How to Succeed in LA Without Really Trying

She asked me if she could play. I was in a bar in a hotel in LA going over a game on a portable chessboard while waiting for Steve to arrive so we could go out for dinner. This woman sat down about two seats from me, looked over, and then challenged me to a game.

It was almost surreal because nothing like that had ever happened to me before. It was like a scene from a chess movie only nobody would ever make a movie about chess. How could I refuse? So we started the first few moves and she wasn’t awful. She told me her last boyfriend was Benecio del Toro but now he wasn’t calling her back. And now she was playing chess with me. The only reason I was staying at this hotel, “The Bel Age”, was because that’s where the TV show Beverly Hills 90210 had their prom.

Steve finally arrived and I introduced them. I want to think she seemed sad to see me leave.

We left. I was thinking I was pretty cool at that moment. Steve was like, “what the fuck!? That was a high end prostitute!”

“No way,” I said, “she played chess.” Somehow all the circuitry in my brain was fried. Everything was on fire.

“Man,” he said, “she was a call girl. The last time I was in this hotel I saw [owner of now defunct record store chain] with prostitutes all over him. She was a call girl.”

Maybe it was the thought that she was “high end” made me feel a little better about it? I don’t know.

Steve and I went to dinner where we met up with a guy who had just gotten out of jail. Steve and I were tiny Jews in LA. This guy was the opposite of that. He was the size of three bathroom stalls put together. He said over dinner, “when [jailed famous hip hop mogul] gets out of jail, Snoop better be in hiding. I give him 30 days before Snoop is dead.” As we were walking out of dinner, he said to me, “I really like what you do. Can I stop by and hang out in your office next time I’m in New York?”

What can you say to that?

On the way back to the hotel I ask Steve if he’s going to pay his bills anytime soon. His company owed me $80k. I had a payroll of 40 people I had to make. Steve was in charge of Internet stuff for [famous record label]. “Why are you always asking me that?” Steve said, “Don’t you trust me? And your guy Adrian was threatening my secretary today. Tell him to back the fuck off or I’ll never fucking pay you.” Now I had to apologize because I never did business back then with a contract so I had nobody to sue. It was all “relationships”.

We stopped off at a bar where the owner of Steve’s record label was hanging out in a booth with two beautiful girls. He was a billionaire known for having multiple women around all the time. Steve introduced us and said to him, “you guys would get along. James plays chess.” And the guy said, “Oh yeah? I just sponsored the World Chess Championship with Kasparov” but then turned away and started kissing one of the girls.

At the bar was [famous comedian] whose tv show I had just done the website for. I was feeling shy but Steve laughed and encouraged me to go over and introduce myself. I went over to him and said, “Hey, sorry for interrupting but I’m a big fan. I just wanted to mention that I just did your website for your TV show.” He looked at me, squinted for a second or two and said, very very slowly, “who. are. you.?” and then everyone around him laughed.

The next day I went over to UTA, the big talent agency that represented, among others, Jim Carrey. “We love your stuff,” they said, “we want to do something big with Jim Carrey. It has to be really really big.” I threw out some ideas. “We LOVE that. Lets do it!” One guy said, “you should come with us to this party tonight.”

But I was unsure if I had other plans. An hour later, when my other plans canceled I called one of them and said, “hey, I can go to that party,” and he said, “oh, we made other plans but we LOVED your stuff. Call us next time you are in town and we’ll do something.” I never spoke to him again despite repeated calls when I got back to New York.

For one thing, I wear sweaters. And I don’t drive. People in LA don’t get either of those things. I tend to look different and stand out because I’m walking on the side of the road a lot.

I had breakfast the next morning with a guy who invented the kind of pen where it changes according to how your fingers press it. He was in his late 50s but was tan and fit. He wanted to make a website to sell his pens. He ordered pancakes and french toast but had only one bite of each. “I like to test things,” he said, “for my restaurant. You should stop by.” I had done a website once for a movie he produced. Headless Body In Topless Bar. “I lost a half million on that movie. You know what thats like?” I said no.

He opened up his cellphone. “This is technology. This is where its going.” He had a speaker on the cellphone and called someone. A sleepy sounding woman answered, “Hello?” “Hello, baby,” he said, “Just showing my new friend this new technology.” Then he snapped it shut. “I don’t like you,” he said to me. “You didn’t comb your hair before you came to meet me and you’re disheveled. You should clean up a little if you want to do business with me.”

Later that day I had lunch with a friend of mine [see The Girl Whose Name Was a Curse] who had moved to LA a year earlier. She was now a Pilates instructor for [famous female comedian]. “I love it here,” she said. “Its so much healthier.” I felt bad it never worked out with us (and I never had a chance) but she was married now and she really did look happy and healthy.

Later that night I took the red eye home. I can never sleep in planes so I try to read but I’m too tired and end up in this wierd stupor while everyone sleeps in the dark around me. When I landed I went straight into the office. It was early and the sun was just creeping out. I could see the smoke from my breath in the cold air when I got into the cab. My sister was already at the office when I got there. “Hey!” she said, “how was LA?”

It was awesome.


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  • barbacoa666

    It seems like the hooker was the only decent person you met in LA. Seems ironic, somehow.

    • LA is a great city- much better than NY and NJ.

    • TJLatwork

      Ahh yes. The plot of Pretty Woman!!

    • P_Jaunne

      can’t judge a book by its cover

  • Jamie Smithson

    That’s funny stuff, James! Do you still do web development for folks? Just curious…

  • Sooz

    If Jim Carrey only knew …

    I have a story about the ‘MOOD’ pencils..:)
    First things first..
    Screw people(anyone)that screws others!
    With that being said..My sons 3rd grade teacher who was awarded ‘The BEST TEACHER EVER(the year before)’, had an obsession with pencils. Yeah,she was the best ‘Spear Heading'(straight through the heart with a ‘Mood’ pencil).. teacher ever…lol.
    Over time her obsession ..became apparent!?!
    The confrontation took place when she swiftly/distortedly presented the evidence. Weeks had passed and it was my turn to volunteer in~class. There it was..’OMG’..all bundled and broken as she handed it to me distraught and there I stood temporarily pinned into the corner of her 3rd grade classroom.
    I looked straight into her award winning face and said..”You Have Got To Be Kidding Me???” Then I said..”When I get home,gracefully taking the two pieces from her hand, this will be in ten!!”

    If I ever run into her again..
    It is most certain that I will not be able to look into her ‘Award Winning’eyes…seriously!

    • Sooz

      with all do respect Ms.’Award Winning Teacher’..
      he still has the fragmented pecil..:)

      • Sooz


        • Sooz

          a reminder..I suppose.. to never(ever)let anyone hinder your curiosity to learn.

    • az

      What are you talking about? Were you drinking when you wrote that?

  • Pat Danielson

    You had the So-Cal experience everyone is dying to have…LOL….(minus the surfing)
    In all honesty…I believe your saga…(absolutely)
    but I moved here 7 years ago…and nothing that exciting ever happeneed to me..!!
    maybe I just hang out in the boring end of town…

    Just kidding with ya…
    You Must attract the cutting edge of life…
    as long as you can deal with….Good for you…

  • Michelle B

    It does not matter if your writing is 100% honest autobio stuff, or if it is quasi, or completely made up, it flows.

    I love you, but hate Hollywood.

    (last para, second to last line, should be WEIRD)

    • Michelle B

      Meant second line.

      • I can definitely assure you everything is true. In the above story I actually left out my encounters with Roseanna Arquette and James Woods because I was afraid people would think I wasn’t telling the truth.

      • I can definitely assure you everything is true. In the above story I actually left out my encounters with Roseanna Arquette and James Woods because I was afraid people would think I wasn’t telling the truth.

  • Pingback: News and Notes from 1.5.11 : Mike Fanelli()

  • @Michelle, thanks so much! Believe me, it makes my morning when someone comments like that. And I can assure you its all 100% real (for better or for worse).

    @Pat, everytime I go to LA its the same thing. You’ll have to show me a different side of LA sometime. One of these days I’ll go there and surf (if “surfing” means taking off my shoes and putting my toes in some water)

    @Sooz, thats why I’m starting to think home schooling is the best education. I wish I had the time to do that with my kids.

    @barbacoa666, its interesting. i didn’t think of that but you are right. She was the only one that had some sadness. Some realization that maybe she wasn’t the greatest thing to hit the planet. Maybe thats the lesson somehow. We only have a short time on this planet to be “real”. Why waste it on garbage?

    • Sooz

      I feel fortunate that my kids attend a highly regarded public school system. Many want to live here just because of that. Not to mention the private schools that surround us (*International Acad, Cranbrook, Country Day for the Richy..Riches). Two of my three attended one of the nations top charter schools(3~8 grade). With all honesty, as soon as all three Grad,I’m outta here(‘Richville’).

      *ranked in the top ten High Schools in the Nation.
      Cranbrook is awesome..beautiful!!

      • Sooz

        A few of ‘our’ famous comedians graduated from Cranbrook(very artsy fartsy..:)

  • Feynman

    Hilarious. The posts keep getting better and better.

    • Thanks! Feynman’s first autobiographical book, Surely you’re joking, is one of my alltime favorites. A definite nerdy guy, in the middle of the desert, building nuclear weapons and hitting on waitresses.

  • Jonesy

    Boy I loved this, wonderfully written, authentic as hell except for the ‘smoke’ from your breath… more like a vapor trail, no?

    • Ahh, i was trying to figure out the right word there. Thanks!

  • Great story… “Steve and I were tiny Jews in LA” — lol, now I am wondering if you feel larger in NY? Enjoying your postings very much. Your style is down to earth, unpretentious. Wide span of topics, well-rounded.

    • Patricia, I do feel larger in NYC. In LA, everyone was big, blonde, tan. I was in Sardinia a long time ago and I remember thinking on a crowded bus, “I am the tallest guy on this bus”. I felt like maybe I should kick someone’s ass or something.

      And thanks for the comment. I’m trying to figure out now in these growing stages what thsi blog is “about”. But so far the wide span of topics is what i’m having fun with.

  • John

    That experience sounds about right. Haaving lived in LA for 27 years, I always tell people who come here, “Once you’ve scratched the surface, you’re as far as you can go.” But that’s why I love it.

    • John, I’ve already quoted you five times today. Thats a great quote.

    • Nan

      I was recently forced to move back to LA (after losing everything), and was shocked to see how much worse the “superficiality situation” has become over the last 30 years.  It doesn’t matter if they are living in the Hollywood Hills or “in the Hood” – the truth is you don’t want to “know them”, except  superficially. Getting to know people in LA is not safe.  At the very least you’ll be inundated with their incomprehensible dramas, and “wish you never asked”.  But, the real problem is the high percentage of grifters in this town.  They are “serious” con artists – who take acting classes to help them lie more convincingly, and “intern” in various businesses to learn the vocabulary (script) necessary to be believable in that field. Then they go on the prowl for prospective victims in places that run the gamut from a Hollywood party to the local Hospice.  Half the people I’ve gotten into a conversation with (here in LA) have been ripped off “big time” at least once during the last 5 years, and the word “invest” now terrifies them. 

  • Beltway Greg

    Had the same experience when I was 20 I was in Waikiki Beach walking down Kaulakuala Ave.
    A beautiful blonde approached me and asked me if I wanted to have a drink with her. For about thirty minutes I thought I was da man. We shared a laugh and with a wink and a smile she absconded with a Japanese business man. I paid for the drink.

    • Beltway, sounds like it was for the best. You got a story out of it and all that Japanese businessman got is [we can fill in the blank a lot of ways here actually]

  • Exprossi

    LOVE your stuff James. Screenplay will write itself. Call me. ;)

    No seriously, great post. Keep em coming

    • Is this THE Exprossi? In which case, coffee next week?

  • Hilarious…just discovered your site am really liking the posts

  • amy

    I think this blog is about stories. It’s about the fabric of American life and you’re the gold thread, James. By the time you get finished a year of this blog you will have touched upon every human theme, every industry, every psychological and spiritual state, and a few near misses with celebrity.

    • Amy, i hop you are right. For some reason i alsoseeto be upsetting a lot of people.

      • Adam

         People are only upset on the internet. Things only exist in their consequences, and upset people on the internet deliver no consequences, and, to me, don’t exist.  Remember that and don’t worry about them.  Your stuff is great, James. A lot of us are being shown true life through your eyes. 

        •  Thanks Adam, I mostly agree with you (about the consequences). Every now and then a reader randomly (or knowingly) anonymously hits a button and bothers me. But bit by bit i’m overcoming it by trusting that what I’m doing is a good thing overall.

          • I can’t think of any of my fan pages, where I click on every single article, more than I do on yours. You are obviously doing something right.

      • P_Jaunne

        I stop reading comments in most cases except in few blogs that I read consistently including this one. Some of the raw anger and hatred that drip or gushing out of comments posted by people on the internet are so toxic that it’s unbearable. In any case, great story James.

  • NotLeavingYet

    Great post. And right on. There are people here who would sell their unborn children to get the next rung up their imaginary ladder. The most obnoxious thing happened btwn a major celeb mom and a transplant New Yorker mom who was trying to score a lifelong connection for herself. She lied her way through a labyrinth of playdates and pretended the only honest local girl was the liar. Hilarious. Sad. Too juicy to print. LA is full of superficial craziness. But the weather is awesome! :)

  • Yup!

    NotLeavingYet, yeah I heard about that one. Yup. I know the initials too. That celeb plays all nice-girl and behind the scenes is a lunatic and mean to “poor girls” whom she calls “The Kmart Crowd” even as they suck up to her. Sad and pathetic. She married her movie star so she figures if her career tanks she can always coast. But the way she is chewing up the mom-circuit, she might have to find a new coast one day.

  • Hey that’s really a great post and a wonderful description out here, I really like the way things are being executed and discussed here.

  • Anonymous

    I just recently discovered your blog and I really like your casual style/observations. Hotel bars are a common breeding ground for experiences like that. I usually remind myself that if it seems to “good” to be true it usually is…

  • ivanhoe

    So the take away is: lie, embellish, over-promise, name drop, and surround yourself with lazy gold diggers?

  • I had a “dead beat” room-mate once that was a chess master. He never did laundry and his bedroom stunk like a gym locker room. He would run up my phone bill then deny that he made the calls then had the hutzpa to advise me to call the phone company and dispute the calls- I had enough and vacated the apartment and left. I played chess with him twice (I had been a casual chess player for 12 years) he beat me both times in four moves. I have never played chess again.

  • Galaxier

    The truth only James tells it.

  • TJLatwork

    Lived here for years and this is not the Los Angeles I know. Friends, family, beach + skiing (in the same day!), and a lot of honest people working hard to pursue their dreams – from the arts to architecture to (yes) even rocket science.

    • I believe that. I want to move to LA. In this post I’m describing one particular visit when I was running a company that made websites for entertainment companies.

  • carmelita olaes

    hello good morgen im sorry im no me god too manila in no money me

  • I’ve only been here 7 months but I just don’t get LA, James. NYers must have a hard time adjusting? The only thing good here is the weather (if that). Maybe I will become a high-end human to tell better stories. It is enticing.