Tag Archives: transient

“Except, Around Hollywood and Western — We Have to Keep Doing It!”

“Oh, but everyone’s got these stories!” a man of tired compassion told me as he heard my saga of homecoming, this jolly holiday season. “I mean, after all,” he said, “this country is made entirely of immigrants!”

I wondered, as I studied his ethnically ambiguous face:  Was he East Indian, a couple of generations removed from his native land and now free from all the confines of his original tradition — to make what he could of it?  It not, how ever did he find his way into my yoga class?

Was he like me:  Tasting all religions in his youth, in hopes of finding a recipe to peace?  Some religious texts had tempted me with their poetry before; others — with their majority.  I’d always wanted to belong, so I kept looking.

Was he, like me, at liberty to pick and choose between the details of his heritage, only wearing it when most convenient for his now American identity?  Did he carry his comedy routines in side pockets:  At the expense of his immigrant and heavily accented parents, he could whip ‘em out at gatherings of curious American friends?  Did he practice the routines on paper first, or did he merely get addicted to the laughter he could cause — and so he’d work them out in public?

The evening city hummed and sparkled outside the windows.  Across the street, I could see a casting space where I had once nearly died of shame by bumping into an ex-lover from a disastrous affair.  He sat in the corner, with his giant legs stretched out ahead, sounding every bit like that one asshole actor who must practice his lines out loud, at full volume, in a waiting room filled with his competition and the rookies from Ohio.

That morning, I had announced official warfare against my acne; and my Hollywood haircut refused to cooperate at covering it.

I saw him first, pretended not to, and thankfully got called immediately.  That’s when he must’ve heard my name; because by the time I had stepped out, he was standing by the doorway.

“I thought that was you!” he said and shifted on his feet as if leaning in for a hug.

Our story was so typical, it should’ve made it into a sitcom about actors in LA-LA:  He wanted a rebound with someone with his ex’s Slavic face — another actress — and I had wanted more.

“No fuckin’ way, American buddy!” I thought.

But out loud, I said, “I’ve gotta run,” and blew my bangs out of my eyes.  He noticed the stampede of pimples across my forehead:  stubborn and multiplying.  “Another audition!  Gotta run!”

“Yeah,” he said, mesmerized by my forehead.  “Yeah.  Definitely.  But let’s do coffee sometime!”

Natalia Vodianova

Everyone’s got these stories, it is true.  My friends had all suffered, at least once, from having used someone for sex, or from having been used.  And then, we’d all scrape up our dignity to have the courage to keep showing up:  to other dates and to auditions; and to the companies of friends, where we readily whip out our comedy routines and force-feed ourselves with laughter.

To be happy here, it takes discipline.  Or some serious delusion. Some of us had had those mental breakdowns that justified our flight from this fucking place.  Others would just have an episode, go home to recover — then return for more.

The ethnically ambiguous man continued:

“I’m going home myself,” he said.  “Can you believe it’s holidays already?!”

The traffic crawled along the boulevard underneath.  Two lanes of it:  one fire-engine red, another — silver.  An eatery at the corner was glistening with Christmas lights; and reflected by the changing colors of the traffic light, its giant windows would take on different shades, at well timed intervals.  With the shimmer of the hills behind it, the city looked so pretty, suddenly.  And standing above the traffic, out of it, I thought to find it peaceful.  But then, I changed my mind.

I wanted to object to my ethnically ambiguous co-practitioner of yoga:

“It’s not your turn to speak, American buddy!”

But he had been carrying on, by then.  He’s got that story, too!

And so:  I listened.

“Go Home — And Be A Better Boy! (Although, Sometimes, It’s Tricky.)”

“This is the human heart,” an actress with my name was saying in a film, last night.  “It’s light — and it’s dark.”

Well, actually, she sounded more like my motha:

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez darrk.”

The actress with my name was playing a Russian prostitute, and she’s got some serious chops.  She is an East Coaster, more of a European:  One of those disciplined artists, with a compassionate heart.

In a film, she is arguing with a potential john about urban decay.  He is a landscape architect obsessed with the world’s dark corners.  She, however, lives amidst them:  In a civilization collapsing on itself like a giant snake swallowing its own tail.  And somehow, she has a better grasp on human patterns than a man studying them, for a living, while being buried up to his chin in his sterile theories.

(I used to love a man like that.  Holy fuck!  He almost took me out of the game.)

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez darrk,” an actress with my name was saying in a film, last night.

But all I could think was:

“Tired today.  Is this where I burn out?”

It’s been hard, living around here.  In the beginning, there were difficulties related to the mere survival:  shelter, work, learning the geography of this place.  The fucking landscape!

I would figure it all out, in less than a year — and that would be the easy part.  Because it still wouldn’t let up.  The survival would get easier, sure; but somehow it never amounted to anything.  Every day, it felt like starting from scratch:  Paying the dues.  And every day, I would feel I could just burn out, at any moment.  But giving-up — was never really an option.  So, I just kept pushing.

For nearly an hour, I sat in traffic yesternight, to get to a hood only a mile away from my own.

“Could’ve walked this fucker faster,” I thought, while crawling behind a retiree fond of riding the breaks of his Chevy.

As soon as the one-lane street opened into a turn-lane in the middle, I zoomed around him.

“Christ,” I swore.

But then, I found myself behind an orange bus that added to the relentless heat wave with its boiling exhaust fumes.  I rolled up my windows and crawled behind it for another couple of blocks, while riding my breaks.

“Fucking hot!” I thought.  “Is this where I burn out, finally?”

But giving-up — wasn’t really an option.  So, I kept riding.

I cranked up the AC.

The houses on this stretch of Hollyweird wear that used-up look of a transient neighborhood.  They serve as temporary shelters to those who come to test their luck.  But the newcomers would figure it out, in less than a year, and move to more comforting neighborhoods; taking tiny slices of whatever was left — with them.  There are a few parks here, some dodgy playgrounds.  And I wouldn’t dare to find myself walking here, at night, through this fucking landscape.

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez dark.”

Did I just say that out loud?

Don’t know.

Tired today.

And it’s fucking hot.

I rolled down the windows again.  Might as well.

The smell of the collective exhaustion entered my car immediately, and all I could hear was the screeching of occasional breaks, punctuated by distant sirens.  No human voices here.

The traffic kept crawling.

“I could’ve walked this fucker faster!” I thought.

On Vine, an ancient Nissan jumped out of a pathetic shopping center and into the lane ahead of me, as if it were driven by someone looking for his own suicide.  My breaks screeched.

“Idiot.”

Then, the urban kamikaze proceeded riding his breaks.  To avoid a suicidal thought of my own, I studied the dusty white building of an Armenian church.  On its stone fence, a security guard was talking to a working girl with enormous sparkly fake eyelashes.  Both were about to start their shift.

“This eez ze human hearrt.”

Did I just say that?

Don’t know.

Tired.

I turned into the first side street and sped up.  A lanky kid with an Afro jumped out of an alley on his skateboard.  He was beautiful.  I started riding my breaks behind him.

“Fuck it!” I thought.  “I can walk this fucker faster!”

I parked behind a Grand Cherokee with chipping red paint, no longer glossy.  A hefty, tall man walked by, on a cracked pavement, audibly talking to himself.  He saw me looking, stopped muttering.  Gave me the middle finger.

“ASK ME,” said his neon orange shirt.

“This eez ze human hearrt,” I said out loud, yanked the hand break and stepped out into traffic.

“Does Enchantment Pour Out of Every Door? No! It’s Just on The Street — Where YOU Live.”

The street on which I live:

I seem to have memorized its every nook, and every speed bump; its every crack on the road.  Lord knows I’ve had enough time for that, for I have been walking it; strutting, running, driving — surviving — on it, for nearly six years.

Six years.  Who knew I’d last here for so long?

Just a week before I first landed here, I was promising a beloved back in New York:

“I’ll be back in a year.  Don’t worry.”

He didn’t:  The beloved moved on to another love, and suddenly I had no reason to come back.  So, I stayed here — for just a bit longer.

The street on which I live:

By now I know the patterns of its residential parking by heart.  This funky red house right here collects vintage cars, taking up quarter of a block for their parking.  The Spanish style apartment building at the other end:  People are always coming and going there; and if you sit in its driveway long enough, flashing your emergency lights at the rhythm of your heartbeat, you are guaranteed to get a spot sooner or later.  You gotta be quick though:  Keep flashing the lights and come upon the decked out Hollywood dandy, reeking of cologne, or the unsuspecting Armenian girl getting in her car, for a night on the town.

Pull up, roll down the windows:

“You leaving?”

Try to smile.  After all, they don’t owe you jack shit.  And if they let you take over their spot, give ‘em room to pull out.

Then, wave:

Gratitude seems to go a long way, around here.

Whatever you do:  Don’t park in front of this abandoned structure right here.  Because it’s not abandoned:  It’ll filled to the brim with emaciated cats and a single resident the face of whom I’ve never seen, for the last six years.  At nighttime, a window always lights up in the attic.  The front door is barricaded with abandoned furniture.  The front yard looks like a field of wild weeds and overgrown bushes.

Still, whatever you do:  Don’t park there!  That unattended garden with berried trees will kill the paint on your car.  And whatever you do:  Don’t feed the cats.  The sign written in crayon on the front gate says so:

“DON’T FEED CATS.  THEIR NOT HOMELESS.”

In my second year, I finally earned an occasional parking spot inside my garage.  I had been bouncing between jobs, one more terrible than the other; and after settling for a decent night gig, I negotiated to share a spot with a neighbor:  He would work the graveyard shift as a security guard; and by the time, my club closed and I came home with blistered feet, he’d be leaving for work.

In the morning, I’d have to get up, get dressed and re-park on the street, often finding my neighbor under the berried tree, still in uniform, feeding the cats.

“I couldn’t sleep,” he’d explain to me, as if caught redhanded; and his tired face fit for a Native American shaman would make me wonder how he got these emaciated creatures to come out of the house, in the first place.

At the end of that year, I would want to move:

“Stay!” my roommate recommended.  “That’s just your second-year itch.  Everyone gets it in LA.”

Curiously, I’d drive around other neighborhoods:  funky or cheesy, some parading their wealth, others — their transient despair.  I would do that for a week, applying to a couple of New-York-like buildings.  But then, I’d come back to my street:  That was just my second-year itch.  Everyone gets it in LA.

The street on which I live:

The faces of its residents have been tattooed into my memory, even after they move on.  And many have moved on.  A couple of working girls in my building with decent night gigs:  They’d get so tired surviving on this street, and in this city, while waiting for their big break.  A few would eventually land a small acting gig — a stand-in for the big break — and they’d move to better places, better streets.  Some would leave for their boyfriends’.  Others — would go home.

That pretty blonde, who used to be a redhead in the first year of living here:  She got her first speaking role on a canceled show.

“It only took five years,” she said to me in my garage, and she scoffed with such scorn, it made me want to move on.

Her roommate, a pretty black girl with extensions and a shaggy dog, had already left.  She couldn’t wait for her big break any longer.

That pretty blonde, who used to be a redhead, would be gone within a week.

The security guard with a tired face fit for a Native American shaman would leave too.

The street on which I live:

Some of the faces seem to stay here forever.  There is the family of a jeweler — a family of good faces — that lives in a rustic house with wooden furniture.  They don’t smile much; but by now, the mother of the house has learned to nod at me, while she waters the lawn at sunset.  And the lonely old woman that always knocks on her second story window:  She would seem quite sad in her dementia, if she weren’t so childlike.  And the handful of Armenian men, selling random goods in their front yards every weekend:  They get quiet every time I walk, strut or run by; and they keep smoking their cigars.

The street on which I live:

There seems to be so much humanity here, and so much mercy.

In the gated house directly across from my building, there is supposed to be some sort of a shelter.  Another building, half a block up, serves as a home for homeless teenagers and runaways.  And than there is that abandoned structure right here:  It gives shelter to the forsaken cats.  But at least,

“THEIR NOT HOMELESS.”

And at the end of last week, someone had made a new shoefiti:  At the intersection that leads to my street, a pair of Dorothy’s sparkling ruby slipper was thrown over a telephone line.  Some say these shoes are meant to be stolen or unwanted.  And sometimes, they belong to a departed.

 

“Beggin’, Beggin’ You-Ooh-Ooh: Put Your Lovin’ Hand Out, Baby!”

“Night flight to San Francisco; chase the moon across America…” *

Well, actually, it’s more like a flight to San Francisco, at the break of dawn — and I’m chasing my insomnia.

As I’ve done often, especially when transient, I’m watching other women, collecting the evidence on how they wear their skin; on what it must have been like to be them — to be not me.  To be unlike me.

I haven’t had many women in my earlier childhood to run my life by:  Thrown into a nomadic lifestyle early on by my father’s profession, I didn’t get to keep my girlfriends for long.  And motha?  Well, motha was too young to be a mother; so she would eventually become my girlfriend — but not until I myself was ready for it.  (That last one had to happen on my own terms.  Sorry, motha.)  At first, I would start to strut a little bit ahead of her, increasingly more on my own, more decisively; until she would take the lead no longer.

And so, while I’m chasing my insomnia at the break of this particular dawn, peaking through the sliding door of LAX, I watch the girls and women en route to their journeys.  Some are traveling on the arms of their beloveds:

—  Like the little girl sleeping in the most reassuring embrace of her father, with a dog furry like a golden retriever in place of a pillow.  Soak it up, you little one:  It’s going to be tough for other men to measure up.  Little girls born to good fathers end up married to their high expectations for a really long time.  I should know.  But for now, you do have this.  So, soak it up, my little one.

The young girl with a tired smile of someone that has traveled a lot:  You’re walking ahead of a woman that looks like your mother, and I already see the impatience that inspires you to lead the way.  And that’s wonderful.  But don’t forget to look back, my young girl.  Just on occasion, do look back at the one that you seem to despise the most, at times.  She does know you the best — and she knows the best and the worst of you, while hopefully still sticking by you, unconditionally — and for all of that, you despise her at times.

You, beautiful girls, traveling in couplings:  I pray your companions are worthy of your beauty.  But more over, I hope your kindness is worth even more.  They let you take the lead:  these good men of yours volunteering their life to the impossible task of measuring up to your fathers.  So, do look back at them, at times.  They’re just doing their best.

The frail women accompanied by their grown children:  Your life has been a success.  And the equally frail women looked after by the uniformed staff of the airport:  That’s alright, too.

“Your laptop should be in a tray by itself!  Your shoes — placed directly on the conveyer belt!  Do NOT place your keys inside the shoes!”

She is very tired: The security woman regurgitating the same information to my fellow travelers in line.  We are all tired, of course; but the ones she finds herself serving, for the rest of her life — or for now, at least — at least, we are going somewhere.  She, however, gets to stay behind and look over the safety of our journeys.  It must be hard to do this much looking over, on the daily basis, for the rest of her life.  Or for now, at least.  And those that are leaving are often impatient, tried by circumstances; and they are sometimes unkind and so ungrateful.  (Don’t they know she has their safety in mind?)  To look over them — is her job, not necessarily her dream.  And she is so tired of it, for now, at least.

“Does anybody have a nail file?  ANYBODY?  LADIES?!”

This one is standing in the middle of the waiting area by my gate.  She, too, seems tired, but hopped-up on something.  A few younger girls have been jolted by her aggression already.  She has even shaken one of them awake from her tired sleep, and the young one has opened her eyes and smiled with that smile of someone that has traveled a lot.

The hopped-up creature carries on.  She now jolts the lovely hippie with Jolie-esque lips who is listening her headphones and shooting impatient, concerned gazes at Gate 37B.  (We are the only ones without a monitor, so the gurgled announcement by our tired stewardess is the only source of information.  The Jolie-esque hippie can’t hear them, of course; so she jolts herself to remember to pay attention.)

The aggressive female passenger, however, is too hopped-up on something to notice the annoyance she is arousing in the youthful creature:

“Broke a nail!  LOOK!” she shoves her hand under the Jolie-esque lips.  The lovely hippie jumps, readjusts, and as kindly as her tiredness allows — excuses herself.

“Um.  Anyone?  LADIES!  REALLY?!”

“I think I might,” I finally step up to the plate.

The hopped-up female leaps toward me and, while I put away my writing and rummage through my bag for my tired memories as to where I could’ve stored that darn thing, she looms above me.  We are all chasing insomnia right now, on this San Francisco flight at dawn; but she may be chasing something else.

After the mission is accomplished she offers to buy me a drink:  Kindness by affliction.

“Thank you:  I don’t drink,” I say.

“Sorry, what?  WHAT?!” Just like that, she switches off any tired niceness, dismissing the possibility for gratitude and takes offense.  She gets offensive.  “I can’t understand you?!  Do you have an accent?”

Yep:  Definitely, hopped-up on something.  Perhaps, its tiredness she can no longer handle without an affliction.

I excuse myself to the bathroom:  We’re done here, sister!  The Jolie-esque lips shoot me a compassionate smile.  I don’t look back.

“Flight VX (gurgle-gurgle) to San Francisco is now boarding at (gurgle-gurgle).”

The handsome Latin woman with perfectly glossed lips and a tired gaze has finally come out to announce the clearing skies up north.  She has been so tormented by the impatience of those of us going somewhere.  We tend to be so unkind, sometimes; so ungrateful.

But the important thing is:  The San Francisco skies have cleared, at dawn; and each woman can carry on with her own journey.  We can go now, and hopefully, most of us cannot wait to land.  And as we board the aircraft to chase our mutual insomnia, I look back at the handsome Latin woman behind:

Here is my gratitude, love — and my very tired kindness.

* Kushner, Tony.  Angels in America.

“Have You No Sense of Decency?”

Sirens.  They are so much louder in this city, it seems; louder than anywhere else. (And I’ve heard my share, trust me.  I hate it.)

They are louder than in that other place I keep procrastinating returning to, regardless of its coordinates as the Center of the Universe (because I haven’t paid my dues here yet, you see).  But then, these police hollers are not as as loud as those other things, up in my neighborhood’s sky every bloody night, shooting down searchlights into a zip code that shoots searchlights back up at it, from every douchy new joint that won’t last.

Nothing really lasts, it’s true.  But LA-LA has a special talent for transience.

Everybody despises it here, at least at one point or another.  It’s what this city is here for, don’t cha know?  This poor, used-up girl!

When I think of LA-LA’s face, I think of a woman, of course; of someone who is moderately pretty and lovable, but with time.  She is the girl one settles for, not the heartbreaker perfectly dressed at all times who ruins a man’s heart with her impossibility and expensive, addictive perfumes.  No, LA-LA is much simpler than that:  She is there, for the taking — if one is kind enough and patient.  But if ever you decide to break-up with her, she’ll let you go so freely you’ll wonder if she ever even loved you at all.  So, the joke’s on you, really.  And no matter where the departed go from here — from her — don’t you worry:  She’ll be fine.  She’ll still be here, for the next guy.

The natives (who are in the minority here, because the minorities — are not):  They despise the newcomers.  And there are plenty of those, every day climbing off their Greyhounds and shuttles; interrogating their cabbies as if they were tour guides.  (I would hate to be a cabdriver in this city:  too many flights.)  It’s endless, this influx of dreamers.  Perpetual.  THANK GOD.

And then, the newcomers despise not being important enough, not quickly enough.  Back in the pond where they’ve come from, they used to be so beloved:  How dare you not know their name?!  Or maybe, they weren’t loved enough, and they’ve come here to avenge themselves.  Regardless:  They have yet to learn that LA-LA doesn’t give a damn about their personal agendas.  Here, time is made of liquid rubber (and it stinks equally).  It takes time to make a name for yourself (even if you’ve come here with a name).  But first, you have to make a living — and a life.

The beautiful girls, of which LA-LA has plenty:  The beautiful girls who lose their beauty here — that’s what they hate this city for.  They would’ve wasted their youth elsewhere, it’s true; but then, it least, it would’ve gained them something.

I bumped into one of them the other day:  She’s been paying her dues for six years now, just like me; and after endless auditions and plenty of cocktail waitressing, she’s finally earned herself an Under-Five on a some show about Hollywood douche bags.

“Congratulations, love,” I said.  “Where to next?”

“HOME.  I’m going home.”

The young, heartbreaking boys with low expectations and a high tolerance for deprivation; who sleep in cars in between apartments (because it makes for a great story, once they’re famous) — they think they don’t need love around here.  They can do without it, for now:  They’ve got time.  But when they learn that time is made of liquid rubber, randomly, they start poking around.  Poking themselves into any moderately pretty girl who’ll pay attention after enough drinks — and attention.  All this random poking into loveless girls — that’s their beef with this city.

“No offense,” one of them shot me a stare the other day as if I were the one offending him.  “But there are no decent women here.”

I rebutted quickly and well (I’ve had practice, you see).  He laughed, changed his mind (was I worthy of a poke?), and asked me if I had “anything on me”.

“Anything on me?”

“Don’t cha like to have some fun?” he said; then, shot me another spiteful stare.  I was just another dumb bitch, who, at least, had the decency to be decent.  But he wasn’t after decency, really.

Oh, we’ve all had a share of mistakes here; have fallen prey to douches and scams.  But that’s okay.  Silly mistakes are okay.  Just don’t be stupid.  LA-LA is too small of a town for stupidity, because somebody knows somebody else.  The word gets around.

Here, you’re always supposed to know a Somebody:  Knowing a Somebody gets you closer to your own Somebody-ness. So, you hang on to the few famed ones, drink up from their expensive pool, up in the hills.  You memorize the names of their siblings and pretend liking their dogs, just so one day you may say to somebody, over pizza:

“That’s my friend:  Somebody!”  And you all stare at the face blown up on the screen and feel like you’re ever so closer to having paid your own dues.

And every once in a while, an actual friend of yours — not just a Somebody but a comrade-in-arms — books something big.  (This must be the reason why I myself love pilot seasons in LA-LA.)  And it’s wonderful.  Oh, how wonderful!  THANK GOD.  And if you haven’t lost the ability for compassion to your own sense of despair, you feel thrilled for her.  Because it also means there is still hope; that dreams are not forsaken, in LA-LA.

But then, your friend leaves.  If she doesn’t leave for another city, she leaves for a different demographic.  You may still have a chance to hang out at her expensive pool, up in the hills; sitting next to the next transient guy, despising this city:

LA-LA has a special talent for transience.  But at least, you have a chance to cash in your own big check (after enough time and patience; dues and poking around).  And if you’re still with it — at your turn for Somebody-ness — it’ll get you closer to your next dream.  Or the next city.