lost ironies

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Tag: Hollywood

Brussels

The crows flew in that morning from the wrecking yards, a black mass low over the estuary, blocking the sun, landing inky on the rooftops and perching like judges in the trees. It wasn’t until later that I realised just how wrong it was, the cocking of a thousand eyes to see what shined.

The man in the seersucker suit and pencil mustache arrived in the back lane in a black chauffeur driven Continental shortly after I opened the garage sale, at 8:00 a.m. He wore thick-framed horn rimmed glasses with dark lenses, and smoked cigarettes with gold foil filters. My neighbour, the ageing Mrs Faulkner, had arrived a moment before him, and was rummaging through crates of old first editions.

“I’ll take that box,” he said to me, pointing to an old Miller Beer crate behind him. He had an English accent and a hazy charm. His chauffeur stepped forward to fetch and carry the dusty old box away.

“But you don’t even know what’s in it,” I said.

“How much?” he asked.

“$10.”

He handed me a fifty, and told me to keep it.

The box disappear into the trunk of the car, as the man began to browse. He smiled fondly as he picked up pieces to view them, occasionally holding one at arm’s length and grinning warmly, then replacing it reverently on a table. As he browsed further, he approached the place where I’d set up a table and a stool for myself. On the table, there was a locked display case containing jewellery.

He stopped there, and asked, “May I?”

“Yes, certainly.” I rummaged in my pocket for the key.

When opened, the man reached into the case and took out a man’s ring in a ring box with yellowing satin. He seemed to stand straighter with it in his hand, holding it up for the sun to glint off of the green stone in its setting. There was some momentary memory of contentment in his expression, and something else. He removed the ring from its box, and placed it on his left ring finger, then held his hand out again.

“There you are,” he said. “I’ve finally found you.”

“You’re not from around here, are you?” I said. The words had slipped out before I could contain them.

“No,” he said, turning round to look at me. “I’m originally from Bristol, England, but now I live in Los Angeles. Does it show?”

“No. I’m sorry. It’s none of my business.”

“Nonsense,” he said. “Isn’t that what a garage sale is for, besides the redistribution of wealth, I mean. Aren’t they for breaking the ice, getting know one another?”

I noticed a longish pink scar on his right cheek. He touched it with his finger and turned away.

“It’s a very long way to come for a garage sale,” I said.

“Yes,” he agreed. “But there was some word of it in my little circle. The last chance at some very nice old pieces from a more splendid past.”

“But this is Vancouver,” I said. “How could there be word of it in Los Angeles?”

Without answering, he placed a hand on one of two wooden chairs. “You know these are Chippendale, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I said, sheepishly.

“Rather a low price for such precious items.” He pointed to a card attached with masking tape. $20, written in black felt pen. “Fire sale prices, I’d say.”

I shrugged.

“It’s how he wanted it, isn’t it,” said the man, sitting down on the chair. “Malcolm was a grand old eccentric.” He pulled a flask out of his jacket pocket. “Have a nip?” he said, offering it to me first.

“No. Look, who are you?”

“Oh, just a shameless Hollywood hanger-on.”

“But it’s obvious that you knew my Uncle Malcolm, somehow.”

He suppressed a laugh, and took a belt from the flask.

“Forgive me,” he said, holding up a hand. “But to hear him referred to as Uncle Malcolm….” He shook his head, and took off his dark glasses.

His eyes were a pale blue. Now I noticed his age, his carefully disguised frailty.

“You knew him well enough to care about what’s left, to come all the way here to look?”

“Much of this we shared, my boy. At least for a time. I haven’t seen these pieces in decades, but it’s like yesterday.”

“I don’t understand?”

Malcolm Pierce had died three months before, at ninety-five years of age. In his will, he’d asked that many of his material possessions, the ones not inherited by friends and family, be disposed of in this way, out of my garage. He’d specified it be …an informal event, without hoopla. And that it be held out of my nondescript home, where the unknowing neighbours could shop the oddities and buy them for cheap, before any of the Hollywood death-savvy eBay types could get their meat hooks into them.

Everything was sent up UPS from California, with an inventory and his absurdly low set prices. Sending it must have cost a fortune, but he’d been a moneyed man.

“They were together,” said Mrs Faulkner, who had come over to listen in. “He and Malcolm. At least that’s what the gossip magazines hinted at, back then.” She was beaming. “This is Timothy Colt,” she said, then held out her hand. Timothy Colt took it gently for a moment.

“A pleasure, my Lady,” he smiled.

In Mrs Faulkner’s other hand was a book, entitled Brussels, which had come from the boxes of first editions. She opened it, and on the back flap of the dust jacket was a picture of a much younger version of the man now sitting in the Chippendale chair.

He looked up at me, his face, for the moment, hard and grim.

“Yes,” he said, “That’s what they hinted at. And even the godawful gossip magazines got it right sometimes. Of course, it never occurred to me that I’d finally and absolutely be outed by a darling old lady at a garage sale.” He grinned.

“Oh dear!” said Mrs Faulkner. “I’m sorry. We, I mean everyone, always assumed it was true, and that you’d already been outed.”

“Yes and no,” he said, “as things go. Nothing was ever confirmed; why should it have been? I’m a writer, which made me suspect. Gossip and hints were all we had back then, all anyone needed. They were enough to inform the sympathetic and the cruel. There was much ambivalence in between, of course.”

“Would you?” said Mrs Faulkner, holding Brussels forth. She produced a pen and offered the novel to Timothy Colt.

“With pleasure, ma’am. What is your name?”

“Beatrix,” she said. Like him, she seemed to be holding back tears.

Timothy turned to the title page, and began. “To Beatrix, with my greatest regard,” he said as he wrote. Then with a flourish of the pen, he said, “Timothy Colt.” Then handed back the book.

“Oh, thank you.” She held it to her bosom. “I read it in 1955,” Beatrix Faulkner said. “When it first came onto the shelves. It’s so beautifully written, so tragic. I read it three times, the first time in two nights. Naturally, I did it secretly. It was scandalous, even dangerous. And I was just a girl working in an office.”

“Scandalous?” I said. “Why scandalous?”

“It was a romance novel, my boy,” Timothy said. “But with a twist.” He gave me a wink, his grim look now gone. “How it ever got published in 1955 remains a mystery. And the screen adaptation…! That remains the greatest mystery of all.”

“I think I know the answer,” I said. “But tell me all the same. What was the twist?”

“Two lovers,” he said. “Or, perhaps not lovers at all. I left that to the reader to decide. Although in retrospect, I think I may have made it impossible for the reader to come to any other conclusion. It takes place in postwar Belgium, hence the title. The protagonists, are both men. The critics were torn. Unwritten reviews praised it. The written ones did not. Literary critics know upon which plate their dinner is served. I blame no one.”

“They treated it like smut,” Beatrix said.

“Yes, they did,” said Timothy. “And of course I was immediately labelled a communist, and blacklisted. But I had a very enduring ally.”

“Uncle Malcolm,” I said.

“Indeed. He was one of Hollywood’s top screenwriters, at the time. And I was young, and talented, if I do say so myself. Also rather handsome, some said. Malcolm took me under his wing for more than purely literary reasons, and I acquiesced without much thought. I was lonely in Hollywood, and predisposed. He arranged for us to meet for lunch one day, and the rest is rowdy history.”

“So he wrote the screen adaptation of your scandalous novel?”

“We did it together, partially in an MGM bungalow on the studio lot, but mostly in his house just outside of San Diego. We began in the autumn of 1955. By spring of ’56, we had Otto Preminger interested in directing and producing, and there were whispers that United Artists might distribute. The film would never receive the Hollywood Production Code seal of approval nor MPAA certification, we knew that much. But I was convinced, in a childish way, that its being made in Hollywood was incidental, that its meaning and intent was far greater than the studio Machine.”

He paused, sighed and brushed something invisible off of his knee.

“We even had Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift,” he said, sadly. “All hush hush, obviously. Poor Monty. Poor Roy. The moments when their characters would have touched were never to appear in the script. That’s how adaptations are, and it was my duty as author of the novel to protest. But my protests were only token ones. I smelled success. Maybe I should have said more.”

“And you and Malcolm were in love,” Beatrix said, a statement that might have been a question. She was in love with the idea, for her own reasons.

Timothy twisted the ring on his finger. “Perhaps I was,” he said. “I wasn’t a boy, but I was an innocent. How could I know what I felt? He was much older. Which was more grease for the gossip wheels.

“We got the script as far as the read-through room, where everyone sits round the table and simply reads their parts aloud, without acting. Rock and Monty were there, and Preminger, and some of the money people, along with a very stern looking man and woman who sat at the back of the room. When Otto saw them walk in late, as a hired actor read the opening narrative, he sighed deeply and looked over at Malcolm.

“The man and woman listened chastely to the read-through, and took notes. At the end, they stood and left without a word.”

“Who were they?” Beatrix said.

“The censors, of course. Censors were everywhere, back then. There were more censors in Hollywood than aspiring actors. Otto told us to take heart. That he’d pull strings. So we waited a week, and then the whole production was shut down.

“Your Uncle Malcolm went into a rage when he found out. We were living together by then, in his house in San Diego. It was a lovely, very brief, very romantic time before the censors banned the script.

“When we got the news, he drank and raved for a week. I had no idea he was capable of such behaviour. He’d considered the Brussels screenplay to be a masterpiece, and it was banned by petty bureaucrats, he said. He became violent with the servants. One day when I tried to console him, he beat the hell out of me! Can you imagine? And in my naivety, I went back to try to comfort him.”

“And he beat you again,” I said.

“And a little more.” He put his hand to his scarred cheek. “I know that this all must be very difficult for you to hear,” he said.

I had no opinion. I’d only met my uncle once, at Christmas in my parents’ home. I was seven years old. He seemed very grand to me, a king in a throne, even though it was just my father’s L-Z-Boy. The family talk was that he was a great but troubled man, prone to outbursts and melancholy. I recalled that he smelled like cologne and Canadian Club. After dinner, when he’d had too much to drink, he gave me an American $5 bill, and sent me on my way. I never saw him again, except in the papers, and then in his obituary. It was a 1960s stock studio photo of an unsmiling man, from the waste up, sitting in a chair, wearing jacket and tie, holding a pipe in his hand. The photo told me nothing about him.

“All copies of the script were held onto by MGM,” Timothy said, “before and after the read-through. They were studio property, after all. Malcolm managed to rescue them from the incinerator, though. He knew people: a receptionist, who knew a secretary, who knew the sister of an associate to the assistant producer, who knew a studio page, who knew the custodian who had wheeled them away toward destruction.

“Once secured, he brought them home, and put them in an old beer crate labelled Miller. Then after his breakdown, he forgot about them.” Timothy Colt stopped there, looking round him. Then he closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.

“I moved away,” he said, looking again at the gem on his finger. “Not wanting to live through a similar heartbreak. In a last effort to hold on, he gave me this ring at a special dinner at the Dal Rae. “Eighteen karat gold,” he said, holding out his hand. “And an emerald of exquisite clarity. A gem of finest water they would have once said. Not too big, not too garish. But I know it cost him a small fortune. It’s just right, isn’t it?”

“It’s a very fine thing,” Beatrix said.

“I didn’t accept it, naturally. It would have meant going back.”

“Yes, I imagine it would have.”

“How much for it now?” Timothy said to me. “And don’t say you’ll give it to me for free, under the circumstances.”

“He priced it at $25.”

Timothy thought a moment, sighed, and then said, “I guess that is its true worth. Like any abusive lover, he had always maintained that I abandoned him. Maybe I did. It all depends on how one measures such things.” He placed some bills in my hand.

“I used the money I earned from book sales to return to Berkley,” said Timothy, “to get my master’s degree. I’ve taught there and written novels ever since—but that’s common knowledge, quite boring.”

“Ten beautiful novels,” Beatrix said. “One of each is in the boxes on the tables. Each one well read, judging by their condition. He must not have given up on you, completely.”

“You’re a love,” Timothy said, and gently squeezed her arthritic hand.

“So, in a way,” I said, “this entire inventory is yours.”

“No no. I have what I came for, the scripts in the trunk of the car, and this lovely ring. Who could have known that two small purchases could resolve so much. I have a wonderful home to return to. And at the end of the day, a few small memories are more comfortable than many grand ones.”

He gave me back the box the ring came in.

“Dispose of that, will you? I won’t be needing it.”

The crows in the trees and on the roofs flew away in a great dark cloud shortly after Timothy Colt was driven away in his Continental, and I made a gift of the two Chippendale chairs to the misty-eyed Beatrix Faulkner.

 

 

 

 

the producer

The producer drove east with all the windows down on Interstate 40 through the moon glow Mojave Desert. He checked his watch. It was 1:01 a.m., and he thought about all the chumps out there to the invisible horizon who’d dug their own graves.

He was ready to drive Pacific to Atlantic, to avoid the same fate. Hollywood was a history lesson. Now he hoped to end up in a small town. Maine, he imagined. That sounded good. Nice and anonymous. Maybe he’d write. Publish under a pseudonym. Use a woman’s name and remain underground as long as he could. Perhaps forever. Forever sounded real good.

The Ford was new but basic. It would get him where he wanted to go in simple proletariat splendor. He’d wait until New Mexico before he insured it. He laid his hand on the brown paper bag, content in his belief that the money could last a year or two if he was careful. Buy a house with cash like he did the car, and sit on the porch in the evening and make like it was all a Norman Rockwell print.

He got Barstow on the radio, the late night news. The LA crime Family had been up to no good. The body of a character named Rosy Cola, a mob up-and-comer, and two unnamed associates had been found in an alley with their throats cut. A professional hit the cops said. The wages of crime said the pious announcer. The producer wondered if it would be madness to write about it one day. Then threw his father’s razor out into the desert, leaving it behind doing sixty.

Hollywood California, in his office on the phone, a few days before, sort of in the late 1950s

“Thank you for calling Central Casting,” a cheerful switchboard operator said. “Call volume is extremely high, so I’m putting you on hold. One of our agents will be with you shortly. Thank you for calling Central Casting.”

“Son of a bitch,” Oscar Child muttered. “Goddamn bastard son of a bitch.” He picked up a sharpened pencil and twisted its tip into a note pad. “Fuck!”

In the near silence came the thoughts of a desperate man, who’d been placed indefinitely on hold: We all pray in the end, if not to God then to the End itself. (Oscar Child decided he preferred the latter, and composed his prayer.)—Dear End, you dirty son-of-a-bitch, let it be dignified when you finally knock on my door. You prick. Just a bullet or a quick toss out the window. Maybe a little something in a drive-by shooting. Please, no drawn out trip to the waterfront in the trunk of a car. No shit kicking preamble. No switchblades or icepicks.

Then there came a click.

The operator repeated herself, “Central Casting, The switchboard’s busy due to a high volume of calls. I’ll put you on hold and get right back to you.”

“No, wait. I don’t want to be on hold. I’ve already been on hold for ten minutes. Wait, no!”

Dead air all over again. Clicks and hiss and an overlapping ghost call, very faint and far away, a man’s voice, barely audible, shouting and crying, “Never in Burbank. I’ll cut my wrists first!”

Then the sound of a receiver being lifted out of its cradle and a woman coughing.

“Hello?” Child said, remembering to be cautious. These people were barracudas; they could smell fear. “Look,” he said, “we need a one legged woman. The right leg preferably, but a missing left’ll do if that’s all you’ve got. We can change camera angles if we have to.”

“What for?” said the woman on at the other end. Her chewing gum voice might have been familiar. Or maybe all dames sounded the same.

“A movie,” he said. “What else? This is Oscar Child speaking, the producer.”

“Who?”

“I don’t usually do the casting work, ‘cept in a pinch. But this ain’t no pinch. It’s just a rush call, so don’t go thinking I’m panicking or anything. Everything’s copacetic at my end.”

The line went quiet, except for the sound of other agents talking in the background.

Then the woman said, “Oscar Wild, you say? I’m checking.” Pause. “You’re not on my Rolodex, mister. Let me check the file cabinet. Wild, Oscar, right? Like that fag writer from a hundred years ago? I hope this ain’t no joke, fella. I don’t have time for joking around.”

“No it’s Oscar Child, Child. Willya just listen? We can talk about how much I hate my mother later. This broad we need’s gotta be an opera singer, too. It’s a Three Stooges feature, get it? It’s gonna be their big comeback. But that’s hush-hush, understand?”

“A one legged opera singer, eh? That’s kinky. Oh yeah, here you are, Oscar Child. You’re on the Rolodex, after all. A to C. But we ain’t got no dames with one leg that sings opera. I think we got a tap dancer, but I might’ve been drinking.”

“This is Central Casting, isn’t it?” Child said. “Aren’t you supposed to have a variety of experienced performers for bit parts? Who am I talking to?”

“It’s Rebecca Malinowski, Mr Child. We’ve worked together before, you and me. Remember, that circus comedy thriller with June Russell, before her bust went bust, with the riot scene in the second act with all the dwarves tryin’ to unionize but the circus owner’s a real fascist bastard and brings out the elephants and fire hoses, but the day’s saved by a strapping young and handsome but tragic quasi-socialist war hero whose probably a homo with a hula girl tattoo and a heart of gold? What was it called again?”

Birth of a Socialist Nation.”

“That was quite the call,” said Rebecca Malinowski, “200 dwarves, I’ll say.”

“Yeah well you came up short and we had to fill in an awful lot of empty space with non-dwarves. Wound up shanghaiing winos off the street, and had ‘em running around on their knees. Had to pay them extra hooch, thanks to you, for all the scrapes.”

“And what a flop, huh?”

“It was meant to be a statement not a block buster.” He wondered why it sounded like he was apologising. “It was for, and of the people.” He was tired of apologising for Birth of a Socialist Nation.

“I heard it was financed with mob money, too. What a mistake, I’ll say.”

“Look, just say you got what I need.”

“Well this is a rare bird you’re asking me for,” Malinowski said. “I guess we could run an ad.”

“No we need her like yesterday. The whole damn plot hinges on it. But don’t get me wrong, everything’s just swell on our end. I’m not worried, really. How about just some gal with the one leg, no opera singing necessary. We can do a voice-over, even if it ain’t in the budget.”

“I don’t know. I’ll check the files and get back to you. You may be in a pickle, though. I’m thinking we may have to charge a little extra.”

“No!” Child barked. “I mean I’m a good customer. You said so yourself. I’m spending other people’s money here. You’re taking advantage of the situation. It’s un-American.”

“Hey, I was in the USO, fella. I spent the whole Second World War in Honolulu slappin’ sailors. Don’t tell me I’m un-American.”

“You’re killin’ me here,” said Child, “you know that? And just before they blow my head off, my last request will be for them to drop my body off on your desk so you can live with the result of your jacking me around like the fucking useless bimbo you are when you could have done your goddam job. Hopefully I’ll crap my pants when my brains splatter so I really stink up your office and make you wish you were more accommodating businesswise when you had a chance. Put that in your pig shit crapping mother fucking Rolodex and smoke it, you US Navy slut.”

Click.

“Hello?” Oscar Child shouted. “Fuck.”

After throwing the phone across the room, he went into his bathroom and opened the cabinet, and stood looking in. Reaching the end of one’s rope, he noticed, came with a spookily calming sense of deliverance.

He knew what he had to do, but had only a vague idea of how. The alley behind the automat, greasy and dim. How ever it turned out, he knew it would be his greatest achievement.

Sitting the lowest shelf in the cabinet was his father’s old straight razor. He’d never used it before. It scared the hell out of him. He stuffed it into his pocket and put on his jacket.

a month and a half earlier—the meeting that led to this whole mess

“So zip it and listen,” Rosy Cola said to Oscar Child, who hadn’t yet spoken. They sat together in the busy Finster’s Automat on South Main.

Rosy was a smallish man with a boyish face and soft hands, and tried to make up for it with a cigarette behind his ear, a book of matches in his hat band and a balisong knife in his sock. Finster’s was Rosy’s favourite joint, and he was a late night regular for dinner and off-the-radar meetings.

Two of Cola’s larger associates sat a few stools down, slurping back their Spaghetti Bolognese.

“Washing the cash,” said Rosy Cola, “goes like this. And remember, I’m tellin’ you this because you’re a tenderfoot, not because I like you. I don’t want no case for you ruining an excellent opportunity out of ignorance.

“With the washing of the moolah,” Cola continued, “I give you the dough that stinks because it’s ill-gotten, see? Then you transform it into semi-legit assets by putting it into your bank account and using it to make a movie, and then paying me back my investment plus the profits, real square kinda. That’s the washing part, simple. ‘Cept it ain’t really washing unless I get the clean dough back after it’s got washed. That’s where the pay-back part comes in. You with me so far, daddyo? Then after you pay me back my investment and profits, you pay me what you already owe me from before with the interest. Isn’t that great?”

“Of course, terrific, wonderful.” Child took a bite of his lemon meringue pie, and chewed stoically.

“Now I gotta tell ya though,” Cola said. “I gotta a niece, see? A real brainiac this girl is, and she says a situation like this is called a paradox. And if I understand her right, a paradox ain’t a sure bet. You see, you’re gonna do this for the Family because you’re a bum who owes the Family big time, but you’re also a bum because your films are flops and that’s why you owe the Family big time. That’s the paradox. But I don’t want no flop this time. I want a masterpiece, a cinematic achievement that’ll have the squares and the suckers linin’ up. I want it to rake in the wampum, capisce?”

“Of course, sure, real capisce.” Child gulped his coffee and burned his tongue. “But it’s really a distribution problem.”

Cola said, “I get it. You was black-listed. No one wants to touch you or your sick degenerate commy merchandise. But that don’t mean you don’t still owe my Family and me twenty-three grand.”

“That much?” Child said.

“That much.”

“You sure?”

“That’s this week’s total,” said Cola. “But maybe I can get some other degenerate mooks I got on the hook to handle the distribution part.”

Oscar Child chased a crumb round his plate with his fork and said, “With all due respect, Mr Cola, I’m an artist, not just a business man. I’m not a machine. Besides, no one’s sending me scripts anymore.”

Rosy Cola stared back, quiet for a moment, unused to backtalk, visibly disappointed in Child’s negativity and straining to keep the murder out of his eyes. Then he grinned and looked down at his untouched tuna fish sandwich and glass of milk.

“There I can help,” he said. “I gotta nephew. He’s got a corker of a script for you, a real masterpiece all ready to go. The squares are gonna love it. It’ll star the Three Stooges, see? Larry, Curly and Moe. Their manager says they’re ready for a comeback, and my nephew’s script is golden. It’s a romantic historical drama with a message, understand? The Stooges wanna go straight and do some dramatic work. The script’s spicy hot and ready to blast-off, baby. You just have to raise the cash and put it all together.”

“But I thought you were making the investment,” Oscar Child said, “with the ill-gotten dough.”

“I already have. I bought my nephew’s script. Cost me ten grand. The kid knows how to bargain. I’ll give him that.”

“Ten grand for a script?”

“Now you see why success is an absolute necessity,” said Cola.

“Look, Mr Cola I’m broke. The standard Hollywood money’s out of the question. The studios and the legitimate lenders won’t come near me.”

“Then I guess you’ll need another loan. I’m ready to write the cheque.”

“A cheque?”

“In a manner of speakin’.”

“I’m not a good risk, Mr Cola. I think you know that.”

“But there ain’t no one in town who recognises my nephew’s script writing genius, but you will because what the hell else you gonna do? You’re the guy, see? You gotta read it. It almost sings. Sal, bring over the script.”

A couple of stools down, one of the big men put down his fork, rummaged through a satchel and then held up a stained, dog-eared and unbound type-written stack of pages. Then he reverently placed it in Cola’s small soft hand.

“Just listen to this,” Rosy said. “This is the opening where he’s setting the scene. It goes like this: The pong of richly orchestrated bosa nova is on the air. Poolside, there are cabana boys and a marimba band plays the Mexican Hat Dance. Happy hotel customers sip rum and pineapple cocktails, as dancing chiquita girls greet our three stars.

“Waddaya say?” said Rosy Cola, beaming like an imbecile. “Pretty damn classy, huh?”

Oscar Child said, “But how can the pong of richly orchestrated bosa nova be on the air if the marimba band’s playing the Mexican Hat Dance? And what’s a chiquita girl?”

Rosy Cola’s imbecilic beam faded.

“You listen to me,” he said, gulping back his milk and slamming the glass down on the counter. Then lighting the cigarette from behind his ear, he drew so hard that half of it disappeared first drag, and he inhaled like it was his terminal breath. “I don’t gotta do this. You’re just some pinko fucking castrato that owes me money, just like all them other deadbeats whose graves I had them dig themselves out in the desert. I could mail your intestines to yer fucking Aunt Tilly in a plain brown parcel, and there’re people in the Family who’d like that.”

“But not just anyone can write a script,” Child pleaded. “There has to be a basic talent. It’s not only an art, but a science. There’s serious technique involved. Technique that has to be learned. Some scripts take years to research and develop, to write and workshop, and then be rewriten again and again. How many scripts has your nephew written?”

“Just this,” Cola said, lovingly stroking the pile of smeared pages. “He’s only twenty years old, just breakin’ into the business.”

“Then he’s still a youngster. Let him go to school. UCLA has a great program. I know people on the faculty. I can get him in, even with a third grade education.”

“Don’t be a smartass. He’s got grade five.”

“Whatever.”

“I want a business plan by Monday?”

“Monday? Which Monday?”

“The Monday after Sunday.”

“This Sunday?”

Rosy Cola nodded.

“That’s only four days away. It’s impossible.”

“Your own hole in the desert,” Cola said. “Think about it.”

“Shit.”

“And I want production in full swing within the month. Actin’ and directin’, the works.”

Child said, “You don’t understand the business, Mr Cola.”

“Franky,” Rosy Cola said, and one of the big men got up, pulling the napkin out of his collar.

“Okay,” said Oscar Child. “Sure sure, alright.”

“Here’s some green to get you started.” Rosy slid a paper bag over to Oscar. “Get receipts and keep ‘em.”

Cola and his boys got up and went to leave by the backdoor, through the kitchen. But before they went behind the counter, Rosy said, “Hey Franky, waddaya call a fella sitting alone in an automat with a bag full of mob money and no choices?”

“I don’t know boss,” Franky said. “What do you call a fella sitting in an automat with a bag full of mob money and no choices?”

“HA! A Hollywood producer! You get it?”

Franky laughed and slapped Rosy Cola on the back. “Sure I get it! That’s a good one, boss!”

Cola said, “I already told ya, Franky. No back slapping.”

“Sure boss.”

*   *   *

Now on the highway chasing the moon across the Mojave toward freedom, Oscar Child remembered and hoped he’d have a chance, himself, to tell that joke one day.

 

 

 

 

 

heartbreak garage sale

The crows flew in that morning from the wrecking yards, a black mass low over the estuary, blocking the sun, landing inky on the rooftops and perching like judges in the trees. It wasn’t until later that I realised just how wrong it was, the cocking of a thousand eyes to see what shined.

The man in the seersucker suit and pencil mustache arrived in the back lane in a black chauffeur driven Continental shortly after I opened the garage doors, at 8:00 a.m. He wore thick-framed horn rimmed glasses with dark lenses, and smoked cigarettes with gold foil filters. My neighbour, the ageing Mrs Faulkner, had arrived a moment before him, and was rummaging through crates of old first editions.

“I’ll take that box,” he said to me, pointing to an old Miller Beer crate behind him. He had an English accent and a hazy charm. His chauffeur stepped forward to fetch and carry the dusty old box away.

“But you don’t even know what’s in it,” I said.

“How much?” he asked.

“$10.”

He handed me a fifty, and told me to keep it.

The box disappear into the trunk of the car, as the man began to browse. He smiled fondly as he picked up pieces to view them, occasionally holding one at arm’s length and grinning warmly, then replacing it reverently on a table. As he browsed further, and approached the place where I had set a stool for myself and a small cashbox underneath. On the table, there was a locked display case containing jewellery.

He stopped there, and asked, “May I?”

“Yes, certainly.” I rummaged in my pocket for the key.

When opened, the man reached into the case and took out a ring in a ring box with yellowing satin. He seemed to stand straighter with it in his hand, holding it up for the sun to glint off of the green stone in its setting. There was some momentary memory of contentment in his expression, and something else. He removed the ring from its box, and placed it on his left ring finger, then held his hand out again.

“There you are,” he said. “I’ve finally found you.”

“You’re not from around here, are you?” I said. The words had slipped out before I could contain them.

“No,” he said, turning round to look at me. “I’m originally from Bristol, England, but now I live in Los Angeles. Does it show?”

“No. I’m sorry. It’s none of my business.”

“Nonsense,” he said. “Isn’t that what a garage sale is for, besides the redistribution of wealth, I mean. Aren’t they for breaking the ice, getting know one another?”

I noticed a longish pink scar on his right cheek. He touched it with his finger and turned away.

“It’s a very long way to come for a garage sale,” I said.

“Yes,” he agreed. “But there was some word of it in my little circle. The last chance at some very nice old pieces from a more splendid past.”

“But this is Vancouver,” I said. “How could there be word of it in Los Angeles?”

Without answering, he placed a hand on one of two wooden chairs. “You know these are Chippendale, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I said, sheepishly.

“Rather a low price for such precious items.” He fingered a card attached with masking tape. $20, written in black felt pen. “Fire sale prices, I’d say.”

I shrugged.

“It’s how he wanted it, isn’t it,” said the man, sitting down on the chair. “Malcolm was a grand old eccentric.” He pulled a flask out of his jacket pocket.

“Have a nip?” he said, offering it to me first.

“No. Look, who are you?”

“Oh, just a shameless Hollywood hanger-on.”

“But it’s obvious that you knew my Uncle Malcolm, somehow.”

He suppressed a laugh, and took a belt from the flask.

“Forgive me,” he said, holding up a hand. “But to hear him referred to as Uncle Malcolm….” He shook his head, and took off his dark glasses.

His eyes were a pale blue. Now I noticed his age, his carefully disguised frailty.

“You knew him well enough to care about what’s left, to come all the way here to look?”

“Much of this we shared, my boy. At least for a time. I haven’t seen these pieces in decades, but it’s like yesterday.”

“I don’t understand?”

Malcolm Pierce had died three months before, at ninety-five years of age. In his will, he’d asked that many of his material possessions, the ones not inherited by friends and family, be disposed of in this way, out of my garage. He’d specified it be …an informal event, without hoopla. And that it be held out of my nondescript home, where the unknowing neighbours could shop the oddities and buy them for cheap, before any of the Hollywood death-savvy eBay types could get their meat hooks into them.

Everything was sent up UPS from California, with an inventory and his absurdly low set prices. Sending it must have cost a fortune, but he’d been a moneyed man.

“They were together,” said Mrs Faulkner, who had come over to listen in. “He and Malcolm. At least that’s what the gossip magazines hinted at, back then.” She was beaming. “This is Timothy Colt,” she said, then held out her hand. Timothy Colt took it gently for a moment.

“A pleasure, my Lady,” he smiled.

In Mrs Faulkner’s other hand was a book, entitled Brussels, which had come from the boxes of first editions. She opened it, and on the back flap of the dust jacket was a picture of a much younger version of the man now sitting in the Chippendale chair.

He looked up at me, his face, for the moment, hard and grim.

“Yes,” he said, “That’s what they hinted at. And even the godawful gossip magazines got it right sometimes. Of course, it never occurred to me that I’d finally and absolutely be outed by a darling old lady at a garage sale.” He grinned.

“Oh dear!” said Mrs Faulkner. “I’m sorry. We, I mean everyone, always assumed it was true, and that you’d already been outed.”

“Yes and no,” he said, “as things go. Nothing was ever confirmed; why should it have been? I’m a writer, which made me suspect. Gossip and hints were all we had back then, all anyone needed. They were enough to inform the sympathetic and the cruel. There was much ambivalence in between, of course.”

“Would you?” said Mrs Faulkner, holding Brussels forth. She produced a pen and offered the novel to Timothy Colt.

“With pleasure, ma’am. What is your name?”

“Beatrix,” she said. Like him, she seemed to be holding back tears.

Timothy turned to the title page, and began. “To Beatrix, with my greatest regard,” he said as he wrote. Then with a flourish of the pen, he said, “Timothy Colt.” Then handed back the book.

“Oh, thank you.” She held it to her bosom. “I read it in 1955,” Beatrix Faulkner said. “When it first came onto the shelves. It’s so beautifully written, so tragic. I read it three times, the first time in two nights. Naturally, I did it secretly. It was scandalous, even dangerous. And I was just a girl working in an office.”

“Scandalous?” I said. “Why scandalous?”

“It was a romance novel, my boy,” Timothy said. “But with a twist.” He gave me a wink, his grim look now gone. “How it ever got published in 1955 remains a mystery. And the screen adaptation…! That remains the greatest mystery of all.”

“I think I know the answer,” I said. “But tell me all the same. What was the twist?”

“Two lovers,” he said. “Or, perhaps not lovers at all. I left that to the reader to decide. Although in retrospect, I think I may have made it impossible for the reader to come to any other conclusion. It takes place in postwar Belgium, hence the title. The protagonists, are both men. The critics were torn. Unwritten reviews praised it. The written ones did not. Literary critics know upon which plate their dinner is served. I blame no one.”

“They treated it like smut,” Beatrix said.

“Yes, they did,” said Timothy. “And of course I was immediately labelled a communist, and blacklisted. But I had a very enduring ally.”

“Uncle Malcolm,” I said.

“Indeed. He was one of Hollywood’s top screenwriters, at the time. And I was young, and talented, if I do say so myself. Also rather handsome, some said. Malcolm took me under his wing for more than purely literary reasons, and I acquiesced without much thought. I was lonely in Hollywood, and predisposed. He arranged for us to meet for lunch one day, and the rest is rowdy history.”

“So he wrote the screen adaptation of your scandalous novel?”

“We did it together, partially in an MGM bungalow on the studio lot, but mostly in his house just outside of San Diego. We began in the autumn of 1955. By spring of ’56, we had Otto Preminger interested in directing and producing, and there were whispers that United Artists might distribute. The film would never receive the Hollywood Production Code seal of approval nor MPAA certification, we knew that much. But I was convinced, in a childish way, that its being made in Hollywood was incidental, that its meaning was far greater than that of the studio Machine.”

He paused, sighed and brushed something invisible off of his knee.

“We even had Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift,” he said, sadly. “All hush hush, obviously. Poor Monty. Poor Roy. The moments when their characters would have touched were never to appear in the script. That’s how adaptations are, and it was my duty as author of the novel to protest. But my protests were only token ones. I smelled success. Maybe I should have said more.”

“And you and Malcolm were in love,” Beatrix said, a statement that might have been a question. She was in love with the idea, for her own reasons.

Timothy twisted the ring on his finger. “Perhaps I was,” he said. “I wasn’t a boy, but I was an innocent. How could I know what I felt? He was much older. Which was more grease for the gossip wheels.

“We got the script as far as the read-through room, where everyone sits round the table and simply reads their parts aloud, without acting. Rock and Monty were there, and Preminger, and some of the money people, along with a very stern looking man and woman who sat at the back of the room. When Otto saw them walk in late, as a hired actor read the opening narrative, he sighed deeply and looked over at Malcolm.

“The man and woman listened chastely to the read-through, and took notes. At the end, they stood and left without a word.”

“Who were they?” Beatrix said.

“The censors, of course. Censors were everywhere, back then. There were more censors in Hollywood than aspiring actors. Otto told us to take heart. That he’d pull strings. So we waited a week, and then the whole production was shut down.

“Your Uncle Malcolm went into a rage when he found out. We were living together by then, in his house in San Diego. It was a lovely, very romantic time, before the censors banned the script.

“When we got the news, he drank and raved for a week. I had no idea he was capable of such behaviour. He’d considered the Brussels screenplay to be a masterpiece, and it was banned by petty bureaucrats, he said. He became violent with the servants. One day when I tried to console him, he beat the hell out of me! Can you imagine? And in my naivety, I went back to try to comfort him.”

“And he beat you again,” I said.

“And a little more.” He put his hand to his scarred cheek.

“I know that this all must be very difficult for you to hear,” he said.

I had no opinion. I’d only met my uncle once, at Christmas in my parents’ home. I was seven years old. He seemed very grand to me, a king in a throne, even though it was just my father’s L-Z-Boy. The family talk was that he was a great but troubled man, prone to outbursts and melancholy. I recalled that he smelled like cologne and Canadian Club. After dinner, when he’d had too much to drink, he gave me an American $5 bill, and sent me on my way. I never saw him again, except in the papers, and then in his obituary. It was a 1960s stock studio photo of an unsmiling man, from the waste up, sitting in a chair, wearing jacket and tie, holding a pipe in his hand. The photo told me nothing about him.

“The scripts had been held securely in an MGM safe,” Timothy said, “before the read-through. They were studio property, after all. Somehow, Malcolm managed to rescue them from the incinerator, afterwards. He knew people: a receptionist, who knew a secretary, who knew the sister of an associate to the assistant producer, who knew a studio page, who knew the custodian who had wheeled them away toward destruction.

“Once secured, he brought them home, and put them in an old beer crate labelled Miller. Then after his breakdown, he forgot about them.”

Timothy Colt stopped there, looking round him. Then he closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.

“I moved away,” he said, looking again at the gem on his finger. “Not wanting to live through a similar heartbreak. In a last effort to hold on, he gave me this ring at a special dinner at the Dal Rae.

“Eighteen karat gold,” he said, holding out his hand. “And an emerald of exquisite clarity. A gem of finest water they would have once said. Not too big, not too garish. But I know it cost him a small fortune. It’s just right, isn’t it?”

“It’s a very fine thing,” Beatrix said.

“I didn’t accept it, naturally. It would have meant going back.”

“Yes, I imagine it would have.”

“How much for it now?” Timothy said to me. “And don’t say you’ll give it to me for free, under the circumstances.”

“He priced it at $25.”

Timothy thought a moment, sighed, and then said, “I guess that is its true worth. Like any abusive lover, he had always maintained that I abandoned him. Maybe I did. It all depends on how one measures such things.” He placed some bills in my hand.

“I used the money I earned from book sales to return to Berkley,” said Timothy, “to get my master’s degree. I’ve taught there and written novels ever since—but that’s common knowledge, quite boring.”

“Ten beautiful novels,” Beatrix said. “One of each is in the boxes on the tables. Each one well read, judging by their condition. He must not have given up on you, completely.”

“You’re a love,” he said, and gently squeezed her arthritic hand.

“So, in a way,” I said, “this entire inventory is yours.”

“No no. I have what I came for, the scripts in the trunk of the car, and this lovely ring. Who could have known that two such small purchases would have resolved so much. I have a wonderful home to return to. And at the end of the day, a few small memories are more comfortable than many grand ones.”

He gave me back the box the ring came in.

“Dispose of that, will you? I won’t be needing it.”

Hollywood

Fiduciary’s a word Producers like to throw around as much as lawyers. But for Producers, it’s all about the way it sounds coming out of an actor’s mouth. In a scene, the lawyer takes the private dick aside and says something like, You must remember the fiduciary nature of your relationship with the client. That’s when the private dick goes kind of slack jawed and stares at the coatrack, and the director shouts, Cut—Print it!

My point, I guess, is that it’s a cliché. But just like the private dick, it’s a cliché we tolerate because it makes the movie going public comfortable. There’s a lot of noise at writing school about avoiding clichés, but the racket quiets down once a writer starts working for dough. Because that’s when a guy comes to realise that thematic arcs and subliminal mysticism don’t pay the light bill. It’s the cringe-worthy little chestnuts that do.

I put the Producer’s memo endorsing the word fiduciary on the spike, and looked out the window. It was the first day of spring, all chickadees and daffodils. Another goddam cliché. A guy couldn’t turn round without stepping on one.

The script I was finishing was a dog. Just what they’d asked for. It would run right after the newsreel on double feature night, and be forgotten by intermission. I could probably deliver it by Tuesday, ahead of schedule. Then I could binge drink for a week and have the keys on my typewriter oiled and rotated.

There was just one more small but necessary element to the screenplay that was missing. The Noble Prostitute, Gladys, she needed her soliloquy. Something she could say before they took her away, for shooting the crumb who murdered the bum she wanted to marry. It would come in the third act, and need a lot of street level profundity. Because working girls never get a break. That’s what sells popcorn, baby. That’s screenwriting 101.

I put fresh paper into the Olivetti, and started to type. I was going to nail it. It got this way sometimes, when things were wrapping up. It was when I did my worst work. And the Studio boys loved every word of it—

FADE IN:
A ROOMFUL OF COPS. THERE’S A DEAD MAN ON THE FLOOR. A woman stands in the centre of it, hands cuffed behind her back. It’s 8 a.m. and she’s wearing a cheap evening dress with a wilting corsage. She’s got on her bravest face. She knows it’s over for her. And maybe she likes it that way. She talks to a detective.

GLADYS

(Mock pride and courage in her voice.) Sure, I loved him. And it wasn’t just infatuation, neither. Nah, it was real love. The kind that sticks to a girl like bug splat on a windshield. The kind of love that gets into her shoe on a rainy day and rubs up against her toe, and causes open sores that get all full of pus that makes squishy sounds when she walks around. 

That’s the kinda love I’m talking about. The kind a dame should be able to take to the bank, but she can’t because they don’t take love at the bank. You take love to the bank and the guard’ll wrestle you to the ground and kick you in the ribs. Not because he’s bad. But because he can’t get another job. Because his parents could only afford to send his older sister to barber college. And that’s the way the world is. A girl gets all covered in bug guts, her shoes make squishy noises and her ribs get kicked in by a bank guard named Chico. 

And sure, love’s for chumps. But so’s brushing your teeth with a screwdriver. And most people don’t do that. Not unless they’re screwy, or somethin’. But they all fall in love. Like Cupid’s holdin’ a gun to their heads. Like they can’t just say no, love ain’t for me. I’d rather eat a kitten on toast. 

Golly, do these handcuffs have to be so tight? It’s not like I’m gettin’ paid for this.

Yeah, I loved him. But he didn’t understand our fiduciary relationship. I guess that’s why he got all sloppy over me. And that was wrong from the start. Because a girl like me’s trouble with a capital “T”. Yeah, I know it. I see it in my face when I look in the mirror at night, when I’ve got one of them blind zits that kinda hurt, but you can’t pop ‘em, but you try, and they get all swollen and red, and it ends up looking like you gotta apple stapled to your forehead. 

So now I’m gonna get the chair. Sure, I know it. It’s been comin’ a long time. What chance has a dame like me got, anyway? Me with my squishy shoes and busted ribs. And the way guys forget to be fiduciary round me. Hell, I was born to fry in the chair. Yeah, put that on my tombstone, BORN TO FRY. That’ll give ‘em something to think about, you bet. 

Well, I guess we gotta go now. It’s prison chow and a cellmate named Butch for me from now on. I won’t squawk. I’ll go willingly. Because I’m little people. And little people can take it on the chin, and laugh about it. HA! Sure, I shot the nincompoop. And I’d do it again. Because learning from your mistakes is for squares. And my mother never raised no squares. 

THE END

And my mother never raised no squares. Pure gold. Money in the bank.

Joan Crawford in Vancouver (repost)

1950

The last light of the sunset over English Bay was a burnt orange. A False Creek mill, fully engulfed, filled the local skies with smoke. It had been an afternoon and evening of distant sirens. She watched the changing light from the window of the Sylvia Hotel lounge.

Rocky Solesino played his horn with anxious ease. Muted for the small room, so even occasional quiet laughter could be heard over the jazz. The woman in a Givenchy suit sat in a dark corner, chain smoking and drinking a large vodka on ice. The waiter arrived with another.

“Any news of the fire,” she asked, sounding amused.

“They’re just letting it burn out, Miss Crawford,” the waiter said, standing erect in his perfect waiter’s jacket. “Radio says it’s too big for the local fire departments to handle. All that wood around the place. Dry from the summer.”

“My cousin, Rhoda, was in a big fire once,” the woman said. “She worked in the Sen Sen factory in Chicago, Illinois. The place burned flat back in ’35. I was in Hollywood then, of course. I mailed her a cheque for her misfortune. All of Chicago smelled like burnt Sen Sen for an entire week after. No one could hang out their laundry. Ever smell burnt Sen Sen?”

“No, ma’am.”

“I imagine it was quite intolerable.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Bring me another in ten minutes.”

“Yes ma’am.”

She lit a cigarette with a gold cigarette lighter, and inhaled a quarter of it on the first draw. Then she picked up a pen next to an open moleskine, and began to write. 

I remember the day Barbara S. and I drove out to see a property in Malibu. What a dump. But someone said it would be quite the location one day. I wasn’t convinced, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to invest with that sanctimonious bitch. She’s so bitter and undependable. But we had a picnic lunch out on a bluff over the beach. We shared a couple bottles of wine, and I remember her hand on my knee. It seemed to get dark awfully fast, and we took rooms at a local hotel. That night, she snuck across to my room. I’ll admit that she seduced me. I was weak, and had had too much to drink. She took advantage. At breakfast, she behaved like nothing had happened. I was deeply hurt, and I hired a separate limousine to take me home.

She put the pen down, and read what she had written. Rocky Solesino was playing something new he called Boplicity. There were more sirens, closer now but seeming to come from no identifiable direction. She looked up and saw three motorcycle cops ride by on Beach Avenue, with their lights flashing.

The waiter arrived with a fresh drink.

“Sounds like marshal law out there,” she said.

“There are reports of looting in the downtown, ma’am,” the waiter said. “Someone’s thrown a brick through a window of the Hotel Vancouver. It’s strange; this is normally such a quiet little town.”

“A fire brings out the worst in people, let me tell you. I remember Rhoda telling me that when the Sen Sen factory got back up and running, an employee got fired for pouring several gallons of Tabasco sauce into a batch. They didn’t find out until after they’d shipped it out. Too late by then, of course. Sen Sen customers worldwide were burning their tongues on the stuff.

“I never enjoyed Sen Sen how about you?”

“I usually have some nearby, ma’am,” the waiter said.

“Why not just a stick of gum or a mint? Why Sen Sen?”

“I’ve never given it much thought, ma’am.”

“Well there you are, you see. It’s the trivial that makes us what we are. The sum of human minutia. That’s the secret of Hollywood’s success, you know. Showering the audience with the banal, some catchy tunes about nothing at all and a big finish. There doesn’t even need to be a plot to a Hollywood movie. Just a couple tap dancing tarts with some cleavage and lots of leg. That’s what sells popcorn.”

“Yes, ma’am. Shall I bring another in ten minutes?”

“By all means, Godfrey. Consider yourself on auto-pilot.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

As the waiter turned to go, there was a blunt explosion in the distance. The windows of the hotel shook, and glasses and bottles behind the bar rattled.

“Goodness, what was that?” the woman said.

“Not the Nine O’clock gun,” the waiter said, consulting his wristwatch. “It’s never that loud, and it’s already 9:15. I’ll ask the desk clerk.”

“Please do, and report back.” The woman raised her glass in a salute to the retreating waiter, and took a gulp. Then she picked up her pen again, and began to write.

I met a fellow name Roderick B. in Hollywood in 1942. He was a hand model for a couple of fountain pen companies. He did cuff links, too. The irony was that he had the single ugliest face I’ve ever seen on a man. His hands were masculine yet slim and graceful, but he had the mug of a troll. All over America, people were buying fountain pens and cuff links because of those lovely hands, while only an arms length away was the hideous face of an ogre.

In 1943, to avoid the lucklessness of the draft, he joined the Marine Corps and ended up in the South Pacific. And I know what you’re thinking, dear reader, but you’re wrong. He didn’t gallantly and selflessly get his lovely hands blown off in some glorious wartime action. He survived intact, demobbed, and in 1946 he landed the contract of his life with the Parker Pen Company of JanesvilleWisconsin. He modelled his hands holding the best the company had to offer, and helped Parker come back after the war.

Part of the deal was a signing bonus, a brand new 1946 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible Coupe, red in colour. Roderick loved that car. He drove it all over LA and especially Hollywood, trying to attract attention. I guess he thought of it as a mask to cover his hideous face.

As a result of images of his hands appearing in magazines and on billboards far and near, Roderick received scads of fan mail from all over the world. Dames, and even a few fellows, were nutso over Roderick’s hands, and just assumed that, as a result of their tender lines, he must have the face and gentle disposition of Prince Charming. Which he didn’t. Besides looking like a gargoyle, he drank too much and liked slapping women around.

So in 1947, he got all cozy with this Anita Filippone woman. They met at the wedding of a mutual friend in Van NuysCalifornia. Some people are naturally attracted to the stunningly ugly, and Anita was one of those.

From the start, the relationship was a rocky one. There were rumours of Anita having to lay low for days at a time while she recovered from black eyes and split lips. Roderick emptied her bank account and took up residence in her apartment, uninvited. But she stood by her ugly man for reasons I can’t explain.

Now all of this time Roderick is fully aware that Anita Filippone is the niece of Jack Dragna, the LA mob boss. But he doesn’t care. It doesn’t sink in for him that you just can’t go on using and abusing the niece of a LA mob boss without it eventually coming back on you. Maybe he had a death wish, like some said.

He and I met late in ’47 over coffee and pastries, and I pointed all of this out to him. But he told me to mind my own business, that not all relationships were the same. He told me that Anita Filippone got as much out of their little affair as he did. And he said that his prominence as an internationally recognised hand model for the Parker Pen Company made him immune to the petty concerns of the rest of the planet. I paid the bill at the end of our little nosh, and never saw Roderick again.

A month later, there was a front page news item in the LA Times. The headline read, Hands Found in Cadillac Convertible Those of Parker Pen Co. Hand Model. The severed hands had been discovered gripping the steering wheel of Roderick’s beloved Cadillac. It was found parked out front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I recall trying to establish the significance of the Cadillac being parked out front of Grauman’s, but I didn’t get it.

A month later, it was announced that Anita Filippone was to marry an eastern torpedo by the name of Sergio Fiocco. Soon after, she disappeared into the Mafia infested suburbs of New Jersey.

The woman stopped writing, and looked up to see that a fresh drink had been delivered while she wrote. And the waiter stood there with yet another.

“A fresh one every ten minutes,” he said, and placed the drink on the table. “As requested, Miss Crawford,”

“Thank you,” she said, still a little lost in 1947 Hollywood. “What was that dreadful boom about? It sounds like the chaos is getting more chaotic by the minute.”

There was sporadic gun fire in the distance, rapid fire and single shots, along with small explosions and pops coming from the surrounding neighbourhood. A nearby air raid siren began to wail.

“News from over the radio is strangely dire,” the waiter said. “When it comes through at all. Throngs have taken to the street. Many neighbourhoods are burning out of control. That boom was a liner on the inlet side of the harbour exploding. The police are in disarray, and the mayor is considering calling in the army. There are rumours, however, that members of the military are deserting. Some churches around the city have flung open their doors, and are proclaiming this the end of time.”

“What nonsense,” the woman said, lighting a cigarette. “What kind of government do you have in this country?”

“We’re a parliamentary democracy, Miss Crawford.”

“Sounds like dime store Bolshevism to me.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

As Rocky Solesino turned a chart on his music stand, there was another explosion, this one closer and far louder than the last. A plate glass window that faced English Bay cracked, and then shattered. Out on the bay, a freighter at anchor had exploded and was now listing heavily to port. It issued black smoke.

“That’s rather extreme,” said the woman.

“Yes, ma’am.”

A smallish, bored looking maid arrived at the blown out window with broom and dustpan.

“What do you think might have caused that?’

“Perhaps the current high pressure front, ma’am?”

“Ah, of course. Carry on.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She took up her pen once more.

It may not be a topic for polite conversation, but I’ve often wondered how many pairs of pants a man will own in his life. I certainly don’t mean an average sort of man who might buy one or two pairs of pants in a year, and simply wear them to death. I mean a man like, say, Cary G. Now there’s a fellow who has a pair of pants for every moment of the day – morning, afternoon and evening. No one shade of blue or grey or brown or even taupe or white suffices. He simply must have a spectrum of blues and greys and browns and stripes and checks and cuffs and pleats and creases and waistbands and buttons and zippers and worsteds and flannels and gabardines and hopsacks and wool and cotton and linen and silk blends. And nothing off a rack, mind you. Each pair custom tailored.

Of course the same can be said of items in my wardrobe, but I’m a woman after all. He’s a man. And can’t a man stand stoically and manfully in one or two pairs of pants instead of foppishly losing himself in a trouser jungle? And no, I’m not implying any metaphors here – at least not consciously. I’m just asking a question.

You see, I once stood in Cary G’s trouser jungle. It was at his Santa Monica beach house in 1936, the one he shared with Randolph S., just after the whole awful Virginia Cherrill mess. It was a massive place, most of it closed off and under dust sheets.

It was Sunday morning after an all night party, and it was getting light. Everyone was very drunk, and none of us was thinking about going to church. Cary G. and Randolph S., our hosts, had disappeared around 3 a.m. It made sense to most of us that they had, like reasonable people, gone to bed. The house had seven available bedrooms. The rest of us should have been able to find a place to lay our heads on our own.

At some point during the night, Kate H. and I had fallen into conversation about all manner of Hollywood mayhem. By 4 a.m., she’d come up with the idea that we needed to explore the beach house, find the correct bedroom, and discover once and for all whether Cary G. and Randolph S. were indeed sleeping together. Normally I couldn’t have cared less, but the vodka was working its strange magic on me, and Kate H. was very persuasive.

So we started walking the halls of the massive barn, opening doors here and there. The last door I opened led into a parlour-like room that was brightening nicely in the morning light. There were vases of flowers, large well kept tropical plants, a couple overstuffed chairs and a wall of mirrors, some of which swung on hinges. But what caught my attention was a folding door that had been left open onto a walk-in wardrobe. I stepped in, and was amazed. This was no mere clothes closet; it was a haberdasher’s warehouse, several feet wide and running for what seemed the whole length of the house. It looked like miles of men’s clothes. Jackets, suits, tuxedos and, yes, pants. There was row on row of ties. The floor was lined with shoes, and there were shirts of every description. On a shelf above it all was a long row of hatboxes and hats on blocks. It all had the fresh scent of Tennessee Cedar and expensive men’s cologne. At one end of the closet was a wall of drawers. I stepped up and, I’m a little ashamed to say, began opening them. It was all men’s under garments, pyjamas and socks.

Bored by that, I turned around and walked down to the other end of the closet. It was there that I encountered Kate H. standing in front of a dressing table. It had a large mirror and a stool tucked underneath. On the table top were the usual comb and brush, balms, ointments and lotions. And there was a large ornate cigarette lighter like the ones you’d see in drugstores. It caught my attention, seeming out of place, so I attempted to pick it up. And when I did, the wall next to the dressing table slid away and we were bathed in light.

When we stepped through the opening in the wall, we were in a weird sort of cathedral, all mahogany and brass. There were balconies and spiral staircases three stories high. It was topped at the sides by a clerestory of blue, gold and red stained glass. The ceiling itself was a dome of stained glass in a web of lead. The walls, all of the way up, were lined with books. Old leather bindings like you’d see in a Universal vampire picture. There was a forest of tropical plants, and in the middle was a huge cage filled with brightly coloured tropical songbirds and a massive tree growing up to the top.

Off to the side of the cage, on an inaccessible balcony twenty feet off the floor, stood a sad shabby looking old man in a tattered tuxedo. He looked down at us, smiled and snapped his fingers three times. The hundreds of birds in the cage went silent, and then slowly, and quietly at first, began to make the most beautiful music. The shabby old man remained silent until the right moment, and then began to sing. He was a glorious tenor, and his voice filled the cathedral. The birds were the perfect orchestral accompaniment. Kate H. and I stood dumfounded.

Che gelida manina,
se la lasci riscaldar.
Cercar che giova?
Al buio non si trova.
Ma per fortuna
é una notte di luna,
e qui la luna
l?abbiamo vicina.
Aspetti, signorina,
le dirò con due parole
chi son, e che faccio,
come vivo….

It was over too soon, after only a few minutes. Then the old man went silent, and looked down at his shoes as the birds resumed their frenzied forest song. We didn’t applaud or beg for more. In that place at that moment, it seemed wrong.

We never did find Cary G. and Randolph S. in the sack together. But it didn’t really matter. It was just a drunken schoolgirl pursuit, after all.

MGM released Love on the Run a few weeks later, and I forgot the whole thing. That is until May, 1937.

I was in San Francisco for the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. The city was full of the stinking rich and the stinking destitute. It was a Thursday, and that night after the big celebration I had my driver take me to one of my favourite bars in the city. It was a joint called Mick’s down near the wharves. Sure, I was slumming. But a girl’s got to spread her wings. Anyway, it was a quiet place where people went to drink and get drunk, and that was for me.

The stretch Lasalle was a little out of place in that neighbourhood, so I got out and sent the driver away. I had him drop me a few blocks away from my destination so I could walk and take the fetid waterfront air. Most of the people on the sidewalk were there because they had no place else to go. The men walked with their hands in their pockets and their heads down. The few women I saw were bundled in ragged winter coats in spite of the warm spring evening.

 There was the racket of shipping noise from the docks, and the cars and transports on the street. But faint and underneath it all, just a little distant, there was music. Or shall I say, strangely familiar singing.

 The singing got louder as I got closer to Mick’s, and I had the oddest thought: Could it be the tenor – the solitary one on the cathedral balcony accompanied by a symphony of tropical songbirds?

Of course not. The tenor had been a dream. I’d been in a vodka induced trance in that beach house. But the voice was louder and more familiar as I approached. And then I was there, standing in front of Mick’s and the shabby looking old man in the tattered tuxedo. It was dark and he stood in the yellow light of a lamp post. There were no song birds this time, but the trucks, cars and cargo cranes were his perfect accompaniment.

Donna non vidi mai…
simile a questa!
A dirle: io t’amo,
a nuova vita l’alma mia si desta.
-”Manon Lescaut mi chiamo!”
Como queste parole profumate
mi vagam nello spirito…
e ascose fibre…
vanno a carezzare!…
O sussuro gentil, deh! non cessare!
Deh! non cessare!!!

Once again it was over too soon, after only a few minutes. Then the old man went silent, and looked down at his shoes. The trucks, cars and dock machinery resumed their discordant noise. No one applauded or begged for more. In that place at that moment, it seemed wrong. One man passing by, looking out of place in an expensive suit and trench coat, tossed a dime at the tenor’s feet and kept walking.

When I approached him with a ten dollar bill, he said, no no no, and walked away, fading like a ghost.

When she looked up again from her writing the lounge was empty, as was the stage where Rocky Solesino and his quartet had been. In the bay, all of the freighters were in flames, and there was a large pulsating crowd of people with torches yelling and chanting on Beach Avenue, in front of the Sylvia Hotel.

The waiter came with a fresh drink. “The Chef asks if you’ll be ordering dinner, ma’am. He’s anxious to get home to his family, if his services are no longer required.”

“My goodness, where is everyone?”

“Most of the staff has abandoned their posts, Miss Crawford. Some of the guests have gone to their rooms. Others are trying to get transportation out of the city. Where they intend to go is the question, though. Reports are that every major city on the planet is in flames and the people are rioting. All of the world’s major governments have fallen.”

The lights dimmed for a second, and then went out completely. The waiter placed a lit candle next the one already on the woman’s table. “I was expecting a blackout, ma’am. The rest of the city is already in the dark.”

Across English Bay, the woman could see Kitsilano and Point Grey in flames. There were more explosions and gun fire from nearby.

“What’s causing this,” she said, sounding scared for the first time. “Why isn’t someone doing something?”

“Perhaps what they’re saying is true, Miss Crawford. Perhaps this is the end.”

“It can’t be, I‘m contracted to do three more movies.”

The crowd in front of the Sylvia Hotel now seemed like a galaxy moving around a spot at its centre where they were piling park benches into a pyramid that peaked high above the mob below. When it reached its desired height, someone, a man, climbed to the top and stood there. At first he was unrecognisable, silhouetted against the flames of the city across the bay. Then people began throwing their torches onto the pyramid, and it quickly ignited. In the growing light from below, the woman could now recognise the man. It was the tenor. He seemed unconcerned with the increasing flames. He stood passively atop of the pile of burning benches. Then the deafening rabble became quiet, and in a moment, standing in the growing inferno, the tenor began to sing.

Nessun dorma!
Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o, Principess,
nella tua fredda stanza,
guardi le stelle
che tremano d’amore
e di speranza.
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun saprà!
No, no, sulla tua bocca lo dirò
quando la luce splenderà!
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio
che ti fa mia!
(Il nome suo nessun saprà!…
e noi dovrem, ahime, morir!)
Dilegua, o notte!
Tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle!
All’alba vincerò!
vincerò, vincerò!

It was over too soon, after only a few minutes. Then the old man went silent, and looked down at his shoes as the mob resumed its frenzied cry. There was no applause or people begging for more. The flames just leapt up and consumed him.

The woman watched slack jawed as the mob threw more combustibles onto the blazing pyramid. Then she fell onto the floor of the Sylvia Hotel lounge and wept.

At 7.00 a.m., she awoke in her room. Her head ached and she wanted to gag on the smell of smoke. The phone rang.

“Wake up call, Miss Crawford,” said a cheery voice.

“Yes, thank you.”

“Your direct flight to Los Angeles has been cancelled, but we were able to get you a flight to Portland, Oregon. It leaves at 11.30 a.m. You’ll have to make your own connection from there. I’m sorry it’s the best we could do under the circumstances.”

“Yes, thank you. Is there any news – of what happened last night, I mean?”

“The Management has asked us not to comment, Miss Crawford. Shall we send up breakfast?”

Tap

just a little editing

somewhere over Oz

“Here’s a factoid,” said Ethan Liss, looking at his copy of the Vancouver Sun. He held a cup of Ovaltine Café coffee in his right hand.

“What’s that,” said David Okin concentrating on his own copy.

“Says here,” said Liss, “that L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, later to be made into the movie The Wizard of Oz, got the name of the mythical land, Oz, from the label on the lowest drawer in his filing cabinet, O – Z.”

“Inspiring,” Okin said turning a page.

“It goes on here,” said Liss, “to say that The Wizard of Oz continues to this day to enjoy a popularity few other movies ever have. People are crazy for the flick.”

“Say,” Okin said closing his paper. “You remember Martin Schroeder?”

“Of Hollywood via Medicine Hat? Of course,” said Liss. “He was an assistant director on the Oz crew.”

“That’s right,” Okin said. “And he came under investigation in the 50s, remember?”

“Sure, he was a Red. We all were. Still am, what of it?”

“Schroeder a Red?” Okin said. “You can’t be serious. The rat bastard was a snivelling little fascist; a card carrying member of the American Nazi Party right up until hostilities broke out between Germany and the States. After that, of course, he was just your average all-Canadian in America.

“No, the investigation he was under may have had all of the trappings of a Red Scare inquiry, but it was initiated by MGM. It was actually about the haunted footage they filmed on those sound stages. The scenes with all the ghosts moving around in the background. The place was infested.”

“My granddaughter showed me a clip on the internet,” Liss said. “It wasn’t much, just a smudge, dirty optics.”

“That’s the only piece that survived,” Okin said. “It’s conveniently inconclusive. The rest of it, like the scenes where Judy Garland’s hair gets pulled over and over again by a barely visible spectre, all got the torch. That particular episode, with Judy’s hair, forced the production to shut down for a couple of very expensive days. They brought in an exorcist. That seemed to have done the trick at first, but within a few days Toto was levitating and Bert Lahr swore up and down that he was being stalked by a pale, dead eyed blonde dressed like a flapper who went from solid to semi-transparent, smelled like a crypt and wept in the most sorrowful way. It was driving him crazy.

“What brought it all to a head was when the Munchkins revolted.”

“There was a Munchkin revolt?”

“Absolutely,” Okin said. “And that was no small thing. Even in Hollywood, assembling 350 little people is never a small thing. They had to be bussed in from all over the states. A lot of them couldn’t even speak English. When they arrived, though, they seemed from the start to have a fairly accurate sense of their worth to the project. Can you imagine Oz without the Munchkins? When word got out that the sets were haunted, the Munchkins dug in their tiny Cuban heels and demanded that the sets get unhaunted, and fast.”

“This is all a bit difficult to grasp,” said Liss. “What you’re saying is that one of the most beloved movies of all time was made on a haunted soundstage, that there was Munchkin labour strife, and that, for the most part, none of it got out.”

“That’s Hollywood, then and now. But back then there was more at stake, especially for MGM. You see, the studios were all practising what we flippantly refer to as branding nowadays. The viewing audience knew exactly what they were in for when they saw a studio logo at the beginning of a film.

“Warner Brothers’ flicks were harsh and grainy. Warner stars were Depression spawn, tough nuts like Edward G. Robinson, Cagney and Bette Davis. After a Warner’s film, you left the theatre feeling like you’d just swallowed glass. Paramount, on the other hand, maintained a high-end facade with the likes of Cary Grant and lavish sets and cinematography. It was kind of snotty, and there was a lot to pay attention to for the average Joe. Columbia had Frank Capra but no cash. They did screwy, heart warming fluff. 20th Century Fox was all cutesy, over the top shite with Shirley Temple and Tyrone Power, all of it hard to recall long enough to discuss afterwards over coffee and apple pie. But MGM had it all. Metro was lavish and excessive. They told a good story, told it well, and gave the audience some credit for having a little intelligence. For the most part, MGM did it all better than anyone else.

”That’s why all of the news about haunted sound stages and spooks on film had to be quashed. The term, ‘Any publicity is good publicity,’ remains the pitiful whine of execs that can’t control their own copy.”

“Well what was the cause of all this supernatural activity?” said Liss. “The studios weren’t old enough back then to have that many ghosts.”

“Maybe,” Okin said. “Some say it was the movie, itself. They say the production acted like a spirit magnet. That it’s one hundred minutes of dark, negative energy. After all, when you watch The Wizard of Oz, I mean really watch it, it’s just one death image after another.”

“What?”

“Think about it. Oz is one creepy flick.”

“No.”

“Yes, and I’ll tell you why.”

“Do, please.”

“Near the end of the movie, in the Emerald City, it may be perceived by some as all shiny, bright and hopeful. But it opens darkly, even bleakly, in black and white. The very end is that way, too. In the beginning there’s that run-in with Miss Gulch that could have led to Toto’s demise while all of the characters, except Dorothy, watch despondently. It’s hopeless as a gulag. Look at the art direction. All of the sets, at first, are dwarfing, grey on grey oil painted backdrops, and there’s a tornado coming.

“When the twister arrives and Dorothy tries to get into the shelter under the house with everyone else, she’s shut out by her family. She’s cut off and left to face the calamity to come on her own. After all, that makes a savage kind of sense. What good is a precocious little girl on a failing Kansas dirt farm? She’s one more mouth to feed, but she can’t run a plough. What better way to blamelessly rid themselves of that burden?

“Denied entry into the shelter, Dorothy goes back to her room in the house and is knocked unconscious by an unhinged shutter. Only then does she witness the tornado from the inside as the house is supposedly sucked fully intact from its foundation. And what does she see? Ghostly images of others sucked up by the whirlwind. There’s the old woman knitting, the cow and the two men rowing the boat. How could any of these individuals survive to be seen after being sucked up into the flesh rending, bone breaking brutality of a tornado? The answer is they couldn’t. They’re dead. Their apparent animation and relative calm can only be explained by the fact that they have become ghosts or even tornado zombies.”

“Tornado zombies?”

“Try to keep up, will you. And who do we see last, on her bicycle riding the twister? Miss Gulch, that’s who, just before she turns into the Witch riding her broom. It’s just death and hopelessness, a nihilistic-gothic masterpiece if there ever was one.”

“But the twister drops Dorothy in Oz where everything is colourful and happy.”

“Everything is colourful and happy at the shopping mall, also. Those of us with intelligence and sensitivity, however, are aware of the mall’s artifice, its insidiousness. We’re aware of the sacrifices common people must endure to have such a temple to corporate greed in their community. And like the shopping mall, Oz requires us to turn off our intelligence and sensitivity and swallow the artifice of the thinly painted, slightly cracked gypsum board.”

“That’s just Hollywood and contemporary retail.”

“It’s our soulless contemporary culture, my friend. And what do we get for it? Oklahoma City, Wako Texas, 911 and underwear bombers, that’s what.”

“Okay, fine,” Liss said. “But what about Martin Schroeder? You said he was investigated, but not as a Red.”

“Correct again,” said Okin. “By 1954, Schroeder had moved back to Canada – to Vancouver, in fact. And it was here that the FBI came, in cooperation with the RCMP, to grill Schroeder about what happened.”

“Why?”

“Because they thought he was running from some illicit involvement, something connected to Oz. In a way they were right. The only problem was that Schroeder wasn’t running from anything criminal, just ghostly. And the running never did him a lick of good.

“He lived common law with a woman half his age. They had a place up in Shaughnessy. He’d made some money in Hollywood, but he’d also inherited a fortune from his father. But for all of that, he was tormented by horrible memories of making Oz. He was possessed by an awful, evil energy. Eventually he murdered his wife with a butter knife, and, after feeding her to his wealthy, pretentious neighbours at a summer barbeque, took his own life with a Luger said to have once belonged to Goebbels. The suicide note was long and tedious. It had been written over several days as Schroeder tried to get the pistol to actually fire. He chronicled his failed attempts to end his life with the gun in his suicide note, each malfunction due to a misfire or a dud. This added an even weirder, more macabre tone to his scribbling.

“But the note also revealed that Schroeder believed that he’d been followed from Culver City to Vancouver by the ghosts that had haunted Oz. He described them as a mixture of wretchedly substandard individuals. Most of them were people who’d tired to get into the movies during the silent era, but some were there from the talkies, too. None of them had made it. They were almost all suicides, his note said. They were all unspeakably melancholy and viciously bitter. To his mind, he was being targeted by them because of his success.

“In his note, Schroeder also said that he believed it was the story itself that had attracted the ghosts to Oz. He said they were attracted by the pathos of it.”

“But it was a happy story,” Liss said. “A children’s story.”

“Really?” said Okin.

“Well, of course,” said Liss. “Why, the first thing that happens when we’re introduced to Oz is Dorothy’s house falls onto the Wicked Witch of the East, no? Isn’t that a good thing?”

“Maybe, but answer me this. Do the people of Oz look any worse for wear due to the rule of a Wicked Witch? They all look pretty well off to me. And the houses, roads and overall infrastructure – does any of that look poorly or worn down by a neglectful, stingy ruler?”

“Well….”

“Well not at all, I’d say. Maybe it was pretty swell there until Dorothy arrived and stirred things up. Maybe Dorothy initiated a string of events that led to a premature, even criminal, regime change supported by a minority of illegitimate pretenders.”

“But she’s greeted by the Munchkins themselves who thanked her for falling on the Witch.”

“She’s met by the Mayor and members of various privileged, self-appointed leagues, guilds, sects and cults. Ever take a hard look at the Lollipop Kids? The usual fascist suspects, if you ask me. Where were the rank and file Munchkins, the unemployed, the unions, the anarchists, artists and writers, the disabled, those deeply offended by the Lullaby League? And where are the religious and racial minorities? Where are the tall Munchkins? Who represented them in Oz? No one as it turns out. So, who can say if Oz was any better off with or without the Witch that Dorothy’s house waxed on entry, hmmm? No one, that’s who.

“Then there’s that creepy little Coroner. That diminutive, morbid prick has made it into every artist’s rendering of Oz from the start, with his stupid hat and Death Certificate. ‘…she’s not only merely dead. She’s really most sincerely dead.’ Well thanks a lot for that you sinister, baleful bastard. The Coroner represents everything that’s wrong with Oz.”

“Is this a manifesto?”

“No, but maybe it should be because guess who shows up next. Good Witch Gilda, that’s who. What a monument to bland bourgeois pap she turns out to be. If this is the indecisive, saccharine weakling who’s taking over from the Wicked Witch of the East, then it’s just Condalisa Rice in Technicolor. What’s it gonna be next, sketchy, out of focus photos from a satellite with a dirty lens of the Wicked Witch’s imaginary weapons of mass destruction?

”Meanwhile, everyone is bleating, like it’s some bizarre tribal, doctrinal chant, that Dorothy should follow the Yellow Brick Road. Not once is she offered a roadmap of the area so she can make her own choices, good or bad.”

“I’m afraid to ask, but what about the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion?”

“Like the song says, brother, ‘Oz never did give nothin’ to the Tin Man that he didn’t already have.’

“It’s a story designed exclusively to lead up to Dorothy’s arrival in the Emerald City where the Wizard’s discovered to be another in a long list of Oz frauds and Dorothy finally clicks her heels, not to bring about a happier life in some alternate Hello Kitty universe of her own female adolescent choosing, which we’re led to believe she has the power to do with the Ruby Slippers, but to go back to Kansas to the same people who deliberately shut her out of the tornado shelter. Can that be a happy ending?”

“Well it’s all the ending we have, so it’s good enough for me.”

“Yeah well remember this, when the immature and unsophisticated Dorothy returns to Kansas, it’s all black and white again, and the people gathered around her as she awakens from her so-called dream do their best to dismiss her experience, not value it and encourage her. But even before that, Glinda conveys the party line on the Ruby Slippers. She’s obviously scared senseless of Dorothy’s innate and frightening power.”

Glinda: What have you learned?

Dorothy: If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look further than my own back yard. And if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that right?

Glinda: That’s all it is. And now those magic slippers will take you home in two seconds.

“Actually, Dorothy, if you can’t find your heart’s desire at home, then it’s not a matter of what you have or haven’t lost, but what you’ve yet to gain through your own brilliance, ingenuity and inventiveness. The truth is, Glinda never liked the idea that you had the Ruby Slippers, and not her. When you so mistakenly follow her instructions to use them to shoot yourself, and your little dog too, back from whence you came, you become the perpetrator of the greatest crime ever to be committed against you. You placed yourself back on the unproductive black and white dirt farm of your unfortunate birth and surrounded yourself with people bent on your destruction. In Kansas you have no choices. You’ll age early and die young after a miserable, grinding life of unremitting poverty, duty and drudgery and an unwanted, loveless marriage to the likes of Bert Lahr. Bert Lahr’s character was a wife beater, you know.”

“Bert Lahr’s character was a wife beater?”

“No, I just made that up.”

“So, what happened to the ghosts?”

“How should I know? What do ghosts do when they’re not pulling Judy Garland’s hair or driving crazy closet-Nazis to murder suicide scenarios?”

“So that’s it?”

“It’s enough for one morning.”