Saturday, November 10, 2007

sydney > l.a.

By Pauly
Hollyweird, CA

I was in a good mood during my last day in Sydney. Usually, I'm flushed with a anxiety before a travel day, occupied with eager emotions of anticipation of the next place. Plus I'm conflicted with a wave of separation anxiety over the place I'm about to depart. Not that time. I had a great time in Sydney but wanted to leave. I would be returning to Australia in less than eight weeks so I knew I was coming back. I found myself happier than I had been in days on the verge of a hiatus where I could finally relax and write at my own pace.

The US dollar hit a new low when I was in Australia. During my trip in January, the dollar traded at $1.20 AUD. At the casino cashier, I got $1,200 AUD for $1K US. When I went to change currency a couple of weeks ago, I only got back $1,030 AUD. The US dollar had sunk to $1.03. To paraphrase one of my bosses Tony G, "The US dollar is like a third world currency these days." That's coming from the same guy who won $6 million US playing poker against neo-oil-rich Russians in Moscow.

Anyway, on our last morning in Sydney, we checked out of the hotel and walked down Victoria Street back to Fellini's Cafe. We had eaten there for dinner less than 12 hours before, but their breakfast was delicious and inexpensive. It was also the only place I found that served a bacon, cheese, and fried egg sandwich on toast. Good stuff.

We arrived at the airport over 3.5 hours before our flight to make sure Nicky had an aisle seat. A travel agent for PokerNews booked her tickets at the last moment and she got stuck in a middle seat on our way down to Oz. When Nicky checked in at Sydney airport, she discovered she had an aisle seat one row in front of mine.

We killed time in the terminal and played Chinese Poker. I almost bought a bag of kangaroo jerky from one of the souvenir shops. It came in two flavors; regular and spicy. I didn't think I could get it past customs, so I decided not to buy it.

Despite the almost even exchange rate, I completed the journey under budget for $340. I held onto the Aussie bucks because I would need again in January. There's always a weird moment before I get on a plane to a different country where I perform a ceremonious changeover of currencies. Gone were the multi-colored Aussie bucks and I inserted America's third world currency into my wallet.

The flight from Sydney to LAX was not full. I was seated on the aisle in the middle section and there was no one to my immediate left, definitely a plus on a long distance flight of 14 hours. We left Sydney at 3:20 on a Thursday afternoon and arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday morning at 10am. Yeah, I got onto another time machine as I embarked on the second longest day of my life.

You lose a day flying to Oz. I left on a Wednesday and arrived on a Friday. I got that extra day on my way home after we crossed back over the International Date Line. I decided to try my best to sleep but didn't make it a priority. I had a tough time sleeping in a comfortable bed, let alone on a plane.

I was engrossed in an autobiography about Miles Davis, co-written by Quincy Troupe and called Miles. I stumbled through it when I arrived in Melbourne. My original plan was to read and finish it in Hollyweird before I left for Oz. I was trying to travel light and wanted to avoid lugging around a thick and bulky book of over 450 pages. But I only read a couple of pages in California so I was forced to take it with me. Although it was the heaviest thing I packed, my new plan was to finish the book and leave it behind in Oz. I did that last time with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Egger which I left behind in my hostel in Sydney.

I didn't have much time to devote to Miles Davis in Melbourne and read about 10-15 pages a day. I started hitting a reading groove on the plane from Melbourne to Sydney and was almost done when it was time to leave. I wanted to finish it, so I brought on the plane with me instead of leaving it behind.

The book covered the highlights and low points of Miles Davis' career according to Miles Davis, so you get a one-sided version. Despite the slant, he's brutally honest about his drug abuse, beating his wives, and being a bad father. The best chapters were about Davis' early days when he moved from East St. Louis to New York City after he was accepted into Julliard. He spent more time watching Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker playing in Harlem and on 52nd Street than actually in school. He eventually starting playing in the clubs and quit Julliard all together to focus on playing full time. He was not even 20 when he was on stage with legends like Bird and Dizzy.

Eventually Davis got caught up in heroin like his idol Bird. He was a functioning addict for a couple of years when his habit got worse and nearly ruined his career. He tried to quit on a couple occasions but had a tough time getting off the junk. He finally conquered it but admitted that he drank a lot and snorted a lot of coke - so he was not completely clean. He just wasn't a stone cold junkie anymore.

Some of his best material was recorded in those first few years after he got clean when he began exploring with modal music. Sketches of Spain and Miles Ahead when he collaborated with Gil Evans. Those albums came before the Kind of Blue years.

I also dug the passages about Miles Davis opening up for the Grateful Dead in the late 1960s and hanging out talking music with Jerry Garcia. The one thing that stuck out of the entire book was Davis constantly talking about random nights he stayed up all night talking and discussing music with his friends and other musicians. When he wasn't shooting up, he was constantly listening and playing and expanding and taking chances. The late night discussions are something that I don't exactly have with other writers. Writing is a solitary pursuit and not something I talk about too much. I guess that's why I have been writing about it a lot here.

Moving on... I read Miles for a couple of hours until the food service. That's when I closed the book and watched a movie instead while I ate. Quantas has a cool inflight entertainment system with plenty of music and over 40 flicks including a dozen newer ones. They also had several TV shows on demand. Nicky pointed out that Transformers was in the rotation. I put that on as I barely touched my dinner... a lukewarm rubber chicken, mashed sweet potatoes, lima beans, and a really bad salad.

Nicky opted for red wine and Xanax. She passed out while I watched Transformers. I can't explain my morbid attraction to Michael Bay flicks. I enjoyed every second of Transformers, which was a perfect airplane movie. It held my attention and killed almost two hours of flight time.

I popped a second Xanax and watched The Simpsons Movie. I saw it in the theatres and wanted to check it out again. I made it almost half-way before the Xannies kicked in and I passed out. I woke up ninety minutes later and the flick was over. I started it over and watched it all the way through.

By that point, I realized that everyone was asleep. I sat alone in the darkness of the cabin, with the only light the warm blue glow of the TV screen embedded into the seat in front of me. I wanted to read Miles but was slow to turn on the reading light. I'm a considerate flier and did not want to wake anyone. That's when I remembered about the comfort pouches that they handed out which included a pair of socks to keep your feet warm (which I used when I took off my shoes). Sock over socks. They also included a sleeping mask to keep out the light. I flipped on the light and read a few chapters.

Then I watched Oceans 13. I think I originally saw it on a KLM flight to Amsterdam? Or was it from London to NYC? I forget. But regardless, it's a great airplane flick and one of those flicks that gets funnier the more you watch it.

During the flick, the crew woke everyone up for breakfast service. I ate a blah omelete and there was this weird beans with fish. I read for a bit then fell asleep during the last thirty minutes of the flight. I woke up as the plane landed and the tires screeched as we made contact with the tarmac.

We quickly deplaned and flipped off a framed photo of W that greeted us as we walked into the immigration hall. Two Australian women walking behind me thought my gesture was hilarious and couldn't stop laughing. Immigration went quick and we got our luggage and cleared customs inside of a few minutes. We caught a cab on the way back to Nicky's apartment. We checked out her car which was covered in a filmy layer of dust and ash from the California fires that raged while we were gone.We quickly ran inside and fired up the bong. Heaven at last.

Showcase brought over three dogs that he was walking and they ran amuck in the apartment. I was starving so we walked to Nick's Coffeeshop. We slid into a booth and I couldn't wait to taste the iced tea. After a four week trip to Oz in January, my boss Schecky had said something like the one thing he missed the most about America was the iced tea. It's so true. I must have gobbled up a quick glass and drank three or four at Nick's. I also ordered a bacon cheeseburger. I had been craving proper bacon and not that pink-almost-raw Canadian bacon crap they try to pass off as bacon. I slowly chewed my burger and savored every bite. I'm a fast eater. Usually. Not that instance. I prolonged the religious experience as much as I could.

When I got back from the meal, it was almost 1pm. I forgot to weigh myself when I got home. When I left for Oz, I was 188.8 according to Showcase's scale. Upon my return I was 193.3. I added 4.5 pounds. Not too bad.

I had not sit on a couch in weeks. All I wanted to do was numb myself. We caught up on stuff that Nicky had on her TiVo like Heroes and Weeds. Nicky fell asleep in the afternoon. I had been going on about two hours of sleep after the flight but was holding up fairly well. I cranked out the latest issue of Truckin' and blazed through over 100 emails. I also made a list of randoms hit I needed to do while in Hollyweird and planned out the next week in NYC.

Showcase left the kitchen a mess including several weeks of dirty dishes. The kitchen door was closed and the place was infested with flies. I opened the window and tried to shoe as many out while I went on a killing spree. I committed heinous acts of insect genocide. It was like a scene out of The Exorcist or something with all of those flies.

On Friday morning, I went to O'Groats for amazing crisp bacon along with the best French Toast in Hollyweird. On the way to and from O'Groats, we passed by the Fox lot and saw slew of striking writers. When we left LA, it was on fire. When we returned, the writers were on strike. TV shows, variety shows, and major motion pictures all shut down. Expect more crappy reality shows over the upcoming months as hundreds of writers were picketing.

Nicky and I drove to the Grove and caught American Gangster. I really dug it, especially because it took place in Harlem in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as it told the rise and fall of Frank Lucas who allegedly made $1 million a day selling heroin on the streets on NYC. His shit was so pure that it blew away his competition's product. Lucas got it direct from the source in South East Asia and had it shipped in coffins of American soldiers that died in Vietnam.

Nicky had read the original script and several other versions of the script. She mentioned that they ended up shooting the entire original script and didn't go for the changes. She also mentioned that Frank Lucas (who is out of jail) was consulted when making the flick. Unreal.

We picked up Zankou Chicken and went back home and watched two documentaries. One on the evils of Walmart and the other was the Monterrey Pop Festival. Jimi Hendrix was cooking that night. I wondered how many hits of liquid sunshine he was jacked up on at the time? Hard to think that was over 42 years ago. I played online poker while the documentary ran in the background. Nicky eventually passed out. I must have been up to 3 or 4am watching really bad movies such as 50 Pills, a straight to DVD flick about a kid who has to sell 50 hits of ecstasy. Awful. But I couldn't turn away.

I woke up early on Saturday morning and wrote for a couple of hours. It seemed like forever since I got to do that... sitting at Nicky's dining room table with a breeze rushing through an open window and pecking away as the room was lit by 100% pure Southern California sunshine. After my session, I sat outside and finished the Miles Davis book. Finally. I can leave it in Hollyweird and return to NYC empty handed. I have a bunch of books waiting for me there and can't wait to tear into those.

Nicky has been exhausted since our return. Jumping time zones messes with your head. She slept into mid-afternoon and I gave her a ton of shit when she finally rolled out of bed.

"I'm not a freak of nature like you," she shouted. "Most of us don't function on three hours of sleep."

I probably slept about 1/4 of the time she has since we've been back. I'd like to sleep in but I've been working a few hours everyday, trying to get a lot of stuff out of the way to give me more time to write when I get back to NYC.

We headed to Nick's again for a late lunch. I had been up by 7am and by 2:30pm I was famished. There were no tables available when we walked into Nick's and sat at the counter instead, in front of the grill where I watched in amazement as the two guys whipped up dozens of orders in a matter of minutes. I got a quick tutorial in omelete construction and was in awe when I caught a glimpse of their bacon drawer which was essentially a huge slide out bin in a fridge that was filled with bacon, sausages, and other pork products.

The best thing about Nick's is that they treat their employees very well. There's very little turnover in staff which means that they are professional and you get top notch service. That's rare in Hollyweird where every waiter or waitress is an out-of-work actor and a crappy food server. Plus I'm known as the good tipper at Nick's so everyone is very nice to us when we walk in.

Nicky wanted to see Ben Affleck's directorial debut in Gone Baby Gone, which was originally a novel by Dennis Lehane about two cops investigating a missing girl. Ben did not appear in the flick. No Matt Damon cameos either. Ben's brother Casey played the lead character and he was backed by heavyweights such as Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, and the fat guy who played Taggert in Beverly Hills Cop. Not bad for a debut. Casey did a wicked job. I liked American Gangster better but they are two totally different flicks.

We went to see the flick at Century City, the outdoor mall were I bumped into Posh Spice the day that I left for Australia. No celeb sightings on our way to the movie theatre this time, but I thought it was funny to see everyone wearing winter jackets when it was like 62 degrees.

I went home after the flick, and sat down to write this post. I was almost done when it got eaten by mistake. Uggggh. Hate when that shit happens.

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