Chronicle 75I graduated UCLA in 1974, but not much had changed. I was still working for the Civil Service Commission, and my friend Jim and I went into the business of making terrariums. They were a popular thing at the time- plants semi-enclosed in glass so they had their own mini-ecosystem.
We used the basement of the house I owned on Newell Street near the L.A. River. I didn't live in the house any more. My wife and I had moved to an apartment near UCLA, which was also closer to where she worked. We rented out the upstairs of the house. The last tenant had moved out, so there was a For Rent sign out front. I was in the basement making terrariums. I heard a voice and looked up the basement stairs. There she was, the sun glowing behind her, descending the steps, a vision of beauty. She had come to rent the house. Her name was Corinne.
My wife and I had a pretty good relationship for the 8 years we had been married, but when she suddenly told me that she wanted to move back to Kansas City, I felt disappointed and betrayed. I really enjoyed living in L.A., and all along I had thought she did as well. I hated the idea of going back to Missouri. We had done pretty well in California. Life was good. The idea of going back felt like losing. When I think back to the moment she said that, I still feel the chill. Something ended then.
From the perspective of many years later, that is the most specific reason that I was open to an affair. That, and, as I mentioned, Corinne was beautiful.
I rented her the house, of course. She had two children, a boy about 7 and a girl who was younger. She also had a husband who was not with her at the time. He was on a trip to Mexico for a reason that was never disclosed. Before long we began talking, sitting on the steps. Her husband, she told me, was half Irish and half Mexican, and had abused her on occasion. She did not seem anxious for him to return from his trip. Her son had emotional problems, and needed to be taken to therapy sessions. He was a likeable kid, and he seemed to like me. I couldn't help but wonder if his problems had to do with his father's behavior.
It wasn't long before my friendship with Corinne turned romantic. She was a delightful, funny, open, generous woman, as well as beautiful. Neither of us consciously set out to seduce the other. We were both lonely in our own ways, needing someone; needing to feel. I can still envision her the first time she joined me in my waterbed in the basement; the shyness with which she revealed her perfect light brown body; the softness of her skin; her flavor, tasting of spices.
I was probably in love with her already, and soon after I began to believe my future would be with her. The obstacles to that seemed less than real.
Of course, if love had allowed me to think logically, I might have been less optimistic. But, if we humans in love were less irrational about it, wouldn't we be a different species altogether?
Corinne also had a Great Dane, a very friendly and playful dog. Outside, he liked to greet me by standing on his hind legs and resting his front paws on my shoulders, looking down at the top of my head.
My terrarium workshop in the basement evolved into my living quarters, conveniently just beneath the woman I loved. We left each other love-notes and informative messages under the flowepot on her kitchen windowsill. We shared a phone with an extention. If we needed to converse on it, we'd tap on the floor or ceiling, then dial a single digit to stop the dial tone. Until her husband returned from Mexico it was an ideal situation, but afterward there was a danger we'd be caught. I began looking for another place to live, where we could safely meet.
That was how I met Bill O'Reilly (not the TV one, but the con man from Long Beach). There was an ad offering free rent for doing interior remodeling in a house in Altadena. It was a good deal. The house was quite livable, though in need of painting and paneling, which I could do while living there. When the time came to sell the house, I would move on to the next of O'Reilly's investments. He was what is now called a house-flipper. The con was yet to come.
Corinne wasn't coming to visit me as I had hoped, though of course she had 2 kids to take care of at home. I made my Datsun pickup available to her for transportation, while I drove a '49 Ford panel truck I had bought, a delightful orange antique. The next house was much nicer, and didn't really need work. I was mainly house-sitting it. I got a phone there under the pseudonym of Harry Frog. I had once told Corinne about an article I had read about a species of hairy frogs, which we both found amusing. This house was much closer, just east of Hollywood. But, my hope that Corinne would visit, or even come to live with me there, was seeming to be futile.
So far, my dealings with O'Reilly had been fixing or watching vacant houses for free rent. Then he asked me to be the rent collector for a couple of houses he owned in south L.A. It was a low income area, but I never encountered any hostility from the tenants or anyone. Of course, I'm not a threatening or suit-wearing person, so there was no reason to be unfriendly.
Once or twice I was invited to O'Reilly's home in Long Beach, and met his wife and his son, a deaf teenager. I went for a ride with the kid in his golf cart around the waterfront neighborhood. He liked to cruise around and throw eggs at houses after dark. At one point O'Reilly loaned me a car he had acquired, a Triumph TR3 with an 289 engine and automatic transmission from a Mustang. Needless to say it was fast. I had owned a stock TR3 in the past. They are quite responsive even with a 4 cylinder. Perhaps partly because he seemed to trust me, I was willing to trust O'Reilly, and believe he was a friend. That turned out to be a mistake.
He suggested I invest in his real estate acquisitions, so that I would share in the profits when they were sold. I took second mortgages on my houses to do this. Then, while I was waiting for him to sell the property, he came up with a new adventure. The story was that his wife had property in Majorca, Spain, and, for some reason, they needed to transport some jewelry there without declaring it. I was to get a passport and make the trip, becoming an unsuspected smuggler. Naturally they would pay for my flight. I got my passport and waited to hear from them. I'm still waiting. I had nothing invested in the Majorca scheme but the fee for the passport. It was merely a distraction from the real estate con. The O'Reilly's disappeared, along with my money. I lost my own houses as a result.
Yes, I was stupid to trust Bill O'Reilly. My quest for love had taken almost all my attention and effort. In all the other aspects of life, I was on autopilot. Corinne, and my imagined future with her, were far more important than material possessions. Love didn't work out so well, either, but it was not for lack of trying.