Secrets of the Lottery Winner
CHAPTER 25: TEMPLE OF CELEBRITY
Great plumes of blue smoke clouded the far corner of the Sunset Ballroom. California was the preeminent healthy living state in a union opposed to many evils: fats, carbs, liquor, tobacco, and more. Yet, here all were in evidence, plus boo, coke, maybe some good and plenty as well. In this nirvana state of purity, even the governor couldn’t smoke in his office and had to erect a tent in the courtyard outside his state office building to indulge his habit of blowing expensive cigar fumes. Of course, the governor had to set a good example, but not so the state’s other icons.
So there it was to no one’s surprise, the unmistakable thunderhead of blue tobacco smoke in the corner. Circulating rumor had it—for even in Hollywood parties rumors abounded—that the notorious mocker of virtue Jack Nickelson was in attendance and was somehow involved in the production this party promoted.
Gari was plunging into the Sunset ahead of Larry Lefton and his wife Darlene, who he’d met in the lobby as arranged, not the least surprised, and now considerably relieved, that the president couldn’t say no to his missus. At that moment, Gari’s intent was distance and bodies between the Leftons and himself.
Larry had never been a sartorial maven—rumpled Brooks Brothers was his style—but he’d managed to arrive in particularly ridiculous attire for the event. The offending garb was a black tux, matching cummerbund, and patent leather shoes. Gari thought, upon first sighting, the man had confused movie party with high school prom.
Darlene was a horse of a woman: tall, stout, thick in every limb. Her coif was a bouffant into which she’d jammed a few ersatz gems to seal the impression she knew less about taste than did her husband. Ah, but they were a couple.
Thus Gari sought preservation of whatever good name he might have been building in town by racing ahead of them into the ballroom, hoping he’d lose them before they realized he’d vanished, when Darlene’s soprano voice caught up with him and smashed this desire to forlorn bits.
“Some people in the lobby said they saw Jack Nickelson go in here. Do you think so, Gari?”
How could he be angry or short or in any way upset by her? The poor woman was simply star-struck. It would be like reprimanding a child for too much delight and gushiness on her first trip to Disneyland. It was during the course of this reflection that he saw the plume of smoke in the far corner.
“Well, Darlene, I think the man is sending up smoke signals,” he said.
“He smokes?” she said, saddened, as if the great star was at the moment committing a horrid, unforgivable sin; as if his capital had sunk to less than zero in her estimation. Here was a woman with a very California attitude.
“Like a fiend,” Gari goaded.
“And they allow it in a place like this?”
He noted her concern and mystification. He imagined she explored the world through the pages of the Star. “Are you kidding?” he answered in the spirit that enlightenment was often torment. “They encourage him. He’s a big draw.”
“It’s always about money,” she moaned.
Gari turned in time to see she was now directing her comments to her husband.
“Don’t blame me,” he said, raising a hand like a traffic cop to fend her off. “I told you you’d be happier at home.”
And so began Gari’s evening at the glamorous Hollywood movie party in the most fashionable several hundred square feet in the entire U.S. of A.
Fortunately for him, he separated from them after fewer than five minutes in the Sunset, shouting to Larry he’d catch him later.
In his steady dash from the boss and his wife, he moved heedlessly through the crowd until a gentle hand halted him.
“Looks like Jack Nickelson’s here. I hear he’s considering doing some post-post-production narration.” It was Catherine Lourdes. And from that moment on, without a “Hello, how have you been, glad we could rendezvous like this, welcome to the party,” she commenced spouting movie blather. She sounded authentic, as if she’d been reared on the back lots and nursed from teats bursting with Hollywood lore instead of the usual mother’s milk. But what did he know, being a mere sprout from the fields of Mundelein, and an advertising man who’d made his bones in shoes? Maybe there existed a dictionary of Hollywood lexicon and Catherine had memorized the damned thing on her way in. In other words, he should have done his Hollywood homework.
What he did know, however, was Catherine was absolutely stunning this evening, a star plucked from the firmament, sufficiently bright to overpower the aura of whatever film stars might be roaming the ballroom. She inspired like the first hints of a pristine sunrise in the palest pink gown, a fragile affair barely containing her breasts, enhancing cleavage that did very nicely on its own and spectacularly within the bounds of what she wore. The gown didn’t so much fit as it bathed her in rose. It was so much like he imagined her skin after a warm shower that he had difficultly determining where she left off and it began. This is to say, it covered her and revealed her and wrapped her in enticement; and, to put it bluntly, it was killing and torturous to mortal man, and it drove him absolutely shaky with eruptive desire, placing him in perilous contradiction of his spousal vow of renewed and undying fidelity.
His legs melted under the heat of her glow and he thought if he managed a few words, if he got back into the game, then maybe he’d regain control and suppress the urge to touch her. “Where are the hosts?”
“The who?” she asked, as if perhaps he was inquiring about something alien, like the who of his inquiry were vermin, or ringworms, or maggots.
“The production company people?”
“I don’t see them,” she answered, swiveling her head around on her exquisite neck. It was long, but not overly, and smooth, not corded with age, anxiety, or care of anything except serving her customers. He simply couldn’t believe he’d caressed that neck, kissed it, and on the Metra that night to Fox Lake with Jimmy of the Keys standing guard, licked it as if it were confection. And good God in heaven it had been, and it was, and it could be again if only he hadn’t made the vow.
“But you can’t miss them,” she added.
“Oh, why not?”
He hoped she would describe deformed people. Smart people, yes, engaging, and people who had overcome a horrible situation to achieve fame and fortune; but people who would be like ice water on his adoration and desire. He had nothing against the lame and infirmed of the world, though he preferred crossing over when they approached; but nothing against them, really, and especially when they served a useful purpose.
“She’ll be in pink, bright pink. The word is she convinced him to wear a pink suit too. And he’s white and British and from what I hear uptight, which is a good sign, because uptight men are good with money. Don’t you agree?”
Hmmm, he wondered if this was innuendo. Did she find him uptight? Was he a Conductor’s Club member who would never again orchestrate with her in the confines of a railway car, or any place for that matter? And pink, why did pink suddenly disturb him?
“Come on,” she urged, “let’s mingle. We’ll run into them eventually.”
The ballroom contained an odd sartorial assortment. It reminded him of a weirdly filled box of candy, a mismatched collection of fine chocolates, fake whites, jellies, turtles, an illogical jumble. At various stages of their migration through the mass he felt over- or underdressed. A fellow in bagged out blue jeans and sandals, a crisp pink dress shit and blue double-breasted blazer convinced Gari his suit was overdoing things. But then he bumped into a man in a white dinner jacket looking very much as if he’d stepped out of a 1950s Doris Day movie and Gari became concerned he hadn’t devoted sufficient attention to funking his attire. Then he ran into a man in a business suit, finely cut, modish, and he was relieved he was almost right for the party, although twenty percent short on style.
Catherine served as guide; she zigzagged a path through the clumps of people. It was a huge gathering as he supposed all movie parties were, for who wouldn’t want the chance to hobnob with the royalty of Los Angeles? Or maybe this was extraordinary and this movie was a big deal. Maybe he was onto something.
As if her dress was a marvelous magnet, Catherine attracted people. The two would pass a cluster and the little filings would disperse, with several of them attaching to the pair. They gushed of her familiarity and inquired as to the films in which she’d starred, rattling off titles vaguely familiar to Gari, but movies, given his intense attention to the agency and his family he’d not seen, not even on DVD, leaving him with a renewed sense of cultural deprivation. She begged off conversing with each, assuaging with small kindnesses, never verging from her mission of ferreting out the elusive pink couple. These bits of local iron claimed to be producers and directors and writers, the people whose names prefaced movies but who went forever faceless. Gari could understand why: This was the ugliest menagerie of folks he’d seen in quite a long while. They were as unlike Angelinos as were Mundelein locals, who dwelled in gray most of the year. Their complexions were pasty, mottled, and pocked. Their shapes were round and soft. Their clothing, while of good quality, draped askew on their misshaped forms. From where did they come? Where did they hide? Was there a local ordinance prohibiting them from walking the streets in the light of day? He could easily believe this as they were far removed from the people who caught his attention around town. In the parlance of Hollywood, they were “Creatures from the Planet Weird.”
“You her agent?” asked one of the ghastly bunch. Rapidly, the interlocutor continued, “I don’t think I know you. I thought I knew all the agents in town. I mean I do know them all. But you, you I don’t recognize. You new here? Who is she, anyway? I know the body, if you know what I mean, but the face, I can’t place it. Oh, she’s famous. So, you know, it’s embarrassing not to know her right off. What’s her name?”
Gari sensed the white ball of a man might gallop on for the length of the party if he allowed it. Gari made his point as quickly, directly, and loudly as he could: “I’m not her agent.”
“Christ-all-fuckin’-mighty, you should be. Who you represent anyway?”
“I represent Larry Lefton,” Gari said, maliciously.
If they still used Rolodexes here, surely the cards were flipping in the man’s head, fast, as communicated by the berserk twitching of his eminently plastic face. “Action? Romance? Horror? What’s his specialty? I know everybody. Everybody. But Lefton, Lefton is new? He’s new, right?”
“He’s older than fossilized shit,” Gari said.
“Listen kid, forget the old fucks. There’s no percentage in old fucks,” the man said, as he flapped his arms and bolted from Gari in disgust.
“What was that about?” asked Catherine, finally disengaging herself from her gaggle of iron monsters.
“The guy was looking for the La Brea Tar Pits and I was giving him directions.”
She regarded him askance. Then she shrugged and they forged deeper into the wilds of the party.
Catherine wasn’t interested in chatting up the guests, for which Gari was grateful. He wasn’t much on the rambling, pointless conversation that was the fare of the evening and the meat of the guests; they impressed him as absolutely ravenous for idle, meaningless dribble. Catherine’s objective was to find two people in pink. Gari’s objective was to bask in the glow of the beautiful Catherine, to maintain the sexual edge that in her presence teased him deliciously, and to avoid encountering Larry and Darlene until the night had turned to morning and it was time to leave.
Their odyssey was endless as the ballroom while not quite dimensions of a small island still was packed with steamy denizens who impeded travel. In a short while, the experience was stifling and had Gari wishing an exit would present itself. But their wending had purpose and he noted that erratically they moved closer to the great plume of smoke that had not diminished since he’d first spotted it. Catherine was operating on the time honored, intuitively proven, widely accepted, and generally true maxim: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Or in their case, plenty of garish pink clothing.
The objective glared not too distantly at them, its visual vibrations easily slicing through the outrageous blue haze. He spied two people, a man and a woman, both dressed in bright pink outfits of the sort he hadn’t seen since the family trip to Jamaica. Upon first sighting, he didn’t give a thought, not a shed of credence to the dread the female might be Patricia, his Jamaican revolutionary, reconstituted in the posh Beverly Hills Hotel in the eye of a swirling storm of the misnamed beautiful people. Pink, after all, wasn’t solely the province of Caribbean island anti-capitalists.
But then it struck him, as if the management had authorized the Hollywood maven of mayhem to set off an electrical storm in the ballroom, like the rattling issuing from a particularly powerful clap of thunder. It was a black woman in the pink garb. Again he insisted, controlling the panic flaring upward from his gonads, the world held more than one black woman. She could be one of the millions who roamed the world, one of the hundreds of thousands who called L.A. home. She did not have to be Patricia.
However, as Catherine guided him closer, he saw that the woman in pink was indeed Patty Pink. Instantly, thoughts sparked. He had to get away. Was she packing a knife or rusty scissors? Would she remember him? Had her revolutionary cohorts accompanied her to mix it up with American capitalists on the moneygrubbers’ home turf? If she recognized him and worse acknowledged him, how would he explain her to Catherine? How do I get away? Is that really Jack Nickelson with them?
As if in addition to a beauty in pale pink, Catherine also was clairvoyant. She said, “Damn, Jack Nickelson. Looks like the real deal for sure. Come on, Gari, let’s get closer and make ourselves known.”