Batman.

21 days in and I have multiple friends descend on this town simultaneously. I’ve got a car so naturally I slip into the mode of Barclay the chauffeur despite pokey insurance coverage. This involves waiting around the airport lots, driving round in circles lots, and not drinking. The not drinking bit should be easy since I’ve been doing that for the whole time I’ve been in LA. But these friends have little truck with such behaviour, as I am to find out. 

First of all we are wholesome. Robyn is a Buddhist and there’s a lot of Buddhism to be found in Los Angeles. We go to both of the centres in Santa Monica. She wants to buy something and the first one doesn’t have it. When we get to the second we go in and chant for a good while. Good to get something spiritual done, knowing what’s going to happen later. I drop off Robyn and head across town to the W Hotel. I’m going to the Lego Batman premier party.

 

Of course it is round a pool. Of course it involves a free bar and nibbles. I’ve taken the precaution of driving myself there so I know I have to drive myself back, which means I won’t rinse the free bar. It’s nice to go and get lost in a great industry party in LA. Nobody jumps in the pool which surprises me. In fact everyone is really lovely. I have a good conversation with Rosario Dawson with no idea who she is. I then have a better conversation with her uncle, who is a dude, lived in Basildon for a while, and loves making theatre. I know a bit about being a cool uncle. Natch. After a while I feel the lack of business cards. I never want to be that guy, but a couple of people ask. And I tend to do my business by meeting people so I think they might be a handy investment. Especially since the longer I spend out here the more I think I would like to try to come out here for three years on an 01 VISA and just change it up. It helps that I’ve spent much of the day with friends as it reminds me that travel is possible and that moving here won’t mean saying goodbye to them forever as if I was going to Mars for Elon Musk. Perhaps if I find a way to subvert the wankiness of the card, built into the design of the card…

 

I need an agent in the UK who also has a branch over here, or at the very least some contacts, so I can make this visa thing real and have stuff to go to once it’s sorted. Top priority. I will try to reverse engineer someone from here, but my friends are in London. If anyone has a mate who is an actor’s agent in London, even the bottom of the pile at a place with transatlantic connections, link me in with them on email or talk to them or something and I’ll send them my stuff. By Pm. It’s time time and past past time for a change.

  

At the party everyone stands around a pool talking to friendly arty strangers. It’s a good way to spend a day. And since Cara had had plenty of wine it’s easy  to persuade her to have her photo taken with me and the poor people in batman related flumpsuits. I know all too well what it’s like inside those bloody things having done Pudsey the Bear once and almost spewed in the helmet while children were hugging me. Even if you’re dying you still have a smile on your face. That’s probably a metaphor for how I’ve lived my life for the last 14 years. But I was boiled, sweating, crying and suffocating. And people were shouting PUDSEY and bundling on me with all their weight and warmth.


I have now just dropped my car at home and I’m getting an uber back to Sunset Boulevard. I’m never going to catch up to Cara but I can allow a couple of drinks since it’s Saturday night, and my other UK friend is also at a party, also on Sunset Boulevard, 2 blocks down. Since I spent the morning attempting to make my energy resonate with the universe in a Buddhist centre, a coincidence like that is not one I’m willing to overlook. So yeah, the universe wants me to to have this drink, okay. And who am I to fight the will of the universe. Glug glug glug.

Fuel

20 days out here and finally I’m mobile. I have a car. You need a car in this city. I have it for the weekend only. Can’t afford more than that as they skin you alive for insurance if you don’t have a good credit card. But it’s a start.  

I want to see something green, and walk and think. I find a big park. It looks very green on the map but I’m suspicious. Not the most alluring name: Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. The drive is a little scary as I have paid for super basic insurance which means the only thing covered is the person I hit. And it’s raining. Everyone in town will be in a museum or working. It’s SuperBowl weekend. If I have a crash the other guy is probably drunk so he’ll be liable…

 

Back in the day, there was a lot of oil in this area. I’ve been told that the city was built around the oil industry as much as film, and that the terrible public transport is a byproduct. One guy told me darkly “They bought the trams, the trains, all that. The oil men bought them and shut them down. Force people to drive. Now they’re trying to build trains but it’s too late. You gotta have a car.” Such a strange thing to have shaped an area, the drilling of black gold. Made out of dormant plant and animal matter coagulating over hundreds of million years. Who would have thought that this potent sludge could have shaped not only the geography of the world we live in, but also the geopolitics. A byproduct of great extinctions past, driving a probable great extinction yet to come. What does 150 million years even mean? Like the infinity of space, it’s too big for our monkey brains. We can try. We should try. But we’ll probably only scratch at the edges, so our instinct is to avoid thinking about it.

 

One of the first things I stumble upon in the park is a dinosaur. Slow, vast, deliberate, contemplative, it drops its head to the earth, up again, down again, up again. There’s loads of them. I feel like the kids in Jurassic Park confronted with the diplodocus. “Wow!” This is a relic on my time scale. A modern dinosaur. A working oil derric. A herd of them.


The park is a reclaimed oil field, but parts of it are still active. So you walk alongside a sculpted ornamental river stocked with fish, active with ducks, thriving, and through the trees, in drab mud, dozens of huge rusted metal monsters dip and suck, dip and suck relentlessly pulling the history out of the ground to be burnt in engines. Like the one in the car I’m so pleased to have. Surely this field will run out soon. Maybe it’s already run out and they’re only for show? 

 

The park is named for Kenneth Hahn, the councillor who determined that the land stripped of oil should be repurposed as a park. I walk around an exhibition celebrating him, and sadly listen to a recording of Martin Luther King quoting and dissecting The Bill of Rights.

 

I leave the park. I don’t like it. Even in the prettiest places you can see those things behind the trees and they both fascinate and unnerve me. And there’s no nature here, just poured concrete paths and picnic tables. Nature in a box.

 

I drive a short way to Culver City, and walk up and down a long flight of stairs a few times. The stairs are uneven, and seem to have been haphazardly jammed into the side of a hill, scrubland either side. This helps bring me back to earth.


 It seems to be the thing to do here at Baldwin Hills. People at all stages of fitness are using them as a free gym, even on a crappy rainy day like this. And they’re talking and laughing and out in the cold improving themselves just because. The stairs feel happy, and the derrics feel oppressive. Do things take on the character of their use?

  

I stop at the top as the sun goes down. Nobody else has stopped. I watch the foggy skyline and smile. A scab has been pulled off today.  The past can be burnt as fuel.

Hockney and cats

Day 19 and after a morning’s work I’m restless. I’ve been sitting editing with the dogs in the garden but it’s cold. So I go to a nearby David Hockney retrospective. Hockney is 79. He is from Yorkshire, near Bradford, and has spent many years painting and working in Los Angeles. He’s a legend. He has recently released a new book, Sumo, a journey through the bulk of his art, retailing at $2500. Taschen, the publisher, has some copies on display not far from where I am. And the man is in the news tomorrow so it seems like the perfect time to celebrate his works.


I spend some time absorbing his life’s work. At one point he said he paints because he knows that the world is deeper and richer than the one we can capture in a photograph. His paintings are often wonderfully celebratory, and sometimes deeply human. He is playful. And he works hard. Properly hard. Twelve hours a day. I feel guilty taking time off to see them on a weekday. But it’s galvanising stuff. Wild bright colours, the colours that things really are before our eyes before our expectations mute them. Bodies with heft and movement. I’m captivated. And he’s a cheeky bugger. He’s accepted a commission to paint the masthead for The Sun tomorrow. He’s done a spectacularly naive job, and released this as a public statement : ” I was delighted to be asked. Once I thought about the idea it didn’t take me long. The sun and The Sun. I love it.” If anybody thinks that that is anything other than a brilliant troll of the naïveté peddled by that paper, they’re barking up the wrong tree. Good on Hockney. Take the money and spend it on good things and good people. I love it.
As I leave the exhibition I get a video sent to me by a friend. It’s advertising a place called “Crumbs and Whiskers” which is a café come cat sanctuary, where you can get a latte and sit in a fluffy room full of cats. It’s only twenty minutes away on google maps, and my friend is sad so the least I can do is go and spend some time there. She can’t. It’s essentially a convivial version of Battersea Dogs Home filled with overexcited single people running around grinning like idiots. I join them. It’s a great idea.


All the cats are from sanctuary and all are up for adoption. They have a tally on one wall of how many cats they’ve found homes for. Considering cat sanctuaries are often free but you donate, this is actually pretty expensive. You have to pay a minimum of 9 bucks to get in, and coffee is also more expensive than anywhere else. Essentially they are using customer cash to help rescue animals live with a much higher degree of comfort than they would in a sanctuary, and simultaneously raising their chances of adoption. It’s the sort of business model that should take off, both over here and in London.
I play with the idea of setting up a Dog cafe in Hackney, before coming back down to earth and realising that I’ve got a lot of catching up to do with Hockney regarding hours put in to my acting career. On the way home I fantasise about having a Hockney picture. And a cat. And a dog. In my big house in Larchmont that I’ve paid for with a working career.

Speakeasy

Day 18 and after far too long editing cutting and chopping my script, (it ain’t over when you submit) I’m in need of some fun. Thankfully Debbie from the Griffith Park day has invited me to a soirée. It’s at a place called “No Vacancy”. Starts at eight. The way that my body clock is wired that’s already pretty late for me. I was up and out for 7.30 this morning. So I get there on time. It’s in a parking lot, with a neon “No Vacancy” sign. Looks like a dive, and it isn’t open when I arrive at 8. There are three lads sitting outside talking about the Superbowl, and an oily guy in a suit industriously moving around some velvet barriers in order to appear busy. When I ask him if I’m in the right place, he indicates his walkie talkie. “My girls ain’t ready yet. You just gotta wait.” I wait. The lads are being very laddish. I don’t sit with them, I walk around the parking lot. It’s not hot tonight but it’s manageable.

 

At quarter past eight he says “ok lads. You can go in. Welcome to the oldest bawdy house in California.” I follow the lads up the stairs to a corridor full of doors. They all go in one door, and I almost follow them before noticing that it leads to a small room with a woman sitting on a bed. For I moment I back off. “Er… I think I might have…” I trail off. “No, it’s alright.” She says. “Yeah this is right,” says one of the dudes. His energy is not that of someone about to pay for group sex. And her energy is a performers energy. Having been a little slow, and genuinely worried, I wise up. I shut us in the room. The five of us together. “Welcome. I am the madam.” *eek* “The rules are, no flash photography.” *phew* And then THE BED OPENS AND THERE IS A STAIRCASE. This is awesome. I go down. Not like that.

 

It’s a bar, dressed up like an old prohibition era whore house. Lots of open fires, loud music, expensive drinks. I know I’m not drinking but I think this might call for a whisky. My friends aren’t here yet so I take a shot of bourbon and sit by the fire. Somewhat perplexingly the first place I sit smells of… well… could it be a Bradford pear? Or is that just my overactive imagination? My friends haven’t arrived yet so I move  back to the bar, nurse my bourbon and write this.

 

I like the fact that the look and feel of basic currency hasn’t changed in this country for as long as I’ve been alive. British currency has changed frequently, enough that it would be totally unrecognisable in its current form to someone from the ’70s. Here I’ve got my roll of dollar bills, and if the music wasn’t a bit shit I’d be able to believe I had traveled back in time.

 

And then suddenly everyone in LA film descends on me, and I’m having animated and fun conversations with interesting diverse people. A room full of producers, all of them lovely, and it helps that one of my best mates is a producer as I know the dynamic. Inevitably some of us end up in a photo booth. 


One guy, the only other actor, says “how the hell did you end up at this party after only two weeks?” I say I have no idea, because I don’t. Although probably because I’m just here to have fun.

 

But there’s a crash coming. I’ve slept very little in the last few days, and drunk nothing in weeks. That bourbon was all very well, but I’m at a point where it’s either drink five more or get an uber. I choose the latter. I say farewell to this remarkable bar, the last surviving Victorian townhouse in Hollywood. I get home, have a shower and then have to coax the sleeping dog from my coat. She always sleeps on my coat. But then she farts. Let sleeping dogs lie my ass. Out you go, Janey.

Writing about writing

Day 17 and my friend and business partner rings me up from Indiana. He’s out there doing Shakespeare with Actors From The London Stage. They’re a beautiful creative actor led company that has been touring for 50 years. The two of us did Much Ado with them two years ago and it’s a very happy memory. When he rings I’m in full Hemingway, sitting writing in the garden with my shirt off, surrounded by dogs, eating an orange just plucked from the tree. 


I can hear the cold in his voice. He’s popped out of rehearsal to touch base about some of the work we’re making. It’s good to hear from him but crazy to think that we’re in the same country and he’s freezing. But then this country is vast. And Trump is president of all of it. We talk for a while. It’s good to talk to a friend. Eventually he has to go – his hands are getting cold. I contemplatively munch my orange and get back to writing. It’s great to know that there are plans afoot already, and when this excursion comes to an end I’ll have things I can get stuck into in springtime London. 

As I write to you I’m extremely relieved. Today is a red letter day. I managed to submit, on time, my first draft of my first ever screenplay. It’s for the spoof Oscar night I’m doing, and it’s a parody of Denzel Washington’s Fences. The films were chosen randomly out of all the Best Picture nominees. I used FadeIn to do the formatting. It’s free, which is great, although it forces you to use Dropbox to export. I had a choice with the script between playing it safe and getting in something I knew would pass muster but wouldn’t amuse me, or playing it fast and loose and putting some of my humour into it, while taking some risks with tone. I chose fast and loose, of course, and sent it off with my heart in my mouth thinking “they’ll hate it they’ll hate it.” It was written in 2 days with very little time to review, consider or plan, so it’s never going to be Citizen Kane. To be honest I had no perspective left on it. I just had to finish it and send it. As soon as it was submitted I switched off everything and went to yoga, and when I came out I didn’t have lots of hate mail. Namaste. I think I’m going to be using a lot of that software going forward.

 

The only other thing of note I did today was record a pop video on my smartphone… One of my old friends is releasing a video for Valentine’s Day and wanted to have a mishmash of all her single friends lip syncing along to her voice. Obviously I’m game, but Mark was in cooking dinner which meant I couldn’t sing along in falsetto like I wanted. So it’s me, mouthing along with my huge fluffy beard, and her high pitched gospel soaring out of the speaker. Once it’s edited I’ll work out if I can post it on here.

 

The last two days have mostly involved me writing, which doesn’t make for good blog action. I’ll do my best to get myself into some scrapes tomorrow.

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.