Thursday, November 04, 2010

Moving to Los Angeles: Letter from the Valley (A Slow Act Two).

Two of my favorite Twitter screenwriting buddies have been going back and forth talking about their plans to move to Los Angeles and I decided I was overdue to write about my experience. If anything, to help them (or anyone who reads this blog and is planning on doing the same) cope with the uncertainty.

Truth is, I never really planned to move to Los Angeles. I lived in San Diego, and I was doing pretty good making my little, idiosyncratic art films with my small circle of filmmaker friends. I was kinda’ on my way of being the medium filmmaker fish in a pond of small filmmaker fish. One day, fed up with my job, I woke up and decided to sell all my belongings and move to Los Angeles. Just like that. I do that. Whenever I get comfortable, I become unhappy and I must uproot myself.

I gave four weeks notice at my job and proceeded to sell and give away all my shit. I only kept DVDs, books and personal belongings. The rest went. Then, my artist aunt who is very well-supported by her husband, decided she was going to go to Florence for the summer to take some art courses. She invited me to go with her and I accepted even though I would have to spend a good chunk of the money I had saved up. I know what you’re thinking you responsible adults, but that’s what I do. That’s why I don’t understand when people just can’t move to LA; why they have to save money and make plans and talk so much about it before just doing it.

Anyway, I was living my own modern day A Room With a View until a panic attack took over me while I was visiting the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence. I was sitting near an AC vent cooling my ass, agape at the enormous evidence of genius that are David’s nuts, and hoping I was only getting it slightly wrong, not disastrously wrong, as it had been my specialty most of my life. I was worried about losing my wits and bursting into tears in some sleazy Hollywood corner while my grandiose, yet sometimes abominable, fantasies about Los Angeles came true. David didn’t seem to care about my crisis and he was making it worse. He stood there buck naked, Goliath’s head at his feet, and looking very much the hot stud that he is. With three weeks still to go on my trip, I was exhausted and I felt like going home. Then, I remembered I was homeless since I vacated my apartment in San Diego a week before I left for Italy. I almost burst into tears when a middle-aged, American woman in Bermuda shorts said “It really puts a lump in your throat, doesn’t it?” Thanks lady. Thanks a lot for interrupting my mini-nervous breakdown. “Yes, his head is really big, isn’t it?” I replied. I left in a huff, trying to recover that special mix of self-pity and vaguely sinister throbbing fear. I wasn’t able to, so I settled for gelato instead. While I ate it on the steps of Santa Croce under the 85 degree afternoon sun, I wondered what the fuck I was going to do when I got back to California and if there was any gelato left in Italy that I had not yet sampled.

My first time in Santa Monica, five years, 2 months and 21 days ago after my return from Europe, I felt utterly rejected by Los Angeles. After driving four excruciatingly maddening hours, most of them on the 405 at 5 mph, I picked up my roommate and we drove to the bank to purchase a cashier’s check to pay for the new apartment I had not seen yet. I didn’t know what to feel. I had just returned from London and planned on hiding out at my sister’s house for a while. I didn’t expect to move to LA so soon. In a couple of hours, thanks to my roommate’s diligence in finding us a place to live, I wouldn’t be homeless anymore. I circled around the bank and was lucky to find parking on a side street. I parked and looked at the signs. They looked like doctorate dissertations in red, green and black lettering. “We’re going to need a Rosetta stone,” I told my roommate. Fuck it. I decided not to bother trying to decipher the signs. I found parking and I was not moving the car.

On our way to North Hollywood to sign the lease, my roommate noticed something flapping on the windshield. Uh-oh. What’s that? “You got a parking ticket!” she screamed as we passed the Sherman Oaks Galleria. “Hey, look, that was in Valley Girl!” I said, excited to recognize a landmark. If it was a ticket, we didn’t know what the infraction was for because it was only an envelope. The actual ticket had flown away. I had never gotten a parking ticket and pondered about its existence. If I didn’t physically have the ticket, did it really exist? “It’s probably for $47 bucks. I got one the first day I was here,” my roommate shared. Shit. That meant I would have to go back to Santa Monica to find out what the ticket was for.

A couple of days after moving in and after finding out the original Sherman Oaks Galleria was demolished and replaced with a fancy new building complete with a Cheesecake Factory, the excitement of living in the setting of one of my favorite 80s teenage movies wore off. My roommate, a first generation Mexican, complained we were living among the immigrants. I made a sincere effort to be enthusiastic and literary about our new home. I tried to find similarities between Florence and North Hollywood, between Paris and Valley Village. Somehow, it was much easier to feel literary gazing into the Seine than into Burbank Boulevard, but I tried. Really hard. “Doesn’t this apartment building look like the ones in the movies? You know, the ones with the struggling artists, writers, actors? They are forced into a journey on page 30, then encounter insurmountable obstacles and fight for what they want and believe in Act Two, they go through the character arc and learn how to be better human beings, and after confronting the evil antagonist and surviving the climax on page 90, get it all in the end. Have you seen Sideways? It kind of looks like the apartment building where Paul Giamatti lived. Look, we have a pool...” My roommate was impermeable by my optimism and didn’t give a shit we were on page 30 of the script of our lives. I was okay with an indie/foreign film screenplay, but I got the impression she would rather be in a formulaic Hollywood script.

Okay, so I wasn’t exactly Simone de Beauvoir in Paris. I was just Teri Carson in the Valley and despite my best efforts I was not able to make myself believe the Starbucks on the corner of Laurel Canyon and Riverside was just as romantic as Cafè de Flore on Boulevard St. Germain. But, the guy (wearing the $200 Diesel jeans and fake Gucci sunglasses) ordering the venti iced caramel macchiato just may be the Valley’s answer to Sartre or Hemingway. In L.A., you never know what you’ll walk into.

A sign of good fortune appeared in the form of Don Zarape: the corner Mexican restaurant our loopy building manager with 20 shades of red hair recommended. “You see? There are advantages to living with immigrants. Besides, we can’t escape them in LA. Univision just reported they make up for more than 50% of the population in Los Angeles,” I said pointing to the television screen. We bit into our freshly-made corn tortillas and we smiled. Things can’t be so bad when the food is this good. A week later, we found out we had a slumlord and our big, clean apartment started falling apart. Bliss never lasts.

Six months later as I was speeding on the I-5 coming back from San Diego, I didn’t feel like I was driving away from home. I felt I was going home. I spotted the Scientology Celebrity Center and asked myself: “How and when did this city stop intimidating me and how and when did I begin to like it?” I don’t know how it happened. Perhaps discovering Langer's, LACMA, the New Beverly Cinema, great boutiques and sushi on Ventura Boulevard and the awesome shoe department at Macy’s Sherman Oaks helped a lot.

I did go back to Santa Monica and found out those fascist Santa Monica City officials have no interest in metaphysics. I could not convince them the ticket did not exist. I paid the imaginary ticket and vowed to stay away from Santa Monica and to keep to my side of Los Angeles with the struggling artists, writers, actors and the immigrants, and away from the anorexics, the metrosexuals and the wheatgrass-chugging spirituals of the West Side. Fer sure, like, this must be the place. Well, at least until our lease expired and I was able to afford to move to Silverlake.



Matt said...

That was perfect, I love your writing!

dizzydent said...

I think no one has ever said that to me. Not even friends or family. Thank you. It means a lot to me.