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Authors: Jennifer van der Kwast

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BOOK: Pounding the Pavement
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“You did?”

“Hated it so much, it makes me furious.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t go that far—”

“I would. Nothing pisses me off more than a mediocre movie. ’Cause, if you’re going to suck, why not suck in style? Figure if things are so bad they can’t be fixed, don’t
try
to make them better. Make them
worse
. Throw in a dance number or something.”

“Tell me about it. You notice how there are no fun-bad movies anymore? Everything’s just bad-bad?”

“Paul Verhoeven. Now, there’s a fun-bad director. You see
Starship Troopers?”

“Don’t you dare!
Starship Troopers
is a brilliant movie.”

“What about
Showgirls?”

“Best bad movie I ever saw.”

“See? They don’t make them bad like that anymore. Everything’s just
kind of
bad.” Jake steps off the elevator. “And don’t get me started on De Niro movies—”

“Yeah, he sucks.”

“No, he doesn’t suck. He’s just … not good. And that’s the worse part, ’cause he used to be great. Now, he’s just a caricature of himself. Him, and Al Pacino, and Dustin Hoffman—”

“And Jack Nicholson …”

Jake stops cold and scowls.

“Not Jack,” he says evenly.

I smile in spite of myself. “You’re right. I stand corrected. Not Jack. I could watch Jack read a menu.” My stomach hears me say the word “menu” and does a somersault on a creaky trampoline.

“You hungry?” asks Jake astutely.

“A little.”

“Any good places around here to eat?”

“Umm …” In my head, I run down my regular list of sushi, Thai, and Chinese neighborhood joints. But as tempting as they all sound, I’d rather not leave room for discussion. In this case, anything safe and standard would do. “There’s a diner around the corner.”

“Awesome. You think they have milkshakes?”

“Well, I would guess—”

“When was the last time you had a milkshake?”

“I don’t know,” I confess. “It’s been a while.”

“I think it’s important to have a milkshake every now and then. Don’t you?”

“I couldn’t agree with you more.”

I
’m on my best behavior tonight. Even though I’d kill for a tuna melt, I settle for the rather disappointing Greek salad. Jake has sold me on the milkshake, though. And the side of fries.

“The problem is,” he says, dipping a fry into a vat of mayonnaise. He ordered it, not me. Still, I’m pleased it’s there. “Even though there are probably no good roles left anymore for actors like De Niro or Pacino, no one’s really stepped up to fill their shoes. I tell you …” He points his drippy fry at me. “Give me the name of one young actor
now
who you could actually watch read a menu.”

“You mean, other than Jack?”

“Yeah. Someone new.”

I ponder for a moment. “It’s tough.”

“I know.”

“Philip Seymour Hoffman, maybe?”

“You can compare Philip Seymour Hoffman to Jack Nicholson?”

“No, not really. You got any ideas?”

“Hmm.” He chews his fry pensively. “I’d say the closest one out there right now is Johnny Depp.”

“Yeah, he’s easily the best actor working today. Still, he’s made some pretty bad decisions. You see
Secret Window?”

“Nope.”

“Lucky you. How about Sean Penn? Or Mark Ruffalo? Oh, I know! Crispin Glover!”

He laughs.
“Charlie’s Angels
Crispin Glover?”

“No.
River’s Edge
Crispin Glover.” I reach for a fry. Jake slides the mayo toward me. Isn’t he dreamy?

“Not exactly menu-reading material. But I like your style.”

Style? I don’t think anyone has ever complimented my
style
. I didn’t even know I had one.

“What about women?” I ask, pointing my own fry at him deliberately. “Can you name an actress you would watch read a menu?”

“An actress? Hey, I hate to be the one to say it. But actresses today aren’t what they used to be. Most of them are just another pretty face. No offense.”

“No offense? Are you kidding? That’s the
most
offensive thing I’ve ever heard anyone say. There are
plenty
of gifted actresses out there who aren’t necessarily all that pretty.”

“Yeah? Okay. If you can name just one, I’ll take it all back.”

I open my mouth. I pause. I can’t call up a single name.

“See?” he taunts.

I narrow my eyes. “How about Anjelica Huston?”

“Okay, first of all, Anjelica Huston was a model even before she
was an actress. And secondly, you’re probably only thinking about her because of the Jack Nicholson connection.”

“Possibly. Cameron Diaz?”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Oh, come on. She’s great at what she does. And she makes excellent choices.” Please don’t bring up
The Sweetest Thing
. Please don’t …

“She’s still no Goldie Hawn.”

“Goldie Hawn, thirty years ago maybe.”

Jake leans back against the booth. “What about Sandy Dennis? Do you know who she is?”

My heart spins and stops on a dime. “I
love
Sandy Dennis!
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
is one of my favorite movies of all time. She was brilliant in that!”

“No one else quite like her, huh?”

“No one could hold a
candle
to her. Such a pity …” I let my voice trail off. Neither of us mentions the fact she’s not around to be reading menus for our pleasure anymore.

I slurp down the last of my milkshake. For a moment, I keep the straw between my teeth. I’m heartbroken there is nothing left. The Greek salad didn’t really cut it. I’m trying to remember if there is still a danish left in my refrigerator.

Jake tosses his napkin onto his empty plate. “This was fun. Thank you for coming out with me tonight.”

“Thank
you
for bringing my phone back.”

“No, seriously, I mean it. Thank you. I really needed this.”

He sighs. I make another heroic attempt to suck down more milkshake.

Don’t pry.

Jake shakes his head. “You know, I just broke up with my girlfriend.”

Let the record show I didn’t pry.

“We dated for five years,” he continues. “I caught her cheating on me last week.”

Oh, good God. Fat lot of good it does me not to pry.

“I’m sorry,” I offer idiotically.

“Don’t be. I’m fine now. I just know Gregory told you I was having problems, and I just didn’t want you to think I was a psycho or anything.”

“The thought never crossed my mind.”

“Good.” He pulls out his wallet. “ ’Cause I really did have a good time tonight. We should do this again sometime.”

Yeah, where have I heard that one before?

“Sure,” I shrug.

“The new Soderbergh comes out next week. You have any desire to see it?”

“I can’t wait!”

“How about Friday, then?”

Well, knock me over with a feather.

Jake and I split the check and he offers to walk me back home. We manage to avoid any of the usual, end-of-the-night awkwardness by intermittenly throwing out more names of rising young stars. I say Jake Gyllenhaal, he suggests Maggie, and we both shoot down such obvious choices. Kirsten Dunst? Too vanilla. Kiefer Sutherland? Unfortunately, too TV. Colin Farrell? He had such a promising start, but …

I come to a halt in front of my apartment building and turn to wait expectantly. Jake, however, keeps on going, waving good-bye to me over his shoulder.

“I’ll see you next Friday!” he calls out. His pace quickens and he trots lightly down the subway steps.

How about that? No kiss on the cheek, no extended hugs, no
fond farewells? Nothing at all? I’ll be damned! I turn in a huff and shove my way through the entrance doors.

It occurs to me, however, as I climb up the stairs to my apartment, that I’ve got no reason at all to feel so peeved. So, big deal if this wasn’t a date. Big deal if Jake doesn’t find me wildly irresistible. I can live with that. You know what? I think I can safely say I quite enjoyed our pleasant and painless evening together anyway.

This is good, I decide. What am I saying? This is great! I’d take a mindless conversation about movie stars over the self-pity banter of ex-jobs and ex-girlfriends any day. I like having a new friend. I especially like having a new friend who is a boy. Between Amanda and Laurie, the men I meet just get devoured. And it isn’t like I can foster any thriving platonic relationships with the other sex in the workplace. I don’t have a workplace. So, this is nice. This will work out just fine.

F
or the first time in nine weeks, I sleep in. I don’t wake up until mid-morning, when my alarm goes off. I swat aimlessly at the clock on my nightstand for a full minute before I jerk upright, suddenly recalling I haven’t set my alarm in months.

My phone is ringing.

I leap out of my bed and into the living room, my eyelids still sealed with dreams not ready to be dispelled. I grope blindly on the sofa for anything that might resemble a phone receiver.

“Hello?” I answer groggily.

“Hello, is this Miss Sarah Pelletier?”

“Yes, speaking.” I remove the phone from my mouth and yawn.

“Hi, Sarah, this is Bob calling from Time Warner.”

“Oh, hi, Bob! Thanks for calling!” Desperately, I rack my brain.

It only slides further into the sheets and hides under a pillow. I can’t recall anymore which department of Time Warner I sent my résumé into. Was it HBO? New Line?

“Miss Pelletier, I’d like to talk about to you about some of our new online services—”

“Oh, of course.” That would explain the call. I must have applied to AOL. “You’re looking for content writers?”

“Uh …” Bob sounds a little confused. “Maybe. I’m not sure. I’ll have to look into that. But today I’m calling to tell you about the new residential, high-speed Internet access we’re offering at competitive, low rates.”

Oh. Now it makes sense. Bob’s not hiring. He’s selling.

I hang up the phone without another word.

I suppose I should be thankful Bob pried me from my blissful slumber when he did. God forbid I waste any more time before I get cracking on that oh-so-busy day ahead of me. Some people would call my day uneventful. But I can tick off at least ten events that occupy my morning alone. I wash the dishes, check my e-mail (no word from
Aspen Quarterly)
. I mop the bathroom, vacuum the living room, and check my e-mail (still no word from
Aspen Quarterly)
. I put my clothes in the washer, check my e-mail, transfer my clothes to the dryer, check my e-mail, fold my clothes, check my e-mail. (Maybe I should resend my résumé and cover letter just in case?)

And somehow, in the middle of all this activity, I also manage to find the time to finish the shitty mystery novel Princess sent me. Now, because I know for a fact you’ll never read the book yourself, let me just say I knew the killer was the glamorous model’s deformed twin sister all along.

I crank out a quick summary of the book, add a few scathing comments, and don’t even bother to reread it before I e-mail my
thoughts to Princess. It does me no good, however, to remain seated in front of my computer, keenly aware that NO NEW MESSAGES are coming in for me. So, I try to devise new ways to torment myself.

Then one occurs to me.

Okay, don’t tell Amanda, but I recently discovered she hides her scale in her closet behind the shoe rack. Stealthily, and on tiptoe just for the heightened drama of it all, I sneak into her room and gingerly reach behind her calfskin high boots.

I place the scale cautiously on the floor. I put one foot on, close my eyes, then add the other.

My phone rings before I can even open my eyes.

“Shit, shit, shit!” I curse, hopping off and making a buffoonish attempt to put back the scale and answer the phone all at the same time.

My caller is a frantic Mark Shapiro.

“Did you make the changes on your résumé I told you to?”

“Of course,” I lie.

“Great. E-mail me the revised copy right away. I found the perfect job for you.”

“You did?”

“Yup. The company is looking for a bright, think-on-your-feet kind of person. Plus, they need someone with strong writing skills. They sounded really excited when I told them about you.”

“Wonderful. What’s the job?”

“It’s an assistant property manager position at one of the top real estate agencies in the city.”

What? “Umm, okay.” I think for a moment. “Why do I need strong writing skills?”

“Well, you’d be working for a man who doesn’t speak English very well. He needs an assistant to type up his eviction notices.”

Oh, geez.

“It’s an entry-level position for now,” Mark continues. “But it’s got a lot of growth potential. Most of the assistants become property mangers within a year.”

“But I don’t want to be a property manager—”

“It pays fifty thousand a year.”

“Oh.” All of a sudden, it doesn’t sound so bad.

“I’ve already set up the interview for you tomorrow.”

“What time?”

“Nine a.m.”

Ugh.

Early-morning rush hour. Long lines at coffee stands. Blinding light bouncing off skyscrapers, loud horns wailing from screaming-yellow taxis. Subway turnstiles chiming like Atlantic City slot machines. And stir-crazy, sleep-deprived,
New York Post
—wielding commuters packing onto the trains, clinging to hanging straps, saluting the workday with Right Guard and Secret. Headed to toil the mines with mighty axes slung over their shoulders. Well, heigh-ho, here we go!

BOOK: Pounding the Pavement
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