Part 1 of 6
OK, so just how did a formerly productive member of society with a graduate degree in writing end up putting on a half-assed superhero costume for tips? One word: Hollywood. It’s an all-powerful evil entity that chews people up from all walks of lives, all ages. On the bus bench outside my apartment, Leon from Hoboken recites Shakespeare in a British accent, and claims mastery of archery, horse riding, and yodeling. If you haven’t already guessed it, Leon had once been a working actor with a pretty good agent, then an agent that specialized in magic acts, and now he himself was an agent of terror for the nannies, students, and working class families looking for a place to sit while taking the LA public transit system.
Leon scares the crap out of me. Not physically. He’s my doppelganger. Crap, I suppose my harbinger. See, I am already starting to lose my handle on the meaning of words, my useless degree proudly framed over my beer bottle cap collection. Instead of writing poetry, the not-so-sucky American novel, or even sarcastic ad copy sprinkled with a pinch of malaise, I’ve pickled my senses mastering the art of the screenplay. Like Leon, I started by perfecting my craft: books, courses, conferences. I developed quickly paced scenes with snappy patter and utilized character archetypes to move my plot forward. I placed my screenplays in a few contests and landed an agent old enough to be my father, then buried my father from cancer, then discovered two years later that my so-called agent had placed my scripts in envelopes that never got sent around town. It was a case of senility or early retirement. By the time it all got sorted out, I had somehow become old news at that particular agency. What the hell?
Several years later, I landed myself a manager/producer in a Century City high rise, who convinced me to rework my screenplay about Houdini’s son into a Vegas bachelor buddy comedy that he hated and I hated. He didn’t even let me go from the agency…he just stopped taking my calls like every woman I’d ever asked to move in with me.
It was then that I started to take matters into my own hands. Why not shop my own work? I networked for screenwriting gigs through my writer’s day job (managing a strip club). There was constant drama as I tried to fulfill my dreams by sucking up to washed-up Hollywood has-beens, transforming their tawdry ideas into viable scripts in the morning hours after kicking the latest stripper out with high-heel shoes and a power bar. My father worried about me, but not enough to fly across country and drag me back home to Alpena, Michigan, where my bedroom was as I had left it in my post-college flight to find my fortune.
All in all, I optioned five screenplays and was paid less than twenty grand for ten years of work. I’m not even sure where the time went. I ended up tracking time by genres: the year of the robotic sci-fi thriller, the police action dramedy, the mutant teen horror. For some reason, my girlfriends always seemed to match the project of the moment, a string of strippers scared to live a real life (just like myself). Then, the economy tanked.
With ten years of nothing but working in shady establishments, I could not seem to get a job at a respectable bar or restaurant to save my life. Odd jobs carried their own form of peril. There were the two accidents I got into as a limo driver. The worst was the time I played the role of Darth Vader (with a fake lightsaber) as part of the entertainment at a kid’s birthday party, and got cracked in the ribs by a snot-nosed kid (with a real baseball bat). Nate, the dude who played Luke Skywalker and the proprietor of Birthday on Wheels, disappeared on me, probably afraid I’d sue him.
Recovering from this injury, I met a Filipina waif of a girl at our local Hollywood coffee shop Beano. Maria was a massage therapist and Tarot reader who took a liking to me, moving into my studio apartment the next day to save money, and called me her “artist.” Everything was awesome in a year-long relationship that was the best of my life. We enjoyed cheap wine, reality TV, and easy conversation. At least until my unemployment extension finally ran out.
Then the trifecta hit: my Miata bumper fell off, my new girlfriend left me a good-bye note on my unwashed counter, and my #2 incisor had to be yanked by a dental student at USC. Needless to say, I lived month-to-month, and I now needed a plan to make some dough or I’d be on the street looking to share a bench duplex with Leon. The call to Dad, a widower who spent his time at the VFW recounting semi-heroic times in the Army with his buddies, loomed as a one-way ticket back home to Normal, Illinois. I didn’t want to admit that I was a colossal failure and I sure didn’t want to go back to bunk in my childhood bedroom with super hero posters still on the walls.
That’s when the idea of Spidey-Bat came to me. With a costume, I could join the throng of other superheroes on Hollywood Boulevard looking for tips from picture-taking tourists. I had seven days to make my rent. It wasn’t a good plan, but it was a plan. Problem was that I was too depressed to move. I lay in bed watching a Doctor Who marathon, thinking that it might help me figure out who I was and needed to be. Time seemed endless watching a series about a time lord, and the day and night somehow passed away.