Category Archives: Formal Correspondence

Let’s Make This Crack House a Crack Home

I’m standing at a shiny new taco stand where a Frenchman is excitedly, but not particularly efficiently making tacos. He takes square, apple pay, credit cards. This is the change I’ve been looking for. The Frenchman works slowly so we have a moment to take in the scenery. It’s 7 pm. Cars and buses careen down Jefferson while Mexican kids with Beats by Dre headphones blow through red lights on fixed gear bikes. It’s encouraging. The only noticeable downside is the air or the street or the bottom of my shoe smells like shit. I check the ground in front of me, the bottoms of my Clarks.

What are you doing? She asks.

Confusion. Purposelessness. These are signs of weakness. They make you vulnerable, a potential victim in an unfamiliar land. I don’t want to be what the boys at the LAPD call a “walking victim” so I refuse to answer. Or maybe I don’t answer because I’m sort of an asshole.

Eventually, like an underperforming blood hound, the scent leads me to turn around. A man who is roughly the size of the trash can he’s buckled over, lifts himself out. He smiles. Eau de shit isn’t just delicately doused behind his ears, around his décolletage. He’s caked in it.

A lead brought us here. A house that’s just been listed. The realtor’s phone number is 714: Orange County. Amateurs. He doesn’t know what he has on his hands so we plan to move and move quickly. Thus the 7 pm weeknight viewing.

The house has good bones – that’s a thing that I apparently say now. It also features a sparkling popcorn ceiling (sparkles indicate that the absence of asbestos or the presence of a previously insane tenant). Floor-to-ceiling mirrors line what feels like the entire house. There are two bathrooms. One that appears to have been condemned and left untouched since 1970 and another that has been meticulously maintained since the day it was created in 1970. Other than that, an estimated $15,000 in termite damage and a heating system that makes the talking furnace from Home Alone seem cutting edge, it’s perfect. We really love it, you guys.

And there’s more. A backyard. We checked out the google aerial view before we came but what we’re seeing now is a substantial slab of cement. Maybe 10×10! We could line it with succulents and other plants fit to survive catastrophic levels of neglect. On to the garage, which connects off the alley. Which is great! Because parking in this neighborhood seems impossible. So impossible that men old enough to drive and young enough to still walk dedicate whole evenings to chatting while double parked and waiting for a  coveted spot.IMG_1329.jpg Continue reading

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Filed under Formal Correspondence, House Hunters/Home Improvement

Finally Famous

 

article-0-1C2979E200000578-847_634x831.jpg

If you’re expecting me to change – I am too. I suspect it will happen any day now.

It just seems there’s no way a person who has had his webseries featured on countless (2) websites, which has garnered too many views to even keep track of (97,000[1]) could continue to also be a man who frequents the Cha Cha Lounge before 9 p.m. for a shot of mediocre tequila and a 61 degree PBR at the bargain price of $5.

It’s just not feasible.

“You may have heard of my webseries,” I say to a man wearing a mask blowing leaves from one driveway to another. “Driving Arizona.” He shuts off his leaf blower and politely waits for me to go away. Little does he know people who have reached a certain level of fame have nowhere they need to be. Mario Andretti, Mario Batalli, Mario Lemieux, myself – we’re all men with absolutely nothing to do tomorrow, but to wait for it to come and cradle us with its sunlight.

It comes up at the gym. “Nice shorts,” says a man who has dyed his beard an unintentional hue of purple. “Thanks. Little trivia – they were in the luggage belonging to the character Sasha in episode 4 of Driving Arizona.” He stares blankly. “No. You’re right. It was episode 3!”dazfacebook5

There was a time when all my Lyft drivers were deeply devoted students of improv. Now they are men and women from towns that I haven’t heard of north or east of Los Angeles, lured here on weekend nights by the promise of endless riches. Or at least the app tells them if they keep driving – after gas, wear and tear, and emotional fatigue – they might break even.

“Just start driving or finishing up?” A man who is too tall for his Toyota Yaris replies but I’m wondering why I didn’t give him a third option – the middle, halfway through his shift.

Though I haven’t heard a word he’s said, when he stops talking I say, “Speaking of which, you may have heard of a little web series I co-created – Driving Arizona.”

“Sounds like a PSA for a driving school.”

“But there’s something beautiful about the innocuousness of it, isn’t there? Like a puddle that pools after the rain and when you stare down at the wet cement, you’re met with a reflection of the sky.”

He runs his fingers across his phone’s screen. “Is it alright if I drop you off here?”

So maybe it isn’t me who has changed. It’s the way people react to a person who has created something as eternal as the webseries. Bertrand Russell once said or wrote or communicated in some way that he now gets credit for these words in this particular order, “The search for something permanent is one of the deepest instincts leading men to philosophy.”

Well, Berty. It leads other men to the webseries.

[1] Which is 10x fewer views than your average video of a guy demonstrating how to find the pilot light in your oven.

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Filed under De La Moda, Formal Correspondence, Staring Into A Cobalt Pool

Protected: Hollywood, I’m back and I’m… DEAD INSIDE: Season 2

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Pumping Iron!

chiraq

At my local 24 Hour Fitness, I discretely listen to music that glorifies violence and preaches misogyny. The goal is that by listening to teenagers from Chi-raq shout about murder, I’ll be motivated to do, like, one more set.

This morning, while laying on the mat half-napping, half-studiously listening to what it’s like to be a young black male living on Chicago’s Southside, I spot Ricky. He’s carrying a basketball, and is flanked by a small entourage of big Armenian men.

Ricky is in his late twenties, has short dreds and he’s built like a guy who spends all day at the gym. After hi-fiving his way through all the forty-year-old men in stringger tanks doing concentration curls and incline bench, Ricky gets beckoned over to more men in tank tops doing lat pull-downs, twirling kettle bells, grabbing each other’s biceps.

roid gut

At this point, I realize I’ve been laying on the ground for a bit too long, listening to a song that consists of gunshots and Chief Keef in autotune declaring that all he cares about is money. Which is a little much, even for me. I proceed to finish whatever exercise I was in the middle of not doing, and then hit the showers.

It’s a joyous locker room. As it turns out, Armenian men love to sing in the shower. It’s also not uncommon to see a man standing in front of the mirror blow drying his balls in the middle of the locker room at say, 11:30 in the morning.

“My man,” I turn around to see the most popular man in the gym standing behind me. “You interested in a personal training session?”

“No,” I say.

“You looking for gear?”

While I google search “gear” in my brain, Ricky ushers me to the other side of the locker room, which doesn’t seem any more discreet. “I mean, you’re a fit dude. Kind of small, on the weakside, a little flabby but with some assistance, I’m talking about high quality, pro shit, you’ll be putting up big plates. You could go from zero to hero. Tell you what, it’s your first time, I’ll cut you a deal.”

At this point, three men walk over to Ricky and shake his hand, smiling, proud to know the man. Proud to be associated with him.

“Not that I’m interested in either, but are we talking about personal training or the other thing?” I ask.

“The other thing. And I want you to know this: there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not the lazy way out, you’ll still have to work hard, watch your calorie in-take. You’ll have to be accountable if you want to reach your goals—”

“Goals?”

“I’ll make sure you’re pushing your limits. I’m here for you, bro.”

“I—uh…”

“Let me dispel facts: one, your dick isn’t going to shrink. Your testicles, yes, probably, but as soon as you’re off it’s reversible. Two, no one has ever died from taking steroids. Three, the results are real and that can’t be disputed. Also, roid rage isn’t a real thing and your sex drive will go through the roof.” Ricky puts his hand on my shoulder, looks around then says, “Sometimes, I’ll fuck my girlfriend like thirty or forty times a day. No joke. No exaggeration.”

If there was an appropriate response, I didn’t have it.

boardwalk

“So,” Ricky spins around his fanny pack, “we can do this with cash, Paypal or I’m actually using Venmo now. It’s pretty dope. You use it?”

“I do.”

“Cool. I fucking love technology. Do you watch that show Silicon Valley?”

“I do.”

“Awesome. So we’ll use Venmo.”

“Sounds good.”

“Pills? You seem like a pill guy. It’s your first time. Let’s go with D-Bols. You should be able to gain like four to six pounds of muscle a week. Minimum. Although, I should warn you that pills are for pussies and they’re mainly water-weight so when you’re ready for the real shit, you just say the word.”

“I will.”

Ricky looks around then hands me a small bottle that’s been stripped of its label. “This is going to be the beginning of a beautiful relationship, my man.”

“Great. Thanks, Ricky.”

He pulls out a piece of paper and hand writes a receipt. He keeps the carbon copy for himself. “Uncle Sam was on my back last year.”

“I totally get it. Thanks a lot.”

“Anytime, or in six weeks!” Ricky laughs. “By the way, you might experience some male pattern baldness, oily skin, backne, and after the initial increase in libido, a gradual decrease.”

With that, we shake hands. Ricky turns on his heels, slaps the guy next to him on the shoulder and says, “My man, you looking to get serious about your fitness?”

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Finding the Next __________ of American Cinema: Casting!

CastingHard work. Mining for coal. Chopping firewood. Patching a hole in a submarine while it’s submerged. Picking lettuce. Casting iron. Casting actors.

It’s all hard work, am I right?

There was a time when I was open to the casting couch. The hopefuls would come flooding in at the chance of the glory that comes with being paid with “Meal + Credits” or, if we’re really going for broke: SAG Ultra Low Budget. It’s not pretty. I’m not proud.

But they are. They’re pretty and proud, and they love living in Studio City or by the Grove or Santa Monica. Something about the salt air makes it easier to book commercials for allergy medication.

The Real Casting Couch

This time I’ve stayed away from the couch. It’s all word of mouth. There are four actors. Three of the roles have been filled, but this final role, well, it hasn’t been easy.

It’s the title character. She’s the star. Or at least, it doesn’t work without her. She has to be great. She has to be everything that’s likeable about Scarlett Johansson, only without the bedroom eyes. And eight years younger. She has to be at once ethereal and authentic and preferably American. And we don’t have her, so I’ve been writing love letters.

Actually, they’ve been emails. They’ve looked like this.

SJ

Dear Scarlett Johansson,

Do you have a sister who looks like a version of you without the bedroom eyes who is preferably seven or eight years younger? If so, I’d like to cast her in a short film we’re making. I know she’d be perfect.

Or the one I wrote to Melanie Laurent.

ML

Dear Melanie,

I hope this email finds you well. Speaking of finding and well and you, I’m looking for an actress, like you. How’s your American accent? If it’s great, what’s your schedule like in May? And what’s your stance on a team of special effects superstars trying to make you look ten years younger? Well, that about sums up my requests. Looking forward to hearing back!

And then, I thought of Emma Watson.

EW

Dear Emma Watson,

It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that you’re not right for the title role in the short film we’re making. I wish you nothing but success going forward, but you’re not getting a job from me.

Finally, I landed on it. It was so simple, so obvious.

EO

Dear Elizabeth Olsen,

Will you work for cheap or for free? If so, I’m relatively, kind of, nearly, or with very little doubt, thinking that you probably or might be suitable for the role in this cinematographic masterpiece that lives on my desktop. Your sisters can come and watch, but don’t expect us to feed them.

The responses came pouring in.

Scarlett Johansson: Funny that you should email me. I was just thinking of you. Here’s a picture of my sister and I. She’s a bit younger than what you were originally looking for, but she’s only getting older. Let me know if you think she’s right for the part. Xo

Fenan

Melanie Laurent: “Au milieu de l’hiver, j’ai découvert en moi un invincible été.”

Emma Watson: I’ll do anything. This would be the role of a lifetime for me. Please. This could be my THE WRESTLER. My THE GODFATHER. My DALLAS BUYERS CLUB!

Elizabeth Olsen: There’s nothing I’d rather do in this whole world than to work on one of your short films for cheap or for free, but I have an appointment at the Apple Store’s Genius Bar regarding my MacBook Air, which has stopped working. Like completely. It won’t turn on at all. Do you know what’s wrong with it? Anyway, I can’t reschedule. I hope you understand.

And just like that my prospects came crashing down.

Scarlett, God bless her, is too pure at heart for her own good.

Melanie, I had to strikethrough because I hate Francophiles, even if they’re actually French and that quote reads like, well, I don’t know. I took Spanish in school.

Emma’s too desperate. Too wrong. I feel bad saying this, but this isn’t some Sophia Coppola movie we’re trying to do. We need star power. We need…

Elizabeth Olsen. But that fucking Genius Bar appointment. And don’t get me wrong, I know where she’s coming from. Rescheduling an appointment at the store at the Grove? At the Beverly Center? At the one on the Third Street Promenade? Not going to happen. You might as well just drive out to fucking Glendale and we can’t expect Mary-Kate and Ashley’s sister to do something insane like that.

genius bar

I’ve put one last email in the interwebs. It’s an offer to Gwyneth Paltrow. We want her to do a cameo as a meter maid. It’s a non-speaking role, but I know she’ll be perfect for it. I can see her now: getting out of her little meter maid go-cart, chalking the back of a tire, getting back into her go-cart and driving six feet forward to the next car to do it again. Then she’ll be off.

We’ll roll credits. People will laugh. People will cry. We’ll lock hands and take a bow while getting slaughtered in the comments section of anything with a comments section. Well, that’s enough hard work for one day. This is where I say goodbye.

 

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Filed under De La Moda, Formal Correspondence

Ring! Ring! Kurdistan’s Calling!

I knew my brother was out of town. I’d seen the pictures on Instagram. It looked like he was somewhere hot, dusty, crowded, and with tents—like Coachella, sort of. I kept scrolling: waves in Peru, dogs in grass, craft beers and cuticles. I meant to send him an email, but soon the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into catching up on “Breaking Bad.” Things came up.

Insta

Then my brother rang in the middle of the day. I was lying on my back, staring at the ceiling fan, wondering if I had ever disappointed anyone as much as my fan was disappointing me. I figured, nah, but I applauded myself for asking.

the other iraq
Below is a transcript of what was said the second time he called. I missed the first call.

DT: Hey, how’s it going? Where are you?

Unnamed Brother[1]: It’s going well. I’m in Belgium. Just got back from Kurdistan last night.

DT: Iraq, eh? Nice.  How was that?

UB: It was really interesting. 70,000 refugees poured from Syria last week and we were working with U.N. to set up various  camps in 130 degree weather, so–

DT: 130 degrees? Damn. It’s actually disgustingly hot here in LA. Too hot to even drink coffee. Can you imagine that?

UB: Um…

DT: Anyway, I’m trying out a new system to deal with the heat. By the way, do they have A/C out there or did you guys just set up the refugee camps in caves?

UB: There’s electricity in the camps and air conditioning units in every tent that the Kurdish—

DT: Lucky bastards! I’ve only got a window unit myself—that and an underperforming ceiling fan that might be the death of me. Silver Lake has never been more unlivable.

UB: Sounds rough.

DT: You can’t imagine. How was the food?

UB: Awful.

DT: That sucks. How were the chicks?

UB: Bundled up.

DT: Interesting. I gotta tell you. I had a hell of a long couple weeks at work. I’m sitting around all day listening to people pitch jokes and talk about their dogs, cars, diets. It’s exhausting. How was the work there?

UB: We started at six in the morning and usually finished around midnight. It wasn’t so much the hours that were hard, but the heat took its toll.

DT: Wow. Brutal. I can relate. As you may recall, I went to college in the desert. Sometimes it got so hot that literally the only thing we could do was strip down to bathing suits and drink tequila at an impromptu pool party. Anyway, I’ve gotta run. Great talking to you!

UB: Okay, but re—

CLICK.  Do cell phones have a dial tone? I don’t know. I was the one who hung up. I just remembered that my neighbors said I could use their pool, and this heat and that pool, wait for no man.


[1] Although, I don’t know what my brother does or where he does it, most of the time, I’d like to believe that it’s a necessary courtesy to not attach his name to anything I claim on his behalf without his permission.

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A Personal History of Moving

SATURDAY

12:00 p.m. Girlfriend makes demands: home improvement or move. Terms: non-negotiable.

2:00 p.m. Buy paint. Work tirelessly to apply “golden cricket” hue to walls.

5:00 p.m. Girlfriend gives, O.K. Move avoided. Phew. Apartment thick with toxins. Leave to walk restless dog.

7:00 p.m. Notice homeless crack addicts squatting in apartment next door.

7:01 p.m. Hide girlfriend and dog. Call 911, but first confirm with landlord that next-door apartment has not been rented to face-tattooed crack-cocaine users.

7:02 p.m. Landlord confirms men with face tattoos are, in fact, new neighbors. Keep an open mind, he says.

7:03 p.m. Per suggestion, keep open mind about recently paroled neighbors.

7:04 p.m. Decide against open mind.

7:05 p.m. Pack girlfriend, dog, toothbrush. Flee.

8:00 p.m. Bask in suburban refuge. Feel lucky to be alive.

SUNDAY

9:00 a.m. Apartment hunt.

10:00 a.m. Meet gypsy landlords. Despite Snatch, gypsy landlords do not allow dogs.

11:00 a.m. Regret painting apartment. Inspect various available apartments. Chat up gypsies, but to no avail.

12:00 p.m. Nod head at upset girlfriend. Eat Vietnamese food. Watch dog scratch ear.

1:00 p.m. Give up apartment hunt. Concede to massacring by crack addicted neighbors. Imagine Lifetime movie.

2:00 p.m. Stumble upon open house. Eureka! But open house is packed.

2:01 p.m. Point out flaws to other potential renters e.g., lack of parking, freeway noise, stairs. Grab folder of applications, flush down toilet. Toilet floods. Shake head and mutter about shoddy craftsmanship. Potential renters leave.

2:10 p.m. Fill out application. Corner landlord: praise ample parking, lack of freeway noise, joy of stairs, expert craftsmanship. Shake hands.

4:00 p.m. Go back to crackden apartment. Hammer windows shut. Hide under bed. Add 911 to “favorites.”

5:00 p.m. Good news! Eureka is available, pending credit check. Who says a jump shot is the only way out of the hood!

5:01 p.m. Dog scratches ear. Girlfriend shakes head. Make plans to buy primer, paint wall back to original color.

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Filed under Formal Correspondence, Staring Into A Cobalt Pool