What Hollywood renaissance?

CHRIS AYRES is the Los Angeles correspondent for the Times of London and author of "War Reporting for Cowards" and the forthcoming "Death by Leisure: A Cautionary Tale."

'WELCOME," said Roger, my future landlord, "to the place where the dreams of a thousand young girls came to die." We were at the corner of Gower Street and Selma Avenue, looking north toward the Hollywood sign, barely visible through a ripple of midsummer heat.

Roger was stooped, blond, bespectacled, and his face was set into a permanent half-smile, a result (I assumed) of his great amusement at the idiocy of tenants who were always trying to cheat him out of something. And then, with a jangle of keys, we were in — through the chipped door of the mid-century building that had once been Hollywood's top casting agency and was now, Roger assured me, the home of "several blue-chip companies in various industries."

That dubious claim aside, the building had something else going for it: It was cheap. Very cheap. Five hundred bucks a month got you 200 square feet of newly painted and blue-carpeted office space. Sure, the air conditioner didn't really work and the ceiling featured a selection of stains, on a theme of brown. But who looks up when they're typing? Besides, by renting the office, I would be doing my bit for one the most exciting urban renewal projects in modern America: the renaissance of Hollywood.

Within days, I'd shown the office to a friend, a fellow writer, who agreed to share the space. We spent the rest of the day touring the attractions of our up-and-coming neighborhood, planning future excursions. We could ride the subway to MacArthur Park! We could eat lunch at Roscoe's House of Chicken N' Waffles! We could buy inexpensive plastic utensils at the new Bed Bath & Beyond!

Ah, yes, I'd fallen hard and fast for Hollywood. The old gal still knew how to turn on the charm. By the end of the week, I'd signed the lease and was admiring my corner-office view of a head-shot studio, located for maximum symbolism about 12 steps from a liquor store. Meanwhile, out on the street, the locals shared my excitement. Long-haired and ragged, eyes bloodshot with celebration, they whooped and hollered and rattled their shopping carts, presumably delirious with the promise of the coming Starbucks franchises and luxury condo-plexes.

It was during my first day in the office — after I'd rented a razor-wire-fenced parking spot and given Roger a ridiculously large security deposit in case of my sudden extradition to Mexico — that I noticed a problem. There was a terrible smell. It hovered above my desk, like my own private layer of L.A. smog.

"Roger," I said breathlessly, after running up to his office. "I think we might have a skunk problem."

Without looking up from his cartoon doodle, Roger shook his head. "Almost true, but not quite," he revealed. "Try medical marijuana. There's a licensed dispensary on the floor below you."

Strangely enough, none of the other tenants seemed to mind the smell — not even my neighbor in Suite 203, a purveyor of novelty jockstraps. It didn't bother me either after a while, although I did begin to spend more time at Roscoe's, a result of strange waffle cravings.

But as the weeks passed, other problems emerged. For example, there seemed to be a courier service located outside the dispensary. Sullen men would sit in blacked-out Civics for hours on end, breaking the monotony every few minutes by smoking their tires on the hot pavement and squealing sideways around the block. Then there was the pair of sneakers flung over the utility cable that crossed Gower — a sign, my friend suggested, of a gang marking its territory. The breaking point came when a resident on a nearby street bought a parrot, or some other squawking jungle bird, which proceeded to make a noise like Gilbert Gottfried's AFLAC duck played through a Jimi Hendrix fuzzbox.

What with the parrot, the wheel-spinning, the stink of the pot and the vague threat of the sneakers, I'm ashamed to say I left Hollywood only a couple of months after moving in. Was it me? Was it Hollywood?

All I can say is this: Me and Hollywood, we still hang out on the weekends. We go to the ArcLight together. We order the burger at the Bowery. And now that the infatuation's over, we're becoming good friends. As for Roger — he managed to keep a distressingly large percentage of my deposit, a move he blamed on his boss, who owned the building. I told him that if his boss looked deep into his heart, he'd know that my office was in just as good shape as the day I rented it.

"Oh, my boss doesn't have a heart," Roger explained. "He works in Hollywood."

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