The Matter-horn

Hollywood Athletic Club by Andy Hurvitz 11/12/06
Hollywood Athletic Club by Andy Hurvitz 11/12/06

HARRY WEINER was nervous. Only 28 years old, Harry was the executive producer of a new NTC (National Television Company) sitcom, “The Matterhorn.” The Matterhorn took place in a fancy Madison Avenue clothing store with crazy customers and silly salespersons.

Five weeks into the new season, “The Matterhorn” was doing terribly in the ratings. It was ranked 59 out of 70 programs in the Nielsen ratings. Reviewers pronounced the new show “dead on arrival”, “sickening”, “juvenile”, “like warmed over pea soup.”

Harry’s work load was excruciating. He would drive, an hour each way, from his apartment in Brentwood to the NTC studio in Burbank.

He would get to work around 10 am. Immediately, Harry would get pounced on by schmoozers, agents, writers, assistants, emails, secretaries, publicists, producers, executives, guests. He barely knew how to manage his time. It seemed that every little problem was a top priority.

Some of these problems included: a strike by lighting technicians which threatened to darken the show on the night of taping; a pregnant head writer who objected to a line about abortion in the final script; a hypochondriacal director who feared getting germs on his coffee which had been served to him by an HIV positive production assistant.

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Harry had arrived in Hollywood, 4 years earlier, with a recommendation from the Director of the School of Communication at Boston University. Harry had interned at Warner Brothers in the Director’s training program.

He had “tailed” a senior director on “Friends” for a year. Harry joined a “writers” group and met LISA SCHNITZER, the head writer of the hit show, MEET MEGAN ROONEY. Lisa liked Harry. Harry showed her a spec script he had written for MEET MEGAN ROONEY
Lisa read it ,liked it and hired Harry to be a staff writer.

To Lisa, Harry was reminiscent of her ex-boyfriend from Syosset. Harry played up his “eastern” background, continually reminding Lisa how close Toledo was to the Jersey Shore (only an hour and a half by plane.) They constructed a private reality of worldly and well read easterners in a dumb, ignorant, superficial, silly city. They were both destined for great things, Harry told her, and he pushed Lisa to develop new shows, new ideas and—- introduce him to her agent at William Morris.

Lisa was having trouble on MEET MEGAN ROONEY. The lead character didn’t think that Lisa understood her well enough— so ” Megan Rooney” told the executive producer to fire Lisa. Lisa came in– the next day– and found out she and Harry were gone.

Luck intervened. A 21 year old assistant at William Morris liked Lisa (because Lisa had a really great Tibetan tattoo on her navel drawn with henna ink) and the assistant recommended a pitch Lisa and Harry wrote about an expensive store on Madison Avenue with crazy customers and funny employees called “The Matterhorn.”

The pitch made its way to SIMON SHARON, the hottest television agent at William Morris. Simon was born on the day that the hostages in Iran were freed from captivity and considered himself destined for great things.

Simon liked Lisa. She was only a few years older than him and she had a nice butt. Lisa worked out at Simon’s gym and sometimes bumped into him there. Lisa thought Simon was cute, even though he had an annoying twitch. When he spoke, he turned his head on an angle, as if he were a basset hound who didn’t understand his master’s orders. One night, Lisa went home with him and they made love and quickly downloaded their intimacy into each other.

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Things move fast in Hollywood, especially when you are under thirty and don’t know where you are going, but are determined to get there.

That summed up Harry, who teamed up with Lisa, post-coital Lisa, to pitch Simon on “The Matterhorn” sit com. Simon immediately christened Lisa “THE MEGAN ROONEY” writer and that was the equivalent of a master’s degree at William Morris. WM had placed many of their clients on the staff of the MEET MEGAN ROONEY show.

Disney agreed to finance THE MATTERHORN, with Harry and Lisa as executive producers. NTC bought the show from Disney and put it on their Tuesday night prime time roster. This Tuesday line up became infamous as “TUESDAY SCHNOOZEDAY” because the programs were so boring, so banal, so juvenile, so unfunny. They were written by young, unread, unschooled boys who thought toilet paper, tits and teenage tantrums were the quintessence of laughs.

Harry and Lisa desperately tried to make “The Matterhorn” more sophisticated. To make sure that the program had some Manhattan appeal, exterior still photographs of an 1889 Rococo Madison Avenue mansion were placed at the beginning and end of each ½ hour. The show was filmed in a dark studio in sunny Burbank but the program took place in New York. This was quite intentional. The most successful sit coms took place in New York City: MAD ABOUT YOU, SEINFELD, FRIENDS, etc.

The writers were graduates of Manhattan prep schools and Eastern colleges. The average writer was only 22 years old, but that was what they reported on their w-4 forms and some rumors went around that one writer was as old as 33.

The acting talent was top notch. William Morris placed the young, wacky and busty blond comedienne, VIVIAN VON VECTOR, as the head of the posh emporium. Her assistant was played by the plump and rosy cheeked CHARLES LEADER who was on Broadway last year as a gay baritone in “I’LL SING TOMORROW.” Other William Morris clients became guest stars including: YOLANDA CHUTNEY, an ex-Sri Lankan former stripper who was in an episode where the owner of The Matterhorn was embarrassed when he was caught on videotape with Yolanda in a sexual act by the store security.

Seven shows had already been aired as November sweeps came on. The Matterhorn was slipping further down the ratings barrel. NTC was impatient and doubtful about the show’s survival. Commercial spots, which originally sold for $250,000 for thirty seconds, now were discounted at $175,000. The Matterhorn was also an expensive show to produce with all the costumes, beautiful mahogany store interiors, antique furniture, crystal, perfume, glass props. It was a drain on the budget of NTC. Cancellation seemed at hand.

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One balmy, misty November evening, Harry met Lisa at the bar of the HOTEL Peninsula in Beverly Hills. Lisa drank echinaccea flavored water while Harry opted for a pink grapefruit Kava herb cocktail to calm his nerves. Lisa heard from Simon that the NTC executives thought that the show lacked “ethnicity.” Simon said a New York show needed at least one Jewish character. All of the actors were white and Waspy, except for Yolanda, who was Sri Lankan. Who even knew where Sri Lanka was?

Harry and Simon agreed that it was the eleventh hour and time was running out. As Simon spoke to Harry, actress and client RHODA MOSKOWITZ walked in to the office. Rhoda had been huge at William Morris back in the 70’s when her New York, Jewish, schmaltzy and hamische voice charmed and annoyed audiences on such shows as: RHODA, MARY TYLER MOORE, BOB NEWHART, and THE LOVE BOAT. Rhoda was friends with Simon’s mother so this was more of a social call. Simon looked at Rhoda and thought that she might be the one to re-invigorate THE MATTERHORN.

Simon could only look at this 6o-year-old friend of his mother’s and laugh. She had black hair which she piled up like fancy croissant atop her head. She wore big glasses with dainty chains, a huge “chai” necklace, and several large rings with opals, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. She preferred tailored clothing a la Ralph Lauren, with cashmere, fine woolens and Italian shoes to her liking. She was in excellent shape and followed a diet rich in fresh fruits, fish and eight glasses of water a day.

Rhoda had been on the stage in New York, and on the tube in LA. Now living in Sherman Oaks, CA she was asked by Simon if she would like to appear as a guest star on The Matterhorn? “Sure.”
Immediately, Simon’s brain waves started to spin with 15% commissions and the possibility of more to come.

Simon and Rhoda hopped into his Porsche and drove to the Peninsula. Harry and Lisa met Rhoda and Simon and the foursome decided to develop a character for Rhoda which would make the audience stand up and laugh, advertisers buy spots and the executives dance with delight. Simon, Rhoda,Harry and Lisa shook hands. Harry went home to try and dream up how to convince his boss that Rhoda was needed and more importantly, might just be the saviour of the show.

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Just 31 years old, Helene Reisman had a reputation as one of the toughest S.O.B.’s at NTC. She was paid well over $1,000,000 a year and had put MEET MEGAN ROONEY on the air over the objections of her entire junior staff.

Harry met HELENE REISMAN at her large glass and synthetic white panelled home in Encino that evening. Harry pitched the idea of “Rhoda” while Helene played patty cake with her 3 year old son, O’RYAN.

She barely contained her glee at her young child’s smile, but grew angry as Harry laid out his plans for Rhoda.

Helene was blunt: “Listen I don’t like it when you say a typical Jewish older woman in New York who has a lot of money and is very demanding. It’s Anti-Semitic stereotyping.”

Harry grabbed a rattle and danced it in front of O’Ryan’s blue eyes. The child laughed and tried to grab it. Harry wouldn’t back down. “Helene, they’ve had successful Jewish characters on TV for years. You know them by name: Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, David Schwimmer. None of them admit being Jewish. It’s like a joke. Act Jewish, but don’t celebrate Jewish holidays, don’t wear a yarmulke, don’t let the audience know what they already know. It’s like its Ok to have a Jew on TV as long as he or she is in the closet.”

Helene cooled off. She picked up the baby and danced with some rhythm around the nursery. “O’Ryan, what should Mommy do? Should mommy say yes to the nice man?” O’Ryan seemed to point at Harry. “He likes you Harry. My son thinks you’re OK.” Harry smiled that broad, salesman’s smile ready to close the deal.

“O.K. Try Rhoda. If she doesn’t work, which she probably won’t, it will just be a one time thing. Don’t say I let you have an anti-semitic character on the show. Leave me out of it. If the ratings go up, then by god we either have a real dilemma or a godsend.”

With Helene (and O’Ryan’s)blessing, Harry was back at the studio for an all night session with Lisa and the writers to come up with a story which would eventually revolve around Rhoda as a pushy and wealthy woman who is furious when her grandson’s bar mitzvah suit is lost in the store’s alterations department.

The new character would be called MISSY MISHKIN, the doyenne of Park Avenue. Missy was no push over, had a strong Bronx accent, and was not above arguing with a sales clerk if she thought she had been ripped off, treated unfairly, or paid little attention to.

Rehearsals began. Vivian Von Vector put her best WASPy accent and superior attitude on. Charles Leader made sure that his vulnerable gay sensitivity was on full blast as the assault of Missy began on stage. After four days, Harry and Lisa were pleased with the chemistry between Rhoda’s guest character and the rest of the leads.

But Yolanda Chutney was disturbed by some of the dialogue. One late,fatigued Thursday night, the cast had been rehearsing all day. Yolanda asked if she could please not refer to Missy as “that demanding and annoying woman from Hadassah.” Yolanda had always been a liberal person, and had battled color prejudice her whole life as a darker skinned person with sub-continental hues. Harry refused to alter the line, and Lisa backed him up. Yolanda threw the script up in the air and walked right up to Harry and thrust her finger in his face.

“You as a Jew, of all people, should know how mean, how vicious these words sound. Are you gonna tell everyone that the dialogue is funny and that’s how you’re gonna worm out of it this bigoted bullshit?”
Harry was unmoved. “Yolanda, you are totally fuckin’ out of line. Missy is a fictional character who is only a guest star. She is not a representation of all Jews any more than Charles Manson is a stand in for the Christians!”

Rhoda Moskowitz stepped up to the plate to defend herself, her role and also score with Harry. “Listen Yolanda, I’m Jewish and believe me, if I thought there was anything wrong with this I wouldn’t do it.”
Yolanda seemed to be slightly comforted by these words, and besides an argument (by a lowly actor) on principle in Hollywood assumes a ridiculousness when arrayed against the necessities of work, money and the imperatives of executive power.

Yolanda picked up her script.”O.K. let’s just get this fuckin’ scene over with.”

#####

At the Friday night dress performance, before a half empty studio audience, Harry and Lisa nervously watched as the first scene was shot. Director CAMERON SCHNITZER, a 24 year old MTV video editor, and Lisa’s younger brother, was confident and sure of how to direct his cast.

At Cameron’s personal urging, the costume for Missy was particularly elegant. A fur collared black knit suit with a velvet pill box hat anchored by a diamond pin, was sewn especially for Ms. Moskowitz. Missy would enter “The Matterhorn” with a retinue of servants: a driver, a maid, and her nurse. She would demand of Ms. Von Vector that the management provide a free bar mitzvah suit for her grand son or she would sue the whole store and possibly put it out of business.

Rhoda pronounced her words with the maximum nasal affect and made sure to drop her “r”s. Helene Reisman watched the show from the side of the stage and thought it stunk. She found Missy to be a cartoon. Helene blamed herself for the failure but outwardly she was livid at Harry and Lisa. Now Helene might lose her job in this universe of short memories, and her previous success would be buried under the defeat of THE MATTERHORN.

At one a.m., the show was finally wrapped. The cast went home, and Lisa decided that she was too tired to go out for a drink with Harry. Harry went up to Helene and kissed her, but she turned her face away. Helene just looked at him with wounded eyes. “I don’t know what you were thinking.” She turned and walked out of the studio and into the black Burbank darkness.

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A week later, the show aired. NTC Executives had put the cancellation on hold, awaiting the pleas and the desperate bargaining of Simon,his bosses at William Morris, Harry and Lisa. Word from the affiliates was encouraging. One station manager in Cedar Rapids called to say that they loved this new character. The station director in Uttica said that callers were phoning in their approval for Missy.

Fate intervened again on the day of the airing. A pro-basketball player, RILEY HIGHCALF, was shot and killed outside of the mansion which served as the exterior location shot for “The Matterhorn.” Folks in Seattle, Seneca Falls, Peoria, Tallahassee, Denver, and the Ozarks were saying, “Did you hear that Riley Highcalf was shot outside of the that Matterhorn store?” Suddenly, a real life news event created a buzz about the show which the writers, the actors and the producers could not.

The show had been typically earning a 15 share but after the “Missy” episode, the show almost doubled its audience to a 29. Harry and Lisa arrived at work on Wednesday to find a huge vase of fresh flowers sent by Helene Reisman. A note to Harry read, “Sorry about my lack of faith. I have a lot to learn. Helene.”

Her humility touched Harry.

Emails were pouring into The Matterhorn WEB SITE. KCBS sent a crew over to interview “the return of Rhoda Moskowtiz” and KABC did an interview with Vivian Von Vector who could barely contain her “love” for Rhoda and delight at the old lady’s return to the small screen.

YAHOO.com suddenly had two chat rooms with MATTERHORN themes. Amazon.com contacted NTC to create a link between NTC’s web site and books about: RILEY HIGHCALF, PRO BASKETBALL, JEWISH WOMEN, MEGAN ROONEY, NEW YORK CITY, MADISON AVENUE, TELEVISION SIT COMS, CHARLES LEADER, YOLANDA CHUTNEY.
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Three days after the “Missy” episode, a meeting was held in Helene’s office. Harry and Lisa were told that the show would be renewed for another six episodes, provided that Missy stayed. Rhoda Moskowitz jumped for joy when she found out that she would have a recurring role on the program, and Simon negotiated a contract for her paying $20,000 an episode with residuals and agreements to have Rhoda guest star on other sit-coms.

Everyone, it seemed, was happy. Ratings were up, NTC had new viewer interest and increasing advertiser revenues. The media jumped in to find out what the buzz was about. TV GUIDE did a small story about Rhoda’s return; VOGUE featured Charles Leader in drag; THE WALL ST. JOURNAL called NTC “the corpse who came in from the cold”.

Three more episodes were written with Missy as the main focus. One story was about how Missy took offense at a perceived anti-semitic remark by an employee of the store who accused Missy of being ostentatious after Missy spent $500,000 on a bar mitzvah cruise party. Another episode had an ALAN DERSHOWITZ look alike who dates Missy and defends serial killers just to get himself on television.

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RABBI MARTIN NIER was the first clerical voice to speak up. The dean of Los Angeles rabbis, his congregation had many prominent members from the entertainment community.

His grandfather had been the chief Rabbi of Cracow and had perished at Auschwitz. Martin Nier was a Rabbi who had travelled the strange and wondrous route of the the 20th Century from shtetl, to concentration camp, to the freedom of America. The freedom which promised that the voices of the persecuted would never be silenced. Now those voices took a vulgar and warped transformation into sit com hatred and Rabbi Nier was outraged.

Rabbi Nier contacted THE ANTI DESECRATION SOCIETY and began to circulate a petition to protest THE MATTERHORN and the character of Missy in particular. He preached a sermon entitled, “WHEN LAUGHING BECOMES DEADLY” which begged that his congregants understand that even in humor, there were messages which preached hatred regardless of whether they were intended as entertainment.

Reviewers in the BOSTON GLOBE, THE WASHINGTON POST, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE, MIAMI HERALD, all wrote about the show—which they generally thought had gotten funnier—but had somehow descended into the depths of meanness, vindictiveness, and anti-jewish scapegoating.

A particular warning came from THE CATHOLIC EYE, a conservative journal which wrote, “Our brethren in the Jewish faith cannot condone comedic hatred in the name of commercial success. For ultimately ideas conceived in the poison of bigotry pollute the author.”

While mainstream media fixated and debated upon the role of Missy and what she might or might not represent, the show jumped to third in the ratings. “It was unbelievable”, Helene said, “to see a show go from almost cancellation to the top of the game.”

Almost forgotten in the adulation, was the growing volume of hate letters pouring into the web site from around the country. At “www.matterhorn.com” such comments as, “you fuckin’ Jews deserve everything you have coming to you.” Other viewers were kinder. One 11 year old Nebraska girl wrote, “I used to be mad at my Mom for talking badly about Jews, but now I know cause of Missy, what my Mom is talking about.” At the University of Wyoming, Tuesday night Matterhorn parties the participants throw pretzels at the screen and shouted obscenities whenever Missy came on.
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At the annual NTC affiliates meeting in January, there was huge exaltation and applause for Helene Reisman who told the audience, “We will not be bullied by the army of the politically correct telling us how we to portray our artistic creations.” Joined on stage by stars Vivian Von Vector, Charles Leader, Yolanda Chutney, and of course, Rhoda Moskowitz, the entire cast and creators received a 5 minute standing ovation. Surely, the furor would die down.

As spring rolled around, and the final episodes were shot, there was little doubt that THE MATTERHORN would be renewed. Harry was exhausted, but he suddenly couldn’t believe how ironic his luck was: he was now earning over $400,000 a week with the prospect of earning tens of millions from syndication sales. He would be rich forever. But his heart was heavy from his complicity in creating something that he knew might blacken his name and the reputation of his people.

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Lisa was changing too. Once she had been a fairly devout Jew. She had looked forward to celebrating Passover with her friends. But this Spring, she hadn’t heard from her usual friends who conducted a seder and always had included her. Lisa went to see her girlfriend, MOIRA, a strictly Orthodox young woman who wore a veil outside of the house and walked her four children to shul every morning and kept a kosher house. If Moira fell out, then Lisa knew she might have made the fatal choice.

On a warm and smoggy Saturday, Lisa drove from her nice house in the Hollywood Hills over the mountain to the flat, hot plainness of Moira’s modest and mostly Orthodox valley neighborhood. Here, the timeless tableau of bearded men in dark suits said their morning prayers to the Almighty. Women dressed in modesty, with the children as the center of their lives. God was so present here, he supplanted the materialism, the artificiality that Lisa had come to expect of Los Angeles. Under these sturdy and rigid palm trees, respect for the Torah, the Ten Commandments, and the word of the deity were supreme.

Moira was only 27, but she had the dignity and repose of a 50 year old. She was alone on this morning, with her children at school.
She spoke: “So much to do about your program. I watched it myself just to see what all the fuss was about.” Lisa waited, wondering if Moira would point her finger at Lisa and indict her for inciting the hatred against the Jewish people which others had accused THE MATTERHORN of fanning.

Moira poured some hot tea for Lisa. It was served in a homely and old fashioned teacup. Lisa thought it could have been a teacup in a bubby’s apartment, circa 1920.

“Lisa, you obviously earn a lot of money. You can buy things. You have a beautiful car. Lots of nice clothes. You keep yourself thin…..” Lisa thought Moira was asking her at what price these goodies had been bought. But Moira had other things on her mind….

Moira asked:”So who are you dating?” Lisa was aghast. “Oh, nobody right now. I was seeing an exec at MGM last year. But he was so busy. And I’m so busy. You know.”

Moira wasn’t convinced. “You’re busy? What about me? I have four children. I’m 27 years old. And yet I have a husband, a home, a life.”

A life. It was that horrible phrase. A life. Moira had just put it out in the open. Lisa had a life. Or maybe she didn’t have a life. That’s what Moira meant. For what was life without a man, a family, children, a house, meals, memories?

Moira’s innocent and simple comment stung more than all of the months of incrimination in the press. Lisa was no anti-semite. She wasn’t guilty of anything. Lisa was just alone.

Moira seemed to offer no answer to Lisa about The Matterhorn. Lisa almost didn’t want to know what Moira really thought. Besides, hadn’t Lisa done as well as Moira? Lisa had a gorgeous home in the Hollywood Hills. She worked out five days a week and now had a personal trainer, a masseur and a dietician. Moira looked old, paunchy, frumpy—and she wasn’t even 30 years old! Lisa reassured herself that Moira was just jealous.
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Back in Burbank, Harry was leaving the studio when he decided to check his email. There was a message from his mother in Ohio. She wrote that she was pleased that he was doing well, but she could not endure the social ostracization from her friends who were angry and hurt about the character of Missy Mishkin. She wanted to talk with him, but she couldn’t bring herself to dial the phone. She was a mother shamed.

The success, the money, the ratings, the fame—he had done it all for his Mom. No matter how wealthy he got, Harry never forgot his mother in Toledo. Her disapproval was the fatal poison which could turn him from an optimistic man into a fatalistic basket case.

Harry sat in his corner office and he breathed heavily upon the surface of his glass desk top. He took his index finger and on the mist which his hot breath created, he wrote the word, “JEW”. Never particularly observant, never one to identify with the bearded, the learned, the Orthodox—he now had constructed a box which he could not break out of. He had reached for commercial success by using the one poison forbidden to him.

The phone rang. It was his assistant telling him that Geraldo wanted an interview with him. Harry would not keep Geraldo waiting. The few seconds of introspection were closed and Harry prepared to say yes to Geraldo. The show would go on…..

“The House of Hollow Pillars”

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In every town, there is one young lady whom everyone knows and expects great things from.

Carla was Mansfield, Ohio’s mascot of bigger things to come. The town knew of Carla even when the little girl was 5 years old and tap danced her way to win the Little Miss Mansfield contest.

The town again heard of Carla when she was 7 and won the best young equestrian goldmedal in the Allegheny Mountains Horseman’s League.

She was an only child and not competitive with any sibling. She didn’t have to be. She beat out her friends, her cousins, her classmates to try and win whatever she could. She had a need for recognition. She also knew how to kiss ass.

When the Mansfield Town Star paper held a “If I could meet Santa Claus” essay contest, Carla wrote in:

“If I ever met Santa Claus, I’d tell him that he has already given me the best present any little girl could have: my favorite teacher in the world, Miss Lockhart.”

Carla got straight A’s from Miss Lockhart, incidentally or coincidentally.

Her childhood was not all rosy though. When Carla was 13, she and her friend Caitlin were arrested for shoplifting. They were accused of taking aspirins from Long’s drugstore. Carla later defended herself by saying, “My mother has horrible migraines and I couldn’t ask her for any money because she was so ill. I felt I had to help her any way I could.” Judge Norma Johnson looked benevolently upon the young defendant and said, “Young lady, if all of the young people who passed through my courtroom were as sincere and kind as you, then I might retire from this bench.” Carla had kissed ass again—and won.

But good little girls, in good little small towns, can get bored. Carla had gone to a local college and looked ahead a few years and didn’t like what she saw around her:

Early marriage.
Hamms Beer.
Fat asses.
Stretch pants.
Pickup trucks.
Barcaloungers.
Smokers.
Passive living.
Many children.
Drudgery.
Secretarial work.

She had to escape this, somehow.

#####

She matured into a five foot nine inch woman with athletic legs and a narrow waist. Her hair was cut short for she liked to shampoo and towel dry. She didn’t have time for lengthy grooming. She had more important ambitions.

She was indeed in a hurry and one day her mom was suprised when Carla told her that she was moving west to Los Angeles. Mom had expected her daughter to leave, but still the thought of her lovely, only child going to the land of the lost was frightening.

If Mom had fears, Carla only had hopes. Where Mom was cautious, Carla conquered. So it was off to the West Coast, without a second thought for Carla…

Three days later, she stopped to eat at the Main Street McDonalds in Barstow, California. It was a frying pan day with a 109 degree temperature and a sun so enervating that she took cover under a large umbrella in the McDonalds front yard and went to sleep for two hours. When she awoke, she found that someone had stolen her car and all of her belongings. It was also night . She was alone and a woman. No money in a strange desert town.

Twenty-two years old, torn jeans, pink tank top, dirty sandals. She hadn’t showered since her stopover in Tulsa. She had hamburger stains on her behind. Her breath smelled of onions and mustard.. No: wallet, purse, car keys, driver’s license, credit cards, cash. Yet somehow, luck would be hers that night.

#####

Across the desert, just outside of Vegas, 48-year-old Caneer Iverson had left a business meeting and was headed home for Beverly Hills. He had just purchased, for two million dollars, the “Little Chapel by the Lake Casino”. It was far outside of Vegas, near Hoover Dam, but it was a good buy. Forty rooms, a small casino, and a loyal and free spending clientele made up of local residents, retirees, RV nomads, and wealthy divorcees from the area.

Coming down the steep mountain, into the dark night of the desert valley, Iverson put his Eldorado into low gear. He had money, a new acquisition and he didn’t know it but he would soon find a mate..

Back in the 1970’s, Iverson ,a Chicago native, had moved to Los Angeles because he mistook his impotence for prostate cancer. He heard of a cure for the cancer, called Laetrile, or Vitamin B-17. It was outlawed in the States, but conveniently for sale in Tijuana. Iverson thought that he could take this wonderful substance, derived from ground up apricot pits, and it would cure his cancer.

He met another believer: 65-year-old Beverly Hills furrier’s widow, Irene Markowitz, who had lung cancer. Iverson pretended to find the smoking, cancerous, hoarse and rich woman attractive. Lonely, lovable and quite vulnerable, Markowitz was appreciative of his attention. Iverson proposed marriage to her, she accepted, and he moved into her comfortable but nicotine stained apartment in south Beverly Hills. He fed her Laetrile extracts and gave her almond oil massages every night. The health of Irene Markowitz continued to worsen. Two months passed, and Markowitz entered Cedars Sinai, where she expired on August 10, 1981.

Iverson emerged from his wife’s death a much wealthier man. He was worth over 10 million dollars, much of it invested in his late wife’s prime Beverly Hills real estate: office buildings, retail stores, restaurants, gas stations. His wife also still owned No. 2 Timbercrest, a once palatial but now shabby mansion near Rodeo drive. He had been told by his late wife that the house was in horrible condition, so he didn’t even look at it. Now he was the owner and he had to go check it out and get it ready for sale.

The colonial had once looked like “Tara” but now mice encamped in the rotted out beams of the roof. The plumbing was antiquated and leaky. The physical appearance was sad and everything about the property said, “tear down.” Yet Iverson, standing outside of the still dignified home, was reminded of the open air rides in his father’s Cadillac deVille convertible through the shaded streets of Evanston, Wilmette and Winnetka. He kept an idelible memory of the green lawned beauty of Sheridan Road as it traced the shoreline of Lake Michigan. In Chicago, money walked with stoicism, it didn’t shout as it did in Beverly Hills. Iverson suddenly changed his mind: he would restore this home and move into it himself. He could pretend he lived on the North Shore of Chicago but enjoy the eternal sun of the southland.

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By the spring of 1983, Iverson had renovated the wonderful Palladian artfulness of No. 2. Iverson was 48 years old, wealthy and comfortable, with a fine house and security, privacy and dignity to match. He moved in and briefly relaxed.

One night, on his newly polished burnished parquet floor, Iverson lit a fire and reclined on a wool blanket. He poured himself a brandy and put on a CD of Rachmaninoff. As the piano played lightly and melodically and Russian enchantment overtook the room, Iverson looked around a wished for a little girl who he could make love to. Iverson made the list of the best bachelors of Los Angeles in 1986. He was approached by Playboy centerfolds, curvaceous waitresses, wealthy widows, poor widows, middle class divorcees. He got laid a couple of times. Then one night in the desert, driving though Barstow, on his way back to LA, he got a terrific taste for a hot,steamy and ketchup gushing Big Mac……….

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A milk shake, fries, a Big Mac and Miss Shallow. That’s what Iverson got that night in Barstow. It was 11:30 at night. He pulled into the drive-in window of the McDonalds on Main St. in Barstow. As his headlights beamed into the empty eternity of the desert, a dirty faced young woman approached his car.

“Excuse me, I wonder if you could help me. I’m from Ohio and trying to get to LA. My car was stolen and I haven’t got enough money to eat. Could you buy me a hamburger?”
He looked at her: hungry, desperate. Pleading with a pancake flat accented voice of decency and deprivation. Just one hamburger. He reached into his pocket.

“Get into the car honey. You look like you are upset and afraid.”

She looked at him: middle aged, with a kind, open and beaming face. He could have been her father, or Coach Hanna, who taught her how to sprint in high school. Yet, he also could be a serial killer, a rapist, a druggie. God knows.

Dull of mind,hungry and exhausted, she got into his car. They pulled up to the drive-in window together and he ordered two Big Macs, large fries, a chocolate shake. She gulped down the two burgers and then she promptly collapsed into a deep sleep.

An hour later, they were driving towards LA. She woke up and told him her whole misadventure. “I thought I was going to end up in the Barstow morgue.”

Carla was young and spoke young: “At Malabar High School everyone hated me. I was too ambitious. That’s why I got the hell out.” Caneer liked her moxy. He eyed her tanned legs with their chromelike smoothness.

“What about your mom? Doesn’t she miss you?” Iverson asked.

“Oh, her. She’s into do onto others and all that crap.”

#####

He offered her a bed for a night and her own room at the house. This is what she remembered from her first evening in Beverly Hills: the smell of the lavender. White lights shining upon the red brick. A butler, Darrin. A fresh closet full of white, fluffy towels. A warm bath. Swiss bath oils. A queen sized bed. A white linen canopy.

A mass of pink roses which scented the air.

A stranger had invited her into his home. She did not know him, yet she felt safe, warm and protected. Carla had never been bullied, she won battles. She had won a spelling bee, in the seventh grade, by spelling the word, “conquistador” correctly. Carla went to bed in Beverly Hills that night with a vow: she wanted to stay in this house and she was going to earn the right to stay there.

#####

On her first morning in her new home, Carla awoke to some good news. The police had found her stolen car, with all of her belongings intact. Better still, the car was parked on a residential street in Beverly Hills, about ½ mile from No 2. Timbercrest. The thieves had also been on their way to Beverly Hills.

Caneer was beaming as Carla descended the winding oak staircase and joined him for a breakfast of fresh strawberries, a basket of sougherdough bread, raisin muffins, and cranberry scones. The butler was on hand to serve coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice.

She finished her breakfast. Caneer offered help.

“Carla, don’t worry. Anything you need—a car, cash, just ask.”

He offered to drive her to the towing yard where she could reclaim her car. It was in Mar Vista, and she obviously didn’t know her way around Los Angeles. She also didn’t have any clothes to wear. No problem. The butler came back with all of her previously dirty clothes freshly cleaned and pressed.

Caneer’s keen eyes saw a crack saleswoman. Carla might just become the kind of money maker that he needed in his real estate ventures. He would wait quietly though, like a bobcat stalking his prey, before proposing to her that she join him in selling houses to the very, very rich.

#####

Six months passed, sunny summer turned into sunny fall. Carla had stayed with Caneer, and had joined him as an “assistant” in his real estate ventures. “Caneer and Co.” as he now called himself, moved into a Rodeo drive office. He was the man whom Demi Moore sought out to purchase her first home in Los Angles.

Caneer and Carla now regularly showed up in the columns. They attended charity events, studio premieres, hospital benefactor dinners. They were a power couple in the marble-paved Reagan era.

Carla now watched what she ate. The days of Roy Rogers, Arby’s and McDonalds were over. Her new daily prayer: “How many grams of fat are in this?”

Caneer set out to break the two million dollar mark every month and he held Carla to his goal. He needn’t have feared her dedication. For Carla surpassed the two million dollar mark and doubled it. She sold four houses in one month—but she wasn’t satisfied. She told him, “If I’m not producing, I want you to throw me out— of your office and your home. I need to be producing.”

She was equally as tough on Caneer. She cleaned up his sloppy bookkeeping with Microsoft Excel. There wasn’t a number, a dollar, a transaction that she wasn’t aware of. Every night, she worked well past eight o’clock and would not leave the office until she had made the last sales call.

She ribbed him about his computer illiteracy: “Excel is so easy. How could a multi millionaire like you be so good at business and so dumb in computers?”
She also hated imperfection and fired an accountant with 20 years experience who didn’t inform them of a deduction.

Carla possessed tremendous drive and physical energy. As she told LA MAGAZINE, “I run 5 miles a day, work out with a trainer, and I can outrun my Porsche.”

When Caneer was hungry, and wanted to go to lunch, Carla stayed behind and drank bottled water as to not miss a single incoming call. When Caneer got the flu, Carla didn’t stay home to nurse him. Instead, she called him from the office with exciting news of new conquests and sales to perk him up.

Carla made friends with a couple from San Jose who were developing something she thought promising: micro processors which would eventually be installed in every computer around the world. She loaned this couple $10,000 and saw her investment explode 1600% in two years. Money magazine quoted Carla: “It was just a lucky accident.” Anything but……

#####

Home life was conducted with the organizational efficiency of a military operation.

In the month General Schwarzkopf was blasting towards Baghdad, Carla was organizing a fifteen- man division of salespersons who were selling over 30 homes a month in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Westwood and Pacific Palisades. Her Porsche driving panzer patrol would drive up the streets of the Westside, targeting sites for invasion, setting up traps to ensnare buyers, strategizing, and conducting a propaganda campaign to sweep up the Westside real estate market and grab commissions.

Bitter rivals at other agencies nicknamed her “Leona” after Leona Helmsley, the New York hotel queen who ruled over her properties with imperious authority. Carla liked the name Leona and even had a brass plaque made for her office door with the name “Leona” inscribed.

The aggressive woman,however, turned into a compliant kitty at night. She made sure to flatter Caneer with reminders that he had made her success possible: “Darling if it weren’t for you, I’d probably be working at McDonalds.” She credited her drive to his encouragement: “I want you to become the biggest broker in Beverly Hills” Every day that passed saw her wealth, success, energy and fame increase—even as it occured under his rubric, “Caneer and Co.”

#####

Farsi speaking, internationally travelled, tall, dark and athletically handsome, George Shahran was already the talk of the Persian exile community when he walked in Caneer’s office and was hired on the spot to sell houses. Shahran was seen by Caneer as a key player in penetrating the hugely wealthy community of Iranians who settled in Beverly Hills after the fall of the Shah in 1979.

Shahran was something else too: a ladies man. He had played water polo at UCLA, rowed crew, and had been known as a track star on the UCLA team. He majored in business and finance and drove a fast,shiny red Porsche which regularly collected tickets in the vicinity of Bel Air. He had a legendary way with women. He kept a suite at the Beverly Wilshire for his romantic afternoon adventures and if you were a lady looking for property…..

Shahran was ambitious and driven in business. He asked Caneer to double his commissions if he sold a certain amount of property every month. Caneer was impressed. Shahran deserved the extra pay if he was indeed the rain maker that he presented himself to be.

Carla already knew about Shahran—and she considered him a territorial, financial and social threat to her hegemony. She would not confront Shahran directly, but she would let her beloved know that she had no intention of being displaced by this nouveau Iranian.

One of the first big fights and dramatic confrontations between Carla and Caneer occurred the very day that Shahran started work at the firm.

#####

Shahran had come over early in the morning for coffee, on Caneer’s invitation. Carla knew about the invitation, but had not been consulted first by her beloved. She was angry, jealous and feeling displaced by the “successful” newcomer. As Shahran rang the bell, Carla was upstairs getting dressed. Caneer went to answer the door. Before he could open it, Carla came storming down the stairs. Her face was blazing with meanness. Her still wet hair was imprisoned in a terry cloth towel. She pointed her sharp, red, polished index finger at Caneer.

“I don’t want him fuckin’ coming in here. It’s not his house. You hired him to work in the office. He’s not a friend! I don’t want my employees coming in here like they’re my best buddy! Who the fuck does he think he is just bursting in here like that?”

Caneer was stunned.

“My god, what have I done to deserve this?”

“Figure it out!”

She pounded up the stairs, her feet jabbing the treads like a jackhammer on asphalt.

Wisely, objectively and diligently, Caneer put his anger,shock and his left hand in his left pocket and calmly opened the door.

Shahran was smiling, sharp and unaware of the problems his arrival had caused. Caneer extended his right hand with firm assurance.

Caneer fibbed elegantly, “I’m sorry. Carla is very ill this morning. She might have food poisoning. She is so sorry because she wanted to meet you.”

Shahran was kind, “Oh, gosh. That’s horrible. I hope she feels well enough to come to work. I’m so anxious to meet her.”

Caneer had one foot inside the foyer and one foot on the front porch. He smiled at Shahran and held up his index finger to indicate one minute.

The door closed again and Shahran stood outside on the porch waiting for Caneer’s return. Graceful white columns stoically supported the mansion’s roof. Shahran imitated their architectural behavior and waited calmly. Curiosity, however, impelled him to walk away from the house and appraise the exterior with all of the curatorial thoroughness of his profession.

He leaned against the pillar closest to the front door and checked his watch. He had been outside fifteen minutes. It seemed rude but maybe there was a reason: The lover was sick, the house was a mess. He could hear yelling and it sounded as if it were coming down a pipe or through a bullhorn. He put his ear to a column.

Carla’s shrill voice came through the hollow pipe loud and clear: “Tell that big nosed, big cock hot shot that I will never work with him. ”

Shahran was shaken. He now understood that he was hated by the very woman he had once idolized.

Caneer came outside. Shahran feigned innocence. Caneer said apologetically, “Sorry buddy. Go on without me.”

Shahran was let down. On his first day, he had eagerly anticipated meeting his mentor and the legendary Carla. At high income levels, breakfast cancelled in Los Angeles is akin to pulling a veil off of a Muslim woman in Baghdad. An unforgivable insult.

#####

Months passed and Shahran worked hard. He forgot the breakfast slight and began to feel like Caneer and Co. was his home. But his usual good luck went bad. Women passed through and he made love to some, but sold little. His athletic dynamism seemed to cool as he sat on the bench in the office, watching the star player on the court, Carla, close the best deals.

Shahran became good friends with Nancy Johnson, a young,vivacious red haired girl from Portland, Oregon who charmed everyone in the office with her imitation of an Irish brogue. She was talented in impersonations and even could imitate the boss, Carla. Nancy was a fresh wind of humor in a deadly serious office and Shahran loved her kindness and wacky ways.

But Nancy walked into Shahran’s office one day. Her green eyes were bloodshot and she had been crying. She sat down and put her face into her hands.

“Carla says that I’ve been goofing off and she is firing me. I’m saying good-bye.”
“But you’re a really good salesperson, Nance…”
“It doesn’t matter. She said I was a stupid clown that distracted everyone from their work.”
So little Nancy was out courtesy of Carla. The office grew quieter.

#####

Caneer was also seen less his office. Rumors swept the company that he was sick with cancer. Other more unspeakable ailments were whispered about: he might be a closet fag and dying of AIDS; he might be suicidal; he once tried to kill himself. None of it was true, but Shahran suspected Carla might be secretly trying to depose her sweetheart.

When Caneer finally came into the office, after an absence of five weeks, he seemed considerably thinner. He had a strong orange tan, which only served to accentuate his martian-like appearance. He drank prune juice and carried a handkerchief which he constantly was blowing into. He limped and his white hair was much sparser. His murky eyes aged and his feeble voice sounded rockier and shakier.

One day, an office meeting was held with Carla speaking. Caneer, invalid like, sat in a chair while his lover stood and spoke:

“As many of you are aware my beloved, dear partner and your leader has been absent for many weeks from our company. As some of you may have surmised, he is ill. With his sad departure, I am assuming the leadership of Caneer and am confident that we will continue to progress and hit new levels of success and achievement worthy of our founder……..”

#####

Six months after Iverson’s last day, Shahran was doing quite well at Caneer and Co. His sales were right up there under Carla’s. She was still the top performer but he had just closed three deals in the past month and was feeling great about the coming year: more money, more opportunity.

What had not changed was the icy demeanor of Carla towards Shahran. She barely spoke to him. She affected an air of disinterest in his deals and if she mentioned them at all it was to convey Caneer’s appreciation for Shahran. The Persian accepted her personalilty, and though he wasn’t fond of her, he preoccupied himself with the details of his job.

Carla mostly stayed out of Shahran’s space, either out of distaste for him or something else. Yet one day, Shahran was suprised to get a voice mail from Carla with an invitation to join her for lunch at Le Dome, an expensive restaurant.

Shahran began to regain some of the old confidence. He asked of his reflection in a mirror: “Who was that woman to push me around? She would never fire me. She knows I’m good. ” He fed himself these positive reinforcements before he entered Le Dome.

Carla, on the celphone, had already arrived wearing a Dior ivory shantung silk jacket and matching skirt.

A bottle of chardonnay sat in a silver bucket next to the table. Shahran walked up to her, smiling broadly.

Carla pursed her lips in a sly way. No emotion but a veneer of civility. She crossed her legs and looked into Shahran’s eyes with a prosecutorial gaze.

“Congrats on your two big sales. I understand the LeBlanc sale is in escrow. That was quite a surprise, I didn’t think that the bank would approve the loan.”

Shahran was confused, but spoke immediately. “I was very happy for the LeBlancs They’re a young couple. Very hard working nice people. She’s expecting a baby in October.”

“So I heard.

The waiter brought Shahran’s water and it was promptly gulped by the still nervous broker. Carla was holding a Cross pen and jotting down some figures on a piece of paper.

“In the appraisal, the house was valued at $1,950,000. That seems a little high for that neighborhood don’t you think?”

“Oh, it’s a little high but nothing outrageous.”

Carla shook her head no. “No way. You are way off. $1,700,000 at the most.”

Shahran knew she was suspicious about something. “Are you saying that the LeBlancs are in over their head?”

Carla leaned over and stared at Shahran. She stuck her lizard’s tongue into the chardonnay and took a sip. “You and I both know that the appraisal was cooked. You can’t fool me with those figures. The LeBlancs were approved for the mortgage because the bank thinks the house is worth a lot more than it is and when they loaned them the money the “extra” cash covers the down payment. Those people couldn’t afford a fuckin’ condo in Alhambra for God’s sake!”

Shahran was stunned. He stammered as he struggled to reply to an obviously false charge. “If the appraisal is phony then the mortgage company and the appraiser are to blame. What difference does it make if we made the sale anyway?”

Carla kept her voice down, but she was furious. She drew her lips together and clenched her fists as her temper exploded.

“I am not running a god damn two penny house of fraud! I expect my brokers to be scrupulously honest and if I have to start fighting lawsuits and damn investigations from the California Department of Commerce or the state attorney general, or the FBI, I won’t stand for it! You and I know that if the LeBlancs find out that they were hustled or didn’t know the true value or terms of the agreement then the whole deal is kaput. Not only that but I could face legal fuckin problems up the wazoo.”

Shahran was grief stricken. He felt naked, ashamed and unsure of how this had escalated into his error and mistake. He struggled to defend himself. “I don’t know how this happened. I used Abby Josephson as my appraiser so many times. She doesn’t seem like a fraud.”

Carla calmed down, but only enough to indict him further. “If Abby can make a little on the side when the mortgage is approved and the seller and the broker are happy, why do you think that she would give a rat’s ass about ethics? I know a lot of appraisers in this city and I wouldn’t trust them any more than I would hire Charles Manson as a babysitter!”

Good Shahran was falling fast, he knew his job was on the line and now his good sales figures were evidence of a crime that he surely did not commit.

Shahran asked for a chance to explain. “I didn’t know what was happening. I think you should let me go over my records and then talk about it with you tomorrow. I had no idea you were going to bring this up.”

Carla was not satiated, yet. ” I have a bigger problem here. Trust. I have let you roam on a very long leash. I heard good things about you and your figures have been impressive all along. But details are the si ne qua non of our profession. You aren’t a success just because you make sales and fuck all the females.”

She had nailed him in the balls.

The inquistion continued, “If you close a bad deal and forget to check the details whether it is an inspection, an appraisal, a percentage on a mortgage, whatever, you are failing to do your job.”

“So are you firing me? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes. I want you out of the office today”

#####

With little emotion and mechanical ambition, Carla Shallow had built up her Beverly Hills real estate empire into the largest property management and sales firm in the West. But now with her dearest dead– she was selling her company to a Fortune 500 conglomerate, taking her wealth and moving, in a few weeks, to Maui.

She didn’t look a woman in mourning, this spunky, fit, purple sweatshirted woman. Her hair was tousled and her walk robust and confident. The house with the hollow pillars had been one of the stops for a supersonic woman whose achievements—in business, in marriage and in crushing rivals were breathtaking. There were boxes all around. The butler nervously packed bubble wrapping around glass trinkets.

“Mrs. Iverson?”

“Yes, Darrin?”

“I have all of Mr. Ivereson’s papers wrapped up neatly.”

“Good. Will you drop off the documents at the lawyer’s office today? They need everything to make sure that the will is in order.”

That evening, Carla left LA and flew to Hawaii just as CNN reported the acquisition of her company.

#####

Months after he was fired, Shahran, unaware of Carla’s departure, was driving past the house of hollow pillars. He thought briefly about getting a baseball bat and walking into no. 2 Timbercrest and smashing that bitch. He pictured the bloody teeth, the broken jaw, the cracked skull and how he might stomp his combat boots into her screaming face as she lay helpless on the floor. His heart raced faster as he imagined carrying her lifeless body up the winding staircase and then dropping her limp corpse from atop the landing and onto a glass table below.

But Carla wasn’t in that house at that moment. She was eating a mango and shrimp salad at the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel and Spa in Maui. Cascading waterfalls, tropical vegetation, formal gardens, and the lush life would relax most mortals.

But Carla had always been different. She would come to Maui, not to retire, but to expand her conquest. She had her eye on several properties, including the Grand Wailea .

She would continue to live and prosper as lesser souls around her dwindled and failed.

Back in Beverly Hills, the house of the hollow pillars would see new tenants, but none as smart , shrewd and savvy as Carla.
THE END

“Such Happiness!”

Isabelle/Model/2017


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?”

“No. BU.”

“Oh. Well, did you rent a house in San Luis Obispo, or Palm Springs last summer?”

“I did!”

“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?”

“Last year!”

“I moved out of Nebraska in 1992.”

“Oh.”

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?”

“Uh-huh!”

“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.

“Hello, handsome!”

“Hi.”

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.
“Hi Charlie.”

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.”

“Michaelfish?”

“His band.”

“Oh.”

“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?”

“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.

“Last Summer I Worked at the Reagan Library”

My name was Ronald Reagan. I’m a lighting designer. 33 years old. Manhattan resident. A conservative talk show host and writer almost embraced me to suffocation a few years ago when I told her my name. I’m not the real Reagan, but I guess I was real enough for Peggy Naron.

Two winters ago, I designed and installed new lighting for a dim and dated old little French restaurant, owned by a chef named Monique, around the corner from my apartment on Madison Avenue.

I installed dimmers, down lights, and pinkish translucent directional lights near the entrance. Low wattage lights make the matrons look appealing.

On a bright and frigid January afternoon, a coolly elegant middle-aged woman stopped into the restaurant in the middle of construction. My workers were on ladders, drilling, hammering. I was elegantly dressed in a Brooks Brothers blazer, white oxford shirt and silk tie. I must have looked like the maitre d’.

“Is my friend Monique here?” The lady asked.

“Monique is in the back. Let me get her,” I answered.

The visitor was in her late 40’s, blonde, sexy, wearing a dark gray skirt that outlined a pert behind. A white silk blouse draped over her luscious tits. She had the glazed and happy aura of a Christian evangelist, one who already knew the answers to all the mysteries of life. I realized she was the famous Peggy Naron, a conservative columnist and commentator. She wrote for the Wall Street Journal. She also was a professional hater of the William Jefferson Clintons, among other accomplishments. Her biggest life long love was Ronald Reagan. I wanted her carnally even as I despised her politically.

Just a few days earlier I had seen Peggy on CNN talking about how unmarried mothers didn’t deserve health care benefits because “they had violated the social contract”. She also said, “during the Reagan era it had been established that food stamps were a contributor to obesity.”

Today there were hardly any diners in the restaurant. Back in the kitchen the chefs were busy chopping, sautéing, frying, baking, chopping, washing. I ran back to find Monique instructing a chef, Karen, in the art of slicing.

Monique stood next to her, like a film director instructing an actor how to play a scene. I sensed that they did not want to be disturbed. She was showing Karen how to hold a knife correctly.

“Take the blade and hold the handle like you want to KILL the chicken. You have to stab the bird.” Monique took a sharp blade and pierced the poultry skin. Karen followed.

“Good”, Monique said, “keep the angle.”

“Careful. Don’t look at me”, she cautioned, “You need to watch what you are doing.”
“Monique. You have a customer who needs a table,” I interrupted. Monique looked at me with fierce annoyance.

“Je ne suis pas hereux! Please don’t interrupt my lesson! Can’t you see that I am directing this scene?”

She was born and raised in Scarsdale, but fell into French whenever she wanted to blow up her importance.

She bossed me with Gallic aplomb. “Just go out there, grab a menu and lead her to her seat”, she said.

I ran back into the front of the restaurant. Peggy was sitting on a bench reading LE MONDE. Her legs were crossed and chin pointed toward heaven. She seemed to be inspecting her left hand. Nothing looked amiss. I imagined she had just had her nails buffed.

I grabbed a menu and approached her. “Please follow me”, I said. We walked over to a table near the red curtained window. “May I get you something to drink?” I asked.

“Yes. Do you have Chardonnay?” she asked.

“I’m sure we do,” I answered. I went to the bar, took down a wine glass and filled it. Bending down behind the bar counter, where nobody could see me, I spit into her glass.

Smiling and ever so politely, I brought the contaminated wine to her table. It felt so good when the glass and the white fermented juice touched her polished, glistening lips.

Peggy had once famously written, in her Wall Street news column, that poor people tended to get sicker “because they had poor hygiene.” She had faulted “welfare moms” for their lack of good housekeeping skills and praised conservative moms who stayed at home and knew “how to use bleach, brooms and dustpans.”

Motioning to me, she looked ready to order. I grabbed a pen and paper and pretended to be a server. Peggy ordered salad with Roquefort cheese, walnuts and spinach.
Ten minutes later, the chef completed the salad. He placed it on the counter. I went back to get it. I secretly brought the salad into the bathroom, put it on the sink counter, grabbed some Lysol and sprayed it over the greens. Then I carried the plate back to her table. Digging into the morsels with her fork, she seemed to enjoy the exotically flavored dressing.

I played the part of waiter a little longer. When she finished her meal I asked her if she wanted dessert.

She ordered a chocolate cake with lemon sauce. I won’t describe what I added to the yellow colored topping.

“You were just wonderful young man,” she said as I brought her the check. “How come I haven’t seen you here before?”

“I have to be honest with you,” I said, “I am actually a lighting designer and today we are installing new lights in the restaurant.”

“No kidding. You seem like a natural waiter. What’s your name?”

“I’m Ron Reagan,” I said.

She arched her back and folded her hands on the table, like a little princess in a play. “Well, this is quite an honor Mr. Reagan. I just think you have a simply marvelous name!” Her cheeks were red, either from the wine or intense attraction.

I laughed, but it was a laugh of unease. “Oh, thank you. It’s just a name ma’am.”

“Please. Call me Peggy,” she said. Then she raised her index finger and pedantically pointed it right at my face. “You don’t just have any name. You have the name of a saint. There was only one Ronald Reagan, and he was the greatest president who ever lived. He ended the cold war and brought a new pride to our nation. Don’t EVER take your name for granted.”

I tried to differentiate myself from her icon. “He was a great man, but don’t you think his administration harmed a lot of poor people? The homeless, crack babies and the AIDS crisis. It all started during Reagan.”

She put down a twenty-dollar bill, got up and grabbed her cardigan from the chair. Gingerly buttoning her sweater, she explained how the poor came to be. “Its God’s way to remind us that suffering must be confronted not with handouts but with hardness. Most of these afflictions of the underclass were created by the poor themselves.”

“But you don’t think government has a right and a duty to alleviate suffering?” I asked.

“Success is up to each person,” she explained, “ We have to want it. Look at you for example. You have a beautiful haircut. Worn in the 50’s style of our 40th President. You smile and say please and thank you. You dress elegantly. If everyone behaved as well as you, we wouldn’t even need welfare because everyone would be working!”
It was utterly illogical, but in her crisp delivery she created a plausible solution to ending poverty.

She walked out of the restaurant but I followed closely behind. “I’m a liberal I tell you. I’m a liberal!”

She put her arm up to hail a cab. A yellow car pulled up and she opened the door and got in. I stood over her at the curb. She rolled down the window. “Give me your business card and email address Mr. Reagan. You have tremendous passion and a delightful speaking voice. I’m going to call you and set you on the right track!”

The cabbie and the passenger sped up Madison Avenue as I sat open mouthed on the sidewalk.

A certain Email

One morning, a week later, I opened up my email. There was a message from Peggy.

“Enjoyed meeting you last week at La Marché restaurant. Would you be available tonight? If so, please come around 6pm to my home at 720 Park Avenue.”

I was flattered and flustered. Yet I accepted her invitation, hoping that it might lead to a lighting job, something more sensual or possibly both.

I arrived at the marble and limestone lobby fifteen minutes early. A doorman dialed the rotary telephone and announced me. I walked over to the mahogany paneled elevator with the leather bench. The brass doors closed and lifted me up to the 12th floor penthouse.

Peggy opened the door. She was wearing a navy silk pleated cocktail dress with tan hose and high-heeled shoes. “Nice to see you again Mr. Reagan. Won’t you come in?” I stepped inside a spacious, pre-war apartment hall. Polished limestone floors, brass sconces and a graceful staircase led up to the bedrooms.

We walked into the living room and stepped over to a bar. “Would you like something to drink?” she asked. Red candles glowed on top of the mantle, next to the bookcase, on glass tables. An enormous blue Persian rug with ornate stitching covered the parquet floors. “Do you have any Merlot?” I asked. “Of course. President Reagan loved Merlot!” She poured me a glass of wine.

“The reason I invited you over here,” she explained, “is to ask you to work on the Reagan library in California this summer. The lighting system is terribly out of date and we need to remodel.” We both sank into cushy cushions on a downy sofa with embroidered pillows trimmed in alabaster and gold. Her powdery French perfume matched the aroma of the scented candles. I started to feel queasy.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“No. I haven’t eaten all day and…..this wine. It’s gone to my head,” I explained.
“Are you politically opposed to working at the library?” she asked,“ I could make it worth your while.”

“I’m a liberal, but I’m not dumb,” I said.

“I might make a joke out of that line,” she said.

“I’m flattered that you want me Peggy. But how do you know if I’m good?”

“I asked Monique. She adores you.” She got up from the sofa and twirled around the floor flirtatiously.

“Let me refresh your drink Mr. Reagan.”

I felt really bad. I was accepting her hospitality and considering the job offer, as I sat trapped in her salmon colored salon on a down filled sofa. I really couldn’t get up and stand on my own two feet. Indeed I had poisoned her food and drink, because her elite type had poisoned the political waters of America. Still, she was an elegant, well-mannered woman. I wondered if I could ever work in the enemy’s lair, the Reagan Library, just to make a buck.

She came back with a full glass and the March issue of RETAIL LIGHTING.

“Well, how does $50,000 for two weeks work sound? All traveling expenses paid, and room and board included.” She sat down, placed the wine on the table, and opened the magazine. “Just look at the sushi bar lights you designed in Soho! If you could make raw fish look alive, imagine how you could bring life to the exhibits at the Reagan Library!” She brushed my hair with a motherly touch.

“Ron, please say yes. You and I will go to California. It will be a golden moment. Let’s leave everyone in New York behind and have an adventure” For a moment, I thought we were planning an elopement. Then I remembered that this was a job offer. Right?

Slush

Six weeks after my cocktail meeting, I was still out of work and had not given Peggy an answer. It was February, a dreadful month. The city was bleak. Slush and snow flurries, the cheap anti-climatic toys of late Winter, filled the sky. One desolate Sunday evening, I walked with Monique up Broadway from West 73rd Street.

“Peggy is one powerful woman”, Monique said, “she can open doors for you. I would take whatever offer she makes.”

“But I don’t like her god-damned right wing bullshit.” I protested. We stopped to get pretzels from a sidewalk vendor. She poured mustard on the X shaped steamy treat and shoved it into her mouth.

“Who the fuck cares?” she said with a mustard yellow tongue. “ If you can steal money from the Reagans by installing a couple of halogen lights—maybe you’ll actually be performing a liberal good deed.”

The next morning, I was downtown talking to a prospective client, an older, witty Irish Catholic priest.

“I’m sorry Mr. Reagan, we’re going to have to put off construction at St. Theresa’s. You know, our congregation isn’t doing as well this year as last. I can’t afford your services,” said Father Jeff Stryker.

A television was on in his office. He turned away from me and glanced at the TV. He grabbed the remote and turned up the volume. The voice of Peggy Naron filled the room. She was a guest on Larry King.

“So you think Americans can learn how to talk to God by studying the life of the Great Communicator Ronald Reagan?” King asked her.

“Oh, yes Larry! I think one of the reasons Reagan was so happy is that he knew all the answers from his talks with the Lord.” The priest rolled his eyes at her answer.

“Excuse me Mr. Reagan. I’m sorry. I do have one question. Do halogen lights or incandescent best express the post Vatican II style?” he asked.

Decision

I applied for unemployment and starting collecting the
paltry benefits. At home I watched the news with its never ending stories of murder, terror, financial catastrophes, war and impending doom.

New York smelled bad. My apartment, with the windows closed for six months to block out the cold air, began to stink of chicken soup, cigarettes and sewer gas carried through the common vent from other apartments.

I had to escape the darkness, cold, pessimism, joblessness and anomie of the city. I needed warm light and cash, friendly faces and a rest. I was going to accept the Monique’s advice and say yes to the offer. I called Peggy to tell her the good news.

She was delighted with my answer. “Why don’t you come over to my apartment and we’ll celebrate!” I got a guilty erection just hearing her voice.

A Woman Possessed

We were standing on Peggy’s terrace overlooking the Upper East Side. The sun was falling quickly in the West, casting a pinkish glow upon us. “You look so damn handsome,” she said holding a martini. I took a sip of wine and put my arms around her waist.

“What do you think of Monica Lewinsky?” she asked.

“I think she was a nice girl who did a naughty thing.” I answered.
She laughed. She put her drink on the ledge next to mine. My hands were clasped against her spine as she leaned back. I opened my mouth and placed it against hers. “I think you are my daddy,” She said.

“Daddy?” I asked. She nodded her head childishly. “Daddy Reagan.”

“I don’t get it. Are you being funny?”

“Completely darling. Do you think I’m delusional?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I just know you feel good.”

“Ronnie”, she asked, “Did you spit in my wine glass in the restaurant?” I let go of her and stepped back.

“What? What kind of question is that?” I asked with mock honor.

“I saw you spit into my glass. I could see you in the mirror above the bar. It was perfectly marvelous. Like you were giving me a part of you. Bodily fluids. A touch of your genetic material.”

“I think you’re crazy,” I said half jokingly. She picked up her drink and took a ladylike sip. “Oh, I am. I’m simply crazy about you Mr. Reagan. I want to fuck your brains out. I want to make passionate love with you all night and be your girl! When you told me your name in the restaurant I got chills. I almost couldn’t eat. When you spit in my drink, it was like you almost ejaculated right into my….”

Her transformation from schoolteacher into seductress startled me. She threw herself at me and pushed her tongue into my ear. I wanted to take her inside and fuck her right on the tufted ottoman.

“You love me like you loved Nancy,” she said, “Leave her and marry me.”

“Nancy? Who’s Nancy?”
 “She’s your wife silly! She doesn’t love you the way I love you!” She was possessed, like Reagan’s failed assassin John Hinckley imagining his fictional lover Jodie Foster.

I wanted to be rational about it. This was about my work. Wasn’t it? I decided to leave her place before we stripped down into love and insanity.

“I’m going Peggy, I said, “I have to pack my bags and get up early tomorrow.”

“Don’t leave yet. Mr. President, we haven’t even gotten to second base,” She pleaded. I kissed her politely on the forehead and then grabbed my coat.

“Goodbye Peggy. I’ll call you when I get to Simi Valley.”

“Don’t bother,” she yelled, “I’ll be at your hotel in California tomorrow night. I love you.”

Simi Cry

The next day, I woke up early and took a cab to cold and rainy Newark Airport. I hadn’t slept well. I was tired and cranky and just a bit scared of what I had gotten into. I was going to California, hired by a woman who cast me as her Ronald Reagan to work in the library of the real Ronald Reagan.

Five hours later, I landed at sunny LAX. I rented a car and got on the road. Passing through the Santa Susana Pass into the Simi Valley, I entered a humble and undisturbed land of sunlit white clouds, red tiled roofs and regimented housing estates. Just off the freeway exit, on a local street, a carved wood sign read: Welcome to the Simi Valley. Relax and slow down.

At the front desk of the Hispano-Corporate style Reagan Library, a kindly docent, Ethel, seemed to anticipate my arrival.

“Hello,” I said, “I think Peggy is expecting me.”

“I know exactly who you are”, she said, “Your hair is combed up in a pompadour. Just like Peggy described. It’s gorgeous.”

“Thank you”, I said, bewildered and self-consciousness, brushing my hair off my forehead.

“I see you’re wearing a brown pin striped suit. Very handsome. Peggy said you were an exquisite dresser. President Reagan had a suit just like the one you’re wearing. Would you like to see it?” she asked.

“Oh, no thank you. I’m a bit tired. Do you have any water?”

“I’m sorry Mr. Reagan. Let me get you a glass. Please have a seat,” she said.

Ethel left the room. She returned a few minutes later, carrying my glass of water. Three elderly ladies followed her. They gathered in front of me, like they were having an audience with the Pope. “This is Mr. Reagan. He is a special guest of Peggy and will be working on our lighting system. Please give him anything he needs,” Ethel announced to the gathering.

One by one, the little beaming ladies stepped forward to shake my hand and introduced themselves.

Leaning on a cane, was lovely Lillie Lavandula. “Peggy was right. You’re the real thing,” she said with evident delight.

Next came Bertha Oleander. “The Little Brown Church, where Ronnie married Nancy, is still available for weddings,” she said.

“Peggy wanted me to tell you she will be late today. She stopped off at the chapel in Studio City to talk to the Reverend,” Ethel said.

This was getting weirder and weirder. I was barely in California two hours and already was possibly on my way to the altar. I had to find a way to escape Peggy. I also needed to get away from these cloying biddies.

“Excuse me ladies,” I said politely, “I think I’ll walk around the library a bit.”
“By all means sir. We’re here if you need us.”

I smiled and waved at them as I walked toward a room that was a replica of the Oval Office just as Ronald Reagan had left it. A recorded voice trembled with emotion above the empty Presidential desk chair, “Tear down that wall Mr. Gorbachev! Tear down that wall!”

Nancy

In the late afternoon, I went back to my hotel room to unpack my bags and shower. Just as I turned off the water, someone knocked loudly on my door. I put on a terry cloth bathrobe and opened the handle. Peggy was standing there in a wash and wear Chanel suit and holding a leather suitcase. She kissed me on the lips.

“Darling, she said, “I’m sorry to be late. I just found out that we have to get dressed and go back to the library. Mrs. Reagan is visiting tonight. She would like to meet you. Frankly, I can’t stand the bitch. Oh, excuse my crude tone. But Nahn-cee has to have her way on everything.”

I sat my wet body down on the bed. My bathrobe fell open, accidentally exposing my clean and fully erect penis to Peggy’s bulging pupils. She dropped her Mark Cross leather bag, got down on her knees and started sucking me. “Oh Ronnie, oh Ronnie! I couldn’t wait any longer!”

We made love. During our intercourse, she moaned and moaned, “Oh Ronnie, oh Ronnie!” It was exhausting, but we finished, showered, dressed and left to drive back to the library.

As we pulled into the parking lot, Peggy spoke. “I have plans for you tomorrow. You can work on the lighting, and I’ll go shopping. Later in the afternoon, we can meet up at a nearby stable. They have two wonderful Arabian stallions quartered there. You’ll get your saddle and we’ll explore the mountains, just like we did up at the ranch in Santa Barbara.”

“OK darling, whatever you say,” I said.

I got out of the car, and went around to open Peggy’s
door. We followed a group of older suited gentleman and coiffed ladies into the library garden. Waiters carried appetizers and champagne on the terrace. Peggy was polite to all, but she would not release her hand from mine.

We crouched into a corner. Peggy whispered, “There she is. Bitchy little Nancy. See how she walks into the room? Like she is someone important. Still wearing Adolfo! Doesn’t she ever change?”

Mrs. Reagan was small, frail, but still elegant and gracious. Secret Service men fanned out across the crowd. Nancy recognized Peggy and walked over to her. Peggy smiled at her, lips closed and fists clenched.

“Peggy dear,” Nancy intoned, “You look lovely. Is this the lighting man?”
Peggy grimaced. “Yes, this is Ronald Reagan.”

Mrs. Reagan extended her hand. I shook it. “Nice to meet you,” I said stupidly, “ I hope that I can be of great benefit to the library”.

“I’m sure you will be,” Nancy said, “ We have short circuits and power problems. And my Adolfos look awful in the cases. I hope you can illuminate them better. I want to talk to you alone later if you have the time,” she said.

“Sure. Anything you need Mrs. Reagan.”

“Call me Nancy.”

She walked over to another group of distinguished white haired dinosaurs in dinner jackets. Peggy looked at me with anger.

“What did she mean alone?” she asked.

“I guess she wants to speak to me alone,” I answered.

“Why can’t I be there?” she said.

“I really don’t know. But I look forward to talking to her,” I said. Peggy turned her back to me and walked away.

I followed her and tried to grab her left arm, but I accidentally caused her to drop a champagne glass on the gray slate. Her face froze. People turned their heads to look.

“Get away from me,” she yelled, “you lied to me! You still love her!” I was terrified. This nutcase might cause me to lose my $50,000 job. But I had to play along with her lunacy.

“I do. You’re right! I love my Nancy and will always love her!” I screamed.

“Either you leave her, or I’m leaving you!” she said.

Ethel rushed over to us. “My dear Peggy. Are you unwell? Let me take you inside. I think these crazy winds and the heat are upsetting you.”

“Ethel, I’m perfectly able to conduct myself in public. I’ve spent my whole life in the public eye. Mr. Mayer once told me that I was the best behaved actress on the whole lot!”

Ethel looked at me with bewilderment. I tried to smile. Peggy’s eyes opened wide, like Gloria Swanson as she descended the staircase in Sunset Boulevard. “I know exactly who I am. I know just where I’m going. My man and I are going to stay right here.”
 “Well, OK.” Ethel said. “I’ll leave you alone if Mr. Reagan says he can take care of you.”
 “I’m fine Ethel.” I said. Peggy grabbed my arm to steady herself. We walked back to the crowd and went along with our charade.

The well-behaved donors and patrons of the library continued their polite ignorance of our situation. We drank and ate and went back to the hotel around 10pm.

At the hotel I told Peggy we should sleep in separate rooms, because “The President” was restless. She agreed and we said good night.

The Next Morning

The next morning I arrived at the Reagan Library at 8am and was greeted by Mrs. Reagan. Ethel and Mr. Illini Dixon, a white haired decorator friend of the former First Lady. Dixon was there to offer his certain opinions on matters of taste.

We walked through the library, eyeing one display case that had a red Adolfo suit once worn by Nancy in 1983. “This is perfectly dreadful Nancy,” Dixon intoned, “Your suit looks like JC Penneys in this cheap illumination. Ronald make a note of it please.”

I had expected Peggy to be there on my first day at the library, but she was quite absent. “Has anyone seen Ms. Naron?” I asked. Nancy looked at Dixon who rolled his eyes. “She will not be joining us,” he said.

The walk continued. Nancy asked, “What about Ronnie’s favorite football from college? Shouldn’t that be in this case with his other student memorabilia?” Dixon answered, “Dear, people can only take so much football. Your husband had other interests. We need to have one section for just your place settings of White House China. Don’t you agree Mr. Reagan?” He asked.

“Sure,” I answered.

The walking tour lasted another twenty minutes. Then Mrs. Reagan said good-bye to all of us, and said that Mr. Dixon and I would get along fabulously.

“Will you excuse us Ethel?” Dixon asked.

“Certainly,” She said as she left us in a dark hallway.

“Young man, you almost lost your job last night,” He said.

“Why? What did I do?” I asked.

“You embarrassed Mrs. Reagan by not dancing with her.”

“But I was with Peggy,” I said.

“Oh, I know the whole story. You don’t have to tell me a thing,” he said.

“You know? About Peggy? How crazy she is? That she thinks I’m something other than who I am?” I asked.

“Yes. You can trust me,” he said, “I spoke to Peggy and she was telling me such a bunch of bull. How in love with her you were. How you made love in your bathrobe. How big your cock is! She told me everything.”

“I am so relieved. I just want to enjoy my time here in the library. Do my job. I came to California to escape the stress. I’m so happy you understand me,” I said.

“Not only will you enjoy the library,” he said, “ But I want you to spend the weekend with me at my house in Palm Springs. It’s gorgeous. Filled with the most stylish mid-century furniture. Do you like 50’s stuff? I’ve got oodles of it.”

“Yes I love the 50’s,” I answered.
“I sent Peggy back to New York. The bitch. Let her find her own Ronald Reagan at the bottom of a highball glass. She can drink, that lush. Mrs. Reagan thinks she is poison with a capital P.”
He grabbed the back of my arm, digging his fingers into my triceps. “Oh, I see you go to the gym. Very nice. We’ve got a fully equipped spa at my home. You’re going to love it at my home Mr. Reagan.”
Two Weeks Later
I had spent the weekdays designing and supervising the installation of new lighting at the library. Everyone was so sweet to me, so considerate. My hours were quite regular, mostly from 8am-5pm. My only problem was the persistent presence of Mr. Dixon.
He was in the library offering me suggestions. He told me which items Mrs. Reagan wanted to highlight. He carried a phone and constantly called Nancy to tell her how the renovations were progressing. He became a royal pain in the butt. But his most egregious habit was patting me on the shoulder and the butt. Finally, I had had enough of his touchiness.
I was standing on top of the President’s desk in the Oval Office reaching up to the ceiling to adjust a spotlight. Illini grabbed my thigh, ostensibly to keep me balanced, but it was dangerously close to my balls. “Would you take your hand off my leg?” I asked.
He stepped back and leered at me. “My you certainly are testy today! I was just trying to keep you from falling off,” he said.
“Listen, I was hired to do the lighting here. I don’t need an assistant. I certainly appreciate your help, but you’re invading my space!” I screamed.
“No, you take your Manhattan attitude and shove it up your ass! How dare you reject my help and my authority! Who the fuck do you think you are!” he said.
We both stood there, not budging. He huffed and walked out of the Oval Office.

Help
In the last few days at the end of the project, I was rid of both Illini and Peggy. Free of those annoying people, I had begun to learn something about Reagan’s life, and started to appreciate those achievements in his presidency that I had once dismissed.
For example, the library showed how Reagan ended the cold war, and that was swell. He also had fired the air traffic controllers, and put an end to union domination of national politics. I saw how kind he was to old friends like Jimmy Stewart and Claudette Colbert, and I was charmed by his loyalty. He loved horses, and riding, and chopping wood. The confused mind, the psychoanalyzed mind, the liberal fogginess of my own thinking was purified in the conservative clarity of California’s Reagan Library.
It was Nancy who called me ask me out to lunch. She told me to drive down to Los Angeles and meet her at the Bel Air Hotel. She wanted to thank me for my kindness, and I was thrilled to be invited.
But when I spoke to her on the phone, something in her voice frightened me. “We’re going to have lunch and I’ve also invited Peggy Naron and Illini Dixon. They speak so highly of you. They told me that you have some political aspirations that we should discuss. I think you’re going to be a big hit in the new Republican Party and I want to introduce you to all the right people.”
No matter what I did, I couldn’t somehow offend these fans of mine. I remained a shining figment of their imagination in the blinding light of the Golden State.
I politely declined Nancy’s offer and told her to give my best to Illini and Peggy.

The End