My friend, Walt, and I moved out to Southern California in the fall of 1983. My plan was to become filthy rich and adorably famous. Walt just wanted to be a waiter. He fulfilled his goal; I did not.
Anyway. His sister had a condo for sale that wasn’t moving and we lived there free of charge. We were both right out of college and owned, well, nothing. Nothing that is, but a huge collection of record albums, a powerful stereo, a decent TV, and some clothes. The condo was unfurnished so we bought two school room napping mats to sleep on. We had no refrigerator; couldn’t afford to have the gas line hooked up – thus, only cold water.
But what did we care? We were striving to live our dreams in Southern California. We were young, stupid, and glorious. We had decided not to find jobs until after about 3 weeks of vacation. (See what I mean?) So we did the touristy things, the beachy things, Hollywood, Malibu, Big Sur, Disney …
After about a week, we ran out of money.
We both ended up working at Movie Land Wax Museum in Buena Park. Food services … You know, where all the other soon-to-be-famous people worked.
It would be our first Christmas away from home. A long way away from home. Our families were none too happy about it. We didn’t give it much thought. Both of us were happily agnostic, quasi-new age and complacent. We were sort of looking forward to not being part of that Season Which Must Be Obeyed.
And so we existed … on Peanut Butter, Löwenbräu, Macaroni & Cheese, and as many free meals as we were able at scarf at work.
In case you’re wondering, I wanted to get into writing for radio and television. My entry stage was to be Stand Up comedy. My dad looked for me, or so he said, each week on Star Search. But that’s a story for another time …
Christmas approached. Walt and I volunteered to work all the days everyone else was taking off. It was Christmas, but our life was to remain unchanged. Gifts. We were opposed to it all.
Until December 22, 1983.
That was the day a coworker asked if I needed a bed.
The condo had two bedrooms upstairs that, except for the closets, were completely empty. My roommate and I both slept downstairs on those kindergarten mats because (remember young & stupid) that’s where the TV was.
“Yes!” Of course I could use a bed!
I’d decided not to tell Walt ‘cause I knew he’d be jealous. To my surprise he said, “Guess what? I’m getting a bed!” Turns out he’d had the same offer from someone else that same day.
So it was that we arranged a pal with a truck to carry us to get our gifts on December 23rd. On the way to our destinations we passed some discarded furniture in another neighborhood. There was a big black couch … heave ho! And a nice old recliner … got that, too.
In one night our Orange County condo ended up with somewhere to sit downstairs and somewhere to sleep upstairs!
We thought it couldn’t get any better.
Christmas Day. The doorbell rang. It was one of our obnoxious neighbors. I say this because he was always the one wanting someone to move their car, turn down the stereo, etc. We had sufficient evidence that he didn’t care for us. Yet he cared enough about his wife to have surprised her with a new refrigerator for Christmas. He wanted to know if we would be interested in their old one.
Christmas 1983, two Southern boys in their twenties sat smoking clove cigarettes and sipping Brandy — humming fridge in the background, holiday TV in the foreground — on free furniture in a free condo in Southern California.
Though a far cry from normal, and nowhere near family traditions, in a very, very strange way
it was almost like being home.