My trip to Los Angeles was for a dinner with the cast of Django Unchained. With the dinner behind me, I could enjoy the friends I miss so much. Janell and I started the day with a decadent breakfast at The Farm. Though I miss her children too, it was nice to spend the morning just the 2 of us like old times. We talked about life and did a little shopping before picking the kids up for an audition. In L.A., even the kids might be on TV and the industry tends to find children as beautiful and personality-packed as Janell’s.
It actually worked out well that I was in the car. There are 2 roads named Beverly in Beverly Hills and Janell was heading for the wrong one. I recognized the address as a place I sometimes went for auditions. I did a LOT of commercials while living in Los Angeles. There were a limited number of places I’d go for auditions, usually a large space where up to 8 different auditions for 8 different products could be happening all at once. I wondered if I’d know anybody in the waiting room, but it turns out I don’t know that many actors under the age of 4. It was the same old place where I used to dominate, but now I was a visitor.
Janell and I used to love a good adventure and running around a place like L.A., dealing with rush hour traffic and 2 children under 4 is definitely an adventure. In Beverly Hills, she called a tour bus’ attention to “a real movie star.” I have starred in movies but I know what a movie star is and I have trouble owning that term – even just for fun, as it turns out. I turned away, grabbed her 2 year old and crossed the street against the light. Not exactly “smooth.” I love my job and I try to be very good at it, but sometimes it feels funny that my product is myself. L.A. always reminds me to be careful what you wish for.
That evening, I sat alone in Angela’s serene new zen garden enjoying the moonlight and the beauty of the hills. I do miss hills. When people ask what I liked about L.A., like every other Southern Californian, I always included the weather in the top 3. I’ve now traveled west 2 times in the last 2 years, both times in November. Both times, I left beautiful, balmy weather in New Orleans to shiver through chilly, grey, rainy days and bitter desert nights in Los Angeles. Within 2 days, even with the super-rare rain (an average of 34 days a year – but at least 2 days of each of my annual visits), my skin was so dry and sandpapery that I couldn’t believe I’d ever lived in such an arid climate.
Angela and I stayed up late again that night, chattering like the high school girls we were when we met, but about grown-up topics. For better or for worse, so many of the people who go to school together in New Orleans share the city their whole lives. I’ve moved around a fair amount in my life so I cherish the friendships that keep braiding through my life.
My last full day in L.A. was a holiday so Angela and were going to spend it seeing a matinee or making ornaments like we used to on our “Craft Sundays.” But life is what happens while you’re making other plans so we dumped our ideas when Angela’s sister, Juanita, showed up with her 7 month old, who I’d never met. Angela’s garden features fake grass. Lawns are tricky in the hills and I’ll admit the faux grass was a surprisingly elegant solution. It was so clean, you could eat off it and the perfect surface for a 7 month old just learning to crawl. The day was a wonderful reunion of the girls I’d loved since high school, the women who helped me to just be myself and remember to have fun when they arrived in L.A. over a decade ago. Angela broke out the bag of Zapp’s Mesquite Barbecue chips and I enjoyed sharing a small taste of my town with them.
Angela had offered to hold an open house that evening so that some of my friends could stop by for a visit. As we were preparing the house, I kept Angela’s almost-5 year old daughter and her friend busy. Because this is a L.A. story, the friend was the grandchild of one of the stars of the The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. So, imagine my delight when he suggested a sword fight, held his plastic sword to his face and said, “En garde.” His skills were obviously well-trained. He had overhand moves, face blocking swipes and pure patience with the untrained sword slapping Julia was dishing out. It was adorable.
Janell brought an assortment of goodies from Trader Joe’s, the store I miss the most. Among the hummus and pita chips, I added a traditional nibble from down south, a brick of cream cheese slathered with Tabasco brand Pepper Jelly served with pretzels. It was a huge hit with nothing but a sticky plate left over.
The open house was a great idea. We sat on the fabulous fake grass with bowls of goodies between us sharing and laughing. Jeff Dowd, the inspiration for “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski, came by for awhile joined by a woman from Louisiana who would coincidentally be sharing my flight the next day. When it got too cold, Angela handed Jeff a puffy pink princess sleeping bag. It was a Kodak moment. My favorite “Dude-ism” of the night was when Janell asked Jeff if he could fix a garbage disposal.
“I have approached garbage disposals that weren’t working and then they were working, but I’m not going to say I can fix a garbage disposal.”
At some point, my friend Theresa texted that she’d planned on surprising me but her plane was stuck in Texas. So, she offered to take me to the airport in the morning. I’d already had a plan with Angela and an offer from Jeff’s friend. I used to measure relationships in L.A. by whether they’d go to LAX for you so it was wonderful to have so many offers. I did open my mind, though, to the idea that it was normal kindness, not the measure of a friendship, when Jeff’s new friend from Louisiana offered me a ride before knowing my last name. I’ve always said of Louisiana that “There are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet.” New friends though, so I took Theresa up on her offer.
We had a sister sleepover that night so I got to share my morning with Angela, Juanita and the kids. Poor Theresa got all turned around in the hills with no cell reception so she was fairly frazzled when she finally found us, but it was wonderful to share some time and catch up in my last few moments in L.A.
The airport was under construction so I sat surrounded by scaffolding covered in posters of clouds. It felt like they should have issued hard hats. The first day I arrived in L.A. this year, I stopped to buy some Cokes at a gas station. The guy behind the counter said “Hi.” As I approached the counter, he said, “Hi” again then quickly apologized because he’d already said it once. I was jarred, “It’s okay. Why are you sorry?” He said he knew he might be “bothering” me, that some people don’t like it if you try to speak to them too much. On that last morning, in the shuttle between terminals, a man in a festively printed shirt wearing a smile as big as his beard, started a conversation with me. He was returning to his beloved New Orleans and I seriously doubt he wondered if he was bothering me just by being friendly.
As the plane lifted off, I watched the concrete maze disappear behind a blanket of clouds. Pushing through the top, an odd trick of light put a rainbow-looped bubble around the shadow of our airplane on the cloudy blanket below. Sitting next to me was a drummer named Darrian Douglas who has a band called The Session. He is also one of the Ellis Marsalis Trio and teaches at NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts). He was friendly and courteous, outgoing and interesting. I knew I was on my way back home. L.A. may have many of my old friends, but NOLA has my heart.
A few hours later, the plane descended through the cloud blanket revealing trees and water, water everywhere. After settling in back home, I watched LSU win their 10th game this season to remain undefeated. Then I watched my future Django Unchained costars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Inception and got excited all over again for the movie to start filming.
I woke up rehydrated the next morning. My hair was curly and my skin was smooth and plump. Church bells rang and the calliope played in the distance. I ate a delicious breakfast in bed of eggs, bacon and hash browns from Camellia Grill, put on my Who Dat gear and thrilled through a 26-23 overtime Saints victory against the formidable Atlanta Falcons. What more could I want?