The L.A. therapist is pursued by his first celebrity sex partner. 3,419 words. Part Seven. Illustration by Thomas Warming
Speed west on the 10 freeway and you fast run out of land. Just in time, you whip through the rightward arc of a tunnel that shoots you out onto Pacific Coast Highway, due north. On your left: blue-green water from here to infinity. On your right: the Santa Monica Mountains, parched and immense. Dead ahead: the promontory of Point Dume. Beat lights and traffic — a long shot, at best, in your soon-to-be late-great Camry — and in twenty minutes you’ll turn onto an asphalt ribbon known as Old Malibu Road. It’s where Dennis Corbin, celebrity therapist, is heading to make a house call. A beach house call. Oh, the travails of a country doctor.
“Did I wake you?”
“Don’t worry about it. What’s wrong?”
“So agitated, I’m gonna scream.”
“Tell me what’s going on.”
“Can’t breathe. God, those crashin’ waves. They’re relentless.”
“Where are you?”
The L.A. psychologist is finding fame and fortune from his celebrity patients and their pals. 1,887 words. Part Six. Part Eight. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
After some back and forth, we agree on a price. More than I’d imagined. I will get a flat fee per gossip tip, contingent on its veracity. There’s a time lag while it’s investigated. The money is payable to Alan Shepherd Black, LLC. Cost me $49 to incorporate in Nevada without my name in the filings. How it works: I give Stop The Presses! a lead. They assign the story to a team who tail and photograph the target, interview friends, neighbors, and colleagues. If they go with it, funds are electronically transferred to the LLC. To encourage speedy payment, I decide to withhold new tips till I’m paid for the previous ones.
I do have ethical ground rules. First, I will not divulge anything a client has told me in confidence that relates to his or her psychic pain or treatment. Gay? Alcoholic? Cheating on a spouse? I’ll take your secret to the grave.
Second, the tip can’t be something that only my client knows, thus traceable to him — and by extension, me. No, it must be a thing two or more people know so as to obscure its source.
But this leaves so much else. What do I consider fair use? Idle gossip. Trash talk. Celebrities love to dish about other celebrities. It’s a stall tactic, a digression, to avoid dealing with their own shit. Every day I get an earful. The married actress sleeping with her nanny; the producer nailing his son’s wife; the Beverly Hills dermatologist meth addict; the talk show host sex offender; the transgender Victoria Secret model; the HIV-positive action star; the sex tape starring “America’s Sweetheart.” And more. Lots more. So much loose talk. Hell, I even hear things outside of therapy. Did you know that Hollywood’s biggest entertainment attorney has a whole second family? Kidding. I would never. But you get what I’m saying.
I’m about to test the system.
The Hollywood therapist needs money quickly. A book? TV talk show? Gossip? 2,050 words. Part Five. Part Seven. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
“So I made some calls.” It’s my college buddy, entertainment attorney Barry, over the car speaker. We haven’t talked in a few days about my book idea
“And?” I say into the hands-free. Looking around for a place to eat.
“There’s qualified interest — Audrey, will you send this to Frank Matteson for signatures? Then you can go home. Sorry, Dennis.”
“What are the qualifications?”
“You said qualified interest.”
I turn off Venice into a random mini-mall.
“The market is saturated,” he says. I park, facing a crimson neon martini glass: the Hi-Lite Lounge, next to an army surplus. “They’ve got self-help books up the wazoo. And since they’re all the same book, you need a hook…”
“Do I have a hook?” I rummage in the console for an Altoid. Starved.
“A great hook, the Hollywood hook. But you need a title they can promote: Tales Of A Hollywood Shrink… Psychoses Of The Stars… How To Get Laid Like DiCaprio… So they can book you on Ellen and the morning shows.”
The fustrated filmmaker goes on a TV talk show to save his movie. 2,295 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Hollywood – 1969
It was nearly four o’clock when Tall parked in a loading zone at the CBS lot, and ran into Stage 17. From the lobby, Tall could hear The Dean Keller Show orchestra welcoming a guest, and the audience applauding. Above a set of double doors, a red “Live Show Recording” sign blinked.
“Mr. McCollum!” a woman said in a low, excited voice.
Tall turned to see Tandy Dale, the associate producer who’d handled him the day before, walking toward him with a clipboard against her chest. “When I heard the door open,” Tandy continued, “I thought a civilian was trying to sneak in.”
“Would it be possible to get backstage?” Tall asked. “My wife Diana lost a little enamel compact that belonged to her mother when we were here last night for my appearance, and it’s the only place we haven’t looked.”
“They cleaned this morning, and didn’t turn anything in. But I suppose it could’ve fallen in the couch cushion?”
Tall followed Tandy around the perimeter of the stage. As she unlocked a door marked “PRIVATE,” she looked back at Tall. “Would you like to know your audience scores from last night?”
A rebel filmmaker struggles to deter professional and personal disaster. 2,334 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Hollywood – 1969
“You’re a fucking kamikaze pilot, Tall,” said Jack Benton from behind his teak desk. “And you just crashed into your own fucking ship!” He wore a chambray blouse and a necklace of mahogany beads, but on his wrist dangled a gold Rolex. And only two days earlier, Jay Sebring had flown back from Las Vegas just to give him a haircut.
“And you didn’t just kill yourself,” Benton continued, pounding the heel of his palm onto a year-old issue of a Black Panther newspaper he’d never read. “You killed me, you killed your wife, and you killed that little band of outlaws you have marooned out there in the desert with you. I’m sure they’ll pretend like it’s a blessing — since they think they’ve transcended the fucking material world like an order of fucking Tibetan monks. But let me tell you a little secret. If anyone had gotten famous from this stillborn movie of yours, they’d be buying Jaguars and houses in fucking Malibu.”
“I just earned you lines around the block!” yelled Tall, standing in the middle of the office, rocking from his toes to his heels with the violent energy of a wrestler on his starting line. He was short, but broad across the shoulders, so that with his arms crossed, his buckskin jacket stretched taut across his upper back. His old tan boots chirred as he pitched onto his toes, and his wavy blonde hair curled down his neck.
“How the hell do you figure that, Tall? From my experience, people go to movies to be entertained — not to feel like they’ve fallen off a roof.”
The Nash Bros either thrive or merely survive their appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! 2,119 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Fans and cheerleaders: Do you ever marvel at how they share our world? Incredible to think that while most of us live our humdrum lives, they are out there — the superstars — mythical, rolling, unhinged. And why do they do it? They do it so we don’t have to.
Marky and Sean met on the lot and rode to Kimmel’s in a Lincoln stretch. Marky felt cooler than he had all day. Plus, he acted kinder. He asked Sean, “Hey, man, you gonna do that patriot missile gag with Kimmel, the thing with the somersault?”
Sean was humbler. “I don’t want to hog up all the space.”
“No, bro. It’s a good bit. Do your thing.”
And then it happened so fast. They were whisked through the Green Room and pancaked, and led out on the air. The band played a brass version of the pair’s biggest hit to date, “Girl You’re The 1 (For Me, For Me)”. Kimmel’s audience ran a little older but they still went ape-shit when the Nash Bros crossed the stage. Jimmy did a little mock shock at the amplitude of the girly screams. The familiar tingle of stage energy dueled with Marky’s waning inner heat. Then there was a third Marky, a phantom in the wings: watching, sober, attentive. But every smile was in place, as Kimmel stood up to fist-five them with both hands as the horns blasted big ending punches.
The crowd would not stop screaming.
“Will you calm down?” Kimmel finally admonished, setting off another wave.
TV FICTION PACKAGE: The host, producers and writers on a late-night network talk show scramble. Part One. 2,633 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
"We’ve got ‘Dog President,'" said Mitch as soon as the elevator doors opened and Andy appeared. "And half a monologue. And two out of seven writers in the writers room."
"Amy and Kurt are on Wall Street right now doing ‘Shoe Shine Guy,’" said Andy.
"Eric is working out of Arnold’s Coffee because his internet went out. Just his. I think he’s lying," Mitch said angrily. “This is so–"
"Mitch," interrupted Andy, "have you eaten yet?"
"Just a Kit Kat," said Mitch, sheepishly.
"You’re doing that thing you do when you don’t eat. Get yourself something and come back to me in an hour. And take an actual break. Don’t just stand around the hallway gobbling candy bars. That’s creepy. You’ll make the property value of this place go down."
"OK, Andy," said Mitch. He started off towards The Andy Perry Show writer’s room and knocked on the open door. Everybody inside spun around. "Andy’s here, but Amy isn’t," he warned. "Send Andy what you have. We’re going commando and emailing Andy the jokes ourselves. "
"We’re not wearing underwear?" said Eric, rounding the corner beside Mitch and entering the room. Eric was attractive in a way that writers never were and used it to his full advantage.
TV FICTION PACKAGE: More from behind-the-scenes of The Andy Perry Show host, producers and writers. Part Two. 2,950 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
It was about noon when Kurt, his feet propped up on his desk, was to have his world shattered. He hadn’t dressed for the occasion, as people whose worlds are about the be shattered are not often dressed appropriately. He was wearing a cardigan that he thought made him look "masculine, but not too masculine," as he’d told the sales clerk at J. Crew earlier that month. He had also bought several checkered shirts, as many young urban professionals of his age and tax bracket frequently do. They made him look approachable and casual, but not too casual, and not too approachable.
Kurt felt very dapper. He leaned back in his chair, riding the crystal clear wave of sartorial confidence all the way to the shores of true relaxation. His was a life that others envied, he thought. He wrote for The Andy Perry Show and lived down the street from the 11th best bagel place in New York. He had an interesting girlfriend who came from a family that had a prodigious amount of old money. Kurt prided himself on the fact that they had sex sometimes more than once a week. They had just adopted an elderly pug. Until that day, Kurt’s life was an avenue of nothing but green lights softly and coquettishly whispering "Go, Kurt. Go."
Kurt felt something bang on his desk. It was Andy’s fist. Kurt was shocked, and nearly spilled his cold-pressed iced coffee all over his J. Crew work shirt and Red Wing boots.
"Did you write ‘Dog President’?" demanded Andy. He had his arms crossed on his chest and smelled faintly like really good chicken.
"Uh. Yeah," said Kurt as he tepidly pled responsibility for his magnum opus and immediately felt his face flush from embarrassment.
"Get your coat," said Andy, "And come with me."
The entire writer’s room became deathly silent.
A late-night TV talk show host undergoes an existential career crisis caused by an anniversary. 4,767 words. Illustration by John Mann.
"Even a weak man should want to leave a legacy," Andy had said, rather off-handedly, to the man sitting next to him. It had meant nothing at the time, but years later it became difficult for his narrative to escape those ten words that had been so hastily scribbled down moments later.
They weren’t his last words, either. Those had been "Here it is."
And the first word Andy Perry ever spoke was "peas," blurted out at 14 months old from the back seat of his mother’s 1964 Ford Bronco.
Andy had said a lot of things between his first and his last words. It was in many respects his full-time job, and he was very good at it. Every Monday through Thursday night, from 11 pm to midnight in New York City, he stood in front of a large group of people and a few television cameras and said a lot of things that in turn caused people to laugh. That was his job, and at times its sheer simplicity made him feel uneasy on a base level, as if he fundamentally should be doing something else.
He secretly envied people who work with their hands, yet found it hard to verbalize this to anyone who does lest they think he was mocking them. He could watch people cook for hours. And when he managed to escape the confines of the building’s television studio and his adjacent offices, he’d find an inconspicuous hole-in-the-wall restaurant nearby and watch the chef’s hands for hours.
This helped explain why he was an hour late to rehearsals on this particular day in late October.