Last month, Curbed LA came out with a somewhat depressing article called What $1,200 A Month Can Rent You In 5 LA Neighborhoods. While it's mercifully not as dire as the living situations in NYC ("What is this, a market-rate housing apartment FOR ANTS???"), it did lead me to thinking about the Angeleno mentality.
Despite its name, LA is not a city of angels. It is a city of cold, bladed hustlers. It's why we Angelenos have the off-putting habit of instantly asking complete strangers what they do for a living, offending Midwesterners everywhere. We're wondering if you wouldn't mind picking up the tab at the end of the night... after we artfully pick up just the first drink, of course.
(By the way, the answer to the above 99.999 percent of the time: "Oh, I work in the Industry." Industry with a capital "I." The remaining .001 percent work in the noble non-profits, at which point we suddenly and conveniently need to use the restroom.)
"Have you seen it? Oh, behind the bar? ...I'll be right back."
For young Angelenos, there is always a judgmental calculator clicking away at the top of our heads, because lots of us live paycheck to paycheck... and those overdue payments from that DUI a year ago aren't helping. (I don't have a DUI, but it is definitely a rite of passage if you aren't a native, so chin up!)
But how exactly do we hustle, LA-style? Everyone either moonlights or has a day job -- being fake fabulous is a 24-hour commitment -- and our time off is spent pursuing our dreams of acting, modeling, directing, or writing. Or just literally dreaming, because we're wiped out from our real jobs and can't get out of bed.
No... motivation... I... miss... Minnetonka!
Behold, from a former personal trainer, occasional background extra, and native Angeleno who is as broke as you are: a distinctly LA countdown of how we hustle.
5. Be on the cast of Vanderpump Rules.
Allegedly, secret German policewoman Stassi, human pap smear Jax, and the rest of these glorified waiters are only paid around $700 per episode. Finally, a monetary measure for those of us who always wondered how much you get for selling your soul to Satan, or as he is known in these modern times, Andy Cohen.
I feel really awful for the VP cast, because this show is such "cubic zirconia handcuffs" for them. Clearly they all want to be famous legit actors, but instead they are now famous for being waiters... and they need to stay waiters to hold onto this semi-fame. This is really. fucking. dark. #Bravolebrities!
That said, it is very #notLA to waste a perfectly good $18 drink like this.
So why does this relatively small sample size kick off this list? Sure, it'd probably make more sense to say "waiting tables," but every city has waiters who aspire for something greater than a 20 percent tip. The reality show Vanderpump Rules is Los Angeles at its most devastatingly ironic, disguised by the flashing bulbs of a few paparazzi who couldn't track down a real movie star and just need lunch money.
By the way, I will never eat at SUR, because this show is basically proof that all the food there is soaked in tears and genital juices. I love you, Lisa V., but this is the weirdest business model ever.
4. Dance a weekend in your undies at the Abbey or MJ's or, worst of all, Trunks.
Apparently that's how much you can earn to dance mostly naked and semi-erect in public for the viewing pleasure of gays who are pretending not to look, while their drunk girl friends gleefully squeal right into your butt crack. Oh, WeHo.
LA is a city that runs on the commodity of looks, and the most glaringly shameless and uninspired manifestation of this are our gorgeous go-go dancers. I'm friends with a lot of them, and many of these are men with actual degrees from four-year institutions, but why deal with the rat race and rush hour when you can get an entire half month's rent conveniently stuffed into your G-string, completely tax-free?
I'm not sure what happened here, but we can all use our imaginations, right?
3. Pose nude for a questionable photographer claiming to work for Vogue Italia.
Remember how excited Tyra was when Vogue Italia agreed to feature the winner of America's Next Top Model? Little did she know that she would be inadvertently contributing to the objectification of young women everywhere. Oh wait... she already does that. It's called America's Next Top Model.
If tombstones ever have GIFs, I elect this one for Tyra.
You see, the female equivalent of the WeHo go-go boy is definitely the gullible beauty who strips down for a photog who found them on Model Mayhem. The photographer is usually a greasy European who maybe did a spread once in Vogue Italia, InStyle UK, or Siebzehn. (That's German for Seventeen, in case you aren't in the Stasi. Can you tell I can't quite get over her name?)
Now, wielding his Tyra-approved credentials, the photog promises a world of haute couture fashion to our innocent Dorothy, freshly blown in from Kansas. But, didn't you know, nipples are in this season at Milan! Milan is mad for nipples!
Tasteful nudes are the Sears glamour shots of 2013, and it's easy to see why. Faster than you can say "André Leon Talley," a naive slashie can lube up her body with Italian dressing and show off her new breasts for a few hundred bucks... and don't forget to smize!
2. Be horribly, shockingly, soul-scarringly abused on a movie set for a week.
Finally, something to which I can personally attest! (Unless those secret pictures come out!) It's called being a PA. This stands for "production assistant," and if the movie industry is a beautiful ocean and the power players are all majestic whales, then the PA's are not even the krill. Because even krill gets credit.
PA's are the krill's shit.
A PA is basically a kitchen-sink job title given to the nameless kid who does all the hapless work that no one else wants to do. You're everyone's bitch, basically. If you're lucky, you get $100/day, under the table. And if you're impossibly lucky, they'll remember to reimburse the $50 worth of gas you burned driving all over the city performing every insane whim. Spoiler alert: they won't remember.
Remember how I said that a DUI is an LA rite of passage? Well, getting lukewarm coffee thrown in your face is an Industry rite of passage. Or, getting screamed at for being late with the starlet's quinoa salad because there was traffic on the 405 at 5 p.m. Or, combing through a director's wife's used cat litter to search in vain for a piece of jewelry that ends up being in her purse.
Yes, these are all personal experiences, and they made me the man I am today. A jaded, sardonic, leather-skinned man with a shit list longer than the combined ending credits of all the films on which I was not credited.
1. Be attractive, "homeless," and on a strategic street corner.
I had a friend visiting from DC, and I was giving her the Westside tour of Venice, Santa Monica Pier, and WeHo. We were chowing down at Tender Greens when she said this with a bit of wonder: "LA has really hot homeless people." I choked on my perfectly roasted Brussels sprouts.
On Arrested Development, Lindsay Bluth Fünke famously mistook actor Tom "I just want my kids back" Jane for a hot homeless guy, when in reality he was playing a fictionalized version of himself pretending to be a hot homeless guy who she thought was an actor but then mistook for a hot homeless... Okay, whatever, AD is a roundabout show you need to watch if you haven't already. The point is, LA is notorious for its hot "homeless."
I use quotes when I say "homeless" because these kids that my girl friend described are not actually homeless. LA does have a real homeless epidemic, and it's awful and not nearly enough is done to address it. The actual homeless suffer from mental illness, political disenfranchisement, and social displacement, and it's a serious and troubling issue.
And then, you have kids like this:
Not a GIF, but trust me, we all smiled. (Photography: Lizzie Pachter)
I used to know (aka occasionally make out with, don't judge me) a moderately attractive surfer who sat on the Venice Boardwalk with a sign that read: "Starving Model. Please feed." And homeboy cleaned up. He'd flash his very non-homeless veneers at girls and ask them if they were fellow models, and on a busy day he'd easily collect hundreds. He did this when he felt too lazy to find a ride to an open casting call.
"Los Angeles, where even the homeless are hot." It'd be the most offensive, shallow, and misguided tourism campaign ever, and hence it is #soLA.
Snark aside, I do admire LA's hustle mentality. I love my city and its dreamers, enough that I write about it for free on my days off. And in my group of friends are musicians, actors, writers, and artists, all of whom tutor your kids in guitar, wipe down your tables, and dress up like a taco so we can pinch together half a month's rent... if only we didn't blow most of it on margaritas.
We Angelenos get a bad rap, but there's something romantic about a city that runs on the starry-eyed and unrealistic hopes of its vagabond youth. When outsiders ask me if they should move here, I in turn ask them, "Do you possess no practical skills? Would you rather be broke than unhappy? Is fame the omelet, and are the eggs your self-respect and sensible upbringing?"
If the answer to all the above is a resounding "YES!", then come, hustle, and dream with us.
For more of Justin's musings on the intersections of race, sex, and life in Los Angeles, check out his blog I AM YELLOW PERIL.