A friend asked if I'd post this for them, and so, what the heck. It's part of a longer piece I've been working on off and on over the past few years that chronicles my life while living in LA, and in particular, when I lived in Venice Beach. This part focuses on one of my many odd film-related jobs. I'm revising this piece and then submitting it so I don't want to post the whole thing, and it's pretty darned long anyway.
Venice Beach/The Clubhouse Avenue Chronicles, excerpt.
I am one of many bike riders in Venice, but seem to be the only one who dares venture beyond its bicycle-friendly confines of the beach. I have a car, of course (it's required by law here) but as there's a bike lane along Venice Boulevard stretching eastward toward the city, and as I'm from San Francisco, I assumed that with bike lanes naturally come other cyclists, safety and comfort. In actuality, I rarely experience any of these luxuries. Drivers pass by and look at me as if I were an alien or some crazy inventor atop a newfangled creation. A bi-cycle. How interesting, how droll, how delightful, they think as they speed by in their vacuum-sealed Range Rovers. Or they just appear utterly confused, unsure how much room they should be giving me, concerned for my own safety. Why are you on that.... thing? But as much as I feel like a freak, I am determined to ride as far as I can up the road, partially for the exercise, partially because I am acting the adventurer who wants to tell people he conquered the Venice Bike Lane (and all I got was this lousy t-shirt). Riding away from the beach I always pass the ramshackle but bustling Venice High School ("Home of the Gondoliers!" announces a sign on the front lawn. The campus looks vaguely familiar because it posed as the fictional Rydell High in Grease. I almost get hit by a system-matic, hydro-matic, ultra-matic car as I turn off of Venice Boulevard.
The best part about bike riding, even the dangers inherent within, is that it stirs the creative flow. I put on a walkman, listen to the one decent independent music station in the area -- KXLU, the Loyola Marymount station that sits up there on the hill above Marina Del Rey and is the LA equivalent of KUSF. I listen to the music and flow along the side streets behind the canals and down to the beach path and on to Playa Del Rey -- I wonder who came up with these creative place names -- and down across the Ballona Creek, which is more of a sludge channel than a waterway but does seem to attract its share of beautiful shore and wading birds, pelicans and herons, and gulls that from a distance look like those comic strip flattened "W"s that always represent them. The path here is covered with sand and I almost wipe out several times but keep going, keep listening, past the beach house that Quentin Tarantino filmed Jackie Brown in. Here I stop to watch the sun fall, and here I decide to write that screenplay I keep talking about.
I have spent two weeks working as a "runner" (glorified errand boy) for a Shirley MacLaine-directed film later named Bruno*. It's in the post-production phase, too far into the process to be salvaged. The movie is very similar to the French comedy Ma Vie En Rose but not as good -- in this one, an extremely overweight, well-meaning mother protects her young transvestite boy from abuse and hatred. My job mostly consists of delivering and picking-up reels of film between the editing room in Hollywood and various film transfer centers. Today I feel particularly bad for Shirley MacLaine because, besides the fact that her film isn't coming out as well as hoped, she's been stricken by the flu. I'd heard terrible things about working with her -- that she will verbally abuse you on the phone and is prone to psychotic moodswings -- but considering how badly things are going, she treats me surprisingly well in our admittedly very limited contact. Shirley has a box of kleenex by her side. As I look at her flu-puffed face, I can almost see the woman who was once Irma La Douce, or Fran in The Apartment. I am sent to get Thai food for her and the editing group as they watch dailies. This is a bad time for me to realize how little I know about this part of L.A. I don't know a single good Thai place in Hollywood, and not wanting to appear incapable, I quietly ask somebody who works in the building for a recommendation. I find a menu and call a place whose name in Thai must mean "extremely slow" because it takes forever for the food to arrive. I pace in the parking lot, looking expectantly, thinking of poor Shirley MacLaine dying in multiple ways upstairs, with only the thought of Tom Yum Gai to get her through this. Various headlines -- "Shirley MacLaine Decapitates Assistant"-- float through my head but I shake them off. Eventually the food arrives, I apologize so many times everyone ignores me, and it's quickly forgotten. I still don't see what it is Bruno has that my script doesn't.
[*Note: Bruno's title was later changed to the slightly catchier The Dress Code, but that didn't save it from being released straight to cable, despite a cast featuring Kathy Bates, Gary Sinise (looking wholly uncomfortable) and Jennifer Tilly.]
I am sitting in a dingy, orange-tinted lobby of a small film house in the valley. I wait until it's very late, the sun has set and the sky is charcoal blue and fading to black. To pass the time, I use their phone to check my voicemail (I have refused to get a cell phone, out of rebellion, but to be on call for jobs I compromised and bought a pager). There is an urgent message from my dad back in San Francisco. At the same time he is telling me not to panic, I can tell from his voice that I should. My stepmom has had a cancer relapse. It has skipped up from her body to her brain, and she is going in for surgery. "Don't worry," my dad says, through tears, "we're guardedly optimistic." The words "guardedly" float out there for several seconds afterwards, like the ghost of an image on a TV set that has been turned off. Burbank is far from my apartment in Venice, and seems a thousand miles away from San Francisco. In this dreary lobby I start to cry.
A guy reappears from the vault and apologizes for the delay. He hands me five reel cans of Bruno and I stumble back to my car. As I sit in my car I look at my pager and remember that I have Shirley MacLaine's number on it. For a moment, I think about calling Ms. MacLaine to get some spiritual advice, because I get this feeling she'd talk me through it. But I don't have a cell phone and she is a celebrity and I am a runner and the dichotomy has been set. I never call her.
The drive back to Venice feels particularly long today. I spend the time wondering how I have developed a knack for working only on bad films, but then realize there are so many movies trapped in limbo that it makes me dizzy to think of it. For every film that is released to theaters, another 50 sit on shelves in limbo or go straight to video. (Even more staggering is the number of scripts produced versus those never made into a film: a recent estimate on the Writers Script Network web site had this at about 400 to 100,000. ) Stop and go traffic on westbound Interstate 10 makes me anxious. I remember what happened last week, when I was picking up the music score from the composer's house in Glendale and got stuck in horrible traffic jam which would rival that in the opening credits of Godard's Weekend. Then, there, I suddenly have to pee extremely badly. True confession: Being at least two miles from the next exit and unable to move the car at all, I grabbed a plastic water bottle from the backseat and used it in a way that involves indescribably acrobatic logistics. I felt relieved and embarrassed but mostly relieved, and enjoyed the irony of returning the liquid to the bottle from whence it came.
I go home basically just to sleep, wondering if I wouldn't be better off just crashing somewhere in the valley, or even moving there, since most of my temp jobs end up being around that area. But then I remember the cool breezes of Venice Beach and the breathable air and the sand of the waves rolling, lulling me to sleep -- versus the valley's brown skies screening the mountains like a gauzy curtain, the commercial signs that overtake the sightlines like sawgrass, the malls, the incoherent architecture -- and I think, yes, the commute is bad but the air is good and this may be as close to a feeling of "home" as I'll get.