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Al Martinez

The song was a miracle of timing not unlike the parting of the Red Sea. : Culver City, I Love You

February 06, 1986|AL MARTINEZ

Marilyn Clark is a peppy, birdlike woman who has written a song about Culver City.

I heard about her endeavor at a time when I was in desperate need of a column. A song about Culver City? I could not believe my good fortune.

A song about Culver City is like a song about Lompoc or Pacoima or Spofford, Tex. The very idea is humorous.

God had me in mind when he inspired Marilyn Clark.

I came home that night brimming with happiness, which in itself is out of character.

"Well," my wife said, observing my silly old lopsided grin, "did we have us a little tiddly on the way home?"

"Something even better," I said, "something fine and beautiful."

"You ran over a puppy?"

"A peppy, birdlike woman has written a song about Culver City!"

For a moment, she just looked at me, a sad kind of look I recall from other days and other columns. Then she shook her head and said, "That poor woman."

The song was a miracle of timing not unlike the parting of the Red Sea.

I had gone through every bad column idea in my head and had come up empty. Paragraphs so idiotic even I could not tolerate them were blinked off into space.

I was willing to fantasize or twist the truth to whatever degree necessary in order to put together wordage sufficient to fill my space, but even a basic willingness to engage in professional misconduct didn't help.

Then along came Marilyn Clark, peppy and birdlike, singing "I love Culver City" in a kind of ding-dong, nursery rhyme cadence.

I heard about Marilyn through a colleague who described her as peppy and birdlike.

The description immediately evoked images of a woman squealing and clapping her hands. Satirists feed on people who squeal and clap their hands.

Al Martinez

So I went to visit Marilyn. I sensed almost instantly that there might be trouble. Her street is in one of those comfortable, down-home neighborhoods that Norman Rockwell used to paint.

People say grace in these kinds of neighborhoods and share their modest tuna casseroles with strangers and name their dogs Spot. This was no place for me.

Marilyn Clark fit right in. She turned out to be a warm and friendly lady of 43 who lives with her husband and two daughters in a cheerful yellow stucco bungalow with a wooden sign that says "The Clark's" over her front door.

She took me across the street to where her parents have lived for 45 years, which also happens to be the house in which she was born.

Mom and Pop Freiden are 78 and 80, respectively. They are sweet, trusting, good-natured people who have been married 49 years and who were so proud and happy to have me in their decent, religious home that they took my picture and asked for my autograph and gave me a Culver City pin.

It was awful.

Here I was ready to sneer and mock and spit on their floor and they were bringing me homemade macaroons and showing me their family album and telling me what a fine Christian gentleman I seemed to be, damn them.

Marilyn chirped away about how she had taken piano lessons since childhood and how she had loved poetry for years and how it all seemed so natural to write songs.

First there was a children's song last April and then a tune about the Culver City Flower Show and then one for the Fiesta La Ballona, which has lyrics like, "Bur-ri-tos, na-chos, hot dogs / chips, tacos, bur-gers too / snow cones, cakes and pop corn / re-freshing drinks for you."

And then: "Our Culver City."

"I'll play it for you," Marilyn said, popping up from her chair like corn rye from a toaster. She put a cassette in her ghetto blaster and out came the voices of Marilyn Clark and a friend, allegretto.

I could close my eyes and imagine a whole room full of fourth-graders bobbing their heads rhythmically from side to side as they sang:

"I love Culver City, a charming community / To live, shop, work, grow here, she's been good to me. . . . "

I sat there gazing around the room as I listened. White-haired Mom and Pop Freiden seemed entranced by the music, oblivious to its ding-dong quality, loving every ding and every dong.

Marilyn smiled happily, full of zip and good feelings. A waterfall bubbled in the back yard. The whole room seemed to perk, like a Mickey Mouse cartoon.

I was thinking, Now what, you rotten old man? You going to go back to the office and sit at your blood-spattered word processor and drag this decent, toe-tappin' family through 850 words of muck and mire to satisfy your own inhuman craving for a sneer?

Well, I. . . .

You going to point and giggle and mock the rich, warm fabric of Americana that John Wayne fought to preserve?

I guess not.

I thanked Marilyn and I thanked her kindly, white-haired parents, and then Marilyn ran across the street to get her guest book for me to sign and I wrote "Thank you" in the guest book too, almost drowning in my own sweet swill.

That night I stomped into the house muttering and cursing and leaving a trail of cigar smoke, and my wife said, "What happened, the puppy live?"

Sort of.

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