Pool Side Chat
“So,” Derrick interrogated. “Did the meeting go any better?”
We sat where the sandy brick met the ocean of a pool, the LA sun still judging them from a distance.
“Well,” I began in my usual form. “We only talked tech stuff- if I do this, I’ll be on set for months.”
“True, but Mike, won’t it be like going home again?”
He raised a martini to his lips, the sugary rim glistening in the sunlight.
“I don’t need to. I only need two- more like one, truthfully. The villa in Spain was an impulse buy. It’ll only be a burden on Madalynn.”
“You sure she’ll outlive you, Mike?”
“She’ll go out swinging. The devil himself would have to come to get her, and the dumb bastard won’t leave without nursing at least one shiner and a broken jaw.”
He raised his glass again. “To fiery women. A joy to watch, a hazard to touch.”
“Here here.” I brought my Long Island Iced Tea to meet his martini. Their conversation was loud and short.
“It might feel like home, but- Derrie, can I tell you something?”
Derrick leaned back in his lounge chair as I sat up.
“When I drove to Paramount, I noticed that the cemetery tree grew a lot taller. It felt like it reached for me-”
“Well, you’ve been away from Paramount for a long time, what with your sudden escapades across Europe.”
That’s what freelance does to you. You can record lines out in somewhere like Spain and you’ll hear yourself on an American show within a day. I’ll never go back there again...
“Well, it seemed like it was reaching out to me, like death itself was calling for me.”
I leaned back, my arms lying across my chest, nursing the Iced Tea.
“Fuckin’ a. I dunno how many years I’ve got left, Derrick. I must be going crazy. The contract stipulated I go out for Oscars consideration, but for the film, not my acting. The film is only gunning for best picture because that’s the only one that matters to the Chinese investors and Travis.”
I sat up again. “Of course it will be nominated. With the amount of press, it would be a national emergency if a movie of this scope wasn’t nominated at least for that. That nomination is a given.”
“And they don’t care about the actors anymore. I can see that.”
“Yep. Actors nowadays want to be unknowns, to walk down the streets and order cheap salads in ripped jeans. The audiences care more about the story, not about the tellers of them.”
I watched a Cessna X54 fly across the sky. That must be either tourists or someone they both knew.
“And to think, the world is changing, and here we are sipping alcohol in complete disarray.”
Derrick sat back too.
“Yeah, but I think this job might bring you ahead of the rest of us. Matt seems to have the best interests for you.”
“Yeah, but at what cost? It’s gonna be my swan song. No one will care who I am once I become Robert E. Lee in this movie. They won’t care about who I am...”
“Sounds like you really care that they know.”
I spent years of my life wondering what people thought of my work. No awards told me otherwise. I’d knock them over on the way to the alcohol cabinet.
“I definitely care.”
“I thought you always said to never care what the audience thinks.”
“I also said that everyone has to talk out of their ass every once in a while, otherwise the pressure will kill them.”
He heaved as he laughed.
The pool’s waves lapped at the walls as the palm trees swayed in the gentle wind.
“Y’know Mike, that reminds me of a story...
“I was at LAX gathering my baggage after a flight from Shanghai- dealing with some bigwigs there and getting some r&r with Stephanie at the time- when I saw a young girl in designer jeans helping an elderly man with a suitcase. Make no mistake, this was a starlet.”
“How did you know?”
“She had the bright eyes, the gentle moves, and the glowing smile. She had dyed her hair and wore a trenchcoat in the summer like a diva.”
“Yeah, I know. I left my bags and strode to her as she waited for a cab.”
“What did you say, Derrick?”
“What I tell them every time. After some small talk, y’know ‘Welcome to LA. Where did you come from? What brings you here?’”
“Obviously, she said Hollywood, right?”
“Yep. She said how she wanted to be a star on the wall of fame, y’know, since all of the spots on the walk were taken.
“I told her to turn around and leave. She looked at me like I had insulted her, I swear to god.
‘How could I go home? No one else did, and their dreams came true! Look at Emma Watson, Cate Blanchette, Katherine Hepburn!’ I swear to you, that’s what she said. I knew there was no way I could convince her, so I watched as she took a cab and told the driver to go to Hollywood.
“A few months later, I was walking out of Reverie Midnight, one of the new restaurants on Rodeo, after wining and dining some new Venezuela Nuevan producers, when I saw her. Her glowing smile was hidden behind a subtle pout and her bright eyes dulled. I grabbed her a cab home and gave her my card, not before writing two words on the back.”
“What did you write?”
“Oh, you’re so sappy Derrie, writing down platitudes like that.”
“Sappiness works in some cases, my friend. Next day I saw her as she tried to trespass into my office. I invited her in.”
“This was when you worked for Apacia, the talent agency?”
“No, later on. This was when I was at Babylon Pictures as an EP. My office was in a discreet building since I hated dealing with most of the pricks in and around the office. Anyways, I let her in and mascara covered her cheeks.
“She sits down in the chair opposite of me, a box of tissues next to her, and proclaims ‘Derrick, this city is killing me’.”
“I looked at her and said ‘I know. I can see it all over your face. Where did you fly in from?’
“‘Tuscon, Arizona’, she says. I noticed that she wore the same dress as the day we met, for some reason.
“I said, ‘There’s a flight leaving in 2 hours from LAX. I’ll call a cab for you. Don’t worry about paying for it. Just get in the cab and tell the front desk to bill my card. Remember, just get in the cab.’
“My mistake was not escorting her out. Granted, we were trying to get Venezuelan producers involved in pictures, and one of them called out of the blue, so I had to take the call. But, she never got into the cab, Mike.”
“How do you know?”
“I wasn’t billed, and that girl couldn’t get two nickels to rub together. She never got there.”
“You ever see her again?”
“Yeah. A year later. Saw her going into a strip club.”
“A male one?”
“Female one. She was going in to ‘entertain’!”
“She told me she got swept up in a shady movie deal. Guy had told her he could guarantee her an Oscar nomination in her first movie. She signed on that night after she saw a flyer for auditions outside my office. She didn’t know it was for five pictures on a huge budget with fourth-rate producers. The films wouldn’t start up until the budget was secured.”
“Jesus, why that much for five indie films?!”
“That was for all of the films at once. She never actually told me what the name of the studio head was because I would have hired all of the lawyers I could to wring their throats. I’m sure she’s not the only one caught in that net of theirs. And the nomination? They used the small loophole in the Oscars consideration laws.”
“The ‘play in one theater in Los Angeles for a week’ clause?”
“Bingo. She found out afterward and got heartbroken. Worst yet, she couldn’t get out of the contract unless she never wanted to work in Hollywood again. The douchebag wouldn’t release the contracts even after two months of inactivity.”
“Fuckin a. I offered to hire a lawyer to look over the contract, but she shrunk back. I asked her why she couldn’t leave, but she barely had an answer. She tried to convince me that her 3.8 GPA from Arizona State University with a smattering of side roles on her reel was enough for her to be cast. How could I tell her that luck is a currency around here, that status is everything, and that connections are almost impossible to cross onto once they’re built?
“The last time I saw her, which was a few weeks ago, I was walking the streets of Beverly Hills like they were old friends. Across the street, I saw her, as headstrong as a porcelain statue, followed by a camera guy and another man, presumably the director. The camera was pointed at her ass. Her eyes looked glazed over behind sunken cheeks.
“Michael, how can I say that’s unfair? Which parts can we blame for this injustice? Should we blame the producers for demanding a return on investment, the casting directors for picking only the best actors, the schools for taking every measure to fill their classrooms or the actors themselves for dreaming too high?
“I blame none of them. Hell, they may be selfish and ambitious, but they are all human. I blame the cities- LA and New York, the Broadways and the Rodeos. They put themselves on pedestals and proceeded to infect the youth and poison the earth with smog and rat-filled subways. Amidst all of that filth, they still attract the pure ones and send them to their doom.
“If people just stopped believing in the myths that we were gods, that film was the new tales of legend, and understood that all we did was entertain people for a short time, the industry would crumble faster than my kid’s toothpick bridge. Actors would have to take odd jobs to get by, not make more money than teachers and doctors.
“Yet I’m glad it’s changing now, my friend. We were the gods, and now there’s a growing generation of atheists. The only fear I have is what happens when Hollywood reemerges somewhere else, and the pit opens up again to swallow the angels whole.
“So, are you going to do it?”
The rest of the meeting ended in a blur, just like with Travis and the EP. All I remember doing was excusing myself to make a phone call and suddenly I faced the Cedar door separating me from my ancient Goddess.