A married woman renovates her love life while renovating her kitchen in Day of the Deltoid.
Day of the Deltoid (PDF)
A married woman renovates her love life while renovating her kitchen in Day of the Deltoid.
Day of the Deltoid (PDF)
Los Angeles in the mid-21st Century, a world of robots and virtual people.
It was a clear, sparkling, blue-sky morning in Los Angeles. Ned Le Reve of Studio City went out for a walk.
Ned, his wife Stacey and daughter Kirsten lived on the quaint Cantura Street just south of Ventura Boulevard. Their house was rented, but it felt like home with its double hung windows, black shutters, white washed picket fence and Iceberg roses in the front yard.
Ned, born in Chicago, had moved out to Los Angeles some twenty years earlier to work as a production assistant on the TV pilot “Twenty Lashes” which starred Potter Palmer, an obscure Chicago comedian who was briefly popular in the latter half of 1984. Ned considered himself a real Chicagoan who grew up in Rogers Park, went to Senn High School and the University of Illinois.
Everyone Lives Near the Beverly Center
In the 1980’s, many young Chicagoans and New Yorkers who emigrated to LA moved to that section of Los Angeles near the brown concrete mass of the Beverly Center. The straight, ambitious, cunning, aggressive and creative aspiring sycophants…all of them… were drawn to an area built up largely in the 1930’s and 40’s with Spanish and Art Moderne flats in gardens of green lawns, ficus trees and Birds of Paradise.
Ned found a 1939 vintage two-bedroom apartment on Orlando, just north of Beverly. His roommate was Alan Blockkopf (block-off), a short red haired and wiry nerd from Skokie, Illinois. Alan had been in Ned’s Secrets of Sitcom Writing class at U of I. He was a connection of sorts. He had just secured a job as a runner on The Cosby Show and was full of advice.
Ned soon found out that Alan never shut up with his helpful hints about making it in Hollywood. A typical Alan comment: “What you want to do in Hollywood is send a postcard to any person you meet at a party and thank them for talking to you.” He was full of career, dating, eating, carnal, social, family and financial recommendations.
As Ned reached into the refrigerator to prepare himself a tuna sandwich he felt Alan’s hand on his left shoulder.” I never eat tuna salad the day after I make it,” Alan said. “Oh, Ok,” was Ned’s reply.
“ Your mother called today,” Alan said. He then added, “You should probably tell her to stop calling you more than once a week. You’re 23 now and she’s treating you like a baby.”
Alan had his way in the apartment with the arrangement of: the closets (he had two of three); the bookshelves (he had all of them for his own books); the keys (he had many keys but allowed Ned only one to get into the front door). Alan used electric air freshners in his bathroom. He asked Ned to used shower gel (not soap because it clogs drains). He paid his bills on the first Sunday of every month at 10am and expected Ned to do the same.
Alan imagined himself as a comedy writer, and he was hard at working writing pilot episodes for Mr. Cosby himself, though Mr. Cosby never read any of Alan’s work. Alan adored the sludgy Cosby’s humor and was especially fond of quoting the droll Jello gelatin commercials verbatim.
In 1985, popular music was recorded on “LP’s” (a long playing phonograph record). Ned would throw his LP albums around his bedroom. Tidy Alan stacked his music alphabetically in the dining room bookcase. If Ned wanted to find a favorite album of his own, he would merely get down on the floor and sweep his hands over the record covers. Eventually he would find what he was looking for.
This disorder was too much for Alan. He asked Ned to find a place to store the albums correctly. Ned said, “Like fuck I will.” The next day Alan asked Ned to move out. Ned was unemployed, directionless, single and had no place to live. In a sense, he was on equal ground with every other 23 year old in Los Angeles.
Liza O’Neil of Studio City
“People suck, you know what I mean?” Ned was having a dreadful conversation with another college friend, Liza O’Neil, a Los Angeles native who worked in TV and was fond of such phrases as “you know what I mean” and “people suck…. you know what I mean?”
Liza was 5’10 and had blunt cut brown hair which complimented her big brown eyes and tiny little ears. She was tall and wore baggy men’s oxford shirts and torn jeans. In Ned’s naive assessment of Liza, she was laid back. Unlike girls back in Chicago, Liza never wore make-up and the only tailored clothing she owned was a vintage man’s formal jacket and trousers which she wore to very fancy occasions like Dodger’s games.
Her beauty was compromised by her character. She was self-centered, self-absorbed, a slob who chain smoked and only dated successful fat comedians whom she judged were on their way up in Hollywood. Her leisure time was spent talking on the phone about herself and her failed relationships.
“If you want a place to stay…..” Liza paused after exhaling smoke, “…Then you can stay in my extra bedroom and pay me $200 a month. I live on North Golf Course Drive in Studio City and I have a really nice little gray house that I rent. I’m going to be working on a televised concert in Vancouver this summer. I insist that you move out when I get back in Septmember.”
This was Ned’s second taste of hospitality in LA. You were always welcome as long as you were needed. You were always welcome as long as you were useful. You could be cut out or fired or dropped, simply at a moment’s notice. The one in power reserved all of the rights to dismiss you. It was a tradition dating back to Joan Crawford and her poor, oppressed daughter Christina.
Love in Toluca Lake
One hot Tuesday in May, while Liza worked in Vancouver, Ned was unemployed and bored in Studio City. He had opened up the Hollywood Reporter and sent out his resumes. He had made some calls to his “connections” but found that he had none. He locked up the house and started walking east down Moorpark.
He passed Whitsett, and then Laurel Canyon, Colfax, Tujunga, Vineland, Lankershim, Cahuenga. Two hours later he had entered Toluca Lake, the picturesque and prosperous district– where the institution and sometimes human– Bob Hope lived. In this fairy land, mountains caressed rose covered cottages where little blonde tykes were watched over by benevolent nannies and au pairs and Mom never looked any older than 40 even on her 75th birthday.
It was hot, maybe 99 degrees, so Ned stopped at a gas station and bought a Coca-Cola. He almost didn’t make it to the soda machine. A young woman in a 1986 Taurus came screaching through pump area, her foot on the accelerator. Ned was merely an insect at the end of the woman’s hood ornament. He might have died right there, but he jumped on top of her hood. The woman slammed on her brakes with an expression stunned and sorry. She ran over to Ned on top of her windshield. “Oh, I’m so embarassed. I could have killed you. Let me help you down. ” She was an attractive if innocent looking sandy haired gal with a light blue t-shirt. “It’s so hot,” she said, “that I just wasn’t thinking. The sun got in my eyes.”
“My name is Ned, ” he said. “Stacey, pleased to meet you.”
They exchanged numbers and a few days later they were laughing at a French bakery on Riverside Drive that reminded Ned of the one his mom had back home. Stacey was really funny he found out. She was a Phoenix girl, who moved here to work as a comedy writer, but was supporting herself as a receptionist in a medical office in Toluca Lake.
Crossing Liza O’Neil
Three months after Ned met Stacey, he proposed marriage to her. But he was still staying at Liza’s house. The owner had blown back into town after an exciting summer supplying the refreshments at a crafts services table in Vancouver backstage at U2 Concerts. She had seen wealth and fame and power. She seemed to possess a new philosophical maturation.
“You know what I mean about working in our industry, she opined, as she smoked away on the back porch with Ned, “We work a few months out of the year, and then we are free but we have no money. So it sucks. You know what I mean? I wish I was living in Paris like I did in college. My parents gave me $500 a month. Now they don’t give me anything. You know what I mean? I mean they did buy me that white BMW but so what? I still have to work. You know what I mean?”
Ned broke the news to Liza about Stacey, a girl he really liked and now intended to marry. “That’s really cool. I’m happy for you. We all need someone. You know?” Liza was almost thoughtful. “So when are you moving out Ned?” She asked.
Ned had been in Los Angeles for 19 years. He had left Liza’s house at 24, and woke up at 41 with a 40 year-old wife and a 16 year-old daughter. What had he accomplished in the decade and a half since he moved here to work in “TV”? Or was it “FILM”?
One year he was a writer’s assistant on a game show. He hated the hours spent locked up in white walled windowless offices coming up with trivia questions. He quit.
He worked as a researcher on documentaries and checked facts for producers who wrote it into one hour History Channel shows like, “Noah’s Ark: The Mystery Rises” and “Hoover: A Man and a Dam”.
He worked in a producer’s office sorting headshots. He tried acting and ended up in a cult acting class where the teacher, Boris, fell in love with him because his stage presence was so natural and unaffected (and untaught and unpracticed and inexperienced).
Kirsten was a lovely child, and he doted on her. But Stacey had grown into a morose woman who resented Ned’s stagnant career and looked around at other women who enjoyed vacations, cosmetic surgery and weekends in Manhattan. Ned felt that he was lacking in masculine energy, drive or cruelty.
The only real progress he made was on the softball field. Every Sunday, he met Dick Raymond and other past primers for a men’s only game of softball at the Studio City Park athletic field. Dick was a bearded rebel who grew up in Berkeley in the 1960’s and was forever in search of the meaning of life as experienced between those three bases and home plate. “Ned”, Dick told him one day, “The only thing you need for happiness in this world is a good baseball bat.”
The Good Bat
Ned took Dick’s advice and went out to buy the best bat he could find. At the Sports Store on Ventura Boulevard, he pushed his way past the 11 and 12-year old boys and their dads to lay his hands on a solid man’s bat. A glossy label hung seductively on one of the biggest and best-looking bat models stacked against the wall:
“The Amateur Softball Association of America, headquarters in Oklahoma City, OK certifies that this “Louisville Slugger” model bat meets our standards for ASA Bat Performance.”
Ned immediately made eye contact with one bat. It was the “TPS GENESIS” whose advertising bragged about its aerospace applications and graphite, carbon, and tensile strengths. Lightning bolt graphics in enormous exploding letters promised the ultimate in power hitting for slow pitch softball.
Ned was about to take that item to the cashier. Then he spotted the $159.00 TPS POWER RESPONSE. A glossy brochure attached to the bat explained the enormous technological advances that went into this product:
“The strongest and toughest alloy ever developed for aluminum bats. In aluminum bat construction, the alloy’s “yield strength” is key to bat design, performance and durability. GEN1X, the strongest alloy on the market, is the first aluminum bat alloy to measure over 100 ksi (THE MEASUREMENT OF AN ALLOY’S STRENGTH). The result is the most technologically advanced line of aluminum bats to ever be developed. Years in the development process, Alcoa Research and Development Engineers formulated a breakthrough combination of Aluminum, Zinc, Copper, Zirconium, Magnesium and traces of Titanium to obtain this incredible strength.”
Ned picked up the softball bat. In a dance like configuration of ass out, knees bent he got into a batter’s stance. It felt good, him and the big bat. He carefully swung it and imagined himself as the greatest softball hitter in the world. Like Viagra it put a new virility into Ned. He had to buy it. He ran up to the counter and handed the cashier two hundred dollar bills. This bat might just change his life.
Alan Blockkopf had eventually become the executive producer and creator of “Whoremobile”. The MTB reality show starred a beautiful Playboy bunny who would pick one lucky male winner to ride (and do much more) in her car all night. The winner was selected from three guys who had to eat dead cat meat or drink pig’s blood in order to win a date with her. The supervising producer, just under Blockkopf , was Liza O’Neil. Here were two old friends of Ned who were now in distinguished positions were they could earn accolades and honors.
Ned felt diminished. College friends of Ned’s became neurosurgeons and Congressmen, CEO’s and Engineers, diplomats, designers and producers of “Whoremobile” but where was he? Ned was still poor Ned stuck outside with his hungry nose against the window watching the lucky ones inside.
He was desperate to prove something to himself. He would ask Alan or Liza for a job on “Whoremobile”. He just had to.
Nose Ring Central
“Of course you can come in and talk to us.” Thus, Liza O’Neil invited Ned Le Reve to visit her production offices at MTB in Santa Monica.
MTB (Music Tele-Broadcasting) was housed in a long, low slung brown brick building in a flat and uninteresting section of West Los Angeles.
Ned arrived dressed in his best “I’m still young, cool and hip” style that looked hopelessly out of date to those MTB employees who were not yet born when Ned graduated College. He was wearing a red 50’s style rayon camp shirt with the tails untucked, baggy jeans and leather Steve Madden sneakers. His hair was cut short and frosted blonde in parts to block out the gray. The receptionist was an Asian tattooed young man with nose rings and a laptop on his lap. Ned was buzzed into the offices of “Whoremobile”.
MTB’s architecture in Los Angeles is a circus side-show, a commercially calculating carnival of deception and pretense. Interior design here is fun, crazy and lunatic with an infant’s sense of decorum and the quiet subtlety of a Marine drill sergeant. Acid green walls and unadorned bare bulbs were accentuated by psychedelic carpets and linoleum violently mismatched. The intent: to express how free and cool it is at MTB. The result: it only served to make the Ned feel ill at ease and unsure. Big-framed posters of shirtless and muscular black men grabbing their crotches were advertisements for the best debauchery and merrymaking. This land of MTB: whores and thugs, killers and sluts, singers and salesmen, hell and hucksterism. This is what middle aged, white and nerdy Ned Le Reve saw as he walked down the hall to Liza’s office.
On the 10
It was 5 O’clock and Ned was stuck on the freeway. He was driving his wife’s 1986 Taurus, the one that had almost killed him years ago. He was hot, hungry and tired. He couldn’t stop replaying the ridiculous and sickening interview with Liza O’Neil.
“We like to talk about sex and food. You know what I mean? I mean do you know anything about the new MTB food channel FTV?” Liza said.
“I’ve been working in documentaries,” Ned said.
“We are going to Vegas to do a special with Paris Hilton. You know her?” Liza asked.
“Well I mean if you want to move to Vegas, I could probably use someone as my assistant there. Do you have a car?” Liza asked.
She had put a tape of the show in the VCR and they had watched it. A tan, 22 year-old blond girl with orange skin peeled off her top and three guys jumped on top of her and the whole scene was blacked out by sensors.
“Why do you bother to show what you can’t show?” Ned asked.
“It’s the idea. They’re jumping on top of her and the audience knows she’s topless and everyone uses their imagination. You-know-what-I-mean?” She said.
“I do. And I think it’s asinine to tease your viewers with explicit sex and not make it explicit!” He answered. He lost his chances right there. Not that he wanted to win the job anyway.
“Well it’s been great seeing you again. I’ll say hi to Alan. He’s so busy. He wanted to come by and say hello but he just doesn’t have time. You-know-what-I-mean?” Liza said goodbye and walked out of the room. MTB had cooked her brain like a TV dinner left too long in the microwave.
North on Laurel Canyon
Ned was crawling up the one lane Laurel Canyon at the height of the rush hour. He looked out his rear view mirror and could see a brown haired young woman in a Lincoln Navigator. She was on the phone, putting on lipstick, driving, and drinking coffee.
His phone rang. It was Dick Raymond, “Hey Ned. I just called to tell you that the game is cancelled tomorrow. I was invited to spend the weekend with my friend Alan and his wife at their beach house in Newport Beach.”
“Oh, that’s OK,” answered Ned.
“Are you all right kid?” Dick asked.
“No. I just had a horrible interview and now I’m stuck in traffic. Nothing out of the ordinary,” answered Ned.
“Interview?” Dick asked.
“Yes. Some fuckin’ idiotic show called “Whoremobile”. I mean can you imagine me on a show like that? It’s like one step above porn.” Ned said.
“But very profitable. My friend Alan is the executive producer of that show. That’s the Alan my wife are going to spend the weekend with in Newport!” he said.
“Hey. I didn’t mean to take a swipe at your friend.” Ned said.
“No. I agree with you. It’s garbage, but I wouldn’t tell him that. Do you know he just bought a nine million dollar house in Brentwood?” Alan said.
“No, I didn’t.” Ned said.
“Well. He’s enjoying every minute of it. The United Jewish Appeal voted him Citizen of the Year. He’s a big guy now. So long. Have a good weekend Ned.” Alan said.
At last Ned reached the top of Mulholland, the mountain summit road that separates Los Angeles from the San Fernando Valley. The golden haze of the sun was closing on a day full of ambiguity and yearning.
What he wanted now, more than anything, he thought, was to go to the park and hit a few balls.
Just north of tony Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, within breathing distance of the ocean, an interview with a LA Times reporter was taking place in an elegant old Spanish hacienda home.
The lifestyle reporter, Liza Palazzo, sat in the living room of Margarita Lopez-Camilla, a Santa Monica film producer. They were talking about Margarita’s friend and housekeeper, Carmelita Sanchez. The Columbian born domestic worker was the founder of a successful health care program begun at one of LA’s poorest clinics.
“How does Carmelita feel about being honored tonight at the Biltmore Hotel for her work at the Crenshaw Clinic?”
The aristocratic Margarita put her teacup down on the glass coffee table. 46 years old, also a native of Columbia, she was born in privilege to the head of a coffee plantation. She studied film at UCLA 25 years ago and decided to stay in the City of Angels. She was now head of Caustic Productions, a film making company here in Santa Monica.
“Oh, it’s the highlight of her life. She is absolutely thrilled to be honored. Only 10 years ago in the little mountain village of Ciudad Sana, she started “La Flora” and look at what has been accomplished,” said Margarita.
Carmelita, the nueva Americana, worked for Lopez-Camilla as a maid, nanny, housekeeper, cook and chauffeur. Carmelita, the Columbian had trained as a nurse, and in Ciudad Sana she had started a health clinic financed by the sale of coffee, a tax paid by the growers to finance the hospitalization and medical care of their workers.
“May I ask Carmelita a question?” asked the reporter, a solicitous and still young acting girl of 33. Palazzo, with red hair, faded jeans, 70’s sneakers and fashionably quirky gelled hair tousled in every direction emitted the very essence of hip in contrast to Margarita’s patrician being.
“Of course. Carmelita, can you come in here?” Lopez Camilla yelled .
The French doors, which led out into the lavender bush and lemon tree garden, burst open and five year old Zoe ran in with Abraham, a lethargic Basset hound. “Mommy, mommy Carmelita is going to take me to get ice cream!” Carmelita ran behind the child, breathless. “Sinõra, I told her no. But she wants to go.”
The reporter smiled at the child, a courtesy so often extended without sincerity, to impress a parent. “What’s your favorite flavor Zoe?” the reporter asked as if the question were of supreme philosophical import. “I don’t know” Zoe answered.
“That’s not very nice Zoe.” Lopez Camilla instructed. “You like Rocky road. Tell Ms. Palazzo that’s what you like.”
“I don’t know if this is a good time for your Carmelita,” said Palazzo.
“It’s a fine time for her. She doesn’t start dinner until 5.30,” said Margarita. “Zoe–Go play with your Barbie dolls honey. You cannot have ice cream before dinner. Let the grown ups have some private time.” Zoe nodded in compliance with the request and walked out sucking her index finger and dragging a pink security blanket.
Carmelita was sweating and felt embarrassed. She entered the high sanctuary of the living room with its tea service, high-beamed ceiling, floral sofas, and symmetry in a filthy t-shirt and dusty jeans. She grabbed a napkin and wiped her face and poured herself a glass of water. There were parcels stacked atop a rigid high back chair against the wall. Margarita removed them and sat down. “Yes ma’am. What would you like to know?” Carmelita asked.
“How long have you worked with the clinic?” the reporter asked.
“Oh, let’s see. I think five years,” she answered.
“No dear,” Lopez-Camilla interrupted. “You came to the US in 1993 and you worked there only six months when I met you.”
“Oh, you’re right Madam. It’s over eight years.”
Palazzo wrote down Carmelita’s answer. “How did you approach Councilwoman Herrera and convince her to enact “La Flora” in that community?”
“I introduced her to Councilwoman Herrera.” Lopez-Camilla answered.
“So next Friday you and the Councilwoman and the entire clinic are going to be honored at the Biltmore and you will receive an award for outstanding community service. How does that feel?”
“An honor. I feel not so big for so great a recommendation,” Carmelita said.
A child’s piercing scream filled the room. Carmelita bolted from the room and ran to find Zoe while the mother sat calmly. She came back holding Zoe who was crying and holding her nanny tightly. “I’m sorry. She fell down and hurt her knee. I have to go put band-aid on it. Don’t cry honey. Don’t cry my little Zoe!” Nanny and child left the room while Lopez-Camilla poured honey into a fresh cup of Earl Gray. “More tea Liza?”
“Oh, no thank you. I feel like I’m here on the worst day of your life!” the reporter said.
“You’re almost right! First my husband smashed his new Audi as he was pulling out of the driveway. He was on his way to a meeting with Arturo Herrera to discuss a new Angelina Jolie project. Of course, he missed the meeting. He was so upset. Now I have an injured daughter. Can you forgive me?”
Ms. Palazzo stood up. “No. I’ve been here too long. I think I’ve gotten enough. Thank you so much for your time. I know the Chandlers appreciate this. They really think the world of you.”
“I hope,” added Margarita, “that we’ll see you at the Hollywood Film Awards on Sunday. My husband is getting an award as well for ‘The New Hee Haw Show.’ Lopez Herrera could not resist the plug.
Ms. Palazzo slipped into her cardigan sweater. “That’s the funniest show on TV. I watch it all the time. What channel is on it again?
Carmelita always woke up first in the household. She could barely sleep past 5.30am, her dreams tortured with kidnappings, killings and other unspeakable horrors of her Colombian past. She had come to Los Angeles to escape that. Though her bedroom was above the garage, to Carmelita it was a palace. It was in the back of the property, and between her and the main house stood a yard with a pool, surrounded by lemons, oranges, olive trees, lavender, jasmine, palms, a brilliant red Bougainvillea and an always gurgling fountain. It was a Garden of Eden. A devout Catholic, she prayed just as the sun was rising and the first droplets of orange light freckled the lawn.
After she put the good book down, it was the beginning of a long day full of chores and busy work. She had to take Abraham for a walk. Then she fed the dog.
Carmelita fixed breakfast for the little girl, and attended to Zoe’s needs—like changing her from pajamas into clothes, cleaning her up in the bathroom. Lopez Camilla did not allow Zoe to wear clothing that had been in the dryer. She claimed that allergies from fabric softeners might harm the child. These were one of the many prohibitions the mistress of the home legislated.
Carmelita dodged a minefield of laws that made her role onerous at times. She cooked breakfast, for example, but could not microwave because that was “dangerous” to Lopez Camilla. Jorge, the husband, only drank filtered water, and Carmelita had to lug the enormous 5-gallon Sparkletts container from the curb to the dispenser. When the owners awoke, Carmelita had to again watch over Zoe as both Mr. and Mrs. exercised on step masters and watched Matt Laurer (an old friend from NBC) on the “Today” show. As Jorge showered, Carmelita had to lay out his freshly ironed suit, tie and dress shirt on the bed and slip quickly out of his room before the half-naked master emerged from the toilet.
In addition to the domestic routine, Carmelita worked three days a week at the Crenshaw clinic. Latina-American Congresswoman Hilde Herrera took a special interest in Crenshaw. Carmelita’s work with involved her in the politician’s rising career. The clinic had become a symbol of liberal complaints against so called Republican cuts in health care.
The Los Angeles Times had editorialized that the Crenshaw Health Clinic’s “La Flora” program was “perhaps the most promising vision of health care financing for poorer people enacted in the last decade.” The name was intoxicating, too, with its promise of fertility, hope and holistic lyricism. What Carmelita had given birth to in Columbia, had come to maturity in the Golden State. The powerful had quickly adopted this child whose true parentage was fast becoming vague.
“I don’t give a shit about her!” Margarita was screaming at Jorge just outside Whole Foods on Montana.
“Keep your voice down Margarita!” Jorge begged with clenched teeth. A red Lincoln Navigator swerved to avoid the feud in the back parking lot of the gourmet food store.
“I don’t have $45 to spend on a cake for her. How come she has a birthday and you remember and you forgot my birthday?” she asked.
That red SUV pulled up and a 35 ish blonde woman leaned out the window. “Hello Margarita!” she said with a perfectly capped smile.
Margarita broadcast an ear- to ear grin. “Hi Joanie! How ya doin’ kiddo?” Joanie waved a fingery good-bye and sped off. The argument continued.
“I just think we should treat her to a cake! What’s wrong with that?” Jorge asked.
“Isn’t it enough that she’s having a party at the Biltmore? My god. She’s lucky to live in our home. That’s how I look at it. I’m too god-damned busy to make nicey nice with her.”
The Park along the Palisades
Blocks from the Lopez-Camilla home, along the Palisades of Santa Monica, runs a sweeping park promenade that overlooks the Pacific. Carmelita would often take Zoe for walks along the palm lined, tree-shaded expanse with its sunset views, mountain vistas, joggers, strollers, and bicyclists. Despite the beauty, the carefully groomed vegetation, and the aura of groomed greenery, a sinister social illness plagued the paradise.
Scores of homeless slept on the grass, wandered the park. They pushed carts, muttering, lost, alcoholic, or in drug induced confusion. Who were these people she wondered? Where were they from? Had they once been young and loved and taken care of? How did they lose grip and fall out of society and how could they be saved? She thought of Jesus and his ministration. With mercy in her heart, Carmelita walked amongst the poor along these verdant paths at the edge of the American continent.
Walking in anger
Margarita walked home in anger. She would not ride back in the car with Jorge. He had made her very angry and to top it off, had taken his bruised Audi into the repair shop and had rented a white Toyota Celica. It was a cheap piece of crap, and she wondered if he had deliberately taken a poor man’s car to embarrass her.
Party in Hancock Park
A few nights after the fight in the parking lot, the Herreras held an invitation only party at their home in Hancock Park. It was an affair with black tie and valet parking, caterers, cocktails and scented candles. A backyard pool glowed with blue underwater lights and a pianist on the veranda played Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture.”
Margarita was bi-polar about parties. On the one hand, she could get drunk, dress up and forget her regular cares as she slipped in and out of banalities and polite talk with the hoi polloi of Los Angeles. On the other hand, it was deadly serious work, making friends and alliances with producers who could finance her films, and make things happen. Then there was the necessary work of pretending to care about causes, about the less fortunate, which earned her added respect in the community and increased her stature.
Margarita stood in the middle of a speeding intersection of political power desperate to catch a ride to the top. Scanning the room, she could see Nicole Kidman and Cardinal Mahoney, Mayor Hahn and Jennifer Lopez. Dolly Parton was flirtatiously conversing with UCLA’s Dr. Harvey Fishbein, who perfected cosmetic surgery for transsexuals in the late 1960’s.
Jorge walked up to his legal wife. “I just spoke to Hilde. She’s said KCAL wants to do a story with Carmelita.”
“Carmelita? Why would they want to talk to her?” she asked with one eye on the chopped liver and Michael Eisner spreading it on a cracker.
“Stop looking at him,” Jorge said. “Listen to me. Carmelita is the reason La Flora is working. Do you want to deny her that?”
“I’m not listening to you. You want to start up trouble here? You’re not gonna get me into a fucking argument.” She walked away and went over to shake the hand of Michael Eisner. She then segued into a conversation between Councilwoman Herrera and the head of the Crenshaw Clinic, Glen Kirsch.
“Hi there Margarita,” Glen said. “ How is Caustic? I read in Variety that you may get Salma Hayek for a project next year?”
She stuffed an olive tapenade topped wheat cracker into her mouth. “You read Variety? The head of a health clinic reads Variety? Ridiculous. Only in LA!”
He didn’t seem offended. “Of course I read it. Do you know before I ran the clinic I was a screenwriter? I think I have about six screenplays in my closet in West Hollywood. I would love to show you one sometime. I mean maybe when we all meet next week at the Biltmore.”
“I was just kidding,” Margarita answered. “ I’d love to read them. Why don’t you send them over to my assistant Jenny? We’re right on the Sony lot.”
“Did you hear that KCAL wants to do a story on Carmelita?” he asked. “Isn’t that fantastic! The clinic needs the publicity.”
“Why don’t you write a screenplay about a big phony social climber who uses your health clinic to seize political power and make a name for herself!” she said with drunken abandon.
“I don’t understand what you mean.” He said.
“I don’t either!” she said laughing and walked away.
On the day of the party at the Biltmore, Margarita Lopez Camilla had a million things to do. She could only think of her hair, her shoes, her nails and her aching shoulders. She needed to get a massage, but then she had to be at Caustic because the editor was working on a 7-minute short film about Carmelita and “La Flora” and Councilwoman Herrera was the narrator. Editorial changes were made at the last minute. Margarita told the Councilwoman that the politician who was the adopted mother of “La Flora” should be the star of the film. The poor housekeeper would now be demoted on-screen to supporting player.
That day Carmelita was her usual happy and calm self. She barely thought about her impending moment of fame on the stage that night.
Other domestic crises occupied her. The dog had shit on the leather sofa in the library. Carmelita was rushed to clean it up and spray disinfectant on the stain.
At 4 pm, Lopez-Camilla called from the 405 freeway and asked Carmelita to run out to the drugstore to buy a Lancome powder. At 5.30pm they all were supposed to leave to go downtown to the ceremony, and time was running out. Carmelita carried the cell phone with her and got into the car to drive over to buy the missing make up. As she pulled into the parking lot, the phone rang again and Lopez-Camilla said Carmelita would have to stop off at a shoe repair shop to retrieve Madam’s shoes and then to the dry cleaners to pick up the freshly cleaned gown. All of these orders came in the final hours. and Carmelita would have almost no time and preparation for her own night of honor.
A Little Bowl of Soup
As Margarita Lopez-Camilla dressed, Carmelita heated up some vegetable soup in the kitchen. Little Zoe was with Daddy in the den. The aroma of food soon filled the house. Carmelita eagerly poured herself a bowl and sat down to hurriedly ingest a few spoonfuls. It was the first time she had eaten all day.
Lopez-Camilla emerged in an exquisite black sequined gown, her red glossy lips contrasting with slicked back hair and a powdery face. She sniffed the air. “What are you doing Carmelita?”
“Huh?” asked Carmelita.
“I asked WHAT- ARE- YOU- DOING!” she yelled. “It smells awful!”
Jorge came into the kitchen. “What’s wrong? Why are you yelling at her Margarita?” he asked.
“She is cooking! My clothes, your clothes, are all going to smell like soup! How can you be so STUPID to cook food when we are all dressed and ready to go to an event at the Biltmore! My god, when people kiss me they will smell god-damned food!”
“I’m sorry ma’am. I haven’t eaten a thing. I run around all day, and I’m hungry.” She said.
Margarita grabbed a dish-towel off the counter and shoved it into Carmelita’s nose. “That’s what you smell like. A cook in a kitchen! That’s what we all smell like.”
A hundred people were gathered in a mini-ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel. Some came from the clinic, working class Latinos, wearing glitzy dresses with big shoulder pads and enormous sparkling jewelry. There were also political people: Councilwoman Herrera and her husband, the Mayor and a couple of news people from TV and the print world. The esteemed publicist Gretchen Ungar was there. She had been hired by Margarita to promote “La Flora” and orchestrate a campaign to promote the Caustic Films and it’s pet cause—health care for the poor.
Later on, Councilwoman Herrera spoke of La Flora and the exciting new concept of financing health care clinics in Los Angeles and eventually in every state. “We are simply too poor in funding to continue our wasteful ways of the past and La Flora returns to the working people the care they so rightly deserve.” This line drew great applause from the crowd.
Margarita Lopez-Camilla addressed the audience. “My dear little friend Carmelita whose idea has now founded a movement to be led by the great Councilwoman Hilde Herrera.” She then introduced the short film with its quick cuts of Ciudad Sana. The audience viewed images of poor men and women of Columbia entering a health clinic, getting inoculated, filling prescriptions and smiling. A few remarked uncharitably that it looked like a propaganda piece.
At the end of the evening, Carmelita went to the rest room and emerged in a back hall behind the ballroom. Glen Kirsch ran up to her and kissed her. “You look beautiful tonight. You really deserve this honor. Thank you for what you’ve done.”
“Oh, Glen. My pleasure. I cannot take all the credit. You, the clinic and Ms. Herrera and Margarita; you all share in this honor,” she said.
“Did you like the film?” he asked.
“Oh, very much,” she answered. “Why do you ask?”
“I just thought they would talk more about you. I think most of it was about the Councilwoman,” he said. Glen patted Carmelita on the shoulder and walked back into the ballroom.
He went straight over to Margarita, sitting on the edge of the stage and smiling wearily into space.
“I just spoke to Carmelita”, he said. “I hope I’m not going to upset you. But I think she thought she should have been the star and that you didn’t feature enough of her in the movie. That’s what she thinks.”
Lopez-Camilla froze up. Her smile and tightly pressed lips went into defense mode. “Oh, I think she’s tired. She’s done so much for us. I wouldn’t worry about it. Where is she by the way?”
“I saw her back near the janitor’s area or the rest room,” he said.
Lopez-Camilla, poisoned with Glen’s indictment, went looking for Carmelita. The guests were now leaving, and Councilwoman Herrera stopped by to say good night. “I’m leaving Glen. Thank you for everything. Where’s my little Carmelita? I want to see her before I leave?” she said.
Glen answered, “She’s with Margarita back there.” Lopez-Camilla was indeed sighted talking to Carmelita. As Ms. Herrera drew closer she could sense unpleasantness.
Lopez Camilla yelled at Carmelita. “We’ll discuss it later! You’re not going to ruin my evening. I know what Glen told me so don’t lie to me!” Margarita grabbed Carmelita’s ear and pulled her against the cinder block wall.
“You’re hurting me! I don’t know what you’re talking about! Stop it!” Margarita maintained her sharp nailed hold on Carmelita’s lobe. In desperation to free herself, Carmelita took her rigid and powerful right hand and slapped Margarita across the face.
Margarita looked stunned and dropped her hand.
“May the Lord forgive me and have mercy on you. You are a fucking bitch. You will not treat me this way again,” said Carmelita. The shaken socialite almost lost her balance in the assault. Carmelita hit and ran out of the ballroom. The Councilwoman arrived just as the incident ended.
“What’s going on? Are you all right Margarita?” asked the Councilwoman.
“Yes, yes. It’s OK.” Margarita said. “I guess if you don’t make a film they like then you get a slap in the face. That’s how friends in Hollywood repay you. Well, we know what we’ve done for her and this is her moment of fame so I guess she feels entitled.”
Ms. Herrera took Margarita’s hand. “Oh, I’m sorry Margarita. Let’s talk in the morning. I spoke to David Geffen last night and he is very interested in La Flora. Let’s talk tomorrow.”