Joan Rivers and The Ultimate Ugly Duckling…

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I can’t even remember the first time I was teased at school or for what. There were so many things to be made fun of, the pale skin, the frizzy hair, the learning disability. When I look back on it I get lost in a daze of blackouts and denial. What I do remember was a television movie called The Girl Most Likely to …… starring Stockard Channing which was about an ugly, picked on girl who gets, plastic surgery, becomes beautiful and then gets murderous revenge on everyone. Although it wasn’t critically acclaimed, the film offered me the comfort that no school counselor, religion or friend ever could.

The film begins with heroine Miriam arriving for registration day at the fifth college she has attended in her search for a husband. In spite of her being smart, helpful and amusing she is repeatedly rejected by her classmates and is the victim of many a practical joke. One night, when she is furious after a prank she gets into a car accident and when they take her body cast off she had been transformed into a beautiful swan.

Now, there are many ugly duckling stories out there. The fat pimply girl grows tall and thin with perfect skin and takes off with the one man who was always kind to her, or the one who never noticed her. Or, the fat girl who is taunted by the crowd, but loved by the cutest boy in school. There is the Cyrano story, where the ugly person loves the beautiful person entirety for their looks and impresses said beautiful person with their words. None of these fables resonated with me in the way that I wanted.  As much as I wished I could grow up to be tall and thin and gorgeous, I suspected it wouldn’t happen. I was to learn that most men are far too shallow to love anyone for their personality. I found the Cyrano story to be too hypocritical to be enjoyed.

The Girl Most Likely To …was different. Although Miriam certainly transforms, it is revenge and not romance that is on her mind. She doesn’t want the love and admiration of those who wronged her, she wants their blood. She knows that men are stupid and they like big breast, so she points her newly enhanced boob at her victims and points them right in the direction of their demise, She gets a plumber to drown himself, a quarterback to sky dive to his death, arranges for surgical accident for a doctor (Gopher, from love boat) and has a cheerleader backflip right out the window. I loved it!

I had come home from a hard day of being teased to find I had a new friend – or a friend. Miriam was smart, sharp witted and self-deprecating. Her suffering had built her character and her power of observation. “

I wished that Miriam was real and I fantasied that we’d go on missions together. Whenever I was laughed at, I would think of what she would say. I fantasied that we got a particularly mean classmate of mine to do a handstand on the el tracks.

In a few years I would learn that she was, indeed real and her name was Joan River’s. Ya see, Joan co-wrote the script for the movie. The film is laced with running themes from Joan’s stand up routine. She has a slutty roommate named Heidi (Abramowitz?) She realizes all men care about are looks, “The only one to ever ask me to go to bed was my mother,” and of course she ends up getting life changing plastic surgery.

When you are homely and picked on adults are quick to tell you that you are not homely and the other kids are just jealous of you. After they finish lying to you about how pretty you are they will then proceed to tell you that looks don’t matter and its inside that counts, which is bullshit. Oh don’t get me wrong its inside that SHOULD count, but it doesn’t, just turn on the TV and tell me I’m wrong.

I would watch TV at night and I was always thrilled when Joan was on The Tonight Show. She was like the adult role model I’d never had. She told the truth about the way things were when everyone else tried to make me think it was all in my head. It made me feel strong, smart and observant- like her.

“No man ever put his hand up a woman’s dress looking for a library card,” she once told Johnny Carson.

When Joan died last week I felt like I’d lost a friend. Although I didn’t like it much that who she was wearing had a face, parents and a central nervous system, I still admired what she had done. It wasn’t just that she was a woman who was salty, it was that she was a person who was honest and showed us that truth was painful and the only way to deal with that pain was to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Her strength in the face of her critics was amazing. Most people would have backed down and said they were sorry for offending people, but not her. This is remarkable, because, given the amount of plastic surgery she had, her attention to fashion and her need for fame she clearly cared what other people thought. She was willing to stand up for her right to say anything she wanted even though it must have terrified her to do so and that is the definition of courage.

Much has been said this week about how she paved the way for a lot of female comedians, but none of them were really in the same class as she was. Kathy Griffin makes fun of celebrities, but she often predicates her insults, by saying that she love or admires the person. Sarah Silverman is really risqué, but she is definitely playing a character on stage. Chelsea Handler merely takes cheap, unfunny shots at the physicality of a little person and expects us to be shocked at the fact that she drinks, sleeps around and admits it. But, Joan took no prisoners, she meant everything she said, she wasn’t playing a character her humor came straight from her own pain and rage. She might have been crude, but she was also quick witted and observant in a way that is very rare.

No one will ever be able to break ground the way Joan did again. Female comics have become bawdy to the point of being tiresome. She once told a reporter she believes in reincarnation and she wanted to come back as her dog. So if you see a poodle puppy walking down fifth avenue in high heels barking at everyone, don’t be afraid to laugh – that’s the way she would have wanted it.

The Audition Workshop Salesman, The Church of Scientology and My Life of Crime

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Chris called me and told me the good news the first week of July. He got a job working for a special effects house in Los Angeles. He was basically going to be a PA, but it was something; I was happy for him.  I thought the new job would put him in a better mood.  He told me they were working on the effect of having Cinderella come out of her dress and going back into rags for some video. He said it could lead to a permanent job

In the meantime, I got some good news of my own, petition circulating was starting up again and there was an audience job on Saturday night.  I would be able to eat regular meals again. When I told this to Chris he was unimpressed.

“If you didn’t live in San Pedro you would get audience jobs every day and the petitions don’t pay anything, “, he said angrily. You should look on Craigslist under labor if you want a job in the industry.

“Who said I want a job in the industry? I don’t even like the industry”.

“Well you could get something better than what you have right now if you didn’t live in San Pedro.

We spoke several times on the phone over the next few days. Once again, he got more arrogant with every phone call. He told me that he was going to visit his friend in Big Bear that weekend and couldn’t see me at all. Eventually we just stopped calling each other.

I was scared and wondered where I would live if I lost my job. MacBeth had yet another ear infection and  was scratching himself everywhere constantly . He had to be taken to the doctor which was located in Torrance a ten mile walk from where I lived in San Pedro . The only place I could afford was a discount veterinarian that was open odd hours.

When I got there the doctor recommended that a blood panel be done to determine exactly what it was MacBeth was allergic to. Even the ear infection cost $100 to treat. I knew Macbeth would never let me put the drops in his ears when we got home.  I sprung for a cab on the way back which was $30.00.

I had no choice but to book several audience jobs after work that week I couldn’t afford a dog sitter and I didn’t trust any of my neighbors so I carpeted every inch of the tiny studio with doggie training pads and left out an enormous bowl of food and water.

One of the tricks abject poverty had forced me into was steeling free rides on public transportation. When I couldn’t afford a $5.00 day pass and $1.20 highway express bus fee,  I would often take the commuter bus from San Pedro to Long Beach which was only $1.20  with a transfer to the blue line to LA. Once in LA  I would ride the purple line for free to K town. At night  I would take the train all the way back to Long Beach for free and ride the bus home for $1.00. I never got caught doing this and I must have done it at least a hundred times. This is a common practice among poor Angelinos and the one  advantage of being in a city where the cops were unusually slow and lazy even for cops.

On Tuesday of my long week of after work audience jobs I stole  a free ride on the Red line from K town  to Universal Studios. From there I walked a good five miles to NBC  Studios in Burbank. As I was walking past the old school studios and famous restaurants that lined the street a blond man who appeared to be just a bit younger than me fell into step with me.

“Hi,” he said.

Hello, “ I replied wondering if I should be scared.

“Hey, I was just wondering are you an actress?” he asked.

(As I’ve mentioned, I resemble Tom Petty).

“No, I’m a telemarketer, I said plaintively.

“Oh, common everybody in Hollywood is an actor.”

“World’s a stage”. I replied.

“Hey, would you like to go to an audition?”

“What  for?”

‘Well, you can take these audition workshops. They like acting classes, but they’re taught by real casting directors. If they like you they put you in a part. That’s how a lot of actors get guest starring roles on TV.

“And you’re selling admission to these workshops?”

“Well, yeah I am helping out a buddy of mine who’s a casting director. I actually take the workshops and I’ve gotten several guest stars that way.”

I didn’t say anything to this. I have known several actors in Los Angeles who have taken these “workshops” which cost around $45 a pop. Almost no one ever gets a job that way. When they do get something its one line on a crap TV show. They do get something like $500 and a SAG voucher in the unlikely that this happens. But, by the time you finish auditioning and going for the call back and filming the thing you could have earned $500 at a regular job. It would be one thing if you were doing it because it was a project you believed in or something with beauty and integrity, but a one in a million chance of being on a  crime show; give me a break.

I didn’t vocalize any of this I just said no thanks. He asked me where I was off to and I told him I was working Jimmy Kimmel at NBC.

“Do they need anyone else? I may just come with you.”

“Well you had to sign up, but I’m sure they’ll be a spec line. “
(“a spec line” a line for people not booked for the show. If someone who is booked doesn’t show up or shows up one minute late a spec takes there place.)

He decided against coming with me.

“You’ve got to be an actor with those eyes.” He said handing me a business card and heading into Big Boy’s when he noticed Drew Carry sitting at the counter.

The casting call of Jimmy Kimmel had called for 18 to 30 year olds. I was a bit nervous I would be turned away at the door. As I was admitted into the theater I thank the universe for having a baby face. All the pretty people had to stand around the stage and act like they like the bubble gum band that was playing that night. We goofy looking people all got to sit in the back. I chatted with the man sitting next to me .who was in Los Angeles pursuing a career as a professional skateboarder:only in Cali.

After the show I returned to San Pedro on the bus. I ran into my friend Alex who had long been my bus buddy. Alex was a barista at a Starbuck’s in Santa Monica and made the three hour bus journey from San Pedro every day. He was an aspiring musician who had attended Hollywood High. Half of his classmates were the sons and daughters of film crew people, gaffers casting directors and the like. Many of them had been raised in the Church of Scientology.

Alex was constantly trying to scare me with stories of their strange and violent customs. He told me that all of their children were illiterate and got punished if they questioned anything. He told me that if you were bad they locked you in a closet without food or water.

I looked forward to our bus rides together, I had a little crush  on Alex in spite of the fact that I was ten years his senior. It was rare to meet someone in LA who hated Scientology and was willing to admit it. Unfortunately, he lived with his girlfriend who was the daughter of a rich Beverly Hills doctor; one a year the family took Alex with them on a fabulous vacation.

Scientology is a major influence in Hollywood and even though most people in Los Angeles don’t actually believe in it they are afraid to say anything bad about it. A lot of people join the church to get a head in show business; they even offer acting classes to young minions.

Some people join out of desperation. An old Nielsen buddy of mine was going to join to get a free SRO  room. The church owns several buildings in Hollywood and it is rumored that one can get a free room if one is willing to stand on the street and recruit people.

My Nielsen friend went to the church one day to take a free personality test. They asked him for his driver’s license and social security number.  He said he left them in the car and ran out the door. Apparently he was so freaked out by the questions that the prospect of a free room no longer seemed so enticing. The first time I ever visited LA I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard alone when an overzealous minion seized my arm and asked me if I was happy.

The reaction to Scientology is a microcosmic example of morality in LA. Everyone knows how evil they are, everyone, except the truly crazy knows how idiotic Dianetics is; but no one speaks out of fear. Many actors and writers are afraid of ending up on a mythological blacklist if they should ever say anything bad about anyone let alone anyone as vengeful as the Scientologist. Artist in LA are in fact hesitant to say anything bad about any corporation, religion political group or blatant scam for fear of “the black list They become so determined to be sycophant to anyone in power that they lose sight of why they wanted to be an artist in the first place. It is the job of the artist to rebel against everything.

Petition circulating began again with a dull auto insurance issue and a sexy petition for legalizing pot. I headed to West Hollywood to circulate them. I never had one single person who actually stopped to talk to me refuse to sign and yet it didn’t get passed into law, h’mmm .

I had a little windfall. Several petitions made their way on to my clip board  and I circulated them on the weekends; I never had to do audience work again. I participated in several market research groups and  was in another psychological study at UCLA.

I was glad of this as things were going south at Janitors Inc . It has been about a week since I set  an appointment. I was completely burnt out on the commute and the job itself, I couldn’t believe I had been doing it for nine months.

Mary Jo and Joe got crazier and crazier as time went by she seemed to think I wasn’t trying even though she could hear me calling places giving the same old pitch I’d always given. If she gave me a lead she would ask repeatedly if I had called it. Joe would come in and stand over me while I worked as if that would help. They hired a new girl named Liz and I knew my days were numbered.

I continued to send out at least ten resumes a day. One day I got a call from a company in Torrance that sold vitamins. After a brief telephone interview I went in for an in person interview. I talked to a woman named Julie who was definitely a member of the homely girl sisterhood of which I consider myself a member and A woman named  Tina who I instantly nicknamed Dr. Hibbered in my mind because she chucked after everything she said.

One week later I was on my way to the petition office when I got a phone call offering me an eight to five job at the vitamin company that paid $15 an hour. I felt as though I’d won the lottery, but I was about to enter the land of magic beans.

Incompetence, Arrogance and Michael Jackson’s Death

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After three months of temping at Janitors Inc I was finally hired as a permanent employee. There were no benefits to this, other than having to wait two weeks for my first paycheck. About an hour after being hired on I got a call from the Long Beach Census Bureau, they were finally ready to begin. I was told that the training would be in Long Beach the first week in March, then I was told the training would be in San Pedro the third week of March. I was told that I would be able to choose whether or not I wanted to work full-time or part-time. I was told that the training hours would be from 8:00 to 5:00, then I was told the fours would be from 7:00 to 4:00. I put on hold for 15 minutes while the guy on the phone asked which one of the three supervisors he had listed would be mine. I was told that I would be an auditor then I was told I would be an interviewer then I was told I would be an auditor again.

I decided it would be best to stay at Janitors Inc and work the Census part-time. I had no confidence that it would work out. After a year in Los Angeles I just naturally expected everything to be a scam. After having been in the National Guard as a kid I just expected anything run by the government to be mismanaged. I thought about inventing an excuse for Ted; saying I had to go out-of-town for a week or something. I decided I would tell him the truth, he seemed reasonable, in fact he was one of the best bosses I’d had. I asked if my official permanent employment could start in a week and he grudgingly said yes. He asked me to call him if anything changed. I think he thought I was going to tell him that I was going to do the census full-time. He had lived in LA all his life and I think he was just used to people flaking out on him.

I told Chris the good news and although he was happy for me he seemed a bit jealous. The census bureau still hadn’t called him for his training. I got home to find a letter in the mail saying the Nielsen was being sue d by its employees for not adhering to the law and giving appropriate break periods in the call center. I was pleasantly surprized, someone in LA had decided not to lie down and take it. I filled out the form and joined the lawsuit. I figured I wouldn’t get much money, but it was the principal of the whole thing. I bought a scratch game ticket and won fifty bucks; things were looking up. I began to plan my escape from Los Angeles. I would work both jobs for three months and then run away to another city The census paid $17.00 an hour; I could save $1500 and go to New Mexico or something, anywhere but LA.

Census Bureau training was held in the community center of the San Pedro housing projects. There were 24 of us in the training class, we all sat around staring at each other for a half an hour before anyone arrived. After about twenty minutes one of the trainees got up and left. It turned out he was just a crazy homeless person who walked in and sat down.

Our Trainers arrived and passed out paperwork. They were Sarah a 21-year-old girl who was a student and Casual longshoremen and Artie a man who was new to San Pedro. They never explained how they were chosen as leaders other than that they had gotten perfect scores on the test.

Sarah told us that they had over hired and that half of us wouldn’t actually be working. She said that the lucky few would be chosen based on our performance in training class.
“Is there a test,” a trainee asked.

“”There’s a test, but your performance is based on our review of you, ” Sarah said coldly.
‘Great” I thought. ‘She seems like a real cunt.’
I was glad I didn’t quit Janitors INC. I decided I might as well just sit there and collect the training money . there WAS NO WAY I was never going to win a popularity contest, especially in Los Angeles. Especially in San Pedro. It turned out that everyone in the class was a longshoreman except for me and one other lady. Sarah was very proud of herself for being a longshoreman like her father before her. She was friendly and chatty with the other longshoremen and often joked around with them during breaks. When ever I asked a question she would glare at me coldly. Once I said good morning to her and she told me that I was to tease and needed to relax.
The other trainer kept going on and on a out how he had been in the military and how he had lived on a boat. He mentioned it no less than fifteen times in the first day. When we talked about how many people lived in a residence he told us he lived alone on his boat. When we talked about how many apartments were in a building he made a joke about apartments in his boat.

I had always thought it would be fun to live on a boat and I asked him how much live-aboard slips were going for in San Pedro Harbor.

“Oh, I don’t have a live aboard slip”. he told me. “it’s just a regular slip.

“How do you go to the bathroom?”” I asked.

“Have you ever heard of a chamber pot?” He asked.

“How do you have lights at night”.

“I have a lantern.”

So, he was homeless. This man who had been chosen by the Los Angeles office of the federal government to count dwellings and inhabitants of dwellings didn’t have a legitimate dwelling of his own. How rigorous was there screening process? What had the criteria been?
I finished the week and surprise, surprise I was not among the luck chosen people. I returned to Janitors inc the next week.

Chris started his training a month later. He got more arrogant with every day that he trained. His training was in Hollywood.

on Monday he said,” If your going to insist on living in San Pedro your just going to have to expect things like that to happen”, He said. “It’s so small that they probably didn’t need that many people.”

On Tuesday he put me down for only making $10.00 an hour while he was making $17.00.

On Wednesday he told me that he had gotten a hang of the calculators before any of his classmates and he was certain that they would promote him to supervisor.

I didn’t hear from him on Thursday and on Friday he called me in extreme distress.

“We finished taking our tests and then they said , “now remember, you guys are just replacements, we’ll call you if we need you.”

“Oh no,” I said; not completely sorry to hear of his misfortune.

I began selling my body to since in order to make ends meet. In April I started a cognitive intelligence experiment at UCLA in which I did a series of math and spelling games while lying in an MRI machine. In May I was in a sleep experiment in Burbank I was supposed to do two consecutive nights. When I came back for the second night I was told I wasn’t supposed to be there for three days in spite of the fact that I had an appointment stating otherwise. It was 11;00 PM when they told me this and I didn’t have a way of getting back to San Pedro. I threw a fit and they paid for a cab. I came back for the second part of the study and they tried to send me hone with no pay when the equipment didn’t work. I threatened to sue and they paid me.

At the beginning of June Chris got a job fixing up a van for a pet food company. He got angrier and more arrogant which each passing day. In late June I went to Chicago for my mothers 87th birthday. Michael Jackson died while I was out of town and I missed all the excitement; not to mention the opportunities to stockpile LA Weekly’s that would undoubtedly be collectors items someday.

On The Forth Of July, our unacknowledged one year anniversary, he drove to San Pedro and we went to Long Beach to watch the fireworks. I didn’t know it, but I would never see him again.

John Cho, Fake Blood and the Purse Controversy

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Chris found the advertisement in Working World magazine; “US Census takers wanted $17.00 an hour. “ According to the ad all you had to do was take a test, go through training and then you would make $17.00 an hour, full time for three months. Chris’s drug dealer, Brian told him that he had been a Census taker four years ago. He’d said that so long as you passed the test, you got the job.
Chris and I both signed up to take test, Chris was going to be first, and He took his test downtown. He told me he failed the test and had to go back and take it again the next day. He said half the class failed. He passed it the second time. I took the day off from Janitors Inc. to go to Long Beach and take the test. I couldn’t imagine anything that could read failing this test. I got a 98 percent and was told that I was almost sure to get a job. I asked when it was starting and they said it should be in about a week.
I walked back to the train station. I felt lovely, like everything was finally going to be okay. I even stopped at a restaurant and treated myself to lunch. I got a call from Ahmina saying that she had a job for the following weekend working on a political campaign. We would be going door to door working on a political campaign for a local politician. It paid $100 a day for six hours of going door to door in Westwood and asking for people to display a lawn sign for the politician. I went home and purchased a scratch game ticket on the way, I won fifty dollars. I called the Central Casting line and found that they had a weekend job on the pilot of a show called Flash Forward, it was rumored to be the most expensive pilot ever made. I was told to wear old cloths as I was supposed to have been in a car crash.
The job was in downtown LA and started at 5:00 am. I hired a dog walker and spent the night with Chris. He walked with me to the Hollywood freeway entrance where the show was being shot. We arrived to find several junk cars overturned and an overturned truck with oranges spilling out of it. I was told to visit wardrobe and then make up. Everyone was wearing their oldest grungiest rags just as the casting line had instructed.
The wardrobe women seemed to have a different Idea they were handing out outfits to everyone. Almost everyone was walking away with arms full of beige kakis and matching rain coats. I got up to the front of the line.
“size six”? the wardrobe lady asked me.
“Size eight”, I said .
“You look more like a six she said, shoving a pair of pants, t shirt and rain coat at me.
I went into the tiny changing trailer where there other girls were already putting on their beige khakis. I almost fell over trying to cram my fat ass into the tiny pants. I walked to the make-up trailer as quickly as the pants would permit. I asked the make-up lady if I could be dead. She did me proud. I looked like I‘d gone through a windshield when she was finished with me.
I walked out of the trailer and was told to report to the middle of the highway entrance where several other people in Kakis and beige rain coats waited. I was still carrying my zebra print purse it didn’t exactly go with the outfit, so the production assistant guy told me to stick it in the back of one of the cars.
The shows premise was simple, but clever. Everyone in the world was supposed to have blacked out at the same time for two minutes. Everyone had a vision of the same day in the future. The scene we were filming took place right after the accident. We were all wandering around in a daze after the blackout. The scene had been shot before and we were just doing pick up shots.
I chatted a bit with another background extra who told me that he was an actor. He told me had been in the touring company of “Rent” and I’m not even making that up. Even though I knew that he was lying to me because he was sick, I couldn’t help but feel that he has insulted my intelligence with the outrageousness of his fabrication. Why not tell a believable , lie “I had a line on a TV show once”, or something?
I asked the PA if we were all supposed to be in the same cult and he just looked at me funny. I knew the show had all kinds of special effects I just assumed that they were going to do some sort of cool digital effect with the wardrobe; certainly, a big Hollywood production would never allow all the extras in the big scene of its first episode to be inexplicably dressed in identical rain coats on a day when it wasn’t supposed to be raining. We all wandered around looking left and right for about two hours and then we broke for lunch.
This isn’t so bad I thought to myself. I’m getting paid to walk around in a daze covered in dirt and blood, I’d always wanted a job like that. There were some yummy chocolate chip cookies served at lunch and the show’s star John Cho , who played Harold in the Harold and Kumar movies said hello to us as we were standing in line.
Maybe I had been wrong. Maybe Hollywood wasn’t so bad. I grabbed my purse and headed back to the freeway entrance. This time the PA led me to a totaled car and told me to lie underneath it.
“Do you want me to put the purse in back of one of the cars”? I asked sincerely.
“Naw just toss it by your foot or something”, he said.
I tossed it beside me and flopped down on my back. The sun felt good. I was dead and I was going to be a part of television history. Why maybe…
“Excuse me , miss”? I heard a voice over me say.
I looked up to see the tall, white haired assistant director from Ghost Whisperer standing over me and looking down with an angry glare.
“Did someone tell you to lie there?”

 
‘No, brains, I just was waking by the set and decided to take a nap under this car. I decided to help myself to some of the blood, just for giggles.’ I thought.
“Uh yeah, it was that guy over there.” I pointed at the P.A. The PA came over.
“You said you wanted a bloody person laying there she’s the bloodiest person we’ve got.”
The AD grimaced at me with great disapproval.
“Is that your purse”? He said.
“Yes”. I said.
“What”, the PA said. “People carry purse. “
“Okay, “ the AD said and stalked off giving me a glare of raw hatred as he went back to his monitor. I lay down and tried to take a nap. It was hard with all the racket going on around. I opened my eyes for a moment and saw John Cho Standing over me staring down at me with a sort of morbid curiosity.
“Hi,” I said. He nodded and grinned and walked away.
The AD came back. He looked agitated.
“Could you throw your arm up against the entrance wall?”
I complied.
“ Now could you throw your let up against the wall. The camera isn’t registering you as a person.” He said angrily. I stuck my leg in the air and leaned it against the wall.
“Scoot down a little.” He directed.
“Like how? “ I asked, thinking that there was no way I could move in such tight pants.
“Scoot your butt down.” He said.
I scooted it down and prayed nothing would rip.
“I’m just goanna shove your purse under the car.” He said. It’s too distracting.
He smiled at me sadistically as he walked away. I lay twisted in that unnaturally position for another two hours before we finally went home.
The next weekend I went to work on Ahmina’s gig in Westwood. We all met in a McDonalds when an angry little fat man named Rob assigned territories and clip boards on which we were to record the names and addresses of anyone who wanted a lawn sign for the school board candidate we were promoting.
We dispersed and went on our respective routes. I went door to door for six hours and managed to get one lawn sign. Ahmina came to pick me up at the end of my shift. We stopped at Whole Foods on the way back and she laughed at the frantic manner in which I was gobbling down the trail mix that I bought.
“Well, I’m starving,” I said. “Six hours of walking with no lunch.”
“What, “ she said. “What do you mean no lunch?”
“I didn’t take a lunch. I figured it was only six hours and I wanted to get a lawn sign. {There was a prize if you got the most lawn signs.)
“ Oh, my God. You always take a lunch! “
“I wasn’t that hungry and there was nowhere to go where I was.”
“It’s the law you have to take a lunch!! Are you trying to get me thrown in jail?
“Um, no. I’m an independent contractor; what’s the big deal?”

 
She muttered something under her breath as we rode back to the Mcdonald’s.
The next day, I was assigned a partner. A tall, handsome blond young man named Michael. We were assigned to an area that was comprised of apartment complexes and we had to somehow sneak onto the property and hand out literature. We climbed in to his small, Ford Fiesta and headed out. Within seconds I was afraid for my life.
He began speeding down the express way weaving in and out of traffic. I held onto my seat as he talked a mile a minute.
“How long have you been doing petition circulating? I’ve been doing it about ten years. Before I worked for Ahmina I worked for Jerry,. Do you remember Jerry?
“Well, I …” I attempted to answer.
‘Jerry was cool,” he said as we almost ploughed into a school bus. Ahmina’s okay too.
“But, I don’t know petition circulating is kind o a stupid job. I mean I owe the government. I t pays well, but when you think about it not that well because you have to give half of it to the government if you pay taxes which I don’t. Where are you from?” He said running a red light.
He stopped the car and I thought I would throw up. We got out an

d began going door to door. Almost no one was home. A few people thought we were Jesus freaks. Eventually he just stopped getting out of the car and I went door to door by myself.
On the way back to Mcdonald’s he told me about his ex-girlfriend. He told me that he he’d been very lonely since she dumped him. He asked me if I was single. I realized that he was definitely the cutest guy who would ever show any interest in me under any circumstances. He almost ran over an old lady at a cross walk. I told him about Chris.
We arrived at McDonalds to find Ahmina having a heated argument with Rob. Apparently he had caught her daughter loafing on the job. He called the daughter an asshole and Ahmina went nuts.
“Eliza! “ She screamed as I sat down to fill out my paperwork, “Don’t work for him he’s a jackass!” I just sat there not knowing what to do. Although Ahmina was my coordinator Rob was really my boss, I couldn’t afford not to be paid again. Ahmina ran out into the parking lot.

 
She waited for me in the parking lot and offered me a ride home. She ranted about Rob the entire way. She told me she wanted to go live in Pakistan again because there was too much hate in this country. (h’mm, really?.) Then again we were in LA; Pakistan might not be so bad by comparison.

That night I went over to Chris’s. I told him I didn’t understand the way businesses were run in this city. I told him I didn’t think things could get any stranger.
I was about to be proven wrong.

Tarot Cards, Garrett Morris and One Broke Girl

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It took two weeks and a series of intense interviews to get a part-time job setting appointments for a janitorial company. One night, Chris and I had stumbled across a Manpower office on Fifth Street, downtown. The representative there had taken our resumes and had us fill out a couple of applications. he’d seemed very impressed by all of Chris’s experience in film. He didn’t seem terribly interested in me at all.

He sent us some office skills tests to take at home. They were basic computer and simple vocabulary and math tests. I took them right away and was called in the next day for an interview. I was told they had a part time job as an appointment setter in a janitorial company in Koreatown. It would be an hour and a half bus ride for a $10 an hour job, but I was so desperate I agreed to an interview.

In the meantime, Chris took his tests and apparently failed them. They wouldn’t send him out for anything until he retook the tests which he refused to do. I couldn’t figure out if he intentionally threw them so he could stay on unemployment or if he really was an idiot; I suspected the latter. He might have just been nuts. One day he lost a piece of paper with an important number on it and threw a fit, tearing apart his apartment and throwing a glass at a wall. I barely escaped the flying shards. I was still afraid to leave. if it hadn’t have been for him I never would have gotten paid by the petition company and I would be even closer to homelessness than I was.

I had an hour-long telephone interview with the janitorial company. The two men who owned the company Joe and Ted, grilled me about every single job I ‘d ever had. I felt like I was up for partner in a law firm and not for a crummy part time job a parrot could do.
After the telephone interview, I was invited to come in for a personal interview and tour. This time, it was just me and Ted. He was about five feet tall, maybe a hundred pounds, he had sharply handsome features that were hidden underneath a full beard and moustache. He just firmed up a few of the things he’d said on the phone. He handed me a training packet and told me to come back in a week.

As I walked back to the train I wondered what I was going to do for a week. I had less than no money and audience work was completely over for the year. I would only be able to sell my plasma twice in that time and then it would be at least three weeks before I got paid.

Chris had decided to abandon his job search as he was going on an all expense paid trip to New York, courtesy of his wealthy daddy. I still hadn’t paid rent . I wondered what I would do if I got evicted before I got paid. Chris told me he’d told the guys at the front desk of the Rosslyn to let me stay in his room if I needed to. Every night I would lie in bed wondering if there would be a cop knocking on my door wanting to throw me out.

The cops in Los Angeles were brutal. I had seen them screaming at an old Asian lady to whom they were giving a Jay walking ticket. I don’t think she spoke any English and she was scared to death. I had seen ten of them surround a drunk bum who had taken his pants of on Hope Street and stand over him with Billy clubs drawn.

One time I was on a bus going from San Pedro to the Rosslyn. The bus was packed with people on their way downtown for the night. The busses emergency sign was stuck and it had a message across the front saying “Call 911″ or something. We were pulled over by two squad cars. The bus driver told them the sign was just stuck, but they evacuated the bus anyway. they made everyone on the bus stand facing a fence while two officers stood with their guns trained on us. several more squad cars arrived and surrounded the bus. I looked back to see what was going on and one of the officers cocked her weapon. They searched the bus and fond that nothing was going on.

When we all got back on the bus I said I couldn’t believe how reactionary the cops were in LA.
A fellow passenger said, ” It was just a mistake”.

He had no idea that we could have sued for what happened to us. He had grown up in the slums of Los Angeles and knew to avoid confrontations with the cops. I wanted to tell him that if disenfranchised people would just stand together the cops wouldn’t stand a chance, but what was the point? I was beginning to realize the one thing I had no power against was the mass acceptance of powerlessness in LA.

I called Vito and told him I got a new job and would pay him in three weeks. He said okay, he was too busy with the holidays to deal with this. I felt almost grateful to at least have the roof of my horrid dump over my head. My good feelings quickly dissipated when I was stuck inside my apartment listening to my neighbors children stand outside my door and scream.
One of them showed me his new skateboard and told me it coast $100. I was living off of ramen and Fritos at the time. He also told me he’d gotten a WEI for Christmas.

His mother was a welfare recipient who had four children from four different men. She weighed about 250 pounds and often had to use a wheelchair because her knees had become so weak underneath all of her fat. She had a son who was living with her after having gotten out of prison. He had a good job in a refinery. The probation office in los Angeles has a program with the refineries where many of the jobs go to ex-convicts. He made at least $17.00 an hour. The apartment they were in was a section 8 unit which meant rent was about $500 a month for a nice three bedroom apartment. two of the dads paid child support and she got SSI and the kids got food stamps. All in all she had a pretty good deal. The amount of money to be made from practicing unprotected sex and having kids you can’t afford never ceases to amaze me. Why do we reward people for screwing up? Don’t get me wrong I’m all for all forms of publicly funded birth control, I can even understand having a kid and needing help for a couple of years. But, being a baby mama should not be a career.

I sold plasma while I waited from my crummy part-time job to start. One night I got all the way to the plasma center in the valley only to realize I was there ten minutes after closing, they wouldn’t take me. I walked back to the train wondering what I was gonna do. I rode the train downtown without paying for it. I ‘d done that many times in LA; a lot of people do. Why they don’t simply invest in turnstiles we’ll never know. I sat on the train and considered pan handling or stealing someone’s wallet. There was a creepy old man staring at me. I thought about making him think I was a prostitute getting him to take his pants off and running off with the loot.

I figured I would get caught. I would try borrowing the money from Chris. I only hoped he was home.
“You look terrible”, he said when he opened the door.
I explained the situation and asked if I might borrow ten bucks. We walked to the nearest ATM that was located on Skid Row. We walked hand in hand through the legions of street derelicts that called the area their home. At night skid row was surrounded by cops so no one could get out, it was like a giant open air mental hospital. How it was legal for the cops to keep vagrants in a certain area is something I still don’t understand. A naked man wearing nothing but a see through plastic bag ran past us screaming the words to Dear Prudence”. An old woman stared at us with rage as she defecated on the street. A young toothless man walked past us gossiping with himself about someone he didn’t like.

I looked at them and wondered if I would be next. I could see how Los Angeles could drive a person crazy. Either you faced the truth went with the system and anesthetize yourself with anti depressants so you could pretend like everything was fine or you invented your own world and shut reality out completely. I understood the people walking around us more than I would have liked to admit. When other people reject you and crap on you enough you sort of had to laugh at it a little. It forced you to step back and observe how ridiculous this hierarchy of human life is. What happened if you just couldn’t stop laughing? Sometimes I would look at the people who were successful and considered “smart” and I felt like I was from another planet. What would it be like to just let go?
We got money and walked back down town. Chris Took me to Denny’s where I ravenously devoured a veggie omelet.. It was the first actual meal I ‘d had in a week.

I started at Janitors Inc the next day. Ted looked down at is feet as he handed me a list of numbers to call and a script. My desk was in a small office that I shared with young man named Armando, who was the inspector for the company. He would go around to the buildings and make sure they were all clean. He wasn’t around very much. I met the other boss, Joe.
Joe was a man about my age who was six feet tall and about 200 pounds. He seemed very interested in the fact that I had put screen writing down as a hobby on my application for the job. He told me that he had worked for a film distribution company before starting the janitorial business with Ted. Armando told me he didn’t like Joe. He said Joe would often come with him to inspect buildings Joe would smoke in the car with the windows rolled up and order him around. He told me the company was being sued for sexual harassment because of Joe. I started the week before Christmas and worked a total of six days before the new year ended.

I also worked a security job at a Roy Orbison concert at the Hollywood Bowl. There were all kinds of celebrities there including Julia Roberts. At first I thought she was just a Roy Orbison fan, then I realized that Roy sang “Pretty Woman”. There is always an element of self promotion in everything a celebrity does or anywhere they go. The security company was supposed to pay me the next week. Someone accidentally entered my name wrong and my check went to the wrong address. instead of just cutting me another check they told me I would be paid with the next check cut in two weeks.

Ted nervously gave me a $50 Christmas bonus and I finally got paid by the security company. They also booked me for a security job at a Jesus freak festival for New Year’s Eve.

I spent the holidays watching Dead Like Me videos, eating Rite Aide treats and taking the dog for long walks. One night, on a lark I put an ad on Craigslist offering my services as a tarot card reader. Much to my surprise I got a call from a man wanting to hire me for his New Years Eve party at a new bar called The Must downtown. It turned out to be a block away from the Rosslyn and Chris was getting back on New Years Eve. I called him to tell him my news. He was drunk as usual, but happy. He told me he was going to make me home made business cards. He told me he loved me at least five times. I wondered if he would wake up in time to catch his plane.

I studied my tarot book on the way downtown. I had to learn how to read the cards by the time the party started. While I was reading I got a call from the security company asking where the hell I was. I told them I would be there in two weeks.

I got to Chris’s at 8:00 and he had not made any business cards. He wanted to do other things, but I had no time. I had to practice. I read his cards ten times while he threw together some business cards on his computer.

I arrived at The Must at 9:00 where I met Yoshi, the man who hired me. He said how excited he was to have a real tarot card reader at his party. I felt bad; he thought I was a real tarot card reader. I didn’t feel bad enough to tell the truth; a girls gotta eat. Looking back on it, I realize that was the moment I became a real Angelino.
I was led to a small table in the back of the bar. I was handed a glass of wine which I gulped down. A woman sat at my table and I laid out her cards.

” My parents used to read tarot cards all the time.” she said. I” I consider myself something of an expert.”

‘fuuuuuuck’, I thought.
I began to read her cards. I had chosen the horseshoe spread. I fumbled my way through it making meanings for the card up as I went along. I think I may have accidentally said the same thing twice a couple of times.
When I was done she eyed me suspiciously and said,
“Thanks, I’m gonna leave you a tip.”
She walked over to her table and said something to her companion, he just looked at me. She came over and stuck a dollar in my jar and smiled sarcastically.
‘Busted,’ I thought.

After about fifteen minutes of just awkwardly sitting there. A man approached me and sat down. I was determined to sound smother this time. Most if the guests at the party were Japanese; I decided to use racial profiling
.
The horseshoe throw starts with the subject asking a question. This gentleman wanted to know if he should pursue a career in art. I told him that the first card represented his past. I said that he had a very strict upbringing where he was taught to be very logical and unemotional.

“That’s true”, he said.

I told him that he should pursue his dream and if he did he would struggle at first, but eventually become very successful.
The next person sat down and they wanted to know if they should go back to school; I gave them a similar spiel.

A middle-aged, Jewish man with feathered hair and a fake tan sat down and said he wanted to know if he should go forward with a certain project he was working on. I stereotyped him as a producer. I told him that the first card represented a past in the arts and the second card represented A present in finance. I told him that the third card showed me that these to things were currently in conflict.
“Yes, that’s it “, “ he said. “That’s it exactly!”
I was beginning to feel pretty confident about this.
I told him he should be brave and go with the project and that he would be awarded in the highest possible way if he did. It helped a little that the picture on the last card was of a man holding a sword, just like a certain statute. Some where out there there is an independent screen writer who owes me big time. He bought a reading for some chick he was hitting on as well.

One of the owners of the bar came over to me and had her cards read. She told me the guest loved me and that I should come back anytime. This was fun! Maybe LA wasn’t so bad after all. At 1:00 am I went to Chris’s and we counted the loot between the hundred dollars Yoshi gave me and the tip money I had made two hundred bucks.

We spent the weekend greedily planning our next move. I would work at the janitorial company for a few mouths and work one night a week at The Must for tips. Chris would work during the day to book me tarot reading gigs around the city. We went out to dinner in Long Beach to celebrate. Then we took a long ride down the coast.

We went to The Must for a drink on Sunday night and chatted with the bartender. He was very friendly and chatty, he told us he was an actor. We also met the other owner. I ‘d seen her walking around the night of the party. She said hello and gave me a stiff smile accompanied by a cold eyed glare. She didn’t speak to Chris at all. At one point I saw her go up to the bartender and whisper something while glaring at me. I decided that this was not the best time to ask when I could come back.

I was awake all night that night. What had that glare been about. Was she on to me? Did she figure out my racial profiling thing? Was it Chris she didn’t like?
I continued working at The Janitorial company. Although I set a couple of appointments every day, Joe had only made two sales. Ted decided to hire another salesman. A parade of salespeople came in for interviews. Eventually, they decided on a woman who had worked in the OC office named Mary Jo.

Mary Jo was fifty six years old and was impressively thin and athletic. She was about six feet tall and had long auburn hair that she apparently used a crimping iron on daily. She always wore tons of make-up including some unfortunate blue eye shadow. She had the most interesting work wardrobe I have ever seen. There was a leather mini skirt with thigh high boots and a halter top and jacket. There was the sleeveless mini dress with fishnet stockings and six inch heels. I think my favorite had to be the pink mini dress with knee socks. She would actually go out on sales calls like that. She lived in Sana Ana with her fourteen year old daughter and their maid. She had been a trophy wife for ten years until her husband traded her in for a newer model. Sometimes Hollywood stereotypes are accurate. She shared the tiny office with Armando and me. It kind of pissed me off that Mary Jo had ten times more than I did even though she and I worked in the same place and had the same level of education. The only reason for this was that she had been hot once.

I went to Chris’s about three times a week and walked past The Must just as often. At fist the employees said hello politely , then they just nodded eventually they did not speak to me at all and acted as if The didn’t know who I was. I never found out what I had done.

Chris continued to collect unemployment and lie around the Rosslyn smoking pot. He claimed to have sent out many resumes. One day he left his e mail open when I could see it and I noticed there was nothing in his out box. When ever I suggested we go out (Dutch treat of course) he would say he was broke. I noticed he could always keep himself in booze and pot.

One night We noticed there was a new comedy club opening up in the Rosslyn building. Garrett Morris form the old Saturday Night Live show was there. I always loved him. For those too young to remember, the show used to be funny and Garrett Morris used to do a great Idi Amin and he would sing opera as well. The doorman said he would let us in free. We went back upstairs and waited for the show to start. Chris got drunk and passed out and we missed it. I would have gone alone, but I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get back in as I didn’t have a key and I didn’t want to take his.

The next night Chris called me at home. He was drunk and crawling around on the fire escapes of the Rosslyn. I realized he was suicidal. I sat on the edge of my bed with the phone to my ear and listened emotionlessly for a plop.

Porn Stars, Pot Smoke and the Million Dollar Hotel Rosslyn

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As time wore on, the hours at Nielsen began to dwindle. We were sent home early often. A lot of times we would just skip taking a break and work straight through so they could get the most work out of us for the least amount of money. Pam got meaner and meaner, she found some sort of flaw in my work every day. Mark began to date a co-worker who was apparently the niece of one Miss Annette Funicello. I began to write a play in my spare time about a mousey woman working in a phone room where they sell toner, who gets revenge on the people in her life who berate her. It was great therapy.
Chris was beginning to have problems with his landlord. He has moved into a converted garage. He had agreed to do all the carpentry work on the apartment for free for a reduced rate in rent. Right after he finished the carpentry there was no more hot water in the house. It turned out his landlord had not paid the water bill. A bit of further investigation reveled that he had not paid the mortgage in several months and was about to be foreclosed upon.
Meanwhile, the housing inspector came to our building and Macbeth and I had to get lost for six hours while Vito shoved a dumpster in front of my door in an effort to pretended there was not an apartment there. Macbeth and I went for a long, long walk. We sat and watched the boats leaving the harbor. I longed to be on the water. I thought how nice it would be to sail away somewhere, just the two of us. I’d always wanted to work on a cruise ship, but I never could, because I’d always had dogs. There was a lot of traveling I never got to do for this reason. That’s the trouble with love; it ruins everything – all your plans for the future. If it hadn’t been for Macbeth there were a lot of other places I could live and I could have worked more as I wouldn’t have had to go running home to him so often. I wouldn’t have given him up for anything, of course, but sometimes I wish he could cook and use the toilet. We returned home to find Vito still there, he said the housing inspector had only been there for a few minutes and didn’t even bother to look in the back of the building.
Several people had told me that I could turn Vito into the housing authority and get up to $7000 because he was renting an illegal apartment. I found out later that I would have to call the inspectors office. They would let him know I called . They would come over there and inspect it with Vito present and then they would have to give him a certain amount of time to fix it. I figured he would kill me if that happened so I decided not to turn him in.
I continued to do audience work. I swallowed my pride and cheered for Dr. Phil, The Doctors, Family Feud and a host of other crap. I saw Stephanie at almost every one of them. She told me that she told her boyfriend she was going back to school. She said she didn’t know what she was going to do when he came home and found out everything she told him was a lie. I ran into Jessica as well. I told her how broke I was.
“I can get you $300 for a blow job tomorrow.” She said.
I stared at her. I giggled a bit uncomfortably.
“My boyfriend produces porn movies. Were always looking for people.”
I tried to hide my shock. As a pasty-faced, slightly chubby forty two-year-old, I didn’t get offered a lot of porn. Furthermore, if she was doing this herself why did she have to do audience work? For a brief fleeting moment I considered this. I realized they probably wouldn’t take me anyway and she was probably just telling me about it because she needed someone to talk to, but desperation can make you think some crazy things.
“Do you use a stage name?” I asked, horrified and fascinated.
“Yeah,” she said without telling me what it was.
“Have any of the movies come out yet?
“No”, she said without telling me the names of them.”
“Do your parents know?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said , without telling me what they though.
After this we went in to watch a for a game show called Catch 21, she fell asleep again – I think she was on drugs.
Stephanie later told me that Jessica had tried to recruit her as well. She said she had gone so far as to go over to Jessica’s apartment to talked to her. She said she decided not to do it because the guys she would have to have sex with were black. (Really, that’s why you don’t want to do the most private thing ever in front of a camera, your parents and anyone who happens across the video?)
In my career as a clapper I would meet a German woman resembling Janis Joplin, who told me she had inherited two million dollars and frittered it all away on fancy hotels. I met a woman who said the Jews were trying to control us by tainting our pap smears. I saw a fist fight break out between a male audience member and a female audience member when she accused him of taking her picture, charging her for it and then never giving it to her.
I did most of my audience work for a man named Dominick. A short chubby man who’d been in the audience business for many years. He was a good guy compared to most audience coordinators. He always answered his phone, booked you even if you were plain-looking and paid quickly, in the right amount and in cash. He didn’t bother with tax records either. I understand why most audience members wouldn’t want to pay taxes, I can even understand why coordinators wouldn’t want to pay them, but these audience companies were working for some major corporations. They must have been getting paid by all of the major networks and none of them ever seemed to make sure the audience companies were legit.
I had better bladder control than a Catholic school boy as we often went five hours in an audience without a toilet break. To this day I can’t get over the fact that they were perfectly willing to sacrifice a room full of people’s kidneys for some junkie game or talk show. I lied about my age a million times, so did a lot of people.. Most of the calls were for people between 18 and 35. I was grateful to have a baby face. Why it would mater how old you were to sit in the dark and clap is beyond me, but Hollywood loves to discriminate, even when she stands to gain nothing.
The anxiety experiment ended and Dr. M send me off with a months worth of free drugs and  several Ambien. I managed to accidentally throw the Ambien away in to a dumpster. Somewhere, in San Pedro there was a very happy bum. Eventually I abandon the anxiety drugs as they had a most unappealing and unladylike side effect. I began smoking pot regularly along with Chris. Did I mention he was also the school stoner? I needed something to deal with the fact that I was working every single day, spending as much time on the bus as I did working and often coming home having earned less than forty dollars.

One day I called Dominick for audience work and he didn’t answer. No one could get in touch with him. It turned out he had disappeared abandoning his apartment and all of his clients. Rumor had it he owed money to the mob.
I began selling plasma in a horrible place located in a filthy basement in Van Nuys. Plasma is used as an ingredient in various medicines and people can sell their plasma as much as twice a week. I had sold plasma once before in Denver and although it wasn’t fun, the facility was clean, it took about two hours and paid $35.00 a pop. In LA it took three hours to get to the nearest plasma center, once you were there it normally took five hours to donate and it paid $30. The fee would later go down as the economy worsened. The place was disgusting. There was piss on the seat of toilet in the tolietpaperless bathroom., There were used tissues scattered all over the waiting room and there was often gum in the drinking fountain. The staff was cold and rude and would get mad if you asked a question. They knew we were all desperate for money and they used the opportunity to take all of their hostilities out on us. There was nothing we could do about it; we needed the money.
The whole thing made me think about the grim reality of human nature. The staff could have chosen to be nasty or nice, but they chose nasty because it was more fun. Plasma centers make around $1500 for a case of plasma; $30 a bag is just a small percentage of that. The operators of these centers say that they care about people, but when the economy got bad and more donors started coming in they used the opportunity to pay less. Giving the miserable experience that it was and given the demand for plasma one can only imagine what the consequences would be if the economy every got so good that no one had to sell their plasma. No one in their right mind would ever donate plasma without any pay on a regular basis. If it weren’t for people being poor and desperate enough to sell plasma the pharmaceutical companies would not be able to make anywhere near as much medicine as they do and some people would die. If it weren’t for sickness and the need for medicine we donors would have one less means of income. So the pharmaceutical companies and sick people relied on us to be poor and we relied on them to be sick. I got to thinking about how many people who work in hospitals, collection agencies and rehab center would be unemployed if it weren’t for desperation and disease, metal illness and debt. I wondered how dependent our economy was human suffering. And I though to myself what a wonderful world.
In September I got more and more depressed and smoked more and more pot. Eventually I quit Nielsen as the hours had dwindled so much, I could make more money doing audience work. I got a part-time job fund-raising for the Obama campaign and was fired after one month.
Chris had an occasional security guard job at the Shrine Auditorium. One night he work at a Scientology convention. He texted me saying there was a n enormous spread of food that he was invited to eat on his break. I talked to him when he got home.
“How was the food? Did you see any celebrities?” I asked.
“Those people are crazy” He replied sounding a bit scared. “You know that girl who was in Natural Born Killers?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Well, she was there and she started talking to me and at first I was really excited that this famous person was talking to me, but she’s nuts. Her eyes were as big as saucers. She looked and seemed like she was on drugs, but I’m pretty sure she wasn’t”
“How was the food?”
“I couldn’t get anywhere near it. They were all trying to recruit me.”
Chris was a fairly tough character. He’d lived in some of New York’s roughest SRO’s and he’d worked in a porn bookstore in NYC for a year. He’d live in Jersey City for seven years and had spent his time in LA residing in Watts. I had never seen or heard of him being afraid of anything until he met the Scientologists.
Chris was beginning to revel himself as not only a pot head, but a pretty hardcore alcoholic. Whenever any minor little thing would upset him he got drunk. I was over at his house one night after he’d gotten an especially bad haircut, He was freaking out about it. I fell asleep while watching the movie Jaws 3 (it was the only thing we could get on his TV). I woke up at the end of the movie and was surrounded by six empty 40’s of cheap beer. Chris had moved to Los Angeles from New York to work as a set carpenter. I wondered if the pressure of being away from the town he grew up in and his family wasn’t to much for him.
A few days later all the lights went out in Chris’s apartment. His landlord had failed to pay the bill. He asked if he could come over and stay with me until he found a new place to live. I said sure . He came over with a copy of Cool Hand Luke and a bad attitude. He told me he was going to sue his landlord. I advised him not to sue the poor. I woke up the next morning to find him gone. A few minutes later there was a knock at my door. He said he slept in his car because all of Macbeth’s scratching had kept him awake. He was tired and crabby. He grabbed all of his stuff and stormed out. The next day he called me up, drunk off his ass and yelled at me for an hour about how I should control my dog (apparently in my sleep). He complained about what an awful apartment I had. He said he would hang up before he said something he would regret.
I hung up, I felt like I should be upset or shocked or something, but the truth is I wasn’t. I don’t expect much from men and this seemed about right. He called the next night and apologized all over the place. He said he’d found a new apartment at the Hotel Rosslyn in downtown LA, it was only $300 a month. I wanted to break up with him, but I didn’t. He was my only friend in town and I didn’t have enough money to pay the rent that month. I thought I might have to go stay with him and put MacBeth in a kennel. One week later Chris got fired from Nielsen and went on unemployment.
The Hotel Rosslyn was once a very fancy place occupied by movie stars and other glamorous types in the 20’s. In the seventy’s and 80’s it was occupied by drug addicts, gangs and other transient types I have heard rumors of people being thrown off the roof in gang related killings. In 2006 the hotel got a renovation as part of a government program. It housed everything from former homeless folks to a multitude of aspiring artist. Chris’s room was tiny and the bathroom was down the hall. In spite of being the son of a successful New York television producer , having a college degree and growing up in a mini mansion, Chris thought this was a great apartment.
I continued to try to get background extra work, but I was rejected for my looks more of the than not. When I did work it was on shows that had enormous cattle calls with huge crowd scenes. May of these shoots were indoors in small arenas they were breeding grounds for horrible diseases and I got sick most times I worked. I thought things were picking up a bit when I heard about another petitioning job starting in Beverlywood. We were to go door to door asking for registered voters to sign to get a candidate on the ballot. Our petition boss Ron was a nervous elderly man who lived in Westwood and drove a nice Mercedes. We arrived for work early on a Saturday morning to find that Beverlywood was an orthodox Jewish neighborhood where they cannot answer the door, or sign anything on the Saturday Sabbath. I’m pretty sure our petition boss was Jewish and had lived in LA all his life and should have known about the neighborhood. We got all of twenty signatures. We did a little bit better the rest of the week. On Thursday we gathered at our usual meeting place expecting to get our checks and Ron acting as though he didn’t know what we were talking about. He said we weren’t supposed to get paid till the following Thursday. I told him I knew that wasn’t what he said and that I wouldn’t be doing anymore work until I was paid. I expected the other petition circulator to go along with me. Instead they all told me that they were sure we would be paid eventually and that I shouldn’t complain. One older lady told me that you just have to roll with the punches. I went home again shocked at the ridiculous complacency of the poor in Los Angeles.
I called Central Casting and heard a call for “funky looking people to be on The Mentalist in a scene set in a bar in the desert. I called and was booked right away. I was told to bring a bunch of different character costumes to the set which was located in Temecula. I was excited . I was finally getting an opportunity because of the way I looked. I wondered how I was going to get to Temecula. I called Chris, but he couldn’t drive me as he had a temp job for the day. I checked into taking the Greyhound, but the schedule was all wrong. The metro would have gotten me there, but I couldn’t afford it. I ended up having to call them and tell them I couldn’t make it . I entertained a common Hollywood fantasy; if I had shown up – where might it have led? What if someone had thought I was entertainingly goofy enough to give me a line in the show. It’s silly I know, but they were looking for my type. A line can pay up to $1000. I was beginning to understand where the fantasy came from.
On the first of November Chris and I bought a gigantic cheap bottle of Vodka and got drunk every night. During the day I stayed in my apartment while my neighbors birth control accidents screamed outside the door. On Thursday we drove to West Hollywood to meet up with Ron The petition guy. I began crying as we drove I had no money and rent wasn’t paid was sure he wasn’t gonna pay me. Chris said he would make him pay me. The Roxy, The Viper room and Whiskey a- Go Go flew past us in a nightmarish blur. I had a vodka induced vision of myself begging on the street. When we got there we found that Ron didn’t have the checks. He said he would give them to us on Saturday. Chris stood over him with a menacing look while he said this. Ron looked terrified and his hands shook. I just glared at him with giant angry pot eyes . I didn’t say anything , the booze was making the room spin around at this point.
On Saturday I went to his office and he finally paid me. he tried paying me half of what he owed me at first, but I refused to leave his office until I got the whole thing. It took three trips to Beverly Hills and six hours to get a check for $300. Vito called on the 20th of November and asked where rent was. I told him I would have it in two weeks. MacBeth managed to get a horrible case of fleas. It coast $100 to get rid of them. I ran into one of the petition circulators who worked for Ron. Ron had never paid him and he was living in a tent in the park.
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A week later I got a part time temp job as an appointment setter in a janitorial office I wondered what the net year would bring. I didn’t know it, but I was about to meet the Queen Of Hearts.

Jennifer Love Hewitt and Designer Drugs

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I began to think that every thing would be okay. I had two part time jobs and the anxiety drug experiment. For two weeks my life consisted of getting up at 8:00 am taking the dog for a two hour walk, by the marina  and rushing back to my horrid apartment where I would shower, dress and run off for the two hour bus ride to Nielsen where I would knock out seven hours of desperate dialing only to return to the horrid apartment to talk to the creepiest sounding men in the world about their absolutely disgusting sexual fantasies. Ladies, if you ever want to be celibate just take a phone sex job.

The phone sex company insisted that the girls took all calls on a land line and that we only took brief bathroom breaks on any given shift. The calls were back to back and you were not allowed to end a call even if it was the end of the shift. If a guy flipped to fast a supervisor would come on the phone and tell the girl what she did wrong as they monitored every single call.  The Boulevard Entertainment dominates the phone sex industry in Los Angeles. They own many a 1-800 number. If you  Google them you can find the legal documents detailing their attempts to register the name 1-800-Jack-Off with the US Patent office. It is funnier than any comedy I have ever seen Hollywood produce.

One of my weirdest calls included a man who asked over and over again if he should send a picture of his penis to his girlfriend. He went on and on for four hours about the socio- political ramifications of this decision. He talked a little about his job and his mother then he went back to the picture of his penis thing.

There was a man who had very labored speech and told me that he was in a wheel chair. He told me that he’d never had sex; just phone sex. He wanted me to walk him though the process. I have never been so uncomfortable.

My job at Nielsen wasn’t much better. In spite of making hundreds of calls a day it wasn’t uncommon to leave with no completed surveys. This was because we only wanted to talk to people who liked crap. The majority of people we called said they didn’t go to the theater very much and that they had no intention of seeing any of the garbage we were peddling. The film companies didn’t care what most people thought they just wanted  to advertise their films in the form of a survey and see how they could get even more money out of the people who were dumb enough to go see mall movies in the first place.

I was doing pretty well that first week I had several completed surveys a day and my boss Pam really seemed to like me. The office was sort of like the high-school experience I never had. I was kind of accepted there. There were all kinds of aspiring whatevers there. There was a man who resembled George Costanza  who was the star of many an indie horror film. There was a woman there, who had come to Los Angeles at the age of 34 to become an actress. She was one of the sweetest people I had ever met. We had an awful lot in common, a hatred of work an obsession with the Mary Tyler Moore Show. She wanted to be an actress since she was little. Unlike me; she was normal looking. When she told people she wanted to be an actress they accepted it, if I had said it they would have laughed. She had lots of friends there and was nice and friendly to me right away. The popular kids  never were nice in high school. There was Dante,  the  boy who was so handsome that I felt nervous every time he talked to me and he talked to me often. There was Greg, an ex- Texan who was older than me who had come to LA to pursue acting and writing . His favorite director was Ed Wood and he had a series of films that he made with his girlfriend about a very sexist detective. He was very shy about showing it to anyone. I felt honored that He would show them to me. He told me never to tell anyone about it. I knew how he felt, there were certain places that I would never show my work.

This is more common then you might imagine. People come to Los Angeles and they are afraid to show people their reels or scripts or CD’s. They will use the excuse that they don’t feel they have enough material yet, or it’s just a first draft or the quality of the recording isn’t good; but that’s not the real reason. We didn’t want the fantasy shattered, We didn’t want anyone to tell them that it wasn’t going to happen for us because if they did; what would be left? We would just be   a bunch of middle-aged losers doing telephone surveys for a living. It was better to let the fantasy live than to kill it with what we all knew the real outcome would be. If we didn’t try we could tell ourselves that it might come true, just like in the movies. But deep down, we knew what we were.

Leonard Cohen said it best, “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded everybody rolls with their fingers crossed”.

There was also a rather geeky kid named Mark who fancied himself a singer and an actor. He was a rather odd looking character, pear shaped and balding with plain features and a pot belly. He constantly spoke in a high squeaky voice. At first I thought it was his real voice, but it turned out he was imitating a coworker of ours. He was given to bursting out into song and constantly kept tabs on how many surveys everyone in the office had. I felt sorry for him at first, he clearly just wanted attention.

It was at Nielsen that I was to meet Chris, the class clown. Chris was about my age with blond hair and pretty blue eyes. He was tall and skinny and had a yellowing Cheshire smile. He was sitting next to me one day in the break room when a basketball game was on TV.  The crowed went wild when someone made a shot.

“God, a man threw a ball through a hoop you would think it was VJ day”. He said and I laughed.

I’ve always liked men who were funny and hated sports, it makes me think they can think for themselves. I can be quite foolish sometimes.

He gave me a ride home that night. We had a lot in common we both loved the Simpsons and sail boats. We both were desperately miserably poor and working at Nielsen.

Back at home I got one of about ninety calls in the barely legal category. I braced my self and said hello.

“Hi, this is Frank who’s this ?”

This is Tracy.” I said trying to sound young.

“What are you doing, Tracy.”

“Homework,” I said. “”What are you doing?”

“I’m just sitting around thinking about my daughter.”

I couldn’t speak. I felt like I was gonna throw up. I didn’t say anything and he hung up. I expected someone to come on the phone and chastised me, but no one did.

The next day I went to the psychiatrist office in Beverly Hills for my weekly check up to see how the drugs were working. When Dr. M examined me  I burst out crying. I told him about the phone sex job and the guy who was thinking about his daughter.  I asked him if there was anything we could do about it. He told me that if someone confessed a crime to him he was legally obligated to tell the authorities. I suggested that the next time he called I could get information out of him then the company would be obligated to call the police. He suggested that I didn’t do this. He told me that he was sorry that I had to work for them. He told me he’d treated many woman who worked in porn and they were all miserable.

I told him that I didn’t know what  was going to do If didn’t get another job soon.

“Look, I’ve had fantasies that I don’t act on you’ve had fantasies that you don’t act on. Look at it this way, maybe talking to you about this gets it out of his system. Maybe he talks to you and then doesn’t have to do it in real life..”

He told me that if I still had the job by the time the experiment was over he would get me some anti depressants and sleeping pills to deal with the problem.

As I walked back to the bus  with my hundred dollar check and my next two week supply of drugs I thought about what had just happened. A medical professional had just told me to tell a pedophile what he wanted to hear. He had ensured me that he would drug me up enough that I was able to do it. I popped two pills on the bus and headed back home.

That night a creepy old man with a southern accent called in wanting me to stick a variety of various household appliances up myself. Even though I was supposed to be off a 2:00 AM , I was up till 4:00 AM talking about this nonsense.

“ Do you have a can opener, not the electric kind, but the hand held kind?”  he asked.

“Yes”. I replied excitedly.

“I want you to stick it up your pussy and twist it.”

His bag of tricks included a glass bottle a plastic bottle, a hammer, the paper roll from a roll of paper towels and a screw driver to name a few. I wanted to kill him or myself by the time the call was over and I had to pee like a race horse. I never wanted to talk about anything that had to do with sex ever again.  I comforted myself with the fact that my check from the company was arriving that day. I checked the mailbox and it wasn’t there. I waited another day and then called the company. I was coldly informed that the check could sometimes take five days to arrive. When it didn’t arrive in five days I called back and they said it would be two weeks before they issued a new check. I screamed at them.

“ What are you fucking kidding me?” (this was getting to be my standard response to everything that happened in Los Angeles.)

“No”, it’s just our policy” , she said coldy and hung up.

My hands shook what was I going to do? I wasn’t going to be able to pay the rent. The supervisor at the  phone sex company called me that night and asked me why I wasn’t logged in. I told her I would log in when I got paid. She actually tried to make me feel guilty  about it.

A week later when rent was due, I called Vito and told him that I would have to post date my rent check to the tenth and just pay the late fee he said okay, when he got the check he cashed it before the tenth anyway and I was charged an overdraft fee by the bank.

Back at Nielsen Chris and I had begun dating. The goofy theater chick dating the smart ass. Pam my boss, did not like Chris and began to take it out on me. She suddenly began picking on everything I did.

The phone sex company paid me and fired me. I told them I would see them in court. I went back to doing audience work and I signed up with Central Casting.

Central Casting has a system where you wait in line for two hours and pay $25.00 to get your picture taken. Then than give you a number that you can call to find out what jobs are available for the next day. If you were not eighteen to look younger and size six or under you were disqualified from eighty percent of the jobs . If you were not attractive you were disqualified from  ninety percent of the remaining twenty percent  of jobs. If you did qualify you had the privilege of calling the casting director over and over again until you finally got through to him or her to see if they wanted to cast you on the show.

I called the following day and was booked  as a detective on Prison Break. I told them that that I had a business suit to wear on the show and I didn’t I ran off to Wal-Mart and found something claiming to be a Calvin Klein. I had to get up at 4:00 the next morning. It took two hours to get to FOX Studios on the bus. We sat at a round table all day at what was supposed to be the annual Angels and Eagles dinner for fallen cops. William Fichtner was there ( the guy who played the cop in GO!) Even though I know its stupid I felt a little intimidated upon seeing him.

The day lasted 12 hour. It was boring, but it wasn’t that bad. I called again the next day and got booked on Ghost Whisperer which was being filmed inLong Beach on the Queen Mary. I was excited it was a four day job at least 12 hours a day.  I would have to call in sick to Nielsen at least two of the days. I realized I had to do it , it meant way more hours. They were paying us $10 extra  for travel and and additional $10 for bringing our own suitcases.  Visions of sugar plums danced in my head.

Chris and I got up at five ( we got to sleep in!) he drove me over the bridge and dropped me off. There were at least a hundred other extras milling about. We began by filming a scene where we were on deck waving bye bye. We then filmed a scene where we were walking aboard the boat.

Right after the seen was filmed we took a break on our way back to holding I saw the director of the episode ‘Save Our Souls” Gloria Muzio talking on the phone to Central Casting.

“What did you send over I said upscale clothes. Half of them came in rags. I said I wanted good looking people half of them aren’t.  I might as well be in the background. Hey Artie. Can’t you see me in the background.”

Apparently Gloria is a self hating ugly chick. Instead of giving opportunities to those of us who aren’t cute she has decided to be part of the problem by only putting pretty people on TV.

She was about forty  with glasses and braces. (I’m not kidding). She kept telling us that we were supposed to be rich people on a European cruise who were all millionaires. Then she told us that this was a trip of a lifetime (if we were all millionaires why would a cruise be the trip of a life time?)

At one point a man told me to  sit in a lounge chair. I sat for a few moments then I saw the man being yelled at by Gloria. The man then came back and told me I was sitting in the wrong place as if I had decided to sit there by myself.

We were told that the job may actually only be two days for some of us. ( The ones who weren’t cute enough to be in the close up shots.)

As on the set of most shows the stars did not look at us or speak to us.  Most of the actors will just give you a polite smile and a nod. Jennifer Love Hewitt took this a step further by literally sticking her nose in the air every time she passed us. She was a producer of the show and every now and then she was asked to look through the camera. She would generally find a flaw and tell them to change the shot. I had to laugh I remembered seeming her on some show where she was being interviewed about being a producer.

She had giggled girlishly and said , “Well I am a producer but that doesn’t mean that they always do what I say.”

I I’d seen her “act” and I ‘d heard her “sing” was amazed at how someone so talentless could be so mean and pompous.

The day wore on and on Gloria wanted to shot every seen a million times. At one point a guy with a big nose and I were sitting out of a scene while everyone else worked. He complained that if he was never allowed to be in a seen he would never get a speaking part. I felt so sorry for him. After being treated the way we were why would you even want a speaking part anymore.

All of a sudden Big nose grabbed me and shoved me out of the way. A tray of glasses was flying towards my head. I got out of the way right before it landed right where I was sitting. One of the main actors asked me if I was okay. No one else did. We worked til midnight and came back the next day at noon we then stayed til 2:00 AM. Gloria got more and more demanding as the night went on. You would think she was directing a work of art and not some crummy TV show.

Half of us were informed we wouldn’t be needed for the next two days.

I felt like telling Gloria that she should have a little faith in people. That Roseanne had feature plain frumpy people and it had been one of the biggest hits on TV ever. That When given the opportunity Kathy Bate had proven herself to be an amazing actor who could bring in an audience. But, I knew she wouldn’t listen to me and I would only be burning a bridge.

I returned to Nielsen the next day where I was chastised by Pam for calling in sick.

I didn’t think it was possible, but things were about to get infinitely worse.

Judge Judy, Phone Sex and the Standard Operational Bitch

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I called the number the creep on the bus had given me to find that Adrianne didn’t have any audience jobs till Wednesday. She asked me to send in a picture and told me she would get back to me; I never expected to hear from her again. I looked on Craigslist and found a company called Standing Room Only. They were casting audience members for a “revival of a game show that had been popular in the 90s”. I called the number and after being asked my age I was told to be at the LA Coliseum at noon the next day. I wondered what sort of catastrophe lay  before me. Would I spend money on a bus ticket to find out it had been canceled or would they take one look at me and tell me to go home?  I lay on  my cheap airbed all night wondering what would happen.  It had been several days since I’d eaten anything but the gas station junk food I’d bought with my Shell charge card.

I arrived the next day to find several long lines of people. My fears of being rejected for my looks were quieted as they were clearly taking anyone. They’re were several street derelicts there including a woman who  told me she was going to go to McDonalds at lunch and beg for some French fries and a man who was getting drunk  on the whiskey he had hidden in his thermos.  There was a nice looking guy there about my age who passed the time in line flirting with a pretty  20-year-old girl who had cut marks all up and down her arms. We waited for two hours before going inside. I was upset to learn that the time clock didn’t start until you were inside. It turned out the show was American Gladiators.

I was handed a large Styrofoam  finger and given a seat in between a handsome, but sleazy looking fellow and a plump Hispanic woman. The guys name was Tony he had several tattoos  and told me he just got out of jail. He seemed to like me. In fact he made several attempts to grab my hand. He made fun of a woman in front of us who had a facial deformity. He sat in his seat and danced to the loud rap music that was played on the loud speakers. They’re were a lot of people doing this. I felt scared and out of place.

The contests involved ordinary people competing against body builders. Layla Ali was one of the hosts. I couldn’t help but notice that she did not inherit her fathers intelligence. She had a hard time reading from the queue cards. Our only job as audience members was to clap and cheer for the abominable garbage that played out before our eyes. The contestants tried to climb a wall while the Gladiator tried to knock them off.

We were moved around from seat to seat. It was getting pretty late and I began to wonder how I would get home. Tony said he would give me a ride home; I envisioned a date rape.  I wondered if I was wearing the torn underwear, because how embarrassing would that be? We were separated at the next seat change but agreed to meet by the front door. I hoped I’d get another ride.

We were dismissed at 10: 30 and didn’t get out until 11:30. In spite of being there for over 12 hours I went home with a mere $70 in my pocket. I went outside and Tony wasn’t there. I managed to get a ride home with a young man who wanted to be a publicist.

I sent Adrianne a  picture of myself in full make-up and ended up getting another audience gig. I went to  Judge Judy on Wednesday which was even further from home in Hollywood  at the Sunset and Gower studios. I found a much better looking more affluent crowed. My stomach knotted; would I be sent home? I gave my name to the woman who was checking everybody in. She gave me a dirty look when I smiled and said hello. I tried to be friendly and she told me to get in line.  I would later met many young woman and a few men that had exactly the same personality as she did. I like to call  this persona the Standard Operational Bitch. Basically the S.O.B is some little nothing  production assistant or low grade casting assistant with their first real paid job in show business. They generally make a few dollars above minimum wage, work crummy hours and take shit from everyone from the talent agent to the directors, to the crew. They had a tendency to take all their hostilities out on the extras and audience workers who were at their mercy.

We filed into the small studio and took our seats. The atmosphere was considerably more pleasant than it was on Gladiator. People in business clothing sat quietly chatting. The show itself was quite boring. Judge Judy has a very quiet voice and if you are sitting in back you cant hear a thing. Falling asleep is common for people doing audience work . The next time you watch one of these judge shows look in the background and you are sure to see a few people dosing. I chatted with the woman sitting next to me who told me about Central Casting. She said if you just went down and registered for $25.00 you could do background extra work on TV. She said with my look I could work every day (really, with my look. Had she been taking opposite pills? Had I gone through the looking glass? The point was moot anyway . I didn’t’ have $25.00.  We were dismissed and paid promptly for our eight ours of work. I was wondering where in hell I was going to get rent money when I picked up a Working World Magazine at the train station. I found an ad for  survey takers at the Nielsen Ratings company. The job was only part time and they were located in Hollywood. It would be a two hour trip, but I was desperate. I walked to the address  on the ad and filled out an application. I was hired instantly and told to be back the on Sunday for orientation.

In the mean time I was booked for  Judge Joe Brown the next day. You’d never know it to watch the show, but the man is a a sexist douche. There was a woman  being sued by her male friend who bought her a very expensive cell phone and wanted the money for it back. The woman seemed confused as to why she was being sued. Judge Brown told her she didn’t deserve the free cell phone because she was not that fine.  I’m not kidding. He was prone to going off on long tangents  that had little to do with the subject at hand.

I ate lunch  with several other audience members including a girl named Stephanie who told me that  her boyfriend was in the military and she was renting a room from some tweker guy in the valley. She told me that she’d told her boyfriend that she was living with her aunt and working in an office. When I asked her why she lied she told me that she didn’t know. I complained to another woman that I worked everyday and still couldn’t make ends meet. I also told her that it made me uncomfortable to participate in reality TV; I didn’t watch it. She told me that it was better than corporate America. (But, this was corporate America.) I spoke to a beautiful, but heavy set blonde named Jessica who would only speak of her hair make-up and nails.  Later on she later got in trouble for falling asleep in the audience.

On Friday I worked  yet another day of Gladiator. I ran into Tony and I asked what happened to him when he was supposed to give me a ride home and he said he waited for me, but I never showed up. He then had the audacity to hit on me again. I arrived at 10:00 am when weren’t allowed to go in and sit down until noon. Once inside we weren’t allowed to get up for five hours. There were no bathroom or water breaks, beside a thirty minute lunch.  I talked to a woman sitting next to me who lived in Long Beach. She said  she had been doing audience work for six mouths and didn’t know what she was going to do next. As the evening wore on  and Layla kept messing up her lines, we realized that we would not be leaving until 2:30. I had a panic attack . Poor MacBeth would be alone for over 17 hours and there were no buses back to San Pedro at that hour. I offered her $20  for a ride home and she said yes.

Shortly after this a fight broke out in the audience.  We were finally given water and bags of peanuts. Not feeding us or giving us water for that long is very Illegal as we were technically background extras and they are required to give us food and water if they were going to keep us on set .

This is something that I would see again and again in Los Angeles; A blatant flagrant, in your face disregard for the law. If you are poor the people in power will treat you as poorly as possible. This is true to a certain extent anywhere, but I never saw people be so blunt about it or so inhuman. I began to understand what had caused the Watts Riots and the LA riots. There is an enormous disrespect for traditionally disenfranchised people in Los Angeles. If you are not attractive you will be discriminated against in the work place. Look on the LA Craigslist. And you will find customer service jobs asking for head shots. There are many companies that will state an age preference in their ads even though this is completely illegal; they just don’t care they have you where they want you. Read the police blotter; its pathetic the cops couldn’t catch herpes from a two dollar whore. In order to meet their quota they will stand on the street corner and give out jaywalking tickets. But, the people they give the jaywalking ticket  to weren’t jay walking. They started walking a second before the light changes  or something . If you are caught riding the Metro without a ticket on the Redline which goes through Korea Town, Downtown and Hollywood, you will be given a ticket. If you are caught without a ticket on the blue line which goes through the predominantly black areas  you will be arrested. I saw this happen over and over and over again.

Everywhere I have ever worked there has been some unfairness. We workers  would sit in break rooms or stand in parking lots and discuss the common enemy; the boss. Oh sure there were some ass kissers but the majority of us supported our fellow workers. If you were having a problem it was easy to find a sympathetic ear. You would think that people would get upset about the way we were treated but when I complained about it to my fellow proletarians I was told how lucky I was to be participating in this crap for less than minimum wage. They accepted everything with a drooling, glassy eyed, Prozac induced complacency.

I talked to several people who honestly believed that if they just acted happy and did what they were told some one would see them, think they had a good look and give them a speaking role in a film. They actually believed that this would lead to superstardom. One woman I complained to told me that she was only doing audience work for a few days. She said she was a professional journalist. When I asked for what paper she said she worked for “ The internet media”. ( even if you are paid, blogging might pay a bill or two a month at most. If someone tells you they blog for a living and that all they do they are either lying, a welfare queen, a trust fund baby or a sugar baby.) Here voracious unwillingness to accept her lot in life was typical of LA. Lying was rampant there.  I realize people fib  everywhere. People fudge on resumes and lie to people the are hitting on in bars all over. But here they would lie when it didn’t benefit them to do so.  If the audience member who thought she was a journalist really had any talent or instinct for journalism at all she would realize that there was a compelling story of injustice and exploitation to be told all around her. Instead she scoffed and said she had another job so she didn’t care about anyone else.

Many of the audience members were welfare recipients who needed to make money under the table. It wasn’t uncommon for them to put down a fake social security number on their  w2 I Although I worked for them many time SRO never sent me a tax  form, they never sent one to anyone.

We were finally dismissed. We stood in line for another two unpaid hours. The woman who said she was going to give me a ride had taken off without me. I offered the same $20 to another co clapper. He was living in his van so I figured home was wherever he landed and my place was only 20 minutes by car. It is not uncommon for people in LA to live in their vans and trailers and cars We went to Hollywood first to drop off a co clapper. In spite of his obviously servile  situation he felt compelled to tell me what a great place LA was. The co clapper just couldn’t believe that I didn’t like LA . I told him my story, he still couldn’t believe that I didn’t like LA as there were famous people in LA. (really?)

I got home at 3:00 Am. The poor dog had been holding in his pee for 19 hours at this point. He hadn’t relived himself. I felt like the worst mom in the world.  I fell asleep on the airbed which deflated underneath me on to the hard floor below.

The next day I went to the valley to apply for a job with a phone sex company. It was work at home and paid $10.00 an hour. I figured I would work part time for them and part time for Nielsen. I didn’t want to do phone sex full time as I didn’t want any holes in my resume. I Went to The Boulevard Entertainment company which was located in a very nice building in Burbank. I was handed a hiring package and told that I had to work 20 hours a week. I was given a choice of schedules and choses 10: 00 pm to 2:00 am as there were children playing directly outside my door at all other hours. There were several different personas you had to learn, The MILF, The Lesbian, the Mistress and something called Barely Legal.

I woke up on the hard floor of my apartment that Sunday sicker than I had ever been in my entire life I downed some cold medicine  and headed for my first day of training at Neilsen.  I felt like I was gonna die. My fellow trainees consisted of  a high-school girl  who claimed to be a straight a student, a pretty Pepperdine grad and a man named Dante who was far and away one of the handsomest men I have ever seen. He had a beautiful voice like that of a professional radio announcer. I thought that if any of us had a chance of making it out of there; it was him.  We played a few getting to know you games and practiced reading the surveys.  We took a tour of the floor and who did I see but the journalist. I left at 8:00 pm and got home at 10:00 just in time to start my first phone sex shift.

I took the first few calls. They were pretty much as I expected them to be. The trick is to be very subtle at first so the pervert doesn’t flip his wad too soon. The clients paid  for blocks of time. You wanted to get them to talk to you just long enough that they go over the block they paid for and have to call back. The normal calls are basically just boring strait sex stuff. I you think its fun like in the movies and you get to play all kinds of characters trust me, you don’t. Most men don’t have that kind of imagination. Some times all you had to do was say hello and you’d hear a grunt and a click. Sometimes you would begin to describe yourself and  you’d get the click. Every once in a while you would have to go into details describing various oral acts and so forth. The guys all sounded like they were about 300 years old. After about an hour of “ normal” sex calls  I started getting the “barely Legal calls. The clientele of TBE was largely comprised of pedophiles. Technically it is illegal to say that you are under age on a phone sex call. TBE’s way around this was to say that you were eighteen , but you could tell them a story about something that happened to you when you were younger.

My first barely legal call was a man who said he was a teacher. He wanted to know if I had any experiences with teachers when I was a kid. I wanted to hang up. This was sick. I was sick I too. I thought of how nice and comforting a new airbed would be and how good a whole night of sleep would feel.  I told him a story aboout how my character had lost her virginity to her high school math teacher when she was only fourteen. Don’t  model your daughters after me.

Lauren Conrad and Scam City

film

I sent my resume out to as many companies as possible. I took a brief freak out break to talk to my friend La Shawn. She told me that if Shameco wanted to accept my resignation early they would have to pay me for two weeks anyway. I had heard of this law before, but I wondered how valid it would be if they knew I moved to LA without their permission. I called Corporate HR and they said they were sending me my paycheck along with one for an extra two weeks.

I came across one company that did paid petition circulating, they were having an orientation the next day; I felt relieved.  I had done paid petition circulating many times before; it was easy you just stood on a street corner and asked people to sign a form to get a political initiative on the ballot. People are rude to you, but you can make some good money. People had pretty much been rude to me all my life. Plus you got to learn about all the different issues, both liberal and conservative. I liked to pretend to be a real expert on whatever issue I was hawking. I liked to see if I could get people to believe I was really  passionate about  the issues. People in Denver got a little frustrated with circulators as there were always so many issues on the Colorado ballot. It was my understanding that California was the same way.  I got a few phone calls back about jobs and I set up a couple of interviews.

I tried to take my mind off my troubles. I attempted to do laundry. I went down to the laundry  room several times only to find someone’s cloths just sitting there in the machine.  After several hours I took them out and put my cloths in. When I came back to put them in the drier they had taken my wet cloths out of the machine mid wash and thrown them on the floor.

The next day I attended the orientation. A man named Charles trained us.  He had just gotten there from Florida. I couldn’t help but notice that Charles didn’t seem to know what he was talking about. He wasn’t sure how much we would get paid per signature, he thought we would get paid in about a week, but that remained to be confirmed . He handed us all several petitions one was for  parental notification on abortion, another was to end Gerrymandering a third was to reduce property taxes.  He read a brief description of each. I questioned him about who was sponsoring the petitions and he didn’t know. He didn’t’ t seem to know or understand anything about politics.  We arranged to meet in one week and we all went our separate ways.

I also called a woman in who had  a petition to control  growth in Santa Monica .  This meant that I had to do all my circulating there as the signers had to be registered to vote in Santa Monica proper. It paid $3.00 a signature so I couldn’t say no.  I headed out to Santa Monica The  next morning . It took three hours and three busses from San Pedro to get there. I met three different Jesus freaks on the way all of whom felt compelled to share their beliefs with me. Once I was there  I situated myself on the Promenade. I discovered that everyone there was a tourist. I moved over to a more residential area . Very few of the people I encountered were actually Santa Monica residents those who were told me that they didn’t sign petitions as that was the job of the legislature. (The legislature in California took three years to pass a budget and  drags it’s feet on every single proposal that makes it out of committee.) IF they would listen to what I had to say they would riddle me with questions  and then not sign the petition. I left Santa Monica that day with twenty signatures on the growth petition and about fifty or so signatures on all my other issues combined . Between traveling and circulating the day took twelve hours. I went back the next day and got similar results.

I went to the library and a man took the petition out of my hands and questioned me about every thing from the sponsors to the entire history of the issue.  The key to successful petition circulating is of course to get as many valid signatures as you can in the shortest amount of time. Standing around discussing the issues is the kiss of death. The people of Santa Monica are very educated . They are also very wealthy.  They like to think of themselves as very liberal, but they have no real compassion for working people. I felt like telling them that if they really were so liberal  you’d think they would understand that if I didn’t get signatures I wouldn’t get paid and if I didn’t get paid I wouldn’t have a house to live in or food to eat.  Some of them told me I should be ashamed of my self for taking money for circulating petitions. I wanted to ask them what they did for a living that was so magnanimous. How many of them produced crappie TV or porn  or both?

I was standing in front of Whole Foods when a familiar looking woman came walking out of the store. I asked her to sign, but she just glared at me. A photographer  jumped out from an SUV and took her picture; she was Lauren Conrad. Now there’s a woman with a respectable job.

For the next few days I opted to skip Santa Monica and go to Redondo Beach. I really did love being near the ocean. For all my troubles there was something very calming about the sea air. I went on several job interviews, but I never heard back from anyone. I got my final check from Shameco and they had failed to pay me  the two extra weeks that they said they would.

On Sunday, I went to turn in my petitions  at the restaurant we had all agreed to meet in.  Charles was there at the arranged time but told us he had to leave and go to the main office to get more petitions. He let us sit there for over an hour before coming back with the petitions and  gathering the ones we had.  He told us we would be paid in one week . One week later we met in the same restaurant. He kept calling to say he would be there in 15 minutes . We sat there for three hours and he never showed up the restaurant closed down. I began to cry.

“ Don’t cry, pray” one of the other circulators said to me.

“Are you fucking being serious right now! !I ‘ve had it up to here with this city, it’s nothing but scams and bullshit”, I screamed.

I was in no mood to be preached at. Where was I Alabama?  I caught the last bus back to San Pedro with my last dollar. Charles eventualy came by my apartment with a check for $182.00  I couldn’t believe how much time it had taken to make so little money .  A week later he would make me wait for another two hours in the same restaurant and a week after that he would make me wait an hour again . Eventually, he told me that I could just go to the main office in Los Angeles to turn in my work and be paid, by that time there was only a month left of circulating for the year.

The Company in Santa Monica miraculously paid me without hassle and I was able to pay rent for the month of April.

I  found an ad on Craigslist for a a drug trial. It said they were looking for people who suffered  from insomnia. As I had barely slept  since I moved there I thought I might make a good candidate.  It said it paid $3000. I called and was  told that the advertised insomnia study was filled for  now,  but they had and anxiety study that a lot of the same people qualified for. The study paid $50.00 a week for 4 months and I would be testing out a new drug.

She asked me a series of questions to determine if I had general anxiety.

On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest,  how  nervous do you feel on an average day?

“Um, a six.”

“Are you sure its just a six, did I hear you correctly?”

“ I mean a seven”.

And so it went. I had no choice, but to go along with it.

I went to the office in Beverly Hills for my appointment. When I got off the bus  the first thing I saw was a woman walking  a dog who was wearing high heals and a dress. The woman was a beauty. It occurred to me that if she weren’t a beauty she would be in a mental institution instead of walking a pure bread poodle down Rodeo Drive.

The psychiatrist running the study told me that I would be taking an Ambian that was divided into ten small doses over the course of a day. He was hoping to prove it had the same effect as Prozac.

On my way home on the bus  I chatted with several people including a man who worked a Dolce and Gabana in Beverly Hills. He told me that he’d waited on some music producer for over an hour. He said she tried on ten suits and didn’t buy a single one. He said she told him she’d call him and she wouldn’t. He asked me how long I lived there and I told him one month.

“Now let me guess you hate it here, right?”

“You said it”.

“I’m from Alabama. I’ve lived here a year and a half. He said. “I hated it for the first year. Things are a little better now. “

“I’m having problems finding a job” , I said.

“It takes about six months to get a job, about a year before you’ll have any friends.” He said.

Six months ? I would be dead by then. I went home and went on Craigslist yet again. I answered and ad for a telemarketer job in Long Beach. I was interviewed and hired by a man there who would only say his name was Tony . He said that I would be getting leads for sales of toner for copiers. I would simply call businesses and collect the make and model of the copier.

People always assume the worst about telemarketing.  Because the calls are annoying people have a tendency to assume that anything you sell over the phone is a scam. I have worked several telemarketing jobs and I can tell you that most of the companies  I worked for were not trying to scam people any more then any other type of advertising or marketing. I sold newspapers and they were actually sold at a better price than you would get if you called to order them. I have sold coupon books that I know worked because I used them myself They were the exact same price as if you bought them at the store; they were nether a great bargain or a rip off.

The telemarketing office in Los Angeles was the first actual telemarketing “scam” I’d ever been involved in.  We would call businesses and ask for the make and the model of the copier. Our boss would call the companies back the next day and say he was with the copier company and was selling toner for the copier at a reduced price if they ordered that day. It was a scam because almost all copiers are contracted and come with free toner as part of the agreement.  We relied on naïve secretaries  who didn’t know toner was free to give us the company credit card.

Our boss was a right wing conservative cokehead. He listed to a combination of Led Zeppelin and conservative talk radio. He was all for the death penalty and harsher punishment for criminals.  He fired me after two weeks.

I was on my way home on the bus when  I noticed a short, creepy man who wouldn’t stop staring at me. He asked my name and asked me if I was  Swedish. He asked me if I was married and I said yes.  We got to talking and I told him I had just been fired. He asked me If I had ever considered doing audience work. I told him I didn’t know what that was. He told me it was where you sat in the audience of shows like Judge Judy and Judge Joe Brown and pretended to be interested in the cases. They pad in cash for this.  He gave me the number of a woman called Adrianne as well as his own phone number.

I didn’t realize it, but he had handed me an invitation to the worst unbirthday party I was ever to attend.

The Cat Lady, The Love Boat and The Wise Guy

I got the letter late one Thursday afternoon upon returning home form work.

“As you know Sue Smith the owner of the condominium you are renting died On August first. The heirs to her estate have been forced to liquidate her property. The property will be put up for sale and you will have the first opportunity to buy it.”

I was stunned. I been living in the condo for eight years and I had no idea the owner had died. I momentarily toyed with the idea of buying the place, more out of laziness than anything else. It was a big place, but the carpet was 15 years old, the dishwasher was broken and it was right next to the front door and the pool so it was noisy all the time.  I decided it wasn’t a good investment. I wanted to leave Denver,  I had been there and done that and I had nothing keeping me there. I had a few friends, but none that were that close. I hated my call center job. I worked  for an apartment management company known to its employees as ShameCo.. The manager of the call center was a five foot five 280  pound mental midget named Mark (Knighted The Pillsbury Doughboy, by me and my buddy Rigo!). I’m not sure how Mark ever managed to become a manager of anything, but he had managed to run several call centers;  run them away to India that is. In spite of  being married with two boys at home he constantly judged the women in the office for their attractiveness to him. If he didn’t want to sleep with you you weren’t getting promoted.

You may think this meant that you had to be cute to get promoted, but this was not so. One of his favorites was a brutish six food tall woman with a moustache and a shapeless body and a deep manly voice named Carrie (renamed The Stach). In spite of her complete lack of qualifications , her  laziness and her general rudeness she was promoted to supervisor and eventually manager because she laughed at all of his sexist jokes. She told quite a few of her own including several aimed at a woman in the office with Turner Syndrome. She constantly made fun of other women’s bodies and spent half the day putting them down instead of working. Another woman favored by Mark was a bucked tooth grey haired 30 year old who belched constantly and was at least 60 pounds over weight (Buckey). The Pillsbury Doughboy was turned on by both of these horror shows because  they both kissed his ass. Nothing is sexier to a narcissist than someone who worships them. Buckey was promoted to several different supervisory positions as she narced on all of her co-workers to the dough-boy. She failed miserably at everyone of them and was eventually demoted to doing some type of clerical work.

The real-estate company began the process of trying to sell my apartment. Every so often strangers would begin parading through my house. This went on for months, but there were never any buyers. In the midst of all this I got the opportunity to work at home for Shameco posting their apartment ads on Craigslist. At first the job sounded like a dream come true. I could do it in my pajamas and I didn’t have to go into the office with the doughboy and his motley crew. But, I was supervised by an annoying woman who IM’d me every three minutes to make sure I was working. If I reposted an ad that someone else has written and the ad had typos in it I got in trouble for it. I had complained to HR about  Mark’s horrid behavior and I’m sure he knew it was me. I began to develop an escape plan. I would move to another state and  work from home until I found a job there. No one would ever know. I decided mid-June would be the perfect time to do this as I would get my quarterly bonus then. Unfortunately, my landlord through a monkey wrench into my plans. All the Condo renters were being kicked out on May first so they could fix up the seven apartments that Sue had owned. We were being given thirty days to get out. I realized I had to make a plan in a hurry.

I began to search the internet for the next place I would live. I was already fairly disgusted with LA and decided I definitely didn’t want to live there. I began looking at other places in California.  I considered Sacramento, it was cheap and close to San Francisco, but I was told by friends that it was a slum. I began to Google info about San Diego, It looked beautiful and relaxing, almost like a resort. I attempted to find an apartment there, but everything I could afford was  gone by the time I called it. I have a dog Macbeth, who is like my son and finding an apartment that will take him can be challenging for us. I subscribed to a paid list of unadvertised apartments. The site said that their employees drove around and found small basement apartments and the such for the site. I was suspicious, but desperate. I called around, but once again everything was taken by the time I called it. I then attempted to find an apartment in the OC, in the hopes of gradually working  my way south to San Diego,  But, all the apartments there were to expensive. I finally set my sites on Long Beach. I came across a small studio that was listed under Long Beach . It was the same price as I was paying in Denver. It said it was in San Pedro which I assumed was the name of a neighborhood in Long Beach. The ad said to ask for Vito. I dialed the number and a man with a ridiculously deep voice answered the phone.

“Hello, this is Vito.”

“Um, yeah I was calling about the apartment?”

“Which one”

“The studio”.

“Oh,” he said “One sec.” He put the phone down and I thought I heard a door close.

“Uh yeah,  now it’s a real little place . It’s basically just a room.  It’s in the basement of an apartment building it’s a converted garage. There’s not really a kitchen, but there is a sink and I can put in a stove.

“Well,” that sounds ok. I said a bit disappointed.

“”When can you come by and see the place?”

“I’m actually moving from Denver, I’d hoped we could do this over the phone.”

“Oh, I see, uh do you have a friend who could come over and look at the place?”

“No, I don’t know anyone there.”

Look, I should tell you that there’s no real window on the place I mean there is but it doesn’t open or anything. There’s no closet…

“Do you allow dogs?

“yeah” .

He e mailed me an application I laughed when I saw his whole name, Vito Bologna, it sounded like something out of a wise guy movie.  I filled it  out. He called me the next day.

“Uh, yeah. I got your application. Your credits not the greatest, but I’m sure you know that. I would need a full months rent as the deposit.

I said okay.

“Look, there’s one other thing,” Vito said. I thought I heard the door close again.

“It’s not exactly a legal apartment. I may have to put on the lease that’s its just for storage.”

“Oh,” I said.

“When the building inspector comes I may have to put a few boxes in the apartment and have you leave for a couple of hours.”

“does anyone live there now?”

“Yes, the woman who lives here now has lived here for four years. She just wanted to get a bigger place. “

I know it sounds crazy , but I agreed to take the apartment. I just didn’t have the energy to keep looking in California and I pretty much had my heart set on leaving Denver.

I arranged for a rideshare and began packing. Two days before I was to leave I got a call from my manager saying that I was no longer on the Craigslist team as the team was being taken over by another department. I would go back to being on the phone. I was to report to the office the next day for retraining. I had an enormous panic attack. Shamco had some people posting ads on Craigslist in different states, but they didn’t have any phone agents working in other states. I wasn’t even sure if my phone would work. I went into the office work the next day and acted as though nothing was wrong. I told no one of my plans. They installed they  computer phone on my computer and  left for what I thought was Long Beach the next day.

We drove through the night through Utah and Nevada  in twenty hours. My traveling companion had rented a  car and needed to get it to the dealership within 24 hours. He managed to drop my TV when loading it.We arrived in Long Beach at 9:00 AM on the 10th of March 2008. We drove across an endless bridge and arrived in the small town of San Pedro. As we drove across the bridge I was overcome with an amazing sense of déjà vu. .San Pedro is a beautiful town. It is the official Port of Los Angeles lovely mountains sit atop a quaint town with many tree lined streets the path that runs along the harbor and cruise ship port is lined with palm trees and majestic cruise ships dock there waiting to take passengers sailing  over the world …The Love Boat! That’s where I’d seen all this before. As we rode into town I realized I was looking at the establishing shot of  The Love Boat. May be everything would be okay after all.

My rideshare partner helped me unload my stuff into the small windowless box that was my apartment. At first it didn’t seem so bad. It looked like a bedroom with a kitchen sink in it. Right after he left I went into the bathroom. I opened the shower door and screamed. It was literally covered in mold and what appeared to be cat hair. I hadn’t had a bath in 24 hour I was just exhausted and I didn’t have a bed. I took Macbeth for a long walk and tried to locate a store. I  returned with shower cleaner and tried to clean the shower a bit. I got pretty sick while I cleaned and managed to get an enormous boil on my foot. I tried plugging in the telephone, but the phone service hadn’t been turned on yet. I bought an airbed and we spent an uneasy night in the silent apartment .

When we woke up the next morning and got ready for our morning walk I opened the door to find several cats looking up at me expectantly. Macbeth barked and they ran for it. The lady before me had been a cat lady- They wanted food. The apartment proved much worse thean Vito had described it. The people upstairs were noisy hillbillies who let there kids play right outside my door. It wouldn’t have ben so  bad if they hadn’t constantly left candy wrappers all over the place. I don’t have any human kids and can imagine few worse things than having something that size come out of one’s vagina. It’s bad enough I have to pay to educate other peoples accidents, must I provide maid service as well?

I tried the telephone again and it still wouldn’t work. I called At and T from my crummy prepaid cell phone  and they told me that they had no record of my ordering phone service. I screamed at them and told them that I needed phone and internet service by no later then the next day as I worked from home. They said phone service could be up in 48 hours and the internet would take at least a week. I went out of my mind how could they let this happen? I had called a week in advance to make arrangements for this. I had the name of the agent and everything . They told me there was nothing they could do. The phone did come on the next day and I called to confirm that the internet would be on in a week – they had no record of the internet order. None of the customer service reps seemed to know what  the last rep had done and the company did not require them to leave notes in the computer.

For a week I sat in the San Pedro Starbucks on Gaffey and took calls. My internet finally came on and everything was fine for a week. All of a sudden the customers couldn’t here me. I called my supervisor and she told me to come into the office so they could look at it. I said my foot was hurt to badly to come into the office and I would just have to get a friend to take it to Best Buy. This was not a complete lie. The boil  on my foot was huge and even the limp to Starbuck’s everyday was challenging. I did take the computer to Best Buy, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with it . I tried re installing the software a million times, but it just wouldn’t work. I was able to take some calls but not many. I decided the best thing to do would be to turn in my two weeks notice and see what happened. Five minutes after I resigned the I could not get into my email, the Pillsbury doughboy had accepted my resignation early.

I sat in the tiny room and thought about what I had done. I had nothing no job, almost no money and an illegal apartment  I looked over at MacBeth and wondered wondered how I would go on feeding him. I went on Craigslist and began to search for a job. I didn’t know it but I was about to bite in wrong side of the mushroom and go on one of the most unbelievably miserable journeys I had ever been on.