That’s me, the Underdog Lover

From the earliest possible memory, and I do mean earliest, my mother role-modeled the love of the underdog.   Why, she married my father, a polio survivor, who sported a cane and brace and walked tilted from side to side.  Think Danny DeVito, only slightly taller.  My dad was all of 5 feet, one inch.

My mother took in strays, both people and animals.  A famous gay makeup artist with a serious drug problem moved in for nearly a year.  Each day that I left for high school, he asked me to score him some good dope.  I always smiled and said “sure,” but never copped, not for him at least.

In retrospect, I’m thinking that I was an underdog.   I was extremely tiny, with crossed eyes, so I had to wear those horrific cat glasses of the 1950’s.   But I didn’t feel like any underdog.   One day in grammar school, I watched, horrified, as all these nasty students surrounded the mentally-retarded girl and poked fun at her.  I came home and related to my thin-skinned mother what had happened, and she lectured me, warning that it will never be me joining in.   And it never was.  I was almost always fighting for the underdog.  Put up with no shit, that’s what I learned from both parents.  That new show, “What Would You Do?” resonates with me because I’m the one who gets indignant in the face of injustice, and says something.   It’s not always pretty either.

Some years ago, I kept noticing this homeless woman in my hood.  I feared where my heart would lead me, so I looked away.  I mean, for a few years I saw her out of the corner of my eye and knew that she tore at me, called to me, if you will…. But I wouldn’t touch it (or her).

I knew that people in town were inventing a back-story for her.  I guess everyone was just trying to figure out what the real story was.  She lived in her car.  The car was parked up the street from me.  She was hard to avoid.  First, Oliver, my eldest, the one who designs high-end T-shirts, kept telling me how close he was with her, that she would go to all his fashion shows.  Are you kidding?  How long could I not make contact with this woman?  Then it was Augie, my daughter, who told me how close they were, that the woman would visit Augie at her job in a boutique on Sunset.  Oy.  What next, Barnaby?  Yep.

You might ask why I was resisting this so deeply.  Well, here is why.  I cross boundaries.  My whole family crosses boundaries, it’s in our DNA.  At or near the end of my father’s life, he had a stroke and was so weak he could no longer care for himself alone at home.  So, what does he do?  What any underdog-loving, underfunded person might do — he took in the homeless man that stands in front of Nate n’ Al’s, a deli in Beverly Hills.  In exchange for his new job as male nurse, he now shared a condo on Wilshire.  John was strong, oh, yes he was, and could lift my dad into the wheelchair, which was pretty impressive.  It was also weirdly impressive when he sat hallucinating on the floor of my mother’s home, throwing handfuls of parsley he ate from a plastic bag that he carried around with him.  He said it warded off illness.

To digress from my digression a moment, I’m not even speaking to John the Homeless because one day I made an appointment with him to talk on camera about my amazing dad.  I ignorantly handed him $50 so that he would really show up.  But when we came with the camera crew, he was incoherent, and I had never seen him this way.  Clearly, he had spent the money on drugs and now I was complicit in helping him off the wagon.   Anyway, he and my father fought a lot and eventually parted ways.

Cut to almost now.   I’m in dilemma mode.  This person is hanging around my neighborhood and my kids and knows all about their love lives and everything else.  Each day I’m getting closer to succumbing.

It’s been a few years now since my friendship began in earnest with Margaret.  I can tell you this: I am keeping my boundaries in check.  I don’t bring her home.  Don’t offer my shower.  Thought about it, but don’t.  I did give her a skirt that I really thought she might like.  Bought some meals for her, and once gave her gas money when she had to drive her car to somewhere in Pasadena.  But within those boundaries, she is a fond member of our little village.  She is smart and engaging and always asks great questions.  And she has a genuine interest in my children and me … and what’s not to like about that?   Although my kids may have been the conduit leading me to Margaret, I know that I was drawn to her just by her mere underdog status.  Thanks, Mom.

Margaret and I often run into each other in our same favorite places, the book store—she has great book recommendations– and the overly expensive natural pharmacy.  And she’s now being hired to house-sit for people… so, in my opinion things are looking up.

Of the few meals I have given her, Margaret’s favorite is the cheeseburger from the Beverly Hills Hotel coffee shop.   Since she tells me all the time that it’s her favorite, one day I brought the grilled cheese sandwich which is my new favorite thing there.  This time, I brought her in closer.  We stepped behind my gate and sat by the pool as she enjoyed her new favorite too.

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14 Responses to “That’s me, the Underdog Lover”

  1. robin says:

    great story. no photo?
    great story about your dad, too!
    in fact, your whole fucking family….

  2. Cristi says:

    Another Hit!! I can remember all of the cats at your BH – Roxbury house. You couldn’t help yourself!! You do go for the underdog!! So when I am down and out will you feed me a Beverly Hills Hotel Cheese Burger? Yum – it’s been too long. Luv ya Dukes – you have a great heart!!

  3. Grant Anthonni Onnie says:

    Hey Fredrica, are we talking food here?

  4. Kim says:

    Great Fred! I remember you recommended her to house sit for me! You have a big heart and that is what I love most about you.

  5. Lauren says:

    Such a fantastic story and what a gifted writer!
    Looking forward to more stories! Xxxooo

    Lauren H.

  6. Joyce Hyser Robinson says:

    Great story girlfriend. I love your “voice.”

  7. Donavan Freberg says:


    I too, was trained by my parents to fight for the underdog. Bravo!

    And bravo to your wonderful words, you are a FANTASTIC writer!

    I’m off to lend a helping hand and to eat a grilled cheese sandwich at the BH Hotel!

  8. Chris Pina says:

    Fredde – Nicely told story. Good going. You should tell that story for my friend’s live show (which I also perform in) called, “I Love A Good Story”. Or you can tell any one of the thousands of stories you have for the show. It’s a cool show with music, comedy and of course spoken word. Perfect for you. Hugs.

  9. Madeline says:

    How about Story Corps or Ira Glass’s “This American Life” on NPR?

    Wonderful story, Fredde. The emotion is palpable.

  10. I love this story .. wonderful.

    I know Margaret too. She’s rather Junior League, helping with the Garden Committee, going to readings at Village Books and did attend a Seven Sisters College back east. Her family, Pasadena old-time, are rather wealthy and sincerely (yes) puzzled by her.

    It’s choice in her case, rather snobbish; she doesn’t like apartments, no. She has lovely manners and one can almost forget that she lives in her car.

  11. Susan H says:

    I’ve often thought and told Margaret that she should write a story about being homeless in the Palisades!
    She’s been homeless for so long now. I wish we could find her some guy who needs a nice, KIND woman ,and a great listener.

  12. Janet Petkin says:


  13. Julie Phalen says:

    Love it, I am the same way. Can’t begin to tell you the people I brought home to live in my parent’s house in Bel Air. Some of them went on to become famous.

  14. Laura Plotkin says:

    Another great story, Fredde. Your kids got good lessons from you that will enrich their lives. I work at a homeless shelter as a volunteer, teaching a class in how to get a job, and I can tell you these people are just us without a safety net. (Some may have extra issues, but not all).

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