I manage three beautiful hours of inebriated slumber before I have to wake and leave. Remember, kids: at dawn I’m passed out in Austin, and my flight for LAX leaves from Houston sometime just past noon, so I shower, shave, pack up and leave as Ronson sleeps soundly and peacefully.
I’m not so much “hung over” as “still lit” from the night before, so the drive east to Houston is hazy and vague in my memory. I stop twice to wander around convenience stores and suck back truly awful coffee. Still, I make good time, suffer no accidents, and slide into the economy lot at Bush Intercontinental right on time. I check in, grab a Starbucks (thank god), then use the half hour of slack time to call The Wife and a few friends as I stand, bleary eyed yett giddy, waiting to board.
The flight seems over in an instant, as I sleep nearly the entire way. I turn on my phone as we sit on the tarmac, waiting to hook up with the jetway at LAX, and suddenly “ping ping ping” I have voicemails piling in. NINE voicemails, almost all from LA people wanting to know if I am in fact in town.
I grab my luggage which seems among the first pieces off the plane, hop onto the waiting shuttle idling outside the door, walk right up to the Enterprise rental counter and get upgraded to a mid-size at no extra charge. I crank the tunes, drop the shades and roll up La Cienega towards Hollywood.
Cuz I’m MONEY, baybee.
I call Joe Conway and we laugh that he’s in Austin, looking for anyone to talk to, while I’m in LA hooking up with producers and directors and starlets oh my. We agree that it must be some sort of FREAKY FRIDAY life-switching thing at work.
I’m talking to Warren “The Screenwriting Life” Leonard when I sail right past the almost hidden entrance to my hotel—it’s not entirely like the entrance to the Batcave on the old Adam West TV show. I check in, find my surprisingly nice and surprisingly large room, and take surprisingly nice nap for an hour before it’s time to get cleaned up for the first of my scheduled LA events: the “Martellopalooza” party for Big Bill Martell, who is celebrating the DVD release of his 19th and 20th features.
There I hook up with several of my LA writer pals—Martell, Steve Barr, Susan Bays, Danny Grossman, Tiny Joey Jingleheimer Schmidt Anderson and others I know from online chatter. I finally meet longtime e-pal Karen Sperling, who somehow has finagled her way into NYC gallery showing for her artwork and thus is far too talented for this room. Karen smiles, shakes my hand, and says "you seem... quieter than I expected based upon your online persona."
"That's because my online persona is not usually sleep-deprived, alcohol-saturated, and jet-lagged. I'll be up to speed in a beer or two."
We laugh through Bill’s abusive color commentary on his new features as they roll on the big screen TV at Lola’s Restaurant. I have a beer, eat some brie, have some more beer, then order a burger.
I wander around and chat with my pals, but dammit I somehow still wind up locked in conversation with a gorgeous young woman (this one blonde)—Elizabeth Hoffman, originally from Dallas but now an LA gal with a USC diploma and a minor acting credits to her name. She’s there cuz she’s been in a few of the SoCal film groups shorts, and cuz LA is a town where it never hurts to mix and mingle with people who might be going somewhere.
At one point I look up and notice one of my buddies (a female) smirking playfully at me as I make time with Miss Blonde Thang. I just shrug and smile. “So sue me—I love talking to gorgeous women. It’s fun.”
We hang out til 11 pm or so, but since it’s a SUNDAY night and some people have jobs to go to that next day (apparently they lack both the testicular fortitude and gritty frontier spirit to push on in the stark absence of rest and sleep…), we end the night at a reasonable hour, and I am in bed before midnight for the first time in weeks.
The curtains slow dance in a slight breeze, and that odd scent whispers to me as I fade away to the sounds of Hollywood.
I sleep in the next day, rising around 8:30 and feeling more than a little refreshed. I check messages, make some calls, and agree to meet pals Susan over at Larchmont Village for coffee and whatever. Again I love this hotel’s location, as I get to my Hollywood destination in under 15 minutes, grab a coffee and then sit outside to watch the weirdly pretty LA people wander past. 80% off the men here seem to cut their own hair (or, more likely, overpay badly for a cut they could duplicate at home), resorting to the all-over #1 clipper cut popularized by Jean-Luc Picard.
Suz and I have some fun convo, and then she has to get to work, so I call up pal Deb Cheshire and say “amuse me for an hour, OK?” She says “well, let me put on some clothes first,” and then I say something rude, and she responds with more rudeness, and this is how it goes, so I drive over to her place and we sit around talking movies and producers and laughing as I say awful things about nice people and nice things about awful people and then it’s time for me to leave.
I swing by the Batcave Motel, freshen up, grab a clean cool shirt, and ten til 3 I’m pulling through the front gates of Paramount and giggling: “I am driving through the gates of Paramount for a meeting.”
I’ve seen other studio and production complexes, but Paramount just seems like what a studio entrance is supposed to look like, likely because these same damned gates have been featured in movies from the silent era through the Bob Hope years and then through the Beverly Hillbillies and on to the present: somehow they just LOOK like the Hollywood you imagine.
I bebop around the small city off tan buildings and palm trees and brick-paved walkways and find my way back to the corner where MTV Films is sequestered and walk in to meet with Luke Ryan, VP of Production for MTV Films. I've had some email relations with Ryan since well before his move to MTV, still the hows and whys of this meeting still baffle me a bit, prompting me to ask “so explain—exactly why the hell ARE you seeing me?”
Ryan and I have a very cool and interesting hour long session, and we discuss the sorts of things he’s most interested in seeing in script form, and we toss back and forth some very ragged ideas about some of them, and given that he laughed when appropriate and never once faked a heart attack or threw a stapler at me or whistled for security, I come away with the impression that perhaps he didn’t totally hate and despise me, which is a nice thing. He says “you do have all my contact info, right?” and I say “likely, but if you have a card I’d be happier to have it than to find later that I need it.”
“I’ll be in touch,” I say. “Excellent,” he says. “I’m looking forward to it.”
As I stop at the security checkpoint on my way out, the young uniformed guy checks me off his day-pass list, and smiles. "Good meeting?"
"Yeah," I smile back. "Good meeting." Realistically, there was no chance that I was going to enter Paramount's gates a stranger and leave with a paying gig under my arm, so I managed to accomplish all I had a hope to accomplish: I met the guy, we connected, I made him laugh, we found some common ground, and we had a good anjoyable never-dragging hour-long discussion about what I might do to help him make more movies and more money, and at the end he made it clear that we could and would continue talking in the future. I remember one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, and I smile: in THE RIGHT STUFF, Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn) sits on the launchpad and utters what I've heard called "The Test Pilot's Prayer:"
"Dear Lord, please don't let me fuck up."
While toodling back through Hollywood I’m back to working the cellphone, and I manage to firm up another pair of meetings for Tuesday, so suddenly the trip is starting feel like an actual working trip rather than just some frivolous waste of money exercise in pretend.
Monday evening is a bit odd—everyone in LA whom I’d be interested in hanging out with is occupied elsewhere, and I can’t quite bring myself to just sitting in my room, so I go for a drive and wind up remembering how good a good rock station can be (Houston radio sucks, while LA gets the legendary KROQ 24/7, and life remains unfair).
I toy with the idea of going to see “300,” but I can’t find a theater where it’s showing at a time which makes sense, so I just drive around Hollywood and then over the hill on Mulholland and around Universal City and back up Cahuenga and I grab a burger from some little mom and pop place where I sit alone and marvel how some place can at once seem so familiar and welcoming yet at the same time so damned alien.
A mom comes in with her son dressed in a Cub Scout uniform, and I think of my own sons back home and suddenly feel a pang of homesickness, and I wonder what will happen if one day one of these odd trips to LA blows up into something real: an assignment, an option, a sale, a career. For now this place remains interesting and exciting and exotic, but if ever it became “home”—even if only temporarily—how would I survive that change? Would I even want to try? It's a strange dichotomy: while here, I feel at home, but this place is nothing like home, and I can’t really imagine what life for my family might be if we were compelled by finances and circumstance to relocate.
It’s the one aspect of the whole Hollywood Question which remains unpleasant and not at all fun to consider. The rest is pretty damned interesting and attractive.
Back in my hotel room I sit at the desk with the window open, and that weird jasmine scented breeze keeps teasing me, and once again that gorgeous woman touches with a smile and leaves me to wonder about all those things which might be....