When I was in college, I helped throw some of the greatest parties of our day; I had no trouble meeting anyone I wanted, and was positively fearless in love and lust. This was probably a grand correction from my childhood and early adolescence of forced introspection and monkhood, but it didn’t matter. I carried a sense of purpose, of survival, of fun and effortlessness all mixed together, even through my twenties, building a castle wall lined with arrow slits of sarcasm and disarming self-deprecation, depending on the situation. I was doing pretty well until I pulled my Volkswagen Fox up Beachwood Drive in 1997.
That began three years in LA that left me utterly confused on how the world functioned, where none of my survival mechanisms seemed to work, and contentment was replaced by calcified scales of deep cynicism. I was dipped in shit, and there was nothing I could do to cleanse myself of it.
Many of these people in LA had been some of my closest confidantes in a broad circle extending from North Carolina. I tried being gung ho; I was met with disdain. I tried being laissez-faire and cool; I was met with boredom. I tried removing myself from any potentially volatile situation, and was summarily forgotten about.
I couldn’t maintain any old friendships, get any gigs, make any money or get arrested. When I would go to a gathering, I’d have out-of-body experiences, suddenly seeing myself as “that guy”, whatever “that guy” was. It reached its apotheosis one night in late 1999, when the last of my old ego crumbled away.
I was at a party thrown by old friends who had become fairly successful, and through months of vague osmosis, I had gotten to know the names of the producers and agents that filled out their circle. A bunch of us – about 15 folks of varying genders – had ended up in this tiny room with no windows. A joint was being passed around, drinks were being filled, and there was the usual repartee of single people trying to be funny.
I joined in a few times, directing my comments at a guy named Peter, a successful producer I’d known from several readings over the preceding months. Everyone was getting a bit higher and a bit drunker, and I remember thinking I was finally having a little fun after a few years.
You never really knew what was going to be your ticket to the inside – a friend of mine ended up editing a huge movie because he happened to drive back from the desert with the right guy. Favors were passing left and right, little phone calls were placed for buddies, and scripts made their way to actors’ nightstands on suggestions and nudges. I had to participate; to do anything else would be insane, and leave you back at the bus station with the schlubs.
On the way home from the party, I had this creeping realization: the big producer, the guy my age who I had been joking with in front of so many people all night… I… I don’t think his name was Peter. In fact, I know it wasn’t Peter.
And I replayed the night in my head, all the times I said something, and the looks from others, trying not to be embarrassed for me, and the producer himself, giving a gentle laugh as I called him the wrong name, someone else in the room quickly saying something else so that the uncomfort wouldn’t linger… how did I not see it at the time? And I had even talked to his girlfriend, oh god, and none of the people I’d called friends ever pulled me aside…
And that’s when I said “fuck it, I give, I’m folding.” That was it. This place had an allergy to me. I was done. I didn’t go to any more parties, no more dates, no more going anywhere for six months. At the end of six months, I moved to New York without telling anybody, and started my life over.
I can’t believe, so many years later, with all I’ve managed to do, and coming back here and having a fair amount of success… I can’t believe how much pain that one night 11 years ago still causes me. I cannot let it go. It represents something bigger. Maybe I need it for navigation, so that I never go back.