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Where I Live


LA Times: May 29, 2003
By AJ Benza

Open windows, open doors and open minds let in the rhythms of life…

When a TV career first called me to California five years ago, I didn’t decide to test the deep and turbulent waters of Hollywood by sticking my toe in. I did a one-and-a-half in pike position, landing in a tiny bungalow off Poinsettia Avenue in a landmark complex that Charlie Chaplin had once built for his mistress.

article-latimes-sidewalkNormandie Towers at various times housed Rudolph Valentino, Thelma Ritter, Errol Flynn, John Barrymore and Marilyn Monroe because of its proximity to Warner Bros. Studios. All I cared about was that my Hansel and Gretel-type studio was once where Marilyn looked up at the same water-stained and stuccoed ceiling I had. There were sculptors, actresses, drug dealers, a stripper whole clogs kept me awake at night and, of course, my cross-dressing landlord. If I were in a pitch meting, I’d call it” Melrose Place” meets “Oz” and “Trainspotting.”

As interesting as it was, this was no place for a first-time author to sit and think and wait for the words to come. Still, it took me two years to pull myself away from the lusty allure of Marilyn’s aura. You think my dates didn’t respond to that? (It’s one thing to have a small Yorkie on a leash, which I do, but a lot more powerful to have the same bedroom as the world’s biggest sex symbol).

I took a two-year lease on a tidy block in Culver City, home of the hotel that housed the midgets from “The Wizard of Oz.” Legend has it the tiny actors trashed the hotel once filming was complete, years before the Rolling Stones would even dream of it. That, as far as I ever knew, was the town’s only claim to fame. I hoped and prayed every night that the dwarfs would come back and display their famous Yellow Brick Road rage. Anything for some fun in that town.

Sierra Exif JPEGIt wasn’t all bad, but having to park on streets lined with minivans, watch men tinker in their garages on weekends, observe up close the utter lack of passion of two neighbors mowing their lawns and never bothering to stop and chat over the rose bushes sucked the life out of me. Windows stayed shut, screen doors were locked and the ink in my blood was running thin.

Finally I found a 1930’s two-story apartment on Carmona, purely by accident – which is how I find everything. Even love. When that happens, you feel as if the two of you were meant for each other: It’s a lot better to believe fate has brought you together than a money-hungry realtor. And just when I think I’m a million miles from Hollywood, I walk my Yorkie, Cesare, to the top of the block and – far in the distance, in a position even too true for irony – I see the mighty Hollywood sign far off in Beachwood Canyon. I like it that way This town won’t let me forget where I am. But my neighborhood makes me remember who I am.

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