I remember being somewhat disappointed that there should be a KFC on Pacific Coast Highway in the business section of Malibu. (Actually, it was Kentucky Fried Chicken. This was before the Age of Texting and reducing everything to initials.) I was also peeved that Olivia Newton-John wasn’t waiting to personally welcome me. In fact, I never met her even though a law school friend rented a space in the home next to Olivia. During my two and a half years of law school, I had to settle for chance encounters with Rick Springfield, Jon Lovitz and a personal fave, Bob Newhart. I always gave them their space. That’s just how Malibu folk treat one another.
Technically, I only lived in Malibu—on campus—for one semester before getting an apartment up the treacherously windy Malibu Canyon in lowly regarded Calabasas before moving to another coastal community, the boutique village of Pacific Palisades. Still, Malibu was home base The Law School Experiment.
I drove to Malibu from the north today, saddened at first by the scorched mountainside vegetation from recent wildfires. Nonetheless, the more remote coastline induced awe as I gazed at the gentle turquoise Pacific waters, a disappointing status for the black speckles that represented surfers lolling on surfboards.
A lot has changed and yet nothing has changed in the years that have passed from my stint amongst the wealthy. Malibu’s population remains at 13,000, unlikely to ever climb due to building restrictions, mountainous terrain and, well, forest fires. Much of the core area of Malibu business has changed. Not so much the structures, but the signs. Pizza Hut, Ben & Jerry’s, the deli where I always ordered mac and cheese and the video store where I ran into the incomparable Suzanne Pleshette’s TV husband are all gone. My bank is now a medical clinic. Even the Hughes Market grocery store is now a Ralphs. (It pains me not to write Ralph’s, but the company has dropped its apostrophe. Maybe it too was a texting bother.)
The most tragic new sign is for Banana Republic. I’m neither a lover nor a hater of the chain. Take it or leave it. (Maybe that’s because the first thing I ever tried on back in the day when Banana Republic had a safari feel was a summer shirt that felt very strange in the chest. Turns out it was a women’s blouse. But nice peachy tones!) BR took over the struggling, yet sprawling women’s store once owned by my one of my first gay friends, José, who died of a brain aneurism fifteen years ago at the age of forty. My friend, Benny, and I used to pop in regularly to chat while voluntarily changing all the displays to make things look more inviting in a effort to increase sales. (Perhaps I was, in fact, the reason the business went under. What do I really know about fashion? Recall blouse incident, above.)
But for all the changes, there is plenty that is the same. Pepperdine University still occupies prime land on the edge of a mountain with insanely gorgeous ocean views. Most of the beachside pubs with subpar food remain open, again due to insanely gorgeous ocean views. John’s Garden still sells sandwiches with sprouts in the Malibu Country Mart courtyard beside the children’s playground. The public library remains with a spruced up facade, this being the place where I escaped the law school crowd to study across from a homeless man who soaked his dirty clothes in a white plastic bucket. We were regulars who never exchanged hellos but allowed for one another to peacefully coexist.
I’m still laughing as I sit in the courtyard and watch people pretend to be locals. I was a great pretender. Why did I ever move? A nagging voice inside my head chants, “Dumbass”, but it was not a practical commute to downtown L.A. or to my subsequent job in a small Santa Monica law firm where I had a perfect ocean view that included the Santa Monica Pier. Yeah, left that, too. Once again: Dumbass.
When you are young(er), you don’t fully appreciate each moment. This is perhaps the biggest reason I am back for a month, even though I am staying in West Hollywood instead of a preferred coastal area. My five years in L.A. ended with the Rodney King riots (during which my car window was shot out as I drove) and the Northridge earthquake, but there were great times before all that.
L.A. is where I fully came out. It is where I fell in love the first (and second) time. It is where I learned how to do something constructive in response to AIDS and where I listened to my buddy Stephen talk of his unfulfilled Hollywood dreams while he bravely kept his resolve to break in once he conquered AIDS. This is where I met many good friends, many of whom still live here. In fact, I have more friends still in L.A. from my brief stint two decades ago than I have in Vancouver from the nineteen years since.
I am back, if only temporarily. Laughing once again.