As long as I still have Mr. Brown on my mind , I’d like to tell one more story about him before I let him go off again to wherever his ghost has been all these years . I suspect that old cantankerous Hugh has gone down to the hot place that the nuns used to warn us about , but who knows ? I think again of that Mark Twain quip : One goes to Heaven for the climate and to Hell for the company .
I had a college roommate once upon a time who worked for the Los Angeles Coroner . He had to dress in a black suit with a white shirt and what he did was go around town in a hearse and pick up dead bodies . Many of these people had died alone and were not noticed until the smell of their rotting corpse wafted out into the apartment hallway and became so unbearable that someone eventually reported it to the landlord . My roommate was full of stories like that . I don’t know who discovered old Hugh Brown dead . I don’t know any of the circumstances and I prefer not to speculate on the matter .
Anyway . One day I was over at his place and his phone rang . He answered it and spoke in a deep gravelly baritone to whomever was on the other end .
” Yes . Yes , this is Hugh Brown .” [pause] ” Yes , I placed the ad . I’m looking for a bright young attorney to take some of the weight off my shoulders . I’m getting older , you know , and I just might want to get out of the game one of these days. ” [pause] ” Yes , right downtown . Next to the 110 freeway . ” [pause] ” Eight o’clock tomorrow morning .”
When he hung up the phone I asked him what that was all about and he told me . It seems he had placed an ad in a local lawyer newsletter . It seems he would be interviewing attorneys to join his ( non-existent ) law firm . ( note: He had once practiced law ) He had made an appointment for the next morning at 8:00 a.m. to interview the first
sucker applicant . He asked me to be there and I agreed .
I pulled up and parked outside of Mr. Brown’s house early enough to be there before the guy showed up . I sat in my car and waited , maybe had a cup of coffee in hand . I think it was my old Pontiac Le Mans in those days . I could’ve rented out the trunk of that vehicle to a family of four . It only got ten miles per gallon , but that old car was roomy .
Sure enough , just before 8:00 , a car pulled up . A young man in a three – piece suit climbed out . He had a small piece of paper in one hand . A look of consternation spread across his face as he looked up at Hugh Brown’s old decrepit house . He looked at the paper and then again at the number on the mailbox . He looked across the street at the shiny new Phone Company building . He looked over toward the freeway .
I felt a little sorry for the guy at this point and I climbed out from behind the wheel of my car and I asked him if he was looking for Mr. Brown .
Well , you have to picture the scene . It would in no way match the image of a downtown law office that this young hopeful attorney must have visualized while talking to Brown over the phone . Here was Hugh Brown’s house , a dilapidated 1920s two-story house that hadn’t been painted since the Korean War , perhaps . Weeds had long since taken control of the surrounding vacant lots . Across the street was a fairly new Phone Company building , nicely landscaped and maintained . Nearby was the 110 Freeway , with its rushing traffic . [The guy might have noticed Mr. Browns’ homemade billboard facing the freeway traffic onto which the old geezer spray -painted caustic messages . I don’t know what that day’s message might have been . Maybe : ” Get the Commies out of City Hall ” or perhaps : ” Kill the Hippies “. ]
Brown’s house sat on a little cul-de-sac that had to be created when the freeway was built . His house and the phone company building were the only options . There wasn’t anything else there .
Oh , the other side of the freeway is where the business of the city exists . ” Right next to the freeway” must have sounded unbelievably promising to that young attorney when he heard Hugh Brown say that over the phone . The guy didn’t know , of course , that Hugh Brown was a half-senile old miser /hermit codger who lived on the quiet side of the freeway where nothing was happening in those days except for t ever-present gang rivalry not far away between the Diamond Street gang and the Rockwoods . MS 13 seeping into the area was still a few years into the future .
” That’s Mr. Brown’s house ” , I said . I pointed to the wooden stairs . ” Up there .”
The poor guy climbed step by step , deliberative , probably hoping not to fall through the old wood planks , until he reached the door . He knocked. He knocked again . Nothing ; no answer . He climbed back down the staircase , clearly discouraged . Any dreams of his corner office and quick promotion to partner in the downtown law firm of Hugh Brown vaporized .
When the disappointed young lawyer left I went up and knocked on the door . Called out to the old hermit inside . He opened the door furtively . Looked over my shoulder ; down the stairs to the street .
” Why didn’t you let the guy in ? ” I asked.
” I didn’t know who he was , ” Hugh Brown said .
” You made an appointment with him yesterday . You told him to be here at 8:00 . ”
” I forgot “, he said . And so it goes .
Old Hugh Brown is long gone now , of course . His house was torn down within hours of that inevitable event , I think . He was almost 100 , after all . His home-made billboard is gone too .
The Los Angeles School Board built a big new school not far from that cul-de-sac . The Diamond Street gang moved on because Diamond Street itself was obliterated by massive city re-development of the area . The Phone Company building is still there, though ; still shiny white and well landscaped .
The 110 Freeway through downtown is there , too , clogged with more and more cars and trucks . There must be at least one of those thousands of anonymous drivers who has seen Hugh Brown’s spray-painted scrawls on that old billboard so many decades ago and who wonders once in awhile even today what the heck that was all about .