In the early 1980's I wrote a play about a crazy New York Jew in Berlin who brings down the Berlin Wall. It was a hit. And when I was invited to revive it in the summer of 1989 in Santa Monica, California, I reluctantly (it was time to move on!) but proudly accepted. It was a hit, again.
And the news from Central Europe was that The Wall was coming down. Any moment! My play extended and overextended its run and only closed when The Berlin Wall crumbled. In the semi-sophisticated, Hollywood trash and sleepy beachfront paradise of Southern California I'd made my mark. I, 'test traveler' had brought down The Wall through the power of my life and art.
I scrapped my lithium for pretzels, pastrami sandwiches and ginger ale. Dr. Saul asked, "Are you taking your lithium twice daily and having your blood checked at the UCLA Clinic?"
Who had time for that? I had a hit show, lots to do, people to see. My audition for "Thirtysomething" was next week. My karmic wheel was finally spinning in the right direction!
I was making up for past mistakes: like 1986 in New York when I'd asked a producer for $2,000 in exchange for my promise to never show up at the theatre again. Like when I harassed a director with an axe because he possessed the soul of his star actor and wouldn't set him free.
That was behind me. Look at me now! I was king of the Santa Monica hills, toast of the town, local visionary, not only the mayor of Santa Monica, but Berlin's newly unified city.
I had lived in a cute cottage on Rose Avenue, was Peter Rose, ate regular meals, had a job, paid bills, shared a bed at night and was invited to a few parties. That was before my success.
Now I had cafes, bars and
restaurants to visit, karaoke to sing, beaches to bum, deserts to roam, big plans
to make, friends, family, artists, producers, gallery owners and intimate partners
to piss off and take advantage of.
Friends asked each other: "Have you seen him lately? He's always on the street. Up from dawn to dusk, twilight and midnight." They were jealous. They were gone.
The door of my comfortable garden cottage which I shared with L slammed shut, locked and double-locked, venetian blinds drawn, answering machine on. Gone.
So what? I'd heard the news before. Bi-polar. I was clinically insane, headed for a mental institution, suicide attempt or death. "Get away! Get a life!" they said.
What were they talking about? I read the literature, saw the charts, understood the genetic component. I was in good company: Grandpa Ben, Uncle Julie, Cousin Mark. Let me fly, let me die, I'm not taking that fucking lithium! What? So my hands should shake, mouth dry up and body swell?
I was drinking my beloved Polish vodka, smoking good dope and keeping my clothes clean by hanging out in an all night Venice laundromat on Lincoln Boulevard. Friends wandered in now and then wanting to know what was wrong only to have me harass them: "What's wrong? Nothing's wrong! I'm fucking fine! What's your problem? I smiled and glared, distracted by the whir of washers and dryers. My thoughts raced and I spoke in rapid fire. My jokes were very funny but only to me. I kept laughing, keeping my quarters together to wash my mailbag full of dirty clothes one more time and make business calls from the pay phone on the corner.
I never slept and was high as a kite. I walked the streets of Venice and Santa Monica round the clock, upbeat and entrepreneurial, proposing deals, inciting havoc, looking for food.
I never went to Pico and Main because that was where the real homeless lived, not an artistic visionary, mayor of unified Berlin, Los Angeles cultural icon, penniless and unemployable madman like me. There were many in town who still didn't know me and so I had possibilities. I pounded the pavement day and night from Rose Avenue in Venice to Santa Monica City Hall.
The Rose Cafe opened at six and my friend Dave still bought me a coffee and muffin. The Firehouse Restaurant (a weightlifters hangout) opened later and the bleached blonde cocaine snorting waitresses always had a blueberry pancake to throw my way.
passed Mishkon Tefilo Synagogue where I attended services on Friday nights because
they served a Sabbath buffet and Naomi Levy was cute. She was L.A.'s first female
rabbi and from Brooklyn, like me. I had to be supportive.
May your heart be filled with understanding;
your eyes direct you straightfoward;
your lips speak knowledge and righteousness;
I gobbled down the coldcuts and said 'Shabbat Shalom' on the way out the door.
The Powerhouse theatre was down the road.
It was where I'd had my triumphant success but couldn't go there because the theatre manager took out a restraining order against me because I slept in the dressing room trailer without permission. I knew what a restraining order was and it was fucking unfair. I'd brought prestige and fame to his theatre and this was how I was treated!
Further down Main St., "The Tavern" was sweeping the last drunks out the door as I walked by. I'd been there the night before. They had Polish vodka and if I was able to sit still and keep my mouth shut for ten minutes someone always bought me a drink.
The Main St. Bar and Grill was across the street and served an early brunch. I never ate, ordering tap water, sitting at a bar stool to watch ESPN and MTV until I was asked to make room for a paying customer. "Sure," I said graciously. I was the m'aitre-de for new business.
The Gap was on the beachside of Main St. and because my sister was a district manager in Washington State, Oregon and Northern California, I considered myself a V.I.P., always asking the teenage clerks if they knew her.
"Yeh, I think so," they said. I told them I'd be back on family day and buy at the 'special discount.'
The tiny Santa
Monica Post Office was behind The Gap on Nielson Way.
My favorite place to sleep was the construction site at Edgemar, a Frank Gehry design at the higher end of Main St. I was friends with Earl, the janitor. We drank in-flight size vodkas when he finished work. Sometimes we drove downtown and ate ribs.
One day before reaching Starbucks (which I never went in), a producer from Cable Television of Santa Monica walked up to me and asked if I was Peter Rose. That was a disarming question but I told him, "Yes!". He said that he wanted to produce my stage play for television and asked if I was interested.
There was a Noah's Bagels across the street and he invited me for coffee. I ordered a salt bagel with lox, cream cheese, slice of raw onion and a cream soda. Brian drank black coffee. I was already over budget. I spoke non-stop and when he finally got a word in, he asked if I could take direction as there'd be a professional crew, a production team and real money involved. I said no problem. We shook on it and he left before I finished my bagel.
I was on the rise, sought out by producers and soon to be in production! This deserved a celebration so I crossed the street to Nielson Way a sidewalk entrance to the beach and lifeguard stand number 27 where I sometimes crashed in a down sleeping bag stashed near the posh condos just off the beach. I shook a few roaches out of the sleeping back, lit up, stripped and plunged in the Pacific for a morning bath.
That evening I went to the Karaoke Club on the corner of Main and Hill and sang my regular number, "Fool's Rush In." I'd been through this routine four or five months now and no longer needed the prompter. Brian dragged me out of the club late one night and said we were starting production tomorrow. A raw space at Edgemar was going to be the soundstage.
He took me to a little room in the backyard of his small Santa Monica home. "Sleep here, he said, and don't bother my family or the neighbors. You can use the hotplate but don't burn the place down. He gave me twenty dollars and a joint.
I was an artist-in-residence and this was my private cottage!
"Oh yeh, he said before closing the door. We see Dr. Saul tomorrow and pick
up your lithium or the whole thing's off and your going to Soledad." I
He wanted to keep an eye on his star.