|This appeared as A Letter From Los Angeles in Britain's The Spectator magazine. I have to say that it is rather chastening to read it some years later and note that none of the dreams of success that it describes have come true. Ah well, tomorrow is another day. But then again, so was yesterday.|
When a colleague at work announced that she was distraught at reaching the advanced age of twenty-eight and proposed dealing with the problem by having a butterfly tattooed on her backside, I paused for thought on two counts: Firstly, with my fifty-second birthday looming, the idea that twenty-eight was considered old suggested that somebody's perspective was askew. Perhaps it was mine. 'You are as old as you feel' may be wrong -- you are really as old as you are old.
Secondly, how was a butterfly on the buttock supposed to help?
Mind you, this is Los Angeles I'm talking about. Here, everyone wants to look as if they are twenty-one. Rejuvenation is the city's sixth largest industry, after entertainment, aerospace, narcotics, prostitution and valet parking. You can tell a woman's age only by counting the little scars behind her ears. One for each face lift. Just like tree rings. You judge a man's age the same as anywhere else -- by the car he drives.
For both sexes, the surgical removal of body fat from places where it is considered unsightly and its insertion in places where it is deemed erotic, and the surgical transplantation of hair from places where it grows too thickly to places where it is thinning, are commonplace. Breast augmentation too, is unisex, as many men wanting to look like Victor Mature in Samson and Delilah as women wanting to look like Jane Russell in Outlaw. But there I go, showing my age again. I should have said Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator and Julia Roberts in Erin Brokovitch.
Ironically enough, ageism is the very thing that caused my exile here. As a computer programmer, I was experiencing increasing difficulty in finding work back home. Once past thirty, a programmer is considered over the hill in the UK. Past forty, few employers will interview you. After fifty, your job application is assumed to be a hoax.
Here, there is no such prejudice, at least in the computing industry. They have the quaint notion that it is your ability to do the job that counts.
Admittedly, not every industry is the same. The entertainment world is notoriously ageist. Ever wondered why most Hollywood films seem to be written by and for juveniles? It's because they are. The writers with the most disposable ideas catering for the consumers with the most disposable income.
Yes, of course this is sour grapes. I, like everyone who stays here longer than a few months, have started writing screenplays. I am now simultaneously on my fourth, fifth and sixth. It is well known that for an aspiring screenwriter over thirty to sell a script to Hollywood is as unlikely as winning a lottery jackpot. It can happen, but it won't, not to you. For a new writer over fifty to sell a script would be like winning the jackpot without buying a ticket -- it could happen, but it's difficult to see how.
So, I escaped Britain's most age-conscious industry and fled to LA, where I am now trying to break into America's most age-conscious industry. I am keeping my day job, just in case.
So what's the good news? A man called Kroc. Recently, on television, there was a program about great entrepreneurs. It told how Raymond Kroc founded the McDonald's restaurant chain at the age of, yes, fifty-two! An old Kroc indeed. The very age that was now looming for me. Well, let it loom. If Ray could go from salesman to head of a multizillion dollar global fake-food empire at that age, then I could perform a similar feat.
Not that I would enter the burger business, of course. That market is saturated. But I'll find my niche. Assuming Hollywood continues to ignore my genius (so far they haven't even acknowledged my presence), I'll establish my own business empire. Rear-end tattooing, maybe. There appears to be a demand for it, and what better place to find one's niche?. Posterior Printers, Inc. or Arse Gratia Artis perhaps. Our slogan could be "You can't beat a tattoo on your butt -- let us do it for you".
One thing bothers me, though. Have you noticed that in all these rags to riches stories, there seem to be some remarkably valuable rags? "Fred Famous started with nothing. He was destitute. Then he had his brilliant idea for crenellated nylon grommets. So he bought a factory..." Whoa! If I could afford to buy a factory, I wouldn't be starting out -- I would have arrived.
A similar thing happened with Kroc. He was a humble salesman, penniless, about to lose his job, with a wife to whom he had been married forever (she left him as soon as he was rich) and, sure enough, access to a sudden and mysterious source of funds that enabled him to buy a share in a restaurant. The restaurant, owned by two brothers called McDonald, was here in California. The shrewd Kroc was after the name, not the recipe. A 'Krocnuggets happy meal' wasn't going to cut it.
This Ray Kroc saga would not have made such an impression on me had it not been for the match in ages. Not a little older or younger, but the exact-same fifty-two. It seemed like Fate, telling me that my entrepreneurial life was about to begin. True, I was caught out once before, twelve years ago, when I was led to believe life in general was beginning, and nothing much happened.
To make all of his effort worthwhile, Kroc had to live into his eighties, giving himself time to enjoy his wealth. Up to now I have calculated that I could not afford to live beyond sixty-five. Now that I'm going to be a late-blooming billionaire, I cannot afford to die before I am eighty. So I must seek ways to increase my lifespan. Hitherto, my lifestyle has tended in the opposite direction. I wonder what Kroc's secret was? It wasn't healthy eating, that's for sure.