Small Town Boys - Chapter 42
“Jesus H. Christ,” said Donny. “You scared the shit out of me.”
“I’ve been trying to call you all weekend,” said Mike. “I finally figured you’d be home tonight.”
“I’ve been in Santa Barbara.”
“Oh, cool. You and Marc?”
“No, Rob’s wedding.”
“Oh,” said Mike. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Donny looked at him closely. He appeared to be sober. “How was it?”
“Nice. So, what’s up?”
“You mean what the fuck am I doing breaking into your house and sitting on your patio in the dark?”
Mike shook out the match. “Well, I’m out of work. Return to Sender’s been cancelled and there’s not much going on, so I thought I’d take a little break. Oh, by the way, we wrapped up Back Home Again and chances are it’s gonna straight to video, even with Jeremy’s name on it. Somehow, someway, someone will make some money from it, but it probably won’t be me.” He took a long drag and leaned back in the chair, the plastic creaking a little. He was wearing a tight muscle shirt and jeans, the ones with the frayed cuffs and the button fly that he used to wear around the house when he was doing nothing. He still had the long hair left over from making Back Home Again and the bangs and sideburns made him look a little like a rocker from 1968. Donny pulled out a chair and sat down. Mike smiled a little. “So anyway, I’m outta here for a while, and I just thought I’d let you know that there’s some stuff at the old house that needs to be taken care of.”
“You’re moving out of there?”
“Yeah. The owner – whatsisname – wants to sell it.”
“Yeah. Old man Tucker. I made him a deal on the leftover furniture and stuff, but I thought you or Eric might want to do something about the piano.”
Donny had forgotten about the piano. Eric’s grandmother’s 1932 spinet had stood in the corner of the living room of the house and had served as a bar, a collector of records, junk mail, and dust – everything but as a musical instrument – since the day they had moved into the house. When Donny moved out he took his bed and dresser and put them in the guest room, and when Eric had moved to Palo Alto, he said nothing about the piano.
“You want me to sell it? Leave it?”
“No,” Donny said absently. “I’ll take it. I can come get it next weekend or something.”
Mike shook his head. “I’m out on by Friday. I’ll have someone take care of it. Where do you want it?”
“I’ll find a place for it,” Donny said. “Where are you going; Idyllwild?”
Mike chuckled. “No, a little further than that. Maple City.”
“For how long?”
Mike shrugged. “Couple of weeks, a month, two months, who knows. Get there in time for duck hunting, then maybe deer season or get in some skiing.” He leaned back and stretched. “Clear my head of all this Hollywood bullshit for a while.”
“What about the house?”
“The management company’ll handle the rentals. They’ll pay the bills, they’ll send me a check every month, and frankly, that’s good enough for me. I never planned to live up there.”
“You’ll come back, though,” Donny said.
Mike looked at him for a moment. “Yeah, I’ll come back. I guess. I mean, I’m not firing my agent or anything. My new agent, that is. Marty’s gone, by the way.”
“Yeah, I heard.”
“So when does your show start?”
Donny shrugged. “I haven’t heard anything since that weekend out in Palm Springs. I think they were just blowing smoke up my ass.”
Mike bit his lip. “Yeah, well, welcome to my world. ‘Cept you have a real job.” He leaned forward and put out his cigarette. “I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking,” he mused. “Maybe I shoulda just done what everybody else does; go along for the ride, screw around with people, get whatever I could, make a fucking huge pile and just...go along.” He stared off into the sky as if he was watching a plane or something pass over, and then looked back at Donny. “I’d probably be the big name like Jeremy Dick-son, but no. I had to have that old-fashioned small-town morality. Get there on my talent, not on my ability to cum three times in an hour.” He shook out another cigarette, and Donny heard Aaron’s voice in his head. “He’s amazing. When they’re on camera together, Mike blows Jeremy away; it’s like he’s not even there, and Jeremy knows it. It’s just sheer luck that Jeremy’s the guy on the cover of People magazine and not Mike; that he got the breaks and Mike didn’t. If he landed a part working for a director like Scorsese or Pollack there’s no telling how far he’d go. He could be the next Costner.”
They were silent for a while, letting the chirp of crickets and the distant sounds of the city take over. Finally Donny said, “You want to get something to eat?”
Mike smiled. “Sure, what the hell.”
They found some pieces of leftover Banquet chicken and a half a bag of salad, picking out the rusty and wilted pieces. Donny heated up some macaroni and cheese and got a couple of Rolling Rocks out of the fridge. They ate at the kitchen table.
“Kinda like the old days,” mused Mike, “us sitting around the table eating leftovers.”
“Yeah. So, you need a ride to the airport or something?”
Mike shook his head. “I’m driving.” He inclined his head toward the street. “Picked me up a new Range Rover last week and I’m just gonna take my time going back. Figure I’ll stop in some small towns on the way, too, take a look around. You could do worse then settle down in a place like that where nobody gives a shit about who you are or what you do.” He wiped his hands on a piece of paper towel, the grease making the paper translucent.
Donny felt a small twinge of envy. It seemed like a very long time since he had been able to just toss his stuff in the back of his truck and take off.
“So,” Mike went on, “what else is going on?”
Donny shrugged. “Not much.” It was as if the weekend at Palm Springs had never happened, and he wondered if this was part of Mike’s letting go. “Busy at work; new stuff coming out and...stuff.”
“Stuff,” echoed Mike.
They cleaned up and went back out to the patio by way of the sun room. “Place looks nice,” Mike said. “You keep it neat.”
“Never home long enough to mess it up,” said Donny.
Mike stood on the patio and looked up at the sky again. Donny had a sense of déjà vu, and then he remembered that they were standing on the spot on the patio where Mike had kissed him that first afternoon. In all the times since, they’d never stood here again. “Yeah,” Mike said absently, “I know what that’s like.” He glanced at Donny. “Look... I’m sorry about all the shit at the Villa. I’m glad...”
“Forget it,” said Donny quickly. “It was all just bullshit. I don’t know why I went. Like I said, I never heard from them. Fuck ‘em. I’ve got too much work to do anyway, and I’m not cut out to be a Hollywood mogul.”
“Me neither,” said Mike, and they laughed, and in the moment of laughter Donny felt an overpowering urge to grab Mike and kiss him hard. So he did.
Half an hour later Donny pulled on his jeans and unlocked the front door. “I’ll have the moving guys call you about the piano,” Mike said as he stood in the door.
“Yeah, okay,” said Donny.
Mike ran his knuckle over Donny’s chest. “G’night,” he said. “I’ll keep in touch.”
“Have a safe trip. Oh...hey, Mike?” Donny held out his hand. It took a second, then Mike smirked, pulled out his car keys, twisted the house key off the ring, handed it to Donny, and said, “Change the code.”
“Yeah, first thing.”
Mike strode down the sidewalk. “I’ll send you a box of fudge from Murdick’s.” The lights flashed on the Range Rover as Mike keyed open the door. He waved and drove off. Donny watched until he turned the corner and disappeared, then closed the door. He went back to the bedroom. It still had the slight aroma of sweat, sex, and Mike’s cologne. He picked up the pillow that had fallen off the bed, musing that he had let the moment pass with Eric, but not with Mike.
It was then that he noticed the phone machine was blinking. There were three messages. The first was from Aaron on Friday, asking Donny to call him as soon as he could. The second was from Jack Magahee, leaving a number to call on Monday. The third was from Eric, saying he’d made it back to Palo Alto. He had called an hour before Donny had gotten home.
The maitre d’ showed him to a table in the back of one of Beverly Hills’ best-known restaurants. Aaron was sitting with Jack Magahee, who had his back to the room. It was Tuesday, a little after one in the afternoon.
“Hi, uh, Donny. Glad you could make it,” Aaron said, getting halfway up from his seat and offering his hand. Donny sat next to him, and Jack Magahee smiled at him. “Good to see you again,” he said softly, his eyes barely coming up over the top of the menu.
“Well,” Aaron said, taking a sip of water, “I’m sorry that I didn’t get back to you sooner, but things....” He let the sentence fade off. “Anyway,” he went on, “I’ve started on some preliminary scripts and outlines for the show; thought we might like to look over them.” He pulled some folders out from his lap and showed them to Donny.
“Let’s order first, shall we?” said Jack. He nodded at the waiter who instantly stood at the ready. Jack ordered the filet mignon rare and a glass of red wine. Aaron ordered the fish and a ginger ale.
Donny quickly scanned the short menu; the cheapest item was a Caesar salad for twelve dollars, but he didn’t want to sound like a cheapskate, so he ordered the chicken breast on peppers and rice and an iced tea. The waiter nodded his approval, whisked the menus away, and left.
“Now, Donny,” Aaron said, “what I’ve come up with are just ideas. Nothing’s in stone. But in talking with Jeremy and others,” he shot a glance at Jack, “we think the best shot we have of getting this on the air is to follow my lead here.”
Donny opened the top folder and read through the introduction, the character break-down, and the summary of the pilot episode, but it wasn’t until he got to the second page and the sample of the dialogue that he realized that this wasn’t anywhere close to what he had sketched out last spring. The characters of Eric, Greg, and Scott were stereotypical gays; a flaming queen, a cute but dumb muscle boy, and the sensitive type who liked to read but could pass as straight. Bobby was the “fish out of water,” the straight boy who was sharing the house with the others because he was always fighting with his girlfriend, and he was the anchor of the show. The description of Bobby made him sound suspiciously like Jeremy Dixon.
Donny read the rest of it and picked up the second folder, glancing at Aaron who was looking back expectantly. Donny managed a little grin, and then read on. It was more of the same. The episode revolved around a farcical misunderstanding about who slept in what room, and there was even a scene where Eric “accidentally” walked in on Bobby as he changed his clothes and then made a lot of cute double entendres about “size” and “hung.”
The waiter brought their drinks, and Donny took a break to dump in some sugar and stir the glass. He took a sip, finished reading the second folder and reached for the third. Before he could open it Aaron said, “...uh, well?”
Donny glanced at his eager face and then at Jack, who seemed to be thinking of other things. “Well,” he began, not really knowing how to say what he was thinking politely. He had envisioned thirthysomething, but this was Three’s Company or The Golden Girls. It wasn’t even that good. It was Return to Sender before he had started helping Mike with it. “Um,” he stammered.
Aaron tapped the folders. “Yes... I know this isn’t exactly what you had sketched out....” “No,” replied Donny, and Aaron held up his hand. “I know, I know. But this... this will sell. This will guarantee that a network will pick it up.” He nodded his head. “I grant you, it’s not cutting edge like you originally imagined, but... this is a start. Remember M*A*S*H started out as a sitcom, and once people got used to it, they discussed serious issues. You know it was one of the first sitcoms to portray a gay character in a favorable light?”
Donny shook his head. “Klinger wasn’t gay. He was just trying to get out of the Army.”
“No, not Klinger,” Aaron replied. “They had an episode where a soldier got beat up because he was gay.”
“And that’s favorable?”
“No, but as least they didn’t portray him as a flaming queen.”
Donny tapped the folder. “Well, you’ve got one in here. I can’t believe you’re making Eric out to be like that.”
“It’s just comic relief. We’ll cover some serious issues, but first we have to get the audience to accept them.”
“By showing them as stereotypes? That’s exactly what I didn’t want. And you’ve made Bobby out to be the most important character, and he’s not gay.”
“That was the only way we could get Jeremy to consider taking the role. And you have to know that it would be a huge attraction to have a star like Jeremy Dixon do television. It’s like getting Cybill Shepard or Brooke Shields.”
“Both of whom,” Jack said, “have projects for TV sitcoms in the works.” It was the first time he’d spoken since the waiter left. “Cybill’s will start this winter as a mid-season, and Brooke’s is on tap for next year or the year after.”
Aaron nodded. “Y’see? Jeremy Dixon will be a huge draw as Bobby.”
“But he doesn’t want him to be gay.”
“Well, he does have his reputation to protect.”
“Will the others be gay?” Donny said.
“Well, yeah,” replied Aaron. “I can tone them down a little.”
“I meant the actors,” said Donny. “Will the characters be played by gay actors?”
Aaron seemed flustered by the question. “What....what do you mean? I... I don’t know; it all depends on who gets cast, and we can’t really ... I mean, we can’t ask them....” he glanced at Jack. “We can’t ask them, can we?”
For the first time Jack smiled a little. “I think I know what Don’s getting at.” He smoothed his napkin in his lap. “You want to know if the gay characters will be played by people who actually know what it’s like to be gay.”
“Well, yeah, I kinda think that’s important.” He looked at Aaron. “That’s what I wanted to come across in the characters in the story. I don’t want them to come across like little fairies or the Midnight Cowboy, and I sure didn’t want them to be punch lines. And even if they are, I think if you had guys who knew what it was like to be gay, they might come across as more real even if they’re not exactly written that way.” He looked at Aaron, hoping he hadn’t insulted him too much. Aaron was staring at the salt shaker.
Jack moved his fork a millimeter and rested his hands on the table. “Donny, gay actors have been playing straight parts in movies and TV forever. Rock Hudson, for example, and a lot of others whom I could name but.... Well, that’s the point. For all the talk about ‘Hollywood liberals,’ this is a pretty conservative town, and one of the reasons your friend Lance has some roadblocks is because some people know that he’s... well, that you and he are more than just friends. So if an actor is identified as gay, it’s not a career builder, and I can guarantee you that if we went to the casting agencies and said we’re looking for three or four young attractive actors to play gay roles, it won’t be that easy. And if we ask them for three or for young attractive gay actors, we won’t get anything. It’s not that they’re not out there – the place is crawling with them. It’s just that we don’t ask and they don’t tell. Like the military.”
The waiter brought their salads, and Donny picked at his, wondering if he was to blame for Mike’s career slump. But they had never been seen in public together, and Mike had always been careful never to talk about his personal life except to tell the occasional interviewer that his home life was too boring to write about.
They didn’t talk again until the entrees arrived. Aaron put the folders back under the table, and nervously picked the capers off his salmon. Jack cut into his meat and took a bite, then looked at Donny.
“I understand what you are saying, and I admire you for it,” he said. He shot a glance at Aaron. “I wonder if Aaron might be testing you to see if you’ll go for the quick and easy way to get a show on the air, make a lot of bucks, and then move on to something else, or if you really care about putting something out there for the public that actually says something. I know Aaron can write something like that, but...”
“But will Jeremy do it,” Aaron interrupted. “If he won’t do it, then...we have no leverage to get the show in front of the networks.”
“Of course you do,” said Jack a little testily, probably from being interrupted by Aaron. “I think I know some people that will still be interested. Perhaps if you met with Jeremy, Don, and told him what you told us, he might be more amenable, shall we say, to seeing it your way.”
Donny nodded. “Sure.”
“I’ll arrange it,” said Jack.
Aaron glanced at Donny and picked at his food with his fork. “Y’know, I respect the hell out of you, Donny; you know that. And you’re the executive producer and it’s your idea and we’ve drawn up papers and everything, but there comes a time when you need to understand that things have to work a certain way here, and sometimes we who’ve been in the business for a while do know what we’re doing and what we’re talking about.” He took a large gulp of water, and Donny realized that Aaron had just yelled at him. If this was his version of a temper tantrum, he thought, I wonder what he’s like in court.
Before Donny could respond, Jack held up his hand, then reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a business card. “Don, I’ve taken the liberty of giving your name to Gina Roscoe.” He slid the card across the table. “She’ll be in touch with you.”
Donny read the card. All it said was Gina Roscoe and a phone number in raised letters. “What is she, a lawyer?”
“An agent. You’re going to need one,” Jack replied, glancing at Aaron.
Gina Roscoe called him that afternoon.
“Mr. Hollenbeck? Gina Roscoe. Can we meet this evening just to say hello?”
“Sure,” Donny replied.
“Your office around five? I’ll be in the neighborhood.”
“Good. See you then.” The line went dead.
From the sound of her voice Gina sounded like a middle-aged woman of large dimensions with round glasses, too much make-up, and a cigarette dangling from her lips, so when she arrived at the office and Lily showed her in, Donny was surprised to find that she was short, trim, and wearing a stylish suit with subtle tones and barely more than a touch of lipstick. Her short black hair was pulled back to reveal a heart-shaped face and laughing eyes. She spoke quickly but clearly, and she had a definite New York accent.
They sat at the table. Gina opened her slim briefcase and pulled out a contract and some other papers.
“Jack Magahee thinks highly of you and your project, but it’s clear to him – and me – that you’ve been tossed into the deep end with the sharks. My job – if you decide to let me represent you – is to be the shark killer. Now God love Aaron White; he’s a great writer and a good guy, but he’s also working for someone else, not you. And God love Paul Jeffries. Any friend of Paul’s is a friend of mine, but the same thing applies. He’ll treat you like a king and he genuinely cares about you – up to a point.” She glanced at the other papers. “I think we’ve reached that point.” She folded her hands and smiled.
“Well, okay, then,” Donny said.
Gina went over the contract with him and told him not to sign it right away. “Read it carefully. Talk to your lawyer.” She looked around the office. “If you’ve gotten this far this fast in the software business, you obviously have one.”
“Never heard of him, but that doesn’t matter. Just have him look it over. Any questions, call me. And if you sign me up, I’m your first call for anything. I’m your confidante, your mouthpiece, your best friend, your ride home if you get shitfaced at a bar. You don’t take a meeting without letting me know, and you don’t sign anything without me seeing it first. That’s the only way I work, and if you don’t think you can work like that, let me know right now and ... well, good luck.” Again she smiled.
“Jack suggested I meet with Jeremy Dixon.”
Gina shrugged. “I’m not your agent yet, but my suggestion – if I was – would be sure, go ahead...if it’s just the two of you. If he shows up with an entourage, especially D’Angelo, sit there, be charming, smile and nod, and promise him nothing. The most you can say is, ‘I’ll consider it.’ The thing is, he wants to do the show; he just wants to do it his way. If he doesn’t get what he wants, he may threaten to walk.”
Donny shrugged. “So what? I really don’t care if the show happens or not.”
Gina nodded. “Good answer. Keep that attitude.”
“No, I really mean it,” Donny said. “I’m not a Hollywood guy. I work for McKay-Gemini. All this...” he waved at the contracts, “that’s just...stuff.”
Gina nodded slowly. “Well, that puts it in perspective,” she said, and Donny realized he had probably just insulted her.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he said apologetically. “It’s just that...”
“No, I get it,” she said. “Actually, that’s good. Too many people take this ‘stuff’ way too seriously. It’s...refreshing to meet someone who doesn’t live and die by Daily Variety.” She put the other papers back into her briefcase and handed Donny the contract. “Anyway, look it over, let me know, and we’ll get this show on the road.” She stood up and Donny did too. She offered her hand and they shook. “I look forward to working with you,” she said with a bright smile. “Can I call you in the next day or two?”
“Please,” said Donny.
“Good. And let me know how that meeting goes. Either way, I’ll be interested.”
Donny opened the door. “Oh,” Gina added, “I hear Lance Michaels is taking a break.”
“Um, yeah,” Donny said, checking to see if there was anyone in the outer office, but Lily was at the copier and the other offices were empty except for Greg, who was on the phone.
“Well, I wish him the best. I think he’s got a career out there somewhere.”
The piano movers called Wednesday morning and set the delivery for that afternoon. Donny watched as they expertly brought it in and set it in the corner next to the hall leading to the bedrooms. Donny tipped them each a twenty.
It looked a little out of place, this piece of 1930’s furniture surrounded by Southwestern and mission style, but it also brought back memories of the three of them – him, Eric, and Rob muscling it into the house and Eric running his hands down the keys, probably the only time it had been played. Donny touched one of the keys, and the note sounded tinny and out of tune. Well, he thought, I’m just keeping it for Eric until he wants it back.
The phone rang. It was Trish. “Hey, I know it’s short notice, but I’m in town and wondering if you’ve made any plans for dinner?”
Donny gave her his address and she said she’d be there at six. Donny took a shower, shaved, and changed into slacks and a collared shirt. He smirked as he thought that this was his official first date with a girl.
Trish pulled up in a bright red Mercedes convertible, and he met her at the door. She gave him a peck on the cheek and he showed her into the living room. “Wow,” she said, then made a point as if she was looking for someone.
“What are you looking for?”
“Where’s your mom?” Trish replied.
“Well, damn, Donny, this does not look like the home of a twenty-something single guy. This place should look like a frat house. There should be posters of naked models, dart boards, Nintendos, and pizza boxes in the trash can.” She noticed the piano. “You play?”
“Oh, no, it’s just...”
She played a chord. It twanged, and she shuddered. “Needs a tuning.”
“Do you play?”
“Took lessons for years. Pretty good, if I do say so.” She pulled out the bench and played a few bars of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. “Ouch. I know a guy. I’ll have him call you.”
He offered beer, soda, or water, and she took the beer. He poured some Planter’s mix into a cereal bowl and they sat on the patio. Once they got through the pleasantries, Trish grinned at him knowingly.
“You’ve been holding out on me,” she said.
“You don’t just ‘know’ Lance Michaels. He was the guy you were talking about when we were on the patio.” She lit a cigarette and waited for him to answer.
Donny decided there wasn’t any point in denying it. “Yeah.”
“Damn,” she sighed. “He’s...” She shook her head. “There’s something about those eyes of his. Makes me melt.”
Donny grinned. “Yeah, I know. So...how’d you figure it out?”
“Didn’t. Minza told me.”
“Minza Calevro. She worked on that series Lance was on a couple of years ago...what was it; ‘Capitol Dome’ or something. She and I went to high school together and we get together now and then. She asked about the wedding, she asked who was there, I told her about you, and she said that you and Lance....” She paused, letting out a trickle of smoke. “So... he was the guy who you didn’t have much in common with other than sex, right?”
“Right,” said Donny. He vaguely remembered Minza; she had been one of the people that Mike had had at his cookout when he came back from filming scenes in Washington for Capitol Hill. She was the short one with dark hair and Italian/Mediterranean looks...or was that Audrey? “Well,” he went on, “we had a little more in common. We actually lived together for a while until his agent broke that up.”
Trish nodded approvingly. “Lived together? That’s cool.”
“In this house, as a matter of fact.”
“He moved in with you? No wonder his agent didn’t like it.”
“Well, not exactly....” Donny explained about how Mike had rented this house, and then went into the story about the earthquake, the sharing of the old house, Idyllwild, and Donny buying this house.
“Jesus,” Trish said with a laugh. “It sounds like a TV show.”
Donny smiled. “Yeah, doesn’t it.”
Trish said she knew of a little Italian restaurant, so they went there. “I have another little confession to make,” Trish said once they were seated. “I had my dad look you up.”
“What is he, a private eye?”
“Almost. He’s a lawyer for Universal.”
“Uh huh. So what did he find out?”
“That your company is one of the few of these new dot coms that has a chance of actually making it.” She pored over the menu. “The veal piccata’s good here.”
“So, what else did your dad find out?”
“Oh, the usual stuff. The company’s net worth, the major investors, sales records, Dun and Bradstreet type things. You know.” She looked at him and grinned. “Oh, and that you’re not just a software mogul. You’re friends with Paul Jeffries and you and he are working on a project with Aaron White and Jeremy Dixon. Something about two brothers.”
“Oh, that. Yeah. Well, I didn’t work on it; I guess Aaron got the idea from me and Dan, that’s all.”
“And there was something else. Something in development. Something for a TV series?” She smirked a little and took a piece of bread out of the basket.
Donny smirked back. “Why don’t you just tell me what you know? That way we don’t have to play this little game.”
She laughed and shook her head. “Damn, you’re gonna do all right. Okay, here’s what I’ve got so far from Minza and my dad. You and Aaron came up with this idea for a show about four gay guys in a house here in L.A. You pitched it out at Palm Springs and you got some interest out of it, so now Aaron’s working up some spec scripts to shop around, and the word is that there’s some early interest in it from Jeremy Dixon’s people. Plus, you’ve hired Gina Roscoe as your agent.” She munched a corner of the bread. “How’d I do?”
“Close,” replied Donny. The waiter came by and took their drink orders. “First, it was an idea that I got thanks to Mike’s prodding, and he’s the one who showed it to Aaron. Then...”
“Trish interrupted, “Mike?”
“I mean Lance. Mike’s his real name. Mike Lankowski, as a matter of fact. Your dad didn’t tell you that?”
“Never asked.” She smiled a little. “Yeah, he looks like a ‘Mike.’”
“Anyway, Aaron, who was working on that movie about the two brothers, liked the idea of the four guys living together and talked me into seeing if it would fly. And no, Gina Roscoe isn’t my agent. Not yet. I haven’t signed up with her officially.”
Donny shrugged. “I guess, although I don’t think anything’s gonna come of it.” He told her about the lunch with Aaron and his disappointment with the treatments. “It sounds like just another crappy sitcom, and they treat the gay guys like freaks. The only normal one in the whole group is the straight guy.”
“The one Jeremy wants to play.”
“You got it.”
The waiter brought their drinks and they both ordered the veal piccata. “Look, Donny, you want my advice?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Not really; just thought I’d ask.” She flashed a grin, and then shook her head. “Get out while the getting’s good. Show business sucks and the people in it are in it for themselves and the money. That’s it. They don’t care about a message or art or anything other than cranking something out that they can get on the air and grab their piece of the pie. All this talk about creativity and craft is just bullshit. It’s like cars. You think GM or Ford really believes all that crap about ‘the heartland of America’ and stuff? Hell, they just wanna sell cars and trucks and they know that people have some emotional attachment to their product, so they milk it all they can. It’s all image. No one cares, and if you had some idea that anyone out here was gonna actually think that they could change their attitudes about gays because of some half-hour show, well....”
“It was going to be an hour. Like thirtysomething.”
She waved a breadstick. “Whatever. It’s twenty-two or forty-four minutes of space around which the sponsors try to sell tampons and floor wax. All they care about is getting the most number of people to tune in so they can shill their products and not upset the people in flyover country.”
“Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio. The states you fly over between here and New York.”
“Like my folks.”
“Exactly. Oh, do your folks know about you?”
“You mean do they know I’m gay?”
“And...nothing. No big deal.” Donny remembered sitting by Aunt Barbara and Uncle Ron’s pool and talking to his mother on Christmas night. It seemed like a very long time ago.
“Wow. Well, there’s one Afterschool Special shot to hell. Anyway, that’s my advice. Take it or leave it. You’ve already made a name for yourself in one business; there’s no need to try to impress anybody else.”
“I wasn’t trying to. I just thought, hey, what the hell. If Jack Magahee is...”
“Wait a second....Jack Magahee? He’s a backer of this project?”
“Yeah. At least he’s the one who I met in Palm Springs and had lunch with.”
“Wow.” Trish seemed genuinely impressed.
“So you know him.”
“I thought he was some super-secret guy; the ‘biggest unknown known in the business.’” replied Donny.
“Well, he is,” said Trish. “But to people like my dad, Jack Magahee’s like one of the most influential people in town.” She raised her wine glass. “Congratulations.”
“So you still think I should get out while the getting’s good?”
“Oh, yeah. Just because Jack Magahee’s in on it doesn’t mean anything other than you’ll be taken seriously and probably get this one thing on the air. But then....” The waiter brought their salads.
“But then...?” Donny said after the waiter left.
“But then you’re on your own,” Trish said. “See, this place is full of one-hit wonders who are now game show hosts on syndicated TV, or aging guys in toupees signing autographs at sci-fi conventions for people who dress up like Klingons, or recovering drug addicts in the carpet cleaning business in the Valley. If your little project takes off, the next thing they’ll want to know is ‘okay, that was fun. Now what?’ And if that one thing is all you’ve got...” She delicately lifted an anchovy out of the Caesar salad and laid it aside. “Hate those things,” she muttered.
“I’ll be just another anchovy in the Caesar salad of Hollywood,” Donny said.
Trish smiled. “You are a writer, aren’t you?’
They stopped at a liquor store on the way back to the house where Trish picked up a bottle of white wine. “You should always have this in the house for unexpected company,” she said as she got back in the car.
“Good idea,” Donny said.
They sat on the patio again and smoked. Donny offered to open the wine, but she shook her head. “Gotta drive back to Newport Beach, and I’ve already had a beer and wine. Right on the edge here.”
Donny lit a cigarette. “Y’know, I’ve already pretty much committed to this project. I’m supposed to meet with Jeremy Dixon about my ‘concerns.’”
Trish grinned. “Love to be a fly on the wall for that little chat.”
“Well, I hear he can be very charming and persuasive, but I’m sure under all of that innocent aw-shucks boy-next-door façade he knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. He didn’t get to where he is on his bright blue eyes and dimples. If you were ever a Boy Scout, now’s the time to remember your motto – Be Prepared.”
“I will be,” Donny said. “If he doesn’t want to do it the way I wrote it, then the hell with it.”
Trish snubbed out her cigarette. “Easy said, Donny. But remember, in this town, writers are at about the same level as the kid who gets the coffee. Be prepared for him and everybody else to walk away from it like they never heard of you, or even worse, for him to try and fuck you over until he gets exactly what he wants.”
“That’s fine,” said Donny with a shrug. “I already have a job, and even if that craters, I can always go back to Ohio and pound nails or be the head cart wrangler at K-Mart.”
Trish was about to answer when the doorbell rang, and Donny glanced at his watch, wondering who would be coming by at nine-fifteen. “Be right back,” he said.
It was Mike. “Hey, I was wondering if I could leave a couple of boxes with you; y’know, some CD’s, books, clothes and stuff that I don’t want to take up to Idyllwild.” He looked backed to the driveway and saw the Mercedes. “Oh, you got company?” he said with a tinge of disappointment, and Donny decided that Mike’s story of dropping off some boxes was really a pretty thin excuse for him to drop by on the chance that they could have sex one last time before he left.
“No, that’s okay. C’mon in.”
Mike looked through the living room, out to the sunroom, to where Trish was sitting on the patio. She was politely not looking into the house. He raised his eyebrows. “You trying out for the other team?” he whispered to Donny.
“No,” Donny replied, looking askance. “She’s a friend of Rob and Marcy’s. She lives in Newport Beach and we just went out to dinner, that’s all. C’mon, I’ll introduce you.”
They went back out to the patio. “Trish, this is...” Donny began, but Mike held out his hand and put on his best celebrity-greeting smile. “Hi, I’m Lance Michaels.”
Trish smiled back. “Trish Owens. Nice to meet you. I’m a big fan.”
“Well, thanks, that’s really nice to hear.”
They sat down again and Donny explained to Mike how he and Trish had met at the wedding. Mike smiled and then starting asking Trish about where she was from, what she did, all the while paying close attention to her and listening to what she was saying. Donny could see that he was, even now, playing a part. There was a touch of flirtation in his voice, and his body, though relaxed, sent subtle signals; his legs were spread slightly, one hand resting near his crotch (which Donny noted was temptingly well-packaged), and when he casually lifted his other hand to move his hair out of his eyes, his biceps jumped to attention as if to show them off a little. Trish seemed to enjoy both the attention and the view, and Donny smiled to himself; he had rarely seen Mike in full hetero-defense mode, and it was, in a way, almost cute.
They talked for a while, not completely ignoring Donny. Aside from their mutual friend Minza, it turned out that Mike’s new agent, Jason Steinberg, had worked with her father before going to CAA.
“This is a small town,” Trish said.
“I’m finding that out,” Mike said, glancing at Donny.
“So what is Jason doing for you now?” Trish asked.
“Well, actually,” Mike said, “We’re looking at some offers from out of town; indie films, maybe even some regional theatre; kind of broaden my horizons, y’know.” He glanced at Donny again.
“That sounds like fun,” Trish said. “I hear Val Kilmer did Hamlet at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival a while back.”
“Yeah, well,” said Mike with a deprecating laugh, “I’m not that good. Val went to Juilliard. I didn’t even finish up at MSU.”
“But still,” Trish said. “Nothing ventured...”
“Sure,” said Mike. He sat up and smiled, “Well, listen, I didn’t mean to bust in on you guys like this, I just wanted to...uh...drop off a couple of things; I’m heading out of town for a week or two.” He looked at Donny again, this time inclining his head toward the front door.
Trish asked where the bathroom was and Donny pointed it out to her.
It turned out that Mike did have a couple of cartons of books and old scripts, including the final shooting script from Silver Star signed by all of the cast and crew, and a collection of records, tapes, and CD’s that ranged from The Cure to Foreigner to Joe Jackson. They put them in the corner of the empty bedroom across from Danny’s boxes.
“Thanks,” Mike said, wiping his hands on his jeans. They went out into the living room and Mike pulled out his car keys.
“So when are you leaving?”
“Crap of dawn Friday,” he replied. “I’m already out of the house, staying at that little Best Western over on...” he waved in the general direction of downtown Santa Monica.
“You could stay here,” Donny said.
“Oh, thanks, that’s okay...I’m just running around town making sure everything’s cool before I go. ‘Sides,” he grinned a little, “I already gave you back the key.”
“You know, you don’t have to go.”
“I’m really kinda tired, Donny, but thanks.”
“No, I mean you don’t have to go to Michigan. You can just head up to Idyllwild, kick back, spend some time by yourself. Or stay here. I’ve got a spare room.”
Mike shook his head. “I need to get the fuck out of this town, Donny. The sooner the better.” He glanced back to where the bathroom was, where Trish still was. The door was still closed. He moved close to Donny and whispered, “There’s some other things that are happening...”
He was interrupted by the distant sound of the toilet flushing and the door to the bathroom opening. He stepped back and instantly went back to Lance mode when Trish appeared.
“I really need to be heading home,” she said and held out her hand to Mike. “It was really nice meeting you.”
Mike took her hand and held it. “Pleasure’s all mine, Trish,” he said with a touch of husk to his voice. He glanced at Donny and smiled. “I gotta take off, too. I’ll call you.” He nodded and smiled at Trish and strode quickly across the lawn to his Range Rover.
Donny walked Trish out to her car. “I don’t know how you do it,” she said. “You’ve got two guys who are crazy about you; Mike and Eric.”
“Naw...” Donny said feebly.
“Oh, yeah, he’s got it bad for you. He was looking at me, but I know the signs when I see them; the basket, the muscle-flexing. He’s in love with you. Or something.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks for the dinner, and good luck, Donny” she said. “You’re gonna need it.” She backed out of the driveway, waved, and drove off.
First thing Thursday morning Donny got a call from a woman who said she was an assistant to Jack Magahee and, in a very businesslike manner, said that she was putting Donny down for lunch with Mr. Dixon at one o’clock on Friday and that a car would be sent to his office to pick him up. Donny thanked her, told Lily to put it on his calendar, and went back to work on the updates to the revision of the company health plan.
It was almost twelve-thirty on Friday when Mike called. “Hey, you know that old song, ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’?”
“Sorta,” said Donny, glancing up at Marc who was standing next to his desk with a large multi-page spreadsheet. Marc looked at him quizzically as if to say “should I leave?” and Donny shook his head to say “no, that’s okay.”
“Well, that’s where I am. Sorry to interrupt your evening the other night. I appreciated your offer, but...”
“No, that’s okay, Mike” Donny replied, looking at Marc, who nodded. “It was just... y’know.”
“Nice meeting Trish, too.”
“Yeah,” Donny replied. “She...it was ... nice.”
Mike chuckled. “Yeah. Well, anyway, I’m on my way. I’ll call you when I get there. Oh, and the management company in Idyllwild knows that you get to use the place for free if you ever feel like going up there. Just give ‘em a call and let ‘em know you and your buddy are headed up there.”
“Okay,” replied Donny curtly.
“I know you’re at work, so...”
“Yeah, okay. Have a good trip, Mike.”
“Okay. Well.... I’ll be in touch.”
Donny looked apologetically at Marc. “Sorry about that. Mike’s on his way to Michigan.”
“You could call it that,” said Donny. “He’s got a case of Hollywood burnout, I guess, so he’s driving up to see his folks and just hang out for a while.”
“Huh,” said Marc.
Donny was pretty sure that Marc would find a nice way of saying No, but he asked the next question anyway. “He said I could use his house in Idyllwild if there’s a weekend that’s free. You interested?”
For a second Marc stared at the spreadsheet, and then slowly smiled a little. “Yeah,” he said. “That might be fun.”
“Well, okay then.”
They went back to work on the spreadsheet, laying it out on Donny’s table and discussing the budget projections until the intercom beeped. “Mr. Hollenbeck, you have a visitor in the lobby,” said Irene through the speakerphone.
Donny looked at his watch and said, “Oh, shit,” remembering his lunch date. “I’ll be right there, Irene.”
“It’s Jeremy Dixon,” replied the tinny voice.
Donny went over to his desk and grabbed the phone. “Well, send him up,” he said and hung up. “How about that,” said Donny. He looked at Marc, expecting him to be just as surprised, but Marc was staring out the window.
Labels: "Small Town Boys"