Lionel Frederick Menuhin Rolfe, October 21, 1942-November 6, 2018

Hits: 29
December 1, 2018 · Posted in Commentary 

Lionel, when I first met him.

Leslie Evans

Veteran journalist, author, publisher, and founder of Boryanabooks, Lionel Frederick Menuhin Rolfe died November 6 after a long illness. He was seventy-six.

I first met Lionel in 1958, in Mary Snyder’s debate class at Los Angeles High School. I was sixteen and he was a month short of that. Lionel was already then an iconoclast, an icon breaker. He was Jewish, but an outspoken atheist. His sharp tongue frequently got him in trouble. He was a precocious political radical, his conversation sprinkled with to me uncommon terms like “reactionary,” “fascist,” and “progressive.”

We both did well with dramatic readings, but less so in actual debates – that required serious research. We signed up as a team. Our one memorable debate was on the mind-deadening topic, “Is the British educational system superior to the American?” Something we knew nothing about. The rules were that there would be two rounds, where we had to argue on each side of the question.

Our opponents were two neat looking nerds in suits, carrying a long box of index cards, showing they were prepared to annihilate us, which they promptly did.

During the following break Lionel and I were sitting a bit downcast when he brightened up. “What kind of stuff would we need to win this thing?” he asked. “Let’s just make it up!” We quickly wrote down some imposing statistics and an imaginary quote from Admiral Hyman Rickover, a prominent advocate of improving American education. We won the second round handily.

On graduating we both went to Los Angeles City College for a while. Then I transferred to UCLA, while Lionel went to Pierce College in Woodland Hills. One day he called me to say that his journalism teacher, Lloyd Wilkie, had been fired for making some radical speech in class. Wilkie was in charge of the college’s student newspaper, The Roundup. Would I help distribute a leaflet in Wilkie’s defense? Of course. So, a few days later we showed up on campus with a big stack of flyers, headed, “His Last Roundup?” We were soon spotted by campus security. We ran from place to place, barely staying ahead of them until we had disposed of all our flyers and got away clean.

In the summer of 1961 at the height of the Freedom Rides in the South, Lionel and I looked for some way to get involved. We met a middle-aged black activist named Manuel Tally who said he planned to publish a Freedom Rider support newspaper and asked if we would write and produce it. We immediately agreed. While we were to do the writing, Tally said he would distribute cans to collect donations at black-owned stores around South Los Angeles.

Lionel, whose uncle was the famed violinist Yehudi Menuhin, proposed that we drive up to the Menuhin estate in Los Gatos to do the work. We collected large amounts of newspaper clippings about the civil rights movement and headed north. We spent several days writing articles, calculating space for each one for a tabloid format, and laying out the whole issue. While we were there, Lionel’s mother, concert pianist Yaltah Menuhin arrived with her third husband, pianist Joel Ryce. They played for hours each day on the two grand pianos in the living room while we worked quietly at a table in the corner.

Finally complete, we took our layout and text back to Los Angeles. I had in that period been active in local Southern sit-in support demonstrations run by CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality. We met with L.A. CORE Chairman Earl Walter and explained our project. Tally, he warned us, was a self-promoter and shady operator. He advised us not to go any further with it. The Freedom Rider support newspaper ended up in the trash. Lionel and I went around South L.A. to all the stores we could find where Tally’s cans were on the counters. We collected them and donated them to CORE.

 

* * *

 

Lionel came from a very old and distinguished family. His uncle Yehudi Menuhin was one of the greatest violinists of the twentieth century. His mother was Yehudi’s sister, a world-famous classical pianist. The Menuhins, in turn, were a collateral branch of Jewish rabbis, going back to Rabbi Judah Loewe ben Bezalel (1510-1573), who, legend has it, created the Golem of Prague out of clay to defend the Jewish ghetto from pogroms. In this line of descent there appeared Schneur Zalman (1745-1813), the founder of the Lubavitcher Hassidic dynasty and the Chabad movement. He was the progenitor of the Schneersohn dynasty that ruled the Lubavitcher sect until the death of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson in 1994. (This last of the line dropped the h from his last name.)

Lionel was born in Medford, Oregon, on October 21, 1942, an out of the way place for such a cosmopolitan family. This happened because a year earlier Yaltah had eloped with a young army sergeant, Benjamin Rolfe, who her mother Marutha detested, and consummated a hasty marriage in Reno. At the time of Lionel’s birth, Rolfe, an attorney in private life, was stationed at Fort White, nearby to Medford. The celebrated Menuhin family arrived for the event, Lionel’s imperious grandfather, Moshe Menuhin, assuring the press that they were all very pleased, while privately he nursed a great anger at Yaltah marrying beneath her station. After the war Lionel’s father became a worker’s comp appeals court judge in Long Beach.

Lionel was impulsive. Not long out of high school he got married, to Dianna Preston. They had one daughter, Hyla. Dianna already had a daughter, Heather, who Lionel adopted. I met Dianna only once.

The marriage soon fell apart, while Lionel drifted into radical politics. He came under the influence of Dorothy Healy, the charismatic leader of the Communist Party in Southern California. I had also fallen under her spell, but withdrew at the last minute and instead spent many years in the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party while Lionel became a writer for the party’s West Coast weekly, the People’s World.

This was a bad fit for Lionel’s bohemian temperament. It matched neither his idea of acceptable leftist politics nor his Jewishness. Stalin, while briefly supporting the creation of Israel in 1948 when he had no Arab allies in the Middle East, soon turned to rabid anti-Semitism when Soviet Jews began to be inspired by the new Jewish state and challenge Soviet dictatorial control. Much of the European and American left, far wider than the Communist orbit, followed the Soviet lead in anathematizing the Jewish state and its Jewish supporters elsewhere.

Lionel left the CP, and while he remained on the far left politically all his life, never again joined a left-wing political organization. In his 2011 book Fat Man on the Left he wrote that he had a “growing suspicion that the entire Left was harboring a disturbing new anti-Semitism that made no sense. Why was it that Zionism, which is after all Jewish people’s nationalism, not to be tolerated, and Arab nation­alism or black nationalism was kosher?” In later years, Lionel was bitterly opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who he believed had incited the murder of liberal Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

Coffeehouses, beatnik and otherwise, were one of Lionel’s special delights. Still in high school, he had hung out at the Gas House of Big Daddy Eric Nord and the Venice West cafe in Venice, where pot was plentiful, sex was always an ever tempting yet ever unattainable draw, and poets, good, bad, and indifferent declaimed their works grandiloquently.

By the time he was at LACC, the post-Beat coffeehouses had proliferated. The ones he most frequented were Mother Neptune’s, the Viteloni, and Pogo’s Swamp. His all-time favorite was the Xanadu on Melrose near LA City College, owned by Lionel’s lifelong friend Walden “Monty” Muns. These all followed a similar pattern, far from today’s professional cafés. They were filled with broken-down sofas, book cases brimming with esoterica, endless discussions of existential platitudes. Sometimes someone would make coffee, sometimes not. Usually at the end of the month the lease holder would take up a collection to pay the rent.

In an essay added to the 1991 edition of his Literary L.A. he writes: “I think I was initially drawn to the Xanadu by its book-lined walls. The Xanadu had once been the London Book Shop, and the combination of sofas and assorted other soft chairs gave the place the seedy air of a private club that had known better days. When you sat and conversed or played chess, you could always pull a book from the wall to bolster an argument.”

In the same essay, “Café Au L.A.,” Lionel gives his account of the most famous event at the Xanadu, which he titles, “The defeat of Chess Player Ted Jester by Master Walden Muns.”

Before putting down his recollections he interviewed the then-Xanadu manager Lair Mitchell, who told him:

“‘We were always on the lookout for people with wit and grace who could contribute to the conversation,’ Mitchell told me. ‘Then this gawky young man came in, and he could talk about nothing but himself and what a brilliant chess player he was. His name was Ted Jester – you ask, what’s in a name? Out of a certain desperation we all came up with a plan at once. Jester was asked if he had ever played chess with Master Muns. Jester allowed as to how he hadn’t even heard of Master Muns. Muns, it developed, had retired from the Game after causing a friend to die of a heart attack because of losing one game too many to Muns. Jester agreed – enthusiastically – to a match. Muns of course hadn’t played a lick of chess in his lifetime, but he was soon taught enough to move the pieces, or at least he could if he had someone else’s notations to follow.’”

Lionel continues:

“Came the great night. Klieg lights were burning and ‘reporters’ were dashing about with note pads and cameras. Letters and telegrams of congratulations from chess enthusiasts from as far away as the Soviet Union, welcoming the return of Master Muns, adorned the walls of the Xanadu. When Jester walked in, he was roundly ignored. Right behind him came Master Muns in a trench coat and scarf. He was led to an imposing throne next to the oversize chess set in the corner. A bevy of beautiful women danced attendance on him. Then between sips of coffee and wine, he slowly and majestically moved his pieces. The reason Muns took his time moving the pieces was that he had to read each move off a piece of cardboard held on a waiter’s tray behind Jester. The notations were worked out by three top-rate and ranked chess players, who were following the game in the Xanadu kitchen. At one point Muns misread a cue and lost an important piece, but inevitably he won the game.”

This event was so well known that even though I had missed it in person, my sister who was there told me the whole story. For years afterward, I could and did recount it in detail to many people. Jester was finally told the truth about the match, and made welcome in the Xanadu. Lionel, writing in 1991, said that Jester later changed his name to Cyril Jasmine III and was living in a cave in Santa Barbara.

 

* * *

 

Lionel got his first newspaper job with the Pismo Beach Times in San Luis Obispo County. He found that the local sheriff ran a brothel on the side. He covered a lengthy fight in the local school board where the John Birch Society was working to defeat an attempt by the teachers to unionize. The right wing exposed one of the teacher leaders as a lesbian, leading her to commit suicide. The head of the school board blamed Lionel for the turmoil, declaring he was a communist agent trained in Moscow and Peking to stir up trouble in American school districts. Lionel was fired.

On the basis of these accusations Lionel was blacklisted for years by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. He was kept out of the newspaper business until 1968. He broke back in after becoming friends with Scott Newhall, executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. Newhall had come from the town of the same name in what is now Santa Clarita, just north of Los Angeles, and owned the Newhall Signal, the local newspaper (now the Santa Clarita Valley Signal). He gave Lionel a reporter job at the Signal. Newhall soon brought Lionel up to San Francisco to work on the Chronicle, where he stayed until 1971, when he returned to Los Angeles to take a job at the counter-cultural Los Angeles Weekly.

He also wrote freelance for other papers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Daily News, the Washington Post, and the since-defunct Herald Examiner. He even served as an editor for Psychology Today in its early days.

In 1972 Lionel met Nigey Lennon. He was thirty to her nineteen. Nigey was a musician and writer. At seventeen she had been hired by musician and composer Frank Zappa as a guitarist for his 1971 national tour. He soon seduced her and moved her into his home, though he was married at the time and his wife lived in the same house. Nigey later chronicled this period in her book Being Frank: My Time with Frank Zappa (California Classics, 1995).

Lionel and Nigey, despite the age difference, were deeply in love. They married in 1975 and remained together for twenty-five years. In 1978 the pair turned their energies to writing books. Their first effort, a bit oddly, was a book on cell salts, a homeopathic mineral supplement, of some of each of the twelve minerals in the human body.  The result under both their names was Twelve Magic Healers: Amazing Secrets of Cell Salts (Prentice Hall, 1978). It is still in print, from Square One Publishers, under the title Homeopathic Cell Salt Remedies.

The same year Lionel wrote one of what I rate as his four best books, The Menuhins: A Family Odyssey (Panjandrum Press). This is part history of his rabbinic forbears, part memoir, and part worshipful accounts of his famous mother and uncle. It sheds some light on Yehudi Menuhin’s relationship to the Judaism from which he descended. Lionel writes that Yehudi’s favorite philosopher was Spinoza. This places him firmly outside of traditional Jewish thought, as the rationalist Spinoza was expelled from the Jewish community of Amsterdam in 1655 for insisting that the Torah was invented by men and not dictated by a god and that Jewish law is not binding.

In place of his Hassidic inheritance, Yehudi held a kind of mystical view of reality encompassing both the material world and a larger ethereal realm not particularly similar to Jewish or Christian notions of heaven. Lionel writes:

“On one occasion during my stay in London in 1973 I joined him in a long discussion that turned away from politics and into metaphysics. Yehudi himself is convinced that a new religion will emerge, something neither Jewish nor Christian but relevant to these times. He believes that all the existing institutionalized religions have retreated from the concepts that their particular prophets preached. His new faith would change the traditional morality wherein God created man as dominant in the universe. His new morality is based on ‘spirit and mind infusing all creation,’ of which man is but one form.”

Lionel’s best known and most widely read book is Literary L.A. The first edition came out in 1981 by Chronicle Books of San Francisco in an oversized arty format with many photographs. That edition had only nine chapters, covering mainly Malcolm Lowry, Nathanael West, Thomas Mann, Aldous Huxley, Robinson Jeffers, and Upton Sinclair. Of these, Lionel knew personally only Aldous Huxley, who he had interviewed shortly before the author’s death. Two later editions expanded the contents to add people Lionel did know first hand, such as countercultural novelist Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; mad poet Charles Bukowski; L.A. Free Press founder Art Kunkin; and, less well known today, L.A.’s preeminent rare book dealer and intellectual eminence Jacob Zeitlin.

Zeitlin (1902-1987) opened his first bookstore in 1928. Moving several times, it settled in a former barn on La Cienega as Zeitlin and Ver Brugge, where he was the moving center of the Zeitlin Circle of Los Angeles intellectuals. Lionel in the second edition, entitled In Search of Literary L.A., recounts one of the stories Zeitlin told him over dinner of a long-ago exploit in Echo Park with Chicago poet Carl Sandburg:

“Someone had tied a long rope with a tire to one of the trees at the end of Echo Park Avenue, so you could stand on one side of the little canyon there, grab hold, and swing out over it, describing a sort of semicircle. If you were lucky, you’d land back on the hill. One night when Sandburg came visiting, and the moon was bright, and we had imbibed a considerable amount of good wine, we went walking up toward the trees. I reached out and grabbed hold of the tire and swung out. I had no idea he was going to do the same thing – as soon as I got back, Sandburg gave a Viking war whoop, grabbed the tire, swung out over the canyon, and managed to get back to the other side without falling off.”

Lionel wrote one novel and a book of autobiographical essays, though I have never seen either of them and he rarely mentioned them. Both were issued by commercial publishers. The novel was Last Train North (Panjandrum Press, 1987), which Publishers Weekly summarized as the two main characters “spend much time in a late-’60s reverie, smoking grass, star-gazing in a hot tub, pondering the meaning of life and making love to the many women who throw themselves at them.” The review was not approving. I think this convinced him that his forte was journalism and not literature.

The self-revealing essays appeared in Death and Redemption in London and L.A. (Dead End Street Publications, 2003). Publishers Weekly said of this, “There are lyric moments in this book that are poignant and insightful.”

Lionel founded his own little publishing house, California Classics. It produced twelve books between 1991 and 2004, six by authors other than Lionel and Nigey. This was always a sideline. Both continued to make their living from regular journalism, and Nigey also pursued her music.

The focus of California Classics was generally on turn of the century California or the desert, with titles such as Ghost Towns of the Mojave Desert by Alan Hensher and High Lonesome: The Vanishing American West by Dayton Lummis.

Lionel and Nigey’s coauthored Bread and Hyacinths: The Rise and Fall of Utopian Los Angeles (1992), fit this pattern. It is an account of the 1910 Los Angeles mayoral campaign of socialist Job Harriman, which was on the verge of success when it was derailed by the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building by militant unionists during a strike. The book also provided a history of the Llano del Rio Cooperative Colony, a utopian socialist community of that time not far from Los Angeles in Antelope Valley.

California Classics reissued two expanded editions of Literary L.A., in 1991 and 2002. Lionel’s best new book of this period was Fat Man on the Left: Four Decades in the Underground (1998). It ranges from pieces about his uncle Yehudi and mother Yaltah to the Kennedy assassination, murders of people he knew, the beloved parrots and cocatiels he and Nigey lived with, and a sketch of his one-time mentor, San Francisco Chronicle editor Scott Newhall.

The last title issued by California Classics was Lionel’s The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather (2004). Willa Cather (1873-1947), chronicler of the nineteenth century Nebraska plains, met Yaltah Menuhin in Paris in 1930 when Yaltah was nine and Cather was fifty-eight. The Menuhins had come in 1927 to seek teachers for their three music prodigies. Cather was visiting her long-time friend Isabelle McClung Harbourg. Isabelle’s husband, Jan Harbourg was a Russian violinist, so the families, who lived near each other, were naturally thrown together. Cather was delighted by the child Yaltah and they spent a lot of time together. Both families for their own separate reasons soon moved to New York, where the friendship deepened. Willa Cather became friends with Yaltah’s mother Marutha. She took almost daily walks with the Menuhin children, and began a correspondence with Yaltah that continued until Cather’s death in 1947. Lionel tells this story dwelling heavily on the internal dynamics of the Menuhin family.

California Classics also published Nigey’s Being Frank: My Time With Frank Zappa (1995). Nigey in those years also wrote Sagebrush Bohemian: Mark Twain in California, which she published with Paragon House.

 

* * *

 

The Free Press ceased publication in 1978. Lionel survived by freelance work for a few years. Around 1986, although I have been unable to confirm the year, he became the editor of the oldest and most widely read Los Angeles Jewish weekly newspaper, the B’nai B’rith Messenger. He held the position until the Messenger ceased publication in 1995.

The Menuhins, originally Mnuchin, were blood relatives of the Hassidic rabbinical Schneersohn dynasty that ruled the Chabad Lubavitcher sect. The dominant figure in the sect in the twentieth century was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994). The organization was predominately East and Central European until the Holocaust, that almost destroyed it. Menachem Schneerson escaped to New York in 1941, and built the Chabad-Lubavitch movement into one of the largest Jewish organizations in the world, with more than 3,000 synagogues, schools, and disabled care centers. Rabbi Schneerson was believed by many of his followers to be the messiah, and some still believe that he will soon return from the dead.

How does this connect to Lionel beyond a quite distant blood relationship? He told me shortly after Schneerson’s death that he had been approached by representatives of Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn proposing that he, Lionel, as a blood descendant of the dynasty, become the organization’s head. This sounded preposterous. Lionel told me he responded that he was an atheist. The Lubavitchers, as he told it, responded that didn’t matter. He was in the line of dynastic succession, as in a monarchy. He refused. In the end, they have still not selected a central leader, though the organization has continued to expand in the years since Schneerson’s death.

The Messenger ceased publication in 1995, leaving Lionel looking for another job.

In 1997 Nigey left Lionel for a neighbor, Eric Weaver, who had lived across the street since 1990. They moved to New York in 2000, then on to Long Island. She didn’t divorce Lionel until March 2004. Eric Weaver tells me that the long delay was to help Lionel’s taxes with California Classics. She recorded a CD, and retrieved her books from her years with Lionel and republished them under the imprint Airstream Books.

When the federal government passed its Real ID law in 2005, a problem that had lurked in her background since birth suddenly became pressing. Her mother for no comprehensible reason had entered her own name on Nigey’s birth certificate. When Nigey’s US passport and New York driver’s license expired, the government refused to renew them, as she could not prove who she was to their satisfaction. This caused endless financial problems and made any kind of travel other than by train or bus difficult.

In November 2016 Nigey died, of complications from radiation therapy for cancer she had undergone in 1998. She was 62.

 

* * *

 

Lionel’s politics, from his youth, were a kind of nostalgic California-centered leftism. His main heroes were Mark Twain and Jack London. Only secondarily he enrolled in his pantheon radical authors Upton Sinclair and Sinclair Lewis, best known for their works of the 1920s and 1930s. Twain died in 1910 and wrote very little with a strong political content, though he was a staunch abolitionist, and late in life converted from a pro-imperialist to an anti-imperialist. Jack London died in 1916. His two best-known socialist novels, The Iron Heel and Martin Eden, were written respectively in 1908 and 1909.

Lionel always described himself as a socialist, and was quick to denounce right-wing politicians as fascists even if the label was a procrustean fit. But he was also a humanist and did not adopt a false equivalency between the evils of American capitalism and the far more repressive character of the Soviet Union, Maoism, Islamic radicalism, Venezuelan Chavism and other systems or movements embraced by some sections of the American left.

He liked to describe himself as a California Jew. He had visited Israel in 1973 and liked it. But he wrote that he would find it claustrophobic to live so wholly in a Jewish environment.

 

* * *

 

Boryana Vladeva entered his life in 2002, by accident. He had sent out an emailed press release about his books, or possibly about an event he was taking part in. This was two years before Facebook was created, which made international communication with strangers far more unlikely. Somehow the press release reached Boryana in Bulgaria.

She emailed back to him. Soon they were exchanging regular emails and phone calls. She came to California for a visit. He visited her in Bulgaria in 2003. They made plans to be married and went through the legal hurdles to bring her to the United States. They were married in 2004, after his long-delayed divorce from Nigey. From their first contact they were together for ten years.

 

* * *

 

Lionel’s last job, 1997 to 2016, was working as a police reporter in downtown LAPD’s Parker Center for the City News Service, the country’s largest regional wire service, covering Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties. CNS, a 24-hour operation, maintains a large staff of professional reporters. Lionel’s role was to produce copy about crime. He interviewed police officials and officers, witnesses, used email and phone calls to quickly gather facts about unfolding events.

I left Los Angeles in September 1964. I was gone for eighteen years, living in San Francisco, New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota. During that long stretch I was completely out of touch with Lionel. I reconnected when I returned in the summer of 1982. That was when I met Nigey. For the next fifteen years I saw the both of them only rarely. In 2008, Lionel, now together with Boryana, told me he was starting a new publishing house, named in Boryana’s honor, as Boryanabooks. This was to be strictly a digital ebook operation, mainly to reprint some of the California Classics as Kindle books through Amazon. The advantage was that there were no printing costs.

The next year I edited North Star, the memoirs of my long-time friend, Venezuelan Marxist Peter Camejo. Peter had been the 1974 presidential candidate of the Socialist Workers Party and Ralph Nader’s vice-presidential running mate in the 2004 U.S. presidential elections. Peter died before the manuscript was completed but I finished it from his notes and it came out in 2010.

This inspired me to write my own memoir, Outsider’s Reverie, which I completed in the late summer of 2009. Impatient at the idea of long submission times at established publishers, I met with Lionel and Boryana and proposed that Boryanabooks publish the book in both Kindle and paperback format. They agreed, and I turned over to them all proceeds from the book.

So began an ever-closer association with Lionel over the next nine years.

The Boryanabooks.com website had been built by Boryana’s son Alex. Lionel and I obtained the passwords from him and expanded it to have a catalog of the books as they materialized.

Amazon had acquired the companies that would become CreateSpace in 2005 and made a public push for the new entity in 2009, a print-on-demand service that would prepare paperback books for free, you only paying a discounted author rate for the copies you actually bought. This meant that Boryanabooks could produce paperbacks as well as Kindle books with no upfront investment.

As I had the better computer skills, this drew me in ever closer to the operation. I formatted both Kindle and CreateSpace paperbacks from the authors’ texts. Lionel published five books in both formats under the Boryanabooks imprint. I published three. Phyl van Ammers published Edendale, a history of the early days of Silverlake and Echo Park.

In some ways the original intent of Boryanabooks.com, to become a purveyor of ebooks, became secondary as the site evolved. The site featured a blog, which invited contributions from outside authors. It set a pattern of posting only once a month, on the morning of the first of the month. Over the nine years of its run, it presented work of a score of writers, some working professionals, others just wanting to have their say. I checked the hits for the year ending November 14, 2018. The site had an average of 1,200 visitors a month, with the pattern that almost all of them checked in during the first week. Visits trailed off to very little until the first week of the next month.

 

* * *

 

Boryana broke up with Lionel in 2012. He took it badly. He was already seventy years old. His health was poor. From his college years he had always been overweight, the fat man on the left of the titles of two of his books. He had diabetes severe enough to require regular insulin injections. In his last book, The Fat Man Returns (Boryanabooks, 2017), he wrote, “I was talking to a friend about the increasing despair I had been feeling since Boryana left me. I said I was afraid it was starting to morph into a black hole that would all but consume me.”

On August 11, 2015, he had a stroke that compelled him to stop working. He returned to work briefly in 2016 but was unable to stay for long. Sometime that year he had a fall that fractured two vertebrae in his lower spine that made it very difficult to walk. Finances became severely strained. After Boryana had left, to make ends meet, Lionel rented out one of the two bedrooms in their apartment. Then, after he stopped working and was reduced to his Social Security, he rented his own bedroom out and set up a bed for himself in the living room, a decidedly overcrowded and makeshift arrangement.

In January of 2017 perhaps as part of a second stroke, he was having trouble breathing while cooking something on the stove. He fell unconscious. Smoke filled the apartment. It killed his beloved parrot and his two cockatiels. Lionel was rushed to the hospital and when he got out, he had to be on oxygen.

Then in August of 2017, he had a fall and fractured his tailbone. Lionel was in the hospital, then a skilled nursing facility for a while until he had recovered well enough to go home, but he was no longer able to walk up or down stairs. He was able to use a walker with help. In addition to his tenants, who had the bedrooms, his friend Rose stayed with him in his apartment to care for him, camping out on a cot.

This lasted until April 2018. Then, one morning, he found he could not even sit up. In extreme pain, he was taken in an ambulance to Glendale Memorial Hospital. From that time until his death in October he was never again able to sit up, stand, or walk. After a lengthy hospital stay, he was again released to a skilled nursing facility, one of those places that have two beds to a room, the only other furniture being a small night stand for each bed and a couple of folding chairs. The doctors didn’t want to try spinal surgery because of his age and health.

It turned out the severe pain was due to an infection in his spine. He was put on long-term intravenous antibiotics. The infection, however, had then spread to other parts of his body, and at one point required an operation to keep it from going septic.

He spent his days lying flat on his back, sometimes watching the television bolted to the wall, but too lethargic to read a book. His daughter Hyla Douglas managed his affairs while he was disabled. In August 2018, when the remaining occupants of his apartment moved out, she oversaw closing it out and putting his important belongings into storage.

He told me several times when I visited that if he did not recover his mobility he would want to die. His condition was not intrinsically life threatening. But on the morning of November 6, the day of the fraught midterm elections, before any results had come in, and sixteen days since his seventy-sixth birthday, Lionel Frederick Menuhin Rolfe died quietly in his sleep of a heart attack.

Comments

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.