Monday, April 23, 2012

Not that Leo Sayer

My wife and I have lived in our house in Culver City for close to 20 years. It is officially the longest time I've ever spent in one place. In those two decades we've seen people come and go. New owners. New renters. New girlfriends. New dogs. New babies.

Last night my wife and I were out to dinner and we started talking about our neighbor, Leo Sayer.

Not the one-hit wonder who made a splash in the 70's with his "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing." Our Leo Sayer was not a singer or a dancer or an artist by any stretch of the imagination. He just happened to share the celebrity name.

Leo and his wife Doris came to Culver City in the 1950's. They moved here from Middletown in upstate New York. My mother lived in Middletown for many years. Perhaps that's why I felt a connection with them.

Leo, who passed away about 8 years ago, had many admirable qualities. He served in the big war. He and his wife worked hard at MGM studios, which is just up the street from our house. He raised a family of equally conscientious hard workers. And he kept his house  meticulously clean and in perfect condition.

Even in his early 80's, he would nonchalantly fetch an old wooden ladder from his garage -- that featured a hospital-clean workbench and a picture-perfect pegboard with a slot and peg for every tool in his impressive arsenal --and he would climb on the roof to replace a shingle or clean out the gutters.

Up until the day he died, he mowed his own lawn, changed his own oil and marched to his own beat. As I said, he had many admirable qualities.

He also had less-than-admirable qualities. The man with the right tool for every job found himself ill-equipped to deal the changing times. He saw his lily white neighborhood become not so lily white. And made no secret of his disliking for outsiders. My wife and I would play this game and literally time out our conversations with Leo and guess how long it would take before neighborly small talk devolved into a rant about Negroes or Hippies.

His dropping of the N-word was always our cue to go home with a "I think I left something in the toaster oven" type of remark.

Leo is long gone, but his memory is fresh as the many heated confrontations he found himself in with my next door neighbor Pedro, and this is important, who is of Mexican descent.

They fought about cars parked on the street, barking dogs, loud leaf blowers, all the typical stuff that makes neighbors want to call in an air strike on other neighbors. Those battles were often rehashed whenever I'd go across the street to borrow a miter saw or plumbing snake. And I will admit to relishing the neighborhood gossip.

But nothing sums up Leo Sayer better than his retelling of these border skirmishes with Pedro, who Leo perpetually referred to as, "that damn Puerto Rican!"

That still sends the milk squirting from nose.

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