El Niño, Downtown Los Angeles 1966 - age 3.

El Niño, Downtown Los Angeles 1966 - age 3.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Leif and The Nocturnal Giant

Time passes by. Every girl in my eighth grade class of 1977 in Hollywood California was in love with Leif Garrett while all of us prepubescent catholic school boys wanted to be like him, have his cool feathered hair and that Rock N Roll lifestyle that he had at age 14. Other than his role in the Coppola film, The Outsiders and that legendary VH1 Behind The Music special which chronicled his downfall, the next time I saw a reference of Leif was his mug shot in 2006 after his arrest on the subway for drug possession. Sadly on February 3rd, 2010, Leif was arrested yet again on the Pershing Square subway platform for possession of black tar heroin. Leif is almost unrecognizable these days and like many child stars, his star faded and he has ridden a rollercoaster of drug abuse and problems for most of his adult life. I hope that Leif can recover from this setback and get back on the road to recovery. One does not have to be a former child star to have battled the demons of drug abuse. I have known too many people that have been in the dungeons of drug and gambling addiction.

One friend who comes to mind was a guy from a well-to-do and socialite Los Feliz, California family. The first time I meet him was in 12th grade in front of Marshall High School as he was smoking a cigarette as cool and naturally as Don Drapper does on the Mad Men TV series . He was a surfer type, wore pucca shells, and drove a muscle car. We immediately became friends and started a friendship among a tightly knit crew in Los Feliz. I remember him telling me once in 1980 that “computers one day would take over everything we do” and they have certainly done that. We overindulged a bit in that stereotypical style of the 1980's and none of us came out of the decade with much more than a scratch or a large credit card balance. However that lifestyle for him bled into the 1990's and well into the 2000's. Even though our lifestyles were going in opposite directions we still remained great friends. We went to Big Bear, shared each other's 30th birthday parties, went to the movies and social gatherings, spent many Christmas holidays together among that group of friends that bonded in the 1980's and even went to midnight mass together on Christmas Eve once. He was truly a unique and intelligent person filled with ideas for a prosperous life but was bitten with streaks of addictions. I had a nickname for him, The Nocturnal Giant, as he always called me at 11pm to go out to dinner, just as I was getting ready to go to bed. I never asked him about his lifestyle during these years, I just assumed he was in control of it.

He just disappeared one day in 2002. His church was across the street from where I lived at the time and he would come over afterwards for lunch or a car ride. Then one day I never saw him again. Over those years I started to hear rumors that he was living in a dilapidated RV parked on Riverside Drive on that bad stretch from Atwater to Elysian Valley. Almost every weekend on my way home from the west side, I would exit at Stadium Way and drive up and down Riverside looking for him. I did not know what I would do or say if I indeed would find him. Perhaps he did not want to be found, perhaps he was well and happy and sober and enjoyed living in an RV, or maybe he was nowhere near Riverside Drive and living happily in Oregon, New Mexico or Alaska with a wife and children. I never found him on Riverside Drive and I was thankful for that.

Early in 2009 I was elated when I spotted him at Union Station making the run from the Cesar Chavez bus line to the Subway. He looked well groomed and was wearing clean but ruffled black pants and a white long sleeve shirt, clothes that seemed out of character for him. When he turned to acknowledge my shout, he look bewildered and confused but did recognized me. I walked over and started a conversation and said it was good to see him and had wondered where he had been all these years. He was polite but clearly aloof and did not want to talk. He asked for my phone number and jotted it down on one of his famous pocket notepads that I always remembered him carrying. At the same time the very next day I saw him again and I approached him but this time more respectfully. Without missing a step, he immediately waved me off and said he could not talk as he disappeared down the tunnel. Last summer I saw him again in Chinatown and this time we spoke a bit. He did not really divulge anything personal, but he struck me as a bit slow and confused. He asked for my phone number again and I was happy to give it to him. I waited for his call for months but he never called me. I finally realized he just wanted his privacy but also wanted to acknowledged our 30 year friendship. He looks well but seems to have been through a rough patch of life. He looks and sounds different but then again I look and sound different. I have seen him from a distance a few times, but I respect his wishes and leave him alone and hope that my good friend from many years ago is on a good road.

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