In 1972 I was living in a commune in Santa Cruz and piecing together my minimal living by working for three bucks an hour as a landscaper and house painter while playing guitar and singing for tips in cafés and pubs. So when a young lawyer offered me thirty bucks per meeting to attend California Coastal Commission meetings in Santa Cruz and write reports on those meetings for his law firm, I jumped at the chance.
The California Coastal Commission was established along with the Coastal Protection Act in 1972 through a state ballot proposition sponsored by environmentalists hoping to slow unchecked development of California coastal areas. The commission was a serious work-in-progress in those early days, and the meetings I attended at the county building in Santa Cruz were, in the vernacular of those times, trippy.
I was one of the only people attending these meetings not there to try to convince the commission to approve building projects theoretically verboten under the new Coastal Protection Act. Each supplicant made his or her case—sometimes it was a coastal city or town, sometimes a resort developer, sometimes the builder of a house—and most of these cases were made with the aid of slide shows projected on a big screen in the darkened room.
Approval or disapproval of these projects couldn’t have been based on what was revealed at these public meetings. By that I mean, incredibly destructive projects that never should have been approved often were, and projects that seemed benign were frequently not approved.
In 1973, having by then covered several of these Coastal Commission meetings, I got a call from a man I will call Mark who said he was a good friend of my uncle Howard and had just built a new house in Aptos. Mark wanted to invite me (and a date) to dinner with him and his wife and another couple. He said Howard had told him he had to meet me, that he and I would hit it off, and I would love to see his new house.
My uncle Howard was a big time entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles. We were not close, but I always liked him and vice-versa. Mark sounded interesting, my girlfriend Nancy and I were paupers, and the idea of going for a nice meal in a snazzy new house appealed, so I accepted his invitation.
On the night of the dinner party, we donned our best hippy garb and followed the directions Mark gave us to his house. And the closer we got, the more perplexed I became because we were headed into what I thought I knew to be coastal land that was never to be built on, land the Coastal Protection Act was specifically designed to protect.
However, Mark had somehow gotten approval to put in a quarter-mile asphalt road just north of a state park and running right along the shore to a spectacular rocky point, waves crashing below his enormous modern house cantilevered over that rocky point.
We parked our jalopy between two dazzling new cars and walked on the beautifully lit cement walkway inlaid with ocean rocks and fossils through a gorgeous Japanese garden to the massive front door and rang the melodious doorbell.
Mark was a short wiry fellow in his sixties, his wife Maureen a gorgeous blonde in her twenties wearing a shimmery diaphanous dress I mistook for negligee, their friends Jason and Lisa in their thirties. I was twenty-four, my girlfriend Nancy twenty-two.
While Maureen and Jason and Lisa had wine in the living room, Mark gave Nancy and me a tour of the spectacular house. On the tour Mark explained that my Uncle Howard had been his attorney on a number of business deals, and then he, Mark, worked for Howard gratis for a couple years to learn what he needed to learn to pass the bar and become his own lawyer.
When we stepped out on the massive deck overlooking the ocean, I mentioned my Coastal Commission gig and expressed amazement that the Coastal Commission had approved the construction of Mark’s house, not to mention the road to the house.
And Mark said, “We found evidence of a former dwelling here.” Then he smiled wryly. “Several planks of old redwood.”
“Here?” I said incredulously. “There was a house here before this one? But there’s no level ground. This is jagged rock. Your house is an engineering marvel.”
“There was sufficient evidence of a possible former dwelling to warrant building here and on other feasible locations along my access road,” said Mark, sounding ultra-lawyerly. “And I’m on very good terms with a majority of the commissioners.”
“Wait,” I said, aghast. “You’re subdividing the land along the road?”
“Just on the ocean side,” he said, ushering us inside. “We don’t want to overbuild and put undue stress on the fragile coastal environment.”
Following the delicious meal cooked by their excellent chef, Maureen asked us what we did, and Nancy said she was studying jazz piano at Cabrillo College and working as a waitress, and I said I was an aspiring writer working as a landscaper, and my trio Kokomo was the Friday and Saturday night band at Positively Front Street, a pub near the municipal wharf in Santa Cruz.
Then Nancy added, “And Todd leads Drama games.”
Everyone’s eyes lit up.
“Drama games?” said Maureen. “Tell us more.”
I had learned a bunch of warm-up exercises and interactive Drama games from my friend Rico’s wife Jean while living near them for a time in Ohio where Jean taught Drama at Central State University and gave weekend acting workshops. When I settled into commune life in Santa Cruz, I orchestrated Drama game nights at our commune and a few other communes in town, and that landed me a gig leading Drama games for emotionally troubled teenagers in a local residential treatment program.
“Can we do some Drama games now?” asked Maureen, shimmying in her shimmering gown.
I was reluctant, the group insisted, we had an hour of fun, and the games ended with us standing in a circle with our arms around each other improvising tonal melodies and harmonizing rapturously.
When the circle broke, Maureen said, “That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.”
Lisa and Jason echoed Maureen, and Mark said, “Oh my God, Todd. You could make a fortune from this. You can franchise this, and for a modest percentage I’ll set the whole thing up for you.”
“But these aren’t my exercises,” I said, shaking my head. “They’re taught in Drama classes and workshops all over the world.”
“Doesn’t matter,” said Mark, excitedly. “It’s all in the packaging and the marketing. This could be huge!”
Needless to say, I did not pursue packaging and trademarking and franchising and marketing of those Drama games, but my friends and I had fun coming up with names for the hypothetical venture, including The Walton Method: Drama Games to Liberate Your Inner Creative Child.