The Palm Villa
A new novel by Jarrod Tyler
Saturday morning came early with the roar of leaf blowers lingering outside my tin foiled bedroom window. I rolled onto my back and stared up at the ceiling waiting for the leaf blowers to subside. Veronika stirred beside me, rolling over and draping one of her arms across my chest, “Have they no shame?” she asked sleepily and dozed back into shallow slumber.
“Cretins.” I said and threw on a robe and slipped on my checker board Vans. I lit one up as I stepped out onto the stoop outside my door, which opened into the courtyard, where Hatcher’s brats frolicked in the pool–which I knew for a fact crazy old man Resnick pissed in during his morning swim.
I stood for a moment, taking note of Hatcher and his trophy wife, sunning themselves pool side, reading shared sections of the Times as their offspring squealed like rabid weasels in the pissy waters of the kidney shaped pool. One of Hatcher’s kids volleyed their soccer ball at me and it hit my shoulder, spritzing the side of my face with chlorinated pool water. Indeed, it came as no shock that Hatcher’s old balls had soured and spawned such deranged offspring.
“Morning Frank.” said Alicia Hatcher, aware of her worth and cooing it with a mechanical confidence. There were cracks forming though…and you saw it around her eyes and in her neck.
I offered a subtle nod, dragged from the blunt and peered skyward, where a 747 moved across the brilliantly blue sky, leaving a thin white jet trail behind it, shuttling people to somewhere. I wondered why anyone would ever want to leave LA; the final frontier…the end of the earth, where street signs new my name and the warm pacific breeze rustled through shiny palm trees. Where else was there to go?
“Looks like a heat wave is coming.” said Hatcher, grinning at me from behind his paper as I took note of his trophy wife’s top which left very little to the imagination, covering basically only her nipples. Her breasts looked synthetic, but also not, and it often caused a ponderence and in fact some debate among tenants of the Palm Villa Apartments. I was okay not knowing…for subtle mysteries are what make life interesting.
“Yeah?” I asked, “What else is new?”
“Well, Macy’s has denim on for 40 percent off.” said Hatcher, raising his brows now.
His own breasts were pancaked over the top of his belly which protruded in an alarming way. The nipples were brownish and hairy and between them hung a gold nondescript medallion. I wondered how it was that Hatcher had landed a MILF like Alicia. It was the old money of course…never underestimate the effect of old money on a gold-digger.
I dragged the last drag and flicked the blunt toward a nearby flowerpot where it landed short a few inches, amidst a scatter of leaves. Hatcher, his trophy wife and their rabid brats all gawked at the filter end of the blunt, squinting against the sun and saying nothing.
“It’s gonna be a hot one.” Said Hatcher’s wife, flipping her hair back and striking a Coppertone pose.
I stepped off the concrete stoop and made my way across the courtyard to the front gates. I took the smoldering sidewalk around to the neighboring yard, where the leaf blowers were fervently roaring.
On the other side of the neighbor’s hedgerow, I found two men with blowers, blowing them deep into nooks and crannies, kicking up mainly dust, chocolate bar wrappers and coffee cup lids.
Making the ‘T’ sign I approached the men, who turned to me, letting their blowers idle.
“Yeah, what the fuck you want?” asked one.
“Let me ask you something.” I said, “I mean, this career of yours is clearly a farce…blowing garbage from one place to another. You never really solve anything do you?”
“Just what are you saying?” asked the other man from behind his mirrored sunglasses.
“I’m saying the blowers are a scam…they only blow shit from one place to another. Your life is a joke. You’re a joke.”
“Well, that’s your opinion…which happens to be wrong. How about you go back inside and let us finish our job.” said the shorter man, who wore a forearm length studded wristband and a Pantera t-shirt. He had tattoos stencilled across his forehead, one above each eyebrow which read from left to right, ‘Pain’ and ‘Pleasure’.
“How about I shove that blower up your ass sideways?” I suggested.
“Sounds like a novel plan.” came a voice from above.
Out of a nearby window leaned an old woman who I vaguely recognized…I’d seen her around…she wore a red wig and had a face like painted leather…however, her lips maintained a special loyalty to filler injections and they sat pursed and perfectly red as if she’d glued candy Hot Lips to her face. In her day she could have been the neighborhood harlot with enough oral fortitude to suck a golf ball through a garden hose…she may have been a homewrecker of the worst kind…she may have been the most devious of snake charmers. However, it was all in the past and she’d now succumbed to gravity and the whittling away of time and the contemporary world would never know who she once was without the aid of photographs and perhaps a detailed narrative. Time laughs at us all–especially the once beautiful. She peered back at me as she tapped the ash from her cigarette.
“All of that racket gave Tillman in suite 208 a coronary last month you know.” she said.
“You don’t say.” I said, turning back to the blower men and peering at them suspiciously.
Looking to his colleague the man in the Pantera t-shirt peered up at her, “You can’t say that…you can’t blame us for that.” he said, squinting up at the old harlot in the window.
“Your blowers caused him great distress.” shrugged the woman in the window.
The man motioned with his head toward his colleague, “Let’s take fifteen.” he said and before giving me a last glare, the two made their way across the yard toward their truck that was pulled up in the rear driveway and stencilled with their company name, ‘Lawn-more Men’.
“Lawn-more Men,” I scoffed after them, “sounds like a front for a crime ring to me.”
“Where do you live?” asked the woman in the window.
“Next door.” I said.
She nodded with a smoky exhale. In the relative quiet that prevailed in the absence of the blowers, Roy Orbison jangled from a radio somewhere in her apartment.
“What suite?” she asked.
“That one with the foil on the windows.” I said, gesturing to my window that glimmered with wrinkled aluminum foil that would never biodegrade.
“Ah…” she sighed, her gummy lips curling into a grin, “You know who used to live in that suite?”
“No.” I shrugged.
“A mistress of Howard Hughes.”
“Get the fuck out of here.” I said thoughtfully, placing my hands in the pocket of my robe. In the right pocket I found the blunt I’d written off as lost the previous day. I held it between my lips and squinted up at the woman in the window.
“You got a light?”
She tossed down her lighter which was warm from her hand and held snugly in a metal case cover speckled with turquoise stones. After lighting the blunt, I tossed the lighter back up to her.
“I can’t remember her name…Suzanne maybe? Sylvia? Something with an ‘S’.” said the woman.
“How do you know?” I said.
“I’ve lived here since 62.”
“For real?” I asked.
“I grew up in this apartment. I took over the lease when my father passed on.” she said, “When I was a girl, I used to see Howard Hughes coming around. I saw him standing in your window drinking water from a bottle on many occasions. He would stand there for a while, looking at the flower garden; there used to be a flower garden back then.”
“Howard Hughes huh?” I said, peering back toward my tin foiled window that glimmered under the sun.
“I’m Melinda, in 302. Buzz me sometime…I’ll drop some raisins in your pancakes.” she said with a grin.
She was gone a moment later and so were the blower-men. Raisins in the pancakes? I made my way back to the Palm Villa, back into my apartment and back into my bed, where some broad whose name started with an ‘S’ had at one point sat backwards on Howard Hughes’ face. I sprawled out on the bed feeling Veronika’s warm sleeping body next to me.
I puffed on the blunt as I stared up at the ceiling…the same ceiling beneath which dozens, perhaps hundreds had slept, fucked and perhaps even died. Old apartment buildings are mausoleums that intern the existences of past tenants. The ancient dome cupped the ceiling light bulb like a deluxe plate cover that, when illuminated displayed the shadowy carcasses of long dead insects. Certainly it had been the same one Howard Hughes and his mistress had peered up at after a tussle between the sheets. They were dead now and it was my view now…we’d inherited the earth. Hollywood–there was no place like her on earth. To the lulling sound of police choppers circling distantly, I fell into a deep dream.
When I awoke Veronika had left for work and the sun had changed angles and the grogginess of a deep sleep had soaked me to the bone. My watch said it was 7:07pm, which meant, because it was three hours and 45 minutes fast, that it was actually 3:22pm. I sat up and lit up a blunt and puffed it a bit, watching the smoke curl toward the ceiling after which I got up, sat at my desk and wrote on and off for 10 hours. Ten hours was what it took to finish the chapter Coleman had been waiting for.
What can I tell you about Coleman? Coleman was my agent and he’d become my agent rather out of the blue, after having used one of my manuscripts as a coffee cup coaster for a full year before deciding to flip through it. He’d called me at eleven in the evening one night after having read the first seven chapters. His first question had been if I’d acquired representation. I’d told him about Radcliff, the enigmatic and elusive agent I’d spent the better part of year with, following her vaguely instructed rewrites through a labyrinth of hollow woods. I’d explained to Coleman how, after promising me she’d eventually pitch my novel to underground publishers, she’d in fact given up when she’d realized my priority was the craft rather than commercial pandering.
Coleman on the other hand, being a young brash Harvard grad full of piss and vinegar, prided himself on being a ground breaker and had been since the mid 2000’s. His specialty was hunting down existential prose and its generally psychotic authors. Indeed, most of his authors were known more for their antics than their actual prose in many cases. However, to Coleman, there was no such thing as bad press—he could work any angle. Never complain, never explain was a motto he vehemently lived by.
He encouraged literary madness and artistic overindulgence, testosterone soaked bravado and underdog grit…and he also encouraged my savage quest for the napalm narrative–the more jagged the better. He took a personal interest in his authors and approached them with street-level mentality.
During our early conversations I’d made him aware of the debacle with D’Amato and my hard-won screenplay which had nearly gone all the way, having been derailed at the last minute by D’Amato’s psychological breakdown and subsequent admission to Valley View psychiatric hospital where he still sat, heavily medicated, swathed in a checkered robe and playing chess with his drooling dorm mates who carried on dialogues with shadows on the walls.
Indeed, it had been Coleman who’d stepped in after I’d realized with crystal clarity that the publishing industry had very little to do with prolific prose and everything to do with sales, demographics, marketing strategies and mediocre authors. In the end, none of it had any impact on my writing though…I only further refined my napalm narrative, which Coleman understood the value of.
And Coleman could deliver…he’d done what Radcliff couldn’t, which was sell my novel to the right publisher–Blue Nautilus Press…a somewhat controversial independent publisher of out of Culver City that specialized in pulpy LA based fiction…and as a show of his industrial prowess, Coleman had also nullified my contract with D’Amato and had eventually sold the screenplay to San Andreas pictures. San Andreas pictures had then chosen a director—Ward Westcott, an up and coming indie film director who was making the rounds and building up his very own empire of cinematic narcissism in the romantic comedy genre.
I’d never seen any of his silly-ass Rom-Coms, but I had met with him and his agent as well as Coleman one afternoon at Fred 62 on Vermont, where we’d sat at a curbside table sipping drinks and ironing out the details, of which I wasn’t quite interested; I simply wanted closure with the screenplay. I didn’t quite care who made the film or who acted in it…I only hoped that whoever made the film didn’t fuck it up. You see dear reader; I wanted the time I’d spent writing the screenplay to be invested rather than wasted. I’d realized the hard way that I was a novelist rather than a screenwriter and certainly I was readily willing to put the screenplay behind me and move onto writing the masterpiece I’d been chasing since birth.
The screenplay after all had been written during a rather tumultuous and surreal era and was wrought with asinine recollections having to do with a macabre obsession with the sister of a dead ex-lover…who’d not only turned out not to be the sister of said ex-lover but also turned out to be a basic bitch.
Indeed, the realization that dopamine could conjure such botched judgment in an otherwise sensible man wasn’t lost on me. Still, I was more than happy to let the instance fade into the murky recollection of past romantic blunders of future hilarity.
Ward Westcott on the other hand had his own ideas—he suggested that I collaborate on the film with him…as an adviser…and an assistant director.
I explained to the old chap that to get this film right, he would want to emulate 1990’s Robert Altman. As if the old chap hadn’t ever considered the possibility that he might be given the freedom to treat a film in such a way, Westcott had sat back in his chair and sipped at his lemonade, lost in a deep state of ponderance as Coleman went over the contractual details with me.
When the lunch was through, I’d shaken Westcott’s clammy, nervous hand, that was doubtlessly permeated by balls and asshole germs. He seemed like a nervous picker…and it seemed I’d concluded my involvement with the screenplay then and there, on the Fred 62 stretch of Vermont sidewalk that sparkled with random keys embedded in the concrete.
Afterward I walked Coleman back to his car which he’d parked outside Skylight Books.
“You see Franky my boy a deal is a deal…and I make deals happen.” he said from behind his shades–North Carolina kid gone Hollywood hot shot.
“You’re a champ.” I said with a grin, ducking into a boxing stance and throwing a few feints at his shoulder, “Thanks man…I owe you one—I’ve been trying to get some closure with that script.”
“Don’t worry about me…you just keep doing what you do…I’ll handle the rest.” he said tilting his head at me, “All our heroes are dead…it’s up to us to pick up the torch.”
“Well, hopefully we won’t burn it all down with that torch.” I said.
“Are you kidding me? That’s the whole point of this.” Coleman said and there was a moment in the desert heat…under the SoCal sun…as the cars rolled up and down Vermont and people sat street side under the ancient awnings obliviously chattering—there had been something there…like the feeling of terror stripped clean of fear, leaving only the elation and adrenaline and the immortality of artistic freedom; the freedom to make history.
I recalled this instance for a moment, sitting before the bay window of my apartment peering out at the pool which was now empty except for an inflatable goose floating peacefully on the pissy water. I pressed send and the attachment of the latest chapter was electronically whisked away, to Coleman who I could expect a reply from later that evening.
With no sign of the leaf blowers lurking around the property, I crawled back into bed and fell into a deep warm slumber. It was 2am and tomorrow would be another day in paradise.
The following week I received a call from elusive and mysterious Ward Westcott. He sounded distraught, dishevelled, disenchanted and discombobulated. On top of this, he also sounded hurried and in a hushed tone—as if someone might be listening—he insisted that I meet him for lunch at the Hotel Roosevelt.
“Ah, parking is going to be a bitch down there at this hour.” I said.
“There is a valet no?” he asked.
“I don’t want those guys in my car.” I informed.
“These guys sit their asses in hundreds of cars a day…collecting ass and dick germs and spreading them from car seat to car seat to steering wheel to steering wheel.” I said.
“Really?” he asked, flustered somehow, “It’s all that?”
“Elementary dear Watson. Listen, why don’t we meet at the farmers market on Fairfax and 3rd? Let’s get a taco?” I asked.
“Why there?” chuckled Westcott, “We can get a taco anywhere.”
“It’s a place that evokes good memories for me—there’s a certain chi there. Plus, there’s usually this Suzanne Pleshette doppelganger working the counter…really the resemblance is remarkable.” I said.
“Who the hell is Suzanne Pleshette?” he asked.
“Fucking millennials.” I laughed.
“Listen, I’m on foot, you’ll have to pick me up.” said Westcott as if passing along top-secret instructions, “I’m avoiding public transit since those stabbings started happening.”
“No problem…I’ll pull up on Orange in 20 minutes.” I said and hung up.
Traffic wasn’t too unconscionable at 1pm…and part of that was due to the fact that it was always a thing of tranquility for me to drive through East Hollywood…I sensed it through the grime and the sweat beaded sidewalks and the faceless gutter rats—I sensed the golden shimmer and wonder of Hollywood past; back when we were kings. It was still there…the proof of dead generations, evident in the architecture, the cracked streets and the street signs; they been there for the best of it and didn’t tell a soul. I lit one up and rolled along admiring how Hollywood seemed to sparkle like tinsel in the sun. In spite of my casual pace, I managed to pull up out in front of the Roosevelt on time…as planned…and it was a good sign that Westcott was on point, standing out on Orange just outside the east entrance of the Roosevelt, where the yellow cabs and paparazzi lined up. I wondered; is that what Westcott was trying to do? Be spotted? And furthermore—did anyone really know who the hell he was? After all, he’d had one smash hit—but in fickle times marred by collective ADD; what was anything worth anymore? It seemed that indeed, at some point along the line—everything had simply become nothing.
When Westcott noticed me, he jogged across the street, narrowly ducking a kill-crazy, speed racer zooming toward Hollywood Blvd. The speed racer was provolone as usual…full sleeve tattoo—meticulously barbered hair cut—soccer t-shirt—miscellaneous bling draped around his neck—jaw-line beard—electronic dance soundtrack pumping on the sound system; the type of dispensable bastard who should have been swinging from a tree in the town square.
Westcott stopped what looked like a foot or two short of being thrown over the hood of the aerodynamic car in a high speed hit and run. He’d gotten lucky by a second—and sometimes a second is all you need. Gripped by the sudden shock that pulled the blood from Westcott’s face, he flashed an insulted glare, flipping the incidental driver of the mango colored sports car an accusatory bird which appeared more menacing than it perhaps was, given the knobby appearance of Westcott’s skinny hand and his ready to weep expression of disbelief. The driver in turn screeched a U-turn and peeled back toward Westcott who kept his middle finger extended and poised, stepping up to the speed-racer’s mango colored car—doubling down. Ready to be beaten and fish-hooked or pistol whipped and possibly curb stomped—all for the right of way.
I on the other hand idled steadily at the curb, reigniting the blunt…half expecting the speed-racer to produce a sawed off shotgun and a subsequent buckshot killing. However, the driver as predictable as he most certainly was, only pointed out that indeed Westcott had been jaywalking which he stipulated was a crime in the state of California, to which Westcott only displayed his bird with more fervor…as if warmed by a surge of faith that his bird, if pointed strongly enough might melt the driver’s face like hot runny wax.
“Go suck a dick fuck-o!” hollered Westcott, just in case the driver was misconstrued.
Following this came a projectile in the form of a crystal clear stream of water squeezed from a plastic bottle spraying suddenly from the driver’s side window of the mango colored sports car and indeed, before the water could properly soak into Westcott’s tattered Lou Reed t-shirt; the driver had squealed away offering a resolute bird of his own, catching the yellow light at Hollywood and Orange just in time to peel around the corner so the screech of his custom tires echoed off the facade of Madame Tussauds.
I looked back to Westcott who stood in the street, suspended in a state of disgust, dripping from his chin and the brim of his vintage Gulf ball cap. The driver had had good aim and had made sure Westcott caught the brunt of the stream.
Once in the car, Westcott wiped off his face with the shoulders of his shirt and began wishing horrible disfiguring fates on the provolone speed racer who’d showered him with water that may or may not have been contaminated with one virus or another. Indeed, Westcott seemed to have a creative glossary of insults to draw from, citing the speed racer as a ‘Sour load that his mother should have swallowed’.
“That a’boy!” I chuckled, my laughter drawing a glare from Westcott, “Real boys don’t take shit—ever.”
“Is that what it is?” Westcott asked, “I should have drop kicked the motherfucker’s car…what kind of man drives a car like that?
“One with rich parents.” I shrugged.
“I have rich parents…I drive a fucking Benz, like a normal person.”
We cruised down Fairfax toward the Farmer’s Market with ALL’s Trailblazer blaring on the stereo. It was a brilliantly sunny day with a slight breeze and a succulent warmth that enveloped the city in a hazy balm, so the palms hung faintly in the distant like apparitions in the mist. I found a spot outside the container store and we walked across the sweltering parking lot toward the market that had seen it’s heyday in the 1930’s…it had been designed for women in lemonade dresses and men in starchy suits with pomade in their hair and for their keen kids who’d take us to the moon one day—we’d inherited it too…along with everything else…and I scanned the outer walls of the market for residual damage the rioters had caused and none was visible; their spray paint and vandalism had been erased easily enough.
Indeed, the food court was crowded with mouths that tirelessly ate and assholes that tirelessly shat. Indeed, the amount of food it takes to propel a nation is astronomical—likewise is the amount of toilet paper it takes to wipe a nations ass. I looked at them all simultaneously salivating, scarfing down eclairs, pizzas, greasy rice, pasta, salads, sausages, french fries, sandwiches, milkshakes, burgers; it was a trough in which Westcott and I were about to take our place. We bee-lined to the taco shop where I found the Suzanne Pleshette doppelganger working her magic. It was effortless—she merely had to show up…the rest was a given. She was wearing snug high riding jeans that snuck up the deep crack of her lovely ass and she’d cut her hair short and on this day she was wearing a pair of designer horn rims. Her shirt bared the iconic image of Patty Hearst toting a machine gun for the Symbionese Liberation Army. Indeed, on this day, Plashette’s nail polish was chrome and I noticed she was wearing matching eye shadow as her long lashes fluttered back at me.
“Hey Frank…” she said, “That’s crazy…I was thinking of you earlier today. I’m psychic.”
“If you say so. By the way, that shirt is totally sick.” I told her.
“Honey, the way you play guitar makes me feel so masochistic.” she rhythmically stated.
“You’ve got to be the cleverest girl in here…where did you find it?” I asked her.
“A shop near Santa Monica and Highland.” she said.
“Give us two tacos and a couple sodas.” I requested.
“What kind of tacos?” she asked.
“Surprise us.” I said, turning back to Westcott who was looking around perhaps to see if anyone recognized him.
“So…what’s this all about?” I asked.
“What’s what all about?” counter-asked Westcott, still ruffled about the water spray.
“You said you needed to talk…” I said.
“You said you needed to talk with me.” I informed.
“Right…listen, I’ll get right to it…I can’t be Robert Altman.” he said.
“Obviously—who could be?” I said, waiting for more.
“I’m not Robert Altman.” he said.
“No shit.” I said.
“I want to get that off the table right now.” said Westcott.
I shrugged, admiring the way in which our Suzanne Pleshette doppelganger set our tacos and sodas on the counter before us. She had what the old timers called grace.
“It’s not about trying to be another director…it’s about doing my own thing.” said Westcott, “I want to color outside the lines. I want to make something epic.”
“So then do it—talk is shit.” I said.
“I know. And I’ll tell you…I’ve been through your screenplay a dozen times…more. Each time I see something new in there. But the other day at Fred 62, you said many things…many cryptic things…certain phrases…most of which could be used in this film…these are off the cuff comments—shit you don’t realize…shit you don’t see the importance of—but I do…I see the how as well as the where—as well as the where.”
“As well as the where is it?” I asked.
“Just off the cuff shit. It’s thoroughly usable.” he assured, biting into his steaming taco,
“I don’t see how.” I said.
“Look, I was directing short films and underground plays for years before I got lucky with ‘The September Room’…that’s how it happens…a fluke…and now I’ll be remembered for that fluke for the rest of my career…but I can tell you—that fluke doesn’t define my work. Don’t judge me on that one work. San Andreas Pictures does…they think I’m going to make another film just like it…that I’m their dancing monkey in a tutu—but they have another thing coming…you hear me? Another thing coming.”
“Look man, I don’t really care what happens…like I said…it’s your film to make…just don’t turn it into a cheese puff.” I shrugged.
“There’s one main thing here. I want you to meet the actress I want to play the lead.” Said Westcott.
“I thought Ginger Glazer was going to play the lead.”
“She had it in the palm of her hand…I handed it to her. But I heard some whispers—a little bird landed on my shoulder…and it’s amazing what a little bird will tell you when you feed it a salted Triscuit. Evidently Ginger Glazer got herself a brand.”
“Everyone has a brand now adays.” Said Westcott rolling his eyes, “She’s been trashing her character around town…she says she’s strictly a dramatic actress and only took this role as a favor.”
“a favor to who?” I asked.
” Who knows? She says the role doesn’t compliment her range…it’s not complex enough.”
“She’s that complex?” I inquired.
“Evidently.” Laughed Westcott, “Not to worry, I can have her removed from the film easy enough. Within the first 14 days of shooting—I made sure that I have that option. We haven’t started shooting yet. That’s why it’s so imperative that we act fast.”
“We? What’s with this we shit? I did my part…I wrote the thing and fuckin’ refined it. Besides, don’t you have to clear it with a producer or some casting asshole somewhere in the maze?”
“Fuck the producer and fuck casting. I’m the fucking director…and you wrote the fucking thing…if we both say we want her removed from the film–nobody is going to question it—probably everyone will agree with that.” said Westcott, his eyes wild with conviction.
“I really don’t care who plays the lead…or any part for that matter.” I shrugged.
“But this is your baby…your masterpiece. How can you be so cavalier?”
“I’m not being cavalier.” I told him, “I’m a novelist…not a screenwriter. I learned that the hard way—you can’t understand the ride I had with this thing—I just want some closure on it now.”
“I wouldn’t recommend declaring your identity as an artist based on one particular commercial success.” said Westcott.
“Well I guess we have that in common—one commercial success.”
“You’re selling yourself short as a screenwriter on the merit of a great novel…but the screenplay has something—something only a true madman could concoct. I don’t see the big difference between a novel and a screenplay anyway.”
“They’re entirely different, m’boy.”
“A novel is an epic dance of colors and shapes and textures…it reaches far beyond the horizon line…to the other side of midnight. A screenplay on the other hand is mainly a lot of dialogue with some camera angle suggestions.” I confessed, “Really it’s about the dialogue.”
“How am I supposed to get behind a work which you claim is incidental?” demanded Westcott.
I just shrugged, “It’s not an incidental work—I don’t produce incidental works.”
“That’s why we have to show them how it’s done…set an example…for the next generation of shit-wits. Listen, I have an idea where to shoot the spoken word scene. I want to shoot it at the Prohibition Cellar. My friend Marcello is the talent buyer over there. I want to get in there and shoot the scene before the Prohibitions closes it’s doors…word is they’re going belly up soon.”
“Are you talking about Marcello Grundy?” I asked.
“Yeah…you know him?” asked Westcott.
“Sure…he’s a real cunt.”
“Why is he a cunt?” said Westcott, biting into his taco and squinting at me studiously.
“You mean to ask; why is he a pretentious, spotlight seeking, fedora-wearing cunt?” I laughed.
“Come on…they’re not that bad at the Cellar.” said Westcott and I searched his hairline for residual fedora welts.
“Listen, when a talent buyer is handed the means and the venue and the opportunity to make a real contribution to the local indie scene…and he instead squanders it—and actually does nothing beyond using the position to advance his social standing; I’d say he’s worse than a pretentious, spotlight seeking, fedora-wearing cunt—I’d say he’s a waste of potential…and there’s little worse than that.”
“You think so?”
“And it’s worse than just him being a waste of potential…he’s a gutless waste of potential.”
“I guess he does subscribe to a certain template. Last I heard he was learning David Bowie on the Ukulele.”
“Of course he is.” I laughed, “I mean it just happens that they all have the same incidental full sleeve tattoos, buy the exact same vinyl records, wear the same fedoras and ironic vintage t-shirts and use the same moustache wax? Come on Westcott…you’re smarter than that. It’s a fedora cult.” I laughed.
“You see…right there…that’s a line I want to add into this film…maybe title a segment ‘The Fedora Cult’…why don’t you stick around for a while with me Franky…let’s get it done right—it will be epic. Let’s bring one back for the 90’s.” said Westcott, focused on the prize.
“You’ll never fully understand the 90’s unless you were there.” I shrugged.
“Hey, I was born in 95.” said Westcott.
“But you were still sucking on your mom’s tits when my generation was napalming the jungles of contemporary culture.” I said.
“I can use that line too.” said Westcott, rushing for his note pad which he kept tucked within his leather man-purse.
“Oh boy.” I laughed, “You shouldn’t just put any line in the film.”
He shushed me with a finger as he wrote. After he jotted down my statement, I felt it was best to clam up and eat which we did for the most part in silence, sitting on stools at the taco booth counter chatting with the Suzanne Pleschette doppelganger.
When we were finished our tacos, it was decided that we’d drop in on Westcott’s actress—his ace in the hole. She resided in one of the old apartment buildings on Franklin near Kingsley—a good old grimy neighborhood forever permeated with land-of-promise sunsets and post-modern intrigue. East Hollywood—no matter how much they tried, the sickos and stick-up men couldn’t own her—she belonged to no one. After being buzzed in, Westcott and I climbed three flights of stairs to reach 307, the grand oak door of which opened as we approached, holding behind it a small woman, perhaps 5 foot 2 with a teased peroxide mane. She was covered in incidental tattoos, the meaning of which only she understood or cared to understand. Her lips, ears and eyebrows were punctured with rings and studs and across her knuckles read the word ‘kink’. She squinted at Westcott as if she didn’t recognize him and after a moment she stepped back, opening the door wider to allow us entry.
Westcott introduced me as we strolled into her hardwood living room which was decorated with statues of Buddhist deities, exotic plants, vintage black and white movie posters and shiny leather surfaces. I took a seat on one of the black couches and noticed a moment later an iguana sitting perfectly still and staring back at me from the arm rest with a suspicious gaze.
“Is he gonna lunge?” I asked.
“No…he’s Mortimer…he’s a pacifist. I’m Gwen by the way.” Said the woman extending her hand.
As I shook it, she instructed us to make ourselves at home and Westcott did, slipping out of his shoes and resting his socked feet on the glass coffee table between us. His socks were a custom design, displaying in an absurd fashion, several miniature silk screened photos of his awkward face grinning back at me. I clicked my eyes from his socks to his actual face which grinned back at me in the exact same way.
“You’ve got photos of yourself on your socks old chap…” I stated more than asked.
“Hey, you ever try out a hookah?”
“I don’t bang dirt-bag prostitutes old chap and you shouldn’t either…unless of course you want your prick looking like a chili dog with purple coleslaw topping.” I said, lighting up a blunt.
“No…I mean hookah…this thing.” he said, tapping the toe of one of his custom face-socks against the chrome ornament sitting in the center of the glass coffee table. I shrugged, never seeing the point.
Calling to Gwen who’d disappeared behind a wall of beads in one doorway, Westcott smiled widely, “Come show Frank your sexy dance.”
A moment later Gwen returned to the living room having slipped into a velvety blue dress and a pair of red pumps. She lit a stick of incense and grinned at me.
“She’s got this dance routine…it’s simply boss.” said Westcott, sitting forward now and taking a massive haul from the contraption after which he sat back and exhaled a large plume into the atmosphere of the living room.
“It’s opium.” He grinned.
Gwen followed suit, using the same hose, though there were three other hoses to choose from. She too exhaled deeply and sank back into the couch exhaling a large plume of acrid vapor.
We sat like this for a while, Westcott and Gwen sucking from the hose and blowing out large plumes as an incidental sitar piped through the speakers of a nearby turntable; static, scratches and all.
“Is the ceiling getting higher?” asked Gwen. We all looked up at the ceiling which didn’t move.
“It’s unlikely.” I said.
“Everything is expanding…the universe is expanding.” said Westcott, unwrapping the lollipop Gwen handed him. She offered me one too, but I declined. Her own lollipop contained a tequila worm and she sucked at it lasciviously–running her pierced and filmy tongue over the tip of the lollipop, giggling at me for a moment before turning to Westcott and moving in on his lollipop which was round and marbled with red and blue cracks. She sucked at it suggestively, flicking the tip with the stud in her tongue as Westcott sat glassy eyed, holding the little white stick, totally transfixed by Gwen’s performance.
“She used to be a belly dancer in Atlanta.” said Westcott, with a proud grin.
“Congratulations.” I said.
Swatting his arm, Gwen sat up straight and glared at him through her glassy sedate gaze, irritated at first before surrendering to the opium, closing her eyes and falling back into the leather couch, “You’re a shit.”
“I’m just saying.” grinned Westcott.
“You talk too much.” said Gwen turning her head dramatically to peer out one of the french windows.
Indeed, it was a nice room, and its history was anyone’s guess. However, I was certain better people had inhabited the space over the decades.
“Westcott tells me you act.” I said to Gwen who turned to look at me.
“I sure do…every day, every second. The world is my stage.” she said.
“Is that right?”
“Yep…I go for the Oscar every day…just so I’ll be ready for it when it comes.” Gwen informed.
“So it’s all about an Oscar?” I asked.
“Gwen was recently in a White Navy commercial.” said Westcott, “But her talent is in experimental theater. I discovered her at Silent City a few years ago…when I was still unknown and poor and gloriously drunk and doing my best work ever…I was immediately smitten.”
“Silent City?” I said.
“It’s a small theater downtown…which hosts the violet and the ugly…the swan songs and the discontented roars…where prohibition era ghosts still reside. We feel them walking through us…and you can really feel them sitting beside you in the audience.” Said Westcott, staring off to a point beyond the ceiling.
“They watch us…they love us…they guide us.” Gwen chimed in, sitting up on the edge of her cushion so her head swayed in an imaginary breeze.
“And you want her to play which part in the film exactly?” I asked Westcott, who, having been hypnotized by Gwen’s soliloquy, didn’t respond immediately, “Hello?” I called to him shaking him from his contemplative gaze.
“Can you repeat the question?” he asked, his mouth dry and pasty.
“Which part do you want her to play in the film?” I asked.
“The female lead of course.” said Westcott, “You need to see her among textures…among ancient ruins…she’s got an Ophelia in her.”
“Let me show you.” Said Gwen, rising from the leather couch.
She stepped over to me and extended her hand, as if asking me to dance. I took her moist and pasty hand in mine and when I was standing with her in the center of the living room, she used her other hand to grab me through the crotch of my pants and lean forward, slithering her filmy tongue into my mouth…it tasted of strange sugar and ovulation fever. She led me out across the living room and back out into the terracotta hallway.
As if walking a small drunken poodle, I decided to follow her pulling hand, slightly curious to find where she was leading me. When we were on the warm sidewalk outside the building, she looked at me—alone at last.
“Fuck with me…” she whispered. It was then that Westcott called down to us from the window of her suite.
“We need provisions!” he cried down to us as the cars obliviously rolled by on Franklin. It was a scene they were playing out among the palms and the beating desert sun…rattle snake lands—without the rattle snakes. Did time exist for no other reason than to separate the dramatic scenes played out by all of us passing figures in this urban wilderness? It seemed unlikely—also narcissistic to assume anything out here in the middle of infinity was designed around us—for our convenience. Perhaps it’s why the artist concocts his own creative universe—perhaps art is only a portrait of existential terror…painted by men mad enough to question the true nature of the cosmos.
Westcott wasn’t this sort of man…and neither was I—mostly. He ducked back into the suite and emerged a moment later with an arm full of oranges which he tossed one by one down to the sidewalk to Gwen who caught only three…the rest hit the sidewalk with a dull smack, a few bursting on impact. The ones that didn’t burst—Gwen retrieved. Instead of taking the stairs as I expected he might, Westcott climbed out of the window and made his way down the old rusted fire escape that snaked down the facade of the old building. As he descended the rickety contraption, I imagined the bolts coming away from the brick, giving way to a chain reaction collapse under which he’d be buried by a tone of twisted rusted iron.
“Godam mad man.” I uttered.
After awkwardly dropping himself onto the lawn and falling onto his knees, Westcott dusted himself off and joined us on the sidewalk.
“That felt like descending into the 9th circle of hell.” he grinned, taking one of the oranges from Gwen.
As we made our way up Franklin, Westcott left a trail of peels behind him. I offered a homeless man my orange…for I wasn’t sure if it had been secretly spiked with a dripping needle or an LSD eye-dropper. As we walked, Gwen crooned an awfully flat rendition of the Carpenters’ Close to You.
“Did you know that my mother met Karen Carpenter at a party in that building right there? It was back in the 70’s…this town was different back then…” said Gwen, spinning dramatically and pointing toward a tall and remarkably slender apartment building.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Cuz my mother told me so.” she said, continuing to spin with her eyes closed so her hair fell over her face again and again, “Karen Carpenter danced with darkness…you can hear it in her voice…the intoxication of it all…the homesickness…the casket flowers.” Added Gwen, standing perfectly still suddenly, tilting her head at the building and falling silent. She stood there for some time, staring up at the slender, red-brick building until Westcott slid his arm around her waist, pulling her from her trance.
“People have always been the same.” he said, as if confessing something.
We continued west and by the time we reached Gower, Westcott was onto his second orange and Gwen was footing her way through imaginary hopscotch squares, attracting glances from passing drivers and residents of the homeless encampment beneath the 101 freeway. We descended the Gower hill all the way to Hollywood Blvd. at which point Westcott suddenly halted, taking a deep bite out of the orange so the juice dripped out of his mouth and down his chin.
“This is it.” said Westcott, peering westward, across the Pep Boys parking lot toward the sun baked boulevard that was crawling with cars and pedestrians.
“This is what?” I asked.
“This is the opening scene…right here.” he said, framing the scene with his hands, still holding the dripping orange.
I scanned the gridlocked street, which looked as it always did; high reaching palm trees…shops…and the walk of fame teeming with schools of tourists in shades and brightly colored clothing, “Really?” I asked.
“We’ll block off the street obviously…have the cars replaced with antiques…to make it look like 1992. Hopefully management at the Henry Fonda theater will allow us to change the marquee to Jean-Luc Goddard titles…just for the day.” said Westcott, “Gwen, step into the street…just like we discussed.”
Obliging Westcott, Gwen waited for a break in traffic and stepped out into the street, “Look through my hands.” said Westcott, crouching a bit beside me, the L’s of his thumbs and index fingers framing a small rectangle which he panned up to the sparkling top of the palms blowing slightly in the pacific breeze, “And…action Gwen.” he called, subsequently panning his hands over the Henry Fonda theater facade down to street level where Gwen stood staring back at us, her eyes covered by huge checkered sunglasses.
“Perfect…” called Westcott, “Perfect…tear off the dress now.”
I wrinkled my brows curiously as Gwen reached toward her ribs and tore off the dress which had evidently been fastened to her with a series of snap buttons. A second later she was standing in the middle of Hollywood Blvd in a checkered bikini which matched her bulky oval shades, posing femme fatale with one hand on her hip and the other cupping her bob hair-cut.
“Now dance…do the dance.” said Westcott, moving slowly to the side, nudging me with his shoulder to follow along with him and observe the angle. Indeed, as we circled around her with an imaginary camera, peering at Gwen through Westcott’s hand frame, she started to do a 1960’s beach dance, waving her arms emphatically and gyrating her hips.
“That’s called the hitchiker dance. You need to see this with the color saturation,” said Westcott before placing the rest of the orange in his mouth. Producing his wafer-thin phone, he quickly cued up the desired filter. Pointing the phone at Gwen who was now doing the twist in the middle of the street with her eyes happily closed.
On the small illuminated screen we watched Gwen spin, bob, weave and flail her arms amidst a wash of brilliant colors, “Looks like a 90’s rock video.” I said.
“Exactly.” said Westcott, “It’s going to set the entire tone of the film.”
It was then that a car pulled up behind Gwen and immediately started honking—another disgruntled resident who felt cheated over cashing in his life for a narrow plot of desert paradise. Westcott however, didn’t stop filming, nor did Gwen stop dancing–it was as if they were locked into a frequency that created a psychic tether between them, which the ravenous honking couldn’t breach. A few more cars stopped behind the honking grey sedan and did some honking of their own…still Gwen didn’t stop, “That’s right…perfect!” called Westcott from behind the small screen of his phone.
Perhaps because she was caught up in the moment, Gwen stepped up onto the front bumper of the honking car and hoisted herself up onto the hood, which she walked across, using the windshield as a ramp to step up onto the top of the car where she continued her 1960’s bongo-beat dance. I pictured it as Westcott had described.
“I’m trying to lock in the rights for The Stone Roses’ ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ for this scene…I’m thinking slow mo…and a steady tracking shot of curbside onlookers. See what I’m saying?” he asked me.
“I get what you’re going for.” I nodded, “It’s 90’s as fuck…I dig it.”
“Now they’ll know with who they’ve been messing.” Said Westcott.
It was then that the middle-aged driver of the sedan tired of leaning on his horn and opted to exit the car. He stood on the asphalt looking up at Gwen for a moment…dumbfounded slightly at the spectacle. He didn’t holler, he didn’t scream, he didn’t attempt to swat at her ankles…he merely removed his hat and peered up at her, slightly awe struck and perhaps allowing the mental image of Gwen’s gyrating ass cheeks to burn themselves into his mind so that he might work the memory off later—with a sock and a bottle of canola oil. A few moments later the man produced his phone and pointed it at Gwen who continued to dance on his roof in the center of a building traffic jam and a gathering crowd of tourists, most of which had all produced phones of their own, eager to upload the spectacle to their ravenous social media profiles. A spectacle indeed.
I had to hand it to Gwen, she certainly wasn’t camera shy. What she lacked in acting talent she made up for in narcissism…and sometimes that’s all it seems to take.
“What do you think?” asked Westcott.
“Like I said…it’s your film man.” I shrugged, lighting up a blunt.
So, it seemed that Westcott had his film somewhat on track. That is to say that at least there was some movement toward completion—which always starts with an important first step. Westcott casting his girlfriend as the female lead, though perhaps a poor decision—was at least that crucial first step. Many talk a good game, but never go beyond the first step…some go a bit further but lose the will or the confidence in the project…some go only halfway and retreat in the name of money or love or fear or another seemingly more lucrative or easier project. I say, always go all the way when it comes to art—if it costs you friends, lovers, jobs and fortunes…go all the way. If we are all going to kick off one day…and wind up as silly, stiff corpses, embalmed and laid out in some museum-like funeral home heavy with the reek of floral air freshener; then it’s important to leave something mystical behind…not as a footprint, but as a contribution to a dying craft. For better or for worse, it seemed for decades as though my destiny would only lead me through financial drought and social persecution from boring sods who I’d once considered colleagues or friends or lovers. For they’d all gotten baggy under the eyes and wrinkled…red faced and obese…complacent…mentally ill…self indulgent…vindictive and bitter. It’s absurd to see what even ten years can make of a person. It seemed they’d simply given up trying…fully content to bask in the twilight of their youth with evening cocktails that complimented their afternoon cocktails which complimented their morning cocktails.
Certainly, if a large group of peers are persecuting you socially—you’re either doing something wrong…or something unmistakably right.
Indeed, though I hoped Westcott would do well with the screenplay I’d poured myself into; I didn’t bank on it. And to be quite Frank—I didn’t much care. The screenplay had brought about some closure with my inner demons and sometimes that’s good enough.
There was the initial payment, however I’d rolled the dice and agreed to a clause in the contract that stipulated, in all basicality, that I’d only make a lot of money from the screenplay if the film did well—which I felt wasn’t likely…though of course I had hoped it did well—though I had faith that it would be yet another lack-luster piece of cinema someone had wasted a lot of time and money on. Still, it seemed a fair roll and I’d tossed the dice like grains of salt over my shoulder. I’d done my part in creating the screenplay which had been adapted from the film in my mind…one based on actual events that had passed like a season, leaving me tired of the contemplation of why I’d behaved with such madness and savage passion all those years ago. Sometimes you never figure things out…and it’s best to just dismiss them as anomalies.
It’s not an easy thing to push a finished work out into the sea, like a scroll of paper inside a sealed bottle. You must agonize over it somewhat…you must make certain it’s taken all it can out of you. When you’ve done all that you can and you’ve done your best; only then can you let go of a work. It’s knowing when you’ve done everything you possibly can that’s tricky—because certainly a project can always be revised with more vigor…it can always become more brash…more intuitive, more articulate…more jagged—with sharper fangs and bigger explosives. Indeed, you can always add a bit more napalm to a project. I wasn’t sure I’d done so with the screenplay Wescott was now toiling with however. I’d released it into the ocean for other reasons…mainly for closure.
Also, I was a novelist first…and it was my first published novel that had cannonballed onto the literary scene and had instantly made me so many enemies—mainly other writers who’d worked so hard puckering up that by the time they’d been published their lips were brown and speckled. It drove them nearly mad with resentment and envy that I—such a jagged misfit—had blown up so suddenly…and without puckering up. I often wondered what bothered them more—that I’d made it look so easy, or that I hadn’t kissed a lot of asshole rims to get there.
And so there seemed to be a fair amount of cautionary talk from Coleman and his team of literary aficionados who sought to dissect and angle up every line in the new chapters I was sending them weekly. It seemed they were watching me very closely…afraid perhaps that I might be another one hit wonder. Because I wrote innately however, I remained rather oblivious to their reactions, which were often discussed over lengthy conference calls in which many questions were asked, but few were answered. Unlike Radcliffe who portrayed the enigmatic narrative-obsessed taskmaster; Coleman and his team were more concerned with the jagged sincerity of the work; a selling point that their marketing department had cleverly picked up on—the napalm narrative.
“The new chapters are flawless Franky…flawless. There are of course some things Selma can rearrange in terms of flow…but she’s not trying to change any words…she’s treating your new chapters like ancient sand script…she’s using air guns and light brushes to move away the desert sands…or so she tells me.” Coleman said the following week when I’d met him at a Deli on Fairfax for a plate of french fries and gravy.
“Sounds like my kind of woman.” I shrugged.
“Listen, Frank…I know your focus is the new novel…and that this screenplay business is more of a side-note to you at this point…”
“I’ve done my part.” I shrugged.
“Yes…that’s true…but I was having brunch with Ward Westcott yesterday and he’s asked me to ask you something.”
“Why can’t he ask me himself?” I inquired.
“Well, he would you see…but evidently your phone has been off and your mailbox is full.”
“I turn my phone off when I’m writing. I’m contemplating skipping that phone into the ocean like a smooth thin stone…I have a feeling it would skip at least 5 times before sinking to the bottom. It’s the fucking phones that have ruined collective creativity…it’s the phones that have made people so unoriginal and void of real creativity. I stay away from that phone as much as I can—and you should too.” I said.
“Listen, how do you feel about joining Ward on the Wes Chilton Radio show?”
“Why?” I asked.
“I think Ward wants to involve you in this project…and maybe it’s because your novel is spreading like wildfire. It’s going to be a classic. You realize what’s happening right? You’ve made reading fun again for a lot of people. It’s a hit…don’t you get that?” said Coleman with an amazed grin.
“I get it.” I said.
“You don’t seem to.” Grinned Coleman.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to start pandering to a target audience man…I write what I write—as I always have—regardless whether or not anyone is reading it or not.” I shrugged.
“And that’s really something rare. I’ve worked with writers who get to this point and they either become unhinged or they double down, get obsessive…they over-think shit. Their works starts to suffer. Do you remember Hans Silverstone? The fucking guy lost it—he shaved his head and started dressing in Jedi robes…he got into this whole bit about holding in his jizz and throwing parties at his house during which he remained naked at all times. I mean, who wants to see that guy’s taint? I know I don’t.” spat Coleman with a chuckle, “Meanwhile, his writing suffered. But you…you seem as cool as a cucumber.”
“Well, I’m not going to start showing off my taint if that’s what you’re worried about.” I laughed.
“I’m just saying—success can play hideous tricks on some people.” He cautioned.
I stared out the window at the passing people and the passing cars wondering where they were all going. Perhaps some had heard of my novel. Perhaps they’d even read it. Perhaps it had offered them some laughter…or changed their perception slightly. Perhaps what Coleman was saying was an absolute fact and I’d been too immersed in the real work to notice that I was in the eye of a hurricane. Still, I felt no different. The clocks still ticked on, the sun still came up and the ozone was still depleting. Was Coleman right? Had I really become a smashing success without quite noticing it? Perhaps I’d gotten so used to losing that a winning streak didn’t quite phase me; such is the plight of the true anti-hero…the true artist. The writing wasn’t a game or an ambition or a craft—it was an extension of my madness…the best therapy money couldn’t buy.
Also, the napalm narrative that I’d coined was indeed a hand with a ravenous mouth in its palm, ready to wrap its fingers around the neck of literary complacency and sink in it’s razor sharp fangs. Though one could never authentically change the collective consciousness of the world; one could bound from mountain top to mountain top and slay dragons with a pen knife. Unlike sorcery, superstitions, parlor tricks and slight of hand; napalm narrative prose is corporeal yet rooted somewhere between gravity and telekinetic electromagnetism; a seventh dimension unreachable to those who aren’t born of it. What I’d proven more than anything is that people still recognized the real thing…and they’d almost not gotten a chance to tell the difference. It seemed my responsibility and purpose had always been to shine a beacon out into the darkness…into the jaded abyss that had become contemporary culture.
It seemed my napalm narrative also revealed many other authors and the dull blade they wielded…it revealed many other authors for the frauds they were. The ones who adhered to their basic initiatives, not capable of viewing any new literary emergence as viable contribution to the great exhibition…rather they quaked somewhere on the inside, with dread, insecurity, fear, envy and late-night loathing—some had tried to cancel me…but it’s hard to cancel a man who simply doesn’t give a flying fuck. An insincere apology will seal your fate. Own your madness and don’t apologize for it. Too many authors wind up apologizing for who they are…in order to appease a target demographic…in order to placate their public.
Perhaps what Coleman was referring to with his cucumber analogy was simply the fact that no matter how many loathed me and wished for my commercial demise; the blood of ancient warriors coursed through my heart and bled out onto the page through my pen…and whether I wanted it or not…I’d inherited the birth rite to carve their hearts out of their chest cavities with a pen knife and bite out a bloody chunk. On some innate level—it filled my adversaries with subtle, lurking terror.
“So, what about Wes Chilton’s radio show…why not just do it?” asked Coleman.
“Why does Westcott want me to join him?” I asked, “I don’t understand what he’s on about. I wrote the fucking thing…my job is done now…don’t you think? I mean this guy signed on to make that screenplay a reality…and I’m beginning to wonder if he actually can do it. Someone better do it though…it has to get made godamit!” I said, bringing my fist down onto the table so the pepper shaker jumped.
“Listen, he’s going to get it done…he just wants to show some solidarity–that the two of you are making this movie together. It’s real important to him that you have a hand in the making of this film.” shrugged Coleman.
“But I wrote it…what the fuck else does he want me to do? It’s his fucking film.” I laughed. “Besides what am I going to tell Chilton…what can I really tell Chilton about this whole experience—that Westcott wears selfie-socks?”
“Selfie socks?” asked Coleman, curiously.
“The fucking guy has these socks with his face printed on them.” I laughed.
“Well…he’s an eccentric—what can one say? I think it’s a great idea to join him on the Chilton show though…if for no other reason, at least to promote the novel—there’s no bad time for promotion…promotion is everything.” said Coleman.
I thought about it for a moment…and it did seem that Coleman, whether he was being cleverly persuasive or not, did indeed have a point. If I was going to be given a platform to talk about the novel—my true masterpiece—then at least there was a point of participating in a very public conversation with some radio-voice asshole I didn’t know.
“I’ll go on to promote the novel…but if Chilton asks me about the film…I’m going to have to be honest.” I said.
“I’d expect nothing less.” Said Coleman with a solemn nod.
The night before the show I was contacted by Coleman, who ran over the itinerary with me, citing that he and Westcott would pick me up the following afternoon at 2pm, after which we’d make our way, in Westcott’s Benz to the studio lot where Chilton taped his show. He’d subsequently advised me to get a good night’s sleep and be well rested for the interview which he assured me would be full of intellectual snares, “Intellectuals are a species that eat their own. Don’t ever assume you’re not walking into the lion’s den…never forget that intellectuals eat their own.” Coleman had warned.
“Well, then I’d say I’m absolutely safe.” I’d replied.
Instead of turning in early however, I stayed up writing for a number of hours—navigating the dark side of the moon. When Veronika arrived after a long day on set around 1am I fixed her a cocktail as she showered. She sat on my couch sipping at it as she checked her phone for messages. When she was unwound and floating nicely with me on a hazy sativa buzz, I fell into her and she pulled me in nicely for an up close grind. She was all female and it invited the chivalry in me. As we lay on the living room floor, chuckling about the rug burns, I looked at her…the ex television starlet…and I realized that no matter how close I could get to her, no matter how deeply inside of her I could penetrate; it seemed she always stayed at an arm’s length…evidently I wasn’t allowed past a certain line in the sand…where our relationship ended and her marriage began. Still, when we were alone in my room, she ceased to be Veronika September…and rather she became Veronika Delanie from Queens…who’d attended the Lee Strasberg Institute and worked at the Gap before she’d crashed onto the 1990’s TV scene. When she was alone with me, she ceased to occupy her hard won place in fleeting pop culture history that had all but forgotten her—but hadn’t and never quite would. Indeed, up close and personal…she remained who she’d always been, Veronika Delanie from Queens who’d gotten a tattoo of a sparrow on the inside of her right wrist when she’d graduated from Strasberg and spent a year back packing through Europe before the planets had lined up for her.
“The dust in this carpet isn’t any good for my allergies.” she said.
“Is it dusty?” I asked, unable to tell by then.
“I notice it when I’m here. I’m congested sometimes for hours after.” said Veronika.
“Shit.” I said, tilting my head at her. “I get something like that too…I thought it was from smoking too much weed though. I’ve been thinking of tearing this carpet out actually.”
“It’s an ancient building…the carpet is probably original.” she said, “Kind of gross when you think about it. You ever see a microscopic photo of a dust mite?”
“Probably. Hey, you know…the neighbor told me that Howard Hughes used to have one of his tootsies set up in this place.”
“Your apartment…this apartment?” she asked.
“So they say.” I sighed.
We both contemplated this for a few moments as we peered at the ceiling tiles.
“I’ll just bet there’s some nice hardwood beneath this rug.” said Veronika.
“Should we find out?” I said, rising from the warm place beside her.
“Really? Right now?” she asked with her signature grin.
“No time like the present…literally.” I said as I retrieved a hammer from a kitchen drawer.
Indeed, the living room shared a portion of itself with the kitchen, in the form of a dining area that was half covered in linoleum. I sat down in the place where a dining room table had once sat, which was made evident by four perfectly placed scuffs on the linoleum, left from dinner tables past.
I ran my fingers along the metal seam where the linoleum met the carpet, checking for slight divots that might indicate where the nails were. Finding none, I used the hook of the hammer to uproot the metal seam from the floor.
“You’re really doing this?” grinned Veronika, sitting up now, trying to gently smooth the matted tangles out of her long blonde hair.
“I just want to check and see if there really is some hardwood under here.” I said, as the metal seam popped up from the floor inch by inch. When I’d pried it away from the floor entirely, I carefully rolled it back from the lip of the neighboring linoleum, careful to avoid the sharp nails that had held the seam to the floor, which I found was hardwood. Indeed, the hardwood itself was covered in fine wisps of dust that had sifted through the meshing of the carpet and over the decades collected beneath it.
“Oh my god…that’s so much dust. But some real nice hard wood.” laughed Veronika squatting next to me now to get a better view of the floor, “Told ya.”
“Can you get the vacuum? It’s in my bedroom closet.” I asked, still carefully rolling back the carpet.
Veronika rose and disappeared down the hallway and was back a moment later with the vacuum which she plugged into the wall and turned on so it roared to life and illuminated the dusty floorboards with a single headlight; a cyclops kill-mobile ready for a drag race.
We worked as a two-person team; I rolling back the carpet as Veronika gladly moved the cyclops vacuum over the smooth floor boards so the roaring head greedily sucked up the dust swirls and revealed the warm tones of the ancient hardwood.
When the carpet was completely rolled back, I had Veronika sit on the large roll so it wouldn’t unravel as I went to work again with the hammer, prying up the seam from the baseboards along the east wall of the living room.
“Are you sure you’re allowed to do all of this?” asked Veronika with a slight wrinkle of concern between her brows.
“What Rosa doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” I said.
“Won’t she find out?”
“It will be too late by then.” I laughed.
When the carpet was fully unfastened and rolled up, I dragged the heavy roll through the courtyard and into the alleyway where I left it leaned up against the back wall of the building. The carpet had been installed in the early 1900’s by men who were now dead…and I looked at the carpet for a moment, leaning there in the moonlight like an ancient relic; the end of an era.
When I returned to my suite, I found Veronika on her knees in her panties and t-shirt, using the hook of the hammer to pry up a section of the floor that had been cut into a perfect square.
“What the hell is that?” I inquired, lighting up a blunt.
“Looks like a trap door.” said Veronika.
I sat down opposite her on the other side of the trap door, watching her work at it. There was no latch, just a curious, ominous square cut into the floorboards.
“What if a million and one scorpions are in there?” I asked Veronika who grinned.
“I doubt there is one scorpion down there…my money is on cockroaches.” she said to me, handing the hammer my way.
I took hold of the heavy wooden handle that was warm from her hand. As she tied her blonde hair back into a bun, I knelt above the trap door and pried at it. There was still some resistance which, with a bit more torque, gave way with a loud snapping sound. I lifted the trap door a few inches so I could grip it and once I did, I flung it open, expecting to be showered in fleeing cockroaches…however, we were greeted with only the musty dark reaches of depths unknown and the smell of rubber.
From the same kitchen drawer in which I’d found the hammer, I retrieved a flashlight. Veronika knelt beside me as I pointed the flashlight down into the dark square hole in the middle of the living room floor. I clicked on the flashlight and dust danced in the bright beam. Beyond the dust was a steel cable ladder fastened to the foundation with large and rusted bolts. The ladder disappeared down into the darkness which seemed curious to me. The trap door had been carpeted over—for some reason…and so why leave a ladder? Was it for someone to go back down or for someone to climb back up?
“Maybe it goes to the boiler room?” suggested Veronika.
“Maybe Robert Englund is down there?” I laughed.
“I think we have to go down there.” said Veronika.
“You…” she smiled.
“I’ll go if you follow me down.” I told her.
“I can read the headline now, ‘Body of 90’s TV actress found in East Hollywood crawl space.” Veronika said with a droll grin.
“I’ll go first…but let me get my Bren Ten.” I said, rising from my spot on the floor.
I went into the bedroom and retrieved the sexy Bren Ten I kept locked and cocked under the mattress of my bed—in case of masked marauders. With the cool handle heavy in my palm, I returned to the living room where Veronika still knelt with her back slightly arched like a sex kitten.
“Sexy sexy.” I said, leaning down to gently bite her ass cheek through her panties as I pressed the safety off and slid the Bren Ten down the back of my jeans where the handle hooked on my belt.
“Cockroaches beware.” Veronika laughed as I grabbed hold of the cable ladder and lowered myself down into the darkened shaft.
Veronika held the flashlight on me as I descended into the dark, musty abyss. When I reached the bottom of the ladder and was standing on floor tiles, Veronika dropped the flashlight down to me and I shone it up at her panty clad ass as she descended the ladder.
“I could watch you climb down a ladder all night.” I said.
“Unfortunately, I’m only doing this once.” she said when she was standing beside me at the bottom of the shaft, holding fast to my arm.
I unlatched the Bren Ten from my belt and held it toward the shallow ceiling…ready to aim and fire if a ski-masked marauder lunged from the shadows. I moved the beam around the room which was draped in cobwebs and roughly the size of my living room, only with a much lower ceiling. Against one wall stood bunk beds, the covers of which were beige and smoothed, folded and tucked neatly under the thin mattresses. Built against the adjacent wall were shelves that climbed from the floor to the ceiling. Beside the shelves was a propane stove built into a long counter beneath which cupboards and drawers ran its length. In the center of the room stood a table which was covered with a checkered tablecloth and topped with a bronze lantern, a bowl of plastic fruit and a number of dusty old magazines. To the right of us was a door slightly ajar. I pushed it with my foot so it slowly creaked open, revealing a bathroom complete with a shower, toilet and sink above which stood a large mirror set in a baroque frame. The plumbing ran behind a smaller door in the corner of the bathroom which opened into a crawl space made tight by what I assumed was a large water tank.
“I bet this whole set up is self contained. It’s a separate water source.” I said, tapping the tank with the flashlight, creating a hollow sounding echo, “Or at least it once was. That stove out there is probably run off propane.”
Craning her neck to see around the tank, Veronika pointed out a small ancient looking generator behind the tank from which dusty cords snaked into a hole in the concrete wall, “Looks like the electrical was run on that generator.” she said, her tone colored with a hint of surprise.
I moved the flashlight along the ceiling which was centered by a vent covered with a metal grating. Ventilation…indeed, this little fallout shelter hadn’t been constructed by amateurs. It was a professional job and certainly one that required some hard funding and perhaps some palm greasing, for instance to a prying landlord or building owner who might ask questions. Stepping back out into the main room, I sifted through the dusty magazines; Cosmopolitan and LIFE magazines dated 1954. Checking a cupboard under the sink, I found stacks of military MRE boxes held snug in a waxy coating. I picked one up and shook it…there was a dry rattle inside. It was hard to believe I’d been living above the secret room obliviously for years.
“They must have thought the lights were going to go out in LA.” I said to Veronika who slid up beside me and interlocked her arm in mine, as if she were cold or spooked.
“Who thought the lights were going to go out?” she asked.
“Howard Hughes I guess.” I shrugged.
“How’s that?” asked Veronika.
“Someone told me he had a tootsie stashed in my suite back in the day. Maybe she was a bit cracked and insisted on having a bomb shelter built beneath her.”
“Or maybe he was the cracked one and insisted he build her a fallout shelter below her suite.” Suggested Veronika.
“I mean, a guy like Hughes…he could get that done easy. No questions asked.” I said.
“Should you tell someone?”
“Your favorite building manager Rosa.” Grinned Veronika, “I mean, who knows what’s down here…or behind that metal door? There could be dangerous chemicals or some sort of explosion hazard—obviously this was built and carpeted-over 70 years ago—things deteriorate after so long.” said Veronika pointing to a metal door I’d missed, just beside the cable ladder.
“Probably an exit strategy. There’s tunnels under LA…everyone knows that.” I said.
“What if there are bodies in the walls?” asked Veronika, with a small shiver.
“Sounds like an episode from your old show.” I said pushing against the metal door that wouldn’t budge, “Let’s get some lamps going…clean it up…and spend the night down here.”
“Sorry, this dust is even worse for my allergies than your now defunct carpet.” said Veronika, “Besides, I don’t think I could sleep down here.”
“It’s like hanging out in someone’s tomb. It’s like one of those nuclear test site homes…only without the creepy mannequins.” she grinned and gently pulled me toward the cable ladder.
As planned Coleman and Westcott picked me up at 2pm on the button. I’d been down in the shelter vacuuming, sweeping and dusting by lamp light, which I attained by running an extension cord from my living room down the ladder shaft. I’d been sorting through a fascinating box of miscellaneous papers and knicknacks when Coleman had texted from Westcott’s idling Benz, informing that they were parked in front of my building and that time was of the essence.
As we made our way down Santa Monica blvd toward Chilton’s studio, Westcott ran down the itinerary and protocols of the Wes Chilton show as well as offering some finely tuned advice on what to answer and how to answer it. According to Ward Westcott, Wes Chilton had a way of steering conversations into unchartered waters, during which many guests had been known to panic and utter incriminating remarks about their political views or coarse remarks about their many competitors, which it seemed were only a stone’s throw from any success story—it was a wonder that anything got done with all the mud slinging going on in Hollywood. Westcott couldn’t be clear enough and emphasized his point one more time, turning from the driver’s seat to look at me; be vigilant at all times.
I half listened, peering out the window at the old shop fronts passing by. The sidewalks were crawling with people…people and more people…an endless supply of flesh, blood, bone, entrails and feces…and some brain matter. Each of them just as oblivious as the next; cockroaches in clothing, biding time until the dirt nap inevitably came knocking. It made me wonder about Disney interred up at Forest Lawn in Glendale. The great genius who had changed global perception…the fearless innovator who’d turned a stretch of orange grove into the happiest place on earth and made billions in the process…the man who’s name would forever be a cultural phenomenon…a name that had ceased being a mere name and had become an industry standard—a trademark. Indeed, during Disney’s life, a civilian couldn’t get within two blocks of him…they’d never make it through the outer and inner circles that surrounded the man with security, handlers and assistants. Perhaps only mistresses, friends, colleagues and servants experienced such a grace. Disney had risen to the level of a pharaoh; untouchable in his palace–untouchable…except by time. Now however, any asshole and his dog could stand on Disney’s grave…and to measure the grave reality of that, one might surmise said dog to raise a leg and dribble some indifferent piss down onto the sacred ground of the pharaoh’s final resting place. The security, handlers and assistants were all gone now…gone like the wind and the flesh and with the blood…dusty remains aren’t worth much except to archeologists. Disney’s legacy would always outlive him and therefore take precedence over the importance of the man himself—who had been flesh and bone. In the end, he was only a man—and the universal elements didn’t care who or what he’d been.
As Westcott blathered on about the nuances of the Wes Chilton show, I contemplated creative immortality and the works that live on long after the artist has left the conscious world. I wondered if at the last moment, such prolific men epiphanized that they’d made a mistake essentially striving after wind when they realized they could take nothing with them…that they’d leave their legacies to the public; a mass of strangers. Perhaps the old adage was true—do your work and know that it is good…eat drink and be merry. Words of wisdom.
Indeed, Wes Chilton’s radio show seemed like much larger of a production from the outside…that is if you were watching the show online from the comfort of your home. From the other side of the TV screen, where one was led through the entrails of the operation before the lights, camera and action started…the scuffed floors, chipped walls and water-stained ceilings all seemed somehow out of place among the photos of past guests that graced the hallway walls.
Because I rarely watched TV or listened to the radio, I wasn’t quite privy to the new faces…of which I was ironically one. However, having arrived so late in the game, the alumni that I perhaps should have belonged to were for the most part fossils…ghostly apparitions from the long dead, last great generation that had ravenously sucked the remaining marrow out of art, philosophy and existential whimsy. It occurred to me for the first time ever that perhaps we’d left nothing, not even a scrap for subsequent generations. The 90’s had been an impossible act to follow and so what greatness was left to achieve?
The faces of my contemporaries were all but black and white autographed photos…their youth frozen in time as a monument to their legacy. The faces now were all new…baby-like doe-eyed faces stared back at me from behind the glass of their picture frames…faces I vaguely recalled from somewhere. Rona Palmdale, Tyson Fury, Alexandria Cottonwood, Cody Stone, Court Alabaster, Kyle Listed, Tanisha Monroe…the names peered back at me from the photos lining the main hallway and I couldn’t have told you what any of them had done beyond getting famous somehow. Indeed, it seemed they’d become famous, for being famous—an anomaly.
After an awkward few minutes in the make-up chair, where a gaunt man wearing eye liner and foundation smeared my face in goop and applied chalky powder with a hard brush, I made my way to the green room, which was actually blue. It was there I met Coleman, Westcott and our fellow guests, which on that evening happened to be Zoey Hall, a relic from my generation, as well as a young chap named Cayden Flowers.
Either he’d picked the name to perfectly suit his flowery disposition or he’d simply submitted to the name’s power of suggestion over the years. Either way, he was a softly grinning, doe-eyed, baby-faced kid who, like the majority of his contemporaries wore a closely cropped, Micheal Gross-from-Family-Ties type of beard; a ‘tender-beard’ as I’d come to call it in the catacombs of my mind. Though he didn’t come equipped with his own soother, he did appear to have been dressed by his mother. He wore an argyle sweater over a white collared shirt and his sleeves were rolled up nearly to the elbow—just enough to display his designer watch and the incidental tattoos covering his skinny forearms. He wore skinny jeans that were rolled up above his ankles…as if they were a pair of women’s capri pants. He perhaps did this to display his socks, which matched the argyle design of his sweater. His shoes were perfectly white, unscuffed and untied high tops. Indeed, he’d cloned himself to perfection and when he’d offered his hand and I’d shaken it, I found it to be limp, cold and clammy.
Zoey Hall on the other hand had gotten old since her days as a popular comic in the early 2000’s. She’d tanned too much and perhaps drank too many sunset martinis…smoked too many low tar European cigarettes and had shat out too many kids. Perhaps she’d checked into rehab one too many times as well. Still, she made the greatest absurd conversation and as we came around to discussing in intricate depth how the mice in her newly infested upscale NYC condo tended to nibble the crotch out of all of her panties, Cayden sat there doing what he did best–grinning with a doe-eyed vacancy, gently rubbing his doe-eyed girlfriend’s shoulder as she sat there looking perfectly perturbed. Meanwhile Westcott chatted on his phone to one contact or another.
When I felt the microbes from all the clammy moist hands I’d shaken were crawling up my palm and breaching the buffer zone of my wristwatch; I bee-lined back toward the men’s room where I scrubbed my hands down with hot water and a palmful of soap after which I looked up at myself in the mirror. Indeed, dear reader, I shit you not when I convey to you the hard dark truth; I looked like a powdered cadaver—either that or a circus sideman in face paint. It seemed the make-up and hair people had felt that their sense of humor was all that tongue-in-cheek, by filling in the pits and creases of my face and subsequently brushing it down with a thick layer of pale foundation. Evidently they felt it was a great compliment to the way in which they’d styled my hair, so that I looked like a fresh baby who’d just suctioned out of his mother’s womb. Certainly I tilted my head curiously and with a fair amount of disbelief at the perfect point they’d created with my hair and a gallon of what seemed like vaseline.
I went to work erasing it all…removing my shirt and leaning forward over the sink, lathering up my face and my hair above the marble basin and using copious wads of paper-towels to dry myself off. Certainly erasing the mockery didn’t make me feel like a new man as much as it made me feel like the man I was before entering the studio. Satisfied with my own work, which was imperfect skin, wild hair and at least four days of stubble, I lit up a blunt and smoked in front of the mirror…suddenly gripped by a moment of clarity—I was now too old to be molded…I’d been worn to perfection.
When I returned to the blue room, a production assistant was ushering the round table guests out into the studio. In fact there was no round table…or any table at all. There was a console behind which Wes Chilton sat, meticulously primped and wearing a set of headphones and sun glasses, perhaps to shield his reddened eyes from the keen spotlights. We all found ourselves a spot on the various leather couches that were seemingly haphazardly placed around the studio.
“Well well well…you’re a hard man to track down.” said Chilton to Westcott.
“I’m a man of mystery Wes.” grinned Westcott.
“So I hear you two gentlemen are working on a film together.” said Chilton, now leaning back in his chair.
“We’re going to turn Frank’s screenplay into a cinematic extravaganza.” nodded Westcott.
“A cinematic extravaganza.” Chilton nodded back, raising his brows as if impressed, “And Frank, this is based on your latest novel correct?” asked Chilton, leaning over to look at me.
“No…actually, the screenplay is a separate project. I’m a novelist first—a screenwriter a distant third.”
“Is that so?”
“I had been working on the film originally with D’Amato…but…you know…” I said.
“No…I don’t know actually.” said Chilton.
“Well, he sort of went mad…you know–he’s a mad artist.” I said.
“And now you’ve found somebody entirely sane to direct the film.” chuckled Chilton, causing everyone in his studio entourage to laugh.
“Compared to people I know—yeah.” I shrugged.
“There’s a mission involved here.” said Westcott.
“And what mission is that?” asked Chilton.
“We’re going to put an end to the era of studios making really shit films you lose interest in a quarter of the way through.”
“And how do you go about doing that?” asked Chilton.
“Well, for one, you need talent. The entertainment industry isn’t based on talent. If it was, the industry would starve out—because real talent is rare. You’re not going to find much of it in the casting agent’s office. You’ll find it in unusual places. In fact we’re trying to cast this entire film with no-name actors…with talent yet uncorrupted by the industry.”
“So you’re saying that you wouldn’t use any of the established young actors working in the industry today?” asked Chilton.
“I’m saying it’s not about acting to most of these young actors…it’s more about fame…money…power. Those things have nothing to do with great art. That’s a fact.” Said Westcott.
“Says you.” Cayden said from the couch he leaned back in, as if he was a kingpin.
“Case in point.” said Westcott.
“Case in point how?” asked Cayden.
“Well, for one if it wasn’t for you record executive daddy—you’d be probably working at Burger Barn.” said Westcott, drawing a low grumble from the studio crew who fell silent immediately after.
“Now guys…we’re all friends here.” grinned Chilton, “I must say Frank, your novel…it’s quite funny. I read some of it on the plane last week.” he said.
“Sure…it was a great distraction from the brawling in first class.” Chilton said, mugging again. He was a clown without a clown car.
“Well, I call it the napalm narrative.” I told him.
“That’s a great name for it.” Wes nodded.
“It’s basically a gob of spit in the face of literary complacency…you see man…when the 90’s were ending, I could foresee the era that would replace it…and I told my friends that I wasn’t going to leave the 90’s…that I wasn’t going to embrace the lack. I made an oath to stay true to 90’s creativity and I’ve upheld that. I still watch videos on a VHS player for fuck sake.” I laughed.
“Do you listen to cassettes too?” laughed Flowers from his couch.
“I have a few kicking around kid—but my last cassette player broke.” I said.
“How did it break?” asked Flowers.
“Well kid, I pulled out my Bren Ten and blew it the fuck up when it ate my favorite Replacements tape.” I said, watching the smile on Cayden Flowers face fade into a theatrical wrinkle of his brows.
“That’s constructive.” He said.
I laughed to which Wes responded, stirring the pot a bit for better ratings perhaps, “Looks like Cayden is trying to sharp shoot you Frank. Anything you want to say to him?”
“It’s hard to take seriously a guy who wears women’s capri pants.” I chuckled.
“Are those women’s capris? I can’t tell.” Chilton asked, titling his head at Cayden’s pants.
“It’s called style.” said Cayden.
“Yeah; women’s style from the 80’s.” I laughed.
“You’re so hilarious aren’t you?” he said rolling his eyes, “You’re the relic here…not my style…I’m young and in tune with the times…what are you? Some old asshole who can’t let the 90’s go…this isn’t the 90’s man…the 90’s are dead.” said baby-boy Cayden. I noticed his hands were shaking as much as his voice and I realized that he might either break down in a fit of sobs or attack me with his fingernails and biting, whitened teeth.
“Well, I mean this can all relate back to your book…which has been called by some reviewers ‘testosterone laced’ and ‘crude’.” said Chilton, desperately trying to pull the conversation back on course.
“Look man…to a bunch of reviewers who are terrified of everything except their own narcissism—there isn’t much that isn’t going to offend them.” Westcott piped in.
“Of course…take Cayden for instance…what is he known for? Think about it…he’s known for being known. I can’t remember one of his songs.” said Westcott.
“That’s probably because I’m an actor.” Said Cayden, rolling his eyes.
“You see, his acting is so wooden and forgettable that I assumed he was a singer!” Chuckled Westcott.
“I’m done…” said Cayden suddenly rising and removing his lapel microphone, “Sincerely sorry Wes, but I’m not going to sit here with these knuckle draggers.” he said off mic before bidding Chilton farewell with an apologetic hand over his heart. When he was gone, the studio fell silent.
“Well, I’ve never had a guest walk off like that before.” said Chilton and a silence prevailed, “Do you think he’ll be back?”
“Of course.” I laughed.
“I wonder where he went?” asked Chilton.
“I think his girlfriend is warming up a bottle of milk for him.” said Westcott, drawing a chuckle from Zoey she immediately tried to suppress–however failing and breaking out in laughter through a gasping apology.
Then an eerie pall was cast across Chilton’s face, “So is that what we can expect from this new film you guys are working on?”
“What do you mean?” asked Westcott.
“Well,” said Chilton, “What I mean is that you’ve just offended a fellow guest so much that they’ve stormed out. Is that what we can expect from the movie—filmgoers storming out? Is that the new you re-invented?”
“The new me?” demanded Westcott, “What do you know about me?”
“I saw your last film…the September Room…and it was quite good. Very endearing and funny in the right places…and some great performances.”
“Yeah it was real quaint wasn’t it?” snarled Westcott, “I mean if you’re into touchy feely rom-coms, you’d have liked that one…but this new project isn’t anything like that. I don’t care what the brass over at San Andreas Pictures has been spreading around…they think I’m their dancing monkey…that I’m going to go on making crappy mainstream films for them.”
“Aren’t you?” asked Chilton.
“Look, they don’t know shit…firstly…the brass over at San Andreas doesn’t know shit. None of them are film makers…their money men…investors. They want what sells and that’s why they don’t take risks. They want Ginger Glazer to play the lead female role…and she’s clearly incapable of doing so…her range is about two inches.” Spat Westcott, I could see getting carried away under the spotlights.
“Is that a fact? I thought she did a great performance in that last one…what was it called?” asked Chilton.
“Camp Springfield…” offered a voice from the crew hiding in the shadows.
“Camp Springfield…right.” Said Chilton.
“Another San Andreas flop…they spent how much on getting an all star cast and what good was it? The movie tanked…why? Because it was the same old shit that’s been done a million times. I mean do they think this is a fucking costume? I live this shit everyday…and San Andreas Pictures is going to see just what I mean by that.”
“Did it tank?” asked Chilton, with a grin, knowing now that he’d led Westcott into the woods.
“Look man, I’m not a fucking accountant, but if you want to make real money in this town—that’s what you should become; a fucking pencil pusher…a bean counter…that’s who runs this town…but the artists can still take it back.” Said Westcott, “Like they did in the 90’s.”
Chilton nodded, catching on suddenly and turning his attention back to me, “Do you believe the 90’s has a place in today’s industry?” he asked.
“I doubt it…it can’t hurt to try though…at least you’ll be making something somewhat original instead of shwag. Getting back to my novel though…I think that it’s the sort of work that really—”
I was cut off suddenly by Chilton, who didn’t wish to discuss my novel anymore; the business with Westcott, San Andreas Pictures and our 1990’s revolution was much too juicy.
“So Ward…let’s be completely frank here—it sounds as if you’re saying that you regret making your last film—which is what really put you on the map.”
“I’m saying my work can’t be type-cast.” Said Westcott.
“What do you think of all of this Zoey?” asked Chilton, “You’re a classic 90’s girl…what’s your take on this approach?”
“Look, I’m a mother of four now…I did my bad girl thing to death…however, I’m all for self-expression.” She shrugged—the safest answer she could default to.
After the show Westcott was raving…like a man high on his own lunacy. He swung from manic to angry within the course of one statement and indeed I didn’t argue with him when he insisted on being alone and driving up Mulholland. He dropped Coleman and at Gelson’s on Franklin for a bite. We sat at an iron table outside as shoppers entered and left the store. As I tossed bits of my chicken tender to a nearby dog waiting outside the store for his owner to return, Coleman ate away at his pizza slice, explaining to me the many reasons why what had transpired on the Chilton show was mostly good.
“Westcott really skewered that kid huh?” said Coleman.
“The capris really say it all.” I said as the dog waddled over to me, having found a friend, he stood table side wagging his tail and waiting for another chicken bit. I broke him off another piece of the chicken tender and he gulped it down and Coleman and I both watched the dog gulp it down dryly.
“It was great radio…I’m telling you. They don’t do interviews like that anymore.” said Coleman, “Everyone is trying to be so correct now…suckling to the teat of social acceptance. Fuck social acceptance. Today reminded me of that episode of Dick Cavett when Mailer sliced and diced Gore Vidal.”
“Yeah, but baby-boy Cayden is hardly Vidal. It wasn’t a battle of wits…it was more like a public execution.” I said.
“Well, let’s hope it makes the rounds.” said Coleman with a greedy grin, “There’s really no such thing as bad publicity these days…in fact it seems the worse the better—people love a great scandal.”
I spent a few days letting the fallout shelter air out and even after the space had been vacuumed, dusted, mopped, wiped down with alcohol wipes and dried out with an area heater—a certain scent remained. I eventually recognized it as the scent of its era. The materials and textures and the chemicals they’d been made with, having been sealed beneath the floorboards for 80 years—it seemed history hadn’t had a chance to permeate the surfaces with the systematic erosion a lived in space acquires. Indeed, the surfaces were pristine, like that of a sparkling new car that still holds the factory smell in its upholstery.
Studying the shelter under the brightness of several lamps I’d bought from IKEA and placed around the room; I noted the linoleum hadn’t a scuff or scratch. There was no wear around the cupboard handles. The bunks were stiff having never been slept in and the bathroom bared no signs of mildew or water stains; the space had simply never been used. Though it had laid in wait, for a zombie apocalypse or nuclear attack—a meteor strike…global pandemic…an alien invasion—whatever the catastrophe…the space had never been called into action; things had worked out on the surface and we’d all managed to refrain from killing each other. Indeed, it occurred to me that I had discovered not only a fallout shelter beneath my suite; I’d uncovered an extra suite—a second floor so to speak…a basement rumpus room. Certainly dearest reader—it made more sense to take advantage of the extra space rather than alert Rosa the landlady who I believed was stricken with certain aspergers. Certainly, I was now allotted twice the space, for the same amount of rent. There was no way I was telling anyone at the Palm Villa.
And so, I decided to keep the fall-out shelter to myself as I went about settling into it, by refilling the water tank through a garden hose ran from the upstairs kitchen sink. Rather than jumpstarting the generator, I instead ran two extension cords down into the shelter from the living room outlets. Once the ancient refrigerator was running cold, I stopped in at Ralph’s and acquired a grocery haul which filled the vintage fridge and the icebox as well. I’d had a friend help me lower a flat screen TV and its platform down into the shelter. The TV seemed an odd stand-out in the vintage room…not unlike the perfectly rectangle obelisk the apes were awe-struck by in the opening scene of Kubrick’s 2001. I set the TV up in front of the boxy black and white relic TV that turned on well enough but for some reason displayed no picture and only sound.
I had Veronikaover a few nights later and made it with her on the frumpy couch. After watching a movie, Veronikatried the shower and cited that the water not only smelled funky, but it wasn’t warm enough…after which she climbed the cable ladder and had a second shower upstairs. I meanwhile decided to make us omelettes.
By the time the omelettes were done Veronika emerged in the fallout shelter kitchen, her hair stringy from the shower. She’d changed into some fresh clothing she kept in my closet and she moved her nose curiously, like Elizabeth Montgomery.
“It smells strange down here.” She said, “I can’t put my finger on it.”
“I think I burned this omelette…I burn everything.” I said.
“No…it’s not that. It smells like, emptiness. Like the way things smell when they’re abandoned for a long time.” She said, sitting down at the table and staring down at her omelette.
“Well, its been vacant for 70 years.” I said.
“And maybe it should stay vacant.” She said.
“Why don’t you love this fallout shelter like I do?” I inquired.
“I don’t know…it creeps me out.” Said Veronika with a shiver before lifting a forkful of omelette to her pretty little mouth.
The next afternoon Rosa rang my doorbell. Rosa was somewhere in her mid 60’s, but her libido wasn’t counting. Indeed, she stood outside my door on the concrete stoop clad in a low-cut shirt, a miniskirt, dominatrix boots and her face plastered in foundation that had been seemingly applied with a putty knife. I took note of her cleavage under the penetrating sun. There was a small faded jailhouse tattoo on the left side of her cleavage–a heart broken at the seam, crying a few black tears. I wondered about the tattoo as Rosa spoke.
“Hi Frank…how are you this morning?” she asked.
“Well…it’s pretty early…what time is it?” I asked her.
“It’s 11:45am already.” she whinnied.
“What can I help you with Rosa?” I asked.
“Well…it’s come to my attention that someone has been repeatedly slashing Ben’s tires. His tires have been slashed three times in the last two months. He’s already spent a pretty penny replacing the tires so many times.” said Rosa.
“Yeah? So what do you want me to do about it?” I asked, lighting up a blunt.
“Well…I’m asking all our tenants if they’ve seen anything suspicious in the car park.” said Rosa, “Have you seen anything?”
I dragged deeply from the blunt, peering back at Rosa, who’d perhaps lustily blown Wong, the geriatric building owner who’d put her in charge of running the Palm Villa apartments when the previous manager had moved. Indeed, I was at a loss to conjure any other viable reason why Wong would put someone as clueless as Rosa in charge of maintaining the building and tending to the needs of tenants.
In fact I did recollect exiting the courtyard into the car park beneath the building the previous month and had indeed heard a great hissing start as I opened the door. I’d then seen Resnick, the retired postal worker struggling to his feet between two cars. After locking eyes with me for a moment, he’d turned and hobbled awkwardly on his wooden leg up the incline leading to the alleyway. The car with the hissing tire had been indeed Ben Steinman’s Volvo and I’d watched the tire deflate rapidly, until the hubcap was weighing against the asphalt and the hiss went silent–it had been hard to believe.
On closer observation I’d noted a thin slit in the wall of the deflated tire and when I’d turned back to Resnick he had hobbled up into the alleyway and disappeared behind a hedgerow without glancing back at me. Certainly, my first inclination was a small bit of surprise that a little old man who’d lived directly above me for years, a very quiet old man whom everyone seemed to adore, had the capacity in him to slit the tires of a neighbor’s car. I wondered what else he was capable of. I had assumed that at some point, a rift had developed between Resnick and Steinman, who lived directly above Resnick.
“Well? Have you seen anything suspicious in the car park?” asked Rosa.
“Don’t you think I’d have already godam told you if I did Rosa?” I asked her.
“Don’t take that tone with me young man…I’m merely doing my due diligence in checking with tenants.” she informed.
“Due diligence huh?” I said squinting smoke out of one eye, “That what you call it?”
“I don’t appreciate being interrupted…I’m not done.”
“Continue…” I smiled, wondering why she thought any of it mattered.
I stood there and puffed on the blunt, waiting for her to conclude the conversation. After peering at me for a moment with her head on a tilt and a very severe look in her eyes–Rosa went on, “If you do see anyone lurking around the car park, please inform me right away…we think a tenant in the building is slitting Ben’s tires.
“Yeah…which tenant?” I asked.
“Just between you and I…we think it’s Resnick.” said Rosa, lowering her voice to a near whisper, “Jennifer Bell saw him leaving the car park the last night Ben had a tire popped. You’re sure you haven’t seen anything suspicious?” asked Rosa.
“Well, I did see Hatcher the other day displaying alarming angles of saggy man-tits around the pool. What I find suspicious is why a fuck as fat as he decides that it’s a great idea to go shirtless in the public areas. Don’t you think that’s a bit suspicious?” I said.
“Well, I don’t know anything about that…I don’t go in that pool.” said Rosa, “Rachelle Polski in 12 said she caught herpes from that pool last August.” informed Rosa, again nearly whispering.
“I’m sure it was from the pool.” I said, with a chuckle.
“By the way, Peng has asked me to check your toilet.” she said.
“Peng, that useless fuck wad? For what?”
“Be nice about Peng…he keeps this building in check.”
“He fixes the same shit over and over again and it keeps breaking down.” I laughed.
“That’s not true. It’s come to our attention that your toilet is leaking.” she said.
“Really? I didn’t notice it.”
“It must be yours, we’ve checked everyone else’s. The water bill is way up…Mr. Wong believes your toilet is the culprit.”
“The culprit.” I laughed.
“I’ll need to check it now so I can report to Peng this evening.” Said Rosa.
“Now?” I sighed.
“Can’t we do it another time?” I sighed.
“We can do it now…please step aside Mr. Nero.” Said Rosa, stepping into my suite and bringing with her a waft of hairspray and cheap perfume, “You realize that you have to report these things to us immediately.” she warned, offering me her profile, “You can’t let things go…we must be alerted to such things.”
“You’re tripping Rosa…the toilet is fine.” I assured.
“We’ll see.” she said.
Once we were in the white tile confines of the bathroom, Rosa inspected the toilet with her hand on her hip. Her blouse was so low cut it showed nearly to the nipples.
On instinct, Rosa glanced at me, turning her chest slightly so that I might get a better look, “There’s a slight drip—I can hear it plain as day.” she said leaning in.
“Barely.” I sighed, sitting down on the side of the tub and puffing from the blunt.
“You know, I don’t mind if you smoke that stuff in here, but Arash moved out because of all the smoke going into his suite—just so you know.” said Rosa.
“Who the fuck is Arash?” I asked.
“He’s the gentleman from who lived next door to you for six months.” said Rosa, offering a grin of absurdity.
“Never met him.” I shrugged.
“He said he got stoned every time you blazed up.” said Rosa.
“Impossible.” I said.
“He was getting high off the fumes.” said Rosa.
“The fumes.” I laughed watching Rosa get on her knees beside the bathtub.
“Well, it must be something leaking from the back.” she shrugged.
“I thought Peng the genius fixed that toilet last month.” I said.
“He fixed one particular issue with your toilet…but there could be others…let me look.” said Rosa, turning her back to me and leaning forward to see under the tank. She leaned further and further down until she was on her hands and knees, her ass sticking straight up as if she were a matted alley cat in heat. She arched her back, the extra tight fabric of her miniskirt pulling up and revealing a panty clad camel toe. Peering back at me lasciviously over one shoulder she cooed, “Sorry about all of this nitpicking Frank…you know, I’m real anal.”
“Pardon me?” I inquired.
“I’m very anal…I’ve always been very anal.” She confessed.
“Is that right?” I said, exhaling a large plume of smoke.
“It’s true…but I have to be anal about leaks or Wong will have my ass.” she said with a strange grin…an old code from the 1970’s? And I wondered about it for a moment…if she walked the walk. Indeed it appeared she crawled the crawl, nearly pressing her face against the bathroom floor to look up under the basin of the toilet. Flushing it and listening intently as it refilled.
I just sat there dear reader, puffing on my blunt.
“You know, people used to say I looked just like Jane Fonda.” she said.
“Jane Fonda is it?” I asked.
“That’s what all the boys told me.”
“You got chased a lot?”
“I was quite popular with the young actors guild of Hollywood.” assured Rosa, “It was a different town back then you know. We used to hitch hike out to Malibu on a hot summer day and find some friends on the beach having a fire. We’d usually hitch hike back into town. Back then you could do that sort of thing. Now, you probably can’t even drink a beer on the beach much less start a bonfire. It was quite a ride.” said Rosa with a long sigh as she wagged her ass in the air. A moment later she looked over her shoulder at me, “It’s been a while since I had a good ride.”
“I’ll just bet.” I said, exhaling another large plume of smoke and it dawned on me that I was high…perhaps higher than I preferred. In fact the notion of a brisk walk over to Barnsdall Park seemed an optimal idea. There was after all something ethereal about soaking up the grimy essence of East Hollywood which hung around me like an old friend—someone who really knew my capacities.
“You wanna give it a go?” asked Rosa.
“Give what a go?” I said, coming back to the moment.
“You know…” she said widening her eyes that were plastered with blue mascara.
“Really?” I asked, curiously, wrinkling my brows together, “And what would your man Grady think?”
“I won’t tell if you don’t.” she said, offering me a wink.
Indeed it was clear that Rosa still possessed some lascivious reflexes from the good old days—the long lost 1970s—when love was free, perhaps because nobody shaved their bush.
“Why you naughty old soomka.” I said.
“It’s not the mileage; it’s the make.” Said Rosa, pulling her skirt up the rest of the way, revealing the lacey print of her white silken panties.
Just then, the doorbell sounded and I rose from the edge of the bathtub to answer it. It was Maria from suite 18 and she was in a tumult. I’d seen her in a tumult before…in fact it seemed whenever I saw her she was skirting the sharp cliff of her own anxiety regarding one issue or another. It wasn’t just her rapid-fire words and panicked hands, her sweat beaded forehead and the expression of sheer terror in her eyes…it was her hushed tone which alerted to me of a clear and present threat. To make matters worse, there was a small child holding fast to the cuff of Maria’s khaki shorts, sucking it’s thumb and staring up at me, absorbing Maria’s fear and trembling slightly.
“Hold on…what’s this all about?” I asked, “Back up…start from the beginning.” I said as Rosa joined me at the door, listening intently.
“I saw a man in the car park dressed in a dark hood…wearing a ski mask…there was a knife in his hand…I screamed and grabbed my daughter…and this man—this man with the knife—he just stood there staring at me like a horror movie. He’s still in there. I watched from the alleyway as I spoke with the police.”
“Oh my lord!” exclaimed Rosa—the she-devil, “What did the police say?”
“They said to wait until they get here.” Said Maria.
“Oh my…” gasped Rosa, “Sounds serious. We’d better get indoors and fast. I’m going back to my suite pronto.” She said, “I’ll walk you back to yours. Frank—you better lock your door and don’t answer it for anyone but the police.”
I stood there taking a last drag on the blunt before flicking it into the pool as Rosa ushered Maria and her traumatized daughter up the stairs toward the second floor where each of their suites were located.
When the women were safely locked inside their suites with their air-conditioned anxiety, I retrieved my Bren Ten from its place under my bed. As always it was locked and cocked ready for business. Back out on the stoop, I peered across the pool toward the aluminum door that led down to the car park a floor below. I quietly closed my door before walking along the outside wall of the courtyard until I was at the aluminum door. Pushing through it, I ducked into the echoey stairwell and made my way down the two familiar flights of stairs.
After pushing through the fire-glass doors, I scanned the car park, which was silent and deserted. In fact dear reader it was so silent that the florescent light fixtures above filled the air with an electric buzzing. The sound of my steps echoed against the concrete walls and ceiling as I walked along, checking the spaces between the cars for the hooded figure in a ski mask.
“Counselor…could you be there? Could you be there counselor?” I mugged in my best Max Cady and received no reply. I crept carefully holding the Bren Ten with two hands and pointing it toward the ceiling. Indeed my father, who’d been a black-ops marine, had explained to me one drunken evening that it was always better to bring a gun to a knife fight rather than the other way around. Eventually I came to a VW camper van parked next to a minivan and in the darkened space between them, I found the marauder, still swathed in his black hood and grey ski mask…squatting low and looking up at me when I stepped into view. In one of his gloved hands I saw he was clutching fast to a switchblade that was still open. I pointed the Bren Ten at the man in the ski-mask.
“I’ll have a cheeseburger, large fries and a milkshake…” I told him, taking aim at his face.
“Will you point that thing somewhere else?” came Resnick’s voice.
“Resnick? What the fuck are you doing down here?”
“I might ask you the same thing.” He said, pulling now the grey ski-mask from his face.
“They called the cops asshole…” I said, looking down and realizing that Resnick was kneeling at Ben Stieman’s tire, which was, unsurprisingly…flat, “You fucking slashed Ben’s tires.”
“Will you get the hell out of here Nero.” Resnick snapped. His grey hair was matted and mussed and he rose carefully, grabbing onto the handle of the VW campervan for balance. When he was standing before me, he folded the switchblade closed and pushed it down into his pocket. As he removed his black gloves he looked at me and spoke.
“You have no idea what’s going on here so stay out of it.” He warned.
“Stay out of it huh?”
“It’s not your business.”
“I park down here too…if there are tires being slashed…it actually does concern me old chap.” I assured Resnick.
“So what, you going to turn me in?” he asked.
“Why are you slashing Steinman’s tires man?” I demanded. “That’s pretty fucked up don’t you think?”
“You don’t understand the torture I suffer at the hands of that bastard and his wife. They stomp around endlessly…they roll things across the floor all hours of the night…they argue around the clock—screaming and yelling and throwing plates at each other—one minute the old bitch is crying and the next she’s taking his rod like a knife…whimpering and squealing like a stuck piglet…the walls are paper thin…and when I’m in bed trying to sleep I can hear his shit dropping into the bowl…that’s how thin the walls are…I can hear his wife snoring and blowing farts all night…I’ve fucking had it! You hear me? Had it!”
“Why not just tell Rosa?” I demanded.
“I’ve told Rosa…but she’s a useless human being—a useless human…is there anything worse than a useless human?”
“Look, that Maria broad called the Five-O man…they’re on the way.”
“Hogwash! It will take them an hour—if they even show up. LAPD has bigger fish to fry than some good old fashion tire slashing.” Assured Resnick.
“I think the point they are trying to make is that you can’t be down here slashing tires man.”
“Why the fuck not?” Resnick demanded.
“Because it’s not fair.” I said.
“It’s not fair? Life’s not fair!”
“I mean it’s unfair to the rest of us who would love to slash our neighbor’s tires but practice are prohibited by law to do so…it’s not fair that you’re allowed to do it when the rest of us aren’t!” I chuckled, unable to believe the old chap really had no understanding of my point.
“So, are you going to turn me in? Well?” he demanded.
“Am I supposed to just pretend I didn’t catch you in the act?” I inquired.
“What if I swear to never do it again?” said Resnick.
“Scouts honor?” I chuckled.
“Are you going to turn me in or not?” he asked.
“I won’t…but you owe me something.” I said.
“Owe you what?” he asked.
“What kind of favor?”
“I don’t know…I’ll have to think of something…Hatcher has been a pain in the ass lately…what else can you do other than slash tires?” I inquired.
“You mean to punish someone?”
“Yeah…like something that doesn’t leave permanent damage.”
“Well, I can apply a few drips of glue to his car window and it won’t open. Or I could oil up his windshield wipers—that’s a bitch to clean up.” Said Resnick.
“Let me think about it and get back to you. But just remember—you fucking owe me.” I said, just so we were clear and on the level.
Resnick just nodded and removed the hoodie and rolled it up into a ball along with the ski mask and gloves. He bent forward and rolled it under the VW campervan and hobbled toward the alleyway exit, now dressed in his civies. I on the other hand made my way back into the courtyard.
I didn’t see much of Rosa after that for a couple weeks. Normally she would call, knock, harass about one issue or another. I felt doing so kept things current for her and so I didn’t much question it. I went on allowing her to believe that she was doing an important job well, which couldn’t have been any further from the truth.
Rosa eventually came knocking, perhaps having remembered the imagined leak in my toilet.
“Well hello Mr. Nero. I’m here to inform you that Peng will be here to fix the leak in your toilet tomorrow morning at 7am.” Said Rosa.
“Why the fuck does that asshole have to show up so early? Doesn’t he realize I work nights and sleep late?” I demanded.
“It’s the only time he has available this week.” Assured Rosa.
“Right…I’m sure his schedule is full of shit shoveling.” I said.
“Regardless…Peng and I will be here tomorrow at 9am–it’s out of my hands. We’ll knock twice and if you don’t wake up, we’ll let ourselves in. I don’t want Peng to come twice.” She said.
“He’d probably need an ambulance if he came twice.” I chuckled.
“You’re a real riot aren’t you Nero…everything is a big joke to you isn’t it?”
“Look, I’m telling you, the toilet isn’t leaking…and besides, Peng couldn’t even fix the hinge of my cupboard. What makes you think he can fix a leak?”
“That’s quite enough Frank.” said Rosa.
“No it really isn’t.” I said.
“I won’t tolerate you cursing Peng.” She assured.
“That’s just too bad.” I assured.
“Frank…I’ve been meaning to ask you…the other week, when Maria spotted a masked man in the car-park—I saw from my window that you went down to the car park directly after. Did you find anyone down there?” she asked.
“Maria is obviously delusional…there was nobody there.” I said.
“She was very adamant that someone was there—a masked man with a knife.” She said, “Also, Ben found a rolled up hoodie and ski-mask under his VW…along with discovering he had another flat tire—one that had been slashed. I’m certain it was Resnick’s crime disguise.”
“Right…” I said offering a wry grin.
“Well, let me know if you do notice anything suspect in the car park. Peng and I will be here at 7am tomorrow morning.”
“I can’t wait.” I said and closed the door on Rosa who kept talking.
When I was back in the sanctuary of my suite, Veronika was in the kitchen pouring herself a tall glass of orange juice. I watched her drink it down as I sat at one of the bar stools that lined the partition, puffing from a blunt.
“Who was that?” asked Sarah.
“Rosa, the building manager.”
“Oh? Did you tell her about the fallout shelter?” asked Sarah.
“No and I’m not going to.”
“They’re not going to charge you extra.” grinned Sarah.
“They won’t if I don’t tell anyone.” I said.
“What did she want?” asked Sarah.
“The upstairs tenant is slashing his upstairs neighbors tires…I guess it’s a pretty involved situation.” I shrugged.
“Why on earth would he want to do that?” asked Sarah.
“Who knows. I caught him in the act…now he owes me a favor.” I said.
“Shouldn’t you have told Rosa?” asked Sarah.
“Baby…what Rosa doesn’t know isn’t going to hurt her.” I grinned.
Veronika had to go back on set later that afternoon. She’d landed a reoccurring role on a series in Santa Clarita and conveniently drove a few minutes from my apartment to the 5 which whisked her northward toward the set which was primarily located in a rented Victorian on the outskirts of town.
In many ways, Veronika had been the last of the 90’s indie actresses. She would smile and shrug when I’d point out that the emerging generation coming of age in a post-apocalyptic reality recognized that over-coddling and cell-phone technology had rendered them somehow helpless to emulate the legend of their predecessors. They realized this on a subconscious level and so didn’t quite bother competing–rather they simply showed up with poorly articulated mimickry and clonery. When I’d say this…Veronika seemed aloof…she’d made her mark and carried that fulfillment with her innately and with a cheerful disposition–indifferent to the fact that the girls who had carried on her torch had dropped it in the muck and were now lost in the dark.
I on the other hand felt that my writing didn’t subscribe to a particular era and would have read the same during any great or disappointing decade. Indeed, Veronika and I had been cut from the same generational cloth…but somehow the present time was mine…and it seemed strange to me that I was suddenly accepted so widely by a public that I didn’t understand.
I’d spent the rest of the evening smoking blunts and composing prose as long forgotten films streamed on the large sized flat screen TV I’d bought specifically for the fallout shelter. Indeed, I’d fallen asleep on the bottom bunk while watching Apocalypse Now and had awoken at 6am, thirsty and in need of a tall glass of tropical elixr. I climbed the cable ladder and closed the trap door, covering it with an area rug before swilling greedily from the chilled bottle of juice in the refrigerator after which I disrobed and crawled into my bed. Knowing and slightly dreading the racket Peng would most likely start making in a few short hours, I closed my bedroom door.
Indeed, dear reader, I slept deep…returning to the fellini-esque landscape in which my dreams had been recently situated. However, I was roused by voices. I recognized the voices…they were that of Peng and Rosa and a second later I was awake, lying on my back, wishing I’d have turned on a loud fan.
As I lay there with my eyes closed, saturated with sleepiness, I heard my bedroom door click open and stay that way for perhaps half a minute. I kept my eyes closed pretending to be asleep. After all, had I looked up at Rosa, in essence formally catching her in the act of dick-looking—then in fact, it would create a certain dynamic—one which I wasn’t interested in creating. Let her get her thrills—the naughty old soomka, I thought, rolling over into the covers and hearing the door close a second later.
When I arose later in the afternoon, the apartment was warm and the sun scorched against the tinfoil in my window. I checked my phone expecting a message from Veronika, she’d sent me a photo of her dressed in a sexy low-cut dress splattered in blood with a caption, ‘Home Cumming Queen’. I didn’t reply…for I’d reply in person. Indeed, it was no secret that the hypnotic obsession with instant messaging the world at large had developed was indeed the death of its imagination. For the super minicomputer, though a device of convenience initially, had turned into a lover, a spouse, a companion…a weapon…a vanity mirror staring back at one with adoring filters…artificial social landscapes and a doorway to lurid curiosities and cyber dating; the perfect tool for a world filled with cold empty spaces.
I contemplated this as I slipped two frozen pancakes into the toaster. As I waited for them to sizzle, I lit up a blunt and peered out the kitchen window which looked out into the courtyard. My phone buzzed a second later and I answered it.
“Frank…” It was Coleman, “…how are you today?”
“Same shit different day.” I shrugged.
“I just got word from San Andreas Pictures that Westcott has been removed from the film…he’s no longer directing it.” Said Coleman.
“Westcott…he’s been fired.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Well…he did shit talk San Andreas Pictures pretty bad on Chilton’s show—word gets around…you don’t want to do that to these film producer types—they can find a thousand other people to replace you in Hollywood…there’s no shortage of directors here.”
“Yeah but are they any good? Who are they going to replace him with?” I asked.
“Not sure…there are a few names…but they’re mostly younger directors…they want someone fresh…someone who is eager to get the job done—without all the bullshit.”
“Yes, but these younger directors are going to turn the film into some ass-kissy, politically correct statement…they’re going to be pussies about it and they’re going to ruin it—they do that with everything they touch…the try to flower it up and it just falls flat…we can’t let that happen…maybe I can retract my permission to make my screenplay into a film.” I sighed.
“It’s out of my hands Frank…just thought you should hear it from me.”
“Where the hell is Westcott anyway?” I demanded.
“Nobody knows…he’s not answering calls or messages…he’s sort of just vanished.” Said Coleman in an ominous tone, “I have to run…call ya later.”
A moment later he was gone and I stood there contemplating the scenario…the predicament…the puzzle to which there seemed no solve. After all, how could all of my hard work wind up being a waste of time? The pancakes jumped from the toaster, snapping me out of my contemplation. I lifted one from the toaster and bit into it as I stepped out into the courtyard, where the sun soaked over me in glorious warmth. It always baffled me how it could be freezing everywhere else in the country yet remain toasty warm under the LA sun. I stood there chewing at the crispy pancake looking up into the deep clear blue.
“Nice day.” called Hatcher’s wife.
“It’s always a nice day here.” I said, clicking my eyes down to meet hers. She stared at me strangely, offering a lascivious grin and a wink…or was it a twitch?
Without bothering to change out of my robe, boxers and PIL t-shirt, I slipped into my checker board Vans and strolled down to the car park. I got into my van and started the engine. I ate at a pancake as I rolled out into the alleyway and south, toward Sunset. I passed Sunset and rolled further and further and further…until I reached Wilshire. I followed Wilshire, passing the grandiose hotels, the boutique shops, the high society shoppers in droves, rushing valet attendants, dog walkers and group joggers.
When I finally arrived at San Andreas Pictures, I pulled up to the security booth, now working on my second pancake.
“I’m here to see Blake Farnsworth.” I said.
“Do you have an appointment?” asked the guard from her small sweltering booth.
“Farnsworth summoned me last minute.” I lied.
“I see.” Said the guard checking her register of appointments, “What’s your name?”
“Look, tell Farnsworth that Frank Nero is here to see him.” I said.
“That’s highly irregular sir.” Said the guard.
“Well, would you like me to tell Farnsworth that I was here as he’d requested and that you turned me away?” I shrugged.
The guard spoke into her radio, inquiring if Farnsworth had in actuality requested a meeting with me. Then we sat there in the sun for a long few minutes until finally someone responded, prompting her to open the gate and gesture for me to proceed.
Certainly I was surprised…I’d planned on being turned away. I was so certain I’d be turned away that I hadn’t even bothered to change out of my robe. In fact, my only objective had been to stage an act of protest against Farnsworth’s decision. Cause a scene at the gate…make a ruckus, say much worse about San Andreas Pictures than Westcott had…which I’d hoped would be enough for San Andreas Pictures to drop my screenplay and wash their hands of me altogether. Indeed, it seemed that your diligent narrator would rather there be no film at all if it meant the only option for a film would come at the cost of it being a cheese-puff. However, it seemed Farnsworth didn’t want a scene…perhaps he wanted to chastise me in person.
After parking in a narrow stall, I made my way into the building and reported to the reception desk behind which sat an attractive brunette with a low-cut blouse. She gestured for me to follow a brightly lit hallway to its end, where Farnsworth’s office was situated. I did so and when I arrived at the door, I knocked instead of walking in.
“Come in!” I heard Farnsworth holler from the other side.
I opened the door and stepped into his office, where Farnsworth stood, teeing up a putt on the small putting green in the corner of his office. In a nearby chair sat another man, sitting in a chair with a pile of documents neatly folded in his lap.
“You don’t wear a tie when you decide to barge into my office?” asked Farnsworth, glancing up at me clad in my robe, checkerboard Vans and a PIL shirt. I removed my sunglasses and spoke.
“My Armani is at the dry cleaners.” I said.
“Have a seat Nero.” Said Farnsworth, “And tell me why you’ve decided to barge in here uninvited.”
“I didn’t realize I was intruding…but I guess I can leave if you’re not interested in what I have to say.” I said.
“Don’t be so defensive—get to the godam point Nero…time is money!” boomed Farnsworth.
“The point? Well…the point is that you’re making a huge mistake removing Westcott from this film.” I said.
“Oh am I? Well, I’m glad I have people like you to help me navigate through the cutthroat business of corporate Hollywood.” He said, booming out a loud chuckle…one his assistant shared.
“Look man, I’m not helping you navigate anything…I’m just telling you the cold hard facts. You put one of these next gen shit-wits in charge of this film…it’s going to go down in flames.”
“I thought you didn’t care to help make this film.” Said Farnsworth making the putt, which went wide a few inches, “Fuck!’
“Did Westcott tell you that?” I asked.
“Westcott told me everything.” Nodded Farnsworth.
“I wasn’t going to interfere with Westcott. It was his film.” I said.
“But your screenplay.” Said Farnsworth.
“Yes, and that’s why this needs to be done right—look…I didn’t spend some of the worst years of my life creating this work, only for it to be watered down and reworked and softened up by some next-gen baby boy who wears women’s capri pants and toe socks.”
“You think I want that?” he asked me, widening his eyes and staring at me intensely before concentrating on his putt.
“Well…I’ve heard you removed Westcott from the film, and I—”
“—You just figured you barge in here and lobby to have him put back on the project? Well you can forget it—because it’s never going to happen. Westcott crossed a line and he’s been crossing lines with me since even before his big ‘blockbuster’…it wouldn’t have been a blockbuster without me backing him by the way…I fucking made that little punk and he has the nerve…the audacity…the godam sack on him to threaten me…to threaten San Andreas Pictures? And on a syndicated radio show?” demanded Farnsworth, before putting again, and again missing the hole by a few inches.
“I think he just doesn’t want to be type-cast.” I suggested.
“What he wants is irrelevant now. So what else you got to say? You’re breaking my concentration.” Said Farnsworth.
“Probably your floor isn’t perfectly level.” I said.
Farnsworth straightened up and scratched his head, “You know…I never even thought about that…I just assumed.”
“Shit isn’t always level…” I said with a small shrug.
“I handed it to Ward…and he bit the hand that fed him. You don’t do that in this town.” Said Farnsworth, leaning his club against the wall and moving to the bar near his desk. He poured himself a drink of dark liquor and sunk down into his squeaky leather chair and looked at me, “And how do you know Westcott wouldn’t have ruined your screenplay?”
“I didn’t…but at least I was involved to the point where I could put him back on track if he wandered out into the woods. This screenplay is meant to venerate the classics of the 90’s. There was a certain way things were written and shot the way they were back then…there was a whole school of thought that went into it. You can’t expect that some next gen shit-wit is going to have an innate understanding of that.”
“I can’t correct you there…the 90’s was certainly the last great era of film.” Sighed Westcott, “Back then a man could be a man and not have to apologize for every godam thing.”
“It certainly was sir…and the 90’s was great because we were exposed to great talent…we demanded the fringe and the long lost…and it was my generation who pulled all of that arcane shit into the spotlight…it wasn’t counter culture—it was counter bullshit.”
“Well, if you know so much about it and you’re so authentic…why don’t you direct this film?” he asked suddenly, without skipping a beat.
“Me? I’m not a director…I’m a novelist. Are you kidding me? I’ve never directed anything.”
“That didn’t stop Mailer did it? I had many great conversations with Mailer on the subject of novelists being directors.”
“You knew Mailer?” I asked.
“Who do you think convinced him to direct Tough Guy’s Don’t Dance? I didn’t produce it…but I knew he’d do well.” said Farnsworth, “The critics tore him apart…but that’s because the critics didn’t like him. That movie was a classic…and perhaps it was Mailer’s name that threw people off. Who can say now…it’s ancient history—but it’s history.”
“I’ve never directed anything before.” I repeated.
“Sure you have…you direct every time you put your pen to the paper. You envision the scene…the characters…the dialogue…the backdrop…in fact, you have the best understanding of this project. Of course, if you don’t think you can handle directing this picture…of I could just as easily drop the project all together…use that budget on some other film—I’ve got nothing but options these days and you got a screenplay nobody will direct.” said Farnsworth.
“Don’t do that. Let me get this straight…you’re telling me that I’d be free to make this film exactly the way it was meant to be made?” I asked, “Why don’t I believe that?”
“I produce films…and some are quite frankly shit. How are you going to drop the ball any worse than any of those other directors? Risk is part of my business…risk and intuition…and I suspect that you’d make a great film…if I’m wrong—I’ll just have my men clobber you and drop you in the river.” grinned Farnsworth.
“That’s not funny.” I said.
“Sure it is.” Smiled Farnsworth, “Anyway, I want a yes or a no…not ‘I’ll try’ or ‘I’ll do my best’…you know who tries and who does their best? Sissies! Crybabies! If you’re going to do this—you be a man…you grow a set of nuts.”
“Hey I don’t need to grow a set of nuts. I’ve got nuts the size of basketballs…”
“I can see that…nobody in their right mind would barge in on me the way you have.”
“I feel strongly about this film getting made the right way.” I assured.
“Of course you do…and that’s why I’m going to entrust to you the endeavor of directing this film…your way. Don’t fuck it up Nero.” Said Farnsworth, “Now will you get the hell out of here…I’ve got a production company to run.” He said, with a sly grin, gesturing to the door.
I nodded and backed away, somehow afraid to turn my back…in case someone might put a knife in it.
I drove back to the Palm Villa in a state of mild shock…unsure of what I’d just gotten myself into. Certainly I saw it as a great save—a great last ditch effort to thwart the cancellation of a work I’d invested so much of myself into.
When I got back to the Palm Villa…I climbed back down into the fallout shelter where my type writer awaited, along with a VHS version of Hannah and Her Sisters. Closing the trap door above me, I climbed down the cord ladder with the blunt between my lips and a head full of cinematic directions I’d need to write down immediately.
Indeed dear reader, down in the shelter there was fortified tranquility. I felt like I was at the bottom of the ocean in a submarine, moving slowly through the darkened corals and alien sea creatures, as if I was Nemo and the shelter my personal Nautalis. Indeed, the ancient surfaces of the shelter seemed to wrap their hospitality around me, perhaps having become lonely being long forgotten for over 70 years.
As Hannah and Her Sisters played on the VCR with a slight repetitive squeak, I typed…and the words came like a mighty river that had cut itself through a dense landscape with the force of gravity and natural purpose. Indeed, in the space of 7 hours, I’d completed the first five scenes, complete with camera angles, actor movement, set deck, character motivation and a suggested score. I made side notes for the editor, drawing from Oliver Stone for reference. And dear reader, though it seemed clinical compared to chipping away at a novel, the notes were a plan of preparation…a blue print of success. When I was coming to the end of the session, I was distracted by an incessant pounding on my door.
When I opened it Westcott was standing there in the brilliantly warm sunset rays. Indeed, I’d often wondered about the Palm Villa in it’s heyday…back in the 1960’s…when it had been part of the central block of young go getters who’d driven out to Hollywood from other parts of the country, in their rounded cars and polyester clothes and hairy bush, chasing a vermillion sunset dream. They were all gone now.
They’d gotten old, or gotten dead, leaving in their wake, a testament to their existence in the form of shoe prints embedded in the 85 year old sidewalk, a deep gouge in a floor board, a messily re-painted power socket cover, a crack in the corner of the stained glass kitchen window, cigarette burns in the porcelain soap holder attached to the ancient bathroom sink, a curve of wear in the hardwood floor from the opening of an unplained door. as if writing their initials in the wear they left. Perhaps better men had occupied my apartment…perhaps better men had stood on my stoop…perhaps, but it was now Westcott and me standing there in the courtyard, passing a blunt back and forth, contemplating the irreparability of the damage we’d caused to Westcott’s professional reputation.
“They want me off the movie. Can you imagine that? My fucking movie!” he exclaimed.
“I thought you said it was our movie.” I laughed.
“You know what I mean.” said Westcott, turning and wandering over to the empty pool where he stood on the bulkhead for a while, looking down at the dead and forgotten insects floating on the surface of the water…as if he was now one of them–a Hollywood discard.
“You know,” he finally said, “you play a game down here…in Hollywood…there is a game to this town and they make you play it…they dangle a carrot. Well,” he said turning to face me, “I’m not biting…I’ve made two great movies for the studio…I’ve made them a lot of money. I’ve only furthered their brand. I spent months contemplating your screenplay…and I could have been in Germany instead shooting a sexy adaptation of Death In Venice through Strange Flesh Films. The fat cats can’t touch me there…not if I stay there…not if I set up shop there. They can kiss my asshole if they think that I’m going to honor three more films with them…fuck all that noise son!” he said, flailing his arms.
“Why not just take our film to another studio?” I inquired.
“That would be breach of contract…instead–they’ve found another director…that’s what I’ve been told by reliable sources…can you believe it? They replaced me! The fat cats think they’re being smart because we’re still in pre-production.” he said pointing to his temple.
“Listen, Westcott…they’ve asked me to direct it. Or more accurately Farnsworth threatened to scrap it unless I picked it up and carried it…he doesn’t seem interested in finding another director to make the film…I don’t think he cares about this movie at all.” I said, feeling bad for the old chap standing there withered and sunken with his heels at the pool’s edge.
“I thought you said you weren’t interested in this film.” he said, peering up at me with a puzzled twist in his expression.
“I can’t let them hand it over to some next-gen shit-wit who will baby-boy the fuck out of it.” I said.
“Well…then good luck to you friend…I mean that.” said Westcott.
“So what are you going to do old man?”
“What am I going to do? I’m going to do what I should have done eight months ago. I’m going to catch the puddle jumper to Europe and start working on Death in Venice. Pull a cast and crew together.”
“We’re great…in fact we might be the last of the great men.” said Westcott, issuing a salute before theatrically letting himself fall backwards into the pool where he caused a great splash that clapped against the bulk head. The pool had seen it all…and now this.
The next day was overcast and I was browsing the 99 Cents Only store, fully smoked and making my way slowly up and down the isles as Phil Collins ‘Sussudio’ piped through the unseen speakers. All at once, the day seemed to pivot…and move suddenly in a completely different direction. A middle-eastern mother of three pushing a shopping cart wagged by, her kids in tow…she flashed me a long lashed mysterious glance and a coy smirk…like a mystical desert oasis…and dear reader, the way her luscious ass cheeks wobbled seemingly in perfect time to the Sussudio beat intrigued me…enticing me to wonder exactly what it was about the deep crack of such an exotic beauty that inspired me so.
At that moment, the dull overcast turned to sunshine through the large bay windows. I peered up toward the observatory and it all came back to me—exactly why I loved Hollywood with such watery passion. For Hollywood knew how to seduce me…and for that, I’d always love her. Coleman was ringing a second later—as if he sensed it was a good time to call me.
“Franky…it’s very irregular for you to negotiate projects without me…I’m your agent—and that means that I can always get you a better deal. In this case though, it seems your brashness earned you some respect from Farnsworth—which is fortunate. I’m a little surprised he’s asked you to direct this film…I might even say I’m a bit concerned.” Coleman demanded.
“Why concerned?” I inquired, “Man, don’t ruin my day…it was just getting sunny.”
“I’m not about ruining days my friend—I’m about making sure you have your ass covered. From what I’ve heard Farnsworth was ready to write your film off. He had it in for Westcott from the start and I think the only reason he suggested you direct the film is because he’s not willing to pay a director to do this job. It’s already in progress so you putting on the director hat is like a hail Mary. He doesn’t expect you to succeed though.” Said Coleman.
“Well, he’s going to get a shock then…because I’m going to knock this one out of the park.” I said.
“They’re not drawing up a new contract…there’s no new money coming…the only way you’re going to make money is if it’s a smash success. So it’s a lot of work for potentially nothing.”
“It won’t be nothing.” I assured, “If anything, I’ll have made a classic film. That’s worth more than money.”
“In theory…but not on paper. Farnsworth should have offered you what Westcott was getting.” Insisted Coleman, “I’d suggest that you pull out of it and put the whole project on hold until there are renegotiations, but at this point—I doubt Farnsworth would renegotiate.”
“So why is he even going ahead with this film then? If he’s so indifferent?” I inquired.
“Oh, that’s simple—Xavier Mackenzie agreed verbally to do this picture. He was tight with Westcott. I think if Xavier now backs out…Farnsworth will cut off all funding. So it’s very important you don’t forget your very important meeting at 1pm tomorrow with Xavier in Malibu.”
“I’ve never heard of him.” I admitted.
“He’s sort of a troubled kid…he fancies himself a method actor…and he sort of pisses on the whole celebrity thing. He’s from Boston you see.”
“Never been to Boston.” I said.
“I’d say you need to go offer him some reassurance.” said Coleman, “Your objective is to get him to sign up…which might take some begging.”
“Look Coleman, you know me, I’m not going to kiss some dudes sack so he’ll sign on…I’d rather have someone sign on who is sure they want to do it.”
“Just have a talk with him…reassure him it’s going to be great.” said Coleman, “He’s the only thing keeping this film afloat at this point.”
“I’ll do what I can.”
“Tomorrow, 1pm, Malibu…I’ll have Gina forward you the details.” said Coleman.
Indeed dear reader, it seemed years of refusal to leave the lush creative cove the 1990’s had indeed left me untarnished by modern pop culture. I’d not allowed the systematic deterioration of contemporary culture a foothold…I’d chosen imagination, art, existential errands and the promise of bludgeoned orange sunsets sinking into the endless Pacific blue—I preferred to live off the grid so to speak. I still regularly referred to my catalog of 1990’s VHS cassettes which numbered in the thousands–many of which had been collecting late fees when the video stores all suddenly became extinct like the dinosaurs. I didn’t live inside a mini supercomputer. I made calls and took calls from colleagues and friends and sent the odd sext to Veronika—otherwise, if you wanted to get a hold of me…you’d drop by, email or simply dial me.
I hadn’t subscribed to incidental contemporary trends. At all costs, I protected my charismatic 1990’s allure, creative innovation and fiery disposition by never letting the awful lack soak in. I didn’t wear an obligatory, softly sculpted Micheal-Gross-from-Family-Ties tender-beard…I didn’t assume that a full sleeve tattoo and an energy drink t-shirt automatically turned a common Joe into an R rated action man or a stone cold cage scuffler. I didn’t believe in wearing tight-suits and subscribing to Hip-Hop culture as a shield of proposed street cred. I didn’t live inside a phone, creating a perfect life on SM for online strangers. I certainly didn’t wear male camel-toe inducing yoga pants to placate the bitch-boss agenda of an overbearing wife. I still believed that a man shouldn’t ever apologize for his nature. In short; I’d never had a sip of the Kool-Aid.
Of course this rendered me out of touch with most of my contemporaries who all followed the same asinine fads and cultural phenomena—as if they didn’t know any better—as if they’d lost all sense of who they really were. They read the latest scandal rags and kept up on the bad soap opera lives of a plethora of celebrities who’d become famous on the merit of nothing at all…as if they’d somehow become famous for becoming famous—though they were talentless sods. It seemed a strange paradox specifically akin to a contemporary world filled with a populous deprived of great thinkers, great artists and colorful existential disposition. They’d forfeited all of it for carnal vices and the promise to not ever have to think for themselves again—so life could be easy.
They’d been raised with the aid mini supercomputers and their brains had atrophied. They didn’t consult a glove box map for an unfamiliar destination–rather they had their mini supercomputer lead them by automated voice, within ten feet of the entrance door. The mini supercomputer hadn’t become just a companion of convenience—the mini supercomputer had become a bodily component…an umbilical cord attached to a new religion.
Xavier Mackenzie was a product of the new millennium. He’d been forged in the aftermath of the last great decade—one he’d never quite understand. He and his classmates had been born into a dystopian outpost that read like the first book of Revelation rather than an existential adventure–and they knew no better. They only knew on some subconscious level that there had been a breach in the electrified fences surrounding a societal sense of well being…that there were real enemies slithering out of dark evil cracks in far off places that might come looking for them.
In one short year, the 90’s had come to a crashing halt—the party abruptly shut down by loathing and fear, spy craft and paranoia. The 90’s had faded away, having been eclipsed by an ever-sliding scale of defcons.
Xavier’s generation had been raised demanding convenience no matter what the cost and seeking fame for the sake of fame alone. Why learn how to play a guitar or the drums when you can simply play other people’s music on a vintage turntable? In their world, this new world…it seemed enough to simply look the part.
Indeed, as requested, I drove out to Malibu to meet with Xavier. I drove the PCH along the mighty crashing shoreline and stopped at the Ralphs for a piss and to pick up a bag of oranges. Xavier lived in one of the houses on stilts lining the beach just behind the Ralph’s and he met me at the door with suspicion in his gaze. He was swathed in a black satin robe and a pair of Air Jordans, and a cigarette dangled from his lips. His eyes were swollen and red, his nostril flaps were chaffed, and he looked perhaps 40, when he was really only 26.
“Who are you?” he asked, “You with the paparazzi?”
“Do I look like a paparazzi?” I laughed.
“I don’t know…” he said, his face remaining taught with suspicion.
“I’m Nero…Westcott’s friend…I was told to meet you today.” I said.
After scanning his garbled mind for a connection, Xavier’s face suddenly lit up. “Ah…the screen writer…right…fuck man…hella day,” sighed Mackenzie suddenly, deflating slightly, “There were paparazzi earlier today on the roof next door, trying to get a photo of me and my girlfriend. They’re obsessed with us.”
“Creeps.” I said.
“Come in.” he said and stepped aside, making way for me to enter.
The house appeared even more spacious on the inside; a maze of sunlit surfaces, eggshell walls and post-modern sculptures displayed as if in some sterile art gallery. He led me into the kitchen where a few other similarly styled kids sat around a round glass table drinking hard liquor and smoking cigarettes, wrinkling their foreheads and wincing slightly in order to appear older. Incidental hip-hop hammered from unseen speakers and the smell of weed, stale chinese take-out and coke-orgy sex lingered in the air. I couldn’t tell one guy from the other—it was as if they were a group of twins dressed with some variation. There were two young women in swimwear preparing a late lunch around the island in the center of the kitchen. They giggled and jiggled and struck many sensual poses…making hard and lurid gestures with cucumbers and zucchinis.
“My peeps…this is Frank Nero–the screen writer…we’re going to talk some shop…out on the patio—that means do not disturb.” Mackenzie told his clan as he led me further into the house…through a vast living room decorated with more sterile art and post modern furniture. We stepped through the large sliding glass window that led out onto the patio and Mackenzie gestured toward a futon couch on one side of a long rectangular glass coffee table littered with empty beer bottles, glasses, ashtrays and a mirror lined with chopped powder. Mackenzie took a seat opposite me in the other futon couch. He crossed his legs in the european fashion, lit another cigarette and peered out into the mighty blue Pacific toward Catalina Island that was a faint, darker blue outline floating on the distant horizon. Brilliantly white gulls floated by, surfing the crest of the ocean breeze, clicking their aerodynamic heads in search of scraps.
“Can I ask you something?” he said, peering at me with his wrinkled-up sun-burnt face.
“Sure…why not.” I shrugged.
“Why did Ward get himself fired off of this film?”
“Maybe he’s really into Thomas Mann.” I shrugged.
“Thomas Mann? Maitre’d at Blue Venus?”
“Venus has a Maitre’d?” I grinned.
“I think so yeah…but let me ask you something—how long did Ward know he didn’t want to be on this film.”
“I’m not sure old chap…but it was comedic genius wasn’t it?” I said.
Mackenzie nodded, “You want a line?” he asked, gesturing to the mirror on the table.
“It’s one in the afternoon man.” I laughed.
“Best time of the day.” said Mackenzie, leaning forward and picking up the mirror…after taking a painful sounding snort, he set the mirror down and stared at me…again with his suspicious squint, “You ever direct anything?”
“Never.” I said.
“You ever been on a film set?”
“Not really…I used to work set security years ago…but got fired on account of banging my girlfriend in the van and falling asleep…set deck found us the next day…fired on the spot.”
“Cool…” said Xavier with a nod, “Who’s the best actor of all time?” he demanded.
“Aside from John Stamos?” I shrugged with a crooked grin.
“When the hell were you born?” I laughed.
“I think Ricky Reynolds is probably one of the most versatille. You ever see Side Arm Stan?”
“I haven’t.” I nodded.
“Well…it’s done with this retro style…like Farancino or something…cool filters…super slick….saturated colors…dark humor. You like Farancino?”
“Sure…he venerated Goddard a bit.” I said.
“I guess…all those old directors are sort of cabbages—really basic shots and…there are no explosions in their movies even.” said Mackenzie, squinting thoughtfully, “What’s the best explosion in a movie?”
“Hard to say.”
“I would like to do an explosion in this film…I would like there to be a massive explosion in this movie.” Said Mackenzie.
“I don’t know where it would go.” I shrugged, “This film will be reminiscent of 90’s Altman.”
“I’ve never heard of 90’s Altman.” Said Xavier.
“Of course not…you were still floating in your dad’s sack when Short Cuts was in the video stores.” I said.
“Hey, leave my dad’s sack out of this…” Xavier laughed, “So you’re saying that this movie is going to be like something you’d find in the Blockbuster back in the 90’s.”
“Basically…” I said, lighting a blunt.
“I want an explosion in it…that’s the only way I’ll do it.” He looked back at me with a grin, and I expected he’d burst out laughing and cite his tom foolery with a guffaw. However, he only stared at me, his smile fading, “That’s my condition…I want a big huge mega explosion…”
“That’s your only condition?” I asked.
“That’s my only condition.” Xavier nodded.
“Ok…we’ll throw in an explosion somewhere.” I shrugged.
“Not just an explosion…I want a huge, sexy, mega-explosion.” He said.
“Fine…” I said.
“That’s all I need to hear man…count me in.” he said with a wide smile
“Just like that?”
“You sold me man.” shrugged Mackenzie, “Hey…you want to drop some E?”
“I have to get back to my fallout shelter and do some rewrites…but I’ll see you soon…maybe we can catch a few bands in Silverlake. Talk more about this project.” I said.
“Swing by tomorrow at noon…I want to show you a real cool location.” Said Xavier, “Can you make it?”
“Sure.” I said.
“Great,” He said, leaning forward and dropping a tablet of E on his tongue before swallowing it down with a swallow of what looked like rye, “I have a great feeling about this film.” He smiled and peered back out toward the cut bank.
And that was that. I’d somehow managed to convince Mackenzie that a film directed by a man who’d never directed a film before, was indeed a great vehicle for his already successful career. In any case, I’d opted to relay the info to Coleman via text message as I didn’t care to elaborate too much. There was always a chance Mackenzie was high enough on any number of substances coursing through his system to say yes to having his spleen removed with a dull butterknife; I half expected him to change his mind the next day. After all, Hollywood was a freeway of opportunity…roaring with possibilities and unexpected coincidences. You never knew where the day would take you…and especially if you were a twenty something heart throb, Johnny-come-lately, with your whole life ahead of you to burn through money, women, drugs and whatever your heart and sack could possibly desire.
Indeed, I imagined Mackenzie’s life was an obstacle course of unhealthy distractions—and I didn’t need him getting distracted enough from his drug induced stupor to realize that he stood little monetary gain in agreeing to act in my film and certainly, I didn’t even consider that in his dislocated state, he’d bother recognizing the meticulous details that would certainly bring our film to cult status.
Indeed, Xavier hadn’t changed his mind by the next day as I’d assumed he would. In fact, he was waiting for me at the side of the street when I rolled up. He was clad in a red track suit and matching red shades. Before I could pull into a street side spot, Xavier prompted the garage door with a small black clicker and the slowly rising door revealed four parking stalls, which held a jet-black Lamborghini, a jet ski sitting in it’s wheeled holster, a desert tan Hummer and a sleek motorcycle.
“Park in my spot.” He said before hopping into the Lambo and firing her up.
After revving the engine at peak RPMs, Xavier let it idle for a moment before backing out of the stall and into the street. As instructed, I pulled my van into the spot where the Lambo had been parked, knowing the sweating engine would leak a bit on the immaculate concrete.
I climbed out of the van, careful not to scratch the pain of his banana colored Hummer and Xavier grinned back at me when I locked the doors; old reflexes die hard. I got into the Lambo which felt more like lying down in a sunchair. The afternoon was brilliantly warm and the sun made every contour crisp with detail. Xavier turned to me and smiled before throttling the engine, pressing the brake simultaneously so the halted forward power created an enormous squeal and an acrid cloud of burned tire tread. Releasing the brake suddenly, the car lunged forward, jolting us back against our seats. It was hard to believe how fast the machine climbed from zero to light speed in only seconds, but what I found more alarming was Xavier’s utter lack of regard for public safety as he blew by dog walkers and joggers at bullet speed, ascending the grade and furthermore not adhering to the eastbound freeway traffic at its summit…rather he darted into it, narrowly missing a pickup truck, the driver of which leaned on his horn as we quickly ascended higher, up the hill, as if shooting toward the blue sky itself.
Xavier hit the music and hooked a hard left at Pepperdine, whisking us eventually onto a winding pass road below which sprawled a treacherous ravine. From such an altitude the view was breathtaking and I admired it as Xavier took the corners hard, riding the edge of centrifugal force, just enough so that the driver’s side wheels didn’t leave the pavement. With madness in his eyes and a pounding techo beat pushing him onward toward death itself, Xavier shifted gears with a ravenous grin…finally letting the car coast when we came to a straight and level portion of the road. Passing a man selling strawberries on the side of the road, Xavier came to a screeching halt, stopping the car on a dime.
“Two bags.” He said, holding up two fingers to the man on the side of the road who jumped into action, retrieving two containers from a crate. Handing the man a twenty, Xavier took the containers of strawberries in hand and placed them on his lap before shifting into gear and pulling away with a deafening squeal.
Again we raced down country roads, taking corners at high speed—but at least there were no steep cliffs on either side and I leaned back in my seat, lighting up a blunt. I finally looked at him when he ran a stop sign.
“Hey…will you stop driving like a maniac.” I said.
“Sure.” Said Xavier, shifting down and slowing the car to comfortable cruising speed. We drove like this until Calabasas, where Xavier took us down a rounding maze of suburban streets lined with mansions and estates, some gated, some not. Eventually, he pulled up to the gate of a massive house and rolled the window down. He spoke into an intercom and the gate, like magic, opened slowly, allowing us entry. The roadway wound along the perimeter of the property until a final perfectly manicured hedgerow revealed a towering mansion complete with marble pillars and trellises wound in foliage and vines.
“Who lives here?” I asked.
“My friend Lucas Brenman.” Said Xavier.
I’d heard of Brenman…everyone had. He’d become famous for marrying a retired pop star and he’d evidently done well in divorcing her too. The house was a maze of endless gilt hallways and it was evident that Brenman’s interior decorator had found himself a cash cow and perhaps what décor wasn’t lost on Brenman was somehow meant to impress upon his guests, a stately awe. To me however, the place seemed like a museum and I made my way through it, careful not to knock over any priceless artifacts.
At the end of one particularly long hallway that was lined with a mish mash of art pieces from different periods and places, was situated a fire engine red door.
“Ready?” asked Xavier.
“For what?” I asked.
“You’ll see.” He said, opening the door slowly.
The room was round and the walls were black and lined with not only rifles and handguns, but also grenades, knives, throwing stars and swords of all creeds and colors. Xavier lifted an AK-47 from the wall and posed with it.
“What if we did a shot of me standing in here…where the camera is circling around me while I load this bitch.” He said.
“Well dude…I’m not really sure where that would fit in…it’s not really a machine gun movie.” I said.
“You’re going to put an explosion in though? Right?” he demanded.
“We can fit that in somewhere…maybe a dream sequence.” I said.
“So maybe that dream sequence includes this shot.” He shrugged.
“Maybe.” I shrugged.
“Anyway, Dude…I wanted to rap with you about something. About trust.” Said Xavier, taking a small bottle from the pocket of his jeans and popping it open with one hand before guzzling down a few of the pills inside of it.
“Yeah…what we’re about to do here is going out on a limb. And that’s okay, as long as we trust each other. Do you trust me?” he demanded suddenly and very theatrically.
“Do I trust you? Like as an actor? Because I certainly don’t fucking trust you as a driver.” I laughed.
“I know you trust me…you proved it by showing up at my house and asking me—man to man—to be in your film. That’s trust man…you trust me without asking me to audition or for a screentest…you fucking trusted me intuitively. You showed me—actions man! Actions!”
“And I need to show you that I trust you.” He nodded.
“That’s not necessary man…” I shrugged.
“Yes it is…you don’t realize how necessary that is. You need to know that I trust you…and I need to know that I’ve proved to you that you can trust me.”
“Okay…I trust you.” I said.
“Take this AK.” He said handing me the gun. I took it in hand and held it at my side as Xavier removed a black headband from his back pocket. Carefully, nearly with ceremonial dedication, he wrapped the headband around his head, tying it tightly and closing his eyes before inhaling deeply and pounding a fist against his chest. He let out a booming yawp and opened his eyes so they were wide and psychotic and brimming with killl-crazy madness.
On a nearby table sat a bowl of fruit and Xavier stepped over to it, picking a large green apple from the top. He took a large bite out of it and chewed ravenously as he spoke, setting the apple upon his head.
“I want you to take that AK and send a single bullet into this apple.”
“Kind of waste of an apple don’t you think?” I laughed.
“I mean it…it’s the only way I can prove to you really that I trust you.” He assured.
“You want me to actually shoot that fucking apple off your head?” I laughed.
“I trust you man.” He said.
“You realize I’ve never shot an AK before right?”
“I trust you.”
“It’s not about trust man it’s about me not ever having shot a fucking AK-47 before.” I said.
“It’s real simple.” Said Xavier, “Just aim carefully and squeeze the trigger.”
“That’s madness.” I said.
“It’s trust.” He said, an eerie grin surfacing across his thin lips.
“And if I miss?”
“I live and die according to my code.” He said.
“Take aim…claim your destiny.” He said.
“Fuck this shit dude…let’s go down to the Vicious Burger and get some chow.” I said.
“It’s the only way I’m going to do this film. Take aim…claim your destiny dude.”
“I thought the explosion was your one and only condition.” I said.
“This is the explosion…the explosion of this apple on my head.” He said, his eyes widening with madness and strange pills.
“It’s a bad idea.” I said.
“Look…” said Xavier taking out his phone. He turned it on and fiddled with it for a moment before pointing it at himself. “Xavier Mackenzie here…I’m here with the director of my new film,” he said flashing the phone at me and a moment later pointed it back at himself, “For the official legal record, in case of my demise—I’m filming this video as a documentation of the facts. I’ve demanded Frank shoot this apple off of my head. I’ve told this badass mofo that if he doesn’t do the shit—I ain’t gonna act in this joint. Get it? Set it? Read it bitches. Like drying paint on a wall. Right? Eeya!” he said, throwing what looked like a gang sign, “And so, I’m of the sound mind and body my peeps…the sound mind and body and this here is my motherfuckin’ condition…it’s my demand…and so Franklin here…the motherfucker ain’t got no choice in the matter. If he don’t do what I ask—I’m walking…so this is all my shit…this is a stunt I’m doing willingly…and I’m gonna do this stunt. In fact…” he said, leaning the phone against the fruit bowl, angling it just right so the camera could catch the ‘stunt’, “I’ma post this shit on my SM…it’s going to go mad viral.” He said, psyching himself up and pounding on his chest a few more times, “Okay baby…take aim!” he yawped.
“Dude…I’m not doing this.” I said.
“Look…if you don’t…I’m going to walk…today…today I’ll walk and you would have just lost the biggest star you’re ever going to get to be in this joint dawg…you want me or don’t you want me? Now take aim and shoot this apple down.”
In spite if it being an absolutely shit idea, I took aim, in fact, my strategy was to aim high enough that the bullet would clear the top of his head as well as the apple…go wide and put a hole in the rounded wall behind him. It occurred to me just then that it was a brilliant strategy…for not only would I be able to oblige Xavier’s evident retardation, I would remain a team player…a worthy director. Indeed, at the very least I could shrug and say, ‘Well old chap…I did make a fair attempt.’
I lined up a portion of the wall behind Xavier with the site and made certain I was clearing the apple. When the moment was right I squeezed the trigger and was surprised slightly to notice that the bullet didn’t in fact penetrate the wall behind Xavier with a small puff of smoke. Instead the bullet, somehow—as if it were indeed magic—and perhaps forged with the same method as the magic bullet that had pierced not only JFK, but also John Connally. Certainly, I was a bit dumbfounded when Xavier squealed and dropped to the floor, holding fast to the side of his head—which seemed still intact; a slight relief.
Certainly, I stood there, with my elbow cocked, pointing the AK toward the ceiling in case it might offer another magic wayward bullet as Xavier writhed on the ground, screaming in pain and pressing his hand against his ear.
“You okay man?” I asked.
“No…it caught me in the fucking ear man!” he hollered, rolling onto his other side.
A moment later, pandemonium erupted when Brenman and a few of his men burst through the door and into the room. I assumed it was members of his entourage or security team as one of the men immediately wrestled the AK from me and another pinned me to a wall. Brenman’s girlfriend rushed to Xavier’s side, panicked and screaming for someone—anyone, to dial 911. Brenman only stood there gawking down at his woman, kneeling at Xavier’s side.
“What the hell is going on here?” he demanded, “I thought I told you never to come in here without me man.”
“Sorry man…I was just showing Frank the room…for a potential scene…” Xavier said through his gritting teeth.
“Frank?” demanded Brenman, flashing me a glance.
Noticing Brenman’s men had me pinned against one wall, Xavier sat up, “Guys, get off him…he’s the director…we were reenacting a scene…and the gun went off…get off him!” Xavier boomed and at the behest of Brenman, who waved a finger at the men, I was suddenly released from their steel-mill grip. One even straightened the collar of my now wrinkled shirt apologetically.
“What the fuck is going on here man?” Brenman demanded.
“I needed him to know that I trust him…” said Xavier, “I asked him to shoot an apple off of my head.”
“With a fucking AK?” demanded Brenman.
“Seemed like a good idea at the time dawg.” Said Xavier, smiling up at everyone, drawing a loud guffaw from Brenman.
“You’re fucking crazy dawg!” chuckled Brenman, extending his hand to help Xavier to his feet.
When Xavier was standing, we all got a better look at the damage. Indeed dear reader, a large chunk of his ear was missing…decimated by the bullet that had passed him within inches of his life. I wondered if he realized how close he’d come and I next wondered if he cared. When Brenman and his woman whisked Xavier away to the first aid kit, with the help of Brenman’s men; I was left alone in the weapons room. I stood there for a moment, thinking about how close a call it had been. I didn’t wait for the paramedics to arrive and patch Xavier up…I didn’t even bid him a farewell. I simply slipped out a side door and made my way back out onto the street and I walked, under the scorching sun, until I saw a cab, which I hailed with a fan of twenty dollar bills. I got into the air conditioned confines of the taxicab and sunk back into the seat with a sigh of relief.
“East Hollywood…” I told the driver who shifted into drive and pulled away from the curb.
Back in the fallout shelter in East Hollywood I put the catastrophe with Xavier out of my mind and got back to work. The afternoon was sweltering and helicopters circled the neighborhood as vagrants, tourists and speed-lovers roamed the sun baked cracked asphalt…toward the end of time. I was situated at my desk with the trap door shut, typing away as taped episodes of Northern Exposure played on the VCR. I was heavily immersed in the writing when the outside buzzer sounded, alerting me to the fact that I had a visitor.
I climbed the cable ladder and once back up in the living room I pressed the intercom button.
“Yeah.” I said.
“Franky…” came a voice I vaguely recognized.
“Who the hell is this?” I inquired.
“It’s Remington.” Said Remington.
Indeed, I hadn’t seen Remington in a few months. I’d gotten busy you see and had let go of any interest I had whatsoever in a social life. That is aside from Veronika, who would drop by when she could get away from work and get away from her husband or the demands of motherhood. Most everyone else had either given up on me or simply understood that I would emerge when I emerged and if they were the real people—they’d remain the real people.
I buzzed Remington in and we stood in the kitchen like old times, with the butterknives in the burner and the nearly rolled beads of weed sitting neatly on the countertop, placed there with great OCD accuracy by Remington, who travelled with his own stash of remarkably and consistently great strains of Sativa. This one was called Peruvian Rain Forrest. I took the bait, inhaling one between the red hot knives and feeling it immediately spreading through my mind like a fresh coating of emerald green paint.
“I’ve been trying to get a hold of you man. You’re phone is never on and your voicemail still isn’t set up. Get that shit set up man.” Laughed Remington.
“No need old chap…anyone who really wants to get a hold of me knows where I live.” I said.
“But it’s a pain in the ass to drive in from Rolling Hills man.”
“That’s where you’re living?”
“Yeah man…Joan opted to move into her old man’s place when he kicked off earlier this year. I said we should sell it and move to a better apartment in Hollywood.” Said Remington squeezing one of the beads between the knives so it exploded with a large puff of smoke he tried his best to capture, “I have no life down there man…it’s like…suburbia.”
“I can’t believe she left Hollywood.” I said.
“You haven’t seen the old man’s house. It’s dope.”
“Must be pretty dope.” I said.
“You ever see the original Dynasty…from the 80’s? The real Dynasty.”
“Well anyway—her old man was like a Blake Carrington…even sort of looked like John Forsythe…fucking guy made a fortune…and he bought this acreage on a hilltop…it’s plush man…all the solitude a man could wish for…but I’m so fucking bored—it’s not reality…it’s like some fairytale dream that won’t end. I still haven’t found any jobs…and that’s because the auditions are all too fucking far of a drive…man…what the fuck am I going to do with my life?”
“You’re doing it.” I said.
“I guess I am. I’m not complaining…I’m not above being a gigolo…I just thought my life would result in more than lounging around all day, jerking my dick off, drinking rented booze and playing tennis with Joan’s friends’ husbands. God they’re such trivial cunts…”
“Well, I’m working on this film project…maybe I can get you in as an actor.” I suggested.
“Man…that would be amazing…I’d love the opportunity.” He said.
“Who wouldn’t?” I said. Just then there came a knock at the door. When I answered the door I found Rosa standing there, wearing this time a low cut tit sweater, leather pants and red stiletto heels. Her lipstick looked like horror show blood and her eyeliner was black and heavy; a menopausal metal queen.
“Frank…I’m going out for the evening…I’d like it if you take the exceptionally large roll of carpet you propped against the wall in the alleyway and stick it in the dumpster.” Said Rosa, lighting a cigarette.
“Man, those fucking garbage men are so lazy. That’s their responsibility.” I said.
“No it’s not…they’re not responsible for anything outside the dumpster.” Assured Rosa.
“Godamit Rosa…the thing is probably crawling with cockroaches by now.”
“That’s not my fault.” She said.
“And it’s not going to fit in the dumpster.” I said.
“Why not?” she asked.
“It’s too long and it’s too wide.” I said.
“Well certainly Mr. Nero you can find a way to stick it in…maybe you can sort of stick it in from behind, sort of drop it in? Maybe you have to bend it a bit in order to get it all the way in.” said Rosa, with a signature cock of her brow.
“How the fuck am I going to all that and hold it open at the same time?” I asked.
“I can hold it open for you while you stick it in.” she cooed.
“Are we talking about the same thing here?” I asked.
“I don’t know—what are you talking about?” she laughed, “Anyway, the other reason I’ve knocked on your door is because Peng needs to get back in to fix your toilet…this time for good…he’s found the proper part and he’s going to install it Monday at 7am on the dot.”
“Why does that bastard have to always get here so early?” I inquired.
“I can let him in so he doesn’t wake you…other than that I can’t do anything else.” Said Rosa.
When she was gone and Remington and I were standing at the stove again, Remington was full of curiosities.
“So that’s your landlady? Damn, she’s just a filthy old tart isn’t she?” he stated.
“It would certainly seem that way old chap.” I said.
“Is she always like that with you?”
“I would say so.” I shrugged.
“Has she ever tried to grab your knob?”
“Not really…she’s more into show and tell.”
“A dirty talker huh?” Remington grinned, “Tell me more.”
“Well…what’s to tell? She’s got a hunger in her.” I said, “She let the plumber into my suite the other morning and peeked in my room, hoping to catch a glimpse of my dick and balls.” I said.
“Ah, she’s a dick looker is she? Did you give her a show?” asked Remington.
“I was wearing underwear.” I said.
“Man…if it were me—I’d have given her a show…I’d have made it dance for her when she looked in.” said Remington.
“I don’t want that visualization…” I laughed.
“Seriously man…I’d have given her a real show…why not throw her a bone?”
“Well…she’ll be here Monday at 7am…if you want to stand in for me…you’re welcome to.” I laughed.
“Seriously…I’m down with that.” He said.
“Really? You want to do a dick-dance for my landlord?” I asked.
“I’d throw the old girl a bone…sure…why not?” Said Remington.
It was classic Remington.