Then he realized the little animal with the big triangle ears wasn’t dark brown — that was just dried blood. It warily approached and sat beside the former pilot, clockmaker and World War II veteran.
“I said, ‘OK buddy, you want to go for a ride in the car?’” Sewelson recalled from the lobby of Evergreen Retirement Residence in Burbank, where he and Max now live.
They went to the vet, and a week later, Max had a name and a place to call home.
That was six years ago. They are rarely apart these days, save for when Sewelson visits the Travel Town Museum in Griffith Park. You might see them traveling to Vons and back on their weekly errands, Max leading Sewelson in his electric scooter. They’ll be out walking their neighborhood behind Bob’s Big Boy — four rounds a day, up to an hour at a time, to stretch their legs and see the world.
In those moments when they’re apart, Sewelson returns to a world of cogs and gears and engines at the museum.
“I’ve always been interested in mechanical things,” he said.
At age 60, he fell in with a biker gang — if you could call it that. They were several friends roughly the same age, and they convinced him to try a motorcycle. One of them taught officers with the Los Angeles Police Department how to ride, so Sewelson was in good hands. After a year on a sporty Honda Sewelson upgraded to a Harley — despite almost dumping it a couple times.
Before tinkering on motorcycles Sewelson was a pilot with Pacific Bell. The job could require him to fly executives around the country on one day or buzzing utility poles in the desert the next. He’d fly 150 feet above the ground and, with one hand gripping a pencil (the other on the wheel), Sewelson would scratch down the pole’s number if he spotted damage.
Despite his years of service in the military, Sewelson did not receive his flight training there. In the summer of 1941, he worked at Lockheed fearing the U.S. government might draft him into the Army or the Marines.
He enlisted in the Navy instead.
“I figured, I’ll always have a warm bed on a ship … if it isn’t sunk,” he said.
The USS Topeka provided that — it was never hit during war combat and, after the bombing of Hiroshima, was one of the first American vessels to arrive in Tokyo.
He returned to Southern California, got married and started a family. He and his wife loved antiques, especially old clocks. In Sewelson’s collection, some clocks worked and some were there for looks. An apprenticeship with a retiring European clockmaker changed that.
Sewelson opened the Timekeeper shop on Magnolia Boulevard in 1975, near what is now a Bank of America. The shop closed 11 years later. Sewelson returned to flying planes and, on the side, he fixed clocks in L.A. high rises.
It was on one of these calls in 2008 that he spotted those pointy oversized ears of the eight-breed mix Max. The first night home, Sewelson made up a bed on the floor for Max, but that didn’t last — Max was sleeping on his new friend’s feet before the night was through.
They shared many adventures to the beach and along the California coast. Eventually glaucoma in his right eye forced Sewelson to give up the drives he loved.
“God, if I hadn’t had this dog with me, I would have gone through the roof,” Sewelson said.
On a recent Sunday, the pair enjoyed a Valentine’s Day celebration in the common room of Evergreen. Sewelson got up to retrieve a cookie for them to share — he would eat the chocolate chips and Max got the rest.
Max sat upright in the vacant chair, waiting for his friend to return. Other residents came by to shake a paw and scratch Max’s ears, and Max seemed to enjoy holding court.
For 35 years, from the time of Sewelson’s divorce in 1973 until the day he was stuck in traffic under the Harbor Freeway Bridge and rescued a beaten-up Max, Sewelson never had another pet. He wasn’t even looking for one that day. Sometimes the best friends come along when you least expect.
“You look into a dog’s eyes long enough and you see through them, and he sees you,” Sewelson said. “It worked out fine for the both of us.”
--BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter: @818NewGuy.