So my dad drove me to L.A. just like your parents likely drove you to Kenyon or Ball State, or whichever school of your choosing chose to have you. And the next four years provided as intense an undergraduate experience as one would expect from any college career, replete with parties and heavy workloads, not enough spare time, too much spare time, parties, deadlines, successes, failures, parties, heartaches, girlfriends, parties, ex-girlfriends, future girlfriends, parties, and a graduation of sorts. Was I nervous at first? Were you? Me neither, not really. I was pumped. I knew this was the next step for me, although one of the reasons it might have been so easy to make up my mind was that my brain, like the brain of any eighteen-year-old, was still under construction (trust me, I know from brains).
Teenagers blithely skip off to uncertain futures, while their parents sit weeping curbside in the Volvo, because the adolescent brain isn't yet formed enough to recognize and evaluate risk. That's why we can talk young men and women into fighting wars, and MTV and ESPN 2 are crowded with tattooed mohawk-wearers leaping buses on skateboards. The prefrontal cortex, sometimes known as the seat of reason, is the part of the brain that we use to make decisions. It's our bulwark against banzai behavior. A teenager's prefrontal cortex is still growing, still connecting up with other parts of the brain. It's the amygdala, home base for gut reactions and raw emotion, that's going full blast at this point. Not a lot of reasoned thinking going on there.
With so many immediate considerations to deal with, I don't know if my parents had time to ponder the broader implications of the odyssey I was embarking upon. As removed as they were from the world of showbiz, they might not have been informed enough to have specific fears, but they were still visited by worries that I could very well be sucked into a whirling vortex of depravity, exposed to a nonstop bacchanalia—a moveable feast of drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and brazen sexuality.
Sure, all that happened, but the party, it turned out, wasn't in Hollywood, but Westwood, the campus of UCLA. While I had no connection to the academic life at the university, I had become friends with three transfer students from the University of Maine, frat brothers who were living off campus while waiting for space to open up at the fraternity house. Temporarily occupying the apartment next to mine, the Maine-iacs (as I referred to them) were dealing with Orono-to-L.A. culture shock every bit as jarring for them as my own Canada-to-California adjustment. It was easy to recognize aspects of my own experience in theirs. Young, far from home, hoping to measure up to some still undefined standard, they studied their textbooks in pursuit of better grades, just as I pored over scripts in pursuit of better jobs.
Although we went our separate ways during work and school hours, my friends provided me with an entree into what were easily the best parts of life on campus— free beer and college girls. I remember thinking at the time that our situations were similar, but I allowed myself extra points for the pressure that came with trying to find the next job. "You've got it easy," I'd tell them. "Your parents bought you four more years of high school."