Opera Boy

Daniel and I share a house. This felt very odd to me when I first moved in, having had my own house, albeit a tiny one, for the previous ten years. Though our duplex apartments in one divided Hollywood bungalow have only one common wall, I can’t lose the image of him shadowing my daily movements. Our toilets, for example, surely have us sitting back to back as we go about our morning ritual. Once in awhile I even hear them flush together as though playing a familiar little ditty on the pipe organ. In my bedroom, I wouldn’t dream of putting my headboard up against this particular wall, as the imagined scenario of our sitting up together to read ourselves to sleep is far too intimate a way to end the day with this fellow I know so little about.

I’ve seen him at the coin washing machines on our back patio, so I know he uses Tide and Downey and understands exactly how to separate his brights and whites from his lights, a real rarity in a man.  I know he hates dogs, because when mine sniff his shoes desperate for love—as dogs will do pathologically when sensing there’s a non-believer afoot—he recoils in fear and disgust. I know he takes Interview Magazine, since the mailman once delivered his issue to me and I took the liberty of reading it before returning it to its rightful owner. In apology, when I received a duplicate issue of Vanity Fair—the one with Terri Hatcher on the cover in her panties—I dropped it by Daniel’s with a little note. “Thought you’d enjoy this! J.”

I’m not sure exactly why I thought he’d be particularly interested in knowing more about another desperate housewife in her underpants, since my only solid information on Daniel is that he’s gay as a picnic basket and he teaches opera at home. A heads up from the landlord as to his occupation concerned me greatly when I first moved in, as the only thing I could imagine to be worse than listening to opera all day would be listening to student opera all day. But it turns he only works with serious professionals honing their instruments for major operatic happenings around the world. These people could even be famous opera singers for all I know. They could be opera legends I’m casually listening to over my tuna sandwich and Diet Snapple Lemonade.

The men are fat, European and fabulous and the women look like Miss Universe contestants. They arrive every hour on the hour, buzzing themselves into our walled bungalow village originally built as studio housing when Charlie Chaplin set up shop nearby in the late 1920s. Daniel accompanies all kinds of arias and duets—many of which sound surprisingly familiar, from TV commercials and film scores, I guess—on a grand piano that must surely consume most of the space in his living room. Yup, that’s about all I got on Daniel, other than his daily demonstration of passion, commitment and loneliness, a few personal qualities I know a little something about.

The other day I was taking a nap, and woke up to a chorus of angels, the kind you hope to hear welcoming you to heaven after taking your last breath. So beautiful was this music, I truly felt ready to go, right there, secure in the knowledge that there really is a God and it really is all okay. I rushed outside in my pajamas to ask the angels what they’d been singing and they told me it was The Flower Duet, by the French composer Delibes. You can listen to a piece of it here, if you like, Disc 1, Track 4. It’s really quite extraordinary, even to the untrained ear of a reclusive, tuna-eating, Snapple-drinking screenwriter who so rarely bothers to get dressed.

Dean Martin's Dentist

“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.