By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Some evenings, my dad and I drove around L.A. inspecting other pharmacies. We studied the window displays at Horton & Converse in Beverly Hills, the sunglass racks at the Owl Rexall on La Cienega. They were the competition; Thrifty Drug was the enemy. Dad saw what was coming. Sure, the chains sold everything cheaper. But didn't people see what they'd lose? They'd lose the pharmacist who remembered that Sam Elliott was allergic to penicillin, that Mrs. DeLouise's toddler didn't like cough syrup flavored with wild cherry.
A lot more would be lost, of course. The monumental landmarks of the old neighborhood -- the Big Doughnut and the Rollerdrome -- are long gone. The smallest inhabitants are gone, too -- the tiny frogs who sang in Ballona Creek before the channel was completely encased in concrete. They've pulled up the railroad tracks that ran the length of Culver Boulevard. The whoop of the midnight freight -- one of the few romantic sounds of my childhood.
A FEW YEARS AGO, AN ARCHITECT FRIEND OF mine wanted to see where I grew up. I told him it was nothing unusual -- a boxy three-bedroom amid similar boxy stuccos. "At least you got a curve in it," my friend said when I finally steered him down the nearly treeless street, "that's something."
Our concrete back yard featured a small rectangular swimming pool where my sister could swim to strengthen her limbs. My older brother remembers the day, in August 1951, that she got sick. He remembers my father taking my grandmother into a bedroom. He heard the word "polio," then a wail. Dad took some phenobarb from Mother's bureau and gave it to my grandmother. "Stop crying!" he begged her.
It was a time not to dwell deeply on painful emotions. The war was over; Dad's memories of brutal combat in the Pacific were buried away, never discussed.
As I turn on to our street, I remember walks with my father to Taylor's Liquors, around the corner, to buy milk. We often passed Mr. Robbins, who wore soiled overalls and muttered to himself. His daughter was in my fourth-grade class. The boys made faces if they had to hold hands with her, because she smelled as if she'd messed herself.
"You should always be nice to Mr. Robbins," Dad said. "Mr. Robbins is shell-shocked." I thought of the small green turtles with red and pink roses painted on their shells, the ones I liked to watch in the pet department at Grant's Variety in that proto-mall called Culver Center. Dad told me the paint would slowly suffocate the turtles. I wanted to bring them all home and scrub off their floral death sentence, but there were too many of them. "Shell-shocked" had something to do with why Mr. Robbins talked to himself and why his poor daughter smelled so bad.
I pull up to the old house and sit awhile in my car. It looks practically the same -- with brighter paint, new, lush landscaping, a satellite dish on the roof -- yet it feels different. I will myself to hear and smell the lively tumult of a family meal: sibling arguments, hovering grandparents, Mom's pot roast, Dad's wisecracks.
Aha! The Chinese elm -- my old climbing tree -- still stands in the yard of the house just at the curve. I get out and hurry toward it, consider hauling my middle-aged body up its stippled trunk, but stop in my tracks when the front door opens. The current resident eyes me with justifiable suspicion. What am I doing in his front yard? I'm tongue-tied. In my mind, the Brittons still live here. I spent hours in their den, happily perusing the gory fates of the saints in the picture books their daughters brought home from St. Augustine's Catholic School.
Driving away on Washington Boulevard, I stop at Taylor's Liquors, but old Sam Taylor with his pomaded hair, the Masonic pin on his lapel, is no longer there. I buy a red licorice whip from the Korean proprietor. A few blocks farther down, astonished to see the minaret of a gleaming mosque rising several stories high, I brake suddenly. The car behind me honks impatiently. It's rush hour.
AFTER MY FATHER'S UNEXPECTED DEATH IN 1990, I longed to see him in a dream. Two years passed before he made his appearance. I was sick in the dream, it was nighttime and I was driving through Culver City in the pouring rain, looking for a pharmacy where I could fill my prescription. I tried a Sav-On, a Thrifty Drug. At each one, the on-duty pharmacist shook his head. Continuing on in the downpour, I noticed a corner pharmacy, a relic from the '50s. Dripping wet, I ran inside. There behind the counter, wearing his familiar white smock, stood my father.
He was a small man; but in the dream he was huge. He was a gentle man; but in the dream he raged. "You've been ignoring me. You haven't visited in months!" I protested, insisting he was dead. He grew even angrier. I woke up, heart racing. What did he mean? What had I ignored?