I spent the afternoon with an interesting woman who used to be a model for the Elite agency. She bought me a drink, I fixed her computer, and we traded life stories. Hers is a doozy. After a few years of modeling, she discovered hard narcotics, and soon she was homeless. “I’ve been on billboards,” she admitted, “and slept under them.”
I attended a screening of Touch of Evil at the American Cinematheque. Sure enough, Charlton "Damn Dirty Apes" Heston himself shuffled into the theater (he's 76, so I'll cut him some slack on the shuffling) along with costar Janet "I Didn't Shower for Years" Leigh—two sure-as-shootin', no-doubt-about-it Hollywood legends. So of course my roommate and I had to sit in the audience daring each other to ask Heston if he'd record our new answering machine message. "I'll give you five bucks," Jason said, "if you ask him what's in Soylent Green."
"Screw that," I replied. "I'll give you ten if you'll ask him if he's ever shot a man just for snorin' too loud."
Heston himself is a walking contradiction, as famous for heading up the NRA as he is for parting the Red Sea or invoking the Deity against those who would bury the Statue of Liberty. Yet he's also a large part of the reason African-Americans were allowed into IATSE (a film and theatre technicians' union), as he arranged a meeting between union leaders and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Bet you didn't know that one, did you? He's backed away from the gun issue in recent years, and God bless him, even toting a thirty-ought he's still Charlton freakin' Heston. The Q&A was very entertaining. I particularly enjoyed this exchange between a guy in the crowd and Ms. Leigh:
My question is for Janet. In Touch of Evil, did those boys scare you when you were in that hotel room?
The crowd made general noises of bafflement, but Leigh was unfazed.
Oh, yes, I was terrified!
MAN IN CROWD
That was me!
Sure enough, Man in Crowd made a series of spastic faces that revealed he was one of the drugged-up punks from Touch of Evil--several decades down the line.
Or this one:
Are there any other questions from the audience?
Ooh, I have a question for Chuck! Chuck, how in the world did you part the Red Sea like that?
Well, I had this stick...
I have a recurring problem with nightmares, but the nightmares themselves are often different and creative. Last night I dreamed I was looking in the mirror and trimming my mustache. I'd cut away great gobs of hair, but every time I turned to look again, it seemed my facial hair was thicker than before. Soon I couldn't even see my mouth, so I proceeded in a hack-and-slash panic. I finally managed to trim the thick handlebar, but my mouth looked strange, and it turns out I'd loosened a large section of my upper lip. I peeled that to the side--it didn't hurt--only to find I'd also cut loose a two-inch long strip of teeth and gums. The strip peeled off in my hand like a Band-Aid. Still no pain, nor even any blood, but the ease with which this occurred convinced me I had major dental problems that would cost me my entire lower jaw. I woke up gasping for air and had to loosen every muscle in my body individually, and both my fists were clenched tighter than frozen meat.
Later that night I went swimming with friends; I think one was my sister. Anyway, the dream began peacefully enough, but then whammo--suddenly I found myself swimming upstream against a flood of dead bodies, their green bloated faces and maggot-ridden hair framing empty eye sockets, their foul skin bursting into pestilential squid ink as they brushed against me. Preying on the corpses were spaghetti-like tangles of venomous snakes. I couldn't climb out, and I refused to be swept away with all the bodies and serpents and other species of filth. I woke up breathless again and clawing the bed. What the hell? At times like these, it occurs to me writing and acting may not be sufficient therapy.
[P.S.: Can you tell I found Hollywood depressing?]
I came down with some gastrointestinal bug that is best left undescribed. Walking home from dinner last night turned into a race with the devil. As I sped down Hollywood Boulevard, a bruiser in a $400 leather jacket tried to block my way. I kept walking. "Dude, check it out," he insisted, sprinting backward to keep pace, "Can you spare two bucks so I can get two pieces of chicken and a biscuit?" Impressed by the specificity of his panhandling, I still had to shake my head no. "You're a fag!" he cried. I kept walking but replied that in fact I was not. "No, actually, you are," he said thoughtfully. "You're gay."
It's 4:30 in the morning. I woke up half an hour ago to the cries of a man screaming in anguish.
"HELP! HEEELP! OH, GOD! AHHH! STOP, PLEASE, STOP! PLEASE! HEEELP!"
At first, with my eyes still closed, I thought I must be having a nightmare. Then it gradually dawned on me that a man was being tortured to death outside my window.
Strange as it may seem to many of you, this is not beyond the realm of possibility in my neighborhood. I live about forty feet from the north wall of the Hollywood Motel 6, and God only knows what goes on in that place. I know some of it, courtesy of my view and voyeuristic tendencies, but the truly depraved stuff takes place behind closed window shades. I'd be stunned if there weren't a crime committed either there or in my building at any given moment, around the clock, 24/7. Perhaps this guy found himself on the losing end of an illegal transaction.
I went to the window only gradually and reluctantly. The man was still calling for help, but I didn't want to get shot. Fortunately, the cops have already arrived. They're still here, and the guy’s pacing up and down the sidewalk screaming for help and insisting he's going to "call the police." One cop just took out a rifle. The screamer's on a drug trip; my guess would be the very worst kind. I've seen a bad trip before, in San Francisco in 1981, and it scared me off hard drugs for the rest of my life.
I don't know what the moral of this story is, other than maybe, "There but for the grace of God go we," or, "Life is precious, so use yours accordingly." Nah, that's banal. There is no lesson. Don Henley put it this way: "Somebody's goin' to emergency, somebody's goin' to jail. You find somebody to love in this world, you better hang on tooth and nail--The wolf is always at your door." ["New York Minute," from The End of the Innocence]
Last night, after I finally fell asleep around 3:45, I had something even worse than a nightmare: I had a happy dream.
I dreamed I got a package from a literary agent. In it, she described reading my screenplay. Strangely, this wasn't the screenplay I sent her in real life. This screenplay was about an older man vacationing with his family in Florida; apparently they got involved in some sort of Carl-Hiassen-type shenanigans. "I finished reading your script," she wrote, "and I cried and cried. You are a wonderful writer. Please call me at your earliest convenience..." And it went on like that. She included photos and artwork she'd been reminded of while reading, including several pics of her choice for my lead, Gene Hackman. I could live with that. My heart leaped as I read her enthusiastic response, and I moved toward the phone to call back. My friends will cheer for me, I thought. I can't remember the last time I felt so proud.
And then I woke up. I put my head down, sighed deeply, and shook away false memories of success.
My first kiss, way back before the invention of cynicism, was with Karen, the little red-haired girl with a bowl cut who lived down the block. I thought she was the fiercest five-year-old riot grrrl in the history of human civilization. Hers was a keen intellect, enabling her to both write her name in cursive and keep accurate rhythm in double dutch, and her freckles seemed distributed by the goddess of beauty and grace. Ah, but that wasn't all she had to offer. No, Gentle Reader, that was before I learned to settle. I was young and naïve and temporarily self-assured, and I aspired to pursue the affections of the only girl we knew whose father worked in the television industry: Karen's father designed and built the huts on Gilligan's Island.
As I recall the historic evening, Karen and I climbed a water tower near my house. It was just before twilight, what cinematographers call "the magic hour" for its evocative luminous beauty, but our climb was not without its urban peril. We could fall from the tower, or even worse, get nabbed and drug home by suburban Wilmington, California police. Thus energized by a frisson of danger, it's no wonder our adventure led to feelings of sudden romance and a prepubescent hormonal flush.
The sun went down like a digital matte off the bow of a mock-up Titanic, and as Karen leaned into my shoulder, I knew the moment was right. I leaned forward, gave a wink, and (as my b.s. revisionist memory has it) placed my young lips gently against hers. She melted in my arms like a post-coital Scarlett O'Hara. We ascended as children; I descended a five-year-old man.
And of course the next day she dumped my loser ass hard for the tetherball champion. I remember her parting words, spat like bullets: "Christian, I hate your guts!" Gentle Reader, I'd be hard pressed to think of anything my ex-wife told me in seven years of codependent hell that more thoroughly crushed my self-esteem. Somewhere, deep inside my unconscious glorified chimpanzee brain, I know I'm still that chubby kindergartener with pieces of his heart scattered all around the room.
As a postscript, Karen read this very blog entry and responded via email. She insists her hair was brown and she never had freckles. She even provided JPEGs to substantiate her claims; but otherwise, the romantic meat of our tale remains, to this date, undisputed.
Today I took a short, uneventful ride to work here at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank. I'm temping as a secretary in the quietest office in the executive building on the lot, as I'll be doing through Wednesday of next week. The boss is a calm, quiet, easygoing fellow, just as you or I would be if we earned his enormous paycheck. Speaking of enormous paychecks, one of my few duties this morning was to courier a check in the amount of $2.4 million to an office involved with the production of Pokemon: The Movie.
It's a beautiful day here in Burbank, with nary a cloud in the sky. Life is good. Today, life is good.
[That entry was written the evening of 7 September 2001.]