This week after about thirty years away, I rediscovered Lake Hollywood. When Jimmie and I first came to Los Angeles, for the tour of The Iceman Cometh, performing at the Huntington Hartford Theatre on Vine Street, we stayed at the Magic Castle Hotel on Franklin, right in Hollywood. This was the late eighties, very shortly after we had married, and we were both temporarily transplanted from Manhattan. Jimmie, a former marathoner, had been in Hollywood many times before, so was familiar with all the good places to run. We soon began running around the reservoir, or Lake Hollywood. Jimmie’d point out Roscoe Lee Browne’s house overlooking the lake as we crested the hill to park along the road leading down to the gate. They’d appeared together in Lincoln Center in Danton’s Death back in the sixties, but it was as much for his running that Jimmie admired Roscoe as for his distinctive baritone voice and acting talent.
A 3.37 mile loop, a paved road around the fenced in reservoir, hard on the shins, but pretty much flat, Lake Hollywood became our go-to exercise place. Now that I think back on it, Jimmie would have been sixty at the time, playing Jimmie Tomorrow in O’Neill’s four hour long masterpiece, eight times a week, and still running every day and fast enough to leave me in the dust if he wanted to. Fortunately, he didn’t want to. Now, as I make my way walking briskly around the lake at about a 17 minute mile, I marvel at the physical condition he was in. I think if I tried to even jog now, I’d dislocate a hip, or leave a kneecap behind. Messy.
I’m not sure what it is that I find so comforting about my recent reunion with the reservoir, but I’ve been three times this week so far. I think it’s a combination of nostalgia for being a newly married couple, running, or walking around the reservoir, sharing our dreams about our new life in California.
Or it’s my now mature hunger for communing with nature after living in the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles for the past 34 years. I’m so familiar with the steps along this walk, the huge rusty metal water conduit that lines the fence about 1/3rd of a mile into the walk, or the water fountain we were so happy to see just before we passed over the dam; or later, the patch of road carpeted on either side with silky pine needles that cushioned our steps at about the two mile mark. Or in the last mile, outside the fence of the reservoir, playing sidewalk or road with oncoming runners working their way back around the other direction.
These days, all the folks you pass while walking are covered with hats, masks, sun glasses. My colleague Steph and I were hiking on Sunday, and suddenly heard our names called out by one of our other colleagues who was passing by. I’m not sure how he recognized us but I suspect we may have been being derelict with our masks at the time.
Anyway, I’ve found the walks really a tonic in these days of isolation and virtual interactions. To be outside, either alone or with a friend at a safe distance, it’s about making new sense memories. It’s wild to think that I’m walking the same path Jimmie ran vigorously when he was the age I am now.
It might seem counterintuitive when tugging yourself out of the blancmange of grief to plunge yourself into a place so redolent with memory. Only recently have my memories of a long and loving marriage turned away from the difficult end of life health challenges and back to the things that drew me to Jimmie: his rich theatrical legacy that he shared so casually and so generously. Whispering head to head in the bar in Philadelphia after the performances of Play Memory. His beautiful lithe runner’s physique. Following behind his comically bowed legs while we ran through the snow in January in Central Park. The way the sun tanned his Irish mug during our long runs together around the reservoir in Manhattan, and then in Los Angeles. Walking our shepherd Jasper from the Magic Hotel at 11:30 down Hollywood Boulevard, taking a right on Vine, and meeting Jimmie at the stage door. We’d link arms, and return to our funky hotel suite as he regaled me about the high points of that night’s performance. Walking from the Magic Hotel up Franklin to Hughes Market to do our grocery shopping and running into Tony Randall in the produce section. How many thousands of these moments made up our lives together?
Walking around the reservoir brings it back with a force that demands attention. Attention to renew my commitment to a new as of yet undefined life as rich and full as the one I’ve had the privilege to live so far. Gotta work on that pace, though.