Steve Godersky’s Tale of:
Water and Silver
In an attempt to expand our sales beyond the New York Boutique Show, we began doing trade shows in other parts of the country. Tony did some shows in Chicago, Freddy Solomon did, I believe, shows in Miami and Dallas and we all did several shows in San Diego and at the Los Angeles Exposition Center. In addition, I did one show in Denver, in January no less, that resulted in not too many sales, and a bad encounter with frozen seafood (what was I thinking?) But I did get to meet Tony Luchese who was exhibiting at the show and who was the guy who had taught the famous Tony Lama how to make boots. Tony had actually heard of East West, so we enjoyably traded some product, and I exchanged a Winchester for some custom-made heel-draggers fitted for me by Tony Luchese himself. Pretty swank. Denver in January was bad enough, but then we (actually Norman and Freddy) decided East West would participate in some boutique shows in Palm Springs. As I remember, these shows (since we did several,) were in the hot parts of the year. Palm Springs was quite nice, but the showroom was on the top floor of a resort hotel with no interior corridors. This meant no air-conditioning; as the door had to be kept open all day. Not only that, our room was on the West side and by the late afternoon was impossibly hot. It was Tony and I, with Marsha along as a model, although she was an excellent salesperson as well. Norman either had not come or had quickly bailed out. Although the show was tedious in the extreme, swimming in the pool at our residence motel was nirvana. I would wake up at about 6:30 and do a few laps in the pool and the same in the evening. That first dive into the water was magic. The heat of the showroom would fade to a memory. As at every show, we had a free day to spend as we wished. The drive to L.A. held no attraction and the tram wasn’t operating, so for some reason the three of us decided to drive down to the Salton Sea. It was probably Tony’s idea and I was happy enough to anticipate something strange and outré. We simply headed south from Palm Springs, and I remember passing Frank Sinatra Drive and Bob Hope Drive and wondering if they were in residence. We eventually drove down the west side of a sullen-looking body of water, the color of tea. The Salton Sea, we learned, was a sink of much-used irrigation water that collects off-and-on in this low-lying region. It is saltier than the Pacific Ocean, though much less beautiful. The countryside was absolutely flat and, strangely, we were in a serene and peaceful atmosphere. We couldn’t imagine anything changing or becoming worse about this landscape. Everything that could be done to it had already been done by nature and man. As we drove down Highway 86, we came to a place called Desert Shores. At that time (and I have never been back there since) it couldn’t have been called a city nor a town. It reminds me of the settlements on old Highway 66 long after Highway 10 had passed them by. We stopped by an old gasoline sign hand-painted “Boats.” The store seemed to be half bait shop and half tire repair, with a bar next door and a few aluminum boats, like an afterthought, to the side. We decided the boats were aluminum because wooden boats would have lasted about as long as cardboard in that water. The joint itself was only a few feet from the shore, but no tide would ever disturb its slow slide into decrepitude. I remember thinking to myself “Bait shop? Who would ever fish in this so-called water?” But the people were friendly enough, and we easily negotiated a dilapidated silver rowboat, a six-pack of beer and a couple of sodas and set out for an excursion on the Salton Sea. Due to the weather none of us were wearing leather; just jeans and shirts, so the full extent of our hippy-ness was not immediately apparent. We had found out that, yes, people did fish in these waters. Nevertheless, we turned down an offer to rent some tackle and buy some bait. We thought sightseeing was a better plan and I had another idea, too. As Tony rowed down the destroyed-looking shoreline we saw a few cinder-block buildings, empty yards and abandoned shacks in plenty (at least I hoped they were abandoned,) but mostly ancient travel trailers and motor homes in various needy conditions. Seemingly not one but lacked paint, or had a listing and broken TV antenna, or a beater on blocks next to it, or all three. These were some poor people. Life on the Salton Sea had left them in devastated circumstances, and I felt bad for them. As Tony pulled the boat around, about a hundred yards from shore, I took off my clothes and slipped over the stern. I had decided to enjoy a swim in the Salton Sea. Tony’s wife Marsha looked on in horror (or possibly actual amusement) and Tony yelled “Jesus, what the hell are you doing?” We had discussed swimming in a joking manner on the way down and had reminded ourselves that whatever we did, we shouldn’t let our faces touch the water. This was a sentiment I wholeheartedly endorsed nonetheless I took several strokes dog-paddle fashion, so that I could say I had indeed been swimming in the Salton Sea. Nobody on shore appeared to notice, much less yell a warning, and no sea-creatures of whatever mutated and monstrous form appeared to bite my feet and pull me down below the dark waters, so after a few minutes I crawled back on-board and pulled on my clothes. The day was hot enough that I quickly dried off During the trip back, Tony, now driving, was in a state of bemusement. I think the sight of that dilapidated village and tea-brown water had intimidated him, something I could never have imagined happening to him. Being Tony, he needed to get his mojo back. On the drive up to Palm Springs he turned east off the highway on some anonymous gravel track and we finally ended up on Coachella Canal Road, right next to the California Aqueduct. At the time, I had no idea where we were, and I don’t think Tony did either. We got out of the car and looked around. Tony and I have always loved the desert, so to us the surroundings were beautiful. Marsha, I suspect, had different standards. We walked down the access road and came to a slight rise where the canal builders had put the aqueduct underground for about sixty yards. There was a road over the tunnel with a broken chain-link fence across it. A few mesquite bushes and cottonwood straggled along the canal. It was a rather swift-flowing thread of water, about forty feet wide. Tony announced his intention to swim through the underground portion of the aqueduct and pop up on the other end. Marsha gasped (in real horror, not amusement this time) and said, “No fucking way!” She repeated this several times with increasing enthusiasm. I added my warning. I suspected broken grates or hanging re- ar or sunken tree branches obstructing the underground waterway. Marsha I believe was visualizing creatures from 20,000 leagues. With repeated protestations we managed to convince Tony that the rewards were not commensurate with the risks. We drank a couple beers, remnants of the six-pack from Desert Shores. Grumpily, he got back in the car and we all headed back for Palm Springs. I believe he was dissatisfied because with my swim in the Salton Sea I got one up on him. As we drove back on Highway 110 through Coachella and Indio we saw a movie theater that made the theater in “The Last Picture Show” look like Grauman’s Chinese. It was truly funky. Next to it was a little fly-blown shack that proclaimed “Antiques” and “Indian Silver.” Who could resist? We pulled over and climbed the wooden stairs. Inside seemed to be all ancient glass-topped display cases that had probably been washed sometime in the Truman administration. Tony was in heaven. While Marsha sneered at the dirt and the dust, Tony headed for the back of the store where the jewelry was kept. After some negotiations with the geezer slash proprietor Tony had found and purchased a Navajo necklace of dime silver with a fine naj. We were sure it was pre-war and it was a real prize. You can see Tony wearing it in a photo from the NY Boutique Show. As we pulled in to Palm Springs, Tony’s mood had completely changed. He was perfectly happy. Our trip to the Salton Sea was a big success.