Jean Barker

LA - live and let die

2014-02-21 08:04

Jean Barker

The girl was turning across traffic on the orange light. The guy was going double the speed limit through the light from the opposite direction. Screeech! Whack! A crunch of metal. He burst out of his Honda, sweating and cursing her. She stayed locked in her Merc, pulling out her phone. Should I stay and offer to be a witness? They both seemed unhurt...

“No”, I  thought. “I don't wanna get involved in their shit”. I crossed at the pedestrian light, annoying the hell out of the person trying to do a right turn over me, and went upstairs.

I probably should have stayed, but LA life is taking its toll on my sense of right and wrong.

Crazy LA

The night before I got hardly any sleep because my downstairs neighbour was screaming at some people on the phone for hours. He alternated between berating someone called “Bitch” and someone called “Homie”, both of whom he repeatedly threatened to kill. Like the rest of my building, I was too scared to do anything about it – this time or the other times. This is the same nutcase that banged on my door once at 11:30 to scream at me for “walking on his ceiling” after I got up to go to the bathroom.

A woman screamed at me the other night and honked her car horn at me for five full minutes because I was in her way - she was driving the wrong way into a parking lot rather than using the correct entrance, and me trying to exit legally didn't suit her.

Someone tried to steal my car battery the night before - and forgot to close the bonnet afterwards. I was going 120km/h on the I5 when my bonnet flew open, hitting my windshield and blinding me. All I remember as I slowed down was a chorus of people honking at me in irritation as they overtook me, preventing me from reaching the side of the highway. My nearly dying had increased their commute time by at least three seconds and they wanted me to know they were pissed at me.

I was trying to reverse park today – with my indicator on. I'm a good reverse parker – it takes me about 2.5 seconds to fit myself in. Still, a fellow commuter took the time to drive around me and then reverse, wind down his window, and lean out of it to give me a piece of his mind:
“What the fuck you think you doing bitch. I'm tryin'a drive here.”

When I didn't answer, he sighed: “Bitch”. And screamed off.

When I tell people this stuff, they always say: “That's how it works in Hollywood, so get used to it.” “This is good training in the business,” they say. “Don't trust anyone.” 

They might be right. I recently got screwed because I failed to attack first – and won't make that mistake again. To which they say, comfortingly: “One day you'll be able to fire people who do that shit.” Is that supposed to bring me joy?

Fear drives all this. Fear of being screwed over. Fear of being late. Fear of ending up under the bridge near my house living out of a shopping cart, of becoming one of the many whose dreams now drown in booze and slowly die in the shadow of a billboard for a movie they'll never work on.

Long ago, in an LA Far, Far Away...

Once upon a time, a mini-van pulled up next to me as I made my way along Vine towards Pico looking for lunch. An old lady was struggling to climb out - she was carrying a box full of little cakes so she had no hands free. Behind the van, motorists sat on their horns. Baaaah! Baaaah! So I ran up to the old lady, and took the cake, and helped her out of the van. At first, she stared at me like I was mad. Then, having no choice, she submitted to my assistance.

When I didn't hurt her, she seemed very relieved. I handed her the cake. She smiled.
“You must not be from LA,” she said.
“No, I'm from South Africa.”
“Well, that explains it... Thank you girl.”
She went on her way. I went mine. No big deal.

Looking back on that moment, it feels like something that happened in another universe. It was really only about six months ago. Would I do that today? I hope so. But I'm not sure.

So hear's my 2014 resolution: Resist becoming bitter, suspicious and nasty. Don't use LA's wrongdoings as an excuse to do wrong myself. Remember who I am, addicted though I am to the adrenaline, the dirt, the dreams and the dangers of this town.

But with billionaire mansions gloating just blocks from my run-down street, and million-dollar cars jockeying for space with shoeless vagrants, it's going to be a day-to-day struggle to resist becoming a just another asshole crab in LA's bucket.

- Jean is a screenwriting/directing dual MFA student in California, USA. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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