Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dumpster Dive 90210


OK, the zip code was different—90024—but it was as close to Beverly Hills as I'll ever live. I was in the eighth grade, and we were still in L.A., moving from a house in Brentwood to a condominium in Westwood, right near the Mormon Temple (on Eastborne Avenue, off Santa Monica Boulevard). But the condominium was being renovated, and as with just about any renovation, the job was behind schedule. The house closed, our things went into storage somewhere, and we shacked up at an all-suite hotel for what turned out to be some number of months. Of course this was not your average "shack." To me, at the time, it was just a transient hotel—nothing remarkable other than a heated pool and a friendly staff who let me have the run of the place. But in fact, it was the Beverly Comstock Hotel at 10300 Wilshire Boulevard at Comstock, situated between Westwood Village and Century City. (It is now under new ownership, has been made significantly more posh, and is called the Beverly Hills Plaza). I had no sense of its luxury, its worth on a "star map." I had no concept of the cost of things, their relative value. Which is why I was less than careful with the mail one day, and ended up mistakenly trashing some stock certificates. I don't know who discovered the error—my mom, I think)—or how it was discovered so immediately; I have no idea how anyone knew for sure that the stock certificates were in that day's mail to be lost. I felt bad, because I knew that it was my fault that they were gone. Due to my age, however, as already pointed out, I really couldn't grasp why this was a crisis. I knew of course that there was such a thing as the stock market. But other than that, the numbers associated with the financial pages of the newspaper were a complete mystery to me. Nonetheless, it suddenly became very clear to me that we had to find the misplaced mail, pronto. I went through the usual process, backtracking through the past couple of hours to figure out where I'd been, where I could have left the envelopes, and so forth. I finally decided that I'd left them in the small hotel-bar area, which was immediately to the right of the reception desk. (The bar? What the hell was I doing in there? It's another long, crazy L.A. story, involving a Peter-Pan type guy and his lunatic lady who became family friends and also had a knack for making us "persona non grata" at local restaurants.) My mom, dad, and I traipsed downstairs to find out whether the mail was there. Now, with the name and address of a resident on the envelopes, you'd think that the mail would have been noticed, given to the front desk, or delivered up to our room. You wouldn't think that obviously unopened mail would get thrown into the trash, but that's what happened. And (now that I think about it, maybe we were looking for this a day later?) where did all the trash end up? Why, in the giant hotel dumpster in a corner of the parking garage, of course. Here I will permit myself to compliment my family in general: we are the kinds of people known for just rolling up our sleeves and getting done what needs to be done. It was in this spirit that my mistake led to a family adventure in garbage. We did precisely that, rolled up sleeves; climbed on into the dumpster. I knew better than to laugh, but it's true that even at the time, it seemed comical to me. It is hard to forget such a moment of exasperated family bonding, picking through trash bags, cursing and praying to find what we'd come for. In the Beverly Comstock, no less! I will say this: the story has a happy Hollywood ending. We did find the stock certificates, and they were in perfectly acceptable condition. You can imagine that I was not left in charge of the mail again for some time, but with a bit of distance gained, my parents did eventually come around to my point of view regarding the humor in the situation. In a short time, we were all able to laugh about it—about the symbolism of our family wading through the garbage of La-La-Land, where we never quite felt we belonged, and about the complete and literal truth of the maxim that one person's trash is another's treasure.

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