During the early 1970’s, I spent a couple years living in Los Angeles, going to Art Center College and working for a company that designed and created miniature model kits. The picture above is a painting I made of the house I rented on Alvarado Street, just above Sunset.
My landlord was Richard Kiel, an actor who would later go on to play “Jaws”, the metal mouthed villain in the James Bond movie, “The Spy Who Loved Me”. Needless to say, I always paid my rent on time! The house was at the top of a little hill, you parked on the street and walked up a couple dozen stairs to the first two houses, continued through the courtyard another 30-40 steps to my place, and another 30 steps to the big two story house behind mine. In those four houses lived 12 or 13 people that were all in their 20’s. I fit right in from day one and it became our own little community.
The original mansion was long gone, but the four houses were the guest houses of Hollywood cowboy film legend Tom Mix in the 1930’s. So we called our little group of houses “Mixville”. David Ossman lived in the top half of the rear house, and was a member of the comedy troupe, Firesign Theatre. He occasionally published a “Mixville Rocket” newsletter to keep us all informed and laughing. And I was lucky enough to be invited down to Columbia Records in Hollywood one day to watch the group record parts of their album, “I Think We’re all Bozos on This Bus”. The troupe occasionally reunites and tours, and I’ve seen them in Portland twice in the past decade, and shared old stories with David during intermissions. It was a time I will always cherish, and only some of the stories can be told.
I lost that painting of the house, but fortunately, a print of it lives on. I unearthed it a year ago during my last move, and at the same time, I discovered a xeroxed, handmade book of poems given to me by Bob Baber, one of those neighbors from the group in LA. He lived in the front house on the right. And thanks to social media, and Amazon, I found out he had a “real” book published, that recounted his being shot and arrested as police dispersed the crowd after a canceled concert that occurred while we were friends in LA. After reading his book, I tracked him down in West Virginia and we reconnected, after 44 years. Turns out, he’s been mayor of his home town several times, and has run for senate and governor with the Green Party. That’s the Bob I remember! Glad we’ve reunited, my friend.
Once Bob and I reconnected, the next friend I had to track down was Lynne Cooper, now a psychology professor at the University of Missouri. In LA, she lived in the front house on the left. We reconnected, talked, and on Labor Day weekend, she came to Portland and spent two great days staying with us and really catching up. Another 44 years of the past that has disappeared and merged with the present. Amazing. Thanks, Lynne, it was perfect and rewarding — and my son Travis got to meet another friend from his parents’ past.
My last friend from that group and time was Chuck, a few years older and a whole lot wiser. I have never completely lost contact with him, but it’s been almost 30 years since we saw each other. Perhaps a trip to Colorado needs to happen. I’ll save you for another story, old buddy.
It seems there are moments in time that defines who we are—the people, places and politics combining to have a permanent effect on our lives and consciousness. And we don’t always realize it at the time, but reflecting back, it all makes sense. I treasure all of these defining moments and friends. To quote guitarist legend, Jorma Kaukonen “Friends are always good… you can’t have too many of them. That said, the old ones share that wondrous gift of knowing you when you were young. You can’t buy that.”
As a footnote, here’s what the courtyard looks like today, courtesy of Google Maps. A bit older and rundown, but recognizably the Mixville of my memory.