Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Not Politics and Not the News



This is a story, not an editorial, not a political riff and certainly not a pundit rambling.  There will be no mention of Covid-19 nor an opinion on any Current event.   

I suppose this could be a Tik Tok video. Tik Tok videos seem to fall into only a few limited categories: People caught on camera behaving very badly.  People on camera talking about people behaving badly. Women on camera trying to convince viewers they behave badly.  AND people telling stories....usually badly.  All video presented in episodic  click bait to get you to follow them.   There seems to be a belief among social media addicts that entrance through the Pearly Gates of Heaven will be determined by how many “followers”  And “likes” you have.  

When we moved into this house there was a vacant lot catty corner to us. Directly across the street was a three bedroom mid-century ranch style house set back from the street.  The garage was in the back and the driveway was secured with an  electric gate made of wrought iron bars matching the rest of the fence across the front of the house.  To me it had the appearance of a cage.  An old couple had lived there since the house was built. Mostly staying to themselves I would see the wife leave in her cute red BMW often but never saw her in the front yard.  The old man would walk out to the driveway gate, hold the bars and stare out for a while. He had the look of a lifer in San Quinten wondering what the real world was doing.  He would soon shuffle back to the house, only to repeat this process several times a day.  I would wave when I was outside and saw him, he would wave back... sort of.  

One day after I thought he had made the connection that I was the new neighbor across the street I saw him holding on to his bars, so I crossed the street to actually meet him. He smiled and was friendly but it was obvious after a few seconds of conversation, he was either in a latter stage of Alzheimer’s or simple age related dementia.  From then on I would alway wave and say hi when I saw him at the gate, but he would just look at me with a vacant smile wondering who I was.  

Eventually his son Tim, who lived in the guest house behind, told me that his father had to be institutionalized.  Tim’s advice to me was.... “Just don’t get old”.  I saw Maxine in her red BMW often after that,  but never saw the old man again nor did I ever know his name.  After a time we didn’t see Maxine out and about.  Tim and his wife/girlfriend became caretakers to Maxine who was bed ridden.  Never saw her again either. Tim lived there for five more years or so.  I would take the time to chat when our paths crossed.  One day he rang the bell on my gate to tell me he had sold the house and was moving.  By this time the vacant lot had become a “maxed out property line” two story MacMansion with 5 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms.  It was the style of house that was slowly taking over the single story ranch house neighborhood.  

Soon there was work going on at Tim’s house across the street.  I assumed It was being upgraded for sale.  I was wrong. It was being salvaged in preparation for demolition.  Rising out of the noise and dust came a MacMansion half again as big as the new one on the vacant lot next door.  The new house boasted a plan for 6 bedrooms, 7 and half bathrooms, new pool/pool house, wine cellar, media room, gym and screening theater.  As the house was finishing up on the inside the outside was being landscaped and hard scraped with what seemed like an unlimited budget. I watched as they brought in 300 or so ficus trees and planted them around the property line.  In front of the new Wall/fence there were three different beds of beautiful shrubs and plants.  Against the white of the wall they looked quite stunning.  I was pleased to see that my front view was going to improve greatly when the noise and the dust settled.  

There came a time when I heard a different noise coming from the construction site across the street.  I came out to see a 60 foot crane lifting a 30 foot olive tree into a deep pit the other side of the 8 foot wall.  I thought the pit  was going to be a coy pond or fountain, but it was the hole for the tree.  I watched and wondered “what can’t you do with a lot of money?”  Do you want an old thirty foot grown Olive tree in your yard without planting a small one and letting it grow?  Well, this is how it’s done:  you just have to buy an  huge very expensive tree  and hire a huge truck and a gigantic crane to lift it over a huge wall.  I counted a dozen workers like ants swarming the yard.  A sod truck pulled up and soon the ground around the new tree was green with grass.  The tree looked like it had been there for the 20 years it would take to grow that tall.  

Eventually the house sold for 3.7 million.  I saw a Tesla come and go for a month or so before there was any actual activity at the house.  A family moved in but mainly stayed to themselves.  I became accustomed to Harry the Wonder dog taking his first pee in the  beautiful flower bed of the new neighborhood mansion early on our morning walks. I rescued Harry three years ago and we walk every day. This pee spot had become ritualized by now.  It was one of those mornings recently that Harry the Wonder Dog and I saw 5 trucks and a gang of Gardner’s pull up to the house.  Once again there was an ant hill of activity.  I couldn’t really tell what they were about to do, but during my random checks from my driveway,  I saw they were digging up the front yard flower beds.  They are digging up these expensive plants and throwing them in a cargo dumpster.  They placed black tar paper on the freshly dug up ground and begin to cut and fit artificial grass in the empty space.  I think maybe they will be putting pots with different plants on the glorified AstroTurf , but that is not the case. Gone are the beautiful plants and in their place plastic grass.  

Each time I come out to my drive way gate to look at the work, a man with a bandana handkerchief covering his face nods my way in a friendly gesture.  It seemed like they were winding down so I went back into the house.  Not long after that I hear the distinctive sounds of a chain saw.  I come again out to the gate, nod at the bandana, and see a guy with a chain saw high in the beautiful Olive tree.  I love trees and take special care of the ones on my property.  For this reason I know that it is not the right time of year to prune Olive trees, and to me that beautiful tree was not in need of a trim.  I went back inside.

After the time when a normal tree trimming should be completed, I still here the annoying motor sound of the chain saw.  Here I go back out to take a look.  To my horror they are cutting down the Olive tree. It is terrible to watch. Since there is no place to actually drop the whole tree, they are taking it down one section at a time.  I go back into the house because I can not bare to see that beautiful tree be killed.  There came a time when I realized the chain saw had been silent for some time. It was all quiet.  I didn’t want to see what next door looked like with out that grand Olive, and actually couldn’t see across the street from my window because my big  Tipituana  tree blocks the view.  So I walked out side to take a look.  

The yard across the street was no longer in a cooling shade. It was bright, sun shining on things that didn’t used to reflect back.  The scrubs out front were gone and the tree that stood watch was gone.  There was nothing but the Astro turf and blank white walls.  I thought of the money and man hours it took to get that grand tree placed in that perfect spot, and  now it was being hauled off in chunks.  What a waste.  I was thinking about how the neighborhood where my boys grew up was changing.  No less than a dozen of the houses that were here when I bought  have been leveled, over built and now tower over the single story homes that remain.  I was thinking about time, how it had passed so quickly once.  But now with the pandemic it seems like time has ground to a halt.    

I guess I was really thinking about age as my mind wondered.  As if he had suddenly just appeared, there was the man in the bandana waving to me.  With the muffled voice of a cloth covered mouth he said something like “How are you doing neighbor”.  It took me a moment to realize that the guy I thought was just one of the workers was the new home owner. In the time it took me to process it  all, my new neighbor is on hold waiting for me to respond.  The neighbor is an Asian man probably the age I was when I bought my house or maybe younger.  He is standing there in a frozen wave wondering about me.   Before I say hi back I think I know what he is thinking.  All day long he has seen me shuffle out to my drive way gate, grab the bars of  the wrought iron gate with my hands and peer out with a blank stare, and go back inside, only to return and do the same thing over and over.  It was an awkward pause, but I finally waved and yelled back, “What ever you do... don’t get old.”  

I didn’t.  I wanted to, but I didn’t.   I should’ve but I didn’t.  Maybe some day I will get to tell him this story.

As you were,
Jay




Monday, July 20, 2020

The Great 2020 Quarantine

First of all  this is not a political rant. If you are looking for that.... look almost anywhere else on any platform and you will find something that will get your “dander up” as they say in Texas.  I have not written a blog since February, before Sandi and I traveled to Berlin and returned to a United States and world that was shutting down and staying at home.  With what seemed like the twilight zone going on and  chaos surrounding our leadership,  there has been nothing to write about.  Nothing that seemed positive as least.

I don’t have any known co-morbidities except for being in *that* certain age group, but I wear a mask anytime I go outside.  I am not making any political statements by wearing a mask, nor do I understand why wearing one, especially in an enclosed space like a store, is in any way an infringement on my rights.  I wear a mask in public the same way I wear pants in public.  No doubt I could make a case that my freedom to go bare-ass naked any where I want to, and it might be “more comfortable”,  but I don’t.

In the early days of the Pandemic I fired up my mom’s old sewing machine and made masks for friends and family.  I felt like a male Rosy the Riveter doing my part for a national crisis since masks were at that time  in short supply.  Eventually, as I knew the capitalist would, manufacturers ramped up the production of all kinds of masks and they became ubiquitous.  I now have an entire wardrobe of masks that get washed, revamped and put back in rotation.  I have several that reside under the sun visor of my JCW (my red mini) just in case I forgot to get one leaving the house.   

I got the mask in the picture above from an on line site.  It is actually the mouth of Jerry Mahoney especially made for me. I also have a black one that simply has the words “Instant Ventriloquism”. Just trying to keep my career alive.   Upon seeing me in the Jerry Mahoney mask my wife said, 
“You’re not going out in public like that, are you?”  
I said, “Perhaps....” She indicated that in the case that I did wear it in public, she would maintain a double the 6’ recommendation of social distancing from me. 

Now one of the rituals that I have followed during this time of forced retirement, is to take Harry the Wonder Dog on long walks.  He loves to walk and never gets tired.  We average 3- 5 miles a day and I have seen more of my extended neighborhood than ever before.  Most importantly I never walk the dog with out a mask on.   However, if you wear a mask most every day, like underwear, you run out of clean ones and eventually get to that pair of underwear that is at the bottom of the heap.  So there are times when the only mask I have to wear is the “Mahoney”.  

 The other thing that is important to this discussion is: Harry the Wonder Dog is a chihuahua/ pug mix and an alpha male.  He is the greatest, sweetest most loving dog until he sees another dog on a leash and he turns into Napoleon the dog, bearing his teeth in a spontaneous assault.  We have worked with great trainers and slowly he is getting better.  It is not every dog that sets him off now, but it is like playing Russian Dog roulette. One of the things we have found it helps if I am able to wave and say hi to the other dog owner before they can pass us.  If Harry thinks it is a friend, then he is more likely not to turn into the Tasmanian devil.  So I become the masked welcome wagon with a friendly wave and “good morning “ to everyone I meet on our long walks.  In pre-pandemic days I would just smile, but with a mask when my smile is hidden, I find that a friendly voice is necessary to convey the spirit.   Some are friendly back to me, some are dismissive, some are talking on the phone and some have ear buds and never even know that we have passed by.   I would say that about half of the people I see on the street wear a face covering.  There have been mask-less  neighbors who pass by and apologetically say “I forgot my mask... sorry”.  Some pass by without a mask much closer to me and Harry than acceptable and seem to want a conflict as if the mask is some sort of political protest they don’t agree with.  

Sometimes I get a laugh when I toss out a friendly good  morning on our walks. It is then that I realize I am wearing the “Mahoney” and a friendly good morning from me, a guy with a plastic painted on smile, is just what LA needs right now.  I run into neighbors who say,“That is really creepy” but others (usually younger)  say “Great mask where did you get it.”

Yesterday, Sandi and our other dog Boo decided to do a short part of the walk with us.  We were several blocks from the house when I saw a lady approaching with her dog on the other side of the street. I immediately went into “Harry fooling” mode. I held up my hand  with a long armed wave and said, in a very proud voice only slightly muffled by the mask, “Hello, It’s a great morning...”.    She burst out laughing and yelled back ... “Yes it is...Ha Ha” .  The trick worked because Harry did not flinch or try and charge.  Sandi said, “What was she laughing about?”  At first I just assumed it was the Mahoney,  but I had a simple grey mask on with nothing printed on it because I was out in public with the woman I love. I purposefully did not wear that mask.  

I thought back on this event wondering what I had done that amused the passerby.  Then I understood it from her point of view.  The hand I held up to wave at the neighbor was holding a green poop bag  abundantly filled with dog shit.   I held up a bag if shit exclaiming what a great morning it was, like a father excited over successfully toilet training his two year old.  


“Hello, It”s a great morning for shit.”  It’s my new neighborhood pandemic greeting,  Works of me on so many levels.

As you were,
Jay




Sunday, February 02, 2020

Happy Birthday up There...

It was with great sadness that I heard  my friend Bob Mandan had passed away.  I don’t have the words to fully express yet another loss of a good friend, so I will just repost a birthday blog I wrote six years ago. Rest peacefully, Mandan.   


I repost this article I wrote about my friend from his birthday in 2012, preceded by this editors note written today.

There are friends, there are people you have worked with and then there is a person like Bob who is both. I recall so many fun times together when we roamed with a group of actor/publicists/writers called the "Terrible 10".  We got that name because we were a terrible table of ten if you were sitting next to us at a restaurant.  We laughed the entire time and were not quiet about it.  If you were looking for a quiet evening's meal we were not the table you wanted to sit close to.
Happy Birthday Mr. Mandan. I cherish your friendship.
Nothing has changed in the way I feel about you since I wrote the blog below.

It's GroundHog Day
On my top ten list of movies "GroundHog" day is near the top.   And here it is in real life, Groundhog day 2012.  But I think the Punxsutawney rodent gets too much attention today.  It is a special day for other reasons.

Robert Mandan, Bob Campbell, Jay Johnson, Jay Sandrich
Opening night of "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only"
It is also the birthday of my friend Robert Mandan: "Better Dressed!" 
Only a true SOAPY will get that reference, but it is how I know my friend Mandan. He is better known to some as Chester Tate on SOAP. 

Robert Mandan
I remember when I moved to Los Angeles I was with my  vacationing folks having dinner at the  Toulca Lake Marie Callendars. Although I didn't know his name at the time Robert Mandan was also waiting for a table.  Mandan is one of those actors I had seen in many staring roles. Bob was my first "celebrity siting" in my new home town.  Bob received the ultimate compliment my Father had for working actors when he whispered to me, "That guy has been in a gillion films." Indeed my friend has been in a "gillion" things. Take a look at his IMDB - Robert Mandan. That impressive list is only the film and television roles. There is an even more impressive list of stage productions that Bob has done, including an Ovation Award for "The CareTaker" and a critically acclaimed portrail of "King Lear", not to mention three Broadway shows. 
 I had no clue that soon I would be working with that "guy who has done a gillion films". We became friends almost immediately.  For a time we had the same personal manager, the same publicist and hung out with the same group of television actors.  We were known as the "terrible ten" because of fun we used to have at various Los Angeles restaurants. The members of the social group changed but Bob and I have remained friends all this time. 
Bob and his wife Sherry have been impromptu godparents to both my sons.  My oldest son will say, "How is Mandan?" even today.
Robert Mandan in "Barney Miller"
Chester Tate and Benson
Bob is an actors actor.  He never stops studying and learning how to better deliver his gift. He is funny and smart and yes, as piss elegant as Chester Tate sometimes. If you're lucky a working relationship turns into a real friendship in this town of huge openings and quiet closings. I am grateful to have friends like Bob and Sherry in my life. On a day like GroundHogs day when the talk is about the weather, I will be thinking about my friend Bob Mandan, certainly not a "fair weather friend".  
Note to Mandan: You are not getting older, like wine you are getting more valuable.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Mandan. We shall celebrate with a bottle of "HOOP DE HAH".

As you were,
Jay
Bob Mandan on "Three's a Crowd"
Bob Mandan on "Star Trek,The Next Generation"