An agency assistant attending a coveted Hollywood event hopes it’s not the disaster he fears. 1,919 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“You want these?” the senior agent said, extending a pair of golden embossed tickets like a temptation. His young assistant, Casey Strong, recognized them immediately. They were for the world premiere and after party of Godzilla Vs. Superfly, an F/X-driven super-violent major studio spoof of monster-meets-superhero movies.
“Jeez, thanks,” replied Casey as he grabbed for the tickets before his boss had a chance to change his mind.
To Casey, it was inconceivable that the socially rapacious agent was skipping what promised to be the coolest Hollywood premiere of the summer. Though no one had yet screened GvS (as it was known on social media), that didn’t stop the film’s minutiae from being leaked and analyzed, leading to intense pro versus con factions at this year’s Comic-Con conventions. That also meant an inexplicable outbreak of light-saber duels. Even PETA weighed in with something about endangered lizards.
The studio was touting the movie as a bold step forward in diversity. The multinationally financed $200 million production boasted an Asian superstar as the villainess who controls Godzilla via a mysterious brain-wave device as the creature demolishes the usual suspects – Tokyo, London, New York, San Francisco. How the reptilian giant manages to traverse continents and oceans is never broached, at least not in the trailer. One internet troll initiated a Kickstarter campaign to donate frequent flyer miles to the misunderstood beast so it could city hop. At last count, Godzilla had over 600,000 miles transferred to its name.
The GvS protagonist is an African-American sassy-mouthed funk bass guitarist and part-time gumshoe from the 1970s who has been in a state of suspended animation for almost half a century (the victim of a mad-scientist/gangsta). He awakens with superpowers. His gifts, however, do not extend to wardrobe updates and he is confined for the film’s entirety to tight synthetic print shirts, flared-pleated trousers and platform shoes. His love interest is a fiery Latina whom he rescues from a Columbian drug ring during the film’s opening credits.
The only vaguely Caucasian central character is a grizzled SFPD detective played by the biracial Dwayne Johnson, who forms a love-hate relationship with Superfly and appears to have an unlimited expense-account to tail him across the globe.
For the premiere’s excess, Hollywood Boulevard was being shut down from La Brea to Vine. Giant air balloons of both the monster and the superhero variety would be floating overhead. Soul food and Japanese noodle serving stations would be lining the streets along with playstations for the GvS tie-in virtual reality game. The multilingual almost exclusively rap soundtrack was being piped in to the after party.
Rather than just graciously accept the tickets from his boss, however, the assistant decided to look a gift horse in the mouth. “So why aren’t you going?”
“The only way to get me to sit through a movie like that is if Superfly and the The Rock were tag-teaming Charlize Theron,” the senior tenpercenter replied.
Casey’s jaw dropped and the agent added, “What? You think that’s racist? Okay. Rihanna then.”
Casey knew the older man said shit like that all the time. His boss, a top flight adviser of A-list actors and sports stars, had a reputation as an urbane, even witty, sophisticate. He wore expensive bespoke suits and shoes, mixed Grey Goose martinis in his office every afternoon at five (though not for his assistant), and was almost as glamorous as his most famous clients. He dated only supermodels (duh?) though to be fair the agent actually did help one or two of them cross over into movies.
Yet Casey’s boss couldn’t resist sexist and sometimes veiled racist remarks bemoaning the passing of the old Hollywood. And by the old Hollywood he meant an environment in which male executives could receive a buxom woman into their office every afternoon to “shine my shoes under the desk.” He didn’t blame it on political correctness or changing mores as much as on a corporate culture where “everyone is afraid of lawsuits.”
The tenpercenter counterbalanced his racist/sexist tendencies with philanthropy, provided that the agency’s publicist (and his own sub rosa personal PR rep) got him plenty of ink. Examples of his generosity were displayed all over town. If not yet on the facades of buildings, then on numerous plaques in hospitals and universities. Large type. Unmissable.
The first thing Casey did after his boss handed him the tickets was to phone Wade Torville, the assistant to his master’s main rival Jude Owens, a partner at the Beaumont Agency. Casey and Wade were social friends who engaged in a roundelay of one-upsmanship on everything from their respective employers’ latest signing coup to who first bagged the young woman they had mutually tagged. They ascribed to the Industry’s “keep your enemies closer” theory of friendship via cell calls and texts, on the off chance that the one might need the other’s help at some point in the future. While at the same time acknowledging that the favor might come with some unsavory strings attached.
Casey considered himself in every way superior to the smug self-satisfied Wade. For one thing, Casey had actually read a book in the past year. For pleasure. Not merely for coverage. Wade was also prone to uttering statements about movie classics like, “What’s the deal with Citizen Kane? It’s boring and it’s in black and white.” And at the same ovestimating the appeal of modern films like, “The critics were wrong about Suicide Squad. Over $750 million wrong.” Casey actually loved movies, both new and old, while Wade insisted that a personal attachment to “the product” got in the way of deal-making.
“Compadre,” Wade said, picking up on the first ring.
“Guess who just scored tickets to the hottest premiere of the season?” Casey crowed.
“Wow! I guess they’re letting just anyone in,” Wade replied with a guffaw. “Hey, just yanking your chain. See you there.”
Casey crunched his jaw. Wade had snared tickets as well. Of course he had.
“Who are you taking?” Casey asked, tentatively.
“That scag Elsie,” Wade said with a grunt. “Hope I can score with someone better at the after party, otherwise I’ll have to throw her a bone. How about you?”
“I was thinking of asking Gigi Mayer,” Casey said and immediately regretted it.
Gigi Mayer, a serenely self-possessed junior attorney in business affairs at Warner Bros., was someone the two assistants had tagged months ago. For all the good it had done them. She was way out of their league and barely acknowledged them. When she did, she mixed up their names, though they didn’t look alike at all.
“Good luck with that,” Wade scoffed. “She’s way full of herself. I’ve tried everything short of sending her a pic of my python.”
“The worst she can do is say no,” Casey said with a shrug.
“Hope you have a backup, and I don’t mean your cousin Brenda Butter Face,” Wade said.
“Brenda’s busy with wedding plans,” Casey informed him.
“She’s getting married?” Wade shrieked. “Guy must be gay.”
Casey was quite fond of his cousin and her fiancé Brian. So the assistant was now even more determined that Gigi be his date, if only to see the jealousy on Wade’s face. “Gotta go,” Casey said and hung up without a goodbye. He immediately picked up the landline and called Gigi.
“I’d love to,” she said halfway through his muddled tongue-tied invitation. Gigi gave him GPS-precise instructions to the guest house in the Hollywood Hills where she lived. “Don’t be late,” she said and clicked off.
Now Casey was torn. Should he call Wade back and brag, or simply spring Gigi on him at the premiere? The assistant was forced to table the internal monologue when his boss dumped three contracts on his desk. “Here. Make yourself useful,” the agent smiled as he walked away.
While Casey had better than average reading comprehension skills, when it came to legalese he was virtually dyslexic. The flourish-filled arcane language of formal documents flummoxed him and he had to read paragraphs multiple times before he could translate them into intelligible English. It took him until the end of the day to decode the documents. He’d just finished typing up his notes, red flagging a couple of troublesome graphs about ancillary rights buried on the eighth and tenth pages of the first two contracts, when his cell pinged.
“You dog you,” Wade texted and Casey could almost see the smirk behind his words.
“How did you know?” Casey texted back.
“I have my ways. It is on!” Wade wrote. It was his usual pseudo-friendly passive-aggressive challenge.
Casey’s sole objective in taking Gigi to the premiere was to watch Wade seethe. That would be pleasure enough. He harbored no illusions that Gigi was a real date. Women like her were into either sexy/dangerous types or reliable if dull men who’d make great baby daddys. Casey fell into neither category.
Even more conventional women showed little interest in Casey these days, perhaps because he was stuck in one of the seven awkward stages of manhood: no longer his parent’s son but not yet the mature adult he aspired to be – whoever that was. On those occasions when women did succumb to him, it was usually because the hour was late, they were in the mood, and he was available. His self-assessment wasn’t merely low self-esteem. He had proof. He was on the call list of one or two women who rang him at one in the morning and wearily asked if they might stop by; probably after having spent the better part of the evening trying to do better.
“Theater Two,” the publicist said, handing Casey golden tickets to the after-party.
“What about Theater One?” Casey inquired.
“It’s almost full and we’re saving those seats for celebrities.”
Gigi was standing right behind him looking displeased and Casey wondered whether he should press the point. The evening had gotten off on the wrong foot when Gigi threw open the door and said “Oh, you’re Casey.” En route, she’d spoken maybe ten words: about the weather, the traffic, a short cut. When they pulled into the event’s garage, she said, “I hope you’re valet parking. Otherwise we’ll wind up deep in the bowels.” Casey hadn’t budgeted in a valet fee and tip but swallowed hard and handed the keys to his 10-year-old Camry to a man in a too-tight uniform.
Then on the escalator up, he noticed Wade and his date slipping into the main theater. He simply had to get in.
“See the name on these tickets?” Casey said to the publicist.
“Yes. And you’re clearly not your boss,” the publicist snapped. Then she pointed to the bottom of the ticket. “See here? Non-transferable. But I’m letting you in anyway because we need pretty young things at the party. And I don’t mean you,” she added, cocking her head in Gigi’s direction. “So do me a favor. Theater Two. And hurry. It’s filling up fast.”
Gigi was gracious about his defeat. “Who wants to see this wretched movie anyway?” she said. “I only came for the party. Which reminds me.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a pair of ear plugs, inserting one into each ear as they entered the theater. “That’s better,” she said. “Do me a favor. If I fall asleep, don’t wake me.”
This was not the date Casey had envisaged. He was on the verge of tears. Toughen up, he told himself. Toughen up.