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The Hollywood Treatment

23 September 2009 Stories and Appreciations 4,439 views 2 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

Some names have been changed to protect the pathetic. Others remain to expose them.

It was another hot, dusty Wednesday in LA  — the kind of hot where your pockets stick to your thighs, and the only way to get a buck out is to step into a bar. I was sitting in my office minding my own business, which is to say not minding much of anything at all. Business had been as brisk as an alpine snail race – uphill.

I was wagging my foot to no song in particular while a housefly as big as my thumbnail waged war with the front-window screen. I couldn’t decide if I should respect him for going the distance or pity him for not giving up and finding suitable lodgings in the file cabinet. Given my own lot, I decided to respect his.

Just when the fly decided to take a break to rub down his translucent wings and devise a new strategy for ramming his head into the screen, the phone rang.

“Is this John Faga?” asked the cigarette and valley-tinged voice when I picked up the receiver. I checked with the fly and decided it was.

“It is,” I said in the usual way one admits to being oneself.

“I need a treatment for a sitcom idea I’ve got and was told you were the guy to do it.”

I could have been coy and told him that it depended on any number of things, from the project to the money or even who it was that was asking. But all it really depended on was making enough money to keep ramming my own screen. Nevertheless, I didn’t see any reason to give it all away for free.

“Who may I ask is calling?”

“This is Charlie Byers,” he answered, accompanied by the usual pause that happens everyday in Hollywood when someone says their name and expects it to be recognized. I let it hang.

“From Teddy’s Place,” he added when the silence bore no fruit.

He paused again, but this time he was right to. “Teddy’s Place” was a popular sitcom back in the 80’s. one that made Charlie Byers a household fixture on the walls of pre-pubescent girls in swoon-crazy suburbia. When he would lean on his Guess jeans-clad knee with his upturned Izod and love in his eyes, he made the suburban daughters damper than a London winter. That is, until the show was canceled and Mr. Byers grew facial hair and a thousand-dollar-a-day heroin habit.

After “Teddy’s” ended he managed to find his way into a couple of B-flicks that did as well as Titanic. (The ship, not the movie.) Once the well dried up for good, he made a living traveling the country selling autographs at fallen-star conventions for twenty bucks a pop, posing for pictures with people he wouldn’t have given the time of day to twenty years ago and would have killed for a dime bag ten years ago. I knew all of this, of course, but still I let it hang.

“I played Jimmy,” he said in the lilted kind of way he’s had to say it to countless agents and directors since he turned twenty-one. It was time to grab it.

“Of course, Charlie Byers. How are you doing?”

“Ah, you know. Just taking it one day at a time,” he responded with all the spontaneity of a roll of toilet paper.

One day at a time. Half of Hollywood is living their lives one day at a time. About a year-and-a-half ago, after a string of failed visits to lush treatment facilities where blond-haired former strung-outs try and convince you their lives are so much better now that they’re clean and to nut-munching clinics where health-addled militants spend all day hiking a never-ending mountain, Charlie finally found a program that took. According to the rag that hangs over the Rolos and M&Ms at the corner checkout, anyway. He’d been clean and sober ever since.

“Good to hear,” I said. The fly began gearing up for another run. He was giving his eyes the real Swedish treatment.

“Any chance you can stop by my place tomorrow and I can give you the pitch?”

I told him I could. I didn’t bother telling him the fly was busy. He gave me the Silver Lake address and we bid each other adieu. Or maybe ado. Tomorrow would tell. I smiled at the fly and he smiled back. Probably.

It was a job, and with any luck a paying one. Judging by Mr. Byers’ past I wasn’t going to count my chickens until I was sure they weren’t rubber, but I was beginning to hear the cluck. Just in case, I decided to increase my odds with a little karma. I got up and removed the screen from the window. The fly made a break for the filing cabinet. I decided not to respect him anymore, shut the window and headed out.

The sun got up much earlier than I did the next day, but I still got out of the house in plenty of time to meet Byers at his Silver Lake condo. The place was a stack-job at the base of a hill just south of the Red Lion. His was the top floor. But I suppose it had to be.

Charlie greeted me in as cordial and breezy a way as a newly-sober man can. “C’mon in. Make yourself at home.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say so I threw as many pearls as I could muster, nodded and ducked inside. The place was tidy enough to know there was a Mrs. Byers, or at least a Miss. Some twenty-something pixie with a mommy complex and a rolled-up poster collecting dust somewhere in the outskirts of Kansas City.

As for Charlie, the ever-present Marlboro shaking in his right hand and coffee cup in his left told his story for him. His face had the kind of grooved lines only sobriety can supply and he had enough silver rings on his fingers to show he was old enough to try and look young.

“You want something to drink?” he asked over a pair of sunglasses that must have been specially designed to wear indoors. I sure as hell did, but not the sort of vegetable and tofu number I was positive he had in a blender by the fridge.

“No, I’m good. I’d love to get down to it if you’re ready,” I answered. The air was thick with smoke and barely hidden desperation. My spine was pulling me out the door. It was all I could do to keep from following it as I grabbed a seat at the kitchen table.

Charlie grabbed the chair across from me and went at it. I’d let you guess the pitch if I wanted to insult you. Young kid makes it big as a child star and, after getting drunk and clean, tries to make it again in Hollywood. The grabber was that the main character was a single father. I was nearly convinced the irony of having a kid in the show was lost on him. Nearly.

It took him five cigarettes and three cups of coffee to get it all out. “Easy does it” clearly didn’t apply to everything in Charlie’s life.

I told him I shouldn’t have any trouble turning that into a treatment and could have it for him by the end of the week. I would have told him I knew where Jimmy Hoffa was if that’s what it took to get me out of there. The smoke was thick but the desperation was thicker. We talked money and ended up at the usual amount; too much for him and not enough for me. He slid a check across the table and we shook hands, the coldness of his rings being the last straw my spine had before it gave up on me completely. I had to lug it all the way down the stairs.

On the way back to Thai Town a friendly bus driver and I exchanged waves. It was too hot to use our entire hands so we each settled on one finger apiece. I made it as far as Hillhurst until my car took over and drove itself to the Drawing Room, a gem of a place with enough darkness to enjoy your average mid-day destruction.

“What’s cheap?” I asked, just for something to ask.

“We’ve got three-dollar PBR pints,” he answered, while throwing a bar rag over his shoulder.

“Start pouring and I’ll throw on my rectangular glasses to complete the scene.” He either didn’t get it or didn’t like it. Judging by how vigorously he adjusted his own rectangular glasses, I guessed the latter.

Four beers later, I had the stink of sobriety off me. Four more, and I had one tragic life story encapsulated into nine pages. Charlie Byers: The Disposable Man.

The next day I hit the post office and sent the thing first class. Then I deposited the check at the bank. With business done I headed home, grabbed a bottle of Wild Turkey and poured two glasses. One for me and one for the former human being turned trembling sideshow who was at that moment undoubtedly searching for the sting on his throat at the bottom of a blender that would never provide it. He needed both drinks, but I drained them instead.

Mr. Yesterday got his treatment all right, and spent his entire adult life paying for it. Then he paid me to spin it. And even now, after all that, Charlie Byers is determined to stay out of the filing cabinet and keep ramming his head against the screen.

The check stuck. After paying rent and stocking the fridge, I used the rest of the money to buy a round-trip ticket to Pennsylvania. I took the fly with me.

John Faga

PHOTO BY THEILR

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2 Comments »

  1. Stumbled onto this page like a wino on Hermosa Beach. Great stuff in a great tradition of stuff.

  2. I like it!

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