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.
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.