This past weekend, I was in the difficult spot of making a choice between being the +1 for a screening of Female Trouble and Serial Mom with a John Waters Q&A and book signing sandwiched in, or being the +1 for the Clinton Benefit concert at the Hollywood Bowl, featuring Usher, Lady Gaga, Kenny Chesney, Stevie Wonder, 1/2 of U2, etc. Outside of what choices I had, what I know is that I have wonderful and generous friends who have been instrumental in making me feel comfortable in LA, even in my joblessness. I may be broke, but I got people.
I chose the John Waters. Not because I don’t like Usher or Lady Gaga, but because I was actually looking forward to the bus ride out to Santa Monica. The 720 runs along Wilshire E-W for almost the whole length of metropolitan LA and Santa Monica. There are no signs posted for the 720 at any of its many stops, only signs for the mythical “20.” That I actually caught it is sheer luck, though now I feel like I’m in an exclusive club that knows the secret to getting to the Ocean. LA isn’t very forthcoming about anything. Every time you figure out which bus stops where or the secret entrance to Rally’s or the hidden pinball and sewing shop on the top floor of a warehouse-turned band practice space, you feel like you’ve earned that Members Only jacket.
The 720 chased the sun down to the ocean, and I didn’t read my book at all. In Beverly Hills, I watched a middle-aged couple in ball gown and tux almost walk in front of our bus. They had other things on their mind. Part of me wondered if that couple, crossing Rodeo Dr., ever even noticed that public transportation ran through their exclusive village. Had they really seen our behemoth vehicle? Had they seen the two cheap bikes speared to the front?
In Santa Monica, I met two nice people who worked for the Academy with my friend. What I like about Academy people is that they do not throw it around in conversation that they work for the Academy. (During the intermission for the show, a young actor-looking man turned around to interrupt our conversation about cute puppies to show us a slide show of French bulldogs on his iPhone, right before he so abruptly said, “Why do you get the Reserved seats? What do you guys do?” I don’t like that question, but I also understand his desperation. I just don’t usually verbalize it.)
I have never seen Female Trouble. It is a LOUD movie. And Divine is one of the best comedic actors I have ever seen. I firmly believe that now. For a guy who never studied acting and had a lot of strikes against him in “making it,” Divine was a natural in developing the type of cadence and tone that parallels any contemporary Zach Galifianakis or Danny McBride, and it’s so rare and so rarely successful. Halfway through Female Trouble, just after the spaghetti hits the wall, and you think Divine’s eye makeup can’t stretch any farther, John Waters himself entered the darkened theater and hunched down in a seat directly in front of us. Holy shit, you might say. Holy shit, I said. For the remainder of the movie, we, and two rows of folks behind us, had the pleasure of watching John Waters watch his own film, almost 40 years after its release. At points where the audience was rapt and calm, Waters leaned forward and chuckled to himself, his eyes closed, remembering something. And when Divine bobbles up and down on that trampoline and finally sticks that back-flip landing, Waters jumped a little in his seat, caught up in the suspense, in his own projected emotion, like reading your middle school diary aloud to a hundred strangers and wondering how you knew so much about sex back then.
During the Q&A between films, John Waters was deft at deciding when your question was really done and what question he wanted to answer. Note: if you’re an actor, and you refer to your work as your “craft,” you will never get a role in his films. (Fruitcake is his next long-awaited film, and you’ll have to wait a lot longer.) Because he’s never changed, it’s difficult for me to remember that he is probably in his 60s. Like LA, when it’s always sunny and beautiful, there’s no way of telling when winter sets in elsewhere. My new friends and I waited for a few hundred people to stand in line and do the meet and greet with Waters. I’m not sure why I didn’t stand in line, too. Part of me always feels bad for celebrities at moments like that, and I don’t want to be lumped in with the rest. (John Waters signings make for great people watching, by the way.) At the end of the line was a tall, heterosexual gentleman holding a baby. (We always have to specify whether or not someone is gay, so in the presence of John Waters, let’s reverse that.) The baby was only a few weeks old. You could barely make out their conversation, but what the man wanted was not for Waters to sign his book, or even sign his baby, but for John Waters to hold his baby. There was a moment where the theater went silent. Waters looked like he was going to refuse, but then he reached a stiff hand out to the baby, and the infant was placed in his arms. He held it up like a bowling trophy he shouldn’t have won, and then everyone took out a camera. People were snapping away, and the scene was interesting, but it just wasn’t Waters. It wasn’t subversive enough. John Waters holding a baby was too easy.
Waters’ handler put the final press camera away, and I was excited to get on to watching Serial Mom, but right before attention had turned away from the scene, with everyone still oohing and awwing at John Waters holding a baby, the baby’s unsupported head flopped forward into his chest with a thunk, and the crowd gasped. Oh. That’s what I was waiting for.
(The baby was fine.)