I’ve taken off my Jimmy Choo eight-strap platform pumps that originally cost seven hundred dollars—and that I bought online for only a hundred fifteen bucks after I got my signing advance on my first book—and put on my walking shoes from Target. I’m just about to shut the computer off when my email chime sounds. Why do I even bother looking in my inbox at this hour?
Hi Marla, Scott here.
I’m still waiting for the 10+ lovelies you promised.
Our 10+ young women are very popular and booked well in advance, or they often date one client steadily—which is what we want for you too, right? I’m sure I can have a name for you by tomorrow though.
There’s a second email. It’s cc’d to me, but primarily addressed to Gary.
Gary and Marla,
None of the twenty-three women I’ve dated through your service are up to my standards. I demand that you cancel my contract and give me my money back immediately or I’ll see you in court.
OgodOgodOgodOgod. I blow my breath out about a dozen times. I know Gary will handle this if it gets really ugly, but I’ll have to try to talk the guy out of it first. Shit!
Picture if you will the jurors listening to you plead your case: six horny guys slobbering over the gorgeous women you turned down, and six women who must be restrained from forming a lynching party. See what I’m saying, Nathan?
I start to write a foray into an amicable resolution, but you know what? I can’t deal with this tonight. Nathan will just have to wait. I shut down the computer, turn off the lights, and lock up.
Do I really need this job? I ask myself as I head up Rodeo Drive toward Wilshire. Enough to put up with all the crap?
I hated being a waitress. I made a solemn vow to myself that I would not still be waitressing at forty. My thirty-five-year-old self would think I was so dang successful now, I should stand up and cheer. I make good money and have sold two books. The first one is just about to be released, so it hasn’t earned enough yet to allow me to focus on writing full time.
Is Bobbie right? Is my soul limping? Right now, I’m fondly remembering my waitressing days in Chicago, where I had more time for creative pursuits before and after work. Or are my Oak-leys too rose-tinted as I glance into the past?
Wow! Isn’t that Reese Witherspoon in that Rolls driving by? I walk a little faster and almost catch up at the light at Wilshire. The Rolls turns and I follow. I can see it turn again onto North Canon. I bet she’s going to Spago. I walk a little faster and am half a block away when I see a swarm of photogs, their cameras flashing like firecrackers. I can see a blonde making it inside the restaurant before being totally mauled.
I have to smile as I head back to Rodeo. She’s living the life I was pursuing. At the age of twenty, I left Washington and moved to Los Angeles to pursue my dreams of an acting career—along with thousands of Kelly McGillis wannabes and Don Johnson posers. People used to mistake me for Molly Ringwald and even ask me for my autograph. I would walk down the street and hear, “Hey, Molly!” I’d wave and blow kisses. When I was waiting tables, a few customers thought I was Molly. I went along with it at first and signed their napkins. Finally, I asked the obvious. “Why in the heck would Molly Ringwald be waiting tables in West Hollywood?”
I have pictures of me playing up the Molly look, but I also loved Madonna. The photos of me dressed in her “like a virgin” days: hilarious! None of this got me anywhere in show biz, however. So to pay the bills, I moved on to waitressing along with the rest of the dreamers—just until I landed a part in some big movie that would make me famous. And rich. And allow me to live in Beverly Hills.
Not that doing anything in Beverly Hills isn’t a trip, if you know what I mean. In one of the first of my many stellar jobs, which was just across the street from where I’m right now, fogging up a window—sighing over a red Louis Vuitton handbag that I’ve already priced at $1,110—I often worked the busy Saturday lunch shift where I lost some of my naiveté very quickly. Ron, the manager-host, told us to seat the “beautiful people” outside on the patio so that passers-by could see them frequenting his dining establishment. The “less attractive” tourists were seated inside upfront, and the uglier ones, as he called them, were “positioned in the back.” I felt sorry for those poor schmucks— because they also got the slowest service. And the smaller portions. Sometimes they even got the least appealing or slowest selling food items. “What do you recommend on the menu?” the ugly folks would ask in good faith. “Oh, the dirt sandwich with onions and sauerkraut is my favorite. You’ll enjoy it.”
I begged to wait on the outdoor diners—celebrities, the rich and famous, the spoiled patrons juggling Chanel, Gucci, and Armani shopping bags. I was a bit jealous, of course, of all these privileged people, shopping and dining in Beverly Hills while I worked my ass down to a size zero at two restaurant jobs just to get by. I was waiting on Joan Collins, who came to the restaurant with a party of six. Dynasty was a top-rated TV show, and I did my best to please its star villainess, pouring more of this, fetching anotherthat. And then disaster struck. She called me over to her table. Her fork was missing. “This is an outrage!” she barked.
For all my work, she left me a $2 tip on a $120 tab. The woman was clearly typecast as Alexis, right?
My dream of getting work as an actress got squeezed into the crannies as the years flew by, and I accepted—but never liked—the restaurant work. I mean I should be the one wearing fabulous designer suits at power lunches and dripping with bling at dinner—not serving these hoity-toities. I mostly just got lonelier and felt worse about myself. By age twenty-seven, I was still living alone, away from my family, and struggling financially.
But I was about to ride off into the smoggy sunset with Mr. Fabulous who would, I hoped, save me from the drudgery of two jobs so I could return to acting. I was working in a French restaurant in West Hollywood. Neither Tom Cruise nor Rob Lowe had taken notice of the adorable cashier at Le Bistro Brasserie, so I flirted with Bruno, the cute French sous chef who didn’t speak much English. I spoke French, so he chatted me up tout suite. I let him talk me into letting him crash at my place a few times— he lived forty-five minutes away and knew I walked to work from my little apartment. Success story that he was, he had no car and spent a fortune on taxi fares at night after work.
I must confess that I suffer from RAA syndrome, Rescues Abandoned Animals, and so I helped the guy out. Like, four times a week. He camped on my sofa. You can see where this is going. I mean a bed is so much more comfy than a lumpy couch. Bruno soon had an epiphany: Marriage would save us money. Somehow, it sounded sexy in French. Deep down I knew that he was using me, but I was so lonely. I said, oui.
What was I thinking?
A few years later, Bruno had a chance to work with two brothers who were opening a restaurant in Chicago. He asked me if I wanted to move so far away from sunny California. The only thing I knew about Chicago was that Oprah and Phil Donahue were there, and as one of my guy waiter friends who had visited many times told me, “It’s colder than a witch’s tit.” I had also heard that there was acting work available. I was sick of L.A. and said ouionce more.
I loved the Windy City and made some good friends, but the restaurant partners turned out to be very bad people, so, after a year and a half, we broke off our association with them. Bruno decided to take a job in Beverly Hills and move back to L.A. We didn’t have enough money to pay a moving company, so he went ahead of me; I stayed the summer, working two jobs waitressing in order to save enough for the move. I was so exhausted from waiting on tables day and night that when I came home, I often collapsed on the floor in tears, my three-and-a-half-pound Yorkshire terrier, Daphne, my only comfort. But at least I looked good. According to my friends, the fifteen pounds I dropped gave me a “gaunt catwalk allure.”
I finally made it back out to L.A. to be with Bruno, who had by then found his true passion in life: playing poker with the guys. I hardly ever saw him. I should have thought, Yay! I was so depressed, though, I thought I might have a nervous breakdown. I told Bruno that it looked like our marriage was falling apart and that maybe we should just end it. He said that would be just fine with him, since he wasn’t all that attracted to me in the first place.Aaaarrrrgggghhhh! I hated L.A., I couldn’t find a job, and I missed Chicago and my friends. I spent a lot of time crying my eyes out. On top of that, I just never got picked out of the studio cattle calls. I felt like I was nothing. After ten months back in the City of Angels—from hell—I decided to go back to Chicago and start a fresh life. This should have been a “woo-hoo moment,” but I was still a mess. Scars? It’s a wonder my heart still worked. I still have nightmares about those times.
After seven years of marriage, I filed for divorce, packed two suitcases, and put Daphne in my roomy Gucci knock-off handbag. My dad was living nearby in Anaheim with his second wife—my parents having divorced when I was about twenty-seven. He drove me to the airport. Waterworks gushing, I nodded as my dad kept pointing out that this was the best thing I could have done for myself. He was right. My outlook and therefore my luck was about to change.
Oh. My. God. I smell Italian food, and it draws me right out of my memory of those moronic times with Bruno. I’ve wandered along, enjoying the profusion of flowers blossoming along the center divide of Rodeo Drive. The pleasant summer evening is still light at almost eight. Most of the shops have closed, so I have the place virtually to myself. The flowers perfume the streets, but my nose also detects . . . money. No kidding. The air smells like new cars and aroma therapies and salons and perfume and leather goods.Eau de Moolah—that’s the scent along this street. I’ve reached the Rodeo Collection, small, yet the most expensive shopping turf on the planet. You can’t really tell from the outside though. Part of it is sunken with all this ivy cascading over the brick walls and marble columns. There’s an open courtyard three levels down with trees and a small waterfall. The pizza smell that is making my stomach growl is wafting up from a new upscale restaurant.
I love Italian food, but somehow I managed not to bulk up on it back in Chicago, where I worked in an Italian restaurant for the steady income. It was the first time I actually took charge of my life, and I began making a good deal of money doing TV commercials and getting small parts in films and print modeling work. I even had a couple of lines in the Mel Gibson film, What Women Want. Mel was very nice. I got to stand just a few feet from where he was doing his scene. I was so surprised to see what a heavy smoker he was. He would stand in front of the camera, puffing on a cigarette, and then when it was time to do his scene, he threw the lit cigarette on the floor in front of him. After his scene, he would pick it back up and start smoking again. Cig addictions—don’t even get me started.
I was happy there for five years. Chicago holds a special place in my heart—but life was about to call me back to California. I was home for Christmas at my mom’s house in Federal Way when the call came that my father was in the hospital with cancer. I called the airlines, got a ticket, and jumped on the next plane to Los Angeles, crying the whole way down and as I walked into the hospital. I looked at him lying in his bed, knowing that the time had come for us to pay the ultimate price for those damn cigarettes. The hold that cigarettes get on people is like a vise around the throat. Okay, I didn’t mean to go there, but knowing that he was going to suffer just about killed me.
The doctor came into the room and coldly announced that the diagnosis was terminal and that Dad had six months to live, at the most. Then he just turned around and walked out the door.
Neither of us could look at each other.
Then Dad said, “You think it’s too late for me to start eating that tofu and carrot juice you’re always trying to foist off on me?” We laughed and I hugged him.
Back in Chicago, it took me only five days to pack everything, close bank accounts, tell my boss I was leaving, say good-bye to dear friends like Rita—who would take care of Daphne for me— and hire a moving company. When I got back to California, Dad was no longer in the hospital. He had deteriorated so much that he was put into a nursing home. I spent days and nights at his side, crying and praying for help getting through this.
Mercifully he died a few days later. I was living at my aunt’s house, waiting for my things to cross the country from Chicago on a moving truck. The second hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do in my life was to drive over to the cremation place and pick up my dad’s ashes. I paid the four hundred dollars and was handed a cardboard box that weighed about ten pounds. I hid it in the back of the closet of the guest room that I was staying in.
That night, lying on the inflated mattress that was my bed for the next two months, I felt and heard a buzzing sound in my left ear. Then I heard the words in my dad’s voice, “We did okay, didn’t we? I love you.”
“I love you too,” I said.
I always feel Dad at my side in stressful times. Like right now.
I think he’s telling me to do what makes me happy. I feel in my heart that he helped me right after I moved back to L.A., back to Hollywood.
I planned on getting an agent and a job—in any line of work except waitressing—and start auditioning again. I finally found a cute little studio apartment in Hollywood that accepted dogs, a small miracle, and Daphne and I moved in. Decorating the place helped me cope with the loss of my dad, but I still felt very lost and lonely.
I did some French translation work and was also cast in bit parts as an actress. I began doing “audience work.” Yep, they actually pay people to sit in the audience at tapings of game shows and late-night talk shows. I had no idea “audience work” existed as a profession until my girlfriend, Anouchka, introduced me to it. It paid a pittance—six dollars per hour cash, sometimes more—but it was interesting. Getting on the Judge Judy show, for instance, paid a whole $40 for just sitting on your butt, staying awake, and looking interested while people bickered, ranted, and endured magisterial sarcasm.
One evening, I walked to a pharmacy up on Sunset Boulevard to get some vitamins. There I met an adorable little Polish woman from New York who also lived in the neighborhood. Sabrina and I became solid friends. We went to plays and comedy clubs together—it was a lot of fun. She introduced me to one of her girlfriends who was an agent. She signed me right away. In the meantime, Sabrina was always talking about a guy who lived in her building. She told me he was dating a gal, but it wasn’t serious.
I didn’t really care to hear about a guy who was “in a relationship,” but every time I saw Sabrina, she kept talking about this guy. She told me that he played piano at a place in Playa Del Rey. I can’t explain this, but I felt like my dad was nudging me. I was just kind of glowing with expectation the night I decided to go to the piano bar with Sabrina to secretly check him out.
I liked his music, the way he played the piano, and just . . . the way he looked: Latin, handsome, with a warm smile. He came over and sat with us during his break. When he was done for the evening, we all went over to Sabrina’s apartment and had a drink. We sat next to each other on her couch, and our lips, I don’t know . . . they just . . . somehow . . . locked like magnets.
I will receive a belated tip from an old actress for $62.37 (adjusting for inflation and interest accrual).