6.13.2014

What to Do When Your Dad Becomes an Action Star

It's a tricky thing, writing about people you love. And I don't only mean from a legal standpoint, which is a whole other can of worms when most of them are lawyers, but also on a more emotional level. The one where you're afraid they might get together and shun you if they ever so much as read your blasphemous diatribe, officially disown you if anybody else reads it, and execute you as a heritic in the unlikely event it actually gets made.

I like to write about my family. I suppose I'm inspired by people who once lived in my house over those living in other people's houses because I know this particular bunch much better. Also because I love them. Oh, and because we are a loud and aggressive clan, particularly when confronting one another as a group, and I'm not sure any of them fully understood my point of view the first time around.

My mother is a retired English teacher with an advanced degree in British Literature. Naturally I expect a degree of objective professionalism from her when offering up my work for a proofread. However, when recognizing characters she may have married or given birth to confronting situations she remembers quite differently, her reaction is as mixed as the rest of the family. On the one hand, they are all flattered to be memorialized, even in something as flimsy and irrelevant as an unproduced screenplay. On the other hand, they are highly insulted. An indignant re-working of a "scene or two" is requested at once, and since I asked, one particular character's over-arching motivations could use some re-tooling throughout!

What loved ones have trouble undersanding is that regardless of who inspires them, characters exist only to serve the story. If I were looking for historical accuracy, I would be a failed documentarian, not a failed screenwriter of heartbreaking and poignant adult family dramedies. Back in film school, My Legendary Story Structure Professor handed out a sheet of loglines of various classics, which in and of themselves were open to extreme interpretation. "Traumatized Kansas runaway suffering a severe head injury falls under the spell of three homeless men in the grip of their own psychiatric issues," for example, would become a very different film than The Wizard of Oz in the hands of, say, David Lynch. My professor's point was not only that there is no such thing as an original idea, but also that there is no such sin as thievery. Writers who don't borrow from their own lives in an effort to imbue their stories with an air of authenticity are otherwise known as hacks.

I'm writing a spec script loosely based on a family vacation whose protagonist is a man vaguely resembling my father. Him and Steve Martin, actually, since I'm no fool and I'd like to actually sell the damn thing this time. My goal is to make my dad not only my real life hero but also the hero of a big screen Hollywood adventure. Then again, I hope he knows that fictional heroes are flawed. In movies that do any box office at all, they are often animated, lacking in personal insight and the butts of their own jokes.

Though he's now retired, my father was once a big, blustery Miami lawyer, whose unlikely connection to Hollywood was a cameo in The Birdcage. In the scene where Robin Williams convinces Christine Baranski to meet Calista Flockhart's parents, she is held up by an open causeway leading to the mainland. At the request of a city official he knew from the Rotary Club, my father agreed to sail his boat at full mast again and again beneath the draw-bridge. Though amused at the idea of his becoming an action star, I'd have been even more impressed had his direction been provided by Mike Nichols himself rather than some no-name second unit A.D. with a bullhorn.

Dad also once negotiated a Hollywood deal for a client whose bayfront mansion served as the primary location for Two Much, memorable only as the film on which Melanie Griffith first met the then married to someone else Antonio Banderas. The sexy European superstar was attempting to cross over on the heels of his early work with Pedro Almodovar. Never having heard of any of these people, Dad walked right past "the little Spanish guy," likely mistaking him for a cater waiter. I'm not sure if Dad asked the leading man for a Myers on the rocks, but that was Dad's drink, so it's a safe bet if his big star sighting happened to occur around cocktail hour.

Dark rum and expensive steak and cigars. That's how I remember my Dad smelling growing up. I remember him stepping into his big white Mercedes at the valet of a fancy restaurant after treating me to a special birthday lunch. "Have a martini," he would say. "You're old enough now, aren't you? Go on and order the Caesar salad, they make it right at the table." But that's not the dad I'm writing about, mostly because that one doesn't work with the story. I need to focus on the hapless dad bellowing orders on his sailboat while the rest of us did our best to ignore him. The dad who wants something, in this case a loyal and receptive crew, and can't get it until the bittersweet end when he learns the price was too high. That's the movie version. For the Hallmark version, I'll have to spring for the oversized card come Father's Day. And pray that this is the one that gets made, because while he may not know a thing about Spanish independent cinema, I sense my father will recognize a loving homage when he sees one coming his way.

Note: Republished for Father's Day 2014, from an original post on May 20, 2007.

6.10.2014

What Not to Do When You Meet a Rolling Stone

I was introduced to one of the Rolling Stones at a dinner party. Apparently he's the fifth one, though he's not skinny, old, or even English, so I'm not sure he really counts. Also he didn't have a supermodel on his arm, but rather a perfectly lovely conceptual artist around my age.

We talked local architecture, earthquakes and heart health, but I can't say I found him all that fascinating. Hollywood parties are about figuring out who has what you might want, and I'm just not looking for a backstage pass. I gave up champagne with the rest of my illusions, weed is something to be whacked in the garden, and I can put together my own late night snack table, with or without glutens.

What I am after is a lasting connection. To my mind, that means either a very big job offer or a request for my hand in marriage. Either or, I'm really not picky.

Imagine my reaction to a second pair of party guests visiting the same home on another occasion. He's a network executive credited with saving a certain ensemble sitcom from implosion after the cast created a mafia. She's his wife. They met on a bus tour of the Holy Land shortly after her starter marriage to some lesser specimen fell apart. "We were just friends," she said of the gem at her side in four brilliant words, translating from the Yiddish, "no chuppah, no shtuppah."

I could not decide which of them I loved more. He was a king. She was a goddess, and also a lawyer, which is a pretty cool combination in any town. Forging a friendship with either half of this power couple could only mean promising introductions and the sharing of well-guarded secrets. I would finally learn where to winter in Maui when Aspen gets snowed in! Oh, the laughs we'd have about the time I was single and on a budget.

Wouldn't you just know I'd be stuck on the far side of a huge table beside some ass yakking at me about his political opposition to Twitter. "All that 'liking' and 'following'?" he offered up like a stock tip. "Corporate conspiracy, look into it."




A delightful elderly lady on my other side suddenly began gushing about having found not one but two great dresses on sale somewhere for sixty-nine bucks each. Then again, she may have been visiting another era, since she was said to be suffering from advanced dementia, but given the right cut and fabric her enthusiasm made perfect sense to me.

This is around when I caught Tweetboy checking a baked salmon for extra eyeballs. With the steely determination of a Nazi hunter, he laid out the inevitable world domination of Norway's fish farmers, snapping a picture for his files. "Be afraid," he said. "Be very afraid." I definitely was.


The evening was over before I could reel in either one of my own catches. I vaguely remember a desperate attempt to pull focus with an off-color joke about some sexually ambiguous filmmaker, followed by a weak request to pass the potatoes.

I later reached out to the husband on Linkedin, though he has yet to accept. Like it or not, there is a food chain in Hollywood. It must be respected, even after you make your way into the right parties -- where rambling old ladies understand you completely, and rock legends are dismissed with the full-fat cheese, and the only thing certain your future holds is looking back at you from a beautifully polished silver platter.

6.06.2014

Djulie Unchained

Luckily there are no rules in Hollywood, or I definitely would have broken one by telling Darren Star he should be reading my blog. I also told him I would be referring to him here only as "Mr. Bigger" which was both a bald-faced lie and not terribly clever, simultaneously breaking two more rules that don't exist in the span of six seconds, give or take.

In my defense, the chances of Darren Star actually reading my blog aren't much better now than him doing so had I never spoken to him at all. He has people and minions who have people and minions of their own to not read my blog, so I can't imagine him wanting to not want to read it himself. Then again, if there's one thing I've learned about Hollywood it's that anything can not happen at any time.

We were at a Writer's Guild event where famous writers gather to tell the rest of us how that happy event comes to pass, and apparently it has something to do with following your instincts, except when it doesn't. Also it's about luck and timing, except when it isn't, and at the end of the day, it's about story and character except when it's about other stuff. One of these is being in the right restaurant at the right time with the right network president prepared to pitch a high concept medical procedural. "It's not a who done it, it's a what done it," you are supposed to lob across the table with the bread rolls. "The germs are the bad guy," you should add. You might want to use both your napkin and the finger bowl at this point, though both are optional.

This was apparently how "House' was sold, and though I never saw "House," I am impressed by the fact that the TV show, rather than say the United States House of Representatives, comes up first when you Google the word, with or without quotes. I didn't even stay to hear the "Breaking Bad" guy speak, since I never never saw that, either, and the sum of what I know about both series is 1) They are about guys,  2) They win awards and 3) None of this has anything to do with me.

Darren Star, on the other hand,  created an iconic show about four separate and fully-formed women, all around my age. One of them is a writer. Who writes about sex. And the city. He created Melrose Place even as I lived all that right here in these pages.  He gave the world Beverly Hills, 90210; I got a parking ticket there meeting with an agent who never signed me. On top of all that, he's a fellow Bruin, who told at least three anecdotes I'd heard or read elsewhere, including in the pages of a UCLA doctoral thesis around his work.

Really, there comes a point when failure and success are just a hair's breadth away from one another, and there is something incredibly liberating about being the one without a single thing to lose.

"Darren Star to produce irreverent new comedy based on unknown blog discovered en route to the men's room!" Variety would declare once we get our cast-contingent pilot pick-up after a lucrative network bidding war. "Not That Much Sex in This City," Nikki Finke would sniff come awards season, in the event it ever becomes legal for her to live snark the red carpet again. Oh, the early morning quips the big deal producer and his overweight sensation will trade with Al Roker about our kooky friendship that would have never happened but for my inappropriate stalking  old school Hollywood moxie.

I told Darren Star I had no idea why I'd shown up to this event, which was probably the nuttiest thing possible to have shared, being the painful truth and all. I write unproduced features and I write them alone at Starbucks, where we screenwriters don't even look at one another, let alone tweak pages meant to be shot in the morning while simultaneously knifing one another in the back.

"The name's Djulie," I wish I'd added over a shoulder, blowing on an imaginary six shooter and walking off into the sunset with my head held high. "The D is silent, hillbilly." He would have forgotten it either way, but he might have had someone who was anyone call the police first,  and you can be dead sure one or all of them would most certainly not check out my blog.

6.05.2014

Diary of a Mad Screenwriter

One of the best ways to tell if you're a real writer is you don't feel normal unless specifically engaged in the act or writing, which is to say hardly ever. Certainly there are days when I spend virtually all of my waking minutes working, but this only happens once the characters have sprung forth fully formed from the bare bones of my story. At that point, they're pretty much running the show until they've dictated every last one of their assorted wants and needs, which I'm expected to serve like a scullery maid between brief and fitful bouts of sleep.

What would seem to most people a disturbing psychiatric diagnosis indeed is in fact the writer's version of an overall sense of well-being.



















It's hard to explain all of this to "regular" people, such as my brother, although in his case I use that term loosely. He chooses to live on some tiny little island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where they frequently run out of important staples such as diet Coke and cheese.  To my mind this is where they ship guys named Chuzzleworth to go away and die in Dickens novels.


He returns stateside only occasionally to buy electronics at Wal-Mart, complain about the traffic and question the veracity of this supposed little Hollywood career of mine spanning the better part of two decades now. "I've got something going with Forest Whitaker," I'll report brightly. "The Forest Whitaker. That guy."

"Call me when the funding comes through," he'll sniff. Somehow convinced I'm supported by space aliens who drop little wads of cash around the garden for me to dig up on the full moon, he's equally mystified by this blog. "I don't see the point," he said during a recent visit. "What kind of writer writes for free?" 

Did he really not know that some of Mark Twain's most memorable work comes from his journals? Oscar Wilde wrote his diaries behind bars, as did Anne Frank, Nelson Mandela, Václav Havel and pretty much every Russian with a pencil. To translate the tenacity of the genre in a more familiar language, I considered offering up some free porn from the memoirs of Anaïs Nin, Henry James and Simone de Beauvoir.

I settled on hitting him with the monetary potential around getting noticed in Hollywood. "If you build it, they will come," I said.

"No they won't," he scoffed. "Get out of the fairy tale."

Though most of our conversations end with these last words of advice, part of me had to wonder if he was right. I've been "building it" my entire life -- hellbent on getting into the fairy tale. This is where my Oscar awaited, along with my beloved Prince -- the artist, not some idiot on a horse -- eager to compose the imaginary soundtrack on the imaginary movie of my imaginary life. "I'm just creating an online repository of my work," I sighed.

"Why didn't you say so?" He returned to his laptop, presumably to scan some real work by real writers paid real money to put it there. Maybe I should be writing Wal-Mart ads instead of this nonsense. Nah. It looks like a full moon tonight, and the aliens are bound to deliver.

6.01.2014

If Jesus Went to Film School


If Jesus went to film school, his work wouldn’t be terribly well received. “But it’s the greatest story ever told,” he’d say in all humility while pitching it to the Million Dollar Screenwriter in whose eight-member script workshop everybody was clamoring for a spot. “I just don’t get it, Hay-Seuss,” the culturally-savvy industry mentor would say, pronouncing the name as if the Light of the World were just another emerging Chicano voice.

"Jee-zus,” the savior would politely correct him. “I’m from Nazareth, not the barrio. "Though I am researching a promising new doc over there."

Two Overtly Competitive Third Years sitting cross-legged on the floor would roll their eyes at this slick bit of grandstanding. Jesus would forgive them their transgression at once, since he can’t see a future in Hollywood for either one of the no talent bitches.

Matter of fact, one will eventually sleep with the other’s husband, marking the end of the fair weather film school friendship. The spurned wife will become a lesbian and start an all-girl Oregon playwriting festival for juvenile offenders, while the unapologetic adulteress will attend her first and only movie premiere as a cater waitress.

“I’m a little concerned about the modern relevance of your tale,” Professor Godbucks would delicately inform Jesus. “Maybe we should focus on something a little lighter that might appeal to say an Adam Sandler or a Jim Carrey.”

“They could do Herrod,” Jesus would say, getting a little annoyed at this point. “Haven’t you ever seen that Andrew Llloyd Weber musical?”

“Good God, talk about dated.” This from a Ballsy Directing Student known for both his experimental visual style and total lack of story sense.  His Perpetually Offended Girlfriend, who once scrawled “If you want to direct, you’re in the wrong bathroom” on the stall of the women’s loo, might be concerned with theme. “I’m offended by the whole  'final judgment' concept. I'm offended by yet another tired take on yet another tired whore-Madonna,” said the tired whore-madonna.

“What’s up with the ending?” one of the Third Years would chime in uninvited. “Downer.”

“I don’t get the love interest,” said the future lesbian on the floor, passing some Tic Tacs among a select few cronies. “Are they doing it or aren’t they?”

“If this is supposed to be some kind of black comedy, it’s got to end with a wedding. Not a crucifixion.”

“And forget that lame resurrection. The kids won't even buy that kind of hat trick.”

“You really need to clarify the unique motivations of all these apostle characters. Haven’t you read Legri?"

“Catch up on your Campbell, dude.”

“Aristotle. 'Nuff said.”

Jesus would now be thinking he should have gone to law school or dental college like so many other Israelites. Wasn’t this supposed to be a safe, nurturing environment where he could test his dramatic mettle before being thrown like the Lamb of God to the Hollywood wolves? 

The trouble with film school is everybody knows very well if you can’t reach the top of the heap here—if you’re not recognized with the big scholarships, the best classes, the highest public praise—your chances for any success afterward are very poor indeed.

During break, when the other students huddle within their closed cliques in front of the vending machines, nobody would even notice Jesus turning water into Diet Peach Snapple and multiplying the Pepperidge Farm Goldfish like so many cheesy loaves. "Father forgive them," Jesus might even mutter, "for they know not what's up." He would stand there alone, fading into the background along with the last remaining shreds of his dream.

If only he were lucky enough to have the fates smiling down on him that day, the Loopy Little Theater Major practicing her jazz combination with total abandon in the courtyard might take the empty seat beside him. “Tell me a story,” she’d say, helping herself to some Goldfish. “All you big bad screenwriters have one.”  She’d grab his notebook without bothering to ask, paging through it with a complete lack of guile.

“I’m Jesus, King of Jews,” he’d say. “Bet you thought that was Spielberg.”

"I'm Mary, as in Martin. Triple threat."

"Mary was my mother's name."

"I know," she'd say, looking up from his treatment with stars in her eyes. "Jesus, this looks like a good story."

Ironic Footnote: A blog fan attending film school in London wrote me a few years back asking permission to adapt this post into a feature film. Certain this would never happen, I happily agreed. Imagine my surprise when he sent along this 1-minute trailer. 

5.28.2014

I Know What the Caged Bird Slings

For Dr. Maya Angelou
April 4, 1928-May 28, 2014

Now that I have the freedom to stay home and write, most days I figure why shower and dress beforehand when I'll just have to do it again after my morning run. Of course that's a lie all the way around -- and none too original considering that my moneymaker (and I use that term loosely) involves weaving colorful fictions. As for learning to conquer real life between bouts of conjuring up make believe, consider the strikingly simple structure of one writer's day:
I write in the morning and then go home about midday and take a shower, because writing, as you know, is very hard work, so you have to do a double ablution. Then I go out and shop — I’m a serious cook — and pretend to be normal. I play sane — Good morning! Fine, thank you. And you? I prepare dinner for myself and if I have houseguests, I do the candles and the pretty music and all that. Then after all the dishes are moved away I read what I wrote that morning. And more often than not if I’ve done nine pages I may be able to save two and a half or three. That’s the cruelest time you know, to really admit that it doesn’t work...
Note to self:  Get blue pencil. And candles. And food. Get serious about food. Use plates. And cloth napkins! Or even paper napkins. Buy some of those, too.
...I’ve had the same editor since 1967. Many times he has said to me over the years or asked me, Why would you use a semicolon instead of a colon? And many times over the years I have said to him things like: I will never speak to you again. Forever. Goodbye. That is it. Thank you very much. And I leave. Then I read the piece and I think of his suggestions. I send him a telegram that says, OK, so you’re right. So what? Don’t ever mention this to me again. If you do, I will never speak to you again. ~ Maya Angelou, 1990
Note to self: Find editor. Fire editor. Send some kind of telegram just because how cool that sounds. Now take a shower already. And never speak of this again.


3.27.2014

This Hollywood, Is It Real?

Toward the end of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, my Croatian Ex-Husband and I drove up the still stabilizing Dalmatian Coast to Venice, lured by the promise of a cheap vacation. The only major flaw in our travel plans was a small section of Bosnia, where the fighting raged on, and which I will only remember as a series of tense military road blocks along the craggy coastal highway fronting the Adriatic. While the attitude toward a Dubrovnik-born national would vary according to the religious and ethnic identities of those controlling the area in question, all factions seemed very friendly toward me, an American, a Southern Californian, no less.

I remember one curious young soldier stamping out an unfiltered Camel to examine the address on my driver’s license, smiling broadly through a set of tobacco-stained teeth. “This Hollywood,” he mused aloud. “Is it real?” He'd  apparently mistaken Hollywood for a concept rather than an actual city where ordinary people go about their daily business. Given our famous way with illusion, this is an easy trap to fall into, even among those of us who call the place home.



This morning My Very Supportive Manager set up a meeting with Yet Another Confident Young Producer interested in my Hilarious Funeral Comedy. By “interested in” I mean she wants the right to pass it around among her Big Deal Movie Star Friends without having to put up the money for an option, while at the same time being guaranteed the credit rightfully due her should a feature film ever result from her tenuous involvement. For her part, Supportive is a master at making these people think this lopsided deal would be ever so interesting to us, while she’s primarily trolling these waters in search of work for me among the producer’s open studio writing assignments.

Either way, I get a free meal, and this one would prove to be some seriously glamorous eats. Though it’s only blocks from my house, I’d never been inside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel—a mammoth, Spanish Revival grande dame—into which I, the jaded former travel writer walked in and gasped, “Is it real?”

In a case of art imitating life, the recently renovated hotel—the sight of the very first Academy Awards Ceremony in 1929—seems to have inspired the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at the Disney MGM Studios, a thrill ride trailing a Shirley Temple-esque child star who falls to her death in a runaway elevator. Those crafty Imagineers were clearly aware that the real Shirley Temple received her first tap dance lesson from Bill “Bojangles” Robinson on the Moorish tiled stairway in the lobby. 









The place is said to be haunted by Montgomery Clift, who stayed here during the filming of From Here To Eternity while learning to play the bugle—a skill he still practices, or so the hotel guests claim, on long, windy nights. Marilyn Monroe’s ghost often appears in the mirror re-claimed from her poolside bungalow—which is no big surprise, since it’s now strategically placed to reflect a portrait of the starlet hanging in a public hallway.

Having undergone a major renovation, the hotel made more recent headlines when Courtney Love passed out while partying here and had to be whisked right back to rehab in an ambulance. The clubs and restaurants are being vigorously marketed to the Hollywood A-list by promoter Amanda Scheer-Demme, widow of the much loved late director Ted Demme, who was apparently a close personal friend of the Confident Young Producer hosting me for breakfast today at “Teddy’s.”

“Actually, I knew the gentleman this place was named for,” she told the Snooty Maitre D’. This was at least partially in response to his inquiry as to whether we had reservations—or were at least guests of the hotel.

“You knew Theodore Roosevelt?” he sniffed.

“Oh. I thought it was named for Ted Demme,” she said.

“It’s been the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel,” he replied, “since Mr. Roosevelt was President.”

“Right,” she said, deferring to this geek sporting an attitude dyed to match his employer-provided tuxedo. I mean, here she was about to drop a hundred bucks on a couple of plates of hash only to be trumped by the help.

“Wait a minute now,” I piped in. “Maybe Ted Demme was named for Ted Roosevelt. In fact, I’m sure I read that somewhere.”

This pretty simpleton had never read anything anywhere, and thus didn’t have much to add. He slinked away, a failed soap star with a spray-on tan relegated to inquiring if lowly tourists are “on the list” while buffing the oversized leather menus with Armor All.


“Thank you for that,” Confident mouthed. “Thank you for this,” I said, as a far more appropriate waiter—the type whose father used to serve Erroll Flynn at this very table, who considers all this his legacy—unfolded a crisp white napkin on my lap. “I think I’ll try the Eggs Benedict, so what if it is a Tuesday.”

I'm sure I heard that ghostly bugle whistling the theme from Bridge Over The River Kwai as coffee and water were poured from linen-tied silver pitchers. Another thing they won’t tell you in film school is that while you’re waiting around for that big phone call certain to change your life forever, success really can sneak up on you one meal at a time. And maybe not every day, but certainly on some of them, yes, this Hollywood is real.



3.26.2014

Fly Me to the Moon

This week I went in to pitch an open studio assignment to re-write an R-rated comedy. This was somewhat tricky, since the producing partner of an A-list, twice Oscar-nominated actor wrote the original draft off which I'd only managed to preserve the character names. He would have the final word on my hiring, so my Very Supportive Manager told me just march in and "be adorable about it."

Yesterday the studio executive phoned Supportive to say I had indeed "delivered a movie." The producer reported that I was in fact adorable but he’d like to have lunch with me privately just to be sure I hold up well under harsh lighting conditions. Oh, and he’s got to hear one more “courtesy take” next week—either from his lover, his nephew or the brother-sister team of Sofia and Roman Coppola would be my guess—before making the final decision.

This time it’s not a one in three chance, or even two in three. It’s ninety percent, Supportive estimates. We’re relying on the executive who is trying to set up my spec script and senses I can’t wait as long as that might take. While Supportive feels I should avoid begging, fawning or crying in the meeting room, just for laughs I may have intimated how I only have three weeks left on my unemployment claim and plan to either sell my car to pay next month’s rent or give up my house and move into my car.  Supportive isn’t sure of the exact pay on the ten-week re-write, but the ballpark figure is more than I’ve managed to scratch together over the last four years combined.

Surviving this kind of wait requires many hours of re-arranging my sock drawer, polishing what I haven’t pawned off of the family silver and scrubbing the bathroom grout with an old toothbrush.  I sorted through an old music box filled with jewelry I never wear and thought about throwing out the box along with the J.Lo hoop earrings the size of shower curtain rings that seemed fabulous at the time. Then I remembered my grandmother had given me the box one Christmas. I doubt it was very expensive, just something she picked up on sale at J.C. Penney’s while passing the last of her Golden Years mall walking for exercise.

I never knew her very well until I was in my twenties and she bought a condo near my first apartment. She’d raised my mother alone and never felt obligated to say exactly why. It seemed to me she hadn’t answered to much of anyone in her life at a time when a girl could get arrested for that. She worked two jobs to put my mother through Catholic school, private college and even grad school. Beginning the day my mom gave up her teaching career to marry a struggling law student, Grandma referred to my father as “Whatshisname.” Though she didn’t drink often, she didn’t do it well. Even a glass or two of dessert wine on Christmas Eve fostered some paranoid delusion that Frank Sinatra was trying to kill her. I never did get the details, but frankly it seemed perfectly plausible. She died when I was twenty-six, of natural causes. Later appearing to me in a dream, young again and dressed in fox furs in front of some swank, pre-War hotel, she'd never looked happier.

I couldn’t remember the song the music box played, so I wound it up, expecting the usual "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" or "Moonlight Sonata." It was "Fly Me To The Moon," made famous by Frank Sinatra.
Fly me to the moon
and let me play among the stars.
Let me see what spring is like
on Jupiter and Mars…

With that, she'd managed to deliver another message from beyond that there was never a thing to fear, that the future most certainly holds something truly magical for me if I can only hang on long enough to let it. I gave myself exactly five minutes to cry before getting up to clean the bathroom.

Note: In response to a student's request for specifics of my Hollywood journey, I've re-published this piece from January 7, 2006. And yes, I did get the job. Stay tuned for tomorrow's post, "Be Careful What You Wish For, My Little Hollywood Hopeful."

1.19.2014

Friends Don't Let Friends Write at Starbucks

According to Hollywood mythology, a local video store clerk took a regular booth at House of Pies to lay down the bones of an opus he was calling Pulp Fiction. Perhaps driven by some sense of originality, another unknown writer headed north a few blocks to join the hip counter crowd at Cafe 101, inspiring the world of Swingers. And then there's the Brooklyn comic who wrote Annie Hall. In the absence of his trusty typewriter, he scribbles bits of Oscar-winning dialogue on a small notepad in his shirt pocket, carrying the muse -- along with that tenacious little Asian girl, one presumes -- wherever his travels take him.

I can't actually confirm any of this, since I write in bed, where I am right now, coincidentally, watching the closing arguments of the Jodi Arias murder trial on HLN. Convinced I've developed a close personal relationship with the live Tweeting, phone-sexting, manifesto-authoring Lizzie Borden of our time, I suppose I'm cultivating my own legend.

That's not to say that this reclusive writer never leaves the house to form actual relationships with real people who aren't both overtly homicidal and remarkably telegenic. Why just this morning I stepped out to grab a footlong egg and cheese sandwich -- unconcerned that the counter guy at Subway knows my order, down to the light shaking of extra salt and careful slicing into four equal portions. Combine this with the pound of grapes and fresh pack of Dentyne I picked up, and I'm pretty well hunkered down for the day.

Obviously I bypassed the herd of wannabes shirking a real workplace in pursuit of high creativity -- only to invest our scant pennies in an establishment as unimaginative as Starbucks. I buy Folger's Classic Roast -- memorably dismissed by my Serbian communist ex-mother-in-law as "black water" -- in oversized plastic tubs on sale at Vons. (I find it's important an anecdote be equal parts colorful, confessional and specific in an age when your garden variety death row murderess fancies herself a significant literary voice).

Speaking of life sentences as only a writer can, I once saw a picture of Dorothy Parker hard at work while inadvertently dating herself in the dim light of a mid-century lamp, stubbornly studded with stars. Years beyond the Jazz Age glamor of the Algonquin Round Table, she appears to be at home, lost in thought and chewing on her pencil with an anemic houseplant in the shadows and yet another blank page staring her in the face.

Though she must have been around my age, seated there alone she seemed old before her time. A martini just out of frame might have been her only form of companionship, since she'd surely scoff at the notion of coming up for air to visit an inferior square table at some weenie internet cafe. Today we can compulsively check e-mail for a sense of connection, however false; or dial into Facebook with a quick quip in exchange for a word of recognition -- where Parker's crowd had to surface for an afternoon cocktail. "I like a good martini," goes her familiar toast, "Two at the very most. Three I'm under the table. Four I'm under the host." You don't get that kind of gem down at the corner Coffee Bean.

The thing about being great with dialogue is that's the easy part. As for the rest of the story -- and mind you I am no breast-augmented murderess with a built-in audience and a seven figure book deal in the works -- that's the part that drives a girl to drink. Of course, the only thing you'll find in my cup today is some weak and pathetic yet very reasonably priced coffee.