The Larchmont never had valet parking before. Over the years, the humble restaurant grew from a humble establishment to the size of half a block. It used to be greasier, especially in the early mornings when they used to take out their greasy spoons and cook whatever you wanted. Hell, you could even get fried chicken for breakfast if you wanted. I definitely had mornings where I would leave with a higher chance of a heart attack from their hashbrowns alone. My stomach couldn’t handle that much grease anymore- the fire in my stomach would burn my insides to a crisp.
Judd pulls into their covered semi-circle and shifts the car into park, against the car’s wishes.
“You want me to stay here, Mike?”
“No, Judd,” I said, silently handing him a hundred bucks in crisp, plastic bills that smelled of french fries.
“Get something nice for Margie or the kids. This is off the record.”
“What’s this? A bribe now? What did you do, say something wrong?”
“Not really. I just wanted to pay you in thanks for turning the cameras off. It helps me stay calm.”
“I feel that, Mike. We’re too old to be afraid of dumb people.”
“Fuckin-A. I’ll call you when I want you.”
“Got it. Did Maddie tell you to eat like a buyer?”
I stop as I exit the gullwing limo. I hate when he brings her up; it’s like the whole world seemed to know about our troubles.
“Yeah. She did. Thanks.”
As he turns down the circle and I walk towards the lobby, I can’t help but remember what she was like.
Madalyn O’Rourke was a hurricane. Flames of red hair licked at her scalp, an ocean hid behind her eyes and white fangs glistened behind plump red lips. To touch her soft white skin was a blessing; to desire her was a curse; to make love to her in a Motel 6 outside of Los Angeles was heaven on Earth.
After Patricia Wright left, she swooped in on the red carpet of one of Dennis Anansi’s documentaries. We shared drinks and numbers at a dinky bar off of the Los Angeles Coast, far from the maddening crowd of Hollywood. Men gawked at her, to my disdain, but she responded by flirting with them in the most dastardly ways. I fell in love with the way she held men at her fingertips. If she got up on stage and sang “Happy Birthday Mr. President” the way Marilyn Monroe did back then, those men would have to clean themselves before they left. I’ll never forget when she turned to me, eyes staring into my soul, held my hands and said in the most genuine voice imaginable, “I don’t think you’re a bad guy.”
To hear a lioness validate you without any sort of flattery started a timer before I would grab myself a ring as big as the Queen’s crown for her.
We were the last ones there at the closing time almost every week, sharing our lives and our dreams. She came from Montana, the daughter of Irish whiskey and Swiss chocolate. After her trip to College, her dreams brought her to La La Land. She wanted to be an actress, but after being called “eye-candy” and subsequently type-casted to those roles, she lost hope of ever acting again. She knew enough famous people, as well as knew what they were like in bed, to get to the parties she could only dream of being invited to. She twirled her drink in her hands as her strong, sexy, powerful nature dwindled down in my presence.
I told her about the alcohol, the drugs, but she shrugged them off like last year's news. We took off our Armani and Gucci and slept on a Motel 6 mattress. We skinny dipped in the Pacific ocean at 4 in the morning, watching the sunrise in each other’s arms. It had been five months, and on the week before I would start shooting my James Dean flick, I put my savings into a velvet box and proposed to her...
“Mr. Whittaker! You’re at Table 37, upstairs.”
I shook myself from the daydream. A young man in a crisp black tuxedo directed me to the stairs. He scratched at his collar as brought me to the Table, a waiter ready for me.
The agent stood up to greet me. Whispers vibrated like ripples on a lake as people began to notice me. They’d probably seen more famous people. I put my businessman face on. This meeting might be like any other, but I convinced myself that I’m worth a damn.
“So nice to see you. I hope the ride was okay.”
“Perfectly fine. Let’s get this meeting going. Waiter!” I snap my fingers, acting like I owned the place, like before, “bring me a Brown Derby, on the rocks!”
“With your usual, Mr. Whittaker?”
I dramatically stop to think. I pick up the menu and look at their lunch menu.
Let’s eat like buyers.
“I’ll take all of it.”
“All of what?”
“Your lunch menu. I’ll take one of everything from your lunch menu. Keep it coming, good lady. But no rush. Let’s not hurry and burn the risotto. You ordered, Mark?”
He sat up straight in his chair and meekly ordered the grilled cheese and tomato bisque.
I put two crisp hundred dollar bills into her pocket.
“There’s more for a good service, young lady.”
She rushes to the kitchen to proudly shock the cooks. I sit down in my seat, satisfied with the bead of sweat trickling down the son of a bitch’s forehead.
“Now then, Dick and Tommy wanted a standard SAG contract-”
“Before we get to the specifics, what role do they want me to play?”
“They want you to play Robert E. Lee, the Commander of the Confederate State’s army.”
“Duty then is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things. You can never do more, you should never wish to do less.”
“That’s something he said. I did some research today.”
It took a few seconds for Mark to regain his momentum. The Derby’s sweet mix tasted refreshing as it coated my throat.
The waiter returned with an assortment of salads, ranging from Hamachi Poke to Butter Lettuce to Buratta.
“Right. SAG contract. I’ve already spoken with your lawyer and they agreed on a 900 a day, 3200 a week salary with 1000 dollar monthly carry-over stipend for off-set purchases. Additionally, they agreed to hire a stuntman, per your lawyer’s request, and to pay you for press tours and talk-shows. You’ll also be contractually obligated to meet with the Academy voters should the picture be nominated in any way-”
“They’re preparing for that already? Jesus, it’s April! The film won’t start shooting until at least September.”
Mark shrugged his shoulders. “That’s what they stipulated. They must think it will have a November release and have next year’s Oscars in the bag.”
“Where will we be shooting?”
“Paramount’s studio lot. They just rebuilt it with the right equipment they need for this shoot.”
“What sort of equipment? Better green screens or something?”
They chose chilled English Pea Soup with garlic cream as their soup of the day, and I couldn’t agree more.
“Something else, Mr. Whittaker. But I can’t really tell you what it is yet. That’s when we meet the brains behind this movie tomorrow .”
The appetizers strolled in, timed perfectly, with smells of meat, salmon, chicken, and Cobb Salads. I made sure to finish at least one plate.
“Who’s the director of this joint, anyway?”
“Travis Winston. Graduate from Laguna Arts, with a recommendation from the Dean himself on his resume. He filmed a few award-winning music videos for Monster H34D, The LCDs, and Dara Syler before Droga5 snatched him up for a line of WildHouse boot ads. Won a few Cannes Lions for them, too. Paramount’s been courting him for a picture ever since Jaylene Firdeens left Tom and Dick’s project, almost two months ago. They asked me for recommendations to be in the picture and I thought ‘Why the Hell couldn’t there be a passing of the torch moment between the veterans and the inheritors before, y'know, the veterans leave?’”
I looked up from my risotto and BLT mix. The crowds dissipated, as the lunch rush dwindled to a few tables.
“I’m not retiring, Mark. I’m not finished yet.”
Mark surrendered with his hands up.
“I know, Mr. Whittaker, but I’m giving you a chance to not only redeem yourself again but go out with a bang! Think about it; the rest of the talent is up and coming. They’re all starry-eyed! I’m pretty sure they’ve never even gotten their picture taken by Annie Leibovitz's studio yet! They have no experience working with a movie fueled by a studio budget! They’re all INDIE; they’re used to shoe-string budgets, using their own cars as props and ironic CGI!”
“Frankly,” I responded. “We should all go back to that. We had nothing to lose back then.”
“With all due respect, the only reason they did those movies, Mr. Whittaker, was so they can star in movies like these. You can teach them what it’s like to be a movie star. You’ve been in the business for over FORTY-FIVE years, and they’re dying to comprehend how you did it.”
He barely touched his sandwich. I stopped after finishing mine.
“That was touching, you loquacious lunk. I’d like to see what kind of tech they’re talking about before I agree to anything.”
“Well, you pushed it under the rug just now. You said that they needed the specific tech to film this movie. What are you talking about?”
“I’m not so sure myself. Travis had this idea of how to film it that would be too costly, but since the studio had him they couldn’t say no. They told me it’s revolutionary; that they tried this same concept before with“Hardcore Henry” -y’know, the Ilya Naishuller flick back in 2015?- but it didn't do as well as the studio hoped. This time they have VR in everyone's eyes and the concepts for programmable theaters, so anything is possible at this point."
I ordered the rest of the lunch be preserved in doggy bags to be dropped off at my house. They gladly obliged as the bill was tucked away with a swipe of a credit card and the flick of a Mont Blanc pen.
"So, you'll think about it?"
"Yes, I certainly will. Seems exciting to work with such young blood again. When and where do we meet?"
"At Wanda's American Office within the studio lot across the street. I set the meeting for 9 am tomorrow, but we can work in a 15-minute gap in case something comes up."
This son of a bitch is warming up to me. I like him already.
"Anything you need, Mr. Whittaker, I'm here for you. I'd also like to apologize for this morning. I binge-watched Entourage last night."
"Isn't that show 60 years old?"
"Yes, but it's fun to see how douchebags used to act back in the day. Speak to you later, Sir."
"Michael. You can call me Michael if you'd like."
Mark smiled in reverence. "Of course, Sir."
He turned towards the stairs and descended, leaving me alone with my thoughts again.