Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hail Cesar

Two weeks ago there was a story from Aurora, Colorado about a man who went on a killing spree at a movie theater. He killed 12 people, injured dozens more and ruined the lives of hundreds. And he did it all dressed as The Joker. With any luck it will spur meaningful legislation to get military grade weapons off the street.

In any case, I have a Joker story of a happier nature.

When I graduated college and came to California I knew I was going to make a living as a writer. I just didn't know how. And so I spent a few years floundering. As a kitchen manager, a bartender even as a forklift driver.

How did I find myself behind the wheel of the KC9000 HaulMaster?

My dad was the head bean counter for a NY-based company that distributed electrical wiring. They had a facility here in Southern California. They said it was in Gardena, mostly not to scare visiting suppliers, because the warehouse was actually in Compton. Dad did what dad's do and pulled some strings.

I lived in West Los Angeles. And had no car nor any means to get to my new job in Compton. My father, being who he was, suggested I buy a bike and cycle there. The 23 mile commute through LA's toughest neighborhoods would do me good, he thought. I convinced him a bike wouldn't have lasted five minutes chained to a telephone pole in Compton. So dad went to Plan B.

He asked Dan Lang, the VP General Manager of the facility if he wouldn't mind some commuter companionship. And Dan, a man in his late 60's was more than happy to accommodate.

Dan lived in Brentwood. He was a jovial old Jew, with similar NY roots and recent college graduates of his own. His two boys were already in law school and med school. In retrospect, Dan might have felt sorry for my father and his clueless son.

Every morning, at 6:45 AM no less, Dan would roll up on my shabby apartment building on Stoner Ave. And by 7:00 we were seated in Dan's regular booth at Junior's Deli. The waitresses all knew and loved him. I was still rubbing the sand out of my eyes and he was flirting with anything that moved. He would wink at them. Pat them on the ass. And leave outrageously huge tips. And in return they would all swing by the booth and runs their hands through his shock of white hair that would make Kirk Douglass envious.

What Dan, a bowling ball of a man, lacked in height, he more than made up for in charisma.
And generosity.

In addition to buying me breakfast every morning, he lent me his wife's car on weekends and often had me over to his condo for a home cooked meal. Though after tasting Mrs. Lang's food, I could see why he spent so much time cavorting with waitresses.

It was on one of these visits to Brentwood that I met Dan's next door neighbor -- Cesar Romero, the original Joker from the Batman TV show. He was older and a lot less animated than his signature character, but why would I expect otherwise?

Dan and Cesar were good friends. And on one occasion I remember him joining us for a drink in Dan's living room. There I was, having a beer with the zeta I always wanted and the TV villain I always loved to hate. California, I thought, truly was a land where dreams come true.

I miss Dan Lang. And I'm sure he has passed on. If I ever get some free time I'm determined to pay his gravesite a visit. Until then, this will have to do.