Secrets of the Lottery Winner
CHAPTER 22: GOOD LUCK
What a Friday! Gari cerebrally dandled ditching the office and heading home; and the old Gari, Gari the minion whose sole interest had been dodging work, laboring adequately to preserve his job, would have leapt at avoiding an extra second in the office. Not that home had held much appeal for him; he’d have been going to a tiny house in dreary Mundelein, Illinois, where it was cold and uninviting most of the year, to a woman who had been slapped around by life, who was as appealing as a winter day in the dingy town.
Times had changed, though, and now he was the boss. It wasn’t much of a staff, just five people and him occupying a quarter of a floor in a Century City tower. But it was his, and the staff thrived on his guidance, moved to his sage direction, blazed off his creative spark, and happily marched to his strong leadership. Naturally, the reality paled to his imagination, but the truth at the least was he had to set an example for his staff, and he had to be certain his creative team, the duo of Gyl and Kennie, weren’t overly exercising their gray matter, the result of which could be frightfully bizarre, as these young guys possessed and expressed a decidedly skewed view of the world, and in degrees greater than their Midwestern counterparts as their ideas were filtered through the nutty prism of L.A.
In this town, creative talent populated the landscape as abundantly as corn did the flatlands of Illinois. This talent for the most part lusted after the movies and craved like past-due junkies the fame and fortune attendant upon Hollywood success. Which left business leaders like Gari with half-attentive creatives, wrung-out rejects, or those who wished the title of talent without the torture of wending through the Hollywood system. Gyl and Kennie were not entirely of this ilk, as they actually wanted to be ad agency creatives—ad agency superstars, that is. They squarely focused on building their books and reels. This meant producing outrageous material, the equivalent of high concept creative in the lexicon of the business, and hell-be-damned if it sold a trainload or didn’t move a single unit of whatever it was supposed to be hawking.
Since attitudes like theirs were anathema to Gari, how did his hiring the duo come about? Larry Lefton, who regarded himself as a man with a good eye for talent, claiming to be a latent creative himself, had flown to L.A. to join Gari for a week interviewing hopefuls lined up by an employment agency specializing in creatives. (Gari, incidentally, found the very pejoration, creatives, to be offensive, nauseating, anger-provoking; however, in the agency business there was no way to skirt the perversion of the language. Creatives created and everybody else bemoaned the atrocity.) Gari figured the employment pros were really best at tickling a huge fee from clients; but he couldn’t convince Larry. Some of the talent they sent over did demonstrate the ability to sell off the page (as they liked to say in the business).
As it devolved, Larry had viewed the employment experts’ selections as hacks; husks sucked dry by doing the same hackneyed campaign over and over again. Gyl and Kennie, on the other hand, had wandered in and had struck Larry as True North. First off, they were as gay as could be—absolute, out front swishbucklers, with prettied up names, Gyl instead of mundane Gilbert, Kennie, not the pedestrian Kenneth, or the Barbie-loving Ken. Second, they came in with a knock-em-dead idea for Vanguard. It boiled down simplicity, incorporating everything the modern creative mind worshipped: few words, for no one read anymore; big pictures, for ours was a visual society; loads of white space, for fragile beings could not deal with clutter; and, worse to Gari’s pedestrian and ancient mind, no selling, for people could not cozy up to calculating businesspeople. The ads were single words that seemed to have only the slightest connection to the shoes pictured: Art and a man’s loafer; Excellence and an athletic shoe; Allure and woman’s heeled sandal. On and on it went, there seemingly being no noun in English that didn’t have something to do with shoes. As they presented, Gari envisioned his own ad: Crap over a picture of Gyl and Kennie.
Gari had physically cringed—hunched his shoulders and crinkled his face in grimace—at the buffoonery of the duo. Larry had salivated over their work. He’d noted Gari’s reaction, exactly the reaction of a man downing a bottle of cod liver oil in a gulp. Sagaciously he’d said, “We’re creating great art here, Gari. An artful ad gets attention, makes an impression, builds the brand. Right boys?” Gari had found it absolutely disgusting how Gyl and Kennie’s heads rocked and bounced like those of demented bobbles. He’d agreed with Larry as much as Larry’s wife would have agreed the president’s claim he was the most attentive lover on the north side of Chicago. At least the boys had excelled—still did long distance with Larry—in three important skills of the ad business: ass kissing, bullshit, and self-delusion.
It was three-thirty when he pushed through the glass front doors—reading in lettered gold Lefton & Associates, West Coast Division, Augustus Garibaldi, President & Managing Director—Gari figuring this was L.A., Hollywood, and he deserved top billing and an inflated title to match. And for this very reason he had chosen a prestigious location. Gari had spent a bundle—it set Larry to squawking for a solid week—to construct an impressive reception area—a minimalist affair, stark, but striking in red and yellow with reconstituted Bauhaus furnishings. He came to enjoy this part of any day, walking into his office suite, not because of the decorations, which he did like, but because he loved seeing the employee he hired without the meddling of Larry Lefton, and the employee he considered critical to the success of the West Coast Division.
Her name was Leslie Rodish, known as Red, due to her red hair, bright and naturally curly, sometimes worn up in a wild pile resembling a forest fire and sometimes down in thick ringlets that looked hot enough to singe an errant finger.
“How you’d get a boy’s name?” he asked, when he’d interviewed her.
“It’s androgynous,” she replied sharply.
“No offense, but, you know, it’s unusual.”
“Not here,” she sniped.
He’d left it at that and moved to mundane things, like computer skills and typing speed, when she volunteered, “My mother loved ‘Gone with the Wind.'”
Gari hated left-field tosses like Leslie’s, but people insisted lobbing them his way. Surprisingly, he hadn’t become adept at fielding them. He responded with a blank stare.
“‘Gone with the Wind,'” she prompted. “You know, Leslie Howard.”
That had rung a bell. Milksop had sprung immediately to mind, but his instinct had cautioned against uttering such a derogation.
“The noble confederate gentleman,” he complimented.
“The misguided atavist who helped organize The Ku Klux Klan and then terrorized and repressed African-Americans.”
Really, Gari agonized, in this day and age you couldn’t win, even when you towed the liberal line. Perhaps humor yet existed in the world; he ventured, “Dastardly bastard.” She laughed, and finally, he knew he’d hit the right note.
Leslie was beautiful, and serious about her issues, of which she numbered dozens, from the civil rights of African-Americans (who Gari believed had gotten them in the Sixties, maybe the Seventies and didn’t have much need for the angst and aid of well turned-out California girls) to the oppressed, mistreated, misused, and generally taken-advantaged-of illegal immigrants from Mexico, in whose cause and support she’d learned Spanish (which Gari found useful occasionally around the office and particularly in restaurants). She tempered these tendencies—beauty that could frighten men into silence and stridency that could offend even the likeminded
— with a bitchy sense of humor. Sure he’d considered inviting her into his office for private guidance in the pursuit of a career in advertising; but he hadn’t acted on his desire, as by this time Emily had recast herself and again won his heart and his sexual loyalty. Besides, he was never sure if another Patty Pink lurked behind the luring pheromones.
“Your lord and master has forced me to work this afternoon. Look,” she commanded, wiggling her fingers at him, “not even a spare minute to do my nails. And I’m on the town tonight.”
How many lord and masters could a man have? Some an army, but just two commanded Gari these days. As for Leslie, frolicking on Sunset Boulevard and campaigning on behalf of the less fortunate were her lords. Amazingly, she was able to meld her pragmatism and sloppy-hearted liberalism. She understood advocating for the downtrodden and general scum who shared Sunset was easier, and possibly more effective, from a rambling house with glass windows perched on a high mound in Hollywood Hills. Where’d she gotten the money, she never said.
“You know, should we ever have an office Christmas party, and if we did and you suggested a game of charades to liven up the evening, and if you asked me to be on your team, well, I’d have no choice but to say, ‘Fuck off.'”
“Your way of saying I’m a lousy guesser.”
“Exactly. The brainiac from Chicago called half-a-dozen times. You’d better watch it. He’s on to you.”
Okay, she was acerbic. But that red hair—the sarcasm and abuse, it was worth it to gaze on her. Hell, her demeanor was nothing for a man who had survived testicle snipping Patty Pink. Besides, she projected a sharpness of spirit that fit the image he wanted for L.A.: big city gruff, and smart. It helped, too, that Leslie wasn’t his sexual playmate. Theirs was purely a business relationship and, though he desired her, he was pleased to have it remain that way.
He’d provided himself with a spectacular personal office, again with plenty of flack from Larry over cost. But he was the agency’s rainmaker and, he insisted, this was L.A. and attitude was everything, including the chin-out appearance of his office.
What an office it was. It picked up the theme of the lobby—bright red and yellow walls, red leather chairs and sofa, these with modern trapezoidal stitching. His chair was black and high-backed. His desk was glass, faintly green. On it was a laptop, phone, and desk set. Not a scrap of paper was in sight. In fact, there was no paper in the office, and no file cabinets in which the pulpy articles could hide. The L.A. Gari Garibaldi was sleek in his furnishings and his person, except for the extra weight he’d accumulated, which he intended to attack the minute he had the office stocked with a couple of new clients and creatively shipshape. In other words, when he’d replaced Gyl and Kennie with a pair of really creative creatives and relieved himself of his creative director duties.
He dropped into his chair and swiveled around to face the city. His offices were on the twentieth floor facing west and from his chair he had a clear view to the Pacific. Among his greatest pleasures was rocking in his chair, gazing down and over Beverly Hills, beyond to Santa Monica, and past the glamorous glut to the blue of the ocean, while cajoling Sel, picturing Kitty in a variety of compromising positions, and chatting up the love of his life, Emily. Not counted among these enjoyments was fending off the ridiculous notions, requests, and protestations of Larry Lefton. Lately, it was as if Larry had forgotten Gari’s great accomplishments, as if the man believed he was responsible for the new coinage rattling in his coffers. And there it was, the wrinkle in Gari’s success, the barrier to ultimate achievement: Larry owned the agency. Gari was merely a hired gun, entirely replaceable in Larry’s mind. Sadly, he was still a cog, though a considerably better paid cog than just a few months ago.
He picked up the phone and punched Larry’s private office number. “Good afternoon, Larry,” he said, when Larry answered. Gari managed to muster a pleasantness he didn’t feel.
“Victor’s pissed at us. Another goddamned typo. How many times have I said proof the goddamned stuff? How many?”
“A gazillion, to quote Sammy Garibaldi.”
“You think this is funny?”
“I think it happens because you don’t have a decent creative staff in Chicago. It happens because you don’t have a proofreader, like you promised Victor you’d get the last time this happened. And because I can’t do much about it as I’m two thousand miles away.”
“You can call him.”
“Fine, I’ll phone after we finish. Have somebody email the file so at least I can see what kind of knuckleheaded mistake your creative geniuses made,” said Gari, more direct than usual, his defenses worn down dealing with Sel and Kitty, by too much lunch, by the resurfacing of Loretta and Catherine simultaneously, and by Larry’s endless carping and incompetence, of which this was yet another irritating instance.
“I’m taking care of it as we speak,” which conjured visions of Larry summoning minions into his office via his antiquated intercom system, and jabbing in the direction of various parts of the agency, his stupid man’s sign language that every Lefton employee understood perfectly.
Gari detected a grunt on the line, indicating Larry found this satisfactory.
Then Larry asked a few perfunctory questions about the state of the Vanguard account, of which he knew little. Larry normally wasn’t much for details, by his own description a big picture guy. Gari knew big picture had about as much to do with Larry’s slovenly work ethic as compassion had to do with the job of funeral director. But Gari had also taken precaution with the Vanguard account, recalling his experience with Lubeck’s. He had to reveal his Lubeck’s plans to Larry else Gari would not have had the authority to execute his plan and thereby win his promotions. The downside was Larry’s involvement in the account. Larry’s contradiction was that while he lacked a constructive knack for details he had an immense capacity for nitpicking. He indulged his irrational passion until Gari was so crazed he might very well have charged down the street screaming glossolalia to the distress of onlookers. How was he expected to manage and grow an account with Larry Lefton constantly badgering him with insane questions? Often when summoned by Larry to answer a question, Gari fully expected an inquiry about the color of Victor’s underwear. Thus, Gari kept details of the Vanguard account a deep dark secret. Larry knew the size of the account, the various campaigns Gari planned, the budget, the income to the agency, and no more. And especially Gari kept the personalities of Sel and his other Vanguard contacts to himself. Larry fancied himself an astute judge of character and ability. But the man had completely misread Gari, so how perceptive could he be in this area?
Gari hoped the interrogation was ended, when Larry asked, “What other new business are you working on?”
Larry was displaying yet another of his bothersome characteristics. What an afternoon for this mighty display of annoyances. Gari was pooped and frayed and in a gargantuan struggle to contain his anger and bitterness. Here he was in L.A. Here he had uprooted his family on behalf of Larry Lefton. Here he had developed the Vanguard account from nothing to business with the potential to unseat Lubeck’s Shoes as the agency’s number one cash engine. And by the way, he was the guy, right here, who’d stopped the Lubeck’s money machine from hiking. Furthermore, here was a guy who now was West Coast President, presumably—no, proven—adept at steering his own ship—being subjected to the niggling of a man operating on one brain lobe, and that the one responsible for the guy’s autonomic functions. Indeed, it was a mammoth tussle not to tell Larry, “Take this job and fuck yourself with it.”
Well, if Larry was a contradiction, Gari was a living, breathing irony. He regarded himself as wealthy. He’d discovered he possessed a talent for business and he’d exploited it. He’d won again the love and admiration of his wife. And he’d proven to himself that Larry Lefton would listen to him and follow his direction. However, still he feared the power Larry wielded. Did Gari need his job? Often he asked himself this and each time the answer was, “No.” His lottery winnings were plenty. Then why tolerate—not even tolerate but kowtow to—the idiocy of Larry Lefton? Because his progress was like that between man and weakness. He’d acquired his new raiment before he’d sufficiently discarded his old, and the new garb was woven of luck and falsehood.
So, it was perfectly in character for him to behave like an over stimulated yorkie panting for a pat and answer Larry with: “I’m working on some potential movie business.”
The articulated crunching of Larry’s ears pricking up transmitted over hundreds of miles of telephone line jostled Gari like a low-level Richter disturbance. “Why that’s great, Gari. Movies. Wow. What movie company? MGM, Fox Searchlight?”
Didn’t this guy go to the movies? And if he did, did he pay attention? Movie companies? “Larry, you work with production companies. These movie people set up production companies to fund movies.”
“Production company? Sure, when movie stars get big, they set up their own companies. Sure, I know that. So, what big stars are you talking to, Gari?”
“Well, Larry, you just don’t stroll into a big movie star production company and say, ‘Hey, let me create the advertising for your new major production.’ You’ve got to prove yourself. You know, like in the shoe business. It’s like advertising for the shoe business. We got Vanguard here because we had a track record with Lubeck’s in Chicago. To get the big business in Hollywood, we’ve got to build a track record promoting movies. We hitch up with one success and boom.”
“Boom,” repeated Larry, enthusiastically. “So who are you talking to?”
“Nobody you’d know, Larry.”
“Come on, try me, Gari. I know more than you think.”
No you don’t. Gari based this certainty on personal experience. If Larry could have seen Gari, he would have observed the sheen of sweat on his upper lip, the shirt limp and the underarms darkening with moisture, and the man himself somewhat slumped in his black leather chair staring at the million-dollar view but seeing nothing, except maybe the gelding he imagined he had averted. Then followed a rusty knife, and a dirty room, and humid heat, and babbled, slaughtered English, and poor Brian Newberry never writing his screenplay, and finally lots and lots of pink and the smirking countenance of Patricia. Ah, the creative process, the real article, was messy business, a stirring of the ugly stewpot of memory. But, damnation, wasn’t the result often times beauteous?
While eternity to Gari, his pause was but a crackle on the line to Larry, who wondered why the connection was never clear between Chicago and L.A. This flew from Gari’s mouth as Larry was conjecturing on telephony: “Pink Productions.”
“Pink Productions,” Larry repeated thoughtfully, as if the name possessed serious intellectual gravity worthy of deep down rumination. “Sounds sexy.”
“Oh, yes indeed, the movie is sexy.”
More silent consideration on Larry’s part, until: “Not too much sex, I hope, nothing to flagrant.”
Larry wasn’t much of a prude; in fact he enjoyed women and Gari figured at some time the boss had cheated on his wife. No, it was Mrs. Lefton who would be shocked and mortified and unable to hold up her head in church if a member of her congregation backslid and saw the movie. She could tolerate hugging and kissing. She didn’t much care for Frenching, an expression she couldn’t utter, but accepted the extreme if it was critical to the telling of the story.
“Sexy,” Gari said, “in a clean way.”
“Excellent. What’s the title?”
A key question he’d forgotten to ask Catherine, and here was a man he regarded as a notch below dolt asking it of him. Well, he had no choice but to do what he was best at: “They don’t have a title for the new movie. They’re still working on the script.”
“They’ll need a name to market it.”
That Larry, he was an advertising sage indeed. “You need a good name, Larry. And you get a good name by listening to people.”
“Exactly,” Gari confirmed.
“You’re setting up focus groups for them.”
“I’m discussing the idea with them. These creative types here in Hollywood, they think they have all the answers. Market research like this is a hard sell.”
“I don’t know, Gari. I think I’ve read someplace studios research audiences to see what kinds of movies they want to see. Even endings. Mrs. Lefton and I have attended a couple of movies where they asked us what we thought of the ending.”
“Oh sure, but we’re talking about research before they’ve made the movie. Big difference, Larry.” Gari exaggerated big so it sounded about the size of the Imperial Valley, the Salton Sea, and the stretch to Yuma tossed in. “This involves convincing the creative types, you know the director and those types, that they can learn something from their audience.”
“Okay, whatever,” Larry said, and Gari drew a picture of the man’s eyes glazing over. Either the conversation was beyond him or he was simply bored by the length of it. Gari didn’t care which; just that he was home free.
“When are you meeting with them next?”
Already in another place devoid of the pesky Larry Lefton, his commander-in-chief’s query took him aback, confused him, shorted-circuited his brain, and generally reduced him to a state of flummox. His condition was critical and accounted for him grappling for a date and finally admitting, “Sunday.”
“Meeting on Sunday,” said Larry with something approaching awe.
“It’s L.A.,” Gari depreciated.
“I’m impressed nonetheless.”
“Nothing.” He said it now with a hint of bravado but mostly oddly felt relief, as he did not really understand why he cared about Larry’s opinion and did not yearn for his approbation. He told himself he didn’t need Larry, the job, the L.A. office, or any of it, for he was a man of wealth in his own right. He needed none of it.
“Well, listen, I think I can make a contribution at the meeting.”
“No, you will, of course. But it’s such short notice. The expense, the inconvenience, you just surprised me.”
“I’d wish you tell Mrs. Lefton I have some surprises left in me.”
“Next time I see her I will.”
“Maybe you can do it on Sunday.”
“She’s been at me to take her to California. You know, ‘Now that you’ve got a California office there’s no excuse.’ If I take her once, I’m hoping it will satisfy her and I won’t have to listen to her carping.”
“Where do you recommend we stay, Gari? She wants to see movie stars. I guess the Beverly Hills Hotel, right?”
“Oh sure,” Gari said numbly.
“Then Sunday Mrs. Lefton can amuse herself hunting for stars or taking one of those tours, and you and I can meet with our prospects. What’s the name again?”
“Pink Productions,” he said, hoping it didn’t sound like the groan it felt to him.
Now, Gari realized the next thing he said was a gross error. But his brain was whacked into near insensibility by this Friday afternoon’s turn of the screw and he twisted irresistibly with it. “We’re meeting during a party, Larry.”
“A party? What kind of meeting can you have at a party?”
“A Hollywood movie party. They do it all the time here, like I said.”
“Like doing business on the golf course?”
“Exactly,” from Gari, the man who didn’t golf, didn’t understand the attraction, and who considered strolling a course a waste of several hours, though when pressed, also the man who couldn’t, until recently, think of anything to do with the saved time.
“Okay, good. Mrs. Lefton will enjoy it, too.”
Gari, still gazing at the blue horizon, saw warning flares, bright red bursts, shooting up over the arc of the world. If Mrs. Lefton was attending, Larry would expect Mrs. Garibaldi also to appear, if for no other reason than to distract Mrs. Lefton. Gari sifted his memory for instances of Emily meeting Larry at the office Christmas parties. He couldn’t recall any. Christmas was the only time Larry sprung for a party—the man claimed to be a great keeper of Christmas—and it was usually a dismal affair held in the office. The partiers were people Gari saw and generally ignored every day. Chances were good Larry had never met Mrs. Garibaldi. He toyed with the possibility of allowing Larry to assume Catherine was his wife. But he reconsidered; Catherine might blow it and then where would he be?
“Larry, look, I’m talking hardcore business here. These Hollywood parties aren’t what you imagine. They’re real work. We can’t afford distractions.”
“Mrs. Lefton isn’t much of a distraction. For me, that is, I don’t know about you.”
Gari snickered, not because he found Larry’s comment witty or humorous in any manner whatsoever, but because he could hear Larry chuckling softly and thinking he’d scored a funny with Gari. Then there was the known fact of Larry’s absolute lack of humor, even about hilarious subjects and occurrences. That the man found anything funny, and even richer was congratulating himself on muttering a sarcastically funny line—this in and of itself was sufficient to cause Gari to erupt in gales of laughter, to where he might have become unpleasantly incontinent.
“Well, Larry, maybe she’ll find the party offensive, or she’ll want to leave early, before we’ve had a chance to transact our business. Then, there you go, a lost opportunity.”
“I don’t know,” said Larry. “When she learns of it, there’ll be no keeping her away.”
Gari shook his head at Century City, at Beverly Hills, shook hard so his disbelief reached to Santa Monica and beyond over the ocean who knew how far.
“If you don’t tell her,” Gari said, feeling merciful to the poor dope, “how will she know?”
“For all she will know, you’re going on a business trip. You may as well be flying to Peoria.”
“Milwaukee,” Larry said.
“What difference does it make?”
“Mrs. Lefton likes Peoria. She says it’s the Midwest’s livable city. You know, she attended Bradley.”
It was Gari’s turn for a round of impenetrable silence. What could he say?
After an interim of expensive dead air between them, Larry said, “I like the idea, Gari. Just us two boys on the town. I’ll give it a try.”
Gari, after more ranging over a conversational wasteland, arranged to meet Larry—solo, he hoped—in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel at nine.
When he hung up, he swung around and stared at his bright walls and furniture. In defiance of the sprightly atmosphere, he was gloomy and edgy, shaking his left leg furiously and laving his hands mercilessly. Sunday would prove to be one hell of a day. Emily and the boys in the morning. Loretta in the afternoon. Catherine and Larry in the evening, two he decided best kept apart. And a Hollywood party at which he’d have to feign the search for business. If he survived it, he promised to drop to his knees and praise the Lord, to attend church with Emily and the boys and keep his eyes open, to fill the cup of the first bum he encountered on Monday morning, and even to accept the next phone call from the local United Way representative. All this he swore to do if he could emerge from Sunday as the intact man of independent wealth, as the successful agency executive, and the reformed husband he’d committed himself to be before Friday had dawned.