Much of working in showbiz is about living and existing in showbiz. Or amongst it without allowing its corrupting essence to sink beyond one’s initial layer of skin. And believe me when I say there’s no SPF rated lotion that can fully defend anybody from the blitzkrieg of Hollywood’s lights.
Now, despite having been born in Southern Cal, I still cleave to those formative years growing up in a fruit farming community in the rural foothills east of Sacramento. And I cleave to the fact that my social references and upbringing felt as normal then as they do today.
LA is a company town. And it’s not because most of the inhabitants work in some form of show business. It’s just that no other American hometowns have a veritable season of mass-viewed TV award shows broadcasting from “Main Street” honoring everything and everybody associated with the glitziest side of show business. But hey. If you’re not living here, at least you probably have a Main Street.
Anyhow, much navigation within “the biz”—as it’s unfortunately called hereabouts—is surviving and functioning outside the job in this bubble that is full of strange, did-that-just-happen moments.
Such as this following conversation:
“You look familiar,” said Emmy-nominated actress, Katey Sagal, hands on her hips and squinting hard at me. She might’ve not been wearing her glasses after stepping out of the blinding lights of the scene she just wrapped. Plus as soon as you’re past the cameras and cables, the dark of a soundstage can hit you like an unexpected power outage.
“Doug.” I smiled and shook Katey’s hand.
“We’ve worked together, right?” Katey said. “What was the show?”
“Sorry,” I said, wishing otherwise. She’s an acting force of nature on Son’s of Anarchy. Because she was lost on my face and name, I assisted her with a contextual catch-up. “Beeman Park. Think our kids played soccer or t-ball together.”
“Oh yeah,” she nodded, before joining the group conversation that was as ordinary as it was beyond mundane. LA was suffering under a heatwave. Yes. Katey and I, along with other SOA cast mates from her FX Network show were standing around between takes, lamenting about the weather.
Now, bumping into an acquaintance at a workplace or the supermarket or the local pharmacy is hardly strange. It’s even expected. We all live in a village of sorts. This is why we call it community. Only in the real world, one doesn’t usually cross paths with a soccer mom then go home and proceed to binge-view the last four episodes of soccer mom’s long-running TV series you’d just so happen to have saved on your DVR. A surreal twinge rolls to the end of my nerves, reminding me yet again that – oh yeah, I live in LA.
There are other encounters. Some comical. Others pinch-worthy. Some might’ve already made it into the blog with a work-related context or some kind of moral. This isn’t about that. This is about making a normal life out of the abnormal. Like good fences make good neighbors? Only the fence in question involves a friend whining to you about his neighbor, an insouciant world-renowned action star, whose backyard Greek-statuary-adorned water park kept flooding across the property line. Or sharing a kid’s Little League sideline with an A-List director who, were he to merely nod in your career direction could mean millions in assignment fees. Or what about this? Visiting a potential private school for my five-year-old and having Super Girl give you and the missus a private tour. Talk about eyes on your homework.
Or speaking of schools, sharing a sunny bench with a famed B-movie actress only a few years past her fan boy prime, watching both our little ones play recess kick-ball while she whispers about her waning confidence, the marquee actor who gave her an STD, the subtle game of trading oral sex for movie parts, and eventually begging your opinion as to whether or not it would help her career if she went under the knife for yet another boob job.
“How was playground duty, hon?” asked the War Department.
“Fine,” I might’ve answered. “You know. The usual chit-chat with the moms.”
Only in LA, I reminded myself.
There’s more weirdness. Like the Sunday afternoon I stumbled upon a Golden Globe winning actor who was moonlighting as a residential real estate agent. I recall him showing my wife and I through an empty little fixer in the hills. All the while, the movie geek that lived in my skull cap was tallying up all the pictures I’d seen him in. Why was he selling real estate? It might’ve been a sideline or a hobby or a way to pay child support. Who the hell knows? That’s not my business. Everybody needs to make a buck. So why not this famous face? It’s just that to a fellah like me who’d spent a vast number of his formative years obsessed with celluloid, it can throw a mean chop-block on the mental equilibrium.
But maybe my most meaningful real-life-crashing-into-a-TMZ-moment occurred at a local, Catholic school fundraiser.
Welcome to the St. Francis de Sales Annual Carnival and Fair.
It was a last-minute impulse by my beloved War Department. We’d just treated ourselves to a meal at a nearby kid-friendly eatery. As we were driving home, we couldn’t miss the colored lights of the turning Ferris wheel that occupied the playground of our local Catholic church and school. We rolled down the window, heard music wafting along with the smell of fresh caramel corn. How sweet, we thought. How so wonderfully Americana of this Kindergarten through eighth grade school to throw such a home-spun kind of fundraiser.
We found nearby street parking and purchased just two tickets because kids under five-years-old received free admittance. I swung my boy, Henry, onto my shoulders and entered the noisy throng. As a cover band played from the distant stage, we perused the midway. There was one classic booth after the next. The bean bag toss. A softball/milkbottle throw. Even a dunk tank which promised to drench the school’s vice principal. Each and every ticket-taking endeavor manned by school parents or teachers, every dime and dollar funding the good neighborhood Catholic school.
“Finally,” I said to my honey. “Looks like we found it.”
“Found what?” she replied.
“A taste of real middle-America right here in L.A.”
“Catholic schools,” half-lamented my former, Irish Catholic wife. “Gotta love ‘em.”
“Everything but the nuns, huh?”
“I suppose there were a few that were okay.”
The cover band played on and, like most bar bands in the area, they sounded pretty tight, considering the area code was choked with out-of-work musicians. If I recall, the number they’d dialed up was Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell, complete with a white-haired impersonator stalking around the stage.
Rebel Yell, I laughed to myself. At a Catholic school no less.
In the midnight hour
She yelled “more more more.”
Only in LA? Well, maybe not. I’m not Catholic. And Lord knows, some of the girls I’d dated were reason enough to invent the confessional.
Still, the band was pretty damned good. And the impersonator was hitting a lot of Billy Idol notes. With my son still upon my shoulders, we closed on the stage. I had a hold of his little fist, pumping it in the air with the rest of the middle schoolers.
With a rebel yell,
She cried “more more more.”
I glanced up at my two-year old’s face to see if he was half-enjoying the show as much as I was. Satisfied that my little boy was amused enough, I tilted my gaze back down to the stage to admire what was, I thought, a helluva strong Billy Idol act.
Damned good indeed. Because, if you hadn’t already guessed, it wasn’t an act. It was Billy Idol.
Jeez, no, I said. Can’t be. Right smack in the middle of having sliced off a piece of American pie and stuffing myself silly with it, here I was fifty feet from the one and only lip-snarling sex God of the eighties as he fully throttled himself through his greatest hits. The front of the stage was slammed with squealing, junior high girls as Billy dropped to his knees and crotch-thrusted to every synchronized fist pump.
More more more, indeed.
Oh, did I forget to mention his back up band? Ever hear of Toto? The band’s day in the top forty sun might’ve been a bit short, but each of the players were known studio killers, having played on dozens and dozens of platinum records.
Henry and I hung for the rest of the set, half laughing at the scene and and half rocking out as Billy himself busted out Cradle of Love, Dancing with Myself, and White Wedding—tunes with themes about pedophilia, masturbation, and incest respectively—between which he encouraged parents to spend lavishly in support of the Catholic school where, not-so-coincidentally, his daughter attended.
“Love this school!” growled Billy. “And I love all these little girls!”
I’d had L.A. moments before that evening. But on that particular night it felt as if the memo was engraved on my skin. You live here. So do they. Deal with it.
Strange has since become the new normal.
Don’t fret. I’m still me. I haven’t yet bought the program. Or at least think I haven’t. I still seek out pockets of normalcy. And I pride myself in having “non-pro” friends as a local trade paper once coined. Still, there’s no escaping reality.
Oh. Did I tell you the War Department and I are purchasing a new home? Our real estate reps are a dynamic duo. One is a former Bond Girl. The other was Miss Universe.