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Tell you what

A tale of cocktails and hungry tigers

Illustration by Morgan Welch

Introducing “Tell You What,” a new column in which Jennie Lloyd asks people at restaurants and bars to tell her a good story. No last names are used.

Larry is two cups of coffee deep when I meet him in the back booth at Maxxwell’s. He’s a regular there. For hours, he sips from a white mug in the high-ceilinged diner attached to the historic Campbell Hotel off 11th Street.

“I have seen you somewhere, I swear to god,” Larry says as I take off my coat. “No, I have. I’m not just saying that. But I have.” (Later in our conversation, he admits he’s used the question as a come-on. “Not in this case though,” he says.)

We both live in the neighborhood, like the rest of the families and couples filling the booths as they come in from the cold and church on this bright Sunday afternoon. Everyone is dressed in crisp khakis and knit dresses. 

Larry wears soft colors and well-fitting layers—a warm mustard sweater, soft brown leather jacket, jeans, wire-rimmed glasses—and a nice head of hair, likely in his late 60s. Next to him, stacked in size order, smallest on top, is a tidy leather planner, the Sunday Tulsa World, newest issue of TTV, and a copy of his self-published book of short stories.

He is styled like a man who came up in TV and radio news in the 1960s. Which, he is. He presents like a man who learned showmanship in an embalming room, prepping bodies for the funeral parlor. Which, he also is.

Fresh out of college, he worked the field as a reporter at KOTV-Channel 6. He tried his luck in LA, moving to southern California in 1973. He has a TV-ready tidiness and a voice with a congenial timbre that eases a listener into commercial break. His luck panned out. Back in those looser, booze-in-the-filing-cabinet days, Larry was a field reporter and, later, lead assignment editor for stations around LA until 1990.

He tells me about The Hungry Tiger, a chain of swanky seafood houses, where, in 1970s southern California, you might run into a 30something TV newsman fresh off life shots with updates on the Hillside Strangler. 

“It was quite the restaurant,” Larry says. “Big people came in there and everything else.”

The logo for the upscale restaurant was a cartoon tiger, tongue out, a polka-dotted napkin tied rakishly around his neck; concrete mid-century modern cool with convenient locations in places like Santa Ana, Palm Springs, Palos Verdes, and on Hollywood Boulevard.

Thirty years ago, Larry was at that restaurant with some new LA friends—“real Adonises,” he calls them. Larry, on the other hand, was the kid from Tulsa who grew up at 11th & Yale, who learned how to do makeup on corpses at Moore Funeral Home while working his way through college.

One night, his handsome buddies pushed him to approach some ladies at The Hungry Tiger’s bar; they thought it’d be funny. 

“They set me up,” he says. “They said, ‘See those two ladies over there, go and tell them you’ll buy ‘em a drink.’”

Larry took his coiffed hair and region-free dialect over to their table and said, “Hi, I was just wondering if I could buy you girls a drink.”

“And one of them looked over at me and said, ‘What the fuck’s wrong with you? Can’t you see we’re eating?’”

He said, “Oh god, I am so sorry.” The ladies noticed Larry’s “Adonis” friends down the bar, snickering at their reaction to the blundering buddy they’d sent over to make a fool of himself. So, Larry says, “One of them just grabbed me and said, ‘Sit down here,’ and that was even worse. I didn’t know what would happen next. They said they’d play along. So they doted on me and played it up big and poo-poo’d my friends.

“Well, it gets worse. We all get to drinking, Dorothy and oh, the other one had a house in Hollywood Hills. And they said, ‘Let’s go up and have a few drinks and …”

He trails off and glances around the dining room. “I don’t tell too many people this story but we’re writers, so. It turned into [long pause] … a threesome. The one and only time in my life. Well, I’ll tell you what. Don’t ever get into one. I’ll tell you what, but they were so sweet.

“My friends never believed me,” he says and raises one crooked finger.

The church crowd in Maxxwell’s begins to disperse. The Disney movie on the TV above us switches to a 30-minute ad for a power AirFryer. 

We pay our coffee and champagne tabs. He waves and says again, “I’ve seen you somewhere before, I swear to god.”

Larry stays awhile next to his stack of periodicals, to drink more coffee and talk to the waitresses, whom he knows by name. They keep his mug filled.

For more from Jennie, read her article on Tulsa Project Theatre.