So, my original plan was to write roughly once a month about my adventures here in Los Angeles. In reality, what has happened has been this: THREE installments in THREE years. Truthfully, that's roughly par for the course for me.
EPISODE 1:The Bull, the Moon & the Tooth
March 7, 2001
DISCLAIMER: Everything written here is true, with the exception of the punch in the throat.
As year one of living in California came to a close, I realized it was time for me to move to a new apartment. With this change in atmosphere, I thought it would be appropriate to begin a monthly roundup (of sorts) of interesting and/or banal things that happened to me out here.
As many who know me will attest, I am a procrastinator. So it probably comes as no surprise that today, four whole months after moving into my new apartment, I am finally getting the first installment together. Here it is anyway...
I had a falling out with Los Angeles. And, truth be told, I probably wasn't fair to the city. In 1988, I moved out to Southern California with my then girlfriend. I came out because I thought I wanted to finish college out here. My girlfriend came out because she was sweet on me.
For reasons that kinda escape me now, we lived south of Los Angeles itself in Orange County in a town called El Toro. "The Bull" was the site of a Marine base, a handful of strip malls and not much else. It was as devoid of cultural richness as most suburbs are. (Editor's Note: El Toro no longer exists, the Marine base or the town itself. The town is now called Lake Forest, despite the absence of both water and trees.)
My girlfriend hated living in California. I wasn't very fond of it, but had convinced myself that it was where I needed to be. Our Southern California adventure lasted only about eight months. After coming back to the KC area for Christmas, we decided to move back.
Despite living in "The Bull" and not in L.A. proper (and only living there for eight months), I decided that there was nothing to like about Los Angeles.
Flash forward to May 1996. I had been nominated for two national awards from the Music Journalism Awards. It was the second year in a row that the MJAs had honored me but the first for which I was doubly nominated. This time, I was sure I would win -- you know, TWO nominations; it seemed inconceivable that I might lose TWICE in one award ceremony. Armed with that (certainly shoddy) logic, I convinced the publisher of the paper I worked for that I should attend the function and that he should pay my way.
Astoundingly, he agreed.
CELEBRITY BREAK: There's this great chain of burger joints out here called Fatburger. There is not only a location nearby my apartment but also in the Valley -- yes, THAT Valley -- right on my way to work. It was at the Fatburger on Ventura Boulevard in the Valley that I saw Dan Butler, who plays Bulldog on Frasier, eating a Big Fat Deal -- a Fatburger, fries and a soft drink -- at a table by himself. This sighting fell in the same week as Steve Landesberg (Dietrich from Barney Miller) and Earl Boen (the psychiatrist who decides Linda Hamilton is crazy in Terminator 2) sightings just a mile down Ventura at Mel's Diner. It made me think, "Is it my fate to watch bit actors eat lunch?"
So, I flew out to Los Angeles that summer, breaking my near-decade-long promise to never return. (I had made no such promises about splitting infinitives.)
After arriving at LAX, I was greeted with the familiar smell of the city. Every city has a unique odor, and I'm not sure how to characterize L.A.'s. I'm sure it's the peculiar broth of pollutants in the air that give the city its designer scent. It's not disagreeable, by the way, and that shocked me as I drove my rented Dodge Neon from the airport to the hotel -- I realized that I found the smell of the city pleasant and familiar.
Not 10 blocks from the airport, I stopped at a red light. And as I looked around, sorta drinkin' in what there was of the airport-adjacent ambience, I glanced to my right and saw a man leaning against a concrete wall while he urinated on it. The time was 10:45 in the morning.
"Isn't that nice," I said to myself.
To cut to the chase, I failed to bring home an award. The Music Journalism Awards ceremony was a quaint affair hosted by comedian Richard Jeni (in fine spirits despite the unceremonious cancellation of his sitcom Platypus Man only months before). As luck would have it, Moon Zappa -- yes THAT Moon Zappa -- was the presenter chosen to announce to the room, and by proxy to the rest of the world, that I had lost not once but twice on that fateful day.
Despite the double award denial (it IS an honor just to be nominated), and public displays of urination notwithstanding, I found that I had a great time in Los Angeles.
"How odd," I pondered. "I was SURE I hated Los Angeles."
At that point, I upgraded Los Angeles' standing from "Most Hated City In The Nation" to "Not A Bad Place To Visit But I Still Wouldn't Want To Live There."
CELEBRITY BREAK: Not long ago, a friend of mine from Kansas City was on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Perhaps you saw him? His name is Fowler Jones. He won $125,000 on the show. Or was it $250,000? Hmmm. Anyway, it was around Christmas time and I had been invited to a party thrown by my friend Kristen and her boyfriend. The big show on which Fowler won his money was on the same night as the party and, after leaving my apartment, I realized I had forgotten to set my VCR. So, somewhat embarrassed, I asked Kristen if it would be OK to turn on the TV during the party. "My friend Fowler is on Millionaire," I said. "You're kidding," she replied. So we flipped the TV on and -- during the party -- watched Fowler and Regis. People I didn't necessarily know kept walking by me, looking at me watching Millionaire with sad looks on their faces that seemed to say, "You know, it's on four nights a week." But then I'd say, pointing in the direction of the tube, "That's a friend of mine from back home." And they'd say, "You're kidding." And then they'd join me. By the time Fowler won his money, most of the party-goers -- many I had just met -- were cheering him on. This included Kristen and her boyfriend, Randolph Mantooth, who is probably best known for playing John Gage, opposite Kevin Tighe's Roy DeSoto, on the early '70s paramedic drama Emergency! Kristen often refers to Randy simply as "The Tooth."
In September 1998, at the behest of my childhood friend Brooke Dillman and her husband Charlie, I came to Los Angeles for a 10-day visit. Brooke and Charlie had moved from Chicago, IL, to L.A. just two years previous. They first started working on me to move when all three of us were in Kansas City earlier that same year for the wedding of Steve Revare and Polly Taylor, also school chums.
It was ostensibly just a vacation -- although it served the double purpose of also being a 10-day respite from a crazy girlfriend who would later break into my house in the middle of the night to "figure out" why we had broken up -- but Brooke and Charlie had other plans for me. They wanted me to move out to Los Angeles and kept saying things like I "belonged out here." During the 10 days I spent in L.A., they worked on me in insidious ways: introducing me to their really nice friends, taking me to swell social events, showing me around the city. I began to warm up to the concept of Los Angeles.
I felt Los Angeles' status rising again from "Not A Bad Place To Visit" to "A Potential Place To Live." Of course, the crazy girlfriend and my general discontent with Kansas City also helped.
Almost a year to the day from that visit, I arrived in Los Angeles to stay. And a year later I was planning to write a monthly update of my goings-on. And now we're kind of caught up, while still being a little behind schedule at the same time -- if that makes any sense.
I live in L.A. I'm happy here. And since the moment I rolled into town with a Ryder truck full of my belongings, my car on a trailer behind and my cat Myrna riding (a restless and edgy) shotgun, I haven't doubted my move for a second.
The funny thing is, even after 17 months of living in L.A., I still haven't seen another man urinating against a wall.
CELEBRITY BREAK: I do improv comedy at a place called the Improv Olympic -- known colloquially as "IO" -- here in Los Angeles. It began as a theater in Chicago and now has spread its influence to several cities. A group of old school IO'ers known as the Upright Citizens Brigade moved to New York City and opened their own school. For two years, "UCB" -- as THEY are colloquially known -- had an eponymous show on Comedy Central. Recently, they came for a month-long stint at IO. They put on four shows a week (two a night on Wednesdays and Thursdays), and each show included celebrity guests who would give monologues based on audience suggestions. The improvisation would then be based on the monologues. On one particular night, the monologist was Moon Zappa. Yes, the SAME Moon Zappa. She was actually very good, very droll and funny. After the show, I saw her on the sidewalk in front of the theater talking to a couple people. I walked up to her and said, "Good show tonight." She said, "Thank you." Then I said, "You know the last time I saw you onstage was about five years ago at a music journalism awards ceremony." Her eyes got wide and she said, "Oh my god, you were there?" I said, "Yes. In fact, you were the presenter for the two categories in which I was nominated. You were the one who announced that I had lost in BOTH categories." She laughed and replied, "Oh, I'm sorry." "That's all right," I said, "So, when I saw you walk out onstage tonight I said to myself, 'Oh, hell, not HER again!'" She laughed. Well, until I punched her in the throat. THAT shut her up.
NEXT EPISODE: My cat has a pumpkin jones!
© 2001 Jeff Drake