“I have an appointment with Maggie.” Before I could give my name, a beautiful boy, maybe sixteen, burst into the office and walked past the receptionist’s desk and headed to a small kitchen. “What’s up, Maggie?” he said to her.
“How did it go?!” She swiveled her chair to follow him.
“They loved me,” he said, flatly, cleared his long mink-colored hair from his eyes, and opened the door of a refrigerator.
“Well, yuh!” she said. The boy took out a carton of orange juice and drank from it. My throat was suddenly dry. Maggie, my agent-to-be, got up to chat with the lad. Two desks at the back of the office were occupied by young women whose press-on nails filleted the air as they spoke into their phones. I picked up a worn copy of People magazine. Meg Ryan was on the cover.
Maggie came back to her desk, smiling. I moved to the chair opposite. During our conversation, the smile dropped and there was a dawning annoyance from her that, not only had I interrupted what might have been a few extra minutes with her beautiful boy, but that the branch of her New York office had obligated her to a thirty-something actor with “B” teeth she neither knew, nor was interested in representing. It was as if some hated relative of hers had incurred another rehab sentence, and it fell to her to take care of his aging, paraplegic, diuretic dog left behind. There would be no submissions, no entrées into casting offices, no pilot season. It would come and go without me. I would not read for a movie, not through my agency, at any rate. My baffled call to the New York Flick office yielded no help. As far as I could surmise, sending me out to the coast was more of an impotent whim, a dart thrown blindly at the board by a newly formed, disorganized agency, rather than a considered plan to foster my talent and career. What’s more, New York seemed to hold no sway, whatsoever, with their colleagues in Los Angeles. I had made the choice to come. Gene Lasko, a producer of the film, had advised, “Sure, go out and get some mileage out of this before the film comes out and they see how bad you are.” “I’m joking,” he added.
That night I went to my first Hollywood party. There I was in a glass house in the hills above L.A., wishing I was stoned, sipping white wine, talking to a fine actor I had known in New York. He had just gotten the role of the sheriff in Halloween Four or Seven. He was elated and gushing. I wanted to scream. Not because of envy. I could swallow back those feelings. I was glad for him; it was a great job and he could earn enough to live for several months. The real horror show was this Renfield’s sycophantic gratitude, his drooling, slavish, thankfulness. It should have been the other way around. This actor was doing Hollywood a favor by offering his talent to the project. Instead, he was taking it in the neck. I felt hopeless. I wouldn’t get a bite.
A few days later, I went to a brunch at a seaside restaurant above Santa Monica with some ex-pat actors I knew, casually, from New York. There was some shop talk but mostly we reminisced about our favorite restaurants and hangouts in New York. All of us were in California on a fishing expedition and seemed a little sea sick. I knew I’d see these men and women, paler and feeling more at ease, back in New York in the fall, unless, one of them landed a part on a series. They might attain the ultimate status and become “bi-coastal,” with the rent controlled apartment in New York and a bungalow in the Valley. These were accomplished, working actors sitting around the table sipping their Mimosa’s. I liked them, almost loved them, and am gladdened when I see them in a guest slot now and then.
When I wasn’t watching the sunset from the beach in Santa Monica, sipping orange juice out of its plastic container that I spiked with rum (about the only entertainment I could afford), I found solace in the kitchen of our apartment. I needed something to keep me occupied besides mailing out pictures and resumes or going on a long drive in a borrowed, yellow Karmann Ghia convertible to the occasional benign interview with a casting director. My roommates were, generally, gone during the day, leaving me the place to myself. They were all too happy to be my guinea pigs, coming home in the evening to soups, breads, pies, and casseroles, all manner of things comforting. I learned, playing in that kitchen, my first lessons in cooking. (# 5: Don’t put spinach stems in a garbage disposal.) Though very satisfying, I missed acting.