At Canter’s: Mary and Me | A Considerable Town | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

At Canter’s: Mary and Me 


Super Bowl Sunday, San Pedro–style: At the Indian Room, top, it was business as usual for (from left) Lisa, Ivan and Harry. Meanwhile, at The Spot, customers Susan and Tammy helped out at the grill — because not every football fan can live on beer and chips alone. Photos by Slobodon Dimitrov

Someone once asked Kurt Vonnegut why he wrote. He said, “I write to kill time. Why are we here? We are here to kill time — to fart around. That is my view.”

I fart around at Canter’s Deli. I do it with Mary Woronov. The name may be familiar. Mary was a movie star. She was in a movie in 1982 called Eating Raoul that had a modest success. Later, it became a cult favorite. Mary is a painter, really. She is a painter who supports herself through acting jobs. She’s had many shows, but the paintings are a hard sell.

We get together once or twice a month to split a Reuben sandwich at Canter’s. I like talking to Mary. She is depressive, a type I normally avoid, but she is a funny depressive. She is smart and has a good critical mind. She is into philosophy, anthropology, primitive myths and so forth. It’s only when she involves herself with men that her instincts betray her.

There is something about Canter’s. It relates to the concept of time and the puzzling ways this concept can be altered by the environment. Canter’s would have been a good place for Einstein — another Jew who enjoyed a good Reuben — to invent the theory of relativity. It’s open 24 hours, and you can sit there for 24 hours, and some people do.

We pass the Canter’s bum, hunkered outside the door, on the way in. There are several Canter’s bums. They work in shifts.

We eat in the back room — a cavernous space used for parties and banquets. It’s quiet, and we are not near people. (Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn’t like. Charles Bukowski said he never met a man he liked. Mary falls into the Bukowski category.)

Our conversations always begin the same way. Mary says, “I have no money.”

Here is a woman with a beautiful studio to paint in, no day job, her time is spent painting or writing or day-trading on her laptop, and on Sundays she hits the Hollywood farmers market to buy organic produce for $4 a pound. It’s amazing what passes for being broke these days.

She says, “I want to kill my mother.”

This is more like it. We are both members of the aging-mother club. Mary’s mother is 85; mine is 87. Her mother lives in Florida. Last week she drove the car through the front of a store. Now they want to yank her license.

For auditions, Mary uses an impersonation of her mother responding to an unacceptable notion such as: No more driving. She screws her features up, peels back her lips to reveal pointy little fangs, and her hands come up in front of her like paws, nails forward, puncturing the air. Then she screeches obscenities. It’s terrifying.

This is why we must isolate ourselves in the back room of the restaurant.

While Mary’s mother was driving the car through the storefront in Florida, my mother was falling down a flight of stairs at the airport hotel in Buffalo, New York, breaking her hip, as it turned out, on her way back to Los Angeles — to Ontario Airport, where I picked her up, got her (and her new wheelchair) into the car and onto the freeway for the drive to her home in Yucca Valley.

On the freeway she says, “I have to pee.”


“Why didn’t you pee in the plane — or at the airport where they have 170 toilets?”

“I was in too much pain.”

I’ll make a long story short. After controlling her bladder for 2,700 miles she gets to within 25 feet of her own toilet and there she is, standing outside the car, and she can’t move another centimeter and pees her pants in the driveway.

Mary says, “They should just be put to sleep.”

We move on: the stock market. We are both in the market, getting hammered. I have read many books about the market, and they all agree on one thing: You must have a system. Every day, Mary takes her dog for a walk around the block at 3 p.m., and coming in the other direction is a neighbor with his dog, and when they meet the neighbor gives her a stock tip. That’s Mary’s system.

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