Monday is a reckoning. It is supposed to be a reckoning of all the things I have to do but have neglected to do in the past couple of weeks and must absolutely do before DERRICK leaves to open our movie at various places around the country, but it ends up being a reckoning with how little time I actually have to do all the stuff and how little of it I will be able to get done. I prioritize as best I can.
A thing I prioritize highly, because it can be done sitting in front of my computer, a thing I was going to be sitting in front of anyway, is cleaning out my inbox. The number of unanswered e-mails in my inbox is a perpetual source of either burgeoning self-esteem or soul-wrenching anxiety. If you see me and I look like the cryptic piece of advice my kung-fu master gave me as he died finally snapped into focus in my head allowing me to dispatch my enemies with newfound wave-like grace, there is a good chance there are zero unanswered e-mails in my inbox. If you see me and I look like the dead kung-fu master, all newly killed with that face that when little kids make it when playing they go “bleeehhhhh,” I have anywhere from twenty to two hundred unanswered e-mails in my inbox. And chances are I hate myself, because I swore to myself the last time I went through and cleaned out my inbox and restored myself to a state of wave-like grace that I would never let it get this way again, but I did let it get this way again, and I don’t know how it happened.
Cleaning out your inbox after a long period of letting it get bad is like staring in a series of disappointed children’s faces. “How could I have forgotten to…” you think. “And why didn’t I, when I had the chance, why didn’t I…” You feel the growing sting of microneglect, of a thousand little un-kept promises.
I am sitting at a table at Starbucks and a little kid of maybe four or five walks up and gets RIGHT in my face. “Hi,” he says. He holds up his hand, like for a high five. I say “Hi” back and give him a high five. His hand remains up in the air after the high five, so I shake it, thinking maybe that is the gesture he is looking for. His mom comes up and shoos him away without giving me any sort of eye contact, not the I’m-so-embarassed eye contact or the ain’t-he-cute-eye contact, none of it, so does that mean she thinks I’m a creep? Hmm.
I answer the last of the unanswered e-mails. There is no longer any number in parentheses next to the word INBOX in the Gmail sidebar. Calm washes over me, a sense of containment, of managed-ness. Four seconds after finishing cleaning out my inbox, I start wishing somebody would send me an e-mail.
For once, and for no reason I can discern, the hallway outside of my apartment smells worse than my apartment. Victory.
That night Megan and I eat at Mel’s. We are seated outside. We see a couple who are exactly John and Yoko, like, you guys just came from a costume party where no one had to ask what your costumes were because you were so clearly dressed as John and Yoko. Seeing this couple makes me realize that in any given couple, one Caucasian gentleman and one Asian woman, who are either purposely dressed up to look like John and Yoko or just sort of do by accident, the guy has to do a way better job of looking like John Lennon than the woman does of looking like Yoko, at least to my Western eye. I am sure if we were Asian folks eating dinner in an Asian country and a couple walked in who either intentionally or unintentionally looked like John and Yoko, the woman would have to be point-by-point nailing the Yoko thing while the John could pretty much be any tall white dude.
Sunday we spend a lot of time in downtown LA. I park my car on the street in the afternoon and climb out and “Everybody Hurts” is pouring out of some storefront at party-music volume.
Later I am walking on a downtown street by myself. I will admit to being spooked. It’s the weekend and I guess very few people are downtown on weekends. The street is more or less barren. It’s like a New York street-scene from the 1970s with all the hustle and bustle and businessmen and urban cowboys airbrushed out, so only the blight remains. Two kids, and then a whole family, burst out of the front door of a run-down motel. They are shouting at someone on the corner. There is an unpleasant sound and a squeal of brakes and a scream. A dog runs out of traffic back towards the family, whimpering in pain or fear.
We eat a nice dinner at a place called Jar. We are joined by our DP, Bernard Evans, one of history’s greatest men. The men’s bathroom at Jar has a random stuffed chair in the corner, perfect for waiting for someone like they’re a detective in a noir film and you’ve broken into their apartment or crash pad. They’d walk into the bathroom and you’d be draped over the chair and you’d say, “I figured everybody's gotta piss eventually. Even you, Eddie.” If it wasn’t Eddie, but someone else who walked in, which is pretty likely, since it’s a public restroom in a busy establishment, you would have to decide whether to play it off like it was a mix-up or go into your whole rant anyway and demand that they cough up DiRisio’s money, when you know full well that Eddie has it.
Raised letters on the tailgate of a pickup truck we pass on the freeway read JESUS IS D ANSWER.
That night, we are back downtown. A law library full of golden-spined books sits empty, fully lit. Two kids run across the street, holding flashing plastic swords. In downtown LA there is one of those buildings that is crowned with a structure that looks like an enormous top-hat but is actually a rotating restaurant.
We watch “The Usual Suspects” projected in high-definition onto one wall of Donald’s new apartment. The summer after my Freshman year of high school people would come over to my house and we would watch movies in the playroom upstairs. One night we watched “The Usual Suspects.” I was excited to show it to everyone because I owned it and loved it and knew it fucking ruled. After the movie and before we watched another movie, the title of which is lost to history, I went out on the balcony with a girl, and we kissed, and it was the first time I'd ever kissed a girl. Fifteen years old: that’s a late first kiss, isn’t it? Well, you didn’t have yours after you’d just blown all your friends’ minds with the true identity of Keyser Soze, so you can fuck right off, because it was great. Later that evening, the girl in question started crying for reasons that were not entirely clear to me, and the friend of hers who comforted her I would end up dating for eighteen months, still my longest relationship to date. She just got married, the comforting friend. The first kiss is recently married as well.
Before we watched the movie on Sunday at Donald’s new place, I was tasked with setting up the stereo system, which Donald got at a yard sale and is just cool as hell, speakers in cabinets that are like actual cabinets and receive sound through lengths of speaker wire that comes in a big roll. You wrap the shock of copper fiber that pokes out of the end of the wire around screws on the back of the receiver and that’s how the sound escapes. It is sexy for how unsexy it is. Meggie built a lamp and Ben built a lamp and Dominic built a shelf and Donald built chairs and Dan set up the projector. Nobody kissed me on any balconies and I’m not married but the sound was more than satisfactory and you could’ve walked into any one of Spacey’s pores, that’s how big they were, and how clear.
I am sitting down to lunch. I am taking off my headphones. I botch it somehow. The headphone plug swings up and hits the glass-covered lamp above the table. It makes a perfectly clear cartoon dinner-bell “DONOOOONNNNGGG” noise. How many things in our day-to-day life are capable of producing this noise or other fun noises, and we just don’t know it ‘cause we never whack ‘em with anything?
Later, I’m at the stationary store at the mall, buying a gift bag and a card. The cashier asks me, “Would you like a bag for your bag?” I decline. She acknowledges that it’s a weird question to ask. She looks at my debit card: “Your name is very English.” My full name is Donald Charles Pierson. I’ve never really thought of it as particularly English, but I’ll take it.
That evening, I’m at Ralph’s to get party supplies. As I walk in, sitting by the change-counting machine, there is a water-cooler jug sitting in a baby carriage with a towel shoved in its neck like an enormous stroller-borne Molotov cocktail. Also: THEY HAVE VERNORS. Vernors, if you weren’t aware, is the ginger ale that, when aliens come to the ginger ale planet, all the other ginger ales send Vernors forth as the perfect distillation of the best their species has to offer. Vernors is NOT available in New York City, and some of my Wednesday night UCB cohorts and I actually ordered some online and spent the next few weeks after our cases arrived gleefully chilling cans in the behind-the-bar coolers and then, a few hours later, cracking them open and having our noses blown out by unadulterated ginger no-fucking-aroundness, knowing we were living the lives men are meant to live. Naturally, I buy two bottles for the party, because it’s a PARTY, and leave the store as happy to live in a state that sells Vernors as some people are to live in a state where pot is basically legal.
Dan and Meggie and Dominic and I go to Megan’s housewarming party. I meet Megan’s cousin. He was an explosives guy for movies for many years. He tells me about what’s called a Federal powder card, which certifies you to blow stuff up in movies. He did the gunshots for Tarantino’s first two films. He also used to play in a band with Zooey Deschanel. There are cool lives to be lead in Los Angeles.
It has come to our attention that John Williams is having an open rehearsal at the Hollywood Bowl, so on Friday morning, Meggie and I wake up way early in order to trek up there and hear the man himself conduct an orchestra as they run through some of his big movie-score classics in preparation for a performance that night or the next night, a performance at which it would cost quite a lot of money to sit where we end up sitting that morning for free.
We stop off to get some breakfast to eat at the Hollywood Bowl, picnic-style. If you say to me, “Hey, let’s go get some food, but let’s not eat it at the place where we get it, let’s bring it to another place and eat it there,” I can almost guarantee I will be on board. If it were up to me I would bring all my meals to five or six different locations before finally tucking into them. There is something about the gratification-delaying of it all, something about the way it makes your car smell good. We go to this place Joan’s On Third. I think, “This is a cute little place.” As soon as I finish thinking this, I know I am doomed, that I am getting old, becoming someone who thinks that places are cute little places, that the march to the grave is ever-quickening in its pace.
I order a New York Breakfast Sandwich. I basically order it so I can be cranky and judgmental when it turns out to be nothing like a New York breakfast sandwich. Later, it will turn out to be delicious, though indeed not like anything you’d consider typically New York-y, so I get to have it both ways: I get a delicious breakfast and I get to be snarky and think “New York? Not hardly.”
We park at the Hollywood Bowl. Neither Meggie or I have ever been here before. Everything about it is kinda cool and art-deco, and it is nestled in the hills among the kind of trees that always make me wish I could drive up amongst them in a van and immediately start serenading a girl from my Expanded Consciousness class on an acoustic guitar. (I like California the best when I view it through the prism of a late Sixties I’m pretty sure I made up.) We take our seats in the one section where we are allowed to sit. Next to us, a guy is reading the LA Times. A headline regarding the ongoing wildfires reads, “Setting Fires Lets Crews Fight On Their Own Terms” This makes me imagine firefighters, with the actual uncontrollable blaze raging in the background, starting trashcan fires in a 7-11 parking lot, way over-fighting them with axes and hoses and stuff, just to prove to themselves, “Hey, you know? We can still DO this.”
We are early. The orchestra is warming up. A drummer absentmindedly plays the 20th Century Fox snare roll, then just kinda starts riffing. John Williams comes out. I look around and think, “There should be more people here.” More will filter in over the course of the morning, including twenty or so kids who are all wearing the same t-shirt and would seem to be taking part in some Orientation Week activity, but it will never be the door-bursting amount of people I imagine the guy who wrote the theme from fucking “Star Wars” would command. It’s a weekday. Maybe people are working or something.
The rehearsal begins. They start playing the theme from “Harry Potter”: pretty cool. Occasionally, Williams stops them, spot-checking sections on various parts. He’s giving them direction, but we can’t hear it. I wish he were mic’d.
A couple minutes later, they run him a mic. Yay! It’s probably not for our benefit, but still. We are happy to hear the guy. “Saxophones,” he says, “it seemed a little polite.” If I were among the saxophones right now, I would have been being polite as well. I would be nervous as hell to be in the presence of John Williams. And then when he told me to not be polite anymore, I would be fucking stoked. The gloves are off, Mr. Williams. This next time through we will be way rude to this part of the “Harry Potter” score. You got it.
Unfortunately, the mic, since it’s not really for our benefit, doesn’t make dude one hundred percent audible to us, but we can still make out some of what he says, and I get a kick out of him referring to pieces by their names: “Nimbus 2000”…”Chamber of Secrets.” John Williams gets to have a catalogue full of awesomely named pieces of music, and all he had to do was write scores for some of the all-time great genre movies. We never get to hear him call them out, but I like to think he has songs under his belt called, like, “Indy Almost Gets Flattened By That Big Ball Theme,” and “Adagio For When A Dinosaur Sprays The Guy Who Played Newman On Seinfeld With Black Shit Right In His Face.”
While they run through various parts of “Harry Potter,” footage from the first movie plays sporadically on plasma screens at the foot of the stage. Radcliffe looks MAD YOUNG.
Later, there is an intermission, and a lady gets on a microphone to practice reading voice over we can assume will be used to introduce various sections of the program during the actual performance. There is some drama going on, and she breaks out of a pre-written spiel about JK Rowling to call it out in her haughty British stage-actress voice. “I haven’t heard it be OK,” she says, but, she says, “I trust you all implicitly!”
During the intermission, musicians are milling around at the foot of the stage. I spot a young, short-haired saxophonist who, at this distance, seems attractive. She makes a huge mistake by falling in love with me in my head.
The rehearsal resumes. They play selections from “Catch Me If You Can,” which makes me wish I was watching “Catch Me If You Can,” because I absolutely adore “Catch Me If You Can.” At one point, there’s a snapping part. All the big strings rest their bows at exactly the same angle and use their free hands to snap. Neat! Some song wraps up and we, the non-paying audience, clap. Williams turns and half-waves. As acknowledgement goes, we’ll take it!
An older couple in front of me are reading the sports page and doing su doku, respectively. I think, Come on, pay attention! This is a pretty hypocritical thought from somebody who’s checking his e-mail on his phone every two seconds, before scolding himself and reminding himself to be more In The Moment, before checking his phone again.
After a neat medley of non-Williams hooray-for-Hollywood type stuff, Williams falls into what seems like a wrap-up speech or pep-talk. Inter-orchestra applause is interspersed with tappings of bows. I hear him talk about “Superman” and “Star Wars.” I’m not sure exactly what he’s saying, but thrills of adolescent joy shoot through me nonetheless. Here we go. This is why I got out of bed this morning. Then I realize he is mentioning these themes in the context of telling the orchestra they don’t have to run through them right now, they always do them as a big crowd-pleasing encore every year and they always do them wonderfully. Fuck. So that’s it, huh? Not even, like, a ringtone’s worth of the theme from “Jurassic Park?” (I realize I have no right to feel cheated. I am thankful to the man for letting us hang out. It was a cool, relaxing morning.) We head out to the parking lot after saying hi to our good friend Rachel from ComicCon, and her boyfriend and their friends, and when we get into my car, the steering wheel is hot enough to forge a sword on.
That night, Donald and I go to see “Inglourious Basterds” at the Arclight. It will be my third time and his first. We go to Amoeba Records first. I act an absolute fool in the used DVD section. I have never owned a lot of DVDs, but since I am growing up and the next place I live I will presumably live for a little while, I feel comfortable accumulating things. And when a gentleman says “What do you mean you’ve never seen (*something*)?” it helps if he has that something to reach for. It is a good look for LA that Amoeba is right next to the Arclight. I think, ah, this is the corner from which I will single-handedly stimulate the United States economy.
One of the things that makes Arclight amazing is, there’s assigned seating. This also makes it sort of obnoxious, because the assigned seating makes you cocky. Every theater is a ghost town until like two minutes before showtime, and the mad rush of people who’ve been given a false sense of godhood by the fact that their ticket corresponds to an actual specific physical seat rather than just admitting them to an auditorium where they will have to fend for themselve in a cruel laissez-faire world of buttspace continues until halfway through the Coming Attractions. Still, they’re not lying: it is one boss movie-going experience and there are No Bad Seats.
I use little scraps of toilet paper as bookmarks. It just seems to make sense. I also never seem to replace these bookmarks in the book I’m reading before I fall asleep, I always seem to want to place the book open face-down on the bed, essentially letting the entire bed hold my place. In the morning, when it is time to take that book To Go, I typically won’t go to the trouble of locating the little toilet-paper scrap bookmark, I will just grab a new scrap from the bedside I’m-an-unreformed-single-male-and-this-is-good-as-Kleenex-goddammit toilet-paper roll, and use that as a bookmark. The eventual result is a bed littered with fallen-soldier toilet-paper-scrap bookmarks. I should use dollar bills as bookmarks. Eventually I would have a post-robbery motel gangster-bed. (After you pull a heist, you are required by an unwritten criminal code to cover a motel bed with some or all of the loot. You are also required to proposition someone to have sex with you on said loot-covered bed. They don’t have to take you up on it, but who would refuse? Certainly no one you, the criminal, would associate with.)
Something cool I just thought of I wish I'd thought of the morning this all happened: The "Star Wars" music gets me. It gets me right where I live. I think my body learned how to derive an actual physical sensation of joy from music by reacting to the "Star Wars" theme. For the actual lighting up of my spine, no piece of music to this day probably has a better track record with me. At the nexus of my relationship with music and stories and sci-fi and movies and adventure, at the center of everything I think is good about being a fan or an audience member or honestly, a person, there are these music cues. I didn't get to see him conduct an orchestra through that music specifically, but I got to see that man, that man who is at least partly responsible for teaching me how to enjoy several of the things I enjoy more than anything, who used music's evolution-granted ability to open up the deepest recesses of ourselves to open up those places in me and then, with his compositions, parked spaceships and Supermen in there, I got to see him run some pro musicians through some music he wrote for the movies. And you guys! I can't even tell you how great I think that is, or how indebted I feel to that guy who let us come out and watch him rehearse.
On Thursday I send and receive a flurry of business e-mails. In the course of these exchanges I learn the abbreviations EOD (End Of Day) and ATM (At The Moment), and then I want to use them immediately, like I’m your mom and I just learned some slang and I want to show off: “Hook up? Is that right? Is that what you say?”
Sitting down to do some work on the Internet and saying to yourself, “Okay, now, stay focused” is like sitting down to do some heroin and saying, “Okay, now, don’t do some heroin.” It is not just distracting. It is distraction itself.
Also in the course of this work-session, I learn how to spell Tallahassee. Or rather I learn, with no end of self-congratulation, that I was already spelling it right.
Did you ever need to have something that is on your computer screen, some little piece of info, copied down in physical space, like on a piece of paper you could take with you, and instead of writing it down, you highlighted it on screen and hit“Copy,” and then closed your laptop and left your apartment, fully expecting the tiny piece of info to somehow now be portable? It is an awkward time we live in, when digital stuff and physical stuff are so close to being fused and fluid and indistinguishable, but they’re not quite there yet. It is like we are all cyborgs with cool half-metal faces that allow us to see in infrared and stuff, except they haven’t actually come up with the technology to fuse the metal part to our faces yet, so we just have to carry the metal bits around with us.
I have to call SAG. I get put on hold. It is already a union I am proud to be a part of but now I am even more proud because they have cool fuckin’ hold music. Smooth and synthesizery, the kind that plays as sun sets over the suburbs in an 80’s movie and sexy trouble’s a-brewin.
That night I have dinner with Sara and Jordan. It is ostensibly for a blog they write about having dinner with people they’ve never met before, but it is also, independent of any later blogging, a great time. The waitress is by our table as I’m telling Sara and Jordan that I used to live in the Financial District in NY. This prompts the waitress to ask if I was there on 9/11. I wasn’t, and I make some joke. The waitress then launches into a harrowing story about how she lived near Ground Zero, and going back into her apartment with a police escort to pick up her things, and people not knowing whether other people were alive, and all kinds of horrible stuff. As the details stack up and the minutes go by I go from looking like an asshole for kicking off a conversation with an off-handed 9/11 joke to a HUGE asshole for kicking off a conversation with an off-handed 9/11 joke. After that, dinner continues unabated, and is generally fun and delicious.
After dinner I go by the New Beverly, the repertory movie theater that never stops playing double features of awesome things, to see “Sixteen Candles,” which I have never seen. I have also never seen “Pretty In Pink,” but I walk in during its end credits, specifically the part that lists the songs on the soundtrack and who they’re by, and based on that I think I can safely say “Pretty In Pink” is the greatest movie I’ve never seen. New Order, New Order, New Order, “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” by The Smiths. You could play me ninety minutes of dental surgery footage set to that soundtrack and afterward I would probably say “That was a pretty good teen movie.”
One of the trailers before “Sixteen Candles” is for Robert Altman’s “Nashville.” It is a trailer all about how complex the movie is, how many characters there are, and how it’s Robert Altman, so he’ll handle it, you’ll be in good hands. It owns the movie’s complexity rather than denies it. It basically says, “You’re smart, you’ll like it.” There is something very neat and dignified about that.
During the trailers a dancing piece of lint appears in the top right corner of the screen. It’s big spider-or-squid-like shadow, oscillating wildly as the frames go by. At first it gets a laugh. Then, as it sticks around through the next trailer and it becomes clear that it’s in the projector, not just a defect of any one trailer, it gets a groan. Then it either works itself out or some deft projectionist gets rid of it, and everyone is excited. The movie begins.
Want to make an entire audience flinch without necessarily knowing why they’re flinching? Drop your cellphone. We all know the plastic-y thud. It gets us somewhere deep inside the electronics-consumer part of our brain. Phoneclatter will pull us out of whatever we’re doing.
Back at my apartment, my toilet is still emitting a Wipeout-style demon-laugh after being flushed. Apparently not only can you hear it in other apartments, it’s actually louder in other apartments than it is in mine. My challenge to my bathroom: what other disconcerting noises can you make? The fan that turns on automatically when the light is on barks like Death’s dog. There’s the goat-on-speed toilet-laugh. I’m not moving out for an entire month. Halloween is coming up and I would like to be able to record an entire Spooky Sound Effects CD in my bathroom. Get creative, plumbing. Contort yourself into particularly evil-sound-producing shapes, sewage. Let’s do this.
On Wednesday, I get Advanced Review Copies of my book. This is tremendously exciting. It’s not exactly how the final book will look – the final book won’t feature so much verbiage desperately begging you to review it positively – but it’s very close. There are five of them and I come home from an errand and they’re waiting on my doorstep in a big package. I briefly consider not posting pictures of them online but I’m too proud-papa so I do, and I get nice reactions. Veronica says she wants to smell them. This is not as all as weird as it sounds. I think books smell amazing. These don’t have any particular smell yet: they’re not old enough, or something. Then I get to thinking: somebody is making sure new books will smell amazing someday when they’re old, right? We’re not letting that slip? In twenty years I would hate to be saying to a young person how I love the smell of old books only to have this declaration met with a blank stare. Why would you like the smell of old books? They smell exactly like new books, which is to say, not at all. This would be a tragedy. Somebody assure me they are looking after this.
When you see at tiny Asian woman smoking Luckys, that’s her way of letting you know she’s no joke.
Megan and I get milkshakes at In-N-Out. We sit outside at a table that is oddly becoming our Regular Table. A Nine Inch Nails concert has just let out and hungry concertgoers are descending. Some of them are visibly Goth. Some are just civilians in Nine Inch Nails t-shirts. There are a couple guys in tie-die concert t-shirts for more hippy-dippy bands. In my head they’re wearing them in an apologetic manner, like, I get it, Phish and Nine Inch Nails have not that much to do with each other, I just really needed to wear this to a concert, okay?
Later, we watch “Hoarders.” There is one light on in my apartment. While we are watching TV, that light burns out. Even if it’s not the only functioning light you actually have, even if it just happens to be the only light that’s on, there is something depressing and flophouse-esque about that light burning out. We take note of it. We also take note of it later, when the light mysteriously comes back on. It winks on and off like this several more times in the course of an hour.
“Hoarders” is a compelling-ass show. It is like the producers of “Intervention” said to themselves, “What if we did a show like ‘Intervention,’ except instead of heroin or gambling, the people were addicted to living among looming piles of trash? And every attempt on someone else’s part to get to throw away the smallest thing, like an apple core or a piece of junk mail, would send them into fits of either apoplexy or crippling misty-eyed nostalgia? What if the viewers, and I don’t want to speak for all viewers here, but certain viewers, could see their own shortcomings and bad habits reflected starkly in the painful, unrelenting negative-thought loops of these hoarders, whether or not that actually made sense or their relative problems had anything to do with one another?” The answer to all these what ifs is, of course, “It would be awesome and I would not be able to turn away.”
You should not expect your iPhone to autocorrect a word you’ve misspelled if the word you’ve misspelled is a made-up in-joke word known only to you and your buddies.
Coming back home after dropping Megan off, I am feeling ambitious. I decide to back into my parking space. Is this a slick move that will save me precious seconds the next time I leave the garage, or is this an act of unthinkable hubris? I park the car and walk to the elevators and I don’t hear my car exploder or anything, so at least for the moment, it’s working out, and I’m looking pretty good, all told. That’s not to say I wouldn’t want to be walking away from a car as it explodes behind me someday. I think everybody should have a chance to do that once in their lives. I think they should be warned ahead of time, so they can decide whether they’re going to affect the spooked, surprised, someone-is-trying-to-kill-me face, or the placid, cool-as-a-cucumber, I-blew-up-that-car-and-now-I’m-gonna-put-sunglasses-on face. Both are neat in their own way. I can’t decide. I take it back: everybody should get to walk away from an exploding car TWICE in their lives.
On Tuesday, the wildfires rage on. The parts of the sky that aren’t explicitly smoky are as blue as ever, if not bluer by force of contrast. In a way this is more messed up and disconcerting than if the whole sky were just smoke.
I realize it’s about to be Alison’s wedding. Alison is a comedian/writer from UCBTNY. Her first week of interning, a year and change ago, I offered half-jokingly to be her wedding DJ. She no-joke took me up on the offer. I was stoked. We ended up becoming fast friends over a shared love of “Mad Men,” particularly a fixation on the character of Joan (her desire to be Joan, my desire to do terrible, terrible things to Joan) and I always thought it was neat that she said “Sure, DJ my wedding” off-handedly and I could not have been more excited and honored and I wanted to do a really good job. There would be songs aplenty for old and young alike. We would get the party all the way live. Her and Nick’s marriage would have the best-soundtracked start in the history of the institution. Then it turned out DERRICK was moving to LA, and were also going to be traveling around promoting the movie, so I had to renounce the position of DJ. I’ve known for a long time I wasn’t going to do it, but realizing how soon the once-distant date is still pulls me up: fuck, that was a long way off not long ago. Regardless: happy trails, Nick and Alison. It is going to be amazing.
Dom and Dan and I go to Mel’s Drive-In for dinner. It offers a number of advantages: We can sit outside. I can draw on the placemats in crayon. The butter comes in little pats pressed inside two little slips of paper, tiny paper-and-butter sandwiches. A raspy-voiced long-haired guy sitting on the patio near us takes a glass of ice water and places it on the ground for his shaggy black dog to drink. Gabriel Byrne wanders down the sidewalk at half-speed, consulting a smartphone.
After dinner, I am driving us home. Would-be socialites dart across LaCienega in the dark, not so much jaywalking as jaygalloping-in-heels. Jesus Christ, somebody put a stoplight up. Somebody put in more crosswalks. I don’t like almost accidentally killing anyone, but I really can’t stand almost killing people I don’t think I’d like if we met in real life.
The moon is pretty and orange from the airborne ash. That day, Dominic and Dan and Meggie were on a shoot at a beach called Point Doom. Apparently it’s gorgeous. A nice beach with an evil name is like a hot girl with a boy’s name: better for a reason you can’t explain. Someday I am going to buy the nicest stretch of sand and surf on the West Coast and christen it Blood-Sneeze Beach.
On Monday I’m at the pharmacy. On a shelf full of children’s medicine I notice there is something called “Gripe Water.” This would be a good name for a dead-end town that badly needs an honest man to rise and restore order.
I pity the pharmacy tech who is forced to explain to the woman attempting to buy some groceries at the pharmacy counter that her coupon will only work for regular Tide, not this kind of Tide: pharmacy tech, you did not sign up for this. This is not what you went to school for. This is the unfortunate headache-y business component of your job, brought about by the fact that you have a register where people can buy any of the things in the store, not just medicine. This is not the part of the job you’re passionate about, or at the very least, supposed to be good at.
There is a species that roams our neighborhood, our neighborhood which is a weird square of not-quite-Beverly-Hills in the shadow of a mall. They are tiny confluences of long ratty hair, nice clothes, large sunglasses, and not much else, and they exist mainly to harangue floor-walking store employees about where items used to be but aren’t anymore. They are the eccentric old ladies of Beverly-Hills-Adjacent. And when the stores close they retire to one enormous underground chamber, in the center of which is a giant glowing jewel that emanates crazy, and it is here that they recharge.
Resolved: The child called Leia gets her name called more in a generalized “Hey, get over here” sort of way simply because the young parent wants to inform passers-by that he named his child Leia.
The famous backpack, the one I had through all of college and still got pressed into service every day in post-collegiate New York because I needed a place for the book I was reading and big headphones to go, the one that recently developed a hole in one of its two large compartments, the one that I said I was going to take out of service, is, in fact, still in service. My rationale is, I rarely carry enough stuff to fill one of the large compartments, so I never have to use the other one, the busted one. It’s not that I couldn’t get another backpack. I could very well get another backpack. You could just get another child as well, if one of your child’s main compartments got a hole in it. I’m a sentimental fool.
There’s a note posted by the elevators in our building on Monday: “It has come to our attention that recently, many of you have been having excessive guests, parties and other disturbing activity that is very inconsiderate and disturbing to fellow neighbors.” This note coincides with us shooting DERRICK videos in and in front of our apartment. It also coincides with an old man knocking on the door to Donald, Dan, and Meggie’s apartment and telling Donald to “quit playing games with our lives,” by which he means Donald should turn down his music. This takes place at like two in the afternoon. This also coincides with me learning via Google that someone runs an escort service out of our apartment building. Someday there is going to be a bloody street war between retirees, hookers, and comedic filmmakers, and when you turn on the news and see horrific shots of an old dude with a stilleto heel shoved right through his Blue Blockers into his glaucoma’d right eye, or a party girl named Dymond giving a tearful account of seeing her pimp impaled on a tripod, the apartment building it’s all taking place in front of? That’s our apartment building.
So, I can park to the left like a champ. If a parking space requires me to pull to the right, however, I’m garbage. This has to do with the fact that I drove to work at the grocery store in high school every time I had a shift despite it being a five minute walk away from my house, and every day, I would park in the same spot on the side of the store, and this spot would require me to pull into the left. I just got good at it, and instead of learning to park the other way as well, I would favor left-turning spots in other parking situations as well. I never got good at doing it the other way.
In a related story, I favored facing one direction while bagging groceries, which resulted in one of my left arm being a little stronger than the other after a while. To compensate, my right pectoral muscle seemed to get stronger than my left, and slightly larger, a weird imbalance years of sporadic, ineffectual working out have done nothing to correct. The result is one of the strangest-looking torsos in North America. I do not mean to imply that my high school bagboy job is the source of all my shortcomings, but it does raise an interesting question: how much our adult selves are the result of actual growth, one thing naturally becoming another, hopefully better, other, and how much of us is just paved-over adolescence? How much of us is the aggregate of choice and learning and experience, and how much of us is just I-made-a-silly-face-and-it-stuck-like-that?
I can’t tell you. I am too busy watching wiry grown-man body hair race across what is basically the torso of a malnourished young boy. I did not get the message about what body to wear to adulthood, so I’m just wearing the one I wore to boyhood, except I have been wearing it for a while now so it’s getting kinda messed up.
I did not mention it in my recap of Friday, but my friend Guillermo came all the way from Arizona to see “Mystery Team" when it opened in Austin. He brought his lovely bride Kelly, who I hadn’t met yet. I wanted very much to hang out with them but I was feeling sick so I bailed. But I thought it prudent to mention, in this space, that I was so so touched that they came. My buddy Guillermo is one of the world’s top ten people, and it is good to see him married to a smart and pretty lady.
Saturday morning, we head to the airport to catch a flight back to LA.
At security, the guy checking IDs and boarding passes sees the I Eat Pandas shirt I am wearing (I Eat Pandas is a musical improv group consisting of my friends Eliza and Glennis, and I often wear their t-shirt, because I support them but also because it is an awesome shirt.) “Oh please!” he says, fake scandalized. “Don’t let ‘em see that!”
The Austin airport is alright, unassuming and fairly efficient, except there is no place to get real coffee. A little tragedy takes place in which I am the tragic hero and my flaw is unwavering desire for an iced coffee and the inevitable tragic result of this desire, which brings me very low indeed, is a couple shots of dirt-inspired espresso with added water (this is called an Americano) poured over ice in a paper soda cup with the Pepsi logo on the side. I drink it all the same. A tragic flaw is not something you can just, like, give up when you are faced with the consequences. You have to push through. You have to be punished for your hubris. The gods must be satisfied.
On the plane, the guy next to me has loafers and printed-out pages covered in Sudoku puzzles. He crosses himself as the plane takes off. A few minutes later, he crosses himself again, a smaller cross this time.
Back in LA, I am driving us to our place when we come over the crest of a hill and see that the still-raging wildfires have produced a big face-of-Satan smoke plume over the Hollywood Hills. I point it out and Dominic and Donald remark that I missed a really good view of it on the flight in, because I was asleep.
That night, we go to see “Inglourious Basterds.” We are going to get dinner first. There’s a long wait at the place we’ve eaten before in conjunction with seeing movies at this particular theater, so we end up eating at a place which is owned by a chain that specializes in cavernous, semi-upscale restaurants with garish but appreciably detailed décor. It’s all temple-themed and very elaborate. You can’t tell me the Disneyland Indiana Jones ride isn’t in here somewhere. You will come upon it if you take a wrong turn on the way to the bathroom or something.
If you’re a server, do you hate it when your restaurant has small soda and water glasses, because then you have to give out a ton of refills, or are you psyched for the opportunity to appear present and helpful and tip-able by giving out tons of refills? I would think it would be a mix of the two.
Outside the restaurant, patrons of a restaurant across the way are having their pictures taken with a tall man dressed as Jesus.
We get seated at the movies. A group of friends comes and sits right next to us, and the guy immediately next to me says, about a guy who isn’t there yet, “I want to sit with (friend), I want to make funny comments with him.” I don’t want to say anything in response to this, so I try to get my body to emit a pheromone to chemically communicate to this guy that he and his friend should kindly shuddup.
The pre-movie pre-trailers commercials come on. It turns out my superpower is knowing that a commercial is actually a drunk driving PSA before the commercial has made it clear that that’s what it is, while it’s still trying to pass itself off as something else in order to shock us later when a drunken teen crashes into frame in his father’s car or something.
The movie starts. It ends two hours and forty odd minutes later, though it feels much, much shorter. I expected to love it, and I did, but what I did not expect is for it to be the greatest movie I’ve ever seen about movies. I walk out feeling doubly honored that our first movie premiered in a theater where the only other movie playing was “Inglourious Basterds,” a movie so deeply in love with movies that it manages to be pleasurable as a viewing experience in all the ways movies are supposed to be, while hinting it and alluding to a world of film so vast and so rich you want to stay in your seat after the lights come up and demand that someone feed every foot of celluloid in the world into that projector up there. It is like a meal that is surprising and filling completely in and of itself while also somehow reminding you of every good meal you’ve ever had and alluding to a million potential meals you have yet to experience but may yet someday if you are lucky. It is precisely the perfect way to end the weekend. It solidifies my contentment. Also, it kicks fucking ass.
How many adolescences do we get? I feel like I’m in one now. I feel like I am taking my next form.
Who let Austin happen? It’s awesome, but it in no way seems a likely place. There are hipsters with Texan accents. Sometimes they invite you to their co-ops. We are walking into a Tex-Mex joint and I am looking at the one thousandth girl I have mentally categorized as “my type of girl” since being here and I am thinking “Austin is my kind of –“ and just as my internal monologue is about to say “town” my shoelace loop gets stuck on a nail in the floor and I almost trip and fall.
“Let’s get ice cream after you paralyze us.” This is the slogan on a drunk driving billboard that we pass, but it could just as easily be the title of a Taking Back Sunday album.
We are walking up to Sixth Street when a fleet of kids on bikes passes us. One of them raps a stick on his special extra-tall bike, signaling a stop. Among the throng, a guy pulls up next to a girl. “Where did YOU come from?” she says. The whole thing feels like an orientation activity. School has just begun.
Our movie is premiering at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. We are doing these things we’re calling Live Premiere Events, where we come out, show the two new sketches we’ve made, do a live bit, then introduce the movie. The movie plays, and then we come out and do a Q&A. The Alamo is the Platonic ideal of movie theaters of which all other theaters are mere shadows, and it is so cool to be premiering there. When I entered the serious movie-liking phase of my life, sometime around eighth grade, my most active expression of movie-liking was reading Ain’t It Cool News incessantly. Ain’t It Cool News’ founder Harry lived in Austin, and his movie-geeking headquarters was the Alamo.
The other movie playing at the Ritz is “Inglorious Basterds” (which I at this point still haven’t seen). When I entered the incessant-AICN-reading phase of my life, my entire movie-liking universe rotated around the star of Quentin Tarantino. Now my first movie is opening in a theater where the only other movie playing is my man’s new one. The photos we take of the words “Mystery Team” appearing next to the words “Inglorious Basterds” are numerous. My movie-liking DNA is all tied up in the Alamo and Tarantino, and I am losing my shit with how cool all of this is.
There are trailers in front of our movie. Other movies view our movie as enough of a fellow movie that they might play tiny appetizer versions of themselves in front of it in hopes of selling tickets in the future. Even cooler than that: The Alamo plays thematically appropriate vintage trailers in front of movies. Ours is preceded by a yellowing preview for an obscure Richard Dreyfuss detective comedy, “The Big Fix.” That’s a movie! So is ours! It counts! In the same way that anything you yourself say automatically sounds dumber than anything anyone else says just because it originated with you, I was privy to all the work we did to make this movie, and make it an actual movie as opposed to a ninety-minute video, and yet I am perpetually shocked that it counts as a movie, and that other people view it as such.
This is the second night of premier events. Donald and Dominic and I sit in the balcony. There are big overstuffed recliners. You can put your feet up. There are waitresses. You can order from a whole menu of food. It’s the best place in the world, and we are watching this thing that we made there, in the same room as a whole lot of people who paid money to see it. I eat some buffalo wings. I drink a soda. I lean over the balcony and watch individual audience members. I watch the light come out of the projector and follow it to where it hits the screen.
Later, back at the hotel, I am googling our address at home in LA for some reason. The name of our apartment building comes up. A couple of doctors come up, who I guess have home practices in the building. Another listing comes up: “Lovely Woman Escorts.” (Name altered slightly for privacy’s sake. But only slightly.) According to Google, an escort service operates out of our apartment building. This is in no way shocking. In fact, this explains so much. It explains why our elevators are always filled with clouds of whorish perfume. It explains why around two or three o’clock every morning, SUVs full of loud done-up women pull up in front of our building, and the women gallop inside on serious heels, dragging obnoxious men by the arm. It explains the loud parties, for which we always take the wrap, even though we don’t do anything but sit quietly in our apartments talking or working on laptops, and shoot the occasional short film in, around, or on top of the building. It explains the fact that a number of things are always happening that I was, up until this point, willing to chalk up to IT JUST BEING L.A. If things are going on in your building that a person with an unfair mental image of L.A. would look at and say “That’s L.A. for you,” that means that you live in a whorehouse.
For clarity's sake: the events described below took place a few weeks ago. This record of my first one hundred days in LA is usually a few days behind, but it's reached a high water mark in terms of behind-ness, so I needed to make it clear. I will, and am, catching up.
A sign on a pole in my neighborhood advertises a Madden 2010 Tournament with a guaranteed grand prize of one thousand dollars. The poster has the same lettering and neon colors as posters you see advertising boxing matches and reggae shows. In the turning lane at a major intersection, a nice old car is parked, its windows down, its hood up, driver-and-passenger-less.
I am headed to the airport to get on a plane to Austin, where “Mystery Team” is going to premier. The driver of the shuttle taking me from the parking lot where I parked my car to the airport asks everyone onboard the shuttle what airline they’ll be flying, so he knows where to drop each of us off.
I say, “Southwest.”
Another guy says, “Southwest.”
A third guy says, “Air Canada.”
I don’t know if I imagine the tone of defiance in his voice just because I want him to shut up and play along and fly somewhere on Southwest to make things smoother for all of us.
I settle into a seat at the gate. I do a nervous flurry of promotional e-mailing. Toto’s “Africa” plays softly from somewhere. Good sign? Great sign.
We’re on the plane. A flight attendant comes on the intercom and welcomes us to flight whatever-the-flight-number is “with service to Nashville, continuing service to…nowhere else.”
The plane takes off. I look out the window. Between me and Los Angeles, there is a layer of semi-transparent smoke. I have read about this smoke, which is being poured into the air by the annual wildfires. I have mostly read about this smoke on Twitter.
The girl across the aisle from me has open-toed shoes and pink nail polish. She has a backpack at her feet that looks like it was made from a puffy vest early Missy Elliot would wear. She is reading a magazine article called “First Time Sex Bloopers,” then flips the page to an article called “Ask Him Anything.” The flight attendants come by, bearing a basket full of bags of honey-roasted peanuts and 100-calorie packages of Toasted Wheat Thins. They are holding it one woman at either end like it’s an offering for the Pharoah.
The guy next to me is consulting a legal pad full of handwritten acronyms, programming stuff, seems like, and typing on his laptop. There is something romantic about plotting computer architecture by hand in a real-world physical notebook.
I connect in Nashville and make it to Austin. I take a Super Shuttle to the hotel. I am the first member of DERRICK in town. Everyone else in the Super Shuttle that isn’t me is a Realtor at a major real estate firm. They all work for the same firm but they’re mostly from different cities. They’re in town for the firm’s annual convention. They commiserate about real estate stuff. One woman has only been doing it for a year or so. Another has been doing it forever. She reminisces over a time when there was “no multiple listing service, there was a book and you picked it up every Friday.” We pass a store with a sign hanging out front reading, “We Buy Broken Gold.” The sun is setting.
Eventually I am left alone with only one of the Realtors. She asks me what I’m in town for. She says she figures it’s a girl. I tell her about the movie. She geeks out in a very cute mom-style way on how cool that must be for me. She keeps calling me “Dude,” and not in a condescending way. Her name is Kelly Wolf. Nice gal. Check her out for all your real estate needs in the John-Hughesier areas of suburban Chicago.
Up in the hotel room, I work. I listen to an album by the New Jersey band Titus Andronicus, which I downloaded when they were offering it free of charge a few months ago, but still haven’t gotten around to listening to. I catch the musical quotation of “Promised Land” by Bruce Springsteen in the song “Joset Of Nazareth Blues.” I’m super-duper-proud of myself, and give myself a rock-geek thumbs up. It’s a way obvious quotation. Doesn’t matter. Still satisfying.
Dan calls me from home and we open up IChat and through the magic of video and the internet he is able to play me a rough cut of one of the new DERRICK videos directly out of Final Cut and I am able to give notes live via satellite or something like it. It works exactly like it should. Sometimes the ways in which it’s the future will make your evening. Over the phone, I hear Dom and Donald come home. I miss our weird little home. It’s often over-brimming with takeout containers and external hard drives, and nobody in the building likes us, but it’s ours.
I have heard that Austin is crazy. I need food, so I leave the room around two in the morning expecting to have this reputation for craziness confirmed or denied. I am expecting to walk a few blocks before wading into the advertised craziness, which, in my head, looks like an overpopulated futuristic neon hellscape, except everyone is wearing a cowboy hat. But then I think, it’s two in the morning, I’ve waited too long, surely it’s only crazy here by uncrazy standards, meaning crazy until ten PM, and when I hit the main drag I will find a shuttered strip of clubs and restaurants and, if I’m lucky, one still-open greasetrap place to eat. A block goes by and it becomes apparent: this is CRAZY. No one was lying. The street is hopping. The air is filled with every type of bassline, every door is bouncered, and there are many, many wonderful greasetrap places to eat. I walk to the theater where we will be premiering, the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. I have myself a nice little moment. I take lots of pictures. Then I decide on pulled pork from a cart. The guy manning the cart puts the pork on a roll with all kinds of pickles and onions and he hands it to me unwrapped with a fork stabbed in it and I don’t think to ask him to wrap it up, or I am too overawed by all the fratty action around me and worried that my request for food to-go will be deemed unmanly. What they really need to understand, the fratboys who I am unrealistically concerned will judge me, is that my desire to get this sandwich wrapped up stems from the most primal caveman need to go out, hunt, and enjoy the spoils in the safety of my cave and/or hotel room. But since I can’t make them understand, I worry about what they will think. So I walk several blocks through the open air with the sandwich in my palm, taking cursory bites of things that have fallen off the side, so hopefully I will look like a man who eats his street-food on the street, goddamn it, and not like I’m bringing it back to feed to an injured baby bird I’m nursing back to health in a shoebox in my garage.
I am struck by how much I can write about not much and how little I can write about the big stuff, so I will say this: It is our particular gift as humans, and my particular gift as me, to really invest the little bullshit headaches with the power and authority of actual hardship, and to diminish our very real gifts, the array of wonder that is our life in the world, until they get overwhelmed by those magnified problems. I do not know what it is to have a perspective that grants things the proper weight and size and importance, at least not for more than a few seconds at a time. There is a vague but constant guilt that stems from an awareness of this poor perspective, like the headache you get from wearing someone else’s glasses. The headache only tells you to take the glasses off, it doesn’t help you see straight. I would like to learn to use my intelligence to impose a more sane and consistent perspective for longer periods of time. I would like the kind of wisdom that isn’t just good for repeating, but that helps you live. I would like that very much. But for now I am deeply thankful for those rushes, those moments, when it is clear to me how profoundly lucky I am. I see it for what it is for a second, and I think that if, once things returned to normal, I could properly articulate to myself what I saw, I would never stop smiling.
There is probably a t-shirt to this effect, but now I know why people drink beer in Austin: The tapwater tastes like righteous butt.
It’s time for bed. My chest hair is growing in a disturbing, assymetrical fashion. I lie in the hotel bed looking up at the ceiling. I think of where I am on the map. It seems unlikely.
On Sunday afternoon I am eating lunch at Chipotle. A kid who came in on a little red wagon pulled by his father, he and his mom run to the window to look at a classic car that’s driving by. “Suicide doors!” the kid says. “Yeah, that’s right,” his mom says, “Suicide doors.” And his mom is not a tattooed lady who looks like she works in a bar, either. She’s very wholesome-looking. Both of these people are cooler than me and one is a mom and one is six years old. I do not know what suicide doors actually are. I only know them from the Kanye lyric.
On Sunday night we are doing a show at UCB, a new improv ensemble of people from New York. Myself, Donald, Dominic, and our friends Eric, Ben, and Sean all feature. We are going to meet up at Sean’s place in Los Feliz beforehand to discuss the form we’re going to be doing, in which we interview someone about a shitty job that they’ve had and then do scenes based off that interview. My trip to Sean’s apartment is the second time I’ve ever been in Los Feliz. The sun is setting. Tree-lined streets carve up the hills. It’s very lovely and leafy and sun-dappled.
It always takes me forty-five minutes to street park. I do not understand how parallel parking works. The physics of it are always a challenge for me. My car is tiny, which helps, but I am always worried I will be lulled into a false sense of tinyness, think I have more latitude than I actually do, and take out somebody’s headlight. Once I actually get tucked into a parking space (a process I will, if you are with me, inevitably cap by asking “That looks alright, right?”) it then takes me another twenty minutes to leave the car. I have to make sure everything is tucked away and relatively apathy-inducing for thieves. I will walk four steps away from the car and then realize the headlights are still on, or the GPS, or the window is open. I will walk back and correct whatever the problem was, then walk four steps away before realizing I also have one or more of the other two problems. It is like I am leaving my child at school for his first day of kindergarten, but I can’t stop going back and fussing and bothering him. I need to let him go. He needs to run out his battery due to a left-on GPS unit all on his own. I wonder if this process would be simplified if I had suicide doors.
Sean’s apartment complex is enormous. He has to come down and get me because I cannot figure it out. The hallways are interspersed with metal fans on the walls and broken up by fire doors every few yards, reminding me of the supposedly leak-containing chambers in the hull of the Titanic. If you were listening to music on your iPod, this would be a fun hallway to walk down. It’s fun to burst through doors at dramatic points in a given song you’re listening to, and this is a hallway that provides many opportunities to do just that. You’d need a song with a lot of dramatic points. You’d need “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Leaving Sean’s place, we all scatter into the streets below where our vehicles are stashed. I am pulling out. Eric has pulled up at a stop sign and stopped. He rolls down his window and tells me a radio station is playing a certain song and asks me if I’ve heard of that band. I have, but I haven’t heard their music. I tune to that station. I am happy to be a person who seems like they would want to know which stations are playing good songs at any particular moment. I do!
I am following Ben to his apartment, which is on the way, so he can drop his car off and we can be taking fewer total vehicles to the theater. He doesn’t tell me where his place is, it is a strict stay-behind-me situation. I drive underaggresively at one point and two cars end up coming between us on a one-lane road. We get separated by a light. I can’t see him any longer. Techno music comes on the radio. I immediately feel like I spy. I know what I must do. I start driving like I mean it. I close the gap. Ben drops his car off. We catch up on the way to the theater. He’s one of the all-time good dudes.
The show is a blast. Everywhere on the block has stopped serving food by the time we get out. We end up at a diner a few blocks away. It’s in the bottom floor of a hotel that you can tell was crappy at one point, until the hotel realized their location and the fact that they were a crappy hotel actually made them kind of cool, so they decided to embrace this coolness, and the diner realized the fact that they were a crappy diner in the bottom floor of a once-crappy motel and that made them kind of cool, so they decided to embrace this coolness, via décor and music and menu items. Places, like people, are usually better when they do not realize how cool they are. Ah well. There is soyrizo on the menu. The food is good. They will put cherry in your Coke and make it an actual non-prefab Cherry Coke if you ask them to, which I do.
That night I have a strange dream. I would like to know what people dreamed about before pop culture, before they could say “I had the strangest dream, I was dinosaur-hunting with Jon Hamm, and…” Who populated your dreams? People you knew, I guess. You must have seen everyone you knew in every possible permutation by the time you died, huh? Your dreams must have come with a disclaimer from your subconscious, saying, “Don’t read anything into this. There’s no significance to your dad being the Queen Of England. It’s just that we’re running out of cast members and wigs.”
On Saturday afternoon, a guy on a corner in my neighborhood is making things out of palm fronds. “$1.00” is written in chalk at head-level on a lamppost next to him. A thing about walking the streets of Los Angeles: there aren’t trash cans on every corner. I guess this is not unreasonable, as there’s not a lot of foot traffic. Still, this will really put a hitch in your game if you are someone who enjoys having two bananas, eating one of them while walking, ditching the peel in a corner trash can, eating the next one, and ditching THAT peel in a trash can a few blocks later. A trash can you can count on being there. I have not tried this in Los Angeles. And I wouldn’t. And I’m not saying I did it, you know, all the time in New York. I’m just saying it’s the most satisfying thing in the world to me for reasons I cannot even begin to decipher.
Megan accompanies me to the Harvey Danger show on Saturday night. (To review: they are a band that is breaking up, and this show is their second-or-third-to-last. They had one big hit, “Flagpole Sitta,” in the late 90’s, but they made a couple really great albums that are very important to me.) Megan has never heard their music. Neither of us have ever been to Largo. I know it by reputation, as a very cool place. It turns out to be exactly that. It is a sit-down kind of deal, so Megan is spared my more embarrassing twitch-dancing.
In the bar before the show: a video is playing on mute on a monitor. A skydiver is plummeting through the sky. It looks like old footage. We cut from the skydiver, who has an impressive number of cameras mounted on him, to a lecture in Topanga Canyon being given by a guy named Richard Alpert (I was thrilled that he had the same name as a LOST character. Like any good LOST fan I immediately wondered if our Richard’s name was a reference to this Richard, or whether this was a clue, or whether the entire bar adjoining Largo is a viral ad for The Final Season or what). Richard is a clinical psychologist. All this information about the canyon and who this guy is is communicated by lower-third text on the screen. Richard is addressing a sun-dappled California glen full of engrossed countercultural types. This documentary, if that’s what it is, was definitely filmed in the Sixties, maybe the early Seventies. The camera cuts back and forth between Richard and the hippie types. Then we cut away, to a woman sculpting a head out of clay. The lower-third text reads “Valerie Porter, Former B-Movie Actress.” Why can’t California be THIS? I think. I would happily bum around the canyons. I would happily hang out in Joni Mitchell’s yard until she acknowledged me, or until Graham Nash chased me away.
In the bar, a Spoon album is playing. In the lobby, a Bowie album is playing. It’s a full-album kinda place.
I’m using the toilet in a stall in the men’s room. Outside the stall, I hear a guy say “Aw fuck!” I wonder what horror awaits me when I leave the stall. It turns out the horror is there are no more paper towels to dry your hands with. Leaking in from the lobby is “Quicksand,” the David Bowie song where he sings “Don’t believe in yourself.” I used to babysit a six-year old kid who was obsessed with David Bowie. He was not an eccentric precious New York kid, he was cool and sweet and normal and just happened to love David Bowie and have all of his albums on CD in his own personal David Bowie-only CD binder, which made him all the cooler. I was making us macaroni and cheese one night. Bowie was on the stereo, like usual. I overheard Gabe singing along absentmindedly while doing his homework at the kitchen table. I defy you to come up with something creepier than a six-year-old happily singing the words “don’t believe in yourself” to himself while doing homework. I shuddered and continued stirring the powder, milk, and noodles.
We take our seats. It is not a full house. I go to a lot of stuff alone. Movies and concerts and things. I will not let being the only person I know who’s interested stop me from going. I don’t mind it. I enjoy it, a lot of times. But an advantage of having a companion is having someone to complain to when the venue isn’t as full as it should be, as the entertainment warrants, in my opinion. This is a great band, I bitch to Megan. This is their second-to-last show. We are in a major American city. There should be more people here.
A guy who works at the venue gives a preamble. We are not to take pictures, or have our cellphones out. Apparently this is Largo’s “thing.” It’s also a thing I can appreciate. He is just finishing telling us about the camera ban and somebody coughs “FASCIST!” I have to remember that this coughing person is not necessarily a douchebag. It could be their esophagus is malformed and when they cough it sounds like the word “fascist.”
Harvey Danger is (or I guess now was) a great band, you guys. It takes a lot of guts to have a really huge radio hit off a really good first album and then follow it up with more super-literate geek-rock uncompromised, with a sophomore album that is basically about conversations, boring ones and pretentious ones and infuriating ones and heartbreaking ones. About being smart, and not smart in the popular images of what “smart” is, like, thinking you’re better than everyone else, or smart as a crime-solving bomb-defusing super-power, but smart the trapped-in-your-headedness I think most truly intelligent people feel near-constantly, the feeling that, well, fuck, I must be the crazy one. Dumb people are certain that they are smarter than everyone else. Smart people are certain that they are crazy. And it seemed to me, as a kid who felt that way, and it seems to me, as an adult who feels that way, that that’s what most Harvey Danger songs are about, and they express it hyper-literately, ultra-cleverly, super-catchily. Sean should write a musical, I think, sitting there watching him perform his songs in a voice that Megan notes is REALLY really good.
I am proud of them for hitting with a song that pretty adequately summarized their theme (feeling smothered by dumbness while standing outside yourself and acknowledging that that feeling makes you kind of a smug prick). I was under the impression that the reason any of us wants popular success is because we feel there’s not enough interesting stuff being done, not simply because we want to replace the people who are making bad entertainment by making bad entertainment of our own. When we get on, we’re supposed to do interesting things. If you gain attention with something unique and feel you need to dumb down to sustain that attention, let the attention go, I think. I am proud of them for having a big enough hit that I heard of them in high school in Arizona, and happy that they stuck to their guns and kept making shit I liked for the reasons I liked that first song in the first place.
Throughout the show, Sean is drinking Smart Water. Kinda says it all. Cleverness is fun. Cleverness is a refuge and a trap. Cleverness gets you little lyrical bits of joy like, “I’m all up in the madding crowd,” like “Like a similie, I paint suggestive pictures of me and you.” If cleverness is really as clever as it purports to be it eventually has to turn in on itself and be honest about its own insufferability: “When you like something, it’s an opinion/but when I like something, it’s a manifesto/Pomposity is when you always think you’re right/arrogance is when you know.” (A lyric I probably think of, for no particular reason, usually, about twice a week ever week for the eight years since I first heard it.)
At one point Ben Gibbard of Death Cab comes out to take vocal duties on a song. Fifteen year old me is FREAKING OUT.
During “Little Round Mirrors,” a song I always think of as a huge, huge power-ballad hit in a better universe, Megan turns to me and whispers, “What a great chorus.” Yay! Someone else is on board.
Sean announces that they will be playing longer in the Little Room (the bar we were in earlier) after the main show. Sweet, I think. They finish up and after I stop at the merch table we head over to take up positions for that next show. Turns out it’s a separate event and costs more money. Megan goes to get cash. I go in and save seats for us. More people are let in. It’s a Little Room. David Bowie is on the TV that was playing the Richard Alpert documentary earlier. David Bowie is on Soul Train. They announce that they aren’t letting more people in. My saved seat is for nothing. Megan texts me, insisting I stay, that she’ll be mad at me if I don’t. Fuck she’s a good friend. That aside, I realize I should not stay. I do stay. There you have it.
There are people standing in the back and people at tables in the front are asked to raise their hand if they have an empty seat next to them. A bunch of hands shoot up, including mine. This band’s fanbase is a club of dangerous loners, myself included.
Sean plays songs solo on piano and in between those songs he welcomes guests to the stage to play a song or two. The first song he plays is “IOU” by The Replacements. Twenty-four year old me is FREAKING OUT. The lyrics are in a big folder on the piano. A song by a band that was principally about fucking up played in a slapdash manner riddled with charming smiled-about mistakes. It’s loser-rock pandering. It’s killin’ me.
Then Sean brings up Rob Zabrecky, lead singer of a band I’ve never heard of called Possum Dixon. Sean gives him an excellent introduction – he talks about how Possum Dixon had one hit that maybe kept people from evaluating the rest of their catalog in a serious light – and he talks about how Rob is also a magician. (Wikipedia confirms this.) Rob plays. Sean comes back up and plays “Brilliant Mistake” by Elvis Costello and my exact thought is something like, “CURSE you,” because it’s like he is reading my music-nerdiest thoughts. The lyric “She said that she was working for the ABC News/It was as much of the alphabet as she knew how to use” gets a laugh out of the audience. NICE, Elvis. That’s good lyrics: decades on, sung by somebody else, still getting laughs in the room.
The Little Room show is cut short by the venue’s legal need to close at one AM. The second-to-last song, a cover of “Maybe I’m Amazed” with Jon Brion (and another guy whose introduction I was in the bathroom during) on guitar, sees Sean pushing the fire door next to the stage open and shouting the words out onto La Cienega. The bartender honors my drink ticket three minutes after last call because the manager nods to him, signaling that it’s okay to do so. My request of a Long Winters song (one of my favorite-ever bands, which Sean used to tour with) is refused, then accepted, then refused when he realizes he doesn’t have the lyrics in his folder. After the show I am headed for the fire door and Sean is walking down the aisle away from the stage and I am able to tell him “Thank you for your band.”
We are shooting a DERRICK sketch at UCBLA on Friday afternoon. We are set up in a nook full of garbage dumpsters full of trash from the restaurant that adjoins UCB. Someone points out that, the way the camera is pointing, it has a full view of a swastika someone has charmingly finger-painted on the wall in black ash. Dan starts to rub it off. It works well enough. He then absentmindedly rubs his nose with the finger he used to rub the swastika off. I rib him about having a nose full of swastika dust.
Later, we are shooting on the stage. Our lights are reflected off the back wall, and in the back row, I can see a row of head-marks on the wall, the residual impressions of thousands of audience members’ heads. It’s like those burned-in Hiroshima wall shadows, but it’s the product of hair-grease and laughter instead of split atoms and mega-tragedy.
We wrap out of UCB in time for them to start their evening shows. We are supposed to finish the shoot back at our building, and we need there to still be some daylight. We race the sun back to our apartment.
I stop on the way to pick up lunch for everyone. I pull up and park in front of the restaurant. I am going to run in and pick up our already-ordered take-out meals. A guy comes over and tells me I can’t park there, because it’s valet, and he’ll have to charge me eight dollars. I tell him I am just going to run in and run right out. I am exasperated and tired and short. He’s not nice about it but I’m not nice either. “Eight dollars,” he says. I sigh demonstratively and roll my eyes and slam my car door. Then I open the car door again and apologize to him for having been an asshole.
Man! Parking! Parking makes it so tempting and so insanely convenient to be rude to your fellow human being. I end up having to park all the way across the street, so I guess I do my little penance right then and there, in lost time and added steps . The world starts to look totally different (and totally more obnoxious) when you start to view it through the lens of where you can and can’t park.
Guys are trying to do the “Hey man, do you like hip-hop?” self-produced rap CD hustle in front of the Beverly Center. Everything that normally takes place on a New York street takes on a weird, desperate air when it is transplanted to an LA street: drunk guys wandering around being loud, guys selling their rap CDs, homeless people soliciting change. All of these already-desperate things are weirder and more desperate when they’re on an LA street corner. I think it has to do with the general lack of people walking the streets: everyone that IS walking the streets stands out more starkly. Every pedestrian, every potential change-giver or CD-buyer is more important to you, the beggar or the hustler.
Sometimes having a Google alert out for the title of your movie, you see something that is more interesting than your movie, and then you wish it were your movie. Google is on orders to send me an e-mail every time the words “mystery team” appear in tandem, and on Friday it sends me a news story out of India about a crack team of scientists and doctors who are being dispatched to India to investigate and contain a mystery virus. That’s awesome. Godspeed, guys. You may be the real heroes. We made an independent dick-and-fart joke movie. We ain’t contain shit.
We catch the sunset, just barely, and we’re happy. We go down to our apartment and eat and then we finish shooting another sketch inside Dan and Meggie and Donald’s apartment. Shooting things makes you have a not-normal reaction to hearing the air conditioner kick on. A normal reaction is, “Ah, an auditory clue that soon it will not be so fucking hot in here. Wonderful!” A shooting-stuff reaction is, “Somebody kill that!” (Dear my grandmas that read this: sometimes air-conditioning is loud and will ruin the sound that you’re recording.)
After the shoot, I drive Dominic and Jeff back to UCBLA so Dominic can pick up his car and take Jeff to where he’s staying. On the way back home, it is Friday night, so everyone is play-acting drunk, using it as a signed permission slip to be a dickwad. I don’t know about you, but when I drink, I enjoy the feeling it gives me on the inside. I don’t need to demonstrate to you how drunk I am. I will probably be extra-talkative and opinionated about music and hit on you, but the whole thing will be reasonably self-contained and unobtrusive. At no point will my boys have to hold me back.
Inside the Rolls Royce driving slowly ahead of me, there are camera flashes. An arm hangs out the driver’s side window. A high-heel dangles from the hand. A bald guy in a convertible pulls up next to me at a stoplight and smiles lasciviously. I laugh out loud and drive away. I should not have done this but there you have it.
We finished shooting two sketches, our first in two years. There is a title of a song on the Getz/Gilberto album that accurately describes the feeling: Tonight I Shall Sleep With A Smile On My Face.
I am looking for a costume for a DERRICK video on Thursday. On the drive to the costume rental place I drive through a neighborhood I’ve never heard of before called Melrose Hill. It’s antiquated. There are three-story brick buildings with wooden outgrowths on the third floor, the kind where the windows should contain silhouettes of cowboys and dancehall girls.
Costume shops, and all the costumes on offer within, always make me think about all the sketches we’re NOT doing. For instance, we’re not doing a sketch where anyone is impersonating Helga from “Hagar The Horrible.” No one is going to wear anything produced by the costume brands Leg Avenue or Rasta Imposta. No one is about to don a disturbing costume called “Big Daddy’s Girl,” about which the less said the better. The possibilities for ruinous creative choices are everywhere in this second-story shop in Hollywood. There is only one right thing and a million wrong things. The wrong things are beckoning from all around, with the near-pornographic allure of their absolute cartoonish badness.
The woman who runs the store has helped me find everything I need and I’m checking out. Behind the desk, the woman’s teenaged son (I imagine) and his friend are taking an online quiz about cities with multiple words in their name. “Type better!” the friend says to the kid typing.
I have been meaning to go to Amoeba Records, the landmark record store whose Los Angeles location is right next to the Arclight. It’s on the way back from the costume shop, so I stop in. I am in heaven right away. It is enormous and an aisle down the center divides the ample new-CD section from the ample used-CD section. I have recently started fetishizing CDs because I just started driving a car with a CD player in it, and I have always fetishized record stores, because I’m a white male in my twenties, and when I was a white male in my teens, I aspired to someday be a white male in my twenties. A big board up on the wall lists recent and upcoming in-store performances. Fuck! I missed Jay Reatard. Apparently they have Stone’s Throw Sundays. (Stone’s Throw is a top-tier indie rap label that put out Madvillain’s one and only album, which is maybe my favorite thing of all time, musical or non-musical.) See! I don’t go out enough.
I have maybe twenty minutes to kill. My big goal is to find Harvey Danger’s first album, because I’m seeing them on Saturday, and though their first album is what got me into them in the first place, I haven’t owned a copy or heard most of the songs in years, because I loaned my original one out in high school and never got it back. It’s not on iTunes. When I discovered it was not on iTunes, I was secretly grateful. There was piece of music I had to go out and get.
I find it, and I also locate used copies of a Pavement record and a Luna record and Squeeze’s “Singles 45 & Under.” At the register, the guy behind the counter takes a good long look at the Harvey Danger album. “This was a pretty good album,” he says. “They had that one hit.” He asks me what it was. “‘Flagpole Sitta,’” I tell him. This was indeed their one hit, which became for a lot of people a hallmark of kitschy late-ninetiesness. But, as I have been saying for I guess ten years now, they are a really excellent band with lots of excellent songs. The guy says he doesn’t remember it. He asks me how it went. I realize, there in the moment, I can’t think of how it goes either. I am trying really hard to remember when the guy hails another employee who is walking by and asks him if he remembers this band, or their one hit song. The other employee claims he has no idea. But of course you fuckin’ do, I think. It’s “Flagpole Sitta!” It was near-ubiquitous! So ubiquitous it prevented a lot of people from thinking of the band as anything but that one song! So ubiquitous my dumb fourteen-year-old ass was actually able to hear about this otherwise-obscure Seattle band I ended up loving, so I’m actually thankful they had this one hit, no matter how it may or may not have pigeonholed them. And now I can’t think of how the fuck it goes! The other employee walks away. I remember how the song goes. I end up half-singing it to the guy there at the counter. He says he still doesn’t remember it. I’m a poor singer.
Outside in front of the store, people are lining up for a Tarantino event that’s going to be held at Amoeba that night. Is Tarantino the patron saint of LA? I think he might be. Everything about LA I think of as cool feels nebulously Tarantino-related. Mostly the bantering mercenaries.
Driving home I pull a real bonehead move. Sometimes when driving you do something stupid, and then because you did something stupid, you are stuck there for a second and you can’t immediately correct your mistake. For times such as these, there needs to be a hand signal for “I know! I’m an idiot, right?” It would demonstrate that you made this bonehead move, not because you are an asshole, but because you are a bonehead, and you are aware of the fact, and you feel bad about it, and you’ll be clearing the way just as soon as safety and prudence will allow.
Every day in LA I see at least one gorgeous classic car. I often want to flag them down and hitch a ride to the year they are from. I see one in the KMART parking lot on Thursday evening. A big black noir gunboat. There are period hats in sitting in the back window. Fedoras and such. The owner of this vehicle clearly understands this important dictum: if you’re gonna go there, GO there.
We are shooting a little bit on the street in front of our apartment building. The street is typically deserted at all hours, save for the odd cyclist or dogwalker. For whatever reason, on this evening, the street decides to play host to a number of loud drunk dudes, staggering around party-less. Loud drunk dudes are naturally social, and the street is mostly empty, so the drunk dudes latch on to every socialization opportunity and refuse to let go until they have flirted with everything there is to flirt with, hooted at everything there is to hoot at, and been a dick to everything there is to be a dick to. Two of them decide to stop right by our modest little film set-up and just basically shout. Eventually they lose interest and wander away, but not before completely blowing to our valiant efforts to be as quiet as possible. We are almost finished when: THUMP THUMP THUMP. A party kicks off a couple stories up. People are laughing and shouting and screaming. There’s karaoke being done at one point. We feel silly for ever having “shooshed” each other. We are so far from the problem.
Completing our humble little street’s attempt to become an anemic Thursday night Mardis Gras, a procession of girls getting dropped off at our building begins. Several vehicles pull up, a few minutes apart, one or more women get out, and plod into our building on loud and severe shoes. It is like moms dropping their kids off at school if school started at 1 AM, the moms drove Range Rovers, were drunk, and bid their children farewell by saying, “Bye bitch!” Also, the moms look exactly like their children and they probably made out with them earlier in the evening to impress a guy who was wearing a button-down shirt with the top three buttons unbuttoned.
After the shoot, I go up to my apartment. I am very tired and I attempt to unlock the front door with my car-unlocking remote.
On Wednesday I am meeting Katie for lunch. She works in film sales and quite ably and generously helped us with the LA “Mystery Team” screenings. Like a doll, she has invited me out of my cave and my routine into the sunshine and to a lunch place I didn’t know was there despite the fact that it’s a few blocks from where I live. Because the place is so close I get cocky about how much time I have to get there and this results in me not leaving myself enough time to get there. The place is just out of Los Angeles walking distance. I have just gotten out of the shower. I drive with the sunroof open to dry my hair.
Fate grants me a parallel parking space where I don’t have to do much actual parallel parking. There is a sign on the residential street the restaurant endcaps: “The hedges are dying. Please refrain your dogs from continuously urinating on the hedges & roses.” Between the homes and the restaurant, there is an honest-to-goodness newsstand. I get no end of kick out of the thought of someone parking just to buy a magazine. There is a family getting into their car just as I’m getting out of mine. A boy does the classic evil-kid hair-pull to his sister. Fucked up, kid. Real fucked up.
Katie and I get seated outside. I’m thrilled. I love outdoor dining. I would eat copper wiring and shirtsleeves provided they were being served on a nice balcony. We talk about LA stuff. Katie moved out not too long ago so she is sympathetic. A girl walks by us like she is leaving the restaurant. Her male friend is behind her, a guy in a wifebeater and maroon stocking cap. The guy is being play-drunk, I think, stumbling down the sidewalk, but then he does a full-on header into our table, knocking a plate of bread to the ground before falling back onto the pavement. His friend catches him. He is lying in her lap, semi- or not-at-all-conscious. “He just needs water,” she says, “he hasn’t eaten anything all day.” She seems more embarrassed than panicked or surprised. Katie gives him her water. Offers to call an ambulance are refused. The guy is back on his feet in seconds, supported by the friend. I pick his cap up off the ground and put it in his friend’s jacket pocket. They walk away, everyone staring.
As he cleans spilled ice off our table, our waiter knocks the Tabasco sauce onto the ground. He says, “Lord!” He is having a day.
Minutes later, the guy and his friend walk by our table and apologize. Minutes after that, the guy is seated at a table with friends, the girl who caught him among them. He is holding court, telling a story, animated. Maybe the story is about the time he fell on our table.
We are leaving lunch. I am parked closer than Katie. I point to my car and say something indicating it’s mine. “I have the exact same car, she says.” She does, in the exact same color and everything. I have the same car as a lot of sensible young ladies. As a sensible young lady myself, I find comfort in this. Jetta nation, baby!
Later, I pull into a parking garage. A few cars down, a little girl’s parents are changing her clothes as she stands in the trunk of their SUV. I press the button on the remote that locks my car. My car makes the beeping noise indicating it is locked. “Beep beep!” the little girl shouts at me, mimicking my car.
I conduct a few errands and then I walk down to Largo, a concert venue. I am going to buy tickets to the Harvey Danger show that coming Saturday. There is a ticket window, with the little interaction hole and everything. There are blinds in front of it. The blinds are open. There’s a guy inside the box office, sitting down at a desk. I look at him through the hole. He looks back at me. I gesture towards the box office window, like, “I want to use this for what this is usually used for, are you the other half of me doing that?” He gestures for me to come around. He seems pissed that I do not know that that’s the procedure. I come around and inside and buy tickets from him while he sits at his desk. It’s a weird feeling, but he is nice once we get past the ticket window confusion.
On the walk back from Largo, I pass a Blockbuster with a table in front of it, on which sit lots of clearance items. Among them is a framed Successories poster, the kind that have a word spelled out capitalized and in serifed type, and above the word there’s a picture of a horse or dolphins breaching or the sun breaking through some clouds, and below the word there’s a little inspirational quotation on the subject of that word. You typically see them in breakrooms and guidance counselors’ offices. The word on this particular Successories poster is “Imagination,” and the picture is of some swirling galaxies. I saw it on the way to Largo and for the rest of my walk there imagined that it had come out of the breakroom of that Blockbuster, that this franchise had fallen on such hard economic times that they were forced to sell even the employee’s-eyes-only motivational décor, but on the walk back from Largo, I see that it is still in its original factory packaging, with little cardboard triangles on the edges of its frame. It was once for sale, actual non-clearance full-price sale, inside this Blockbuster. Somebody thought it was a good idea. Somebody thought, They will need inspiration to finish watching the DVD they rented from us. They will need inspiration to eat the rest of the Jiffy Pop. Galaxies, that will get them there. Galaxies and Imagination and some little white words of encouragement.
Back in the parking garage, a woman is changing her baby’s diaper in the trunk of an SUV. This seems to be THE parking garage in which to get your child half-naked on the tailgate of your sport utility vehicle on this particular afternoon. If I’d have known, I would have driven my Denali and packed it with seven or eight of the perpetually tatters-dressed orphans I keep around. (A lucrative enterprise indeed, as passers-by think they are both charity cases and street performers. I credit their strangely musical coughing.)