Just Another Pretty Face
-by James Legare
A Short Story
The Perfect Date
With a final backward glance in the mirror above the wicker vanity, he then bent over to pick his pants up off the carpeted floor, and then stepped into them. After some searching, he found his briefs under the chair in front of the vanity. At this, he merely folded the briefs in half and inserted them into his pants pocket, pushing downward with a subtle action of the thumb, and then he tightened his belt.
We had discussed his book the evening before: ‘Arsenic Cocktails and Electrocution’, mostly poetry consisting of word-salads. And then he asked me, as we sat comfortably side by side on the sofa, if Yarmi, my white fluffy cat, got along with the caged birds, Sattatoria and Nicoletta: one as yellow as a lemon, the other, a caramelized brown, like a walnut.
Then, after I told him about the movie auditions I was preparing for, we read the lines together as he helped me rehearse the script: ‘I Came Home to This?!’
“This is Los Angeles and everyone’s got a story.” -as he voiced the part of Jennifer. I looked up from my copy and tried to assume an expression at once nonchalant, while suggesting intrigue. Then I glanced back down at my lines.
“Does your roommate know you troll dive bars?” A theatrical laugh ensued.
The Chartreuse neon competed with Jennifer’s carmine lips and Burgundy-filled wine glass which she swirled, and finally gulped its contents with satisfaction. Her blue eyes once again met my own. And now, after a look that made it all said, we both glanced out the window by our table to the desolate parking lot. Such desolation was L.A. Finished with an opaque day, white with smog, we now worked on an ink-filled night.
And how shall we ask each other? Do I turn to her now and just say it? Or, is that how it is done? No. Just believe the imploring blue of her eyes. Remember: its all said now.
But, the events of this morning were placed into motion before even last night with Brandon, who was leaving my bedroom, walking across my modest living room, and soon to be mounting his motorcycle to drive upon the streets of Los Angeles. It all started a week ago. Before, merely a memory, and, now, as I slumber, fading, a dream.
Zadora waited for the photographer, Amber, while seated at the bistro table closest to the window facing the street. She wondered why Amber would want to meet here, of all places in L.A., in this specific cafe. The letters on the window, in reverse, spelled out the name, ‘The Pendulum.’ Well, Zadora would not want the photographs transferred over the internet, but rather would prefer them handed over to her. So, this would have to be done in person. And, as per the legal agreement, Zadora was entitled to receive the images. It was all part of the plan.
Hanging on the opposite wall, facing Zadora, were two acrylic paintings, each one far too ambitious in scale for such a small cafe. One painting presented the image, somewhat impressionistic, of a black cat playing a baby grand piano, also black; ‘Paws Upon the Keys’ -was the title beneath. The other painting, quite orange, resembled wild grass, great clumps of it, tall and untamed and tossled from an invisible wind. But more than that, it reminded Zadora of Donald Trump’s hair.
And finally, Amber walked into the cafe, wearing a gray skirt and matching jacket, a color at once stolid, yet suggestive of a cafe-au-lait. She wore a DSLR camera by a strap around her neck. And, immediately noticed Zadora seated by the window. Then they both made eye-contact. Without ordering a beverage, she went directly to the table, and, pulled out a chair with great efficiency of movement.
Finally seated, somewhat breathlessly Amber said: “First of all, let me just say, I am sorry to hear of your husband’s death.” -while carefully placing the camera midway between both of them, upon the table.
There was a short, yet distinctive pause. Zadora’s had been a secret marriage. But, with her husband’s car accident, subsequent failed surgery, unexpected death, and then the finishing-up of contractual obligations, many facts had come out into the open. And, it was difficult to process which secrets had remained intact in any given situation.
Zadora smiled dolefully, wasted no time, and instinctively reached for the camera. Amber knew she was a woman of business. She looked on with her usual professional demeanor. If for nothing else, this location was good for people-watching.
Zadora, with a singularity of purpose, held the camera close to her face. Perhaps too closely, as she activated the review function and began paging through the images. At first, out of shock at what she saw, she nearly dropped the camera onto the table. But, then she steadied it again, just short of letting it strike the wooden surface of the table’s top. However, she was all too late in preventing the expression from flashing across her face. All too inadequately, she recovered the bland gentility staged for this affair, this errand, really.
There had been the unexpected, that was the cause of it. Zadora had not anticipated the dramatic change brought about by the surgery. His appearance had radically changed. These were decidedly post-surgery photographs. After recovering her hold on the camera, Zadora checked for the telltale scar behind her husband’s ear which ran along the side of the neck, in order to identify him, all the while intensely examining the image. It was there, of course, the scar, as always.
The Chance Encounter
And with a delicate aplomb, the velvet red cherry blossom petals fell, seemingly from the heavens, but in actuality, from a nearby tree, releasing them to a gentle breeze. Teased by bright sunlight, and landing upon and around the motorcycle, even upon his broad shoulders, upon his aqua-green, black and white jumpsuit, the seemingly laughing petals, from the newly denuded tree, languidly fell. There the rider stood, as he first saw him, in his jumpsuit and leather boots, and happening to make eye-contact. As one notices him, removing his helmet, standing beside his means-of-conveyance, thighs slightly apart, boots amongst these very same, exuding their innocence, flower petals, the laughing petals, newly, languidly fell. The first words would be exchanged that sultry L.A. Afternoon:
And that was their chance meeting, in the street even, beset by a curb, busy with the clutter of parked cars, surrounded by the tony restaurants. A distracted conversation ensued. And finally, Joe gave up on his errand and gave Mark a ride.
Never a Free Lunch
And that is what Mark will never forget about lunch with his agent: “Listen, “ -with his greasy lips still shining from the meaty roast, “ -you’ve got leading-role talent, but, not a leading-role face. And that’s the fact.” With this, his fork hit the plate as he set it down a bit too forcefully. His aim was never that good, though Mark.
Mark’s Chablis stopped mid-way to his mouth, then continued its journey. Never, he thought to himself, agree to meet your agent in your favorite restaurant. At least, if you want to preserve the fond memories. And then the scat singing started. But, this was a jazz spot.
“I thought you brought me here to discuss a ‘new opportunity’ -your words precisely.” Not an ounce of regret in Mark’s voice.
“Exactly.” And with that the rotund agent scooted his arm under the chair where he placed his open brief-case and took out a three-hundred page script secured with an over-sized and intimidating staple in one corner. The title on the front blared: ‘I Came Home to This?!’
Just the hottest script in L.A., an acknowledged career-builder, at the moment. That’s all it was. Nothing to get all-excited about. At this, all thought of Chablis faded into the distance. Unconsciously, the glass was set back down on the white table cloth. Mark picked up the script, wishing he had been less vain and had worn his glasses.
“I’m going to make a suggestion. And, I want you to hear me out.” the agent said with calm seriousness.
The leafing stopped. “O.K.” -said Mark. Eye-contact with the agent, he thought, always important. Finally, some work other than bussing tables at the ‘Grand Dame’, assuming he could get the part.
“I want you to see a plastic surgeon.”
The script nearly fell to Mark’s plate. “I realize I am getting older but I didn’t think it was much of a problem. I figured I could play older roles.”
“There aren’t any for you.”
“No older characters?”
“Plenty of characters. But, no roles… for… you.”
The agent let this sink in with a pause while returning the eye-contact. How you say it is always important. Timing is everything. He has done this before. Usually successfully.
“This isn’t any old plastic surgeon. This is a legend. He has saved more careers than I can keep track of. Of course, I can’t mention any names. But, they are big names…Now.”
Full Frontal: the Video
As Joe pumped him with the wet smack of something well-lubed, the lime-green sofa, for the first time of all the hard nights of rehearsing that key scene of ‘I Came Home to this?!’, seemed, finally, to be an appropriate hue. The color always struck Mark as off-tone before. And the camera, and the person working the camera, one would assume, changed the perspective subtly by taking on more distance now, allowing for the vantage of the polished-wood surface of the coffee table in front of the sofa, taking on a side-long view of the two men, and then the vertical burnt-orange of the drapes, side by side, as more background was encompassed, the glass-less windows of the, and Mark knew them to be, flimsy stage walls. It was a staged set, after all. And he knew the camera person would be backing further from the set, distancing from the action, with the two joined men always fully in the scene. Such is the basics of pornography.
In contrast, the well thought-out scene of ‘I Came Home to This?!’ in a vertiginous manner seemed, in Mark’s mind, to be superimposed over this not all-too-professionally photographed pornographic scene, which contrary to unfolding with any delicacy, was presented mid-action. The tape just went right to the sex. No foreplay, nor, the teasing flirtation as porn actors try their hand at character acting within the role(s) of the trick, the john, college roommates, or undressing athletes in locker-room gym fantasies. No room was left for the scene to unfold, rather, as though one forcibly interrupted, rudely, a conversation already in progress, the images were cast into Marks face. As he watched the old VHS technology fulfill its charge, the director’s footfalls departed from the dressing room, leaving him alone, facing the screen. The pancake makeup, spread upon the delicate pores of his face, slowly grew drier still.
As one may witness a crime, but, simply not believe one’s eyes as one is stunned momentarily by the witnessing of it, similarly, Mark was stunned by the face. That face, superimposed on the actor, a term granted loosely, that of ‘actor’, also, that face, also, was haloed by the disbelief, in Mark’s disbelief, and, also, by the sheer impossibility of it. But, it hit home after no few moments. It was his face, Mark’s, seemingly surgically attached to the head of another. And then it all became crystal clear.
And all three of the actors were men, it goes without saying, Joe, from behind, the unknown man on his hands and knees upon the sofa, and Mark, watching the video from the quiet of his dressing room, a video initiated by the director. But Mark, of course, was an actor of a higher order: a difference brought about not merely by talent but also rehearsing. Or, as an artist may call it, work. A scene drenched in spontaneity is anything but. One prepares even for extemporaneous speaking. Just ask any honest person good at it. And, it is only with well-worked familiarity that one can improvise.
Although the face would never assist Mark in recognizing the man upon the sofa, there simply was no mistaking the well-hewn body. He was infamous for his gay-for-play roles. So, the motivation was beyond question. The production value was rushed, suggesting desperation, perhaps even insolvency. For crying out loud, there using someone else’s set!
But, Mark would never know the failed attempt at collecting on an insurance policy for a man who demonstrably was quite alive. Nor, would Mark ever know the frustration of a faked death gone awry, nor the price of a falsified death certificate. There will be those in front of the camera, and, invisibly, those behind. That is, simply put, why the camera always, necessarily, lies.
However, there was no room for doubt that the plastic surgeon who practiced on Mark and the man in the video, made up for with skill what he lacked in integrity. For, the results were flawless. Of course, in the few months after the surgery, Mark had noticed the feather-light scars under his jaw-line, magnificently hidden by razor stubble. The doctor had taken pains for every detail, tighter skin here, smoother complexion there, a forehead more suitably broad, even. Here, beauty seemed to go beyond skin-deep, despite the impossibility of it. He even felt like someone else.
And, as unceremonious as the director had been in showing Mark the video, the motivation was the purpose, on this, the eve of shooting the final scene, a scene worked to the figurative bone, with lines fumbled and timing off. The tiny dressing room seemed to ring still with the director’s parting words: “I want you, Mark, to go out there onto that stage and show the world that you are not just another pretty face!”
Copyright Protected Work
by James J Legare