“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
Henry David Thoreau
A HOLLYWOOD STORY: A TRUE STORY takes place when I was young and wanted to pursue the life I’d always envisioned. After losing financial aid at California State University, Long Beach after flunking a class due to obsessing over a movie I had made with friends, I was dropped from the journalism and film programs. A month later, I was evicted. I turned down help from friends and decided to chase my Hollywood dream one final time. I had a few screenplays I’d written, the short film I had finished and some extra clothes. After being on the streets of Hollywood for a few days, I walked into Sunset Gower Studios through a slightly opened door where they filmed the TV show Moesha and would proceed to live inside the movie studio for the next few months, getting an audition from Keith Wolfe a casting agent on the lot, placing my screenplay on a production office desk of Big Ticket Television and trying to make subsequent connections for work. Atop Stage 1, I was found out by security and after being chased off the lot by armed guards, I decided to jump the fence of Paramount Studios. At 2:30 a.m. I did just that and would live inside Paramount for the next THREE years in pursuit of this lifelong dream.
Hiding out inside Paramount Studios, I ate from the craft service tables of various TV shows: Becker, Roswell, Judging Amy, The Amanda Show, Frasier and the movie, Fifteen Minutes, to name a few. I slept on an outdoor ivy-covered catwalk attached to Star Trek: Voyager and later atop the catwalks of STAGE 30, where they filmed Soul Train. I survived by acting like I belonged, but not for a paycheck, just to survive.
I became a familiar face and to the security staff and many other Paramount Employees I came into contact every day, it became a juggling act to keep my many perceived “roles” in the air. To some, like a security guard named Tom, I was a promotions guy named Bob Stanton, to others I was an assistant editor for Judge Judy, to others I was a professional extra, a reporter for Newsweek, a young up and coming actor and to others I was a young screenwriter to name just a few. These were all things I had said to justify my presence there and soon it became accepted. It was also mind boggling to keep up with.
BRIEF EXCERPT – CHAPTER ONE
A ONE WAY TICKET TO THE CITY OF ANGELS
It is the summer of 1997 and there can be no denying it any longer, something must be done if I am to live the life I had always dreamed of. There are no other options and I’ve thought of them all trust me and to think this is the best option is insane, but nothing could be truer. Today I am walking out on this defunct, gone sideways off-track life completely, in search of something better, for a new start, for fucking redemption, for that gold paved street we all envision walking upon. I’m turning in the old dilapidated model for that new and improved one and my only hope is that I don’t make things worse but in all honesty, the only way things could get worse is if I get hit by a truck and even then they might improve. This is my first thought when I awake on a day that would change everything. Despite being riddled ad nausea with friendly concerns, there will no going backwards, no sleeping on friends couches to “get my feet on the ground,” no phone calls back home to Michigan, where I grew up saying I couldn’t hack it in the big city, no pleading to get my job at The Long Beach Press Telegram back, no, no, no. There will be none of that, just me chasing this God forsaken dream and the rest be damned. It’s quite simply that moment when textbooks give way to the real world and young men set out to make a name for themselves. Somehow I know I’ll either make it or die trying. There is no in between.
It is with this spirit, while completely living on a prayer that I stagger up and double check the hunter green college Jan Sport backpack that contains everything left to my name. I do this completely by feel because the electricity has been shut off for days now and the sun is just starting to come up. Inside the backpack is an Apple laptop computer, extra clothes, Sony Walkman headphones, a copy of the short film IDTV that got me kicked out of college, two full length screenplays I’d written recently and a pair of hair clippers, yes hair clippers. One can never be too careful about personal hygiene especially when they are going from would be cap and gown, Bachelor Degree in Film and journalism and perspective internship to out on the streets in a snap, a strange happenstance that no curriculum can truly prepare one for. This is dawn in Long Beach, California, close to downtown and a bunch of blocks from the beach, far enough to be called the “low rent district,” a stucco sardine can apartment building that houses broke college students like myself, single Mothers, alcoholics, drug dealers, welfare cases and everyone else in between. By now this shoebox is completely barren. Everything worth anything has been pawned or sold to the highest bidder for balderdash, simply for means of mere survival. This is what happens when you fail a Film Audio class close to graduation because you had spent all your time making your own film and then financial drops you on a dime.
I rapidly put on a bleached white T-shirt, jean shorts, Navy Blue Campus II Adidas, Detroit Tigers fitted baseball hat and look back on this hobble, on what used to be headquarters to a dream. Any minute now the landlord and someone from the Sheriff’s office will be here to serve an eviction notice and to make sure that I have left the premises. If I have learned anything during my twenty something years on this Mortal Coil, it’s that one should avoid confrontations of this manner especially at the gates of dawn. I hear the jingling of keys off in the distance and the landlord grumbling outside in the corridor, so I quickly jet out the front door like a bat out of hell, take a wild left and burst through the shaky back gate like a baptismal plunge into a new realm. The landlord yells “Hey where you going?” from behind and I book it through the alley on high octane adrenaline, kick my legs into a higher gear out onto Long Beach Boulevard where I speedily duck inside a coffee shop on Ocean Boulevard. I try to act calm and buy a cheap small regular cup of Joe and then I sit by the window waiting for a squad of cop cars with flashing lights and blaring sirens to drive by in hot pursuit of the low life who skipped out on his rent, but after a couple minutes nothing happens, so I pick up and stroll out. There are very few second chances in this life and sometimes a great risk is necessary to achieve a dream or a goal. This story is my great risk. It is time to dance with the gods. I mean what would we become if we gave up on our dreams? To this question, any decent answer escapes me. I don’t know it just yet of course, but this will soon become a story that has never happened before and one that will likely never happen again, not in our lifetimes, not in a hundred lifetimes, not ever.
I hop step and bounce along downtown Pine Street, as coffee shops brew in opening rituals and yet behind this glossy hi-definition image of a new day, chugging buses, loud horns and squealing tires become the noisy soundtrack of this departure. The sidewalks are abuzz and even though I’m right in the middle of it all, I can’t help but feel as if I’m a hundred miles away. The Metro Blue Line Train Station along Pine Street is busy with bodies and in the din I forget to purchase a ticket and just walk on. I’ve done this before after bar hopping with friends, but never by accident. Soon the city that once saw me come of age, this beach town, this college town, this diverse cultural town that once welcomed me with open arms is now letting go. Out the smudged window, small strip malls of old Mexican markets and cheesy old businesses zip by at breakneck speed, only to be replaced with similar versions of the same a little further down the tracks.
It is somewhere around Hawaiian Gardens, when a police officer gets on board and asks to see everyone’s ticket. His uniform is perfectly pressed, his shoes pristinely polished and his eyes are pitch blue, a police officer from every angle who might be the poster boy for police officers everywhere.
“Ticket?” he asks me polite enough.
“I totally forgot to get one sir. I was in a hurry and it slipped my mind to be honest. I’m going to Hollywood and am a little excited to say the least. But sorry I don’t have one,” I rattle off.
He looks me over then wheels out his ticket pad and writes me a ticket of his own. It is for $25 in accordance with not paying the proper fare. He hands it to me.
“You can use this as a bus transfer. Good luck in Hollywood,” he says.
A bus transfer? That’s good to know. I have only forty bucks to my name and now thirty days to pay up or show up in a Long Beach Court and declare why. I stuff the ticket into my backpack, where I will soon use it for a free bus ride. Then I will forget all about it. This doesn’t really concern me. What is truly more concerning is the not even trying aspect to anyone’s life, the ceaseless wondering of “what if?” And like every man or woman at the end of any bar in any city contemplating how they crash landed in that life never asked for, I pray that will never be me.
If this were a movie, the camera would pan down from the Hollywood Hills, as a dusty downtown Los Angeles bus maneuvers its way through congested traffic. The squeaky brakes, the hard stops and insane streets, this is Hollywood in full bloom, though this is no movie. After commuting from Long Beach, this is how I arrive in Hollywood…sweaty, broke, and with a slight hangover from a bottle of Old Crow the night before. The bus is crowded with all walks of life, from the Spanish speaking Mother with three kids on her hip to the would-be gang member standing shifty behind me. After more stops than I can bear, I bounce off and am greeted with mariachi music from a screaming taxi and monolith movie billboards that stretch to the Heavens from the roof top of The Château Marmot as far as the eye can see. They are illuminated by the blinding morning sun, reflective and majestic, as if the very definition of The Sunset Strip itself.
I ramble past a tattoo parlor with leather clad hipsters, chain wallets and biker boots scraping up pavement, past an outdoor bistro with big sporty umbrellas, sheik attire and patio tables covered in the salivating aroma of grilled T-bones and sweet fries, past the novelty shops of overpriced souvenirs, old books and used forgotten movies for 99 cents in the backdrop of a moving sea of tanned torsos torpedoing this way and that. This is the Wild Wild West, the ultimate concrete jungle, where it’s survival of the fittest and only the strong, connected, crazy and truly twisted seem to survive.
In Hollywood no one knows who will make it and who won’t. This I think is the big draw for millions from Alaska to Alberta who come to grace these world famous streets, looking for their spark under the bright lights of a big city that doesn’t really give a fuck either way. It’s all behind the back handshakes and two faced smiles, big words over empty promises, big money looking at you to get bigger and to those with no money, no connections, no name, well, much luck my friend. You have a better chance of dancing with the Devil for minimum wage and purchasing a thousand lottery tickets every year of your remaining life. Even at this early afternoon hour, the streets are crawling with that cast of cast-out hopefuls, the evermore-starry-eyed-glass-half-full romantics of our day searching for their big break. While many have found it, those buzzing around in Benz’s and Bentley’s, the others, the dreamers, press on forever electric living for tomorrow while just trying to get through today. With a hop step, like anything is possible, two Porsche’s quickly turn left right in front of me on Fairfax and I dodge them quick. There is no slow lane here. One has to have their wits about them at all times otherwise this place will gnaw on the gristle and guts of the uninitiated. With felonies happening on this block and every block in all directions, the kinds of things they talk about on every newscast, where bodies turn up in ditches, in parks, in manmade lakes, ponds, cul-de-sacs and valleys, this is no place for the meek. All that said I am in Hollywood that much is sure, but in a far different manner than I had always envisioned.