BITS and PIECES # 37

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October 22, 2013 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 37

Hello again from Luquillo,

Parents, grandparents and kids of all ages, please take note! The Day It Rained Frogs In The Forest, my long delayed children’s picture book is now available at Amazon.com — for a mere $10.40 plus postage, a nice, inexpensive holiday bargain…

This 8.5 x 8.5 inch format, 36 page book, has gorgeous, full-color illustrations facing each page of the story. It is perfect for reading to youngsters. As they have fun listening to the zany adventures of two rainforest tree frog ‘brothers’, Kiko and Koko, they will also be exposed to some basic (non-controversial) fun-facts about the fascinating habits and habitat of tropical rainforest ‘criitters’…

As has been my practice with previous tropical rainforest themed books, I derive no profit from the sales of ‘The Day It Rained Frogs In The Forest’ – , any royalties accrued by sales of this book at Eastern National bookstores in National Forests and National Parks, will go to the El Yunque National Forest’s general fund, to support trail maintenance and similar projects that help visitors enjoy their tropical adventure in safety…

Royalties accrued from sales of the book through Amazon.com will accumulate in a separate fund which will help cover tuition and other expenses incurred by the book’s amazing teenage illustrator, Omar Sebastian Gutierrez as he begins his freshman year of studies at a prestigious art school in Georgia next fall — both are extremely worthwhile causes, as I expect you will agree…

To order a copy (or two), please click on this link (I apologize for its extreme length): http://www.amazon.com/s/ ancerank&search-alias=books&ie=UTF8&field-author=Alan%20Mowbray%20Jr.  

Now that you’ve done that (or even if you haven’t), I entreat you to sit back and digest the following story — its yet another narrative gleaned from memories of my misspent youth in Beverly Hills — I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did while re-living the events as I wrote them down…

BEVERLY HILLS BICYCLE DRAMA

In 1946, at age 11, I was in the fifth grade at Beverly Hills Catholic School. That spring, in a sudden spurt of hoped-for family athletic togetherness, my father purchased bicycles for us all at Hans Ohrt’s bicycle shop near Martindale’s book store on ‘little’ Santa Monica Boulevard. As I recall, dad used his bike a few times (usually, just before a film role, when he became over-conscious of his waistline). Mom would have none of it — a ‘much too dangerous endeavor’ she declared sternly — her bike remained in its cellophane wrappings until dad finally capitulated and returned it to Mr. Ohrt’s shop. My sister Patricia, also showed scant interest, scrupulously avoiding our garage, where the new machines waited patiently for us on a metal bicycle rack…

Conversely, I was totally mesmerized with both the idea and the physical presence of my new bike. After school and on weekends, I would tend to avoid meals and ride until bedtime, often requiring my parents to forcibly remove me from its streamlined leather saddle…

My magnificent bike was very advanced for those early years — it had a lightweight tubular aluminum frame (painted a shiny ‘fire-engine’ red). Instead of the familiar pedal operated ‘coaster’ brakes, it featured scissor-like ‘caliper’ brake pads on front and back wheels that were activated by squeezing a hand-grip on one handlebar, while changes to the three-speed gear assembly were accomplished by flicking a tiny knobbed lever fastened to the opposing handlebar. And, best to all, it had ‘racing’ wheels and thin, streamlined tires instead of the ubiquitous ‘baIloon’ varieties so common on the bikes of my peers…

At first, my travels were limited to the immediate two block expanse of Chevy Chase Drive — I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike along the busy roads to school until I proved myself proficient enough to do so. However, I soon sensed that my new bike represented more than pure enjoyment — it was a path to financial independence! When a neighbor boy who delivered the Hollywood Citizen News to our tiny community moved away. I swiftly applied for the now vacant position and got it. Dad approved my plan enthusiastically — mom was less keen, but grudgingly nodded her approval after appealing to St. Francis to watch over my travels…

Each weekday morning, I would crouch on the curb in front of the Beverly Hills Women’s Club, which was conveniently located just around the corner from our home. Early each morning, Warren, my balding, cigar-chomping route manager who drove a world-weary, dark-blue 1935 Buick sedan that smelled strongly of burnt oil, would punctually pull to the curb with a squeal of brakes. Reaching over his shoulder, he would grasp a waxed paper wrapped bundle of newspapers by the twine that encircled it, and pivoting painfully, drop it from his rolled-down car window near to where I huddled expectantly…

He would invariably crack a crooked-toothed smile, croak “Go get-em kid” in his wheezy, old man voice, as his ragged cigar bobbed precariously in the corner of his mouth. Then without further comment, he would depart, leaving a cloud of oily smoke in his wake..,  

One such morning, just as I was retrieving one of my carefully folded newspapers from the canvas saddlebag strapped to my bike’s rear fender, ready to fling it onto the lawn in front of our neighbor Mike Romanoff’s house, I saw to my surprise that Mr. Romanoff and another fellow were engaged in a furious shouting match…

Mr. Romanoff was the ‘sham’ Russian nobleman who owned and operated ‘Romanoff’s’, a famous Beverly Hills restaurant and watering hole of that bygone era…

On closer scrutiny, I saw that the other arguer was Barney Oldfield, the equally well-known former champion race-car driver whose home perched atop the hill that rose behind our property.

As I swiveled around to throw Mr. Romanoff’s newspaper onto his lawn, I noticed that their shouting had morphed into a more physical phase — Oldfield and Romanoff, fists clenched, were swinging wildly at one another — both having already suffered bloody noses. Gasping, while circling each other warily they were muttering vague threats. I quickly threw Mr. Romanoff’s newspaper on the lawn in front to them — considered for another brief moment and remembering that Mr. Oldfield was also my customer, I plucked his newspaper from my saddlebag and tossed it onto the lawn as well, thus saving myself some hard pedaling up the hill to his house. I cycled away from the scene, heading hastily down the street to my next deliveries…

When I arrived home a few minutes later, I ran to our breakfast room where my father was drinking tea and eating his usual kippered herrings on toast liberally sprinkled with Worcestershire sauce. As I breathlessly blurted-out a description of what I had just seen. He looked up from the movie script he was reading, sighed deeply, and then murmured absently “Those two stupid buggers are at it again, are they?” Setting down his mug, he continued “I don’t suppose you’ve brought along my morning newspaper, have you old boy?”

As I got ready for school, I mused that Beverly Hills could be a very interesting, if mysterious place at times…

Actress Susan Hayward and her husband Jess Barker, who lived diagonally across the street from Mr. Romanoff, were also my customers. Since they were a very volatile couple, I would frequently hear them shouting at one another as I paused in their driveway to fling a newspaper onto their front lawn. One early morning, I watched as Miss Hayward stood by her maroon Oldsmobile convertible,  hiked-up a long tan skirt over her shapely knees (at eleven years of age, I had just begun to appreciate such things), deftly removing a high-heeled slipper from her foot, casting it unerringly at Mr. Barker’s head, while shouting decidedly un-ladylike allusions concerning his dubious ancestry. Mr. Barker dodged the missile skillfully, catching it in mid-air and gently tossing it back to his wife. Miss Hayward caught the returning missile with equal dexterity and, slipping it back onto her foot, entered her car, slamming the door behind her…

Mr. Barker bent to pick-up his newspaper and smiling absently at me he waved a cheery goodbye to his departing spouse… 

This time when I arrived home and breathlessly reported this new neighborhood contretemps to my worldly, older sister, she stoically replied “Oh Butch, everyone in Hollywood knows about the feuding Barkers”, dismissing me with an imperious wave of her hand…

Still later in my newspaper vending career, I returned home one morning to discover a police car with light flashing, parked at our curb and both uniformed and plain clothed officers surrounding our front door. There was a largish, still smoldering hole to the left of our front door where the mail slot had been! I was later told that a ‘smallish bomb’ had been stuffed into the mail slot sometime during the early morning hours, which accounted for the bang I had heard while I was folding my newspapers on the lawn of the Beverly Hills Women’s Club…

It turned-out that the bomber had mistaken our innocent mail slot for that of notorious gang boss Mickey Cohen, who had rented a home a few blocks away while building a mansion in another part of Beverly Hills. As I recall, when Cohen offered (through his lawyer) to pay for the damage to our wall, my father demurred, using language even more colorful than that used by Miss Hayward to describe the ancestral precursors of Mr. Cohen, his cohorts and their equally unsavory competitors…

Soon the damage was repaired, the mail slot replaced and calm descended once more on Chevy Chase Drive…

And then one morning in July of the following year as I pedaled my bike up North Linden Drive on my way home from altar-boy practice at the Church of the Good Shepherd, I came upon fire trucks, police cars and a large crowd of rubberneckers surrounding the fiery wreckage of Howard Hughes’ experimental XF-11 photographic aircraft. It had come down suddenly on its maiden flight with Hughes at the controls, plunging through two homes, narrowly missing the occupants, the fiery pieces finally coming to rest in a third home on the adjoining street…

Miraculously, Mr. Hughes survived to fly another day — he had been pulled-out of the wreckage by a passing marine sergeant on leave from Camp Pendleton…

One of the homes the disabled aircraft had destroyed as a massive wing and engine clipped it, had once been rented by Las Vegas playboy-gangster ‘Bugsy’ Siegel for his girlfriend Virginia Hill. Siegel had been shot-gunned to death in the front room of the house as he sat eating dinner with Miss Hill. Mr. Siegel’s killers had been hired by his former friend and boss — the same Mickey Cohen whose enemies had destroyed our mail slot…

Bicycling in Beverly Hills could often be counted on to provide ‘eye-opening’ adventures for a young boy in the 1940s…

© 2013 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

 

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