Coffee Stalk

[17 August 2005]

By Jodie Janella Horn

Until recently, I had never been a slacker. I took summer school classes. I held part-time jobs as a teenager, and I worked full-time since my college graduation. That is, until about six months ago. I stood aloft a chair and proclaimed in the grandest, most poorly done imitation of Shakespeare possible, “Take thy high thread count sheets and meaty grub / Luxury? Not for I. Bring merriment.”

Still, a girl’s gotta pay her TiVO bill. Enter the McJob, defined by Douglas Coupland in Generation X as “a low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, no-future job in the service sector.” Yes, I can define “ironic” on the spot and then turn around and deliver a perfect half-caf, percent latte with one pump of mocha syrup while tweaking my logo baseball cap playfully askew and offering a friendly wink. “Enjoy your beverage and have a great day, Sir!” I wonder—if I stuck the milk steamer in my ear, would my head explode? That would be poetically awesome.

Because my barista gig is located in a historic Hollywood strip mall (I’m not kidding) across the street from the soundstage that birthed television masterwork, Blossom (“Whoa!”), I brush fame while delivering the perfect blended mocha. In fact, just the other day I prepared a shaken iced tea for Veronica Portillo, star of countless Real World / Road Rules Challenge shows. She and I graduated from UC Berkeley in the same class. Oh, what a poignant sighting to have in my very first week at the coffee house. Touché, fate, touché.

The customer-friendly hours do fly by, punctuated with playful conversations with co-workers about which of the clientele are famous. I get to be a fly on the wall brewing the morning joe for the crew of Six Feet Under, while the chick who played Eve in the last season of Angel talks to a casting agent over espresso drinks. It’s like I crawled into a crappy TV Guide Channel talk show and now inhabit it for 30 hours a week…but with lots of coffee. If only those miserly bastards at corporate would let us install IMDb terminals at the cash register, I might actually think more about the coffee than placing random faces into the TV shows of yore.

One of the perils of living and working in Hollywood is the dangerous blurring of reality and fiction. About a month after a terrible storm, it was raining on several TV shows. Packs of old ladies swarm the local malls wearing, “I Went on Down and Hugged Bob!” t-shirts with unmistakable The Price is Right nametags adorning them. Any event held at the Kodak Theatre does horrible things to traffic, forcing me to ask myself, “How did it come to be that my life is affected by the ESPYs?”

Yes, an existence in Hollywood can become one big post-modern joke. Throughout the airing of 24‘s last few episodes, I found myself diving into the bushes every time a plane flew overhead. I just knew it was that stolen missile, finally set free by the hands of those terrorists. In reality, it was actually just another news chopper flying north to get coverage of Michael Jackson’s trial. Recently cancelled Fox crime drama, The Inside featured a serial killer that hunts down victims by watching happy couples leave the Vista Theatre, a movie house that I visit with regularity. When walking out of there the other day, I whispered to my husband, “Don’t look idyllic—he’ll get us” before I remembered that TV isn’t real. But that’s not going to stop me from finding Sydney Bristow’s secret base hidden in a Metro Station.

My fellow baristas are not as weirded out by Hollywood life as I am. Back in my hometown, they’re still talking about the 1972 shoot for American Graffiti at the local diner. Most of my co-workers are from Hollywood, and are therefore genetically pre-determined to be uninterested in celebrities—unless said famous person is hot and/or in a band. I am the only dork trying to figure out in what episode of Quantum Leap “iced old-school Americano with two Splendas” guest starred. I suppose this is why I’ll never get past the velvet ropes at the Tropicana Bar at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (a nearby scalding hotspot). What would I say? “Oh my god, I loved your work as ‘Drunk Teen 2’ last season on The O.C.! By the way, were you really drunk, or just acting?”

I’m a television fanatic and genuinely enchanted by seeing the actress who played Willow’s girlfriend, Tara, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer eating a sandwich, and not just because Amber Benson has lovely skin. What can I say? I’m white trash and this is what my people do. My sister will gladly tell you all about the time that Joey Lawrence (again—“Whoa!”) hit on her at a New Year’s Eve party in Lake Tahoe. My other sister has boasted that Tony Hawk’s son is her six-year-old daughter’s boyfriend ever since her family was invited by Hawk’s ex-wife, (who knew my sis in high school) to stay in one of their houses and get celebrity passes to Disneyland. My niece doesn’t particularly care about the pedigree of her kindergarten boyfriend, but give her time—she’s of my ilk.

Despite my fascination with celebrities, I don’t consider myself the starfucker type. I don’t want anything out of them other than authentication that they exist in another form besides the one I’ve seen on television. Within me is a desperate drive to strip the glamour from that which I am so enchanted. It relieves me to see that, despite being the villain on most of her MTV turns, Veronica Portillo is just another moderately polite woman seeking a cold beverage on a hot, smoggy Los Angeles afternoon. I remember the casting call in Berkeley that led to her ‘discovery’. For a fleeting moment I considered trying out, but I knew then, as I know now, that the entire fabric of my universe would collapse if I were the critiqued rather than the critic.

Born and raised in the cultural wasteland of Santa Rosa, California in 1980, Jodie spent much of her early childhood competing in track and field until she could no longer tolerate scheduling conflicts between practice and Punky Brewster. In 2000 she received a B.A. in Anthropology and moved to Los Angeles, making guest appearances in London; Portland, Oregon; and Oakland, where she met her husband. A full-time writer, Jodie has completed an as of yet unpublished novel and contributes to PopMatters as a TV columnist, book reviewer, and the occasional feature.


Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/horn050818/