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Reading the palms

April 21, 2007 | 11:30 am

1957_0421_vivian

April 21, 1957
Los Angeles

I think about his hands. I don't know, but I would imagine that at the age of 78, they were old and worn from a lifetime of custodial work for Los Angeles County. Gnarled, maybe, with age spots.  I like to think you can tell more about some people by their hands than by their face. This is mostly guesswork, but I wonder what story his hands would tell.

Were his nails all ragged or did he keep them neat and smooth? Were his fingers short and stubby or long and thin? Did he have a wedding ring or was he one of those men who didn't wear one for fear it would get caught in the machinery he used?

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We just don't know.

He would have been born about 1879, and I picture him in school holding a pencil and figuring sums. We know he could read and write because of his last note.

It's fairly certain his hands gripped the reins of a horse and buggy; maybe he held the steering wheel of an automobile, or maybe he took the streetcar. I think of him as a young man in his 20s, filling out a job application. At that time, many county jobs were gotten through political patronage, but that's just a guess.

At some point in the next 28 years, he met a woman named Adelaide Houston, who was 15 years younger.  I have no how they met, but I picture him holding her hand and putting a wedding ring on her finger.

Then I picture his hands holding his son, Roger, who was born about 1928.

Maybe he pitched a ball to his son and hugged him when he graduated from high school.

All along, those hands picking up a mop bucket and pushing a broom for the county. Washing windows and scraping gum off the floor. Shaking hands when he retired.

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And then opening the door to the doctor's office for him and Adelaide. Comforting her when the doctor told them she had cancer, just like him.

Those worn hands, opening his wallet to get for medicine at the drugstore, and paying the rent for the apartment at 834 N. Huntley Drive in West Hollywood.

The hands, which figured sums in school so long ago, writing a three-page letter to Roger, sealing it in an envelope and leaving it on the coffee table.

Then dialing the telephone to the hotel in Hollywood where Roger worked the graveyard shift while going to law school at USC. There was a letter on the coffee table, be sure to mail it, he said.

Finally, the old, worn hands picking the gun as he walked into the bedroom where Adelaide was sleeping.

When Roger came home that morning, he found his parents' bodies on the bedroom floor.

The note said: "If we continue spending our money to keep ourselves alive, there won't be anything left for you to go to law school."

Note: The State Bar of California does not list an attorney named Roger M. Vivian.

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