hugh brown

He had been a lawyer and he had owned a mining company. In the old days , when street cars roamed the streets of L.A. When letters were addressed only to the person and the hometown and cost  two or three cents to mail . When mail was delivered in the morning and in the afternoon . When ancient half-blind and half-crazy old men were young , spry , and ambitious . And handsome  too , perhaps . Who knows ?

I read to old half-blind , half-crazy  Mr. Brown . The cantankerous old coot who built his house — right downtown — on what he said was a goldmine of a mineral deposit . Maybe he meant oil . Oil I would believe . Old Mr. Doheny knew it , too , and pumped the oil up like mad from the downtown LA ground in earlier days .  LA unified went to build a new and state-of-the-art high school across the road from Mr. Brown’s in the 1980s but  they hadn’t checked the leftover underground gasses and oil-field leftovers and the whole school project fell apart . Can’t have a school when poisonous gas might erupt from the ground at any time .

Old Mr. Brown lived right next to the 110 Freeway . He had a home-made billboard which faced the freeway and he’d spray-paint political messages for all the downtown commuters to read in an unsteady old-man script . Reagan Is Right . Love It or Leave It .Get the Commies Out . 

Brown was a right winger , but he had a photo of himself sharing a piano stool with Harry S. Truman that stood framed on top of an  old piano .  The S stood for nothing , by the way , but Harry thought it sounded better for an up-and-coming young guy to have a middle initial . . Oh , Hugh Brown also wrote music . I guess I didn’t tell you that yet .  He had a few of his pieces published .two men near train (old)

He dictated a long letter , once , to an old friend of his in Scottsdale , Arizona . How’s business ? How is the wife ? But he gave me no address .

” You need a street , Mr. Brown . What’s the number and the street ? ”

He turned cranky , all of a sudden . One of his cranky moods .

” Just Scottsdale , Arizona , ” he growled . ” Everyone in town knows him ! ”

” When’s the last time you were in Scottsdale , Arizona , Mr; Brown ? ” , I asked. And then it came , of course , the answer that revealed his growing dementia .

” 1914 “.  Sure . 1914.

” It’s changed since then , ” I said , but he insisted we send it , anyway . Everyone in town knows him . I thought the long-ago friend from 1914  had probably been dead for decades , anyway , but I sent the letter . It came back , of course , a few days later , marked  ” no known address ” .

I read to the old coot because he was near-blind . I caught him once with a spray can of insecticide , his face about as close as a person could get to a wall without being part of the paint or the wallpaper . ” I think I see one , ” he said , as if the great hunter had spotted his prey off on the far horizon . The wall was completely covered with black ants . Covered . But , Mr. Brown thought he’d seen one . Maybe he had , after all . Maybe he had .

I felt sorry for the old miser . He was all alone . His friends and relatives had died off , I suppose , if he indeed had any friends . Perhaps not . He was a cantankerous old beast as an old man . Maybe he’d always been an S.O.B. and gone it alone all along .

I used to walk him down to LA’s Central Market and he’d buy a few cheap vegetables . Poor old man , I used to think , until his property tax bills began arriving at the house , and his several T-bill bank statements ;  but , that’s another story .


Filed under humor

6 responses to “hugh brown

  1. DanH, I look forward to reading your stories, so much so that I pick them up quicker than I long ago picked up the morning newspaper (remember then?). I’m an old coot, too; and one thing Old Cootism Syndrome teaches a man is that time won’t wait for him to touch the mountaintop. This story again tells me that you’re a talented writer. You’ll do as you’ll do, but if you don’t package your stories inside a book, this old coot will feel disappointed.

  2. Sounds like quite the character. You have a knack for finding them Dan, but it sounds like you were doing a good thing.

  3. I recall an old guy just north of here who had his own billboard. It read, “Jesus loves you, if you figure out why, let me know.” There are several ways to interpret that and when people asked him, he just smiled.

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