Horizontal Lives

True Tales of the Infamous Courtesan: Persephone N. Hades and her Horizontal Life underground. How she got there, her mis-adventures and her struggle to re-surface.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Too Ugly for L.A.

To pick up where we left off in L.A., I arrived at my friend Perry’s house a little before midnight.

Perry was the first person to befriend me when I came back to Chicago to attend the college that gave me a partial-scholarship for a Bachelor's in Acting.
I had no extra money so I lived in the green room of the basement of that Theatre building.
It was Perry who discovered me sleeping there one morning and Perry who gave me lots of love, and Perry who I ended up with in the bathtub at a party one drunken night after a show. And it was to me, as the first person, to whom in years to come Perry confessed he was gay.

Dear sweet Perry, (who, to give you a picture, resembles a very handsome Danny DeVito), although he expected me around five o’clock, stayed awake and welcomed me into his home as only an Italian host can.
After hugs and kisses, a few glasses of red wine, his strong shoulders to commiserate on, and a plate of homemade antipasti, he tucked me into the twin bed in his spare room downstairs, leaving me to cry myself to sleep.

I cried because I had just lost my true love. My ‘soul-mate’.
I cried because I had spent the past six years sleeping with my true love and now I found myself back to where I began as a child, sleeping in a twin bed.
I cried because I hated Ivan and Don Leemacker and the stupid Hyundai outside.
I cried because again I was broke and had no idea when my next job would come.
I cried because Perry was so kind and I’d forgotten I missed his friendship so much.
I cried also for joy because I finally landed myself in a city of warmth and sunshine after so many years of winter.
And I cried because, although I’d lost everything, I still had hope that this new city, L.A. would bestow upon me the future I had worked so hard for and dreamed so long of.

My first ‘official’ day in L.A. (Because I refuse to consider the day before an ‘official’ day.)

Two appointments scheduled: an audition at noon with the producer of an independent film company and, at four o’clock, a meeting with an agency for a billboard ad.

With my purse stocked with tampons, a script, two 8x10 pictures, resumes, and the heavy Thomas Guide simultaneously balanced on my thighs and propped up against the steering wheel, I head out to navigate the streets of Hollywood.


As I drove, I ruminated. Five years earlier, I had graduated from The RFDS in Acting. The four years spent there were grueling but invaluable. I had walked in their doors a talented, creative young girl with bad posture, a squeaky nasal voice, and the inability to direct my hurricane emotions into a structured part.

I walked out their doors a talented, creative older girl who walked with energy, spoke without any detectable accent, and possessed the ability to play any role, anytime, anywhere. I spent the following years performing in every theatre, in every state, in the United States.

I loved the theatre and would have stayed in it for the rest of my career but times were changing and so was the Theatre. The mythmakers and storytellers were no longer sought on the stage, but rather in movie houses and through the medium of television. To save Itself, Theatres began booking television and film stars in the leading roles of the plays they presented, whether that actor was trained for the stage or not. Production values suffered and the stage actors, disconcerted by the ousting and the lack of quality, began heading to Hollywood in hopes of making a big enough name for themselves in order to be able to go back on the stage.

There was also the matter of money. A lead in a Broadway play could bring in two thousand a week. But Broadway had become ‘Andrew Lloyd Weber’ and other assorted, tourist-pleasing musicals. The top salary at a regional theatre in a Shakespeare play, for instance, was one thousand dollars a week. Most salaries were six hundred a week for a seventy-five hour week. Minus taxes, minus agent fee, minus manager fee, and most actors were lucky to be taking in three hundred fifty dollars a week the weeks they were lucky enough to be working in any given year. And usually also supporting a rent in New York.

Faced with these dilemmas, as well as the loss of Philip G., (my only tie to New York), I felt I had no choice but to head out to the 'Desert of Dreams' and endeavor to create a place for myself in the California sun.

As I pulled up to the producer’s office, I felt confident and ready to meet any challenge. I was well trained. I had experience playing some of the best roles written. And although I was no beauty queen, no one had ever run away in terror upon the sight of me.
Not yet anyway.

The door to the office was an austere, black mahogany and as I turned its brass handle to go inside, my heart yanked itself into my throat and the mantra: ‘my first audition in L.A.’ clacked like a skipping record in my brain. The room became a ball of fuzz and my eyes refused to focus.

An attractive, middle-aged man, in a beige three-piece suit, sporting a pink tie and a golden angel pinned to his lapel, rescued me. I told him my name. He checked his list, escorted me into the inner office, and sat me in the chair facing him with a narrow glass desk between us.

The chat was going well. We smiled a lot at each other as he told me the history of his company and the movies they had scheduled to produce. My heart relaxed and climbed down from my throat and I could hear myself laughing at his jokes. He seemed genuinely impressed by my resume and liked my photo. I asked him if he’d like to see my prepared monologue as an audition piece but he replied, it wasn't necessary as he could already see what ‘type’ I was.

This surprised me. I didn’t know I was a ‘type’. I had always been a chameleon; able to transform to any role, so I asked him what ‘type’ he thought I was.

"Don’t you know? You seem like a bright girl. That surprises me, sweetie pie."

I could feel my mouth open as if to respond but I couldn’t think of anything to say so I snapped it shut and just looked at him.

"Look cookie," he leaned over the desk closer to me as if to divulge a secret. "Hollywood is not about acting. Anyone can act. It’s about how you look. What roles you fit. Now you, you’re not Kathleen Turner and you’re not Michelle Pfeiffer. You’re beautiful. You’re gorgeous. But you’re funny. That can be good and bad, gumdrop. You can’t be the main comedian because you’re not ugly enough for that. But you can’t be the leading lady because you got to much personality for that. So I’d say, you were the girl they put in the middle of the real hot girls to lighten the scene up a bit. You understand little apricot? Sort of a Julia Roberts with tits."

(Funny that later in my life I would hear that phrase again under entirely different circumstances.)

All I understood was that he saw me as something to eat. Maybe it was his lunch hour.
I nodded anyway, pretending I understood.
He talked more about his projects and I became several more desserts, until our time was up.
We both stood. I extended my hand, but instead of shaking it, he reached his hand behind my head and swiftly pulled me forward to kiss my mouth. Stunned, I jerked my head to the side and became possessed by a nervous giggle.

"Oh, see! You got me there." I titter. "I didn’t see that coming."

"I’m sorry lollypop. I hope I didn’t offend you, but you are just so beautiful I couldn’t help myself. Come. Give me a kiss."

"Maybe another time." I’m paralyzed with giggles.

"So you want to come with me to dinner tonight? It could be good for your career. I know a lot of important people. This business is about who you know, not what you can do. Remember that, little gummy bear."

"Oh," (giggle giggle) "I can’t. But thank you so much for asking me. And thank you for the advice. Maybe if we work together… (giggle giggle). I back out the door.

Climbing into the safety of my gray tin can, I turn on the ‘little engine that could’ and think to myself,
"Well, at least throughout all this stress I’m not falling apart. At least, at the very least, I’m beautiful."

I pull onto the road and head to my next appointment. I smile to no one in particular, plant a big wet kiss on the steering wheel and say to the windshield,
"Well, I’ve hit Hollywood."

It was an audition for an L&M cigarette billboard ad.

The agent had instructed that I bring my picture and resume and "wear something that shows your figure, dahling."
I wore a black, streamlined, ankle length skirt, a close fitting blouse and black pumps.

The elevator doors parted and I stepped into a moment from "The Twilight Zone".
The long, narrow hallway leading to the audition room was lined with hundreds of men on one side of the wall and hundreds of women on the other side.

Not different men or women but the same one.
They all looked alike.
I couldn’t distinguish one from the next.
It was as if I were in a funny house of mirrors.

On the male side, it seemed there were two hundred pictures torn from the pages of GQ magazine. Every man possessed the same square jaw divided by a perfect cleft chin and exuded the same heavy lidded look that voicelessly stated: "I’ve been abused by the world, but I’m beyond cool and ultra confident and you’re intruding into a private moment in my life so I’m looking straight into the camera and I’m ready to confront you."

You know the look I mean.

The women, on the other side of the hall were, each and everyone, so stunningly gorgeous that it became surreal. I had never seen so many faces so beautiful all in the same place except on the pages of the ads in any women’s magazine. Their loveliness was so consummate that it took on a strange quality devoid of humanness. Either they were cloned or they all had the same surgeon. Nobody even had brown hair. They were all blondes with this exciting drape of Cosmo magazine hair that poofed effortlessly up toward the ceiling and then trickled and waved itself down to their rounded rear ends in a flurry of hair extensions.

And they all had these boobs! You couldn’t even call them ‘breasts’. Boobs so tireless and firm that if the lady owning them felt drowsy, she merely had to drop her chin a sliver and she could rest there, pillowed peacefully for a while.

To complete the picture and add mercilessly to my confusion was their outfits.
Uniform maybe.

Each girl seemed to be wearing the same Bolero-cut black leather jacket that played peek-a-boo with a tiny strip of tube-top, the same painted on shiny Lycra black leggings and five inch black ‘fuck me’ pump heels.
Why didn’t anyone warn me about 'the uniform'?

Each one carried a satchel that was a cross between a briefcase and an overnight bag stuffed with pictures. Tons of pictures. Pictures of them from every angle, in every beautiful way they could possibly look and in every outfit they owned.

And then there was me: this little definitely ‘not blonde’, very flaming red head, holding my one and only picture: a head shot, taken at the only delicate and hard-to-find-angle of my left profile that I look good at, sans Bolero jacket, sans torpedo boobs, sans plastic surgeon.

Just as I was about to despair, I remembered my resume and realized I was the only one there with one! And thought to myself, "Ha! But I can act!"

(Not that that should have been any consolation when trying out for a photo for a billboard, but it was my port in the storm for the moment.)

"I’ll show you mine if you show me yours", said the blonde directly in front of me.

I continued daydreaming as the line crept slowly forward.

"Do you want to?" she asked and suddenly I realized she was talking to me.

"My what?"

"Your pictures!" she giggled.

Before I could answer, her case sprung open and out she flew in every magnificent pose she possessed. I ‘oohed’ and ‘awed’ and assured her of her great beauty until we had exhausted the batch.

"I have more at home but I didn’t have enough room in this bag. I hope it’s enough. Do you think it’s enough?"

I told her I thought it was. This made her squeal and squeeze my arm with her French manicure exclaiming,
"Oh my god! Oh my god! I hope so! Do you really think so? Do you really think I have a chance?"

I gave her a serious face and a deep slow nod and she sighed, satisfied.

"Let me see yours!" she cooed.

A loud ‘ha’-guffaw escaped my mouth and I held it up. My one-and-only. My 8x10.
Her face fell into an expression of sadness I knew she had only made once before perhaps when she was eleven and was told her goldfish had gone to the big pond in the sky.

"That’s all you brought?" She smiled the weak smile of a cheerleader at the end of a losing game.

"It’s all I have." I said. And then I whispered to her, "It’s the only angle I look good at."

Her eyebrows swoop up and her lids droop down. In her world I am now akin to a dying sparrow.

The door to the audition room opens in front of us. A woman with short black shiny hair like hair-sprayed raven’s feathers, sporting a pair of too-chic wire rimmed glasses, clutching a clipboard steps out and yells into our foreheads,
"Jeanie McFeeney!" (Really. That was her name.)

The blonde claws my arm and squawks. "Wish me good luck!" as she goes in. The raven lady follows her but doesn’t close the door all the way.

"Don’t worry. I don’t think she’s the right type." This comes from the perfect blonde in back of me who looks to my eye, the same as the Jeanie McFeeney who just went in. I raise my eyebrows and smile.
"What do you mean?"

"I don’t think she’s what they’re looking for so I wouldn’t worry about it. We still have a chance," she says.

I nod and keep smiling but I’m amazed. How could she tell the difference? Was there a difference?

"Hi. I’m Mona Lacey." The girl behind me holds out her hand to shake mine.

Mona Lacey?! Are they all porno queens in their spare time?
I take her hand. A loud burst of laughter, Jeanie McFeeney’s, and I suppose the raven lady’s as well, escapes from behind the audition door.

"Oh, well that’s good." I say to Mona. "At least they’re nice."

"It’s not my real name." Mona Lacey informs me. "I changed it for a stage name. For when I become famous. I think it sounds sexier."

She waits for me to say something but I don’t know what to say so we just smile awkwardly at each other. Through the crack of the doorway, we see flashbulbs exploding and Mona’s smile turns upside down.

"Ugh. I hate when they take Polaroid’s! It’s so annoying. We bring all these great shots and they take those stupid pictures. No one looks good in a Polaroid."

I understand what she means but it’s difficult for me to imagine Mona or any of the clones looking even so much as slightly ‘un-good’ in any picture, ever, whatsoever.

The door swings wide and Jeanie, still facing inside, backs out saying, "Okay, bye. I’ll see you later. Thanks!"

Turning to me, she grabs my forearms in a tourniquet grip and in a singsong voice that conveys ‘maybe this will help make up for the injustice of having a one-angle only face’ she says, "Good luck!" and she giggles away down the hall.

My heart begins to pound so hard it baps my blouse up and back. I’m next. Bird lady brings me into the suite.

Three men of the 'Eurotrash-variety' sit staring at me from a round table in the center of the room.
I smile.
They stare and don’t smile.
I continue standing and continue smiling.
They continue sitting and continue not smiling.
Nobody says a word.

When I’m nervous and nobody says a word, I say too many words and too fast. I over-talk. My mouth goes into high-gear and I lose control of it. I’m a record on the wrong speed. Like the Chipmunks Christmas Album.

"Okay, so I guess I should sit here?" I say pointing to the chair that I cautiously edge myself into.

And they’re still staring at me.
Very cruel.
They could have said, "Sit down."
They could have said something.
They just stared.
I start slow and pick up speed.

"Okay, sooo… I know why I’m here." I begin confidently. "I know why I’m here! I mean, what I mean is, I saw the other women in the hallway and I thought about it and I know. I know I’m the character woman. I’m the one you put in the middle of the hot girls to lighten up the scene. I’m the one who hangs from the ceiling in the cigarette ads that makes everyone else look good. I’m the funny person. I know that. I know that now. Now, I know. It’s clear. Now I know that. Here I am. I’m your funny person. And here’s my resume."
I hold it out to them.
No one takes it.
It slides out of my hand and sits abandoned on the table.

"And look! On the other side is my picture. See? It’s me! I don’t have a suitcase but this is me from my best and, well, only angle. Just hang me upside down from this angle and I’m gold! Really."


"Look, I’m Julia Roberts with tits!"

Stares from the 'Knights of the Round Table'.

Finally, the head guy, (I say he’s the ‘head’ guy because he’s the only one who seems to be able to form words) breaks the silence and in a low, cheerless, thick-accented voice says word-by-word, slow and deliberately,
"Do you smoke?"

Admittedly, the question takes me by surprise. Do you have to smoke for a still photo?

"No. I don’t smoke. But I could! I used to. Furiously! I used to smoke a lot. A-lot."

The words are spewing out of my mouth.

"Three, four packs a day." (I lie.) "I don’t smoke right now. But I could. I could smoke. Any second now! I could light up a cigarette and smoke it right now."


"So, I don’t. No. But I could. Yes. Smoke. Yes. Any minute now."


Then, "Do you have smoker’s cough?" he asks in his soupy Eurotrash accent.

Okay. Very confusing question. Isn’t this a billboard ad? Who cares? He asked. I have to answer correctly. But what’s the correct answer?

"Umm… no. No. I don’t have a smoker’s cough because, well, I don’t smoke."

I go with that first. (Oh god I need a job!)

They don’t seem pleased so I back up and go the other way.

"But I could. I could have a smoker’s cough." I begin to cough and hack and choke until I’ve convinced even myself.

"See? I could cough if I had to AND I have a really good acting resume," I say as I push my lonely resume toward them.

"Soooo, if you need a smoker’s cough, I’m sure I can deliver on that. But, you know, in a billboard ad, I could just pretend like I’m coughing and then I could freeze the cough like this…" I stop coughing mid-hack to demonstrate.
"…So, you know, so I don’t mess up the shot but it’ll still look like I’m coughing. See? (Hack, cough, freeze.)"

I must have given quite a performance because I inspired Eurotrash Knight Number Two to speak.

"Hold up your hands." He orders.

I hear it as if he’s the police with guns drawn demanding I put my hands in the air. I do. My arms shoot straight up. My palms face them. He rolls his eyes as if he can’t believe the stupidity of some people.

Namely me.

"Turn them round." He says.

As I turn my hands around I realize he’s asking to see my manicure.
Normally I am a very manicured young lady but I lost my nails the day before to my own teeth while dueling with Ivan of the Fat Fingers and battling the merging situation on the ‘5’ freeway in my gray tin can.

"I know! I know!" I say, trying to recover. "And you know what’s really funny? I usually have a manicure all the time, but just right now, today, I don’t. I just got here yesterday and my car, and… so anyway, I bit off all my nails. But! I know a manicurist who can do them in a second and I can have them done before tomorrow. I can have a manicure, so don’t look at them right now." I pull my hands down and sink them underneath me.

I’m sitting still now but it’s obvious, inside I’m a frantic pinball machine of nerves.

No one moves.
No one talks.
They play their forte and stare.
It’s Knight Number Three’s turn.
He stops staring (a miracle!), glances down at the table and then directly at me.

"We are going to be honest with you." He says.

Bing, bing, bing and I’m off again, "Good! Good. Honesty is good. Honesty is a good policy. Good." I am holding my breath.

They look at each other. Very somber. Very serious. Important honesty moment upcoming.
I make a grim serious face to harmonize with the situation.
Finally he speaks. "You know, you are too ugly for this job?"

I’m dizzy. I’m whirling. I’m a merry-go-round spun off it’s track. I have no center. I feel myself smiling. I hear myself laughing. I listen to my voice say,
"Oh right. Right! I know. I know! I knew it when I was in the hall. I knew I was too ugly for this job. Right. Ugly. Right. I knew that. I just thought I should come in anyway. You know. In case you wanted that character woman thing. Right. I knew I was too ugly. Yep."

The plastered grin on my face remains as I shake hands, as I back graciously out of the room, as I whiz past the same spectacular faces in the hallway, as I slam shut the door in the little Excel.

The plastered grin stays even as I drive out into the unseasonable rain onto Santa Monica Boulevard with the Thomas Guide weighing heavily on my lap.

It lingers, that grin, while my thoughts drift back to the time earlier in the day when only several hours ago I was so beautiful I resembled a dessert that had to be immediately eaten or kissed.

It clung to my face as I sobbed my way back to Venice wailing, "Oh God! I’m TOO UGLY TO BE IN L.A."

Throughout the remainder of my Murphy’s Law entrenched move to L.A. and the months that followed, and years I spent there, that surviving smile was the only thing L.A. could not steal from me.

Sometimes moving is necessary. Five years later, after my first and only arrest and my only time in prison, I had no choice and moved back to New York.

But that’s another story.


At 11:45 AM, Blogger Skarlett said...

Thanks for sharing your adventures-both personal and professional.
I wanted to make sure someone had thanked you not only for sharing, but also complimented your writing.
Your blog has become my favorite distraction at work. Thanks Again :)

At 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Skarlet..I can't tell you how much your comment made my day...thank you for letting me be a distraction..and a fun one..thank you for telling me..

At 7:45 PM, Blogger Samurai Warrior said...

I wonder what Geisha would want to do if her slate were wiped clean? What if there were second chances?

At 1:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey SW..what an amazing question..I've been pondering since I read it. It's a question that could be asked of anyone and the result might be the same...what if we had a second chance? Part of me wishes I had the confidence to have stayed and pursued what meant a great deal to me. But do I regret who I have become because of what I chose? No, in fact I'm grateful because I learned about love from all angles..painful, joyous, confusing...love as an adjective--something that sweeps over you Shakespearean style, and love as a verb, something we all have the power to create ourselves based on nothing more than the fact that we are all on the same journey... and I'm still learning and on a journey back to innocence. Not sure that would have been the case had i taken a different route. Lots of things I wish were different within this choice, and still so many dreams I hope i have time and talent to pursue, but it's the life I chose so I must live it with glee. What about you?

At 4:27 AM, Blogger Zefrog said...

Hi persphone,

Thanks for your kind words.
It is quite easy to add a blogroll to your blog. I personally use Bloglines (which is a blog manager: tells you when the blogs you are registered to have been updated: saves you going to each of them all the time). They provide a little bit of HTML code to be posted on your blog which updates your blogroll from your registered list. Also you can just past a line of HTML code in your blog's template for links to other sites... if you go to your template, you need to scroll down almost to the end of it and try and find the place where you want your links to show and paste something like:
name you want to give it

I would be quite happy to give you hand in this. perhpas if you contacted me be email, it would be easier to explains how to do things.

Good luck.


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