I'm in a sport utility vehicle in Monrovia with a man I've just met. We're in the parking lot of the Brass Elephant, an establishment the likes of which I've only seen in movies like "The Accused."
The Brass Elephant is closed now and my brain is too marinated in Southern Comfort to brave the drive back to Hollywood. I'm not really itching to go back, anyway. In fact, I'm stretching out this car conversation as long as I can because I don't want to climb inside my little Datsun and ride back to my life.
It's been a bad day, I tell my new friend Mark. Really bad. The evening itself has been pretty degrading. Mark and I were in Monrovia for a performance of "Vinnie and Vanessa Get Hitched," an interactive show we performed for the holiday party of a pharmaceutical company. I'm just an understudy, and this was my first performance. I had no idea how bad it would be, just a step above dinner theatre and with the surprising requirement that I dance with several inebriated low-level pharmaceutical executives. I felt like a glorified lap dancer.
That was just the topper, I tell Mark. My first job as a television writer ended abruptly today when my show got canceled. Some suit from the network showed up to tell the staff, "It's not you, you guys are great. The show's just not what we want right now." I was waiting for him to tell us he "just needed some space." He didn't, he just disappeared into his cushy office and took my first real paycheck with him.
Just hours after cleaning out my desk, I had a screen test for a job as a substitute host on a game show. It wouldn't have been the most glamorous job, but it would have been a break. No one else was even being considered for the job, but after seeing my screen test, the producer decided to keep looking. How do you lose a job to no one? Only I could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
I can tell Mark is a little befuddled by all of this. He probably thought if he kept buying me drinks after the show I'd be prime for an after hours sport utility vehicle make-out session. Instead, he's on the receiving end of one long story. We've now been talking for close to five hours.
I realized at about the two hour point that this Mark guy was not going to be the love of my life or even one of my patented two-month relationships. In the show, he was charming and funny. In the Brass Elephant, he was just a guy trying to get in my pants - a guy with a weird Brooklyn accent I hadn't noticed before and puffy bags forming under his eyes. Still, there was no way I was leaving.
Something about complete rejection and a strong sense of personal failure makes me one good time girl.
I make Mark drive me to the Monrovia 7-11, where I buy the most lard-filled microwaveable burrito I can find. I just don't care about anything, least of all my arteries.
I'm polishing off my fat-filled snack in the passenger seat when I notice Mark eyeing the digital clock. It's past 4 a.m. now and he's hinting that it might be time for me to vacate the vehicle and go home. I don't even know this man but I want him to tell me it's going to be all right. He doesn't know it, but I'm not leaving until he recites the string of cliches I want to hear, about how everyone gets rejected and it's just a matter of time and I'm doing pretty well considering. Mark isn't playing. He just wants to go home.
"Okay, just ten more minutes," I say. My hand is on the door handle but I can't turn it. Mark gives me his business card (which I'll never use) and pretty much shoves me out the door, in a nice way.
When did I become Janis Joplin, I wonder? Yesterday, I was a nice Jewish girl who pays her rent on time, always returns her grandmother's calls and rarely takes risks of any kind. Tonight, I swilled hard alcohol like I just got out of rehab, mouthed off to redneck barflies and ended up in the sport utility vehicle of a virtual stranger in a parking lot in Monrovia. How did this happen?
Pulling out of the parking lot, I'm confounded, but I'm exhilarated, too. Wasn't it Janis who said, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose?" That's how I feel. Free. A little bit of loss is a powerful thing, and I guess we all have our own ways of putting it off until we're ready to accept it. Me? I turn into Janis for a second. It could be worse. I could get downright Robert Downey, Jr.
I get home, fall asleep in my make-up and wake up to a day I know is best spent in bed with the shades pulled down, which I do. And just like a 24-hour flu, the bug is gone the next day. I turn on the radio, wash the dishes and tell myself, everyone gets rejected, it's just a matter of time, I'm doing pretty well considering. And I believe it.