It almost looks crappier at a distance!
A few weeks ago I’d gone over to a friend’s house in Burbank to get drunk and play Super Smash Brothers, and shortly after I arrived he realized that he was low on hooch. My friend assured me that he’d be back in five minutes and ran out the door to go to Albertson’s, leaving me alone in the kitchen with his quiet and reserved roommate, a guy maybe a year or two older than me, who was eating a Hot Pocket and trying very hard not to make eye contact.
The only thing more awkward than making small talk with a complete stranger is standing two feet away and pretending that they don’t exist, so I started idly chatting with my friend’s roommate, who proved to be somewhat reserved but achingly polite.
After a couple of minutes, I asked the question that inevitably gets asked in every conversation you have in Los Angeles:
“So, are you from LA originally, or…?”
It’s an important question, because virtually nobody in LA was born and raised there. Everybody moves there from somewhere else, and the resulting story of where they moved from and for what reasons is ample fodder for hours upon hours of endless, meaningless small talk.
“Uh, no.” He said, nervously. “I’m from Kentucky.”
“Oh!” I said. “Kentucky! You’ve got the… Derby thing out there, and the… Fried chicken. When did you move out?”
“About five months ago. How about you?”
I did the math in my head, an arduous and painful process. “I moved down from Portland on July 18th, 2011… So I guess it’s been almost a year. What’d you come out here to do?”
“Cool. Have you been in anything?”
He laughed sheepishly. “No.”
“Been going on lots of auditions?”
Another nervous laugh. “No.”
“Have you signed up with Central Casting to do background actor work? I hear that’s a pretty good racket.”
“Yeah, I should do that…” He shrugged and smiled. “But I haven’t.”
I sensed that I had somehow discovered awkwarder territory and was diving headlong into it, so I tried to diffuse the tension. “Well, you’re still getting settled – you’ve got to get a job before you do anything else, right?”
He nodded. “Yeah, I should probably start applying to some jobs. I’m just sort of burning through money right now.”
And with that, he finished his Hot Pocket and we bid one another adieu, and two minutes later I was drinking a John Daly and kicking my buddy’s ass all over Hyrule with Link, as is my style.
Up until this conversation, I’d been feeling – without any pretense of fishing for compliments, here – kind of shitty about my time in LA thus far.
I’ve met a bunch of really, really talented people out here who’re roughly my age and trying for the same sort of thing I am, and every last one of them is way more devoted to their craft than I am. My Jewish friend David is, at any given time, working on a spec script, a TV pilot, and a screenplay simultaneously. My friend Patrick will completely isolate himself from his friends, family, and girlfriend to work on a script. Jonathan Denmark lives hand to mouth and spends money he doesn’t have to make elaborate music videos and Dylan is teaching himself Adobe AfterEffects and AVID in his spare time.
And me? After buying my PS3 I beat Uncharted and Uncharted 2 in one week, I liberated Neon Island in InFamous in the space of twelve hours, I’ve got over 5000 comment karma on Reddit, and I’m Facebook friends with two prostitutes.
A lot of people talk a good game about moving to the big city and getting famous, but they never do it – the usual story is something where they get a good job at the horse butthole factory in their hometown, and then when they’re thinking about quitting they get a promotion and a 401k, and then somebody gets pregnant and the whole thing turns into Jack and Diane. I’ve always felt a smug sense of superiority for avoiding that trap, if only because all my Oregon jobs were dead end positions and nobody would even let me try to get them pregnant.
But that same trap exists once you get to LA – it’s a city full of pretty girls who skipped college to come out and become famous actresses and models and instead spend years climbing the ladder at Forever 21 and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company at Santa Monica Pier, or guys who’ve been idly picking away at the same screenplay for a decade while working the valet booth at The Grove.
I was afraid – and to a degree I still am – that I’d fallen into that trap as well: My ad agency job gave me financial security to the point that I wound up with more money than I’d had when I left for LA, and the freelance schedule gave me plenty of free time to spend writing, which I instead spent doing virtually everything but.
I guess it’s cold comfort to talk to somebody who’s spent five months in LA doing nothing at all and immediately feel better about myself by virtue of having at least worked a bunch, written some, and accosted Jeffrey Tambour once.
What I’m trying to remind myself is that the work I’ve done has been sometimes more creatively rewarding – and at all times more interesting – than any other work I’ve done in my life. The writing I’ve done has been hands down my best. Jeffrey Tambour was pleasant, if not a bit distant.
I made it a year without going broke and having to move home – I’m sure a lot of you probably lost some bets because of that – so I’m going to call the first year a success overall. I guess the goal for the next year is for my work and my writing to become the same thing, and then do more of it than ever.
But since I’m a big believer in setting realistic goals, I’m going to focus on beating InFamous 2 ASAP. Once I’ve got that under my belt, then maybe I’ll focus on my writing.
Truman Capps can't stress enough how hot the waitresses are at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.