LA Jungle by Maria Prudente

Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

I could hear everything, together with the hum of my hotel neon. I never felt sadder in my life.LA is the loneliest and most brutal of  American cities; New York gets godawful cold in the winter but there’s a feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets.

 LA is a jungle. –Jack Kerouac, On the Road


A Gucci purse that isn’t mine lies on the wet bathroom floor. I hold back the silky, synthetic blond hair of the girl straddling the toilet in front of me while she vomits up her Dom Pérignon. It is three o’clock in the afternoon, which means the club brunch is starting. The servers pull down the curtains over the floor-to-ceiling windows as the crowds suck their neon party straws in a fever, finishing the last of their communal vodka punch bowls.  

It is my second week in LA and my first week at the restaurant, whose clientele read more like a “Weren’t you big in the 80’s?” than a who’s who of current celebrities. My job is to seat people like Taylor Dane, famous for the song “Tell It to My Heart,” heard in every CVS across the country; and like the alarmingly thin Twilight actress who dated a Jonas brother; and like an unofficial cast member from The Hills, a reality show about young rich people in LA. For many reasons, one being my habit of finger-combing my hair at the host stand, I believe my restaurant manager hates me. “It’s unappetizing,he tells me and sends me in to take care of vomit girl. 

I dab the quilted leather of the purse with a paper towel, compressing a sticky residue in the thread lines. The girl pauses for a moment, her face hanging in the toilet, “Could you like get the fuck out now?”

People thrash around their champagne glasses here in the dark. Their bodies, indicating a life of leisure, swivel to the bass of EDM, the most un-danceable dance music. EDM sounds like dying youth, the nausea after mixing alcohol, permission to nurture dysfunctional relationships, like the bartender looking for the last girl to take home. The men wearing their sunglasses in the dark sing with women who fight the rise and fall of their mini-skirts and crop-tops to lyrics like, If our love is tragedy, why are you my remedy? They give West Hollywood bottomless brunch a new meaning. 

Vomit girl walks out of the stall, surprised to see me. She doesn’t wash her hands, but she finger-combs her hair and parts it while sucking in her cheeks. I hand her back her Gucci purse and the smell of her throw-up along with it. Alone now in the bathroom, I check my bank account and see a gym membership I forgot to cancel back in New York has taken out the $74 I had left to spend for the week. It’s the last day of April. Rent is due.

There is no escaping the heat. The sun in LA always finds you, and then it follows you. My hips ache while walking up Santa Monica Boulevard, following a group of nuns. I miss seeing where they go because I get sidetracked. I walk into vintage stores with little combs and mirrors I can’t afford and into coffee shops in Silver Lake. I see a man with a gun run out of his deli and two men in a white car with a shattered side window drive away. I walk back to the apartment I sublet and consider home. I sit at the pool in the middle of the apartment complex to feel like I’m at the center of something.

Nahla is the first friend I make in LA. We meet at the Wilshire Hotel for a weekend agent showcase. We’d both flown from New York to LA with a bunch of other actors in hopes of getting recognized. Most of us are theatre trained and are trying to broaden our chances of “making it” by getting into film and television. We’re all here because we’ve all been working, and somewhere along the way, we’ve been told it was time to go to the next level. We were uncertain if we were ready to move, but we’re committed to acting, so we’ve committed to leasing out our lives to somebody else. We want to be somebody’s property. This is success. 

I hear Nahla’s raspy voice say “fabulous” over a phone call in the hotel lobby. I have never seen a woman match her high heels to her belt and bags in real life before. She’s both self-deprecating and intimidating in our acting workshops and agent showcase. Nahla is twenty-seven, and after enjoying a fulfilling run post-grad school doing off-off-Broadway theatre in New York, she views LA as the next step in her career. Her hotel room is across from mine. She talks loudly, which reminds me of New York, of home. This makes me feel safe. 

Nahla and I receive callbacks from the same talent management company. We stay an extra day for meetings while other people fly back east. We feel special. After I spend the bulk of my meager fun money at a tanning salon, I meet with Nahla to explore Wilshire. We express excitement at an antique store as if we both hadn’t had access to hundreds of them in New York. We stumble upon a bar where we stay for a drink because it’s drag night. I give every dollar I have left to the performer dressed as Effie from Dreamgirls whose eyelashes cartwheel down the sides of her cheeks. Her bra padding peeks out each time she slides my dollar in. We sing along with her—and you and you and you, you’re gonna love me—and think about the team of talent managers who will hopefully sign the two of us the following morning. We both have a good feeling.

New York wanted to put me on layaway.  At least, that was how it felt. Nothing came easy in New York; everything was public. Hustle and struggles, tears hovering over the ATM, bad hair days, slipping on grates, breaking plans, breaking hearts, breaking in heels two inches too high. In LA, people hide behind their car windshields. I think I can disguise my confusion behind my paper paychecks and crop tops with built-in bras. At twenty-two, these things make me feel like I’m together.

I attended a musical theatre conservatory in Manhattan. The school looks like a car garage sliding into the West Side Highway on 61st Street, behind a clump of housing projects. No one had ever heard of our school, a hard and fast program designed to ready actors for the professional world at nineteen. We called ourselves “Juilliard adjacent” because we were two blocks away from the world’s most elite acting school. Right after graduation, I booked a lead role in a musical national tour at an open call. I learned what it felt like to travel, work, and live with actors around the clock. What it felt like to make a salary. I joined the actor’s union for theatre, which put me in a smaller, more exclusive pile in front of casting directors, and this helped me land auditions for high-level work, but I continued without success, to search for an agent. An agent would have eased the workload: the sifting good projects from the bad, the handling the negotiations, the looking after me. I didn’t have much on my resume. No producer, I found, was willing to trust a girl with mostly community-theatre credits. But enough work came early that I remained sure of myself.  I told myself before walking into every audition, Your secret weapon is you.

 I lived in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn between Court Street’s Italian diaspora of meat shops and hardware stores, and Smith Street’s modern high-end clothing boutiques and dim-lit bars. I worked at the Downtown Brooklyn location of American Apparel to make ends meet, practicing my scene lines in the back by the changing rooms, pretending to sweep and check items for updated pricing. My roommate was a Natalie Portman lookalike, an NYU photography major, who had found it convenient to sleep with every one of our male roommates, the break-ups inconvenient for me. Once, after staring at my phone full of unanswered calls, I asked why her ex-boyfriend, an NYU classical guitar music major whom I’d grown up with in Virginia, was no longer talking to me. Maybe it was knowing I lived with his ex-girlfriend. Maybe he resented me for not kissing him back at that small bar with Christmas lights in the West Village. 

She shrugged. “No, he said he only wanted to be friends with people who were successful.” 

Nobody should feel washed up at twenty-two. I sat across from my actor boyfriend at a diner on Smith Street and heard about how his co-star on Broadway, the actor who played Niles l on Frasier, had invited him to his mansion in Los Angeles.  He was going out west to visit and schmooze before leaving me to head back to London, his permanent home. I wanted his self-confidence, the ease with which opportunities came to him. He was becoming someone. I took a bite of my matzo ball soup. 

“I’m thinking of going to LA.” 

He scoffed. “You should only go if you have a job or a manager.”

Nahla and I end up signing an exclusive contract with the same manager: Colin. Colin will get 20% of everything that we make. He types me as a smart, fast-talking brunette, an “Emmy Rossum” type. Colin likes to buy me iced coffee and calls me pretty. I try not think about why he calls me pretty instead of talented. Colin’s chest puffs out when he opens his office door, the way I think all men do when they finally get the corner office, the potted floor plant, and the view of Sunset Boulevard. I sometimes find him attractive and want him to call me pretty.

I get an apartment in Burbank because it’s close to studios and sound stages, where I believe I’ll be working soon. Burbank seems fabulous. Nahla calls everything fabulous. I want her to think I’m fabulous. What she doesn’t know is that I’m opting out of my lease after only three days and am looking for somewhere else to live because I can’t afford it. Burbank teaches me I’m bad with money. I need a mattress, so I apply for a Macy’s card at Burbank Town Center to buy one on sale, but my credit score is too low. How do I already have bad credit? “You don’t start with good credit,” my mother informs me. We don’t learn these things in conservatory.

 No towels. No hangers. I walk around my bare beige apartment and see the piles of clothes I stack atop my countertops. I stand in the giant square where a refrigerator should be. I am no longer changing clothes in the backs of cabs heading from one audition to the next or being recognized from a previous role by musical directors in casting rooms.

“It’s called SpnKiX. There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Spin’ though, so don’t let that confuse you.” 

The creator explains his version of motorized rollerblades to me in a warehouse in Downtown LA that is decorated with exposed nails and prototypes that hang from the ceiling. SpnKiX pays me $100 to play the lead in their commercial, which shoots in Venice Beach. The rollerblades are non-functioning. The plastic boot cuts open my ankles and toes. I ask the hair and make-up artists if the bloody scrapes on my calves are noticeable. Neither my costar nor I can balance as we speed along the boardwalk, so the producers encourage us to barrel into the sand if we feel ourselves falling.

 I shoot a short film in North Hollywood for a Boston lawyer-turned-filmmaker who has a lot of money to throw around. The film is about Boston Red Sox player Bill Buckner putting on a musical. I’m excited I have a chance to sing again. I listen to the extras on set chat to one another. “It’s, like, so crazy to me that people study acting.” I do the film for free.

 There’s no work in the summertime in LA. Pilot season happens in January, which is the time to audition. I send too many emails to Colin. Every day without a job feels like a waste. Maybe he’s shelving me. Maybe he’s got someone better he’s submitting for better jobs. There’s not much to do here in LA but wait and try to forget.

Photo by Gerald Schömbs on Unsplash

“I slept with Brody Jenner once,” the maître’d, Nicole, tells me at the hostess stand. Nicole looks like Karen from the movie Mean Girls: honey blond hair, big breasts, plump lips, dead-eyed. “It wasn’t great. His dick was like a pencil.” The other hostess gasps, “Brody Jenner has a pencil dick?”  

A man who comes in with a different woman Thursday through Sunday gives the hosts $100 in handshake money. I thought he was looking out for us. Maybe he knew I had to catch the M10 bus outside the CVS after my shift and thought I would use his handshake money to take a car home. Instead, I realize, he was trying to keep us quiet. We fight over who gets to seat him because he gives an extra $50. Nicole takes the opportunity for herself and tells me she’s been using the money to fly to music festivals around the country. She and the other hostess clock out and air kiss me goodbye, clicking their platform heels on their way out the door. Nicole’s boyfriend pulls up in his Land Rover. The girls get in. 

Because I am new, my shifts are short and shitty. I work from 9 p.m. until closing at 1 a.m. I make $12 an hour. I can’t leave until the very last person leaves their table, usually drunk and demanding shots from the bartender, Dean. Dean is the only bartender-actor we’ve actually seen on TV. He gives me side glances from the bar, so I make sure to suck in my stomach every minute of the shift. Before we leave, I tell him that I’m wondering if moving to LA is a mistake. 

“I should’ve come in pilot season.” 

He wipes down the bar counter. “I just met you and don’t know your situation but you’d be stupid to leave. If you don’t exploit those looks now…” He throws his hands up in the air and disappears into the kitchen. 

I leave before he comes back. I choose to ignore the part about staying and focus on the part where Dean implies I’m pretty. I shove the $100 bill into the pocket of my neon yellow blazer. I’ll need it for rent. I catch the 1:30 a.m. M10 to Temple and Figueroa.  

Sometimes Nahla acts as my chauffeur and picks me up from work. She plans a trip with her best friend to drive down the Pacific Coast, Instagramming every stop of their trip. I want her filtered life as much as I want her real life. Nahla has long fingers that she presses against her caramel lips in between thoughts. Her hair is long and black like ink, not a strand out of place. She talks about her boyfriend Amil, often. Amil, Amil, Amil. Nahla respects that he has a job in NYC, which means he cannot live out here in Hollywood with her. She is understanding and patient. Nahla is the kind of woman I want to be. Nahla is perfect. 

Nahla likes to party. She can out-drink and stay up later than anyone, and I cannot keep up. She doesn’t bloat or sweat or stumble or slur. I start smoking when we go out. I don’t like doing it—the smoking or the clubs—but I want Nahla as a friend.

I look forward to the things we do, and I wonder when it will end—if she’ll figure me out and realize I have no plan.

We go to a club called Greystone Manor in West Hollywood on North La Cienega Boulevard every week. We get there too early sometimes and stand outside, watching those that enter through the side doors: the girls who aerial dance topless from the ceilings and the club promoters who are shifty-eyed and sweaty, who look for the girls in the dark to text about parties but will never recognize in the daytime. We rarely wait long at Greystone Manor. Nahla is five feet eleven inches and a model, so we bypass lines at most clubs. I feel short and frumpy next to Nahla.

 “Who knew my closest friend in LA would end up being a twenty-two-year-old white girl?” Nahla says while taking a long drag from her cigarette. 

We like to take breaks from the music in the smoking section of the club, a narrow, congested area lit with red light and filled with eager men looking to interrupt and to invite us back to their tables. I feel my mascara running down the sides of my cheeks.  

“Some girl in the bathroom told me we could join their table. She’s sitting with the owner of Rock Star Energy drink,” I tell Nahla. 

“Are you sure it’s the real guy?” she asks. 

“I don’t know. But she said she liked my denim vest.” I point to the girl. “She’s the one with the belly chain.” 

I didn’t say that the girl also told me she was sixteen and was recruiting other girls to sit at the table. A part of me wonders if she’s there by choice. I told myself that I was networking at these clubs, that no matter how fuzzy we were feeling or how foggy we were thinking, this was my version of schmoozing, like my actor boyfriend had done when he came out to LA. 

 Nahla is quieter tonight. She bums another cigarette from a guy, but for the first time, she doesn’t flirt or make eye contact with him. I begin to wonder if our Wednesday ritual at Greystone Manor was starting to lose its appeal. We were getting good at running the circuit, not paying for things, not having to wake up at a particular time. I can see in the reflection of her dark almond-colored eyes, my hair forming a crown of frizzy baby hairs around my head. She’s hurting over something dark and deep. We inch toward it every time we speak.

Dirt dusts my ankles at Runyon Canyon. A woman has pushed her stroller up the hiking path past me. A dog and his dog walker have lapped me. I’ve taken several photos of couples. I feel the smog and dust fill my pores. At the top of the hill, I see all the people on Hollywood Boulevard. They look so small. I’m small. I’m shrinking. I see billboards promoting DJ residencies in Vegas and movies I’ll never see and workouts I can try once for free. I see the skyscrapers of Downtown LA in the distance. I see mansions with pools, long driveways, and garages on ledges off narrow streets. I want to say I’m doing better than what my better was in New York, but I’d be lying. I want to go to Malibu. I want to sit on a bench somewhere up high and take a picture. I want to feel close to the sky. I can see where the city starts and stops, but I can’t find its center. New York, I miss you.

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexel

Nahla and I spend most nights at her local bar in Hollywood drinking Patrón X.O Café across from the Church of Scientology Celebrity Center. 

“In LA, it’s all about the after-party,” a man yells to us from the window of his parked car. “Comin’ with us?” 

Nahla says yes to my no. We get into a car of four men, all strangers. I sit on the lap of a man in the backseat. In LA, they do pop-up parties. They give people addresses and times and create clubs in empty places. We arrive in Studio City at an abandoned strip mall next to Vivid Entertainment, a large porn production company, and across from Highway 101. The lights from Universal Studios flash in the distance. We are led inside to a white space where we’re forced to buy drinks before entering. They dig ice out of a someone’s picnic cooler at a makeshift bar and pour vodka into our red plastic cups. A man sets up his turntables; a few others situate La-Z-Boys in an L shape in the center of the room. This space transforms into a hip-hop club. I share a blunt with a stranger. Nahla’s friend Anna arrives and joins the party. When it ends, we grab dinner at Subway, the only place open near the abandoned strip mall. I tell Anna I’m leaving my Burbank apartment and need somewhere to live. She tells me she has a room I can sublet in her apartment downtown.

Anna is a graduate student at USC. She asks if I’m interested in signing a lease with her, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I might want to opt-out again and go back to New York. Anna is thirty-one. She has nothing in common with my twenty-two. Anna doesn’t wear makeup every day or talk about her brother, whose shadow she lives in, or about her parents whose financial support she needs, or the man who disappoints her, or about her loneliness in LA. About missing her hometown, New York. Anna looks tired often, she’s barely home, and she tells me to be more careful about carrying the coffee pot from one counter to the next because it drips and stains the tile floor. I resent her for telling me what to do in our shared space. Anna sends me listings for jobs and auditions. I never thank her.

I’m certain Anna has had enough of me. I’m sure she hears me crying into my air mattress about having to make new friends, about finding work, about changing my job to something that doesn’t require my holding back hair while a customer pukes, about coming up with deposit money for a credit card, about finding an affordable car. About making this move worth it. One afternoon, I play roulette by painting my nails on the floor, no mitigating surface beneath me on her white carpet in the living room. The red polish topples, and I rush to sponge up the mess. I cry. I panic. At twenty-two, everything is a bomb. She walks in while I sponge at the yarn that’s now turned pink. She watches a moment, inspecting the carpet, and walks into her room. Maybe Anna trusts me more than I trust myself.

Los Angeles. Too flat, too orange, too hilly, too red, too young, too busy, too old, too boring. Stay here. Don’t go. Go back. Not yet. Be strong. Do better. Work smarter. Stand taller. Push harder. Everything burns: the space between my ribs, the tops of my shoulders. Too quiet. Too hot. Too slow. I’m hungry. The sunset here takes breaths. Too sticky. Too salty.

Don’t walk barefoot on white carpets. Don’t wear fancy clothes. Look cheap. Look sexy. Look like you just woke up. Look like you’ve just been birthed. Look like you just turned seventeen. Look clean. Let the breeze dry the strands of your hair to get the waves you read about in magazines.

 My cheekbones jut out of my face raised toward the sun. The sun burns my scalp, which reminds me to go inside. It’s so dark indoors. Go lie on the couch. Go stare at the blueness in the nooks of somebody else’s couch. This is somebody else’s house. I just say I live here. This is not my couch. This is not my home.

One morning, Nahla and I sit in silence at our hangover brunch of melting avocado paninis on the patio of Urth Caffé. A cast member from Dancing with the Stars rumored to be dating his 90’s sitcom dance partner walks by, and a small group of paparazzi follow. I tell Nahla a guy I started dating before I moved keeps texting that he misses me, which makes leaving New York an open wound. 

She nods. “I didn’t even ask Amil to come out here.” Perfect Nahla displays a crack. “I had an abortion in the fall. It hasn’t been the same between us. It did give me clarity. Now I know what I want.” 

She peppers her side of the plate of scrambled eggs and tells me about the troubles of her past. The vindication that came with grad school. Magna cum laude. She had been dating Amil since her undergrad days. He had been the main man in her life for all of her adulthood. Now at twenty-seven, she was beginning to shift away from the plans she’d made in her early twenties. “Sometimes plans change.”

Photo by Aleksandr Popov on Unsplash

I moved to LA with the understanding that someone would make me famous. To my surprise, everyone at this party on the Fourth of July has the same impression. Nahla introduces me to her graduate school actor friends. They are all hopeful and happy to be in Hollywood pursuing their dreams in an industry where Nahla says things like, “Two network execs called me this week. Being Indian is so hot right now.” Or Gordon, the quiet writer who wants me to say yes to dinner with him, says, “I tried living in New York, but everyone is so mean.” Or one half of the drunk host couple, who probably should’ve broken up years ago during undergrad, says things like, “I mean, I thought the pilot Andrew shot at ABC was going to get picked up, and he would quit hosting auto shows. I mean, I thought this was the year we could get engaged.”

I sit and study the California king bed through the crack of the door of the drunk couple’s bedroom. My hips pull me deeper into the love seat cushion like quicksand. My body tells me to stay a little longer, sink in. I feel a breeze on my chest come from two girls flipping through a karaoke catalog in search of their 90’s youth. “What was that song,” the long-haired one asks the short-haired one.The one that goes, “pissing the night away?” Look at all these normal people with their normal couches and normal beds holding their golden speckled beers with their stars and stripes tank tops and red denim cut-offs.

I love to leave a party when it’s going well. Because people start divulging too much. A drunk girl I’ve just met dips her chip into the salsa at the same time as me and whispers, “I like to watch threesome porn when James is out of town.” I give the long wave goodbye and avoid all the hugs. Nahla stops me as I get into my cab and asks me to text her when I arrive at Landon’s house. Landon and I work together at the club brunch in West Hollywood. He’s a busser, but mostly he cares about becoming a DJ. We like to flirt on the floor during service, and finally exchanged numbers. I am excited he’s invited me over.

The cab drives through the winding roads of Los Feliz and drops me off at the top of a steep hill. This is Landon’s apartment. I swipe my card in the cab, then check my bank account: $4. A boy named Gabe meets me. Like Landon, Gabe is a busser, but he wants to be a club promoter. Gabe has a heavy Boston accent. He brushes his bristled beard against my cheek to say hello. Gabe is waiting for coke. He directs me upstairs to Landon. 

Three knocks later and a shirtless man, soaked in sweat, with long black hair opens the door. There is bacon sizzling on a stove too small for its large kitchen. The shirtless man tells me Landon is in the bathroom and offers me a slice of bacon. “No, no.” My nostrils flare. The living room is large and unfurnished. I peer through the crack of Landon’s door and see an unmade bed. Pillows live on the floor and laptops and beer cans pile on the side tables. I look over into the kitchen and find Landon staring at me while pouring a fatal amount of vodka into a glass before mixing it with orange juice. Landon is high and drunk. He offers me the drink. “Hey…you,” he says. He hugs me. Overfamiliar. Too tight a grip. Vodka breath.

Photo by Johannes Roth on Unsplash

He plays me new stuff he’s been working on, which is just a line-up of music by established DJs. “Love this Avicii mix right now. I went crazy for it at Coachella.” We go out to his patio, where I admire the far-off neon-colored lights flickering between tree branches. The long-haired one is making bacon again as if he doesn’t remember making the first batch. Landon jams his tongue between my lips, between my teeth and what feels like down my throat. This is not what I wanted. Landon’s tall frame and boney arms pin me against the plastic patio beams. 

“Dude get off her. Go to sleep, you fuckin’ fuck.”  Gabe slides the door open, pulling Landon off of me.

 Brittany arrives. She is Gabe’s girlfriend. Another person I didn’t expect to see here. Brittany is blond with a gummy smile and tiny teeth. Gabe introduces us after he shoves Landon into his bedroom. I don’t want to be here. I shouldn’t be here. Brittany has dirt stains on the back of her white terrycloth skirt.

“You do coke?” She bops up and down, smiling at me. 

I shake my head. This is the first time I’ve seen people do coke. Shirtless man, Gabe, and Brittany vacuum up their lines as I watch out of the corner of my eye. With $4 to my name, I wonder if it is worth it to ask for a ride. Gabe and Brittany go at it again and again with their dirty rolled up dollar bills. Sweat. Red eye-balls. They are so angry. There doesn’t seem to be enough coke. Gabe tells Brittany she’s fucked up and pissing him off. He’s taking her home.

“Can I grab a ride?” I ask. “I live downtown, too.”

Gabe speeds down the 101 to Swedish house music. He’s informed me the car belongs to his aunt and has government plates, so we can never be pulled over by police. Gabe swerves in and out of lanes, Brittany shimmies in her seat. I grip the roof handlebar as we careen into another lane; this time, we nearly sideswipe a car. This is it. This is how I’m going to die. Gabe swerves back into his own lane. He laughs and speeds down the exit to Figueroa. He barely stops in front of my building. I barrel out of the car.

 There is nothing like listening to a $34 Dick’s Sporting Goods air mattress slowly deflate while you try to sleep, the knowledge that you voluntarily got in a car with a driver strung out on coke keeping you up. I think about how I know I’ll wake up tomorrow and walk up and down Santa Monica Boulevard listening to Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange album twice because I’m not scheduled to work. I know I won’t apply for another job because I don’t want to lay down any more roots here. I know I’ll have to call my grandparents and ask for a loan because I’m out of money and I can’t bear to ask my parents for more. I know I’ll spend the night planning my New York fantasy return, a life I hope I can make possible again. There’s safety in smallness; there’s safety in struggle. I file away the plans that live inside my head. I’m afraid to stay that if I stay in LA longer, things could work out. I’m afraid I could be great.  


I take Colin out for an iced coffee. I feel like I’m breaking up with him. I moved out here for him, but now I need to leave him. I tell him I want to stay signed, that I’d like to come back to LA for pilot season. I might be lying. I don’t know if I ever want to come back. 

“One summer in LA, huh? You know what you need? A good rape scene. A good murder scene. If you make me laugh on a show like 30 Rock, I’ll feel comfortable enough to groom you for pilot season.” He half hugs me and wishes me all the best. He tells me I’m pretty. Not talented. Pretty.

 Nahla is disappointed. She thinks my leaving is a big mistake. I’ll miss Nahla. Nahla is so perfect. 

She’s perfect for LA.


 A few days before I leave for New York, Nahla invites me to a taping of CBS’s The Talk, a poor man’s version of The View led by Sharon Osborne. They are interviewing Harvey Weinstein about The Intouchables, a new French film he’s producing about a wealthy quadriplegic man and his caretaker. I scan the on-camera audience, a mixture of out-of-work actors and northern California tourists all dressed in bright colors and clapping at manic speed. 

A woman begins the final segment presenting merchandise to the audience: “These are the top at-home products of 2012.” 

I think about how I’m going to get the $300 I need to stay on my friend’s air mattress for a month in Harlem.

“This is the V7 Dyson Animal vacuum cleaner.” 

I think about how I’m going to have to find a new job or ask for shifts at my old jobs. What to tell them? Why I didn’t stay. 

“This is an iHome portable MP3 player and alarm clock.” 

I think about all the furniture I sold to my Natalie Portman lookalike roommate in Brooklyn that I can’t afford to buy back. 

“This is the Ninja Professional countertop blender.” 

I think about whether I can afford to pay for a cab to my friend’s house and if he’ll help me with all my bags. 

“Audience members, it’s your lucky day because each of you will receive all of these AMAZING products for attending our show today!”

Nahla turns to me: “You can sell those! That’s your rent!”

Tears stream down my face. 

Maria Prudente is a writer and actress based in New York City. Her work has appeared in Litro Magazine, Cathexis-Northwest Press, Quarto Magazine, Manifest-Station, Prometheus Dreaming Journal, and The Daily Beast. She recently graduated with an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. She is currently in pre-production for a feature film and writing a novel based on her essay for The Coachella Review. Instagram: mariaaprudente. Website: