What happens when you fall for a showbiz wannabe who then becomes a somebody? 2,468 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
When the film rights to Truman Blu’s novel, Better Off Dead, sold for two million dollars to Magnet Pictures, it was a triumph. Three days ago, the publishing rights had sold to HarperCollins for seven hundred fifty thousand, thereby creating the buzz that would make Truman Blu a rich man. Of course, the author was thrilled, but the huge sale also made Lolo’s boss, Peter Biro look like a star and Lolo basked in the reflected light.
Truman had been a struggling writer in the unincorporated town of Victor, Montana, and went from penury to riches overnight. A month later, he came down to L.A. for his victory lap. He arrived unexpectedly, and Peter was in a staff meeting. Lolo texted her boss, who texted back that she should take Truman to Starbucks and Peter would get there as soon as he could.
Lolo went down to the atrium to retrieve Truman. He rose from a Herman Miller sofa. It took a long minute for Truman to reach his full height. He dipped his head in the way of tall men and smiled. Those teeth. The man must have eaten nothing but candy as a child. Truman Blu, previous to this windfall, was a man who could not afford teeth. But Lolo saw past that. What she saw was a man bathed in the glow of genius. He had done the one thing she wanted to do, the thing she dreamed of doing as she wrote late into the night. Lolo had always been a sucker for men of literature. One drunken night back in New Hampshire, she had sucked on the tips of a man’s fingers just because he’d had a short story published in Ploughshares.
Lolo parked Truman at a bistro table and went to get their drinks. Truman wanted a venti latte with three extra shots and two sugars. Lolo hoped Peter would reimburse her. Assistants at Embark were notoriously underpaid.
“I read your book in one sitting,” Lolo said when she came back. “I couldn’t put it down.”
Truman gulped his latte. When he lifted his cup from his lips, he had a milk mustache. Lolo wanted to wipe it away with her thumb, but she restrained herself.
“Here’s the thing,” Truman said. “I was toiling away, working my ass off on my poetry and what was I getting for it? Sure, I have an affinity for language. Sure, I might have been one of the best poets of my generation. But the bottom line here is that there is no money in poetry.”
Lolo nodded. Everyone knew there was no money in poetry. Why it had taken Truman so long to discover that? Peter hadn’t even been able to sell Michael C. Hall’s book of Haiku – and that was Michael C. Hall. Truman took another gulp.
“So, I made a calculation. I figured out how I could take what I knew about language and make it into something that would pay. I disdain commercial fiction, but I had to ask myself if I hated it as much as I hated eating ramen twice a day. And the answer was no. I figured it was time to turn my genius to best advantage.”
Lolo was so fascinated that she barely noticed how easily Truman tossed around the word “genius” in reference to himself.
“I went to the library and picked up every book on fiction I could find. Then, I mapped out a couple of bestsellers. The Firm made a valuable template. What’s so brilliant about it is that Grisham puts the main character in a thoroughly impossible situation. Watching the guy squirm and calculate is all the fun. And it doesn’t hurt to give your character something he wants so badly, he can taste it. I know what that feels like. A great protagonist. A great antagonist. And a great problem.”
“It can’t be that easy,” Lolo said.
“I never said it was easy,” Truman said.
Lolo looked up to see Peter coming through the front door. It was time for her to leave.
That night, Lolo went home and tossed out her novel, Terminal, about two octogenarians who fall in love at an airport. Lolo wanted to be able to afford teeth and maybe even a boob job when the time was right. If she didn’t get promoted, if this agent thing didn’t work out, she’d need something to fall back on. She wanted a home and a car. Maybe children.
She wanted Truman Blu.
The next time Truman came to town, he was sporting a set of new teeth. They were the first thing Lolo saw when she picked up Truman at the airport. The dentist had, in aiming for perfection, missed the mark. Truman’s teeth were more appropriate to a mannequin than a human being.
Lolo greeted him and put his carry-all into the tiny trunk of her Smart Car. “Peter is really sorry he couldn’t be here himself.”
“I’m not sorry,” Truman said, lighting up the car with his smile.
Lolo said nothing. Unfortunately, she was born without the flirting gene. It was such a disability, she thought it should make her eligible for a handicapped placard.
Lolo took Tru to lunch at Gjelina. Afterward, he wanted to go into a few shops on Abbott Kinney. At Vince, Truman bought two pair of pants, a shirt, and a sport jacket. Lolo stood to the side and imagined that Truman was her husband. He was tall and just self-effacing enough to be attractive.
“I think you should get something,” Tru said.
“Get yourself a little something.”
“Not in my budget.”
“But it’s in mine. Let my good fortune be yours today.”
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Lolo said.
“Do it for me,” he countered, standing with his hands behind his back, leaning on one hip. “I haven’t had many opportunities to buy things for women. Let me. It will be fun.”
When he put it that way, it was hard to refuse. Lolo modeled for him. She was utterly self-conscious but fluttery too.
“We’ll wear this stuff out of the store,” he told the salesgirl.
Truman took out a wad of cash from his pocket and thumbed through it. He put eleven hundred dollar bills on the counter to pay for both his clothes and Lolo’s. The shop saleswoman looked at the cash like she wasn’t sure what it was.
“Don’t you have a credit card?” she asked.
“You take cash, don’t you?” Truman said, leaning toward her. “It’s legal tender.”
“We take it. But I’m not sure I have change.”
“I’m sure you can work it out.”
When the two of them walked out in their new clothes, Lolo felt like she was a character in a movie. This was a feeling Lolo often sought, but rarely achieved.
Truman slipped his arm through Lolo’s. “I have discovered,” he said, “that I like spending money. I like it even more than I like writing.”
That evening, Lolo’s friend Adeline was having a housewarming party in Marina Del Rey. Adeline’s parents had just bought her a penthouse overlooking the harbor. Adeline, a stylist, had a smattering of celebrity friends. You never knew who would show up at an Adeline party. There was always possibility in the air. Once, Lolo had seen Olivia Wilde.
When Lolo and Truman walked through the doors of the spacious condo, Lolo felt like she was part of a power couple who shopped together and went to parties together and discussed writing together. If Lolo couldn’t be a writer herself, marrying Truman Blu might be the next best thing.
Lolo introduced Truman to Adeline.
“You look terrific,” Adeline said to Lolo.
“Doesn’t she?” Tru said. “We just bought the dress.”
Adeline raised one eyebrow. “Come on in. The drinks are on the left and the food is on the right.”
Truman wandered off toward the drinks and Lolo watched him.
“He may be the man of my dreams,” Lolo said.
“He’s the man who achieved your dream. That’s entirely different. And what’s with the serial killer teeth.”
“He doesn’t look like a serial killer.”
“The teeth are too white and too straight.”
“You would think that.”
“Why do you say that?”
“When you fall for someone, you just can’t see reality.”
“Look, he’s over there flirting with Astrid Banks.”
Lolo looked over. Astrid Banks, the actress, would be hard for a man not to flirt with much less a man from Victor, Montana. Lolo could hardly blame him.
“I didn’t know you knew Astrid Banks.”
“I don’t. She showed up with Daveigh Chase.”
“I didn’t know you knew her either.”
“I don’t. She came with Laura Haddock.”
“Are any of the people at this party actual friends of yours?”
“You are.” Adeline picked a shrimp off the plate of a man who walked by them. He didn’t appear to notice. “Is that his real name. Tru Blu?”
“You do realize that changing your name is an extreme act of calculation.”
“People should be allowed to reinvent themselves. He went for what he wanted in life and I admire that."
“How do you know who he really is?”
“I don’t need to know.” Lolo stared across at Tru who now had his hand resting lightly on Astrid’s shoulder.
“You should go stand next to him,” Adeline said.
“I can’t go over there now. He’ll think I’m stalking him.”
“I’ll get you a drink then.” Adeline strode across the room and burst into the small space between Truman and Astrid, busting them apart like bumper cars.
When Lolo dropped Truman at his hotel, her car stalled and she couldn’t start it.
Tru stood on the pavement beside the doorman.
“You can go in,” she said. “I know how to handle this.”
“What kind of gentleman would I be if I walked away from a lady in distress?”
Lolo got out of the car and opened the hood. This had happened before and she should have taken care of it but a new battery was not in her budget this month. She removed her pump and slammed it against the top of the battery. This usually knocked off enough of the corrosion to get the car started again. While Lolo was banging, her cuff bracelet flew off and rolled under the car. It was her good luck charm, a gift from a woman who had written one of Lolo’s favorite movies and a souvenir from a world better than Lolo’s. She couldn’t bear to lose it.
She scuttled under the car. Truman stood there, watching with fascination. When Lolo came out from under, she held up the bracelet like a trophy, then slipped it back onto her wrist. She got into the car, opened the window, and waved.
“I had a very nice day,” Truman said.
“Me, too.” Lolo turned the key in the ignition. The car came alive with a cough.
A year later, both Lolo and Truman were invited to Peter’s wedding . Lolo’s invitation had almost been revoked when Peter realized that he needed someone to take care of his dogs on the big day. Luckily, Lolo was not comfortable with Rottweilers and Peter had to make other arrangements.
Everyone who attended the wedding was staying at its venue, the world-famous La Costa resort. Lolo, however, found a nearby sixty-six dollar motel.
By now, Gary Bluestone, Montana born and bred, had been completely subsumed by the persona of Tru Blu. There was no vestige of the awkward man without teeth. Tru had moved to Brooklyn where he had developed a reputation for both drinking and womanizing. The movie of Better Off Dead was in pre-production.
Lolo and Truman, as two single adults, were seated beside each other at a table filled with agents from Embark and their spouses. Lolo was on Truman’s right. Tru spent the entire evening talking to the woman on his left who was a full-fledged agent while Lolo was still only an assistant. At first, Lolo tried to participate in the conversation, but eventually she gave up and pretended that eating her salmon required a hundred percent of her attention.
After dinner, Lolo was sure that Truman would ask her to dance. It was the polite thing to do. He would certainly get up and offer her his hand. He didn’t. He drank. And he drank some more. Lolo was sober. Her boss’s wedding would be a bad place to lose control. Lolo could see herself, as if from above, sitting there at the table alone while the world frolicked around her.
Truman had his eye on Valerie Moran, the actress who had been cast in a supporting role in Better Off Dead. Tru skirted the dance floor until he must have worked up the nerve to approach Valerie. He got her on a slow song and he enfolded her in his arms. He was over a foot taller than Valerie and Lolo could see his face drifting above Valerie’s head. He looked like he had won the lottery.
Lolo wanted to leave but she thought it was necessary to try to squeeze some enjoyment out of the evening first. But it was like trying to get juice of a bucket of orange peels. Lolo sat alone at the table surrounded by empty seats. If she stayed long enough, she hoped that maybe someone would notice her. But as with everything, so there was an end to this wedding.
Finally, it was time to go. Lolo had her dreary motel with its pilled blankets and thin towels to look forward to. She said her good-byes and was almost free of La Costa when Truman popped into the foyer from a side door.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Back to my motel.”
“I thought everyone was staying here.”
“I’m at the Super 8.”
Truman laughed. “You’re joking right?”
“Not at all.”
She looked at him. The same man who couldn’t afford teeth a year ago now found it difficult to believe that Lolo wasn’t staying in a six hundred dollar hotel room.
“Would you like to join me for a nightcap?” he asked.
Tru Blu had finally noticed her. It’s what Lolo had been waiting for. Too bad Truman was drunk and had obviously struck out elsewhere. He was rushing around now, trying to pick up any stray ball left on the field. Yes, Truman Blu had calculatedly written a bestseller, and even though Lolo admired that, she was one ball that was going to remain on the field.
Truman never wrote another bestseller but Lolo did. She can’t tell you how she did it; she wouldn’t even try.