If you haven't ever lived in Los Angeles, I'll sum it up for you in a single, quick-capsule review:
That place is fucking WEIRD.
Weird, as in, you've-only-ever-acted-as-an-extra-in-a-Scorcese-movie, yet you insist on calling him "Marty" when you tell me about the three days you spent on set on "The Departed"; weird in that after having hopped off a Greyhound only 15 years ago, you're still waiting to "be noticed"; weird meaning, "I am SO throwing a temper tantrum over this nonfat latte while on my cellphone in a crowded Starbucks", and finally, weird as in...well, the following happened to me. And I'm some dude from a Chicago suburb whose greatest glory growing up was being part of a triple play in junior league baseball.
I'd been working with my buddy Michael for several years at this point as a writer/producer (my constant insisting that I "wasn't a producer" cracked one of my fellow producers the hell up constantly). Michael is a brilliant director, and a visionary producer, whose career stretches back into the late 80s, when - as he has regaled to me - he once saw a producer shove an editor's face into a pile of cocaine, all the while screaming, "KEEP WORKING!!!"
The good old days, apparently.
As luck would have it, we actually began obtaining jobs, mostly from Country Music Television (need to know ANYTHING AT ALL ABOUT ELVIS? CAUSE I KNOW IT), and before we knew it, we'd expanded from 2 people, to 3, to 4. And we needed someone to just keep the little balls in orbit.
So Michael hired an old friend's step-daughter as Production Assistant.
Her name: Willa.
I remember meeting Willa and being stunned by her maturity. At age 19, she had her shit WAY together more than I did, even by 30: She was naturally beautiful, cunningly acerbic, and prompt, which didn't go unnoticed, as we all were at least 15 minutes late coming in each morning.
Willa filed, Willa returned calls, poor girl even stowed boxes loaded with tapes in a crawlspace for us.
Then, one day, I asked how Michael had found her.
It seems his friend - Rick - had married Willa's mother years back. Willa was looking for a summer job before she headed off to college. And Willa's last name was Mamet.
Yes. As in David Mamet . Easily one of the late 20th-centuries' most revered play/screen writers.
"Willa," I asked, in a not-so-unquivering voice upon discovering this nuclear bomb, "is your mother Lindsay Crouse by chance?"
"Yes! Do you know her?"
She said this as though she'd asked me, "Is YOUR mother Ruth McGarry?!?!? WOW. I love her work!"
So, the young woman pouring me coffee and filing my scripts was THE OFFSPRING OF ONE OF THE MOST LEGENDARY WRITERS OF MODERN TIMES. Didn't feel weird at all. Nope. Completely natural. Kind of like waking up one day after a long night shift at the factory beside Heidi Klum, who is stroking your chest and muttering the phrase, "Mind blowing, babe."
Willa worked a few months as our P.A., and was - predictably - wonderful. We shared a lot of laughs and weathered a ton of stress together, the handful of us.
Then, the day came when Willa would be leaving, to begin her freshman year back east. The 6 of us walked to a local eatery to celebrate at lunch, crossing an unbearably busy intersection at Olympic Blvd and Sawtelle in West LA. While we were in the midst of our crossing, a car skidded to a stop, narrowly missing mowing us all down like an incomplete set of bowling pins. We addled on to the restaurant, hearts pounding. One coworker summed up that moment to me that really sent it home: How the world views Hollywood and showbusiness, and the hefty importance beset upon it:
"You what would have sucked if that car had killed us all? The headline would have read, 'David Mamet's Daughter and Five Others, Killed in Accident'. We would have been remembered as 'five others'."
LA, man. What a weird place.