An aging actor down on his luck is hoping to become a kept man. 2,798 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
It came down to the two Ks. Either one would do and Rubi had little preference at this point.
There was Kristen. A soft-spoken, senior partner in the entertainment law firm her deceased husband had founded. The same firm who used to represent Rubi back when he needed dealmakers. Her hair was long and reddish blond.
And then there was Kate. Her hair was short, stylish and black. This trust fund baby was on the board of every museum in Miami. She had swagger, not to mention a five bedroom condo on the 44th floor of Zaha Hadid’s new downtown tower, a palatial home in the Gables, a four bedroom condo at the Ocean Reef Club on Key Largo, and a cabin on a mountainside in North Carolina decorated impeccably in mid-century modern.
Kristen’s big advantage was that she was absent from her penthouse ten hours a day. Her eye-opening terrace overlooked the Port of Miami with its humongous floating buffet boats that moved with the precision of a clock as they docked on Fridays and set sail on Sundays. Rubi could imagine having her place all to himself until she returned from work when they would enjoy a cocktail hour that stretched well past 8 pm. The perfect capper on a day he spent doing nothing but walking Kristen’s annoying little dog before primping for the night. And although Kate was the more attractive of the two, Kristen even though she had just turned 59 was more creative in bed than her slightly younger competition.
A plus in the Kate column was that she could speak four languages when she and Rubi travelled or made love. Who cared if she occasionally objectified the actor as a living work of art? Truth be told, Rubi liked thinking of himself as a possession, a man who could please a woman in a variety of ways, and by any means necessary.
The most difficult task Rubi faced was not confusing the details of his two paramours. His increasingly unreliable memory made him prone to mixing up the names of the significant people in the Ks’ lives, especially their investment bankers, lawyers, ex-husbands, children and grandchildren. Still, one or the other would have to do. Unfortunately, the choice between the two Ks was not Rubi’s to make but it did have to be made soon. He was an ex-soap opera star who’d recently turned 70 and was in desperate need of a woman willing to make him a kept man.
At the height of his fame, Rubi couldn’t walk the streets of any major city without being recognized. Or chased. He had the pick of the litter. Women would leave notes on his cars, inviting themselves to his bedroom. One even spread her legs and clamped herself to the roof of his Maserati, screaming that she wouldn’t let him drive off without her. In his prime, Rubi earned more than he could consume. For the first few years after he quit acting Rubi became a parody of himself, making fun of his own fame just to stay famous. He could command crazy money playing himself in commercials — the man who made women swoon — before the Italian hunk Fabio came along and stole that market. George Clooney once said he modeled his career after Rubi’s and no one knew if he was kidding or not.
Rubi was unafraid to live out fantasies and would modify his behavior according to what the role required. If a woman loved to be loved he did that. And if she needed to be humiliated he would accommodate her masochistic fetish as well. Women knew they could go places with him that they previously only fantasized about. But what made Rubi so successful was that powerful men envied him without the usual residue of resentment. He effortlessly embodied an aspect of masculinity whose sole focus was the seduction of women. For him, the pleasure never diminished and no other activity provided an equal amount of gratification. On the surface, getting a woman to invite him to cohabitate was not really a challenge since Rubi had done it countless times before. But that was another decade. Or even two decades before. Strangers were no longer stopping him in the street inquiring about his secrets of seduction that apparently only he knew.
Five decades earlier, he had been a handsome mulatto from a Caribbean island and new to Miami. In a matter of weeks he’d met a curvy curly-haired girl and was married for five minutes. Yes, it was before he became Rubi, the envy of men and the darling of women, but had he really experienced love?
Something had made him come full circle and return to the Magic City. Perhaps, because that was the first and last time he thought he was capable of sustained and authentic emotion. Once he became Rubi, he began to believe that love was for losers who couldn’t control their emotions let alone their ejaculations and Rubi had mastered both.
Today he was residing in an apartment on loan from a recently deceased ex-lover that the probate court would possess by the end of the month. Rubi was broke. He could no longer borrow money from his old friends in the entertainment business. Even friends whose careers he had made had stopped taking his calls, and the paltry residual checks from his TV shows went to the debts he had built up after his retirement from show business.
Of course, no one ever really retires from show business. Rubi was now playing, if not the role of a lifetime, the role of the rest of his life.
“I finally get to play myself, playing myself, playing myself,” Rubi confided to Carlo, his less genetically blessed older brother. “All I have to do is convince one of these women that she’s in love with me.”
Even though he’d never admit it, Rubi was lost. Like all actors, he had depended on writers, producers and directors to shape his performances. But in this role, he was completely on his own. Rubi needed to pass the audition or… or… well, it would be impossible for him to survive outside the lifestyle to which he was accustomed.
Rubi was desperate, and desperate didn’t play in this business. He had squandered the riches lavished upon him. Most recently, a failed aphrodisiac business venture had plummeted him into bankruptcy. His confidence was shaken. For perhaps the first time in his life, he doubted his instincts. There was panic, not so much in his comportment but in his conversations with himself. How bad could it get?
Retirement safety nets that normally make the final stage of life palatable – entitlements like Medicare and Social Security – were unavailable to Rubi due to the unorthodox business choices of his past when he incorporated himself as an illegal offshore entity to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
It was a delicious irony for a man who once had everything to end up with nothing. Still, he was hopeful that at least one of the two Ks would invite him to move in. Both women needed an escort and for that Rubi was battle tested and a bargain to boot. Tonight he would press the issue with Kristen. He already was spending two nights or so a week at her condo so would five more really be so different?
But when Kristen came home that night she was unusually cranky because a case she had been working on decided not to settle out of court and that meant more work for a client she actively disliked. Rather than a big dinner at Il Gabbiano’s, they ordered in and went to bed without touching, despite the fact that Rubi had swallowed more Levitra than prescribed in anticipation of sex. An hour after Kristen left for work the next morning, he woke up with a hard-on and no one to use it on when the cleaning lady startled him in the bedroom.
Kristen’s maid came once a week but Rubi had never met her since he was almost never in the apartment on Tuesdays, the day booked for cleaning.
“Excuse me,” said Porfiria, fifty-ish and the rare housekeeper who didn’t look older than her actual years.
Rubi studied Porfiria in the floor-to-ceiling mirror on the rear wall and was intrigued by her face, especially the Mayan nose that breathed effortlessly and eyes that appeared too timid to meet his.
“Do what you need to do,” said Rubi without making eye contact. Rubi wondered if this creature knew who he was. Years ago that would have been a given, especially with a Latina, but now, even if she had seen re-runs of his soaps, she might not recognize the former actor in her boss’s bed.
Porfiria glimpsed Rubi’s erect penis pushing the sheets skyward like a circus tent and instantly vanished. True to her position, she had mastered the art of being in someone else’s space and yet invisible at the same time. Porfiria found refuge in the bedroom closet where she retrieved Kristen’s clothes from the hamper and got busy with the work that would occupy her for the next few hours. Rubi dressed and never crossed paths with the maid, unaware she had been studying him in the mirror.
Rubi had a whole day to waste before his date with Kate that night. He had stopped going to the movies because there was no romance left on the screen. He enjoyed being around young people so he went to the skate park in Wynwood to watch the more rebellious souls zoom about. When Rubi was a serious young actor he was keenly observant of others. He would spend days watching how people used body language to communicate their ideas. Unlike other pretty boys, Rubi was an actor who studied his craft and would bestow backstories on all his characters even when the writers didn’t.
After an hour he grew tired of the skateboarders so he sat on a stool in the local tapas place where he read a newspaper which someone had used as a tablecloth until the repeated reference of Trump dampened his curiosity of world events. As a former entertainment superstar, he was invited to the doorstep of history often, but never invited in, unlike the current actor playing the president.
That night with Kate started off promisingly enough. Rubi was recognized by a woman at the next table who asked him to sign her napkin and he obliged, simultaneously employing one of his polished moves: keeping his eyes trained on Kate and not his female admirer. Rubi wondered what this ogling woman would think if she knew he was a few days away from living out of his car. But then the scene got messy when the woman insisted Rubi repeat one of his signature lines of dialogue out loud, “Women love to be loved.”
Rubi hesitated and Kate, who was normally feisty enough to tell anyone at any time to fuck off, just sat there annoyed, not at the interloper, but at Rubi who could rid them of this pest if he’d just mumble those five stupid words. Before she departed, the woman told Rubi she’d pay him $500 if he made a cameo appearance in her grandson’s student film. Because Kate was at the table, Rubi was forced to decline a request he was in no position to ignore.
At dinner Rubi had drained a whole bottle of Malbec almost by himself. So he turned it on big-time with Kate when they got back to her condo. He put on the tango singer, Carlos Gardel, and danced Kate over to a wall where he proceeded to grind against her rump. Ten minutes later he was laying on her bed naked waiting for her to come out of the bathroom. Unfortunately, he fell asleep before she slid under the covers. She tried touching him but by then Rubi had tumbled into a dream state that would not release him. Kate sighed and moved into a separate bedroom to escape his snoring.
The next morning Kate was undeterred. She awoke before Rubi and crept back into their bed, determined to get some exercise prior to her brunch at the Democratic club. She lowered her naked self down onto Rubi and had him partially inside her before he was fully hard. Rubi kept his eyes shut, making love on autopilot. Since Kate had initiated the sex, Rubi didn’t have to do too much more than lick her breasts to get her off.
Two hours later Rubi woke up in bed alone. Someone was in the house but it wasn’t Kate. Rubi considered for a moment that it was a thief who might come in and shoot him, a thought that strangely enough provided equal amounts of relief and terror.
The bedroom door opened. It was Porifiria from Kristen’s penthouse who obviously also worked for Kate. The maid looked at Rubi and this time he really looked at her. His first thought was that it was clear this woman was not used to men surveying her from top to bottom.
“Second time we’ve done this dance.”
Porfiria did not respond to Rubi but she did imagine the fun she could have puncturing the egos of these two rich and powerful women who employed her. She turned to Rubi and declared, ”I’m here to clean.”
“Then you won’t tell Kate that you saw me yesterday at Kristen’s?”
All of sudden Rubi’s fate was in the hands of someone who made minimum wage.
Porfiria did not answer Rubi’s question. Or did she? “Will you change the light bulb in the fixture over the bed. It’s hard for me to reach.” Porfiria took a moment to hand Rubi the new bulb after sliding it out of its protective cardboard sleeve. “I will return in five minutes for the sheets. I’m putting in a load of whites.”
Rubi stood on the bed and did as instructed with the lightbulb, fumbling through the installation, reinforcing his ineptness at menial tasks, wondering all the while whether this cleaning lady would blackmail him. Rubi couldn’t risk not knowing.
He waited nine minutes then entered the shower. Attempting to orchestrate a chance encounter with Porfiria, he emerged from the water and removed the towel around his waist to dry his hair, acting oblivious to her presence. But Porfiria looked right through him, even deploying the back of her hand on his upper thigh to create a clear path to the wastebasket that she needed to empty.
Rubi realized he needed to be more direct. Donning an untied bathrobe, he approached her in the kitchen and asked her to make him a cafecito. Porfiria ignored the request. He said it again, this time in Spanish.
She responded, “I don’t want to see you naked, old man.”
Porfiria had a sense of humor, something Rubi didn’t anticipate. He stared at her, slowly easing into the tiniest of smiles that granted her near equal footing for this tete-a-tete. He needed to set a trap. How could he get one of the Ks to do his bidding if he couldn’t even seduce the maid?
“Tell me what you dream of…” He trailed Porfiria into the living room.
Rubi was stunned for the second time. This woman was impenetrable.
“What did you just say?”
“My employers would be pleased to know what I know.”
Rubi attempted to confuse her with a bold counterintuitive reply. “One should always be loyal. Until one has reason not to be.”
Porfiria didn’t see that coming, so she bent down and turned her back to Rubi and retrieved a lone sock from under Kate’s couch.
“I bet you could tell me what each of them think of me.”
It was Porfiria’s turn to ease into a smile.
“Meet me tonight for dinner,” Rubi asked her as he tried to take back control. “The best plots are crafted over food.”
“And what should I tell my husband?”
“Tell him he’s not good enough for you. Hakkasan in the Fountainebleau at 8 pm. If you don’t show then I’ll know I am doomed.”
Porfiria heard the front door close while she was fluffing the pillows. She absentmindedly fixed her hair before she returned to her chores.
Part Two tomorrow