UNITED STATES—After Lawrence Brown rented his downstairs turret room, it really looked promising for everything being rented out at the house. Then I could screenplay like a monkey’s uncle. The attic room got taken by a white woman, Rachel, a fragile young thing with long fine hair, hairline worry wrinkles around the eyes, and translucent skin. She was deathly pale and had a way of walking as if with each dainty step she expected to trigger explosions.
She was accompanied by a bluff man a few decades her elder in a lumberjack shirt. He would be paying her rent—he came to vet the place—had a steel gray mustache, was friendly yet preoccupied. His confidence in the house and neighborhood depended largely on me and my glowing picture of the house and neighborhood. Thank heaven no shots were fired while he stood on the patch of dirt that passed for the lawn. The bluff man looked like he had never had a sick day in his life and didn’t comprehend his daughter, who was a broken-winged bird. She had had an accident and had burned her back on a bathroom heater up in Marin County where they were from.
She was on some kind of meds and hung out with a lot of Russian people. An intense crowd. Her boyfriend was Russian. How this quiet delicate young woman hooked up with that crowd–! Anyhow, with the rooms all rented out on Estrella Avenue, I got out more. Through my friends at Nadeau and the CUT-FOOT hotline, there was a stream of art openings and music events. I heard about a Hitchcock Festival at the U.S.C. Cinema School on Sunday nights. I remember a silent, “The Farmers’ Wife,” a really accomplished drama and romance, made before he had found his murder-and-suspense niche. If it had been a worse movie, I might have been happier. There was Hitchcock my age and already directing. What had I done? It was a real let down to come back on Sunday night, the darkness hugging down on me, and having to take the garbage can to the curb, but It had to be done.
Later at U.S.C. I saw a new movie in black and white, “The Natural History of Parking Lots.” I did not realize it then, but the film and its maker would come to have a special significance for my own Hollywood screenplay dreams.
I received a welcome offer from a friend to work a few days in a cubicle in Century City. They had this amazing thing the size of a binder that was worth as much as a car, the boss told me. You opened it up and there on a screen was all the data. I was to go through the phone list and clean up the contacts. What were they selling at that office? What were they doing? It didn’t really matter, it was generic; the human relationships soon to be broken. The girls were really cute and everyone endured long commutes from places like Diamond Bar.
This was my dose of the cubicle where many of my peers and friends spent the 90s. My aversion to that world was total.
The boss was entertaining enough. He is a more polished version of Mac Murphy, even had the same thick auburn mustache. He had good humor and wore a suit, joked with the pretty secretaries. He was an example of manliness I would never match, enduring that commute. There’d be a coda to his phone calls after he hung up, all friendly and full of honey and then, “Your grandmother sucks eggs.”
The week I spent in Century City stayed with me. The ghost of the cubicle would stay. I was testy because my screenplay was on hold. The paycheck was a fortune after the ten dollars I had stretched into weeks had dwindled to pennies. When I banked that paycheck, I splurged.
House scuttlebutt was, Dino’s on Pico had fried chicken in a box, with fries and slaw. The security guard David told Mac and Mac told me. It was $2.99—I had had to wait a while till I could afford that, and when I did, now flush with Century City cash, it was a feast. Half a chicken, fried in crusty orange batter that glowed in the dark. The promise of abandonment, that moment of digging in and escape from blue-collar life we may be settled to, bet not resigned to, and reward for the week’s sweat.
To be continued…
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of the humor collection “Late Bloomer,” available on Amazon.com. Grady can be reached at gr**********@ca*********.com.