Julie the New Girl

There’s a great scene in Fargo when Steve Buscemi takes a bullet in the jaw courtesy of William H. Macy’s overbearing father-in-law. The thwarted ransom scene is set in a deserted parking lot and shot in part from an office window, from which the view below is two cars, one body and an ocean of snow.

With that kind of desolation in mind, the outlying vista from the bank of picture windows behind my new office cubicle should be its one saving grace. On a clear fall day, I can simultaneously shuffle, staple and sigh, following the palm tree-lined rivers of Highland and La Brea all the way up to the hills, stopping along the way at the Magic Castle, Griffith Park Observatory and the Hollywood sign. The trouble is, part of me would rather look out over the frozen hinterlands of North Dakota. With the miniaturized Matchbox cars jockeying for position on this magical life-sized track, I’m stuck inside like a sick kid on a snow day, watching the big boys go out to play.

Today’s unannounced visit from the Big Deal Publisher of the
Legendary Trade Magazine
where I’m temping might have been my big chance for some indoor fun. I read his column every day, after all, and could easily have volunteered some thoughts of my own on piracy, theatrical distribution and foreign after-markets. But then, my professional zeal would have only confused him, especially since he discovered me chewing bubble gum and reading The National Enquirer like some ditzy Carol Burnett character with a plumped up prosthetic ass. The Pretty Boy Sycophant of a business manager considered supplying my name, but was stopped cold by the horrible realization that he’d never bothered to ask me for it to begin with.

I suppose the lunchroom holds some dramatic promise, since the company also publishes B---- S---- W----, the longtime bible of the Unrepresented Actor Person. I paged through its many dubious notices to discover that Nelly is looking for an emerging rapper to write a jingle for a healthy version of his new energy drink, Pimpjuice; and that a new MTV series intends to find the next generation of Neil Diamond impersonators. Who knew there was an earlier one? An ad for egg donors promises “the right candidate”chocolates, massages, flowers, a weekend at the Ritz and a new set of professional head shots in addition to a ten thousand dollar payday. That ought to keep a girl in accent reduction lessons for another pilot season.

Two failed actresses forced to do time in Classifieds probably think I’m shy, since I sat reading David Sedaris this afternoon while they ate dim sum and argued over whether or not Joe Versus The Volcano draws an important life metaphor. “Look, I was in a John Patrick Shanley play at Chicago Rep,” one informed the other down the nose of her Lisa Loeb glasses.  “I know Shanley.”

Maybe next week I’ll close my book and bring up the Oscar-winning script of Moonstruck to demonstrate the fact that I, too, know Shanley. The truth is that having worked alone for so long, I’m not so good at doing it with others. Oftentimes I would write at home all day only to realize I hadn’t uttered a single peep since I woke up—except the word "gross" directed at my overweight wiener dog, who likes to eat his own poop.

I’ve also spent a lot of years outside that window—enough of them to know that sometimes life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Visiting his office, I learned that Jack London went to Alaska to become a banker, not to write Call of The Wild. In the living room of her Denmark home, I was told that Isaak Dinesen’s planned to grow coffee in Kenya, then wrote Out of Africa instead. So maybe Julie didn’t come all the way to Hollywood to be a lowly office temp, but the memorable view from that corner cubicle may some day become the establishing shot for my own eponymous movie. When that happy moment arrives, I suppose I’ll be happier still that fate didn’t take me to Fargo.

La Femme Julita

During my last year of film school, a Big Deal Writer-Director and former student came in to talk about a little novel called Sideways he was adapting for the screen. He pointed out that he and his screenwriting partner had given Miles a job—where in the book, the character had been as chronically unemployed as yours truly. Their idea was to make this total loser more likeable, even as he was stealing money he didn’t need from a mother who’d offered it to him anyway. I suppose there’s something humanizing about a guy who goes off to work every morning versus one who sits around in his undershorts all day dreaming up stories nobody wants to read.

Now that I’m stuck in a cubicle, even temporarily, I’m worried that I’ll learn how to stop dreaming at all. Three days in and I’m already convinced that’s what happened to my co-workers. Ask any girl what she wants to be when she grows up, and I somehow doubt she’ll mention data processing. The good news is I still don’t grasp the over-arching psychology of office life. It seems really odd to me, for example, that everybody isn’t running around screaming all the time. Why do they all come back after bathroom breaks? Why not find a window, knock out the glass with the janitor’s bucket and dive through it like La Femme Nikita?

I get the whole line about the regular paycheck, but surely there’s some other way. When I was a journalist, I used to travel a lot in Europe, where I’d look out my hotel room window completely captivated by the business people going off to work.  These were bona fide foreigners who ate salami for breakfast and spoke in strange, sexy tongues. Hugging their overcoats, their boot heels clicking over the sidewalks, they had to have somewhere intriguing to go. Interpol, maybe, or Scotland Yard. Some covert train depot buzzing with fellow cell members from MI5. It all seemed so Mission Impossible looking down over all those rain-slicked piazzi in my past.

What touches me most about Miles, given my own personal circumstances, is that he’s not a bad writer, but rather a pretty good one who probably won’t make it anyway. They definitely won’t talk about this one in film school. The guy stuck scooping ice cream at Sav-On’s could have written Casablanca and he still won’t be paraded in to discuss its perfect structure. The prodigal stars, meanwhile, only bring up the details of their menial day jobs once they’re a thing of the past. It’s just not all that cute until it’s over. Since nine long weeks between me and adorable seems like an awfully long time, I'll sign off with some words bound to make all of us dreamers a little weepy tonight.


               Miles enters his tiny apartment. He loosens his tie and puts
               down his satchel.

               On his way to the kitchen, he presses a button on his
               ANSWERING MACHINE. As it plays, he opens the
               REFRIGERATOR and looks inside.

                                     ANSWERING MACHINE
                         One new message.

                                     MAYA'S VOICE
                         Hello, Miles. It's Maya.

               Miles FREEZES, not wanting to miss a single syllable.

                                     MAYA'S VOICE
                         Thanks for your letter. I would have
                         called you sooner, but I think I've
                         needed some time to think about
                         everything that happened and what
                         you wrote to me. Another reason I
                         didn't call sooner is that I wanted
                         to finish your book, which I finally
                         did last night.

               Miles's heart pounds.

                                     MAYA'S VOICE
                         I think it's really lovely, Miles.
                         You're so good with words. Who cares
                         if it's not getting published? There
                         are so many beautiful and painful
                         things about it. Did you really go
                         through all that? It must have been
                         awfully hard. And the sister character --
                         Jesus, what a wreck. But I have to
                         say I was really confused by the
                         ending. Did the father finally commit
                         suicide, or what? It's driving me
                         crazy. And the title.

               INT./EXT. SAAB - DAY

               THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD --

               We see ourselves taking the BUELLTON EXIT.

                                     MAYA'S VOICE
                         Anyway, it's turned cold and rainy
                         here lately. But I like winter. So
                         listen, if you ever do decide to
                         come up here again, you should let
                         me know. I would say stop by the
                         Hitching Post, but to tell you the
                         truth I'm not sure how much longer
                         I'm going to be working there. I'm
                         going to graduate soon so I'll
                         probably relocate. We'll see.


               Miles climbs the wooden steps and approaches Maya's back

                                     MAYA'S VOICE
                         Anyway, like I said, I really loved
                         your novel. Don't give up, Miles.
                         Keep writing. You're really good.
                         Hope you're well. Bye.

               Miles takes a breath. Finally he KNOCKS.

               FADE OUT.

                                         THE END

Loopy Scribe Loses Beautiful Mind

Today the Legendary Hollywood Trade Paper where I’ve worked in Subscriptions for the two longest, lowest days of my life celebrated its 75th Anniversary. The ceremony, to which I was not invited, was held up on Hollywood Boulevard, re-christened H----- R-----
for the day. I’m guessing the star unveiled in its honor along the Walk of Fame punctuates the original Art Deco-era building, which once boasted its own barber shop and haberdashery. Unfortunately, drawing the full story out of the woman I now work under was no picnic, since she only went looking for free cake.

“They should have put the star in front of the old Ciro’s,” I muse while paper clipping Very Important Things to each other. Near as I can tell, this is the most challenging part of my job, besides shuffling them like a deck of cards into matching red and black piles. “Billy Wilkerson owned all kinds of night clubs up on the Strip.”

“Billy who?” she says, pulling some errant black things from my pile of red ones.

“The guy who founded the place,” I tell her. “Very colorful fellow, back in the day. A regular Damon Runyon.”

“Right,” she says, not bothering to ask who that guy was, too. After all, I am the student here and she is the Big Puffy Teacher I'm to replace during her fourth annual pregnancy leave. I wonder how anybody can afford that many kids, since I’m too broke to buy dog food this week and am feeding the Wieners freezer-burned Lean Cuisines.

“Did you see at least see any movie stars?” I ask. I’m thinking they’d have to trot out a Kirk Douglas or a Debbie Reynolds for the occasion.

“Too hot,” is her non sequitur of a response. She clamps her long mane of black hair into one of those plastic banana clips that should be forbidden by law to leave the beauty salon. “Anyway,” she sighs. “It took me forever to park.”

I look at the rest of the heavy-lidded Cubicle Girls within earshot, each sporting a telephone headset and staring down a screen scrawled with blinking codes like something terrifying and curious out of A Beautiful Mind. I have the sudden urge to point to one and marvel over a fascinating apparition of the Big Dipper.

Instead I continue my history lecture, informing every last one of them how The H----- R----- used to have a verve and jargon all its own. Studios were referred to as "the plant" and directors would sign on to "megaphone" a picture. When out-of-favor producers were shown off the lot, so-and-so "took it at a trot." Blind gossip items referred to this “cagey blonde” or that “bad boy bachelor” in deference to a system bent on controlling the images of its stars.

"How do you know all this?” Puffy wants to know.

“It’s in today’s edition,” I say, holding it up. “Didn’t anybody read it yet?”

The revelation that I actually subscribe to this rag is met with a round of snickers. I decide to leave out how the proudest moment of my life was the day my name appeared on the front page after winning a Big Deal Screenwriting Competition. I am both incomprehensibly exotic and completely ridiculous to these girls—especially in light of all the sorting, stacking and stapling activities before me.

Monday I will learn how to encode orders into The Big System. My hidden agenda, at the suggestion of a loyal reader, will be to secure Steven Spielberg’s cell phone number so that I may publish it here among many others. What’s more, I will fend off the tedium of my unhappy circumstances by loitering near the pencil sharpener and lurking on the toilet with my feet up to ferret out the kind of smut you’d never read in the pages of a legitimate publication. Because even when she’s down and out, Julie Goes To Hollywood still knows how to dig deep for the dirt and she’s not afraid to spread some lies of her own around this false promise of a town.

Or maybe not. Maybe it will be all I can do to just sit there all day punching numbers into the abyss. I guess another thing they won’t tell you in film school is that when a girl gets down to that last shred of dignity along her treacherous trip to the top, the next thing she's bound to lose is what's left of her beautiful mind.

Julie Goes Undercover

The customs woman at JFK with the annoying little FDA beagle sniffing after my rolling luggage wanted to know where I’d bought my sausages. “Schiphol Airport,” I declared. “That place is like a huge shopping mall where planes come to park.” She flipped open a stainless steel clipboard, running her finger down a list. “Schiphol is in the Netherlands,” I said. “Also known as Holland.”

“I know where Schiphol is, Ma’am,” she lied, mispronouncing it. “What’s the national origin of the gouda?

Certain that the little clog-wearing Dutch boy on the label would rat me out anyway, I told the truth. Informing me that neither item was importable, she opened a plastic evidence bag and demanded I deposit the contraband. She was a squat Puerto Rican the color and shape of a new potato with a thick Bronx accent. I pictured her whipping up a nice little sausage and cheese dinner omelet for a brood of hungry derelicts on their way to a night of wilding in Central Park.

Back in the days when I was a Big Deal Travel Writer, it was customary to bring a little nosh to the folks back at the magazine after a sojourn to parts more glamorous. These were the people who figured up my freelance invoices and cut the checks, so, despite my exhaustion from the overnight flight, I had the taxi stop at a convenience store where I picked up some Cracker Barrel and Slim Jims. My plan was to run into the office kitchen and quietly relieve the snacks of their humble wrappers before laying out a charming international sampler. Unfortunately, the kitchen was full to the gills with a gaggle of twenty-somethings I’d never laid eyes on. “Temps,” the circulation manager apologized over the din. One of the ill-mannered heathens stepped on my foot while another snatched a sizeable block of Extra Sharp Cheddar. “Just ignore them.”

This morning, a Big Deal Hollywood Temp Agency called to offer me a nine-week job at The H----- R-----, one of the two big trade magazines in town. Oh, how I welcomed the return of the self-respect and dignity I’d so casually discarded to embark on the daily ritual of humiliation and obscurity that greets the Aspiring Hollywood Screenwriter. Then I found out I’d be a fill-in clerk for the Circulation Department, where reporters returning from the field bearing dubious gifts would be told to just ignore me.

"You have done data processing, right?” inquired the girl from the agency. “Because I told them you had lots of publishing experience.” There was no more use in trying to explain to her that I had been a journalist, not a touch typist, than there would have been in appealing to the spud-shaped woman over the unhappy fate of my long lost sausages.  

Besides, another thing they won’t tell you in film school is that once you’ve fallen long and hard enough, a job—any job, no matter how lowly or monotonous—may well become your only shot at getting dealt back into the game. Look out, folks. Julie's in the house, and she just might end up on all the wrong floors serving up snacks to all the right people some day very soon.

Emmy is a Hot Chick

The closest I’ve gotten to the Emmy Awards was when my brother-in-law, the Smug Overpaid Sitcom Weenie, asked me to babysit so he and his wife could go. Part-time nanny work seemed okay to me, since I was doing a lot of odd jobs to save for film school. Then it turned out his wife wasn’t so keen on having me around, since I can cook, and she doesn't like the girls eating a whole lot. This is the West Valley, where you can't be dropping off a happy little fatty at tap dance class.

His Overrated Alien Comedy lost to Frasier again that year, which made sense to me, since unlike Smug’s show, Frasier was known to hire women and old guys who gave it a little dimension.

Which brings me to last night. Why isn’t a so-called progressive like Jon Stewart embarrassed to be parading his closed club in penguin suits up and down the Emmy stage year in and year out? Though he again made some tired joke about hiring only Jewish Ivy Leaguers, this time he didn’t even bother to mention the flagrant absence of women among those ranks. If eighteen females had marched up there to the total exclusion of the male sex, The Daily Show would be known as the biggest dyke fest on the airwaves.

Certainly plenty of women turned out last night to receive recognition for their assorted contributions to television, and much to the Academy’s credit, many of them are no longer young and pretty. However, those recognized seemed mostly to be working in front of the TV cameras, where it’s a whole lot harder to marginalize the ladies since the entire medium was conceived to sell soap suds to housewives, desperate and otherwise.

I’m sure there will be a lot more talk today about how they looked in their dresses rather than their notable absence behind the scenes. Which leaves it to me to inform Jon Stewart and his pals—all of whom are undoubtedly readers of this blog, given their singular taste and refinement—that unlike Oscar and Tony, Emmy is a girl. According to my research, some forty-eight statuette designs were rejected before Louis McManus brought in the winged “golden girl”—modeled after his wife Dorothy—holding up the universal symbol for the electron. Even the name Emmy is a feminization of "Immy," a term used for the early image orthicon camera tube.

The boys should also know that the very first Emmy back in 1949 went to a babe of all things—Shirley Dinsdale, a 20-year-old ventriloquist who surely did her own writing. Since then, several other women—Gracie Allen and Carol Burnett come to mind—have written a good bit of their own material on the way to becoming comedy legends. In 1951, Red Skelton accepted the Best Comedian award by saying, "I think this should have gone to Lucille Ball."

I do hope I’m not sounding as resentful as Lily Tomlin, who said after picking up an Emmy in 1974, "This is not the greatest moment in my life because on Friday I had a really great baked potato at Niblick's on Wilshire." 

It seems bitterness has always been the provenance of comics, regardless of the level of success we have or haven’t achieved. Perhaps the best Emmy acceptance quote of all time belonged to Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, who thanked all of New York City "for providing the rejection and alienation that keeps the comedy spirit alive." Now there’s a late night guy who took awhile to get it, since he was on the air for nearly three decades before figuring out it was time to let a girl run the show.

Another thing they won’t tell you in film school is that if Tina Fey hasn’t got a prayer of writing on The Daily Show, you won’t be working in late night TV unless you can pee standing up, holding an Emmy in one hand and your, uh, sense of humor in the other.

The Actress Friend Who Gave Up

When I first dumped my old life as a successful foreign correspondent to make my way out to Hollywood, I wasn’t supposed to end up alone. My brother and sister both lived in town; my best friend from back in junior high had settled down here; and an old college pal had come out years earlier to try to make it as an actress. Shortly after my arrival, however, my brother up and moved to Micronesia and had two children I’ve never seen; my sister got married and moved to San Diego; my oldest friend passed away; and the actress decided she’d had enough, moved to Houston and landed herself The Dreaded Real Job.

Maybe I should have taken all this as yet another sign that My Big Deal Hollywood Life simply wasn’t meant to be. But most of them check in from time to time to see how I’m doing—even the dead one, who often shows up in my dreams “Shuffling Off To Buffalo,” a step the two of us picked up in our eighth grade tap dancing class.

Meanwhile, the Actress Friend Who Gave Up called last night to tell me she’s tired of her new life as a wine broker and wants to do something important. Wine is important, I tell her. I would have to list it among the top five most important things in my world, and I can’t even afford the Trader Joe’s label any more. I'm considering nipping at the cooking sherry like some fifties housewives in that Todd Haines movie with Julianne Moore.

“Part of me feels there has to be more than this,” she sighs. “Have you heard about ‘Teach America’?”

That movie sucked, I want to say. Who wants to watch a couple of stop action figures go at it for two hours?

But then it turns out she isn’t talking about Team America. She’s talking about a Princeton-based program meant to save the nation’s underprivileged youth from a lifetime of ignorance and poverty. She tells me a big part of her, the part that isn’t paying a mortgage and an Ikea revolving charge account, wants to change the world.

What was this? Here was the daughter my mother never had who’d come to her senses and gone off to make a decent life for herself. Her new house wasn’t even built when she bought it, so they let her pick the floor tiles and a selection of upgraded appliances. She got to intermix slate with a blanket of flawless sod in her front and back yards both. She has an expense account and an assistant. She goes on business trips to France and Napa. She gets to eat all kinds of free cheese.

“I don’t understand,” I tell her. “You were supposed to be my hero.”

“You were supposed to be mine,” she says when I tell her about my latest abject failure to land a Big Deal Screenwriting Job. “You have to hang in there, you know.”

What she means is I have to do it for her. I have to do it for all of them who took their balls and went home—even the ones I never met. I’ve always felt the spirits of these sorts of folks cheering me on as they buzz about my house. It was built in 1929 as studio housing back in the day when people like Buster Keaton were turning Hollywood into the preferred destination for moviemaking. East Coast actors were lured out with a one-year contract and a little bungalow house for one. After that, they either moved up, moved out, or headed for the hills to jump off the letter “H” in the Hollywood sign.

They’ve been expecting an awful lot from me, all these dead people, since the day I moved in with my two hundred-pound Neopolitan Mastiff, Bunny, who sniffed out their collective presence in virtually every corner. He joined them a couple of months later—the day after I won a Big Deal Screenwriting Competition—and I’ve always felt he wanted to make sure I’d be alright before he died. I was babysitting my sister’s new Wiener Dogs the night I took Bunny to the veterinary hospital and a nurse came out, alone, handing me his collar. I never gave the wieners back.

“How are the puppies?” my Actress Friend wants to know.

“They’re ten,” I tell her. “That’s seventy in dog years. It’s like living with a couple of bitchy old women.”

She decides what I need is a visit to Houston, where I will be properly wined and dined and I can sleep in the brand new guest room she’s managed to decorate by tuning into the design channel exclusively. I’m not crazy about traveling any more, and part of me wonders why she can’t come back to L.A.

The other part knows why. Maybe dreams don’t die, after all, they just turn into new ones that continue to seem just that far out of reach. I guess another thing they won’t tell you in film school is that giving up and going home is never as easy as it looks.

Julie Gets a Gun

A reader sent me a New York Times article about a Big Deal Screenwriter who likes to shoot his unproduced screenplays. With a gun. He brings them to a rifle range, loads a .45-caliber pistol and pumps a few rounds into the pages, watching the shot-out shreds waft to the ground like confetti. He initially considered chopping his reams of spurned pages into small cubes with a table saw and filming the process in some skewed attempt to commit his life's work to film, one way or another. But then he had a vision of one of his failed screenplays, riddled with bullets, bronzed like a baby shoe. He plans to exhibit twenty-two of his re-conceived works of art at a Santa Monica art gallery in a one-man bronze sculpture show he calls "Shot by the Writer - Works on Paper: 1982-2004."

Me, I go straight for the trash can. Better yet, there's an industrial dumpster at the end of my drive for a construction project next door, into which I have just deposited every last item related to the Big Deal Studio Assignment I didn't get this week. Every draft of my spectacular outline, every e-mail to and from the Bright and Accomplished Producer, every Post It Note memorializing every last one of my highly original thoughts. Even the silly little novel I surely would have adapted into the box office smash of the year was laid to rest beside an outdated porcelain toilet and scraps of termite-ridden molding studded with rusty nails.

I came back into the house feeling surprisingly renewed—until my Take Charge Lawyer Sister called to say she can't take as much charge of my bills as usual this month, since she's having a fight with her pool man and has to hire another lawyer specializing in criminal landscaping. She wanted to know why I haven't been pursuing my Big Temping Career with my usual zeal, forcing me to re-visit my failed bid for the gold that preoccupied so much of my time over the last six weeks. Apparently the tone in my voice wasn't fawning and pathetic enough to inspire much support, since she hung up on me mid-sentence. I can't say I blame her, really, since I'd have hung up on me several thousand bucks ago. 

I was left with no choice but to get myself a gun. It's a plastic one that shoots water, which I keep in a stainless steel basket under the bathroom sink along with a wind-up boat, a rubber duck and a variety of aromatherapeutic bath salts. I briefly considered shooting the Wiener Dogs with it when they refused to come inside, but they would only think it was a new game, falling all over each other for another drink while alternately rolling around the lawn on a spot where the neighbor dog likes to pee.

I could also come back inside and fill my pretty pink gun with some cooking sherry my sister left behind when she made her famous mushroom tarts for my film school graduation party last year. I can't afford a decent bottle of wine any more, but I've got enough residual rums, cognacs and liqueurs left over from various baking projects to keep me going through the weekend, one squirt at a time.

Another thing they won't tell you in film school is that while drinking alone is never a good idea, it's definitely better than turning to a life of crime. I pictured myself putting the gun in my mouth, my finger quivering on the trigger as I prepared myself for the inevitable. Then I would came to my senses, pull the plug, and empty the barrel into the sink. Cooking sherry. Now I'm suddenly Betty Ford on top of all my other problems.

Later this evening, I do have plans to fill my new favorite toy with bubble bath and get in the tub, where I intend to remain for many hours. For now, though, I'm just not ready to feel that good.

Down and Out at Formosa Cafe

The day after another Big Hollywood Deal slips through your fingers is never a good one. After having whittled down my hugely long chances of landing a studio writing assignment to one in two—and finally losing the big coin toss in the sky—today feels sort of like the morning after a courtroom jury reads its verdict. You wake up back in jail, for good this time, rather than at Disneyland riding the Teacups over and over again—grinning like a madwoman at the vomiting toddlers spewing cotton candy on your shoes.

Standing up to appeal what feels like my life sentence as an outsider in an insider kind of town, an old film school friend invited me for drinks at Formosa Café. He’s the only guy I know who’s savvy enough to evoke the name of Daily Variety’s P---- B---- in order to snag the prized corner table, a U-shaped red vinyl banquette. TV Boy works for Both The Big P’s, B---- and G----, producing their Sunday morning talk show on one of the movie channels—and therefore knows everyone and everything in this town before they know it themselves.

But then, Formosa isn't exactly breaking news, not since Shannen Doherty got arrested for cracking a bottle over some guy's head in the parking lot. Built in 1924 adjacent to United Artists—then a fledgling studio established by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks—the place hasn't changed much at all over the years, even with the strip mall built up virtually all the way around it. Like so many Hollywood landmarks, it’s easy to mistake for just another relic favored by location scouts, hipsters and celebutantes, but somehow off limits to the rest of us. I must have walked past it a dozen times on the way to pick up some plastic hangers or packaged Fruit of the Loom panties on sale at Target—but I’d never even bothered to look inside.

Tonight I discovered it’s no more pretentious than your tippling Great Aunt Mary, smelling of last night’s gin and this afternoon’s whisky, serving up hot sake and cold umbrella drinks to wash down some endearingly bad Chinese food. Hundreds of headshots line the walls, and they’re not the mass-produced faux glossies the publicity people send over to decorate yet another Planet Hollywood, but rather the real deal, creased and greasy, signed by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe after a few stiff Manhattans and an unsettling plate of chicken chopped suey.

Sitting with my old friends, all of us determined to make it big or die trying, I was reminded of the famous scene shot here from L.A. Confidential—in which Kevin Spacey allows Guy Pearce to mistake the real Lana Turner for a hooker “cut” to resemble the genuine article. It occurred to me that maybe there is no such thing as a Hollywood outsider. Maybe just sitting here in the famous booth my friend snagged simply by dropping the right name is as inside as it gets, no matter who you’re cut to look like.

Another thing they won’t tell you in film school is some days all you need to do is order another Mai Tai, eat the maraschino cherry and quit feeling sorry for yourself. Because unlike most everybody up on that wall, you’re still standing, and as long you manage to stay in the game just one more day, those Teacups are just a Freeway ride across town. 

Julie Gets Googled

As I've occasionally done with my real name just for kicks, this morning I decided to Google my blog moniker. I happily discovered two pages of links to "Julie Goes To Hollywood" from my own blog postings and comments I've left elsewhere; from my daily syndication on Indieville L.A. to my user profile on Blog Explosion. Suddenly, though, I came upon the following entry excerpted from an unfamiliar Website called "Purrfect Productions:"
Julie goes to Hollywood and the Frederick's of Hollywood store. She is flashing pedestrians and driver's of other cars. She gives a great blowjob and facial... Good Lord, here was a guy who didn’t know plural from possessive on a simple noun like “driver” taking my good fake name in vain! I clicked on the link to discover the home page of some amateur videographer, a Pacific Northwestern purveyor not only of pornography but also of magic tricks and comic books, all of which he's willing to exchange with his coterie of on-line loser pals. "Julie Goes To Hollywood" turned out to be a small-time "actress" with a rather impressive body of work, from Julie's Last Dance, to Pantyhose Heaven and Mission Erotica.

The discovery of my porn star alter ego coincided with the disappointing news that I didn't get a studio writing assignment I was quite certain would have been my one-way ticket to the top. Yes, I'm aware there will be others, and even more after that. People Are Saying Very Good Things About Me, after all, why wouldn't they invest eighteen minutes and a bottle of Perrier into hearing my painstakingly detailed thoughts on their latest Big Deal Project? What was different about this go-round, though, was that it was just so close but no cigar. In the end, it came down to me and only one other uncredited writer—at least from what I've been told all these weeks.

But what if the playing field wasn't all that level to begin with? Not until I hung up the phone with My Very Supportive Manager did it occur to me that things are not always as they appear in this town. Probing the status quo, searching for truth behind yet another illusion, this is the most fundamental tenet of story structure—any Film School Loser knows that. On- and off-screen both, Hollywood invests billions of dollars on the legendary trickery that has the kids queuing up from Bangor to Beijing waving the last of their pocket money just for a chance to watch us go. Very often the sleight of hand begins with the slow buzz of a sleeper hit, and ends with the box office smash of the year.

My point is, maybe there never was another writer. Maybe the "other writer" was the Bad-Ass Producer's Mild-Mannered Daughter, who sat in on every one of my studio meetings—swollen nearly mute with child—innocently claiming to have found the obscure book on a sale table in front of an airport bookstore. Maybe she wanted to adapt the screenplay herself, but, since she has never so much as written her own name across an iron-on sticker in her summer camp underpants, somebody else needed to get shot down first. Maybe this is another one of my paranoid delusions, fully fleshed out in an uphill battle to keep me going another day. Let other people have their porn stars, I have a very rich fantasy life peopled with Pregnant Villains and Bright and Accomplished anti-heroes.

In light of all this, I can't help but wonder about the other Julie Goes To Hollywood, who must have had some big dreams of her own before cashing in her chips to star in Flesh For Sale and Naughty Nylons opposite Summer Knight and Taylor St. Claire. Was her girlhood idol Meryl Streep? Had she admired the early work of the Redgrave sisters and papered her bedroom with photos of Dame Judy Dench? Did she finally get her big break guest starring as a corpse on E.R. back in the day, reaching out from her gurney between takes to absently brush the hand of one Mr. George “Ohmigod” Clooney? Just how far into The Big Game did Julie get before lying right back down and taking it with a smile so as not to feel the pain of having wanted so much more?

It could also be that Julie fully believes she is a star. Perhaps she's learned to take her lumps, pardon the pun, and enjoy the spotlight for what it is. I doubt it, though. I bet she's just another dreamer convinced right down to her bones that there's something much larger and far more thrilling waiting just around the bend, again pardoning the pun. All I know for sure is that Julie The Porn Star and Julie The Big Deal Screenwriter are more alike than I'd ever want to admit. I know very well I'm the one who's going to take my ball and go home to Umatilla when I've decided I've had enough. One thing they won't tell you in film school, though, is just how long that will be.

Big Deal Hollywood Party

In the summertime, I turn on the window unit air-conditioners, pull down the roll-up shades in my little Hollywood bungalow and don’t come out again until the heat lets up. In the event I need food or drink, I order it in. After I’ve maxed out my credit cards, I make a cash run up to Trader Joe’s Santa Monica Boulevard ten minutes before closing. A cop friend of mine once warned me against doing this, since that’s the likeliest time for a grocery store to get hit, and I can’t say I blame the robbers since that’s when it’s cool, dark and uncrowded enough to even bother with pulling off a heist. Neither can I see going out to fight off The Regulars—which is what I call normal, wage-earning citizens of Los Angeles who don’t do their errands under the cover of night—over a bag of frozen gnocchi.

During the daylight hours, all my neighbors will see of me is a flash of crazy lady in her jammies scooping up dog poop. Which is why they were so startled by my presence at the surprise party Ebony threw for Ivory’s birthday on Saturday night. It was quite the to-do, with the communal courtyard decked out in twinkling lights and criss-crossed with crepe paper ribbons like something out of an Italian street fair. There were life-sized cut-outs of Michael and Janet Jackson propped up against the front porch, which I imagine had something to do with a fantasy Ivory once shared about the ultimate party guest, living or half-dead since the late eighties. Ebony even lined the drive with rose petals, confirming my long-held belief that only childless, mentally challenged and homosexual couples manage to keep the romance alive over time.

In the old days, you either went to a straight party or you went to a gay one, but nowadays the kids tend to mix things up with an even spread, spiced with a healthy dollop of undeclareds. While a D.J. spun the requisite techno-Latin dance music, it wouldn’t have been Hollywood if a roving band of professional gospel singers didn’t get up on the porch and sing “You Lift Me Up” in pitch perfect harmony as Ivory’s cake was brought out. He’s some kind of a psychotherapist, which means he’s not technically a Hollywood insider, but rather a bit player in the enormous cast of characters tending to the overall mental health of the movie industry.

Speaking of casting calls, all the neighbors were out, including “Sharon Stone,” who not only cooks, as it turns out—chicken rollatini, bacon-wrapped dates, bruschetta and Swedish meatballs—but also bounces around like a cheerier Sporty Spice while she’s doing it. The Aging Hipster who’s dying to get into her pink velour sweatpants did most of the serving, along with the failed comic who looks like Steven Wright and also wouldn’t mind spending some time down there.  My relationship with my Imaginary Boyfriend across the way became ever more intense in the moonlight and magic as we immersed ourselves in a volley of spirited conversation. Meaning he said, hey and I said hi, and he said have you met my girlfriend, and I said, die, bitch, die—if only to myself. Sometimes I feel he fears the heat between us, which is only natural given its searing intensity.

The police eventually showed up demanding we turn down the music, which is ironic when you live on the block where Hugh Grant was arrested in a car with a hooker and helicopters frequently fly overhead with speakerphones ordering the working girls back onto Sunset Boulevard. Ebony came up with the excuse that this was a fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which I thought was some pretty fancy two-stepping on his part until somebody passed around the donation jar marked “American Red Cross” that is certain to visit every Big Deal Hollywood Party from now until Mardi Gras.

I couldn’t bring myself to leave the compound and get a gift for Ivory, but I did give him a birthday hug, at which point he inquired if I’d be coming out more often now that autumn was in the air. I really thought nobody had noticed what a recluse I am, but like I say, he’s a shrink who looked right into my eyes, a rarity in this town, even among one’s closest friends and neighbors. It occurred to me standing there, sharing a knowing smile, that this guy specializes in Hollywood, the place I spend so many hours alone in the dark hoping against hope I’ll figure out how to worm my way into. “You have to be getting close,” he said with a wink.

“Maybe by Halloween,” I told him. Another thing they won't tell you in film school is no matter how much you'd like to be, you're never as alone in this thing as you think you are.

Fire Sale

My Very Supportive Manager called to say one of the family channels is interested in my Hilarious Funeral Comedy. Actually she said they “love, love, love” it, which in Supportive Speak means they’re just about ready to buy. Four loves and they might even pay a decent buck for it.

Neither of us seems exactly sure how to feel about the prospect of this sale, since, while we're both just about at our whit's end with the thing, the second rate cable route wouldn’t exactly be our one-way ticket to Sundance. I’m also unclear as to what this particular network sees in an edgy script about sex, death and religion. I could be wrong, since I don’t have children and don’t even actually know any, but I can’t imagine wanting to explain to them why we’re all routing for the hot Amish farmhand to knock up the infertile Brentwood housewife while we’re sitting in the rumpus room passing around the Jiffy Pop.

The truth is, I’m desperate enough to let the thing go to anyone.  I’d sell it to the smarmiest group of right-to-lifers to use as a cautionary tale against the evils of dirty sex with a non-marital partner. I’d let the Scientologists offer it up with a hot meal in their weird-ass Celebrity Center to recruit unsuspecting runaways off the streets of Hollywood. I can't afford to be picky. I can't even afford the Jiffy Pop, I have to buy the store brand in the big stupid jar when it's on sale.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have a dream about The Way Things Were Supposed To Go. For example, there’s a time-honored ritual of alumni bringing their films back to my Big Deal Film School for a pre-release screening. Afterwards, you get a microphone and a director’s chair and the students ask you all kinds of fawning questions about how you made it those few feet from where they’re sitting to the veritable throne upon which you are now perched.

During my time there, this happy fate befell only a scant handful of filmmakers. Two had made small indies, one of them starring Hillary Swank totally miscast between her two Oscars as a French duchess. The other, coincidentally, was a hilarious funeral comedy starring Debra Winger and Ray Romano, who didn’t ultimately have the juice to get it distributed. Oh, and there was that very small picture about two losers on vacation in the wine country that managed to make such a big splash.

While I’d have settled for just about anything in between, I can’t help picturing the lame listserv announcement that will have to suffice in the event my Big TV Deal goes down. “Check out the inconsequential little movie of the week written by one of our own—if you happen to get this channel among the seven hundred and forty on your system or even watch TV at all.”  The silly thing is that I will print out this posting and mount it in my scrapbook on a page studded with foil hearts and stars to commemorate the best day I’ve had in a very, very long time, and the biggest victory of my life, so far.

Opportunity of a Lifetime

It’s no surprise that a lot of Your Big Deal Hollywood Types troll the local film schools looking for cheap labor. Oftentimes these very attractive openings originate within our own ranks, with say a Slickster Producing Alumnus whose now got a little mojo going out there and ain’t afraid to spread the wealth. Just the other day, for example, a posting came over the student-alumni listserv regarding a P.A. job on Another Lame Sitcom People Are Saying Good Things About. The pay isn’t great, the poster went on to apologize, but, hey, they’re really nice to us here. Though the current duties mainly focus on refereeing the hierarchal posturing in an overcrowded parking lot, taking a black eye or two for the team is highly likely to lead to a staff writing job.

Or so the thinking goes. My feeling it’s a living either way—if only a meager one. I’m certain the kids were falling all over themselves to send in those resumes glowing with degrees, accolades, references and Major Awards from Maui to Nantucket. What I don’t understand, however, is the decidedly less attractive type of Big Hollywood Job Announcement, such as one I received today:
Volunteer P.A.’s needed on set of Tim Allen movie. We need unpaid interns (we will take care of parking and feeding) to help with the open casting call for extras for The Santa Clause 3 over the weekend of September 17 and 18. Tasks will include crowd management, picture-taking, and processing of information cards from candidates, most of whom will be children and young adults (accompanied by parents). B---- D---- of  B---- D---- Casting will be in charge, I am just helping him out (we worked together before on A Beautiful Mind and Seabiscuit), with principal casting.
What so many of my erstwhile Hollywood colleagues fail to understand is that volunteer work is generally performed on behalf of a non-profit organization, such as the Red Cross or the Salvation Army. According to my research, The last Santa Clause sequel did $139,236,327 on domestic box office alone. Seabiscuit, it’s worth noting, brought in $120,277,854; while A Beautiful Mind tipped the scales at $170,742,341. Somehow I doubt a whole lot of it was set aside to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

While I recognize the potential value the right internship can foster, I’m hard-pressed to see exactly how herding a throng of Jon Benet Ramseys and their Loopy Stage Mothers around Dodger Stadium translates into relationship-building. Maybe we’re all just looking for any small accomplishment to write home about. Parents want to know we're getting something out of our pricey educations, even if it’s only a chance to pretend we matter while some brat pees on our sneakers and eats the last of the Noz-Kote. Maybe it’s the association with a celebrity—even one who’s an ex-felon and second-rate eighties sitcom star—that’s meant to elicit such generosity of spirit.

Still, would the overcrowding at San Quentin justify such a lopsided invitation to criminology students? “Come on down and search some anal cavities, no pay. Hot lunch and possible Charles Manson sighting included.” I can’t picture the L.A. County Morgue trying to con recent pathology grads into giving up the free autopsies just because they’ve got a famous corpse in the house.

But then, we’re much better targets, we with the stars in our eyes. I myself answered a listserv job posting this week, from a writer-director in pre-production on his first indie feature starring Cedric the Entertainer. The guy offering a very fair wage for screenplay proofreading services turned out to be a school chum of mine—one who'd joined my family for dinner the night we graduated last year. He’d already hired some other desperate soul from a whopping forty responses by the time I got him on the phone. I told him to get rid of her.

“Bad summer?” he asked.

“I'm just so close,” I said. “Read the blog, babe. Just read the blog.”

The Smug Overpaid Sitcom Weenie

It is not true what they say about TV writers being all washed up by the time they’re out of their twenties. In fact, most of them I know are thirty-something, suburban fathers of four fending off the advances of middle age by dressing like Eminem. The idea is to convince the rest of the town that you are not only fly at fortyish, but are also just as jumpy, juvenile and inappropriate in your off time as you are at work. Hanging with the homies in the Writer’s Room with a bunch of other deluded soccer dads, it is widely accepted, makes for some phat laughs, bro. It’s also important to drive this year’s Humvee, fully support a spoiled wife who does a lot of spinning while silently hating you, and own a huge compound in Tarzana connected by underground tunnel to that of every other comedy writer in the San Fernando Valley.

Fashion sense aside, the typical Big Hollywood Sitcom Staffer seems proudest of his flagrant misogyny. The rare woman allowed among these ranks is usually Some Washed Up Comedienne who arrives at work smelling of Whisky Sours and last night’s catered burritos from Poquito Mas. Known for her throaty laugh at even the lamest producer level joke, she rarely lasts more than a season before being shipped off to rehab and replaced by one of the Big Deal Show Runner’s revolving girlfriends—a Moron Blonde barely out of her teens somebody’s assigned to re-write and like it.

My brother-in-law is one such Smug Overpaid Sitcom Weenie, but on him the required costume of baggie shorts, oversized t-shirts and backwards hats somehow reads less Real Slim Shady and more Charlie Brown’s Dorkier Uncle. There was a time, back before he stopped thinking girls were funny at all, when Smug Overpaid thought I was the funniest one he knew. Prior to becoming family when his brother married my sister, he and I were comedy partners in a Miami improv troupe we co-owned right after college. While I remained there working as a journalist, he earned his stripes here writing for a series of shows about nothing. When I finally followed him out, he promised again and again he’d help just as soon as he was in a position to. By the time he got his own show on the air, though, the nothingness had gotten to him. I never even had a meeting with him, a courtesy most of these guys give their nannies.

We haven’t spoken since. Nowadays he gets my sister for Christmas, I get her the rest of the year. Painfully off the mark, his African American family comedy was cancelled after a handful of episodes. I don’t know about women, but there was only one black writer on the staff—which is unfortunate given the milieu, since Smug Overpaid once confessed to having no idea who Beyoncé is.

The thing about closed clubs, though, is they invite you to just keep failing up. This morning I read in the trades that Smug Overpaid sold yet Another Ridiculous Pilot to Another Clueless Network, netting him millions of dollars regardless of how much it sucks.

One thing they won’t tell you in film school is how to feel when someone you once cared about elects to hole up with his less threatening pals behind a golden door that was closed to you to begin with. The right thing to do is to wish him well and move on. The Hollywood thing to do is to take him down the very first chance you get. The way I figure it, you’re either on your way up or on your way out in this town, which is why they’re so fond of the youngsters. While I may not dress like a registered sex offender, I’m still the funniest girl around—and like the weenies already know, that makes me a really scary one.

Labor Days and Mondays

Another thing they won't tell you in film school is that Monday holidays will come to mean absolutely nothing to you once you graduate and join the ranks of the Great Hollywood Unemployed. While this is true of Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, President's Day and all annual observances meant to honor good old-fashioned working folk, none can hold a candle to the aspiring Big Hollywood Screenwriter's inherent disdain for Labor Day. How presumptuous of the federal government to assume every American not only has a job, but also requires a full day to honor it by grilling hot dogs in the gayest apron available on eBay.

Even when we do have "a project," as we who are nearly in the biz like to call jobs for which we are either being underpaid or not paid at all, we tend to work odd hours. I, for one, break the work day into several brief sittings, intermittently getting up to watch One Life To Live, grab a boloney sandwich, and run to the bank to deposit an unemployment check I've just snatched from the mailman in hopes the cable bill won't bounce. This makes a holiday where the bank and post office are closed little more than an inconvenience. Making matters worse, the neighbors and their We Ho Hipster Friends are distracting me from my writing by flitting about in the communal yard spraying each other with hoses and letting their Overbred Rescue Dogs crap on the lawn.  

Apparently this ritual dates back a hundred years, when scattered trade unions and other anarchists held springtime marches. Grover Cleveland,who I believe was one of the fat Presidents, came up with a rival holiday coinciding with the more patriotic Knights of Labor parade held in September. Observing this Labor Day quickly came to mean eschewing political demonstrations altogether to stay at home and drink plenty of Bud.

The ironic thing about writers is that while we are great observers of other humans, we tend not to do that well interacting with you. Sadly, it's been a very long time since I squeezed into my bikini to go have a good time with the other kids on a Slip'n'Slide. At the risk of conjuring up Montgomery Burns, I wouldn’t mind there being a little earthquake right along now, so the merrymakers would have to go home and tend to their broken pottery. That way I could claim to be unwaveringly committed to my work rather than simply sitting here all alone.

In truth, I don’t get much writing done on days like these, and all I know for sure is that I'm not supposed to wear white shoes between now and Easter—which may well be a good thing, since I don't have any. Maybe I'll take a break from my computer and clean out my shoe rack. I know this to be a highly laborious job, but hell, I'm a rebel—or I'd never have made it through film school and every lonely Monday holiday thereafter.

Julie's Ten Film School Survival Tips

  1. 10. Absorb any and all gossip but never pass it on. You will become a paradoxical fountain of salacious information and a trustworthy friend and ally.
  2. 9. Go to all the parties but never drink anything harder than a luke warm Yahoo, lest you be challenged to publicly rank the dubious talent levels of your assorted classmates.
  3. 8. Sleep with everyone. By this I only mean get in bed in your jammies and read your pages aloud, like Julie Andrews in a rainstorm. Even Slickster Producing Students don’t need a spare whore around to deal with in the morning.
  4. 7. Trust no one. Certainly not the producing students you’ve slept with. Either way, never share ownership of any original idea, unless the guy's name is Spielberg and he can clearly trace his close relationship to "Cousin Steve" in the family bloodline.
  5. 6. Be sure to lather, rinse and repeat on a daily basis. Nobody likes That Wacky Stinker who has a lovely way with words and an alleged series commitment from the Sci-Fi Channel.
  6. 5. Have an ignore button. Depress when Yet Another Has-Been drops in to explain why you will never sell your spec script, which roughly translates as, “Hot damn, my own career is in the crapper!”
  7. 4. Beware the Bitchy Self-Appointed Rival. You will recognize her by the bounteous unsolicited script notes only serving to prove that what she lacks in talent she makes up for with unrestrained glee for questioning yours.
  8. 3. Find out who gives out the money and bring him or her cupcakes. This is not the Big Deal Faculty Decision Maker, but the Lonely Staff Drone who actually cuts the check. It’s no use winning the big money if you can’t collect by the first of the month.
  9. 2. Never graduate. Or at least prolong the daily ritual of humiliation, obscurity and temping doing so will inevitably herald. Unless, of course, you’ve already sold and produced a feature or an award-winning television series and are just in this thing for the fun.
  10. 1. Never stay too long. This will only brand you as the Dreaded Film School Loser. I know this directly contradicts Tip #2, presenting yet another perplexing dilemma they won’t tell you about in film school.

Bonus Tip: Need a gift for yourself, a fellow film school survivor or that emotionally available gay friend? Order Ava Gardner (above), Betty Grable (left), or any of the Movie Star Die-Cut Paper Dolls for $4.25 each on-line at: Paper Doll Review


Office of the Prime Minister

Oranjestad, Aruba

Netherlands Antilles

Dear Honorable Mr. Prime Minister:

How very sneaky of you to let that freaky Dutch kid out of jail just when we’ve got our backs turned with the whole ugly mess on the Gulf Coast. I assure you America is still paying attention to the plight of our friends Jug and Beth Twitty, who are very telegenic and patriotic Alabamans, as you well know—and whose names, like most everyone else in this tragedy, could not have been dreamed up better by a Big Deal Hollywood Screenwriter.

Jug recently told Nancy Grace, the equally well-cast feisty former prosecutor whose repeated requests for an interview with you have been ignored, that the little psychopath should have just come clean to begin with. In that case, since they hadn’t previously caught him drugging and raping the tourist girls, he would have only done about five years. But, no, here comes that dorky father of his, the toy Aruban judge, sticking his upturned, Dutch, cheese-eating nose into things while guaranteeing that these poor folks would never again see their girl, dead or alive. Does it not bother anyone that he and Jeffrey Dahmer could have been separated at birth?

You should know that I was once a successful travel writer with an audience of millions, and in fact formerly contributed to the Flimsy Little In-Flight Magazine of your Sub-Standard National Airline. I never much cared for your island, and always thought the whole overlit, lunar landscape, “desert oasis” angle was a bit of a tough sell. Besides which, we all know the diving is better on Bonaire, and the architecture is cuter in Curaçao. You won't find an Aruban restaurant anywhere else on earth because your food has no discernable personality—especially when compared to that of the competition from the real Europeans cooking on neighboring Martinique and St. Martin. That’s the French side, mind you, not the red-headed Dutch stepchild of St. Maarten.

I understand you are up for re-election and have recently filed a defamation suit against one of Aruba’s most respected newspapermen, a recent heart attack victim. I regret to inform you that I have nothing much for you to come after, as I am now Another Hollywood Screenwriter who has neither made any movies nor sold any scripts. However, I assure you that when I do they will not make any reference to Aruba, nor anywhere else in the Dutch Caribbean. Neither will they be researched, shot, cast nor even screened in that region—nor Mother Holland, either.

In fact, I’m going to have to call for a boycott among the six hundred some odd readers of this blog. Not just of Aruba, but of all things Dutch. No clogs, no gouda, no Dutch Boy Paint, no Amstel Light, nor even the heavy stuff. No Double Dutch, neither the chocolate ice cream nor the inner city jump rope game, about which I hear Disney has set up a new movie starring little Raven Simone. Sorry, my precocious urban tween, no can promote.

Just when I was thinking I’d never make a difference in this crazy world of ours, I’ve found you, sir. En garde, my Aruban foe! J’accuse! Please feel free to post a comment below. Be forewarned that I spent many years learning how to curse in any number of foreign languages, so don’t try anything funny, Aruba boy.

Yours very truly,