Monthly Archives: September 2017


man in snow 1917 haircut

Some of my friends are checking their DNA through Ancestry. com . One guy discovered a son that he didn’t know he had . Yeah , really . I better not say too much about that yet , though . It’s kind of a secret , I guess . I got the news from a mutual friend with the usual attached caveat : Don’t tell anyone !  No , of course not , I said .  He only told me with the promise that I wouldn’t tell anyone else . Of course ,  I understand , I said .

Another guy with a Swedish name who always considered himself , of course , of Swedish ancestry found out that he’s only 40% Swedish . His wife is more Swedish than he is , it turns out . His wife the Anglo-file . I think he’s secretly devastated about that , but he tries to laugh it off . She rubs it in , of course , which only exacerbates the situation .

Another guy says he’s English and Irish  . Ancestry told him what part of Ireland his ancestors are from. Galway area . I did have a grandmother from Galway , he said . And about 12% of his DNA originates in Iberia , he told me . Spain and Portugal , he said , assuming that I am too uneducated to know what Iberia means . Oh , well !  I had to one-up him then , so I explained the Black Irish to him , how the Spanish Armada way back when was wrecked off of the Irish coast and some of the Spanish sailors survived and intermingled with the paler Irish . Some Irish people , as a result  , have dark hair and dark eyes , ie. the Black Irish .

I think that maybe I won’t have my DNA study done . First off , I’m not at all sure that I want to know . You know : Ignorance is Bliss . Second , it costs a chunk of money . Sure , it may not be a tremendous amount of dough , but it’s , what ? , about 80 bucks ? I don’t really know . I think that’s about it . Maybe that money could go to a more worthwhile cause ?  Lots of good beer , for example . Third , there’s a little tiny voice in my head that wonders out loud if this DNA analysis is legit or not . Maybe some nerdy goof-offs in a room somewhere just make the whole analysis up . A request comes in and they say : No , we said 40% Irish on the last one . Let’s make this one 68% Irish . Hey , let’s say 3% Madagasgarian ! That would be cool ! And 2% Russian , someone else suggests . Yeah , mix it up .

I’m not sure how knowing your ancestry changes your life. Well , I suppose in the case of the guy who’s got the son , all of a sudden ………………….Well , that might affect his life . But , were I to discover that I’m actually 8% German ? or Argentinian ? or from Easter Island ?  Depends how far back in time you go , anyway . Right ? Go far enough back in time and I guess we are all related . Adam and Eve , and Cain and Abel , and later on Noah and whoever climbed off of that ark up there on the top of the mountain in Armenia .  Hey , maybe we’re all Armenians . Ench bes es !


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Mr. Brown (3)

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 .4th and Main inla 1924

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  .think before you talk

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 .


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hugh brown (2)

Well , I feel like writing a bit more about old Mr. Brown , the old codger who lived downtown LA , next to the 110 freeway . His old house , which he had designed himself , by the way , was torn down soon after he died . I don’t know if the State of California got all of his stuff or not . Maybe .

By the time I knew him the old place was shabby and worn. There were unpainted wooden steps up to the second floor where his living room and kitchen were .  The house was a simple design . Maybe it could be classified as in the streamline moderne style . Maybe. I’m not an architecture expert , however . Maybe it was a bit pre-moderne .  Now , of course , at any rate,  in the end , it’s post whatever it was . It’s gone and forgotten .

I know that old Mr. Brown had at least $80,000 in various banks , in T-bills . Those were the only statements I saw during a day that week that  I was over at his place . There may well have been several more that had come or were coming to the house . And he owned at least a few houses around  downtown LA . A couple of his properties were in south LA . Property tax bills began coming in . What else did he own ? He was clearly , as they used to say , loaded .

As they say in Poland , however  ,  coffins have no pockets .

He lived as a miser, that crochety old man  . I thought he was a poor old guy , barely scraping by , just eeking out a living on a quiet but questionable  edge of the city ; but I was wrong . He was an honest -to-god , dyed in the wool miser . A good one , too , I think . Api and LACMA Oct. 2015 076

He sold me a table once . It was covered by a half-inch of dust and had been lying in a quiet corner of his basement . I had spotted it and was interested . We bargained . I was cool ; disinterested .

” No , I’m not really looking for a table , ” I said .

” Fifteen bucks ,” he said .

It was a solid oak , octagonal dining table with a leaf underneath that swung up . The legs needed to be re-attached and glued , but that was easily done . It had been made in Los Angeles in the 1920’s and it was a wonderful table .  I kept it for several years and then,  because I needed the money , I  sold it for $ 90 to Rock Hudson’s agent , who bought it for Rock , he said . Rock didn’t have much time to enjoy it though , if it indeed ever got to him , because a few months later Rock Hudson was dead .

At the end of our individual sojourns we are all equal , the rich and the poor , the movie stars , the cops and the robbers , the Reagonites and  the Tea-Party folk ,  the Communists and the socialists , the capitalists and the hoboes , the highland Dutch and the lowland Dutch , the middle-of-the-roaders  and , of course , the Irish .girls holland early

st pat 1 sham


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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 .

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nitwit house

In Cambria , California , there is an  odd house upon a hill near town . It’s called Nitt Witt Ridge
Morro Bay Oct. '13 167

Arthur Beal bought the hillside in 1928 and began building his house . Beal was the garbage collector in Cambria in the 1940s and 1950s and used some of the collection to construct the house on  Nitt Witt Ridge .

Morro Bay Oct. '13 169

Cambria is a beautiful little town of about 6000 people  on the central coast of California . Median income per household is about $70,000+   and the median house price is about $700,000 . Average rents run above $ 1000 a month .  It’s a very touristy town . Lots of hotels on the beach  and antique shops in town .

I asked three locals for directions to the Nitt Witt house . I knew that it is  close to town ; just up a hill . None of them knew just where it was . One guy pointed me in the opposite direction , although he knew , at least , that  it was on a hill . Wrong hill .  Another said he and his wife had recently moved to Cambria , only a few months ago , and they didn’t know many of the local sites . No , they weren’t just putting us on . I think it’s typical of locals everywhere often not  knowing the local places of interest . They’re not tourists , after all  ; they live there . Why should they pay attention to tourist spots ?

But Ada and I  wandered around hilly tree -lined streets for a few minutes until we found it .

Morro Bay Oct. '13 175

Creativity . Ain’t it great ! Someone with an idea who makes it happen ! Beal was called Der Tinkerpaw .
Morro Bay Oct. '13 168The Nitt Witt House is for sale . It could be yours !


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still crazy

This is an old post of mine .


weird manI think that my first grade teacher was on to something when she took my parents aside and told them that little Danny , that’s me , should see a psychiatrist .

Well , maybe she said a psychologist , or a counselor . My father was mildly outraged by this diagnosis , I guess , or at least irritated . I don’t know what my mother thought at the time . She’s the one who , always with a sly smile , told the story later on . Knowing her , though , she could well have been getting a kick out of it , deep down . She liked a little twist in life , I think , a little touch of oddity and independence  .

Not that having a six -year-old crazy child was something to joke about ; or shall I say , more appropriately …

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The Edwardian Code: A Postcard with a Secret Message — History Geek

It isn’t often that one gets the opportunity to solve a secret message written over a century ago. I’ve been collecting vintage postcards for more than twenty years and this is the only one I’ve personally come across that has a message on the back actually written in secret code. This sort of thing is […]

via The Edwardian Code: A Postcard with a Secret Message — History Geek

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