When I moved to LA from Toronto in 1999, I looked forward to raucous parties, celebrity sightings, and 24/7 sun. I got all of these, plus the following added bonuses.
1. Watching brain surgery on a nude car wreck victim from a viewing platform at LA County Hospital. My father had good intentions when he arranged this meeting between myself and a surgeon who’d gone to my high school, but I was eighteen, had no interest in medicine, and kind of wanted to cry.
2. Awaking one morning to the looming sight of a yellow-eyed intruder in search of his “money.” High on crack, he had broken in through the back door. The disturbance made me feisty. “What do you think you’re doing?” I demanded, chasing him into my roommate Dave’s closet where he rifled through old laundry shouting, “Where is it? Where is it?” It took a few moments for my brain to catch up to my nerve and when it did, it said, Becky–what-the-fuck–are-you-doing-he-could-be-armed?! So I ran back to my room, locked the door, and called 9-1-1. My operator was wonderful, calmly talking me through the emergency response process (“Do you hear that buzzing? That’s the helicopter riiight over your house…do you hear that siren? That’s the squad car, juuust down the street…”) and the climax was more comical than threatening, the lost soul tearing across the living room with a pair of Dave’s dirty boxers on his head to conceal his identity (discarded at the front door and collected by a forensic specialist as “evidence”) and a stolen bag of magic tricks. By the time the cops arrived, guns drawn, shouting “Freeze!” the intruder was gone, and while they never caught him, the officer in charge did ask if I’d like to catch up with him, say over dinner? I declined.
3. My first brush with the US healthcare system: arriving at the ER on Christmas eve, shivering and straining for breath, and the only thing the staff seemed to care about was the name of my insurance provider. Visibly struggling just to lift my head, I was made to complete a form aka short essay on my condition, and after a quick once over, my case was dismissed as a cold. I continued to deteriorate, returning a few days later to learn that I suffered from a double whammy of pneumonia and bronchitis. No apology for the oversight, and in an insurance claim mix-up, I got bills for these visits for the next TWO YEARS.
4. Living with a nightmarish roommate we’ll call Sam, a Venice Beach stoner who hung tie-dye bed sheets on the walls and seemed permanently shrouded in a cloud of smoke. The night of his arrival, Sam threw a rager, pulling my antique mirror from the wall and using it as the flat surface for his party favors (smuggled from Mexico personally by a guest). Sam had no computer so I let him use mine, and he did so with abandon, sitting at my desk in a damp robe, smearing the keyboard with peanut butter, and downloading a gay chat program so every so often a “punkboi79” would pop up, inviting me to cyber. Sam must have forged quite a connection with this member who, as a first date, drove from Utah to our place, to live. While Sam didn’t inform me of these plans, I began to catch on when, for the third morning in a row, punkboi bid me a good day at work before settling onto my couch for the Today Show. The last straw was being roused at 6am by chanting and Enya’s “Storms in Africa” to discover Sam hosting a yoga class in our living room. His regular studio had been locked and, not wanting to turn anyone away, he deemed our place an acceptable alternative. The cherry on top was inviting his students to check their email after class, on my computer of course.
5. Getting a bodyguard (last client: a Jordanian prince) after my safety was compromised at work. Things had been heated for days (i.e., an investor shoved the president into some filing cabinets), then alone at the office one night, I was caught in the middle of a management war involving equipment theft, henchmen, and said president trying to bust down the door. I learned not to make sudden movements in the presence of my new escort — each time I reached for a pen or rose for a glass of water, he leapt to action, asking “What is it? What’s going on! Is someone bothering you??”
6. Rear-ending a famous actress on the freeway (hint: currently starring on The Newsroom) and having her cry back injury, only to discover through her blog that it was a pre-existing condition. My insurance company had me take screenshots of said blog and poof! Off the hook.
7. Sharing driveway space with a hobo called Richard, possibly the scariest looking man I’ve ever seen. His face was concealed by a musty curtain of dreads, occasionally parting to reveal a single roaming eye. Depending on his sobriety level, Richard’s pastimes ranged from spinning in a borrowed wheel chair to reading classics by Faulkner and Hemingway (he maintained a small library in our electrical box). On mornings when I left for work before sunrise, I’d find Richard sleeping against my bumper and resented having to rustle a stranger in darkness to get on with my day. A concerned neighbor was always summoning the cops but no amount of shooing would get rid of him. Richard was full of surprises, like the time he showed up at our door, very eloquently requesting we hold his stuff while he scouted a new driveway in Redondo Beach. He didn’t move that day but eventually he did, to a patch of curbside grass up the road. I remember passing him for the first time and meeting the gaze of that roaming eye, feeling guilty for not saying hello.
8. Getting ditched mid-date for mentioning I wasn’t a Lakers fan. It was if I’d confessed to infanticide — his expression went from keen to panic-stricken, and he bolted from the restaurant into Saturday night traffic. “What’s wrong?” I asked, scrambling after him. “We’ll never be!” he cried woefully, “You’re a great girl, you don’t deserve this. I’m sorry!” Before I could get him to elaborate, he jumped into his silver Pontiac and sped out of my life.
9. Receiving a call from my landlady, who wanted my roommates and I to move from our modest downstairs apartment to the palatial upstairs owners’ unit for a minor increase in rent. We considered, said hell yes, and found ourselves the bewildered residents of the ultimate Venice Beach party pad, complete with 17′ ceilings, chef’s kitchen, and a Spanish-tiled patio that comfortably accommodated 70 of our closest friends. Never quite believing our luck, we lived the dream for three and a half years, throwing costume parties, hosting every out-of-towner and their mothers, and ultimately leaving of our own accord — there’s such thing as too much fun.
10. Taking a pro-bono project when work was slow in hopes of boosting my reel. I had doubts about the film but a friend vouched for the director, so I signed on to edit. Fast-forward to the two of us in my home office (aka bedroom) trying to craft something watchable from what was essentially a bunch of his friends sharing their preferred methods for jacking off (and Judd Apatow he was not). Each character enacted his approach in cringe-worthy flashback, and as luck would have it, the director doubled as lead. Sitting through his “session” with the jerk off himself was definitely a career low.
11. Helping a friend wrap presents at her gift shop during the busy holiday season. Her main client is a prominent Hollywood family, and their budget was $200 a gift for the wrapping. In LA, you’re surrounded by countless examples of wealth and excess, but this was a whole new level. The gift list was in the hundreds, all luxury items like Gucci watches and Apple laptops, marked for destinations worldwide (with corresponding overnight Fedex charges). Most shocking — the cards were written in-house, even for the clients’ children, so that I found myself writing “Dear so-and-so, Merry Christmas, Love, Daddy” to the daughter of one of our most beloved action stars.
12. A week after writing a list of traits for my ideal man, having him appear on my doorstep in the form of a prospective Craigslist roommate. Given my city’s barren dating landscape, I knew a good thing when I saw one and did what any sensible Angelina would do – I married him.