John Boston | The Lost Dream of Welding Plymouths & Living in Malibu

“Give me land, lots of land, with the starry sky above, don’t fence me in…”

— Lyrics from Cole Porter

Way back when, my buddy Curtis Stone and I plotted to leave these halcyon climes of SClarita. We were 18. A small home on the beachfront of Malibu seemed fitting for two of the original founders of The Worthless Sons of Wealthy Landowners, SCV Chapter.

There was no internet in 1968. Investigation of such a daunting lifestyle change required an actual drive to Malibu and the searching of telephone poles with FOR RENT signs flapping in the calming sea breeze.

No cell phones, either. To start the O.D.P. (Oceanside Dwelling Process) you had to find a Malibu gas station with a telephone booth, have a pocketful of nickels and start calling landlords.

Back in the ’60s, all Malibu landlords were named either “Dude” or “Hey, Dude.”

When we called, Curtis and I took turns lowering our voices eight octaves so the rental property owner wouldn’t guess we were just 20 minutes into adolescence.

Back in 1968, you could buy a house for $19,000 — $500 down. Of course, most of us here then picked oranges, milked cows or taught Shakespeare at Hart High and who could afford $150-a-month house payments?

You could rent a decent and large house in Clarita de Santa Valley for $175 a month, an apartment for $75. El Curtese and I motored all the way to the Pacific Ocean just to find out that the cheapest, scurvy-lined abandoned motor home on the beach rented for — ka-ching-ching-ching — $600.

I remember Curtis asking the same rhetorical question people ask today: “Who in the HELL makes that kind of money?”

Six hundred bucks was like the gross national product of France back then.

And, at 18, almost two month’s salary for me.

For $600, Curtis and I could have bought a dozen 1938 Plymouths, welded them together and have a rather spacious albeit headroom-challenged abode. Healthy country lads Stoney and I, we figured we’d be inviting bevies of suntanned starlets back to our abode, so who needs to stand up?

It’s months later. I still haven’t gotten around to moving onto that private Malibu beach.

Life, sometimes, can be so — wrong.

In the early 1970s, I rented an apartment in town. It was spacious, quiet, filled with picture windows and views of the mountains, surrounded by great trees. It went for the staggering sum of $135 a month. I was working full-time but most of my income came from oddball sources: ranch work, sports officiating and poker. Cripes. I lose a big hand and the electric bill is late. The original owners (who also owned half of Downtown Newhall) died several years back. New management stepped in, did a few pathetic and arguable upgrades and were asking $2,600.

I’m not handy with calculus, but I’m guessing that’s a 20-fold-plus rent increase. Bonus? The neighborhood has gone to crap. The motif is, what Architectural Digest Magazine refers to as, “…an armpit.” 

Is it me?

Or have things changed?

Haagen-Dazs ice cream was always pricey. But it came in actual pints. Somehow, billions and billions of ounces of the tasty dessert have disappeared over the years because a pint is no longer a pint. Ditto with houses and apartments.

They’re more expensive.

They’ve shrunk.

Years ago, I went as emotional support with a gal pal who was apartment hunting. She inspected a new, tony Valencia enclave, rich with shrubbery, Thou Shalt Not signs and, bonus, “Parking Elsewhere.”

An extra feature?

My friend’s potential abode had no closets.

Two bedrooms, really expensive — and they forgot to stick in closets.

I made no points with the property manager when I chuckled and suggested that these abodes the size of a horse stall would be perfect for a wealthy priest.

“Why a wealthy priest?” the manager asked. 

“There’s only enough room in this place to store two black outfits, a pair of shoes and the obligatory Phantom of the Opera cape for after hours,” I said, hands on hips, looking around so as to not make eye contact.

All for $2,600 a month.

Four words.

Highway.

Rob.

Ber.

Ree.

I hoped the priest didn’t like to cook spaghetti. No room anywhere in the kitchen for a 10-quart pot, unless you stuffed a pillow in it, hauled it out to the living room/den/entertainment nook/home office/guest bedroom/San Francisco bidet and called it a post-modern Ikea chair.

We live in strange times. I guess we always have. But, as we tiptoe toward the completely science fiction-sounding year of 2020 just a month away, we seem to be getting physically larger as a species while living in tinier and tinier spaces.

A while back, I saw a classified ad for a “Ranch.” It was on 2 acres.

Big Frigging Sky Montana.

I read recently that two California people making $125,000 each could live comfortably, not so much in Malibu, but maybe in some place a tad less scenic.

Like Boron, Lake Los Angeles or Rivertucky (half-Kentucky, half-Riverside)?

As always, there’s hope in math.

If I could find a nice couple making a modest $1.25 million to share expenses, I could live in Malibu and I wouldn’t have to work.

John Boston is a local award-winning writer. When he closes his eyes, he lives in Malibu.

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