Thankfully our recent heat wave is gone, at least for now. It was as intense and lengthy as I can remember in all the years I’ve lived here. (Actually in all the decades, but who’s keeping count?) Digressing for a second, this Sunday evening begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish celebration of the new year 5783. (Don’t quote me on the exact number as it’s a few thousand more than I write on my checks.)
Somehow the past heat wave and Rosh Hashanah reminded me of a very similar combination ages ago which led to great fun for me and my lifelong friend, Don, but not without trepidation and possible considerable consequences. It involved two unlikely locations: the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and the wonderfully colorful Muscle Beach.
A carryover from the 1940’s and 1950’s, Muscle Beach was like a fitness Mayberry R.F.D., populated by body builders, gymnasts and professional wrestlers, made famous from TV announcer Dick Lane’s “Whoa Nellie!” broadcasts. In between workouts in the sun they wolfed down hot dogs and guzzled cold drinks. My favorite such eatery was Honest John’s Hot Dogs, owned and operated by my favorite wrestler, Honest John, but more on that later.
Don’s family and mine belonged to Temple Isaiah on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles, and, coincidentally, both of our mothers were kinda big shots. Don’s mom was my first grade Sunday School teacher and wound up years later getting her PhD in Education from UCLA. And my mother was on the Temple Board of Directors for 50 years.
This particular Temple Isaiah High Holidays were being held at the then very upscale Santa Monica Civic Auditorium with a capacity of 3,000! This was a step up in prestige and price for that matter as, coupled with Yom Kippur, the two most important religious observances of the year, they were often also big shekel suppliers. In fact, we once jokingly floated the idea we should scalp tickets with the catch phrase, “Your primo seats are so close to the pulpit you can almost read the Torah.”
The thought of hours of Rosh Hashanah services for two teenage boys already miserable wearing ties and itchy wool suits, felt like cruel and unusual punishment, especially when it was broiling outside and, jammed with 3,000 bodies, not much better inside. Don casually suggested we sneak out and walk to Honest John’s for delicious franks. The idea quickly went from casual to urgent, so much so, we neglected to plan our re-entry into the Civic.
During one of the usher’s bathroom breaks, we instantly made our daring exit. As we got outside into the fresh air we felt like Steve McQueen, the “King of Cool,” who was starring in the hit film of the time, “The Great Escape.”
Admittedly we were self conscious given how we were dressed when everybody else was in shorts and flip flops. But the view on the way to Honest John’s was highlighted by exceedingly fit guys and exceedingly agile girls in bikinis working out on the rings and bars and spectacularly flying through the air only to be gracefully caught by their partners.
As luck would have it, among H.J.’s customers that day were professional wrestlers Lord James Blears, Mr. Moto, whose lethal weapon was his “sleeper hold,” and Baron Michele Leone, whose elegant Arabic-style“Castle” residence on 3rd Street just went on the market for $7 million. (Leone adored swimming in the ocean and jogging on the beach, and loved Santa Monica so dearly he chose to be buried in our Woodlawn Cemetery.)
Don and I continued to consume dogs and Cokes while checking out the pulchritude. As for John’s tasty franks, the key was he cut them in half length wise, grilled them and placed them on delicious hamburger buns. Unfortunately, before downing my final dog, when I shook the near empty mustard bottle, some splattered on my dress shirt. Using my clasp I tried to position my tie to cover most of it. (Key word being “most.”)
As for our re-entry into the Civic we had “divine luck,” which I know, given the circumstances, is sacrilegious. We were out of breath and sweaty when we approached the auditorium but luckily the services were ending! Rabbi had just asked the congregation to bow their heads in solemn prayer, which is exactly when we sneaked back in. (And naturally we pretended being among the most pious celebrants of the glorious Jewish New Year, which I know won’t help if Don or I should ever face a Judgment Day.)
I often try to end these varied tales with a hopefully thought provoking “morale of the story.” Today’s might be, “If one sneaks out on the second most solemn holiday of one’s religion, be extra careful with the mustard dispenser.”
If he’s not too busy apologizing to religious relatives, Jack can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.