Where do I know you from? Highly mistaken identities in La-La land

In Los Angeles an utter lack of accomplishments is no barrier to claiming greatness, but beware that even mild questioning can spell the undoing of even the best cover story

Greetings from Los Angeles, California. A death in the family resulted in your correspondent suddenly finding himself in the other City of Angels this week.

Wednesday, a week ago, I was planning the myriad things I had to get done for the ensuing week. Thursday lunchtime I was on a plane to LA, still reeling from the news.

If only I were here under more favourable circumstances. Despite being an Australian I am a true Americaphile.

Even more bizarre is the fact I love Los Angeles, a city universally loathed by Americans themselves.

One of the reasons I love LA is that people are brazen in their deceit about who they are, especially around the West Hollywood area where I hang out because, well, that's the kinda guy I am.

Ask an LA native what they do and 35% say ''I'm an actor.'' A further 28% reply with ''I'm a writer/script writer,'' 13% say ''I'm a stand-up comedian,'' and 10% say ''I'm a casting agent.''

The remaining answer with professions directly related to the TV and movie industry such as wardrobe, set design, technical assistance and prostitution.

The matter-of-fact way they say it, too _ ''I'm an actor'' _ is the way you and I would say ''I have 10 toes on my feet.'' The eyes flutter and close briefly while the head nods just a little, as if this non-verbal language somehow adds credence to the lie.

That's when I swoop.

''Oh how interesting,'' is my stock answer. ''What would I know you from?''

This question _ ''What would I know you from?'' _ is something I learned to ask during my three-month stay in LA back in 2010. It reveals my evil side.

You see, everybody is an actor, director, or _ slightly down the food chain _ a script writer in LA. But nobody really is.

They are actually waiters, stretch limo drivers and Target staff all waiting for their lucky break.

I don't begrudge them for that. I, too, am waiting for Hollywood to call me to offer a co-starring role with Steven Seagal in the latest kung fu rehash to be shot in Thailand. It's just I don't go round trumpeting the fact.

''What would I know you from?'' is great because it immediately requires a backtrack along the lines of: ''Oh, well ... coming from overseas you probably wouldn't have seen me in anything ... I do mostly stage work around town.''

On this latest trip, a bearded gentlemen just aching for a Jenny Craig free trial voucher boldly answered: ''I was on Touched By An Angel. These days I mostly do ad work.''

This was in a Sunset Boulevard bar, so I excused myself, went to the bathroom and googled Touched by an Angel on my smartphone; the show ran from 1994 to 2003! Upon further interrogation he admitted he wasn't a regular. He had a speaking part in one episode in 1998. The ''ad work'' was voiceovers.

A speaking part from one single episode 15 years ago isn't going to help pay your rent through to the early days of 2013. Voiceover work isn't exactly lucrative either, even in Hollywood.

In the end he relented.

''I also do a bit of valet work to pay the bills,'' he said.

My favourite was a man I met at a function I managed to get into thanks to a friend of mine who happens to really, truly work in Hollywood.

It was in 2011, and I was introduced to a tall, friendly man with bleach-blond hair and a demeanour suggesting he would never perpetuate the family name.

''What do you do?'' I asked.

''I'm a jeweller to the stars,'' he replied.

Well he got me on that one. I was unable to ask my usual myth-buster question since it doesn't quite follow logically, does it? It didn't matter. He wasn't finished talking anyway.

''I find jewellery for well known names such as Uma Thurman, Amy Adams, Kristen Stewart ... bracelets and rings and necklaces,'' he added, as if he was concerned I didn't understand what jewellery was.

He waved his own, strangely unbejewelled right hand around as he spoke.

''I visit boutiques, usually around Rodeo Drive, and make selections,'' he continued. ''If the actors are happy with my selections, and more often than not they are, then I undertake the purchasing procedure.''

I made a mental note to teach that phrasal verb _ ''to undertake purchasing procedure'' _ to my Thai class upon my return to Bangkok, just in case any of my students were bored with ''to buy''.

This gentleman, being an American, spent a good 10 minutes talking about himself and what he does, including seeking out gowns and shoes for his glamour clients. As he spoke all I could do was muse on the Hubble telescope; it didn't require any further travel to establish the centre of the universe.

Then he did something natives of Los Angeles rarely do; he turned the conversation away from himself.

''And what do you do?'' he asked.

I was momentarily taken aback.

''Oh I work in the media in Thailand,'' I said, feeling a little like Samson up against a jewellery-encrusted Goliath. Then, a little sheepishly: ''Plus I run my own language school.''

Those seven words changed him irrevocably. He clutched at my forearm.

''You do? Oh my god! How wonderful! Do you have any work going over there?'''

''Well, yes,'' I said. ''I'm always looking for good native English speaking teachers. Not that you ...''

He put down his drink and moved into my comfort zone. ''Oh my goodness,'' he gushed. I was clearly his new best friend. ''I'd love to get work in Bangkok. You see I have this boyfriend _ gorgeous _ boy from the farming area ... What's it called? E-something?''

''Isan?'' I suggested and he was ecstatic.

''Yes! Isan. I met him in Pattaya and I visit him every year for the past three years. Lovely boy _ he's told me all about his family. He has a sick mother, poor thing, and the hospital bills are staggering and I've even helped him out myself at times.''

''Undoubtedly,'' I said.

''So, if I got myself over there could you give me a job?''

I wondered how anybody could give up Uma Thurman and Amy Adams for a 500 baht an hour teaching job in Thailand (The back of Kristen Stewart, it goes without saying, would be a welcome sight for anybody).

Then I remembered. This is Tinsel Town. He's a jeweller to the stars as much as I'm a counsellor to the current Thai government.

When I spend extended periods of time in Los Angeles I find myself playing the fame game too. ''I'm a national celebrity in Thailand,'' I once caught myself saying before excusing myself, going to the bathroom and forcing my head into the toilet bowl while flushing it.

I did preface all this by saying how much I love Los Angeles, mainly for the people I know there, and sadly there is one less of those beloved people as of this week.

Despite my infatuation I am just intelligent enough to acknowledge three things that are very, very wrong not with Los Angeles only, but with America as a whole.

Two of them I have covered in this column already, namely the healthcare system and gun laws.

The third? Ah, but I have run out of space. It will have to wait till next week, but hold that thought about the valet park attendant. He's back in this column again next week _ with his hand out.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Andrew Biggs
Position: Writer