Having grown up in suburban Chicago, circa 1975-1983, the timeframe when birthday parties seemed to matter most to me (save for the unavoidable liver destruction on my 21st and the thrill of purchasing an arsenal of handguns on number 18), birthday celebrations usually involved a group of sugar-wasted preteens running around a back yard, pausing only to shove squares of cheap sheet cake in our yowling mouths, only then to return to chasing one another and maybe, MAYBE, if the family was “rich” enough (in my case, this would be my best friend Timmy Mace’s parents. Looking back, the term “rich” meant they could afford to build a two room addition on their tiny, two bedroom house), we children might receive a little goodie bag, filled with more multi-colored sugary products, to help us come down from our respective highs until we faded like a lightbulb being smashed by a ballpeen hammer.
On my 5th birthday, Mom and Dad pulled out all stops and treated me and a small group of friends to a celebration at McDonald’s. This was pre-playland McDonald’s, so we were relegated to a large booth, enjoying such celebratory activities as “Squirming Around” and the ever-popular childhood game, “Being Good”.
And that was it.
Flash forward: Late summer of 1998, my friend Todd and I trucked his, my, and my then-wife’s belongings cross-country from Nashville to Los Angeles. Following a grueling 6 WHOLE weeks in our new city, I was shocked to find that my writing career wasn’t panning out the way I’d planned. Which is to say, no one knew that I existed. This is a phenomenon that is almost solely reserved to a move to LA in pursuit of a creative career: The more insulated you are, feelings grow that range between, “Oh shit, was this a major fucking mistake?” to, “Um, HELLO! I’M HERE! WHERE’S MY MOVIE DEAL?
In Southern California, as in space, no one can hear you scream.
A close friend of mine had displaced himself in Hollywood about a year prior and told me that on weekends, he’d bring in a fairly decent payday, for a mere 2 days per weekend, performing at children’s birthday parties. He regaled me with tales of hilarity: How he once purchased a six pack of beer dressed as Wolverine from X-Men and told the two kids behind him in line: “Remember: Wolverine says, ‘Don’t drink and drive’!”
Hungry for fame, and even more so, food, Todd and I signed up at the kid’s party company which consisted of 2 days of training (“How to Play ‘Parachute’”, and a handful of magic tricks a blind duck could figure out) and finally, at long last, an AUDITION.
Yes, welcome to Los Angeles, where the opportunity to make balloon poodles for a gaggle of three year olds requires an audition.
Thankfully, I was notified after my audition (which was comprised of each of we – the auditioners- doing a kids party WITH one another. That was a looong afternoon of adults face painting one another) that I was “qualified” and therefore, put in active duty. I use military terminology to describe the following 6 months because that’s what I was getting myself into: A full blown, fall-of-Saigon-style-finish war. My enemy? They stood 3 to 4 feet, blinked eyes filled with pie-plate-sized innocence, and were duly trained in the art of the stealth thigh-bite, the ankle-kick, and the cock-punch.
to be continued...