After four days of cooking Walmart food over an open fire, repeatedly smacking our heads on various faux teak surfaces, and rising with the birds to the much-beloved Alexis Martino version of “Morning Has Broken” (complimented by a rare MP3 recording of Luke Hopping’s rendition of “Man From Laramie”, a throwback to the M-Term days of yore), we returned to civilization in style, checking into the beautiful Santa Monica branch of Hostelling International. Bearing the unmistakable influence of the Neo-Playmobil Art Deco movement of the early 1990s, the hostel graciously received thirty sweaty adolescents and our mountains of luggage. After a captivating exploration into the delicate and complex dynamical power balance between Alexis’s activist impulse and not-so-subtle neuroticism that played out on Santa Monica boulevard as we attempted to load the RVs full of sleeping bags and leftover gourmet food to send to Goodwill (“Okay! That’s all! I can’t take anymore! You’ll have to walk it over yourselves!”), we saddled up and set off for the land where the freaks never sleep in spite of the enormous THC content in their systems: Venice Beach.
In Venice, we met street performers, homeless war vets, and more than a few self-proclaimed harbingers of the Second Coming. Everyone promised us the cheapest sunglasses that side of the 405 and the sickest tattoos in the wild West (Ross Kadri and I were tempted to get matching ones of Noam Chomsky’s face, but held off because a) that would be a capital violation of M-Term policies and b) we’ve decided we want to wait for Daria Schieferstein to join us). One denizen of the boardwalk who had a lot to say about the American dream was Dale Rogers, a Southern transplant who came out to California following a family tragedy and the financial collapse and has been living on the beach for the past three years. Of the state of union, Dale lamented that Americans just aren’t as kind to one another as they used to be, and favorably compared Venice to his hometown in Arkansas for the sense of hospitality that pervades among the beach regulars. Judging from the number of free consultation offers we received from professionals with names like Dr. Kushlove, we think it’s safe to say that the spirit of communitas is alive and well in old New Venice.
Back at the hostel, we were treated to a lecture on the history of Hollywood and the current state of the film industry by Alexis’s old school chum, Stuart Volkow, a jack-of-all-entertainment-trades who works as a producer and a professor at UCLA and dabbles in writing and directing on the side. After the initial shock of learning that Thomas Edison bore an uncanny resemblance to the late great Kimble Humiston, we relaxed and allowed ourselves to be absorbed by tales of indie intrigue, studio wars, and revolutions in technology and social media. Students of media that we are, Stuart’s talk provided for us examples of folks who, through hard work and determination, realized the dream of public success and upward mobility, as well as evidence of how film and television contribute directly to the construction of what we think of the “American Dream”. Stuart even threw out a few key tips for the aspiring actors, writers, and directors among us (God only knows who they are).
We returned to the land of civilized dining in style, heading off to the Santa Monica Airport for some Asian fusion cuisine at Typhoon. Owing to my palatal penchant for white things and white things only and my instinctual aversion to tropical storms, I was understandably nervous going into the experience, and even more so once I found out that I was to be seated at the “grown-ups’ table” (!). At Earle’s behest, however, I loosened up and tried some dishes generally outside of my comfort zone, including spring rolls, chicken satay, and something called “Heiny-Winey Shrimp” (this is his phonetic interpretation, not mine). In this way, I feel I embodied the truly American paradigm of the “cultural melting pot” (or at least, I ate some melting pot stickers). Dinner with Stuart and his friend Jay Tavare provided an opportunity for me to whip out my Ross pedagogy (something I rarely get the chance to do in the real world, surprisingly) as well as to hear another fascinating take on “the biz”. Jay recounted his experiences as a Native American actor and his personal mission to preserve important elements of traditional tribal identity, improve conditions for Native youth across the country, and portray his roles with historical accuracy and cultural integrity. Born on an Indian Reservation, adopted by a Jolie-Pitt-type multicultural family, and sent to British boarding school, Jay’s American story was one of reconnecting with his roots as both a Native person and an American expat. An engaging speaker, Jay also excited the aforementioned Hollywood hopefuls with stories of his death-defying acts on CSI: Miami and confidential information regarding the size of Nicole Kidman’s waist (don’t tell anybody, but it’s really small).
From there, it was back to the hostel for showers (our first warm ones in days!) and shootouts (I am growing dangerously used to the sound of empty cap guns firing [I hereby publically threaten to rescind my prom invitation to both Jordan Schwimmer and Will Greenberg if they do not stop snapping those things]). Because I am a huge fan of cognitive dissonance (I run on angst like America runs on Dunkin’, or like those life-saving technologies allegedly run on Energizer batteries), I really enjoyed my first day in Los Angeles with Ross, and I’m really excited for what the next few have in store.