It’s 6:55 a.m.—a Winchell’s morning. That means my friend and I have agreed to meet at Winchell’s on Melrose to go surfing. But he isn’t here. At 7:05 I text him—“u coming brah?”—then after a cup of coffee to work off the margarita hangover, hit the road without him.I get to my secret spot, a little farther north than usual, and put on my gear, then walk all the way to one end of the beach and all the way back. No waves.
I decide to get in anyway, picking a house under construction to be my lineup. I make it out, paddle south, and catch a few. But it’s cold and no good. My feet are getting numb. I keep thinking I’m going to go in, but then I catch a wave and go back out. I feel tired. And I’m alone.
I have a couple bad falls where I land weird and do a somersault. I bang a heel, and my leash hurts my foot.
I’m thinking I’m going to tell my girlfriend, Missy, “This is the worst I’ve ever seen it out here.” I’m calculating in my head—is it the worst?—when the wave hits me. I fall in front of the board and get turned around and—bam!—my board hits me in the face and I hear a crunch, like ice cubes in a canvas bag being stepped on. I can feel a flap of skin somewhere, either by my eye or on my nose. I know it’s bad.
I paddle in. Blood is everywhere. I’m freaking out. Nobody notices me. There are some kids fishing at the shore break. They don’t even look my way. Neither does the couple I walk right in front of lying on the sand. Or the guys playing Frisbee. I get to my car. The cut is bad—so deep I can’t tell how deep it is. I’m getting out of my wet suit, not sure what’s next, when this very skinny man with a huge belly—probably 65 to 70 years old—walks up with his very small dog. He informs me he’s lost his keys and needs a ride home. He says nothing about my broken nose.
I’m standing next to my car, shaking, with blood all over my face. There are other people in the parking lot. Why did he come to me? I tell him I’ve just been cast in a new show called True Blood. For me, landing the role of Sam is a big deal. I had a Tony nomination on Broadway, but in Hollywood this is my best role yet. I say, “I’m feeling like my life might be over, because I’m an actor and I’ve done something awful to my face.” No reaction. Instead the man tells me the waves look good. “Get in,” I say.
On the way he tells me there’s an urgent care place nearby. When I drop him off, he points me in the right direction. It’s in a strip mall. It doesn’t look like a doctor’s office. The shades are drawn. I don’t have my insurance card. I’m dabbing a Kleenex on my nose. The nurse gives me a tetanus shot. I hardly feel it. I am despondent. Will I get fired from the show? I look at my feet. They look blue.
The doctor doesn’t tell me his name. He looks like an old burnt surfer. He has this shaggy blond hair and he’s totally tan, like he’s been in the sun his whole life. He apologizes that I’ll have to wait five minutes for a room (which I don’t think is a long time). He also says, which I find odd, “You can’t tell by looking, but all the rooms are taken. There’s a woman down the hall with a very terrible headache.” He leaves. What’s up with the woman with a headache?
The nurse leads me to a room, and Doc comes in and says to shut my eyes. He starts sewing me up, and that paper thing over my face is sliding all around and seems makeshift. I ask him if he’s a surfer. He says he used to live in Hawaii. “I used to sew up guys from Pipeline.” This blows me away, since I’m obsessed with Pipeline—one of the most dangerous waves in the world. Then he asks, “Do you like Magnum, P.I.?” I tell him I don’t actively seek out Tom Selleck movies, but yes, I’ve watched the show. He tells me he was the show’s doctor.
The whole vibe is weird. I’m sitting there waiting for—what? I don’t know—when Doc brings in two surfing articles to show me. I give him an autograph because he asks for one. “In case this show, True Blood, catches on, maybe it’ll be worth something,” he says.
On the way home I call Missy. I’m almost in tears: “My life is over. I’m going to get fired.” Then I get another call. I put her on hold and answer. It’s my agent: “You have to go see Alan Ball”—the creator of True Blood—“and read with some other actors. In two days.” NO! NO! NO!
Two days later I slink in with a bruised face and ten stitches running horizontally across the bridge of my nose. Alan doesn’t even really say anything about it. He has bigger fish to fry.
I swore I would never surf again, but everybody was like, No, you can’t stop being the person you are. The person you are is what gets you the work. Like that doctor. As bizarre as he was, I felt like he saved my life. He was a true healer. He did a helluva job.