When I was nine, my father took us to California. He wanted to show me and my brother the world outside the Bronx, and he wanted my mother to see Hollywood. She was crazy for the movies, one of those ladies you would see in an empty theater on the Grand Concourse, a box of tissues on her lap, weeping. (She named my brother not after some long-lost shtetl-dwelling ancestor but for one of her favorite actors, Melvyn Douglas, a star of Captains Courageous.) We loaded up the car and crossed the George Washington Bridge into America. Route 22 to 15, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois. I pressed my face to the window, watching the towns go by. We slept in motels, ate in diners, visited tourist traps. I saw cowboys, horses, and distant peaks white in the smoky freight-yard dawn. I was a baby but already felt the pull of forces greater than myself, older even than my grandparents, a feeling that is with me even when I am alone. We stopped in Las Vegas. This was soon after the war. The town was nothing, a desert nowhere in which midcentury hoodlums were sketching plans for palaces. I would later spend much of my life there, with Elvis, Sinatra, the Colonel, put on so many shows and ink so many deals, and here I was, years earlier, ghosting through this nothing place. I was a child and Vegas was a child, but we would grow up, and meet again.
We arrived in LA at dawn. My father was driving, window open, sleeves rolled back. "Jerry, wake up—you're gonna want to see this." I opened my eyes as we came over the hill. I could see the buildings of downtown, the hills behind them, the ocean behind that. The light was so pure it was white, catching the tops of the towers, which glowed in the sun. It would be great if you could preserve the first vision of a place that would become important to you, but later experience gets tangled up with memory until what came later changes what came before. You can never really save anything. We stayed in the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard, across from Grauman's Chinese Theater, where the stars have their hand and footprints in cement. I spent an afternoon there, measuring myself against Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, all of whom, for whatever reason, had surprisingly small feet.
About three years ago, after Ocean's Thirteen premiered, the people who run Grauman's said they wanted the stars of the film—Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, George Clooney—to put their prints in the cement. Clooney said, "Look, we'll do it, but Jerry has to do it, too." As a rule, Grauman's only honors actors, but they really wanted these guys, so they relented. As I was putting my hands in the cement, I looked up and saw the very window in the Roosevelt Hotel from which, all those years ago, I had looked out at Hollywood. While I was thinking about this—how strange to return to the same place, only now on the other side of the glass—I noticed the men next to me, my friends, were laughing.
A few days earlier, Clooney had called Pitt and Damon and said, "You know how when you go to Grauman's the footprints always look so small? Well, you don't want a kid out there, years from now, saying, 'Oh, God, look at Brad Pitt and Matt Damon—they had baby feet!' Tell you what. I'll pick us up size fourteen shoes, three pairs. Jerry? Oh, well, let's not mention it to Jerry." So these friends of mine have clown shoes, while I'm the guy with the tiny feet on the walk of fame. And you know what they say about small feet.