It was May
of 2001, and the Internet world had been imploding for months.
After the video production company I worked for fell in like
a house of cards, I moved to SilverLake, an artsy, eastern Los
Angeles community from Calabasas, an affluent LA suburb.
SilverLake isn't a real lake;
it's what the Beverly Hillbillies would call a ce-ment pond.
I had not lived in Los Angeles since my last apartment off Robertson
in the early 80's.
I was used to seeing women in
Calabasas driving gigantic SUV's. They had great bodies thanks
to the Ashram retreat, Pilates and discreet implants. Flashing
pink and white manicured fingers with rocks the size of the
Anaheim Pond holding cell phones to their ears, making appointments
for weaves and Botox. Flipside SilverLake was a pocket of style
plucked from a secret handbook, an Exene Cervenka cocktail that
comes from knowing how to pull off vintage Thrift with artsy
leg tattoos and accessories willed from an eccentric relative.
The beauty salons along SilverLake Boulevard looked like fronts
for satanic bookies. I didn't see any pink and white nails or
toes, and very few blondes.
Patrician homes with better schools
are on one side of the reservoir, and quirkier homes, narrower
streets and an enter-at-your-own risk dog park are on the other.
The west side seemed more oriented to families and had a lusher
feel than my half of SilverLake. Like Calabasas, SilverLake
has a real estate value tier effect. As you go up, the homes
get pricier. Older, wiser public planners put steep stairs all
around the levels connecting every street to Silverlake Boulevard,
enabling residents to walk to a corner store and grab a coffee
and newspaper. I had grown up with public stairs, coming from
a small town in the North shore of Boston. A small granite rock
town named Nahant that has steps connecting the top of the island
to the bottom. In my nostalgia, I instantly fell in love with
It lasted two days. The home
I lived in was third tier up. The public steps ran parallel
to it. Neighbors dished about the Three Stooges filming their
comedy shorts on them. Apparently Curly once owned a house down
the cul-de-sac. One of the fundamental differences between urban
and suburban living is perceived bedtime. My producer friend
Karen has always made fun of my need to be in bed by 10 PM.
She is always up until two or three in the morning. There's
a hot club called Space Land down the street on Silverlake Boulevard,
easy walking distance from my house. At night the public stairs
morphed into ecstasy and cocaine scoring grounds and bivouacs
for area gangs with non-stop drug blather over lost jobs, cheating
lovers, sex, and botched evening plans. Later, liquored-up homeless
guys bellowed at each other about where their stashes of clean
paper had gone. Early Wednesday mornings brought the pickers
loudly pitching bottles and glass out of trashcans into their
purloined grocery carts that needed at least a gallon of WD-40.
I began my job searching online
for hours daily. After plowing through the postings satisfied
I had done a good day's work, the public stairs, during the
light of day and empty of all people, presented an inexpensive
gym replacement. Whatever your fitness level, the first time
you climb these stairs is a revelation. Stair machines at the
gym pale to the reality of gravity and concrete. The need to
get to the final landing created a temporary state of dementia,
singing the graffiti tags to the "babyback, babyback"
I walked the neighborhood absorbing
dog temperaments and the mental state of the homeowners each
afternoon. One of my favorite houses I passed daily was a small
one-story that had a giant prop Pee Wee Herman head that was
pierced in one eye by an even bigger prop mosquito, hung proudly
on the front porch.
SilverLake is known for its Neutra
and Frank Lloyd Wright inspired homes and is loaded with designers
catering to the innards of such. No shabby chic or crafty, duck-y,
distressed French or Italian country things on display around
here. Modern, Bauhaus and mid-century retro rules.
Further up is Netty's, a longtime
Silverlake restaurant. I could never figure out where the entrance
was. Each morning I'd anxiously open my email, convinced there
would be a real reply, and day by day my enthusiasm and spirits
were squelched. Friends forwarded leads, three or four companies
returned emails expressing interest but I knew they were not
positions for me.
One interview I landed was with
an entertainment attorney who had some vague movie deals and
dabbled in real-estate ventures. I approached his office in
the un-renovated high-rise with a sense of dread. He was running
late, and wasn't even there to give the interview, forgetting
he scheduled it. I walked out immediately.
Not having central air, my daily
walks became longer. Panic was starting to creep in my organized
mind. Calls ensued seeing if I could at the very least pick
up some production assistant work to make some dough while I
continued my real job search.
There are lots of layers in the
entertainment world, many orbiting universes all connected to
create a commercial, a TV show or film. Features are top dog,
and above the line people, the studio execs, the director, show
runners, attorneys and assorted producers are at the top of
the heap in this town. Next in line are TV and cable, commercials,
then the lowly music and porn industry. Lucrative, but not held
in the same regard. 'Below the line' is a phrase to describe
anyone who supports a production, the workers of the set. Grips,
make up, AD's, Location managers, wardrobe, electricians, carpenters,
accountants, set decorators, caterers, lighting techs, sound
guys and drivers. Through a connection, I became a craft service
assistant and began work immediately.
Craft services are the Tea and
Sympathy of any production. Choreographed platters of food and
appetizers designed to keep the crew happy between tedious takes
and scheduled meals. A proper craft service is a staggering
array of carbohydrates and empty calories arranged on collapsible
conference tables, with hot water, fresh coffee and every cold
beverage under the sun. Imagine every aisle of 'Trader Joe's'
all plopped before you in bowls. Breath mints, jicama spears,
aspirin, Claritin, beef jerky, sun block, bug nets, candy necklaces,
Emergen-C packets, anything to make a crewmember feel at home.
During the mid-morning and mid-afternoon, appetizers are grilled
and heated on portable ranges, and sandwich and deli platters
are made along with the frozen coffee drinks. There is a ton
of prep work, but I am happy. The day, for most craft service
people, begins before dawn. I haven't worked so hard physically
in a very long time.
September 11th happens. Fall
comes. The nights are cold. No job prospects yet, just random
craft service gigs. People I meet and speak with are crying
similar stories, they had a great job, it vanished, and doing
what they have to do until things get better. I think that I
should have become a registered nurse, always in demand and
impervious to economic dips. Then mid-reverie my reality check
arrives. I imagine that I have to administer something intravenously
or up the back passage of a virulent, spewing patient. Nursing
is more than education; it's a calling that I don't hear. In
fact the more I search for work the more ill-suited I feel for
anything. There are job categories that I do not understand
and sound horrible to boot. Unix system administrators, network
analysts, WAN operators, medical coders, open GL engineers and
Linux experts. I feel inadequate and convinced I will be labeled
one of the 'chronically unemployed' by social workers and census
statisticians. I have begun to bite my nails.
The novelty of craft service
production work soon wears on me after working for a Director
famous for one movie, hired for a high concept commercial series
by a sizzling New York ad agency for their mega sports shoe
client. Famous Director decides not to pay his entire crew for
ten torturous days of work. After exhausting all avenues, I
fax the ad agency in New York and the manufacturer's marketing
execs a phony press release blasting the Famous Director and
mocking the ad concept. The Famous Director calls me twice from
Boston begging me not to release it and arranges my pay in cash
at his Santa Monica office for me immediately.
I am desperate to find a real
job. My retired Father in Cape Cod barks at me over the computer
microphone as we play Bridge with people all over the world.
He says: remember the great 70's recession in New England when
I got laid off?
I recall one cold day when I
was very young, we drove to Lowell, Massachusetts, home of Ed
McMahon, to stand in a long line for free government-issued
peanut butter in stainless cans, cheese and powdered eggs in
plain foil bags. My Dad scrambled and created his own business
with another laid-off engineer. Together they got their contractors
licenses and first-class builder's permits and started designing
high-end custom kitchens and baths. Both men had great educations,
good résumés, but it wasn't enough. Dad sent his
résumé all over the country, and wound up getting
a great offer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We moved there in
three months. I do not want to move to Florida again.
December comes. Divine intervention
has landed me back home in Calabasas. I have good prospects
on the horizon. One thing I missed about Calabasas was the freedom
to drive five minutes down Malibu Canyon Road to walk the beach
in the golden afternoon light of day. The beach practically
all to myself makes me feel as rich as a Colony resident. I
am always spotting Ali MacGraw running, or Brian Grazer walking
and talking on his cell phone. I fantasize at times, wanting
to run up to him, catching him in a receptive moment as I deftly
pitch my production skills, persuading him to hire me. My producer
friend says only I would be able to pick out Brian Grazer walking
on the beach. She was with me in my car when I spotted Fee Waybill,
lead singer of 'The Tubes' driving down Wilshire in the mid
eighties. His profile gave him away. We startled him as I yelled
his name, and after the glow-y moment of fame recognition was
over, the ensuing conversation became the uncomfortable black
hole that happens with any celebrity and their adoring public.
A fashion obsessed teen; I told
a jetlagged Jerry Hall she looked just like the supermodel Jerry
Hall back in 1980 when Urban Cowboy was beginning production
in Houston. I recognized Red Adair leaning against a wall at
the annual Sam Bass Oilmen's Ball at the Pacesetter in the Houston
Galleria. We talked for hours about the movie "Giant",
different strategies in capping wild oil fires, Cadillac versus
Mercedes, Gulf oysters versus Blue Points and the French. Picking
out the obscurely famous is one of my secret talents.
Perhaps I should list it under
my qualifications in my newly updated résumé.