Alley Cats



I just got my car cleaned at the most ghetto car wash.  If it weren’t for cars being dried there you would think it was out of business.  When you pull up, you see that the gas pumps are pulled out, just stubs left behind, not paved over.   In their place, scribbled in pen (not even a Sharpie) on a torn paper sign, “No Gas.”  The whole place is in disrepair, completely run down.  By the way, best car wash I’ve had in years.  The guys working there get in your car with cloths and spray bottles and really have a go.

While standing in the small building where I paid, basically the size of a tollbooth, I was flooded with memories of an old friend.  He lived in the alley right behind this car wash for at least thirty years.  I called him Charlie.  That’s what he told me his name was.  Others called him Pierre.   “Where is Charlie, the homeless dude?” I asked the curt woman as I handed my credit card over.  “You mean Pierre?”  “No, I mean Charlie — because I was friends with him and he told me his name was Charlie.   I know he told some people to call him Pierre.”  She said he moved a few years ago after a big health scare when neighbors and other fans in his hood rushed him to a hospital and he nearly died.  “After that, he moved to the Valley.”  The Valley??!!  I thought but didn’t say.

I remembered many a Sunday night after leaving my father at Matteo’s restaurant on Westwood Boulevard, swinging by Charlie’s “home” behind the car wash to drop off some great Clams Linguine.  Sometimes it was Veal Piccata.  Charlie was always grateful and he loved to chat.  Yep, Sunday nights at 10:00, I would hang out in an alley with my friend Charlie.  My anti-social ex preferred staying home with the kids.  During the week, my kids and I would drop off freshly baked cookies and my car would sit idling for the 10 or 15 minutes we spoke to him.  He never saw our faces.  Charlie was blind.  He was an African American man of an indeterminate age, but I had guessed from the music he liked and other cultural references that he was only a touch older than me.   The car I drove at the time had a huge problem.  It was a Toyota with this repulsive sulfur smell that filled the car at stoplights or whenever my foot was on the brake.  It was a conundrum to the dealership’s service department.  That is until Charlie diagnosed that it was the catalytic converter.  He told me he had worked in that field and I assumed (or did he tell me?), that his blindness was a work-related accident.  One day, Charlie asked for my phone number.  From then on, every few weeks he called me from a pay phone, probably the one right there at the car wash.  He was just checking in.  As I said, Charlie liked to talk.  I introduced him to my father and soon enough, my dad was dropping off his leftovers to Charlie too.

My dad, S.I. Hayakawa and me in Matteo's Restaurant 1985

My dad, S.I. Hayakawa and me in Matteo’s Restaurant 1985

I moved with my kids into an apartment in Santa Monica.    Charlie was no longer on my route home.  We lost touch.  In 1990, my father had a pretty big, but not a massive stroke.  It was incapacitating in the sense that he was no longer strong enough to walk — which to be honest, he was never that great at, as he was handicapped from polio and used a leg brace and cane.  Now, he would require a wheelchair and needed help at home.  There was another African American homeless dude who hung around in front of Nate n’ Al’s all day and called himself the Beverly Hills poet.  He would ask for a few dollars (but one was good enough) and recite a poem for you.  He seemed to be extra-strong and in great shape.  Soon after the stroke, my dad looked at him and barked, “Want a job?  You’re coming home with me.”  And John went home to live with my dad and help him in and out of his wheelchair.  My dad took friendships with the homeless to a whole other level than I did.  But unlike Charlie, John was unpredictable.  Charlie was mentally stable (I think) and John was not.  So, this new relationship didn’t last long, just a few months.  Then John went back on the street as the Beverly Hills poet and referred to my dad from then on as “the boss.”

Six years later, my dad had a heart attack at age 86 and was critically ill at UCLA.  I was in ICU where no phone calls are allowed unless it’s a family member.  One night, while I was on 24-hour duty trying to will my father back to life, I was summoned to the phone.  The nurse told me it was my brother calling.  The voice on the other end said, “Fredde, how’s the boss?”  I looked at the nurse and whispered, “That’s not my brother—that’s my BROTHA!!”

Just the other day on Facebook I noticed a cryptic outgoing status update on my daughter’s wall.  She wrote two words.  Magical moments.  I called her the following day to ask what happened that was magical.  She told me that she had this spontaneous lunch with a black, blind homeless man in the Valley.  I got chills.  I had just finished writing this memory down for my blog.   Apparently she found him in front of a market, took him to lunch and they talked deeply about life.  I was about to explode when I finally asked Augie his name.  It turned out to be a different one, not Charlie or Pierre.  But I would like to think he has changed his identity yet again, and that my daughter found her way to him at the very moment I was thinking about him.  That’s the way the universe works sometimes.


Feeding the Homeless for less:  If you’re in Westwood and you are fetching food to bring to a homeless person and trust me Matteo’s is too expensive for this adventure–go next door to A Touch of Hoboken.  It’s owned by Matteo’s and far less expensive with quite good dishes or so I hear.

Little known fact is that Dolly Sinatra (Frank’s mother) was the midwife who delivered Matty Jordan in New Jersey.  Matty is the original owner of Matteo’s.  Frank ate there most Sunday nights.



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10 Responses to “Alley Cats”

  1. Debbie Schellenberg says:

    great story Freddie. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!. Are you back?


  2. Hoov says:

    Cool rad story. !! Charley is my fav name for my 1971 land cruiser Still own that 4 wheel drive that has gotten me through snow and mud in Mexico. Great name

  3. Fredde!!!! You gave me chills. The Magical Moments kind of chills I get when I hear truth or feel something miraculous has transpired. Chills are great. You are great for giving the chills.
    thanks always,

  4. kimberly clark says:

    LOVE this Fred! You are such a great writer and each story highlights your deep appreciation for all things human and critter! I love you Fredde, lucky and grateful to have this beautiful friendship. To share this life.

  5. Joy aroff says:

    HI Freddie!! Loved your story. Adventures that happen to all of us now and again seem to happen to you more often, I think. AT least you make a good story for us all to read. Thanks dear “Lil Fred”. xoxo Really enjoyed our last dinner. joya

  6. Rich says:

    What a fantastic story, Fredde! Your menschiness jumps off the page in this story and like a well-written novel or screenplay your daughter has the same experience! Now that’s proof that putting out good karma is genetic. Please keep us posted who this Valley “Charlie” is. Bravo!

  7. Julie Phalen says:

    Love it, I’d like to think it was your same Charlie.

  8. tracy says:

    Just a great read..Brought me to tears…I remember this time…
    And the man who lived under Carneys…. that also benefited from your thoughtful heart…

  9. Paul Rubell says:

    Fredde, you made me cry with that one. In a good way… xoxoxo

  10. Augieduke says:

    HI, this your daughter and i love your heart…

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