"Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits." --Mark Twain

l. a.   d i a r y
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So, my original plan was to write roughly once a month about my adventures here in Los Angeles. In reality, what has happened has been this: THREE installments in THREE years. Truthfully, that's roughly par for the course for me.

EPISODE 2:A Tale of Two Frenchies, or Paramours of the Semifamous!
August 30, 2001

I know that at the close of my previous installment, I promised a story about my cat's pumpkin jones. But I believe I also implied that I would be posting these missives on a more or less monthly basis. Well, here it is five months later and no cat story. So, I'm two for two.

And besides, I have a more pressing tale to tell. As the subtitle indicates, I have a tale of two Frenchies!

It begins like this: Meet my next-door neighbors, Frenchie I and Frenchie II. They are sisters. They are French. They smoke, always, and smile, never. They seem bent on defining the word "ennui" on a daily basis.

It is hard to tell how old the Frenchies may be. They may only be a year or two apart, or seven years, or maybe they are twins, but I would not be surprised to find out they are in their mid-30s, nor would I be surprised to find out they are in their mid-40s. They have a world-weariness to them, a weathered look on their faces, that makes them nearly timeless.

One, or perhaps both of them, has a child or two. It is hard to tell. They are French and, therefore, mysterious.

They share two cars, it appears: a battered white Jeep and a gigantic blue Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon with Oregon plates (which expired in 1998) that read DAD MAN. Hmmm, she is neither. Mysterious.

CELEBRITY BREAK: My luck for running into minor celebrities continues unabated. I went to a party thrown by my friend Liz Warner, who is, without a doubt, the finest hostess I have ever encountered. She never forgets a name, even if the guest list rises to near 100 people. My total inability to remember people's names, even moments after being introduced, is balanced out by Liz being so superhumanly good at remembering them. It was there that I ran into Kali Rocha. I recognized her immediately, but only because I had seen Meet the Parents (the hilarious film starring Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro) the night before. In that film, Kali plays a ticket agent that Ben Stiller has to deal with near the end of the film. She won't let him board the plane until his row is called even though there is no one else waiting to get on the plane. She pronounces her name kuh-LEE, with an inordinate amount of stress on the second syllable. After being introduced, I fought the urge to tell her that my name was actually pronounced juh-FREE, perhaps even adding an exclamation point to the end.

The Frenchies live in the building next door, separated from my building by a shared driveway. Behind my building is a six-car garage. Three of the slots are used for parking cars (by me and two women who live in my building), the other three slots are used as storage. Two of those three garages are used by the Frenchies. They are packed floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall with stuff. The Frenchies frequently saunter (they never walk or run) around back to put something in one of their garages or take something out. Often, it is empty water jugs, the five-gallon kind that get delivered. Today, there are nine of those jugs sitting by their garage. Boy, those Frenchies, they drink a lot of water.

Frenchie II likes to park in the driveway. She does this often. She doesn't really have a need to park in the driveway, as there is ample street parking in our neighborhood. But she parks there a lot, invariably preventing me from leaving or keeping me from returning home. On several occasions I have had to track Frenchie II down to move her Jeep or the mysterious DAD MAN station wagon. Each time she has apologized in her Frenchie-fied English.

Once the Jeep was parked in the driveway, passenger door ajar, as if the occupant had just run inside to retrieve a forgotten wallet or something. I waited for five minutes before seeking out Frenchie II.

"I am sorry," she said when she finally emerged from her apartment, cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth, plate of food in her hand. "I forgot I was parked 'ere. 'Ave you been waiting long?"

She climbed into the passenger side, slid behind the wheel and parked on the street. There were plenty of places for her to park, but she chose one close by.

CELEBRITY BREAK: I occasionally join my childhood friend Brooke Dillman when she goes to walk her dog Carol. (Brooke and her husband Charlie have two dogs. The other is named Leroy.) Brooke likes to take Carol to this canyon known as Runyon Canyon. Many people take their dogs for walks in Runyon Canyon, at the entrance of which sits singer Sheryl Crow's house. But this is not her story. So Brooke and I are walking Carol in Runyon Canyon one fine day and we get to the top of the hill, where there is a beautiful view of the city from which point one can see all the way to the ocean on clear days. (There is also a comically large bench atop the hill. To sit on the bench is to remind oneself of Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann character. No matter how tall one might be, one's legs will dangle. It also gives one the thought that perhaps giants used to walk the canyon, stopping here to rest before making the trek downhill.) When we were on our way down the hill a couple of playful dogs frightened Carol -- an easy task actually. But the owners of said dogs were apologetic for putting a fright into tiny little Carol, who is a Dachshund/Border Collie mix. The owner of one of the dogs turned out to be Michael Jeter, who used to be a supporting character on the Burt Reynolds-Charles Durning sitcom Evening Shade. Michael also appeared as the prisoner with the French accent who believed in the mouse circus in the Tom Hanks film The Green Mile. As you might recall, he dies a particularly grisly death. He also appears in Jurassic Park III, where he also dies a grisly death. Turns out he was a very nice guy and was very sorry his dogs put a fright into Carol.

Once, Frenchie II was nowhere to be found and Frenchie I had to move the car. This time it was the DAD MAN station wagon. "Ah, my sister parked 'ere," she said with either surprise or disgust. It is so hard to tell the emotion of the Frenchies. "I told 'er not to park 'ere. I do not know where she is. When I find 'er, I will kick 'er butt."

It amazed me how she could speak so quickly and so easily without disturbing the lit cigarette in her mouth. But then I remembered: She can do it because she is French.

Recently, Frenchie I got her hair cut very short. It ruined my theory that there was actually only one Frenchie. One Frenchie and two personalities: good Frenchie and bad Frenchie. This occurred to me because I never really see them together, only individually. Now there is the long-haired Frenchie (Frenchie II) and the short-haired Frenchie (Frenchie I). I suppose the Lone Frenchie Theory could still be possible, with wigs, but it seems unlikely.

Recently, Frenchie II again blocked my ability to pull my car around to my garage. It was either the fifth or the fiftieth time she has done so. It was a stealth Frenchie, though, as it appears the DAD MAN station wagon has been traded in for a Toyota Corolla.

CELEBRITY BREAK: This one probably doesn't really count, but it seems close enough. For some reason, I have had an odd habit of befriending the paramours of the semifamous. Along those lines, I have done improv with the boyfriend of MadTV star Nicole Sullivan as well as the girlfriend of Alfonso Ribiero, who played Carlton Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I have also played the party game "Celebrity" with the former and darts with the latter. To add to that collection, I now have played tennis with the ex-girlfriend of Michael Stoyanov, best known as the alcoholic brother from Blossom, who is also a star of the under-rated direct-to-video comedy Freaked. She really didn't know how to play tennis at all, even though she claimed to have been in the running for a Chris Evert biopic. When the movie of my life is made, all of these people will get to play themselves.

UPDATE: I have seen the Two Frenchies together, thus scuttling my Lone Frenchie Theory. The two of them were on the sidewalk speaking to a pair of men, who were themselves Frenchies. A few days after this, Frenchie II again blocked me from entering my driveway. And then just one week after that, she was parked in the driveway as I left my building with a friend. Will the Frenchie never learn?

UPDATE, PART DEUX: The DAD MAN car has returned and again blocked my return home from work. Before I had time to stop my car and track the Frenchies down, Frenchie II appeared and moved the car. Sadly, the reappearance of the DAD MAN station wagon doesn't mean that the Corolla or the Jeep are now gone, but it means that there are now three Frenchie cars to park. Oh, so many cars, so little time!

UPDATE, FINALE: Just days later, while I was taking advantage of the nice morning weather and doing a little writing while sitting on my front steps, Frenchie drove up in the DAD MAN. She noticed me sitting on the stoop and briefly considered (it appeared) trying to find a spot on the street. But, naturally, she simply pulled her car into the driveway.

I was thunderstruck. Here I was, in full view, and she was blatantly pulling into the driveway despite my angry tirade at her the previous time she blocked the driveway. It should be noted that I could see at least one DAD MAN-sized parking spot on the street. Before I could shut my laptop and storm over to give her a piece of my mind, Frenchie I came out of the front door and persuaded her (in French) to move the car to the street. Frenchie I, it seems, is on my side.

She does not understand that, like the Belgians, I am never on the side of the Frenchies. Not ever.

NEXT EPISODE: My cat's got a pumpkin jones! For real this time.

© 2001 Jeff Drake