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A mysterious King of Hearts rules over the Hollywood Hills

Long, meandering explorations of Hollywoodland reveal a trail of painted hearts and so much more that is invisible to the harried drivers of our teeming streets.

February 14, 2012|Nita Lelyveld, Los Angeles Times
  • Someone calling himself the King of Hearts has left painted hearts all over Beachwood Canyon in Hollywood, including this one on Beachwood Drive, where Lori Hughes is walking a dog.
Someone calling himself the King of Hearts has left painted hearts all over… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

I am in search of the King of Hearts. Day after day, I try to trace his meandering trail through the hills.

Hansel dropped breadcrumbs to find his way back home. My mystery king scattered hearts to help his queen find him.

They are strewn all over Beachwood Canyon in Hollywood, outlined in sunflower yellow and white paint. They're on curbs. They're on lampposts. They're on bus benches. They're on the beige telephone cross-connection boxes in front of quite a few Beachwood Drive apartment buildings.

A heart is tucked into one of the historic stone gates that mark the entrance to Hollywoodland. You need to be walking to spot it, to step inside under the arch.

If you're always in a car, you miss so much. You may think you don't, but you do.

Even when you're on foot, it takes time to notice a fraction of what's right before your eyes.

I walk every day for miles now. No walk is ever the same. If I cover the ground I covered yesterday, I am bound to discover new things.

Along with the hearts, as I travel my neighborhood, I see messages scratched into sidewalks.

SACCO + VANZETTI.

SENSMILLA RULES.

SORRY FOR PARTYING.

I AM IN LIKE WITH DAVID.

I am newly in love with my neighborhood, where I've lived for more than a decade. Walking it every single day has made me fall hard all over again.

It all started with my trainer, Bobo, who looks like a bear when he growls.

He has set the pace since he moved into my house at the beginning of December.

Each morning early, when I'd rather be sipping my coffee in bed, he tugs at the hem of my robe and bites the backs of my slippers.

He's a rescue dog who, at all of 15 pounds, is not — on the face of it — commanding. But he will not relent until I put on my sneakers, clip on his leash and take him up the winding streets.

I noticed my first heart when Bobo was examining some bushes.

I learned of the king one morning as Bobo thoroughly inspected fallen leaves.

He had forced me to pause high on Hollyridge Drive, at a spot with a fine view of the Hollywood sign. When he scrambled down a slope and I checked to make sure he was safe, I spotted familiar shapes on the guardrail.

This time, though, there were words as well, a love letter stretching at least 5 feet:

"?Riddle me this: Follow the trail of hearts n hearts, that live to love and then, from a Northwest sea hails a queen for me. Powered by science, moved by art, from now until the end... ?The King of ??? Hearts?"

I had to take 12 photos on my cellphone to get it all.

I'm a reporter, so yes, I tend to document.

So far, Bobo has been trained to sit, shake, lie down, come reasonably promptly when called, and stay still and not squirm while I focus.

I first started carrying my cellphone to track our time and distance, how many feet we ascended and descended, how long we took to walk a mile.

The app I use maps our various routes, which I enjoy examining later — seeing all their twists and turns, how they zigzag up and down the neighborhood's steep stone public stairways, which I like to take to make my heart beat faster.

But I am a collector by nature. I collect old postcards of Hollywood. I collect books of 19th century medical quackery. I collect photographs of long-ago people posing in their Sunday best because I like to gaze at them and try to imagine the lives they led.

The beauty of the collecting I do on my walks is that all of it is free and none of it takes up real space. On my phone, I record little details that catch my eye — a bright blue beach ball lost in the brush, a manhole cover that reads CITY OF L.A., MADE IN INDIA, a sign on a telephone pole from a reality-TV show asking, "Is your house (or business) severely haunted?" and another in search of a black and white cat named "Lilly aka Lil, Lillers, GG or Goose."

I also gather many other little details lodged only in my brain. I find myself struck by the smallest of shifts in scenery.

In recent weeks, for instance, I've been fascinated by a beige stucco house that has been stubbornly clinging to Christmas. For weeks after the big day, it remained fully decked out — with big red velvet bows on the facade, toy soldiers and a wire reindeer at the entrance, a tree festooned with candy canes proudly placed in the front window. When the bows came down late in January I assumed it was the beginning of the end. But Christmas continued to greet me each morning I passed by.

One day in the middle of last week, when I glanced at the tree in the window and saw its branches bare at last, it felt at first oddly disorienting. The next day, it had disappeared, replaced by a table topped with a vase full of flowers. The soldiers, too, had marched off somewhere. Only the reindeer remained.

I'm wondering now how long he will be able to hold his ground — if someone inside is insisting that he stick around while someone else boxes up the ornaments, muttering, "Enough already! It's February!"

I wonder, of course, too, about the King of Hearts. Did he win his queen's heart? Did he have it already? Is his a message from a hopeful suitor or from a romantic husband?

I wonder, too, if by any chance I might know his first name.

Last week, while walking farther west on Hollyridge, I saw a little white heart at one end of another guardrail. At the rail's other end was another heart, next to the thick white letters PETE. The paint didn't seem to match, so it may well be a red herring.

How, I wonder, will I ever know for sure?

If you're out there, King of Hearts, if you're reading this, please drop me a line and let me know.

Bobo and I have so many more miles to walk, so many more cases to solve.

nita.lelyveld@latimes.com

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