Monday, February 27, 2006

The Beast in the Living Room

My twin sister Carrie paid me a visit this week which was wonderful not only for her company but for the fact that it gave me a deadline to fix up my apartment. A packrat by nature, by the time I left Columbus I had acquired more stuff than I could use and was busy trying to shed some of the excess junk I'd collected over ten years (the garage fire was helpful in this regard). So when I arrived in LA I had no furniture, and I'd forgotten the joy of furnishing an apartment on a low budget. LA is like any other big city in that its residents recycle furniture and other goods simply by plopping them out on the curb. This week I got a matching dresser and armoire from the building three doors down (I passed on the mirror and nightstands). I had to haul them here on my back, but they were free and I felt like a stud walking up the street with a dresser on my shoulder. In addition I found an aquamarine plant stand on little brass casters and an easy chair with a very attractive dark green brocade upholstery. All free. To make the place greener I did throw down $40 for two plants at the Home Depot. As anyone who knows me knows, I don't have the greatest relationship with the vegetative world (shortly before I left Columbus Mike said to me, "I don't think I've ever seen a single vegetable in your kitchen." Mike you'll be happy to know I've consumed several salads in LA). My house plants usually die but I'm going to water these and and talk to them and love them and keep them by the sunny front window and as they thrive, so shall I. The jungle-like corner also aids me in feeling a little wilder and more primitive, essential qualities for success in Hollywood.

The weeks are slowly filling up with regular activities. Last week I started my improv comedy class at the Groundlings. It's going to be very interesting. There are 16 people in the class, mostly young, mostly non-professional actors just looking for something fun to do. But they all have the performance vibe and aren't afraid to show their personalities. During our first exercises there was a lot of talk about "going to 10" with your emotions, which for the first class basically meant screaming as loud as you could. My only problem is that anger, fear, sadness and worry all sound the same when I "go to 10," which is to say they all sound like I'm pissed off. I had to scream repeatedly in this poor girl's face whom I had never met before. I wanted to tell her it was just acting but she seemed a little scared all the same. Wednesday was the writing group which I'm really enjoying soley for the company and discourse about writing and stories and things artistic. Still don't know that much about Charlie the group leader but he did let it slip this week that he once spent a week at Gore Vidal's house in Italy. Hmmm.

Thursday, before Carrie arrived, I participated in my first "Smart Partners" session. Smart Partners is a volunteer program run by my friend Julie Pearl that matches adults (usually writers) with elementary school kids once a week after school to help them with their homework. This week was a field trip to the Nomadic Museum, which is a temporary structure set up in the parking lot of the Santa Monica Pier. This is where I met Edward, a happy 4th grader with chubby cheeks and glasses, whose current Smart Partner is moving to Ashville, NC in a couple of weeks. Together we went in and explored the museum. Currently it houses an exhibit called "Ashes and Snow" which is basically a bunch of sepia-toned photos and movies of people being very intimate with elephants, whales, cheetahs, eagles and orangutans. The exhibit was a little precious for my tastes (not to mention the crass commercialism of the gift shop: only $25,000 for a hand-printed three-volume commemorative set!) but the building itself is amazing. It's more tent that building. It's walls are made from stacked cargo containers, the posts are cardboard tubes, the floors are planked with recycled wooden pallets. Very cool and innovative. This week Edward and I will meet again to work on some homework.

After the field trip I came back here and met Carrie. We went out to dinner and then to a movie at El Capitan, one of the themed theaters that line Hollywood Blvd. (think Mann's Chinese Theater). It's an amazing theater with ornate Roccoco gold leaf everywhere. "Citizen Kane" made it's debut here way back when. Carrie and I saw "Eight Below," which was not as good as Citizen Kane. El Cap is across the street from the Kodak theater where the Academy Awards will be held this week. They were busy setting up the first-come, first-served grandstands already. I'll probably watch them at home.

Friday Carrie and I took a hike up in Griffith Park. Since I started hiking up there I've been having fantasies of being attacked by a mountain lion or a pack of coyotes. In these scenarios I usually triumph over my would-be-predator, not unlike Steve Austin in the Six Million Dollar man, whom I seem to remember was constantly throwing mountain lions around in the California Hills. If it's not a Six Million Dollar Man victory then its thanks to the 12" Rambo knife that Mike gave me for Christmas. I have not, however, actually carried the knife yet. So I'm telling Carrie about this, who thinks I'm crazy, when she tells me, "this is where that woman was killed by a mountain lion a couple of years ago." This brought a dose of reality to my flights of fancy. Later on we found some fresh coyote tracks and took a picture with the Hollywood sign. Friday night I met Skylar and his pals at the White Horse Inn, a bar down the street and then went and hung out a someone's house in Silver Lake. It was nice for a brief moment to feel like I actually know people in this town. Earlier in the week I had coffee (Chai Latte, actually) with Karin, a writer who just quit her job to write for TV full time. She said it took her four years before she felt like she had a social circle here, so I'll just be patient.

Work-wise not much is happening. No word on the Steve McQueen narrator gig, so I'm assuming I didn't get it. I've been applying to jobs regularly so perhaps something will pan out. I figure I've got until June to find a job, so it isn't exactly an emergency but I'd rather not blow all of my savings. Today I send a resume out to a catering company. At the bar Friday night I was asking people how they got started and how long it took, and one woman said "it took me a few months but I didn't have Skylar looking out for me." That bolsters my hope that some assistant editor gigs will spring up in the near future. In the meantime, I write.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes

I've just returned from my first audition in L.A. Last week I saw an ad on Craig's List looking for voice-over talent for a documentary about Steve McQueen, and I thought, "Why not?" The production company (www.greenparkproductions.com) is looking for two male voices: one who can imitate Steve McQueen's voice and one who is a more generic narrator. Since I don't sound anything like Steve McQueen and didn't think spending the week working on a Steve McQueen imitiation would bear much fruit, I opted for the narrator tryout. My brother's friend Doug, who makes a living at voice over, was kind enough to record me and give me a few pointers, so that helped boost my confidence going in. I think the audition went as well as it could have. My voice was a little husky and gravelly, thanks mainly to screaming and drinking beer last night at the House of Blues with my man Tom Wilk at the X reunion show. I didn't screw up the read and didn't lisp too terribly, so I'm hopeful that I'll either get the part or experience my first rejection by just not hearing back from them, which is apparently how it is universally done out here.

The show last night was excellent. We missed the first band but the second was a punk outfit called the Johns, and they did a dutiful 30 minutes. Not bad, not great, but all I could think of was they were a poor man's New Bomb Turks. The lead singer was dressed all in white and, intentionally or not, looked like a California droog. The rest of the band sported the requisite sleeve tattoos and eye makeup, and the crowd was attentive but not crazy. Then X came on. I've seen my fair share of reunion shows where the musicians are in the twilight of their careers, and they perform a perfunctory set and everybody sings along. This is what I expected from X, but they were awesome. The crowd immediately went insane. Johhny Zoom has the most surreal stage presence, smiling benignly in his leather jacket with his neatly coiffed receeding hair, looking more like an uncle of mine than a punk legend. Xine and John Doe both performed like they were still in their twenties, the sound was great, and the mosh pit was substantial and borderline dangerous. Tom Wilk bought the tickets and he is the man. The House of Blues kind of sucks, with its fake-o rusting corrugated metal walls and oh-so-calculated Delta Shack esthetic, plus they don't have any beer on tap, don't serve Maker's Mark, and parking was $20. But it is a great place to see a show because it's small. Tom and I could have spit on the stage.

I participated in two show biz events this week which netted me a total of $154. The first was the TV show demo shoot last Sunday, which was a long day but I got to be right on set while the director, actors, writers and production people worked everything out. They were shooting everything on video, and it seemed to me that what they were doing wasn't that radically different from we were doing back in Columbus, with the exception that had better equipment, were better organized, and everybody was good at their job. Little differences, but it's the little differences that make the most impact, right? I was also an extra in a TV commercial that is scheduled to be aired in Europe at next year's World Cup. We sat in the LA Galaxy stadium Wed. night (officially the Home Depot Center) for six hours and pretended to be rabid European soccer fans. The crowd was pretty rabid at 5:00, but after six hours in the cold we were noticeably less rabid. I'll never see this ad. I'm not sure how much more extra stuff I'm going to do, because it's a lot of work for almost no money, but Daddy needs to make some cabbage because the savings ain't gonna last forever.

This week I'll be attending my first class at the Groundlings Theater Company. It's the beginners class (called "Funshop") for non-professionals so I'm not nervous at all. It was strange walking in there to sign up and seeing the pictures of Phil Hartman, Lisa Kudrow, Will Ferrell and others on the wall. Of course part of me was fantasizing that one day Dan O'Dair will be looking down from there as well. Wednesday is another writers group meeting, and Thursday my twin sister Carrie is coming into town for a visit, which I'm very much looking forward to. That gives me incentive to do a little work on my apartment. So far I bought a couch and a crazy lamp with a 4-foot shade (see pic) but otherwise have been neglecting all the little touches of home.

I had a request from a loyal reader of the site to post last week's homework assignment, which was to describe the same place in both comic and scary terms, so here it is (this is going to be a long post):

Even with the weathered doors thrown open wide, the barn, or what used to be a barn, is as dark as a cathedral after mass. But the silence is heavier. When the sunlight finally drifts to the rafters and collects there, the space comes into focus. A thin strip of concrete has been laid from the front doors to the rear to allow the wreckers to tow the scrapped cars to the yard out back. Everywhere else the floor is the same old farm dirt, packed hard and black by years of tractors, livestock, and the necessary detritus that a salvage yard collects. An anvil and a graveyard of 55-gallon drums, a compressor that hasn’t worked for years, a pile of rusting rims and a cord of rolled chicken wire whose bands were never snapped. A blue ‘57 Mercury Monterrey with veterans plates sits in the stab of sunlight from the open doors, its torn canvas tarp bunched around its wheels like a hooker with her skirt torn off.
The walls. The walls are covered in license plates, hundreds of them, thousands of them. Ohio Nebraska Seattle World’s Fair Oklahoma 73 Puerto Rico Indiana New York Florida. Too many to name, enough to skin a battleship. From the massive crossbeams a hoist rusts in silence, its heavy chains drooping toward the Mercury on the dirt floor below. A breeze comes in through the doors and the chains clink softly against each other, like wind chimes in a summer garden. The mesh covered windows in the gables are caked with dirt, and when the sun hits them on its way down they glow like stained glass.

# # #

The barn sits like an old man on the front porch of the salvage yard, its doors open like a forgotten zipper after a hard-earned piss. Inside is a chaos of rubble: 55-gallon drums huddled together with a sign taped on that says, “Save for Chet!” The ubiquitous Acme anvil, half-buried in the dirt as if just dropped from a clear blue sky on the unsuspecting Coyote’s head. A pile of unused rolls of chicken wire, a project long-planned but never executed. The livestock stalls now hold coiled hose, canvas tarps, toolboxes with decades of machine bolts, hex nuts and dull drill bits, flowered lamp shades and a perfectly upholstered bench seat—red vinyl with handsome white stitching. Nailed to the door of one of the stalls is a plywood cutout from a county fair, with a cow and a farmer, a hole for a girlfriend’s head in the face of cow and one for the boyfriend’s in the face the farmer. The farmer is on his knees, looking up at the rear end of the animal. The cow wears an absurdly large smile.
In the middle of the barn is the crown jewel: a ‘57 Mercury Monterrey, blue, with veterans plates. The tarp has long dry-rotted and dropped to the floor like a hastily discarded prom dress, and in the dust of the hood are what look like cheek marks and two hand prints.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Hey Buddy, I Need Yogurt


This week saw an uptick in the concentration on things literary in L.A. On Wednesday I joined a writers group run by a guy named Charlie out of his house in Beachwood Canyon. The group was small that night - only three people plus me - but it still had that Hollywood veneer. The sole woman in the group had just returned from the Santa Barbara Film Festival and mentioned that she saw George Clooney, and wasn't that a coincidence because the house she just bought was across the street from the guy who wrote "Good Night and Good Luck." Charlie--who's self-published a novel and, among other things, has contributed to the LA Times, related his experience that week of a party thrown by the widow of Helmut Newton where he met Courtney Love (he found her uninteresting). Next week we have an assignment to describe the same room in both scary and comic ways. For some of us still trying to get their writing chops back, that could be the same piece.

I also inquired about a writing group run by a man named Jack Grapes. The snobby literate in me balked a bit at the title of the workshop: WRITING FROM THE DEEP VOICE: A Method Writing Workshop: "The Craft of the Invisible Form." A line from the instructor's e-mail to me also raised a red flag: "I'll also include a brochure with info about my own work as a poet, playwright, actor, teacher, astronaut and brain surgeon." Wow! That's a lot of hats! But I'm doing my best to remain open minded and not shut myself off from new experiences, so brain surgeon-cum astronaut or not, I'll see what the workshop has to offer come April. But at $450 a pop, I reserve the right to remain skeptical.

Last night was the most interesting and stimulating event to date in LA. I got in contact with a friend from Columbus who's living out here now, and it turns out she just graduated from the MFA program at USC. She and some of her fellow poets threw a Mother Tongue-style event at an artist's loft in downtown, and I went down there and drank wine and listened to performance/slam poets and a shoe-gazing (think My Bloody Valentine) band rock the house. The poets were all funny and smart and wrote excellent poems and I have to say the performance aspect of it appealed to me greatly. But the highlight of the night was a performance by an opera singer who sang a selection from Puccini's "Tosca." It was, in a word, spectacular. This woman's voice in this enclosed space, and the emotion she conveyed with it, nearly moved me to tears. At the end of the night I found myself drooling over the drum set and wondering if there were any way I could find people to rock with out here.




I'm happy to report that I'm delighted with my apartment situation. All of my nighbors are very considerate and for a big city it's amazingly quiet. Something about the way people are packed in here makes them more respectful of their neighbors. Check out the pics of the empty apartment, and once I fill this blank canvas I'll update. My proximity to Griffith Park has been especially beneficial. In five minutes I can be at a trailhead and hiking in this immense and beautiful park (the Griffith Park Observatory was the scene of the climax in "Rebel Without a Cause"). Overlooks high in the park offer amazing views of the entire city all the way to the ocean (check the blog later for some pics - I keep forgetting to take my camera with me). Since the city has no trail maps available, I've been exploring the park on my own, trying to do a different hike each time. Yesterday I inadvertently stumbled across the gay cruising portion of the park. After a couple of minutes on this trail I started to get a little suspicious. I hadn't seen a single woman and the only men I saw were sitting, not hiking, in groups of trees and fixing me with strangely intense looks. After an approaching shirtless Asian man stopped and watched me walk by, I finally put two and two together and beat a hasty retreat. I eventually found a trail where I managed to stay unmolested for the remainder of my hike.

I am sorry to report that it looks like I did not pass the Jeopardy test, because I have not heard back from Alex. No problem, I'm just going to march down there and take the test in person. On a brighter note, the mussell job is finished.

I've been thinking more and more about exploring some acting. Sunday I'm slated to do some work on the set of a TV show in development, and tomorrow I'm going to a panel discussion with a group of casting directors. Monday I'm signing up for an improv class at the Groundlings theater. You never know where these things will go or what will happen next. Last week at midnight a guy stopped me on the street and asked where he could buy yogurt for a movie shoot. I pointed him in the direction of a 24-hour Ralph's, no questions asked.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Extra Extra!

I'm getting settled into my new place but I have yet to acquire all the comforts of home. For example: no gas, no furniture, no fridge and no internet access. I'm surprised to find out how much I've come to rely on my internet connection to keep me connected to the world and more importantly my friends. I called Comcast and it'll take them a week to come and hook it up. I should be getting gas tomorrow and a fridge on Saturday. Then I'll be ready to rule the universe.

The apartment building is working out fine. I'll admit to being a little freaked out my first night there. As it turns out, I am the only native speaker of English in the building. It's populated by Latinos, Asians, and some Eastern Europeans whom I'm guessing are Armenian but I haven't been able to figure it out because none of them speak English. The night I moved in a whole crowd was having a barbeque in the parking structure, throwing large skewers of meat and eggplant on a grill the size of a cell door. Most of these guys are in their sixties and have fabulous hair and matching Addidas sweat suits. I saw one the next morning and said "good morning." "Good morning," he replied. Encouraged, I pressed on: "How was the cookout last night?" He gazed at me with a look of mild panic and then replied, "thank you." So communication will proceed at a more leisurely pace.

Job-wise I've been applying for jobs positions on a website called realitystaff.com. Yes, you guessed it, this is a clearinghouse for job listings within the reality TV world only. I'm qualified for some of these jobs - logging and digitizing video tapes, for instance, but it's going to be hard because I have no credits to my name. Today I applied for a job as a writer on a reality show called "Icons" that will follow pop icons in a sort of day-in-the-life kind of thing. I'm hoping for the best but very few people have heard of Bucky Wonder.

In a bold and perhaps extremely naive move, I went to an open casting call for extras. This company I went to charges you $50 a month to post your photo on their website and then sign you out to either feature films or TV shows. They promise you $54-$150 dollars a day and claim they can keep you working steadily. I'm not entirely convinced but I'll invest the $50 in the hope that I'll get to sit in a fake courtroom and watch William Shatner argue a case on "Boston Legal." (they also promise they will not charge you until you get work). There was a group of about ten of us, including a guy who claims he was an extra in 'Rocky II" and has a picture of him with Stallone to prove it. They had us fill out a form listing all of our potential costumes and props (circle one): Tuxedo Y/N, Golf Clubs Y/N, Bowling Ball with bag and shoes Y/N etc etc. I told the guy I had an evening jacket but not a tux and he said I should get a tux because I'm the "type" that they would want to use for a formal party scene. That was the first time I was typed to my face in LA. The second time came a few minutes later when the woman associate asked me if I would be willing to drive to Valencia. I said I didn't know and she said I should because that's where they shoot "NCIS" (the Mark Harmon navy crime scene show) and I was the "type" they would use on that show. After all this they took our pictures and told us to keep our cell phones on. You can check out my picture (and all the other talent) at visioncasting.biz. Go to "talent search" and then "caucasian - over 36." My cheeks are very shiny and cherubic looking. I've got to stop eating hamburgers three times a day.