There’s this crazy guy. He has a crazy old mansion in the Hollywood Hills chockablock with movie memorabilia, leftover items from movie sets, and other oddments he’s collected from around town. Chockablock is being polite—crammed, overflowing, up to the rafters would be more accurate.
I have been to so many wrap and opening-night parties at houses up in them thar, or these here, really, hills. There was one movie I wasn’t even in, but I was some crew guy’s arm ornament. The film was about the Armenian genocide and so the party celebrated Armenian culture, Armenian food, Armenian dancing, Armenian everything. “They tried to silence us a century ago,” the director said, “but it didn’t work. We’re still here and we’re still dancing.”
The movie was extremely powerful, and it’s times like those that I absolutely adore and appreciate this industry for the influential messages it can convey. Movies can change lives. So can speeches, politics, and books, of course. So can quiet people just lighting up their neighborhoods. My chosen vehicle is movies. Being in gorgeous mansions with that amazing view of the Hollywood lights and with the yummiest gourmet finger foods doesn’t hurt either.
Although it came with that view and the yummy food, Claude’s was unlike any other house in the hills, however. A full-size statue of Goofy greets every guest. A knight in armor stands guard in the massive living room, which is full of red-velvet furniture. Some of the beds in the bedrooms are round, with mirrors overhead. That all might be fun, but I heard it’s terrible feng shui. Well, so is clutter. As various up-and-coming bands would play on the patio, I watched the Hollywood lights twinkle in the not-too-distant distance.
Once I was in the bathroom, and I looked up to find a creepy clown grinning down on me from the skylight. That was the night I met the guy with the foot fetish. I almost stopped going after that, but the insistent lure of finding things and people and situations and conversations you’d never find anywhere else was too much to resist.
I say Claude and his house are “crazy” with much affection. He isn’t the insane kind of crazy, but the fun, wild, eccentric kind. I prefer crazy (well, this kind), really. He just doesn’t conform to anyone else’s idea of how a life should be lived. His long, wavy white hair flows down his back—kind of a symbol of someone who’s seen so many ages come and go and has made his choice to keep one particular age in the present. Hey, I wonder if he knows Skye. I want long, wavy white hair someday.
One time I stayed really, really late talking to some fascinating person or other and ended up falling asleep on the couch in…the Jungle Room, I believe it was, complete with palm trees, wallpaper with a pattern of green bamboo, a (fake) leopard throw on the bed, and animal art all over. Claude had a number of different rooms with distinct motifs. I certainly wasn’t alone; bunches of folks were strewn here and there all over the house in the various “rooms”: the Queen’s Room, the Red Room, the Hookah Room, the Game Room, and the Bed Room—as in a room that has just one giant bed.
At about five in the morning, I heard something that sounded like souls wailing at the gates of hell…if there was such a thing as hell with a gate and souls wailing there.
“What in creation is that?” I mumbled.
“Coyotes,” someone answered. Ohhhhkay then!
Cyndi and I went to a lot of parties there. It was hard to even think of going back after Cyn died. She was my crazy-guy-crazy-house compadre. I didn’t know how I’d do it without her. So I didn’t.
But not long after my meltdown in the car, I received an email from my wonderfully crazy friend announcing a South Seas Valentine’s Day party. I forced myself into the car, then forced myself down the road, then forced myself onto the freeway, then forced myself up his road, then forced myself to walk into his house after sitting in the car for an hour or so plotting my escape.
I slowly made my way through the jumble of garden gnomes and Goddess statues in the courtyard and into the front room. With its dark wood paneling, the room was dark even at high noon, let alone at midnight. Lamps lit up the corners. Someone was playing the piano, as someone always was—sometimes a famous musician, sometimes not.
I turned around but didn’t see anyone I recognized. I started heading out of the room.
I turned around again. By this time almost everyone in the little room was looking at me, so I couldn’t tell who had called my name.
And in between the couple making love on the tiny sofa (it gets way cray at Claude’s) and the requisite stares-through-narrowed-eyes-and-looks-oh-so-infinitely-wise-but-never-says-anything guy, there he was. A man with wavy, brown hair and warm, brown eyes moved over on a little bench and patted the spot next to him. I had absolutely no idea who he was, but there was something quite compelling about the gentleness in his eyes. Besides, I needed a break from trying to step over stuff and people.
“You don’t remember me, huh?” he asked after I sat down.
“I’m sorry, I don’t. Was it from a movie?”
“No. High school back in Packers Country.”
Now that was really weird. My high school was pretty small, and everyone knew everyone. I looked at him.
“I look a little different.”
AWKward! Oh, great. He was a female back then—which is fine if he was; it just makes the guessing that much harder.
“Jeff.” And when I still didn’t respond, he added, “Harding.”
SUper awkward! Jeff Harding? Who the hell—
“Jeff! It’s so nice to see you again.”
He smiled, clearly acknowledging that he knew I was doing the LA-BS thing.
“What brings you to LA?” I asked, trying to change the tone from the LA-BS thing—and failing miserably, I was sure. “And Claude’s house in particular?”
“Well, what brought me to LA was college nineteen years ago, and then I stayed.”
College nineteen years ago. “As a freshman?”
So that’d make him a couple years younger. Well, all right then—I can ease up on my guilt a little bit; seniors in high school don’t really know the ones following as well as the ones they were following.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I don’t expect you to remember me. Want to get something to drink?”
“Sure. By the way, I go by Trish now.”
We wandered through the kitchen and into the dining room where we opened the bottle of wine I brought. Then we wandered up the stairs to a rooftop patio where we sat among palm trees lit up by little flood lamps. A woman in full mermaid frippery hopped by (well, she couldn’t exactly walk), followed by another woman decked out as an alien Morticia. At a South Seas party? Maybe she’d been looking at an old invitation. Or maybe she was just doing her own thing.
Claude had his usual harem (male and female) around him. I caught his eye, and his spark of joy at seeing me was quickly overshadowed by the sadness at not seeing Cyn. He’d always had a thing for her. He started to move in my direction, but half a dozen revelers suddenly swept him downstairs and out to the pool area. It was just as well…I couldn’t handle his pain right now.
No one really knows what Claude does. Just tending to his house and his eccentricities and his people seems to be a fulltime occupation.
“Where do you work?” I asked this mysterious younger man.
Great—he probably works in the movie review section, and he’s the one who panned the zombie flick.
Ugh. As much as I love working out and being physical, some organized sports are akin to gladiator games to me.
“Football?” I asked.
“Tennis and golf and things like that.”
A couple in full pirate regalia walked by, followed by someone done up as a starfish. Truth be told, I’d missed Claude’s. When I went to his parties, there was nowhere else on Earth I’d rather be. They were (and still are) beyond enthralling.
“I saw you at the beach a few weeks ago.”
His smile let me know he was ignoring my LA-BS thing again. “But I got a call that an interview I’d been waiting and waiting for was finally going to happen.”
Ohhhh, that guy. “Great!”
“You looked like you’d rather have been alone anyway. And I knew I’d see you again. I actually see you a lot.”
I didn’t want to continue the LA-BS thing, so I wracked my brain for something logical to say. “I…..I don’t know what to say.” That was logical—not.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Sometimes that’s the best thing to say.”
“Where do you see me?”
“Here. There. Everywhere. I guess I still have the habit of not talking to seniors when I was a sophomore.” We laughed. “I was married to an actor for a bit,” he continued.
“Oh, that must’ve been..…interesting.” I chuckled. “Glad you’re free of that?”
It was his turn to chuckle. “The being an actor wasn’t the bad part. She actually got some decent TV roles, so she was happy about that. Some people just don’t want to be married is all.” He was quiet for a few seconds while he avoided me looking at him. Then he chuckled again. “When I mention I’ve been married, women always look at me like I’ve been housebroken.”
“I must still be an untrained pup in that regard, then.” I laughed and laughed. And laughed. And laughed. The laughter turned into sobs—raucous, hiccuppy, gasping-for-breath sobs. He put his arm around me and held me.
“My best friend killed herself. This was one of our most favorite places to come to together.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Talk about being ghosted. I didn’t see that one coming. Psych!” I was babbling; at least the hiccu-gasp sobs had subsided.
“Uh, that’s not exactly what ghosting—”
“I know,” I howled. The sobs started up again, as did the babbling at the same time. “You know the thing about being ghosted? Ghosts are amazingly powerful.” The sobs won out over the babbling. Jeff held my hand for a couple minutes while I tried not to make a scene. At Claude’s, though, it’s very easy not to be the one making the scene as so many scenes are unfolding all over his house and property all the time.
“I’m so, so sorry,” Jeff said when my sobs subsided again.
“I’m sorry, too—I have to go.”
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