Friday, June 13, 2014

My Hollywood

Originally published in The Monthly Breeze

The other day I caught a glimpse of the movie Pretty Woman and I just couldn’t help but laugh my ass off. The insipid “hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold” scenario not withstanding, it was a delight to see Hollywood’s version of itself. Now Hollywood has gone through quite a few transformations over the years and I am ashamedly a novice when it comes to the actual history of Hollywood and its origins, but what I can tell you is that modern Hollywood is something of an enigma that has never really been accurately captured in any film, television show or book. Much like Woody Allen’s consistently sanitized versions of New York with its offensively blatant removal of ethnic minorities; Hollywood is usually depicted as some PG-13 Technicolor version of urban decay complete with whores that look like Julia Roberts who oddly enough are NOT on crack.

More than not, I am usually disappointed with the way movies depict their geographical locations, especially if I have lived there for a particular amount of time. For example, I can only think of a handful of movies that have actually done Chicago justice; The Blues Brothers and Adventures in Babysitting being the most true to the spirit of my hometown. I have yet to see that with Los Angeles or more specifically Hollywood. I will admit that “My” Hollywood is quite biased considering my demographic: I am African American, I am male, I am middle-aged, I am homosexual, I am broke, I am morbidly obese, I can see how my Hollywood would differ from that of… oh let’s say… Charlize Theron. But there are still aspects of our Hollywood that I think overlap and I think it is these attributes that should be acknowledged as the true flavor of Hollywood.

For me, Hollywood would not be Hollywood without those tireless workers on Hollywood and Highland dressed as your favorite movie character hustling their asses off to get a picture with you and/or your kid for a couple of bucks. To me they are the epitome of what Hollywood is, tragically funny, or is it comically tragic? Whatever the case, those guys are a hoot. It could be 110°F degrees outside but you will still see a gaggle of people in Shrek suits, Marilyn Monroe dresses and Michael Jackson pants smiling, prodding and dancing for your attention and for your buck. I knew that I had become an official “Hollywooder” when I went to the McDonalds on Hollywood and Highland and stood behind Captain Jack Sparrow who was slipping something from his flask into his supersize Coke in front of Princess Ariel who was royally upset that the line was taking so long because she had to go take a dump. At any even given moment around here, you’re bound to either bump into some celebrity or celebrity look-a-like. It happens so much that it doesn’t really matter if it is a real celebrity. I mean, after you catch a glimpse of Diana Ross adjusting his testicles in the DVD aisle of Target, having Anthony Kiedis come up and ask you if you know where the nearest Mrs. Fields is, is no big whoop.

The nightlife here is also something to be desired. I’m pretty sure that you could do some deep research as to why things close so early in this town but all inquires would lead to the fact that everything closes early in this town. Usually around 2:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m. on Saturday but still last call is at 2:00 a.m. This was a huge culture shock for me considering the fact that I usually didn’t leave the house until 1:00 a.m. back in Chicago. And for the most part  there is also no “Circuit Party” scene here. Circuit Parties are when you go to club to club to club, drinking and partying all along the way. A good a friend explained the reason why. Clubs in Los Angeles are spread out pretty far and wide and as Missing Persons so eloquently chimed in the eighties, ”No one walks in L.A.”, you drive everywhere, and you will have more of a chance in finding a gay guy not into oral sex than you would finding a parking space here. So you drive to a club and you drive around from anywhere from forty five minutes to an hour and a half before you find a spot or you just give up and pay $20 for valet parking. Once the car is taken care of, you wait for another hour behind the infamous velvet rope. After that wait is over, and it is determined that you won’t disrupt the guy/girl ratio within the club and that you are in the very least remotely fashionable and attractive enough to get in, you finally cross the threshold to realize that… there are only about twenty people in this joint. And you only got about thirty minutes before they call last call for alcohol. So no, there is no Circuit Party scene. No human would intentionally inflect that kind of pain on themselves more than once a night.

Now West Hollywood is a little different. You actually could go club to club to club but unfortunately what you will find out is that they are all exactly the same and they all play exactly the same music and all of the men shop at exactly the same shops and workout at exactly the same gym and exercise the same exact muscles. Just think of the opening of  “Weeds” with really gay White men, “Little gay men on the hillside, Little gay men made of ticky-tacky, Little gay men on the hillside, Little gay men all the same. There's a white one and a white one and a dark one wants to be a white one, and they're all made out of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same...”

In “My” movie of Hollywood I would definitely have to mention the residential areas. Most people think of Hollywood as that long strip of land on Hollywood Boulevard with the Star Walk of Fame. It is by far one of the worlds most famous landmarks and even though I have walked that thing a million times and have seen a countless number of both human and animal excrement slopped all over those golden stars, there is still a bit of awe walking past a star and realizing that once upon time Lucille Ball stood right there. It’s a little off putting to see some homeless dude scratching his nads over it but still… I do love Lucy, I really do. And the thing about the Hollywood Walk of Fame is that, while it is essentially the yellow brick road that leads you through Hollywood, it is also eclipsed by several residential units whose occupants predictably enough tire from the constant amusement park outside. Waking up on Monday morning and dragging yourself to work is bad enough. Waking up on Monday morning and having to walk behind a gaggle of "I Heart LA" t-shirt clad tourists slowly dredging down the street to catch a glimpse of the Jon Edwards star that was adorned with the plumpest pile of dog shit you’ve ever seen in your life a day prior doesn’t do anything to help your commute.

My neighborhood in itself has always been very family oriented and somewhat quiet. As with the majority of Los Angeles, it is heavily populated with Mexican Americans (I’m about the only Black person on my block) and everyone gets along quite well. Although every once in awhile we do get infected by gangs and "Infected" is the right word, they’re like fucking roaches. Everyone is getting along, kids are playing outside, the elderly are walking their dogs, it’s quite an idyllic scene. Then the next morning you wake up and every flat surface in the neighborhood has been tagged with graffiti. The apartment owners paint over it only for the graffiti to return a couple of days later. This will go on for about a week or two until one morning you’ll wake up and go outside you’ll see a candle vigil at the place where someone was shot and killed the night before. The graffiti goes away, the kids come back out to play, the elderly walk their dogs again, there are barbeques and relay races in the streets… and then the fucking roaches come back and we’re hit with another bout of graffiti everywhere.

When I first moved here this happened about two or three times a year, usually during the summer months. That was until we experienced the wonderful world of gentrification. In no time flat, several homes that housed several Mexican families were razed in order to build these beautiful high rise condominiums for the 1%. Once they went up, I can only remember one time I saw graffiti, some on my building and some on the ground in front of the condos. They were both covered up the next day never to be seen again. Neither has the requisite post candle vigil returned.

I think that’s what’s missing from a lot of movies, television shows and books revolving around major cities; the gentrification, the replacement of homes for minority families with condos for the single upper class, the paving of paradise to put up a parking lot if you will. It always changes the face of a city. As I hear, Harlem has been going over quite the change in hue over the couple of years and the entire housing project that I was born and raised in back in Chicago has recently been completely razed from its roots leaving several acres of flat land in it’s wake with signs that portray happy Caucasian families that read, “Pershing Estates Coming Soon!” But this is nothing new, gentrification is a part of urban planning and as long a city needs income… they’re going to build for the young and the restless then pacify the old and the earnest and we all just sit back and hope that in the very least that the strongest aspects of that old culture remain.

I wonder when they eventually tear down my building to accommodate the “new excellence of living” as detailed in Town & Country magazine, what of our stories would remain in those neatly manicured lawns. Would they remember the one legged guy who tirelessly cleans those stars on the walk of fame everyday, the skunks, raccoons and oversized cats that run rampart through the streets late at night, those corny inspirational sayings on the marquee of the Henry Ford Theater that are so syrupy sweet that sometimes I cry at the thought of something existing in this pin prick of a world that still has such pure amiable intentions, the since abandoned Vine movie theatre where you could catch two movies for $5 in a warm, funky, dimly lit catacomb of a theater. I wonder if anyone will look at those guys on Hollywood and Highland dressed as movie characters as guys looking to pay their rent and not some idle entertainment solely their to humiliate themselves for a couple bucks. Or that the prostitutes that have absconded to Sunset Boulevard aren’t walking the streets looking for the meaning of life or their one true love, they’re looking to pay their rent also.

I hope that when the next obviously oblivious movie director-cum-producer-cum-writer who wants to use Hollywood as a hip happening seedy backdrop for their “serious” PG-13 drug, murder, prostitute, crime, mystery love story that they at least get some of the flavor right. With gentrification going on here I know a lot of the taste is leaving but, maybe some of the aroma will remain and they can get some of it right. And I totally wouldn’t mind if they cast Charlize Theron to play me.

Male Media Mind