Hollywood Syd Ross | Leisure

1 1 The train pulled into Union Station at about seven.

I had been riding all day long staring out the window at farms and orchards. After getting my bags I walked out into the old art deco station. It was cavernous. It had chauffeured passengers like Clark Gable and Ava Gardner out to the coast from New York seventy years ago. I walked out to the front of the station where the taxis wait. The night was incredibly warm and almost humid, one of those nights that make it hard to sleep. In the middle of the city, my home now, an electric current pulsed through me in even the quietest moments. Neon signs glowed in the distance from Mexican restaurants. Marinated beef scented the air and mingled with the trash and urine of downtown Los Angeles. The cab driver was foreign and had some long name. His English was short and thickly accented. “Where do you go?” “Hollywood, at the corner of Hollywood and Western. I have an address -” “You tell me when we get there. I know the area. I have family.” “Oh, okay.” I looked out the window at the streets as we passed through Mexican neighborhoods, then Korean, then Thai, past a few fancy white neighborhoods. Most of the signs were in other languages and most neighborhoods had a smell of cooking beef. I could tell the beef was prepared differently according to the neighborhood. That’s probably a weird thing to notice but in LA you can’t miss it. “How old you are?” “Eighteen.” “Young.”

2 “What?” “You are young!” “Yeah.” “What you come here for?” “I’m going to be an actor.” He laughed. “You have day job?” “I have to look for one.” He finally got to my neighborhood and found the little street where my apartment was. The landlord had given me the key when I came down with my dad a month ago to find the apartment. We pulled up and I gave him a generous tip. As I got out of the car he muttered something under his breath. “Be careful - is a crazy city.” And he flashed a strange devious smile that made me feel like I was traveling in Kazakhstan or Mexico City. How crazy could it be? I thought. This was the same country, the same state I was born and raised in. It was less than five hundred miles from the poor mountain community where I grew up, riding my bike to my friends’ houses. I went in to the little courtyard complex and found the small studio apartment in the back. My key worked and I walked in to my empty home. I unrolled the sleeping pad my mom had given me before I left. She had also packed me a lunch which I ate on the train. Her face as I left was etched in my memory - full of worry and motherly love. I looked out the window. I could see some of the sprawl of Los Angeles laid out before me. Only a fraction was visible from my view. I was terrified. What was I thinking? How was I

3 supposed to survive in this city, paying my own rent? I had insisted that I could move out of home and find a job on the condition that I pay all my own bills. That was the only way my parents had let me go. They couldn’t afford college and definitely couldn’t afford to help me with my rent. So I was on my own. And I couldn’t go back. There was nothing in my hometown, not even a post office. Just about a thousand people on a mountain in Northern California. So here I was, sitting and looking out on this overwhelming place. How was I going to get my phone installed? Buy a bed? Wash my clothes? I laid down on my makeshift bed and let the panic pass. I eventually fell asleep to the sound of sirens and helicopters passing overhead.

2 It took me a few days to get my electricity hooked up. The phone and internet took a few more days. During this time I lived on tacos from a taco truck that was parked on Western Avenue a few blocks down from the corner of Hollywood and Western. The tacos were a dollar a piece and delicious, full of beefy juiciness and topped with onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and hot sauce. I sat on egg crates next to drunken bar patrons and ate my tacos, then wandered back home. When my internet finally got hooked up I sat with my laptop and looked on Craigslist for jobs. The sun sweltered in my hot dirty neighborhood as I sat inside and scrolled the listings. Every job was for immensely experienced college graduates or telemarketers. I got more and more depressed as I realized I didn’t have any job experience. I emailed my resume to a few retail places and a few coffee shops. One guy from a coffee shop in Santa Monica called me back. “Uh, yeah, I was looking at your resume. Do you have any food service experience at

4 all?” “There was the dishwashing, at Stanford.” “Okay.” “And I worked the cash register at the Art Fair we have in our neighborhood every year-” “Yeah, okay. Do you have a car?” “No….” “Okay…thanks. We’re looking for people who have a car.” Then I applied to work at a movie theater in West Hollywood, because I had worked at one back at home in the summers. I took the bus to the theater and it wasn’t that far, so I figured I could make it to work every day. After I dropped off the application I waited about a week and called them back. “Hi, I dropped off an application and I was wondering if I could come in for an interview?” The guy’s voice was impatient. “When can you get here?” “Uh, probably in a half an hour?” “Okay. Hurry.” He hung up. I ran out to the bus stop. It came and I got onboard. I got there much later then I said I would and walked into the empty movie theater. There was one screen and they showed artsy indie movies. A few bored Mexican kids sat behind the concession stand, making fun of each other. A tall man in black came out from a door and gestured to me to follow him. I went. “You must be Mark,” he said as I followed.

5 “Yeah.” “We can sit here.” We sat down on a bench in the lobby. He looked at me for a second. “So, you said you have theater experience?” “I worked in a movie theater.” “What did you do?” “I did concessions. You know, made the popcorn and worked the register. And a few times I worked in the box.” “You sold tickets?” “Yeah.” “What was the system you used for selling tickets?” “I don’t know, it was on a computer.” “You don’t remember the name of the computer program?” “No.” “How did you sell the tickets?” “Well, there’s a button for a child’s ticket, there’s a button for adult, and there’s a button for senior. When you hit the button the ticket comes out.” “So you’re saying a monkey could do it? A monkey could do your job?” He looked at me with contempt. “I know an animal could do what this job is asking for. But I am looking for individuals who care deeply about movies. We are a business. We are trying to sell the movie-going experience. Now what was the last movie you saw?” “Uh, Pure Luck.”

6 “Okay, I’m a customer. You’re working the box. Tell me about this movie you’re showing, Pure Luck. Should I see it?” “Well, yeah, it’s really good, it’s just a funny movie -” “Okay, WHY SHOULD I SEE IT? What is the movie about?” “Well, Martin Short is a guy with really bad luck who teams up with Danny Glover -” “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! I don’t know who Danny Glover is. Martin Short? Who are these people? I have no idea who these actors are. See, in this business, Mark, I will tell you something. You have to be specific. You are not being specific enough. Tell me why I should see this movie. Why should I come in and spend my money in your theater? See, that is the question we need to answer, and you’re not doing a good enough job. I need people who will convince someone why they need to come in and…” I got up and walked off through the lobby. It wasn’t worth it. I passed the bored teenagers throwing popcorn at each other and went out on the street. It was getting dark as the bus came. When I got back home I went online for a few minutes to see if any decent jobs were out there. I was about to give up and stop torturing myself when I saw a post in the entertainment section.

Would you like to work for an exciting well-known radio personality? I am a successful stand-up comedian and entertainer who has worked in the industry for twenty years. If you have lots of energy and care about entertainment I would love to show you the ropes. Be my assistant! I have exciting new projects in the works, including TV and even politics! Work for Hollywood Syd Ross!

I wrote down the number and put it next to my phone to call the next day. It could just be the one

7 straw worth grabbing. I was excited. I said the name to myself as I drifted off to sleep. Hollywood Syd Ross.

3 The next day I stared at Hollywood Syd Ross’ number for a long time with the phone in my hand and thought about calling. I just couldn’t work up the nerve to call after my last few lousy experiences. So I took a shower and looked out at the city for awhile. When it seemed like I had no other options I decided I would just do it. I dialed and he answered after three rings. “Hello?” The voice was gruff, old, but straining to sound young and friendly. “Hi, I was calling about the ad in Craigslist. You’re looking for an assistant?” “Oh, yeah, yeah, you saw that ad?” “Yeah, I’m looking for a job.” “Oh good, good, I have a lot of projects going on that I need help with, and - hey little girl, how are you? Get off the couch okay? Daddy needs to sit down. Sorry, that’s my cat. Leslie. She’s my girl. Yes you are, aren’t you?” He talked very quickly in a New York accent. And he sounded like a man who lived alone. “So, let me ask, what’s your name?” “Mark. I’m going to study acting.” “Wow, acting. That’s great. You have big dreams! That’s very good. That’s what I’m looking for. Someone who’s ambitious. Okay, Mark, listen, you sound pretty cool, so do you

8 want to meet up or something? I’ll take you out and we’ll do my rounds, and if it works I’ll hire you. Do you want a full time job?” “Yeah, definitely.” “Okay, I can pay you nine dollars an hour, for a forty hour week. Is that good?” “That’s great.” “If it works out.” “Uh, yeah!” “Where do you live?” “Hollywood and Western.” “ Do you have a car?” “No.” “Okay, that’s fine, I live in Hollywood too. Tell you what, can you get over to Hollywood and Vine? I think there’s a metro.” “Yeah, I can get over there.” “Great. You want to meet me there at nine in the morning tomorrow?” “Yeah, sure.” “Be on time okay? Punctuality is very important to me.” “Yeah.” “Okay, great, this will be fantastic. You already sound like the perfect assistant. I can tell this is gonna work out.” “Yeah, this should be good.” I hung up and felt a surge of unbridled optimism. This, I learned, was a peculiarly Los Angeles phenomenon. The feeling of intense confidence precipitated by a long period of doubt

9 and worry. I called my parents. They were skeptical. I didn’t care. I had a job that would pay all my bills. I would get show biz contacts, I could get exposure to the highest echelons of Hollywood. This was my big break! Or so I thought.

4 I took the subway one stop over to the Vine station, then got out and stood facing the Pantages Theater. At nine in the morning the sun was already burning hot and tourists were out. They crawled the streets of Hollywood, half-bored, looking fleetingly at stars on the walk of fame. Many were Midwesterners, many were Europeans in their twenties with backpacks, and a great many were Asian families. But as I looked around I saw that the majority were Hollywood locals - a woman with a walkman on, dancing uncontrollably by the bus-stop, an old black guy without his shirt smoking a cigarette, a young punk rock girl with a pink mohawk and a dress that barely cleared her butt. The street and the buildings were incredibly dirty as well, as if they had acquired smudges from an untold history that barely fit the city‘s sparkling image. Hollywood was very old, and looked its age. It was also half-crazed with the glare of its own past. Suddenly a man drove up in an old convertible Thunderbird. He was about fifty years old, with a mop of curly grey hair and a big grin on his face. His face was very Jewish, with a large crooked nose and intelligent, mischievous eyes. His Thunderbird wasn’t well taken care of but he didn’t really care. The fact that he owned it was enough. He wore a bright green jacket that was covered with sparkles. “Are you Mark?”

10 “Uh, yeah, are you Hollywood Syd Ross?” “That’s me! HOLLYWOOD SYD ROSS!!” he thundered and honked his horn. Street people turned their heads to look briefly. He was just another crazy man in a crazy city. The cab driver was right. Hollywood Syd Ross grabbed the small portable stereo that sat on the passenger seat and put it on the seat beside him. The song coming out of it sounded like the Byrds. I opened the door and got in, putting my backpack at my feet. He stuck out his hand and I shook it. The shake was weak because he was waving with the other hand. He looked at everyone on the street like he was on a float in the Rose Parade. “Alright, Mark, are you ready?” “Okay, let’s go.” We took off, driving south through Hollywood. He honked and waved every chance he got. Whenever we passed a café or a group of people walking on the street he honked and waved. The strangest part was that a lot of people knew who he was. They would shout “Syd!” as he raced past. “How do you feel about Bill Clinton, Mark?” “Uh, I don’t know, I was kind of young when he was president.” “I think he’s scum. You know that? He is scum. And Hillary is even worse. She’s a fucking demon, Mark. As you work for me I’ll prove it to you and then you’ll see it. Here, hold this.” He reached behind him and grabbed a sign off the floor. It was a large posterboard with two “Bush Cheney ‘04” stickers crudely stuck on. “When I honk and wave, you hold up the sign, okay?”

11 “Okay.” “Oh this’ll be great,” he said to himself. “I can finally do both at once.” So we drove through Hollywood annoying liberal yuppies. “These fuckin’ liberals,” he seethed, “They can’t stand Bush. I just want to rub it in their faces. Fuckin’ liberals.” With every honk and wave he would yell “I loooooove George Bush!” Most people looked disgustingly at him or yelled back at him. We ended up at an outdoor café on Beverly called Lulu’s. We parked and walked around with the sign. As we stood outside with him waving and talking about George Bush, all the waitresses acknowledged him. They were all blonde and young. “Hey, Syd, are you running for mayor again?” one asked. “Not for awhile, not for awhile.” He turned to me. “Mark, let’s just walk along here, I want to talk to these people.” So we paraded in front of the outside diners, Syd waving and giving his schpiel. “Good morning everyone, I’m Hollywood Syd Ross, this is my associate Mark. I’m a Jewish republican, and my motto is ‘dress British, think Yiddish!’ I’m writing a book on the Clintons!” He saw a black person and pointed. “I never saw Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powell on Clinton’s cabinet! I support Bush, Bush in ‘04!” He reached into his bag and pulled out copies of a book. “This is my first book, it’s my autobiography. Take a copy, please, it’s complementary. I’ll even sign each copy personally.” He saw waitresses - there must have been ten of them working there - and call them by the wrong name.

12 “Katie? No, Christina.” “Larry, you know me, I’m, Jessica.” “Jessica, are you single? My assistant here, he’s single, you like him?” “Well, sure Syd, he’s adorable.” After the café we drove around the block three times and Syd would pull up next to all the people. “Jessica!!” They would wave at each other as I held up the sign. The day got hotter as we drove around. The city blocks blurred together as the sun beat into the convertible. We drove through Hancock Park, an old neighborhood filled with judges, entertainment moguls, the homes of LA family dynasties, and former homes of people like Sammy Davis Jr. We drove dreamlike through countless immaculate streets with giant sparkling green lawns and two-story New England style houses. I thought I was in Cape Cod or the Hamptons. There weren’t palm trees on these streets like there were in Beverly Hills. This neighborhood didn’t want to admit it was in Los Angeles. It was settled by people from the Midwest and the east coast. The sun got hotter and Syd babbled as I strained to listen and comprehend. As the afternoon wore on he went on and on. The whole thing was too much for me - the houses, the endless streets, and Syd’s endless talking. “It’s gonna be great, Mark. I need you to help me with it. See, you’re young. You understand the internet and TV. I need to connect to the younger generation. I’m getting old, Mark. I need the younger people. Just being around you gives me more energy. We’ll be a great team. What you lack in experience and knowledge I will make up for. And you’re a smart kid. I’ll need you to do research for me. You need to help me tell the world about how fucking evil these people are. This book will expose the most corrupt administration in American history. I

13 am being serious. Do you believe me?” “Well, okay…” “I will prove it to you. Did you know that the Clintons had over fifty people murdered? This is a documented fact. I have all the research, the interviews, the facts. I need you to put it all together for me. You have to edit this book. I’m not good at doing that kind of thing.” We got to a stop light as the sun was waning in the sky. We were on Melrose as some young hot blonde chicks pulled up next to us. He looked at them. “See, I used to be really well-known. I was famous. I mean, I was on the radio for a lot of years. Have you listened to Scooter and the Geech?” I knew the morning shock jocks. I listened to them a little bit in high school. “Uh-huh.” “I was on that show. Yeah, I was kind of a featured bit player. For like fifteen years I did the show. I was famous, Mark. But some things have happened. Those days are behind me and I need to make a new name for myself.” “What happened?” “Scooter got mad at me and banned me from the show. They won’t take my calls anymore. I’m trying to get back on, and that’s something I’ll need your help for. But in the meantime I’ll need your help, to tell the world about how evil the Clintons are. I mean they’re just so fuckin’ evil and no one realizes it. Everyone fuckin’ LOVES THEM!” At around six the day was winding down. I was tired and just wanted to catch the subway home. He pulled over by a metro stop to let me get my bag, which was in the trunk. I went out and tried to open it. “Uh, I don’t think your trunk is working.”

14 “What’s wrong with it?” “It’s not opening.” He came back to work it with his keys. It didn’t open. He shoved and shoved and got so frustrated he almost cried. “Why is life so unfair?” he seethed. “You know Mark, I TRY not to lose my temper, but…” He couldn’t even finish as we stood silently wondering what to do. He had some important things in the trunk besides my backpack. “What the FUCK are we going to do?” he asked. I said that maybe there was a Jiffy Lube somewhere. Finally we drove along Santa Monica where all those auto shops are by the Hollywood Forever cemetery. We found a garage where some Mexican guy worked on the lock with no success. He sent us to another guy on Pico who would be able to open it. The whole way there Syd ranted. “I hate this fucking city. People are so goddamn phony here. Limousine liberals…look at these motherfuckers with their cell phones.” He would flip off everybody who drove while talking on their phones, shouting “Bush! Bush and Cheney!” I told him he should read Bukowski. Syd had never heard of him. We got to Pico and the Mexican guy fixed the lock while we waited in the car silently. He tipped the quiet Mexican and got back in the car. It was dark by now. He turned to me. “Want to get a slice of pizza?” As we drove over to Larchmont Village Syd told me how much he loves Mexicans. “They are decent, hard-working people. I’m going to go back to that place and give that

15 guy a six-pack. So, how do you think this was for a trial day? Do you want to work with me?” It was my only choice. “Yeah. I’ll take the job.” “Good. I think you’ll be a great assistant. I’ll keep in touch with your first assignment.” After the pizza he dropped me off at the subway station. I went home and slept. I didn't know what was in store for me but I did know it would be strange. I was entering a very bizarre new world.

5 The next time Syd called he asked me if I like music. "Because this girl, she's a singer, her name is Ava Cole. You have to see this girl, she is completely gorgeous. She can't be any older than you. She does old standards, like jazz songs from the twenties. I'm friends with her, I'll introduce you. Maybe she's your type. But anyways, she's giving a concert tonight. You should come. You'll love it. Some of my friends are meeting me there, they're both important people in the entertainment industry." My ears pricked up. A producer? A television star, maybe? Someone who could give me advice, or maybe someone who's casting a show and looking for my type. I was falling under Syd's spell, the strange LA myth that every time you go out you could get noticed by an important director who will cast you in his next film. Maybe this Ava Cole girl even had some contacts. So I went, it was at the M Club at Fountain and Vine. I took the bus and found the place, it was an old-fashioned speakeasy from the twenties or something. Syd was at the front with the best seat in the house. I got there at the tail end of some comedy night that Ahmet Zappa was

16 emceeing. During one of the comedians' sets Syd laughed so hard that the comedian turned to him and shouted, "Shut UP, Syd! I can't even remember my next joke! Even I don't think my jokes are that funny! Jesus!" The audience roared with laughter and Syd clapped loudly, standing up. He loved the attention. After the last comedian the show started. Ava Cole came out with a jazz band. She was a dark-haired femme fatale with a sultry, mysterious presence. She started singing “Love for Sale” and these girls came out and did this sexy burlesque dance. They didn’t even show everything but it was sexier than any strip club I could imagine. They looked like they came straight out of the 1920’s. We stayed for the whole show, Syd loudly proclaiming his joy with shouts of “Oy Vey!” while the dancers cavorted and teased with their costumes and curvy bodies. "Mark, these women are unbelievable!" "I know, this is great!" "You want a drink? I'll get you a drink. What do you want? Rum and coke?" "Sure." "Here, have some fries. Eat, eat!" He shoved his plate of french fries towards me and ordered a rum and coke from a passing waitress. She came and brought the drink. He paid her then gave her an extra five dollars. "Always tip big, Mark. Always. These people work hard and they should be paid for their service." "Are your friends here?" "They should be here any minute, they were running late. Oh, there's Ratso right now!" He stood up and waved.

17 "Ratso! Over here!" Ratso came over, a large man followed by a shorter, skinnier man of the same age, midfifties. They both sat down. "Ratso, Steve, I want you to meet my assistant Mark. Ratso is a writer, he wrote the official biography of Scooter and the Geech, and Steve is a music columnist for the LA Weekly." They were weary and disinterested but we shook hands. So these were the great show biz connections he was introducing me to? How were these old bozos going to help my acting career? I tried to hide my disappointment as the three old friends talked about old times. When the Ava Cole show ended Syd took me over to her. "Ava! Ava! You are so gorgeous! Listen, I want you to meet my assistant Mark. He's going into show business. He's going to be a face to remember." We shook hands. "See, Mark, the thing about this industry is no one knows the truth about you. You can make up your own truth to tell people. Whatever you say is true, as long as you believe it." Back at the table Syd started talking about Phil Ochs. "You know, I just love those old songs of his. He's such a good songwriter." "Syd, he was a socialist. How can you still like his stuff?" "I don't know, it's innocent. All the sixties protest music was innocent. It was just a bunch of idealistic kids. They wanted to make the world a better place. But now, I don't know...I think the only person who's trying to make the world a better place is George Bush." "What happened to you, Syd? You used to be a democrat." Syd turned to me. “I used to be a democrat, Mark. I bet you didn't know that. But the liberals have gone

18 way off track. They’re practically communists now. I don’t feel like I belong anymore. Women are different now. They’re bitter, they’re angry, they’re all a bunch of feminists who love Hillary Clinton. But back in the sixties it was all about love and peace.” There was a huge argument when Ratso mentioned a 9/11 theory he had heard that the Pentagon and Condoleeza Rice had known about the attacks while they occurred and did nothing to stop them. “The planes went totally off track for forty-five minutes and the FAA had no idea? What happened Syd? I’m just raising the question.” Syd was driven to a state of total fury by the paranoid liberal accusation. “You fucking liberals think there is some conspiracy out there, you’re actually considering the insane proposition that the FBI knew about it and let it happen so we would have an excuse to go in Iraq…Mark, let’s go soon, I’m getting very upset. I will not start screaming right now.” “WHAT WOULD PHIL OCHS THINK?” Steve shouted. Syd fell silent with a knowing smile. “That’s good,” he said, as his friends laughed. “That’s good.” And deep somewhere in Syd's confused mind he knew there was a disconnect between his sixties nostalgia and his newfound conservative fanaticism. The argument proceeded, a picture of three aging ex-hippies now in their sad, saggy fifties arguing over conspiracy theories. As Syd often said, “I used to be a democrat, but I got mugged and now I’m a republican.” The leftover fragments of hippy idealism were on display - paranoid accusations of the government from the extreme left and the extreme right. The argument cooled down to Syd opining to Ratso of his recent tension with Scooter and the Geech (old New York friends of Ratso’s) and ended with Syd begging Ratso to give Scooter a

19 letter he had written to mend fences so he could get back on the show. "I mean, I was on the show for fourteen years, Ratso. How could they kick me out like a dog in the street? What did I do? I was so loyal to those guys. I was the perfect guest. I never asked for a dime from them! I flew to New York with my own money, stayed in hotels just to go on the show..." "Okay, Syd, I'll give Scooter the letter. I can't promise it'll do anything." "I know, I know, I just want him to know I would love to do the show again and I am deeply sorry if I offended them in any way. Just give him the letter, can you?" "I'll give it to him." This was my first window into the decline of Syd's radio career and an obsession he would never get over.

5 I had no idea who my neighbors were until one day in my apartment I started to smell smoke. I heard a crash and bang from next door and some guy coughing. I opened my door onto the courtyard and my neighbor was outside rubbing his eyes. He was a young guy in his early twenties and smoke was pouring out of his apartment. “Oh God,” he said. “What happened to your place?” “I burned some chicken,” he coughed. “Oh god. I need to open the windows.” He ran back in and came back out again, coughing. “I don’t know what happened. I guess they were in for too long. What’s your name?” “Mark.”

20 “Sam. You’re the new neighbor?” “Yeah. What were you trying to cook?” “Some marinated chicken.” “What did you marinate with it?” “Let’s see. I put some apple vinegar in there…a lot of stuff. Chipotle. I put a little Tang in with it. You know Mexicans do that? They put Tang. It’s actually really good. And I put some lime and stuff. Hey, I wonder if Pauline has her barbecue out here. Maybe we could use it to save some of this chicken.” He walked off around the corner of the building and came back with a little barbecue. “Yeah! She left it outside! I think it’ll be fun if we use it. Can you help me with this chicken?” I went inside. The smoke had cleared a lot. His apartment was very sparsely furnished, with a couch and a TV on the floor. His kitchen was full of dirty dishes. A bowl in his sink was full of raw chicken slathered with marinade. “Oh yeah, this stuff is definitely still good.” We got it all and brought it outside. I grabbed the chicken in the oven and brought it out so we could look at it. Several blackened husks of meat sat sadly on the pan. “Yeah, that stuff is probably not usable.” “Should I throw it away?” “No, you can put it in the food pile,” he said, gesturing over to a pile of old food by the side of the apartment. “I’m gonna use it as fertilizer.” We got the grill going and sat to waiting for it to get hot enough. Sam rolled cigarette after cigarette and drank rum and coke while we waited. The air was humid that day.

21 “We have to wait out here for Pauline to get home,” he said. “Because when she gets here if she sees us out in front she’ll offer to smoke us out.” “Weed?” “Yeah, dude.” After awhile the barbecue was ready and we threw the chicken on to cook. Then a blonde woman came walking up through the courtyard towards one of the apartments. She was about forty I guessed. “Sorry, we used your barbecue,” Sam said. “I hope it’s okay.” “No, that’s fine. You must be the new neighbor.” “Yeah,” I said. “I just moved in.” “Oh my God, I had the worst day,” she said. “I was stood up for a massage, then I was late for a hair cut, and I just totally missed yoga. Traffic has been such shit today. You guys want to smoke a bowl?” “Well, if you insist,” Sam said with a grin. Pauline was a masseuse who specialized in energy work and did some empathic massage, as well as hair and makeup for TV and movies. She made pretty good money and worked for herself. Sam freelanced as a sound person for TV and music videos. He had also gotten a lot of work on local Mexican TV because he spoke Spanish. He had a lot of good stories. As the courtyard filled with the smells of barbecue, the neighbors came out to eat and hang out, and introduce themselves to me. It was a small courtyard and everybody knew each other. There was one gay couple that both rode motorcycles, there was one fat single woman with two cats, and one mysterious old white man who didn’t talk much. I had a rum and coke and looked up at the Hollywood sky. It was purple and glowing

22 with reflections from the city. A pair of lights from some movie premiere scanned the clouds, crossing and intersecting. I wondered where Hollywood Syd Ross was, and who he was annoying. I wondered what my next assignment would be or how long I could keep working for him.

6 I needed a TV so I bought one at a yard sale on my street. It was a good deal, only twenty dollars. The Asian lady I bought it from had strange masculine mannerisms and I couldn’t tell if it was a transvestite or not. She was very friendly and very talkative. She just talked and kept me around after I bought the TV. She stood in her yard in her courtyard apartment as I held the TV in my arms. “Do you live around here?” “Yeah, right around the corner. I just moved here from up north.” “That’s so nice. Welcome to the neighborhood.” Her voice was so low, I just couldn’t tell what she was. “Gosh, it’s so hot out here, do you want to come in for some lemonade?” “Yeah, that sounds good,” I said without thinking. I had nothing to drink at my apartment. “Come on up!” she smiled nicely, and started walking up the stairs. I followed to the balcony of the two-story building, and walked down the hall to her place. Her kitchen was packed with trinkets and paintings and old little toys. “I am such a pack rat, you know. I keep everything. That’s why I decided I needed to sell some of my stuff. Here, I’ll get you that lemonade.” She went to the fridge and started fixing up the lemonade from scratch, squeezing lemons

23 and mixing it all fresh. An old white cat wandered in. “That’s Lady,” she said. “She’s getting old. She’s my best friend though. Aren’t you? Even though you sleep all day long!” She bent down and kissed her cat. I wandered around the living room. There were strange old paintings hung up everywhere. “Yeah, I like to paint. You probably noticed that.” A lot of the paintings were of people, some of old men and women, some of herself, some of nude women. She appeared at my side with a glass of lemonade. “Here you go!” she said in her deep-throated voice with a big smile. I drank deeply from the cup. It was a little dirty like most cups are at people’s houses who live alone. But I did not mind for some reason. The lemonade was pretty good. I looked at my host. She or he must have been forty or so. “Well, it’s so nice to have company. You’re such a nice young man.” She was just a lonely single person in the city, reaching out to a neighbor. I thought about Syd and realized he was probably lonely too. I believe I never truly understood loneliness until I moved to Los Angeles. People seemed more desperate for validation than people in other places I had been. I never found out if she was a man or a woman. But I got a very cheap TV. So I was watching my new TV when Syd called and told me he had my weekly money$360 in cash. "Hey, I can't meet today. I have to go to Tarzana. Do you need anything from the valley?" "I don't think so." "Yeah, I shouldn't meet you anyways, I've had the flu all week. I'm on a bunch of antibiotics."

24 "Oh man, well, get better." "Yeah, and to add to that, my friend is in alcohol rehab. She's in this program up there, because she had a bad problem with drinking. I have to go give her some clothes." "Oh, that's nice of you." “Yeah, well it’s terrible,” he said. “My friend Kim, she’s really a beautiful girl. We dated for awhile, but now we’re just good friends. She used to be a model for Hustler.” “Oh, wow.” “Yeah, she’s gorgeous. But she had her alcohol problems, and I feel like I need to take care of her. She doesn’t have anybody, Mark. I think what a person should try to do is help people who are in need. And I don’t ask for anything in return, you know. I just do it because I love her dearly.” “Yeah.” "The thing is, I owe her for the rest of my life because of how good she has been to me. I went through a really hard time a few years ago when my parents died. You know, I felt like I didn't have anyone left. No one was there to care about me. Scooter and the Geech, they were making fun of me and using me. They didn't care about me. And my parents, they were everything to me. I miss them more than anything. But anyways, she came and stayed with me and gave me support, you know, even after we broke up. Just because she cared about me. She was the only one, Mark. Now you and her are the only family I have. I'm serious." "Wow, thanks, Syd." “So anyway, I know you’ve been on the clock this whole week, and even though I didn’t give you anything to do I’m still gonna pay you. See? I’m a man of my word. And I have an assignment for you.”

25 “Oh good.” “Do you have the internet?” “Yeah.” “And you can do searches and things?” “Yeah.” “Well, however you do it, what I want to know is this. Bill Clinton has been speaking all around the world for huge prices. You know, he’ll speak at Harvard for half an hour and they’ll pay him an outrageous fee. I want to know where he’s spoken and what he said, but most importantly how much he was paid. Get as many figures as you can. Can you do that?” “I think so. That shouldn’t be too hard.” “Because what I want in my book, Mark, is facts. They can’t get to you if you have the facts on your side.” “Okay, I’ll see what I can do.” “So anyway, I can’t meet tomorrow because I have shabbatt. But we’ll meet soon so I can give you your paycheck and you can give me whatever you found on the speaking engagements.” We hung up and I sat in my apartment, alone. The strange thing about Hollywood was how quiet it was at night. On a normal street like mine there was hardly any noise. I walked outside on the patio. It could be any small town in this country. Sam busted out of his apartment. “Did you hear that?” “What?” “These kids have been trying to break into my place.” He snuck around the side of his apartment looking for signs of intruders.

26 “What kids?” “White Fences. This neighborhood gang. These kids are like fifteen years old. Come here.” I went around the side. “See this?” He pointed to some graffiti scrawled on the wall. “They’re always tagging all over the place. I caught one of them trying to break into my place once. If you see anything let me know.” “I’ve seen those kids around. I’ve never seen them breaking into your place.” “Hey, do you have anything to drink?” “No man, I’m only eighteen. I can’t buy booze.” “Want to go to the store with me? Do you have a few bucks for some rum?” “Sure.” So we walked down to the Hollywood liquor mart, a few blocks east on Hollywood Boulevard. The place was run by an Asian family and there were two cute young girls, about sixteen, working behind the counter. The dad paced the store, looking for shoplifters and glaring suspiciously at us. “Those girls want me,” Sam whispered as we walked in the store. We went to the rum aisle and he got a liter of some imported West Indies rum. On the way back we both walked chewing beef jerky. He broke the silence. “What brings you to this city?” “Well, I want to be an actor.” “Oh Jesus. Take a fuckin’ number.”

27 “Are there a lot of actors around?” “Ya think? This city is crawling with actors. Most of them never make it. Dude, I would have a plan B if I were you. No offense, I’m sure you’re good, but just don’t count on it.” “Well, I think I’ll take some acting classes soon…” “Let me guess, you were the star of all your high school plays?” “Yeah,” I laughed. “Uh-huh. So was I. I came here for the same reason. You can’t make a living doing it. Get a day job.” I went home knowing that I had a day job, the only problem was my boss needed one. His dreams had never died and here he was, insanely chasing the same thing I had come here for. I didn’t want to end up like him. What happened to people who tasted fame? Was it so intoxicating that it made you turn into a monster? He was like Gollum chasing some ring his whole life, turned into a shivering, miserable wretch. As I looked out on the city from my window that night, the city felt like some sort of Edward Hopper painting of broken dreams and washed-up careers. I felt for the first time the cruelty of a city that promised so much.

8 Syd called with a new plan. "Mark, I had the best idea. I need to get an army of people to call the show and ask on the air why they don't have Hollywood Syd Ross on anymore. Do you think you can call the show and do that?" "Uh..."

28 "You'll have to wake up at about four o'clock in the morning, because the shows tapes in New York." "Okay..." "If you have any friends who can do it, I will just say this - they will be rewarded. I can't tell you this, because I don't want it to be bribing, and don't tell your friends when you ask them. But I am willing to pay two hundred dollars for every time someone calls and asks, on the air, why they don't have me on anymore." "Okay..." "But you CAN'T tell your friends about the money. I just need to get an army of people to bother them until they let me back on again. I need to get on, Mark. I need to get back on that show." I quickly realized that this show had been the sole object of his obsession for the past fifteen years. "Because there's this guy on the show, he's a total prick. His name is Bill the Drunk and he hates my guts. He's been sabotaging me the whole time I've been on the show, trying to turn Scooter and the Geech against me, telling them lies about me like I was in a mental institution or that I'm crazy. He even told them I threatened to kill myself. I'm not crazy, Mark. I just need to get back on that show. But he kisses their asses so much, Mark. He agrees with everything they say, he laughs at all their jokes. And to tell you the truth, to be completely honest, they've changed a lot. They used to be nice guys, but they are total egomaniacs now, at least the Geech is. Scooter has his nice moments. But since they got nationally syndicated, do you know how rich they got? It's funny, they both got divorces at the same time, and now they're both dating models. That's true. Success does something to you, Mark. It's more dangerous than failure. I

29 swear, the second you get money and everyone starts kissing your ass you lose your mind. Your ego takes over and you change." He sighed. "Oh well." Then he gave me the assignment of getting him speaking gigs at the local colleges. He would talk about Clinton to the campus republicans or whoever would take him. He had given me a giant book of talent buyers all across the country, so I started calling the Cal State Universities around LA - Dominguez Hills, LA, Long Beach, Northridge. He also wanted me to write essays on certain topics to be added to the book, as a kind of perspective from the future of America to show his fellow conservatives that the kids are alright. I would be credited of course. The first one I had to write was on how much I trust the media - whether I think they’re biased or not. He loved my generation, he told me over and over. He loved our sophistication, our spunk, and our amazing proficiency with computers. The last thing he asked before we hung up was for the names of all the people who flew on Air Force One with Clinton while he was in office. I didn't know why he wanted it but a found an old Time article with a list of all the people. It was so easy. The next day I met Syd at Hollywood and Vine where he picked me up and took me down to Larchmont Village, which sat comfortably in the old-money enclave of Hancock Park. We went to Noah’s Bagels, got a ton of bagels and a sandwich with these coupons that he had won at a raffle for free bagels and sandwiches for a year. I gave him the article I found on the 56 people who flew on Air Force One with Clinton it had a list of every single person, when they flew and where they flew to. Syd was so unbelievably happy - this could blow the lid on the whole thing, this could send people to jail!

30 He told the whole store at the top of his lungs what a genius I was and paid me my week’s worth. We left and walked down the street, Syd talking to everyone and handing out copies of his autobiography, telling anyone who would listen that I was brilliant. He was in such rapture that when we got to the car he stood outside of it with his boom box playing his Chuck Berry tape and singing along, playing air guitar for whoever passed by. He would rewind the tape to play Johnny B. good over and over. This went on for about twenty minutes. He even stood facing traffic and car after car came by, expecting him to be leaving so they could park, but instead found this crazy old guy singing Chuck Berry with total passion and intensity. Then he drove me home and gave me a bunch of bagels. Then Syd called me to ask to find connections between the Air Force One people and donors - we need to find out which ones gave to Clinton’s campaign. We must follow the money trail, and if we find connections, this could be HUGE. This was information that got glossed over when it came out because there were other scandals at the time- Monica Lewinsky, Whitewater, Paula Jones, you name it. Later Syd called me to find the sheet music to two Phil Ochs songs - the Draft Dodger Rag and I’m Not Marching Anymore. Then he told me about his friend Kim in Tarzana. He had gone to see her and found out she was on heroin and dating some violent guy who beat her. This was all besides the alcoholism that Syd thought was the only problem. This guy had been stalking her and showed up at the rehab clinic while Syd was there. Syd didn’t tell me what happened but there definitely was a confrontation and the police tried to arrest Syd. He said he was trying to protect his friend and he was outraged. “They thought I was the crazy one!! This just shows how FUCKED UP California is.” Then he started talking about the recall of Grey Davis. He was excited about Arnold

31 Schwarzenegger and thought the Terminator should be the next governor. Syd then gave me the task of obtaining Clinton’s tax returns, so with a few keystrokes on the internet I found a website that has them all. I printed them out, which took all day because my computer kept messing up and freezing, then my printer ran out of ink and it was so hot outside that I couldn’t really leave the house at all. Then he called because of more drama with Kim. She left the rehab center and Syd had to go get her and convince the rehab center to take her back, then pay for her re-admission. “You can’t just leave these people out in the cold,” he said. That Friday I met Syd and went to his house to help him with Microsoft Word. Then we left in the Thunderbird to do some errands. We went to the bank first, where I got paid, then to Trader Joe’s where we met a gorgeous young lady who looked like Christina Aguilera. She was from Switzerland and she was a singer. Syd tried to hook us up but she said “So soon!” I guessed in her culture they take things slower. We went to Noah’s after Syd bought me a sixpack of Erdinger as part of my payment. We got a whole bunch of bagels and I barely remember the rest of the day because we were driving around with the top down in the heat all day and I didn’t eat anything. Syd gave me some pages of the book to look over as well as a gigantic pile of e-mails he had received from supporters and fans that he wants me to reply to. Later that night there was a police chase through Hollywood and I watched it on TV. Sam was over and we drank some cheap rum he had bought. The cops eventually surrounded the car and they took the guy into custody. We were both disappointed because we wanted it to end in a bloody shootout. Sam passed out on my couch and I went to bed without waking him. In the morning he was gone.

32 10 Sam and Pauline were planning to go to a movie screening in a cemetery in Hollywood and asked me if I wanted to go along. It was going to be Pee Wee's Big Adventure, which I hadn't seen since I was ten. We piled in Pauline's little old Honda with our red plastic cups of rum and juice we'd been drinking all night, and sped through Hollywood listening to strange, trippy reggae music. The lights of Hollywood blurred together as we drove. We parked in a run-down neighborhood by the cemetery and walked, with our blankets and wine we had brought for the movie. We stood in line in front of the giant cemetery and paid the entrance fee, then walked through the quiet old resting ground all the way to a huge lawn where everyone was congregated. I couldn't believe it. There were hundreds upon hundreds of people sitting on the grass waiting for the movie. We found a place to sit and opened the wine, passing it around. The crowd buzzed with a giant, collective sense of excitement. Then a guy got up in the front with a microphone and welcomed everyone. "But before we start the movie," his voice echoed in the graveyard, "I want to introduce the star of the film you're about to watch, Pee-Wee Herman. Paul Reubens, everyone!" The crowd went absolutely insane with praise and adoration, standing to their feet as he took the microphone. I felt a strange sense of awe that I couldn't explain. "Didn't he get arrested for masturbating in a theater?" I asked. "Yeah," Pauline said. "And I heard he's an asshole." Yet there was something in the love of the crowd that lifted the man far above the tawdry details of his life. They were applauding the role he had played in their childhoods. I even remembered his TV show as an inextricable part of my early life. It was as if I could meet Mr.

33 Rogers or Captain Kangaroo. "Thank you so much," he said. "This was an important movie for me, because it was the first movie I ever made. This was my big break, you know? Everyone comes to Hollywood dreaming of their big break, and I was just a kid practically, with a little comedy sketch I'd developed at the Groundlings, and here I was with my own movie. This was a really magical time of my life, and I just want to let you know how amazing it is that all of you still like the movie." There was a mature, wise appreciation in his aged voice. Yes, he had wrecked his career as Pee Wee Herman and burned many bridges. Yes, his fame had come and gone. But here he was, resurrected and redeemed. And we all loved him. He told some stories and the movie started. After awhile we finished the wine and I left to go find a bathroom. I couldn't find a porta-pottie so I went on the lawn in the darkness, next to some graves. As I was walking back I saw a large grave surrounded by flowers. It towered up above my head and my eyes strained in the dark to see who it belonged to. I looked around and saw, etched in stone, "Douglas Fairbanks, Jr." I had seen in the paper that his birthday had been recently and his movies were enjoying a resurgence in popularity. I stood there in the dark and looked as his tombstone. Notes and letters surrounded the grave along with the flowers strewn everywhere. In the distance the audience laughed and then applauded at the Pee Wee movie. Something strange was in the air that I hadn't seen yet. But now I realized. Fame was not just fame, as I thought it was. Here, in Hollywood, it was a religion. I understood what it was that Syd was chasing after. It was a way of achieving glory, transcendence, immortality.

11

34 The next day I got out of the shower as the phone was ringing. It was Syd and I heard cars in the background. “MARK! It’s Syd! Hollywood Syd Ross! Can I meet you at Serrano and Hollywood?” He was running and panting heavily. “I’m at Sunset right now, come out of your house in a few minutes.” I went outside and saw his tiny frame coming up Serrano by my place, jogging in his little shorts. He had a manila envelope in his hand. “This is the chapter from Dereliction of Duty. It’s all about Clinton’s mistakes with the military.” I took it and said I’d read it over. “Let’s go get a soda,” Syd said, so we walked over to Quizno’s as Syd told me that it’s our duty to educate the youth who think that Clinton was good and Bush is bad. It’s not their fault, Syd told me, it’s the media and their liberal bias. There’s so much ignorance in this country and it’s because the media won’t give all sides of the story. So we have to make them realize that Bush is the good guy, not Clinton. We had our soda while Syd showed me a watch he had bought for Kim as a gift. It was a huge waterproof sports watch, not very feminine. I told him it was nice. He said she’ll be going through cold turkey soon and he’s going to ask if he can be there for support while she’s in withdrawal. With that he bid me adieu and went running off down Western towards his place. That night I went to a strange art party in Venice that Sam took me too. Some friends of his from school had invited him and some girl was going to be there that he thought he had a chance with. The party had these weird multimedia video-music performances and I got pretty drunk. I’m pretty sure Sam wasn’t very sober, but he got us got back at about 4 AM unharmed.

35 After waking at 11 AM I played my messages and Syd had called to meet me at Quizno’s, so I called him back and he was on his way there. I went out and got a juice at Jamba Juice. Syd wandered in and told me we have to go next door to Starbucks to meet “Kevin.” We went to Starbucks and Kevin was sitting there, a black man staring into space and not drinking coffee. He grunted a hello to me. He was one of the many weirdoes I had seen around the neighborhood who might not be homeless but definitely did not have jobs. Syd introduced us and told Kevin that Bill Clinton had Ron Brown killed and that liberals never say hi or talk to strangers. That’s how Syd knew Kevin was a good conservative man. After telling Kevin that George Bush loves black people Syd sat down. Kevin stared at us silently. Syd had told the whole store that he was writing a book on the Clintons by now, and some crazy-looking white guy with long stringy hair came over and said he had a suggestion. Syd told him to sit down and promptly continued his conversation with Kevin, silencing the crazy man several times when he tried to intervene. Finally Syd let him speak and he said, “You should put something in your book about the homeless” to which Syd responded “I have great compassion for the homeless, and do you want to know why politicians do nothing about the homeless? You tell me your guess, I‘m going to use the Socratic method on you.” “Because they don’t pay taxes?” “No! Kevin, what’s your guess?” “Uh, they don’t care about the homeless?” “Both your answers were good, but not good enough. Politicians never help the homeless because they DO NOT VOTE! Thank you very much, I’m Hollywooood Syd Ross!” And he sent the man on his way. Suddenly a young blonde girl who looked like a model walked in with a pink tube-top, a short jean skirt and pink rouge on her cheeks.

36 “Oy vey!” Syd exclaimed, “You are beautiful!!” “Thank you, that’s sweet,” she said with a nice smile. Syd asked her if she was single and she said yes. “My assistant Mark, he’s single, you want his number?” “Yeah!” He fumbled for one of his business cards and had me write down my number on the back. “Thanks!” she said. “Well, I have to go, I’m about to go film an episode of Extreme Dating. Yeah, my two ex boyfriends are going to be on the show, watching me go on a blind date and making comments.” “Wow, have fun,” Syd said. “I know, it’s going to be crazy.” She left and Syd gave me a new chapter of the book but I wasn’t paying attention. I was reeling from the weirdness of the past ten minutes. We talked about the chapter a little bit, then Syd said he had to go to Reseda later that day, but not on the101, he hates the 101. He only takes backstreets to avoid the traffic. We parted ways and he went jogging down the street to pick up some shoes for Kim at the Shoe Warehouse. The sun was hot, it was another perfect day in Los Angeles, and I had to laugh watching Syd run down the street. I thought about how my day had started out. I was starting to bridge the gap between my hippy Northern California upbringing and Syd’s outraged conservatism. I agreed with him that morality was not a partisan issue and exists independently of politics, so if Clinton committed crimes he should be punished, democrat or not. And the same went for the California recall madness - whoever could get the state out of its debt and solve its problems, republican or democrat, that’s who should be in office. I just didn’t think the Terminator was the

37 one for the job. And no one could convince me that Bush was any kind of good guy.

12 Syd started giving me assigned reading. The first book, detailing the bizarre and mutually beneficial relationship of Bill and Hillary, was small but hard to get through. I skimmed most of it. I met him at Starbucks to receive a new book and I stupidly forgot my walkie-talkie, which he loved to use even when we were sitting next to each other at a crowded Starbucks. When I got to Starbucks I saw him down the street talking into his walkie-talkie as he crossed the street. Oh no! I thought, he’s been talking into his walkie-talkie for the past ten minutes and didn’t even realize I wasn’t on the other end. When he saw I didn’t have mine his face fell and he became gravely serious. “I want you to repeat after me, Mark. I will always bring my walkie-talkie when I meet Hollywood Syd Ross.” I repeated word for word. “Especially when it’s the day before pay day.” “Especially when it’s the day before pay day.” “Now repeat the whole thing from the top.” “I will always bring my walkie talkie when I meet Hollywood Syd Ross, especially on the day before payday.” “LOUDER! I want you to tell the whole store!” “I WILL ALWAYS BRING THE WALKIE TALKIE, ESPECIALLY THE DAY BEFORE PAY DAY!” “Okay, let’s get down to business. I have a book for you, you’ll love it.” And he gave me

38 a hard cover copy of “State of the Union” by Jerry Oppenheimer. “This book talks about how mean and self-serving Hillary Clinton was. She was worse than Bill! She was a vicious anti-semite who only cared about herself.” He gave me some more pages to edit, then we wrapped it up. The next day we met at Hollywood and Vine, after communicating with the walkie talkies (which I remembered that time) and I got into his car, where he blasting an old Jan and Dean tape. We went down to Larchmont Village, richie rich town, where Syd loves to go, and paraded down the street while Syd held up a sign that said “Hillary Clinton is a Witch.” He stood in front of the pizza parlor antagonizing the liberal customers endlessly, playing Jan and Dean loudly, dancing and making his own lyrics to the song. “I hate Hillary, and Bill too…they belong in jaiiiiil.” We went to Noah’s, taunting and angering everyone, mostly women who love Hillary. One lady was with her husband and they had just come out of the Coffee Bean when Syd got in her face and yelled “Hillary Clinton belongs in jail!!” She muttered something derogatory under her breath and walked on, but Syd followed, saying “WHAT? What was that? Do you have something to say to me, you stupid liberal? Why don’t we have a conversation? I’ll debate with you any day, I was the captain of my high school debate team, I went to Brandeis and Cornell University!” The woman, almost in tears, said “You ruined my cup of coffee at Melrose and La Brea and now you’ve ruined another one!” After that we went and danced in front of the Jamba Juice, which has a wall made of glass so everyone inside can see you. We held up the sign and sang along to Jan and Dean, which was good because Syd could bother as many people as he wants and no one could throw him out.

39 Then finally got to Noah’s and he gave me my $360 for the week. He drove me back to my place and told me to take the next day off because I’ve been working hard. I read Ann Coulter’s “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” all that week, the highly conservative book by the highly conservative writer about why Clinton should’ve been impeached and sent to jail - three hundred pages of angry, outraged criticisms of his personal exploits, lies, and complete disregard of the law and common decency. I came away from the book with an in-depth understanding of the hysterical nature of conservative discourse in America today. I knew I would be receiving much more of it from Syd. My job was to read these books and find parallel, complementary information to tie the facts all together. Syd wanted to have an ethical, non-partisan basis for the case against Bill Clinton in the form of quotes on ethics and morality at the beginnings of chapters, so I jumped at the chance. I found some philosophical quotes from Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, John Stuart Mill and others to give to Syd. It was the only intellectually rewarding part of the job. It was so nice to have something mentally rigorous and rewarding to sink my teeth into. I spent way more time on the philosophy than Syd probably wanted me to, but I just couldn’t go back to the intellectual wasteland of Ann Coulter. I was beginning to think around this time that the mind is like a stomach and must be fed like one. Like a digestive system that is only fed Cheetos for weeks on end, my brain was starting to cave in on itself, craving something with real substance. Spending all this time around Hollywood Syd Ross started making me depressed because I had nothing to think about that was worth my mental energy. Reading the balanced and beautiful ideas of Plato and Aristotle became nourishment to my starving young mind. I had given Syd some of Clinton’s tax returns and some contact information for the Fox

40 News Channel, stuff I found on the internet. He wanted to contact the producers of all those shows and become a guest. He told me in a confessional moment on the phone about his goals. “Nobody’s supposed to know this, Mark, but my ultimate goal is to get a show on the Fox News Channel. I want to go back into television. And when I get my own show, guess who the producer would be?” “Me?” “That’s right. I know you don’t have any experience but I trust you. You’ll book the guests, you’ll help me make the format, you can even be on the show if you want. You’ll have to move to New York, but you can keep your place in LA and follow your acting thing, too. How do you feel about that?” “Wow.” “I know. It’s pretty exciting, isn’t it? You see, this can happen! This is a possibility!” “Yeah, okay.” “We just have to finish this book and publicize it, it will be slow going at first, but we just have to stick with it. See, everything in life is just not giving up. You cannot give up when you have dreams like I do. That’s what I’m trying to teach you. If there’s one thing you take away from this job, it’s that.” We met the next day at Starbucks to exchange information and chapters. Syd’s new thing was to approach women and ask if they would vote for Hillary Clinton. If they said yes he would scream at them and say that Hillary is a lying, conniving, immoral, anti-semitic witch who was complicit in all the major scandals of the Clinton White House. I saw this happen as I walked up to the Starbucks to meet him. The argument ended with him screaming “Limousine liberal!!” in her face. He saw me and we walked into the Starbucks.

41 A Mexican couple was in line ahead of us and Syd proceeded with his Spanish Schpiel: “Hola, que yo no soy latino pero habla espanol, a mi me gusta todos los latinos! Los latinos son buenagentes republicanos! A George Bush les gusta los latinos!” They smiled and shook his hand. The meeting was short - we just exchanged documents and then we walked down Hollywood Boulevard together. “This neighborhood is so great, this reminds me of Brooklyn. It’s all mixed, you know? Not like Hancock Park and Santa Monica with all the liberal whites. They say they love immigrants, but they don’t want them in their neighborhood!” he laughed his raspy old laugh. “They love them most when they stay in East LA! Ha ha ha!! Look at these old buildings, Mark. These have to be from the twenties, just look at some of the architecture. See that building?” He pointed at a bank. “That used to be a Masonic temple. See the writing at the top?” “”Whoa, you’re right,” I said, looking at the words “Masonic Lodge” engraved in stone. “See, Mark, there’s a whole hidden past in this city. Every other building that’s a bank or an apartment building used to be something else fifty years ago. Underneath everything there’s so much history. People say LA is shallow, but they don’t see underneath the surface. Some day I’ll take you to the valley, there’s some great old stuff. I’ll show you where Buster Keaton’s ranch used to be. And did you know that Edgar Rice Burroughs, the guy who invented Tarzan, had a ranch? That’s where Tarzana comes from. I’ll show you that too. I think my next book is gonna be called ‘Hollywood Syd Ross’s Guide to LA.’ You can help me with that too.” We parted ways at Wilton so he could jog home. Sometimes I wondered if he was crazy or if he was a misunderstood, mad genius. Probably crazy.

42

13 I saw an audition on Craigslist for an acting showcase. You could bring your own material to perform and there would be agents and industry people to come see you. I had a funny little monologue I had written for a high school writing class, so I figured I would dust it off and go try out for the showcase. I called and made an appointment time, then rehearsed my monologue a couple of times. This was good, it could be my big break. It was in the middle of the arts district in North Hollywood, where a lot of people had been discovered. There were tons of little theaters and acting classes up there. Since the audition was in North Hollywood I took the subway and got off at the last stop. I wandered down Lankershim Boulevard looking for the address. I passed several Starbucks, some burger joints, and a dozen little theaters that weren't the one I was supposed to go to. I thought this place was in the middle of the arts district. Then I realized I was completely going the wrong way. I looked at my watch and saw that my appointment time was five minutes away, so I turned around and started running. I ran and ran, maybe seven blocks, way past the arts district. I was surrounded by car dealerships. I looked at the address as I walked past a Honda lot. It should be right here, I thought, confused. The address of the theater was the same as the address of the Honda dealership. Then I noticed a little paper sign tacked onto a post that said "Showcase." An arrow pointed behind the lot full of cars. I walked through the lot and came to a small storage space that was in the back of the Honda lot. Some actors were milling around outside. "Is this the showcase?" "Yeah."

43 I walked inside and saw what had been converted into a small theater with some chairs set up. Oh great. This was the great showcase. How many Hollywood agents would come here to see some weirdos do monologues they had written behind a car dealership? A white woman with dark frizzy hair came up to me to shake my hand. She looked a little spacey. "Hey, you can just sign in right here, and then have a seat. Thanks a lot for coming! This is great, I can't wait to see everyone perform!" I signed in and waited for a little while. I was nervous about my monologue. Would I forget the lines? Would they understand the humor? Eventually they called my name and I walked onto the little stage they'd set up. There were three people in the audience, the frizzy haired woman and a white bearded man, then a younger dark-skinned girl. "What's your name?" asked the frizzy haired woman. "Mark." "Okay, you were set for the 12:30 audition?" "Yeah, that's me." "Great. Just to make sure. It looks like we're on time!" "Not like yesterday," the dark-skinned girl said. "Hey, we're getting better," she laughed. "So, what will you be performing for us?" "Just a monologue I wrote." "Okay, I can't wait. Whenever you're ready." "Okay." I stood in the center of the stage and collected myself for a second, then began. "I worked at the library for three years I suppose. Kathy, she gave me the job. She's so

44 beautiful. Mom says I ain't got the skills to do much else but check out books at the library. Pop wants me to help him with the logging. He goes way down into the canyon everyday with those men, and he comes back all sweaty like, cursing and angry. Mother, she cooks most the day and my brother, well he lost it a long time ago. He still lives at home but he's not allowed out of his room because when he was younger, he killed the dog. No one knows why. They came home and found him, he was watching TV, the dog was all around the room in different parts. There was blood everywhere. Oh man, I'm gonna miss the library. The young childrens were nice to me when they came and checked out the books. And the older folks came and talked to me. But I can't stand to work there anymore, I keep dreaming of sweet Kathy. She's older but her beauty is like a flower. A rose! Something weird happened to Kathy. I don't feel so good about it, I just hope Pop doesn't find out. See, a few days ago Kathy asked me to walk her home after the library closed. Me, Arnold! I love to walk with her. She talks so much, because she's so smart. She read every book in the library. So we locked the doors, and did a library check, to make sure no one was left in the building. We's walking along Main Street, she started telling me about all the places she been, she been all around the world. I never even left this town, except once when we went camping when I was twelve. So she told me about Italy, and she been to the beautiful sandy beaches of Mexico. She said it was most beautiful place ever. I said 'Kathy I been working a lot at the library and saving up. Someday I will go to the beautiful sandy beaches of Mexico. And I will take you there!' Then she stopped me and made me look at her. We were all quiet, just looking at each other. She smiled. I got all tingly and I started to blush on the face. Then she

45 leaned herself forward and kissed me, right on the cheek! She said she would love to go south of the border with Arnold! For the first time someone loved Arnold! I got so excited, I put my hands on her, I said 'I love you Katherine, and I want to marry you. I want to be with you forever! I have a good job, good family, I can provide for woman.' But she laughed at me. She said she has a boyfriend. And I am just library boy, with no prospects. She told me to have a nice night and walked away from Arnold. So I lost control. I went after her and put my hands on her throat and we fell on the ground. I hit her on the face, I hit her on the mouth, there was this rock on the ground and I hit her on the head with it. Over and over and over! Why don't you love me Katheriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine!!!!!!! So I killed her. There's no more Kathy. And the next day I gone to the library, I was real quiet. The library was awful still. No one said anything about Kathy. I kept thinking I seen Kathy at the check-out desk, or stacking books. She was blowing kisses at me and looking so beautiful. I couldn't take it no more, I have to get out of the library. So I left before my shift was over, I never done that before and I was scairt. I went back home and took the money I saved from the library out of my jar underneath my bed, I bought a bus ticket. It goes way south, where no one knows me. I'm gonna find a way to go to Mexico where I'll be safe. I'll be there with Kathy and we'll walk the sandy beaches." When I finished the monologue I looked out and they were all staring at me, shocked. "Wow." "That was powerful." "Yeah, that was...very intense." Oh no! They didn't think it was funny. I knew this would happen. "We'll be calling you."

46 As I left I thought it was probably still okay if they thought it was a tragedy. At least they liked it. A few days later I got a call from the frizzy haired woman. "Mark, we want to put your monologue in the show. We think it will really go well with the kind of show we're putting together. Can you come to a rehearsal tomorrow night at seven? The same place." I took the subway again and got to the same place in the back of the dealership. I got inside and was greeted warmly. "Hey! Have a seat, we're just about to start. Great!" I had a seat inside and saw about twelve other people who had been chosen for the showcase. We all introduced ourselves. The frizzy-haired woman got up to welcome us. "I would like to tell you all how happy I am that you're here, and I think we're going to have a really great show. My name is Peggy, and this is the second show like this I've put on. The last one went really well, and since last time we did more comedy I thought I would choose more serious material this time." Oh Jesus, I thought. This was just great. "We're so lucky to have this great space to work in, and I want to thank Honda for letting us use the space. Since my husband Doug works at the dealership, we got a really great deal on the theater. We're renting it for very cheap. There will be some issues because of the fact that it was not initially created as a theatrical space, and so lighting and backstage things will become issues that we will have to work around. But I think this area has such a great feeling, that will create a certain theatricality that will be so great." "What did this use to be?" a guy asked.

47 "This was a storage space for auto parts." There was silence. "Okay," she said, "So I thought it would be nice to run through all the plays just to show everyone what kind of a show we will have. Sharon, do you want to start, since you have to leave early?" "Okay," said an older, heavy set woman in the front row. She got up and went on the stage. We watched as she began. She spoke in a very confessional manner, without much theatricality at all. It seemed like she was at a AA meeting. "Blondie came into my life during a very difficult time. It was after my second divorce and I was feeling very alone. VERY alone. I just felt that my husband had never truly shared himself with me, and I had felt lonely during the relationship. So when he left me for a younger woman I felt abandoned as well as betrayed. Since I do not have an active relationship with my biological family, I had feelings of deep depression and even considered suicide several times. I put on a lot of pounds. A LOT of pounds." She stopped while her eyes welled up. "Sorry," she said, "I should be able to get through this. I've done this piece a hundred times, I don't know why it's so hard now." "It's okay," said Peggy. "Take your time." Sharon took several deep breaths and continued. "I never considered myself an animal person until a feral cat started coming to my house. In Reseda you don't see too many feral animals so it was surprising to me. I started leaving food out for her and noticed that she would come back and visit me to say hi, and she would notice when I was having a bad night. She seemed to always show up when I needed some company the

48 most. Since she had such pretty blonde hair I called her Blondie. She just kept coming by. She would never come close to me, because she was afraid. I could tell people had been cruel to her, and she was afraid of getting close to people now. Even though she wouldn't come near me I knew she loved me. I could feel it. She was just afraid. And at night I could hear her outside my window mewing. And I knew I wasn't alone. She was out there, my best friend. And it was a tough world for both of us, but we still had each other. We loved each other. That's all you have in this world, love. Even when you lose everything else, if you have love you will be okay, because it's the one thing you really can't live without. I know that now. I didn't realize that in my marriages and with my family, and I took things for granted. So I was having this relationship with Blondie, this beautiful new thing in my life, and it was great. She was getting less afraid of me and coming closer to the house. But one day she came by and she just looked very sick." Her voice got thick with emotion again. "And I just picked her up and held her, which she never let me do before. I took her to the vet and the said she had breast tumors. She probably wouldn't have much more time. They were too advanced to operate, there was nothing I could do. So I took her back home and she disappeared for a few days. I couldn't sleep at all. I didn't know what to do. And then one night she presented herself to me, right at my bedroom door. She was laying at my door waiting for me. It was truly awesome for such a feral cat to show herself so openly to me. And then when we crossed paths later she just kept strolling, didn't run at all. So I came to the realization that I wouldn't try to trap her anymore. I told her that she could live with me as long as she wants. I explained that the minute the pain was too much, she just had to let me know - and let me pick her up, and I'll have her put down. So we came to a remarkable peace, Blondie and I, and later that night she let me know that it was time. And I looked in her eyes and knew it was the end. I

49 took her to the vet and they put her down. But I still have her spirit with me, and I know there is love out there for everyone." The monologue was over and she left the stage. Everyone applauded. "Wow," said Peggy. "That was so powerful. Who wants to go next?" A skinny little blonde girl got up and got on the stage. "Hi, my name is Courtney. This is a thing I wrote, I hope you like it." "Courtney, will you be needing any props or furniture for your piece?" "No, it's just me. I'll just stand here and say it." "Okay. If you need any props or anything, let me know soon so I can get it." "Okay," she said, then began to deliver her monologue. "I always liked eating. My whole life, I loved to sit and eat big meals with my family. Our family is Italian, so eating is a really big deal. It's a great time to connect with your family and enjoy life. But when I got into high school there was a lot of competition among the other girls to look good and be skinny. When I didn't make it onto the cheerleading team I assumed it was because I was too heavy. I started to get really self-conscious about my weight and I started to get really depressed. Since I loved eating so much I didn't want to starve myself like all the nasty supermodels. I thought that was gross, and I thought it was gross to throw up on purpose like some of the girls I knew at school. So what I did was I would eat a lot of food, and gorge, I would eat like five slices of pizza and a whole bunch of bread, and then maybe a half a tub of ice cream. And then I would take laxatives. I would take five times the recommended dosage, and I would just spend the rest of the night on the toilet. And that's how I spent most of my nights, sitting on the toilet all night long, crying and hating myself. Eventually my parents noticed I was spending a lot of time in the bathroom and they asked if something was wrong. I said there was,

50 and they had me go to a therapist. He put me on medication that made me feel better about myself, and I stopped hating my body. He gave me tips for how to deal with those times that I feel too fat. There's all these little exercises I do, it would probably seem crazy to you. For instance, I write down all the things I hate about my body, like this whole long list, and then I go through the list later and I realize those things aren't true. It's all in my mind. I cross them off one by one. It might sound weird, but it really helps. It's a lot of work being happy. All the happy people out there probably take it for granted." She finished and sat down. "Wow," said Peggy. "We have so many great monologues. I know we have some scenes. Does anyone with a scene want to show us what they have?" A guy and a girl got up and organized some chairs onstage to make it look like a living room. "Hey, my name is Jesse," said the girl, who was dark-haired and sullen. "And I'm Rob," said the guy, who was blonde and tan. "This is a scene a friend of ours wrote. We thought it was really powerful so we wanted to bring it to life." They started. It began with the girl onstage in the chair, looking really depressed and holding a remote, acting like she was watching TV. Then the guy came onstage. "Honey? Are you okay? You don't seem like yourself lately." "Oh, I don't know. I guess I feel alright." "You guess? Honey, what's wrong? You can tell me. I'm your husband." "Well," she started, "I don't know what's wrong with me, but lately I've been having weird thoughts." "Weird thoughts?? Like what?"

51 "Like today I was on the street walking, and I saw a bus go by, and I thought, 'what if I jumped in front of that bus?' Part of me wanted to do it to see what would happen." "Oh no," the guy said, his face filling with emotion. "Honey, don't say that." "I just feel disconnected. I don't know what is wrong with me." "Honey, we'll get through this. We'll figure out what is wrong with you." "Ever since the abortion, I just feel like life is not worth living anymore." "Honey, we talked about that. That was a decision we made together. That happened a long time ago." She burst into tears and sat there, blubbering on the chair. He embraced her. "Honey, we'll get through this. I am here for you. I want you to know that. I will never leave you, because I love you. You're my wife and I love you." She wept for a while and they sat there, embracing each other. Then the scene was over. "Wow," Peggy said. "That was so powerful. Thank you so much for sharing that. Our show is going to be really good. I already have such a great feeling about it. Let's see, who haven't we seen? Mark? Do you want to show us your monologue?" I did my monologue. People sat in stony silence and applauded afterwards. "Wow, dude," said the blonde guy Rob. "Did you write that? That was incredible. So crazy, man. I like, felt for the guy, you know? Really good." I had mixed feelings about being in such serious company and having people think my monologue was dramatic. Maybe other people didn't have my same sense of humor. Maybe my sense of humor was too dark or too twisted. I couldn't help it. That's how my dad's sense of humor was, and I just learned from him. The rehearsal lasted several hours and I caught the metro back home. Peggy had given us

52 a whole bunch of flyers to mail to agents and casting directors. I gave one to Sam and one to Pauline. I would not be handing them out on the street with Hollywood Syd Ross and I would most likely not send them to any agents.

14 I met Syd at Hollywood and Vine at 1:30 a few days later. He was wearing a big tye-dye shirt that made him look like the nostalgic hippies that used to live in the neighborhood I grew up. No one would've guessed my boss’s enthusiastic support for for George W. Bush. Syd told me that the book was going to be unbelievable as we sped through Hollywood in the T-Bird on our way to Larchmont Village, the blazing sun bringing sweat to our brows. The main topic of the day was Ron Brown’s mysterious death and the numerous facts that lead Syd to believe he was murdered by Clinton’s people for knowing too much about the Chinagate scandal. He was closely involved in illegal fundraising from the red Chinese through John Huang. Syd spewed vitriol as we traveled to Larchmont. As we parked in front of the pizza place he saw some women sitting there and said, “Look at these people. Look at this cunt on the cell phone.” “Yeah.” “She’s probably a democrat - she probably loves Hillary Clinton. What if - what if I told this bitch all the things Hillary did. What if she knew that Hillary referred to the secret service as her trained pigs! And how she fired men at the travel office - men who had been there for thirty years! And hired her friends from Arkansas! And how she supported the Black Panthers in the sixties…let’s get some pizza.” So we sat and ordered pizza while Syd gave me some new chapters. We got to the chapter about Hillary and all the things she said, Syd somehow got a list of quotes of hers and he started

53 reading them loudly - “ ‘Put your dick up, Bill, you can’t FUCK her here.’ And ‘Get out of my FUCKING way! The secret service are my trained pigs!’ She said that!” Syd was practically yelling and a woman sitting next to us with her family came over to us. “Syd, the things you’re saying are offensive, and we’re trying enjoy our meal here. Why don’t you go somewhere private to talk about this?” Syd exploded. “You should check your constitution, lady! Do you know the laws in this country? Do you even know? You’re probably a democrat! You probably love Hillary Clinton!” “Can’t you just keep your voice down? Please, I’m eating here with my family.” “These are real quotes. These are cited, these are not my words. Hillary Clinton said these things, they are real.” “I’m sure they are, but can you keep them to yourself for now?” “Alright, alright, I’ll do it - but just be aware that you’re oppressing me.” She went back to her seat while Syd continued berating her. “You have a nice family - too bad you’re all a bunch of phony liberals! You probably hate George Bush, but if I asked you why, you couldn’t tell me. You’d say, ‘I just don’t feel good about him.’ Mark, that’s how all these liberals are, they don’t have any facts to support their opinions. Fucking democrats.” We finished our meal, wrapped up the meeting and got up to leave. Syd turned to the family. “I feel terrible about what happened. I feel very sorry. Mark, get them a book.” I got a book out of his bag. He always carried copies of the autobiography.

54 “Here’s my book, I want to give it to you as an apology.” They accepted. “Thank you, Syd. It’s okay. You just need to keep you’re voice down sometimes.” We introduced ourselves to the whole family in a sign of contrition. “You have to be nice to people nowadays,” Syd told me. “Since 9/11 I realized I can’t be as annoying as I used to be. You know, we’re all Americans, Mark. We’re all fighting the forces of evil together.” On the bus ride home from Syd's place I had an idea for something to write that made me laugh. When the bus dropped me off I ran up to my apartment to write it down before I forgot. I ran past Sam as he offered me a beer on the front porch. "In a minute," I said. I went to my computer and started writing. They landed on the unidentified planet with one mission: find hot chicks. That was all I had, but I thought it was so great that it deserved to be elaborated on. I kept writing. "Okay, men," announced Captain Rogers to the crew of fifteen horny astronauts, "You know what they look like. You know the safety precautions. What do we do if we see aliens?" "Blast 'em!" said the new recruit Johansen from the back row. "Absolutely correct. And what do we do if we see those hot sexy ladies?" "Bring 'em back to the ship!" "And?" "Get to know them?" said Bonzo in the front row. "No, you idiot! We make love to them. Some of you have forgotten this. It's been so long since we have been with women that I understand. Does anyone have any questions about how to make love to a woman? Don't be shy. Does anyone not know how to do it?"

55 Gradually everyone raised their hands, some of them staring at the ground in shame. "Oh my God," said Captain Rogers. "The problem is worse than I thought. Listen - let's just forget about the women for now. Let's forget that humans on earth are an endangered species, and let's forget about the disease that killed our female population ten years ago. Let's forget about our mothers, sisters and daughters who died in the plague. Let's just sit in the spaceship and cry! Is that what you want to do?" "N-no," said a voice quietly. The room was full of men who were quietly sobbing. "This is not a time for tears, men. I know the situation is desperate, but we cannot give up. The human race depends on us." "Let's go!" someone said. The men rose from their stupor and began putting on their helmets. "That's the spirit," said Rogers. "Now let's go in the usual formations. Meet back at the ship at 1500 hours." The men left the ship, Captain Rogers heading his squadron of three. They had landed their ship on a mountain ridge and now began their descent down the mountain. The terrain was rocky but there appeared to be shrubbery. That was a good sign. Suddenly Lieutenant Danielson shouted "SMOKE!" The men looked over in the distance and saw what appeared to be a forest with smoke arising from it in various points. Life. The squadron ran joyously down the hill to the ground where they raced towards the forest village in the distance. Suddenly a man-like creature on top of a giant bird swooped down in front of them. "Earthlings!" exclaimed the alien in plain English. "You speak English!" said Captain Rogers, falling on his knees. "You must help us. We

56 are from earth and-" "We know. We are descended from humans. Captain Walker's crew colonized this planet one hundred years ago and taught us English." Rogers gasped. Walker's expedition was famous, their ship had lost contact with Earth and was assumed to be destroyed all this time. Captain Rogers explained the situation with Earth and the women and the alien said that the women on his planet were not only beautiful but incredibly fertile. He took them to the city where he showed them some of the alien half-human women. They had tentacles and strange green skin and were a sight to be seen for the weary travelers. They were indeed gorgeous. The alien, whose name turned out to be Grok, said that the earthlings could take several of their femaliens back to Earth and that they would be able to produce hundreds of offspring with them. "Will the children have tentacles and green skin?" "Yes they will." "Hmmm," mused Captain Rogers. He thought of Earth with its polluted air and exhausted resources, plus the religious wars that had caused so much destruction. "Or if you and your crew wish to stay here and live with us, we would welcome you," said Grok. "As long as you come in peace." Rogers looked out at the peaceful city around him with its strangely beautiful women and abundance of natural resources. He radioed the rest of the crew. "Men - I have found life on this planet. It is good life. I have decided that we will stay here. None of you are permitted to go back to Earth. They must not know of the treasure we've found." The men convened in the city. They were welcomed and that night there was a

57 celebration for the newcomers. All of the crew got laid. However, none of them slept well for a long time, for they were haunted by the dying planet they had left behind. I read the story over once and thought it was pretty good. Then I went out to have that beer with Sam. I showed him the story and he thought it was pretty good too.

15 My parents had started going on cruises because they were a lot easier to do than any other form of vacation. You didn't have to worry about anything. You know where you're going to sleep and eat every night. All the activities are prearranged for you. It's a giant floating hotel, mall, nightclub, resort, everything you can think of. So my mom arranged a cruise in the Caribbean for the whole family. I told Syd I would be gone for a week and he was slightly annoyed but I didn't care. I drove home and the four of us all flew to Miami to get on the cruise. One night about three days into the cruise I got dressed up for dinner and took a swig of the mango rum I had gotten in Barbados. My sister and I walked out of our room and down the hall. We got lost several times before we found the dining room. The boat pitched gently as we walked into the room. My parents were already at their seats, the same ones we had been at all week. "Oh my God, look at Dad," said my sister. His face was dark from the sun. We'd been walking around St. Thomas all day long. "He looks like a Mexican!" I said, and the two of us busted up laughing. We got to the dinner table.

58 "Dad, you look like a Mexican," my sister said. "I don't know why my complexion is so funny to you people," he said. "I think you're just jealous of my tanning abilities." Our table mates arrived shortly. There was Geena, a pretty blonde woman in her fifties, and Geena's friend Teresa. They were from Arizona. Geena's husband, who was much older, had some form of illness where he had to wear a colostomy bag and have constant medical attention. She and Teresa were taking a vacation together while the husband was at home with a nurse. We got the feeling that the husband was close to death. Our other table mates were a couple, Doug and Susan, from Orlando. They were devout Christians. Doug had nearly killed himself through alcohol and drugs until Christ saved him. I think they were both born-again. They mentioned Jesus constantly, praying before each meal. During the meal we talked about the nice waiting staff that lavished attention on us. Our waiter, Bozidar, was from Turkey, and his apprentice Tom, who filled our wine glasses and brought the bread, was from Africa. "There certainly are a lot of foreigners working on this ship," my dad observed. "Oh yeah," said Doug. "We've been on about ten cruises. They're all filled with people from other countries." "The guy who makes our beds is from the Phillipines," said Geena. "He said this is the best job you can get if you're from one of the poor countries. There is a wait list to get a cruise job. He had to wait a year to get his job. And he only got it because the last person died. So he replaced that guy. It's incredibly competitive. There's just no jobs in those countries." "He has a family back in the Phillipines," Teresa added. "A wife and kids." I pictured little third world towns teeming with poor, desperate people just waiting to

59 leave. They would even leave their own families for months, years at a time to find a decent job making beds. The world was a shocking place once you left the United States. This cruise ship must have seemed like heaven on earth to these poor people. I always felt a mixture of pity and bewilderment at the poor immigrants that crowded into LA looking for jobs, getting up early to take the bus for an hour to go scrub toilets. I would never have to suffer that fate. None of my children would. My ancestors didn't even have to go through that. They came from Germany and started a coal business, becoming quite wealthy. After the meal my mom and dad went to check out the comedy show. There was some comedian who did magic who had gotten rave reviews. My sister and I went out to the deck where we heard a big commotion. There must have been hundreds of people watching a show of some kind. There was an Australian girl in the center of the deck with a microphone. She was part of the events staff, which was all Australians and British people for some reason. "For this next competition I will need five strapping young men. Don't be shy, boys!" Events coordinators walked through the crowd grabbing people. One of them, a girl, grabbed me and started pulling me towards the stage. I tried to fight it but it was no use. She was determined to bring me into the competition. When the five of us were assembled onstage in front of hundreds of screaming young cruise goers. The Australian girl gave us all hula hoops. Ah yes, I thought. A good old-fashioned hula hoop competition. While they played music the five of us twirled the hoops around our waists. The huge dinner I had just eaten threatened to come up constantly and I became incredibly nauseous. But I just kept going. When the hoop got low I just spread my legs to catch it before it hit the ground. One by one my opponents dropped their hoops. They just couldn't keep them up. My long legs made it so mine never dropped. Maybe it was cheating. Maybe not.

60 When all of my competitors had failed, I was left standing, the victor of the men's league. The whole boat exploded in cheers as I pumped my fist in the air. Then I had to battle the champion from the girl's competition. She was tall and blonde, with long skinny legs. I worried. We both poised our hoops around our waists as we waited for the music to start. When it began I rotated my pelvis furiously, trying to keep my hula hoop up. My chest and stomach erupted with soreness from the weight of the food and the strain of the competition. I felt my dinner rising in my throat. I had to win this competition. My legs teetered like toothpicks. Just as they were about to give out I saw the girl next to me tip to the side as the boat shifted in the restless Pacific. Her scrawny legs collapsed under her and she fell to the ground, twisting her ankle badly. She burst into tears of agony - the agony of defeat, the agony of exertion. The Australian girl announced, "We have a winner!" and it echoed across the ship. "MARK FROM LOS ANGELES!!! The winner!!" The applause was thunderous. The girl next to me was on the ground, writhing as the Australian girl came up to grab my hand. Just then I couldn't stop it. My stomach heaved and I felt my dinner coming up. It was all the wine I had drunk, the chocolate pie, the salad, the soup, the veal, and the physical demands of the competition. I gagged as the vomit exploded out of my mouth and landed on the Australian girl's face. I heaved again, doubling over and vomiting on the girl writhing on the ground. It completely covered her face. All I remember is lying on the ground and hearing the mayhem that exploded around me. I remember the sounds of women sobbing and people screaming, then my sister's voice as I drifted into unconsciousness. Later I lay in my bed, recovering. "I told mom and dad what happened," my sister said from her bed. "They thought it was

61 pretty funny. How do you feel?" "Okay. Just tired." "Still queasy?" "Yeah. I think I might walk around the ship a little bit." "Okay. Don't get lost. Remember we're on the seventh floor past the casino." "Yeah. I think I remember." I walked down the narrow, surreal corridor towards the casino. It was late at night and the casino was filled with fat old men and women gambling away. I went through the blinking lights and crowds to the other side. I had never been back there before. There was a lounge with a few drunks sitting and listening to a guy at a piano. I was a little lightheaded. The guy was playing a song from Phantom of the Opera. A few old women sat by him and watched adoringly. At the end of the lounge was a door that went to the outside. I walked through and felt the warm tropical night air blasting on me. I stood on the deck by the ledge and looked out. The ocean was so vast and so dark. Life on the inside was so warm and comforting, but it was so strange and terrifying out there in the ocean. I understood what Captain Ahab must have been raging at - the very indifference of nature, the very vastness and cruelty of it. I walked up a staircase to the deck where the swimming pools were. A bunch of drunk, fat guys were sitting in the hot tubs. It was a beautiful night, much more pleasant than the middle of the day with the sun burning my face. Back in Barbados we had walked through the town and seen how the heat affected people's lives. Our tour guide had even told us in his lilting Carribean accent that he hated the heat. "It is oppressive," he said. "You do not want to do anything in this heat." There were essentially no jobs in any of these islands, and the only industries were

62 tourism, spices and rum. I wondered why everywhere you go on vacation ends up being depressing. I looked in the window at the fat white people inside. There was a snack bar that was open all night long, serving hot dogs, pizza and ice cream. I guess I would take the comfort of the cruise ship over the poor third-world towns we had visited. I suddenly felt that America was like a giant cruise ship, floating through the cruel oceans, lost and deluded. We were fighting a war we would never win and should not have started. Hollywood Syd Ross was just as confused as any of us, raging on the streets of Los Angeles every day, opining some mythical past that would never return. We were all stuck on the mighty cruise ship of America, drifting in our comfort, oblivious but terrified of the world outside of us. I walked around the deck for awhile, half in love with the boat and half disgusted by it. I had a feeling that this was the last vacation our whole family would take together. We were all just getting to the age where we were going our separate ways.

16 After I got back I met Syd at Hollywood and Vine. He was wearing a red Cornell hat. When I got in the car he started fuming about new law Grey Davis had just passed allowing all illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses. “As if we don’t have enough Mexicans driving without insurance, why don’t we just open our borders and say ‘come on in.’ Do you know how easy it will be for terrorists to come here and get licenses, get citizenship, and pretty soon they’re voting!” He said suddenly that he had a great idea and we had to go pick something up at his house. So we cruised down to his place and he went in while I waited. Then he came out with a giant sombrero.

63 “Hey hombre, Grey Davees gave me a license, homes!” He gave me his Cornell hat as we drove through his neighborhood towards Hancock Park, waving at people and shouting “Gray Daveees gave me a license, homes!” Eventually we pulled up in front of a synagogue where all these Orthodox Jews were standing around talking. He parked, saying “The great thing about shabbatt - there’s great parking! Ha ha, you like that? ‘Cause they’re not supposed to drive, you like that? Hahaaaa!!!!” Then we got out and all these Jews in their dark robes and giant hat and braids came over. “Syd, how come you’re not running for governor? Who is this, your assistant? Is he Jewish?” Syd knew all of them. “Hi Mordechai, hello Levy, how are you?” He walked through the gathering crowd with his giant sombrero, like a superstar. No one said anything about the sombrero but he rationalized it. “You like my hat? It’s because of the new law! Did you hear about it? They’re giving licenses to the immigrants.” We went into the building, a giant room full of orthodox Jews reading texts, speaking Hebrew and getting drunk on wine. Everyone knew him in the whole room and they crowded around him like he was a saint. He went through speaking Hebrew and Yiddish, introducing me. “This is my assistant, he’s a goyim. I can only hire goyim, he takes nine bucks an hour. A Jew would charge twenty! He didn’t have a kovah so I gave him mine, how do you like the sombrero? The torah says you have to wear a hat, it doesn’t say how big it has to be!” There were Jews everywhere talking loudly and drunkenly. After making our rounds we left the building and drove to Lulu’s Café. We said hi to the waitresses and suddenly saw a

64 comedian I recognized from numerous late night shows. “It’s Jeffrey Gold!” Syd said. “Jeffrey!” We went to his table, where he was sitting with with a beautiful young woman. “Hollywood Syd Ross! Where have you been? I like the sombrero.” Syd said, “Jeffrey, this is Mark, he’s my personal assistant.” Jeffery turned to me and said “I’m sorry.” “He’s doing research for my book about the Clintons.” “You have a research assistant? What happened to your last assistant, did he get SARS?” Syd exploded with laughter, drawing glares. Jeffrey continued. “Syd, how come you haven’t been on Scooter and the Geech?” Syd got serious quickly. “Those guys have lost it. They just don’t have it anymore.” “Ever since they fired Jacky.” “That’s true,” Syd said. “Jeffrey when you get your own show, I have one request of you. Let me be your man in the street.” “Man in the street?” “Yeah, I’ll be your crazy man in the street or whatever. However you format the show, I can do interviews for you.” “I don’t have a show yet, Syd.” “Yeah, I know, but you’re so talented you’re bound to have your own show someday. Just keep me in mind.” “Sure thing, Syd.” We sat down and ordered breakfast, exchanging documents and doing business. We finished and paid the bill, then Syd asked me if I wanted to go to shabbatt lunch at Levy’s house.

65 I said sure. “Levy is a rabbi, he’s a wonderful man, you’ll love him.” We got to Levy’s house where some other guests were arriving. Syd showed me the traditional way to wash my hands before the meal. Then we sat down at the table with Levy’s family and four or five non-family members. Syd was the first to speak, and he looked upset. “I have to tell you something, Levy.” Levy looked at Syd with grave concern, the weight of the world on his shoulders. “What is it, Syd?” “I’m worried about Israel.” “Israel?” “Yes, you heard about the bomb this morning? They bombed the spiritual leader of the Hamas, they bombed his house.” “Did they get him?” “I don’t know, I just wish they didn’t have to resort to violence.” “Well, sometimes, Syd, violence is necessary. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong.” A discussion began about Israel, which led to other topics, including communism and socialism, the former Soviet Union, the new driver’s license law, and ended with Syd going on about how the Jewish people are the smartest in the world, and the most successful, that’s why they are hated. After the meal we read prayers from a Hebrew prayer book. It was about five and I had spent the whole day with Syd. We made our exits, thanking them for the wonderful meal and Syd drove me to the Farmer’s Market where I wanted to be left off. I couldn’t sit in the car with him all the way home.

66

17 Since Syd was about to go to Florida to stay in his condo for ten days, I met him at Starbucks to exchange some data. I was late, so he made me buy my own drink. I got an iced tea and we sat down and he immediately started talking about a date he had the night before. “Remember Carmen? The girl I told you about?” “Yeah, you showed me where she lives.” “Yeah, on Lexington. Oh man, she is hot. This girl is…she’ll blow your fucking mind.” “She’s Hispanic?” “Yeah, she’s little. A little Hispanic girl, she is beautiful. She is a firecracker. I finally called her last night.” “You went out with her?” “Yeah, we went out. I think she has a boyfriend…she is gorgeous.” We sipped our drinks. He wouldn’t elaborate and I wanted details but didn’t want to ask. He spoke. “This book is gonna be amazing. First things first, I have some chapters to give to you.” He pulled out some manila folders. “I did a lot of writing last night, this will blow you away.” He showed me some pages. “Okay, listen closely. These two kids, Don Henry and Kevin Ives, are you listening? This is complex. They were found in dead on the train tracks in rural Arkansas, the medical examiner said it was an accident, but there were knife wounds found in both of them, their bodies were put

67 on the train tacks so they would be ran over, okay? Now they were found at a spot where Sharlene Wilson and Dan Harmon picked up drugs with Roger Clinton.” “Who is Dan Harmon?” “He was a prosecutor in Arkansas, he’s a piece of shit. Really corrupt. He was friends with Bill Clinton. Okay, so Sharlene Wilson, she’s in jail now, she said she was picking up drugs with Dan Harmon and these kids intercepted the drugs and Harmon’s henchmen killed the kids! And Clinton tried to have the investigation eighty-sixed!! Are you following me?!” “Yeah.” I had lost the train of thought a while back. “Isn’t that amazing?” “Yeah. Wow. So Clinton…” “Oh yeah, Clinton covered the whole thing up-” Some Hispanic couple came in, speaking Spanish and laughing. “These people should fucking learn English. They’re probably illegal, they just got their driver’s licenses. Every year I stay in this city I get more racist. Wait till you get to my age, Mark. Jesus, this is what you have to look forward to.” He gave me some more manila full of chapters and pronounced the meeting finished. “Let’s get out of here. Walk to Wilton?” “Okay, sure thing Syd.” We walked down Hollywood. Syd told me that Kim was out of rehab and I’ll probably be working with her on the book. “She wants me to buy her a house. You know, I pay her bills and give her three thousand bucks a month already, and that’s not enough?” I realized that she had probably been able to support her drug habit for so long solely

68 because Syd had given her so much free money. I know he knew this but I couldn't figure out why he keeps giving her the money.

I read in the paper that David Lynch was going to be speaking at USC, in their Bovard Auditorium. I had liked his movies and was wondering if he would explain what they were about. I heard that tickets were open to the general public so I took the bus down there. I walked through the ivy-laced campus, past old brick buildings and huge lawns. When I finally found the auditorium there was a line snaking around the whole building. College students had been waiting all day for this. I went to the box office and saw the sign that said "Sold out" posted on the window. Oh well. I wasn't that disappointed. I kind of expected that to happen. It was a last minute decision anyways. I walked around the quiet campus, enjoying the scholarly safety of the academic world. Everything felt so civilized here, not like life on the outside in my neighborhood. In Hollywood there were no teachers, no professors, no one in charge and nothing to think about. It was just chaos and people didn't even try to act civilized. But that was the way of the world I guess. I looked around the school bookstore for awhile but didn't buy anything because the prices were insanely high for everything. When the store closed at ten o'clock I wandered off campus to get something to eat. I quickly realized I was in a very different neighborhood then the one I lived in. It was incredibly poor only several blocks off of the campus. Not only were Mexicans and blacks everywhere in this part of town, thousands of rich white college kids were driving around in their Priuses and BMW's. I got some tacos at a crowded Mexican place full of frat guys drinking pitchers of margaritas. The restaurant was loud and hospitable. I realized I had to get a bus before they stopped running, so after I paid the bill I walked

69 out to find my way to Western. I walked down 36th Street thinking I was only a few blocks from Western. I had no idea how far I was, and soon I was in a neighborhood completely populated by poor blacks and Mexicans. This was not a part of USC's neighborhood and these people had nothing to do with that world. Cars drove by me slowly, blasting hip-hop as a group of guys inside looked at me to see who was walking through their neighborhood. A helicopter circled overhead. I took comfort in the fact, as Pauline had told me, that there is actually very little random violence in LA. If you are in a gang chances are you will be shot walking down the street. If you are not in a gang and have no gang affiliation there is hardly any reason for someone to shoot you. It still lingered in my mind. After about a half hour walking through a neighborhood where I was not welcome I got to Western. It was a grimy and desolate place full of hard-working, poor families and much crime. Western was deserted and I wondered if it was too late for a bus. It was about half past eleven o'clock as I sat at the bus stop. The desert night air was cold this time of year and anyone with any sense was in a house or a car. A few blocks away a gun fired several times and tires screeched. Several minutes later sirens wailed, getting closer. I reminded myself not to get into these kind of situations again. An old black man rode down Western on a bicycle and stopped in front of me. What he was doing riding his bike down the street at that hour I will never know, but maybe it was normal in that neighborhood. He looked at me for a second. "Don't see too many white people around here," he said in a deep voice of authority. "Yeah," I laughed. "I'm just waiting for the bus." "Should be here in a few minutes. You're lucky, this is the last one on Western. You know, this really isn't a very safe spot. This is 18th Street territory."

70 "Who's that?" "Just a gang. Some kids who think they're tough. Not the kind of place you should be at this hour. You mind if I stay here until you get the bus? Make sure nothing happens." "Oh, sure. Thanks." "Yeah man, this shit isn't safe out here." He took a joint out of his pocket and started smoking it. He was a mellow guy, probably in his fifties. "Yeah man, my son was in 18th St. He got shot over on Adams, he was in the wrong neighborhood." "Oh geez, I'm sorry." "Yeah, he's in a wheelchair, the rest of his life. He needs medicine, shots and shit...that stuff is expensive." He took a deep hit and exhaled in the night air. "What are you doing waitin' for a bus on Western in the middle of the night?" "I was at USC for something, but I gotta go back to Hollywood to my apartment. I lost track of time." "Oh, okay. You go to USC?" "No. I just went to see someone speak, but I didn't even get in. So the whole trip was wasted." "Who was you goin' to see?" "Um, this filmmaker, David Lynch." "Oh, Twin Peaks!" "Yeah, that's the guy."

71 "He's cool, man. I used to trip out on that show. That was a cool show." "Yeah, I was hoping he would explain what the show meant." He laughed. Just then the bus showed up. I almost didn't want to leave. "Alright man, take it easy." "Thanks," I said, and watched him get on his bike to ride off into the night. I got on the bus and paid my fare, then sat down. There were two old Mexican ladies and an old Korean man, and a sullen black kid with headphones on. You could hear the hip-hop blasting throughout the whole bus. The driver was a huge black guy who must've weighed three hundred pounds. He looked strangely alert for what time it was and how tired he should've been. The bus went up Western and into Koreatown. The signs on the businesses changed from Spanish to Korean and I wondered what that old guy on the bike was doing.

18 Syd went to Florida, and never was I in more contact with him. He called at least three times a day to rant. The first time he called he told me to look through Michael Isikoff’s book and take notes, like little-known facts about the Clintons. That’s not too hard, but then he started talking about making flow charts of facts that connect between all the books and weaving a vast web of information, a mighty and irrefutable case against Clinton. “Kind of like the vast rightwing conspiracy,” he said, laughing. “Write this down, this is good. Get a pen. Do you have paper?”

72 “Yeah.” “Always have a pen and paper when you talk to me. Okay, write this: who funds the vast right-wing conspiracy? Where are the headquarters? I want to know, really! How can I be a member? Ha ha, you like that? How can I be a member? But seriously, these liberals are insane. What conspiracy? There’s no conspiracy, if there is I want to be a part of it. Write this down: Hillary needs a time-out.” “Okay, I got it,” I said, scribbling furiously. “I mean it’s just ridiculous. Oh, I have something else for you to write down so I don’t forget. Ready? I’m going to bring this up at City Council. It’s an idea, you’ll think I’m crazy but this is brilliant. The city needs to rent fifty big Greyhound busses and drive around the city, one bus for each state. And every time you see these bums sitting around, this human garbage on the streets not working, urinating in the street and wasting space, defecating - every time you see these people, you say ‘Where were you born?’ He says, ‘Salt Lake City,’ you put him on the Utah bus! You drive around collecting all the Utah bums, you say ‘Do you have a job? No? Where were you born? Salt Lake City? Okay, the bus is leaving at two!’ You give them all a free ride and a meal, you send them all back where they came from.” I wrote it all down as he yelled. “Or here’s another option. You round up all the bums. You take them to a shelter at night, a huge shelter, give them all the booze they want. Beer, wine, whiskey, all they can drink. Then at eight in the morning you kick them all out and make them look for a job. If they haven’t found a job in sixty days. You kick ‘em out of the shelter and send them back where they were born. Get rid of them, I’m serious. I mean, whose city is it? Ours or theirs? I think I’m gonna run for mayor on this platform. I know I can win ‘cause people are fed up with this homeless situation.

73 He called later that day, sounding frazzled. “Oh my God, I had an emergency. A pipe burst in here, it was the clothes washer. Jesus, there’s water everywhere. It got into the guy’s apartment beneath me, his place is all wet. The water damage people came, it’s gonna take awhile to fix everything. I’m gonna have to stay here another week. I gotta go.” He called the next day and gave me the address of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign headquarters and told me to get ready to take some notes because he has ideas for the campaign. “Okay, number one: Richard Riordan supports Arnold, and Arnold should use Riordan. Riordan should appear everywhere with him, on commercials, at events, everywhere! Do you hear me?! Okay, number two: Arnold is the TERMINATOR. People love the Terminator, it’s his persona. He should dress up as the Terminator, use all the phrases, ‘Hasta la Vista Baby,’ and stuff. You writing this down? Okay, number three. Public appearances. Arnold should make more public appearances. BASEBALL GAMES!!! He shows up at a Dodgers game with a Dodgers hat on while everyone’s leaving, that’s forty or fifty thousand people, it’s brilliant. Okay, the last one. This is great. Arnold IS the American dream. You like that? He’s the American Dream! He should be in commercials with the stars and stripes, the statue of liberty, the national anthem playing. He’s the American Dream, he came here with nothing and became a superstar. So what I want you to do is write these ideas down and embellish them. You’re gonna write a letter to his campaign headquarters. Tell them that you and I want to volunteer to help Arnold, but we both have some suggestions for his campaign. Put your name and phone number along with mine. I mean, whoever is running his campaign is doing a terrible job. And I think he should hire me as his advisor, if he does he can win. But the way things are going, he’s running a terrible campaign, he’s gonna lose. Okay, so write it down and send it today, can you do that?”

74 “Sure, Syd.” He gave me the address to copy down. We said goodbye and hung up and I seriously considered quitting for the first time. But I couldn’t, at least then. I didn’t even have a car. What other job could I do in LA without a car?

19 Syd called to check in and give me some possible titles for our publishing company to see how I liked them. “Random Apartments Publishing Co.” was the first, which he told me with relish and a prolonged laugh. “Yeah, that’s funny,” I said. “Be honest with me, do you like it?” “Yeah, I think it’s good.” “You know, like Random House, but it’s Random Apartments.” “Uh-huh. I get it.” Then he told me he wants to maybe present the book as a democrat. Because people will dismiss an anti-Clinton book if it’s written by a republican. “They’ll think I’m a fanatic,” he said. I told him it could be done, it might be a good idea to take that angle. His next title was “New Age Left Wing Press,” which I did not understand but I sealed my mouth. Then he told me he was talking to his friend Chris Ruddy and Chris gave Syd some unproven gossip. “Don’t tell anyone, but Kobe Bryant might be gay. And Gray Davis and Jerry Brown too.” I didn’t know what to say but I jotted it down anyway. We made plans for that Sunday

75 after he got back. He needed me to help him clear a path in his apartment for his new refrigerator. That Sunday I was standing in his crowded apartment watching while he cleaned. It was a one-bedroom place that was completely full of crap - tons of old porno videos, exercise equipment, cabinets he could no longer reach, a piano, bookshelves, and piles of books about the Clintons. I could not walk on the floor without stepping on things. I found a corner to stand in, next to a bookshelf that was full of porno videos. “People used to send me those when I was on Scooter and the Geech,” he said. So I stood and listened to him rant while he cleared a path to his kitchen. “I mean it’s ridiculous, you know I called Scooter this morning and I had to pretend to be someone else” - with a Yiddish accent” - “Hi, this is Mahvin, I want to tawk to Scootah. You know, it was funny, so I got on the air and I said, ‘Scooter, it’s me, don’t hang up.’ And you know what he did? He called me a scumbag and hung up. A scumbag! What did I do? I went on Imus months ago, and he’s still mad about it. You know what, I’m going to call Freddy, he needs to know about this.” “Who’s Freddy?” “The producer of the show. He should take my call.” Syd picked up the phone and dialed. “Hello, is Freddy there? It’s Hollywood Syd Ross. He’s not there? Okay, could you tell him that Syd called. And tell him this: I know what Bill the Drunk is doing, I know he’s been sabotaging me. I’ve been on the show for fifteen years and Bill the Drunk has RUINED. MY. LIFE. Do you know who I am? I’m Hollywood Syd Ross, I was calling this morning with something for Scooter, I was going to talk about Charles Grodin on the Pat Sajak show, this is

76 something I do on the show, I have a sort of character. I held up signs on the street for fifteen years, for free, I have not made a penny off of this show. I did it all for free because I love the show, I can’t even get on the show now. And do you know what one of the interns told me? She told me to call 1-800-SCOOTER. Quite frankly, I was insulted. Yes I was, I was hurt but that. And you know what? You can’t stop me. No matter what Bill or Freddy or Scooter does, I am going to get on that show again!!” His face was twisted with rage. “There is nothing you can do to stop me, I will only try harder! I am unstoppable! I am Hollywood Syd Ross, thank you for listening!” He hung up violently and turned to me with a huge grin. “You like that? Haha, that was good, huh?” “Yeah, Syd. Wow.” “I mean, this is insane,” he went on. “I went on Imus in April, and here it is October already. I forgot to tell her that.” He picked up the phone and dialed. “Hello? This is Hollywood Syd Ross again. Furthermore, Scooter is mad at me because I went on Imus in April. April! That’s what, five months ago? Just because I met Imus at the book fair and went on his show to promote a book I’m writing on the Clintons. My assistant Mark is here, we’re both working very hard on this book. And Scooter drove me to Imus! He wouldn’t let me promote my book on the show. It’s not like I’m being paid. I do all this for free. Okay, you’ll tell this to Freddy? Okay, thank you very much.” He hung up again. Then he paid me and I gave him some notes and books I had gotten him. He asked me when I would like to go make calls for Arnold and I dodged the issue.

77

20 Syd called and told me to sit down. “I should write another book about my life, you’re not going to believe this. So they moved the fridge into my apartment, right? So last night I came home from Van Nuys, I was working for Arnold. And I had to drive through this shitty traffic past illegal Mexicans and all I wanted to do was have some pizza and a beer and watch a porno! So I get home and open my new fridge and it was like a sauna in there! I mean it was hotter than a microwave. I got so mad, Mark, all my food was ruined, I had to go to the store to buy ice at two in the morning like a… like a Jew in 1912! Can you find a copy of the Lord’s Prayer on the internet for me?” “Sure.” “Because I need it for times like these. Life just isn’t fair, Mark, you know?” “Yeah.” “I mean don’t you ever get angry?” “Not really.” “You will. When you get older, believe me you will. And you’ll become a republican and start going to church, because that’s the only way to deal with all this shit.” I hoped I could find another way of dealing with life’s disappointments. I had no problem with him turning to the republican party and organized religion for solace. But that just wasn’t my style. “So keep up the good work Mark.” “Okay Syd, bye.” “Talk to you in a few days.”

78

21 It was the day before the election. California was about to decide the fates of Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger so I met Syd at Hollywood and Highland in the convertible. He was wearing a loud, cherry red silk jacket and waving the American flag. I got in his car and there were Arnold signs all over the place. “Grab a sign,” he commanded as we pulled up next to the Chinese Theater and stopped. There were some cops standing around and about fifty Japanese tourists. Syd honked repeatedly while we held up the signs to a sea of blank faces. The cops waved. Syd screeched off down the street. “Hahaha, that was great!” he yelled. “I’m having the time of my life with this Arnold thing. You know what, I could die tomorrow a happy man for all the fun I’m having.” He reached into his jacket and whipped out a check. “You can cash this now. Here were are, hold up the sign!” We had pulled up to the light at La Brea, turning left. We held up the signs way above our heads as Syd glared at the cars. A cacophony of horns around us signaled their approval and people coming towards us flipped us off and shouted “Go fuck yourself!” Syd laughed loudly and pumped his hands in the air. We turned down La Brea and did the same at

79 every light, where we were greeted with a mix of hatred and support. At one light Syd put a tape in the stereo and hit play. It was Al Jolson singing “America the Beautiful” and Syd sand along very loudly. I started wondering where he was taking me. Then we pulled up next to the Orthodox Jewish temple. Syd said “Today is Yom Kippur, do you mind going to services? It’ll be fun!” “Okay sure,” I said and he handed me a yarmulke. “This is the holiest Jewish holiday of the year, and it’s very serious to these Orthodox Jews. So keep the hat on.” We walked into the building and out the back side, then up a dark staircase into a room full of serious Orthodox Jews with huge beards and braids, complete with robes and hanging tassels, dressed in all black and white. They were murmuring to each other and bowing back and forth when we came in and everyone turned to us. “Rosenblatt,” they all said as they crowded around him. I hadn’t known that was his real name. He was famous and they all called him Rosenblatt over and over. Even though someone was leading a prayer in Hebrew half the group surrounded Syd, all the kids asking questions. Syd made the rounds, saying hello to all the starstruck Jews. We sat down at a crowded table and Syd whispered in my ear, “See how they’re rocking back and forth, it’s called daavening.” Then I realized the whole group was engaged in some sort of auction. The head rabbi was calling out numbers “Two eighty, do I hear two eighty?” “Two eighty!“ someone yelled. “Three hundred!” Syd shouted. “Okay, three hundred…once…twice…three times, it goes to Syd Rosenblatt,” and the whole place erupted with frenzied conversation as Syd stood up and shouted “For Arnold, the

80 next governor!” to which he was greeted with a chorus of boos. A little old man stood up and said, “He’s a pervert!” Syd shouted “Those women lied! It’s not proven!” There was another outcry and Syd walked up to the center of the room where he was joined at a large podium with a few other people who had presumably placed the highest bids. They all took turns reading a prayer in Hebrew in a sing-songy chant. Afterwards Syd came back and said “That was an honor to these Orthodox Jews. You get to read the prayer, it’s a symbol of status. It’s good publicity. I did it to make an impression, so maybe some of these people will vote for Arnold tomorrow.” Everyone was passing around a bag of Starbucks coffee grounds, inhaling deeply and smiling. “It’s for the fasting. It helps keep us awake,” someone said. Syd turned to me. “I’m glad I did that, you know? I did that for my parents, may they rest in peace. I know they’d be proud of me.” “Oh yeah, definitely.” “I’m not afraid of death, Mark. You know why? Because I think we go on afterwards. Don’t you?” “I’m not sure about that.” “Really? Well, let me know.” We left when Syd had had enough and the Jews had a long day of prayer and fasting ahead of them. As we got in the convertible he said, “Can I drop you off at the Grove?” I said sure, I would take the bus home. We drove over to Fairfax and he pulled over to drop me off. “So you don’t believe in an afterlife?” “I think this is all we have, Syd.”

81 “But what is the point of life if there’s nothing after? Do you think about that?” “Well, I don’t know. If this is all we get, everything’s a little more important.” “You’re such a Bay Area liberal, I wonder what your parents think of me.” “They’re okay with it. I gotta pay the bills somehow.” “Okay, I’m going to Santa Monica to make phone calls, sure you don’t want to come?” “No, that’s okay.” “Alright then, I’ll call you in a few days.” We parted.

When I got home Sam was sitting on the porch. We said hi. "Hey dude," Sam said. "Me and Pauline are going to this open-mic thing tonight. Want to come?" "Sure. What's it like?" "It's a lot of spoken word stuff," Pauline yelled from inside her apartment. "You know, liberal coffee house stuff. War sucks, save the whales. It's a cool scene. Their chai tea is amazing." "You could go and read some of your stuff," Sam said. "Like that story you wrote." "Yeah, I'll check out the place." Pauline drove us to the place, it was way over east in Silverlake in some strange hilly neighborhood off of Sunset. The coffeeshop was tiny and full of bohemian types. We went in and got our coffees. Pauline knew everyone in the place. I was coming to realize that she was a kind of hippy mother to Sam and me. She had been through everything, lived in the city for at least twenty years and was at peace. It was very comforting. The first performer was a small, intense

82 looking woman with dark hair pulled back. She was definitely a Silverlake old-timer. She stepped in front of the microphone. "This is called War Babies. Here it goes." We sat and waited. "Hey, Mr. Bush. Yeah, you. George Bush. Can you hear me? I just want to ask you a few questions. When you sleep at night, do you hear the screaming of the orphans of Baghdad? Can you hear the crying of the mothers of Iraq? The ones who have lost their only sons? How about the military wives? Can you hear their cries at night, because their husbands are gone away and might never come back? What about the children growing up on military bases who don't know what their fathers or mothers look like? Who might never get to know one of their parents because of your war? Can you hear the war babies? Can you see them, out there in the dark, crying for their fathers, crying for their mothers, the ones you snatched away from THEM?!?!?" Her voice rose to a fever pitch. She stopped for a second took a deep breath, then whispered "Thank you" into the microphone. The crowd applauded wildly. The rest of the performances were similar in tone and content and the audience reaction was incredibly supportive. We finished our coffees and left. "We should go back next week and you should perform some of the stuff you wrote," Sam said. "Alright. Maybe I'll come up with something." I had some ideas and I got to work right away when I got home.

83

22 Syd called to give me regards from the rabbi. “The rabbi says hello. He likes you, he thinks you’re a good goy.” I was strangely honored. “He wanted to invite you to Sukkah today, do you want to go?” “Thanks for the invitation, but I’m going to see Kill Bill today.” “Oh alright, that’s okay, I’ll give him your regards. Sukkah’s great, we all stand around and sing. It’s like the Christmas carols you Christians do. You’d love it. You could convert if you wanted to, the rabbi would be happy to convert you.” “Okay, I’ll think about it.” He told me to keep up the good work and hung up. Later he called again. “Mark, it’s official. I’m running for mayor in the next election. April of 2005. And guess who’s gonna be my campaign manager? You. You’ll have fifteen people working under you - one for each district of LA. Do you know how big LA is? It’s huge, it goes from Pacoima all the way down to San Pedro. I’m warning you now, you’ll go crazy. It’ll be fun though, we’re gonna have a blast.” “Yeah, I think I’m ready to handle it.” Then he got confessional. “Tell you the truth, Mark, I’m doing this because I’m done with Scooter and the Geech. I need to stay relevant. I don’t want to be one of those guys that everyone says, ‘Whatever happened to him?’ I need to stay in the scene.”

84 He said he was going downtown to fill out the papers the next day, and he’d be the first to file papers to run against Mayor Hahn. It will be great publicity. He called the next day, fuming. “So I called Scooter’s agent and you know what? You know what I said? I told him I’m through with the show, he and the Geech and Bill the Drunk and Freddy and all those assholes can go fuck themselves. Mark, I will tell you something - in this world people will shit on you. I know you’re young, but it’ll happen. They will shit all over your fucking face. And you know what!? They’ll keep doing it unless you stand up for yourself. And this is me standing up for myself. I’m through with Scooter, I’m through with the Geech, that asshole who was never nice to me. See if you can get me some radio gigs, tell people that I’m on my own now. You know Mark, in life you need two things - respect and religion. And things don’t always work out. I wanted Scooter and the Geech to hire me as a regular, I wanted them to respect me, but they shit on me instead. So I have God, because otherwise there’s no point to any of this. And we’re nothing more than animals, animals who shit on each other.” “Yeah.” “So do you want to meet today? I can pay you.” “Yeah, but the busses aren’t running because of the strike.” “Oh yeah, those goddamn Unions. I can pick you up at Hollywood and Western. Is eleven okay?” “Yeah, I’ll see you then.” He picked me up in the T-bird and we cruised down Western. “You know, these strikes are fucking ridiculous. These people who scan groceries for a living are demanding health benefits. It’s not Ralphs’ responsibility to pay every time they get

85 the flu. Pay for your own health care! That’s what I do. And it’s the same with the busses. The sad part is that it’s the poorest people who don’t have a ride to work now. They’re losing out because of the Union’s greed.” I couldn’t say I entirely disagreed with him. We drove down to Melrose through streets full of Central Americans. The sun was out and a breeze was blowing and it was beautiful even in the dirty part of town, even sitting next to such an angry, desperate man. “You know why I go out driving in the middle of the day?” “Why, Syd?” “Because that’s when all the celebrities come out - during the day.” It was great to be in the convertible as we entered the trendy section of Melrose. Suddenly Syd saw someone on the street and shouted “Ruben! Ruben you’re great! Ruben I love you!” I looked and saw an enormous black man surrounded by a posse. Ruben looked over and waved. “Who’s that?” “Don’t you watch American Idol?" “No.” I thought the show was idiotic but apparently Syd was a huge fan. “Ruben’s the winner. He’s famous, he’s a huge star.” At some point we ended up on Larchmont, where we parked and got bagels. He paid me and I gave him some stuff, then we left. Driving down Third Street Levy the Rabbi pulled up next to us and shouted something in Hebrew. Syd laughed maniacally and shouted something back, then Levy sped off. “It’s the sukkot, everybody’s celebrating. There’s nine days, today’s the day when they carry fruits.”

86 He turned down a street and we were at Lulu’s café. He parked. “I have to give Michelle a book,” he said, taking a copy of his autobiography out of his bag. It was singed on the front To Michelle, best wishes, Hollywood Syd Ross. “Michelle is a model for Sports Illustrated, she’s gorgeous.” We approached Lulu’s and Michelle, the hostess, waved at Larry. She was attractive but not my type. “Isn’t she beautiful?” Syd said, giving her the book. “Michelle, when your boyfriend cheats on you, call my assistant Mark. Tell her how old you are, Mark.” “Nineteen.” She nodded, not knowing what to say. Syd saw there was nothing else to do so we left. Pretty soon we were in the wealthiest section of Hancock Park, surrounded by old mansions and beautifully landscaped front lawns. As we drove down the shining streets lined with Palm trees, looking up at massive towering mansions. Syd said, “I’ll never live in one of these houses because I’m not rich enough. But that doesn’t stop me from looking at them!” He laughed. “I feel sorry for these people, they work so hard to afford to live here, they never even see their houses. I get to drive around goofing off every day. Who cares that I live in a shitty one bedroom apartment? You know what? When I’m out on the street talking to people, they don’t know where I live. I could live in Beverly Hills for all they know. Sometimes I tell people I have a mansion in the hills. It doesn’t matter what the truth is. The image is more important than anything.” We drove around for awhile. He showed me where Nat King Cole used to live and then

87 drove me back to my place.

I had been preparing something to perform at the coffeeshop all week, so when next Tuesday rolled around Pauline and Sam and I drove over to the place. It was even more packed. I signed up for the 8:30 time slot and we sat and waited. The performances were along the same lines, just a bunch of poetry and anti-war diatribes. I was getting tired of the same schtick. Sure, I was against the war, but it's not healthy to carry around all that bitterness. Eventually my time slot came up. I was nervous because memorizing lines had always been hard for me and I didn't want to forget anything. But I had practiced a lot because work had been light that week. "Okay, next up we have Mark, he's going to do a monologue for us. Put your hands together," said the emcee, a white guy with huge dread locks. I got up and took the microphone. "This is called After Jed Left," I said. I took a moment to gather myself together. Then I started, in my best old man country accent. "Oh yeah, I've seen 'em. I've seen 'em at night. Just barely, by the moonlight. Way off in the distance. Standing upright. Must be ten feet tall, you'd swear it was a monkey, except it's huge. Last one I saw was around fourth of July. Course that was back when Jed was still here. But anyhow, I came out here, it was about midnight by the clock's hand. And I was drinking some of that homemade moonshine, I know what you're saying, I was drunk, but I know I seen it. It was down there, by the creek. All hunched over and having himself a drink. And then he stood up and faced me. He had these huge red eyes, they were staring right at me, and I swear he saw me. I pissed my pants. Right there I pissed my pants. I'm not ashamed to admit that. Another time I seen one of 'em was when I took Jericho, that's my dog, I had to take him

88 to the vet. I don’t have no car or nothing to carry him in, so I had to carry him on my back. He had a real bad cold and I was worried about him. This was before Jed got here, you know. Before all that started. Anyhow, I was carrying Jericho down the canyon towards the town. We were walking down the trail by Bill Johnson's place, and that's when I saw it. It was on the trail about fifty feet away from me. It was just walking with its back to me. I know what you're saying, he was delirious walking in the sun, but I swear I seen'd it. He turned right around to stare at me, and I just froze right in my tracks. We looked each other in the eyes, and I think we had a kind of a communion or something. Like we understood each other. Another time, right after Jed left, I was taking a nap out on the hill on that patch of grass back there. I was buck naked, had the house to myself, I figured I'd get some shut-eye. And suddenly I hear this sound like leaves crunching. And I woke the hell up, because the second you think you got company on your property you get real alert. And I look over through the patch of brambles up the hill, and what do I see but a damn family of 'em. A mama, a dad and a little kid. It was so cute, I swear. And they were looking at me, all curious like I was a damn animal in a zoo. And I wasn't ashamed of my body for some reason. I mean, they were naked too. Before I knew it they were gone. Of course, that happened after Jed left. Now don't get me talking about Jed. I'm not gonna open that can of worms, no sir. Not this late at night. I'll tell you all you want to know about Sasquatches. But what happened with Jed is just too much for my heart to handle right now." I stepped away from the microphone. "Thank you."

89 There was some scattered applause and some light laughter. I went back to my seat. "Good job, dude," said Sam. Pauline gave me a pat on the back.

23 I had plans to go up north to see my family for my birthday, so Syd called before I left. “I want you to think of something as you go to visit your parents. While you’re driving up through wine country I want you to think about ethics, and what kind of ethics a president should have. A man who is the guardian of the free world, the most powerful man in the best country on earth, leader of democracy.” I wondered if he ever doubted Bush’s ethics, or if he just followed him blindly. It was one of the things I could never reconcile about him. How could he not question Bush the way he did of Clinton? Things were surely not as black and white as he insisted they were. It was comforting to think that good and evil were clearly defined, I supposed. That was how Syd’s mind worked. He allocated the status of evil to Clinton and good to George Bush, and that was where it stopped. When I returned with a brand new Hyundai my parents got me for my birthday, that meant my whole life in Los Angeles was different. I guess they were proud that I had held down a steady job for as long as I had. The day after I got back Syd wanted to meet in my neighborhood at the Starbucks. I walked in and saw him talking to the barista about Clinton. He turned to me. “Mark, let’s go to Ralphs.” The Ralphs workers were still striking. We walked across the parking lot, Syd saying, “These people should just go back to work, pay their own health care.

90 No one pays my health care.” We got up to the workers and one Hispanic lady said “Please respect our picket line.” Syd got in her face. “This is America, okay? It’s not North Korea, it’s not Cuba, it’s not China. Why don’t you and your communist friends go to one of those countries and get your health care? Come on Mark, let’s go inside.” We went in the Ralphs, where Syd effusively praised the workers and management. He bought a coke and gave me my check as we stood in line. “So, I got back on the show.” “How did that happen?” “This guy named Chris called me and pretended to be Bill the Drunk, you know, but I knew it was a prank. He kept calling me Keith - ‘You suck Keith, you’re not funny Keith’- and I talked to him for awhile, so they played it later on the show. Scooter thought it was funny.” Just then the manager, who was talking on the phone with someone, motioned to Syd. He went over and the manager handed him the phone. “Hello? Yes, this is Hollywood Syd Ross. Thank you very much…well, I’ll tell you why I’m not on Scooter and the Geech anymore - they’re past their prime. The show is going off the air soon, it’s run out of steam. No, it’s not funny anymore. He’s mad about Imus still. I know, it’s ridiculous.” The manager wanted the phone back. Syd gave it back grudgingly. “Yeah, what did I tell you? He just walked into the store. That’s LA for you.” Syd pulled out a fifty and gave it to me. “I’ll give you the rest later.” Later I was back at my house. He called to fume. “I’ve given up on Scooter and the Geech. I’ve completely given up on those guys. Do me

91 a favor, see if you can find an article for me - my friend told me I was mentioned in an article in Time magazine, the article was about Will Ferrell. I think my friend’s probably lying. He told me right after he woke up, he probably dreamed it.” I told him I’d try and hung up. I went to make some coffee, read the paper and forgot about the article. I was eating some scrambled eggs and turkey bacon with Sam when Syd called again. “I found it! I found the article! This is amazing!!” He was ecstatic. Apparently Will Ferrell was being interviewed at some place on Melrose when Syd walked in and asked, “Is there anyone famous here?” Ironically, while Syd annoyed everyone else at the café he didn’t notice Will Ferrell. Instead he raved and ranted about Iraq and Mike Tyson and left without noticing the one famous guy. He ended up in the article though. “This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me, Mark. Time Magazine! This reaches hundreds, thousands, millions of people. This is bigger than Scooter and the Geech! See if you can find out who Will Ferrell’s agent is, maybe he’ll put me in a movie. I’m gonna have copies made of this article, we’ll put it in a press kit and send it to everyone! I want to be famous so fucking bad man, you don’t even understand. I want it more than anything! Oh, hold on, I have call waiting.” He took the call and came back in a minute. “I gotta take this, Kim is having an emergency.” “Okay, later Syd.” We hung up and I went back to my breakfast.

24

92 One night, Syd called around six. His Brooklyn accent was gruff and urgent. "Mark, you have to come to Kinko's. It's the one on Sunset, do you have time?" "Yeah, I guess." "Because there's a woman here, she is gorgeous. She's from Australia, can you come?" "Well...sure." "I'm too old for her. You could date her though. She needs help with her resume. So can you come?" "Yeah, okay." "The one on Sunset, west- no wait- east of Fairfax.excuse me- Derrick! What's the cross street? The cross street here! It's Curson- the only Kinko's on Sunset, come quick. Okay? Come quick. She's an actress. She's beautiful." "Yeah, I'll leave now." "The only one on Sunset." "Yeah." "Curson." "Okay." I hung up and went to my car, wondering why I had a lunatic for a boss. I got in the Hyundai and started driving west. I cut over to Sunset and forgot the street I was supposed to be looking for. Eventually I got to Crescent Heights and realized I had gone way too far. It took ten minutes just to turn left to go down to Santa Monica, where I figured I would double back and find it. But Santa Monica was a parking lot full of morons going home from work. So I sat in traffic. I thought about telling Syd to not to call me after six, but I realized he would do it anyway. Why was he so needy? He just couldn’t do whatever he needed to do alone. He had to

93 have me around to figure something out. After twenty minutes of frustration traffic started moving. Finally I got to Curson and remembered to turn left. Then there was the mystery of how Syd had enough money to pay me a living wage in the first place. I got up the hill to the Kinko's but I couldn't tell if there was parking for customers or not so I had to find street parking way up the hill. Finally I got to the goddamn Kinko's and I could see Hollywood Syd Ross through the window. There he was. All fifty-three years of him. He was wearing tiny yellow running shorts and a t-shirt that said "Arnold for Governor." He was pacing frantically, his hunched frame and mass of curly grey hair unmistakable. I got in the door. "Mark! Where were you, what took you so long? Come here, look at this!" He showed me a young bottle blonde with bright lipstick, a pink tank-top and tight ass-hugging pre-faded jeans sitting at a computer, looking confused. "Isn't she gorgeous? She's beautiful, right?" "Yes," I lied. “Tell her, tell her!" he admonished me. "You're very beautiful." She was totally frustrated, trying to print some document on a Mac. Syd tried to calm her.

"I brought my assistant. He'll fix everything, Jessica." "I'm Sofia," she said. Her Australian accent was thick. "I brought my assistant, Sofia. Mark will help you. HELP HER! HELP HER!" He pushed me towards the computer. She got out of the way and I looked at the computer. She was trying to print something off a CD ROM and had obviously never used complicated machinery before. I

94 fiddled around, trying to open the document. "This was due three hours ago," Sofia wailed. "I'm going to freak out!" She put her head in her hands. "Fix it! Can you fix it?" Syd shouted. "Calm down, Sofia! Calm down Sofia! It'll be okay, Sofia. I promise. Mark will fix everything." "I'm not going to get the job." I was dealing with a pair of monkeys. They must have been here for 45 minutes, why hadn't they asked the clerks to help them? "Can't you do something?" Syd asked me. "I don't know. I'm not familiar with Macs." Just then her credit card popped out of the machine and her time was up. The computer screen went black. Sofia stood up violently. "Oh-my-God-this-is-not-happening. I just want to print my resume. I can't believe how FUCKING COMPLICATED THIS IS!" Heads began to turn towards us as Syd frantically tried to calm her down. "Sofia no, Sofia, it'll be okay." "I'm freaking out, what's wrong with my credit card?" "You can use mine!" Syd ripped out his card and shoved it into the machine. Nothing happened. "We need some help," Sofia said. "Help! We need help here!" Syd ran to get an employee. "Someone help this woman," he chastised the staff which was several black guys. Finally a guy came over and helped her. Syd and I watched. "She's beautiful," Syd said.

95 "Yeah." "She's gorgeous, I mean this is ridiculous." "I know." "This is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen." "Uh-huh." "She's completely amazing, don't you think?" "Yeah, totally." I noticed a copy of the Time article under his arm. "You made copies of the article?" "Yes! Because I'm in Time magaziiiiiiine" he sang, dancing around while "Lucille" played over the stereo. Customers looked over with blank faces, trying not to react. Syd looked over at the black guy helping Sofia. "Derrick!" he shouted, running over to them. Derrick turned around. "Derrick, you need a tip." Syd pulled out a five dollar bill and handed it to Derrick. "Hollywood, I can't take that." "Take it, take it, take it, just take it, I tell you what, I tell you what: America is a racist country and guys like you work hard. You know? It's hard enough to be black in America and I'll bet I'm the first guy who tipped you all day." "Yeah that's true." "Take the tip Derrick, that's for you. Just tell 'em it came from HOLLYWOOD SYD ROSS!" he bellowed, then began to dance again, waving the article in the air. "I'm in Time magaziiiiine, I'm in Time magaziiiiiiine." The he went over to Sofia, still in a state of aggravation, and said "Jesus Christ, Sofia! You DON'T KNOW how gorgeous you are. Can I have your number?"

96 "No." "Do you want to go out?" "No." "Here. I'll give you my card." He gave her a card, then pulled me aside. "See Mark, she probably won't go out with me. But it's worth a try. You know? That's what I'm trying to teach you. Everything is worth a shot. Even if you get discouraged. Don't EVER give up. In life. Just don't give up. For your acting career, too. Same advice. It applies to everything. Do you hear me?" "Yeah." "Do you understand? "Sure." "You get it?" "Uh-huh." "Don't EVER give up. Have you had dinner?" "No." "I'll buy you a burger. I have to get home in time for Britney Spears on Dateline. You like Britney Spears?" "Yeah, she's alright." "Can you drive me home?" Oh my God. "Sure, Syd." As we left Syd said goodbye to Sofia, who didn't respond. As we walked, Syd had to jog to keep up with my long strides.

97 "This Time article is great. Do you know how many people read this magazine? I mean, this is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me. It's a mitzvah. I want to be famous so fucking bad, Mark. I'm on the verge." "Yeah, this could be it, Syd." "Sofia probably won't call me. What a schaunder. Oh well. See if you can get the number to Rolling Stone Magazine, maybe I can get an interview. And Spin Magazine, the E! Cable Network, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Call them and tell them about the article. I can do segments on the Daily Show. I can do anything! Tell them that. Tell them, tell them- remember this- 'When you fly air Hollywood, you fly first class.' It'll be a catch phrase. Hahaha, that's good. Air Hollywood, first class." "Yeah, that's funny." We got to the car. "We can do this, Mark. I'll take you straight to the top." We drove to the In N Out on Sunset and parked. Inside there was a huge group of USC kids in Trojan Marching Band jackets milling around waiting for burgers. Immediately Syd whipped out a copy of the article and waved it around, announcing "Hollywood Syd Ross here!! I'm in Time magaziiiiiiine!" The marching band kids all looked over at Syd, laughing. Relishing the attention, Syd announced, "My assistant Mark! We love the Trojans!" I went over to order our burgers. Waiting in line, I looked over and saw Syd surrounded by a Mexican family. He was handing out copies of the article, speaking fluent Spanish. All I could make out was "No soy Latino, pero hablo Espanol. Tengo amor para la gente hispanica." Pretty soon the marching band members, Mexican families, skate-boarders from Hollywood High, hoboes, and guys from some punk band were surrounding Syd and reading

98 copies of the article. He was in heaven. After the burgers we started driving towards his place. As we drove he pointed out Hollywood landmarks. "Marilyn Monroe used to live on this block. And there used to be a studio in this parking lot. It's called the phantom studio, nobody knows about it. They tore it down to build a parking lot. Can you believe that? See, a lot of these bungalow apartments were built in the twenties by the studios for their stars. They came from New York. Classic Hollywood bungalows. See that Chinese restaurant Wok of Fame? Over there. No, over there. Phil Spector's record label used to be there. You know what, Mark? I could never leave Hollywood. I love this place. There's magic here, Mark. There is magic in the air!" "There's definitely something in the air, Syd." I got him back to his apartment just in time for Britney Spears. He gave me my payment for the week and hurried inside. On the drive home it started to rain. It was dark and the houses dotting the hills glowed like stars. The streets were slick and wet. And as I drove past the phantom studio I thought I understood what Syd was saying about Hollywood.

25 I was trying to get comedy gigs lined up for Syd so I was emailing bookers at clubs all across the land. Finally a guy named Sam from Broadway Joe’s Bar in Buffalo New York wrote me back and asked for a price. I called Syd to talk about a price. “Tell him that I need to know two things: available dates and how long I’m supposed to perform. Cause those could affect the price. You know, I’m pretty sure I’ll get back on Scooter and the Geech. And I’m in no position to get mad if they don’t want me on. I have no leverage.

99 You know, Scooter and the Geech have all this power and I have none. So I have to play the game, like every other poor motherfucker out there. When I go to a club and wait in line I might not even get in. But Scooter, the Geech, even Bill the Drunk can walk right in. Because they have the POWER - see, that’s what it’s all about. See, show business is like a pack of wolves. The most savage, cutthroat ones are the leaders. And you better believe Letterman and Carson hate each other. Or Leno, Conan or whoever. They all want the best ratings. They will do anything for ratings. They’re like fucking animals, like lions fighting over a dead zebra. And I want to have power over them. I want to walk into a club and everyone notices me. And I get a seat at the front. I won’t stop until I get it, see? Nothing can stop me!!” I hung up and walked onto the porch. Sam was out there drinking a Tecate. "Want one?" "Sure." He got me a beer and we sat there. "Do you have headshots?" “No.” “WHAT?” “No, I just got my car right now. I don’t even know what I’d do with headshots.” “You use them to get an agent dude. Here, I’ll take your pictures. I’ll make you a deal. A roll of pictures for thirty bucks. Because I’m still trying to get my business off the ground.” He had told me he was bit of an amateur photographer and I'd seen some pretty good pictures he'd taken. “Okay.” “Why don’t we do them now? I have the film and everything. Let’s do it while we still

100 have some light.” So we took a bunch of pictures outside my place, just me standing there with no expression. “Just look like you naturally look when you come in a room,” he said as he snapped away. “Don’t make any faces.” “Do I have to smile?” “No. You can if you want to, but don’t make it fake and shit. I hate it when actors do that.” So he took the pictures and a few days later he got them developed. I looked through and found one I liked. “Now you gotta go to a place and have them make like a hundred copies. I’ll tell you a good place, it’s on Santa Monica.” So I went and did it, and got my copies. He was looking at them. “Pretty good. Those will get some attention. Now you have to go to this place Actor’s Online, they'll set you up with an account and you submit yourself for auditions.” “Ohhhh….” “Since you have a car now, you can go to auditions. That’s what actors do.” I went and signed up for the Actor's Online so I could submit myself to auditions on the internet. It was a pretty good deal, just ten dollars a month. For a couple of weeks I was submitting myself for crappy spec commercials and non-paying student film projects. Then one day I was outside with Pauline and Sam. We were barbecuing a rack of lamb and Pauline was telling us about a meditation retreat she just got back from, way out in Palm Desert. Suddenly I got a call from a strange area code on my cell phone. I picked up the phone.

101 “Mark?” Her voice had a thick New York accent. “Yes?” “This is Rachel Goldstein, from Goldstein Talent. I saw your profile in Actor’s Online, I would like to represent you. You need to email me your address and your social security number, I will send you an agreement that says I will represent you and you agree to pay consulting fees if and when you get a job. Does that sound good to you?” “Uh, yeah, yeah okay, sure…” “We’ll be sending you out on commercials mostly, okay?” “That sounds great.” “Alright, I will email you some more information, okay?” “Alright!” “It should be fun working with you!” I hung up, in shock. “Who was that?” Pauline asked. “I just got an agent.” “Whoa, big guy! My pictures paid off!” “Yeah, I guess I owe you, Sam.” “You can pay me in beer.”

26 Not long after that I got my first call for an audition. It was for a UPS commercial, a thirty second spot. I didn’t tell Syd about my agent or anything. I didn’t want to know what his

102 reaction would be. He would probably be jealous. When I got there the casting place was up some stairs in a huge building with about ten separate casting rooms. I found the one that said “UPS” and signed in. I looked around. There was one corner of the room full of little girls in Ballerina outfits. In the middle of the room was a cluster of girls in bikinis. They were all blonde, rail-thin, and chatting on their cell phones. Some of them were actually attractive. In another corner were a bunch of middle-aged Asian guys in business suits. Waiting for an audition seemed like waiting in a freaky dental office. The audition, I would learn, was always as painful as the dentist, sometimes more. In my corner of the room there were a few other guys like me, tall and skinny. They were all atrocious dorks, with pock-marked faces and horrible hair. These young men, like me, did not have girlfriends and had not had one in a long time. They were all, I knew, desperate for success and probably lonely. Their parents had sent them money and they were working at terrible, demeaning jobs. They probably could barely afford their rent. They sat alone and I went to the middle of the room so I wouldn’t have to look at them. On every face I saw Hollywood Syd Ross, and when I looked around the room I saw his hunger on every ballerina girl and every Asian business man. It was too much to look at. After a long wait an attractive blonde girl came out of the audition room. “Everyone here for UPS?” We all grumbled our replies. “We’ll be calling you in one by one.” She looked at a list and called my name first. I stood up. “Okay.” “Follow me.”

103 I was nervous and tired, and bleary-eyed from lack of sleep. I got in the room. It was small and well-lit. Several casting guys sat on a sofa on the opposite end of the room. One of them, a short, impatient one in his forties, talked from his seat. The lights were bright on me and I could barely see who was talking. “Stand on the tape,” he said. I looked at the ground and stood on the tape facing the camera. “Okay, this scene takes place in a pool so we’re gonna need to see you with your shirt off.” “Okay.” I took it off and stood there. “Alright, and you’re drowning, so we’re gonna need to see a lot of energy here. This is NOT comedy. It is NOT supposed to be funny. Everyone has been too over the top today. Don’t try too hard. But make it big.” “Alright.” “And we’re just ad-libbing so you say whatever.” “Uh…” “Okay, ready? Alright, on action…okay? ACTION!” I flailed my arms and tried to look like I was drowning. I knew it looked stupid, I just wasn’t feeling it. “Help! Help me, I’m drowning! Oh God! Please! Help me!” “Okay” he stopped me. “You’re going to have to tone it down about ten notches.” “Oh, sorry.” “Keep it in here,” he said, motioning to his brain. “Act between the ears. We will see it.

104 Let’s go again. Keep it small, but intense. Action!” I did the whole thing again, trying to remember things from my high school acting class. None of them were helping at all at this moment. “Cut! You’re trying too hard. It’s not a comedy, man.” The other guys on the couch whispered into each other’s ears. All three of them consulted. The main guy turned to me. “Okay, thanks a lot. You’re free to go.” “Okay.” I put my shirt on and left. I knew I had done a shitty job, but I had no idea what they were trying to get me to do. The room was still full of bizarro characters talking loudly on their cell phones to their agents. The whole place was a carnival. Back at my car I just sat there. I thought about telling my agency to stop sending me on these things. It was so stupid, but I wanted so badly to book one of these auditions. I didn’t know what to do, I was so frustrated. I looked out at the street for some reason, just as a little puppy ran out into the road. Suddenly a garbage truck roared past and crushed it with a disgusting crunch. “Oh my GOD!” I said to no one. I got out of my car and went over to it. The poor thing’s head had been flattened and its blood was making a circle of crimson in the road. I looked around to see if any owners were around. There was no one on the street. I hadn’t seen what house it came from. I couldn’t see a tag or a collar. The dog was a complete bloody mess and it was making me nauseous, so I just went back to my car. There was nothing more to be done, I just wanted to leave. The city was cruel, like Syd said. I drove around for awhile and ended up at the beach, at this little part of Santa Monica that’s never very crowded and pretty nice. I parked and walked out to the sand. It was a gorgeous

105 day. Boats were cruising languidly out in the bay. A few families sat on the beach and played with beach balls. It looked like a Monet painting. It was very warm and slightly breezy, one of those days that could remind you of Italy, or Greece, or Mexico, or maybe the Caribbean. But it was somehow all of those places combined. You couldn’t get this grand vista anywhere else. I sat down on the grass. Syd was wrong. It wasn’t a cruel city. No, the city had its own justice. It was just hard to be on the losing side of it. I would not get a callback. I already knew that. I had given a poor audition, because I was nervous and had no confidence. They could see it all over me. No one wants to cast that guy. That dog, well, he shouldn’t have run out into the road. The city was harsh, yes, but usually fair. Syd had been kicked off Scooter and the Geech because he was probably annoying and not very funny. The show had to get ratings and change the cast of characters when they got stale. All around me things were in motion. The tide was coming in, the flux of traffic was evolving and changing and moving around me. People were going and coming and growing and striving, endlessly. The city had a place for me, it just wanted to knock me around for awhile. It demanded endless patience and much hard work. These were not bad qualities. I had to learn them. Nothing would happen until I did.

Pauline was going back to the coffeeshop and she asked me and Sam if we wanted to go with her. I had a thing I wanted to perform and Pauline promised she would buy Sam a drink, so we both went over there. For some reason that night there were a lot of emotional girls with guitars singing songs about guys who dumped them. When it got to be my turn I got up and began.

106 It all started when father got the Francis the piggy. He said it was gonna be for bacon someday, but I guess I didn't believe him. Out at the farm there's nobody around to play with, see, and a boy gets awful lonesome. The school was way on the other side of the mountains, too far for me to go every morning, cause we didn't have cars only tractors. So I was homeschooled. There was no kids or families around, just goats, cows, birds, squirrels, deer, coyotes, bears, antelope, wildcats, bobcats, vultures, dogs, tractors…and Francis. I asked Father to build me a swing at least so I could swing and enjoy the nice country air. Father said swings are for girls with little Barbie dolls. I asked him can I at least have some Barbie dolls to play with, he laughed so hard he choked on his cigar. Father rolled his own cigars and grew the tobacco out in the back. Every week he went way into town with tobacco and milks and meats from the cows. He always stayed for a couple days and came back with the moneys and groceries for us. When he was gone me and ma didn't talk much. Ain't nothing to say, I guess. We sat and watch the fields, made sure there's no squatters on our land, took care of the crops and fed the livestock. We ate some cheese sandwiches for lunch and had my lessons for the day. But one night I heard a squealin' inside the barn, it musta been Francis the new pig. He sounded like he was staring death right in the face, I ran out to see what was wrong. Lo and behold he was surrounded by three of our goats, they were scaring and making intimidations towards Francis. "Goats begone! You heard me, scat! Each and every one of you I said!" And the goats ran away into the dark. It was me and Francis. It was cold in the barn. And I turned around, I was about to leave when I heard "Oink" in such a pathetic tone I looked around. Francis was staring at me with his big piglet eyes wagging his little tail and I just couldn't leave him out in the barn all alone. What if the goats came back? So I scooped him up

107 and took him back into my room. He slept in my bed underneath the covers and didn't make a peep. I could tell he was a sad and lonesome pig. If only we had some more pigs for him to play with, or a lady pig for to make children with. Oh well. The next day me and Francis took a walk all around the farm, I chased him and threw sticks for him to catch. We found a whole bunch of trails together and scouted out the land. We pretended to be space explorers on the surface of Mars. "Officer Francis we must explore this strange new region with caution. Hark! What's that I see up ahead? A strange being. We must investigate. It looks like a Martian but I can't be sure." He'd run up ahead. "Francis, no! Be careful!" And then I'd chase him all around until I caught him and we'd have a wrestling match. I always let him win though. "Oh Francis the Pig, you pinned me once again. I forfeit the championship to you, I have been defeated by my most formidable foe!" Sometimes we went fishing at the lake down by the old mill where families come on camping trips. And we'd sit there fishing all day. "Francis, if you were a fish would you be a freshwater or saltwater fish?" "Oink." "I know I'd be a saltwater fish. They have all the fun. Say Francis, what do you think about life in outer space?" "Oink." "Yeah." "Oink."

108 "I know." "Oink." "I know. I definitely think there's aliens in outer space. I'm pretty sure I've seen one too. Once when I was walking through the woods I seen this big green monster with tentacles hiding up in the trees with eyes all over its body staring at me." "Oink." "I know, it was crazy. I wasn't scared though. I'm not afraid of anything." "Oink." So me and Francis were starting to get along pretty well. We were like buddies, the only one I've ever had. He slept in my bed and mom and father didn't even care. I fed him and took care of him. Suddenly life was pretty good on the farm. Francis told me all about life as a pig and I got to watch him grow up into his maturity. And one day father came home from town with a big fat rolly-polly man. He was real short and had a big cigar in his mouth. He was wearing the finest nicest clothing, a fine white shirt and a big jacket that looked like it musta been made from cowshide, he had big gold cufflinks and suspenders pulling up his pants. He was laughing "HA HA HA HA HA! So this is your family. Pleased to meetcha." My dad introduced him. "Now family, this here is Mr. Frankelson, he is a raiser and breeder of the farm animals, and he is indeed here to buy Francis the pig from us. He will be breeding Francis with a female pig and paying us a great deal of money." I said nothing. Father and Mr. Frankelson went out to the farm and looked at Francis for a great deal of time. Then Mr. Frankelson came walking out, leading Francis on a leash to his

109 big truck. He drove off with Francis the pig, he drove far far away. And father came back into the house with a whole mess of money. "Wooo-hooo! How about this? We're rich now, we're rich now, we're rich!" And he was throwing money all over the place. "Wah-hooo!" I went in my room and closed the door. I heard father and ma making celebrations all night, drinking wine and talking about our new fortune. And later that night when they were both asleep I went and grabbed some matches from the fire place and went out into the barn. It was cold and I lit just one match and threw it into a big bale of hay. Oh my God, it lit up fast! I ran out of there and sat on the porch. Pretty soon the whole barn was on fire and there was a huge red glow like Judgment Day had come at last! Suddenly father threw open the door and ran onto the porch. "Oh my God! The barn is on fire! Oh Looooord in heaven! Boy, did you start this fire?" "Yes." "Ahhhhhhhhh! Why? Why, son?" "I don't know." "I am very dissapointed in your actions." And we sat and watched the barn burn down and the animals run out of it, into the woods. There warn't nothing we could do. It was too late to save the barn. Then the crops started to burn. It was all going up in flames. The farm was a goner. Father just shook his head. "The farm, the farm!" The fire burned all night and never touched the house. Eventually the fire trucks made it out there and doused the flames. Father went into his room and didn't come out for a couple days, broodin' and tormented-like. And a couple days later he sat us down in the living room.

110 "I have been thinkin'. I see now that we have no farm left because of the terrible inferno. I believe we must sell this house and move away." Father never talked about the fire again, I guess I was forgiven. And we sold the house to some newlyweds. Then we loaded up the truck with all our belongings and moved on. All of us together, we went to look for someplace new. Father heard there was some land out in the west, so we moved on that way. By the time I was finished all the girls who were there had already sung their songs and their friends had left. There were a few regulars sitting around though, probably just some neighborhood people. Sam and Pauline hooted and clapped and I took a big bow. I got a chai tea, which was actually delicious, and watched an old lady read a poem she had written about her dog. There were a few more performers after that, a guy with a guitar who played a Harry Nilsson song and some more political stuff.

27 Syd called one day around noon. He had just gotten back from the Inauguration of Arnold Schwarzenegger, our new governor. “It was amazing. Fantastic. I must’ve gotten fifty business cards. Rob Lowe was there, I talked to him. Bill Simon was there, I gave him a copy of the article. Who knows, one of these people could call me back, there were some important people. I have a question for you - do you have any friends who have some extra room in their apartments? ‘Cause a friend of mine needs a place to stay. He was the lead guitarist in Gods of Thunder. Have you heard of them? They’re a metal band from the eighties. Between you and me, don’t tell anyone else - he had a bad heroin problem. He lost his house, his wife, he’s trying to get back on his feet. He has a job! He’s not a

111 bum, Mark! He just needs a place to crash.” “Like a couch?” “Yeah, just a couch. I mean, he has a job. He’s a telemarketer. He’ll pay for groceries. He can give guitar lessons. He’s thirty-nine, you know, he’s just a kid. To me he’s a kid. To you he’s probably old. Ha ha ha! Can you ask around?” “Yeah, I’ll ask my friends.” “Because I feel bad, I want to help this guy. He was going to live with Kim, but she called this morning and said she couldn’t do it. I don’t know why. I would have him live over here, but with the mess, oy vey.” “Yeah, it probably wouldn’t work out.” “Do you want to meet on Larchmont? I can pay you for last week.” “Okay.” “Are you sure?” “Yeah.” “At two?” “Okay.” “Make it three.” “Three it is.” “No…two.” “Okay.” I met him at two and found him on the street. He was in front of the Greek place shouting about Arnold Schwarzenegger and holding up a sign. When I got near him he announced, “My assistant, Mark, everyone!” A few diners looked up from their souvlaki. Syd made contact with a

112 guy eating a salad. "Mark, go give him a card. Do it!" I took a card and brought it to the guy. "Hollywood Syd Ross, I already have about fifty of these at home." "You need more!" "I could make wallpaper out of your cards," the guy said. We went to Noah's, on the way there Syd held up a sign that said "I just got back from Arnolds' Inauguration and I had a great time." We stopped in front of the Coffee Bean where a few people were languidly drinking iced coffees in the heat. "I support Arnold yes I doooo," he sang to the tune of Sounds of Silence- "I support him very muuuuch." Some guy with a dog said, "Hey Hollywood, I'll pay you five hundred bucks to hand out Howard Dean stickers here tomorrow." Syd was totally offended. "Listen, I am...five hundred?" "Yeah." "Show me two hundred right now." The guy whipped out two hundred dead presidents and slapped those suckers down on the table. There was a tense pause, all the patrons staring at us. "You're full of shit," Syd said. "Let's go, Mark." As we walked down the street the guy said, "Think about it Syd! I'll be here!!" "Go fuck yourself," Syd mumbled. He was clearly troubled. "Dean...he was just fucking with me. There's so many assholes in this town, Mark. You have to fight back."

113 The next day he called about a Phil Ochs song. "I just got the sheet music, it's called the Draft-dodger Rag. I love this old hippy music. See Mark, there's some parts of the liberal ideals I really agree with. I also got a book of Dylan tunes. I love Dylan, especially the political stuff. Come you masters of warrrr," he sang. "I love that sixties idealism. You have to hear this Phil Ochs song, I'm Not Marching Anymore. Do you have a minute?" "Sure." "Okay, hold on." He put the phone down and I expected to hear Phil Ochs through the speakers. But the piano chords surprised me, and the Syd's voice, loud and clear - "I'm not marching anymoooore," he crooned mournfully in his raspy tenor. The song had such a defeatist tone. I knew it was written about Vietnam, but I knew Syd was singing about something else. He had given up on something, knew he couldn't get it back, and missed it terribly. You could hear it in his voice. He picked up the phone. "You like that?" "Yeah, it's good, Syd." "Okay, there's another thing - I have an assignment for you. Oh hold on, I have call waiting." He took it, then came back. "Jesus, Kim skipped her probation. She's in trouble, her water is getting turned off. I have to go. This is an emergency, I'll call you back later." Syd called the next morning, incensed. "Mark, I just saw something that made me sick. SICK! Do you hear me?" "What was it, Syd?"

114 "I'm in Hollywood at the water and power company. Right before I came here I saw a sign for - get this - 'Mexican insurance,' whatever the fuck that is. And I met this Vietnam vet. He has cirrhosis of the liver and he needed help, right? So he went to a free clinic to get medication but you know what? He couldn't even see a doctor because the place was all backed up with illegal immigrants! Do you know how FUCKED UP that is????? I don't care what your generation thinks about Vietnam, Mark. These men are veterans and we cannot leave them out to dry. And chances are if you see a homeless man on the street he was in Vietnam. I'm on line now, I have to pay Kim's water bill. Call me back in five minutes." I hung up and took my day-old laundry out of the dryer. I folded it and put it back in my closet, then called Syd back. "Mark! I'm at Jack in the Box! I'm afraid for my life, Mark! This place is full of gangbangers. Oy vey! Hollywood used to be full of nice, decent people. Now it's gangs and illegal immigrants that will rob you blind and leave you dead. Thank God Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Governor and Bush is President. The liberals want to open the borders and let everyone come in and work illegally and send all their money back home to Lupita and Carlos back in Guadalajara. And the unions - the liberals don't seem to care that the Unions are driving businesses away in droves and turning our cities into urban wastelands - my order's ready, can you call me back in five minutes?" "Alright." I called him back in five. "Mark! I'm at Kinko's! Listen - women are completely incomprehensible! I saw this woman in the parking lot. She was driving a car that had bumper stickers that said Free Tibet and Don't Hate in my World, that kind of stuff. You know, so I tried to talk to her. She just ignored

115 me! She should've had a bumper sticker that said don't TALK in my world! Jesus, she wouldn't give me the time of day but I had a great conversation with her bumper stickers. Ha ha ha...." his laugh was long and raspy. "Don't hate in my world," he said again, laughing. "Kim is in serious trouble," he said, suddenly serious. "She skipped her probation. It's not that hard to go to probation, it's once every two weeks. Now she has a big fine, I have to pay it. What can you do? You can't just turn your back on people when they're in trouble. Oh, I forgot to tell you - I met Elijah Wood last night at the Grove. There was some fancy Hollywood party, so I went with a sign. I gave him a card, he's excited about the book. Harrison Ford was there too. You know, these Hollywood liberals are good people once they admit they have no facts to support their positions. I have facts though, Mark. I have facts! This book is gonna be great. I want to have it finished by the end of the year. Let's shoot for that." "Okay." "Okay, call me back in five." I didn't call him back.

28 I had to go back up north to go to my sister's graduation from law school. I took a fourday weekend and regaled my family with stories of the wacky Hollywood Syd Ross. It was all funny and good to tell them, but it was hard to convey the stifling atmosphere of failure that surrounded the Los Angeles I had seen. My own crashing and burning in every audition, Kim's drug problems, the guitarist from Gods of Thunder, Syd's hopeless quest - it was all so bleak. So I was driving on the 101 and coming up on Santa Barbara. I was going towards Los Angeles and had taken the long way back. My sister’s graduation had been full of pomp and

116 pageantry with hor’s d’oeuvres and champagne. I had gone along with everything, half-dead to it. I drank too much at every opportunity, trying not to think about what I would have to do for a living when I got back to LA. The coffee stain was still hot on my pants and there was a pretty bad burn on my thigh. I cursed the cup of coffee I didn’t get to drink, and myself for fooling with my CD’s and not paying attention. I could’ve had a serious rear-end collision so I guess it was best I slammed on the brakes and scalded myself. Cars were up ahead, stopped. It was about four o’clock so it made sense. I looked at the directions beside me, the ones my mom had written out. They told me how to get to a world-famous Mexican place she had read about in the New York Times. The exit was just ahead. I slowed down when I got to the rush hour blockage. I was tired and bleary-eyed. So I got off the freeway and followed the directions up the cutesy downtown area to the restaurant. It was little and unassuming, like most Mexican places are, and there was a huge line snaking around the block. The parking lot was full so I parked a couple blocks away on the street. I walked up to the restaurant and took a place at the end of the line. All around me were professors and students from UC Santa Barbara, having witty and erudite conversations. They referenced Wes Anderson movies, the Daily Show, liberal politics, and some crazy party at the Sigma Chi house last week. After about ten minutes I caught sight of the ordering area and saw a “cash only” sign. I checked my wallet even thought I was sure I didn’t have any. I stood there for a second, feeling stupid. Then I got out of line and walked down the street to find a goddamn ATM. After passing block upon block of auto-body places, bike shops, antique stores, jewelry shops, and the like, I got to a tiny anonymous convenience store. A faded sign outside said “ATM.” Inside were racks of candy, beef jerky, a sketchy wine section and tons of fridges holding the usual assortment of

117 corn syrup. I went to the ATM machine in the corner and swiped my card. It blinked and the word “Processing” flickered on the screen. I waited. “It’s broken, chief.” I turned around. The Mexican guy was sitting at the counter watching a Lakers game on the TV on the wall. “Is there another one around here?” “I don’t know, man.” I went back to the restaurant. The line was even longer. I just didn’t care anymore. I went back to my car and headed back to the freeway. The on-ramp was jammed with cars. I flipped through the radio to find something, but it was mostly rap and ranchera music. When I got on the freeway, it was even more crowded than before. Row after row of shining, glinting steel in the sun. People sitting and waiting, some singing along to the radio, some nursing a cup of coffee, and some full of teenage guys blasting music. Too many people were going to the same damn place. Then my cell phone rang. It was Sam. “Hey.” “Hey, man. Where you been at the last couple days? Are you okay?” “I’m still on my way home.” “Oh yeaaaah, I totally forgot. You were going up for some graduation.” “Yeah, my sister graduated from law school.” “How was that?” “Well, it was like a graduation. I don’t know, I was just there. Not doing anything. I don’t know why I had to be there.” “I know what you mean.”

118 “What have you been up to?” “Just trying to get around. My car totally broke down. Did I tell you? But I have this job in Studio City this whole week and the bus strike is still going on.” "Oh yeah, I forgot. How are you getting around?” “Well, there’s one bus that isn’t on strike. I think they’re run by another company, it’s a private company that doesn’t belong to the city. And I’ve been taking that one.” “How is it?” “Oh, man. Oh dude. It’s….it’s really bad.” “Really?” I asked. I couldn’t wait to hear details. “The bus only comes every twenty minutes. Every one is completely crammed with people. And the first two will pass you by. And the third will be just as packed. But it might stop. And then you get on, and you’re…you’re like standing on people’s toes. And people just push you over to get past you.” “Jesus.” “Today I was on a bus and two guys got in a fight. And one of them was like ‘I will KILL you!’ He actually said, ‘I will kill you. If you touch me again I will kill you.’” I laughed out loud, a deep, satisfying laugh. Sam laughed too, and we couldn’t even talk for awhile. I could imagine the frustration, the anger that guy must’ve felt. I felt a lot better knowing I wasn’t the only one. In some ways it made all the difference between frustration and patience. “You know what?” he said. “I don’t even care anymore. I’m not letting it affect me.” “You just have to shrug it off.” “Yeah. I mean, if it’s this hard to do anything or get anywhere, and it’s hard for everyone,

119 why should you get mad?” “Yeah. I guess there’s no point.” “It’s out of your control.” “Yeah. I’m just sitting on the freeway right now. I’m not going anywhere.” “Traffic sucks?” “It’s pretty bad. No one’s even moving.” “Is there an accident?” “No, this is just how it is. Everyone wants to get somewhere and there’s not enough space on this stupid freeway.” “Well, if you get home and it’s not too late, knock on my door.” “I think I need a margarita.” “It is Wednesday night. That’s happy hour at Don Alegre.” “Yeah. I still haven't been there.” “Well I think we might have to go there.” I hung up. Well, I had something to look forward to. Traffic was still awful. The sun was blazing down on us, and we were all just sitting, trapped in our cars. I looked out at the Pacific ocean stretched placidly beside us. It didn’t care. It was nice to see something natural around me. I wondered what it was like when the first Spaniards got here. Could they have known it would end up like this? Was it still even California, now that it had been paved over and packed with people? All these thoughts were running through my head. I wondered what Syd would be up to when I got back to LA. Would he ever finish his book? What would I do when I got back? My acting career hadn’t gotten off the ground at all. Traffic wasn’t moving. I was so far from the Bay

120 Area and still so far from LA. I just sat and waited because there was nothing else I could do. After awhile traffic picked up again and I got up to twenty miles per hour. There was a gap in the lane to the left of me, so I stepped on the gas and pushed on ahead, cutting people off. Horns blared behind me. Damn the traffic, I thought. There’s no way I’d be stuck in Santa Barbara the rest of my life. I would get to LA. I wouldn’t even pull over the rest of the way there. So I just kept on driving. I had no other choice.

29 The day after I got back I called the boss to see what was up. "Mark, I hate to do this and I feel like an asshole. But I just don't have enough time to do it. Can you go to Trader Joe's for me? I need some things." "Okay." "Are you sure?" "Yeah, it's fine." "I feel like a jerk." "It's okay, really." "Okay, get a pen and paper. Two half gallons of milk. Any kind, I don't care. Two half gallons of orange juice. That Belgian chocolate pudding. I love that stuff, it makes life worth living. Also I want those sun-dried habanero tortillas. Get some pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese,

121 muffins, instant coffe, some root beer, a six-pack of beer - get yourself some beer too." "Okay." "Bring me the receipt, I'll pay you back." I went and got the groceries and got to his house later than planned, but he didn't seem to mind. His apartment was littered wall to wall with books on the Clintons, old tabloids, newspapers, and other assorted crap he will probably never throw away. "I cleaned up," he said. "Do you notice?" He put his groceries away. "Do you want to come to the corner with me?" I said sure, then watched as he took out a posterboard from a pile of cassettes and old photographs. He pointed to a picture on the floor and said, "That's me and Jackie Mason." Then he wrote on the poster, "I Hate the Clintons" and folded it in half. On the bottom half he wrote "I met Elijah Wood." Then he turned it around and wrote "Hollywood Syd Ross, Everyone!!!" Then he grabbed a tape from a pile on the floor and popped it into a portable stereo. "I've done this for twelve years, I have it down to a science." We left and walked out to the corner of Santa Monica and La Brea. He pressed play on the tape, saying "I made a special mix tape for this" as Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" came out of the speakers. He held up the side of the sign that said "Hollywood Syd Ross Everyone." He started strutting across the sidewalk, gyrating his pelvis and waving at cars passing by. His energy was incredible, he jumped in the air and sang along like Mick Jagger at the Hollywood Bowl. Commuters drove by and honked with familiarity. Watching him perform on his sidewalk stage I realized that he was finally in his element - the place he was born to be. Like an aging bullfighter stepping back into the ring, Hollywood Syd Ross came to the sidewalk time and time

122 again for solace, support, validation, an outlet, you name it. When he was on the corner - the corner he'd been on for twelve years - I could picture it being named "Hollywood Syd Ross Square" when he died, with a statue of him holding up a sign and a plaque. The image is engraved in my mind - a strange man on a street corner, dancing with a sign and waving at the traffic. He called the next day from Noah's bagels. "Mark, I have to tell you something - don't freak out, okay?" "Yeah, what is it?" "I've had threats made on my life. I know what you'll say - Hollywood is joking, Syd is pulling my leg, but no. This is real, Mark." "Wow." "I've had serious threats made, and I want you to know that if something happens - Mark, if something happens to me - oh hold on, can you hold on a sec?" "Sure." I heard him speaking Hebrew to someone. The conversation became louder until it evolved into a shouting match. When it reached its peak Syd got back on the phone. "Mark!" "Yeah." "These Jews are so liberal. They're all so guilty! So many of them are these angry, selfhating Jews who can't appreciate what they have. The richest people in the world, and they can't be happy. Where was I? Oh yeah - if you find me dead with a gun in my hand, I didn't kill myself. The Clintons did it. I'm serious. That's how they work. A lot of people don't like this book I'm writing, and if any threats come in to you, I want you to tell me."

123 "Okay." "So we can tell the police. And when we go to speaking engagements, we'll hire a bodyguard with us. But if I die Mark, if I die, all my money goes to you and Kim. And my nephew and my niece. You're my witness. It's not like I have a family, you and Kim are the only ones that care about me. Anyway, there's good news. Howie Shaw called me, from Scooter and the Geech. He's trying to get me back on. And I might get on the Michael Savage show. I have to put myself out there, I have to make myself heard. Otherwise what's the point? There's nothing to live for if your voice isn't heard. That's why these homeless and these vets are so angry. No one gives a rat's ass about them." "Yeah, of course." "Oh Mark, I forgot to tell you what I did last night. There was this event last night at the Beverly Hilton, and Anti-Bush fundraiser. All these filthy rich liberals were there - Barbra Streisand, David Geffen, Steven Spielberg, Jesus, it sounds like a bar mitzvah. And Arianna Huffington was there, that bitch. I went up to her. I was dressed up nice, no signs or anything. And I said, this is what I said - 'You fucking phony liberal. I know that you made your husband gay. And I voted for Bush - I LOVE BUSH! It's because of Bush you can eat your dinner tonight. You're all a bunch of commies!!'" "What did she say?" "The guard threw me out. But it's okay, I made my point. I called Michael Savage when I got in the lobby. I got on the air. After that I called Carmen. Remember Carmen?" "Yeah, the little hispanic one." "Yeah, I called her after I got thrown out. I have this new thing with her. I give her fifty bucks for a half hour, there's no sex. She has a boyfriend. What we do is pretend to be boyfriend

124 and girlfriend. You know, we hug and say, 'How was your day,' that kind of stuff." "No kidding. And there's no sex?" "No, but I don't mind. It's not the sex I want. It just feels good to have someone to come home to. Even if it's pretend."

30 Syd called while I was hiking in Griffith Park. I got back, got the message, and called him back. "Mark! Good news! I'm back on Scooter! Probably next week. I'm gonna meet Freddy at the Key Club tonight. I'll talk to him, I'll tell him I meant no disrespect to Scooter and the Geech by going on Imus. So can you meet me at my house at 2:30? I'll pay you, and I need to run some errands." "Sure." "Can you stop at the ninety-nine cent store and pick up some napkins on the way? And some C batteries." "Alright." I went to pick up the napkins and batteries, then got to his house just in time. I entered his apartment and he told me he needed to go to Radio Shack to get a new stereo, his portable one was not working right and the warrantee was still good. We drove in the car the few blocks to the Radio Shack. We went in with the stereo and some bored black guy asked us what was up. "My stereo doesn't work sometimes. The tape moves but no sound comes out." "The tape?" "Yes yes, the tape. It doesn't make sound. See?"

125 He pressed play and the Michael Savage Show came out of the speakers. "Well, now it works, but sometimes it doesn't. I have the warrantee." "Are you sure it's not a problem with the batteries?" "The batteries are fine. I need a new stereo, I cannot use this one." The kid went in back. Syd saw some portable stereo in the shape of an M & M with arms, legs and a face and heapdphones. There were two kinds, regular and peanut. "Look at these!" he said, picking up the boxes on the counter. "These are great." He got out his cell phone and I knew he was calling Kim. "Heyyyy Kimmy, it's me. I'm at Radio Shack with Mark, do you want one of these M&M radios? They're cute. You don't? Okay, fine." He hung up. "I'm getting both of these. They're great." The guy came back with the new radio and Syd compled the transaction. We left and as I pulled out of the parking lot he said, "It probably was the batteries. Those cheap batteries from the ninety-nine cent store, who knows how long they've been sitting on the shelf. Ha ha ha! Oh well, I got a new radio!" We got a space on Larchmont right across from the Noah's bagels. We went in to have our meeting, put our stuff on the table and ordered the bagels. While we waited I gave him some info I had found on Janeane Garafalo (he want her to write the forward to the book) and the email addresses of Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes. He paid me, the bagels were ready and Syd paid with the coupon he had for free bagels that he won in a raffle. The lady took the coupons. "Oh, I'm sorry, this is the last month. It's a a year-long coupon, I'll have to take it from you." "What?" said Syd. "Oh, man - well okay, I guess I'll have to pay for bagels from now on."

126 We ate our bagels and left, Syd without his coupon. I dropped him off back at home then went back to my place. A few hours later he called and said, "Mark! That bitch took my coupons too soon! I got them in March! They owe me four more months of bagels! Do you want to go to Noah's tomorrow with me and settle this?" "Uhhhh..." "I'm going early, like seven." "That's a little early for me." "We can go at eight." "Well, I'm probably going out with some friends, and it might be a late night..." It was true. I had plans with Sam and Pauline. We were going to the Griffith Observatory to see the laserium. "Oh yeah, okay, well, I guess I'll go by myself." "Yeah, good luck." And that was that. I knew half of Syd wanted desperately wanted friends to go out with, but the other half would rather sit at home plotting his revenge on the world. The fact that the two parts could coexist simultaneously in one man never ceased to amaze me. The next time I called him he launched into a Clinton diatribe. "Did you know that Clinton has always been a liar? I mean, his record of lying goes back to his college days. Listen to this - when he was in college in Arkansas he was working on a political campaign. It was a campaign for governor, I forget the name of the candidate. And Clinton was this lowly staffer, you know, he stuffed envelopes or something. And the candidate won, so they had this huge victory celebration in some convention center. And the governor was supposed to give a speech, right? And the whole thing was being televised. So guess what

127 Clinton did? He told the governor that his mother was in the audience, so could he please give the introductory speech. And they let him. But his mother wasn't even in the audience, she was watching at home. And he gave the speech, it was really self-serving." "He was using it to promote himself?" "Yeah, he'll do anything to promote himself, he just wanted recognition. People actually booed during the speech. It was that bad. But he'll do anything to get recognition. So then later when he ran for office, people knew him. I know this guy, Mark. I see right through him. I understand his every move."

31 My mom had been asking me if I was going to take a vacation. I guess she could hear in my voice that I needed time away from my weird new life. It's one of those mom things, they just know before you tell them. So she sent me an article on Vietnam, which was the new cheap hot vacation spot for American tourists. She said she had enough mileage points to buy my tickets and I had to pay for everything while I was there. I had saved up enough money for a trip so I told Syd I would be gone for two weeks. He grudgingly let me go, but he was glad I was getting experience in the real world. I think it was the opposite for me. I just needed time away from Syd, time away from the real world. To me, Los Angeles was the true reality of America, the end and final accumulation of America. And it was more insane than my world view could account for, with my simple mountain upbringing. So I needed to escape the scary reality and live in vacation land for two weeks. You never experience the true reality of a place when you're on vacation. You're too busy

128 finding lodging and food and getting from place to place. So I found myself on this bus from Saigon to Nha Trang. The bus ride only cost me six dollars. It was ridiculous how cheap everything was in Vietnam. Saigon was fun but I wanted to chill out and I heard Nha Trang was a nice beach town. And I was sitting there listening to the iPod Sam had sold me for fifty bucks, surrounded by chattering Vietnamese, when this huge tall white guy got on the bus and sat down across the aisle from me. The bus started eventually and I got ready for a long, awful night bus trip. Then he looked at me. “American?” “Yeah.” He held out a chubby hand and showed a toothy grin. “Owen! Nice to meet you.” “Hey.” I took his hand. “Yeah,” he said, “I’m heading up to Nha Trang. It’s supposed to be gorgeous. I spent several weeks in Saigon. I found some great bars. I didn’t expect to meet ex-pats on this bus!” He had a slow, measured way of speaking while not looking directly at you. It was like he was reciting from a book. “I’m just traveling for awhile,” I said. “I’m going back to the states soon.” “Oh, you’re just a part-timer! Well, I’ve been teaching in China for over two years.” “Really?” “Yeah, well, one year I spent in Xuanzhang, in the east. It is a fairly large sized industrial town wherein I taught eager young Chinese students how to speak English. There were

129 challenges in teaching the language. I can go into that later. But the next year I was placed in Shanghai, which as you may know, is the largest city in China.” “Isn’t it the largest city in the world?” “Correction. It is the ninth largest city in the world. Mumbai is the largest.” “Where is that, Indonesia?” “India. Formerly Bombay. But as I was saying, in Shanghai I taught for a year. Incidentally, in Shanghai I picked up the habit of visiting prostitutes. In the orient the western stigma of visiting a whore is not frowned upon the way it is in the States.” “Wow. Some good whores?” “Yes. I have been with some excellent whores. You should really think about finding a whore in Nha Trang. I am sure they will be superb, and cheap too.” We got around to talking about the dating scene in China. “I dated an English woman for several months in Shanghai. She was a teacher too, several years my senior. I think the relationship was unbalanced. She got a little attached and I never was emotionally committed. We only had sex about two times, and both times were incomplete. They were less than satisfactory for me. That’s why prostitutes have been a good option. I make sure I always leave in a state of complete depletion.” This guy is weird, I thought. But what the hell. I have no one else to talk to. And then he asked me the first of many bizarrely specific questions. “How many dates do you go on per month, back in the States?” “Not many.” “Zero?” “Yeah. I don’t know, I had a girlfriend a while ago. In high school.”

130 “Was it fairly serious?” “Yeah. But it wasn’t good. It was…really bad. I made a lot of mistakes. It ended really terribly.” The truth was much worse but that was the short version I told people. “My condolences. What was the nature of the breakup?” “We broke up, but I guess we were both too stubborn to move on. It took awhile to actually end. And she started going off the deep end.” “Really? While you were still together?” “Yeah. A lot of drugs, and all these people she was hanging out with. It wasn’t healthy.” “I’ve noticed that drugs can provide a momentary feeling of euphoria but usually leave one feeling a bit hollow. I have tried most of the major drugs, starting with pot, cocaine, ecstasy…” So it went on like this, most of the way to Nha Trang. I tried to sleep but he would keep talking. All the places he’d been, the other ex-pats he taught with. Eventually we got to Nha Trang around seven in the morning. The bus stopped on a main street, filled with restaurants and hotels. It was warm and humid already, so early in the day. I got my bags and said goodbye to Owen. We agreed we would probably run into each other around town. I carried my bags to a hotel on the street and walked into the lobby. An old Vietnamese woman came out and said “Room?” “For one.” “Yes, I have. Ten dollar.” That would be about 160,000 Dong, which was nothing. You could get a whole dinner for 50,000.

131 “Okay, I’ll take it.” I gave her my passport and she showed me up to the third floor of an incredibly narrow building. There was an old man sitting on the floor in the hallway cleaning basil in a bowl of water. He looked up at me and smiled. He was probably an employee. There were people like that all around Vietnam, simple peasant people sitting on the ground preparing food. I loved the food and the people. They provided incredible comfort, something I had needed but couldn’t find back at home. America had become too big and vulgar for me. Just too decadent. I couldn't help it. I wasn't raised to deal with the mass culture of my own country. I got to my room and it was great, with a view of the ocean and an air conditioner. I put my stuff away and went down to find some breakfast. I walked out through the busy morning streets past countless cafes on the sidewalks serving hot bowls of pho, little carts serving sandwiches, and locals speeding past me on motorcycles. I found my way to the beach. I walked along the sand for awhile and felt the warm tropical breeze. This was what I had come for. Somehow there was nothing to worry about here. Palm trees swayed in the wind and Australian tourists walked along the beach, sunburned and bloated, jabbering loudly. Suddenly I was in front of a restaurant with a huge patio, sitting on the sand and facing the ocean. I walked, dazed and tired, into the comfort of the giant tourist trap. A Vietnamese man seated me with a smile, and I sat and looked at the ocean. I ordered a coffee, then an omelette. They were both absolutely delicious. And the beach was beautiful. The bill was about four US dollars. Back at the hotel I thought I heard a familiar voice as I walked up the stairs. “Laundry. Do you do my laundry? How much? HOW MUCH?? Okay, that’s good. I’ll leave it down at the front desk.” I got up to my floor and there he was. Big, American Owen, talking to a little Vietnamese

132 woman. He stood out like a soar thumb. But I guess I did too. “Hey!” he said when he saw me, a cigarette dangling from his lips. “How fortuitous!” “Yeah, what a coincidence. What room are you staying in?” “This one,” he gestured to the one next door to me. “That’s funny.” He lit his cigarette. “You know what I love about Asia? They let you smoke anywhere. Back in the States you can barely smoke in your own home anymore.” I opened my door to go take a nap. I was exhausted from the bus ride. “Hey, I ran into some Australian chicks I met in Saigon. We’re gonna go out tonight. There’s one for each of us. You should come.” “Okay. Sounds like a party. I’ll be there.” I went in my room, thinking of how I could get out of it. This was how it always was. People made plans with me for some reason, and I had to think of a way to get out of them. I just felt so tired all the time. I didn’t have any energy to be around people anymore. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Maybe Syd had exhausted me more than I realized. Later that day, after swimming at the beach and having a three-hour lunch at great little bar I found, I got back to the hotel. I had had a perfect day. It was completely relaxing. The bar had played that movie “Total Recall” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and for some reason I loved it. Maybe I was nostalgic for America, but it felt good to find comfort in my own culture again, however skin-deep and bloated it was. So I walked up the stairs, hoping Owen wouldn’t be there to invite me out. Of course he was. “Hey!”

133 He was all dressed up and ready to go out. “You ready? You better get dressed! These girls are very attractive. I think you’ll like them. They’re really progressive Australian girls. They’re cool.” “Uh, alright. I’ll put something on.” I went in my room and found a button-down shirt. I wasn’t expecting to have to dress up on this trip and it was all wrinkled. I came back out and he was standing in the hall smoking. “That’ll do,” he said. “It’s a bit wrinkled but hopefully the bar will be dark enough, so they won’t notice.” “Where are we going?” “We’re meeting them at the Blue Gecko,” he said. “It’s within walking distance. Shall we?” “Sure.” I didn’t know how I would spend a whole night with this guy in a bar. I would just try my hardest. We left and walked along the main street towards the beach. The night air was warm in Vietnam, especially in the summer on the coast. We didn’t speak much as we walked. I didn’t ask any questions for fear of an impending sermon, and I treasured each precious moment of silence. I dreaded the whole night, the awkward conversation, the desperation. We got to the place, a big open bar on the beach. It was loud and full of Brits, Aussies and a few Americans. This was Owen’s scene, and there was nowhere he felt more at home. Some girls waved at us from a table in the corner. They were tall, sunburned, blonde chicks. We went over and Owen put his arm around one of them. They were expecting a good time, dancing and all that. I just wanted a drink. We introduced ourselves. Their names were Sylvia and Kathy. I went to get a Mai Tai from the busy Vietnamese girl tending bar. It was only

134 three dollars American. I got back to the table and sat down. Sylvia looked at me. “So, where are you from?” “Los Angeles.” “Oh! That’s so interesting! I’ve always wanted to go! Is it really as shallow as everyone says?” “Well, no, actually. It’s a huge misconception, and it’s really-” “Los Angeles is a fascinating metropolis,” Owen interjected. “Oh, do you live there too?” “No, but I’ve visited several times,” he said. “I actually studied Urban Planning at college. Or University, as you call it in Australia. What you have to understand about LA is that it’s a city of contradictions. Of course, there are the popular images you see on TV and in the movies. But these images, in shows like LA Law and Curb Your Enthusiasm, hide the complex truth behind the mask….” And it went on and on like that all night long. I didn’t mind not talking, but listening to him started to drive me crazy. So I got up to go to the bathroom but there was a huge line of drunken Australian guys waiting. I went back to the table. “The line’s too long.” “Just go on the beach,” said Sylvia. “Why not?” “Good idea.” I walked out onto the beach and strayed away from the bar a little ways. I got onto the dark, quiet part of the beach and did my business. A few old Vietnamese men fished quietly near me. After I finished I zipped up and stood, looking at the waves washing on the shore several feet

135 from my shoes. The noise of the Blue Gecko came to me distantly, intermittently when the wind shifted in my direction. It was loud music and laughing. The ocean was dark and gorgeous, and I could barely look away from it. It became the only thing that didn’t make me sick to my stomach. This was what I’d been looking for this whole trip. I’d found it in bits and pieces, here and there. I didn’t know the sea would give me what I craved so badly. I looked back at the Blue Gecko, bright and pulsing with noise. I felt weak and stupid in the company of other people. The only thing that made me feel better was this procession of waves pounding on the shore. I didn’t go back to the bar that night. I just stood there, drawing the warm night air into my lungs, gazing at the sea crashing towards me. I guess I had been living in the city too long and got too used to the civilized world. The ocean in Vietnam was so clean and so pure. As ocean spray lightly glazed over me I stood, captivated, and felt like I was whole again.

30 The flight back took about thirty hours, which included a layover in the Phillipines for eight hours. I finally arrived in Los Angeles, sleepless, not knowing what time it was going to be. I had emailed Sam to pick me up. He showed up on time in his old Honda, smoking out of the back with the right rear door not working. I loaded up my baggage and jumped in the front. He was smoking the last of a joint. I looked out the window and saw it was nighttime. "How was the trip?" "Good. I took some pictures, I'll show you." "Cool. Did you get any action over there?" "No. The food was good though."

136 "Did you hear about the fire in Griffith Park?" "What?" "It's close to our place, man. You'll see when we get there." We cruised through nighttime LA down the empty freeways, the dry warm air blowing in through his windows. It was so nice to be back in Los Angeles. A city that was all future and no history. Coming from Vietnam it seemed that way. Everything was so stable, so comfortable in my country. We were set in our democracy and our capitalism and most of us were living in pretty good conditions. There hadn't been a war on our soil in a hundred and forty years and there wouldn't be another one anytime soon. I loved the glittering lights of downtown as we approached. The air was full of smoky heat and I saw the flickering orange of the fire consuming the hills in the distance. When we got to the apartment I coughed getting out of the car. The fire was really close. Ashes were floating all around. Our neighbors were outside of the apartment looking at the fire to see if it would get closer. "It's not gonna get closer," said Pauline, the old timer. "I remember the fire we had here a few years ago. It was in that same spot, but the Santa Ana winds were blowing it the other direction." I unpacked all my stuff and came back out on the street to join my neighbors. "You want to drive up in the hills with us?" Pauline asked me. "To get a closer look." "Yeah, I could do that." Sam and I got in her car and she drove us up through the hills like an expert. "I've been living in this city for twenty-two years, I know my way around." We curved through narrow streets and ended up on a hill by some mansions looking at

137 the fire as it swept up the hill destroying houses people had worked their whole lives for. "Poor rich people," Sam said. "Yeah, it's like some divine justice," said Pauline. "When there's this many poor people in the city and you're hording all this wealth, it seems like it makes sense for fire season to come every year." "It's like a cleansing," Sam said. "What are the Santa Ana Winds?" I asked. "They come in from the desert around the end of Autumn," Pauline said. "That's why they're warm. It comes from Spanish actually, they called them the vientos de Santana, which means winds of Satan. So they thought the winds were evil, which a lot of people still think." "Wow." "Yeah, I'm kind of a dork, I know all this random stuff." "Well it's the winds that make fire season so bad," Sam said. "The fires spread like crazy." "And crime goes way up during this time of the year. I read some article about how the LAPD has to put more officers on the street." For awhile we just watched the fire. It was incredibly close. I wondered how Syd was doing since I had been gone. He'd probably been getting crazier and crazier. Eventually we got tired of watching other people's misfortune and drove out of the hills.

The next day Syd called to welcome me back. "Listen, can you pick up some stuff for me? I'll pay you back." "Okay." "Because I just don't have time. This book, it's taking all my energy."

138 "Uh-huh." "I don't have a moment to spare. So pick up some napkins, instant coffee...let's see...sweet 'n low...margarine...light bulbs. Make sure they're a hundred watt, get about seven of them...some fruit juice -get as much as you can. And pick up something for yourself." "Alright, Syd." We agreed to meet at three thirty. So I went, got the groceries and drove to his house where there were plenty of spots available. I went up and knocked available. I went up and knocked on the door. After a minute the door opened a crack and he said, "Come in, quick!" I walked in and he was hunched over holding his cat to make sure she didn't escape. After the door was closed he stroked the cat, saying, "Oooh, keety, keety,-cat, you are so beautiful." After fawning over the cat for awhile, he told me to have a seat. "Let me read you this about Vince Foster." He picked up a huge book and opened it to a bookmarked place. "Listen - there was no gun found at his body. Who shoots themself without a gun? The FBI weren't even called when the body was first discovered in the park. The Clintons sent a team of people in to raid his office. They took a bunch of files, they wouldn't give them back. They let the park police handle the whole case. They're park police! They don't know anything, they ruled it a suicide before they even talked to his wife. The gun they SAID he used to shoot himself - it's not the one he had at home. There were no records of him buying a gun. He was killed, Mark. He was killed. What, you think all these people are lying?" He gestured to the floor where there were about fifty books sitting in piles, all of them about Vince Foster's death, Ron Brown's death, Hillary's dark side, Bill's history with women, the Clinton's legacy of death and horror and immorality written by hate-filled, right-wing, self-

139 righteous, shrill pundits that Syd worships. "See all of these notes I took?" he said, pointing to a pile of notebooks, papers, index cards and manila envelopes in the middle of the floor. He had a crazed look in his eyes, like a suicide bomber on a bus about to blow himself up with everyone else. "Mark, I will not stop until the Clintons are in jail!!!" I could tell he hadn't left his house in probably a week. He was wearing little fluorescent orange shorts and a huge black jacket that had the "CIA" logo on it. He pulled out a check and gave it to me. "Here's for last week. You know, I'm sure it's over with Scooter. I've been fooling myself. It's over, they don't need me anymore." He looked out the window, in mourning. The man was trying to come to terms with the loss but it was obviously hard. "People see me in the street, they say 'Why aren't you on Scooter and the Geech anymore?' I just say I'm moving on to better things." "Yeah, that's a healthy attitude." "I can't stop something if it was meant to be. I just have to be okay with it." "You can't be on the show forever." "No, I can't. I have the book, it keeps me busy." He gazed out the window, put his hands in his pockets and took a deep breath. "Maybe we'll get some bagels on Friday, huh?" "Yeah, that would be fun." "Okay, well, keep in touch, Mark." I left and deposited my check.

140

31 Syd called, upset. "Mark, I have some bad news to tell you. Well, it's bad for me - not bad for you. Now don't freak out but I got another death threat last night. It was - I don't want to be a racist, but it was a nigger. A fuckin' black man called and here's what he said: 'I work for Pellicano. We're gonna off you. We're gonna kill you.' This is serious, Mark." "Who's Pellicano?" "He was one of Clinton's lawyers. I don't know if it's real. I mean, this might be bogus. But it still just scares me. It scares me badly. I'm just not gonna take chances anymore. I'm not going out with signs, I'm not gonna make a scene, I won't give my cards out. A fuckin' black guy. The blacks hate me. Those blacks, they love Clinton. And you know what? Go to any place of business in South Central or Watts. How many blacks do you see working in stores? NONE! You know where they are? In prison! The liberals, they want the blacks at home collecting welfare and drinking malt liquor. And meanwhile the gangs are out writing graffiti all over the city, calling cops killers and defending cop killers. Free Mumia, that kind of bullshit." "Yeah." "But I also have some good news. I called Larry Petersen. He's a former Arkansas state trooper, he gave me LD Brown's number! LD Brown wrote that book on the Clintons you got me. But I interviewed Larry Petersen too. He told me that Clinton would release these big elephant farts. Heheheheh! Elephant farts. He said there may be truth to rumors of Webster Hubbell being Chelsea's real father. He said I could quote him in the book. Isn't that great?" "Uh-huh."

141 "So I'll have that, and get an LD Brown interview. That will be fantastic. This book will have more than any of those other books. It will be the ultimate." "Yeah." "So you want to meet tomorrow for bagels?" "Sure."

I turned on the TV after I hung up. I had just gotten cable installed and I was watching some biography of Cher on A & E. It had gotten up to the nineties portion of her career, past the Sonny and Cher days and the eighties big hair days. When they started talking about Sonny Bono's death it showed a clip from Cher's eulogy, which had aired live on CNN without her knowledge. She had given the eulogy even though they had been divorced for over twenty years and he had a new wife and kids. I watched, half amused, as Cher delivered her speech. "People think I was the strong one because Sonny was always the butt of the jokes. But what people don't know is that Sonny came up with the jokes. He had all the ideas. He was the pillar..." Here she started to weep and I was strangely moved. "This is probably the most important thing I've ever done," she said, and went on to describe the early days when she had just come to Hollywood as a sixteen year old girl and Sonny took her in, teaching her about show business. Three years later they had a hit song together and were famous. As she went on I saw that Cher had probably never completely fallen out of love with Sonny. Someone that influential in her life, of course she was beside herself with grief at his death. I was beginning to see that celebrities and even pseudo-celebrities were full and complex

142 humans under the cheesy veneer. I walked out onto the patio outside of my place. I started thinking about people I had lost touch with from my childhood, especially Neil. Neil lived on the mountain where I grew up. He reminded me of Syd in some ways. He smelled and no one at school liked him. But he lived right up the street and we had a similar sense of humor. He had a Nintendo system and cable, which I never had, so that was a major draw. And in my neighborhood there was so little to do that I would spend every day of my summer at his house playing Super Mario Brothers and Mortal Kombat or spying on our neighbors. But then he would start to imitate animals or he would attack me physically and I would have to leave. One time he perched himself on the couch and raised his arms, going "Kawww!!! Kawww!!! Kawww!" Every day I asked myself why I spent so much time with this guy. There were so many reasons that my parents shouldn't have let me spend time at his house. He lived with his mom, who was never home. There was absolutely no supervision except Alan, a strange man who lived in the garage, and their landlord Lee, who was single, drove a big black cadillac and had a big stack of Playboys. One day Neil and I were bored and decided to antagonize him. He never went outside, Neil and I hardly ever saw him. Lord knows what he was doing, probably watching the Spice channel. In the past Neil and I usually sneaked into his house to watch porn on his TV. But since we couldn't do that, we decided on something better. We took pieces of binder paper and wrote a series of threatening messages on them; "We're going to kill you."; "We know where you live."; "You're gonna die." One just said "Leeeeeeeeeeeee" in scary red twelve-year-old handwriting, with devil flames rising behind it. We thought we were going to terrify him out of his wits. So we knocked on his door and dropped the first paper, then ran off into the trees and hid for a half an

143 hour. "Let's go back now." "No, he's gonna be there." "Come on!" "Well I'm going." "Wait!" So we dropped the second paper, gave a knock then ran like the devil. We kept going back and seeing that the papers were gone. As our confidence grew we went back more frequently. We were getting pretty obnoxious. We set one of the papers on fire in front of his door and ran. Finally we ran out of paper, so we went back and just shouted insults at him from outside. "Lee, you piece of shit!" Neil yelled. "Lee, you suck!" Then we ran and hid behind some bushes. "Nothing's gonna happen." "He's probably not even home." "No, I saw him, he's there." "He's probably so scared." "Let's just go, this is boring." Then we heard a rustling of the bushes next to us. I looked up and saw the huge potbellied, bearded figure of Lee standing above. He was holding a giant shotgun, pointing it down at us. I turned to tell Neil to run and he wasn't even by my side anymore. I got up as Lee started firing into the air. I ran as far as my legs could take me as the BANG BANG of his gun sounded. I finally found Neil sitting on a tree-stump, crying. "Please don't tell my mom," he said. "She'll

144 kill me." We stayed away from the house for the rest of the day. That night after Neil's mom got home Lee came over to talk with her. Neil and I hid in his room and heard Lee's muffled yelling and his mom weeping softly. "Lee, please, they were just playing a joke." "Bullshit, Debra!" "You can't do this to us, Lee. We don't have anywhere to go." "Shut the fuck up, do you know what a pain in the ass those kids are? I can't deal with this any more, Debra." Neil and I sat in his room, the room that smelled like cinnamon air freshener, and listened to the argument. Neil sat on his bed curled in a ball with wide eyes, scared to say anything. They were clearly in danger of losing their house. And suddenly they were quiet and the door slammed, both of them leaving. Neil and I always thought that Debra was having sex with Lee to pay the rent. A year after that, Debra decided that Neil was too much trouble to raise so she sent him to Louisiana to live with his grandparents. He used to call me from Louisiana to complain about bullies that would beat him up at school every day. He would write me letters that didn't make any sense, just long streams of consciousness. One of them was just a giant drawing of a dinosaur with its head cut off and blood spurting out. My nickname "E.G." was written all over the margins. After a while he stopped sending letters and stopped calling. Eventually my mom had seen a notice in the obits of the San Mateo News that showed his picture. I could tell it was him, even years later post-puberty. It had been some sort of car crash. He had been homeless for awhile, had even spent time in an institution for stabbing one of his teachers. It was so strange. I always thought Neil got a raw deal.

145 And then I started thinking about our family's black lab, Josh. He was a great dog. He had such manners. He wouldn't eat if anyone was watching, he would wait to be invited in the house before he came in. He wouldn't speak unless spoken to. He was like a British aristocrat in the body of a labrador retriever. But one day during an Indian summer he just disappeared. My dad went all over the mountain looking for him in the heat. He never turned up, and my sister cried every day for a month. I shed no tears because I felt almost no emotions at that point of my life. So a few months later when my thirteenth birthday rolled around I planned the usual party- all my friends at our house for a hike. So my friends arrived on October 9th at about eleven in the morning. I opened all my presents. I got a bunch of GI Joe guys that were awesome, a Super Soaker, which was the king of all squirt guns. It would get your enemy soaking wet after one squirt. Then came lunch, hot dogs and cake. My standard meal back then. After lunch my dad announced it was time for the hike. So my dad, the leader, led us down into the canyon. We went down a little logging road through redwood trees in a remote, dark part of the forest. Me and my friends were running and laughing and chasing after each other. "Who do you think would win in a fight to the death, Batman or Spiderman?" "I think Neil's mom would win." "Shut up you guys." "Neil's such a dork." "Come on, shut up." "Spiderman would win, totally." "Hey guys, what's that?" In a clearing there was a big black pile of hair.

146 It looked like an animal. "Look, it's Neil's mom." Everyone laughed. But I knew what it really was. "That's Josh," I said. We stood in a circle, looking down at my dog. "Oh, I'm sorry Mark, that's really sad." "Yeah, that is sad. I'm really sorry." My dad wasn't affected like the rest of us. "Oh, so that's where he's been all this time." I looked at my pet. I can't believe that is Josh. He's nothing but bones and black hair. I could see his head and his jaw. He used to bark out of that jaw. I could see his tail. He used to wag with that tail. He was just laying there, a pile of black nothingness, his eye sockets were empty. Is that going to happen to me when I die? This is my birthday, I shouldn't be thinking about death. But I had to. I had to realize that when dogs - or friends, parents, whatever- when they disappear they don't always end up in some beautiful blue haven. Sometimes they just turn into a pile of hair down in the canyon. So there I was in the middle of Hollywood, thinking about death. Sonny Bono, Josh, Neil, who knew where they had all ended up? Syd was sure there was something afterwards, but all I could picture was that pile of hair in the canyon. Part of me always wondered if there was any more to Josh than bones and hair. I guess I wanted badly to believe in something wonderful that came afterwards. I wanted this life to make sense. But the more I saw, the more I lived, the less I understood. I didn't have

147 religion like other people, and I couldn't just start now. I wasn't conditioned with it. So I was on my own.

32 I met Syd at his place after picking up the Starr Report at Barnes and Noble and some stuff at the 99 cent store. I got to his place, he paid me, I gave him some research, and we went to the Office Depot. While we were there Syd started talking to these two ladies. "Are you twins?" he asked, even though it was obvious they weren't. It turned out they were country singers in a band together. Syd started singing "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas and said "Like that? You sing those kind of songs?" "Well, sort of," they said. He was doing well with the girls until he started talking about his book. "I think Hillary Clinton is a disgrace. She's what we would call in Hebrew a 'Schaunder.' A shame!" One of them said, "I won't get started," and they walked out towards their car. We followed them and Syd shouted epithets. Then we waved as they left the parking lot. Then we went to Noah's. Syd gave me directions carefully so I would never once have to make a left turn. He believes they are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. We got to Larchmont and the street was hopping. Everyone was in a good mood because it was Friday. No one even got mad at Syd. They all tolerated him like an annoying kid brother. We went to the pizza place, Syd carrying a sign saying "You bet I'll vote for Bush."

148 Steve, the owner of the pizza place, came out and said, "Syd, no politics. You know that." "Steve, I've known you for fourteen years, you say that every time I come here." "It needs to be said. And another thing, Syd - you don't need the sign." "Yeah I do, it's my thing." "No you don't need it. When will you have faith in yourself? You are enough. The sign is a cover. Why not show the real you?" "Hey Steve, if I needed psycho analysis I'd call Dr. Laura. Can we get a couple slices of pizza?" "Sure, Hollywood. Come inside." We got some slices and walked down the street towards Noah's. On the way we passed a group of Catholic school girls who couldn't have been more than fourteen. "Hey ladies," Syd said. "Hey Syd," they said. "Are you too young for my assistant? He's nineteen, he's an aspiring actor." "Yeah, we're too young, Hollywood." They laughed. We got to Noah's and all the employees lit up when they saw us. "Hey Hollywooood!" "Hollywooooood Syd Ross!!" I announced. Syd loved that. We went up and Syd produced his coupons. We got our bagels, a production that lasted about ten minutes while Syd got distracted, changed his mind, ranted about the liberal media elite and couldn't make up his mind about what bagels he wanted. Eventually I was forced to choose four of the dozen - asiago, sesame, jalapeno and garlic. We sat and ate them. Syd started talking about life.

149 "It's the simple pleasures, Mark. You don't need money to be happy. Just bagels." We ate in silence for awhile. Then he spoke. "It's a beautiful world. You know? Just look out the window, it's a beautiful day! I'll admit sometimes I hate this town. But on a day like today, I wish it would never end." We finished our bagels and I drove him home. He gave me some bagels to eat.

Syd was leaving for Florida so I met him the day before his flight to get paid. I drove to his place and he met me in an orange t-shirt that was wrinkled and faded, wearing nothing but his boxers. His face was grizzled and unshaven. "Hey, how's it going," he said absently. "Do you mind driving me to the bank? I can pay you." I said okay, so I took him to the bank on La Brea after he put on some pants. We got there and he was the usual, dancing and singing along to the stereo, which was playing "What a Wonderful World." "I hate Bill Clinton!" he shouted. "Love George Bush. Mark, who am I voting for?" "Bush." "Who's the best president?" "Bush." "Who's gonna win the election?" "Bush." We got to the front of the line and some black girl was helping us, her name was Shawndra. "Shawndra, you're beautiful. Are you single?"

150 "Yeah." "My assistant, he's single. He's an actor. Ask her out!" he told me. "Uhhh...." I stammered. I just couldn't say that I wasn't into black girls. We got the money and he gave me my cash. When we go to the car he said, "Would you mind driving me to the valley tonight?" "Sure, I guess." "I have a CD I have to give to Kim." He directed me to his place where we picked up the CD, then to Cahuenga. Since he refuses to drive on the 101, we took the Cahuenga Pass to the valley. On the way we listened to the Michael Savage Show, Syd proclaiming his brilliance the whole time. Syd started ranting about a confontation he had had with some "bitch from the telephone company." "So I signed up for a long-distance deal for about fifty bucks a month. You can call anywhere in the country, anytime. And I got my bill in the mail, it was a hundred and seven dollars. That was ridiculous, you know? I'm not paying that! So I called the company and it took me fifteen minutes to get a human on the line. And this cunt was so fucking stupid. She was so goddamn dense. She said, 'You haven't paid the current bill.' I said of course I haven't, that's what I'm calling about. She said 'Why haven't you paid it,' even after I told her I was on the fifty dollar a month plan. But she still didn't understand that my bill was too high. I was fuming, Mark. I was FUMING. and this cunt said, 'Am I annoying you? Am I bothering you in some way?' I said, this is what I said, you'll love this - 'Lady, if I could reach through this telephone right now and strangle you, I would. You are making me so miserable right now, I wish I was dead! Do you understand me?' And I was shouting at her. Don't get married, Mark. Don't ever get married. Women were sent here by the devil to make men miserable."

151 After all that we wound up in Valley Village in front of some anonymously huge valley apartment complex. "Here we are. This is Kim's place." I parked and we got out. Syd called her on his cell phone. "That's weird, she's not home," he said, then left a message. "Hey Kimmy, it's Syd. I'm here with Mark, I'm gonna drop off the CD you wanted. I guess you're not home, so I'll just leave it somewhere." We stood and waited for someone to come into the apartment. Finally some lady drove up and opened the garage door. We went in and waited. She parked and got out, looking at us. "Excuse me, what are you doing here?" "I'm here to meet a friend," Syd said. "If she doesn't answer the call box, she's probably not at home." "I'm just here to drop off a CD, I'm Hollywood Syd Ross." He took out the CD and his driver's license, waving them in her face. After a huge long rigmarole she let us in. We went up to 307, knocked and waited. "I guess she's not at home," Syd said. He left the CD at the door and we left. On the drive back home he talked about his impending travels. "I was going to be in Florida for a week and then come home home, but Freddy called and wants me to do Scooter on the 30th. So I'll fly to New York then. The Scooter thing will be good. I've wanted to come back on for so long, I have to go to New York to be in the studio. The bit will be funny - it'll be me and a few other guys who haven't been on in a while. We'll plead our case to get more airtime on the show. It'll be hilarious." We got to Hollywood and he told me to stop at the Jack in the Box on Highland.

152 "I'll buy you a burger for driving me to the valley." "Thanks, man." A free dinner wasn't bad. We did the drive-thru because he "can't stand eating with other people." Which is probably why he hadn't had a date in years. I dropped him off, then pulled over and scarfed down my meal. He left plenty of work for me to do in his absence. I had to arrange the chapters in a readable format.

33 Sam had told me that one way for actors to get more work was to get some jobs as an extra. If you did enough extra jobs you could get these vouchers and you could use them to join the Union. And then you could get better jobs. So I went up to Central Casting in Burbank with my headshot to register. I parked on the street and walked in to the large warehouse. I was astounded. At least a hundred people were crammed into the waiting room, running around, checking their hair, putting makeup on, waiting in line. There were two lines, for union people and non-union people. I got in the non-union line and waited. Eventually I got to the front and turned in my paperwork and had my picture taken. They gave me the number to call to check for jobs. I left, feeling excited about my prospects. I called the hotline that night to listen for available jobs. It was a 1-800 number. "Okay guys," a male voice said. "This is the male non-union work line, so be sure to have a pen and paper handy. I need...let's see, okay, I need three big, beefy latino guys for a day of shooting, this is for this Thursday. It's for a movie called Lost in Miami. Make sure you have

153 clothes to make you look like a gangster, like leather jackets and stuff. They want upscale gangsters, and more light-skinned, like Cuban looking, if possible...okay next, I need two black men, fifty and over, with their own cars, if you have like a Lincoln continental, or an old car like that, they want you for two days of shooting for a movie of the week, this will be filming next week in Santa Clarita. You will get a car bump, but the car has to be just right...okay, next I need about twenty men, ages eighteen to fifty, for a night of shooting for Alias. This will be in North Hollywood. If this applies to you, write down this number - 4446592..." I furiously wrote the number down. Then I hung up and called the central casting hotline I'd been given. After about ten rings he picked up. "Yeah, what's your name?" I gave my name and the number. He typed it in and looked at my picture on his computer. "You're available tomorrow night?" "Yes." "Okay, you have to go to the Warner lot in Burbank. Be there at nine o'clock. This is supposed to be fall in Washington DC, so wear heavy clothes, a jacket, maybe a scarf, and dark colors, you know, brown and red and dark green. No black okay? And bring several changes of clothes." "Okay." So the next night I got my clothes and headed out there to the valley. I was late finding the studio so I parked and ran with all my clothes to the place where extras were congregating. There was a big line by a wardrobe trailer and an angry woman was looking at each person, cursing their poor clothing. "You know, I said fall colors. I don't know why they didn't tell you this. But I cannot have

154 these, these are California summer colors. You all look like you live in Manhattan Beach." "We didn't know!" cried an old man. "We're sorry, they didn't tell us!" said another woman. These people were from all walks of life. I heard Spanish spoken, I saw some Persians, there was a really New York Guido-looking guy, there was an old nebbish Jewish man, there was a younger punk rock looking girl. I couldn't believe the cross section of humanity that you could hire. These people would just show up at nine o'clock at night to stand around on a movie set? The costume woman walked down the line slowly, shaking her head in disgust. She got to me and looked me up and down. "I can work with this. This is okay. Get on the bus. You'll be on the first bus to the set." I looked over at a little bus crammed with the first round of extras. "I'll have to keep all these other people and find better clothes for them. If the AD calls I'll have to tell him that Central didn't send the background over with the right clothing." I walked over to the bus and got on. It was packed but I found a seat next to a young black guy. He didn't look at me. Everyone on the bus sat there, waiting stoically. Pretty soon the bus started driving and we were maneuvering through the streets of the valley. "So," I said, "how long do you think this will last?" "Probably 'til five or six in the morning." "Okay. And they give us food?" "Yeah. Mostly bagels and stuff. But make sure you don't eat the crew's food. You'll get in big trouble." "Oh, how can you tell which is which?" "Their food is a lot better."

155 "Huh." We were quiet for awhile. "So, how long have you been doing this?" "About a year." "So you make good money?" "It's not that great." "Have you gotten any SAG vouchers?" "No. They're really hard to get. Hardly any of the shows give them. Sometimes if you're on a movie they'll give them out." We got to the North Hollywood subway terminal, where they let us out. We huddled in the cold desert night air in the empty expanse of North Hollywood. I looked around and marveled that they built a subway that went here. We were surrounded by giant parking lots and car dealerships. It was like a cruel joke. The closest building was about three blocks away and looked like a warehouse. I went over to the craft services table that the rest of the extras were huddled around. "We're lucky we got here first," said an old lady waiting to get some coffee. "When it runs out they don't replace it." When those in front of me cleared out I saw a table full of bagels and donuts. There was no cream cheese or anything. A giant container of coffee stood there on the table and a cooler full of Diet Cokes and Sprite sat on the ground. I grabbed a Sprite. Then a PA walked up to us. "Guys, they need you down there, okay? Everyone down on set." We all walked down the stairs where a bored crew sat and waited for a lighting change. The PA turned to all of us.

156 "Jennifer Garner is going to be here tonight. She is in some of these shots." Several of the extras gasped. "The director has asked that none of the background approach her. That is a serious warning. Okay? Do not look at her directly, do NOT speak to her, do not stand close to her unless you are placed there by the background coordinator. If these rules are broken you will be escorted from the set and Central Casting will be notified." More extras gasped. We were all placed in various locations around the subway when the shot was ready. The director called action and I walked as I was told, walking right past Jennifer at one point. During the down time the extras chatted. They were all comparing extra jobs, talking about the best shows to get work on, and bragging about celebrities they had met. One older guy came up to me. We started talking and pretty soon he was unloading his life story. "I was actually a toy maker. I worked for Mattel for many years. That was back when the toy plants were all still in this country. You know, most of them were developed and manufactured here. Then the manufacturing moved to China, and I wasn't worried because I was a designer, you know? I thought they'll never move my job over there." "But they did?" He nodded. "The whole office shut down. And I worked in one of the biggest, most secure parts of the company. It's all in China now. I mean, it's cheaper. It's capitalism. But now I'm broke. My wife had cancer for a long time, we spent all our money on treatment. When she died I had to sell the house. I live in an apartment in Van Nuys now. I used to live in Malibu. Can you believe that?"

157 The guy had years of worry on the wrinkles of his face. He had to be in his late fifties. But he looked older. "So I do this now. Because what I was trained to do, what I did for twenty-five years, it's so specific that there's nothing comparable available now. It's all in China. The whole industry moved to China. I tell you, thirty years ago, forty years ago, this was a different city. There were industries here. There were jobs for everyone. Now there's just this. TV is still here, and there's always extra jobs. But a lot of people lost their jobs in the last fifty years when the aerospace industry shut down, the toy industry, and tons of other jobs moved overseas." "Wow." "Yeah. It's wasteland. It's a complete wasteland now." Later during a break we were up on the street waiting for the next shot. An old lady was complaining about being hungry, but all we had on our table were some stale bagels and donuts. Just then about ten pizzas got delivered to the crew's craft services table. She went right over and helped herself, not realizing it was the wrong table. "No!" one of the extras cried out in warning as she opened the pizza box and grabbed a slice. But it was too late. She ate it as the other extras came running towards her. "That's for the crew only!" A look of terror came over her face. "Oh no," she gasped in a thick accent. She sounded Russian. "Oh no..." As the realization set in she began to cry. "They are going to fire me," she sobbed as the others comforted her. "They will tell Central Casting..." "Just tell them it was a mistake," they said. "Hopefully they will understand."

158 A stressed out young PA came over to carry a bunch of pizza boxes down to the set. The woman stopped him. She looked at the ground as she began her confession. "I am sorry, but I was hungry and I take a piece of pizza, I do not know it is for the crew..." "Oh, that's okay," he said and walked away. At about five in the morning they let us go and drove us back to the studio. I sat next to an old cracked-out black guy and we started talking. "Hey, where you live, man?" "Hollywood." "Oh, hey, I'm gonna have to ask you for a ride home, son. I don't got my car right now. The busses don't run yet, if you're going that way." "I live by Hollywood and Western." "Yeah, that's cool, I stay right by there." On the way home he told me I was a good-looking young kid. I sped down the freeway to get home as soon as possible. I was hungry and tired. Then as we were getting off the freeway at Hollywood he touched my leg. I ignored it and he didn't do it again. Then he started laughing a little to himself. He smelled like a bum. "Is the corner okay?" I said when I got to Hollywood and Western. "Uh, yeah, well, do you want to hang out or anything?" "I don't know, I'm pretty sleepy." "Oh yeah, right, long night! Yeah, I feel you. Well, do you want to give me your number? I got a good herb hookup. We could smoke out some time." "I don't have a phone right now."

159 I went home and slept.

34 Syd was in Florida and wasn't watching over me so I went to the beach. It was the one in Santa Monica just a block or two from Main St. It was north of Venice so none of the Venice freaks were there. It seemed like a neighborhood beach and I always fantasized about living in one of the cottages a block from the mellow Pacific. I couldn't lie, it would be nice to have a wife and kids in a nice house by the beach. I didn't want to end up like Syd. The more he told me not to get married the more I wanted to someday. He wasn't a ringing endorsement for bachelordom. Sitting there I wondered if I would ever do more extra work. I couldn't see it going anywhere. The desperate people in the background profession had a kind of poverty of the spirit I hadn't seen before. I just could not believe how much poverty there was in this city, and I couldn't believe the depth of the poverty. It wasn't just poor people, it was poor people without a culture or a past, addicted to things that weren't good for them. I felt poor as well, working side by side with all the lost wanderers of Los Angeles. I didn't know what to do with myself. Working with Hollywood Syd Ross would take me nowhere, my auditions where going nowhere, and I had no one to complain to. I needed to be showered with love, to be cherished. My parents were out of my life and hundreds of miles away. I was just another one of the lost and wandering of the great American city of the future, staring at the sea and wondering what it was all heading towards. When I got back from the beach Syd called from Florida. "I did my gig last night, Mark. It was great. They loved me. I tell you, it was phenomenal. You have to start working on a stand-up routine you can do to open up for me. Call Kim. She'll

160 help you out. But it'll be great, I'll give you a good introduction. Not like the kind Bill the Drunk used to give for me. That prick. He would say, 'Hollywood Syd has the worst jokes you've ever heard, I'm ashamed to introduce this talentless piece of garbage to you.' That kind of shit. But I'll give you a good intro, you know, like 'This is a young kid who's played to hundreds of packed houses all across the country!' They don't know! See, the thing with audiences is you can tell them anything. They'll believe anything you say. So work on your routine. I can't wait to go on Scooter and the Geech. It'll be great. I'll try to mention the book if I can." He told me that he would be sending me a check for that week as well as a check for his rent that I was to deliver to his landlord. He told me to call Kim and we signed off. I called Kim but she wasn't there so I left a message. Her voice sounded much younger than her thirty-nine drug-addled years on the machine. She sounded like a teenager. Later Syd called to tell me he would be putting his rent check in the mail, so look out for it. And he put a diagram of his apartment complex showing where to drop the check. Then he told me what a phenomenal worker I was and that if I stuck in there he would pay me better once some money started coming in. Then he told me his plans for Scooter once he gets on. He had graphs and charts showing how things changed when he was on the show - how the ratings increased, how the weather improved nationwide, the stock market went up, crime went down, the divorce rate went down- that kind of stuff. We had a good laugh over that and I told him it was a funny bit. A few days later I had to wake up early so I could record his appearance on the show, which I hadn't listened to in about four or five years. It was just a bunch of obnoxious New Yorkers yelling at each other. Everyone was like Syd Ross. I turned the radio on at about seven that day, and they were all making fun of Bill the Drunk, talking about some date he had gone

161 on. "So you met her at the Black Angus??" Scooter was saying as people yelled and laughed in the background. "Yeah, well, I thought..." "And you didn't even pick her up from her house." "No, I mean-" he sounded drunk as he slurred in his New York accent. "Bill, you are such a schmuck," the Geech shouted as everyone laughed. "Did you drink before the date?" "Yeah, I got pretty hammered..." "Bill, this is why you will never get women, okay? First of all, you're stupid, you couldn't hold a conversation with a fly, second of all, that beer gut you got, and you can't even shave your face right! Look, you got hair in little splotches all around your face, you're a COMPLETE SCHMUCK!" The studio erupted in laughter. There were always at least seven or eight people on the show at once to keep things lively. "Aw, yeah, I guess so," Bill the Drunk laughed as he stammered. Then the Bill the Drunk song played. "He's a druuuunk" crooned a choir of women in the old fashioned radio style. "Okay," the Geech said, "now we're going to do something very special here on the Scooter and Geech show. We're going to give all the stupid freakin' morons who have been kicked off this show for not being funny a very special chance to get back on. We do this not because we have to for ratings purposes, in fact this is probably hurting our ratings as we speak, but we do this just because we are kind-hearted. We at the show know that you little maggots

162 have no lives outside of our show, and this breaks our heart. So now we will give you another small taste of fame so you can make YOUR case as to why we let you back on the show. Okay? Each contestant has thirty seconds. First on will be Hollywood Syd Ross. Hollywood? Get in here." Everyone booed as Syd made his way into the studio. He got to a microphone. "Hi Scooter, hi Geech, hi Bill the Drunk, I just want to say, I am so happy to get back on the show, I meant no disrespect by going on Imus, I only did it-" "SYD!" shouted Scooter. "You're not being funny! "What are all those signs for??" Bill the Drunk shouted. A round of shouts and boos went up as Syd tried to explain what the signs were for. Most of his thirty seconds was swallowed up by people shouting at him and laughing. "Okay Syd, your time is up," said the Geech. "Please escort him from the studio." Syd yelled as he was pushed out of the studio by security. "I love you guys! Let me back on the show! Pleeeeease!!!" "Get out, Syd!!!" Syd finally left by force. "Well that was painful!" Scooter said in his deep New York Jewish drone. "No wonder he's off the show," Bill the Drunk said. "That's why I kept telling you guys to kick him off, he's not freakin' funny, man." They moved on to the other contestants and I turned off the show. It was too awful. This was our national discourse.

163 35 My agent got me an audition for an independent movie. He said it was a horror movie called "Beast." I went to the place in the hills and it was at someone's house. This was a really low-budget film. I walked into the little house on the narrow street overlooking the city and a small production team was sitting in the living room drinking coffees and chatting. "You must be Mark," a woman said. "Hey, is this the Beast audition?" "Yeah," said a guy on the couch. He got up to shake my hand. "I'm Reggie. Nice to meet you." They all sat there and looked at me with a strange look in their eyes. I stood and waited. "Did you want my headshot?" My agent had told me to always, ALWAYS bring it to auditions. "Uh, sure," said Reggie absently. He took it and kept looking at me. He had to be in his late twenties at the most. "So Mark," said a woman. "Do you know about this project? Did your agent tell you what this was?" "A horror movie?" "Yeah. Kind of like that. The thing is, you see, we have kind of a low budget. But it's going to be a really great film. And we have a scene where the main character is running through the city at night, and everyone he finds has been killed by the Beast." "What is the Beast?" "Well, see, he doesn't know." "He just keeps finding the bodies," said a bald guy at a laptop on the couch without

164 looking up. "Yeah," she continued, "and we finally realize that it's him." "He is the beast," said Reggie. "Okay. Wow." "And what we need in this scene is a victim. He's running through an alley and he finds one of the Beast's victims." "So I'll be dead?" "Yeah. You'll be a dead body." "We'll make you look really gross," said the girl. "Because the Beast kills people by ripping off their face." "We have a great makeup guy who will fix you up," said the bald guy. "Uhhhm," said Reggie slowly, thinking. "Would it - could I get you to actually lie down on the floor for me?" "Like this?" I said, lying down flat on my back. "And just move your head over this way," he said, gently pushing my head to the side. "And put your leg a little like this. Okay. Hmmmmm. That's good, and now let's get your arm across your chest...." "Yeah," said the bald guy, picking up a camera. "That's good." He started filming. "Okay Mark, if you could just hold still and look dead, that would be great." They filmed me while I lay there. "Okay," Reggie said, "I think this is going to work. You can get up now." "Alright, is that all?" "I think so. We'll be in touch."

165 "Thanks a lot, Mark." I left and drove out of the hills to get a cup of coffee. I spent the rest of the day editing Syd's book. I tried to make it as comprehensible as I could but it was hard because all I had to work with was a series of little blurbs he had written using the Globe and other tabloids as his sources. Most of them were little more than a paragraph long and full of run-on sentences about unverified rumors of the Clintons' foul play. The next day I got a call from the producer of the movie, Michelle. She told me I had the part of Dead Guy in Alley, which made me very excited, since it was my first paying acting job. The film date was that weekend at an address downtown. The night of the shoot I got to the parking lot on Main St. It was a grungy part of downtown, full of hobos pushing shopping carts. After five o'clock there was no one in the whole downtown area accept bums. There was a big downtown revitalization project going on, which meant developers were putting up lofts and condos faster than you could believe. White people were moving there only to realize downtown was a dirty and dangerous haven of drugs and crime. The problem was the community of thousands upon thousands of dirty, drug-addicted bums who lived down there. It was getting more and more clear that it was pretty near impossible to move thousands of homeless people to another part of town in a few years. I couldn't see a winner in the whole scheme aside from the developers. I parked in the lot by the trailer. A small crew stood there by the craft services. The makeup girl was waiting for me. "You must be Mark! Well, let's get you in the chair. We have a lot of work to do to make you look dead enough." So I sat while she put a whole new face on me. After about forty-five minutes she was

166 done and I looked in the mirror. The whole left side of my face, including my left eye, was covered with a prosthetic scar full of realistic fake maggots. Blood cascaded down my face and neck. "How do you like it?" "I look pretty dead! That's nice!" Reggie came into the trailer. "Oh, that's good. Yeah, good job with the blood. Can we get even more blood around the eye? I just want it to be disgusting. And then we can have you on the set, Mark." She put more blood on me and I walked over to the alley where they were shooting. When I entered the alleyway I stopped, shocked. The entire alley smelled like urine. A pool of liquid ran through the center of the alley and trash was everywhere, the smell nearly making me gag. I heard a radio on my right and saw a bum residing in a complex network of boxes and several shopping carts. He was sleeping to the sound of talk radio. As I walked pairs of eyes looked out at me from the dark. They were behind blankets, on top of trash bins. There was even a woman standing next to a baby in a shopping cart. Way down the alley was the film crew, which was small. I walked up to them and Reggie motioned to the ground in between two dumpsters. "Okay dude, you can lie down there." There was some cardboard for me to lie on so I didn't lie in the muck. We did the first couple shots, most of me just lying there looking dead. Reggie kept telling me to stop breathing because the camera was picking it up, so I tried to hold my breath as long as I could. In between shots I just lay there staring up at the sky through the towering buildings of downtown. The night was really warm and comfortable. The makeup girl kept coming to dump more blood on my face

167 and all around me on the ground. A strange sense of peace settled on me sometime during that night. I think I accepted things as they were. If my life was going to be this bizarre, then so be it. If this city was, at its core, a series of strange, coexisting realities, then that was life, and I had to accept it. I thought of the William James I had read. His idea of pluralism, that is, many separate pockets of reality, was new at the time he wrote it in the early 1900's. Up until then philosophers had just accepted the idea that there was one ultimate reality. But nowadays in Los Angeles you had to accept the truth of William James' ideas. There was no unity in the opposing worlds of Los Angeles. There was simply nothing holding it all together. And then, lying there in the alley, I thought about David Hume's idea I had just read about. The way I understood it reality was, to him, a series of unconnected phenomena. The mind, to preserve its own sanity, provides the missing links in what we witness to make it seem like everything follows logically. But when we penetrate beyond this veil of reality we cannot find any necessary meaning to it all. In the middle of a shot in which the main character stumbles upon my body a ruckus began down the alleyway. We all stopped shooting and looked up. Two bums were having a yelling match and one of them was stealing the other's shopping cart. We had to wait while the fight played out. It ended with both bums leaving, one without his cart. Then a bum wandered into the alley from the opposite direction, seeing the lights and cameras. He walked up to me and saw the blood all over the ground. His face turned white as a sheet. "Holy shit! What happened here?" "Oh, we're making a movie," said the boom operator. "That's all fake blood." "Oh my God, man, thank God. I thought something crazy happened over here. Hey man,

168 can I be in your movie? I'll play a bum." "That's okay, I think we have all the actors we need." "Oh, yeah, that's cool. Hey, can you spare a little change? I'm homeless down here. Anything helps." "Sure, man. Here you go." He reached into his pocket and gave the guy some change. He walked out of the alley, grateful. I was wrapped at about 3:30 in the morning, so I got my check and went home to wash all the blood out of my hair.

36 The day after Syd got back from Florida he called from the Ryan Seacrest Show, which taped at Hollywood and Highland. He had been in the audience and was really jazzed. He told me that he had gotten tickets for the Jimmy Kimmel show, which taped across the street. So I went to his house at 6:00 in order to give us enough time to get into the show. When I got there he looked at my shirt. "Do you have anything with a collar?" "Uhh...no. " He got out a sweater from his closet that was grey with a brown bar across and a collar. "That's better, wear that." I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. It was too small for me and I looked like the singer in an emo band. We went to the show in my car and parked in the underground lot beneath the Hollywood and Highland complex. Then we got in line in front of the theater, Syd carrying a sign that said "I love the Jimmy Kimmel Show." When we got in they confiscated it.

169 Eventually we got into the theater and a fat, bald, obnoxious guy came out to warm up the audience. He sucked. Syd turned to me. "I know this guy, he's a douchebag. I've known him for years, he does stand-up at the Laugh Factory." The show began. It wasn't one of the best. The guests were Tony Shalhoub and some blonde lady who was dating Bruce Willis. After the show we left and went to get some pizza because we were starving. We were standing there waiting on the street when a pretty woman in her late twenties with dark hair walked up to us. "Ohhhh, you're gorgeous," Syd said. "Could you guys help us out?" she asked. "I need to get a taxi, where's the best place to get one?" "Where do you need to go?" "The Hyatt on Sunset." "Sunset? That's close. We'll give you a ride, won't we, Mark?" "Okay, sure." She protested, but Syd insisted. It turned out she was in town from New Jersey on business. She worked for a pharmaceutical company and had also just seen the Jimmy Kimmel Show. Once we got our pizza we walked down the street, Syd pointing out landmarks on Hollywood Boulevard. He was joking and charming her. She wanted to go to the Chinese Theater to see the handprints, so we took her there. Everything was fine and dandy. And then she asked Syd what he did. "I'm a writer. I'm working on a book about the Clintons. They belong in prison." He went on and on about the Clintons and she seemed to agree, which amazed me. The

170 more she agreed, the louder and more vitriolic he became. We started walking through the mall as I tried to remember where I had parked the car. "Are you sure you can give me a ride?" "It's no problem. Let's go to the car, Mark." We got into an elevator and took it down but just ended up on Hollywood where we had come from. "Where's the car, Mark? Do you remember where we parked at all?" He was shouting. "I think so," I said. I led them around a corner but there was just an escalator going up. We got on it and ended up inside the mall, nowhere near the parking garages. "Find the car, Mark! Find the fucking car!" He was freaking out. "I'll just take a taxi," said the girl as she started to walk away. "No!" Syd yelled. "Please no, come back." He chased after her. "I'll definitely take a taxi!" He kept chasing her. "Mark, go get the car and meet me on Hollywood Boulevard!" They disappeared down a stairway. I wandered around the mall for about ten minutes before I found the elevator that went down to the parking garages. Even then I forgot what level I was on and ended up walking around the garage for awhile before I found my car. When I got to the exit to pay I realized I didn't have any cash so I had to dig through my change to find the two dollars, paying with nickels and dimes and quarters. I finally got out and drove slowly along Hollywood until I saw Syd alone. I pulled over and got in. "Yeah, she took the taxi." "I figured."

171 "It was probably the Clinton stuff that freaked her out. I didn't mean to get mad or anything. I just didn't want to get into a nightmare situation of wandering around the mall forever and getting lost." "Yeah, that's okay." "Man, what a night. I'm exhausted, Mark." So was I.

37 The coffeeshop in Silverlake was closing down because some developer was going to build a huge apartment complex. Pauline and Sam and I went to their last open mic night. I had written something to perform, and I hoped I could get a slot because I knew it would be crowded. We parked on a hill above Sunset Boulevard and walked down the street, Sam stumbling the whole way because he had been drinking whiskey all day. Pauline's car smelled like incense because she had gotten hundreds of incense samples from a holistic healing convention she went to downtown. She told me I could get take as much as I wanted. I told her I would, and I was thinking about getting into meditation and stuff. "That's good, you should do that. Your energy field has changed since you moved here." "Really?" "Yeah. You might not even know this, but since I do so much energy work I can tell things right off the bat. Your energy has become a lot more complex since you got here. I mean, it was just very clean and clear when I met you." "That makes sense." "But now there are disturbances. You know? Strange things I pick up. A lot more

172 aggressive energy, less positive vibes. Here, let me feel your back for a second." We stopped in the street while she prodded my back. Sam stopped ahead of us. "What the hell are you guys doing?" he slurred. "I'm feeling his back for energy pockets." "Jesus Christ," he mumbled, and walked on down the hill towards the coffee shop. The moon was full that night. It hung brightly over the hills of the city as Pauline detected energy disturbances in my muscle tissue. "Oh yeah, there's a lot of tension," she said softly. "You have changed a lot, I mean in ways you might not understand yet. I'm picking up nervous little pockets. What are you so worried about? I never feel this stuff in guys your age!" "What do you mean? My muscles are too tense?" "Yeah, but they're tense for a reason. Your back feels like a fifty-year old's." "What's wrong with me?" "It might just be growing pains." "Do I need a massage session?" "You could, but it probably wouldn't help. All the tension comes from your mental energy." "Whoa." "I could go on but I'd have to charge you," she laughed. "Yeah, I don't have that kind of cash right now." We went on down to the coffee shop and it wast completely packed. I got a slot in the middle of the show that was miraculously open. A lot of the performers were locals who had a bunch of memories from the shop's twenty-three year history and complaints about

173 overdevelopment in Silverlake. I didn't care for any of it. I wasn't a regular and I didn't know the owners of the place. Most of the musicians were bad except for one awesome guy who played a Metallica song on the accordion. Finally my turn came and I got up, not saying anything, and began my monologue. Well Mrs. Crawford, you're probably wondering how your house got so messed up in the first place. Well listen, I'm gonna tell you. See, when you asked me to housesit for you I was real excited! Our families have known each other for so long, and I always liked your family. Well the thing is Mrs. Crawford, I've always kinda wanted to have your family. You have such a nice house and you all seem so happy-like. I mean, after the factory moved overseas, pop lost his job and we moved into the poorhouse. I don't got to tell you that. I'm sure you know. So you see when you asked me to housesit I made up my mind, finally. I left my home and told my family I was going off to make my fortunes and to start a family of my own! They laughed at me, Mrs. Crawford. They laughed! But I decided that I would have my new family and I would take care of them in a real nice neighborhood. Well, since I had your house available all I needed was the family. A family that respected me, the man of the household. I went to an adoption place but I guess I'm not old enough or something. They told me all these reasons. So I figured I'd get a pet. And well, I got rid of your dog Mrs. Crawford. I'm sorry. I never liked Bessie much. I sold her online. To a Korean business man. You're probably real sore about that. But see, I got some new pets for the house. They're chickens. See I was taking a drivin' in the countryside in your car- I found the spare keys, I'm sorry - and I came across a farm with an ad for free chickens. So I got four chickens from this nice old farmer, I figured they'd make eggs for my new family's breakfast. The chickens messed up the car a little, I apologize.

174 And then I was wondering to myself how I would get myself a family, and then it hit me, just like a thunder-lightnin'. I went to Skid Row downtown, they always got poor families down there that need a house. I walked down the street and there were so many poor families! And then I seen 'em. There they was. A nice-lookin' woman and a little girl-child and a boy-child. I asked 'em if they wanted to come live with me in my house. Just like that. Plain and simple. She said yes, she would very much like that. The boy, you should've seen him Mrs. Crawford, as cute as a button, He looked up with big old eyes and said, "Mama, are we gonna have a home?" So I drove 'em back to your house, Mrs. Crawford, and things didn't go so well. It wasn't my fault. They didn't clean, they raided the kitchen, eatin' most everything they could get their hands on. The woman, was making phone calls all day long to some man. I told her not to, and she attacked me with a knife, Mrs. Crawford. I had to hit her over the head with a frying pan. And the kids, I guess they weren't toilet-trained or nothing, well they pooped all over the house. I know, I'm disappointed too. I thought I could train 'em to be civilized. And one day a man showed up at the house. He was a big type, with tattoos and all. He walked up to the house. And he says "Mallory?" he says, "Where are you, baby? Come out woman! Where are my children!! Don't make me pound you!" He kicked down the door! The woman and children were in the living room watching TV. He just went ahead and lost his temper. That's how the windows, the furniture, and the china got all smashed. I'm real sorry for that. I ran out of the house and hid in the trees outta my own safety. He dragged Mallory out to the car, she was kicking and screaming, and put her into the car. He drove off with the kids inside the house. With

175 the chickens. Before you go in the house you might expect to find two very hungry children and a few dead chickens, or vice versa. Oh, and you might notice your car is missing. I sold it to a Japanese businessman and I am sorry once more. I guess I don't blame you if you're angry. I can just ask for your forgiveness. Now Mrs. Crawford, I wish I could stick around but I gotta ramble on now. When I finished the crowd erupted in applause. The applause was long and loud, but people had brought wine into the shop and were passing it around so that was probably the main reason. I went back and sat down next to Sam, who was drinking from someone's bottle of wine and even drunker than before. We watched a few more performers and in the middle of some girl's war protest song someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and a tall, balding guy in his thirties was standing there. "I liked your monologue," he said in a cultured gay man's voice. "It was hilarious." "Oh thanks," I smiled. "It's too bad this place is closing." "Oh, I've been coming here for years," he said, putting his hand on my shoulder for emphasis. "It is so sad. I practically grew up here." Then I saw a guy outside motioning. "Oh," said the tall man, "Would you mind coming outside for a second? My friend and I are working on a project, we'd like to talk to you about it." "Oh, okay," I said, getting up. Pauline and Sam looked suspiciously at us as I stepped outside. The other guy outside, who was shorter, squat, with bushy Jewish hair, threw a cigarette on the ground and stubbed it out with his foot. He put out his hand and I shook it. "That was hilarious, man," he said. "I'm Jake."

176 This one was obviously straight. "I'm Abe," said the tall gay one, who bore a strange resemblance to John Waters. "Do you want to tell him about our project, Jake?" "Ah, why do I always have to be the one?" Jake said. "Well, you're the producer. I'm the brains, right?" They both laughed. "Okay," Jake said, "The thing is, Abe and I are working on this show for MTV, it's like a half hour sketch comedy thing." "Very late night." "Very edgy. A lot of strange, quirky characters, a lot of non sequiturs, a lot of really weird funny sketches." "Stoner comedy." "Okay." "Your stuff is perfect, man," said Jake. "Have you written a lot of monologues?" Suddenly the owner stumbled up to us, drunk on wine. "This kid has written some of the craziest stuff I've ever seen at this coffee shop. You gotta see him." Jake and Abe laughed. "Hey, if we called you in for an audition, could you, like, do a couple of your monologues? Because this is the exact kind of stuff we've been looking for." "Yeah, and less writing for me," joked Abe, the brains of the operation. "Yeah, I could do that," I said, my heart palpitating wildly. "What's the name of the show?"

177 "Monkey Brains." I nodded. "Yeah, that's a funny name." "Here, can you write your contact info on one of my cards?" Jake said, handing me a card. It was an official MTV card that identified him as Jacob Rosen, Assistant Vice President of Production at MTV studios. I wrote down my phone number and gave it back to him. He gave me one to take for myself. "Yeah, 'cause we're trying to beef up the show right now." "It's a little anemic as it is," Abe said. "Would you be able to come in a little later this week? Maybe do a couple of monologues for us?" "Yeah, give me a call," I said. "Anytime." "Great." We shook hands as Pauline and Sam were coming out. "Ready to go?" she asked. "Why didn't you go home with the fags?" Sam slurred as he stumbled back to the car. On the way home he passed out in the back seat. "What's with him?" I asked. "Oh, he's depressed. He hasn't had a job in awhile 'cause pilot season is over." "That sucks." "So what were you guys talking about out there? Making deals?" "They're making a sketch comedy show on MTV. They want me to audition." "Oh, go for it! Get that job. You can stop working for that crazy guy you told me about."

178 Oh my God, I thought. She just dismissed Hollywood Syd Ross in a single sentence. Would I have to desert him that coldly? I knew that eventually I would have to, because ultimately he was a loner and nobody was obligated to help him. But we were so far from finishing the book. It was his own fault, I guessed. He just kept writing more stuff, going off on tangents. The next day Jake's assistant called to schedule an appointment at his office in Santa Monica. It was for Friday, two days away. I spent those whole days working on my monologues. Syd called a couple of times but I didn't answer the phone. I suddenly felt like he was only going to drag me down when I had real opportunities in this business. On Friday I went into the office in Santa Monica. It was a nice, sprawling compound a few blocks from the beach. I told the receptionist I was here to see Jake. "Oh, you must be Mark," she said. "He's been raving about you." "Oh, good." I sat down to wait and couldn't believe this was happening. It was just as unbelievable as the rest of the weirdness that had happened since I got to this city. After about ten minutes Jake came into the waiting room. "Sorry man! Didn't mean to keep you waiting!" "Oh, it's no problem. I brought a headshot." "Oh, great." He took it. "This isn't so much of an audition, actually...we're in the middle of a writing meeting right now. I want to show you to the writers." We walked into a big conference room where about five or six young men and women sat around, languidly drinking cokes and bottled waters. A few executives were at the far end of the table looking uptight.

179 "Guys, this is Mark. He is the discovery I was telling you about. I thought he could solve some of our time and budget problems. Hey Mark, do you want a water or something?" "Sure." I was parched. A production assistant ran out of the room and got me an Aquafina. "So, do you want to do some of your monologues for us?" Jake asked. "Sure. I guess I'll start with this one. It's called 'Stuffing Envelopes.'" I stood in the conference room in front of them all. They looked like they'd been working long, stressful hours, dealing with MTV execs and wanted some distraction. With this in mind I began. "So I was stuffing envelopes at my last job and the job wasn't very good. But I couldn't think of anything else to do. And I didn't have any skills. I still don't, but anyway. The place I worked was this company. I think they made pharmaceutical products, but I'm not sure. I worked in the publicity department. I had the job of stuffing the envelopes and sending them out. I think they were letters to potential clients, but I didn't really pay attention. I spent most of the time staring at this girl, she answered the phones. She was really pretty, and she smiled at me all the time. She was dark hair, nice, like someone I would bring home to mom. She knew my name, she always said, 'Hey, Roger.' Sometimes I said hey but I never got her name. I don't know why, I guess I was worried she wouldn't like me. And my boss David- what a jerk! He kept singling me out, telling me I was the weak link in the publicity department. I never talked back or anything, cause I need the job. He would go, 'Roger! You're too slow. Roger! Go faster. Roger! You don't get a lunch break today. Just stuff those envelopes.' I never complained, because some people don't even have jobs. And I guess David had his eye on the receptionist girl, how was I supposed to know? Because one day I got up the nerve to talk to her. He had told me that I couldn't go to

180 lunch that day, but I was tired of not getting lunch. And I was tired of not talking to the cute girl. I knew she was single because I heard her talking on the phone to some friend. She was like, 'It's so hard being single in this city, you have to hook me up with someone.' So I figured I would go up and ask her to lunch. And I went up to her right before lunch was about to start. I never talk to girls like that, so I was really nervous. And I was like, 'Hey, so you want to- I mean, are you gonna-do you wish to-what I am trying to say is that I would like-ummm, how about burritos?' And she just looked at me and said 'Okay, we can go to lunch.' I was like, 'Really?' And she said, 'Hold on, let me get my jacket.' She went into the employee lounge and when she was in there David came up to me. He's all whispering, he goes, 'Hey, jerkoff! That's my girl. Don't touch her.' 'Okay, yeah. No problem.' 'And you're not getting lunch today.' 'Ummm…alright.' 'I'm trying to make the moves on this chick. Don't be a cockblocker.' 'Sure thing, man.' 'You know what? You have an attitude, man. I'm gonna take care of you later.' 'What?' 'Meet me after lunch in the parking lot. If you can handle me, you earn my respect. I won't keep you in for lunch anymore and I won't bust your chops. But ONLY if you kick my ass.' 'Okay, it's a deal.' She came back with her jacket. 'Ready?' 'Uh, Roger won't be joining you for lunch today, he had some work to do.' 'Oh, okay.'

181 David took her out to lunch. It made me mad to see him do that. When he got back I was waiting in the parking lot. I was going to take him down. I made up my mind. I wasn't going to take anymore humiliation at my work-place. And if I didn't stand up for myself now, I never would. So he walked up to me, with this look on his face. 'Hey, douchebag. Ready for your beating?' I stared at him for a second. Then I ran towards him and we fell on the ground. I had him by the throat and I was strangling him! I was going to win! He was begging, like 'I'm sorry, please…' He would respect me! That's when I heard the choppers above me. We looked up and there were two of them, they were military helicopters. 'What the hell is this?' A voice came from the choppers. 'ATTENTION- The area is quarantined. You must not leave the area. I repeat, the area is quarantined.' And army men came down with parachutes. They had big costumes on, like astronauts. They were covered from head to toe, with big masks on. The leader came up to the crowd standing in the parking lot. He spoke into a megaphone. 'There is a quarantine in the area because of a highly dangerous plague-like substance that has been released on the general public.' They were building a fence around the parking lot to keep us in! He gave us all masks to wear and told us there was a very serious virus released from an unknown source. We've been here for three days now, with the army doctors watching us. David was the first to go. The boils came to his skin. His skin fell off slowly and the army took him away before he died. One by one they have taken us away when the boils started. And I believe the rest of us will follow, taken by

182 the virus." There were smiles and some laughs. Jake and Abe were enjoying it immensely. I didn't know what they had in mind or what the show was even about, but I liked being there and doing my monologues. "You guys want to hear something else?" Jake asked. There were some nods and grunts, so Jake nodded to me. I ended up doing two more of them, ones I'd done already at the coffee shop. They all thanked me warmly and I left. Driving home on the ten freeway I didn't think much of what would happen. I had come to accept what the city brought to me. I had to trust that the city operated with some justice and that I would be in good hands if I didn't try to fight it. The next day Syd called to rant about Hillary Clinton, how she wanted another eight years of Clintons in the White House and would stop at nothing to get it. But I wasn't really listening like I did before. I was thinking about many other things. The next day I got a call from Jake himself, who had a sound in his voice like he had found the solution to a great problem. "I was talking with the producers and the writers, and we love your stuff, man. It just fits perfectly with the show. Do you think you could write a lot of monologues? In the same style? And do them in front of a green screen?" "Yeah, I could definitely do that." "Okay, that's good to hear. I think we're gonna hire you on as a writer and performer, does that sound good to you?" I couldn't even talk. "Uh-huh."

183 "Great. Everyone is really excited. See, our budget was just cut in half, which means we're losing most of our writers and a lot of the money we were going to spend on production. So you're gonna come in real handy. I think it'll be funny if we have you doing your stuff and put a background behind you, like a cabin in the woods or the office from that one monologue." "Oh, cool." "Yeah, and we'll have a little music too." "That's gonna be really funny!" "Yeah. I'm excited. So, if I could get your address, so we can send over the tax forms and everything, that would be great. Just fill those out so you can be official and get on the payroll, then bring them into the office, and we'll be calling you to discuss things. Sound good?" "Yeah..." I gave him my address and we hung up. Over the next few days I had many phone calls from Jake's assistant and others to touch base about the show, which had been picked up by MTV but had lost much funding at the last minute. I had a meeting set up at the studios with the creators and other actors about the first episode, which would be a collection of sketches and strange musical numbers, interspersed with my rambling monologues. One day the payroll woman called to find out my social security number. I told her. "So when will I start getting paid?" I asked. "Two weeks from now your first check will come," she said in the dry manner of someone who processes paychecks for a living. I asked her how much it would be for. When she told me I thanked her very much and hung up. It was much more than Hollywood Syd Ross would ever pay me. Sam was sitting on the porch smoking a cigarette he had rolled.

184 "What's up?" he mumbled through a cloud of smoke. "They're adding me to the show." "Those guys you met at the coffee shop?" "Yeah." "What are you gonna tell Hollywood Syd Ross?" I was silent for awhile. "I don't know." "He's not gonna be happy." "No." "It's gonna break his heart." "Yeah." "You're gonna ruin him." "Look, I won't ruin him. He'll be fine." "Whatever. You told me you were his only friend." "I'm an employee. I found a better job. That's all there is to it." "No, no, no, you are so much more than an employee. You know it. You are his confidante, his friend, the rock he leans on." "Well, I don't care. I can't work for him anymore." After awhile Sam went inside to go to bed and I was left alone, staring at the starless night sky for a long time.

38

185 Syd called. He wanted to meet at Noah's to give me some more chapters of the book. "I have some great stuff, this is about some more of the people the Clintons murdered. This is insane, you won't believe this. I mean, it is an outrage that no one has held them accountable for any of this stuff." "Yeah...you know Syd, I need to tell you...I think I'm going to have to quit." "What?" "I got a new job, I have to take it." "No kidding. How much are they paying you?" "It's more money, but that's not it. It's a good opportunity." "What is it?" "I'm gonna be on this show, it's on MTV. It's a comedy show, I'll be doing characters and stuff." "That's too bad, I really need you to finish this book. I can't do it without you. You know, I thought you were with me on this." "Well, I just have to take this job." He sighed deeply. "Well, I'll need the disks of the book, all the stuff you've edited so far." "Okay." "And I'll pay you for your work this week." I didn't need the money and it was pocket change compared to what I was making. "Sure, Syd. You want to meet at Noah's?" "Yeah, okay, let's meet." His voice was defeated and lost. I drove down to Larchmont Village a few hours later

186 with the disks. I parked on the street and found him sitting out in front of Noah's. He was going through a bunch of papers. He looked up as I approached. "You know, you're really fucking me on this. You're really screwing me over." I sat down. I didn't say anything. "It's just unbelievable, people are so fucking selfish in this city. I thought, you know I thought you were on the same page as me, I thought you wanted to bring these people to justice. You're just like Scooter, the Geech, Bill the Drunk, all those people. They don't care about anybody else, just their own careers. You know, I give Kim three thousand dollars a month out of generosity. I'm not getting anything out of it. People in this country are too selfish. No one is kind or compassionate, no one has principles anymore." He just sat there, shaking his head. I put the disks down on the table. He fished through his pockets and pulled out a wad of cash. "Here's your money, you can count it if you want." "No, that's okay." "So you're doing a TV show, that's great. I labor in this city for twenty years and end up in the dumpster and here you are, you didn't even try. You haven't lived, you haven't suffered. You never paid your dues. You know, I don't even know how to work a computer, I can't finish this book on my own. I don't know how you were editing this thing. My whole project is fucked now." I didn't see any reason to hang around so I stood up. "You're leaving?" "Yeah." "Well, I wish you the best of luck, I do. You're a talented kid, you deserve more than

187 being my assistant." "Thanks, Syd." I walked away and went to my car. When I looked back he was still sitting there, fuming. But I knew he was resigned to my leaving. There was just nothing he could do about it.

39 I didn't see Syd for a long time. It seemed like he wasn't seen around town as much. I have no idea what he did with the book. I started to think he had given up his public persona until I was driving down Melrose about six months later. I had left the studio at rush hour and I was on my way home when I heard cars honking ahead of me. As I got up to the intersection I saw a dancing figure on the corner. It can't be, I thought. But it was. As I passed Highland I saw clearly, right on the corner by the Shell station, an old man with wavy gray hair dancing maniacally and holding a sign. I strained to see what he had written. Honk if you hate Hillary. He was so lost in his rapture that he didn't see me. I drove right through the intersection and smiled to myself. I was glad. Part of me didn't want Hollywood Syd Ross to lose his spirit. That would take all the fun out of the city. As much as he annoyed everyone, he represented something. I drove up Vine street through Hollywood as the sun was setting across the Hollywood hills. The Hollywood sign loomed over the city, calmly

188 watching over the chaos of traffic and commerce. The clouds had turned extravagant shades of pink and orange. There truly was magic hidden everywhere, for those willing to go find it. Perhaps it took a madman to remind us.

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