BOOK REVIEW: He Usually Lived with a Female (biography of C.H. "Brick" Garriques
He Usually Lived with a Female – The Life of Brick Garrigues

Reviewed by Jim Smith

Have you ever read a book and noticed that the plot seems very similar to your life? Well, me neither, until I read He Usually Lived with a Female, a biography of C.H. “Brick” Garrigues (pronounced “GAIR-uh-gus,”) by his son, George.

Brick, so-called because of his red-brick hair, was born in 1902. He worked for several newspapers including the Venice Vanguard in 1922. He became well known in Los Angeles in the 30s because of his exposure of graft in the District Attorney’s office.

Brick became an organizer for the Los Angeles Newspaper Guild about 50 years before I started organizing for the same union. I know Brick’s name at the time. He was one of the original founders of the Guild, whose remarkable feats made him and his comrades seem about 10 feet tall. But Brick and the others were one-dimensional icons, in spite of the stories about them by the few survivors of those days.

Now, Brick has sprung to life once again, thanks to the diligent work of his son, George Garrigues. Some of our readers may know George - a retired journalist and journalism professor - from his activism in the neighboring Mar Vista Community Council. His internet publication, the Westmar Sun, was a thorn in the side of the MVCC, and helped lead the successful succession of the Palms area, which now has its own neighborhood council. He now publishes the Palms-Village Sun <>.

The format of He Usually Lived with a Female is letters by Brick - a prolific writer - with commentary by George. Some of the letters are intensely personal, while others are political and topical. Readers will learn about daily life in L.A. and Venice in the early 20th century, and about the loves and insecurities of a very talented writer. Although a true story, it reads like a novel.

Back to the similarities with my life. Not only did we organize for the same union, and shared a love of writing, but it seems that we lived in the same Venice building, perhaps the same apartment.

Here’s Brick in 1953: “we moved into a studio apartment in Venice on Westminster Avenue at the corner of Speedway; it had a pull-down bed that filled the whole room and there were tiny, recessed bookcases on either side at the head of the bed. No stall shower; we had a tub.

“Venice had changed in thirty years. The big indoor swimming pool and the amusement pier, with its Race Through the Clouds, were gone. Most of the canals had been abandoned or were filled with stagnant water.

There were still trams that ran up and down the deserted beach walk, carrying a few elderly Jewish passengers, but most shops on Windward Avenue and on the ocean front were empty. The little grocery store on the corner sold maggot-infested meat. The whole neighborhood was so creepily shabby, so oddly macabre that Orson Welles used it as a set for his noir movie, Touch of Evil. Dickie paid our thirty-five-dollars-a-month rent....”

Brick’s description of the apartment building known as the Dungeon and of seedy old Venice still applied when I moved there in 1968, except that a shower head had been installed above the tub, and the rent had been raised to $60 a month (with an ocean view).

In 2003, the Beachhead published two articles by Brick about Venice. Abbot Kinney, Tobacco and the Founding of Venice appeared in June, and The Vanishing of Venice was in the July issue.

If you don’t want to plunk down $24 for a copy of the book, you can read excerpts on-line, including the two Venice articles that were published in the Beachhead. Go to <>, which stands for “usually lived with a female,” the title of the book which is taken from a police report about Brick.

Posted: Sat - July 1, 2006 at 04:14 AM