Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Global Nomad, a Pipe Dream, and a Persimmon Tree

I was planning on writing a blog post about International food cravings this week, but as I was writing, my thoughts got drawn more and more to the period of my life where I lived in Los Angeles (May to December of 2000). A recent Facebook post by my friend Tess, about the incredible scent of fresh rain in LA, and hiking the trails overlooking the city, really got me thinking about that time, and what I took away from it.

In May of 2000, about six months after finishing my geology degree at Denison University, I did one of the daftest things I had done in a while. I moved to Los Angeles with the intent of trying to make it as an actor… Driving my rusted-through 1982 VW Rabbit from Ohio to California, I became part of the cliché. One of the countless young people who try to fulfill that hare brained ambition every year… Let’s get a few facts straight. I can play a mean bit of flute, and occasionally write something funny, but when it comes to acting I am completely useless! By the miraculous grace of the Gods, and a very kind voice-over artist named Julie, I found a place to stay during my time there.

As Michael Douglas said in his 1994 interview for the program ‘Inside the Actor’s Studio’, you should only go to LA if you have work. Being there with no prospect of an income, is one of the most depressing experiences you can have, and that pretty much summed it up for mine. It didn’t help that my US visa was set to expire and had the added pressure of needing to either get a new one, or leave the country. I got my ass handed to me on a plate, and I completely failed… You could say I was a fool for even trying, but I figured it was quite possibly the last chance I had to have a hare brained adventure, so I took it.

Despite it being a complete professional disaster, it was one of the most memorable times for having my context expanded. During the eight months that I spent in Studio City, I met my share of famous people, including George Clooney, Mena Suvari, Sarah Jessica Parker, Brooke Burke, and soap actor Quinn Redeker, who over the course of those eight months, bought me to many, many cups of coffee. My long chats with Quinn and with my good friend Stacey were effectively what kept me sane. Those two people gave me the wisdom and sense of mind to realize that continuing my pipe dream was a bad idea. I left for Europe in January of 2001.

One of the more pleasant experiences, and the one that Tess’ post reminded me of, was my unexpected introduction to a new exotic fruit. One afternoon, I noticed Julie’s neighbor on the roof of the apartment complex. Using garden shears, he was cutting branches off a tree in his garden. The branches were full of a strange fruit I had never seen before. After joining him on the roof I asked what kind they were, and he told me they were persimmons. He also told me he hated the things. All they did was fall down into his patio area and make a huge sticky mess that he’d then have to clean up. Supposedly they were an expensive delicacy, though he had never tried any.

Being curious, I picked a large one and took it downstairs into the kitchen. I peeled some of the skin off, and a milky sap oozed from the hard flesh. I cut (more like hacked) out a small piece and stuck it in my mouth. Almost instantly I gagged on the bitter taste, and my tongue became covered in a vile, waxy grime that left an aftertaste for days. Okay! If this was supposed to be a delicacy, it would be reserved only for those with the most ravenous appetite for tannins! Why anyone would fork over $4 a piece for these at the grocery store was beyond me.

About a week later when unclogging the rain gutters on the roof, I noticed an elderly Hispanic lady plucking persimmons off the tree with her granddaughter. Curious again, I climbed to the roof once more, and asked her how you’re supposed to eat them. I mentioned my initial experience and the less than agreeable taste. She laughed (quite hard actually) and said that they are only edible when they are really, really ripe. Ripe to the point that they appear almost rotten and would start attracting fruit flies. She handed me a piece of one that she had picked, which to be fair really did look rotten and extremely gooey. Reluctantly I tasted it, and to my surprise it was unbelievably delicious. Sweet, with just that little ‘something’ that you can never quite pinpoint, and ridiculously good! She told me I should pick the ones that were starting to soften a bit, and let them ripen together in a brown paper bag.

For the next month or two, that steady supply of persimmons was my little secret. By that time I was practically out of money, and could barely afford ramen, let alone tropical fruit. Along with the copy of ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, which Julie had bought me as a present, those persimmons provided me with an escape from the brutal reality of life as an unprepared, wannabe actor in Tinseltown. It was one of the most difficult periods of my life, but I will always look back in gratitude for the wealth of life experience that my LA experience gave me. And for the kindness of a total stranger I bumped into in front of a sushi bar, one balmy evening in West Hollywood.

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