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.

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John Cusack and the Hollywood Redemption

My story of Hollywood failure begins long before I ever tread The Walk of Fame or worked background on a TV show; it begins with me as a lonely only child watching one old movie after another and dreaming of a day when I would escape the constant bickering of my paranoid parents.

I would watch Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, I knew the lyrics to every song in every musical. I tried to teach myself to dance.  I went through a period of wanting to be a boy, it wasn’t a gay thing; boys got all the meaty parts. I watched The Graduate over and over again and imagined a day when I would play someone just like Benjamin Braddock.

It is not unusual for a child (or anyone else) to want to be an actor. Almost everyone has at one time or another wanted to be somebody else. Who wouldn’t want a job where you have the rapt attention of an audience? Who wouldn’t want someone to cheer for them when they performed their job correctly? But, to me there was a deeper appeal; acting offered something that life didn’t – a resolution.  Oh, I’m not talking about a happy ending. I grew up in the seventies and few films or plays offered the happy ending.  I just longed for some kind closure as a kid.

Although my parents fought endlessly they never got divorced. When the other kids at school taunted me, I wanted the director to yell cut so I could wipe the tears away and take a bow for my heartfelt performance. I had just enough interest in science to want to play a doctor. I had enough passion for justice to want to play a lawyer, although I would never have the intelligence or patience to be one in real life.   I wanted that harrowing scene in the courtroom where everything was changed by my words. I wanted to be Woodward and Bernstein, I wanted the glory of exposing the bad guy, but I didn’t want to have to do all the leg work and research it would take to accomplish this – I didn’t have enough interest in anything for that. I wanted the thrill of the catch!

Growing up in Chicago offered a wealth of opportunities for a young acting hopeful. My parents grudgingly enrolled me in The Jack and Jill school of Acting. It was pretty well know as Harvey Korman from The Carol Burnett show had studied there as a child. I played a lost boy in the production of Peter Pan. The teacher seemed to think I had potential and I was good at line memorization. When we moved to Evanston I enrolled in the famed, Piven Theater Workshop (Jeremy’s dad owned it). Where I took improv classes. The teacher always seemed to like what I did, but I was never picked to be in any of their shows. You see I looked just a bit different than a typical actress looked.

I grew into a rather unfortunate physic. Although blonde and blue eyed my head had grown into a strange square shape. I was chubby and flat-chested. At the age of twelve I had child bearing hips and hair that was baby fine and riddled with cowlicks. I just wasn’t believable as a leading lady. Leading ladies tended to be the romantic interest of the leading man. The seventies open the door for unconventional looking actors as long as they were male.

A man could be interesting and attractive if he was funny and smart. So long as one possessed these qualities, one could obtain the virtually interchangeable “girl”. Think I’ve being glib? I give you The Paper Chase, The Graduate, The Verdict, Annie Hall ,  Atlantic City, The Conversation, The Godfather and on and on. They were all masterpieces and they were all had unconventional looking male anti-hero’s.

I wasted a good amount of my time wishing I were pretty and trying to make the transformation happen – it never did. In high-school my classmates included Jeremy Piven, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, and Steve Pink.  John was Jeremy’s best friend and a star in Piven Theater Workshop Productions. John Hughes discovered John and John and his sister got parts in all his movies. John secured parts for several of his friends in these films. Eventually they would follow him to Hollywood where Jeremy and Joan would appear in his films and Steve would act as a producer.

So if I was so interested in acting and I knew John Cusack, an actor famous for making his friends stars , why didn’t I simply befriend Mr. Cusack? Well tall, dark handsome boys don’t generally hang with goofy looking chicks, who have learning disabilities and two friends; Jeremy would occasionally even taunt me. I got to watch as John and his crew became more famous and live out my dream.

I moved to Denver and went to college for a bit, but I could never really feign an interest in my studies. As an adult I took to writing screenplays. It was my goal to write roles for female characters who were not pretty. I wrote one about an unattractive young woman who gets revenge on her cruel classmates. I sent it around and managed to get an agent, but she dumped me when she couldn’t sell it.

Eventually, I would decide to head to Los Angeles, in spite of everything I still had to try and see if I could change things in a way that might benefit women like me. On my strange journey I would encounter an illiterate producer who would option a screenplay of mine for no money and an indefinite period of time, a theater owner who resembled comic bookstore guy on The Simpsons, a Willy Lomanesque porn star, the dumbest “intellectual” I ever met, a delusional Script Analyst, two slumlords, a plethra of incompotent but cute business people, a real life Broadway Danny Rose, the worst actress in the world and many, many a religious zelot.  I would  be taken advantage of in a way I thought only happened in the movies and lied to by people who considered lying a sport.

In spite of everything I don’t regret my time in LA, it gave me a great story to tell, so sit back and get ready for a tale that gets curiouser or and curiouser.