It’s always a bad dream. I wake up at 3 a.m. to helicopters with spotlights on palm trees and it seems this part of the earth will break free at any moment. And I will be happy that it did.
I have to be inspired to read in front of a room full of strangers. I shut my notebook on a blank page I have been staring at for over a month. The reading is Friday. It’s Sunday and I just got off a plane to Hollywood.
We dodge pedestrians with electronica screaming from the taxicab. The streets blur together like a broken VHS tape on fast-forward down Sunset Boulevard. Vagina Records painted in cursive on a shiny black van, outside a church, with a food truck out front.
I try to look away but the highway trees are clogged in cigarette smoke from the morning commute, a cross on the mountain filled with glitter, and Superman has his hand out for change.
The cover of The Writer Magazine loose in my bag reads, “Deadline for Writers. If you didn’t have to finish it, it would never get done.” The only sentence I catch before I stuff it deeper into my bag.
The cab stops at a downtown 7-11. I reach for the steel-handled door, but it’s shiny from cum and sweat of a million people. I walk faster instead passing the Museum of Broken Relationships and an old woman at a stoplight, hunched over in her bathrobe, screaming at a bush.
Sliding the pen behind my ear, I search the tops of the burnt yellow palm trees to find the story. I’m fuming. I can’t see past America — fake and ruined. Plastic streets and Europeans puking on the side of cheap Holiday Inn walls. This is Hollywood! Isn’t this supposed to be magic?!
The Paramount Studios tour guide yells that Hollywood is a lie like he is proud to crush the dreams of spectators. He leads us to a room full of mannequins with cheap lace and fake diamonds, useless props and styrofoam ceilings. Then, the light dim and the sound of violins fill the room.
An Italian man on the wall pulls a woman close to him and kisses her hand. Cellos get louder and a woman in a military uniform waits on the lawn for her kids to burst through the screen door. Image after image the orchestra rises and falls. I’m completely overcome, engulfed in their moments, in the magic of life.
The room goes black and the music dies.
I search for my notepad. Hollywood isn’t a lie. Hollywood is a world of dreamers, storytellers, artists, and inventors who wrap palm trees in fake bark and give themselves permission to create.
That night I write about an underground Korean hip hop chef I watch eat at his award-winning poke dot restaurant, and a sophisticated German cop orchestrating traffic on the corner. I write about the bright blues, oranges, and pinks and how they light up the sidewalks and make the billboards come alive. And I realize, abandoned cameras sit near empty stools backstage and that’s me on the corner with my half-written script of a story about someone who never tried.
So, no more than 48 hours later, I made a wish at the Paramount Gates, faced Hollywood and smiled. As a nonfiction writer, you have to fall in love with life to write stories. And that’s when I fell in love with Hollywood.