In which Muffy walks in LA, performs in LA, tries to say something positive about "Kaante," and gets her dance card filled. Click here to read part one, and here to read part two.
Walking in LA
Sunset Boulevard is not the only game in town here in West Hollywood. It has all the swanky bars and clubs and hotels, sure, but for someone like me who delights in the quirky things, it's a little antiseptic. Walking toward Hollywood proper (and, presumably, a distant sign on a hilltop), I get prime enjoyment looking to the left, above the gas stations and coffee shops, to the looming mountains and their precariously balanced hilltop houses...
Distant, high above me, yet clear in the dry air, these buildings sit perched on every available cliff. The mountains rise, jumbles of sandy landslides and ground-hugging ferns, topped with these sky-hogging houses, often on stilts to gain a few extra feet above the neighbours. They're usually accompanied by two or three impossibly tall, spindly, fungoid palm trees. Like everything else I've seen so far in LA these residential areas look like an unplanned patchwork, a Doctor Seuss cartoon, a mess and a beauty all at the same time.
In the opposite direction -- to the right -- the streets drop sharply to Santa Monica, which I find more "human" than Sunset, possibly because the junk shops and bohemian touches remind me more of Toronto. Unlike Toronto, however, there are outdoor escalators and crosswalks that actually SPEAK to you, as do some of the pedestrians.
I am shocked to realize that I haven't seen a single unhappy old person here; all of them are chuckly folks who dotter along the street and smile at you when you pass. They delight in dogs and seem in no hurry to get where they're going. These are old folks that I can't picture sitting rigid in anonymous bingo halls, frantic to spend the last bit of their savings on a hopeless reach for a sudden windfall. These old people play bridge and go for leisurely walks. They congregate in parks. They sleep in when the mood strikes them and they never pee themselves, and if they do they have a sense of pride and decorum about it. Maybe they're like this because they're warm, or they're rich, or they're American.
There is definitely some unnatural substance in the air, you can see it and smell it. More than one person has described this to me as a "mix of haze and smog," which is curious because smog is already a "mix of smoke and fog." There may very well be days when LA is blanketed with hog, hoke, and shmazog.
The trip back uphill to Sunset Boulevard is a tough one -- it's on a 40-degree angle -- but I do survive, and I manage to find replacement eyelashes. In the hotel lobby I step in the wax of one of the cleaning zombies. He mutters in spanish as I pinwheel my arms and almost fall not once but twice. I'm seeing a fair number of the zombies already, they work in some fast-food joints and they do menial tasks in the large buildings. They are either victims of head trauma or they're just pretending. They mutter and treat you with outright disdain and disinterest. None of them respond in any way to kindness or pleasantries. I think of them as zombie bulldogs: sullen, stupid, and somehow resentful.
The Director's Guild of America (or "DGA" as everyone calls it) is a huge place with a big theatre, and with a lot of people walking around. The crowd is a curious mix of west and east. On arriving I finally meet David Chute, film critic and totally sweet guy, and we face the task of deciding on some sort of pre-show banter. Yes, they've given us microphones. Yes, we need to give an "oscar-style introduction" to the film. Yes, I'm nervous. Fortunately my mic matches my outfit.
Also matching my outfit is a gorgeously spikey, peacocky hairstyle courtesy of Chris from Je Jeune Salon. Chris manages to kill some of those Congo butterflies by being a very cool and friendly person...not to mention a person who understands my desire to see the LA Zoo. Ron gives her an invitation to the film, and she even drives me to the venue. Chris: approved! And she's getting herself a cadillac too, though for now we're in her pickup truck.
Before the show we hear that a rising talent in the Indian film industry is going to attend: Kashmira Shah, a starlet who was vacationing in the desert where water is apparently not the only thing it's difficult to come by. Her friend tells David Chute that his last name is a Hindi slang term for "vagina," which I expect will only serve to heighten the sales of his future treatise on cow humour (my bookshelf cries out for it!)
We are a mismatched pair on the stage, us faux vaginas, and we steer clear of Bad Academy Award Humour. David talks a bit about the film, a bit about Bollywood in general, and he praises my Indian cinema insight. I "aw shucks" him and try to look pretty.
"Kaante" is an interesting crossover film, shot in a yellow-tinted LA and somehow sandwiching Reservoir Dogs together with The Usual Suspects. There seemed to be more than the average number of imossible moments in the movie, partly due to this sandwich attempt...if these guys are ALREADY the usual suspects, arrested whenever there's a heist in LA, why do they think they'll "get away with it" and just return to their famiy responsibilities -- a sick wife, a mentally handicapped sister, a frustrated girlfriend, a child-custody case -- especially when they took off their masks BEFORE engaging in a gun battle with the police force? After killing numerous officers in a clear as (yellow) day shootout, their later rationale for kidnapping a police officer -- he'll be able to identify them -- is sort of funny. So is the reason for NOT killing him: fear of police retaliation. I mean, they'd already killed about six cops.
Still, though, it was fun and with a lot of high-tech action, and it looked gorgeous. It's almost a cliche to say it, but: Amitabh stole the show with his calm bluster and devoted love for his ill wife. While watching the movie I can't believe that Kashmira Shah is sitting in front of me.
After the film I commandeered Chris to help me change in the bathroom. She proves her stoic sweetness as I give her a pair of unwashed fishnets to untangle. My only performance fear is that the Bollywood fans in the audience will find my "Chin-Chin Chu" and "Baithe Hain Kya" routines offensive. I compensate by throwing everything into an energetic seven-minute set, and for an audience who hadn't much time to warm up to the act they are superb. Doing my Helen numbers for East Indians who are actually dancing, whooping, and singing along will be the highlight of my trip, I'm sure. I am gratified to see that one of the women knows the hand gestures better than I do!
The show ends and I learn the folly of ignoring my diabetes and then doing something strenuous: I find myself in the women's washroom both revelling in the joy of the moment and wanting to vomit up my liver before it shuts down in disgust. I haven't eaten or taken any insulin all afternoon, and my blood sugar is so high it's embarassing.
After shooting up I decide to "take the air," and it's on the front steops of the DGA that I -- still a bit muddled -- get to chat with the people from the show. I know I've done well when a fan of Helen's praises me for my article [in that week's LA Weekly] and the show. I get a few minutes to chat with Kashmira Shah who is friendly, gorgeous, and on her way back to the desert. I chat Bollywood politics with a lady from Pakistan and am particularly gratified when a large and somewhat daunting Indian patriarch smiles and tells me that he got some great pictures of my performance. I find this reception difficult to believe, especially since I've got rock candy running through my bloodstream and the actual performance is a total blur. But by all accounts the audience liked the show, and I liked the audience. What could be better?
The band for the evening is "Double-Naught Spy Car," and the drummer is Joe Barardi who, among other things, was a longtime member of Stan Ridgway's band. I'm a big fan and I finally get to meet "tripod Joe" after their set. His friend Talia begins filling out my social card for the weekend, and suddenly the lone tourist has got things to do and people to do them with! The long-anticipated trip to the zoo with Chris' friend Eugene, followed by shopping on Melrose with the two of them. A trip to a drag show with Talia, Joe, and Ron, and an invitation to see one of Joe's other bands perform. Offers of gigs and fun times should I ever come back to LA. What a night! I am much less alone in this enormous city.
So tell me, is this typical or am I just lucky? Is some backwards-talking dwarf with a karmic hand pushing me away from the bad and towards the good? Hey, thanks dwarf!
Get ready for part four!