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.
Day 5. In Santa Monica there is a mock Tudor building on the corner of a street that sells Heinz Tomato Soup for 4 bucks. You can get a bottle of Fairy for 7 or even a Yorkie Bar for too much. It looks like most of the shops in Stratford upon Avon in that it’s trying to look Tudor but isn’t, and it’s called “ye olde” something. In this case “Kings Head Shoppe“. It’s rather lovely to behold. I walk in and it seems to be doing a roaring trade. Santa Monica is where all the expat Brits tend to settle and I can see why. It’s got everything. It calls itself The City of Santa Monica and it sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. If you walk to the end of the pier you find a sign marking the end of Route 66. 2448 miles from Chicago, the road out west. You’ve made it pilgrim. This is the end of the road. Sit yourself down and have yourself a Jammie Dodger. That’ll be 4 dollars.
The town itself has a huge centre full of shops. There are pedestrianised boulevards, coffee shops, the first bookshop I’ve seen since I arrived, and chain stores. It’s like Milton Keynes with vomiting stegosaurus fountains instead of concrete cows. So I go shopping. There are no yoga mats for less than 50 bucks anywhere in Venice, but of course one for 10 in T (J?!) Maxx which I snag as I’ve taken to doing yoga every morning. When in Rome. Then I book myself a ticket for the matinee of Lalaland at 3.45. I call it research. And maybe it will cheer me up with the inauguration looming. Armed with ticket and mat I wander towards the ocean to prevent a shopping spree. The sun is blazing after a night full of rain, and I want to put my hand in the water. But I get distracted. There’s a bloody great big promenade with a funfair on it where Route 66 ends. Ferris wheels, roller coasters, fortune tellers, games. I burn 2 dollars in a ball shooting machine and get 500 tickets which nets me a vile fluffy pink tiger eating someone’s heart. Clutching it by the neck as a toddler would I become fascinated by the Pacific. I love the sea. Even in London I live by water. But this ocean… I can’t even contemplate the distances. I watch a man fishing at the end of the pier. He keeps pulling them in and chucking them back. Too small. But there are plenty of fish in this sea. My thoughts sink into it. I get out my phone and track ahead on the map. Page after page of scroll and then you barely miss New Zealand. I imagine striking out into it in a canoe. Vast.
Pulling myself away I go and immerse myself in Lalaland. I can tell you now after 5 days, it’s hard hitting documentary realism. Once again I’m lost in fantastic reverie. Here’s to the ones who dream. By the time I leave the cinema I’ve cried so much my beard is soaking wet. I was going to walk home, but I’m a wreck, and uber pool is 2.99. Trump gets in tomorrow. The cold is blowing in across the desert and tomorrow it will rain. My uber driver says “I honestly keep hoping I’m about to wake up from a terrible dream.” Ugh. Back to reality. What I wouldn’t pay for a comforting can of Heinz tomato soup.
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.
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.
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.
Day 1 and I am up before dawn. The Airbnb is lovely but full of sleeping strangers and considering I rolled in late last night and went straight to bed I’m aware they might be a little uncomfortable with me wandering around switching all the lights on. The patio is full of horny cats rolling around in the predawn, and as I close the door behind me and incompetently jiggle my keys in a terrible attempt to lock the door, the neighbours’ rooster wakes, guilty, and starts crowing. I stand to admire the palm trees and traces of red in the sky, and then open the big security gate that leads to the street. The cats make a break for it but I block them with my feet. I don’t know the rules here. As I close it behind me another man exits the house, precipitated by my incompetent attempts to lock his door. He introduces himself as Artur, and comes through the gate also blocking the cats. With all these cats it’s a miracle there’s a rooster. I tell Artur I don’t have a car but I’m going for a walk. He asks me if I’m mad. I tell him I hope not, and he offers me a lift. “Don’t walk around here.” He is going into work in his uber. He drives me to a starbucks on Jefferson and tells me it’s safer round here. He then gives me his number and insists that I call him if I am in danger. He repeatedly tells me to trust nobody. I trust him. It’s still dark, but Starbucks is open so I buy him a coffee and one for myself. I order myself a flat white as they have one on the menu, which is progress from the last time I was here. It’s a latte, but at least they’re trying. Artur makes sure I know that the emergency number is 911, and clarifies that he is best friends with all the local police because his family sorts out their life insurance. The last guy I met called Artur gave me a lift from France to London and left me standing by his van at Calais with a massive wrench in case “someone tries to sneak under the van”. Is there genuine danger, or are people called Artur lovely yet paranoid? Either way he leaves me on the street clutching a flat latte and feeling I might need to look over my shoulder. I shrug it off and go for a walk as the dawn cracks around me. Big shops, big stone churches, lots and lots and lots of cars, big trees, things built for show. I think I’m going to need to rent a car. Uber will break me and the buses are pretty bad here. I find a metro station. Artur has told me that nobody knows how to use the metro. An opportunity to be a pioneer? Sadly it doesn’t go in the direction I need to go, which is back to the cats, through this dangerzone of Artur’s. So I walk, following Google Maps, and there is nobody else walking. I walk through discarded clothes and ripped off bags, auto parts lying neglected on pavements, human turds, shopping trolleys. After an hour I come upon a small building with stained glass. Outside it sits a gigantic man with a gun. People are going in. On impulse, I go in too. To St. Matthew’s Evangelical Baptist Church. I stand at the back but it is obvious that I am new. I’m the only white face, and they worship together daily. I am gently asked to introduce myself. They make me feel welcome and the pastor preaches a gospel of hope and transformation. His context is that of children dead or in prison, and the shackles of deep poverty. I find the message very pertinent, full of hope, and a call to arms. “Too many of us mistake our stopping place for our staying place.” After the service, he runs to catch me in the street as I walk away. He thanks me, and warns me “This is a bad area. You should be careful here.” I walk back to the digs and open the fence. This time the cats don’t seem so keen to go out onto the street. Or is that my imagination?