After, “what’s your name?” and, “where are you from?” this is the third most common question asked of you in LA. My default is, “I came here to be a writer,” and I still have days where I feel like I’m still semi-fibbing until something I wrote gets up there on a screen somewhere.
We all spend so much time here trying to “make it” in the film, TV and music businesses. It’s the most important thing in the whole world, the elusive golden carrot dangling just beyond your reach past the velvet rope.
Then you meet someone like Aunt Trudy.
We have some German friends in town at the moment and the purpose of their trip is to see one of their Aunts who lives here in LA. And in true European open house style, Aunt Trudy invited all of us to her home for pea soup.
Her home is gorgeous and she herself is a grand lady; straight of back, grey of bob, stylish of dress and her German accented English pulls out the romantic writer in me. I imagine all kinds of Roman Holiday-esque tales of how she arrived in America. Nothing would have surprised me; a model in Paris who met a dashing American businessman, a young girl on her travels who finds New York on the 60s, a doctor without borders who stopped off in America after a trip to Uganda.
The reality was quite different. She told us her story as we ate her hazelnut cake and I devoured every word. She’d been a young woman in East Germany, which as she said was just her and her family’s bad luck. When the Wall went up, she thought that that was it for her and she was facing a life living under the Russians. As a young girl, watching her great country turn to the darkness, be destroyed and then be handed over to the Soviet Union, it was more than she could bear.
But instead Aunt Trudy, who I can imagine had an iron will, got herself a job with an American company in the Russian zone. She worked for them for a while before she made her play and applied for an American visa through them, but of course it had to be approved by the Mayor of East Berlin.
You couldn’t get an appointment to see him but eventually, she worked whatever magic she had and she found herself sitting in front of him in between important meetings of mayoral business. She told the Mayor her case, that the American company would sponsor her to go to the States. With a wave of his hand, he took her papers and said that he would sort it out.
She left relieved, imagining a life away from under the boot of the Soviets. However, to her dismay, a letter arrived telling her that her application had been denied. But to Trudy, “no” wasn’t going to cut it.
She went back there again and stayed outside his office till he finally would see her again. And as politely as she could, Trudy explained to the mayor that he really needed to hire some new staff because her application had been denied. Surely the secretary must have made a mistake because he had said that he would grant it and he was a man of his word, was he not?
Seeing that there was no dismissing her this time, Trudy was granted her visa and she left straight away to America, leaving behind the country of her birth.
And she landed in LA. She made it. She was out. She had a new life.
The fact that she started washing dishes and finished up with a mini-real estate empire was almost inconsequential. She had won from the moment that her feet hit the ground in Los Angeles.
This wonderful woman reminded me of the journey I had to get here which was nothing by comparison. Leaving sunny Sydney for sunny LA doesn’t rate a song written about it.
And it was also a nice reminder that just simply arriving and setting your dreams in motion is a victory in itself.
Thanks Trudy. And to the place I don’t say it to enough, thanks LA.