There’s A Screenwriter On My Couch

A couch that lives in memory.

UNITED STATES—That June, I got off the Tijuana-downtown Los Angeles bus with one huge suitcase and moseyed over to the house on Nadeau Drive on Victoria Circle. I got back from my first long stay in Mexico to a lotta problems. Los Angeles housing is a problem; getting around is a problem; finding a job is a problem. I was giving this city my first real crack at it. I remember that ring of high palm trees reaching for the sky; there’s always down payments in Los Angeles on the promise and allure of something more—it’s right outside your window usually—as it was on Nadeau Drive.

I was bruised and humbled, unable to finish my novel about the Watsonville strike and I had left Mexico and come back with a single ten thousand peso bill—worth around a dollar, and that two-story duplex welcomed me. There lived a poet, and Ivan who sometimes went by Vanya who was sort of the manager and a mature presence, a house full of milk crates and milk crates stuffed with books pilfered from Waldenbooks. A writer-artist there had a pet rat that scampered around. It was June 1989—a few months from the 90s when Los Angeles could pride itself on the highest murder rates and the bars went up over so many windows.

Everyone trooped out of the house on Nadeau Drive in the daytime. So it was nice and quiet to work on my screenplay which would rescue me from this dependency on others, this shakiness. So it was nice and quiet to work on my screenplay, which would quickly sell. It wasn’t so crazy a notion. A couple of friends, right out of film school had made a sale for hundreds of thousands of dollars. All at once, one of the screenwriting partners had seen more overnight than his dad, in a factory job, had seen in a lifetime. It also spawned rumors that they had bought houses already (they hadn’t). All that success that had happened was vague and faraway as a smog-ringed Emerald City.

To wrench myself from my novel that occupied the larger part of that oversize suitcase was not easy, I’ll tell you that. But, Emulating Preston Sturgis’ speed, I proposed to write a draft in two weeks, and best of all, I had a dream, a sense of purpose.

I didn’t propose to stay there on the couch, but I was able to stay because of my charm and progressing with my plan to write a screenplay, and achieve the rewards that were already waiting for me in the Emerald City, stay I did. The gang at Nadeau was also used to having all kinds of traveling folk met on trips to Indonesia or coming back from the office on a city bus.

Our friend Kevin came back from New York where there had been a protest and other protesters had been herded into a paddy wagon and hauled around for hours, and the cops left them locked in the van while they made a long doughnut shop visit, in hot August. It seemed like there were two countries forming then, one inside the perimeter of razor wire and one without, looking at the partying folks who raised flutes of champagne and ate truffles.

There was no question which side of the razor wire I was going to be on. The pages to my Satanic youth script mounted. Meanwhile, life was traipsing in and out and out past my couch in the living room, where everyone had to pass. Erika, Eric’s girlfriend came, and told about a trip to the beach and would comment on my reading style, slow and intense, as if I were tasting the words. I was tasting a lot of Shakespeare, all right, even the sonnets, figuring Shakespeare would give me the dramatic edge. I had yet to learn that you find you edge when you stop looking for it.

There were nightly revels, Boone’s farm in the kitchen crusted by grease. June became August, when there comes one day in Los Angeles, and you get a heartbreaking whiff of around-the-corner Autumn. I tried to be the model guest, helping around the house. The matter of jobs are such an albatross, I thought. People should be able to invent their jobs, and there was job enough at Nadeau Drive, feeding the rat, washing the dishes and writing a hit slasher movie.

The council of the house had a meeting; I was the prime topic on the agenda. I remember stepping outside for a couple of hours and awaiting the residents’ verdict. When I got back, an offer awaited that had all I could have desired. They would charge me $30 a month for my nightly place on the couch. That was sweet.

To be continued…

Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Lighten Up Now,” a diet for the mind and body, available on