237. I Cannot Get Over the Reality of My Surroundings

chapter 236

What were we talking about again? Ernest Scared Stupid.

We spent three months in Nashville. During that time I listened to Fishbone’s The Reality of My Surroundings repeatedly, watched the Bulls of Chicago defeat the Lakers of Los Angeles in the NBA finals (perhaps due to the lack of lakes in L.A.), and ate my weight in barbecue cooked by a dude named Bernard who served it takeout style from his home kitchen.

Mostly I tried to forget Jody. That shouldn’t have been too much of a challenge given the 16 hour workdays and the vodka grapefruit lunches, but it was. My high school girlfriend visited on a couple of weekends, but as much as I adored her it was obvious that our lives were on very different paths. I half-assedly chased after one of the producer’s daughters, who worked as a set PA. She was beautiful in a good little southern Christian girl way: monogrammed sweaters, pearls, and high-waisted jeans. I imagined defiling her 17 different ways — three of which were felonies in Tennessee — but even in my dreams the feeling was unrequited.

Any mental distraction was welcome. I worked. I drank. I ate barbecue, jerked off, and slept. That was about it for three straight months.

Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion albums were released just after we returned to L.A., and I committed to liking them. Jody liked the Gunners, so listening to Axl warble felt like a cross between a lifeline and the slow torture of scab picking. Old at heart but I’m only 28 / And I’m much too young to let love break my heart Axl sang on “Estranged.” I was 24 and already gutted.

I couldn’t stand being in my shitty little apartment every night, but aside from the cutting room I didn’t know where to go. A joint down on Melrose hosted a club named 1970s on Wednesday nights. I’d never been to a dance club, so I gave it a shot. The place was crowded with people dressed in retro finery. They danced in groups beneath a giant disco ball. I ordered a vodka grapefruit and stepped onto the dance floor alone.

I’d forgotten how good dancing felt, at least prior to being publicly humiliated by the Bus Boys for dancing while white. That night in Savannah I swore I’d never embarrass myself like that again, but there I stood in a Hollywood nightclub, bobbing my head in time to KC and the Sunshine Band. An attractive young woman stepped away from her group and approached me. I smiled, and she took my drink and placed it on a nearby table. She grabbed my hands, looked into my eyes, and mouthed “1-2-3-4” while clapping my hands together on the one and the three. She let go and walked back to her group, and I left.  I needed something, but beautiful people weren’t it.

Beautiful people were never it. The most interesting person on the Ernest crew was our apprentice editor, a short guy with thick glasses and a lisp. He didn’t seem to care at all about the kinds of things that appealed to film industry people, choosing Legos, model trains, and rockets over Filofaxes, restaurants, and name dropping. When I wasn’t pummeling him with Guns N’ Roses he’d slip a classical cassette into the cutting room boombox which, by the way, was his in the first place. The dude was funny, brilliant, and comfortable in his skin — everything that I wasn’t.

“What do you read?” he asked one day over the Axl assault on his hearing.

“Vonnegut,” I yelled.

“Vonnegut’s great. Do you like Bukowski?”

“Yeah, he’s great.”

Ham on Rye. That’s the best book ever.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“You’ve read it?” he asked.

“No,” I admitted.

“You should. It’s the best.”

I did, and it was. Ham on Rye was exactly the right book at the right time, like a prescription medication with page numbers. Finding Bukowski was the best thing to come out of my time on that movie.


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