FRESH YARN presents:
So maybe you don't know fear until you find Suzanne Pleshette standing on your doorstep with a measuring tape in her hand.
But let's say you've been living career-free for the better part of a year, and neither a financial windfall, a Pulitzer Prize or your own network variety program has threatened to appear and change this. And in spite of your black heart and empty life, you do have essentially cheery activities that revolve around one acts, sketch comedy and free red wine, thereby preventing those all -- out Travis Bickle moments. In fact, this despair even has a kind of blasé quality. Because even when failing madly in sunny California it's not like you biologically need something like black tar heroin or the forty grand you owe a bookmaker from a Triple Crown wager gone wrong. Which is why when you're at a dinner party with actors and writers and the occasional Post Production person who does God knows what but uses words like "Post" without explanation, it gets really hard to drum up a sense of My Woes Blow Your Woes Out of the Water. Since everyone's nursing an identical malaise. Even a phone call to your mother, which usually produces at least the telephonic equivalent of warm milk and shake 'n bake, yields only bullet points of "you're the one who had to move out there " and "risky industry, that" and finally, "but do see Bend With Beckham, it's superb."
Then there's a month where you purposely tell everyone the absolute and often unpleasant truth. Partly because you wonder if people engage because you have cigarettes, and partly because you'd always wanted to use and mean the phrase "Let's dispense with the pleasantries, shall we?" Before long you're telling people they're far too old to be wearing baby doll tees, or jeans so petite they appear to be conducting a rape in progress, that improv is dumb, that yoga is dumber, and that people's one person shows -- even your own -- are not "poignant painful journeys of discovery" but whiny me-fests. And then you actually ask each of the cute boys working at Trader Joe's if they're all brand new fathers -- which would be the only justification for their beaming, greenpeaceful smiles. Or you'd tell some guy that even though impossibly handsome, his flagrant quest for success didn't make his stepping on other people's toes any less obvious or clumsy. And that someday maybe he'd realize they'd been soaking in the scented milk bath of mediocrity. Why you weren't instantly bludgeoned and left to bleed out on a ditch remains a mystery. Even your brother didn't buy it, although you never did think you'd get sympathy from someone who'd watched you eat six Milk bones and ten locks of your own hair in order to win a pack of Gator Gum. Plus, this behavior gets old when you realize you better be a little nicer or you're gonna be hunting around for change from Coffee Bean in your couch and watching quirky Hungarian coming-of-age films at the Laemmle -- alone -- until you die. Which is why being free for lunch every day of the year can be its own perverse spoiled lymphoma.
At which point you adopt a different tack and decide to become That Serious NPR Girl, who would speak only of the fallen Howard Dean, Zionism and The Onion -- none of which you know the first thing about. Although at my first outing with my new dot.org persona I stumbled miserably as one of my friends had just returned from doing a Merchant Ivory film in England and suddenly I forgot all about socialized medicine because all I wanted to know was whether Kristen Scott Thomas genuinely was Frosty and Chilly. So that was a bust too.
Finally in lieu of success or my own network variety show, I resolved to create a more genuine despair that was somehow more troubling, more afflicted and more noteworthy than other people's. Of course the problem with having friends who are all performers is that they, like you, are so self absorbed that it takes that much longer to focus and notice there's something more wrong with YOU. So between Jambas and hostile moments of reflection at Pinot you learn just exactly how to prove your malaise more better.
Now there are two kinds of malaise people can get away with. The first is a kind of personal affliction where one's despair is visibly marked by weight loss and pallor. Since the only eating disorder I've ever experienced is the inability to stop doing it, and my pink skin gives me all the complexity and mystique of a yellow Labrador, this is not really an option. The second kind of malaise happens when somebody just plain has a deeper sensitivity to world events. My psychotherapist, once a Nurse Ratchett/Judy Dench hybrid who has now morphed into the hate child of Albert Brooks and Leslie Stahl, caught me here in my attempt to cop this. Because I said that I was quite sad and I was sure it was one of those existential angsty things and she said "No its not. You're not any more deeply affected by terrorism or the Iraqi war than anyone else. If you were working in a soup kitchen in Chicago, if you were a social worker in Philadelphia, then it's possible you would be exhibiting a three dimensional feeling. But you're not, so you can't. Nor is this some kind of post traumatic response to 9/11 you've drummed up. You're just worried about rent and the fact that someone you once met got a guest spot on Charmed." And of course she was absolutely right.
So I'm thinking wouldn't it be fun if I had something like an income or a soul and I'm watching my dog, a small feral Jack Russell terrier whom I'm always with in Runyon Canyon where nice people always say which one is yours and I must invariably respond that he's the one busily fellating theirs. Yet here's an animal with a brain the size of a Smokehouse Almond whose life is completely turned around by a single tennis ball. And I realize maybe I just need my own kind of tennis ball. Which is when I began to tutor. When I started tutoring I was not so naïve as to think that I'd be doing any kind of Dead Poets song and dance, but I was under the erroneous impression that my work would be wildly valuable and groundbreaking, what with melding these young Beverly Hills minds. I learned that when your dealing with privately schooled 17 year olds, boys are easier to tutor than girls, because they have a better capacity to focus. And since I really can't focus when there are shiny things in a room or in these situations, genuine Vermeers and Warhols, it's easier to work with boys.
I also had the odd notion that I'd be treated like royalty, psychologically fed and clothed like some kind of medieval alchemist with all of life's secrets in her grubby East of La Cienega hand. I arrived daily at fabulous homes decorated by people born after the first Gulf War whose purpose was to convey the egregious wealth their clients amassed -- also after the first Gulf War. Supercilious maids looked down their noses because they sprayed and dusted items far more valuable than me would usher me around once they made sure I had taken my dirty teacher shoes off. I was usually given water which was replenished regularly in an effort to keep me functioning inside my workplace. Kinda like someone in a cult whose given just enough green beans to stay alive but not enough to rebel. And when one mother, the panicked and rail thin wife of a monolithic producer, explained that this was a serious business, and that, Goddamnit, school was vital and this was costing thousands of dollars and that there wasn't time to screw around, I was delighted by her commitment. Until she explained that for this very reason it would be a lot simpler and much cheaper if I just went ahead and wrote their papers myself. And after the 90 seconds it took me to determine just what ethics were and whether I had any -- the answer being "no," I quickly set about writing term papers. This provided some comfort, although then you wind up at a party again and somebody says they just sold two scripts to Miramax and you say you just got an A on your Rasputin paper but you only got a B+ on your Dylan Thomas paper because you handed it in late, you also realize you're suddenly steps away from 40, calcium tablets and all the achievement of a kiddie pool in Van Nuys.
Still, within a matter of months I began to undergo curious sea change. For the first time I settled down, got calm and gained just a teensy bit of perspective. And slowly but surely I began to feel needed. Maybe there was salvation somewhere between the 101 and the 405 freeways. After all, I was now working and decent and waged and I had a sensible German car and a dog and a nifty little pad in West Hollywood and maybe it was okay. I was even beginning to hunch and shuffle less, and soon I began to decorate my emotional corner of the world with the patterned chintz of pride. Most importantly, I was becoming part of these families. So I'd encourage 16 year old boys to tell me why they'd opted for the A4 instead of the C Class while I churned out provocative, insightful essays. And suddenly, I was doing very well in school. Nor do I think the eleventh grade should be tackled until after thirty. It was a pretty heady thing, academic achievement. It all felt very familial until the day one mother discovered I tutored other children in her son's class. This would, I believed, please her but instead she looked horrified as though I had personally performed her own dermabrasion and had told everyone how much she'd yelped during the procedure. And that afternoon, when her son's entire film class appeared to shoot a feature length film at their house she became alarmed and I was politely asked not to show my face around any of the kids And then, when it came time to leave, two maids brusquely ushered me through a series of forbidden corridors, secret libraries and out to the kitchen, where I was placed in a waiting sedan and swiftly driven around the entire block to my own car -- kind of like the president or Madonna.
And I'm driving home, kind of startled by this but at the same time gripped by a sense of practicality and achievement. And for the first time in my life I realized hey, this is business. This is how they do things. You've got your life, dog and your home. You've got enough self-adhesive stamps to last you thru the next Olympics. And maybe its not so bad, and why were you so stupid and arrogant as to spend months imagining that anyone but your dog should really revolve around you with all these ridiculous personas? Because I'd weathered an affront and pffft I was fine. I'd quit whining. And I became so deliriously happy about the simple things in life that I stopped at one of those little faux Moroccan boutiques on Third Street with the infantile sales girls you know who are dumber and cooler than you'll ever be, and I bought myself a little floral/wistful candle so everyone entering my apartment would remember that they're really just whiling away the afternoon in an eighteenth century garden in the Cotswalds.
Which is when I returned home to find Suzanne Pleshette and an architect waiting at my front door. With tape measures. These are the people in my neighborhood, specifically, upstairs-the people on my condo board -- from whom I've rented for 4 years. They'd asked if they could inspect my apartment which I know they think I'm living inside like some filthy little Dostoevsky figure who smokes way too much. I usher them in bewildered but cheery when, curiously, they begin to discuss whether walls could actually be knocked out, surfaces refinished, and other improvements. They could not have been nicer. They smiled at me, I paused -- and then I got it. At which point the carbon chip that is my heart swelled to two point five times it's normal size once I realized that all this talk was to make my situation better. Astonishingly, these people were going to improve my very own home! Finally, after four years I had become an accepted member of the building, who would soon enjoy the luxuries of the other apartments. Suzanne and the others then pleasantly poked around, thanked me and left. And I knew it was all coming together. I was gonna have a new home to complement my new life. And here I'd always been irritated that my agents worked above Calico Corner -- why now I'd be in there like a shot -- picking out fabric for curtains that the building would pay for, happily.
The following day I was issued a certified document that gave me 30 days to vacate the premises, on account of how the board was planning to convert my apartment into a juice bar and spa for the building. Suddenly, all of my thoughts, my whining, whining thoughts about where my life was headed went out the window. And I realized -- like you do -- that whenever you're feeling down but still holier than thou, you should also remember you have -- or had -- a really nice little pad in West Hollywood. And that maybe smuggie smuggersons need to pay a little attention to what really is important. And then again maybe the cute smiling boys working at Trader Joe's know something I don't.
©All material is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission