Previously Published in the Texas Writers Journal Quarterly, January 2016
I had left the security of my small town to strike out for California where I wanted to play the music of my heroes and preferably form a band and chart my own path. After arriving in L.A., I found out what most people already knew, it wasn’t going to be easy. I had no luck finding a job and the whopping cash fund that had gotten me there began dwindling faster than a hard rock lead. I found myself at Venice Beach with my guitar playing for people with a cup in front of me. I was too proud to call home and surrender, so I kept it up for awhile. I had a system where I learned to make quick evaluations of people: age and appearance and boom – I’d crank out Crosby, Stills & Nash, another one – boom! for this guy – The Doors; love song – The Beatles; Led Zeppelin Fan coming up on the right. While I managed to survive on my impromptu concerts, all I could ever get was enough for food, a little gas, and a room at an ultra cheap hotel with hourly rates and dubious customers.
I was in a rut, and I needed to get out of it or I was going to sink here in the city of my dreams. One night, I was feeling particularly jaded about the outlook of my music career and my ability to live by my own means in the City of Angels where I basically knew nobody. That’s when I remembered that I had Jeff Sines’ phone number. Jeff and his wife Sandra were friends of my parents. He was a West Point graduate, and had briefly been stationed at the same Army base as my stepfather. The Sines were one of the coolest couples that I had ever met. They were from California, and had moved back to enjoy a better climate. Jeff and Sandy owned a house on a small farm in Hollister. They had been to see us in Texas when I was still in the planning process for my East Coast debut. I remember Jeff giving me his phone number and saying that if I ever needed anything to call. I decided to call.
“Hello,” said Jeff.
“Jeff, hey this is Greg.”
“How are you man? How are things going in California?” he asked.
I proceeded to tell him how dismal it was all going.
“Why don’t you come on out here for awhile? Sandy and I could use some help and you could regroup and decide what the next move will be.”
So I loaded up my car, glad to break free from the Yes We Have Weekly Rates Motel, and I headed out for Hollister, California. I knew about the iconic emblem on t-shirts and was surprised when I got there and found a small agriculture town with not much at all going on least of all anything hip.
Sandy and Jeff were happily tucked into their rural-flavored life. They had two little girls, a horse, a dog, and a big house. My job was going to be helping with the house and kids while they worked. Since my granddad was a farmer, I knew a thing or two about animals. Jeff had grown up in San Francisco and didn’t have a clue, but wanted his girls to learn to ride horses. Their horse Viola, a pretty gray mare, was gentle and a super horse for kids. I showed Jeff the proper way to saddle up. I would hoist the girls up on the saddle for rides. Jennifer and Nita were great kids, they did everything I asked them. We had a lot of fun together. When Sandy and Jeff would get ready to go out on Saturday nights for their church-sponsored “Marriage Encounter” meetings, I would take the girls to the grocery store where we would hang out among the racks of VHS tapes and pick the best cartoons. I would get a movie for myself. When we got back to the house, we had popcorn, popsicles and basically all the usually prohibited sugar items.
In addition to babysitting and horse-riding mastery lessons, I helped Sandy around the house. She was a great cook, and the dishes added up fast. I did not have a lot of kitchen experience because my grandmother was queen of her kitchen, but as the weeks drew on, I was quickly adding Master Dishwasher to my skill set.
Hollister was a great place to catch my breath, it was far away from the competitive LA rock scene where new artists were coming up everyday. The agri-atmosphere was very much like my beloved Texas, except it rained and the crops grew really well. I played my guitar for special requests from Sandy and Jeff. TV shows were my specialty. We frequently rocked out to The Love Boat and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
“I like Gilligan’s Island!” said little Jennifer.
In fact, the subject of television was the only area where I disagreed with Sandy and Jeff. They didn’t like it. I did.
“It’s a waste of time,” said Jeff.
“I don’t like the values it instills,” said Sandy.
They had begun a moratorium on TV with the end result of abolishing it for the girls and getting rid of it altogether. They felt they had to young minds to protect. I hated the thought, if I was gonna be stuck in Hollister, I sure needed TV. Besides that, how else would I master new show tunes?
One evening after we had spent a long day working outside, we sat down to a dinner of sandwiches and chips. We were having a blast talking about Mannheim AFB in Germany and telling the girls about the real fairytale castles there. Jeff swallowed a Cheeto and it didn’t seem to go down quite right. He stopped talking, Sandra and I continued on, then Jeff got up from the table. I thought he was getting something to drink. The girls became agitated, and Jennifer began crying. I got up to see what he was doing. Walking into the kitchen, Jeff was bent over the sink.
“Jeff, are you okay?”
He didn’t answer. I walked over and put my head down even with his. His face was red, his eyes distorted, and a stream was coming from his mouth. I grabbed him from behind, putting my fist on his stomach and made an upward thrust: the Heimlich Maneuver. The Cheeto went flying into the sink. Jeff was so limp, I couldn’t let go of him for a little while. Finally he responded.
“Wow Greg, thanks!” he said.
We went back and sat at the table while he drank some water, and Jeff’s eyes watered while he recovered and caught his breath. The girls stopped crying.
“Where did you learn to do that?” he asked.
I looked at him for a moment. “Television. Eddie Arnold commercial, in fact,” I said.
They were speechless, and just nodded. The girls grinned, and I smiled from the inside.
Later that evening we went outside to check on the animals. Jeff put his arm around my shoulders, the perfect Calfornia sunset reflected the beauty of life and the amazing blessing of friendship.
“Greg, thank you so much, you saved my life,” he said.
“Perfect,” I answered. “Because you saved my life too.”