Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chapter Five - Hump Day

(Me, taking out aggression on the gym equipment as usual.)

What is it about Wednesdays that makes me so depressed? They are middle children. They are the cold Spanish rice you didn't really want with your taco plate to begin with. They are endless and traffic takes longer. If you are me, Wednesdays represent the stagnation and lack of definition of your acting career, which, I should say, shows no signs of improving anytime soon.

I just got back from Whole Foods, where I got rice milk. I read something about how soya actually isn't that good for you, and so I'm done with soy milk. I gave up dairy a while ago - which makes my mother nuts. M'ija, you need milk for strong bones. M'ija, you don't want to end up like that esa, como se llama, that washed-out Sally Fieldings.

Sally Field. That's who she meant. And for the record, I would very much like to end up like Sally Field, who, as I recall, has twice won an Academy Award.

Ay, no, m'ija, you can't be like esa flaquita, that Sally Fieldings with her osmosis. Osmosis destroys your spine cells, Maria, it shrinks you up if you don't drink your milk.

Anyway, no Academy Award is on my horizon. My agent called me a little while ago to tell me there's a casting call for a movie out in New Mexico, where they need a Latina to play an illegal immigrant. "But she's different from the normal illegal," my agent assured me.

"Is she drug-running for a cartel?" I asked.


"Okay, call me when you have a real role, like for a lawyer or a doctor or a saint of some kind."

Then again, whenever I show up for those auditions, this is how it usually goes. I tell them I'm there for the main role, and they say I'm "background". It makes me want to punch someone.


I spent the morning at the gym, taking my anger out on the equipment. Todd showed up, after I texted him about where I was. He's buff and handsome, and it was sort of nice to have him spot me. We went for a chai afterwards, and I asked him point blank if he was actually interested in me, or if he was trying to meet Candi's dad, and he was legitimately offended.

"I didn't take you for a cynical, typical LA type," he told me. He looked hurt, and I felt terrible. "I liked you for that very reason."

"Does that mean you don't like me anymore?" I asked him.

That's when he kissed me, for the first time, in front of everyone. I'm pretty sure some people in the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf knew who he was, but it wasn't like they were snapping photos or anything. Still, I was all tingly and surprised.

"Why did you do that?" I asked when he was done kissing me.

"Because I had to stake my claim before that Chand dude," he told me.

I shook my head. "Chand? He's a friend."

"That's not his goal. Trust me. I know men."

I came home with plans to hook up - and by that I mean simply "go to a movie" - with Todd this coming weekend.

I am here now, at home, trying to relax in the few hours I have free before going to work. I paid Candi the rent today, and she was all "no, I don't want this mutton money," referring to the chow at the Medieval palace, no doubt. I left it in her glove box in her car. She will have no choice. I am not taking handouts from anyone.

For the past hour or so Candi and I have been watching Indian music videos on Youtube. It is very educational. There's this whole world of beautiful brown people out there, playing meaningful, great roles in film, dancing and singing, and most Americans have no idea they exist. I looked up the thing Chand told me about how Bollywood makes more money than Hollywood, and found out it is TRUE! I guess I'm too American to have believed it at first. You know how we roll. We think our country is the biggest, baddest, bestest in the world. Now I'm not so sure.

When I think about the false paradigm we all live in, especially in this town, this sense that some people are more "universal" than others, or that certain skin tones make people more violent etc. - the legacy of colonialism, really - I just get so annoyed I can hardly breathe. Watching the movies and videos coming out of India, I realize that not all the world works this way. I am trapped in this place, in this time, that sees me a certain way, because of the legacy of oppression that came here. It is deep, I know, and you won't get far bringing this up with Candi, or her friends, but it is really true. I don't know if there's anything one person can do to fix it.

Here are a couple of my favorites so far. I'm actually really excited to learn some of these moves, and Candi and I have been trying to imitate them. The songs are catchy, too. I emailed a few links to Chand and asked him to translate the songs for me. I'm dying to know what these people are saying. Chand wrote back and said he wants to see me the same night I have plans with Todd. I'm going to have to figure something out. I'm not good at saying no, unless it's to a shit role. I refuse to do anything in my career to perpetuate the problems that plague me now. I just won't do it.

Anyway, I better head out. I want to bust a few more moves before I shower and get to work. Enjoy the vids. I, for one, enjoy seeing so many healthy, successful, apparently interesting brown people on film, doing normal things. I especially love this first one, because it is in ENGLISH! I could do this! Plus, the guy in the first video is HOT!!!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chapter Five - The weekend and then some

(Chand at the party I mysteriously ended up at...)

I apologize for not writing sooner. The weekend got really crazy, let me just put it that way, and I have been trying to catch my breath since Saturday morning.

To refresh your memory, that's when Chand showed up at our townhouse in Calabasas, at the ass-crack of dawn, with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. My roommate Candi and I had been scheduled to go with Chand - a new friend who waits tables at an Indian restaurant in Culver City - sometime that morning. I didn't realize "sometime" meant way early, but you live and learn. Chand, I have since learned, is nothing if not punctual and organized. Rare to find this in a man. Chand is rare in a lot of ways, and it sucks I think this way because I know that Candi digs him.

Let me backtrack a bit. Okay, so there he was, standing like some dude waiting for his prom date, only it was early in the morning (or at least early for a Saturday) and I'm still in pajamas, except that I don't like to wear pajamas, so I was actually in nothing. I sleep nude, which is only a problem when I'm on my period (then, I wear undies, okay?) or when Candi decides to wander into my room to ask me what sex feels like again (she is a virgin, as I have mentioned). I installed a deadbolt on the inside of my bedroom door for this reason.

So I bolted out of bed, rushed through a shower (my room has its own bath, the townhouse has "two master suites" except that mine, of course, is smaller). I picked an outfit I knew would look good but would not seem like I was trying to look good - low-rise jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, Uggs. I did a little blush and mascara, but any more than that might have given Chand the wrong idea.

I packed a back of nicer clothes for the party at my parents' house later that afternoon. Not that much nicer, mind you. But when it's your niece's communion party, you have to at least try to convince your family that you - I don't know - believe in God and the virgin Maria of Guadalupe and all that. I also packed my wench-wear so that I could rush to work if the day got the better of me.

Speaking of virgins...Candi was about as dolled up as she gets, trying very hard and looking like it. She had a belly shirt, low jeans, sparkly lotion on her skin, and too much makeup. She had also put the clip-on extensions in her otherwise shoulder-length hair, giving her a weird shelf of hair all the way around and an unnatural-looking too-blonde horse-tail down to her butt. I did not want to think that she resembled a llama in Vanessa Hudgens' castoffs, but I did. That is exactly what I thought. I also thought Chand was bright enough to know a woman's hair could not miraculously grow 12 inches overnight.

"You like him, don't you?" I asked her.

Candi shrugged because she rarely admits when she actually likes a guy because then she will have to admit to heartbreak when he rejects her advances, which usually happens unless the guy is an actor who hopes to meet her producer dad. The shrugging cased her belly shirt to rise up too high and exposed the lower crescent of her left breast. Candi's breasts were a birthday present from her mom when she was sixteen, and the left one hangs too low. They are orbs that don't move, even when she runs. Candi rarely runs, thankfully. This makes her a little squishy, but at least it saves us from the gravity-defying antics of her silicon.

Poor Chand, standing there for twenty minutes while we got ready. But he should have called first. I told him so as he handed me the flowers, and he said that he didn't think he had to confirm twice. Yes, he looked good. Yes, he smelled good too, like a subtle, expensive men's cologne.

"Twice?" I asked.

"I talked to Candi last night," he said, as I discreetly split the bouquet in two and gave Candi the other half.

"He did?" I asked her. She nodded but did not apologize for forgetting to tell me about our early appointment.

After a bit of debate, we decided it was safe to all pile into Chand's Volvo for the drive to the market in La Mirada. Out of deference to Candi's crush, I offer her the front seat. Chand notices, and gives me a look that tells me he is disappointed, but that my kindness makes him like me even more. This is not good. For once, I'd like the guy to fall for Candi instead.

As Chand drove along the 101, with Candi's admiring eyes blinking their fake lashes at him, he told us the "game plan." He wanted me to pretend to be an Indian-American girl he met at the university, when we got to the market, to see what people would say.

"What university?" I asked.

"USC," he said. "I'm in law school."

"A lawyer," said Candi, all breathless and dreamy.

"I don't know if I can do this," I said.

"You're an actress, dummy," Candi spat.

"I know, but what if they ask me something I can't answer? What if I choke? I like to have time to prepare for a role."

"If they ask you something you don't know, I'll answer for you," said Chand, looking at me in the rearview mirror with a comforting, capable smile. Do not fall for this guy, I told myself.

So, basically, long story short, we had a long drive and listened to a lot of kind of cool yet incomprehensible East Indian hip hop type of music that Chand had programmed into his iPod just for me. I liked this one chick, Alisha Chinai. She reminded me of an Indian Thalia, or Selena. Here's a video so you can see what I mean. Oh, and for what it's worth, Chand told me she was singing in Punjab. I thought I'd have to learn Hindi. He now said I'd have to learn a bit of both, but that he thought the best thing for me would be to pretend to be an acculturated Indian-American, and therefore charm everyone with my ignorance.

Candi made a bit of an ass of herself by snaking her arms around and trying to dance in the passenger seat. Chand was a gentleman and ignored it, even though it was clearly directed right at him.

Okay, so we got to the market, and we went in. Everyone knew Chand, and he started speaking some language I couldn't understand, hugging women in saris and man-hugging guys with sandals. I hovered in the background until he motioned me over to introduce me to the woman who owned the store.

"This is my friend, Ramya," he said. It took me a moment to realize I was Ramya. I smiled and bowed, which was a stupid thing to do, but I guess I was channeling the only Asian thing I could think of at the time.

"Her grandparents are Indian," he said. "But she's pretty much Americanized by now."

The woman frowned all over her forehead and pursed her lips, shook her head, much in the same way of all my older female relatives from Mexico who think it is a shame that I speak such terrible Spanish.

"Ramya is very interested in learning about her culture," said Chand. "So I brought her here to learn from the best."

The woman blushed at this, though her apparent disapproval for me did not end with the flattery. Somewhere in the middle of all this Candi was introduced as the American roommate.

"Can we look around the store?" Chand asked the woman. She put on her eyeglasses and swept her arm toward the aisles, still eyeing me warily. I was sure she knew I was Mexican, but she didn't say anything until we started walking away from her.

"Ramya," she called. "What is your favorite kind of chutney?"

To say I panicked is an understatement. But I conjured the spirit of this still-developing character of Ramya, turned and smiled at her. I looked at the ceiling as though thinking hard about my answer. Then Chand rescued me.

"Deshi," he said. He winked at me now, and said, "She likes it hot."

Candi failed to notice the innuendo, which was good for her sake.

I strolled around the store with Chand, and just looked at everything, soaked it in. The smells, sort of hot and powdery, with a hint of onion somewhere. The sounds of the music and the conversations. We stopped at a magazine section and Chand handed me an entertainment magazine, which I leafed through, noticing that, yes, many of the stars in it looked like people I knew on the eastside.

We spent maybe half an hour there, and Chand filled a small hand basket with jars and bags of things that I pretended to know the uses of. The woman with the sari and the glasses rang up the order and seemed to have decided to direct her derision to Candi now. She scowled at her, and said something to Chand in the language.

As we walked out with our purchases, I asked him what she'd said.

"Nothing," he lied.

"Tell me," I said. "Did she know I was faking it?"

Chand opened the car door for me and laughed. "No, no, that's not it. Is that what you thought?"

I nodded.

"Nah. She just said she knew of some nice girls back in India if I was looking for someone special, that I should know better than to try to find a girl in America."

I was offended by this, naturally. Ramya was, too. After all, wasn't she just as much an Indian woman as these mythical girls back home? I realized that I was starting to think of Ramya as real.

Candi was busy with a package of Indian chewing gum and had not really caught any of the conversation. She said a few things about the market that did not make sense to me or Chand, and then she gushed about how convincing I'd been.

"You even started to move like those women," said Chand, noticing something I had thought would have been too subtle. "You're good."

"She is!" cried Candi.

"You had the posture and the neck motions down by the time we left," he said. "This is promising."

By then, it was past eleven, and I told them that we had to stop off at my parents' house to bring my niece her present. I asked Chand to stop at a Starbucks so that I could change clothes in the bathroom, and get an iced coffee at the same time. He wasn't at all upset to have to go to a thing at my folks' place. In fact, he said he was excited to see a real Mexican party.

"Don't be," I told him. "It's not that interesting. Not like that market, and that music."

Chand shrugged as we walked back out to the car. "It's all a matter of perspective," he said.

"You are a lawyer," I said.

He laughed. "What is that supposed to mean."

"It means you have the moral relativism thing down pat," I said.

Candi was in the car on her cell phone. We got in and she hung up quickly, which bothered me more than it should have. Then, we were off to East LA.

My mom and dad live in the same house they lived in when I was born. It's that old-style, with a pitched roof and shingles. They live on a beautiful tree-lined block where everyone cares for the homes, and you almost think it should be in Pasadena. Mom keeps big pots of bright flowers on the wraparound porch, and you really do expect Ward Cleaver to walk out with the newspaper under his arm.

Chand was impressed, and Candi was already checking out all the guys. She has a thing for dark-skinned men. I don't like to focus on her reasons for it.

We were a few minutes late, and everyone was already in the big back yard - my mom and dad, a dozen aunts and uncles, a million cousins, my grandparents, and a bunch of old people I'm not sure are related to me, but I call them tio and tia anyway. Dad was standing at the massive built-in barbecue grill, proud to be cooking. I never understood why he would not go near anything in the kitchen, but outdoors he turns into Betty Crocker.

My brothers were all there, too, and everyone looked at Chand with great suspicion. I leaned over to him, and asked him to pretend he was Candi's boyfriend.

"Why?" he asked, barely concealing his disgust with the idea.

"So they don't kick your ass, or question you all afternoon about how you plan to take care of me in my old age."

Chand laughed, and I told Candi the plan. Soon, they had their arms around each other and all the men in my family relaxed.

My 11-year-old niece was sitting pretty in her fancy dress, with her gifts and balloons everywhere, certain for the time being that she was right with God. I hugged her and gave her the Miley Cirus handbag set i had gotten for her, wrapped up in a pink box. It was probably way too young for her now, but what the hell do I know about the tastes of young girls?

We stayed long enough to eat a plate of food and make the rounds. I actually did not eat that much, which is super hard for me at these things. My family can cook.

An hour or so later, I excused us, explaining that I had to get to work. My mom was disappointed by this, and took the opportunity to remind me that I would always have a higher-paying job waiting for me at the company, meaning my dad's construction company. He makes a lot of money - not like Candi's dad or anything, but my East LA standards, we're a rich family.

"I'll keep that in mind," I said. I really don't want to ever have to resort to handouts from my folks. I actually plan to make it on my own.

Okay, so here's the rest of the story. I got to work, only to realize that I had my schedule all confused and actually had the day off. I do this a lot. I'm not sure what's wrong with me, but I suppose I should keep my planner on me at all times, or put it on my phone.

Candi was excited, because this meant we could "all" go to a party that night at a friend's house. Chand immediately accepted, and so I felt obligated to go. I went home, and Chand went back to wherever it is that Chand goes when he's not forcing strange women to pretend to be Indian. He came back later, and off we went.

We drank, and partied, and danced, and acted like idiots. Here's me and Candi on the dancefloor.

I tried to get Chand to admit to liking Candi, but when she was in the bathroom at one point, he got in real close and told me that while she was nice, she wasn't his type. I felt the heat of his body next to mine, and got electricity in my spine.

"What type of girl do you like?" I asked, stupidly, like I didn't know the answer.

"You," he said. "Your my type."

This was the exact moment that Todd, beautiful and famous Todd, popped into the room, with his hair a beautiful mess. He smiled at me, and came right over. It was very awkward, introducing these two to each other, and having them get that stiff back that men get when they're ready to fight like elephant seals over a cow.

Todd put his arm around me, called me "sweetie," and kissed me on the cheek. Chand seemed to think it was more serious than it was, and excused himself to get another drink.

"You look amazing," Todd told me. "Is Candi with you?"

Sure enough, she was, and when she returned to the little sofa where I was sitting, I noticed that Todd was really, really nice to her. This was either very good - meaning he was a nice guy; or very bad, meaning he, like every other actor who was ever nice to Candi (other than me) wanted to get to her dad.

When Todd started to grill Candi about her dad's newest projects, I knew it wasn't good. I started to really miss Chand, and tried to find him. Eventually, I saw him talking to some women in the corner. It did not bother me. Really.

"He's not my boyfriend," I told him.

Chand looked at me as if he didn't care. "None of my business," he said. "Look, I'm just in this to help you land an acting gig in India."

I laughed, because this seemed so absurd. Chand did not laugh with me.

"I'm serious," he said. "I have to go to India in a couple weeks, and I am planning on taking you with me."

"What? No. I can't."

"You can," he said.

I don't know why, but in that moment, I believed him.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chapter Three - WTF?

(Chand's ride, except his is dark blue. Where does a bartender get that kind of money? Please tell me he's not a drug dealer!)

Omg. It is not even nine in the morning yet, and Candi is banging on the door of my room, telling me Chand is here already. Hello? Who are you? What? When I agreed to go to the Indian market with him this morning, I had no idea that meant crack of freakin' dawn. I thought it would be at, like, ten. This is nonsense.

I just peeked out my window and saw our Indian bartending friend standing on the sidewalk in trendy jeans and a ringer t over a long-sleeved t-shirt, with a bouquet of flowers in his hands, like this is some kind of a date. That's sad. However, he looks better in the light of day than he did at the bar, which is pretty impressive. His car is in the visitor spot in our row of the parking lot, and it is a Volvo. Convertible. Safe, yet daring. Of course. Even the bartenders in West LA have smooth rides.

Candi is screaming and knocking things over in her haste to get us organized. Have I mentioned she is as coordinated as your average mole? Dmanit. I have to go. I'm not sure what it says about me that I'm on the computer sharing all of this, but I feel like I would explode if I didn't get it out somehow. And I can't believe I'm out of bed before nine on a Saturday, or that there's some hot East Indian dude downstairs waiting to teach me the wonders of going Hindi. My life is never dull. No, wait. That's a lie. It is often dull. But I will spare you those parts.

Oh, and when I agreed to do this, I forgot that we're having a party for my little neice for her Christening. By 'we' I mean the entire Notedigo clan in East LA, which is to say hundreds of people, all of them crowded around my dad's big-ass barbecue in my parents' back yard, while do-wop and hip hop battle for supremacy on the outdoor speakers my brother Gonzalo rigged up. It's a generational thing. There's no way I can do it all, unless I drag Candi and Chand to the Christening. That should be interesting.

Jesus Christ. Okay. Gotta go. This is going to be an interesting day. More later, probably after I get back from work. Peace, babies.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Chapter Two - In the joint

(Indian Actress Gajini Asin)

I let Candi talk me into going to this new Indian restaurant with her last night, and I'm a wee bit hungover as I type this. I probably shouldn't share that information with a bunch of strangers, but I promised I'd be open and honest on this blog. Besides, I don't think it's a news flash for anyone that sometimes a young and underemployed actress and her snymphomaniac virgin friend will have a few drinks with dinner. There's no way we could stand each other for more than five minutes any other way.

We took Candi's car, because we always take Candi's car. The only other choice would have been my car, which I think I've mentioned is a Hyundai Sonata I got from my mom. Candi got her car from her parents, too, but it's not a Hyundai anything. It's a BMW, black and sleek and fast. Candi likes her car, but she likes it in that way she likes anything her parents gave her - with a huge dose of guilt, especially when I'm around. Candi blasted Lady Ga Ga all the way. I had mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I like the beat of a good dance song as much as the next guy. But on the other hand, Lady Ga Ga sounds like a drugged out whore who needs therapy. I feel really sorry for her when she starts singing about making porn movies for drug money and how she hopes her daddy won't hate her for it. All that, to a fun beat. Lady Ga Ga is very West LA, and I don't mean that in a good way.

The restaurant is in a strip mall in Culver City, and I won't tell you the name because I plan to go there again and I really don't need to be called out on this blog yet. It's on Jefferson Boulevard. That much I can tell you, because there are a few Indian joints on Jefferson. When Candi pulled into the parking lot, I was, like, this is it? It looked so uninteresting, squeezed into a random minimall, next to ghetto clothing shops and a store where everything costs less than a buck. But Candi swore it was "amazing," and so in we went.

The first thing I noticed was how beautiful it was, in spite of being in a strip mall. You find this with a lot of first-generation ethnic restaurants in LA. They rent out this nondescript square of space, and do all sorts of mad creative things with it. In this case, they had the room sectioned off into cozy little "rooms" with sparkly Indian cloth on the walls. The lighting was mellow and sort of orange-yellow, the kind of light that can make anyone look good. There was music on, not too loud, and the hostess was the drop-dead gorgeous Indian woman with a body to die for, wearing a hot pink sari. For a second, she reminded me of my cousin Luisa (not her real name) from El Monte.

There was a bar, and this is where Candi decided we must sit. "You get to hear more of what people are talking about," she whispered in my ear as we walked toward the darkened back corner of the room. The bar was small, seating maybe about eight, with a TV hanging from the ceiling in the furthest corner. One of those Bollywood movies was on, with everyone smiling like they were insane, and doing these completely ridiculously mesmerising dances.

I sat next to Candi, and watched her watch the bartender. That's when I knew Candi had very little interest in hearing what anyone at the bar was talking about, and lots of interest in the bartender. Of course. It wouldn't have been like Candi to drive me all the way to Culver City for curry. It would, however, be exactly like Candi to drive me all the way to Culver City for a dude she could imagine twisting her into awkward sexual positions and grunting "Who's your daddy" in Sanskrit.

The bartender seemed to remember her, and smiled to see her. He was cute. There's no doubt about that. He was probably six feet tall, with dark hair and a broad jaw, big brown eyes that had that certain intelligence to them that I appreciate. He wore black trousers and a white shirt, with a green apron, and polished a glass with a white towel before setting on the shelf behind him.

"You're back," he said to Candi. Then his eyes danced over to me and he lifted his left eyebrow ever so slightly. "And you've brought a friend."

Candi made small talk, and introduced me. He told us his name was Chand, and had to spell it for me to understand what he was saying. He didn't have an accent or anything, but the name didn't sink in the first couple of times.

Chand handed us menus, and set to work making us a drink Candi ordered with great enthusaism, called Sex in Mumbai. It was cranberry juice, orange juice and lime, with booze in it. Pretty good, not great. The whole time we were looking at the menu, Chand was staring at me. It made me very uncomfortable, because I knew Candi dug him and he was not interested in being her sex God. Thankfully, Candi didn't notice. This is part of the reason she's such a crap actor, by the way. Candi doesn't pay much attention to the facial expressions and body language of the people around her, and sometimes you have to spell it out in very plain language before she understands what's going on. I think in her case this is all a blessing.

We placed our orders, and Chand walked off to deliver it to the kitchen. This is when Candi grabbed my hand and told me how much she wanted him. "Do you have any idea how many times I've masturbated thinking about this guy in the past week?" she asked me.

"Please don't tell me," I answered.

"Five, maybe six," she said.

"I asked you not to tell me." I tried to get the image of Candi masturbating out of my mind.

"He's hot," she gushed. "I want him to be the one."

By "the one" I was pretty sure she meant she wanted to lose her long-guarded virginity to this poor unsuspecting bartender.

The night went on pretty much in the same sort of vein, which is probably why I had three drinks. I'm a lightweight. Three drinks pretty much does me in. The food came, and it was good, but a lot like baby food on rice. I believe most Indian food is a version of baby food on rice, with seeds in it and curry. It's not my favorite cuisine. I prefer Japanese. With Indian food, I'm always super relieved to get to the nan, which is like a tortilla made by someone who doesn't know how to make tortillas, but at least it's not like baby food. On rice.

Candi was orgasmic about the dinner, though. She slurped and oohed and ahed her way through all of her plate and most of mine. The whole time we ate, Chand stood back and watched me. Sometimes he served the other people at the bar, or fiddled with things behind the counter, but there was no doubt in my mind that he was staring at me. If Candi noticed, she didn't say anything about it. Mostly, she got drunk and talked about the new vibrator she had ordered from some Web site. She offered to share it with me, which made me want to throw up. "I'll wash it first, of course," she said. It didn't help.

As Chand cleared our dishes, he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was an actress. Then, because I'd had too much to drink, I told him that I never got work as an actress and so I probably didn't have any right to tell him I was an actress.

"It's not because she can't act," said Candi, reminding me why I liked her. "She's one hell of an actress."

"So what's the problem?" asked Chand. "A beautiful young actress like you, if you're as good as your friend here says, shouldn't have a problem getting work in this town, surely."

"It's 'cuz she's Mexican," blurted Candi, failing to notice even then that her dream man had just looked me deep in the eyes and told me I was beautiful.

So it was that I had to explain to my East Indian friend that it was hard for a Mexican American actor to get anything but the most stereotypical roles in LA. He listened carefully, and when I was finished with my sob story, he joked that I could be a superstar in India. The he took Candi's dessert order (Candi can eat anything) and whisked himself off to the kitchen once more.

While he was there, Candi began to mull over what he'd just said. "You could, he's right," she said.

"Could what?"

"Could be a star in India. Look at them." She pointed her finger at the TV in the corner, with the Bollywood movie on. "Tell me that doesn't look like a bunch of Mexicans."

I watched for a moment, and I had to admit, the men in the scene had a certain resemblence to a norteno band. And the woman actress? She might as well have been waiting for the bus in Santa Ana.

Chand reappeared with Candi's desert and another round of drinks, which he said were on the house. He winked at me, which created some sort of problem with that pretty hostess across the room, who saw it and folded her arms in a huff. Candi noticed none of this. Me? I notice everything.

"She should totally go to India to be an actress," Candi slurred all over Chand. "You had the best idea ever. Ever. You're so smart, and strong. And handsome."

I tried to change the subject. "Who is that actress?" I asked, pointing to the TV. Chand looked, and answered.

"That's Gajini Asin," he said. I wrote it down and had him spell it for me. "She's a big star."

"She looks like the girls I went to high school with in East LA," I said.

"I know," he told me. "That's what I'm telling you. I see all these Hispanic girls out here, and you all look Indian."

"You're as pretty as that girl," Candi told me, pointing to the TV.

"I don't know," I said.

"You are," Chand confirmed. "Prettier."

We all watched the TV for a moment, and said nothing. I felt a strange tingle down my spine, the kind I've only felt before important things happened to me. It sounds crazy, but I always think it's my dead grandmother when I get that feeling.

Chand looked at us and smiled in this shy, strange way. "You know," he said. "Bollywood makes more money than Hollywood these days anyway. If you'd been born in Mumbai, you'd be a star."

"No, you don't understand. She can do any accent," babbled Candi. "She went to Julliard on a full scholarship. She can do anything." She poked me in the ribs. "Do British."

"Candi, please. Not right now."

"No, just do it. Show him."

I buried my nose in my drink and ignored her.

"I'd like to hear it," Chand told me.

Because I was drunk by then, I did the British accent. Chand seemed impressed.

"She could totally do Indian if she tried," said Candi.

"Well, in India we have a lot of different accents and languages," said Chand. "To break into Bollywood, she'd have to do an upper-class Hindi."

"So you'll teach her," said Candi, bouncing up and down in her seat.

Chand looked me dead in the eye again, and licked his full lips. "I think I'd like that," he said. "I think you could actually pull it off. You look Indian."

"Don't tell my mom that," I told him. "She thinks we're Spanish."

Chand found this hilarious. Candi, meanwhile, saw her big break. She was busily writing our home phone number down on her cocktail napkin, with her pink Hello Kitty pen.

"Call us," she said. "And we'll set up Indian lessons. You're a genius. You came up with the plan."

"Candi," I complained, ready to launch into her. Chand interrupted, however.

"This could be fun," he said. "It's on."

He called this morning, and we have plans for the three of us to go to an Indian market in La Mirada tomorrow morning, before I go to work as a wench in ye olde Middle Ages restaurant.

I'd like to say I'm pissed off at Candi about the whole thing, but honestly? I like a good challenge, and learning how to act Indian enough to try an audition in Mumbai is the most interesting thing to come across my lap in ages. Much more interesting than the nanny and maid roles I've been avoiding for the past year.

I don't think anything will come of it for me, of course, but maybe I can convince Chand to poke Candi. That would mellow her out.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chapter One - Pupusas and Candi's good news

Candi can eat anything. This shouldn't bother me as much as it does, except that I come from a diabetic Mexican family where the women have a tendency to gain a pound just from thinking about donuts.

Last night, Candi's Caucasian metabolism bothered me more than usual, probably because I had just come from another audition for another minor role on another third-rate cable series, and I knew, judging from the bored looks on the producers' faces, that I'd never hear from any of them again. My agent will surely be calling in the next day or two to tel me I wasn't quite what they were looking for, which my agent and I will both know means I was too brown. The role was for a neighbor lady, on a show starring white people. We all know it would be too confusing for white people to have brown neighbors on TV. Silly me.

After sitting in my Hyundai on the 101 for nearly two hours, all because some loser in a Hummer had flipped his tank off the side in Woodland Hills and everyone had to turn to stare, I finally got to the townhouse in Calabasas, near the town center, about 7 p.m. I couldn't get Alicia Keyes out of my head, because whenever I blow an audition I like to listen to Superwoman a million times. It makes me feel better.

It's pink, the townhouse, with red tiles on the roof and flowers on the path to the front door. It sits in a palm-tree subdivision, in a complex of other townhouses just like it. It reminds me of The Golden Girls, but I'm not complaining. In between the townhouses are green lawns and curved walking paths. There's a swimming pool and a gym that I would go to more often if there didn't always seem to be the same strange guy in there, wearing his stained white robe and dyed blonde combover, drinking wine out of a plastic cup. Sometimes he has a ferret on his shoulder. He looks like he probably used to want to be an actor, and maybe had a few small parts before turning to porn and contracting some horrible disease that he now wants to share with all of us by dipping his nether regions into the hot tub. He doesn't bother me directly, but somehow I always fear I'm staring down my future when I see him, and I avoid it.

I rent an upstairs bedroom in one of the three-bedroom townhouses, from my skinny, rich, blonde and yet unattractive friend Candi, who went to Julliard with me but who can't act worth a damn. She admits this freely, so I'm not telling the world something that would actually hurt Candi's feelings. Candi looks horsey. She has a long face that looks sadder than it is, and when she smiles she shows entirely too much gum. She has droopy eyes. Sometimes, when we're out on the town, people mistake her for Tori Spelling, which is sort of sad because Candi's dad is a TV producer, just like Tori's, but not quite as successful, and where Tori has a husband and kids, Candi is still a virgin. I'll explain this in a moment.

Candi doesn't need the rent money from me, but I give it to her anyway. I force her to take it. I pay her $750 a month, which is about what she gets from her parents for, like, socks. Or toothpaste. She would just as soon have me live there for free, because she thinks of me as her best friend and probably because no one else in the universe is willing to sit up late at night listening to a 23-year-old woman talk about her extremely unhealthy obsession with the blue-dicked men in the Kama Sutra.

It's probably enough penance that I subject myself to Candi's fantasy life, but I pay rent anyway because I have my pride. It's got something to do with being Mexican American, I'm pretty sure. Nobody in my family ever relaxes - or if they do, they can expect to get punished for it by everyone else in the family. Let's say it's a Saturday, at my parents' house, and you sleep past seven. You are punished with their jokes about how lazy you are. I seriously do not know where the lazy Mexican stereotype came from, because every Mexican I've ever known has always had to be doing something, or risk being castigated by all the other Mexicans. I was raised by a bunch of Mexican workaholics, who really seem to believe in the Puritan work ethic of the people who'd just as soon deport us, even though we've been here for four generations.

To pay this self-imposed rent, I work as a waitress at a place in the Valley where certain people go to pretend they're living in Medieval times. By certain people, I mean the lard-haired guys who played war games at the card shop in high school. (Yes, we have them in East LA, too. Geekery knows no neighborhood boundaries.)

Anyway, the restaurant where I work looks like a castle made out of gray Legos. I took the job because I get to dress up like a wench, in a green lace-up velvet bustier, and practice my English accent, which is so convincing people ask me if I'm Pakistani.

Once, someone asked me if I was that chick from Slumdog Millionaire, which was flattering. Pinto. That chick. I am glad toknow I am now thin enough tobe mistaken for her. I have gotten thin by not eating. There is no secret in Hollywood about what actually works to make you skinny.

When I'm at the castle, I get to act. The big news of my week is that the manager is actually going to let me play the lead damsel in distress in the mid-evening jousting show. I'm proud of this. Pride is a funny, extremely relative thing. Pride makes no sense.

Candi thinks pride is overrated, which is a big part of the reason I found her sitting on the living room floor surrounded by takeout boxes from this obscure 99-cent pupusa place she swears cures any mood impairment, with the Kama Sutra open on her lap. She was drooling lard and cornmeal on the twisted-up, blissed-out couple on the page.

She swears she's a virgin, and I have to say I believe it. She's obsessed with sex in the way only virgins, sex abuse victims, and men can be obsessed with sex. She says she never slept with anybody because she knew early on that all the hot men who wanted to bed her were only in it to get to her dad, and through him star in one of his many shows. I can't tell you the names of those shows here, but suffice to say they could have had names like "Lily white teen vacation" and it would have worked.

So there I was, tired, defeated, wanting nothing more than to veg out watching old movies in my room. I have a major thing for Audrey Hepburn. But Candi wanted to talk. She offered me some fried pupusas with meat and cheese in the middle, and I reminded her that I'm trying to be a vegan. Everyone in LA is trying to be a vegan. Candi remembered at that moment that she had decided to go vegan a week ago, but forgot.

"That's okay," I told her. "There's always next week."

I did not tell her I'd had a piece of Teriyaki turkey jerkey for lunch, in the car, because my vegan betrayal added to my lousy audition seemed like too much failure for one day.

Candi laughed. She laughs at anything. This is one of the reasons I like her so much. This, and the fact that she thinks I should be a major star already. She's a good, honest person who just so happens to really, really need to get laid.

Anyway, I plopped down on the overstuffed sofa and took a few deep breaths. We have nice furniture, because Candi's mom decorated the place when they bought it for her. Or, I should say, she had her "guy" decorate it. All bleach-blonde skinny Hollywood moms like Candi's mom have a "guy" who decorates things for them. He is always gay. He always wears animal prints. He always has red-framed eyeglasses.

This townhouse is like living in a really nice hotel suite. For what it's worth, Candi's parents think Candi is lesbo because I live here with her. Candi tries to tell them that I'm just a friend who doesn't have enough money to get a place of her own on the West side (where the auditions are, thank you) but they just roll their eyes. They are sure Candi has unresolved lesbian issues with her Mexican nanny, and that I am the way she expresses it. I am not sure they're wrong, but I'd prefer not to think about it.

The last time I saw Candi's mom, I'd just gotten hair extensions. She didn't recognize me. She thought I was the maid. When I explained that I was the roommate and friend, Maria, the same Maria who had been Candi's friend since we roomed together at Julliard when we were eighteen, Candi's mom got really upset and started asking Candi why she was sleeping with her maid, didn't she know that was taking advantage of your workers. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I did neither. As usual when life gets to be too much, I went for a jog.

But back to last night. Last night, Candi told me she'd gotten an offer to do a multi-episode guest spot on a well-known sitcom. She did not have to audition at all for this, by the way. When she told me, she looked like a dog with its tail between its legs. She apologized. I asked her why she always does that.

"Because I'm shit," she said as she stuffed another pupusa down her throat. "You're the actor. I'm just this shitty nothing who gets jobs because of my dad. Life is so unfair and I hate it."

I did not disagree with her, but I did tell her that I think she's a great cook. And she really is. Candi says she wants to be a cook someday, and she's always taking classes on it. But her parents think her fascination with obscure ethnic food and unknown restaurants run by immigrants only confirms their suspicions that she is a lesbian who sleeps with her maid.

"Congratulations," I told her. I smiled convincingly. After all, I'm a pretty good actress. At least, that's what they told me at school.

This is when Candi told me two things that cheered me up. First, she said that Todd called. Todd's real name is not Todd, but he's an actor and even though he's not famous yet he's been in enough things to have an IMDB page on him and I don't need you googling him, or him finding out that I'm writing about him on the Web. I actually hope to sleep with Todd, because he has eyes like Johnny Depp.

I met Todd last week at a party, and even though he asked for my number, I was pretty sure he'd never call because he's incredibly good-looking and charming and nice and has a lot of money. He once dated a very famous TV star. I usually attract men who meet the opposite criteria of all that. My last boyfriend was a pothead with a surfing instructor habit.

Next, Candi told me she'd discovered a really good new Indian restaurant in Culver City. I am a big fan of Indian food.

"We're going there tomorrow night," she told me. "Unless you're working."

As it turned out, I'm not working tomorrow night. So, that's where we're at. I'm the wench from the medieval place, with the horny rich roommate, and we're going out for Indian food. This, by the way, is not the way I envisioned things when I went to Julliard. But life is not always the way you envision it. Especially if you're a Mexican American actress in Hollywood.