When I was 18, I was living in Los Angles, doing that thing that actors do – wait around for other people to tell them they are wonderful.
A friend of mine had just gotten that stamp of approval and was joining a hugely popular television show as a regular cast member. On her first day of work, she pulled up to the studio lot in her cute little Volkswagen Rabbit. One of the stars of the show saw her parking and said to her,
“Oh, honey, you are on a big TV series now. Get yourself a nice car.”
My friend felt flustered and embarrassed. She needed to fit in with her new co-workers. After they wrapped for the day, she picked me up and we went to the BMW dealership.
It didn’t take her long to pick which car would be suitable for her new job and new life. The pretty white convertible was sitting in the showroom, looking for all the world like a car that a newly minted television star should be driving. It was sparkly and it smelled like leather and triumph. We collected the old scripts and discarded caramel macchiatos from the backseat of her Rabbit and she wrote a check. We sped off in the little white Beemer to test out the handling on the hills of the Laurel Canyon.
Being impulsive and a little extravagant was common in that world. I was never able to embody that fun breeziness with money – yet another way that I failed at the whole Young Actor thing. I didn’t come from money and was always unnerved by the large amounts of cash that would come and go in my industry.
But in truth, this confidently reckless behavior was kind of awe-inspiring. Personally, I was always convinced that Hollywood was done with me and I would never work again, so whatever was in the bank account had to last me until my actor’s union pension kicked in. I wasn’t gutsy enough to be impulsive…except for this one time.
I had a call-back audition in Beverly Hills, and stopped by the mall to get lunch at the Panda Express beforehand. At the Beverly Center they had a very fancy pet store. (As a side note – I’m not advocating pet stores, it’s all about the rescue dogs for me now.)
As I browsed, I locked eyes with this little dog. She was tiny, gray and shiny like a wet seal pup. She was an Italian Greyhound, which I had never heard of, but they are the dogs you always see at the heels of the Egyptian pharaohs in paintings. They are light, delicate little wisps of a dog who think that they can take down a Great Dane and they probably could, out of sheer determination. I needed her. She needed me. I held her in my palm and slapped down my credit card.
I called my agent and told her I was sick and couldn’t make the call-back. She said they would try to reschedule and I said something like “Whatever” as I signed the paperwork and they tried to cram my little ball of gray love into a cardboard box with holes punched in the side.
I hadn’t really paid attention to how much she cost, I’m sure it was printed somewhere but I was too busy falling in love to really comprehend. How much could a dog be? $50? As they handed me her pure-bred lineage chart, which included names like “Chipwil’s Little Drummer Boy” and “Sandcastle Ginger D’Laviere,“ I started to wonder what I had just done.
A glance at the credit card slip stapled to her vaccination form confirmed that I had just bought a $1,800 dog.
At a mall.
In Beverly Hills.
My momentary freak out was followed by overwhelming joy. It seemed a small price for unconditional love. Support. Friendship.
In homage to her historic roots, I named the pup Cleopatra, as in Queen of the Nile. She was a balls-to-the-wall firecracker in a leggy, 11-pound package. Macho dudes who hated little dogs thought she was cool. She seemed to own every tiny little step and made no apologies for herself.
Cleo could run like the wind but very rarely cared to do so. Michael Richards (who played Kramer on Seinfeld) once approached us at a café and asked to see her run. Cleo refused, stood stock-still and glared at him until he awkwardly apologized and went away. It didn’t even matter to her that Seinfeld was at the height of popularity; she didn’t feel like running. Fuck him.
I envied Cleo’s self-assuredness. I was the passive one of the pack, the one who so desperately wanted to be liked. I would tuck my tail and roll over for anyone. But Cleo was someone, regardless of her size, who didn’t care what others thought and she knew she had something to offer, simply because she existed. Her sense of self-worth was profound.
I had paid $1,800 and I had found my idol.
Cleo passed away 3 years ago and I still miss her terribly. She remains my example of what it looks like to be brave in the world. When I’m doubting myself and feel it’s safer to just let the Alphas tell me how to live and what kind of car I should drive – I try to embody my little greyhound, informing Michael Richards that she had no intention of running for him, or anybody else.
We run on our own terms.
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