Los Angeles, CA
"I have to stop watching this movie," Nicky screamed. "Why am I watching Greenberg when I fucking live it? I am the Florence character. All I do is drive your grumpy ass around L.A. and run errands like fetching you whiskey and ice cream sandwiches."
For the record, I like ice cream sandwiches but I don't drink whiskey anymore. To quote that Widespread Panic song, "Whiskey makes my eyes look mean."
I have Irish blood pumping through my veins, well, at least 50% of it. The last thing I'm going to do is get loaded on liquid plutonium every night and hope I don't set off a nuclear implosion with my fiery temper. Whiskey escalates it; marijuana sedates it.
Booze and cocaine destroyed some of my favorite writers. I actively avoid both because I still cherish life and have a couple of more things I have to write before I die, which I won't be able to do if I crawl inside a bottle or collapse my nostrils by snorting Bolivian marching powder.
The older I get, the more I adhere to the main key to life by Johnny Hughes (former rock-n-roll manager, gambler, and author): "You only need one girl, one vice, and one drug. Anything more than one is instant trouble."
Now, that's some deep shit from a true wise man that has lived the hard live on the road. It's not an easy life, but most of the time we fuck stuff up because we make things more complicated than they really are. If you're not getting suffocated by your own neurosis, then you'll drown in your own self-loathing.
Director Noah Baumbach (Squid and the Whale and Greenberg) and I have a lot in common, mostly because we grew up roughly the same era in NYC. Yet, we also had a totally different experience because he had bohemian/intellectual parents supporting his pursuit of the arts. I only went to Wall Street because 1) I like to gamble, and 2) it would get my family off my back. I fell into that role at two different times. And in both instances, one day I woke up and realized I was living in someone else's movie. I was living someone else's idealized life. It wasn't mine. One day you're numb to everything and the next you're sitting on a subway wondering why you are wearing someone else's clothes.
Every once in a while, you get to break out of that song you're imprisoned in, or bust out of that glossy Hollywood film where you were only a mere actor (and you're dreaded parents the cantankerous director and duplicitous producer). The most exhilarating moments in life occur when you improvise and go off the script. It drives purists berserk, but it's what makes life worth living.
Breaking out of someone else's narrative isn't easy. Literature, art, film, music is filled with the heartache surrounding that disconnect. Walking away from someone else's scripted life is painful. Miserable. But once you go your own way... the relief is immense and the freedom is intoxicating.... until all of those lofty and fleeting feelings pass, you're still wrought with anxiety and fearful of the future. But heck, at least it's your choice and you're not filling the roles of one-dimensional characters that you're parental units and society wanted to thrust you in. That's why they (they = parents, teachers, society et al) make rebellion as insufferable as possible. Blazing a new path is a lonely pursuit as an individual. But as a group and collective, a rebellious pursuit can bring the system to its knees. That's the real reason why the government outlawed LSD. They originally thought dosing the public would turn the masses into sheeple, but instead it enlightened the masses and turned them against the machine.
The kids today are rebelling, but it's not like what happened in the 60s with massive protests and flower power. Today's revolution is happening on the internet. Millennials refuse to pay for anything. They indirectly have crashed Hollywood and the recording industry and the publishing industry. It wasn't a noble pursuit like their hippie parents who wanted the throw a monkey wrench into the gears of capitalism. Rather, these e-kids are simply too pampered coddled,and entitled, and that acute selfishness has fueled the current revolution, which has brought major institutions to their knees. The paradigm has shifted so quick and so fast that the white-bred dinosaurs got caught with their pants down. The old guard can no longer control the new guard, so now they'll rush to those used car salesmen in DC and beg them to shut down the internet, or reform the internet, or do something to keep those meddling kids from fucking up their rackets.
Sorry for the tangent. Back to Greenberg.
If you haven't seen it (trailer is here), it's on HBO a lot these days Greenberg is about a morose New Yorker who doesn't drive and he moves to L.A. for six weeks to house sit for his uber-rich brother. He fails to reconnect with a group of friends he knew in his 20s. And to complicate matters, he screws up a relationship with his brother's assistant. All the while, he doesn't drive and feels like an alien visiting another planet.
Several scenes from Greenberg hit home. They hit home too hard for Nicky, which is why she couldn't keep watching it. Sure, I'm an exaggerated version of Greenberg, but there are moments he says things that I've actually said, or thought. The best dialogue is not some smarmy Sorkin dialogue, or a witty repartee by Mamet, but it's the matter of fact lines that match the internal chatter running inside my head. That's why I dig Noah Baumbach so much because he's able to write simple lines that are embedded with complex internal issues. So whenever Greenberg talks, it's sort of like hearing myself think out loud.
No wonder Nicky was freaked out.
The other day I woke up and realized I was Greenberg from Greenberg. This scene from the film is the perfect way to describe me in Los Angeles... a lonely march uphill.
Everyone at some point, most men my age wake up in the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime. "You may ask yourself, 'how did I get here?'"
It's at that precise point you question the cliche of a life you're living. Most of the time, you accept that's what your role is. "Same as it ever was." If you don't, well then you're ensconced in a mid-life crisis. I never had a mid-life crisis, because I have weekly existential skirmishes with myself, so all of that angst doesn't build up and result in a destructive Vesuvius-like explosion. I liken my weekly bouts with existentialism like that scene in Fight Club when Ed Norton is beating the shit out of himself. That's me. Whaling away on my own dense skull. I lived so hard and fast in my 20s that I never thought I'd make it to 30, and frankly, I didn't care. And then in my 30s, I caught a big break and finally had a shot to do something as a writer, and that's all I focused on was not fucking up that opportunity. But along the way, I lost sight of everything I originally set out to do.
Last year, I woke up one morning in San Francisco, and I was in a Talking Heads song with a beautiful wife in a beautiful house, wondering how the fuck did I get there and cognizant that 40 is just around the corner?
I first enjoyed Greenberg as a dark comedy because it was about a New Yorker who lived in L.A. and didn't drive anywhere. I mean, that's totally my next novel. But the more I watch the film, the more I begin to understand how the film is a neat parallel for my relationship with Los Angeles. One of the opening parts of the film is Florence driving in her car, and you get to see L.A. like everyone else sees it... from inside a car. The first dialogue is a skiddish Florence asking if she could merge into a lane. That's so fucking L.A. that I missed it the first time I saw the flick. For me, that's the quintessential L.A. experience because I'm sitting in the passenger seat while Nicky drives around. The bulk of my L.A. experience that opening scene. Trapped inside an insular bubble as daily life whizzes by.
It's days like today when I miss riding the Muni in San Francisco, which smelled like cheap old-lady perfume, urine, BO, weed, and Chinese herbs.