Last week’s column was about what brought me to Santa Monica. This week’s is about one of the odd jobs I took as I tried to write the great American novel, which in my case turned out to be the so-so American novel. “An Eight Pound, Six Ounce Lawyer” chronicled the 1960s, written through the eyes of an exasperated Jewish mother in Brooklyn and her wayward (law school dropout) son in Berkeley.
My newly acquired agent predicted that I was going to be “the next J.D. Salinger,” but wasn’t much help. He was in the depressed phase of his manic-depression, worrying about carpet beetles. (I kid you not.)
My “day job” was as a security guard at the Shores. I worked the 4 p.m. to midnight shift, which afforded me time to work on the book. Barring catastrophes.
As one of my duties, at 5 p.m. I opened the garage gate so that people rushing home from work wouldn’t need their keys. At 7 p.m., I closed the gate. Not too difficult.
But this particular evening, as I headed back to the office, and my writing, I heard the unsettling sound of something being crunched. And I’m not talking about Doritos.
A resident, who was drunk, hadn’t noticed the gate coming down, which, at that very moment, was crushing his windshield like a trash compactor. I was horrified but the driver, an elderly lawyer named Jake (not his real name) was feeling no pain. Apparently he’d had a few too many at the local watering hole after work. The moral: never get between a man and his martini.
Jake hurriedly parked his car, which was now somewhere between a hardtop and a convertible, and made a beeline to his apartment. He obviously knew he was DUI, and that accounted for his hasty departure. Various insurances fixed the gate and the car, and neither Jake nor I got in any trouble, though we probably both should have.
The only thing I heard about Jake during the remainder of the year was that he and Betty, his wife of 40 years, got divorced. The odd thing there, and as seemingly only could happen at the Shores, Jake moved to the south building, while Betty stayed in the north.
One night, many months later as I was typing away on my book, I received a call at security from a concerned neighbor of Jake’s. It seems water was coming from under his door, and newspapers had piled up in front. I came embarrassingly close to asking, “Could it wait until I finish this chapter,” but thankfully I didn’t.
Using the passkey, I slowly opened Jake’s door. I called out his name once, then again, this time louder, but there was no answer. All I heard was water dripping from the sink. It was downright eerie. I turned the water off and then tiptoed into the bedroom, very warily. (Say those two words fast you’ll sound like Elmer Fudd.)
What happened? Put it this way, before that night I had never felt for a pulse of a dead person. While I still can picture the horrific look on his face, I’ll spare you the details. I remember that when I called 911, it felt surreal as I heard myself say, “I want to report a dead body.”
Among the first questions the police asked was did Jake have any relatives. I told them that his ex lived in the other building, which they found amusing. Personally, I wasn’t feeling terribly giddy. The police insisted that since I knew Betty that I should break the news to her and then they would take over. Keep in mind, I was making all of $4.50 an hour.
Betty had Parkinson’s, so her shaking added to the bizarre scene when she opened her door. Seeing the police, she blurted out, and in a critical tone, “Jake’s dead, isn’t he?” Stunned, I was mid-mumble, “Well, as a matter of fact,” when she interrupted me. “The damn fool doesn’t take care of himself!” Given the circumstances, an understatement, if I’d ever heard one.
Before we left, the police whispered that I should ask Betty if she needed me to stay with her. Why me? To my initial dismay she said she did need something. “Do you have a TV Guide?” she asked matter-of-factly.
I immediately raced to my apartment, got my TV Guide, and gladly gave it to Betty. Moments later, as the police and I waited for the elevator, I commented wryly, “She seems to be holding up.”
The next morning I called my agent to ask if I should include what happened that night as a chapter in the book. But he couldn’t talk. It seems the carpet beetles were now infesting his drapes. I remember thinking this can’t be the way J.D. Salinger started.
Jack can be reached at Jnsmdp@aol.com.