Dad was dead and all we had left of him was a monthly check for $150.00 that Anna and I each received from Social Security. It happened to be the exact amount in rent we paid for the one bedroom apartment in Hollywood.
These and other thoughts continued to run through my mind as I sat in the waiting area of The Select Agency for my brother Justin, while he met with his new acting agent. It was a good agency located on Sunset Blvd near Doheny in Los Angeles.
The waiting area had a large floor to ceiling window and I was high up enough to see where Santa Monica Boulevard met Beverly Hills. I occupied myself by watching buses travel up and down Santa Monica Blvd along with airplanes cueing up in the distance, waiting to land at LAX.
Holding my thumb and index finger up to my eye, I noticed cars and buses all measured to be about an inch long from where I was sitting and it made me wonder why objects of such different sizes measured the same from a distance. It occurred to me that proximity affects perspective and I’d hoped that it applied to the rest of life, because it would be a good thing if it did. No matter how sad or painful a person, place, or situation was, if, with distance, it became small, it would be easier to stay hopeful about the load not getting too heavy to carry.
Life picked up speed after moving to Hollywood, which kept me too busy to feel and I considered it to be a gift of sorts. I didn’t cry or have much emotion about losing my dad. I didn’t spend any time looking back, as to what was or could have been and didn’t look at my favorite picture of him holding me on the hood of his car anymore.
After dad’s funeral, my big brother’s Donny and Justin packed us up and moved us from Palm Springs to Hollywood. Donny stayed living with us for as long as he could, but it didn’t take much time for Mom to resume her old behavior.
She started dictating his every move and used him as an emotional punching bag, which drove him to join the Navy sooner than expected. It was obvious that he had to go and we wanted him to because we couldn’t take watching him suffer.
I was sad when he left because he was the most decent and caring person we had in our lives, but I was happy that he was following his dream of serving in the military and at the same time getting some much deserved peace.
When the time came, we all went down to The Navy Recruit Training Depot in San Diego to attend his graduation from boot camp. Nearly three months of marching and training left him slim, tone, and tan. He was so happy when he first laid eyes on us that he cried and gave each of us such big bear hugs, that he lifted us clean off of our feet. Donny was our hero.
Mom came too–when it was time for her and Donny to say hello, he was respectful but aloof, giving her a distant hug.
After boot camp, he was assigned to the USS Constellation in Coronado, California and sailed to Hawaii and the Philippines and wrote post cards to us regularly.
Pulling me back to present time and away from thoughts of the past were the voices of Justin and his agent, Gary, coming down the hallway. I could hear them discussing Justin’s school schedule and availability for auditions. They made their way over to me, at which point Justin introduced me.
Gary was in his early 50’s with gray hair and dressed more like a teacher or principal than an agent. He had on a gray sweater vest and corduroys. He shook my hand and immediately turned to Justin and said, “You didn’t mention you had such a beautiful sister.”
Justin put his hand on my shoulder and said, “This is Elena; she’s my baby sister.” Gary’s eyes widened and he said, “Baby sister–she looks like she’s 21.”
“I know, everyone says that but, she’s only 14.” Justin said, protectively.
Gary smiled and said, “You better keep an eye on her”, and then asked, “How tall are you, sweetheart?”
Nervously I replied, “I’m 5’9 ½.”
“Do you want to act?”
I said, “No, I don’t….”
Justin interrupted saying, “She wants to be a model.” I turned beet red and couldn’t peel my eyes off the floor from embarrassment.
Looking at me, Gary said, “Don’t be shy about it. You better state what you want if you expect to get anywhere. Hollywood is a tough town and if you have any ambition to model, just remember: so does every other pretty girl. There’s a whole bunch of competition. The first thing you need to do is get yourself a modeling agent.”
“I don’t know how”, I said. Gary suggested I go to Screen Actors Guild and get a list of registered agencies and just start making the rounds. “Don’t stray off the list. There are a lot of creeps out there claiming to be agents, but if they aren’t on SAG’s list then I recommend you avoid them.” He warned.
I thanked him. Justin said, “Good-bye”, and we both exited the agency and headed back home to Hollywood.
Hollywood was visually about as far as one could get from Palm Springs. Beautiful streets lined with palm trees that reached up to crisp blue skies were replaced with lost souls, failed dreams, and runaways that fell victim to drugs, prostitution, and the under world.
The buildings, businesses, and people changed with every passing block as our bus continued to head East on Sunset Blvd. My heart and spirit automatically shrunk the deeper into the bowels of the forsaken we climbed. I was petrified of becoming like the people I saw standing on the street corners, as there was nothing separating our paths. I knew it was possible that I too could end up the same way.
I ran cold thinking about being an 8th grade drop out. I searched my mind trying to find a differentiating factor, as to why I wouldn’t be a statistic, but there wasn’t anything solid separating me from the broken people we passed—only a promise to myself that I would never be a drug user or sell my body or soul to anyone.
Arriving at our stop, Justin reminded me to put the hood of my sweatshirt over my head, to tuck my hair away, not to make eye contact with anyone, and to hold his hand. If anyone tried to jump us, Justin carried a switchblade with him at all times and I knew he would use it if necessary.
We lived on Alexandria Street between Hollywood and Sunset Blvd near Vine. The building was dingy and old and the apartment was tiny. Mom’s bed was next to the refrigerator in the space meant for a kitchen table and the three of us slept in the tiny bedroom.
The apartment manager didn’t know there were four of us living together, so we had to avoid being home at the same time to keep from being caught and evicted. We all tried to stay busy and out of the apartment, but it was hard because Hollywood was not a place for kids to be hanging out.
Arriving back to the apartment, I scoured the list of modeling agencies and started circling the ones that I had heard of or that sounded professional. I circled Nina Blanchard, Elite, Wilhelmina, and a bunch of others. When my mom got home, I asked her if she would take me around to the agencies and help me get an agent.
I told her that I would make a lot of money and we wouldn’t have to worry about having enough food to eat and that we could live in a safe area and be happy, if she would help me find an agent. I kept to myself that I so desperately wanted to be in charge of my life; I wanted to live on my own and have the ability to take care of my siblings. I didn’t want to see anyone suffer anymore. It was my dream and I didn’t know how, but I was determined to find a way to make it happen…..