My grandparents fought the eminent domain of their property in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica in the 1950s to the point that the city "settled" with them by giving them a turn of the century Victorian home a block from the beach between Neilsen and PCH back when that was a sketchy neighborhood. We would spend our Christmasses and Easters and some Summer Sundays there. My grandmother was quite social so the neighbors were always around. It is hard to imagine Santa Monica as a lower-class bohemian backwater but actors past their prime, beatnik-leaning sweater-wearing types and has-been but still-vain Muscle Beach athletes with heavy lifting union jobs made up a big chunk of the locals.
At some point in the mid-1970s, Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda moved into a house down the street from "The Gleasons". It was a big deal. She was a celebrity who had mocked American might in Vietnam (a sore point still radioactive to half of America even still then). He was one of the "Chicago Seven/Eight" slowly guiding the left of left into the establishment through state politics, California State politics to be precise. There is no contemporary pairing to equate with these two. Imagine a young, better-looking Bernie Sanders with more radical credentials hooking up with Angelina Jolie after she had stopped the Iraq war... okay, maybe that... so now imagine them moving to the equivalent of a Fontana trailer park by the beach. That is kind of what Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda did when they moved to Wadsworth Avenue.
So you could probably mark the beginning of the beach neighborhoods becoming prime real estate with this move. Ten years later all the funk was gone. People Magazine featured them in this new, downsized glory. There was talk of the feds spying on them in the guise of repairmen. My Uncle Teddy lived with my grandparents and spoke of shooing away more than a few "square-looking" types taking an interest in their house. The one-way street is ridiculouly narrow and the porch steps and front doors abut the sidewalks quite closely. There could have been a real goldfish bowl atmosphere there but the neighbors were just too classically laid back Southern Californians to act like they gave much of a shit about something as superficial as Hollywood celebrity or the glow of radical chic.
In April of 1981 my grandfather passed away. We were at the house when my grandmother took me aside and said "I want you to go down and tell Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda that Mister Gleason died." Looking back, I think this is the only thing she ever singled me out for - there were so many grandkids at family functions that if you weren't stepping on her foot you got overlooked. So it was kind of like being on a mission. All those years I had known they were there, everyone talked about it, now I had a reason to go there. So I knocked on the door and heard barking dogs and the rumbling that comes with their charge. A voice asked "Can I help you?" and I explained I was from the Gleasons up the street and Tom Hayden opened the door. He was holding back two large dogs by their collars. Big in the way that persuades one to get the fuck out and not come back.
Leaning away from the canines, I told him the news about my grandfather and he was saddened, told a story about his kids leaving some broken toys on the porch up the street and my grandfather fixing them and returning them. He was as handy as they come and Tom Hayden articulated his appreciation of that. I was 14 with acne and coke bottle glasses and he spoke to me neighbor to neighbor, the way a good politician does, but also the way a legitimately good neighbor does. He and Jane came up to the house later for condolences. It was the house where the neighborhood voted, the news crews huddled on the porch one election to get footage of Tom and Jane walking up the steps to vote. They lingered on shots of the stained glass all around the house - my grandfather's retirement project was as much stained glass as a house could handle. They did not have to come up that day though, the wake was crowded with well-wishers and condolence-givers (is that a term?). But they had to know that there was a validation in their presence, that in them being good neighbors, the act of being a good neighbor was strenghtened. There was a conservative faction in the family that melted at this simple generosity on their part. We could all learn from this civility known as normal just 35 years ago.
Years later, like 1994/5ish, I was at some art function that involved something charitable and public art related - something where the classes mixed back when that practice was more accepted and the art world and the political elite were not busy making themselves inaccessible from the common strivers which abound - I've been to hundreds of these events, the specifics of most of the 1980s and 90s are a lot less clear than Christmas Day at the blue collar Santa Monica Pier in the 1970s. So there is Tom Hayden standing next to me milling about in a crowd at an art show near the table with the cheese and crackers. He's split from Jane for years now and has won and lost elections to various state positions. I strike up a conversation with him by mentioning Wadsworth and Uncle Teddy and the time I knocked on his door and he says "You've grown!".
Now maybe it was the politician in him, but it was that neighbor to neighbor tone again. Something I would hope every politician could master because they are actually in touch with that sort of outlook on life, no matter how radical their background was or what their policy aspirations were or what class they were coming from or heading to. I had read somewhere that he liked baseball and I brought it up and we talked Dodgers, his team, for ten minutes or so. Affable despite feeling out of place at an art thingy, he seemed to relish a break from wonks to talk sports with what he perceived to be an old neighbor (I never lived in Santa Monica but I never brought that up). As he left he asked me to say hello for him to Uncle Teddy. A year or two later I relayed that story and Teddy confirmed my feelings about Tom Hayden, "Never met celebrities more normal than Tom and Jane... you'd completely forget the two of them almost blew up the whole frickin' United States when you would go ask to borrow a cup of sugar... they were such regular, nice people."
Tom Hayden, on behalf of the Gleasons of Wadsworth, Rest In Peace.
Come to think of it, my grandfather was 76 when he passed away.