People can easily mistake Hollywood for one big movie lot, where there's nothing much but the occasional sandbag propping up the flimsy faces of our trompe l'oeil houses. While it's true that we star-struck, image-obsessed dreamers don't pretend to be nearly as genuine as the folks we've left back in Umatilla, we do have our own traditions—and come holiday time they mean an awful lot to this otherwise soulless bunch.
Last night a big, black Hummer ran a stop, took out a school crossing sign, rolled three times and landed atop my neighbor's car, parked at the foot of the drive. While we don't have football here, we do see some spectacular wrecks this time of year, and this one heralded the holiday season as dependably as Santa's Thanksgiving Day Parade arrival in Herald Square. The model-thin driver enroute from a Big Celebrity Event—judging from the expensive gold party shoe somehow abandoned in the middle of the accident scene—never once dropped her cell phone. She was still yammering away as the self-consciously hot firemen, no doubt aspiring underwear models themselves, strapped her into a cervical collar and wheeled her off on their backboard, nodding to the crowd.
All of the neighbors turned out, the Stripper, the Stuntman, the Jazz Musician Whose Name You'd Recognize, the Failed Comedian Turned Prosperous Private Dick. Even the Drug Dealing Cholos on the corner closed up shop to observe the event, although I'm sure the model wouldn't have turned down a nice dime bag to take the edge off after her inevitable DUI arrest and subsequent stint in re-hab. Nobody brought hot chocolate, but Stuntman produced several pharmaceutical quality ice packs as mysteriously as rabbits from a hat, administering to a pair of pedestrians who'd been injured while hurling themselves out of the path of the corkscrewing truck.
Since I'm moving away in a couple of days, I looked around at this cast of characters I've grown up among, quite by happenstance, over the last nine years. As the music swelled and everything turned to slo-mo, it occurred to me that while so many of us were waiting for our lives to happen, they did. Along the way, our crazy dreams—the wild triumphs, the spectacular disappointments—have been more like those of everybody else than we eccentrics would ever freely admit.
This afternoon I'll sit down to a traditional feast with my Type A Lawyer Sister and her Stockbroker Husband Who Golfs, having fled the carnival today for the all-American normalcy of their San Diego ranch house. In deference to custom, I'll then go home and share the leftovers this one last time with Stripper, since her parents are long estranged and her boyfriends are usually indifferent, married or D-list actors who can't see the stock in taking her out in public. She sometimes brings over this former fan who reminds me of the hulking half-wit from Of Mice And Men, and I've always been worried he might kill her by accident. Sometimes I think I should remind her of that timeless cautionary tale, but then it'll occur to me she probably doesn't know her Steinbeck all that well.
Anyway, she's going to have to watch out for herself now, since it's just not the kind of town where friendship survives a move, even one only a few blocks away. Another thing they won't tell you in film school is that we should all learn to recognize the good old days when they're as close at hand as a brand new pair of party shoes.