I've recently been relocated to Los Angeles, and I thought that I was ready for it. I thought I'd been prepared for the worst, most surreal aspects of Tinseltown, because I've seen more movies about L.A. than I have Two Heads Share the Same Body Odd Couple Comedies (and I fucking love 2HSSBOCCs! Thing With Two Heads, represent). That's not arrogance unique to Los Angeles: Every city has their special little traits that we associate with them. I know that in New York I'll get bitchin' pizzas and fat cabbies spitting into my mouth; I know that in New Orleans I'll get jazz funerals and see some drugged titties; and I know that in Baltimore I'll get raped by a longshoreman. So I figured that in L.A., I'd be annoyed by the enthusiastic cokeheads, phonies and traffic. And I am, but I wasn't at all prepared for ...
Combine rabid capitalism, a booming industry that doesn't just breed, but actually requires superficiality, and the kind of criminal apathy usually only seen in science fiction dystopias, and you get something like the advertising in Los Angeles. I'm not talking about the staggering size, number and complexity of billboards (though that does start to feel a bit like the sunglasses scene in
But no: Instead of shady lawyers and the U.S. Army, every bus down here is covered in ads for the hottest new plastic surgery procedure. Major operations have product launches and advertising campaigns, like slicing your own face open is somehow on par with the new
Everybody in this town thinks that they're destined to be a star. That's the one true thing everyone already knows about LA: People only live here because they're in the midst of pursuing that beautiful, hopeful, occasionally sad and misguided dream of super-stardom. But hey, if you want to chase that Golden Ticket, strong-jawed extroverts, you go for it: That's nobody's business but yours and the food service industry's, five years from now.
But for every modest, grounded, talented aspiring actor, writer, singer, or director -- just paying their dues until (or if) they hit it big -- there are ten that are so confident in their inevitable uber-fame that they've already adopted the lifestyle. That's not just annoying, it's potentially disastrous: See, A-List celebrities are able to walk around all aloof and pampered like that because they have the money to hire an entourage that takes care of all the shit every human being has to do, but doesn't want to. People like Scarlett Johansson have dudes named T-Bro that pick up after their dogs, or throw things away in trash cans, or wipe down their toilet for them. And that's fine. Nobody's begrudging them that. We can all spend our money on whatever we want.
"... so I just hook up some brake lights on its ass, and this is street legal, right?" -- What I'm saving up for.
It only becomes a problem when you start living that lifestyle and you don't actually have the entourage of mercenary garbage men and professional poop-handlers, because
Everybody on film has nice teeth, and that seem like one of the more benign pre-requisites of a film career. Actors have to look their best at all times, because that's what we, the audiences, demand of them. We don't question why the crack-addicted hobo in
But while you expect to encounter a celebrity or two with 10,000 dollar teeth out here, you forget that every aspiring actor has to share that same priority if they ever expect to make it. Perfect teeth are cosmetically attractive and physically healthy, sure, but that takes absolutely none of the terror out of the situation when you walk into a bar and everybody turns to smile at you with the same mouth.
Like this, but replace all the dialogue with the words "Facebook" and "Executive Producer."
The first time that happens, you're forced to conclude one of three things: Either the hallucinogens have finally turned on you, you've inadvertently opened the door to the Employee Replacement Room at Disneyland, or you've just walked into the spring cotillion for The Thousand Avatars of The Undying God.
The scars, imperfections, chips, breaks and asymmetry in our faces help to cement our visual identity. It might seem like a minor detail now, but giving a presentation to a roomful of people with perfectly identical cubes of gleaming enamel all up in their grills is like having dinner with identical quintuplets. You know, objectively, that it's not
Being a gigantic nerd who loves video games and the apocalypse, when you say, "Let's get some headshots," I reply, "Sweet, I call Bill. I had to be Zoey last time." But no, they're not talking about shooting subhumans in the skull (sigh, they never are when you want them to be, you know?) they're referring to the blown-up, soft-lit faceporn that is the cornerstone of the auditioning process. And everyone has them: No matter how ordinary or down to earth a person might seem, no matter what they look like, or how unlikely it sounds -- if they live in L.A., there's a 1 in 3 chance that they have a stack of gigantic, glossy pictures of their own face burning a hole in their briefcase. And they will be absolutely astonished to learn that you do not. The really twisted thing is, this has nothing to do with personal vanity or delusional pipedreams: It's a universal requirement of the culture. My wife was looking for part-time work when we first moved down here -- nothing to do with the entertainment industry, mind you, mostly receptionist positions or social work -- and every single job required headshots with the resume.
An example: Soren Bowie works at the desk behind me. All joking aside, he's a perfectly normal, well-adjusted, modest and down to earth kind of guy, who only occasionally hunts men for sport. Here's his headshot:
Michael Swaim and Cody Johnston work in the far corner, because they're video people and not allowed to associate with the more civilized text editors. They're protesting the apartheid, but they can't cross the Writes Only line, so they're easy enough to ignore, for now. These are their headshots:
I'm not saying having these things reflects on them negatively, it's just surreal. Those are my coworkers. The people that man the desks surrounding mine. And yet they all have to have these weird, cheesy glamor ID cards, regardless. It's like the government is assembling a watch list to help ensure only the beautiful people get on the Doomsday Arks. Maybe someday, after I get this cocaine habit to stick, I'll have to look into it as well. But for now, the closest thing I have to a respectable self-portrait is the defensive cell phone pic my wife snapped after she came home from shopping and realized she forgot the Jameson.
Obviously, I will not be on that Ark.
But all of this -- the chrono-negligence, the beast with a thousand mouths, the
Nine motherfucking dollars! Per pint!
Sure, that's for a middle-to-above-average brew, but what is this, post-collapse Russia? Is money so meaningless that we have to measure it in wheelbarrows? Where are the human rights protesters?! Fuck Wall Street, why aren't the hipsters camped out in the parking of the 7-Eleven?
Jesus, I thought I made a pretty good living, but in reality, I earn like three cheap beers an hour, max. Do you know how heart-stoppingly depressing that realization is? I need a steady rate of at least $5/hr just to get out of bed in the morning.
Welp, I guess there's always the valley. Guess I better start making some phone calls. How much do gloryhole attendants make these days anyway, and
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Or you could argue that I'm being unfair, that you live in Los Angeles and have a fantastic work ethic, but that sounds hard: Don't you have people to do that for you?
For more from Robert, check out The 5 Most Badass Things You Could Actually Ride to Work and The 5 Most Badass Things Ever Done By Jungle Cats.