Part 61: Riley's Diner, Plus The Time He Wanted Me To Pretend I Was His Receptionist
Today is Sunday, January 17, 2021. Trump has been impeached for inciting an insurrection. The 45th president has been quiet, many of his duties taken over by Pence. The Republican Party is deeply divided. Biden's inauguration is on January 20th, although scaled down in light of the threats of violence.
The Coronavirus continues to spread, death toll nears 400,000 in the US. There is a new mutation of the virus, but I have no idea what that means yet.
Here’s another photo of the restaurant Riley managed and cooked for when we lived in Oxnard, California. It’s such an odd picture, my parents are peering around the corner looking at the camera as if someone told them to do that. Maybe these were for some type of publicity for the cafe.
Early in 1977 was a short interaction with my father that I’ve never forgotten. This memory floated around in my mind as just another confusing time, but later, when I put everything together, it made a bit more sense.
We were renting an old house on a busy road in Oxnard. "Pleasant Valley Road" which sounds so nice, but it was more like a highway that sliced through town. An acre of land behind us, with a little studio out back which was turned into a bedroom, our living room had a couch, a television, and a recliner, but the entire left half of the room was taken up with Dad’s desk, books, and all the manuscripts for the encyclopedia.
One morning, I walked into the room, and Dad was there at his Corona typewriter. As soon as he saw me, Dad stopped what he was working on and stood up, full of energy and good spirits.
“People don’t think you’re a kid on the phone,” Dad said, seeming impressed.
I looked at him, and mumbled something, not sure where he was going with this line of thought.
“You sound older sometimes. You fooled someone, they thought you were your mother, which is a good thing to work on…especially later when you’re an actress. It’s good to have control over your voice, you know,” Dad walked over to the landline and picked it up and put it on a side table, the long cord dragging across the floor. “I’m going to have you make a call for me, do you think you can do that?”
“What call?” I said, confused.
“I’ll write it all out, so don’t worry. This is good practice for you,” Dad said, as he moved to his desk and got a pen and paper. He began jotting down notes. “So you’re playing my receptionist, understand? You’ll call this number and just say this, ‘I’m calling on behalf of Riley Shepard. He would like to schedule an appointment to see you this week.’ You got that?”
“Why?” I said.
“Don’t worry so much. I just need... I’ll dial the number, and ask for this man.” Dad pointed to the name on the paper. “And then just say what it says here."
Before I could say another word, he was dialing the number. “You can do this, just look at the lines I gave you,” Dad said, thrusting the phone receiver at me.
My heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest, my throat tensed, and after two rings, a man picked up.
“Hello?” He said.
I choked out his name, and sputtered out the part about calling on behalf of Riley Shepard.
“Who is this?” The man said.
“I’m calling on behalf—”
“Yes, but who is this?”
“I’m…I’m….” I stammered. I’m sure now my voice sounded just like the twelve year old girl that I was.
Dad stood quietly near me, trying to hear what the man on the phone was saying. I looked at my father nervously, and he began to shake his head, like it was all over, whatever it was.
“Listen, if Riley wants to talk to me, tell him he can call me himself,” the man said. He seemed to be laughing as he hung up. For a few seconds I listened to the dull sound of the disconnected phone line to try to comprehend what had just happened.
“Well, what did he say?” Dad said.
“He said to call him yourself,” I said.
“OK. That was that. Thanks for trying, kid.”
Dad shrugged, and just like that, it was over, what ever it was. At the time, I had no idea what Dad was trying to accomplish. I was uncomfortable, confused, one of another in a long line of what I considered humiliations. Was he trying to pretend that he could afford a secretary? Or was he roping me into to being a part of something even more devious? The man was having none of it, which was clear from the way he laughed the whole thing off.
Later, Dad’s seventeen year-old daughter from his “other” family showed up on our doorstep. She’d bought a one-way ticket from Pennsylvania when she found out where we lived. She was angry and wanted answers.
Leslie's story is in a previous blog. The first time we ever met (she had no idea I existed---having been told that her father had died in a car accident) was in that house on Pleasant Valley Road.
I snapped these photographs of her in front of our house with my Brownie camera. I thought she was the coolest and most glamorous teenager ever. She stayed with us for close to a year, and was cast in a play in town. She played “Dream Sharon” in Woody Allen’s “Play it Again, Sam.”
When I looked at the photo I took of Leslie standing near our father on the right, her smile is obviously strained, while Riley looks calmly off into the distance.
Leslie's stay with us ended when my parents actually kicked her out after months of tension. She had no place to go, although I didn't know that at the time. Because she had purchased a one-way ticket, she had no way to get home to her mother, Jo. I didn't find this out until we met again as adults in 2008. You can read Leslie's memories in part 28 of this blog.
This is the best photo I took of Leslie back then. This was our backyard. Look at her groovy hoop earrings. Thanks to Thomas Schworer for enhancing my old photo from 1977.
Next blog, 62: More of Riley's Cable Access show in Porterville, California, and Kevin Coffey's liner notes for a Riley Shepard compilation CD release.