Hollywood Double

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Snap storyteller Doug Cordell is just another writer from New York out to catch the L.A. sunshine. But after moving into a new house, he can't tell what's his shadow and what's his new roommate.


Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT from PRX and NPR, the "Suspicious Behavior" episode. My name is Glynn Washington and if you want to get into some suspicious behavior, where else would you start but Los Angeles? The city where everyone wants to be someone else. Storyteller Doug Cordell breaks it down.

DOUG CORDELL: I met the Victor through Craigslist. I had come to LA from New York for the winter and any maybe longer if things went well. When my cab pulled up to a classic California bungalow, a wiry little guy in a sock hat came out and waved me in. He was intense, I could see that, but we clicked pretty well. I moved in that night and we stayed up late drinking and talking about all kinds of things. Soon, we were hanging out together quite a bit, tooling around town in his old Cutlass. There were, however, disturbing aspects of living with him. For one, he began to imitate my daily routine. I exercised in my room every morning. And within a few days, I began to hear Victor in his room grunting his way through a workout, doing push-ups or skipping rope. Nothing like starting the day with intense activity, he told me, coming out of his room soaked in sweat. You should try it. In the evenings, I read in the small front room setting up candles and a glass of wine on a TV tray while Victor watch kung fu DVDs in the living room. A week after I moved in, I found Victor in the front room with a book in his lap and candles and a glass of wine on the TV tray next to him. I used to read here all the time, he said. I realized I needed to get back to that. As time went on, I was more reluctant to sit around and drink with Victor. Once, after several hours of booze and talking, he leaned his head back and gave me a wild look as if he was thinking of cracking the bottle over my head. Some mornings I would wake up and see Victor in the front yard eyeing the base of the house. It turned out the foundation was sketchy and whenever it rained, the house was in danger of sliding down the street. Apparently, he didn't have the money to fix the problem so all he could do was pace around the yard cursing the rain. Money was an issue for Victor, that's why he was renting out the room to me. He was an out of work movie grip and spent most of his day calling people about leads on jobs. Then one day, he came bouncing into my room with a manic grin telling me about a gig he just scored. It was a photo shoot in Beverly Hills and he was sure it would lead to a lot of work. Before he headed out, he insisted we toast it with a beer. It was 7:30 in the morning.

That night, Victor came roaring in late. A whole job ruined by some New York hag, he said, coming into my room chugging from a bottle of wine. What happened? She wanted me to work 'til midnight on a promo shoot of some actress' house. I told her I was done for the day and she starts moaning saying the job wasn't finished. I just split. Meanwhile, check out what I walked away with. He pulled a big telephoto lens from his parka. You took that? Yeah, he laughed. And you should hear the message she left. He handed his phone to me. A woman's angry voice came on. Victor, this is Marcia. You're in big trouble, mister, and you know it. Call me back or you will regret it. Watching my face, Victor couldn't help doubling over. She seems really mad, I said. Screw her, I hope she comes looking for it. I'll chop her head off. Anyway, I got something better lined up. Guy there turned me on to a film job. I could get my union card. Here's the thing though, he said moving closer to me, I need some clean urine 'cause they're going to test me tomorrow. You mind if I borrow some of yours? My urine? Yeah. I don't know, I mean - is it a problem? No, no, it's not a problem, I just - great. Thanks brother. He gave my shoulder a squeeze.

I could hardly sleep that night imagining how this was going to blowback on me. Who knows what he would do on his next job? Steal something bigger? Chop somebody's head off? And now they'd have my urine. Could they trace urine back to me? By 6 a.m. I had made a bold decision. I would not give Victor a urine sample. No. I would sneak out while he was still asleep. Frankly, I was afraid of him. I knew he'd be up by 6:30, so I had to move quickly. I went out to the back steps and in a feverish whisper, called a cab. Back in the house I threw my clothes in the suitcase and grabbed my things out of the bathroom, tiptoeing through the hall. I slipped out the front door and dragged the suitcase two houses away where I told the cab to pick me up. As I jumped into the cab, I heard Victor's front door slam. Out the rear window, I saw him standing on his porch. He had that wild look in his eyes. I told the driver I was going to the airport and to step on it. I figured I'd try my luck on flights to New York. LA was a big town, but not big enough and I didn't want to cross paths with Victor. I only hope that New York was far enough away.

WASHINGTON: Doug Cordell is an Emmy nominated writer and performer in the San Francisco Bay area. He's currently working on a novel. That piece was produced by Mark Ristich and Jamie DeWolf.

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