Twenty years ago, I packed a large green duffle bag, boarded a plane and flew from New York to Los Angeles.
On the flight, sitting beside me: Julie Garfield, daughter of actor John Garfield. She was an acting teacher and gave me her card.
I rode a van from LAX that travelled circuitously through the old city. It climbed up hills and down into the worn and painted-peeled stores along east Sunset, eventually making its way into the San Fernando Valley.
I moved in with a college friend- a tall, lumbering 31-year-old woman in pageboy hair, in therapy, in torn blue jeans and white oxford shirts. She rented a two-bedroom house on Teesdale Avenue in Studio City for $1,200 a month. And worked as a freelance TV producer (Woodstock ‘94; Saturday Night Live).
When I arrived, she was sitting on the back sunroom porch, smoking and talking on the phone. A high school era VW Bug convertible was parked in the driveway.
“You know what I mean…” was her introduction to endless monologues about her recent breakup with a comedian. She slept, until 10am every morning, on a white puffy bed under a chandelier, kept many cans of diet soda in the refrigerator and never emptied her ashtrays.
I paid her $100 a week and told her I would stay until I found a job and could move out.
I looked in the back of the Hollywood Reporter and mailed out resumes. And followed up with phone calls, eventually getting hired as PA for a small production company on Laurel Canyon.
It was summer in the San Fernando Valley: headaches, afternoon naps, walking down deserted Moorpark to a sweltering ice cream parlor with plastic sheeted windows. And working out at Bally’s basement gym in Studio City, a strange, creepy place where old guys masturbated in the showers all around me.
I had run away from New York, from my parents in NJ, setting up a life in a city I really didn’t like.
At the end of the summer my roommate was due to return.
On September 10th I cleaned the house and waited for her arrival. But she didn’t show up. She later called and said she had changed her mind and would come back September 19th. Then September 19th came and went and she wasn’t home. She never phoned.
On September 30th, her father called from Woodland Hills and said his daughter would be coming back on October 2nd. He asked me to leave her key under the back door mat. She arrived on October 5th. Without apology or concern. It was her house. Right?
It was my first introduction to the intrinsic selfishness of Los Angeles: the glib invitation, the plan forgotten, the lunch date blown off, the return flight missed, the good parent stepping in to save the bad adult child.
I learned that for some of the people who live here, only they matter.
She really didn’t care. Who was I? Somebody who lived in her house, cleaned and cared for it, planted flowers, washed floors and changed light bulbs.
We later fought because I told her that I had an overnight guest in her house sometime over the last four months. She screamed that my $400 a month did not give me the right to have friends over. She threw me out. We never spoke again.
That summer I went online for the first time and learned that there was something called the Internet with a dancing wizard whose wand conjured up websites.
That summer I drove around Burbank and Hollywood dropping off tapes to post-production facilities and learned what motion control and Barham Boulevard were.
That summer I ate alone at a Thai restaurant on Ventura Boulevard and met my future partner.
That summer I watched KTLA as a white Ford Bronco went down the 405 while helicopters, reporters and cameras tracked it for miles.
That summer I learned that there would no longer be front store entrances to enter, that I would go from parking lot to parking lot, that my walking would be on the treadmill and that restaurants stopped serving food at 9pm.
That summer I learned that summer would go on past September, into October and November, and start again in February.
That summer I came to a place where people without jobs own houses and cars, bad restaurants are beloved, and a friend’s success is the saddest thing on earth.
There would be no more clouds or rain. And the quaint old houses with front porches were inside Warner Brothers’ back lot.
Part of me died twenty years ago, the part that saw my life as a crew-necked male ingénue wandering the historic streets of Manhattan; invigorated by life, by potential, by the thrill of urban exploration.
Part of me died inside, even when the outer part found love, bought a house, wrote stories, took photographs, and woke up in a house surrounded by fragrant flowers and glistening grass cut and manicured weekly.
When the first hot days bake the asphalt and the blowing desert winds set in, I am carried back to the summer of 1994, my first summer of exile, when I blew here like pollen to the western edge of southwestern America.
These thoughts. Did I carry them always?
Or were they brought out of me, the day I came to live in Los Angeles?