The Cowboy From La Mancha
By Rodger Jacobs
It took those geniuses at the LAPD a week to figure out that I was the one behind Pop’s last ride but Dad always was a private man. There were no scrapbooks in his house with pictures of me and Mom or anything like that, no little note stuck to the fridge with a magnet that said, “In case of death, contact my son at such and such an address and phone number” so I can’t really blame the cops for taking so long.
My lawyer wants me to plead temporary insanity, saying the grief got to me and all that, but that would just be so dishonest because I wasn’t overcome by grief. I just wanted to give Pop one last good send-off, a literal ride into the sunset. How was I to know that so much mayhem would come of it? My ex-wife would say that it was just another example of me planning something without concern for the consequences and she would probably be right but what’s done is done.
It really was like something out of a Keystone Kops show, cops chasing this wild horse down Hollywood Boulevard, cars careening to get out of the way, smashing up onto the sidewalks and through plate glass windows. When they figured out that the man in the saddle wearing the big floppy sombrero was already dead they said, Well, to hell with this” and called out the animal control people who shot the horse in the flank with tranquilizers and brought him down right outside the Pantages Theatre where Jason Alexander and Martin Short were starring in “The Producers.” When they did a thing on the news that night about Dad’s wild ride they even got Martin Short to comment on it and he said something like the whole thing was kooky and sad at the same time.
Dad still kept his Sancho Panza costume in a trunk in the garage. He hadn’t worn it since the day the cameras stopped rolling on “The Cowboy From La Mancha.” You probably don’t remember that TV show and I can’t blame you because there was only something like twelve episodes before the network pulled the plug on it in favor of some stupid Chuck Connors show. Pop played a cowboy version of Sancho Panza to another unknown actor’s Wild West gunslinger interpretation of Don Quixote. It really was a clever idea for a TV show, maybe ahead of its time, this crazy, idealistic cowboy on a quest for adventure with his crazy, cockeyed Mexican sidekick.
Dad really thought the show was going to be something. When it was canceled it was like someone pulled the plug on him personally. He retreated into his bedroom – mom and dad always had separate bedrooms – and never came out except for Christmas sometimes but that was only because there was always plenty of liquor flowing on Christmas. What’s amazing is that it took him almost fifty years to die. You would think that being holed up in your bedroom with the blinds closed and the TV blaring at all hours of the day and night would kill a broken-hearted man in something closer to, say, a few years at the least, not fifty years.
After Mom died in 1980 I moved in with Dad. I was divorced from Mary then and needed a place to live anyway. I couldn’t sleep in mom’s room so I slept on the living room sofa, cooked Pop his meals, and bought him a new TV every couple of years because he really went through them. One time an old Chuck Connors show came on TV and Dad hurled a bottle of Jack Daniels at the screen and shattered it into a hundred pieces.
By all rights, Dad should have died a few years back after his first heart attack but those DVDs kept him alive a little longer. What happened was when DVDs came out and really started taking off, the studios began searching their vaults for product to put in the marketplace. Some marketing guy at Paramount discovered these pristine master prints of all of the “Cowboy From La Mancha” episodes and they put them out on DVD in a deluxe boxed set.
You should have seen his small eyes light up when I popped in the first DVD. I moved the DVD player close to his bed so he could change the discs himself, gave him the remote, and he was set for life, which was a good thing for me because I desperately needed to get a life other than taking care of an old man who lived forever in the past and refused to move forward. I mean, enough was enough.
I got an apartment of my own just off Wilcox Avenue and I started dating this girl who, like me, was an assistant librarian at the Hollywood Public Library. She looked just like Linda Lavin in the old TV show “Alice” but she had all kinds of problems as I found out on our first date when I took her to a Chinese restaurant in Glendale where they had live lobsters swimming in an aquarium. She asked the waiter, “Are those lobsters going to be cooked?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the Chinese waiter said. “You can choose your own lobster.”
Well, that infuriated her to no end and she went out to her car and came back with a tire iron and smashed the glass on the aquarium tank, setting the lobsters free. Or so she thought. The Chinese people scurried around and collected the lobsters off the floor and I’m sure they were someone’s dinner at one point or another so I guess you could say she was fighting windmills like Don Quixote too.
A couple of days after the lobster incident – after she found out she was in semi-serious legal trouble over the incident – she locked herself up in her apartment at the old Alto Nido on Ivar Avenue, turned on all the burners on the gas stove, and took her final nap. There was no funeral or anything because she didn’t have any money. I have no idea what they did with her body.
Three days later Pop died while watching episode number eight of “The Cowboy From La Mancha” for the umpteenth time. The first thing I did was dress him in his Sancho Panza costume. That wasn’t easy. If you’ve never tried dressing a dead man I don’t recommend it. There’s a reason morticians have to get a formal education in their field because these things don’t come naturally. The sombrero wouldn’t stay on top of his head so I bought four tubes of Crazy Glue from the 7-11 and that did the trick.
The horse was no problem. Since Dad lived in Atwater Village, adjacent to Griffith Park, there were private equestrian stables all over the place. I only had to choose which one. I opted for one off a cul-de-sac near the L.A. River and simply waltzed in late one night, took a beautiful gray horse from its stable, fitted it with the saddle – far easier than fitting Dad in his costume – and walked it down the street and into the back yard of Dad’s house.
I won’t bore you with the details of how I got Dad into the saddle but I will tell you that it was no easy feat. From there, though, it was just a matter of directing the horse out of the yard, with Dad firmly secured by rope to the saddle. Once I had the mount facing west on Los Feliz Boulevard I gave him a good wallop on the hindquarters and you should’ve seen that horse take off. It plowed a madhouse trail west on Los Feliz, charged down the hill over by where the AFI is, and, believe it or not, when it got to Hollywood Boulevard it headed west. Of course, by this time there were car crashes happening all over the place, what with a frenzied horse and its dead rider plowing down the boulevard.
They tell me that I’m responsible for over two million dollars in damages, untold injuries, and that my “stunt” – that’s what the District Attorney called it, “a stunt” – may have resulted in the fatal heart attack of an 82-year old woman taking a stroll in her walker down Los Feliz Boulevard.
But here’s the kicker. That 82-year old woman lived in a nursing home in Los Feliz, one of those places that specializes in the care of elderly people from the movie business. She had a fairly respectable career until she got too old to remember her lines. And she made her professional acting debut in a small supporting role in episode number eight of “The Cowboy From La Mancha.”
Life is strange.
© 2004-05, Rodger Jacobs
All Rights Reserved