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.
I returned home vowing to never see another whore again. I needed to shower to cleanse myself of my own depravity. Fumbling with my house keys, I heard somebody approaching from behind. I wheeled around.
“Sam,” a man said, his face still in the shadows.
“Yes?” I didn’t recognize the voice.
“That’s me. Who’s there?”
Conrad Hunter, Jasmine’s husband, moved into the light. He took three aggressive steps toward me. His eyes were glazed red; his pupils were dilated like a rabid raccoon.
“You’re Sam Reuben, the screenwriter,” he said, slurring his words. A wave of stink was on his whiskey breath. “When Jasmine told me your name, I recognized it.”
“What do you want?”
“Stay away from my wife,” Conrad warned.
“I haven’t seen her in forever.” I didn’t dare mention her recent phone call or the lustful look Jasmine gave me at Katerina’s memorial service.
“Jasmine won’t shut up about you.” Conrad stepped dangerously closer. He was radiating anger like heat from a stove.
“I don’t know why,” I said.
Conrad snorted. “You bastard.”
It was dark, and I didn’t see his punch coming. Conrad’s fist hammered into my gut, connecting under my solar plexus. I jackknifed over, gasping for breath.
Then his knee smashed into face. I saw stars and fell backward.
“I don’t like my wife fucking a dirty little screenwriter,” Conrad Hunter hissed.
I was wobbly and on my knees. I leaned against the door to steady my balance. My left eye was swelling, and my head throbbed to a bongo beat. I told Conrad Hunter, “That was years ago.”
“I don’t give a shit.”
His first kick nailed me in the testicles. Collapsing to the patio bricks, I almost passed out from the pain. I fixated on Conrad Hunter’s shoes to keep from vomiting. They were Kenneth Coles and highly polished.
“Are we done?” Conrad Hunter asked. His face softened to betray a hint of humanity.
“I am,” I said.
Then the polished leather toe of his Kenneth Cole snapped up and smashed into my jaw. I let out a nasal grunt as snot and blood spurted down my chin. My whole body went limp. Lights out.
When I woke up, Conrad Hunter was gone. I tasted blood in my mouth, and my tongue throbbed where I had bit it. I rubbed my jaw. It hurt, but not excruciatingly so. Nothing felt broken.
I pushed myself up to my hands and knees and then, with great effort, rose to my feet. I struggled into my home and went to the bathroom to wash my face. I looked in the mirror but barely recognized the beaten loser staring back at me. I spit out a tiny chip of broken tooth and cleaned my wounds as best I could.
Then I went to the kitchen, grabbed the tequila, and chugged straight from the bottle until it was empty.
The next night, I walked into Bamboo and sat at the bar. The first thing Nacho said was, “What the fuck happened to your face?”
“Champagne.” I felt elated. “Your best stuff tonight.”
“We are celebrating?” Nacho took a closer look at me. “About how bad you look?”
“I lost a fight.”
Nacho stared at me. “Really?”
“Technically, it was a beating.”
He smiled behind his scraggly beard. “You are like Rocky Balboa.”
“I got my ass kicked.”
“So did Rocky! In the first movie, he loses, remember? That made him lovable. He loses the fight, but he wins the heart of the shy girl, Adrian. Love triumphs.” Nacho grabbed two champagne flutes and filled them.
“Nacho, there was no girl for me to win. I didn’t even fight back.”
“Too bad. What’s the special occasion tonight?”
I toasted my flute to Nacho. “Nacho, you’re the best fucking bartender in Los Angeles.”
“A nice compliment.”
“Shit, yes.” I tilted the flute and drank. “Tonight’s your lucky night.”
“Now I am intrigued. Why is my luck so good?”
“Nacho, things that we think are strange coincidences in our lives are actually plot points.”
“Your crazy writer talk worries me, Sam.”
“Don’t be scared. Be grateful. Everything we’ve ever done has built to this moment.” I handed my master copy of Glamourville to Nacho. “That’s my best screenplay. If you ever make a movie, do this. I give you all rights to the work in perpetuity. You’ll win six Oscars.”
“Are you on drugs?” Nacho asked, stroking his beard.
“What’re you not telling me? Do you have cancer? AIDS, maybe?”
“No, but if I die unexpectedly like Katerina, I want a fellow artist to have my best work.”
“Shouldn’t Matt have your best screenplay?” Nacho asked.
“He’s in prison.”
“This literary property is in good hands then.” Nacho stuffed my script in a damp cupboard behind the bar. “What’s your pitch for it again?”
I finished off my drink then said, “Glamourville is about a place where dreams don’t come true.”
Later, back at my garage apartment, I made preparations for my dramatic exit from this world. If Hemingway could blow his brains out, so could I. It’s what real men do.
I lit candles, put Nirvana’s Nevermind in the CD player, and gulped Cuervo shots. Then I stripped naked and walked into the bathroom. I wanted to go out in style, so with a pair of scissors, I hacked all the hair off the sides of my head. It took twenty minutes, but snip by snip, I got down to fuzz. Next, I lathered shaving cream onto my scalp and razored my skull to a Mohawk.
When I was finished, I strapped the shoulder holsters for each of Matt’s pistols over my naked torso and slipped in the Beretta and the Walther PPK. I looked just like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver now. Finally, I slid a single Remington Magnum 00-buck shell into the shotgun, closed the mechanism, and was ready to cock the hammer. All I had to do was suck on the barrel and pull the trigger.
But not quite yet.
I went to my computer and opened a new document in Microsoft Word. Time to compose my suicide note. The final writing of my life. A well-crafted letter summing up my bright hopes and crushed dreams. I stared at the blank page, my fingers poised on the keyboard, but no words came. I faced a sudden existential crisis: writer’s block.
It hit me at the worst possible moment. I couldn’t even decide on the proper salutation for my farewell letter. Dear People of the World? To Whom It May Concern? Sorry Mom?
I fiddled with the papers on my desk, seeking literary inspiration. Instead, I found only a credit card bill. I owed $23,957 on my Bank of America card, almost all of it spent on escorts, massage girls, and tequila.
I was drawing blanks. Minutes passed. I downed two more shots of Cuervo, but it didn’t help. At last, I resorted to the writer’s miracle: marijuana. I found an emergency joint Matt Steele had left me during the riots. I lit it and puffed uneasily. In five minutes I wrote zero words; I didn’t even have a fresh idea, but I was overcome by intense paranoia. What if I bungled my suicide? What if I only maimed myself? Or blew my jaw off? Motherfucker!
A knock on my door broke the spell.
The knocking intensified.
Who could it be? I didn’t have any real friends left in L.A.
Matt Steele was in prison. Nacho didn’t know where I lived. It could be Raúl, my landlord, wanting rent, but that seemed unlikely at this late hour.
The knocking grew louder, more persistent, on the edge of beating at the door. Was Conrad Hunter back to kick the shit out of me a second time?
I wrapped a towel around my naked loins and yanked the door open angrily.
“What the fuck?” I said.
A woman stood on my brick patio outside, a big suitcase at her feet. She was wearing sunglasses in spite of the darkness. Her nipples eagerly pressed against the sheer fabric of her sexy dress. A silk scarf was tied around her head, but it didn’t obscure her exotic beauty.
A petrified toddler grasped the woman’s hand, partially hiding behind her mother’s leg.
“Jasmine?” I said. “What’re you doing here?”
“Sorry. Were you in the shower?”
“What? No.” I looked down at my towel. Already an erection stirred under the cotton. Memories of Jasmine’s volcanic pussy were reaching out like ghostly fingers from the past.
I glanced at the frightened child. She was squeezing a stuffed unicorn against her chest, warding off fear of the strange half-naked man before her.
I made a croaking noise in my throat.
“Don’t worry,” Jasmine said. “You’re not Ginny’s father. Conrad is.”
“I see.” I pointed at Jasmine’s suitcase. “Going somewhere?”
Jasmine pulled off her sunglasses, revealing makeup that didn’t hide a black eye. “Conrad and I fought.”
“He beat the crap out of me, too.” I showed her my cracked tooth.
“It’s my fault,” Jasmine said.
“I don’t blame you. I knew you were married.”
Jasmine studied my Mohawk. “But Sam! What happened to your hair?”
“It’s my new look.”
As I rubbed my head, Jasmine noticed my guns, snug in their shoulder holsters. It was a strange outfit: two pistols and a towel.
“Are you trying to look tough?” she asked.
“I was planning to kill myself tonight,” I said, evenly. No use lying. It was just another fact.
“Don’t joke. My cousin committed suicide.”
“I’m not joking. I have the shotgun loaded. I’m ready to go. Just like Hemingway.” I stepped aside so Jasmine could see the shotgun leaning against my desk. “But I’m having trouble composing my suicide note.”
Jasmine didn’t say anything. She studied the shotgun. Ginny clutched her mother’s leg, sensing weird animal vibes in the air.
“Seriously, why do you want to kill yourself?” Jasmine frowned and crossed her arms.
“I don’t have anything to live for.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Name one thing,” I said.
“I love you,” Jasmine told me.
I wasn’t prepared for that twist. I looked into Jasmine’s eyes. They were warm and inviting.
“You’re just saying that.”
“It’s true. I love you, Sam. We’re supposed to be together forever. We’re soul mates.”
“I’m not sure if I believe in soul mates.”
“That doesn’t matter. I believe.”
The standoff didn’t last long. I watched the night wind fluff Jasmine’s hair like smoke rippling in the moonlight.
Then her daughter tugged at Jasmine’s dress. “I have to pee.”
That’s when the crazy thought hit me: maybe true love doesn’t only happen in the movies. Maybe it could happen to me.
I said, “Let’s all go inside.”