I met The Stripper Next Door when we rented two of seven renovated bungalows in a village newly emptied of old guard Hollywood junkies, the elderly and oversized immigrant families. Among the gentrified new crop of fresh-faced tenants were a Working Studio Musician, a Rising Jazz Saxophonist and a Reality TV Producer.
It's no wonder that between moving day and the first time I saw The Stripper—wearing pigtails and red lipstick, pedaling a vintage beach bike to the foot of her front porch—she'd already changed her name. Legally. Belying the black fishnet stockings, Betty Page bangs and spider tattoo on her neck, she now also claimed to be a "make-up girl for the movies"—and demanded to know what it was I was after. Looking down the nose of my Gucci sunglasses, purchased on assignment for a travel magazine in Hong Kong, I replied that I'd long been a working writer. Figuring out how to do that for the screen would be a mere technicality. "Yeah, not so original," she said, her voice completely devoid of the Jersey accent she'd shaken using a voice improvement tape from Samuel French. "Plus which you need to work on your look."
Though I was also newly divorced from my Croatian Ex-Husband who'd left me to join the French Foreign Legion, The Stripper never became entirely convinced he'd ever existed in the first place. "Too exotic," she'd insist. "Why not just make him a dentist?" I embarked on a long string of Internet dates, heeding her street savvy thumbs down when something about one of these arrivals—his alleged membership in the CIA, for example—didn't quite add up.
She fell in love with a Certain Soap Opera Actor, a former underwear model best known for having dated Madonna in the eighties, who'd tipped her a hundred bucks for a lap dance to Mr. Jones by the Counting Crows. Though he never once took her out in public, I often heard him slinking out of her back door in the middle of the night—even as the tabloids connected him to a Washed Up Country Singer. Spooked during a thunder storm, my unlikely friend once ran across the lawn to my door, asking to sleep over. "You'll have to put something on downstairs," I said, since she was standing there naked from the waist south. Flouncing onto my bed, she advised me to take the stick out of my ass, which I said sure sounded funny from someone who spent so much time with a pole between her legs. She eventually taught me the basics of the oldest artform as I whirled around the trunk of a red chili pepper tree, scattering the hummingbirds in our communal yard.
While my lifestyle took a steady nosedive in pursuit of my elusive dream, her fortunes only changed for the better. That's probably because while I went to film school, she went to beauty school. After leaving the sex industry in the past for real to open a small salon, she proudly counts among her clients the wife of a former Backstreet Boy and the self-professed on again-off again girlfriend of one George "Oh My God" Clooney.
I wasn't alone this month when The Greedy Foreign Landlord served me eviction papers in an attempt to break rent control. He also wants The Stripper gone, claiming he somehow intends to live in both our houses. While I plan to give him the fight of his life, it's only because despite my skills, breeding and education, after all these years I still have nowhere else to go. Meantime, the retired lap dancer who used to come running when she smelled dinner cooking since she hadn't found enough dollar bills in her underpants to buy groceries, has rented herself a lovely Hancock Park townhouse. I guess another thing they won't tell you in film school is it doesn't matter who you are the day you get off that bus. Once you decide to give it all up to shoot for the stars, you're just another girl from another town out there all alone, dancing naked for strangers.
I was down at the New Amsterdam
staring at this yellow-haired girl
Mr. Jones strikes up a conversation
with this black-haired flamenco dancer
She dances while his father plays guitar
She's suddenly beautiful
We all want something beautiful
I wish I was beautiful
So come dance this silence
down through the morning
Show me some of them Spanish dances
Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones
Believe in me
Help me believe in anything
I want to be someone who believes
Mr. Jones and me
tell each other fairy tales
Stare at the beautiful women
"She's looking at you.
Ah, no, no, she's looking at me."
Smiling in the bright lights
Coming through in stereo
When everybody loves you,
you can never be lonely...