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Samohi Summer of Old Geezers

by Jeffrey Bell-Zekas, Class of 1972

Growing up in Santa Monica, especially in the summer of 1972, there were three dangers a teenager had to avoid: cops, punks and old geezers. At the top of the list were the dreaded Old Geezers, a.k.a. senior citizens, the eighty percent of the population that drove blindly, wore loud Hawaiian shirts, fed pigeons at Palisades Park, and spent the rest of their free time yelling at teens.

Now that I am approaching “Old Geezer-hood” myself, I find myself laughing at my own, youthful stereotypes towards the “old folks” of Santa Monica. So now, I present a list of “Old Geezers I Have Known”, especially the three which surprised me most.

First, there was that old guy named “Phil”, who lived down the street. Before my buddies and I got driver’s licences, we would “cruise” the neighborhood on our cool, Stingray bicycles. “Old Phil” would always be working in his garage, peering under the hood of some old car. He never noticed us. We were insignificant to the adult world. And he was just another “old guy who ignores kids” (better than an “old guy who chases kids”). Later, at Samohi, I learned that the old guy with old cars was “Phil Hill, Formula One Race Car Driver”, who won Grand Prix races and was “famous” in the adult world. But to us, he would always be another old geezer.

Then there was the “angry old man” who lived next to Frank Marshall’s house (I had known Frank since Franklin Elementary--by High School, we no longer talked, since he had become “cool”). A couple of buddies and I noticed one day that in front of the old man’s house, the city had laid a fresh sidewalk. Nirvana! We started writing our names and dates in the wet cement, repeating a ritual performed by kids everywhere. Unfortunately, the Angry Old Man saw us! “Run, guys, quick!” But it was too late! The old guy called our folks, the city police, the city maintenance crew, the neighbors, and possibly even the governor. Needless to say, we were grounded for quite some time. And the Angry Old Man? We never saw him again. And he wasn’t famous.

Not all our encounters with Old Geezers were negative. The encounter I remember best was a late afternoon in the 1970’s. We were visiting Fred’s neighbor, Mrs. Wilson. She had lived in the same house on 22nd Street since 1910. Mrs. Wilson was frail and petite, appearing like a willow tree in winter. But her eyes had a spark in them that belied her seven decades.

“Do you boys want some cookies? Come on in! Here, let me show you some photos of my family...See out the window? When I built this house, you could see all the way to the trees, no houses, just open fields.”

Then, she would hypnotize us with her stories of “the old days”, with horse drawn carriages, dirt roads and sunwashed summers. Suddenly, my teenage “superiority” shrank before the realization of one person’s long, amazing life. And I realized, for the first time, that I would not live forever, not be a teenager forever, not be at Samohi forever.

Mrs. Wilson has since passed away, and her house torn-down, but the epiphany I felt that day still lives within me. And my former foes, the “old geezers”, don’t seem so old anymore.