My friend Eric moved to Los Angeles five years ago to become a rock star, only to learn that drummers and bass players in L.A. are unreliable, that nobody in L.A. goes to see live music and that the chicks in L.A. are all crazy. Once he got to wait at a stoplight behind Patricia Arquette, once Britney Spears came into the gym where he worked and one time a bouncer let him into a club ahead of Fabio, and none of these things made him famous. When my friend Shawn and I drove down to Burbank to see Eric, his tile floors were radiant with Mr. Clean and a pit bull lived in the backyard. Eric took us for a drive up Sunset Boulevard and who should go by in a futuristic golf cart but Leonardo DiCaprio! Not only that, but we were on our way to my three o’clock appointment with Fabrice Morvan from Milli Vanilli. It was Hollywood like you dream about!
In high school we’d all been big fans of Milli Vanilli, and then in 1990 their producer had revealed that Rob and Fabrice had been lip-synching and their careers abruptly ended. I’d arranged the interview through Morvan’s business partner, originally from Edmonton, with hopes of selling it to a Canadian newspaper.
We met Fabrice in a bookstore. I asked him if he felt that people respected his tenacity and he said yes, that “real people understand struggle.” Later he said, “People want everything now. They want to press a button and be fifty pounds lighter. I see people here try to take shortcuts and I’m like, ‘You’ve got to run, dude, if you want to get in shape.’” I wanted to ask how long he intended to keep running. Afterward he advised us not to park the car on Sunset; he was a nice, ordinary guy. Eric, meantime, hid in the textbook section, too driven to improve himself to be polite. That night we ate dinner at a faux Old West saloon where the waitresses had breast implants, and when we got home Eric’s roommate was listening to Slayer’s Seasons in the Abyss and scrubbing the floor that Eric had scrubbed that morning. The roommate was a personal trainer who’d played football for Arizona State. He steered us toward the fridge, which was filled with Miller Lite; half a dozen bottles made him loquacious.
“See, when I first moved out here I was all into the scene, you know, going to the clubs, that whole thing. I was dating this girl who was on TV, so I met everybody. But after a while I just had to step back, ’cause that shit’s not real, you know. I’m from Ohio, so I’m very moral.”
Then he told us that he’d overheard a conference call that morning in which an aging rock star was told that if he didn’t get his shit together he was going to find himself incorporated into Highway 101 .
We went to bars. Eric bumped into Sean Hayes of the TV show Will & Grace, who was shaking his finger in a woman’s face and hollering, “Who you fucking? You fucking your boyfriend or you fucking me?” We played darts with a biker dude who showed us a teddy bear given to him by a woman who’d thought he was one of the Backstreet Boys. Eric was approached by women at every club. Shawn and I would get up from the table, Eric would say some funny things, the woman would laugh and Shawn and I would raise our glasses to them and to ourselves, the prophetic ones who’d driven twenty hours to witness the end of Eric’s five-year drought. But then their postures would change and Eric would shuffle over to us as though he’d just come back from the bathroom. This would happen every night. After the bars closed we would eat hamburgers at Bob’s Big Boy and analyze the flaws in Eric’s technique.
“Why didn’t you get her number?”
“If she’d been interested she would’ve showed it.”
“Okay, she left her friends, came over to you and your friends, she totally put herself out there—”
“Yeah, she could’ve asked me for my number!”
People in L.A. complain that everyone puts up a false front, and they’re like a bunch of bumper cars as a result. Oh yeah, things were depressing at Bob’s Big Boy. Eric said that he should never have dropped out of Okanagan College, that he was thirty-one and had nothing to show for it and that L.A. was like an alternate reality where everyone’s waiting for their big break and whether you’re sixteen or sixty you never feel any nearer to it or further from it than anybody else, and it took a couple of stupid friends from high school to show up and start busting your chops for you to realize that a day is going to come when you’re going to quit waiting, and then where are you going to be?
On our last night we went to the Lava Lounge in Hollywood to sing some karaoke. I expected to see a lot of American Idol finalists strutting around the stage trying to belt it out like Whitney while all the hipsters dropped cutting remarks. But I was dead wrong. A guy with a mullet and camouflage pants sang “Just a Gigolo,” rattling off lyrics and performing a series of high kicks even though he didn’t know the melody. An African-American guy in a ball cap rapped to some old LL Cool J song until he got tired and another guy came up and finished it for him. A young couple held hands and sang “Feel Like Makin’ Love” while their proud moms looked on from a table at the back. Nobody seemed worried about looking dumb. This is where it all happens, in the karaoke bar, this is where L.A.’s broken spirit is mended, where the false fronts come down. I sang the theme from WKRP in Cincinnati because it was only twenty-nine seconds long. I was new in town, after all. Didn’t want to make an ass of myself.
The next morning Shawn and I got in the car and drove back toward the I-5 and Eric waved to us from the sidewalk, wrapped in his toque and red plaid shirt, not going anywhere.