Saturday, October 01, 2005

Small Town Boys - Chapter 19

Chapter 1
Chapter 2, Part 1
Chapter 2, Part 2
Chapter 2, Part 3
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18

Connections – 1992

Paul Jeffries’ house was a Tudor style on a quiet street near Griffith Park. To Donny it looked like a typical home in a Midwestern upper-class suburb, and the rest of the houses on the block could have been in Ottawa Hills outside of Toledo. The cars in the driveway were high-end imports, and the yards were meticulously landscaped.

Donny wasn’t sure what to wear to a Hollywood party, so he put on an oxford shirt, a light sweater, and chinos. When Mike showed up to pick him up, he was wearing an open-necked shirt and grey slacks.

“Who’s gonna be there?” Donny had asked as they got into the car.

“People from the business, some of Paul’s friends. Not a big turn-out.”


Mike shook his head tersely. “Nah. He got me invited, but it’s not his kind of party.”

There were several cars parked along the street in front of Paul’s house. Mike parked down the street. “I heard there are gonna be some directors,” he said as he walked past the cars.

“That’s good?”

“Hey, anything to move up in the world.”

Mike rang the doorbell, and a moment later the door was opened by a middle-aged Asian man in a white housecoat. He nodded as Mike said their names and led into the main hall, past a large living room on the left, a dining room on the right, and a curving staircase over a hall that led out to the back. There was a large patio under a canvas awing with white wrought-iron furniture and a bar set-up. The pool was at the center of a large backyard with low shrubs, flowering plants in beds around the yard, surrounded by a high wall covered with ivy. Several portable cabana tents equipped with big loungers and lit by soft yellow lights were set up around the pool. Smooth jazz was playing from hidden speakers in the hedges.

There were perhaps ten or so people – all men – standing around with drinks, chatting quietly or strolling around the patio. They ranged in age from their late twenties up to seventy, all dressed casually but elegantly, and Donny wondered if he was the youngest. He looked around and saw that there were some guys his age, all in swim trunks, out by the pool. They were all very good looking and muscular, and one of them was Marc, the waiter from the Mexican restaurant. He was tossing a Nerf football back and forth with another guy. When he saw Donny he grinned at him and gave him a thumbs-up. Donny nodded in return and went to get a drink. Mike was already at the bar.

“Nice place,” Donny said.

“Scotch and soda, please. Yeah, not bad,” Mike replied looking around. “Seen our host?”

“Not yet.”

Paul appeared a moment later and came over and greeted them, patting Mike on the shoulder and shaking Donny’s hand. “Glad you could make it, boys.” He picked up a glass of white wine. “Let me introduce you to some of the guests. Mike, you might know most of them.”

He took them to a small knot of men standing by a corner of the pool and rattled off their names. They sounded vaguely familiar to Donny; one or two he knew from hearing Mike mention them or from movie credits, and some he recognized from the TV or movie screen. They all were very polite and smiled at him, and Donny noticed that they all gave him what he assumed was an appraising look. “My pleasure,” said one that Paul had said was Ira Somebody. “I’ve heard of you.”

Donny wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he just grinned and said, “Thanks,” wondering why he couldn’t come up with something a little more responsive.

They mingled, Donny meeting more people with names he sort of knew, and he fell into a somewhat stilted conversation with a pudgy director about shooting films on location. This came about when he asked Donny where he was from. He had told him, and the director said something about Alfred Hitchcock shooting a movie in the Midwest.

More people drifted out to the patio, mostly couples, mostly middle-aged men, although some were younger, until there were about thirty people standing around talking, laughing, drinking, and generally doing what people do at cocktail parties. Donny noticed that Mike was very good at mingling. He smiled and listened and asked the right questions and was utterly charming. He knew how to play the flirting game, too. When one of the older men squeezed Mike on the bicep and leaned in to whisper something, Mike listened, laughed, and returned the touch.

Donny went to the bar to get another drink. As he was waiting a very familiar voice said, “Club soda with lime, please.” Donny glanced over to see that he was standing next to man whom he’d heard described as a Hollywood legend. He was well-dressed, wearing aviator glasses, shorter than Donny by several inches, and he looked rather like any man in his late sixties, but it was him. He’d heard the voice on many TV shows, including his long-running series that had won five Emmys. As used as he was to being around the stars now, Donny still did a small double-take.

The actor glanced at him, smiled, and held out his hand. “Hi. I’m Jim McGruder.”

“Donny Hollenbeck.”

“Nice to meet you, Donny.” He took his glass and nodded at the bartender. “Thanks. Friend of Paul’s?”

“Well, I’m here with a friend. Lance. Lance Michaels.”

Jim smiled. “Nice kid. Seen his work. Hear he’s doing that new series, uh...”

Capitol Hill.”

Jim nodded. “That’s it.” He sipped his drink. “So, what are you in?”

“Oh, I’m not an actor.”

“Oh? What do you do?”

“Well, right now I’m writing software.”

“Really? For computers?”


For the next twenty minutes, Jim quizzed Donny about computers, asked him about how he got involved with them, what kind of computer he used, where he grew up and went to school. They found a couple of comfortable chairs off to the side and ignored the rest of the party except for the occasional visit by one of the other guests who came up to Jim to say hello. Each time he’d introduce Donny and chat for a moment, then they’d get back into their discussion. In all this time Jim said nothing about his work, what he was doing now, or anything at all to do with him.

“What’s the name of the program you’re working on again?”

“Pelican.” Donny explained the origin of the name and Jim chuckled. “I like that,” he said. “It goes on sale next week?”


“So you’re writing the program?”

“Well, me and the guy I work for, Eric. Eric McKay.”

“But you don’t build the computers yourself? That seems to be what everyone else is doing.”

“Nah, we just sell them the stuff. I’m not mechanical. Besides, there’s a limit to how much you can put in a computer, I mean like memory and stuff, or how small you can make the chips. So we just do the software and let the techs figure out how to plug in the wires.”

Jim said, “The only limit to software is your imagination, eh?”

Donny nodded. “Yeah, that’s about it.”

“Got a card?”

Donny pulled out his wallet and handed him one that Greg had whipped up for him. It was nothing fancy; just the company name, Donny’s name, and the address and phone number. He handed it to Jim. He looked it over. “McKay-Gemini,” he murmured, then stuck it in his shirt pocket. “Well, I guess I’d better mingle,” he said, standing up. “It’s been nice meeting you, Don. Good luck.” They shook hands and Jim went over to a small group standing by the bar.

A dinner buffet was set up on the corner of the patio and served by young Hispanic men in white coats. He and Mike lined up to be served and Donny found himself standing next to Marc, who had put on a shirt and sandals. Marc nodded at him and said, “Hey, I owe you one.”

Donny shrugged. “Sure, no problem. Any time.” All he’d done was pass on the postcard resume to Paul. It was nothing, he thought.

“Okay, cool. Keep in touch,” Marc grinned, took a serving of meatless lasagna, and went off to sit with the other pool boys who had taken over a small table by the pool. Donny and Mike found room at a table with some of the cast of Capitol Hill. The waiters poured wine. Donny tried some, but after seeing Mike take a big gulp of his glass, decided to go for water instead. He ate silently while the rest of the table chatted about people that he didn’t know. He saw that Jim was sitting several tables away with Paul and some of the other recognizable faces from the industry.

As they finished eating, Paul rose, tapped his wine glass for attention, and thanked all his guests for coming and hoped they were enjoying themselves. The dessert cart was making the rounds, he announced, “and it will make some of us round as well,” he added, which got an appreciative chuckle from the audience. He said that he would be showing some clips of some new projects and screen tests of some new talent in the theatre after dinner, “plus one or two surprises, but for those of you who would rather just sit outside and enjoy the evening, the pool’s available,” he added with a bit of a knowing chuckle, and he got one or two chuckles in response to that, too. Donny took a slice of chocolate cake.

When the table had been cleared, Donny excused himself. Mike was deep in a conversation with a director about Steven Spielberg and just nodded and smiled at him quickly before going back to the discussion. Donny didn’t mind; he knew it was important for Mike to make these connections.

He wandered in the general direction of the house, and decided he needed to use the bathroom. The one on the first floor was in use, so he asked the houseman if there was another. He was shown to the one at the top of the stairs. When he was finished, he glanced around, and seeing he was alone, decided to explore a little. After all, he thought, the house was open downstairs, and there were lights on up here too. Still, he moved quietly so as not to draw attention.

The hall was lined with paintings and photographs, many of them of desert or mountain landscapes, and a few with people in them. The furnishings were antique of a vintage Donny didn’t recognize, but he could see they were high quality; tasteful and understated. This was the home of a person with both an eye for fine things and the money to pay for them.

There were several doors that were closed, but the two that were open were to nicely-furnished guest rooms with double beds and windows that looked out over the backyard. The casements were open and he could hear the music from out by the pool. It was Kenny G or Chuck Mangioni.

The master suite was at the end of the hall. The door was open and the lights were on. A ceiling fan spun slowly overhead. Feeling a little like he was snooping, Donny stepped in. The room was large, occupying the entire end of the house with windows facing the side and backyard. The carpet was thick, the brush marks of the vacuum still visible in a pattern of wheat stalk-like strokes. The wallpaper was a light taupe above a chair rail with burgundy below. There was a large king-size bed at the far end with mounds of pillows against the carved mahogany headboard. An armoire stood at the other end, and two chests of drawers were against the near wall. A kidney-shaped desk was in the corner with a small desk lamp, a multi-line telephone, and a collection of small photos in frames, all of them of Paul with another man. Donny guessed it was his late partner.

In spite of its impressive size, the room felt cozy and welcoming, and the light from the bedside table was soft and warm. Donny imagined sleeping and waking up in a room like this, padding across the carpet to the dressing room off in the corner, the bathroom and shower visible from the side of the bed. He imagined what it would be like to be in the bed with someone and still have the room to stretch out – the bed was probably half again as large as the one in Mike’s house. He wondered what it would be like to make love on a bed like that.

A door closed downstairs and Donny went back out to the hall. But as he left he caught a glimpse of something on one of the chairs in the corner behind the door; something out of place with the rest of the room. He went back and looked. It was a bright red OceanPacific daypack. The top was open; a Gold’s Gym muscle shirt and a pair of Levi’s were stuffed inside. Donny knew that the daypack and the clothes weren’t Paul’s. Well, now he knew what Marc had thanked him for.

He tiptoed down the stairs and was about to step off the bottom step but stopped short when he heard voices coming from the living room. The steps ended just before the archway, so he was still out of view of anyone in the room. What made him come up short was hearing someone saying his name.

“Don,” said a voice in the living room. “That’s his name. Don Hollister, I think.”

“The blond number with the basket out to here?” said another voice.

“No, Irwin, that’s Paul’s latest. I’m talking about Lance’s boyfriend. I heard he picked him up on Venice Beach.” Donny now recognized the voice of Ira Somebody. He had a New York accent.

“No shit?”

“That’s what I heard. They’ve been together since at least May.”


“They were at the Villa when I was out there the weekend before Memorial Day.”

“Can you believe it?” said Irwin. “Lance Michaels getting serious about some trick off the beach?”

“Well... he’s not just some trick. He’s got a job in computers or something.”

“You know this how?”

“Paul told me. Nice kid, good background, solid job.” There was silence for a moment, then Ira added, “Of course, chances are that Paul found that out while he was shtupping him.” The other men laughed. “Oh...and get this; he’s got a twin brother.”

“Ooh,” someone sighed, “twins. Can you just imagine...”

Donny had never heard the word “shtupping,” but he had a pretty good idea what it meant. His ears started to get warm and he felt trapped on the stairs. If he stepped off he would be in full view of the living room, which would be embarrassing for everyone and probably bad for Mike. But if someone came along from the other part of the house, it would look very strange for him to be standing on the bottom step, obviously eavesdropping. He went back up a couple of steps and stared at the pictures that lined the curved stairwell. He could still hear the voices in the living room.

“Never thought I’d see Lance get involved with anyone,” said Ira. “He’s been like a monk for so long and then suddenly....”

A third voice, deep and smoky, said, “Who says he’s a monk?”

“You know anybody that says he gets around?”

“Just because you haven’t fucked him doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t,” said the third man. Ice tinkled as he sipped a drink. “I’m sure if you get a few drinks in him he’ll drop his pants like any other hungry hottie out there. Jesus Christ, there were times back in the seventies I could get a blowjob on the hour just by walking across the commissary parking lot.”

Ira said, “Times have changed, Stuart. And so have you. The Big Five-Oh last week.”

They all chuckled at that, and Stuart replied genially, “Fuck you, Ira.”

“We tried that. Remember back when we were working together at Warner’s?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Then you met Joey and I never had a chance.”

Stuart sighed. “Joey. What a guy. Damn, I miss him.”

“May he rest in peace,” said Ira.

“He had a dick like a railroad spike. A cat couldn’t scratch it.”

Another silence, more ice tinkling, then Ira said wistfully, “So Lance has a boyfriend.”

“Mmm,” said Stuart.

“Disappointed? It’s no secret that you’ve made it your life’s mission to plow Lance Michaels’ ass.”

“And every other kid’s ass, too,” said Irwin.

Leather creaked as someone shifted in their chair. “What is life without ambition,” said Stuart, and the other men laughed heartily.

Donny was about to step off the stairs and say something like “Hey, guys,” but a houseman came out of the kitchen hallway, so Donny turned and went quickly up the stairs. There had to be a backstairs, he thought, and after trying several doors down one hall, he went down another and found them. They led into the kitchen where a crew of men and women in catering uniforms were bustling trays and glassware and speaking loudly in Spanish. They didn’t even notice Donny as he trotted off the landing and out the back door to the carport.

A white Ford Econoline was backed under the carport. Emilio’s Fine Foods was written in blue and gold letters across the door. Donny leaned against it and lit a cigarette, the flame of the lighter trembling. He took a deep drag and let it out slowly, the smoke burning his eyes a little. Over the hedge that blocked the backyard he could hear voices and the same track of the smooth jazz that was playing when he’d been standing in the master bedroom. He closed his eyes to rub the smoke out, then made his way back through the gate and into the garden.

The path was lit with small lights, and he found an iron bench on the edge of the lawn and sat down. The crowd had thinned out. Some were still sitting at the tables, the candles in the hurricane lamps still lit. The pool was calm, but the flaps on all the cabanas were shut and the light from inside one of them flickered and went out. The others were dark. Someone in one of them was laughing and someone else said, “Oh, I like that.” Tinny soundtrack music came from an open window on the first floor of the house, the curtains lit by a bluish glow. The theatre, Donny thought, and he heard a line of film dialogue and canned laughter.

Mike was still at the table, still talking to the director. He was smoking and nodding as the director talked and gestured with his hands. They were too far away for Donny to hear what they were saying, but the director seemed to be doing most of the talking. Mike nodded attentively. A waiter came by and refilled their wine glasses.

Donny finished his cigarette and looked for a place to put the butt – he didn’t want to just flick it into the grass – and found a small hanging ashtray at the end of the bench. He was about to stand up and go to the bar for something when the three men who had been in the living room came out to the bar. Donny recognized Ira. Irwin was shorter and stockier and looked to be in his mid-fifties, wearing a madras golf shirt and Dockers. The third man was tall, dark-haired with a mustache and surprisingly young-looking with a trim frame and veined biceps tugging at the sleeves of his polo shirt. He spoke to the bartender and Donny knew he was Stuart. Donny thought that if he was fifty, he was in good shape for someone that old.

Paul came up to them and patted Stuart on the shoulder. They stood and chatted for a moment, then Paul went into the house. Stuart moved off the patio and down the lawn towards Mike’s table. As he approached Mike looked up and stood up quickly. Stuart put out his hand and Mike took it, then they both sat, Stuart with his back to Donny. He began talking and Mike leaned forward, listening intently, nodding and smiling. Donny couldn’t hear what was being said, but Stuart did all the talking. After a moment the other man sitting at the table excused himself. Mike and Stuart barely acknowledged his departure, but now that he was gone, Stuart leaned forward and put a hand on Mike’s shoulder.

Donny got up and crossed the lawn, sitting back down in his chair next to Mike. Stuart nodded at him and said hello.

“Hi,” replied Donny casually.

Mike made the introductions, and they shook hands. “Stuart is going to direct Silver Star,” Mike said.

“Oh, great,” said Donny as if he knew what he was talking about.

“Nothing’s in stone yet,” demurred Stuart. “But it looks like it. We’ll know in a month or so.” Stuart stood up. “I just thought I’d stop by and say hi, Lance.” Mike stood up and they shook hands again. “I’ll have Jack talk to Marty on Monday. See where we’re going with it. Nice to meet you... Don, is it?”

“Yeah, nice to meet you, too.”

Stuart went off down towards the pool. Mike looked at Donny and smiled.

“That’s why Marty wanted me to come to the party. To meet him.”

Silver Star is the western?” asked Donny.

“Yeah. Some big names are already signed up to do it and now it looks like Stuart is on board, too. And he likes my work, he says.” Mike looked off in the direction of the pool for a moment. “So,” he said, “having a good time?”

“Yeah, it’s”

“I saw you talking to James McGruder.”

“Yeah, that was cool.”

“What’d you talk about?”

“Not much. Computers and work, mostly.”


“Yeah, he seemed interested in it.”

Mike chuckled. “You met one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and spent the entire time talking about computers.”

“Hey, it was his idea.”

“Well, he’s probably tired of talking shop all the time. I noticed that he made the rounds, talked to you for a long time, ate dinner, stuck around as long as it was polite, and left.” Mike finished off his wine. “So...who was that kid you talked to?”


“That kid. The blond buff boy. When we were getting our food.”

“Oh, he was the waiter at the restaurant where Paul took me for dinner.”

“Oh yeah?”

Donny told him about the encounter in the men’s room and the postcard resume. Mike nodded. “Yeah, I guess that’s one way to network. He probably thought you were...y’know...Paul’s date.” He waved his wine glass at a passing waiter and it was refilled.

“Yeah, probably,” said Donny uncomfortably.

“So,” said Mike quietly, “are you going to do him?”


“You gonna do him? Your waiter friend.”

Donny looked at Mike, stunned for a moment. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Well, he said, ‘I owe you one,’ and you said, ‘no problem,’ or words to that effect.”


“So ... that means that he owes you a favor for getting him to meet Paul, and you would be happy to oblige him. And in some circles that means he’s gonna give you a blowjob that will make you forget your own name.” Mike took a large gulp of the wine.

Donny looked at Mike scornfully. “Not gonna happen.”

“Could be fun.”

“Not interested.”

Mike shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

Donny glared at Mike and was about to tell him that he knew Marc was already spoken for – at least tonight – but he could see that Mike was getting drunk and there was no point in arguing with him. He looked at his watch. It was barely nine o’clock. He groaned inwardly. This would be a long night.

Mike stood up slowly. “C’mon, let’s go see what they’re showing in the theatre,” he said. They went into the house and found the theatre. Paul was standing by the door.

“Oh, good, I was about to come looking for you,” he said. “We’re just about to start.”

The theatre was just that; a small movie theatre. It was dimly lit with large comfortable chairs and a wide screen at the other end of the room. Blackout curtains lined the wall but they were open to let in the cool night air. Several other men, including Stuart, were already seated. “Have a seat,” said Paul, indicating empty chairs in the middle. “I was able to get my hands on a copy of the rough cut of the first episode of Capitol Hill.” He nodded to someone in the back of the room. “Okay, let’s go.”

The lights dimmed and the screen lit up. After a few seconds of leader footage with numbers and letters, the music began and the credits came up. They were in alphabetical order, so Mike’s name came up in the middle under a snapshot of him looking earnestly off-angle at the camera. There were some appreciative murmurs from the audience. The last credit, “and Rory Donovan as Senator Jonathan Steele,” popped up under the crescendo of music, and went to the opening scene.

When it was over the lights came up and everyone applauded. Stuart, who was sitting in front of them, turned around and smiled at Mike. “Very nice,” he said. “Good work.” The other men, including Ira, came up and said the same thing, patting Mike on the shoulder and wishing him luck with the series.

It was almost ten. “Let’s go,” said Mike quietly once they were outside. They said goodnight to Paul and thanked him for everything, and he walked them to the front door. “Looks like a winner,” he said to Mike.

As they went down the sidewalk Mike handed Donny the car keys. He was silent as they drove back to his house; the screening seemed to have sobered him up somewhat. It wasn’t until they were in the kitchen that Mike looked at Donny. “Well, what did you think of it,” he said flatly.

“It was okay. Not what I expected for a Hollywood party.”

“I meant the show.”

“Oh.” Donny got a glass and filled it with cold water from the door of the fridge. “It’s good,” he said non-judgmentally.

“Would you watch it?”


“Even if you didn’t know me?”


Mike looked at him for a moment as he sipped the water. Donny didn’t return the look. “I don’t believe you.”


“Look, I know it’s not your kind of show. It’s going after the L.A. Law crowd. It’s not aimed at the eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-old males with permanent hard-ons. It’s not The Dukes of Hazzard.”

“I never watched The Dukes of Hazzard.”

“Do you watch L.A. Law?”

“No,” Donny admitted.

“Question is,” Mike said, more to himself, “if anyone who watches L.A. Law will watch this. “Maybe the grand tour next week will help, but....”

“Have they told you where you’re going yet?”

“Nah. Just go out there and sell the shit out of the show on every local news show we can get our faces on.”

Donny finished his water. He wasn’t sure what to say now, so he just went over to Mike and gave him a hug. “You were good,” said Donny.

“I’m not the whole show. I’m just a supporting part. I’m the subplot, the diversion from the main story. I’m there to bring in the women and the gays. I’m ‘Jarrod Chase,’ the beefcake boy; that’s why they had that scene of me playing basketball in the Senate gym in shorts and no shirt. That’s why they have me dressed up like a fuckin’ GQ model. In the third episode I’m screwing some chick from the majority leader’s office. But that’s not gonna make the show a hit.” Mike looked around the kitchen. “Not gonna make it,” he repeated softly.



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