One of our office fax machines broke down, and because it was four p.m. on a Friday and I was thinking I might have a nice quiet afternoon to finish the week, Aaron appointed me fixer of the faxer. Turns out the damn thing only needed a new toner cartridge, which is easier than tracking down a repairman, but harder than surreptitiously reading a book, which is exactly what I was doing for twenty glorious seconds before this occurred.
Anyway, we had the necessary brand of toner cartridge for once, so I grabbed the box and started reading instructions. Among the dozen warnings I found this simple explanation: "The white powder on this toner cartridge is essential for smooth machine operation. Do not wipe it off. The powder is non-toxic." No problemo, I thought. But the good people at Ricoh had to throw in this little gem: "However, if it gets on your hands, Please [sic] wash it off."
Now wait just one damn second here. I know they're not trying to enforce workplace neatness. So who are they fooling? I took a closer look at the contents list: "Styrene acrylic polymer." Okay. I'm pretty sure that's just dinosaur goo mashed together. "Polyolefine." Many, uh, olefines. I'm not sure what those are, but they sound as if they could be margarine-based. "Iron oxide." Rust! I know that one. "Dye." I know what dye is. So basically, what we have here is rusty, colored margarine and plastic all smashed together into, well, a tone. Or something. And then I look closer...and what I see shocks me to the very core of my being, which I believe is somewhere close to where all the ice cream goes. "CONTENTS," the box says in all-caps, "PARTIALLY UNKNOWN."
"CONTENTS PARTIALLY UNKNOWN?!" Only then did I notice the white and black powder on my hands, so I washed, and kept on washing, and when I've finished this entry I plan to huddle under my desk in fetal position until the necrotizing fasciitis eats my brain and leaves a smoking phosphorescent hole in my office floor that goes all the way down past the Mohorovicic discontinuity into the bleeding hot magma of the Earth and kills us all.
[Note: This entry contains adult language; sorry. But as I think you'll agree, it requires adult language.]
Return with me now to Saturday afternoon, when I met an interesting, multifaceted, confrontational fellow who asked me some pointedly personal questions.
I was sitting in a booth in Numero Uno Chicago Style Pizza reading an Entertainment Weekly; enter the aforementioned interrogator. I never caught his name, so I'll make one up: I'll call him Pedro. He appeared to be Hispanic. He'd been drinking, with some enthusiasm would be my guess. He didn’t seem obsessively tidy. He didn't reek, but he smelled enough to be noticed. His hair was an oily tangle. A six-day shadow sprouted around an unkempt mustache on his ruddy face. He looked like Charles Bronson on a week-long bender, and his accent came from two blocks south of Cheech Marin's. He wore new jeans and an old windbreaker.
Pedro leaned very casually on the back of my booth, near my left shoulder. I tried but failed to pretend I didn't notice him. "Hey," he said calmly. I glanced up, flashed that quick lips-together, nothing-in-the-eyes smile I reserve for total strangers in my way, and returned my attention to my pizza.
"Are you gay?" he asked, as calmly as if he were asking me directions to the nearest post office.
Oh, geez, here we go. "No," I replied, without looking up.
"'Cause eef you are, thass okay."
"I agree. Now, if you wouldn't mi--"
"Are you gay?"
"No, I'm not."
"'Cause I'm gay."
After almost six years in L.A., I still find myself in conversations in which I have no earthly idea what to say. "Uh. Okay. Well, see ya."
"You're not gay?"
"No, I'm not. Now, if you don't mind, I'm trying to read in peace."
He thought about this for two seconds. Then he said, "I'm not gay."
I glanced around the restaurant, only to realize our lone waiter was struggling to pretend he saw neither of us. I was on my own. "I don't care."
"I'm not gay, y'know."
"I don't care. Look. I'm gonna finish eating now. You take it easy. Goodbye." He gazed at me a few seconds more, then returned to his booth, which was, of course, directly behind mine.
He and his female companion spent the next few minutes mumbling about God knows what at each other, slamming things on their table with such force that I was worried something wet or even sharp would come flying over the booth back. That would ruin my whole day. Certainly the tension of wondering how this would play out was ruining my lunch. I continued to try to make eye contact with the reluctant waitron, as if to psychically will him to have Pedro ejected or, more satisfyingly, exterminated.
Just about the time I relaxed from our previous conversation, he appeared at my shoulder again. "Hey," he nodded.
I was thoroughly fed up now. "What?"
"I'm not fuckeeng gay."
"I don't care. Now leave me alone."
"Why? I'm not askeeng you for money or anytheeng."
"Did you hear me? I said leave me alone."
"Could you geeve me some money, though?"
I looked up sharply, and my eye found the waiter's. Oops. His mistake. Now he was stuck. His shoulders slumped, and he began the long trek over to my booth. I was not without sympathy for his plight, but my options were limited.
"Are you a Jew?" Pedro asked me calmly.
"What? No." I stared directly and angrily at the waiter to urge him forward. "Could I get a little help here?"
"Are you a fuckeeng Jew?"
"Leave me alone!" I sputtered helplessly, feeling almost as sorry for those of the Semitic persuasion as I did for myself. After all, I was only forced to deal with Pedro once in my life, but imagine the difficulties faced by his Jeweesh neighbors.
"Is there some problem here?" the waiter said, his own options limited to what he must have known was the stupidest question ever asked.
"Yes, there is. Could you tell this guy to leave me alone?"
"He's fuckeeng gay!" Pedro exclaimed suddenly, no doubt hoping to curry favor with homophobic pizza waiters who didn't, it turned out, happen to work for this particular restaurant.
"Sir, you're bothering the customers. I'm gonna have to ask you to leave." Now, see, I've worked in customer service, so I know, as Pedro apparently did not, that "sir" can sometimes mean "asshole." But Pedro's ignorance worked to my waiter's advantage, and our self-denyingly gay Hispanic anti-Semitic acquaintance was removed without further incident.
I guess the last thing I have to say about Pedro is this: Does that behavior get him dates? Ever? Because if it does, I have to wonder what his second fuckeeng gay dates are like.
I went in on Saturday morning for my first "annual" medical check-up in as long as I can remember. Turns out my blood pressure is normal, and as far as the doctor could tell in half an hour, I'm in good health. I'm also in good spirits, considering how hard the doctor and his assistants worked to put me in a bad mood. I swear, it's like the Spanish Inquisition. The whole plan is to terrify and shame the patient until he cries. No sooner had I walked in the door than they handed me a bill. (Fortunately, insurance covered all but $15.00.) They actually had the nerve to charge me for this exercise in medieval indignity. Step right this way, Christian. May I call you Christian? Good, because I'm calling you Christian. Soon you and I will know each other very well. Now step on this scale. Hmmmmm. You say the scale at your gym measures you consistently ten pounds lighter than our scale? Uh-huh. Yeah. They all say that. So are you telling us you work out? Uh-huh. Two or three times a week, eh? Well. Heh heh heh. Good for you.
Please sit in this cold room by yourself for ten minutes. That way you'll build up a nice sweaty panic before we come at you with our anaconda blood pressure cuff. Adrenalized by fear, your heart will be racing like Dick Cheney's, and we'll frown and look portentous as we grudgingly admit your pulse is normal anyway. Annoyed by your refusal to break in one fell swoop, we'll bring out the big guns. Take your shirt off, please. Try to relax while we poke and prod your tummy and love handles. Yes, of course we use expressions like "tummy" and "love handles." We're professionals! No, of course we won't be telling you why we need to fondle your flab. For all we care, you can assume we're digging for loose change in the overstuffed couch that is your midsection. Are you stubbornly holding to your heretical notion that pizza is food?
We notice you've somehow managed to regain your composure. Perhaps you've been to auditions in L.A., which means you've been through body shame torture before. We'll just see about that! We have ways of making you blanch! Please lower your pants, Christian. No, the underwear, too. Heh. Cold in here, isn't it? Yes, we planned it that way. We've thought of everything. We want you hung like a hamster when we grope your package, all while making conversation as if we were standing together waiting for a bus. Are you married or single, Christian? Heh. You'd have to be, wouldn't you? What did I mean? Nothing, really. Heh heh heh. Nothing at all, Christian. Turn your head and cough, please. Why cough? Because we're checking for hernia. No, of course hernia patients don't cough differently from anyone else. What a ridiculous question. Our hands? Oh, we've been juggling frozen pork chops. Confess!
What? You still retain some semblance of dignity? Not on our watch. So why do you resist, Christian? You know it's pointless. You know we can kick this up a notch at any time. Oh, you refuse to cower, do you? Think you can handle this like a grown-up? Fine. You've forced our hand...literally! You have no one to blame but yourself. Christian, please turn and put both hands on the bed. Now—heh heh heh—please try to relax. Bwahaha. God, that kills us. "Relax." We know, we could’ve been a concert pianist! No, we don't have an extra couple of knuckles. Yes, that was our finger. Trust us!
I’m officially retired from Warner Bros. Yesterday Celine Dion got her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and I'd never seen one of these ceremonies before, so I walked down the Boulevard to catch this one. I learned two unexpected things. First, Walk of Fame star ceremonies are boring. Second, Celine Dion has a great ass. "Celiiiiiine! Celiiiiiine!" the crowd screamed, and Celine answered, "Thank you so very much." Not "thank you." Not "thanks." "Thank you so very much." Uh-huh.
Last fall I watched an actress, not long ago the hottest thing in town, "work" a Hollywood party. Like most American males, I lusted after this woman in the early ´90s. Now her skin is so tight she resembles a walking skeleton. Her drive to stay on top has made her crazy, if indeed she wasn't crazy before. In order to stay where she was, she would have to stay 30 forever, and she can't. No one can. No one should have to. There are many other virtues and attractions besides youth. But there she was, flirting like a drunken sorority girl, nosing her face into every conversation between famous people, angling to be seen and photographed by a riot of paparazzi she almost certainly detests. That's movie stardom, my friends. That's the life for which I once hoped. I don't want it anymore. It's a joke. It's pathetic, and it costs too much to pursue.
My other ridiculous goals are to become a published novelist and direct a feature film. Both are achievable in Oklahoma as easily as here.
I still want to be cool. I won't lie. It's a powerful dream. I want to be the object of lust. I want to be chauffeured to parties. I want to be interviewed by Charlie Rose and Entertainment Weekly and Playboy. I want to be treated like a bigshot at Spago. And I'd love to see my name ten feet high at a premiere in the Chinese. But the cost is so high, and in the meantime my friends are achieving smaller goals that make them happier than I am. They're getting married and raising children and buying couches and all the mundane pursuits of life that seem routine but require decades of work. They may not know it, and they sure can't see why, but I'm as jealous of them as they are of me.
I'm cooler in Oklahoma. Working at Warner earned shrugs in L.A.; who doesn't work for Warner or Disney? People in studio jobs and lives tend to forget other jobs or people exist at all. But in Oklahoma, casual mention of my Hollywood life creates considerable mojo. It's a good feeling. Of course, it'll be dampened for years by having to explain why I left it. I wonder if they'll ever understand. They dream about the searchlights of Hollywood, but only because they've never heard the sirens. Last night an LAPD helicopter over my building kept me awake for the fourth time this week. A week ago I was forced to navigate through a police chase on my way home from Mom's. Three panhandlers accost me on the way to the mailbox. For every Hollywood success story, there are hundreds of untold sagas of despair. How cool is that?
So this is it, the last entry I'll write in the city of Hollywood, California--which isn't a city at all. Turns out Hollywood is just the name of a neighborhood in the City of Los Angeles. As you might expect, Hollywood itself is a fraud.
The last book I read in L.A. was Homer's Odyssey. Gentle Reader, I'm a sucker for the symbolism.