Ann-Margaret was dancing down the middle of Sepulveda Boulevard.
We were watching her from an overpass above. We were 17 and 19, and we had just walked out of Los Angeles International Airport. We had worked the first part of the summer to afford this first ever trip on our own — a three-week odyssey up the coast of hippie California. But there was no allowance in the budget for taxis out of airports, so we walked out. Suitcases in hand, we crossed over Sepulveda toward Century Boulevard, and we looked down from the overpass. And we saw her: Ann-Margaret strutting down the street just outside LAX the very hour we arrived.
Hooray for Hollywood.
Of course, there were cameras on cranes gliding down the street beside her, filming her. That was Hollywood, too.
A fine, magical welcome it was.
Not that we two teenage hippies were very much fans of Ann-Margaret, beyond the obvious. We hadn’t traveled from our New York, East Village hangouts all the way to California — “promised land of my people” I would call it that fall in a senior-year creative writing class essay — to ogle the last gasp of old-line Hollywood’s old-time sex-kittenness. We had come on a pilgrimage, to see the Sunset Strip, the Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Barbara, Big Sur, Berkeley, Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Park. We were just getting started.
In those days, my name was Arnie. My friend, the older of we two, was also named Arnie. We were two Arnies, and we arrived in Los Angeles the first week of August 1969, a month in which the world would famously contradict itself. The world, it must be said, contradicts itself all the time, every day, even every moment — consider the oscillations of the sub-atomic neutral B meson particle, for instance — but not always so noticeably, and even when it shouts for our attention, to please themselves, people tend to choose what they wish to hear, and, even then, remember. So people picked and chose, it was all a fearful muddle in the Age of Aquarius, and by August of 1969, Joan Didion had lost the thread of the story. Arnie and I, keenly attuned in more adolescent fashion to the tenor of the times, had traveled from one coast to the other to hear Blind Faith sing “Can’t Find My Way Home,”…