HOLLYWOOD UNDERGROUND…CHAPTER 6

 

CHAPTER  SIX

December, 1997

At this stage of a long, warped journey, I’d come to the realization that not many people garnered the same propensity, fortitude or perhaps intensity that I had when it came to chasing a far off notion by such means. Surely, most people would likely had gone about it differently sure, perhaps in a more cerebral, traditional approach, one less shady…And for good reason, but in all honesty, I wasn’t ready to back down and by now all that really mattered was just getting there. I would ride this twisted trip out for reasons that there seemed no other options left. When backed into a corner one acts differently and I suppose I was one to stand my ground and see what might happen, a dire optimistic notion that lit the way through this darkness. Also, if one wanted something bad enough, if one truly desired something so passionately then there was nothing that could hold one back, but maybe only one’s self. I would not be my own worst critic, I would not have any restriction here, because I was going to run full bore with this and see where it might lead. Right there I made the decision to just go for it, make it happen and let loose.

As I lay inside a dark, ivy covered catwalk attached to Star Trek: The Next Generation, a very strange spot, where my dream had now taken me, I understood or moreover realized that this “go for it” mentality was getting complicated in a way. How far would I have to go? They say the journey is its own reward and if so, then I was already there, I was close to the core of it somehow and there was something beautiful and enchanting about that. Electricity was in the air and this magical land seemed vibrant and full of great hope.

My first night within the inner sanctum of Paramount Pictures Studios, inside the catwalk lying down doing some daydreaming of my own and a sweet sound lifted me from much-needed slumber. This was a familiar song, the famous strumming of a guitar, that dancing piano and that well-known candy-coated voice, rolling like sweet sugary thunder. For a minute I couldn’t place the song or the voice, until my ears came to life. Mixed in with Paperback Writer, a song written by The Beatles, suddenly I heard a thousand whoops, hollers and wild cheers. A riot had either broken out in Hollywood or I was knee deep is some weird ritualistic celebration that only the truly elite known about. Through the branches of the ivy, darkness gave way to bright neon and a major party of epic like proportions. This bash seemed to have erupted right under me, right next to me, right all around me and unbeknownst to me I had hidden right in the epi-center of it all, a serious burgeoning melee. I changed shirts and wiggled into a cleaner pants or the cleanest pants that I had, which were Guess jeans, taken from the City Guys, wardrobe department one night on the Sunset Gower Studios lot. I rapidly descended down the thin ladder, as inconspicuously as possible and landed smack dab in the back of this marvelous fiesta, which was boogieing all around me. It was dark and I obsequiously meshed in with the swelling crowd.

If this was how the other half lived then I was all in. This was paradise. Utopia. The back lot of Paramount Pictures, where a fake city stood, a fake city that was the back drop for such scenes as when Marlon Brando was shot in The Godfather, where Laverne and Shirley filmed the opening to their TV show and where countless other commercials and TV sitcoms were filmed was now the whole façade of a town that resembled something of say, downtown New York or Pittsburgh, during a New Year’s Eve party. Houses and stoops and sidewalks were lit up, spotlights shown bright into the clear night sky, while some of the houses radiated spectral colored glow, like pink, green, blue, yellow…This must be what Heaven might look like, if say Heaven resembled the downtown area of Baltimore or Detroit or Philadelphia. 

Hanging paper shade covered bright white lights were lined up in precise rows and instantly I made way over to one of the tables and respectfully plucked a small plate of tofu like doggy treats. The plates of food were free and the tables were covered in white linen, seven or eight of them in immaculate rows across from seven or eight on the other side of the busy fake city street, a fake city street one might see in say downtown Brooklyn or Chicago or Toledo. Buckets of glittery multi colored confetti showered down on hot tanned bodies and pristine styled hair-dos. Everyone in attendance, groups of people walking throughout the back lot and others crowded together talking or dancing or laughing, all appeared extremely attractive and good looking on this glorious night of showing off. Yes, this was surely Hollywood, this was what the rest of the world aspired to look like, this was every ad for beauty there had ever been, because normal people could never be this beautiful. Yes, this was The Life, laid out in front of me, a parade of all anyone ever wished to be.

Free food and drink flowed throughout this dream like Heaven and for some reason everything tasted better. When you were poor you had to beg and borrow and steal, but when you were rich and famous, it was all set out on in front of you on bright gleaming white tables on some fake city street, a fake city street one might see in say, Indianapolis or Duluth or Kansas City. Blending in for me was key, as out in this sea of celebrity somehow finding work or that ever-crucial connection or two could be crucial. They had to be out there somewhere, but I didn’t want to rock the boat of prosperity and good fortune, I also wasn’t going to look too hard for it, because the last thing anybody wanted to do on this night away from the office and grind was to discuss the office and the grind. Then again opportunity could strike anywhere and from as far as Maine all the way to Portland, one thing always rang true no matter the location…an open mind is always a productive and ready mind.

The sudden realization that I had found myself in the middle of a giant PETA or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals benefit party didn’t really hit me right off, but was later confirmed, as I coolly strolled past Pamela Anderson, who was dressed in a very skimpy T-shirt that read just two words…NO FUR. Oh my, my jaw dropped. My knees got weak. As she walked by, this Pamela Anderson in real life appeared different than how she looked on TV. In the here and now, there was a certain charisma and magnificent aura that TV or movies had failed to record and bring out in the overall pedestrian viewing experience. In the real world, Pamela Anderson during these times, circa late 1997 appeared to be a human Barbie Doll so lovely that you wondered how God could create such a specimen. There was also a sheer sensation around her, a magnetic orbit that beamed when she walked by and the world somehow felt a little more happy and a lot more exciting. So as she walked past, I wasn’t the only one taking in her beauty in pure wonderment, as various roving eyeballs befell upon her sexual super powers in covert, non-obvious like fashion.

I was casual about lifting a few free plates here and there and after a few flutes of free champagne, I didn’t really take to heart that I was a complete stranger in a strange land, who had wandered into some party I had no rightful place being involved with. After a few more flutes of champagne, I realized that I could have been anybody. I was beginning to enjoy myself around complete strangers and as I attempted to score a connection, somehow I had convinced myself, as maybe an actor might before or during a performance that this was the world in which I was a part of, as well. I had convinced myself that I had been to many of these PETA parties in the past and that I was a major Hollywood player or employee or crusader climbing the corporate ladder somewhere and in the midst of this thought, I had gotten a little looser with this performance as the night progressed.

“Manmade chicken – Wow – never thought I’d see the day. What do you suppose is in this fake chicken?” I said a little buzzed to a short man beside me, as I gobbled up a perfectly formed white cube.

“What’s that again?” said the man, trying to hear me over the music of another Beatles song. This time it was Get Back.

“What do you think is in this?” I said.

“It’s soy,” he said. “Most of the food you are unsure about is probably soy.”

I laughed.

A loud voice squawked on cue just behind me by someone, “Fake chicken is peeeeeple,” one man wailed in his best Charlton Heston, Soilent Green voice. Laughter ensued all around me and the table, as I grabbed a glass of wine off a passing waitress hoisting a tray full and gulped it a bit. The short guy looked over at me and smirked at my quick consumption.

“Rough day?” he said.

“You could say that,” I went on.

“I hear you there. Nat Mason, Paramount TV,” he muttered, then extended his hand.

“Jim Rice, Nickelodeon,” I replied, and shook it

“Oh, yeah? Nickelodeon? Which office?” he said nonchalantly.

“Gower,” I said through a slight heady hum, which was beginning to run through my mind, and then I hoped like hell it was the right answer.

“Sunset Gower?” he asked. “I didn’t know Nickelodeon was at Gower now.”

I slightly paused.

“Our secret is out.” I added, in an attempt to play this off. He looked curiously at me for a second and then this Nat Mason began dropping names of people that I could possibly know and I nodded. I began to act like I knew some of them, repeating dumb, robotic replies like, “Yeah, I know what you mean there,” and “You got that right, that guy is a good guy, but he sure is something all right…”

This was a party and regardless of a couple white lies, it was my intent to do just that, because I was starting to feel it and get into it. Besides who knew where tomorrow would lead – in the gutter or on a plane back home to The Greater Metro Detroit Area or maybe even down The Boulevard of Broken Dreams or anywhere else that might render the dream obsolete. Nevertheless, my first real to life acting audition was under way and it felt like I was failing quite miserably. My skills did get better as the night went on and I redefined the prototype persona for perhaps what I would fall back on later throughout my stay here, however long that would be. And there was no way to tell at this point how long this stay would ultimately be. A day? A week? A month? Already it had seemed like a major turn, a visit into the rabbit hole that no one could have ever predicted. Then again who would even think to attempt a journey like this? Hollywood at any one given moment had always been known to let in people that normally had no rightful place to grace its glorious grandeur and landscape. You heard stories all the time about how one aspiring soul defied the odds and in a risky turn of events that sparkling, shining soul would soon became forever famous, an eventual household name. In Tinsel Town, there was no way to tell who would make it and who might not and that I think was where the sheer wondrous beauty and magnetic draw resided for many millions, millions of glowing souls wired into the vast possibility that if given the right opportunity, under the right circumstance and with that right someone, anything could happen. And that was the whole Hollywood thing rubbed down to the nub, and at the very core of it was a very special time and place, a feeling that most wouldn’t understand unless they were there. There was no way to describe the electricity and electric exuberance that bubbled just under the surface, when the stars aligned and that great opportunity knocked once and for all, bringing together all that you had sacrificed and strived for into one majestic outpouring of euphoric, never ending energy in that everything you had imagined, everything you truly thought life could be was now real and flowing through your veins at a cataclysmic clip. There was no way to describe just how great the world seemed during these opportunistic peaks and when one was in the immediate orbit and gravity of their most innate dream. But this feeling was why many sacrificed it all just for the chance to experience it.

“Got to run, later Nat, nice to meet you,” I said and headed off into a flowing river of smiling, tanned people. As I made way through this peculiar paradise, all around me was TV and popular culture brought to life. Rock stars both past and present and many movie and TV stars, right along with the free champagne, free food and glorious chatter would be as close to any Heaven as I could have ever imagined. All eyes were on the stage now and nearly everyone in attendance, celebrity or otherwise were singing along to the song Hey Jude, which was being performed by none other than Sir Paul McCartney himself, who was center stage, some forty-feet or so in front of me, behind a huge black Grand piano and a sparkling silver microphone. Was I still dreaming? I was knee deep in some exclusive camp for the rich and famous and if this was how the top 10% lived, then I was all in. I had no true invitation of course or any business whatsoever in being there, but something beckoned within me and somehow I felt at home here among the God’s and Goddess’s of our day. My face was masked in glorious warmth, while my eyes sunk back into my swirling head and life seemed about as good as it could have possibly gotten for me back then during the great peak of one’s youth.

 Oh yes, this was the place for me.

Is that… John Stamos? I remember thinking that if I have to be that good looking to get acting work, then I was in for a long haul. That’s when I realized that I might have to focus more on writing, because looking around at some of these magazine covers brought to life, there was no way that I could pull this off and no amount of makeup or special effects would change much of anything. I was good looking by normal Detroit area standards sure, but here I was a bit of an ugly duckling, the somewhat wholesome Midwest guy who was good looking back home, but now just plain mediocre in the big city. I was thin, in good shape, but looking at some of these actors, yes I had my work cut out for me.

 Keep it light, I told myself and don’t talk too much. A recurring theme throughout my teen and young adult life was that during most episodes of alcohol consumption, my mouth and spirit tended to override my brain. Even still, soon I found myself flying around this circus of Hollywood royalty, like I belonged and no one seemed to question it. Alyssa Milano…Cindy Crawford…Alicia Silverstone…

“Jim, Jim Rice, Nickelodeon,” I seemed to repeat over and over.

“Did you say Nickelodeon?” suddenly came a voice from a small circle of people.

“Yes sir!”

“What office?”

“The new one,” I said and then told the guy we would talk later, because I had to find my wife. What a schmuck I thought, why did I say that? I immediately began to change my story. I now no longer worked for Nickelodeon, now I was a struggling screenwriter with a few projects in the slush pile shelf of pre-pre-pre preproduction. I was that guy that nobody really knew, but one that said I could be anybody and herein was the beauty of Hollywood at this very moment. I could have been an actor, an up and coming producer, a wannabe writer or maybe even someone who could help them further and nurture their very own careers one day. Who was to say? Instantly, over the warmth that flowed through my body, something clicked. If no one truly knew of my secret and situation then I could be whatever Hollywood character I could pull off. I was already acting surely and not for a paycheck at all, but to merely survive in a dire attempt to keep a dream alive.

“Everyone should do his or her part!” I said to a bartender. “From now on I will forever be a drunken PETA eater.” He smiled sycophantically and gave me a drink. Then like a vision, Sir Paul McCartney exited the stage to loud applause. I clapped, as he beamed right by me and smiled. I quickly shook his hand, as he swiftly pressed on to the back. “Make way for a legend!” I yelled. “Sgt. Pepper is in the house!” The crowd mushroomed, some laughed at this, but everyone was excited. All eyes had fallen on The Beatle for but a few seconds.

I decided it might be time to go back up to the ledge just to lay low and figure out a game plan for the upcoming days. My God, how long could I last in this utopia? There was no way to tell. I grabbed another small plate of fake chicken nibblers with frilly yellow toothpicks. The musical group now taking the stage was The B-52’s. Their first song was Rock Lobster and as it blared and people yelled and danced, I snuck back behind the wardrobe shed and then along the back alley by the cemetery wall. I had made it back to the thin ladder and nobody had seemed to notice. Then after a lookout, I climbed up it one handed, while balancing the plate of soy chicken or meat or whatever with the other. I knew I’d have to get to know some of these people and that my own story and performance better be extremely well played to pull it off. I needed a back story and a character background, only right then I never thought that one story would turn into several in a handful of fictional renditions of myself on display for a handful of various people that had worked throughout the lot. But for now, life was a little less complicated and filled with true optimism and opportunity. There was no way to describe how I felt that night, but my spirit and soul was dancing somewhere among the Gods.

Then suddenly, for the very first time since I’d been in Los Angeles, a small amount of rain began to trickle down, and then a bit more. The music stopped suddenly and the far-off sounds of high heels clacked for cover, as joyous whoops and howls began erupting in the distance all around me. This worried me at first, but to my surprise the rain was washed perfectly to the side of me, shielded by the overhead, thick ivy and rooftop of the Star Trek: The Next Generation sound stage, in which I was attached to, some thirty feet or so above the ground.

So as the remaining patronage of the PETA party began to disperse with the rain, I looked out the end of the perch and over the celebrity cemetery just behind me. There it was, a beacon of sorts, the lit up Hollywood Sign was shining bright, casting an effervescent glow into this far off corner of show business. There was little doubt that even though I was homeless and away from family and friends, the dream felt close. It was right then and there, I felt electric as well, because I was truly getting close to where I ultimately wanted to be. See Also: Did I just shake Paul McCartney’s hand?