|Posted by thegutterdude on February 11, 2010 at 1:56 AM||comments ()|
The Polo Prince.
The old Victorian expression “Breeding Tells” in the heyday of its use referred both to the quality of people as well as horses. When the European class system was in its final bloom before the industrial revolution, and the rise of the democratic republic was still in its infancy.
The nobility of the time and their horses were the descendants of conquerors; winners of battles on land and sea, who produced legitimate heirs from arranged marriages with other conquering families and (back-up) illegitimate heirs with the beauties of the surrounding district and court servants. The main idea was to keep the conquering business in the hands of the ‘right sort’ and the best horses handy for the job.
There is however some amount of truth to all such expressions. We see it in our daily lives: The intramural marriages where types, philosophies, races and ethnic groups not hemmed in by geography, follow the path of least genetic resistance and probably a few more natural laws. So it is that one occasionally runs across someone who has about them a natural aura of class and nobility. The Polo Prince is one of these.
I met the Polo Prince when a gutterguy buddy of mine asked if I could take care of a customer which he was unable to get to. Having a lull in my own work, I picked up the ball.
I wish I could write the Polo Prince’s real name because it is lyrical with an old-world, noble sound to it; a handle that by itself confers and air of nobility to the owner.
When I arrived at the house on the outskirts of Beverly Hills, I met a man in his mid twenties with an easy yet commanding bearing and clear incisive eyes which told me that he could size up a person or situation and make a decision which would not need revisiting. Not a common description of your average twentysomething.
The house was being renovated for his bride-to-be after their impending marriage, yet the Polo Prince was financially shrewd enough to be lavish only where it counted (Needless to say that rain gutters were not high on the list of things that counted to a blushing bride.). We therefore worked out a way to repair what was already there at a price that was almost satisfactory to both of us.
When I arrived to start on the job, the Polo Prince (who is always gracious in manners) was gracious enough to show me a bathroom I could use in his office should the need arise (Something that only the occasional customer will to do.).
When the need did arise, I walked on through the office making a quick mental inventory of the contents, not for any other reason than curiosity. The office had a look both modern and conservative, and definitely used. There were a scattering of books on the shelves, placards, baseball trophies. The office as well as the prince, described a person with both ability and determination. In a closet next to the bathroom was polo gear; boots, mallet and helmet all with definite wear.
Having been raised around horses and horsemen in my younger years, having absorbed the equine world practically through my mothers milk, having been thrown from my first horse at age four and having become and expert rider and decent horseman by my early teens, having spent every day of my young life with the smell of horse hair, horse sweat and horse crap in my nostrils (and now having the bad back to show for it), I immediately started calculating ways to draw the Polo Prince into conversation and find out more about him and about the one equine activity I never touched. Polo.
Though I chose to divorce myself from the all-absorbing lifestyle surrounding the horse in order to explore what else there might be out there in the big, wide world. I’ve never forgotten the trill of racing my crazy cowboy brother at break-neck speed down the side of a near-cliff, nor the exhilaration of being on top of a bucking horse, chasing down a steer with a rope or besting all comers in a riding competition, nor the unique peace of riding alone through the mountains and scrub where I grew up. There’s something about being half of that partnership between a human and a horse that make most people unable to abandon it and others to devote their whole lives to it.
As a kid I would occasionally watch a polo match on some obscure TV program with excitement and envy, because it seemed to me the penultimate expression of that partnership. Not only that, it looked like one helluva lot of fun. Wrecks and injury be damned! It would be worth a trip the hospital just to be in the middle of bunch of fast horses and crazy sons-of-bitches playing a hard, fast game. Now that’s the sort of living worth dying for!
It turns out that the prince grew up playing Polo, a sport passed down to him from his dad, another of true gentleman of the same stamp, ruler of a sizable rental property holding, a sharp businessman yet –when the suit and tie comes off-- down to earth, kind and generous to friends, workers and those he likes.
It seemed obvious that the prince grew up privileged, yet was neither spoiled nor indulged. He was obviously taught the value of a buck and hard work maintaining high standards. It was also obvious that he had that bold wild streak that distinguishes the winners in life, no matter their social stratum. The prince was the type of person who would prevail no matter what his situation. Prevail or die trying.
After establishing our common ground in the equine world and my interest in polo, he invited me to come and watch them play at Will Rodgers state park on the weekends. Among the polo crowd, the weekend matches there are the rough equivalent of a pick-up basketball game in any city park. Players sign up and show up with their polo horses and are given handicaps for their expertise. The horses range in quality from the classic polo pony to run-of-the-mill grade animals brought by weekend hobbyists.
After finishing my bids one Saturday, I decided to take up his invitation and went to the park. It was my first time seeing polo live and gracious as always, the prince invited me to the players section where I met his father the king and some of their friends.
The first thing I noticed was how happy the horses were. It is the most natural thing for horses to run in a herd. Add the element of running fast and a trained polo horse is as close as it can be to horse heaven on earth. Ears forward, nostrils flaring, stamping impatiently, they’re in their element and they love it.
When the prince mounted for his game it was also obvious that he was a superb rider. When and expert rider mounts a horse, there is a momentary slouch he assumes while settling into the feel of the horse he is on; a plug-in that take place giving each a feel for the other (You can tell a lot about the experience and temperament of a horse you are on by the way it reacts to your initial shifts of weight. A more knowledgeable horse will adjust his stance to your feel. A less experienced horse will be confused and wait for guidance.). After the plug-in, the expert will swing to the correct center of movement control, the horse feels it and they move off together.
Watching the prince play it was also obvious that he was an expert strategist compared to the rest of the players. He did nothing flashy but was concentrating on the field of play and at the right moment would boldly capitalize in an assist or in charging toward the goal. It was also obvious that the prince had a champion’s attitude when he lost the chucker (a period of play in polo.) He came back fuming (“Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser”….a gruff sentiment but all too true.) and had to cool off for a couple of minutes.
On a subsequent job, he confessed to me, with a certain fire in his eye, that he would love to turn pro and do nothing else, but that he felt he should be “responsible” and the fire flickered out. Given his kingdom and his new family, he made the correct choice for the long term, but there is never a pleasant way of diverting a warrior’s hungry heart. In other times, the prince would have been in his element charging the guns of Napoleon or breaking the Persian line at Isus, but peaceful times call for peaceful, prudent men, and so the wiser choice.
Over the last ten or so years I’ve worked occasionally for the prince and the king. They have always been good to me even going so far as to offer free polo lessons to me and summer camp at their horse ranch to my daughter (though I was never able to take up either offer). They are always a warm and welcoming family and I do my best to look out for their interests when called upon. Though we have the love of the horse world in common, there is always the unspoken boundary of peoples with different destinies and places in the world that is best never crossed. Yet the Polo Prince and his family command a natural loyalty from me and it is a comfort to me somehow to know there are people out there still who possess natural nobility, who make and command benevolent kingdoms.
|Posted by thegutterdude on February 11, 2010 at 1:55 AM||comments ()|
Trains, Ducks and Rain Gutters:
Being one with a mind for and love of useless trivia that might be interesting to pass along one day, I find that the Los Angeles area is a bottomless well of interesting people.
A few years after I’d started out on my own, I sold a job to a retired gentleman in the Cheviot Hills area. His job took about three days to complete, during which time I had many opportunities to talk.
At first we were just two native-born Californians waxing nostalgic about the good-ol-days of life in Southern California when it was a beautiful, uncrowded paradise (a topic of conversation that I’m sure has been re-hashed since the last ice age.); before all the “other” people moved in. I was going on about the old farms and ranches that I saw fall under the dozers in the ‘60s and the days when Dana Point was just a cow pasture leading up to some rocks, but he trumped me with his story about duck hunting as a child no more than a mile from where he now lived.
‘Hard to imagine the Playboy mansion, and adjacent multi-million dollar properties being a swamp only a few of generations ago, but according to him, the wetlands that are now restricted to the stretch between Marina Del Rey and Playa Del Rey, extended up that far, crowded with waterfowl from the Pacific Flyway.
The old fellow had spent his working days as an aeronautical engineer in the days when Los Angeles was business friendly and Boeing, Lockheed and Hughes Aircraft, sat on land that the Real Estate lobby could then, afford to ignore. He invited me in for a cup of coffee, and showed me the schematics for a hydraulic valve he’d invented which is still in use today. He was clearly proud to be part the Clarence “Kelly” Johnson days of aviation pioneering and proud of the small part he played in it.
“Do you like trains?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Sure”. “I guess so”.
He went on to tell me that he was part of a group of old steam locomotive buffs that had events and gatherings around the country. Occasionally they manage to talk the railroads in to letting them take a run with old locomotives that they restore.
He showed me a video he had taken of one of the last pre-diesel era engines that the Southern Pacific had allowed to take a nostalgia trip all the way down the coast to Southern California where it was retired to a museum never to roll again. The video was taken from a chase car that paralleled the tracks through the central valley.
As he played the video and described the engine I was seeing, he became as animated as any sports fan calling a game. He looked at that engine with reverence and I have to admit, it was a thing of beauty. The height of steam powered engineering; grand in scale and cleverly designed, it could haul anything that modern-day engines could, but do it with a beauty and style which they could never match. It was made in the days when pride of craftsmanship mattered as much as function and efficiency, and it was a proud beast indeed.
|Posted by thegutterdude on November 3, 2008 at 8:50 AM||comments ()|
On a hill overlooking one of the major studios in the "Valley", is the home of a major movie producer I was fortunate enough to work for about three years ago.
It was a custom job where I had to design a gutter that would both look good and also take care of an inherent leak problem. In a word the job was massive. It chewed up about two months of that summer but by the time it was done, it became a showcase job for me.
I was also fortunate that the family I was working for were such nice people. Down to earth, bright, both interesting and interested. Some might consider their home ostentatious because of the size and location, but once I got to know them, it was obvious that the decision to buy was a practical consideration before all else.
Not being one who reads movie credits, when I met Mr. K I didn't know him from Adam, and therefore had no preconceived notions about him. He was just a nice guy; obviously sharp and thorough.
About two weeks into the job, when I asked, I found out what he did for a living, and it was about another two weeks before I got around to looking up his 'film-ography' and found out what a major player he was in the film business.
Despite the impression we all get from the movies, people make it in the movie business the same way people make it in any trade; by being reliable and competent. When millions are on the line, nobody hires a flake more than once (Over the years, I've met many heavies in the movie and other businesses and with out exception, they've made it by being exceptional in one or more ways, and it's been my good fortune to talk to them and observe them.).
Toward the end of my job, for some reason, Mr. K opened up to me about his start and how he came to where he was. It was a great story.
Back in the early sixties, Mr. K was a middle class student working his way through college, living in the Washington DC area. Over the summer he decided upon getting a job for a local TV station.
When he went in to apply, and informed them he had absolutely no knowledge or experience in television he was told, without ceremony, to hit the road.
Although he did go away, after thinking it over for a night, he decided he wanted to work in TV, and went back the next day, saying that he'd be willing to work at anything. Thinking they could get rid of him, they gave him a job sweeping up, which he took, did, and continued to do.
About two weeks later, he was spotted by the manager (who'd been the one to boot him out two weeks prior), broom in hand. After his shock and indignation at seeing Mr. K, he crooked a finger and told Mr. K that he was short a camera operator and that Mr. K was elected. Mr. K was given quick instruction and thrown into the deep end where he flourished the rest of that summer.
The next summer he upped the audacity quotient at a Pittsburgh station nearer his home. He applied for a job as a producer giving a vague mention of the last station and his experience there. He got the job, showed up, went into the producer�s booth and realized he was completely lost.
Looking around at the monitors, wondering how he would fake his way through, one of the older technicians who�d been watching him said, �You�ve got no idea. Do you�?
Mr. K. answered with a sheepish �No�.
The old veteran took pity, told him what to do immediately, then continued until Mr. K knew his job.
From then on it was a succession of jobs and positions, working his way up through the ranks in TV, then movies, learning his jobs, honing his craft, taking on the next challenge.
All the glitz and charm and glamour supposedly attached to the movie business, is definitely not at his end. Behind the camera, in the cutting room, or in the office, it�s work, work and more work, and you�d better not get any of it wrong, or you�ll be out of work next year, and probably for good (No pressure there�).
The logistics a big budget producer must deal with are staggering. As an example, Mrs. K. told me about a time when he was on location. During a call home, he had told her that he was having a root canal done that day, and that promised to be the best part of his day.
It�s interesting to note that people who�ve had to struggle that hard to succeed, and have to keep struggling retain an alertness and humility about them no matter how high they rise. When Mr. K came home from wrapping up his movie, his first comment to me was �Yeah, but now I�m out of work�.�. �I have to find another script�. He wasn�t smiling either.
The process and pressure of getting the right script, the right actors, directors, locations, technicians, budget, distribution, et al, and making no mistakes in the process, is tremendous. One missed queue, bad edit, bad re-write, bad light bulb, mis-spent dollar, wrong release date�one hair out of place on an actor can make the difference between a success and a flop, and there�s no fixing it afterward.
If you met Mr. K in a grocery store, you�d meet a nice guy who took genuine interest in you and the conversation, and you�d probably have no idea that you were talking to someone with the brilliance, nerve, determination and attention to detail that would put a neurosurgeon to shame.
|Posted by thegutterdude on October 18, 2008 at 11:14 PM||comments ()|
|Posted by thegutterdude on October 17, 2008 at 10:30 AM||comments ()|
When I was little I always dreamed of growing up to be a 'Gutter Guy'...Well, not really...
Few people end up where they thought, and fewer are happy about it when they do...and probably it's not really all that important. I prefer to view this phenomenon through an incisive statement my sister the Rolfer made; "Fortunately, our lives are not limited by our imaginations". I might only add that they are often enhanced by the imaginations of other people.
I could get more long winded about this, but suffice it to say that being a Gutter Guy has proven to be far more interesting that at first might be imagined. I see interesting and beautiful sites, and even more interesting people. Occasionally, I get personally guided tours of places that others would pay dearly for.
But mostly it is the people I meet here in the Los Angeles area that have made this a serendipitous existence, and worth living, so in the main, that will be the subject of most of the blogs that I write, when I write them.
If this blog ever ends up getting an audience, I hope they will enjoy, and I will do my best to make it intersting.