Witches of the West Coast

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I’ve always been a fan of visiting the West Coast; not one who wanted to live there. With its wildfires, earthquakes, freeway traffic and vegan menus, it really doesn’t entice me to stay. But I love to visit. It’s mostly because of the television. More specifically, it’s the commercials.

I have to admit that I am a Child of Advertising. Jingles, taglines and other Madison Avenue creations are forever swirling around in my head. I still will hum the Good ‘n’ Plenty song about Choo Choo Charlie. And the phrase “Mama Mia that’s a spicy meatball” has been used by me on more than one occasion.

But the local, homemade commercials are the best. While living in the Philadelphia area, I was regaled by Ben Krass, owner and front man for Krass’s Men’s Store. It was called “The Store of the Stars”. And, of course, while in the New York/New Jersey area, I saw Crazy Eddie, whose prices for electronics were “insane!” These were the Kings of the East Coast.

On the West Coast, it was all about the cars. The great Cal Worthington set the bar and everyone walked underneath it. Cal would do anything to sell a car. He wing-walked on an airplane. He rode a killer whale. He stood on his head on the hood of a car. And it was all done to get you a better deal on a new and used car. He was one of a kind.

While traveling in Los Angeles, my final act of the day was often to channel surf, looking for these gems. Usually, I was well rewarded. But on one occasion, I found myself so drawn by a commercial that I had to go there myself.

After a long day of touristing, I would lay back in bed, beer in one hand, remote in the other. I would continually press the channel advance button, hoping to find something fun to watch. As this was at the advent of cable television, I was usually at the mercy of the Networks and the local UHF channels. Most times this meant reruns. The idea was to find something watchable, like an episode of Perry Mason, and hope to see a great commercial.

And then…there it was.

I watched as a tall, thin man, all dressed in black, came running before the camera. He was holding a silver rope, at the end of which was a terrifying looking creature with long claws and equally long teeth. It ran on four legs and billowed gray smoke as it moved. Before it when any further, the man turned and hopped on its back and the two galloped on, being tracked by the camera. Then, the announcer spoke up.

“Here’s Mal Horrington and his demon, Spot!”

The jingle followed.

“If you wanna better deal, go see Mal!

You’re familiar doesn’t squeak, go see Mal!

If your broom is just a stick,

And it doesn’t move too quick,

Go See Mal, Go See Mal, Go See Mal!”

The man’s face filled the screen.

“Hi there friends! It’s your old fiend, Mal Horrington, here at Mal’s Broomery. Does your conveyance look like the angry villagers got to it? Are you on a first name basis with the termites that infest it? Does your familiar turn down any ride you offer it? Well, come down to Mal’s Broomery, where you can find the finest in new and used brooms. We have the finest in state-of-the-art models, with all the bells and whistles. Want a used broom? We have a great selection. All are inspected and certified. Don’t want to part with the old ride? Mal’s also can restore that old sweeper’s original luster. Soon, you’ll be the pride of the coven. So, come on down to the showroom at the corner of Stanford and Ceres. Bring the kiddies. They can even meet Spot.”

The camera turned to show a pair of legs sticking out of Spot’s mouth and a woman pulling at them, trying to retrieve her child.

The jingle came on again as the scene faded out. I quickly scrawled down the address. Of course, I now owed the hotel the cost of a pillowcase. After that, I lost track of the case Perry Mason was defending.

In the morning, the pillowcase and I snuck out of the hotel and jumped into the car. These were the days before GPS, so I had to refer to a map to find the corner of Stanford and Ceres. It took a moment, but I located Ceres. Running my finger along it, I found that there was no cross street called Stanford. Further inspection showed that there was a Stanford. It was one block over from Ceres and ran parallel. All I could think of was Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “Family Plot”, which claimed to be a story about when parallel lines cross.

Undaunted, I started the car and headed toward Ceres.

Unlike many a tourist in Southern California, I stayed off the Freeway. I have been in many “parking lots” in my travels: the GWB, the LIE, the SE (that’s the Schuylkill Expressway in Philly, but nobody ever calls it the SE), to name a few. But the Freeways of Southern California are legendary for their lack of speed. I often found the city streets much easier to navigate.

In little time at all, I was making the turn at the bottom of Ceres. I rode along, looking for something to point me towards Mal’s Broomery. All I saw were houses and normal street signs. I did my best to scan both sides of the street. There was nothing. I reached the end of the road. There, I made a left-hand turn and drove up a block to Stanford. Making another left, I started down Stanford, again scanning for some clue to the whereabouts of the Broomery.

Having mostly green lights, I made it through Stanford rather quickly. Once again, no Broomery. I reached the end of the street, turned left again and headed back toward Ceres. There had to be some clue to the place’s whereabouts.

I must have made the circuit four times, the last time going as slow as I could, considering the city. I received quite a few nasty looks and gestures. California drivers can be very unforgiving.

Finally, frustrated, I pulled into the first donut shop that presented itself. There was still a parking space in front of Misty’s Donuts. It should be noted that Los Angeles is well know for its small, privately-owned donut shops. Back before I found a leaning toward Type 2 Diabetes, donuts were always on the menu. My favorite has always been those old style Sour Cream donuts. Lucky for me, a fresh batch was coming out to the counter as I entered. The smell was wonderful.

I must have drooled a little because the young lady behind the counter smiled at me and said, “I bet you’d like a donut?”

I told her that I would, and a cup of coffee. I also mentioned that I needed a little help locating a place.

“Coffee and donuts first; info second,” she said.

I like a person with their priorities in order.

 

 

Two sour cream donuts and a large Kenya AA later, I got down to business.

“I saw an advertisement on television last night for a place called Mal’s Broomery. I can’t seem to locate it. The address alone is a problem as the two streets mentioned run parallel. They don’t cross.”

“Is that all?” the young lady said, smiling. “How many times did you circle the block?”

“Four times,” I said.

“You have nine more to go. Circle the block thirteen times and you’ll find the Broomery.”

Needless to say, I left the young lady a hefty tip.

It took the better part of an hour to make the circuit, which is actually good for Los Angeles. On the thirteenth circuit, the streets began to change. There were several apothecaries, a cloak shop, a place called Cauldrons ‘R’ Us, a bookstore called SpellHouse, a video rental shop, and Misty’s Donuts. And just beyond that was Mal Horrington’s Broomery! I pulled into the parking lot, which had very few spaces for cars. I was lucky enough to get one of the two left.

As I got out of the car, a man in a suit came toward.

“Welcome, sir!” he said. “I’m Mal Horrington and it will be my pleasure to do business with you.”

He grabbed my hand and nearly shook my arm off.

“Now, we don’t usually take automobiles as trade-ins, but this is a fine-looking vehicle. It will make a great down payment on one of our best brooms.”

“Um,” I said. “The car is a rental. I don’t own it.”

“Minor detail. We get rentals in here all the time.”

“But you just said you don’t usually get cars in here.”

“Oh,” he said. “So, you were listening.”

“I would actually like to do an article about your business for a website I write for.”

“Free advertising… Well, come right in! Allow me give you a tour of the place!”

He put a very strong-arm around my shoulders and led me to the showroom.

“This is where our best new models are.”

I looked around. There must have been at least fifty different brooms, all sizes and colors. Salespeople were showing customers around. Some were even flying around the room, taking test drives.

“Now, just like automobiles, you have to be a certain age to start riding a broom. Most riders start at the age of twelve. For them, there is a smaller or “starter” model. The best is this one: the Kiki -2000. It’s easy to maneuver, economical and stylish. It’s a little more expensive as it is an import. For those who want a more reasonably-priced option, there is the American-made Tabitha-750. It’s a good serviceable broom.”

I noticed a well-dressed couple proudly watching their daughter flying one of the Kiki model around the area.

“For the more adult crowd, we carry a complete line from the Rowlings Besema Company, Limited of London, England. They are the Bentley of the Broom industry. Powerful and reliable, these beauties are elegantly designed. They actually go up in value when they leave the shop.”

I noticed a very recognizable face looking at several of the models

“Isn’t that…?”

“Yes, but she doesn’t like being bothered in public.”

“I didn’t know she was a witch.”

Mal gave me a sideways glance.

“Come on,” he said. “How do you think she gets all those Oscar nominations?”

We continued on.

“Now, when a witch gets up in years, about 200 to 300, they really slow down. They look for a more leisurely ride. Well, we carry something for that demographic, if you will. The Endora-250 is our most subdued broom. We also carry a sportier model, the Veronica-400, which has a bit more power and is usually for the witch that really hasn’t come to terms with old age.”

Suddenly, I was nearly knocked over. Spot, the demon, came running through the showroom with a little boy hanging onto his back. The kid was laughing and having the time of his life. The same couldn’t be said for Spot, who looked annoyed by the whole thing.

“What about boys?” I asked. “Where are their brooms?”

Mal shook his head.

“That’s one of those common misconceptions. I know in the movies, boys ride brooms. But in the real world, boys and brooms just don’t match up. Boys with magical powers tend to fly on their own. You might think that that is a good thing. Honestly, few males fly faster than women on brooms. Brooms are a better way to get around. Now, why don’t we go outside and look at our restoration facility? You know, we can make old brooms new again.”

Spot and the kid ran by again, as we headed out to the lot. The demon rolled his eyes as he passed.

 

 

The lot was filled with thousands of brooms, some looking like they were new, others looking as though they had been left out in the rain too long. Mal pointed out a couple of the better model. He showed me a couple of brooms that were hundreds of years old, which he referred to as “collector’s items”. He then pointed to a building next to the lot and said that was the restoration center. As we made our way toward it, I saw something I couldn’t believe. I stopped Mal and pointed to it.

“Is that a Kerby Vacuum Cleaner?”

“Why, yes, it is! You think that old joke has no basis in reality? Of course, some witches ride vacuum cleaners! Any port in the storm!”

I just shook my head.

“Don’t be so judgmental!” Mal said.

I tried to imagine a witch on a vacuum cleaner but just couldn’t get the image in my head. Some things are just hard to visualize. I mean, would the part that goes on the floor be in the back or the front? And would it make the noise that it usually makes? Mal looked at me as if he could read my mind.

“I have a photo of that back at the office,” he said, slyly smiling.

“I just don’t see it,” I said. Mal laughed as we headed for the door.

Outside, I could see that there were far more people looking around than when I went in.

“Do you have much competition?” I asked.

“Not anymore,” Mal said, smirking. “At least, not on this side of the country. There is a dealership in Massachusetts, but they stay on their side of the Mississippi. We stay on our side. It really is better that way.”

I was a bit intrigued. “So, there were other dealerships at one time.”

“Yes, but they saw the fire…I mean, the light and went into another line of work.”

I decided to leave the conversation there.

“Remember,” Mal said, “With great power goes great destruction.”

Mal looked over his dealership. I took the hint and thanked him for the tour. I mentioned that I would be willing to write an article on his business. He seemed very happy about that.

“Any advertising I can get for free is terrific,” he said. “Especially on the East Coast.”

With that, we shook hands and he headed toward the crowds shopping for a broom. I looked around the place, impressed with what I saw. Here was a well-run venture with a great future ahead of it.

I happened to notice that Spot was now sitting off in a corner by himself. I watched as he seemed to be arching his back. His mouth was open and he was making the same noise a cat makes when it is getting rid of a hairball, only a lot louder. Suddenly, something large was dispelled from the demon’s mouth. It was the boy. He was covered in whatever goop is inside a demon’s stomach. At first, I was horrified, until I heard laughing coming from the boy. He stood up and shook himself.

“Again!” he yelled.

Spot sighed and shook his head.

I really felt sorry for that demon.

 

Another satisfied customer.

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About Ernie Fink

Ernie Fink has been a fan of film, mainly in the genres of horror and mystery, in equal parts, for over fifty years. His love of horror in the cinema begins with "King Kong" and in literature with Edgar Allan Poe and Bernhardt J. Hurwood.  With mysteries, he skipped from the Hardy Boys right to Hercules Poirot, only to find John Rebus and Harry Hole waiting in the wings. He has been known to read subtitles extensively, and rarely leaves a theater until the lights come up.
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