I expected scorching heat. I expected fast cars and bikini babes. I expected Robert de Niro arguing with a homeless man about what his best role was — the homeless guy is rightly claiming Taxi Driver, de Niro’s argument is simply “Meet the Fockers is really underrated” and won’t say anything further.
But what I actually found when I first arrived in Los Angeles, City of Angels, home of Hollywood, was a stubbornly overcast sky, a drab grey city block, and a balding middle-aged man bulging out of a Speedo on Venice Beach. He was running along the water’s edge and with every floppy, bouncy step I felt a little more sick. I zipped my hoodie up and walked along the boardwalk.
Well, I think it was a boardwalk. At times I felt like I’d wandered into some circus freak show, and the only thing that told me otherwise were the chalkboard signs advertising “Freak Show $5” reminding me that things could get substantially freakier. The street performers out here, the ones not hidden by a price tag and a silk curtain, were tattoo- and jewellery-covered and weird-looking themselves. Someone was juggling on what can only be described as a two-vertical-wheeled unicycle, a man in an open-chested robe and flowery shorts was creating one of those cool perspective art pieces on the ground…
…but unfortunately for me, the infamous chainsaw-juggler of Venice Beach has long since hung up his gas-powered cutting tools.
What pleased me most, though, was the homeless guy sitting on the ground with his dog listening to Kings of Leon’s classic Aha Shake Heartbreak on a small stereo. He’d written on a cardboard sign, “Please give generously. I accept…” and then provided a list of all the things he’d accept as donations, from cash and gift cards to weed, brand new iPhones, dog treats, candy, clothes, “batteries for my stereo”, CDs, beer (“no Bud”), blankets and towels. Oh, and butt plugs for some reason — I guess if you’re homeless you have no access to Netflix and Hulu and have to make your own entertainment.
A little further on I met an English couple. They were in their mid-40s I’d say, and were very overdressed for a day at the beach. She had on a shiny necklace (which I guess means it was valuable) and a floral dress. He was wearing a shirt and tie and looked like he’d just finished a day’s work at a bank. As they stopped to examine a stall of jewellery and hand crafts, a dreadlocked black guy approached them.
“Wall Street Guy! Hey, Wall Street Guy!”
“I beg your pardon?” the man said. The woman looked uneasy and gently squeezed her husband’s arm as if to say, “Please do something, Arthur, I’m scared. He probably wants to rob us.”
“I have some advice!”
“Yes? About what?” Wall Street Guy queried.
“You should smoke some weed, man. All you Wall Street Guys. Just chill out and there won’t be no recession no more. You all hooked up on fancy stones” – here he pointed to Wall Street Guy’s wife, who was visibly cowering, like the fair maiden being kidnapped by savages in a 1940s silver screen drama – “and you forget who you are. We all the same, ‘cept I don’t need nothing fancy. Just chill, and everything’ll be all right.”
With that, the black guy wandered off, chuckling to himself, shaking his head. He went and sat next to the homeless guy for a while, probably to talk about how silly English accents are and how he terrified the banker’s wife.
It wasn’t the slice of life I’d been expecting from Los Angeles, but it was a genuine one. I was naive to think I’d see even a D-list celebrity here, let alone Robert de Niro. But dreadlocked stoners, sure, that was real too, man.
Plus, there was also that evening I spent with an amateur dramatic group, which you can read about over here.