Chicago, IL

California Dreamin'

Sherry McGuinn

Shoulda, woulda, coulda, but I didn't

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A few years ago, I wrote a short screenplay entitled “John Delaney Died Last Night.” It got picked up, and was produced and shot in California.

I was inspired by the true story of an acquaintance of my husband’s and mine. A sweet, gentle soul from a large Irish Catholic family. He was an alcoholic. Hardcore. I’m guessing that his family simply gave up on him. As a result, he joined the legion of forgotten individuals who fall through the cracks of our society.

One day, we got the tragic news that he had been found dead, late at night, in a Chicago street. Cause unknown.

This haunted me to such a degree that I simply had to write about it. So, “John Delaney” was born.

Even though I wrote this many years ago, it’s lodged in my brain for a couple of reasons. My director, a friend of the actor Bryan Cranston, gave him the script to read in the hope that he might want to be involved. As he was busy shooting “Breaking Bad,” at the time, he declined but did offer up some great ideas that garnered him a “thank you” in the credits. After reading the script, he referred to me as “gifted,” which, I swear, keeps me writing…when I just want to say, “Okay. You all win. I suck.”

Bryan — should you ever read this, I am forever in your debt.

“John Delaney” premiered at the Los Angeles Film School. I was invited to attend and take part in an audience Q&A, after the screening.

I was beyond excited. I had never been to Los Angeles and, in spite of my deep dislike of flying, I was pumped!

In L.A. for just a few days, only, I wanted to make the most of every minute. Venice Beach was a must-see for me, so one bright, beautiful California day, I made my meandering way down the strip.

Now this, was a show. Artists. Skateboarders. Stylish coffee bars. Funky, “head” shops. The famous Muscle Beach outdoor gym. Whatever you could imagine wanting, it was there for the buying. The vibe was electric.

As I walked along, the beach and shoreline to my right, shops and bistros on my left, I was struck by the number of homeless people, some of them squatting under makeshift tents, others exposed to the sun’s burning rays.

In 2016, L.A.’s homeless population skyrocketed to 47,000. Maxed-out shelters have led to the following surge: According to a Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority report, the homeless count now stands at 53,000 in L.A. County alone.

As I continued on my way, my head whipped back and forth, from left to right. Happy, well-heeled locals and visitors on my left, laughing it up, enjoying their cocktails and ceviche, and on the right, abject misery. I felt a little sick.

How? How could the “chosen” among this group not see what was right in front of their eyes? How could they laugh? Eat? Drink?

Suddenly, I wanted to get the hell out of there. Go to the premiere and fly back to Chicago.

As I quickened my pace, something just ahead caused me to slow down. A man, seared a brick red by the sun, lying prone in the sand, eyes closed. A dog, presumably his dog, lay close beside.

I couldn’t move. I just stared, my heart in my stomach. Truthfully, the man could have expired and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. That’s how still he was.

As I think back on this, I am deeply ashamed. Why didn’t I march into the plethora of Venice restaurants and buy them both something to eat? What is wrong with me…that I just turned my head and walked on?

I wish I could go back to that moment. Prove that I am not the type of person who prefers to turn a blind eye.

I wish I could hand over a bag filled with sandwiches and coffee. Watch the man break into a surprised grin. Hear his dog’s joyful bark.

I wish.

No. Instead, my inattention, my utter disregard, will haunt me, forever. And I will be forever sorry.

© Sherry McGuinn, 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Sherry McGuinn is a slightly-twisted, longtime Chicago-area writer and award-winning screenwriter. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and numerous other publications. Sherry’s manager is currently pitching her newest screenplay, a drama with dark, comedic overtones and inspired by a true story.

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Chicago, IL
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