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.
Rattled, I played Matt’s message five more times. I called his house, but of course there was no answer. Just his machine. This left me wondering: what in God’s name did Matt Steele get himself into? I drove to Santa Monica to find out.
I’d never been inside a police station before. But the desk sergeant was helpful, and in twenty minutes I was facing my friend in a holding cell with a wall of iron bars between us.
He looked bad. His clothes were rumpled, his hair wildly mussed, and his eyes red. A spot of dried blood hung below his nose.
“What the fuck happened?” I said.
“You got that right.”
“I got fucked.”
“You aren’t making sense.”
“I was drinking,” Matt said. “And I was driving.”
“You had an accident?”
“That’s putting it mildly. I fucking crashed.”
Matt rubbed his nose. “I shouldn’t have called you. I wanted to call my lawyer, but I can’t remember the scumbag’s number.”
“I didn’t know you had a lawyer.”
“Everyone in L.A. has a lawyer. So you gotta call him for me. I only get one call courtesy of the fascist police. I called you.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll contact your lawyer.”
“I wrote his name down. Jake Berman.” Matt slipped a grimy scrap of paper between the bars, and I took it.
“What do I tell him?” I asked.
“Just tell him … ” Matt stopped speaking and buried his face in his hands.
“Tell him what?”
“I was driving along, minding my own business.” Matt lifted his head. He looked miserable and got all choked up. “Then I killed a little girl.”
“A beautiful little girl. She ran into the intersection. Like a deer. Like a baby deer in a pink dress.”
Matt’s face was a mask of horror as the memory crushed him.
“Matt, I don’t know what to say. How much did you have to drink?”
“Get out of here. Call the lawyer. Tell him I killed a beautiful baby tonight.”
I was so freaked out by the whole situation that I rushed out of the police station with my hands shaking and called Matt Steele’s lawyer from a pay phone.
Jake Berman answered on the third ring and listened to my story about Matt.
“Sounds bad,” Jake said. “But I’ll handle it.”
After I hung up, I started biting my fingernails, which I never ordinarily do.
The next morning, Leslie Schur was already at her desk when I arrived at work. She invited me into her office. I started to remove some scripts from a chair so I could sit.
“Don’t bother,” Leslie said, curtly. “Our arrangement is not working. You’re not cut out to be my assistant. It’s that simple.”
I placed my hand on the chair to steady myself. “You’re firing me?”
“Yes. But if you want to stay on as general office help, I can pay you a hundred dollars a week to Xerox scripts.”
“I can’t live on four hundred dollars a month, not in L.A.”
“That’s the offer. Take it or leave it. You have an hour to make your decision.”
Back at my desk, I thought vindictively: I could reformat my computer’s hard drive and erase everything on the office network including the cherished phone lists, notes, and records.
Instead, I quietly gathered my things and left as the phones began to ring.
After Matt Steele’s lawyer got him out of jail on $50,000 bail, I picked Matt up at the police station and drove him home.
While we were stuck in traffic, I tried consoling Matt. “It’s not your fault. The girl’s parents should have been watching her.”
“I was driving drunk, and that’s a fact.”
“Maybe your lawyer can get you off,” I said.
“What happens to me doesn’t matter anymore. It won’t bring that girl back to life.” Matt looked out the car window at the gray cityscape. “Enough about my problems. How are you?”
“Terrific. I got fired today,” I said.
“Not everyone can be a winner, Sam.”
I’d never seen Matt Steele radiate such a bleak, depressed vibe.
“That’s not a great outlook,” I said.
“I’m just being honest. If you had confidence in yourself, Sam Reuben would’ve been successful years ago. But you’ve always acted like a pussy instead of telling everyone you’re the greatest writer alive.”
“Easy for you to say,” I said. “You never had to lick somebody’s stinking ass.”
“And you’re melodramatic.”
“I mean it. I’ve literally licked somebody’s asshole trying to get ahead.”
Matt perked up, and his eyes lasered onto me, evaluating my expression. “You’re serious?”
“Swear to God.”
“When did this specific event occur?”
“Right before I took the job at Schur Fire. I was trying to sell Glamourville. So fuck you about not trying hard enough.”
“Wait a second.” Matt scratched his head, confused. “How did this happen? I need details.”
“I vowed never to talk about it, especially to you.”
“Now you must tell me!”
“It’s too awful.”
“Sam, I’ve dragged you up the writer’s mountain. At the peak of Everest, you’re gonna abandon your faithful Sherpa guide?”
“It was the worst experience of my life.” I shuddered just remembering it.
“It can’t be worse than me killing a baby girl.”
“Yes, it can. A lot worse. You hit the kid and — bang — it’s over in a second.” I could tell Matt didn’t believe me. Only the truth would set him straight. I sighed, then said, “It began when I wrangled a special pre-breakfast meeting with the biggest producer in town.”
“Holy shit, you mean you took Glamourville to — ”
“Stop right there! If you value our friendship never say his repulsive name aloud.”
Matt nodded. “Tell me your story.”
Matt’s innate thirst for a good tale kicked in. Now he craved my confession like a dope fiend wants smack.
I gave him his fix.
“I set up my meeting by lying about Nick Nolte loving my script. The producer’s assistant scheduled it at seven a.m. just to inconvenience me. ‘He’ll see you at home before he goes to the studio,’ I was told. So I drove to the producer’s Bel Air home. That should’ve been a red flag. I enter and a Filipino butler hands me warm green tea before scuttling off like a crab. I’m left alone in a living room that looks like it’s been decorated for a faux royal wedding. Mr. Producer walks in, still wearing pajamas and a white silk bathrobe. He sits on a purple velvet couch, sets a steaming coffee on the table next to it, and says: ‘Get down to business. Let’s hear it.’ I take my script out of my worn canvas Danish school bag. My hand is shaking with fear but I start my pitch. You would have been proud as a motherfucker of me. I summarized Glamourville better than a Shakespearean player, even acting out dialogue. It was my best fucking fireworks-moon shot of a pitch ever.”
“Wow! Did he like it?” Matt gushed, his legal troubles momentarily forgotten.
“Mr. Producer sits there in his stupid satin pajamas slurping his coffee. Then he finally puts down his cup and says: ‘Would you do anything to make it happen?’ I answered, ‘Just about.’ He smiles, walks over to me, and tells me to sit down in a chair. Then he drops his pajama bottoms to the floor. I’m looking directly at some pale legs and cock.”
“How cheesy. The classic Hollywood cliché. He wanted you to blow him?”
“I wish it was that pleasant.”
“He turns his back to me, bends over, hikes up his bathrobe, spreads his cheeks wide, and says: ‘Sam, I’d like you to lick my asshole.’”
“Fucking shit!” Matt’s eyes bugged out. “What’d you say?”
“I was too shocked to speak. But he starts telling me it’s essential to have trust to make a movie together. He says in his experience, licking his asshole is the fastest way to measure trust.”
“What a motherfucker. What’d you do?”
“We’re talking about my chance at a major studio film, a shot at Oscar glory, and financial freedom. So I tell him, ‘There are laws against sexual harassment, you know.’ And he says, ‘Not in Hollywood, dear boy.’ The worst part was, as I planted my nose up his sweaty ass, I could tell he ate Chinese food the night before.”
“What, by the smell?” Matt prompted.
“His anus reeked of kung pao sauce.”
“Goddamn. I’m surprised you didn’t kill yourself after an experience like that.”
“Believe me,” I said. “I thought about it.”
“Did he read Glamourville?”
“I don’t know.”
Matt was shaking his head. “You licked major Hollywood asshole, and he didn’t read your script?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“How’d you leave things with him?”
I eyed Matt sadly. “I was on my knees, wiping my mouth when Robert Downey Jr., walked into the room and said ‘Hi guys! Happy Tuesday.’ That was the end of our meeting.”
Matt stared out the window and then looked back at me. He smiled thinly. It was his first smile in two days. “Downey would be a perfect lead for Glamourville.”
(to be continued…)