The bright sun shot splinters into my brain as I crossed the driveway and headed across the street. That was when I noticed another of the creatures. And another. I stopped in the middle of the street and counted six of them. All were old and wrinkled. They went about their business, ignoring me while I stood in the middle of the road. Some were gardening. Others sat on their front porches reading the morning paper.
A car approached and honked. I jumped out of the way like Wile E. Coyote avoiding a falling anvil. The vehicle pulled into the driveway of an apartment building several yards away. When the car door opened another of these creatures got out with a sack of groceries. The car must have been rigged to accommodate a tiny driver.
The little fellow pushing the lawnmower finally yelled, “Yous be foolish to be standing in zenter of street.” His voice was brittle with age and thick with a mysterious accent.
The sparse strands of white hair sprouting from his head failed to cover the numerous liver spots. He was wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt that must have been intended for a child. His teeth were few and yellowed with age but when he smiled he looked pleasant enough.
“Deed you joust move een?”
“Y—yes,” I stammered. “With my roommate, Mel.”
“I zee. Yous be college keeds, yes?” I nodded as he wiped sweat from his egg shaped head with the back of his hand. The tiny hand was covered in loose skin, but it had five fingers and looked human enough. The day wasn’t particularly hot but it must have taken effort for someone so tiny to mow even a small lawn. “I zink I zeem strange to yous, yes?”
I nodded and shook his hand when it was offered, as did Mel who’d crossed the street to join us. The little man introduce himself. “I called Yabba, like cartoon wiff zee Flintstonez. Yabba Dabba Doo. No Dabba Doo, just Yabba. This no real name but do jez fine.”
“Nice to meet you, Yabba. Excuse me, but are you a midget?” I asked.
His forehead creased like a fan and he looked like he’d just sucked on a pickle. “Once part of Zinger midgets, but Yabba and others (he indicated the others like him with a tilt of his head) no more like to be called midget. Now we like be called ‘Little Peeple.’”
“Sorry,” I apologized. “I didn’t mean to offend you. Have you lived here long?”
“Come here in ’38 for zee big moovie. Me work on zee big movie zeven weeks and no want to go home later. Many stay at Culver Hootel til need leave. We moove here and stay. Be happy here.”
“What big movie are you talking about?” Mel asked.
Yabba looked at him like he had a third eye in the middle of his forehead. “What you mean what big moovie? Only one big moovie known by everyone. Weezard oof Oz, oof course!”
The fog was starting to clear. These tiny folks must have been part of the famous Singer Midgets, recruited from around the world to play the munchkins in the Wizard of Oz, filmed back in 1938 at MGM Studios right here in Culver City. I’d learned about them in a UCLA film class. I wondered where this little guy was born—his voice was high-pitched but the accent reminded me of Bela Lugosi. The Balkans?
“I mow lawn in front your apartment and owner zay okay use pool, but long time zince Yabba take plunge.”
I hadn’t noticed the manicured strip of grass in front of our apartment, but the thought of seeing this little gnome in a wet swimsuit made me shiver.
In weeks to come I discovered that the other neighborhood munchkins weren’t as outgoing as Yabba and kept to themselves. Yabba explained why he’d been watching us that night. “Me hav zee insomnia. Like zound oof young peoples having fun.”
Our friendship was sealed when Yabba arrived during one of our late-night pool parties and pulled a fat joint from the pocket of his Hawaiian shirt. He lit it, inhaled deeply, then passed it around.
“Most of we little peeple be straight arrowz,” he informed us, “but Yabba be a partying munchkin.”
Note: On the slim chance that the Statute of Limitations has not expired on my youthful indiscretions, the author wants it known that he would never endorse or promote the use of recreational drugs of any kind.