TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER
It was 10:30 a.m. on the Hollywood freeway and unusually clear sailing for Josh and his beat-up old blue Mustang as he headed over Cahuenga Pass. He wished he could say as much for his perpetually stalled career. He hadn’t done a commercial for over six months and his bank account was dangerously low. His regular, part-time job offered more therapy than profit and he had to start thinking realistically about paying some bills. A lot hinged on this morning’s audition.
But even more important was the possibility of Joell, the most famous pop singer in the country, recording a song he had written for a feature about to go into production. If it became a hit, it could turn his whole life around. Maybe she would record more of his songs, maybe they all would be hits and advertising execs would beg for him to do their commercials. Ah well, he could dream. Meanwhile, he was late, and Jennie would be pissed.
Spending the night with a dental hygienist he had picked up in Donte’s had been a big mistake. First woman he had ever met who could match him drink for drink and stay conscious, and he didn’t even get laid. He vaguely remembered her dumping every problem she had ever had since age six on him till about 3:00 a.m., when he had mercifully passed out. He hated himself for sneaking out of her apartment this morning without even having the nerve to look at her and see her face in the cold, hard light of day. This wasn’t the morning to test his strong stomach and he was known to relax his standards in the wee hours of the morning when he was feeling lonely.
He wouldn’t bet on how he would sound trying to sing the commercial he had written. His mouth felt like all the smog in Los Angeles had found a permanent home there, and his head like every car on the Ventura freeway was crammed inside his brain, crashing against his skull trying to get out. What were the damn lyrics? He struggled to remember. No time to go home and dig through his notes. Raking through all that chaos could take days. Why couldn’t they just have hired him from the demo tape? But no, they didn’t think it was quite what they were looking for, wanted a different approach.
He was disgusted with himself. He needed this job and had worked for hours on his presentation. But more important, he didn’t want to let Jennie down. She was the one who had pushed for this audition and constantly praised his work to Ken and all the clients at the agency. Not that Ken needed any convincing, but the clients could be brutal in their criticism.
He turned right at the Cahuenga exit, and pressed down on the accelerator. If he hurried, he would only be forty-five minutes late.
Jennie Seger looked at her watch and then double-checked it against the time shown on her computer for about the hundredth time in the last thirty-five minutes. She was so nervous she couldn’t concentrate on typing the letter Ken had asked her to be sure to get out with the morning mail. She didn’t know why she became so anxious every time Josh did this to her. Ever since she had known him, he had yet to be on time for an appointment. She should be used to it by now.
Ten years ago, in San Jose, she had loaded up her faithful Toyota Corolla, waved good-bye to family and friends, and headed for Hollywood to become a star without the slightest idea of how to become one. With her junior college degree in hand, she had assaulted the studios, but they had withstood her every attack effortlessly. She soon found out that there was an overflow of blonds with big brown eyes who were willing to go to greater lengths to succeed than she. A few bit parts had come her way now and then, but mainly she was grateful she had taken all those computer classes in college, along with the acting classes that didn’t mean didley squat to casting directors who wanted you to already have made it before they hired you.
Even though she had done some things in Hollywood she wasn’t especially proud of (hadn’t most people?), she figured she lacked the chutzpah, the killer instinct, necessary to screw over your best friend or go to bed with producers who were usually a cross between Godzilla and the Pillsbury dough boy, in order to get a job.
Anyway, her receptionist job at Jordan Advertising wasn’t complete torture. She wasn’t one of those actresses who only felt alive while on stage. She knew her meager talent would never set the world on fire, but being an actress was what she wanted, and she would keep working at it till she died or got old and senile trying. Sooner or later, her friends would come through for her. She knew they would. It was only a matter of time, and she had to be patient. She tried not to think about possible failure, but sometimes she had to admit she wanted success as desperately as any aging ingenue who would go to bed with the ugliest man in town for a bit part.
She would have liked to have met and married a successful producer or director by now, but that hadn’t happened either. It seemed almost impossible to make attractive, successful men take her seriously. Inside, she knew she wasn’t just another flakey, dumb bimbo, so why did they always make her feel like one? Except Stan, but he was married and had other glaring faults besides that one. Jennie sighed deeply. A future with him was just wishful thinking.
She half-heartedly went back to her computer and tried to concentrate on the letter, but her thoughts drifted back to Josh. She looked at her watch again. He was now forty-five minutes late. She hoped he could sing with damaged vocal cords because she had every intention of strangling him the minute he walked through the door.
Josh’s financial situation was too unreliable for her to take him seriously as a potential boyfriend, not to mention his world-class drinking habits, so she had kept their relationship strictly platonic. He hadn’t really tried too hard to turn it into anything else.
Josh’s talent filled Jennie with awe. The first time she heard him sing at a demo session, she had gushed over him so profusely, he was convinced that she was a complete phony. Gradually, as she kept sitting in on his recording sessions and they became friends, he realized that her admiration was sincere.
Jennie found it difficult to believe that anyone who possessed such a beautiful voice and wrote songs so sensitive and heartfelt that they made her cry, could find it almost impossible to accept any praise.
The intercom buzzed, and she cringed before reluctantly picking up the receiver. “Yes?” She waited while Ken asked again for Josh, then looked up gratefully as Andy Saber walked through the door. “No, not yet, but Andy’s here and he’s ready right now.” Andy nodded at her in confirmation. Jennie’s aggravation with Josh was growing. Through tight lips she said to Ken, “I’ll send him right in,” then accidently slammed down the phone in her fury.
As soon as Andy disappeared into the other office, she hissed out loud, “I’m going to kill him! This time I’m really going to kill him!” She attacked her computer keys with a vengeance.
“So the bastards are finally getting to you, I see.” Josh stuck his head in the door and flashed his best Brad Pitt grin. It usually succeeded in melting her wrath, but not this time.
“Josh, God damn you!” Jennie shot out of her chair and stomped around to the front of her desk to face him.
“Don’t I even get a chance to defend myself?” He closed the door and tried to give her the usual hug, but Jennie wasn’t having any.
“You’re forty-five minutes late! Why can’t you be on time just once, just one lousy time?”
He laid his guitar on the couch and shrugged. “Sorry, honey, but freeway traffic was brutal.”
She walked back around behind her desk and did a double take. “Freeway? You only live a couple of blocks from here. Where were you coming from?” She could see Josh’s brain whirring to come up with a good one. “Never mind, never mind.” She sank down into her chair, resigned. “Why do I go through this every time. Why? Can you tell me?” Josh was smiling at her affectionately, as he watched her scowl. What’s the use? She might as well give up. “Forget I asked, okay?”
He sat down and leaned forward on his elbows. “Works for me.”
He hesitated before asking, “Any word from Stan?”
Josh nodded and breathed out heavily.
Jennie busied herself shuffling papers to avoid looking at him. The least she had to do was impress upon him the importance of the audition. “These people liked your Datsun commercial and even though the demo wasn’t quite right, they’re very open to your ideas. Do you realize if this goes national, it could support you for a year?”
He picked up his guitar and strummed a couple of chords. “Don’t worry, Jennie, I won’t let you down.”
She dropped the papers on her desk in exasperation. “Me? Don’t do it for me. Do it for yourself.” She was beginning to think he was hopeless. There didn’t seem to be anything she could do or say to make him care. She had decided to launch one more time into her speech on wasting one’s God-given talent when the intercom stopped her short. It was just as well. The speech only wore her out and put him to sleep. Ken asked for Josh again, and she was relieved to have a positive answer this time.
Andy came out of the inner office stone-faced, passed Jennie’s desk, and went out without a word to either one of them.
Jennie looked at Josh gleefully. “He wasn’t in there for more than two minutes! They must have hated him. I know this makes me a terrible person, but I’m glad. Now go in and knock ‘em dead!” She gave him a thumbs-up gesture and her most determined expression. He returned the sign gratefully and went in.
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