This is the third vignette for the book, Where Fools Dare to Tread. Bennie and Artis own the Moonlight Arms, the courtyard bungalow community where Monk lives. It’s a throwback to an older LA, before it became the megalopolis it is now.
“Well I’ll be damned.” Benjamin Madison was checking me out. “You ever heard of a man named Rory Calhoun?”
“Cowboy star of the Fifties and Sixties wasn’t he?” I wasn’t absolutely certain of that.
“That he was, worked with him at Universal; I was a set director. Sharp dresser, that man. What can I do for ya?”
“I heard you had a place for rent.”
“True.” Bennie, as I would come to know him, rubbed his chin. I found he did this as he was thinking. Bennie stood about six foot, which, given his age; I assumed well into his eighties, meant at one time he was quite tall. “Of course, we generally only rent to seniors, but it doesn’t have to be everyone…let me check…” He turned and called into the bungalow behind him, “Ardis, darlin’ can you come out here?” Bennie returned his gaze to me. “Yes sir, I have a suit just like that, yes sir, it takes me back.”
Ardis Madison, a good foot shorter than her husband, came out and had nearly the same smile as Bennie once she caught sight of me.
“My, oh my,” she exclaimed.
“I’m thinking Rory Calhoun,” Bennie said to her.
Ardis took this into consideration. “Maybe, but Mr. Calhoun was taller than this gentleman. My Name is Ardis,” she held out her hand.
I took her hand. “My name is Monk.”
“Monk here is looking for a place,” he told her. “What do you think?”
“What do you do Monk…”
“Buttman,” I told her.
Bennie laughed, “That might not be the best name for an actor.”
“I’m not an actor, I work for a law firm.” That was mostly true.
“Probably just as well,” advised Ardis, “they’re a dime a dozen out here. Why don’t you come in so we can talk.”
I followed them in. Their bungalow was a time capsule from a Hollywood long gone. Pictures of a much younger Bennie and Ardis, with every imaginable star from television and movies, adorned the walls. Bennie walked me through most of them with Ardis right behind.
“I got into movies right after the war. Ardis was already in the costume department at Warner Brothers. I started there building sets before I moved over to Universal. Loved every minute of it. Not too many folks can say that, can they Darlin’?”
“No,” Ardis answered, “I don’t think many can. Our children can certainly attest to that. Do you have any children, Monk?”
“I have a daughter in Virginia.”
That where you’re from?” asked Bennie. “I grew up in a little town in Iowa called Garwin.”
“Not originally, but I lived there for twenty year before coming back to California. I grew up near Ukiah.”
“Yeah, we’ve been up there a few times, pretty country. What’d you do in Virginia, if you don’t mind my asking?” Bennie was staring at a picture of him and John Wayne. “Interesting man,” he said.
“I was a farmer.”
“Farmer?” He seemed surprised.
“Yeah, but I grew tired of it, and sad to say, when my marriage fell apart I figured it was time to do something different.”
“My father had a small farm,” Bennie moved over to a picture with Kirk Douglass, “but I had no interest in that.”
“What do you do at your law firm?” Ardis handed me a glass of tea.
“To be honest, I help them with their, how should I say this, more colorful clients. Apparently LA is full of eccentrics with a lot of money and many prefer a specific kind of contact man; that’s what I do.”
Bennie rubbed his chin, “Yeah, that sounds about right. I had a good buddy named Johan; you remember him, Darlin?” Ardis nodded that she did. “He had that kind of job, only it was at the studio. He had to make sure these people made it to the set on time. It’s something like that?”
“Yes. Since they have a great deal of money the expectation is that you come to them,” I explained.
“Sounds about right.” Bennie motioned towards the sofa and we sat down.
The rest of our conversation revolved around clothing. Ardis was more animated as we talked about costume design, how beautifully people used to dress, and how nice it was to see someone my age wearing such a nice suit. I mentioned the stores down in La Brea where I’d shopped.
“Would you like to see the bungalow, Monk?”
“Now, you know this place is mostly for seniors, people like Bennie and me, so we expect that you’ll respect the somewhat quiet nature of how we do things here. Other than you, we only have three renters even close to your age. There’s Joanie in bungalow 5 and the Martinique’s in bungalow 8. You’ll be next to them in bungalow 9.” Ardis unlocked the door to the bungalow.
“I promise to behave,” I said.
The bungalow was just as I had hoped: small, stylish, and clean. We walked through the living room, kitchen, bedroom and bath.
“That’s all there is,” Bennie noted.
“It’s more than enough,” I assured him.
“Well then, we’ll get the papers signed and you’ll be an official member of the Moonlight Arms.”
“I look forward to it.”
A woman watched as we returned to the Madison’s bungalow.
Ardis noticed me noticing the woman, “That’s Joanie. I’d be careful around her. She’s a little flighty when it comes to men.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
I wish I had.
©2019 David William Pearce