There are eight million artist stories in the city. This one is mine. This one is called “67blondies”.
I thought I would explain the “handle” for my Buddy Cushman Art page on Facebook. The first part – 67 – is easy: that is the year I graduated from Wareham High School. A few years ago. The second half – blondies – well, that is a story.
In June of 1976 some friends I had made at Salem State College in Salem, Mass. drove me to Logan Airport in Boston, and saying goodbye forever because I’m on my way to certain fame and fortune, I boarded my first airplane flight, bound for Los Angeles. I was following a former boss and current friend, Bob Zimmerman, out to the promised land. The plane landed late, they gave me a cab to his apartment in Venice Beach, I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time a few hours later, I crashed on his bedroom floor for a month or so before we got a place in Santa Monica, and I eventually found a job as the manager at Zeppy’s Pizza on the famous Venice Beach walkway. One time I served a slice of pizza to the actor who played the Principal on Welcome Back Kotter. That was the extent of my fame. But not my fortune.
Bob worked as the head fundraiser for the Westside Center For Independent Living in West LA, one of the first CILs in the country. I traveled out there by bus a few times to meet him and found myself on occasion volunteering in their office. It was there, in fact, that I was introduced to and began a long time friendship with the Executive Director, Dr. Douglas Martin. That was my good fortune.
Somehow, and I couldn’t tell you exactly how, I became for many years a sometimes personal attendant for Doug. When Doug was six, living in Nebraska, he became ill and when the illness lingered he was hospitalized. Doug left that hospitalization when he was 12, with polio, contracted one year before the preventative vaccine was discovered. His family moved to California for the better climate and Doug eventually earned a Doctorate in Urban Studies from UCLA, and a second Doctorate of Divinity, which I understand he mailed away for. He became the founder and Executive Director of the Westside Center For Independent Living, was named to the California State Commission on Disability, lobbied in Washington DC for the Americans With Disabilites Act and was there when it was signed, and eventually went back to UCLA as the Director of Disability Services. And I had the priviledge and joy to help him in and out of wheelchairs, carry him in and out of taxis and airplanes, hook him up to his breathing apparatus at night, travel all over the state of California with him as his attendant, meet with him Cesar Chavez and through him Dr. Hunter S Thompson and , did I mention, get high, act stupid, laugh unendingly, call each other long distance for hours on end, sit with him in the huge Mann Westwood Theater to see “Some Kind of Wonderful”, we the only two people in the theater, and go watch the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Fox Venice where Doug won a lookalike contest when he cruised in his electric wheelchair up on the stage.
And it was in his wheelchair, at 12:30 one night, when Doug flew and I ran down Durant Avenue from the Durant Hotel where we were staying on state business down to Telegraph Ave and he took me for my first time to Blondies Pizza. And we ate pizza and drank cokes and had a lively old time along with another zillion or so people out so late at night. And that was the beginning of many, many trips for me to Blondies. So many times
. And after Doug died from an electrical failure of his breathing machine in 2003, I flew a few months later out to California from Massachusetts with a girlfriend to stay with Bob and his family in El Cerrito. I talked them into going to Blondies. And while they were eating, I sat silently on a stool at the counter looking out on Telegraph and I said a prayer for Doug and all the many people he had helped and inspired and provided hope for along his way. And a prayer of gratitude that I was indeed fortunate enough to have traveled that road with him for awhile.
Doug and Bob were two of my lifelong best friends. Bob passed away from cancer in 2011. I flew from Portland and spoke at his memorial service. And while I was there I went to Blondies.
Where have all the flowers gone? Gone to Blondies, everyone.
I’m doing my best now to carry on for both of them..