I had forgotten that the hair/makeup trailer is such a crossroads until my cousin Phillip flew back to L.A. with me from Dallas. Raising three daughters - he separated from their mother because he "always had his eyes open for what might be around the corner" - and orphaned at the age of 14, he's a devoted father, saving for his three daughters' futures. He gets up in the morning at 5:30 am, seven days a week, to take a bus to his job at a milk plant. He'd like to buy a house one day where all his girls can have their own rooms - "Even after they're grown they can live with their dad." He stresses education and is ever-protective of his girls - always gives them the practical advice, like, "Don't let the boys talk you out of your panties." Phillip has muscle-bound arms and the sweet smile of a teenager that belies the fact that he is about to hit 40. He takes two weeks off every year but never really goes anywhere. Wanting to do something for himself for a change and "live a little," this is his first real vacation in seven years. He wants to see "the pretty L.A. women" and the ocean and visit his cousin on the set of The Unit.

Days on the set average about 12 to 15 hours. My call for the day is six hours into the shooting day and we head to the Santa Clarita studios around 5:30 pm. My one scene for the day is a night scene in a parking lot with Audrey and Abbey. We are first put through the works in the hair-and-makeup trailer. I introduce makeup - Martha Cecilia, head of the department, who also is a wonder at special effects. All the blood and gore of the show (scars, bullet holes, severed bodies...) is created by this petite woman with hair down to her hips.

Also on the makeup team is Siobhan, from Ireland, who is given to joking about American culture, such as the malicious deception of chicken-fried steak. ("Where's the chicken?" she declares in her thick brogue.)

Miss Kelly wears a short fusia-colored bob and is partial to pink and purple. She hits it off with Cousin Phil as I overhear her trying to hijack him to the "hood": "I know Regina hasn't taken you to the hood. Give me a call."

Erma, who does my hair, has just come back from medical leave. She doesn't like to stand still - was going stir-crazy recuperating at home - so she's back within the month because she feels doing what she loves is the best cure. Always firm and mothering, I've missed the soft patter of her voice and her large warm eyes. Phillip embraces her immediately - "She reminds me of somebody... I can't yet place." Erma never met a stranger and is familiar to everyone she meets.

It is in hair and makeup where we first get into our characters and meet guest actors, run lines, and share gossip and life aspirations. Various folks from set construction to electricians to camera operators, writers and producers pass through to get a cut and to chat.

Abbey and her tattooed blues-musician husband are buying their first house outside of Pasadena. She shares pictures of this dream cottage. It is here Audrey revealed the exquisitely delicate art-deco rock on her finger.
"He finally did the right thing," she clucks. Audrey - round-bellied at six months - waddles over so that we can get a closer look. She's beaming - with love for her fiancé and the baby kicking inside. We discuss that she's carrying low. "He's moving a lot now." She's eating for two and sleeping well. Erma, who has two grown sons, advises that if she breast-feeds, she will feel her tummy pull up and grow tight. "I had two sons I breast-fed and I'm tight. Still tight," says tiny 50-plus grandma Erma. Audrey offers that I poke her newly acquired outie belly button. I gently put my head to her belly: "Oh! I can hear him. He said, 'I wuv you mommy!'" I swear those are his first words. Audrey throws her head back and laughs.

Michael [Irby] bounds in with his usual high energy to let Martha swab him down with more blood as she touches up the bullet hole in his side. The always cool and collected Demore [Barnes] needs more sprayed-on sweat. Phillip follows the smell of sulfur to Studio 7 where the guys are doing a shootout. Demore, Max [Martini] and Dennis [Haysbert] are running up and down stairs with guns, making "pop-pop-blam!" sounds in rehearsal that turn into heartfelt blasts when the cameras roll. I leave Phillip there in heaven for the next four hours. Go back to hair-makeup then get completely changed and review my scene.

Hours later I find Phillip back in the hair-makeup trailer, smiling like the Cheshire cat, chewing the fat with Dennis. Dennis is in the chair getting tightened up in the back by his barber Michael (who plays in a jazz band on the side). This is the joint to get some pampering, kick back, laugh, have some fresh-brewed special-blend coffee and listen to music. Maybe even dance.

They get to our scene after dark in the back parking lot. A solo extra walks through bracing himself to the night chill. We finish around midnight. "I could have done that," Phillip says as we wrap. Meaning he could have played the extra. He's amazed at how many components there are behind the scenes. Extras, stand-ins, master carpenters, cameramen, focus pullers, stunt coordinators, accountants, assistant directors, costumers, drivers.... Phillip, an outgoing guy, has taken a lot of pictures and met a lot of new friends.

During his stay I take him around to the various sights of L.A. - the Hollywood sign, through Rodeo Drive, Grauman's Chinese Theater, Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, Bishop Blake's West Los Angeles Church, Santa Monica - to Venice Beach.

Staring in awe out at the ocean, Phillip asks, "What's on the other side?"


CBS' The Unit airs Tuesdays at 9 pm/ET.