Monday, August 15, 2011

The People of Hollywood, Part II: The Schizophrenic of Gramercy Place

“Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood!”

A week or two after we moved in to our neighborhood, my husband and I both became conscious of a young woman who lived in the building across the street from ours. She couldn’t have gone unnoticed. She looked about twenty-five years old and very pretty, petite, and slim. She had a prim, 1950’s style, pairing Capri jeans with sweater sets and sun hats or adorable dresses and parasols. It was her personality, though, that really got our attention: she’d walk down the street shouting vulgarities to the entire population. She could be heard from blocks away, screaming “Hollywoodhollywoodhollywood! F--- you, Hollywood! F--- your Jesus! Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood!” She scared me. She scared the entire street. She’d sit on the balcony of her apartment and violently flip people the finger as they walked by. She’d walk down the street bearing the middle finger of both hands, waving them like wands of black magic at everything and everyone she encountered. Her every step was a thunderous clap of hatred, and I could only imagine the evil in her gaze (she kept her eyes veiled behind oversized sunglasses).

“Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood!”

She shouted like she was voicing the anger and resentment of generations of damaged dreams, and scolding anyone who might mistake Hollywood for a good place to be.

One hot summer day, I was on my front porch sanding down an antique desk I’d just purchased. A truck pulled up to an apartment building just a few doors down and a woman began loading her belongings into it. The woman was alone in this effort, moving her belongings entirely by herself. Miss Hollywood approached the back of the vehicle, and squatted down, hiding from the woman in the truck bed. For several minutes, she played a solo game of slowly rising into view and then quickly squatting back down, out of sight. Finally, the woman in the truck bed caught a glimpse of her, and startled back. When she regained her footing, she said something curtly to Miss Hollywood, who stood up and laughed. The woman, obviously uncomfortable but uncertain what to do, just went back to arranging her belongings in the truck bed while Miss Hollywood continued to stand in the same spot, and watch.

After a few minutes, Miss Hollywood, perhaps annoyed that the woman had ceased paying attention to her, began reaching out and touching objects in the truck. She’d rise up from hiding while the woman’s back was turned, extend an arm, and touch something. Then she’d wait for a reaction, as if the woman would be able to psychically detect that one of her belongings had been defiled. When the woman didn’t notice anything unusual, Miss Hollywood began moving items within her reach from one place to another, all while the woman was turned away. Eventually, the woman noticed that her stuff had been rearranged, and began yelling and gesticulating violently. “Just leave me alone!” she begged. Miss Hollywood laughed, and stayed put. The woman repeated her desperate gesture several times, snapping her arm and forefinger into a stern point away from the truck, each time with rising acerbity until Miss Hollywood slowly retreated. As she reached the middle of the street, she unleashed a torrent of obscenities upon the woman in the truck, who just stood there, dumbfounded. Finally, Miss Hollywood snapped around and stormed into her apartment building, the stream of profanity trailing behind her.

A few days later, I was again on my porch, this time writing and enjoying a glass of wine, when I heard Miss Hollywood’s signature soundtrack. I glanced toward the location of her voice and saw her perched glamorously on the railing of her balcony, her arms wrapped around one knee, and her other leg stretched out in front of her. She wore sunglasses, a tank top, and shorts. She looked positively relaxed, yet she spewed her usual execrations and comminations with maximum fury.

“Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood!” she screamed. “F--- Hollywood, F--- your Jesus, Hollywood!”

I watched unsuspecting pedestrians wandering down the sidewalk jump with alarm as they entered her range. When they found the source of the noise, they’d freeze and stare in wonderment before moving along. The whole thing was wildly amusing. Eventually, the woman from the truck-bed incident strolled by. When she heard Miss Hollywood, she crouched behind a shrub, dug a camera out of her purse and proceeded to snap some clandestine photographs of our local psycho. She’d slowly raise her arms above the shrub, take a picture and then quickly squat back down to evaluate the result. This she repeated several times, until she placed the camera back in her purse and nonchalantly crossed the street to her own apartment. Miss Hollywood maintained her particular brand of R&R – blaspheming from her balcony – for another two hours. My ears were bleeding by the end of it.

Some months later, I realized I hadn’t seen or heard anything from her since that balcony tirade. I was surprised to find that I kind of missed her, and was truly worried about what might have happened to her. Did she get dragged away in a straight jacket to the nearest mental facility? Did she piss somebody off and get hurt? One day, I ran into an acquaintance, a fellow actor from a theatre company I worked with briefly. It turns out she lives in that building across the street. I asked her what ever became of the screaming banshee, and she told me that, to the delight of the entire building, their resident schizophrenic had been evicted.  She didn’t know where she wound up going, after being forced out, and she didn’t care.

Had I lived in her building, I’m sure I would have felt the same relief at her removal, but having been a mere audience to her antics, I felt nostalgic for the coloratura with which she ornamented my first year in Hollywood. Although a nuisance, she had captured my imagination, and had helped secure Hollywood in mind as a place of true diversity and dynamism. Perhaps she was wildy disturbed, but she was also wildly interesting.


Read The People of Hollywood, Part I here.

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