25
Nov

“So what are you doing for Thanksgiving?”

We all encounter this question at least once a year, but should you live in LA, be prepared to answer it many times over. Los Angeles is a city of orphans. I know few natives – even those from California are usually not from LA proper – which necessarily means that no one has family with which to share the holiday, though many will give thanks for that reason alone. Me? I’m thankful to have a cornucopia (I love topical words) of wonderful friends in town, and since moving here have yet to be alone for the holiday that commemorates how impressively the average American can eat. Truly, I am grateful, as nothing can make one feel lonelier than the prospect of spending Thanksgiving solo…

St. Louis, Missouri. I actually lived there once upon a time. Lovely town. Not a fan of their baseball team. Anyway… I moved to The Show Me State just after high school – my first attempt at college – but had gone on sabbatical for a bit. We’ll just leave it at that. My roommate, like most twenty-somethings, wanted to get the hell out of Dodge for Thanksgiving in order to squeeze out a few free meals and loads of laundry from her parents. I would have gone home myself, but was prevented to do so by a higher calling: Blockbuster Video. Though spared the injustice of having to work on Thanksgiving Day, I was scheduled both the day before and after, so they still managed to successfully screw me out of my holiday. Oh well. Didn’t think much of it.

Until Thanksgiving Eve. Alone in my apartment, it dawned on me that I didn’t have anyone with which to spend the next day. I had some friends in town, but it was way too late to call. Plus, if they hadn’t already invited me to their festivities, then I wasn’t about to force myself upon their holiday. Hi, awkward. Meet third wheel.

I made a concentrated effort to push my growing self-pity to the side and instead focused on how awesome it was to have the entire apartment to myself. I could do whatever I wanted! I decided to take full advantage of the situation and promptly ODed on television until I passed out. The hibernation continued well into Thanksgiving Day. Sleeping has never been a problem for me. I am a champion sleeper. Don’t even understand the word insomnia. Yet my sweet slumber was suddenly interrupted by a knock on the door. Who in the world would be bothering me on Thanksgiving Day? My dad, that’s who. Knowing that I would be completely alone on this holiday, he drove three hundred miles to make sure that wouldn’t happen.

After me getting over the shock of seeing him, and him getting over the shock that I was still asleep, I realized something – there was no food to eat. My cabinets contained only the essentials: cereal, ramen noodles and peanut butter. No mashed potatoes. No stuffing. No turkey. I turned to my dad, embarrassed that he would have to eat mac ‘n’ cheese for Thanksgiving dinner. He then kindly suggested that we take a ride to the local Schnucks.

Though I warned him repeatedly, my dad was still surprised that not a single grocery store was open in all of St. Louis County. But this wasn’t Chicago where at least one Jewel is around for the inconsiderate shopper with poor time management skills. This was St. Louis. Forget holidays. Stores in this town still shut down on Sundays.

We looked at each other. What to do? All the restaurants seemed to be closed as well. The streets were totally deserted. Pretty sure I saw a tumbleweed roll by. And that’s when we drove past it… a 7-Eleven. Yes, we were out of options, but this was just too sad. I pulled over. My dad exited the car and returned minutes later with two hot dogs. Our Thanksgiving feast. While everyone else in town was loading their plates with candied yams and cranberry sauce, here we were in my Saturn coupe, eating unspecified animal parts. But I wasn’t alone. I could have spent the entire day camped out on my couch, channel surfing while trying to convince myself that this was just some stupid holiday that didn’t mean anything to me. Thankfully, I had a pretty rad father who knew better.

Thanksgiving isn’t about where you have it or even what you eat. Doesn’t matter if you celebrate it in a parking lot while scarfing down the “2 for a $1” special at the local Kwik-E-Mart. If your holiday is shared with at least one human being whom you love, then cheers. You indeed have something for which to be thankful.

Photo courtesy of ilco

18
Nov

Last week I wrote about what a great time I had at the AFI Fest. Indeed, it was lovely. Lovely, minus the wardrobe malfunction.

Lemme back this one up a bit… I have a problem getting ready on time. Yes, it’s true. I am a female stereotype. When I should be out the door at 9am, usually I leave by 9:15am. While shooting for 5pm, I’m gone more like at 5:10pm. Then I dash across town, road raging and pleading with the clock to slow down because I hate being that person: the late arrival that everyone else silently judges. So on the night of the Hamill premiere, I actually started to get ready early. Hair and makeup? Done and done. The only thing left to do was get dressed, and I still had nearly an hour before my 6pm departure time. Perfect.

I slide on my dress and attempt to zip it from behind. It goes about a third of the way and then refuses to go any farther. I try again. Again I am denied. Hmm… Is it caught on something? I take it off and then zip it. Goes all the way up with ease. Okay, let’s try this again. Slide. Zip. Denied.

Now I know what you’re thinking… “Um, Anna? Maybe you’re just too fat for the dress? Did that ever occur to you?” Yes, my dear smartasses, it did occur to me. That is why I tried on the dress four days earlier to make sure I hadn’t plumped up since the last time I wore it. And guess what? It zipped on the first try.

You can then imagine how perplexed I am. But it’s only 5:30pm. I still have a half-hour. No worries. However, I decide to distract myself for a few minutes because I can already feel a panic attack looming. I make sure my ticket is in my purse. I brush my teeth for a second time. I… I need to get that dress on. I try again. No. I try harder. Nope. Yet this time I feel something give. I take it off. A tear. Awesome. Stupid Forever 21 dress.

I try a different tactic. Maybe gravity will help me. I arch my back ala luau limbo style and then try to zip, but no luck. Okay, time to get serious. I get down on the ground and once again arch my back again ala camel pose (for all you yogis out there) and try to zip. Nada. However, I do manage to crack my back all by myself.

And now sweating begins… I let out a not so silent scream. This damn dress has been refusing to comply for over a half-hour, and now my slippery fingers can barely hold onto the zipper. Time for reinforcements. But who? My landlord? Could this be considered a maintenance issue? And then the Force speaks to me: “Elise! Call your friend, Elise!”

In this town, having a friend within walking distance is a very rare and wonderful thing. And until six months ago, I didn’t have one at all. I don’t even associate the words “friend” and “neighbor.” But then I realize that yes! Yes, I do have a friend in the neighborhood. I just pray she’s home.

“Hi, Anna! How are you?” No time for formalities; I cut right to the chase.

“I need your help right now! Can you please come over?” The girl is at my door in less than five minutes. Just one problem – she can’t zip it either. To demonstrate that the dress is deliberately taunting me, I take it off and show her that it will zip all the way. Even she tries a few times to make sure she’s zipping correctly. I put it back on. No dice. Poor girl. I can hear the frustration in her silence. Well, we had fought the good fight. Resigning myself to wearing one of my much less cuter dresses, I try one last-ditch maneuver. Twisting my arms around, I guide Elise’s hands to clutch the dress and grab the zipper myself. Pulling, pulling… The dress zips.

I spin around. We look at each other in shock. Then with multiple hugs and many thanks, she and I are out the door. It’s 6:20pm. Oh well…

But wait! There’s an epilogue to this story. Fast-forward a few hours. The Roosevelt is done. The movie is done. Nothing left to do but make a quick trip to the ladies’ room and call it a night. As I head to the sink, a voice calls over my shoulder, “Excuse me! Can you please help me?” I turn around to find a very exposed woman in the corner, her dress so completely unzipped that I am staring right at her bare bum. She apologizes for her nakedness, but we both know that she’s not embarrassed at all. This woman is the quintessential LA stereotype: blonde hair, tanned skin, smokin’ body. Anyway, her dress zips on the first try. Of course it does. It’s a Herve Leger. You don’t pay a $1000 for a dress that doesn’t zip on the first try. She thanks me, and I walk out smiling.

That, my friends, is what we call paying it forward.

Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

11
Nov

Hollywood gets a bad rap. Truth is, it’s not completely unfounded. It’s hard to defend an industry that often caters to the lowest common denominator. Films about torture and mutilation? Check. Television shows with twenty-somethings getting wasted and laid? Check. Celebrities that make sex tapes or do prison time and still somehow have millions of dollars and fans? Check, check.

It’s a strange business to say the least. You don’t only create a product or provide a service; your name is attached to the end result for all the world to see. This can be good and bad. On the one hand, you worked hard and want your recognition. Anyone who’s been part of even a student production can testify to the many sleepless days and nights put in for those precious few minutes of film. Sometimes even showers are forgotten. But never coffee. No one forgets the coffee. On the other hand, you may not want to be known for the end result. At times it’s just a means to an end. Perhaps you made a few contacts during the shoot. Gained a technical skill or two. There’s always something to justify the experience. If not, hopefully there’s at least a paycheck at the end of the tunnel, but even this isn’t always the case.

No other industry can really compare. I know many who work in other professions, but can’t say I’ve ever asked my CPA pal to show me the tax returns he’s prepared or watched as my OB/GYN friend delivers a baby. That probably would be frown upon in both scenarios. So you never see the fruit of their labor so to speak. Yet if you work in the entertainment industry, you must have something to show for yourself. And sometimes – just sometimes – what is shown can be beautiful.

Sunday night. The evening began at the storied Roosevelt Hotel, the setting of the very first Academy Awards. Walking in, I could feel a special energy in the air. The charm of old Hollywood. Or maybe it was one of the many ghosts that supposedly haunt the hotel. Either way, the place is gorgeous. I was meeting up with friends for an AFI Fest film premiere, and may I say, we cleaned up real nice.

We also did our part to make sure the free food and drinks were not neglected and then headed across the street to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, yet another monument to motion picture history. It would be the setting for that night’s world premiere of Hamill. The film is based on the true-life story of Matt “The Hammer” Hamill – a three-time NCAA Wrestling Division III National Champion and UFC competitor – who also happens to be deaf. As we entered the theatre, the exuberance of the crowd grew to a fevered pitch. I watched as the full house excitedly chatted and signed with each other. To many in attendance, this movie was much more than just a few hours of entertainment.

Also in attendance? Hamill himself. When the film ended, he was asked to come to the front of the theatre for a brief Q&A. “How does it feel to have your life portrayed on the big screen when you’re still in the middle of living it?” Matt could have used the opportunity to talk about himself, his accolades or even his next fight. He didn’t. Instead, he tearfully gave thanks to his late grandfather for believing in and making him who he is today. This movie was not only a platform to showcase Hamill’s rise to the top, but also a testament to the love, generosity and support shown to him along the way… I was bawling. Obviously. And I wasn’t the only one either.

Walking out of the theatre that night, I felt proud. Proud of the film. Proud of Jacquelyn, the film’s editor. And proud to be a part of this industry. Because that’s what it’s all about. We got into this crazy business to do something that yields more than just a paycheck. The people I know – the actors, directors, producers, editors, writers and many more – came here with dreams of creating something thrilling or hilarious or touching for you to enjoy. Being able to see that dream actually achieved the other night was both reassuring and awing. The beauty of Hollywood is still very much alive.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

04
Nov

I’m not old.

Granted, I don’t understand the Justin Bieber phenomenon, and this whole Demi Lovato rehab thing is way over my head – who is she again? – but I still think of myself as young and hip. And despite the snide comments you may be making at this very moment, me needing to state such a disclaimer does not at all negate the fact that I’m still cool.

Anyway.

This past Saturday I agreed to be part of a mentoring event for an organization called Step Up Women’s Network. You meet at a local college, get wired on free coffee and then spend a half-day with a teen that has set her sights on college. She asks you about your collegiate experiences; you ask her about her goals and dreams. It’s a big lovefest.

I arrived super stoked to meet my girl. Let the bonding experience commence! And I became even more jazzed when I saw the other mentors. All lovely women, to be sure, but I was confident that most of them were older than me. I was totally going to be the cool mentor that day. I heard my name called and walked over to the girl who had raised her hand in conjunction with mine… Wow. Brittany* looked really, really young. I scanned the crowd of girls. They all looked really, really young. I guess I hadn’t been around teenagers in a while. Brittany said she was fourteen, but this girl looked like she still needed someone to hold her hand while crossing the street. I tried to be chill and complimented her on her hoodie. I pointed out that I too was wearing a hoodie. Isn’t that cool? We’re both wearing hoodies! She didn’t seem impressed.

We then were herded into a lecture hall and given an hour-long tutorial on all things college. What’s the difference between a college and university? Between a public and private institution? How many UCs and Cal States are there? I was hoping this Q&A would go on forever; I was completely enthralled by this information. Also, it was giving me tons of material to bounce off my mentoree. I began to calm down. After the session was over, we walked outside.

So what did you think of that lecture? “It was good.”

Did it all make sense to you? “Yeah.”

Do you have any questions? “No.”

Okay, I was panicking again. What was going on here? Either this girl had no interest in college, or she had no interest in me. My bet was on the latter. Why didn’t she want to talk to me? I had been looking forward to this day for weeks. I loved college and desperately wanted to share my enthusiasm with someone who had yet to experience this world. So I did. Her lack of excitement wasn’t going to stop me. I proceeded to pour out my advice on anything and everything I could think of: campus life, roommates, cafeteria food, class selection, financial aid. Poor girl. I could actually see a wave of relief wash over her face when they announced lunch.

As we approached the eating area, Brittany finally spoke. I had absentmindedly asked if she was a vegetarian – another one word answer: “no” – but much to my surprise, she then launched into a story about her mother’s cooking. Apparently it’s not that good. Regardless, she eats her mom’s food without saying anything because she doesn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but not her brother. Brittany’s twelve-year-old brother is a real brat and will refuse to eat something if he doesn’t like it. She then concluded that her brother was more of a girl than she was.

This girl had just said more in the last five minutes than in the previous two hours. Could it be that she simply wasn’t a morning person? I then found out that besides English, Brittany could also speak Cambodian, Mandarin and French, and that she was taking both Kung Fu and piano lessons. I asked which of her classes she liked the most. Her answer? “None.” She then revealed that school bored her. Aha! It was all beginning to make sense at last.

This chick was all right. In fact, she was more than all right – she was a bona fide smarty pants. And the more I got her to open up, the more I realized that this girl totally had her act together. She went on to tell me that she would be studying medicine in college and commuting from home. Why commute? “Because I don’t want to be away from my family.” Hmm… I told her she’d feel differently about that come senior year.

After lunch, we headed off for a tour of a real college dorm. Brittany was obviously bored, but nonetheless listened to the RAs go on and on about what to do if you lose your swipe card and how to maximize room space. But what if you don’t get along with your roommate? Or you need to walk across campus late at night? These were questions to which the other mentorees wanted answers, but not my girl. I then tried a last-ditch effort to get her into the school spirit by pointing out the common room. Look! You can hang out here anytime you want! Just talking and eating and creating beautiful memories with all your new friends! She nodded politely. Okay, fine. I give up. We headed back to the main hall for a final wrap up and farewell.

The staff had organized a raffle of collegiate gear as parting gifts for the mentorees. As numbers were called out and girls skipped up the aisle to collect their T-shirts and mugs, I was becoming more and more agitated. I wanted Brittany to win. Maybe it would finally spark some excitement in her. That’s when she leaned over and whispered, “You’re not really happy the other girls are winning, are you?” I looked at her in shock, and for the first time that day, her face lit up with genuine happiness. She had read me like a book. I couldn’t help but laugh and nodded my head. “I knew it.” She leaned back into her seat and quietly waited for the rest of the numbers to be called. Yes, this girl was going to be just fine.

* Name has been changed to protect the young, innocent and much smarter than me.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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