I’d seen her on several occasion walking from Hollywood Boulevard to our building. Even before we passed on the sidewalk I knew her… I had seen her my entire life living in the south. She has that kind of hair Pentecostal women had when I was a kid. It’s huge and red and did I mention huge? I’m not sure how a person can maneuver through life or even the subway with hair that big… but she does.
Everything about her says 1981. She has the big Nancy Reagan glasses and the business suits in loud colors. Everything she wears is old and worn and loud… but on her it seems to work. The first time I saw her I froze … it was like I was looking into the face of Divine … a drag queen that the character Ursula from The Little Mermaid was based… but as I’ve said with badly dyed red hair….
Our encounters have always taken place on the sidewalk with her ‘yelling” baby talk to Shmuli and Kooli from a block away. The dogs love this giant person and go nuts each time they meet. Who am I to judge style or affection? There is a connection and in a neighborhood where people look through you instead of at you … I wasn’t about to squelch it. So for a few fleeting minutes she carries on with the dogs not really talking with me … and then she’s gone. Always in the shoulder padded suits and worn high heel shoes… Dear God! She could have made a great drag queen.
I didn’t know her name until Thanksgiving Day when we met in the elevator. There is something about elevators that bring out a person’s authentic self. MJ and I were dressed like Elvis impersonators with giant wigs and sunglasses and she was dressed like always with hair bigger than ever. I explained we were the entertainment at a retirement home dinner and we all laughed. She was going to a healing service at an AGAPE church in North Hollywood run by actors. In her hand was the one thing all big haired women have… a Jell-O salad!
I do not care what the function might be… big haired women all have a spare Jell-O salad sitting around somewhere. It’s usually that green kind with chunks of pineapple and cottage cheese. Who gives a shit what’s in it!? It looks like someone congealed vomit… They all carry one like a big haired badge of courage… and they put it out in the middle of the table so everyone has to look at it. It’s like saying … “Hey, I really don’t care about you and here’s a Jell-O salad to prove it!” She had to be from the south…
Yesterday… we met on the sidewalk and actually talked. It was all the niceties you’d expect from someone you didn’t know but sorta knew… until she found out I was in addiction counseling… suddenly… it got real.
I found out a lot about her… I learned our lives were very similar. Her name is Nancy Jean from Beaumont, Texas and at 63 years old is living in an apartment with three other forgotten actors… all waiting for that big break. She was a regular on a show in the early 1980s that I remembered. She mentioned she had married an actor that was recognizable from a long running TV show and her life went to hell. She mentioned a home in Brentwood that was lost and an apartment in Koreatown where her marriage finally fell apart. She mentioned the physical abuse and desperation of living at the bottom. She said that was her wake up call… or as she put it her “come to Jesus” moment.
For the past 13 years, she has been working for a temporary staffing company and waiting for a call that may never come. She waits with three other aging hopefuls in a Hollywood two bedroom apartment where she’s safe and every one is sober. She’s happy with her life. She’s accepted life on life’s terms and found a God of her understanding. Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do? I know I am.
Now her big hair and loud suits made sense to me. It was part of a life she knew and lost and like the Jell-O salad… it’s all she has to hold onto. I think Shmuli and Kooli are pretty good judges of character. I approve.