|Illustration by Mitch Handsone|
Between Xgiving and Xmas, one’s 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 year’s 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.
That’s what my friend Amy told me on the way up to Berkeley. Amy’d 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 Wrenda’s. Amy and Wrenda hadn’t been close for about three years, since Amy stopped using. Me, I’ve never tried heroin. For many reasons, but mostly because I expect I’d enjoy it so much that I’d never come back.
Around midnight, we reached Wrenda’s 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 — she’d 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.
Wrenda’s 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 I’d 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, Wrenda’s 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:
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
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
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
Would you like some salami?