“You can get what you want, or you can just get old,” the famous Billy Joel song goes. Everyone has that Vienna. Everyone has that goal, that dream which in spite of all reality, in spite of all hardship is never-fading…
The shades were painted the sort of yellow that once inspired a sunny optimism, but has since faded from its brighter days. The hotel room had a sort of sad desperation to it. There was an old oil painting hung in the corner about nothing in particular, trying to hard to be something it is not. It had a single bed, but no pillows except for the ones of the size used to take up space on old couches. I opened the shades to try and let the sunshine in, but even California seemed grey. Or maybe that was the windows. It was a sad desperate place, but one which in a darker place in my life, I called home. Twenty-four hours earlier a friendship unraveled, a rooming situation went sour and I was quickly without a place to stay, and without most of my belongings. Yes, like any shitty situation there is always more to the story, but I see no point in reviewing what I hope to make ancient history.
My professional influence in film once told me how he slept on a foam mattress, trying to make ends meet working low-end production jobs in his twenties. I can’t say I know what sleeping on a foam mattress is like in my struggles, but I do know what it is like to roam a strange city without a place to sleep. I never felt so alone in my entire life, watching the strange people of San Francisco come alive during the night. I had no place to go, so I wound up in some dive bar in the Haight talking to a washed up local, a barnacle of the bar since the summer of love. Here I was in my Led Zeppelin shirt, freezing as the temperatures began to drop, I hadn’t planned to be out long past a lunch time interview. “This is a rum bar,” the old man said. This was good, because I needed something strong to drink. I had a punch with a shot of rum, it was bittersweet, but hit the spot. We spoke at great length about music, guitar and his favorite spots to smoke in the city. He asked me what I was doing here, and I wondered about the answer for a moment. I said I was out in the area trying to find a job. The truth of the matter was I was lost. I only came out here to be closer to getting to Los Angeles.
By midnight I finally found that shitty commuter hotel. The place had a transient feel to it, businessmen came and went. It wasn’t dirty, just simplistic to the point where it lacked any sort of welcoming feeling. If there were a modern day take on Death of a Salesmen, Willy Loman would book a room here. I woke up in my underwear, feeling grungy, clothing thrown aside since I knew I’d be wearing them for a while longer, at least until I could get my things. I have been through a lot of disappointment in that Led Zeppelin shirt. I once waited at an LA coffee shop hoping that my favorite filmmaker might come and sit down in the empty seat across from me on Sunset Boulevard. I knew he wouldn’t show up, he never did. I wore that shirt the day he figured out I was the smart ass behind a certain film Twitter account, Led Zeppelin is his favorite band too, he didn’t believe I was wearing that shirt. I got rejected from a guy I really liked in that shirt. I threw up in that shirt after too much to drink, one of the few times I ever did. I even wore that shirt the day I heard my cousin died. That shirt has started to become worn, but almost “Ten Years Gone,” and I still wear it because of its character, because of what I’ve been through in it. It remains my favorite shirt, even if it has a few tiny holes or two.
But maybe I also have held onto that shirt for a different reason too, to “strive to be like Jimmy Page” in the words of my favorite filmmaker. He told me to strive to be like Jimmy Page, to write every day, to practice, to keep at it to one day be able to “just make people go wow.” In fact it was a year ago today I submitted my second script to that man. He gave me that advice after my first ever script was unsatisfactory. It was terrible, but it was my first ever effort. He saw the potential in me and gave me a second chance. I spent countless hours reading my favorite films scripts, studying Sid Fields, taking notes, working out drafts and ideas. The end product was Liberation, a script about a love story set during the months leading to the Liberation of Paris. It was an effort that was rewarded with great praise by all who read it, blown away by it only being my second effort. However, I never heard back from him. Ultimately, this script was about something more than just a love story. That script was really about self discovery and the struggle. That script was about a young man just trying to find a story to write, but was unable to come up with anything to say. Only through the adversity he faced getting back to the one thing he cared about, Paris and the woman he loved, was he able to find something to say. It was in the adversity and the tremendously challenging environment he was up against that forced him to overcome the odds. And so was the same for his love interest, who fought to overcome her odds as well. They were liberated, they triumphed in the struggle…They didn’t avoid conflict, they went into it head on knowing it was the only way they could achieve the outcome they wanted.
“You’re so ambitious for a juvenile,” Billy Joel goes onto say in Vienna. Vienna waits for you. There is time. There is always time to fall down, but so too is there time to get back up and try again. Moving out to California and failing a second time was devastating. I was embarrassed, and struggled to find anything to say for days. Today back in New York I sat down and told myself, “LA Waits for You.” The struggle takes ten to fifteen years because of all the failure and set backs along the way. And so I picked myself up and said that I will do it again. I will find my way back to Los Angeles like Michael found his way back to Paris in Liberation. I am only 25, and so I too don’t have a lot to say as a writer. But it is moments like out in San Francisco, directionless and lost that I have learned the most about myself. Nothing motivates me more than failure and set back, whether metaphorically on a World War Two battlefield, or stranded in a strange city. And so LA waits for me, and I can’t wait to keep fighting back to it. And then too, I will have my liberation, my Vienna, my Paris, my dream.