chapter one

thujone and the green fairy

Maybe it hasn’t always felt like this, but I don’t really remember anything different. I can recall the first time I had a panic attack. I can’t recollect what it felt like, just that three days later my emotions began to atrophy.

I live with a terrible sense that nothing ever changes. Perception and perspective are abstract; they change, subjects don’t. I’ve felt like this since childhood, only in adult life was I able to begin to describe the sensation. More than one person has told me I’m a hard man to get to know, that I have walls.

So I have been back in Los Angeles for nearly a week now. That’s what I meant to say. Today is Friday. Eight days after I took control of me again. One week since I sat in Joel Katz's office. One week since I set out to meet Chip in Vegas.

Six days since I met Samuel Macy.

Today is the first day for a long time that I can remember feeling when I woke up. Feeling Emotion. Feeling like Friday. I'm actually looking forward to the weekend. Smiling. I'm a big smiling freak amidst all these shadows.

This morning's brunch was topped with a glass of absinthe, the Green Fairy, from Guillame's private cellar. I had to. An envelope arrived today in the mail from Barstow. From him. The contents of the envelope could be the end of me. It's a trust thing.

Hopefully the thujone in the absinthe will soften my world long enough for me to do what needs to be done. I like this feeling. The subtle high provided by nature. The best part is you don't know you are under its influence until you realize you can't stop thinking complete bullshit and making it seem like an intense debate on existentialism. Dr. Ordinaire I salute you and your all-purpose remedy.

I trusted Marvin. He holds my life in his hands as I do his. We haven't spoken since then. Not a word has come between us since it happened. I'm still healing mentally and physically. For the first time in nearly ten years I feel nervous anxiety but I am controlling it. My emotions are trying to take over my intellect. I know this cannot be good but I like it, you see, it means I am alive and I'm back. I need to suck cold air into my lungs and feel my fingers tingle with energy. Now I know when I'm smiling, really smiling from the inside; my cheeks blush a little and my brow rises in temperature. My eyes smile again, this time of their own accord, an accord with the world around me. My world. My beautiful world.

I like to come to Figaro's once a week and always sit outside. It's a boulangerie on Melbourne and Vermont in fabulous Los Feliz darling. To those of you from Idaho that means it’s French. Fucking awesome bread. My usual order is a single vanilla latte before brunch and an espresso chaser when I'm finished eating. For my sustenance I typically make a spur of the moment choice from either the provençale omelet or croque madame. Eggs Benedict was a mainstay for a long time but certain movies have made that a living cliché now. It all depends on my mood but eggs are good. One of my earliest memories is Granddad eating an egg before going to work. It took me a long time to work out how you go to work on an egg. Eggs don't have wheels.

I absolutely adore Figaro's. I find it amusing how a Hollywood landmark such as Figaro's is owned by an immigrant. Guillame, caretaker of the great American dream, is not American, but French. I like the place’s worn canopy above the front door. At some point in time it must have been a vivid blue. A bright aqua marine to cut through the fecal brown that is Vermont Avenue. When it was first installed the canopy's luster must have matched the splendor of the food. Today the blue is a vague hint of what is inside, a hint only for those passers-by who choose to raise their heads as they walk past. Most people don't look up in Los Angeles. Angelenos, or Elasians as I prefer to call us, never look up in case the bubble bursts.

There are a lot of people around, more than usual. For some time I've sat and stared at the empty building opposite and thought about turning it into condos. I'd have roughly ten apartments, one penthouse, two apartments at the rear and three stores along the front sidewalk. That would bring in money but you know why it won't work? To make money, real money, you need big money. While I may have a pleasurable lifestyle earning way more than I should for doing what I find second nature, I don't earn that much. Hollywood isn't that great. All that glitters is not gold. Trust me. I've smashed a few mirrors here in my time. Believe me. Ask Naomi.

Naomi is what the tourists come to see. Uma Thurman. That's what she gets paid to do. Naomi does Uma about once a week I'm told. I don't like to ask too much but she's paid well. All she does is act cool. Chic. Gentile. Uma. Naomi is a sacred woman. Six three tall and seven inches round her waist. She looks like a walking cover of some magazine my wife, if I had one, would read in a hair salon. She's a stand in, Naomi, not my wife. I'm not married. I have a career. This is L.A.! Hello! Naomi always has a trios oeuf omelet sans jaune d'oeuf avec asperge. Her piss must smell really bad. As nice as she is I could never date her knowing she likes asparagus. Just imagine. We lived in the same complex four blocks away for a while before I moved to Burbank yet we only really talk here. Maybe it's the fact Figaro's is a secret bastion of cosmopolitan elegance in a city that sucks the life out of everything it sees.

I want that block of apartments. My second latte has arrived. In a few minutes I'll walk up to the bookstore and see what gossip is being spread in the world of Hollyweird this week.

Like I don't already know.

Like I'm not one of the cogs that drive it.

The car is parked where I have always parked when I come here, even when I lived close by. It’s on a meter around the corner. Naomi used to tell me that by the time I had dealt with the lights I'd be quicker walking but this is Los Angeles. You don't walk here. Ever.

“Open it. Dare you!” Naomi says, drawing on a cigarette

Naomi has a way of being very direct without intruding. Never breaking personal space but always breaks conformity.

Smiling, I slide the envelope back into my jacket and lean over to her table, taking her hand in mine.

"If I do I'll have to kill myself and you won't like that." For the first time in ages I use a line "Many women wouldn't like that!" I whisper and she laughs. I return to sipping my coffee doing my best Inspector Clouseau impersonation. I think I scored.

Naomi's thoughts are almost tangible as she sips her water. Her eyes are betraying her body language. To be honest her body isn’t really trying hard to disguise her intentions.

I can feel my heart beating. Wow. I feel remarkably similar now to what I did when I was eleven and kissing Laura Cross on the bus ride home from school. Back then a whole Marlboro-smoking circus of peer pressure was watching to make sure our tongues went in each other's mouths. Today nobody is watching but I feel the same pangs of excitement running through me.

"Cynical. Very cynical Bob. You look good today. I see the strike hasn't gotten to you yet."

She's the only person who I let call me Bob. To everyone else I'm Robert. Mr. Eisner. shrug. It's all I can do without looking like a schoolboy with an erection who has just been told to write up the answer on the board in front of the class.

I like Naomi. Not because of what she looks like but because of what she is. She's a bohemian-chic survivor. Her family owns a ranch somewhere in Texas and apparently it makes enough money to underpin the Cuban economy but she likes to play her game here knowing full well what monsters lie in wait. We both like the game. Never ending summers and only three days of rain a year. The world media watches you and your work with an intense focus bordering on obsession. We influence the way the masses think and act yet we still eat hundred dollar brunches on sidewalk tables on Vermont Avenue with bums shuffling past that stink like hell. That's power. I pat her hand and bid my farewell for the day.

"Listen, I have something I have to take care of but if you're not doing anything later I'd love to--"

She interrupts me again, "Call me. It's about time a good woman got her hands on you." She smiles and scribbles on her slightly soiled serviette before handing it to me.

I've never had her number before. I used to think that she probably never gives it out and that she most definitely wouldn't give it to me. I guess I was wrong. That's what Los Angeles does to you. The only way to live here, to cope, is to realize that most people are lying to you most of the time and when they smile they're actually thinking ‘fuck you’ unless they are that rare and exciting breed; an intern.

Interns are cool. They're fun. So much fun. New, fresh and naive. Full of hope that their break is coming next week. It took me six years in the mailroom before someone recognized and realized I was an intelligent life form.

I don't bullshit. I used to drink a lot. Now I don't. Drink makes buying clothes too expensive and turns you into a fat fuck. Drinking doesn't fit in with my new-man lifestyle. Don't get me wrong: I'm not gay. I'm not in their mafia, the gay mafia, but I am good. Fucking good. You have to be to survive in the business. You have to tread a tightrope between metro and homo when you're single. The women have to want to sleep with you but don't ask if they think you're gay and the guys know you're not but want you to be. That way everyone is talking about how hot you are and what a great job you did on the last show while they all secretly lust after you and want to jump your bones. That’s kept the name Robert Eisner on the lips of everyone I've ever worked with. Then on the other hand I'm not from Orange County, I'm not in the twelve-step program; that is, I am not a friend of Bill. To hell with Bill Wilson! I run my own program and it works.

I'm halfway round the corner when I realize my unconscious decision to skip the bookstore today. I'm going back to the Firebird. My pride. My 1968 baby. She's two months younger than I am. So long as I don't refer to her as Layla in the bars I'm cool or if I do, I don't refer to her as a car. She has all the markings of a woman; an unmitigated knack of fucking up your plans and a way of draining all your cash without you realizing it. I’m not a geek but the geeks have taken the power in town. They had a revolution and nobody knew it was happening. Geeks have sympathy. I don't want either.

I do want to see what he sent me. I want to see what was so damn important that he broke our one and only rule. The one rule that can keep us both enjoying the lives we both hate so much but cherish all the same.

The papers fall from the envelope onto my lap. The first to land has her signature on it. The name she told me in Barstow, the one that she doesn't use on her business cards. The last was the cover. It's staring up at me with that seal of fate. The L.A.P.D. seal. She fucked me. She fucked us both. I have to think. Take in what this means. Is she here? Did she? No. Really? Here? I trusted Marvin goddamnit! I know I don't know him. I broke the golden fuck-me rule. I trusted the bastard. I'm going to need some I-statements very soon if I don't calm down.

I notice a fine pair of woman’s legs walking in front of the car and don’t react. The legs are stunning and I have no desire to react sexually. I know they are something most men would be distracted by but not me. You see I am chemically enhanced by the guidance issued by the FDA and Pfizer. I have had my own humanity removed from my control and all for my own benefit. It’s not that I need to call the eight hundred numbers on the television advertisements for drugs that will counter erectile dysfunction. I don’t have erectile dysfunction. Simply put, I am an example of modern medicine, just one of the miraculous fifteen percent of the nation that are inhibited. We won’t be in the minority for long. Over the last decade our reach has tripled as our kingdom of apathy continues its march onwards. What I do smile about, when I am alone at night, is that they are not considered addictive! Last week wasn't withdrawals. To use the terminology people like Joel invent, I was merely experiencing discontinuation effects.

Without thinking I check the pockets of my trousers. They are still there. Pretty soon Lola DeVine will be nothing but another casualty of the American dream.

I had been looking out the windshield for some time before my brain registered that my eyes were open. Layla's hood is all paint and chrome so to notice legs stride in front of it, those legs have to mean something to me. Right now Naomi means many things to me. Things one day I'll be able to describe one day soon when this electric light orchestra ceases to conduct its symphony on my nerves. I used to be shy but now they call the condition social phobia. By my crude reckoning most kids in the country will be inhibited by Paxil as the term becomes adopted. Poor fuckers won’t see it coming.

“How about a ride before my call time?”

Does she mean the car or me? Fuck! I can't wait for my emotions to register properly again. My cheeks flush. I'm embarrassed! I hide a smile. She must mean a ride in Layla. This baby's just had an eight grand engine rebuild. I wish my colon was as clean as her sump. She knows how to pick her moments. I roll down the window to speak but nothing comes out. Naomi leans down and gently kisses me. A small peck. No tongues, just a simple kiss then she waves her fingertips as she disappears with a smile back to her apartment.

Within the papers that lie in my lap is the secret to how the rest of my life will pan out and for the time being it's all in Lola’s hands. I'm helpless. I have to regain complete control of my life. Stop this train wreck before it happens. I have to stop Lola. I'm so close to my goal. She can't screw it up now.

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