WITHOUT BEING MURDERED, SWINDLED OR EXPOSED TO MANPOOP
A dear reader/sisterwoman/photographer extraordinaire, Simone Van Kempen, suggested that I write about what I might do differently if I were 25 years old and moving to Los Angeles for the first time…now. I can’t imagine Simi suggesting there had been mistakes the first time around, but my 20 years in the City of Angels has given me a unique perspective.
Here are 3 ways a young person new to the city might survive:
1. PURE LUCK
Shortly after I moved to L.A. I went to a place called the Hollywood Athletic Club to meet a friend for lunch. If you consider playing pool and drinking an athletic activity, then this was in fact a sporty venue. Otherwise it was just a bar and restaurant.
When the check arrived after our meal I realized I had no cash, which meant I wouldn’t be able to tip the valet. (There is no place to park a car yourself in Los Angeles, unless you are Jerry Seinfeld and you don’t care how much the fines are, or whether your hairy orange Porsche is blocking a fire hydrant across the street from Ivy on Robertson at 2:45PM on a Wednesday in April of 2005. All others must have valet tip money on their person at all times.)
I borrowed a couple of bucks from my friend, said my good-byes, visited the ladies room, and headed outside. The valet took my ticket and ran off to retrieve my ride. Five businessmen in their 30s and 40s, healthy and hale, stepped outside with their claim checks.
A deranged man ran down the street and stopped when he got to me. “Give me your money,” he demanded.
wtf? I literally had two dollars. The psycho pulled a handgun from his pocket, pushed the barrel against my forehead, and screeched, “Give me ten dollars!” His breath reeked of booze, cigarettes and danger. (If you’re a writer new to L.A. you may want to avoid sentences such as the last one.)
I’m thinking, Jesus, someone give him a ten, would ya? But from the corner of my eye I see the beefy businessmen stealthily creep back inside the restaurant. “I only have two dollars,” I told my assailant, preparing to die.
Just then the valet came around the corner in my car. He saw the gun and immediately began blasting the horn. The lunatic ran away in a drunken serpentine fashion, knocking over a waste receptacle and a shopping cart filled with hubcaps. Once he was out of sight, the businessmen came outside, claim checks in hand, happily chatting amongst themselves.
It was pure luck that I didn’t murder them with my bare hands.
2. VET POTENTIAL ROOMIES
I was told by a musician friend who had arranged the whole thing, that the guy who owned the house from whom I’d be renting a room, was a big shot record producer in Venice. I naturally pictured Lionel Ritchie’s place in Malibu. I couldn’t wait to live at the beach!
This “house” was on a side street known colloquially as “crack alley.” It had no heat, so the “record producer” would fire up the gas oven, leave the oven door open and then go grocery shopping or out to molest sheepdogs or whatever the f@ck it was that Freakshow did when he went out.
You see, for the 2.35 days that I lived there, we shared a Jack & Jill bathroom, but prior to my occupancy Landlord Filthpig had removed my door—the one that separated my room from the toilet.
Each morning I was treated to his bodily ablutions, which he performed while reading the paper and talking to me as if I wanted to be alive at that moment, much less listening to the antichrist having a B.M. Did I mention the year was 1994 and I was to pay $895 a month for my little “room with a view,” plus a $2000 deposit. (That’s like a hundred grand in today’s money.)
He was out killing babysitters or having gerbils removed from his anus on day three of my tenancy; the day I rolled up my futon and moved to the Burbank Oakwood. I got my deposit back by hiding all of his pants.
Shoulda vetted him.
One of the first things I wrote was a screenplay based on the true story of my grandma, mom and aunt as they struggled to make ends meet in Chicago in the early 1930s. The Housekeeper is like It’s a Wonderful Life meets A Christmas Carol meets Braxton Family Values.
Anywho, I sent the thing out to every agent I could find. People “in the know” told me it would be months before I heard anything back. Imagine my elation when a big agent from a big agency called me the very same day as I hand-delivered the script?!
“Yes, this is she,” I said breathlessly into the phone.
“My lunch appointment today cancelled and I picked up your script,” he said, and I could hardly breathe. “I just had to speak with the person who wrote the most depressing piece of crap I’ve ever read.”
Present-day me would have said pleasantly, “F*ck you very much. Have a f*ck day,” and hung up. “What didn’t you like about it?” I asked plaintively, my throat closing and my eyes welling with tears.
“107 pages,” he replied. The script was 108 pages long if you counted the title page. “I liked the title,” he added. “That’s why I read the godforsaken thing.”
“What was so bad about it?” I asked, although my brain was screaming, “HANG UP HANG UP HANG UP HANG UP…”
The story involved sacrifice, hard work and that plucky immigrant spirit for which we love immigrants in movies.
“Nobody wants to see children washing floors,” he stated.
“But it’s an uplifting story about sacrifice, hard work and that plucky immigrant spirit for which…”
He cut me off. “It’s depressing.”
It wasn’t depressing. Exactly. “It’s a little Dickensian,” I conceded.
There was a long pause during which I had imagined he was rethinking the whole thing, and was mentally designing the poster…
Instead, he said, “I don’t know what it has to do with the devil, but I hate it.”
“The devil?” I asked, confused.
“The dickens, the Unholy One. Call it what you will. I won’t be in business with Satan.” Click. He hung up.
“Not the dickens!” I said to a dead phone. “Charles Dickens, you moron!”
When given the choice, listen to your internal voice if it tells you, “HANG UP HANG UP HANG UP!” And if your wish is to become a successful writer in Hollywood, for the love of Tiny Tim do not reference Charles Dickens or anyone who predates Paul Blart, Mall Cop.
K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, Scrooge.
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It is my belief that living a fulfilling and rewarding life is all about the risks we take, not the times we played it safe and maybe avoided some sort of trouble, heartache, or a prison sentence.
Imagine how colorless and tame the world would be if artists didn’t take chances. Painters, poets, and photographers will tell you there’s no BOOM in the safe bet. All the fun is outside the lines. Don’t tell me Ben & Jerry didn’t go out on a limb from time to time.
Every day I meet someone who tells me they have a great story inside of them, and then they ask if I would like to write it. I have tales of my own flapping around in the attic, so I suggest that they pen their own book/short story/ransom note. Usually they look at me as though I’ve belittled the discovery of a Starbucks on Mars.
The #1 reason people don’t write is fear. “I don’t know how and it would be embarrassing.”
There are dozens of authors who don’t know how to write, and whose books have become bestsellers, so “you really shouldn’t let a little thing like ability get in your way,” she panted, biting her lip, tingling erotically all over, biting her lip erotically. And tingling again.
Seriously. If reality TV has taught us anything, it is that there is nothing *so stupid, or so insanely insipid as to not be of tremendous interest to a fairly large swath of our “culture.”
I’ve compiled a few tips that might make it easier to overcome your anxiety and fear about getting started.
Ready, set, JUMP!
1. Carry a notebook. It can be small enough to fit into a bag or shirt pocket.
2. Pen. You’ll need a pen if you go with #1.
3. Write shit down. Ta da. The mere act of placing words on a blank page is technically writing. If you want to get specific about it, write something that you would enjoy reading. The law of averages dictates if there’s one of you, there must be more. Write for those guys.
4. Practice your authorin’ skills in everyday correspondence. You may use complete sentences with punctuation, spelling and actual words in emails. It is not forbidden to do so. 😉
To the person who felt an earlier blog was deserving of the ‘pile of dog poo’ emoticon,
5. Write two sentences each day. Make them count. You’ll begin to gain confidence. Think I’m BSing you? One rather successful author told an entire story in only six words:
Longed for him. Got him. Shit. —Margaret Atwood
Another author who was no hack wrote this,
For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn. —Ernest Hemingway
Those few words pack a wallop, don’t they?
6. Chew with your mouth closed. This is the first step toward writing like Hemingway. I promise.
*We do not refer to Feng Shui + Charlotte Nightingale, which is insanely smart and funny and in no way so stupid or insanely insipid.
As part of a nongovernment-sanctioned census, I’d like a head count from those of you who have never dated a bad boy or bad girl.
It seems we all have a Black Widow, Billy the Kid, or Patrick the Snake in our past. How can this possibly be good, you ask?
Hands up. Who has a good mate right now? How do you know he, she or they (LGBT folks date “bad” too) is really good?
Wait for it….
The most useful thing about the “bad boy” (this is what we will call the most wildly inappropriate person you could possibly unearth and go out with) is how magnificently he elevates the rest of the dating pool.
The smarmy Calvin Klein underwear model with the white loafers and commitment issues is like rain. That’s right. Dreary godforsaken rain. But we need rain because without it, it would be like living in Southern California where it’s sunny 360 days a year and people go crazy. (Picture anyone you know or have ever known from California. I rest my case.) Rain makes you appreciate the other weather.
My cousin and I went to Croatia where I met a nice guy with a restaurant and a boat. Franko and I had a little vacay thang, and my cousin and I returned to Milwaukee a few weeks later. A few days after that Franko showed up at my work with all his belongings and a pair of “wedding sandals” he had made for me. I told myself that this was a sweet thing for him to do (I hid in the lunchroom until the police had wrestled him out of the building), and I thought to myself, see? There are good guys out there who aren’t afraid of commitment. I’ve got none other than Mr. Smarmaduke to thank for that.
I don’t want the fellas to feel left out. My “friend’s” cousin “Dutch” (this is who we will call the unluckiest bastard on the globe) hooked up with a woman who slept with him once then got him to sign over the deed to his farm. I doubt she did anything extraordinary in bed. I think he was just taken in by her willingness to have sex with him “for free.” What positive thing could possible be said about such an ugly turn of events?
The next woman Dutch dated was a “dancer” from two counties over whose handbag was perpetually stuffed with damp dollar bills. Compared to the piece of work who had humped the homestead out of Dutch, Crystal seemed like a nice girl just working her way through a Ph.D. in astrophysics.
HAHA! She had four kids and an ex-husband doing a dime at *Waupun, but the point is she didn’t swindle anybody and she could be counted on to bring a nice potato salad to a family reunion or après funeral doings. (This according to my friend whose cousin is Dutch.) (These people are not my family.)
I’m happy for all of you who’ve found your keeper, your good guy, your one-and-only. I’m still looking, but given the weasels, underwear models and bass players in the Witness Protection Program to whom I have given so much, I am statistically destined to end up with either Bruce Springsteen or this hot new Pope.
*Waupun Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in Waupun WI.
1. Italian men just go for it.
Optimistic grandpas and underage virgins. Wealthy playboys, Tuscan tour bus drivers, aristocrats and gypsies are all willing to take a chance on love, usually by grabbing a handful of ass, and smacking their lips at you like spastic trout.
Whereas an American accountant who lives with his mother might think, “My chances of going to bed with a fox like Raynelle in Bankruptcy, Insolvency and Reorganization are one in 437,894,” his Roman counterpart doesn’t entertain any such negativity. “Scarlett Johansson, she is in Roma for a movie? I will pinch un bel culo and we’ll be making la dolce vita in my pants before you can say rock my rigatoni. Ciao ciao!”
2. Chocolate and red wine have charms to soothe a savage breast.
You can science-deny all you like. There is a chemical reaction at the intersection of chocolate and red wine that is incontrovertible.
Here’s a super fun experiment you can do with or without a lab partner:
Nibble a *Teuscher extra cocoa butter truffle with dark chocolate ganache filling, add one sip full-bodied Bourdeaux , and try to stop the party going on in your mouth.
*Also works with Snickers and Charles Shaw merlot. (Hey, it’s science. Who am I to argue?)
3. Boxer dogs share DNA with Winston Churchill.
This one is self-evident, but it always makes me smile. I look at the dog’s jowls and imagine him saying, with an upper crust, yet sardonic English accent, “I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be a Bendlington Terrier.” Snap!
4. High heels make your legs and butt look 67.38% better.
I love a good study. My friend Brigette B. has conducted years of carefully moderated research into the phenomenon. 25 years and thousands of pairs of stilettoes later, the results are conclusive and definitive.
“The acute angle at which your foot is bent to accommodate the shoe’s architecture is in exact proportion to the way your muscles fire on all cylinders, creating a lean, taut line. They also make you look taller.”
Isn’t science the best?
5. Men do not pay attention, it is true…
…to things we think are important, such as the extra lbs. we’ve been carrying since December, a chipped Orange-is-the-New-Black pedi, or smile lines. They notice whether we are nice to them, and our breasts.
I think cup size usually takes a back seat to their mere existence and their proximity to the man. So don’t sweat the small stuff. As long as we’ve got chocolate, red wine, the Mediterranean nation of Italia and a set of boobs, we are good to go, statistically speaking. What you do when opportunity knocks is entirely up to you!