UNITED STATES—One night in New York we went to the Angelica Theater in the Village and saw David Lynch’s ‘Wild at Heart.’ I got to see that scene where Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage come across a dead-still single car crash in the middle of the desert, the headlights still on. The tires still slowly spinning.
Amazingly, a couple weeks later I would be schlepping a copy of “The Strawberry Butterfly,” my screenplay, to David Lynch’s production office. Bill Mahoney, a friend from the house on Nadeau Dr., worked doing craft services for “Twin Peaks,” and brought me to the set. Suddenly, I was not in Van Nuys, but in a police station in the great northwest. Bill helped me knock on this particular door.
Ever the gagster, even with Nicolas Cage visiting the set, arriving on his Harley, and pumping Kyle McLachlan’s hand, I said, “Well, here we are in Twin Falls.” Whereupon, I was violently shushed. Someday I’ll have to ask David Lynch what the big deal was about the forbidden name of Twin Falls.
Bill Mahoney was also bringing along chapbooks of Eric Brown’s poetry and copies of “Rats with Keys,” the underground zine in which some of my earliest work appeared. The screenplay was already called “The Strawberry Butterfly,” but it still contained the incestuous strand, along with changes suggested by Greg Ruzzin and Larry Karaszewski.
Larry especially helped by making me watch a specific scene in “Heathers” to address my natural amoral streak. Then there were the cartoon female side characters like Jessica. That would be the last time I got caught with my pants up on side character development. I learned everyone might not be a star, but they need their star moment.
The mode of lottery living was well established by now. I was living to hit it big. Of course, I’ll always remember my Uncle John saying with the greatest casualness, “One day you are going to hit it big.” Though my uncle lived in an oil town outside of Bakersfield, I owe him and LauRene, my aunt, the allure of Los Angeles. They planted the seeds very early, telling stories about driving down a street where a silent-movie prop house was throwing stuff out. Los Angeles seemed a fantastical sun-shot place, far from the dove gray skies of the central coast, where you could see what I wanted to know from the first image I saw flicker on a screen—what was going on behind the screen?
My cousin had come to settle here; had an apartment on Kings Road. Ironically, the work on the screenplay was excuse enough never to venture into his part of town.
I got a letter from David Lynch’s office thanking me and dismissing the screenplay. That was OK, one more door knocked on. Meanwhile, my friend who worked in craft services had left Los Angeles because of a premonition that a catastrophe was going to befall the city.
No catastrophe could tear me from my dream. I’ll tell you, following a dream made all the mayhem among the renters palatable. There were husbands catching their wives in bed with another man, naked ladies running through the hallway. A South American couple, one of them was a telenovela actor, expecting a child and who always wanted me to go with them to some New Agey meetings: good people, but they were in arrears. The musicians who looked fine outside but inside lacked the most rudimentary knowledge of respect for their neighbors’ eardrums; then again those neighbors might be fussy too. Too many times Bill Bailey, the owner’s muscle had to be called in to threaten and placate. I made that call.
Once in a while, I’d pick a model tenant—or thought I had. The mail carrier, little guy with gold round glasses, who rented a room on Manhattan Place was not one of them. Soon enough, he and the mail service had parted ways, and he was catching naked ladies in the hall, who’d do anything for crack. That’ll be the last time I ever rent to somebody out of respect for the postal service and falling for the intellectual look that gold round glasses bestow. Last time for musicians and Latin telenovela actors, too.
You know, a runner-up subtitle for these pages could be, “How I almost became a misanthrope and blew my chances for the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.”
Grady Miller is a humorist. He is the author of “Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet” (available on Amazon).