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?”
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