“It had been a clear summer night, about a year before, and I was heading back from Vegas with a chorus girl I’d met that weekend. We were doing 70 mph on an empty stretch of road just outside of Barstow, when suddenly the darkness was blasted away by a brilliant flash of light. For a few seconds of eternity, everything was stark white with harsh black shadows. And then there was a clap of distant thunder. Carol had been almost asleep when the midnight sun struck. She grabbed my arm and screamed and then it was night again. I thought the Russians had finally done it. No four-minute warning, just BOOM! But the world hadn’t ended, it was one of our own A-bombs being detonated somewhere out in the desert. They said later, on the radio, that it was the biggest ever tested, about twenty times bigger than the Fat Boy they dropped on Hiroshima. I tried calming Carol down but she was almost hysterical. “Don’t worry, nuclear war will never happen.” I kept saying, but my heart was pounding and part of me knew I was lying. It could happen anytime. And when that time came, it would be sayonara everything. Goodbye cruel world.”
From 1951 until 1962 over one hundred Atomic weapons were detonated above ground at the US Military’s test site in the Nevada desert just outside Las Vegas. 148The mushroom clouds from the bombs could be seen at a distance of almost one hundred miles away and “bomb-watching” became something of a tourist attraction in Vegas itself. The radio-active fall-out from the tests drifted away from the city and were borne by the prevailing winds over southern Utah, where, tragically, increases in many types of cancer were reported from the mid-1950s through the 1980s.
We’d first met in 1950. I was bumming around from one dead-end job to another, still using the war as an excuse for screwing up. She was a rich man’s daughter who had the good sense to know she’d been spoiled rotten. bobby-socksWe were both in Canter’s Deli at three in the morning one aimless Friday night. She was dressed in rolled-up jeans and bobby sox with a bunch of giggling girlfriends. I was on my lonesome, hunched over a cold coffee and a slice of apple pie covered in the gloop that was once a scoop of ice cream. She reached over to my booth and asked to borrow the sugar. I said something smart and she said something smarter. She joined me at my table. Her eyes were blue-green, her sun-kissed blonde hair was in a ponytail. An hour later I was in love.”
Canter’s -2Deli is a Hollywood landmark and has been serving traditional Jewish food and American diner fare 24 hours a day since it opened in Boyle Heights in 1931. In 1948 it followed a Jewish migration to West Hollywood and relocated to Fairfax Ave. In 1953 it moved again, up a block into larger premises, and looks pretty much the same today as it did back then. I visited the place many times during my first few trips to LA in the 1990s and often sat in a booth with friends after a night of clubbing or bar-hopping, and it was easy to imagine a scene in the old Canter’s where a couple could meet for the first time in the balmy small hours of a weekend morning…