Swimming Pools, Movie Stars and Dog Parks
Although I probably should have been busy studying, I became increasingly obsessed during my college years with the notion of living with my dog Bailey in a house with a backyard. Bailey was a petite little sweet natured Boxer with an odd OCD licking problem. She wouldn’t lick guests or my roommates; she would lick the air as a greeting. As a result, her tongue grew abnormally long and would hang at precarious lengths out of the side of her mouth whenever she got hot.
Bailey was my best friend in the whole wide world. I know that sounds kind of sad but it doesn’t mean I didn’t have other friends. It just meant Bailey had to like them for me to like them. She was my guardian angel who snuggled with me when I felt sad and was always ecstatic when I came home. She even got excited when I came home from 10 minute trips to 7-11 where I would buy one of my daily “Double Gulp” sized Diet Cokes. I don’t know how I used to drink so much Diet soda but I must have had to pee a lot.
Not that I ever really went many places without Bailey in the car. She was the reason I started living in a house on Lankershim Boulevard in Studio City. It had a pool; it was in a nice neighborhood—right by Hollywood and the “cool” parts of LA but not in the midst of the madness. It was a refuge for my roommates and me.
Living in that home I shared with my roommates Grace, Lou and Will was one of the happiest times of my life. There was twenty something drama being played out a lot but it truly felt like I was alive for the first time. We were all on our own, making our own decisions and living a vital, true life in Los Angeles. At least it felt that way to me.
There were, of course, the occasional hiccups. Like the time I decided to throw a huge Halloween party in our house. I invited everyone I knew and so did my roommates. It was set to be a rocking party so, of course, I hired a jumpy castle for our front lawn. Again, no party is complete without a jumpy castle.
My friend Samantha from Vancouver, Canada also came down for a visit during that particular Halloween weekend. I had met her years before when we were both exchange students in Japan at the age of 16. We bonded because we both had obscenely large 1990’s hair. Or maybe it was because we were both secretly gay. I can’t remember which.
Sam was one of those girls whose laugh was so infectious she made you feel like every lame joke you told was a million times funnier. Sam just made me happy when I was around her. It’s that simple. Unfortunately for Sam, though, she had picked a rather eventful weekend to come and visit me.
As I went about the business of setting up the party I decided it would be a grand idea to start drinking early. My beverage of choice? Strawberry Hill flavored Boone’s Farm Wine. How very classy of me. I even left the bottle in the paper bag as I guzzled it down in full alcoholic wino mode. I passed out two hours later before the party even really got started. Again, how totally classy of me.
When I woke up the next morning the house was in a shambles. I was lying on my bed with my right leg planted firmly on the floor to help with those vomit inducing “drunken spins.” My elegant Grandmother Tearse, of all people, was the one who taught me that putting one foot on the ground was a sure fire way to keep from vomiting in your sleep. It always worked.
It was lucky I had one foot on the floor as my bed was packed. Right next to me was Sam who was spooning with my dog Bailey who was next to my friend Jared. Above my head was a person I didn’t recognize. I didn’t recognize most of the people passed out on the floor of my bedroom, in the hall or in the living room. There was even a guy passed out sitting in our hot tub. Thank god he didn’t drown.
Apparently after I passed out and all of the invited guests arrived hundreds of people who had been at the “Halloween Haunts” night at the nearby Universal Studios descended upon our party. They broke glasses, danced on our coffee table and blackened the carpets with their shoes. The house was a mess. We had to call emergency carpet cleaners and a maid service just to get the house looking normal again.
As we waited for cleaning help to arrive I set out to drive Sam back to the airport for her trip back to Vancouver. Well, at least I had shown her a memorable time, I thought to myself. Well, at least I hoped she remembered it better than I did! I guess she must not have been too mad at me over what happened as we have had many visits since that time.
While I was at LAX dropping off Sam the jumpy castle owner arrived to pick up his property. As he was deflating it, he found two used condoms inside it. My roommate Will was more embarrassed than I think he had ever been in his life up to that point. Who has sex in a jumpy castle? Especially at my party? And why wasn’t I invited?
Suffice it to say my roommates made me vow to never throw a party again. I just couldn’t be trusted. That was probably a good idea.
As I no longer was pursuing my dream of being a party planner to the stars (I figured they might have wanted more than a jumpy castle anyway. I am kind of a one trick pony when it comes to parties) I instead decided to focus my social energies on my new friends at the dog park.
Soon after that horrific Halloween party Grace got a new dog from the pound that she named Scooter. Later on a hike by Griffith Park a Korean couple told us that Scooter was in fact a rare and expensive Korean breed called a Jindo. Amazing what you can find tossed away like trash at the pound.
Every day I would take the Bailey and Scooter up to a park up by Lake Hollywood under the famed Hollywood sign. Yes, Virginia, there is a Lake Hollywood. It is actually just used to store the local water supply. So I guess that would make it a lake. You couldn’t really swim in it, though. Perhaps they were afraid you would get sucked into a drain at the bottom and wind up coming out in itsy-bitsy pieces through some starlet’s bathroom water faucet.
I loved going to that park. It is amazing though, the social nature of dog parks. People don’t learn each other’s names unless they are really good friends. Most people just know the names of each other’s dogs.
My initial trip to the Lake Hollywood Park was the result of a chance talk with two neighbors while walking Bailey with my friend Phoenicia. After letting our dogs play together a while in a vacant lot nearby, one of them asked us if we had gone to the dog park up by Madonna’s house. All they had to say was the “M” word and I was already planning the trip in my mind. Ah, Madge. Never saw her but her house was really nice—the part you could see from the street that is.
But my first trip to the dog park was not without a celebrity encounter. I befriended an aging female sitcom star who shall remain nameless on that first trip and would meet her there most every day at 4 o’clock over the next year.
This old sitcom queen was a little kooky, to say the least. When she met Bailey she informed me that my dog could “sense the aura of her sister’s Boxer dog in Chicago” and that was the reason our dogs got along so well. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that Bailey liked pretty much everyone.
“Has-beens” are always the most entertaining people to befriend in LA as they are always the most receptive to being approached. They are desperate for a taste of their glory days. Lou, Grace, Will and I would always compare “spot the has-been” stories during our days at the local grocery stores, gas stations and malls. LA is weird like that. “Spot the has-been” is a fun game, though.
A few weeks later an older woman named Stella started coming to the dog park with possibly the largest Doberman in captivity. She and her dog Stormy were always such an odd couple. Each day I would watch this woman, no taller than five feet, being dragged into the park at full speed by this muscular brute that easily outweighed her by at least one Olsen twin. Soon she would become one of my favorite dog park pals and the bitchy grandmother I never had. All gay men need as many grandmother types as they can. Call it the “Golden Girls” effect.
I always knew where I stood with Stella and for that matter where everyone else in the park stood. Often times we would be standing in the park together with me tossing the “Kong” toy for Stormy and Bailey, and she would say the most horrible yet dead on thing about someone. “Do you think Angela over there is drunk every day she comes here? I smell booze on her breath every time I see her!”
I would usually cackle at her forthrightness and agree. Stella loved a good wine with dinner but to drink before the dog park? That was just not done, like drinking before noon for most people.
I remember one time I got her a bottle of wine from a vineyard near my home in Saratoga, called Cooper Garrod, and she fell in love with it. She would hit me up for another bottle at birthdays and Christmas time and even made a journey up to Saratoga to visit the vineyard. By that time, Stella had become like a family member so she also made a special side trip to visit my parents.
Stella was one tough cookie. One example of her seeming impermeability was that she had survived three major cancer surgeries by the time I knew her. I remember on the fourth occasion bringing her flowers in the hospital. As she was so doped up on painkillers she said, “Thank you, son.”
At the time of my hospital visit Stella might have been higher than Amy Winehouse at a pharmaceutical convention but she had still managed to tell me that I was like family to her. Stella meant a lot to me and knowing I meant a lot to her really warmed my heart.
While Stella is just one of those people I will never forget, after a few years of moves and job changes and rehab I lost contact with her. Part of me wants to look her up, but the other part is afraid she has already passed away. I would sort of rather just have her live on in my memory, always alive and full of sourly witty riposte. I miss her.
During that year or so that I was going to the Lake Hollywood Dog Park, I was truly happy. I would usually take both Bailey and my roommate Grace’s dog Scooter to the park every single day. Sometimes with Grace, sometimes without if she was working.
Grace had a job at The Gap and would always come home with stories of some bubble headed starlet coming into the store. “Kirsten Dunst came into the store today and, seriously, I don’t think I have ever met a dumber person.” If memory serves I think she asked something about if the store did custom tailoring on its sweaters. Hello! It’s The Gap not Barney’s!
At that time, what with me sticking to a solid dog park routine, I wasn’t using as often as would become the norm much later on. I find that, no matter how hard it is, only when I stick to a routine do I manage to at least do “okay.” And nothing keeps me on a routine like canine companionship. They should give out a puppy to everyone at their first AA meeting. Wait, scratch that. Maybe a plant first, then a puppy. Okay, maybe never a puppy. That could end badly for everyone involved.
I still did my “walkabouts” from time to time but I really felt like I had found a home in Studio City. Sometimes I would do something radical and let my super-gay hairstylist Rocky talk me into blue or blonde hair. One time after shaving my head after a “blonde” experiment, I swear my hair turned Calico like a cat. I decided maybe I should try a different salon on Ventura Boulevard.
When a gay man tries a new gay hairstylist, this endeavor must be kept entirely “on the down low.” Nobody can ever know about this as cheating on your stylist is considered more sinful in the gay community than doing that to your boyfriend. Especially if, shock, you get your hair done by a straight and woefully unfunny aspiring comedian.
I remember this haircut so vividly that it lives on in my mind to this day in such crisp clarity that it feels like it happened yesterday. It was the worst and most disturbing haircut I have ever received. For people in LA who are fans of radio station KROQ 106.7 and their morning show “Kevin and Bean,” you will know who gave me this haircut. His moniker on KROQ—”The Armenian Comedian.”
“Hi, how you doing?” he said to me as he came to bring me to his haircutting chair. “You know you are lucky day you get haircut by celebrity!”
“Really?” I said, flipping my head around and scanning the room for someone famous. “Who?”
“No, silly! Me! I Armenian Comedian from the KROQ “Kevin and Bean.” I funny and you hear me, no?”
Yes, I had heard him on “Kevin and Bean.” This is a man who came to the station every so often claiming a new talent like “comedy,” “playing the drums” or “speaking English.” If you are wondering, he is good at none of these things. Hence the only funny part comes from “Kevin and Bean” and their menagerie of players gently mocking the oh-so-lame “Armenian Comedian.” Definitely none of the comedy comes from the atrociously talentless and oddly malodorous man who was about to cut my hair.
He kept trying to tell me jokes as he went about the business of styling my hair. None were funny and as the minutes dragged on I became more and more uncomfortable not only with his bad humor but also with his seeming inattentiveness in regards to his job. I thought to myself, “Dude, if you mess up this queen’s hair I am going to slap you like Zsa Zsa Gabor at a Police Fundraising dinner.”
Usually I give a haircutter a tip after cutting my hair, but on this day the job was so piss poor I just left without saying a word after paying my fifteen bucks. Yes, I know I got what I deserved for spending only fifteen dollars. And for cheating on Rocky. I never went to another hairstylist other than Rocky again.
As I approached the car, I was fuming. “How could I fix this haircut”, I thought. “I look like I just paid Stevie Wonder to shave my head.” I am a guy. I have short hair. How can you mess that up? Well, the “Armenian Comedian” found a way.
When I got home, Lou, Grace and Will all reveled in the comedy that was my follicular misery. They called all their friends and after telling my big brother about it—himself a huge KROQ fan—I don’t think I ever heard him laugh harder. “Dude, you totally got molested by the “Armenian Comedian.” That’s sweet.” Bastards.
About a year or so after I started going to that Lake Hollywood Dog Park the unthinkable happened—we learned that this was not a totally “legal” dog park. It just had a huge grassy area and a small children’s playground along the side to so we all just figured it was all okay for our dogs to be there.
Apparently the one parent who had ever taken their child to said playground complained to LA County about the piece of dog excrement she stepped in. As a result hundreds of taxpaying Angelinos who enjoyed the dog park with their canines each day were cast out like the vilest of criminals.
In short order, California State Park Rangers started coming to the park handing out tickets for nearly $200 to people violating the “No Dogs Allowed” rule. Usually I love it when a handsome man in uniform comes a calling but in this case these gentlemen were persona non grata in my book.
In later years, I would occasionally drive by the Lake Hollywood Park just to see it again and never once did I see anyone there. Not once. What a waste of wide open space. There are so few legal dog parks out there and they are always crowded and in many cases used just as pickup-joints for people with animals.
A dog park in Los Angeles that is right off of Laurel Canyon is just that way. Everyone is either on their cell phone or trying to get someone’s phone number. Meanwhile their pit-bull is mauling an 8 year old on the other side of the park.
I realize that many dog owners are not only irresponsible when they take their dogs to a park but they are also completely bonkers nuts with a side order of lunacy thrown in for good measure. Just recently at my local Laguna Beach dog park I watched an owner chat away on her cell phone and totally ignore her dog doing his “business” all over the grass.
I went over to this woman to tell her of the “doings” of her dog and in response she shooed me away with the giant tree branch in her hand that she claimed to be using to “sweep the sand.” There was no sand to be seen. At least in my reality.
After being expelled like Jews out of Egypt from the Lake Hollywood Park, I started letting the dogs run in a park even closer to my home called the South Weddington Park. Stella and I had exchanged phone numbers, and like partners in crime we started to go to this new canine oasis—itself not an “official” dog park. That was where I met one of the most unique cast of characters I will ever encounter in my whole life.
The first person I met there was a gal named Johanna. To this day she is one of my closest friends. She was there with her two dogs Lola and Cody. Lola was a sassy and headstrong female black lab mix and Cody was a one year old shepherd mix who soon fell madly in love with my dog Bailey. I met her there every day and soon thereafter we began talking on the phone every day too. We would talk about pop culture, movies, TV shows, our families and whatever was going on at the park that day.
Johanna introduced herself to my roommates William, Grace and Lou in her own very unique way. At the time I drove a cherry Alfa Romeo Spider convertible—red like the one Dustin Hoffman drove in “The Graduate.” It, however, didn’t like being in first gear (Italian cars are temperamental like that) so when I would come to a stop sign near my house I would do the proverbial “California stop.” Meaning I would pretty much do a rolling stop at a speed that allowed me to stay in second gear. Unfortunately for me, my car stood out and Johanna saw me doing it one day.
My roommates and I were all in line waiting to order at a local Mexican restaurant called Poquito Mas when Johanna burst through the front doors. “What the hell do you think you were doing, Josh!? I saw you today blow through that stop sign right off Lankershim. I knew it was you because you are the only guy I know who drives around in a bright red convertible with a huge boxer in the passenger seat!” Her accusation was made loudly enough that even the homeless guy outside could hear.
My roommates all fell on the floor laughing as they were constantly on my back for my “rolling stop” practices. “Who is that?” they all exclaimed! She had them at “What the hell were you doing Josh?” Johanna had a knack for befriending most anyone even under the most bizarre of circumstances.
Johanna also shared my deep seated love of all animals. Her expression of said love came in many forms. Sometimes she would adopt stray dogs and cats, and sometimes she would throw her dog a huge “Scooby Doo” birthday party. You heard me right.
When Cody turned one year old she decorated a picnic table at the Weddington Park with Scooby Doo themed party hats, tablecloths and balloons. There was a big cake from “The Dog Bakery,” a store that specialized in human-like treats that were safe for canine consumption. It was a huge hit with everyone at the park.
Even some of Cody’s brothers and sisters from his litter came to the party and everyone had great fun. It was the canine party of the decade. At least in terms of South Weddington Dog Park society. If there was a “Page Six” column regarding dog society, this shindig would have made it in the first paragraph. Right above that “dog” Nicole Richie.
In addition to the canines of Stella and Johanna there were other regular players in our dog park reverie. One was an older gentleman named Mickey whose Golden Retriever Harper had one of the most lustrous and soft coats of any dog on the western seaboard. And she knew it. Bitchy and arrogant, Harper was the Queen Bee of dog park society. Very much the lady, Harper always kept her cool around some of the more “hump-prone” male dogs.
Harper’s dad Mickey was a dirty old man who reveled in making sexist and sexual comments whenever he deemed it the most inappropriate time. He had a thing for Johanna so their witty bickering always had this sexual undertone to it reminiscent of the dialogue you would find spoken between Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in “Moonlighting.” While Mickey could easily come off as a constant jokester, he showed on many occasions that he was actually a deeply kind and thoughtful man at heart.
I decided Mickey was on my “super cool” list as one day I learned that he had in fact met Janis Joplin. He had also taken one of the most famous photos ever of the troubled and talented singer. I did, however, have a difficult time picturing Mickey dressed up 1960’s style in velour bellbottoms with a handle bar mustache. Actually, it wasn’t that hard. It just made me laugh as he now had a normal mustache and favored khakis that rode too high above his shoes. I often wondered if he was preparing for a flood.
On the other hand, there were some at the park that were less endearing. There was a woman named Molly who, beyond the “sane years” of her life, came to the park each day and instilled a communal sense of dread as we watched her dilapidated BMW 7 series draw near. She had three cruel and aggressive German Shepherds that started fights most every single day. Adding to that, their mommy usually had a gallon bottle of Margaritas with her. You know, just to get through that hour at the park. Doesn’t everyone need a gallon of Margaritas for that?
I always felt bad for one of the German Shepherds that Molly had to walk into the park with a harness under his back legs. Apparently he couldn’t move his back legs at all. He seemed to enjoy coming to the park everyday but you wondered if she was keeping him alive at all costs less for his sake and more for her own needs. I would have gone to pet him if he hadn’t tried to eat me when I got within three feet of him. In that moment I was pretty glad he was immobile.
There was one handsome straight man who went to the park who didn’t yet have a famous face but his voice was renowned the world over. He was, in fact, the voice of “The Taco Bell Chihuahua.” Remember those ads where the dog says “Yo Quiero Taco Bell?” Well, this kindly gentleman named Carlos was the voice for that canine.
Many an afternoon Carlos would sit on the grass and speak to the dogs in either the “Chihuahua” voice or one of his myriad other sonic creations. Never have I seen a man be able to hold the rapt attention of a group of seven dogs for such a long period. He looked like a kindergarten teacher leading a class when he spoke to the animals. They would just sit and stare at him, cocking their heads at the funny sounds his voice could make.
Carlos also became that little piece of eye candy I could always count on—I am not sure if I thought he was cute because of his chiseled Latin visage or just because he made funny voices. Not that it matters. To this day I tend to find odd looking people attractive when they can make me laugh. It is just a fact. Really pretty people don’t have to work as hard so they are never as personable, intelligent or funny. They just don’t have to be.
Not that Carlos wasn’t very handsome—he just wasn’t so handsome that he appeared deformed. You know, like those guys who are perpetually shirtless on those daytime soap operas. I don’t know what planet they come from but to my eyes they just look like these Picasso-esque versions of beauty. These men are visually arresting yet totally devoid of any basis in life-like reality or function. They are sort of like shapeless blobs made up of perfect skin accentuated by perfectly formed eyebrows and so “of-the-moment” hairstyles that you wonder if they spend every other day at the hairdressers. Not that I am jealous or anything.
One brisk fall evening at the park we were all bundled up as we watched the sun start to set slowly. I always loved October—those evenings right before daylight savings time when the sun would still set at around six o’clock instead of a little after 4:30. It was on one of these evenings that Carlos showed me his “goods.”
Carlos had worn an old pair of sweats to the park and for some reason had decided to “free ball” it. When I say “free ball” I mean he was not wearing any underpants. Unfortunately for Carlos, and oh-so fortunately for me, his sweats also had holes in them.
As if he was reading my mind, Cody jumped up on Carlos soon after he entered the park and knocked him onto the ground lavishing his face with welcome kisses. As Carlos’ legs flew up into the air his “twig and two berries” slipped out of the holes in his sweats and I got a good view. Carlos, an actor who now packs heat on the cop show he stars in, was also “packing heat” in his pants. Thanks, Cody. Good dog.
Noticing me staring at Carlos’ crotch, Johanna gave me a quizzical look. I grabbed her arm and walked her a few feet away from the display of Carlos’ wares. I didn’t want to share my prize, not even with Jo! As I was still not out of the closet yet, I attempted my best straight-guy horror at seeing another man’s junk, “Oh my God Johanna!
There is a hole in Carlos’ sweats! I saw his balls! They were huge!”
Oops, that last part sort of slipped out. I hoped she thought I was horrified, not entranced by the fact that Carlos had large cajones—or Spanish for balls.
Jo’s reply? “Where is the hole? I wanna see? Why do you always see the good stuff?” I wanted to answer her that it was because I was usually monitoring crotches like a men’s tailor but I figured that would raise far too many questions.
And so it went for many months after that. Every day at around 4:30 to 5 we would all meet up at the park for the meeting of “The Canine Super Friends.” I lived with my beloved roommates, spent every afternoon at the park, went to the school during the day and worked part time for Johanna.
My life was really full for the first time in my life. I finally had a life that was no longer regimented by boundaries laid out by educational institutions or my parents. I used off and on during those years, but nowhere to the extent that would come later.
The dog park truly was a saving grace in my life. It bound me to something tangible and grounded me. In a city like Los Angeles where everyone is searching out their own dreams and most people are flakes it is good to know there is something you can count on. And that is the love and dysfunction you can find at any nearby dog park.