AUTHOR’S NOTE: Three years ago, I received an email from an old college classmate. He wanted me to write a memoir about the time he spent in Hollywood from 1988–1992 trying to become a screenwriter. He felt his experiences might help anyone who migrates to Los Angeles chasing dreams. I was skeptical at first, but as we talked, I became fascinated by his sordid adventures. What you’re reading is a serialization of his story.
Fuji was the beginning. She showed me that for a mere $200, you can have a mind-blowing experience. After she fingered my prostate, something inside me changed. I visited the Tokyo Acupressure Massage Parlor three more times that week alone. Then I began hitting the other massage parlors and wank houses Matt told me about. For the next two months, every dollar I made as a temp went into my new sexual compulsions. I ate cheap instant ramen so I could afford rented twat. I learned more about boobs, ass, and pussy than most men ever know. Or even want to know. For example, I became an expert on breasts. The sheer variety amazed me. I had even begun to make mental lists, putting tits into categories and subcategories based on color, size, flavor, and a dozen other factors.
Imani had elephant ball breasts — gray, wrinkled, and leathery.
Marilyn sported all natural 36 DDs. Wild rivers of blue veins snaked around her nipples. “Aren’t they beautiful?” Marilyn said as I buried my face between them. “And they’re real, baby, all real.”
Lynx’s tits were the size of navel oranges and just as firm but with succulent nipples.
Venus had droopy pale knockers, sad and lonely.
Cassandra’s mammary glands were pointy, like little Chinese hats, only chocolate in color.
Aphrodite’s hooters were bulbs of melted gold.
Sexy Sarah’s bombers looked like volleyballs.
Rosa had zeppelins that hung almost to her waist. They were too suffocatingly big for me.
I found all these ladies and more via advertising in the back pages of the LA Weekly. But it wasn’t their breasts that drew me to them, nor the sex that turned me on, per se.
What I craved most, I discovered, was the anticipation of the encounter. Nothing was a bigger thrill than what might happen. The ultimate rush came in the instant before the girl opened her door or walked into the room. That moment of possibility was heroin to me. That’s the high I chased.
Whoring is an expensive hobby, not unlike golf or skiing. After I burned through all my cash and drained my savings dry, I tapped credit cards and soon had debts beyond my ability to pay. When the Fishman Personnel Agency called in the middle of April and offered me a solid two-week job at a casting agency, I said yes immediately. I needed more money to cover my debt.
The work was pure drudgery. I filled in for a production assistant on vacation. The first week was uneventful. Then on April 29, I showed up to the casting office promptly at nine with a bag of bagels for the staff. This was my daily routine. I was the designated bagel boy. But this was not just any routine Wednesday. On this very same day, forty miles away in a Simi Valley courtroom, the jury in the Rodney King trial was in its seventh day of deliberations. King, publicly brutalized on television by LAPD officers, had been a hot topic for months. But now, retribution was coming at last. I mostly ignored the TV news that droned in the break room and busied myself with office grunt work. Making copies, running errands, getting lunches.
At three fifteen that afternoon, the breaking story flashed on the TV screen: a verdict had been reached in the King trial. All four police officers charged in the case were acquitted of assault. They were judged guiltless, and by implication, the savage beating of a defenseless black man was justifiable. Everyone at the casting agency stared at the television in surprise. One of the secretaries, a black woman, burst into tears, and her friend consoled her.
“There’s no justice, not ever,” howled the woman.
Babak, the Iranian guy who kept the computers running in the office, turned to me with deep worry on his face.
“They should let us go home early.”
“Why?” I asked.
“This city is gonna boil over. My family barely escaped Tehran in nineteen seventy-nine. I know what I’m talking about.”
The office shut down early. I spent the rest of the day at home, in front of my TV, watching Babak’s prophesy come true. Sporadic riots, looting, and fires broke out across Los Angeles as thousands of black citizens vented their rage. Sirens screamed long into the night, and the buzz of the helicopters outside was constant.
April 30 began with relative calm, but by mid-morning, the rioting was widespread, stretching into Koreatown and Hollywood. Buildings burned, businesses were ransacked. Anarchy reigned in L.A. I abandoned the idea of going to work after watching drivers being pulled from their vehicles on TV.
Then my phone rang. I answered in a rush, “Are you seeing this shit? It’s not a riot out there it’s an uprising.”
I assumed Matt Steele was calling, but it was one of the assistants from the casting agency instead.
“Thank God you answered,” Maggie said. “I need you to pick up a client for me today. A little girl and her mother. They have a big audition.”
“You can’t be serious. The whole city is burning,” I told her.
“Beverly Hills and Malibu are fine,” Maggie informed me. “I really need your help, Sam.”
“No one else is available?”
“All the other production assistants called in sick or won’t answer their phones.”
“No shit. It’s dangerous out there. Forget it.”
“Sam, I’ll get fired over this.” Maggie sounded on the verge of tears.
“What’s the big deal?”
“It’s a James L. Brooks movie.”
“I loved Terms of Endearment,” I said.
“It’s been a casting nightmare to find the right kid. The mother and little girl flew in from Georgia for this.” Then Maggie pleaded. “Please, Sam, pretty please?”
“Where would I have to go?”
“Pick up the talent at the Beverly Hills Hotel and drive them out to Nick Nolte’s house in Malibu.”
I glanced at my television and saw images from a war zone. Patrols of Koreans toting M-1 carbines were guarding their liquor stores. A gun battle erupted between them and swarms of black teenagers.
“Nick Nolte’s house?” I said, thoughtfully.
“Please say yes,” Maggie begged. “If you do this for me, I’ll make it up to you.”
“I’ll have your baby — whatever it takes.”
Of course, I said yes to Maggie, but mostly because I was curious about Nick Nolte, an actor I had admired in several classic films, especially Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Thus began one of the strangest days of my life. I ferried the mother and the brat out to Nolte’s Malibu estate on empty roads. The few cars I did see didn’t obey any traffic signals. Afterward, I returned home to find Matt Steele waiting on my patio in the dark. He scared the shit out of me at first.
I raised my hands over my head and yelped, “Take anything you want.”
“It’s me, Sam. Don’t panic.”
Matt looked like Rambo. He was wearing camouflage face paint and armed for war. In addition to his holstered James Bond handguns, he also cradled his favorite shotgun.
“Where the hell have you been?” he asked. “I’ve been calling all day. I feared the worst. I even came here to rescue you.”
“I was working.” I lowered my arms and dug keys from my pocket.
“Society collapses and you went to work?”
“I drove a five year old out to Nick Nolte’s house for an audition.”
Matt’s face registered envy. “You spent the riots at Nick Nolte’s house? How elegant of you.”
“It’s not as exciting as it sounds.” I unlocked my door. “How long were you hiding on my patio?”
Matt Steele followed me inside. “I wasn’t hiding. I was guarding.”
“Okay, how long were you guarding my house?”
“Almost an hour. Anyway, it’s safer here. My bungalow is too close to Ghost Town. My local black gang is going ape shit. It might be months before social order is restored.”
“I heard the National Guard is rolling in tomorrow.”
Matt mulled that over before he spoke. “Did you get a chance to pitch Glamourville to Nolte?”
“I fucked it up.”
“What a surprise.” Matt pulled out a joint, lit it, and took a hit. Then he sat in a chair smoking pot looking like he belonged in a Vietnam movie. “How?”
“They were doing auditions for the new James L. Brooks movie.”
“A sequel to Broadcast News?” Matt joked, offering me a toke. I ignored his offer.
“Worse. His new movie is a musical about Hollywood. Prince wrote all the songs. I spent the day waiting for the auditions to end so I could to take one bratty girl and her mother back to their hotel.”
“Did the kid have any talent?”
“She was no Shirley Temple,” I said.
“Brooks’s career is over. When you hear somebody wants to reinvent the musical you know they’re fresh out of ideas.”
“He seemed befuddled and lonely.”
“And I’m sure you didn’t try to sell him Glamourville, either.” Matt took another hit on his spliff.
“No, my only chance was to pitch Nolte when I found him alone in his study snorting a line of coke off a screenplay. He didn’t notice me until I said, ‘Mr. Nolte? They’re ready to film now.’ That startled him. He spun around. His eyes were red and wet with tears.”
“What the fuck? Did he say anything to you?”
“He gestured at the TV and growled in that gravelly voice of his, ‘If I was one of those Zulus, I’d be up here in Malibu robbing the rich instead of stealing diapers in Compton.’ Then he took a swig of rum, wiped the coke off his face, and asked me, ‘You read Jim’s script? It’s a beautiful piece of writing, but I don’t know how the fuck to inhabit my character.’”
“Typical,” Matt snorted. “No matter how famous actors get, they’re still children on the inside. What’d you tell him?”
“Tears were streaming down his face, so I tried to console him by saying, ‘Don’t worry. It’s just an audition for the girl. Nobody’s paying attention to you.’ He didn’t like that. He growled at me and stormed out of his study.””
Matt sat at my desk, sucked in another hit, and exhaled loudly. “You should’ve stolen Brooks’s screenplay the moment Nolte left the room. We could’ve sold bootleg copies.”
“Nolte took it with him. I was worried I’d pissed him off, but I guess not, because later he told me if the riots continued, I was welcome to stay in his guest house.”
“He said that?”
“His actual words were: ‘we need to stick together.’”
“And he’s not even Jewish,” Matt mused.
“That’s awesome!” Matt jumped to his feet. “You two bonded. You should go back to Nolte’s immediately and pitch him Glamourville.”
“I’m not going anywhere tonight. I’m beat.” Then I added, “Did you know the Eagles wrote the song ‘Hotel California’ in Nick Nolte’s guest house?”
“That’s pathetic celebrity gossip.” Matt headed for the door. At the last moment, he stopped and looked at me, seriously. “I care about you, Sam. You know that, right?”
“I’m leaving my shotgun with you, so you can defend yourself. If anybody comes to the door and it’s not me, shoot first and ask questions later.”
He tried to hand me the gun, but I waved him off. “You keep it. I’ll be fine.”
Reminders of the riots were everywhere during the commencement ceremony at USC. Gun-toting National Guard troops patrolled the campus. Just beyond the gated entrance, the charred remains of a strip mall smoldered. The acrid smell of smoke hung in the air.
In spite of the destruction, thousands of people assembled in front of Doheny Library for the convocation. They were not to be denied the spectacle of a glorious graduation day. Parents who spend eighty thousand dollars to put a kid through USC want pomp and circumstance, even if society is falling to ruins.
Despite the fact that I had dropped out, I still wanted to see Matt Steele graduate. As I watched, Kirk Douglas received an honorary degree and the university president gave an impassioned speech, though many of his words were drowned out by the churn of helicopters taking off from the military staging area setup south of campus. From what I could hear, the president urged all graduates to get involved in rebuilding the city. Fat chance. Social work paid too poorly to ever buy a BMW.
When the ceremony concluded, I waited by the Tommy Trojan statue so Matt could find me. He eventually navigated his way through the dispersing crowd.
I walked over and shook his hand. “Congratulations.”
“A zombie could graduate from the University of Spoiled Children,” Matt said. “All you have to do is pay your tuition every semester and show up to class. If you take a few notes along the way, you’ll make the honor roll.”
“I don’t even qualify as a zombie.” I scuffed my sneakers on the brick walkway, not meeting Matt’s eyes.
“You’ve chosen a different path, the harder path. You walk the road of an artist. Eight thousand assholes got their degrees today. But you’re truer than any of them.”
“Thanks. What now?” I asked Matt.
Matt produced a small flask from under his graduation gown. He thumbed off the top, took a swig, and offered me some. “My father agreed to support me through the end of the summer or until I get a real job, whichever comes first.”
“That’s cool.” I gulped vodka then handed the flask back to Matt as my throat burned.
“It’s better than cool. It means I’ll have time to manage your career while I’m looking for work. Who knows, I might get an assistant job at one of the Big Three agencies. If that happens, I’m taking you to the top with me.”
I was shocked. “You want a desk position at ICM or CAA? I thought you scorned agents.”
“I do, but working for them is the best way to get inside fortress Hollywood. A film degree from USC has to be good for something besides wiping shit off my anus.” Matt’s eyes were scanning the crowd behind me. He placed a hand on my shoulder. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
“Where’re you going?” I asked.
“That’s Kirk Douglas over there. I’m gonna introduce myself.”
Matt disappeared into the scrum of graduates and their families. He returned five minutes later, beaming.
“I just shook hands with the man who played Spartacus,” Matt announced. “He’s very gracious. I even pitched him Glamourville.”
“That fast? What’d he say?” I asked, excitedly.
“He said: ‘Dreams are harder to kill than cockroaches.’”
A pair of military helicopters buzzed low overheard. Their earsplitting roar was a reminder that we lived in a city teetering on the edge of oblivion.
(to be continued…)