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Old Mickey

 

The following is from a 7th Grade homework assignment, dated April 15th, 1980 (spelling has been corrected and the narrative tightened up a tad)

     My little sister Mary and I were just walking up Wilcox Avenue one day last week and saw a sign across the street from the Post Office:  “Grand Opening – Mickey Rooney’s Star-B-Q – Come meet Mickey Rooney – Sunday April 13th.”  This was pretty exciting, we may live in Hollywood, but except for that time my sister Laura actually ran into Elliott Gould on Hollywood and Highland, we never see the Stars come down here from the Hills, not since the olden days anyway, and I wasn’t even alive then!  It’s 1980 now and things have really changed.  Hollywood has gotten a little dirty (OK, pretty scummy, my mom says); and except for Johnny Grant’s Hollywood Boulevard Star dedications, Stars pretty much stay away from here.

      I’ve lived here almost a year and I love to go out exploring, that’s why Mary and I were out that day.  We were pretty excited when we got back home to tell Mom and Laura about this.

     I’ve heard of Mickey Rooney, he’s an old timey black and white Hollywood star who was really famous as a kid.

      His Andy Hardy movies are way too boring for me to get into, in fact the only black and white anything I can stand is The Three Stooges and those old “World at War” movies they show on Sunday morning, and those I never get tired of!

      They always rerun the same USO (where the Stars come to visit, w-a-a-a-y behind the front lines) footage on “World at War,” one of them showed Rooney entertaining the troops.  He always looked like a kid then, and since that is all in black and white I know it’s old history.

       But I also know how important history is.

      I looked at him on that stage and thought, “Well, he must be ancient by now!”  I decided I should go see him before he croaks.  It’s the least I could do.

      Sunday morning came and I put on my best Kennington shirt and headed out of the Lido (my apartments) with my family.  Mom wouldn’t let us wear our roller skates.  Anyway, it was just a short walk up the street to 1608 North Wilcox.  There were balloons up front and a bunch of people with bell bottoms and feathered hair waiting to get in.  The building was a small by-itself building, surrounded by a parking lot.  It seemed like a really small place to put a restaurant, especially owned by someone as famous as Mickey Rooney.

      We waited a few minutes outside and were finally let in.  There were more balloons and people, it was a crush of people but it was small in there.  It seemed to me like they hadn’t finished putting the inside all together yet.  There was a guy walking around with a camera, taking pictures.mickey rooney

      A bald man came out from behind the counter wearing an apron with the “Mickey Rooney’s Star-B-Q” logo on it, he was laughing and hamming it up for the camera. I realized that that was Mickey Rooney!  The people in the room got closer together around him.  I should have picked up on this right away, that it was him, but he looks so old.  I expected it, but he looks so old!  I guess black and white times really were long ago.

     He walked by me, grinning and chatting with people.  He was really short, only an inch taller than me.  At school there are a lot of other twelve year olds taller than me, and Mickey just barely made it.  Watching him, I thought that he looks like a star, when you look at him for awhile you can tell he’s a star.  But maybe that’s just because I live in Hollywood now and I just notice those things more.

    Mom let me order a plain roast beef sandwich and we hung out in there a little while and went home.  Mary got something too.  My older sister said hi to Mickey.  It was quite an adventure.

                                                                                                                                                                The End.

The following was written October 15, 2013, after decades of perspective (if not necessarily wisdom).

How is this guy still alive!?  It’s 2013 and Mickey Rooney is still alive, this is certainly something the kid who wrote that homework assignment would scarcely believe (that and also that there are still no flying cars).

I was just 12 years old then, I didn’t really dwell on those neighborhoody demographic factors, but “downtown” Hollywood was pretty fucked up; however it was also a place of wonder for me.  I was new and the world was too – consequently so were all of my experiences.  The 2 more years I lived there I guess I started my journey towards adulthood, and of being a bit more jaded.

Two years to the day after Rooney opened up his barbecue joint, on April 13th, 1982, the Hollywood Public Library burned down in a still-unsolved arson.  A few days later Mary and I walked out to see the smoking hulk of a library (I guess we never got over exploring the neighborhood) and passed by Mickey’s Star-B-Q.  It had a “going out of business” sign on it and that was sad.  It seemed like such a long time before that we were there for the grand opening, yet a short time for the life of a restaurant.  It was 1982 and I felt a lot older, a lot more mature, and I was at that time already taller than Mickey Rooney.

Now all that's left of 1608 is a parking lot.

Now all that’s left of 1608 is a parking lot.

That whole walk was pretty sad because I’d grown really attached to the Hollywood Library (and not just because I once saw my 8th Grade crush Genie in there with her mom).  I rented out their collection of Hardy Boys books, one at a time, walking to and from the Lido, and then later from the Villa Elaine on Vine Street.  It was (as libraries seem to be for all) a sanctuary for me.

Seeking to brighten our mood, Mary and I continued to meander around the neighborhood, looking for new things.  We stopped in a little park we’d never seen on earlier sojourns, DeLongpre Park.  It was small and had a lot of trees.  That gave it a murky mysterious aspect that made it a little otherworldly.  I felt a little thrill; finds like this had become hard to come by after 3 years in the narrow confines of Hollywood to Santa Monica, and Highland to N. Van Ness.  Entering the park, the sudden (no palm tree) shade made it feel suddenly like dusk.  We walked around a bit.

Suddenly a little puppy walked right up to us, which was strange because there was nobody else in the park.  We could tell because the park was so small that it just took a sweeping glance to notice we were alone.  Well, there was one other figure; an art nouveau sculpture of Rudolph Valentino that had been put there by Hollywood’s still mourning female fans back in 1930.  The statue held its incongruent own in Hollywood’s incongruent little park.

The puppy stood there looking up at us, the fuzzy little guy (we later found it was a girl) wagging its stumpy tail at us.  It was all smush-faced, we didn’t know dogs that well and couldn’t tell what it was.  We looked around again, quickly “searching” for the owner, and then scooped her up and headed back out of the park to the sunshine and our home on Vine St.  By the time we presented her to our mom, Mary had already named her Ginger.  It was a good thing too; probably the personalization of the pup was just enough so that our mom, to our amazement, decided to let us keep her.

We had fun the first few days watching Ginger stumble, puppy style, up and down the stairs in our apartment.  The fun lasted a couple of weeks until we noticed the puppy was growing really fast.  Our friend Kairon visited one day and said, “oh yeah, that’s a St. Bernard.”  We knew it had to end; our place was just too small.  Mary, especially, was really busted up over this.

Why couldn’t Ginger have just stopped growing, like Mickey Rooney did?

Kairon, luckily, found a home for her, a place with a big yard, where she probably lived out her oversized doggy life, eventually becoming an old dog, but filled with a St Bernard’s puppy enthusiasm.

rooney2

April 13, 1980

As I got older and really did become an adult, I realized Mickey Rooney wasn’t old at all that day I saw him in 1980 (he was just 60 years old then).  And the black and white movie era wasn’t all that long ago either was it?  Walking into that barbecue joint in 1980, as much time had already passed since Mickey Rooney’s cinematic heyday as has passed between that day and today for me.  Age delivers perspective that unfolds in its complexity, continually revealing little “aha! moment” details.  I still feel like a kid, so why couldn’t he?

Rooney seems like the kind of guy filled with the kind of youthful enthusiasm (kind of like Ginger the St. Bernard) that allows people to just keep getting older and older.  Now, in 2013, he’s almost the very last silent movie performer still alive.  And though I’m tempted, I’ll hesitate to call him and other nonagenarians “really old!” like I did in my 7th Grade homework.  Nah, I think I’ll hold off a few more years and get some more perspective on it.

2 replies
  1. joe seely
    joe seely says:

    a small by-itself building, surrounded by a parking lot…

    aren’t we all, in our quieter moments, just that?

    pretty elegant prose for a little fella…keep it up, star-b-q!

    Reply

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