Supermarkets

Day 16 and I have to go shopping again. My first few shopping trips in this country were unmitigated disasters. The first time was when I walked to Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice and ended up in a place called Erehwon. That was my third night here, and I wasn’t to know any better. There was a man in cargo shorts with a waxed beard and a Mohawk talking earnestly about the healing properties of quinoa. I thought at the time that he was an actor stationed there to validate all our prejudices regarding hipsters. And they could have paid him healthily. 8.99 bucks for bread, 14 bucks for a chicken salad in a plastic packet. Robbery. 

The second time was when I went to Whole Foods, but I knew I was going to get skinned going in.

 

Tonight was closer to my childhood memories. A great big basic supermarket. As a young man I used to come to the states frequently. First of all to Nassau where my dad was working, then later on to Maine where my wonderful ridiculous godfather lived. I remember at the time being captivated by the cereal selection. Over in the UK there’s nothing even close to what they have here. Probably due to food standards. Froot Loops in bright fluorescent colours that rip off the roof of your mouth and inject the sugar directly into your bloodstream. Lucky Charms with marshmallows that squeak as you eat them. Corn Pops that are so big and round you can only get a few on the spoon. Flintstones, captain crunch, cinnamon toast crunch, leprechauns and toucans and bears and rabbits all waving at you from the shelf in gaudy packets. And free stuff! Trolls, Star Wars, cars, animals, a chance to win a console… “mum can we have this? Pleeeeease” Even the steeliest parent would be worn down. I wasn’t allowed fizzy drinks in England. I started every day in America with a sugar rush like you wouldn’t believe, which was then carefully serviced by regular injections of fluorescent drinks with shouty names, and with multicoloured chocolates that had nothing whatsoever to do with milk and everything to do with sugar. No wonder everyone’s so cheerful here. They’re wired. Most of my American childhood memories involve running round in circles. I found a photo of myself aged 14 at my godfather’s place in Maine and I’m properly tubby after only two months. Most likely having guzzled 8 cans of Mountain Dew every day. I loved that stuff. In the UK they have to call it an energy drink because of the sugar content.

 

I had to parent myself today, and I didn’t do a good job of it, I’ve come home with a six pack of Root Beer, a box of Lucky Charms, and a couple of packets of Reeses Pieces. They were on multibuy! I’m thinking of it as comfort food, as I am deep in work mode now, having to throw out a nicely formatted script to the wolves before tomorrow evening. I’ve never written a script to a deadline before, and despite being very glad to have been thrust into it without time to second guess or overthink, I could use a bit longer. I had to force myself to go to yoga, and writing this is just so I can have a break from writing.

 

Just getting used to the formatting, the way that shots need to be expressed, the visual nature of it all – it’s a steep learning curve. I spent most of this morning sitting in a garden swearing at my iPad. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a day though, and everybody in this city is supposed to be carrying around a screenplay. Once I crack it then perhaps I can put the fact that I enjoy making things with words towards the circumstance that I am always sodding broke.

 

A photo. Damn I never remember to take photos for this. Here’s one I took of an auspicious waxing crescent moon with The Evening Star shining brightly as Venus sits at her peak.


 I took it as I am trying to look for positive signs at the moment, and had just left yoga, where the instructor had been protesting, took her dog into the studio, immediately remarked that there was only one man, and made the class about putting people back together. There’s anger and fear under the surface here, popping out occasionally. It’s a strange time. I think it’s allowable for me to have some root beer. And a lucky bowl of lucky charms.

Books and stories

 Day 15 has been mostly about stories. I woke up in a little Reiki studio in the valley. As usual I went walking almost immediately. Lots of lovely houses and then I hit a cul de sac, where the wind was bringing me the very distinct smell of death from one of the houses. Not wanting to go back past the smell, (I was running all sorts of fantasy scenarios) I climbed a fence and walked down the side of a main road until I got to a shopping mall. The usual smattering of strange food concessions, but I was drawn in by the promise of “Barclays Coffee and Tea.” I needed a coffee and what better place? I wish they’d had branded mugs. They didn’t but the coffee was fine. 

And the shop next door is the 10 dollar bookstore. The best shop I’ve found so far in the states. I love this place. I was in heaven. It’s a huge second hand bookshop with great prices, really nicely organised. It feels like a library where you can buy the books. There were tables for people to sit and read, even. And while I was in there I saw good trade. I decided I could budget ten bucks and buy a load of books that I hadn’t read. I went seeking American classics.

 

Despite having studied it at school and written essays about it parroting received wisdom, I’ve never read To Kill a Mockingbird. I was mostly distracted bored or angry at school, and my essay technique usually involved attempting to mask a total lack of information with an entertaining prose style. As anyone that reads this every day might have noticed by now. I also picked up this lot:


I’m already halfway through To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s great to put faces to names, like Atticus Finch and that dreadful ’90s pop band “The Boo Radley’s”. I probably would have loved the book at school but I was put off by having to study it. Or maybe I was just pissed off or distracted. But I’m happy with it now. Although after this evening I’m not sure I’ll have time to get through all of them.

 

This evening I went to Scott’s house, the team leader for this Oscar spoof thing. He lives opposite a dog sanctuary so I arrived to a deeply confusing, varied and wild cacophony of barking and howling. I was upset despite him ensuring me that it’s a pretty good sanctuary. The noise was crazy.

 

We watched Fences. It’s good, but I instantly feel uncomfortable spoofing it. And it seems that scribing duty has fallen to me. After the screening, (and a little bit before the screening) Scott started churning out gallons and gallons of unpasteurised ideas, which I noticed were just being said and then a new one was being said and no one was recording them. I recognised this instantly. One of my oldest friends and collaborators, Tassos, should be followed by a scribe at all times. I knew that someone had to take the mantle so I grabbed a pen and spent the next forty five minutes saying “wait what? Explain that? And then what?” Someone had to. At the end he said “So great, Al, I take it you’re going to turn that into a script for us?” Fuck.
  

Now it seems I am going to have to turn all of his ideas and the structure we managed to bang out into a tasteful but funny pastiche of a 1912 Pittsburgh tale of self isolation, family ambition and parenthood. Well, It was only a few days ago I wrote on here that I felt I should do more writing while I’m out here. Willing or unwilling, that’s what’s happening… and to a tight deadline. Wish me luck.

Donkeyman

Day 14. I’m stubborn. I foolishly consider it to be a positive trait. I wouldn’t still be banging my head against this way of making a living if I wasn’t. But I have to learn that it’s not always the best way.
I had a pedicure. My first ever. Probably my last. It cost me 15 bucks on groupon. It was pleasant, despite the 2 year old running around dressed as a samurai in the salon. But then it all went wrong.

 

It began when I looked at my phone and said to myself : “39 bucks for an uber pool? Stuff that, there must be a cheaper way.”

 

Three hours later I have tried and failed to sign up to zipcar twice, been on the phone to their customer services three times. I have been into most of the car rental places in Santa Monica. “Come on, if I had booked yesterday online you’d be able to release a car for 16 bucks. I can pay you 20.” “I’m sorry sir I can only do what the computer says.” I’ve made the lady at Sixt fill in the form to tell me how much I can get the only car left (a corvette) for, and then tried to knock her down to 22 bucks from 220. “You close in ten minutes and you’re not open tomorrow. You might as well just knock a 0 off.” “Even if I could we’d need a 1000 buck deposit, sir.” “Oh, um…” 

 

All this time I have been obsessively checking and rechecking uber pool, lyft line, uber pool, lyft line. No change. 37 – 42 bucks ballpark. Damn you Santa Monica and all your internet money, racking up the price of transport. Uber certainly prices to the market. LA pool prices go as low as $2.99. You never get less than a fiver in London. But getting a car from Ocean Drive in Santa Monica…? Not smart. It’s one of the places where they take the chihuahua out of the Louis Vuitton and give it 10 buck horchatas.

 

Eventually I find a lyft for the right price. hallelujah. 10 bucks. IT TAKES ME TO THE WRONG ROAD. There are multiple roads with the same name. Oh god I am so angry by now. All I needed to do was spend 40 bucks for a luxurious one way trip. I could’ve chilled out. Read my book. Now I’ve blown ten bucks to go the wrong fecking way. I sit and chant for five minutes to get my head back, and then find an uber pool, to the right road, for another tenner. 20 bucks. It’s mounting. But then my friend texts to say he’s in a hurry. He’s been waiting with his son in the cafe at Whole Foods. This is a pool, but I’ve noticed my driver has a Russian accent. So when the pool thing beeps, and he’s about to leave the damn interstate to pick someone else up, I instantly offer him five bucks to ditch the guy. I take it out of my wallet and put it in his hand. He does. According to my sister in law that’s how most business is done in Russia. 25 bucks now though. But I get to my friend on time. 2 hours later than planned after about 4 hours of running around in the sun talking about car prices. That’s 4 hours for a saving of 15 bucks. I’m an idiot. This sort of behaviour is the source of most of the arguments I have with friends and loved ones. Because despite all of that, I still have a little grin on my face. “Ha, great. I saved 15 bucks. That’s the pedicure.” SMACK

 

Where was I going? To an old friend’s house. He’s made a home over here, and built a network around him of good things and good people. The last time I saw him we walked in Richmond Park and he said he was off to LA. I most likely reflexively said “Ahh that place isn’t for me. I’ll never go there. I’m the opposite of LA” Now I’m here, in his house, in a little room that his wife uses to practise Reiki, about to turn in. He’s enjoying his work, he has a lovely family, and he seems calm and solid while I’m running around stressing about the price of a pedicure. It’s past time to employ my epic stubbornness more lucratively than for a 15 buck saving. 20 bucks at least. And a big house in LA, a 22 buck Corvette, and an acting career that pays the bills. Thankyouplease.

 

I took no photos today. You’ll have to look at my treated feet. If that doesn’t put you off nothing will.

Theatre in a shop front

Day 13. My lucky number. My dad always liked to derail superstitions. If I said something was unlucky he would say “Ahh but it’s lucky for Barclays”. He adequately trained me in a wide variety of contrarian ways of thinking which have informed the mess that I am today. But appropriate that the 13th brought me an audition, thus already matching my haul for the last six months in London. And also perhaps appropriate that it showed me some people in this city that I could work with. I went to the theatre. 

There are so many places like this in London. It’s a theatre in an abandoned shop front with a load of neon stuck on the outside. There’s art strung to fairy light chains in the yard, and a Mexican street food taco stop just outside the fence doing two great tacos for 5 bucks. Which of course I scarfed down for dinner. Everyone smiles and says yes. The name of the theatre has me worried though. “Son of Semele”… Classics geek break:

 

Semele was a mortal woman who had lots of sex with Zeus when he was disguised as an eagle. There’s no accounting for taste. She got pregnant. She then messed up by asking to see Zeus as he really is. The force of his divinity incinerated her immediately, but Zeus quickly scooped the unborn baby from the ashes and sewed it into his leg. You would have done the same, right? A bit later he was born out of the leg and became Dionysus the twice born. AKA Bacchus. Half mortal but all God as Zeus is technically one of his mums as well as his dad. He is the God of wine, frenzy, wild careless anarchic parties, and theatre. Bacchus partied lots, rode around on a chariot pulled by leopards, and occasionally tore people limb from limb in vast orgies brimming with priapic fauns, before forgetting all about it the next morning. Standard stuff for a night in Haggerston. When I was at drama school I was called Bacchus. It was a derivation of my surname, Barclay, to Barkers, to Backers. I gave it the last push to Bacchus as at the time I liked the idea of being named for the god of wine and theatre. Now I look back on that boy and think he was a pretentious gobshite. So when I see a theatre named for Dionysus I worry that the play will be a load of academic bloat. Especially as they go one step further to “Son of Semele.”

 

Thankfully it really isn’t academic. It’s a devised piece in celebration of this city. In terms of my collaborators, it sometimes put me in mind of Fanshen and sometimes of The Factory. It opens with a load of boxes in the space, and actors and audience together fluidly improvising games with the boxes. For the first 15 minutes I was in the space I honestly neither knew nor cared which were the actors and which were the audience, because we were all genuinely playing together. We made forts out of boxes, built towers and kicked them down, created, adapted and abandoned games. I won a dollar blowing down a tower. It was genuinely playful, and allowed them to segue into the story from an effortless playful and fun place. 


The show was a mixture of “viewpoints” and set pieces, with occasional frames for the actors to tell truthful things about themselves to the audience. I ended up knowing a lot more about LA. I’m perhaps a little more concerned about earthquakes and jaywalking than I have been up until now. “The big one’s coming.” “That’ll be $175 for the ticket sir.” I  also have points of contact for my own sense of alienation in this town, and am much better informed about where to go if I want good meatballs. The actors spoke frankly about their arrival here, and recommended their favourite restaurants. People around me in the house were audibly agreeing with their choices. I went home feeling happy. It was fun open hearted geeky people making something because they wanted to, and making it well. And those are the people I spend my life with in London. Everybody in the auditorium left smiling, and full of yummy tacos. I felt I’d had a lucky Friday the 13th day.

Views and Vikings

Post yoga day 12 and I meet with a friend of a friend. She’s executive producing movies, essentially sourcing proper cash, and her phone is ringing off the hook while we talk. I prove useful as she is working with Rhys Ifans but hasn’t got the knack of pronouncing his name. I tell her I want to go for a hike up to the sign. She says we should go to Griffith Observatory. We do. There are more people than she expected, but sundown is coming and I remind her that it’s a significant location in Lalaland. She had forgotten. She loved the movie. We drive most of the way up the track and swing into a parking space as soon as we see a vehicle leaving. We’ve been lucky. Parking is hard to come by here. And no surprise. The view is spectacular, across the madness of the town and off to the ocean, glinting in the distance.


LA really is a sprawl, wide and low, with a few fingers of ambitious earthquake proof high rises poking out of downtown. This is a hell of a place to watch the sunset, and lots of couples agree. My new friend is on the phone a lot, but not so much that she doesn’t take it in. We have a conversation about the big things, life and death and illness and time. I sometimes have that effect on people. She has to get to yoga for seven in Santa Monica, and at this time of day the interstate is vile. Miles of stinking pickup trucks and ubers crawling up each other’s arse and honking. Not the best yoga prep, but she’s going for it. She tells me to be careful walking back down the hill. “One of Tarantino’s producers, I think it was Tarantino, it was, it was one of Tarantino’s proDUCERS she was walking down in the dark in a place like this and she just fell off she must’ve fell off the path. They found her body the next morning. You be careful walking down there.” I promise I’ll be careful and she backs her BMW out and spins off. I’m sad to see her go. Good to meet new people in this town and I’m fond of her. We managed in a short space of time to cover comparative history, the roots of the film industry, death, Trump and yoga.

  

I walk down as the sun sets. The path is treacherous as there’ve been huge runnels gouged into it by the unexpected rainfall over the last few weeks. But I’m not concerned about stumbling off the edge of it. I get to the bottom to find a bust of Leif Erikson which at first I find odd. He was the first Norseman to come to America, in 1000 AD, even before the Norman Conquest of England. History calls him an explorer although it’s possible he did it by mistake. The sculptor seems to think he looked like this. 


So, a bit like Agatha Christie. He landed in “Vinland” – possibly Newfoundland. Arguably there were more Viking settlements in the Americas than we ever knew. But surely they didn’t get as far as California. I go on google. It’s to do with identity. Some Danes who settled here think of him as a poster boy. It is we who first were here. And it’s pretty impressive to have so many hundreds of years of a headstart on Columbus. Columbus just had guns and a better publicist.

 

I walk home from the park, stopping on the way for cheap dinner at a Salvadorean roadside pupuseria. I order two pupusa for less than five bucks. I have no idea what they are. Turns out they’re closed fried crepes with pumpkin, cheese and slaw. Which is a result. They could’ve been dog’s heads. Old people vape at the next table and watch the Salvadorean Bear Grylls running around with a blonde locks and a machete talking to camera. Every time he swears it beeps. Catholics… I tuck in. They taste great. You really can get anything in this sprawl. I wonder if there’s a replica Viking mead hall anywhere. There’s a play I want to put on in one. If only I knew someone who funded things…

Yogaworks yoga works

Day 11. If I were to spend too long out here I’d lose the ability to understand what “cold” means. Everyone is bitching about the temperature. It’s about average early Spring London temperature, and yet I’m sitting by a heater. There’s a small dog attempting to burrow through my crotch, lemongrass oil diffusing into the air, and Bon Iver on Spotify. It hasn’t taken me long to start taking on the tropes of this place. 

This morning as I was walking to Yoga I made a point of observing all the things that were different over here. The roads are comparatively huge, the stop signs take ages, the buildings are mostly bungalows or one story, there are pick up trucks everywhere, unfamiliar fire hydrants, odd signs for familiar things, Spanish as a second language, football is called soccer.


It doesn’t take long to stop noticing these small details, but they’re significant. I’m in a very different place and I can cement some habit changes. Like Yoga every day for a start. I’ve come to the conclusion that I should’ve been doing daily yoga for years. I talk myself out of stuff as I say I can’t afford it. But it’s great. My best friend does it daily and she’s my best friend. She knows things. There’s got to be a reason for it.

 

I go to Yoga Works in Larchmont. It was the first yoga studio in Los Angeles, opening in 1967. Which is nuts considering today there’s a different take on yoga on every street corner. I was leaving a coffee place called Go Get ’em Tiger. Great coffee, very LA name, dodgy internet. I’d been trying and failing to consult google maps for a yoga class and a woman with a mat walked right past. “Where are you going with that mat?” “David’s class, of course.” “Me too!”. Not technically a lie because I went. And David’s class is great. It’s Vinyasa Flow level 2/3 so my first class involved a lot of peeking at the people next to me. As it turns out I know a lot of it from back when I was at drama school and different teachers had assimilated different parts of it into their lessons. The body remembers even if the mind doesn’t. Now I’m addicted.

 

I’m one of the only men in the class. Sometimes I AM the only man. I wonder about this. The class is at noon. Maybe it’s that all the men are going to some crazyass martial arts yoga class in a different part of town where they can punch stuff and shout “Yah”. I’m not in a state of mind where I want to go to Cobra Kai right now. I want Mister Miyagi. David’s the closest I’ve found although the studio is in pretty good nick and doesn’t need painting or waxing.

  

I like the stricture of yoga, in that you’re essentially in a battle against your own cowardice, against your own mind. I’ve spent years letting my logical brain cripple my actions. It’s masterful at it. In this class I’m already finding myself doing things physically that I’d decided I could no longer do. And it’s coming from me, David is just facilitating. It’s a big class. Having moved my body in ways I thought were closed to me, I go back home and do things I’d normally talk myself out of, like make that phone call, send that email, ask for that footage. It only takes two weeks to change a habit. I have a month and a half left of yoga here. Once it expires I might find Cobra Kai and shout and punch stuff for the last two weeks. But this is just fine for now. Wax on. Wax off.

Toscars Selection Night

Day 10 and, in a rush to get to yoga I discover that changing your clothes on an empty bus is frowned on. The driver seemed really uncomfortable. He called me to the front before letting any other passengers on. “You took your pants off in the bus, sir. That’s unhygienic.” “I most assuredly did not take my pants off… oh wait … by pants you mean trousers… yes. Yes I took my trousers off. But i didn’t put my bum on the seat…” Thankfully he chooses the path of contemptuously waving me back into the bus after a show of contrition. I get to yoga on time. 

In an attempt to force some form of community onto myself I’ve got involved in a spoof Oscar night. It’s through the huge great big Brits in LA community that I went to breakfast with last week. All I knew is that I had to get to a restaurant called Obica for half seven. What I don’t realise is that it’s a chain. I get two buses into downtown and am deposited in a construction site. I walk through a corridor designed for being murdered. 


Then I creep through the bowels of a deserted car park, up a load of escalators and suddenly I’m in a huge food court. I stumble into Obica half an hour early. Plenty of time to get a coke and chat to the other people involved, I think. But nobody is there. Because it’s the wrong sodding branch. The right branch is only about 45 minutes walk from where I started. I curse like a navvy, curse a little bit more, then curse. Then I get an Uber.

 
They’ve called this thing The Toscars. The selection involves the team leaders playing a game called “Toss your competition off.” Evidently the organisers are playing up to the tits and tea side of British culture. Slightly racy jokes that aren’t really racy, puns about wanking, competition questions about the price of condoms and KY jelly. They’re going all out here. Then the team members are randomly drawn out of a TOMBOLA. You can’t get more British than a tombola.

 
I have ended up in in a group doing a spoof of Fences. We are going to watch it on Sunday. This is the tenth year that this event has taken place. It seems like an extended version of the 48 hour film challenge, where you have a whole three weeks. I have no idea what sort of quality they’ve been in the past, but it seems to be more about the craic. Our team leader Scott had a more or less completely absent team last year, so he appears to be expecting to have to do literally everything himself. It might take some time to persuade him he can rely on me. I’m fond of him immediately, but his energy is super frantic. It might be because he had to get off to work quickly. He works as a female impersonator. I’m not sure where yet but I’d love to go. He spoke sentences rolling one into the next with barely a pause for breath, made sure we had his number, and vanished. He’ll either be lovely or a nightmare. The other guy I met is a young comedian from Texas called Antonio – one of the only black faces there tonight which is a relief considering all the principle roles are black in the movie we’re spoofing. He seems fun and I know I want to see him do comedy. But he had to leave in a hurry as well. So I found myself in a bar on Sunset Boulevard with a load of Brits that I don’t know. Every instinct was screaming at me to hit the bar, down a few beers and bring out crazyfun Al. I’d probably make some friends, of a sort.

 
I quietly left and went home. This not drinking is a good thing but that was a test.