L.A. Woman: What Time is Now?
Measuring my life in movie premieres.
My California-born 2-year-old doesn’t know what weather is. They sing a song at preschool that asks “what is the weather like today?” and the answer is the same every morning. He thinks the skylight makes thunder and lightning. He worries a drizzle will melt his toys. He thinks snow is made of soap flakes and comes out of a machine at seasonal block parties. He also thinks Christmas trees are “beautiful hats,” but we can put a pin in that until he wants to talk religion.
In contrast, I was born in the dead of a Kashmiri winter, deep in a Himalayan valley where lows hover at freezing for half the year. “But MN, MI, WI etc. is super cold too, and it’s tolerable for any reasonable human!” you scoff. Yes, but your home state has central heating. Do you want to know how we (still) keep ourselves warm in Kashmir? With wicker baskets of live coals, carried under our heavy wool cloaks. Even the children. I’ve Googled this for you, to avoid debate. In conclusion, my early experience of winter was hugely uncomfortable and I won’t tolerate cold under any circumstance.
Now I live in Los Angeles, and the only drawback to zero weather is the gradual evaporation of my memory. In other places, conjuring the context of an event is as simple as closing your eyes and remembering what one person in the tableau was wearing. Here it’s sandals year-round, maybe a light layer at most, so we use other signposts to mark time. Mine, I admit, is movie premieres. Throw (rotten) tomatoes at me if you want, I get how gross it sounds, how thick these bubble walls, but like conferences or staff meetings anywhere else, movie releases are a weekly certainty in Los Angeles, and have become a helpful marker for Important Life Events.
My first premiere, as a dirt-poor and useless assistant, was I HEART HUCKABEES. My boss gave me her plus one. I went home to change, which she sweetly didn’t point out as unnecessary. She wore jeans and her Vans, and I was overdressed in earrings and cream pants. I was shocked to see so many children at the event. “if they’re at movie premieres now, what do they have to look forward to?” I asked. She said “Flying private.” I did not dress up for a work event again.
My early twenties, as a young agent, were about scooping up freebies, because the pay was miserable (I think I made more as an assistant), but fun stuff falls out of the sky. I don’t remember anything about FRED CLAUS, other than it felt like peak youth — all of my friends scraped together tickets from some kindly publicists and just plain looted the party. There was a bouncy slide, an ice skating rink, many open bars, and Larry David yelled at us about making a mess at our table. After a last-minute stop at the picked-over Build-a-Bear station, I fell into a cab with my roommate and a teddy bear wearing a yarmulke, tighty-whities, and a beard.
After a few years in the business, I hated parties, and could only be dragged out of the house under duress. But my plan to meet a man who knocked on the door wasn’t working, and my roommate convinced me to go to FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL and mingle. I insisted on wearing an army jacket and flip-flops. After the movie, I started talking to an older couple, and a young man walked up with a drink for his mom. That man and I got engaged two years later, on the weekend before GET HIM TO THE GREEK. To this day, we’d have to look up the month. “It was a summer release, so May? We got engaged in May. I think. That, or April.” You don’t need to feel embarrassed for me, I carry enough for all of us.
When we packed up my tiny life to move in together, Rodney found that dusty old build-a-bear from FRED CLAUS in the back of a closet, took in his beard, his yarmulke, and his tighty-whities, and asked if I had magicked him into being. My bearded, Jewish, clothing-optional-at-times husband has a strong argument for sorcery.
The last few years since have been an even faster blur, divided up again by work. I got pregnant right before the filming of 22 JUMP STREET. Rodney was the on-set writer in New Orleans, and I spent months lying on our floor in L.A., nauseated and miserable, with periodic visits to a city that smells entirely of retch-worthy fried foods. The movie premiered right around when our son did, and they have both made up for my discomfort during the shoot.
Now, I know what thirteen years in Los Angeles connotes, and I swear I wasn’t an asshole when I moved here. I still don’t think I am one, but at least half of the country just told me otherwise. And they’re right — this is a ridiculous place. Since the election, I’ve been carrying around a mountain of white guilt about how easy we have it in California, and I’m not even white. It’s especially odd that I’ve been here for so long, considering that if my coal-basket-wielding ancestors had a motto it would be, “I dunno, do we really need that?” L.A. is rather more… acquisitive. But every time I daydream about moving to a city with readers, and foot traffic, and normal jobs, I remember what being cold feels like — the helplessness, the physical pain, the indignity of nostrils frozen shut, and I shake it off.
In the midst of recent political events I’d rather not remember, the movie I spent last year producing was accepted to Sundance. That, and my child, are the only things that motivated me to crawl out of bed that gloomy week in November. I’ve been putting together my plan of resistance for the next four (let’s hope it’s four) years, and my plan to join the March in Washington has, of course, been foiled, because dangit if Sundance isn’t the same weekend. Of course. Park City will be hosting a mess of liberal you-know-what that week, sick with guilt about not being a part of the protest. But the other option is to shirk my role as a Working Mom, and I will not succumb to that battle. Leaning into my job, as ridiculous as it may be on paper, will have to serve as a form of protest. And as if this inauguration isn’t punishment enough, I will also be freezing.
Priyanka Mattoo is a comedy producer and writer living in Los Angeles. Follow her on twitter: @naanking
L.A. Woman is an occasional series about slowly becoming an Angeleno.