For a brief (very brief) time in the early 1990s, I resided in north Hollywood, California. In Van Nuys, on Woodland Avenue, to be specific. I had driven from upstate New York with my best friend from high school, and we were setting out to “make it big,” whatever that meant at the time. With the exception of a weeklong stay in Las Vegas, my friend and I drove fairly quickly through the southern part of the United States. I remember thinking of Los Angeles as some sort of promised-land where I would get a chance to start over and recover from the worst four years of my life. I had been to Los Angeles a few times prior to this, but now I intended to stay, look for work, and eventually enroll in a university there.
When we arrived we immediately went to my friend’s cousin’s apartment to stay for a few days. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my friend had no intention of looking for work, but was instead interested in parties. I didn’t object at first. I was in Hollywood and I wanted to check out the scene myself. Our third or fourth night in town saw us checking out the bars. We went to one bar, whose name I now forget, that had two sections to it, an upstairs with dance music and a downstairs with more mainstream rock and roll. The people I was with were all aspiring musicians who wanted to hear rock music. I wanted to head upstairs to the dance club because that was were all of the women were heading. I was outvoted and we went to the downstairs rock club. Sitting at the bar, between two women, was Lemmy from the band MotorHead. I was startled to see such an ugly man with two beautiful women. We had a few drinks and spoke our hellos to Lemmy and left for another bar. I don’t remember much from that night, but I do remember at one point I was elected to drive because I was the most sober. I still recall driving among the Hollywood Hills and getting caught up in all of the lights and traffic. At one point I took a turn too sharply and drove up on the curb. There was a lot of laughter except from the owner of the car who informed me that he just had his alignment done. I apologized and kept on driving. This may have been the stupidest thing I have ever done. Thankfully we got home okay and I fell asleep.
The days in Hollywood were spent lifting weights and watching really bad movies on a very small television set, and drinking. I was constantly looking through the want ads for a job. I found one at a small magazine that was looking for someone to help with marketing. I had planned on studying advertising and I wanted to eventually work at an ad agency. This was long before Mad Men. I called the number in the ad and arranged for an interview. At least that is how I recall it. I never made it to the interview. From around this time I knew my days in Los Angeles were numbered. I met a waitress, started drinking a lot more, and tried to fall in with the LA vibe. There were lots of drugs around at the time. Pot and cocaine were at nearly every party we attended. It was the first time I had been exposed to such things and I was cautious. I was 21 or 22 at the time, and I wanted to experience everything. I was never into drugs, I was more of a drinker and I always knew when to stop. To this day I have never gotten sick from a night of drinking. There are times when I wished that I had, but…
The last party I remember attending was really outstanding. It was at a private home way up in the hills. We got there and walked around to the back. A large in ground swimming pool took up most of the yard. There were dozens of lighted votive candles floating on the surface of the water, casting a pleasant glow in the night. I remember having several drinks and talking with a few women I tried to get to know. It was at this time that I saw the owner of the house, a girl in her early twenties, come out of the house with a large snake wrapped around her neck. I petted the snake and knew that LA was not the place for me. I can’t remember the girl’s name, and I don’t even remember what she looked like, but I will never forget the party I went to where a girl walked outside with a snake around her neck.
I wasn’t in Hollywood for long. I had my friend take me to LAX to catch a flight to Phoenix where my grandmother lived. Before the flight we got roaring drunk in an airport bar and by the time I got off the plane at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix I was pretty far gone. I tell people that I had to go to the desert to dry up, and in many ways that’s very true.
I suspect that people like me who read a lot cannot help but fictionalize aspects of their lives. In nearly every world epic there is a hero who must journey to the underworld or Hell and return. In many ways, Hollywood was my Hell, my learning experience that I had to undergo before I could move on to the next point in my life. It wasn’t long after this that I gave myself over to literature.
I’m not sorry for my attempt to make a go of it in California, I’m just sorry that I gave up on it all a bit too quickly. My friendship with the person I traveled out there with was irrevocably broken, and I was swiftly becoming someone else—someone who began to take life a lot more seriously, too seriously some would say.
I still think I’d like to live in the Los Angeles area from time to time, especially when the weather gets me down. But I’m an east coast guy at heart. New York City is the place, if I were young, or very wealthy, I would choose to live in. My wife and I still discuss it from time to time. But then, I love being so close to Boston where Europe is a relatively short plane ride away. In my early twenties I thought that I could change everything I disliked about my life by moving to another city, but of course I was wrong. We can’t escape ourselves, really. Perhaps all we can do is come to terms that sooner or later we have to learn to live with ourselves if we are to stay sane. Sooner of later we have to forgive that person who we used to be for all of the wrong choices he (or she) made along the way. For me, Hollywood, that supreme city of fakes, became a necessary stopover to where ever I am still headed.
But at least I don’t have to do it alone now, right, K?