Friday, March 26, 2010

Pico Blvd. Blues

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Weirdness abounds at the 6am hour in the City of Angels. It's that grey area between the light and the dark -- between the denizens of night slackers converge with the A-type personality go-getters. The streets are still empty but it's the calm before the storm. Within minutes, the first steady trickle of rush hour commuters and large orange buses start buzzing down Pico Blvd.

I used to be the guy staying up all night and wandering around the streets of Beverly Hills at dawn with the other vampires, insomniacs, pothead writers, speed freaks, and coke fiends. But I've flipped my schedule. I'm crashing before Midnight and waking and baking at 4:20am to start my day. The coffee shop opens at 6am and I like to get an hour of writing in before breakfast. That way I can come home, put in a couple of hours of work and already by 9am, I've had a productive day.

Ah, dawn in LA... reminds me of being all doped up in a dreamlike purgatory between sleep deprivation and reality. That's when the paranoia burrows deep under my skin. The auditory hallucinations torment me and I start hearing things that are not there. And actual noises freak me the fuck out. That's why when I'm wide awake (and for the most part relatively sober) at 6am, I barely react to the noises. To me, it's just part of the morning routine. The birds start chirping. Someone's alarm clock goes off across the alley. The bums start looking through the trash and you hear the distant echos of bottles clinking against one another and the cracking of aluminum cans smashes against each other.

At this point, I recognize about 75% of the trash diggers. I see them out the window when I'm sitting at the dining room table during my morning writing session. There's an old Mexican guy in an old school Army flack jacket who waddles down the alley carrying two huge IKEA-bags filled with cans. One a day, an old black guy with a grey goatee and white hair pushes a shopping cart filled with newspapers and empty spaghetti sauce jars. I'm assuming that guy is just deranged.

I don't think they are all homeless. For example, one morning I was walking to the coffee shop and ran into a guy who had a pick up truck that he double parked in front of our apartment. He was very dark skinned and spoke in some weird accent, maybe the Caribbean? Angola? Another guy in a stained hoodie rides through the alley on his bicycle. If there's any one of the dumpster divers who I worry about robbing us -- it's that guy, which is why I took a stealth photo of him --just in case. My theory is that he's a junkie who sorts through trash but also cases out different places to rob. Most robberies happen because you made it easy for a thief to rob you -- like something so simple, yet stupid like leaving a door or window unlocked. Anyway, the junkie's bicycle is the perfect getaway vehicle. Ah, then again, maybe I'm totally wrong and he's just an ambitious law-abiding junkie who collects bottles to pay for his daily fix?

The other morning, I actual saw one of the homeless dude dive into a dumpster. Usually they open it up and shift around garbage, but they mostly key in on the recycle bins. However, this dude opened up the top hatch and jumped in!

Anyway, I encounter random neighbors. There's a four-story apartment building down the street. On the second story porch, it's rare not to find a guy sitting up. Most of the time, two twenty-something dudes are sitting down on plastic chairs and yapping on their cellphones. Who are they talking to at 6am? On Monday, they were smoking a joint while talking on the phone. I didn't notice at first -- but then my nose caught the smell. The pungent aroma. I nodded at my approval. Only one of them nodded back.

On Tuesday morning, I witnesses the tail end of a drug deal. I noticed one of my neighbors from across the street was standing outside smoking a cigarette when I left at 6am. No big deal. I always see him doing that -- compulsively wearing dark jogging pants and a white hoodie. When I returned from the coffee shop 40 minutes later, he was just stepping out of a pimped out ride driven by a young guy who was sporting some serious bling. We have three weed stores within a three block radius. We have five or six more within a ten minute walk. There's no way he was buying herb. Made me wonder what sort of druggie that guy was. Coke? Meth? It's important to know if you have any serious drug fiends in the area.

Some mornings, I come across neighbors walking their dogs. On my way back from the coffee shop, I sometimes run into a cougar with a huge rack wearing flip flops and pink sweat pants, while letting her dog take a shit on a patch of grass in front of Jack in the Box. I make sure I don't walk on that grass because she never cleans it up. I'm guessing that she's a former porn worker and she has fucked up lips because she told her cheap-ass plastic surgeon that she wanted to look like Angelina Jolie but she ended up looking like Rihanna in those TMZ photos after Chris Brown used her face as a punching bag.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Inglorious Pancakes

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I wandered into the coffee shop in the down time after breakfast and just before the lunch rush hour. I prefer to get in before the breakfast rush, but I had stayed up pretty late the night before due to an intense writing session. I crashed at a time when I'm usually waking up.

I discovered that the struggling artisans linger at the end of breakfast rush. Since they don't have an office job, they can enjoy a prolonged and relaxing breakfast including an extra cup or three of coffee.

During this gap in between rushes, you will almost always find two booths occupied by three Hollyweird stereotypes.

The first booth: big ass security guard from one of the dozen weed stories within a five minute radius. Most of them open up between 11am and noon and the guys the size of NFL lineman squeeze into the booth a shovel plate loads of food into their ginormous mouths.

The second booth: two starlets picking at fruit and cottage cheese. They were the hottest girls in their respective small towns, high schools, and colleges. Boys lusted after them and masturbated to their MySpace photos. But in LA, the small-town princesses are among the hordes of non-working actresses humping the dinner shift at Sushi Roku while sitting through a couple of cattle call auditions a week. I don't like to eavesdrop on the starlets' airy conversations, rather, I make a point to sit very far away and tune out their static.

The third booth: two or three guys, who if they lived in any other city, you'd call them hipsters, but here, they might be mistaken for a L.A. Douchebagsicus, but a closer inspection would reveal that they were even a lower form on the evolutionary scale -- they were Industry Douchemperious. At least one or more of them is an actor and the rest are (yawn) writers. They all look similar: unshaven, wearing an ironic t-shirt, and decked out in $120 jeans. Oh, and every single one of them is working on a screenplay.

The loudest in the third booth booth dominated the conversation. Typical insecure actor who fed off the attention from others. He found it necessary to show off his chops to the starlets in the first booth. Shakespeare said all the world is a stage, so Alpha-actor used the coffee shop as his Globe Theatre. He sprang up out of the booth and annoyingly projected ten seconds of dialogue from Inglorious Basterds.

Fuckin' actors.

No one clapped at his shoddy performance. Alpha-actor's friends looked embarrassed and shrunk a few inches into the booth. The starlets were unimpressed, barely paying attention to their own vapid conversation let alone the impromptu sketch.

I stuffed a chocolate pancake into my mouth and sifted through UberTwitter on my CrackBerry as the Alpha-actor sat down and then shifted the conversation to his screenplay. He attempted to dazzle his out-of-work friends with a teaser of his current screenplay, which he had to put on hold while he heavily auditioned during pilot season.

Here's the deal... I overhear almost fifty or more screenplay pitches a year in LA. Everyone in this fuckin' town is writing one, shopping one, or thinking about writing one. Since everyone loves to talk about themselves, I eventually hear a few pitches. I could be stoned out of my mind and wandering the cereal aisle at Whole Foods when I stumble upon two people discussing second act structural issues in their version of Steel Magnolias set against a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

I hear at least a dozen screenplay pitches inside of the coffee shop while minding my own business. Most of them are horribly lame (like the one guy who sent his vampire script to Christina Ricci and she never returned is calls). I really wanted to hate Alpha-actor's screenplay because of that cheesy move with belting out lines from a Tarrantino flick. But I gotta say... it wasn't a bad idea... it was actually... compelling. I smirked when he started off with the typical mobster movie spiel. But he quickly won me over when describing a couple of characters and the main plot. His screenplay somewhat appealing, so much so, that I decided to lift some of his back story, tweak it a bit, and write myself a better screenplay!

I pulled an ultimate stoner move on my way back from the coffee shop. Since I needed to get back to the apartment to put in some bets, I drove down the street. I forgot to roll up the windows after I parked and left the car like than for a few hours. Luckily no one stole the car or any of the contents. We had nothing in there anyway save for a Radiohead CD, a couple of Phish bootlegs, and a crank-wind-up flashlight.

I was pleased to finally see the abandoned Christmas tree finally picked up by the local trash collectors. Whoever originally owned the tree tossed it out at the end of February. It was yellowing at that point. The dead tree sat parked in between two cars for over two weeks when the eyesore finally disappeared sometime before St. Patrick's Day. We live on a predominately Jewish block and I wonder if someone dropped a dime on those damn Christians cluttering up the neighborhood with their ritualistic trash.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Meet the Neighbors: Who Actually Lives in the Slums of Beverly Hills?

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I avoid the coffee shop on weekends because of the crowds. However, I knew that the time change would fuck with some people's routine, so if there was ever a Sunday to grab breakfast, it was this Sunday. I originally planned to cook my own breakfast (andouille and eggs), but I was lazy. After a quick wake-n-bake, I didn't want to waste time prepping for breakfast. At the same time, I didn't want to wake Nicky by rattling around the kitchen. Besides, on Saturday, my breakfast venture was a disaster. My meal was delicious but in the process, I nearly destroyed the kitchen. I was simply off my game and spilled yolk all over the cutting board and on the floor. I broke a glass. I dropped the whisk more times that I could count. I fucked up toasting the French bread and had the toaster oven on a wrong setting. Maybe all these mind-farts happened because I was sober? Anyway, my Cajun egg sandwich came out exactly as I had envisioned but the kitchen was a mess. I had a rough session which became a deterrent when I woke up hungry this morning. I opted to pay for my meal.

I went to the coffee shop to read while I ate breakfast. A really nice family owns the restaurant that was originally established in 1946, which means that they have had regulars with several decade-long attachments to the eatery. One woman called up to ask what time it was. The owner's daughter answered the phone and said, "It's a little past 8."

Besides the "where-everyone-knows-your-name" atmosphere, I really love Sunday mornings at the coffee shop because the staff cranks up the oldies station -- KRTH-101-- which airs Breakfast with the Beatles and it's all Beatles all morning long every Sunday. Nicky said she grew up listening to that in her house before going to church on Sundays with her family. So it's kind of cool that Beatles for breakfast at the coffee shop is a Sunday tradition. I dig hearing some of my favorite tunes and even a few not-as-popular selections on Rubber Soul which always puts me in a good mood. Some folks need church on Sundays, I need the music.

The streets of LA are empty on the weekends, but at the same time during the weekday, Pico Blvd. is bumper-to-bumper with the morning rush hour traffic. I took my time to cross the street admiring the Hollywood Hills in the distance. I can tell if it's going to be a good air quality day by the visibility of the Hills. If I can barely see them, that means a thick layer of smog is trapped and hovering over the City of Angels. But on a morning like today, I could see the lush greens which always brings smile to my face. That's why I chose to settled down here.

I don't know my neighbors as well as I should. A couple of highly religious Iranian/Jewish families live in the building to our right. The building to our left is filled with hipsters and dog owners who let their dogs yap, growl, and bark in the backyard. The actress/waitress who constantly sings lives in that building. She and her pothead boyfriend used to hang out and smoke weed with Showcase. In a stark reminder about the small town nature of Hollyweird, our neighbor's former roommate is a current contestant on American Idol and among the final 10. Although LA is a plastic city attracting the most superficial of people (hence why LA is the epicenter for LA douchebags), the city also draws in the best talent from all over the world. There's a fine line between being a waitress and a finalist on America Idol, and the slums of Beverly Hills is the demarcation line which houses a lot of dreamers.

If I barely know the people in the adjacent buildings, I know even less about the people in the other six apartments in our seven unit structure. Nicky and I are only friendly with the guys upstairs. They're cool and fit in with our lifestyle -- freelancers in the entertainment industry who are either always working or have huge chunks of unstructured time. They smoke weed, drink beer, play video games, and love football. They smoke cigarettes in the alley so they are always keeping an eye on our place when we're not around. It's good to have nice neighbors like that. Plus, they never complain when I blast music at odd hours and conversely, we don't care when they go ape shit while playing Grand Theft Auto.

I barely know the woman across the hall. She's a lawyer who sleeps at her boyfriend's apartment six nights a week, which is why she has sparse items in her near empty abode. And only someone who is bringing in decent cash can afford to pay for an empty apartment -- save for a lonely cat that's constantly meowing. She comes home to feed her cat, hangs out for a bit, and then takes off. Her sister often keeps an eye on the kitty and that's the Beverly Hills blonde who locked herself out of the apartment last month and want to know if I could break into the apartment.

A law student lives in the apartment above the lawyer. I can't tell if the renter is a guy or a girl because about twice a week, I see a young couple come in and out. The woman has a huge book bag and an overnight bag, so I gotta assume that one of them lives here in theory while in reality they crash at their significant other's much nicer apartment. Maybe the law student and the lawyer should become roommates and save money since they are never around? My landlord is getting free money on people who barely live here. Same goes for us in the summers. That lucky fucker! What a racket. I don't blame my neighbors for not wanting to stay here. The building is a shithole and might not survive a 7.0 earthquake. Our slumlord rarely fixes stuff including the shitty plumbing. And hey, who really wants to live next to a couple of beer-guzzling video game geeks or two potheads blasting jazz music at all hours?

I have never spoke to the couple upstairs and we barely acknowledge each other with a head nod. I only know that one of them is in law school because I noticed a 2L parking pass hanging from their rearview mirror. The guy drives a motorcycle, but I've never seen him actually drive the beast. It has been collecting dust in the carport since he moved in last year.

The front part of the building has three units. A 50-something female artist rents one of the spaces. Nicky and I have an eternal debate on whether or not she lives there or just uses the studio apartment as a studio. Nicky has been inside and saw a bed, but that doesn't mean anything because I know a lot of artists who crash in their space from time to time. Her car is not around for days at a time so my theory is that she lives somewhere else and her studio is in the slums of Beverly Hills. Regardless, it's nice to have a bit of creative energy in the building to counterbalance the darkness of the legal eagles.

The upstairs apartment in the front of the building is a mystery to me. Always has been since I started dating Nicky. Again, I have no idea. I never see them. The front downstairs apartment is the one that has had the most changeover since I moved it. It has also sat idle the most. It's hard to rent that one-bedroom shithole. A hipster chick lived there for a few months. She drove a white BMW and used to bitch and moan that our place was "OMG so ghetto" which it is, but why did she move here in there first place? She left before Thanksgiving and the apartment sat empty until this week. The landlord must have lowered the rent so much that someone jumped at the place.

I don't know much about the new neighbor except that they drive a leased Sebring convertible and smoke Capris. I can peek into the kitchen window. They have a huge circular bookcase that houses a ton of cook books but I have yet to see someone in the kitchen actually cooking. My theory is that this person is a chef or works in the restaurant business in some sort, which is why they are not around at nights but the car is parked during the days. Who knows. I'll do some more investigating.

Monday, March 01, 2010