My Year of Living Dangerously

How I wound up in the perfect place at the most opportune time of my life in order to save my father from certain death is still a mystery that borders on the divine. I just can’t help it if I’m lucky.

I had shuttered my SOHO medical publishing company and moved to California in September 2006, with the ultimate plan of marrying a woman in Santa Monica I had recently met. We planned to spend a year in California, marry, and move to New York City the following year. When the relationship tanked, I spent days riding up and down the coast on the same bicycle that I had ridden around the World Trade Center at 6am on 9/11.

I instantly fell in love with an area in the South Bay of Los Angeles, comprised of three towns built on bluffs overlooking the Pacific: Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach. For a guy that had never been on a surfboard, I had landed squarely in Surf City USA.

I hadn’t been single in quite a while so the beach communities with its “clothing optional” attitude and disinhibited bleach blond divorcees suited me nicely for a short right of passage in which I acted very badly. Many of these glamorous and once well-traveled women hadn’t experienced the underbelly of Hollywood and were only too glad to leave the kids with the nanny and partner up with me. They knew I would keep them safe, if nothing else.

The truth is, prior to my son and then my father joining me in Southern California, I was lost — adrift in the hedonistic lifestyle that seems to perfectly contour the Southern California landscape as effortlessly as the miles of Bougainvillea’s dot Southern Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Long runs on the beach prefaced secretive late night mansion parties in the Hollywood Hills, Malibu, and Benedict Canyon, or farther south in Newport Beach or Dana Point. These gatherings were ‘raves’ for adults, where I danced my butt off most of the night to celebrity DJs.

I would roll back to Manhattan Beach sweaty and spent as the sun rose, careful to keep the RPMs down in my noisy vintage 4-speed BMW 535i. Then I’d do it all over again. After a year or so my reverse-engineered life seemed normal.

Looking back, it was the arrival of my son in August of 2008 that readied me for the five-year odyssey with my father. Overnight, I completely re-prioritized my life. I had to squarely face the fact that I had lost what little of a moral compass I ever had to begin with when Gianni arrived in desperate need of a hands-on father.

Gianni and I lived in a light, airy triplex in Hermosa Beach with a small view of the Pacific. He had started high school in neighboring Manhattan Beach. In a stroke of pure happenstance, I was living in the district with the second best public high school in the entire State of California when Gianni’s mother and I decided that he would leave New York and live with me in Southern California. Before that day, I didn’t even know where the school was physically located.

I volunteered to work in the school library, cooked Gianni his favorite meals and struggled with him over hours of biology almost every night. I was up at dawn getting Gianni ready. After I dropped him at school, I would work the morning on my medical journals, breaking mid-day to rendezvous with my “girlfriend” and then ready the house for my son’s return. Often after school, we would ride up and down the coast on our bikes to keep Gianni’s mind off how much he missed his mom and sisters, who flew out to visit us most holidays. I bought a Christmas tree and began to collect ornaments. I somehow remembered my grandfather’s recipe for Sunday meatballs and sausages, and we invited friends over for boisterous meals. I purchased a two-man hammock and Gianni and I swung on the porch on weekends, head-to-foot, in between Family Guy marathons.

As much as fortune shined down on me by having my son attend the best public high school in Los Angeles County, I lucked out again by putting down roots in the only part of L.A. rarely affected by humidity or pollution, with a yearly temperature range between 50 degrees at night and 85 degrees during the day, even in summer. My father was dying of advanced pulmonary disease, among other things. The South Bay was about the best climate on earth for him. I didn’t know it yet, but I had somehow awkwardly swung the bat and hit a grand slam!

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