graffiti by John Tottenham

graffiti by John Tottenham

Tottenham Corner

Respect for Acting

I awoke at dawn, fuming.

I had been having a drink with an actor friend the night before when he dropped the news on me that his buddy, “Josh,” whose latest movie he had appeared in, wanted to “do something.” “He’s a great guy,” I was assured, “very funny.”

The bar we were at was too out of the way for Josh. He didn’t know his way around the east side of town. So we arranged to meet him at a more upscale venue. The prospect of meeting this individual induced no particularly horror in me. True, despite never having met him, I was already sick of the sight of him. His smug face had been especially importunate of late, beaming out from the sides of city buses, imploring the hapless citizen to watch the no-doubt worthless movie—the “#1 comedy in the country”—that he was “starring” in. But out of the many successful actors I had encountered over the course of my years in Loss Angel-Ease, I had come across a few who were not insufferably full of themselves. Full of themselves, yes—but not always oppressively so. And perhaps Josh would be another of these. My friend had vouched for him and said that he was “funny.” He was also known to be something of a supporter of the arts, having bankrolled a gallery in Venice. Anything was possible.

My friend kept checking his cell phone to make sure Josh wasn’t lost; he was anxious to get to the bar quickly and spare Josh the potential awkwardness of being alone in a public place. The bar in question wasn’t easy to spot from the street, being hidden behind a wall and surrounded by shrubbery. To my friend’s great relief we arrived first and stationed ourselves at a table outside where Josh would be able to immediately spot us and we could protect him from admirers.

The place was virtually empty. I went to the restroom. While passing water—since I always carry a Sharpie and like to keep busy—I dashed off a drawing of a couple engaged in a somewhat unorthodox act of love above the urinal.

During my absence Josh had arrived. He was sitting in the chair that I had been occupying.  He was smoking—with the cigarette poised between his thumb and forefinger: an infallible arrogance-signifier (just try doing it, see how it makes you feel).  He was attired in a T-shirt and suit jacket, and I noticed, not without pleasure, that he was going bald.

I pulled up a chair from another table, brief introductions were made, and they resumed their discussion of “the movie”—a conversation from which I was excluded. Then and there I decided that regardless of Josh’s attitude towards me—and early signs were not promising—I would make a point of being on my best behavior. I made a point of asking questions and telling jokes. But Josh didn’t ask me a single question or laugh at any of my jokes. He seemed mystified by my most commonplace utterances, as if he didn’t know what to make of me. He did, however, laugh weakly at my friend’s much weaker material. And whenever my friend got up to buy a drink or take a leak, Josh followed him. He didn’t want to be stuck at the table with me, not even for a minute, and didn’t seem to mind if I noticed.

A fan approached. “Great movie,”  he said, “Is there going to be a sequel?”  Josh responded in the affirmative. “That’s great news,” said the fan. “And what are you up to?” he asked my friend, whom he also recognized. The fan reached out to shake my hand. “That’s Lyle Lovett,” said Josh.  So: he felt comfortable enough to make what he must have assumed was an unflattering (and grossly inaccurate) comparison to my face. But at least it evinced some sense of humor. It was the only remotely funny thing he’d said all night.

Josh got up and went to the bathroom. He returned, chuckling. He seemed, at last, genuinely amused. “Whoever drew that is a fucking genius,” he said, referring to the graffiti I had left there earlier.

“Guilty as charged,” I said, pleasantly surprised by his critical judgment—and his smile froze. After having been dismissive of me all night, he had unwittingly called me a genius.

But this minor setback was quickly brushed aside and the conversation dragged on. An enthusiastic discussion of their respective recent real estate ventures ensued—another subject upon which I had absolutely nothing to contribute.

Celebrities love to be around each other, especially when they’re new to the game. As can clearly be seen in all those photographs of them clinging to each other in syncopated sycophancy, gripping each other by the shoulders  and staring laser-like into each other’s glowing eyes, dazzled by the fact that they have “arrived.” Some of the most star-struck people are stars. Part of the motivation to become a “star” in the first place must surely be in the freedom it provides to rub shoulders with other stars and name-drop without it being called name-dropping. Fame is the perfect alibi for sycophancy. Nobody can accuse you of being a climber if you’re already at the top.

Perhaps Josh would have liked me better if I was famous? Perhaps then I would have made more sense to him; it might have validated my personality and made me acceptable. Or maybe I wasn’t appropriately obsequious. It’s a strange thing with these celebs, they require just the right amount of toadying: not too much, but not too little. Or they get confused. Having risen to the top of the Hollywood heap, they seem to become suspicious of reality and its denizens. And it helps to bear in mind that in the world of entertainment even the most minor talents are major egomaniacs.

We parted with Josh in the valet parking area. Standing beside his giant SUV, he looked slightly sinister. All the visible hallmarks of personality were present: the rakish grin, the self-satisfied laughter, the perfectly poised cigarette, but no actual personality was discernible.

I would be fascinated to learn what it was about me that provoked such mystification and distaste—one perhaps leading to the other. Perhaps, despite my honest intentions, I took an immediate dislike to him, and perhaps he picked up on this and returned the antipathy so quickly that it was possible for me to mistake it as having originated with him. Maybe I should ask him about it. He’s a good Scientologist. He might even favor me with an honest answer. Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?

But hopefully I’ll never cross paths with him again.