California People…

What would be the best lead for this essay? How to best describe the feelings of a little boy from the rural Wyoming who has found himself in the valley of the damned? Well, I’ll start soft. It wasn’t the first time my brain said “welcome to California”, but it was the first time I wanted to physically shake someone I didn’t know.

The scene: Wild Oats (an organic vegetarian-friendly supermarket).

Dramatis Personae: Me.

The Cashier

The Chapstick Girl.

The Old Japanese Banana Man

I finish work in North Hollywood and make the 18 mile commute back home, stopping along the way for groceries. Now, for those of you in Wyoming, or the MidWest, or anyplace where people believe in walking or public transportation, this 18 mile commute generally takes between 35 minutes and an hour and a half. This night was more the latter. At this point in my stay, I haven’t discovered a decent radio station (And come to think of it, I really still haven’t), so I’m listening to Tom Leykas on talk radio. Tom, for those of you who have not heard his special brand of magic, is not what we would call PC, or female friendly, or, most of the time, remotely funny. But sometimes there are some interesting conversations on the show, and every once in a while he makes a good point. Needless to say, this was an off night for Tom, and by the time I get back to Pasadena I just want to collapse. But first, I need food for the coming week. The shopping is mercifully short and the night’s looking good. Until I get to:

The line.

Now, I have to wait to pay for my organic fruit leather and soy milk (a long story in its own right, and something I will go into much detail about at a later date), and there’s an old Japanese man trying to ask the cashier questions about a banana, and generally slowing the line down and making a long night even longer.

I have to people watch, something I usually love to do, but am not in the mood for tonight. Wild Oats only has magazines about yoga and alternative lifestyles at the checkout stand. I could have used one of Cosmo’s fine diatribes about the intricate points of “scoring a fab makeover that will make your dude drool”.

But I watch, because now the Banana Man is waving the banana at the cashier and tapping the side as if discussing the working components inside of the banana.

I glance behind me, nothing much to see, just an ordinary looking quasi-hippie girl in line. I decide to go back to banana man– but wait. What the girl seems to be very interested in the chapstick. I mean, really interested. She’s going over each one of these things like fine diamonds, weighing them in her hands and doing side by side color comparisons.

This is people watching at its best.

And then it happens.

She uncaps the first chapstick and rubs a stripe on her hand, sniffing her hand and dabbing the chapstick with her tongue before closing the tube.

No big deal. A lot of people like the taste of– OH MY GOD! She put the chapstick back on the shelf.

Let me repeat: She placed the filthy chapstick back on the shelf.

There is an opened and hand-swiped and hippie-tongued chapstick waiting for some poor unsuspecting soul to sweep up and what the hell is wrong with you, quasi-hippie?

Can we forgive her this one sin?

I don’t want to. I’m not trying to hide my slack-jawed awe of this product testing.

She opens the next chapstick and it gets the same treatment. Swipe on hand. Sniff hand. Rub hand. Smell chapstick. Tongue chapstick. Close. Return to shelf.

I watch and watch, starting to sweat. I’m throwing nervous glances to the cashier, but he’s still involved with Mr. Miyagi and the banana.

And now the girl is on to tube number three, four, five.

Do I shake this girl? Punch her? Yell “Miss, people have to use that chapstick! Is this some kind of human guilt thing, making up for the years that animals have been product tested and you haven’t?”

But I remain silent.

The banana jam has cleared in front of me. It’s my turn.

The girl closes her chapstick and smiles at me.

“This one!” she says, as if I was encouraging her treasure hunt for the special flavor of chapstick.

I pay. I run from the store and hide in my sleeping bag. I may never be able to buy chapstick again. Or deodorant. Or anything that could be easily opened and hippie-tested.

The pollution does not affect the brain here in California. It’s the experiences with other people, in a state so ridiculously laid back, so friendly on the surface and scared underneath, so closed-minded, selfish and frightened.

California, here I come.

This is a brief recap of the journals that came before blogger. Oh, blogger, how I love your easy to use interface… Now, if only I could figure out a way to link back to my website…

10/9/02

It’s done! It’s happened! The query letter is complete and on its way to the first of dozens, if not hundreds, of publishers. Getting a book ready is hard work. Really hard work. So hard, that I don’t have a web poll, or new short story, or anything like that…yet.

I am taking a flight to Chicago this weekend, so I think an airport will be the perfect place to watch people and reflect.

Hollywood updates…How could I have done this? I must correct a grievous error made in the last posting. I have slandered a fine Hollywood institution, inadvertently of course. The name of the store is “BARGAIN clown mart”. I can’t imagine how many of you booked tickets and/or wasted a weekend driving up and down La Brea looking for a DISCOUNT clown mart, and saying to your spouse or significant other “There’s a Bargain clown mart…that can’t be what he meant. Keep driving.”

There is an amazing amount of strangeness between Beverly Blvd. And Hollywood, all you have to do is drive up Vine St. I walked by the premiere of “White Oleander”. There were people lined up and down the street. There was an Armenian Elvis who was a horrible singer who insisted on following me to a souvenir shop, serenading all the way. Satan was there, in a goatee, cowboy hat, cotton trenchcoat and fake black fingernails. And lots of old people. Ah, Hollywood. What a glamorous city.

My first three days here killed any sense of “Star Worship” I may have had. I’m airtight now. A writer through and through (What does this mean? Am I jaded? Too cool to care? Who knows…).

I see one of my favorite directors or authors, I still go gooey for them (see fun page and Chuck Palahniuk picture). I’m ridiculously jealous that in Chicago, in the course of two weeks, Bree Sharp, one of my favorite singers will be performing, and later Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors, will be there. Also, a great band called L’il Ed and the Blues Imperials (an absolutely AMAZING band) tends to frequent Chicago. I don’t think they’ll ever come to California.

I met Bernie Mac. He’s a nice guy, and quite tall. Friendly, and a snazzy dresser. I say these things not as a starstruck fanboy, but as a casual observer.

If you ever want to experience what it’s like to be in LA and try to break into “the biz”, do the following: have someone park an old beater car in front of you. One that burns ten gallons of oil for every gallon of gas. Park in a crowded area. Do this at a very busy time of day, in a very public place. Stand directly behind the tailpipe, or wherever the car emits the most fumes. Breathe deeply. Strip down to your underwear and shout at people, something like “look at me! I’m an egomaniac with an enormous ego and an inflated sense of entitlement because I have A) large boobs/ and or artificial pectoral muscles B) mild dancing talent C) took 1st in state in high school D) wrote a screenplay inspired by Tarantino, or Guy Ritchie, or someone else who writes good screenplays and doesn’t need an imitator thank you very much, and you should respect me!” While you’re at it, flap your arms up and down. Shout “I can’t see you! I can’t see you!”

What will happen is the following: People will either stare at you like you’re from another planet, or they will ignore you. They will go out of their way to ignore you. Follow this exercise (if you haven’t been arrested yet) by going to a Mexican restaurant and insisting they cook you some kind of ethnic dish. If you’re from here, that comment won’t seem so offensive and it will make perfect sense.

And that, friends, is Los Angeles in a nutshell. And really, isn’t a nutshell the perfect metaphor for this city?

The important thing to remember is that most people in the industry are quite normal. But finding the doorway into THAT particular room full of people requires a walk through wonderland. Well, wonderland as seen by Keith Richards in his Rolling Stone brown bottle heyday.

PS: I’m actually starting to have fun out here…

10/1/02

Hey! New month, all new journal! And a slightly newer, monkey-er look to the website. Here is my weekly posting about the city of Los Angeles. The book draft is finished and I’m finally free…to move on to write something else. It never ends, the curse of the writer. BUT! As you’ve noticed, there’s all sorts of fun stuff here for you to read now! The site actually has CONTENT! Yippee! Okay, that’s enough back patting.

I’ve also finished my first month in this insane asylum that is a city. Homeless people are a franchise out here. They each stake out their own corner or street, and you can see them at the same time, in the same place, each day. They rival Starbucks for ubiquity. There is a store on Vine St. called “Discount Clown Mart”. They sell clothes. Normal clothes from what I could tell. But I think everyone should shop at a place called Discount Clown Mart. I have also seen a place that listed its services in the following order: 1) Keys made 2) Locks shop 3) Adult movies. Talk about convenience! Hollywood is best viewed from afar, I think. Up close, you can see all of the imperfections, the sores, the enlarged pores, the offensive odors, etc. Yes, you can see the odors.

I have seen some celebrities out here, and it’s not too impressive. If you’re into that kind of thing, it’s better to just visit. Come to think of it, being out here is more like standing inside of an enlarged pore. But I get by. I’ve got a job, temporary though it may be, and I am getting into the know of things. I need some theater contacts. Anybody know anybody? Won’t it be great when I actually start seeing some kind of success as a writer, so these can be real journal entries instead of pandering? Whee!

This is the first attempt at the monkeyblog.

This will eventually replace the current journal for several reasons, ease of use chief among them. Go to blogger.com to see how to make your own blog! How many times can you say the word blog before you want to kill somebody?

Read more horror!