Category: Limitless


 

5. Changing Gears

While I certainly doubt I’ve hung up my director’s hat forever, my time as an ‘indie film director’ has come to an end (on a high note at that – #7).  My feel for the craft is on point, but now that putting money away for my future is my number one priority, I can’t take on the same risks I could take earlier (#6).  Writing it out makes it seem obvious, but I’m putting all my energy into the talents that don’t cost me money to show off.  And truth be told, I miss being the ‘Prince of Gotham.’  Along those lines, my high class move in 2009 was…

4. Cavalleria Rusticana at the Met

As someone who has watched Raging Bull and the Godfather Part III at least a hundred times each, I’ve grown very fond of the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana.  So first I heard the Met in NYC was going to put on the show around Easter…and one of my college roommates just happens to be a lawyer in NYC…and my musically inclined ace just happened to be right down the road in Boston…and at the time the economy hadn’t caught up to me just yet…

That four day weekend in NYC was my first ‘adult’ vacation, but man, that didn’t stop us from having a great time.  A little opera, a little jazz, a little Junior’s: perfect getaway.  Ten years ago, I would have made a little indie movie about that weekend, but then again, ten years ago I would have been too ‘cool’ to go to the opera, so it is what it is.

3. Twitter

and really, the overall growth/importance of social media/networking.  The global village is here folks, today, right now.  This is a definite ‘did the chicken come before the egg’ argument, but with me simultaneously promoting/pushing ‘Lady’ (#7), and building the blog with content like ‘Limitless’ and the Most Important TV/Film Lists, I’ve managed to build a nice little audience.  Either through direct contact or looking out the stats the system generated, I know I have regular readers in Europe, Asia, Africa, and of course my home continent.  Even five years ago, how hard would it be to promote yourself without at least one studio film or TV show under your belt?  It’s been a great tool professionally, and it’s been just as much fun interacting with friends old and new.

2. Very Smart Brothas

For being the most consistently funny brothas blogging at the moment.  I spent many nights winding down, just to get caught up in a ‘wake the neighbors up chuckle’ from whatever silliness Champ and Panama brought to the table.  Sometimes it was a long column about relationships, sometimes it was proving that, sometimes, the picture really is worth a thousand words…

And honorable mention in the ‘Things That Routinely Made Me Laugh’ category for 2009 goes to: The Most Interesting Man in the World campaign (Dos Equis), the Kobe/LeBron puppets (Nike), and as usual, the Jack in the Box commercials.

Champ and Panama of course did a column about what I (and a lot of you) will probably remember the most about this year…

Number One

Looking out, across the nighttime

The city winks a sleepless eye…

Hear her voice, shake my window

Sweet seducing sighs…

Get me out, into the nightime

Four walls won’t hold me tonight…

If this town, is just an apple

Then let me take a bite

If they say, why? why?  Tell ’em that it’s human nature

Why? Why? Does he do me that way?

If they say, why? why? Tell ’em that it’s human nature

Why? Why? Does he me do that way?

Reaching out, to touch a stranger

Electric eyes are everywhere

See that girl?  She knows I’m watching…

She likes the way I stare

[Chorus]

Looking out, across the morning

Where the city’s heart begins to beat…

Reaching out, I touch her shoulder

I’m dreaming of the Street…

[Chorus]

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With my spiritual background, I tend to gauge how I’ve progressed in life from the end of one Ramadan to the beginning of the next.  Ramadan begins for me in a few weeks, so…

Since the last Ramadan, I bought my parents a vacation.  They’re both retired now, but they also don’t road trip like they did when I was growing up.  They love to gamble, so I flew them and my sister into Vegas for Christmas.  It was as cold as I’ve ever known Sin City to be, but it was still better than snow and ice. And they had a good time, which is all that really mattered.  My taste for ‘the good life’ really stands out when I spend time with them now.  I fly them halfway across the country and they would rather go to Denny’s than have a five star breakfast buffet.  What can you do?  But they’ve lived their dream life though like I’m living mine.

Since the last Ramadan, I went to Michael Jackson’s funeral.  And a little part of me hasn’t been the same since.  A few nights back I had this dream: I was hanging out with one of my lady friends.  We were out near some palatial estate (Neverland?) and ran into Mike.  He introduced himself and his kids.  I woke up for a brief moment thinking it was real, then realized he died a few weeks back.  If I go at the same age, that means I’ve already lived more than half my life.  There’s still a couple of things I’d really like to do before my time comes, but there’s no way to really know when that will be, is there?  I just live my life today, plan for tomorrow, and hope for the best….

Since the last Ramadan, I’ve learned a lot more about who I want to come home to.  I still have a lot to learn; I’m constantly asking questions to people I confide based on my experiences and things they’ve been through.  To be honest, it’s been a fairly enjoyable process so far.  There’s a practical side of me that doubts it will happen, but then again, I wasn’t looking for Maria when she entered my life either.  In Islam, there is a prayer (istikhara), which expresses the desire for marriage if it’s in God’s will.  It’s only been in the past few months that I’ve tied my spirituality into my personal life.  If that comes across as absurd based on what you’ve read about me, trust, after the fact I was asking myself, “Why have I been separating the two for so long?”  I learned many years ago though that timing is such a major part of the relationship game; everything happens when it’s supposed to happen.

Since the last Ramadan, I’ve made a film.  The filmmaking process is long and grueling, but it’s so gratifying when you have something you’re proud of.  In the short time since we finished it earlier this year, Lady in My Life  has created opportunities for me as a director, a writer, and as an actor.  Somewhat surprisingly, it’s created the most opportunities for me so far as an actor.  I’ve been asked to audition, and been cast in supporting roles in some short films and plays; most recently I auditioned and was accepted into an Actor’s Studio.  Being an actor is the one part of my craft I’ve paid the least attention to.  I’ve already ran my mouth and mud wrestled on national television; I’ve ridden a bicycle butt ass naked in my first big screen appearance; there’s never been any shame in my game as far as getting on the stage or in front of the camera.  But I know (and you know) how being in the spotlight constantly can change people for the worse.  When’s the last time you heard about a director leaving the set and just going to Africa?  Or a writer flipping out in the middle of the freeway?  In my own experience, I’ve seen the temptation of being the ‘Head Negro on Campus’ turn completely well-adjusted brothers into…Gollum from Lord of the Rings

But I’m older, wiser, focused, and hungry as hell.  I don’t know if I’ve ever told any of them this out loud, but one of the main reasons most of my inner circle became my inner circle is because at some point if I was out of pocket or messing with some girl who was out of pocket, they weren’t afraid to, uh, let their opinion be known.  The world is filled with negative people of course, but I feel very lucky to have found a few people who, when they call me out on something, I trust they’re looking out for my best interest, and not just flat out hating.

All of that is a long way to say I’m no longer half-assing on my acting talent, and I’ve made the commitment to find out if that is in the fact the door I need to use to establish myself in the Industry.  I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I would end this by saying ‘The sky’s the limit…”

But if I’ve learned anything in life so far, it’s that I still don’t really know what my limits are…

I returned to Los Angeles with a different mentality.  I love my craft and my artform more than I ever have.  Spending time separated from ‘Hollywood’ changed my outlook on the business though.  I wasn’t blind; I always knew it was a business, but I didn’t always treat it like a business.  I do now.  Two of my idols growing up were Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra.  Two of the best ever right?  But they both went through periods in their careers were they were considered straight up poison in the industry.  So I’ve always felt if it can happen to Brando and Sinatra, clearly it can happen to anybody.

My first years in L.A. were a perfect storm of a young bachelor in his 20s with a barn of oats that needed to be sowed.  The first Hollywood party I went to, a table of models, (literally, they were models) started cheesing at me as soon as I came through the door.  In the words of Henry Hill, how could I go back after that?  I can’t fault anyone, man or woman, who gets in the fast lane out here and decides to never settle down.  The married life has to be something you really want and are willing to put in the work to have (I know that’s true everywhere, but it seems to be moreso true here).

I know of course of L.A.’s rep as a superficial place, and I see (and despise) that side, but I see so much more.  If I had to give a single reason as to why I love it here, my reason would be there is no single reason.  I’ve been here almost a third of my life and I feel I haven’t even come close to doing all I want to do in this city.  When you first get here you get all the touristy stuff out of the way (Disneyland, Venice Beach, Rodeo Drive).  But then, like anywhere else, the unique things about the city become what you become invested in, and turn into your things.  You care about USC football or UCLA basketball, you know the names of all the Lakers, you get to the Getty once in a while, you take up golf because you can play it (or any other outdoor activity) pretty much year round.  L.A. becomes home.

The true sign of whatever ‘home’ is to you of course is the people you share it with.  There’s the people I sat in class with for two years of course.  Since leaving school, my Trojan family has extended in part through business and in part because of friends of friends.  The Colonel is here so I can still relive and occasionally recreate the Musketeer experiences of my 20s.  Antonio is here so I can talk about anything from USC to KU to the Chiefs to just growing up in Wyandotte in general.  And that’s not including my Muslim friends, my movie geek friends, the people I work with on a daily basis, and the women I can hang out with depending on the situation.  I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to be doing from weekend to weekend, I just know I’ll be doing something fun with someone I enjoy spending time with.  Why would I think of living anywhere else?

I fixed my financial situation.  In spite of my own actions at times, I managed to avoid being permanently tied to the Midwest.  It was time to focus my attention back on the Dream.

I may not have gotten married yet, but I wasn’t the only Musketeer who started thinking about the long term.  Our self proclaimed 4th Musketeer Linus left the Game first.  He was the last one out of KU and the first one with a wife, kid and a mortgage.  Go figure.  I will always remember this cat breaking down in tears as the procession began for his wedding.  I don’t say that to mock him; I just didn’t fully understand.  I asked him why it happened and he said it was the happiest day of his life.  It was a revelation for me.  I cried for a woman once, but I also recognized how foreign it still was to me to expect that level of happiness in my personal life.

Beavis married his longtime girlfriend next.  His bachelor party was the official end of the Three Musketeers.  I won’t repeat that whole story again, but in true Musketeer fashion, I will say champagne bottles were emptied, the cops got involved, and for the first and only time in my life, my parents saw me hungover.  Anyway, there was nothing left for me to do personally in Kansas.  The Colonel was in a similar boat, so we each made plans to head to the West Coast.

You almost never, and I mean never get a chance to make right things you did wrong previously.  It was the right attitude at the right time in my life, but I was in complete EFF YOU mode when I graduated from KU, thinking I would never be drawn back.  In the years since, the chip on my shoulder had disappeared.  I had good friends waiting for me in California, and I was leaving great friends behind in Kansas.  My family was, and is still healthy and intact (thank God).  We still check on each other on a regular basis.  The Musketeers took me out one last time for my personal going away bash; I ended up hurling on the Colonel while sitting in Mrs. Beavis’ car (sorry about that to both of you).  Alexis told me she was burning me some CDs for my long road trip; I didn’t realize some meant…50 at least!  But it was a long road trip and I ended up listening to all of them (muchas gracias Cunada). 

In returning to Kansas, I gained a bond with my family I didn’t have when I left.  I knew a lot of people when I graduated, and a lot of people knew me, but the bond built between most of my closest friends came after college graduation.  And I imagine most of those friendships will carry me through however much longer God decides to let me hang around.  I had lost a few good years professionally, but I gained a personal life.  All in all, I’d consider that a fair trade.

“This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object…You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness.  And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun.  I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”

The Joker, ‘The Dark Knight’

Life, I feel, is similar to the sports world in that rivalries can push you to a level you wouldn’t necessarily get to on your own.  The basis for any good rivalry is having two teams (or people) of relative equal stature pursuing the same goal.  They have to have enough similar qualities so one is not all out dominating the other, but at the same time they have to be different in some fundamental way that will always cause friction between them.

My rival and I are both die hard sports fans, and KU graduates.  We both fall outside of the traditional ‘black status quo’ and wear that outsider status like a badge of honor.  But I was born in Kansas City, while he comes from St. Louis.  I pledged Alpha, he pledged Kappa.  If I am ‘the Dark Knight’, then naturally he…

It’s hard to pick a single ‘event’ that turned our casual friendship into a rivalry.  I believe though it started with fantasy football, the first great post-college way for both of us to play into our competitive streaks (another similarity we share).  I will concede he may have won a title or two, which I know he’ll never let me forget in his trash talking ways…

But once the trash talking started, the floodgates really opened.  This cat decided to get married as I was entering the peak of my bachelor years, and Lord knows how many ‘marriage is for suckers’ cracks he got from me in the Musketeer’s glory days.  (This was obviously before Maria changed my entire way of thinking).  I still get a good chuckle thinking about the typical email he got from me during that first year or two of his marriage: “Well we’re heading to Miami this weekend.  I’ll be smoking hand rolled Cuban cigars and checking out this Puerto Rican bikini contest down on South Beach.  But please, let me know how that touring company production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at the Starlight turns out.  Can’t wait to hear it.” Heh heh, I had nothing personal against his wife (Alexis), but I loved stirring this cat’s hash…

Without question, what really pushed our smack talk into borderline “You know this cat’s annoying to the point where I’m not sure I like him” territory, was the announcement of a new Batman movie to be directed by Chris Nolan.  As everybody in the crew could tell you, inboxes were getting flooded with emails on a daily basis from me hyping the movie, which had been renamed “Malik Begins” just to irritate fools even further.  Like most casual people, the Joker was more than skeptical after the damn near franchise killing Batman and Robin, but I knew man, I knew.  When me, him, and Beavis came out of that theatre, even he had to admit the character was back on track.  You couldn’t wipe the ‘I told you so’ grin off my face for a month.

Anyway, as you can imagine, we’ve become more friends now than true rivals.  Though make no mistake we know exactly what buttons to push to get the other riled up instantly, so I guess we are still rivals.  But honestly, he’s one of the more reliable and trustworthy people I’ve met over the years.

He just won’t be allowed to speak at my wedding reception…

It may have been a side effect of maturity as well as the cultural connection, but as I was going through my ups and downs with Maria, I found I was no longer leaning on my boys for love advice as much as I was leaning on the women I had become friends with.  Chief among those women was Alexis.  We had known of each other in the college days, but I don’t remember if we ever had any conversations.  She ended up married to another of the guys from school who I became closer to after graduation (and we’ll get to him next chapter).  Anyway I figured with the Hispanic and the interracial aspects I was dealing with, she would be a good person to bounce my thoughts off of.  And she was, even though that particular relationship crashed and burned to the ground. 

I’m a little tongue in cheek here, but I wasn’t completely sure why she liked me initially.  She hates sports (especially the ones I’m passionate about), she despises the geek jokes I shoot back and forth with her husband on a regular basis.  Oh, and I, ahem, used to have a bad habit of calling her Mexican (which Maria was) even though I knew Alexis was from Guatemala.  (There really isn’t a black version of that joke is there?)  I’m just guessing here, but I think a few things played heavily into my favor.  One was of course, I became really good friends with her husband, who like me, is ‘not a regular black guy’.  Two was probably my interest in the senoritas, in particular when young Ms. Alba first appeared on the scene.  It would be a half serious/half running joke that would go on for years about my affection for Jessica.  We all went to go see Sin City together, and I remember as soon as those cheeks showed up on the big screen, I leaned down the row with a 32 tooth grin whispering “I love her” to Alexis.  (Coincidentally, this was the first time I remember her giving me the platonic version of the “You Idiot” face). 

The third thing which didn’t occur to me until recently is that, as the years have gone on, she’s probably picked up on my positioning myself in the ‘sensitive artist’ camp as one of my guys puts it.  I’m a direct descendant of Michael obviously, but in this day and age I can also connect my work to guys in music like John Mayer (who Alexis gets full credit for turning me on to), and in the acting camp guys like Johnny Depp (who even when he’s playing macho types always finds a way to make it vulnerable).  Now I might be wrong on that one, but since I know she loves those cats, I don’t think I’m way off either.

Anyway over time we’ve definitely ‘bonded’ in our own unique way.  Like my closest guys, we can talk a little smack to each other; I’ve confided in her some of the things only Mi Familia knows.  It’s funny in a way; Alexis is the perfect example of alot of the KU females I’m cool with now;  we were around each other for four years, never talked, then later on we just become really cool.  Such is life I guess.

Now her husband is a whole other story.  I’ll tell that one next time…

“So go on baby, make your little getaway,

My pride will keep me company, and you just gave yours all away

Now I’m gonna dress myself for two, once for me, and once for someone new

I’m gonna do some things you wouldn’t let me do, Oh!
 

I’m gonna find another you!

– John Mayer, “I’m Gonna Find Another You”

 

In my experience, there’s three Looks I can count in my relationships with women: the Handle This, the My Idiot, and the My Guy.  There’s no exact order, but it usually goes something like this:

Handle This: I dispise tests, and if I sense ‘games’, I don’t react well at all.  But that said, it’s a rite of passage, sometimes it’s physical, sometimes it’s financial, sometimes it’s emotional.  If I’m ‘under consideration,’ she wants to see me in action.  From my point of view, when it’s a woman I’m into, I love this part.  I’m old school like that. On the other hand, when a woman overestimates her importance to me and tries pulling this card…don’t ask.

My Idiot:  Usually she already has to be into me for me to get this Look, but there will come a point in time when I’ll do one of my quirky things and I can count on this one.  She puts up with my idiocy because she knows when it’s time to get serious, I’ll ‘handle it.’  For example:

Her: “Okay, your team lost.  Are you going to sulk the rest of the night?”

Me: (sulking)

Her: (sigh) You idiot…

Or how about this gem?

Her: “Please tell me you didn’t really dress up as Batman for Halloween last year.  You’re a grown man.”

Me: “Come on baby! A guy who dresses like a bat clearly has issues.  Yes.”

Her: (five second pause and sigh while she weighs this.  then finally) You idiot…

My Guy: basically a combination of the two earlier looks.  She knows she can count on me, she knows I’m a complete moron, and she digs me anyway.  I’m ‘Her Guy’.  Needless to say, I love when I recognize that one. 

So anyway, being back in Kansas meant turning my ‘radar’ back to off.  Putting my head in the sand and focusing on work, specifically finances.  I was working one of my anonymous jobs when I saw Her for the first time…

Thick, jet black hair, curly down to her shoulders.  Body of a track star (no surprise since she ran track in high school).  Soft spoken; the type of woman who knows she’s pretty but isn’t stuck on herself.  When she smiled…we’ll come back to that.

We exchanged smiles for a couple weeks in the hallway before I finally stepped to her.  Now, I’m not the ‘line’ type: even when I’m the aggressor, it comes out of natural conversation.  So I just said what I felt:

“Look, um, I haven’t been able to take my eyes off you since I saw you.  I think you’re the prettiest girl in here.

Can I take you out sometime?”

Now, she didn’t know me obviously, but she’d seen me around enough to know I’m not the type to say that to every pretty girl that crosses my path.  She giggled, said yes, and told me her name: Maria.  (I must have made a hell of an impression, cause after she walked away, the woman who saw her facial expression looked at me and started cheesing.)

Anyway from that first slight bit of reciprication, Maria was tattooed into my bloodstream.  Her father was German/Irish, her mother was Mexican.  If that sounds similar to a certain starlet I was obsessed with for years, you’re not that far off.  Maria was a few years younger than me, so the ‘Handle This’ moments came fairly early on.  (And I handled; boy did I handle). With her heritage and my film geekdom, it wasn’t long before I started throwing out my Tom Hagen jokes at her.  They were always good for a sigh, roll of the eyes, and a ‘You Idiot’ Look.  The first time she gave me the ‘My Guy’ look though I’ll never forget.  It was right after one of our ‘Handle This’ episodes; we were meeting up for ice cream.  Simple enough right?  But I’ll tell you, when she smiled at me, in that moment, it was as if the Sun had come into Baskin Robbins, split open my chest, and was shining directly into my heart.  Now you’re saying, Malik, that is by leaps and bounds the most simp statement you have ever made in your life.  And you’re right!  I was…in awe of having her; I felt beyond lucky.  You see, it’s not an exaggeration to say she turned me into Anakin Skywalker.

The End came suddenly.  She came to me with a new ‘Handle This’ situation.  I handled it, but not fast enough.  Now if she was truly the One, would we have handled it together, or at the very least would I have earned a little more leeway?  Of course, but these were lessons learned after the fact.  She left my life as suddenly as she entered it; no goodbye really, no thanks for the memories.  It may have been youthful arrogance, but I had always, always been able to get the things I absolutely had to have.  I had enough sense to know she wasn’t coming back, but I really couldn’t wrap my head around it.

The first step of course was denial.  You know the scene in Swingers when Mikey finally gets a number and calls the chick 25 times in 5 minutes?  Yeah I completely went there with Maria.  I prayed for her, but not in the way I pray for those I care about now (good health and happiness).  I’m a little embarrassed to admit I was Anakin praying: I need her.  Where is she?  Why isn’t she here?  She wasn’t coming back of course which led to, say it with me now, full blown depression.

Coming home for months without turning on the television, the radio, the lights.  Just sitting on the couch in silence and darkness until I fell asleep.  Going to the grocery store at 2 in the morning to avoid any ‘accidental run-ins’ because even though I accepted it was over, I wasn’t nowhere near ready to see her, especially if she was on another cat’s arm.  The movies were a favorite spot of course so I avoided the movie theatres altogether.  Wait, let me say that again…

One of the biggest film geeks you know did not go to the movies for 6 months, because of a woman.  A WOMAN!!!

The coup de gras is a story I’ve told before but becomes funnier/more tragic with the full context.  In the middle of a ‘lotion fast’ I was on, I was at Moms doing laundry.  P.M. Dawn’s “I’d Die Without You” came on the radio in the basement.  I was already a shell of a man; by the time the song got to the final “Is there anything that I would not do?”, my ass was curled up like a fetus in the hamper, wearing nothing but some tight ass boxers and dress socks, looking like I had been bathing in baby powder, trying to sing along between sniffles.  Now THAT my friends, is Rock Bottom!

The sun of course rises after the darkness.  The Musketeers both happened to be living in KC at the time; they eventually made the decision if I was going to sulk, I was going to do it in the club while I grinded on some new chicks.  The apartment I got for Maria and I to share just happened to be in the same complex as my old college friend Linus; it would be the catalyst for the adult portion of our friendship.  So I could get in good with Maria’s folks, I started asking for tips from one of my Latina friends; in time she would become the woman from KU I have the best relationship with.  So the worst heartbreak of my life is directly responsible for 80 percent of my inner circle.  Would I trade those four friendships to have her back?

YES!!!!  I’m kidding, I’m kidding.  Of course I wouldn’t.

But friendships aside, I still was coping with the pain of losing what at the time I thought was the One true love of my life. How did I compensate for probably caring too much?  Well, I just stopped giving a…

 

 

(Let me open this chapter by saying I almost certainly do more name dropping in the next few paragraphs than you will ever hear me do in a five minute conversation in real life.  Nature of the beast…)

Like any film geek worth his salt, I knew the names of the filmmakers who either graduated or were otherwise connected to the ‘USC Mafia’: Lucas, Spielberg, Singleton right off the top of my head.  My bootleg experiences had given me a rudimentary knowledge of how to make films; I honestly felt in undergrad I picked the basic knowledge of how to do that.  But I definitely didn’t know Hollywood: didn’t know how it worked, didn’t know how to get a project through the system, didn’t know anyone who could help me do these things. 

If I was forced to choose just one skill I picked up in grad school, it was relationship building, a.k.a. networking.  No one ever says it out loud, but my industry is not a meritocracy.  Don’t get me wrong, if it comes down to a Julliard trained cat with Broadway experience and some underwear model with no acting experience…um…bad example.  I don’t want to discourage the cat who was in my shoes many years ago; if you stay on your grind, push yourself to your limits, and constantly get your name out there, you will eventually create an opportunity of some type.  Even in Hollywood, persistence is rewarded (and somewhat mandatory).  My point though is the more people you connect to, the better off you are.  It was stressed to us very early to get to know the people to your left and right, because they will help shape your career.

USC is a great film school, and it’s unfair to say I didn’t pick up any new filmmaking tricks sitting in the classroom.  My craft absolutely picked up in my time spent in those halls.  But to come from the background I came from, what I was really paying for was ‘fraternity dues’ for lack of a better term…

Insider A: “Hey you ever heard of a Malik Aziz?”

Made Friend: “Yeah, I know Malik, he’s a friend of ours.”

You think I’m exaggerating?

My first mentor is now one of the hottest female screenwriters in town. (I won’t name her here, but for my non-Hollywood readers, I have a strong feeling you’ll start to become more familiar with her name in the next couple of years, if it takes that long).  Some of those guys ‘to my left and right’ have written top selling videogames and directed movies that have opened at the top of the box office.  Some have produced films that are already cult classics.  When I was 23 years old, I had my own office on a major studio lot, and was giving my script coverage every week directly to the head of the studio. (Another woman by the way; if I really did have any misogyny in me, it evaporated quickly simply by the constant support and interest shown in me by the numerous professional relationships I was finding myself in.)  Anyway, the studio job was cutting too much into my school time, so I had to find a new part time job.  And I did find one.  At the Playboy Mansion.  Catered lunches with the Bunnies, working on my thesis at night.  ‘Hollywood’, as my boys call me mockingly, was born.  If at that point I was becoming as smug and arrogant as I had ever been, could you really blame me?  I would never call myself ghetto, but in five years I had come a long way from Wyandotte County.  In two years, I had come a long, long way from Lawrence, Kansas. 

While I definitely feel I earned every opportunity that came to me, I was still nearly a year short of my 25th birthday when I got my Master’s degree.  It was, in retrospect, a little too much too fast.  I still had a lot of life experience to get under my belt.  I was fairly mature for my age, but I wasn’t remotely mature yet.  God works in mysterious ways of course. A strike shut down the industry the summer I graduated.  My student budget fell all the way back into the red.  With no money and limited options, I put my tail between my legs and headed back to Kansas. 

Limitless XV – Antonio

Everyone assumes that since we were born in the same city, five weeks apart, have well documented militant streaks and share a passion for the same artform, me and Antonio have been best friends since kindergarten.  In truth, we never even met each other until my senior year at KU.  But with the number of things we did end up having in common, it did become a rare ‘fast friendship’ that ended up working out.

It broke a cardinal rule we both believe in (letting someone get too close to you too fast) but out of necessity we were roommates our first year at USC.  We barely had anything but the clothes on our backs, but we rarely complained about it.  Cooking on the George Foreman grill was the height of luxury in those days.  We chose this life path, this career path, we knew the sacrifices.  Neither of us are overly materialistic; that was the first real bonding point I think.

The next one did in fact become the movies.  You might be saying, “Well obviously,” but it wasn’t that automatic.  There are all kinds of different genres and styles to choose from; as it turned out, we both love the gangster genre, with The Godfather Trilogy and Scarface both being personal favorites.  All it takes is a well-timed ‘Her womb is so polluted” or “Maybe I don’ hear so good son’tine” to get either of us going.  Those became inside jokes 1 and 2 of a shorthand that’s still growing to this day…

And also reflected a very similar sense of humor.  KU showed me the beauty of the hypothetical question to get to know someone better; me and Antonio took it to new heights with the ‘Worst Case Scenario’.  Although by my own admission, the last question inevitably ends up being some version of, “So Malik, what would you do if you were doing an interview on the red carpet at the Oscars, and Jack Nicholson just started hitting on your wife on national television?”  Antonio’s been married since I’ve known him essentially, so I always get some version of the ‘Mister Bachelor’ questions…

Along those lines, because of our shared history in Kansas City, Kansas, the University of Kansas, and the University of Southern Cal, aka Los Angeles, Antonio definitely has the most unique perspective on my personal history.  It usually breaks down like this:

Me: “Man I was in the cut and Mandy Moore was giving me the Look all night!”

Antonio: (no response)

Me: “Man we were in the salsa club and I was up on this Dania Ramirez clone til the lights came up!  I thought you would be getting The Call!”

Antonio: “That’s cool…”

Me: “So, Alicia (Keys) looked pretty nice in that dress…”

Antonio: “Didn’t she?!?  And she smells like cinnamon too!”

Heh heh, OK, I’m exaggerating (slightly), but nobody, and I mean nobody co-signs for the sisters I express interest in more than Antonio.  I asked him point blank (and he admitted) that he would like to see my professional loyalty and sense of responsiblity cross over in a direct way into my private affairs.  That story hasn’t reached its conclusion yet so we’ll see how that plays out.  (And for the record I’m not one of those Hollywood brothers who flat out refuses to date his own kind.  I play my cards close to the vest, but I think there’s enough ‘evidence’ about me out there that no one would ever accuse me of being, as my friend Beavis likes to call them, one of those straight hair brothas).  Anyway, when I’m not confiding in him about my personal ups and downs, we’ll usually talk about yet another passion we both share: sports.  Since we pretty much came from and went to all the same places, we get hype and celebrate with the Trojans, and we die every Sunday with the Chiefs. 

Like I said, we didn’t grow up together, but even I’ll admit sometimes it doesn’t seem that way.  Life is funny like that.

As a kid who grew up loving road trips, the 24 hour drive from Kansas City to Los Angeles didn’t phase me.  Having spent most of my years in either Kansas or Louisiana, I didn’t understand when people talked about how ‘flat’ these areas are.  Driving through Arizona and New Mexico gave me a new appreciation for God’s architecture at work.

Los Angeles…ten years after I first stepped foot here, I’m still finding new ways to fall in love with this city.  I’d been living here barely over a month when I realized I was waking up in the morning with a smile on my face.  Constantly.  I still had a lot of work to do of course, but a lot of the tension that had built up inside me over the years was starting to fade away.   Part of that tension of course was feeling like I had no margin for error to get to California.  Well now I was here, presumably for as long as I felt like staying.  As I started to relax in a psychic way, it played itself out in other areas, most notably my love life.  I notoriously made my rep as ‘one of the guys’ in Kansas, but now I could start the process of actively building relationships with women who interested me.  The most cosmetic change of course was dropping the ‘Clark Kents’ and wearing contacts on a regular basis.  The Spike Lee image had served its purpose in Kansas, but I’ve never had a woman approach me because she thought I reminded her of Spike (no disrespect to the brother).  Even with the L.A. climate, I have a hoodie or two in my closet, but my fashion sense started to pay more tribute to the amount of time I spend in the gym.  The ‘pretty boy’ gear as my partner calls it (Although he only uses that term because he knows my fraternal heritage and knows it pisses me off.  We’ll get to him next chapter.)

It didn’t take long for me to find my way to various hotspots, some world renown, some locally iconic, sometimes just kicking it with the right people on the right night.  One night when I was out on the Sunset Strip will always stand out.  She checks in on me from time to time, so I know she won’t mind me repeating this one (it is funny I guess), but it’s true I lost my ‘California virginity’ and my ‘earthquake virginity’ on the same night.  At the same time.  As you can imagine, after I told the boys back home that story it became an ‘instant classic’…

I hadn’t strayed too far from my ‘base’, and the first mosque I found was right across the street from SC’s campus.  I was still balanced out to a point.  But the Hollywood scene is so intoxicating, the connections I was starting to make gave my eyes and ears access to things I didn’t even know existed.

Speaking of which, in the middle of sowing my oats (literally), I had to go to grad school once in a while…