The Hollywood wannabe must decide between his normal life or dream career. 3,036 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Tyler Price’s film premiere party was everything you’d expect a Hollywood party to be. Ostentatious, superficial, and wholly divorced from reality. It was also the first time I’ve truly felt like I belong, at home among the eclectic mix of narcissists, overachievers, and millionaires you can only find in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it was as far removed from my actual home as you can get within the confines of middle class America.
Twelve hours after the party, Alana and I boarded our plane and traded our luxurious, all-expenses-paid Hollywood weekend for the dryer, browner, more barren pastures of Bumfuck, Arizona.
I wake up bleary-eyed, lying next to Alana in our bed. I barely slept last night, haunted by regrets and mourning a bountiful life that not only could have been, but should have been.
Quietly sliding out of bed, I stumble across the bedroom, a bubble world oasis crafted by me to escape the trappings of reality. Combining our shared love of acting and music, my passion for pop culture and Alana’s obsession with celebrities, our apartment doubles as a shrine to the entertainment industry. Careful not to step on a pile of my Nip/Tuck, Californication, and Entourage DVDs, I enter the living room and embark on a dedicated morning ritual that dates back to our first month in Arizona. Press-ups, sit-ups, protein shakes, flossing, omelets, moisturizing, multi-vitamins, Propecia, and hair styling are capped off with a healthy sixty seconds spent admiring and critiquing my appearance in a full-length mirror.
A crisp tailored black shirt, fitted jeans, Rolex, and polarized Oliver Peoples sunglasses complete my uniform. I take pride in the fact no one here dresses like me. I dress the way I wish the world was, to show the world what it can be.
I grab my car keys from a dresser, kiss Alana goodbye, and head out the door. My strict morning regimen helps me keep my chin up and my superiority complex afloat, giving me the confidence boost I need to drive to work with the top down on my orange Mazda Miata, the ultimate in affordable entry-level convertibles.
The Miata had been an impulse buy two years in the making. I chose a Miata because I couldn’t afford an Audi. I chose orange because I wanted something gaudy. Time and again, the convertible has proven itself to be a worthwhile purchase. Entire days come and go, weighed down by the claustrophobic demands of everyday life, where the only time I’m able to breathe is when I’m driving home from work with the top down and the evening’s air circulating around me, filling my lungs, keeping me oxygenated.
Armed with my convertible playlist — an eclectic assortment of douchebag ballads that includes, but is not limited to, Kanye West, gangsta rap, and WWE entrance themes — I pull out of our underground parking lot to the upbeat tune of The Ocean Souls’ “Steady Are You Ready” and enter the fray of morning rush hour. Driving into the sun, the unrelenting Arizona heat cooks my forehead. I lower the visor as I pull up behind two cars at the red light of the intersection by Bumfuck Towne Center. The light eventually turns green after a long, painful minute and still the cars in front refuse to move. I wait and I wait and I wait until I can wait no more and then I slam my fist down on the steering wheel, blaring my horn.
I lean out of my window, shouting, “Hey, douchebag, I hope you’re as slow in bed as you are at a goddamn light.”
Not my best insult. Six out of ten. For me, road rage is less about expressing anger and more about keeping the mind active, a necessity when you live in a town where interesting things come to die.
Out of the corner of my eyes, pedestrians waiting to cross the street regard me with a heady combination of terror, awe, and amusement. I burst out laughing before plowing my fist down on the horn again, the car in front finally getting the message.
They say perception is reality. I wish that was the case. However the people in my small town may perceive me in my bright car and five hundred dollar sunglasses, it probably couldn’t be further from the truth. As much as I may act otherwise, I’m still a junior comms manager for Bumfuck Tech Solutions, a company that produces no one cares. Junior comms manager. The job description doesn’t quite read, Spend eight hours a day copying and pasting large amounts of text over and over again until you want to throw yourself off a tall building, but it may as well. Junior comms manager. The company doesn’t even have a senior comms manager.
I send my Monday morning emails from the ergonomic comfort of an office cubicle, alternately signing off with kind regards and best wishes per company policy. When I’m certain no one’s going to walk by, I switch windows, load YouTube, and search videos from the premiere. Immediately I stumble upon Entertainment Weekly’s red carpet coverage and am bombarded with quick cuts of the cast arriving. A reporter interviews Tyler Price. I can’t hear — the sound is off — but I watch avidly as the actor charms her with an engaged and charismatic response. Then I notice something in the top right of the frame. A couple walking hand-in-hand. It’s Alana and me. I watch myself turn to face the camera and I hit pause. For a split second, my face shares a frame with Tyler’s.
As styled as my hair is, his is just a little shinier, and as fitted as my suit is, his fits just a little better — to be expected when he’s wearing a custom Emporio Armani donation while I’m relegated to the more budget-friendly world of Armani Exchange. Does he have his own stylist? What products does he use? These are questions I don’t have answers to. My mind tumbles down a rabbit hole in pursuit of this train of thought. Are they his real teeth? Does he trim his own facial hair? How much money is he actually worth?
The more questions I ask, the more anxious I get, drawing shallow breaths, the warning sign of an impending panic attack. I discreetly open the drawer beneath my desk, find a Xanax, and swallow it without drawing attention to myself.
“A-List!” a voice calls. I barely hear it. A figure looms over my cubicle, “River?”
Startled, I look up to see Bumfuck Tech’s fearless leader Jay Hunter looking down on me. Shit, I’m in trouble now. Goodbye, YouTube privileges.
“A-List, you got a minute?”
I’m yours for eight hours, Jay, five days a week. I’ve got four hundred and eighty minutes a day set aside just for you.
“Sure thing.” I get up and follow Jay as he waddles into his office, praying I can control my breathing enough that I won’t erupt in a no-holds-barred panic attack by the copy machine.
At fifty-one, Jay’s balding and overweight, not nearly as spry as someone his age should be. Jay likes me. I’m like a son to him. He once told me I remind him of himself when he was my age. To date, that’s the most depressing thing anyone’s ever said to me. It may even be the root cause of my anxiety.
I sit across the desk from Jay, taking a moment to bite down my disdain at the photos on the wall behind him. Photos of Jay and his friends on a fishing trip. Oh look, he caught a marlin. Big fucker. Another photo shows Jay dressed as Santa at an office party, a cigar hanging from his mouth. The caption below reads, Like a Boss. Cry.
He smiles and leans back in his chair, holding his arms up. “So…”
“So?” I ask, unsure where he’s going with this.
“How were the real fake people of Hollywood?”
I hate it when people belittle the hard-working men and women of our great nation’s entertainment industry. “Surprisingly relatable.”
I don’t answer. It’s a conversational dead-end. I know it and, after two seconds of awkward silence, so does he.
“So the reason I wanted to speak to you today… I’ve been impressed by your efficiency and dedication to the job.”
I swear to God, I do the absolute bare minimum I need to in order to stay gainfully employed.
“And I’d like to reward that. Now, it’ll mean more responsibility, more training. Maybe a few courses. But I think you’re more than up for the task at hand.”
Here we go.
“A-List, how would you feel about a promotion to senior comms manager?”
Friday night. I’m once again unable to sleep. Alana and I arrived home from Woody’s, the local dive bar, three hours ago. Two hours ago we had sex. Our go-to position, the reverse cowgirl, allowed Alana to finish rewatching All About The Guy, a Tyler Price rom-com, while I caught up with Deadline Hollywood on my iPhone. Following a shirtless Tyler Price scene, Alana climaxed and fell asleep. Once again, I did not.
Alana gently inhales and exhales in her sleep. She looks calm. Peaceful. It’s probably the alcohol. I don’t drink. Natural superiority is my alcohol, or at least it used to be, before that fucking premiere party. Now I’m an insomniac. Maybe I should start drinking. No. It’s not that bad. It will never be that bad. I’ve always taken great pride in the fact that no matter how awful my life becomes, no matter how many disappointments come my way, I’ve never used alcohol or drugs to numb myself. I want to feel everything.
Having said this, Woody’s was pretty bad and drinking almost certainly would have taken the edge off watching in disgust as Alana and our friends gagged down fish tacos while surrounded by drunken locals struggling to hear each other over Top 40 hits from 2007. The unfortunate thing is, it’s our regular haunt. The drinks are cheap and they frequently host an open mic night, the one creative outlet in my life that doesn’t involve shouting abuse at fellow drivers.
Eddie, my colleague, and his wife Stacy joined us to “celebrate” my “promotion.” They’re also pushing thirty and are in many ways funhouse mirror versions, in every sense of the expression, of Alana and myself. They were born in Bumfuck, seldom leave Bumfuck and, more importantly, they’re good in Bumfuck. A less magnanimous person would say they’re so boring that if they ever made a sex tape it would be called Masters Of Missionary.
“Congratulations on the promotion, baby,” Alana said after her third Jack and Coke and my second OJ, “I’m so proud of you.”
The Alana I followed to Arizona wouldn’t have been proud; she’d have been mortified. When did her values change? The woman I fell in love with lived and breathed ambition, had talent coming out of her ass, and couldn’t wait to share it with the world. Then again, she also found fish and seafood as disgusting as I did. I think her dad’s cancer irreparably broke her.
At one point, Alana coaxed me into dancing to the tune of “Give Me Everything Tonight.” She pulled out her signature move, the bump and grind. Eddie — always on the lookout for fresh spank bank fodder — noticed this and, while dancing with Stacy, made sure to remind me how lucky I am to be with a girl like Alana. And I am lucky, I know I am. I just have to keep reminding myself because, if I don’t, I may forget and then the only thing left to remember will be the seven years spent alternating between an office cubicle and the corner booth of Woody’s.
Alana seems content with that lifestyle. Maybe I’m the broken one.
I take one last look at Alana, her mouth opening a little with every breath she takes, and pull myself out of bed, careful not to wake her. I pull on a tee and walk into the living room, where I make a beeline for the bookshelf. Flicking on a light, I search high and low, eventually finding what I’m looking for: a dog-eared copy of the yearbook from my senior year of high school.
I rapidly flick through the pages, not stopping to look at anything that doesn’t interest me — namely, anything involving other people — until I land on a full-page spread of myself. I’m sitting on a stool on the stage of the school auditorium, a guitar resting in my arms, mid-song. I look younger here. Happier. That was before I’d experienced a loss in my life. The greatest loss a person can ever experience, a loss greater than the death of a parent: the loss of hope.
The caption beneath the photo reads, River Conway: Most Likely To Become Rich And Famous. I let those words sink in for a wistful moment, a heaviness returning to my breathing that I try to temper by controlling the pace and depth of my breaths. The photo reminds me of everything I’ve lost — every hope, every dream — and I ask myself, Is this what rock bottom feels like?
My mother told me I was destined for greatness. Why else would an honest, salt of the earth, lower middle class couple from Who Cares, Ohio, name their son River? No son of Richard and Jean Conway was going to be called Dave.
“I’ve failed,” I say out loud, the sound of the words carrying an unexpected catharsis.
I look at the full-page spread of myself in the yearbook once more and slam my fist down on the arm of the sofa as I burst out into maniacal laughter. I hope I don’t wake Alana up. She’d think I was a freak. She’d break up with me and then I’d truly have nothing. The last seven years will have been even more pointless. Ha. I laugh harder. She really is all I have now. And I resent her. The sick joke that my life has become hits me in full force for the first time and for a solid five minutes I embrace the tragedy, cast adrift on a wave of laughter.
Then I pull myself together, control my breathing and regain composure. A silence falls over the living room.
I stand up, feeling stronger. A renewed sense of purpose surges through me. I know what I have to do.
Grabbing the iPad, I turn the camera on and balance it on the coffee table, sitting on the sofa in front of it. I’ve been told my entire life I’m destined for greatness. It’s time to embrace my destiny.
Studying my reflection, I look tired, haggard. My hair is unkempt. I’m wearing a tee and boxers, for God’s sake. This is not a marketable look.
tiptoe back into the bedroom, throw on a fitted shirt and adjust my hair before touching up my stubble in the bathroom. I check my reflection in the mirror and the River who stares back at me inspires confidence. “Go fuck yourself, Tyler Price.”
Returning to the iPad, I switch the camera to video mode, clear my throat, and hit record.
“Working to live or living to work? How about neither?” I work the camera, smiling at an audience that doesn’t yet exist. “As an office worker with a mediocre middle-class existence, I’m giving you the opportunity to give me the opportunity of a better one.” I valiantly resist the urge to laugh at my own turn of phrase. “If you’re asking yourself how this is possible and wondering how you can help, ask and wonder no longer. I come bearing answers. My goal is to crowdfund one million dollars. All I ask of you is a donation of two dollars or more. It only takes five hundred thousand of you.” I flash a benevolent grin, channeling my inner Tyler Price. “But remember, if I don’t reach my goal, I won’t see a cent.” Now, for the grand finale: “Donate to me today so I can live the life you wish you were living tomorrow.”
Yes, that should do it. With that, I save the recording.
Replaying the video provides a moment of smug celebration before I load up Jumpstarter and create a campaign. I upload the video and when a prompt asks me for the amount of money I wish to raise, I enter one million without a microsecond of hesitation.
The page asks me for a title. I hadn’t thought this far ahead. I need something pithy, something noisy. It needs to be buzzy, something that demands attention in the most obnoxious way. It needs to grab people by the balls and not let go, with a hashtag that will spread like herpes across the Internet. I want enraged think pieces. I want Buzzfeed coverage. I want 4chan and Reddit all up in my shit. I want it all.
I’ve got it!
I begin typing: SAVE AN ASS—
No, that’s no good. I take a moment and deliberate further. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right. Everything has to be perfect. If there’s a million dollars on the line, nothing can be left to chance.
The solution comes to me from on high, a divine force planting a seed of genius in my brain. From my mind to the World Wide Web, I hereby christen this Jumpstarter campaign, SAVE AN A$$HOLE.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.
I hit publish, the page goes live, and I paste the link into every social networking account I have. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest. Hell, I even take a SnapChat of the page. I hope the forty-two people who follow me appreciate it. I put the iPad away and head back to bed, burying myself beneath the covers next to Alana, never more thankful that she doesn’t believe in social media.
As I lay here, satisfied, positively giddy at the possibility of making a million bucks, a deep slumber consumes me.
I never would have had this idea if not for Tyler Price.
Thank you, Tyler Price.