It’s not the “Tale of Two Cities,” it’s the tale of two cousins, in one city, our city.
But listening to their tales of growing up in Santa Monica in the 1950s and ‘60s, it’s not so far off to muse, “It was the best of times, the worst of times, the age of wisdom and foolishness, the epoch of belief and incredulity, the season of light and of darkness, the spring of hope and the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing … .”
Through it all, they both never considered living anywhere else.
For someone like me, born and bred in very different elsewheres [sic], but an Ocean Park resident almost 30 years, it takes a leap of imagination to conjure up their playground, because in the Ocean Park neighborhood where they grew up and where we all now reside, things were very different.
Marty Liboff, the elder by 10 years, made it easier to picture by bringing along some of his old postcards and maps, and Joel Mark kept disappearing around the corner as we talked at his kitchen table, to come back with more fistfuls of old family photographs to fill in the lines and spark more memories.
Joel and I have been through a lot together since we met on the basketball court at Joslyn Park nearly 20 years ago. His son was in diapers and my daughter was just starting school at SMASH, and both often tagged along and had great times at the kiddy playground there. His daughter had yet to arrive when we met.
I love playing one-on-one basketball with Joel. We often play an hour or more and it’s a good workout and fun because we’re pretty evenly matched. (So how does he manage to win nearly every game?) But I took an immediate dislike to him. Brash, cocky, self-proclaimed obnoxious, I was certain he was that kind of New Yawker [sic].
After some time I was shocked to find out he was born in Santa Monica and never left, except for college. The rest of my assessment of him was pretty accurate, but I soon came to know and understand him as a unique, brilliant, accomplished and complex guy who would run over his grandmother on the way to the basket, but is a passionate birdwatcher, loves to chat with little kids, drives hot cars and dates gorgeous women (he’s divorced), and escorts spiders out rather than squish them. He could buy a mansion but has lived in a modest little place he rents from an old family friend, ever since I’ve known him. Because he likes it there. He’s been shooting hoops at Joslyn for more than 40 years.
Marty I had observed for years before I knew he was Joel’s cousin. It’s hard to miss Marty. He’s a Santa Monica institution. Big straw hat, big sunglasses, gray dreadlocks down to his knees (“I started growing them the day Bob Marley died”), always out walking with his buddy Pharaoh, a one-eared white “shepsky” (German Shepherd-Husky cross). Marty and I never had more than an extended conversation on the street, so it was a treat to sit with him and his cousin for a couple of hours. Marty is also a very bright guy, insightful, socially aware and articulate, and seems to live exactly the life he wants to live. How many can say that?
The item he brought along that I found most fascinating was a simple line drawing street map of the westernmost part of Ocean Park. All those streets on the map, where they grew up — gone, now not even a memory to those of us who came later and knew only the beach blight of the massive Sea Colony II and the giant dual towers.
My first inkling that my Ocean Park was a lot different than the OP in Joel’s head was when he told me years ago, “You know, there used to be a golf course there.” Hmm. Doesn’t seem big enough for a golf course. But I’m not about to research Santa Monica history to appreciate the cousins’ stories. It was fun to hear Joel and Marty reminisce and argue good-naturedly about what year something happened.
They lived in the last block before the beach, on different streets but back to back across the alley. When the area was razed for development in the ‘60s (“It looked like Dresden after the bombing,” Marty said), both families moved about three blocks (Joel remembers oh so slowly and carefully walking over his goldfish in its bowl) to homes on Second Street, not two blocks from each other. Marty still lives there, almost, in the apartment building next door. His boyhood home became another apartment building. Joel is all the way up on Third Street now, where he’s been for decades.
I’ve got five pages of notes from our session, and to cover even half of it I’d have to write a small book. Or, I can trot out a few of their mental snapshots in my columns over the next few months. Like the Saturday morning serials at the Dome Theater on the pier (“My mom would give me a quarter for my brother and me and we’d be gone all day,” Marty remembered with a big smile) — to be continued.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org