A short story excerpt from Hollywood Animal: A Memoir by Joe Eszterhas.
The Pool Man
Henry took care of our swimming pool at the Malibu Colony. He was sixty-nine years old and lived in the Valley: I knew all the big stars when I was about seventeen, eighteen. Cary Grant came into the house once and the first thing he said was, “It’s very nice to see you, Henry.”
He was really looking at me. I was a good-looking kid. They’d all come to the house to see my dad. He was at Paramount then. He’d been at RKO before then and later on went to Columbia. I went to Beverly Hills High School where I was a really shitty student.
I spent all my time in the pool at home and we also had a place out in Malibu so whenever I wasn’t in the pool I was out at the beach, riding the waves and getting a tan. Man, I had a great tan but that wasn’t what I really cared about.
That just happened by itself because of all of the time I happened to be out in the sun but what I cared about was being in the water. All this time later I could still take you out to the best beaches out there.
There’s a place off of Dume just south of Zuma that very few people would go to. You’d swim out fifty feet and you were in so deep you could bump into whales out there, I’m not kidding. Well, okay, maybe a couple hundred feet, but then you’d run into schools of dolphin romping around just like I was. I had my arms around a dolphin’s neck once, I really did.
I know what it sounds like, but I really did. I had that sucker around the neck, hanging on to him as he was joyriding around. It has something to do with how deep how quickly the water is out there. The currents attract the whales and the dolphins.
They’re the same currents that used to wreck a lot of ships. I was around the Colony in Malibu a lot, too. My dad’s place wasn’t far from it although the Colony then wasn’t like the Colony now. It was just a bunch of fancy beach shacks and the person living there then that everybody was talking about was this nutty guy in a big straw hat and a beer gut and a walrus mustache. A writer. Saroyan.
I saw him once out there. He was collecting stones off the beach. I asked him what he was doing and he looked at me like I was screwy and said he was collecting stones off the beach. Oh-kay. Whatever. I asked my dad about him and he said—Well, I don’t think he’ll ever be a screenwriter.
Later on I read something by him but it didn’t do anything for me. It was about a guy who was a writer who collected stones off the beach. Being out there at the beach all the time and having the pool at home in Beverly Hills was about the worst thing for me. That’s all I cared about, you see. The water. The damn water.
I fell in love with the water. Can you believe that? My dad would say to me—I can fix you up with any job you want on any lot—and I didn’t want any of it. I just wanted to be around the water. If it wasn’t the pool, it was the beach. It’s not just that I wasn’t studying anything… I wasn’t even around a lot of kids my age, not even around a lot of girls.
Girls weren’t like the water. Girls were complicated and sometimes they’d downright bite you in the ass for something you said or did. With a girl, I’d get hung up. With the water, I’d glide. It completely messed my life up, really.
My parents got divorced. My dad couldn’t get any other studio jobs and went to New York to run a clothing company. My mom moved to Paris. We had to sell the house in Beverly Hills first, then the one in Malibu.
I stayed in L.A. I didn’t go to college, I just hung around the beach. It was all I had left. I didn’t have a pool anymore. I got a job at a hamburger stand on the beach in Santa Monica. A guy I worked with at the hamburger stand quit and went to work for a pool company.
He was cleaning and servicing pools all over Bel Air and Beverly Hills. They had another opening and he asked me about it and I said fine. I’ve been working on pools for almost forty years now. It keeps me around water. I’m around water six days a week, ten hours a day.
I’ve got my own company. I hate the maintenance part of it, the motors and heaters and wiring problems. But I like the water. I like putting the chlorine in it, I like putting my hands in it. If there’s a problem with the lighting, I’ll wade in and fix it. I’ve got a place in Tarzana.
I’ve made enough money so that I’ve got my own pool at home. On the weekends, I go down to the beach.
I think about my dad sometimes. He was smarter than I was. He was always with his big stars or on the phone to their agents. I never saw him in the pool, he was hardly ever out at the beach. I don’t think he even knew how to swim.