It is freezing in Toronto. Minus sixteen degrees, but with the wind apparently it feels like minus thirty-five. If it feels like minus thirty-five isn’t it actually minus thirty-five? I don’t understand. All I know is that it is cold. I swear I saw an old woman freeze solid and snap in half just off of Bloor Street on Friday.
I mention the weather because I am in a warmer place, a place where the ground shakes occasionally and a latte at the corner Coffee Bean will set you back six dollars, but at least it is sunny. Los Angeles. As I’ve written before it is not my favourite place but right now I am so desperate for warmth that yesterday I briefly considered lighting one of my cats on fire for the heat.
Saturdays are never busy at the airport but I gave myself lots of time to check-in, clear customs and security. I have been reading about recent changes at the border and I’m not sure if I’m in for a rough ride or not.
Not, as it turns out. I left my house at three-thirty and with the twenty minute drive to the airport I get checked-in and checked-out by customs and security in less than ten minutes. Because I am ahead of schedule and have lots of time the plane is late and we leave half-an-hour behind schedule. Luckily because there are no headwinds tonight we’ll still get in on time at eight-thirty.
The flight is uneventful – I kill time eating chicken with a mysterious red sauce (should have had the pasta), watching Finding Nemo and part of Matchstick Men, reading the new Elmore Leonard novel and listening to the new Danny Marks CD True.
I recently got a set of BOSE headphones and a portable CD player. The headsets are specifically designed for air travel. When they’re not hooked up to a CD player they can be used to listen to the audio channels on the plane or, best of all, they can also be used to block out sound. They create a cone of silence that blocks out the crying babies, airplane noise and sends the message to the person next to you that you don’t want to talk about politics, the weather, sex, George Bush or anything else. They make all sound disappear. Too bad BOSE doesn’t make something that would block out bad airplane smells.
Despite getting a late start we arrive at LAX early and by nine pm I’m checked in to the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. I decide to take a walk and stretch my legs after the plane ride. I brought a light jacket with me, but don’t need it as it is sixty-five degrees. Coming from the deep freeze that is Toronto that seems pretty warm to me, but I see the locals wearing toques and scarves. I notice one guy in the lobby of his apartment building bracing himself for the cold. He puts on a woolly hat and scarf, and pauses to check his look in the window. He walks out the front door, across the sidewalk, gets into his car and then takes the hat and scarf off! Good thing he had the hat and scarf. That might have been a chilly ten second walk otherwise.
It is a beautiful night, despite what the bundled-up locals might tell you. The neighbourhood is lovely, a mix of those cool little 1930s stucco cottages and mansions. Apart from the odd person going to or coming from their cars I don’t see a soul. The night is clear and the moon is full, illuminating the Hollywood Hills. It’s really nice, but there is always something about LA that I find off-putting.
As I walk around my mind wanders… Canada is not a country that tends to celebrate its heroes, whereas Los Angeles is all about self-congratulation. As I drove in from the airport I passed the Howard Hughes Parkway and the Avenue of the Stars. Granted we have a Mike Myers Boulevard somewhere in deep dark Scarborough, but we’re not generally in the habit of making grand statements to celebrate our achievers. Where is Peter Gzowski Park? The Margaret Atwood Atrium? Maybe Geddy Lee has a library named after him somewhere, but I doubt it. We’re simply not a showy people. As a result we tend to admire our celebrities rather than worship them. LA is such a celebrity culture that even John Tesh has a star on the Walk of Fame. John Tesh. Go figure. Perhaps it is the staid Canadian in me that that finds LA to be a little too much, a little too shallow and a little too quick to say “Look at me!” or maybe I just spend too much time alone thinking about this stuff…
I spend and hour or so walking, making it all the way to the Sunset Strip before heading back sufficiently tired to fall asleep.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 11, 2004
Up early to grab a bite before the interviews for The Butterfly Effect. I’m scheduled to start at 9:40, but I hear Ashton Kutcher is running late. There’s a surprise. I load up on big American breakfast food and wait.
At 10:15 I get in a line to speak to Amy Smart. She has appeared in a wide range of films from the good – How to Make the Cruellest Month – to the bad – Campfire Tales – to the ugly – Dee Snider’s Strangeland. You’ll also remember her from the teen flick Varsity Blues, starring opposite James Van Der Beek. In The Butterfly Effect she plays the same character four different ways: as a downtrodden waitress, a junkie prostitute, a preppie frat girl and as a granola eating hippie chick. We discuss the film and I tell her she is one of the few people I have met who was actually born and raised in LA. She tells me that growing up here gave her a good grounding for working in the film business. Living here she has seen it all – the ups and downs – and has a good grip on life in Hollywood. I liked Amy Smart, she was nice and lived up to her last name.
Ashton, as it turns out, arrived while I was in with Amy. I didn’t see him come in, and before you ask, Demi Moore was no where in sight. He was late, not because he was goofing off, or out punking someone, but because he was downstairs doing an interview with Access Hollywood.
When I get to the suite Ashton is talking heatedly with one of his people about the merits of Barry White vs Al Green. Ashton, who is dressed in a style I like to call Hollywood homeless – uncombed hair, expensive jacket over an old white collared shirt – prefers Al Green over Barry White.
I sit down and am told the cameras are rolling and the clock is ticking. They have a lot of interviews to do today and each one is timed carefully. Ashton doesn’t acknowledge me, despite me having said ‘hello’ and sitting two feet across from him. The White vs Green debate rages and my time with Ashton is running out and we haven’t actually spoken to one another yet. Finally he finishes his point and wordlessly turns to me. Half my time is gone.
I start to talk about the theme of the movie and how random events can have side effects many years later. He stares at me. I elaborate. More and more of my time is slipping away, and Ashton doesn’t seem to have a clue what I am talking about. Finally I say something that triggers a comment and he rambles about “self responsibility” for the remaining time of the interview.
Times up. I extend my hand to shake his and thank him (although exactly why I’m thanking him is a mystery to me). He shakes my hand, but doesn’t say anything. I leave the room not sure what to make of him. Like many pretty boy actors who are trying to make the switch to dramatic roles he wants to be taken seriously. The messy hair and aloof attitude are sure signs that Ashton the pretty boy has been supplanted by Ashton the thespian. It’s a tricky transition and for every Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp who has made the leap from pretty face to pretty good actor there are many others who discover that high cheekbones can only take you so far. The verdict is still out on Kutcher, but if The Butterfly Effect is the full extent of his dramatic skills don’t be too surprised in a few years to find him taking gigs on that great b-list dumping ground – the celebrity reality show.
I gather my tapes, throw everything in my room and head downtown for a day of shopping and sight seeing. It’s another beautiful day and in a quick phone call home I’m told that a sleety, rain-like snow is covering Toronto. I’m happy to be away. LA might be kind of ugly and not have any culture, but I’m willing to ignore that and soak up as much sun as I can.
On the way out of the hotel I have the first street celebrity sighting of the trip. Lara Flynn Boyle is driving an SUV on Doheny Drive, dressed all in black, she is waving a cigarette around like a baton. I can’t get a good look at her, but it appears that she has an enormous head. I have heard that one of the keys to success on the big screen is having a large head. If this is true I’m surprised she’s not a superstar.
By midday I’m at the Hollywood and Highland complex, home of the Kodak Theatre and the center piece of the gentrification of downtown LA. There are five floors of stores and restaurants connected to a courtyard designed to look like a soundstage on one side and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on the other. I grab a quick lunch at Johnny Rockets. It’s a chain of retro burger joints that was, apparently at one time, Billy Wilder’s favourite place to eat. I order the kind of greasy, deep-fried food that killed John Wayne. My cheeseburger is topped with deep fried onion rings! Heart-clogging goodness! It takes a brave and courageous soul to eat like this…
On the way back to the hotel I walk past many sidewalk patios on the Strip. I try to image what this area must have been like in the 1960s before it went high-end. I picture hippies and go go bars, surfers in their Woodies and people in tie dyed shirts holding protesting the war in Vietnam and talking about free love. All that is a long distant memory now. The free love has been replaced by The Hustler Store where you can buy “love toys” but they certainly ain’t free. The only tie dye in sight is in the window of the Dolce and Gabbana store and probably costs more than a vintage VW Westphalia van and a bong put together.
My little nostalgic reverie is broken by a homeless man who has approached one of the restaurants. He is yelling at the Gucci clad diners, miming holding a gun. He’d line up an imaginary shot, yell BAM! and laugh maniacally. He was no threat, but it was unsettling.
A few minutes later I am walking past a strip mall and have lost track of the homeless guy. Suddenly someone grabs me from behind. My heart jumps and I assume it is Mr. Bam! from the patio. I quickly turn and was quite shocked… it was my friend Stefan Brogen on a break from shooting Degrassi: The Next Generation. We get caught up, trade some gossip and then I’m on my way. I have been out walking around for almost seven hours and my dogs are barking. Despite having loaded up on grease at Johnny Rockets I’m hungry again and order some food to my room. Eight giant prawns and a Cobb Salad later I settle in for a night of VH1 and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
MONDAY, JANUARY 12, 2004
I don’t like getting up early. I am a night person, and usually avoid the early hours like a kid avoid homework. Having said that, the three hour time difference actually works in my favour when getting ready to go back to Toronto – six am is actually only feels like nine am, still odious, but doable.
LAX is usually a bit of a zoo even on slow days, so I’m giving myself lots of time. When I get there I see line-ups everywhere, except at the American Airlines counter. This could either be a good thing or a really bad thing. Turns out to be a good thing – once I had checked in, had my bags examined, all I had to do was clear security. That’s the problem. The security check at LAX is located, I think, on the Seventh Level of Hell. To get there you must first shuffle through a maze-like series of line-ups, fighting demons all the way. OK maybe they aren’t real demons, but I think the people they have running this whole operation only have one purpose in mind, and that is to make it devilishly hard for you to get through the maze without screaming.
Once I got past the spirit-destroying chaos of the security check it was clear sailing. The flight is one time, and Joyce DeWitt, Janet from Three’s Company, is sitting a couple of rows ahead of me. I saw her at the departure lounge and she looks good. She does, however, have a normal sized head which might explain her lack of roles post Three’s Company. She still has the Janet haircut and doesn’t look much older than she did when she was on television every week.
I was amused by an announcement from the Captain. It was usual kind of thing right up until the last line. He began by telling us about the flight, then about the weather in Toronto and our approximate flying time. Then he added that the flight crew working this flight were the best on the planet. This became funnier as the flight progressed. I heard one of the “best flight attendants on the planet” tell one customer that they had run out of tea bags, and in future if she really wants to drink tea when she flies she should bring her own bags. Another managed to bump into virtually every seat each time she walked down the aisle. When I asked another one what kind of pasta there was I was told penne, although she pronounced it “penny pasta.” If this is the pick of the litter I’d hate to see the b-team.
I pass the time watching the in-flight entertainment. I haven’t seen the movie, so I kill almost two hours watching Denzel Washington race against the clock toward a ridiculous conclusion in Out of Time. It’s not a very good movie, and I think my time might have been better spent giving some etiquette lessons to the flight attendants. Maybe next time.
We arrive on time, and I watch Joyce DeWitt and playwright Brad Frasier joke and chat in the customs line. They are one or two lines away, stuck in a slow line. Lately I have somehow developed an uncanny knack of being able to always choose the best customs line. My line buzzed along and I was out the door and getting into a cab I’m sure before they were even halfway to the front. If I could bottle this line-choosing ability I’m sure I could make a fortune from frequent flyers.
Home. It’s cold and has snowed while I was away, but it feels good to be back. LA might have the sun and surf, but can you build a decent snowman there? I don’t think so.