OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: Part Three revisits Nat and Best Actress Erin Teller’s meet cute. 2,593 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Backstory. Again. I’m Nat. I work in the mailroom at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and last year I went to the Academy Awards. I met Erin Teller on the Red Carpet and she wound up winning Best Actress for When The Mountain Sings with me sitting beside her as her date for the evening. We even went to the Governors Ball together. After that we sort of hooked up for a couple months and it was pretty amazing being with Erin Teller and having paparazzi following us around. My picture ended up in In Touch with the caption, “Erin Teller and her new Mystery Man share a black and white cookie at Art’s Deli.”
I still have the napkin. She wrote the date on it and did a drawing of a penguin. “It’s the only animal I can draw. Isn’t that weird?” she told me. We were eating outside because she said people in the Valley didn’t recognize her as much as people on the other side of the hill. Only one photographer took her photo. No one else approached her, not that she would’ve cared. The entire time we were together, I never saw her get impatient with fans or paps, even when they were crowding around her when she took me to the premiere of her latest starring vehicle Rogue One. I was afraid she would get suffocated, but she kept waving “hey” to people. She saw treating everyone well as part of her job. Like making sure she didn’t gain fifty pounds or get a giant ‘#RESIST tattoo across her forehead.
“It’s stupid the way some actors are so rude,” she told me later when we were in her bedroom. “Here you work your ass off to be a success in this business and you finally make it and you’ve got fans everywhere and then you go like, ‘How dare you interrupt me when I’m eating? Sign an autograph? Go fuck yourself.’ Do you think I’d have a career if people didn’t like my movies? D’oh.”
She sounded exactly like Homer Simpson. At that moment, Erin was leaning back against the headboard. You probably want to know if she was naked. And what the sex was like. I’m too much of a gentleman to disclose that. (Well… use your imagination. And then multiply that by a billion.)
So I had a couple months of this insane life. I’d stay at Erin’s new house in the Hollywood Hills and we’d get up early and swim laps in her infinity pool and then I’d go to work at the Academy. Yes, still in the mailroom. And everybody would ask about Erin and I’d say I was still seeing her but not go into specifics. Like how we’d order takeout sushi three times a week and she almost got me to like uni. Almost. I always said everything with Erin was great. And then I’d go back to doing mailroom work when I really wanted to write and direct movies, maybe even ones which she would be in..
The dick from digital media, the one guy I hate at the Academy, would still shoot me death looks any time he saw me and, if I were an asshole, I’d have told him tons of stories about Erin. I could have gone on and on about courtside seats at Laker games (yeah, I met Jack Nicholson) and parties with people like Amy Schumer and Ryan Gosling. But I’m not an asshole.
He still hated my guts, though. Big whoop.
I worked on my screenplays at Erin’s and she helped me out. She was honest. “This is shit. You can do better,” she’d say. That might sound harsh, but it was great because when she said she liked something, I knew she was telling the truth. She also promised to show my scripts to one of the agents at CAA the minute they’re ready. "But you have to make sure they’re as good as they can be. Too many beginning writers are lazy and want everything instantly. They don’t get that rewriting is the secret to success.”
How many people would tell you that?
So it was tough when she left to do a movie in England and the tabloids over there kept linking her with a new famous actor or director every week or two. She said we’d keep in touch, and she still texts and sends goofy selfies of her with Ian McKellen and David Oyelowo. It sounds like she’s having a good time doing the film and I’m glad. I want her to be happy. Why wouldn’t I?
But I knew the relationship was never going to lead to something serious. Although it could have – if she hadn’t been famous. If Erin Teller had been a regular girl I met in line at Starbucks , she’d be someone I could marry. Smart and pretty and funny and no bullshit isn’t a woman you meet every day. Practically perfect.
I’m still working on my screenplays, mostly one that sets John Ford’s Fort Apache in the future which Erin thought was my best. And of course I’m impatient and want to get it to an agent right away. But I remember Erin’s advice so I change endings of scenes, drop and add characters, rewrite the dialogue over and over.
With Erin gone, the dick from digital media is more in my face than even before. “Too bad, Nat. You were Cinderella. But now you’re back scrubbing the floors where you belong.”
It’s Oscars time again. Dick Boy has been telling everybody how he was given amazing seats in the orchestra because his boss can’t go to the Awards this month. In the orchestra. “You’ll be up in the rafters this year,” he says to me in the mailroom, shakes his head and smiles at me with his little rat teeth. “Boo hoo.”
I’m not even sure I want to go to the Awards. It’s obvious there’s no way the experience can top last year’s what with Erin’s limo almost running me over, she dumping her date and me getting dumped by mine, then her winning and our romantic Mulholland Drive trysting… But I love a lot of the movies that were nominated. Especially La La Land and Moonlight and Hidden Figures and Lion. If it were up to me, I’d pick any of them for best picture.
Besides one of my roommates, Jamie, is dying to go and he has a friend who drives for Lyft and can get Lyft Premier – and, hey, I’ve already got my eBay tux. Jamie rented one he saw Bruno Mars wearing and it looks great. If you like pink and black.
Jamie wonders if anyone will think he’s famous and I tell him I doubt it, but he’s going to tell people he has a YouTube channel and a new song, “Lay Me Down And Lay Me, Bae.” And maybe that’ll be the kick start he needs so he’ll actually start a YouTube channel since he doesn’t have any career goals besides continuing as night manager at Panera. He gets so excited imagining this new life that he has to use his inhaler. I have his extra inhaler just in case.
We get to the Dolby Theatre and the paparazzi and TV crews know we’re nobodies. It makes me a little sad because I remember walking down the Red Carpet with Erin Teller and now she’s in England. “Remember me? I was with Erin Teller last year,” I want to say to the photographers, but they don’t give a shit. They’re looking past me to get Octavia Spencer’s attention. So I pull Jamie by the arm and tell him we have to keep moving.
As we walk inside, naturally the first person we see is Dick Boy. He’s wearing a plain tux and his shirtsleeves stick out too far and almost cover his Trump-mini hands. But fuck me sideways if the woman with him isn’t gorgeous and I’m thinking, how the hell did Dick Boy end up with her? Then I realize she’s Diana from HR. I always thought Diana was cute in a adorable puppy dog sort of way, but tonight she’s wearing a low cut sparkly dress with her boobs shoved up towards her chin and her hair’s falling across her bare shoulders and she looks outstanding. I don’t want Dick Boy to see me so I tug Jamie again in the direction of the stairs.
But he’s spotted me.
“Nat,” Dick Boy says and his teeth look much whiter than they did on Friday, too white, and I realize he’s had them bleached. “You know Diana.” He puts his arm around her waist and pulls her close. Before I can say anything to Diana – like “Blink twice if you want me to rescue you” – Dick Boy is moving away from us.
Diana looks back at me (a cry for help?) and adjusts her wrap and struggles a little because she has a purse and a program and a glass of champagne to juggle. Naturally, Dick Boy isn’t going to help her so I step forward and everything falls at the same time, except the glass misses her dress and it all works out okay.
“Thanks, Nat,” she says as she gathers up everything.
Dick Boy is yelling at her from across the lobby, “What are you waiting for, Diana?” With a sad smile, she runs off to join him.
The ushers are motioning us worker bees to the cheap seats. Like steerage on the Titanic. We move your ass. Our seats aren’t in the very last row, but the next to last row. Jamie could care less. He’s practically vibrating. As I sit down, I realize I’m holding a purse. It looks like a small glittery football. Diana’s.
I check my watch. Damn, the show starts in ten minutes. “Let me run downstairs and give this to Diana,” I tell Jamie. It’s a good thing I know the layout of the Dolby so I’m able to get to the orchestra section fairly quickly. And I’m also lucky that a huge group of people are coming in and there’s a sense of urgency now because the show has to start exactly on time. So nobody stops me. I remember where Dick Boy’s seats are and I wave the purse in the air, hoping Diana will see it. Dick Boy glances in my direction and I’m not sure if he sees me or not. But I do know the show is going to start and I can’t be down here in the orchestra so I spot an usher and start to tell him about the purse.
But he isn’t paying attention. Instead he’s motioning me to a seat near the front and next to the wall. “But that’s not my – ” I try to explain. But I realize he thinks I’m a seat filler — so okay I’ll sit there until the real person shows up and move at the commercial. So I’ll get to see Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue and the opening number from a great vantage point. Better than Dick Boy’s even.
The lights dim and someone slips into the seat beside me and I recognize Melissa McCarthy. “Hi,” she says. “Nat, right?” I nod at her. She’d met us at an AFI fundraiser held at Erin’s house. “Too bad Erin’s not here this year.” I nod again.
The opening number is fun and nobody has kicked me out of my seat yet. At the first commercial break I wave at Dick Boy again and he appears. “You’re not supposed to be here. I should report you,” he hisses and snatches the purse out of my hand.
Melissa McCarthy frowns at him. “Want me to take care of him, Nat?” she asks and Dick Boy retreats.
Just then a door opens nearby and I can hear people talking in raised voices. Something about finding a doctor. I notice some ushers coming down the aisle. Shit, Dick Boy did report me.
I start to go out through the back and I’m in a hallway that’s chaos with presenters and performers and crew people running around. I notice a middle-aged woman in a gown talking to a man in an EMT uniform. There’s a huddle of people near them and I recognize Lin-Manuel Miranda who’s standing beside a pretty young teenage girl who I assume is Auli’i Cravalho. They’re going to be singing, “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana. That would have been sweet to see from my orchestra seat. Oh well.
A group of dancers are near them and one of the male dancers is coughing. The woman is talking to the medic.
“You have an Epipen?”
“Of course, Dr. Dabney,” the medic says.
“I don’t want an Epipen, I only use Nasi-Max,” the coughing dancer says.
“Do you have it?” Lin-Manuel asks the medic. The medic shakes his head no.
That’s when a man in a headset announces to the group, “We’re back on in three.”
“He doesn’t have to do the number.” someone points out.
“But this is his big chance.” Lin-Manuel says. “He doesn’t want to miss it.”
I feel something in my pocket. Jamie’s spare inhaler. "I have Nasi-Max,” I say. Everybody looks at me as I hand the inhaler to the doctor.
Lin-Manuel looks at me and grins. “I met you last year,” he says. “You were with Erin Teller when she came backstage to my dressing room at Hamilton.”
I nod. And somehow that makes everything okay. The doctor gives the inhaler to the dancer and then people are pushing me out of the way and I find myself on the side of the stage with an outstanding view of “How Far I’ll Go.” I love that song.
When the number is over, there’s a commercial break and Lin-Manuel and the dancer come over and thank me. I glance out at the audience and naturally I see Dick Boy. Who sees me. On stage.
Sometimes life is sweet.
I’m ready to start the long haul to the mezzanine, but the medic appears and tells me to come with him so we sit at the rear of the stage. It’s pretty cool to watch the Awards from there. You can see how nervous people are before they go on stage. And how excited they are after they win.
The show is almost over and it’s almost time to announce Best Actor and Best Actress. I get up to stretch my legs during the break and notice a group of people laughing in the corner with a woman in a pale blue dress. It’s shiny and silky and so understated it makes all the other women around her seem to disappear. People are adjusting her hair and makeup and she’s laughing and of course I recognize the laugh.
Erin Teller. I didn’t know she was here. She didn’t tell me.
I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m the mailroom guy, I’m not supposed to be standing backstage at the Academy Awards. I’m not somebody cool enough to date Erin Teller, that’s for sure. Dick Boy is right. Cinderella is back scrubbing floors.
Erin heads for the curtain to make her entrance. The music starts and Erin turns back. To look directly at me. She smiles. Blows me a kiss. Sticks her tongue out. And makes a silly face.
Someone hands me an invitation to the Governors Ball. On it is a drawing of a penguin. And Erin’s writing. “Busy tonight, Nat?”
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