“That’s Jillian,” the woman at the bar said reverently. “Do you recognize her? She’s been in so many things, like, I can’t even turn on the TV without seeing Jillian, but she’s always stressing that she isn’t getting enough work. She’s in the Jack-in-the-Box commercials, you must’ve seen those, right?”
No, I said apologetically, we don’t have Jack-in-the-Box where I live and I don’t actually even have a TV. (I did mention that I watch stuff occasionally on Netflix and Hulu so as not to offend her and/or come off as a complete Luddite.) She nodded distractedly, mentally dismissing me and calculating how long she had to sit with me to be polite before taking her leave to go chat with the fabulous Jillian and her other industry friends.
One of the great things about travel is getting to know the particular cultures of different cities, and the best way to do this is, of course, by hanging out with a local. While in LA I had the pleasure of staying with an old friend who, while from the Midwest originally, has lived in LA for 8+ years. Many of his friends are in the entertainment business, so I got a small but interesting glimpse into that subculture while visiting.
While T was living in Chicago in the mid-’90s, he became friends and bandmates with actor Eddie Jemison (Oceans 11/12/13; Hung; the Bud Lite “Yes I Am” commercials, among other stuff). At the time T moved to LA, Eddie had already been there for a few years, and the two reconnected to form another band with Vance DeGeneres (brother of Ellen) and another guy, Dave Gibbs, who I didn’t get to meet. As luck would have it, they were playing a show during my visit to celebrate the release of Eddie’s directorial debut King of Herrings, which he also wrote and starred in with his lovely wife Laura. It was at this show that the above exchange took place.
Luckily that night, through the magic of Tinder (T’s, not mine), I got to meet another really amazing woman named Lulu who sat with me through the show. She’d had a date with T and showed up to the bar solo, so I got to chat with her while T’s band was playing. Her playful eyes and adorable bleach-blonde hair, cropped ultrashort save for a cute wavy forelock that stuck up in front, belied her 47 years. We gabbed about men and divorce and sex and heartbreak and possibility in the way that only two strangers can (the gin and tonics didn’t hurt). Her ex-husband was in the entertainment business but not her, and she seemed pretty blasé about the whole thing- it was just a job. It was nice to talk to someone whose eyes weren’t roaming sideways to see who else they could be talking to that was more important.
The upside to T’s connections with the acting world was that we got invited to a private reading in the Brentwood home of a lovely couple who are part of Eddie’s weekly acting group. Their friend Champ Clark, a writer for People, is also a playwright and wanted to try out some material with a live audience. We sat on folding chairs in the dining room and watched maybe a dozen short plays read aloud, performed without the aid of props, costume or staging; it was one of the coolest theater experiences I’ve ever had. T admitted that he probably wouldn’t have attended if I hadn’t been in town, but was glad he did. The material was laugh-out-loud funny for the most part, with some more serious and/ or surreal scenes woven in. After the reading, we ate, had some wine and mingled with the actors, who were of all ages, shapes and sizes. It was a completely unpretentious crowd and very welcoming to a stranger.
Before I visited LA for the first time in 2000, I hadn’t had any great desire to go there; I’d imagined it as this place where everyone was phony and plastic, i.e. not the type of place where I’d fit in or enjoy myself much. Both times I’ve been there, I’ve definitely encountered those types of people, but it was the overwhelming minority. Shame on me- kind of like someone assuming everyone from Detroit is a blue collar line worker or nerdy engineer. I should be so lucky to go back and get another first hand peek into a fascinating and worthy art form.