The Clydesdale in My Window

There’s a heartbreaking scene in You’ve Got Mail where Meg Ryan, having lost her late mother’s beloved bookstore, turns around to take one last look. She sees a shadowy memory of herself as a little girl, dancing around the place with her mom. While this film will be best remembered as a genre-defining romantic comedy, to my mind it’s a story about managing loss. So are Sleepless In Seattle and When Harry Met Sally, come to think of it. Meg could never manage to work through her various losses until the very last page, when she’d hook up with her one true love and order a coconut wedding cake with a side of chocolate sauce. Maybe it was her scarecrow build, goofy giggle or sunny blonde hairdo, but along the way she always had a real knack for making profound sadness feel deceptively fun.

This past weekend I emptied out the last of my things from my little Hollywood bungalow as the Santa Ana winds blew through town. The Stripper Next Door, who’s also been evicted, paused knowingly before saying the weather was telling us to “move, move, move.”

She’s always been unusually in touch with her mystical side, so I've come to rely on her translating services. I had a cinematic memory of my own, recalling the night she first came over bearing a stick of orange blossom incense like a torchlight by which to read my tarot cards. Turning over some kind of upside down grim reaper, she flatly informed me I would never have a career in sitcom. I found this pretty hard to believe at the time, since I’d just landed a spot in the comedy writing program on the Warner Brothers lot. “The universe doesn’t lie,” she insisted.

Turning around to survey the empty house gave way to a barrage of these memories, as vivid as movie flashbacks with a bittersweet Harry Connick, Jr. soundtrack. Though he’s been dead for years, I saw my two-hundred-pound Mastiff, Bunny, whose oversized jowls had shaken loose a strand of spittle so violently that it still sticks to the ceiling. I conjured up my friend Debbie, who's also passed on, nervously primping to appear on a game show taped nearby on the old I Love Lucy stage of the former Desilu Playhouse.

I saw my sister at the kitchen counter, coming to my rescue yet again to cater the last minute wedding of my friend Amy—whom she’d only met once before. A committee of old film school pals marched by, tying white picnic boxes in tulle netting to be ferried out to a staging area on the lawn.

My father somehow appeared from the past, looking out from my porch amazed that a flock of wild parrots had found its way to a red chili pepper tree abuzz with hummingbirds here in the heart of Hollywood.

“High acid fertilizer,” echoed a distant voice from one of my mother's past visits as she fingered my anemic gardenias.

Snapping me back to the reality of a communal pile of moving rubble, my neighbor handed me a 2002 Traci Lords calendar for which she’d so proudly done hair and make up, and a half-empty bottle of Coco Chanel Refreshing Dew Mist whose oily base had congealed over the top. I don’t know why this made me cry, since emoting wasn’t really something she and I had done much of together as we grew up here side by side, however inadvertently.

Hugging her goodbye, I realized I’d never actually touched her before. “Want my Riverside Shakespeare?” she offered. “I took it off some smart guy I made out with.”

“Couldn’t you have scored a Pelican?” I wailed. “Everyone knows it’s better annotated!”

“Snap out of it,” she finally said. “Can’t you see this is our chance to be someone new? I don’t have to feel naked any more. You don’t have to feel fat.”

 “I am fat!” I cried, stuffing a good two grand worth of Milanese lingerie that no longer fits into a Goodwill bag.

 “The universe is saying we leave all that right here. How many times I gotta tell you that's what the wind's for?"

Here I thought it was meant to keep me up at night.

Lying down to sleep in a brand new place always feels odd, as though you’re some squatter off the street navigating an unfriendly warehouse piled high with cardboard boxes.  In thematic keeping with my big Hollywood circus of a life, however, I moved in the night of the 74th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade. The event inspired Gene Autry to write “Here Come Santa Claus”—and I quickly discovered I live directly on the original Santa Claus Lane.

Virtually imprisoning me, dozens of high school bands lined up outside my front windows, and just when I’d manage to cry myself to sleep, some overzealous drum major would mark time for a rousing rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock,” heavy on the tuba.

I got up to close the shades and found myself face to face with a Clydesdale blinking back at me—as well as a camel, several elephants, and two hundred members of the California Highway Patrol Motor Brigade. With that, my profound sadness did give way to something strangely fun—and even without the redeeming love of Tom Hanks suddenly I felt perky, and long-limbed, and yes, even blonde! That big, snorting horse had delivered a message, I had to believe, and I somehow knew that maybe, just maybe, the universe might finally be telling me something good.

Originally published November 30, 2005. Since that time the universe has indeed told me a number of things -- some good, some bad, but mostly that neither tends to last long enough to matter either way. So much for a big Hollywood finish.