OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: An accident on the Red Carpet solves both their problems. 3,508 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
It’s fun to wear a tux. One of my roommates, Jamie, told me I looked like an ad for Men’s Wearhouse and I told him to go fuck himself. Then he said in that raspy voice of the guy who used to run Men’s Wearhouse before he got fired, “You’re going to like the way you look, I guarantee it.”
The first year I went to the Academy Awards, I rented a tux. But it was hella expensive so the next time I borrowed one from a friend and it was kinda Cary Grant-ish. But the cuffs were a little short and people told me later, the ones who saw me on the Red Carpet, “What’s with the flood pants, Nat?” So I decided, since this was my third year going, I might as well buy a used tux. I got one online and doesn’t every guy need a Christian Dior Black Notch tuxedo for less than a hundred bucks. Deal. Next year I might even buy patent leather oxfords.
If I’m still working at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Which would be kind of depressing. Four years in the mailroom, even though I’m finally the boss. The perks are good, easy commute, the pay isn’t horrible, health coverage possible. Most of the people I work with are okay. (Though there’s one guy in digital media who’s a dick, but everybody hates him). And of course the best perk of all is that you get to go to the Oscars. Two tickets, Red Carpet, the whole nine yards. Well, not the Governors Ball, but that’s no biggie. Plus, the seats are far away — in a galaxy far far away — but it’s still cool. I get to tell people, “Sorry, can’t come to your Oscar party because, guess what, I’m going to be there.” The look on their faces is like, ”Oh, shit. How does Nat get to go?”
The day of the Awards is surreal. I always feel like Leonardo DiCaprio, king of the world. Getting read. The anticipation. The first year Jamie drove my date, Val, and me and that was a little pathetic getting dropped off at the Academy Awards in a beat-to-shit Kia Soul. Val blew me off the day after the Oscars and I heard she only went out with me because she wanted to brag to her friends. But she was a bitch anyway.
The next year Jamie and I rented a town car. Jamie saw Sandra Bullock in the lobby tugging up her dress so she wouldn’t flash any boobage and he told me that was the highlight of his life.
This year I’m going with a babe I just met. Which is kinda awkward. “Hey, I know this is only our third date, but do you want to go to the Academy Awards with me?” She’s not in the business. I met her in line at Panera Bread when I was picking up a lunch order for all the mailroom guys. (The dick in digital asked me to get him lunch, too, but I always pretend not to hear.)
Celeste and me, we’re Uber-ing to the Awards. She doesn’t know a lot about the movies so I try to start educating her. “Celeste Holm won an Academy Award for Gentleman’s Agreement,” I tell her and she says, “Oh.” So I explain how Celeste Holm was also nominated for Come To The Stable and All About Eve. And isn’t All About Eve fantastic, I add. But Celeste has never seen it. I describe Marilyn Monroe’s small part and how when she’s looking at a pack of producers she says in her wonderful breathy voice, “Why do they always look like hungry rabbits?”
Celeste nods. She just graduated from law school, but hasn’t found a job yet and she’s a little panicked that she’ll end up working as a CrossFit instructor forever and she has $200,000 in law school loans. But I tell her not to worry and that she’ll make a great attorney and that All About Eve won six Oscars..
I have about $30,000 in student loans. I’m lucky I got the Academy job right out of film school because a lot of my film school friends are struggling. I knew a guy who was working at AMPAS and when the mailroom needed to hire, he thought of me. I resisted at first because, hey, I’m supposed to be Tarantino and isn’t that why I went to film school? Not to schlep to the post office twice a day and run around to different departments collecting mail and shipping out all kinds of Academy crap. But there’s downtime when I can work on my scripts.
I’ve got a couple done. Of course, what I really want to do is direct. It’s all about contacts. And I’m working at a place where I have the potential to make contacts, even though that hasn’t exactly happened yet. But it could. I saw Ron Howard in the bathroom at the Academy the other day. We were side by side at the urinals and I wanted to tell him how much I liked Apollo 13. But it’s sort of a rule that we don’t do stuff like that. Not that I would anyway. Just because he’s famous doesn’t mean strangers should talk to him. Especially when he’s taking a piss.
So it’s the Oscars on Sunday and I get up early and take a long shower and I’m thinking about the nominees and how nervous they must be and how they’ve been dieting like maniacs so they can fit into their designer gowns or tuxes. I can’t wait to share this experience with Celeste. It could lead to, you know, our first fuck. Because after a guy takes a gal to the Academy Awards, she should reward him, right?
We need to be in our seats way before the show starts, and Academy employees have to get there extra early. I ring Celeste’s doorbell and she answers looking like shit. Her face is white and she mumbles something about a migraine and she’s sorry for ruining it for me and can we go out next weekend.
“I hope you feel better,” I say. But really I’m bummed because I wanted to go with Celeste and now I’ve got an Uber driver waiting and it’s just me.
And now it’ll suck walking down the Red Carpet by myself so I call a couple people, including Jamie, and everybody’s busy. And I’m thinking, fuck, this is the Academy Awards and I’m offering a free ticket and I still can’t give it away.
I could go home. Or have the Uber driver take me to the home of a friend throwing an Oscar party. But I’ll look pretty stupid as the only guy in a tux.
Damn, I really want to go. So I decide nobody knows who I am anyway and the Red Carpet thing doesn’t matter. I’ll see my work friends sitting up in the cheap seats and we’ll have a great time. Who knows, maybe I’ll meet a cute usher or seatfiller. I tell the Uber driver to step on it. But traffic’s terrible and I’m running late and I’ve got to get there before the A-listers.
The Uber driver is cool though. He wants to be an actor and he gives me his headshot, even though I tell him I work in the mailroom. “You never know,” he says.
We show up at the Dolby Theatre and there’s a huge line of cars so I slip the Uber guy a twenty and tell him to let me out blocks away because I can’t get caught in the nominees scrum. It’s chaos what with limos and town cars everywhere along with security, press, paparazzi, and screaming fans.
But I’m moving fast on foot and up ahead I spot the entrance to the Red Carpet and that’s great. I’m just going to run ahead of everybody and before I know it –
A limo door flies open and smashes into my side. I fall to the ground and it hurts like a son of a bitch and I hear a female voice start yelling, “Fuck you, look what you made me do! You’re a fucking asshole.” And I look up and there’s Erin Teller and she’s wearing a sparkly white gown, practically shimmering, and for a minute I wonder if I’m unconscious or this is what happens when you get a concussion.
That’s when I realize she’s not yelling at me, she’s yelling at somebody inside her limo.
“No,” she says. “You do not get to come inside. You act like a baby douche-nozzle, and this is what you get.” She gets out and slams the door.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her as I get to my feet. Shit, is that blood on my hand?
“No, it’s totally my fault,” she apologizes and she smiles and I think about the concussion thing again. Because I’m looking at the Erin Teller, hottest young star of the moment, the Cacotopia trilogy. Last year she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Cowards Die and this year for Best Actress for When The Mountain Sings. Her diamond necklace is throwing flashes of light against her face and I’ve always thought she was gorgeous, better than hot, an amazing looking young actress who still manages to seem accessible and likable. And I realize right now Erin Teller is touching me by brushing off my tuxedo,.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
I nod. I can’t make words.
Erin notices the blood on my hand, opens her tiny jeweled purse and hands me a Kleenex. The limo driver has rolled down the window and he’s looking at Erin.
“Take my date back to his place,” she says. “He’s too fucked up to walk with me.”
And she turns to me and there’s that Erin Teller smile again.
“My agency thought it would be good PR if I came with one of their clients. He got out of rehab a week ago and they’re trying to show him off and prove he’s still bankable. He had, like, a pound of coke and a bottle of Dom before we picked him up and then he kept trying to touch my tits in the car. What a ball-sack.”
An official with an earpiece motions to her. “Come this way, Miss Teller.”.
“Guess I’m going solo,” she says to me. “Are you solo, too?”
“My date – she got a migraine.”
“Great, so you’re with me.”
Before I can say anything, Erin slips her arm through mine and nods at the guy with the earpiece. As she steps forward, another man appears behind her.
“Who’s that?” I ask.
“The Van Cleef & Arpels security hulk.” She points to her necklace. “Worth two million, three million, something like that. Are you nominated for anything?”
“Maybe next year,” she says and we arrive at the entrance to the Red Carpet.
We’re in a kind of clump and I bump someone’s arm and say, “Excuse me,” and it’s George Clooney and his wife Amal. “No problem,” George Clooney replies.
Everyone is saying hello to Erin. There are lots of air kisses and people say hi to me, too, which is strange. But I nod back and shake hands.
Erin whispers to me, “What’s your name?”
I say, “Nat.”
She says, “I like your hair, Nat. It’s very SoCal.”
And before I can think about what that means, we’re moving forward.
I don’t remember much about Erin’s interviews. Except that she’s funny and self-deprecating. She runs her fingers through my hair at one point and sticks her tongue out at me. I did hear her talks about her dress, the designer, her shoes. When asked about the movie, she says, “It’s the best experience I’ve had so far in films and I can’t wait to work with Alejandro again.”
The sound of cameras clicking is loud and the constant flashes make me feel disoriented. But Erin is grinning as she stops and poses and moves on. For one photo, she kisses me on the cheek and I feel my face go red.
When we get to the entrance of the Dolby, I wonder what I should do about my ticket. But Erin is waved inside and since I’m practically glued to her I follow along. The Van Cleef & Arpels guy isn’t far behind us. Erin waves at Cate Blanchett and, for the first time, steps away from me. I’m aware of people watching and wondering who I am. I try to act bored and disinterested, like I do this with her every day. And then I hear my name being called.
It’s the dick from digital media.
I don’t say anything. But I do notice the dick is wearing an ugly tux with a pale blue ruffled shirt like he’s going to a junior high prom.
“You’re supposed to be upstairs,” he warns me. But just when I’m about to tell him to fuck off, Erin appears at my side and takes my hand and leads me away.
Her seats are sick. Two rows from the stage. And around me are the director, the producer and the other stars of When The Mountain Sings. George and Amal are across the aisle. So is Meryl Streep (19 nominations, 3 wins). In front of us sits Clint Eastwood and Will Smith and Amy Schumer and Idris Elba. More air kisses.
Erin asks me if her hair looks okay and I tell her it’s perfect.
The show seems to go much faster than usual. When The Mountain Sings wins a few technical awards but misses out for Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Erin leans over and tells each actor, “You were robbed.”
The writer for When The Mountain Sings wins for Best Adapted Screenplay and Erin leaps to her feet and whistles. A loud whistle. People around her laugh. She looks surprised and says, “Somebody’s got to cheer for the writer, don’t they?”
When the Best Actress category is about to be announced, I can feel Erin go tight. She presses her arms to her sides and whispers to me, without moving her lips, “I’m going to puke.” I reach over and take her hand. Her palm is slippery with sweat. But she smiles because she knows the camera is on her.
When she wins, everyone around us jumps up to hug and kiss her. Even I’m hugging people I don’t know and some I recognize. (Oh my God, Helen Mirren is hugging me.) Erin runs on stage and is charming and funny and pretends to drop the Oscar and thanks everybody including her mother who passed away a few years ago. But Erin says her mother is watching. And Erin thanks me, too. “I wouldn’t be here tonight without Nat.” Of course, nobody knows who the fuck I am – well, except for the dick in digital media and my AMPAS friends.
When The Mountain Sings wins Best Picture, everyone in our section goes up on stage and for a minute Erin tugs at my hand to go, too. But that’s too much, even for me, so I stay in my seat.
The show ends and Erin is still backstage with the When The Mountain Sings people to talk to the media. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. People are leaving. A few pat me on the shoulder and tell me congratulations and I say thanks. Or they tell me how terrific Erin is and I nod and agree.
I don’t know where she is right now and I want to tell her what I great night it was. It’s not as if I want anything else from her, but she’s made this Oscars spectacular for me. I’m waiting in the lobby and I see the dick from digital media coming down the stairs and he starts to walk over but an usher is motioning for him to go outside. With the rest of the rabble. But I can see him outside the doors and he’s planted himself there. Suddenly I feel trapped. There’s another guy waiting and he asks me what time it is and it’s Dustin Hoffman and he’s totally chill and we talk about baseball and the Dodgers for a while before he leaves.
I turn on my cell and I’ve got like 200 messages and a bunch of texts from people who saw me on TV. Weird. I think about calling Uber when I realize I can’t stay in the lobby all night. So I walk to the big glass doors and I’m ready to go outside –
But there’s a hand on my elbow and I turn to see Erin.
“Where are you going?” she asks.
I shrug. Erin sees the phone in my hand and grabs it. The she grabs me.
“Selfie?” she says and she doesn’t wait for my answer. She puts her arm around me again and holds the Oscar and my phone and takes a photo of us.
“They’re heavy,” she says, nodding at the Oscar and handing it to me. I know exactly how much it weighs – eight and a half pounds — because some have come through the Academy mailroom.
“Remind me when we get to the Governors Ball that I have to give it to somebody so they put my name on it,” Erin says.“Then we can go to Vanity Fair. Does that sound good?”
“Sounds great,” I say.
Erin kicks off her shoes and hands them to me, too. “My feet are fucking killing me. What did you say you were, a writer?”
“Director,” I correct her as we walk outside. I make an extra effort to twirl Erin’s shoes in my hand. I’m Daniel Craig as James Bond. I’m William Powell in The Thin Man. I’m Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt and every other cool leading man. Cameras flash as we pass by. People yell out to Erin. A dream, that’s what this is, right? How could this be happening to me? It’s unreal.
Then I feel Erin pinch my finger and say. “Fasten your seatbelt, Nat. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”
She stops to pose. And this time, I stop and pose with her.
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