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.