The freeway wound through neighborhoods of broken dreams, its border walls brightened by the mid-afternoon sun which burned through the haze of exhaust perennially consuming the Los Angeles basin. Palm trees stood tall, their arms bouncing gently in the air. A non-fatal car accident had brought the northbound traffic on the 405 to a stand still – thousands of imports, hogs and pickups sat in line for the two-lane conduit past the crash.
A mile back, in an S.U.V., perched the Producer, frowning as he looked out ahead of him. Within the air-conditioned environment of his bastardized Land Rover, all he could hear were the cries of the woman on the other end of the carphone — speakerphone, “ON”.
The Producer sighed.
“Did you hear what I said?” asked the tragic young woman on the speaker.
“Yes, yes,” the Producer quickly responded, “Listen to me, I don’t know why you’re reacting like this. You’re perfect for the role and, ah –”
“But Peter said I didn’t have the depth.”
The Producer rolled his eyes and inched the vehicle forward the few feet the traffic would allow. “Forget what Peter said,” he calmly reassured her. “He’s the director – he’s only one cog in the wheel. And lemme tell you, it’s a pretty big wheel. If I say you get another shot at it, then you get another shot at it. You’re a Playboy playmate for crying out loud!”
BEEP-BEEP went the carphone, interrupting the Producer’s advocation. “Donna, stay on the line,” he told her. “I’ve got another call.”
The Producer tapped the “CHANNEL” key on the pad, initiating his next problem.
“Yeah?” the Producer began.
“Ira?” came the quiet squeak of another young woman.
“Hello! Who is this?” asked the Producer.
“It’s Lisa,” came the emotive reply.
“Lisa, hi, how are you?” The Producer remembered her from the party the other night in that suite at the Marmont.
“I’m terrible. I’m so terrible,” she burst forth with a hiccup.
“What’s wrong?” asked the Producer, though he had always preferred to know what’s right. Sushi, for instance, was always right.
“Everything!” she responded, her voice cracking like a log split by a French-Canadian lumberjack named Gaston. “I auditioned for Peter and I thought it went really well, y’know, but when I asked him, he said — he said — he said that I didn’t stand a chance in Hell. What does that even mean?!”
“Look, Lisa,” the Producer said, inching his vehicle forward. “He’s just the director –”
“I’m talented,” she shrieked.
“I know you are, Lisa,” he tried to calm her. “I wouldn’t be talking to you otherwise.”
Meanwhile, the Director emerged from behind the old oak wet bar on the bottom floor of his home nestled in a corner of the Hollywood Hills. In the gruff middle-aged taskmaster’s right hand was a double scotch on the rocks, not an uncommon sight at 3PM on a Tuesday. In his left hand was a sleek black cordless phone. He casually tapped in a number as he crossed his office/den to the leather chair and rosewood desk by the window.
The Director placed his glass of booze down on a cork coaster, reclined back in his chair and finished dialing. A busy signal. The Director pressed a series of numbers and listened again.
The computerized voice of a woman crackled through the connection, “The line is busy. You will be notified by special ringing when the line is free. Please hang up now.”
The Director pressed the “END” button and put the phone down on his desk. He sipped his scotch and looked out the window at the glorious flora which filled the canyon. He spied someone on a deck several hundred yards away. From beside his desk, he lifted a pair of Bushnell’s. He put them to his sockets and squinted to see the white bikini-clad sunbather.
“Hello,” he whispered to himself, “Back for more, are you?”
The phone chirped from the desktop. The Director remained glued to his subject. Another chirp from the phone. He laid the binoculars down on the desk and shook his head in amazement at the firmness of the hotchie mama across the way.
After a third ring of the phone, the Director picked it up.
“Ira?” he immediately asked.
“No, it’s Steve,” came the disappointing voice. The Director had been playing cat-and-mouse with Steve, the Writer, since the blue pages and they were already on to the goldenrods.
“What the Hell have you done to my script?” asked the Writer. It was not the first time the Director had been asked that question.
As is usually the case with members of the trade, the Writer went on to answer his own question. “You’ve totally rewritten the ending,” he explained. “Instead of an insane asylum, the main character ends up operating a midway ride at a county fair.”
“What’s the problem?” asked the Director, without much concern for the answer.
“She’s an insane mass murderer,” iterated the Writer. “Insane mass murderers end up in insane asylums!”
“Have you ever seen a midway ride operator at a county fair?” postulated the Director.
“That’s not the point,” argued the Writer, not truly knowing whether there’d been a point. He continued, “As far as I’m concerned, this rewrite is completely unacceptable and if this is the movie you’re going to make,” he demanded, “I don’t want my name in the credits.”
The Director picked up his binoculars again and returned his gaze to the sexy young thang on the other end of the lens.
“Uh-huh,” groaned the Director.
“Did you hear what I said?”
“Yup,” concurred the Director, unwilling to play ball with the high-maintenance scribe.
BEEP-BEEP is the only response the Writer heard as he paced around the Ikea decor – Bachelorossen to be precise – in the high-ceiling living room of the two-bedroom apartment on Beachwood Drive which he shared with one of those roly-poly actors from TV commercials.
“Aw Christ, hold on,” muttered the frustrated Writer to the barely present Director, “I’ve got another call.”
The Writer clipped down on the lever of his rotary dialosaurus, dipping down into the waters of ancient telecommunications only to come back up for…
“Hello?” he began.
“Is this Steven Shedbit?” asked a sultry velvet voice.
The Writer was taken aback, his most regular reaction to the providence of a sexy-sounding woman uttering his name. It couldn’t possibly be a collection agency.
“Yes. This is, this is heem,” he mumbled the words.
“Hi,” she said invitingly, “This is Penny Gingerbimbo. I’m going to be playing Jezebel from your script.”
The Actress. Ever since the Writer had read a biography of Arthur Miller, he had lusted for the Actress on every production in which he’d taken part. “Conquest-by-word”, he called it. But there was still the matter of the Director on the other line. Art! Art must be maintained above sex drive!
“Penny, yes. Listen, Penny, I’m on the other –” He didn’t get that far.
“I was reading through your script — great script,” the Actress interjected, “and I noticed that there’s an awful lot of swearing…” The Writer knew what was coming. “… and I was thinking…” The Actress always took a moment after saying this, before continuing with, “Maybe she could be a little friendlier.”
For the Writer, the answer was simple. He’d read the how-to’s and taken several courses in script structure, standard character arc, the 37 basic dramatic situations. He knew the archetype better than anyone, having spent much money on the real thing.
“She’s a hooker.”
“The character of Jezebel is a whore.”
There was a pause – his was of undying patience, hers of confusion.
“I thought she was a nun.”
“She has sex with men under the pretense of sex-for-money then she kills them,” said the Writer, preparing to name off plot points one, two and three.
“Oh, I guess nuns don’t do that,” said the Actress as she reclined on her cushioned patio chair, bathing in the yellow rays which fell to her deck. Bug-eyed shades concealed her peepers from the harsh sunlight while a skimpy white bathing suit revealed her pre-fab body to the same.
From the earpiece of her Nokia came the noise — BEEP-BEEP.
“Oh Steven,” she said, “There’s another call. Hold please.”
She pressed the “CHANNEL” button and continued like the good secretery she once was.
“Hello, this is Penny.”
A nasal middle-aged voice entered the earpiece of the Actress’ cellphone.
“Hello, is this…” A paper flapped in the background, then, “Penny Gingerbimbo?”
“Yes. This is Penny,” she repeated, already wanting to get back to the Writer and the direction of her arc.
“Hi, Penny, this is Sidney Vine,” he introduced himself. “I’m the Executive-in-Charge-of-Production on ‘Killer Hooker Fury’.”
The Actress thought, “Writer? What writer?”
“Oh hello, Mr. Vine.” She did not know how important the man on the other end of the line truly was, but she knew enough. For instance, she knew his title had four hyphens. She knew he was ‘studio’, all the way, to the max.
“Please,” he instructed her, “call me Sidney.”
“Great. Penny, I’m calling to congratulate you on getting the part of Jezebel.”
“Oh, yes, thank you, Sidney.”
“And… well, to be blunt, I think we should get together for drinks. Maybe discuss your role.”
Meanwhile, back in the bumper-to-bumper parking lot improperly named the San Diego Freeway, the Producer had finally calmed down one of his crying women.
“The role involves nudity, y’know? And I think –”
“I do nudity. I’ve done tons of nudity!” the woman revealed, though it was hardly a revelation.
“Lisa,” he cut to the chase, “as far as I’m concerned, you’re the only one who can pull this role off. Let me talk to my people and we’ll set up another meeting, okay?”
“Okay, I guess.”
“Alright. I’ve got to go now, I’ve got traffic all around me, travelling at a very high rate of speed,” he said, inching his vehicle forward at 2MPH and returning to the first P.Y.T. crying to him over the carphone.
She was gone; nothing but a dial tone. The Producer clicked off the phone.
Temporarily deflated, with traffic at a dead stop, the Producer glanced out the passenger window at the knoll beside him. A recent work of graffiti had been sprayed on the border wall. It took the Producer a moment to translate the stylized font of the message which read, “Cova Yo Ass” [sic].
It took a moment to sink in but the Producer was soon dialing a number on the carphone.
The reflection of a mirror…
The reflection of a mirror in a bathroom reflecting the reflection of the mirror opposite it reflected in the mirror of a bathroom. Atop the clean smooth marble surface of the counter around the sink sat a soap pumper, a small bowl of mints, a condom dispenser and a think pile of aspiring actress’ photographs from which one could browse while conducting one’s business. The hand towels hanging by the door were emblazoned with the initials “S.J.V.”. Sitting on the toilet, his slacks crumpled to his ankles, was the Executive-in-Charge-of-Production, conducting his business with the Actress on his phone headset while he conducted his business on the head. He was looking at her headshot in his southpaw.
“Are you familiar with the Beverly Hills Hotel?” he asked her.
There was a knock at one of the executive bathroom’s two doors. The more accessible door. The Executive gently cupped the mouthpiece of the headset in his fist before barking, “Dammit, Bernie, I’m on the f’cking phone!”
From behind the door came the shellshocked voice of his assistant. “Sir, you have a call from Ira Gray on line two.”
“Tell him I’ll call him back,” shouted the Executive.
“He said it’s an emergency, sir,” said the muffled assistant.
“Hold on!” the Executive ordered with extreme prejudice then calmly returned to the Actress in the palm of his hand. “Penny, will you stay on the line? I have to take this call.”
“Sure,” she said, displaying immediate loyalty, “I’ll be here.”
The Executive leaned forward and pressed the “Line 2” button on the cordless waistpack clipped to the belt around his ankles.
“Ira, I’m in a meeting,” lied the Executive. “And we’re in pre-production. What could possibly be the emergency?”
“No biggie,” responded the Producer through the phoneline. “Sidney, listen, if anybody asks, we’re still casting for Jezebel.”
“What are you talking about? We finished this morning,” the Executive reminded him.
“I know, I know. But if anybody asks, we still are.”
“Who’s going to ask?” asked the Executive.
“Nobody,” the Producer assured him. “But if anybody does, then ‘Yes, we are still casting.'”
The Executive dropped the Actress’ headshot on the marble floor and scratched his head. “Ira, I’ve got Penny Gingerbimbo on the other line,” he told the Producer.
At the exact same moment, the Director was still sitting in his leather chair looking through his binocs at the attractive subject (who had recently been getting the attention of many men). She too had a phone to her ear.
“Who are you talking to?” asked the Director, to her, to himself, to the silence at the other end of his own cordless phone. Then, a click, and…
“Peter?” asked the Writer, returning to the Director, impatient with the Actress’ absence.
“Uh-huh,” replied the Director, the lens never leaving his eyes.
“I’ve got Penny Gingerbimbo on the other line and now SHE’S trying to rewrite my script!” the Writer complained to ears which had long been deaf to talk of integrity. Instead, the Director expressed jealousy.
“Why the Hell is she talking to you? Hang up on her. Now!”
Then came a long BEEP.
“Steve, hang up on her and come back to me, hold on,” the Director told him, then clicked a button on the phone, taking him over to his second line.
The computerized voice of a woman crackled to the Director, “The line has become free. Your call is being placed.” The line began to ring.
Back in traffic…
Back in traffic, the Producer explained the emergency to the Executive in a logline. “There’s still two more actresses I need to see,” he said into his carphone as he slowly glided past two crunched cars, an ambulance, three police cruisers and six towtrucks hustling for action on the 405.
“But we’ve already cast Penny,” the Executive reminded him, again.
And another BEEP-BEEP from his speakerphone caught the Producer’s attention. The LED display read “Caller Unknown”.
“I know, I know. Just hold on a second.”
The Producer clipped the Executive before he could continue and blindly took his next incoming call.
“Ira, it’s Peter,” began the Director.
Fortuity at last! thought the Producer. “Peter, great!” he exclaimed. “Listen, if anybody asks, we’re still casting for Jezebel.”
“I cast Penny Gingerbimbo this morning.”
“I know that!” uttered the Producer, becoming more frustrated with the world. “But if anybody asks, we’re still casting.”
“Jesus, Ira!” The Director complained, “I’ve got Steve Shedbit whining about script changes, now you’re telling me we’re still casting… I’m trying to remain calm!”
Executive outweighs Director, thought the Producer. “Peter, I’ve got Sidney Vine on the other line. Give me two seconds.”
“Wait, Ira –” was all the Director could get out before the Producer returned to the Executive.
“Sidney?… Sidney?” asked the Producer as he accelerated out of the traffic jam, free again.
Of course, by this time, the Executive had returned to the Actress. “Penny?” asked the Executive from atop the warm padded cushion of the toilet seat.
But he’d missed her by a moment. Needing to talk to someone – anyone – about her role, the Actress had returned to the Writer she’d had on hold. “Steven?” asked the Actress, her skin toning in the sun.
There was no response from the Writer who was on his other line, waiting for the Director to return to his call. “Peter! Peter! Come back and talk to me, Peter!” he said to himself, helpless.
And for one moment in time, one brief but ubiquitous moment, a sound could be heard eminating from every office, every loft, every apartment and home, every warehouse, production house, soundstage, photo studio, every agency and law firm in the City of Angels. The sound of a sigh, a release of air aimed to relieve the tension of everyday life. The defeated gasp of desperation. For one moment, everyone in Los Angeles was frozen in stasis. Suspended from a phonepole or satellite dish. On hold.
With the phone still glued to his ear, the Director slouched back in his chair. He took a sip of his scotch and shook the ice around. “I should move to France,” he told himself. “They’d respect me in France.”
The Producer sped northbound, past the Getty and upward through the Sepulveda Pass. He glanced at himself in the rear-view mirror and affirmed to his reflection, “All you’re asking for is two Playmates at once. Is that so much? You can do this.”
The Executive pulled on the last bit of an already-empty roll of toilet paper. “Bernie!” he screamed to his dim assistant, “Bring me some fucking toilet paper!!!”
“These people know nothing about art,” the Writer warned himself as he took a fresh hit of kind bud from the honeybear bong he’d been given by a friend who was an animator on The Simpson’s.
The Actress flipped through several pages of the Writer’s script. As she skimmed over one key scene, it finally and graciously dawned on her. “Oh yeah,” she said aloud, “she is a whore.”
Originally performed as a comedy sketch, The Rivoli, Toronto, 1997