Never heard of David Levinson?
Truth be told, until I read yesterday’s Op-Ed piece in the L.A. Times, I hadn’t heard of him either.
But what I learned from the by-line that accompanied his piece is this: He is the founder and executive director of Big Sunday, an annual weekend project that brings together more than 50,000 volunteers to work on 500 charitable projects.
Impressive? Absolutely. But, that’s not what’s driven me to write about him. Rather, I am in love with how he used the Op-Ed section of the Times to address the great economic dichotomy that is Los Angeles.
Levinson’s piece, which is a wildly humorous, open letter to Kim Kardashian, lauds her for her capacity to make serious profit from some very basic rites of passage -- e.g., having sex; getting married. He goes on to suggest that she parlay some of the profits from her divorce proceedings into philanthropic donations. He even suggests that she could up the ante by falling in love with the divorce lawyer and – if it is possible – steal him away from Jennifer Anniston!
Go, David Levinson! Dude, you have nailed L.A.
… More than 21 years ago, I moved from New York to Los Angeles with my then-husband. Leaving behind an administrative job at the Ford Foundation, I was focused on a goal: make it in television writing. I had scripts to back up my dream, and my tenacity was not to be messed with. It could happen.
Once Ben and I had “landed” (in our 15-foot rental truck), and once we’d forked over some money for our first pre-owned car, we did a lot of driving. A lot of driving.
I remember one area of Beverly Hills that we explored – it was a residential street, north of Sunset Boulevard. It was a street that followed a curve.
There was this house there – this house that began at the beginning of the curve.
And then, this house just fucking continued.
And even after the curve of the street landed into its ultimate horseshoe formation, the house was still there.
It was in that moment that we caught eye of the house’s entry point. Easily 15 feet tall and at least as wide, the double-doorway for this particular house was absolutely golden.
I don’t know if it was Ben or me, but one of us posed the question: How big does your fucking house have to be?
… While Ben and I continued our exploratory drives, I pursued the Hollywood television writing scene. I also looked into day jobs. Soon, I landed a gig at a local nonprofit. And within a few months of landing there, I was directing a mentoring program for locked-up youth.
And it filled my heart.
As I got to know the kids in the program, and as I learned more about their experiences in gang-infested neighborhoods, my response to the Los Angeles scene became more defined. There also was the New York perspective I brought to the equation (I'd lived there so long): In New York, we were all in each other’s faces. We would ALWAYS be in each other's faces.
Los Angeles – then and now – doesn’t force that face-to-face experience on people.
Los Angeles allows Kardashians and their like to live in their own worlds.
In the meantime, there’s the rest of L.A.
… Before Ben and I left for Los Angeles, and while I still was focused on my television-writing dream, I’d made a connection through a dear friend. Her cousin (whom we’ll call Joe Smith) had been successful and was well-entrenched in the Hollywood writing scene. Among other things, he was teaching a night course at UCLA. Thanks to my tenacious inquiries – and before I’d even left Brooklyn – Joe invited me to one of his lectures. And this invitation was particularly enticing. The guests that night were two guys whose names were well-known to me, as they had contributed regularly to M*A*S*H.
I attended the UCLA session, and after the guest lectures were over, I approached Joe and handed him a copy of my latest spec script – an offering for Designing Women. I then drove home, thinking I was quite lucky to have such a connection.
But those dreams of fame and fortune were too-soon replaced by my sense of responsibility. I became deeply involved in the nonprofit that had hired me on staff and ultimately put me in charge of the juvenile justice mentoring program. Soon, I was deeply involved with the program, its mentors, and through those mentors – THE KIDS. Phone calls were frequent, and I loved hearing from the awesome volunteers who made the program work. I loved the sense of camaraderie that was developing among us.
One day, while I was on the phone with one of the mentors, the receptionist chimed in, indicating that I had a call on Line 4. I quickly put the mentor on hold and switched lines. After my saying “Hello,” a secretary said to me, “Joe Smith is on the line to speak with you.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m in a conversation right now.”
… And it was in that split second that I chose sides.
It was in that split second that I assessed all I’d learned of Hollywood and all I’d seen of Los Angeles.
It was in that split second that I gave my heart and time to the people and causes who need some attention.
… Joe Smith will just have to wait.
I don’t need a big house with a golden door.
Maybe he does, but I don’t.
P.S. Here's a link to the awesome Op-Ed that inspired this post.