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Life was becoming a search for more and better. We had moved up to the most exclusive restaurants, vacation spots, cars, home, whatever.
Our life was a search for upgrades. How to do whatever it was we were doing, only a little better, classier, more expensive. We had to have the latest "in" thing. Whatever it was, we were with it, hip, at the cutting edge. Whatever the latest style or fad, we were into it with both feet.
Our home was in a state of constant redecoration. One room would be completely redone from top to bottom, and close on its heels the next project would commence somewhere else on the estate. It was non-stop. Even the landscaping would be redone and the greenhouse replanted. There was a continuous flow of workmen, wallpaper hangers, painters, gardeners, etc.
People of all stripes asked Barbara to decorate for them. For our close friends she was willing to give her advice and counsel. Soon, however, she had to say no because the demands on her time became overwhelming. Barbara's best friend, Lynne Hartley, lived nearby and also had a home under constant redecoration. Lynne was experiencing the same demands and pleas for decorating advice. Lynne and Barbara discussed the situation and decided to open an interior-design business.
Within a short time it was a large and rapidly growing business. The word spread that they were very talented and efficient, and the demand for their services quickly grew. Not only did they enjoy their work, but the handsome hourly fee they charged made the decorating business of Barbara & Lynne Interiors a real winner.
For a year or two they decorated private homes. Then they expanded and began to do models for homebuilders and condominium builders. This was even more fun because the businessmen wanted sharp and inviting interior design, without the detail problems which private homeowners cause: "You must use this old couch, or my favorite coffee table, or I simply love green and want everything in green," etc.
At first, I referred to Barbara and Lynne as "Ding and Dong Decorators," just to tease them a little. One night, however, we went out to dinner with the Hartley's to celebrate a large job Barbara & Lynne Interiors had landed. Between courses, Barbara produced a Financial Statement and Statement of Income and Expenses and handed it to Howard and me. Our mouths dropped open in surprise. Barbara and Lynne said, "We are no longer Ding and Dong." Howard and I looked at each other and nodded. They were going to earn more money that year than I was.
Great news, an excuse to spend even more and live a little harder and faster than before.
Skiing had become a serious part of our lives. We loved the mountains and went often to Mammoth Mountain in the Sierra Nevadas. Mammoth is a six-hour drive north of Los Angeles. Most of the drive is through the high desert. Beautiful, but it's a very long drive with very few services along the way. There were a few gas stations, but almost nowhere to eat even a hamburger. As much as we loved the skiing and those mountains, the drive was tiresome.
We often went to Mammoth with friends. One trip was with Richard Bank, our doctor friend, and his wife, Judy. The skiing was great, as it had been snowing hard for days. We were having a wonderful time and going down to dinner. As I was walking to the dining room, I had an excruciating pain in my abdomen. I doubled over and fell to the floor, writhing in pain. Dick ran over to examine me. He decided it was serious, and I needed to be in a hospital. Dick made some hurried telephone calls and gave me some pain-killing injections, which didn't help much. It was clear that I had to be moved to a big city hospital. He was able to make this determination as the ski resort had an emergency room, which allowed Dick to take X-rays and examine me. He developed the films himself, something he hadn't done for many years. Because of the broken legs and other ski-related accidents, the clinic was well supplied with pain medication, which he used in abundance on me. He knew I had a serious problem but couldn't determine if it was my appendix, or intestinal blockage, or what. I needed a hospital.
Dick arranged for an ambulance that could handle the snow. We'd go to Bishop, where the closest airport was located, and from there to Los Angeles via an air ambulance. Upon landing, we'd be picked up and taken to Cedars-Sinai Hospital, where they were expecting me.
Because of the pain, I would need a shot as soon as the last shot wore off. This meant that Dick should go with me in the plane. The problem was that Judy and Barbara were not skilled enough to drive in the heavy snow and would be stuck at Mammoth. Barbara refused to stay in Mammoth while I would be in a hospital in LA. We finally decided that Barbara would go with me in the air ambulance, so Dick taught her how to give an injection. It was a quick lesson, but sufficient.
Barbara was seven months pregnant at the time. Barbara hadn't skied that trip, but she'd come along for the socializing. We were sure it was OK because we had her gynecologist, Doctor Dick, with us.
I was full of painkillers and out of it as I was loaded into the ambulance. Barbara tells of the harrowing drive down the mountain to Bishop in the drifting powder snow. I am sorry I missed it.
We arrived at the airport to meet the pilot of the air ambulance, "Smiling Jack." He grinningly introduced himself with great confidence. The runway was covered with snow. No problem, he said. When he began to assist me into the plane, however, he saw Barbara's very pregnant condition and he turned as white as the snow. He quickly resumed his bravado, and we took off for Los Angeles. An ambulance met us at the Santa Monica airport for the short drive to the hospital.
It turned out that I had a kidney stone, some of which painfully passed and the major portion of which I still have. Happily, it doesn't bother me.
That was the end of Mammoth. The alternatives to Mammoth, however, required flying to either Utah, Colorado or Idaho. We tried out many different ski resorts during the next couple of years. We skied at Sun Valley, Idaho, at most of the Utah ski resorts, and at Vail and Aspen Colorado. We didn't like Sun Valley, as it was too stuffy and anti-Semitic. Utah was not racist, but it was not friendly either, and Salt Lake is not a pretty place. So we were down to Aspen or Vail, Colorado. The Rocky Mountains are truly magnificent, and Denver is a nice city to fly into, with good roads to both Aspen and Vail.
Vail was new and glamorous, so we picked Vail and purchased a condominium at the base of the mountain, just steps away from a ski lift. There were great restaurants and loads of "the beautiful people." Everyone dressed well. The skiing was elegant. We loved it, and started going more often than we had gone Mammoth. I began to take long vacations regularly. We would take our son David out of school and go.
When our daughter Tiffany was born, she went along as well. When she was of school age, we took her out of school as well. We took our kids everywhere with us.
We began to expand our travels. We went to Europe often. We took cruises on cruise ships at least once a year, taking the kids with us. The schools would object that David and Tiffany were missing too much time from school, but we disagreed. We believed that the education which they gained during our travels more than offset the lessons they missed from regular school. The traveling had no adverse effects on their report cards; they both did very well and received excellent grades. In addition, and I think this is much more important than the educational aspect of traveling, our children knew how much we wanted their company, and how much we loved them. We very much wanted to travel, but not without them. They also participated in family decision-making discussions, and their opinions and ideas were always listened to respectfully. The result of this was that they always had a sense of belonging, of being an important member of the family. They are both happily married, and both are parents, and we have very close relationships with them, as well as with their spouses and children.
David started out going to a Los Angeles City School, but soon afterwards LA adopted the then-popular policy to bus children from their home districts to far-flung schools, in order to promote diversity and combat segregation. I did not approve, so we switched David to a private school. Tiffany never attended a public school.
Our lives were now full. There wasn't a free moment. Between the working and the traveling there was no time to breathe. At this point, Standard Investments approached Barbara and Lynne.
Standard Investments was composed of four wealthy partners. They owned tens of thousands of apartments and condominiums. They were constantly buying and building and expanding. They had seen Barbara and Lynne's work, and asked them to do their interior design.
For interior decorators this was a dream job. A constant stream of model apartments were to be decorated with virtually no budget limitations. No one got in their way and they had carte blanche.
Soon Barbara and Lynne were doing entire buildings, including the elevators, the hallways and the lobbies. They became one of the largest, if not the largest, purchasers of wallpaper in the world. Wallpaper companies would send sample books to them every day. We were soon buried under hundreds and then thousands of wallpaper sample books.
As their work for Standard Investments grew and grew, they became very selective about which private homes they would handle. They reached the point where they'd do only doing large mansions for very rich people.
So we were doing extremely well financially. However, we were spending our money as fast as we made it. We were living the good life - that was the idea, wasn't it? It had been our goal from the beginning, and now we had it all.
Then some cracks in the veneer started to show. There was too much pressure on Barbara. I also became overloaded with work. We were running from one thing to another, and it felt like our lives were spinning rather than unfolding.
I was in my office at Certified when the receptionist called to say that there was an elegant gentleman in the lobby asking to see me. El Segundo did not lend itself to elegant people, and this was very much out of character for my standard clients. She also told me that this man had arrived in a very large black limousine - probably the first time Certified had ever had a limousine in the parking lot. I was more than interested and jumped to my feet to see who this person was.
The gentleman introduced himself as Robert Mahue of Hughes Tool Corporation. I knew who he was. His name was in the financial pages almost daily as the man who was running the entire show for Howard Hughes. He was the president of all of the Hughes operations. I was a little suspicious that he was not really Robert Mahue, but that's what the card said, and it looked genuine.
I invited him into my office. He wasted no time and stated that Hughes Aircraft needed to rent the Certified Dinette Building, and needed it now. I laughed. I thought, this must be some kind of joke. He assured me that it was no joke and that he needed and wanted our building. He needed it in 120 days, vacant.
I explained to him that was not possible because this was our main manufacturing facility and we had a large investment in its infrastructure. We had a steel-tubing rolling mill. We had a complete plating plant with clarifier pits and scrubbers. No way could I, or would I, consider moving this factory. And certainly no way could I move it in 4 months.
He calmly explained to me that I simply did not understand. Certainly I understood, what was he talking about, this was all crazy. He assured me that he was not crazy and knew exactly what he was doing and he was going to be in this building in four months or less. I became angry. He saw that, mentioned it, and pressed on with his position.
Hughes Aircraft was going to occupy this building in four months, he said. Don't argue the point, it's going to happen. The only issue is the price and how to get it done. I was, for one of the first times in my life, at a loss for words. I didn't know what to say to this guy.
He took a printed-form lease from his pocket, dropped it on my desk, and said that this was the start of the negotiating process. "You will notice that there are several blanks on the lease form." I examined the document - after all, I was expert at industrial leases and real estate documents. The lease was complete except that two blank spaces, for the amount of money for the rent and the bonus for quick-execution-and-implementation of the lease, were to be filled in.
He got up and started to leave. His parting words were, "Fill in the blanks, sign the lease, and I will be here tomorrow to pick it up." He left. I sat down in shock. I read and re-read the document. It was a good, fair and reasonable document. The starting date was four months hence.
I went directly to my father's office and told him what happened. He was certain this was some kind of practical joke. Who could be pulling this on us? We discussed it for a few minutes and decided to go to lunch. We discussed it at lunch. What if it is for real? What do we do now?
How can we move Certified in four months? Impossible. But what if this is real and we have just been handed an enormous windfall? We were supposed to respond to Hughes tomorrow morning, and the time was running. We decided that my father would call every connection he had, to try to verify the authenticity of this lease proposal. If it was real, then how should we fill in the blanks? How high is up?
I got on the telephone to see about places for a new building for Certified. I called the many real estate brokers I knew to see what vacant properties were available. There was nothing available anywhere near the airport. Hughes had taken every vacant building of any size and was looking for more. Well, this confirmed the authenticity of Mr. Mahue's visit.
My father then burst into my office to tell me that, yes, this was a valid offer from Hughes Aviation. OK, so its real, what do we do? We were both home late for dinner that night. We spent the better part of the night on the phone together working out details and strategy.
The problem was twofold: How do we fill in the blanks, and what do we do about a building for Certified? The next morning I met my father at 5 a.m. for breakfast and more discussion. Our decision was to buy more time.
When Mr. Mahue arrived as promised, there were still no numbers in the blanks. I pressed him at once on the numbers. At the time, the fair market value of the building on the rental market would have been about six cents per square foot per month, and the tenant pays the taxes and the insurance. I said, "What if I put in twenty-five cents per square foot?" No problem. I raised the hypothetical number again and again. No problem.
I told him we needed a couple of days to come to a decision. Fine with him, take all the time you need, but the outside date of four months is now a day closer, and that will not change no matter what. He departed, saying he would be back the next day at the same time. We shook hands and he left.
My father came in and I told him what had happened. We sat there and stared into space. It was now clear that we were going to make a deal with Hughes. We were going to move the furniture factory, or close it down, but we were doing the deal with Hughes. There was just too much profit at stake to do otherwise.
We did not know how far to push the numbers. How much would they stand for? We picked an outrageous number, but what the heck. The worst they would do is say no. Mr. Mahue was right; we were going to be out of that building in four months.
I set up a number of appointments with various real estate people for the balance of the day. After those meetings, it was clear that I had only one viable alternative, which was to build a new building in South Los Angeles. The location was good for manufacturing, and there was a great labor pool. I knew the builder who owned the land, and he was willing, for a small incentive, to do it fast. I told him to draft the contracts and get ready to start construction the next day.
The ground preparation and site development work would be done while the plans were being drawn and submitted to the City of Los Angeles for approval. The details such as the electrical systems, plumbing systems and exhaust systems would be added during construction.
My real estate broker couldn't believe what was happening. I usually acted slowly and with care and consideration. Now I was moving at lightning speed. I told him not to worry, I knew what I was doing. We agreed that everything would be hand-delivered, as nothing could be trusted to the mails; the one or two days the post office took to deliver could not be spared. Time was crucial, so every minute counted and was jealously guarded.
At that first meeting with the builder, I decided many items of construction details off the top of my head; there was no time for contemplation. There would be no time or opportunity to change those decisions. We would build in red brick, as that would be the fastest and easiest. Fine. The ceiling system was to be wood-laminated beams as again they were quicker to buy and install. I picked out a front elevation from a pencil drawing sketched by the builder. I was not sure what the building was going to look like.
I told my father what I had done and that it was set in concrete. We were building a new building on Figueroa Street in downtown LA. He hadn't even seen the land and didn't know where it was. I assured him that all would all be fine. We waited to see what Mr. Mahue would do with the numbers that we had put into the blanks.
Mahue didn't even look at the blanks. He just signed his name on behalf of Hughes Aircraft and handed me back my copy of the lease. I was elated, but knew that the next four months were going to be extremely taxing. I had to reduce the size of our factory by fifty percent, which would cause big changes in our methods operations. We made the tough decisions and went forward. The biggest problem concerned the many good and long-term employees who did specialized jobs that were no longer going to be needed.
We offered all of those people a choice between other jobs at their same salary or a generous retirement plan. Almost everyone chose the retirement offer. It worked out fine for almost everyone. There was an unhappy camper or two, but we had done all we could to be generous and fair.
The first serious problem was caused by rain. It rained, and it rained, and it rained, which made site preparation impossible. When it finally stopped raining the ground was soaking wet. We needed it to dry quickly, so we hired several helicopters and had them hover over the site to dry it out. After a couple of days of this we could resume site work. My father was beside himself over this expense of the hovering helicopters.
The next unforeseen calamity involved the large electrical transformers, which were back ordered. General Electric did not care and would not be moved by my pleas, demands, or offers of money. They would ship when they were ready, period. When I told the Hughes people that there was going to be a delay of about a month due to this problem, they were quite reasonable. Their solution was to get half of the building ready on time and the balance two months later.
The building and moving was beyond hectic; it was crazy. To make matters worse, Barbara was equally busy doing the interior-design installation for a huge condominium project in Miami Beach, Florida. Our lives were out of control. We couldn't help or cover for each other, as we usually did when one was overworked, so the situation became extremely tense. The money was rolling in, big time, but the question was: Is this worth it? There was no time to sleep, no time to enjoy the kids, no time to talk to each other, no time to breathe, and the pressure was enormous.
A steady stream of semi-trucks and trailers went back and forth between our old building and our new building. We started to move in even before the new building was finished. As soon as we had half of the old building vacant, Hughes came in and erected a fence between the two halves. The closest thing I can compare it to is the Berlin wall. It had razor wire, sensors, cameras, the works. They installed equally cold-war-like covers on the windows of their half. They tore out the metal roll-up doors and installed electric doors. It was staggering.
I received a call from Mr. Mahue for an inspection tour. We walked around the building and I asked him how could they afford the rent they were paying. He smiled and said that the US government was paying the entire bill and he wouldn't have cared if I had written in twice the price. I felt a little bad that we could have made double what we made, but I felt sorrier for the taxpayers than I did for myself.
As we were having this discussion, one of the huge electric doors opened and an enormous truck backed up to the loading dock. They started to unload huge wooden crates. Each crate consisted of only a top, bottom and heavy frame. You could see what was inside.
Mr. Mahue said, "You do not see what is inside the crates, right?" "Correct," I replied. They held helicopters. They were Huey Attack Helicopters and they were being stockpiled for the Viet Nam War. At this point in time, no one knew what or where Viet Nam was. There was no war or talk of war. But the government was stockpiling attack helicopters, and they were stacked up to the ceiling, wall to wall. This was in preparation for the Viet Nam war, which was clearly a calculated, premeditated war, and not the stumbled-into-version that was told to the public. They filled up that whole building with helicopters.
Life remained painfully hectic for a long time. The moving and settling-in process took much longer than I had ever dreamed possible. By the time Certified calmed down, Barbara's pressure problems had intensified.
The demands of her business had become too much for her. She was at the breaking point, and wanted to quit decorating altogether. Her clients, however, were very understanding and compassionate. They would wait until she was better, don't worry, take some time off. Standard Investments called Barbara and said that we had just bought a condo in Palm Springs, in a smashing development that they had just bought. Before she could argue they told her the terms, price, and details. Great - we just bought a condo. This would provide a retreat for rest and relaxation.
Of course, Barbara had to decorate it from top to bottom before we could move in. She found that a tonic, however, as it was for us and she was under no pressure. She also decorated for each of the four clients who also had condos in the complex. Again there was no pressure, as these were only weekend homes, and she could do whatever she wanted, in her own time.
We loved Palm Springs and the desert. Our condo was located on South Palm Canyon Drive in the Indian Canyons. I would get up before sunrise and ride my motorcycle into the empty desert and wait for the dawn. This was the best time of day because many animals were out, and most of the flowers were open and visible then. The air was a pleasure to inhale. Dawn on the desert was special and magical. Sometimes I would walk across the street and into the canyons to experience the sunrise there. It was a short distance, just far enough not to see any trace of civilization.
I tried to convince everyone who came to stay with us in Palm Springs to join me for my pre-dawn walk or motorcycle ride. Very few wanted to try it, but those who did were thankful that they had. The smells of the desert, particularly in the early morning, are similar to the smells of the ocean. The smell of the cactus and the opening flowers, and the dew on the plants and the ground cannot be described. This, added to the spectacular sunrises, made the desert at dawn altogether breathtaking. All of this vanishes quite quickly, within two hours of the first light, as the heat of the day drives off the dew, and the flowers close. The desert becomes oppressive and you feel like you're standing in an oven.
Our next-door neighbors were the John Dean's, of Watergate fame. John and Maureen were very bright and interesting. There were also a number of movie and TV stars, most of whom had serious ego problems. One male star would come over frequently because our entry hall had mirrors on every wall, floor to ceiling and wall-to-wall. He would stand there for a long time, pose, and look at the hundreds of reflected images of himself. I never said anything, but it sure was tempting. He was a very nice guy aside from his ego problem, so I kept quiet. Another guest, a billionaire from real estate investments, made a harsh comment about this, but the male star couldn't understand what was wrong.
We invited all sorts of people to spend a weekend at Palm Springs, or a week in Vail Colorado with us. Workers at Certified whom I liked and worked with for many years, extremely wealthy clients of mine, and many friends of Barbara's, including doctors, lawyers, and actors. We learned quickly not to mix the categories of guests as bitter differences of opinion would arise, sometimes resulting in loud and unpleasant disputes.
Some people arrived with nothing but their luggage. Some came elaborate gifts of food. Some made their beds and cleaned up their rooms; others would come downstairs and ask Barbara or me to please make up their room and bed now.
One billionaire would get up early, get out the vacuum, and do the entire downstairs before anyone else was up. He would clean the kitchen and bathrooms. We would plead with him, "Please don't do that! A maid will take care of it!" He would smile and continue to clean, and say it was the least he could do. He always came with a cake, a present for us, and some exotic foods for us to try.
There was no way to figure out who was going to do what. Rich or poor, worker or physician, lawyer or secretary - their backgrounds seemed to make no difference. I could never predict who was going to be classy, and who was going to be obnoxious. Only once did I have to tell someone off, a guy who treated Barbara like a maid.
Our Vail Condo was very close to the home of President Gerald Ford. Barbara got to know Betty Ford at the Vail Athletic Club, a very chi-chi and in private club at Vail. We found them to be very down to earth and charming.
We also got to know Nancy and Ronald Reagan. When Ron Reagan ran for the governorship of California for the first time, I ran for the 22nd Senatorial seat of the State of California. I thought I would enjoy politics (I did not). I lost to a long-time incumbent in a not even close race, but the experience of running was very productive. I developed public speaking skills, which in turn helped my law practice. My father financed the campaign and I received a surprising number of unsolicited contributions, so I didn't have to seek contributions, which I imagine is the most unpleasant part of running for office.
My philosophy was to speak to each and every group that invited me. Ronald Reagan had the same idea. I spoke at groups from the far, far right to the far, far left and everyone in-between. Barbara went with me on most occasions, as did Nancy go with Ron Reagan. Barbara and Nancy sat next to each other at dozens and dozens of breakfasts, lunches and dinners. They got to know each other quite well. I didn't get to know Ron as well as Barbara got to know Nancy, but well enough. I loved talking with him and being with him. He had tremendous charisma. The campaign trail was a great learning experience, and it was exciting to have known the Reagan's and others in the California power structure.
I learned something interesting during the questions-and-answer periods that would follow my campaign speeches. I learned how to give answers that the audience, from ultra conservatives to ultra leftists, would like, without lying. I would answer questions acceptably without saying anything! This skill subsequently served me very well in the courtrooms. Dazzling the jury with fancy footwork is the nice term for it. If you cannot tell the truth, as it is not beneficial to your case, you throw enough mud against the wall so that no one can see what is written there. You obfuscate, you never lie. Hide the ball, OK. Lie, never. In any event, it wasn't necessary to lie as you could always find some trick to muddy the waters.
I became very good at hiding the ball. Surprisingly (or not), clients do not really want to hear the truth. They want to be told whatever it is they want to hear. With most clients, and most people, I'd put a little gloss on reality. Not lies, just a spin on things that would allow my view of reality to prevail.
What I wasn't aware of in those days was that I put a spin on my own life as well. The things I said or did (or stooped to) to win a law suit, I rationalized or excused away. I had to view myself as always doing the right thing. Sometimes that required a lot of gloss.