I have always wanted to swim in the pool at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. It’s the one the artist, David Hockney, was commissioned to paint. It finally happened for me. I slipped into the water to swim laps and every time I took a breath I looked up to see palm trees or the Hollywood Roosevelt neon on the roof of the hotel. And when I looked down I would see Hockney’s big long brush strokes on the bottom of the pool. I might have been in heaven.
But – I was on my annual girl’s weekend instead, which is close. Let me explain why. Many years ago I was completely struck by something a woman I barely knew said to me. She was new at our school in Los Angeles. Her kids were a little older than mine and I noticed that everyone took her in and welcomed her family and in a couple of months it seemed like she had been there for years. I ran into her one day. I said it appeared she was getting along so well. She surprised me though and said “Yes, but I miss the girls I raised my children with. I’ll never have those kinds of friends again. That is such a bond.” She teared up. It was a moment.
I know it was her moment. But I couldn’t help but think about my girls… the ones I had been raising my kids with. I thought of Lisa and how she showed up at the hospital a few hours after Katie was born with the camera we’d left at home. She was looking all wise and everything with her five month old baby, John, on her hip. Her husband later famously introduced John to us saying, “John I’d like you to meet your in-laws.” It’s something we’ve laughed about for years, something the kids have tried to ignore. I thought about Paula. We bumped into each other at the park when our babies were eight months old and then again at a Mommy and Me class until we went rogue and started our own and met with the same girls every Friday for years. I thought about JoAnn who’s husband shared a passion for camping along with my husband which placed us – side by side – in tents in campsites from Big Sur to Catalina. But it also placed her – with her nursing skills – in a position to save my children from everything from bee stings to cuts. They didn’t even come to me when they were hurt if she were around. Sometimes they even asked for her in a moment of crisis when she wasn’t. And Jen, whose husband discovered the Miramar in Santa Barbara. He summoned us there in summer– about six families in all – to celebrate his birthday year after year until the Miramar closed down. And for a few days our kids would run around like brothers and sisters while we sipped Mai Tai’s and savored the sanity parenting in larger numbers brought. I met Susan when I jogged by her house one day and she yelled out, “Hey, I heard your kids were going to beach camp this summer!” I yelled back, “Yes!” She said, “You want to carpool?” And from that first day when Susan walked out of the house in her Mexican house coat and pushed her screaming three year old, Becca, into my car and said, “Go!” that was the way it was. We were a team.
And when my oldest started kindergarten a new bunch of moms sprung up. Jocelyn and I signed our girls up for the same soccer and basketball and baseball teams until it all gave way to volleyball. Our kids went back and forth which meant drop offs and pick ups which lasted longer and longer as we got to know each other better and better until the girls caught on and began asking us if we’d like to share a splash of wine so they could keep playing. With Jocelyn came Jonna who brought us together over books — kids books — when she started a book club for our girls. And she showed us more than how to celebrate books, she showed us how to celebrate everything in life… in a beautiful, tasteful and delicious way. And Jocelyn introduced me to Debbie and we all introduced each other to Mammoth and ski trips for spring break where I once had to put my skies in a cross to get the ski patrol to help me get Debbie’s son Theo off the mountain because he just “couldn’t go anymore.” I think it was on one of those trips that Debbie taught my daughter Margaret what a pimple was because Debbie had one and Margaret couldn’t stop staring at it and finally asked what it was. Speaking of bumps it was Debbie who pointed out to me when Katie was eleven or so – that it was time to take her bra shopping. And then there’s Julie who ran a tight ship. We were in a carpool for a few years. She gave my kids something I couldn’t. They knew to be READY for her early morning pick up. And there is Theresa whose daughter was my daughter’s best friend and who’s son was one of my son’s first friends. Theresa always gave me an incredible accounting of what had gone on at play dates, like she sensed that as a working mom I needed every detail she could muster. I’m pretty sure that even now she understands my daughter Margaret better than I do.
OK, so maybe I didn’t think of ALL that while I was standing there with that new mom, but I certainly thought about it a few years later when my husband told me he had a job opportunity in San Francisco and he’d like to take it. I thought about how I would be leaving the women I had been raising MY children with. The women who watched my back, clued me in, kept an eye on my kids and showed me the way. I teared up too. And once we moved and settled in, I did something about it. I invited those girls up for a slumber party at our new house in Northern California. That was nine years ago and each year on the very same weekend we meet again, which brings us back to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
This year the theme was Chinatown, the movie. The girls who were hosting the event had sent us the movie script a few months before. We were to read it and show up at the Pig and Whistle on Hollywood Boulevard at one o’clock on the last Friday in January.
We were there because in Chinatown, Hollis Mulwray was captured in pictures getting into a fight in front of the restaurant. Some of us were vaguely aware of the connection while we enjoyed lunch and caught up on the kids and the husbands and every other little thing. And then we went to check into our hotel rooms with instructions to report to room 1209 at the cocktail hour. It came complete with a pop quiz. There were questions about the screen play, the screenwriter Robert Towne, the stars -Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway – and the characters they played. Jocelyn won. Her prize was a Chinatown poster.
I ended up getting disqualified for employing the help of my smart phone. I fought the charge claiming that the directions did not rule out smart phones and they gave me a consolation prize, a set of driving gloves like the ones Mrs. Mulwray wore in the movie before she was gunned down in a hail of gunfire.
We had dinner that night at the Roosevelt Hotel at Public Kitchen and Bar. Now if I had just read a little bit about it before the dinner I would have been smart and ordered the burger. Some girls did. I mean look at it!
It was a big hit. I am still thinking about that burger just like I was while I was eating the roast chicken I had ordered. After dinner we went to the Tropicana Bar where we sat by the fire and enjoyed a nightcap.
The next day our itinerary told us to be at the front of the hotel at ten o’clock. Our driver showed up with a big black van. We all piled in. We were off to see the locations in the movie.
Our first stop was the El Macondo Apartments. Well, at least that’s what it was named in the movie. You might remember the scene. Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes situated himself on the roof of the apartment to spy on Hollis Mulwray. We wanted to see all that. But when we got there we had a little problem – the gate. It blocked us from going inside. Susan picked up the phone on the call box. Someone answered on the second call, a man. She told him we were on a girls weekend and we were celebrating the screenplay Chinatown and we just wanted to get in and see – for one second – the patio where the movie was shot. He told us he would be right down.
And suddenly there he was. David Hutchings. He opened the gorgeous gate.
He took us all right through to the patio.
He showed us where the movie was shot.
We thanked him and he posed for one last photo and we were off. We all jumped back in the van where our driver -Anthony – who seems to drive for all of Hollywood, told us stories about all the stars he hauls around.
It was a drive-by. Our tour itinerary said we were swinging by 1972 Canyon Drive. We all looked out the window at the house where Mulwray’s daughter lived. There were some oohs and aahhs and everyone returned to their conversations.
Onward – to Pasadena and the house on South El Molina Drive. Everyone wants to look at a mansion. We are no exception. We pulled up to Evelyn Cross Mulwray’s mansion – in the movie. It looked like it was under construction so our driver just pulled right up into the driveway. And suddenly, there we were, at the very top of the long driveway in our van with no way out. And that’s when we saw someone looking out the window. Yep, they were home. The owner, a big guy suddenly appeared from behind the house. Our driver said – I’ll handle this. He hopped out and explained that we were on a tour of the area and that he thought he could turn around on the driveway and now he’s stuck. He didn’t mention, however, that this house was part of the tour. The owner lit up! He marched right up to our van and leaned into the window and explained that his new house was used in the movie Chinatown. Had we heard of it? There were looks of surprise and shock even – all around. He pointed out, in the now empty back yard, where the fountain was once located — the very one where Gittes found the broken glasses. And then, Very Nice Owner of Chinatown House patiently helped us negotiate a 67-point turn to get our van out of his driveway.
Some girls felt it was time for a Bloody Mary. So we headed off to the Pacific Dining Car.
Here’s why we were there. Remember our lunch at the Pig and Whistle. Mulwray was captured in photos outside the restaurant. But THAT’S just what the script said. In fact, for the movie the Pig and Whistle photos were really taken outside the Pacific Dining Car. Thus this lunch:
My Personal favorite was this:
Our fearless leaders announced it was time to go and off we went to the Echo Park Lake where Gittes, on a rented boat, took pictures of Mulwray on another boat.
We swung by another house – the one where Gittes discovered the dead body of Ida Sessions.
And finally we went to Chinatown and the spot in the movie where Mrs. Mulwray met her fate. It’s at the corner of Spring and Ord.
Back at the hotel it was free time. Some of us lounged at the Tropicana. Some of us went out to the pool, which brings us back to the swim and me – AGAIN. So while I was gliding across David Hockney’s wonder – looking at this – isn’t it beautiful? – I thought about my girls.
I thought about friendship and keeping it alive. I thought about how a woman I barely knew had done me a great favor when she pointed out the bond you have with the women you raise your children with. I marveled at what that bond really is – a special comfort. So little needs to be explained. And so much has greater weight and importance and hilarity because of a shared history. I thought again about how that random conversation put into motion a plan that wouldn’t allow for losing touch. And I thought about how lucky I am that I pulled it off — that these women were still watching my back, clueing me in, keeping an eye on my kids and showing me the way. Yes, that might have been a big smile on my face, right there, above the Hockney brush strokes.
The cocktail hour arrived and we all met in JoAnn’s suite, a beautiful mod set up right off the pool.
When we were all gathered, our hostess gave each of us a very nice gift bag. It was complete with oranges and avocados, a nod to the farmers in Chinatown who suffered when the water was cut off. And there was this necklace sporting a time piece- just like the time pieces Gittes placed under the tires of Mulwray’s car to clock his departure time. And music – a CD with a selection of songs that mirrored the movie and even the movie sound track – Chinatown. We toasted ourselves and thanked our hostesses, Susan, Debbie and Julie.
It was time to eat again. We all headed up Hollywood Boulevard. Along the way Debbie was surprised to find her old friend Batman.
We landed at Musso and Frank’s, a Hollywood institution, for dinner. I always love this final dinner of our weekends. Over the last nine years I’ve noticed that this is when the theme of the weekend fades away and everyone falls into being old friends and girls out on the town and on this night we were also Girls Gone Hollywood.
In the morning our itinerary called for more free time. Some of us gathered in front of the hotel and took a walk down a quiet Hollywood Boulevard. We posed for pictures with one of Hollywood’s goddesses, Dorothy Dandridge.
And then we headed over to Runyon Canyon Park for a hike up the Canyon. It was a pretty good hike. We finally reached the summit.
It was nice up there and quiet. We all looked down on Los Angeles, the city where we had shared so many wonderful memories over so many years. It was a fitting ending to a beautiful adventure.
A big thanks goes out to Susan, Debbie and Julie for putting it all together!