11.30.2005

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.

11.23.2005

Turkey Time in Hollywood

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.

11.17.2005

Surrender Dorothy, and Your Little Friend Julie, Too

Does everyone have recurring nightmares, or is it only unproduced screenwriters? I have one where my teeth loosen so much I can yank one out and spit it into an ashtray. My Deeply Concerned Mother believes the teeth represent words, symbolizing my need to dole mine out to the world, whatever the personal cost. There’s another where I’m chewing this huge wad of gum and it grows backward down my throat if I don't keep blowing bubbles. Deeply Concerned, no stranger to the self-help section down at the Umatilla Barnes & Noble, feels certain this one is either about compulsive overeating or writer’s block.

My most frequent nightmare feels almost interactive—like some early Technicolor musical I’m orchestrating from the sidelines on my debut directorial assignment for MGM. I’m back in New Orleans as an undergrad; classes are about to start and I can’t find a place to live. In my desperate journey to find a home, punctuated with rousing song and dance numbers, old college friends pop up like the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz to taunt me with their real life successes. One has a husband and kids, the other a Connecticut farm house and a Ph.D. I haven’t discussed the underlying subtext with Deeply Concerned, but I’m guessing she’d say it’s more concrete evidence of my abject failure, over these many years, to land a man, get a job, buy a house and open a 401K.

Ironically, since the big life twister whisked me off to Munchkinland, my little Hollywood bungalow has been the only real constant. While I plan to fight my illegal eviction with all I've got, the city would mandate some handy “relocation" expenses were I to give in now. So I’m figuring some looking around wouldn’t hurt.

Yesterday, I visited what could have been the set of Melrose Place, only rendered in three-quarter scale. The apartment had a half-bath and a third of a kitchen, with a miniature refrigerator you could sit upon with your legs crossed and roll around paddling a broom. The smarmy owner, an "Argentinian film editor," who never said exactly what kind of films so I'm going with soft core porn, informed me he'd be running a criminal check on me. He said I may as well come clean, since he'd already backgrounded my neighbor the former stripper, a fellow evictee, revealing something "not so cool" in her past. He was obviously referencing an old misdemeanor conviction for lewd conduct, connected to her once having unlawfully touched herself during a lapdance. I wonder if the undercover cop she was straddling at the time has trouble securing adequate housing.

I moved on to a vintage building in the heart of Hollywood, near the storied Knickerbocker Hotel and the landmark Capitol Records Building. All very charming, save for the bars on the windows, the junkies in the communal courtyard and the warlock who hexed me for stealing his parking spot. "Don't bother, freak," I told him, jamming nickels in the meter. "It's really redundant at this point."

I went home and happened upon a dream setup on Craigslist, a charming, one-bedroom gate house with a screened-in sleeping porch on a ten-acre Malibu ranch. The rancher, who revealed himself to be a Certain Big Deal Producer managing to get away from it all, said the rent is so low because he's looking for someone who likes to cook and garden and could watch the dogs when he and the wife are in Aspen. "Maybe an emerging screenwriter," I hinted, "whose career you could gently nurture in the quiet of the countryside." I then realized that a film school chum had formerly been his assistant and ran his name past her. Her response, in summary, was that the guy is Satan in a pair of Osh Kosh B'Goshes. The only one of the seven deadly sins he hadn't committed repeatedly upon or in front of her was avarice, and that's only because she's never been exactly sure what that is.

I spent most of today on the phone with the Rent Stabilization Board explaining to the mouth-breathing morons why they might want to enforce state and local law on my behalf. In truth, I'm afraid to go to sleep tonight, knowing it won't be the toothless or the bubble gum dream, but rather the one where I'm homeless and tapdancing for my life. Another thing they won't tell you in film school is when you spend your whole day dreaming about the limitless beauty of what might be, your nights can't help but surrender themselves to the ugly reality of what actually is.

11.13.2005

Julie Makes a Dream Date

The best thing about working nine to five for the first time is not working at 8:59 or 5:01. While flat out quitting would mean losing my unemployment, I am ticking off my sentence on the calendar like Clint Eastwood in Escape From Alcatraz. Should I arrive a couple of minutes early to my mindless temp job taking subscription orders at the Legendary Hollywood Trade Paper, I sit in my car with the radio blasting. While my real hope is to cause a minor earthquake, I'd settle for news of some freak snow, hail or locust storm causing everyone to flee the premises indefinitely. Failing that, at day's end I'm so adamant about leaving work on time that I covertly turn off my computer a minute or two early and sit there like Warren R. Schmidt, watching the clock strike the hour.

At 4:57 on Friday, the phone rang. I considered picking up the receiver and putting it down again quickly, knowing it would then ring through to one of the other girls. But then I saw the trio of office snipes, among whom my precision-timed departures are a running joke, purposefully yukking it up clear over by the Xerox machine.

"Subscriptions, may I take your order?" I asked through gritted teeth, cradling the phone to my ear while gathering my keys in one hand and my bag in the other.

"Yeah, how you doing today?" said a voice double for the rapper Fiddy Cent. "You sound like you fine, baby. You fine?"

"Spell your name, please. Come on, chop-chop."

"First name, "Aggravated." Second name, "Hollywood." A-g-r-a-v, then the number eight --

"Wait, shouldn't there be two "g"s?

"Oh woman, you fine."

"It's one of my favorite words. I also like obliterate, sanguine and nunchucks."

"When I blow up, I'm gonna take you out on the town," said my dream date, "Agrav8ed hOLLYwOoD." Since he takes his mail in Seattle, Washington, I figured that was more a threat than a promise. "I know it's not easy, but you really should try to get down here," I told him. "I mean, since you're already bastardizing the name."

"Oh, I'll be there, baby. I'll buy us a crib in Bel-Aire, how 'bout that? Show off my shorty on the T.V. show."

"Your shorty?"

"That's you, baby."

"Oh. I thought you were being disgusting." When he lowered his voice to whisper his credit card number like the combination to the Philadelphia Mint, I decided he might be crazy, but he sure wasn't stupid. He made me swear the issues would start arriving on time, since he likes to get down to "bidness." Any delay and he'd have to "put out" my "fine ass" and get me fired instead.

"Promise?" I cooed.

"Don't you come at me with any of them nunchucks, girl."

That I couldn't promise in return, since it was 5:01 by the time I walked out the door, past my heartless co-workers high fiving each other and snickering. Another thing they won't tell you in film school is that some people have an uncanny natural ability to fake it until they make it, for as long as that may take. For the rest of us, hanging on even one more obliterating, sanguine, nunchucked minute can feel like too much to bear.

11.11.2005

Star-Crossed

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.

11.10.2005

Julie Takes Fountain

A reporter once famously asked Bette Davis if she had any advice about Hollywood. “Take Fountain,” she barked, invoking the name of the less traveled route running parallel to both Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards. She herself lived and died overlooking the avenue, ensconced in what I can only imagine to be the turret of a glamorous old apartment building near the one that doubled as Catherine Oxenberg’s family manor in Dynasty.

I don’t know why the location of the off-Fountain enclave of little Hollywood bungalows where I live—whose vintage Craftsman cottages visitors have variously described as Pleasantville, Munchkinland and the Technicolor Village—feels like such a strong reason to fight the Greedy Foreign Landlord and his illegal eviction. I can’t really afford to live in Hollywood at all without the benefit of rent control—and “Julie Goes To Silverlake” “Echo Park” or “Koreatown” were starting to seem like really stupid character names. Let’s face it, though—my dramatic need to be Norma Rae, Erin Brockovich, Karen Silkwood and whoever it is Charlize Therone is playing this year in a pathetic bid for another Oscar was really behind my decision to stand and fight. This is my life story, after all, and that’s what the heroine does.

Which is why it’s with so many mixed feelings I announce that a deal has been struck. Persuaded by my Type A Lawyer Sister to avoid both her wrath and that of the Department of Housing—Greedy offered a large enough cash settlement for me to live on for the next couple of months. This means no more silly temp job at the Legendary Hollywood Trade Paper, where the puffy little woman I got stuck replacing during her fourth annual pregnancy is about to return anyway. It means finishing my spec, writing a Big Hollywood Book Proposal and polishing that script a Certain A-List Actress “loves, loves, loves.”

It means, in short, one last chance.

In some wildly implausible Hollywood twist of fate, yesterday I discovered yet another vintage hamlet, where I am going to be living as of Sunday. I’d never before noticed the hidden village despite living only blocks away for the last nine years. Its sky-high front gate gives way to a cloistered courtyard, shaded by hundred-year-old oak trees—and flanked on either side by attached patio homes with storybook front stoops and original wooden awnings. It must have provided housing for the old Charlie Chaplin studios, now the Jim Henson Studios, also in the neighborhood.

Hollywood was little more than a sprawling orange grove when Chaplin built his landmark lot, with its Colonial clapboard cottages and Tudor mansion fa├žade. During the TV craze of the 1950s, CBS took over the space to house The Adventures of Superman, The Red Skelton Show, and Perry Mason. It was later the headquarters of A&M Records, where so many musical legends gathered to record Michael Jackson’s "We Are the World."

My nearby unit was recently vacated after many decades when they carted some poor old guy off to the nursing home. I hope I go like Bette Davis, chain smoking Vantages smeared with red lipstick, enunciating every last word as though it Begins With A Capital Letter. What I can’t get out of my mind is the scene at the end of the 1992 film Chaplin, where Robert Downey, Jr.’s exiled Charlie finally returns to town to take one last look at his legacy. Having somehow managed to stave off my own exile at the top of my rousing third act, I guess now all that’s pretty much up to Kermie and me.

11.09.2005

The Stripper Next Door

Every town has its share of live nude girls, but Hollywood gets the good ones—fresh off the bus and firmly convinced that their irrefutable star quality will pave the way to a more legitimate brand of celebrity one day very soon. I suppose you could say the same thing about aspiring screenwriters.

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.


MR. JONES
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
Cut Maria!
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...

11.02.2005

The Greedy Foreign Landlord

I don't mean to suggest that all foreigners are greedy any more than that all landlords are foreigners. However, this one particular fellow does fit a certain Hollywood archetype. He emigrated to the U.S., learned English, became a private school custodian, married the owner's overweight daughter, bought real estate with the proceeds and now owns several square blocks.

On the plus side, he's not bad to look at. Think Nicky Arnstein at the poker table, but without the white dinner jacket and a little wider through the hips. I picture him summering somewhere in the desert, where he tends to slim down despite sitting around tents eating falafels, drinking apple tea and smoking the houka. Far more alarming than my own cultural insensitivity, my neighbor, the former stripper and lifetime conspiracy theorist, perceives his trips abroad as confirmation of his membership in al-Quaeda. "The terrorists and the Republicans are in it together on every corner of every town," she'll often inform me, pulling the window shades and whispering like a block captain of the Dutch Resistance. "How do you think the Nazis got Poland?"

Personally, I can't picture this particular fellow taking on any political cause he'd be expected to fiscally support. The guy can squeeze a nickel until it screams, which is truly unfortunate given the architectural gems among his personal holdings. The bungalow courtyard where I live, for example, was one of several around town originally built in 1929 as contract housing for studio players. It was later the location for the 1984 Goldie Hawn movie, Swing Shift, set during World War II.

By my arrival in the mid-90s, the Craftsman cottages' wood siding had already been plastered over; the porches encased in concrete and painted an industrial gray. Inside, the signature period archways separating the kitchen and dining areas had been opened up at stark, square angles, while the wood sub-flooring in the dressing and bathrooms was laid with cheap tile. When we needed to replace the flimsy fiberglass shower stall, I lobbied for an authentic clawfoot tub obviously looted years earlier, which can now be re-claimed at the local flea market. "Kohler!" Nicky Arnstein declared, insisting I pay for half. "Kohler is top of the line!" When his Half-Wit Workmen tried to remove the original crown molding, I seized their toolbox and threatened to call the police. Over the years, I installed a crystal chandelier, replaced vintage doorknobs and fixtures, upgraded every last switch plate. I planted a rose garden, a vegetable patch, a koi pond and a bougainvillea trellis.

Making an unsuccessful bid for city council, Nicky helped concoct a failed plan in which Hollywood would have seceded from the City of Los Angeles—thus releasing his obligation to honor its tight rent control ordinance. While virtually every other original tenant has moved up and out, I've managed to go nowhere—while in all these years my rent has only been raised a hundred and thirty-five bucks. It shouldn't have been much of a surprise, really, when Nicky served me with eviction papers intended to beat the system, claiming that he and his family will share occupany of this tiny dwelling among themselves.

Though the bungalows have been zoned as rentals for seventy-five years, I'm faced with the immutable truth that though this one is my home, it's also his property. What a mistake to give my heart to a place that was never mine to begin with. I suppose it's like falling in love with someone who either can't or won't commit, or simply doesn't quite know how. I wish I could find some humor in the irony that, absent the lights, costumes and show-stopping musical numbers, that's just how I'd sum up what happened to Fanny Brice.

11.01.2005

The Stuntman in My Driveway

Ever since my Greedy Foreign Landlord began trying to evict me from my rent-controlled Craftsman bungalow, I've been more tempted than ever to leave Hollywood for good. But then something curious and wonderful happens to remind me how much I love this carnival of a town despite my abject failure all these years to find a remotely viable way under The Big Top. I love the stars on the sidewalk, for example, whose installation and upkeep, I recently discovered, are financed by the "surprised" and "flattered" celebrities they pretend to honor. I love running into Faye Dunaway at Ralph's, where I once tapped her shoulder to say that a wad of bills was falling out of her back pocket like a trail of crumbs for the poor and obscure. "Mommy Dearest," I mouthed to a couple of Oblivious Hipsters behind me.

Most of all, I love that this is the only town in the world where a girl can encounter a Big Hollywood Stuntman without ever having to leave the house. Lately I've been looking out the kitchen window to discover a grizzled, weather-worn Marlboro Man who walks with a slight limp dismounting a Ducati on the communal lawn. This is my cue to step outside in my nightshirt, toting a bag of garbage.

"Hey, doll," he'll drawl with one of those cocky Chuck Yeager accents shared universally among airline pilots and other he-men. Very few people could get away with calling me "doll" without my returning a withering scowl—not some gay, girlish smile followed by a warming blush. Then the stud up and winks at me, working a knowing stick of Dentyne between his teeth. Who but The Electric Horsemen could pull off that kind of maneuver? Infuriatingly, though I'm known for my easy way with a quip, I can never come up with a thing to say to the guy in return.

The object of my affliction is apparently the forbidden boyfriend of my new neighbor who looks like Sharon Stone, only ten years younger and not so crazy around the eyes. This according to my other neighbor, the "retired" stripper, now a "hairdresser," who jealously reports that Sharon's wealthy parents are supporting her fully until such time as the acting thing happens. "She's practically forty," she'll say. "I mean give it up, already." I resist the temptation to bring up our advanced years, or the help from my real daddy and her sugar daddy, respectively. The former is a big softie; the latter, either a rock impresario or the deposed dictator of a small African city state, depending on how you phrase the question.

I'm told that Sharon's parents don't much care for the Stuntman, since he should be doing the providing by now with what they're paying these days for self-immolation, jumping out windows and driving cars off cliffs. Sharon told them the relationship was over, and only sees him in secret lest the folks cut her off for good. While I know very well I could never handle that kind of show pony with or without parental consent, I like him anyway. He's a big, strong manly-man, and those are all but impossible to come by in this town crawling with self-absorbed girlie-boys endlessly staring in the mirror to ponder that sparsely populated soul patch.

Last night I went outside and overheard a group of neighbors who meet that general description whispering about how I'd been formally served with eviction papers. It felt like those two weeks when you've given notice at a job, only to be treated like some leper who showed up in the snack room begging for stale doughnuts. Since any act of solidarity might be interpreted as one of disloyalty, the other tenants absently grabbed their dogs by the collars, ignoring the yappy greetings of my two fat old wiener dogs. Only puppies the day we moved in, it was as though all three of us were already long gone.

That's when the stuntman parted the crowd of impotent townsfolk like Clint Eastwood in a Spaghetti Western, kneeling down on one knee to give my scorned babies an approving pat before looking up at me—and then, like an afterthought, at the stars. "Beautiful night, isn't it, doll?"

"It's Hollywood, Stuntman," I told him. "Everything's beautiful." At last, a signature witticism, met with a bona fide chuckle.

Even after nine years here, it's still too soon to say if I'll stay for good or cut my losses and head home. But all in that one moment between me and the newfound hero on my lawn, I was finally sure of something: my landlord has no idea what kind of girl he's made the mistake of tangling with.