There’s a weird billboard near my apartment that used to read, "CHUPACABRAS. ES TaIEMPO MILLER,” which means, “IT'S MILLER TIME, GOATSUCKERS.” Now it reads, "TÓMATE UNA ES EL MOMENTO MILLER," which, near as I can tell, means, "ONE TOMATO IS A MILLER MOMENT." I have no idea what that means. There are a few hot Latinas in the background, so maybe "tomato" means in Spanglish what it used to mean in English, or perhaps Latinas are heavy into produce.
My New Year's Eve was a dud. I spent most of it in Hollywood, at an ´80s club on Hollywood Boulevard. It’s a peculiarity of this club that its usual clientele was in grade school when its musical preference ruled the charts. I hoped that wouldn’t stay the same on New Year's Eve, especially when I found out "The World" (that's the club) would charge me thirty bucks to walk into the same club that usually charges me ten. Free drinks? No. Unaccompanied women my age? None that I could see. There were, however, free balloons hung from the ceiling. By 11:45 I worked up the courage to boogie out onto the dance floor. (I use the word "boogie" as an antonym for the word "dance.") The balloons dropped at midnight, and I found myself muttering, "I'm glad that year's over" just as a pretty young blonde suddenly lunged at me out of the cheering throng. She kissed me on the mouth, missing only slightly as my dull reflexes yanked me to the side, and I was so grateful I found myself hugging her.
This was the year I became the old guy in the bar.
Yesterday was New Employee Orientation at GloboToad. We spent half the day learning our extensive list of benefits, the other half touring the studio. About a dozen of us piled into a long studio "golf cart" and tooled around the front and back lots for two hours. We toured the Friends, ER, Gilmore Girls, and West Wing sets, then various shops. Our whole costume shop at my undergrad alma mater would’ve fit into a small corner of the massive wardrobe "closet" at Warner Bros. There must’ve been hundreds of fedoras alone, tens of thousands of pairs of shoes, and God knows how many ties. We were told donations of neckties increase dramatically after Father's Day.
Last night I attended my first Hollywood premiere. From the outside, premieres look like glamorous affairs: limos, black ties, obscure starlets in tight dresses. On the inside, I have to tell you, it's rather different. So many industry bigwigs are invited, then give the tickets to their kids or friends or mistresses, that the audience seems little different from any other evening show. Only the studio suits even bother to wear a tie. The lone celebrity I spotted was an actor from CSI. And forget about trailers and concession advertisements. The curtain opens, the lights go down, and boom, the movie starts. No fuss, no muss; we were out by 9:30.
Tonight I attended a birthday party at Ben Affleck’s new home, which used to be Steven Spielberg's home. (The front door, in fact, was used as a backdrop in Spielberg's production The Goonies.) We rang the security buzzer. Matt Damon let us in. "Okay," my friend muttered under his breath, "that was surreal."
It felt no less surreal as Damon showed us around the house, then crashed on the couch to watch some basketball and smoke cartons of cigarettes. We decorated quickly, and the party got underway around eight or eight-thirty. A good time was had by all, especially by those of us who played a card game called A$$hole with a deeply inebriated Damon. This town keeps getting smaller and smaller, but the houses I party in get bigger and bigger.
By the time the party broke up around two, my neighborhood was in full Oscar lockdown. See, I live about ten blocks away from the Kodak Theater. My "green pass" never came in the mail, so I wasn't allowed into my own building.
One afternoon in late 1977, my mom and I were sitting in a Dolby walk-in theater, very sophisticated for 1977, in the Carson Old Towne Mall (long since dismantled). As was our weekend ritual that fall and winter, we were watching Star Wars prior to dinner at Denny's--I dug their tear-out mask menus. The giant Star Destroyer rumbled overhead. I leaned over and said, "That's what I want to be when I grow up." This was a dangerous topic for Jehovah's Witness children, as they are not permitted to be most things when they grow up. Nervously, my mom asked me if I wanted to be an astronaut, which would require military service--expressly forbidden to all Witnesses. "No," I whispered, "I want to make movies." I was nine.
It's unclear whether a Witness would ever be allowed to make a movie, because so far as I knew then or have learned since, it has never been tried. Witnesses don't indulge such grandiose, creative ambitions. Jehovah's Witnesses become janitors, or, in certain much-debated special cases, electricians. They do not become actors or write novels or direct movies. They do not enjoy life outside the confines of Witness religion and social interaction, for those who try are pronounced "worldly"--it isn't meant as a compliment--and chastised or shunned altogether. Empirically speaking, I grew up a self-evident genius, but a frustrated genius in a wacko fundamentalist cage.
Driving to work this morning, I was regaled by the commercial voice of one Pete P., general manager of an office furniture store here in L.A. "I think there's a real excitement in home office," Pete declared. Well, you’re wrong, Pete. There is nothing whatsoever exciting about home office furnishings. There is nothing exciting about most jobs. Most people work in terribly dull environments and careers. Oh, they may like the people they work with, and the money spends the same, but what a drag it would be to have to dredge up some excitement about selling people desks. Whoop-de-doo, I just sold some guy a chair! Huzzah!
I worked hard to get here from Crowder, Oklahoma, and I should take more time to feel prouder of what I've accomplished.
Last night I invited my friend Scott to join me at the premiere of Eight Legged Freaks, conveniently located at the world famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre eight blocks from my apartment. By the time I walked over at seven, lines of gawkers were already forming outside the barricades. Limos pulled up, and after a few minutes, people you'd probably recognize got out. There was David Arquette, resplendent in a jacket that looked like a fitted oil slick. His wife Courteney Cox arrived a few minutes later, and the assembled onlookers screamed their fool heads off. Meanwhile, security eyed me warily, no doubt wondering how a schmo like me got a coveted yellow ticket. By the time Scott arrived--he got off work at seven and had to walk from his office in the CNN Building on Sunset--celebrities both major and minor were piling up on the red carpet. Brandishing our golden tickets, we cruised right past the burly security guys and headed up that selfsame carpet. As we waited at the ornate double doors, I took a few minutes to check out the scene. The model/whatever accompanying the probably-actor in front of me was wearing one of those maillot designer dresses, and I quickly noticed the design "flaw" that revealed about 99% of the model/whatever's right breast. It wasn't an especially special right breast, aside from its exposure in my immediate vicinity, but it did make me wonder if she exposed it on purpose. There are women like that here, so desperate to be noticed by the celebrity industry that they'll do almost anything. They appear to believe their lives would be perfect if only they had an agent.
Cameras popped. Helicopters hovered. Autographs were reluctantly signed. And eventually, the double doors opened, and Scott, the right breast, the actor-probably, and I were all permitted into the theater lobby. Popcorn and sodas are free at premieres, lined up on the counter for attendees to grab as they see fit. This is strange, when you think about it: The people most likely to have thousands of dollars in their pockets are given free concessions; while regular joes, who aren't rich and famous for a living, have to pay out the wazoo for popcorn. Popcorn, by the way, is a substance that costs about seventeen cents a field to produce.
The theater filled rapidly. Scott spotted Arquette's formerly famous sister Rosanna, she of the Toto shout-out. I saw my capo di tutti capi, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, along with his sidekicks Alan Horn and Barry Meyer. Strangely, I did not see Scarlett Johansson or Kari Wuhrer, the female stars of the movie, but I'm sure they were in the heaving throng somewhere, right breasts no doubt dutifully exposed. By the way, did you know David Arquette was once the WCW Heavyweight Champion? It's true!
Eventually the lights flashed off and on about seventeen times, persuading none of the assembled celebrities to find their seats. Producer Dean Devlin ran to the back of the theater to pace nervously. The lights went down, and the movie began. There are no trailers or commercials of any kind at premieres, because rich and famous people can't be bothered with advertisements.
When the movie ended, Scott and I walked back onto the red carpet, trying not to grin our fool heads off as we faced the throng of onlookers. One guy took my picture. The rest stared at us openly, trying, no doubt, to decide whether we were famous enough to holler at. It occurred to me that the day may yet come when Scott and/or I are famous enough to holler at, which fills me with a mixture of foreboding and glee. I don't want to be famous, but I want to be powerful, in that "greenlit because I said so" Hollywood way, and I guess being famous might go along with that. People enter contests in an attempt to win what I did last night. It was enjoyable. It was glamorous. It was exceedingly cool. I felt like a man on the verge of unbelievable success. And five minutes later, as I rounded the corner to my apartment, a shifty guy sidled up and offered me crack.
I've been in L.A. too long. I came to that conclusion this morning when I ordered breakfast completely in Spanish. I don't speak Spanish.
Today was payday, so it’s also pay-the-bills day. The mailbox on the corner across the street is right outside a convenience store owned and operated by a family of friendly Pakistanis. I decided to go in and buy half a pint of frozen yogurt. But as I approached the mailbox, an unusual sight--even for Los Angeles--awaited. A man lay flat on the ground. His right leg was bent oddly. There was no blood, but he wasn't moving. I gathered immediately that this was not some derelict. His clothes were new. He looked like a sixty-year-old jogger. Two green-clad Hollywood security officers stood over him nervously.
After five or six seconds, in which time the fallen jogger had not moved, one of the security guys noticed me standing there. "How's it goin'?" he asked, at an obvious loss. Okay, I nodded. The jogger still wasn't moving. One officer knelt to fan him awkwardly. They've got it under control, I thought, in contradiction to observable fact. It's their job to know how to handle stuff like this. The crosswalk signal became a green man, so I stepped out into the street.
"Do you know any CPR?" the fanning officer said behind me.
"Huh-uh," the other security guy admitted. And I kept on walking.
Or did once, anyway. I learned CPR in the seventh grade. And I remember thinking, God, I hope I never have to use this. I believed in God then, so I guess you could say I even prayed not to be put into that position. But here I was now, and my feet kept on moving, one after the other, as I walked away from a dead man who maybe needed me to kneel down and give him his life back. I am not overdramatizing. This is what happened. I walked into the store, and I looked into the freezer for a half-pint of vanilla frozen yogurt.
My brain said, You need to go out there. My back straightened. This is Hollywood, another voice said. You don't know what he might have floating around in his system. You need to not have his blood on your body, or his saliva or his vomit in your mouth. You want--see, you know what you want. You want to go home, put your vanilla frozen yogurt in the freezer, take the rice bowl out of the microwave that you put there before you walked downstairs, eat your dinner and listen to Haydn and call a beautiful woman and talk for hours and not think about this, not owe this man a thing, not have to deal with all that fate. And so I slumped back over the freezer in the convenience store and chose a half-pint of frozen yogurt. It was Haagen-Däzs. It had a green label. It was cold. And a dying or dead man lay outside, needing me, needing my help. I took the vanilla frozen yogurt to the counter and paid the bill. $3.79. That seemed high. I took my change and put the change in my pocket. I thought about going over to help now, but see, I held a half-pint of vanilla frozen yogurt, and it'd melt, and I just spent $3.79 on it. These are the things I told myself, in a louder voice than the thin, insistent, punier, better voice that told me there were more important things in this world than $3.79 and some vanilla frozen yogurt.
Finally the sirens tore a path down Hollywood Boulevard. An ambulance and a fire truck screeched to a halt on my corner. And I took my little bag of vanilla frozen yogurt, and I mailed my three bills, and I walked across the street around the fire truck and back upstairs to my apartment.
It takes only four minutes for anoxia to kill a man. And now a tiny, offended moth is fluttering against the walls of my chest, a fruitless gesture in the darkness therein.
I must've met them over the Internet, the amusingly goofy technicians and scientists who ran the lab down the street. Most of them were still college students, but they gave up their nights here, in this cobbled-together lab space, to share ideas about quantum mechanics and non-Euclidean mathematics and biochemistry and other subjects in my range of interests but way over my head. I found them dorky but entertaining, and we shared a mutual love of hard science fiction--Larry Niven, Robert J. Sawyer, David Brin. One of them, I think the Hispanic woman, called me early this morning and asked me to pay them a visit. So I threw on some clothes, trudged out the door (still wiping sleep from my eyes) and climbed the two flights of steps up to their private sanctum.
The place was buzzing with excitement. One of them had found something embedded in human DNA. It was a strand of chemical code that shouldn't be there, a chemical phrase that couldn’t have arisen from blind chance. I didn't understand most of what he said, but I was skeptical nonetheless. It seemed too romantic a concept to be true, and I told him he'd read Carl Sagan's Contact too many times. "Show him," another technician said. Show me what?
"We're decoding the strand now," said the biochemist. "As it decodes, we're running it through a simulator suggested by the first module of the strand." Uh, right. "Here," he said. "Log in using the temp account, and I'll show you the whole thing." He gave me the temp username and password, and I leaned over the keyboard. Then a flicker of light caught my eye, and I looked at the monitors. A series of sine wave designs played out on three interfaced screens. "What did you do?" the chemist asked, infuriated. Nothing, I said. "Bulls#!+!" No, I insisted, I haven't even logged in yet. "Holy Christ," he breathed, and called the others over, just as all three monitors simultaneously tuned to a video feed from CNN.com.
The world was ending. In the jumble of images and the noise from my nerd friends, I couldn't tell if the conflict began in Iraq or India or where, but a deadly virus had been loosed on the world. Countries were nuking themselves in a futile attempt to stop the flow of the pathogen, a man-made disease that turned human bodies inside out, made them barf up their guts, choke on their own blood, gag on liquefying innards. The world was ending, and there was nothing we could do to stop it.
Something in the back of my mind said this wasn't real, that I was seeing a simulation, perhaps a prediction of world events rather than a live news report. It didn't matter. The images looked real; they felt real. This was something we could do to ourselves at any time. The color drained from my face--and at that exact moment, I heard a pop in the room behind me. I caught the reflection of the event on a monitor out of the corner of my eye. I didn't see it clearly, but I saw enough to make me turn around slowly. Oh my God, I said, and for once it felt more like a prayer than a curse. A red sphere about three metres across was unfolding in the center of the lab. It hadn't been there before. It shouldn't be here now. It shouldn't exist at all.
It bloomed into two shallow hemispheres and a connecting pod of unfamiliar equipment. I couldn't tell what was unfolding it, or how, but a few seconds later, the red sphere became a machine. None of my scientist friends seemed overly surprised by this event. "It's happening," one of them said simply, and the words seemed to wake them from their brief silence.
I was scared out of my mind. I waded through the next few minutes as if through a heavy tide. A dozen scientists moved quickly, purposely, as if they'd drilled for this. One of them dumped a tank of distilled water into a hemisphere of the machine; now it looked like an over-designed hot tub. Another threw in various chemical solutions, beakers and all. I couldn't make any sense of what they were doing until I realized they were caching ideas: Here's what we know about biodegradable plastics. Here's the polio vaccine. Here's a shampoo we like. A balding tech called it "a requiem." Two scientists arranged us into a loose ellipse around the machine, while another set up a ring of foggers. He flipped a switch, and immediately the foggers began spewing a thick green mist. I tensed to run, but the Latina, a mathematician, touched my arm. "It's okay," she said, "It's okay. Here, hold out your hand." I did, and she filled it with green goo from a squeeze bottle. In my fear and confusion, it took me several seconds to comprehend the goo was simple disinfecting hand soap, and then I understand in a flash what was about to happen. I rubbed the disinfectant all over my hands, arms, and face, not to protect myself from the toxins and vira of the upcoming war, but from the unfamiliar atmosphere of another planet. This machine was about to fold back into space, and when it did, we would be inside. The gas was a zone of breathable (though not at all fragrant) air. These scientists had made contact with another civilization, a species centuries ahead of our own, and the aliens sent us an escape hatch.
The Latina smiled at me. "You have to take it with you," she told me, "the Earth." And she held my hands and as the air started shivering and the world around me faded into the night of hyperspace and hypertime, she sang a love song in Spanish. I'd never heard the song before, but I knew enough grade-school Español to know she was telling me (and others) about the beauty of Mexico, "Mexico lindo." An awesome sound filled my ears, the sound of worlds upon worlds, and the roar of an infinity of inter-nested quantum universes shunted aside.
I woke up clutching my bed, hanging on for dear life as the sound faded to nothing in my ears. Immediately I crossed the room to my computer and began typing the dream into this journal. What you read is exactly what I lived in my head this restless night.
A few minutes ago, when my clock radio came on, every hair on my body stood on end. Our world was rousing itself from sleep and beginning another day. Another day.