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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