Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Christmas Story, Hollywood Style

As always: I do not make this up.

So it's Christmastime.

Even at my age, I still love the season; I love the feeling when the days get short and everything in New York City, it seems, winds down. Classes are done for the year, holiday events are past; all I could ask for to make my Christmas season complete is a little snow. This year I've got no plans for the holiday, so I can relax and enjoy the season. A quiet week awaits.

This is what I'm thinking, anyway, on the morning of the eighteenth.

The call comes in at around around 2PM. Client #1, wondering if it'd be possible for me to attend the major management meeting that's scheduled in Beverly Hills the next day. I'm sensing this is something I should attend, but, really... tomorrow? A week before Christmas? C'mon. Then, later, as I'm in the midst of my last email-check of the night, an incoming message: Client #2, and do I happen to be in LA and could I coach for a few hours on a film tomorrow? His director meeting's at 3:30, so could I work at, maybe, 2?

I dutifully call American Airlines, wondering, just for fun, what the fare might be for a no-advance-purchase, cross-country round trip the week before Christmas.

"Oooh, yeah, that's.... ouch. But let's take a look." I love these reservation ladies at American Airlines, with their flat Midwestern accents and their "roll-up-our-sleeves-and-get-to-work" attitude. I hear rapid keyboard taps from some grim workstation in some call center I can only imagine, when... "Well, now, hold on... huh. Here's what I got..."

She quotes a fare that is in fact remarkably low, considering that the flight's departing, you know, tomorrow. I grab it and head to bed, amazed at my luck. I'm gonna make the 12:30 meeting, and Big Client #2 has secured the EXACT SAME conference room (he's with the same Management company!), so we can work there from 1:30 to 3, at which time I'll rejoin Client #1 and attend the remainder of the day's Publicist meetings.

I'm up at 5:30 the next morning, and traffic to JFK is remarkably light. I'm there by 6:20-- a quick breeze through security, over to the Starbucks (no line!) where I decide to splurge on a festive holiday Pepperment Latte, and just as I'm back at the gate they've begun to board. We push back just a hair after 7:30.

Perfect. This has all gone just perfectly. And during the dreaded Peak Holiday Travel Season, no less. After two decades of this, I may finally be bi-coastal. I'm Cruising like Tom. I'm so golden I glow. Just then, from The Flight Deck:

"Hi, folks, your captain here... I'm getting kind of a funny read on one of the fuel pump gauges... ahhhww, it's probably nothing but, ahhhww, I'm gonna just pull us back into the nearest gate and have a mechanic take a look at it. Shouldn't be more than a few minutes and we'll have you all back on your way."

I'm not concerned. Really, I'm not. I'm crusing like Tom, remember? Even so, I've got a window seat where it's possible to see the door, so I watch.

It's fifteen minutes before a beat-up pickup truck pulls up alongside the plane and an aging, ponytailed roadie from the last Greatful Dead tour climbs out. No, wait: that's our mechanic. He climbs the stairs and boards. Five minutes later, he climbs down.

"Ahhw, this is your captain again... we got maintenance here, and they're just going to talke a look at those pumps, get us on our way. Shouldn't be more than...... fifteen, twenty minutes."

I'm certinaly no longer golden. Silver, maybe. But no lower, no bronze for me, no way. At least that's what I say to the ominous quease in my gut. Then this: "In case you're wondering, folks, nothing to be concerned about - we've actually got six fuel pumps on this plane, and even though it's safe to fly with five, I, ahhhww, just wanted to get that sixth one checked out."

Wait. Waitwaitwait. Let me see if I've got this straight: FIVE working fuel pumps (and probably all six) were not good enough for goodie-two-shoes in the pilot's seat?

Twenty-five minutes later the Roadie lumbers back up the stairs. Lumbers down a few minutes later and drives off. Silence.

Finally: "Hi folks-- well, good news is the pumps were all fine (!), and we're set to go. Bad news is... we burned off a lot of fuel sittin' here, so, ahhhww.... we're gonna wait and get ourselves topped off. Just as soon as we get a fuel truck out here it shouldn't be more than... another ten mintues. Thank you for your patience." And I'm thinking: no need to thank, Asshole, for I am not patient. I am seething. I am doing the awful time-crunch math and realize that what little cushion I had for the day is gone. If we leave now, and I mean RIGHT NOW, I can still make my day as planned in LA.

It is another half-hour before the truck arrives, fuels, and leaves. We do not move.

"Hi folks... your captain again... so we're fueled up and ready to go... but all our ground crews are a little tied up right now getting other planes out to the runway, so, ahhhww.... soon as we get a crew to push us back we'll be on our way."

Yeah, well, now it's FUCKING JFK RUSH HOUR, pal. As you know. A fact which you do not want to share with your passengers because of your now-justified fear that we might mutiny.

Finally, at 9:10, we push back-- and head to a more distant runway, for by now the wind has shifted. But but but but the time we get there (You-know-who is the most conservative pilot out here, and we lose position in line to not only those maniacs from Jet Blue --two of 'em!-- but, worse, to a fucking UPS cargo plane), and we're FINALLY Number One For Departure...

...the wind shifts. And we are routed clear back across JFK, one of the largest airports in the WORLD, to our original runway.

Remember: I do not make this up.

Our Leader, of course, does not have the courage to tell the other passengers this, to do the right thing and get on that PA and say: "ahhw, well, folks, if I'd been just a LITTLE LESS OF A PUSSY it would've been us taking off right now instead of those UPS boys, but since I'm -- well, ME-- I'm going to have to drive you all back across JFK where maybe, just maybe, I'll have to DO MY JOB AND ACTUALLY TAKE THIS PLANE OFF."

My 7:30 flight leaves the ground at 9:49. I have been on this plane for almost three hours, and there's a-six-hour flight ahead of us.


IT'S RAINING when we touch down at LAX and we have made up no time whatsoever, but at least we're here. Unfortunately, by this point my inner "Golden Tom" has been replaced by New England Irish Catholic, "It's-always-something" Pete, and Irish Catholic Pete will not be happy until he's actually off this God-forsaken plane and sprinting through LAX Terminal 4.

And with good reason, for as soon as the plane swings off the runway... we stop.

I laugh. The hard, bitter laugh of the psychotic and the damned. The lady next to me is certain I am crazy, and she may at this moment be correct-- save for the fact that, unlike her, I Know. I have earned my Executive Platinum status, forged it through years of enduring every airline screw-up possible, and one thing I've learned is this: when it comes to Hell Trips, when it rains, it pours. At that very moment, as if reading my mind...

"Well folks... ahhhww..."

The swagger is gone from Our Leader's voice, replaced, in an amazing display of horrific people skills, by his "joking" voice as he attempts to make light of the LIVING HELL HE HAS CREATED: "you're not going to believe this (oh yes we are), but... looks like the jetway at our gate isn't functioning, heh-heh-heh... Don't really have a free gate right now (since we're TWO AND A HALF HOURS LATE FOR NO GOOD REASON) so we're just gonna taxi out past the gate area to keep things clear and just as soon as they find a gate for us we'll get you right back in there."

We taxi through a steady rain to the farthest corner of the airport. I think we may pass a shanty-town in some remote backwater of LAX before coming to a stop in a place best used for drug deals or gangland executions.

I stare out miserably at the pools of rain. Asshole has won. He knew he had the advantage on me, buckled into seat 24A; he understood my impotence against the sheer force of his incompetance. Over the past nine hours he has beaten the rage right out of me.


And I think he senses this, for without fanfare we are moving again, and a little after 1PM I'm back on land. I want nothing more than to collapse onto some barstool and forget this TEN HOURS OF HELL, but I must dig deep and draw upon my inner reserves and remind myself that I'm HERE now. My time in LA just beginning.

I text everyone, lying that I'm in a cab and on my way... then sprint down the concourse in a fulll-out, broken-field run (I'm Tom Cruise again! Running through an airport!)... dodging Holiday Walruses lugging their rollaway "carry-ons" the size of steamer trunks... I'm FINALLY out the door...

...and there's a cab line. And, ya know, that's cool, I'm a new Yorker so no big deal-- except that there are no cabs. And, as I quickly realize, folks here in LA are a little fuzzy on the concept of the "cab line".

There are about half a dozen travelers forming a sort-of-line by a small, neglected Taxi sign. It's a far cry from the rough efficiency of the cab lines back at JFK, but I am nothing if not fair about these things, so I get in line. Problem: I don't see any cabs, and Cab Drought tends to threaten the order of the cab line. Fearing a Donner-Party Tragedy, the group in front of me leaves. I am now Officaly And According to Me #1 in the cab line.

But not for long, for now, from my left, comes a scrum of tourists. Midwesterners, my guess. They make furtive eye contact with me... they see the taxi sign... then their gaze shifts and I watch as they scan the clusterfuck of holiday traffic and spot the lone cab veering our way. The Chubby Dad sneaks a glance back my way (yes I fucking SEE you) before faux-innocently walking out, raising his hand, "oblivious" to me--

"--yeah hey THERE'S A LINE. " That was me. They notice me now.

The Midwesterners are startled at the hostility in my outburst. 'Another New Yorker,' that's what they're thinking as they glance my way and play-act "noticing" the taxi sign. God-dammed right, I want to tell them, but no time: I'm on a mission.


One thing I've come to realize in my history of cab-riding in Los Angeles is, how do I put this... the remarkable flexibility of the lisencing process here. Provided it has four tires, as far as I can tell any shitbox that can get up to freeway speed can be a cab in LA. No time to ponder, though, since it's 1:20 when I climb into the minivan that's pulled up (why do I ALWAYS get the minivan?) and scrape the door closed.

"How long to Century City?" I demand. It comes out as something of a bark.

"Oh, forty-five minutes."

"WHAT?! How is that possible??"

"Well you know the rain. Everyone drive crazy."

And I finally, finally snap. Snap like a twig.

"How do you people DO it how DO you do it how does ANYONE live here? I HATE it here I HATE it here I fucking HATE it here."

My driver just chuckles. I ask him his name.

"Erhhrv-fha". He seems Hatian to me, so I decide it's Herve.

I choke back stinging tears of frustration as I settle in for more travel torture. But I am wrong, for Herve is posessed. He pilots his jalopy, this exhaust-belching rattlerap, at seventy miles per hour down the god-help-me BREAKDOWN LANE on the 405; he changes lanes with the blind confidence of shitbox drivers the world over (their motto: 'what are ya gonna do - hit me?!'); best of all, he waits waaaay too long to cut into the backed-up line of cars at the Santa Monica Boulevard offramp. This being LA, very few people honk, and though I can sense their seething looks, I don't really care.

It's a heroic effort, and he makes better time than expected (*under-promise, over-deliver," someone told me once, and I think it's true), and I'm in front of 1600 Century Park East at 1:40. Out of the cab and into the lobby and up the elevator and I sprint into the lobby of Untitled Entertainment at 1:45.

I assess the damage as I try to unwind. As a result of the frantic calling and texting session in the cab, I know that I have missed the Big Meeting with Client #1. However, they've pushed two of the publicist meetings back and will return here before taking those last two meetings. Nothing to be done about that. Good news: Client #2 has pushed his director meeting back, and I'm just in time to get to work.

I'm shown into the conference room. It's the first time I've worked with Client #2 in a while, and our session is productive. It's great, actually. My pent-up agression is perfect to pour into the material. I read like a man possessed... and, ya know, I relax, a little... and just as me and Client #2 are ending our session, Jason, the crazy young savant who runs the place, bursts in and greets me like an old friend: "You made it! Good to see you, man! You sure you don't want an office here?"

He's joking, but still.

I did it. I'm here. The work session and that thirty-second chat with Jason was all I needed, really. I am at this moment a yacht out to sea, blown almost underwater by gale-force winds... when, without warning, the winds calm and my whole life rights itself. Just like that.

My phone rings. Client number one, and can I run down so they can pick me up out front and we can head off to the publicity meetings? I'm down, and we're off. Ends up our first stop is at the building that housed not only my first agent ever, but also the restaurant Maple Drive. Both are no more. My agency I knew about; Maple Drive was a surprise. Oh, what a scene it had been, in its day.

I have a moment, just a moment, of loving all of this. I guess I have a life, a history, stories to tell, after all. The meeting goes well, and before long we're off to meeting #2, this one at the Four Seasons...

...and all of a sudden it's six-thirty and we're done. The manager's got a dinner with another client, and my client (#1) is due on the set tomorrow and has a long drive home. Their days are done.

Me? I am in Beverly Hills with no car and no plans and no place to stay for the night. Barely twenty-four hours have elapsed since the idea of this trip was first mentioned. I head to The Mondrian, the hotel on the Sunset Strip which has been my crash pad over the years. The flirty guest services manager is the daughter of an acting coach. We chat a bit and she assures me she'll "take care of the rate. And the room."

That she does. I am given a one-bedroom suite almost as large as my apartment in New York, domintated by a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that offer a breathtaking panorama of Los Angeles at night. All of Hollywood falls away at my feet.

Confession: in my love for New York I forget, sometimes, that LA has its own beauty, a beauty rooted in a kind of crazy hope. There are moments when I, even old cynical I, allow myself this silly thought: anything can happen here. Hollywood is so.... possible from the tenth floor.

How did I get here? Truly, how?


This trip has been so rushed I have neglected to call any of my LA acquaintances; strangely, I feel no urge to now. Mostly, I want to walk.

I go outside and turn right, heading east on Sunset Bouelvard. The rain has stopped, and a serious cold front has slid in behind it. This is about as cold as Southern California gets-- which, for me, is perfect.

Loud and touristy as it is, one thing I've always loved about The Strip is that it is one of the few places in Los Angeles with pedestrian traffic. But tonight, I walk alone. There are some places in the world that need humanity, places that lose some of their essence when the world is elsewhere. Tonight, The Strip is one of them, and the street feels almost sad: no yellow Ferraris driven by exotic men and their hooker-hot, sort-of-model girlfriends, not even the occaisional Mustang bearing out-of-state plates, crowded with thrilled teenagers. Just me and the occasional car gliding by. I walk past The Standard (too hipster)... past the Chateau Marmont (should I...?)... but no. I know where I'm going.

The California Pizza Kitchen at Sunset and Crescent Heights is surprsingly full, so much so that I simply head to the counter and grab a seat.

I hear a whisper and a giggle from the teenagers at the far end of the counter and realize that it's about me. Who is he, they wonder, that loser guy sitting at the counter of the CPK, reading Variety, alone during the height of the holiday season?

"Kids," I want to say, "you have no idea."

I know this because I really don't have much of an idea myself. But at least for tonight, here at the counter of the CPK in West Hollywood, I'm OK with that.


Oh, and P.S.:

My return flight, two days later, is in the afternoon; with nothing to do that morning, I decide to walk from the Mondrian down to the West Hollywood post office to mail some Christmas cards.

There's a kind of morning quiet in LA that I miss. You can miss it even if you live here, actually, if you're not a morning person. There's a whole world that exists here before the city fills with traffic: the clean, wide streets belong to the healthy retirees, with their tanned faces and white Reeboks, and those in recovery who've learned to find a similar high in coffee and sunshine that they once found in tequila and the night. This morning it's even more peaceful, for Los Angeles is not a place one comes to for the holidays; on the contrary, Los Angeles is a place one leaves. No one, it seems, is here. There's even a lonliness to the boutiques that line Sunset Plaza, empty save for the salesgirls who keep watch over racks of neglected clothes. Which is kind of romantic, in its own way.

It's a bright, crisp, chilly morning, an East-Coast morning here in LA, a rare clear day on which it's true: you really can see forever. As I'm walking back to the hotel I can see, in the distance, mountains: the San Gabriels, a good twenty miles away.

All that rain that I'd cursed when I arrived? It fell in the mountains as snow. They're covered in it.

Here in Hollywood, at ten AM on the Sunset Strip, I get my White Christmas after all. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Academy Awards Night: toiling in Heaven, a Gown, and the Mystery of Faith

You see, the thing of it is... she bought a gown.

My assistant Ashley Avis informs me of this on Saturday afternoon. I'd stopped by her hotel room, having left her on her own while I went for a couple of "hi-hello" meetings, and...

...Let's back up.

I was in LA for a short trip over Oscar weekend. Just three days prior, Ashley had expressed her jealousy about my trip, and I'd tossed off a casual "you should come if you want..." and now, in that way that she has, here she was. She'd neglected to rent a car, so we'd pretty much been joined at the hip so far. After lunch I'd dropped her off at Sunset Plaza; her stated plan had been simply to "just hang out with a book." Instead, she'd ended up buying The Gown.

In truth, I have mixed feelings about "making the scene" this weekend. I love coming to LA during the winter; I care little for the temperature, actually preferring those chilly LA winter days that carry a little bite in the air and give all Angelinos an excuse to break out their chic winter leftovers from previous lives on the East Coast. That same wind that brings the chill brings rare clarity to the sky, and one is reminded that Los Angeles is, in fact, a beautiful place. I'd felt a sort of spa-weekend relaxation coming on, and I found myself looking forward to reconnecting with some good friends and laying low.

Nonetheless, I'd already made a few brief party inquiries on Ashley's behalf, but since out here The Oscars represent Christmas and Chanukah and The Fourth of July all rolled into one, well... it's a lot to ask, especially at the eleventh-and-a-half hour. I neither expected nor particularly desired success.

So the Gown. I'm thinking, you know, "gown" is such a broad word; maybe she simply bought a long-ish dress. She offers to try it on, and I'm hoping in some odd way to be underwhelmed. Moments later she emerges from the bathroom...

It's exquisite. It's breathtaking. It looks as if an Italian lady had spent a week making it specifically for her. The Gown is Ashley all the way, and she knows it.

And as I'm looking at her all I can think, truly, is this: where the hell is she going to wear that?

I decide to let it go. Big mistake.


I began the next morning as I do most mornings: lying in bed, thinking. The previous night, I'd been in touch with a composer friend; he'd confessed that while he very much wanted to meet up, he had some scoring due the following week so for him the weekend would be best spent working. I don't think he knew how much his simple statement-- "I'm working this weekend"-- had affected me. Let me explain.

There is a profound, never-spoken truth which guides every soul who toils in this business: we don't HAVE to work; we are ALLOWED to work. We work only when asked. And to work-- no, to be asked to work-- is a privilege. It's heaven. And no matter how I spun it, there was no way around the troubling fact that while my friend was toiling in Heaven last night, I'd been at Bar Marmont with my assistant. As I lay in bed that Osacr morning, contemplating the mercurial happiness of work in the film business, I had something of an epiphany:

I was not meant to party this weekend, at all. That will be for later. I found myself looking forward to watching the Academy Awards with a few friends; I imagined our gossip, our spirited rants on the obvious injustice of the inevitable poor choices, and suddenly I was happy. Maybe, I thought, true epiphanies can only occur on pilgrimages. Maybe it has to do with nothing more than breathing strange air.

I inform Ashley of The Epiphany at brunch. I rhapsodize about the writing I should be doing and the acting she hopes to do. I try to mentor her as best I can by suggesting that all of this-- the parties and the limos and the bling and the swag and the overblown, red-carpeted glory of it all-- are not why we're here.

Back in the car, silence. I assume Ashley, like I, is contemplating The Epiphany. Finally, she speaks.

"Sooo... did anyone get back to you about any parties tonight?"

My heart sinks. Ash had understood nothing about The Epiphany. Or, more likely, the whispered promise of The Gown was simply too strong.

Me: "Ashley, didn't you get any of it at all? Was my entire rap wasted?? These parties are not the point! It's the work!!"

Ashley: "But how do you know that you won't get work done a party?? How do you know we won't meet someone that will change your life?"

"Because I've been to these things, and they're always, always disappoining--"

"--but you never know unless you--"


"OK! That's fine!"

More silence in the car. Then, Ashley again: "I don't know, maybe we could just... " She throws a pleading gaze at me. "Are you sure you couldn't just....?"

She leaves the plea just hanging there. She blinks a few times, swallows, forces a grin. There is an air of such sadness in the car that I feel as if I just told her she wasn't getting a pony.

Know this: Ashley is the sort who gets the pony. Problem is, it's after three o'clock. Out of time and ideas, I blurt out: "Well, for Chrissakes. I really don't care, but if you want to go to something so badly why don't you just look on Craigslist?"

Five minutes later, as the sun sets on a beautiful Oscar Sunday, I find myself in an abandoned Starbucks on Olympic Boulevard as Ashley hunches over my laptop, scrolling through Craigslist. To my surprise (and Ashley's disappointment) there are a grand total of two items. The first: two awards ceremony tickets, which include two tickets to the Governor's Ball. Price? Forty thousand dollars. The second is this: ACADEMY AWARDS PARTY TICKETS-- ESQUIRE PARTY ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY. After a little blah blah puffery, there's a # to call, and a price: $5000 a ticket. Yeah, whatever. Just before we leave Ashley hits the refresh button. See if there's anything new. Nothing, except this:


Huh. Ashley takes the number down.

We head to the apartment of a friend to watch the awards. As the ceremony begins, we engage in a discussion of the worth to Ashley of the Esquire tickets: one hundred dollars apiece? Two? Three? This feels high to me, but what the hell; I tell her to make the call. It's agreed that she'll offer a far, far far lower amount for the pair. I urge her to make me the Bad Cop, and she leaves a message claiming she's calling for me. Sure enough, sixty seconds later her phone rings: It's "Albert", saying yes, the tickets are still available. As Ashley runs into the other room to talk I urge her to stick to the script we'd rehearsed. "Albert" was offended at her offer, Ashley tells us when she returns.

The awards ceremony is long. But... just as The Departed is announced as the best picture of the year... the phone rings. It's "Albert."


The party's at The Abbey, Robertson at Santa Monica. There's a celebrity entrance to the event, Klieg lites and a red carpet. And I know how these things work, and Ashley looks like, well, Someone... so the shot is just to hit the carpet. Sure enough, as soon as we step onto the red carpet a photographer begins snapping away. As we head into the party, here's what I figure: Ash has walked a red carpet and an Academy Awards party, she's worn the gown, she even got a little paparazzi action. If nothing else, that alone makes the tickets worthwhile.

It's clear when we get in that we are on the late end of an early party. I scan the room: a few familiar faces.... there's some of the "Entourage" crew... I see a couple of "Former Students"... and then, behind Ashley, I see my client and friend, Rick Fox.


He screams this as he takes me into a bear hug. And at 6' 6", Rick can take even a grown man into a hell of a bear hug.

"Oh Man this is perfect!!! Hey, listen, I want you to meet..." and he introduces me to a Senior William Morris Agent, who's helping package some of Rick's projects and is the head of William Morris Independent, a division of the esteemed agency.

After an impromptu pitch of a script Rick and I had developed some time back ("OK, there's a serial killer in the NBA..."), I ask Rick: "So... what are you guys up to later?" Rick seems genuinely pleased at the prospect of hanging out. "Well, we're going to Prince's thing.... then we're going to Patrick Whitesell's party. You going?"

Patrick Whitesell is one of the power agents behind Endeavor and his party, with Rick Yorn, is THE after-party (post-Vanity Fair) on Oscar Night.

Rick again: "Yeah yeah-- let's all go up to Patrick's. This is great! See ya later PK. See ya later Ashley." And he's off.

Sure. Just go to Patrick Whitesell's party. As long as I know him, Rick will never understand that life functions differently for the rest of us.

Ashley is triumphant. "See? See???" I tell her that this scenario is unlikely but she is unfazed by this. There is a Master Plan, she is convinced, that is coming together.


Like all Hollywood Hills parties, it is not possible to drive to this event; you've got to park at an "undisclosed location" from where shuttle buses will take you up. After spending a little more time at Esquire, we decide that the thing to do is to drive by the Secret parking area, just to check it out. As we approach, I head into the right lane to get a look... and suddenly there's a Sheriff in front of me, impatiently "flashlinghting" me into the parking lot. OK. Change of plans.

Once we pull in the car is immediately surrounded by a scrum of valets and whisked away, to its own undisclosed location... and we're ushered along a gated line to check-in to claim our wristbands. No matter who you are, no matter how bright your star, this is a wristband event. You can't even get into the shuttle vans without one. This is bad. I approach the mellowest looking kid, and announce: "Dude, don't even look at your list. Trust me, we ain't on it. Rick Fox is my client, and we saw him and (William Morris Agent) at the Esquire party and they invited us and told me they'd call you guys."

The kid offers no hope. "Yeah.... Rick... we love him, but.. it's really bad this year. Celebrities are only like plus one or maybe plus two. So, you'll have to wait for him, but..." he glances around...I'd like to, but..."

The sixth-sensing boss immediately hustles over. "Are you on the list?" No, we're not. "Then you'll have to move on." Some metal gates are separated and we're back in the valet area. I offer up my valet ticket, and we wait.

And wait. And it's getting chilly, so I give Ashley my coat. As I look around, I observe to Ashley that this is kind of a Hollywood experience, too.

There is no crack in Ashley's armor. "Yep! Maybe there's a reason. We'll see!" She says this as if I am silly and maybe weak to doubt Fate. I miss that quality in myself, that religious certainty common to The Young.

Maybe there's a reason, I'm thinking, for the fact that we still don't have our car. A search party of valets is sent out after our initial guy, and while I'm watching all this unfold... my phone. It's a text message from Rick:


Huh. His AGENT pitched it. Huh.

I text Rick back that we're at the parking lot, and there's no way we're gettin' up the hill. A moment later, just as the familiar headlights of my rented Pontiac swing into the lot....

My phone again. Another text, from Rick: CALL THIS # 310 123 4567 THAT'S MY DRIVER HE WILL TAKE YOU UP.

I dial the number.
The Pontiac pulls up.
The valet gets out, holds open the door.
The phone's ringing. We're holding up the line. The valets are getting imapatient.
Suddenly, on the street just next to the lot... a chauffeur outside a black Escalade limo, looking right at us, waving his cell phone.

"Put the car back," I tell the valet. "We're goin' up."


At the house, more Sheriffs. More paparazzi. As soon as we step out of the car things move veryvery fast:

HUGE Dude #1: "where are your wristbands?"--
Me: "We were told just to come up--"
--Huge Dude #2: "You're gonna have to go back down and get them--"
--Ashley now: "call Rick, just call him--"
--Now a Sheriff: "Sir you're gonna have to MOVE THAT VEHICLE--"
--and now another voice: "Rick Fox Rick Fox!!" It's our driver, window down, shouting it at still another list-keeper as he madly points at me--
--now the List-Keeper looks at me-- "What's you're name?"
--I tell him. He looks at Ash. "And, you're... Ashley?"

He produces a pair of wristbands.

The walk up the driveway is quiet. Attendants on either side discreetly shine small, LCD flashlights down at the driveway, pointing out the cracks, illuminating our steps. A ballet of tiny blue fireflies, guiding us. As we finally enter the space, I think: now this is more like it.

There's a DJ, kicking a very dance-able seventies mix with a cool techno thing underneath. Among the ladies, an awful lot of gowns. And, of course, the walls: floor-to-ceiling glass with the obligatory jaw-dropping views of LA at night, twinkling out to infinity. It's almost 1 AM, and one gets the feeling that this thing is just getting started.

First order of business: find Rick and The Producer, and let's seal this deal. The first bar we come to is relatively quiet, but I do recognize the man leaning there as Peter Farrelly, one of the Farrelly brothers of comedy-film fame. I've got a nodding acquaintance with Peter, and when he glances at me with that look of vague recognition I decide I should say Hi. The night had finally clicked into place. The next few hours are a blur of...

...Ashley repeatedly getting bar-jostled by Paris Hilton.... Jon Bon Jovi, looking great but, a little lost, until Sean Penn grabs him from behind in a bear hug. (Lost no more... some kid in a t-shirt and baseball cap reaching in front of me-- "excuse me-- Djimon! Djimon, come here! There's someone I want you to meet!" Ends up the baseball-capped kid is Leonardo DiCaprio, reaching for his Blood Diamond costar....

... and finally, Rick. In truth, not hard to spot. He's in Party mode and The Producer's not to be found, but we discuss the meeting, the pitch, and it's agreed that I need to buff up the script within a week, since Big Producer won't stay hot for the project for long.

The night continues like this. Ashley, being helpful, suggests that maybe I should meet "some director types." I suggest that there are few director types I'd really need to meet.

"What about that Scorcese fellow? I bumped into him on the way to the bathroom."

Wait. Waitwaitwait. You. Ashley, you... "bumped into" one of my few living heroes?

I launch into a rap about how this house, this beautiful place that holds all these beautiful people on this beautiful night, is not really built on a concrete slab, not really... it's built on the work of people like him. This is Oscar night, after all, and no one gathers to celebrate the commercial success of Kangaroo Jack. We are all here to celebrate the making of films of meaning. He, and those like him, have done that, and are the reason for all of this. Him, I want to meet. But he's moved on from where Ashley saw him last, and when we finally do see him he's surrounded by a crowd of admirers. I decide that, for tonight, this is enough; our work here is done.

But as we prepare to head out.... a scent, faint yet unmistakable. Breakfast. They're cooking breakfast. And it's 4:30 AM, and Ashley's hungry.

The kitchen area is crowded indeed, but more than that... there's something odd about the crowd, which takes me a second to figure: Ashley, who stands 6' 2" in her heels... is the shortest woman in the room. I point this out to Ashley, who instantly snaps back: "I know that. I don't. LIKE IT."

I don't know why, but this cracks me up and may be my favorite memory of the night. Except for this:

As I'm jockeying for counter position near the food, I catch a glimpse of something set on the counter in front of the short, tuxedoed man in front of me. Something gold. It's a statue.

I tap the gentleman on the shoulder, who is with a woman so short I'd not even seen her amongst the Amazonian Throng.

"Excuse me..." I point to the statue. "What did you win for?"

The man, in a heavy Spanish accent: "Art direction. Pan's Labyrinth." The woman smiles, and nods.

"Oh, my god! Congratulations!!! What you did was so... just wonderful, wonderful, really." I launch into a little congratulatory small talk; they're happy for the praise. Inspiration strikes. "Listen... my assistant's never held one of those... would you mind?"

They both smile. Of course. Please. They offer me the statue. I turn to Ashley.

Ashley takes it and begins to hyperventilate. She clutches Oscar with one hand by the waist, and instinctively puts her other hand underneath the base... and the Spaniards are laughing, and I'm smiling, and Ash is standing there in her gown, clutching an Academy award, finally speechless. Behind her, the sky above Hollywood is just beginning to glow with the dawn.

Woody Allen is right: so much of life is simply showing up. I think of sitting at Shutters with Ashley that same morning, trying to talk some sense into her and let her down easy. I think of the impossible chain of events that led in a remarkably straight line from that moment to this one. Standing here, laughing with two wonderful Spaniards, as my assistant clutches an Oscar surrounded by waffle-eating supermodels. In the adjoining room, screams of joy erupt from the dance floor as "Love Rollercoaster" kicks in.

Rollercoaster, indeed. I prefer to think of it as the mystery of faith. All that is left is to go back down the hill, and sleep.