I drove past the outdoor parking-lot-turned-Christmas-tree-store several times before I decided to buy my Christmas tree from there. It was fairly close to my home in the Westside of Los Angeles, and business seemed brisk. Must be a nice place.
Soon I found a nice, fluffy, well-shaped tree. "How much?" I asked a smiling salesman. "$60," he said, showing me the price tag I had overlooked, "Good deal." Then he said, "Are you Larry Elder? Big fan." "Guilty," I said. "Is this your place?" "No," he said, "I'm an actor, just doing this part-time to make a few bucks for the holidays."
I'm always surprised when I meet non-left-wing actors, a rare breed in this town -- especially those out of the closet. I asked how his career was going. "Mark" told me the names of a few TV shows and movies in which he'd appeared.
But lowering his voice, he said, "When you're a Republican in this place, it gets tough." He told me about jobs he felt he'd lost because someone told someone that he was "a Republican." "I'm not even sure I am," he said, lowering his voice still more. "But I know we can't handle four years of Hillary."
Soon, another salesman came over, also an actor and fan of my show. "Tommy" said, "I'd ask you what you think about the Republican field, but you're not working, right?" We all laughed. "I'm just here to buy a tree," I said.
Believe it or not, a third person, shopping for a tree, overheard the conversation. She came over. She, too, enjoys my show, but said: "It's caused a rift between friends and even family members. Oh, they're tolerant and caring -- as long as you agree with them." The shopper, "Sandra," it turns out, was also an actor.
Well, now the four of us started exchanging stories of left-wing intolerance, practically completing each other's sentences.
Sandra told us about an acting gig in the home of a well-known comedian for some online video. When Sandra found out, because of some offhand comment, that the comedian was also a conservative, they started talking -- only to be to be interrupted by the cameraman who complained about their "right-wing crap." Sandra said, "(The comedian) reminded him that, one, this was her own home, and, two, she hired him, and then the cameraman finally shut up."
I told a story I once heard about actor Ed Asner. "On the set of 'Lou Grant,'" I said, "Asner said he never hired anyone who voted for Ronald Reagan. Publicly said it!"
I told them about the time a movie was filmed at the house next door to mine. The film's location scout negotiated with me to use my driveway and patio area for parking and catering.
During the filming, I stood on my porch and watched them shoot some takes. The caterer came over to me, said he enjoyed my show, and we talked for 15 to 20 minutes.
Months later, the same caterer called my radio show. He said when people observed him speaking with me, "The word spread that I must therefore be a Republican. Haven't worked on a shoot since."
After a few minutes swapping stories, a man yelled from a booth on the tree lot and told Mark and Tommy to "get back to work." As they scattered, Mark pointed to the booth and whispered, "He's the owner. When I told him you were here, he said, 'And you're impressed by that guy?'" I laughed, "Not a fan." He shook his head. "Occupational hazard," I said, "I just hope he doesn't jack up the price on me." We laughed.
I looked around for several more minutes, making sure that I was getting the best tree for the size and shape I wanted. But I settled on the one I first liked.
"$80," said the owner. I handed him my credit card, and signed the receipt before recalling that Mark told me it was $60. Maybe, I thought, I misheard Mark. But then I remembered being shown the $60 tag.
So I found Mark, and told him that his boss charged me $80. Angry, he told me to wait and stormed over to the booth. The boss and he had an animated exchange. I couldn't hear what was said, but I was refunded $20.
After two workers tied the tree to the top of my car. I found Mark, put my arm around him and thanked him for intervening. "But I better get out of here while you still have a job."
Mark didn't disagree. But he smiled, "This town. Merry Christmas."