I first saw Southern California in October. I flew out from New York the week Bobby Thompson hit the home run against the Dodgers, and on the advice of a cabbie in a fedora who looked like every cabbie in every "Sam Spade" flick you ever saw, took a cheap hotel room downtown near City Hall. Local people out there pronounced the name of the place with a hard "g" and a long "e" as in, "Angle-ease," there were no movie stars, downtown wasn't Los Angeles at all, and I was disoriented.
I was just a year out of college myself and in the sunny morning I thought I might stroll over to UCLA and see the campus. But someone told me how far everything was, and I took a bus. It went by the La Brea tarpits, and except for downtown, L.A. was all little stucco houses in pastels with three palm trees in the yard and a Ford out front. And rooming houses and gas stations. There were no glass office buildings and no traffic and plenty of parking right along the curbs.
Beverly Hills had bigger houses, but still pastel, on bigger plots and more palm trees and Packards and Caddies in the curving driveways, and off there behind the hedges you could sense a pool and imagine sleek women in swimsuits and the cool blue water. Westwood was wonderful and I wandered around gawking. The school buildings were low stucco and hacienda-looking right out of "The Mark of Zorro," and the students were the most beautiful kids I'd ever seen, boys and girls both, all suntanned and rangy and blond. No one talked to me.
The next day or the day after that I took the train south to Oceanside. I remember the ocean on the right, bluer than the Atlantic, and those tired brown hills on the left. And working oil wells that bobbed up and down like a child's see-saw. The Irvine Ranch was still that, a ranch, and not a dozen small cities, and then I was at Oceanside and I reported in to Camp Pendleton, to the replacement draft for Korea.
Except for the tarantulas and the odd snake, I liked Pendleton. We were all young and fit and ran up and down the hills and fired on the range and captured the same beaches over and over again in landing craft. We had off from noon Saturdays and drove up to Laguna Beach and got a room in a hotel, maybe four or six Marine lieutenants in one room, and spent the days on the beach chatting up girls and playing ball and swimming. I was surprised how damned cold the Pacific was. But not the sun. The sun was fine and on the radio they were playing football back in the East and it was snowing or something. Not here; here there was sun and pretty girls and the surf and zinc oxide on your nose.
Of course where we were going, it was going to be cold. We knew that. We read the newspapers and had been told by men who came back from that first winter. I bought a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver and holster for, I think, 65 bucks, and the night before we flew out, I found a priest in a rectory in Oceanside and went to confession. And on my 23rd birthday we went to the war. It was November by then and our Octobers in the sun were ended.
Oct. 12 of 1953 I started work as a reporter for Women's Wear Daily and wrote my first piece, about Columbus Day business in the department stores.
I remember Octobers in Paris, too, a few years later. We had two small daughters now and a new apartment in Passy on the rue de Boulainvilliers where Bill and Susie Blair lived and The New York Times was sending Bill to Tel Aviv to cover the Middle East. Susie was a mannequin for Jules Francois Crahay at Ricci and we took the apartment, a big, echoing place that was very nice but cold in winter, and we had a little white Floride convertible you could park right outside, or even on the sidewalk. The French didn't care then where you parked and no one got a ticket or if they did, they threw it away. We sometimes had a maid who also helped with the kids and I made $14,000 a year and we were always broke. Our landlady was a countess of a certain age and chain-smoked and her lipstick almost coincided with her lips. I met her once a month in a bar across the rue and paid the rent in cash, $210 a month for three bedrooms, two baths. You paid in cash to avoid the taxes.
I came home each night from work on the metro, and in the dusk at the top of the stairs of the station called La Muette, a guy roasted and sold chestnuts. I rarely bought them but I sure liked the smell. Sometimes I picked up a bottle of Beaujolais for 90 cents a litre and the shoemaker also sold firewood and if it was going to be cold, I bought a small bundle of wood tied with string. With the more serious firewood purchases, you got a burlap sack.
And then on Oct. 12 of 1964 we left Paris forever to sail home. New York was waiting, and a job as publisher. And all the Octobers from now on were going to be bright and wonderful and exciting. When you're young, you are sure of that.