Up or down ?
I used to live in east Hollywood . In the tens and twenties the place was hopping with the movie business . D.W. Griffith’s studio was just down the street a few blocks , where Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Blvd. come together and Hollywood Blvd. disappears . I used to moonlight selling popcorn at the Vista Theater in the 1980s . The Vista had been the site of the silent film Intolerance . The swashbuckling Doug Fairbanks had a studio two blocks away from what would later be my house . Now the somewhat shrunken studio lot is dedicated to television news . The Essanay studio was a half mile away , over on Sunset , not too far from the Music Box steps my friend Willie and I visited a few weeks ago . Flip and Flap ( the Polish name for Laurel and Hardy ) were already long gone . Mabel Normand had a little studio down on Bates Ave. , too . Oh , I knew all those spots in those days .
But , this isn’t really a post about east Hollywood or now forgotten old Hollywood glitter . This is a post about car repair .
I drove old cars in those days, the kind of cars the government begged to buy so they could crush them to keep them off the roads . Not knowing anything about car engines or mechanics , I always needed a good mechanic .
I had two .
One was up the Hillhurst hill a couple of blocks and one was down the Hillhurst hill a couple of blocks . If the car could make it uphill I’d drive it uphill . I lived one house away from Hillhurst . Both mechanics were good , ie. competent and honest . That’s worth a lot .
If the car was completely broken down , I’d push it to the corner and roll it down Hillhurst to Ise . Ise was the choice of last resort . Ise would immediately demand : ” What you do to the car ? ” His voice was harsh , a command voice , dictatorial and uncompromising .
” Nothing , Ise . It just stopped working . ”
” You musta done something ! What you do ? ”
” Nothing Ise .” At this point he’d slowly shake his head . I always envisioned during those moments the Japanese commander in the film The Bridge On The River Kwai . He’d tell me , then , that he’d find out what I did to the car . He’d narrow his eyes then just a little bit . He’d remind me that last time he’d found spider webs in the wheel wells . I think that he was waiting for an apology from me for that , or maybe I should break down and cry .
We’d stare at each other for a few seconds . Competitive . He’d look me in the eye , accusative , adversarial . I’d have to save face , not show weakness , not waver in my denials .
That was Ise . I’d have to endure those interrogations each time I took the car to him . His lieutenants , young Japanese guys in blue overalls , would look over at us with unreadable stares . Did they feel any sympathy for me at all ?
” When will it be ready , Ise ? ”
” Depends how much damage you done to it .”
” I didn’t do anything . It just stopped working . ”
” Yes . ” There was a particular ominous sound to Ise’s ” yes ” . It didn’t hold any resemblance to anyone else’s “yes”. It echoed , perhaps , an old Samurai’s interior yes as he drew and wielded his sword , ready now for battle , happy in having a target at hand to overwhelm , energized in a face-to-face combat warrior’s way , thrilled to put his superb training to work , to exercise his skill and discipline : Yes !
And that was it . I’d walk out of his mechanic shop with my head intentionally held high , showing strength, standing up to the challenge , not crumbling in the face of opposition . There would be another conflict , I knew , when I came back for the car . The engine is dirty . Spider webs . Rust . Cracked this and worn out that . ” Why you not take better care of your car ? ”
Ise put customers through the wringer . He’d fix the car , alright. But , they’d pay a price beyond the cash . So , being naturally of weak -minded , non-confrontational , avoidance-if-at-all-possible sort of a guy in spirit and practice , I’d try to avoid Ise’s garage . The uphill mechanic never interrogated me , never challenged my veracity , never insulted my car-pacity to properly maintain my vehicles .
I liked Ise , though , in small doses . And , truth be told , he’d always seen the car at its worst , since the only time I took it to him would be when it had to be rolled in to his shop .
I wonder if Ise is still there , still glaring and still barking at customers . He’d be a decrepit old geezer by now . But , he’d be the type to hang in there , to keep up the fight , to carry on the war no matter what, to preserve the old values , the vehicle values , the proper care of cars , to practice forever his Hollywood vehicular bushido .