Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Poker on the 405

Paul Mazursky (L.A. Times photo)

BENNINGTON -- Just read that Paul Mazursky the acclaimed Hollywood director died at 84. The last few generations know him from "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" and "Moscow on the Hudson" (with a small role in "The Sopranos") while those from the '60s and '70s have fond memories of "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice", "Blume in Love", and "An Unmarried Woman".

So this is the deal: My Grandpa Harry played poker with Paul every week for 13 years -- read the L.A. Times story here -- and when I got to a certain age, oh 14 or 15, I asked time and again if I could tag along with Condor and either watch or join. Time and again the answer was No. Harry was a well-known Vegas gambler and carouser, though deeply committed to Grandma Edna; they were married 50-plus years. My mother's father was a gambler so it's easy to see how the bug infiltrated my blood too.

I love my dad and take after him in that I've always worked like a dog -- and bleed Dodger Blue -- but my sensibilities are more closely aligned with Grandpa Harry's. I think he just got me not to mention he saw that my dad wasn't being the kind of hands-on father that I needed. Harry tried to fill in the gaps when he could.

My family had season tickets to the Lakers during the heyday of Showtime. One Sunday night I asked Harry if he wanted to go -- our first game together. Of course! I don't remember much of the conversation during another Lakers romp perhaps because of what happened afterward on the 405. I was 16 and had just gotten my license and was still finding my voice as a driver. So we're somewhere near El Segundo, edge of the barrio, and amid a decent flow of traffic Harry pulls the Cadillac El Dorado onto the shoulder and says, OK Joey, you drive the rest of the way. I just about shit my pants.

He knew this is something my dad would never do in a million years and so it was time to add a little brass to his grandson's cojones. What better way to do it than night driving on the 405 in a $30,000 machine.

I got out and he slid into the passenger's side, and I vividly remember scurrying around the back of the car as traffic whizzed past and getting in and sitting in his butt groove on the leather seat. Comfy. For a few seconds I was definitely in the mode of WTF! He probably said something to the effect of "be careful" but I was deaf at that moment, and my heart was flipping cartwheels of joy and terror because I was about to drive Harry's Caddy in the dark on the 4-0-fucking-5. Pure gonzo of the highest order. That all said, I powered the beast like any nervous 16-year-old would for the final 20 miles into Long Beach, much closer to safe than sorry, and I'm pretty sure Harry wanted it that way.

But he took a gamble on me, and with a single gesture he parented me better than my dad ever could. In that regard the chips fell very far from the dealer.

Anyway, even Paul Mazurksy would've appreciated the way Condor ante'd up on his grandson's budding manhood. You could probably write a scene about it.

(Read Mazurksy's obit here)