In March of 2013 I flew to Los Angeles on short notice.

It was two days after the Veronica Mars Kickstarter project had launched. Kickstarter’s “Hollywood moment.” 

I was with Veronica Mars’ creator Rob Thomas in Austin. I sat in his office as the $2 million budget that had eluded him the past eight years suddenly appeared through the magic of fans and the internet. He cried, overwhelmed. 

It was an amazing moment for Rob, the fans, and Kickstarter. It was also a big moment in Hollywood. Everyone had a project like Veronica Mars. The one that didn’t get the greenlight but they couldn’t shake. Only this one raised millions of dollars and broke the internet. This was new.

That day my colleague Liz and I reached out to Hollywood people. Had they seen what was happening with Veronica Mars? Any projects they’d be interested in discussing? The responses poured in.

The email we were most excited to send was to David Lynch’s team. Would David like to chat? Yancey’s in town and leaving soon, we white-lied. 

They wrote back. David would be happy to meet. How about coming by David’s for coffee the day after tomorrow?

I canceled my flight to New York and booked a flight to LA instead.

Thirty-six hours later I pulled my rental car up to a pink stucco house in the Hollywood Hills. It was one of those hairpin-steep, one-lane LA side-scrawls. I had to lean over the steering wheel to see the house numbers.

I knocked on the door. A woman who worked for David answered. She was followed by a dog. 

“David’s in his studio. I’m going to walk you up there. I’m just making David coffee. Would you like one?”

“Sure,” I say. At the time I didn’t drink coffee.

“How would you like it?” she asks.

“However David likes it,” I reply, going with the flow.

The two of us, David’s dog, and two coffees walk through the kitchen, out a side door, and up a stone path behind the house. Outside is arid, natural. Not manicured or lush.

At the top of the path is an open concrete building. Glass-less windows, high ceilings, tables and chairs, and not much else. She walks me inside. “David, this is Yancey,” she says. 

Sitting at a drawing table is David Lynch. He’s wearing a white shirt buttoned to the top, khaki pants, and a blue workman’s jacket. His white hair shoots straight up. He steps forward to greet me. 

“Hi Yancey, I’m David,” he says. We shake hands.

I take a seat across from him. He asks me where I’m from.

“Virginia,” I tell him.

“Virginia? That’s where I’m from,” he says. “What does your father do?”

“When I was growing up he was a waterbed salesman,” I tell him. “What about yours?”

“Forestry service,” he says. “We moved a lot. Lived in Montana too.”

We sit across from each other swapping life stories and sipping identical cappuccinos. He pulls out a pack of American Spirits.

“Can I have one of those?” I ask. When was this going to happen again?

He leans forward. I pull one from the pack. He lights it for me.

We talk about his early days in LA. Moving here, making Eraserhead, living in an aging mansion with other artists. We talk Kickstarter. I pitch him on funding a Twin Peaks return — the ultimate dream project. But I can tell by his politeness that it won’t happen.

“Anything I should make sure to do while I’m in LA?” I ask. 

He thinks.

“You see those trees up there?”

He points up the hill behind me. I turn and look.

“Those are jasmine trees. At night, only at night, they open up and make this smell. Have you ever smelled the smell? It’s the most incredible thing.  

“When I first came here I would go up into the hills at night and smell that smell. And I’d think, John Wayne smelled this smell. Marilyn Monroe smelled this smell. And now I’m smelling this smell. 

“You know what that smell is? It’s the smell of Hollywood. You should go in the Hills tonight and smell the smell. That’s what you should do.”

I thank him for his graciousness. We shake hands.

“Anytime, champ,” he replies.

Foolishly I didn’t follow David’s recommendation. I didn’t smell the smell on that trip. In fact, I’d forgotten all about this exchange until Saturday night.

It was late. I was taking out the trash when a wave of soft perfume stopped me. It swam around my face. I was ready to close my eyes and rest my head on it. What was that?

Then I realized: this is the smell. The same smell that John Wayne smelled. The same smell that Marilyn Monroe smelled. The same smell that David Lynch smelled. The whole story came back.

I called my wife. She walked outside and stopped when the air touched her face. “It’s so gentle,” she said. Together we stood there, eyes closed, breathing it in. Ahhh…