June 27, 2016

14 Years in Los Angeles: A Chronology

My mom drives me to LaGuardia Airport in Queens where a one-way ticket will take me to Los Angeles...and to a new life. Craig David's "Walking Away" plays on the radio, the last song I will hear as a resident of New York. On my flight, I read Steve Martin’s Shopgirl and try to picture in my head some the L.A. locations mentioned in the novel.

I land at LAX and meet my cousin at curbside pick-up. I purchase my first car, a Ford Focus, from a dealership located just off the 405. I live out of the trunk of said Focus for 3 months, going back and forth between my cousin’s place in Venice and a college friend’s apartment in Burbank. Before the word "blog" enters my vocabulary, I begin to send monthly email updates to everyone I know with an email address. I try to make them as entertaining as possible because who really enjoys receiving newsletters from people you haven't seen in a long time? (I currently have the first 45 chapters printed out and kept in a 3-ring binder in my bedroom closet.)

I reconnect with another college friend. We end up sharing tons of memories. We go to parties, we obsess over the same music, we clink glasses full of vodka and Red Bull.

I become a barista at Starbucks. I become an intern at a small indie production company and answer to a woman who will become a very fabulous friend (and influence) of mine in this new city. One day I serve Helen Hunt a non-fat latte. This barista gig lasts one month because I become a temp production assistant at a very reputable production company that specializes in star-driven sitcoms. I make a slew of new friends; it feels like a second college experience. I rack up mileage on my Focus, driving to places, picking things up, delivering packages to very nice homes in Pacific Palisades.

I have my first fender-bender (my bad: I was distracted while fidgeting with my Discman). I enjoy weekends like someone who just graduated college: I have one too many drinks, waste money on overpriced brunches, drink large ice-blended coffee drinks on Sundays, and window shop in stores where I can't even afford the sale racks. (I’m like an Olsen twin without the multimillion-dollar lifestyle brand.) I hit up Tigerheat at the Hollywood Athletic Club on Sunset Boulevard three Thursday nights in a row with aforementioned college friend, which then leads to three Friday morning commutes in a row navigating Laurel Canyon with a can of Red Bull in hand.

I meet someone in Jerry’s Famous Deli who becomes one of my closest friends. We bond over our love for Charmed. I make it a point to do more of that L.A. thing they call “networking.” I attend a film and TV mixer at a bar called Here Lounge where I meet someone else who becomes one of my best friends.

I quit my PA job to become an art department assistant on a home-makeover show where, coincidentally, my new best friend is a producer. It is here where I also meet my first writing partner, a young PA with an old soul who lives in Glendale and drives a black Camaro from the 90s. She's awesome.

The show quickly gets canceled. I experience my first bout with unemployment. I temp at a small but shitty management firm. I cry in my car during a pitiful 30-minute lunch break. I think to myself, I think I’m experiencing a quarter-life crisis. This is what John Mayer was singing about in Room for Squares (a CD I played many times while daydreaming about hosting dinner parties in my own hardwood-floored apartment furnished with items from Pottery Barn).

I fly back and forth to New York for the holidays, the occasional summer visit…and for two health scares involving both of my parents. I remind myself to be more grateful for my father’s strong comeback from a stroke and my mom’s victorious bout with lung cancer.

I become the assistant to the showrunner of an NBC drama. I feel like I've won the lottery. I get to listen in on writers meetings, see the process, and work amongst some great minds, including the writer who wrote one of my favorite films from the 80s, Adventures in Babysitting. (I geek out silently.) I feel like my career track is finally heading in the right direction.

The show gets canceled 6 months later. I then experience my first pilot season, working on the frontlines of three network dramas as another PA. None of them get picked up. It's brutal. Unemployment, again. How do I celebrate? By going to Coachella for the first time. (My friend wins tickets on the radio – seeing Daft Punk live is one of the most amazing musical experiences of my life.) I finally turn my chaptered "email updates" into a blog called The First Echo: Memoirs of a Pop Culture Junkie. I inundate everyone's inboxes with links to my new writing outlet. Months later, I land an executive assistant gig at a production and talent management company. For four-and-a-half years I see how TV commercials get made. I take a crack at ghostwriting a treatment for one of our directors – turns out I’m good at it. Really good. I start to moonlight as a freelance treatment writer for other directors and rake in supplemental income.

During one Christmas flight home I meet a fellow BU alum who becomes one of my best friends. We become roommates in what is my third and current residence in Los Angeles, a lovely and spacious 2-bedroom that isn’t too far from a giant Mormon temple. I host monthly movie nights, game nights, and a holiday party on the first Saturday of every December. (There are no hardwood floors, but I have a fireplace I never use, gated parking, a walk-in closet, a terrace, and my own bathroom.)

During this time I also broaden my horizons. I join the committee for an annual, celebrity-driven benefit. I make more friends, more connections. My schedule becomes insane. The founder of the organization asks me to take over the group’s Hollywood-esque blogsite. I become the singular voice it needed. The site takes on a life of its own, like a media outlet, and I get invited to cover a few events, a couple of free movies, the opening of boutique or bar that has replaced the boutique/bar that only opened a year ago. (Such is the circle of L.A. life.) I also add the title of “producer” to my resume when I get asked to work on a short film that later gets accepted into several festivals. This leads to producing two projects for the home entertainment division of a major movie studio.

Throughout these years I have unbelievable, brag-worthy brushes with fame. I go swimming in Alicia Silverstone's pool and hang out at her house. I usher celebrity guests at the Governor's Ball after the 2004 Oscars. I inadvertently cut J.J. Abrams in line at a sushi bar at the afterparty for the premiere of Star Wars Episode III. (Foreshadowing much?) I play charades with the creator of Desperate Housewives at a friend's game night. (He's really good at it.) I stand ten feet away from Lady Gaga inside an abandoned prison, hanging out on the set of her music video for "Telephone." (I promise my boss not to blog about it but do it anyway.) Two years later, I end up writing the treatment for the campaign for her fragrance. Speaking of perfumes, I catch a whiff of Britney Spears's as she steps past me to prepare for her dance number on the set of "Hold It Against Me." It's smells like candy and flowers. 

I go all out for several of my birthdays (after all, I am an only child). My parents come out to visit me here and there. I average a trip to Vegas each year with friends. I witness three of my closest friends go through horrible breakups. I resist the urge to adopt a cynical perspective on romance. I embrace turning 30. I start feeling restless at my day job. I experience a painful bout with unrequited love that is one of the most eye-opening moments of my life. I take a 12-city, 17-day cross-country road trip with one of my best friends in order to heal my heart and open my mind. And I write about it; I turn this chronicle into a 3-part travel feature for a magazine. This trilogy of articles grants me entrance into the world of travel writing.

Then my Ford Focus dies. I start leasing a Prius (I feel so unapologetically L.A.) And then, what do I do? I quit my day job to become (cue the cringing) a freelance writer. I enter my longest period of unemployment ever. The 22 pounds I had lost are gained back (and then some). I go through several roommates. My laptop goes into overdrive. I plant myself in Starbucks, the West Hollywood library, and any other place that has free wi-fi and a decent view. At one point, I have to break into my piggy bank to pay for gas – in pennies. I renew my passport, hoping this sends a signal to the Universe, because even though I don't have a real job anymore, I'd love to travel more. During this time, I also see lots of free movies and attend press junkets (mostly for the free catered meals at posh hotels). The poorest (and darkest) time of my life thus far is ironically filled with a revolving door of celebrities. I interview folks like Rachel McAdams, Ewan McGregor, Justin Timberlake, Chris Hardwick, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Henry Cavill, and Charlize Theron. It’s a temporary high that makes me forget my current financial situation. (Most of my writing pays diddly squat.) 

I take a temp gig doing data entry at a friend's company. The commute is 32 miles each way, but I have a Prius; it can take it. I go to Comic-Con for the sixth time. I get into the habit of watching old Golden Girls episodes at bedtime. I rewatch all seven seasons of Melrose Place on DVD. I write a spec script based on the TNT drama Southland. I submit it as part of an application process to get into a television writers workshop of Warner Bros. I don't get in, but I do receive a nice rejection letter telling me my script made it to the top 80 entries (out of 2,500). Close, no cigar, etc.

2012 marks the end of the Mayan calendar, and my life slightly reflects that: hopelessly apocalyptic.

The following year kicks off with some promise. I join a kickball team. I make more friends. I tell myself, I don't really need more friends, but how can one have too many? I get tickets to Ellen -- and win a $4,400 Sleep Number mattress. Out of the blue, I get invited to attend a press trip to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico (apparently, a Florida-based PR firm saw my cross-country road trip feature a while back). This sparks a chain reaction of unbelievably good travel fortune, sending me on journalistic excursions to San Francisco, Palm Springs, Peru, and the Dominican Republic -- all in the same year. I edit my Twitter bio to include the title "travel writer" while in staying in the Sacred Valley of Peru, where, during a traditional Andean fire ceremony, I am struck by an overwhelming sense of gratitude. This becomes a running theme I try to practice in my day-to-day life. 

I land a full-time position at an entertainment marketing firm. I'm back on a steady payroll. Seven months into my position as yet another assistant, I receive a promotion. I become a copywriter and project manager. A commercial I write gets produced and airs as part of a national campaign, featuring an actress from The Vampire Diaries. I give myself a proverbial pat on the back. Writing copy, I learn how to be more economical with my words.

I become inspired to write a non-fiction book (part memoir, part satirical take on health/diet/fitness books). I draft up with a 26-page treatment and submit it to a friend of a friend's literary agent. I sign a contract with him. I can now utter the words, "Call my agent." He sends it to over a dozen publishers. I receive over a dozen rejection emails, the best of which I print out for motivational purposes. Perhaps I'll put them in a frame, I think to myself.

I do more travel writing. I visit places like Vancouver, Whistler, Tokyo, Toronto, Montreal, and Singapore. I treat my mother, bringing her along on a press trip to Palm Beach -- because she deserves it.

I make contact with one of my literary heroes. I am inspired to write a horror novel. (Years and years of watching scary movies hopefully pay off.) More friends of mine get married. More friends of mine have kids...and more kids. Things I loved in high school start to resurface. 90s nostalgia arrives in full force. I undergo a tonsillectomy.

I start to experience that "thing about getting older." I develop a lower tolerance for bullshit. I appreciate the stuff I already have. I treat the small things as a privilege. And I don't care for anyone who has no positive contribution to my life. 

I start to believe that it’s important to write about where I’ve come from, to lay out the road map of my life thus far. After all, a little look back is always good when moving forward.

And I'm still moving forward.

Happy L.A.nniversary to me.


June 21, 2016

A Farewell to Tonsils

Tonsils, we've been through a lot.

Who knew we'd be together this long? I certainly didn't. You were supposed to go away once I hit puberty, but you stuck around. In fact, you got bigger. Inflamed, if you will. You're like the imaginary friend who never disappeared.

Remember that time when I found those white stones on you? No wonder I had bad breath!

Remember all of those delicious meals we had? That lasagna! Those desserts!

But I'm afraid we have to part ways. My doctor says you're useless. If we stay together, things will only get more complicated. Things like more halitosis...and sleep apnea. I know you want the best for me. I know you wouldn't want me to suffer through another one of my biannual sore throats. That's why it's time to say goodbye.

So, tonsils, on behalf of the other masses of tissue and glands in my body, thanks for the memories. You'll be missed -- actually, let's be honest here. You probably won't be.

But you won't be forgotten.

*My tonsillectomy is scheduled for Friday, June 24. My throat's gift registry can be found at all ice cream and smoothie shops in the greater Los Angeles area. Thanks.


June 20, 2016

This is "What You Want" in a Summer Song

Recently added to my SUMMER16 playlist is "What You Want," a great pick-me-up from Los Angeles-based group The Heirs. And any band that throws confetti and tosses in a random disco ball in their video is A-OK in my book.

Just listen...and love:

June 15, 2016

Someone Turned Justin Bieber's "What Do You Mean" Into an 80s Slow Jam

During shitty and depressing times like these, I tend to turn to music. A lot of music. (And old episodes of The Golden Girls, but let's not go down that path just yet.)

Thankfully I have stumbled upon some new tunes like "What You Want" by the L.A.-based group The Heirs (listen and watch HERE)...and an 80s slow-jam remix of Justin Bieber's hit from last year, "What Do You Mean."

The flawless rendition comes from Canadian composer Tronicbox (a.k.a. Jerry Shen), and it is sheer, sparkling perfection -- right down to the saxophone-filled bridge.

I could be writing about how Satan has just created a new Circle of Hell reserved for Donald Trump and Paul Ryan, but I'd rather enjoy THIS. Oh my God -- THIS:


June 14, 2016

I'm Tired. I'm Crushed. I'm Frustrated.

My mind can't properly function today.

My soul is in a funk.

I'm in such a state because the state of my world is horrific beyond imagination. My funk is a result of an accumulation of horrible news and headlines that seem to punctuate my life on a near-weekly basis.

I tell myself I need to take a deep breath and collect my thoughts and feelings because there are so many of them running through my head. So I do what most of my friends, acquaintances, and loved ones do: I let my fingers run across a keyboard to form words and sentences that will, with the click of a button, eventually be shared with a network of people who will undoubtedly (and hopefully) share the same feelings and thoughts.

It's a reactionary impulse we all have whenever something life-shattering occurs.

We do it because we want to express our condolences, communicate our rage, and demand a solution that seems to be more and more elusive with every body that is added to the bloody pile. (180 mass shootings in 2016 as of this posting. That's 180 incidents in 164 days.)

It's a cycle with which we are all sadly familiar. We hear the news. Our jaws drop. Some of us cry. Some share links to online petitions to enforce gun control laws. Some share the opposite sentiment. Some post memes about the shocking statistics on gun violence in America. We even write about this vicious cycle. Comment wars begin. Talk show hosts debate and discuss. The POTUS makes a statement. Other politicians wring their hands, offering thoughts and prayers. The names of victims are listed and shared. Rinse. Repeat.

I've experienced this for the past several years. I go through my usual routine of reactions: shock, sadness, frustration, anger. I've posed the question before: When will we reach a point in which every single American citizen will know someone or be someone involved in a mass shooting?

"Raise your hand if you've been in a car accident or a fender bender. Now raise your hand if you or someone you know has been a victim of a mass shooting...See? Not much of a difference."

These tragic events resonate with people in different ways depending on how much you identify with the circumstances and location of the shooting. Parents of young children are completely affected when an elementary school becomes a scene of a crime. Coworkers think about their mortality when an office complex becomes riddled with bullets. And anyone who enjoys going to the movies can't help but feel vulnerable at the multiplex after a gunman takes aim inside a dark, crowded theater. (*Shortly after the shooting at Santa Monica College in 2013, I was one of the many who stampeded out of the AMC multiplex in Century City after a suspicious, trenchcoat-wearing man brought a guitar case into our screening of The Purge.)

The deaths in Orlando also hit hard for me and many people I know because it disrupted a carefree scenario we recognize all too well (although I haven't been on a dance floor in quite some time): A Saturday night out with friends, drinking a little too much, shaking your ass to loud music, wondering where the fun will take you...and then it's all shattered, plunging you into a sobering nightmare.

You think to yourself, it really could have been us. You picture yourself holed up in that bathroom, barricading the door with other hostages, hoping the bullets won't come through. You wonder if you too would think quickly enough to play dead and bury yourself under the corpses of people you just saw dancing outside not too long ago. You can't help but think about what you would do.

I hate that a fun night out for a large group of people ended in death and horror.

I hate that I will gradually go back to my regularly scheduled life days after this massacre.

I hate that I feel hopeless, especially after emailing my local Congressman to voice my support for gun control last year, attending rallies in my community, and exercising my right to vote as an American.

I hate that there exists in this country a presidential candidate whose first reaction to the latest act of gun violence is to spew a humble brag reinforcing his stance on Radical Islam -- a blatant "told ya so" without the uttering the words "hate crime" or showing an ounce of sympathy for the victims and their families.

I hate that I have to live in a society where I have to now condition myself to take a mental note of emergency exits or escape routes whenever I visit a movie theater, a bar, an office complex, or any other public space with a significant amount of people.

I hate that the image of America's latest mass shooter being plastered across news outlets is a photo of him posing in a mirror for a selfie.

I hate that I am using the word "hate" so much right now, because hate is the very seed that grows into such horrible violence. So perhaps I should use a different word.

I'm tired and frustrated. When faced with an enormous problem -- an issue that is so complicated and seems like it's beyond your grasp -- you can't help but feel helpless.

But I refuse to settle into complacency.

"Happiness is the ultimate rebellion." 
- an Orlando-based drag queen

Living for those we lost seems to be the only way many of us can pull through. We can't stop -- won't stop -- living. It might just be as simple as that. Living free, living as our true selves, may be the best way to stand up against the forces that don't respect such a basic, human need to just live.

Come at me if you think my life doesn't align with your discriminatory religion, beliefs, or corrupt moral code, and I will show you an army of passionate fighters who can take you down -- not with weapons, but with intelligence, compassion, and some fucking common sense.

Come at me if you think I'm intruding on your 2nd Amendment right to "bear arms," and I will say that you are exploiting and taking advantage of an archaic rule written over 300 years ago by a group of men who did not have the foresight to include provisions to that rule -- because they could not imagine a future in which technology allows a hundred bullets to tear down innocent lives in less than a minute.

Come at me. I dare you.



June 06, 2016

That Time Bernie Sanders Interrupted My Sunday Brunch

The plan: meet my friend, the illustrious Ragan Fox, for a 12pm brunch after a Saturday night of martinis. (I only had one, extra dirty -- don't look at me like that.)

The place: Joey's Cafe at Sweetzer and Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.

Since neither of us could wait until noon for some grub, we decided to meet earlier. When we showed up, a group of individuals, some with press badges, were gathered at the corner, in front of the restaurant, two of them holding large video cameras. Were they paparazzi? Were we about the witness a recorded segment of a reality show? (*This is L.A., and that's how jaded we are.) These people were definitely not waiting for a table. They were waiting for something else.

Once we were shown to our table -- outside on the sidewalk, perfect view of the street -- all I could think about was bacon. And an iced coffee (because, martini).

Then came the men in suits. Then, a police motorcade, halting traffic. Then, several black SUVs pulled up to the curb directly in front of us...

And then...this happened:

A video posted by Hiko Mitsuzuka (@thefirstecho) on

Apparently, Bernie's tactic to remind the residents of WeHo to vote during Tuesday's California Primary was a smart and strategic one.

How's THAT for a #SundayFunday?


June 03, 2016

The Summer Song We All Need: St. Lucia's "Help Me Run Away"

I once called it the perfect spring break anthem, but now that we have a proper video for St. Lucia's "Help Me Run Away," we have the summer song everyone needs on their playlist. This glittering track is everything a roll-down-the-windows jam should be. And the video is an adorable story about an abandoned pair of white Converse sneakers that goes on a epic journey. 

It is magical. It is awesome. It will make you smile. 

Watch now:


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