ones front knob and its door are often adorned with snail spam takeout menus, real estate propaganda, seasonal lawn-care bargains and chimney-sweep pamphlets. And that years knob was no different. Except for the bottle. A very clean vintage Coca-Cola bottle was dangling from the knob, there, at the criminal end of a red yarn noose. Inside the bottle was a tightly rolled-up piece of pale green paper at the mercy of two small red rubber bands.
I gathered the other crap for recycling, and sat down with the bottle on the front stoop. The paper slid out easily, and after removing the rubber bands and flattening it out, I saw that it was a promotional mini-pamphlet; its front cover bore the term HASBROISM, and its back the likeness and signature of an old acquaintance, Wrenda Hasbro.
I thought Wrenda Hasbro was dead.
Wrenda Hasbro was born on Christmas Day 1967 in a private hospital room that her wealthy parents had paid to have decorated as a Jesus-style, life-size Nativity scene for the occasion. She received $600,000 worth of education from a private school in Bel-Air and enrolled at Berkeley in 1986. It was there, while living in the notorious Barrington Residence Hall, that she eventually changed her name from Smerdok to Hasbro. Her father was a barbarous financier, the notorious Ira Smerdok, and she wanted no part of him, other than her allowance of $10,000 a month, which she used to corner the Barrington Hall heroin market.
Thats what my friend Amy told me on the way up to Berkeley. Amyd moved back to L.A., but had left some belongings with a few different friends, and we were going to round them up. First stop was Wrendas. Amy and Wrenda hadnt been close for about three years, since Amy stopped using. Me, Ive never tried heroin. For many reasons, but mostly because I expect Id enjoy it so much that Id never come back.
Around midnight, we reached Wrendas apartment in North Oakland, near 63rd & Shattuck. At the top of the cement-slab staircase, I could see that the windowsills were lined with empty glass Coca-Cola bottles.
Inside was a studio apartment jam-packed with strewn books, stacked furniture and, most prominently, Coca-Cola bottles, hundreds of them, all empty and clean, neatly lining every available surface. The scene was revealed by at least 50 white candles, spaced and burning evenly.
In this warm, twinkling glow, Wrenda Hasbro sat cross-legged on a dirty, unmade bed, gnawing at a dry salami and drinking from a glass Coke bottle.
Come on in, she said.
Hey, said Amy.
Hey, Wrenda replied.
This is Erik Cheeseburger, said Amy.
Hello, I said.
Hello, Erik, said Wrenda. May I get you a Coca-Cola?
I thought that Wrenda was probably dead because a few years later I ran into Amy shed married and become a teacher and Amy showed me a photograph and told me a story.
Photograph: pretty greasy pasty too-thin Wrenda with matted brown hair, sitting cross-legged on a sidewalk with her back against a fire hydrant. Telegraph Avenue, looked like. Tooth-rot smile and big yellow eyes mugging for the camera, one filthy hand squeezing a dirty dry salami, the other forming a peace sign and holding, between her third and fourth fingers and the heel of her hand, a half-empty bottle of Coca-Cola.
Story: Lost apartment. Lives on the street. Fixes bicycles and panhandles.
Ten years later, I called the number on the back of the mini-pamphlet. Wrendas assistant answered and connected me, and within a few minutes a very energetic Wrenda Hasbro remembered me quite clearly and explained how her family hired someone to find her, sedate her and return her to the Smerdok estate in Bel-Air, where she detoxed and was given $4 million to get her back on her feet.
Working out of her parents home, Wrenda soon established and incorporated a religion business called Hasbroism, which sought out converts via notes in Coca-Cola bottles hung on doors.
We talked for 15 minutes or so, and I promised to keep in touch and that Id read the rest of the promotional mini-pamphlet.
FACTS ABOUT HASBROISM
Hasbroism is the fastest-growing religion in Southern California. Hasbroists believe that God is nice. Hasbroic rituals guarantee everlasting afterlife. Membership is tax-deductible. Xmas Special! Call for details!
It was a fascinating religion business. A lot of the practice of Hasbroism involved food. Notably, in order to pass over into the everlasting afterlife, members were required to live decent and moral lives, by adhering to all tenets of Hasbroism. Which meant adhering to the tenets of the Wrenda Hasbro diet, a regimen of alternating squirrel, possum, mouse, rat and rabbit meats, blessed personally by Wrenda Hasbro herself. House to house, Wrendas assistants drove cargo trucks filled with heavily sedated mammals. It was up to the faithful to kill, bleed, skin, gut, hang and butcher their meats, and prepare them according to Hasbroist kitchen-dogma, as laid out in The Holy Bible, Wrenda Hasbro Version, which the mini-pamphlet quoted:
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Smerdok 14:1. If male, the chef must be uncircumcised and/or under 6 feet tall.
Smerdok 14:2. Mice and rats may be stir-fried, but not without first removing the heads.
Smerdok 14:3. Plenty of rosemary and garlic, but neither may come into contact with the other.
Smerdok 14:4. All meals must be washed down with refreshing Coca-Cola, which is a registered trademark of the Coca-Cola Company. Ask your daughter if Coca-Cola might be right for you.
Discount memberships started at $10,000 annually for individuals, $25,000 for families.
After joining, I found many new friends within the exclusive circle of my new religion. Within six months, however, unaccountably depressed and sleepless, I came to realize that I was unworthy of the Hasbroist community and decamped to the only environs I felt I deserved a leaky pup tent across from Hollywood Cemetery.
Would you like some salami?