Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Other Gardens

My back has been on the fritz this week so I have spent quite a bit of time on my back reading. I have been re-reading The Tales of the City series of books from my youth by Armistead Maupin. I lived in San Francisco when Armistead was writing these as installments in the San Francisco Examiner. They are a commentary on the lives that many of us led at the time and it is all so much fun to regain entry into that past. Soon after Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated many of us felt that the dream was gone and we left San Francisco.

I returned to Los Angeles, where I had, mostly, grown up to re establish my life there as well as what was to be my first in-ground garden. My first garden, I had kept cymbidiums on the fire scape of my San Francisco apartment, no doubt against the law. These large orchid plants loved the cool evenings and the often sunny days in The City.

The return to Los Angeles was not easy or direct. I had tried, in vain, to reestablish a romance in Brussels where I spent better part of a year. The return to Los Angeles took me to my mother's large apartment in Atwater. This section of Los Angeles was known for its unusual Egyptian styled houses and as the home of the old Franciscan Pottery. The move home was a difficult one. I had to admit failure and regroup. Fortunately, my mother saw this as a great opportunity for us to be together. She and I became best of friends and developed the best relationship imaginable. I did not linger long in any depressive state. I was almost 30 and there were worlds to conquer and a house to buy.

I had given myself a deadline to buy my own house by saving what amounted to $300 a week until I raised $15,000 for a down payment. The sum would take almost a year. In Los Angeles you could still buy houses for a reasonable sum of money in the early 80's. I wanted everything and had very little to spend.

I spent weekends with various Realtors. They all showed me houses with questionable wall paper, carpeting and chandeliers but their pitch was always about how wonderful all these amenities were. The houses were shit but in their mind the wallpaper, carpeting and chandeliers made up for it. I realized that I would never get much so I would have to settle for location, character and possibilities and in March 1982 I saw such a house.

The ad in the paper described it perfectly "arty hill-top home." It was a mess! Did I say it was a mess! It sat on a small flat footprint at the top of Alvarado Street at the Corner of Cerro Gordo (fat hill in Spanish). It was a few blocks away from the silent movie era Hal Roach studios where the Laurel and Hardy and the Keystone Cops had chased pianos and each other in those incredibly steep hills. It had a view (on a clear smog-less day) of all of Los Angeles from the Hollywood sign down to Catalina Island.

Louise Martinez, the owner, was by any description a Bohemian. She had quite a flair and saw in me either as a sucker or someone to take over her hill-top kingdom. The house was in no condition for normal bank financing so she had managed to put together a package to finance it herself and live off the interest. I was young and crazy enough to find the deal and the finally agreed price acceptable - $75k. I gave my down payment and had a very little mortgage to pay off; although I had everything in the world to do, to make this house and its future garden mine.

The house had a few great panes of glass that once opened up would take in the views. There was a large Agave americana that took up two parking spaces. Huge patches of Opuntias that produce the cactus apple and the nopales favored by Mexicans clung to the dry hilltop rock hard clay terrain. The beautiful powder blue Plumbago was the groundcover. Masses or a very tenacious reed existed in on the slope where I later found out the sewer leaked. Three or four old Eucalyptus had been butchered and I thought they might recover. There was a massive overgrown patch of irises that smelled of salami. The piece de resistance was a hedge about 130 feet long of Jade Plant. It stood about 4 feet tall and mostly encircled the front of the property. When I first saw the house it had been in bloom and it looked like it had snowed in LA.
Everyone I knew thought I was crazy for taking this amount of work on. Yet, I did and I still get the same reaction from new friends when I propose new ideas or far flung projects. I have, by destiny and reality been given opportunities to have choices. I have tried to make lemonade out lemons. Sometimes the ade has been sweeter than others but while I have been trying it has been fun. I am not much into laying about and doing nothing.

As an aside which got me to Blog on this topic, I had mentioned re-reading the Tales of the City books. When that series was made into an American Playhouse PBS production it was filmed down the block from my old house. Sometimes in life you get a complete circle...

No comments:

Post a Comment