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A Few Spooky Things in My Life

by Max Shapiro |  Published: Dec 24, 2014

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Max ShapiroAs strange as my columns often are, I have experienced any number of incidents in real life that are even stranger and spookier. I was booted out of a garden for filching berries from someone else’s plot. I took them right in front of the owner and a bunch of other people —without knowing what I was doing! From time to time in the past I had taken berries from there when no one was around, and I’m convinced a ghost punished me by then compelling me to steal in front of witnesses. The tragic passing of Jerry Buss brought back memories of perhaps the weirdest and most disastrous episode of them all.

Long before Buss bought the Lakers in 1979 and became an icon in the world of basketball and poker, he and Frank Mariani had a real estate investment group. I had been in their group for a number of years with a rather sizeable amount of money invested.

Now, my main hobby during that time was skindiving and spear fishing. Every couple of weeks, I liked to drive to a spot called Pirate’s Cove at the north end of Malibu. I would park in a beach lot, climb over some rocks to the cove (it was a nude beach at the time and perhaps still is, but I didn’t let that deter me) swim a couple of hundred yards out to a reef loaded with fish, get my catch, and go back to the car. One week, I drove there in a Toyota Supra I had just bought. That make had just come out and there were, at that time, just a handful on the road. Returning after my dive to the beach parking lot, I was surprised to see a Supra identical to mine parked right next to me. Curious, I looked it over and noticed it still had the price sticker on the side window. Just then I heard a voice ask me what I was doing. It was the owner, and when I pointed to my car, we began having a conversation, comparing prices, etcetera.

Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, he told me he was a contractor who did work for Buss, and began trashing him as an employer. I was taken aback because I admired Buss (then and later) as such a polite, engaging, upfront, and honest person. Then, just a week later, Buss called a meeting of investors at his home in Beverly Hills. At that time, he owned Pickfair, the legendary former home of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, which was once the center of Hollywood society. Buss told me he was buying an apartment building in West Los Angeles, and recommended that I transfer my investment money and buy a piece of it. Normally, I would have automatically agreed, but the words of the “contractor” popped into my head, and I said I would think about it. I never followed up. Not long after, the investment group was terminated and the investors paid off.

Had I put that money into the building, I would be richer today than Barry Shulman. Instead I re-invested it with a trust deed investment company that eventually turned out to be operating as a Ponzi scheme, the biggest real estate scam in California history, with most of my money going down the sewer.

Now, let’s do the math. What are the odds that with just a few Supras on the road, I would find an identical one parked next to me? What are the odds that in the couple of minutes I was looking at it the owner would come out? What are the odds that, out of the blue, he would tell me he was a contractor for Buss and say negative things about him? And what are the odds that, just a week later, with the incident still fresh in my mind, Buss would call a meeting and offer me a deal? Multiply them all together and the figure might be in the billions. Was that guy in the parking lot real, or was he some kind of ghost sent to screw my life up?

Well, there have been several other very spooky events in my lifetime, some of them involving gaming. When I was 19, for example, I worked as an airplane assembler at the North American Aviation plant. On payday, some guy would come around collecting money for a check pool. Whoever had the best poker hand based on his check numbers would win. One night before Friday payday, I dreamed I had a check with four ones (aces). The next day when the check pool guy came by, I said I wasn’t interested, then remembered my dream and called him back. When I got my check, lo and behold, I had four of a kind — four sevens — and I won the check pool. Then, over the next couple of weeks, I had a series of similar premonitions where I would have dreams about various upcoming sporting events that came true.

Another time, at a home poker game, when someone bet in a game of draw, I blurted out — without even knowing I was doing it — “He has kings,” and nearly got thrown out by the host who accused me of being able to read the cards when the winning kings were turned up.

And finally, for a time, I had a plot in a community garden a couple of blocks from where I live. Each month, we had to do community work such as picking weeds, pruning trees, and so on. The night before one such workday I dreamed I was going to the garden, but instead of walking the two blocks, I was driving to the garden downtown. In my dream I looked down, realized I was wearing my shiny black loafers, realized I would ruin them by working in the dirt, and stopped in a store to buy another pair.

The next day, my assignment was holding a screen to sift compost that another person dug out from a big pile. Suddenly, as he dug, all of us working there were astonished to see a shiny new black loafer — identical to the one I owned and the one in my dream — appear on his shovel. A moment later, the other shoe came out too. So how could brand-new loafers end up in the compost heap? Years later I read on an Internet site called “Haunted Hollywood” that the place was supposed to be haunted. The garden is part of a former estate that includes a mansion built in 1903 — the last of its kind and now on the preservation list — people have reported hearing screams and the sounds of galloping horses coming from there.

To quote Shakespeare, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” and I sometimes wonder what is real and what isn’t (like Omaha high-low). One thing I’ve decided: that guy who dissed Jerry wasn’t a real person. ♠

Max Shapiro, a lifelong poker player and former newspaper reporter with several writing awards to his credit, has been writing a humor column for Card Player ever since it was launched more than 20 years ago. His early columns were collected in his book, Read ’em and Laugh.