From the Inside Looking Out (aka The Belated Birthday Post) Part 3 (of 4)
My producer works an insane schedule. My trip to L.A. was last minute- two weeks out—in the Hollywood sense of the world, so she had to squeeze me in. She invited me to a monthly networking house party in Venice Beach, a gathering of womenfolk in upper echelon Hollywood. They get together to build and hash out how to make things happen in their male dominated industry.
I walk up to the house and think “this is it?”
I’ve made a hobby out of house porn, and Venice Beach is a star. I make a point to drive through the neighborhoods and marvel at the properties each time I visit LA. I’ve never been to this side of Venice though. I was expecting spectacular and massive. This is… not that.
Or so I thought. I open the front door and step into Wonderland. There’s an expensive manicured yard with tea lights twinkling everywhere. The “house” has no door. You just walk right up and into the living room. This is why “they” tell you not to judge books by their covers.
To call the dwelling a “house” is to be remiss. It’s more like those honeymoon bungalows you see in luxe vacation pics of resorts in Tahiti, except this place is surrounded by grass, not water. Most of the house is open-air. The Master bedroom doesn’t have doors, just curtains and it opens to the dining room which is covered by a patio, but has no walls. There’s a massive fire pit in the back yard and everyone who’s not in the kitchen is crowded around it.
I hang out here making small talk with very nice strangers until my producer arrives.
I’m uneasy. Not because I’m the only Black girl or don’t know anyone. I’ve been in these situations plenty of times. Pay a compliment, ask a question and you make a new friend. I’m… off because of a conversation I had with my manager earlier in the day. My worry about the hold up with the scripted contract has gone from a dull roar to loud scream inside my head like the one my upstairs neighbor makes when she argues with her husband. Something is wrong. And now, it’s not just me thinking it. My manager thinks something is up too. She wants to make some calls.
My producer arrives shortly and is introducing me around the room. I’m meeting people with jobs I never thought about, but should. The lady who owns the house offers her job description as, “I do research.” I’ve done research for a living. The hourly wage was good, but nothing that would amass the wealth for a house like this. She works on period films and she’s the one that gathers all the nuanced details so that when historians watch films they don’t complain about how the director got it all wrong. It turns out she was a researcher. She recently opened her own research firm.
I meet another guy, an energetic spirit, and former New Yorker who when hearing I’m from New York asks me, “do you know Russell?” He means Simmons. I can’t figure out why the *** he thinks I would know Russell Simmons. Is it because of the circle of people in this room are that well connected and I must be to if I’m here? Or he just wanted to name drop? (I don’t know Russell, but I’ve met him a few times because I worked for his magazine for awhile and have been to a few private parties at his homes because my wife worked for his foundation for years.) This guy was a graph artist who met Russell—just Russell— in the early Def Jam days. Russell liked his art, so he hired him to do all the album covers. Think of an iconic album cover from the early 90s. This guy designed it. He now makes films. I look at the glitter on his pinky ring and think I should have paid more attention in art class.
As I’m introduced around the room, I notice that people are really really impressed that I’m an author/journalist/blogger. “Writer” in LA means scripts. Who actually writes for magazines and pens books? This girl does. I’m not “a writer” on the West Coast. Here I’m seen as a content creator aka “Talent.” (I have to do a separate post on the distinction. It’s… weird, it loosely, everyone begins to talk to you like you’ve never read a book and treat you like a demi-god, and it’s why so many celebrities get screwy about their place in the world.)
We talk… and talk… and talk. Hollywood networking involves way more bullshitting that New York. In NY, we want to know what you do, we quickly evaluate how that resource can be utilized (short or long term) and we engage or curb conversation based on that evaluation. Unless a collaboration can be done immediately, we exchange business cards and move on. Only the ex-New Yorker has whipped out a business card thus far.
My producer and I are now talking to an Asian lady and a white lady, which are only significant because of what happens next. My producer has big hair. Mine is braided up. The Asian lady, a friend of my producer, says to her randomly, “I like your hair better when you wear it normal.” She means straight.
I nearly choke on my wine. The white lady looks appalled.
“Yeah, this is normal. I’m Black,” my producer says, then she deftly begins to talk about her latest work project.
We move on from them and start talking to another woman. If it seems like this is dragging on, it’s because it is. This is beyond not wanting to make others “uncomfortable” by being the only Black girls who sit and talk to each other. We’ve been here for over an hour, and the only one-on-one conversation we’ve had was in greeting each other.
Something’s up. My head hurts. I attribute it to the wine—red—that I’ve been nursing all night. I sit at the outdoor dining room table, bored, and munching on olives, which are my favorite thing in life. After twenty minutes, I’m about to call it a night and excuse myself, but then my producer takes the seat across from me as the room begins to clear out.
“So how’s it going?” she asks.
I read people for a living.
“What’s wrong?” I ask directly. I’m out of small talk.
She sighs heavy, stalling. “I heard you talked to [your manager] today.”
I nod. “I did.”
“You’re concerned about the project?”
I nod. “I am.”
Shit. I don’t know if I said it out loud or not.
“The network has decided to pass on our project.”
I freeze and stare at her. The worst has happened and my mind goes empty. I had the feeling. I’d tried to hope my way out of it. No, really, I lied to myself.
I start calculating all the time—not even the money— I’ve wasted. All the sacrifices, all the pissed off friends I haven’t called back. All the times I’ve skipped parties and events to sit on the phone with lawyers or talk to the ducks at the park for my sanity or stared at the ceiling listening to Alice Smith wail, “where are you going with your life? What kind of chances will you take?” All the nights of insomnia. All the plans I had for my show and the nuances I wanted to make for the world about coming of age living while Black and female. All the ego I invested in having a story deemed worthy to be re-told on TV.
I flew to close to the sun and I’ve been kicked back to earth. I blew it. I fucking blew it.
“They said they just decided to change direction. You didn’t do anything wrong,” my producer says, reading my mind.
She’s been through this before. It’s business, not personal. But it’s not her life story—her— that just got unceremoniously rejected after a year of negotiations.
“Okay,” I say, if only because I’m not trying to be any more socially awkward than I am.
And if I don’t get out of my head I’m going to lose it right here in this fancy wine and cheese and olives party. And not like angry lose it like I did the time I yelled “fuck you” in a blind-rage loop at Mr. Ex on the steps of the Brooklyn museum*. I’m not even mad (yet). This is pure hurt. Deep down, past the white meat to the bone.
I had bronchitis once, and until the meds ran their course, every time I coughed, sharp pain would spread through my entire chest all the way out to my shoulders. I would double over, squeeze my eyes closed and count until it passed. I’d deep breathe myself back into stability, and panting through tears, I’d remind myself “you’re going to get better, D. It takes time. You just have to get through it now.” And then I’d pant some more til all the pain was gone. That’s what this feels like and that’s what I want to do. But I can’t do that here.
I don’t know what that “okay” sounded like or what the look on face is revealing, but my producer asks me if I’m all right.
“Yeah,” I say in my breezy Diana Ross on stage talking to The People voice. “I’m… fine.” I’m fooling no one.
She looks at me with pity. “We will find another network,” she promises. “It’s a great book. We’ll get it on TV, D. It will happen.”
“Ok,” I say nonchalantly, reaching for my clutch.
“Do you still want to pursue getting a show?” she asks.
I don’t mean to, but I shoot her a side-eye. I can’t even process this shit right now.
“I gotta go. I’ll call you.” It’s so very LA of me, but it’s T- 10 before I spazz.
She nods. “Can I hug you first?”
I nod because to decline would be rude. It’s not her fault my dream died.
We both stand and she gives me the mama hug she knows I need, even if she has no children and has less than ten years on me. Her hair smells like Black girl nuts and berries.
I stifle a sob as I pull back and dash out the house, offering a hurried goodbye to her and to the hostess. I start crying before I get out the yard. By the time the door to Wonderland closes behind me, I’m in a full on wail in the middle of the sidewalk. I walk down the poorly lit street to my truck with tears and snot dripping down my face. I don’t feel like wiping it, so I don’t.
I get behind the steering wheel of the truck and try to pull myself together for the 40-minute drive back to my hotel in Hollywood. I lean over the steering wheel with my arms wrapped around myself trying to hold me together. I’m talking to myself, saying it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.
I sit up, breathe in and out deeply like I tell my coaching clients to do. And sit still with my eyes closed. A feeling of failure comes over me again. I cry soft tears, and then I cry so hard my body jerks and then I bend over and sob. I feel like Carver from The Wire after he dropped Randy off at the group home. He tried so hard to do the right thing, and in the end all the effort didn’t matter. Life isn’t fair, but I want it to be anyway.
I completely boil over and fight the steering wheel.
When I’ve finally exhausted myself, I sit in the car biting the skin around the cut I’ve made to my right hand between my ring and pinky fingers to apply pressure and stop the bleeding. With my left hand, I fumble with the phone and call CBW.
He gives me the same speech the producer gave. It’s gonna be okay, blah, blah, blah. My manager calls on the other line. The producer called her to tell her she gave me the bad news. I think the producer added that I freaked out because my manager sounds worried.
I insist I’m fine even though I’m not. There’s nothing she, or anyone can do about it anyway. My manager is giving me the “success is a marathon, not a sprint speech” again, and is promising me this isn’t the end. She assures me I’ll make the money back and then some. She’s got some life on me, she offers, and she’s made bad decisions that are just like setting money on fire, and she’s always made it back.
It’s not about the money. It’s about the dream.
I start the engine, say “okay” where socially appropriate so she’s not any more worried.
I drive back to the hotel thinking of where to get a drink or a drug, maybe both.
Part 4: Maybe Monday?