As I’ve often written, the Santa Monica of old was considerably more “eccentric” than the one of today. An example occurred twenty-five years ago at this time of year. Visiting at the Shores, a woman in her 20’s jumped (or was pushed?) off the 7th floor balcony and landed on the concrete. She broke every bone from her heels to her hips, but she survived. And now, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, for the rest of the story.

The Shores resident she was visiting was Joe. (Not his real name and he passed years ago.) Joe moved into the Shores the first day it opened in 1966. I moved here in 1974. No one knew Joe’s real story but he seemed to be suffering from PTSD. (Though too old for Vietnam and too young for Korea.) But he also had a childlike innocence about him.

Our “friendship” basically involved each of us driving the other home from the mechanic when work was needed on our cars. On one such trip, Joe was driving erratically. With cars ahead stopped, Joe’s mind was elsewhere. Numerous times I shouted, “Joe, brake!” Each time he did at the last moment as his tires screeched but his Datsun 240z stopped inches from hitting another vehicle.

“What’s going on, Joe?” I asked. In an effort to explain, he handed me a photo he had clipped to the back of the car’s visor of a very attractive young woman. “I asked her to marry me and she turned me down,” he said and then, added rather ominously, “If she doesn’t marry me, she isn’t going to marry anyone.” Yikes!

Joe confessed that he wasn’t himself since she had turned him down. I asked when he had proposed, thinking it just happened. “Three years ago,” he said with a straight face. At that point I thought about walking the rest of the way home.

If you haven’t already guessed, the woman in the photo was the same one who let’s just say didn’t take the elevator from Joe’s 7th floor apartment. So I naturally assumed he had pushed her off the balcony. In fact, immediately after the incident a panic-stricken Joe drove off not to return until hours later. He was soon arrested for attempted murder. The Shores was all abuzz about the tragic event and comments, “I always knew Joe was a strange bird.” But not so fast.

That evening the police contacted me saying Joe had said I was his best friend. (Best friend? He drove me from my mechanic!) They insisted I come to the station for some questions. I reluctantly agreed but was alarmed that it seemed that they had absolved him.

The police were convinced by the way the young woman had landed she had jumped. And, recalling Joe’s, “If she doesn’t marry me, she won’t marry anyone,” I was just as convinced Joe had pushed her. Some best friend I was.

With the young woman in a coma, and Joe so visibly upset, the police were worried that he might harm himself and would only release him in my custody. My custody? At this point I still think he’s guilty! Finally, I agreed after which Joe was brought into the room, trembling.

As we drove out of the police parking lot, Joe was crying almost uncontrollably. He asked if I would take him to St. Monica’s so he could pray for the woman’s recovery. I waited in my car in front of the church for over an hour wondering how did I get into this. Finally Joe returned to the car, slightly less stressed. As we drove home I asked if he wanted to talk about what had happened.

Part of Joe’s daily routine was jogging every morning at Palisades Park. And on that morning the former girlfriend found him and asked if she could come over for lunch. Joe hadn’t seen her in two years and was delighted, even hoping she wanted to come back to him. “I was in the kitchen making lunch when I looked up and she was walking on the railing. And then she just jumped!”

Only my twisted joke-writing brain would think of it, but I replied, “Joe, exactly what were you making for lunch?” Fortunately, he hadn’t heard me. (You should have been so lucky.)

The story ends happier than it probably has a right to. The young woman came out of her coma and confirmed everything Joe had said. Deeply depressed, she had wanted to end her life and thought of jumping from Joe’s balcony. After numerous surgeries, miraculously she eventually walked normally. Go figure.

So, while this tale of eccentric old Santa Monica six days before Christmas is perhaps not as uplifting as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or “Miracle on 34th Street,” may I nonetheless say, from me to you, “Happy holidays, everyone!”

Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or jnsmdp@aol.com.

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