“Incidental in Studio City”

It was a clear, sparkling, blue-sky morning in Los Angeles. Ned Le Reve of Studio City went out for a walk.

Ned, his wife Stacey and daughter Kirsten lived on the quaint Cantura Street just south of Ventura Boulevard. Their house was rented, but it felt like home with its double hung windows, black shutters, white washed picket fence and Iceberg roses in the front yard.

Ned, born in Chicago, had moved out to Los Angeles some twenty years earlier to work as a production assistant on the TV pilot “Twenty Lashes” which starred Potter Palmer, an obscure Chicago comedian who was briefly popular in the latter half of 1984. Ned considered himself a real Chicagoan who grew up in Rogers Park, went to Senn High School and the University of Illinois.

Everyone Lives Near the Beverly Center

In the 1980’s, many young Chicagoans and New Yorkers who emigrated to LA moved to that section of Los Angeles near the brown concrete mass of the Beverly Center. The straight, ambitious, cunning, aggressive and creative aspiring sycophants…all of them… were drawn to an area built up largely in the 1930’s and 40’s with Spanish and Art Moderne flats in gardens of green lawns, ficus trees and Birds of Paradise.

Ned found a 1939 vintage two-bedroom apartment on Orlando, just north of Beverly. His roommate was Alan Blockkopf (block-off), a short red haired and wiry nerd from Skokie, Illinois. Alan had been in Ned’s Secrets of Sitcom Writing class at U of I. He was a connection of sorts. He had just secured a job as a runner on The Cosby Show and was full of advice.

Ned soon found out that Alan never shut up with his helpful hints about making it in Hollywood. A typical Alan comment: “What you want to do in Hollywood is send a postcard to any person you meet at a party and thank them for talking to you.” He was full of career, dating, eating, carnal, social, family and financial recommendations.

As Ned reached into the refrigerator to prepare himself a tuna sandwich he felt Alan’s hand on his left shoulder.” I never eat tuna salad the day after I make it,” Alan said. “Oh, Ok,” was Ned’s reply.

“ Your mother called today,” Alan said. He then added, “You should probably tell her to stop calling you more than once a week. You’re 23 now and she’s treating you like a baby.”

Alan had his way in the apartment with the arrangement of: the closets (he had two of three); the bookshelves (he had all of them for his own books); the keys (he had many keys but allowed Ned only one to get into the front door). Alan used electric air freshners in his bathroom. He asked Ned to used shower gel (not soap because it clogs drains). He paid his bills on the first Sunday of every month at 10am and expected Ned to do the same.

Alan imagined himself as a comedy writer, and he was hard at working writing pilot episodes for Mr. Cosby himself, though Mr. Cosby never read any of Alan’s work. Alan adored the sludgy Cosby’s humor and was especially fond of quoting the droll Jello gelatin commercials verbatim.

In 1985, popular music was recorded on “LP’s” (a long playing phonograph record). Ned would throw his LP albums around his bedroom. Tidy Alan stacked his music alphabetically in the dining room bookcase. If Ned wanted to find a favorite album of his own, he would merely get down on the floor and sweep his hands over the record covers. Eventually he would find what he was looking for.

This disorder was too much for Alan. He asked Ned to find a place to store the albums correctly. Ned said, “Like fuck I will.” The next day Alan asked Ned to move out. Ned was unemployed, directionless, single and had no place to live. In a sense, he was on equal ground with every other 23 year old in Los Angeles.

Liza O’Neil of Studio City

“People suck, you know what I mean?” Ned was having a dreadful conversation with another college friend, Liza O’Neil, a Los Angeles native who worked in TV and was fond of such phrases as “you know what I mean” and “people suck…. you know what I mean?”

Liza was 5’10 and had blunt cut brown hair which complimented her big brown eyes and tiny little ears. She was tall and wore baggy men’s oxford shirts and torn jeans. In Ned’s naive assessment of Liza, she was laid back. Unlike girls back in Chicago, Liza never wore make-up and the only tailored clothing she owned was a vintage man’s formal jacket and trousers which she wore to very fancy occasions like Dodger’s games.

Her beauty was compromised by her character. She was self-centered, self-absorbed, a slob who chain smoked and only dated successful fat comedians whom she judged were on their way up in Hollywood. Her leisure time was spent talking on the phone about herself and her failed relationships.

“If you want a place to stay…..” Liza paused after exhaling smoke, “…Then you can stay in my extra bedroom and pay me $200 a month. I live on North Golf Course Drive in Studio City and I have a really nice little gray house that I rent. I’m going to be working on a televised concert in Vancouver this summer. I insist that you move out when I get back in Septmember.”

This was Ned’s second taste of hospitality in LA. You were always welcome as long as you were needed. You were always welcome as long as you were useful. You could be cut out or fired or dropped, simply at a moment’s notice. The one in power reserved all of the rights to dismiss you. It was a tradition dating back to Joan Crawford and her poor, oppressed daughter Christina.

Love in Toluca Lake

One hot Tuesday in May, while Liza worked in Vancouver, Ned was unemployed and bored in Studio City. He had opened up the Hollywood Reporter and sent out his resumes. He had made some calls to his “connections” but found that he had none. He locked up the house and started walking east down Moorpark.

He passed Whitsett, and then Laurel Canyon, Colfax, Tujunga, Vineland, Lankershim, Cahuenga. Two hours later he had entered Toluca Lake, the picturesque and prosperous district– where the institution and sometimes human– Bob Hope lived. In this fairy land, mountains caressed rose covered cottages where little blonde tykes were watched over by benevolent nannies and au pairs and Mom never looked any older than 40 even on her 75th birthday.

It was hot, maybe 99 degrees, so Ned stopped at a gas station and bought a Coca-Cola. He almost didn’t make it to the soda machine. A young woman in a 1986 Taurus came screaching through pump area, her foot on the accelerator. Ned was merely an insect at the end of the woman’s hood ornament. He might have died right there, but he jumped on top of her hood. The woman slammed on her brakes with an expression stunned and sorry. She ran over to Ned on top of her windshield. “Oh, I’m so embarassed. I could have killed you. Let me help you down. ” She was an attractive if innocent looking sandy haired gal with a light blue t-shirt. “It’s so hot,” she said, “that I just wasn’t thinking. The sun got in my eyes.”

“My name is Ned, ” he said. “Stacey, pleased to meet you.”

They exchanged numbers and a few days later they were laughing at a French bakery on Riverside Drive that reminded Ned of the one his mom had back home. Stacey was really funny he found out. She was a Phoenix girl, who moved here to work as a comedy writer, but was supporting herself as a receptionist in a medical office in Toluca Lake.

Crossing Liza O’Neil

Three months after Ned met Stacey, he proposed marriage to her. But he was still staying at Liza’s house. The owner had blown back into town after an exciting summer supplying the refreshments at a crafts services table in Vancouver backstage at U2 Concerts. She had seen wealth and fame and power. She seemed to possess a new philosophical maturation.

“You know what I mean about working in our industry, she opined, as she smoked away on the back porch with Ned, “We work a few months out of the year, and then we are free but we have no money. So it sucks. You know what I mean? I wish I was living in Paris like I did in college. My parents gave me $500 a month. Now they don’t give me anything. You know what I mean? I mean they did buy me that white BMW but so what? I still have to work. You know what I mean?”

Ned broke the news to Liza about Stacey, a girl he really liked and now intended to marry. “That’s really cool. I’m happy for you. We all need someone. You know?” Liza was almost thoughtful. “So when are you moving out Ned?” She asked.

Only Yesterday

Ned had been in Los Angeles for 19 years. He had left Liza’s house at 24, and woke up at 41 with a 40 year-old wife and a 16 year-old daughter. What had he accomplished in the decade and a half since he moved here to work in “TV”? Or was it “FILM”?

One year he was a writer’s assistant on a game show. He hated the hours spent locked up in white walled windowless offices coming up with trivia questions. He quit.

He worked as a researcher on documentaries and checked facts for producers who wrote it into one hour History Channel shows like, “Noah’s Ark: The Mystery Rises” and “Hoover: A Man and a Dam”.

He worked in a producer’s office sorting headshots. He tried acting and ended up in a cult acting class where the teacher, Boris, fell in love with him because his stage presence was so natural and unaffected (and untaught and unpracticed and inexperienced).

Kirsten was a lovely child, and he doted on her. But Stacey had grown into a morose woman who resented Ned’s stagnant career and looked around at other women who enjoyed vacations, cosmetic surgery and weekends in Manhattan. Ned felt that he was lacking in masculine energy, drive or cruelty.

Softball

The only real progress he made was on the softball field. Every Sunday, he met Dick Raymond and other past primers for a men’s only game of softball at the Studio City Park athletic field. Dick was a bearded rebel who grew up in Berkeley in the 1960’s and was forever in search of the meaning of life as experienced between those three bases and home plate. “Ned”, Dick told him one day, “The only thing you need for happiness in this world is a good baseball bat.”

The Good Bat

Ned took Dick’s advice and went out to buy the best bat he could find. At the Sports Store on Ventura Boulevard, he pushed his way past the 11 and 12-year old boys and their dads to lay his hands on a solid man’s bat. A glossy label hung seductively on one of the biggest and best-looking bat models stacked against the wall:

“The Amateur Softball Association of America, headquarters in Oklahoma City, OK certifies that this “Louisville Slugger” model bat meets our standards for ASA Bat Performance.”

Ned immediately made eye contact with one bat. It was the “TPS GENESIS” whose advertising bragged about its aerospace applications and graphite, carbon, and tensile strengths. Lightning bolt graphics in enormous exploding letters promised the ultimate in power hitting for slow pitch softball.

Ned was about to take that item to the cashier. Then he spotted the $159.00 TPS POWER RESPONSE. A glossy brochure attached to the bat explained the enormous technological advances that went into this product:

“The strongest and toughest alloy ever developed for aluminum bats. In aluminum bat construction, the alloy’s “yield strength” is key to bat design, performance and durability. GEN1X, the strongest alloy on the market, is the first aluminum bat alloy to measure over 100 ksi (THE MEASUREMENT OF AN ALLOY’S STRENGTH). The result is the most technologically advanced line of aluminum bats to ever be developed. Years in the development process, Alcoa Research and Development Engineers formulated a breakthrough combination of Aluminum, Zinc, Copper, Zirconium, Magnesium and traces of Titanium to obtain this incredible strength.”

Ned picked up the softball bat. In a dance like configuration of ass out, knees bent he got into a batter’s stance. It felt good, him and the big bat. He carefully swung it and imagined himself as the greatest softball hitter in the world. Like Viagra it put a new virility into Ned. He had to buy it. He ran up to the counter and handed the cashier two hundred dollar bills. This bat might just change his life.

Unnerving

Alan Blockkopf had eventually become the executive producer and creator of “Whoremobile”. The MTB reality show starred a beautiful Playboy bunny who would pick one lucky male winner to ride (and do much more) in her car all night. The winner was selected from three guys who had to eat dead cat meat or drink pig’s blood in order to win a date with her. The supervising producer, just under Blockkopf , was Liza O’Neil. Here were two old friends of Ned who were now in distinguished positions were they could earn accolades and honors.

Ned felt diminished. College friends of Ned’s became neurosurgeons and Congressmen, CEO’s and Engineers, diplomats, designers and producers of “Whoremobile” but where was he? Ned was still poor Ned stuck outside with his hungry nose against the window watching the lucky ones inside.

He was desperate to prove something to himself. He would ask Alan or Liza for a job on “Whoremobile”. He just had to.

Nose Ring Central

“Of course you can come in and talk to us.” Thus, Liza O’Neil invited Ned Le Reve to visit her production offices at MTB in Santa Monica.

MTB (Music Tele-Broadcasting) was housed in a long, low slung brown brick building in a flat and uninteresting section of West Los Angeles.

Ned arrived dressed in his best “I’m still young, cool and hip” style that looked hopelessly out of date to those MTB employees who were not yet born when Ned graduated College. He was wearing a red 50’s style rayon camp shirt with the tails untucked, baggy jeans and leather Steve Madden sneakers. His hair was cut short and frosted blonde in parts to block out the gray. The receptionist was an Asian tattooed young man with nose rings and a laptop on his lap. Ned was buzzed into the offices of “Whoremobile”.

MTB’s architecture in Los Angeles is a circus side-show, a commercially calculating carnival of deception and pretense. Interior design here is fun, crazy and lunatic with an infant’s sense of decorum and the quiet subtlety of a Marine drill sergeant. Acid green walls and unadorned bare bulbs were accentuated by psychedelic carpets and linoleum violently mismatched. The intent: to express how free and cool it is at MTB. The result: it only served to make the Ned feel ill at ease and unsure. Big-framed posters of shirtless and muscular black men grabbing their crotches were advertisements for the best debauchery and merrymaking. This land of MTB: whores and thugs, killers and sluts, singers and salesmen, hell and hucksterism. This is what middle aged, white and nerdy Ned Le Reve saw as he walked down the hall to Liza’s office.

On the 10

It was 5 O’clock and Ned was stuck on the freeway. He was driving his wife’s 1986 Taurus, the one that had almost killed him years ago. He was hot, hungry and tired. He couldn’t stop replaying the ridiculous and sickening interview with Liza O’Neil.

“We like to talk about sex and food. You know what I mean? I mean do you know anything about the new MTB food channel FTV?” Liza said.

“I’ve been working in documentaries,” Ned said.

“We are going to Vegas to do a special with Paris Hilton. You know her?” Liza asked.

“Yes.”

“Well I mean if you want to move to Vegas, I could probably use someone as my assistant there. Do you have a car?” Liza asked.

She had put a tape of the show in the VCR and they had watched it. A tan, 22 year-old blond girl with orange skin peeled off her top and three guys jumped on top of her and the whole scene was blacked out by sensors.

“Why do you bother to show what you can’t show?” Ned asked.

“It’s the idea. They’re jumping on top of her and the audience knows she’s topless and everyone uses their imagination. You-know-what-I-mean?” She said.

“I do. And I think it’s asinine to tease your viewers with explicit sex and not make it explicit!” He answered. He lost his chances right there. Not that he wanted to win the job anyway.

“Well it’s been great seeing you again. I’ll say hi to Alan. He’s so busy. He wanted to come by and say hello but he just doesn’t have time. You-know-what-I-mean?” Liza said goodbye and walked out of the room. MTB had cooked her brain like a TV dinner left too long in the microwave.

North on Laurel Canyon

Ned was crawling up the one lane Laurel Canyon at the height of the rush hour. He looked out his rear view mirror and could see a brown haired young woman in a Lincoln Navigator. She was on the phone, putting on lipstick, driving, and drinking coffee.

His phone rang. It was Dick Raymond, “Hey Ned. I just called to tell you that the game is cancelled tomorrow. I was invited to spend the weekend with my friend Alan and his wife at their beach house in Newport Beach.”

“Oh, that’s OK,” answered Ned.

“Are you all right kid?” Dick asked.

“No. I just had a horrible interview and now I’m stuck in traffic. Nothing out of the ordinary,” answered Ned.

“Interview?” Dick asked.

“Yes. Some fuckin’ idiotic show called “Whoremobile”. I mean can you imagine me on a show like that? It’s like one step above porn.” Ned said.

“But very profitable. My friend Alan is the executive producer of that show. That’s the Alan my wife are going to spend the weekend with in Newport!” he said.

“Hey. I didn’t mean to take a swipe at your friend.” Ned said.

“No. I agree with you. It’s garbage, but I wouldn’t tell him that. Do you know he just bought a nine million dollar house in Brentwood?” Alan said.

“No, I didn’t.” Ned said.

“Well. He’s enjoying every minute of it. The United Jewish Appeal voted him Citizen of the Year. He’s a big guy now. So long. Have a good weekend Ned.” Alan said.

At last Ned reached the top of Mulholland, the mountain summit road that separates Los Angeles from the San Fernando Valley. The golden haze of the sun was closing on a day full of ambiguity and yearning.

What he wanted now, more than anything, he thought, was to go to the park and hit a few balls.

“Hated Hill House”

More than 30 years ago, in a town halfway between Los Encinos, CA and Riverside, Mr. and Mrs. Hill bought a modest ranch house in the sleepy Santa Tara Valley.

The newly named Hill House was a white clapboard ranch set back about 200 feet from Highway 14, along a beautiful apple orchard nestled beneath the Santa Tara Mountains. In its rustic and gentle unpretentiousness, the ranch looked like it might have once been a set piece for a 1940’s cowboy movie.

Santa Tara had only about 1,300 residents back then, most of whom were farmers, small business owners, retirees and migrant workers.

When Larry and Annie Hill moved into Santa Tara, they were a different type. Larry was a rugged, long-haired sculptor who looked something like the 60’s radical Abby Hoffman. Annie was the Joan Baez wife, who wore her long black hair with a headband, and drove a Ford pick-up around town with her three black Dalmatians. She hid her wealthy origins well. Her father had been a publisher of a San Francisco newspaper, it was alleged.

They had moved from somewhere else, perhaps San Francisco, possibly Berkeley, maybe Portland, nobody knew for sure.

They might have had anti-war connections, experimented with drugs, conducted all night orgies, or maybe they weren’t even married. They just looked strange.

I was 12 year old Edgar Evens, a boy who rode my bike past their house and wondered why such artsy folk would move to such a dusty dry town far removed from urban sophisticates.

I looked at those people and I wished my parents looked that cool. But my mom and dad were fat and Baptist, listened to Lawrence Welk and said grace before every single meal.

One blistering July afternoon, I came into my parent’s bedroom to find them lying lifeless on top of their king- sized bed. They had been shot up, and my mother was full of blood and holes. My father lay there with his eyes wide open and a red-river of liquid pouring out of his stunned mouth and onto the soaking crimson pillows.

The Sheriff came. Then the ambulance, and then the coroner. My seventh grade teacher, Mona McKinsey came, and she brought Pastor Clark, and pretty soon the good Pastor took me back to his place and I never went back to my parent’s house again.

The funeral was a week later. My Uncle Russ, Aunt Betty, and tons of cousins from Kentucky, Oklahoma and Oregon showed up. They said that my father had shot my mother and then turned the gun on himself.

KTLA-TV sent a reporter to interview me, but Pastor Clark wouldn’t let me talk. The Los Angeles Times called once, but then they didn’t call again. The Santa Tara Gazette reported the killing on its front page. That was something.

I went back to school, and finished the seventh grade. Then Pastor Clark asked me if I wanted to move into Hill House. The Hills wanted to become my guardian. I said yes, and moved into the white ranch house in the apple orchards.

Larry played The Doors, Joni Mitchell, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. He had a studio where he kept sheets of metal, tools, paints and poisons and fashioned bizarre beings out of steel.

Annie worked as a guidance counselor at the high school, but at night, she drove 20 miles to study architecture at the local college. Her drafting tools, papers, and architecture books took up one corner of Larry’s studio.

A few days after I had moved in, Annie knocked on my bedroom door and sat on the edge of my bed. Outside, crows were circling the fields and causing a ruckus. In late afternoon, the gentle orange tints of the setting sun washed against the bedspread.

“Do you think of your parents, son?” she asked.

“No, not really.”

She fastened her deep brown eyes into mine. Her breath smelled of red wine and rosemary. The scent of chicken in the pot perfumed her hair.

“I’m cooking downstairs, and we’ll have some dinner. Just know that no matter what, I’m here for you to talk. Understand?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Yes ma’am! You don’t have to call me that. How about Annie?”

“Yes ma’am. I mean Annie……”

The eighth grade started again, and I went back to school. The Mexican workers came into town to pick the ripened apples. I would pass straw hatted kids my age in the fields while sitting on the bus dreaming of running away from Santa Tara.

Mona McKinsey was again my teacher and this year she began class by saying that everyone was so sorry about the death of my parents and how much I was loved by everyone in town.

I had once liked school, but the eighth grade was horrible. We had to study trigonometry and algebra. We had to memorize English and American history, and we were drilled in grammar and sentence structure. Every night, I spent two or three hours struggling with math, and I never seemed to catch up to the other kids. I was falling behind, and then I began to feel shy.

I started eating alone at lunchtime. In gym class, I was picked last for sports teams. My skin began to break out and every morning I would wake up and find that my cheeks were sore and ruptured with pimples and blackheads.

Girls were now growing breasts and getting bitchier. They ganged up in large groups and walked around the playground picking out targets like game hunters on an African safari.

I remember one bitch, Lisa Gettleman, who had freckles and brown teeth, but acted as if she were Cheryl Tiegs.

“Well, if it isn’t the town weirdo. When are you going to act normal again? You’re not the only kid whose parents are dead!”

Six of these girls were glued together, laughing and chewing gum and taunting me.

“I think he’s gay. That’s what he is. Do you know what a HOMO is?”

“Fuck you! Fuck off bitches!”

“Fuck you loser!”

They fled the scene of the crime and I ran to the other side of the playground and hid my head behind the thorny bushes under the cafeteria windows.

Larry took me for a walk with the three Dalmatians: Missy, Matador and Marvin. We walked up behind the barn, and into the hills behind the house. A couple of hundred feet along the trail, you could stop and see the whole town below. The air was cooler and the settlement down there seemed small and unimportant.

“It’s a toy town. Toy town with toy folks.” He said.

“What do you mean?”

“Little minds like dolls. They go about their lives and their small matters. You have to come up here and breathe some fresh air sometimes. Don’t swim in the town without coming up for air.”

“I hate this town.” I said.

“I know. I hate it too.”

“Then why did you move here?”

“I wanted to get out of the city. I had my art, and my wife. We just thought it would be better to concentrate on creating something. So Santa Tara seemed to beckon.”

“But its so dinky here.”

“But that’s the point. Annie wants to be a big fish in a small pond.”

“Why did you take me in?”

“Why not?”

“That’s not a good answer. You don’t just take a strange kid into your home just because he has no parents.”

“You were an outcast. That’s why. We took you in because we don’t like it when people are outcasted.”

“Great. You think I’m a freak!”

“An outcast. Not a freak! You can be different and come from difficulty and it don’t make you a freak!”

Annie got her degree and now she was an architect. She threw a party and invited some of the townsfolk. Her diploma stood proudly atop the fireplace mantle.

She didn’t design houses though. There weren’t any people who would hire her. Larry did, however, know of a man in Santa Monica, a radical architect who did weird projects like building homes out of sheet metal, plywood, fencing, and old tires. This future design celebrity came out to Santa Tara one day and sat out on the front porch drinking red wine in his faded jeans and dirty ostrich boots.

“This is our boy. Sort of. Edgar come and meet Frank T. Geary.”

“How do you do Mr. Geary?”

“Just fine. Larry tells me that you hate this house.”

“Yep.”

“Tell me why you hate it?”

“Look at it. It’s just plain and doesn’t say anything. It looks like boring people live here. These people aren’t boring—but their house looks like hell.”

Everyone laughed. Annie poured herself a glass of wine, and then Larry brought out some avocado dip. The architect dipped his potato chip into the bowl and sat down on the wooden steps of the porch, petting Missy.

Annie spoke. “We don’t want you to improve this house. We want you to transform it. I want people to drive out to Santa Tara and look at my house and say, “What were they thinking!”

“Now you don’t want all that publicity do you Annie?”

“I want whatever is going to make a name for all of us. I have a husband who needs to sell his sculptures. I need to find work at least as a draftsman and you need to get your name on TV.”

“Something for everyone, huh?” sneered the architect.

“We ought to be famous for something good here. The last time our town was in the news…….”

They had spoken the unspeakable. Crossed the line. The air turned sticky and silent. Larry took Annie aside and she went into the house.

Larry came out and exclaimed with renewed confidence:”If Santa Tara becomes famous it’s going to be from the new Hill House.”

There was talk of money in the house. Larry had an inheritance and a little cash to play around with. The architect was going to take on the project, and charge very little commission in the hope that Hill House would put his name on the map.

After I graduated from the eighth grade, Larry asked me to work with him in construction. He was going to help build the home, with guidance from his wife and the architect, and I could be the intern on the project.

The drawings for the house arrived in the mail. Annie laid the giant manila envelope on the dining room table, sliced open the cover and pulled out the blueprints.

“What is that?” I asked. I was looking at a window that was not round or square, but a trapezoid with cartoonish angles set against a façade of corrugated steel, plywood, plastic and aluminum.

“That’s our new house, Edgar. Isn’t it fantastic?”

“That’s the house? That’s the ugliest thing I have ever seen! How could you even build that!”

She laughed. She picked up the drawings and went outside to show her husband.

“Edgar thinks it’s ugly. That’s the point. We want them to hate Hill House. Then we’ll be famous.”

“You want to be so obvious! I don’t want to live in something that people make fun of.”

Larry put his hand on my shoulder. “All great art is despised when it’s first shown. I’m going to tell you about the French impressionists. Why, do you know the first time Renoir painted, people spit at his paintings? Van Gogh died broke. Picasso was despised. So were the Beatles, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marlon Brando. People– I mean average people– don’t understand great artists!”

I was getting angry. My teenage temper burst.

“You’re not building art! You’re building a house and it’s ugly and you’re pretending that you have something artful and it’s just so you can fool people so you can make money. It’s dishonest and you want to trick people!”

“Now don’t be a jerk! You don’t have the knowledge to talk about art. You will learn, but right now you have to accept that we are telling you the truth.”

Just as I entered freshman year, Annie quit her job at the high school. She had gotten some work from the architect, and had managed to build up a clientele based upon her association with the radical builder. The projects were money, they weren’t fun and they bored her. One of the assignments was to design a chicken coop for a neighbor.

But Annie and Larry’s house was now nearing completion. Just as the town had once driven by another house to see where the dead victims were, they now pulled up to gawk, to take pictures, to comment on our house. We were conspicuous and I was ashamed. Annie and Larry were town celebrities though, and they knew they had hit a nerve.

Larry came home one night, ran into the den and turned on the TV.

“Look, everyone get in here! KTLA has something about Frank’s new house in Venice. Robert Redford might move into it.”

“It looks like a retarded person’s playhouse.” I said.

Annie came in holding her glass of wine. “Yes, yes, yes! If that house can be on TV, so can ours!”

Workmen arrived every morning at 6am. It was impossible to sleep through the hammering, drilling, screaming, cussing, dust, trucks and sawing.

Mr. Geary hardly came out to the house. Great architects worked like that, Annie explained. They created, and then others did the building.

Finally, the house was complete. Standing alone in the apple orchards, with the blue-mountains as a backdrop, stood the architectural sensation of the year.

Folks could not believe the “genius” of the building. Some thought it was ridiculous, but most believers convinced the skeptical and very soon almost everyone knew that something amazing had come to Santa Tara.

“Looks like a tornado hit it.”

“Ugly as sin.”

“You don’t know beauty when you see it.”

“Fascinating.”

“Where are the loonies?”

“Does that weird kid still live there?”

Mr. Geary, Larry, Annie and dozens of friends came over for the housewarming. Vegetarian chili, white wine, reefer, scented candles and the barking dogs, it was California hospitality at its most sincere. I was a part of a new wave, like Surrealism or Expressionism or Method acting, and where I slept and shit now was a hallowed ground for the aesthetes of Los Angeles, Palm Springs and Soho.

They had taken me once after my parents died, into a home which was a sanctuary from violent America. I had been ripped open, left alone, orphaned, and these two rescuers had brought me into their lives. They would protect me, and nourish me, and teach me those great values that might insure my success in life.

I had seen greatness in the new art, the house that looked like an insane asylum, but who was I to judge? As unanimous opinion spread like a virus, I realized that I was destined to live in a home that was now on the map of celebrity residences. I could not object to what I hated, I had to learn to love what everyone else desired, and eventually I would desire it myself.