Friday, August 13, 2010
The View from Sunset Road:
To Sunset Blvd. and Back
Recently I traveled to Los Angeles for work (and by “work” I mean trying to sell things I write to “Hollywood,” a fruitless endeavor if ever there were one). Hollywood, Dorothy Parker famously said, is the only place you can die of encouragement. I lived there for six years, and people often ask me if I miss it. I used to really think a moment before answering (something I should do more often, in general) because like a lover, any city you’ve left for another is bound to be fraught with mixed emotions. Regret. Betrayal. Longing. Unrealized dreams. Nostalgia. And finally, a sense of moving on. But this time, I answered with a quick “no.”
The simple truth is that now, eight years, two children and a case of domesticity later, I prefer Sunset Road to Sunset Blvd. (Although technically I never lived on Sunset Blvd. but in oddly named neighborhoods like Beverly Hills, adjacent. Just goes to show you how close I came to making it, out there).
My recent trip cemented for me the strange nature of Los Angeles and the entertainment industry in general. Like any addiction, when you’re in the throes you can’t see the forest for the trees, or the absurdity through the smog, as it were. My writing partner (who lives in New York) called our week of meetings “The Bottled Water Tour,” since no meeting could begin without a fetching assistant offering us a round of bottled water and exuberantly discussing the weather. Everyone was very complimentary of our work, everyone was very nice and everyone was, to our joint dismay, jarringly good-looking, and most, if not all, were thinner and younger than we were. All had nice offices with rugs and couches, stacks of magazines, plants and movie posters – the kind I used to have before I gave it up for a town where I could walk for miles without seeing a store, traffic light or billboard. I’m no Thoreau, but after 12 years in New York and Los Angeles I’d had enough of humanity up close and personal and wanted to go back to the woods. Plus I’d had one of those moments where I looked at my boss, then at her boss, and thought, I don’t want to be them.
Being back in the mix threw me. There were certain things for which I was ill-prepared. For example, the first meeting, the one I scheduled my flight around, was inexplicably and unapologetically canceled. We took advantage of the hole in the schedule to get re-acquainted with the California burrito (yes, there are some things I miss) and to meet with our manager, who immediately told me that on second thought the book I’d written that she told me she could sell she probably couldn’t. As of today, she still hasn’t read it.
The next meeting was with a company that had made their name doing big budget television commercials and was now trying to get into feature films. Things got weird when our host gave us a tour of the office. Dozens of young hipsters sat hunchbacked in front of computer screens.“The designers,” he explained. “How many people work here?” we asked. “About 400,” he said. And how many worked on the “movie” side of things?” He hesitated. “Me, and, when she’s not busy, Ashley over there.” When we pitched him a World War II story involving Hirohito’s horse, he Googled “Hirohito’s Horse” on the large screen in front of us in the conference room. I checked into the Best Western that night wondering what the hell I was doing leaving my kids for five days of this. I didn’t have much time to be depressed, however, because the hotel did not look like it did on hotels.com and I quickly began worrying about my imminent demise once the lights went out.
Then there were the troubled fish in the lobby of a big movie producer’s building. While my writing partner checked in at reception I headed straight for the koi pool, which was bigger than my house on Sunset Road. I leaned over and was instantly greeted by dozens of extremely aggressive orange and white fish. Some breeched the water like ravenous Great Whites, opening their mouths wide and struggling to stay upright a la Flipper. One – I swear this is true – leapt halfway onto the floor, flippers working maniacally, trying to reach me.
“They want you to feed them,” explained the receptionist. “I’ve never seen such aggressive fish,” I marveled. “Yeah, we brought in an animal behaviorist to try to figure out what’s going on with them,” she added. “We’re re-thinking their diet and light exposure.” I am not making this up.
My writing partner is a friend of, and is in a band with, Henry Thomas, who played Elliott in “E.T.” After being in a car for an entire week with someone (and when you have meetings in Los Angeles that is what you spend most of your time doing) you get to know the rhythms of their life. I’d hear him talking on the phone to Elliott – I mean Henry – about meeting up for band practice, or going to dinner, or what his kids were doing, and I’d wonder if I was going to come face to face with Elliott – I mean Henry. He seemed to be the one child star who hadn’t enjoyed a spectacular fall from grace. I wondered how he’d changed since then, what kind of adult he’d become.
One day he needed a ride to a friend’s house, and my writing partner was dropping me off after an eight-hour slog of bottled water, aggressive lobby fish and exciting writing assignments without pay, and he asked me if I minded giving Elliott – I mean Henry – a ride on the way. “No problem,” I said. When we arrived at his house, he came dashing out wearing a strange athletic tracksuit with shin guards, a vest that looked like a space umpire thing and was carrying some sort of foam helmet. On his feet were … some kind of shoes that can only be described as … athletically elf-like. Random one-liners raced through my head, the front runner of which was, “Whoa, Elliott, what are you, late for fencing practice?!” But what I said was, “Hi. Nice to meet you.” He was polite and had aged well. I do not know if he thought the same of me. Probably not. After we dropped off Elliott (I mean Henry), I turned to my writing partner. “What’s the deal with that outfit? Is he, like, going fencing?” As we wound our way down the impossibly narrow and curving hillside, the sun dipping into the gray horizon, he answered, “Yes. He’s really into medieval warfare. He practices a couple times a week.”
And I thought, see? He may still live here, but even Elliott’s moved on. ∆
© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito