Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunny and the Rent Bush

Having lived the first 32 years of my life in cold climates, Christmas in Los Angeles has always seemed strange to me. Every year when I start receiving holiday cards from fellow Angelinos featuring icicles and snowmen, the whole thing seems sort of silly. L.A. certainly “gets” Christmas. After all, this is the city where “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “White Christmas” were all filmed (on sound stages, I grant you). We might not have the weather to get the Christmas spirit rolling, but we certainly have the sets and costumes.

Contrary to popular belief, L.A. is not without its holiday traditions; many of them as special (and odd) as the city itself. The first major event is the strangely-named “Hollywood Santa Parade” which takes place about thirty minutes after Thanksgiving. Each year, D-List celebrities and high school bands march proudly down Hollywood Boulevard past Frederick's of Hollywood, spreading holiday cheer, road rage and a light sprinkling of garbage. For those seeking a more spiritual experience, there's the Crystal Cathedral’s “Glory of Christmas” in nearby Orange County. It’s a little hard to describe, but basically if Jesus, Mary and Joseph ever played Caesar’s Palace, it would probably look something like this. Complete with live camels, fog machines and flying angels, the show includes lots of classy original music sung loudly into body mikes (similar to those originally used in Bethlehem).

At Universal City Walk, you can kiss your sweetheart under a giant piece of Mistletoe being held overhead by King Kong. If you’re feeling a little depressed about the holidays, a trip to Forest Lawn Cemetery’s stained glass festival should definitely cheer you up. And don’t forget to take the kids to visit “Scientology Santa” at the “L. Ron Hubbard Winter Wonderland” near Hollywood and Las Palmas. While there, you can also take a personality test which I can guarantee you, you will fail.

It’s weird, but there’s something in the popular culture lately that seems to have it out for Christmas. Most of the holiday movies are now about how awful and embarrassing everyone's family is and what a drag it is to have to visit them. I recently went on Pandora.com (a great music site) and dialed up a mix of contemporary holiday music. I was psyched when up popped a roster of cool artists like Aimee Mann, Dave Mathews, Sting and Sarah McLachlan. Then it started playing. It was the most depressing mix I’d ever heard in my life. Nothing but bleak revisionist versions of old favorites. It really bugged me.

Trust me, I know there will never be peace on Earth. I get that “Goodwill toward men” is a distant and doubtful goal, but I do appreciate the sentiment. It’s at least worth thinking about once a year. Plus, it bugs me how people tend to become so self-consumed at the holidays; choosing this particular time to drudge up all their disappointments and doubts. It’s easy to forget this is supposed to be the season of giving. I was reminded of this last year when my dry cleaner and I became players in an odd little drama.

I’m not a guy who owns a lot of clothing so when the holiday party season arrives, my dry cleaner and I see a lot of each other. Pretty much every week, I manage to spill or smear something on one of the two decent outfits I own. Fortunately, my dry cleaner (a cheerful Korean lady, appropriately-enough named “Sunny”) manages to keep me looking presentable. Although Sunny always seems to understand everything I say to her, I don’t always fully grasp what she is saying in return. Usually this isn’t such a big deal since we are primarily discussing the location of stains. However, last year as I was dropping off my navy blue blazer, she casually asked if I had gotten my “rent bush” yet. Since I had no idea what a “rent bush” was, I pretended like I hadn’t heard the question and drew Sunny’s attention back to the artichoke dip on my lapel. A week later, she again peered over her glasses and cheerfully inquired, “You no want rent bush?” In my mind, I pictured some kind of miniature Korean Christmas shrub. “No,” I said, smiling awkwardly. “Not this year.” On Christmas Eve, when I stopped in to pick up my grey wool pants, she again asked about the mysterious “rent bush.” But this time her tone seemed shy and a bit sad. Overcome with guilt, I decided to fess up. “I’m sorry, Sunny,” I said. “I don’t know what a ‘rent bush’ is.” Suddenly, her face lit up. Giggling like a schoolgirl, she quickly reached under the counter and retrieved a small inexpensive lint brush with a red bow tied around the handle. “May Krees-mahs!" she shouted as she proudly placed it in my hand. "For all my special customer!” I’m sure I probably got several very nice gifts for Christmas last year, but the only one I remember is my “rent bush.” I used it all year.

Given how uncertain everything is looking these days, this seems like a good time to point out that the holidays weren’t created to stress us out or make us feel like shit. They are not on the calendar to remind us that we are still single or make us wish we got along better with our families. The goal isn’t really to run from store to store trying to find that perfect gift for each of our loved ones; that special something that might make them “happy” (at least for a little while). Lately, I've been thinking that the best thing we can give each other is our attention, even if it’s just for a moment. All any of us really wants or needs is to be acknowledged by the other; to be singled out; to know that we show up on the radar; that we are someone’s “special customer.” In my experience, feeling “happy” rarely lasts more than a few days, while feeling “appreciated” can sometimes last until Spring.

So my dear readers (and friends), although I’m unable to send you each your very own “rent bush,” I don’t want this holiday to slip by without expressing how much your friendship, loyalty and enthusiasm have meant to me over this past year. Your comments and email have been an invaluable source of inspiration; both personally and professionally. I hope you have a very Happy Holiday season and please accept my best wishes for a bountiful New Year filled with recognizable love, useful lessons and a truckload of good old fashioned luck. ‘Til next time.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
www.daviddeanbottrell.com

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at
www.partsandlabor.tv

4 comments:

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

This was a very nice post. Happy Holidays.

Anthony La Russo said...

There's something so touching about being asked about the gift, whether you "wanted it" or not.

Because my thought is that here in New York, for instance, it would have just been shoved in your bag, with a sticker of advertising and marketing, promoting their business (and why not?) But, as you described in your encounter, being somewhat innocent of those "automatic" traditions, really lends itself to an opportunity to have a very directly personal exchange with you.

I love when customs and traditions get re-examined, essentially, by the requestioning of language. It's easy to do and say so many things automatically, that sometimes it really takes a fresh outlook to reinfuse customs with their sweet, kind, original intent.

I'm so happy to hear I'm not the only one having great conversations with people behind the counter. Is it an actor/writer thing?--dunno, but I always feel like it's a personal stage I've been invited to, and I'm honored to be "served" and greeted. I love acknowledging kindnesses like what you described done amidst hundreds of customers, with sincerity.

One day, I'll have a rent bush too. Meantime, I'm having thoughts on this holiday exactly like you. Call up those people you haven't spoken to in ages, sincerely acknowledge people where you live. This is even more valuable than a gift or a card. Direct attention.

Thanks, David, for your heartwarming (& very funny!) story.~~Anthony La Russo, NYC

Michael Coulombe said...

Thank you for this wonderful and touching Holiday message. Recently, I've realized that I've lost touch with so many close people. When I came to LA to follow my dream of becoming a writer it seems that my close friends would think I would forget about them, thusly they've moved on with their lives.

As always, I get so caught up with trying to make this a special holiday for my nephews (since they have no positive male role model) and I forget to actually step back and enjoy it. Thank you for reminding me of that.

I wish you a wonderful holiday. I'm grateful that we finally got to meet and shake hands (and hug) this year. You are a great treasure.

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