“You really need to get back to writing about what you do best,” my mother called to tell me. I had no idea what she meant by this. Snark? Bitterness? A perpetual state of nagging disappointment even during my finest hour? “You write best about people who’ve touched you out there,” she said. I didn’t know how to tell her that nobody actually touches each other in Hollywood. It’s not like New York where you’re all on the street together and you could easily pass off touching as an accident. In L.A., we barely look at one another, except to pass sub-conscious judgment on a butt that’s too big, a face too weatherworn or a car too old. I myself get judged quite regularly in this town, I’m willing to wager.
Now that I’m mostly locked indoors working on my first big studio assignment, I have to rely on the neighbors for any remote human contact. The old man next door, Gordon “Russ” Russell, is a Korean war vet and retired junk dealer an ambulance came for last week. It turns out he has a serious heart condition that in all likelihood will be the thing that gets him. He’s well into his eighties, so I suppose his dying wouldn’t be all that tragic in the grand scheme of things, although it never seems a good time to pencil death in.
I followed him to the hospital to be neighborly, where the nurses informed me that I’m his only friend in the world. This despite my only having met him six months back. Though he'd offered to look after my dogs when I went to Sundance, I wasn’t certain that obligated me alone to watch him take his last breath. He gave me a letter to send to an estranged sister in Albuquerque in the event he didn’t make it, although he doesn’t have anything for her to claim except a garage full of vintage Playboys.
He’d been an incorrigible youth sent to Boystown, where he played on the football team and served as a pallbearer at Father Flanagan’s funeral. He only specific Hollywood connection appears to have been sharing Dean Martin’s dentist, Dr. Peter K. Thomas, a fellow he’s mentioned to me at least twenty times. I find this ironic, since the old man has so few teeth I had to ask the half-wit hospital orderly to grind his food before serving it after witnessing an unfortunate choking and Heimlich incident. Russ claims that Dr. Thomas took him to a big soiree up at the Trocadero back in the day, where he encountered Marilyn Monroe, Ginger Rogers and Judy Garland, who also owed their famous celebrity chompers to Dr. Thomas’s handiwork. This all seemed a bit far-fetched, so I Googled the late Dr. Thomas and discovered he had indeed been a rather prominent Hollywood dentist and man about town in his time.
He’s been dead for years, however, so that leaves this reclusive screenwriting neighbor with so few permanent connections of her own to look after Russ in his last days. This is clearly a guy who’s made an awful lot of mistakes in life, since avoiding dying broke and alone seems to me to be the unspoken force driving most of us—especially in a place as notoriously difficult to accomplish that as Hollywood. On the other hand, the studio might actually end up making my movie, meaning I’d have a big Hollywood soiree of my own to attend with a date. I’m no Ginger Rogers, but if Russ can hang on that long, with the right partner I am known to dance one kick-ass Macarena.