How to Survive in L.A.



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:


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.



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.


3. K.I.S.S.

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…

housekeeper 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.


For more tips on Surviving L.A. hit me up at

Sharing is caring!

Share this: