To continue the Reasons to Live retrospective, over the next few days I’ll be excerpting some journal entries that I wrote during the film’s creation.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, when it came time to write the score for Reasons To Live my composer, Meher Steinberg, was in Los Angeles seeking job opportunities. I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing the job and seeing as I was unhappily single and feeling somewhat sorry for myself, going to California for a week or two seemed like a good idea. So, in the spring of 1998 I got on a plane with a VHS tape and a journal and went to meet Meher.
After spending a night in a horrifying motel room in Culver City we eventually settled into the Royal Santa Monica motel in Westwood. While Meher wrote the score hunched over his keyboard in front of the television I’d stay close by scribbling in my journal and doodling. After we’d been there a few nights we got a phone call and thus began our interaction with two strippers and their “bodyguard”. The rest of this entry is transcribed from my journal:
…well, the phone rings.
Meher picks up the phone and there’s a woman on the other end who asks if we have any cigarettes. He tells her we don’t smoke and then she reveals that she’s on the second floor in a room directly across the little courtyard of our motel. She’s an “exotic dancer” and her name is Erika. She’s travelling with Tony, her “bodyguard” and Leah, her sister. She asks Meher if we want to hire them but Meher explains that it’s not the sort of thing he usually does. She says knowingly, “You’ve never done it before and you’re not sure if you can afford it.” Meher agrees. I’m stuck between them waving to her through the window while sitting on my bed. The phone call ends and Erika walks around the upper balcony singing tunelessly.
“I’ve found a cigarette, Meher!”
Meher – “Yay!
Trevor – “Congratulations!”
She comes down to smoke on some plastic, umbrellaed patio furniture in the courtyard, that sits on a vast expanse of astroturf. She’s a rather large girl with the beginnings of a double chin and a big mess of a dyed blonde bob. She waves to me and I reply in kind. She goes back upstairs.
Tony and Leah return with some take-out food. Erika and Leah then come down to the courtyard.
“Is that Trevor sitting in the window?”
“Yep!”, I wave my foot at them. They both sit down at a patio table. Leah is actually really cute although leaning towards her sister’s heaviness. She looks a bit shy and yells “Anthony!” throwing a pack of cigarettes at her motel room door. They bounce onto the balcony. She runs upstairs and disappears. Erika remains, smoking and Meher finds out she’s from Redding California originally. “If you’ve seen red necks, cows and horses… you’ve seen Redding.”
She tells us she’s got to get work tonight or they’ll have to check out at 11am tomorrow but it’s Thursday night and “… nobody wants a stripper on a Thursday night!”. Tomorrow it will be easy to find work she tells us, she’s just worried about the time between 11 and 3 (they’ve got a ton of stuff in their room). It occurs to me that we’re supposed to suggest using our room, I mean, if it’s only going to be a four hours… but I resist the temptation.
“God it’s freezing! I’m going to got get a sweatshirt, excuse me.” Now she runs up to her room. “Don’t come back on our account” Meher says quietly and we leave our door open for a few minutes until we can’t stand the cold anymore.
The phone rings.
“It’s like Grand Central Station!” Meher says as he picks up the receiver.
“Do you have a car?” I hear over the phone.
“Oh yeah, I do… but I’ve got so much work to do… I can’t.” Meher asks me if I’ve got 50 cents.
“No, I’ve got about 10 pennies.”
“I’ve got a buck I can lend you… ok.” he hangs up the phone and explains that Erika wanted a drive down to Sunset.
“What’s the dollar for?”
“It’s worth it for entertainment.” he explains, “For the bus.”
“Well,” I say “looks like we’ve picked up a stray stripper.”
A minute later Leah raps on the window with her fingernails. I open the door to reveal Erika in a leather jacket and jeans with her hair sort of half-subdued. Leah’s wearing what looks like a track suit, her red hair tied in a bun behind her head and her make-up done so that the overall impression is Kim Novack in a tracksuit, “Man” I think, “Kim Novak was a babe.”
“Well! Don’t you look fancy.” I offer lamely.
Meher gets up and hands Erika the dollar. Leah is looking from Meher to me a bit hungrily, her attitude has changed completely; she has no shyness about her at all and gives me a very seductive smile as they leave for “Whisky a Go Go”.
At first I thought she was lusting for me but since then I figure it’s more likely that I look like a big dollar sign to her. The room smells of perfume for a while afterwards and I feel a pang that there are no longer any women to accompany the odor.
My suspicions are later confirmed by Meher.
“Y’know,” I say, “I think those girls were trying to take advantage of us.”
“Yeah,” Meher says indifferently. Obviously I care about this much more than he does. I continue anyway.
“I mean she had cigarettes”. She ‘found’ them in her fridge. “And I bet they even have a car.”
I was going to explain how I’d come to this Sherlock Holmes-like deduction: Tony and Leah must have taken the car to get the food! when Meher says: “Yeah they’re just trying to hustle us to see if we’ll pay them to dance for us.” I think Meher’s a bit naive if he thinks that dancing is all they do. “And they wanted a drive to Sunset…” he continues, “which is not going to happen.”
Meher and I go out to 7/11 to get some water. We come back with that plus gum, coke and frozen yogurt — 700 calories per pint… Egad!. I’ve been taken in by this whole “fat-free” fad. So what if there’s no fat? There’s still enough calories to send an anorexic screaming to the nuthouse.
Anyhow… Tony is standing outside his door with his hands on the balcony railing looking as if he’s holding a vigil for his two errant prostitutes. This is the first time that I’ve really taken in the spectacle of Tony the killer pimp: he’s huge with a ponytail, a well trimmed beard and wears a suit.
We exchange “hellos” and I let Meher know that I think he’s a pimp. “Really?” Meher says with wonder.
“Yeah, strippers with a bodyguard, right” I say with streetwise sarcasm and then go on to mention how impressed I was by Leah’s chameleon-like abilities. How she was able to go from shy and sweet to predatory seductress just by doing her hair and putting on some make-up.
Meher comments on how strong the survival instinct can be. It will make you try to charm the pants off of people… literally. For the right price.