Is Jason going to spy on his celeb friends for a gossip mag? 2,304 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Beverly saw Jason sitting at a corner table under the heavy drape of bougainvillea. He looked like his dad with some of his mother’s refinement thrown in. He definitely wasn’t movie star material but he was cute. Beverly didn’t like her staff to be too great looking. It made them memorable. Memorable was definitely not good. A few years ago, she’d had a reporter with a purple streak in her hair. Jenifer Lopez referred to her on the red carpet as Juicy’s Miss Purple. Subsequently, the reporter had been thrown out of a posh hotel in Cabo because Jennifer’s security people recognized the hair and knew she was a gossipmonger.
Looks are fine, but not too out there. Jason could blend in wherever he went.
He stood up when she approached the table. She never saw that anymore, thought Beverly, who would have raised an eyebrow but that expression had been wiped out by Botox long ago. Melody must have been awake enough during his childhood to get some manners pounded into him, Beverly surmised. Actually, he’d learned that from Big Jack. Stand up, look them in the eye and shake hands, but only if they offered theirs first. “It’ll get you laid, I promise you." Big Jack had been right.
Beverly went into her no-nonsense mode, shotgunning questions at him. Asking Jason what he did for fun. What he read. Where he went with his friends. And what he was studying. Then she got down to it. Did he know Selena or Kendall? What about Demi’s kids? Does anybody still care about Britney Spears anymore? Is Jennifer Lawrence going to keep so private she’ll fade? Which clubs were hot right now?
Jason was a cool customer. He was answering everything Beverly asked with ease. Not trying to kiss up, but polite and smart. He clearly knew the territory. He was part of the scene. He read Juicy and understood it and its competitors. He gave her tips on two rock groups about to break big. A reality star who got married two weeks ago that no one knew about yet. He didn’t seem rehearsed and he didn’t seem needy.
Bringing him to heel would be a challenge, but she liked that game. Showing she had the whip hand, knowing when to give a good assignment or offer praise. Then take it away. Keep them off-balance. Her reporters were like a swarm of Corgis begging at the dinner table. She didn’t hire anyone who would talk back, or question what they did and how. She hired a lot of ex-fat girls – the ones who spent their teen years at home on Saturday nights with a pizza and their parents watching TV. They grew up to be anorexic and celeb-obsessed. Those losers from Iowa or Florida or wherever the bumfuck they came from flocked to L.A. to be actresses or TV anchors and ended up as assistants. Others made their way to the tabloids and put their celebrity obsessions to good use. They were bitchy and backbiting and she liked them that way. It was like a cage match – pitting the reporters against each other.
They gathered late every afternoon, tattling on each other, competing for her attention. They owed her and they feared her. She counted on that. Beverly laughed thinking of Tito, the fashion commentator. She’d helped kick-start his career when she allowed him to lie about getting a job offer from her so he could goose a TV show into more money and exposure. He’s one who owes me and he knows it, mused Beverly. There are others who owe me and there will be more.
Beverly licked her lips. She definitely needed a top off of Rystelane.
To Jason, Beverly was just one more adult to charm and disarm. But she was kind of ridic, even though she was some big deal journo. All she needed was a fedora, cigarette, and a spotlight as she interrogated him. It wasn’t like she was asking him anything he didn’t know. He’d grown up around show business and celebrities. He’d been to all the places Beverly talked about. He didn’t want to do some skeevy job lurking around in the bushes and she seemed okay with that. Understanding. She told him she’d have someone give him a call and see what he might be able to do for her.
Beverly was impressed but didn’t show her enthusiasm. She played poker and knew to control her tells. But Jason knew he had her attention when he got a call just a few days later from Tiffany in the Juicy office. She was going to be his boss and wanted to get to know him a little bit over dinner. The Chateau at eight?
Jason now had a crib, but a ride was imperative. The leasing people were getting ruder and ruder about demanding the car back. But he still had it. Jason hoped he could find a spot on the street so he didn’t have to pay the valet. He knew dinner would be on her expense account but twenty bucks to park was a hassle. He was strolling into the lobby when he saw the sisters, the newest superstar models. Jason had known them since they were skinny little girls playing in the Malibu surf. They were both hanging on some older guy he didn’t know, already stumbling a little. He waved. All three waved back. Jason went out to the patio to wait for Tiffany. Another of Big Jack’s rules: never keep women waiting and never bitch when they were late. Not worth the fight. And always get a good table. They will be impressed. Easy enough for Jason.
Tiffany came along shortly thereafter, warily navigating the uneven bricks of the patio in her six-inch Jimmy Choo knockoffs. She sat down and waved to the waiter. She ordered a dirty martini, winking at Jason, who followed her lead. A martini girl. Interesting.
They got down to not so subtle name-dropping, checking each other out. Going to Benny Medina’s? Did you hear about his fight last week with Naomi? Did you hear New York Fashion week was lame?
"Actually, I was there," said Jason with just the right amount of hesitant modesty.
"Oooh, tell me," squeaked Tiffany in that tiresome little girl voice that so many women in L.A. affected. Totally unsexy as far as Jason was concerned.
Just as he was launching into the back story of the bad blood between the hottest designers, his phone started buzzing. He ignored it. But the sound signaling a text kept going off.
Tiffany snapped, “If you’re going to be a reporter for us, you can’t ignore your phone. It may be something important.”
Jason took a look. Belinda, one of the twins. Like five thousand times. He turned around and saw her at a table with that guy. She was smiling. At last she had his attention. She was not used to being ignored. He waved to her and texted back: I can’t party right now. I’m talking to a friend of my family. They want me to help her get a job.
Obviously, he wasn’t telling anyone – much less Belinda — that he was considering becoming a mole for a tabloid.
Belinda pinged him back: Get rid of her. I want to party and haven’t seen you in forever.
Tiffany was blown away that Jason was texting with the model. But Jason wasn’t stupid enough to play with that fire and certainly wasn’t going to take Tiffany anywhere near the room where Belinda was currently living upstairs in the hotel. They went back to gossiping and downed a couple more martinis.
In the middle of a story about Jay Z and Leo, Tiffany glanced up at a second story window. There was Belinda in profile. She’d been wearing a fedora so she was easy to spot even as a shadow on the drawn shade. Her head bowed, she was tapping her iPhone. Jason’s cell was going off. He glanced at it, smiled at Tiffany and shrugged.
They parted at midnight with a double air kisses and plans to talk by phone the next day. Thrumming with nervous anxiety, Tiffany hid in the porte cochere to see if Jason was going upstairs to Belinda’s room. A few minutes later, he passed Tiffany without seeing her, on the way to his car and home.
Back at Glenda’s, Jason got into bed with a book, something he had done almost nightly since he was little. Reading took him away from a life that alternated between boring and lonely and chaotic and lonely.
Jason received Tiffany’s call at ten the next morning. “We’d love to use you as a nightlife reporter," Tiffany cooed. “You’re so awesome. We won’t ever put your name on these stories.” Fine with Jason. He didn’t want his friends to know that he was the viper in their midst. It still creeped him out. But the way Tiffany explained the job it seemed pretty innocuous. Who was where with who. Or, whom. Whatever. He could try it and see if it got too slimy then he’d quit. But for now, $500 a night with all expenses paid, sounded pretty good. And it wasn’t like he had anything else to do. He was adrift, looking for something to anchor himself. It might as well be Juicy for now.
Tiffany told Beverly a different version of her evening with Jason. He wasn’t quite as “awesome” as they’d hoped, but he might be okay. She’d helped him to say “hi” to all the celebs, introducing him around at the Chateau. He would be sending his information to Tiffany; she’d get it in shape and then include his with her reporting. He should be okay, she said shrugging.
Tiffany was putting on a great act. She was totally jazzed about Jason. She could get all this amazing stuff from him. It’s like he didn’t even know how awesome his access was. No one would know where they came from because he didn’t want a byline. This was the kind of thing that would bring Tiffany an editorship. As long as Beverly didn’t catch on to how good Jason was. Tiffany had to be very careful that the boss never did.
Beverly was disappointed. She thought Jason was impressive. But if Tiffany said he was just so-so and wanted to give him a chance, that was fine. If he didn’t work out – there were more out there. He seemed like he really knew the territory, but maybe not, if Tiff wasn’t impressed. True, Tiffany was a basket case of nerves and ambition, but she was talented and Beverly needed that kind of unbridled all-consuming drive.
Jason was getting the hang of his new job. He had reservations all over town, sometimes going to four or five places in a night. It wasn’t that much different than his usual social life. It was a little clubbier than he might have chosen, but he wasn’t complaining. He was out three nights a week for Juicy and occasionally did the odd research or rewrite job.
Tiffany was thrilled. She’d never had a nightlife reporter before that could get so near the action and come back with the facts. Jason shrugged it off. It was easy for him. When Beverly expressed her pleasure in the increasingly news breaking nightlife gossip, Tiffany downplayed Jason’s role. “He’s good enough that it gives me time to work my sources. It’s all about getting out there. And he can back me up while I do the reporting.”
But Jason was a lot more than a back-up for Tiffany. His understanding of the young Hollywood mind kept Juicy out of trouble and ahead of the curve. Celebs liked to tease the paparazzi with fake romances and outrageous rumors.
But no matter how ridiculous, everything had to be checked out – just in case. Jason remembered a story, before he was working for Juicy, that completely bamboozled the media. Paris had walked around Melrose one afternoon with a so-called Zen master. Jason took one look at the photos and said, “That guy’s a fake.”
It was random that Jason knew the robe was the wrong color. He must have been paying attention in the Religions Of The World course. Turned out he was right. Paris had hired an actor to punk the paparazzi. Even without knowing which color the robe should be, Jason knew this was some kind of set up. Paris only wanted attention. She had no use for spiritual guidance.
Now Jason was dealing with another lame rumor – put forth on The Today Show, no less. Apparently, Hollywood was running out of Botox. Asked to check it out, Jason laughed and said, “No way.” But he dutifully called his mom’s dermatologist who sputtered in astonishment at the naivety of the press. “When this town is out of Botox, you’ll know the end is near.”
If a star was in rehab, Jason was the first to hear it, but he handled those stories well enough that the agents began coming to Juicy to break such embarrassing tell-alls. The news was going to get out anyway so why not take it to a tab that might make a deal to get it squashed. None of the managers, agents and PR people ever knew who they were really dealing with. Jason used just his first name. He was just one more — though miles better than most — celebrity reporter.
He was happy at Glenda’s, but he missed having a girlfriend. The hook-up celeb club scene was tiresome, especially if he didn’t have downtime with real friends. He’d always been a bit of a loner, but this summer was even more solitary than usual. He was starting to get how isolated celebrities are.
This story first posted here on August 17, 2017.