SI Vault
Robert Towne
August 06, 1984
With the Olympics under way in his native city, the author recalls with admiration two men of Los Angeles who were defined by how they moved in their elements
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August 06, 1984

In The Water, In The Air, In L.a.

With the Olympics under way in his native city, the author recalls with admiration two men of Los Angeles who were defined by how they moved in their elements

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I tried to see him, but he wouldn't see anyone. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like for him, of all people, to have to endure the humiliation of losing his body so quickly and under such ugly circumstances.

Perhaps he could have used another gym where another Harvey would have taken one look at his withering limbs and exclaimed, as he once did to the amputee. "Gee, how about that?" There was no such gym anywhere in town. We talked once more on the phone, and then he was dead.

Easterners tend to kid about L.A. with its lack of weather, lack of intellect and plethora of muscle-bound bimbos—you know, "Only in L.A." Harvey had an intellect and a body and I'd been lucky enough to see him exercise both.

In the preface to the published screenplay for Chinatown. I concluded that the motive for the writing lay in the air:

"So, one way and another the Catalina air literally inspired me. It brought back my body—the way it was to taste, touch, smell, and see this city as a child. It made it clear enough to see the Milky Way at night, and it was quiet enough too. I remember sitting up on the hill with Hira (my dog) one particular dusk.... The windward breeze was no more than a whisper, breathy and teasing on the back of my neck. It fluttered thru Hira's white mop of a coat, thru the high mustard plant and weeds around us when—it must have been a hundred yards below, not far from that windsock—I actually heard the raven that spread its wings to set down, feather by feather with elegant deliberation like a real sharp band leader staring in the mirror and shooting his cuffs.... It brought me back to saying, these things, dead and dying that still linger in the air, had more joy in them than I could have known, and this tepid, deft, adroit, dry breezy collaborator of mine, rustling thru weeds like a child wearing a sheet, this air was worth grieving over more than I ever supposed...."

They say the human body dead weighs a quarter-pound less than it does alive. They don't say why, but I'm sure it's the weight of the human soul, or the amount of air in a pair of lungs when they're filled.

So I miss Harvey the way I do the air. Like it, he awakened my senses to the beauty of insubstantial things—the scents of the city; the cut of your body arched on a knife between pleasure and pain, pouring out perspiration; tasting cold orange juice after a hot shower; or the fun of putting your hands in your pockets and just walking down the street. He made it all look like more fun, made life itself seem more alive.

So life without Harvey is a little like having a permanent cold. The Japanese take a relative view of immortality. They say you remain alive as long as you remain in the memory of those who knew you personally, who actually looked you in the face when you were living. If that's the case, Harvey Easton will live to the very end of my life, at least.

It only remains to add a little footnote. One summer night. Bob Horn, the UCLA water polo coach Wally Wolf had introduced me to, drove me to Belmont Plaza in Long Beach for the NCAA water polo finals. We went by San Pedro, where I was raised and where my earliest memories of sport remain. They emanated from a little paint-spattered Philco radio in the backyard of our house on Eighth Street in San Pedro, and my father listening to Joe Hernandez call the seventh at Santa Anita.

Coming down the stretch it always seemed to be Kayak II and Seabiscuit, Kayak and Seabiscuit, battling one another, as Affirmed and Alydar were to do years later. Like Affirmed, Seabiscuit always seemed to have the edge.

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