May 15, 1994.


Twenty years ago, I packed a large green duffle bag, boarded a plane and flew from New York to Los Angeles.

On the flight, sitting beside me: Julie Garfield, daughter of actor John Garfield. She was an acting teacher and gave me her card.

I rode a van from LAX that travelled circuitously through the old city. It climbed up hills and down into the worn and painted-peeled stores along east Sunset, eventually making its way into the San Fernando Valley.

I moved in with a college friend- a tall, lumbering 31-year-old woman in pageboy hair, in therapy, in torn blue jeans and white oxford shirts. She rented a two-bedroom house on Teesdale Avenue in Studio City for $1,200 a month. And worked as a freelance TV producer (Woodstock ‘94; Saturday Night Live).

When I arrived, she was sitting on the back sunroom porch, smoking and talking on the phone. A high school era VW Bug convertible was parked in the driveway.

“You know what I mean…” was her introduction to endless monologues about her recent breakup with a comedian. She slept, until 10am every morning, on a white puffy bed under a chandelier, kept many cans of diet soda in the refrigerator and never emptied her ashtrays.

I paid her $100 a week and told her I would stay until I found a job and could move out.

I looked in the back of the Hollywood Reporter and mailed out resumes. And followed up with phone calls, eventually getting hired as PA for a small production company on Laurel Canyon.

It was summer in the San Fernando Valley: headaches, afternoon naps, walking down deserted Moorpark to a sweltering ice cream parlor with plastic sheeted windows. And working out at Bally’s basement gym in Studio City, a strange, creepy place where old guys masturbated in the showers all around me.

I had run away from New York, from my parents in NJ, setting up a life in a city I really didn’t like.

At the end of the summer my roommate was due to return.

On September 10th I cleaned the house and waited for her arrival. But she didn’t show up. She later called and said she had changed her mind and would come back September 19th. Then September 19th came and went and she wasn’t home. She never phoned.

On September 30th, her father called from Woodland Hills and said his daughter would be coming back on October 2nd. He asked me to leave her key under the back door mat. She arrived on October 5th. Without apology or concern. It was her house. Right?

It was my first introduction to the intrinsic selfishness of Los Angeles: the glib invitation, the plan forgotten, the lunch date blown off, the return flight missed, the good parent stepping in to save the bad adult child.

I learned that for some of the people who live here, only they matter.

She really didn’t care. Who was I? Somebody who lived in her house, cleaned and cared for it, planted flowers, washed floors and changed light bulbs.

We later fought because I told her that I had an overnight guest in her house sometime over the last four months. She screamed that my $400 a month did not give me the right to have friends over. She threw me out. We never spoke again.


That summer I went online for the first time and learned that there was something called the Internet with a dancing wizard whose wand conjured up websites.

That summer I drove around Burbank and Hollywood dropping off tapes to post-production facilities and learned what motion control and Barham Boulevard were.

That summer I ate alone at a Thai restaurant on Ventura Boulevard and met my future partner.

That summer I watched KTLA as a white Ford Bronco went down the 405 while helicopters, reporters and cameras tracked it for miles.

That summer I learned that there would no longer be front store entrances to enter, that I would go from parking lot to parking lot, that my walking would be on the treadmill and that restaurants stopped serving food at 9pm.

That summer I learned that summer would go on past September, into October and November, and start again in February.

That summer I came to a place where people without jobs own houses and cars, bad restaurants are beloved, and a friend’s success is the saddest thing on earth.


There would be no more clouds or rain. And the quaint old houses with front porches were inside Warner Brothers’ back lot.

Part of me died twenty years ago, the part that saw my life as a crew-necked male ingénue wandering the historic streets of Manhattan; invigorated by life, by potential, by the thrill of urban exploration.

Part of me died inside, even when the outer part found love, bought a house, wrote stories, took photographs, and woke up in a house surrounded by fragrant flowers and glistening grass cut and manicured weekly.

When the first hot days bake the asphalt and the blowing desert winds set in, I am carried back to the summer of 1994, my first summer of exile, when I blew here like pollen to the western edge of southwestern America.

Regretful

Angry

Sad

Futile

Directionless

Wandering

Aimless

Mercurial

Lost

Haunted

These thoughts. Did I carry them always?

Or were they brought out of me, the day I came to live in Los Angeles?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “May 15, 1994.

  1. I always appreciate your writing, Andy. Your outsider’s perspective is a contrast to mine, growing up in the mid-Valley, living at home through attending Valley College, but with some friends a few years older who’d come from elsewhere and lived in apartments. It just was what it was to me, that I’d grown up knowing, vs. a contrast to being from someplace else. And I felt the better – more rustic – parts were being lost piece by piece to cheap stucco development.

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    1. Thanks Darrell.

      Everyone comes with their own perspective, biases, observations. Mine was formed, partially, through my experience growing up in Chicago, living in New York, spending some time in Northern NJ. Things are different here. Not necessarily worse, just unique to here.

      For the record, I think LA is getting much, much better in developing walkable and historic areas, and building up public transportation to allow people to move through the city by means other than the automobile.

      Van Nuys has a long way to go. It seems to occupy an invisible space in the mind of our Mayor, in the imagination of our planners. It really deserves better than to just be a place people decry.

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  2. That really did deserve a response from a lifelong resident who has watched people from out of state come here to “milk the American dream”-whether from out of state or out of country-does it matter? They buy the biggest or best or tear down the old and annihilate the remains in favor of McMansions…they waste water and gas and want the most of everything available to them…ooooor, they take the handouts a weary city offers to help out those in need. They take away jobs that might have gone to folks who’ve been here their entire lives…yet rarely provide anything remotely valuable to the community-as a whole-rather seemingly in wait to see how quickly they can unload whatever they own and move to the next ‘upgrade’. They always complain about the city/ies and how it was better from whence they came-but rarely do they just return “home”. They have little interest in becoming “neighborly”, but are more inclined to chagrin/complain that their neighbor’s place is pulling down the value of their fine home/s. In the case of the poorer/lower classes, they find a way to get/rent/or buy a home during the undervalued periods and then rent out every single room (therein) until the street parking becomes an asylum of angry competitors squeezing the lifeblood out of every square inch of open space…usually with a resultant furtherance of disgust followed by the dumping of trash right along side other folks’ yards and watering/pooping their (never-ending) supply of animals on our lawns.

       Yes, there are always many sides to any given story. I remember the Earthquake and how many cowards abandoned L.A…only to be replaced by a new batch harried to fill the open spaces. I remember the riots, and a few haters causing untold damages to the psyches of hard working citizens such as myself when they came through stores like mine and paralyzed businesses via looting, burning,shooting and all forms of mayhem. To this day, I find myself in awe of the fact that some gun shops admitted to losing more than just guns-ie. grenades, rocket launchers and the like-now what in the hell were they doing with such things lying around? Duck hunting?

       Yup, where once grazed a docile group of native species, followed by an equally docile group of Indian tribes (many ending with the “ngya” sound-did I get that right? ;-)…where Calfifornios replaced them over a 200 year period and had an extremely un-rushed life style with much ranching and limited water resources and some mining…followed by some whites marrying into the bigger Latino families, but always finding a way to fit in. It was said that the most inviting thing about early Los Angeles-city of Angels- was the inviting way of it’s people…how they were never mean or mad at the successes of others. They seemed content with what they had.

       So what have we now? Is it all about the Sterlings and Trumps and the developers who pay off everybody to keep expanding a [negatively impacted] ecosystem that long ago said: ENOUGH! Is that all that counts? With 2-3,000,000 million people crowding into the San Fernando Valley, still we have more development and low interest rates and building bigger/higher/”highest and best use”-that’s what everyone now believes is right? Ya, r-i-g-h-t. Not if you live here.

       Contentment seems to have died with the last person who remembered what it was like to have NOTHING! Now it is all about what can I get for nothing…what does the system owe me…I deserve it…my space…my place…my rights. I guess I’m glad I won’t be around much longer to see the next phase of over-population and non-acceptance! rl

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