Soul-Stealing LA

A requested story…

It started with a dream and ended with a war.

Even at a young age I was disgustingly practical, but I was also a dreamer. I would escape into music and movies and create stories or live in stories I had read or watched. I wanted to be an actress at age 10, but my dad told me I couldn’t because, “all actresses are prostitutes.” So I studied my idols, first Charlie Chaplin, then Steven Spielberg, then Penny Marshall, until finally Quentin Tarantino burst onto the scene.

Not only did I know the adage, “they don’t make movies in [insert name of your small town], they make them in Hollywood,” but once I saw Tarantino do it, and do it cheep, and reap the rewards, I knew I could make my mark. I moved to California five months after I turned 18.

LA is a beautiful city. It is sunny nearly every day. There are so many things to go and do. You can be at the beach and then 30 minutes later being skiing. Your house can be ravaged by flames and mudslides in the same year.

LA is a cruel mistress. She’s beautiful and alluring and you want to love her but she hates you so much. She doesn’t have time for you. She doesn’t return your phone calls. She wants you to leave but you feel compelled to stay. You want her to love you as much as you love her, you want to be accepted and appreciated in her eyes, but she’s always too busy being with other people.

Everyone in LA lives and breathes the entertainment industry.  Even an unassuming diner on the corner has 8×10 headshots of actors who have come in. Talk to a tow-truck driver and soon you’ll be talking about a celebrity they either saw or worked for.

Where ever you go you’ll run into actors, producers, writers and maybe a celebrity or two. They all want to know the “important” people and shun off the wanna-bees. It’s a survival instinct. For each Hollywood job there are thousands that can take 1 person’s place – and they know it.

I lived in LA from 1996-2001; four years after the Rodney King Riots, two years after the Northridge earthquake. I was there during the OJ trail, the Enron power shortages, the clearing of prostitutes and homeless from Hollywood Blvd, and the giant financial recession that hit most of California.

I was the store manager at Suncoast Motion Pictures, a sell-through video store in Thousand Oaks. My celebrity regulars were Kelsey Grammer and Jada Pinket-Smith.  My store was one of the first 25 stores to sell DVD and perhaps the last to sell Laser Disc’s. I sold the movies people liked and returned the movies people didn’t buy. I read all the trades, knew the release dates of every movie, and watched every entertainment show. I lived and breathed my little circle of the entertainment business. I knew maybe too much about the industry to be able to distance myself to write for it.

Before I left for LA, I wrote nearly every day. Scripts, poetry, creative non-fiction, movie reviews and journaling. My stories were dark comedies and character driven. Something Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez would make. The longer I lived in LA, the more stories started to suffer.  I wrote some of the worst 90210-like feature scripts. My lost my voice. I was reflecting back the fake sunshine and palm trees that you’d see on a Universal backlot.  I wasn’t even writing stuff that I would watch. I started wondering just what I was doing in LA anymore, it was clear that I wasn’t going to be the next Tarantino. I would break down regularly that I was a failure in a city that was paved with broken dreams.

The greatest thing about LA was my friends. We were all misfits trying to make it somehow. My good friends were Brandon Kleyla who was in Children of the Corn IV and Gods and Monsters. Ryan Shervington was in Jackie Brown and was a stand in double for Michael Jackson’s “You Rock My World” music video with Marlon Brando and Chris Tucker. We’d go to movies together, play 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon and crash movie premieres.  I didn’t love them for the film credits they had, I loved them because we were there for each other in a city that didn’t care about anyone who wasn’t in Variety.

We were all kings on our corner of shit. We claimed our little chunk and stuck together. We supported each other. Bitched about the same things and of course dug the same movies.

I say that LA stole my soul. For 5 years I didn’t have a grip on who I was. I was an observer in the most expensive cities to just be a spectator. I couldn’t do what I came to the city to do – make movies and sell scripts. I lost my ability to write a decent story. I didn’t care enough to be nice to fake people just to make the connections to boost a career. I was jaded. I hated the fakeness. The selfish-ness. I was becoming a person I didn’t like. I needed a way out.

When two planes crashed into buildings in New York City, my husband was compelled to join the Army. Three weeks later we were shipped off to Savannah, GA.  It took an Army to take me away from Los Angeles.

In Savannah, the stories came back, my writing voice got more developed.

And I finally found the person I had always hoped I would be.

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