The Bright Shop (PDF LINK)
A European refugee designs a new life in 1960s Los Angeles only to see it crumble, near the Pacific, on the edge of a new decade.
The Bright Shop (PDF LINK)
A European refugee designs a new life in 1960s Los Angeles only to see it crumble, near the Pacific, on the edge of a new decade.
A beautiful and privileged young girl is blissfully unaware of a shy man’s affection for her.
My mother told me that I’m one of those young men with low self-esteem who will always be grateful for the attention that any young woman throws my way. My mother told me that I did not have athletic ability, or the greatest mind, but that I was the most loyal friend anyone could have. “Women only love one man”: the last words I remember my mother telling me when I got on the bus in Omaha on my way to become a nobody in Los Angeles. Was Mom telling me to be faithful to my next love–or to remember Mom always?
Nobody ever said they knew me from anywhere. I was transparent, average, just a John Doe from the Great Plains. When I was in high school, people said I looked like Jeff Bridges. In College, they said I looked liked Beau Bridges. I had only one question for those people: Who are Jeff and Beau Bridges?
“I know I know you from somewhere…..Don’t I look familiar to you?”
One day I met Julie Cadogan, a tall, thin, regal looking young woman who had just joined our television production as a supervising producer.
“Honestly, I don’t think so. Where do you think we could have met?”
She was looking me over intensely. Her 5’10 frame and waspish waist was dressed in a long Indian print skirt and tight short sleeve burgundy sweater. Ingrid Bergman at a Grateful Dead concert. In the frantic light of a Monday morning at the office, this new arrival was taking her time.
“I think maybe….did you ever attend NYU?”
“Oh. Well, did you rent a house in San Luis Obispo, or Palm Springs last summer?”
“Right! Well I stayed in a house in Palm Springs last year with my best friend Bridget and she loved to go out and maybe we saw you at some bar out there!”
“I did grow up in Omaha, Nebraska.” ”No!”
“Why? Do you come from Omaha also?”
“No! But I lived in Omaha for a year after graduation and worked at WOMA TV! That had to be where I saw you!”
“When was that?”
“I moved out of Nebraska in 1992.”
It was late November in Los Angeles and I had been working on a horrendously stupid television show, “Beat Me.” It was an MTV program where young, dumb men posed questions to young, dumb women and if the woman answered right they got to date the young, dumb man. It was my job to go out and recruit young, dumb and good looking people. Fortunately, this was easy because I lived in Los Angeles.
We lived on a quiet, conservative street in Omaha. It was so law abiding, church going and upright that my mother once called the police when a poodle peed on our lawn. Three cruisers came out in about 4 minutes to arrest the poodle. “People should keep their dogs on a tight leash” my mother said, the next day on her way to church. I remember another thing about growing up in Omaha: I was never awakened once during the night. It was so quiet, so peaceful, so dead.
“Hi ya Charlie!” It was Julie waking me up at 2 am. I was sound asleep and pulled the covers over my head when the phone rang so horribly loud one early Saturday morning.
“Who is this?”
“Julie! I’m in your neighborhood and I have a big favor to ask! Could you pick me up? My car broke down on Fairfax and Beverly and I know you live right around here and I was wondering if I could crash at your place and then in the morning I could call a tow truck company to come and get it…Please, please, don’t say no!”
I grabbed my jeans off the floor, wacked some Vaseline on my electrocuted hair and ran out with my keys, sandals and wallet. I drove only 4 blocks to where Julie said she would be waiting.
At the corner of Fairfax and Beverly: 2:45 am and Julie was nowhere to be seen. I couldn’t stay awake much longer. I had been waiting 45 minutes, didn’t have a phone and was losing my patience. I went home.
On Monday morning we were having a production meeting at 9 am and the news was pretty good. “Beat Me” was doing well in the ratings and it looked like we were going to go to a full hour. This meant more work and more weeks of work. But it was lousy because I would have to get more contestants. My job would be harder but my pay would stay the same.
Julie came in smiling. She was dressed in a beautiful suede skirt with a cream-colored angora sweater and a stainless steel jewelry—bracelet. She hardly looked like a cad, a liar, or that disturbing bitch who woke me up in the middle of the night and got me into the cold to pick her up.
“I’m so sorry Charlie! I got back into my car and it started and then I didn’t know how to tell you, because I called your house and the machine wasn’t on and there was no way to leave a message. So here is a present.”
She handed me a small box of Godiva chocolates.
“You’re probably furious at me. You really have a right to be furious. I would be just as mad!”
“I’m not mad Julie!”
“Are you sure?”
“Women who grew up with money love to talk about themselves son. Just remember to listen if you ever get involved with a rich girl.”-my father’s sage advice which he wrote down in a letter to me after he lost his job at the Ford plant.
Six months after Julie started, we had become the type of friends who go out to lunch and talk about work. But there was nothing else going on there. She would talk about her boyfriend and I would listen. I looked at my watch more than her eyes.
“He won’t commit to marriage because he is scared. So I told him that he has three weeks to decide—because if I don’t get a ring on my finger I’m going to move back to New York and work on my documentary! I told him I had a life before him and I meant it!”
How fortunate her life was, I could not have guessed. But I found out that her father was Anton Cadogan. He is a New York developer who built such landmarks as One Park Plaza Place and that enormous post-collegiate cellblock apartment complex known as Devonshire Court on Second Avenue in the 90’s. Julie didn’t like to talk about her family. Yet there was something in the ease and carefree way she talked about leaving jobs and leaving boyfriends and leaving town that let me know that she would never be down to her last nickel.
“I used to have an apartment on Second Avenue and it was so wonderful! Such happiness! A typical day for me would be…wake up, go to the gym, meet my friend Heather for lunch. We would hang out at the Met, go for a walk in Central Park, shop at Barneys, go to this fabulous cheese shop on Jones Street….Oh, I’m getting so depressed, I just wish I could move back to New York! Los Angeles is just not a city!”
“Oh, I agree. I’d like to move back to Manhattan myself. But it just isn’t easy with apartments so expensive. I think I read that some studio apartments start at $3500!”
“Well if it’s just an apartment that’s holding you back—they’re easy to get. I could find you one like that.”
She was so young. So used to luxury. Her work was just a hobby to fill time. What did she know about earning a living? I had graduated college 13 years ago and I was still paying student loans! Why did God create it so that some people have it so easy and still think it’s so tough for them?
When I think of people who have had it easy I think of people who have never shoveled snow. Yes, Julie Cadogan never shoveled snow in her entire god-damned life.
Julie was standing in front of my desk as I entered the list of possible contestants on the show. It was 4 O’Clock, an awful hour in the awful part of the day at work. She was smiling with just the widest grin this side of Montana.
“Look at what I’m wearing! Notice anything?”
I looked at her blue silk blouse, the grey nylon sweats, the open toed $250 dollar shoes…..Absolutely nothing unique. Expensive, yes. Different, no.
Then she extended her right hand in a screw like fashion aimed right for my nose. A glistening, enormous diamond ring was living atop the smoothest, longest, most polished fingers and nails I had ever seen.
“He did it. Wow. You must be happy.”
“Oh, my God! Charlie, I’m so happy! I have been waiting for this forever! We’re getting married in exactly six months on October 7th and I’ve got to get everything together and I just don’t know how I’m going to do it!”
“Wow. Julie, I’m so happy for you.”
“Thanks Charlie. I’m going to go and show this to the receptionist. Isn’t it gorgeous?”
I was ready to quit my job the day that Sean the producer yelled at me after I forgot to write down the age of that stupid blonde from Witchita. I was through with the crap of television, with the utter mindlessness of the program. I wanted to be somewhere important, doing something brainy, getting somewhere. I was standing still, earning nothing, without health insurance, a car, a life. I was a free lance, hand out taking, goatee wearing, slouchy, sloppy, slob with no self esteem…. handing out vouchers to strangers on the Santa Monica promenade (and hoping that they would think that my smile was cute enough to come down to the fuckin’ studio) and stand in line just to be rejected for the stupidest program on earth. Why did I do this kind of work? To what end?
I finally got up enough courage to walk down to Sean’s office and tell him that I was leaving.
It was Julie. She intercepted me as I was on my way to ruin my career. She looked upset. Her eyes were watery, puffy.
“I need to talk to you. Could we go for a walk down to Ben and Jerry’s? I’ll buy you an ice cream.”
My dad was quite cynical. He told me to never trust a woman that offers to buy YOU something. “They always are after you. They all want to be taken care of. So if any broad offers to buy you something…..watch out!”
We walked out into the eye squinting brightness of the palm-lined boulevard and she took my hand. Her gesture was so unexpected. Its intimacy broke down my natural inclination to believe that everyone is full of shit.
“I just got into the worst fight with Van Ness.”
“Who is Van Ness?”
“My fiancee! Oh, I thought you knew that. Anyway, Van Ness wants to move to San Francisco. And I don’t.”
“Some people have to be all fancy and give their kids last names for first names”, my father cautioned. “Don’t expect anyone who is called Henderson or Langley to be a good friend. You’ll find your friends in people with plain names like Steve, Bill or Bob!”
“O.K. Why does he want to move there?”
“He wants it because Michaelfish wants it.”
“I said that just because your band is leaving doesn’t mean that you can leave your fiancee behind. He thinks that his career will suffer and Michaelfish will go on and become famous and he will lose if he doesn’t go!” Then she broke down into tears on Ventura Boulevard.
“But what about me! What about us! I tried to talk to him, but he said I was selfish! I don’t think I’m selfish if I ask him to stay in the same city and that city is Los Angeles. I would go with him, but my life is right here! Oh, my god! What should I do Charlie?”
“What should I do?”, she asks! Geez, who the hell knows what anyone should do! I’ve been trying to figure out what I should do for my whole life. I moved out to Los Angeles, the most lost city on earth, to find out some definitive things about myself. What I found is that I hate the sun and hate work. What kind of an answer is that?
Ben and Jerry’s was just ahead. I put my hand around her graceful and swanlike neck and guided her into the cool parlor of flavours. Her tears seemed to dissipate slightly when she saw the round, cold, chocolate mound of Cherry Garcia ice cream.
“Julie, let me buy this for you.”
“Oh, thank you.”
She was so tender, fragile and sweet. The unwrinkled and dewy complexion, the sudden emotion of a young woman afraid of losing her lover, the appealing vision of a virgin-like creature spooning down the creamiest and fattiest desert known to mankind…..A large Maraschino cherry stood atop the mounds of ice cream as the chocolate dripped down the sides and gathered lava like at the bottom of the dish. I wanted to kiss her and make love right there. This moment had cost me all of $3.50 but it was worth every penny.
“I think I want to go home Charlie.”
“You mean back to Hollywood?”
“No. I mean my parent’s house in New York.”
A House! A 17 room penthouse on Fifth Avenue! You call that a house?
“Do you think I should go? I mean my mother has already hired a wedding consultant and they might rent out this church in Pacific Palisades and then if I decide to hold the reception at the garden in back, they want a deposit. Oh, all these decisions! I just can’t stand it.”
“Your mother and I got married at the VFW hall just outside of Fort Pierce. We’ve been happily married for 34 years! We didn’t have no money, but hell, we were in love. Don’t think that you have to get married in some mansion on a cliff in Malibu! One expensive party never kept anyone happy for life!”
“My advice is not to do anything drastic. Just stay put. Don’t run away.”
“Ok. Ok. You’re right.”
I took a napkin, dipped it in water and dabbed away some chocolate under her lower lip.
“Michaelfish is playing at the Gardena Room tonight! Please come!”
It was Julie pleading for me to attend Van Ness and Michaelfish. She had made up with him, after he found out that he could rent rehearsal space cheaper in L.A. and convinced the band that economically it was better if they stayed in the Southland.
Julie was convinced that LOVE had won over Van Ness. She was so enchanted with Van Ness, so excited about staying in Los Angeles, so ecstatic about the impending wedding—that it seemed senseless and cruel to point out that $4 a square foot had won Van Ness over and preserved the sanctity of their relationship.
I’ve always thought that my clothes were among the homeliest ever. I mostly wear plaid shirts, with short sleeves and button down collars. I have a paunchy stomach that accentuates the cheapness of the fabrics I wear. My glasses look like something that an insurance adjuster would wear in Omaha-say about 1955. I have a chipped front tooth which I’ve never bothered to fix. I am not cool, not at all.
Outside of the Gardena Room, stood a crowd of black draped, gothic styled, cigarette inhaling young people. Many of them were tall, thin like models on speed. They were waiting to be picked to enter the exalted space where Michaelfish was to perform. Two enormous Black men dressed in woolen over coats, searched patrons for concealed weapons and illicit drugs.
A light rain was falling on a late Friday night in early December. Los Angeles, which had remained dry for six months, was inexplicably thrust into a new, temporary, chilly and wet season where the air was pure and such Northern inclinations as sweaters, red wine and contemplation come into fashion. The city, which wore a sunburned and gregarious face, now was forced to don waterproof rain-jackets and subdued emotion.
Inside the Gardena Room, it was dark, smoky and the band was warming up. The no-smoking policy was, as is customary, broken in defiance of state law. Julie sat in a corner, smoking a cigarette. I walked over to see her.
“Hi! I’m so glad you came.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t miss it. Have you found work?”
“No. I’ve been so busy with the wedding—buying a dress, choosing a caterer, flying back to New York to pick out invitations….I just don’t have time to earn money right now. How about you?”
My father once offered me this financial advice: “Just save a quarter every day. At the end of the week you’ll have $1.75, at the end of the month $7, and at the end of the year $84. In ten years, you’ll have $840, and in fifty years it will be worth $4200.”
“Well, it’s Christmas. Not too easy to get a job this time of year.”
“Right. Have you talked to MTV? Do they have anything else?”
“No. I’m mean yes…I heard they’re starting up a new show called BUSTED. It’s supposed to be about men who cheat or women who cheat on men and they catch them on tape. I think they need someone to find the cheaters so that’s the position. But I don’t think I’ll take it….And then I had…..”
Van Ness walked in. He was dressed in a black leather vest, cowboy buckled belt, tight jeans covering a wide load ass. A bald spotted ego with long hair, overweight, tattoos, mid 30’s. He smelled like the inside of a refrigerator filled with old meat loaf that hadn’t been cleaned out for three months. His biceps were big—but not muscular, merely wide. They were covered with eagles, Jesus ,the twelve apostles, and some Chinese letters. He gave me a great big bear hug.
“Nice to see you man! Julie’s been talkin’ you up man! Says you gotta meet my buddy Charlie! Shit, I need a light. Julie can you run out to the car and grab my lighter?”
“Sure honey! Charlie, you’ll still be here when I get back right?”
Julie ran out to the car. Van Ness sneezed loudly. He looked at me salaciously and wiped some mucus off his beard with his left forearm.
“Hey Charlie. I have to run backstage. Thanks for coming.”
I sat down at the darkened table, waiting for the opening number of Michaelfish. A waitress came by. I ordered a Becks and waited for the effervescent Julie to come back inside.