Speaking of Ruins: The Hollywood Advisor

“The remains of burnt down homes and vechicles resulting from the Woolsey Fire are seen on Busch Drive in Malibu, California on November 13, 2018. – At least 44 deaths have been reported so far from the late-season wildfires and with hundreds of people unaccounted for the toll is likely to rise, as thousands of weary firefighters waged a pitched battle against the deadliest infernos in California’s history. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)”

“The fire was roaring down the canyon. We had already stocked the car with our papers, our family photos.  Carla was so good, so organized, getting the kids into the car. And it was 3:30AM and we were ready to get the hell out in our 2018 Range Rover. The smoke was thick, of course. Then over the hill we saw flames.  Carlos, Esmerelda and Arturo ran up to the car.  Carla begged them to leave, mandatory evacuation, but they said they were staying. They would take garden hoses and buckets and fight the fire. So they did. They saved our house. The garage, where they lived, burned, but the main house, thank God, is still standing.”

Jason, The Hollywood Advisor, was sitting on a deck overlooking the ocean, talking to me, weeks after the deadly and horrific fire that consumed Malibu. We were alone, drinking wine. He wore strange little sunglasses shaped like Forever Stamps, rectangular and beady; he wore them even after the sun dropped below the horizon. I guessed to hide his tired, sad eyes.

Carla and the kids, Samantha, 13 and Igor, 11 were in Montserrat waiting out the reconstruction, and Jason was staying in Malibu, at a $6,000 a week AIRBNB, to attend to the repair of his semi-destroyed rustic cabin, worth millions.

The fire was only the latest setback in his life. 

He had spoken of lost projects, stolen ideas, friends who betrayed him, opportunities that evaporated quickly like afternoon rains in the summer desert.

“I had the original script that belonged to Steve McQueen in The Towering Inferno. I bought it at auction when I was 18 years old in 1989. It was $400. And it burned too. God I loved that. It was Steve McQueen’s!” he said.

That incinerated script was merely a metaphor for other charred, ruined and once-adored life attachments.

The latest outrage was a friend of 20 years, Dean Meagrer[1], a big deal in the film world, a director and producer who had partnered with Jason, but then went behind Jason’s back to sell the film project to another company, and then denied he had done so.

“People suck. Carla had nursed him through his relationships. She even sat up all night with Claire Foy talking her out of breaking up with him, and so basically Carla saved their relationship. And of course, Claire will star in their film, so everything was saved, jobs and love and money. And now he just lies to me and betrays me. So fucking unbelievable,” Jason said.

He talked, seemingly with insight, about the world of fakery and insincerity that he once thought he belonged in, lorded over. He never took the circle of lost friends as a sign that perhaps none of these people had ever truly been true friends, but merely transactional relationships that were formed to bring goods and services to Jason and Carla and their kids.

“Best Friends” was how Carla once described Lois and Johann who owned White Now, an ultra expensive tooth whitening process which the owners provided free to Jason, Carla and the kids, a $4,000 value. Every few months, the family got free whitened teeth, brighter and whiter than Dunn-Edwards Precious Pearls, a very white paint.

Arnaldo and Noma, two Beverly Hills landscape architects, became the new best friends for a while, and designed, gratis, a sloping scheme of native plants, water-saving trees, artfully placed rocks and an herb garden. Noma was a set designer in her previous life, and Arnaldo was a Urauguayan film director, so that landscaping couple assumed a free outdoor makeover would lead to other entertainment opportunities, but that, of course, fell out. 

And undocumented Guatemalans Carlos, Esmerelda and Arturo moved in, free, into the back garage, near the creek, and were allowed to stay, in return for light household chores like brush clearance, carpentry, painting, and cooking. That family lived like old plantation workers, grateful for a roof over their heads and enough food to eat, and they earned it by unofficially joining firefighters and risking their lives to fight the massive wildfire last month.

Always Carla spoke of her conquests, her connections, her exploits, as a mother might speak of her children, with care and concern. There was a callousness to the bartering  where Jason and Carla used their positions to promise results which never materialized. “We helped a refugee family and our home was a sanctuary.”  A scrim of kindness masked the manipulations.

But Jason was unaware.

His self-pity was the major event that preoccupied him last week. He imagined that he had gained sad wisdom into the human condition, seeing in his own lost dreams a truly gripping tale of impoverishment, wandering and dazed, a defeated winner walking along Pacific Coast Highway in a smoked, soaked James PerseT-Shirt.

I had not the courage to call him out, to point out his lies, his denials, his false sense of friendship and how temporal and shaky all of his foundations were. At the heart of his life, he had constructed a tale, a story, a narrative of sacrifice, truth, unselfishness and caring. 

His adjectives were indeed something to treasure.

[1]Invented name, privacy protected by anagram.

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