The early afternoon air swept across the street, blowing around my ashtray-colored hair. If I had a hat, it would have caught the 2:15 breeze across the block.
“Mr. Whittaker! Michael Whittaker!”
I knew what that sound meant. In such a public place, of course- how could I forget about the paparazzi?! I turned in their general direction, eyes glazed over due to exhausted intolerance and irritation for their kind.
“Mr. Whittaker, Jonah from TMZ, longest-lasting celebrity tabloid and home to two Pulitzer Prizes. How are you feeling today, Mike?”
My only source of pride in these situations is smart-ass one-liners.
“What were you doing here, all the way from your home at 2096 East Seaside Boulevard, outside of Los Angeles?”
“I was hungry for good risotto.”
“Don’t you know there’s a Rouge Tomato joint right near your house? One Yelp reviewer called their risotto the ‘best in LA.’”
“I guess I missed that review, then.”
The reporter shifted in closer, filming the follicles on my face.
“What do you think of what happened last night, when Shikalov Gerasim Yakovich, legendary writer and award-winning poet, was caught ignoring fans outside of his room at the Concorde Hotel in Upstate New York?”
These morons should’ve known that Yakovich, the anti-social prick that he is, had to have come back from Russia for Easter just to go a premiere of the flick that he scripted. He didn’t need to be there, yet he attracted the hornets. Your only shelter is that of your own privacy in this case. I wish I had the guts to say what I felt like I used to, but these bastards get their souls scooped out before they’re given their press passes. My glazed eyes say enough.
I turn away with a shrug of my shoulders and walk towards the Paramount arches.
“Wait, Mike. Where are you going?”
“Away from you, Jonah.”
“Sir, you can’t do this.”
“Also I retroactively renounce my consent for any of this information.”
“But Mike, you can’t do that.”
“Of course I can, Jonah. If your idiotic, soul-crushing tabloid can have its own channel, then I can retroactively retract information I’d like to spread.”
“But, but, you never gave me an answer to Yakovich’s evil deeds of ignoring fans and the press.”
I stare upward. He really wants my opinion on this?! I could tell him about my methods to becoming James Dean; how my gruff voice can appeal to millions of men, women, and children; how my stint on Broadway actually helped me improve my acting, but NO!
“You want my answer to a stupid problem you people have when it comes to wanting answers?! He owes you nothing! He made himself into a fantastic writer -and a great poet might I add- without anyone’s help, yet you DEMAND him acknowledge you because you deserve an answer?!”
Jonah stood in place, wide-eyed, holding a camera to me like it was muscle memory to record anything that could be considered exciting.
"You look like you record your face on Snapchat when taking a shit. You're the kind of boy whose every move, opinion, and behavior could be traced through his presence online. Hacking your accounts wouldn’t be a setback- it would be identity theft of the highest order- it would be character murder. No, you didn’t actually go to Valencia Delacorte for dinner last night. No, you didn’t rent a hotel room to have a one-night stand this day last year. Yes, you really did buy fifteen pounds of dog food for your totally existing shi-poo that you had for the past two years- see your non-manipulated profile pictures with your dog, the one you named Kevin, in your arms? To change one iota of your history would be to play Big Brother."
He continues to stare at me, teary-eyed with joy. This must be his big break- his first big story. After a bit of tweaking, he’ll push this story as the beginning of Michael Whittaker’s downfall. Marvin is going to have a field day with these snobby punks.
“No matter. You wouldn’t understand anyway. He doesn’t owe you anything. That is all.”
I stood in a passive stance, hands in my pockets, head turned low, as I shuffled towards the curb.
Leaving the massive awning of the Larchmont, I turn my gaze to the Paramount arch again.
“What sort of gadgetry do they have cooking up in that lot?”
No one took the time to stop and hear me say that. They were all interns trying to get to the other golden road to wealth- corporate positions. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them was Ishihara Yamauchi’s assistants, thinking they’re taking one step closer to a VP chair. I almost feel sorry for those bottom-feeders. They don’t know that if they mess up once, it’s over. They’ll never work in Hollywood again. The dream brought their price down to a dime a dozen.
I decided to channel my inner Hercule Poirot and investigate the lots. Maybe I could even hijack a golf cart, speed around to whichever ones aren’t being used and investigate. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it certainly saved the dog. I speed walk with a motivated gait, ready to present my expired I.D. Card to the security guard, hoping that I could get in.
The security guard took only one look at me before smiling.
“Of course, Mr. Whittaker. You don’t need an I.D. Please, go in.”
It’s hard to be sneaky when everyone knows who you are. I grab back my expired I.D. and proceed to the lots.
Just when I thought Paramount’s backlots couldn’t be more massive, they expanded across another half-block. Towering, two-story studios jut out towards the sky, covered in black glass and metal slabs like they were right out of The Foundation Trilogy. Downloadable map kiosks dotted each corner of the campus, near giant office buildings named after people only film researchers would know; DeMille, Fleischer, Bluhdorn, Valentino, Abrams, Ross, Bay, and Zukor.
After passing the DeMille building, complete with a holographic reenactment of the Red Sea Split from The Ten Commandments, and crossing the parking complex, I found a golf cart station with a tired employee who didn’t notice the expired date on my I.D. I proudly hopped into a cart and gave my feet a rest as the electric motor willed the wheels to move.
I drove in between The Loft and Roddenberry’s building, the one with a massive recreation of the U.S.S. Enterprise flying around the top floor, turning towards the newer lots by Gower Street. I haven’t been here in a long time, so the classic shortcut that my friend’s taught me feels rusty in my mind.
I feel a vibration on my wrist. It’s from one of my friends. One of those weekly texts they send out every Tuesday:
There’s a poker game every night at 8 with these guys and gal. Once my filming career started to tank, as well as my wife’s issues, I always turned it down. Maybe I’ll finally go tonight.
I grew a feeling of dread when I passed across Sixth street towards the Marx Brothers building when a group called for me.
A girl with a “Tour Guide” hat and apron saw me first and called me over.
“Mr. Whittaker! Mr. Michael Whittaker! We’d love to see you here.”
I gruffed. It felt like getting caught red-handed, except it became more of a nuisance than game over or a night downtown.
She gave a speech before I could get out of my golf cart.
“Ladies, Gentlemen, and Others. You know him as many different roles, roles like James Dean in the remake of Rebel Without a Cause or Jebediah Torrent in the children’s show The Explorers. Better yet, you also probably know him as Delaware Jameson on the TV show Jameson. Please welcome Academy-Award winning actor, and proud member of the Paramount Club, Michael Whittaker!”
The group whistled and applauded my entrance. I waved for an abatement, but they gave an encore. Clearly, they really liked me.
“Thank you all for coming. You know, a friend of mine once said that Disney may make dreams come true, but they begin at Paramount. It’s so great to see so many faces, new and old, come and visit this massive place filled with mystery, history and timeless memories. I hope you find something good to keep in your memory banks, and that I’ll see you here sometime, not as a tourist but as a dream maker, a storyteller, a pathfinder, a pioneer, and a star.”
I just blew smoke up everyone’s asses. If any of my friends were nearby, they’d be choking on their laughter. We used to make fun of each other’s speeches on Oscar nights. On a weekend, instead of watching a football game, we’d open old video files and watch each other’s awards speeches and commemorations. Mine were laughed at the most, mainly because I was the most starry-eyed at the beginning.
After their applause subsided, a young, wide-eyed kid with a shirt showing The Explorers, in obnoxious neon yellow, stepped out of the crowd, phone in hand.
“’Scuse me, Mr. Whittaker. You play Jebediah Torrent?”
I knelt down towards him and, with a cough and a flex of my throat muscles, grunted the character’s voice to life:
“Well, yes I do.”
The boy’s jaw dropped, stepping back towards his parents in awe at hearing his favorite character’s voice.
His mother chimed in: “Could you say his catchphrase?”
I coughed again and let Jebediah’s voice do the talking.
“Well, the writing’s on the wall, you just gotta look up if you want to read it.”
Satisfied with the child's blank open-eyed stare, I got back up and asked for more requests and questions.
Out of the accents, they asked me to do, my true favorite is to hold an invisible cigarette while recalling how I played James Dean, all while impersonating his voice. Only the older people understood what I’m saying, but true acting doesn’t need a big audience.
“Excuse me, Sir?”
A powerful voice emanated from the back of the crowd. A stiff hand rose from the crowd, almost like I was the teacher in front of a classroom.
“Well, yes, my good man. What can I do for you?”
The man stepped forward, his muscular frame hidden by a windbreaker and camo-colored cargo pants. His head bowed slightly as if weighed down by a mixture of bad choices and humility.
“You inspired me to start acting. Is there any advice you can give me?”
I stared at the young man, who looked no younger than 20. His body looked tense and rigid, like a product of the army- maybe even the marines. I used to love hearing others ask for my advice, but nowadays I feel more like a professor than a colleague.
“My advice would be, keep your chin up, don’t take failure for an answer, and always read the fine print of your first contract.”
The audience chuckled as he carried his smirk to the back of the tour group.
The guide spoke up again.
“Everybody, give a round of applause to the real Michael Whittaker!”
The group applauded as the group continued down Avenue C. The tour guide handed me a piece of paper, a code to be eligible for another 150$ as per my contract with the Paramount Club. I throw it away, more of a service to people than a service to Benjamin Franklin and Ulysses S. Grant.
I cross over Avenue C and turn right by Studio A, passing the Wilder and Swanson buildings. When I make another left, a massive bridge opens before me, a living arch not too far away.
A massive arch, labeled JeverTree, extends to a walkway over the busy block below. The game developer, with their extensive library of VR and AR games, was one of Wanda’s first purchases and the new benchmark for Paramount’s franchises. Their games became movies and vice versa. They’re even remaking old Popeye and Superman cartoons into VR games, with the classic art style revamped and captured in the award winning Cellview lineup of games. Whenever they make a movie together, Paramount plants a massive tree near the mountain in their logo and paints their name in forest green.