(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/06/lovers_holding_hands.gif)Many years ago when I was a struggling actress/single mom, I sometimes had to pay for gas with a handful of pocket change, which usually meant I wouldn’t eat lunch that day. It was rough juggling bills, trying to deem which collector was worthy of my hard-earned cash, and who would have to wait an extra week or so. I was constantly working at least two jobs, and in-between work I was also going on auditions, taking acting classes, working as an extra and/or doing commercials–whatever it took to bring in enough money to survive.
It never occurred to me to get on food stamps, although I probably could have qualified. I just worked and worked and worked.
Even back in ’96 when I gave up acting, Hollywood was a very different town. There was no such thing as “reality shows,” no chance at instant fame-for-no-real-reason. No one had computers, digital cameras, or easy access to printers so maintaining an actor’s always-needed inventory of headshots and updated resumes was expensive and time-consuming.
Times were tough for me back then, but I cannot imagine how much more difficult it is for young actors in the entertainment industry today. Despite their technological advantages, at almost $5 per gallon the gas alone would’ve wiped me out for good, and having to compete with people like Snookie for work? Sigh.
Two of my most favorite 20-somethings know these difficulties firsthand because they are living the artist’s life here in Los Angeles.
I’m calling them “Sam and Ellie” to protect their identities; both work in very liberal areas of show business and they could potentially lose their jobs if I named them.
Sam and Ellie live in an old 1920s apartment building near downtown Los Angeles. They are within walking distance of some amazing Asian restaurants and know the best places to get interesting and very cheap food, including a rotating sushi bar with ‘happy hour’ sushi at $2 per plate. They’ve learned that the cheapest grocery stores are the Mexican and Asian markets, and they save up all their quarters to use at their local laundromat.
Like many 20-somethings of the past few decades, they eat lots of Top Ramen noodles (“spicy beef is the best”) and know every item on every “dollar menu” in town.
Sam has lived in Los Angeles most of his life other than a few years in New York. In high school, he was in an award-winning choir with several now-famous movie and TV stars. He was also briefly an actor but instead fell in love with all things behind-the-scenes and he is currently working in production, with aspirations of being a screenwriter and director. In his spare time, he creates short films and videos, including visuals for Ellie’s music.
And speaking of Ellie…
Ellie is Sam’s lovely and ultra-talented 23-year old girlfriend. Her single mother (now deceased) was once a famous author so Ellie grew up traveling all over the world.
One word to sum up Ellie would be “Musician” with a capital “M.” She plays classical guitar and writes, composes and produces all her own original music. Ellie has gotten everything she has completely on her own, without any help from big Hollywood manager-types or rich family members.
Despite the fact that Sam and Ellie work in the entertainment industry, they are both very strong conservatives. Their beliefs could literally be a detriment to their line of work, yet they still try to sneak off to listen to Rush Limbaugh and Larry Elder in their cars when they can and they avoid talking about politics in public. Neither can afford to lose any work in such shaky, unsure times.
I ask what their biggest difficulties are living in Los Angeles and both say “money.”
“It’s so hard to keep up,” Sam says, looking down at his hands. “No matter how hard we try, how hard we work, we’re still barely getting by.”
“If I get some great gig and make a big chunk of money,” Ellie says, “by the time we pay our rent and buy food and fill up our cars, it’s gone. Completely gone. It gets beyond frustrating at times, makes you wonder if it’s all worth it.”
Sam puts an arm around her, adding, “Yeah, but I’ve seen you play crowds of 5,000 people, and you see fans that traveled hundreds of miles to hear you sing….”
“I know, you’re right,” Ellie says with a smile. “Yeah, that’s when I know I’m doing the right thing.”
I ask them about politics. They are very passionate about their conservative values and equally passionate about what Republicans are doing wrong.
“Young people are fed up of with hearing ‘left and right’, ‘Democrat and Republican’—all of it gets tossed up like a salad and ends up just making you angry and confused,” Sam says. “You guys have to find a way to get the message across that this is all about our money. All of it comes down to money, and who exactly is taking our money away from us.”
Sam believes all the conservative-speak about taxes and small government is lost on most young people today.
“Talking about their future and how their ‘grandchildren will have to pay’ is pointless when you don’t believe you have a future to look forward to in the first place,” Sam says.
“When I’m in restaurants I talk to the real people—the waiters and busboys– and ask if they’re doing better now than they were four years ago,” he says. “Almost every time, they say ‘no’. They tell me about someone in their life, either themselves or their parents or their friends, who are either homeless or jobless and looking for work. This is the worst it’s ever been in my life, and I’ve had a very rough life.”
Ellie adds, “My friends love Obama. They talk about how he’s going to save us all. They say he’s the only politician who’s ever cared about them…”
Sam animatedly says, “And that’s the problem, right there! Obama’s got ‘the message’ and it’s very, very simple: ‘I will help you.’ It doesn’t matter whether he can actually do it or not, and it doesn’t even matter if he’s the reason their lives suck—he comes across as the only person who can or will help them … [Conservatives] ha[ve] to find a way to get the message across in simple terms, without a lot of words and rhetoric – that [they]’re the ones who can actually help you … But so far no one’s been able to do that.”
“The old-school Republicans are what turned so many people our age off,” says Ellie. “After the Bush years, people hated Republicans. Hated them. They hated anyone that even looked like a Republican.”
“We know who the Democrats really are, what they stand for, what they’ve done,” Ellie says. “But most kids our age just don’t know these things—no one is telling them in a way that makes them listen.”
Sam says, “Look at the Occupy Movement and what a screwed up bunch of people that was—even they couldn’t explain what they wanted. They’re hearing so many mixed messages, so many lies on TV and in college and they don’t know who or what to believe anymore. And until someone finds a way to get through to them, they’re unfortunately the future—and this cycle is going to keep going on and on until there’s nothing left of our country.”
When Sam and Ellie leave, I feel a combination of sadness and hope for them. They have more than most because they have each other; their love exudes all around them. But can they make it in such a crazy, backwards town and in this grim, volatile economy? As they drive away I notice a “Who is John Galt?” bumper sticker on their car. I smile.
With kids like this in California, I have hope that things are not as lost as they sometimes seem.
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