Scott Sedita & The Gatekeeper

This episode is humbly dedicated to my college friend, Emmett Loughran, a superb Technical Director and later Director, who brought me in to work in Live Sports TV in the days before ESPN. The stakes were high, the stress to get it right even higher, but even then, at his young age, performed with incredible grace and professionalism under huge amounts of pressure.   And still does.

“What notice?” 

Adult Commercial Class – Week 3

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to class, after the kinder and gentler Terminix copy, along comes Week 3.

This one is long, and not for reasons you think, so go and get a snack and/or a beverage and come back.  I’ll wait. I’m an Actor, so I’m used to it.

Ready?  Here we go.

Once again our class sat huddled in the lobby, although by this time, everyone had started to talk to each other, still in soft voices, but with a sense that the worst had happened and we could relax a little.

We were so, so, so, so, so, so, so wrong.

So wrong.

We were given not one, but two commercials, for Taco Bell.  There were 3 characters in each spot, and we were required to know all of them.

The good news was, (at least for me) we were forbidden to rehearse with each other in the lobby, and that was spelled out in no uncertain terms on a pice of paper posted above the sign in sheet.

It was an easy spot, the lines were idiotic, but short.

When auditioning commercial copy, for me, short is always good.

We were marched up the stairs for group instructions.

Now pay attention, because here’s where it got tricky, and I can say that now in the literal sense of the word.

Group Instructions are where a group of actors are brought into the audition room before being called in individually to audition, to listen and hopefully remember the directions of the Casting Director.

What they want out of you, out of all of us Actors, for the spot.

Because the Director of the spot has told the Casting Director what they want.

So there are no misunderstandings about anything.

Casting Directors walk you through the copy as if they were the Director, which is why they are called Casting Directors.

They tell you the tone of the copy, the blocking of the copy, from the very beginning to the very end and they will even tell you the relationships of all the characters in the copy.

You will play a a married couple, with friends over for dinner…

All of this is not only so you have the opportunity to deliver the goods asked for, but to facilitate the swift and consummate completion of the casting session to everyone’s satisfaction.

In this business, time is money, the meter is always running and Casting Directors do not want you to waste their time with a delivery style of Hamlet‘s soliloquy in Act III, Sc. 1, when all they really want from you is a deadpan reaction with a piece of foam core hanging from your head.

So they don’t leave anything to chance, except for your actual performance, and they don’t leave anything out.

In an extremely abrupt and terse manner, we were told in this group instruction:

  1. We would be auditioning both scripts, first would be the “Fajita Sizzle”, then “The Dog Barking”.
  2. Who would be playing which character: Guy #1, Guy #2 or The Girl, would be determined once we got into the room.
  3. Where we would be sitting in the scene.
  4. When to slate.
  5. Where to go after the audition. (Not surprisingly, we were to go into the room next door.)
  6. The standard rigmarole of “on-deck” and “top-of-the-stairs” to get us in the room beforehand, although I think for this we just lined up on the stairs.
  7. The reiteration not to rehearse with our scene partners.

Did I mention that Jacob, our usual Giver-Of-Group-Instructions and Runner-Of-The-Casting-Session, was nowhere to be seen?

So, the anxiety, which had somewhat softened in the lobby beforehand, had not only instantly returned but shot through the roof of the dark little room at the top of the stairs, when we all realized who would be running the “session” from start to finish.

We trooped back down the stairs in dead silence to wait.

NEXT!!!

I can’t speak for my classmates’ experience, but here’s what happened to me.

I think my group was the 3rd group to go in the room.

We came in, we sat down to slate.

I asked if I could ask a question.

I was told “No.”

And the balloon went up.

There was a bowl of cut up bread that magically had appeared, to simulate whatever product we were to be selling.

Although that was not mentioned in the Group Instructions.

Action was called.

I picked up a piece of bread I assumed was the product that we were supposed to be enjoying.

Although that wasn’t mentioned in Group Instructions.

I was Guy#2, but I started to speak, because in the stage directions of copy, it said we were supposed to be enjoying a sunny day in one of our backyards, although who was the host of this little gathering  was not made clear, and whenever I either host or attend a gathering in either my or someone else’s backyard, I tend to talk to them, rather than descending upon and devouring whatever food and/or beverage I could get my hands on, in silence.

Although that was not mentioned in the Group Instructions, either.

But that was the question I had hoped to ask The Casting Director, because adding introductory business to the audition is their purview and not mine.  Tick-Tock, as they say.

Anyway, I didn’t get the chance because Guy #1 had started speaking when Action was called, since he had the first line.

So after that, I said my line.

The Girl did not say their line.  Or did not say it in time.

I really don’t remember, because what happened next shocked me to the core.

The Girl was told to Get Out.

Get Out.

The Girl got up and fled to the next room. Fled.

Because at the end of the day, Actors will pretty much do what you tell them to do.

If you tell them to do it.

I don’t even remember if “Cut” was called.

The Girl was replaced by another Actor, while Guy #1 and I regrouped for a second take.

This wasn’t easy because I had started to imagine some Monty Python-esque contraption in the room next door that annihilated inadequate Actors as they passed over the threshold.

We re-slated, I picked up my bread/fajita and Guy #1 said the first line.

I said my line.

The Girl did not.

The Girl was told to Get Out.

The Girl fled to the next room.

The second after the door closed behind them, without bringing in anyone to replace them,  and without telling either Guy #1 or me, The Casting Director threw the first line.

Of the second spot.

“What’s your dog barking at?”

Guess who had the second line?

Righty-o.

Me.

But by the time my brain registered, in that split second, that I was to reply with the copy of the second spot, because it was still under the assumption we were still working on the first spot, because we hadn’t made it to the end of the copy, it was too late.

I was told to Get Out.

And being an Actor who is trained to do what someone else tells me to, I did.

With some relief, I discovered that there was no Monty Python-esque contraption in the room next door that annihilated inadequate Actors as they passed over the threshold.  Instead there were the still-shocked faces of my classmates, huddled in their chairs.

I found one of my own and as I sat, the next deficient Actor came through the door, eyes wide with alarm and bewilderment and stuttered to the rest of us the universal phrase for “I have no understanding of what I just went through” –

“What The F*CK was THAT????”

What the f*ck, indeed.

I don’t know about the rest of my classmates, but I was livid. For several reasons.

Actor by Actor came through the door, with much the same expression, both verbally and visually.  Eventually it was all over, and we were commanded back into the dark little room to view our performances and receive adjustments for the second attempt, which now included the inclusion of the stage directions and the allowance of the using the cut-up bread as a prop, which had been left out of the first Group Instructions.

Suffice it to say, our second attempts were better than the first, and since all three Actors passed, in a group, through the doorway to the next room, I can only assume that they all had navigated the copy in some kind of acceptable manner and no one had been told to Get Out.

We were called back to view these final auditions with one more twist.

We were no longer to be merely Actors, verbal cogs in the wheel of  Advertising, we were to view these second auditions as Callbacks, and we were to be the Agency Executives responsible for hiring the Actors cast in the spot.

I always wanted to be Joan.

Here’s where it gets a little interesting and a lot ironic.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, in a land called Costa Mesa, I worked at an Advertising Agency called Bozell, Someone, Someone and Someone.

I was a Broadcast Producer.

And my client was Taco Bell.

I am very fond of Taco Bell, not so much the food, although I do enjoy their Chalupas, but mostly because they bought me my first house.

There is money to be made on both sides of the camera in Advertising.  Big money.

But I digress.

As Broadcast Producer I was responsible for the entire execution of the commercial.

The Train is now leaving the station… All Aboard!

From the moment I got the “Boards”, the drawings of how the commercial was supposed to be shot, through viewing the video reels & recommending the  Directors I thought would best enhance those storyboards, to supervising the entire production of the commercial, to choosing and overseeing the editing and any post-production work necessary to deliver unto my Executive Producer, my Agency Creative Director and my client, Taco Bell, a completed spot that would be broadcast on television stations across the nation into your living room. Everything that went into manufacturing that commercial was now under my authority.

And although I rarely attending the first go-round of auditions, I was always there for callbacks, but not for the reason you think.

I would go to Callbacks not so much to observe the Actors; I could watch the callback reel if I wanted to do that.  At Callbacks I was usually the person in the back of the room going through paperwork, if you are an Actor and want to know who all those people are that are not paying attention to you, in the room.

I went to Callbacks to observe the Director and the Casting Director, to watch  & listen to how they interacted with each other and how they interacted with the Actors, because that was one of the first indications of how things would evolve during production. My production.

So, if this class was actually a real Taco Bell casting session, and the Casting Director had run this session the way this class had been run,  well, let’s just say I would have been the one to say GET OUT, and not to the Actors.

As a matter of fact, I would have shut down the session, kicked out the Casting Director, reamed the Director a new one, shoved my paperwork into my bag, driven at high-speed the hour and a half nightmare from the 101 to the 5 to the 605 to the 405 to the 55 and strongly recommended, much like the note pinned above the sign-in sheet in the lobby, in no uncertain terms, that the Director be fired and replaced – immediately.

Good Times…

So even if I only had vague recollections about Casting Sessions I had attended as an Actor, I have clear recall of Casting Sessions I have attended in the service of the Ad Agencies who employed Directors who employed Casting Directors who looked for Actors for them to employ and none of them were ever run like this class.

I don’t know.  Maybe things have changed and I never got the memo.

I do know in this day and age of High Speed Tweets, someone, somewhere at Taco Bell, or other high paying Ad Agency Client, would eventually learn of the shenanigans taking place during such a casting session for their product, maybe not from an actor, as actors are notoriously allergic to doing anything that might piss someone off and prevent them from getting their next job – and everyone knows Hollywood is run on, after imagination, plain palm sweating fear – and fearing, because theses Big Clients have a lot at stake as well, that these shenanigans would spread far and wide, across all platforms and devices, until almost everyone on almost every corner of the planet would know about it, and perhaps, for good or bad, boycott their product, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t want their casting session run along these lines, as well.

A little birdie told me….

So as an Actor, I was angry to be treated in such a manner and as a former Broadcast Producer I was angry that this class was run in such a way as to potentially bring down the House of Taco Bell.

After all, they bought me my first house.

Not To Scale

As a “Mock Agency Client”, I voted for the Big Black Guy to be cast in our Taco Bell Spot.  I know Taco Bell and KFC and McDonald’s, and I know all they really want is for some consumer out there in TV Land to turn to someone else and say, “Dude, let’s go get one of those things that Big Black Guy was eating.”  They all know, as enticing as their food appears in those commercials, (and I can’t even begin to tell you the time, money and expertise that goes into making that happen) it’s the people eating that food that does most of the selling.   The Big Black Guy was a little rough around the edges, but I would have called his agent and told them if they put him with a coach, he got the spot.   I was outvoted by the rest of the class, who chose the Mousey Little Girl.  She read better, but I know if I’m trying to sell a Fajita Quesadillas in 30 seconds, that Big Black Guy has won half the battle for me, just by showing up onscreen. Casting is everything.

I acquiesced to the majority because, as Killian said, everyone just wanted to get to Shutters.

And just so you know that no one is immune to the ups and downs of this business, we eventually lost the Taco Bell account to a company that came up with a brilliant, though ill-fated campaign featuring a dog not unlike the three I live with and the slogan, “Yo Queiro Taco Bell”.

The entire 6th floor, including me, was fired, although I went to the 4th floor and worked on some smaller, specialized client campaigns for a while.

I still miss Shutters.

Even Better Times

I can’t remember whether this was the week or last week at the end of class we were treated to a video of Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye from I think the 1959 movie “The Five Pennies”, which delighted me, because I adore them both, and mystified my classmates, much like the Eartha Kitt video we were treated to in Week 4 of Foundation Class, (and which would eventually, I am quite sure, mystify the current Foundation Class, who had no one even remotely close to my age in attendance).  It might have been, because the Very Special Lesson we learned through that video was about Relationships.

I am pretty sure that Satchmo and Danny’s relationship was formed long, long, long before that movie was shot and even longer before it was presented to us on the classroom monitor, but I didn’t care.  Watching them sing and play was far better than talking to a Wall, and had at least started to take the bad taste out of my mouth that was this Taco Bell class.

Although I still like their Chalupas.

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Scott Sedita & Professor Marvel

This episode is dedicated to my High School Calculus Teacher, a memory that haunts me to this day.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that. 

I see a Superbwl Spot in your future…

ADULT COMMERCIAL CLASS – WEEK 2

Week Two found us once again in a costume of sorts.  This time we were given copy for Terminix, a company that gets rid of whatever unwanted inhuman visitors that have invaded your home, Zombies excluded.

This was a partner spot, one playing the Human Homeowner, the other the Wall.  I remember this spot from TV.  It was well written and it was funny, even though it relied heavily on one actor playing a wall, which required hanging a piece of black foam core with a hole cut out in the middle, on your head.

Part of the reason was the relationship between the wall and the homeowner.  I mean, we all have walls in our domiciles, but no one really stops to consider them as family members or, at least, occupants.  And then there’s the underlying joke about “talking to walls” and also the expression “if walls could talk”.

On the whole, it’s a very clever spot, so I was very relieved, after the first week’s clusterf*ck of dialogue on top of the insane blocking required for the “audition”, as were, I am pretty sure, the rest of my classmates.

But even though this was a far easier spot to work with, the damage from the previous week had been done.  Our Adult Class sat stiffly in the lobby, speaking in hushed tones, grasping backpacks and pocketbooks to our chests, as if for protection from some unknown but anticipated attack, compared to the new Foundation Class that had just started and occupied the lobby with us.

They were happy and excited – almost exuberant, as they spilled out of the downstairs room,  holding their copy, which, I was pretty sure, was The Amex spot we had also done in Week One.

Foundation Graduating Class – March 2017

Good times.

Once again we all trooped upstairs for the Group Explanation, given by the schizophrenic Casting Associate, Jacob.  Did I tell you about the Actor’s Gym I had been attending during the short hiatus I had between The Foundation Class and The Adult Commercial Class?   I will.  That’s where I first met Jacob, who ran the sessions for The Gym, and how I knew that Jacob actually had two personalities.

Not unusual for an actor, but very curious in this situation and very understandable once I remembered who signed his paychecks.

But I digress.

We were to pair off, one Actor to play the Wall, one the Homeowner.  The Wall, not surprisingly, was to stand there while the Homeowner entered.  We were to act, then switch roles, then act again, then exit, Stage Left, into the next room to wait until everyone had their turns.

Here’s where I ran into a bit of a problem.

I am not fond of rehearsing commercial copy with a partner.  Commercials are not like theatrical scenes.  There just isn’t time, after “action” is called, to create a mood, for one thing.

The other thing is that, as with everything acting, you are creating a relationship within that mood, and that is where everything can go south, fast.  For me, anyway.

I don’t mind running lines to get them down.  I will do that all day, if that’s what it takes to get them down, but the moment another actor opens their mouth to act while rehearsing commercial copy, I get into big trouble.

Unless they are surprisingly good, which, in a classroom situation, is not always the case.  Even in real auditions, it is not often the case.

This is not to say that I am good at this, and that is the other part of the problem.  I am also trying to find my feet within the copy, so I do not want to start worrying about the strength of my partner before I even get in the room.

Best Deal In Town

One week, at the Actor’s Gym – (ok, In a nutshell, we are emailed a time to come and “audition” in an “audition” situation, to work on our skills and keep up our chops. Jacob runs it, and runs it extremely well) – my partner was a very nice Asian girl who spoke barely a word of English and understood, I was to find out, even less.  So she didn’t even understand the Group Instructions, even after I spent more time explaining it to her out in the lobby, and more so when it was our turn to “audition” the spot.

Needless to say, the “audition” didn’t go well.  I spent a lot of time throwing her cues for what she was supposed to say and do, so I could say and do what I was supposed to say and do.  So this 30 second spot ran about an hour and half – and it didn’t get any better after Jacob’s adjustments (things that the Casting Director wants you to change in the next attempt).

To know that going in throws me off-balance, and with commercials there is absolutely no time to recover, so I don’t want to know what the other Actor is going to do, because then I spend all my time trying to find our balance.  Or picking myself off the figurative floor.

A little help.. please?

Another thing I like is to surprise myself.  In real life, I hardly ever know what is going to come out of mouth before I open it.  Sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes, according to my friends, it is not.

But that’s how people talk and that’s what makes real life, real. It’s also how scripted copy is supposed to sound.  As if what is coming out of your mouth hasn’t been desperately committed to memory mere moments before the audition.

But Actors will be Actors and my partner wanted to rehearse, so we did.  I liked being the Homeowner better.  Not that I mind standing on camera with a piece of black foam-core hanging off my head, but the Homeowner was distracted by flipping through mail after coming in the house, which is something I do quite well and often, in real life.

What’s on HBO?

It required a “deadpan” delivery, something I am not great at.  I’m good at it if it has some kind of sarcasm attached, but my face does things my brain has no control over.  I am Italian, so I tend to unconsciously talk with my hands, which is something I am practicing not doing because I am trying to “stay small for the camera”.  So now my face is picking up the slack.  My eyes, in particular, are a coalition unto themselves.  They betray me every chance they get.

I also live alone, with the exception of 3 dogs, so I am very much used to talking to Walls.

I had a little more trouble being the Wall, for the same reason.  Whenever there is bad news at my home, like an invasion of 50 million termites, my Walls do not share this information with me. They are characteristically silent.

What’s for dinner?

But because this is a class where we are supposed to learn, I have recently asked my dishwasher to start running lines with me, just in case I am ever called in for a Cascade commercial.

It should have been a fun spot and a fun day, not unlike the Foundation Class, whose squeals and laughter could be heard in the small, moderately lit room next door, with the great wall paper that echoed the wallpaper from the PBS Masterpiece TV series “Sherlock“,  from the lobby below, but the tension that had been created during Week One had continued during Week Two, even with the new-and-improved copy we were given.

I learned a tremendous amount in Foundation Class, and had fun doing it. I practiced what I had learned at home, and quite a bit of it was just almost starting to become second nature.

I had gotten an Agent based on my Foundation Class Final Amex Audition that was taped and sent out to Agents, courtesy of a generous Killian.

As a matter of fact, 3 Agents had expressed an interest in me. So whatever I had learned in the Foundation Class was working.

I was doing well at The Actor’s Gym, with Jacob running the sessions, putting what I had learned into practice.

But this Adult Class was run so very different, and I just couldn’t figure out why.

I remembered during the First Week, we were told in no uncertain terms that auditions were, above all else, a competition between Actors, and we were never, ever to give our competition any edge whatsoever.

I get that, although I have never met Actors who were not generous with each other, and I agree with that in some of the technical aspects required, but there is also no one quite like me out there, and if they don’t want that, nothing else I do on camera is going to make a bit of difference.  I just do the best I can & have as much fun as I can, while I’m doing it.

We were told about the insane amount of money an Actor can make appearing in a TV commercial.  This Terminix spot ran during the Super Bowl, which is the Super Bowl of Paydays, if you are an Actor who appears in one of those spots.

I know that not only does Killian want us to book the commercials we go out for, he wants us to book the commercials that could possibly set us up for life; a life that could include owning a home where walls would actually tell you there are 50 million termites who have just moved into the dining room.  And maybe a swimming pool that sings.

Y’all Come Back Now, Y’Hear!

So with the stakes that high and the bar set even higher, he runs his classes as if our next meal, or perhaps our entire future, or the future of our dependents, well… depends on it.

And that future seemed to include a heck of a lot of tension, angst & paranoia.

I see a Rehab Clinic in your future.

It’s been a long time since I had auditioned for anything, so I was having trouble remembering if the tension before, during and after each class was something I had experienced in real life audition situations.

I had vague memories of Casting Directors who were supportive, who wanted us to do our best, to help us shine so that we in turn, would make them shine.  It always seemed a little collaborative, the “relationship” between the Casting Director, The Casting Associate and the Actor.  We are all dependent upon each other for our next gig.

I know to get to that place were you can nail a Super Bowl commercial, you need one thing, after talent & technique, and that is confidence in your abilities.

I just wasn’t quite sure how all this tension was supposed to help create confidence, but I was willing to keep moving forward.  After all, Scott Sedita, my personal Wizard and friend from High School, wouldn’t send me to a class where it was run like some psychotic hazing for a hostile Frat House, or one of those weekend Pop-Psychology Transformational Seminars that ran in the ’70’s that promised enlightenment if you didn’t go to the bathroom for 48 hours.   There had to be some method to this madness…  I hoped.

I guess only the future would tell.

I see… Doris Day!

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And Now A Word From Our Sponsor…

I love Hollywood.  It’s a place of magic and make-believe, of smoke and mirrors. And it makes me crazy.  I have come to call the place home and the people who I work with family, and much like the Corleone Family, every time I try to leave, they keep pulling me back.  So I give up.  I’m here and I’m here to stay.

Good Advice

I’ve worked in almost every area of film production, with the exception of putting the film in camera, when they put the film in the camera.  I’m not so sure they do that anymore.

But out of all the people I have worked with, in all the different departments there are on a film set, my favorite list of unsung heroes are (in somewhat order):

  1. Casting Directors
  2. ADs
  3. Boom Guys
  4. The Entire Transpo Department

Casting Directors are at the top because I think what they do is magic.   I know this for a couple of reasons.  Once I had to step in to cast a very, very low-budget film because our Casting Director found a last-minute better job.  I knew I couldn’t get anyone else to step in, for timing reasons but mostly because as Line Producer, I had set the budget and I knew no one else would work for that kind of change.

It was the most difficult job I ever did and I never wanted to do it again.

Casting Directors love actors and working with actors, something I found tiring. They had to work with Agents, which I found aggravating and they have to work with Directors, who can be very difficult, even when they think they aren’t. But even more than that, Casting Directors just seem to know, the minute you walk in the door, before you slate, before you even hit your mark, if you have a prayer of booking the job.

When I last worked as an actor, some 15-20 years ago, before  things got really crazy, there were a lot of what were called Casting Director Workshops.  Most of them have gone away and the few that are left seem to have been indicted on some kind of criminal charge.   I don’t know the specifics but back in the day, before it got crazy, I thought Casting Director Workshops worked for both Actors and Casting Directors.

Way back in the day, when Movie Studios ruled, they had Talent Scouts who were charged with running around the country, going to Vaudeville, Variety & Legitimate Theaters, Live Radio Shows & Plays (because there was no television) and Nightclubs to find talent that could be polished up and placed on the Silver Screen.

When Movie Studios started to dissolve, Talent Agents, a small part of the hierarchy back then, more or less pulled up the slack.  But nowadays Agents are just busy trying to promote or keep the talent already on their rosters to run around looking for the next boy or girl wonder appearing in that thing in that place near that city not far from Chicago.

They do have Agent Showcases, at least I think they still do, but there really is only so much time in a day, so the brunt of finding new, great talent has fallen on the shoulders of Casting Directors, whose time is even more limited, because they spend most of their time in small stuffy rooms auditioning actors they think have a chance in hell of booking the job.

So these Casting Director Workshops were a win-win for both the Actors, who would like the opportunity to possibly be called in by the Casting Director for a role on a show they might be currently casting and for the Casting Directors, who could make a little extra money instead of spending their own coin to travel around Los Angeles watching marginal plays by marginal playwrites featuring Actors of various and mostly marginal talent.

I know this because I used to go to these plays to “support” my friends who appeared in some of them.  I no longer go because I truly believe that what ever you are appearing in should find its own audience without the system of papering the house with friends and relatives, who may or may not be comped for their attendance.   Time is the stuff of life you can never get back, and no amount of cheap wine in a paper cup during intermission is going to change that.

With these Casting Director Workshops, you signed up, paid 20 or 30 bucks, brought in your headshot and dropped it on the pile and went out into the hallway with the other 20 or so actors and waited.

We do a lot of that.

Meanwhile, the Casting Director would go through the headshots and match them up not only with another actor, but with a scene from the piles of scenes they brought with them.  In about 10 minutes.

Then we would troop back in, get our scenes, meet our scene partner, troop back out to the hallway, rehearse for about 10 minutes, come back in and, two by two,  perform.

What was so amazing was that every single time, the Casting Director not only matched up the best scene partners but they matched them up with the best scene for both actors.

I never saw a bad performance in any of these Casting Director Workshops.  Ever.

We might have been good actors, but we weren’t so good that we could be good in everything ever written.  That’s just not possible.

And these Casting Directors knew it, but they managed to find the best scenes for us from our headshot alone.  The back of those headshots might have given them an idea in what roles we had been previously cast, but quite frankly I just don’t think they had the time before the workshop to study our credits.  I think they knew, just from our photos, what we could do well and what we couldn’t.

That is more than a skill, it’s a gift.

There’s a bunch of other reasons I think Casting Directors are the unsung heroes of  our industry.  They have to find good actors, they have to understand what the director is looking for and why, which is a lot harder, they have to sit in that little, stuffy, hot  room for hours and hours while we walk in and out, bringing with us our nerves, our various levels of talent and the aroma of whatever we’ve been eating in our  cars.

They hear the same lines over and over and over, with various intonations, reflections, accents and accuracy.  And because usually they are casting to type, they are watching replicas of the same face, take after take after take.

It is a thankless, thankless, thankless job.

There is no Casting Director category at the Oscars, but there should be. The reason Films win Oscars are due in no small part to the Casting Director.

I know they get Emmy’s, which is why your favorite show is your favorite show, no matter who wrote it or directed it.  We watch, either week after week, or binge by binge, to see our favorite Cast Members.

I know the Clio Awards are for Advertising and Commercials but I don’t think Casting Directors get any of those either.  Sorry, Charlie.

Anyway,  I have a lot of respect for Casting Directors and I think they have a lot of respect for Actors.  Most of them, most of the time.

And if you are wondering where all of this is going, stay tuned, you’ll find out.

When it comes to the rest of my list, if Directors are the heart of a production and Producers are the head, then the ADs are the Carotid Artery.  They serve two Masters and are priceless to both.  Also a thankless job.

 

Boom guys (and they are usually guys because they have to be tall and most guys are taller than women), just amaze me.  How they can hold those things high over head for hours and hours is incredible.  Why anyone would want to do that mystifies me.

Transpo is also a thankless job, although they are paid well and when I ran productions, I would always start the first day of production by giving the entire Transpo Department a box of donuts.  On the last day I gave them a bottle of Jack.  Anything that has to move on a film location is under the jurisdiction of the Transpo Department and you should know that everything on a film location moves.  How fast and how safely is their magic.  Those trucks are big and there are a lot of them.

For me, working in Hollywood, where ever on the planet that may be, in whatever incarnation I have worked, has been a wonderful experience.  The talent and the skills of every person in every department (and there are a lot of people and a lot of departments) is truly astonishing.  We appear, coming together to create a universe and tell a story and then vanish, leaving empty sound stages and lonely locations.

How cool is that!

 

 

Beautiful Downtown Burbank

This episode is dedicated to my friends Deborah & Reno Goodale, owners of The Back Door Bakery, the best (and almost only) great place to eat in Sunland.  Their Patty Melt is to die for, everything, including the condiments, are home-made, truly all natural and delicious.   Worth the drive from anywhere. 

Call it sad, call it funny…

It was a long night, talking to myself, my other self – my younger self, the one who had all the dreams and desires still hidden in her heart.   That’s a big problem with running away from yourself, you can never make it quite far away enough and eventually, you catch up with you.

So I sat in the Little Yellow House and thought about my life.

I had just spent a good amount of time in Florida, where I had moved in the mistaken (or misinterpreted) belief that my parents had wanted to spend some of whatever time they had left here with me, they way I had wanted to spend time with them.

As it turned out, no one in my family had wanted to spend any time with me if it was inconvenient, and apparently, it was.  All of them had wanted to go on living their lives exactly the way they had lived them before, before I had moved my entire life to Ft. Lauderdale.

And they were entitled to do so.

Which made it a little easier for me to decide what I wanted to do with my life.  Especially when I removed my family from the equation, which I was also entitled to do.

I should just buy one and be done with it.

The first thing I knew I wanted to do, was to get out of The Little House from Hell and find a better place to live.  And by better I meant anyplace other than Sunland-Tujunga.

I had lived there for so many years – about 9, first because my horses lived there at a barn that had a great amount of land for my horses to roam around, but marginal care so I went to see them every day just to make sure they were still standing; and secondly because I had gotten work there making wigs for various theatrical plays and Cirque Du Soliel.

Marilyn Monroe Wig for Universal. It was an honor.

Now that my elderly horse had passed away and my Mustang was safely boarded at Peacock Hill Ranch, a 5 star resort for horses if ever there was one (here in Los Angeles, anyway), receiving the kind of care I wish someone would provide me, and the wig lady had unceremoniously fired me via email while I was in Florida (funny only because her only celebrity client kept her on while appearing in several of those “worst wig” polls for many, many years (a sign of loyalty if ever there was one)), I could pretty much do what ever I wanted to do, and according to my younger self, what I was going to do was act.  Whether I really wanted to or not.

A Room With A View

Where to move posed a big problem.  After living in Ft. Lauderdale for a year,  I just didn’t want to live in Los Angeles.  Ft. Lauderdale is beautiful.  Los Angeles is not.  Ft. Lauderdale is clean, Los Angeles is not.  Ft. Lauderdale is well cared for, Los Angeles is not.  Ft. Lauderdale takes pride in itself, Los Angeles.. well, you know where this is going.

I wasn’t exactly sure where I would be moving, but I knew for sure it had to be less than 15 minutes from my horse.  Ten would be better.

So I drew a radius of ten minutes from his ranch to determine my options.

You can’t get there from here…

But here’s the thing about Los Angeles – in most other areas of the country, a 5 mile drive runs roughly 5 minutes.  In Los Angeles it can run you about 15 or 20 minutes.  Maybe 30 if you have to jump on a freeway.  Who’s kidding who, more like an hour.

One problem with Sunland-Tujunga is you have to drive 15-20 minutes to get to a place that will get you to where you want to be.  You just can’t get there from almost anywhere else, which may account for some of its charm, a term I am using very loosely, because, quite frankly, it has none, which is why almost everyone there drives 15 or 20 minutes to get to some place else where there is something other than fast food and auto parts.  If you like fast food & auto part places, it’s the place to go.  For anything else, not so much.  Except, of course, horses.  And maybe meth, if you’re into that.

It doesn’t get any better than this, unless you are somewhere better.

It’s not that some really great people in Sunland-Tujunga aren’t trying to make the area a better place to live, it’s mostly that most of the citizens consider the area “Rural” a term they confuse with the area known as “Dogpatch” where Lil’ Abner and Daisy Mae live.  For a year ( another misguided attempt to move closer to my family) I lived in Honesdale, PA.  My nearest neighbors were dairy farmers, who had 200 head of cows they milked twice a day.  Once in the morning before the cows went out and then again when they came in for the night. Winter, Summer, Spring and Fall, Daytime, Nighttime, Rain, Shine, Sleet or Snow.   Next time you buy a container of milk, think about that.

Got a Weedwacker?

But the point is, if you let your lawn get kind of shabby, they paid you a visit.  They were farmers, they were rural, but they never allowed their property to look like any in Sunland-Tujunga.  Just sayin’.

I had become just a bit discouraged, when I noticed at the edge of the radius I had drawn on my map, was a little city called Burbank.

Burbank was everything Los Angeles was not and everything Ft.Lauderdale was, without the sea and the swamp.  Burbank was where the majority of the citizens of Sunland-Tujunga drove to when they wanted something more than fast food and auto parts.

I myself had made many trips down the hill to the Empire Shopping Center, which held almost everything you can imagine.  Lowe’s, Best Buy, Target, TJ Maxx, Nordstroms Rack, Staples and now, since my move back from Florida, Walmart, the King of all Big Box Stores.

Just across the bridge was Macy’s, Sears, Bed, Bath & Beyond and Ikea.

But it wasn’t just the big box stores.

There were all sorts of small stores, clothing, appliance repair, antique, vintage, food, food and more food.  Small restaurants abound.

It was home to The Disney Studios and my all time favorite, Warner Brothers, a magical place where Humphrey Bogart and Betty Davis once worked.

Burbank was everything I remembered about Los Angeles the I first moved to Los Angeles.  Small, charming, quaint.

I loved Los Angeles when I first came here.  Coming from New York, with towering sky scrapers and busy streets, Los Angeles was almost everything I had dreamt it would be.  Except for downtown, there were almost no buildings over two stories tall.  There were two-story apartment complexes with pools in the middle of the courtyard.  Exotic plants I had never seen before populated the front gardens.  Complexes that had names like “The Melody”, “The Shangri-La” and my favorite in the Valley “Horace Heidt Magnolia Estates”, a community not unlike Garden Bay Manor, patterned on an English Village, where I grew up in Queens and which might explain my love for English actors and Fish & Chips.

Jolly Good!

I found a lovely little house, owned by an elderly woman who was now living in an assisted living facility.  It had dark hardwood floors and mercifully, nothing had been done to the kitchen or the bathroom, so it retained the beautiful, fifties style craftsmanship of patterned tiles and built-in cabinets.

And once again, I called the people at POD, who, by this point,  knew me by name when my number came up.

My Peeps

I moved from the Little House From Hell in mid-January.  I had a year’s lease and a dream, if not a plan, courtesy of my younger self.

I was going to be a working actor. Whether I wanted to or not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Or Burbank.

This episode is dedicated to The Lovely and Talented Miss Toni Silver, who I looked up to all through High School and still do.  You brought down the house. And still do. 

Someone was banging on my door.  Loudly. And calling my name.

I was pretty exhausted from the night before at Dog’s birthday party, staying out much later than my usual self-imposed 8pm curfew.  I had so much fun it had been hard to go to sleep.  I had slept well and wanted nothing more than to continue to sleep, so even with the noise of the calling and the banging and the banging and the calling…

Who goes there?

The calling…

I listened to the voice and in an instant, I knew who was at my door.  My heart stopped and I was wide awake and terrified.

I don’t know how she found me.  It had been years – decades –  that I had seen her and I thought I had left her far behind, in NY.   Actually, I thought she was dead.

so long.

Somewhere between packing the boxes to move to Florida, and then packing the boxes to move from Florida, somewhere putting the boxes on the POD and taking some of the boxes out of the POD, somewhere between the Tiny Trailer and The Little House From Hell, one of those boxes must have broken open and let her out.

I should have used duck tape.

And there she stood, on my steps, just behind the security door I had paid to have adjusted so it actually locked, of the Little House From Hell.

And she was wearing the same dress I had worn to Dog’s Birthday Party at the bowling alley.

The Dress

“Open the door.”

So I did.

And she came in and looked around.  And by looked, I mean poked.  She looked in my bedroom closet and kitchen cabinets and the medicine cabinet in my bathroom with the terrific water pressure.

She sat on my love seat, the only piece of furniture I had taken out of my POD when I first moved into The Little House From Hell after I had quickly realized that I would once again have to move. Somewhere else.

And she smiled and said simply, “Welcome back.”

Uh oh.

And that’s when I knew.  I knew why she was here, in my living room, in The Little House From Hell.  I knew why she was wearing my dress, the same dress I had worn to Dog’s Birthday party at The Montrose Bowling Alley.

I walked to the recently repaired security door and grabbed the handle.

“Get out.”

“Not this time.”, she said.

And she meant it.

It had been a long time since we met.  I had almost forgotten her. I thought she was dead.  I thought I had killed her. And buried her. And moved on.

But she, apparently, was not dead.  Nor had she forgotten me.

And she wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

I’ve written this part of my story about 7 or 8 times, trying to make it funny or more amusing, at least to me. Maybe even 10.

But it just wasn’t.

It was scary and terrifying to meet your calling again, after so many, many, many years.  Scary still that she refused to leave, like she had done so many times before.

It was a long, long  day and an even longer night.  It was agony.

For so many reasons, some of them quite valid, I didn’t want to go back into a profession that I had once loved so much and had broken my heart so many times.

And at 60, I just wasn’t sure I had the stamina to try again.

Or the heart or the spirit.  After Florida, I didn’t have much left in me to give to anything. And I was tired of giving so much to things that gave back so little.

But.

But.

But that’s the problem with a calling. It never stops, well… calling.

Until you answer.

Until that answer is yes.

Somewhere between putting on the dress I had made, with the weird pattern and the satin lining. somewhere between Dog’s Birthday party at the bowling alley and the ride home, somewhere between that yesterday and the next day, I reviewed my options.

I had none.

I wasn’t sure what the future would bring, or where I would end up, but I knew I was headed somewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dog and The Bowling Party

This episode is dedicated to my friend Roberta Cruger, who I followed to my first Sunday Party, and diverted the course of my life forever.  Follow her on Twitter and see where she’ll take you

I love all my friends. I revel in the lives they have carved out for themselves. I adore their milestones of children’s birthdays and graduations.  Grandkids, job changes, relocations. Sorrowful goodbyes of beloved relatives, friends and pets.  I ride along on their trips and vacations and sit at their tables at restaurants and family holidays.  My life is so rich because of them and I finally and truly understand the lyric’s of Carol King’s “Tapestry” because now I have one.

 

Having said that, I have to say the one friend that I stand in amazement of is my friend, Dog Davis.  He is such an original and truly one of a kind.  There is so much to him, it would take an entire entry to tell you about him and quite frankly, this, and all these episodes are about me, so I’m just going to tell you about the magic that happened to me when I went to Dog’s Bowling Birthday Party.

 

As in every unique thing he does, Dog hosted his Birthday Party at a small vintage Bowling Alley in Montrose, called Montrose Bowl.  I think there are about 8 lanes and I had always wanted to go there, but it is a party venue and not open to regular bowling games, so you had to wait until someone you knew had a party there.

Luckily, I knew Dog.

I got the invitation through Facebook, while I was still living in the Little House From Hell.  It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.  I was still trying to find my happiness and having some success, despite the numerous interruptions of my Crazy Landlady, and occasional phone calls from my parents, who kept telling me that they missed me.  These phone calls were somewhat mystifying to me, because, as we all know by now, I actually had moved to Florida because they were supposed to move to Florida.  Before then I had just been a voice on the phone.  Since they didn’t move to Florida and didn’t even come visit while I was living there, I was still a voice on the phone.  Once I moved back to California, I was still a voice on the phone, so I really wondered what, for them, had changed.

One Ringy Dingy

Along with finding my happiness, I knew I had to find something to do for a living.  This was proving much trickier than finding my happiness.  By this time, sometime around November, I had amassed quite a long list of things that made me happy.  Most of which came from the doings of my friends, some silver, some gold, on Facebook.  The only fly in the ointment of my happiness was the dark void of work.

 

Indeed not.

I had no idea what I could do for a living that could offer me a living wage.  I was 60, my decades as a Production Manager in film and TV were long behind me.  I have limited secretarial skills, especially where computer programs were involved.  I’m a terrible waitress and worse at retail sales. Every job that I had looked for online required elaborate and current resume.  Many job postings were interpretable.  Most of my friends I might turn to were looking at retirement or trying to hang onto the jobs they did have.  I was terrified.

Hair & Thair.

I had tried very hard to find some work in Florida.  The work I had been doing was gone. I had been making wigs for a wig designer in Los Angeles for about 8 years and although she had told me that she would send me the work to do in Florida, she changed her mind shortly after I moved there and informed me of that change in an email.  Class.

A lot of people in my life seemed to have changed their minds about a lot of things that affected me while I was in Florida.

But Dog was not one of them.  I was thrilled to have gotten the invitation.  I needed a party to go to and Dog found the perfect place to hold it for a number of reasons.

Bowl-O-Rama

One of the reasons is that I really like to bowl.  A bowling alley was one of those places where we could go to as kids, all alone, sans grownups.  I’m sure that our parents were thrilled to have us go to a place where we could have fun and get out of their hair for an afternoon but I’m not so sure the Bowling Alley management enjoyed so much having us there  as we pretty much ran riot over everything.  One of my favorite memories of the bowling alley was the grilled cheese sandwiches they served at the snack bar.  They were delicious.

Mmmmmmmmm.

Another reason was that Montrose Bowl was a vintage bowling alley, which gave me the opportunity to wear a vintage costume.

It’s a small problem that has plagued me almost my whole life.  I am willing to do almost anything if it requires wearing a costume to do it.   I once considered becoming a Doctor because of those white coats and stethoscopes, but I hate blood and I am deathly afraid of needles. I also have no patience for sick people so that just wasn’t going to work.

But I had the perfect outfit for Dog’s Bowling Party at Montrose Bowl.  Several years ago I had made myself a 50’s swing dress in a weird pattern lined with an off white satin.  I had only worn it once, because really, where do you wear those kinds of dresses anymore?  It didn’t fit when I made it and it still didn’t fit, but I loved that dress and I wore it to Dog’s party.

 

It was a great party with all of Dog’s friends, a group of people he had met during his adventures on the planet.  Some were from his tours of every Tiki Bar he could find to visit, sample the various Tiki libations and befriend and become a beloved patron.  Some were from his poker-playing expeditions, sitting at very high stake tables in some high-class poker playing establishments.  Some were part of the group I belonged to,  an odd ball group that would show up at the home of Joe Rhodes, a great writer, every Sunday afternoon, at what was known as Joe’s Sunday Party. An accurate description of the event, if not a great literary locution.  (Read Joe’s NY Times article about how his Aunt Margie ended up in the deep freezer here, or watch the movie with Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine here.)  We were a colorful group.

At Dog’s party, there was music, there were vintage outfits of every type, there was wine and snacks but sadly no grilled cheese.

And there was bowling.  Balls of every color went careening down the lanes with varying success of pin hitting. Scores were started then abandoned after the second or third game in favor of just rolling the ball down the alley.  Teams were started then scattered and reformed as people stopped to talk or drink or say hello to friends who arrived fashionably late.

I think I had the best time of all.  For the entire time of the party, I forgot everything that had happened to me in Florida, in the Tiny Trailer and at The Little House From Hell.  I danced and swirled in my 50’s swing dress.  I threw bowling balls with abandon in aisles not even my own.  You would have thought it was my birthday party. I never wanted the evening to end.  I was more truly, truly happy than I had been in a very, very long time.  I knew that the next day I would have to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

I bought Dog a birthday present but his party gave me the best present ever, because the very next morning my future came knocking at my door.  And it wasn’t, thank God, my landlady.

I’ll huff and I’ll puff…

 

STAY TUNED! WE’LL BE RIGHT BACK AFTER A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR!

 

 

The Little House From Hell

This episode is dedicated to ALL my friends on Facebook who helped me get through this incredibly insane, but gratefully short, time with laughter and love and a lot of birthday presents.  I do not know what I would do without you.  

I want to get in and out of this episode as fast as I wanted to get in and out of that house.

It wasn’t the house.  I am really good at making every place I have lived, and that’s a lot of places, a home.  Even my little “Guest House Converted Garage” in Tujunga.

It was my Landlady.  She is nuts.

But really nuts.  There is something wrong with her.

It didn’t occur to me that she was crazy when she first noticed I smoked, so I asked her if she would prefer I didn’t move in, because I hadn’t yet and she said “No”, but that she preferred I didn’t smoke outside, because it could cause a wildfire, even though there was only dirt surrounding the property and the nearest tree was so far away I would have to have lit a log and thrown it some 50 yards to have anything burn

But ok.

It didn’t occur to me she was that crazy when she was really, really annoyed that I ordered garbage cans from LA DWP.  Small ones, because I don’t really create a lot of garbage. It was a conversation that went on for two weeks.  She just hated my new garbage cans.  Why my garbage cans were any of her business, I just couldn’t fathom.

It didn’t occur to me she was that crazy when she wouldn’t permit me to put the little garbage cans closer to my “driveway” (and I use the word in the loosest terms imaginable).   What she called my Ingress and Egress.

Ingress. & Egress

Very PT Barnum.

It didn’t occur to me that she was crazy when she didn’t allow me to take my own trash cans to the curb, instead she insisted that her “Hired Gal” Katy take the cans back and forth.  Because Katy, she said, was paid very, very well to do that.

Even though I said that Katy could do other things for her instead of taking my cans back and forth.  Like maybe rake the property. Or throw away some of the piles of junk that littered it, like the tall rusted filing cabinet she used to hold up what was left of one of many dying trees, like a freak lawn ornament.

No.  “Katy”, she said again, (and almost any other time something about Katy came up), was paid very, very well to do what she,  My Landlady wanted her to do, and My Landlady wanted Katy to take my garbage cans back and forth to the curb on garbage day.  So I returned my small garbage cans and replaced them with the large ones she so loved.

But ok.

It didn’t occur to me she was that crazy when she told me that she didn’t want my friend Royan, who owned the barn where my horse lived, to come onto the property, because Royan was just looking for something to get her in trouble and not coming to see me, because she was my friend. Royan was a spy.

But ok.

It didn’t occur to me she was that crazy when she told me that most of the doors and windows did not close and lock, and when I asked her why, she replied, “Because the house is on the San Andreas Fault”.   Our last earthquake was 1994.  And I am pretty sure that all of the other homes on the street, which also, and I’m assuming this because I am not a geologist,  sit on the San Andreas Fault, have doors and windows that close and lock.

That’s a lot of doors and windows

But ok.

It didn’t occur to me she was that crazy when she wanted me to hang the chain and padlock on the gate that was off kilter, most likely due to the San Andreas Fault,  high enough so that the drunken homeless transients who slept on the sidewalk across the street from the house, would see the lock and know not to come in.

As a matter of fact, it didn’t occur to me she was that crazy when she told me that the reason she doesn’t keep up her property was because if she did, the drunken homeless who slept on the sidewalk across the street from the house would try to break into the property.

When it came to the drunken transients sleeping on the sidewalk across the street from the house, I was a little confused, because she was part of the neighborhood watch.  And proud of it.  So when I moved in and found out that there were, indeed, drunken homeless sleeping on the sidewalk across the street from the house, I called the police.

And they came and picked them up.

Once a week, every week in that first month.  Once a week every week for the second month. And when I told the police that I was sorry, but I would be calling every time I saw some drunken homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk across the street from the house, they said, “No problem.  You call, we’ll come.  That’s our job.”

So after a while, the drunken homeless just stopped sleeping on the sidewalk across from my house.

Problem solved.

 

Maybe not.

I’m thinking the neighborhood watch program of which My Landlady was so proud of being a leading member, was not exactly a tremendous success.

And I’m pretty sure that if I was a drunken homeless and saw the state of the property across the street, that would be the perfect property to come and pee on, because it already looked like the sh*thole she called it.  That was the only truthful thing she every said to me.

And I never saw any of the drunken homeless try to break into or even walk past the nicer, more well-tended homes next to The Little House From Hell.

But ok.

It didn’t occur to me she was that crazy when she told me to water the orange tree in front of the house and then not to water the orange tree in front of the house and then tell me to water the tree in front of the house and then…

But ok.

It didn’t occur to me that she was crazy when she told me to flush the toilet 3 times.

But ok.

It didn’t occur to me she was that crazy when she told me that there was no heat in the house, but there was a fireplace.  A very special fireplace.  A Swedish Fireplace.

Now, I am not Swedish. And this was not Sweden.  This was a house in Los Angeles and the year was 2016.  So the though of chopping wood and carrying into the house to heat it was a little foreign to me. Every person I know in my 60 years of life in this country have some kind of home heating system.

Ikea

Because I grew up in and have lived in a civilized society.   One might even call it an educated society – even if I don’t hold 2 Masters.

There’s more that didn’t occur to me she was that crazy, but the thing that finally  dawned on me that she was crazy was that she told me she held two Masters.

In every conversation, however short.

The first time she told me she held two Masters, I thought it was to impress me.  The truth is, I really don’t care about things like that.  It just doesn’t impress me. I’m sure they’re very difficult to accomplish and cost a pretty penny to boot, but the truth for me is, Masters only mean something to other people whom Masters mean something.  If you want to work in a University or some kind of Corporate Environment. My Landlady’s Masters were in Speech and I guess she did have two Master’s because she never shut up.

So by the 5th time she had told not only me, but the man I hired to fix the doors that wouldn’t lock, my friend Kathryn, who was the only person I could invite over to that sh*thole of a property, the UPS man who dropped off a package, the PODS man who brought my POD over and anyone else who was in earshot, that she had not 1 but 2 Masters, I knew she was officially crazy.  She brought it up in every single conversation we ever had.  Every single time. Ok, almost every time, but enough so that I would play a game in my head, waiting for her to mention it.  She didn’t often disappoint me.

And we had a lot of conversations, because she just wouldn’t leave me alone.  If she wasn’t knocking on my door, she was calling me, if she wasn’t calling me, she emailed.

Like this:

HI SUSIE!

 
Last evening, when I came home, I noticed that you had what
appeared to be a lit white candle near your front door in the
living room.  What a lovely candle!  I could see it through your
front window and looked to see if it, indeed, was a candle or
one of those new lamps which look like candles but aren’t!
 
However, your car was gone and you weren’t home.  Please,
in the future, if you feel the need to leave a lit candle in your 
house, please leave the candle in your kitchen sink or better
yet, in your bathtub.  Fires, which happen when we least expect
them, are NEVER fun. (Hopefully, you won’t light a candle and
leave it unattended when you are not home.)
 
Thanks.
 
It was a Christmas ornament my friend Verneda had made for me. It looked like this:

Burn, Baby, Burn.

There is no way in hell she could have seen it from my window unless she came up to the window and looked in. And since my car wasn’t there, and I wasn’t there, I am sure that is exactly what she did.

Something was really wrong with her.

But it didn’t stop there.

She was a hoarder.  Like the ones on TV.

I discovered that once by her own culpability, the second, through my dog, Brownie.

She had told me, when I moved in, that my driveway was to the left of my door.  It really wasn’t a driveway, it was an area outside the off kilter locked gate where I could park.  I had two spaces.  She requested I back into the space. It wasn’t a suggestion.

Ok.

But then her fences needed repair.  When I moved in they were held up by 4 or 5 of the brown garbage cans that the LA DWP gave to homeowners for horse poop.   Now, normally, she parked in the middle of the property, to the right of my house, by her Ingress and Egress and where she insisted I leave my now-too-big-for-me garbage cans.   But since the fence men needed to come in and out, she parked her little red truck next to mine in my driveway area.  And even though she had declared that area of parking the area that belonged to the house I was paying money to rent, she parked there anyway.  Whether I liked it or not.

And the passenger seat was loaded with papers.  Loaded. Papers that had turned gray and yellow.  Papers that looked like they had been there so long, that there was no way that she just had left them there over the weekend until she could bring them inside.

It gave me pause.

But it was really none of my business and I had other things to do.

Primarily I had to heal from the emotional devastation of my move to Florida.  I had to find my happiness again.  I had to find something to do with my life.

I knew, from the first week I had moved in, that I had to move out, great water pressure in the bathroom notwithstanding.

But I had just moved.  Technically, I had moved to Florida, moved from Florida, moved into the Tiny Trailer,  moved out of the Tiny Trailer, moved into the Little House in less than a year, and even though I knew – I knew, that even if I paid a team of designers from all of the House & Garden Shows – and I would have, I wouldn’t be able to live in the Little House and would have to move again.

I just wanted to catch my breath.  I just wanted to heal. I just wanted to gather my strength.

I’m a great tenant.  I pay my rent on time.  I maintain the property.  I am quiet.

I just didn’t understand why she just wouldn’t leave me the f*ck alone.

And then my dog, Brownie, slipped from his leash.

Another spy

We were coming back from a walk.  Walking three dogs is not easy, even if they are little, especially when there is an off kilter gate with a padlock that must be at a certain height, so the drunken homeless can see it, and not come in and try to steal any of the dirt that surrounds the property.

Brownie took off towards the back of the property, where my Landlady had her barn, with her horses and her home.

She is also very proud of her horses.  There are 3 of them.  They are all dark brown so they all look the same to me. I’m not really a horsewoman, I’m a woman with a horse.  But she has something on her voice mail that says she has some kind of horse farm and has something to do with horse rescue of this particular kind of dark brown horse.

And of course, she has Katy come every day to feed the horses and I think once or twice a week to ride the horses around the property – which I can’t begin to tell you about the amount of dirt that floated into my house through the windows that wouldn’t lock and I occasionally needed to open to get some air in the house.

So I actually thought that her horses were well cared for.

Until Brownie slipped his leash.

And I threw the other 2 dogs into my yard and took off after him.

He ran under the brand new horse fencing and I ran after him.  I had never been back there before, because I, unlike My Landlady, honored privacy.

And I ran past the barn.

And stopped dead in my tracks.

In shock.

I couldn’t believe the squalor those horses were living in.   I don’t even want to describe it because I don’t want to think about it.  These were her horses.  These were the horses that were on The Something or Another Farm that she had on her voice mail.  The Friends of Whatever Kind Of Horse she was trying to protect.  My heart broke for those animals.

And I knew if this was how her horses lived…

I rushed after Brownie.

He had skittered around the barn towards her house when I grabbed him, before he ran under the broken down fence she had in the front of her  home.  And then I saw the dilapidated state of her house, which was marginally better than the barn where her horses lived.

It was, indeed, a sh*thole.

And when I tucked Brownie under my arm and headed back to what had become The Little House from Hell, I saw not one, but two wheelbarrows filled with even more papers than I saw in the passenger seat of her little red truck.

I can’t even imagine what the inside of her home and the third house on the property that she calls her office looks like.

But I have watched many episodes of Hoarders, so I have some idea.

And that’s when I knew that there was really something very, very wrong with her and that I had to get out of there as soon as I could.  Because it was never, ever going to get better.

I wish I had paid more attention when she told me why the previous tenant had moved out in 4 months.

In the final month I lived there, through December, while I figured out where I would move, I tried to think kindly of my Landlady.  There really was something wrong with her.  These weren’t quirks or eccentricities. These were serious things that needed some kind of psychological attention.

I finally found a place, before the house I am in now.  That’s another story but we are falling far behind in my timeline so I am going to leave it out.

When I moved, there were very few things left to move because during the months I realized how crazy she was and how I just had to get out of there, I would pack things and load the car and drive the boxes down to the pretty, well maintained  POD storage Facility in Van Nuys.

A Lifetime In A Pod

I cried every time I opened that POD and saw all my things and the life I thought I would have in Florida, with my family.

I found a new place in January.

I hired Master Cleaners, the same  cleaner who had cleaned the decrepit Tiny Trailer, even though this house was clean, because I am a clean and tidy person.   He came and steam cleaned the carpet, which I couldn’t keep vacuumed because of the horses that roamed around the property and kicked up all that dirt and Katy who rode the horses around the property and kicked up even more dirt.  He and his band of Master Cleaners cleaned the kitchen and bathroom, even though I had already cleaned it and it was spotless.  He cleaned the kitchen floor with a machine, even though I rarely, if ever cooked there because the stove wouldn’t hold temperature and I really don’t know how to cook on an electric stove.

I can’t even boil water on these things

The place was spotless when I left.

She is refusing to return my deposit. For many reasons, none of which are true.

So now I know that not only she is a liar, but she is also a thief.  And I told her so.

I’m going to go after her for the deposit, because I’m not that crazy, but the truth is, I would have paid her far more just to have gotten the hell out of there. And I do feel sorry for her, because there is something wrong with her, and no one (including me) cares enough about her to tell her so.

And now,  I am actually grateful for that crazy lady, because if she wasn’t so crazy, I would still be living in that sh*thole with the dirt and the yellow walls and ceilings and no heat, and doors and windows that didn’t quite close but a bathroom that had great water pressure,  trying to make it work instead of here, where I live in a lovely home in a lovely neighborhood in Burbank with lovely neighbors and no drunks sleeping across the street and a Landlady who lives in San Diego and friends I am proud to have come visit me.

So thanks, Julie T. , my life is even better than I thought it would be and it’s all because of you.

Home Sweet Home

 

 

Happier

This episode is dedicated to Jackie Gearing Kobialko, Stephanie Hess & the Porch Wine Ladies of NE 47th Ct.  You made me feel like I had lived there all my life. Raise a glass for me, I miss you every single day. 

 

Ok, so I really can’t banish my parents from My Kingdom.  I mean, I could, but what would really be the point?  I’m sure they didn’t wake up one morning, turn to each other and say, “You know what would really be funny? Let’s tell our 58 year old daughter we are moving to Florida and ask her to move there too, and then, when she does….”

Instead, I let their call go to voicemail to be answered at another time at some point in the future.  Like next week.  Or next month. Or next year. Maybe.

Because I just needed to be happy again and it was way too soon for me to look back at the whole Florida debacle and laugh.

But I did need something to make me laugh, so I turned off Gordon Ramsay and Kitchen Nightmares and turned on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Da da DADADADADADA DADADA DADADA…

I love that show.  I love all of the characters on that show.  I love Mary Tyler Moore in her capri pants and the way they always managed to have Sally and Buddy do some kind of song and dance.  I love the way that Dick Van Dyke always seemed happy, even when he was mad at Laura or Jerry, his next door neighbor.  I adore Millie and I loved the episodes with his brother, Jerry Van Dyke playing his banjo. I love that the show is in black and white.  I love that each season is about 30 episodes.  Thirty. Three O.   And they ran 5 seasons.  That’s a lot of shows.  Some of the shows I like better than others, but all of them made me happy to watch.

And sitting in the Tiny Trailer counting the days until I moved into what turned out to be the Little House From Hell, that’s all I wanted.  Something that would make me happy.

So I now had 5 things in my Universe that Pleased The Crown.  To recap:

  1. My horse.
  2. My 3 dogs.
  3. The Dick Van Dyke Show.

And if you added up all the characters in that show that made me happy, I actually had about 10 more things to think about that made me happy – not counting the guest stars.

So things were getting better.

Then I started adding my friends in in Los Angeles, which brought the count up and my friends I had made during my almost-a-year in Florida, and even though the thought of those Florida friends made me a little sad, I realized I was happier for having met them and for now having them a part of my life, even though they were still in Florida and I was not.

So now there were about  50 more things to think about that made me happy, and the thought of having those 50 more things made me even happier.

Even though I still cried every single day.

And then the biggest thought hit me.

Even though I had seemingly lost a future in Florida that I thought would have made me so very. very happy, I now had before me an enormous blank slate to do with what I pleased. To do…  To…

Uh oh.

It was the biggest, most terrifying thought I had ever had.

I mean, I was almost sixty.   Six O. How the hell do you start over from there?  Where do you go?  What do you do and who would hire you to do whatever that was?

But I realized that that wasn’t a happy thought.  That was a terrifying thought. And by my own decree, by my own Order of The Crown, all thoughts that were not happy were to be banished from my head.

Royal Seal of Queen Susan of The Tiny Trailer

So really, the first head to roll, was my own.

I banished that thought and looked for another, more pleasing thought.

And because I was in a sort of limbo – not out of the Tiny Trailer, with the dead flies and the chemical toilet and not into what would become The Little House From Hell  I would move into on August 19th, I wondered and imagined what my life would look like – could look like – now that I actually had the time to look at it that way.

Famous Last Words

What if, for the rest of my life, I would only do the things that made me happy.  What if, for the rest of my life, I would only do the things I thought would be fun?

That would be some life.  That would be a great life.  The would be the greatest life I ever had.  So I decided that for my 60th Birthday, that would be the gift I would give to myself.  The absolute best life I could find.

And I had about 3 months to find it.

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If It Pleases The Crown… and it does.

This episode is dedicated to Amy Lynn, who is living in Georgia & working in a  Furniture Store and wondering where her happiness is.  I’m pretty sure it’s not in either place.   Grab a pair of shoes, Amy, and come along with me. 

Ok, I lied about the shoes.

 

Shoes, even a great new pair of shoes, doesn’t really make me happy.  Not like my best friend, Kathryn, who loves shoes so much she keeps them on special open shelving in her bedroom, where she can look at them before falling asleep and upon waking.  Actually, I didn’t tell you this before, but she does the same with the clothes in her closets.  She took the closet doors off just to be able to look at her beautiful clothes when she is in bed.  It makes her happy.

Given my preference, I’d rather go barefoot and maybe naked, except when it’s cold.

But that’s kind of the point.

While I knew a great pair of new shoes or some new clothes wouldn’t make me happy, I had to figure out what would.

Because I knew that my happiness was, to me, the most important thing on Earth and maybe the Universe.  My Universe.

And that’s when I realized that I had found the key to the door where, on the other side, was my happiness.

My Universe was all, after all, what I really had to work with.

Knock Knock…

So I tried to identify the things in my Universe that made me happy, and therefore could stay and the things in my Universe that didn’t make me happy and therefore, would be banished.  Some things temporarily, some things permanently.

I was going to become the Queen of my Universe.

If The Sash Fits…

That thought alone, made me happy.  And the more I thought about being Queen of My Universe, the happier it made me.  And this was not going to be some kind of Queen-For-A-Day kind of Universe, this was going to be a Queen-Until-the-End-Of-Time Universe.

That thought really made me happy.  It pleased The Crown.  It pleased The Crown very much.

I decided to keep it.

Available at Fashion Gal, Sunland – $14.95

I actually went out and bought myself a Tiara, which all Queens should have stashed away somewhere.   I bought mine at a little store next to my Ralph’s Supermarket.  As Tiaras go, it was pretty inexpensive, and very understated, but I got a lot of bang for my buck with that tiara.

I wore it everywhere.  Even in the shower.

It pleased The Crown.

I wore it when I sat upon my throne, which at this point was the well-worn bench seat in the tiny kitchenette in the tiny trailer with the fumes of chemical toilet wafting through the air and the decorator-design sticky tape full of dead flies swaying in the horse-poop scented breeze that came through the tiny trailer windows.

Shiloh

I actually like the smell of horse poop.  Mostly because some of it comes out of the rear end of my horse, Shiloh.  There is nothing about my horse that I don’t love.  He was once a wild Mustang and now, some 15 years later, he is not so wild, but he is still a Mustang, with a great sense of humor.  He makes me laugh all the time we are together, so I make sure I see him every day. Nothing makes me happier than being with my horse or thinking about my horse.

Shiloh could definitely stay in My Universe.

Waffle, Cookie & Brownie

So could my 3 dogs.  Their personalities make me laugh and they keep me safe from the UPS Man and anyone else who dares to walk in front of my house without my permission.  They are little, so they don’t each much and even though I have to clean up their poop, at least they poop outside.  Except when it rains.  But I can’t blame them for that. I wouldn’t want to walk barefoot out in the rain to poop in the back garden, either.  Even though I prefer to go barefoot, as I’ve mentioned before.

Now I had 4 things that could stay in My Universe.

This was becoming fun. And having fun made me happy.

The Crown was becoming even more pleased.

It pleased The Crown that we would soon be moving out of the Tiny Pinterest-Failure Trailer into new castle where The Crown could put a real bed to sleep upon and take a real shower.

It pleased The Crown that the new Castle would not have flies stuck to designer-sticky tape and had walls and ceilings that could be painted to a color that more pleased The Crown. It pleased The Crown that the possessions and clothing of The Crown could be delivered in The Pod that was now stored in a facility in Van Nuys and had traveled all the way back from Florida.

Florida.

Home, Sweet… Never mind.

The thought of Florida did not please The Crown.

Florida, once such a hopeful and exciting word, had become a word full of anguish and pain and desolation.

Florida was a word that had once meant a permanent home, with a family to share what was the next and possibly last chapter of the family’s life together in one place.  A place called Florida.

Florida now meant packing every single thing The Crown owned, dragging it 3,000 miles, unpacking everything, waiting for a family that would never arrive, packing everything back up again and moving it all 3,000 miles back to where it had come from.

No.  The Thought Of Florida did not Please The Crown.

So The Crown decided that the word “Florida” would be banished.

And the thought pleased the Crown.

For the other end of the stick of things that made me happy were the things that made me unhappy and since this was my Universe and I was Queen, I had the Divine Right to decide which was which.

I mean, who am I to argue with God?

When He’s Right, He’s Right.

So I settled into my throne and once again turned on Kitchen Nightmares and silently thanked Gordon Ramsay for saving my life by pointing out the fact that my Universe, much like the Restaurants he visited and damned,  was in shambles.  And I, much like those Restaurant Owners, had only my damn self to blame.   And to clean up.

And while I was deciding what would make me happy again, and what would not make me happy, the phone rang.

And The Crown looked down upon the Caller-ID and smiled.

Heads were about to roll.

 

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Happy

I can tell you about those last days I spent in the Tiny Trailer with the smell of chemical toilet wafting through the air, waiting until the day I could move into what turned out to be The Little House From Hell.

Get Me The Hell Out Of Here!

I can tell you how excruciating they were, counting the minutes, the hours and the days until I could get the hell out of there.

I can tell you that ever since then, I had to switch to fragrance free laundry detergent, because anything that has even a wisp of chemical in the fragrance now turns my stomach.

I can tell you that, at that time, I never had felt more desolate  and bewildered than at any time in my almost 60 years of life that I could remember.

I can tell you that after living in the Tiny Trailer, I thought that anyone who ever dreamt of living in one of those tiny houses I saw all over the internet and all over Pinterest, must be FREAKING out of their tiny minds.

Like my High School friend Fran, who now goes by the name Francesca, who has 15 dogs, a husband who creates very large sculptures and another High School friend named Rita, who likes to cook elaborate meals and now lives with them.

But I’m not going to tell you about any of those things.

I am going to tell you about what I decided in that last week and how what I decided changed my life and saved my life.

I knew I was back in Los Angeles, a place I was happy to have left.  I knew I was living in a tiny trailer, which made me unhappy.   I knew that the Yellow House that became The Yellow House From Hell was only slightly better than the little tiny trailer and unless I painted the ceilings and walls and changed out the incredibly worn burnt orange shag carpeting, I would still be unhappy.   I knew I had no idea what I was going to do for a living, which made me unhappy and scared, which made me more unhappy.   I knew I had no idea in which direction my life was going to turn, which made me unhappy and confused, which made me more unhappy or which direction I was going to turn it, which made me unhappy and unstable, which made me more unhappy.   Or how I was going to turn it, which made me unhappy and vulnerable, which made me more unhappy.   I knew that not only was I desolate and bewildered, I was terrified.   I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.  What I wanted to be.

And then, somewhere in the middle of all that darkness and confusion, the answer became extremely clear.  As if Gordon Ramsay himself had whispered it in my ear.  Ok, maybe he shouted.  But I heard it.

You’re Not Listening!

I realized, all I really wanted to be, was happy.

Happy.

Again.

Because I am a pretty happy person by nature.  Not even pretty happy.

Exceptionally happy.

I am pretty much always happy, pretty much all of the time.

Maybe about 90% of the time.

Maybe even 99.9% of the time.

Just like Ivory Soap.

Me. Usually.

And all I wanted, with every fibre in my being, was to go back to being happy again.

No matter what.

But I just wasn’t sure how to find it.  Again.

I thought perhaps, it had been either left behind in Florida, during my rapid sorting and donating of things I didn’t think I would need back in California or it was packed in a brown U-Haul box and buried deep within the confines of my POD, now in storage in the big PODS warehouse in Van Nuys.

Where my life lived.

I knew a big part of my happiness always had to do with home and home always had something to do with family.  But at this point, I felt I had neither.

And I was pretty much right.

And that thought made me really, really unhappy.

And then I thought of Dorothy, who also had wound up in a place that looked pretty on the outside, but wasn’t really the home she had in heart.

But Dorothy had a Good Witch to give her directions to get her to the person who might have the solution to get Dorothy back to the place she loved so much.

Plus, she got a great pair of shoes to get her there, even if she had to drop a house on a Bad Witch to get them.

I had nothing.  No Good Witch, no Yellow Brick Road to follow, no one at the end of that road.

But I could get a great pair of shoes.

And that was the first step.

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