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Memories of Hollywood

It was good to be back on the train, it always has been. I started off in the morning with all the other rush hour people. Another good thing; I knew my way around so I automatically fit in.  It’s important to me to fit in in a place where I used to live. And I lived in New York a long time. I mean, who wants to come off like a tourist?  But I wasn’t going to work, technically I was being a tourist.  When I’m in my old homes I guess appearances are everything; it was just a minor example of my recasting myself, if only for that day.

I was a New Yorker yesterday and in that status I could wipe away my recent past, reformat my drive, if you will.  It was a skill I learned by necessity at an early age.

Memories of Hollywood is not just about my time spent in Southern California.  But the setting is apt.  Hollywood, where the people engage in role playing, adaptation to change; all of these things figured into my experiences and anyone, really who has lived a nomadic early life.  To me, all of my cities before and after were Hollywood, it was like taking a production on the road.  Hollywood is where I did it best, where I became my best version of a Californian.

On my walk I ended up in Brooklyn Heights, I aimed for the new parks on the waterfront.  From what I’d heard I prepared to have my mind blown.  And it was rather mind blowing.  The giant piers that they called the navy yard had been reclaimed by landscapers, one by one.  I walked and took a lot of pictures, wondering every once in a while if I looked as much a tourist as the Korean tour group a few steps in front of me.  The big pier I was on, the one that looked pretty small from the Promenade, was huge and filled with plant life, trees and a complex walking path.  There were so many viewpoints now, looks I had never seen before.  Different angles and views of downtown Manhattan just across the river. Some of those buildings across the way were new too, particularly the new World Trade Center tower.  It loomed just as tall as the Twins I remembered.

Brooklyn Bridge Park, from the Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge Park, from the Bridge

Like a lot of kids I moved around a lot. And for many of us it was the same old choice; either turtle up and wait to have to leave again, staying kind of isolated; or get to know other kids as fast as you can, while making it look like you’d always been there.  I bounced back and forth from Oklahoma to California to Florida.  At every stop I tried to get the lay of the land fast, taking many walks to find out where things were. Probably so I’d have some frame of reference when speaking to anybody.  When I was a kid I would put the last place I lived out of my head as soon as I could.  In a new place it was time to figuratively don a new garment. I attempted something like this (even in rudimentary infant form) 35 or so times.

I made my way to the Brooklyn Bridge approach so I could walk across to Manhattan.  Since I had last been to town they had halved the amount of east and westbound walking space.  The other side of the walkway was reserved for bicyclists.  By 2014 New York was determined to make itself bike friendly. I got to the other side and bought a hot dog and a soda and sat down at City Hall Park.  I noticed, as I often have, that when buying my lunch I talked to the vendor in a little New York accent.  It was part of my chameleon thing, old habits like this die hard.   A month before when I was visiting Hollywood and LA I noticed I was saying “dude” and “hella” a lot more.

When I got older, I noticed that instead of trying to mentally banish my previous homes, I was getting nostalgic. I found I could draw on my previous mimicry when I went somewhere.  I reinforced my memory of how to get around so I wouldn’t feel lost, or like a dreaded tourist.  Maybe my fear of looking like a tourist was really just my childhood fear of not successfully fitting in, being native.  But my experience serves me; I can navigate LA’s freeways like an Angeleno and lie about loving the drizzle like a true Seattleite. 

I passed closer to the former Freedom Tower and saw the glow of a welding torch behind an eighty-something floor window.  The building was just a few months away from its opening.  I turned uptown, answering a few questions from a lost visitor from Germany. Getting to do that always makes me glad, I turned on the New Yawk Tawk.

People in New York are, by and large, more fit that their other American urban counterparts.  Though blessed with a great transit system they still do a lot of walking.  And the climb out of the subway stations is the original StairMaster.  I take the stairs two by two on the left side ascending, you know, like we New Yorkers do.

Sometimes I’d wondered, what is my ‘original programming?’  I received an answer to this question in the Fall of ’01 after sitting a week long silent meditation retreat in Washington State.  It was the longest I’d gone without talking, I guess, since I was a baby. And at the end, when introductions were made, a couple of people remarked on my southern/midwestern accent.  I was surprised, I’d last lived in Oklahoma a long time before and had years of adaptive behavior on both coasts in between.  As soon as  I dwelled on my voice, the accent seemed to dissipate.

I headed up Broadway, one of my favorite stretches is between City Hall and 8th Street.  Aside from some cosmetic improvements, nothing had really changed.  Maybe all the people were different now but it didn’t matter, the place makes the person, in my opinion.  I could have been walking by Tower Records in 1987 instead of peeking into MLB Fan Cave (both located at 4th and Broadway) in 2014.  The outside looked the same but the innards were all different.  I feel the same as I always have inside but my outward appearances can be different in different places.

I ended up at Strand Books, looking through the Photography Section and wondering how I could be the native person depicted in the book on Paris, or in the photo essay on Africa.  That may be a bit of a challenge, but I bet I could pull it off with a little research and pavement pounding.  It’s the only way I’ve known to quickly become a local, to fit in and make a home.  In the future I guess I will yet add more places to my list of Hollywoods.

Since that retreat in 2001, I’ve known the identity-cat was out of the bag, I guess I’m and Okie, an Oklahoman. It’s my original programming, after all.  But when I’m getting off I-5 and grousing about the Mercer Mess in Seattle, or sitting down at a little breakfast nook on Cahuenga in Hollywood, or of course, educating a lost visitor to the Big Apple; you’d never know.

I’ve gone from the unsteadiness of a migratory youth, wondering where was my home, to secure in my 40’s, claiming all these cities I’ve lived in as mine.

-Clumsily written on an iPhone – June 3, 2014

2 replies
  1. Luis Zea
    Luis Zea says:

    Nicely written. I’m glad you’ve discovered–and accepted–your “original programming.” For many years I tried to mask my own Okie roots after moving to New York in 1977 from Tulsa. I was extremely self-conscious about my strong accent and would tape-record my voice and play it back in an effort to scrub away my Okie twang. I had to blend in!

    It took many years, but I, too, accepted myself for who I am. I now tell people with pride where I came from, and if they don’t care for my residual Okie twang, too bad!

  2. Ryan Corley
    Ryan Corley says:

    Great post Bill. I haven’t lived many places but I have done some traveling. Those little personas I created to fit in and not appear to be a tourist are still with me and ready to be used again on the fly.


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