A film actor with career problems is trying to overcome anger issues. 1,986 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
I settled into the soft leather seat with a sigh. Nothing like a private jet. First class could not compare. Across the aisle, a group of reporters huddled around the latest superhero. What was the kid’s name? Jack or Jake. Strutting and flapping like hungry pigeons, the journalists darted in and out for a morsel. Better watch your step, Jake — they are just waiting for you to fuck up. God knows, they’d feasted off me for years. I’d been served up to them like an extra large pepperoni pizza tossed out of a passing car, then run over a few times and left for dead.
I had to be crazy for agreeing to this. The producer, Max, whose jet this was and who used to take my calls, had asked me to stop by his office for a chat. Just in case I mistakenly thought I could not sink any lower, I’d been asked to wait. I spent the time idly watching the studio parade pass by the large bank of windows in Max’s plush outer office. Writers, editors, directors. Leading men and women and their agents. A group of zombies. A lovely young starlet in cutoff denim shorts on a bicycle. This contained circumscribed world, more than several degrees removed from the gritty hole I’d climbed out of, had somehow always made the insistent, all too real messiness, more bearable.
“Kevin, sorry about that, I didn’t mean for you to have to wait.” Max was a small wiry man, balding and too tan. He threw up his hands and shrugged. “But you know how it is, right? Always crazy around here.”
Crossing the cavernous room, I took a seat on one of the overstuffed couches and sank into the feather down for several seconds before touching bottom. “No problem, Max, I know how it is.”
“I want to talk to you about the press junket, which you have so generously agreed to do.” Max sat at his massive Art Deco burl wood desk. It dwarfed him.
I nodded, a sense of unease slowly gripping my mid-section. “I’m all ears, Max.”
There was a genteel rap on the door. Max, annoyed, barked, “What is it?”
An attractive woman, her straight black bangs all but covering her eyes, poked her head in. “I have those papers for you to sign, Mr. Silverstein.”
He waved her in, the ruby in his gold signet ring catching the fading last afternoon rays. As if on cue, the lights in the room magically popped on. The young woman wobbled a bit as her heels sank into the thick carpet until eventually encountering the parquet flooring. She clicked across that for awhile until hitting carpet again. Finally, she laid a pile of papers on the desk in front of Max. He studied them briefly, then frowned.
“What is this shit? I asked you to bring me the Meyerson contract.” He shoved the papers away, spraying some onto the floor. She hurried to pick them up.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Silverstein. I must have misunderstood.”
Max, leaning over the desk, studied the young woman’s rear. “Don’t worry, honey, I’m sure you’ll get it eventually.”
She smoothed her skirt, scooped up the papers on the desk and hurried out. Max grinned at me. “New girl. How about that ass, huh?”
I smiled. “Still the same old Max.”
“Look, Kevin,” Max held up a hand, “don’t get mad at me, okay? Publicist’s idea.” His head shake demonstrated his disappointment in publicists in general. I waited. “We decided to invite the reporters on the private jet with us, including the one you had that little dust up with. You know. Gulag.”
My smile faded. “Gulin, Viktor Gulin. And I am not flying with any reporters, let alone that tabloid hack.”
“Just hear me out. Remember that magazine writer you met on the set who was doing the profile piece on me? Nice enough guy, right? He needs to be there so I thought, what the hell, it’s a short flight, we’ll give the poor reporters a taste of the good life. And this Goulash — I mean, press is press, right?” Max paused to smile benevolently. “It might even give you two a chance to make up. Grease the review wheels, so to speak. Think of it as a humanitarian gesture.”
“Except that he’s not human.”
“Look, Kevin, this movie needs all the help it can get. I mean it’s not exactly—” Max paused to think what exactly it wasn’t. He waved a hand around. “You know what I mean. You are great in it, of course. No question. Everyone is talking about your performance.” He got up and walked to the mid-century side bar beneath the window. “I apologize. I should have offered you a drink. Want one?”
Chopping the air in front of my mouth like a traffic cop trying to disentangle the words that had jammed up there, I finally managed to say, “Thanks to that shit stain who calls himself a reporter, you’re the only producer who will even hire me right now, Max — and I’m grateful. But, if you remember, that fat bastard wouldn’t get his camera out of my face even though I asked him nicely. So I broke his nose. He’s lucky I didn’t break every bone in his body.” I pointed a finger at Max. “And then the prick wasn’t content just to sue me — he had to hound me to death with that rag of his. And his so-called ‘exclusive’ with Tina, that traitorous bitch? You know I had too much respect to ever hit her or any woman.”
Max handed me a drink. “Sure, sure. I know that, Kevin. Tina told me you started seeing a therapist and you are really making an effort. She’s very proud of you, by the way.”
“Yeah, so proud she’s suing me for divorce.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that. But come on, Kevin — I need you to do this.” Max looked into his drink for a moment, took a sip and said, “Jake has agreed to it.”
“That’s because he doesn’t know any better. Wait until he’s been pawed awhile. I’d rather fly economy on a commercial jet. In fact, I’d rather fly in the cargo hold with the pets.”
There was a soft rap at the door. Max ran a hand over what was left of his hair, straightened his tie and smiled expectantly towards the door. “Think of the reviews, Kevin. It’s not like you don’t need them right now,” he said over his shoulder.
And so here I was — being a good little boy — playing with the reporters on the Gulfstream. I tipped my head back and downed the rest of my drink. The hypnotherapist had been a pleasant surprise. Those legs. She’d said it was “ill-advised” to go on the press tour so soon after starting treatment, but I knew better. I’m an actor. I’d be Mr. Unflappable. TOOK OUT After a few sessions, I was so mellow I bored the hell out of myself.
My eyes drifted back to the gaggle. About to slide a caviar-stuffed blini into his mouth, Viktor Gulin looked up and saw me. He removed a sausage-sized pinkie from the glass he was holding, AND waggled it in greeting. I gave Viktor a huge smile and a wave, then glanced out the window. The hypnochick would be proud.
When I turned back, Viktor was lowering his bulk into the seat next to me.
“Don’t worry. Just saying hello. Off the record,” Viktor grinned, revealing tiny black fish eggs between his front teeth. He held up a huge palm, mock-cringing behind it. “Don’t punch me.”
I laughed as if that was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. “Hey, no hard feelings, right, Vik?”
Viktor smiled. “No hard feelings, Kev.” He set his glass down on the tray table. “Not a bad film. Wouldn’t have thought you’d take a part in it so, well—” he held up his thumb and forefinger, “—tiny.”
I fanned a hand in Viktor’s direction. “It’s just the kind of thing I’ve always wanted to do. You know, push my limits.”
“Well, we’re just glad to see you at all on the big screen. It’s been too long.”
The airplane was beginning to feel stuffy. I pulled at my collar, then reached up to aim the air flow towards my face and press the button for the stewardess. She was there in seconds. “Can I get another?” I asked, rattling the ice in my glass and giving her my slightly sheepish-in-wolf’s-clothing grin.
She smiled, beautifully apologetic. “So sorry, Mr. Larsen, but we’ll be landing soon.”
I winked at her. “I drink fast.”
There was a flutter of turbulence and she gripped the back of my seat.
I leaned forward. My throat felt dry, as if I’d been standing open mouthed in a sandstorm. ““Just get my drink. Please.”
Viktor interrupted me. “I think you can wait a few minutes, right Kev?”
That familiar sensation: a hot rush starting in my toes, working its way up through my groin and threatening to erupt from the top of my head and showering thermogenic inner core on anyone unfortunate enough to be standing nearby.
It is a beautiful day. There is a stream with a boat and you climb in and push off.
I looked over at the stewardess and attempted a smile. “Not a problem.”
Half a baguette and a slice of melting brie cheese sat on a platter in front of Victor and me.
“Are you going to eat that?” Viktor asked, pointing.
You are floating downstream, perfectly at ease.
"Kev?” Viktor asked again, sticking the tip of a bulbous finger into my bicep as if testing for doneness.
The air is warm with a soft breeze and you are completely calm and relaxed.
With a shrug, Viktor reached for the plate. It felt as if my eyeballs were beginning to spin in their sockets, building momentum until they were about to fire like twin cannonballs from my skull, then ricochet off the plane’s cabin walls and strike Viktor Gulin in the larynx, rendering him mute.
I said slowly, like a man in a trance, “Do not touch that cheese.”
“If you feel that strongly about it,” Viktor replied with a shrug. He feinted left as if about to get up, then with a sly smirk, dove for the plate. I lunged forward while Viktor with a deft movement for one so large swept IT off the table and hopped to his feet, hoisting the cheese plate briefly aloft like a victory torch. AS I leapt out of my seat in a twisting motion, my sideways momentum sent the cheese plate airborne, spinning like a discus, to land with a dull thud in the elegant lap of a red-haired actress seated across from us. She jumped up with a shrill scream just as we crashed into her.
Victor was splayed across a seat, his head lodged awkwardly against the armrest. My hands were wrapped around his fat neck. The bastard was grinning. I climbed off him and looked around.
The actress, crying and clutching her arm, was being consoled by Max. I recognized her now. His wife.
Viktor pulled himself up, still smiling, and whipped a linen napkin from beneath a tray — as if doing a magic trick — and wiped his bloodied mouth. He then used it to gesture gleefully over his shoulder at the group of reporters, cameras and cellphones out, busily documenting the entire performance. By the next morning the story had hit the internet like a cluster bomb. And what was left of my dwindling career was swept out to sea in a tsunami twitter feed of 280-character high waves.