Archive for September, 2006

A series of open letters

September 29, 2006

Dear Paul Haggis,

Your should know that your thoughts on car crashes in Los Angeles are way off base. There’s nothing romantic about them. When a car ran a red light today and skidded to avoid me as I walked across the street, my first notion — amazingly enough — was not, “Oh boy! Human interaction!” My thoughts ran more along these lines, condensed into about two seconds: “Squeal. Tires. Where’s that squeal? Car. Oh shit. He won’t hit me, right? Coming at me. This is really gonna suck. Good thing I got that free life insurance policy. Who’ll spend it? I can’t even remember who’s name’s on there. I bet getting hit by a car hurts like hell. I hope he doesn’t hit my knees. I really need those for walking and stuff. Yeah, he’s driving by. And looking at me. Why is he looking at me? It’s like he slowed down to stare with no intention of stopping to apologize for the whole almost killing me thing. Where’s he so anxious to get? Oh great, now everyone in the intersection is looking at me. I think I’ll shrug to show non-chalance. Yeah, smooth. I wonder if they’re looking at my Taco Bell bag. Stop judging me, you tanned bastards. I can’t wait to eat this burrito.”

Dear Guy Who Almost Ran Me Down Today at the Corner of Beverly Blvd. & S. Orlando Ave.,

You suck, dude. Seriously, that light had been red for like 7 seconds. I might forgive you if it was a getaway after a diamond heist, because those are pretty cool, and that means you’re a professional driver and I wasn’t in that much danger. Also, can I have some diamonds?

Dear Taco Bell,

That burrito was indeed delicious. If possible, please move your restaurant across the street so I don’t have to cross Beverly Blvd. to get there. As much as I appreciate your dirt cheap, and possibly dirty, food, it’s not worth dying for.

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Background acting

September 26, 2006

I haven’t written in a few days because the girl who lived in my room before me hadn’t paid the cable bill in several months and they finally cut the line. This action unfortunately coincided with the one unsecured wireless network in range disappearing.

But I’m back, and I’m glad, because I get to report this: David Boreanaz is just as dreamy in real life as he is on TV, if not dreamier.

I did my first background acting gig today, for the television series “Bones.” I was on the set for close to 12 hours. The upside of this is that they fed us three times and gave us a few hours of overtime pay on our minimum wage salary. The downside is everything else.

I was under the impression there was a lot of downtime at these things, so I was excited to get lots of reading and perhaps writing done. Unfortunately, I could only carry a book or notepad in the “holding area” where I spent maybe an hour, and, understandably, not on the actual set, where I spent far, far longer.

And yet this wasn’t the most annoying thing. Neither was the constant standing in uncomfortable shoes, nor the lack of anything happening for about 95% of the time. (In case you’ve never read about it, here’s the skinny on movie-making: it’s really fucking boring.) But no, the idle standing wasn’t the most annoying thing. The most annoying thing was the starry-eyed dreamers. The desperate-but-perky wannabe actors who constitute a large portion of the background actor industry. There might be something endearing about these types, the ones who are ever hopeful of catching their big break, who keep plugging away for months and years, who never let go of their dream and keep that sparkle in their eye and are maybe just a tad self-deluded. It might be endearing, but for one thing: they never shut up.

A background actor has two responsibilities. One, take an honest stab at acting for the one or two seconds that you appear on camera. And two, shut the hell up the rest of the time. The actors, the really persistent go-getters who can’t wait to be a part of Hollywood magic, don’t seem to understand this second part. They’ll talk during downtime, they’ll talk when the director’s giving instruction, they’ll talk, in some cases, when tape is rolling. I wanted to ask them if they thought perhaps the reason they haven’t found more success might have something to do with the fact that they can’t be bothered to bring the slightest semblance of professionalism to even the simplest of gigs. I wanted to ask them that, but I remembered my second responsibility, and anyway was distracted by David Boreanaz’s hotness.

Los Angeles radio

September 21, 2006

Because God hates me, my car tape player — through which my CD player runs — broke three days after I entered LA, four days after my warranty ran out. Now I love driving. But that’s mostly because I like singing in the car. Without my CD player, without my tunes, I become aware that driving is a most unpleasant and dangerous experience. This is especially true in Los Angeles County, where people don’t so much drive as sit in traffic, narrowly avoid accidents, and finally search for parking for several hours.

The one upside of this is that I got a chance to thorougly explore LA radio. Turns out there’s not much to get excited about.

The world famous KROQ is nothing more than a slightly above average modern rock station, playing a mix of crummy new stuff and classics from the past 15 years.

91X is more enjoyable, playing a bit more Rancoteurs and a bit less My Chemical Romance, with their classics more along the lines of the Violent Femmes than the more obvious Nirvana and Alice in Chains. However, 91X is also a San Diego station, meaning it’s just a tease, fading in and out in my neighborhood.

KBAQ and KCRW are my local NPR affiliates. In their non-NPR time, one plays classical music and the other whatever the hell the college DJs feel like. Unfortunately, the students/old-crazy-guys of Santa Monica College don’t seem to have as varied or interesting a musical taste as the Princeton DJs I’m used to.

Indie 103.1 doesn’t seem to have a format, with blocks of punk, new wave, reggae and a two hour weekly show hosted by Henry Rollins that I’m sorta curious about. It’s worthy of a car preset, but barely.

A few other random thoughts:

People really like Nirvana out here.

There’s only one classic rock station in the county, KLOS, which is strange because they’re inescapable back east.

I’d been so disgruntled by recent Weezer releases, I forgot how good they were in the grand scheme of things. After being forced to listen to so much modern rock garbage, I’m relieved every time “Perfect Situation” comes on.

The Offspring’s “All I Want” should be outlawed from public use. It was on the soundtrack for the Sega Dreamcast game “Crazy Taxi” back in 1999, which means when I hear it on the radio in the car I have the uncontrollable desire to careen recklessly through the streets of Los Feliz. Thankfully, I couldn’t find a fare.

Yo La Tengo’s new album…

September 16, 2006

…is called I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass.

That’s an excellent title, which is only appropriate, because it’s an excellent album.  After two underrated collections of subdued material, the band turns their amps back up for a varied, almost psychotically restless album in the vein of their 1997 fan favorite, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One.

Things kick off with “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind,” a messy, 11-minute guitar freakout that annoys me because I know it will please all those tasteless fans who didn’t enjoy the last two records because they didn’t have enough guitars, but which can’t annoy me too much because it’s also a pretty good song.

It’s followed by “Beanbag Chair,” a bouncy, horn-heavy, piano-driven pop number that couldn’t be more different stylistically from the album’s opener unless it were Japanese gangsta rap.  From there we have the sad, Daniel Johnston-with-strings folk of “I Feel Like Going Home,” the psychedelic “The Race is On Again,” the 50s-beach-party-on-drugs “Watch Out for Me Ronnie,” and everything in between.  But because Yo La Tengo always sound like Yo La Tengo, no matter what genres they attempt, the transitions work.  At an hour and 17 minutes, the album’s running time will be a turn off for some, but at no point does it drag, in great part because it never stays in one place too long.

For me, Yo La Tengo’s best record is, and probably always will be, 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, their pretty, romantic, nostalgia-tinged collection of rhythmic tunes for summer nights.  But most people seem to prefer the try-anything jukebox shuffle of I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, and I can’t blame them.  For those people, they’ll soon have quite the debate as to which is better: I Can Hear the Heart or I Am Not Afraid of You.  We’ll probably need a bit more distance to give an informed opinion.  But either is a great introduction to a great band, and I’d recommend picking up one or the other today.

The Beverly Center

September 14, 2006

One could be forgiven walking down my rather suburban street for not realizing they’re in a major city, or anyway, a major county that for all intents and purposes is one big city. I forget it myself sometimes. The nearest reminder of LA’s gargantuan size is the Beverly Center. It’s an 8-story shopping mall that takes up four full city blocks, or would, anyway, if the streets were straight. Its gravitational force is such that other, smaller malls have been sucked into its orbit, so we wind up with the Beverly Connection, measuring a mere 2 stories, across La Cienga Blvd., and some kind of mall-strip/mall hybrid across 3rd Street.

Nothing so big and idiotic could exist outside a major urban center. It’s the nearest indication to my house that I do indeed live in a happening place.

And it’s a mall. It’s a god damn shopping mall. A great big 8-story symbol of suburban living.

That’s LA for you.

This was all well and good until I went inside. I was in the neighborhood, and I needed to buy the new Bob Dylan and Yo La Tengo CDs. The Beverly Center has over 120 stores. Number of them that sell music? None.

That’s okay, I say, I’ll just check out the bookstores. Oops. Among the 120, there isn’t a single bookstore.

Well, at least I can check out one of those goofy gift shops like Spencer’s, right? The ones that have an endless suply of “Over 40” and/or fart-related jokes to print on coffee mugs? Nope, none of those either.

There’s nothing there except overpriced clothing stores and overpriced restaurants and one movie theater that the locals claim is terrible. There is one store worth visiting, which is Brookstone, a must for every weary traveler in need of a mildly uncomfortable mechanical back massage. But I couldn’t find it.

Audience work

September 14, 2006

It’s hard not to feel like a failure as a human when you’re getting paid minimum wage to sit in a game show audience. It doesn’t help if you’re surrounded by a bunch of failed actors, a few of whom are still keeping it together, dressing nicely and bringing a book for the hours of downtime, but most of whom have simply given up on life. It also doesn’t help when the game show in question is taping its first episode and is still a technical disaster. It also doesn’t help that the game show, called “The Rich List,” seems ready to be a complete failure, with its awkward format, silly set, and mildly charming Irish host who kept asking us if we could understand him.

At least I didn’t cave and get paid $14 to watch the Carson Daly show.

Sales tax

September 6, 2006

When buying an LA Times today, I tried to give the guy tending the newsstand 50 cents.  Because the paper says it costs 50 cents.  He insisted I give him 4 cents more.  I’d forgotten sales tax.  The fact that he had to ring up the sale, open a register, and hand me coins in return kind of defeats the purpose of a newsstand, I think.  Half the fun is flipping the guy one of those heavy Sacagawea dollars that inexplicably annoy people and yelling “keep the change” even if there is no change (this works especially well if you’re wearing a brown suit and fedora and if the guy tending the newsstand is actually an impoverished shoeblack selling papers he stole out of a trash can).

But mostly what surprised me is that, in California, newspapers are not exempt from sales tax.  I don’t really see why they would or should be.  And come to think of it, I’m not sure they’re tax exempt in New York or New Jersey either.  All I know is that I felt really dirty and unusual giving the guy three quarters and waiting for change.  There are some things in life that should come to round numbers.

American sameness

September 4, 2006

Right now I’m feeling a bit sad and lonely, and that is quite the relief.

On my drive across America, I was bothered by something which was this: I was content.  I wasn’t excited about my trip; excitement may have washed over intermittently, but only for minutes at a time, an hour or two at most, not for the full four day duration.  And it wasn’t quite satisfaction in my decision to move, or joy for what was ahead of me, or happiness at what I was leaving behind.  It wasn’t even the calming nothingness of the open road, or the relaxation that comes with books on tape.

Rather, as long as I was able to continue eating at Wendy’s, I was content.  As long as I had Van Morrison and Cat Stevens within arm’s reach, I was content.  As long as I could fall asleep every night with my Buffy DVDs, I was content.  And this concerned me because I was driving alone and had been warned that I would get very lonely very quick and it wasn’t happening and perhaps I didn’t need friends and family after all and as long as I had accessible entertainment and soothing corporate logos, I could be happy.  After seeing nothing but open space and the occasional pair of headlights for hours in Kansas or Utah, the sight of an Arby’s sign is much like the sight of an old friend.  It’s familiar, it’s comforting.  It meets expectations and oozes warm memories.  The same with those addictive DVD sets of TV shows.  It’s an old friend in a box.

I was worried.  I was worried that I’d reached that point in a society intent on homogenization and isolation where my best friends could be George Costanza, Sam Seaborn, and Jon Stewart, where they’d provide me all the laughter and emotional engagement and intellectual nourishment I needed, where my family could be Burger King and Motel 6, feeding me and keeping me warm.  I’m still worried that we’re headed down that path.  But right now I miss real people with their real food and their real locations with real memories.  And for the moment, anyway, I’m relieved.