Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Small Town Boys - Chapter 48

Chapter Guide


Traffic was heavy on southbound I-75, but it kept moving. Mike was silent as he drove, occasionally muttering at the slower drivers. Donny dozed off after a while, the steady thrum of the tires and the bumps in the road lulling him into a semiconscious state, the music from the radio adding a weird background layer to his dreams; Paul McCartney’s “Comin’ Up” kept playing over and over.

They were just south of Wapakoneta (“Home of Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon”) when Mike suddenly said, “You never answered my question.”

“Huh?” replied Donny, snapping awake. “What question?”

“Why’d you get an agent?”

Donny sat up slowly, his back aching a little. “I told you. It was Jack’s idea,” he yawned.

“Well, you didn’t say no.”

“No, I didn’t. No skin off my ass, and if this thing takes off….”

“You talk to Eric or Greg about it?”

“No. Why should I?”

“They might like to know that one of their partners is moonlighting as a screenwriter and producer.”

“I don’t really think they give a shit. They get their money’s worth out of me and I haven’t missed any work because of it.”

It was starting to rain. Mike put the wipers on intermittent. A semi went past, throwing a spray of water from the wheels. “It’s not like being a producer is a part-time job, Donny. You’ll be called on to make a lot of decisions.”

“Like what?”

“Lots of stuff. Casting, directing, design, what studios to approach, where to shoot, how much to spend on stuff, working with the unions…” Mike glanced at him. “Who to hit up for money. This doesn’t fall from the skies, Donny. You’ve gotta find a bunch of other people who’ll sign on to put up the dough. How much are you putting up?”

Donny shifted in his seat again. “I don’t know yet.” He actually hadn’t thought about it.

“Well, you’ve gotta come up with a business plan. Jack Magahee may open a lotta doors for you, but you’re gonna have pay the admission. And even if Jack is behind it, that doesn’t mean that a lot of people will fall all over themselves to put up an investment. You talk to Paul about this?”

“No.” Donny couldn’t remember the last time he had talked to Paul Jeffries. It had been at least since the weekend at Palm Springs.

“Might not be a bad idea. He knows the nuts and bolts of the business. He’s the one who got Back Home Again up and running.”

Donny nodded and settled back in the seat. Mike lapsed into silence. The radio station started to fade, so he punched the seek button until he found another one. They were close to the Indiana border before he spoke again. “I really liked the script,” he said suddenly. It was the first time he’d said anything about it.

“Thanks,” Donny replied.

“You open to suggestions?”


“You know that it’s gonna go through a ton of rewrites before it’s done, right?”

“So I’ve heard.”

“And you’re ready for that.”

“Like they say, writers are one step above the kid who gets the coffee.”

“And don’t get paid as much,” Mike said with a snort.

“Right.” Donny glanced at him. “You have some ideas?”

Mike shrugged, glanced in the rearview mirror, and passed a semi that was slowing for an exit. “Just a couple of thoughts, that’s all.”


“Well, so far it’s just the four guys, right? Eric, Greg, Bobby, and Scott, right?”


“What about adding, say, some other characters? Maybe like a boss or a parent or something? Some connection with the outside world, so to speak?” He shot Donny a quick look. “Just a thought.”

“Okay,” he replied and stared out the window.

They stopped on the western side of Indianapolis for lunch at a McDonald’s, then Donny took over the driving. Mike reclined the seat and fell asleep almost instantly. The interstate wore on, the terrain changing little as they passed farm fields, small towns, billboards, and exits. The radio stations changed locations on the dial but still put out the same music and the same commercials; even the news didn’t change much.

As they neared St. Louis the traffic started to get heavy. Mike awoke with a start and sat up. “Where are we?”

“Coming up on Saint Looey,” said Donny. “Grab the atlas and let’s see if we can avoid going through the middle of town.”

Mike pulled the Rand-McNally out of the door pocket and flipped through it. “How’re you doing?”

“Fine. We’re gonna need some gas soon.”

“There’s an Amoco at the next exit.”

“Great. I need to take a leak.”

“Me too.”

They took turns in the men’s room, then Donny pumped the gas while Mike went in and paid. He came out with a couple of Snickers, Cokes, and two packs of Camels. “I had the weirdest dreams,” he said as he popped the top on the Coke. “You and me and Jeremy Dixon…”

“A three-way? No thanks.”

“No, it wasn’t like that. We were sitting on some set like we were shooting a movie or something. He was being all nice and sweet about it, too.”

Donny screwed the gas cap on. “Sounds like a dream.”

Mike walked away from the gas pumps to light a cigarette. “You thought about who else you’d like to see in it?”

Donny shrugged. “Sure; Matt Damon, Chris O’Donnell, Jason Priestley…”

Mike chuckled. “I’m talkin’ about in the project, not in the hot tub.”

“Not really. I just figured that the casting people would figure that out.”

“You might have a say in it.”

“Well, then…I don’t know. I guess it all depends on who shows up. Jack said he had a bunch of people who were interested.”

“Did he say who?”


Mike finished his cigarette. “That’s the thing. If you get a big name, the rest’ll come running. That’s why I was thinking that if you had a part for an older character, you might be able to get a big name. And since the older character doesn’t have to play a gay character it might be a good enough draw to get the names to play the gay parts, even if they – the actors – are straight. Kinda takes the stigma off it.” He opened the driver’s side door. “C’mon, let’s see if we can hit Joplin tonight.”

As they got back on the interstate, Donny said, “Y’know, you haven’t said you’d do it.”

Mike grinned a little. “Have your people talk to my people.”

Five hours later Mike pulled off the interstate where the signs indicated a Comfort Inn near the highway. They were just east of Joplin. Donny went into the lobby and registered since Mike didn’t want to run the risk of being recognized and be seen checking into a motel with another man. When he got to the space where the form asked for his car’s registration, he jotted down the plate from his Tahoe. They dumped their bags in the room – it had two queen size beds – and went across the parking lot to the family restaurant next door. It was almost empty, but Mike still sat with his back to the rest of the restaurant. The waitress brought them water, handed them menus, and left them alone.

Donny scanned the menu, decided on the chicken breast dinner, and stretched stiffly. He looked around. The only other patrons were an elderly couple several table over – the husband was reading Reader’s Digest while his wife filed her nails – and a table of four teens – two boys and two girls – at the other end of the room. “So,” Donny mused, “who do you think will watch it?”

“Watch what,” said Mike, still looking at the menu.

“The show. Small Town Boys.”

“I dunno, Donny. Why do you ask?”

“Well, I’m just wondering…look around. You think the folks in Joplin, Missouri, are gonna watch a series about four gay guys?”

Mike closed the menu and glanced over his shoulder. “Well, my guess is that if Jack Magahee thinks it will sell, he’s probably right. He’s from around here, y’know.”


“Yeah. Lebanon, Missouri. We passed it a ways back. His dad was in the dairy business. Still is, I think. Anyway, he has the knack, and if he thinks it’ll sell in Joplin, he may be right. Who knows; this town could be the gay capital of the Ozarks.”

Donny looked at the other customers. The teens were laughing over something and one girl loudly but laughingly protested; “Stop that, Wayne!”

“I kinda doubt it,” Donny said.

They ate quietly and went back to the room. Mike stretched out on one of the beds, turned on the TV and flipped through the channels. There wasn’t much on, so he left it on The Weather Channel as they got undressed. “One bed or two?” Mike asked with a shy grin. Donny pretended to think about it for a moment, then said, “One.” Mike chuckled, reached over, and tugged on Donny’s belt.

They were awake the next morning before dawn. They had pancakes and sausage at the restaurant, now crowded with truckers and locals, and were on the interstate as the sun was coming up through the remainder of the fog that had settled overnight.

Oklahoma became Texas without much notice from the vantage point of the interstate, and at mid-afternoon they stopped in Amarillo for a late lunch. They crossed the Texas-New Mexico border, passing a sign that told them that they were now one thousand miles from Los Angeles.

Sixty miles east of Albuquerque they stopped for gas. Donny got out and stretched. There was a small motel across the way and further into the town he could see a row of stores and buildings. He remembered seeing a billboard for a restaurant called The Tumbleweed that promised STEAKS. He looked at his watch; with the time change it was still early, but they were in no hurry.

“Whaddaya say we stop here for the night?” he said to Mike.

He looked around and shrugged. “Yeah, we’re still an hour from Albuquerque and the middle of rush hour. What the hell.”

The motel room was small but clean and neat with twin double beds and a TV on a stand in the corner. The under-window heater/air conditioner rattled a little but it warmed up the room, and after settling in they drove down the main street, past the bank, a storefront café, several antique shops, a pharmacy, a gas station, and a feed store.

“I think I’ve been here before,” said Mike.

“You’re kidding. When?”

“When we were shooting Silver Star. A bunch of us took a day trip from Santa Fe; came down here, stopped for lunch, prowled around the antique shops. It was fun.”

The bar at The Tumbleweed was busy, but the dining room was almost empty and they got a table right away. They ordered drinks; a beer for Donny, scotch on the rocks for Mike. When the drinks arrived, Mike raised his glass. “Here we go; back to work.”

“We’re still about a thousand miles out of L.A.”

“Yeah, well, almost there.” He took a large gulp of the scotch. “Wow, first drink I’ve had in a long time,” he said.

Donny sipped his beer. He noticed that Mike was a little on edge; he was nervously tapping the menu with his fingers as he scanned it.

“Has Jason got anything lined up for you when you get back?”

Mike shrugged. “The usual. It’s getting to be that time of year when producers and studios start putting pilots together for next year, so I’m sure there’ll be casting calls and shit when I get back. Not that I’m in a great hurry to jump into another loser.” He looked up guiltily. “No offense.”

“You haven’t said you’d do it.”

Mike grinned tightly. “You’re right.” The waitress came back and took their orders for salads and steaks. Mike ordered another drink. He rubbed his hands together and looked around the dining room, gazing at the old license plates on the wall. “Y’know,” he finally said, “maybe I’m not right for it. Most of those guys are in their twenties, right? It’s kind of a stretch for me to pull off that, dontcha think?”

“It doesn’t really say how old they are,” Donny replied. “They’re out of college, but that’s about it.”

“Yeah, but come on…who’s gonna watch a bunch of middle-aged guys? The audience is gonna want to see young and hung, not old and saggy.”

Donny chuckled. “You’re nowhere close to middle age, Mike, and you’re still hung.” Mike smirked. “And besides, weren’t you just saying it needs an older character?”

“Yeah, for contrast. Someone like…I dunno, Tom Skerritt or someone like that.”

“Think we can get him?”

“Who, Tom Skerritt? I doubt it; he’s still doing Picket Fences. But the guys are younger than me.” His fresh drink arrived and he took a sip.

Donny looked at him for a moment. “You have a problem with playing a gay character?” he said quietly.

Mike gazed at his drink. “Well,” he finally said softly, “once you’re pegged as a certain character, you can carry that with you for the rest of your life. Look at Bill Shatner. He’ll always be Captain Kirk; same with Leonard Nimoy as Spock. That show ran for three seasons and got such lousy ratings they almost cancelled it after one. But they’re both gonna die with Star Trek as the first line in their obits. I’m not sure I want to go out with ‘Lance Michaels, who played the lead role in the gay drama Small Town Boys, died today after being eaten by squirrels.’” He grinned a little. “I guess I just don’t want to get tagged with the gay label, that’s all. You saw yourself how scared people like Jeremy Dixon are by that.”

Donny remembered the lunch with Jack and Aaron how he had told him that Mike was already tagged as gay by some people. He sipped his beer and was very glad to see the waitress approaching with their salads.

“So,” Donny said, changing the subject, “you’re gonna stay in Idyllwild for now?”

Mike shook his head. “Jason’s lining up a condo for me over near where Greg lives, as a matter of fact. Already furnished and everything. Hit the ground running first thing next week.” He stabbed a forkful of salad and munched it. “Jason’s gonna land me something really good. You watch. Have you met Jason yet?”

“Haven’t had the pleasure.”

“He’s good. Nothing like Marty. He’s not gonna let me get pegged. No more of these second banana parts like the sleaze on Capitol Hill or the chickenshit deputy in that movie. No more retro sitcoms for no-name networks or cable channels, no more soaps. Good stuff.” He grinned tightly and Donny could feel the table tremble a little.

When their dinners arrived Mike ordered a glass of red wine and by the time they had finished he had had another and his eyes were a little glassy. But he paid the check and signed his name firmly to the credit card slip and walked steadily, if a little slowly, out to the parking lot.

“Want me to drive?” Donny asked, but Mike shook his head.

“I’m fine,” he said, getting behind the wheel. Donny glanced up and down the street to see if there was a cop around, but there was no traffic and it was a straight shot up the main street to the motel. Mike drove slowly and carefully back to the motel parking lot, the only sign of his state being that when he pulled into the space in front of the room he hit the concrete parking bar a little hard. “Whoops,” he muttered.

It was still early – not even nine o’clock – but it was dark outside and they’d driven all day. Mike undressed slowly and got in bed, rolling onto his side and pulling the blankets over him. “’Night,” he mumbled.

Donny brushed his teeth, set the alarm on his watch for six, and got in the other bed. Mike was already snoring. He was almost asleep when his cell phone rang. He jolted out of bed, yanked it off the charging cord, and stumbled into the bathroom by the third ring.

“Hey,” said Eric, “where are you?”

“East of Albuquerque,” Donny replied, trying to keep his voice low but loud enough to be heard.

“Okay. So you’ll be back, what tomorrow night? Wednesday?”

“Something like that. What’s up?”

“Nothing special; just wanted to check in. Say, you heard from Marc?”

“No, why?”

“Well, Greg was looking for the receivables report today and Marc took a personal day.”

“Huh.” It was unlike Marc to miss a deadline.

“Turns out he e-mailed it to Greg last week,” Eric continued, “but…”

“D’you call him?”

“Nah. Not a big deal. Just curious.”

“Well,” Donny said, remembering a chat with Marc the week before, “I think he said something about going up to Santa Barbara for Thanksgiving. Maybe he just decided to stay an extra day.”

“Okay. So, how’d it go? Have a good time?”

“Yeah, it was… nice. I’ll call you and tell you all about when we get back.”

“Cool. I’m in L.A., y’know.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot.”

“Listen, I’ve got something cooking that might be interesting for you.”

“Not a movie deal, I hope.”

Eric laughed. “No such luck.”

“What is it?”

“Enh….I’ll save it for when I see you.”


“So how’s Mike?”

Donny glanced at the closed bathroom door. “He’s good. Ready to come back.”

“Okay. Well, listen, I’ll see you when you get here. Have a safe trip.”

Donny turned off the light and quietly opened the door. He was getting back in his bed when Mike said, “Who wazzat?”

“Eric. Just checking in.”

“Mmmph,” he replied, and a moment later was snoring again.

It took a while for Donny to get to sleep. He wondered what Eric had cooking, and he wondered about Marc; he had never taken a day off without planning it far in advance. Finally the steady roar of the heater lulled him to a fitful sleep with dreams of driving across the brown desert at twilight.

The next morning around seven they drove into town and parked across the street from the Gateway Café. The wind had picked up and little clouds of dust followed them as they crossed the street. There were a few other customers, mostly construction workers, gathered in one booth sipping coffee and smoking. The waitress, in her forties with thick glasses and a tinted perm, smiled and said, “Sit anywhere you like.” They took a booth halfway towards the back, and the waitress brought them coffee without them asking for it. Her nametag said her name was Eva.

Other than the usual bleary eyes of waking up, Mike seemed his usual self. He sipped the coffee and decided on a green chile and cheese omelet with whole wheat toast and hash browns, and grinned when Eva asked if he wanted extra chile on the side. “Sure, what the heck.” Donny ordered pancakes and bacon.

Mike looked around the café, taking in the pine paneling, the prints of cowboys riding the range, the Georgia O’Keeffe posters of cow skulls, and the little signs above the cash register that said “In God We Trust – everybody else pays cash” and “We reserve the right to refuse service to anybody, and that means you, Larry” – an apparent reference to a favorite customer. The kitchen exuded the aromas of bacon and biscuits mixing with the underlying scents of cooking oil, cigarette smoke, and cleaning solvent. Mike stretched, flexing his arms, and rested his elbows on the table.

“Ever notice that there’s a little place like this in every small town in America?”

Donny smiled. “Well, I haven’t been in every small town in America.”

“You know what I mean. Change the pictures from cowboys to duck hunters and you have the Northwoods in Maple City, right down to the waitress and the guys sitting around shootin’ the shit before going to work.” Mike took a sugar packet and shook it. “There must be a place like this in Perrysburg.” Donny nodded; he remembered Frank and some of the other guys on the crew would hang out at a place like this in town. It had a name, but it was known generically as “the coffee shop.”

The cowbell over the door rattled and two more men came in; a muscular young man with blond hair and Nordic features, followed by a short and wiry Hispanic in a jean jacket and cowboy hat. They sat at the booth with the other men, and Eva took two coffee mugs and the Bunn carafe over to the table.

“Morning, boys,” she said as she poured the coffee. They murmured and wrapped their hands around the mugs. “Where you goin’ today, Bobby?”

The blond replied shyly, “Out Old 66 to patch some holes near Green Pastures.”

One of the other men said, “That’ll take all day if you’re lucky.” The rest chuckled. “You like that shit, don’tcha, just you and the road and diggin’ holes, huh, Bobby?”

“S’okay,” he replied with a shy grin. “Beats fartin’ around with you jokers diggin’ out some arroyo full o’ tumbleweeds ‘n scorpions.” Everyone laughed at that, and Mike said quietly, nodding at Bobby, “There you go. That’s you. The strong silent type.

The cook in the kitchen put two plates in the window and banged the bell. “Order up!” She looked through the window. “Gene! Where the hell’s my potting soil?”

The Hispanic hollered back, “It’s on the truck coming today from Albuquerque! I swear, Celeste!” Everyone else at the table laughed.

Eva brought the plates and topped off the coffees. A few more customers came in and the place got busy. Mike and Donny finished and paid their bill at the register. Eva smiled and said, “C’mon back any time.” As they left Gene looked up at Donny for a second and gave him quick nod.

As they got back to the Land Rover, Mike looked down the street. “Nice little town, isn’t it?” he said. “Be nice to find a place like this and just…settle down.”

“What’s wrong with Idyllwild?”

Mike chuckled cynically and got behind the wheel. They checked out of the motel and were back on the interstate by eight. Mike drove silently until they got to the crush of traffic in Albuquerque where he barked impatiently at the slowdowns in the construction zones. But they got across the Rio Grande without incident and were soon in the desert again, passing through between the mesas and rolling plains dotted with juniper and sage. It wasn’t until they were near Laguna that Mike said, “So, what did you and my dad talk about?”

Donny had been wondering when Mike would get around to asking. He smiled to himself. “Just…stuff. Gettin’ to know you, that kind of thing. What about you and my dad?”

Mike grinned. “Same thing. I guess you haven’t told them much about me.”

“Not really.”

“Why not?”

“I dunno, I guess… I never really talked about stuff like that with them.”

“Stuff like what? Your friends ? Your sex life?”

Donny shook his head. “Nope. And definitely not my sex life. Do you?”

“Well, I don’t give them the details, but… Dad knows what’s going on. I never really could keep anything from him. Mom’s a different story.”

“So you told your dad about you being gay?”

“I told you that story, didn’t I?”

“No, I kinda think I would have remembered that.”

“I was at MSU. I’m pre-vet but every chance I get, I’m taking an acting class, trying out for plays. Then fall semester of my junior year I get cast to play McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…the Jack Nicholson part, y’know? Well, there’s this other guy in the cast named Everett, and we hit it off at rehearsals and pretty soon…. You get the idea. Ev’s a last-semester senior, though, and he’s all hot to go to L.A. in January to become the next Tom Cruise, and he says that if I go with him….” Mike looked a little sheepish. “Anyway, I went home that Christmas and told my folks that I was going out to L.A. Mom had a fit, but Dad….” Mike laughed hollowly. “He took me into his study and said, ‘You must really be in love with this fellow.’”

“How’d he know?”

“He and Mom had come to see the play. Dad said he could tell the minute he saw us together after the show that it we were more than just buddies.”

“Was he pissed?”

“No. Well, yeah. He said he wasn’t, but he kept saying he wasn’t over and over, so I knew he was…He said he was disappointed and worried that I was giving up on college so easily, but…. He knew he couldn’t stop me. But the deal was that they would pay for my college, and so I was on my own. ‘Course, if I ever decide to go back and finish my degree, he said he’s still willing to pay for it.”

Donny watched the scenery go by for a moment. “But you never said, ‘Dad, I’m gay.’”

“Nope. Did you?”

“No, I guess not.”

“Funny how they know anyway.”

They had passed the Acoma exit before Donny asked, “So, what happened with you and this Everett guy.”

Mike chuckled. “Remember those Hardee’s commercials?”


“We were both up for it. I got it. He didn’t. Things got a little tense. Then he met some other guy at a casting call, he gave me a week to get out, and I ended up on the couch of a friend of my freshman year roommate who was a flight attendant and had a place out by LAX. Then I met Paul Jeffries. Last I heard Ev’s back in Saginaw.”

The interstate wound on, gradually rising to the Continental Divide, which was barely more than the crest of a hill. Donny said, “He said he loves you and he wants me to know that.”

Mike nodded. “That’s what your dad said to me.”

The road wound through the red desert landscape, the distant hills fading to the horizon. They crossed the Arizona border, passing into the Navajo nation, the radio popping and fading away until Mike punched the seek button and found KTNN, the station out of Window Rock. They listened for a few moments to the strange but melodic syllables of the broadcast in Navajo, then Mike switched it off and they drove on past the Painted Desert and Flagstaff, the only sound the rhythm of the tires and the occasional passing semi. The sky was a brilliant blue.

They did a drive-through lunch at a McDonald’s in Williams. As they waited for the Suburban ahead of them, Mike said suddenly, “I’ve always felt like I let him down, that’s all.”

“Your dad.”

“Yeah.” He opened the window and smiled at the clerk. “I know he loves me. But I know he couldn’t ever get his head around the idea that this… would be the kind of life he thought I’d lead.”

“What does he want for you?”

“That’s just it. I don’t know.”

“Neither does he, I’ll bet… other than just to be happy…”

Mike laughed hollowly. “That’s the hardest part.”

“Being happy?”

“Yeah. Pretty fuckin’ tall order in this business.”

Several miles went by before Donny said, “Then why don’t you just quit?”

“Quit what?”

“Hollywood. ‘The business.’ All this. Just quit.”

“What would I do?”

“Whatever you want. Get a regular job.”

“Doing what?”

“Hell, I don’t know, Mike. That’s the least of your worries. You’ve got money. You own income property. You don’t need to work for a while at least.” Donny grinned a little. “You could come work for me. We’re advertising for warehouse help.”

“Ha ha.”

“Well, what then? Why can’t you quit? You’ve said it enough times, Mike. ‘I hate this town. I hate this business. I would give it up in a heartbeat.’ So do it. Tomorrow morning tell Jason that you’re sick and tired of all the bullshit, all the ass-kissing, all the deceit and crap and that you’re going to find an honest job that pays twenty bucks an hour and has health insurance. I can get you the paperwork.”

Mike gazed ahead down the road for another mile or so. “That’s the problem, Donny. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s all I ever wanted to do. From the time I was old enough to know there was such a thing as acting and performing. It was make-believe and imagination and … something other than what I was.”

“What’s wrong with who you are?”

Mike was silent for a moment. “Didn’t you ever want to be someone else?”

“Like who?”

“I don’t know, Donny… just someone other than who you are.”

“Like what, an imaginary friend?”

Mike shrugged. “No, I mean wishing you weren’t you.”

“Not really. Besides, it’s kinda tough when you have a twin.”

“So you’ve always been happy with yourself. Never imagined being anyone else.”

“Can’t say I did, Mike.”

Mike grinned a little. “So where did all those guys in Small Town Boys come from? Eric, Greg, Scott, Bobby…? Eric, the cut-up, the one with the crazy sense of humor; Greg, the serious and cynical one who never expects anything good to come from anything; Scott, the flirt who’s always on the prowl for a quickie but secretly wants to find Mr. Right, and Bobby, the quiet one who has no clue that he could have anyone he wants and just goes through life trying not to bump into the furniture. Tell me that there’s not some of you in all of them? I’ve seen you be all four of them. Mostly you’re Bobby, but still…they’re all you.”

“You over-think things, Mike,” Donny said.

“That’s Greg talking.”

Donny snorted. “So that’s why you’re an actor. You wanted to be somebody else.”

“Yeah. Instead of being Mike Lankowski from Maple City, I could be … Biff Loman, or Hamlet, or Tom Wingfield or Stanley Kowalski…”

“If I remember my high school lit classes, none of those guys are really happy, either.”

“It’s not about being happy, Donny. It’s about learning about them so I can understand being me. And if I do that, maybe I can bring it out in the characters I play and reach the audience…touch them in some way.”

“So what don’t you like about yourself?”

“Aw, c’mon, Donny, I’m not gonna play shrink-rap with you.”

“No, I really want to know, Mike, ‘cause as far as I’m concerned, you’re a nice guy and I like being around you. So if you’re gonna base your entire life’s work on looking for answers to stuff like what’s wrong with you, I think that’s your only problem. Most people don’t worry about shit like that.”

“Actors aren’t ‘most people.’”

“So you’re telling me that all the people in show business are doing it to find themselves? Jesus, no wonder it’s so fucked up.” He shook his head. “But how does that explain someone like Jeremy Dixon?”

“Jeremy Dixon has a pretty face and a big dick and he knows how to use both to get what he wants, which is a lot of money and a lot of sex. I don’t know why everybody else is in it, Donny. Now you’re over-thinking things.”

“So tell me this, Mike. Is it worth it?”

“Compared to what? How many people get to do what they want and get paid for it and …?” Mike fidgeted in the seat a little. “Do you love what you do, Donny? Do you love going into your office every day and sitting at a desk and … doing whatever it is you do all day? Do you? Do you think you’re making a contribution to something other than your account at Bank of America or your partnership agreement?” His voice tightened a little and he gripped the steering wheel with both hands. “Are you doing what you wanted to do ever since you were old enough to think about a job beyond being a spaceman or a fireman or whatever it was you wanted to be when you were eight years old? Is being the VP of HR at McKay-Gemini what little Donny Hollenbeck wanted to be? I know what Danny wanted. He wanted to be a soldier. He wanted to serve and he wanted to be … whatever it is that he is in the Air Force. But you’ve never told me what you really want…and if it makes you happy.”

Donny looked at Mike, his mouth slightly agape. A large semi from McDonald’s roared past them, the huge painted French fries looking like gargantuan remnants from the crumpled bag on top of the center console. “Jesus, Mike,” Donny finally said, “now I know what you and my dad talked about.”

They stopped for gas in Needles, just across the California-Arizona border. The sign said “Los Angeles 255” and the red hills faded into the desert.