Part Two - Los Angeles
Saturday 22nd February 5.11pm West Hollywood, Los Angeles
I walk dazed from the airport, find a taxi, climb in and suddenly there it is. L.A. is spread out before me, with the hills rising beyond, and then HOLLYWOOD, the sign a faint flash in the distance. It's all real after all.
The taxi driver encourages me to try out for The Price is Right when I'm in town and shows me a very large rock plunked in front of a museum, before dropping me at my mate Jeffrey Vincent Parise's apartment. A mate that I've only ever spent a few days with, working together on a film in Berlin over ten years ago. He's based in West Hollywood as an actor and painter. I wildly over-tip my driver, and then a "Hello?" through a screen door, and a "Hey!" and a great hug from Jeff. A shower, a change of clothes, and a walk excitedly off-balance down Melrose Avenue before going back to his place to sit outside together with a beer as the late afternoon sun hits the palm trees and Spanish music plays from the bungalow opposite.
Sunday 23rd February early West Hollywood, Los Angeles
After our beers I have a typical L.A. dinner of pie and chips, and then pass out on the floor of Jeff's studio, surrounded by his portraits, a comforting sense of warm bronze and reds and the smell of aged paint. After struggling back to pretending that it is still Saturday night I meet Jeff's girlfriend and some of her friends. One of them (also Jeff) hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia and I am able to impress him by remembering the names of bars run by his best friend whose house I stayed in when I was 18. Cocktails follow, and we then all bundle into a car and off to a pyjama party. One of those parties you never imagine you will actually attend, with beautiful women and thick-set guys walking about in pyjamas, dancing to baaaad music and throwing themselves around a bouncy castle. I arrive exhausted but soon develop a completely unnecessary second wind. The Jeffs and the girls need to go, but I stay on, left to my own devices. I stumble about in a shirt and tie for a few hours, drinking beer out of a red plastic cup that I'm shown how to fill up from a keg, talking to friendly skater dudes and young Australian actors. Eventually I make the decision that it really, really is time to go home and sleep. I have been introduced to the wonder of Uber by a helpful chap on the plane, a car company that will come and pick you up in minutes from a tap on your smart-phone. I order one now as best I can, which somehow ends up with me running to meet the car at a completely incorrectly entered pick-up point blocks away. It's like a very basic game of Grand Theft Auto, with a little black car and me as a little blue light played out on my phone in my hand, and for real under the woozy night sky of Los Angeles.
Monday 24th February early West Hollywood, Los Angeles
I still seem to be suffering from jet-lag. I keep waking as night first begins to turn towards the dawn and can't get back to sleep again. I was very tired on Sunday morning but got up and out for Spanish brunch before Jeff and me take his girlfriend's husky dog Jafar for a walk in Runyon Canyon. There we meet a photographer who had arranged to take some photographs of Jeff for a cheap soap-opera magazine (Jeff is a regular on General Hospital) and so have the odd experience of clambering up the loose dirt of the canyon while the two of us and the dog are being constantly snapped. Upon reaching the crest of the hill the HOLLYWOOD sign appears once more, pure white against the muddied green of the hills. On the other side, the sprawl of L.A. opens up, smog obscuring a view of the sea, but the city is still visible for miles and miles. It's hard to get a sense of it. Apart from the Griffin Observatory, the Capitol Record Tower and the sky-scrapers of downtown L.A., it's difficult focusing on any landmarks. It just keeps going and going.
We walk back down through Runyon Canyon, get the car washed, pick up food for Jafar and then onto Jeff's manager's birthday party at her house just off Sunset Strip. I find myself nervous - is this my first chance to make an impression in Hollywoodland? - and there is one excruciating moment when I extend my hand to introduce myself to some guy in a suit for him not to see it and turn away. So I offer it to his girlfriend who also fails to see it. I then realise I'm mumbling "Hello... Hello... Sorry" before pushing my palm into my leg and wandering off. Otherwise, it's good fun.
I have a great talk with Lisa Zane, an actress and musician, who is the first person to get CHORALE as in CORRAL. A beer, some birthday cake and then a chat with a young man from London who is interning with the manager and getting into acting. People are friendly, but everyone is definitely working, trying to get their next low-budget horror of the ground. It is exciting though, this buzz that with hard work, good contacts and even better luck, you could be a part of the movie world. I need to get comfortable with, not exactly selling CHORALE and other projects, but being able to speak of them with absolute confidence, while unapologetically talking of existing achievemnets. I have a good go at it though, at this my first industry party.
Afterwards, some posh ravioli in The Pikey, a British themed gastro pub and then an early night, a fitful sleep, waking in the early hours again. But then an email from back home saying that Òran Mór are on board! Great news. It's early as I write this and I think that Jeff is still asleep, but time to venture upstairs to his living space as coffee calls.
Wednesday 26th February 10am West Hollywood, Los Angeles
Before leaving London I had arranged to meet my old friend David, and so I walk down to join him for brunch. I last saw him 15 years ago at our graduation at LAMDA and then suddenly there he is on the sidewalk of Melrose Avenue in. It's great to catch up with him, to hear of his life in L.A. and how his family is doing, and good to be able to give him news of our fellow students that I'm still in touch with. At one point he takes a call, it's just been confirmed, he'll next be playing Martin Luther King!
After brunch I accompany Jeff to a local farmer's market then back to Runyon Canyon with Jaffar. Dinner is with Jeff's cousin Tim, who I like immediately, it's rare to meet people who are attempting to live with such integrity as I feel he is. It turns out he used to run the quiz in the Roebuck, a pub in London I know well, and one I cycle past almost daily.
The three of us push on to another bar to meet a friend of Jeff's and fellow painter, Len, who is 97 on Saturday and is the first man I've met to drink whiskey with a beer chaser and a mug of black coffee. Silver rings on his fingers, a black cane and a black cowboy-hat he is one cool old gent. We were hoping for live-music but get unexpected stand-up. I have the odd experience of a man making me laugh on stage only for a few minutes later to have him tell me off for speaking too loudly to Tim. How quickly relationships curdle. Jeff produces an impromptu slice of birthday cake with a single candle in it from the deli next door and when the live-music act does appear we get the hard punk rockers to sing Happy Birthday to Len. He's made up. We then drive him back to his palatial house in Beverley Hills.
I borrow Jeff's bike to get me to the famous Chinese Theatre, and there discover that Robert De Niro and I both take a size ten. Not such big boots to fill after all. The whole area is much smaller and less touristy than I thought it would be, with modest apartments and college buildings only a block away. Hollywood Boulevard itself is partially closed off at one point. Thinking it's roadworks I then realise - ah no of course - they're setting up for the Oscars on Sunday.
I've decided to try and be American today to immerse myself in my surroundings as much as possible. I think I get away with it in Gap but forget to do it over it lunch at Musso and Franks, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood that used to cater to the silent cinema stars, which is opposite the equally venerable Egyptian Theatre.
I turn the accent back on while shopping at the brilliant Amoeba Music, a huge hangar of a store packed with vinyl and CDs. As I'm paying for all my records with my card I need to show my ID. American Jack then has to produce his British passport. "United Kingdom?" says the cashier. " Yeea-eahhhh" I reply.
Five minutes out of Amoeba Music and there's Moby passing me on the sidewalk. I walk the bike and my vinyl back to Jeff's place before changing for the evening, because tonight I'm going to visit a place that so far has only ever existed for me by re-watching Swingers again and again, The Dresden Room. I'm due to go there with my friend Adam who lives here and after some fine fish tacos we're approaching the front door. I feel this odd sense of nervousness again, it happens when something that I have only experienced through fiction, through the movies, is about to become a reality. How can it possibly live up to the experience that Mike, Trent and the others had here?
It's brilliant. Marty and Elaine who pop up in the film are playing tonight. Marty knocks out the show tunes and takes requests while Elaine accompanies him on keyboards and flute. I have a couple of martinis and imagine that I'm in the rated R movie. I really am so money baby and I don't even know it. Probably.
It's great to be with Adam in his adopted home town but an earlyish night is needed. I sleep better but am suddenly woken just before 6am by a cockroach climbing into my ear. It's obviously time to move on.
It's been so good hanging out with Jeff, a true friend indeed, and discovering Hollywood and Los Angeles, but it's time now to leave for Duarte. Time to go in search of Sam Shepard's youth.
Next: Part Three - Duarte