That brisk, windy cold night in ’75 I had met my future and his name was Kevin Hartigan.
Every L.A. radio station was saturated with the sounds of José Feliciano singing “Feliz Navidad.” It’s as if all of Hollywood had suddenly become un Mondo de los Latinos. We were white Chicanos sans the zoot suits.
A similar homogenization of two cultures – Jewish and gentile – was evident in the rapidly growing popularity of the Christnukkah party, the “traditional” Christmas tree decorating gathering at a Jewish person’s house. This was how young, up-and-coming, 20-somethings of Hollywood celebrated in the mid-1970s. No holiday left behind.
My wife, Hava, and I got to Richie Goldman’s duplex before the arrival of the evening’s most anticipated guest. Kevin and Helen Hartigan would arrive on schedule, just about a half hour late. There was always a fantastical reason for Kevin’s tardiness. He wore “misfortune’s target” on his back. What would it be this time? Was he held up by The Lone Ranger and Tonto’s posse galloping down Wilcox Avenue? Or would it be a meteor hit his car while backing out of his garage? He even tied his tardiness once on being detained because the coroner had to exhume his grandmother’s body for a police investigation. No matter. When he arrived, everyone would know it. Not because the front door blew in. Just because it was him.
I recognized Kevin the moment he stepped inside. Rumors and stories preceded his arrival. He was a salt and pepper version of Ernest Hemingway. Nothing so much to look at – moderate height, an unkempt beard, a bit overweight and donned in well-worn casual attire – yet your eyes immediately went to him and his statuesque, red-headed wife, Helen. She looked ten years his junior though they were the same age, around 30.
Suddenly, I was in Kevinland; not to be confused with Neverland. For one thing, in Neverland you never grew up. In Kevinland you aged rapidly and grew beyond your years in a finger snap. Anything and everything was possible save hearing him say the word, “never.” That was reserved for his bosses cursing after him, “F.U. Hartigan. You’ll never work in this town, again!”
We partiers assembled, drank, smoked and were entertained by our hostess, Karen Cohen and our host, Richard Goldman, on the piano. Richard is a greatly qualified talent – singer, songwriter, and satirist – sometimes all three at the same time. He made the ultimate host for the event, the Goldman – Cohen Christnukkah party.
It only took Kevin a few moments before the storyteller and raconteur extraordinaire became “herbed up.” He blazed a joint, took a seat and started explaining to us that he was late arriving because he had just been to his sister-in-law’s house. This was the first time he and Helen had seen Patsy since she had gotten married for the fourth time.
“Patsy wanted her sister Helen’s support when she broke some personal news to her new husband. How do I put this?” Kevin treaded, “She was still a virgin.”
A bizarre bit of information to share with a group of strangers, my wife and I thought.
“Her husband, Martin, was shocked; stunned was more like it,” according to Kevin with slight affectation to his voice. “‘Patsy, how can that be? You’ve been married three times before?’”
“‘Well,” she confided, “‘my first husband, Eric, was an engineer: he understood the basic process but wanted some time to research, implement, and design a new state-of-the-art method of lovemaking. He wanted me to wait. I’m a good Catholic. I wanted kids. So I got the marriage annulled.’”
We chuckled and with an imposed seriousness of the situation, Kevin went on, though his wife, Helen, was giving him the “stink eye.”
“Patsy then shared that her second husband, Gerald, was in marketing: ‘although he had a nice product, he was never sure how to position it. Those are just some wrinkles, I kept telling him! He never could get it in, so I dumped him, too.’”
We were like fish and Kevin had caught us. He was about to set the hook.
“‘My last husband, Tommy, was a stamp collector: all he ever did was… God! I miss him! Death and my yeast infection took him too soon.’”
We roared. Yet Kevin wasn’t done. Now he’d reel us in.
“‘And so,’ my sister-in-law confided as she turned to her new hubby, ‘I’ve married you, Martin. Now, I’m really excited!’”
“Marty, wasn’t sure he could live up to her expectations. Noticing this, he remarked, ‘Good. But what makes you think I’ll be any different from the others?’”
“‘Because Martin, you’re a lawyer. For sure this time I know I’m gonna get screwed!’”
We had been landed on the deck of the laughing ship, the USS Hartigan.
For the better part of two hours, Kevin held court. His recounting of tales ranged from bar fights in the Merchant Marines to growing up poor in Dorchester, Massachusetts. He held us captive. He lived up to all the hype I had been told, and even more. His thick Boston accent and a little tweak of the Irish glint, instead of hindering actually added to the lilting refrains of his stories. They carried you to far off places, kept you smiling and even belly laughing at his observations.
In the ‘70s, everyone watched The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. One of his favorite guests, with over a hundred appearances was the buxom Carol Wayne, AKA the Matinee Lady – or as Kevin would say, the “ditz with the tits.”
He deftly segued into recently running into her on his way to an interview at NBC in Burbank. Someone asked Kevin if she looked that “big” in person.
“Let me put it to you this way. If she skipped rope without wearing a bra,” he crossed himself before continuing, “she’d lose an eye.”
Kevin soon asked the host for another bottle of brewski but Helen told him she thought he had imbibed enough. Most probably he had. Kevin deftly assured his wife he was going to be responsible tonight, as he had been a few nights before.
He turned to the group and proudly boasted, “A couple nights ago, and Helen knows this, I was out for a few pops with some friends. I had one too many beers and then chased it with a margarita. Not a good idea. So sensing I was at least slightly over the limit, I did something I’ve never done before: I took a taxi home.”
We could see that he was using sound judgment.
“Good thing, too. On the way I passed a police sobriety checkpoint. Being in a taxi, they just waved it through. I arrived home safely into my wife’s adoring arms, without incident, which, in a way, was a total surprise. I had never driven a taxi before and am not sure where I got it.”
He did it to us again.
“And can you imagine my further shock when I woke up the next morning and found out those adoring arms around me weren’t Helen’s?” He turned to her, “I love you, Dear.” She just slugged him.
So went my introduction to the man who would change my life forever. Now, it wasn’t always going to be a pleasant journey, but there were sure to be laughs attached, no matter how bumpy the ride.
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