I leave it to you to imagine how keen my sense of disbelief was at this moment. Just like that, “When can we get you out here?” No tedious interview process with witless idiotic questions. No hoops to jump through. No red tape to cut. No horse-and-pony show to put on, the way one has to do for some ordinary job. With one resume, one cover letter, and one spec script that I had written for The Outer Limits, I was being hailed by Star Trek and asked to beam aboard. Just like that: “Come on out and join us in Hollywood,” plain, simple, and direct. How often does a thing like that happen to anyone? As I said, unbelievable--but true.
Remember when we were talking about the relatives in Seattle on whose cable TV I used to watch The Outer Limits when I visited them in the summer? That happened to be the home of my late Uncle George Carroll, who was an engineer for Boeing. George had passed on and remembered me in his will. It was by this means that I was able to take up Star Trek on its invitation. As the will was in probate, it took several months of waiting, and the money came at the eleventh hour. I was set to fly out in the middle of January 1997 to be the final screenwriting intern for the third season of Voyager. The check arrived about a week beforehand and I had that much time to prepare. I thought I had selected a suitable hotel from a gay travel guide, but we'll get to that in a moment. I’ll never forget the snowy day I rented a car and spent an entire day shopping for everything I’d need for my Hollywood odyssey (including a pocket driver’s map of Los Angeles, which I still have); I had to find a deal on a plane ticket and do a whirlwind shopping spree and mall-crawl, but I was under the gun (or the phaser, as the case may be) and I got it done. And you know what? I don’t usually like stress and prefer to avoid a stressful situation, but I remember that day as one of the most fun I’d ever had--snowstorm and all!
In the meantime, I made damn sure that everyone knew what was happening. I had my friend Joe (the guy who was scared by my reading of “Ice”--he doesn’t handle scary suspense well) notify The Gaylactic Network about my pending adventure. (At the time my gay science fiction group, The Alternate Universe, was an affiliate of the greater Gaylactic Network based in Boston, and Joe was our liaison to the Network). Every Gaylaxians group was properly apprised that one of their own had made a breakthrough, and The Niagara Falls Gaylactic Colonizers, some of whom were fans of my art from Gaylaxicon Art Shows, wanted regular updates on what I was doing. And I called the local newspaper and got an interview with the television editor, which made the paper as the time approached. The article caught the attention of my cousin Jaretta, who at the time was a local radio host, and one morning she brought me onto her show. That was fun, being interviewed about my upcoming Trek experience on the air as the greater Hudson/Mohawk Valley listened. And Jaretta, my late Uncle Henry’s daughter--under her pseudonym of Lynn Richarde--was great. She said she got plenty of call-ins that day about her cousin who was going to Star Trek!
Of course, no one was more tickled by all this than Uncle George’s daughter, my cousin Nancy. During our weekly phone calls during my stay in Beverly Hills (from which I would commute to Paramount on Melrose Avenue), she would tell me that every time she mentioned “her cousin Joe” to her friends, they would automatically fill in, “...who’s doing a writing internship at Star Trek Voyager!” (Nancy is also a science fiction fan, and is what you would call an uber-Trekker. This lady has actually gone on Star Trek cruises! As a girl she was so terrified by the Outer Limits episode “Corpus Earthling” that she used to have my Aunt Nancy, her late Mom, check under her bed for the little alien black rocks before she could go to sleep at night.)
Anyway, with all my preparations made--hastily as they were--I was ready as the morning of January 17, 1997 arrived. My Mom and my friend Danny B., whom I’ve mentioned here a number of times, put me on the train to Manhattan, and I was off. I spent that evening in the Big Apple and attended one of the last performances of Sunset Boulevard by Andrew Lloyd Weber on Broadway. (Elaine Page was Norma that night. I was third row center. My only disappointment is that Alan Campbell, who played Joe, for some reason chose to do his poolside theme song fully clad in a suit. Why? WHY?) The next morning, I flew to Los Angeles.
My first weekend in LA, I found that the hotel room that I had had to secure so hastily was not a place where I wanted to stay in a place where I wanted to be. (See if I ever trust that gay travel guide again.) Actually, that whole first weekend was a bit of an adventure, and not in a good way. For the first four weeks I rented a gold Chrysler Sebring ragtop convertible--what, you think I was going to experience L.A. and Hollywood and not drive a convertible?--and for the first evening I drove around looking for my hotel. I discovered at once that 1) I had to adjust my sense of scale to a big city that was designed to spread outward rather than upward, like Manhattan and 2) I was really intimidated by the freeways at first. I got over the fear of the freeways in time, but that first night I somehow found myself in a part of the city that was so thoroughly Asian that I almost couldn’t find any business signage in English or anyone who could speak same! To redirect myself, I ended up pulling over a cop at a filling station, and I actually heard myself think, Thank God he’s white!
As I didn’t like the hotel when I finally found it, I retreated to a Super 8 Hotel until I could come up with something else. I only wish I had known about Extended Stay America back then. Anyway, the next morning I stepped out into the California sunshine and found myself looking up a hill right into the famous HOLLYWOOD sign. It felt like a Steven Spielberg moment; there should have been John Williams music playing. The accommodations problem dogged me the whole weekend; I was so upset that I couldn’t eat. (J.A. FLUDD FACTOID for the week: Being emotionally upset or physically ill effectively kills my appetite until the thing that has upset me is resolved or I get better. Then I eat like a Grizzly bear.) I did manage to get down a croissant at a Starbucks in West Hollywood, where I met my first TV star as I sat outside eating. There was a gentleman sitting at the next table with a notebook on which I noticed the name Scott Plank. I knew that name from various things I’d seen on TV; he’s one of those journeyman actors who goes from show to show and Movie of the Week to Movie of the Week. (Another J.A. FLUDD FACTOID: I take pains to note every attractive-looking MALE actor I see on film or TV. I look them up when necessary.) I asked him, regarding the name on his notebook, “There’s an actor by that name; are you he?” And he was, and we had a nice chat that helped me calm down for a moment. It turns out he had shot several episodes of Melrose Place that were going to be on during my stay, so for a few weeks during my stay in L.A. I watched Melrose, which I wouldn’t otherwise have done, just to see him. One thing about being in Hollywood is that you never know whom you’re going to run into that you recognize from the things you watch. I had a number of such chance encounters in addition to meeting the stars of the two Star Treks that were on at that time, some of which I’ll share with you as this saga goes forth.
To help calm myself further, I went to the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard and looked up Gene Roddenberry’s star. Though I’m a strictly secular person, as I’ve said, it was a nearly spiritual moment as I sat crouching there on the street of celebrity plaques in the pavement, tracing the letters of Gene’s name as if to commune with the man whose vision of the future had guided me through life and brought me to this place and this moment. For a moment I felt that much closer to one of the most important heroes and role models of my life.
Before the weekend was over, a check through the local alternative newspaper put me in touch with a residential hotel in Beverly Hills--Beverly Hills, yet!--where I was willing to settle down for my six-week stint. I moved in, let my family and friends know where I was, and inhaled a quarter of a rotisserie chicken from the local equivalent of the Boston Market. As I explored my new temporary neighborhood, I was to discover that Rodeo Drive was just a couple of blocks away, the Los Angeles Branch of The Museum of Television and Radio was right down Santa Monica Boulevard, and further down that same Boulevard lay an art supply store and The International Male store! Oh, and in a coincidence that would only happen in my life, a comic book specialty store had just opened on the next block! The folks in Beverly Hills must have gotten the word: Psst, hey, this guy from New York who reads comic books is coming to work on Star Trek; we’d better be ready...
So, bright and early Monday morning, I was calmed, fed, rested, and ready. I found another Starbucks where I had another croissant and had a nice chat with a friendly cop. (Don’t believe for a minute that Beverly Hills is an enclave of snooty rich people; the place felt like home with better weather, fancier stores, and palm trees.) Then I climbed into my rented gold Chrysler convertible and drove from Beverly Hills to the Melrose Avenue complex of Paramount Pictures (avoiding the freeway and using Wilshire Boulevard). I drove up to the front gate in a supremely “Hollywood” moment and Security passed me through. Within Paramount Studios lay the Hart Building, where the writers and producers of the Star Treks worked. And the adventure began.
TO BE CONTINUED.