travelerstales The five of us, my wife and three teenage daughters, got back from three days in that strangest of cities, Los Angeles, where we were extras in a horror movie called Prime Evil, a tale about a huge crocodile, the result of the usual experiment-gone-terribly wrong. The purpose of the trip was so Ahna, my oldest daughter could make progress towards getting her Screen Actors Guild card but the rest of us ending up getting invited to be extras too.

So we sat on the beach for two days by a lake in Santa Clarita for hours in the broiling sun, getting up well before dawn to get to the set on time. It was fascinating to watch the whole movie-making process; everyone was friendly and quite professional, at least on the surface (just like the lake waters, but that giant crocodile was underneath somewhere…).

While I was hoping that I would get to lurch out of my beach chair, zombie-like, and slay my neighbors on the beach, that didn’t happen. I was just a guy sitting reading a book, Wenda my comely wife reading a book, Noelle our typical teenage daughter on a towel reading a book, Ahna and Mary two more typical teenagers playing paddle-ball (for hours on end, their arms were falling off by the end of the day—I ended up quite happy with my relaxed “assignment” and was relieved that I hadn’t been too zealous in volunteering to toss a football around). We watched a water skier doing acrobatics (we had to imagine her falling into the maw of the beast), we watched a little boy tell his Daddy “there’s a dinosaur” out there in the lake, we watched innocent lovelies toss a beach ball back and forth…then things really revved up when I got to be a guy lying down on a towel sleeping, which was followed by the grand climax of Day Two when Ahna got to look out at the lake, scanning for the creature, and shortly afterwards we all fled the beach screaming. They had a huge fat Native American guy bringing up the rear waddling in terror. He was, no doubt, the Featured Banquet.

It was also just about time for Ahna to turn 18, so back in LA our friend, casting agent Mark Sikes, took us to brunch at The Magic Castle (a place for magicians to strut their stuff for their peers), saw some cheesy but fun magic, then we went to a goofy diner called Ed Debevics where the waiters and waitresses insult you and dance and sing and so forth. Our waitress was a very large and funny woman with a gigantic voice who did her very best to embarrass Ahna at every turn, and she succeeded very well at this, at one point hollering at her to get out of the bathroom so she could blow out a candle. I usually don’t go in for this sort of thing, but it was in fact a major hoot.

But Ahna’s biggest thrill for the evening was that a friend of a friend who is dating a major movie star (he shall remain nameless) invited him along, and even though he did not show up, apparently even such a tangential brush with glory was enough to crow about. And speaking of celebrity types we did see Meredith Vieira’s face (Meredith is my sister’s sister-in-law) plastered over half the billboard’s in LA for her new hosting job on the Millionaire show. Would that we all looked so good in our various states of decay.

Much fun was had by all. And next time, perhaps I’ll get to be that zombie—I know I did pretty well as a guy reading a book. And I really do think that as guy-lying-on-a-towel, I might get nominated for some sort of big award.

About James O’Reilly:
James O’Reilly is the publisher and series editor of Travelers’ Tales. He lives with his wife and three daughters in Palo Alto, CA, where they also publish children’s art games at Birdcage Books.