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Stories 2 Spring 2023


New Vistas

     by  Alan Swyer


Despite the New Jersey cynicism that he brought with him to Southern California, Pete Lewis was hopeful that his son's new middle school's mission statement was not just empty words. “Promoting individual thinking” was an aspiration he approved of, as was “instilling self-reliance.” As an up-and-coming screenwriter, he was also pleased by “an emphasis on the arts,” as well as “providing the tools for self-expression.” As a Santa Monica resident, it was also hard not to approve of “valuing the environment,” or “engaging in social issues,” no matter how much the name of the school – New Vistas – struck him as somewhere between highfalutin and smarmy.


Having bristled throughout his entire youth at what he called the tyranny of grown-ups, Pete also liked that students were encouraged to call faculty and staff by their first names.


Yet at the parents' orientation that he and Julie attended, Pete found himself feeling that the two of them had crashed the wrong party. That began the moment their funky Volvo infiltrated the line of Range Rovers, Teslas, Beamers, and an occasional Prius pouring into the parking lot.


Despite his tendency to be brutally judgmental, Pete tried his best to give New Vistas a chance. His forbearance seemed rewarded when Jeremy brought home paperwork about what the school called the term's first Super Project. Interdisciplinary in a way that would have been unimaginable when Pete was a sixth-grader (or even a high school senior), each student, under the aegis of the history, Latin, and art departments, was to design and build a model Roman villa that would be on view six weeks later on Parents Night. Above and beyond the learning involved, this was, according to the politically correct letter from the administration, an opportunity for each student “to accomplish something him, her, or themself.”


The absurdity of that directive struck both Pete and Julie the moment they entered the classroom where the completed projects were on display. Surrounding their son Jeremy's adorable – and clearly self-made construction – were Architectural Digest-quality extravaganzas, all seemingly designed by Frank Gehry, Sharon Johnston, or the ghost of Frank Lloyd Wright, then built by the craftsman responsible for the Getty Museum or Disney Hall.


“Was mine silly?” Jeremy asked self-consciously when his parents returned home.


“It was adorable!” gushed Julie, giving him a kiss.


“You're the only one who did it the right way,” added Pete. “All by yourself.”


Periodic communications from the school further increased the sense of alienation shared by Pete and Julie. First came a form letter asking which psychotropic medicines their child or children were on, seemingly presuming that each and every student was taking Ritalin, Adderall, or Evekio for ADHD or some other disorder. Next came a request for a list of the tutors being employed, and for which subjects.


Pete's feelings were accentuated even more when he popped into the local food cooperative and was immediately spotted by the school's Assistant Headmaster, intense Charles Amis, whose mien made it clear he was never a Charlie or a Chuck. “Jeremy's father?” Amis asked.


“Guilty,” replied Pete playfully.


“Is it really true?”


“Is what true?”


“No meds?”


“Why would we make that up?”


“And no tutors?” wondered Amis/


“Is that bad?”


“Actually it's refreshing,” acknowledged Amis, leaving Pete even more perplexed.



Pete found it ironic that he, the product of a school that was in effect a holding pen, had a son in what was considered to be an elite private school. Aside from his own troubled youth, the move to the westside of LA owed to the reality that he and Julie had outgrown their Hollywood Hills cottage even before Jeremy was born. That led to their decision to stretch their finances because of the reputation of the Santa Monica public schools, especially since unlike those who knew how to work the system, they hadn't started jockeying for a place in one of the private schools while their child-to-be was still in utero.


The elementary school in their Santa Monica neighborhood proved to be fine, especially since from third grade on Jeremy was allowed to ride his bike to and fro together with his friends. It was not a stretch for Pete and Julie to assume that he would continue on to the local middle school, then to Santa Monica High.


Baseball changed everything. Almost from day one, Jeremy displayed a love of, and an aptitude for, the sport. That meant that even as a toddler, lamps and other objects were imperiled by his strong throwing arm. Soon, catch with Pete became a daily occurrence. Then came hitting, first with Wiffle balls, then with soft baseballs, often together with the older kids on his block.


After the move to Santa Monica, Pete tried to sign Jeremy up for t-ball, only to be told that, as a five-year-old, he was too young. “But he can hit pitching,” Pete explained. “How can that be?” wondered the dubious league administrator. “Because,” explained Pete, “when we lived in the Hills, he played with the bigger kids.”


Spurned, Pete signed his son up at a nearby park league. Quickly Jeremy rose from t-ball to coach-pitch. Then, leapfrogging over the minors, he went straight to the majors as a pitcher/shortstop. As a nine-year-old, he quickly was embraced by teammates like Kevin Feldman, Luke Hutchings, and Ron Willens, all of whom were eleven or twelve. When they left public school for sixth grade at New Vistas, they urged Jeremy to follow.


What made that particularly appealing to Jeremy was that unlike the public schools, there was a private school league at the middle school level, complete with good fields, first-class uniforms, and umps who weren't just volunteer dads.



“Think he can get accepted?” Julie asked Pete when, as a fifth-grader, asked permission to apply. “And can we afford it?”


“Getting in will be the easy part,” answered Pete.


“You think?”


“I know.”


“What's the definition of a gifted kid?” Julie responded. “A private school kid on the Westside. How can you be so sure?”


“They've seen Jeremy play.”


“C'mon!” protested Julie. “Where?”


“First at his Little League. Then at a couple of his travel team games.”


Julie was surprised. “Why would they go all the way to Westchester?”


“Because they want to win.


“In middle school?”


“It's recruiting for when he'll be in high school,” Pete explained. “As for the bucks, that'll be a stretch. But I don't know how we can say no.”


“Me neither,” acknowledged Julie with a sigh.



Over pizza one evening in November of sixth grade, Julie and Pete were surprised when instead of being his usual ebullient self, Jeremy was strangely subdued.


“Something wrong?” Pete asked after eyeing his son for several minutes.


“Are we poor?” Jeremy wondered aloud.


“Why would you think that?” wondered Julie.


“Some of the kids, they go on ski vacations to Europe and South America,” Jeremy answered.


“And,” added Pete, “I bet they've got every bit of technology known to man.”


Jeremy nodded.


“So let me ask you,” continued Pete. “Who's richer, those kids or guys like Jimmy Gutierrez, Omar Stokely, and David Hernandez from your travel team?”


“The kids at school by far,” Jeremy stated.


“But which guys seem happier?”


Jeremy grinned. “The guys on the Panthers!”


“I rest my case,” stated Pete with a smile.


“You were great at dinner,” said Julie once she and Pete were in bed.


“So were you.”


Julie took a deep breath, then voiced mounting concerns about the peer group pressure. Jeremy was facing at school. Having long favored t-shirts, jerseys, and baseball caps from his favorite teams, he had started requesting the kind of clothes worn by the trendiest kids at school, Even more troubling, in passing he had alluded to use of alcohol and drugs.


“Rich kids,” sneered Pete.


“What does that mean?” wondered Julie.


“Who's got the bucks to buy that kind of clothes? Who's got expensive liquor around the house? Whose parents have medicine cabinets with all kinds of pills? Plus, if you were dealing, would you hit the kids on his travel team, or the spawn of tech moguls, movie stars, and CEO's?”


Julie too a deep breath. “What do we do?”


“We thank our lucky stars we've got a great kid whose world isn't restricted to that school.”


“But since you mentioned bucks,” said Julie, “are we okay?”


“It looks like we will be.




“Something seems to be coming together.”


“A movie?”




“This from a guy who only uses it for sports and Netflix? Something interesting? Fun? Maybe even exciting?”


“Not “The Wire,” “The Queen's Gambit,” or a Danish show like “Borgen” or “The Killing.”


“Title?” asked Julie.


“Beach Patrol.”




Pete shrugged. “The flip side of 'Baywatch.' Funky Venice, with its buskers, tourists, and homeless people instead of upscale Malibu. Diverse cast instead of lily white. And a female lead instead of David What's-His-Name.”


“And what exactly is the Beach Patrol.”


“Ready for this?” asked Pete. “An elite crew of dedicated lifeguards and cops who keep Venice Beach safe.”


Julie grimaced. “Why do it?”


“Truthfully? So we don't have to sweat about bills each and every month.”


“Still –”


“Look at it this way,” said Pete. “Now Jeremy's not the only one facing new vistas.”


Julie playfully groaned.



In truth, the need for money was not the only reason Pete had signed on. It was likely the only chance he'd get for an entry-level position as the boss. One of the show's creators, hyperkinetic Sol Glastein, was a huge fan of an HBO film about a Harlem playground basketball legend on which Pete was credited as writer and producer. In the hope of elevating his series, which was dropped after one season on a network and was getting a second chance on first-run syndication, Glastein offered Pete the title of Supervising Producer. In Hollywood terms, that translated into Showrunner.



It meant that once production was underway, Pete would be living simultaneously in the past, present, and future. The past: post-production work on the most recent episode. The present: overseeing currently shooting. The future: assigning scripts, supervising their development, lining up directors, and casting.



Though that translated into ridiculous hours, especially when Pete was forced to work nights and/or weekends writing a new script, or rewriting one that missed, still he made time before work to continue the tradition of a morning catch with Jeremy.




The hours Pete toiled put additional pressure on Julie. On top of her roles as graphic designer and mother, she assumed many of the tasks and chores normally handled by her husband: chauffeuring, bring in the garbage cans, stopping and so forth.



Implicit in the new arrangement was that she wouldn't reach out to Pete at work unless there was something that was dire or couldn't wait. So Pete was surprised on a Tuesday morning when a call came from herl.


“Can you come home?” Julie asked.


“Anybody hurt? Anything –“


“Just come.”


After breaking land and sea speed records, Pete burst into the house and found Julie holding a letter from the school. “Read this,” she insisted.


Fifteen minutes later, letter in hand, Pete approached Charles Amis's office at New Vistas, where the assistant, Valerie, looked up from some paperwork. “Mr. Amis asked not to be disturbed.”


“Tough!” hissed Pete, barreling past her.


Seeing him barge into his private office, Amis grimaced. “This is not a good time.”


“You bet it's not!” countered Pete. “What the hell is this?”


“We're committed to an atmosphere of tolerance,” explained Amis.


“Tolerance, my ass! This is a mandate, a directive, a plea for sexual experimentation!”


“I think you're getting carried away,” cautioned Amis.


“You ain't seen nothin' yet. You pressure my twelve-year-old into trying what you call experimenting, not only I will own this place, but I'll deal with you personally. Clear?'


Intimidated, Amis nodded.



No surprise that Pete was far from aglow that afternoon. Things went even further south when his assistant, Sonia, together with another staffer, Angela, complained to him about relentless sexual overtures from the show's creator.


Pete instantly stormed down the hall to confront Glastein.


“What you do – who you do – is entirely up to you,” he stated. “But stay away from the women in the office.”


“Prude?” wondered Glastein.


“No, practical. We're talking morale, plus possible lawsuits.”


“But they love it,” argued Glastein.


“Not the way I got it. Besides, this whole production is like a candy store. With all the cute actresses, why those two?”




“Because what?”


“They're there.” Glastein answered with a shrug.



After spending a Saturday in mid-October at the office catching up on work, Pete hurried home at 5:30 to pick up Jeremy for a travel game under the lights at Downey High.


Instead of being dressed in his uniform, he found Jeremy lying in bed.


“Feeling okay?” Pete asked.


“There's a party I probably shouldn't miss.”


“Now you tell me?”


“Can I go?”


“Free country,” said Pete. “And you certainly don't have to do anything for me. But --”


“But what?”


“How would you feel if you showed up for a game and learned that the catcher was at a party? Or that the centerfielder didn't feel like showing up? Or that the starting pitcher decided to hang out with his girlfriend?”


“Crummy.” said Jeremy with a shrug.


“There's something called commitment. Who means more to you, the kids who'll be at the party, or the guys on your travel team?”


Jeremy thought for a moment, then nodded. “Let me put on my uniform.”



Any conflicted feelings on Jeremy's part had disappeared by the time the Panthers played a tournament in North San Diego County over Thanksgiving weekend. Then came an even bigger tournament in Los Vegas between Christmas and New Years.



The second Sunday in January the team had a game in Bakersfield, followed by their final outing of the season the next Saturday in Oxnard.



Two weeks later, practice began for the middle school team.



Claiming that he had dental appointments, Pete stole away from work a couple of times to watch from a distance. Though he didn't make his feelings known to Julie or to Jeremy, it was clear to him that if the school team, composed of fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds, were to play a three or four game series against the Panthers' twelve and thirteen-year-olds, the older kids would be lucky to win even one, with or without Jeremy.



But since his son seemed happy, Pete accepted things as whey were.



By the time of the first preseason game, with Jeremy, who was a head shorter than most of his teammates, starting at second base, there were signs of discontentment. With Kevin Feldman, who was instrumental at luring Jeremy to New Vistas, not in the starting lineup, his psychiatrist father, approached Pete. “Isn't it dangerous,” Dr. Feldman began, “having a little kid out there with older guys?”



“More dangerous than the last time he was Kevin's teammate?” countered Pete. “He's not worried, so why are you?”



More restlessness manifested itself at the second and last preseason game. When Jeremy took the mound as the starting pitcher, Pete was cornered by Luke Hutchings' father. “Seem right to you,” Tim Hutchings said, “guys who paid their dues getting bumped by a little kid?”



“Tell me,” responded Pete. “Do you keep going to a pizza place when a better one opens?”


“Still –”


“And aren't you the one who dumped his wife for somebody younger?”


“I resent that!” Hutchings exclaimed.


“But you say it's not true. Sports are supposed to be a meritocracy.”


Two days later, after another urgent call from Julie, Pete stormed once more toward Charles Amis's office. Before the assistant could utter a word, Pete pushed past.


“How dare you?” Pete snarled as he burst in on Amis.


“Do you know what your son did on the trip his class took?”


“My son, or a bunch of kids?”


“Jeremy threw a projectile that hit a teacher.”


“A half-eaten donut?” countered Pete. “If the poor dear was wounded, I'll pay the hospital bills.”


“You're making light of this,” sneered Amis.


“Bet your ass I am.”


“Then tell me,” said Amis, “have you ever done anything similar?”


“Now you're in for it,” snapped Pete. “I went to an all boys inner city public high school, where one of the teachers patrolling the lunchroom was a bully with psoriasis named Downey, who became known as Downey Flakes. He thought it was funny to walk up behind a kid drinking milk from a carton and slap him on the head, spraying milk everywhere.”


“And?” asked Amis impatiently.


“One day was once too often, so someone nailed him with a piece of cherry pie. Next thing you knew, he was bombarded by peanut butter & jelly, mashed potatoes, mystery meat, and everything but chairs and tables.”


“And you thought that was funny?”


“Who do you think threw the piece of cherry pie,” stated Pete proudly. “Know why I think you made the other kids on the bus write essays, but Jeremy has to miss the first game of the season?”


“I'm sure you'll tell me.”


“It's your way of dealing with the bellyaching from parents who see a younger kid playing ahead of their darlings. But to me it wreaks of the 'D' word.”


“'D' word?”




“I resent that,” Amis hissed.


“You'll resent it more when I call my friend Gloria Allred, who'll likely try the case in the court of public opinion.”


“H-how do I know that G-Gloria Allred is a friend of yours?” stuttered Amis.


“You don't,” said Pete. “But are you willing to gamble?”



Jeremy played second base in the team's first game, then took the mound in the next. But that didn't mean that all was suddenly peachy.


Two days later, Pete was at his desk when Sol Glastein stepped into his office.


You didn't come to the set yesterday or today,” Glastein griped.


“And I won't be there tomorrow either,” replied Pete.


“Okay if I ask why?”


“Only if you want the answer.”


“I'm entitled to know.”


“It's not for me to tell you not to use your mom as an extra,”said Pete. “Or your aunt either.”


“Okay –”


“And it's your prerogative to cast your wife, though among those beauties, a two-piece isn't the best idea.”


“Finished?” demanded Glastein with a frown.


“Just getting started. I'm not offended if you also cast the bimbo you're nailing. Or the one you're hoping to be next.”


“And your point is??”


“If they're all in the same episode, I'm staying far away.”


Glastein glared for a moment, then started to turn away, only to stop suddenly and face Pete.


“Everybody likes you, and your work is excellent,” Glastein began. “But –”


“But?” repeated Pete.


“Sure you want to be here?”



That night Pete barely slept, thinking, ruminating, and stewing over Glastein's question. Was he selling out, he wondered, though he didn't consider working on “Beach Patrol” to rank with selling one's soul to the devil.



Climbing out of bed so as not to wake Julie, Pete tiptoed into the living room, where he stretched out on the sofa  to ponder some more. What he was doing, he realized at 4 AM, was being a dutiful dad.


Pete was asleep on the sofa when Julie woke him with a kiss at dawn.



“Thanks for coming to my game,” Jeremy said to Pete as they were driving home that afternoon after a loss.


“Especially since we suck.”


“You guys don't suck.”


“And water isn't wet.”


“Anyway,” commented Pete, “you certainly don't.”


The two drove in silence until again Jeremy spoke. “I know you're real busy, but can I ask a favor?”


“Of course.”


“When the high school team plays Santa Monica High, can we go?”


“You bet.”



What Jeremy and Pete witnessed the following Tuesday was less a high school baseball game than a massacre.. Though the contrast in talent, size, and athleticism between the two teams was significant, even more striking was the difference in diversity. One team was a veritable Rainbow Coalition – white, Latino, and Black, plus an Asian leftfielder – and it clearly wasn't New Vistas.



It gave Pete the willies to be surrounded by people whose sense of entitlement was undermined by each run scored by the public school team, engendering rage and resentment.



Pete wasn't the least bit displeased, by Jeremy's words on their way home. “Dad,” he said, “I want to play real baseball when I get to high school.”


“Fine by me,” responded Pete.


“Okay if I go back to public school in September?”


“Sure, if that's what you want.”



“So,” said Pete as he and Julie were getting ready for bad. “Okay if I give notice?.”


“Meaning?” wondered Julie.


“I'll finish the season, then do a Roberta Duran.”


No mas?”



When Pete nodded, Julie kissed him.



In the hope, at least metaphorically, of washing away his sins, Pete threw his energies into an area that had long been part of his life: activism.



Winning the approval first of the Chief Probation Officer for Los Angeles County, then of the Presiding Judge of Juvenile, Pete took a chunk of the money he'd earned on “Beach Patrol” and created the LA County Teen Court, in which first-time juvenile offenders could elect to face a jury of their peers.



Thinking that, if only figuratively. he had balanced his personal ledger, Pete made a point of spending time as much time as possible with Julie and Jeremy, hoping that, with the exception of money from residuals, “Beach Patrol” would disappear from his life.



That hope proved to be premature when he was called to give a deposition, then to appear in court, in the sexual harassment suit filed by Sonia and Angela against Sol Glastein.



Only in the aftermath was Pete finally able to bid adieu to his producing sojourn on the beach.


Bio:Alan Swyer is an award-winning filmmaker whose recent documentaries have dealt with Eastern spirituality in the Western world, the criminal justice system, diabetes, boxing, and singer Billy Vera. In the realm of music, among his productions is an album of Ray Charles love songs. His novel 'The Beard' was recently published by Harvard Square Editions.