Karl: Alright, we’re here with James Curran, local jeweler and entrepreneur, it’s March 23rd, 2010, and we’re here at Hamburger Mary’s.
James: Is the sound going to be okay with this background sound?
Karl: Yeah, it works here, I’ve interviewed here before, it works really well actually. *pause* Okay, well… tell me your occupation.
James: Okay… Well, I’m a jack-of-all-trades. Actually, I have several occupations, and here, I’m going to be honest with you, so you understand the scope of how I pay my rent, how I create my life…
Karl: Lemmie here it.
James: Well, I work for the government. I work for the IHSS, which is the In-Home Supportive Services. That’s a state-supported organization that… I’m like a nurse basically. I take care of people with disabilities, who are disabled, and that’s how I get paid. That’s how I pay my rent, that’s how I eat, put gas in my car, go out and have fun. And since I do that at home, and since I live with my client, that kind of frees me up to be creative, so I’m running my eBay store, and my website, from the internet, and that’s extra income for me as well. And I use several other websites to sell merchandise. I’m a “sales person,” I can sell anything basically. Right now I’m selling a mercedes, I sell very high-end jewelry, Tiffany, Aramis, Cartier, Dunhill, Bvlgari, and my own line of jewelry.
Karl: It sounds like that’s going well for you.
James: That’s going well, even in a bad economy. Because I have no overhead anymore, after all that, its like, you know, everything’s taken care of for me, I have all my ends covered. Some of my neighbors are jealous, they think “Oh, you don’t pay any rent.” No… That’s not true… No, I work for the IHSS, In-Home Supportive Services it’s called.
Karl: How large an organization is that? I mean, how many of you are there in West Hollywood?
James: There’s 150,000 people. Oh, in West Hollywood? I don’t know, there’s a total of like 150,000 people in LA County who are In-Home Supportive Services. I just had a meeting with them, a month ago. Because now they’re tightening the grips on all those people. They force us to get finger-printed, and you have to show your ID, your social security number, and you cannot have a criminal background or anything like that. Because they get people stealing welfare checks and all sorts of scams.
Karl: When did you move here?
James: To Los Angeles?
Karl: Yeah, are you a native?
James: I moved here in 1979 from Phoenix, Arizona. Believe it or not, I moved here to go surfing, because that was like, my dream. In 1979, I said, “Oh I’m going to move to California, I’m going to go surfing!” I lived in Phoenix, and I lived in New York City before that. I left New York City in ’74, and I moved to Phoenix, I had a job… Diamonds department stores. I designed for them. And when I got to Phoenix, the job had fallen through, and I decided, “Well, I’m not gonna move back.” So what was really interesting was, I got into a whole other business… I got into hotel management… becoming a chef! I studied under a French chef for like 3-years – at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. The hotel was like, right down the street from me, where I lived, because I had a place there at 24th and Camelback Road, and so I thought, “I’ll just, get a job at the hotel,” you know, so I spent 3-years there studying to be a chef, and I really enjoyed the business.
Karl: So when you came out here in ’79, is that what you were doing?
James: No, when I came in ’79, I of course, had saved a lot of money, I had a boyfriend and everything, I drove down… came into LA… I remember I brought a whole giant U-haul truck with my stuff, I had a whole truck-load of antiques… art deco antiques, ’cause up to that point I had collected like high-end art deco, and all kinds of really cool stuff. I made a fortune when I came into town here, oh my God. In the first day, I must’ve come up with like $3,000, and I got my apartment in Santa Monica Canyon on West Channel Road. Boom! I knew where I wanted to live, right there, I wanted to live right on the ocean. And I didn’t work for the first two years that I was here.
Karl: Seems like a lot of people here have that kind of story. Well the actors and producers and everything, they work like crazy for a few months and then they don’t have to work again ’till the next year.
James: I was hot back then. I was young, I was good-looking. After two years I decided to go back to work, I decided to go into furniture sales. Harvey, a guy by the name of Harvey, who’s still around… This is funny because Harvey owns a huge warehouse of movie props in The Valley. Back then in the ’70s and ’80s, he had stores all over LA, “Harvey’s Art Deco.” And he had a store there on Main Street, across from the boulangerie restaurant, it used to be like a supermarket, but he turned it into, like a furniture super-market or art deco, rattan furniture stuff. And so my clients, right-away ended up being like movie-stars, like Jane Fonda, they all used to come in there and I used to sell them like rattan furniture and all kinds of stuff. That was my first job here. That was like 1980.
Karl: What do you like to do in your free time?
James: In my free time? What’s “free time?” I’m a workaholic, I run a business.
Karl: Type A personality?
James: I work a lot.
Karl: Do you like to go to the movies?
James: Yeah, I go to the movies.
Karl: You liked Avatar?
James: I like big-budget movies.
I like the Grove.
Karl: Yeah, I like it over there too. We take the kids over there, they love it for the people watching. *Pause* Well, I’m glad you’ve been here so long. Tell me… Compare then to now, tell me how the place has changed up to today.
James: Well, since it became a city, they’ve cleaned it up, they keep it very clean. Its a very clean city, I have to admit. They clean the streets and the sidewalks.
Karl: It hasn’t always been that way?
James: They need to like, maybe, I don’t know, I’m not crazy about some of my neighbors, they still… I mean they put the little boxes with the dog things with the plastic bags and stuff, and we still get the neighbors, who are like, not using it, like… “What’s going on here?” So I don’t know, they need to like, have people training.
Karl: How ’bout the social scene here? You were saying you used to go out a lot…
James: I go out a lot, once a week.
Karl: Has that scene changed much? As the city gentrifies, do you find that the social climate changes, that the crowd changes?
James: Its the younger generation now. Its a younger generation, they have different values than when I grew up. I noticed one thing about, because I’m a gay man, that the young guys who are here, they don’t necessarily… When I grew up, I hung out with older guys. I don’t know what it is, that was like the hip thing to do, especially back in like New York City, all my friends were like, older, much older. And out here, the guys, they kind of frown on that, they wouldn’t be seen with an older guy. But, at the same time, these young kids, they have nothing going for them, is what I see. A lot of them are like, lost, shallow, they have nothing going… Its really sad.
Karl: What do you think they’re doing here? They’re just here to party, or discover themselves, or they don’t even know?
James: Well, definitely, LA is very transient. People come and go. I’m sure a lot of people come here and they go back to their little home town, mommy and daddy or whatever. I mean, its been that way my whole life. You make friends, they’re here today, and they’re gone tomorrow.
I see a younger generation here, and everyday, younger kids coming into town, growing up, coming to fruition.
Karl: Are you dating anyone now? Are you single?
James: No, I’m single. I’m very… I have to know people before I even bring them home, you know, I’m over all that stuff. What’s important to me is my business. Its better to be free than locked down.
*tries the fried string beans*
Karl: Do you get to surf? Do you still surf?
James: When I go to Hawaii I go wind-sailing. You gotta try that.
Karl: That looks really difficult.
James: Its not, its really easy.
Karl: Where did you used to go out and where do you go out now?
James: I bar hop. I just go everywhere.
Karl: Give me an idea of… what? Every week you go somewhere new?
James: I don’t go to anyplace new. I go downtown… I say “downtown” like Robertson area. *points down Santa Monica Blvd. toward Robertson* You know, like the Abbey, the Mother Lode, Rage, Mickey’s, Trunks.
Karl: All the classics.
James: Yeah. I usually go out Saturday night, and if I don’t go out Saturday, I go out Sunday.
Karl: Have you tried, Gym? G-Y-M?
James: No, I’ve never heard of that.
Karl: Its a new gay-sports bar.
James: Where’s that?
Karl: Its used to be Normandie Room, and its down a ways past the gym.
James: I think I vaguely read about it.
Karl: Yeah, the Abbey is fun.
James: The only thing about the Abbey is… A lot of, sort of, like, fake people… And to be honest with you, the last time I was at the Abbey, I felt like I was George Orwell, going through, into the time machine, because this is literally, I swear to God, everyone was like frozen in the place, and I was like running through, like, speeding through a place where like, everyone was frozen. And I’m like, “Shit! What’s going on here?” Time, like, stood still. But you know what I realized? I believe this too… There’s a thing, like a vortex in the Earth, a magnetic pull, sometimes the polarity changes. And I think, where the Abbey is, that’s where this polarity thing is going on. I know that sounds a little crazy. I experienced it so big, you have no idea. I was like, “Oh my God, everyone’s like, I’m like going through time!” I was like, a little scared to be honest with you. I was like, “Oh my God, I have to get out of here!” The people, they stand around, they pose, they’re really good-looking guys, they’re all like, posing… And spending A LOT of money for a stupid little drink. Its like, “What are you doing?” Its a nice place and its a central meeting ground.
Karl: Give me your opinion of the general attitude of West Hollywood these days.
James: You know what? Since the economy changed, the general attitude has changed. People are a little more humble, and a little more down to Earth, I’ve noticed. They’re not as snotty, because they realize, “Oh, we don’t have any money anymore, we can’t be snotty.” Yeah, no shit. I notice that a lot.
Karl: Where do you see that?
James: Everywhere. Because before they used to be really snotty, and you know, fucked up. Now, things have changed a lot. Peoples’ attitudes have changed. They’re friendlier. People are learning how to be friendly, not pretentious, they’ve opened up a little more because they’ve realized, “Well we need to, like, expand our horizons.” I’ve noticed that. And I noticed because, you know, I’m a 55-year-old man. Who wants to talk to an old queen like me?
Karl: But now everybody’s cool about it.
James: Well, its a combination of things. I’ve sort of, got my act together a little better.
Karl: Well, tell me about that. How was your act before, and how has it improved?
James: Well, I’m much more health-conscious now.
Karl: When did that happen?
James: A couple years ago. And I just decided… You know, I used to smoke cigarettes, and I used to smoke pot, and I just decided, “You know what, I’m going to stop all that.” I used to be an athlete, I used to be very athletic, in high-school, I was the fastest runner in my whole high-school. I used to play soccer, and racquetball. I kicked ass!
Karl: Are we better off now? Has the place evolved for the better, or for the worse?
James: West Hollywood?
Karl: Yeah. Are we going in the right direction? Are you happy with the direction the city’s going?
James: The city is maintaining itself in a very good direction. I know they’re having some problems with too much political construction going on. They’re knocking down buildings, and putting up these multi-story town homes, they say, what’s the word they use… “affordable housing.” There’s always problems with the affordable housing projects that this city creates. And we know that the underlining reason why the city wants to create this is because it creates revenue for the city, plus they can tax, and they got the construction people paying them permit fees, and all this kind of shit. Of course they want to knock down everything and build new buildings and things, especially if some new company comes in. You know, this lot right here for example… *points at Irv’s Burgers* A coffee company wanted to come in and put a high-rise coffee place up here, they wanted to buy Irv’s Burgers and all that. Instead it all back-fired on them. Everybody protested. And then Irv’s became a historical landmark. I don’t know why. And I don’t care.
Karl: Would you like to see a subway go through the Beverly Center?
James: Actually I would, yeah, but it’ll never happen. Beverly Hills doesn’t want it. You know, I used to be the Art Director for the Beverly Hills Courier newspaper, so I know March Schwartz, and I know Beverly Hills politics, I was living it for a couple years. It’ll never happen. Beverly Hills would never want a subway anywhere near Beverly Hills. They don’t want that kind of stuff, and I don’t blame ’em really. It’ll happen, but the corridor will probably be like, Olympic Blvd.
Karl: I’ll take that.
James: It’s cool. It’ll go to the beach. That’s the final subway.
Karl: Well, you can get to the beach now, but its like 3-transfers.
James: The subway?
Karl: Well, the subway goes to the train, which goes to Redondo Beach.
James: I like Redondo, I used to live there, Redondo and Torrance. I lived there the year the Redondo Pier burned.
Karl: Oh wow.
James: I was there, yeah. I was working for an advertising agency on Western and Torrance, and I saw on the new, “Oh, the Redondo Beach is burning!” So I went… I took photographs of it, I have photographs of Cattlemen’s Restaurant falling into the water. *pause* I used to go to the library there. I moved there to sort of, get out of Santa Monica.
Karl: What would you like to see more of in Weho and what would you like to see less of?
James: Well… *thinks* I can’t really say I’d like to see any less or more of anything. I would certainly encourage more businesses. I mean if you look nowadays, every other place is for lease. Go down La Cienega Blvd., so lets get the businesses back, you know, which would be restaurants and bars or whatever.
Karl: You think the real estate’s over-priced?
James: Its way over-priced.
Karl: I guess, even though people have come around and they’re being more friendly and everyone realizes they have no money, businesses aren’t realizing that?
James: *sips fish-bowl bloody mary* What’s the question now?
Karl: People may be becoming more friendly, and realizing they have no money, and becoming more humble as you were saying earlier, maybe the business owners and property owners are not adopting that mentality? I only ask that because I look at some of the condos that are available for sale here and people are still asking completely outlandish prices for them, even though its like, “Wake up people, the economy’s fucked, the housing market’s fucked, you can’t still ask that price for a 1-bed condo anymore.
James: Actually, I’m glad they’re doing that, it keeps the trash out.
Karl: *laughs* Well, that’s one way to look at it.
James: You know… there’s this old adage, or concept, people think that gay people are rich, which in a certain kind of a way, its true because they’re not supporting children, or a wife, or what have you, so I think they’re counting on gay dollars, gay rich dollars.
Karl: “Some gay guy will buy this.”
James: Some gay guy will buy it, ’cause, you know… I think that’s what’s happening. They’re still hanging out, they’re still waiting for the economy to turn around but that’s not what I heard. The economy is not going to turn around that quick. Its gonna be pretty bad for the next 20-years. Its gonna take that long.
Karl: Well, where do you see West Hollywood, 10, 20-years from now?
James: The whole United States is at a stand-still. Like, we could see a second wave of like, more shit coming down, more mortgages being lost, more houses defaulting. I mean look at Greece for example, they’re going to default soon, go back on their own monetary system, and then we’ll have to like bail them out. They’ll go off the Euro, what that’s gonna do is, that’s going to cause a reciprocation so that our money will become more valuable, the dollar will increase but, that’s gonna domino, and then Spain’s gonna be next, then all these other countries. We’re in a very tenuous time in the whole situation here. Its very kind of scary. But what it comes right down to is, what are you gonna do? Nothing. What can everyone do? Nothing. People will still eat, and wipe their ass. But we’re going to go back to where we were 40-years ago, 20-years ago. I saw it all coming when the prices were going up, escalating, up up up, millions of dollars for houses, a little shack and everyone wanted millions of dollars for it. Its like, wait a minute, what’s happening here? It’s, like, really crazy.
Karl: I’ve watched the Hancock Lofts go up over there, and the others over there by the gas station…
James: I like those lofts.
Karl: They’re beautiful, gorgeous. Do you think our whole neighborhood will evolve into that? Do you think it will stay as the quaint West Hollywood that we know today? I mean in 20-years, do you think that lot *points at Irv’s Burgers* will become that high-rise?
James: Well, nothing lasts forever, and certainly the quality of construction deteriorates. I mean, the Empire State Building is gonna fall apart in another hundred years. They’re gonna have to replace the Empire State Building in New York City. The steel, iron breaks down, its just a fact, a scientific fact. All those high-rises in New York City, they all will fall. It’s, like, you know… *evil maniacal laugh* Everything has to be replaced. But yeah, sure, definitely it’ll go on and on, and you’ll see people selling out, is what they do, they sell out.
Karl: “I own Irv’s Burgers but I’m done with it now…”
James: “I’m old and I’m retiring, and I’m dying, or whatever… Gimmie the money and, bye-bye.”
James: Just a general feeling from what you’ve been asking me… I don’t see any great changes within the next 10-years, really. Everything should remain the same really.
Karl: Are you happy?
James: I’m happy. I’m happy with myself. I’m happy.
Karl: You’re not going anywhere?
James: You know what, I can go anywhere I want. I can go back to New York, I can stay here, I can go to Hawaii, I have friends all over, they’d all love to have me.