AUTHOR’S NOTE: Three years ago, I received an email from an old college classmate. He wanted me to write a memoir about the time he spent in Hollywood from 1988–1992 trying to become a screenwriter. He felt his experiences might help anyone who migrates to Los Angeles chasing dreams. I was skeptical at first, but as we talked, I became fascinated by his sordid adventures. What you’re reading is a serialization of his story.
The first week of September, a cream-colored envelope arrived in my mailbox from the Nicholl Fellowship contest. I held the envelope in my hands, trying to guess the outcome. Then I ripped it open.
Glamourville received outstanding marks from all the judges, the letter began. Among 4,700 entrants, my script made it into the final round, just as Matt predicted. Regrettably, the letter went on, I did not win one of the five coveted fellowships.
I studied the list of winning scripts:
Len Alaria, War Cry
Mark Crow, Trace
Ronald Emmons, By Bread Alone
Brian Reich, Baubles
Dr. Ira Weinberger, MD, Skin Deep
I stared at Dr. Weinberger’s name for several long moments, letting the crushing blow sink in. Then I made a margarita strong enough to sedate a rhino and finished it in three long gulps.
The disappointment of losing a $35,000 fellowship to a nose-job and fake-tit doctor stung. I entered a funk fueled by bottomless tequila and punctuated by mindless temp jobs. Any writing felt like opening a wound.
On Sunday, November 3, I woke up with a hangover. A nasty one. Aching head, stiff joints, dead-squirrel mouth. A gallon of Gatorade later, I still felt like shit. Then I opened the Los Angeles Times and saw the news that tipped me into deeper despair.
I called Matt Steele. “Did you read the paper today?”
“I read it before sunrise.”
“You see the headline?” I said.
“Irwin Allen is dead.”
“He was old, and you barely knew the man,” Matt said.
“He was my last hope.”
“It’s not the end of the world for you.”
“Without Irv,” I told Matt, “I’ll never get Glamourville off the ground. If he doesn’t pay Milius, it’s all dead in the water.”
“Let has-beens be has-beens.”
“Irwin Allen isn’t a has-been.”
“No, he’s dead. That’s even less helpful.”
“I feel awful about it,” I said.
“Then let’s go to Bamboo for drinks. We’ll have a wake for good old Irwin.”
“I’m still reeling from last night’s bender,” I moaned.
“You’ll bounce back. I’m buying. Don’t make me come to your house looking for you.”
Matt hung up, and I stared at the phone. He was right. Matt Steele was always right. In an industry that celebrated youth and flavor-of-the-month currency, Irv was already a powerless fossil long before he died. Why hadn’t I seen that earlier?
When I entered Bamboo Kitchen, my eyes swept the restaurant searching for Matt Steele. Our watering hole was unnaturally quiet with no sign of him. I might’ve sensed something was wrong, but I was too upset about Irwin Allen’s death. I took a seat at the corner of the bar and contemplated my dim future while waiting for Matt to arrive.
Nacho approached me and sat down beside me on a barstool. This was unusual. It was his night off, and Sherry was bartending. He would never normally spend his night off in Bamboo.
“You heard?” he said, his eyes a red glaze.
“Katerina’s dead,” Nacho told me.
I gaped at him. “No fucking way.”
“She’s dead. Killed in a car crash yesterday.”
Katerina and Irwin Allen were now forever linked in my mind for dying on the same day, like Sammy Davis Jr. and Jim Henson.
I finally managed to speak. “What happened?”
“She flipped her Jeep on the freeway. There was a terrific fireball and heat so intense they called six fire engines.” Tears swelled in Nacho’s eyes. “It was gruesome. I know you dated her.”
Not quite true, but I didn’t correct Nacho.
Then Nacho threw his arms around me and hugged me for a long time.
On Friday, I entered the funeral chapel for Katerina’s memorial service. Closed casket, but one of the photographs from her modeling portfolio had been enlarged to poster size and set before it. The pews were filled with beautiful young waitresses, actresses, and models.
Grieving the death of their friend was no fashion challenge for this crowd. Every woman in the room had a rack of little black dresses in her closet, essential for clubbing or posh dinners.
Searching for a seat, I saw some of the older creeps who frequented the bar at Bamboo. They were familiar to me, white men over fifty who fetishized young Asian women in a perverted fuck-your-adopted-Asian daughter way. To avoid them, I sat alone at the end of an empty pew. Then one of them recognized me as a Bamboo regular and slid over.
“Shame about Katerina,” he said.
“Hard to accept,” I mumbled. “She was so young.”
“And attractive.” The man shook his head. “At least it was painless.”
“Painless? She crashed and burned. That’s not painless.”
The man glanced around conspiratorially, then whispered, “I heard it was suicide.”
“She blew her chance to star in a Paul Verhoeven movie with Michael Douglas. I guess you can only tolerate so much rejection.”
I couldn’t listen to his gossip anymore. I excused myself and moved to the rear of the chapel where I sat on a plastic chair by the door.
Eventually, a pastor took the pulpit. He cleared his throat and spoke into a microphone. “In Ecclesiastes seven, it says: ‘The day of death is better than the day of birth. Better to visit the house of mourning than the house of feasting, for to be mourned is the lot of every man and the living should take this to heart.’ Let us pray for Katerina.”
“That jackass up there doesn’t know shit about Kat,” Matt Steele said in a soft voice, standing behind me. He’d arrived last, in stealth mode.
“Didn’t think you’d make it,” I whispered.
“Always late, never absent. How you doing?”
“Too much death lately.”
“Be glad it’s not you.” Matt sat in the chair next to mine.
The pastor concluded his homily by assuring us Katerina was now in a better place. Next, he turned his pulpit over to friends who wanted to speak a remembrance.
Jasmine was the first up. She looked sexy as hell with a flower tucked behind her ear in traditional Tahitian style. My stomach flipped.
I wondered if her husband Conrad was present. I surveyed the chapel but only saw backs of heads, none of which I could recognize as Conrad Hunter.
“Katerina was my best friend in America,” Jasmine said, dabbing at tears. “I can’t believe she’s gone.”
She sobbed and sobbed. Finally, Conrad Hunter rose from the third row, walked up, put his arm around his wife, and guided her away. I concentrated on being invisible.
“This is a sick orgy of wasted emotion,” Matt said.
“Let’s leave,” I suggested.
“That would be crass. I’m going up there to say something inspirational.” Matt plowed down the outside aisle, moving past the stained glass windows.
Before Matt reached his goal, Katerina’s roommate rose from her seat in the front pew. She had taken this opportunity to wear a diaphanous black dress that showed off her mountainous breasts to full advantage. Even though I had only met Katerina’s roommate a few times, Daisy’s tits were hard to forget.
She tucked a few strands of hair behind her ears and stepped to the pulpit. Speaking without the aid of the microphone, Daisy said, “Katerina and I were closer than sisters. Last night, I found a handwritten note among her things. She wrote it only few days before she died. I want to read it to you.”
Daisy unfolded a scrap of paper and placed it on the pulpit. She began reading: “‘I still can’t believe I lost an audition to that bitch Sharon Stone, but my life feels perfect now. It’s opening like a flower, full of promise and authenticity. To have faith in myself is truly God’s great gift to me.’”
Sobs rippled through the chapel. My heart rose in my throat, and tears rolled down my cheeks. I could tell by his uneasy sway even Matt Steele was moved. Daisy continued, “‘There’s nothing you can’t do if you believe hard enough. Even unicorns could be real.’”
Daisy put the note down and surveyed the crowd.
“When Katerina came to America, she knew no one,” Daisy concluded. “Her many friends here today prove she touched a lot of people in a deep personal way. Our hearts are one.”
Daisy neatly folded the paper, slid it into her tiny purse, and walked back to her seat.
Matt slunk away from the pulpit and came up to stand beside me.
“Aren’t you going to speak?” I asked.
“I can’t top Daisy’s performance. I know when I’m beat. My tits will never look that good.”
We left the chapel thirty minutes later after the memorial concluded. Matt and I stood in the parking lot with the other mourners. As we all waited for valets to bring up our cars, I spotted Jasmine and her husband. They were about fifty feet away. Conrad Hunter was consoling one of the Bamboo waitresses. His wife was staring straight at me, daring me to respond. I felt an odd combination of fear and eroticism. My knees wobbled and my cock remembered Jasmine’s pussy against my will.
“I can’t wait to get out of here,” I told Matt.
“Agreed,” he said. “It’s a bad scene. Fucking valets.”
Nacho stumbled toward us like a shipwreck survivor. He clutched a pint bottle of Jack Daniels. His eyes were bloodshot from crying.
“Katerina’s death is a gift,” Nacho said through heavy tears. “I must make a movie. My own movie. No more fucking around.”
“Her death inspired you. That’s a positive,” Matt said.
“That was her purpose. To be our death muse.”
“Not for a Catholic. We drink the blood of Christ every week.”
“Symbolically, you mean,” Matt said.
“Depends on the depth of your belief.” Nacho swallowed more whiskey then wiped his lips.
While Matt and Nacho discussed the magic of Holy Communion, I checked to see if Jasmine was still eyeballing me. She and her husband were gone. But I spotted Daisy on the other side of the parking lot giggling with some guys in suits. Industry fuckheads who enjoyed her performance at the pulpit. She was leveraging her exposure. Smart. But her switch from tearful to cheerful was so fast it made me queasy. Then again, she was an actress. It was her job to change moods with psychopathic rapidity.
“I must leave now,” Nacho said. “Or I’ll be late to work.”
“Nacho, you’re too drunk to drive,” Matt told him. “Let me give you a ride.”
“I can drive perfectly,” Nacho slurred.
“Forget it. You’re riding with me. If you crashed on the way home, I’d have it on my conscience.”
“Nacho, I can’t handle another funeral so soon,” I added.
“Okay, you win,” Nacho said, sadly.
“Driving drunk is never worth the risk.” Matt snatched the Jack Daniels from Nacho and gulped a short pull. Then he shoved the bottle into my hands. “You take it. I don’t even want that in my car. Too tempting.”
(to be continued…)