Well Done, Elton – by Alan Rodman

Elton and Pigeon

Part l

Elton White has long been an inspiration to me — an extremely kind, funny, and dedicated man, lit up with love. And he was so glad to be married to Betty.

Where has he gone? I haven’t seen seen him since 2018, before the start of the pandemic. I hope he is well. Last time I spotted him, he was riding his extended birdbike along Pico, and when I waved, he greeted me.

I think he was telling me that he had just finally applied for his earned Social Security benefits, after our previous 2017 conversation. I had reminded him that if he had ever worked, for at least ten years, he may be eligible for retirement. I wrote the number down for him, on a scrap of a pizza box. (Social Security Administration 1-800-772-1213.)

His amazing bicycle carried a long, improvised rack, securing open boxes of trusting, rescued pigeons, who traveled around with him. They stayed though they were free to come or go.

When he would come pedaling slowly around my area, I often tried to run out and share some birdseed with him.

I told him I could always foretell when he was coming down our alley, because his flocks of gulls, crows and pigeons preceded him and announced his arrival.

He fed them, and was mild with them.

He was missing a number of teeth in later years, and I imagine each untreated tooth or ailment or loss brought him a lot of pain. It didn’t seem right for him, or anyone, to go around unhoused and perhaps hurting so much.

He fixed his own flat tires when he needed, and he rolled on, and one might never have known that he was a grieving widower, or that he was weary.

Just to see his big grin was daybreak everywhere.

He was deeply troubled at injustice and cruelty at times. Wrongs of the world, and his own submerged hurts, were easily surfaced in his thoughts.

He would begin to rave in a paranoid way, about the police being devils who only held off from harming him, just because they understood him well, when he told them that he “had protection.”

Then he would hold up a large, crudely carved wooden cross painted white and wrapped in duct tape, one which he always wore around his neck. He seemed scary to me then, with his wild looks and angered rambling.

But he could readily be invited onto another track. Just as he seemed about to go off into a rant, I would mention that I had liked it much better when he spoke of his hopeful things.

And just about then he would turn to me, with a softer face.

He would pause at the slightest gentle breeze, asking me, “Do you feel that? That’s the Holy Spirit passing through us, right now!” And I did feel a whispered movement in the atmosphere.

We can let ourself be more like him: I still think he is a great being filled with light.

Yet there is far more to him than that mad, magical Black Saint Francis of a birdman on a bike, it seems.

Firstly, he is funny. Second, he is an angel of strangeness.

I had been seeing him go past on the Ocean Front Walk often — nearly each time I skated around Venice, all through the nineties.

Later he was often spotted pedaling all around town with his birds. I admired how he was caring for pigeons.

He once described how a busy walker had bumped into his bike, and it fell over. But the apologetic man noticed those odd boxes mounted on the bike, with several birds inside, and he offered to help. The gentleman recognized that Elton really needed help getting them some veterinary care, so he took them to the vet and paid for the visit. Elton told me he had been very happy to see the birds doing better, and on their way to a healthy recovery.

He agonized, another time, that one of his companion birds (one he had named) had just chosen to fly off, into the path of a car. He and I both wondered, why?

Few may have known how sad he felt at times.

His wife, Betty, passed away on August 20th, 2003. Elton had been devoted to her.

It was many years later before he ever spoke of her to me. I was surprised.

I had almost forgotten, over the intervening time: here, this intense shaggy birdman had once been half of that odd performance duo!
I hardly recognized him. He used to do quite a show with his trippy elder white wife, both of them in skimpy swimsuits, strumming a ukulele, and bespangled in adornments.

He always played the moon to let her be a star.

He and Betty were billed as “The Married Couple,” well received along the Venice Boardwalk for their performances.

They would play near Rose Avenue or by the Sidewalk Cafe, near Small World Books, in the early 90s.

They had long been celebrated for their singing sensation on the Boardwalk, in their outrageous get-ups, belting out all their wonderfully bad original songs.

They sang mostly about getting old — and gettin’ it on!

Without Betty in his life, his circumstances began a gradual change. Even though he and Betty had been living in a great place in Venice, near Rose Avenue at Speedway ever since the mid-nineties, one day Elton mentioned to me, with a questioning look, that his landlord had offered to pay him to move out.

But at that time, he lived in that desirable apartment, right by the Boardwalk, and he told me that he had a lifetime of art and memories and stuff in there. They wanted him out, to renovate the building, I believe he said.

I asked him if he had ever felt he wanted to leave Venice, but he said no, this was now his home. Still, he said he was unsure, since they had offered to pay him. But it only seemed to me a fairly small amount for him to have to move away.

I advised him that he was a important part of all this beachfront scene, and just to go ahead and live where he really wanted, and stay in his place.

He did stay for some time, but then, one day, I spotted him on the street, and soon realized he was living on his bicycle, out in the elements, without the many comforts most folks all prefer to enjoy.

Still, he endured, and took care of those birds. I often wondered about him. He seemed to bring joy along. I was glad when I ever saw him.

Part II


The Married Couple

Searching for any trace of Elton and Betty, “The Married Couple,” led me to discover more than I ever before knew about them.
Theirs was that proverbial May-December union which reminded me of such a love affair in the movie, Harold and Maude.
And in that film, the aged, dying Maude urged the grieving young Harold, “Go, and love some more.”
Well, the Married Couple sure did just that, and yes they “loved some more,” right in your face.

I am just now listening (with my ears bugging out,) to “Sex Beyond the Door,” one of their few rare recordings.

For three years running, their really odd “Elton and Betty White Time” took the Southern California award for top Cable Public Access show.
They got on the air on cable, soon after they had arrived in Hollywood, and at last had settled in Venice. Betty once mentioned on the show that it took four and a half years to get into their Venice apartment.

They had relocated from Little Rock, Arkansas, where more than a few locals warmly recall them, and still miss this iconic pair.
Elton had excelled for four years in college basketball, and had even tried out for the Atlanta Hawks, but suffered a knee injury. Instead of the NBA, he had to take what work he could, back home in Little Rock.

Though life gave him some lemons, he added his own creative kind of sugar to make it into sweet lemonade.

Betty had grown up a good looking young lady who had been her class valedictorian. She had gone on to work in a law office with Bill Clinton. Her career, and a first marriage, were derailed when she began to experience some of the symptoms of schizophrenia. But then something wonderful happened… Elton and Betty met, while at a Union Rescue Mission, and they fell madly in love.

The couple would make up shocking songs, and began to perform for all onlookers. They used to ride around town on a bicycle built for two, wearing huge sombreros.

Elton and Betty became famous in Arkansas when they ran repeatedly for the Office of Governor (on a platform which legalized sex workers) as write-in candidates, who were at that time competing for the office against Bill Clinton.

Elton ran for Congress, and Betty for Arkansas Governor in 1986, and then Elton ran for Governor and Betty ran for the U.S. Senate in 1990.
They have recorded some very funny, offensive, and touching work.

When you find time to listen to “The Married Couple,” you may raise an eybrow. They are often somewhere on the spectrum from a bit naughty, to downright nasty!

Betty was born in September of 1926. Elton was born in April, 1958, nearly 32 years later. They were a pair who really seemed to make the most of their differences.

And oddly, that was part of their spice: timeless passion.

On the very rare, nearly unheard-of M.C. album, “Sex Beyond the Door,” at 24:45, Elton croons lustily,

“My 3 feet red hot tongue is sweet as sugar…”
(It’s literally too much.)
“Whenever you kiss me
you turn me on —
You make my tongue
extend so long…”
(He said a mouthful!)

Betty sings “Bitch” at 24:00, a song worthy of a Mae West type of red hot mama, as she declares,

“I like sex! I like sex.
I think it’s the greatest thing
in the world.
I like men, oh I do like men,
and I’m so glad
that I’m a girl!”

Yet there’s something even sweeter here, as revealed in lyrics like Betty’s at 26:40, in her song, “What did I ever do, to get you?”

“Oh, what did I ever do
to get you?
How did God give me you?
It didn’t seem right
for us unite
but time has proven it
to be right
we joined forces to form
a love so warm
with a glow
for all the world to see
your joy is contagious
your zest is just right
there’s happiness
in the morning
and happiness at night
and now all I can say is
what did I ever do,
oh what did I do,
to get you?”

Anyone can tell these two absolutely, body and soul, adore one another.
Betty and Elton White wanted us all to know:
“World! Sounds of love will turn you on.”

https://youtu.be/LlE4n8pNPZI (Sex Beyond the Door)

“For those who grew up in Little Rock in the 1980s, the Whites were like the gods of some kind of futuristic sexual revolution – or at least the weirdest, really-in-love couple in town.” – Jerry Colburn, original producer of “The Married Couple” (quoted by Donavan Suitt, of Rural War Room, an interesting website on Elton and Betty) Elton and Betty – The Married Couple From Little Rock

A female penguin hatchling has been named in honor of Betty White, at the Little Rock Arkansas Zoo. Betty White’s name was the most voted for, as the peoples’ choice . (Some voters may have intended to memorialize the beloved actress and animal protectress of the same name. But many in Little Rock know well who’s the real godmother of that lady penguin.)

I think I really prefer Elton as that half mad Birdman more than the wacky performer. Yet both are only roles he plays. The man has style and a big heart. Ideally, I will be glad to hear that he is simply doing well, housed and among friends. I presume he is always surrounded by several adoring pigeons, wherever he goes.

Betty and Elton mean much to me: these two wonderfully weird people seem to ask everyone to just feel the love all your long life, and laugh a lot, be kind, enjoy each other completely, and so everyone give each other a good peace.

God’s Basketballs

“We are God’s
sweet basketballs.
Sometimes we feel
we’re ten feet tall;
the world pushes us down
but we don’t fall,
we just come bouncing,
bouncing back like basketballs.

God is with us
in all we do,
and just when
we think we’re through
He lifts us up
and we don’t fall,
because we’re God’s
sweet basketballs.”

— Elton and Betty White

Alan Rodman