inspired by the Coen brothers' story
Ever since I came to Los Angeles, I have wanted to write a script that Mr. Lipnick would like. A gritty old wrestling picture with Wallace Beery in the leading role. A straight-up B-movie to get me started in Hollywood. Nothing fruity about it. Just business.
It fades in after Audrey and I have sex, and I wake up in the middle of the night and run to my desk.
Manhattan. A tenement building on Low East Side. A middle-aged boxer finishing off his whisky. He is overweight, and a few wrinkles have poked through. It's a dark claustrophobic room: a chair, a table and a glass.
As I type these few lines, it feels like there's a mosquito buzzing over my head. But that is how my brain works. I'm on a roll. There are no mosquitoes here. As Mr. Geisler put it over lunch the other day, L.A. mosquitoes are the worst in the world as it feels like they know what they are doing. But there's no way they could be in this room. I'm at the Grand.
'A chair, a table and a glass'. I type it all in a hurry, lest I forget. I'm in these awful white pyjamas I got for my last Christmas in Brooklyn. Cold and sweaty, the pyjamas are the sole reminder of my life in the East. They are loose and make me aware of my lanky figure. My hair is a disheveled mess, my hands are shaking. I'm anxious, but I'm trying to concentrate on the story. According to Audrey, who is gently snoring behind my back, it doesn't need to be a big deal. "There's no point in writing your heart into it, don't try to express yourself", she whispered as she began to undress me.
I don't. The boxer is hard-up and there's a love interest on the side. An orphan. I know the drill. I look through the two pages I wrote, and wince. This has nothing on my three plays in New York that each got a glowing review in The Herald. I know this is bad writing, but I have to be professional. Besides, Mr. Lipnick would like this. I can almost imagine him rubbing his porky little fingers in delight.
There's a soft knock on the door, and I wake up with my head pressed against the typewriter. It's breakfast time. Slightly concerned, I look around and notice that Audrey had already slipped away. I tell them to come in and sense my hunger growing. I'm like a child who feels his bladder bursting apart as the coveted destination gets closer.
I'm at the Grand because it's Hollywood and everything is possible. You just have to say it. From the sumptuous wallpaper to the suave elevator boy, the place is top-notch. It's luxury you feel you don't deserve, but equally there is a sense that nobody else deserves it. So on balance you fit in. It's a calm place. The calmness is only occasionally broken up by newspaper reports on one Madman Mundt who has now raped and murdered over a dozen women in Los Angeles alone. I sometimes wonder, rather cynically perhaps, if a silver screen could hold a man like that. Whether he could ever make it, first to a scaffold and then to a B-movie.
Over the next few days I hardly see Audrey at all. Maybe it's for the best as Bill gets jealous and you don't want to have too many enemies in Hollywood. It's a place that thrives on sickly strangers and rivals killing each other off. Besides, I have more time to write. Which, once you get into the swing of it and learn the basic wrestling moves, is very academic. There's even a perverse sense of poetry in transforming big men in tights into something that could make you laugh. Or cry. Maybe both. Having said all that, I did sneak out to bungalow number fifteen while Mr. Mayhew was away on a drinking bout. Audrey made me forget the deadline, which is the kind of lover that you need.
And still it gets closer, as wickedly as Madman Mundt approaches his victims. There's a growing concern that I somehow got it wrong, that this is not the poetry of the streets that Mr. Lipnick requested. It's the first deadline I have to beat, and even though I keep writing in perfect ten-page instalments, I might just make a fatal mistake at a crucial point. Which would mean complete collapse of everything I have worked for these few weeks: Audrey, the Grand, paycheck at the end of the month. My own slice of Hollywood.
The pages, meanwhile, are piling up and the appointment with Mr. Lipnick is at 10 a.m. tomorrow. Which means the script has to be handed in tonight. I call Audrey but there is no reply. I call Garland but the line is busy. I call my folks in New York City but the connection is bad and I can barely hear my aunt breathing heavily down the phone. It feels like it's me against the world.
Lou opens the door and my heart sinks. There's an obscene plop against the floor that is quite embarrassing if anyone cares to notice. Fortunately, no one does. Still, I come in like someone about to be executed. Mr. Lipnick is looking at me from the other end of the room, my script in his hands. His face is stern, emotionless, and for a second I want to turn around, run out of the Capitol Pictures and catch the first train to the East Coast. But the face softens to a vague smile and then a hug as big as the outdoors. Then I know I made it. Hollywood. Big time.
It's a booming voice, something to get you out of your dream, and I want to keep hearing it. Mr. Lipnick says Wallace Beery has read the script and loved it (I know it isn't possible, but then I don't want to second guess) and Bill Geisler says it's the best B-movie he has ever produced. Which he hasn't yet, but I'm going with it. I'm going with the flow. Which is the sweetest, smoothest flow in the whole world.
"Not a B-movie!" Mr. Lipnick screams. But I can barely hear. I'm thinking of the money and the white pyjamas I will never see again. "We don't make B-movies at Capitol Pictures!"
Then a heavy pat on the back, then a dick joke, then a request to write a cowboy script by the end of the week, then I'm out of the building.
Outside, I pick up The Herald from the newspaper stand, and it's all about Madman Mundt. Apparently they caught him last night attacking one of the writers' bungalows. I run to the telephone, and this time Audrey picks up. No, she hasn't heard the story and knows nothing about the attack. Bill is around, she can't talk. She tells me I will not be hearing from her for a while.
Well, never mind. My brain is numb with happiness as the legs take me to the beach. There's no point in thinking about a cowboy movie just yet, so I push myself down on the sand and stare at the ocean. The waves almost reaching my feet, licking the soles of my shoes that Mr. Lipnick once promised to kiss.
There isn't a thought in my head as my eyes keep sailing away. I'm so lost in the moment I almost don't notice her. She comes from the left, as if rising from the deep white sand of Los Angeles, and walks past me. She is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and I search myself for something to say. But all that comes to me is this:
"You are beautiful. Are you in the movies?"
I fully expect her to say no, because that would be a part of the script and I could find an opening. ‘No’ would have potential, because just recently, one hour ago, my story was approved by the Capitol Pictures.
"Yes", she says quietly. Almost inaudibly. She sits down, staring at the wall of water that is about to run over her stretched white legs. "I am".
I know there’s nothing left for me to say.
She jumps up, rushes forward and disappears in a huge frothy wave rising like an Armageddon over the beach. Then it fades out.