John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You always say we can ask questions about anything. So here’s a kind of “out there” question. I’m going to Los Angeles for the first time with my husband, partly on business, and we thought we’d spend a few days vacationing, too. Maybe spend two days or so in wine country. Any tips? Well, coincidentally, I just returned from almost a month in California. Years ago, I had a movie-writing phase of my life and almost moved out there. So, yes, I have strong opinions about the Golden State, particularly Los Angeles.
Bostonians mostly say that they love San Francisco and hate LA. But that’s because they think, “San Francisco is so much in many ways like Boston.” No, it isn’t. It’s only the old San Franciscans who they love—the men who always wear ties and went to college in the East. You must treat LA as if it’s both funny and fun. And expect a certain culture shock because life there is so focused on the outdoors. But these days in LA, you should only wander off hours, never during morning or evening commutes. Logistically, traffic is a nightmare. But you should spend a morning or afternoon people watching in Westwood, through the village around the UCLA campus. Do the same thing in Venice Beach—full of volleyball games, weight lifters on the sand, freaks and artists and bikers. Drive slowly through Brentwood and Santa Monica and Bel-Air and the Palisades to get a sense of life in another town. LA is the first place I saw people buried in bank vault structures. Los Angeles has so many people that they can’t fit them all into the cemeteries. So there are almost condos for the deceased, like safe deposit boxes. One of my uncles is in one. Visit Marilyn Monroe’s box in Westwood, off of Wilshire Boulevard. Joe DiMaggio, once married to Marilyn, sent roses multiple times a week to her vault. Visit the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, one of the best in the world, and say hello to the director, Jerry Schubel, a great person who used to run our own New England Aquarium. Do a few touristy things. See the new Getty Museum. And ride up to Mulholland Drive and by the neighborhood where Marlon Brando and Wilt Chamberlain lived, and where Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson live now, the coolest of the cool. Have a drink at the Tower Bar on Sunset Boulevard and watch the million lights of LA stretched out before you. Have more drinks at the Pink Palace, the Beverly Hills Hotel where you’ll always see various stars and wannabes. Lastly, have a drink at the Hotel Bel-Air, a snapshot of old-time Hollywood. The ghosts of the greats wander there, a place where I chatted with a wide range of talented people such as Mel Brooks, Nancy Reagan, Julia Child and Tommy Lee Jones, among many others. Oh, and have lunch at Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard to get a taste of the old, glamorous ways. Then come back to Boston and tell them, “San Francisco is boring compared to LA.”
I love my brother, but his kids are out of control. He’s divorced, so when he has them, he lets them run around like wild animals. I think he has divorced-dad guilt so he doesn’t correct their behavior. I love them, but it’s making me not want to have them visit. Forget about going out to a restaurant; we were asked to leave the last one! How can I get them to behave better without overstepping and risking our good relationship? There should be no pussyfooting around on this question. There are times when that behavior is not permitted, but all too often no one dares, for various reasons, to teach lessons to our younger generations. In the last year or so, I had a similar situation with a cousin of mine who spent the night at my house with her boyfriend and his 10-year-old son. The son was sullen and indifferent to me. But he was consistently rude and outright belligerent to his dad. His father just tried to sweetly reason with the boy, which got him nothing but more abuse, embarrassing the father and my cousin. At breakfast the acting out continued, until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I rapped on my juice glass with a spoon, and everyone stopped. “Young man,” I said, “anything might go in your house, but this is my house and you’re a guest. In my house you will not be rude or disrespectful to anyone, especially your father. Behavior like yours will not be tolerated, and you’d better mind your manners. Shape up your attitude and stop acting like a spoiled brat, or else pack your backpack. And pay attention to this lesson because you’re going to hear my speech from an awful lot of other people unless you start growing up.”
Needless to say, everyone was startled if not shocked, especially the kid.
Dare to be truthful. I think it will be helpful to your brother as well, teaching him to be a father, not just an enabling buddy.