Karl: Today is the ninth of September, 2010. I’m here at Asakuma Rice with?
Karl: What’s your occupation?
Mike: I’m a video game designer.
Karl: Current relationship status?
Mike: Married… Currently expecting.
Karl: Nice, congratulations. How far along is she?
Mike: *thinks* Nine or ten weeks, I think. Something like that.
Karl: When’s her birthday? And when’s your anniversary?
Mike: Her birthday?
Karl: *laughs* I’m just kidding.
Mike: The 25th of June… Asshole.
Karl: Impressive. I always have to look at my wedding band… at my cheat sheet.
Karl: Paint a little picture of yourself for me, what you do in your free time, what are your hobbies, what do you like to do outside of work?
Mike: I play video games a lot, ’cause I dig ’em, and also for research. I go out dancing and stuff with my friends, go out to parties and clubs. I’m not too into the Hollywood “Glam-scene” but we get out to some underground parties with artists and stuff like that. We hang with a pretty cool artist community that I dig, and get lots of inspiration from.
Karl: Are you a hipster, a punk? How would you classify yourself?
Mike: Kind of a hipster I guess, a little bit, because I do attempt to be cool. *laughs* But maybe without overdoing it. I guess I’m a casual hipster. *laughs*
Mike: Yes, part-time.
Karl: And then part-time corporate sheep?
Mike: Yeah, I work a 9-to-5’er so… Well, or 9-to-9’er… Fucking games.
Karl: What brought you here?
Mike: I moved here with my wife, who wasn’t my wife at the time. She moved down here to work with her sister. We were dating and it was going great, and I always wanted to get into video-games, and I wasn’t going to do that in Eugene, so uh… She was movin’ to LA and I said, “Hell yeah, I’m coming with you, and I’ll try to get into games, and you can work with your sister, and we’ll… still date. *laughs*
Karl: So what were you doing when you came here? You weren’t yet in the video-game industry.
Mike: I was a web designer at that time, and I had contract work at this place, so I came to LA with about 3 or 4 months of contract work. So during that time I started to learn one of the game-making tools, it’s called Radiant. So I started to learn that, and then eventually I got a job as a tester, and then gradually kinda worked my way into the industry that way. Since I knew Radiant, I went to work for a company that I knew was using Radiant, and I just asked for all their junk work that they didn’t want to do. So I was basically their junior design bitch.
Karl: Well, it worked, I guess.
Mike: Yep. Foot in the door anyways.
Karl: What type of places do you go on a typical Saturday?
Mike: There’s a couple places around town that throw parties, one of them is called “Area 33” right now, its down in Culver City, sort of a cool, studio art space.
Karl: This is evening or day?
Mike: Evening. The party starts at about 10 or 11 or whatever and then goes ’till 6 a.m. *sips beer* And I don’t know, there’s a couple other events that people throw around town, semi-monthly, or every other month or so.
Karl: And you sleep during the day?
Mike: *laughs* Basically. It depends how late we go out.
Karl: I’m jealous.
Mike: Well… That’s all ending. *laughs* So you have nothing to be jealous of.
Karl: Yeah. You better go out a lot!
How long have you lived here?
Mike: Since September 11th, actually, 2001. We got to California on September 11th, spent the night in Stockton and got to LA on the 12th.
Karl: Can you describe some of the changes you’ve seen over the time that you’ve been here, if any?
Mike: Hollywood’s gotten nicer. They’ve continued to improve that, and kind of de-slum it. The city’s getting built up, you know.
Karl: Well, let’s go through where you’ve lived over the last ten years.
Mike: I started on 3rd and Sweetzer. It’s kind of between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, tucked in there over by the Beverly Center. Lived there for a few years and then moved over to Citrus Ave. over by Olympic. That was really residential, there was nothing to walk to… Well, we could walk to Rosco’s. We were there for maybe another two years. And then moved down to Long Beach for a year. That was because I got a job down in Newport Beach. But my wife still had to work up in Hollywood, so Long Beach kind of put us in the middle. And that place sucked. Long Beach was full of families, and people were just focused kind of inward, instead of the massive creative upwelling in Hollywood. Everybody in Hollywood is trying to do something cool, or trying to be somebody, or really trying to do something. And I definitely noticed that when I went to Long Beach, people did not have that attitude. And I really missed it. I was like, “Holy crap, everyone here is just sort of sitting in their own job and doing whatever they’re doing.”
Mike: Yeah, way more complacent. Up here, everyone’s like, trying… trying to do something.
Karl: Everybody’s a slasher, right? Actor slash model, game-designer slash entrepreneur.
Mike: Totally… *sips beer* So after Long Beach we moved back here, over in the Cahuenga Pass area over by the Hollywood Bowl, off of Barham.
Karl: What changes have you seen in all these places that you’ve lived? Have you seen anything different since back then?
Mike: Well, we have changed, so the places that we go hang out at have changed. I don’t know, I couldn’t really compare the Saddle Ranch crowd to what it used to be. But when we got here, I was going to the Hollywood clubs, the Sunset Strip, Barfly… You know…
Karl: Which now sucks by the way.
Mike: Does it?
Karl: All those places up there. Well the city has a whole Sunset Strip Beautification effort going on.
Mike: Oh really?
Karl: Yeah, it’s gone downhill.
Mike: Yeah, but even then, it will still be… I mean, I’ve just kind of moved on from the whole, “I want to go somewhere fancy.” I’m just kinda getting tired of that. Honestly, I go to places now to see my friends. Not really to go be seen, but more just, “Oh… We got a bunch of friends going to that party, let’s go to that party.” So I don’t know, we go to like, improv nights where our friends are performing, or DJ nights when one of our friends is DJ’ing. Stuff like that. Way more small, almost local feeling parties and events. I almost never go to something fancy, where there will be a line, or anything like that.
Karl: I hate that.
Mike: It’s so not worth it anymore.
Karl: You’ve been talking about all your friends, what sort of people do you hang out with now? You mentioned artists earlier?
Mike: A lot of performance artists. My wife’s a performance artist, so we’ve met a lot through her. *thinks* Yeah, I’ve never really created a ton of good friends from work. I’ve always kind of kept them at a distance a little bit. There’s some people that I get along with, will go watch football with or whatever, but broadly I would say mainly the performance art community around LA – fire dancers and… other dancers.
Karl: That’s a fun crowd… an attractive crowd.
Mike: Yeah. They’re awesome ’cause all parties have like tons of entertainment because everybody’s just acting out and being cooky. But there are times where you’re just like, “Okay, you guys, like fucking shut up, I have something to say for a few minutes.” But, ’cause you know, they’re all actors and performers, they totally want the spotlight. And then when you get a lot of ’em together, they compete with each other for the spot light, which leaves a non-actor a little bit like, “Um… Okay.”
Karl: In the corner.
Mike: Yeah, like, “Listen up!”
Karl: How do you feel about the changes that you’ve gone through then?
Mike: I feel great, honestly. When I first got to LA, I was really worried about what it would be like. I had only seen the glitz and the glamour sheen on LA. Since we got here and have scratched beneath that surface, we’ve found very real, grounded people, doin’ their thing here in LA. Oh, another thing that has changed is my mindset as far as business opportunities and entrepreneurialism. When I first got here, this city was so big and overwhelming, I was just like, “Holy crap, can I even live here?” And then I found my niche, and got a good job and started making some money and stuff, and I felt like, “Sweet, here I am, I’m arriving in LA, I live here, this is my town now.” Now… I’ve almost like dug down even deeper, I’m starting to see that there’s a ton of opportunity here. I mean, I used to think that there’s a ton of opportunity to go get hired, and “do” whatever you want to go do, but now I’m starting to see that there’s more opportunity to go make what you want to do, like go make a company, go get funding from people because there’s so much money in this town. You have the opportunity to think way bigger than you’ve ever thought before, and go create more than you’ve ever thought before. I’m starting to train my mind to think bigger than I ever thought I could before.
Karl: Yeah, well you meet so many people who have done it, that it makes it feel completely attainable.
Mike: Yep. Like, in Eugene, I didn’t know a single person with a million dollar house. But here, some of our friends have two million dollar houses, and they made all their money themselves just by creating a project, and then getting funding, and having a successful business. And that kind of thing just makes you think, “Holy cow, they did it! I can go do that!” So now I start to think almost beyond my station, whereas before I was like, “Oh, I’m middle class, that’s about all I’ll get.” So, I don’t know… I’ve started to kind of change my mind a little… Or at least expand it.
Karl: So LA has been a good thing?
Mike: *sips beer* Mmm hmm, big time.
Karl: I do too. It took awhile for that to come around, but I do.
Mike: We’re you still tied to New York?
Karl: Yeah, I was just bitter about this city in general. I didn’t like having to drive and… You know, I think people, especially from the East coast, come here with this very defensive attitude, like wanting to defend the East coast, and be like, “LA sucks ’cause of blah blah blah,” and “It’s not as good as blah blah blah.” But like, once you kind of chill out and realize all the things you just described… And then you take into account the weather too… It’ s a really great city. I mean there’s certainly plenty to bitch about, but…
Mike: Well, you just kind of learn to blow it off. All the glitzy, glamour, hollywood self-important, self-centered bitches on their cell phones in their SUVs and stuff, I just blow ’em off now. I’m just like, “Wow, you can yap at me, you can give me the finger, you mean nothing to me. Run along little blonde.” *laughs* “You waif!”
Karl: I like to think of that element as the clothing of LA, in the same respect that all these women are wearing the sequence gowns and everything. They’re always going to be here, those people are always going to be in this city, they may change all the time, but… Once you dig beneath the clothes, you get to the real people here. Although, most of them are just as bad in a lot of respects.
Karl: Have the businesses changed much?
Mike: Well, Melrose… I don’t know if this is my perception of it or not, but I used to think Melrose was like, way cooler than I think it is now. *laughs* I don’t know if the boutique shops have left or what.
Karl: Are you referring to all the Euro-trash down there by Fairfax High?
Mike: Yeah! It seems like stuff just used to be way cooler. I don’t know if it’s because I just got to LA, and was just like, eyes open, like, “Oh my God, there’s way more fashion here than… in Oregon!” Yeah but, I don’t know, it seems like Melrose is just jumpin’ the shark or something.
Karl: Yeah, or you’ve just outgrown it, it passé now.
Mike: That may be it. But the Hollywood area is getting better and better. I notice more buildings going up, more buildings being refurbished, new bars opening that aren’t like, trashy places.
Karl: Describe the general attitude of the community here.
Mike: *thinks* I would say either do something cool, or go home. People like to feed on each other. Not in a parasitic way, but more like, they like to build on each other I guess – inspire each other. A lot of people here are doing cool, crazy shit.
Maybe I can sum it up with a story… A friend of mine, let’s call him, “Rick,” is this kick ass performance artist. He is one of the funniest, most charismatic people I have ever met. He is not afraid to be a performer, he’ll do comedy dance, like improve, if you’re just like, “Yo, Rick, two-step!” He’ll do like fifteen two-steps, he’s just amazing. He’s gonna be famous, I guarantee he’s gonna be famous one of these days. I didn’t know that much about him… *sips beer* Other than just seeing him at parties and stuff, so I was like, “Rick, what do you do for a living to pay the rent and stuff?” And he got kinda sad, and was kinda like, “Oh, you know, I’m like a handyman kinda guy, I do some construction stuff, or whatever.” And this other friend of ours, Loraine, was like, “Fuck you, Rick, shut up! You are not a fucking handyman! You are a performer! Don’t define yourself as a handyman, define yourself as a performer!” So I would say that people here have their two personalities – the one thing that pays the rent while they’re working on who they really want to be. One of my first philosophies about LA was that in LA, you are the lie that you tell people. So if you go rent a Ferrari and meet some people for a business meeting, to that person, you totally are the guy with the Ferrari who already can afford whatever business. And LA seems very much that kind of a town where you can kind of fake it ’till you make it a little bit… Or a lot. And there’s a lot of freedom in that. There’s also almost a little bit of a lie in that, but it’s almost a lie that you have to tell yourself. You have to believe in yourself that you can be something that you’re not yet. I feel like there’s a lot of that in this town. And again, maybe its because we live in the Hollywood area where a lot of people are just really attempting to make something of themselves, or make something cool that’s never been seen before.
Karl: If I may offer a counter to that?
Karl: The host of “Martini Shot” on NPR, I don’t know if you ever listen to him, Rob Long?
Mike: Uh huh.
Karl: Awhile back, he did a segment that touched on how this makes everyone feel like a failure in LA. There are therapists who treat the mega-big movie stars and producers… People who have made it – like hit film, hit film, hit film *taps fingers* and they still tell their therapists, “Everybody’s gonna find me out, I’m a total hack, I’m a joke, and everybody’s gonna know it.”
Karl: Like, let’s take your friend Rick for example… He’s not famous, but maybe he’s been on TV, maybe he’s had a couple of appearances in some films, maybe he’s done some successful stand up routines at the clubs around here, and he’s maintaining a successful handyman business. So by anywhere else’s standards, that’s pretty impressive. People outside of here might say, “Man, Rick went to LA, he landed all these shows, he’s in movies, and manages to hold down a full time job!” But to Rick, he’s like, “Man, I’m not shit! Who am I kidding? I’m not a freaking’ performer, I’m a handyman!” That goes through all our heads here. “Who am I kidding? I’m a total hack!”
Mike: I constantly vacillate between self-confidence in myself, and just being like, “Dude, I totally suck.”
Karl: We all do. That’s what this whole show was about, we all do that here.
Mike: I guess not everyone measures their success in the same way. Like right now, I’m considering quitting my job and either starting something totally brand new, or going to work for a smaller company that’s not going to make as successful a game as the game that I’m working on now. But right now I’m just hot on making something that I’m proud of, instead of making something that sells and becomes a success by other people’s measure.
Karl: Right, well, using you to continuing my point… In your head you’re still striving to achieve these things and these goals whereas other people might look at you and say, “Man, this guy’s made it! He moved to LA, he landed a corporate gig, he’s makin’ some good dough…” *pause* It’s all perception though I guess.
Mike: It’s an interesting take on it.
Karl: It’s ambition. But yes, we do all feed off each other in whatever way it is.
Mike: Thinking about that makes you want to just… be thankful, and take some time to count your successes, and appreciate what you have accomplished.
Karl: Has the place grown for the better or for the worse since you’ve been here?
Mike: I guess I think for the better. I don’t know why I think that, other than my standard optimism. *laughs* My wife’s business has grown. The city seems to be doing okay although I continue to hear about how broke we are. You know, I have noticed that the roads are getting worse. They totally suck right now. Makes me want to go get an SUV so I can freakin’ drive around on these crappy roads. They’re changing little shit too. I just read about how they’re changing all the parking meters with digital readers that let you pay with coins or a credit card. But also there’s a new rule that if the meter is “failed,” you can’t park there.
Karl: *with passion* I hate that!
Mike: *sigh* Yeah. I hate that too.
Karl: (To city) You fix it! It’s your problem, you’re losing money, fix the meter! I’m parking here.
Karl: But they get more money ticketing me… so… *grumbles* Hate it!
Mike: They’re farming us for revenue.
Karl: Right, like if that’s the problem, just make them all fail. I’d be less pissed knowing I had to pay that up front then walking up to $60 ticket. Or just make them all $60 meters. *laughs*
What sorts of things would you like to see more of?
Mike: *thinks* Hmm… More park space. We need some more green space. And, God, more public transportation or something ’cause traffic is ridiculous. You know, nobody likes to ride the fucking bus. If we had a rail system…
Karl: I know.
Mike: That would help a lot! And then work to create a culture that uses it.
Karl: Well, I think people would, but we’re not going to see a change like that for at least another decade. The desire is here, people want to ride the train. Everybody I talk to says that. But I’m sort of a pathetic example of what may be the case. My company has a train stop, so I could get on at Hollywood and Highland and go, but it’s twice as long a commute. It’s two transfers, it’s a pain in the ass. And I love the train.
Mike: I heard they’re running one down Wilshire? But couldn’t because of the tar pits or something. I think they figured out a way around that though.
Karl: How about less of?
Mike: Less bums. *laughs* I don’t know. You know, LA has this fucking velvet-rope problem. I don’t know if they could get rid of it or not, but it just makes going places so annoying sometimes. Going to a place where there’s always going to be a line, and then you get in and it’s empty! We just had this experience actually at the W Hotel. The W just moved into town, they just completed their new hotel in Hollywood, and one of our friends, Alecia, it was her birthday coming up. Alecia is the type of girl who likes the Hollywood scene, she’s a model, she’s *with enthusiasm* gorgeous! So she wanted to go to the W and get a cabana for her birthday. This is like, expensive. Way beyond what I would normally spend. But… we figured if we get a bunch of friends, it won’t be so bad, it’s cool. So Alecia and her husband get a room at the W. So we got the cabana and bottle service, so score, we’re going to this cool pool party there and stuff. We get there to meet Alecia and her husband for brunch, they have a room, and we get all this shit from people about getting in to meet them for brunch… Because it’s hotel guests only. So I said, “Our friends are guests, we’re here to meet them, can’t we go meet them for brunch?” And they’re like, “Well… *long pause* I guess so.” “Well, what do you mean, “You guess so?” Isn’t that the way it works?” And they’re like, “Well, yes, that’s the way it works.” So they let us up. So we go up and we meet them for brunch. They get us the bottle service, they get us the cabana and all that stuff… And then we hear that we’re kicked out. They’re like, “Sorry, one of the guys who says he’s in your party had a hard time with the bouncer at the door, so we’re kicking everyone out.” I said, “I don’t even know who that was, and you’re kicking all of us out? I’m not paying for the cabana, or the bottles, because we expected to be here all day.” And they’re like, “Yes you are!” And I’m like, “No… I’m not.” *sips beer* So they finally realized, and were just like, “Okay, you gotta leave.” So they kicked us out! But the whole experience was terrible! So we went to one of the nicest places in LA, and had a terrible experience because of this push-pull of trying to be exclusive, but still trying to have some sort of customer service.
Karl: What did he do to the bouncer?
Mike: I don’t know, it was Alecia’s brother. The story goes that the altercation resulted in some sort of spitting incident. I don’t know what was going on. Obviously, that’s inappropriate but… I mean, a bouncer… he’s not like a welcoming person.
Karl: *laughs* No.
Mike: *laughs* I mean he wasn’t like, “Oh, your sister bought a cabana, welcome in!” It obviously wasn’t that sort of interaction so… Less of that! Less of that kind of bull shit.
Karl: Are you happy here, has the area been good to you?
Karl: Sounds like it has.
Mike: Yeah, I love it here. I don’t really want to raise kids here, so by the time our kids are ready to go to school, I think we’ll leave. But I love it.
Karl: Where do you see things ten to twenty years from now? Not you, but the city?
Mike: Man, they’re gonna have some issues I think. Traffic is gonna get worse and worse and worse. They’re gonna have to solve that. The film industry is gonna change here because Bollywood is crankin’ out films like crazy. And the town is just getting so expensive that the people that build the movies… All the grips and the crew and stuff that don’t make a lot of money… They can barely afford to live in the town that they work. So anytime anything like that gets off-balance, then the industry breaks a bit. So I think the whole Hollywood, and people creating movies in LA thing… It’ll still happen, but I mean in twenty years? I don’t think it’s going to be as big here as it used to be.
Karl: Well, you know… Not that you can compare the two because they’re so different, but nobody can really afford to live in Manhattan but people do, and people still strive for it, or to get as close as they can to it. I don’t know, hopefully LA will always have that similar draw to it that makes people want to live here.
Mike: You know, there’s a big Hispanic population in LA, and they fit into the majority of blue-collar work it seems. At least in my experience of what I’ve seen of this city. It seems like 90% of the blue-collar jobs are held by Latinos. I think that will change in the next twenty years. I think it will roll over and their kids’ generation will get into white-collar here. So I think that will change from Latinos owning the blue-collar industries… I can see them still doing well in the blue-collar industry and stuff, but I definitely think they’ll leverage themselves up over a twenty year generation. So that’s cool, at least for all the people who aren’t afraid of brown people. *laughs*
Karl: I can’t imagine there are many here.
Mike: You know that’s one of my favorite things about LA, is how diverse it is. You know, we have Germans, Russians, Armenians, Japanese, Chinese, Blacks and Whites and Latinos and stuff… LA is a huge melting pot. That’s one thing I love, super-diverse cultures, super-diverse foods. It totally doesn’t bother me to hear different languages in our city, I like that. It’s weird to hear people complain, *cranky female voice* “Speak English!” I fucking love that we have all kinds of different cultures but that we all kind of center around the ideal of personal liberty. And that ideal, through all cultures, we can all hold on to that and then get along through that ideal, even when we have cultural differences.
Karl: Yeah. What sort of reaction do you get from your Oregon friends who come here? Specifically gay town where it’s like, right in your face and as alien to them as possible.
Mike: You know, I have not had too many friends come to town, and shown them that side of things. Most of my friends are pretty liberal anyways. The biggest weirdness that my friends have felt when they come here is insecurity about their incomes.
Karl: The prices are overwhelming?
Mike: And people in LA show off their wealth a lot. So my friends from Eugene, who don’t earn much, come to LA and they have their nice jeans that they’ve had for two years already, and a nice shirt that they’ve had for a year, but if you look closely it’s not crisp anymore. Whereas here in LA, people are pimpin’…
Karl: I wear Target.
Mike: *laughs* People are just very visible with their wealth. They wear it on their sleeve in this town. People are as wealthy in other towns, but they don’t show it off. They drive a Honda, maybe with leather, but still a Honda and not a Bentley. I mean, Beamers are like Civics in this town.
Karl: Well, that’s true, the whole car thing here. But I kind of classify that with the whole “clothing of LA” thing we talked about earlier.
Mike: Yeah. Well, that’s just an insecurity my friends feel when they get here. They’re like, “Oh shit, I don’t measure up.”
Karl: Right. Because they don’t get that that’s all sort of the big lie of LA. It’s our thing, to make everyone feel insecure. *laughs* It’s all a big show that people put on here.
Mike: It’s a weird thing because it is important in this town. It is a big show, and people could have an uber-fancy Bentley, and then not own their own home, or something. But it is something that actually does carry weight, it’s weird. I mean, it depends on who you’re meeting and who your friends are, but it can actually have an impact on your career, how you present yourself, and how wealthy you appear. If you’re trying to ask people for money, you need to look like you don’t need it.
Karl: I don’t know, man. When I see those cars, a lot of times I assume they’re the people you’re describing, that it’s a lease. But… I’m still not driving one so… *shrugs and sips beer* Any crazy story about the area you want to share?
Mike: Oh fuck, I don’t know, all kinds of crazy shit… Driving by and seeing some bum taking a shit on the side of the street.
Karl: I love that! *laughs* That’s no big deal.
Mike: *laughs* ‘Cause that’s just a city story! That’s just something weird that stands out in my head ’cause I’m a country boy.
Karl: *laughing hysterically* I’ve even stepped in it!