Due to circumstances I can’t get into, I am currently living in a studio chief’s guest quarters in the Hollywood Hills. Abutting the garage, “the hovel,” as he calls it, consists of a living room, a bedroom featuring a king-size bed with leather headboard, and a modest tile bathroom. The bedroom window overlooks Sunset Boulevard all the way to downtown L.A., and in the morning I awake to condors gliding over the canyon, looking for food. His home is perched atop a hill, and his backyard is a sheer drop with cement poured atop the dirt to make a concrete apron behind his pool. Bette Davis was the original owner of the home, and it has undergone only marginal reconstruction since she lived there. A friend of mine explains that Hollywood is actually incredibly small, that when you consider who actually green-lights movies it’s a Cheerio hole, and I was living in it.
The Studio Chief is an eccentric, charismatic former investment banker who, along with a TV executive, took over a small independent studio that today rivals the majors and exceeds some of their profits by specializing in lower-budgeted horror and genre films that mainstream distributors won’t touch. Studio Chief is preoccupied with money—getting it, growing it, diversifying it, investing it, safeguarding it, putting some of it overseas, not letting other people look at it, and generally hoarding it.
“You love money,” I tell him, accusatorily.
“No, I don’t,” he replies. “I love deals.”
“Because they make you money.”
His primary philosophical influence is noted promoter of capitalistic self-interest Ayn Rand. At a little party I threw at his house, there was a New York Times reporter attending, interviewing him for an article she was writing on his studio’s financing of long-dormant Atlas Shrugged. While the reporter sat by the pool, one of my friends, a bisexual comedian who starred on an NBC sitcom and then had a show on MTV (his last name is a euphemism for the male genitalia), pulled down his pants, grabbed his scrotum, and, in the style of Japanese origami, fashioned a reproduction of female genitalia. “It’s a swollen cu—” he cried. The bespectacled reporter, looking very much like one would imagine a New York Times reporter would look, was mortified.
As one of the stars of Full House hit on any woman within arm’s reach and a quintessentially Brooklyn actress smoked a joint with her actor boyfriend, the reporter asked, “Is this a normal Wednesday night for you guys?”
Just then Superman, competing in a hard-fought game of water basketball, dove into the pool after retrieving an errant pass and a giant splash soaked some innocent partygoers. Most of my teammates were there, and I sheepishly took a pull of a Corona Light and thought better of answering the question.
The festivities broke up early, as the Studio Chief recently married a younger actress he met on the set of one of his films and she was far along in her pregnancy. Their first date took them to Havana, or so the hovel’s framed Interview magazine states. “He wouldn’t fly first-class,” she recalled fondly. Studio Chief has a rare type of charm that draws people from all walks of life toward him.
We do like to accuse him of being cheap. He is very gracious to allow me to stay in the hovel, but sometimes when he reaches for his wallet, moths fly out. “Don’t you think you’re a bit of a miser?” I ask the next night as the three of us drive to the Bar Marmont for dinner.
“No way,” he replies, “I’ll spend 200 bucks on a bottle of wine. I just don’t believe in wasting money.” We park halfway up the Santa Monica Mountains to avoid the valet charge.
He and his wife graciously opened their home to me in a time of need, and, I have to admit, I have gotten used to the accommodations. Maid service each morning, my laundry returned fluffed and neatly folded, a personal chef preparing meals when guests are invited over. Though the hovel lacks central heating, they did provide me with a down comforter and one Vornado space heater, which I strategically placed atop a wooden beam on the Pilates machine for direct air-to-skin contact. The garbage is taken out at regular intervals and, though I am not explicitly banned from the big house (my presence is merely actively discouraged, and, frankly, who can blame them?), I can sneak in post-bedtime and take a Gatorade from the Sub-Zero. Often, they will order in from the Gate of India and I’m invited to graze on leftover naan and any tandoori chicken not earmarked for their dogs. Over some clay-baked chicken, his wife complained that her mother noticed that Studio Chief was pawning off all his discount wine on her and reserving the good stuff for his friends.
“True or not true?” I ask.
“True,” he replies. He then unfolds a piece of paper with a number scrawled on it.
“Heating bill for the hovel.”
I stare at him. “Joke,” he says. The wife seems unsurprised I took it seriously.
His geriatric English bulldog lopes down the stairs followed by her spastic Chihuahua, who still doesn’t know that I pose no threat to the household and insists on yelping tirelessly. When Studio Chief goes to silence the dogs, his wife tells me to inquire, when he returns, about why there are so many empty candy wrappers in the hovel. The Studio Chief is militaristic in his approach to weight. Were he single, he would never go near the fat Olsen twin. He seemed vexed by all the Nicole Richie criticism.
I was feeling very familial toward them, and Studio Chief has a decidedly paternal bent. I asked him if he wanted to come check out my game against the Cavaliers on Sunday. He looked at me like I was insane. Most Sundays, he watches the New York Jets play while doing a New York Times crossword, because his best friend bought the team a few years back. He has a lot of best friends, many of whom seem to own very large public companies and use “summer” as a verb.
I suited up in my freshly laundered red Nets uniform and decided to wear my NBA-issued white socks up high, just below the knee. I tightened the drawstring on my baggy shorts and tucked in my compression shirt underneath my jersey. I strapped on the black Adidas kicks the league supplies, ringed my head with a headband and my biceps with a sweatband, pulled my shooting shirt over my uniform, and drove to the game. I decided not to meet The Captain at Bodies in Motion for the two-hour pregame ritual because I played too tight last year and I wanted less time to get nervous. I arrived at the game and we had a full boat sans New Yawk and Show Host. The Cavaliers have won the league on three separate occasions and feature three excellent players: a CAA-TV-agent center, a talent agent at APA who plays guard, and a famous R&B singer who, when wanting to look sensitive, wears ribbed V-neck sweaters with nothing underneath. R&B Singer didn’t show up for the game, which meant that the scoring load was placed squarely on the agents’ shoulders. One played inside and was a load; the other was a great 3-point shooter. We knew their game so well that neither of them got off. We dared the rest of their squad to beat us and they couldn’t. English and Coach’s Son tallied 25 and 16 points, respectively. I had 7 points, a Wiseguy had 4, The Captain, Rickets, and the other Wiseguy had 2 points each, and the Silver Fox and Bigs didn’t score. We won, so there is no complaint, but we’ll need better balance if we expect to win it all. Back to a winning record, we stand at 3-2.