Authors: Todd Strasser
You will watch as he settles back in the chair, gazes up at the ceiling as if pondering his own question, then looks back at the camera. “Probably discovering that there were already hundreds of guys just like me out here trying to get the same acting jobs I was auditioning for. I mean, I'm
not stupid. I knew before I left New York that there'd be competition. But I never expected to be sent to an audition and find two dozen other slightly chubby guys with curly brown hair and freckles. It was like ever since Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, every chubby curly-haired guy in the world thought he could be a star.”
Avy will nod and smile, obviously pleased with his answer. You will imagine that he must have been practicing for an interview he was going to give. Now he leans forward and asks, “Did you always know you wanted to become an actor?”
He will cross ankle over knee and answer. “Not really. It wasn't like I was born totally focused on acting. When I was younger I was into sports and music and video games like every other kid. But going to private school in New York City makes it hard to excel in sports. You don't get the playing time or access to fields. I remember in summer camp they said I had a good arm, but the rest of the year I hardly even saw a baseball diamond, unless we went to a Yankees game. Who knows? Maybe if I'd gone to one of the suburban schools I'd be throwing for the Yankees today.”
The fog of sadness will thicken around you. No hint of irony accompanies your friend's assertion that he could have been good enough to play for the greatest professional baseball team ever. This was Avy, who stood barely five feet nine inches tall and, as far as you knew, never
displayed an ounce of athletic talent. Yes, you'd always known that the chances of him actually becoming a big star were slim. But doesn't everyone who wants to be famous have to be slightly unrealistic? When did Avy's dreams become delusions of grandeur?
I dont understand why you have not written back to me. I know you know who I am because you smiled at me that day outside Sheen I was the only one wearing an Angels baseball cap. Do you know why I wear it? It is not because I am a baseball fan it is because I am your guardian angel.
I dont understand why you are not more careful. In the magazines
and on the computer I see photos of you shopping and coming out of restaurants. Dont you understand how easy it would be for someone to hurt you? Is it that you dont think anyone would want to hurt you? That is wrong! You dont know what kind of people there are in this world. They know that if they hurt you everyone will know who they are. He could become famous just for hurting you. There are people like that. You have to believe me because I know.
You should write back to me. You know who I am. You should be more careful. I could protect you. I would always be at your side and never let anything bad happen to you.
Your guardian angel
I KNOW IT'S LAME THAT I CARED ABOUT SHELBY WINSTON'S OPINION,
but at least give me credit for being honest and keeping it in perspective. I mean, welcome to high school, right?
There in the Herrin hallway on that Monday morning after the
New York Weekly
article came out in the fall of my freshman year, Shelby Winston clamped her eyes on me. There was a time, back in sixth or seventh grade, when her gaze alone would have caused my pulse to race and my face to burn. But that was then. Now I managed a friendly smile. Shelby smiled back and said, “Can I have your autograph?”
I felt myself stiffen. Was she making fun of me, or was
this just a cute way of saying that maybe she
just an eensy weensy bit impressed? The only thing I knew for certain was that she didn't really want my autograph.
“Seriously,” she said. “Congratulations.” And the girls who'd collected around her like iron shavings clinging to a magnet all nodded in agreement. Shelby glanced at Nasim beside me and raised a curious eyebrow.
“This is Nasim Pahlavi,” I said, and turned to him. “You know Shelby, don't you?”
“I've never actually had the pleasure.” Nasim extended his hand. “Hello.”
Shelby smiled and shook his hand. “The pleasure is mine.”
Shelby's compliment may have been a highlight of what I've come to refer to as “my first minute of fame,” but that didn't mean it was over. All day long kids, teachers, and administrators stopped to say that they were impressed, that they never knew.
And it didn't stop when the school day ended, either.
“What makes you think they'll let us in?” I asked Dad later that night. It was ten o'clock, and we were standing on line in the dark outside Club Gaia with Raigh, Dad's tall, blond squeeze du jour.
“You'll see,” he replied. Ever since he divorced Mom he seemed happy living by himself while now and then dipping into an apparently bottomless well of stylish
single career women in their early forties who wanted to get married and have children before the biological clock stopped ticking. They never stayed with Dad for long; as soon as they realized he had no interest in settling down, they were gone. I once asked him why he didn't find someoneâand settle down. His answer: “What fun would
The line inched forward. It was a cool, breezy fall evening, and people wore light jackets and scarves. The entrance had no identifying marksâjust a bare lightbulb over a plain green metal door. You'd never suspect there was a hot club there were it not for the enormous man with the twin earrings and sloping forehead guarding the door.
With only one couple ahead of us, I tugged Dad's sleeve and stood on my tiptoes so I could whisper in his ear without Raigh hearing. “Let's just go. There's no way they're going to let us in. This is going to be really embarrassing.”
“I think we have a shot,” he whispered back.
I knew what his plan was, and I knew it wouldn't work. Club Gaia was for the Famous. Not the “high school famous,” not even the “child prodigy famous,” but the Famous with a capital F as in movie and TV stars, best-selling authors, rock-'n-roll survivors from the sixties and seventies, and artists whose works hung in museums. If any mere mortals knew what the interior looked
like, it was from photos that had appeared in
“It's fine if you want to humiliate yourself,” I whispered. “But why bring me into it?”
“Just chill, honey.” (I love my father, but I wish he wouldn't say that.)
After the couple ahead of us were rejected and had slunk away, we stepped forward into the glare of the lightbulb. Mr. Double Earrings pursed his lips and frowned the frown of nonrecognition. He was just beginning to shake his head when Dad pulled out a copy of
New York Weekly,
opened it to the story, then pointed from the magazine to me.
Not a word was spoken.
I groaned inwardly.
My own father was trying to use me as social currency, only he was about to find out that his money was no good here.
The big man's eyes narrowed. He looked at the magazine, then at me. This was where the butterfly of fantasy went
on the windshield of reality. Feeling the heat of humiliation begin to warm my face, I stared down at the sidewalk.
Dad's hand closed on my arm and gave it a little tug.
Next thing I knew, we were inside seated at a semicircular ottoman around a low table, with martinis for Dad and Raigh, a Diet Coke for me, and the scent of incense in the air. I was pretty sure the guy in the suit standing
at the bar was one of the Marsalis brothers and that the blonde a few tables over once had a recurring role on
. Meanwhile, Dad was leaning toward the glamorous young couple to our right and showing them the
New York Weekly
Was I being Ã¼bersensitive, or was this totally bizarre?
“You're not going to the professional children's school,” Mom said the next morning. The inspiration for this idea had come from Raigh the night before. A neighbor on her floor had a ballet dancer daughter who went to that school.
“Why not?” I asked with a yawn. “It would be perfect for me. And ninth grade's the perfect year to transfer.”
“Herrin is perfect for you.” Dressed in her work clothes, she was standing at the kitchen counter, waiting impatiently for her chai tea to steep. I was sitting at the kitchen table, head propped in my hands, watching a bowl of Cheerios go soggy.
“Herrin can't make the time accommodations I need for my career,” I said.
The facial tic Mom sometimes got around her left eye fired involuntarily.
“Why do you hate it so much when I use that word?” I asked.
“I don't hate it.”
“You soooo hate it. It's like in your opinion no one
who's fifteen can have a career. But there are Olympic skaters, gymnasts, tennis players, actors, and singers who do it all the time.”
“That's different,” she said.
“Yes, really. Most of them are seizing a moment that may be the only opportunity they'll ever have. Young athletes have to take advantage of a youthful agility and flexibility they won't have when they're in their twenties. The actors and singers are capitalizing on being cute and adorable in a way that might very well change dramatically by the end of puberty.”
“And you don't think I'm doing the same thing?” I asked.
Mom leveled her gaze at me. “I think you're talented and you've worked hard. I'm proud of you, Jamie, but honestly, just because you've sold some photographs and
New York Weekly
ran that story about you because you're so young does not mean this is a career. I'm not sure how you can call hanging around with a disreputable bunch of freelance photographers who make money by invading other people's privacy a career. No one ever mistook a paparazzo for an Olympic gymnast.”
“They might if they saw some of the moves my âdisreputable' friends make to get a picture,” I quipped with another yawn. “Why shouldn't car-dodging be an Olympic sport?”
I'd hoped Mom would smile, but she didn't. The skin
around her eyes wrinkled. “What time did you get home last night?”
“Don't change the subject,” I said.
A healthy dose of motherly stink-eye followed as she fumed, “Today is a school day and you need to be awake. Your father is the most irresponsible excuse for an adult that everâ”
“We were celebrating.”
The tooth puller looked blank. “Sorry?”
New York Weekly
article? Hello? The one all about your daughter and the career she's not allowed to have?”
The kitchen door swung open, and Elena wheeled in Alex. My brother cannot speak or control his actions, and yet he is incredibly aware and astute. He took one look at my mother and me, and I could see in his eyes that he knew we'd been arguing.
He made a grunting sound and a jerky motion with his head. It was his way of saying, “What's going on?”
My mother and I locked eyes. “You'll have to forgive me if your
is not foremost on my mind,” she said. “I have a few other things to attend to.”