Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Bad Neighbor Policy

I live in Hollywood (one of the slightly edgy, but still affordable neighborhoods in L.A.) With its numerous apartment buildings and proximity to the studios, it has long been home to young hopefuls trying to make it in the entertainment business. For the last 15 years, I’ve lived in a complex made up of Spanish style townhouses situated around a courtyard. Although a little threadbare, it’s got a lot of charm. Constructed in the early 1920’s (before the invention of sub-woofers and big screen TV’s), my only complaint is that the houses are built somewhat close together and noise travels pretty easily from one unit to the next.

On one side of me lives a very talented (and very quiet) production designer whom I adore. On the other side is a unit that I used to refer to as the “House of Irritation,” since for years, every time somebody moved in, it was bad news.

When I first arrived, two young actors lived there who threw huge, out of control parties that lasted till dawn. After they were booted out, a casting director moved in who enjoyed nothing more than hiring male prostitutes to come over and give him a good spanking in the middle of the night. When he left, a couple of independent producers took over the place, who were always borrowing things like scissors and screwdrivers and never returning them.

All of these people however paled in comparison to “Nyla” (not her real name). Nyla was a 40ish blond entertainment publicist who struck me as trouble from the moment she arrived. Nyla went out to a lot of clubs with her clients and had a habit of bringing said clients (and whoever else she picked up along the way) back to her place once the bars closed at around 2 AM. The party would then amp up as Nyla and her guests would dance and sometimes sing along with the music while Nyla (who apparently had a little gypsy in her) would accompany them on a tambourine. The first time this happened, I tried to wait it out. Finally, around 3 AM, I banged on her door, but got no response. The next morning I wrote her the most polite note I could manage (given I’d only had three hours sleep) and invited her to make all the noise she wanted until midnight, but requested that she keep it down after that. I tucked it into her mailbox and hoped for the best.

The next day, I found a hand-written reply from my new neighbor taped to my door that was three pages long (front and back). The first couple of pages were filled with humble apologies plus a little background info. Having just moved here from New York, she was still getting her bearings, she explained. She loved the courtyard and only wanted to make friends with her neighbors. Then gradually the tone of the letter changed as Nyla began to recount the events and timeline of the party as best she could recall them. Right around page three, the letter started developing a slightly sinister, accusatory tone as Nyla began to question how I could "possibly have heard that.” Adding to the weirdness, the letter had been written using three different pens (each a different color) which I suspected meant that composing it had been an all-day affair. I took a deep breath. Clearly, my new neighbor was either a drunk or insane. As it turned out, she was both.

Nyla worked out of her home and talked on the phone all day and (if she was home) all night. With a voice like a foghorn, I couldn’t help but overhear everything that went on with her and her roster of lackluster clients. Whether she was keeping me up half the night, blocking my car or stealing my garbage can, for the next two years, it was war. There were occasional cease-fires, a couple of screaming matches and lots of calls to the property manager (usually made by Nyla, complaining that I was stalking or harassing her). Mostly, I just tried to pretend she didn’t exist.

Then one Sunday night, Nyla arrived home from an out-of-town trip to find herself locked out of her townhouse. Parking herself on the front steps, she began making a series of loud, angry calls to her assistant (who was apparently supposed to have been present to greet her, keys in hand). Unable to locate him, she began calling her many friends to express her outrage that she had been stranded in such a horrible, horrible situation. But none of Nyla's friends were home, so she was forced to leave long, explicative-filled messages about how she intended to deduct the cost of calling a locksmith from her idiotic assistant’s salary.

As I sat in my living room, trying to read a few scripts, I could hear Nyla recounting over and over how her lovely weekend (spent at a spa with her lone celebrity client) had been utterly ruined by this crime against humanity. After about an hour, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went outside and invited her into my house. She seemed utterly stunned by the gesture. It was getting cold and I suggested that she might be more comfortable on my sofa than sitting on the steps. “I’m sure your assistant will call you back soon. Come on, I’ll make you a cup of tea.”

Nyla slowly rolled her luggage into my living room, glancing suspiciously from left to right as if she were expecting an ambush or a gang rape. Despite the fact that I’d already heard the story about ten times, I invited her to tell me about her weekend. Relaxing a bit, Nyla began to chatter away about what a wonderful human being her client was and what a fabulous time they’d had - until this sacrilege had occurred. I knew her actress-client to be a well-known psycho, so I tried to imagine what a wonderful weekend they must have had terrorizing the staff of the spa and thanked God that I wasn’t employed there.

One disjointed story led to another and as Nyla rattled on-and-on without taking a pause. Then suddenly, in mid-sentence, she stopped and looked down at the cup of tea I’d made her as if it had just magically materialized in her hands. Slowly, her eyes drifted up to my face. “You’re really very nice, aren’t you?” I was a little thrown since what (I think) she’d intended as a compliment had instead come out as a question. It was as if she were asking if I was for real or had I secretly urinated in this tea before serving it to her. I forced a smile. “Well, I’m not a saint, Nyla. But I try to be nice.” The awkward silence was broken by the sound of Nyla’s assistant arriving. Immediately, her game face was back on. Storming out of my place with guns blazing, she made sure her assistant was well-aware of how his thoughtlessness and dereliction of duty had ruined everything. She even tried to include me as a co-complainant, saying I had been forced to interrupt my busy screenwriting career to take her in.

As I flopped back onto my sofa and cracked open the next rotten script, it occurred to me that this had been the first civil conversation I had ever had with Nyla. Yes, she was insane. Yes, she was an utter toxic waste dump of a person, but I was going to have to live with her. I couldn’t help wondering if perhaps I’d invited her over for that lousy cup of tea two years earlier, we might have been able to avoid some of this hell.

A few days later, as I was retrieving my garbage can from the curb, Nyla's psychotic celebrity client pulled up alongside me in a huge, black SUV and told me that Nyla (who was “one of her favorite people on the planet”) had told her of my kindness and that she (the celebrity) now loved me. Two weeks later, she dropped Nyla and two months after that, Nyla abandoned L.A. to return to New York - where she is no doubt making some new neighbor’s life a living hell.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
http://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 http://www.partsandlabor.tv/

1 comment:

Scott Ganyo said...

...and that's why they call it "Hollyweird"...