Into the Abyss with Dustin Hoffman
Alan chose to avoid being served with divorce papers, which is easy to do when you’re out of state. So the process dragged on endlessly while I desperately wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. I would sit in my bedroom, look out over the valley, as I loved to do and had done so many times before; knowing that very soon all that I had worked for would be gone. I had finally checked out our finances and found out we were in catastrophic shape. House payments weren’t being paid, tax bills had been ignored and we needed to sell the house before Erika and I were evicted. Acting jobs were too few and far between to count on those supporting us and the only office skills I had were typing and answering the phone. We were going to lose everything and I felt powerless to stop it.
Three months later, when Alan finally came back from Dallas, bringing with him a new girlfriend, we were finally able to finalize the divorce. He told the court he was now out of a job and was able to get the judge to agree to minimal child support payments. But he didn’t pay them anyway. I went to court again and again, but it was all to no avail. Eventually I went to the prosecutor’s office to try and get them to force him to pay up but they told me the list of fathers who were avoiding child support was a mile long and it could be years before they got around to him. My mother paid for Erika to go to pre-school at a Lutheran church near our house and I signed with a temp agency. Because the owners were friends with John Lombardo, they immediately found me a job typing checks at a downtown Bank of America. The one thing I clearly remember on the way to my first day of work is sitting on the freeway in bumper to bumper traffic and listening to the song, “I Can Take Care of Myself,” and thinking, that sounds like he’s singing about my friend Wendy, an actress who I had become friends with after we worked together on Vega$. I didn’t know who sang it or that soon I would meet the man who wrote and recorded the song, Billy Vera, and that we would become friends.
During the months that the house was on the market, I kept looking for acting jobs and going to acting classes. Working in class with Eric Morris kept me sane, going on auditions gave me hope, and Erika gave me a reason to keep on living. It was tricky juggling temp jobs and auditions, but I had to make it work to maximize my chances of making money. One of those auditions was for a movie called Once Upon a Time in America, produced by Arnon Milchan. I drove to the Chateau Marmont, off Sunset Boulevard, early in the morning and parked my car on the street next to one of the bungalows. I remember thinking as I walked by that they were nothing special to look at and I didn’t understand why celebrities would want to stay there when they could afford something so much nicer. I barely remember the audition (Elizabeth McGovern got the part), only that the hotel felt old and strange and I wondered why the auditions were being held there. I didn’t have a good feeling as I walked back to my car, happy to drive away from there. The next day I read in the paper that John Belushi had been dying of an overdose in Bungalow Number Three as I unknowingly walked by. An incredibly talented man had destroyed himself with drugs a few feet away from me while I passed by oblivious. But I wasn’t the one who failed him. I couldn’t have possibly known what was going on inside the bungalow. But his friends knew, especially the ones who had visited him the night before. They knew what he was doing to himself and did nothing. Be that as it may, Once Upon a Time in America and Arnon would still play a role in my future.
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