Hollywood is my Emerald City. Beyond its golden gates lies beauty, imagination, and inspiration. The yellow brick road lies at my feet, but my ruby slippers have not found home yet. The journey still lies far out of reach, and there are no lions and tigers and bears at my side. I walk alone, and the skies darken under doubt, despair. But this is where I want to go, and the first step I take may be my last. Or it may be the door opening upon a great adventure.
I step forward. It is 2007, a year after Silent Dreams was born. I was one of those poets cyber shy in sharing my work. I’ve had my writing stolen from me before, and the internet was unknown territory. But I finally took that chance, finding message boards and blog sites for my writing, and then the responses came in. Not only were people reading my work, but they liked it. They liked it so much that the idea of a poetry collection surfaced, so I turned to Xlibris to self-publish my prose poetry collection. And that creation led me here to ABC News.
I was to appear on Homework, an ABC News Program. It was my chance to tell the world about my book, my writing. I always wanted to be on television, but I was never brave enough to audition before now. I never thought of being a model or extra. I would just dream about Hollywood, but then opportunity came and found me. And this was to be my chance, but would it be my last?
I arrived on time, entering the studio. I was led to the make-up room. Being pale-skinned at the time didn’t help, but my days at Jones Beach would later increase my color. My make-up and hair was done, and then I was led to a conference room, where the other authors and publicists waited. I was given a security badge, in case security questioned me as to why I was here, and a bottle of water was given to cure the dry throat.
Tory Johnson entered the conference room. A prominent woman, she took a seat beside me and ran through some of her questions. They were easy enough to answer, but my nervousness was obvious. Doubt filled her eyes, questioning as if I were ready for this, but I confirmed that I was. The interview proceeded into the studio, where a microphone was attached to the front of my shirt, and the camera turned my way. Was I really ready?
I knew never to look at the camera, but I couldn’t control my nervousness. My body shook like a leaf. The questions came, and I took too long to answer. I felt out of place, but I wanted to do this. But I was failing so badly. How was the world going to see me now?
I remember leaving the studio, upset and angry at myself. Confidence was something that I lacked and something that I struggled to build. It didn’t help with the horror stories of my life, but if I was going to try this again, then I had to be confident, firm and not nervous. I wanted the world to know me, see me for the talent that I had, but I felt like a joke, a new kid on the block trying desperately for attention. I had to be ready next time, so I took another step forward.
It is now the summer of 2008. I’ve never been to Central Park, but I’ve heard enough stories of it on the news. I didn’t tell my parents what I was really doing in the city or why I took off from work. I didn’t want them to worry, but I was here because of an opportunity that I stumbled across on Craigslist, an opportunity that maybe would help me redeem what I lost a year ago. Was I ready?
I was to appear on WE TV’s Cinematherapy. I saw the big, red couch off in the distance, and as I walked toward the set, I took in the beauty that surrounded me. Central Park was alive with life; children playing, people jogging, and nature whispering, rustling softly through the trees. I met with the production crew, and then I took a seat upon a rock, where my make-up was done. My eyes drifted toward the host, Chuck Nice, and a smile pulled at my lips. Maybe this time, things would be different.
As I took a seat opposite Chuck Nice, I could feel my nervousness growing. I remembered my previous experience on the set. I didn’t want history to repeat itself, so I folded my hands together over my lap, crossing my legs, and concentrated. I didn’t feel ready, but my body was no longer shaking. The questions came, and I answered. I was drowned out by a passing plane, so he patiently waited. The interview continued, and his smiles and laughs melted my tension. As the interview came to a close, I felt confident, happy, which for me is a rarity, and my appearance would be aired during the commercial break of Mr. Holland’s Opus. I just didn’t realize that my hair was pulled back so tightly, and my face would be ten pounds heavier. And seeing how I looked on screen broke the confidence that I had gained.
It is 2010. Over the summer, opportunity arrived close to home. There are so many actors that I admire. There are so many icons that give me hope and inspiration. I marvel in their work, men like Leonardo Dicaprio, Robert Downey Jr., and Tom Sizemore. I know that I could never be like them, but I was never interested in being a lead actor. I would rather entertain the small and minor roles, but for me to do that, I would have to take some acting. So, I grabbed hold of opportunity and took classes that would give me foundation for what I needed, but where would it lead me? Would it be another step forward or another door slamming closed?
Opportunity arrived again. The email instructed me as to what to bring and where to go. When I awoke yesterday morning, a strange sensation came over me. I was ready. The nervousness was gone. Granted, my role was nothing more than being an extra in a film, but I was ready. I eagerly left home, ready for a new adventure.
Yesterday was cold but not too cold. A wind stroked my hair as I leaned back against the stone wall. The production crew hungrily went to work, building the set. Whispers of excitement ruffled through the crowd. Actors stood at the ready, talent that I saw during all those acting classes, and I knew they would make the instructor/director proud. And now it was time to roll. Action, and the set sprung into life, a moment of cinema. A thunderous applause followed after the takes were finally completed, but then another realization dawned upon me. They were done. It was a wrap, and I never got my chance to be one of the crowd.
As I stood alone, I watched the van come and pick up half of the bystanders. The production crew went back to work, dismantling the set. A few extras, kids were brought inside for a few more takes. I turned toward the trailers, mesmerized by the brilliant star that came and went, but I felt like the invisible woman. Nobody came and gave me direction, and everybody was too busy to bother. There was nothing left to do. I could remain by the stone wall and wait for the next van to come and get me, or I could leave, walking up the hill to where I parked. I was no stranger to walking. I used to walk from Seaford to Bellmore all the time, visiting my favorite bookshop, so I walked away from the set, the one thing that I know that you are not supposed to do. But what was I supposed to do?
Hollywood is my emerald city. The yellow, brick road has been long and wicked. I have fallen many times, and yesterday, I stumbled. But the one thing that I have learned over these years is not to give up and to try, try, try again, and I will try again. This is not where my dream will die. This is not where I will end. The journey is far from over, and the city is much closer in hand. The world will see me again, whether as writer or extra. It doesn’t matter. What is the point of life, if we so easily surrender?
“D.T.A., Melissa. Don’t Trust Anyone.” Those words were said to me in 1996. They have stayed with me since. Sometimes, I think that I had forgotten them. Then, something happens, and I hear him say, “D.T.A., Melissa.” And even today, he’s still right.
At my old agency, I trusted my coworkers. I knew better. My father said that if you want to trust someone, then get a dog. I still trusted them, and then I got sick in 2012. I could have died. Thank God, I didn’t, and later, I returned to work. And everything was different. They were different, keeping secrets from me, and at the end of the year as they celebrated their holiday party away from me, I heard him. “D.T.A.,” and I repeated those words.
I seem to live by them today. I spend a good portion of time in the car, going to work and coming home. Like clockwork, as soon as I am on the road, I run into someone that cannot drive. Lately, I get a barrage of cars with their brights on. I don’t know if the car operates that way or the driver, but once those brights start flashing, I know it’s the driver. And people love cruising alongside me, trying to get into the right lane while I am still there; I find myself nearly kissing the bumper of the car before me, forcing the idiot next to me to hit the gas and fly up ahead to where he can merge into the right lane.
I was going to the vet’s office yesterday. I was at the traffic light in town, waiting to turn right. I never know when you have the right of way or not, so I waited. Nobody flashed me. Nobody honked or yelled. As soon as that light turned green, I made the right, and the guy that should have waited for the arrow to turn into my lane floored it. We nearly collided, but I forced him into the opposite lane, where lucky for him, there was no car waiting. And then he merged behind me. All he had to do was wait, but he was in a rush. And it’s people like him that remind me every time that you cannot trust other drivers. You cannot trust them to merge properly. You cannot trust them when their signals flash. You cannot trust them when they declare war on you. I’ve learned that when you drive, it’s a game of survival, and every time, every time I am in the car, I come across at least one of these people. It’s an epidemic. It’s D.T.A., words to now live and drive by.
But a new threat is growing. Whispers of it have crawled along the news. I covered stories of identity theft when I worked as a news reporter for The Smithtown Messenger on Long Island. It’s the real epidemic. We log in to the computer every day, trusting it to take care of our needs, and allowing it to connect us to the world, but all it takes to be annihilated is one email, one link, one mistake. I’ve learned that with Myspace. I made the error of meeting someone offline. I made the error of trusting someone online for a service that I paid for and did not receive. I made the error of trusting a Hotmail email that asked for my information, and instead, I got locked out of my account, which fortunately was quickly resolved. My identity was stolen through PayPal, and someone charged over $200 for a cell phone in New Jersey, where I never had been or planned to go. But luckily, that too was quickly resolved.
We trust the Internet. We trust Facebook. I don’t. I would love to pull my account now, but my friends and family live on that website. They don’t call. They don’t write. They just post there, and if I want to be a part of their lives, then I need my account. But lately, I find myself questioning my online presence. Do I need the internet? As a writer, I do, but for anything else, anything personal, I shouldn’t. We shouldn’t, but we’ve opened Pandora’s Box. And there is no closing it or finding Hope waiting when we are stolen or torn down by silly kids playing a joke on someone like me, someone different that would never fit in. Echoes of my belief scream through Disconnect, a movie that may as well have said, “D.T.A. Don’t Trust Anyone.”
Melissa R. Mendelson is a published short story author and a self-published poet, whose work has been featured in The Outreach for Breast Health Foundation’s Anthology: Beyond Memories, Names in a Jar: A Collection of Poetry by 100 Contemporary American Poets, and Espresso Fiction: A Collection of Flash Fiction for the Average Joe.