Local Lifestyle

Thursday, May 29 2014 05:37 PM

HERB BENHAM: Of fried chicken and old friends

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

Katie and Hunter brought Randy's Donuts (the big doughnut in the sky near LAX): cinnamon crumb, glazed and apple fritters. That was my first birthday gift. The doughnuts were as good the third day as they were the first. A microwave is a wondrous thing.

Thomas fixed buttermilk- soaked fried chicken, red- pepper cole slaw, a garbanzo bean salad with sweet corn and we bought corn muffins -- both jalapeno and plain -- from Jake's. The leftover slaw and bean salad made good leftovers as the flavors married.

We ate dinner family style on the back patio. No one complained about the vestiges of the 99-degree day. The Bay Area guests liked eating outside at night, something not always possible up north without sweaters.

Herbie bartended, and Sue named each table for streets on which I have lived. The menu was listed on a chalkboard, dessert too.

It was one of the happiest nights of my life and reminded me of the Buck Owens' song "It Takes People Like You to Make People Like Me." Sometimes I reverse that and say, "It takes people like me to make people like you."

I wore cargo shorts until Sam told me cargo shorts were out -- I had to be a software engineer to wear them -- and then I realized all I had were cargo shorts.

It was nice to have people in the house and bittersweet to see them drive away Monday morning, but I cannot complain. I am a lucky man.

***

Wednesday, I attended Norm Levan's memorial service. It was held in a big tent in front of the Levan Institute for Lifelong Learning at Bakersfield College. A cool breeze blew north from the bluffs. Speakers lauded Levan's generosity -- $14 million to BC, and millions to USC and St. John's College in New Mexico.

"All that money and he still couldn't hit a backhand," said Howdy Miller about Levan's days as a Nooner at the Bakersfield Racquet Club.

I grew up at the club admiring Levan's impressive forehand, sense of humor, good looks and charm. He could charm squirrels out of trees and have them line dancing.

A couple of years ago, I visited Levan (who died Sunday at 98) at his home in Westchester. His '50s- style house was modest. Levan could have afforded any house in old Stockdale and the house next door.

Levan worked hard, lived frugally, invested wisely and eventually donated his fortune to education.

"Norm had more fun giving money away," said former mayor and county supervisor Mary K. Shell.

Levan retired at 96, working for 70 years as a dermatologist and a professor at USC. He'd read 12,000 books since 1982. Think how many he bagged the previous 60 years.

He gave thousands of people an opportunity to pursue their educations. My favorite quote of the day was a favorite of Levan's from Ayn Rand:

"Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists ... it is real ... it is possible ... it's yours."

***

It's good to hear that Tony Nieto aka, the Weekend Waxer, is feeling better. Tony has been the aide-de-camp for John Axt at John's auto repair shop on Golden State Avenue. Tony tried to retire a few times, but he likes his customers and an occasional cold beer. Tony waxed cars on the weekends. He's getting over a case of pancreatitis and is cutting his grass and working on his truck again.

 

***

Lois Ernst sent me a list of people turning 60 this year. They are in good company. The list includes Oprah Winfrey, Ron Howard, Jim Belushi, John Travolta, Al Roker, Jerry Seinfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Denzel Washington, Howard Stern, Ricky Skaggs, James Cameron, Ang Lee, Christie Brinkley, Annie Lennox, Elvis Costello and Al Sharpton.

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