Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hollyweird and a Bottle of Urine

Normally, I avoid Hollywood. In fact, if you consider the greater Los Angeles area to be nothing more than a cess pool, then Hollywood is the drain through which sifts all of the bile and excrement therein. The streets are paved with gold, tinseltown, the Magic City, etc., is the same as calling Greenland Greenland. There’s nothing green about Greenland; it is as covered with snow as Hollywood is covered with filth.

But Natalie wanted to see some stars and she wanted to see the magical place all that is glorious about television and the movie industry calls home. Specifically, she had a vision of Hollywood that was probably similar to that of most Midwesterners who have never been outside their hometowns: Lavish splendor and opulent grandeur peopled by those that Robin Leach would lovingly refer to as “the rich and famous.” Fancy cars filled with Jewish movie moguls chatting on their cells phones with the movers and shakers of the Silver Screen. And we would definitely see Demi Lovato, Natalie hoped. That and “Dancing with the Stars.” I’m not sure where we’d actually see “Dancing with the Stars” and Natalie wasn’t too specific, but if we went to Hollywood, we would surely see them.

I hated to dash Natalie’s hopes before we left the house, but I found her innocence too charming to tell her the truth. However, before we left this morning, I showed her the Google Street View of where we’d be headed— Grauman's Chinese Theater (of course)—and I described Hollywood to the kids as being dirty. That didn’t tarnish the stars in Natalie’s eyes. We had to wait until we got there for that.

Before hand, we decided on some real culture instead of merely witnessing the plight of the homeless, the insistence of the flyer peddlers and the antics of the street performers, and that took us to the La Brea Tar Pits. For starters, the idea of digging up bones of long extinct animals is cool, but since the first chapter of my new book discusses such things, I figured it would be a great field trip for me to collect some research about the subject.

Kara and I hadn’t been to the tar pits in years, but it still looked pretty much like we had remembered, except this time, many volunteers where slumped over their desks in the lab room painstakingly scraping 10,000 years of muck and grime off of a fully intact wooly mammoth affectionately named Zed. Last time we were there was while we were dating about 15 years ago. We could only afford to pay to get in and buy one little souvenir, a small rubbery wooly mammoth that is supposed to fit on the end of a pencil. We placed it up on the doorsill of Kara’s bedroom in her apartment, and it has been on the doorsill of every bedroom of every place we’ve lived since—it’s there now.

The kids were fascinated by the skeletons and they especially liked the giant sloth being attacked by the saber-toothed cat (they don’t call them saber-toothed tigers anymore). We went outside to see Pit 91, a nearly-100-year-old dig that has produced the vast share of bones in the collection, nearly three million.

Getting to Hollywood proper from the La Brea tar pits is fairly easy, and since I enjoy avoiding left turns in unfamiliar places, a right turn on Fairfax and another right on Hollywood Boulevard took us right downtown. As luck would have it, a parking spot opened up across the street from Grauman's, as I had visions of circling the block a dozen times before being forced to pay $20 to park in a garage somewhere. Especially considering that we weren’t planning on staying very long… how long does it take to see some footprints in the cement.

Opening the door of the truck, I remembered why I hate Hollywood: the noise, the commotion and all of the business… oh yeah, and the dirtbags swirling around like diseased rats in the bilge of a ship hauling manure. We got to meet one, a red-eyed black guy who nearly insisted that we come over and see his wonderful van that shows hapless tourists the houses of the stars. While I was locking the truck and examining the traffic cone I had parked my front tire on top of, he was trying to convince Kara to visit the booth. I had to shake his hand, which made me immediately want to wash it, and if he is going to talk to people up close, perhaps a breath mint would be in order, at least something to cleanse the stink of bourbon from his breath.

After shaking him, we made our way across the street to the footprints and the stars in the sidewalk. We only had 40 minutes because that’s all the change I put in the meter, which was fine by me; the sooner we would leave the better it would be.

Of course, the front of Grauman's is littered with dressed up characters all charging money to take their picture with them. There was Batman, Snoopy, Tigger, some kind of dominatrix cop, a cross between Wonder Woman and Eon Flux, SpongeBob Squarepants and I’m sure a couple more that I didn’t see.

The whole time, I felt like I needed to be on guard, and I hate that feeling. We’re sounded by two kinds of people: tourists and predators. There are those people busying themselves by marveling at the footprints in the cement or the stars on the sidewalk, and then there are those interested in taking their wallets or stealing their purses. Perhaps a person or two was interested in just walking by to get to a lunch meeting, but everyone else was either the wolves or the sheep. I didn’t want to be either.

Natalie didn’t too. As soon as we got out of the truck, a nervous pall crashed down on her and she didn’t let go of my hand the whole time we were out there. I’m sure it didn’t take too long for her to figure out that the Hollywood she imagined was certainly different than the Hollywood she saw. My only caveat to our trip was this: Don’t talk to anybody. It’s not that Hollywood is a scary place, and it isn’t as though we were in a rough neighborhood, somewhere in the ghetto or anything. It partly the unknown, the commotion and confusion of “the big city” and the fact that I really despise most all of the people I saw that makes me uncomfortable. If there is one thing I don’t like, it’s being uncomfortable.

There is some lavish mall next to the theater and we walked around that for a while, and I took a picture of a couple of giant elephants in the architecture that I’m sure my friend Tris will be able to tell me about, but after that, we asked Natalie if she had had enough. She sheepishly replied that she most certainly had.

So we wandered up the street to the next intersection (Highland) to look at all of the stars on the sidewalk… none were too photo worthy except for Sons of the Pioneers, but some tourist was standing on it to take a picture of her husband in front of… nothing really. He was standing in front of a palm tree. They were Asian, and I’m sure they’ve seen a palm tree before, so she must have just be a poor photographer.

We piled everyone back in the truck, breathed a sigh of relief that I didn’t need to use the buck knife in my back pocket, eased the truck’s tire off of the traffic cone and pointed it toward the 101. Then we sat in traffic for about 45 minutes until we could get to the 5… then we sat in more traffic.

Then Matthew said his famous five words: “I have to go potty.” There was no place to stop, of course, being somewhere around the vicinity of Olympic Boulevard. I suppose we could have ventured off of the freeway in search of a gas station or a fast food place, but how many horror movies have you seen that started out that way? Instead, we used the trusty, pee in an empty water bottle method. We had several in the truck, most from our bag of snack food we brought with us. I pulled off the freeway at the next exit and parked in some small residential neighborhood. Peeing in a water bottle is pretty easy for boys, which is probably Reason Number 325 that it’s good to be a boy.

Back on the freeway, traffic lightened up as we approached the 57, so we veered up to the Brea Mall for dinner at Red Robin. Before we left, we made sure the kids went to the bathroom. On the 91 freeway, there is a certain stretch of road, about five miles worth, where there are no exits and no way off the freeway if you run into any trouble of any kind. You either have to pull over and wait for help or keep going and figure it out on the way. We were merely 20 minutes away from Red Robin, just about 15 miles more to go until we were home, right smack dab in the middle of that empty stretch of freeway when Matthew says: “I have to go to the bathroom.” My awesome parking space is blocked by the head of the guy behind Kara holding the sign.

I thought he was kidding, of course, because he had just gone. However, I flipped on the cabin lights and his face was crinkled and his legs were bouncing up and down like he was riding a bicycle. There was no other option but to pull over and break out another empty water bottle. It was dark outside by this time, so nobody would see what was going on. I flipped on the hazard lights and put the right side tires up on the dirt embankment next to the freeway. Kara unbelted herself and got Matthew out of his seat. While she was doing that, she handed me a water bottle which was about three-quarters of the way full. It was dark and I sloshed the water around inside the bottle deciding if I was thirsty. I had three or four Diet Cokes at Red Robin, and sometimes the salt in the soda makes me crave some water, and every now and again, a cold bottle of water just hits the spot. I held the bottle in my hand. It was still rather cool, especially after sitting in the car all afternoon, so I unscrewed the top, making up my mind if I wanted to drink enough of this to make room for Matthew. Really, how much of the bottle could he fill? Kara didn’t say anything about the bottle except for “do you think there’s enough room,” which led me to believe that she wanted the bottle emptied, or at least partially emptied, so Matthew could fill it.

I wasn’t thirsty enough to drink three-quarters of a bottle of water, so I opened up Kara’s window, reached over and dumped out the contents of the bottle. I splashed it around a little bit, trying to sling some of it up onto my side mirrors, remembered that I had gotten them muddy last week while driving up the canyon in search of Indian artifacts in Glendora. But there wasn’t enough left in the bottle to reach the mirror and all of it ended up in the dirt next to my truck.

I handed the bottle to Kara and Matthew filled it… at least a couple of inches of it. After losing the cap between the seats and a tense moment of thinking we’d have an open bottle of urine in the truck, I found it, capped the bottle and put it in the cup holder furthest from me (and the one I’d least likely ever use).

Everything was right with the world again and we rejoined traffic toward home. Laughingly, I remarked to Kara: “Great, now we’ve got two bottles of pee in the truck.” In the darkness, I saw her look at me quizzically. “Why, what did you do with the other bottle?”

“What do you mean? I didn’t touch it,” I replied, explaining that she had left it somewhere in the back seat. I assumed she tightly capped it and put it in the door pocket so it would stay upright.

“No,” she said, to my horror. “That was the bottle I handed you!” Without explanation, she had handed me a bottle of Matthew’s urine, mixed with about a half-bottle of water.

“Are you kidding! I almost drank that!!”

Laughter was shared by everyone, everyone that is except for Matthew… who then exclaimed: “Mommy, I have to poop.”

We raced home through traffic, through the sounds of his struggling grunts from the back seat, through the pleas of finding a bathroom, and through the agony of his pitching legs and squirming body.

There was no bottle in the truck big enough to handle that.

Luckily, we made it just in time, as I raced into the driveway and he ran into the house!

Such a fitting end to our adventure in Hollywood. Perhaps we’ll never have to go again; and just wouldn’t that be nice.

Monday, February 23, 2009

It's Been Quiet

My apologies for not posting anything of interest lately... or anything at all for that matter. I've been working more this month than in the last three years. Plus, frankly, there has been nothing worth writing home about, especially considering the fact that if it were interesting, odds are good one or two of the five of you who read this was there to see it first hand. Writing about it would seem redundant.

Perhaps I'll find a muse tomorrow. Start holding your breath... now.

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