When I was an eighth grader growing up in the San Fernando Valley, my best friend Debbie and I rented Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet pretty much every weekend. By the twelfth or so viewing, we had basically memorized the entire script, focusing on the key party, balcony and wedding night scenes in which the star-crossed lovers meet, woo and do it—defying their clueless parents at every turn.
In keeping with our teenage girl sensibilities, we laid primary blame for the ensuing tragedy not on the lovers' youthful indiscretions, but rather on Juliet's mother. She's the one who manages not only to convince her kid to marry the wrong guy, but further persuades the Prince of Verona to exile Romeo to Mantua for knifing Michael York. Though he, too, had been very hot as Juliet's blue-eyed cousin, we felt banishment was way extreme a punishment.
That summer, I met Debbie at the foot of a cloistered stairway half-way between our two houses to tell her my family was moving to Florida. To a couple of Valley Girls, relocating as far as the Palisades would have felt like the forced march of the Cherokee Nation along the Trail of Tears. "'I am banish-ed!'" I sobbed, echoing Romeo's dramatic, two-syllable pronunciation. "'O shut the door, and come weep with me. Past hope, past cure, past help!'"
"'Hence from Verona art thou banish-ed,'" said she, channeling the kindly doofus Friar Laurence. "'Be patient, for the world is broad and wide.' Meaning, like, you can always come back. They won't, like, own us forever." We sat there for hours, hatching a plan to go to college together at a Certain Big Deal University on the Westside. We then got on the bus to Topanga Plaza to seal the deal over a couple of barbecue beef sandwiches at the Seven Kitchens Food Court overlooking the ice rink.
Growing up to become a working travel writer, my world turned out to be broad and wide indeed—though it took me fifteen years to make my way back to Southern California. By that time I'd already met, married and divorced my Croatian Romeo, who'd coincidentally nicknamed me "Giuletta." What I couldn't fight any longer was that old girlhood passion to immerse myself in the movies, professionally, if it killed me as dead as an amorous Elizabethan. Debbie had bought her own house in the Valley and was shocked—along with the rest of our suburbanite friends and family—by my determination to set up housekeeping in the heart of Hollywood.
My return pre-dated a major Disneyfication-type program transforming the once seedy neighborhood virtually overnight. Just steps from my house, vintage theaters like the El Capitan, the Mann's Chinese and the Cineramadome underwent long overdue facelifts, while the Kodak, the centerpiece of the sprawling new Hollywood & Highland hotel, dining and shopping center, became the home of the Academy Awards. These days should I get the itch to run out to Ralph's on Oscar night, working my way home means a very long wait in a very long limo line.
The attempted eviction from My Little Hollywood Bungalow by
The Greedy Foreign Landlord feels like my earlier banishment outside Verona's walls. While I find myself looking for cheaper dwellings on the outskirts of town, I always phone first to ask if you can at least see the Hollywood sign. "Can you walk to the Walk of Fame?" I'll ask. "How far is it to Schwab's Drugstore?" These are not institutions I tend to frequent, but suddenly it feels important that I could do so on foot.
Despite the 60-Day Notice to Vacate, for now I'm staying put, visions of coming home one day to find my things and my dogs out on the street be damned. I owe it to Debbie, after all, to see this dream of mine through until the end. After a long struggle with lupus, she died the year I started film school at the university we'd promised but failed to attend together. It took me quite a bit longer to find my way back to the girl I'd vowed to become and the place I'd vowed to become her. Another thing they won't tell you in film school is how to survive the disappointing princes and vindictive kinsmen—the concealed daggers, the poison vials—and just keep sticking it out in that endless bitch of a limo line.