Inciting Moment

Tara Stillions Whitehead

FADE IN ON a craftsman split into two units—four hundred and six square feet each—tucked into Franklin Hill, at the center of your notion of "making it." The Hill is much like everything else in Hollywood. High culture tinged with artistic travesty. Gratuitousness flanked by poverty. Legend enmeshed with tenacious ideation. 

You sell your Honda Civic, the diamond studs your late grandfather gifted you for your twelfth birthday. You default on your student loans and eat rice noodles and sriracha for three weeks. It only takes three weeks: $90 application fee, $50 credit check, $100 Westside Rentals subscription, first and last months' rent, and a $150 non-refundable parking deposit.

$4,290 later, you can call yourself a Los Angelina. 

"Bukowski drew a penis in our bathroom," you boast to the first man you sleep with on the memory foam futon. You cannot be more embarrassing in your pride as you reveal the pocket door and trace your finger around the fleshy sword like its victory is your own. You are suddenly a palimpsest of strangeness appropriated from strangeness. 

You quickly become part of the elite group of people who identify by intersections or freeway exits. "De Longpre and Hyperion" for East of La Brea locals. "101 and Vermont" for your contacts south of Wilshire. "134 and Los Feliz" for your free women's clinic in Reseda. 

There is not much space to self-reflect in the shotgun kitchen, and you battle the nagging feeling that there will never be a place you can call home anymore. 

At night, you admire the city skyline to the south and imagine what it looked like in 1937 when the house was built. 

The tenants upstairs are not married and keep their folding chairs stationed on the tarmac that extends over the garage below the house, which is an extension of your very unusable front lawn—you have a lawn! You hear them fight and make up through the gossamer-thin floors more than a dozen times before the second rent check is due. By the third month, you hear nothing. Hot water pipes and deadbolts on occasion. 

You sleep with the man not long after, during the 2007 writers' strike, when the studios are paralyzed and the city is restless. It is the first time you see an uncircumcised penis. You are drunk enough to recite a few too many poems from Love Is a Dog from Hell. Between orgasms, he says he would not have pegged you for a Bukowski fan and attempts to guess your age and rising sign. You are tempted to show him the pocket door, but then he discloses that he is an insurance broker who played lacrosse on a sports scholarship at Duke until he injured himself during rush week. This intensely ruins your fantasy, and you wish you'd never had a drink in your long, young life.

Three weeks later, he is climbing through your basement window. Two days into a cocaine bender and atomized by loneliness and desire, he perches at the edge of your bed, reciting Billy Collins poems until you have to leave for work. The strike is over, you tell him. There is a lot of catching up to do. 

In the Styrofoam darkness of stage rehearsals, you realize you allowed his phone calls and text messages to go unanswered a little too long. You should have said something after he threatened to throw himself off of the tarmac, after he misspelled your name for the tenth time. Walking out of your first full week back at the storyboards, you have your first real industry epiphany, and the thought of someone loving you becomes more claustrophobic than the four hundred and six square feet you still cannot call home.