This Chapter of my life is dedicated to my friend, Roberta Giammusso Cerasi, who thinks I should spend less time having any kind of fun, and more time dredging up and writing down sad memories that are best forgotten.
I hope she’s happy now.
After I realized that Gordon Ramsay was not going to show up at my trailer anytime soon, after I realized I had to save my own life, I realized the first step was to get the heck out of that trailer.
It had been a good place to land and it had been a generous offer from my friend, to allow me that place to land, but it hadn’t taken me long to realize it was never going to be a good place to stay.
Not even a million cute photos of renovated & remodeled vintage travel trailers from Pinterest was going to convince me of that. Not with that Chemical Toilet.
But I wasn’t sure where to go. I hadn’t wanted to come back to Los Angeles to begin with. Compared to Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles was an armpit. An armpit I was pretty happy to have left behind.
Ft. Lauderdale is beautiful. Clean. I never saw any trash on the side of any road anywhere in Ft. Lauderdale. I never hit a pot hole on any road in Ft. Lauderdale. I never saw a homeless person on the side of any freeway ramp in Ft. Lauderdale. I never even saw graffiti in Ft. Lauderdale. All the lawns in Ft. Lauderdale were tidy and because of the amount of rain there, green. Even the Industrial areas looked nice.
You get used to that pretty quickly.
So when I started to look around to see where else I could go, I was somewhat stymied. I just didn’t want to live in ugly any more. I just couldn’t.
But I couldn’t live with that Chemical Toilet for one more day.
The area where I, my horse, my dogs and that Trailer was, is called Shadow Hills. Not to be confused with Beverly Hills, although the prices of the some of the properties are similar. It’s rural, with horses and riders clip clopping down the streets. Roosters crow at the morning sun, and pretty much whenever they want to. It is quiet and peaceful. It is part of the area of Sunland-Tujunga, two separate areas that for some reason are always hyphenated.
The topography is breath-taking, nestled in the foothills of the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains. They are majestic. In the spring, if there is rain, they are as green as any you might see in Ireland. In the fall, they turn golden, especially in the late afternoon sun and even more so if there hasn’t been any wild fires, such as the one we had a few years back. (See Photo Below)
I had lived in the area for almost as long as I had had my horse, some 15 years.
And hated every minute of it.
At first glance, when I moved there, it seemed almost Mayberry-Esque.
Two tiny towns along a beautiful corridor called Foothill Blvd, so close to but so far removed from the other areas of Los Angeles. So quaint, so quiet, so peaceful.
But after my first year there, I remembered something I had learned at school.
Water seeks it’s own level.
Each year, driving up and down that corridor, had become more and more depressing. It wasn’t the beautiful mountains – it was the two tiny towns on either side of that corridor.
At the base of that corridor is the Tujunga Wash, where all the water from those beautiful mountains flows. Downhill.
Much, in fact, like a sewer works. And in the years I have lived in the area, no matter how hard some of it’s residents have tried to improve and uplift the area, it has only gotten worse.
It was dilemma. I didn’t want to live in Los Angeles and I didn’t want to live in either hyphenated part of Sunland-Tujunga.
I briefly considered moving to Georgia, where I had heard stories of being able to buy 500 acres of land for about Fifteen Dollars. For a woman with a horse, that sounded enticing.
But along with a place to live, I also had to find something to do, and I wasn’t quite sure what I could do in a rural part of Georgia except maybe plant peanuts. Or cotton.
I had a brief vision of me in a hoop skirt made from green velvet curtains dancing with Clark Gable on some veranda, but it was short-lived, for a number of reasons, both practical and more politically correct.
That’s a big part of my problem with life in general. I tend to over-romanticize everything. I think it has a lot to do with growing up in musical theater. Musical Comedy. Every time I fell in love I always expected the chorus to come flying out of the wings, singing and dancing and throwing rose petals all over us.
As a matter of fact, every time I did anything, I expected the chorus to come flying out of the wings, singing and dancing.
And to a great extent, I still do.
So, with the song “A Room In Bloomsbury” from “The Boy Friend” in my head, I sent an email to SHPOA. The Shadow Hills Property Owners Association. They are a great group of people who are relentless in trying to keep the area of Shadow Hills as rural, peaceful and as habitable as they can.
They send out email blasts to their members about everything from lost and found dogs, horses and occasionally chickens who have crossed the road to meetings about local issues like California’s High Speed Rail, which sounded like a good idea to some who want to take a fast train to somewhere near, but not exactly in, Sacramento, but not so good to others, like the entire population of Shadow Hills, where they plan on running that train through.
Bye Bye quiet and peaceful.
So at 5am one morning, I sent them a “looking for a place” email. I decided as long as my horse was in the area, I should probably stay close by, since my horse and my dogs now constituted my family. My furry family.
At least until I could figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
The rest of my life that I had previously planned on spending living close to my human family, in Ft. Lauderdale, where it was clean and we could all be together during the next, and mostly likely last, chapters of our lives.
I don’t think there is a song from any musical about that kind of thing that I can remember.
I do, however, remember the first time I saw “The Boy Friend”. It was in Glen Cove and the lead was Susan Birkenhead, who is now a pretty famous Theatrical Lyricist and maybe even a Producer. The only reason I mention it is because I’m trying to skirt around the issue of “What Happened In Florida”, because when I was living in Sunland-Tujunga, before I moved to Ft. Lauderdale, I stumbled upon a book at the Dollar King. It wasn’t the title that caught my eye. It was the author. The author was Peter Birkenhead, and I knew that name. Or I thought I did. I was at the Dollar Store buying a bunch of dollar tupperware sets and the book was on the big display as you entered the store.
I almost didn’t pick it up, but then I thought, “How Many Peter Birkenheads Could There Be In The World?” Plus, it was a dollar, so I tossed it into my basket.
I started reading it when I got home, after I had put away the 20 bucks of Dollar Store Tupperware sets and assorted other Dollar Items I bought.
It was the Peter Birkenhead I knew and he was a good writer, but I stopped reading after a few chapters because it was the Peter Birkenhead I knew, so it was the Susan Birkenhead I knew and a few other members of The Birkenhead Family that I also knew.
Some things you just don’t want to know and what life was like inside The Birkenhead Household was something I just didn’t want to know. I was content to remember Susan Birkenhead as a wistful Polly in the Glen Cove production of “The Boy Friend” and much later, as my director of a children’s play of “Cinderella” she had written and composed. I still remember those songs and occasionally sing them in my head. I have vague memories of Peter, who was younger than I was and even vaguer memories of Peter’s Dad, although those memories did include him wearing some kind of Red Speedo, which I think was mentioned in the book. And was probably the point where I stopped reading.
So if I didn’t want to know what happened in the Birkenhead Household, I am not going to tell you what went on in the Benfatto Household while I was in Florida, waiting for my parents to join me so we could spend the next and most likely last, chapters of our lives together.
Well, maybe I will, but you’re going to have to wait until I think it’s funny and that might take some time. As of last Tuesday, thinking about it still makes me cry. (Thanks again, Roberta)
So, with tears in my eyes, at 5 o’clock in the morning, I sent that email to SHPOA. After that, I prayed. I prayed to God and Gordon Ramsay and Superman and Clark Gable.
I prayed that someone would hear my prayer, hear my pleas, answer my email.
And at 11 o’clock that morning, my prayers were answered. I received a phone call from someone who said they had a guest house in the neighborhood, who would take me and my 3 dogs and I could come that very day to see the place.
My prayers had been answered.
I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I thought that finally, things in my life were looking up.
But it turned out my sense of direction was just a little off.
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