Authors: Kevin Allman
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For Joanne Schmaltzâmissing and missed
All my thanks to the following: Jack and Arline Allman, Hope Dellon, Daphne Hart, Helen Heller, Andrew Lerner, Yvonne Loiselle, Kelley Ragland, Jim Schmaltz, and Tom Yeend III.
What is more distasteful: the public's insatiable thirst for gossip and false intimacy, or the individual's longing for display, for absolution by publicity? It's a toss-up.
Though today we inhabit an electrically charged and electronically connected planet, we remain creatures atavistically committed to the small scale. It's not surprising that we should adopt as our heroes only a few dozen men and women. Call them celebrities, call them gods and goddesses, they are the embodiment in our time of classical heroes.
âSteven M. L. Aronson
That's why they pay you the big bucks, Peaches.
HEN THE PHONE RANG
., I should have let the machine pick up. The only person who might be calling that early would be either a creditor or my agent, Jocelyn. Still in a pre-caffeinated haze, I lunged for the receiver, stubbing my toe on the packing box marked
“Good morning, Peaches.”
Not a creditorâJocelyn. On her car phone, too. Car phones are one of my pet peeves of the modern age, right up there with infomercials and Martha Stewart.
I sat down on
to rub my sore toe. “Jocelyn, it might be ten to ten in New York, but out here it's not even seven in the morning.”
“Didn't you know? I'm in L.A. I just got out of a breakfast meeting at Le Petit Couchon. Why is it that no one in Los Angeles can make a decent bagel? Never mind. Listen, Peaches. I just made us both a lot of money.”
The last time Jocelyn said that, I ended up writing the “unauthorized biography” of a teen star whose life could have been summed up on a Trivial Pursuit card. Jocelyn's get-rich-quick projects were like those offers where you get an all-expense-paid vacation for touring some hellish time-share; it's always more of an ordeal than you'd planned, and the prize is never that good. But, like a fish who hits the rubber worm again and again, I can't resist the words “a lot of money.” Hell, given the state of my bank account, I probably would have done it for a free bagel at Le Petit Couchon.
“What do I have to do?”
to do anything, Kieran. But I just had breakfast with a publisher who thinks you'd be perfect for a project he's putting together.” She allowed herself a dramatic pause. “I got you first crack at the Dick Mann story.”
Dick Mann was the star of a wholesome situation comedy called
Mann of the Family
âa hokey half-hour with lovable blond twins and a sheepdog named Buttons in it. Last month Dick Mann had dropped dead from an overdose of a designer drug called Hot Shot. Now the rumor in the industry was that the sitcom dad was into prostitutes, kinky sexâand, for all I knew, carnal knowledge of Buttons.
“Another unauthorized biography?”
“Not an unauthorized biography, a
By So-and-So, as Told to Kieran O'Connor. Completely equal billing. I insisted on that.”
“Who's the so-and-so?”
“Felina Lopez. Remember her?”
“The hooker from the Vernon Ash case? She hasn't been around in five years.”
“Well, she's back now, claiming that she had an affair with Dick Mann.”
“Was he married back then?”
“Oh, he was married,” Jocelyn said. “I think Betty Bradford Mann might have even been pregnant. Juicy, juicy. Danziger Press is very hot onâ”
“Danziger Press?” There was the catch. “Jeez. I don't know. I have to work in this town.”
“Well, don't do me any favors, Kieran. I just thought you could use the money, you still being out of work and all.”
“âOn hiatus' is the official term.”
“Out of work is the reality, Peaches.”
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
I'm a celebrity journalist. It's an occupation that didn't even exist a generation ago, but I expect it'll start showing up on high-school aptitude tests soon. For the last few years, I've written a party column for the big L.A. daily. It's a pretty good gig for a freelance writer, and the pay is decent, but I had been teetering on the abyss of burnout for about a year. Then came the incident at the premiere of a certain Memorial Day blockbuster, and I couldn't deny it any longer. I was in the throes of Post-Party Depression.
It was your standard premiereâscreening and dinner, kiss-kiss and bullshitâbut the head of the studio was on hand to cut a red ribbon with a pair of oversized prop shears. It was the kind of pompous occasion that always brought out my wiseass side, but I'm still not sure what got the movie kahuna so enraged: my observation that the scissors were taller than he was, or my description of him as “vertically challenged.” At any rate, all hell broke loose, and I got called downtown for a meeting with my editor, Sally, and a studio publicist, whose head spun around like Linda Blair's in
while he made you'll-never-work-in-this-town-again threats.
Sally stuck by me, but it got worse. The studio head pressured the suits upstairs and threatened to drop all their movie advertising. In the end, the paper kept the ads, I got banned for life from the studio's screenings, the pint-sized potentate got his pound of flesh, and I had a three-month suspensionâunpaid.
Secure in the knowledge that nothing worse could happen, I went to bed that night only to be awakened by an earthquake. It was only a 4.9âno great shakes on the Richter scaleâbut it proved fatal to my dilapidated old apartment building on the Venice boardwalk. A crack appeared on the front wall the next morning, and by evening it had stretched from the courtyard to the roof. The next day the L.A. earthquake squad arrived and slapped some red
stickers all over the doors. Overnight homelessness.
For a while I had lived with my best friend, Jeff Brenner, and his new wife, but three was a crowdâparticularly when one was an unemployed writerâso I had moved into Claudia's apartment.
Claudia and I had been dating for almost five years, though we'd actually been a couple for only about two of them. Some people are drawn together by sex, others by mutual interests. Claudia and I were attracted to each other's ambivalence. Both of us reacted to commitment like a vampire reacts to sunlight, so we approached cohabitation warily. Fortunately, Claudia was expanding the coffeehouse she owned in Venice and was rarely home these days, so I had plenty of time to wallow around the house, walk on the beach, and throw myself daily pity parties.
What got to me about my gig at the paper wasn't the fact that I was unhappy, but rather the knowledge that I had no
to be unhappy. I had a job that defined cushy, a weird but reasonably satisfying relationship with a weird but reasonably satisfied girlfriend, and my own byline twice a week: “Have Tux, Will Travel,” by Kieran O'Connor.
After all, it wasn't my fault if people would rather read about a film premiere than about foreign policy. It wasn't my fault if Americans were more interested in the president of a record company than in the president of the United States. And it certainly wasn't my fault if the country was circling the drain while we were busy amusing ourselves to death.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
“Jack Danziger wants a meeting this afternoon. If you're not going to do it, let me know so I can find another ghoâcollaborator.”
“Mmph.” Under different circumstances, I might have said no, but having all your possessions in a stack of liquor cartons does tend to alter one's worldview. Being a belletrist to a bimbo like Felina Lopez wasn't exactly my dream, but neither was unemployment and homelessness.
I scratched my chest and looked at the packing boxes that were piled around Claudia's living room like a child's fort. “I don't know. It sounds good, Jocelyn, butâ”
“Fine. Take this down. We've got a meeting this afternoon at two-thirty at Danziger Press. It's in the DuPlante Tower in Beverly Hills. Doheny andâ”
“I know where it is, Jocelyn. I live here, remember? And I didn't say I was going to do it. Besides, I can't meet you today. I told Claudia I'd help her out at the new coffeehouse.”
“Peaches.” Jocelyn gave the word four world-weary syllables. “All right. You think about it. You let me know. I'm reachable at Le Bel Age. All right?”
“But meet me in the lobby of the DuPlante Tower at two-fifteen so we can go up together. All right?”
“â¦ All right.”
“Oh, and Peaches, wear something nice.”
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
What little I had that Jocelyn would consider “nice” was packed away somewhere in Box Mountain. I finally came up with an outfit that I thought would pass muster. The pants were nice enough, but the tie had a small stain at the bottom and my right sleeve was held together by a paper clip. It didn't look too badâif you didn't look too closely.
On the way over to Danziger Press, I detoured down to Venice to see Claudia. I wanted to tell her the news about the book, and besides, I needed to borrow money for gas.
Claudia owned a coffeehouse that had become a little too successful in the last year; it was sending her into a tax bracket somewhere between personal trainers and action-film stars. Her accountant had recommended channeling the profits into a new venture. Thanks to the clean-and-sober movement, there were now more coffeehouses in Southern California than there were bars, so Claudia had decided to diversify, turning CafÃ© Canem into a combination coffeehouse, laundromat, and public Internet station.
The opening of the new Canem was only two weeks away, but it was hard to imagine the place being ready in time. A crew had knocked down the west wall, opening the space to the defunct Copies R Us next door, and a thin film of white dust coated everything. Power tools screeched. Workers were planing lumber, adding termitey clouds of sawdust to the chaos. I'd been helping out a little, sawing two-by-fours and painting the bathroom, but actual demolition was a little beyond my skill level.
Claudia was slumped in a banana-yellow hairdresser's chair in the middle of it all, a washtub of melting ice at her feet. She reached down and tossed me a cold Barq's. “I can't take my eyes off them for a second. I went up the street to get some sodas, and when I came back they were out in their truck watching
All My Children
on a portable TV.”