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TODAY

Friday, April 28

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Airbags

I lie on the hardwood floor. My inflatable mattress has sunk down in the middle of the night and my ass bulges down and touches the cold wood beneath. It's like the end of a street fair and the Moonwalk has nearly lost all the recycled air inside. Light leaking in through the white blinds above me gives the impression that it's a cloudy overcast day outside. It's probably not. Ninety percent chance of sun. As I turn to roll over, the mattress pushes through to the floor and the cold surface follows me. When I finally manage to get off the deflated plastic, I sit up and rub my face. Names and phone numbers rattle down -- call your parents tonight, call Marc sometime, write Karen, open a bank account, find a place to live, where is your money, was your car broken into last night, call your bank and find out if the unemployment check was lost in the mail. Make sure Christeen is alright and watching the cats. Apologize to yourself as you drive around the streets of Los Angeles, apartment hunting. You didn't mean to leave Chicago. You may have made a mistake.

I'm out here to work in film. That could mean a lot of things to different people. In the last few years, I have alternated from really wanting to make films to having no interest in the process. I think of filmmaking as a carney who runs your favorite ride, the most expensive one in the park. You look up at the hanging wire baskets, you look at the guy running the thing. How many various drugs were in his system when he and his friends bolted this giant wheel together? You really want to get in, but there are other priorities, like vacations and outpatient surgery.

My appreciation of movies started with my very first film. I saw it in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, my hometown, in the same 150 person capacity theater that I would attend for many years after. The feature was The Rescuers and my mom, sister and I all loved it. The film had all the key elements of good entertainment -- characters with funny voices, stolen jewels, alligators, rescuing. Plus, unlike real life, you could cover your eyes when the sight of sharp cartoon teeth became too much to stomach.

That might have been the night I decided that what I wanted to do for a living was to somehow work on movies, whatever that meant. The entire event was intoxicating, from the rich warbly sound of the speakers to the safe dark cushion of the seats that swallowed you whole. Everyone experiences pivotal moments in life, when they decide they're infatuated with interior decorating, political punditry, web design, Sloan, what have you. It's as though your brain is exposed for a moment and some outside force kisses it, anointing it with a particular love or bent. "This is good for you!" says the force. Years later, you find yourself outside the company you work for, scratching your head with the wrench in your hand, wondering if you've made the right choice.

Or driving up Vermont Avenue, hauling a station wagon full of your personal items. My car is still stuffed with all the crap I brought out here with me. I don't have any place to put it and I am hesitant to unload it into the kitchen of my friend's house. My Catholic guilt is strong, stronger than it should be at a time like this. The big plastic case full of DVDs and photographs strains with a plastic squeak against the seat backs behind my head. Apparently, it wants to ride shotgun.

I can't see out the back window of the car; I am forced to use the insufficient side mirrors to navigate. When I arrive at apartments, I have to park my carfull outside. It all waits in anticipation, encouraging me each time I leave to look at another apartment. "This is it," my crap says. "Go get that apartment, tiger!" I return a few minutes later, disappointed. After gnawing away another Luna bar, I go to an internet cafe to look at Craig's List on my laptop.

Friends back in Chicago told me what they had heard or remembered about Los Angeles, that it was a traffic and asphalt-covered nightmare. Even as I would wave my ambitions around at going away parties, people would pelt me with the words "fake tits" over and over. I scoffed then, but now I've been to the bars. I've stared at the impressive honkers with their ladies attached, being courted by short stocky frat boys-to-men that shout "Nofuckinway!" into their cell phones. Someone plays "Insane in the Membrane" on the juke box. People wave their arms around. Then the bartender shouts last call and everyone drives home drunk. The end. Look for your name in the credits.

The driving really isn't all that bad. My friend Jack, who's in production design, described the difference between Chicago drivers and West Coast drivers fairly well: "In Chicago, everyone's an asshole. You know it, they all know it. They're gonna cut you off if they can, they just don't care. In LA, they're just in outer space. Maybe they're headed over to the carpool lane, maybe they're thinking about their next audition and that's why they're driving in the middle of the road. You never know."

In the coffeeshop, I stare at the apartment ads for a while. My eyes hurt. When I go up for a refill of water for my tea, a guy in front of me is hunched over in front of the refrigerated display case. The barista asks him what he wants. He snorts, points to something near the bottom of the glass. Two friends approach him and he stands upright and smiles, grunting a hello in a fuzzy, New Joisey voice. Handshakes as his slice of cake comes to the counter. They all walk off to a table together and lean forward while Joisey waves a flat hand around and they discuss a recording deal.

Back on the road, the bulk in the car behind me jiggles and slouches around. A picture frame slides down somewhere inside the mess and cracks with a crunch. I stare at the palm trees that slide past. As I drive, I feel like I'm in a rap music video from the mid-Eighties. I remember that I left my video camera back in Chicago. I would have liked to capture some impressions now, just in case I lose my mind or soul in the next few months. The traffic slows to a solid halt in front of me as wary pedestrians hit the crosswalk.

Ads stare down from all corners of the roadway. Television billboards, stars hawking their stuff, movies, radio stations with grinning DJs fanning themselves with cartoon money. Why is there so much advertising here? Isn't this where everything comes from? It's celebrated in the same way Wisconsin celebrates cheese and cows. Wisconsin says, "Moo! We were all farmers at one time! Lots of farming and milking! Moo!" LA says, "Hey, movies are awesome! And other stuff is too! Want to buy a lottery ticket? Hey! It's the largest Ford dealership in Southern CA! Hey!"

I'm not entirely sure why I'm here. I lost my editing job in Chicago and didn't know what else to do. After years of slogging through small edit tasks at a small edit house, I got a job at one of the largest commercial postproduction houses in town. My skill in the workplace increased as my frustration with the content of the work decreased. There are only so many commercials you can look at before you start to taste cardboard stuck in your teeth. My comrades were very realistic about what they did, no love lost over real filmmaking. "It is what it is," as one of my coworkers once said, gesturing at the Applebee's logo on his editing system. I found myself scratching my head outside of work with a hand holding a cigarette. In the other hand was a scotch on the rocks. I was surrounded by a small bar and my friend Atom, coffeeshop owner, said, "You've gotta do what you've gotta do." Fuck if I wasn't surrounded by Eastern Philosophers. Eventually, I was gently shown the door by my boss, who was convinced I wasn't happy working for him. Looking back on the perpetual hangover glaze, I assume he was right.

I head out to my car, a hot cup of tea in hand. My shouldlers are sore from the unrestful sleep and the magic deflating bed. Up above me, there are wisps of clouds moving through the blue air. I have two more places to call today and my phone is out of minutes. Additionally, due to my lousy bookkeeping, I am overdrawn at a bank back in Chicago. I can't stop moving now. I stare at my fishbowl of a car. Near the back window is a piece of paper slipped down from the pile. It is an editing award I won at a post-house contest back in March. It is pressed up against the glass by a plastic wrapped bundle of clothing. I look at the award and then get in. I have ten minutes to get to my next destination, a place up on Lucretia Avenue in Echo Park. Then I have to call the bank about the overdraft, call Christine back, move my things from Jack's house to Blanka's house, check my email before bed and apply for a job or eight. I stare into the driver's side mirror at the long line of cars behind me, parked in a snake behind a green light. I signal and a Mexican woman in a grey pickup waits for me, waves me into the line. I wave back and pull in, looking carefully at the street signs to see if I'm moving in the right direction.

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About the Author(s)

Sean U'Ren recently left Chicago for Los Angeles to try his hand at the movie business. In this occassional series, he updates us on his progress.

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