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When 'The Rock' Came to Eagle Rock

A Narita meltdown and a grave in Ohio inspire thoughts on the New Year.

Did you breathe a sigh of relief as the clock ticked past midnight on December 31 and the New Year began? Isn’t there something beautiful about a fresh, unsullied calendar not yet marked and stained?

I didn’t really understand the concept of true power until I single-handedly delayed the departure of a jumbo jet loaded with passengers on a Tokyo to Los Angeles flight.

It wasn’t intentional. Either a particularly virulent flu bug or a food poisoning microbe had caused me much distress on Jan. 2, 2011, my last day in Japan.

“Are you OK?” asked my traveling companion as I strapped myself into the seat for the long flight back to Los Angeles. The next thing I knew, I was staring up into the faces of alarmed flight attendants attempting to revive me from the blackout of an atonic seizure.

'Lost in Dehydration'

Appallingly nauseous and dehydrated, I quivered under a blanket as a wheel chair rushed me back through Customs at Narita Airport to the facility’s emergency medical clinic.

American Airlines was remarkably efficient in handling this crisis. A very concerned and capable employee was assigned to handle all the details—even booking a hotel room at a discount rate at the airport.

By the way, should you ever require emergency medical treatment in a foreign country, let it be Japan. Not only were the doctors and nurses incredibly capable, but my two trips to the medical facility, plus fluids, medication and a certificate to fly, totaled less than $150.

'False' Start

The Japanese believe that whatever happens at the beginning of the year determines the course of the next 364 days. I thought about this in March as I coordinated a natty brown suit, tan striped dress shirt, and chocolate-colored tie for my father. I was the only family member whom he would ever allow to make fashion choices for him. This would be the last time. I was picking the outfit he would wear at his funeral. He was 90.

Although my father’s given name was Earl, the moniker anyone ever used for him was “Rocky.” Over time, my brother and I called him “The Rock.” He retired after working 28 years in an oil refinery in Lima, Ohio. This gave him plenty of time for leisure—and even trips to Los Angeles to visit me.

When I bought a house in Eagle Rock in 1991, I used to say that this community was “the land that time forgot.” Colorado Boulevard back then was a forlorn corridor of auto repair shops, hair salons, dingy storefronts and closed businesses. But The Rock liked Eagle Rock. The Westside, where I had previously lived, had been too daunting, the freeways too congested, the people too snooty.

Taking to Eagle Rock

In Eagle Rock, my father relished the kitschy charm of , devoured chili-smothered burgers from , chatted up the cashiers at Vons, talked to the dog walkers on the street, and was most amused when the chickens owned by my next door neighbor, Mr. Hernandez, would fly over the fence into my yard—only to be chased by my furious four-pound Chihuahua.

The Rock never learned to pronounce the street name “Figueroa.” Instead, he gave it an Italian pronunciation—“Figaro.” He’d been in Italy during World War II, and fought in an additional campaign against the “Afrika Korps” led by the legendary Desert Fox who eventually turned against Hitler—German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. The Rock came home with shrapnel scars in his shoulder and a Purple Heart—two topics he never discussed with the family.

I have lived in Eagle Rock for more than 20 years now. I never fought in a war. But as this New Year commences, I realize more and more that I am my father’s son.

'Dream World'

“You’re living in a dream world,” my father used to tell me when I was a teenager. And he was right: I dreamed of living in New York and Los Angeles; of traveling the world; of never having to hold a stultifying job, but rather to let my creative ambitions and abilities determine my vocation.

I have done all that because of my father. But 2012 will be the first year that I can’t tell him so. As this New Year begins, I know that he is here, in my heart, my prayers, and my desire to possess the decency that was at the very core of his character.

Happy New Year, friends and readers—fill up your new calendar with fabulous memories to be. What bonds us together are the two truths that we will all experience in our lives: love and loss.

Shelly Schraff January 09, 2012 at 10:48 PM
I enjoyed your story. Then I noticed your dog is named Shelby Lynne and smiled broadly.
Dan Kimpel January 10, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Excellent that you get the reference - note that her name is spelled exactly the same as my fave songstress. I interviewed Shelby Lynne (the singer, not the dog) last year, but didn't mention my canine homage to her artistry. Thanks for communicating - Dan

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