A Cough at the College of the Pacific – 5

The following morning Lien and I breakfasted on avocado over eggs Benedict at the Third Street Promenade where ten-foot synthetic candy canes nearly outnumbered the jacaranda trees. Though I prefer surface roads, the best route to the valley was, of course, via the 10 East to the 110 North.

We hit the road at 10:05  AM.  Traffic was surprisingly light, and aside from a few slowdowns, it was smooth sailing until the Orange Grove Avenue exit where a stalled vehicle resulted in a twenty-minute delay. Still, door to door, the trek was only forty-five minutes.

“You wanna wait here or come along?” I asked, as we approached Sunny Lane, a narrow dead-end street adjacent to Santa Rosa Road.

“Maybe I’ll wait here,” Lien said, retrieving a notebook and pen from her purse. “Good luck.”

Harold Phineas Greenspan, who occupied the top floor of 221 Sunny Lane, an upscale senior-living housing development created in the 1970s, stood in the doorway of his condo wearing mismatched pajamas. I quickly explained who I was and why I was intruding upon his day. He greeted me with blank stares and scratched a spot atop his bald head. It was all downhill from there.

“Swing and a miss?” Lien asked, glancing at my frown as I opened the car door minutes later.

“You know I loathe sports idioms,” I exclaimed. “But yeah, you nailed it. Harold’s golden years are gold plated at best. His memory’s largely gone. Thinks Brubeck is a game show host.”

“That sucks. Maybe you’ll have better luck in Silver Lake.”

We sat in endless traffic on the 101, curiously watching as police cruisers and ambulances zoomed along the shoulder of the road toward a distant accident.

“This is the problem with LA traffic,” I noted, as a fire rescue vehicle raced by. “It’s inevitable you’ll be delayed by some multi-car pile-up, but by the time you reach the point of impact, there’s nothing to see.”

“As if it’s too much to ask for a mangled corpse or two upon an embankment to justify the gaper delay,” Lien said, eyes glued to the latest issue of Self.


Cars and trucks were shoehorned into a single lane by members of the LAPD. Once past the delay, we continued toward the Silver Lake Boulevard exit and merged onto North Dillion. A quick left onto Marathon and we arrived at the Robert B. Anderson Center for Advanced Healthcare. Lien and I entered the reception area and were greeted by a pretzel-thin receptionist.

“We’re here to see Demetria Adamson,” I said, smiling politely.

“Are you family?”

“Nephew,” I lied.

Two forged signatures later and we were pointed toward the common area, a sad gathering place that reeked of moth balls and urine, occupied by senior women in various stages of physical and mental decline. Long strands of silver tinsel garland, upon which hung dozens of candy canes, adorned the walls along with Christmas drawings done by random grandchildren. We found eight-eight-year-old Demetria seated in a green fabric recliner in the corner of the room. I provided some exposition to explain our impromptu visit.

“Of course I know Dave. Used to. Knew him fairly well,” she said, adjusting the crocheted blanket atop her small frame.

“You personally knew Dave Brubeck.” I said, doubtful.

“We were both music majors at UP. Did you know Dave couldn’t read music? Not a single note. It was quite the controversy at the time, and the administration was in a quandary. How to graduate a gifted student who admittedly couldn’t perform one of the basic foundations of the trade?”

“What happened?” Lien asked.

“He graduated, of course, but UP made him promise to never teach music. Isn’t that silly?”

“Bureaucracy at its most bureaucratic. You attended the December 14, 1953, concert?” I asked.

“I went to every show for many years. Trio, quartet. They performed constantly, and Dave’s star shone brighter and brighter with each concert. Before long I was just another face in the crowd, but that was okay.” Demetria paused to sip from a plastic water bottle. “As for this cough you mentioned, I don’t recall hearing it. But really, at that time and with the limited recording technology available there was always a lot of background noise showing up. Every audiophile knows that. Have you ever listened to Brandenburg Gate or Newport 1958 or even Park Avenue South on vinyl? Anyway, what’s a cough really? At the end of the day, what’s it even matter?”

We talked for a few moments about Brubeck and music in general and then said farewell.

“Stop back anytime,” Demetria said. “I’m always here.”

“Whip smart, she was. I hope I’m that sharp when I’m 88,” Lien said, as we approached the car.

“She may be smart, but she’s wrong. It does matter. Matters to me anyway.”

“Yeah,” Lein nodded.

“Anyway, let’s see what awaits us in Pasadena.”

NEXT: Our story continues.