Chasing Annie Hall

A Palisades Parade Tale

Two of my life’s best friends met for the first time this July 4th— Nicky and Nikki.  Having the same names phonetically was not a coincidence.

While driving my Nicky  in my l957  Porsche Speedster in the Palisades Parade I spotted the other Nikki at the very curb she and her family use to occupy every parade long ago—in front of where she then worked, a restaurant then called the First National Food Co. It had been 17 years since our eyes met.   She sat in a wheel chair, a blanket covering her knees on an unexpected cool day.

Getting out of the parade I hurried back to the location.  She had waited with her sister Terry and her friend Carole as I knew she would.  She immediately understood the gesture of my Nicky’s name. But he, a 12 year old border collie so smart that this newspaper once ran a full page story on him, had no idea the soft white hand stroking his head belonged to his namesake.

I knew she had been battling breast cancer for a long time.  And I just five months earlier ended a two year plus stint lying anemic on a couch from similar problems.  When we hugged neither of us wanted to let go.  My eyes closed and I saw flashes of The Way We Were.

It was the late 70’s.  I was a young lawyer coming off then my biggest case—uncovering kidnapping and selling of skid row alcoholics to a chain of nursing homes that maintained them on thorazine while billing MediCal for their maintenance.  With my fee banked I was searching all areas of Los Angeles for a home when a nice Palisades realtor named Donna Stewart suggested I have a lunch First National Food Company.  It impressed:  Brick floors, antique oak tables, hanging plants, a menu that could do fast, health or Mexican.

The cook, Daisy, had a laugh that could flip a hamburger.   The waitresses were young, cute and wore cut-offs. On Sunday, if crowded, you could join a table in progress.  The town was that friendly. The swimmers breakfasted weekdays there after morning workouts.  “Baywatch” would eventually emerge from their table.

She came to take my order.  A blonde 20ish something named Nikki Schevers.  She wore lace and an antique-like dress, a garden hat.  She seemed a character from Scarborough Fair.   Her voice reflected her 4 years in Ann Arbor attending Michigan.  Everyone it seemed knew her.

She saw me looking at ads.  “Are you buying a house in the Palisades?” she said with excitement.  I replied I was looking everywhere.  Her response was a:  “La de dah.” Then she gave a Palisades Shangri-La speech.  It was heaven on earth; quiet, unpopulated and everyone so nice.  No one grow’s old. She insisted I must move here.  By meal’s end she promised to find my house and while I was just another passing stranger one day she did call.   She, had, she said, found my house.  It was on Bollinger Dr.

It was only around 1,100 sq. feet.  But the floors were hardwood, the fire place was brick and red bougainvillea hung across bay windows.  Outside on the patio was a tall red brick built barbeque. I paid the whopping $100,000 price and told Nikki she was part of the deal.  Anyone who finds a stranger a home, I explained, has to remain a friend for life.

Soon I was adopted by a Michigan clan.  Sisters Leslie, Terry, Wendy and Martha also turned out to be part of the arrangement.  So did brothers Jamie and Mark.   I rubbed it in every year USC beat the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl, which was then often.

No one would pick us as best friends.  I was suspicious by nature and my work and hobbies were the same—suing psychopaths.  After the nursing home saga, my specialty became going after cults, self-help groups, non-licensed health care providers and psychotherapists who abused their patients.  Nikki was Tarot cards, the stars, reincarnation, and Eastern healing.  If it was thundering outside she would let the devil warm by the fire and drink hot chocolate while listening to and sympathizing for his problems.

While I hope I didn’t approach Satan’s complexity, Nikki was there for me, too, no matter what it was or how deep.  She advised on how to win a girl and how to recover when losing her; she shared the pain of my talked about legal injustices. Whatever, I was never alone. All who knew her could similarly count on her.

In l977 at a movie theatre I saw Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.  Something was bothering me watching Diane Keaton perform.  The clothes, style, demeanor, accent, mannerisms were just too familiar. Then Ms. Keaton said, “Lah-de-dah.”  Oh-My-God.  And from that day forward Nikki was my own private Annie Hall.

By summer of l978 those close to me knew my life was in danger for having sued and exposed Santa Monica’s Synanon, the first ever self-help drug rehab that was now a self-claimed religious cult that had then secretly trained a hit force to get its enemies. When I finally was bitten in October by a rattlesnake placed in my mail box, sans rattles, by Synanon Imperial Marines, Nikki and Leslie were the first arrivals at the hospital that evening. Nikki had the nurses place a magnet on my hand and turquoise charms on my arm.  To this day, the Schevers clan believes it saved my life by forming a circle, clasping hands and fixing my aura.

When I returned from the hospital and before the Sheriffs moved into my home, it was Nikki who stayed, sleeping by my side while I still was in pain, body parts still swollen; she rose occasionally to check the doors and look out the windows. During five years of court proceedings she stayed by my side.

In l982 Nikki married Cal Chambers in a far-off Yosemite wedding.  It seemed all of Palisades was there, easily placing Nikki over travel costs.

My son was born in l985 and by then Nikki had boy and a girl.  The children seemed to be what we talked of most now.  When I divorced in l988, Nikki was again my support.

And then in l990 she was gone. No more dinners, no more talks.  No more lah-de-dahs.  For me it came without expectation and I felt as if a piece of me broke off and flew away.

Her Tarot cards had seen it coming; Palisades was going to be less a  Shangri-La– too many new homes were being built and tranquility was being replaced by arguments over parking spaces.  There was already an ongoing trend for Los Angeles residents to escape to Seattle. Nikki hopped an outbound flight concluding she was going to a better place to raise kids.  Then, like a distant train whistle, the clan was all gone, too.

I continued to fight cults through the 90’s.  In l995 my son picked out the next Nicky from a litter of border collie puppies.    Nicky has since been my best friend like the Nikki before him.  The smartest border collie I have ever seen.  Most of Palisades knew him. The Post did a full page story on his familiarity with the townspeople..

A few years into this century I became sick.  I learned what it was to have needles daily poking; X-rays and MRI’s, to lie helpless aided by friends, hope followed by hope dissipation.  And then early this year without much fan-fare I somehow suddenly woke-up. It had been so long since I drove my Porsche in the parade so I driving behind Gerry Blanck and my old Karate school seemed just like old times.

So there she was in a wheel chair. The next day in a shower she broke her hip.  I spent a few days at the hospital holding her hand in mine.     She asked me if in another life we had been married.  “No doubt,” I said through the tears. “But we wedded in our own way in this life time, too.”

Today the First National is gone.   It is now a Dave and Kay’s.  Gone is the brick and oak.  My first house has been replaced by a two story rebuild.    The owner who did the construction promised me the mailbox but never sent it.  Morts is gone and the Hot Dog Show long gone.  Bigger restaurants now operate. Stores that were once bored housewives’ hobbies are now real businesses. What was Synanon in Santa Monica is now the popular Hotel Casa Del Mar.

This city is too populated. The old analogy of a mid-western town dumped alongside a beach between Santa Monica and Malibu  is not applicable.  A few friends from the past are still here and when we meet we talk of the golden years.  Still, you probably can’t do better in Los Angeles today than Palisades.  After all, we still have Arnie Whishnick and the parade has no plans for changes.

I visited Nikki several times in Seattle. The last time in 2008 it was snowing as we all had gathered for her funeral.

Eight months later Nicky died.

My own prognosis I am not sure of.  I know I am probably on borrowed time.  What I am counting on is a long reuniting with my Annie Hall.  I believe it is in the Tarot cards.