“Hey. It’s me. Brett. Whatcha doin’?”
“Brett. From online. Aggiebrett. Whatcha doin’?”
“Uh, well, just straightening up for a garage sale, and--“
“Great. You can take me to dinner tonight. It’s Friday, everyone else is at gay disco fashion shows or Mason’s Lodge things or Disney premiers, and I refuse to sit in my hotel room watching Entertainment Tonight and eating take-out. How do I get to your house?”
“Uh, well, I’m not sure that this--“
“Not sure? Come on, now. Talk me in. I’m on the 101, or the 134, something with a 1. Heading west. Where is ya?”
Deb is Canadian, which means two things:
1) she’s a little too polite and accommodating for a normal person
2) she sometimes drops that odd “aboot” word into conversation.
I know her from The Artful Forum, the waycool screenwriter’s site run by painfully generous Craig Mazin, writer of the more recent installments of the SCARY MOVIE franchise as well as some other cool recent (or soon to be recent) flicks. Deb, aka “Chesher Cat”, and I were sorta destined to cross paths, as she was once a rock star photographer in the early 70s, while I am (apparently) one of the only people in my peer group who know anything at all about rock music from the early 70s. In the thin-aired world of the screenwriter wannabee crowd, that’s enough to pass as “destiny.”
I’d warned Deb that I’d be in LA, and she (being Canadian and polite to a fault) had said “hey, drop me a line!” Likely she meant that in much the same way that people do when they ask things like “So how’s it going?” They don’t expect that you bring out medical charts and bank statements to give a totally accurate update on your condition, and I’m not sure that Deb really intended that I show up on her doorstep early on a Friday evening, half-unannounced and expecting to be entertained.
But such is life.
I find her place without any trouble—turns out she was only ten minutes from where I was when I called—so I arrive quicker than either of us expected. Cute house, nice trees, quiet street.
On the porch, a laundry basket filled with maybe two dozen very well-worn pro-grade wooden baseball bats. I remember walking past and seeing the chipped dinged maple and ash bats and hoping that the damage was from baseballs rather than coldcallers and surprise uninvited guests, but at this stage of the game I’m on the porch and the dog is barking, so forward seems the only option left.
I knock, she answers, and aside from an awkward second or five right after the initial “hey there!” where we both are left grinning like idiots because we both suddenly realize that we’re not at all sure what the next remark is in this sort of odd crossover moment (when someone you’ve bantered with as an online persona suddenly coalesces into an actual living breathing by god potentially creepy living being), she demonstrates commendable courage by saying “come on in.”
I notice a big blue and silver PowerMac G4 computer and matching Apple monitor on her living room table, and immediately I feel better. Mac people are Good People. She’s trying to show off how well she’s cleaned up her workspace—she’s made numerous online comments about how she works in a dump—and I’m making the polite “yeah, this is great” sort of space-filling response, when I hear the door open behind me. I glance back up the hallway and see a cute 18 year old in cheer shorts prance across the hall into another bedroom. Then another teeny-chick appears, glances my way, sets her jaw and approaches.
“Honey, this is Brett. From Texas.
“You voted for Bush, didn’t you?”
The question is phrased in the form of an accusation.
“Well, er, yeah. But not today.”
She looks at me like I just farted.
“I don’t understand people like you.”
Now, know this if you know nothing else about me: contrary to what some might say and what some newspaper reporting might suggest, I am, at heart, a decent fellow. Within certain bounds and from a certain perspective, what you might call a nice guy. But I also have this childish streak, and when someone tries to get up in my grille and give me shit, I tend to smile and give back. You wanna, dance, little girl? Then let’s dance.
“Yeah, and that’s a real shame, ‘cuz it’s absolutely essential that teenagers like you understand people like me. It’s your understanding of people like me that hold the Earth in her orbit and keep her from skittering off into space. And for the record, I live in Tom Delay’s congressional district, my kids swim at the Ken Lay YMCA, and my hobbies include clearcutting the rainforest and clubbing baby seals using ivory tusks. Are you coming to dinner with us?”
Deb laughs. Teeny Chick doesn’t. I shrug.
Deb and I pile into her car at my behest—I whine about being tired and a tourist, and she (“Canadian”) accommodates without complaint.
We drive to Lucy’s Café El Adobe, a cool little old-school Mexican food joint which suits me just fine.
Apparently Lucy’s is a Hollywood landmark of sorts, as there are all sorts of stories about famous diners there, and pictures of name celebs are all over the place—Linda Ronstadt and Jerry Brown... John Belushi... Orson Welles... (Orson FUCKING Welles!)—but it’s not some frou-frou hoity-toity brasserie. Deb and I enter through the backdoor which halfway takes us through the kitchen, and I am reminded that I’ve never yet had a bad experience in a restaurant which I enter through the kitchen.
The food is fine—like most all California “Mexican” food I’ve had, it’s slightly alien to my Texican sensibilities, but fine and tasty. The one odd food beat is the fact that all the dinners include a side salad. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the concept of the side salad, but it somehow seems odd to get a plate of iceberg and tomato wedges drizzled with Green Goddess right before my steaming greasy plate of chili-covered gooey goodness, in much the same way that it might be to have a sushi chef slide you a little easy open can of fruit cocktail as a prelude to your yellowfin and wasabi. I mean, fruit cocktail in a can—fine. Sushi—fine. Fruit cocktail as an appetizer for sushi... just a tad surprising.
[The dressing, by the way, was not Green Goddess but rather some very yummy homemade house special which seems loaded with garlic, but dammit “Green Goddess” just reads funnier than “house dressing,” so I took an editorial risk. So sue me.]
Deb and I enjoy a perfectly enjoyable long dinner. We chatter and trade gossip on all the online personalities with whom we share any familiarity (and trust me, you all would have been totally humiliated to hear what horrid lies and exaggerations of you we tossed back and forth). I giggle and snicker at a few tables of Beautiful People I notice around the room: there’s a peculiar LA vibe where it’s not enough just to be gorgeous—one must also be noticed and recognized for being gorgeous.
Given that I shanghaied Deb into this impromptu thing, I paid for her dinner (and made sure to defang my chivalrousness by reminding her that she was now obligated to perform sexual favors at the conclusion of our evening), and after ten or fifteen minutes of wrestling and wet-cat complaining about the way Lucy’s handles credit card transactions, we pulled a Reverse Henry Hill and wound our way back out through the kitchen and to her car. We wandered around Melrose, headed back to her place, and then we sat in the driveway and yacked about writing for a few hours.
Here’s the thing: that last bit surely sounds comically dull and nerdy to any non-writers who are (for whatever reason) reading this, but if you are, like me, someone for whom “hanging with other serious writers” is a rare and blog-worthy experience, then you understand exactly why this was so damned cool.
If you live in LA, or maybe in Manhattan, writers are nothing very uncommon or special. If, however, you hail from places like Katy, Texas, or Orlando, Florida, or Pigknuckle, Arkansas, sharing war stories of time in the trenches with another writer who actually understands what the hell youa re talking about... well, that’s gravy, man. A few years back at the Austin Film Festival I remarked to a certain “name” writer (who was slumming with the Little People like me in the Driskill Bar) that he took it for granted, that he had forgotten the loneliness of not yet being a certified recognized card-carrying Pro, and that for folks like me who are still trying to find any way into the party, these odd little painfully brief moments of close contact are like holy relics in some small backwater European village—something we local cherish and protect and hold sacred even while other more worldly types snicker and chuckle at our childish quaintness.
To non-writers, the idea of spending two or three hours sitting in the front seat of a Jeep, talking about writing and act breaks and character development and plot pacing... that all surely sounds approximately as interesting as sorting rice grains by size and shape. But for the lonely aspiring writer, used to always feeling out of place at every neighborhood gathering and familiar with the sensation of having nothing interesting to offer to casual poolside conversation on any random summer afternoon, these nerdy episodes are like splinters of The Cross: real, precious, and beyond value.
After a lot of writing chatter, we realize that’s now after 1 am, so I let Deb off the hook when it comes time for the sexual favors thing—that basket of baseball bats and the knowledge that she has a large athletic son who knows how to swing them played no part at all in the decision there—and then I dive back onto the freeway to head back to my little hotel room.
I sail past the Disney Studios, past Warners, past Universal, around thee backside of the hill, then onto the 405, off at Wilshire, and back up that boulevard where I absolutely do not fit in.
As I toss my car keys onto the dresser, I look out my open window, through the blossoming jacaranda tree and over the blue-lit pool below and beyond the roofline of my hotel to the Hollywood Hills just barely visible beyond. Orange sodium vapor lamps light the streets like strings of golden topaz. It’s been a long day—looking back on it, it feels like at least two and maybe three days worth of memories.
Part of me wants to collapse into bed, but there’s another part of my brain that refuses yet to surrender to the tug of slumber. It's 2 am as I kick off my shoes, fire up my iBook, prop it in my lap, and do what that other stranger part of my brain commands.
A breeze wafts through the room, the curtains slowdance in the shadows, and I write:
“On the whole, it was not a bad day....”