April 24, 2018

Al Martinez... On Everything Else: Whatever Became Of What’s-his-Name?


It was one of those peaceful moments in the late afternoon when Cinelli and I were having a glass of wine and watching daylight flatten out over the oak trees. We drank in silence until I suddenly said, apropos to nothing, “We haven’t seen Pat Patterson in a long time.”

“That’s because he’s been dead for five years,” she said.

“Wow,” I said, or something similar, “I didn’t know that! What happened?”

“He just got old and died.”

Pat was the first person we met in Topanga, through a connection in Oakland. He was an amateur magician, an amateur photographer and made the worst martinis I had ever tasted.

“Perhaps he died of his own martinis,” I said. “Too much vermouth can kill.”

“Your compassion is vast and memorable,” Cinelli said.

“What about Allen Emerson?” I suddenly wondered.

“Dead like Pat Patterson,” she said.

“Oh, my God.”

“He got sick and went back to Iowa or someplace to be with an ex-wife, and then he died.” Allen owned a restaurant in Topanga called the Blue Dolphin, where the roof leaked like a waterfall when it rained. Then he was the head of Topanga’s Arson Watch and a kind of traffic director for the school. He always complained that nobody liked him. I was his only friend, and I wasn’t that fond of him either. In between his various jobs, he did some acting until he lost his teeth.

“He lost his teeth?” Cinelli said.

“He had some kind of oral disease.”

“And that killed him?”

“Who knows? I know he couldn’t get anymore screen work. Even character actors need teeth.”

“Time eats us all,” Cinelli said, pouring a little more pinot noir.

I thought about it for a moment. “I suppose Shorty is dead too.”

“Shorty One or Shorty Two?” she asked. There used to be two Shorties in town. One was really short and spent his life sitting on a bench in front of the Post Office. Shorty Two was about 6-3 and used to walk his shabby old dog from a tent where they lived to Joe’s Market. I was told that he would buy one can of dog food and one can of beer every day. People would ask, “Who do you suppose gets the beer?” And then there was the guy they called Joe Creek. He owned the Topanga Market in the old center. A street kid, he took crap from no one and was known to ban customers from the market who gave him a hard time. You were wise to enter the store cautiously to avoid being struck by someone flying by that Joe was physically throwing out the door.

“I think Joe is still perpendicular,” Cinelli said.

“Meaning that he’s probably still alive?”

“I think so. I thought I heard him hollering at someone down at the center over the new owner’s knowledge of wine.”

“That would be Joe all right. One last question. Does Sissy Spacek still live in the Canyon?”

She lived here once but no one knew where. Someone said she hung out with bats under a bridge that spanned the Boulevard, but I don’t think so. Movie stars do not live with bats, even though some are said to be a little batty.

“I think she moved to a farm in Pennsylvania,” Cinelli said, “where she is raising earth worms for trout fishermen . Topanga was a little too weird for her.”

I hope this moment is useful to those who suddenly realize that they have not seen their wives or their mothers lately. They move in and out of view so quickly. As a matter of fact, you might keep your eyes on me too. Loaded down with medical problems, I could disappear at any moment. You’ll stop and look around and wonder whatever became of the Bard of L.A.? Ask Cinelli. She’ll know.