Saturday, April 2, 2016

Gullible's Travels

I was walking to the bank early one Sunday morning sometime in 1987, and I was approached by an older, homeless, Native American guy. We walked together on Sunset Boulevard for a few blocks, chatting. I had just moved to Los Angeles to become an actress and was living up the street from Rock and Roll Ralph's. He was pretty drunk, but nice enough and not creepy in the least. I gave him my phone number and told him to call me if he ever needed anything. Yeah, before I became a parent, I used to be really nice. He wished me luck in my acting career, told me I reminded him of his daughter, and we went our separate ways. Isn't being a good person awesome?

A few weeks later, the phone rang. A man's voice asked for me. I said "yes, this is she...?"
He said "I got your number. I work down the street at the Pussy Cat Theater, and I was wondering if you'd like to come audition." 
I was quiet for a second and said " did you get my number?" wondering if it was written on a bathroom wall somewhere or if the talent manager I  had just parted ways with was feeling vindictive. He said that "a guy" had given it to him and then asked me if my hair was still red, how old I was and a whole bunch of other none-of-your-business questions. What I wanted to know was who the fuck gave him the number, but he kept saying he didn't know the guy's name. We went around and around for about ten minutes when it dawned on me: that smelly, drunk ASSHOLE that I was trying to HELP had probably traded my number for a peep show or God knows what else. EEEUUUUUWWWWWW. I explained that I had no intention of coming in for an audition, asked him to lose my number and hung up the phone. That was the last time that I gave my number to a drunk homeless guy. Yeah, I totally have a learning curve.

A similar incident occurred a few years later, slightly farther east. We had moved to the black little heart of Hollywood, near Western and Hollywood. We lived for two years amongst drug dealers, prostitutes and thieves, oddly oblivious to the extreme danger surrounding us on all sides.
One day, I was lying around- having an actor's day of doing absolutely nothing-when the phone rang. I picked it up, and John Waters said, in his lovely, velvety Southern accent:
"Hello, my name is Mr. Purdy and I am doing research for high school students. It's a survey about human development. Can I ask you some questions?"
Okay, so it wasn't JohnWaters, but Mr. Purdy sure sounded exactly like him. I absolutely LOVE John Waters so, naturally, I said yes.
"How old are you?" he asked, very officially.
I answered him.
"How old were you at the first time of sexual intercourse?" His tone was very male nurse.
I answered him. It's anonymous, right?
"What is  your cup size?" he continued, in a monotone data collection way.
I answered him. Hey, I'm helping high school students, right?
"What color is your pubic hair?"
I answered him. But I was confused about how this would factor into the research.
"Like...a strawberry?" he replied, with the last syllable lilting up ever so slightly.
" a strawberry..." I trailed off as it hit me. EEEUUUUUWWWW.
I slammed the phone down and Oh My GAWD-ed around my apartment for a few minutes, marveling at my own stupidity. What a bizarre pervert Mr.Purdy was! No heavy breathing, no groaning- just rapid fire health form questions? Truly strange. He called back a few months later, but I nipped that shit in the bud as soon as I heard his voice. Because I totally have a learning curve.

Cut to the present. I was walking through the large parking lot at Ventura Blvd near Laurel Canyon a couple of  months ago. I was on my way to return some pants to Lulu Lemon and get my requisite affirmation from the yogini-in- training behind the counter when a small, dark, sweet-faced, bald, toothless man in his late fifties approached me. He was holding some official looking papers in one hand.
"Excuse me", he said, waving the papers around, "Can I ask you something?" 
I stopped walking. He put up his hands, as if I had recoiled from him. I hadn't. 
"Oh, no, don't  be uncomfortable talking to me....My name is Gilbert. I'm a neighbor."
 He laughed nervously and pointed towards the other side of the street, as if his white picket fence was just around the corner from the Starbucks Coffee shop. His mood became abruptly somber.
"I was just at the CVS", he said. "Well...I have full blown AIDS...."
He trailed off and put up his hands- goalie style- as if I'd made a face or taken a step back. I hadn't.
"Don't worry", he said,"You won't catch it... it's not contagious." 
He dramatically pulled up his right sleeve to reveal a severely shrunken, emaciated upper arm. 
As his sleeve rose up, I was transported back to 1999 when I lived in a ground floor apartment off La Brea and Sixth. I opened the door one afternoon over fifteen years ago, and he, the exact same Gilbertwas standing there and said EXACTLY the same thing. Word for word. Except for the contagious bit. That part really pissed me off- do I look like a fucking moron? Does anyone actually think AIDS can be caught from talking to someone in a parking lot?  
Back then-before Motherhood had wrung all the kindness out of me- I asked which apartment he lived in, and he wrote it down, with lots of pointing and gesturing, like he'd lived there for twenty years. Just.Like.Today. "A neighbor..." I gave him some money for the medication he supposedly needed, and he departed. More like vanished. After he left, I went outside to verify the address (out of sheer curiosity) and discovered (surprise!)that it didn't exist. He was long gone and so was my money and another small chunk of my trust in humanity. 

I have to say, as I've gotten older, I've gotten much more cynical. I used to feel that it was better to give the money to someone rather than risk not helping a person in need. Now, I'm like the bartender in "The Grifters" who sees John Cusack coming from a mile away and gives him a vicious jab in the gut with a baseball bat when he smells the con. I'm all out of patience for con artists and perverts.
As I looked at his arm for the second time, a lot of things came to my mind to say to Gilbert 2016, but all that came out was:
"I know you. You came to my door over fifteen years ago with the exact same story."
Then I walked away.
He scurried off as I contemplated what had just occurred. Learning curve, yes, but conflicted, too.
I mean, he could have been surviving all these years. Probably not, but I suppose it's possible.
I kind of wanted to congratulate him.
"Well done, Gil!  Same exact script for all these years?! How remarkable!"
I wanted to shame him.
"I know AIDS, Sir. I've lost friends to AIDS. You, Sir, do not have AIDS" 

I despise con artists like Gilbert. And Mr Purdy. And that creepy homeless guy. They provide us with material but at the same time manage to make us feel stupid and vulnerable. They rob us of our better nature. They prey on the best parts of us- the tender, kind parts. Gilbert is actually the better man because he didn't see me as a walking vagina. The others saw something to be exploited because I was young and female. I want to raise my girls to be kind and helpful, but it will most certainly be tempered with a course or two of verbal and physical jujitsu.