Old School

Side View of Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio

I started Chanel High School as a freshman in September 1958. It was a Catholic school run by the Marist Fathers (Society of Mary), whose quarters were on the third floor of the school. Its unusual name was owing to the existence of a Marist missionary to Oceania from the same family as Coco Chanel who was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1954. It is possible—though I have not been able to prove this—that when he was martyred by the natives of Futuna Island (north of Fiji) in 1841, he was eaten by his tormentors.

The Marist priests who taught me were, almost to a man, dedicated and knowledgeable teachers and all-around good human beings. I was in the school’s second graduating class (1962), when I was not only the valedictorian but the recipient of the Mr. Chanel award as the best all-around student in my class. The good fathers wanted me to become a priest and were disappointed when I said I did not see that in my path. Considering that I was suffering from excruciating pain the whole time I was there due to a brain tumor that was destroying my pituitary gland. It would have been an expensive move on the part of the religious order to pay for my operation and continuing care.

What, Girls at My Old High School? (Yay!)

From the time I graduated to the closing of the school a couple years ago, there were a lot of changes. Although the school still remained Catholic, it was under the control of the Diocese of Cleveland. The Marists were no longer in charge. And not only were there black and Asian students, there were also girls!!! (When I was there, the student body consisted mostly of assorted Central and Eastern Europeans and a handful of Irish and Italians.) Also, the name had been changed to St. Peter Chanel High School.

Except for my brain tumor, my years at Chanel were happy ones. I do not have the frequently encountered anger at the Catholic Church for having screwed up my life. Physically, I was a mess; but I still managed to look forward to my life with hope.



My Brilliant Acting Career

Me As a Dissolute 19th Century Gambler

Martine and I have been working at thinning my overflowing collection of books and papers. Today, two 8 x 10 photos emerged of me in a 1970s student film by Trevor Black and Lynette Cahill. If I remember rightly, the film was based on a Chekhov story called “The Duel.” I played a bit part as a cheating gambler. How any self-respecting gambler sport such a rat’s nest of a hairdo is beyond me. The interesting thing is that, unconsciously, in costume I resembled my literary hero, G. K. Chesterton, hair and all. (Today my hair is not much to look at.)

G. K. Chesterton

I enjoyed this brief acting stint, though I was never requested to act again. No casting directors have besieged me to try out for any major studio (or even indie) productions. No matter: I was never really that interested in film production, whether as director, crew, or actor. I just liked to see, talk about, and write about great films. I would have liked to become a professor of film history, but that was not in the cards for me; and I have no regrets about the winding path I wound up taking.

Here is another view of me in costume, acting as the second in a duel:

Me as the Crooked Gambler Acting as the Second in a Duel

If any of you have any lucrative roles for a ratty looking retired guy, please contact me at once.

100 Years Old Today

The Paris Family in the Early 1960s

If my mother were alive, today would be her 100th birthday. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it to her 80th birthday. In August 1998, shortly after she hung up after my usual Saturday morning call to her, she pitched forward upon getting up from her phoneside chair, hemorrhaged, and died immediately. Within a couple of hours, my brother and I both knew what had happened. Dan was living only a few miles west of Kings Beach, CA on the north shore of Lake Tahoe at the time. She didn’t answer the phone when he called her, so he sent a neighbor to investigate, and he found her body.

Sophie (or Zsófi) Paris born in Cleveland, Ohio and raised by her grandparents, Daniel and Lidia Toth, who gave up on the United States and took her back to their farm in Felcsut, Hungary. But when the specter of Hitler was beginning to loom, they returned to Cleveland in 1937 on the Queen Mary. There, she met my father, Alex (or Elek) around 1943. Despite the opposition of her grandparents, she married him in 1944 and became pregnant with me. My brother Dan came along in April 1951.

My mother wise incredibly street savvy. She applied for jobs for which she was not qualified, stating on the applications that she was a graduate of the University of Hakapeszik in Budapest, Hungary. Now “Hakapeszik” is another way of saying “The School of Hard Knocks,” or “If one gets his hands on some food, one eats” in literal translation.

She worked as a supermarket checker, a woolen mill, a manufacturer of earphones for pilots (the Rola Company), and eventually an assistant occupational therapist working in a hospital for the terminally ill. She was a wonderful cook and a good-hearted person. She did, however, break a number of wooden spoons on my recalcitrant butt when necessary. At the same time, she was incredibly kind and made friends easily. She was also wise. To this day, I consult her usual practice before making any big decisions. If Sophie wouldn’t have gone for it, neither would I.


My Rattlesnake Story

Just Like the One I Encountered

It was about twenty years ago. I was hiking by myself at Point Mugu State Park. I approached the park from the north and parked near the Satwiwa Interpretive Center. Unfortunately, I started a bit too late, so this turned out to be a hike that I had to abort in the middle. I was walking along the Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail, which eventually merged with Sycamore Canyon Road, which was a level walk back to the parking lot. As it was late afternoon, I got a little anxious because the junction was farther along than I thought, and the parking lot gate was closed at 5 pm.

So I had to walk down one of the narrow paths that connected the trail with the road. I didn’t like the look of any of these paths, because some of them seem to disappear midway down. Finally I chose one and was halfway down before I noticed a rattlesnake coiled up beneath a bush that pretty much hogged the trail. To the left of the bush was a cliff down; to the right, a cliff up. I had to get past that rattler without sustaining a load of its venom.

I was wearing thick leather hiking boots that went up above my ankles, so I was safe if the snake went low. But what if it went high? I also had with me a sturdy ash hiking staff. I noticed that the path along the edge of the cliff gave me about six inches to walk around, so I started to plunge the staff down hard every few inches to encourage the snake the bite the staff while I edged around the bush. It did make a feint at the staff, but did not bite. I managed to circle around the bush and resume my hike, returning to the parking lot with only a few minutes to spare.


My Rudeness Backfires

The Santa Monica Pier at Sunset

I was waiting for the Number 1 Santa Monica bus on 4th Street, near the Expo Line Terminus, when two young women suddenly hove into view as my bus was approaching. When I don’t want to talk to strangers—and I almost never do—I answer them … in Hungarian. Well, these two girls went away thinking I was some kind of a genius instead of a rude bastard manqué.

In English, they asked me which way was the ocean.

In Hungarian, I answered, “You mean the beach?” Their eyes widened. How did I know they were Hungarian? I gestured toward the beach and said, “That way!” in my best Magyar. They thanked me profusely as I boarded my bus.

Actually, they were rather cute.



Martine Is Back!

Martine at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo

This morning, as I was watching the movie Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), the doorbell rang. I thought, “Who could that be? Is it the Jehovah’s Witnesses? LDS Missionaries?” I opened the door to find Martine with her suitcase. She had taken buses from South Central LA to Union Station, and from there the 704 bus, which drops her off two short blocks from home.

Martine had stayed at a women’s shelter run of Volunteers of America near Broadway and West 88th Street, in the heart of South Central. The facility contained some forty bunk beds on each of two floors, sleeping some one hundred sixty women. Martine, who is by no means a sound sleeper, had three nights of no sleep on a mattress that was too soft for her bad back. She had no complaints about the way she was treated or the food that was served, but she could not tolerate another sleepless night. Fortunately, I had purchased for her a senior TAP card with a few dollars of stored value which enabled her to take buses at a discount without having to worry about exact change, so she could take a bus virtually anywhere in the county at will.

During her absence, I was less worried about her because I knew she was being well cared for. Plus she called me three times during her three day sojourn at the center, though I was not able to call her. I suspect that most of the women at the shelter were there because they had been abused by husbands and boyfriends. How were the receptionists to know that I was not an abuser?

Martine’s “escapes” are a symptom of her depression. All I can do is demonstrate to her that I continue to love her and that she can trust me. In all her actions, there is no sign of enmity or exasperation with me. As she stood at my doorstep with her luggage, there was a big smile on her face. I can accept that.