UNITED STATES—When I began this memoir I drove down by U.S.C. one tropical afternoon to visit Librería Azteca to see if I’d left anything behind. It had been four years since I’d talked to Tony Ayala’s daughter and visited the shop her father had started. Remnants of the canvas sign were still clinging to the top edges of the one story building, and the name of the store was still readable enough to give me hope. But when I got out of my car, I saw that the building had deteriorated exponentially; it appeared more like 20 years has past. The walls were baked by the sun, tagged by spraypaint tarantulas. In front books were still displayed behind dirty broken glass, sun bleached and disordered.
Inside the front door was taped a paper printout creased and flyblown, Do not disturb. Inside there were still sawhorse tables with books, piled and dusty, their covers curled. I pressed at the door. It yielded. If it opened it was meant to be. Before I even made my first step inside, a woman carrying a stack of clothes and junk barged out. “You go,” she said.
“What do you know about the Ayalas?” I followed her toxic form. “What happened to the bookstore?
Hellbent on ignoring me, she crossed the sidewalk to load stuff into a Jeep Cherokee. I asked her again about the Ayalas and she said she didn’t know what I was talking about. I turned away and staggered diagonally across the corner gas station. All the hurt and rawness in this life. I owe much to being able to keep breathing and to distance myself when it comes to all the hurt and rawness that can slit the heart without a moment’s notice. I wasn’t going to let up, though. I turned back to that upset lady, still busy loading junk into a car ill-treated as the bookstore building.
“This place was important in my life. What happened? Where are the Ayala’s?”
She said nothing. This creature possessed wouldn’t even look me in the eye. It was funny how I opened that dirty glass door to the past, I was slapped back faster than you can say shazam.
Color it gone.
That’s real estate jargon when you pressure somebody to act fast before a sweet place gets snatched by someone else. Hurry up and rent it, or color it gone. The only obvious survivor from this sojourn is Jim Wylie. He’s onto his second fortune and has a nice dog named Ivy. Cheryl from the office, one of the sagest advisers in this time of my life, is around, but way east. Ron Leaf and so many others have left traces in the digital directories where we look up people now. I heard that social worker Dee and her Turkish husband, Ahmet, broke up, but he followed her to San Luis Obispo where she was studying and he stayed on as a motel manager. Bless them all. And bless Laurence Brown and Joy, the first people I ever rented to.
Joe, the soul of 1832 Manhattan Place, is now a college professor, kids and wife. Perhaps the hair on his back has now turned gray. Maya Coyne who led me to a better life, maybe she’s out here or back east. Last I heard of Mac Murphy, the beer swilling electrician, he was sober and his native smartness had reasserted itself as a convenience store manager in the Sierra Foothills. That’s a good place to leave him, renewed and reinvigorated.
I saw the filmmaker Everett Lewis once in 2010. I went Rocket Video, a favorite place, with my daughter on a June gloom Saturday night. We parked on La Brea behind an early 60s Cadillac with tail fins. There inside on the far end of the store was a tall, gangling figure peering at movie titles. We greeted. His esteem for “Strawberry Butterfly” was untarnished. It just didn’t happen to get produced in its time. He told me the Caddie was his 50th birthday present to himself. We exchanged contact info. He went back to being elusive, but the warmth will always remain from a cordial collaboration. What hadn’t been or wasn’t to be—let us not dwell. Color it gone…
Grady Miller is a humorist. His latest, “Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood” is available on Amazon.