Out-of-work Hollywood types travel to the middle of nowhere to make an adventure show. 2,332 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Mann.
We were desperate. Art. Bruce. Lance. Tony. Scott. The whole lot of us. Desperate for another break. Desperate to make another month’s rent, another phone bill, another car payment. Desperate to make something happen. Tired of waiting tables, waiting in open houses, waiting to get slaughtered at the next cattle call. We’d all had a break or two already – a national commercial, a recurring role on HBO or FX or AMC, a juicy part in a fourquel splatter-fest. Just enough to keep our hopes up, keep us out of real jobs and real money. Only the breaks hadn’t led to bigger breaks. We needed that big roller to take us over the top. And this was our wave machine.
“Can you believe this shit?” said Art, an aspiring film editor scraping by on local commercials and backyard bare-knuckle brawl videos. Believe it or not, they pay people to edit those things. He got four hundred bucks and an eight ball for the last gig, which launched the career of a 380 pound overalls-clad cyclops named Opie Mohammed.
I couldn’t believe the tab as I looked at it, dollar signs burning my eyes. Even out in the middle of nowhere like we were, in some Northern California town where the redwoods met the Pacific, it was possible to run up a four figure bar tab. Before I could react, another round had arrived — bottles of Budweiser and whiskey backs, although you could have them in any order you liked. I could already feel the hangover and I knew a couple of the others were half blind. Somebody had to pay for this. The credit cards were maxed. We didn’t have the budget for this bill. I hailed the waitress and ordered another round of whiskey.
As soon as I said it I got hit in the eye with the flash. “How come every time I order a whiskey, you take my picture?” I asked.
Scott slipped the phone back in his pocket. “Because in Argentina they say ‘whiskey’ instead of ‘cheese’. Picked it up on a shoot in Patagonia.”
“Why whiskey?” I asked.
“I guess when you say whiskey, you can’t help but smile.”
I tried to forget about the tab. By going all night, things would play themselves out. Sleep couldn’t be too far away. Then Tom’s girlfriend Claire slipped onto the barstool next to me. Until she’d appeared, I’d almost forgotten why we’d come to this remote hamlet of the Lost Coast.
What we’d planned was either going to be a Blair Witch kind of thing, or an In Search Of kind of thing, or one of those sexy reality shows with a pretty girl and a bunch of horny guys all looking for a Sasquatch. Except instead of having a professional camera operator, support crew, writer, director and all that, it was basically us running around with state-of-the-art high-def low-light camcorders which I’d purchased from many fine electronics retailers. Price was no object, only the lack of a restocking fee since we planned on returning them for our cash back.
The thought was, at the end of the weekend, we’d take everybody’s footage, put it together, see what we had, then figure out what it was in editing and sell it to Hollywood.
Tom had been the one who’d lured us in, having spotted the beast on a solo climbing trip, then entertained us with the story over beers at the Snake Pit in Los Angeles. Nobody had believed it at first. But there’d been a rash of sightings along the Lost Coast. And Tom had such an innocence and a purity and a kind of holy conviction that, no matter how far out the story, eventually he had us.
From the research we did, the best way to attract a Bigfoot as well as a reality TV deal was to bring a beautiful female along. That was our hook. Enter Claire.
“You know what I want right now more than anything?” she said, twirling her finger in her drink. I knew what was coming next. Her lips parted expectantly. Her hair fell in the lantern light. “One of those colorful drinks that they bring to you on fire.”
I leaned toward Claire. “None of this would have happened without you. Not many women would be such a good sport. We’re still not sure why you even agreed to do it,” I said. “You’ve never been in anything before?”
“No one’s asked me.”
“That’s hard to believe.”
“I’m not an actress. You said I could be myself.”
Through the window the light of the full moon caught my eye. “Easy as that,” I said, giving her a reassuring smile.
None of the actresses we’d gone to had warmed to our adventure idea. Claire was a sculptor by training and created lifecasts and death masks for a special effects house. Even in Hollywood she was always the best looking woman in the room, with dark hair and liquid eyes. She didn’t hesitate when I pitched the concept. After all, it was her boyfriend Tom who’d inspired us to come up here in the first place. It seemed inevitable somehow that Tom’s girl should get the part.
I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. A bearded logger-type asked if I would like to shoot pool. I held up a limp wrist, signaling that I was injured. Or, it occurred to me later, gay. He moved to another table. One thing that was clear was that we never should have come to this bar because we’d be lucky to get out with our lives. The patrons were a motley mix of loggers, pot growers, surfers and ranch hands. I’d warned everyone to steer clear of the regulars. No playing pool, no darts, no pinball, and above all no arm wrestling. This wasn’t Melrose.
But Lance and Bruce, both wearing tight black t- shirts, came back to the table massaging their gym-sculpted biceps. “We were over in the corner arm wrestling the loggers,” Lance explained
“You should see the size of their wrists,” said Bruce.
I shook my head. “You’ve got to watch it or you’ll get in a fight.”
“That’s a laugh. I’m too damn drunk to punch anyone,” noted Bruce.
Lance and Bruce were a package deal. They had cocky frat-boy looks and went everywhere together, including auditions. Recently they’d appeared in the same episode of a daytime soap in a country club scene. They each got a couple lines and a few bucks. In the weeks since, they’d been working on their abs and waiting for more daytime drama offers
Claire leaned over the table and licked at the rim of her drink. I felt her knee against mine. Her hair fell over her eyes, and she brushed it away.
I looked over at Art who sat straight up in his chair, eyes enlarged behind glasses, face hot with sweat. It wasn’t until I made eye contact that I realized he couldn’t even see me — eyes just went right on by.
“They … don’t … love us, man.” He came forward with a clenched fist then slowly drifted back in his chair.
“What’s he talking about?” I asked.
Scott pointed to a 1970s poster on the wall behind the bar of Farrah Fawcett falling out of a one-piece swimsuit. “He’s talking about women.”
Scott had shaggy hair and weed burned eyes, as well as a Buddha belly that pushed out from under his Hawaiian shirt. He fancied himself a character actor and had done a number of party scenes from a long list of straight-to-video sex comedies. Usually he was shot sitting on a couch in sunglasses and a bathrobe holding a bong.
“Have you been in anything recently?” Claire asked me.
“A few things,” I said, taking a swig of beer.
“Like what? Anything I might have seen?”
“I got a call back on that Eight Is Enough reboot,” I said. “Five lines.”
“You should audition for the new Paul Thomas Anderson movie. It’s shooting right down the Silver Lake street from Tom and me.”
“It’s not that easy.” I slapped the table. “Almost forgot. I was one of the suitors on The Bachelorette. I made it on camera for three weeks.”
“Is that acting?”
“Sure is, according to my bio. I played a bartender from Sacramento.”
Claire moved in to tell me something. I could feel her hot breath on my ear. Her hair brushed my cheek confidentially. Before she could speak, I looked over at Art again. He had his head on the table, sobbing into his arms. “What’s his problem?” I asked to no one in particular.
“It’s his woman,” replied Scott, cocking his thumb over his shoulder. “She’s fucking around. He found out about the affairs. With two black guys, a white biker type and a pair of Asian photographers.”
“When did this happen?” asked Claire.
Scott took a swig of his beer. “At the same time. He’d held up pretty well until just now. Then he saw that reality show she was on.”
Art blew his nose. “I’m sorry about that. I just wasn’t expecting-”
“Nobody expects to find out about something like that on TV,” I said.
I thought of only one thing now — Claire’s knees, her elbows, her breasts, her fragrance, her dark hair curled just under her chin. I wanted to experience them one after the other, an inventory of meaningful contacts.
She was speaking to Art now. “What are you going to do?” Claire asked him.
“Maybe I’ll find something in the woods.”
“Like what?” I said.
He shrugged. “Whatever’s in heat.”
Art began dancing with a blow-up sex doll, cheek to cheek, full dips and twirls. Drinkers were cheering as he sailed past. A heavy-set woman tried to break in. Another female, dark and young, asked him to save her the next dance. The cocktail waitress gave a demure smile. The loggers reached out, grabbing plastic tit, leg and ass.
I took a swig of beer and surveyed the room. You couldn’t blame the loggers. There weren’t too many live women in the bar.
“Easy come, easy go,” said Art, putting down the doll. “The perfect affair.”
When the fight started, I knew what was coming next: the squad cars, the flashing lights. I tried to calculate the cost in my head of bail, fines, an opportunity lost. I watched Lance take a punch from a beefy man in a pink muscle shirt with a shaved head and a bushy goatee. Bruce tapped the attacker on the shoulder. The man turned his head, and Bruce hit him with a straight right, getting the whole thing on the camcorder.
A bottle flew over my head and exploded on the wall behind me. I saw Art and Scott standing back-to-back in the middle of the melee, camcorders held up, getting the whole thing on video. I could hear the sirens in the distance. I whistled. Bruce, mid-punch, turned his head and loosened his hand from the logger’s shirt collar.
“Hey, the vehicles are ready,” I announced, seemingly oblivious to the bodies falling this way and that amidst the carnage. We departed the scene as the cops drew near. One by one we filed out of the bar and gathered out front into a small fleet of SUVs. The drive took longer than I had expected, down a number of dark winding back country roads. The journey ended at a clearing in the deep thick woods.
It was used mostly by hunters and rock climbers. The fact that we lacked guns or big coils of nylon rope made us seem peculiar. The clearing opened onto a lake with rocky banks rising to high cliffs. A reflection of the blood orange moon shimmered on the dark water.
Claire was on Ecstasy. She had dropped it back at the bar. Even in the dark she appeared to be lit from within.
“Tom’s been disappearing a lot lately,” she confided iin me.
“I’ve noticed,” I said. “We rarely see him anymore. Everybody thinks he’s with you.”
“I don’t know where he is most of the time. He comes and goes. I’m beginning to think he has a secret life.”
“You think there’s another woman?” I asked.
“I don’t know what it is, just a feeling. Something terrible. It’s like watching a scary movie you’ve already seen before, a long time ago, and you know where it ends, but not exactly how or when.”
“He’ll show his face eventually. You’ve been through this a million times. Anyway, as I said before, you’re a good sport for playing along.”
“As long as there’s a dry place to sleep,” she noted. “Please tell me there’s a tent?”
“This is a package deal,” I said. “Tents, sleeping bags, everything included, strictly first rate. Gore-tex, Thinsulate, all that shit. They’re probably setting up camp as we speak.”
As I said this, I could hear the low rumble of the SUVs as they drove off down the trail. But when Claire and I came to the clearing, there were no tents. No sleeping bags. And everyone was on X. I heard the distant splash of a body entering the lake, loud cries, more bodies splashing into the water. So cold. Claire, hugging herself, complained. “I can’t believe we don’t have any place to sleep. How could they leave us out here with nothing?”
“I’ll call someone,” I said, whipping out my cell. “No bars… and now the phone’s dead. At least we have all this beer.” I nodded at the half-dozen cases of Pabst stacked up next to the tire tracks. “Maybe we can find a cave?”
“A cave?” Claire exclaimed, eyes glowing in the dark.
It started to rain.
“We can look by the cliffs,” I said. “Let me find a flashlight.”
“Let’s go,” she said, tugging at my shirt as the rain came down harder.