Trepidation about my first stop was borne out as soon as I pulled into the driveway of the decrepit, wood-frame home that Joe Graydon and his bandmaster were inhabiting at the extreme northern boundary of the sea-like San Fernando Valley.
The location was so remote from Los Angeles proper that I might as well have been in Oakland. There was no way I could commute to the action, and the long drives would shrink whatever lifespan the Silver Dragon still retained.
As usual, (as always) Joe's band was having problems, both internal and external. Certain key members were at each other's throats, money was short, and the original music they were purveying was a long shot. The arrival of Joe's all but penniless friend was greeted, as I recall, with grimaces and clenched teeth. Joe, whose way of being might be characterized as one of constant, muted anxiety, was largely a bystander to the goings on but even he seemed more tightly wound than usual.
I knew I had to get out as quickly as possible and, for all of my first full day back in L.A., I perused the help wanted section of the newspaper, one of the most heart-wilting and desperate endeavors imaginable. I think I made a few worthless calls looking for work and, by the end of that first day, I realized I had put myself in a state of panic.
The journey south had been made to break into the movies, not to find some dead-end job. I was putting the finishing touches on my second screenplay titled Mexico which I was certain would be pounced on by the film industry. All I needed was to flop somewhere for a presumably short time while I primed my inevitable career.
Combing through my tattered address book (consisting mostly of crossed-out numbers) I found a single name that was living in L.A. and might give me a hand. It was Jerry Goldman, one of the late Los Angeles Free Press' attorneys who listed himself on the masthead as "MOUTHPIECE." Jerry was equal parts aggression and kindness and had never shown me anything but the latter. Though a successful labor lawyer at the time, Jerry had shown interest in me and my work.
In fact, I had crashed in a room in his bachelor pad during the last days of my previous encounter with Los Angeles back in 1972. That I had already imposed (leeched) on him before did not make me eager to track him down.
I called anyway.
The phone rand and Jerry picked it up. He was excited to hear from me and we caught up briefly (Jerry was now married and had two children) before I got to the point.
"Jerry, here's the deal... I'm in a real jam..."
I explained my housing predicament, making it especially urgent in light of what 'I had going' in Hollywood.
"Michael, you are too much..."
"Well, yeah, but do you know anybody that needs a house sitter or has an empty space I can use?"
"No man, I don't know anybody."
"Well maybe you could think about it... maybe give me a call out here if you turn up anything?"
"Sure Michael, sure."
Jerry invited me to come by and see him in Santa Monica and we hung up.
A few minutes later the band phone rang in the house. It was for me.
"Hey Michael, Jerry Goldman."
"I don't know if it would be any help but I've got a garage."
"Yeah. I mean my Porsche's in it but I could back it our."
My mind raced through all the deprivations to be encountered in garage living but it sounded marvelous when compared to sleeping on a floor in a miles away place where I wasn't wanted.
Before I could respond Jerry was sweetening the deal. "I mean, of course you can use the bathroom in the house... and the kitchen... it's up to you. I don't know if you want a garage," he chuckled, "but it's there."
The next day Jerry backed his sports car out and I moved in.
The garage was truly that, entirely unsuitable for human habitation. The floor was slab concrete, its sole decoration splotches of centrally-located oil droppings. The walls were tarpaper and the ceiling slatted planks of cheap wood. A Single door was located on the south side corner. It had one window providing the only source of light from outside. The cliched bare light bulb was the only source of light indoors. A kind of wooden loft ran the length of the back wall and a sturdy, crude workbench the length of the south wall.
I already knew that it was going to be a 'garage, garage' as Jerry put it, and on seeing it for the first time a number of simple ideas began to swim about in my head. I could the storage loft as just that. The rough workbench, though it wasn't deep, would be a suitable spot for my typewriter and papers (for the last year of more I had been typing out stories while standing, a posture that suited my restless nature).
A large carpet remnant could be placed over the oil stains and Jerry had already offered the use of a mattress. A pillow and some blankets would complete the boudoir on the floor.
Once I got a few posters and pictures up on the walls the place would seem like home.
The garage did become a home of sorts, the best I could muster. That winter I felt lucky for any kind of roof. The rain seemed as if it would never stop. The whole of the L.A. basin became water-logged. The garage was damp and cold twenty-four hours a day. It was usual to wear a T-shirt, heavy sweater and a jacket when not in bed, my only other weapon against the wet chill being a single, feeble space heater. After several days of inundation from heaven, the concrete slab would actually begin to bubble with moisture. It was insane.
Though a great deal of time was spent there, I managed (in my incredibly myopic and bullheaded way) to maintain a focus that carried beyond the grim confines of the garage. I was after breaking into the exotic, rarefied world of movies. Sweating concrete was certainly not going to keep me from that.