Let’s face it, Hollywood cocktail parties are nothing more than fancy frat parties. High-end keggers with better food, more expensive liquor, and higher-class pussy. Or cock. Whatever you’re in to. I don’t judge.
Don’t cringe. You’ve seen the movies. We have stereotypes for a reason, people. And I went to college, so I know first-hand what it’s like. Having a college education, a fancy dress, and a good job doesn’t mean someone can’t just be slutty if they want to be. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. God bless them.
But Hollywood also has a dirty little secret. Actually, this secret is not so little; and it’s only a little bit secret. But it is very dirty. It’s simple: Hollywood destroys you. There, I said it. It’s true, though. It rips you apart at the seams and fills your shell with silicone, or some other fake material. You would have to be a robot, or soulless, or maybe just plain stupid for Hollywood not to change you.
The first time I saw my name, AVERY RYE, up in lights, as they say, I knew it would change me. I’ll admit it, I was excited. Then my manager announced that my presence was required at a studio party. Then I was nauseous. “You’re their new hood ornament, Avery,” he told me. “You need to get used to it. This’ll be an easy one. Let’s rip off the Band-Aid and get it over with.”
I shook my head and tried to put him off, even though I’d known it was futile. And of course, I eventually gave in. I told myself it just was part of the job, and probably always would be.
“Fine,” I said. “But I’m not changing.”
He looked at my jeans and T-shirt and sighed. “Yeah. Okay. We’ll play up the emo teenager vibe, I guess.”
The party hadn’t been that bad. It was pretty much the typical fake, “be seen” shit I’d expected. So, four beers and fifty superficial introductions later, I finally got the green light to head out.
About fucking time. I pulled my jacket on as I walked through the hotel lobby toward the front doors.
“Excuse me, Mr. Rye?”
Anyone who calls me mister anything gets a laugh. I’m sorry. I turned around, prepared to put on my fake smile for a fan.
Sure, she was cute. They’re all cute in Hollywood, though. She shyly asked for an autograph, holding out a magazine cover with my face on it and a silver Sharpie.
But as it turns out, she really wasn’t that shy. She got an autograph, and I got a blow-job in the parking lot.
That’s when I knew I’d made it in the movie business. But that’s also when the cognitive dissonance started. Part of me wanted to call my friends and get a long-distance fist bump; another part of me wanted to vomit.
I was naïve when I left Illinois for college. Like, Goldilocks naïve. I went to Stanford with lofty goals and a rose-colored picture of the world. All my friends said my parents had screwed up by sheltering me, by giving me Utopian visions. Everyone said they’d screwed up more by letting me keep them. They’re wrong though; because that’s not exactly what happened. My parents are realists. They appreciate that we live in a crap world, but they also preach that you make your own destiny.
I can still hear them now: “Prepare for everything. Always take in your surroundings, and never put yourself in situations if you aren’t willing to face the consequences.”
That’s their mantra. Along with, and most importantly, “Work hard and you’ll make it happen.” There were a lot of times growing up that even I thought my parents were bullshitting about that one. Sometimes I still call bullshit on it.
I remember one time I tried out for a little league baseball team[JR3] [NS4] and didn’t make it. I was wrecked. Mom made a point—in a gentle mom way, of course—of throwing the bullshit flag. She sweetly told me I wasn’t supposed to make that team because I wasn’t the best person for it. Thanks for the pep talk, Mom. After that, she said I hadn’t wanted it bad enough. That was pretty much her answer to everything. “Put in the work, and what’s supposed to be will be.”
Sometimes I’m not sure it plays out that way, though. We’ve seen people in history work their whole lives for one single goal. But something stops them at the goal line. But I believe pessimism will destroy you faster than false hope.
I may be a working actor, but I never planned on acting. No joke. It never crossed my mind. I was much more the jock type. Okay, that may be an exaggerated characterization, but I played sports. Okay, so I played golf. Kind of.
But it’s not like I was a drama nerd in high school. And I sure don’t remember a definitive moment where I thought, Yeah, I want to act for a living. I mean honestly, if you have any kind of rational, logical side, acting as a career does not make sense. The vulnerability and constant psychological abuse this industry feeds you are terrifying. For a sane person, knowing your ability to earn a living is wholly independent of your talent is mind-boggling. And really disturbing. It goes against everything my parents taught me.
But fact is crazier than fiction, and I’m pretty much the perfect example. My junior year at Stanford, some friends and I drove to LA for a weekend. One of my buddies had a brother there who was the stereotypical struggling actor. He took acting classes, waited tables, and ran to every audition possible. He ate rejection for breakfast. He was going to an open audition while we were there. It was only a bit part, a non-speaking, walk-on kind of thing for a mediocre studio film. But they were looking for frat-boy types, so my buddies and I tagged along, kind of as a joke.
I didn’t have a head shot. I sure as hell didn’t have a SAG card. But guess what? Yup, I got the part. It was crazy. My buddy’s brother was so pissed. They told him he was too old. He was 24. At 20, that didn’t faze me. Now, at 25, it terrifies me. Sad, but true. Hollywood is cruel.
And that’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? It’s all about your looks, who you know, and who you might happen to meet. And maybe a few other flashes of serendipity. But ultimately, it’s the random stupid shit that makes or breaks you in this business. I’m not sure if it was a fluke, fate, or dumb luck that I managed to fall into the perfect storm for a young actor. After that bit part I did couple small things, kind of getting my feet wet. But quickly landing the lead in a sci-fi series from some crazy-popular books? It’s like Wonka’s golden ticket, the rarest Pokémon, and a reality show boy band that sells a zillion records. That shit just doesn’t happen, especially to guys like me.
But here I am. Almost five years later and I’m Hollywood’s IT boy. God, what a fucking cliché. In this business, your “success,” the awards, the crazy fans? All that shit is fleeting, and sporadic at best. Most actors are just happy to make a living. But sometimes, according to my manager, a “shooting star” falls from heaven and lands in Hollywood.
Yeah, he’s used to kissing ass for his ten percent.
The problem is that your level of celebrity, whatever it might be, is stuck on you with Velcro. You might be able to pull it off at some point, but it sure as fuck leaves a scar. Sometimes I want to try to get the Velcro off, but that can be dangerous, too. My manager is always fighting me about what roles to take and what press to do—basically, fighting me on how to best play this current wave of fortune.
And that’s what it’s about, isn’t it? The fortune, the money—that’s what everyone worries about. The truth is, the money is what destroys any integrity there is in this whole fucking world.
But the status, and the celebrity are the next most evil temptations. Studio people don’t need celebrity. They’ll live without it when they have billions of dollars to console them.
Most people understand the money part because it’s tangible, measurable. They can easily see the direct benefit. But the whole being famous thing? That’s harder for people to get.
Your friends, your parents, your “team,” they try to understand what it’s like. But unless you’re a narcissist, even an unsuccessful one, it’s hard to appreciate. The best people around you are always on the fringe, even when standing next to you. They’re the ones who don’t care about the celebrity. They care about you.
But as close as they may be, you’re the one the media either canonizes or vilifies. You, and you alone. They see the flashes of light from the sidelines, they hear the criticism secondhand. But in the end, they can always hide from it, turn the other way. You’re not allowed to hide. And what’s almost worse is that a part of you, your ego, won’t let you turn away.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all complete bullshit. I do love acting. Once I got on set that first time and saw how the whole process works, I was in. It’s quite fascinating, and there’s so much more to this than the actors. The trick is to balance the reality of the job with the chaos that comes with it.
The enormity of this thing, the swarm of fans, the popularity, the paparazzi—that was all kind of imaginary for a long time. Even the crazy fans who always chase you—or stalk you, depending on how you look at it—seemed cartoonish for a while. But for me, that epiphany moment where it all got real happened in the oddest way. It was right after my first big movie came out, the sci-fi character that started this whole thing. I’d gone to a party with the cast and crew to celebrate our success.
There are days, scary ones that seem like my soul is disappearing. And every once in a while, I think that if I was careful with money, I could drop off the grid and live the rest of my life in anonymity. Simply exist in complete peace and quiet.
That thought is enticing. But then I get caught back up in the attention, and another piece of my soul dies. Being human and imperfect sucks sometimes.
The first time I meet her it’s by accident.
This bar is not where I want to be right now. So, I really need to get out of here.
“I’m off,” I say, sliding out of the booth and chugging the last of my beer.
My buddies don’t seem to care that I’m leaving. They haven’t even looked at me since the three ladies joined our table. I’m using the term ladies loosely, by the way. Pun intended.
All three of them came on to me earlier, pretty much at the same time. I chuckle as I slide my way through the crowd to the door. I wasn’t rude, but I made it crystal fucking clear that I was not interested in any of them. I’m not in the mood for that shit tonight. They were grown-ups. They seemed to get it, no hard feelings.
Being the celebrity whores they are, they casually shifted their attention to my friends. Got to give the girls credit, they owned that shit. And I can’t begrudge my boys a little fun, now can I? If only everyone knew my buddies are getting laid ten times more than I am. I only wish I got off I as much as the press says I do.
Avery Rye has the best sex life. Whatever.
I finally make it to the door of the bar and squeeze through the line of people into the lobby.
I pull my beanie further down, trying to cover my eyes a little. As usual, I’m looking around for signs of paparazzi or other minions of Satan. After some bad experiences—and some ongoing ones—I need to be careful. My caution usually manifests as paranoia. My therapist is working on that. I’m just not helping her work on it that much.
But this one, he’s alone, and he’s obviously a rookie. He’s just sitting in the corner by the fake tree with a camera you can see a mile away. My paranoia can be helpful at times. Ducking low, I decide to bolt up to my room. It’s early, and I’m not all that wrecked. Even if he gets a shot or two, he won’t get much mileage out of it.
I sort of jog through the lobby, slowing a little as I slip around the corner by the bank of elevators. I peek back around the corner to check on Mr. Shutterbug. I’m a glutton for punishment that way. That fucker hasn’t moved. Take that, you piece of crap.
I spin around with a little spring in my step and a grin on my face. You know your life is pathetic when avoiding having your picture taken by a rag mag improves your mood. Fuck it. I’m going to bed.
The button is already lit for the elevator so I just keep my head down to avoid drawing attention. Still leery of the paparazzi, I shove my hands in my jean pockets. That’s me. I’m usually trying to make myself as small and inconspicuous as possible. I glanced up to see what floor the elevator was on and when I catch my reflection in the shiny elevator doors, I have to laugh. I look like a fucking homeless person. An old knit beanie, ratty T-shirt, ripped jeans, filthy sneakers. Even my watch is just an old Timex or something my grandparents gave me for high school graduation. Some sex symbol I am.
It’s cliché, but I literally laugh out loud.
“Are you selfish, or would you share?”
The voice is smooth, but of course my paranoid ass gets nervous anyway. Is she talking to me? I spin around to see if she meant to speak to me.
The only thing I see are her eyes. She’s looking at me intently. Not in the “are you who I think you are?” way, though. More of an “I want to have you as my next meal” kind of way. My spine crawls a little. The intensity of her stare makes me a little uncomfortable.
I look around again, certain she was speaking to someone else. But unless she was talking to a ghost, no such luck.
“I beg your pardon?” Timid piece of shit, party of one, your table’s ready.
She smiles. And if her stare was intense, her smile is almost—what’s the word I’m looking for? Feral? Is that a word? Wait, no—Cheshire. That’s it. Like she could simply chew me up and spit me out. Yup. That look. That’s it. And when she finished eating, she’d lie there and slowly lick her paws clean.
She keeps staring up at me through her lashes and shakes her head, snickering. “I said, are you selfish or do you share?”
I guess I amuse her in some way. She moves her handbag from one arm to the other and opens the latch, looking for something.
“You were laughing to yourself,” she continues. “I was wondering if you’d share your joke.”
My train of thought has already derailed, so I try to jump off too.
“Ah, it really wasn’t all that funny, to be honest.”
“Pity,” she says, now sounding bored.
Good. I guess I dodged that bullet. If that’s over, I want to stop staring, turn my eyes away, and pretend nothing happened. That would be the smart thing to do. But I don’t.
Her manicured nails tug at the strap on her handbag as she takes a few steps toward me. As usual, I’m ignoring my own good advice to slowly move away. Instead, I try to check her out without being obvious.
She has on a business suit, but not a frumpy business suit or a stick-up-your-ass business suit. Even though it’s cold out, it’s a light color. My sister and mom would probably call it “winter white” or some shit like that. The jacket is low cut, and there’s cleavage everywhere. Nope. Not your momma’s business suit.
The skirt is short and tight. Well, not actually tight. More tailored, I guess? That’s the classy word for tight, right? She has heels on, and her toes have blue polish on them. Her hair is up in a loose bun, and she has sunglasses perched on her head.
She seems older than I am, but I’m shit at guessing ages. And let’s be honest, no one has to show their age these days if they don’t want to.
I guess my examination wasn’t subtle enough. She smirks and pulls the glasses off her head, tossing them into her bag. When she looks back up at me, it feels like she’s looking through me, like she can see straight through my bullshit.
Dammit. I need to get out of my own head. And I really need to get up to my room and go to sleep.
I’m frozen until, finally, I hear the ding, and the elevator arrives. I move aside to let her go first. Before she steps in, she turns and stares at me again like she’s trying to make some decision. Finally, she slowly walks backward to the rear corner of the elevator, crooking her finger at me. The universal signal for “get your ass over here.”
I have to be imagining this, right? Apparently lack of sleep and paranoia can lead to obvious hallucinations. But I follow her into the elevator, turning my back to her and facing the doors. She’s already hit the button for her floor, so I tap mine as well. We stand there as the doors close, neither of us saying a word.
I’m trying not to breathe. I’m trying to avoid calling attention to myself in any way. When the elevator stops at her floor, she moves around me and steps into the hallway. Just when I think it’s okay to breathe, she turns around, staring at me again with that wicked grin on her face. She reaches out, touching her finger softly to my chin. I freeze as she traces a line down my neck and over my Adam’s apple, slipping down my chest to the top of my belt.
I’ve focused on her finger resting against my belt buckle when I hear her voice again.
“Yes or no?”
I’m sure I have a vacant look as I stare back.
She laughs. “I thought it was a simple question, but apparently not. Another pity, really.” She smirks, turning to walk down the hall.
I finally blurt out, “But I don’t even know you...”
Jesus, speaking without thinking again. I amaze myself with my own brilliance sometimes. But as I carefully step closer, she looks up at me through her lashes, a playful grin on her full lips.
“That’s okay, sweetie,” she says, moving down the hall. “You probably wouldn’t like me if you did.”
Dammit, sarcasm gets me every time!
“Wait!” I yell, stepping out of the elevator. What the fuck am I doing?