I used to dream I could fly.
And I'm not really afraid of dying. Not in the normal sense. That sense of the unknown. Heaven. Hell. Maggot food. One's as good as the other.
I had a girlfriend once who slept through a terrorist bomb attack, of course one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. But I don't think she cared about that. And I don't know if her thinking in that moment got as far as heaven-hell-maggot food. I'm sure she was just trying to get the hell out of Dodge before Chrysler imploded.
* * *
I used to want to be a hero.
Doesn't everyone at one time or another? A hero in the movie of your life.
Sometimes a hero in the movie of someone else's life.
It's not like I just got off the bus at the Hollywood Greyhound station like those kids over there. Did they come here to get away from their parents? To become movie stars? Both? Don't they know that the same tether that ties them to home will sink them in this town?
"I'm cold," she says.
I slide a filthy blanket over her. She shivers, pulling it tight around her neck. She leans against the cold stone. A chill shakes her from head to toe. A quivering hand grasps a shock of stringy blonde hair, wraps it over her face; anything to keep the raw wind at bay. Blue veins criss-cross the top of her hand, so many blue highways to the backroads of her soul. But her eyes, windows to that soul, are empty. Devoid of feeling. Devoid of fear. Well, maybe not, but at least that's all hidden behind a wall of street-girl bravado.
"I had to come here," she says.
I'm not sure which here she's referring to. Here, as in here and now, leaning against this cold stone. Or here, as in coming to Hollywood eighteen months ago with stars in her eyes. One of a million, thinking she could be one in a million. A trite, clichéd story to be sure. Unless she's your daughter. Your sister. Your girlfriend.
What is she to me? She's not really any of those things. I'm old enough to be her father, but I'm not. She's not my sister or my girlfriend, though we've had sex on several occasions. She calls it "making love." I call it recreational sex, friends with benefits, but not to her face. Every time we finish she says, "I love you." I mumble something which I assume she takes to be the same. We never talk about it. We often hit Oki Dog afterwards. She cadges money, though she claims never to have turned a trick. I always manage to have a few bucks. Between us we eat okay. Though she spends most of her coin on other things.
"I didn't come here looking for the streets to be paved with gold," she says, her eyelids fluttering. I know she didn't because she'd never heard that expression till I told it to her. But she knew there were palm trees and sunshine, movie stars and Hollywood. And that's where we were now, right in the heart of Hollywood, Paramount Studios only a few yards away.
She may not have known that the streets were supposedly paved with gold; she did know that she might be able to get a job in the movies. Or at least on television. I knew that too, when I came out more than a decade before her. When I came out I was as naïve as her, as everyone else who comes with high hopes and great expectations. I had a script under my arm, a smile on my face and confidence busting out all over. I thought that's all it would take. I won't bore you with how wrong I was. But I did take a meeting with Steven Spielberg once. A friend of a friend knew his assistant and set it up. The meeting–
"They're moving," she giggles.
"What? What's moving?"
"The vampire bites. They're crawling up my arm."
I look at the trail of splotchy welts on her thin arm. "Yeah, they're doing a jig."
"A jig? What's that?"
"Yeah, they're dancing. You're so funny. You always make me laugh."
I make her laugh and she makes me cry. A tear nearly escapes the corner of my eye. I stifle it with a finger that hasn't hit a keyboard in two years. Or is it four?
Her head flops back against the stone. She's okay. I lean back against the hard leg of the bench I'm using as a back support. I watch the vampire bites creep up her arm.
"I could've gone to New York, you know."
I know. I've heard the story a thousand times, but I don't really mind hearing it again. You know how when you know someone well, when you're a good fit, they – and you – start repeating the same stories over and over again as if you've never heard them. When I'm doing it I always wonder if the person remembers the story or are they hearing it yet again for the first time? When I tell them what the first record I bought was. The first movie I saw in a theatre. The first time I ditched school. The first girl I kissed. The lore that makes up our lives. So I knew she could have gone to New York. And I knew why she didn't.
"It was either New York or Hollywood," she says. "The Big Apple or the Big Orange. I like oranges better. Someday I want to hit New York – CBGB's."
"It's not there anymore," I say.
"I know." She stretches out 'know' as if it has three syllables, like a little girl might. "It's a gallery or something now."
I never wanted to rain on her parade of vampire bites, but someone had to tell her that CBGB's, the renowned club where punk rock is said to have started in the 70s with Patti Smith, Television, Richard Hell, the Talking Heads and the Ramones, ain't what it used to be, so to speak. Not to burst her bubble, but so she wouldn't make a wasted trip to NYC like the one to LA. CB's is no more. What good does it do to live in the past?
When she came out here she was wafer thin, or is it waif thin? Same difference. Pale white skin, skinny arms, skinny all over and that long, lank blonde hair that, at least then, all of a year and a half ago, looked natural. These days it comes out of a bottle, but she does a good job and you can hardly tell. Back then, what do they say, back in the day – I hate that fucking expression – she affected that heroin chic look, though she'd never done heroin. Today she lives it. I can see it on her face – the tombstones in her eyes. I can see it on her arms, the tracks running up and down – vampire bites she calls them.
She wants to make a pilgrimage to CB's, but there ain't no CB's anymore and even if there was that whole scene was before she was born. Before she was that gleam in her papa's eye, that bulge in her mommy's tummy. That scene was dead long ago. She wants to go back to something she's nostalgic for – something that barely existed in her lifetime.
Who the hell am I to talk? I came to LA looking for a Hollywood that died before I was born. A glamorous town of movie stars and studios and backlots. A studio system that nurtured talent, whatever you say about how it also might have stifled it with the other hand. A town that made movies in black and white but whose streets were, indeed, paved with gold. Yeah, I bought it – hook, line and clapboard.
And so we met, a scared and lonely girl and a tired and lonely man verging on middle age. Oh hell, middle aged – but that, of course, depends on when you start the clock on that one. I'm not ready for AARP, not for a while anyway.
Two dreamers whose dreams went bust on the prickly pyre of reality. So we have each other and we give each other warmth and someone to talk to on the endless days of our endless vacation. Someone to share dreams with. Someone to share food and shelter with. And watch TV with – we always manage be in front of a TV to watch The Amazing Race. To watch other people living life even as we don't live ours. Someone to share needles and H with and know – with fairly good certainty – that you aren't going to get Hepatitis or Aids from. Now that's reality.
She slides down Dee Dee Ramone's unyielding tombstone, here in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. If she can't make it to CB's she can at least come to where Dee Dee's buried – burned by a heroin overdose. Yards away is a statue of Johnny Ramone. Founders of the Ramones, godfathers of punk. Who gives a damn? She does.
"Dee Dee wrote a song about skag," she says, slurring her words. "Chinese Rock."
Yeah, I know. It's one of those things we talk about over and over, like a broken record. I wonder if she knows that expression.
–My meeting with Spielberg went fine. He loved the pitch. "Leave me pages," he said. I left pages. Never heard back. Called a week later. Too soon. Three weeks later. "He's in pre-production." Eight weeks later. "He's in production." Twenty weeks later – who are you and what do you want? My flirtation with fame and fortune.
I sold my Gibson Les Paul Goldtop a couple weeks ago, the only hold out from my former life. Got pretty good money for it too. We've been staying in a cheap motel, eating pretty well and buying decent dope. Life is good.
I hear voices. For real? In my head? Look down the lane – people stream in.
"Hey, it's Saturday night," I say.
"They show movies here on Saturdays – against the mausoleum wall."
It's true. Where else but in Hollywood – right here in the heart of Hollywood – would people come to watch movies on a big silver screen – the mausoleum wall – sitting on graves, munching on picnic dinners with their expensive wines and waters, only a few yards from the back of Paramount Studios?
"Do you want to go see the movie?"
She shakes her head. "I like it here."
She slides farther down Dee Dee's stone.
"But I'm cold."
I wrap the blanket tighter around her.
Sometimes-sometimes when we're doing it – having sex – I hope she'll get pregnant. I want to leave something behind. I wanted to leave behind the Great American Screenplay, but that ain't gonna happen. So maybe a kid. But that wouldn't be fair to the kid. Of course, if we have one, maybe I'll straighten up, get a job – yeah. Get an apartment. Call my folks. All that good stuff. Maybe. We don't use protection and we don't get pregnant, so it's a big maybe.
I'm afraid of leaving nothing behind. I'll be gone and no one will even know I was here. I don't live on MySpace or Facebook or Twitter or any of those. I don't exist. No checking account. No driver's license. Hell, no ATM card. No one knows where to find me. No one who knows me knows who I am. Sometimes I barely remember.
Where did I come from? I know. I could tell you, but what's the point? It was another world. Another life. Another me.
I watch her face go calm and peaceful. Slack. Her whole body goes limp.
I want to do something.
I try. But can't.
There's nothing worse than watching someone OD in front of you. You watch them die. You want to help, to call the cops, an ambulance – do something – but you can't because you're smacked out too.
She gave herself a hotshot. Making it in LA wasn't just harder than she expected. It was impossible. When she got off that bus she thought she was tough – she wasn't as tough as she thought. She doesn't care if anyone remembers her. She just wants peace.
Yeah, I used to want to be a hero. And maybe I've even done some heroic things. But no one remembers. No one cares that I chased a city bus for two blocks because the driver wouldn't wait for an old man to get to the stop. I felt like a hero then. But I wanted to save a girl and I couldn't or didn't or maybe even wouldn't. I don't know. Hell, I can't even save myself.
I used to have dreams. I used to dream I could fly.
Paul D. Marks is a former "script doctor," who's now focusing
on fiction, both short and long. His story "Netiquette" won first
place in the Futures Short Story Contest. "Poison Heart" was a
finalist in the Deadly Ink short story competition. "Dem Bones"
was a finalist in the Southern Writers Association contest. His
novel White Heat took second place in the mystery-thriller category
of the South West Writers contest. His story "Terminal Island" appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Weber: The Contemporary West. He has
also published non-fiction articles in various newspapers and magazines
and has lectured on writing at UCLA, Cal State San Bernardino, Learning
Tree, as well as writers' organizations. He is currently working on a
novel set on the L.A. homefront during World War II and a satirical novel
about the joyous and joyful Hollywood experience.