Trading Bubble Gum Cards

Canter’s Deli on Fairfax

When the restaurants in L.A. started to open, Martine and I decided to go for our first restaurant meal in three months to Canter’s Deli on Fairfax. So on Saturday we actually found space in the deli’s postage-stamp-sized parking lot and wandered in wearing our required face masks. I ordered half of a pastrami sandwich on rye on a cup of bean and barley soup with iced tea. Martine had knockwurst and beans. We shared a plate of kosher dill pickles.

Okay, so it wasn’t a romantic choice; but my patronage of the deli goes back more than half a century. When I went to see movies with my film freak friends, we usually stopped for a late night feed at Canter’s, which at the time professed to be open all night but usually wasn’t. Over a corned beef sandwich or a plate of kasha varnishkes, we argued about which movies were super great and which were shit. These conversations were sometimes heated, as film freaks can be counted on to be opinionated. I referred to these sessions as “trading bubble gum cards,” as they were pretty juvenile.

Two of the friends I went to Canter’s with—who curiously were the most dogmatic in their positions—are no longer with us. Norman Witty died in 2013, and Lee Sanders in 2015. In a way, I miss those days when our opinions meant so much to us. Now, even when discussing even the greatest films, I am more inclined to shrug differences off. (Maybe that’s why I’m still alive.)

Martine and I enjoyed our meal. I know we were putting ourselves at risk, but we were impatient to return to normality even for a short time. As the coronavirus threat dies down, we will return more frequently; but however good Canter’s is, it’s not worth sacrificing our life for their food.


Aun Aprendo

Not for Me the Stupor Bowl!

Not for Me the Stupor Bowl!

Instead of watching professional wife- and girlfriend-abusers concuss each other today, I did something that was a thousand times more satisfying: I attended a memorial service for my late friend Lee Sanders at the Besant Hill School of Happy Valley in Ojai, of which he was an active alumnus. Gathered there were members of his family, old friends (of whom I am one), and his former associates in the IATSE Projectionists Union Local 33 and the Culver City Democratic Club.

Lee lived several lives about which I knew relatively little, especially his activities in music and science. The side of him I saw was a brilliant and gentle soul who was politically active as well as an internationally known collector of film memorabilia and prints for projection. As I said in my short speech to the audience, he never had a bad word to say about anyone. He was something of a bodhisattva. (I, on the other hand, daily consign my perceived enemies to the deepest pit of hell, especially when I’m behind the wheel.)

What I found interesting—and new to me—was that to his family, Lee was better known as Guy Sanders. I knew he frequently showed up at his old school to help out; and it showed, because there was a great outpouring of love for him at the school. I was awestruck.

The Besant Hill School of Happy Valley was co-founded by several individuals, two of whom were great influences on my own life: J. Krishnamurti and Aldous Huxley. In fact, the last book Lee was reading was Volume V of The Collected Essays of Aldous Huxley, which I had given him.

Now that my own school—St. Peter Chanel in Bedford, Ohio—blinked out of existence last year, I would like, if possible, to do something for Besant Hill.

By the way, aun aprendo is the school’s Latin motto. It means, “I’m still learning.” That¹s a good motto, and I might adopt it for my own.



Fade to Black

Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Buster Keaton (Right) in Sherlock Jr. (1924)

I lost a good friend of forty-six years yesterday morning. Lee Sanders died of pancreatic cancer in a hospice only two blocks from my apartment. Since he was admitted a week and a half ago, Martine and I had taken to visiting him at least every other day.

Searching through my vast archive at Yahoo! Flickr, I am dismayed to find I have no photos of him. I realize now why this is so: Lee was a motion picture projectionist and an avid film goer, so I only ever saw him indoors where I would have had to use flash, which I hate. So I’ll reproduce this scene from the 1924 film Sherlock Jr., with Buster Keaton as a projectionist. I did not want to take any pictures of Lee at the hospice, because he deteriorated so markedly from visit to visit that it saddened me to have to document it. The last day, just hours before his passing, he was barely able to talk articulately; and he was obviously in great discomfort with his swollen left arm, which was elevated on pillows.

Lee had been not only a projectionist, but an officer in IATSE Local 33. He was frequently interviewed about the art of projection and the plight of that art now that digital projectors were being installed in theaters around the country. In a website entitled A Hollywood Job Fades to Black: Film Projectionist, you can hear his voice saying that he intended to be “the last projectionist alive.” Unfortunately, he didn’t make it.

I know union people because my father was a shop steward for MESA in Cleveland. Lee did not quite fit the image: He was articulate, soft-spoken, and scholarly. He spent his spare time seeing great films. His favorites included F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927), John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Gertrud (1964). You can see a list of Lee’s favorite American films, to which I’ve added my own in the rare cases where we disagreed:

In fact, Lee was a major influence on my film-going. I could never hope to have seen as many pictures as he had—though there was a time in the late Sixties and early Seventies when I could match him film by film.

Something of a renaissance man, Lee was also an avid reader and aficionado of classical music. He frequently drove up to Carmel for the Bach Festival. And he was not only active in the Culver City Democratic Club, but honored by them with a plaque appreciating his efforts that he had hung on his hospice room wall.

Although he never married and had a family, Lee was well liked. I remember his telling me he took a date to a quadruple feature and was surprised to find that she couldn’t (and wouldn’t) sit through the whole show. Martine liked him better than all my other friends.

In all our years of friendship, I never remember him getting angry. He was like a Bodhisattva among people pretending (badly) to be wrathful deities. But then he was a graduate of the Besant Hill School of Happy Valley in Ojai. The school was co-founded by Annie Besant, J. Krishnamurti and Aldous Huxley. His time there was a happy one, and he remained close to the school all his life.

Now there is a hole in my life with Lee’s passing, and I am not sure how to fill it.