Bitchin’ Summer

My REALLY bitchin’ summer, though I wouldn’t have known to call it that yet, was the summer of ’79.  That summer introduced me to the ease of a California lifestyle, tailored to the needs of an 11 year old. From the very beginning I played tourist, kicked back poolside and read some really insightful stuff; and was introduced to the wonderful world of professional sports.

Sports, news, insightful information was the fountain (from which I got to drink all this goodness) in the form of a magazine stand located at Cahuenga and Hollywood.  It ran along a wall on the outside of a building and had mags and newspapers from around the world.

It was open 24 hours a day, which was very exciting.  I never had to be without this potential outlet.  Aside from watching TV (we didn’t have cable), this was my main source and a prism with which I chose to view the world.  You know, one can only learn so much from Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

One day after running a few supervised (my sis) laps around the Hollywood High track (which always smelled like fertilizer, though I never saw anything new growing) I decided on my walk home to go long.  I passed my cutoff on Wilcox and went to Cahuenga and looked right.  What I saw was apparently an outdoor library. I swept in immediately.  I could see things clearly a few feet off the ground but not all the way up; this gave the impression that the magazine selection went on forever.  On a whim I picked up the “1979 NFL Season Spectacular.”

I didn’t know much about football, but I did own a paperback called “Ken Stabler and the Oakland Raiders” so I fancied myself a Raiders fan. This book told the exciting story of the hard-drinking underdog who led his team to (what sure read like) inevitable greatness during the 1976 season.

I could tell this special edition magazine had the skinny (as Moe from the Three Stooges [a show I’d just started to watch] might have said).  I bought it and headed straight for our pool.  It had all the teams and players broken down in a way that, to me, read like Dostoyevsky, intricate, a little long winded, yet compelling.

I found out all the teams’ strengths and weaknesses, studied stats of players’ past performances, and from this was able to make predictions of my own (Oakland was going all the way).  From this day on I became a lifelong football fan.

I assumed that this magazine might be considered contraband in my fem-dominated household so I tucked it under my arm and headed inside.  I continued to study this goldmine through dinner, not even paying attention to “The $1.98 Beauty Show;” a program I usually never missed.

Rip Taylor was a hoot.

In the middle of the night I woke up, thinking about the magazine stand and the fact that it was still open.  Waiting.  I would be back at morning light.

The next day found me at the stand, really taking my time now.  After a long while the proprietor indicated to me I should make a selection.  I quickly picked up what looked like a comic book and made my purchase.  I walked home, leafing through.  It was called “Mad” and it had a lion on the front with a bucktoothed kid in a toga.  This might be interesting.

One hour later: poolside.  Was it an interesting read?

Score! Headed to the pool.

This was the best stuff ever!!   This was the insight into the culture that I had been looking for.  It was like they wrote down and drew all of the crap that was in my head.

For instance, if I was watching a boring movie I would invent the most innovative plot contrivances to juice things up, sometimes out loud and to the annoyance of my family/ movie patrons.  Nobody ever liked these, to me, pithy observations but Don Martin and his friends from “MAD” did.

They “got” me.

Their goof on “Animal House” made me want to see that movie, definitely!  I realized I needed to compare the movie to it to see if their plot improvements were really correct.   My mom later nixed that (it was too adult), even though it was still playing at an off-Hollywood Boulevard theater (She suggested I stay home and watch “Three On A Meathook” on TV).

I became a Pop-Culture-Parody-Connoisseur.  I loved the movie and TV parodies the best, the stuff about relationships I kinda got.  The political stuff I would largely gloss over, but Jimmy Carter’s teeth were quite funny (I always wondered why they didn’t get in trouble for that, they were really edgy, these guys!).

A particularly fine edition.

When I was waiting for a new “MAD” to come out I would pick up “Cracked” and/or “Crazy.”   Luckily there was a new ‘something’ every 10 days or so, unless it was a double issue special, then I felt like I was really loading up! “Cracked” was almost as good as “MAD” but “Crazy” brought up the rear, at times funny, but sometimes it tried a little hard.

I even found a new source, the 7-Eleven on Yucca and Cahuenga.  Here I could troll for a new issue and then pick up a Laffy Taffy or a Coca Cola/cherry Slurpee as a bonus.  Life was indeed good on those triumphant walks back to my pool.

June and July were characterized by readings and rereadings, accidental sunburns, and now, wavering football loyalties.  I’d never lived in a city with a real NFL team and I thought maybe my place was with the Rams and Pat Haden.  But Pat wasn’t a cool drunk troubadour like Kenny Stabler (in fact he was a Rhodes Scholar).

I’d have to consult the “Oracle of Cahuenga.”  The newsstand had just stocked “The Rams Notebook” and that helped me decide things; it was the Rams after all.  If I wanted to really be a local, I felt, I needed to root for (and know a lot about) the local team.

For my birthday the next month I got a great present, a trip to the LA Coliseum to see my Old Favorite Team play my New Favorite Team in the first preseason game of the ’79 season.  I figured I’d give Mr. Stabler a chance to win me back.  Neither he nor Mr. Haden played much though and a guy named Vince Ferragamo came in and won it in overtime for the Rams.

I was hooked; by week three of the regular season I was feigning illness on Sundays so I could stay in bed all day and watch 6 hours of football on our little black and white.

While my mom brought me snacks and chicken soup.

I followed the team through a 9-7 season; one marked by unevenness but occasionally clutch play.  I learned not only the rules of football that year, but in-the-know words like ‘clutch.’  The Rams made the playoffs and in an amped up (surprising for LA, they didn’t expect this) few weeks of inspired gridiron heroics; they had earned their first ever trip to the Super Bowl.

I had gotten the vibe by then that LA was pretty laid back, everyone seemed relaxed.  I had become concerned that maybe there was no killer instinct among the fans. The Rams were going to need all the energy from them they could get.

But then, seeing that even a usually staid eatery like Musso & Frank’s Grill had replaced their usual paper placemats with Rams Super Bowl Specials set me at ease.  This place could apparently go as nutso as Pittsburgh!  And did I mention this was a home game?  Playing in Pasadena we had this one in the bag baby!


Oh well, maybe next year (or the year 2000 in St. Louis [what!]).

     No bag, we lost.  But we led most of the way and, you see, but for a few mishaps we really should have won.  As the game wore on it got darker, there was a weird feeling in the air; the stadium didn’t seem to be lit up bright enough and I got a bad feeling.  The Rams were just tired I guess.  I kept my Musso & Frank placemat and consoled myself with Spy vs. Spy and the antics of that Sylvester P. Smythe (I always wondered if, in another universe, he and Alfred E. Newman could have been friends).

And back to the 24-hour newsstand.  A couple of months back or so I had picked up the “1979 NBA Hoops-Tacular” but I didn’t give it as much attention as I did football.  I DID learn that we had a Pro team, called the Lakers (weird because the only lakes I could discern were, maybe, the Tar Pits).  After the Rams hubbub died down everyone seemed to be watching this rookie for LA, I think his name was Earvin Johnson or something….  I knew I’d have to hit the newsstand again to learn more about THIS guy…..

Vince metaphorically pitches out to Earvin, the new guy.

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