transpired.
The house that haunts my dreams.
911 North Beverly Drive.
A stones throw from the Beverly Hills Hotel.
A block shared by Ozzy Osbourne and Pat Boone.
Four houses north of Sunset, on the left.
This house was no ordinary house, it was unforgettable.
A few facts about Stan Simeon:
1. Built in 1926.
2. Spanish Style.
5. Olympic Size Swimming Pool With Angel Statues In Middle.
6. Hollow Walls That You Could Crawl Through, Revealing Secret Passageways.
8. Rose Garden With Bird Bath.
9. Basement That Was Three Times The Size Of The Apartment I Currently Live In.
11. Living Room Had Twenty Foot Ceiling, Perfect For Year Round Rockafeller Center Sized Tree.
12. Den had fake bookshelf that revealed another room.
13. Two Pianos With Real Ivory Keys (poor elephants).
14. Scary Clown Paintings (think Gacy).
15. A Plethora Of Shag Carpet (do you feel horny baby?).
16. Wooden Front Door Was Four Inches Thick & Looked Like The Entrance To Bilbo Baggins House.
17. Never Locked.
18. Mid Century Modernism Meets Charles & Rae Meets 1970's Psychadelia Meets 1870's Antiques Meets Warholian Wonder Meets Kubrickian Future Meets Its Match.
Ready to dive in to the olympic sized pool of my memory and float upstream through the disjointed gray matter halls of my bittersweet brain?
The house was an exact duplicate of a house in Barcelona, Spain. The architectual mistakes were intentionally left in. Before my dad bought it, it was owned by the president of Coca-Cola. Before that, it was owned by the man who wrote the screenplay to a movie called, "The Wizard Of Oz". He died in the house, tripping over his dog (toto) and breaking his neck on the front steps (see #10).
At the entrance to every room was a small white button. Pressing it would ring the kitchen and the maids quarters. A voice would come over the intercom. "Yes?. Ask and ye shall receive. When my parents lost much of their fortune, the buttons still worked, only an eerie silence would replace the help. Hello? Anyone there? I still have nightmares.
My sister had a dollhouse you could walk into and serve tea, though by the time I was old enough to enjoy it, my sister was a teenager and it was long abandoned and looked like something out of a Stephen King novel. Think life size dolls and black widow spiders. Spooky-oooky!
We had a room that had one purpose only. Wrapping gifts. It was aptly called, "the wrapping room". It was filled with gift wrap for every occasion and had boxes of all shapes and sizes. Tape, scissors, bows, ribbons, cards. Presents were not just for birthdays or special occasions, they were a part of daily life. Everyday was Christmas at Casa Freberg, hence the ever-present 15 foot douglas fir, branches sagging with red and green glass balls the size of grapefruits. There were ALWAYS presents underneath, all year round. Presents would also be found in the "Magic Closet". More on this later, I promise.
Some rooms became so filled with piles of junk, my mother would lock them from the outside and throw away the key. As a teenager, i would pick these locks, finding several 350 square foot time capsules.
My mother, in lieu of cleaning the refrigerator, would padlock it full of food and have it thrown it in the garage. The garage was bigger than most New York dwellings. Several restaurant sized refrigerators and freezers were to be graveyarded there, with enough penicillin inside to cure the entire west coast of the ebola virus.
Growing up, my father had a right and left hand man on staff whose sole purpose was to iron shirts. I called him, "Jimmy The Shirt Man". His phone extension read, "house boy". The phone system was one of those old rotary jobs, multi-lines. BIG red hold button. Next to every phone in the house was a Hiltonesque list of names and extensions.
CHAEUFFERS QUARTERS (10)
BASEMENT (SOUTH) (8)
BASEMENT (NORTH) (9)
DONNA SR. (3)
DONNA JR. (4)
SPARE BEDROOM 1 (13)
SPARE BEDROOM 2 (14)
SPARE BEDROOM 3 (15)
BABY'S ROOM (5)
LAUNDRY ROOM (17)
LIVING ROOM (6)
SITTING ROOM (10)
WRAPPING ROOM (11)
BREAKFAST ROOM (1)
DINING ROOM (2)
POWDER ROOM (16)
STAN'S OFFICE (20)
Where were eighteen and nineteen?
When you buzzed INTERCOM, #, 18, you heard the corresponding buzz.
Ditto for INTERCOM, #, 19.
We'll never know.
Anyhow, back to bed.
Next to a fresh pot of coffee ready at all times, having an available bed nearby was of paramount importance.
Daytime was for sleeping.
Naps were holy.
My parents bed was so big, that it would sleep four people easily. It was custom made for them, out of two California king mattresses sewn together. The sheets were silk and the pillowcases had giant F's monogrammed on them. There was a small green velvet daybed at the end, where Baby the terrier slept. They had a mirror in the bedroom the size of my car and a mammoth golden chandelier that hung on the wall next to a giant potted palm. It shone as bright as a thousand candles and would sway and tinkle during earthquakes. The fifteen foot ceiling was painted with clouds and angels.
This Goliath bed (also known as my mothers office) was so filled with magazines and books and clippings and papers, that when the maid cleaned it once monthly, she filled fourteen extra large garbage bags. These hernia inducing sacks of dust mite ridden paper and collected doo-dad and mom were delivered to one of endless empty rooms, where they would remain untouched for decades. Remember the time capsule thing I mentioned? Yeah. Some rooms were so stuffed full of pack ratted junk, it became impossible to open the door anymore, and someone would have to climb in the window with a ladder to get in. I did just that at the age of 16 and found a fruitcake that said, HAPPY NEW YEAR 1973!!!, an expired bottle of Empirin-Codeine, a harmonica, dozens of half drunk cans of Tab, the talcum powdery bones of a dead mouse crushed between two old Playboys and several newspapers from when John F. Kennedy was still in office.
My mother had a coffee maker and refrigerator in her bedroom. Coffee was the #1 priority at all times.
Come to think of it, there was a drip coffee maker and little refrigerator in every bedroom.
Filled with Chocolate and Ice-Cold Coca-Cola.
Guess that explains my love of hotels.
I grew up in one.
There was also TV in nearly every room, full volume, 24/7. Always on. Always.
I didn't know that TV's could be turned off until well past my tenth birthday.
I went to sleep every single night to the sound of "This is the NBC network, signing off. Goodnight America."...then the star spangled banner...then...snow. White noise puts me out like a light to this very day. I would awaken to the sound of Sesame Street or Captain Kangaroo, the smell of cigarettes and black coffee. I began drinking it at six, when my mother would give me sugar cubes soaked in her favorite antidote to morning.
My mother had a two giant rooms, one just for clothing and one for shoes.
The shoe room had french windows, and on the side of each box of shoes was words that described the contents in terms of what they would be appropriate for:
My father had a "dressing room", which gave a whole new meaning to the word "walk-in" closet. It had more shoehorns than I have shoes and smelled like a combination of Aramis and mothballs.
My shower had seven shower heads and a window seat overlooking a grove of orange trees.
There was a "powder room" near to the entrance which smelled just like it sounds and had a full blown studio style mirrored make-up table with lights and drawers and brushes and blushes and a small adjacent desk adorned with a telephone. Taped to the phone was a list of cab and limo services written in lip liner. First you make up, then you go out!
My father typed in the living room, often after midnight. Because I liked the clackety-clack sound of the keys (my father always used a manual typewriter), i would frequently sleep on the L- shaped rust colored crushed velvet couch and awaken at 2am to Frances carrying me to my crib. Under her breath, I would hear her singing "rock a bye baby". Her breath smelled like bacon.
My father did not have an address book, instead he had an entire wall that had hundreds of numbers written on it in magic marker. On it was a wondefully eclectic, dizzying array of telephonic possibilities and emergency contacts...
JACOPO'S PIZZA, TOP HAT LIMO SERVICE, STAN"S AGENT, STAN'S ATTORNEY, STAN'S BABBER, RAY BRADBURY, FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA, DRY CLEANERS, ROSEMARY CLOONEY, STATIONARY SUPPLIES, BH LIBRARY, LOCKSMITH, CHINESE FOOD, 24 HR. NEWS STAND, 24 HR. PHARMACY, 24 HR. GROCERY STORE, PHONE REPAIR, TV REPAIR, PROJECTOR REPAIR, VACUUM CLEANER REPAIR, FRANK ZAPPA, POOL MAN, BH CAMERA STORE, DOUBLEDAY BOOKS, 20TH CENTURY FOX, BANK, POISON CONTROL CENTER, LIGHT BULB STORE, GAS COMPANY, GEORGE LUCAS, RECORDING STUDIO, UNCLE BILL, BBDO NY, Y&R CHICAGO, OGILVY & MATHER LA, EXTERMINATOR (See #7), JURGENSONS MARKET, BABY'S VETERINARIAN, BABY'S PEDIATRICIAN, TYPEWRITER REPAIR, DONNA JR'S DOCTOR, DONNA SR'S DOCTOR, STAN'S DOCTOR, FRANCES'S DOCTOR, THROAT DOCTOR, HAND DOCTOR, FOOT DOCTOR, DOCTOR T, DOCTOR L, DOCTOR H, DOCTOR X, DOCTOR Y, DOCTOR Z, DOCTORDOCTORDOCTOR, JAGUAR DEALER, HARDWARE STORE, DONNA SR'S MANICURIST, STAN'S MANICURIST, DIRECTORS GUILD, LA SCALA BEVERLY HILLS, MUSSO & FRANKS, TOWER RECORDS, CAPITOL RECORDS, CARLS MARKET, CARPET CLEANERS, MAYOR TOM BRADLEY (HOME).Who needs a filofax when you've got a giant stucco canvas?
I was allowed to draw on the walls.
One day, as I sat Indian style on the floor of my playroom, my not yet five year old eyes traveled from the small coloring book in front of me to the four large stucco canvases boxing me in.
Always thinking outside the rectangle, I stood up and put my periwinkle Crayola to the eggshell wall.
An hour or so later, the dinosaurs, birds, trees, ocean, cats, boats, clouds, ghosts and various other creatures that lived behind my eyes had leapt from brain to fingers to all of the walls of my room.
My father was the first to arrive at my art opening.
“Son, what have you done?” he said, more amazed than enraged.
“I made a picture!”…I said, innocently.
“Hold on a minute”, he said. Then he went to fetch my mother. Whenever my dad was in a disciplinary conundrum, my mother had to be brought in as an expert witness.
My mother arrived, pink foam curlers and all. She looked at the walls for a few seconds, took a puff of her Kent and said…
“Well, well, well! Look at all these wonderful drawings!”
My mother did not miss a beat. She instantly knew that she was playing with my creative blocks. I could see it in her blue eyes that she was well aware that this was the moment that I might look back on in therapy and say, “I could have been an artist, but my mother squashed my dreams with a bottle of Windex!”
She winked at me.
I went back to coloring in my Jack-O-Lantern.
Behind me, I heard my father whisper to my mother. “What should we do?”
“We should get him a bigger box of crayons”, said my mother softly.They turned around, closed the door to my bedroom and opened the door of my mind forever.
My parents gave me a gift every morning.
They called it a "morning toy".
They said it was a present for waking up.
Every day, without fail, for most all of my formative years (0-29), my father would present me with a small token of he and my mothers affections. At first, he just gave me the toy, saying "Happy Morning Toy Son Of Mine!" or "Here's Your Morning Toy, My Boy!".
After a while, he added the surprise element of hiding the toys in one of the upstairs closets. Sometimes it was in the towel closet, sometimes the pillow closet, sometimes the linen closet...
But sometimes, sometimes, it was in the most wonderful closet of all.
The fur closet.
My mothers fur closet.
Fur safe, to be more descriptive, for when you opened the closet door, it revealed a six foot by three foot vault.
Green iron door, never locked, pull it open and you would find a CS Lewis like wardrobian wilderness of wonder.
And fur. Enough fur to put the Freberg's on the PETA watch list.
Minks, stoles, rabbit, and beavers.
Which brings me to my next point of interest.
My favorite thing about the fur closet was reaching my hand through the soft coats to find my just rewards which would be stashed at the back.
Fresh from the wrapping room.
Part the soft perfumed fur, and extract the delights found deep inside.
PAGING DR. FREUD!
Dr. Freud, please report to the inside of Donavan's mind on the double.
Furs aside, my fun began.
It might be something as simple as Legos or as complex as a remote controlled robot that played eight-tracks and lit up in the dark. Illuminating on command was a most important feature for the baby's robot to have because most of his playing was done at night.
Perhaps now is as good a time as any to discuss the reason why I have bags under my eyes the size of Louis Vuitton steamer trunks in the picture of me at the top left of this page.
I cannot ever remember, from the age of 1-6, ever going to bed before midnight.
My parents were night people, so it would follow suit that I would be too.
If I wasn't playing Asteroids with Blondie in the recording studio lounge, or in bed with mom watching Starsky & Hutch while eating Cap'n Crunch and half and half, or swimming with my sister in Shaun Cassidy's pool, I was with my best friend.
My father picked me up when I was born and did not put me down until I was thirty.
We had endless adventures together.
My father would take me to the park and swing me in the darkness. His double D-Cell flashlight was loaded with Evereadys and he would shine it onto my tiny Adidas as they punched skyward through the cool night air.
"Kick your legs, son of mine!", he would yell, en-Courage-ing me to shoot for the moon.
If we weren't swinging at the park at 11, we were perusing the magazines at the Hollywood news-stand on the Sunset Strip at Nine Forty Five, or picking up some glazed donuts at the 24-Hour Toluca Mart.
Or, on special nights, we'd be feeding the ponys at the corner of Beverly & La Cienega, as they slept in their stalls.
We'd bring them carrots and sugar cubes just after 10.
My father would take me out as soon as it got dark and we'd explore the night together for hours.
Then, he'd bring me home and put me in bed with my mother while he went away to type.
For years, when people asked me what my father did for a living, I simply said...
Sometimes I'd sneak away and sit beneath his Eames desk, playing with my morning toy and listening to the clackety-clack-clack sound that his brain made.
Other times, I'd fall asleep in my mothers double king, the familar sound of TV snow lulling me into somnolence.
Through my sleepy ears, I'd hear my mom buzz Frances on the intercom.
"Come get the Baby".
"Right away, Mrs. F".
Then the big black arms of my angel in white polyester, then my room with the stucco walls that I was allowed to draw on, then the soft safety net of my orange crib.
Frances would tuck me in, turn out the light and turn on the TV.
The pink noise white snow would play, and I'd be in la-LA land.
Heaven at nine eleven.
Soon, all this would be over.
Soon, a hell like no other would steal me away into it's fiery nightmare of soul sucking torture.
Soon...it would be time start kindergarten.
What a year...
My first purse.
I bought it at Saks Fifth Avenue. Or I should say, my mother bought it for me. I was to be starting school, and having skipped pre-school and kindergarten, she figured that I should arrive in style. With the help of the cute salesgirl, we picked out a classic white leather clutch with a removable gold strap. “What a pretty daughter you have”, said the girl handing my mother back her Amex card. “Thank You!” responded my mom with a wink aimed at me. I slung my new purse over my shoulder and we took the escalator up to the boys department where my mother bought me a new pair of corduroys and a couple of turtlenecks. Our tummies were grumbling so we scurried off to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for a little blood sugar raising. After our BLT’s and Cokes over chipped ice, we set out to our final destination.
The hair salon.
My mother was plagued by a list of phobias that would baffle the world’s best psychoanalysts, one of which was a mortal fear of haircuts. She was barber to both my father and me, but on this day she left my white goldilocks in the hands of Jose Eber, stylist to the stars. The moment I saw him, I knew why she had chosen him and not Christophe or Umberto or Vidal or some other such wizard of the scissors. Jose’s hair was down to his ass. He wore a white cowboy hat and black leather pants as tight as a Vienna sausage casing. He had a lit pink cigarette that hung from his mouth like a lollipop and bounced up and down like a pogo stick as he went to work on my new doo. As he clipped and shaped and mussed and fussed, my mother stood right behind him, saying over and over, “Not too short!” When he had finished, it looked like I hadn’t had a haircut at all. My mother approved. I got a red gumball and mom forked over three crisp fifties. “Keep the change!” Jose kissed her on the lips and mother and son went home in the big yellow taxi that had been our limo of the day.
Next to crew cuts, dogs over five pounds and chunky peanut butter, my mother most feared driving. She took taxis everywhere and on the rare occasions that she would let my father drive her, she sat in the back so that she would be “further away from accident”.
Even if they were the only two in the car.
“I’m not getting in the death seat”, she would say, climbing into the rear and buckling up for impact. Then she would force my father to avoid left turns, gas stations and all major freeways. Ditto for buses, alleys, garbage trucks, bikes and motorcycles. Unless we were driving through a bad neighborhood, she would always say, “Keep the doors UN-locked! It’ll be easier for the rescue crews to pull us out when the car catches on fire”
My mother was a professional pre-supposer, always expecting the worst possible case scenario in any given situation. True, my mother could turn every head in the room with her graceful elegance, but she could also turn calm to crisis faster than a tornado could spin a windmill.
But I digress.
Back to my hair.
When we got home, we put on a fashion show for my father. With my new handbag and virtually unnoticeable haircut and forest green cords with plenty of pockets for my Asper-Gum, I was ready for the biggest step yet in my life.
“We don’t want you to go, but the government is forcing us. They’ll throw us in jail and hand you over to the truant officer if we don’t send you. Then you’ll have to live in Juvee Hall”, said my dad ominously.
Call me crazy, but this didn’t sound too good.
And I was right.
The next morning, I awoke at the crack of dawn.
My father said, “For God’s sake, look at the time!”
“It’s OK, lets not rush him”, said my mother. “This is going to be hard on him, we should ease him into it”.
“But his first period started over an hour ago”, said my father, looking nervously at his Rolex.
“Actually, his first period started two weeks ago. Besides, they’re lucky he’s coming at all, the bastards”.
“I’ll get the car started”, said my dad.
“Are you kidding? I’M taking him, I’ve already called for the Taxi”.
My father gave me a hug and handed me the smooth peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich that he had made for me. He was still in his signature red, white and black. White cotton PJ’s, red silk bathrobe and black velvet slippers with bitsy gold crowns on the top. My mother was dressed like she was going to the Academy Awards. She had two looks…Soup Kitchen and Vogue magazine. It was tattered slippers or spotless high heels all the way. Bread line or Barneys. Sneakers and jeans were simply not in my mother’s vocabulary.
Today was of course, a red carpet day.
I put my brown paper bag into my white leather purse and mother and I hit the road.
Twenty right hand turns and fifteen cigarettes later, we pulled up at the school, which was roughly a mile and a half from our house.
My mother handed the driver a freshly minted Ben Franklin.
“For how long?” he asked, in a heavy Pakistani accent.
“As long as it takes”, she said. “Could be half and hour, could be all day, I don’t know yet. When I get back, I’ll give you some more money”
He turned off the motor and got out his copy of the Bhagavad Gita.
We walked up to the entrance, and as we did I could see a window to a room full of other small beings just like me.
Before this point, I had spent no time whatsoever with other children.
My playmates were mom, dad, the various maids and house servants, my teenage sister and a handful of her celebrity friends. Oh, and some politicians, internationally famous science fiction authors, academy award winning directors, legendary musicians, supermodels, the recording engineer that mixed the Beatles White Album. Plus a handful of doctors and pharmacists.
You know, the typical friends a little kid might have.
Oh yeah, I had lots of pals. Just no one under five feet tall, save for the time that I had met Billy Barty in the Twentieth Century Fox commissary.
We arrived at the school gate. Mom stubbed out her Kent King size, muttering under her breath.
“God Damn It All To Hell, Sons Of Bitches. Government Red Tape Crap!”
We walked through the hallway, my mothers heels clicking like morse code on the shiny linoleum.
There was a foreign odor, a dizzying combination of sweat, disinfectant and old books. I wanted to go home immediately, and felt a rising combination of thrilled fear and irritable bowels.
My mother knocked on the green door marked ‘first grade’, and a sweet looking older woman with blonde hair came to the door. She was wearing a powder blue pantsuit and had big gold earrings in the shape of butterflies.
“You must be Mrs. Freberg, we were expecting you. And we were expecting you too”, she said, looking at me with kind eyes. “I’m Mrs. Wheelis”. I shook her liver spotted hand, noticing her chalk-kissed fingers.
I wondered what she meant by “we”, and looked past her to see a gaggle of first graders sitting at small wooden desks. Some of them seemed to be drawing, but most were staring at the two space aliens in the hallway.
“Where is the bathroom”, I asked, as the beginnings of a long relationship with a spastic colon were having a field day in my lower tummy.
“Right behind you, dear”.
I turned to see the source of the disinfectant smell.
“Hold my purse”, I said to my mom.
Mrs. Wheelis raised her painted on eyebrows.
I left my mother to chat with my new teacher and walked into the toilets.
As I creaked open the heavy black door, the Clorox curtain lifted and quickly gave way to odors I hadn’t smelled since my one trip to the lavatory at the LA train station.
The first thing that I noticed was that there wasn’t any doors on the stalls.
And I had to do a number two and a half.
Oh, joy of joys!
I took down my bell bottomed green cords and sat on the butt chilling black and white toilet.
Just as I did, a couple of horrible looking creatures came in and started throwing wet paper towels at each other.
“Eeeww! Somebodys making a stinky”, said the kid with the Chicklet front teeth.
“Yeah. Pee-Ewwww!”, said the other corpulent freckle, holding his nose.
Fear gripped me in a way that I hadn’t felt since booster shots.
It reached its death hand into me and gripped my guts like fresh playdough.
I felt like I was going to throw up my Eggo’s.
As the boys continued to hee and haw at me, my mother slowly entered the bathroom and stealthily crept up behind them like an alley cat in the shadows.
The tall boys guttural laughing gave way to a high pitched scream as my mother grabbed him by the back of the neck with her long red nails and swung him around like a wet noodle.
“Knock it off!” she said, in a voice that commanded instant terror.
They ran out of the bathroom faster than my heart was beating.
“Finish up and meet me outside”, she said.
I wiped with the ass destroying sandpaper toilet tissue and washed with the dry pink soap that could exfoliate an elephant. Then I splashed the icy tap water onto my volcanic face and went to take my wooden seat amongst my peers.
Oh, the tears.
Oh, the fears.
Oh, only twelve more years.
I spent most of my first week of school on the teacher’s lap, which felt not unlike a feather bed tightly wrapped in wash and wear polyester. When I finally ventured out onto the playground, I quickly learned that people my own age did not necessarily share my interests. While I wanted to talk about the atrocities of Vietnam, the superiority of European cinema and the functionality of design that was deeply inherent in the creations of Charles & Ray Eames, my fellow six year olds were mostly interested in seeing whether Country Time Lemonade or Skittles held the throne of producing enough phlegm to hawk the worlds biggest loogie.
It seemed that I was wearing a shirt that read “please feel free to poke me with the nearest sharp stick”. I was not much for sports or roughhousing, but could definitely see the merits of puffy stickers and glitter, so after playing with the boys for about twenty minutes, I moved on to girls.
I haven’t looked back since.
In between having my hair brushed and playing tea party, I would stand and stare lovingly at the cotton panties of the budding female gymnasts hanging upside down on the monkey bars. After my daily lesson in female anatomy, I would walk to the fence that barred me from the freedom of the outside world.
On the other side of it was, of course, my mother.
She had set up camp with a carpetbag containing a seemingly endless supply of cigarettes, enough fashion magazines to fill the pyramids of Giza, a gallon thermos of black coffee and a family sized box of Ritz crackers.
I reached my tiny fingers through the chain links and she met them with her perfectly manicured hands.
“Your father and I are doing everything we can to get you out of there”
Prison’s a bitch when you’re twelve years shy of your eighteenth birthday.
After a week or so of my mothers sit in, the teachers began to complain.
“Mrs. Freberg, you can’t just sit out there day after day, it’s beginning to disturb the other children”
“I’ll leave when I’m damn good and ready”
The principal was called in.
“Donavan will be fine, Mrs. Freberg. You have my word. If he should need you, we will call you immediately”
“Alright. I’ll leave, but if for any reason he wants to come home…”
“Don’t worry, yes, of course…”
“May I have a moment to say goodbye to my son?”
My eyes welled with tears.
My mother thought for a moment, then she smiled her one hundred watt smile right into the pitch-black corners of my heart.
“I’ll be back before you know it”
I assumed that she meant the end of the school day.
A half hour later, the yellow taxi rolled up.
My teachers met her at the gate.
“I thought we discussed this!”
“Yes, yes, don’t worry, I’m not staying. I got home and realized that he had forgotten his lunch”
This made sense to the teacher, but not to me. My tuna fish sandwich and apple juice were in my bag, still cold. Something clandestine was afoot.
“Please give this to my son”, said my mother.
The teacher nodded approvingly and my mother waved at me and yelled in a loud voice, “I’m going HOME now honey, see you LATER dear”
My teacher handed me my lunch box.
It felt unusually heavy.
As soon as I was free of prying adult eyes, I opened it.
The bastards haven’t had the last word. Enclosed you will find a police whistle and a pair of binoculars. Point them towards Lexington Avenue. If you need me, blow that whistle. It can be heard for up to one mile. I will come immediately and wait in front with the motor running. Run for it, jump in and we’ll be gone before anyone notices.
Stay strong and question everything.
I put the spyglasses to my eyes and focused them on the parking lot down the block. Enshrouded in a blanket of eucalyptus trees was the cab that had been in front of the school for the last 72 hours. My mother was standing in front of it blowing me a kiss. I put the whistle around my turtleneck and waved back. She gave me the thumbs up and got back in the cab.
“What are you doing?” asked the teacher behind me.
“Birdwatching!” I said, innocently.
“And what kind of birds were you watching?”, she asked.
“Sparrows and Blue Jays mostly, though I’m on the lookout for native tanagers and wintering warblers!”
Thank God for PBS.
The teacher smiled.
“Well, be sure to share with the other children”.
After nearly a week in school, I had finally learned my first lesson:
When in doubt, make stuff up.
Eventually my mother left me to fend for myself.
But she left her heart in my lunchbox.
A passionate curator, my dad was obsessed with many things, one of which was flashlights.
He had all different kinds in his arsenal…small ones, big ones, pocket models and heavy-duty police style numbers that pierced through the night like a chunk of the noonday sun.
On our nightly expeditions to the Clarke mansion, he always brought the biggest and brightest flashlight he had. It consisted of a giant twelve-volt battery attached to a silver parabolic dish, topped with a cherry red toggle switch. It looked like a brick attached to a klieg light. I had a tiny pocket model, with my favorite Super-Shero emblazoned on the side. It was not much brighter than a kitchen match, but still served as a talisman against the spooky specters of the darkness.
We would walk into the giant house, flashlights blazing, or twinkling in my case. My dad would have a large rucksack with him to collect the spoils. We would fill the bag with all kinds of stuff ranging from broken Spanish tiles to art deco light fixtures. Sometimes we would even lug back paintings or rugs or the old family photos of a family we never knew. Mrs. Clarke had died and left behind decades worth of memories, which we were now stealing.
When father and son got home, we would empty the contents of our outing onto the dining room table. Sometimes, on a particularly lucky night, the table would be covered from end to end with priceless junk and mementos of times gone by. Considering that our dining room table easily sat fourteen people, the amount of stuff was considerable. The family maid, Frances, would walk in eating her signature bowl of ice cream in her nightgown and say, “That boy needs his sleep, not another middle of the night!”
Out of the mouths of maids.
But another middle of the night I would have, and another, and another.
On one particular middle of the night, some weeks later, a couple of my sister’s friends decided to tag along with father and son.
The cast of characters:
Sis had told them about the treasure trove next door and they asked my father and I for a tour.
“Sure”, my father said, who gave permission like candy to anyone within earshot.
Four boys. Four flashlights. Big trouble.
As we pirated the place for the nightly booty, a fifth flashlight suddenly came on the scene. It was pointed directly at my fathers face and from the other end of it came the gruff sound of a man’s voice.
“Hold it right there buddy, this is the Beverly Hills Police! Get your hands where I can see them”.
“I can’t raise my arms”, said my dad, sheepishly.
“Because I have a baby in them”
The officer’s spotlight traveled from my dad’s wild mane of curly hair down his black cashmere arm to my red rain booties. Then up to my little blue windbreaker and my drooping eyelids.
Then it shone to my Wonder Woman flashlight.
Gavin was holding the antique laden satchel.
David, a classical guitarist, wore black leather gloves to protect his hands from rusty nails and broken glass. He had long stringy hair and wore earth shoes and a black turtleneck. He looked like a cross between a hippy and second story man.
We all had on woolen watch caps.
Three burglars and a baby.
“Just what in the hell is going on here?” said the constable on patrol. He spoke into his walkie-talkie, “Yeah, twenty three to HQ, we got a situation over at the Clarke mansion, over…”
“Ahem…I can explain officer…see…I’m Stan Freberg, the entertainer. I live right next door. My boy and I come here every night to play on the swing in the dark. And…well…”
I have no idea what my father went on to say, but somehow, miraculously, the police let us go home. Put a spotlight on my dad, and he always gets a standing ovation.
That was the end of our nightly trips to Mrs. Clarke’s.
Shortly thereafter, the house was torn completely down. All that was left was the rubble of one of the oldest residences in 90210.
And the centuries old weeping willow.
When the bulldozers threatened that giving tree, my father threw on his Burberry trench, hurdled the fence like a gazelle and stood between the belching yellow-steeled monsters and the quiet willow. He went John Muir on their ass, telling the demolitionists that he had twenty pounds of dynamite strapped to his body and that if they came anywhere near that willow, he would blow them all sky high. His bluff worked. He had bought the tree another day.
The workers took off running and my dad came and got me for one last father and son swing on our tired old friend.
That is how old my mother would be, were she still in her body.
Without her, I feel like a sunflower in the shade.
It may have been my father that taught me how to use my right brain but it was my mother who taught me to use my right mind. She helped me to see the world through the lens of compassion. It was my mother who taught me how to love.
I thank my father for giving me the skills to make a good living, but I am forever indebted to my mother for gifting me with the skills to live.
So today, as I sit at the keyboard and try to think of a story to do my mother justice, one in particular comes to mind.
When I was about thirteen or so, I was on a cartoon show called “The Littles”
In addition to voicing the part of a rat like creature that lived in the wall of a young boys room and making double the salary of much of my later life, I was most often dividing my time between perfecting my dungeon master abilities, surfing the chat-rooms of CompuServe and discovering girls.
It was also during these magical years that I had the good fortune of spending a great deal of time with my dear mother.
After a long day in the recording studio, my stage mother took me to lunch.
Two cheeseburgers, two Cokes, two pieces of cherry pie a la mode.
One perfect afternoon.
After the world’s best lunch with the world’s best mother, we got up to leave.
As we approached the exit, my mother handed me some money and said, “go and leave this on the table”
While my mother ran outside to call a taxi and cop a smoke, I skipped back to the booth to leave the tip that she had just handed me.
My mother was always a generous tipper but I assumed that this was a mistake, surely.
I ran back to my mother, big bill in hand.
“Mom! You handed me a fifty, but the check was only eighteen dollars”
“Didn’t you mean it to be a five?”
“You meant to hand me fifty? But…”
“But nothing, go back to the table and leave the money”
I did as I was told.
On the ride home, my mother explained why she had left our server so much money.
“Her shoes were coming apart”
“So, a waitress needs two things. Good cheer and good shoes. Never forget to look up in life, but also, never forget to look down”
I was stunned, not by my mothers good tip, but by the fact that she had noticed such a minute detail. The thing is, it wasn’t a minute detail to the waitress. It was a big deal. That waitress did need new shoes, and my mother had just given her the means to get them.
She had also given her something else.
And that is something that no amount of fifties can buy.
My mother was kinder than she was nervous, and for those that knew her, that is one hell of a lot kindness.
I carry my mother’s kindness today, like a magical cloak protecting me from life’s sharp edges.
And I do my daily best to pass it on to all those who look like they are falling apart, be it shoe or soul.
Happy mothers day, mom.
Thanks for leaving me with eyes that look in all directions.
And a tip that will last a lifetime.
My father was not a morning person, my mother didn't drive and the thought of Donavan on a school bus is like a seeing eye dog in a Chinese restaurant so my parents decided the best solution was to dial the Beverly Hills cab company.
Every day, at exactly 8:15am, an Indian man sat with the motor running in the driveway.
I was still asleep.
The man's name was "Dash", an appropriate name for him since that is what he did with me daily in a futile attempt to get me to school on time.
My parents would come into my room right around the time my first period was starting.
I never liked math anyway.
I would awaken from the foggy grog of sleep to the soft sound of coffee being poured from a sterling silver thermos into a large pink mug emblazoned with the green flagged crest of The Beverly Hills Hotel.
My mothers manicured hand would cradle the back of my neck and the cup of black tar would be brought daintily to my lips.
"Thatta boy, time for school"
Have I mentioned that I was old enough to drive?
My father would say, "Why does he have such a hard time with mornings?"
"Oh for Christ Sakes Stan, you kept him up his whole childhood and now you wonder why he's not a lark?", said my mother, puffing away at her twelfth cigarette of the day. "Besides, he watches Letterman every night, let him enjoy his freedom, god knows the world loves a cage"
I began to whimper.
"It's OK kid, you're almost done with this damn school thing, just a couple more years and you're free", says my curlered mother.
My father paces the room in his red robe and velvet slippers..."Stupid system, trying to force a round peg into a square hole...bullshit I tell you, Bullshit!"
"Here now, we've gotta play the game"
I down my cup and jump into the shower, a grand shower...
Seven high pressure heads.
Tile seat underneath a window that overlooked the fragrant orange trees.
An hour later, skin like a pitted prune, I get out and dress in my signature all black.
I was goth before it was chic. Or maybe I was just mourning the thought of another day of geometry and gym...
A muffin and a travel mug later, I am getting into the cab which has been waiting for me for since the early morning.
Like I had done every early morning for the last five years.
Dash, my old friend, my daily driver, has been given explicit instructions (and a healthy retainer) by my mother.
Always the same routine.
8:15am- ARRIVE AT HOUSE
9:30am-10:15am (Give or Take)- DRIVE BOY TO SCHOOL
10:30am-3:15pm- WAIT AT CURB
I did not like school any more than I like swallowing tacks, so I was allowed to leave at will and Dash was my cabbie in waiting.
I was given two notes...
To Whom It May Concern,
Donavan will be late.
For the rest of the year.
Mr. & Mrs. Freberg
To Whom It May Concern,
Donavan Is Unwell.
He may decide to leave.
Mr. & Mrs. Freberg
The first one was kept in the principals office and the other was always in my wallet, at the ready at the first sign of sniffle or stomach ache.
Which happened often.
One time, I felt a diarrhea attack impending from my ever nervous cast-glass stomach.
I was scheduled to be in P.E.
"Be" in P.E. is the best way of wording it because I spent my physical education reading Stephen King novels on the bench.
I forgot about the third note.
To Whom It May Concern,
Donavan does not do P.E.
He has a hernia.
Mr. & Mrs. Freberg
Had a hernia should have been more like it. As in, when I was ten. It had long since healed, but my mother took it as a sign that I was forever thereafter one calisthenic away from a lifetime in a wheelchair, so I got out of any and all strenuous activity.
Anyway, back to my impending diarrhea.
Dash could see me walking out the exit and had the door open for me and the motor running.
As I got closer to the cab, my stomach begginning to settle, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
It was my P.E. teacher. A dispraportianately muscular man with a comb over and a spare tire.
"I'm sick of your spoiled ways young man, you are coming to class"
Dash stepped forward, his eyes glowing red beneath his teal turban.
"The boy is with me"
"Who are you?" asked the professor of sit-ups.
"I am Dash"
"Well, I don't give a damn who you are, he's due in gym"
"He does not. He is with me now"
The P.E. teacher flexed, testosterone flowing like milk from a motherfucker.
Dash opened the trunk of his cab and pulled out a sword.
"I am a master of Gatka. Stand down"
Mr. Muscle/Spare Tire did a 180.
I got in the cab.
"Wow! Dash, I didn't know that you knew martial arts"
On the way home, we stopped for an orange freeze and a patty melt at the "Fountain Coffee Room" in the palm frond wallpapered, hidden recesses of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
As we sat on the flamingo pink seats sipping our cool shakes, Dash regaled me with stories of hot summers on the Ganges and how he would lay on his back and dream of elephants that were gods.
Every boy should have his Dash.
Mine lives just inside the gates of my memory palace, sharp sword and sweet story at the ready.