Saturday, 31 January 2015

Marilyn's Booth.

We're sat in Antonio's, Lips and Stephen's favourite 'mexican dive', with Karina a puerto rican actress whom Stephen knows from one of his many classes.
We're about three margaritas in. They are strong and served in buckets.
They're talking about some actress but I'm hazy on the details because I'm staring at the walls which are covered with literally hundreds of photo's of Antonio with different celebrities spanning about fifty years. There's him with Sinatra, and there with Johnny Depp. Antonia young and dashing with a pencil moustache...Antonio older, still handsome, still with the 'tache. He found his look in 1930 and he stuck with it. I stagger out for a smoke and pass an elderly man sat just inside the door greeting guests. It's Antonio! He's about 142. And he still has a pencil moustache.
When I get back Karina is still talking about the actress.
'If I could swap bodies I'd take hers in a heartbeat.'
'She has legs up to her earlobes,' Lips informs me, though I still have no idea who they're talking about. Stephen chips in;
'If I could change anything I'd be a little taller. And I'd change - '
I slug back my drink and slam it down.
'I wouldn't change anything about myself,' I declare.
This gives them pause.
'Really?' Karina says. I think she means it kindly
'Absolutely' I say warming to my theme. 'I look in the mirror and I see that I'm big and yeah sure I have psoriasis and okay I've got these laughter lines now around my eyes and my hair is going silver at the sides...' I'm losing focus.
'You don't have any lines around your eyes at all actually,' Stephen says. 'And there isn't a white hair on your head.' He adds accusingly.
'There me. And I see the lines that weren't there a year ago but...BUT...they are MINE. I spent forty years laughing and crying for these lines and I'm not giving them up. I may not be beautiful but I've never wanted to be anyone else but me.' I smile like a self satisfied cat.
'Seriously, there are no laughter lines around your eyes,' Stephen says.
'No, Lips adds. 'The laughter lines are around her vagina.'
Stephen looks outraged. Lips and I fall about laughing like drains because EVERYTHING is funny after three buckets of margarita.
Karina goes on to tell us about her obsession with Les Miserables.
I have vague memories of demanding to know why anyone would want to go and see a show called The Miserable.
Fade to grey.

I wake up and immediately regret the forth margarita.
I stand under the shower and try to wash the tequila from my pores.
I eat two Advil for breakfast and head downstairs.
The Cooper brothers are so over excited to see me (as is the inexplicable way of dogs) that they both run at me full pelt realising too late that they are on slate flooring and cannot stop in time. They slam in to me with the force of a wall made entirely of fluff and I stagger backwards and slide to the ground.
Stephen is waiting for me, looking sinisterly perfect.
'Ready for your acting lesson, dear?'
He has this southern drawl that's addictive to listen to. And he is the most polite man I have ever met but I'm beginning to detect some dry humour there. A touch of sarcasm.

He drops me off outside a door somewhere in Venice.
'Just sit there till he comes to fetch you. Have fun.'
The flat apartment buildings and their balcony's remind me of the setting for Dirty Dancing.
I'm sat there muttering: 'I carried a watermelon' when Craig appears with perfect white hair and luminous teeth.
'You must be Thea,' he says extending a hand and giving me the once over. He pauses at the tattoos on my arms. 'Come on in.'
The room is cosy and there's a camera set up at one end which makes me shudder.
There are posters on the wall with him smiling and a banner telling me he's an award winning acting coach. He has a 'method' apparently. He used to be a an agent and also worked as a casting executive for one of the big big agencies.
'Stephen tells me you trained as an actress some years ago?'
'Twenty years ago.'
'And what happened? Why didn't you pursue it?'
I start talking and realise I'm in a therapy session. Oh he's good.
' basically...I think I'm a bit of a late bloomer. In everything.'
He nods sagely and smiles.
'In my experience the best performers, writers, artists in general are all late bloomers.'
'Good to know.'
We chit chat for ten minutes and then he asks me if I prepared my scene.
I nod and produce the script that I have glanced at once since Stephen left it for me.
We go through it once with him playing the other character and when I'm finished he nods and smiles again.
'What do you think of LA?'
'I think it's mad in a brilliant sort of way. Everyone here wants to be someone. Everyone is willing a suspension of disbelief. They work as waiters for twenty years but they never give up hope that they might be the next big thing.'
'It's true,' he says. 'It's completely insane here, a bubble. And I forget that sometimes because I'm in it. I'm enabling. When I get a new student and ask them why they're doing this they too often say “Because acting is my passion”. That always worries me. It's such a stock phrase and behind it there's usually another reason, and that reason is that something is missing from their life, or something has been neglected. They just want someone to listen to them.'
We do the scene again after a brief discussion about 'intent' and 'purpose'.
It feels different and I'm starting to get in to it.
When we finish he nods enthusiastically.
'You leaked a couple of times. I love it when that happens.'
I check the floor for tequila.
'And by that I mean that I could see you react emotionally. You, really you, to the situation. You looked at me for a second like you wanted to stab me in the throat. It's those moments that get you the job.'
I stare at him blankly.
'When someone leaves an audition and the casting panel say 'Hey didn't she read well' you know they didn't get the role. It's not about the words, it's about what happens between them. I could see in the pauses that Jenny (my character I beg your fucking pardon) had dignity masking her fear and anger hidden by aloofness.'
I enjoy the class far more than I anticipated and we spend an extra half an hour talking about Stanislavsky, bad acting and his great friendship with Julia Roberts (who can access every part of her psyche apparently).
By the by, everyone, and I do mean everyone here has a Julia Roberts story. It seems everyone has met and had a moment with her. If this is true then I have no idea how she ever has the time to do any work and I can only assume she is one of about six prototypes stalking the streets of LA. 
Stephen is waiting outside for me and Craig thanks him for bringing me along.
'Oh my lord she's a joy! I just wish all my students were like her.'
I puff up like a peacock and glide down the stairs. I'm going to be a star!

Stephen and I spend the rest of the day on Venice beach together. Lips is still in jury service and we get the odd text in which he prays for his imminent death. He is not having fun.
Stephen wants to pop in to the Converse store to get some more...converse.
I look down at our feet. We're wearing matching black and white ones but mine are hanging together by a thread and his are shiny and clean.
'You want some in a different colour?' I ask.
'No I need to replace these, they're getting grubby.'
He then clocks mine.
'You want some?'
'No I'm good.'
He pauses.
'What are you saying?'
He smiles in that southern polite way.
'Don't get me wrong, I like them, I do. They're But if y'all want a new pair...that would be fine too. On me.'
'I'm fine.'
'Alrighty then.'

We go to a rooftop bar and drink prosecco and the heavens open. The rain is warm and lovely and it all feels very pleasant though Stephen isn't convinced.
'I'm GONNA enjoy this because I'm with you but no Thea, it is not lovely to get wet. It is not lovely at all.'
We take a walk along the Venice strip where some men wearing green scrubs offer me 'medicinal marijuana.'
There are shops entirely devoted to bongs and t-shirts that say things like 'Mike's Bitch.' So this is the seedy side of LA.
'I could see you living in Venice,' Stephen says.
'Yeah, me too.'
He grabs us some coffees and returns with a t-shirt for me that says:
VENICE – Where Crime Meets Art.
When we get back it's dark and Lips is waiting for us with an imaginary gun pushed in to the underside of his chin.
'Jury Duty going well?' I ask.
'I need a fucking drink.'
He has booked us a table at Musso and Frank, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood (1919) and it is fabulous. All red leather booths and waiters with a minimum age of 45 in porter suits with sharp collars.
'I bet the martinis here are brilliant,' Lips says.
They arrive in tiny cocktail glasses with an additional little glass beaker of more martini each sat in a tiny ice bucket. We order three more.
The maitre de, who looks like a film star, leans over and whispers to me;
'You're sat in Marilyn's booth.'
I almost jump up thinking I'm sat ON her.
'She loved to sit here because she could see everyone coming in. But also, so they could see her.'
He winks at me. I'm in FUCKING HEAVEN.
Lips and I agree we should order old school and both have the shrimp salad followed by a steak.
The huge prawns come hooked over a bowl of glass. It's all so....Hollywood.
After dinner a man approaches me. He looks like Cary Grant would today.
'You visiting ma'am?'
'I am.'
'From the UK?'
'Know the Cooper family?'
'Um, sorry, no.'
He disappears and comes back with a calendar.
'For you. Pictures I took myself.'
'That's so kind.'
And he's off again.
'I think he liked you,' Lips says flicking through the images. 'Oh that's a nice one of the Griffin Observatory.'

We go to The Piano Bar (Live music seven nights a week!) A huge bouncer at the door tells us we'll have to wait a short time because they're at capacity. I look through the door, it's half full at best, no queue at the bar.
'I know,' he says. 'But we don't like it to get too crowded.
We wait twenty minutes and the bouncer lights every one of my cigarettes. I love this kind of thing. I'm a sucker for it. Lips is really classic in that way. If I stand up to go for a cigarette or use the restroom, he stands too. I haven't opened a car door since I arrived and he always has his hand on the small of my back guiding me gently toward a table or a door. It makes you feel...precious. I wish I was in 1952.
As we enter the bouncer leans over;
'There's a courtyard out back where you can drink AND smoke at the same time.'
He squeezes my arm.
We get seats right by the band and sit for an hour watching them play the most complicated jazz. There's a man on a trumpet who is mesmerising.
Lips nods to the drummer who seems to be completely lost in the music.
'Someone's watched Whiplash.'

We head home around 2 am.
Another dream like day has passed.

'By the way,' Lips says as I head up to bed. 'I got us tickets for Dame Edna's Farewell tour on wednesday. It'll be a scream.'

I dance the last three feet to bed.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Zoe's Legion Of Lovers.

A text comes through from Lips of a crying emoticon face with a gun held to its head and the words 'Oy Vey.'
He's been called up for Jury Duty and has been sat downtown at the courtrooms for about three hours now waiting to be interviewed.
'Just tell them you're an Atheist gay jew producer and you think the case would make a great movie. Surely they'll ask you to leave.'
'Maybe. Wish me luck.'
He meets us at a bar a couple of hours later.
'I'm there all day and they only interviewed three people! I have to go back tomorrow. It's a cluster fuck. What the hell are you drinking?'
'A Margarita.'
'This place only has a wine and beer license.'
He turns to the barman.
'What's in this instead of tequila?'
'It's rice wine, sir. It's delicious.'
'Oh no no no.'
'It tastes nice, Lips.'
'Thea, there is no tequila in the drink!'
'Rice wine is rather nice...'
'Oh my God! Get me a beer. Where are we going to after here? For a real drink?'
'How did the meeting go, Stephen?'
'I choked.'
'Okaaaaay, let's start drinking people.'

We're spending the evening with an old friend of Lips's called Zoe. She's from the UK but has been out here 19 years working as a Producer.
We head back to the house to meet her and walk in to find that the labradoodles have staged a dirty protest (no not that kind), they've removed the soil from every plant in the house and distributed it across the slate floors.
'Bradley Cooper! Anderson Cooper! Come here right now. You have been very bad boys.'
The dogs know something is up and hide under a table.
I start giggling. I'd pay good money to tell Bradley Cooper he's been a bad boy. But this is not the time.
There's no point in telling a dog off after the event, they don't know what they've done and so Lips and Stephen merely kiss them whilst quietly telling them that this behaviour will not stand.
As we clean up Zoe arrives.
'What happened here?'
'Maybe we just shouldn't have plants,' Lips says. 'We can use the pots for their ashes.'
Zoe is furnished with some wine and fixes her eye on me. She wants to know who I am, why I'm here, how I know Lips and how long I'm staying. She tells me she's originally from Brighton. I tell her I used to live there and we compare information.
I feel like I've met her before. We fall in to a comedy banter that remains on tap for the entire evening.
We head up to a Japanese restaurant, not to eat, just for a pre dinner cocktail because it's in the hills and has a magnificent view of LA at night. I'm touched by how Lips and Stephen take every opportunity to show me something new or beautiful. The best views, the most iconic places.
We order Pineapple-tinis but Zoe sticks to white wine. She smokes which just makes me like her more. We head out ostensibly to admire the view, but really to just smoke. Lips comes out and takes a picture of us. It looks like we've known each other forever. I tell her I love it here and would happily spend a few months a year in LA if I had work.
'I get the feeling you will be out here again,' she says.
'I couldn't waitress out here, I'd go mad.'
'My company is looking for writers. Would you be interested in that?'
'Yes. I would.'
'You could do it from anywhere and it would give you a reason to come back too.'

Anything can happen. Anything happens all the time.

We go to an Italian for pizza. I try my first white pizza which just has cheese and an egg in the middle. Also a kale and spinach pizza and something with aubergine and rocket. I eat four slices more than I need to.
We all fall in to food comas and head home.

We're having LA themed movie nights whilst I'm here. LA Story and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang are on the list but the first one we watch is a new one: “Nightcrawler” set in the seedy sub culture of night time LA and starring a severely underweight Jake Gyllenhaal. We cosy up and watch on the ridiculously large TV screen. So this is a home cinema. I could get used to it. Gyllenhaal is terrifying and brilliant. It's rare you watch a film where you aren't rooting for the protagonist, just hoping and praying he doesn't kill anyone. I recognise a lot of the places which makes it all the more exciting.

I have my acting lesson tomorrow with Calvin. I don't want to talk about it.

Today Lips is dropping me off downtown to see the Disney building ('It is a beautiful thing') and the Museum of Modern Art whilst he sits in the courtrooms going quietly insane. I woke up to find he'd printed me off a little map and highlighted all the places worth seeing. Love him.

I don't know what we're doing tonight. I don't much care. I'm happy.

Disclaimer: Zoe was curious to know if she'd be mentioned in the blog. And if so how personal that information would be. Hence the title. I'm just fucking with her.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Anything Can Happen, Anything Happens All The Time.

I spill cranberry juice on the white bed covers.
This is why I'm not allowed to have nice things.
I run in to the laundry room and look frantically through the cupboards. Thank Fuck! There's a bottle of Shout. There's actually three bottles lined up which is I suppose the secret of people with entirely white houses. As I bend down to grab one I hear my only remaining pair of jeans rip somewhere near the groin. Of course. This is what happens when people like me are let in to Hollywood. And why oh why have I got a massive suitcase full of clothes I never wear and only one pair of jeans? I run back to the room and start spraying at the stain. I grab a white fluffy towel and use that to rub at the mess. It's actually working. I then lift the cover to find the stain has seeped through to the white blanket beneath. And the sheets beneath that. Ten minutes of swearing and scrubbing later I have a white, if soaking wet, bed and one destroyed towel which I hide in a cupboard.
'Lips! I'm just popping out to the shops.'
'Okay honey,' he calls from his office.
I need to find some relatively inexpensive jeans and some champagne because I have no clue what else to buy for people who have everything.
I finally find a huge shop called American Rag. It boasts a “World Famous Jeans Bar”. I enter tentatively and am confronted by an achingly cool hipster with a moustache and a tiny retro tank top.
'Hey there, can I help you?' He stares down at me repressively.
I feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she tries to go clothes shopping on Rodeo Drive. Except fat. And not a hooker. Yet.
'No no,' I mutter. 'Just having a gander.' I have never used the word “gander” in my life.
He glides away but somehow his eyes never leave me. I walk the eight miles to the 'Jeans Bar' and feel like weeping. This one section is the size of Asda and there are at least 300 different brands of jeans neatly arranged in piles. I touch one pair tentatively and turn to find the hipster two inches away.
'Jesus!' I shout.
He smiles from the teeth out.
'What size are you looking for?'
This is the one question a fat woman shopping does not want to be asked by a skinny condescending boy with a moustache.
'Belgium,' I reply.
'I'm sorry?'
'Don't be. It's not your fault.' I try to shuffle away.
'Are you from london?'
Close enough.
He points to a Canadian brand called “Naked and Wild” or something very similar.
'These are really popular. Got some stretch in them.'
Uhuh. I thank him and look at the price. As I'm not really in the market for a pair of five hundred quid jeans I retch slightly and spend the next ten minutes trying to find the exit.
I walk over to Ralph's and buy a sewing kit and a family size pack of Pringles.

Lips and Stephen drive me out to Santa Monica, the scenic route. We drive through Bel Air and they point out some insanely large houses.
'How much would a place around here cost?'
'Anything from ten million upwards.'
There's one place that looks like a hotel.
'That's a private residence??'
'Yep. Crazy money. Can't buy taste though.'
We arrive at the beach and have brunch at Shutters, a very classy hotel. I go to the toilet and return to find a Mimosa has been ordered for me. I take one sip and Lips orders another round. We eat and Stephen points out a very handsome man in his fifties who's serving behind the bar.
'He was huge in daytime soaps for years. I mean literally YEARS. I think he did Days Of Our Lives too. Real famous. (Stephen has a delicious southern drawl) He works here now and quite a lot of people come here to see him and get served.'
'What happened to his career?'
'Who knows. It goes that way for people here sometimes.'
'He must have a very resilient ego.'
'I know right. I think sometimes it must be worse to have had it and lost it than never to have had it at all.'
I watch him. He seems happy. I wonder if he has someone who loves him and that maybe actually he's happier now.
We take a walk along Venice Beach. People are doing activities on the sand. There's a new craze called (I think) Slack Roping. It's like high wire walking but the rope is slightly wider like a belt and it's, yes, slightly slack. And there's people swinging from metal hoops and being suspended by other people's feet. There's yoga and even pole dancing. On the beach.
A friend of Stephen's called Christine is a bartender out here and she's in a competition this afternoon called 'Speed Rack'. It's for charity and is being held at The Roosevelt Hotel where the first ever Oscar Ceremony took place. We go along to find Christine has already been knocked out and is wandering around swigging bitterly from a bottle of Sherry. She's hilariously drunk and we spend the next few hours being handed cocktails at every turn. I get liquored up quick and good.
Lips and I pop out briefly so he can show me the walk of fame and Marilyn's handprints outside the chinese theatre. I decide I NEED some Elvis shades and we try several tacky tourist shops with no success. Though I do get some great pictures of Lips accepting an Oscar.
'I guess you have to go to Vegas to get Elvis shades,' I say.
'We can do that,' Lips says.
I turn laughing to find him deadly serious.
'Sure, it's only an hour by plane. Let's check the schedule. Let's go to Vegas and get you some shades.'
'Right. Okay.'
We say our goodbyes and head home to get ready for dinner with James 'Downton Abbey' Faulkner. Lips wants to get there a bit early because the barman makes a renowned Gimlet.
We sit at the bar and James arrives in a cloud of smoke. He's a proper british luvvie all clipped tones, outrage and anecdote with a wolfish smile.
I'm going to order the fish but he dissuades me.
'It will have been frozen darling. Have the chicken, it'll go really well with this wine.'
He talks about work and another actor who is always up for the same parts as him:
'He has two characters; Loud and Even Louder.'
His wife is a cook.
'Why do you suppose it is that men are chefs and women are cooks?' I ask.
'That's a good question,' James says and we discuss it whilst we eat.
He uses the word 'Pulchritudinous-ness' when talking about an actress.
'Good word,' I say. 'I've always liked it.'
'Well it's a word that could easily be used to describe you,' he says.
I feel a glow of pleasure. After the jeans debacle I have been feeling less than great and the compliment bolsters me.
We head back to Lips's place and James joins us for a drink.
'Just a cup of builders for me, darling.'
Lips looks blank.
'Tea,' I say. 'He wants cheap tea.'
'I have some PG Tips....'
'That's the one.
We sit in the garden and James regales us with anecdotes whilst chain smoking. It's so nice to have someone to smoke with.
He makes a joke and I start laughing and find myself unable to stop.
Stephen, usually fairly reserved, cracks up.
'This girl is killing me.'
James kisses us extravagantly and leaves and I crawl to bed.
I wake in the morning to find the place empty. I head downstairs to confront the coffee spaceship and find a note on the side:

Hi Thea!
Acting lesson – Thursday 10.30 am
Singing Lesson with Calvin - Monday 14.00 pm.
Please prepare the attached scene.
See you later, Stephen.

I pick up the script in slow motion.
“Jennie has a perfect french accent.”

How has this happened?

Monday, 26 January 2015

We Haven't Even Started Yet.

Lips attempts to navigate the car through Wiltshire Boulevard and back to his place whilst I sit in the passenger seat levitating with excitement.
I'm in LA, baby! LA!
He points out the iconic Hollywood sign in the distance and I make a noise I've never heard issue from me before.
'So, we have a number of things planned whilst you're here. We're gonna get sloppy drunk and have a ball, Doll.'
I mention my concerns about LA. I believe everyone here has perfect teeth, a healthy tan and a size 2 figure and that I am going to look like a Tim Burton character that's wandered in to the wrong animation, that I'll be asked to take my black clothes, cigarettes and psoriasis and fuck off.
He giggles but says nothing which confirms my suspicions.
He points out a restaurant on our right.
'That's Republique. We're eating there tonight. It's fabulous but you have to get there at 5.30 to secure a place at the bar which is the best place to be.'
We get to his house and it's a piece of art, inside and out. It's almost entirely white too which gives me pause. I don't fare well with white. Normally fairly graceful and un-clumsy, when confronted with a virgin landscape I seem to be pre programmed to spill, drop and traipse in all manner of nastiness.
I listen to him talk on the phone about a film shoot whilst opening a bottle of champagne and briefly think about falling face first in to the pool. I want to phone my mum. Shit, I want to phone everyone I've ever met.
Lips shows me my room which is also entirely white. I make a mental note to sleep on my coat.
We drink champagne by the pool and Stephen returns home and greets me warmly. He looks a bit like Viggo Mortensen and at a loss for anything else to say (like 'Thanks for having me' or 'lovely home you have') I tell him so.
Adjoining the pool is a stone jacuzzi which I eye suspiciously.
Lips mistakes it for enthusiasm and says:
'Y'know, we only moved in a week ago, we still haven't used it.'
'Oh, I didn't bring a swim suit with me so...'
'Well you better get one!'
'Not unless they sell ones that start at the ankles and end at the neck.'
'Not a problem,' he smiles. 'This is a largely jewish area of LA.'
So there's a good chance I'll be posting a picture of something amorphous and black floating nervously in some bubbling water. Don't be alarmed.
In addition to Lips and Stephen there are two chocolate labradoodles - Bradley Cooper and Anderson Cooper – The Cooper Brothers! And a goldfish called Jennifer Lawrence. The dogs are very affectionate and almost instantly develop a fascination with my groin.
We chit chat for a while a drink until it's time to head to Republique a short stroll away. As we mooch they tell me about twenty or so other restaurants we'll be eating at during my stay.
'I hope you like mexican, honey. We eat at this fabulous dive at least three times a week, the margaritas are wonderful.'
I feel happy and indifferent to the fact that I will be tipping the scales in to dangerously obese by the time I leave.
Republique is huge and elegant and we do get out seats at the bar which give us a view of the bartenders and behind them through a large opening in the wall all the chefs rushing about stirring and chopping and flipping like some great ballet.
We have more champagne and then move on to cocktails whilst we peruse the menu. Everything looks good. Everything. Luckily Lips is a feeder and loves ordering for people. He suggests we order a selection and share it. Over the next two hours a riot of food appears – Tempura sweet potato chips, calamari, three different salads, carbonara, pumpkin and sage ravioli, half a chicken, chocolate and salted caramel cake with early grey baileys, baked apple with ice cream.... I finish my third gin martini and we switch to espresso martinis in lieu of coffee.
I have a food high and tell them a joke that Doc told me in New York. I never tell jokes, I'm terrible at telling jokes. But the vast quantities of booze and food have relaxed me to the point where I even tell the joke in Doc's broad Brooklyn accent. They love it and laugh like drains. I go on to tell them all about Doc and his story which I currently have in the form of a one man show. He wants to take it to Edinburgh and I want to help him though I have no real idea how at the moment.
We head back and drink more cocktails and tell stories. Lips shows me a spaceship and assures me that if I press all the right buttons in the right order tomorrow morning it will furnish me with a cup of coffee. I fall in to bed and sleep like the dead completely forgetting to sleep on my coat.

I'm standing before I wake. It's 7am and (check out of the window) I'm in LA!
I explore my en suite with has been laden with Kiehl's products and white (goddammit) fluffy towels. I step in to a shower which is half the size of a room and use everything at once.
I head down for coffee and Stephen asks why I gave up acting after my degree.
'I mean, judging by last night you clearly have talent.'
'And that singing voice!'
Oh god.
It's saturday and in LA that means brunch. They take me to a place called The Pink Taco for breakfast Burritos and margaritas. It's ten am. Another fantastic place which only becomes more fantastic as I slug down my fifth drink.
Everyone's been talking about the new film Whiplash and we decide to go and see it that night. We head off to buy tickets and I am mercifully given some sobering coffee whilst we wander around a homeware store.
'Do you need a toothbrush holder in your bathroom darling?'
'No I'm fine,' I say.
'Get her the marble one,' Stephen says.
Lips nods.
'And the matching soap dish.'
'Really, my toothbrush is absolutely fine on the side...'
'Oh by the way, I booked you in an acting lesson with my tutor and a singing lesson with Craig, he's brilliant.'
'Wait. WHAT?!'
Stephen literally hasn't been out of my sight and I have no idea when he managed to fit in this Machiavellian act of terror.
Lips rolls his eyes.
'But...I can't did this....'
Stephen shrugs.
'We can make up a resume for you tomorrow and get those babies sent out right away. I just don't understand why you're not doing this.'
I'm at a loss for any response that will make him understand how insane this is so I merely mutter;
'So this is LA...'
Lips smiles at me.
'The thing is, Thea, LA is the kind of place where nothing can happen forever and then suddenly something does happen and lives are literally changed in a moment. People sleeping in their cars without a dollar left in the bank and boom they get cast and their lives change.'
Stephen adds the most marvellous quote:
'Anything can happen. Anything happens all the time.'
We go home and fetch the Cooper brothers and take them to Griffin Park where we walk/climb up a trail to the Griffin Park Observatory. I see a sign warning me of mountain lions and rattle snakes. Australia comes flooding back.
We finally get to the top in the burning sun (it's winter here, pah) and Lips points out the Hollywood sign shimmering like a dream in the distance.
We head back, shower and convene for the movie. The cinema is tiny, art deco and has a good bar. We head in with a bottle of prosecco with proper glasses and I'm delighted to find the seats are huge and old and there are wooden tables between us for our drinks.
The film is amazing. We talk about it all the way to Cecone's - 'It's a see and be seen kinda place” - where we sit at another luxurious bar and order martinis before devouring the pizza and twenty or so other 'great dishes' Lips decides we should try.
By the time we get back I'm ready for bed. Lips tells me that tomorrow we're having brunch at Shutters in Santa Monica after which we'll have a walk along Venice beach. We're meeting the actor James Faulkner (the pervy uncle in Bridget Jones and now Lord Sinderby in Downton Abbey – my mum will be delighted) for dinner at a place called Lukes but spelled with Q's and C's and so forth.
'They have these amazing olives with almonds and the bread and salt oh my god...'
Then there's something about going to the filming of a reality TV show and lunch at Warner Brothers and a possible overnight trip to Palm Springs.
I'm staring at him in a haze.
'Lips, I'm having such a wonderful time. I don't know how to thank you.'
He kisses me on the cheek.
'Oh honey. This is just a normal weekend. We haven't even started yet.'

Monday, 19 January 2015


It's five am and I'm sat in a diner in Greenwich Village eating a burger and fries whilst Mapstone talks to our two new friends; James and James.
It's all a bit vague. Mapstone is eating his turkey club like it might try and make a run for it. I'm pretty sure the cocktail stick holding it together has been swallowed whole.
I trace back our steps to the first drink eighteen hours earlier.
'Wiles, I am not drinking alcohol with breakfast.'
'It's not breakfast, it's brunch. Completely acceptable. And anyway, it's a Bloody Mary. It's a morning drink.'
He tuts.
'I'll have an orange juice.'
I have a Bloody Mary (you get a free refill too).
I had NO idea about the brunch culture in New York. Everyone's at it.
A couple of days previously Jim had pointed out a popular brunch spot saying:
'Yeah, you see people outside at four pm vomiting. They go a bit nuts on the 'bottomless mimosas' deal.'
I check out the place on trip advisor and find the following reviews:
“We were there ten minutes before two fights broke out. Great Eggs Royale.”
“This place is awesome. I am soooooo drunk right now.”
“It's weird eating eggs when people are dancing around you.”
“Today will not end well.”
I decide it's a bit rich for Mapstone's first morning in New York and we opt instead for a little diner called The Dish where we eat pancakes with gallons of syrup and bacon.
It has been raining steadily since seven am and we're pondering what to do with our day.
'Well we could go and see The Empire State Building....'
'Yes,' I counter warily. 'And of course there's the walk in Central Park we absolutely must do....'
'Well yes...definitely...'
'Greenwich village is just down the road....'
'Oh, well perhaps we should just have a little stroll and see where it takes us...'
We appropriate two of Jim's umbrellas and stroll towards Greenwich enjoying the rain and the lack of commitment to any particular route.
'Isn't Stonewalls around here somewhere?'
We wander around casually and ask three separate people for directions until we finally....casually...stumble across Stonewalls. It's closed until two pm.
'Oh fuck it let's find a bar,' Mapstone says.
We do. We find a lovely cosy little place and sit at the bar where Mapstone deigns to have his first cocktail of the day. But by no means his last. Oh lord no.
A couple of hours and three cocktails each later I have fully updated Masptone on my obsession with John Nugent, the barman at The Old Town Bar.
'Goodness look at the time. Shall we pop over to Stonewalls and have a quick drink there?'
'Daft not to. Disrespectful in some ways.'
We walk in to arguably the most famous gay bar in the world and stop in our tracks. This is not gay by any name I know. The place is rammed with people wearing matching soccer vests screaming at a big screen whilst eating buffet chips and glugging down pints.
'What the fuck is this?'
We fight our way to the bar.
I order us some strong drinks and question the barman.
'This isn't what we were expecting AT ALL.'
He laughs. 'Yeah, big game today.'
Mapstone scurries off and returns with a listing of gay events.
'There's a drag show at ten pm here tonight.'
'We'll return then,' I say firmly and we down our drinks and leave.
We hop in a cab and head to The Old Town Bar because I happen to know in a completely un-stalkerish way that John Nugent is working today.
The moment he greets us I turn to Mapstone:
'D'you get it? D'you see what I mean?'
Mapstone nods.
'He's a character.'
'He's so much more than that. I adore him.'
John Nugent gets us some Guinness. And some port.
He tells us a bit about the history of the place in his Brooklyn drawl and I can see Mapstone is charmed by him too. Even more so when he asks for a Manhattan and it arrives perfect with a stemmed cherry at its base.
He takes one sip and says:
'I'm having another one of those.'
We leave an hour or so later with me checking a little too intensely with John Nugent that he is in fact definitely working on tuesday. I also plant the seed of possible Facebook friendship and he doesn't say no. Mapstone makes an interesting connection;
'You said he was like a Raymond Carver story. He looks a bit like Raymond Carver too. And Raymond Carver bears a resemblance to your father...'
'You're right. Perhaps I'm looking for a father figure in him. How bizarre.'
Old friends have a way of doing that. I've known Mapstone since we were sixteen.
On the way back to the apartment we stop at Chelsea Wines and buy white rum, ice, limes and sugar.
'A sort of daiquiri,' Mapstone says. 'Is there a cocktail shaker...ah yes, excellent.'
He makes a delicious cocktail, always has. We drink the first round and he heads off for a shower whilst I have a disco nap on the sofa. We then have another round and put on some New York themed music to which he grabs me and waltzes me around the room, spinning me like a top and dipping me like a...dippy thing whilst I scream; 'The art! Be careful around the art!'
It really was the only thing Jim was fairly insistent about.
'Please don't destroy the art.'
We're both giddy and Mapstone has finally realised he's in New York. We jump in a cab and head back to Stonewalls. The difference is incredible. The place is heaving again but this time it's populated by giant drag queens and complicated looking cocktails.
An eight foot Beetle Juice themed drag queen stops me.
'I LOVE your fur.'
'It's not real,' I say.
'Oh Honey, who gives a shit.' I'm home.
The show is an hour late starting by which time Mapstone and I have downed at least two large rum and cokes. He turns to me with a terribly earnest expression.
'Thea, I'm very very drunk. Can I have a glass of water.'
'No, you can't.'
I get him a large vodka and we head to the stage.
Most of the drag queens lip sync except one. A tall curvy black man with short hair who looks uncannily like Billy Holiday. He sings like an angel. I turn to tell Mapstone as much and find him talking to two men who are looking up at him with a mixture of amusement and confusion.
I lean over.
'He's terribly drunk.'
'But his accent is FAB-U-LOUS!'
Yes, I suppose it is.
We all head out for a cigarette together and Mapstone photo bombs a Liza Minelli drag queen. At this point everything becomes extremely funny.
Our new friends, James and his partner James invite us over the road to The Monster Bar;
'Everyone will migrate there in the next hour anyhow. Let's head over now.'
A very camp short man heads towards us brandishing an umbrella which he points accusingly at the James's.
'You abandoned me in there! Abandoned me! Just because I don't god damn well smoke! I hate you both! Hate you!'
He throws his scarf over his shoulder, turns dramatically, and storms off up the road.
We have another cigarette.
He returns and asks if we're heading over to The Monster.
We all go over together.
There's a cover charge to get in but it entitles you to a free drink.
'What are the facilities like in here?' Mapstone asks one of the James's.
'They're great!'
He heads off to find the toilet and returns two minutes later.
'There's a bunch of people sitting round a piano singing show tunes over there. And there's a dance floor downstairs. And the toilets are nothing more than a curtain.'
We meet some more people, the only one of which I remember vividly is a large gentleman who looks like a young Harvey Weinstein. He's sweet and a bit besotted with Mapstone who at this point is largely oblivious.
There are drag queens everywhere. All from fire island. A few legendary ones, Mother stands out. I take pictures of everyone. The bar man is at least 6 foot 6 and built like a brick shit house. We all swoon over him. There's laughter and stories and James doing a very good english accent for reasons I can no longer recall and then somehow it's four am and I'm hailing a cab and demanding to be taken to Coppelia for a burger.
We fall in to the apartment at around 5.30am and Mapstone says:
'Well that really was just a.....and I'm very glad....what an extraordinary...y'know...'
I wholeheartedly agree with him and fall face first in to bed where a turin shroud like imprint of my face sinks in to the pillow.
Perhaps tomorrow we'll just take a in movie. Or have a look at that Empire State Building. Or something.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Jim and John.

Jim being Hemmingway at The Old Town Bar.

Jim has no internal dialogue. He pootles about the apartment narrating his life.
'….shit.....oh wow......what the -'
'You okay, Jim?'
'Yup, just trying to fill the soap's like molasses...'
'Say “molasses” again.'
'Say it again.'
'No...(he laughs quietly)...molasses.'
His accent is subtle but delicious. I love the broader New York sound too, it's familiar and alien all at once.

I've been surprised by how friendly everyone is here. People say hi to me in the street for no discernible reason. My coat continues to be a daily ice breaker:
'You look like a polar bear.'
'That's some coat you got there.'
'My friend and I were admiring your coat.'
'You're european right?'
'Hey! Coat lady. Warm enough?'
Don't get me wrong, it's not that the coat is the most beautiful item in the world.
It's just So. Fucking. Cold.
Oh how I scoffed when people told me to be prepared for the icy winds. Eating my icicle words now. I've never been so cold that my face ached and I have several times passed on the urge for a cigarette because I simply couldn't fathom removing my hands from my pockets.

Jim continues to mumble and chat to himself:
'Right I need to get on top of things today.....won't stay in the bath too long.....ow my toe hurts....umm....right....oooh water....'
I'm going to miss his gentle patter tomorrow when he leaves for LA.

We're going out for sushi tonight.
'I'm taking you to one of the best sushi places in New York and it's right around the corner. It's not THE best but 'one of the best' by New York standards is still pretty fucking amazing.'
After that he's taking me to a bar to meet his friend Doc whom he assures me I will love.
It's the first time we've actually made plans since I've been here. Every day has just been a happy accident with a fair measure of booze poured over it.
I've never been much for whiskey but somehow managed to get through half a bottle of something called Botanical Rye whilst sitting in the studio watching Jim make art.
We listen to 80's music and take lots of silly pictures which he won't let me post just now.

I have developed a slight (extreme) interest (obsession) with a barman (legend) called John Nugent. He works at The Old Town Bar and has done so for the last 25 years. He's somewhere in his fifties I guess and he's basically a Raymond Carver story brought to life. After meeting him the first time with Jim I returned last night drunk and on my own. The place was heaving as I crammed myself on to the end of the very long bar that he manages elegantly and effortlessly. He sees me and strolls over smiling.
'Hello Thea.'
'Hello John Nugent. How are you?'
'Better for seeing you. Guinness and Port?'
I make no secret of my stalkerish interest in him.
'John Nugent, I take it you're familiar with Facebook?'
'I am in fact on it.'
'Really?! What's your - ' I stop myself. 'Look.'
I open Facebook on my phone.
'I've made a photo of you my wallpaper.'
Interestingly he does not run screaming from the building but instead puts on some glasses and takes a closer look.
'Would ya look at that. It is not often people get a good shot of me but that is a great photo.'
'I think you look it.'
'This one's on me.'
'Thank you John Nugent.'
I turn to the man sat next to me.
'Will you keep an eye on my drinks whilst I go for a fag?'
I return and thank him. He takes this as a cue to start chatting.
'Hey I didn't even drink a drop and I let no one go near it.'
I give him a repressive look and turn back to John Nugent.
'So John Nugent, have you ever been to England?'
'I sure have. On my honeymoon actually.'
'It's quite a tale.'
'I'd love to hear it.'
He goes on to tell me a great story whilst I sit staring at him adoringly.
He tells me he only works three days a week and watches bemused as I type the days in to my phone.

I get a message from Jim:

“Tried calling you. No luck. Am home. I have another bottle of wine.”

'I'll be back in 30 minutes.'

“Well...ok. But you have to be back in 25 if you really want some wine!”

I cover three blocks like a greyhound and return to find him eating the chilli I cooked out of a mug.

'You drunk?'
'Yup. You?'

It's very easy being a bit of furniture in Jim's life for a while. We're relaxed and easy with each other and we both like a drink.
As I finish writing this Jim is sat a few feet away:
'...what?....oh fuck.....huh.....oh okay....well I didn't know that....'
I have no idea what he's talking about but I do know this; Everyone is a story. The best people are a Raymond Carver story and life is a moveable feast. 

John Nugent. Legend.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

This Is New York

“ you get the airbus to Jamaica and then get yourself a metrocard, you want to put around twenty dollars on it then get on the subway E train toward Manhattan for thirteen stops, if you get off there and walk down avenue seven against the traffic for two blocks....”
I stop reading.
“I'll get a taxi.”
“A cab will cost you around seventy. Subway is around seven. Subway will be quicker too. You'll be here in less than an hour.”
“Oh fine!”
Jim has no idea how geographically challenged I am. He assumes I have common sense, and who can blame him, he's only met me a handful of times.
My niece takes a stab at optimism – 'It's a grid system, how lost can you get?' Then she looks at me and sighs. 'You'd manage it somehow. Get a cab.'
I decide to get a taxi from JFK and pay the $70 rather than end up at a Police Station waiting for Jim to come and fetch me. But by the time I collect my luggage and head out in to the -7 weather for a cigarette I'm beginning to think I might be able to handle it. And when I see the queue for cabs I think 'Fuck it. What's the worst that can happen?'
The airbus is easy. I then head in to the subway ignoring the woman on the floor eating a plastic bag and nimbly side stepping a man who is howling at the moon. The subway reminds me of that man in Ghost who screams 'Get off my train!!!!' at the recently deceased Swayze. A woman walks past and smiles at me shyly - 'I love your coat.'
The howling man desists and stares at me for a moment before coming over.
'Happy New Year, honey.'
'Happy New Year.'
'Nice coat.'
I get on the subway and a huge man grins at me.
'I'm guessing that's a new coat.'
What the....
'Yes it is.'
'I like it. Makes you look like a pimp.'
'That's EXACTLY what I was going for!'
'Job done.'
I sit and start counting the stops. I get to five when a man gets on and starts performing magic tricks. I try to ignore him and concentrate on the stops. At seven a boisterous woman next to me nudges me and screams 'Ain't he good! Look what he's doin' with the card!' I glance up to see a card floating in the air in front of me. I can't see a line and it really does seem to be hovering in the air unassisted.
'How's he doing that?!'
'Magic, girl. It's magic!'
I lose count of the stops. Obviously.
I sit and think for a moment. I could just get off and find a cab. I turn to the young girl next to me.
'If I get off now where am I?'
'Queens. Where you need to be?'
'West 21st Street.'
'Yeah. Don't get off. Stay with me till 42nd and I'll get you on the 1 train that'll take you to 23rd where you can...' I don't know why but my brain just zones out when people start giving me directions.
Her name is Alina and she's a linguistics student. She's shy and sweet and gay and I like her.
She gets me to the right train and says 'Get on train 1. Not 2. Or 3. Just 1. Two stops. Then walk two blocks.....Thea focus.'
'Yes! Sorry...what did you say?'

Jim opens the door.
'I was getting worried. I thought you'd be here two hours ago.'
'There was some magic and a girl called Alina.
'Can I have a drink please?'
'Let's go out.'

We go to a lovely Italian restaurant all candle lit and cosy and as we clink our glasses together I suddenly realise I'm in New York with Jim and a wave of happiness washes over me. He's a tall burly man with a 'fro and kind eyes and it's really good to see him again.
We then head to his local bar and get phenomenally drunk on gin and whiskey.
I meet some of his friends including a fabulous actress called Michelle who's 49 but looks 30. Like a young Kathleen Turner. She tells me she knows Jim from her charity work with the fire department. Jim was a fireman but had to be medically retired after 9/11. Like a lot of people his lungs were fucked from the fall out. He's a painter now, a very talented one, and I love wandering around his apartment looking at the pieces he has on display.
Michelle has asked me to go for brunch with her on her birthday next week. Everyone is insanely friendly.
The remainder of the night is a bit of a blur and I wake up wondering where the fuck I am and why there is a cat wrapped around my neck. (His name is Lucifer by the way. I will probably mention him again.) I remember and catapult out of bed. Leaving Jim to sleep off the whiskey I head out to find coffee and breakfast. A man stops me in the street:
'That is an awesome coat!
'You feel nice and warm?'
'I do, I really do.'
'Well great! Have a good day english lady.'
This is New York. I love it.