Friday, April 20, 2012


Seeing my sixteen year old daughter so sad broke my heart.  I had to find a place to live, but everything in Laguna Beach  had already been scooped up. 

It had never occurred to me to find a place the day after the fire.  I'd waited too long wallowing in my feelings and let Georgia down.  A friend of mine suggested I rent an apartment in her complex right outside of town in the Canyon, but when I took Georgia to see it she was upset.

"It's nice Mom," she said, "but I refuse to take the bus to

"If I promise to get up and take you everyday will it be

"I can't be late anymore this year,"

"I know, so I'll have to force myself to get up."

She hated leaving town and becoming an "in-lander," even though it was only about two miles out of town. 
I had to make my first executive decision, so decided to rent the penthouse. It had vaulted ceilings, an electric fireplace, two master suites, access to a gym pool and Jacuzzi, activities room and was clean, functional and very comfortable. All I wanted after the nightmare of smoke and ash was luxury, serenity and peace.  The apartment was close enough to town, so that when the building process began, I'd be close to the site.

Georgia was not happy about it, but she moved in after I decorated the place with beautiful contemporary furniture, lush green plants and filled the kitchen with everything we'd ever need. 

The city of Laguna Beach, put up a fire relief outlet and
offered fire victims designer clothes from department stores and every conceivable item you could possibly need to replace what was lost. People donated tons of clothes, shoes, etc, etc. etc. until soon we had a charming, warm, elegant environment meeting our every need.  Our apartment was sensational, but sterile. There was nothing visible to remind us of our past.

The Insurance company gave me a Builder who told me I was under insured and wasn't going to be able to build my house near the craftsmen quality of my post WWII charm house. He refused to return my calls and soon I realized he was in cahoots with the insurance company.

I  hired an attorney who intimidated the insurance company and the builder into canceling the contract I'd signed, without getting advice first.

I met with the Architect, a nice Born Again Christian named Bruce and we clicked immediately. He told me the builder was a crook and helped me get rid of him and find one I could trust.  Bruce, met my dad at  the Lido Isle condo, because my dad wanted to show him how he'd designed and remodeled it into an Art Deco masterpiece. They clicked and immediately sat right down at the table and began drawing the plans for my new house. 

My dad's ideas were original, spectacular and expensive. I didn't want to stop his creative flow, but was afraid the insurance company would fight me every inch of the way and want to settle for a ridiculous amount, since I still couldn't give them a fiscal number representing my loss.

Mark and Barbara, my neighbors who had lived across the street, suggested I hire a professional who could help me present a picture of who I was and what I actually lost. I took their advice and hired the Greenspan  Company,  who represented me for 6% of my settlement.  The Greenspan Company adjuster met with me every week to formulate a picture of my background so they could place a value on my manuscripts, family pictures and all the relics I lost from M.G.M. and the Villa Valentino.

They portrayed me as an heiress and finally my financial loss began to take on weight.  My dad stood by me and Gloria, in her Rolls Royce, met me at the lot to collect checks from Mr. Anderson, my insurance adjuster, when he brought them by.  He stopped treating me like a stupid middle aged divorced single parent and began treating me like a member of a well respected family.

As the process moved along, I'd go over to my lot and spend hours digging through the ash searching for anything that might remind me of my life before the fire. Slowly but surely items from my past were unearthed and each time I pulled up a treasure buried
under dirt, ash, and broken charred pieces of stucco, I'd sit in the dirt and cry.   Memories flooded me as I dug out a broken piece of wedding china, Georgia's baby soap dish that had been in our bathroom since we moved to Laguna 12 years ago. 

 I was addicted to returning to the lot every morning after I dropped Georgia off at school and excavate more stuff.  When I found a broken cup with the word "Lawyer" printed on it, I fell apart.  I'd given it to Gene after he passed the bar, right after we were engaged and had so much to look forward to. Then I pulled out the broken stem of my Wedding crystal wine goblet and just shook my head in disbelief.  Things I'd taken for granted, were now as precious as ancient treasures from King Tut's tomb.

One day I found the broken China head of My mother's china doll, given to her father in 1929.  It had been used in a movie made at M.G.M. where he was the construction boss for 55 years. I dug deeper and actually found a China cup from my Wedding china still in perfect condition even though a house caved in on it.
I cried over the vintage costumes I'd collected and worn since the 1970's.  I cried and cried and cried, but when I was done crying all my treasures fit nicely into a little red shoe box.  It was all that was left of my old life.

My friends comforted me and though none of them
lost their homes, they all helped replace pictures, clothes and household goods.  Georgia too, was the only one in her group who had lost her home and she, like me, found it hard to relate to people who hadn't gone through the ordeal.

I began going to Saint Catherine's Catholic Church everyday after dropping Georgia off at school at 7:00 AM.  Than I'd head to the beach and just sit on a bench and meditate on the rocks.  People I knew walked by and talked about their fire experience and some who didn't lose their homes talked about Survivor's Guilt and how terrible it was living in a fire zone.  I'd listen to them and wish I still had my old house, my old routine, my old neighborhood, my old life.

The insurance settlement became a full time job and I worked with lawyers, interviewed builders, drew plans with the Architect, and continued gathering household items for the apartment.  My entire focus was getting my house back so Georgia and I could go home and she could finish high-school with her friends.

Gene was of no help and if anything became an adversary, wanting Georgia to come and live with him, so he didn't have to pay me child support.  I refused to let her go live with him and his girl friend.  Instead I kept moving a forward like a Tiger one step at a time.  

David, my partner, was still my right hand and carried the book while I worked with the writer that The William Morris Agency contracted for me.  Things got weird between us though, when he insisted on interviewing me before we'd finished negotiations on the movie rights.  I felt like he was taking advantage of my vulnerability... to get what he wanted.  When David held tough on the percentages, Michael, the writer, whined and complained and we began to get cold feet.  We figured he was only in the deal to make big money fast and just wanted to concentrate on my great uncle Tom Lyle, founder of the Maybelline Company's... Gay lifestyle.  

I told my dad what was going on and went off the deep end.  Dad said, he would never hurt Uncle Lyle, by making his personal life the entire crux of the Maybelline Story after all he had done for us.   Dad insisted I get out of the contract with William Morris and Michael..... forget writing the book.....and get my life back..... So once again I had to put the Maybelline Story on the back burner.

Continued next week.....

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