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.

Liberty and Trump

Day 7

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

130 years ago, a woman – Emma Lazarus – wrote that sonnet to help the funding of a pedestal for the new colossus that would welcome the dispossessed as they arrived at the land of the free. A colossus in the form of “la liberte”, a gift from the French, built by Eiffel. Marianne is her French name, Libertas her Roman. She stands for freedom, and for reason. She stands for the American dream. A welcoming and inspiring sight to immigrants, lighting the way with her torch, holding her book of law. Welcoming the disaffected to New York Harbour.
It seems strange that 130 years later, the same nation has sworn in a president who appears to have no concern for reason, and certainly none for immigrants. And as for his unquestioned thinking about women – to quote numerous overheard conversations today – “Just when we were getting somewhere…”

So across the nation today, and much of the world, there have been marches in peaceful protest. A chance for anyone who is concerned about the trickle down effect to mark a small statistic, while feeling a strength in numbers. If the one at the top has unexamined prejudice, will that trickle down through society and give permission for those with conscious prejudice to behave terribly? And if the one at the top has conscious prejudice, then should he be on top?
In Los Angeles, turnout was always going to be huge. I hook up with an old friend in the morning and she and I drive to Highland Park metro, knowing that driving into downtown would be a fools errand. The queue for the metro is round the block and every train that comes is packed. Which is a good sign. The atmosphere is still bright, the sun is shining, people are chatting, loads of people have brought their kids.

We queue for ages. We lose hope. We get momentarily fractious. We rejoin the queue. Eventually we decide to “London it”. There IS room in the trains, you just have to play the armpit Tetris that is played every morning across the tube network. I’m back to hapless Brit: “Goodness this is fun, it reminds me of being home in London, here if you put your elbow in my navel then I can fit the back of your head under my left knee, and if it stops suddenly just grab my beard.”
Once on the train we get to the thick of it super quickly. It’s not so much of a march by the time we’re there. More of a stand. We end up stationary at First and Broadway. Coincidentally there’s a stage right by the spot where we grind to a halt. We’ve hit the centre by mistake. A man called Charlie BeReal comes up on stage with a guitar and plays the star spangled banner. The word in the crowd is that he is one of the roadies and he built the stage. He’s just grandstanding to the biggest crowd he’s ever had. That would make sense considering he is followed by a steward making crowd control announcements too quietly, fruitlessly asking the marchers to keep moving. The crowd is not movable though. We have nowhere to move to. We have people coming towards us from 4 directions. We stay put. Chants bubble up and fade. I’m slipping in and out of American accent. Everyone is smiling. There is not a sniff of bad energy here, no impatience, no fractiousness. Lisa Marie says “That’s because it’s a women’s march,” which is a fair point. A number of speakers and activists hit the stage, as well as the mayor. There are a lot of people, and more coming all the time. It’s like being part of some huge friendly slightly geeky beast. Some of the placards are ridiculous. Lots of trumpvaginas. Lots of cultural references : “We’d prefer Joffrey” , Dumbledore quotes. A 12 year old has “I don’t want a cheeto for a president.” (Cheetos look like Wotsits.) It’s a creative, friendly, sparky, fun warm protest. And statistically there were 750,000 people in downtown LA for it.


That’s huge for such a friendly atmosphere. It felt like the Notting Hill Carnival with less beer, weed, music and stabbing. Actually, no it felt nothing like Notting Hill in the slightest. It was just lots of people. And no fighting. The poster in front of me read “Please put women in charge” and based on that protest, I’m in. If the symbol of “la republique”, the triumph of the republic, is a strong green woman that fairly welcomes the dispossessed and calls for reason and liberty, I’ll take that any day over this cruel, inward-looking, vain, entitled blustering hypocrite. With his small gropey hands and his orange sweaty face.

Augurs and Antipodeans

Day 6 and the skies open. Sheets of hard rain batter the little hostel in Venice, shorting the fuse and killing the wifi. All the people in the hostel that were sitting around the table watching the news on laptops stand up blinking, unsure of who they are, and in hushed tones talk of leaving the building. But it’s raining. When it rained hard, one of my parents – I forget which sadly – would say “The Angels are Weeping.” It happens all the time in stories, when terrible things take place there’s a storm. I keep following the inauguration on my US phone and examine that unfamiliar word. In-augur-ation. An augur is an omen. “A putting-in under omens.” Trump is being put in. And it’s pouring with rain in California… At noon I check out the window for a flock of bats.
Today I’ve started to use an American accent when talking to strangers, so now there’s no more of the hapless Brit card to be played. My first conversation at the coffee stall goes acceptably even if I probably sound like Welsh Mexican. We talk about Revelations in light of the apocalyptic weather. I’m getting away with it right up to the end when having stirred my latte I ask “Have you got a bin to put the rubbish in?” “Whut?” “Oh … gosh … I mean Is there a trash can?”. Damn.
Shortly after the inauguration speech I get a message on Facebook. “Are you still looking for a room?” Boom. I say yes before I even look to see which of the million messages I sent bore fruit. It’s an antipodean couple, one Aussie and one Kiwi. I go to meet them in Larchmont a long way from Venice, 20 bucks in an uber. Screw that. Today is the day when I finally have to accept that I am going to need a car here. I really am. An hour and a half on the bus to meet them and their dogs. They are lovely. We get on really well. I’m moving in immediately. An hour and a half back to get my stuff. An hour and a half with my stuff back to their place. 4.5 hours on buses. I almost read a whole book. But now I have a big room with a door in it. I have a bed that is mine for 2 months. The room stinks of dog but I’ve been looking for an excuse to get an essential oil diffuser and I saw one for 15 bucks in TJ Maxx. And both Laural and Mark seem lovely. And the dogs!
They have three rescue dogs, Marley, Janey and Roger. Marley is my friend immediately. He has seen things. He was a bait dog in dog fights, and was left for dead in an alley. He’s covered in lesions and scars. He’s a survivor, and has the calm of one. Janey is alert but friendly, and only Roger is wary but I know it won’t take him long. In fact he just jumped up on the bed next to me, and is sitting on my leather jacket. Perfect photo opportunity. Laural gave me the beard kit in the photo, as she had forgotten to cancel a subscription when Mark had to shave for an audition. Ahh yes. Auditions. That’s part of why I’m here. And now I have a doggy launch pad…


I have the weekend to get my freshly edited reel on Vimeo, shots are in place, Monday is my first official day in Los Angeles.

Headshots and mirrors

Day 4 and I’m beginning to miss the easy friendships I left behind. The golden people where you can simultaneously love, mock, comfort and challenge one another. Now I am surrounded by strangers and have not carved out those furrows. There ARE old friends but the weight of years apart pulls heavy. Today was admin. Photos. I dislike looking at myself in a mirror so it’s been incredibly valuable to crowdsource opinion on my headshots. Thanks anyone who helped with that. I’ve been thinking about that tendency in me not to like to look at myself, in the context of what I am doing and where I am. What the hell am I doing drinking in LA at 27? Well, I’m neither drinking nor 27 fuckit. But I’m here. I always used to say “I’m the opposite of LA.” “Oh I’m not the type of person who goes out there.” I’ve said that many times. I suddenly wondered why. And I realised that, as much as anything else, it’s been informed by my love of words. I’m the opposite of LA. Simply because I’m AL. Yep, that’s the sort of shit I do to myself. So I had to come out here. To look at myself. To see if there is anything in LA for AL.

 

Everything here costs money. It’s not very forgiving. There’s a hierarchy of deserving based on ability to pay. It drives one to want to make more money. It drives ambition. The undercurrent is “there’s a huge amount of money here. If you can’t afford it, get some of it, climb the ladder, play the game, that’s what we do. Dance bear dance.” And yet somehow it feels like people are dancing for themselves in the mirror, not for the sultan. And perhaps I need to dance in the mirror for a bit. I need to be able to look hard at myself to properly take ownership of what I am trying to achieve professionally, which is career longevity and continuous challenge. And people do that here.
I fit right in to this place spiritually, in that it is as confused as I am. What am I? A practising christianobuddhist greek pantheist. Utterly pretentious, doubly confused. It probably make my tinder profile here go bananas if I put it. There’s a hindobuddhist palmreading tarotovoodaic psychic ayurvedic astrologicoptic herbalist medium on every street corner peddling massively conflicting ideas for 10 bucks. “Do three hail shivas every morning while banging a gong with a chicken leg and chewing fennel.”
This morning 20 women of all ages with bright floral lycra went through asana to the soundtrack of one grunting man at the back wearing sheer Bikram pants and feeling like he’d somehow teleported into one of those seventies movies his mother used to watch. He hasn’t found his groove yet, nor his people, nor his area. But he’s trying to remember who he is through the prism of getting up every morning and saying yes to everything.
I’m glad I’m here, and equally glad that I am not enmeshed in the game of here. I want to play it a bit. I do want to go into a studio and have a couple of meetings and see that side of it. But I haven’t buried my expectation in it, which makes me feel like I have perspective. Today has been admin so no walking. Normal service will probably resume tomorrow.

This beautiful shot was taken by David Drew.

Day 3 – How to cross town for cheap…

Day 3 and I’m in West Hollywood. There’s a little island of expat Brits who have a regular breakfast subsidised by Air New Zealand. They all meet on Tuesday morning to have bacon and eggs, tiny little pots of baked beans, bottomless tea, and chats about the British things that British people chat about. Traffic, weather, admin, accommodation, family. It’s a big group and has been running for years. I flew Air New Zealand so perhaps the subsidy will offset the flight a little. Getting there involves two buses through rush hour. I’m worried about the expense of an uber. As it happens I travel entirely free. On the first bus I artlessly produce my wodge of twenty dollar bills and ask if there’s change. The driver laughs at me in the way of people who can operate the machine. “I’ve been using it for ages, I know there’s no change, he should know what I know.”

A friendly passenger pities my haplessness and gives me $1.75. She advises that I go to a laundromat and get a load of quarters. I thank her profusely, and walk embarrassed past grinning strangers. 20 stops later I have to get on a connecting bus and there are no laundromats in sight, so still no change. Feeling slightly ashamed of myself I duplicate my behaviour and sure enough it yields the same result. Taking my seat in another grinning bus it occurs to me that I could probably travel for free all month if I could keep the act fresh. Until I get a repeat customer and then I get shot. Best go to the laundromat. But the genial lost Englishman thing evidently has traction.
Breakfast involves a lot of talking and people trying to establish if I’m important. I hate to disappoint so I remain elusive high status and leave abruptly. They ask me to get involved in something called The Toscars, which could be amusing and fits my timing. The details are hazy. I walk lots of hot streets and settle in a coffee shop full of sunglasses and sandals. It’s springtime in Hoxton! It’s ALWAYS springtime in Hoxton here, kids. I organise to meet an old friend. He comes round in his car. For the first time in a while I have a conversation that is not informed by subtext. “This place is weird, it has no centre.” I venture. “That’s because YOU are the centre. It wouldn’t work if there was an actual centre. Wherever YOU are, that’s the centre, for everyone here.” We talk about Trump. “Do you think there’ll be a protest here on inauguration?” “This is Hollywood. There’s no politics.” We cover a lot of ground in a short space of time and he buys me a steak and blue cheese sandwich which almost makes me cry. “The medium food here is the best in the world.” It’s also 16 bucks. Last night I saw a basic loaf of sourdough in a supermarket for 7.50. I’m going to be eating a lot of sardines. My friend drops me back at the coffee shop in time to catch the falling sun. It drops early. I sit listening to people offer to send each other their resumé, meet with someone else and give them mine, and get an uber pool all the way home for $2.50. No idea how that happened. Travel money makes no sense here. There’s a lot that makes no sense. But at least I get the sunset from the uber.

Day 2 – Checking my privilege in a beautiful place

Dawn day 2 in the crazy house this morning saw me stripping my bed to the soundtrack of roosters and a little yapdog outside the window that seemed endlessly concerned by my presence and desperate to warn everyone. I loved the guys there though. It’s a huge family originally from Mexico – 8 brothers and sisters and their sick mother, with all their partners, pets and habits. They were all working multiple jobs and renting out their space, crashing early in the evening and getting up before dawn, which fitted my jet lag well. And they had made a beautiful house, and were generous. They positively forced me to eat all the bagels I could manage, with endless cream cheese, and if I ever ran into them they were eager to chat. But the area was a bit weird and I went for a walk last night and it did feel pretty stark and deserted. So I went with my instinct and moved to Venice, to a hostel.

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Venice is very different. They seem to have canals that are entirely pretentious and serve no purpose except to live on. There are still small dogs, but carried in baskets or halfheartedly walked by stick thin twentysomethings with sunglasses and platforms. There’s yoga on every block and you’re more likely to find Matcha than coffee. I’ve been walking around thinking of the guys in that church. I move area just by hitting a few buttons on my iPad. They are scared they’ll lose their house in the area I moved from. While I’m in a coffee shop looking at pictures of myself their kids are shooting one another.

I walked up the side of a river in Glendale yesterday and it was like a shanty town for the dispossessed, some of whom had brought all their possessions to live for a while between a freeway and a trickling urban river. Some of them had brought skis, fire grates, cases and cases of possessions, beautiful curtains for shelters. Others had shopping trolleys packed with all familiar household objects. Some were cooking jambalaya with good implements on open fires. Others were smoking pot in filthy tents. One lady was fishing, many people were washing things in the river. I guess they aren’t moved along and the area is just used as a cycle track. Certainly I was the only man walking that didn’t live there. I wondered about all their stories, how they had ended up there, how they found their happiness, what might happen to them. Here’s me with my flat in Chelsea and my job making stories, and these people might have once had much more, and now you can walk past them and almost not see them unless you look.

After checking my privilege I went to meet a lovely man called Ryan to talk about movies and ambition on a roof garden while his miniature husky inspected us and we sipped espresso. Then I walked to muscle beach to see hulking brutes pose for photos, and did some yoga. Soon I’ll go back to my comfortable bed in a room full of bunks. The weather today has been gorgeous, like springtime in London. I’m very very lucky to be here, and to be able to share this with you.