Essay

Brando’s Stand In

By Andrew Chinich

This rented Hollywood bungalow life reminds me of ‘Last Tango in Paris’. I too am somewhat of an American expatriate as I’ve always looked at Los Angeles to be a foreign country. It’s an alien culture-club drenched in cornea-damaging sun and white light. There should be a pre-landing pamphlet the flight attendants hand out as you descend into the haze: prolonged exposure to Los Angeles may result in both skin cancer and a desire to write a screenplay.

Granted, it’s not like I’m getting over an ex-wife’s suicide, but in my version of ‘Last Tango’ I am Brando’s stand-in. Sadly, there is no Maria Schneider in this remake. And admittedly, Fairfax is at least a few hundred light-years from the Marais District in Paris.

Nevertheless, the saxophone riffs that come drifting across the courtyard through the early morning thick air brings me back, tricking my senses, sending me to the run-down apartment in Paris where Marlon & Maria do their best not to know each other.

There is a mist-diffuser in the bungalow spewing eucalyptus oils into the dry air, instantly turning the dump into a yoga class. Yet strangely, criminally, there is no coffee machine, driving me out into the street each morning in search of caffeine.

I’m an instantly conspicuous target, car-less, walking. Nobody walks in LA.

At seven a.m., the brutal Southern California sun hasn’t yet put a choke hold on the rich, the beautiful, the famous, the forgotten. But only the brave dare wanders on foot out onto the mean streets of West Hollywood.

Blocking the path, three feral cats lay stretched on the cement walk, centurions guarding my escape. Two of them immediately scamper for cover at first sight of me, but the little black one defiantly stays. I’ve named him Bertolucci. My Rasta neighbor stumbles out of his bungalow, his dreads dancing on his shoulders, a halo of pungent smoke hovering over his locks as he glides past. Maybe these cool felines belong to him, a fellow brother cool cat.

I can usually rely on encountering some early morning street entertainment at this hour. Case in point: here comes a guy pushing a shopping cart up Fairfax.

“Excuse me” he says frantically, “excuse me”.

Normally I’d just keep walking, my New York default mode, but there is desperation in his voice. “I am blind. Are you Jewish? I need to find a Synagogue?”.

I didn’t mind that he might be a religious zealot or be harboring plastic explosives in his Ralph’s shopping cart, but asking me if I’m Jewish throws me off my game.

“Can you take me to a synagogue?”
I look around into the glaring haze and point down the street, then realize he can’t see where I’m pointing.

“OK, I’ll take you” and we head back down Fairfax.

I deliver him to the Temple doors.

“This is it. You’ll need to leave your shopping cart outside”

He grabs my arm and pulls me into the empty, musty room. It’s too early for anyone to be praying for anything but coffee.

“You have to sit with me. I need to talk to you about Jesus”.

A Jew for Jesus?

I leave him sitting there, find my way to the street and ask myself what Brando would do.

Burn the place down? Push his shopping cart into Santa Monica Blvd?

I thrust my hands deep into my pockets, look up at the cloudless sky, imagine a train rumbling overhead, mumble to myself, and sulk off.

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Categories: Essay, Non-Fiction

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