Real & Imaginary Friends

when I met Cindy Lou

We lived in a depressing apartment on Olympic Boulevard; a recent divorce put us there. I hated every second of it and longed to be back in “the house.” Soon, the house became a long-ago memory. I might walk by the backyard while playing in the alley and knew it was “technically” ours, but eventually I stopped looking in and convinced myself I no longer pined for it.

One day, a little girl, a year younger than me, moved into the apartment directly across from ours. Not even three steps away was the front door of the girl who became my new best friend. Her name was Cindy Lou Carlson. Not Jewish. Not Jewish was always a comfortable fit for me because I was half-and-half, as we used to say. I knocked on the door and offered up my friendship … and some Oreos.

depressing Olympic apt. my window, Cindy's window where bike is

To date, my most important friendships had been with imaginary friends — an elephant named Carfia, and Sherry, a “good, nice” red-headed mother. (My real mother was a redhead too.) They lived in trees near Roxbury Park, which unfortunately placed them across the huge, though not-so-busy in those days, Olympic Boulevard. There were a few times at age three — and younger — that my mother couldn’t find me, because I was across that big road talking to my friends in the tree. Once, I was spotted by a neighbor and when my mother retrieved me, she slapped some sense into me (a real hard slap, very scary). She insisted my friends were imaginary and didn’t live in that tree. I knew better. But I moved them into a safer spot, my bathtub. I loved them, but Cindy Lou was real, and Cindy Lou looked up to me and followed everything I did. And Cindy could accompany me to Roxbury Park where I would tell her in a forest of bushes and trees that we were being held hostage by savage Indians. My new best friend “saw” all that I could see in my imagination. This was a win-win relationship. Follow the leader (me) was the game we eternally played.

I loved how Cindy looked up to me. She even went so far as to convince her mother that like me, she needed eyeglasses and got my exact, ugly, ubiquitous 1950’s specs. It was a generous act of true solidarity. A gesture that still touches me when I think of it today. It became a pattern in my life to choose friends who were younger, or who would listen to whatever I said and demanded. Little dictator that I was, one day I announced we would write a book. I cannot remember what the book was supposed to be about, but I do remember I became militant that week about us needing to write during recess and lunch.

Cindy had the easiest disposition and one day she went along with my idea of flashing our naked bodies for the world to see outside of her window, the blinds covering our faces. We put in long working days (9:00-5:00) hunting for butterflies because I was convinced that if we touched the sticky stuff on their wings, we could fly.

A few years into our friendship, I gave Cindy Lou perhaps the most meaningful gift I have ever given anyone. When I presented the gift to her, I was revealing quite a secret. I had told no one about the family living in my bathtub. I felt myself growing up, and I just knew my imaginary friends would be in good hands with Cindy. I offered them to her for the promise that they would be well cared for.

Cindy and I would lose touch and find each other many times over the course of our lives. The last time we saw each other, Oliver, my oldest, now 27, was turning 14 and we traveled to where Cindy Lou lived in Seattle. After embracing, we surprised each other by simultaneously pulling out bags of Oreo’s, a symbol of our friendship. Recently, she found me here, through my blog.

I will forever remember her as a child, eating Sunday brunches at our apartment. Huge amounts of deli food brought in by my dad. She would go home and rave about the Duke’s white butter. She meant cream cheese.

Here are a few places around Los Angeles that still stock lots of Duke’s white butter. There’s my family deli, the one with all the memories — Nate n’ Al’s. (Most Jews, gentiles, and half-and-halfs who have left L.A., long for the food at N&A’s.) Another deli that’s quite good, if you live in the valley, is Art’s in Studio City. And the deli from which my husband often brings home herring & Nova, is Factor’s, on Pico. I might also suggest Barney Greengrass, which is on the fifth floor of Barneys in Beverly Hills. However, it’s a bit more expensive and less authentic than the original Barney Greengrass on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

me with my brother and dad at Nate n' Als in the 70's

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16 Responses to “Real & Imaginary Friends”

  1. Ellen B. says:

    Aww….sweet post, Fredde! I lived on the south side of Olympic on Bedford Dr. I only had to cross Roxbury to get to my fave place. We called it “The Jungle,” even though it was only the trees between the street and the tennis courts. We’d climb those trees all day long!

    I LIKE your 50’s specs!!!

  2. Debra Linney Strieter says:

    Your post brings back so many memories. I too, lived on Olympic Blvd and remember loving it that I finally found a home. My family traveled so much with my father in the Navy, that B.H. was the first place I stayed in for any duration.

    Thanks for sharing.


  3. Susan Ragsdale says:

    Dear Fredde, I loved reading this and learning more about you. It’s so great to be able to really see and understand about the places you’re talking about. This inspires me to write about my childhood. I love you, sweet girl. And that pic of your Dad and brother at Nate & Al’s is classic!

  4. Madeline says:

    Those glasses are priceless little miss adorable bossy pants! Happy Valentine’s Day to you!

  5. jennifer green says:

    Just recently drove by 249 Spaulding (Manor)And it’s funny but we became best friends there! And I think you still had imaginary friends in your bathtub! I hope you never ever change! You are so wonderful just the way you are!
    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  6. Doreen says:

    Oh…I just love this. Such a great share. Wonderful memories, details, candid confessions…and you know people never really change. Great writing Fredde. Love you.

  7. Barbara Dudley says:

    I love the flashing, flying w/ butterfly dust and most of all “Oreo’s”…
    You help us all dream of our childhoods Fredde… Just keep writing… xo

  8. gari smith says:

    hi fredde~you took me back to all the good times i had in roxbury park imagining and having fantasies about being other people and what life would look like when i grew up~i spent many carefree days with my cousin riding bikes and eating the berries from the amazing trees that were there~i loved the jungle and would hide there sometimes~i even remember when i was older spending the night in the rocket ship~the police would go by every fifteen minutes or so and my friend and i were so scared~of course when it got cold we both went home~such fond memories of a wonderful place~thank you for sharing your memories~

  9. I lived in an apartment on Young Drive across the street from Beverly High, so I went to Roxbury Park all the time. I also had friends that lived in apartments on Olympic Blvd. so I can picture you romping across Olympic to visit your friend. Thanks for sharing you memories. If you’d like to see a few of my memories you can visit my blog and see at post I did through this link

  10. Bettsie says:

    Remember sitting on the wall of the parking lot to the apartment building reading, no, looking at Playboys that we got from Roxbury Drugs?How about Paul Stanley?That was before the Feders!Great times on Bedford Drive!!!!

  11. emanuel says:

    Wonderful! and so feminine in sensibility, I think.The same material worked on further is the stuff of first rate literature. You’ve got the talent…well, it’s a lot more than talent. Somehow gift says it better. Jeff Dunas was kind enough to fete me at same place and the elderly waitresses
    used to play surrogate moms and grandmas. Somehow, if the rye crust is not crackling crunchy, all authenticity is lost. Dyknow, until just a few years ago, you couldn’t find Nate and Al fare in all of Israel and bagels arrived there only in the 90’s with the Russian invasion.
    As you probably guessed, I’m also a mut with a Spanish immigrant Catholic father and Argentine raised mom who arrived in Palestine with her family in 1911. I hope that I can write about all this with gifts that are suggestive of your magic. Even your words are huggable!

  12. seymore cole MD says:

    freddie you can use my charge at Nate’s anytime.Good times! I always ask for extra pickles..

  13. Nile Hight says:

    What happened to the bathtub friends?

  14. Cindy Lou Carlson says:

    Fredde…This brought tears to my eyes. What about the time we went across the street and bought candy in the liqour store and then stood in front of the store and sold it for less. We thought we were so smart. And do you remember our acting class at Roxbury Park where we had to pretend we had bubonic plague? Didn’t we also do some kind of crazy thing where we pretended to deliver medication to people in the neighboring apartments? I love my memories of walking home from Beverly Vista and stopping at Wil Wrights for candy necklaces and Wilson’s House of Fur for little scraps of fur. I love you my very special friend! Cindy Lou Carlson
    PS I will always remember the butterflies and my cat Butterfly and your cats Hangy, Krissy and oh no, what was your blue point’s name?

  15. Linda Mancini says:

    The Duke’s white butter … its great how we remember those moments from childhood.

  16. Karen Keating says:

    Divine.. Growing up in San Francisco and Marin County in the 1970’s with an American Father and a mildly famous Norwegian Athlete, as a mother. FREDDE DUKE I LOVE YOUR WRITING! Always resonates..

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