UNITED STATES—That fall and winter at Estrella Avenue I endured penuries that I hoped were behind me for good, such as living on ten dollars a month, and one episode that still provokes a pang of regret.
My friends from Nadeau Drive, who I still socialized with even though they had dismissed me from their couch, invited me to hear a new band playing at a small café venue on Pico. The band had a cool name. The whole time I hung out on the sidewalk; I didn’t have the six dollar cover charge to get in. I can still say I saw Nirvana in the months before they catapulted to fame. I got to see them schlep their instrument cases down the dark brick-walled sideway of Jabberjaw.
In theory, I ought to have leapt at Wylie’s offer to become full-time property manager, but I didn’t. The prospect of being tied down and having to drive back and forth across central Los Angeles to show out rooms terrified me. My destiny was to sell my screenplay, but it hadn’t happened soon enough to avoid the unpleasant matter of Wylie’s job offer.
So there on a cloudy Saturday we sat at El Cholo to discuss the offer, the conscientious Brad and wily Wylie with his blown-dry graying hair, his dry humor and younger looks. (He was 55, but a little magic and healthy living had shaved off a few years). I didn’t know a lot about Wylie. I knew that he liked to pick up deposits and not dally. While I stabbed a fork at my enchiladas suizas, we had a freewheeling conversation.
We joked about his penchant for creating rooms out of small spaces: “Why don’t you put a hatch in the top of Mac’s old closet and rent it out?” The whackiness was fueled by my blankness about how I’d respond to Wylie’s job offer. I suggested we should find a way to be teletransported from rental property to rental property around Mid-City. Wylie liked that. “We could just beam you from place to place,” he said. Wylie had been an engineer in the 60s for 3M Corporation and then got into Los Angeles real estate. The wide-jawed face, the smooth talker with the “charismatic blue eyes”—these details would find their way into the smooth villain of “Hostages of Veracruz.” And there was always humor. Years later Wylie tracked me down when I was selling popcorn at a movie theater on Sunset, he said, “You’re in the movies. That’s where the money is.”
In Wylie, I found myself in the presence of a charmer, a shrewd gambler and businessman with an above-average number of smart angles at his disposal, who was also a screwball who could take my wild talk about teletransport in stride. There was a moment during this luncheon when the clouds cleared. What the heck, I said yes; I’d take on the job. Like many undecidable choices I’d face, nothing more than a mild interest, “How will this turn out?” guided me.
I took the job, packed up my few belongings from Estrella Avenue and gave notice at the census office. The next day I was practicing maneuvers on a stick-shift Subaru in the sun-splashed parking of the supermarket on Western, near my new home on Manhattan Place. I was excited by the car, but the raw sun of Mid City felt like Lysol. It was a sporty little wagon bought at a car auction and had Nevada plates. In my whole time as manager that car never got registered. I thought if somebody like Wylie was in charge, it was untouchable. We were gonna get away with it.
Grady Miller is a humorist. Check out his comic collection “Late Bloomer“ on Amazon. Grady Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.