Chapter 1 / Life 1

Been There Done That

My Mom Dies Suddenly and Tragically.   Causing my Dad to go to work on the road to pay the bills.  Thereby leaving my Brother and I to our own devices.  Thus, the Juvenille Delinquency years ensue. 

(Well –as much as Two Boys growing up as Upper-Middle Class Jews in the Valley

can be Delinquents anyways). (and oh yeah, i stress out to the max, giving myself three years of “terminal” cancer hell)

Damn that hurts.  And it just looks all wrong.  My right ball has blown up to literally 3 times the size of my left.  I’m looking at it, thinking…”well, if they were both that size, then I’d be doing good.”  At least, that’s how I want to remember it now.  In truth, I was probably freaking out.  I’m 16 years old and sitting in Doctor Leonard Goldman’s office.  He’s older, rotund, affable.  But I’m terrified.  I’ve met the Doc 5 minutes ago, and he’s saying “this thing has gotta come out.  Tonight.”  Pure terror. And panic.  At this point in my life, I’m not good at handling things.  And I am freakin’.   Dad’s at work, and my brother Ken is at school.  Where I should be.  Brendie, my step-mom, is here, holding my hand.  I’m thankful for that still, now.  Especially given our volatile relationship.  And that’s being generous.  My mom.  How I miss my Mom.  She should be here.

A typical, beautiful late Spring day in the San Fernando Valley, 1973.  Back when you could still smell the orange groves.  More than beautiful.  It’s idyllic.  Me and Ken and Dad are playing catch on Lasaine Street, outside our home.  I think back on it now and wonder if my Dad could ever have been happier.  How could he have been? It’s a scene straight outta “Happy Days.”  With darker overtones, and undertones, than a then 12 year old and 13 year old could have imagined.  Than my Dad likely, could ever have imagined.  .The phone rings and Ken sprints inside to answer.  Me and Dad lob the ball back and forth.  The sun is hot and it feels good.  Our German Sheppard, Prince, barks happily behind the ivy-covered wall that surrounds the backyard.   And Ken runs back out, tears streaming down his face.  And yelling, over and over again.  And I hear it clearly today.  “Mom’s dead.”  “MOM’S DEAD!”

Driving drunk.  Boom.  Getting  into fights.  Boom.  Stealing.  Boom.  Losing my virginity.  A bunch of times.  Boom.

My Mom was beautiful.  High-strung.  Big-time wound-up.  Temperamental and at times terrifying.  Creative.  Experimental.  Brilliant.  Voracious in her tastes and in her consumption of all things material.  Out-going.  The life of the party. Domineering. Loving.  I got all the bad parts.  And –at least I like to think– some of the good.

We found out soon that she had driven my Dad into debt, and that “we” were hanging on to our 2-story, 4000 square foot home on a quarter acre lot with a pool, rose garden and paddle tennis court, by a thread.  Further, shortly before her passing, she had decided that it would be a good idea to enroll me in the ultra-expensive Chaminade College Preparatory.  Being one of 3 Jewish kids in a semi-conservative Catholic School –in 1975 when anti-Semitism really wasn’t yet frowned-upon in the valley–  would be a good cultural and educational experience.  Naturally, the buy-your-belt-as-you-go Tang So Doo Martial Arts program I was involved in would save my Kike ass.  Despite the fact that I was the smallest kid at Chaminade.  Not the smallest boy.  The smallest kid.  Period.  Without my Mom there to tell him what to do, and what not to do, my Dad decided the best course of action would be for him to hit the road, and redouble his sales efforts.  In retrospect, I know now that the decision and the absences pained him.  But, Dad had a real sense of responsibility, and I can only surmise that as much as he wanted to be there, he felt that the more important thing to do would be to not disrupt our lives any further.  And the mortgage, Catholic School –with Ken set to follow me the upcoming year– the tennis club and the Karate lessons added up.

So Dad went to work.  In mourning, we threw a party.  A big one.  Lots of booze and tons of cute, young, tiny teens running around in their bikinis.  We got hammered on Andre’s Cold Duck, Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill and made out like crazy.  Honestly, a dozen girls a night.  It’s what we did back then.  A spirited game of Truth or Dare –and no one ever opted for “Truth”—would usually get us to second base; third on a rare, lucky occasion.  It was then that I went truly girl-crazy, and never looked back.  Both a blessing and a curse, that has given me more pleasure and more depth of feeling, and simultaneously has ruled my life oftentimes and given me more anguish—than I could ever express, even if I were to dedicate an entire book to it.

Anyways, despite his general blissful ignorance, Dad couldn’t ignore the errant A-cup bikini top that would show up in the oddest places, nor the empty liquor cabinet (yeah, so we got into a little Scotch as well).  We was found out.  The solution?  Dad ran an ad at San Fernando Valley State College; free room and board to a responsible college student, in exchange for looking after his boys while he was out of town.  Petite, blonde Sherri moved in, and F was she hot!  The first day Dad was gone, she asks me “are you any good at taking pictures?”  “Uh no, not really.”  “That’s okay,” she says, handing me a camera and ordering me to follow her to the backyard.  Where she strips.  Naked!  F, she’s hot.  Not that I have any basis for comparison.  Whatsoever.  (Unless you count Mom.  Aunt Theda. (NOT hot) And Playboy Magazine).  Sherri’s standing there. (Buck naked!) With her hand on her hip giving me this look.  And boy was I smooth.  “I don’t think the drugstore will develop naked pictures.”  I drop the camera and run into the house.

OK guys, how many of us don’t have the top 5, top 10, top whatever of those we’ve just completely, absolutely choked on.  That we replay in our heads over and over, and say to ourselves, “…well, if that were to happen now…” If you say you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re either lying, or your last name is Hefner.

The next day, Sherri asks “Hey isn’t your Dad going to Flagstaff this weekend?”  Are we gonna have a party.  Or what!”  Boom.

——– btdt ——–

“I’m on the road working my fucking ass off to support you whiny brats!  Get a fuckin’ job and make your own ‘effin spending money!” my Dad screams.  Well, actually, my Dad never said that.  Or anything approximating that.  He was a really nice guy.  Very loving.  And didn’t use profanity.  If he had said that though, who could blame him?  Shouldn’t all self-respecting 13 and 14 year-olds earn at least their own booze, pizza and pot money.  Well, we thought so, at least.

The bottle cages were easy.  Back in the day of glass soda pop bottles, the 16 ouncers were each worth a quarter.  The neighborhood 7-11 and Sav-on stores each kept chain-link cages out back, where they stored hundreds of these bottles, prior to returning them to the distributors (I suppose).  The cages were locked, but there was a gap between the fixed wall of the cage and the swinging door.  Big enough to fit a small paw through.  We’d stick our arm through the gap, grab all the bottles within reach, and walk them around the front of the store and to the register to collect our 25 cents per bottle.    This was usually good for five to six bucks each, back when the minimum wage was less than three dollars.  And when a bottle of Strawberry Hill was less than three dollars.  But that wasn’t good enough for us criminal masterminds.  One night, we enlisted our friend Danny, and his souped-up Chevy Nova.  He parked around the corner and down the alley, out of sight of the store.  Robbie Jones, –my oft-partner-in-crime, God rest his soul– and I climbed up on top of the cage, wire-cutters in hand, and cut a gaping hole in the top.  Robbie dropped in, and out of sight (the cage was covered by tarp on its sides, so you couldn’t see in).  Robbie than began to hand entire cases of bottles up to me.  I in turn would hand them down to Ken and to another friend whose name I can’t remember.  They would run the cases to Danny, our getaway driver, waiting in his car.  We were keeping a running, verbal estimate of the tally, and figured we were up to a couple of hundred dollars.  As Ken and our other pal were around the corner and out of sight, the clerk working the store walked around back. He looked like a refugee straight outta “Pumping Iron.”  He reached up and snatched me off the top of the cage, and dragged me into the store.  He never saw Robbie, nor any other member of my crew.     The police showed.  I was handcuffed for the first time in my life, and put in the back of their cruiser.  Looking for the pity vote, I told them that my Mom was dead and my Dad out of town.  Skeptical, they drove to my home and rang the bell.  The door opens, and Ken, clad in flannel pajamas and hair an absolute-I-was-sound-asleep-and-have-bed-head-mess, opens the door, wiping the “sleep” from his eyes.  The police remand me to his custody, but not before he promises them to keep an eye on me.  Boom.

——– btdt ——–

With my ability to stretch a quarter, it seemed a natural that I’d run for Student Body Treasurer.  More likely, with the wounds of my Mother’s passing still raw, I was just looking for yet something else to keep my mind occupied.  At Chaminade College Preparatory, Middle School. Chatsworth Campus,  there are 4 elected offices out a student body of around 350.   I declare my candidacy.  One of the three Jewish kids in the entire school, and I’m running for Treasurer.  Perfect irony! Or cosmic joke.  Somehow, I had gained a modicum of popularity, and I thought I had a chance.  I didn’t mind taking chances then.  And for better-or-for-worse (often worse), in the reverse of what is true for most of us as we grow older, this set a pattern for taking more and more chances as life goes on.  But, back to 13… taking chances.  Take Colleen, for instance.  She was one of the prettiest girls in 7th grade, and many of us, myself included, had a massive crush on her.  Toward the end of the school year, shortly after us candidates had declared, the final dance of the season is held in the campus auditorium.  For the most part, the girls dance with the girls, and the boys stand around, watching the girls dance with the girls.  All night long, I tell myself I am going to ask Colleen to dance.  I do the in-my-head-countdown to walk over and pop the question, but keep giving myself excuses at the last possible moment.  Finally, I get up the nerve.  Just as I ask, and she says “sure,” a slow dance comes on.  Our height difference is a little awkward –she’s about three inches taller—but we make the best of it.  The song fades, and the DJ announces “Last song of the night “ and up comes “Crocodile Rock.”  And Colleen and I continue to slow dance.  And then we start to make out.  In the middle of the floor, while everyone else around us gets down to Elton John, and students and teachers alike glance at us sideways.  It’s exactly this type of thing that has made me popular amongst some, and has pissed off many others.

“Don’t vote for a Jew in a Catholic School.”

It’s election morning, and the banner hangs loud and proud in middle of the Quad.  And there it stays, all day long, through assembly time.

The candidates are giving their speeches and now it’s my turn.  “Don’t vote for a Jew in a Catholic School?” I think. “Fuck ‘em, I’m prepared.  I’ll show them.”  I walk to the podium, and… the podium is taller than me, and I can’t see over it.  Someone starts the giggle, and it’s spreading through the crowd.  With resolve, I walk around the podium to the microphone.  The person who gave the speech preceding mine must have been really tall, because even with my arm fully extended, I can’t reach the microphone.  The entire assemblage erupts into laughter.  And I just stand there.  Mercifully, a teacher walks across stage, pulls the microphone down, thrusts it into my hand, and winks at me.  I blurt out my speech, and hurriedly, exit stage right.

I won the election.  Fuck ‘em.  Boom.


As I sit in a quiet room on campus, alone, dutifully counting pledges from The Mission Drive, the sting of my Mom’s death still hurts.  More like burns.  A palpably painful, searing hole, growing ever wider. Likely contributing to the pain is that we’ve just learned that Mom stroked while in a Palm Springs Motel room.  The Tropics, where Mom, Dad, me and Ken, went on many joyful vacations.  She died while with Joe Madrid, the handyman.  To this day, I regret that I never sat down with Dad and talked with him about that one.

——– btdt ——–

Relationships.  Yeah, Colleen was a good one.  And the public makeout session may have gotten me a few votes.  Shortly after, Debbie Thomas approached me on campus, and wanted to make out.  In front of everbody.  We did it, once, and I felt awkward.  So, she blew me off to make out with Paul Gallo.  Daily.  In front of everyone.  I lost out, and told myself I wouldn’t do that again.

Thirty some years later, I’ve “blown” it many times.  Bottom line, as it turns out, if I don’t have real feelings, I’m just fine blowing it.  Was fine then.  And am now.  More so.

But I really liked Chrissie Schultz.  Incredibly pretty, with waist-length white-blonde hair, and a mouth-full of braces.  We both hung out at Northridge Skateland, which apart from Chaminade, was my other life.  Limbo, couple dance, free skate, backwards skate.  Ken, Robbie, I and our friends, Randy Leach, Craig Lederman, Marty Haws, were terrors on wheels.  And this place was even more permissive than our “repressed” Catholic School.  The only time I ever intentionally hit a girl was at Skateland.  Lydia rolled up to me one evening, and defiantly, yells at me, “So I hear you like (my friend) Lori!.”  “Uh, yeah,” I stammer.  And whack, she slaps me across the face.  Purely out of reflex, I slap her back.  Keystone Cops-style, her skates kick out from under her and she lands flat on her ass.  To this day, this is one of my greater regrets.  Lydia, I’m sorry.

Lori, Lydia, the line of girls was truly, nearly endless.  The first night I returned to Skateland after my Mom died, Mandy Clark held me close, literally smashing my face into her breasts.  That was very nice of her.  I think back, and wonder what the rare adult attending night session, must have thought when they skated by the benches and saw 13, 14 and 15 year olds damned near sucking the tongues out of one another’s faces.  I’m pretty sure I’d laugh my ass off now.  But it sure as hell felt good then.

But I really liked Chrissie Schultz.  Comparatively, she was pretty chaste.  No French kissing!  I remember dialing her up on the phone and asking her to go steady.  “No,” she says, “my Mom won’t let me.”  Couples dance comes on one night and Chrissie and I are gliding across the floor.  We’re face-to-face, Chrissie moving forwards, her hands around my neck, and me backwards, my hands on her waist.  Everything is just clicking.  The conversation. The laughter.  We inch closer and closer together.  My heart’s pounding.  The moment is at hand.  Finally!  I see her lips part every so slightly.  I lean in and.  Our skates lock and down we go with a solid thud.  No French kissing!  Boom.

——– btdt ——–

My Dad bought a beautiful Chevy Camaro for me when I was just 15.  I just had to have that car, and it remained parked in our garage as I approached my 16th.  And then shortly after 16, I fell in love with the idea of vans and custom mini-truck/walk-thru conversions, and of course, my Dad let “me” sell the Camaro, and traded for/bought me a Dodge King Cab.  I look back and wonder why a guy who would drive 3 miles to save 5 cents a gallon gas, was always was go generous with us.  Guilt?  I hope not. He had nothing to feel guilty about.  Dad was the best.  But on one hand, it made certain parts of our lives very easy for us, so much so that I wonder how Ken and I have the work ethic we have today.  Basically, I guess we inherited it from Dad, who was tireless.  And on that one hand, I appreciate the generosity, and the inherited ethic.  On the other, this instilled in me an eye toward always looking toward how to take advantage of those who give; something I still am stuck with today, and which I hope, one day, to put behind me.  It’s another one of those constant themes of my live that has been both a blessing and a curse, like women.  It’s gotten me a lot, and wretched from me  parts of my soul.  Because, anything that is even part curse should be put behind you.  Well, except for women, of course.  And, uh, a few other things…

My truck was called “California Dreamin’” and it had a bad-ass, bitchin’ paint job.  Metallic gold, burnt orange and deep brown.  Logo on the hood, with a surfer coming off a giant wave to the right, and a skier tearing down an equally impressive slope to the left.  The boot was cut through the King Cab, essentially making it into a mini van.  I had dark brown shag pile carpeting on the floor and half way up the interior of the cab, interspersed tan suede and chocolate leather.  The roof was more of the same.  Brown velour curtains covered the separation to the cab and the back window.  A working refrigerator and dark orange glow interior lighting finished it all off.   Robbie and I, and a load of friends with custom vans and trucks in tow, would caravan up and down Van Nuys Boulevard every Wednesday night, when cruising was still the thing.  “Kung Fu Fighting,” “Hot Child in the City,” “Magnet and Steel” pounding through our in-dash, 8-track players,  hot summer wind in our shoulder-length, bandana-bound hair.  Fosters or KB oil cans open in our laps.  Resplendent in our flared courderoys, walabees, leather belts with marijuana leaf buckles, and Hawaiian print shirts worn open to reveal our puka shells and turquoise.  And you think the girls looked hot!  Even more fun was the drive-ins.  We’d line up –ten to twenty across—in the back row, and party like mini-rockstars.  There’s not a whole lot to say about movies like Trog, The Green Slime, The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, SSSSSS! and The Fearless Vampire Killers.  They sucked then and they probably suck worse now.  What worked was the post-pubescent camaraderie, the summer breeze, the Strawberry Hill, and so many young boys and girls – in the days before AIDS terrified the world’s youth– somewhat innocently exploring their blossoming sexuality.  Fast Time at Ridgemont High captured the vibe so perfectly.  Blessedly, we lived it.


Having a car + having no supervision = freedom.  Pure, unadulterated, uninhibited freedom.  Kevin and I thought it would be fun to throw some blankets and sleeping bags and other “essentials” into the back of my truck, and head toward the beach.  We’d camp one night on the beach in Newport, the next perhaps in Laguna, and then maybe Dana Point to top things off.  Just something you couldn’t do in the year 2011 at age 16, and not end up in jail, robbed and beaten, or worse, dead.  We did end up in jail though, for vagrancy.  Woken up by police at dawn, from a dead sleep.  We went to the station, paid our fines, and we were off.  That same Summer, we memorized the words to every Bee Gees song on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.  Damn, we were cool!

I look back at these times fondly, feeling the vibe that only youth, relative innocence and hot Summer days and warm Summer nights can bring.  Bittersweet.  For those of you over 40 who know Santos and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk,” all you’ll have to do is call the tune up in your head and you’ll know immediately what I’m talking about.   For those who don’t know Sleepwalk, pull it up on Youtube, and right away, you too, will know what I’m talking about as well.

To this day, I have a sense of wanderlust that just won’t quit.  Just when I feel “at home” somewhere, I’ll want to pick up and hit the road.  And oftentimes do.  These days, Ramone rides shotgun.  Destination and purpose be damned.  That all probably started on the beach in Orange County in the mid 70’s.

——– btdt ——–

I don’t suppose it was necessarily about the money for us.  But more about being creative.  I mean hell, we could afford a few pizzas, from the bottle money, the movie theatre money and the concert ticket money, right?  But, why pay for pizza, when you didn’t, uh, have to?

It was probably round about 1977 when Ken and I masterminded the “Great Pizza Trick.”  We used to argue for credit for the originating the scheme, but likely would cede to the other now.  At least Ken would, I’m sure.  We’d start the caper by locating a house in a neighborhood where we knew the residents were out of town, or at least away for the night.  We’d tape a sign to the front door of the house that said, “Construction, please go around back.”  Let’s call this “Delivery House 1.”  Having actually worked at a pizza joint for a couple of months in one of many “real jobs,” I understood the intricate mechanics of the delivery trade.  Thus, we’d select our Target (read: pizza delivery joint) and Delivery House 2, which would be close in proximity to House 1.  It was critical that geographically, Delivery House 1 be closer to the Target.  We’d then find a bank of pay phones.  We’d call the Target from one phone and place a smallish order for Delivery House 1.  We’d be sure to tell the order-taker, “…uh, by the way, there’s construction going on in the foyer, so please have the driver go around the back with our order.”  A moment later, we’d call the Target from a second pay phone, and place our order for Delivery House 2.  This order would be comprised of EVERYTHING WE WANTED TO EAT THAT NIGHT.  We’d then wait for the Target to call back.  The person who placed each call would answer his respective pay phone and confirm the order.  And off we’d go.

Having had about 60 days of real world experience in the trade, I knew that the Target would make what this high-tech industry calls a “double delivery.”  (2 houses in close proximity to one another; 2 calls coming in closely together time-wise).

I suppose the real win in this for us was hiding in the bushes across the street from Delivery House 1, giddy with anticipation.  Hearts-pounding, we’d watch as the driver would exit his car, small pizza –or what-not—in hand, and more often than not walk to the front door.  (Completely ignoring our instructions about going around back.  Dumbass!)  Anyways, he’d get to the door, read the sign we’d posted, and around back he’d go.  The moment he walked into the backyard, we’d spring from our hiding place, sprint to his car –unlocked naturally, in the 70’s in the Valley—pop open the doors, snatch up the pizzas, and run!

We ate pizza a lot in those day.  Including the gut-busting idiocy of a once-a-week-winner-doesn’t-have-to-pay-all-you-can-eat-contest at Shakey’s Bunch-o-Lunch.

But for some reason, the spoils from our Great Pizza Trick always tasted best.

We closed the door on the GPT some months later.  Ken and I returned home one evening to what we thought would be an empty house, to find a few of our friends hanging out waiting for us.  I had just wrapped up my shift at The Northridge Waterslide (another real job) and Ken had probably been somewhere smoking pot.  But if you asked him today, he was probably off  running a Student Council Meeting, or something of the sort.  Anyways, we learned that our buddies had gone ahead and set up the Great Pizza Trick without us.  And we learned that someone, in his infinite wisdom (Kevin!) had called a Target that we had hit just a couple of weeks earlier.  Red Devil, if memory serves.  “Kevin, jeez, we just did Red Devil.  You can’t do ‘em again this soon!”  But the Cold Duck –or Fosters—or Strawberry Hill, was flowing, and liquid courage being the better part of valor, we decided to proceed.

As we hid in the bushes across from Delivery House 1, we watch as the Driver pulls up, hesitates, checks his rearview mirror, and slowly gets out of his car.  We notice a car, driving without headlights, idle up and park about 50 yards down the road.  “This doesn’t feel right.  This doesn’t feel right.”  As we’re saying this, the Driver walks around back, and someone from our crew, in his infinite wisdom (Kevin!), sprints from the bushes toward the Delivery vehicle.  We all follow.  The second Kevin grabs a hold of the car door, all four doors of the car parked down the road fly open, and four guys, swinging nun-chuks, run up the street toward us.  We abandon the mission and flee.  Our get-away-vehicle, aka Kevin’s 1960 something piece of shit van, piloted by Jack, pulls along side of us.  With the side door pulled open, we jump into the moving vehicle.  In 2011, Jack is one of the surest and steadiest hands in the world of periodontal surgery.  In the mid 70’s however, he was given to easy panic.  He guns the van.  Now granted, Kevin was the fastest amongst us, but he started dead last and as Jack pulls away, Kevin is left in the dirt.  We point this out to Jack.  He slams on the brakes and the van stalls dead.  Kevin jumps in.  And now, four would-be-Ninja-avengers have caught up and stand, just beyond the vehicle’s side door,  looking in at us.  There are a lot of us in the van –girls included—and it’s dark in here.  Our would-be assailants can’t really see who or what, they’re facing.  One hauls off and takes a mighty swing with his Chuks.  He misses his target, and the hard wood slams into the metal floor of the van, and snaps his weapon in half.  Jack gets the van started and we speed off into the night, pizza-less.

And thus, The Great Pizza Trick is officially retired.  Boom.

——– btdt ——–


Shortly after I got my Camaro, we got turned on to Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The mention of the car is relevant here.  I was the oldest in our group –which by now we had dubbed “The Big 7”, which was comprised of myself, Ken, Jack, Kevin, Gregg Kaufman and Randy Kruger.  Keith and Eric Sackler would have made that 9, but didn’t go to Granada, and it could be argued that Eric Marino and Petar Katurich too were part of that mix, but alas, they belonged to the rival Pooh “Gang.”  (Yeah, as in Winnie-the-fuckin’-Pooh.  Tough, huh?)   Anyways, I was the only one with wheels.  Did it matter that I didn’t yet have a driver’s license?  Nah.  Why would it?  Hell, I had gotten into my first accident at 13.  We had a “friend,” Jay, that hung around Skateland with us.  Jay was at least 16 or 17, and at 6’6”, must have weighed about 140 pounds.  He was, uh, how would you say this while maintaining a degree of political correctness?  Aw hell, it was 1974; he was half-retarded.  So, he hung out with us young-uns.  And hehad a car.  A 1973, lime, green Ford Pinto.  A real piece of crap that made Kevin’s van look like a friggin’ Corniche.  But, he let us drive it.  And boy did we abuse the privilege.  We’d place a log on the seat, so that we could see over the dash, and off we’d go, Jay nervously riding shotgun.  One night, I talked Jay into letting me take my first solo flight, so that I could drive Brooke Sisliano, the 11-year-old-love-of-my-life,  home.  Brooke and I are sitting at an intersection and whack, outta nowhere, a car smashes into us.  Totally not my fault, I swear!  But I’m 13, so I flee the scene.  After dropping Brooke, I go back to the rink, huge dent in the rear drivers’ side panel.  “My car! My car!”  I can still see poor Jay’s face to this day.  Boom.

——– btdt ——–


But I digress.  Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I absolutely do not have a good head for dates (disclaimer: good luck fact-checking this book!) but by simple deduction, I know this was Summer 1977. I know this because I was the only one amongst the Big 7 that had a car, and I remember driving us to RHPS without a license.  (Although I don’t remember who drove back, because we were all that drunk).  Rocky was all the rage, and it was playing midnight every Saturday in Woodland Hills.  I remember also that it was a particularly hot Summer in the Valley, with the mercury North of 80-85 even at 12am.  So why in the world would we be wearing bulky, White Stag ski jackets to the movies?  Because they were in style?  Well, uh, sure.  But mainly because each had two, HUGE inside pockets.  Pockets so huge, that each could hold a bottle of Andre’s Cold Duck, no problem.   Even before the movie started, you’d hear the first “pop!”  Our m.o. was to open one bottle, pass it down the line, drain it as quickly as possible.  Then “pop!”  We made an art form of turning the plastic corks into well-aimed, precision-like missiles.  For those initiates, you know that RHPS is an “audience participation” affair (hell, if you know this only from “Glee,” you’re still okay in my book) … the first bit of this is when Brad and Janet (a hot hot hot Susan Sarandon) attend a wedding, and the rice flies across the theatre, filling the air.  Next, BJ (Brad and Janet!) get caught in the rain, on their way “Over to the Frankenstein Place.”  Squirt bottles of every variety, brought into the theatre, replicate the rain.


——– btdt ——–


As I may have mentioned earlier, in 1977, I had an extremely bushy, shoulder-length mane.  Like a mini Andre The Giant.  The only thing I really remembered about Rocky at that time is waking up the next morning, and spending what seemed like an eternity, picking rice out of my hair.


The two things I most remember not remembering…. How the hell we got home.  Horrible.  The driving-drunk that we did.  And two.  Not remembering, after what was probably 12 RHPS sessions that Summer, how in the hell that movie ended.   Kevin, to this day, still points that out.


Not long ago, I was in Portland on business, and saw that Rocky was playing locally.  I had to go.


Kevin…spoiler alert!  The Frankenstein Place is a Space Ship!  And Frank n’ Furter, Riff Raff, Majenta, Columbia and the rest are Space Aliens!  And they take off for Space at the end of the movie.  Cheap!  Sorry to wreck the ending for you, but not like you’ll ever be able to stay awake in a movie theatre until 2am anyways at your advanced age.


——– btdt ——–

And speaking of driving drunk, and Kevin.  Funny story.  One sunny, Summer day, we’re cruising the Valley, Kevin at the wheel in another of his piece of shit cars.  A Celica I think.  And we get pulled over.  No probable cause that I can remember, just probably cause his car was so damned ugly.  And as we’re sitting in the car, waiting for the officer to approach, Kevin starts to panic.  I mean, working himself up into a real lather.  Stuttering and stammering that he can’t afford a ticket, etcetera, etcetera.  And he’s so worked up, that the cop makes Kevin get out his car for a field sobriety test.  It’s the middle of day and Kevin is stone cold sober.  Hasn’t had a drop.  When told to recite the alphabet backwards, Kevin, sounding like a poster-child for the speech impediment movement, blurts that he can’t even do that under “normal circumstances.”  That arouses the cop’s suspicion (“Must have a real drunkard here”).  Kevin is asked to walk a straight line, heel to toe.  Probably the best athlete amongst us –and we’re all pretty good athletes—Kevin protests.  Can’t do that one either.  It’s about now that it occurs to me that Kevin is likely going to jail for driving drunk…when he hasn’t had as much as a sip!  I very slowly, very carefully approach the soon-to-be-arresting-officer’s partner, and ultra-respectfully ask if I can have a word with him.  I explain that Kevin has indeed not had a single drop, and is just incredibly nervous.  They let us go.  I love that Kevin almost got busted for this, and that he was beside himself at his inability to pay a fine he never got , in connection with his obnoxiously, cheap-ass ugly car.


8 years later, I was best man at Kevin’s wedding.


And 25 years after that, Kevin is an incredibly loving, devoted husband and father of a 17 year old young man with far too much presence of mind to ever be arrested for drunk driving when he hasn’t been drinking.  Kevin drives a fully-loaded Maseratti, paid in cash – which he keeps parked in the garage of his double pied-a-terre in one of San Francisco’s wealthiest neighborhoods.  I stayed there just recently, on a trip where I hit him up on an investment deal.



——– btdt ——–

For not being a very hip, very cool guy at all, my Dad was pretty nifty.  A 49 year old widower with two teenage sons and a big mortgage he was choking to support, he had all kinds of attractive lady friends over.  I remember coming home one night, and he and Trudy were playing billiards in the rumpus room.  Trudy was a hot redhead, and she was wearing a bikini.  If you knew my Dad, this alone would be shocking.


In 1976, he met Brendie.  She was overweight, but very pretty and incredibly vivacious.  A life-force on the order of my Mom.  Uh-oh.  And, she had 3 kids.  Jeff, 13, to my 15 and Ken’s 14, Amanda, 8. and Greg, 6.  We had Prince, our maniacal German Sheppard, and they  –the Greene’s—had Erica, a nearly-out-of-control, ultra-hyper Keeshond.  It was a perfectly dysfunctional Brady Bunch in the making.  From the get-go, Jeff had a huge chip on his shoulder.  His Father had recently been indicted for embezzling money from Chicago (the pop band), Cheech & Chong and The Doors, and in retrospect, he was probably lost, and resenting the fact that this mild-mannered, furniture salesman was sweeping his Mother off her feet (well, figuratively, anyways).


Brendie, utilizing a portion of her very substantial financial assets, built a 2-bedroom wing above our garage –essentially a whole separate house—that Ken and I moved into.  Jeff stayed behind with his Father, while Greg and Amanda moved into our old rooms.  Just as Jeff resented my Dad, Ken and I likely resented his Mom, and Brendie and I clashed, intensely, from the get-go.  We gave her a very, very hard time.  Our Mom, was a lot to live up to after all.  But to be fair to ourselves, she resented us right back.  Despite our tendencies toward delinquent-like behavior, Ken and I were achievers and her kids were not.  She overtly favored her own children, at a time when we were extremely sensitive to the Mother-Child dynamic.  In retrospect, I understand that sure, they are her kids, so she should favor them.  Right?  But to an already overly hyper-sensitive teen whose only model for this type of thing was Carole Brady, it just seemed wrong.  I felt abandoned all over again.  This time, by a Mom living in “my” house.  I acted out on this, and Brendie, more-often-than-not exhibiting behavior more juvenile than my own, lashed right back out.  The proverbial vicious cycle.  But, there was love there, and I do remember also loving having a new little brother and sister.  Just a few short months after moving in, and in fairness to her, radicalizing her family’s lives, I was diagnosed.  And Brendie, God bless her, became my primary caregiver.  At home, at the hospitals, the various labs and doctors’ offices. And she was wonderful.  And I suppose, tolerant of my/our shenanigans.  Perhaps because she felt I was due some latitude due to what I was suffering through.  Perhaps because it made her kids less-than-stellar achievements pale less in comparison.  Perhaps because in many ways,  she was still a child herself in many ways, and not-so-up on “responsible parenting.”  Probably really, a combination of all of the above.  Because, who the fuck is perfect anyways?


——– btdt ——–


“I” made a decision to move from Chaminade –student body 350—where I was incredibly popular (even though I had lost the Presidential elections in a run-off), to Granada Hills High School, at the time one of the most populous campuses in the State of California, with a student body nearing 4000.  After 3 years of 11 solid subjects per quarter at a “College Preparatory,” Public School was incredibly easy.  But also, incredibly lonely.  Lonely, amongst a sea of testosterone-jacked, estrogen-emitting, not-restricted-by-dress code teenagers.  I knew almost no one.  But at least, I was no longer the shortest kid in school.  Just the shortest boy.  To this day, 34 years later, I remember being in Mr. Anderson’s biology class, dissecting a baby pig.  (Alone, because I was such a loser I couldn’t even get a lab partner).  Most of the kids in the class were Seniors, and amongst them, a good-sized group of the most popular in school.  I remember thinking, how can I be like them?  And remember thinking, I will never be like them.


——– btdt ——–

But, I still had the skating rink.  Where…we ruled!  The Summer of ’77 blessedly arrived, and I left 10thgrade behind me.  Arena Rock ruled the airwaves, and Queen, Journey, Pat Benatar, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and Boston were all the rage.  I had a bright idea.  I “borrowed” a thousand bucks from my Dad, camped out over night in the JC Penny parking lot at the mall, where Ticket Tron was located, and was first in line to buy tickets for Styx’ “Grand Illusion” Tour.  The limit for each customer was six tickets, and throughout the night and early morning hours, as we drinked, smoked pot and socialized, I combed the line for those buying less than that number, and offered them a few bucks each to buy up to their limit.  Styx’s SoCal dates went clean (concert promoter talk for “sold out”) as fast as they could sell ‘em and I walked away with about 40 tickets.  I placed a five dollar ad in The Recycler and just 3 days later, I’d made a profit of over $700.  Cash.  And now, I was in the “Music Business.”  And had money.  And a cool Camaro (although no driver’s license yet).  And…I was a virgin.  These days, I barely remember yesterday.  But I have many very specific memories from those times.  Even remembering thoughts.  Another I remember from then…I clearly remember thinking… “If I don’t lose my virginity by the time I’m 16, I’ll never lose it.”  Derek Fields was a good friend from the rink.  A cool guy with a cool motorcycle.  He and I had met two very young, very cute girls a few weeks back.  Marcy, and …well, I forget hisgirls’ name.  They were a little rough-around-the-edges, a little wrong-side-of-the-tracks-ish.  And to this day, I’m still attracted to that.  And F, Marcy was cute.  And seemingly willing.


One of the advantages of having our own “wing” at home, and our own entrance, was that even when Dad was home, you could pretty much get away with anything.


We made a plan, and Marcy and “Derek’s girl” waited at Skateland while I jumped on the back of Derek’s bike and he drove me home.  I switched on the lava lamp and stoked up the stereo while he made a quick turnaround and went back to get my girl.  And that’s all she wrote.  I was 15 and she was 13.  And we had crazy awkward sex.  Not crazy, but crazy awkward.  I remember Jennifer Warne’s completely ridiculous “Right Time of the Night” playing while I/we tried to figure out what to do.  But at the time, the song seemed fittingly appropriate and incredibly romantic.  I remember telling Marcy, trying to cover up my awkwardness/inadequacy “uh, this remind me of my first time.”  (Even though it was my first time!)  (DORK).  And I remember Marcy telling me, “uh, I’ve never even been finger-banged before.”  Other than two youngsters –one 15 and the other 13—being deflowered on a warm, Summer night to 93 KHJ AM Radio, there is nothing special to this story.  It’s just that I’m writing a memoir, so I thought I had to include my story of “How I Lost my Virginity.”


Marcy and I met once again, two years later.  I was driving “California Dreamin’” at the time, and I took her to the drive-in.  And we had CRAZY sex.  CRAZY.


I don’t remember Marcy’s last name.  Or know if I ever knew her last name.  Which is really sad, because as flippant as this may sound, I remember her fondly. So Marcy, if you’re out there reading this and you make the connection, will you send me a message on Facebook and say “hi.”  Not because I’m looking for “round 3,” but because I’d like to know the last name of the girl I lost my virginity with.  And just because it would be cool to say “hi,”


——– btdt ——–

Junior year arrived and Ken and Kevin, and our equally close pals, Randy Kruger and Jack Wasserstein, joined me at Granada.  .  I wrestled at 105 pounds.  I tried out for Tennis Team and won the Junior Varsity Ladder Tournament, in the process beating all of the guys who later would dominate the Varsity on one of the toughest teams in L.A.  Gregg Kaufman moved from the Mid-West and as a Sophomore, quickly ascended to the #1 spot on the Team.  Incredibly bright and funny, exceedingly obnoxious and largely immoral, Gregg was immediately a kindred spirit.  Me, Ken, Gregg, Jack, Kevin and Randy.  We were inseparable and things really started to click.  And I remember, one day thinking, “am I becoming one of the popular kids?  Yes, I am.”  It’s something that’s always been important to me.  I realize how silly it is, and how detrimental to leading a “true life” it can be.  Just like so many of my other afflictions.  But I can’t help it.  Maybe, one day, I’ll be over it.  And maybe not.

So one day, I realize I’m popular.

And the next, I’m sitting in the Doctor’s office, my right ball blown up to the size of a large walnut, and Urologist Leonard Goldman saying, “this is either a twist, a tumor or an infection, I’m not sure.  But one thing is for sure, and that is this thing’s gotta come out tonight.”  Boom.

——– btdt ——–

Pathology comes back quickly and it turns out that I have a malignant tumor.  But they got the whole thing.  The tumor and my ball.  A huge battery of tests are ordered to make sure all is clear.  Brain scan.  CAT scan.  Dye injected everywhere.  Bone marrow (fun, think of the sound Rice Crispies makes when the milk is poured over it, and you know how it sounds to have the cartilage in your lower back broken so they can get to your marrow).  The results come back.  My other ball is gonna stay intact!  But the malignant tumor has spread to my right lung, and it looks like it’s running rampant.  They want to check my lymph nodes, but that’s going to require a surgery.  A radical one is planned; a lymph dissection, beginning just above my groin, and a partial thoracotomy (fancy for cutting out your lung) to excise the tumor, running to the top of chest.  Two for the price of one!  About a two foot long scar.  UCLA Specialist Dr. Donald Skinner is called in.  Aptly named, as I’ll always refer to Skinner as “The Butcher.”  In concert with my primary Oncologist, he prescribes an “aggressive” chemotherapy protocol to shrink the tumors as much as possible, pre-surgery.  Cis-Platinum.  Belomicine. Velban.  Actinomysin D.  A pure poison cocktail.  Look ‘em up.  The stuff is so toxic, I have to be an in-patient while undergoing chemo.  If there’s a silver lining in all of this, they admit me to the Pediatric’s Ward at Tarzana Hospital, under the care of my primary, Dr. Peter Falk.  (No silly, not “Columbo,” for those who remember).

I was several months into chemotherapy treatment when Ken, Kevin, Jack, Gregg and Randy all got hired by General Cinema Centers in the Northridge Fashion Center Mall.  God bless the brain trust that chose to hire five resourceful, intelligent, “entrepreneurial” best pals, and then schedule them so that they ran the busiest shifts without any outsider “interference.” I can only look back with envy that I was not well enough to join them in their pursuit of gainful employment.  But at least, I was the beneficiary of complementary movies, and of popcorn, sodas and snacks – when I wasn’t so sick that the very thought of them made me want to throw up all over the already –and always—gook-covered floors.  (Guess nobody wanted to pull janitorial duty).    I loved my friends’ camaraderie on the job.  The joi de vivre they exhibited when the ticket-taker high-fived the ticket seller.  (And handed him back untorn tickets, for “resale.”  And extra pocket money).  The obvious brotherly love, evidenced in frequent embraces between the after-movie theatre sweeper and the concessionaire (Masking the handing-back-of-recently-used-popcorn and soda cups-also-for-resale).  Indeed, envious I was.  Hey, GCC, ever heard of INVENTORY?  No?  Well, of course not, you’re out of business.  No small surprise.

——– btdt ——–

Most of all of this took place while I was a Stage 4 standard bearer/victim/fighter/terminal patient, whatever.  I was diagnosed in January of 1977 and went into my final remission one day before my nineteeth birthday, in November of 1980.  It’s hard to believe, looking back, that of those 1000 and some odd days, I spent probably 800 of them in the hospital.  I suppose, even then –without so much as Hall-marking myself with the “live each to the fullest” bullshit/mantra– that I’ve always been geared to just get up and do.


——– btdt ——–

I remember a photo of me.  Probably taken when I was 17 or 18.  About 85 pounds.  Ghost white.  Not a hair on my body, eyebrows included.  A real concentration-camp-survivor kind of thing.  A place in time. I’d like to find that photo. But I suspect that my dad long since disposed of it.   Simply as evidence  –that terminal, ‘dead” at 17 (or 18),– that as I rapidly approach 50, with 30+ years of use and abuse behind me since that time, that somehow, I’m still here.   I know that damned photo is somewhere. 


——– btdt ——–

Dr. Falk was a Junior Partner at the offices of Doctors Sheldon and Norman Lavin.  The Brothers Lavin, Sheldon primarily, were mine and Ken’s pediatricians since birth.  Even as a teen, and overwhelmed, I could see in their gentle faces that my experience, 16 years after birth and well check-ups, pained them.  Sheldon would talk with me, in-depth, treating me like a real adult, during each visit I had with Dr. Falk.   Catching on to my entrepreneurial spirit, he told me of an investment he made, in the soon-to-be-opened Northridge Waterslide.  He thought that if I were feeling well enough that Summer, perhaps I could work there.  Maybe as an Assistant Manager.  I loved the idea, and he set me up for a meeting”(not an interview, a “meeting,” hiswords) with the Managing Partner, a Mr. Marc Lemkin.  Marc and I hit it off immediately.  I was him, 20 years earlier.  Or him, me, just 20 years , 200 pounds of fat and 2000 kilos of drugs imbibed, later.  We talked marketing, production, administration, operations.  I had an innate sense of things, he said.  “Screw Assistant,” he said.  “You’re a Manager.”  His enthusiasm was infectious.  He pulled my cap from my head, revealing my near, complete baldness.  And he replaced the cap with one that said “Northridge Waterslide.”  I wore it proudly.


Marc paid me for nearly everything I did.  On the clock or not.  But, I earned it.  He let me schedule my own hours – based around chemotherapy and when I was well enough, or not well enough—to work.  I’d more often than not work at the top of the Slide, “regulating” who got to cut line.  Dana Plato, of “Different Strokes” fame,  was a frequent guest, and she and I “went out” once or twice, but nothing happened.  Jimmy McNichols was a regular as well, right as he was appearing on the monster series “Soap.”  He would often hook up me and my friends for tickets to the tapings.  Marc also let me make the schedule.  Part and parcel of which was doing the hiring.  That was a blessed occurrence.  I remember hiring Jody Shannon, daughter of Del, who had recorded the huge hit “Runaway.”  “I was walking in the rain…”  I  got to make out with her on warm Summer nights, under the stars, after closing. Ahhh.


This was the same Summer that I learned I was “terminal.”  “Stage 4.”  “Going to die.”  My Dad and Brendie had hid it from me, but Marc took me aside, and “man-to-man,” told me what Dr. Lavin had shared with him.  He held me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Rick.  Live.”


Throughout that Summer, Marc would call me.  Most times, late at night.  He would apologize for whatever transgressions he felt he had committed that day, and then praise me for my work.  Even then –and still relatively innocent—I could tell that he was higher than a kite.


Like so many times in my life, the Summer of ’77 was a time of darkness – of a feeling like ink, so dark, so heavy, that you could swim in it—interspersed with the brightest of brilliant light and the most beautiful of times.


I heard that Marc died of a drug-induced heart attack in 1990.  He was 41 years old.  He made it 2 years longer than my Mom.  Somehow, I’m gonna outlive ‘em all.


——– btdt ——–

In my Junior Year at Granada, I decided to run for office, my first shot at doing so in High School.  First shot, being the unpopular kid and all, ya know?  Secretary of Assemblies.  Easy win, I think.  I get to use the School’s money to put on fun, goofy events.  Mimes, musical acts, whatever the case may be, I got to book acts, handle staging, production, promotion; the whole nine yards. It set the stage for much of my later life.  I was so weak at this point, that tennis was no longer an option, so I threw myself into producing the best events possible, and the student body dug ‘em.  Still, The Tennis Team made me a “manager.”  More a glorified mascot than anything.  I appreciate that they let me hang around.


——– btdt ——–

Too sick to barely even move, I had not attended school for some time.  One day, Ken came home  with a broken hand.  A “football injury.”  I learned many years later that someone had asked Ken how I was doing.  Bill Manheim, of our rival Pooh “gang”, was within earshot, and he answered for Ken.  “Isn’t he dead yet?”  Ken punched him in the head.  Hence, the “football injury.”  I appreciate that too.  But not nearly as much as I appreciate –more and more as time goes on–  how hard it must have been to share a home with a brother, son, step-son, step-brother—who is withering away and dying before your eyes.  And to remain loving and supportive throughout.  God bless my family.  God bless them all.


——– btdt ——–

Given my “situation,” I really didn’t have to conform to the norm.  Even when I was relatively well, I pretty much came and went as I pleased.  I left school early one afternoon and headed toward the Northridge Fashion Center.  As I drove into the parking lot, there is a somewhat massive demonstration taking place.  A demonstration of any sort, in Northridge, in the late 70s?  Unheard of.  Well, here are three Neo-Nazis, in full-dress World War 2 Storm Trooper regalia, goose-stepping back and forth across the parking lot, while distributing anti semetic literature.  Right away, I’m seeing red.  It’s not like I had had any family members perish in the Holocaust.  Maybe it was more that I was upset with what they stood for.  Or more likely yet, I was just angry, and looking for an outlet.  I rushed back to school, and gathered up a bunch of friends.  I think that maybe Gregg  was  among them, but I can’t say for sure.  Regardless, by the time we returned to the mall, a real mob had gathered.  A mob comprised of overweight, suburban Mothers, themselves angry.  They stood on the fringes of the parking lot, as the Nazis, with smirks on their faces, marched past them.  As we joined the epithet-hurling Moms, we too decided that hurling was a good idea.  So, we picked up nice, heavy, sharp rocks, and hurled away.  Whap.  Caught one right on the skull, and blood streamed down his head.  The Moms, emboldened too, got in on the act.  Now, what we have here folks, is a modern day stoning!  The Teutonic Turds started to panic, and were actually rescued by rent-a-cop mall security.  Rescued from a small group of teenagers and a flock of middle-aged Mommies.  Nazi fucks.  Cowards.


I was at the time a contributing columnist to the Highlander, our school’s weekly newspaper.  I wrote about this episode, and while I don’t have the draft anymore, I clearly remember it as one of the best things I’ve ever written.  Rather than being incidenary, in the least, I remember it being even-keel.  A commentary of why one people would feel so polarized to another; and indicting myself and my personal mob for acting in much the same way.  Our school editor, gave as his reason for not publishing it, is that it was “too controversial.”  Conformist fuck.  Coward.  Boom.


——– btdt ——–

Doctor Skinner, the maestro who performed my second surgery, cut me along my right side, from my pelvic bone, through my mid-section and all the way up along the right side of my chest.  About 24 inches of incision, all in all.  In the pre-op consultation, he explained to me, Dad and Brendie that within the male thoracic cavity, lies a little-known physiological phenomena known as “ganglia.”  Apparently, these little devils are instrumental to making sperm.   Doc Butcher, uh, Skinner, explained that he might have to cut through all of them, depending upon what he found once he was in; and that doing so might kill off ejaculation all together, and the chance of ever having biological children of my own.  And all along, here I was worried that being a one-balled wonder might be the thing to affect that.  Anyways, his warning never really registered. Nor was it questioned in any way, at all, by anyone.  I was 16, scared and felt like a deer-in-the-headlights.  Yet, lethargic at the same time.  Either I didn’t comprehend.  Or care.  Probably both.


The chemo, to this point, is wreaking havoc on me, and already I’m down from a very healthy 125 pounds to a borderline emaciated 105 or so.  Dr. Falk takes me off the protocol a couple weeks before surgery so I can gain a little strength back before what promises to be one helluva of an operation.  They wheel me into the O.R., weak, balding and what must have been a robust one hundred and ten pounds.


I woke up in the stark white, ugly, UCLA Intensive Care Unit, cold to the bone.  The anesthetic had not yet worn off and I couldn’t move an inch.  There was a breathing tube down my throat and I couldn’t speak.  (The Doc had forgotten to “warn” me about that one).  I remember thinking that I was freezing to death, yet had no way to communicate this to anyone.  I know how it feels to be a paralyzed, deaf-mute.  Utterly, completely helpless.  As I’m thinking this, a world weary doctor approaches my bed, surrounded by a gaggle of interns.  UCLA is a “teaching hospital” after all.  He discusses my case, like I’m not even there.  I’m on display.  I’m a freezing cold, paralyzed, deaf-mute zoo animal.


That surgery was a real bitch.  It cut me so long and so deep that I literally couldn’t lift my head and shoulders off the bed for three days.  It took me another three days after that to step out of bed.  And even then, with my internals dripping all sorts of nasty, colored fluids into the machine that was connected to my lung by a tube—it felt like my entire chest cavity was being ripped apart from the inside out.


More than a week after this surgery and still at UCLA,  I felt “up” enough to take a whack at masturbating.  The climax felt just about the same as always, but nothing came out.  No ejaculation.  Zero.  I should have been incredibly, indescribably dejected. But somehow, I suppose I had expected it.  I’d even suspected –and sometimes still do—that Doctor Skinner had done this purposely, so that I wouldn’t produce cancerous offspring.


You wouldn’t believe how much mileage I’ve gotten out of this “condition” over the years.  You know, “built-in birth control” and all.  But just as often, if not more so, I’ve hidden it.  Beneath a condom, that I pretend needs careful disposal upon removal, or in any other variety of ways.  Although I’ve for the most part come to terms with this – every pun intended—deep down, to this day, I feel a sense of inadequacy.


One small blessing, is that aside from my stay at the horribly depressing, chilling UCLA Medical Center, the rest of my in-residence time was spent at Tarzana Hospital, on the Pediatrics Ward.  Much closer to home, I would get frequent visits from Jack, Keith, Eric, Gregg, Kevin.   Jack in particular, a budding medical genius, hung out a lot, and took interest in my treatment and in the procedures I was undergoing.  My good friend at the time, Sylvia Atanasio, visited as much as anyone else, and it really, really helped to have a female friend that took interest.  Ken was a stalwart, and would actually often give his older brother a back massage.  Gregg and Amanda did the same, as did Brendie.  These people, friends and family, in this place in time, saved me in more ways than they know.  The Ward was relatively cheery, and staffed by young, cheery, relatively attractive nurses.  The one I remember is Janie, a night-shift RN, who always had a bright smile for me, and an easy, boundless energy.  In 1978-79, medical marijuana was a thing of the pretty distant future.  But word was going around that smoking pot might help to relieve the agony of chemotherapy-induced nausea.   So Janie would bring in a couple of joints, and we would sit on my bed at 3am, watch whatever shit was on TV at that time of day, and get high.  I don’t smoke pot these days.  I just really, really don’t like it.  I suppose I associate it with my time spent, as a teenager, lying in a metal-framed bed, an I.V. needle in my arm, murals of giraffes and elephants on the wall, dying.  But Janie too, and her comrades, saved me.  In the middle of those dark nights, where I’d wake lonely and afraid, with just the hum and beep of machinery to greet me, I’d push a button and nearly immediately, have the best company I could have wished for.


At 15 years of age, and looking no older than 13, we had scored cheesy Oregon State IDs, saying we were…21!  (Hey kids, try getting away with that in the new millennium).  We used the IDs.  And abused them.  Not to go to bars, we didn’t have the balls (or in my case, ball).  We’d use them at liquor stores to purchase copious amounts of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, Andre’s Cold Duck and KB and Foster’s Beer.  That Holiday Season, Gregg and I decided we’d join a group of girls to go the Rose Parade.  That meant all night, New Year’s Eve, camped out on Colorado Avenue.  Those that were going would meet in the parking lot at Granada, pool our (financial) resources to buy booze and caravan over.  Ann Flemke, exhibiting real presence of mind, and anticipating the need to make an extraordinarily large purchase, dressed to the nines for the liquor store run to end all liquor store runs.  She pulled it off.  Of course, with several hundred dollars worth of booze, she needed assistance out of the store.   The clerk helped her load the booty into a bunch of cars, which were inhabited by a bunch of obviously 15, 16 and 17 year olds.  I was a little disappointed that Mary Sica had not shown with the rest.  One, I had a hell of a crush or her. And two, she had kinda indicated that I was probably gonna get a little action.  But, Gregg and I left the parking lot, headed toward Pasadena, the only two guys in a sea of more than 20 girls.  Mary Sica be damned (figuratively!), I liked my odds.


Despite partying and having a blast with a great group of gals from my own school, I met a very shy, pretty redhead that night; her name was Patty.  She and I were lying in the back of California Dreamin’ when Mary came knocking on my curtained window.  Blew that one!


And the next morning.  I blew and blew and blew.  All over the place.  It seemed much more than just a wicked hangover.  Something was really wrong. Even more so than had been the usual since my “treatment” had begun.


——– btdt ——–


Yeah, I was dying.  There is little doubt about that now.  The malignant tumor in my right lung, which had been excised by Doctor Skinner, had metastasized to my left.  My white blood count was nearly non existent.  I barely slept, and when I did, it was in a quasi, semi-conscious, nightmare-riddled state.  I couldn’t eat, and didn’t eat.  One, the soft tissue of my tongue and on the inside of my mouth was torn to shreds.  Two,  I wasn’t hungry.  How could I be, when I was throwing upover a hundred times a day?  No exaggeration.  Over a hundred times a day.  Every now and then, I’d vomit a little liquid.  Mostly though, just a nasty, harsh, vile-tasting, yellowish phlegm.  All the sustenance I was getting came through the intravenous tube stuck…somewhere.   In my arm, leg, foot, in the back of my hand or neck, wherever they could a vein.  Because of the needles themselves –the human pin cushion factor—but mainly because of the hot poison they pushed into my body—I felt as if my veins were being ripped apart from the inside out.  I estimate that over my “three years in the hospital,” including office visits of course, that between chemotherapy treatment, having my blood drawn, and various other tests and procedures –all exacerbated by numerous failed attempts to “get a vein”– I’ve been stuck over four thousand times.  And besides all this, everything…just…hurt.  That’s what chemo”therapy” did to you.  My bones. My muscles.  Everything…just…really…fucking…hurt.


When fixated on “my cancer” while in my twenties, I’d often say that I’d take a major surgery over a round of chemo any day.  I’d stand by that today.


In 1979, I was introduced to Doctor Jordan Hallar, a Thoracic Surgery Specialist.  He was acerbic, aggressive and hysterically funny.  Right away, I was drawn to him.  He terrified the nurses and occasionally made them cry.  I didn’t like that part, at all, but I loved him.  Hallar was brought in by Peter Falk.  The chemo, Falk thought, had shrunken the tumor just enough to take a stab at it.  Hallar, who concurred, was the man for the job.  And he did a good job.  No, a great job.


After three major surgeries and nearly two years of solid chemotherapy, I was bone white, bald as a billiard ball and 85 pounds.  I was pronounced in remission.


——– btdt ——–

That Summer was bittersweet, melancholy.  I heard over and over… “you must be thanking God for every day you’re alive.”  “You must really be appreciating every day.”    But, I never really felt that way.  I just went on.  I was getting my strength back.  Trying to be normal again.  Not able –or allowed, I don’t remember—to drive again yet, Robbie and I doubled at the Winnetka drive-ins with a now grown-up Brooke Sisliano and her sister Patti.   Robbie and Patti were good enough to give Brooke and I the back.  We laid together and made out.  My hair was just starting to come back, barely, and I’m wearing a cap to hide the deficiency.   Brooke took off my hat and rubbed and kissed my head.  I remember thinking, even then, that it was a warm and generous and a loving thing to do, especially for a 16 year old girl.  I hung out constantly with Ken, Kevin, Jack, Gregg, Randy, Keith and Eric.  The mall, the movies, miniature golf, cruising.  We frequented Phases, a “punk” night club, and wearing Dolphin shorts and tank tops, would slam dance the night away.  Hot!  We’d over-imbibe, get in fights, pull pranks  –like stealing bowling balls from Granada Lanes and let them fly down Louise hill, where they’d careen across the intersection at  Plumber at 30 miles per hour and 8 feet in the air. Effin’ stupid, we coulda killed someone.  The eight of us had an incredibly tight, unbelievable bond.  Keith, Eric, Ken and I became friends in roughly 1965.  Forty six years later, in 2011, we all remain very close, and with the exception of Randy who moved away, we still get together for dinner every few months.  In the Summer of 1979, we were nearly inseparable.  And there was little we would not do for eachother.  For instance, we’d gladly relieve Jack of a girlfriend that might be particularly bothersome to him, taking on the responsibility of taking her on (Jennifer?  Kate? Tonia?).  Well, at least for a night.  And once, when Kevin was so drunk that he threw up all over himself, we were kind enough to put him in the shower, fully-clothed, and rinse him off.  When we realized we may have ruined his clothes, good friends that we were, we stripped him naked, and to dry him off, dragged him across the carpet and down the stairs.


As Summer came to an end, Keith and Eric –sadly to us—returned to their private school in Santa Monica.  I had missed so much school, cumulatively, over the past three years,  that I was held back.   Thus, I entered my second Senior Year –the Class of 1980—with my brother, Kevin, Jack, Gregg and Randy. And three years after standing in a corner alone in Mr. Anderson’s biology class, sans lab partner, WE were the  popular kids in school.


My Senior year at High School was one of the happiest, most blissful periods of my life.  I truly felt as if I had come into my own.  My body  had regained its strength (my hair back thicker and bushier than ever;  I was over the omnipresent, all consuming grief of my mother’s death.  Without yet knowing the real hardships that people experience across our world, I was quietly proud of myself for surviving what I then considered the greatest of ordeals.   I was with my friends.  I lived the best parts of the Senior Year that you see in “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Valley Girl,” and the entire John Hughes catalogue.  Three months in, and barely trying, I knocked out a 3.25 GPA and a 1090 on the SATs.  Nothing to write home about, but just about enough at that time to get into the University of California at Santa Barbara, which is where Ken, Jack, Gregg and I had set our sites.  I put my academics on cruise control, but thought a little something extra on my resume might guarantee acceptance to UCSB.  So, I decided to run for Student Body President.  But…problem…Ken wanted to run for President.  If memory serves, I believe we actually discussed running against one another.  But, we decided not to.  Instead, we determined that one would run for President, and the other for Vice-President, at what in 1979 had become the largest high school in the State of California.  Which may have made it the biggest in the Nation.  At the end of the day, the ticket ended up being Ken for the top spot and me vying for second-in-command.  For years after, I told people that Ken had won a coin toss which decided the order of things.  I don’t know why I lied about this.  If I were truly given to self-analysis, I suppose I’d say that since I were the older brother, that it should be I who was “in charge.”  And to mask yet another insecurity, to make myself feel better, I concocted a total fiction.  Truth is, Ken was more popular than I was, and I deferred to him.  Throughout my life, he was –and remains—the only person I have ever consistently deferred to.  Yes, my youngerbrother, who I look up to as a model of all things good and stable, and who I’ve many times represented to others, as my “second Dad.”  So, Ken and I declared our respective candidacy.  We nominated Gregg for the school’s third highest office, Secretary of The Treasury, and Jack for my old post, Secretary of Assemblies (symposium for model building, anybody?)  Try as we did, we couldn’t get Kevin to agree to run for anything.  He was just too busy studying.  Eric Marino, of the oft-mentioned rival Pooh Gang, but in actuality part of our inner circle then and to this day, rounded out the ticket, declaring for Senior Class President.  We all blew through the primaries.  In my mind at the time, there was real competition, and hence, real doubt, at to what the results would be.  So trivial now, but at the time, it was everything to me.  If I were to analyze this now, perhaps it was my “final” piece of the puzzle in my comeback to that normalcy I’ve spoken of before.  That it would validate the notion that I still exist here on planet Earth.  We all swept, and the next day, Ken and I got a mention on the front page of the L.A. Times.


As I mentioned, Senior Year was blissful.  I didn’t have a serious girlfriend, but got close to both Jan and Denise.  I’m happy to say that both are still friends now.  Real friends.   My year, as one of the leaders of the Class of 1980, was characterized by a healthy balance of close friendships, partying, and, uh, not so much academics.  My oncology follow-ups, aka, “has my cancer come back?” check-ups were at first weekly, then bi-weekly, then monthly, then bi-monthly, and so on.  Heart in my throat, I waited for the results of each, usually with Dad or Brendie at my side.  Mainly Brendie.  After awhile, I decided I wanted to go to these appointments on my own.  I’d sit, as the nurse would try to draw blood again and again, or await the results of my chest x-rays…and think.  At UCLA, both a visiting priest and a rabbi had told me the same thing… “Pray to God that you are well again.”  “Well, then,” I asked in true non-believer fashion, why did God let me get sick in the first place?  “God did not MAKE you sick,” they answered, “but nonetheless, it is his will that you are.”  “Wait,” I’d retort, “let me get this straight.”  It’s God’s WILL that I’m sick, so that’s okay, but at the SAME TIME, I should be praying to Him to make me better? Am I getting this right?  Well screw that, because GOD CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS.” I’d use my time alone during these follow up visits to think.  To “meditate,” although that wasn’t quite in fashion yet, so to speak.  It was during these times that I began to develop my notion of who and what God is.  


Back on campus, I’d hang with my fellow student council members.  And the stoners.  And the “brainiacs.”  And the jocks.  This was a seminal time for me, looking back now, in forming a life-long viewpoint.  Much as I thought it was humorous being “accused” of being a Jew In a Catholic school 4 years back, I now thought it was downright funny –sad, but funny—that one person would put a label on another, and not like the other because of that label.


Kevin, Jack, Ken, Gregg and I had a blast on our quintuple date for the Senior Proms.  “In spite of our dates,” Kevin and I liked to say for years after.  Jack, God bless his little heart, had some fun, getting with Carla; someone we all were after.


I spent as much time that year going against the grain, as I did on anything.  Fighting to legalize roller skating on campus.  Trying to get eyebrow-raising columns published in the school paper.  Starting up the GHHS “Sun and Surf” Club, essentially getting us members school credit for bailing early to go to the beach.  In toto, railing against “the system,” as it was.   When our sphincter-constricted Principal, “Doctor” Al Irwin, handed me my diploma on Graduation day, he held on to my outstretched hand just a little too long, practically crushing me in his grip.  Our eyes locked, he glared down at me. “It’s been a long year, Rick.”


I love “Grease.”  (Okay, I admit, I love most all musicals; I’m a little “happy” that way).  Near the end of Grease, when that final school bell rings, the Senior Class at Rydell High practically goes nuts in celebration.  I well remember my final day of High School.  I skated all around campus, saying hello, and goodbye, to as many students, teachers and school-workers as I possibly could.  I skated down to the tennis courts, to where many of my fondest memories were formed.  I lingered in front of my locker, and coasted by each classroom I had spent time in that year, touching each door.  I really, I mean, really, took it all in.  Appreciating it, and what that year had meant to my psyche.  My esteem.    When that final bell rung, my heart sunk.


But we had a lot to look forward to.  Eric was off to Menlo College up North, and Kevin, having wrapped up his High School career with a 4.0 and an off-the-charts SAT score, was Berkeley-bound.  That meant we would be road-tripping to the Bay Area often, which sounded like freedom.  A blast.  In retrospect, perhaps I wasappreciating every day.  And what each was to bring.  Living the cliché.  Of being thankful, that is.  Ken, Jack, Gregg and I had all been accepted to UCSB and we busied ourselves making plans.  Ken and Jack were going to room together on campus at Anacapa Hall, and Gregg and I, ever the rebels, were going to co-habitate off-campus at Francisco Torres Dorm, aka “Party Central.”


I headed over to Dr. Falk’s office for my going-away post-cancer checkup.  He drew my blood, took my x-rays, marveled at how well I had recovered.  On how I had beaten “terminal cancer.” Hands on my shoulders –guys didn’t really hug in those days—he wished me well, and told me he’d see me in three months.  My whole life in front of me (another cliché) I left his office downright euphoric.


A few hours later, Dr. Falk called.  His radiologist had reviewed the X-rays.  My cancer had returned.  Boom.


——– btdt ——–

Chatsworth Park is on the extreme West side of the Valley.  A natural, almost wonder, it is one hundred plus acres of rocks, caves and beauty.  Amazing, incredible hikes, and light climbing. We would explore there often, on occasion, even teaming in pairs and “racing” across the entire acreage.   In 2008, the park was closed after the shameful attack of 3 high school girls by 10 of their fellow male students.  In 1980, it was safe.  You could party, take a date, whatever.  There was little to nothing you couldn’t do there without worry, including maybe, jump?


Jack and Kevin must have sensed this, because that’s where they found me.  Miraculously.


To this day, I really don’t think I was ever contemplating ending it all, but…who knows.  My good, dear friends had heard of the Doc’s news, and they had other ideas.  One took my keys and drove my car back.  Shell-shocked, I don’t remember who.  We ended up back at Kevin’s and drank.  And drank.  And drank some more.  Prescient thought then… I have friends.  And what do good, good friends do for their just-pronounced-he-has-cancer-again-beyond-fucked-up pal?  “We’re gonna get you laid.”  More drunk driving ensues, and in the middle of the afternoon, we end up on Lankersheim Boulevard in North Hollywood, where there are LOTS of massage parlors.  Now, as worldly as wethink we are, we are completely, totally out of our element.  The first one we walk in to, we end up fleeing in terror.  A little more calm in the next 3 or 4 that we peruse, we still don’t quite know how to close the deal.  After all, we are straight up being confronted by some very worldly women.  “What do you BOYS want?”    


“Thass zit.”  Kevin is emboldened.  We’re dead set on making it happen in the next one.  We walk in, and there are three women milling about in the lobby, wearing purple one-piece bathing suits (I  swear to God, really.  Purple bathing suits).  A black-haired beauty puts her hands on her hips and glares at us.  “Did you bring a note from your  mother?” 


“NO.”  Kevin yells back.  He is showing her. Telling her what’s what.  “But we came to get LAID!”  Our hostess doesn’t miss a beat.  “Oh, you did, did you?” Kevin, naturally, is right on point.  “Um, uh, uh, um,”now he is pointing at me.  “Well, HE did.”  Now her attention is on me.  Fuck it, I’m thinking, not a whole hell of a lot in the world is mattering to me much at this point.  “Yeah, I did, and I want you.”  Kevin and Jack negotiate the deal, and being true to their promise and true to their friend, they pay the lady, and Lynn and I were off.  She was very nice, it was fun, and just what I needed.


——– btdt ——–

Doctor Falk sat me down.  Dad and Brendie were there, but he spoke to me like he and I were the only ones present.    “Look” he said, “I know the last two years have been hell for you.  You can do it (the entire, same protocol) again, but I know you know, and it’s going to kill your spirit first, and then it’s going to kill you.  Or you can do a brand, new experimental protocol.  Once.  As bad as the last was, this is a hundred times stronger.  More toxic.  Poisonous.  It’ll last 3 months, if you last that long.  It’ll fuck you up so badly, you won’t have the presence of mind  to have your spirit killed.  It will probably just kill YOU  instead.”  (This guy was way ahead of his time).  “So, what’ll it be?” Didn’t have to think much about that one.  I affected my best Rocky Balboa.  ”Go for it.”  Boom.


——– btdt ——–

Everyone took off for college.  To that point, I had never been so lonely in my life.  I’ve been far  more lonely since.  When I was “well” enough –and that was a relative term—Dad and Brendie pretty much let me do as I pleased.  I glued cork over an entire wall in my room (yeah, WILD, huh?) and stuck all kinds of weird shit on it.  What I remember most is I had collected a color photo from each of my best friends, got some yellow construction paper, and shaped and cut an outline around each photo; and then glued the photo to the paper.  I then thumb-tacked Ken, Kevin, Gregg, Jack, Keith and Eric to my wall.  This way, I got to “see” my brothers and my friends every day.


True to Doctor Falk’s  word, the first five-day round of a hundred times stronger more toxic poisonous chemo nearly did me in.  It’s hard to describe.  Think about the horrible DT producing schizophrenia Nicholas Cage portrayed in “Leaving Las Vegas,” combine with that Al Pacino as Tony Montana’s worst coke-fiend bender, add Sid Vicious’ nastiest every black tar binge, and then throw in a thousand tiny sledgehammers whacking you all over the body, and you might have an idea of what this feels like. I wanted to die.  I just abso-fucking-lutely wanted OUT.   I was due for a week off, and then back to the same 5-day protocol, but my blood counts were so off, I had reacted so badly, that I was given an extra week’s eprieve.


——– btdt ——–

Boom.  Boom.  Boom.

My most vivid memory of this time is constantly feeling my heart pounding in my chest.  And hearing it pounding in my head.  Boom Boom Boom.  The Doc has told me that a “possible side effect” to the protocol could be a massive heart attack.  I had, at the time he told me,  given about as much attention to that as I had to Doctor Skinner’s warning that I might be infertile for the rest of my life.  But now, this heart attack thingseemed VERY REAL.

Boom Boom Boom.


Against all advice, and Dad’s and Brendie’s mild protests (because again, I pretty much did whatever the eff I wanted), I took advantage of the extra week off, jumped in my car, and drove my 90 some odd pound,  skeletal-like carcass 90 miles North to Santa Barbara.  I had never been so happy in my life as I was then to see my brother and my friends.

Campus was beautiful.  I wanted this…needed this…longed for this.  And another thing I remember, although I was “Stage 4,” was that until this moment, I had not ever thought that this thing was gonna kill me.  And standing on the beautifully manicured lawn, gazing out at the ocean, I think to myself, “I’m done.”  “I will never have this.”

Another think I noticed were signs posted all over Anacapa Dorm.


The 100 Club.  ‘The Ultimate Drinking Game.’  Bring 100 tall beers, and an ounce-and-a-half shot glass and YOU are in.”


Didn’t quite get it, but nonetheless, sounded good to me.


Despite their mild protests (my cornermen’s,  Ken’s and Jack’s), I purchased 14 tall Coors Lights and limped into the meeting room at Anacapa Hall (wasn’t about to let anyone influence me at this point; to tell me what to do or what not to do; even Ken).  There were thirty some odd competitors seated around the table.  The rules were very simple.  You start with your 1.5 ounce glass filled with beer, and when the moderator says go, you shoot it.  And refill it.  Each minute thereafter, you shoot 1.5 ounces of beer, for the next one hundred minutes.  The math – thirteen and one half tall beers in one hour and forty minutes.  Do it, and YOU are an exalted member of the esteemed “100 Club.”  Well, 99 -shot –glasses-of-beer-on-the-table later, there areonly TWO guys left.  A 300 lbs.+, obese, beer-guzzling behemoth, and…ME.

I downed that final shot.  No problem.  I was a member of the 100 Club!

And was so sick, –even more so than I already was, as if that were possible—that they called the paramedics to Ken’s and Jack’s room.  I think I was just looking for a better way to call it a day.  Wasn’t the first time, and wouldn’t be the last.


——– btdt ——–

It was around this time that I first developed my love affair with the animal world.  Dogs in particular.  And I’ve never looked back, and always now, look forward.  Through research and reading, I had discovered the Bedlington Terrior. It looks like a canine-version of a miniature lamb.  Really.  Go ahead and look it up.  I talked my Dad into buying me one.  Wasn’t so hard to do that.  I named the little bugger Frosty, and we were inseparable.  Brendie “retaliated” by purchasing a West Highland Terrier named…”Terry.”  Hated him, resented him.  That he would take attention from Frosty.  Despised him. At first.  I was just geared up, and looking for a reason to be angry.  At everything.  Eventually, I came to love “Terr-Dog.”  A good, good boy.  Frosty, as it turned out, was half-retarded.  On a good day.  But I loved him nonetheless.  He was my best pal.  By this time, I was far too weak to drive.  Still, whenever I could travel, Dad, Brendie, Greg, Amanda, me, Terry and Frosty would go North to visit Ken and my other best pals.  And each time I travelled, it took more out of me, and inspired me all the same. This is where I was meant to me.  But…Doctor Falk had “decided” that there were to be no more extra one week breaks.  We were going to stay on the originally prescribed protocol.


I’ve already done my best to describe what that “protocol” felt like; what it did to me.  Honestly, I’ve gone out of my way to make it sound horrible, too-bad-to-be-true.  But just as honestly, it was that horrible.  And MORE.  I finished that 3 months as the living dead.  Still, I think I was the only one that was not surprised that I was still drawing breath.


“I think WE got it,” Doctor Falk said.  He always made it a team effort, which I appreciated to death.  Or near death.  “Let’s (as in “US”) get a little strength back, and take one more stab at the OR.”  “No more chemo, k?”  OKAY!


They had what remained of the tumor in my lung in their sites, and wanted to cut the sucker out.  Doctor Hallar was brought back for a return engagement, and perversely, I was happy to see him.  Like a triathlete, riddled with cramps, but with the finish line in sight, I WAS GEARED UP FOR THIS.  “We’re gonna go deep,”  Hallar said.  “Let’s get the fucker.”  (He talked just like I think, God bless him).  “Get ready for 3 or 4 days on your back post-surgery, and with any luck, you’re good to go.” 


3 or 4 days?!?  THREE HOURS after surgery, I was up on my feet, pacing, and ready to go.  After a thorocotamy (fancy talk for lung, or partial lung, removal), a tube is inserted between your ribs, and into your lung, in order to keep it inflated, until it heals itself.  The tube is, in turn, connected to a machine, an “IVAC,” which drains the nasty fluid I’ve described earlier.  Hourly X-rays are taken.  First, to insure that the lung is not collapsing completely.  Next, to see if the lung is healed enough to pull the tube.  I was up on my feet, dragging that mother across my private room at Tarzana.   Janie, the other nurses, and miscellaneous hospital staff were all dropping in, caught up in my exuberance.   Falk popped in and I told him I was good to go.  Hallar soon followed, and I think I actually intimidated him into pulling the tube against his better judgment.    There is no pretty way to remove a chest tube.  You cut the stitches around it.  The Doc firmly grabs the tube.  Tells you to hold your breath.  And YANKS.  Whatever skin has grown back, whatever cartilage has grown around the invading plastic hose, is ripped away on the tube’s way out.  It’s just a few hours after surgery, and I’m ready to go home.  Go to Santa Barbara.  Get on with my life.  Get me the fuck out of this place.


After the excision, more X-rays are taken.  Just to be sure the lung in fact is sealed, and taking care of itself.


An hour after my “go-home” X-ray, Doctor Hallar wheels an IVAC back into my room.  As it turns out, I influenced him –just a little too strongly- in “his” decision to pull the tube early.  Wielding what looks like a needle made for a horse, he pushes local anesthetic between my ribs.  Makes a small hole with his scalpel.  Although numb, I can feel the blood running down my side.  And with no subtle surgical technique , he jams the tube through my ribs and into my lung.  Fuck!  That hurts.  But I really don’t care.


I spend the next 3 days, pacing the floor of the pediatric ward.  Doing isometrics, pumping up.  Watching TV, reading, listening to tunes.  Smoking out with my nurses.  For no apparent reason.  This time, when Doc pulls the tube, he is sure.   The X-ray confirms it.  I’ve asked Dad to leave my keys and my car .  I walk outside, into the sunlight, one day after my 19th birthday, one thousand and forty-seven days after first being diagnosed.  Given to the dramatic – then and now—just like Rocky at the top of the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of the Arts, I thrust my arms into the air, and still pretty weak, do my own victory dance.  (Well, in my head anyways).  I AM DONE.


——– btdt ——–


The following week, it’s Thanksgiving Break, and everyone has come home.  Ken, Gregg, Jack, Kevin.  We decide to head to Westwood, the scene of many crimes past.  Eric Marino and Petar Katurich, formerly of the Poohs, and our good friends always, have joined us.  Even they, for old times sake, don the matching black satin jackets.  We cruise Westwood, eating Schwarmas at the Falafel King, having a few drinks.  I still have the staples in from my recent chest surgery.  It’s a good, good time.  A group –what can only be described as a “real” street gang, circa 1981—has noticed our matching jackets, and challenged us.  It’s somehow been decided that Ken is going to fight the leader of their “gang,” one-on-one.  They each will represent their respective unit, in lieu of a full-fledged, Sharks versus Jets, Wanderers versus  Fordham Baldies, Warriors versus Rogues, melee.  The other guy’s gang is in line up behind him.  Our group is lined up behind Ken.   Standing back against a wall, to the side and mid center of the two leaders, I have a unique viewpoint.  As Ken assumes his fighting stance, the other guy starts to shake visibly.  I’m the only one that sees the blade sticking out of his hand as he lunges towards my brother.  I move fast, and hit the guy in the head as hard as I can with an overhand right.  He is not a big guy.  Still, while he registers my blow, he quickly shakes it off.  As if in slow motion, his head turns and he’s glaring at me.  He switches his stance, and business end of the knife facing towards me, he’s swinging for the fences.  Also as if in slow motion, I’m blocking.  Inside block, outside block, high block.  I miss his block, and his razor-sharp blade slices through my pretty, black satin jacket, into one side of my forearm, and out the other.  As he pulls back to stick me again, I see Senior Class President Eric Marino come from top of screen and clock the guy like a motherfucker.  Everyone takes off running, in all different directions.


The cut yields a geyser of blood.  Worst of all, he’s ruined my satin jacket.  Curses!  Paramedics pull up and witnessing what looks like the work of Bruce the Shark from Jaws, insist I hitch a ride with them.  Un-uh.  I want revenge.


We’re all off searching for the assailant and about half an hour later, Ken, Jack and I find him and a buddy.  And the buddy takes off.  The three of us work this guy over.  Good.  You could say that if the guy had had dental insurance, Jack would have had “developed” a good patient for his future periodontic practice.  I must have had a lot of aggression bottled up in me, because ultimately, Jack and Ken pull me off.  Curses again.


Round about 1am, I sit on a table in the ER at UCLA  (of course!) and the Doc wonders about the staples in my chest. When I explain, he just shakes his head.  He also suggests that we call home.  Ken goes to make the call, but I insist.  I can only imagine KEN calling Dad and saying “Rick’s been stabbed.”  I figure that if Imake the call saying that I’ve been stabbed, then Dad will know that I’m okay.  And I reassure him that I am, although he is (far) less than thrilled.


So again, I’m sitting on the table, calm, cool, collected, with a huge, gaping hole in my arm.  The Doc, figuring, I suppose, that I am the perfect patient to have some fun with, goes something like this…”Dude, see this little thing here (pointing out the tendon that has retreated into the meat of the inside of my forearm), “that is what makes your entire hand work.” (Forgot to mention; all my tendons are severed and my entire left hand is hanging there; drooping, dead).  He grabs ahold of the little white bugger with his forceps.  “Watch this!”  He pulls, and my entire hand jumps into the air, as if it has a life of its own. “Cool!”  I exclaim.  The Doc looks at me sideways.  “Dude, you got a death wish, or what?”



——– btdt ——–