She has barely worked in years, and a self-respecting actress needs to pay her bar tab. 2,383 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
A few hours later, I stood inside the door of a dark bar and grill and waited for my eyes to adjust to the light. I assessed the impact the Xanax was having. I was disappointed to note that I didn’t feel any different but also relieved that I didn’t have the sudden urge to turn five-dollar tricks in alleyways or rob a pharmacy. Then I realized that the weight on my chest had lifted and I could actually get a deep breath of air into my lungs. Hmmm, maybe my fear of immediate drug dependency and subsequent prison time for forging benzodiazepine prescriptions was premature — melodramatic, even.
“Ruby!” my agent Kim called, but the room was still too dark for me to make out anything clearly. “Over here at the bar,” I heard her say, so I headed toward the backlit wall of alcohol. By the time I got there, I could clearly see Kim at the other end and an oversized martini glass in front of her. I walked over and sat next to her.
“So? How was the audition? Did you nail it?”
“Did you read the material, Kim?”
“No. But this series is very hot and getting a lot of buzz. They are going for an edgy no-boundaries True Blood meets an updated Police Woman but with a Sixth Sense vibe set in a post-apocalyptic Jersey Shore. They are shooting it in L.A. but it takes place in Detroit. Don’t tell anyone I told you, but they’re in negotiations to get Sean Young and Gary Busey to do a three webisode arc,” Kim said and sipped her drink as though she hadn’t said a single unbelievably insane thing. “So,” she repeated, setting her drink down, “how’d it go?”
“Pushing boundaries just means more nudity. And, again, you didn’t actually read the material, did you?”
A bartender came over and I ordered an eight-ounce glass of wine, the largest of the three options available. When did restaurants start selling wine by the ounce and who the hell gets a three-ounce glass? The world was going to Hell in a handbasket.
“Kim, there is no way you read the material you sent me.”
“No. I didn’t. Why?”
“Because the audition involved pantomiming being bound and gagged, spitting in someone’s face, sucking off a vampire, crying hysterically and then dying. Oh, and I think there were about ten words to say, or grunt, and grunt ambiguously, mind you. A horny-but-afraid-for-my-life grunt. You know the kind,” I said with heavy sarcasm.
I then put my hands behind my back as if bound, opened my mouth as if gagged and thrashed around looking wild-eyed, pretending to spit intermittently and gag on an invisible cock, and then struggled some more as if trying to free myself. Finally, after some faux crying, I slumped over dead. I looked like a porn star being executed in the electric chair.
Kim laughed uproariously. “And they say you’re not funny!” she said and laughed some more.
“Who says I’m not funny? Where the fuck did that come from?”
Kim ignored my questions. “So? Did they love you?
“I didn’t go, Kim!”
“What?! Why not? It was a great part!”
“It was not a great part. It was simulated sex with my tits out, no dialogue, lots of crying and nine-hundred dollars. And it is for a webisode! I’d hoped never to say the word ‘webisode,’ let alone show up on one, middle-aged and topless, blowing a teen vamp named Demone Malvagio.”
Kim, to her credit, laughed at this, too, rather than castigate me for being self-sabotaging. After all, what did it mean to her? Her ten percent commission would only be one hundred dollars, and even she had to know, somewhere deep in her shallow soul, that it wasn’t a good part and that nobody wanted to see me naked.
“Okay, so I’ll call casting tomorrow and make up some excuse for your no-show. Tell me, what else is new and exciting in your life?”
“Nothing. Tough times at the Fitzgerald house. Going on three years without a job, you know?”
“I know. It is so slow all over town. Nothing’s going on.”
That is what all agents say any time it is slow for clients. It has no basis in truth. I forgave her lie in return for her not throwing the blown-off audition in my face as evidence of a pattern that had caused my financial crisis.
“And,” she continued, “everything is young. If you were in your twenties, it would be different.”
Also bullshit. When I was playing twenties, I was told that everything was high school or that if I were old enough to play the parent of a high schooler, then there would be tons of opportunity.
“Wait, you did that indie movie, High School something or other, just last year.”
“Getting High School. Yeah, last year and it paid a hundred bucks a day. And I worked like five days. Believe it or not, I’ve already gone through that money.”
“You are funny!” Kim said and laughed lightly, as if I’d made a droll joke. “Stand up and turn around. Let’s get a look at you…”
She had me stand, take my coat off and turn for her. This was a common device of hers used to stoke my insecurities about my weight, hair, skin — anything to turn the tables on me so I’d stop questioning her ability to get me meaningful work.
“You look great. You can totally still play mid-thirties.”
This was also a subtle jab, a reminder that I was getting old, disguised as a compliment. While she seemed willing to forgive our differing opinions on the value to my career of engaging in simulated sex in webisodes, she wasn’t above putting me in my place in other ways.
“How old are you now?”
“Thirty-five,” I deadpanned.
“Thirty-five? Didn’t I come to like — your thirty-seventh birthday last year?”
“Yes. Remember? You had that cocktail thingy at that cute bar in Union Station. I could have sworn you were thirty-seven. Or was it thirty-nine?” Kim knitted her brow, appearing to consult the crystal ball of her mind and, through it, ascertain my real age. “I thought you were older than I am. What year were you born?”
I felt naked and squirmed in my seat.
“What year?” she repeated and, assuming an innocent pose, sipped her martini and peered over the rim of the glass at me.
“What’s up with the gotcha journalism, Katie Couric?” I asked, sounding more defensive than I’d hoped.
“Okay, well, whatever. Have it your way. If you won’t do nudity…” she said and paused. The word “nudity” had been pronounced with special emphasis, meant to indicate that I was being a huge baby. She let the incomplete sentence hang there a bit so I would have time to absorb a nice portion of the responsibility for my never working again because I am too much of a prude to do nudity. “You know?” she finally continued. “Just wait a few years. Pretty soon you will start getting into the mom roles and things will pick up.”
“I can play a mom now. When my mother was my age, I was in junior high.”
“No, you look too young to play moms yet.”
Again, bullshit. Everything an agent says is calculated to lower clients’ expectations for themselves and to break their spirit and their every moral boundary — all while sounding flattering and supportive. I didn’t bother arguing. I ordered another eight-ouncer.
“Sooo… how’s your love life?” she changed the subject. “Anything going on there? Got a guy?”
“No. But I did go out with a couple of different guys recently. Which is sort of a change of pace for me.”
“Sure. Really nice. If by ‘nice’ you mean unbelievably hideous.”
Kim laughed and ordered another double martini. She looked at me mischievously over the giant olive she was gnawing.
“I have a guy for you!”
“No. Honestly, I’d really rather get my career on track. I am broke and stressed and I’m not going to be good for anyone right now. No guys. I just need to work.”
“Blah, blah, blah! This guy is great!”
I decided to ignore the fact that my agent, my only access to future employment as an actress, had just pooh-poohed my desire to procure said employment.
“He saw your headshot on my desk and thought you were hot. He asked me for your number. Can I give it to him?”
“No. Who is this guy?”
“His name is Eddie Flagon. He used to be an actor but he directs sitcoms now.”
“Eddie Flagon!? No way!” I said in horror before remembering that he was her client and maybe even a good friend. “No, I’m just not… dating. Anyone.”
“You just said you were dating around.”
“I never said I was dating around. That sounds like a euphemism for prostitution. I said I had gone out with a few guys.”
“So? Go out with this one! Eddie is great!” she repeated.
Eddie Flagon was a comedian from the eighties famous for his achy-breaky mullet and unpredictable behavior. He had all the physical appeal of Gallagher and the likeability factor of Gilbert Gottfried. Eddie had been the star of an enormously successful movie franchise similar to Porky’s. Thirty years ago, people with crimped hair and shoulder pads could not get enough of him. Mercifully, Eddie went out of style right about the same time as Miami Vice.
“Wait, isn’t he the guy that jerked off Jim Hanna’s exotic goat on one of the late night talk shows?”
“It was a koala and he only diddled him a little. That was just schtick, anyway. He is really sweet in real life. And didn’t you tell me last time we were together that you hadn’t had sex in over four years?”
“Five. But I broke that streak,” I said, again just a smidge on the wrong side of defensive. How did she keep managing to do this to me?
“Oh! So you got back in the saddle? Was it amazing? I bet sex after that long was amazing. Tell me it was amazing!”
“It was amazing, all right,” I said, devoid of enthusiasm, and sipped my wine.
“No good?” she asked, then added, “Girl, you need to get The Rabbit!”
“No. I am not a toy girl. And someone who has sex as seldom as I do runs a serious risk of becoming addicted to a toy like that. I like sex. I like men. I like sex with men. I don’t want to go five years celibate and then finally find a great guy and be disappointed that his dick isn’t bent like a toilet bowl brush and that he can’t vary the speed and intensity level of the different parts of his johnson.”
“You are insane. The Rabbit is the greatest thing ever. You know what I do sometimes? I spin it backwards and use that clit thing on my ass.”
I got a fleeting mental image of one of those battery-operated personal fans spinning against an anus. I didn’t hang out with Kim enough to know if these were her double martinis talking or if she was always so free with such intimate details, and you might be surprised that anything shocks me, but this information, and from my agent, handily met my definition of TMI.
“Well, that sounds… dangerous, mostly.” Those bunny ears look like clippers poised for a clitorectomy.
“So what do you do to get off?”
I wasn’t comfortable giving my agent the skinny on my masturbation habits so I tried to say something that sounded like an answer without revealing anything specific.
“Have you ever Googled ‘free porn’?” I improvised. “It is amazing what is on there. I don’t know how parents sleep at night. A friend of mine has a nine year old that was doing a report for school on camels and she was scarred by what came up when she Googled ‘camel toes.’”
Not one to be thrown off the scent, Kim ignored my camel toe diversion.
“So you like porn? I like it, too.”
“I like interracial porn,” I heard myself volunteer. Or was this the Xanax/wine combo talking now? My glass was empty. I definitely needed another drink.
“What is it that you like about black guys in porn?” Kim leaned in conspiratorially.
“I don’t want to say. It will just sound racist.”
“Come on. What?”
“I like black guy porn because I assume… Oh my God, this is so racist!”
I couldn’t believe I was about to say these words out loud. This could not come to any good.
“I like it because I can assume… that the black guys are all Democrats.”
“You know? The white guys are always so pink and jocky and their hair looks conservative and all I can think is, that guy voted for McCain or Romney. It is a huge turn-off,” I continued.
Kim erupted into laughter.
“Okay, okay! Why aren’t you on a sitcom?”
“I’m not on a sitcom because my agent says nobody thinks I’m funny and I can’t get an audition to save my life. Remember?”
“Okay. You are definitely going to meet Eddie Flagon. My house. Tomorrow night. I’m having a little cocktail party and I want you to come. Eddie will be there. No pressure. You can meet him and decide for yourself. I will not take no for an answer. We have a new agent at the office and you need to meet him, too. He’ll be there. Tomorrow night at my house. Seven o’clock.”
I tried to think of some commitment I might have that would get me out of this, but my mind was a Xanax-and-wine-addled blank.
“And, hey, you owe me,’ Kim added. “For not going to that audition today. And wear a dress that shows your tits off and makes your waist look a little smaller. There will be people there that can give you a job.”
I took down her address and promised myself I would not eat anything until the party.