Thanks to everyone who made such nice comments on my “friendship” post. I almost deleted the post after I published it, since I thought it was too wimpy – but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m especially pleased to learn that I got other bloggers to think about the subject, including JJ, Ashbloem, Nicole, and Ascesis. Even though we all live in different parts of the country – and world – we all have similar experiences in life.
Not all the responses to the post were positive. One of my film school friends said it was a terrible idea to make myself look “bad” (meaning needy). He’s a big fan of the maxim, “Never let them see you sweat.” One of his favorite books is a self-help book by a professional jury-picker who writes about the “secrets” of stacking the jury by reading people’s dress, posture, and mannerisms The book offers advice on how you can manipulate the world by using your dress and body language. In my friend’s view, each individual is a private business that needs to be successfully marketed to succeed. It is essential to show yourself in a positive light and never say anything bad about yourself… including your need for more friends. The best way to get friends is to become more successful. Then, friends will be knocking at your door. Not surprisingly, my friend works in the entertainment industry.
I understand where my friend is coming from. The entertainment industry can warp your mind. Nothing turns my stomach more than having to go to a “Hollywood” party. Fear and desperation permeate the air, no matter how successful the group. The reason:
Careers in Hollywood rise and fall faster than Pamela Anderson’s boobs when she’s bouncing on top of Tommy Lee in that sex video.
The worst possible thing to say at a Hollywood party is “I’m out of work." Everyone is afraid of catching the disease, like leprosy. So, everyone (and I mean everyone, including the waiter handing out the cocktail franks) is “in development.” No one believes this, but as long as no negative energy is released, everyone is relaxed and the party can proceed normally.
Keeping positive in Hollywood is not easy, or cheap. People try to fight negativity by spending tons of money at the Learning Annex and the Scientology center. I understand the need for this. It’s so easy to get down on yourself that you sometimes need an outside source to help you delude yourself.
When I first move to LA, my neighbor was a pretty red-haired actress. I wanted to ask her out, but I was too shy. She wasn’t getting the acting jobs she wanted, so she started going to this EST-Forum type group to bolster her self-esteem. And it seemed to work. She didn’t get any more work, but her positive attitude went through the roof. All of a sudden, she “knew” she was going to succeed. There was no room for doubt. She stopped talking to her regular friends because they were a “negative influence” who didn’t “believe in her abundant potential.”
While I was glad she was happier, I found her attitude adjustment a little creepy. I also was concerned about the cost of all these “seminars” she took. There was a new seminar almost every week, each costing a couple of thousand dollars. After each seminar, she would ask me to attend her “graduation.” I kept on finding excuses not to attend, but there was a new graduation after each seminar, and I was running out of reasons.
Finally, I agreed to go to one of her graduations. I had no interest in this group at all, but I figured if I went, it might help me in my quest to see her naked and – well, you get where my mind was at. I knew this group was probably cult-like. Someone even warned me that they would try to “brainwash” me. But I wasn’t very worried. While some cults might appeal to me, I’m way too cheap to actually pay thousands of dollars for one.
My neighbor and I went to the group’s headquarters in Westwood. The minute we got there, they shuffled all the “guests” into another room totally separate from the graduating students. The door was locked and we never saw them for the rest of the evening. Some graduation!
A young guy with a well-trimmed beard stood in front of the guests, waving his finger at all of us.
Bearded Guy: “You… all of you…are fuck-ups. Every single one of you… Fuck-ups. You don’t know shit. And if you think you know shit, you know even less shit.”
One of the guests giggled.
Bearded Guy: “What the fuck is wrong with you, fuck-up?
This was so weird that I was actually intrigued, as if I had stepped into a real-life movie about crazy people in California.
“Finally,” I said to myself, “I’m seeing the real Los Angeles.”
The bearded guy kept on ranting about how fucked we all were. Two female assistants handed out sign-up sheets where we supposed to write down our addresses and phone numbers.
My mind wandered to thoughts about my actress friend. I guess I wasn’t going to see her naked, after all. It was clear that one of the "graduation requirements” was to drag another clueless victim into this nonsense. But what bugged me the most was – why me? Did I really look like such a “lost soul” that she thought I would go for this?
I got up to leave.
Bearded Guy: “Where are you going?”
Me: “I’m leaving.”
Bearded Guy: "You can’t leave until we’re done."
Me: "I’m really not that interested. I’m sorry."
Bearded Guy: "You should be sorry, you no-nothing fuck-up. You signed up to be at this graduation ceremony."
Me: "What graduation ceremony? This… this… is just an excuse to get new clients. And stop calling me names. You’re rude… and I know what you’re trying to do. I took psychology."
Bearded Guy: “You really are fucked up. Sit down.”
Some burly bouncer type stood in front of the closed doors. For the first time since arriving, I got nervous. My mind raced, trying to figure out what to do next.
Me: (to myself) Should I just sit down and listen? What could happen in an hour or so? Or could something happen… I can’t be brainwashed in an hour? But, wait… maybe I’m being brainwashed already? Maybe I’ll become like one of those prisoners in the Stanley Milgram experiment I wrote a paper about in college Psych class?
Suddenly, I stopped thinking of my college psych class and reached into school memories that went even further back — to my sixth grade civics class. I remembered some speech I gave about the Declaration of Independence when I was chosen as my school’s “Citizen of the Month.”
I turned and faced the bearded guy as defiantly as Patrick Henry must have stared down the British.
Me: “This is a free country. I have rights. Have you read the Declaration of Independence? The Constitution? In 1789, something was written called the Bill of Rights. Have you heard of it? In it, it says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. There is free speech in this country. And there is the inalienable right for me to move freely throughout this country. And if I want to walk out those doors right now, I WILL walk out those doors.”
I marched to the doors. The bouncer moved aside. I opened the handles to the door and left.
I never brought up this incident to my actress neighbor. I never scolded her or blamed her. I understood that this craziness was important to her. She needed this boost of confidence to make it in the entertainment business, even if she had to pay thousands of dollars for it. And several years later, after we lost contact with each other, I did see her in a small speaking role on “Will and Grace.”
So, maybe my film school friend is right: “Never let them see you sweat.”
Maybe next time I want to write about Sophia, or my sex life, or my friendships on my blog, I’ll just say, “It’s in development.”