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Authors: Dana Precious

Born Under a Lucky Moon

BOOK: Born Under a Lucky Moon
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Born Under a Lucky Moon


Dedicated to

Gus and Martin Gueulette


Sylvia Precious




Chapter One
January 2006

Chapter Ten
March 2006



Chapter Forty
June 2006

Chapter Forty-one


ll roads in my hometown lead to water. I used to think they were all dead ends.

It is a four-block-wide bit of land with one main road, Ruddiman, running its length. From this road, every other road marches off in strict perpendicular fashion to stop abruptly at Muskegon Lake or, on the other side, Bear Lake. Ruddiman does get a good running start before it hits Lake Michigan a few miles down.

I grew up at the end of one of these roads. Almost everyone I knew lived at the end of one of these roads. I was always ping-ponging between points, hoping that I would not be stopped short by a body of water.

Evan, my brother, was the first one of us to leave the house and its surrounding lakes. He moved one half mile across Bear Lake where the roads sweep all the way north to the Upper Peninsula, Canada, and beyond.

My three sisters, Elizabeth, Sammie, and Lucy, found themselves on the West Coast. Like salmon swimming upstream by sheer instinct, they are still blinking, I think, wondering how they arrived in such a place so far from home.

With equal lack of thought or planning I took a path that ultimately led me across the Causeway to Chicago, and then west to Los Angeles. There, people spoke only of New York and Los Angeles and waved a vague hand at all of those square states in between. They referred to the Great Lakes as though they were mud holes George Washington could pitch a silver dollar across. When I moved to L.A. and people asked where I was from—because no one is really from L.A.—I would hold up my right hand like I was being sworn in. I would point to my hand, which all Michiganders know as the shape of our state.

“I'm from here,” I'd say, indicating a place on the side of my hand just above the Headline and below the Line of the Children. I quickly learned to stop doing this after people looked at me as though I might rub off.

I moved to L.A. simply because Elizabeth and Sammie were already there and it didn't occur to me that I could move somewhere else on my own. Beautiful Elizabeth had moved to L.A. to help plan a national political event. The spotlight always found Elizabeth, and suddenly she was appearing in the gossip pages looking polished and confident on the arm of this or that politician or movie star. I flipped through the magazines—how wondrous that someone to whom I was actually related was in them.

Elizabeth's behavior bemused my parents. My dad is a county administrator in Muskegon, which is a nonpartisan job. He spent his life riding the political fence so that he would continue to have support from both parties on the county commission. Without it, he would be flat ass out of a job. The process exhausted him though and he learned to fully hate politics. I think it ticked Dad off that Elizabeth went blindly into one political party.

It would have annoyed my parents even more if they had realized she had really moved to L.A. to chase a much older man with whom she had fallen—sincerely but briefly—in love.

My sister Sammie had followed Elizabeth to escape marriage to a nice Polish-Italian guy who had aspirations of being the foreman at the Howmet factory. She didn't have anything against factory work. Sammie just longed for something different. She could have just as easily wound up in New York or Prague or Tokyo. She went where the wind blew her. Her real name is Stephanie, but when Lucy was learning to talk she couldn't say that so she called her Sesame. When I was learning to talk I couldn't say Sesame so I called her Sammie. Sammie once climbed Mount Kilimanjaro all by herself. Well, not entirely by herself—there were guides and other intrepid tourists with her.

When Lucy and I were born, one after the other, Mom and Dad basically threw us on the pile of other kids. They had started out strong with the discipline and guidance of Evan, but that started to wane as each new baby appeared. Mom said she and Dad got more relaxed about being parents, but personally I think they were just tired. So we grew up with a kind of loving, benign neglect. Lucy, however, longed for more structure. She eventually ran off and joined the army, searching for adventure matched with firm regulations.

Then there's me. I'm not sure how I can describe myself. It's like the way you never see yourself in a mirror the way other people see you. You see exactly opposite. I think I'm the slower, steadier type. Unlike Elizabeth, I never figured the world would hand me anything on an abalone caviar spoon. And unlike Sammie, I was too pragmatic and fearful not to try and control my destiny. So I worked hard and stumbled my way out of a tiny midwestern town and up a corporate ladder by sheer instinct, luck, and hard work.

Growing up in my family was a free-for-all. We weren't delinquents, although if we had been kids of a different kind, we might have wound up that way. All five of us managed to find our place in the world. But while we lived together, life was chaos mixed with unexpected complications. We attracted drama as surely as lightning will find the lone tree in a field.

This is just one story of my family. It starts with a long-planned wedding on a Saturday, followed by a surprise wedding on Sunday. It ends with a murder and a sex scandal.

Like every relationship in every family, this story doesn't reside in the black and white of right and wrong. It resides in the gray area called love.

Part I

The Proposal


The Weddings


eannie, there's a problem,” my assistant, Caitlin, said calmly. “She won't come out of her trailer.” The photographer and I jerked our heads up from studying the lighting on the test shots. The “she” was the star of the movie. The photographer looked at me. We both knew this one was my problem, not his. He got paid fifty thousand dollars a day just to snap photos, not deal with unreasonable, egotistical, or just plain psychotic movie stars. That was my job. I'm an executive at a major film studio, Oxford Pictures, and I handle the advertising. This means I head up teams of people to create the movie trailers, television spots, and posters.

I was in the middle of a photo shoot for Oxford Pictures'
Heaven Is in the Wind
. It was a dog of a film and we all knew it. I could just see the review headlines now: “It blows.” But that didn't matter. Opening weekend of a picture is the marketing executive's responsibility. After that, it stands or stumbles on its own merits. But an audience initially goes to a film based on the advertising and publicity. So while I didn't make the films, it was my job to sell them to an unsuspecting public.

Right now, I was attempting to get photos of the damn star, Nikki Strong, so we could create a poster. And, as usual, Nikki Strong was not cooperating.

“Okay, where's her publicist?” I asked Caitlin. Although we spoke in quiet tones, it was a calm neither one of us felt. It had taken months just to nail down a date for this photo shoot, then another month to get the star to agree to a photographer, all while the studio pressed me to make it happen.

“She's at two o'clock and bearing down on you,” Caitlin said in my ear. “And you have the director of
on hold on line one, the producer of
Sheer Panic
on line two, your iPhone just beeped with some emails from the studio, and a messenger delivered a bunch of paperwork you have to sign and return ASAP.” I nodded, feeling that tightening in my stomach that happens when it seems that I can only keep up if I run at a dead sprint all day and all night. I have that feeling pretty much all the time.

“Oh, and your sister Sammie called and wants you to call back as soon as you can,” Caitlin called over her shoulder as she whisked away to check on the special catering that had been ordered for Nikki—no carbs, no fats, no pepper, salt, cheddar cheese, or brown M&M's.

The publicist stormed up to me and thrust a bottle in my face. “Where is it? I demand to know why you don't have the Belgian water that Nikki drinks. I won't let her come out of that trailer until she has it! No Nikki, no shoot!” I looked this ranting woman straight in the eye. This shoot day was costing about $125,000. No matter how much I had to beg, squeeze, cajole, or threaten people, it had to happen. A publicist, on the other hand, is hired by the star to handle things like appearances on Jay Leno or in
. They spin the press when “their star” is caught doing something like mating with a donkey. (
He was only
it. Don't believe the photos. Did I tell you how much of a humanitarian he is? Every cent he makes goes to the ASPCA.)

They are also responsible for working with the likes of me on photo shoots. Most of the publicists are pretty nice, but this one was on the verge of being fired by Nikki Strong, her meal ticket. The gossip was all over town and, worse, all over the industry blogs. I took the bottle and studied the label. Then I looked at my clipboard, which had the list of the star's “needs” for the shoot. This very publicist had emailed it to me personally. I had checked and double-checked it. “There is no mention of Belgian water on your list,” I said in my sweetest voice.

Caitlin came up behind me. “Perhaps if you tell me where I can buy it I can send someone for it.”

“You moron! You buy it in Belgium. You would have had to ship it here two days ago via FedEx.” Desperation had crept into the nasty tone of her voice. She snatched the clipboard out of my hands and studied the list. The water wasn't mentioned.

Caitlin's face didn't register the name-calling. She just whispered, “We've lost an hour between this water thing and the makeup artist being late. That means you have to kill two shots. Want me to talk to the art director about it?” I gave an imperceptible nod without turning from the frantic publicist and Caitlin glided away. The publicist sagged on the Philippe Starck couch and leaned against the purple wall. She knew the water wasn't on the list. I sat beside her. “Let's work this thing out. How many bottles do you have with you?”

“Just this one,” she croaked. “Nikki said she wouldn't come out unless there are twelve.” Ah, I thought. There's the truth. The publicist had said that she wouldn't let Nikki come out, but it was really Nikki being unreasonable. The publicist had made a little power play so it would look like she was in charge, but nope.

Now, I could have marched up to Nikki's trailer and nicely explained that we didn't have the water and asked her if perhaps another water would do for her. But that's not the way it works. The trick is never to let the talent have an excuse not to show up on set. If I admitted that we didn't have the water, I would be at the mercy of the pampered star. You might expect Nikki to be reasonable and say, “Of course. Don't be silly. I'll drink tap water and be right out there on set in a jiffy.” But chances were pretty good that she would really say, “This is unacceptable! I'm taking these scented candles and that case of Cristal champagne and this cute makeup man and going home!” Then the studio would be out all the money we had spent on the shoot. But, more importantly, I wouldn't have the photos for the poster. While Oxford Pictures will forgive a cost overrun, it will never forgive the movie advertising being late.

I looked at the bottle shape. It looked like a bottle of Evian except for the label. I signaled Caitlin to get the ad agency art director. He bounced up to me with a smile that quickly faded when he saw the publicist's face.

“Do you have a computer and printer here?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said warily.

“What about a scanner?”

“No, but I could get one here in ten minutes.”

“All right, this is what you are going to do,” I said. “Gently, and I do mean gently, peel this label off the bottle. Then scan it and print out twelve copies.” The art director nodded. I turned to Caitlin but she had already anticipated me.

“I'll get twelve identical bottles,” she said and walked off. She called over her shoulder, “I told the director of
you would call back but he had a hissy fit. He's still on hold. The producer of
Sheer Panic
said he'll phone back in an hour. Oh, and that guy who stars in
Jet Fuel
left you a message.”

I felt my colon twist again. There was never enough time to take care of everyone. I felt like a kindergarten teacher. No parent cares that you have twelve other kids to deal with besides their precious Jane or Johnny. And no film director or producer wants to know you're handling any other movie than their own.

The art director reaching for the Belgian water bottle brought me back to the here and now. I hung on to it fast. “Can you give us just one sec?” I asked the art director. He moved out of earshot.

“Here's the deal,” I told the publicist as I patted her hand. “You're going to have to do one thing that you're going to hate before any of that bottle-making can happen.”

She lifted an eyebrow.

“You're going to apologize to Caitlin for calling her a moron.”

“Who's Caitlin?”

I couldn't believe it. Caitlin had been speaking to this publicist on the phone fifteen times a day for months. “She's my assistant.”

“I'm not apologizing to an

What a bitch! I stared at her. Then I called her bluff. I handed her back the bottle, stood up, and walked away. I thought she wasn't going to do it. Nobody in Hollywood apologizes for anything. You will never hear the words “I'm sorry” because this indicates fault, and nobody is ever at fault in Hollywood. I had taken four steps before I heard, “Okay, I'll do it.”

Caitlin was on the other side of the room talking urgently to a caterer. I assumed she was telling them to get the bottles. Catching her eye, I motioned for her to come over. The publicist didn't even look up as she breathed, “I apologize for calling you a moron.”

“I accept your apology,” Caitlin said promptly, then turned on her heel and went back to the caterer. I patted the publicist's hand again. Then I handed off the bottle to the art director and ran to pick up line one.

“Do you realize you have kept me waiting for almost four minutes?” a familiar nasal voice rang in my ear.

“I'm so sorry,” I said, trying not to pant from running, “I was in the bathroom.” That's a pretty fail-safe answer because nobody can dispute it and nobody particularly wants details.

“I want to talk to you again about the marketing strategy for
. I don't understand why the studio thinks we should downplay Cat's mother dying of cancer. It's a timely issue. People will flock to see that.”

I had serious doubts that anyone would flock to see a movie about cancer on the Fourth of July weekend, or on any other weekend. But I couldn't say that. “Well, Stripe”—I shook my head to myself every time I had to say his absurd name—“this is a film with big special effects, huge action, a love story, and it's based on the most beloved newspaper comic strip of our time. The cancer is just a minuscule portion of the story.”

“But it's pivotal. It's what gives TechnoCat her strength and angst. We have to portray that!”

“But we're targeting our primary advertising to people from the ages of thirteen to thirty-four. There are more exciting ways to drive them to a theater than to talk about cancer.” I held the phone to my ear with my shoulder while the art director handed me the phony water labels. I looked at them and nodded and the art director darted off.

I tuned back in to the voice in my ear. “I'm not stopping until I get the trailer I want! And the trailer I want focuses on cancer. I'm calling the president of marketing
the chairman of the studio and telling them you are being uncooperative!” The phone slammed in my ear. Be my guest, Stripe, I thought. The studio knew that
had to open to at least sixty million dollars to make its money back. They would not support the cancer approach to marketing.

But I also knew that they wouldn't directly tell him that. No, I knew I was going to be told to cut a cancer-ridden trailer so that boundless amounts of money could be spent on research. This research would prove what the studio knew all along: that not too many people would race to see a movie about cancer. But it deflected a confrontation with a valuable director and the director could then blame the appropriate party: the audience.

I sighed but was happy to see twelve Belgian-labeled bottles, filled with Evian water, sitting proudly on the catering table. Caitlin was in charge of making sure nobody, but nobody, touched the bottles except for Miss Nikki Strong. I checked my watch. Only seventeen minutes had elapsed. Not bad.

I reviewed the photo shoot list I had meticulously planned out over the past week. It had every detail of the day listed down to the minute. Shot one: Headshots (happy) 10:00 a.m. Shot two: Headshots (sad) 10:15 a.m. And on and on. After confirming we hadn't lost one of the crucial poses, I finally took a break. All we could do now was wait for the star to come on set. Caitlin sat down next to me and checked her BlackBerry.

“Hey.” She nudged me while looking at an email. “Looks like Katsu got that promotion.” I barely looked up from my own emails. Katsu Tanaka was another creative advertising executive at Oxford Pictures. He was a few ranks below me and worked on the smaller-budgeted films. I didn't pay him much attention.

“Yeah, he's been bucking for senior vice president for a while now. I heard it was finally going to happen.”

“He didn't get SVP, Jeannie,” Caitlin said. “This press release says he got executive vice president.”

“What?” I snatched her BlackBerry to see for myself. No way had Katsu skipped up two levels to EVP. That was unheard of. Furthermore, it meant he was now my equal. I studied the press release. How the hell had this happened? It wasn't like Katsu had done anything spectacular for the studio—which meant he had formed allies in high places who were helping him with a meteoric rise. Working at a studio is a lot like playing chess. Most everyone is a player and trying to maneuver into a better position. I realized with a sinking feeling that somehow I hadn't noticed a few crucial moves.

Before I could dwell on the situation, Nikki finally arrived on set. She blew air kisses on either side of the photographer's face and ignored the studio people. I saw her eyes narrow and move to the water. She was making sure that we had jumped through the proper hoops for her. After all, she was the third most powerful female star in America, wasn't she?

“Would you like some water, Miss Strong?” Caitlin inquired.

BOOK: Born Under a Lucky Moon
10.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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