It's odd to contemplate, but for a guy who genuinely feels a million miles removed from Hollywood, I seem to be reporting from there more and more frequently.
PART 1 — IN A DESERT ON THE SEA
As we did last summer, my oldest son and I spent a week in California for Boy Scout summer camp. Last year was at Camp Whitsett in the Kern River Valley of the Sierras (gorgeous), and while there, most all the other CA troops remarked "oh, then next year you've got to go to Camp Emerald bay, right? Right?"
"Uhh... right. Sure."
Camp Emerald Bay, as it turned out, is a camp on Catalina Island, a camp for which there is a long and imposing waiting list.
Unless you have attended another Western Los Angeles Council camp the year before.
Such as Camp Whitsett.
So our little Boy Scout troop again loaded up and headed west. Some 52 scouts and leaders in full geek dress left home in far west-side Houston at 4:30 am, met at IAH at 6 am, then loaded onto a Continental 757 and headed into LAX on 15 July, where we hopped on a charter bus, slid south down the Harbor Freeway and loaded onto a huge hydrofoil ferry to Emerald Bay along with some 500 other scouts and leaders.
Catalina was a truly bizarre yet beautiful place. The approach was almost exactly like the arrival to Skull Island: a dark sea draped in mist, and then a looming rocky coast materializes out of the gloom, and suddenly you see an island, with primitive structures and strange sounds.
Our troop's assigned campsite was 25 surplus cabin tents set under a grove of towering (and condemned) eucalyptus trees in a dusty ravine immediately behind the camp's main compound. For a week we slept on creaky failing military cots and dusty thin mattresses, with just a fluttering flap of musty canvas to protect us from the elements (quiet still clear nights in the low-60s—damned near Arctic conditions to us Texans used to 80 degrees and hordes of mosquitos).
We swam (damn but that water is cold!) and hiked and ate uniformly bad food (hey—it's a Boy Scout camp. You were expecting haute cuisine?) and snorkeled (seriously—this water is fucking cold!) and hiked some more and snorkeled some more (Christ Almighty—I can't feel my testicles! Seriously!) and had a truly wonderful week of camp. We canoed 7 mils around the island in huge war canoes, landed on a rugged rocky coast in something far too much like the landing in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, slept on the sand under the stars, canoed back the next morning as the sun peeked over the horizon, mountain biked over hills and around seaside cliffs overlooking bays filled with gorgeous sailing ships... a great time.
Meanwhile, the camp also had four free email terminals, meaning I had at least some sporadic communication with an entirely different world waiting almost over the horizon. In the evenings, I could climb the small rise behind our camp and look northeast to see the long low line of orange lights which glowed in Los Angeles....
PART 2 — A RETURN INTO THE MAELSTROM
The final day of camp was insane. We rose at 6 am to get all scouts packed and loaded for the return ferry trip. Due to our tight air travel demands, our troops bags had to be handled differently than the rest of the camp's. so I and another leader from our troop had to be on an advance party to the ferry by 10 am, where we were the end of the loading snake: I had the dubious honor of handling every single fucking dufflebag and backpack loaded onto the ferry that day, stacking them in a teetering reeking dusty wall of unwashed glory. Toward the end of the process, I was on my belly atop the 7 foot tall stack, dragging bags into the last little bit of space between the stack at the ceiling, working myself into a nasty sweat which totally soaked my canvas scoutleader uniform and then caked it with dust and sweat-salt.
We arrived at San Pedro, were marched off the ferry first—"would love to hang around and off-load, but we got a plane to catch, snookums..."—marched onto our waiting charter bus, hauled ass 20 minutes north to LAX, dumped off onto the sidewalk, and I then ensured that every last one of the campers was checked in and through security, and then, in a repeat of last year's camp experience, I waved "so long, suckers!" and split off from the group to morph from Scoutleader Man into Screenwriter Man. As I smiled and waved to the last adult to disappear through the security checkpoint, I sighed and then sprinted into the nearest restroom to swap costumes.
[For those curious about such things: yes, you do get some curious and not entirely welcome stares if you enter an airport restroom in full-on Scoutleader dress and start stripping off your clothes like a man on fire. I claimed one corner of the restroom as my change area, and proceeded to take a sink-bath in my gym shorts in an LAX men's room. In ten minutes I came out wearing tattered cargo shorts, flip flops, and a t-shirt reading "i'm really excited to be here."]
Hopped the shuttle to the Enterprise rental counter. Picked up my pre-reserved Chevy Cobalt suckwagon. Turned onto the 405, cranked KROQ to catch the final three or four orgasmic minutes of "Three Days" by Jane's Addiction (and warmed at the welcome irony) then cracked a window and sucked in another heady snootful of that glorious LA air tinged by eucalyptus, jacaranda, and monoxide.
A twisted grin danced around my face. "I'm BAAAAAAA-AAAACK...!"
PART 3 — DAY 1
Believe it or not, my fellow Scout leaders look at me with some concern and confusion.
No, it's true.
In the west-Houston area where I normally operate, the world is nipple-deep in engineers and financial analysts and various other decent educated and wholly dependable such folk. What we ain't got is screenwriters. In fact, when word got out to the rest of the leaders that I am, in fact, an actual serious screenwriter, the guys would stroll past my tent slowly and peek in at me with an odd curiosity: "wow... so that's what one looks like? That's wild...
They were all very interested and supportive and encouraging (in their way), but there is still an odd sort of distance. if I were an exchange student from Helsinki or Tonga I think I'd get some similar treatment. On teh one hand they recognize that I am humanoid and familiar, yet on the other they suddenly are left sorting though a long list of questions they are burning to ask yet somehow just a little to unsure to actually pose. ("So is it true that all screenwriters are godless Commie man-lovers?").
Among my "normal" peers, I am The Odd One 'cuz my prayers are directed not toward Texaco or Exxon or BP, but towards Hollywood.
Yet here's the fun part: among my Hollywood peers, I am... (wait for it...) The Odd One due to the fact that I live in some faraway foreign land called "not Hollywood" yet seem absolutely serious about this screenwriting career. If I were a blue whale who lived in a wheat field outside Omaha I doubt I could seem much more odd and unfathomable to these people.
So when I start working the cellphone to alert The Usual Suspects that the giant enormous B again plods in their midst, there is always a strange slightly surprised and unsure tone in the back of the conversation. Perhaps that curiosity is part of what little charm I can claim to have over those jaded seen-it-all bastards who dwell in the City of the Angels: I'm always just alien and strange enough to rate some tiny splash of attention and notice.
So I wasn't entirely surprised that dinner plans were quickly set up to meet a bunch of LA pals that night down in West Hollywood. It wound up being a group which looks much more impressive in hyperlink form: "bucket of love" Brett, big bad Bill "sex in a submarine" Martell, longtime pal Susan "blah blah blogging along" Bays, impending book star Deb "everybody I shot is dead" Chesher, and even the sixty-dollar story notes man his own self, Scott the Reader.
I was crashing at Deb's place for a few days (though now a longtime Angeleno, she's Canadian by birth and therefore cursed with a nasty streak of niceness and generosity. Trust me: she's making great strides in overcoming this flaw.), so we swung by one of Martell's secret roosts, picked up The Big Man (and His Big Bag) and blasted down into Hollywood to hook up with the others at Lucy's El Adobe, a cool legendary Hollywood Mexican dive which seems to have become my home away from home. I think I've been to Lucy's at least as often as LAX now, as all my LA pals insist on "introducing" me to this cool old school dive they just know I will love.
We whine and dine on the patio and have a grand old time of it, talking about the writing biz and breaking in and horror stories we've heard and observed and endured, and then giggle at the bizarre and ill-advised actions and strategies. I badly want a t-shirt which reads "schadenfreude rocks". Beers and 'ritas and stories flow merrily 'til we look up and realize the restaurant is largely empty save for the waitstaff sitting around, yawning and glancing at their watches, so we settle our tab, say what various goodbyes we need to, and then wander our separate ways.
My day had begun in a tent in a dusty island campsite on a Pacific island, and was ending with me grinning at the faintest hint of beer buzz beneath the humming neon and the midnight moon in a Hollywood parking lot.
It was a very good day.
navel of the universe B