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Jack Smith

. . . And (sigh!) that's not all--even her bargain teddy bear will be hugged by another

January 29, 1986|Jack Smith

All of us have some days that are worse than others, when we are so beset by minor irritations that we begin to feel that the gods are against us.

A friend of mine has been having days like that.

She lives in and manages one of those comfortable old Spanish colonial-style apartment buildings in Hollywood, and of course as manager she is responsible for collecting the rent, keeping things in repair, and enforcing the rules of the house.

Mostly, her tenants are settled in, pay their rent on time, and don't have wild parties, but she has one small problem that is driving her crazy.

"One of the tenants," she writes, "changed her lock doorplate to a big, brass Early American Colonial style without permission. The building is Mediterranean-Spanish or California Mission, and 15 other doors have the same antiqued hammered metal locks in keeping with that design.

"I have asked her in person and in writing to restore the original, and all I keep getting are excuses and insults ('You must really be sick to make such a big thing about this') and she overreacts to the point where one might need to duck if she had a weapon close by.

"I keep reminding her of her agreement in moving here and periodically say something about life being too short to waste such energies arguing about something she must do. That it is not her property and so she must conform to the owner's wishes. All to no avail. Such silliness going on so long is driving me crazy."

Trivial as it may seem, there is a seed of violence and tragedy in this conflict, and before it is resolved one of these women may murder the other.

I can imagine my friend, tossing sleepless in her bed, night after night, that hateful tenant crowding out her dreams, while her tormentor lies equally sleepless in her own apartment, aroused by protectiveness toward her precious Early American Colonial-style doorplate and anger at the woman who would deprive her of it.

Meanwhile, my friend has suffered two other frustrations that are turning the screw. First, while waiting to make a right turn, she was rear-ended. As she got out of her car to see the damage, the man in the car that had hit her suddenly backed up, roared around her, and was gone before she could get his license number. Her damage amounted to $600, of which she had to pay the $200 deductible.

Finally, the other day she went to a well-known shop to buy a teddy bear. The shop was going out of business and had advertised "everything 70% off" at a "customers only" sale.

I know how much my friend loves teddy bears because before I left on my recent trip to Europe she asked me if I'd buy a teddy bear for her in Germany, because they make the best ones. I naturally refused to do this; not only did I not want to shop for a teddy bear, I more especially did not want to carry one home.

I didn't realize I was adding to her frustrations.

Anyway, at this close-out sale she found a teddy bear that she loved. It had blue eyes, which she had never seen in a teddy bear before. It was marked $195, minus 70%, of course. My friend grabbed it and headed for the cash register.

"Then a small lady came up to me and said, 'It's not worth it to me to sell at this price.' She snatched the bear away, said, 'I'm the owner,' and disappeared into another room and closed the door. . . ."

Well, that's a pretty hard week. You have an intransigent tenant who won't follow style, your car is rear-ended by a hit-and-run driver, and your bargain teddy bear is snatched from your arms.

Maybe my friend could sublimate her frustration by writing a novel.

I am reminded of my recent suggestion that if indeed Los Angeles has produced no major novelists (as some readers insist), perhaps it is because "you can't write a serious novel about growing up in Lotus Land, can you?"

Among the several readers who have taken exception to that hypothesis is Therese Shuman, a human relations consultant:

"As a psychotherapist in private practice, I can testify that Los Angeles is more than 'surfing and starlit rides in an open convertible, and orange trees and balmy weather and scads of healthy beach girls.' You ask: 'Where's the tension? Where's the conflict? Where's the misery?'

"The tension, conflict and misery is all around us. My clients talk about pain, loneliness, anger, rage, anxiety, depression, unhappy marriages, unfulfilled dreams, impotency, problems with children, chronic physical illness, addictions, competition for employment, mid-life crisis, guilt, fears, child and spousal abuse, and on and on."

She adds that Los Angeles has "the homeless, the hungry, the working poor, the struggling single parent and the growing adolescent suicide rate."

I didn't realize it was that bad. My novel was going to be a romance, with surfing and starlit rides in an open convertible and all that. But maybe I'll put some misery and conflict in it. . . .

"It was the end of summer. Madelaine sighed. She would have to end her idyll at the beach and go back to managing that Mediterranean-Spanish or California-Mission style apartment in Hollywood. Once again she would have to face up to that witch with the Early American Colonial style doorplate.

"God, life could be hard in Lotus Land. . . ."

Especially without a teddy bear.

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