My brothers and I were like a trio of puppies, forever kicking, clawing, and fighting over the last strawberry Pop-Tart. Born a year apart, we rarely had a moment alone. In my mélange of early memories, there’s the three of us in the bathtub, enacting maritime disasters with rubber sharks and plastic boats; the three of us curled up in front of the TV, enthralled by H.R. Pufnstuf; the three of us in the back seat of mom’s bone white Falcon station wagon, singing along to “Top of the World” by the Carpenters, jabbing elbows and pulling hair.
We lived in a mustard yellow one-story house at the top of Encino Hills and went to Lanai Road Elementary, a school teeming with the offspring of doctors, lawyers, and entertainment industry types. Though our family was decidedly middle class, we were surrounded by wealth and fame. Up Mulholland Drive was Lakers superstar “Wilt the Stilt” Chamberlain’s soaring redwood mansion. Perched atop a tree-covered ridge, it resembled a giant’s lair, albeit with walls of glass and sports cars in the driveway. Down the street was O.J. Simpson’s slick house. On Halloween we rang his doorbell and shouted “Trick or treat!” Instead of candy he handed out autographed pictures. My dad coached tee-ball, and one of his team members was Michael Landon Jr., whose father, “Little Joe” from Bonanza, we watched each week on TV.
I sat next to Janet Jackson in kindergarten, whose brothers, the Jackson 5, were the biggest thing in pop music. Their home, hidden behind black wrought iron gates, was to Encino what Boo Radley’s was to Maycomb. Rumor on the playground was that their in-house studio operated as a kind of child labor sweatshop. The Jackson kids played music around the clock. They rarely went outside. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses and thus neither Santa nor the Easter Bunny paid them visits. They didn’t even celebrate birthdays!