Asses on the Move

Asses on the Move

There were five of us—Danny, Ken, Phil, Robbie, and I. We called ourselves the Asses Anonymous, named for the hikes we took, not along mountain trails but on the roads of Los Angeles, past twenty-five miles of gas stations, liquor stores, discarded magazines, and old tires, a series of trips so ridiculous that we called them Ass Hikes. (Here are Danny, Ron, and Ken on one of those hikes.)  

I did lots of things in high school without the Asses, but those activities were like treks away from home. There was always the anticipated return—whether from a Sunday at church, a trumpet lesson, or a date with an actual girl—to that close circle of friends whose wisdom equaled that of Walter Cronkite, the Supreme Court, and certain obviously misguided parents, combined.  

Besides hikes, there were other trips. On Saturdays we sometimes would take the bus into L.A. for lunch or a movie. We occasionally went to Langer’s Delicatessen, near downtown, where you could get an amazing pastrami sandwich with Russian dressing, accompanied by insults from waitresses apparently recruited from the U.S. Marines.

Other times we went to Beverly Hills and wandered through upscale shops until the owners threw us out. Our favorite destination was Hollywood. It’s hard to imagine now, but in those days our parents thought nothing of us spending the day unchaperoned, exploring Hollywood Boulevard.   

We would traipse up and down the street, sampling stores, with Phil providing a running commentary. Most people don’t know it, but at various times in the twentieth century Hollywood was home to some of the world’s great artists and thinkers, including Thomas Mann, Igor Stravinsky, Aldous Huxley, Jascha Heifetz, and Martha Graham. They mingled with the Marx brothers, George Gershwin, and Oscar Levant, and Phil never tired of telling stories about them.

Usually we would start at Pickwick Books, a legendary independent bookseller, where Phil and Robbie would investigate show business history while Danny, Ken, and I headed for science fiction. There were some used bookstores where we always would stop, including Larry Edmunds Bookshop, which seemed to have every movie book, poster, and publicity still ever created.  

Some of the most memorable stores were those we never set foot inside. There was one whose merchandise, like the mind of the schizophrenic owner we imagined, was evenly split between toys and borderline pornography. A few doors down was the original Frederick’s of Hollywood, an earlier, tackier version of Victoria’s Secret, if you can imagine that. We could, and did.  

There was a block-long newsstand on Cahuenga, just off Hollywood Boulevard, which had not only magazines and newspapers from around the world but also a large selection of adult publications. One time I got up the nerve to take a quick peek at them. I barely had opened the first magazine before a voice boomed out, “Come back when you’re eighteen, sonny.” It was a phrase my friends didn’t let me forget.

            -From Asses Anonymous  


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