Ramble of the Day
Date: Wed, 20 Dec 95 13:12:03 -0800
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: Ramble of the Day
[This will make the most sense to people familiar with Portland (Oregon).
Forwarded-by: firstname.lastname@example.org (Keith Bostic)
A Portland Innocent in L.A.
-- by Mark Christensen, in the Portland Quarterly
O, California. O, especially, L.A. -- Paradise. Go to Malibu. Fabulous.
The most unstable piece of real estate on the West Coast. And the most
expensive. A two bedroom cottage above the beach is a bargain at $4,000
a month. And those are winter rates. Or what about neighboring Brentwood,
where the average home goes for $455,000 a pop?
Of course you're paying for the ambience. Like on the freeways, it's
impossible to drive more than about two miles without seeing some Arab
potentate's gold-plated 280Z spread like Nucoa Imperial margarine all over
about 600 yards of guardrail.
Then there's the atmosphere--half the time you can eat the air, it's got
so much stuff floating around in it. It takes the edge out of the colors.
Down here even the traffic lights are pastel. And people! With a lot of
these folks you'd have to check their green cards just to make sure that
they are Earthlings. Then there's the police. In Portland, when some
guy goes bananas, the cops rope off a sixteen block area around him and
call a shrink from the medical school who stands atop a patrol car with
a megaphone and shouts, "O-K.! THIS! ALL! STARTED! WHEN! YOU! WERE!
THREE! YEARS! OLD! ON! ACCOUNT! OF! YOUR MOTHER! RIGHT? SO! LET'S!
TALK! ABOUT! IT!" Down here they don't waste that kind of time. The
LAPD has SWAT teams composed of guys who make Darth Vader look like Mr.
Peepers. Before they go to bust a bookie joint they mortar it first.
The most exciting thing about L.A., though, is that there is no middle
class. The entire place is run by Moguls and Mexicans. The Rich and the
Poor. It's great. Slam your $150,000 Rolls Royce into a bridge abutment
and Pedro or Manuel or Jose will be at your door in a trice, offering to
fix the whole thing for $160 and "just a lettle Bondo."
Down here, anything can be enfranchised. Critic Ben Stein has said, "Most
of the commerce in L.A. is based on the stupid gulling the stupider."
People make tidy incomes selecting other people's "best colors" and lucky
numbers--and those are the Republicans. In many ways L.A. is the inevitable
result of what happens when red-blooded Americans encounter Shangri-la.
Oil derricks among the palm trees. Fast-food stands and gas stations at
the hem of every beach. In a word, L.A. is what would happen if Tahiti
were in Pittsburgh.
All the same, Los Angeles is a cashgusher non pareil. There are people
down here who make more money than countries, who are richer than Scrooge
McDuck, and who could hire most of the fat cats of Portland as houseboys.
It's crazy. Television producer Aaron Spelling, for example, is said to
make $350,000 a week. A *week*. And the real story of Los Angeles
remains show business, the subject of the book my partner Cam Stauth and
I have just finished. Our ticket to the big time. Or at least the medium
time. Our hero and leading man: Corky Hubbert, a Portlander and a rising
star in Hollywood if there ever was one.
I'm writing this column poolside at the Breakers Motel in Santa Monica
where Cork has set up his HQ prior to getting off to London to appear with
Tom Cruse in Ridley Scott's latest feature film _Legend_. You remember
Corky, don't you? A little guy. Less than five feet tall. The one who
used to write "Corky Hubbert's Conspiracy Digest" in _One Dollar Magazine_
(sample headlines from his Patti Hearst expose: GIDGET GOES GUERILLA,
HEIRESS NABBED AFTER "ZANY" FOUR MONTH SHOPPING SPREE). But Corky has
made the quantum leap from Portland's shortest investigative reporter to
Top Midget in Hollywood. Blessed with buggy eyes and an uncombed explosion
of curly blonde hair, Corky looks like a combination of Bob Dylan, a bottom
fish, and several Marx Brothers.
Having gotten his start playing a sperm cell down at the old "Fool's
Paradise" nightclub off Burnside in Portland, this four-foot-eight-inch
mouth-watering combination of talent, charisma, energy and shortness has
gone on to appear in such film epics as Hunter Thompson's _Where the
Buffalo Roam_, Ringo Starr's _Caveman_, and to tri-star, so to speak, with
Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher in _Under the Rainbow_.
Cork just finished a featured role in yet another block-buster-to-be, _Not
for Publication_, and was about to fly off to London to play an alcoholic
leprechaun in _Legend_. For which he will be paid a weekly sum that would
make him able, were it his desire, to purchase four only slightly used
Volkswagen Rabbits for every month he works for Mr. Scott.
"Cork," I say, "what do you miss most of all about Portland?"
"The traditional values," he admits. "Portland's much more conservative.
The junkies in L.A., for example, don't even have enough class to shoot
Cork's story is the story of about-to-be superstars everywhere. He's come
a long way since he was forced to grub for money by running "Cork Hubbert's
Cheap Theatrics" acting school after hours at the Food Goddess restaurant
down the street from the Portland Public Library. But Cork's had to claw
his was to the top, and it hasn't always been easy.
For a while he made egg money in L.A. by appearing on game shows. An iffy
resource. Like the time he won on _The Dating Game_ by wowing the Farrah
Fawcett look-a-like girl when she asked him, "What is the most important
thing in life that your parents couldn't teach you?" and he answered
"Trigonometry. I had to learn that in the streets." But when he stepped
from behind the partition and she saw he wasn't much taller than Shirley
Temple in her prime, she sort of wigged out, and he never got the free
trip to the Bahamas that the game guys promised him.
Once he even resorted to an appearance in a porno film, _UltraFlesh_. It
was a desperation move to pay the rent and Cork had played it supersafe.
His job was "comic relief" and he insisted on wearing a fake goatee, a
rubber nose and a sweater over his head and keeping all of his clothes on
at all times. Still, it was weird trying to do dialogue with nude women
in that getup and Corky was forced to seek more substantial gigs.
Then there was the sheer aggravation of life in the Big Orange. Recently,
he'd been involved in two serious dukeouts: "The other night," he said,
sipping a Henry's, "I was in El Coyote eating an enchilada. I'd had a
couple double Margueritas and we decided to go to the Hard Rock Cafe.
I'm walking out the door and this guy hisses, 'Hey, midget!' At first
I'm angry. Second, it's the battered wife syndrome; it must be my fault.
Third, I think I must know the guy." So Cork goes back to the table and
introduces himself. It's a couple. The girl is obviously a wall-to-wall
sweetheart. And totally embarrassed. Cork kisses her hand. Then he
picks up a water glass and throws it in the guy's face. The guy stands
up and Corky pulls him out of the booth. The schmuck back-peddles into
a wall. Corky, who at four-feet-eight-inches tall is built like something
between a butterball and a pit bull, literally climbed the guy, grabbing
him by the lapels and vowing into his face, "*Midget*, huh? Maybe you
ought to pick on a paraplegic next. One more word to me, dirtbag, and
I'll put you in the hospital."
Then Portland's fastest rising star let the bad guy go and headed toward
the door. But he was still P.O.'ed. So he turned, said to the girl,
"Debbie, I really like you," then picked up her dinner, a delicious El
Coyote Super Tostada with shredded chicken, guacamole sauce, chopped olives
and sour cream, and threw it in the guy's face.
Pretty satisfying. But then, a few nights later, Cork got his comeuppance,
walking down Sunset Boulevard. Two black guys stopped their car and offered
to give him a ride, then drygulched him. Jumping out of the Caddy, they
slammed Cork to the ground, divesting his back pocket of $140, and knocking
him around on a dark sidewalk where there were no El Coyote Super Tostadas
or cops or anything else to come to his rescue. An ugly scene. He'd holed
up at the Breakers for a few days recuperating, then gone to Disneyland with
my daughter and a couple other kids. People were oohing and aahing and
saying things like, "Look! It's the famous dwarf, whatshisface!" but it's a
bitch putting on the dog for your public when you've got scabs all over your
face. Still, Cork rose to the occasion. He was the beau of the ball in
Fantasyland, signing his autograph and having his picture taken left and
I came to Los Angeles just about a year ago, driving down with Corky and my
partner, Cameron Stauth, the former starchblocker magnate and "The Smartest
Man in Eugene." Remember when he challenged Ken Kesey to a novel-writing
contest and the top surgeons at the Mayo Clinic to a laser-neurosurgery
duel? History shows that these folks were so intimidated by my pal and
partner that they didn't even have the nerve to reply.
Anyway, Cam and I had been sitting around my house on S.W. Taylor's Ferry
for six months putting together a dynamite list of book ideas. Finally,
I got on the horn to our agent in New York. A fabulous guy. And totally
into the elite rarified air world of Manhattan book publishing. Like, on
his arm he's got a tattoo of a skull and crossbones above a telephone with
the words BORN TO REPRESENT inscribed beneath.
Naturally, I knew he'd be impressed with our book idea list.
"What if we did like a 500,000-word definitive biography of Jesus Christ?"
"Nah," he said, "Too esoteric. You got to go for a big name. Victoria
Principal, Charo, somebody more mainstream."
"Well," I replied, "Cam had this idea to do a novel about a poor beautiful
girl who rises from rags to riches, marries a prince that's also a movie
mogul and becomes the first female president?"
"Jeez, Mark, sometimes I wonder about your partner. Who's he think he's
writing for, _Tri-Quarterly_? That's way too literary. Not nearly
"Okay then," I said: "What about my concept for a novel about a group of
sex-crazed militant lesbian bikers who conspire with the PLO to build an
H-bomb and blackmail the transvestite publisher of a skin magazine into
turning over all his centerfold girls for purposes of anti-Zionist white
slavery in the Sinai desert?"
"Sorry, guy, but it's been done before. Besides, it's way too realistic.
I mean, maybe if it were a little more vulgar and not so Goody Two Shoes
type of concept and maybe a little more implausible and escapist."
Finally, I played our trump card. "What about," I asked, "if we did a
story about the beginning of time?"
"The beginning of time," I repeated. "I've just talked to this guy Alan
Guth at M.I.T. in Cambridge and he and a bunch of these other physicists
have proved that the whole universe came from an area a billionth the size
of a proton but that weighed 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 metric tons."
"Don't shuck me, Mark," he replied, "I was kicking back a couple hooters
with Guth at P.J. Clarke's just the other night and he said the whole
universe weighed only 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
metric tonnes and not an ounce more."
"No, look," I said, "I swear by the Catholic Jesus it actually tips the
scales at 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000 metric tons."
"Look, Mark, I've been your and Cam's representative now for how long,
five years? And you know what's wrong with you guys? Neither one of you
can ever stop exaggerating."
I didn't know what to say. I like my agent a lot and didn't want to offend
him. Plus, he's really going places--one of his clients just got a Pulitzer
*plus* a $1,500,000 movie deal for her _Ritalin Addict's Diet Book_ which
was then number three on the _New York Times_ Best Seller List. Then,
suddenly, it came to me. "Wait a sec," I said, "When you said 1,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 did you mean 1,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons or tonnes?"
"Why," he replied, "tonnes, of course."
"I was talking tons," I said. "Sorry."
"So that explains it. Where were we?"
"The idea for a book about the beginning of time. These guys are out to
discover the reasons for the creation of the universe, hence possibly the
meaning of life and the existence of God."
"Mark, how many times do I have to tell you: quit messing around with the
oddball stuff and go for the things that matter. Think big! For God's
So when Cam walked through the door a few minutes later I wasn't in the best
of moods. "All our ideas just got shot down," I said. "Six months of
planning all for naught."
Fortunately, Cam is a hearty sort, a diminutive he-man given to long
distance running, extensive weight training, and the kind of mental
discipline usually associated with FBI agents and space travelers. So I
was not entirely surprised to discover that he suffered from only minor
rope burns when I cut him down moments later from a noose knotted to my
dining room chandelier.
"Look," I said, "Lemme get you some Mercurochrome, we'll kick back a
couple of brewskis, catch the Blazers vs. the Knicks on the tube and try to
rebuild our lives."
I turned on the television and Cam, already reenergized, said, "Most
people have these things in their homes, right?"
"Maybe we could do a book about television."
I wasn't so sure. "Writing about TV seems to me to be sort of like
dancing about brain surgery."
"Sure. But," Cam said, "Face it: it's commercial, it's vulgar, it's
mainstream, it's ephemeral, it's implausible ..."
I was already back on the phone. A couple of weeks later our checks were
in the mail.
© 1995 Peter Langston