Sunday, September 21, 2014

First Impressions of an Alien Planet- LA part 1 of 3

Introduction: Documenting the feeling of life as experienced has long been more important than any precise biographical map. A narrative diary therefore needs a dramatically satisfying resolution. The time line involved seems to imply a coming of age story, and the arguably successful break into adulthood an appropriate chapter's end.  This is the first of a three part post about Los Angeles. I thank you for whatever part of the last five years you spent with my writing. With appreciation for your continued interest, please enjoy this blog as it comes to a close.

It was bright, the brightest place I'd ever been. There've been hotter- Summertime Texas, and even the relentless, air-condition deprived New York Augusts. But the white flash-bang of sky and concrete was its own- a new spectrum of light. This first stage of disorientation to established this entirely foreign world. The bus picked up myself and the roommates, friends from Pratt, in a vacant ocean of parking lot. We barred past neat rows of colorful houses dipping in and out of artificially green neighborhood hills. I'd forgotten about the one story stretch of infinite restaurant chains and automotive stores from my home state. We passed diamond shaped rotating burger shop signs and pathetic, out of place palm trees. Dust billowed along our footpaths as we marched, brave ambassadors to this scorched foreign planet. The first few days felt like wilderness survival. Bank accounts relayed our stock of supplies and we accessed how long we could survive without jobs, shelter, or transportation. These items, and anything else requiring trans-state communication, where next to forbidden for those not within the boarders of city limits. Months were spent in vague and unpromising email conversation with landlords and potential employers. They would rather us in the city destitute than outside it prepared. I assumed they wanted to ensure we could withstand the radioactive, eye splitting glow before agreeing to business. Brendan, an NYC ex pat from Pratt, picked us up and let us sleep on his floor. Brendan gave us three days before his next round of visitors transplanted us from floor guests to become the homeless lurkers in the migrating shade of every in and out burger. Desperate, disorientating, and exhilarating, the first week felt longer than any time since. Brendan's living room sheltered us in air conditioning and wifi while we sent out the next wave of job emails using his LA address. A round of similar emails were re-sent to the apartment managers. Within minutes the months of fortification melted, and gave way to available meeting times that same day. The morning in New York, made apparent in the afternoon Californian's tendency to drag their feet, especially for non locals. Popcorn bought at 7:35 for a 7:30 movie was dropped in a kernel at a time. A group of fresh college grads, post credit check, awaiting only a yes or no decision an apartment, took a leisurely, ambling three months to "consider." I wondered if the sunshine poisoning or the accessibility of grass was to blame for the toxically lethargic pace. An incredible stroke of luck presented a job interview in walking distance, a rarity in the obscenely expansive city. The roommates headed towards an apartment, and I towards a job. We hoped to reconvene with reason to celebrate.

Our first day in LA, minus Uriah, outside Brendan's apartment.

Blinded, I stumbled the streets of Hollywood with my hand drawn map. Even the relatively humble animation studios apparently sat behind intimidating, ivy covered iron gates. The Hollywood sign looked down on me from the end of the the street as I stood like an idiot at the car entrance gate of the studio. I felt sheepish and cursed that glorified real estate advertisement turned worldwide icon, a fitting symbol, in 45 foot letters, for Hollywood's promise of accidental success. A buzz, and I entered with what felt like Hail Mary odds. The alchemy of timing, a hard fought senior film, and experience that looked deceptively impressive in resume form bought me the job. It was a promotion from my New York position, and at nearly thrice the pay. A side story is needed to describe the true mathematical alignment of this event. Some of you may remember my high school job. The Angelika in Plano Texas is an independent, art house movie theater. Projectionists screened the new movies the night before they premiered to test for imperfections in the film print. Invitations began to circulate among the staff to join, which began after the theater closed, when the screens were vacant. A stroke of inspiration in the discovery of the DVD converter transformed this occasional and pragmatic task, into private movie parties. Around midnight, our shift was over. Leftover popcorn was dumped into large plastic bags, thermoses and spare cups were filled with fountain soda, and the huge auditorium in theater one was prepped for viewing. Our personal collections brought the classics of cinema alive across 60 foot screens. Only one TV show entered the lineup, and became an unexpected favorite. Carl Sagan's 1980's scientific documentary series, Cosmos. My childhood fascination with space and astronomy was given a new life. The 13 part documentary was elevated to magic in the unforgettable scale and vacancy of this lush auditorium. Three AM drives home led to 9 AM crawl through high school Spanish the following days. But there was always too the lasting tingle of a secret experience. I felt the privileged access to a world unknown to my classmates.  Cosmos has a special place in my heart for the introduction to an existence that would become my life- late nights, a love of television, and the sanctity of the big screen. Moments into my LA interview I realized I was being offered- a job on the new Cosmos. It was slated to air on FOX, starring one of the world's most famous scientist, and produced by a well known TV/animation producer. I wondered on my walk home how well my roommates fared, and if I'd be the first homeless person with a full time position on a major network show.

Our living room in its early stage.

We got the apartment. We moved in that night. The next several days I slept on the blank floor of my apartment by night. By day I was ushered, with the guided enthusiasm of co-workers, through a swirling, surreal rush of social gatherings. Our timing into LA was fortuitous, and most nights after work were spent in the back of someone's car, zipping past city lights. West Hollywood nights were a mix of tacky and charming neon. Block after block of dinners, clubs, and theater houses beckoned patrons with glowing bursts that jumped from the dense blackness of the LA night. Arrows danced in cycles across thousand bulb boards. Canter's deli held a birthday dinner for a new work pal. The place was almost a set from the kitsch, old-modern diner in a Tarantino film. High ceilings broke with the irregular roofs of the abstract architecture, split into tiles freckling off colored squares down the walls and across the floor. Past glass cases of pies and cakes, tight passes pinched the rooms into deep set, cave like sections. We took to the streets afterwards towards the one screen independent cinema house- The Silent Movie Theater. An animated group showing here, dubbed the Late Night Work Club, housed a collection of my artistic heroes, in town for one night only. They didn't disappoint in their art or their conversation. Tomorrow came and work again buzzed with early weekend exit traffic while the clock raced for 5. The social tide swept me out the doors and into the basement of LA's biggest comic shop for the screening of a micro-animation competition known as LoopDeLoop. Free beer and over stimulation gave the one-two punch for a spinning head.

Saturday morning I made up the time lost through my many social departures and the inexperience that kept me slow. Momentum formed, and a few solitary hours without distraction almost caught me up to speed. The sunblock smell arrived before the cases of alcohol and the work-friends carrying them. My tenure felt too green to turn down social invitations- and so I caught a ride to the BBQ. LA's more scenic neighborhoods began at fertile, ivy covered hills. Houses dotted the ebb and flow of rising elevation atop lush, steep, diagonal lawns. These stretched from rolling sidewalks to front doors sitting 20 feet above. High, narrow stairs parted seas of forested yard to reveal the opening to shady, concealed porches. Our destination was high, a vantage point that watched the the cafes and bookstores dip smoothly in and out of the gently rolling hills below. Vines and trees spilled into residential back roads from the lush, overgrown vibrancy of backyard forests. Through parting leans of trees you could spot orange beams of sunset streaking across the entirety of LA below. It is decidedly both the most beautiful and hideous place I've ever been. This moment presented more strongly the case for beauty.

That same weekend I began for the first time to notice a daily and unexplained morning headache. I'd recover by noon, and make it to the premiere of my studio's first feature film. The momentum of constant social occasion began to fume and churn up a haze, this first ever red carpet event only contributing kindling to the bonfire. Finally the breakneck pace slowed to a breathable density over the coming days. Recovery from the onslaught meant the roots of tradition. Quiet, important ritual began forming with the roommates. My path to the studio was worked out. Grocery lists began to have a rotation. Near the end of my first week, there was leisure, and even boredom to be dealt with. Kayla and I took the subway towards a Chuck Jones retrospective at The Egyptian Theater. That seemed to be the way it was- parties, screenings, get-togethers, diners, meetings, and events were an arm's reach away at all times of the day and night. The Looney Tunes never disappoint, especially when so finely curated. Well versed historians gave palette cleansing lecture between gourmet entrees of Bugs and Daffy. I basked in the nostalgia of a time before my birth, with Chuck Jones as my guide to a charming chapter in animation's history. My passion for my chosen medium was renewed in the flickering darkness, a few seats down from the historian that wrote my animation textbooks. This marked the last night that time was operating within the surreal constraints of new experience. This marked the last moment when looking back a matter of days would land me in another state, another landscape, another realm of possibility. Differences between the week past and the week present blossomed most heavily at the end of this long chain of events. Changes in geography and perspective called together all at once thoughts of memories unseen and people unmet just one hundred and forty eight hours before. All the force and momentum of change slammed the forefront of my mind, denoting both appreciation, and the end of an era. My introduction to LA was at an end as suddenly as it had started.

Part 2 of 3 Next week.

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