It was a cool, uninspiring San Fernando Valley evening. The only activity I did on Saturday nights was to invade the Barnes and Nobles on Ventura to bum free words, sentences and paragraphs. I read every book, involving the great master filmmaker and icon: David Lynch.
The upper level of the bookstore was worth a semester of film school for free. I scanned everything and carried along a small copybook to take notes. I lost myself in Lynches philosophies on filmmaking and life. It was amazing: once a man stepped behind a camera the world demanded his thinking process.
I picked up scraps and crumbs of advice from all the greats: Kubrick, Aronofsky and Stone. Maybe I missed something. Maybe, they found an easier way in the gates of Hollyweird. No book on film, lighting, cameras or Cinematography was off limits. I visually attacked them all until the gothic, androgynous clerk gave me the fifteen-minute warning call to closing.
I often shared space with the homeless, the semi homeless, the valley riff raff and the struggling actors of all shapes and sizes. Suburban faces: some filled with hope and others with desperation. Most of them dressed as extras in Spike Jonez video, or a casting agent was going to trip and fall into their laps, cutting through the aisles on self-defense and Buddhist chants.
These people would never be seen meandering through the aisles of a bookstore in their own hometown. That was for the intellectual folks not the pretty people, but like me they were trying to find secret answers in words. There might be a cryptic, hidden message in a volume to get them through the vicious Hollywood front, side or back door. A masterful scheme that seldom worked.
Before entering the bookstore, thirty minutes until closing, I sat in the parking lot and smoked the weed that my friend Dees gave me a week ago. We hit the club scene in the LBC that night, and then I dropped him home where he slid it to me.
Earlier, I used half the sack strolling on the hidden bike path, taking long zombie like strolls: killing time, boredom and brain cells. I smoked some in the Fitness Center, while I sprinted red-eyed on the treadmill at LA Valley College. The rest was inhaled, during my late night reading sessions on Ventura.
Afterward, I grabbed my computer bag and headed toward the side door of the building. Locked! I took a right and approached the front door, briskly strolled inside then stepped up the stairs trying to appear important like everyone else: fooling only myself.
I entered the lobby of the bookstore, found a seat and rested. The climb tested my smoke abused lungs. I took deep, heavy breaths as I lowered my computer bag to the ground and noticed a cheap phone stuck in the seat cushion, which fell to my feet. No Frills. Just basic.
I searched the aisle with a quick glance and picked it up. I was the king of cheap phones and could verify this was a keeper. It rang with short, quick, generic beeps. I examined the small LCD screen. It said: Mom.
My heart warmed. I thought about my own mother and how I missed her, as she sat in her chair watching TV, caring for her championship level Canadian Tollers. Probably not thinking about her eldest son: the dreamer who left home eight years ago with scattered reports of close calls in the industry and one Jan Michael Vincent sighting (he had nice, muscular legs)
I don’t know if it was the weed or loneliness, but I kept the phone to further investigate the owner’s life. I wondered who this person was and what they did. My first guess was actor and of course I was correct.
I opened up his phone and saw a thin, red haired man of thirty with a suburban, apple pie expression. My eyes had seen a thousand of his type in my lifetime. Sitting in the stands, at soccer games peacefully: the American cul-de-sac dream placed before his feet.
The next picture struck my heart like a pinprick. It was the same guy (the phones owner) holding a new baby. The surroundings of the background shouted winter: bare trees and heavy coats of snow. The photo brought me back to my own winter days back in the Garden State. The photo showed the love and the innocence I once knew back home. Watching the young children, transforming into teenagers. All the years I missed.
The deceptive apricity on overly sunny days, which registered below zero and could freeze a moose solid. Walking through the snow broth with worn cheap sneakers. I didn’t miss those days, but I knew this man was from my part of the country. Another call came quickly: it read Jack.
That was two calls in less than five minutes. I hadn’t received one all day. The emptiness grew in my belly and heart. The phone stopped ringing. I rifled through his pictures desperately, like a jealous ex-lover. Who was this man? Why did He come here? I had to know. I had to see if he was seeking the same dream. I had to see if he had found the elusive Golden Fleece called success.
Pictures of his family, which looked as if they had been ripped from the pages of my own world. It wasn’t my family, but I had seen enough families like his. He is upper middle, New England stock I suspected.
Ski trips, family outings, and wooden table barbeques in the back yard with the above ground pool. Father and Uncle Bill told Vietnam stories with hatred for the long haired, girly boys and how the neighborhood was becoming too brown, but the football team might be better and their taxes would pay for it. Fair trade! This is America!
I flipped to another picture of the baby: older and with a California background. It looked like he had hitched up the truck and moved to Beverly Hills. Well, maybe a little more north. One had to be Persian or Russian to live in the Hills these days.
He moved his tiny clan to the ‘Valley of evil!’ I dreaded the next internal question racing through my noggin. The phone rang again: Mary (or one of those Plain Jane names)
Hey don’t forget about the audition of Friday. You need to wear a jacket. Ask for Michelle. Take care. BTW how is the baby?
Three messages in five minutes! Madness!
I rifled through the rest of his pictures and then his text messages. Most of the sweet, typed texts were from: mother to son, wife to husband and friend to friend: all kinds of friend: Male and female: communicating about their acting classes, auditions and headshots.
I found his name and typed it in IMDB, stalking my potential competition. It came up with his picture. It was the face of the man holding the baby. He did extra work and had only been in LA for two years.
The All-American, New Englander had been bitten by the same dreaded bug that bit me, but he brought his family to experience the hardship. My heart felt for them. I had been in Holly hell for almost a decade: give or take a couple fortnights.
I knew their fate. I knew the path and saw right away he didn’t have what it took. I didn’t mean his skill level. In his defense he had been a movie set Atmosphere: a glorified background. He was moving toward a positive direction, which was better than most of the star struck sheep.
Three years was the breaking point or should I say waking point for most. After three years, the real Hollywood Dream showed her face and then it became fight or flee. The Illusion was revealed as she showed her teeth. Most run toward normal jobs, with photos of famous friends or back to the land of their birth: older, bitter and sometimes crazy. Their mouths chanting mantras of madness: You have to be Jewish! You have to be gay! You have to be a scientologist! You have to sell you soul!
The man in the telephone was too happy. He had a family and a purpose. Most of the messages involved borrowing money from family and the generic typical ‘keep your head up’ words from the folks, while an equally skilled actor/cohort filled him with dead end auditions and worn out paths to success.
I felt jealous and melancholy at the same time. So many calls. So many people loved him. His phone rang and rang as thought it was calling out to its master. He would eventually feel the madness. He would feel the loss of himself and what he had to be. I found that to be the common conclusion in the city of schemes.
He would see the illusion. Could he take the madness? Could he take the loss? Would his wife be supportive? Could he work a job way below his education (or could he take a step down in life for a fantasy?
Hollywood/LA/ the Valley were lands specifically made for the broken. If one was not born there, they couldn’t understand the hidden codes. The true natives knew the reality but they kept it silent. It had to be discovered like a covered tiger trap, with no guide back to freedom.
I was much like my new friend at one time. A smiling teacher, from the land of the Boss and syringe filled beaches with desires to bite the apple of fame. With formulated plans and ideas, this worked in my head, but not in reality. I saw it all crumble like dry crumb cake.
Me, the jersey writer eating dollar burgers once a day, who grew a pony tail because he wanted to hide behind a new identity, while sitting in a book store on a Saturday, high as a kite leaning side to side and listening to World Music from Eastern Europe.
The tiger trap. Would he share my fate? Of course not.
Mentally, I gave him two years before the Missus pulled the plug and he was selling cars or insurance.
I once had the smile of promise and the look of a polished dreamer, with glassy eyes and fresh washed skin. My eyes were now heavy and skin ruddy from running circles around Balboa Park, for something to do besides sitting in valley cafes, getting raped playing chess with Paul my sixty year old buddy at the coffee shop in Van Nuys. Afterwards, I went to class at LA Valley College to talk with the six foot Russian girl I attempted to woo.
I got her number in front of the young Armenian, staring on like Meerkats. It ended at three calls. I couldn’t afford gas to West Hollywood and my car cut out at stoplights.
I was tempted to leave the phone with the cashier downstairs, but I decided (for better or worse), to take the phone and live his life for a night.
Again, I looked over his pictures taking myself to his small town world wondering what he does on a Saturday night.
Was he playing the role or humbly trying to find a way?
Enjoying a five-dollar pizza night with his wife, as they went over his monologue for the audition next Monday.
Was he over his friends in the middle of a sobremesa: sipping wines while telling themselves they could all out act Keanu? Was he going over the numbers in his head or was he high fending off sleep, with a borrowed cell phone that rang all night.
Text from his mother and older sisters, streamed across the small, gray screen. Deep down inside, I knew we were similar. I read the messages, looked at his pictures then stalked him on IMDB:
Hey big brother, how are you? Just checking up on you. Have not heard from you in a while. I hope all is well. How are Jen and the baby?
Hello Son. Call dad and let him know you’re okay. Text us back. I’m bad at this stuff. Love you.
I knew him probably better than the people in his Santa Monica, 3rd street acting class. Sadly, I realized my only communication had been his actor friends’ phone calls and texts from that evening. My sadness expanded from my weary crown to blistered feet.
That cheap mobile phone might be the lifelines of the next: Spacey, De Niro or Travolta. I imagined him panicked; retracing his steps from every destination he traveled that day.
Later, I looked up his buddies on IMDB: all lower level actors, just above the status of Extras. College films and small shorts the extent of their thespian chops: to be fair one woman had been on a sitcom back in ninety-six. I stole his precious mobile and held it captive by my side. I told myself I would return it in the morning.
I went to the Coffee shop on Oxnard and Van Nuys owned Greg, a grey haired, thin, Up-State-New York escapee: whose claim to fame was a night on the Gong Show, well getting gonged. He too had his Hollywood, fame dream killed by his wife. He had bought the Italian style café from a couple of Russians that year. That place had always been my haven while in the Valley. He was a good guy and sometimes gave me cans of coke on the house.
Ralph, who was known proudly as Satan to his Venice beach poetry family, sat next to me by the window, slumped down and mad at the world. He was a bleached skinned, Mexican ex con/ poet who frequently battled with crack addiction.
On the sofa, to the side was Paul, a slumped back Chess player somewhere near sixty. He was the youngest child of eleven to a Minnesota minister. He told me a story of being homeless on the streets of the Big Apple at the tender age of twenty.
I was there to write short stories, poems and scripts to keep up the illusion: one of the three might hit riches, like an oil gusher in a barren desert.
I kept scribing to convince myself all these days in this warm weather purgatory had been for something. At noon, I changed clothes and went to Balboa Park to run around, the outer region of the fenced in golf course, which had a dirt trail where the coyotes used to hunt squirrels and frolic.
I ran at least eight miles a day, and then parked my unregistered car at the Police station near the Van Nuys Library. The phone could wait.
I left my valuables inside, as I walked to LA Valley College to my PE class, then as planned drop the phone at the cashiers.
I handed it over to the chubby, dark haired, twenty-something cashier. She took it with a smile. I exited through the front door onto Ventura Blvd, feeling a little less whole but relieved, like a thousand pounds came off my shoulders. Temptation and evil thoughts lost again. Take that Devil!
The actor’s phone could have landed in the hands of the Armenian Mafia. A crooked, Armo thief could have used up all the minutes, by calling the capitol of Armenia known as Glendale.
I hopped in my red Sentry and secretly made my way to the McDonald’s for my late dinner. I thought about the actor and secretly hope the best for him. I silently prayed he avoided the pitfalls. I hoped he didn’t have to rent a room from a Dream Loony and her serial-killer-to-be son, living in the only remaining Caucasian section of Van Nuys.
I turned in the parking lot but stayed in my car and meditated on the event. Then mentally replayed my own LA experience.
What the heck was I doing? Throwing these years away for nothing?
I rested my head on the steering wheel and realized: my own phone had not rang all day…
David is also the author of the novel Exodus from the River Town, published by Shook Up publishing.
- His Mommy Died Today Poem
- Red Brick Altar