During my first year living in LA, I met an older woman whom I’d occasionally run into and we’d have coffee or lunch together. She is a bit eccentric, a child actor from the 1950s, a starlet. Felicia often talked about all these famous people and her adventures living all over the world.
Her dad worked for Paramount. She’s a bona fide Hollywood starlet, the real deal. These people still exist in Hollywood but they are dying off. You know, Hollywood is only around a hundred years old. That is less than two human lifetimes. It is a very young industry.
The nicest part about living in LA, apart from the perfect weather, is that you don’t live in a myth.
When I was younger, I never liked the idea of stars or celebrities because I never wanted to believe that “idols” were people you could never talk or whom you could never reach or meet. I was always disturbed by that.
When I lived in NY, I was very happy because famous people would be eating in the same restaurants, riding in the same subway, living in the same neighborhood, and shopping at the same stores—so there was never this idea of “separation.” And this was very grounding to me.
And because I had chosen never to separate myself from people who were so-called “greater” or “better” than me, I ended up having experiences that proved what I believed.
I could be living in the woods in Upstate New York and pass by Uma Thurman in the most unlikely places—like on a narrow sidewalk in a rinky-dink town in Saugerties. Then you’d see members of the SOPRANOS hang in some hidden weird redneck auction in the woods: on a late night Saturday filled with Hasidics in a smoke filled room with the odorous cacophony of pickled pig feet and over-salted popcorn. Very strange things like that.
In the gay scene, it was not uncommon to see Blondie’s Debbie Harry hanging out in some dark corner of an underground kinky nightclub—which appeared to be her staple. These types of things become ordinary because it’s just a part of NY life.
This is part of why I also like living in LA. I don’t think I can live anywhere else because in any other society—you’re brainwashed with gossip columns, movie and TV images that force feed you into believing that famous people are different and untouchable; therefore superior to your boring everyday life.
In the film scene it is the most annoying when filmmakers sit around and admire all their idols; it’s sickening and makes me wanna vomit. If you are destined for greatness, you have to put yourself among great people—to where no one can tell the difference.
When I lived in Colorado briefly the thinking was so small-minded it drove me crazy.
People would hold someone or something they’ve seen on TV up like its gospel and would damn you if you don’t worship the same gods. It’s very unhealthy.
Aside from mentioning names to prove a point, I try not to name names in my diary because I know one day, everyone is going to be unknown or dead. Fame has no longevity in life nor does it carry any universality. Not even the names of the most holy person will survive a mega-annum. Society changes and will continue to change.
Whenever I meet with Felicia, I can’t follow her name-dropping of famous people from the 1930s or 50s. They don’t have any relevance today. The only times I light up is when I hear about James Dean—whom I love to death. Even so, people don’t care much for him today; he’s an unknown relic. But unless someone else replaces him (which no one has), to me, he remains the most beautiful man that ever roamed this planet!
So Felicia and I ran into each other randomly and on impulse, we had lunch at an Israeli restaurant. It was an unexpected because I have’t been anywhere that was purely Israeli since the time I left New York.
In New York, almost all my friends were Israelis. I’m always told by Israelis that if you ever wanna meet the most gorgeous women on earth—go to Israel. Even my Israeli girlfriends said the same thing, “I am not the most beautiful.” I’m like, egads! Really?
I’m looking over the menu and I’m having these flashbacks. The entire menu reminded me of all the food my ex and I used to cook—and all the rare foods she introduced me to like “jachnun;” which she loved to make. I learned how to cook Israeli foods very well with some Yemenite influence she taught me. We made all our food from scratch and I started to cook like a Hungarian grandmother.
I asked myself, “Should I be missing her when I read this?” But I did not. What I miss was a rendezvous with a culture that seemed to be a part of a past so distant that it feels like past-life. My life is so different now. It is as if I got exiled from the Jewish culture. Yet at this restaurant, there were so many Israelis around me that the vibe became so clear. I had forgotten how I love the Israeli personalities, their depth, their warmth and brazen intellect.
I never chose to become a part of Jewish life. It’s happened naturally. It happened because in NY City, often the most opened-minded girls I’d meet were Israelis. They didn’t have all the weird hang-ups of the American girls. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and are passionate. They loved Ji and I loved them back. They’re blunt people, honest without filters, and loved to laugh. When you meet Israelis, you cannot compare them to the American Jews. They are two different people—totally different cultures: like day and night.
Before I met Felicia at the restaurant, she took her dog out for a walk while I got seated. They put me far back in a corner. All the way at the opposite side of the room, in my peripheral vision was this girl that kept looking at me. I ignored it because people stare for all sorts of reasons. After a long wait, I got up to find Felicia.
We returned with her dog, and when we got to our table she said, “I can’t sit here. It’s too close to the smoking area.”
Guess what, we ended up being put next to that girl across the room. While I’m talking to Felicia, I glanced over to find this girl staring at me as if she’s lost in a daydream—filled with joy and wonder—the way a proud parent watches their children play—immersed in a joyful state. What surprised me was that this girl was staring at me that way—filled with delight, as if she was completely in love and this made me very shy. She snapped out of it and was embarrassed when I caught her. For a brief moment, I remembered only the sweet parts of my past.
Felicia started talking and drifted off into her Hollywood past again. I realized this was a great time to ask her a curious question.
“Since you were around during that time, can you by chance tell me if you knew or met David Selznick?”
She looked at me strangely for a second, batted an eye and said, “I used to date his stepson.”
I was like, oh shit!
Now we’re cooking. She told that she was over at Selznick’s house all the time as a kid. Her father was an uncredited screenwriter who wrote the adaptation for Selznick’s original movie, KING KONG, but she never knew about her dad’s credentials until later on when a legal dispute came up. She said her dad was so humble that he never told his wife all the stuff he was doing. She said her boyfriend looked like James Dean. I was like OMG.
She told me all kinds of suicide stories that were happening in the industry. It seemed that there was a lot of tragic stuff going on. Being young, she was clueless about Selznick’s work for the most part and didn’t even know he did GONE WITH THE WIND; like epic stuff, you know. All she knew was her first date with his stepson was on the opening night of a big movie. Her date was arranged by her parents and mutual friends. It was asked of as a favor because the kid was disturbed when his dad (who was signed under one of Selznick’s production) committed suicide. TMI.
I asked her, “Did you know that Selznick was a big memo writer?”
She said, “No, I did not.”
As she responded, I became acutely aware that I was in amateur zone. Amateurs know about things they read—while the people who have experiences know nothing about such things.
I told her, “Yeah, I love his memos. I write like him.”
“Well, you’re destined to be an executive producer,” she said.
Whatever. I knew that she couldn’t give me the blessings of the Paramount Pictures gods. Still, it was a cool experience. I was thinking to myself, “Only in L.A.”
I felt grateful. Grateful that life often puts me close to the “source.” I think it’s because I love Truth so much that I always have to be near it. So I meet people closest to the source of something I’m curious about. Being connected to history is only amazing to me when it’s relevant: because it’s sacred, like getting an oral tradition—of linking one thing to the next before it passes.
When she told me she was involved with the Selznick’s household, I was shocked. I was thinking, “What are the odds of meeting someone with this history?”
I started to feel more grounded and got over my fascination with Selznick because it’s done. It’s like a meal that has been eaten. Although I love his working method, I got over it because “worship” is not for me. And here’s a great story to tell you why:
I used to love reading chef biographies. One of them included an interview with Jacques Pepin. If you know anything about the cooking world, there is a little bit of idol worship: a chef apprentice meets his mentor and believe his mentor is G-d.
So this chef tells a story about one of his interns who worshiped him so much that he got very nervous when he’d watch him cook. It was if the guy got paralyzed and couldn’t perform.
Then Pepin, like a true master, one day shows his student how he cooks his eggs personally—culinary skills aside. I don’t remember the procedure but it was awful. I think Pepin just mushed all the ingredients together without any artfulness, deftness or presentation and made kind of an ugly mess and ate it.
He said after that, he lost the student’s respect so much that the guy never had a problem cooking in front of him again! LOL.
This story is wonderful. That is a story of a true master. But this is what it means to get grounded. It means you have to get over how “high” someone is so you can function like a normal person.