My life can be compartmentalized by location. This occurred to me when I was entertaining the idea of how to sort and store three storage boxes full of photos. Not being the sort to scrapbook – how weird is that trend? – I started making mental categories and realized that most of my stories are marked by where they happened. Some of my favorite stories are from the house on Stearns Drive. I think of these stories and the photos that illustrate them as “The Stearns Stories.” Today I got an e-mail from one of my friends whom I met while living in that house, that Louie had died. Louie, and his wife Molly were great characters from the Stearns stories and when I heard about his death it brought me back to the beginning.
Ten years ago my friend Roseanne and I decided to share a house. I had lived in an apartment when I first moved to Los Angeles, but found that sharing a house with friends was actually a better way to go. More bang for the buck so to speak. At the time I was living with two other girls and our lease was up and we were all ready to move on. So Roseanne and I started looking for the next place by driving neighborhoods that were fairly close to the one I was already living in because it was a nice neighborhood and being a creature of habit I wanted to stay near my dry cleaner, my grocery store, my bank – you know. The thing is that rents go up every year so we couldn’t afford to live in a house in my neighborhood. We couldn’t really even afford to live in an apartment in my neighborhood!
So we went south because in Los Angeles when you move south prices go down. And this paradigm holds true all the way to South Central which is why the poorest people end up down there. We headed south of Olympic on Crescent Heights and start driving the streets of Carthay Square, a neighborhood that has it’s own historical preservation society which means that no one can tear down the 1920s spanish style tract homes and build the monstrosities that you see west of La Cienaga. And that’s a good thing. We didn’t see much that day, but we did find THE PERFECT HOUSE! There was a “for rent” sign on the lawn and there were workers inside so we walked in to check it out.
Since the door was open.
To the left was a huge living room and to the right of the tiny entry hall was the dining room. There were three bedrooms and two bathrooms, but it was the kitchen that was too exciting for words. It had been completely remodeled with new tile and new appliances and new floorings. It was clean. And the very best part was the banquette in the corner which wrapped around a red formica table. The hardwood floors were all bleached wood and the ceilings were 20 feet high. There were speakers in every room, including the bathrooms with dials which you could use to turn the volume up. There was a Mr. Steam Sauna in the small bathroom. There was a small backyard and an electric gate across the driveway. There were rental applications on the counter in the kitchen.
We took them all because we wanted this house and we were going to make damn sure that no one else got it.
We filled out the application and took it to Michael, the man who was handling the rental for the owners, two lesbians who were breaking up. They had bought the house and put about $150,000 into the upgrade so they could use it as a secondary residence. These were wealthy women. Their primary residence was in Aspen, CO. Neither one of them wanted to live in the house at all anymore. Yay for us! With dogged persistence we stalked Michael who just wanted to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with his friends, until he told us that we could have it.
We so totally scored! I had never lived in such a cool house before, nor have I since, and I'd lived in some pretty nice houses. One of the women was a lighting designer so the house not only had top of the line lighting fixtures, but little touches like recessed halogens in the hallway that threw a wash of light on the walls where you could feature artwork and photos. We didn't, but we could have and damn, I loved the option. I couldn’t decide what I loved more the fabulously clean kitchen with the miele dishwasher or the Mr. Steam Sauna.
We got the keys two weeks before the first of October, which was our actual move in date, and we started slowly moving stuff in and organizing it. A change for me since in the 3 previous moves over the 4 previous years, I usually waited till the last minute, moved everything including a bunch of trash and shoved boxes in the garage as a later date project. But the house was so clean and nice and Roseanne is a perfectionist so she would never have let me get away with that.
On one of the first trips to the house with my boxes, as I was unloading them from the car, an elderly couple approached from across the street. They introduced themselves as Molly and Louie, or rather, she introduced them because Louie didn’t really speak that much and Molly talked A LOT. In about five minutes she told me about Liz and Daley who were her neighbors that were getting married and how they came home late and kept her up all night. She told me about the Foxes who lived next door and how they had adopted a little boy who had medical problems. She told me about how not that long ago Vicky, Mrs. Fox, had been walking down the street, the street that I was just moving to and had been held up at gun point for her cell phone. She told me that I had better be very careful unloading the boxes into the house and be sure to lock the door of the car after I took each item out, because, and this would come to ring in my head as Molly’s refrain, “You never know what could happen.” And just then, to illustrate how very dangerous this neighborhood was on a sunny autumn afternoon, an ice cream truck tinkled by. You never know Susan, he could be selling drugs out of that truck!
Molly also gave me a run down on Louie’s health. While Molly, at 70 was like a small force of nature, Louie, at 80 was more like the slender tree that bent to absorb her force. He had white hair and was ghostly pale, a little blue around the lips and he mostly nodded in agreement with everything she said. Louie had “heart trouble” and had to take nitroglycerin tablets all the time. In fact, she said, he had to take them after he ate because just digesting his food was stressful. Geez Louise! I asked if he’d had an angiogram? My mom had quadruple bypass surgery the year before so I was pretty well versed on the cardiac odyssey. Molly said that their doctor had told them that he needed to go in for the test, but it was at UCLA and she didn’t drive and she was afraid for Louie to drive because of his “heart trouble.” Plus, she said, “God forbid they should find something wrong.”
I looked at Louie and his blue lips and trembling hands and made the observation that he looked horrible and couldn’t eat a meal without cardiac distress so it was probably a good bet that something was definitely wrong. “Where are your kids?” I asked. “Oh, they don’t live here and I don’t want to worry them,” Molly replied. Well, it’s really nice to meet you both Molly and I don’t want to seem forward, but you better get this taken care of because Louie, you are a walking time bomb and it’s only a matter of time before you collapse on someone’s lawn while you’re walking to the corner. And Molly, if my mom hadn't told me what was going on I would've been very upset. You aren't being fair to not tell them about their father's health problems."
I’m such a tactful bitch.
Molly’s face blanched. “Susan,” she said, “Do you really think that could happen? That he could die?” “Um yeah, Molly, I do. Your doctor isn’t recommending the test for no reason. Just go find out what’s wrong and get it fixed.” The tiny little woman clasped my hand and looked at me with total trust. “Well, if you really think so, but I just don’t know how we’ll get there and back.” And being the classic rescuer/co-dependent I said, “Well, if you make the appointment I will drive you there and I will pick you up, that way you don’t have any excuse to put it off now do you?”
I was so exasperated I fucking dared her to take me, a total stranger who was moving in across the street, up on my offer. What the hell was I thinking!! I wasn’t. I just got sucked in and I got involved in the lives of total strangers, because it’s something I’ve been doing since I was born. So Molly made the appointment and I took them and then went back and picked them up. Louie’s angiogram showed that his arteries were almost completely blocked. Der! A bypass was recommended or it was only a matter of time until Louie keeled over on the front lawn so Molly decided that surgery was the lesser of two disasters. She called her kids and let them know and their son came down to take them to the hospital and be with her for the surgery. Louie was a new man after he recovered and I was Molly’s new best friend.
I loved Molly and Louie who became the little Jewish grandparents I never had, because I am a DAR card carrying WASP, and I was honored to know them. Now imagine living across the street from your nosy Bubbie who’s always peeping out her window and is in your business all the time, but who is such a character and has the biggest heart, that no matter how frustrated you get, you just can’t get mad and you’d have some idea about how Molly worked my last nerve. And in recent years I swear sometimes I'm channeling her when I find myself doing a Gladys Kravitz, but she and Louie are some of the best parts of the Stearns stories. Molly died in 1997, a story in and of itself and yesterday, Louie quietly joined her. Ten years after his bypass surgery, at age ninety, just months after leaving the house on Stearns that he lived in with Molly for more than 60 years, to stay with his daughter. Today he moves in with Molly at the Home of Peace cemetery in East L.A.
Rest in peace Molly and Louie - I love you.