Much of working in showbiz is about living and existing in showbiz. Or amongst it without allowing its corrupting essence to sink beyond one’s initial layer of skin. And believe me when I say there’s no SPF rated lotion that can fully defend anybody from the blitzkrieg of Hollywood’s lights.

Now, despite having been born in Southern Cal, I still cleave to those formative years growing up in a fruit farming community in the rural foothills east of Sacramento. And I cleave to the fact that my social references and upbringing felt as normal then as they do today.

That said…

LA is a company town. And it’s not because most of the inhabitants work in some form of show business. It’s just that no other American hometowns have a veritable season of mass-viewed TV award shows broadcasting from “Main Street” honoring everything and everybody associated with the glitziest side of show business. But hey. If you’re not living here, at least you probably have a Main Street.

Anyhow, much navigation within “the biz”—as it’s unfortunately called hereabouts—is surviving and functioning outside the job in this bubble that is full of strange, did-that-just-happen moments.

Such as this following conversation:

“You look familiar,” said Emmy-nominated actress, Katey Sagal, hands on her hips and squinting hard at me. She might’ve not been wearing her glasses after stepping out of the blinding lights of the scene she just wrapped. Plus as soon as you’re past the cameras and cables, the dark of a soundstage can hit you like an unexpected power outage.

“Doug.” I smiled and shook Katey’s hand.

“We’ve worked together, right?” Katey said. “What was the show?”

“Sorry,” I said, wishing otherwise. She’s an acting force of nature on Son’s of Anarchy. Because she was lost on my face and name, I assisted her with a contextual catch-up. “Beeman Park. Think our kids played soccer or t-ball together.”

“Oh yeah,” she nodded, before joining the group conversation that was as ordinary as it was beyond mundane. LA was suffering under a heatwave. Yes. Katey and I, along with other SOA cast mates from her FX Network show were standing around between takes, lamenting about the weather.

Now, bumping into an acquaintance at a workplace or the supermarket or the local pharmacy is hardly strange. It’s even expected. We all live in a village of sorts. This is why we call it community. Only in the real world, one doesn’t usually cross paths with a soccer mom then go home and proceed to binge-view the last four episodes of soccer mom’s long-running TV series you’d just so happen to have saved on your DVR. A surreal twinge rolls to the end of my nerves, reminding me yet again that – oh yeah, I live in LA.

There are other encounters. Some comical. Others pinch-worthy. Some might’ve already made it into the blog with a work-related context or some kind of moral. This isn’t about that. This is about making a normal life out of the abnormal. Like good fences make good neighbors? Only the fence in question involves a friend whining to you about his neighbor, an insouciant world-renowned action star, whose backyard Greek-statuary-adorned water park kept flooding across the property line. Or sharing a kid’s Little League sideline with an A-List director who, were he to merely nod in your career direction could mean millions in assignment fees. Or what about this? Visiting a potential private school for my five-year-old and having Super Girl give you and the missus a private tour. Talk about eyes on your homework.

Or speaking of schools, sharing a sunny bench with a famed B-movie actress only a few years past her fan boy prime, watching both our little ones play recess kick-ball while she whispers about her waning confidence, the marquee actor who gave her an STD, the subtle game of trading oral sex for movie parts, and eventually begging your opinion as to whether or not it would help her career if she went under the knife for yet another boob job.

“How was playground duty, hon?” asked the War Department.

“Fine,” I might’ve answered. “You know. The usual chit-chat with the moms.”

Only in LA, I reminded myself.

There’s more weirdness. Like the Sunday afternoon I stumbled upon a Golden Globe winning actor who was moonlighting as a residential real estate agent. I recall him showing my wife and I through an empty little fixer in the hills. All the while, the movie geek that lived in my skull cap was tallying up all the pictures I’d seen him in. Why was he selling real estate? It might’ve been a sideline or a hobby or a way to pay child support. Who the hell knows? That’s not my business. Everybody needs to make a buck. So why not this famous face? It’s just that to a fellah like me who’d spent a vast number of his formative years obsessed with celluloid, it can throw a mean chop-block on the mental equilibrium.

But maybe my most meaningful real-life-crashing-into-a-TMZ-moment occurred at a local, Catholic school fundraiser.

Welcome to the St. Francis de Sales Annual Carnival and Fair.

It was a last-minute impulse by my beloved War Department. We’d just treated ourselves to a meal at a nearby kid-friendly eatery. As we were driving home, we couldn’t miss the colored lights of the turning Ferris wheel that occupied the playground of our local Catholic church and school. We rolled down the window, heard music wafting along with the smell of fresh caramel corn. How sweet, we thought. How so wonderfully Americana of this Kindergarten through eighth grade school to throw such a home-spun kind of fundraiser.

We found nearby street parking and purchased just two tickets because kids under five-years-old received free admittance. I swung my boy, Henry, onto my shoulders and entered the noisy throng. As a cover band played from the distant stage, we perused the midway. There was one classic booth after the next. The bean bag toss. A softball/milkbottle throw. Even a dunk tank which promised to drench the school’s vice principal. Each and every ticket-taking endeavor manned by school parents or teachers, every dime and dollar funding the good neighborhood Catholic school.

“Finally,” I said to my honey. “Looks like we found it.”

“Found what?” she replied.

“A taste of real middle-America right here in L.A.”

“Catholic schools,” half-lamented my former, Irish Catholic wife. “Gotta love ‘em.”

“Everything but the nuns, huh?”

“I suppose there were a few that were okay.”

The cover band played on and, like most bar bands in the area, they sounded pretty tight, considering the area code was choked with out-of-work musicians. If I recall, the number they’d dialed up was Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell, complete with a white-haired impersonator stalking around the stage.

Rebel Yell, I laughed to myself. At a Catholic school no less.

In the midnight hour
She yelled “more more more.”

Only in LA? Well, maybe not. I’m not Catholic. And Lord knows, some of the girls I’d dated were reason enough to invent the confessional.

Still, the band was pretty damned good. And the impersonator was hitting a lot of Billy Idol notes. With my son still upon my shoulders, we closed on the stage. I had a hold of his little fist, pumping it in the air with the rest of the middle schoolers.

With a rebel yell,
She cried “more more more.”

I glanced up at my two-year old’s face to see if he was half-enjoying the show as much as I was. Satisfied that my little boy was amused enough, I tilted my gaze back down to the stage to admire what was, I thought, a helluva strong Billy Idol act.

Damned good indeed. Because, if you hadn’t already guessed, it wasn’t an act. It was Billy Idol.

Jeez, no, I said. Can’t be. Right smack in the middle of having sliced off a piece of American pie and stuffing myself silly with it, here I was fifty feet from the one and only lip-snarling sex God of the eighties as he fully throttled himself through his greatest hits. The front of the stage was slammed with squealing, junior high girls as Billy dropped to his knees and crotch-thrusted to every synchronized fist pump.

More more more, indeed.

Oh, did I forget to mention his back up band? Ever hear of Toto? The band’s day in the top forty sun might’ve been a bit short, but each of the players were known studio killers, having played on dozens and dozens of platinum records.

Henry and I hung for the rest of the set, half laughing at the scene and and half rocking out as Billy himself busted out Cradle of Love, Dancing with Myself, and White Wedding—tunes with themes about pedophilia, masturbation, and incest respectively—between which he encouraged parents to spend lavishly in support of the Catholic school where, not-so-coincidentally, his daughter attended.

“Love this school!” growled Billy. “And I love all these little girls!”

I’d had L.A. moments before that evening. But on that particular night it felt as if the memo was engraved on my skin. You live here. So do they. Deal with it.

Strange has since become the new normal.

Don’t fret. I’m still me. I haven’t yet bought the program. Or at least think I haven’t. I still seek out pockets of normalcy. And I pride myself in having “non-pro” friends as a local trade paper once coined. Still, there’s no escaping reality.

Oh. Did I tell you the War Department and I are purchasing a new home? Our real estate reps are a dynamic duo. One is a former Bond Girl. The other was Miss Universe.

Doug Richardson
Doug Richardson
Author and screenwriter. Books: THE LUCKY DEY THRILLERS: BLOOD MONEY, 99 PERCENT KILL, AND REAPER, THE SAFETY EXPERT, AND THE SMOKING GUN. Movies: HOSTAGE, BAD BOYS, DIE HARD 2.
  • Waves of Gray

    Living in a city where you can so randomly and yet so often encounter other people in the business, do you think that writers and other creative types tend to be more inspired and feed off the collective energy? In other words, do you believe that being in Los Angeles adds anything to your creative process that you might not get in other areas?

    • Doug Richardson

      Good question, Waves. What’s inspiring about being in LA is the flow of information on how and why stuff works on a business level (read last week’s blog). It also reminds you of how competitive things are. For some, it’s a kick in the pants. To others, that can be cause to curl up in a fetal ball.

  • Bryan Walsh

    At least Katey didn’t remember you as “the guy that writes “THOSE Die Hard” movies”.

    • Doug Richardson

      Katey’s husband is Kurt Sutter. She so knows better.

  • Stacy Chambers

    I was in L.A. for a month and loved it, and the more I learn about that place, the more I think maybe I’m the right kind of weird for it. Wonder what that says about me…

    • Doug Richardson

      Can’t say what it says about you, Stacy, other than “come on in the water’s fine.”

  • michelle

    Interesting dynamic when you run into a famous ‘personality’. Ran into ZZ Top many years back in the airport on a business trip. They were very approachable, and my co-worker and I were young and single, so of course we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chat ’em up. However, a year or two ago at Dick Sporting Goods here in Tulsa, OK, I was walking toward Garth Brooks, not really realizing it was him until I saw Trisha Yearwood approaching him with a handful of clothes. I was not sure whether to ignore them altogether and pretend like I didn’t see them standing right in front of me in the check out line, or engage them in a polite conversation, like I often might do with any non-famous personality standing in front of me in line. I opted to say nothing–just felt like it would be too intrusive. What’s your experience? Do they want to be recognized or just left alone? (Makes me thing of that movie “Guarding Tess” and the grocery store manager would had to determine whether she wanted to be recognized as the Former First Lady or not!.

    • michelle

      It’s killing me that my note above has at least two typos in it!! And can’t hit ‘delete’ like I can on twitter ~~

  • John Thomas

    I moved to LA in January, and although I haven’t yet had any accidental brushes with big names, I was a little surprised how easy it is to run into people in the biz (or rather, how hard it is to NOT run into people in the biz, no matter where you are or what you’re doing). And I was surprised how easy it is to attend events where you can meet and chat with some well known names.
    And yes, talk about the biz is everywhere; even people who aren’t in the biz talk about it. I came from Silicon Valley, where everyone talks about the computer biz, so it’s similar – it’s just that computer personalities aren’t as recognizable or sexy as show biz personalities.

    To @WavesofGray’s point, I read a lot about how it’s possible to get into the biz as a screenwriter from outside LA, and I’m sure it’s true. But after 2 years working on screenwriting from outside LA, and 3 months working on it from within LA, I can say without a doubt that it’s much, much easier when you live here – you just have way more chances to meet people and learn how the biz works (assuming you get off your butt and out of the apartment-cave once in a while to interact with real-life human beings).

    Pretty sure I haven’t run into you yet, Doug. But if I recall correctly you posted one of your local hangouts once; I’ll have to drive down to Hollywood and Vine one of these days and drop a quarter in your cup…

  • Phyllis K Twombly

    As a screenwriter it feels like every ‘job’ I’ve had is research. I’ve thought about real estate–but I don’t need a character like that right now. Normal is partly where you find it and what you make it. Congratulations on your new home. (Where the best parties in Hollywood will happen, right?)

  • James Hornsby

    Sold my home to the first person that walked in on the first open house. He was wearing a jacket from a show. I looked at him and said, “editor?”, he said “how’d you know?” It must be something in the water.