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To Live and Die in LA
By Beth Lapides

The first time I came to LA I almost died. And that was the best part of the trip.

I didn't come for pilot season. The first time I came to LA, I didn't even know what pilot season was. In fact I'm still not entirely clear.

The first time I came to LA, I knew nothing of first look deals or soft passes, packaging agents or call sheets. The first time I came to LA, overnights weren't numbers that Hollywood lived or died by, overnights were what I called my one night stands on the rare occasions that they lasted till morning.

Then again, the first time I came to LA, I wasn't the hardened showbiz professional I am today. The first time I came to LA I was an NEA-funded multi-media performance artist and I was on my first national tour, ready to take on the world, one obscure art space at a time.

The first time I came to LA, I came because I was invited. Someone in New York liked my work and thought that people in LA should see it. Which, according to a show I just saw on E!, is exactly what happened to Ray Ramano. However, in Ray Ramano's case, David Letterman, the world famous talk show host, was the someone, and network executives were the people. In my case Dennis Cooper, the infamous gay novelist was the someone, and the Beyond Baroque Literary Center's mailing list were the people.

Because of this, the first time I came to LA I didn't stay at The Four Seasons, the Chateau Marmont or even the Standard. I stayed at the home of Bob Flanagan. Besides being a brilliant poet, and on the board of directors of Beyond Baroque, Bob had one quality which made him the perfect host for my first trip to LA, he was a masochist. He and his girlfriend Sherrie were in fact, a very famous S&M couple. That was another thing I didn't know at the time.

They were lovely and lived in a pink house. Even without knowing about the S&M, I couldn't believe that these hipsters lived in a pink house. Where I lived, black was the new black every season. Pink wasn't a color so much as a question. Pink?! And forget the pink, I couldn't believe they lived in any house. I lived in a two room plywood-floored apartment often inundated with big hunks of black soot which drifted into the unscreened windows from an absolutely undetectable source. I lived in loft beds and jury-rigged electrical systems and junkies in the hallway. So Bob and Sherrie's little house seemed very Ozzie and Harriet to me.

One night Bob and Sherrie said that they were having a party and that I should find something else to do. That seemed awfully rude.

It's an S&M party, they explained, or of course we would invite you.

Oh, I'm into S&M, I assured them. I was thinking of some lightweight bondage I had recently enjoyed.

No, this isn't for you. It's hardcore.

No, I'm into it I insisted, thinking how hardcore could it be? These people had closets and furniture and curtains.

There will be people shitting on each other.

Ok I said, where do you think I should go?

The night of my LA premiere was fast approaching and I kept asking when will we tech my show. But the staff at Beyond Baroque was very non-committal about rehearsing. Very la dee da in a way that no one I knew in New York was. We all believed that if we worked long enough and hard enough we could bend the town, and after that -- the world -- to our will. In LA they seemed to believe that what might happen was in the hands of fate. Maybe it was the earthquakes and this sense that they might die at any moment. Or the mountains, which seemed like nature's post-its. Constant reminders of the vastness of time. Or maybe it was just the crazy warm light, which made everything pink. And I fell under their spell, and stopped worrying about rehearsals. They had, after all, been right about the S&M party.

The big day arrived. We set up the projectors and pulled down the blinds. But the room didn't get dark. So we couldn't run through the show, because they couldn't see the show. Which is the kind of problem you don't really anticipate when you are from downtown New York, where too much light is just never the problem. I died a long slow multi-media death, that night. Death by slide projector.

After the show, I was whisked off by my cousin Wendy and her misbegotten first husband who wondered what it was I was really trying to say with this piece. I stared out the window into the black night but all I could see was the very thing I was trying to get away from: my sad disappointed face. They drove me away from Bob and his pain as pleasure approach to surviving his cystic fibrosis, and towards their condo and its pleasure as pain approach. I was staying with them for a few days before the final glamorous stop on my tour, a daytime performance in a Cal Arts classroom.

I had my days free, but no car and my cousin, like most people who live in hideous who-lives-there developments, worked all day. Which is of course who lives there. People who don't have to be there very much. So, after I'd wandered around freeway underpasses and California Missions, gotten stoned and done laundry and nursed along a Satre-esque existential dread for a few days, my cousin was trying to help me come up with a plan. You have to go to Disneyland she declared. No I don't I said. I'd never even wanted to go to Disneyland as a kid. But since I'd landed at LAX everyone had told me I had to go to Disneyland. Even Bob and Sherrie. So, I finally caved. I just couldn't take another day in that fucking condo.

My cousin dropped me off at the Granada Hills Ramada Inn at 7 am. See you at 7 she said. Meaning PM. That would be 12 hours later. I tried to be open to having a good experience, I really did. But the dread, the early morning hour and the busload of festive straw hats were getting in my way.

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