The funny thing about youth is that you are totally convinced that it will go on forever, until one day it doesn’t. Even the slow onset of chronic infirmity seemed a source of total surprise.
He had been in L.A. at the end of his twenties and the hippie days that he had never been able to master. Initially on vacation but almost sooner as a new resident of the valley due to the kindness of a family friend who had been living there in the valley for a decade earlier than his arrival. He recalled cruising on the good will that his father had accrued with Keith and his family until a month after the smell of rotten fish had pervaded the living room couch, he had branched out to a Woodland Hills residence. Like many good newly implanted Angelino’s with star struck ambitions, he manage to hold out for almost eight months before money and misfortune forced a quick rethink and he was off to another state and existence. This short sojourn had imprinted upon him the fact of how Teflon-like was the existence within the greater Los Angeles area that it kept the flow of hopefuls moving through at so steady a rate as to summon up the notion of a conveyor belt shuttling a third of the cities population through each calendar year.
His subsequent next few encounters taught him a darker lesson as a paid voyeur to one of the pillars of the counties’ economy, the porn industry. If ever there was an altar to some insatiable bloody hungry ancient Babylonian god, it resided in this city of fallen angels. The proclivity of attitudes favoring surrender to any form of sequel vice or perversion was so rampant that it became impossible to even consider the proposition of beauty being allied to any substantive form of innocence. No form of perversion suggested sufficient debasing enough to prevent a further step down into the filth. The free availability of human souls here found them forever marked down to ever-lower bargain basements rates.
The intervening decades occasioned his infrequent attendance many conventions that required several days sporadic activity found little more to suggest in terms of definition. Though the landscape changed with incremental demolitions, the sunlight and the thick damp smell of the cool morning air before it turned hot remained constant as long recollected. Yet, there was always LAX waiting at the end of these expeditions to port him home to a more reasonable existence in the Midwest. He was now a little slower, and unwilling to discover as much without the crutch of security of a distant harbor of a safe life to escape to. But that was before the death of his father and then three years later, his mother. With no anchor, any longer, to forestall the pull towards the whirlpool of life, he floated to the most illogical fictions of what he imagined that my final decade might hold in store. Life now all but passed it seems the storehouse of memories battered future hopes into a crushed tin can size of meager expectations of no further future potential.
The most logical place to cruise to seemed obvious months earlier, L.A. Previous experience assured that while fame and fortune were no longer a possibility, the work roster offered to most would be sufficient along with the usual government stipend to insure the maintenance of body and soul indefinitely. A nice proposition of the mind to contemplate, but like so many over the unremitting decades of the embrace of failure, just as faulty. So with all the many long sacred possessions safely deposed to the ownership of strangers and the landfill of the local tip, the one man expedition sought out the anonymous existence of Los Angeles streets. Beautiful by daylight and ruthless by night. A good place to barricade yourself in with a bottle of bourbon or a small bulldog revolver. The overawing cinematic reputation of this floating skid row known here and there as classic locales for the movers and shakers of yesteryear. That twisted sensibility that had cast his cart off the track at every crossroads in life was now directing him to a final fatal wreck. It was a rare talent to be able to serve summons on worlds that had never existed nor ever would. Comfortable insulation from the banal futility that life held for the majority of the population. Was this his greatest fear and had it always been?
Eight months of living here, bereft of the inheritance summed from the final cash out of extinct Midwestern existence now had now played out into yet another impossible situation. Rent on the tiny reconverted nineteen-seventies cracker box hotel room was several months past. The gurgle of the unfixable commode lodged in the closet that served as bath grated on the senses. An ever-present reminder of the indifference of the hotel staff and their merciless take on their clients. Only a constant flow of money occasioned repairs that while only temporary, made existence justifiably bearable in this bygone knothole. Opportunities for work of any substantial nature seemed to be an insider’s business. Some dames never change. L.A. was a place where insiders knew the right addresses to the right parties to call on at the appropriate hour of the night when the owls were asleep. If you weren’t part of the crowd or at least introduced as being an acquaintance of same, you were invisible. The only solitary servitude was to the want ads and the forlorn hope that things would change any day now. The central problem of today was the supply of days had run out.
He had one slim hope, like any other of the condemned. An audition was being held in a small hotel across from the CBS studios on Fairfax. One of those small tasteful boutique motels posing as one of its larger cousins, the Farmer’s Daughter sat innocuous . What manner of creature that inhabited the accommodations there was anybody’s guess. Someone’s grandson, important for the fact of a lineage attached to a once famous name out to make a name for themselves before they are totally swallowed up by the family legacy. Someone ruthlessly and inconsiderate of the aims and motivations of others who were well practiced in taking the utmost advantage of a bad situation. Promising the maximum ‘if come’ while withholding the smallest measure of any agreed upon pittance for the disagreeable repeatedly completed without any regard save for the demands of meeting the requisite number of shots on the shooting schedule. Just come in, do your best, and hope that you are one of the lucky ones to grab at the crumbs. What did the cattle call sheet say? Eight hundred a day! No, that was for the leads. Perhaps a quick C-note or at least a fifty. Enough to stave off the dogs and not end up out on a curb in the street.
The luxury of a car was no longer his to command so the metro bus was the only option. A long less than leisurely ride west to Fairfax then a short crossover to the other route south. All within the confines of an equally shared bitter unwashed humanity sweating that stunk in that manner that only humanity can. How to keep the illusion of being unaffected like any department store mannequin. Cool and removed plaster in the blaze of a merciless August California sun. He knew that a wrong impression would result if he arrived swimming in his own clothes. He wasn’t much on sprinkling perfume or o’ d’ cologne but an application of something would be requisite if he found a shady spot to rest before he strode in. Hopefully dried out. The half empty smoky blue gin bottle stared back at him with a wry smirk. He was dry, alright. The last of his dough went down on the counter at the end of the previous week and he had been carefully nursing its contents ever since. He knew the rest of it would go quick if he returned empty handed.
His own reflection barely glanced the corner of the mirror. Who was he kidding? Those looks of his apparently two years or maybe more visibly past his six decade. A total stranger to every other soul on this planet. Even God had stepped out for a smoke as far as his still lingering presence was concerned. The world had better things to do beyond support him with yet another breath. His crutches were sinking in the mud conjured by his own self-indulgent tears. A lifetime of same. The time on the cheap LCD wristwatch was steadily advancing him along to address the dreaded portal of the door. Once he went out, he was unlikely to come back. The world provided him with a straight line path into the unknown. A place that he long boasted knowledge of but had finally shown him up to be a boldface liar. To stick in this place was a mighty task worthy of the most persistent phylum of flies or roaches. Once again and finally he realized that he had chosen to direct his life unwisely in going towards a vague memory as opposed to a form of unknown more in proximity to his former experience. He burped unexpectedly. There had been no breakfast today. Simply a brackish cup of coffee wrung from packet purloined from the maid’s cart several days earlier. And cold at that!
The clothes that he had chosen to make his impression, such as they were, exhibited the least amount of fraying and tears at the cuffs. The threadbare pants were dark blue and he hoped that with a little careful mending, he could resurrect them enough from the rag bin to go unnoticed in plain view. The tiny cheap dollar store scissors hacked at the threads fouling as many in the vise of their grip as they cut with their dull edge. He had to grasp smaller bundles of fibers and stretch them with the opposing blades held tensely at a right angle. Nothing could be more useless and counterproductive to the task. He might have screamed or through a tantrum in the past but now he didn’t even bother to shrug at the impotence of his ability to properly complete such a simple task. Patience was a virtue born out of continued disappointment. What else could he do but continue with the job, good or bad. Desperation demanded his continued effort. The minutes were ticking away now. He knew that it would require a couple of hours to travel to his destination and that it was better to leave early than to risk being at the end of the line.
What part could he snag, he wondered? The handbill mentioned some parts for players in their fifties. He could imagine that their was ample possibility for his being tailor fit for an old reprobate or at least a passing inconsequential father figure. The acting class he had taken when he first arrived had at least provided him with some basics. Don’t conspicuously act! Let the situation in the moment guide the reactions. Work with the other actor, taking cues from their demeanor rather than simply gesticulating some of the usual cliché movie pap. What did it take to get on the right dinner plate in a sea teeming with billions of other fresher fish? No, there was no telling. No sure fire oracle. Just a toss of the dice. He had his snippet of Shakespeare at the ready. “From Ireland comes York to claim his noble right!” “To pluck the crown from feeble Henry’s head . . .” He would give it a go. Desperation was after all a good coach!
But what if it all fell flat? What if he got his minute or two and was unceremoniously cut short? A quick handshake, a thank you and the dreaded, “We’ll call you!” That of course would be impossible as his cell phone service had been terminated months back and the ‘pay per’ unit in his pocket needed another card that he couldn’t afford right now. Still he knew that he would have to go through with the facade of handing out another temporary card that had this number printed on it. He sat there sewing his pants as best he could. His eyes were no longer up to the task of pinpointing the thread through the eyelet. The extended fiber bobbed about in a flourish as his forefingers attempted congress with the needle. The phone rang out loudly, the first ring startling him. It was around noon. The manager always called at that time, or at least they had for the last three days running. He knew it would be the same conversation about the lateness of the rent and how he would have to vacate the premises tomorrow on Saturday if funds were not forthcoming. He turned his attention away, back to the eyelet. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven.” Yet, it was equally true that it was a lot easier to survive in this world before same with a few extra shekels tucked safely away, than none at all. The time on the LCD display had advanced to quarter after one o’clock. He only had twenty minutes or a half an hour to get himself together. “Ouch!” His hand gripping the needle popped back from his other cloaked by the frayed pants cuff. He gave the wound a quick shake and stoically continued forward with it again.