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Souls Crushed: Hollywood Edition

This afternoon, Lucy started asking me all these questions about my impending trip to Los Angeles: when I’m leaving, when/if I’m coming back, where I’m staying,—

That last one tripped her up, when I responded, “In one of those extended-stay type of hotels.”

When she wondered why, I explained that I’d rather not get too comfortable with my initial trip there, because I don’t want to stay. I will stay as long as I feel I have to for my career (which, I’ll say, could be years), but I have kind of a Barton Fink mentality about the whole thing. I want to stay in the cheapest, least homey place that I possibly can for a minimum of 15 weeks, living out of my suitcase, so I can continue living the illusion that I’m only there temporarily.

I was scarred by a television writing professor I had several semesters ago. She grew up in L.A., a child of the entertainment (specifically writing) world, who had seen and experienced that life all the way until she became a writer who ran away to Chicago to get away from Hollywood, at a time when people thought Chicago would become a hub for television shows (thanks to long-gone shows like Crime Story, Early Edition, and What About Joan). When that fizzled, she started teaching, because she just didn’t want to go back and be a part of it.

She always used to level with me in private, because for some reason she respected my abilities and knew how much I yearned to be a television writer. She said things like, “In show business, there are two types of people: vampires who will lie, cheat, and steal their way as far as it’ll get them, and the hapless friends and colleagues whose souls the vampires suck. Which one are you now, and which one will you be once you get into a kill-or-be-killed position?”

Weirdly, in my job experience, I’ve found this to be something of a universal. Lucy agreed, pointing out that this is the way most of the people at Lowe’s behave. I pointed out, though, that in a low-rung retail job or an office job, there isn’t the delusion of any kind of dream-factory wonderland at the end of the rainbow of soul-destruction. People are more realistic, and it really comes down to greed and ignorance.

I wouldn’t consider myself willfully ignorant, but I’m also not greedy. I like money, but I don’t go after a promotion to make more money or amass power. It’s partly because I’m mired in that mid-20s malaise, where I want as little responsibility as possible. Mostly, though, I’m wired to feel that constant twinge of Catholic guilt every time I remember doing something really rotten. I still feel guilty about stuff I distantly remember doing in preschool, whenever it pops into my head: “In retrospect, I shouldn’t have done that.” I get passed over in favor of people who are less qualified, but because I’m not tugging for the brass ring, not because I have no idea why they don’t want to promote me, those bastards.

There’s a classy song in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, about the virtue of playing it “the company way.” The reason why it’s hilarious is because it’s sung by a guy who’s still working in the mailroom after 40 or so years (but he was just recently promoted to head of the mailroom!). Despite his lack of promotions, age, and length at the company, the character still believes that being a yes-man is the only way to get ahead. He doesn’t even wonder why he’s being passed over; he just thinks it’ll come to him in time.

That, my friends, is ignorance.

Throughout this conversation with Lucy, she started to feel worse and worse about me, my feelings, my absolute terror at the thought of compromising my being to be successful in a profession I chose for some reason, and my preemptive cynicism regarding a business that I know something about but have not personally experienced. I finally concluded, “They say ignorance is bliss, but I never really believed that too much, which is probably why I’m such a mess all the time.”

Lucy responded, “I believe it sometimes.”

But I don’t. I can’t. Yes, strange things happen in my life that cannot be explained in any good way, and I sometimes am willing to look past it and feign ignorance, but it’s been a really long time since I’ve been thoroughly duped by my own ignorance. I’m too distrustful, after many years of ignorance-dupings.

Really, though, it comes down to my utter fear that I will either become the vampire, stealing others’ material for my own personal gain, or I’ll become the loser who gets stuff stolen from him. I don’t want to be either, but that seems unfeasible at this point.

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