Los Angeles is full of ghosts.
It makes sense, of course, that it would be a graveyard. The city was constructed in such a haphazard lego-brick way that there’s a tremendous amount of dead space between the iconic, bustling parts of town. It’s really the first “20th Century” metropolis; people don’t realize, or maybe just don’t remember, that up until the 1960s the majority of the city was still just orange groves.
And you see the ghosts in other places too. Downtown is filled with marquees that used to belong to movie theaters; wandering inside them, you’ll find any number of bizarre hollowed out buildings, thrift stores, counterfeit merchandise being sold fresh from the docks in Long Beach. Want Ed Harvey (sic) brand shirts? They got ’em. You can’t help but wonder looking at them what it was like to actually go to a movie here, in what’s now an imponderously large cheap chinese restaurant.
Cause that’s the thing about the ghosts of LA; they’re not gossamer. They’re not illusory. They’re right out in the open, there for anyone to see. They’re ghosts you can take a picture of with your iPhone.
Your teeth are sharper than you think they are.
feel them with your tongue right now
As a young screenwriter, I was still learning the ropes.
I didn’t understand yet that half the job of a screenwriter is social; how easy it is to communicate with you, how well you’re able to communicate back. But I was learning quick: I was 23, and people had enjoyed my script Hometown Hero. It didn’t sell, but got me a round of what are called “general meetings.”
General meetings are always awkward; they’re almost like dates. You go in and meet with one or two people at a production company, people you’ve never met before, people you might not even like personally, just like a job interview…But there’s no job to get. Your only real “job” in these meetings is to make a good impression, which is completely hit or miss; there’s no pattern to learn, every meeting is as different as the people in the room.
Did you know that there are four small arteries that run through the human tongue?
bite down on your tongue right now for me, gently
What’s even more disorienting is that everyone’s just as desperate as you are; a lot of these production companies you’re meeting with are constantly in debt, or having projects fall apart, or finding themselves with failures or movies that didn’t go the way they thought they would. So there’s a sense of confrontation; do I need you? Do you need me? You feel kind of lost the whole time, especially at the beginning.
I personally loved the experience. I was working on two new scripts, “The Goodtime Gang” and “Chronicle,” and very excited about both. I love talking about my work, and in my life up to this point, hadn’t had much opportunity to do so. I get very excited and worked up when I talk about projects I’m working on, and this was the first time in my life I’d been able to do that in front of other people. I’m an insecure guy, who had spent a lot of time as an outcast, so the idea that people would be interested in my stories was incredibly exciting to me.
For this reason, I approached every meeting like an adventure. I began wearing ties and button up shirts, generally brightly colored, as a method of separating myself visually from other writers, who generally wore grays and blacks from what I’d seen. I had it in my mind that I would become a well known screenwriter, and that this would lead to happiness, acceptance and excitement.
I look back now and think, “what a toxically naive person.” I had connected my career to personal happiness. You can’t do this in LA. The business doesn’t make sense. Of course, you will do it. You can’t help yourself. When you have a dream, and you can see its outline on the horizon, you start to delude yourself by looking for patterns, or worse, you start to believe in “fate” or “destiny.” I’ve seen it a hundred times, maybe a thousand: people start to, for reasons I don’t really understand, believe that things are guaranteed to them.
You see it in the rich, you see it in the poor. As a guy who hangs out with a varied array of people, I see my friends on the poverty line just as deluded and desperate as my friends who grew up in mansions. But there’s that falseness to the hope. You can always feel the desperation.
I had never seen that much blood before.
i think it’s because blood mixes with spit, but I could see it pumping out
Actors and actresses also take general meetings. For them, it’s even more pointless; just a place to awkwardly chit chat, try to show off their talent; for some actresses, a place to flirt. For some actors, too. Just be memorable. Just please remember me. Same as us writers. I promise you I’m talented. I promise you I can do it, whatever it is, that thing you want, I can do it, I can play that role or write that story or anything you want just please don’t send me back out onto the freeway from the west side into that traffic with nothing.
everyone starts out with an innocent version of the dream; they’re not cynical yet, even if they think they are
Just please, please, please remember me.
please remember me
I’d never been to that part of Burbank. It was nestled against the hill, just over the mountain pass LA natives refer to as “the Barham Bump,” that drops you off at Warner Brothers, itself just a shadow of what it used to be. The current Warner Lot is 1/4 the size of its previous incarnations.
My girlfriend is laying in bed next to me facing away and I keep thinking she’s going to turn around and her face will be all rotten.
I was really pumped up for this meeting. It was with a production company called, I believe called Mandalay. I’d made some new friends the night prior, and was finally settling into my life in Los Angeles. These daily meetings made me feel like I had a real job, or at least, the beginnings of one.
I remember my GPS had been acting funny. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to go to the new looking office building, or down the road alongside it, to a 1920s style petit chateau. This style was all the rage in the 20s and 30s in LA, during the early days of Hollywood; you still see them sitting between the blocky monstrosities the 70s and 80s brought to the Valley.
I took a risk, and parked at the chateau. There didn’t seem to be any signs, but I could already see someone waiting out front. Mainly, I saw her legs; long and tan and hey, I’m ten minutes early, even if this is the wrong building, I’m single, I’m 24, why not.
when you get fresh blood on you it’s warm
i always thought that was just poetry but its warm and it smells and it makes you gag
I parked and walked up. Bright blue eyes raised to meet me, and I was surprised to see she wore no make up. She had one of those too round faces; that Clara Bow, Christina Ricci style of beauty where at first you’re not sure what you’re looking at. She wore a simple sundress and and a frilled hat; the whole image, her there, looking like that, in those clothes, on the porch: I felt like I was looking through a window straight into 1920s hollywood. It being in color felt wrong.
I laughed aloud.
“Sorry, I wish you could see what I’m seeing right now.”
“Are you laughing at me?”
“No, it’s just- you look like you’re from the twenties, it’s very surreal.”
“Oh, yes.” She said matter of factly, and looked over to the door.
I glanced at the door and could see that there was a young man inside, frantically talking on a cell phone, looking out at her; tucked, button pink shirt, short hair. He looked upset.
“Is this Mandalay?”
“I’m going to die out here I just know it.” She responded.
I didn’t know how to react. She shivered, and hugged herself tightly, one of her dresses’ straps falling, and casually exposing her left breast. I stared, startled, and the slow programming of my male brain began to register things that small, lean body and pleasant round face had initially hidden from me.
She wore no shoes. The bottoms of her feet were incredibly dirty, and her toenails were bleeding in several places, one of them looking badly torn. There was no underwear under her dress, either; she had that posture women get when they’re drunk, or under other influences, where they lose track of what they should be trying to keep covered. I immediately became concerned.
“Are you alright?” I said, trying to decide on a proper course of action.
“I’m going to be an actress.” She responded. “I walked from home.”
“Oh, where’s home?”
“I’m living in my friend’s car, we drove together from San Antonio.” She looked distractedly at the door, and shivered again. “I feel so crazy, you know how you can just get worked up when people don’t listen to you. I just get so worked up. I walked from home, you know? I’m going to be an actress, the fucker.”
At that, she produced an old flip phone, its screen cracked, and hurled it at the door; it exploded into pieces, and an older woman called down to me from the second level.
“Sir, turn around and go. She’s having some sort of problem, just leave her alone, she’s fucking crazy, just turn around and go.” The girl moaned, hanging her head between her knees, and adjusted her dress.
“I don’t know where to break in, you know? Maybe if I’d fucking gotten a better…FRIEND, ha!” She said, and looked directly at me. “I’m an actress, I’m a good actress. I can memorize it all. I think it doesn’t matter. No one cares. No one cares. There’s a thousand good actresses. I could fucking die. I’m going to die out here just like Emma did fucking die with herpes on my mouth and someone’s shit on me, like Emma.”
“Who’s Emma?” I said. I don’t know what my plan was. She didn’t respond, but suddenly stood bolt upright, and walked towards me, pointing.
“What’s your name? What’s your name?”
“What do you do, are you an actor?”
“No, I’m a writer.”
“Good, good.” She drew out from her sundress a packet of cards; I flinched as she brought them up. They were business cards. There was a single photo of her on them, and she shoved the whole packet of them into my hands.
“Take these. Watch this, okay, tell your friends about this.” She stuck out her tongue, long and pink and wet between those big pouting lips, and chomped down onto it exactly three times, one, two, three. The first bite elicited a squirt of blood. The second left it hanging half off, blood now squirting in two directions from her face. The third severed it.
The tongue fell onto the dusty dirt driveway. I remember being surprised at how heavy it sounded. She stared at me, a look of wild victory in her eyes, and then the look faded away. She was only a couple feet away now, and I’m ashamed to say I was frozen to the spot. Her face transitioned from victory to shock; she seemed inane moment to realize the permanence of what she’d done, and attempted to speak:
“Muh mow iz fuhl oh bluhh.”
Blood sprayed out onto me as she spoke, and I cringed, watching as she fell to her knees and began crawling around, trying to find the tongue, screaming and gurgling. Both of her breasts spilled out of the dress as she crawled, blood pouring down onto them, so much blood it looked black, spreading and staining the small yellow sundress.
I saw her pick up the tongue and hold it, screaming. And screaming. And screaming.
I turned around and walked away from her, and heard her get up and run towards me. I screamed and went to my car, only to turn and see that she’d fallen into the gravel and dirt, the dress now completely off, tangled around her legs, her body a wash of dust and blood, little rocks embedded in her kneecaps where she’d fallen.
The police arrived shortly thereafter. I’ll never forget how confused she looked when they came to take her away, all pale, sitting in a pile, crying, not moving, not fighting back.
I still have the cards. They say TEXAS’ OWN RIANNE TAYLOR-LEWIS – ACTRESS – MODEL – CURRENTLY UNSIGNED! – AVAILABLE FOR ENGAGEMENTS/EXTRA WORK/ANYTHING!!! CALL/EMAIL, and then a little thumbnail photo of her face.
I remember that face so well. One time I took a card and drew on it with a red sharpie. So it matched my memory.
I remember you, Rianne. I remember you.
I keep them in a drawer in my room.
Some nights, when it’s dark in my apartment, I think I hear footsteps on the stairs.
And I think you’re coming to get them back.
All Notes are Property of Max Landis. Site run and operated by Oliver Judge.