This is a real conversation I had, with changes only made to protect identities.
It is a conversation that could happen in no other city in the world besides Los Angeles.
I’ve just finished oral surgery at my dentist near Cedars Sinai hospital and my headache and nausea are bad enough that I don’t want to go home where only work and phone calls await.
Instead, I go to the Farmers Market where I can have lunch and wander until my sense of self returns.
As I cross the open-air parking lot, I see Trevor Hammond, a British screenwriter who once taught a night summer screenwriting class that I took when I first came to Los Angeles. He’s standing in the shade of the first building, smoking a cigarette.
We spot each other and smile.
I loved his class because he’d take us students drinking afterwards and entertained us with amazing stories of his life growing up in East London and his work as a writer in Hollywood.
Trevor is talented -- he’s written movies and TV shows you would recognize -- but he has enough demons that he’s sabotaged his own success, mostly with drugs, tardy work and bad behavior.
Yet he’s always funny and friendly and gracious and open whenever I see him, which happens randomly about once a year, in stores, theater lobbies, and at screenings.
“Hello, Professor Hammond,” I say.
“Mr. Bull,” he answers. “Always good to see you again.”
His second-hand smoke hits my nostrils and churns my head and my stomach, and it also must turn my face green because he drops his cigarette and steps on it.
“You look pickled, Squire,” he says.
“I just had my mouth worked on,” I say.
“You just did the Novocain and laughing gas? Or did they give you the Michael Jackson joy juice?”
“I didn’t know you could do that for oral surgery," I say.
“Of course you can. We’re in Los Angeles. You just have to sign the forms and pay for the anesthesiologist. I’ll e-mail you my dentist’s name,” he says.
“When did you start smoking again? I thought you quit three years ago,” I say.
“I always find a reason to start again. My first draft, my second draft, the Oscars were on, and I’m seeing you again,” he says.
“Seeing you is good, mate, because I smoke to celebrate, too. Any excuse will do. Besides, my doctors all smoke and I’ve never met healthier, happier people,” he says.
“You have doctors who smoke? What kind of doctors are they?”
“They’re not really doctors, they’re more like healers. Medicine men,” he says.
“Do they have a clinic?”
“No, they’re constantly moving through the West, going state to state, and whenever they loop back through town I get in touch with them and I go through a healing ceremony with them,” he says.
“A healing ceremony?” I ask.
“I take DMT with them. It’s a mind-expanding vision-inducing chemical.”
“DMT?” I ask. “You mean LSD?”
“No, it’s DMT. It cleanses both your mind and your body. I compare the experience to a loving psychiatrist who shows you all your flaws, and who then water boards you. It’s blows your mind, mate.”
“Water boarding doesn’t sound fun,” I answer.
“Hey, whatever works to get the gunk out. Most of the time I take a gentler version of the medicine that lasts about two hours. It comes from combining a flower and a root that come from the Amazon rain forest. They make a brew of it that you drink, called Ayahuasca. Everyone’s doing it,” he says.
“Never heard of it. How do you spell it?” I ask, pulling out my iPhone.
I touch the notepad app and start typing in the letters as he dictates: “A..y...a...h...u...
I’m waiting for the spell check on my iPhone to mangle this into something indecipherable. If you type in “I’m in the Marina,” it will turn it into “I am inanimate,” so I know it can’t handle a word for an obscure chemical stew from the Amazonian jungle. But I’m amazed when the notepad app accepts the word without a suggested change.
“That’s weird,” I say.
“What?” Trevor asks.
“I thought for sure my iPhone would turn Ayahuasca into Ayurvedic or some other word, but it went in with no problem.”
“That’s not an accident, my friend. That’s on purpose. That’s an inside joke between all the IOS designers at Apple. All those guys in Silicon Valley are taking it. That’s their little way of telling the world what they’re up to -- if you’re in the know,” he says.
“Sure thing, Trevor.”
“You doubt? All the software designers in Silicon Valley are taking it. I’ve experienced it first hand.”
“Really? You’re hanging out with software engineers now?”
“No, but I’ve taken Ayahuasca with them. I was on an Ayahuasca retreat in Peru, where you travel by river to this compound in the jungle with thatched huts and wooden walkways between them, like the Ewok village in Return of the Jedi. Do you remember that?”
“I remember the Ewok village, yes,” I answer.
“Well I was on this two week retreat in Peru where we take Ayahuasca every two days, and over half the people on that trip were from Silicon Valley. I swear to God.”
“Good story, Trevor,” I say, waving my hand. “That’s why I love talking to you.”
“Always the Doubting Thomas. It’s all true. And you know who the other half of the trip was? Computer animators.”
“Interesting,” I answer.
“Believe what you want, but when you go to see a movie about talking cars, cute little robots, fighting pandas, or moms who turn into bears, just remember where they’re getting their ideas.” He nods at me, smiles and holds up another cigarette.
“You feel well enough yet for me to smoke?” he says, and lights up before I can answer.
It’s a clean and sunny day, but its still winter, and when the breeze comes it’s suddenly too cold for me in the shade. I want to be in the warm sun again.
“Enjoy your medicine men, Professor,” I say, and I walk back into the sunny parking lot back to my car.