The showbiz somebody tries to overcome his nobody past. 1,742 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“I didn’t know this guy, Tate, was a good friend of yours,” the Netflix show’s cinematographer, Percy Swain, said when he ran into the producer in the hotel lobby a few days later.
“He’s not,” Dale Beauchamp replied, succinctly, about Tate Frawley, the local guy who’d been hired only because he owned an ARRI and let the production have it for free as long as he was hired to operate it. “We grew up together. Haven’t seen him since high school. How’s he working out?”
“He’s capable enough. Bit of an attitude problem, but nothing I can’t handle.”
“Sorry. Didn’t know it was him until after you gave me the green light. Since we were in the home stretch, I didn’t want to risk losing another day of shooting.”
“Forget I mentioned it. When I’m exhausted, the slightest ripple threatens my authoritarian demeanor. Hope you’re pleased with what I’ve done.”
“Percy,” Dale grinned, “the dailies look terrific. You’re one of my not-so-secret weapons.”
“Thanks,” Percy said, expelling a deep breath. “I really needed a good ass-kissing this morning.”
“Anytime, buddy,” Dale laughed, patting him on the back as they walked off in different directions.
During lunch break, Tate popped into Dale’s office to find him hovered over a microwaved pot pie. “Hey, stranger,” Tate said. “How come we never see you on the set?”
“I visit mostly on an as-needed basis. To broker a truce between fighting factions or if a ruffled ego needs soothing.”
Tate nodded, but in a way that belied skepticism. “Anyhoo. Wanted to see if you were up for taking a day trip on Sunday to have lunch with the old gang. They’re dying to see you. You’re the closest thing Catesville has to a celebrity.”
“Gee, buddy,” Dale began.
Tate immediately cut him off. “Aw, Chump. You won’t even break bread with us on your day of rest? That’s cold, man.”
“I don’t have a day of rest,” Dale said, sounding defensive. “Not until I deliver this puppy, edited and scored.”
“But that’s the beauty of being in charge. You can delegate. Don’t forget, I grew up with a man who ran the show. So I’m wise to all the lame excuses.”
The two men just stared at each other until Dale broke the stalemate. “Fine. I’ll take my laptop and do some work on the drive to and back.”
“Richie, Curt and Been-o are gonna be psyched,” Tate said, sounding genuinely excited. “I’ll meet you in the hotel lobby at nine.”
As Tate turned to leave, Dale said, “How you getting on with Percy?”
“Why? Did he say something?” Tate replied, his face clouding.
“No. Just being overprotective, I guess. Percy’s like family.”
“What’s he, your boyfriend?” Tate said, then sensing he’d gone too far, added, “I’m just messing with you, Chump. Lighten up.”
They were on the road by ten that Sunday after Dale had to extinguish a couple of unexpected brushfires. But he was not looking forward to spending the better part of the day cooped up with Tate, though he was curious to see his friends.
The idea to bring along his laptop ran up against the constant jostling of Tate’s Bronco. “And why did we not take the interstate?”
“Back road cuts a diagonal. It’s faster.”
“Yeah, if you don’t crack an axle in one of the potholes. I thought the roads in L.A. were bad.”
“Geez. And here I thought the streets out there were paved with gold,” Tate snickered. “You do live in Beverly Hills, right?”
“Never heard of it. What’s the point of going all Hollywood if you don’t get to brag about a fancy address?”
Dale stared at Tate blankly, then checked his watch to estimate how much longer the ride would take.
“You know,” Tate advised Dale, “I applied to work on your show months ago, but I was rejected. Was that your doing, Chump? I mean seeing as how you hate to delegate?”
“No. Percy puts together his crew. He tries to hire local whenever he can. I didn’t even know you were the guy with the Arri until Percy agreed to your demand.”
Tate raised an eyebrow, but didn’t argue the point further.
“Where are we all meeting?” Dale asked.
“Old Town Bar & Grill. Bean-o waits tables there nights and he arranged for us to have the back room,” Tate said.
“Great,” Dale said, then repeated it with self-conscious enthusiasm. “Great!”
As they passed through the outskirts of Catesville, Dale noticed how nothing had changed. And everything. No suburban communities had sprung up since his departure and even his decidedly unromantic recollections of his hometown seemed to have been generous. Though the sun was shining, the town felt overcast and depleted.
“What happened to Tootie’s Food Mart?” Dale asked, noticing the empty lot where the town’s main grocery store had once stood.
“Shut down after they opened a Wal-Mart out on the 260. Riley’s Hardware and old Miss Gordon’s dress shop were killed, too,” Tate answered.
“And what’s this? Three Mexican joints? That’s new.”
“Yeah, there’s a whole lot of Mexicans living up in Crescendo Heights out near the new meat packing plant where Richie works as a manager,” Tate said as he pulled into a gas station. “Be right back.” he said.
Tate hopped out and disappeared into the mini-mart. Not long after, there was a tap on Dale’s window. “It’s me, Nancy. Nancy Greer.”
“Well, hey, Nancy,” Dale said, as he rolled down the window.
“When Tate told me you was in the truck, I thought he was pulling my leg,” she laughed. “You look just the same, except maybe you’re losing your hair. Have you slept with any movie stars? You can tell me.”
“No, I had about the same luck with them as I had with you,” he said, recalling one clumsy backseat interrupted pass.
“Should have put out for you. At least I’d have something to talk about now. Wish I’d had the smarts to get out of this place before it crumpled into a heap.”
Nancy turned abruptly when three teenagers went into the mini-mart. “Better get back in there before those meth heads rob me blind. It was good seeing you,” she said, dappling a kiss across his cheek.
Nancy and Tate slapped palms as they passed one another. Getting into the truck, Tate sighed. “I feel about ten pounds lighter.”
On the drive back, Dale dozed intermittently. He’d enjoyed seeing his old friends and he was sorry they’d lost touch. The guys had packed on a few pounds, but then so had he. They looked older than their years but likely they thought he did, too. Otherwise, they were the same. Same bellyaches. Same bone-headed humor. Same gentle vulnerabilities. He promised to Friend and Twitter them and mentioned that his door was open even if they ever traveled to the West Coast.
Tate had delivered his usual performance. But in the company of his peers, Dale found it less galling. Like listening to a cranky uncle’s rants over Sunday dinner with the folks. “Mr. Big Shot producer here is really just a glorified paper pusher. Ain’t that right, Chump?”
“Guilty,” Dale chuckled.
After lunch, Dale fell into a side conversation with Richie and learned that Tate’s dad was in financial straits. Three car dealerships had gone under despite his having used the profits from the others to keep them afloat. And he was having a tough time with a bank loan using his house as collateral. “It’s too nice a place and the bank doesn’t want to get stuck with it if he defaults,” Richie said. “No one around here has that kind of money.”
“So is Tate still working for his dad?”
“Only part-time,” Richie said. “He was a good salesman but impatient. Always wanted to close the deal right away. That’s not how it’s done here. Mostly works in the back office now. He’s the paper pusher.”
“So, did his dad buy him the ARRI?”
Richie shook his head. “Won it in a poker game in Indianapolis from a guy who runs an equipment supply store. Tate’s kids live there with the ex and he visits at least once a month. After he beat the guy a second time, Tate asked for lessons. Then he shot a few TV spots for his dad and used them to scare up work.”
“Clever,” said Dale.
“He was always clever. Too clever for his own good sometimes.”
“How about you, Richie? How you doing? Really?”
“Good. The new meat packing plant was a salvation. Good thing I studied Spanish in high school. Mary Jane works in a dentist’s office and the kids are at that age where everything we say bugs the holy hell out of them.”
“My kids are not there just yet, but I’m expecting a declaration of war any day now.”
As Tate was dropping him off, Dale suggested dinner the following evening.
Tate reacted as if it was a bolt from the blue. “My treat,” Dale assured him. “To thank you for getting me off my ass. It was terrific seeing the guys.”
“Told ya. They’re something, right?” Tate said.
“If you’re serious about being a cameraman, you should think of coming out to L.A. Lot more opportunity there.”
“But this is my home and I can’t be so far away from the kids. Besides, I don’t know anyone out there but you. I’d be a square peg.”
“I got news for you: out there we’re all square pegs. Gets lonely sometimes. Be much nicer if I had the guys around.”
“Even prickly me?” Tate asked.
Dale laughed but didn’t take the bait.
“I kind of envied you,” Tate said, “but not so much now. Being in charge looks like one headache after another.”
“Yup. Pretty much.”
“Still, you got the wife and kids. And you seem happy.”
“I am. It’s a struggle but it’s never boring.”
“Keep me in mind if you’re ever shooting around here again, will you?”
“Be extra nice to Percy for the next few days and, if we have a second season, I’ll see what I can do.”
“I’ll suck his dick if he wants,” Tate said and, when Dale wrinkled his brow, added, “Okay, I promise to be nice, if you promise to delegate a little more. C’mon, you’ve earned it, Champ.”
“Deal,” Dale said, and they shook on it.