Thursday, January 09, 2020

I Heard this Story in Kirkland, Washington

2002 Western Division Champions
     I was watching my granddaughter’s team, North Venice Girls Little League Softball Champions play in the 2002 World Series. Parents and supporters made the trip from L.A.’s Westside, some flew, others like me, drove the 21 hours, cruising up I-5.
     The story has stayed with me all these years, and like all stories, who knows whether I'm telling it the way I heard it. You know what they say about telling the story to one person and by the time it makes the rounds, it's a different story. Oh well, here goes. My Facebook friends, who know the real story, will tell me if I’m on the right path or I’ve exaggerated it, with time.
     My mother’s lifelong friend and neighbor, Tudy Guajarado, raised in the Santa Monica barrio on 22nd Street, right off Olympic boulevard, sat next to me in the bleachers.
The old Santa Monica, 22nd St. homestead, circa 1940
     Everybody on the Westside knew Tudy as a hardcore Frank Sinatra superfan. The way he talks about Sinatra gives true meaning to the word “fanatic”.
     There in the bleachers, he told me story after story about life in Santa Monica, going back to the 1930s, when he, his siblings and my mom were kids. But I knew he was itching to tell me a Frank story. Tudy probably saw the singer from Hoboken a hundred times in Vegas.
     Finally, I asked why he liked Sinatra so much. Tudy explained a Sinatra performance wasn’t just about the singing. It was the entire persona and his stage presence. It was an experience.
     He said it wasn’t even like watching a show. It was like hanging out with a “cat” in your own living room or something. That’s how comfortable Frank made the audience feel. It was like the whole thing, you know. On stage, Frank had a cigarette and drink on a side table or stool. He’d sing a bit, let the band do its thing, walk over and real cool-like, lift the drink, tip it to the fans, bring it to his lips, take a couple of sips, and smile, devilishly, to show how good the drink tasted. Then, he’d start singing again.
     Tudy said he couldn’t get enough of Frank, and he wanted everyone else to experience him, taking friends and his adult kids with him to Vegas, whenever they were up for it. I'm sure they loved Frank too. But not like Tudy.
     He told me when he and his wife, Belen, would go, he’d always buy three or four tickets. This got my mind reeling, and he knew it. I figured, okay, Tudy and his wife, that’s two tickets, so why the three or four tickets?
     Of course, I didn’t ask. I knew the answer would come soon enough.
     Tudy and his wife would enter the casino, find their seats, and order a drink and what-not. When he knew the show was about to begin, he’d leave his seat and head back to the entrance. Now, he really had my ear. Was he going to confess to being a scalper!
     I listened, knowing whichever route his story took, he wouldn’t disappoint.
     He said he'd stand outside the casino where a crowd of people was still hoping to get in--with no luck. Most of Sinatra’s shows were sold out. Tudy would look out over the crowd and find someone with just the right face, a certain look, passionate, for the-love-of-Frank, you might say.
     Tudy would then walk up to the person and ask. “You ever see Frank sing?" He wanted someone new, someone who had never seen Sinatra perform. "You really want to see Frank?”
     The answer was always, a despondent, “But there’s no tickets.”
     Here is the kicker. Tudy would pull out a ticket or two, if it was a couple. He’d hand it to the lucky person and say, “Here’s a ticket. Go in and enjoy the show.”
     The person, of course, wanted to know how much he needed to pay for the ticket. Tudy would tell him or her, the ticket was a gift. It was “on him.” The only thing he asked was that after the show, the person meet him back outside and tell him what he thought of the show.
     As promised, the person would meet Tudy out front, rave about Sinatra’s performance, and thank Tudy a million times for the ticket.
     Just the satisfaction of seeing how happy a Sinatra performance could make people feel was payment enough for Tudy.
     “You know,” Tudy told me, finishing his tale, “I still get flowers in the mail from people all over the country thanking me for giving them those tickets.”
     And the softball championship? After a long season, and big wins over Arizona and Oregon, our girls lost to a tough team from the Netherlands.

No comments: