“So yeah, I wear them for like a day or so and then take them off, and put them straight in a ziplock bag.” He says. “For an extra forty bucks I jizz on them.”
I’m drinking wine in someone’s flat. On the shelves are rolls of twenty dollar bills, piles of euros, stacks of change. He is a good looking guy. He’s an Olympian. He’s six foot one. Right now he’s going through a tricky patch. When I express skepticism he goes into his room and emerges with a ziplock bag with pants in it.
“Here, you see. That’s $120 bucks right there in that bag. I leave them in the sun to cook. I like to add value. I could open it if you like.” “NO.”
People in this town find all sorts of ways to make money. It helps me realise how anything can be a commodity if you sell it right. I’m not sure if I’m impressed or horrified. I have more wine, and notice that there are little capsules scattered liberally around the flat with white powder in them. On every surface. “Dude, is that coke?” “Yeah, I like to keep it in sight. It cheers me up.”
This sort of interaction is more commonplace in this town than you might imagine. Perhaps it’s the circles I travel in. I do prefer the company of relatively extreme personalities. And this same guy rents his sofa on Airbnb successfully, all the time, in his crazy boho flat. It’s something to think about. I wouldn’t do the pants thing, rest assured. But the sofa thing? As soon as I get back to London.
This has been such a California day. We went to the beach again, this time with no fog. And almost immediately got both sunburn and sunstroke because there is just no ozone here. In order to try and solve it I went to Fatburger. By the time evening came around I wanted to do something English. Perfect opportunity arose as there are some old drama school people here in town bringing their Rock n Roll Twelfth Night celebration joy joy joy show to the Wallis Annenberg Theatre in Beverley Hills. Filter. TwelfthnNight. I’ve managed to go 11 years and numerous friends without seeing it. Now is my chance. I sit with a huge pile of geriatric millionaires who have come to approve of lovely traditional English Shakespeare. It’s bloody great but it ain’t traditional. It’s a party on a stage. I even get a free slice of pizza. The show has been going for eleven years and it’s the first time I’ve seen it. It’s exactly the sort of thing I like to make, a theatre party where the story is told and the audience is involved. But this audience is a tricky one. One of the actors strips down to his pants and a whole row walks out simultaneously. I’m loving it, but I am friends with the sort of people that sell jizzy pants on the internet.
I’m writing this in the bar after the show as I am late but driving people in exchange for a beer. One of my guys is smoking so I am dashing this out super speed. I’ve hit 500 words so it’s back to the party and I hate to sell you short but this is stream of consciousness and I’m not editing. If anyone wants some Olympic jizzy pants, I now know a guy…
Don’t all shout at once.
(Edit: I did have to edit as Facebook was forcing an update so didn’t post the link properly. Here is a photo of the fluffy pink tiger I won on Santa Monica Pier in my first week. My constant companion.
Day 60, and midnight finds me rushing out of a bar in West Hollywood, before my car turns into a very expensive pumpkin. I had parked in a vast silent monstrous robot. You drive your car into its mouth, and then you push a button. A system of rolling slick belts and velvety pumps, tongues and teeth lift your vehicle into a cavernous stomach. It sits coldly packed in unimaginable darkness besides all the other cars that have been ingested. When you return you tickle a steel aesophagus with five dollars and it spews the car back facing the other way. But after midnight the fee doubles. And I am down to my last 25 dollars. So I am forced to wrench myself away from the cabaret. Damn shame.
Lyndon and I have been to Hamburger Mary’s. I am friends with Dolly Levi, and this is where she works every Tuesday. It’s a burger bar. When we were in the Korean Clay Room at the free spa yesterday we mentioned that this was where we were going. The girl in the room with us immediately defrosted into an easy silly fun conversation. Now I know why that information helped her relax in our semi naked presence. It’s a beautifully gay burger bar. Lyndon and I make a lovely couple. I’m the bear.
On Tuesday nights, Hamburger Mary’s does drag cabaret. The stage is tiny, but the tables around it are loaded with same sex couples out for a fun night. And they’ve come to the right place. After a very skilled and competent host warms us up gloriously, Dolly is the first act. The presenter has got a lot of mileage out of telling us she is 59 years old. Age is just a number. She is fabulous. It’s a point perfect dance routine, set to Let It Go. Dolly transforms mid song, with an almost impossible quick change. Her lip syncing is bang on. We are in the presence of a Disney princess, in the flesh. It is the only possible solution. As we scrape our jaws off the floor she is effortlessly busting out standing splits against the pole, she is spinning on point, her dress is whirling easily around her. Dolly Levi is the hottest lady in Hollywood. And the crowd goes wild.
These ladies work for tips, and Dolly knows her crowd as well as she knows her set. There are hands all around us thrusting bills at her. People actively want her to take their money. The music is still playing. She gathers the cash efficiently – gracefully – never missing a beat of her lip sync. She really is singing it to us, it seems. It’s wonderful, artful and honestly entertaining. I’ve never seen Frozen and now I don’t have to. She caps off her set dancing with a huge fan of our dollars. Our cash has become part of her pizzazz.
After Dolly, the rest are good, but having only ever met Dolly as a man I’ve been blown away by her mastery. We are lucky in that we are able to catch both halves of her set before we have to rush for the car. The second half is as fabulous as the first. This is likely to be my last night out in Hollywood, but what a way to have ended it. Drag done properly is a beautiful thing. And I was glad that there was one act out of the six performing as a man. He came on first as a leprechaun with a pot of gold and then as rapping Albert Einstein. It’s such a shame that they closed Madame JoJo’s in Soho. It was such a great memorable fun evening. Anyone passing through Hollywood should pop in to Hamburger Mary’s on a Tuesday and check out Dolly Levi and co.
Day 59 and it’s about time I go to something fitness-fad related – I’m in the city for it. So in the morning I go off to Barry’s Boot Camp. Lyndon has got me a VIP pass. Which is just their way of saying “free class”. Everyone’s a VIP at Barry’s!
The class takes place in a dark room with an orange glow – a clear nod to the agonising fires of hell. My class is run by Eric, who is definitely straight. First we run on treadmills to pumping music, with nothing to look at but our own eyes in the mirror and the flickering orange glow of the terrible fires behind us. Eric spouts instructions and numbers through a radio mic. He knows my name. There is no escape. No Exit. I run. I run and run but I am going nowhere, just running into my own face, running into my own eyes. Sometimes I push buttons and make it harder. I am doing this to myself, I discover. In this inferno, I am the instrument of my own torment. Eric is just the facilitator.
Eventually we move. Now we are squatting with weights. Our ankles are manacled. We put the manacles on ourselves. We are rolling around in the orange fire. Eric is telling us we should squat like the girls at Spearmint Rhino. “Oh ha whoops, I shouldn’t mention that. Now you all know too much about what I like.” Eric definitely likes the girls at Spearmint rhino. He is definitely straight. We are bent now, contorting our bodies into more and more unimaginable positions, before it is back to the treadmill and harder and faster and more more and then back to the floor and howling, howling, and Eric is still barking instructions and telling us his hetero manbro stories because he is not gay, those are just dreams.
At one point I think my heart is going to explode out of my chest like the thing from Alien. But finally it’s over and we sluggishly high five one another at Eric’s behest before lying on our backs to stretch out. And he puts on Fix You. And then he starts making a motivational lecture that is unutterably, mawkishly earnest. To his captive audience. “Sometimes you might … find out your friends are not your friends, and you need to just … just tell them to fuck off… and that’s ok… that’s ok…” All the while leading to the bit where the guitar drops. I’m so pumped with endorphins I am howling at the start, but this time with laughter. I get it together before he comes back to my side of the room. It’s not at him so much as at the absurdity of the whole thing. And Fix You, of all songs! It’s horribly earnest. When I leave the class, he man hi fives me because he is a bro. I worry that he is sitting hard on something. Maybe one day he’ll let himself. Meanwhile I wasn’t sick which is more than I expected. In fact, I would go back.
The second half of the day is spent in a Spa. I had a couple of free passes left over from my Toscars nomination and now is a good time for it. Cold Room, Himalayan Salt Room, Korean Clay Room, Steam Room. That done I feel exercised and chilled, ready to take on the world. As we leave the spa I spy a flyer for one of their treatments. Anal Steam Treatment. The A-Steam. Here is Janey modelling the flier.
You sit on a decorative throne for 20 minutes while fifty bucks worth of steam goes up your bum. The perfect Hollywood treatment, although over here you really shouldn’t have to pay to have hot air blown up your arse. It’s free!
58 days out here, and very much on the home stretch. Knowing how little time I have left in this climate, I decide to tempt sunstroke and hike up Runyon Canyon after a morning of email fun. At the top I look out over this hazy city that was so alien to me less than two months ago.
I’ve had an extremely positive time here. I need to make some money sharpish when I get back but I’m not feeling daunted or blocked by that. It’s just something I need to get done. Little things every day. And maybe a commercial…
Last night I went to see some improvisation. The improv scene is big in this city, and people look for qualifications from the two major troupes on an actor’s CV. Having looked into the two major schools I’ve worked out which one suits me the most, and it’s Groundlings. They are interested in the possibilities of long form character based improv. That’s all that my experience has been, with our improvised Odyssey at The Factory, and my one attempt at a 30 hour Improvathon in Bristol, when I sentenced myself to death by hanging about 20 hours into the show, was exiled as I couldn’t reach the lever with the noose around my neck, shaved off my hair and my beard and came back on as a penitent monk who killed a cyclops with ballet-jitsu before some robots played the death harp to me. I was fine until I woke up the next morning and looked in the mirror with no hair. That stuff takes a while to grow back. And it was mid winter.
The Sunday show at Groundlings is always sold out, and I can see why. It’s masterful. I’ve been lucky enough to get a friend’s ticket as she is training with them but can’t make the show. I love watching improv when you forget it’s improv. There need to be moments where you remember or you start to think you’re watching a show with a weird script. Some of my favourite Odyssey moments came out of a catastrophic drop that was saved. But I find it joyful watching actors taking risks that could unravel them completely and then discovering that the unravelling is where the gold lies. And the way it seems to work with the Groundlings is that if you’re struggling you just have to head for some sort of punchline and the dude will drop the lights and the band will start playing. If in doubt, make a good joke or fall in love. And if the lights don’t drop then keep slugging as you know you must be doing something right. If I were to come out here again with money I’d book a course with these guys and jump off the cliff a bit. Can’t do any harm on the CV and impro is a muscle. The Odyssey ended over a year ago. I need to get flexing it again.
After my canyon walk I am really sleepy. The predicted sunstroke is kicking in. I’m washing all my clothes and getting started on the packing. My God. London, I will be back soon with a lovely tan just in time for summer. How do I make it work that I can come out to the sun every year in shivery January and February?
If lots of people were to reel off a list of adjectives describing me, I expect the word “fashionable” wouldn’t appear in many of those lists. I tend to wear whatever I fall into. Sometimes it works, often it doesn’t. Let’s call it Haphazard chic. With this in mind I have no idea why I’ve been invited to a fashion show by someone I’ve just met. But this trip is all about the unfamiliar and saying “yes” so it seems wrong to say no. And I remember her as being open and sincere. We met on a dance floor. In the interest of life, I rearrange my weekend plans, which were going to be a trip to a national park and deep country. Instead Lyndon and I head off to a great big catwalk on Melrose.
I don’t think either of us are expecting such an involved affair. We’ve been at the beach and Lyndon is still in jogging bottoms. But it’s big, this event, and people have made an effort. Shortly after we arrive the show kicks off with a set by Rilan. I’ve not heard of him before, and ask my neighbour about him: “Rilan? Yeah he’s like Gaga. But he’s a guy. GuyGa.” And on he struts. Laddie GuyGa. He’s a consummate performer, and seems more at home on the catwalk than some of the models that follow his set. His songs have punches in them that speak of a sharp mind, he moves with flow and poise, he doesn’t feel like a cookie cut pop act at all. He feels like a showman, and for that reason I enjoy his set.
Unfortunately as it goes on people keep topping up my drink, and as I watch the models after him flow down the catwalk I am getting progressively sozzled without noticing. By the time the final collection has been shown I must have had half a bottle of vodka, I think I’ve spoken to Rilan but suddenly I’ve fallen into conversation with a vast formidable Russian. She has her young daughter with her, who I suspect will be big on the scene in a few years time if the mum has her way. I find myself telling the daughter that she should always remember to be kind, through the vodka haze. It’s good advice, and advice I hope she takes, although I don’t think I particularly recommended myself as a source. My logic and my head this morning tells me that I might have been visibly smashed. Giving drunk advice to young models. Hmm. If I’d stayed sober and spoken to the right people there is no doubt in my mind that I would now be the new Kate Moss. I’ve got the figure for it. Damn.
Lyndon and I wander home and the hour changes for daylight savings. My phone automatically deducts the time. I just look at it through the haze and an hour has passed. What the hell? Was I abducted by aliens? Was the fashion show and the vodka all some sort of false memory put there to help my traumatised brain overcome the experiments and the drilling? Oh God the Drilling! Do I now have a super power? How will it manifest itself?
So far the only evidence of a super power that I’ve seen this morning is a temporary immunity to caffeine. I’ve dragged myself out of the house in order to see daylight, but it’s so hot I’m sitting in the car with the air con on full. I think I’ll try to go for a walk to shake off the foreboding. It’s an all too familiar aftereffect of too much to drink – that vague sense of foreboding the next day. “What did I say / What did I do?” But the fact is I didn’t strip down to my pants, climb a flagpole howling curses and throw oranges at the models. All I did was remind someone to always be kind. Unless something happened in that missing hour…
56. So hot and cold a day I have not seen. It’s boiling in Larchmont in the morning. Last night, going home, Laural found a cat that had been killed on the road outside. She wrapped it up and put it in a box, but the morning is hot. I am woken up by her voice outside my room saying “We should bury the cat before it starts stinking.”
It’s a conundrum. It’s someone else’s cat. They might be looking for it. But then is it better for them to know that it got caught on a car and rolled a good few metres on the wheel? Or is it better for them to think that it has gone off and found new friends, or that it has gone to the moon to sing with the mooncats? They might find the bloodstains on the road…
We decide to bury the poor wee beastie before it starts stinking. So first thing in the morning, in the beating sunshine, we are digging a grave in the garden. I’m sure I’ve seen this in a film before. It falls to me to lay it in there. It’s already stiff with rigor mortis, but we’ve dug big enough. I think it’ll be safe from coyotes. We say a few words, and when the posters come up we will make a call on it. Hopefully the owners haven’t chipped it or there is an awkward situation pending when someone arrives in the garden with a cellphone.
Digging a hole is hot work, even a little one. Lyndon wants to go to the beach and I think it’ll be a great opportunity to wash off the stench of death. Handling corpses is always a strange experience. This animation that makes life departs us and leaves a shell of starched meat. I’d sooner not think about it. So I drive to Venice. And there I discover another aspect of this California desert weather. The beach is a cloud. You can’t see a damn thing and it’s cold. We know in theory how on the other side of that cloud there is blazing unremitting sunshine. This is the first day I’ve put lotion on. And it’s like being in The Fog from a weird sci-fi movie. Lyndon keeps saying “Oh it’ll burn through” in the same tone as “It’ll be over by Christmas.” It’s not going to put us off though – we’ve been to Brighton. So we play a good game of paddleball tennis, which is the Californian version of tennis where you don’t have to run around so much. Then we wander around the foggy beach. It’s as crowded as it would be if the weather were lovely. Nobody seems to be fazed by the fact we are inside a massive cloud. There are drum circles on the beach filled with aging hippies and their cute puppies. There is even one guy in a wetsuit in the Pacific trying to catch some waves in the haze. He seems reluctant to get his shoulders above water level though. I’m surprised he can see anything whatsoever out there. It’s deep fog. The ocean looks unforgiving and it’s cold in this cloud. I have no intention of going for a swim today, but I am disappointed as today is the first day I’ve gone out with shorts on. I was going to sunbathe.
I’ve been invited to a fashion show so we drive back home in the late afternoon, and find evidence of a lovely day that took place on the other side of the cloud. Now I am back in my three piece and about to hit another crazy night. Wish me luck…
Day 55. Outside of the Women’s March I haven’t spent much time in Downtown LA. Today it’s time to get down there and make sense of the place a little. I meet Marilyn in a Buddhist centre. I’ve not met her before but she’s just found 20 bucks on the floor and she offers to get breakfast. That’s an excellent start to any day. We drive in and I splash most of my days budget on valet parking for my ramshackle beast of a Chevy at The Ace Hotel. Free breakfast! The Ace is one of a number of Art Deco hotels that pepper the area. It’s a little run down but has an old fashioned charm, so it feels like home. There’s a pool on the roof, which is essentially a jacuzzi surrounded by half naked men. Nobody is in it when we go to look. They’re just sitting round the edges in their towels staring at each other. But the view from the roof is great. The whole area puts me in mind of the lower east side in New York. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the architects were the same.
We decide to go for a walk to the Art District. This involves going through Skid Row. I’ve known the term Skid Row as long as I can remember. It’s a term I associate with being at the bottom of the wheel. The reality of the place is remarkably bleak. I’ve already blogged about the river, and the shanty town that I walked through at the beginning of my trip. Here there’s not even flowing water. It’s a few streets that have just been designated as the place you end up in when you’re at rock bottom. A recent census had the population of this area at upward of 17 thousand for under 4.5 square miles. It’s a tent city. The energy here is desperate. Everyone is moving around in circles. People are trying to carve out a little patch of ground for themselves, and there are flashes of community, love and friendship evident. We are almost invisible, just passing through, not part of it. Not under threat, but definitely alien. There’s a lot of big drugs here. Sunken broken faces and bodies, people passed out flat in the street, open mouths gaping, young men who are old, people who are tweaking and mumbling by lamp posts like extras in a zombie film. Tents everywhere, piles of filthy possessions gathered over years and dragged here. All this is less than 5 minutes walk from City Hall, and the municipal centre of LA. 5 minutes walk from the courthouses and vast squat stone buildings housing the machine of government. Built to look impressive, impassive, impenetrable. If you were on Skid Row you’d be aware of all the unused space in those huge edifices. You’d see the nicely dressed people protesting notions and distant pipelines while you were worrying about food and shelter, and maybe your next hit. And if you worked in City Hall and had a spot of empathy you’d be aware that you’re only a catastrophic string of events away from Skid Row. There are targeted billboards here. “Need bankruptcy help? Just 5 streets up that way.” It’s a sobering juxtaposition, the bottom so close to the top. Then we find some all American trucks and they distract us before we drive home.
Needing entertainment I went to the theatre. Also because they got me a comp. Son of Semele, for The Offending Gesture. It was a play about a dog in occupied Finland that could do the nazi salute, and how the nazis took offence. Delightful and very strange, ending with a quote from Trump – our contemporary example of a humourless leader with far right tendencies. After skid row and city hall I can’t help thinking about how so many of the poorest people in this nation voted for him. Im glad the theatres here haven’t been torn down even if people do occasionally chase me with a megaphone.