I cried when they painted the school. I didn’t see it coming – no one did. The order had been put in years ago, but you know how that works. Our new principal wasn’t even aware that the district gears had been slowly grinding on this project for nearly a decade before her arrival. I showed up one day to pick up the Kozlet, just in time to see the workmen finishing up the job of painting every exterior surface of the school the color of flesh and blood. No, seriously. They called it “cashew” but I swear they were painting the walls the same color that used to be called “flesh” in the crayon box, while the doors had all been painted an awful rust color. Apparently I was in the minority, however, as the only parent who had actually liked the old exterior. The building’s main hall is a wonderful example of classic L.A. architecture, and to me the pink and green paint job had exuded an air of old Hollywood glamour fitting to the area’s history. But I guess you can’t halt the wheel of progress. At least it’s turned out to be a good school, even if it’s been painted to resemble a giant pimple.
Around the same time I was mourning the old school facade, I noticed a lot of old landmarks were going downhill. Hollywood has, until very recently, had no respect at all for its own history. Buildings constructed back in a time when such things mattered, that would have aged gracefully, are of no use to a transient population who only want to make a quick buck. The weirdest thing is, once a place has been rebuilt, it’s hard to remember what used to be there, especially when every third block has been razed to make way for another Walgreen’s. I still miss the Studio Wardrobe Department, though. It was originally a warehouse in an old building at Hollywood and Highland, but that burned down at some point and the site turned into a big mall. The salvaged contents were moved down the street and squeezed into a much smaller space, which became stuffed to the gills with everything you could possibly ever need by way of clothing or costuming, with prices starting at 25 cents. For a long time I wasn’t that keen on going there because once the owner yelled at me when I tried to look in the mirror to see if a coat I was interested in looked OK on me. It turned out he had a strict rule about not bringing the 25-cent clothes inside to look at in the mirror. So I paid a quarter for an ill-fitting coat that I eventually gave to Goodwill. But after the Kozlet was born, I started going there all the time, since it was only a five minute walk away. Kozlet would play happily in his stroller while I tried on vintage dresses and looked for interesting items to cut up and reassemble as new creations. Once I had to dress up my whole family in Renaissance costumes, and in a single trip I found everything I needed, including one large and one tiny leather vest for the Kozlings, and a woolen one for myself. And when the small creature started taking dance classes, I found enough black jazz pants there to keep him outfitted for several years.
Eventually the Kozlet started going to school, and I took to wandering into the shop on my own once or twice a month, often in the evenings on my way home from class. On those occasions, the owner would always be present to close up for the night. He, of course, had no recollection of yelling at me, and I certainly didn’t mention it. He was always cordial, if a bit distant. One night, he seemed particularly moody, and sensing a sympathetic ear, started telling me about his life. I listened patiently while he told me his story, and then he took out his wallet and showed me a picture of his children. One of them was a dead ringer for the Kozlet. My jaw dropped, and I immediately started fumbling for my own wallet to extract a picture, a school portrait taken earlier that year. Holding the pictures side by side we fell silent. They could have been photos of the same child. It was eerie. Finally we put the pictures away, and I purchased my stuff and went home. But after that the owner always seemed happy to see me when I came in. He’d come over and chat, ask after the Kozlet, and offer me discounts or just let me have stuff for free, especially if it was off the kids’ rack. I brought the Kozlet with me once or twice, but he was old enough by then to be bored by clothing stores, and I think it made the owner a little uncomfortable. The place wasn’t doing too well either, and there were some real weirdos creeping among the racks, although usually they were just the employees. It was pretty plain the place didn’t have long for the world. They tried to resuscitate it by allowing a reality show to be filmed there, but that didn’t help. I avoided the store during filming, even though I was explicitly invited to both the taping and a related party. That whole reality show thing just freaks me out. When the coast was clear, the store’s inventory had been thoroughly depleted, and the place shut down not too long after that. The owner told me that he was moving what was left to his other warehouse, somewhere in the valley, a real schlep compared to the pleasant stroll I’d enjoyed. Another one bites the dust. Now it’s a yoga studio.
So about three years ago, right about the time I was weeping over the school’s new paint job, a singular individual known as Trippy the Hippy, who lives in the equivalent of a tie-dyed yurt on a glacier, asked me to post some pictures of Hollywood – my Hollywood – on Hippymom.com. I went out with my camera, intending to shoot some of my favorite spots. But I realized when I actually hit the pavement that virtually nothing was at all the way I remembered, and most of the places that meant anything to me were gone. The few things here and there which remained only made my heart hurt with nostalgia. I started taking pictures, and realized that the reason this city feels so unreal all the time is because it’s not made out of bricks and mortar, but stories. A few of which are mine to tell. The idea of the Hollywood Hermit was born that day.