AT AGE 10 I WAS sent to a summer camp on Lake Champlain in New York. “Camp Dudley.” There’s plenty I want to say about it — and will at some point — but right now I’m going to talk about bats.
Throughout my time there, camp counselors drummed into our heads the possibility that, on any given night, a bat might fly in through our cabin’s chimney and all the kids would need to get rabies shots. Further, they told us that the treatment involves needles as thick as No. 2 pencils that get inserted directly into your abdomen. It seemed like an exaggeration, or they’d mixed up “rabies” with “alien embryo,” but nonetheless it scared the hell out of us, especially because every aspect of the situation was totally out of our control.
The funny part — looking back, not at the time — was that my bunk’s window looked directly out at a tree branch where a bat slept every night. I kept my eyes on him, paranoid that if I looked away for even a second he’d come in through the chimney like Santa Claus with a sack of rabies. But many sleepless nights later, nothing happened, and many years later I stayed up all night lying next to a girl I’d just started dating, talking and gazing into her eyes until we both dozed off. I was good at this because I’d practiced, at age 10, with a bat.
And what do I see yesterday on the way to the Laundromat? My old friend, the bat, crawling spastically on the sidewalk to get under a hedge like a fuzzy, black frog. Now, according to this children’s website about bats, the ones on the ground are the most dangerous because they are probably sick with — you guessed it — rabies. But when I saw him, I did not bat an eye. “Bat an eye” is a good figure of speech because the context here makes it confusing.
Why did I not bat an eye? I’d had a strange weekend, and lost count of all the weird animals I saw. And when I say “weird animals,” I mean celebrities, of course.
People assume that Los Angeles is teeming with celebrities, but I’ve been here six years and seen only a handful:
–Travis Barker, drummer for Blink 182, at an outdoor cafe
–Mischa Barton, at a holiday party at the home of another celebrity who I’ll be discrete and not name
–Kevin Kline, at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons restaurant
–Ron Jeremy, porn legend, with his entourage, at a restaurant down the street right after the the AVN awards
Six years, five celebrities. Yet, this past weekend, I saw not one, not two, but three:
Sunday night, Nick (this Nick, not that Nick) and his girlfriend Taylor took me to see Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. It’s an accurate title because Michael Cera plays Scott Pilgrim and the world is sick of his lame, mumbly shtick. In real life, Scott Pilgrim got beat by the world, badly, but triumphs in the movie, which was actually pretty good.
Right before the movie, we went to the Umami Burger across from the theater. There was a 10 minute wait, so Taylor and I sat outside on a very uncomfortable bench while Nick noticed a “SEEDBOMBS” dispenser, which looked like a bubblegum machine, outside the door. SEEDBOMBS are the new trend: for 50 cents, you can buy a ball of seeds and soil you can throw anywhere and grow plants. Nick walked over to where Taylor and me were sitting, and suddenly ?uestlove from The Roots walked out of Umami Burger.
“I think that’s ?uestlove,” Nick whispered. Probably. There are only so many pear-shaped black guys with ‘fro picks who can score the kind of smoking-hot lady he had on his arm, I assume. He and his date bent down to look at the SEEDBOMBS dispenser:
“What is this? Some kinda snack?”
“Those are seeds,” Nick said. “Like, balls of seeds you throw on the ground to grow plants.”
“Oh!” ?uestlove laughed. [The name "?uestlove" is annoying to type. It takes longer than normal to locate the question mark key on the keyboard because my brain knows it doesn't belong within a word.]
“You shouldn’t have told us!” said his lady to Nick. She mimed taking a SEEDBOMB and stuffing it in ?uest’s mouth. “Here you go. It’s fiber. It’s good for you. Num num num.”
We all laughed, ?uestlove most of all, because he knew he’d be going home that evening to a beautiful lady, and somebody’s mouth would be getting stuffed, but it wouldn’t be his, and it wouldn’t be with seeds — not plant seeds, anyway.
Friday night, Clem and J_____ and I had dinner at Buddha’s Belly, a restaurant chain specializing in very expensive Asian food. The night was planned as a going-away celebration, as I’m leaving shortly to go work on a film, but my travel plans just got pushed back two weeks. Still, Clem and J_____ insisted that it would be the last night we’d see each other for awhile. Then, “ever.” Then, “this will be your last night alive.” Then, “we are going to murder you and bury you in the ground.”
We then left to meet Clem’s Ladyfriends for karaoke at a bar in Koreatown called “Caffe Brass Monkey.” I was wearing my Hawaiian shirt from New Orleans, with “Hot and Spicy Gumbo” and “Jumpin’ Jambalaya.” Opinions differed. Clem and Joe called it my “sexy shirt,” Clem’s girlfriend said it looked like I was “trying way too hard,” and one of the Brass Monkey server girls said my shirt looked “yummy” but was obviously being sarcastic. My plan was to ingratiate myself with the gay friends one of the Ladyfriends brought, but actual gay people don’t wear Hawaiian shirts. They were much more concerned with picking the right songs for karaoke, and all my suggestions fell on deaf ears: “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins and “Billie Jean” as covered by Chris Cornell from Soundgarden — a slow, miserable dirge sure to disappoint everyone.
But none of us got to go up because people kept getting bumped by Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy. He and another dude were singing pre-1950s showtunes, some song about “coffee beans in South America” with an infinite number of verses.
What was weird was not that Seth MacFarlane showed up but how few people cared. The random girl who sang “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey got a much bigger applause, as did the guy who sang “Karma Police” by Radiohead (“Play more downbeat shit!” I screamed at the DJ). Also, I may have seen a fourth “celebrity,” because someone who looked like Gavin DeGraw went up to sing a Gavin DeGraw song. I don’t really know what Gavin DeGraw looks like, and I realize that any stoned guy with shaggy hair between the ages of 25-35 could be mistaken for Gavin DeGraw, but who else would choose his songs on karaoke night?
Friday night, I got quite drunk. I spilled Newcastle on my “yummy” Hawaiian shirt and only slept two hours. It was very unusual — I’m a good sleeper unless staring at bats — but it worked in my favor, because I function better on less sleep sometimes and I’d need all my wits for what lay ahead.
In The Age of the Unthinkable, Joshua Cooper Ramo discusses, among other things, how there are two types of thinkers: Foxes and Hedgehogs. Hedgehogs hunker down on one big idea for life and try to understand it in depth (Plato, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky), and Foxes are curious about a handful of smaller ideas (Aristotle, Goethe, DaVinci). I’m a Fox with regards to all things but one — which I’ll get to shortly — and my old college friend M_____ is too.
I met M_____ the first day of Freshman year at USC. I had three roommates and he wasn’t one of them, but he spent a lot of time on our couch. We ended up bullshitting a great deal, so much so that I wrote an autobiographical screenplay with him that consisted of two guys telling story after story trying to crack each other up. A friend of a friend liked it and got it in the hands of a film executive, who killed our dreams with his response: “What the fuck was this?” M_____ and I lost touch after Freshman year but reconnected ten months ago, right after he moved to Irvine for grad school and right after I moved back.
He drove up to L.A. Saturday night to go to Jumbo’s Clown Room, our second visit in two weeks. On our first visit, some guy who looked like a former child star who’d been in and out of rehab — boyish face, stubble on the chin, greasy hair, tattoos — set aside twenty or more $1.00 bills for every girl and pushed them onto the stage as if he were scared of money. An hour later, the dancers brought him up, sat him down in a chair, and showed their gratitude by fighting each other to rub themselves against him. To quote Shakespeare, it was the kind of thing “dreams are made on.”
M_____ had just started a summer job as a hotel valet in Newport Beach. Most of the time, valets get paid in ones and trade up to $10 or $20 bills at the end of the night, but with Jumbo’s in the equation, M_____ stopped trading his in. The size of the stack he showed up with was obscene.
“How much money do you you think somebody can throw out at a strip club before it becomes a problem?”
“What do you mean?”
“Before the IRS gets involved.”
“Oh, I’d say $10,000 should do it.”
“I want to bring enough money that they ask me to leave because strippers are being forced to redo their W-4s.”
After dancing girls and cash money, our conversation shifted to fine contemporary literature. M_____ is currently in the process of getting his PhD in English but he’d been trying to get me to read William Faulkner for years. “Aside from the complexity of his characters and settings, Faulkner himself was a raging alcoholic.” Apparently, there exist a string of letters from Faulkner to his publishers — even publishers who were close friends of his — that go like this…
“YOU DO NOT FUCKING CHANGE ONE MOTHERFUCKING WORD IN MY MANUSCRIPTS! IF YOU SO MUCH AS ADD OR REMOVE A COMMA, I WILL FUCK YOUR WIFE AND SAVAGELY BEAT HER WHILE YOU WATCH.”
Followed a month later by this…
“Dear Friend, I’d like to express my deepest apologies for the previous letter…”
M______ lent me a copy of Faulkner’s If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem in exchange for Bukowski’s Ham on Rye. He recommended Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges and Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet. I countered with Truman Capote’s short story “A Christmas Memory” and Knut Hamsun’s Mysteries. We both expressed appreciation for Kafka and Henry Miller. Then, after discussing the finer points of modernism, post-modernism, and neo-classical realism, we decided to head up to a bar in Hollywood called Dillon’s to grab dinner, watch preseason football, and ogle the waitresses.
On the way, I described my plan to combine football and ladies (a scenario realized only in rare cases like the Lingerie Football League) with my “Drunk Joe Namath” pickup line:
So you put your arm around her, like so, and say, “You know, being with you has gotten me thinking…” “About what?” She’ll ask. “Joe Namath.” She’ll look at you kind of funny, but then you say, “You know Joe Namath, don’t you? The very handsome Jets quarterback from the late ’60s, early 70s? I watched a Jets game a few years ago where Joe Namath was being interviewed by ESPN sideline reporter Suzy Kolber during Monday Night Football. He was very, very drunk. For example, she asked him about Chad Pennington, and he said, ‘I believe everything that anyone else has watched, uh, Chad play… impresses me the same thing impresses them.’ Then, she asks him what it means to him that the team is struggling this year, and he looks her over and says, ‘I don’t care that the team is strug-ga-ling. I want to kiss you.’ And that’s how you make me feel; like a drunk Joe Namath.” Then go in for the kiss.
We got to Dillon’s and caught most of the Seahaws/Titans preseason game. It was Pete Carroll’s first time on NFL sidelines in 10 years, bittersweet because M_____ and I attended USC during Pete’s glory days, with many fond memories…
–Matt Leinart had a reputation as a ladies’ man — and not in the best way — but never got pinned with anything because a rape case involving a guy that handsome would never hold up in court (“Your Honor, look at my client; what woman wouldn’t consent?”). Mark Sanchez, on the other hand, did get accused of rape, but seemed like too nice a guy, and it appeared that the charges were orchestrated by Sanchez himself to win street cred in the Latino community. Matt Barkley, USC’s new starting quarterback and ultra-Christian golden boy, could take a few cues from these two because he’s just not interesting enough as is.
–Supposedly, LenDale White had an “arrangement” with a student at USC who was a small-time drug dealer, where LenDale would go over to his place once a month and beat the shit out of him until he paid LenDale money. It happened time and again with no repercussions (“It must be motivating as a student-athlete to know that if you win games you’ll be above the law,” I said). Hearing this made me appreciate LenDale all the more; he was like a modern-day Robin Hood. Or, the Mafia.
–My Freshman year roommate wanted to try out for the football team as a wide receiver yet lacked the musculature to even make it as a walk-on swimmer. Had he caught a pass and collided with Scott Ware — a Safety who lived downstairs and tried to run through walls when he drank Jack Daniels — he would have surely been torn in half. M_____ and I talked him out of football tryouts along with several other bad ideas, like an electric car that runs on static cling. Last I heard, he was claiming to own an internet marketing company based in Phoenix while actually working at a Puma store.
We left Dillon’s and arrived at Jumbo’s around 10:00. I started a tab with the bartender and we sat up front.
Our plan for the night was not to blow our money quickly but get sort of a “Joe DiMaggio Iron Horse” streak going (*I mistakenly used the nickname “Iron Horse” for DiMaggio when it actually belonged to Lou Gehrig — DiMaggio’s was “The Yankee Clipper” — but I was right about the streak: 56 consecutive game hitting streak back in 1941). In other words, we’d give exactly one dollar to each girl over the course of an evening, rather than go crazy and run out in ten minutes.
A dollar each. No more.
The first dancer was a slightly older blonde with a good body and a charming personality. She wore a leather pageboy cap, one of many she’d come out wearing during the night. I referred to her as “the Imelda Marcos of Stripper Hats,” a reference to a Filipino politician’s wife and her infamous collection of 2700 pairs of shoes. No one was throwing any money so I tossed out my dollar early. She saw me, then bent over to put the cap on my head. “That deserves another dollar,” I thought to myself, “but that’ll be it.” I threw another. Then she pressed herself against mirror/wall behind her and slowly slid down to the floor. Another dollar.
I think you see where this is going.
You’re not supposed to sit by the stage if you don’t have money, and that quickly became the case. At around midnight I went back to the bar to close the tab. There was a short, wiry blonde with braided hair sitting on a bar stool, with one leg over another bar stool. I tried to lean over her leg to get the bartender’s attention but the Jumbo’s bartender is a notoriously difficult woman — the Yelp reviews on Jumbo’s dock the place up to two stars based on the bartender’s bitchy attitude — and I had no luck.
Finally, the blonde moved her leg, put her hand on the small of my back, and pulled me into the bar. “See if you can get her attention,” she said. “I’ve been trying all night, but I don’t think she likes pretty people.”
“We’re all pretty people here,” I told her. “Don’t make excuses.”
She laughed and told me her name, which started with an “R.” I’ll call her “R1.” R1 was wearing a tank top with spaghetti straps, and I saw when she turned around that she actually had a tattoo of the letter “R” covering most of her back. She said she was saving a seat for a friend whose name also started with “R.” I’ll call her “R2.” R2 wasn’t there; R1 had just paid for her to get a lap dance.
“Where are you guys from?” R1 asked.
“Los Angeles. Both been here about six years.”
“Where before that?”
“Plano, Texas,” M_____ said.
“Really? I’m from Plano, Texas too!” R1 said.
“You can get in some trouble there,” M_____ said.
“Seriously,” R1 said. She slapped her forearm with two fingers, like a heroin junkie. “Remember that? ‘The Plano Clap.’”
“That’s not a very loud clap,” I said.
“It is when everyone’s doing it at once,” R1 said.
She told us she was half Italian and half German. I told her I am too (mostly — a half and a quarter). Then, I drifted away from the conversation momentarily and she started talking to M_____. M_____ told me later that he asked her where she went to school, to see if they knew the same people, and R1 said she dropped out at 16 to go to “jail school.” He tried to give her a chance to have misspoken:
“Did you say ‘gel school?’”
“No. ‘Jail school.’”
“It sounded like ‘gel school.’ Like, hair gel, or the colored gels you use in film set lighting.’”
“Oh, no, no. ‘Jail school.’ ‘Jail school.’ With a ‘J.’ ‘Jail.’”
M_____ didn’t press the issue. Next, R1 handed him her iPhone to show him a photo: her, topless, leaning against a white sports car.
“This is you,” M_____ said.
“Yeah!” R1 said. “My boyfriend’s a photographer.”
It got a little weird, and M_____ changed the picture on the screen to something else — a non-topless picture of a dog — but R1 got mad at him for “going through her photos” and switched it back before grabbing her phone. She turned to me:
“How about you?”
“No way. I have a cousin in Old Saybrook (a town in middle CT, on the southern coast).”
“He’s a screenwriter.” M_____ said. “He’s going to New Orleans in a few weeks to shoot a movie.”
“No way! I lived in New Orleans until I was 8.” R1 said. Everywhere we mentioned, she had some connection to; I wish we’d come up with more obscure places to test her out: “I’m from Big Sky, Montana.” “No way!! My aunt lives there.” “I’m from Walla Walla, Washington.” “No way!!! My brother’s ex-wife just moved there.” And so on…
“If you’re going to New Orleans,” R1 continued, “You have to check out the following places…” she rattled off a list of names, which I took down on my phone but believed to be whorehouses. “Just mention my Dad’s name, R_____” (yeah; his name too started with an “R”). “Actually…” she paused, “Don’t. I think he owes people some money and you could get seriously hurt.”
“Funny thing about my dad is, when I was 8 years old, he’d get calls from these prostitutes and they’d say, ‘It’s your baby, R_____, it’s your baby!’ And he’d say, ‘Bitch, I fucked you once! I fucked you one time! That’s it!’” R1, in retelling this story, was literally yelling.
“Oh,” I said.
R1 continued: “And I’d be patting him on the back, ‘The baby’s not yours, Daddy. Don’t worry.’ That was me at 8 years old.’”
“Your Dad was the Italian side of the family, correct?”
“I just figured if it was the German side he would’ve handled it a little differently. More efficiently. There’d be nothing left.”
Then, R2 returned to the bar from her lap dance. R1 said, “Hey, did I ever tell you that I might have four or five brothers and sisters?”
R2 shook her head, “No. Never.”
The nicknames “R1″ and “R2″ weren’t just chosen because they’re the names of Playstation controller buttons, they describe the girls physically as well:
R1 was small, wiry, and independent.
R2 was curvy, especially on top, and very, very attractive (like the number “2″).
“These guys are the best,” R1 told her friend. “They’ve got such good energy.” She put her arm around me but pointed at M_____. “If I didn’t have a boyfriend, I’d get with you first. Because you’re from Plano, so of course it would be you first.” Then, to me, “And you’d be second.”
“Sure,” we both said.
R1 and R2 were an odd couple. R1 was — as you can probably tell — crazy. R2 was very shy and reserved. She ordered a Coke and sipped it quietly with her legs crossed, and I teased for being so prim and proper. She explained that she’d grown up on an actual farm in Illinois (soybeans and corn), but came to L.A. two years ago and just got her SAG card.
“I just had a session with Terry Richardson.”
“Oh, Terry Richardson. So are you, like, a model or something?”
I think a lot of guys act indifferent as a tactic to impress women, but this was actual indifference. Of course you’re a model. This is L.A. and you’re beautiful. Why wouldn’t you be?
“How’s modeling going?”
“Good. Nobody’s handcuffed me to a radiator yet or anything.” I took this to mean that less ethical photographers will handcuff nude girls to radiators the first opportunity they get and it’s fairly standard. I made a mental note to buy a camera. She continued, “Terry Richardson was cool. He’s like… asexual. He doesn’t seem attracted to whoever he’s shooting. I guess you have to be like that to get the shots.”
“I would not be able to get the shots,” I said.
R2 and I hit it off. Next, we picked favorites among the strippers. Hers was the one she got a lap dance from the first time, a blonde with a face that looked like Blake Lively if Blake Lively’d been punched hard in the nose — but in a good way, trust me. After that, the second girl she’d gotten a dance from, short hair and amazing on the pole. “She didn’t give the best lap dance, though.”
“Well, you’re not a pole,” I reminded her.
But as good as the dancers were, the people by the stage weren’t throwing money. Sometimes, the girls got literally nothing, and spent the bulk of their dance flipping the audience off. The “Imelda Marcos of Stripper Hats” sat next to us at the bar, frustrated. “I’ve never seen it like this!”
“Me neither!” I said.
“Do you come here often?” she asked me.
“Uh… no…” I said.
“Yeah, but you get the drill. If you aren’t going to tip, leave, so other people who will tip can sit down. Drives me crazy. It’s so rude.”
She told us how difficult the audition process was to make the Saturday night show, how Jumbo’s really needed to switch up the music (“I’m a DJ! I have some really great music I can bring! How cool would it be to have a girl DJ working here?”), and how creating outfits and stage routines was her favorite part of performing. She was great to talk to, and I hadn’t planned to spend anymore that night but finally I gave in.
“I’ve got a ten dollar bill. Do you have change?”
“I keep my ones in sets of twenty. But I can do ten for you.” She counted out ten ones and we swapped bills. I gave her two back.
“Oh, you’re sweet.”
R2 cheered me on as I saved the night by throwing the rest of my bills onstage.
You may be wondering who the celebrity in this story is. David Faustino — Bud Bundy from “Married… with Children” — suddenly walked in. M_____ is a huge “Married… with Children” fan, so I told him to grab a Sharpie and have David sign his chest. He just shook his head no.
It wouldn’t be the only missed opportunity that evening.
“Waiting for My Ruca,” by Sublime came on. “Last song,” I said to M_____.
“How do you know?” asked R2.
“This is how they close every show,” M_____ said.
It was at that point we realized we needed to stop going to strip clubs for awhile.
We were right, though. Last song. The lights came up and I looked at R2. A pregnant pause. She was waiting for something. “Drunk Joe Namath,” perhaps? I looked deep in her eyes and said, “Well… nice to meetcha!”
M_____ and I left.
On the way to my car, he was pestering me: “That girl was really into you! You could’ve taken her home tonight! You’ve could’ve at least gotten her number!”
“I think she was a nude model or something.”
“Oh my God!! What the fuck?!”
So I leveled with him. I told him about the Fox and the Hedgehog.
“I’m a Fox when it comes to everything but girls; I can only be seriously interested in one girl at a time. And it wasn’t either of these two. When it comes to girls, I’m a Hedgehog. And not the same way porn star Ron Jeremy is nicknamed ‘The Hedgehog.’ If that were the case, I’d have no problem. But clearly, I do.”
“That’s terrible.” M_____ said.
“I know. But if I brought someone home, what would you have done? You need a place to crash, don’t you?”
“No, I actually need to drive back tonight. It’s my mom’s birthday tomorrow.”
We left Jumbo’s and returned to LA proper. Los Angeles, the city of Angels. And Strippers. Foxes. Hedgehogs. And also, apparently, Bats.