Trace And The Munchkins
By Rodger Jacobs
Trace had a bad habit of tripping over little people. At six foot one, he simply didn't notice them at his feet until he was already stumbling all over them.
"L.A. is rotten with dwarves," Trace explained to Lisa as they lay in bed one night shortly after she moved into his hotel room. "It's because of the "Wizard of Oz'."
Lisa threw back her head and laughed long and hard. Trace impatiently waited for her laughter to subside before continuing.
"It's true!" he barked, lighting a cigarette and stumbling out of bed to open the balcony door because Lisa couldn't tolerate the powerful cigarettes he puffed on ceaselessly. "When they shot 'The Wizard of Oz' at MGM in 1939 the talent agents recruited midgets from all over the country to appear as Munchkins. Once they got a taste of Southern California life, a lot of them stayed on permanently."
"I can't think of a better place to be a midget than L.A.," Lisa said with another peal of laughter.
"You mock," said Trace, "but that's true."
The first time Trace tripped over a midget was at the K-Mart in Burbank while shopping with his second wife, Gina.
Trace and Gina had gone their separate ways in the store. Trace picked out a new necktie, two Walter Mosley paperbacks, and a DVD of Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch." He trudged to the women's wear department of the K-Mart where Gina told him he would be able to locate her when he was through shopping.
Traversing the tighly-packed floor of women's wear with the circular racks of dresses dragging the floor Trace suddenly felt something small and very solid slam into his left knee. He jumped back, the Mosley novels flying from his hands and crashing onto the threadbare blue-carpeted floor only before bouncing off an object about three feet tall.
When Trace looked down a kindly-looking midget was looking back up at him, rubbing a spot on the crown of his head where the edges of the Mosley books had struck him. Trace was also stepping on the small man's foot.
"Oh, Jesus, I am so sorry," Trace muttered.
"It's alright," the little man said and quietly moved on.
Another incident occurred at the residential hotel where Trace lived. Maurice Richard was a three-foot-five dwarf who made a decent living as a background and atmosphere performer in movies and TV. The first time Trace unintentionally assaulted Maurice was when he was picking up his mail at the front desk. He simply didn't see the little actor standing at knee level and when he pivoted on his feet to turn away from the desk, Maurice made direct contract with Trace's knee.
"Oh, Jesus, I am so sorry," Trace muttered again. He didn't know what else to say when he so violated the low air space of a midget.
The first incident with Maurice wasn't to be the last, however, and the two men learned to avoid each other in the hotel's lobby, restaurant, and serpentine hallways. Trace was certain that Maurice understood that he had no malice toward little people. He just didn't see them down there.
There was a stinging rebuke for Trace's unintentional assaults on little people and the moment was burned into his brain as if seared into the soft flesh of the cerebellum with a branding iron.
Trace was having lunch with an old friend -- a TV news cameraman -- at a diner on Olive Avenue in Burbank, not far from the NBC Studios.
"Check it out," said his friend, pointing out the plate glass windows to a small clutster of offices across the street. "The Billy Barty Foundation is over there."
"What do they do?" Trace mused. "Advance the cause of little people?"
"That, and offer self-defense courses in case they ever run into the likes of you," Trace's friend joked.
It had been two weeks since Trace had hooked up with Lisa -- Leggy Lisa as one of his editors dubbed her -- and Gina and he were already discussing the impending divorce.
"Isn't that your wife's car?" the cameraman asked, pointing out the window again.
A white Toyota glided to the curb across the street and Trace's eyes followed as his wife emerged from the car and she walked into an office next door to the Billy Barty Foundation.
"That's a lawyer's office," Trace's friend offered. "A family law specialist."
Trace felt his heart drop into his groin. He didn't have the money right now to pursue a divorce. He thought that he and Gina would simply talk about it until it became a financially feasible thing to do.
Over the next five weeks, as Gina's lawyer and Trace's paralegal hammered out the details of the divorce, Trace was compelled to drive to the lawyer's office to sign a neverending series of legal documents.
And every time he briskly strolled past the front door of the Billy Barty Foundation to arrive at the lawyer's office he hoped and prayed that he wouldn't accidentally lay some poor midget flat on the hot Burbank sidewalk.