Dog Day Afternoons

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Always on call. Photo: JH.

Thursday, July 6, 2023. Yesterday’s weather was “hot, humid, and hazy Sun. The kind of weather where people stay in as much as possible and wear the least amount of clothing. As it happened, I had a luncheon appointment (too late to cancel) and a dinner party last night for a friend who’s about to take the Queen Mary 2 to England. All, of course are in air-conditioned circumstances so I shouldn’t complain, although …

It’s the kind of weather where even my dogs aren’t that crazy about going outside. Dogs as you probably know are never interested in very hot weather. Taking my three out for a quickie yesterday afternoon I was reminded of this wisdom. 

Two of my current residents from my purview begging for — and getting — my full attention.

Emphasizing the matter, we were passed in the Park by some jomoke on his bicycle pedaling along while running by his side with its tongue hanging out desperately was a collie-type (I don’t know the exact breed) keeping up with his master (or his dog-walker). 

This is so dangerous for the animal because his stupid master is unaware that our four-legged friends can run but not steadily keep up with someone casually bicycling — and even worse in this heat. The happy bicyclist had no idea, obviously, that his dog is a candidate for a heart attack any minute! Sometimes I wonder if it’s his master’s intention!

All this got me thinking about the dogs in my life going back to my days in Los Angeles where it can get very hot (although not a lot of humidity out there back in those days). So yesterday afternoon, I decided to go through some of the boxes of photos I’ve acquired over the last few decades when I found a series of them from the days in the 1980s.

I loved Los Angeles summers. They were warm, sometimes warmer than others, but never humid. Usually in late July or early August the San’Anas would blow in the scorching heat off the desert, and then it would be intensely HOT !! If it wasn’t too hot, I’d take them down to the beach in Santa Monica where they loved getting their paws wet walking on the beach as the waves were lapping up on the sand. Heavenly for all.

On the hottest nights (and no air conditioning, as is my habit), if it got unbearable, I’d get up from my bed and go just outside and sit in the swimming pool for ten or fifteen (or sometimes twenty) minutes. That always did the trick.

It was all so convenient. This is the height of luxury in my book. That’s my little Rum Rum lying in one of his favorite spots, by the open glass door of the bedroom, just a few steps from the pool.

Here’s Rum Rum up close. He was a quiet, sweet dog and not noticeably aggressive as some Jack Russells can be. But more about him in a minute.

Here’s our tiny luxurious fiefdom. I never got over the fact that I was living in one of the greatest metropolises in the world, and just outside my bedroom (and dining room) door(s) was this pool available 24/7.  The dog in the picture that you can barely see because he’s so white is Pogo, a kind and gentle blond mutt who belonged to my friend Elsa Braunstein who was a resident of the house for a time.

In the early years, the house itself was a bit of a co-op commune. Its four bedrooms were occupied by a cast of characters, all friends, mostly people working in The Business, until the last few years that I lived there first with a partner and then by myself – with friends from the East, and even the Far East passing through, staying over for a few days or even a week or two; and even on one occasion, a  fellow-writer from New York who rented a room and made it his home whenever he was in LA on business. He told me that sometimes when he’s in LA he still drives by the house for nostalgia’s sake, recalling the good times and the good life everyone enjoyed there.

Whenever someone was in the pool, the dogs, especially Rum Rum, would follow them around the edges of the pool barking. Sometimes Rum would fall in and have to be rescued but then he’d get right back to skittering around the pool, barking and chasing the swimmer.

This was my workroom in the house on Doheny. On the desk (which I made out of a piece of plywood, using rarely-looked at large coffee table books and catalogues to prop it up) was my first Mac.

The year was 1988 and I was in the middle of writing Debbie Reynold’s autobiography Debbie, My Life. That computer was the latest — although not for long obviously. You had to insert a floppy disk for storing your information. You can see a few of their boxes in maroon and blue under the desk. You can also see something you never see anymore — a Rolo-dex. And a press button phone installed by the phone company (for free!).  Also behind the desk is an amplifier, CD player and record changer and tape deck. On the wall is a color portrait my friend Schulenberg did of me in the late ’70s.

And there’s little Rum Rum (I often called him Rum-biti too), sitting on the sofa with me while I read (looking so serious) Vanity Fair. This looks like Rum was posing for the camera but this was what he did when he first jumped up. He’d sit there propped up with his left forepaw pressing on my shoulder. He’d stay like that for a few minutes and then lie down and stretch out beside me. I had several dogs during the time I lived out in Los Angeles. Three of them returned to New York with me and lived out their final years here, including Rum Rum.

I’d moved to Los Angeles with one big mutt, Rexy, and five cats. I met my first Shih Tzu, Tiger, through a friend who was never home, leaving the dog in an eventual state of panic.

So I took him. Here’s my friend (Lady) Sarah Churchill in the dining room of her house on Lloydcrest Drive in Beverly Hills. She’s holding Tiger while Sparky sits up, propped against no one and looks on with his ears back and his ego wanting. Quite seriously.

Sparky was a very tough little Jack Russell. I think he was five or six here. He was not especially friendly with other dogs, in fact  he could be a bit of a rumbler if the spirit or the right dog or person moved him. However, he was Sarah’s number one dog, and they adored each other. She had two others, a female, older, Sue Sue, who was also a tough JR. Tougher than Sparky boy, too. She died a year after I moved in. And then there was little Rum Rum, who was a gentle, almost delicate little guy who was cuffed now and then by both Sue Sue and Sparky (separately — Sparky didn’t mess with Sue Sue even though she was older and stout).

Here’s Sparky again, king of all he can see, sitting on Sarah’s terrace. That roof across the road belonged the Tina Sinatra, the youngest daughter of Frank. Sparky and I came to know each other quite well as I lived at Sarah’s the first full year I was in L.A. Sarah often traveled — very often — and she had two other houses at the time: one on the Peloponnese overlooking the bay of Corinth, and another over looking the Caribbean in Montego. She’d also frequently hit New York, London, Miami and other places across the world where she had friends or which sparked her curiosity. Sarah was one of the original members of the Jet Set.

After I moved over to Doheny, she’d leave the dogs with me while she was away. Sparky remained his tough self but behaved around me when other dogs came by his space. He loved to go for rides in the car, of course, and always laid himself out on my shoulders behind my head sandwiched in against the headrest while I was in the driver’s seat. Rum Rum never dared approach that space but he liked standing on his hind legs with his forepaws on the dashboard looking out the window.

Once Sarah was away for several weeks, maybe months — I can’t remember. When she came back Sparky was delighted to see her and instantly switched his affection and his loyalties. Little Rum, however, was his meek and retiring self, because Sarah rarely paid attention to him anyway. She thought he was a splendid looking Jack Russell, but Sparky was her boy.

So I decided not to give Rum Rum back to her. I told her I was keeping him because he was left out at her house. She was rather annoyed with me and, as was her style, provided a strong argument about why she should get her dog back (claiming she wanted to breed him because he was such a beauty). I prevailed however, and Rum came to stay for good. Sarah wasn’t deeply offended, and soon got used to him in his new home.

That’s Rum Rum with Polo, above. Polo came into our lives one very rainy afternoon in late winter when he, soaking wet, approached the sliding glass door of my workroom and pawed it. I was so amazed that a dog would be so straightforward at a strange door, that I opened it and let him in and dried him off. He had a name tag (Polo) with his dates and a phone number. I called several times and left messages, but got no response.  On the third day I got the owner. He lived, as it happened just about an eighth of a mile around the corner from me (we lived in the section known as The Bird Streets, or The Birds).

I told him I had his dog — although I was amazed that he didn’t seem especially worried that his little guy was missing for three days. I got his address and drove the dog over to his house. The guy, probably in his mid-fifties, a talent agent, swarthy, unshaven and in his bathrobe (it was midday — he looked like he had a long night), saw Polo standing looking out of the car window and said: ”Do you wanna dog?”

Yes, and so it was. Polo (or Popo as we often called him) was a very friendly guy with Rum Rum, although he liked to bully him lightly every now and then. You can see Rum’s attitude when they’re on the chair together. Rum is looking away as if to say, “I’ll bear up but it could be better …”

And here’s the boy solo in his classic Rum Rum pose.

Polo died several years later of kidney failure. We were heartbroken at losing him but I decided the best thing for our sorrow was to find a new dog who needed a home immediately. I heard from a friend about a woman over in Brentwood who rescued dogs and had a female Shih Tzu “but” that she was a biter. She was only two but I knew from my vet that that behavior rarely changes. It is usually the result of abuse. It is also true that a lot of people put their faces right up to a dog’s face. This is VERY unwise and also scary for the animal. It is not unusual for them to snap or bite in self-defense. That move often elicits violent abuse from the idiot who didn’t consider the dog’s situation.

I took the girl because I knew she’d be a hard sell. She rode home on my lap while I was at the wheel, Forever after whenever she rode in the car with me (including across the United States), she rode in that place. I named her Fa Fa after a childhood friend of my ex-wife because I liked the sound of it: frivolously sweet. Eventually she was Mrs. Fa Fa.

The first night we were home, there was an earthquake. I jumped out of bed to pick up Fa Fa who was sleeping in a corner of the bedroom. As I reached down to pick her up, she bit me!

But I noticed that immediately thereafter she cowered in fear and remorse, terrified and waiting to be punished. Aha! Someone did her in. So I petted her and assured her it was all right, and I left her there. I realized her biting was not an attack but a reaction.

I lived on a point of the hill of North Doheny Drive
that actually had a side walk. I used that to walk the dogs a couple times a day. We’d walk around the bend to the upper Bird Streets, beginning with Robin Drive (where Larry Flynt, I think, still lives). This is a shot of Doheny close to the top of the hill.

On that same spot looking southwest is West Los Angeles and Santa Monica, and the Pacific from which you could see Catalina on a day that was clear.

That’s what they call a marine layer clouding the cluster of tall office buildings in the distance. They are Century City which was built on the backlot of 20th Century Fox in the 1970s. The tall building that is closer is on Doheny Road in what is called Beverly Hills Adjacent, and home to many famous stars. In the lower left of the picture, you can see the sidewalk curving (to go up the hill).

The reddish rooftop was that of a house belonging to Madame Alex who was the number one madam in Los Angeles. Her girls came to the house for their assignments. I often saw them on my dog walks. They were all gorgeous, usually brunettes, always drove Beamers and stayed only briefly. One early evening I saw a cortege of three stretch limousines deliver about a dozen Arabs in full regalia — no girls — evidently for cocktails. Or something.

I had no idea what the lady who owned the house did for a living. Nor did I know her name. In fact, the few times I saw her outside, she was wearing a dreary, faded housecoat and looked like someone’s gramma back on the farm in Kansas. Although she was noticeably not friendly (neighborly).

It wasn’t until one night there was a lot of noise in the neighborhood and a SWAT team paid a visit and arrested “Madam Alex” and released her on a million dollar bail. And so it was. She later settled, and moved to a little bungalow down the hill and retired. And this writer moved back to Manhattan. Ah LA., ahh, nostalgia on a hot summer day.

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