In 1973 Mel Sweggert and I were college roommates at UCLA, but we decided to move out of the dorm for our final year of college. We found an old two-story apartment building in Culver City that had seen better days…but it had a courtyard with a pool. Drooping near the stairs in a corner of the courtyard was an unattractive, but undeniably real, palm tree.
We christened the place our first night with beer and a fifth of Southern Comfort. I knew I was wasted when I looked out the window and saw strange creatures walking up and down the street. In the moonlight they appeared short and shriveled. “Come check this out,” I said to Mel.
He staggered to the window. “What’s up? I don’t see anything.”
I looked again; this time nothing. The street was empty.
I blamed the booze and laughed it off.
We drained the bottle of Southern Comfort and polished off the rest of the beers, staggered down the stairs and jumped in the pool. The September night was typically warm; I felt content with my life. I gazed at the stars, blurry behind the smog, and watched planes passing frequently overhead, their lights disappearing behind the silhouette of our homely palm tree.
The next evening we partied again, this time with our friends: Rodney, Jay and Barry. 1:00 A.M. rolled by and I was having a great time drinking and horsing around in the pool—until I saw the tip of a cigarette glowing in the darkness. We were being observed by someone beneath our palm tree. I’d noticed several good-looking girls in the pool earlier that day and had chatted with one of them in the laundry room. Perhaps a hot babe was sitting in the shadows, checking us out.
Just as I was about to draw everyone’s attention to the intruder’s presence, the glowing cigarette disappeared. I heard the creaking sound of someone rising from an old lounge chair, along with sandals slapping concrete. The person was leaving, their silhouette visible in the flickering glow of a nearby bug light. My mouth dropped open and I took a big gulp of pool water. We weren’t being checked out by a hot girl looking for some action; we were being observed by an escapee from last night’s hallucination, some sort of goblin or gnome. I shook my head in disbelief and wiped the water from my eyes.
When my vision cleared, it was gone.
The next day was Saturday, no classes. I poured a bowl of Frosted Flakes and tried to brush aside the cobwebs, along with last night’s disturbing image near the palm tree. My thoughts were drowned out by the sound of a lawnmower. I glanced out the window and saw a goblin pushing a lawnmower up and down the tiny lawn in front of the Hollywood-style bungalow across the street.
I’d grown up on children’s books like The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, and the creature across the street certainly looked like it could have come from a mushroom planet. Too much booze, I thought. But the apparition refused to vanish. I abandoned my Frosted Flakes to confront it.
Conclusion on Friday