Monday, August 29, 2011

The Salesman

Conrad Romo is a lifelong salesman who's hocked everything from pens to chimney cleaning services to fresh meat to computer diskettes. He's also a talented writer who crafts honest stories taken from his own life. He is a devout practitioner of Zen Buddhism who studies at the Zen Center in midtown Los Angeles.

A few years back, the Zen Center experienced a series of break-ins by a convicted sex offender.  The perpetrator (who turned out to be an ex-student of the Center) entered the premises at night and attempted to sexually assault female residents. Conrad, who had several years training in the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga, decided to get involved. He volunteered to serve as an all-night security guard. In accordance with non-violent Buddhist teachings he armed himself only with a can of mace.

The first two nights passed without incident.  Conrad caught up on his reading and wrote letters to friends. By the third night Conrad was exhausted. He found himself struggling to keep his eyes open. Sometime after midnight he fell asleep. He was awakened by a loud noise in the kitchen. He opened his eyes, disoriented and confused. He reached for the mace knocking his glasses to the floor.

A blurry figure moved through the kitchen toward the adjacent residency hall. Filled with fear and surging adrenalin, Conrad moved toward the figure. The perpetrator attempted to enter one of the dorm rooms.

"Don't move," Conrad yelled. He pointed the mace toward the man. In the darkness, the man mistook the mace for a gun.

"Don't shoot me, please."

Conrad did a quick mental calculation. The guy could be on drugs.  He could have a gun. He could have grabbed a knife from the kitchen.

Realizing the danger, Conrad aimed the mace and unleashed a heavy dose of pepper spray. Unfortunately the canister was pointed backwards and Conrad maced himself. He screamed. The suspect pushed past him and ran toward the kitchen. Conrad gave chase.

Conrad caught up with the man as he was halfway out the kitchen window (the same way he'd broken in). Conrad doused the man's face with three heavy sprays of mace. The man yelled and fell out the window. Conrad called the police then spent five minutes rinsing his own eyes.  The man escaped but he would never break in again.

A few years later, Conrad heard that the man committed suicide. The Zen Center conducted a special ceremony blessing the man. Conrad objected to the ritual. The man had terrorized the facility. He shouldn't be celebrated.

At the ceremony, the Roshi lit candles around a wicker basket which represented the "hungry ghost" or  departed one. Residents were asked to leave offerings in the basket to help the man's passage into his next incarnation. People added flower petals, pieces of fruit, little carved Buddhas. Conrad waited for everyone to leave before adding his own tribute. He placed a canister of mace in the center of the basket. He'd already scared away the man once. He wanted to make sure the man would never return.

Conrad currently hosts a once-a-month writing salon in Los Angeles called "Tongue And Groove." He is a bonafide Los Angeles iconoclast. (4" x 6", black ink print)

Saturday, August 13, 2011


My father Igo Kantor is an old school film producer of the type you rarely see anymore.  He was born in 1930 and raised in Lisbon, Portugal. He learned english from comic books and American movies. His favorite films were the Republic Serials (Spy Smasher, Captain Marvel).

In 1950, Igo said goodbye to his parents in Europe and boarded a ship to New York. While at sea, he met the film director Max Nosseck (Dillinger, Rin Tin Tin). He told Mr. Nosseck he wanted to make movies and the director gave Igo a written introduction to his brother who ran a projection room in Hollywood.

Igo made it to Los Angeles and looked up Nosseck's brother. He was hired as a projectionist. Five nights a week he ran private screenings for filmmakers including actress Jean Peters who was dating Howard Hughes at the time. Hughes would sneak into the theater next to Peters while a film was playing. Hughes was quiet and aloof and though polite, he refused to shake hands with anyone.

In 1951, Igo was hired as an assistant film editor at Columbia Pictures. He worked on All the Kings Men with famed editor Al Clark (Mr Smith Goes to Washington). Clark was a lunchtime drinker and sometimes after lunch he would show up late or not at all. On those days Igo edited the film himself. (He remains proud that he edited the famous railroad speech in Kings Men.) Igo was elevated to music supervisor and he worked on Bye Bye Birdie and Under the Yum Yum Tree.

In 1962, Igo met my mother Enid through the help of a Jewish matchmaker. They were married and had three children. Igo opened a post-production house in Hollywood. He wrote the musical theme for two Tarzan features and became post-production supervisor on The Monkees. He was hired by Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson of Columbia/Screen Gems to work on Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens. He also worked post-production on Dennis Hopper's infamous film The Last Movie. After the film soared over budget, Universal pulled editing privileges from Hopper. Hopper asked Igo to participate in a clandestine plan to steal the negative from Universal. Igo refused though he and Hopper remained friends.

Igo received Emmy Nominations three years in a row for editing the Bob Hope Christmas Show. He worked with renowned writer/director Dalton Trumbo (of "Hollywood Ten" fame) on Trumbo's indie film Johnny Got His Gun. Sadly, Trumbo refused to pay his hefty bill and Igo was forced to close his post-production facility.

Igo moved into producing films. For the next 20 years, he made low-budget thrillers and horror films. These include Kingdom of the Spiders with William Shatner, Hardly Working with Jerry Lewis and Act of Piracy with Gary Busey. He also produced the musical opening for the 1988 Olympics in Korea. In 1992, Igo won a Western Heritage Award for his TV documentary Legends of the West with Jack Palance.  Igo passed away in October, 2019 after a long illness. He is loved and will be missed. (5" x 7", black ink print)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Genus Equus

On the day I proposed to my wife in Central California, we saw a pack of "wild" zebras running in an open field next to Highway 1. We later learned these animals were the progeny of William Randolph Hearst's original San Simeon zoo collection. Since that day, zebras have been my favorite animal. This woodcut depicts this beautiful beast. According to African folklore, zebras were initially white until a baboon tossed a zebra into a burning fire where the resulting burn marks became their distinctive stripes. (4" x 6", black ink print)