What I share won't come from after dark but rather the quiet before the light, warm morning kisses, and the cold grip of the day.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Get the Picture?

Somewhere off Sunset Boulevard in the Beverly foot Hills, I had my first meeting with my new theatrical agent at Flick, an offshoot of a successful modeling agency in New York called Click.  I was under contract with their New York office, and since I had just completed a small part in a large movie, the agents thought I could parlay this nugget into a TV pilot if I were in Los Angeles.  As it happened, an actor I knew had an apartment in Santa Monica with an empty bedroom to rent.  I decided to go out for a few months, on “spec.”  The L.A. office was in a single story, white cabana-like building set back in a pretty courtyard.  The receptionist was on the phone, chewing gum and flipping through the pages of a thick Day Timer.  (This pre-dated iPhones by 20 years.)  She wore a white jump suit (see?) with matching boots, one of which was propped on an open desk drawer.  I was halted by her upraised index finger, totemically stacked with silver rings.  It then pointed to a fan-backed rattan chair.  I took it to mean that I was to sit.  Clipped short, her black hair was gelled into a series of spikes that vibrated as her head made little jerky movements when she spoke or gestured.  She wore fire engine red lip stick and heavy eyeliner.  The overall affect was that of a rooster, or a Liza Minnelli impersonator.  Replacing the phone on its cradle she said, in exhale, “Can I help you?”

“I have an appointment with Maggie.”  Before I could give my name, a beautiful boy, maybe sixteen, burst into the office and walked past the receptionist’s desk and headed to a small kitchen.  “What’s up, Maggie?” he said to her.

“How did it go?!”  She swiveled her chair to follow him.

“They loved me,” he said, flatly, cleared his long mink-colored hair from his eyes, and opened the door of a refrigerator.

“Well, yuh!” she said.  The boy took out a carton of orange juice and drank from it.  My throat was suddenly dry.  Maggie, my agent-to-be, got up to chat with the lad.  Two desks at the back of the office were occupied by young women whose press-on nails filleted the air as they spoke into their phones.  I picked up a worn copy of People magazine.   Meg Ryan was on the cover.

Maggie came back to her desk, smiling.  I moved to the chair opposite.  During our conversation, the smile dropped and there was a dawning annoyance from her that, not only had I interrupted what might have been a few extra minutes with her beautiful boy, but that the branch of her New York office had obligated her to a thirty-something actor with “B” teeth she neither knew, nor was interested in representing.  It was as if some hated relative of hers had incurred another rehab sentence, and it fell to her to take care of his aging, paraplegic, diuretic dog left behind.  There would be no submissions, no entrées into casting offices, no pilot season.  It would come and go without me.  I would not read for a movie, not through my agency, at any rate.  My baffled call to the New York Flick office yielded no help.  As far as I could surmise, sending me out to the coast was more of an impotent whim, a dart thrown blindly at the board by a newly formed, disorganized agency, rather than a considered plan to foster my talent and career.  What’s more, New York seemed to hold no sway, whatsoever, with their colleagues in Los Angeles.  I had made the choice to come.  Gene Lasko, a producer of the film, had advised, “Sure, go out and get some mileage out of this before the film comes out and they see how bad you are.”  “I’m joking,” he added.

That night I went to my first Hollywood party.  There I was in a glass house in the hills above L.A., wishing I was stoned, sipping white wine, talking to a fine actor I had known in New York.  He had just gotten the role of the sheriff in Halloween Four or Seven.  He was elated and gushing.  I wanted to scream.  Not because of envy.  I could swallow back those feelings.  I was glad for him; it was a great job and he could earn enough to live for several months.  The real horror show was this Renfield’s sycophantic gratitude, his drooling, slavish, thankfulness.  It should have been the other way around.  This actor was doing Hollywood a favor by offering his talent to the project.  Instead, he was taking it in the neck.  I felt hopeless.  I wouldn’t get a bite.

A few days later, I went to a brunch at a seaside restaurant above Santa Monica with some ex-pat actors I knew, casually, from New York.  There was some shop talk but mostly we reminisced about our favorite restaurants and hangouts in New York.  All of us were in California on a fishing expedition and seemed a little sea sick.  I knew I’d see these men and women, paler and feeling more at ease, back in New York in the fall, unless, one of them landed a part on a series.  They might attain the ultimate status and become “bi-coastal,” with the rent controlled apartment in New York and a bungalow in the Valley.  These were accomplished, working actors sitting around the table sipping their Mimosa’s.  I liked them, almost loved them, and am gladdened when I see them in a guest slot now and then.

When I wasn’t watching the sunset from the beach in Santa Monica, sipping orange juice out of its plastic container that I spiked with rum (about the only entertainment I could afford), I found solace in the kitchen of our apartment.  I needed something to keep me occupied besides mailing out pictures and resumes or going on a long drive in a borrowed, yellow Karmann Ghia convertible to the occasional benign interview with a casting director.  My roommates were, generally, gone during the day, leaving me the place to myself.  They were all too happy to be my guinea pigs, coming home in the evening to soups, breads, pies, and casseroles, all manner of things comforting.  I learned, playing in that kitchen, my first lessons in cooking.  (# 5: Don’t put spinach stems in a garbage disposal.)  Though very satisfying, I missed acting.

Anon, James

Friday, July 15, 2011

Melon Folly

As a young man, I suffered when my inner life was in variance with my surface existence.  In point of fact, from when I was young until I was not so young.  About 18 years.  When not tormented (it cycled in and out) with this shit, I was having a pretty good time.  I fell in love with a beautiful actress named Erika in the latter half of the 70’s, and to all appearances we were very compatible, created a stimulating environment, and lived with élan.  On free days we’d often strike out on simple adventures of window shopping, museums and concerts, restaurants, cook in our door-manned apartment, drive in the country, or explore New York City.  We’d dress-up and go into fancy places, like Harry Winston’s to browse, test drive a Mercedes (which she purchased and used on those country drives), or make an appointment to see a penthouse apartment advertised for sale we had no intention of buying.  After one such day of make believe, we sat down at the counter of Rumplemeyer’s, a café in the St. Moritz Hotel on Central Park South, which served delicious confections.  Looking over the menu of Viennese delights I noticed a man one stool down to the left of me enjoying a large, gleaming, succulent slice honey dew melon.  He was one the handsomest men I had ever seen.  In his early thirties, dark and Mediterranean, solid stature, he was absorbed in easy conversation with a woman at his side and offered genuine warmth as he listened and commented and, gracefully as a surgeon, filleted the melon away from its rind.  It wasn’t envy I felt as I observed him, so much as inspiration: could such peace and unselfconsciousness in a human being be possible, manifest in the eating of fruit?  I wanted to forgo my inner-conflicts and be able to enjoy melon and Erika’s company.  I put down the menu, forgot about chocolate, the famous Napoleons, their ice creams and éclairs, and ordered the honeydew.  Life was altered by my witness.

While I waited for my honeydew, I surreptitiously observed how my neighbor ate his melon.  Not with a spoon as I had always eaten them before, but with a knife and fork.  First, he removed the fruit whole from the rind in one long, under cut.  Next, he made an incision, lengthwise all along the middle, then bisected the two narrow halves into smaller, bite-sized sections.  It waited in place upon the rind looking untouched, just as the butcher’s at William’s Poultry on Broadway at 86th pre-sliced their roasted turkey’s, reassembling them to look whole.  I wanted my life to feel whole, from all its separate little pieces.  My melon arrived on its pristine white plate.  I picked up my silvery knife and fork and addressed it with enthusiastic dash.  The last thing I wanted was to appear unsure.  I began by cutting.

I put down my utensils and sat back with folded arms to admire my first maneuver.  The newly freed wedge began to move, so imperceptibly I thought it was an illusion.  I had sliced it at such an angle that gravity, aided by the natural lubrication from its juice, sent it on a determined slide from its rind.  I was hypnotized.  Even if I could have reacted in time and lanced it with my fork or made any attempt to arrest its progress, there would be a catastrophe.  The plate would rear up and clatter back on the marble surface, perhaps breaking, the melon would fly off and slap onto the polished floor, or worse, crash amid the stacks of crystal glassware behind the counter.  In the agonizing slow motion in which our minds see such moments, my fruit-boat launched off the plate and accelerated on a voyage across the counter top, lagged like a curling stone, and kissed the gentleman’s elbow.

I retrieved my melon with fork and bare hand, apologizing for the damp spot on the sleeve of his crisp, French blue shirt.  Awkwardly, I put it back on the plate, as if landing a fish, careful to avoid the rind, lest the wedge take flight again.  This was a challenge.  There was little room left on the plate, and I had to keep it pinned while I used the knife to render it into lifeless, mangled pieces.  Erika and I were unable to restrain our hysterics.  The gentleman and his friend paid and left.  We finished quickly and did the same.

Anon, James