“My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.”
— Francis Ford Coppola
Bruce is yelling about how good the sushi is, how it cost him $300 for the platter and how he can not believe the “shit” I’ve decided to pull right now.
I tell him it’s not shit. I tell him I’m fine with eating sushi, even a yucky eel roll, but that I can not eat it like he wants me to.
“Christ, Angie,” he says, then places his hand on top of his head. His eyes roll.
I breathe in deeply.
Bruce gets up from his director’s chair. He’s a pretty nondescript guy. Some days he’ll wear glasses. Today he’s got on contacts. His eyes are grayish and his hair is sandy brown. He’s in his late-thirties with a medium build. He looks so average, has such unremarkable, unmemorable features, that I often joke with him that he should rob a bank, be a full-time criminal because nobody could possibly remember what he looked like. What would they say to the sketch artist or the cops working the line-up? They’d say he was a white guy and not get much beyond that. Bruce is like electrical wiring. There but not seen. It’s hard to think anyone so “invisible” could be dangerous. Even now, as he’s picking up an M-16 whose barrel looks bigger and longer than I remember.
“What about this?” he says, holding it towards me. “You ready for this?”
And I reply in a voice calculated to be so nonchalant that it fools everyone, even myself:
After Bruce yells, “Cut!” I get off the futon, walk past all the equipment, careful of the cables on the floor, brush my hand lightly along the top of a smoke machine, refuse a cigarette offered by Jim, one of the cameramen, then I go into the bathroom and take a shower, lathering soap with a sponge into a big, bubbly cascade.
We move to another part of the house – downstairs where the Jacuzzi is. The house has nine bedrooms, an automated sunroof, a three-car garage, a black-marbled vestibule, and an Art Deco motif whose furniture and paintings Bruce has to continually move out of the way or cover up with large silk screens. This is the summer or winter – I forget which – home of a restaurateur currently out of town. The restaurateur is a big fan of Bruce. We’re getting the “special rate” for the use of the house. Right now, the restaurateur is in either Bangkok or Tokyo. His name is something like “Hogwood,” which is spooky because it sounds like “Hollywood.” Hogwood has a DVD/Video collection locked behind glass in a closet bigger than my first studio apartment in LA. I saw a picture of him in the living room – tall, handsome, and clasping hands with a senator.
The Jacuzzi is bubbling, foaming.
“Turn it down!” says Bruce. “It’s steaming up the lens!”
One of the three Black guys who will be in the scene reaches for the control and the water flattens out, becomes more blue than white. Bruce is big on having Black guys in his movies. He says scenes with Black guys do really well, even in the Deep South. “I make movies that bring people together,” Bruce likes to say.
The Black guy removes his towel and I can see he wasn’t kidding when he told me his pubes had been completely lasered off. He steps into the water, now with just a few bubbles percolating. I go sit on the rim of the Jacuzzi and he puts his head between my legs.
After about ten minutes, Bruce wants to relocate some lighting equipment, so we stop. The Black guy lifts his head with his nubby tongue still out, then looks over to where his two friends are and he makes a joke about how everything seems to taste like sushi.
Bruce flies into a rage, tells him to either “shut the fuck up or get off the set!”
“I’m sorry,” the guy says, and then to me, “Sorry.”
I look at him and decide he’s good-looking enough to forgive.
Later, I go take a shower – my third of the day.
At around 4 o’clock, the food comes. While holding a hero sandwich, Bruce tells me he wants to knock out the basket scene today “if we can.”
I say, “Better today than tomorrow.” Tomorrow I want to go shopping.
After the crane, whose parts arrived this morning, is rigged up, I’m put into the basket and raised above the bed where Jesse Jism (whose real name I do not know) is lying. The basket is like the kind you use to hold laundry. I squat in it with fingers and toes poking out of some of the openings. There’s an extra-large opening at the bottom.
They start to lower me down.
Bruce told me they do this all the time in Bangkok. All the time. After I’m positioned on Jesse, he takes a hold of the basket and spins me. I go around and around. The room’s like a carousel – a revolving blur of lights and faces. I keep seeing Bruce over and over, his head like a landmark, a way to orientate myself. I think: Orient-tate? Good one.
“Look up!” shouts Bruce.
Above me, I see the overhead camera, also attached to the crane, zooming in.
On cue, I open my mouth and scream.
“Good vaulted ceilings in here,” says Bruce after we’re done. It’s close to 10pm. We’re ahead of schedule. There’ll be a bonus. I think about a fur-lined coat I saw at Saks. The Black guys have left and the crew is just sitting around, waiting to haul equipment back onto the truck; one of them keeps staring at an art piece in the living room – something that looks like a giant acrylic cockroach glued to a jigsaw puzzle. It may or may not be Art Deco.
The guy looking at it says, “It’s weird. Really weird. I like it.”
The others, including Jerry Jism, are watching MTV on a 40” flat-screen. There are a lot of beer cans strewn about.
Bruce looks over to Jerry and says, “So how’s about it?”
“Uh…yeah, I guess,” replies Jerry, cigarette burning in one hand, eyes still on MTV.
Then to me, Bruce asks, “Okay?”
“Okay,” I say.
We move back upstairs and soon I’m gasping, shouting.
Later, after most of the equipment is back on the truck, Bruce tells me, “We’re going to need to work on your accent.”
Asian Chow Down, Asian Persuasion, Asian Penetration, Asian Sensations, Lesbiasians, Kum-ikaze, Me Luv U Long Time, Bangkok Babes, Young Banzai Buns, Moo Goo Gai Poon, Big Dong in Hong Kong, Two Wongs Make a White, Sake to Me, Potsticker Pussy, Black Dicks in Asian Chicks, The Karate Klit, Fortune Nookie, Mesoo Horny, Cum Fu, Geisha Girl Sleepover, East Eats West, GobbledyGooks, Thai Twats, Cambodian Cunts, Burmese Bimbos, Ho’s from Hanoi, The Manchurian Candy-Date, Seoul Food, Sushi Slut Sisters, Singapore Sex Dolls, Creamin’ for Koreans, Fresh Ying Yang Wang Bang, Tits up Taipei, Fantasiany, A-pussy-calypse Now…
We’re in Bruce’s office on Sunset. He’s talking about the plot, how it came to him “in, like, a vision.” And now he wants to extend the shooting schedule. He wants to make the “greatest movie of all time.”
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“How many days are we talking about?” I ask, staring at him intently.
He mumbles something that sounds like “Don’t know.”
I tell him I’m going to quit. There’s nothing in the contract regarding things like “don’t know.” He starts to panic, swallows hard, looks at me with eyes more white than gray.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” he says and mentions a new contract, more money. He’ll have Freddie Levine, his lawyer, type up the paperwork and deliver it tonight. Levine is one of those assholes who likes to pretend he’s not Jewish. Always calls himself Le-vine, instead of Le-veen. Give me a break.
“Whatever,” I say, getting up and then rubbing my fingers, mimicking a payout, “Don’t forget what talks.”
I go home and when the contract arrives I start to think Bruce is really losing it, needs a reality check. The contract is for an “indefinite period” and the sums stipulated for me are almost insane. But then I look at the cashier’s check that came with the contract – what Freddie calls an “incentive.” A cashier’s check is basically cash and the cash I’m holding is, like, a lot. Still, I tell him I think Bruce is crazy.
“He’s a businessman,” says Freddie. “Think about the other three films you’ve done with him.”
“What about them?” I ask.
“They’ve done exceedingly well.”
I reach for his pen and write my name on a line.
I call mom because I am definitely not going to make it for her birthday this year. I’m too busy. After she asks two million questions about how I am and what I’ve been doing and how the real estate business is coming along and whether or not I’ve eaten, she puts Danny on the line.
“Hey Sis.” He sounds lethargic. I wonder if it’s the meds. Does he still hear voices?
“Hey,” I mutter.
A pause. I get an image of visiting Danny at the psych-ward: lots of other kids with bruised-eye looks, a nurse with an Afro, windows that never opened.
“How are you doin’?” he asks.
“Okay,” I say, looking at my nails, my French manicure, then at the stove where nothing is cooking.
“You coming up for Mom’s birthday?”
“I, um, can’t. Busy, you know.”
“Yeah,” he says. “That’s cool.”
I remember Mom’s birthday from last year, how we all went out to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and I gave her a birthday card that popped open revealing a three-dimensional shopping bag, a bag with five hundred dollars in it. And then I watched as Danny nervously handed her a gift, which turned out to be a jewelry box but was unrecognizable as a jewelry box because he’d made it himself in woodshop. Then, after the waiter brought out the cake I ordered from a French bakery, and after Danny and I sang “Happy Birthday,” but before I could pay for dinner, my cell phone rang and it was some guy I’d met from the weekend before at a club and he wanted to know what I was doing, if I was free because he had a yacht and the yacht was waiting. And I remember pretending he was nobody, just a random business call. I told him, “Can’t talk. Goodbye.” Mom took another proud sip of coffee and when I put down my Visa Platinum it wasn’t the way Danny looked at me, but the way he wouldn’t look, that got me to return to LA that night and not stay over like I planned.
Now, Danny is telling me he has to go and asking if he should get Mom back on the line.
I tell him, “No.”
I tell him, “Goodbye.”
Last year, I went out on that yacht. You couldn’t see any stars, but the water was calm. The man whose name was something like “Michael” kept biting my ear. It wasn’t bad.
I write out a check to send to Mom later, and then make a mental note to maybe get Danny a gift certificate for Nordstorm’s or Macy’s so that he’ll have some motivation to dress better. The last time I saw him it was clear Mom was still picking out his clothes, probably from Ross or Marshall’s. Then I call Jenna Johansson (who is really Charlene Berkowitz) on my cell, wondering if she still wants to do the Pan-Fusion Bistro thing we talked about. She tells me she’s got some guys over; they’re just hanging around.
“Oh, and Howie’s here,” she says.
“Who?” I ask.
I hear her shout to some person in the background, “Hey Howie! What’s your name?” Muffled laughter and then the vague utterance of something or other.
“The guy’s being a jerk,” she says.
“Never mind,” I say, remembering who Howie is – “Howie Huge” – and what his penis looks like.
“Look, you still want to do lunch?”
“Lunch?” she says.
“That Pan-Fusion Bistro place, remember?”
“Oh shit! Totally forgot, babes! I’m sorry! I just – well, first Matt called and then like Larry came over and…”
There’s a raucous sound and then a loud splash.
“What happened?” I ask.
“Howie just took a dive.”
I picture the guys around her pool, wearing little Speedos, or nothing at all.
“Why don’t you come over for a change?” she says. “You never come over.”
I think about the word “never.” Is six weeks “never”? I remember the smell of potpourri in Jenna’s bathroom, the way her bidet would shoot up a geyser of water, bed sheets made of Egyptian cotton, a huge hand covering my mouth, muffling my screams, someone telling me I was “quintessentially sublime.”
“Next time, okay?” I tell her, wondering what “sublime” means (because I knew it once) and if “next time” is the same as tomorrow and if so – won’t “tomorrow” eventually become just another yesterday?
There’s another splash and Jenna says she has to go and to tell Bruce “Hi” for her.
I drive alone to the Pan-Fusion Bistro. I walk in, hugging myself, my heels clacking on the tiled entrance. I take a seat, towards the back, away from the window and order a salad and an iced tea, then I wait for my cell phone to ring, for someone to call. But nobody does.
Twelve hours of shooting in Van Nuys. A large, dilapidated home full of cracks and mice-holes. Bruce saying he’s going for the “war-torn” look. One of the lighting guys whispers to me a line from a documentary about Francis Coppola: “There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane.”
Mom calls thanking me for the check and for Danny’s gift certificate and telling me she’s found someone – someone for me, some Korean or whatever, a guy who’s a dentist and drives a Beamer.
[He’s a good man,] Mom is saying, using a language I can’t believe I grew up with. [He is a nice person. He has his own–]
“And let me guess,” I say then stop, sigh deeply, drawing it out till it makes me almost light-headed. “He went to UC Berkeley?”
A silence. I can picture my Mom folding the doughy ends of a pot-sticker or sticking her hand into a jar of salted seaweed – the aspirins of her life.
[Yes,] she says. [He is a nice person.]
Particular attributes come to mind, back-lit by the lamp on a dentist’s chair: a white lab coat, thick plastic glasses, Hush Puppy shoes, 5’2” tall, bucked teeth, bow-legged, bad English, bad hair, small dick.
“On-gee?” my mother says, taking me out of the nightmare and reminding me she doesn’t even know how to say my name.
Then she says, “Dan-nee… ”
And I learn how an old problem has become new again.
Apparently, the high school called. Apparently, he’s not studying anymore, skipping classes, smoking dope, staying out late and writing poems about machine guns, mass killings and suicide. Apparently, a school official found one of the poems and now Mom is, more than apparently, going berserk:
[If Father was alive this would never have happened!]
I flash to my Dad coming into my room when I was sixteen and smashing everything in sight. I was kind of, sort of, in love. I was sick of school. I wanted to be an actress. I remember the mini-stereo flying past my ear, hitting the wall, becoming like twelve pieces and leaving a dent. I remember beautiful faces getting torn – my GQ cut-outs, clothes being yanked out of the closet, a mini-skirt ripped in half, a mirror breaking, a thrown bottle of nail polish spilling onto a Lisa Simpson doll, streaking down her face in purple glitter. I can see a hand like a spatula swinging through the air; a loud echo; a burst of pain; me dropping to my knees; the words: [Stupid bitch.] I never go back to school. I shack with a boy who works in the mall. I buy a plane ticket. I don’t go to Dad’s funeral.
[You should talk to him,] Mom says. [Talk to Danny.]
I tell her that Danny’s condition has nothing to do with Dad or me, that it’s “neurological.” But of course she doesn’t know what that means. And I ask her, “Where’s his doctor?”
“Doctor…?” she blabbers, “doesn’t know anything.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” I say.
[Talk to him.]
“Mom! It doesn’t matter what I do! He’s not going to UC Berkeley, okay!?”
Silence on the other end. I wipe some spit off my mouth. The phone is pressed against my ear and I can feel my pulse.
Finally, she says in a voice that’s on the cusp of breaking, cracking up:
[You just talk to him.] Then she tells me in English, “If he need a doctor, then you tell him. If he need to go to hospital, he listen to you.”
I’m on the couch, watching MTV and I’m picking up the remote and increasing the volume, listening to the sound of a guitar being smashed against the bronze statue of what looks like a giant rat and the boy doing the smashing is a not bad-looking Rock/Metal/Goth/Hip-Rocka-Be-Bop-Billy-Hop singer of some kind with purple lipstick and jeans that have been ripped to shreds, looking like confetti glued to his legs and groin.
“Alright,” I sigh. “I’ll talk to him.”
[You’ll come here, right? You’ll see him, right?]
I rub my forehead, “Uh, yeah, I’ll fly over…as soon as I can.”
Mom becomes ecstatic, thanking me and telling me how pleased Father would be. I tell her I have to go, that I have a million things to do and then, “Goodbye.”
After I hang up I raise the volume on the TV even higher, but the video is over and the next one is boring, so I roll another joint and wait for my phone, my other phone – my cell phone – to ring because Suzie Suzuki promised to call to say whether or not she was going to do a scene with me.
Lots of filming at a house in Malibu. Bruce keeps referring to the owner as “Ahmed” or “Rag-head.” Ahmed is nowhere to be seen. I see a sword on the wall that Jim, the cameraman, calls a “scimitar.” Jerry Jism finds a used thong in a hamper and throws it at me, laughing. The refrigerator makes a strange clicking noise, very loud. Bruce has it unplugged but it keeps clicking.
To go see Danny, I take a direct flight from LAX to Kennedy. Due to the flight-time and because I need to be back by Monday morning for a shoot, I will only have eight hours in New York. I decide to take in Cats on Broadway and maybe check out an Italian restaurant I read about in Zagat before going to see Danny and Mom.
There are many empty seats in first class, so I have an entire row to myself. I flip through a Vogue magazine and then an issue of People with Ben Affleck on the cover. One of the flight attendants, a woman, smiles at me coyly when she moves up and down the aisle. Outside, it’s dark, no clouds, just totally black. After the magazines become too boring, I recline my seat as far back as it will go and shut my eyes. I awaken to the sight of the flight attendant smiling and telling me to buckle my seatbelt. I feel the plane tilt to one side and then the other and back again. And then we start our descent.
I go see Cats where people dressed as cats paw at each other or leap about, from one part of the stage to another part of the stage. Somewhere towards the end of it, my cell phone vibrates, but I don’t pick up. After the show’s over, I call Danny back.
“So are you, like, here?” he wants to know.
“You’re in a play?”
“No, I’m on Broadway.”
A pause. A cab hurtles by in front of me. Some sirens go off.
“Mom’s not home,” he says, sounding worried. “It’s ten o’clock.”
“Can you get to Giovanni’s?” I ask, pulling out my Zagat’s guide.
“No, wait,” I say, knowing I might be asking too much of him. “I’ll come to you. I’ll pick you up.”
“I’m not crazy.”
“I never said you were,” I tell him.
“Did Mom say I was?”
“I’ll come to you,” I say.
But he won’t hear of it. It’s now a matter of pride, of proving that he can get over to Giovanni’s by himself. He wants the address. After I give it to him I say, “But Danny…it’s far.”
The sound that comes next is so delicate, such a soft click, that it takes me a second to realize he hung up.
At Giovanni’s, the maitre d’, smiling warmly, leads me to a table. I order a salad and an iced tea and then wait. I keep checking my watch, and my make-up. I go to the restroom, come back. I ask for a refill. I check my watch. When my salad arrives, I only poke at it, moving leafy greens and radicchio around my plate. I check my watch. Forty-seven minutes have gone by.
And then Danny shows up. I almost don’t recognize him. His head is all skull.
“Danny?” I say.
He looks at me and sits down stiffly.
“I thought you were in a play?” he says, picking up a fork and rubbing it. His plaid shirt is ruffled, one collar bent at a weird angle. And he’s wearing a cheap nylon windbreaker.
“Didn’t they give you a tie?” I ask.
“You need a tie for this place.”
He doesn’t say anything, drops his fork, and looks at an empty plate.
“So…where’s Mom?” I ask him.
“I don’t know,” he mumbles.
A waiter comes by and asks me if we’re ready. I tell him we need more time and then I check my watch.
“What’s that?” he asks, pointing at my salad.
“A salad,” I say.
His eyes start to roam, glancing at the dim lights, the tuxedoed waiters, the men in suits, my new breasts.
“Why don’t you order something?” I say. He’s startled. “Get whatever you want. Get a steak.”
“I don’t want a steak.”
“Well, get whatever you want.” I hand him the menu and then take a sip of iced tea.
“I thought you were in a play?” he says.
“No, I was not in a play.” I jiggle my tea, making the ice cubes clack.
“You were good in that one. Remember?”
“Which one was that?” I sigh.
“High school, remember? You gave like a, uh…”
“What’re we talking about?” I say, jabbing my fork into the salad, piercing some kind of red vegetable.
“You gave a – what do you call it?”
I don’t say anything. Cross my arms over my breasts.
He starts snapping his fingers, trying to remember: “What was it? What do they call it? A…”
“You mean a monologue?” I say, exasperated.
And then another pause, much longer this time. Danny fidgets with the menu. I don’t want to think about Shakespeare or high school or the Dramatic Arts College or about auditions that never panned out.
“That wasn’t the right play for me,” I tell him.
Not looking at me, his eyes still on the menu, he says in a voice I know as sotto voce: “Were you in some movies?”
People are dining and somewhere plates are getting washed and meals are being cooked and soft Italian rock is coming out of speakers and I am reaching for my iced tea which is maybe fifteen or twenty miles away and when I finally grab a hold of it, it makes my hand numb. It is too cold.
“What?” I say.
He looks at me, his eyes like empty sockets. “Movies. You made some movies.”
“No,” I say, bringing the tea to my lips, peering at him over the glass rim. “I never made any movies.”
He closes the menu. “I don’t know where Mom is.”
I’m thinking: You psychotic little shit. Did you tell Mom?
On the flight back, an Asian man sits next to me and tries to talk to me in Chinese.
I tell him I don’t know any Chinese.
He says, astonished, “You’re not Chinese?”
I say, “No.”
Then he wants to know if I’m Japanese.
And I say, “No.”
Then he asks if I’m Korean and I lie and tell the stupid chink that I’m Burmese and put my headphones back on and watch the rest of the in-flight movie, which is about giant furballs that suddenly attack a Midwestern town.
My gynecologist has fled the country. Bruce says he won’t be surprised if Dr. Maharajapuram winds up stuffed inside an oil drum, and floating off a beach in Cabo San Lucas. It seems he was soliciting under-aged boys from the internet and that one of the boys was recently found eviscerated. When I asked Bruce what “eviscerated” meant, he said, “You don’t want to know.” So, I looked up “sublime” instead. Then I called Jenna and she recommended a doctor in Beverly Hills.
“Anything wrong?” she asked.
I applied another coat of polish on a toenail.
“You okay?” she asked, more urgent this time.
“Yeah,” I said.
Now, I’m lying on an exam table, wearing a paper gown that ties up in the front and his hands are roaming underneath it, squeezing slightly, and his gloves have a rubbery smell that reminds me of Halloween and the time Danny wore a giant goblin mask. The doctor wants to know how long I’ve had them – the implants.
“A little over a year,” I say.
The doctor, in his forties, has a tan and a Mickey Mouse watch. His expression is totally blank, nothing there. The metal stirrups are pulled out and I put my feet into them. He dons a pair of goggles and swings around a goose-neck lamp and tells me to scoot down and then, “lower please.”
I think my ass will fall off the table. The stirrups are cold. The room is cold.
He says, “This will be a little cold. But try to relax.”
He’s holding up the speculum – it looks like a pair of shoehorns curving away from each other, very shiny. There is a squeezing of a tube, a lot of K-Y. Then he slides it in. I gasp. The female nurse gently puts her hand on my shoulder. He doesn’t stop, keeps cranking it, making the shoehorns spread wider and wider. The light from the lamp feels too hot. The speculum’s beyond freezing. Everything is too hot, too cold. A cramping. An incredible urge to pee.
He shows me a long Q-tip: “I’m going to scrape the cervix now. Try to relax.”
Shut the eyes, bite the lip.
Nurse says, “You’re doing great.”
Halloween and goblins. A huge pumpkin leering out of a window. Danny stealing one of my Tootsie Rolls. Me screaming at him. A dog chasing us down the street. A car full of jocks, honking their horn, whistling. My skirt blowing in the wind. Fishnet stockings. A witch’s cape. Blood. Blood on a slide. From a Q-tip.
“Nothing to worry about,” says the doctor. “Happens quite often.”
Somebody wanted to know once if it tasted sweet and sour. Another time, someone asked if it went sideways. And both of them were dying to find out if it was really and truly tight. I forget which movie that was in. I can’t even be sure if it was a movie.
A check comes in the mail. I drive to the bank with the top down on the Mercedes, the sun slashing at me. The bank is cool, but not too brightly lit. I take off my sunglasses, put them in my purse and wait in a long line. I look around, bored. Someone smiles at me.
“Hey,” he says. He’s old – white hair, tattered suit, dull brown shoes.
I look away, rummage into my purse for the cell phone. From one corner of my eye, I can see him moving from his place in line, walking over to me.
“Hey,” he says again. His teeth are bad.
I have the cell to my ear, but no number dialed. I pretend to talk: “Oh, hey Patricia…exactly, um, right, uh, when can you, like, fax me a copy?”
“I know you,” the man tells me, pointing a gnarled finger in my face.
The line isn’t moving. And I realize the uselessness of trying to pretend. I put the cell phone down.
“Do you…want an autograph?” I ask him.
The man’s smile becomes so big it seems to crack his face in half. His teeth are the color of moss.
“You’re Angela Asia, right?” he says. “The–”
“Right,” I say and pull out a pen. “Do you have something I can write on?”
“I thought you were really good in that one with — ”
“Do you have something I can write on?”
“I love your stuff. You’re amazing.”
“Thanks. Do you have something I can write on?”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Yes.” It’s a lie. Part of the routine.
“That’s too bad,” he says, shuffling his feet, cocking his head.
A well-worn pause, a moment to refresh. And then I ask him in a tone that signifies real interest in him, as if the world’s been reduced to just two people facing each other in a place full of money: “Would you like an autograph?”
“I’d love one,” he says, beaming.
Eventually, the line begins to move, and I deposit my check and quickly put on my sunglasses and walk out the door.
I call the doctor’s office for my test results. They’re negative. But because the word rings so hollow, I ask, “Is that good?”
The nurse tells me I have nothing to worry about and that if I have any pains of any kind I should call in immediately and make an appointment. I hang up and turn on MTV, where there’s a video showing four men in bunny suits jumping through rings of fire, singing/yelling about razor blades, hernias, and some weird device that you can install into computers to turn them into “freaky Godzillas.” After the fifth or sixth video, Michelle Wong, star of Dragon Lady III: Final Fist Fest, calls and asks me if I want to go to a club with her and Marcy Moore, star of Carpet Munchers, Vol. 9.
I say, “Sounds good.”
At the club, too many men ask us to dance, the music is too loud and the air is too thin and neither Michelle nor Marcy nor I can ever remember having a better time. We all go back to Marcy’s place in Hollywood Hills with seven or eight guys following us.
Sixteen hours of shooting on a soundstage in Burbank. Bruce yells at a caterer for bringing Tabasco sauce instead of Vietnamese chili paste. A straw-hut catches on fire. Firemen come. I wrap myself in a blanket. Jim wants to know if I need a cigarette.
Shop, then go see a Tom Cruise movie, then rent a Brad Pitt DVD, then drive by West Hollywood and buy a poster of Leonardo DiCaprio at a store called Poster-Boys where all the sales-clerks are gay but extremely good-looking, then go home and immediately turn on MTV because tonight they’re showing a Gangsta Rap marathon and I want to see that new rapper MC Water-No-Ice because I read in Entertainment Weekly there’s a video of him where he takes off his shirt then picks up an Uzi and sprays a mock-Starbucks full of old people wearing diapers and the recoil from the gun makes his chest ripple and it is “utterly unnecessary” but still “pretty sexy.”
He’s not young, but not really old, maybe 35, wearing a Gap sweater, tan chinos and gold-rimmed glasses and he was once employed by Paramount and is now a freelancer.
“He ain’t cheap,” Bruce told me, grinning, yet somehow looking amazingly benevolent.
“You really think I need this guy?” I asked.
“Trust me,” he said.
I thought: Bruce, you are insane.
I said, “Bruce?”
He leaned forward in the chair behind his desk.
I said, “You’re, um…”
“Yeah?” Bruce asked, nodding his head.
“No,” he said, his voice calm and even. “I am simply the greatest director in the entire world.”
I wanted to smoke a cigarette, file my nails, brush my hair vigorously, floss until I saw blood, drive out to the desert, look at a cactus, wait for nightfall. Instead, I looked at the poster behind him of Geisha Gals’ Goo #5 where another girl and I were straddling each other on a silk-covered futon, both of us wearing kimonos and our faces done up in white paint.
I pointed at the poster, “I was pretty good in that.”
“Yeah, and now you’re gonna’ be better.” Then he leaned back in his chair, looking satisfied and whispering, “Authenticity, Angie. Authenticity.”
“Yeah,” I sighed. “Whatever. I guess.”
“Don’t guess,” he said. “Be like Zen.” He laughed and I guess I laughed with him.
Now, the not-too-old-and-not-too-bad-looking voice coach wearing a paisley Gap sweater is sitting with me in a trailer. We’re on location in a deserted canyon to shoot scenes where I’ll be running through bushes and lying in dirt while wearing little or no clothing. Gary, the voice coach who was once employed by Paramount, has dipped his head back and his mouth is wide open and he’s saying:
I do the same.
“Feel that in your throat,” he says. “Really feel it.”
This is supposedly a good warm-up, a way to stretch the vocal cords.
“Okay,” he says, “Now let’s work on the accent.”
He drills me on the “r”-less sound, the choppy, halting rhythm, the messy syntax.
After about an hour, he tells me, “It’s not bad, but you still sound too…” A pause. “…American.”
“Me love you long time,” I say with conviction.
“Better,” he says then smiles.
Gary’s tan is Eden perfect and his hair has been moussed to the shape of a bicycle helmet. He is like a beautiful crash test dummy, only he’s not dumb and he isn’t cheap. And I am pretty sure this film has gone way over budget and that Bruce may be in need of professional help — especially since he’s been talking about having “special effects” like explosions and a naked midget flying through the air. But really there’s nothing I can do about all that, and more to the point – it’s not my money, so I am just: O-kay.
I look at Gary’s glossy, near-plastic skin, at his eyes the color of sky and say, “Gah-lee! Your neem is Gah-lee!”
“That’s more like Japanese,” says Gary, disappointed. “Or Pakistani.”
“Sorry,” I say, and sip some coffee. It tastes bitter and it seems to just stay in my throat.
“Are you ‘sorry sorry,’” asks Gary, “or ‘so sor-ree’?”
I tell him I think it’s the latter. And he winks at me.
After I’ve been in the canyon for five days, after the explosive experts Bruce had hired told him they could not stage the kind of “large-scale” explosions he wanted due to the “untenable” conditions of the land, and after the Huey choppers he asked for fail to arrive, and after he threw a tantrum where he broke a water cooler, a lighting prop, a cell phone and a video monitor, and after a night when mosquitoes descended upon us like hail, I get a call from Mom and she is beyond hysterical – she is subdued.
She keeps mumbling in a near monotone – a rhythm unlike anything I studied with Gary: “Dan-nee…Dan-nee…”
And I keep asking her how she got my cell phone number because I distinctly remember never giving it to her.
She says, “Dan-nee” for like the 500th time.
And then the news breaks and it is maybe five minutes later that I hang up while she’s still mumbling away. I am just standing there inside my trailer, wearing next to nothing, holding my cell phone and staring at a poster of Leonardo DiCaprio when somebody knocks on my door.
It’s Bruce and he wants to know if I’m ready.
“Yeah,” I mutter at him.
“What?” he shouts.
“Yeah, I’m ready.”
I get my legs to move and I pick up my hat from the table and I open the door and I step out and a make-up person hovers around me like a butterfly, applying a dash of powder or lip-gloss or hair-spray. And further up ahead I can see the bushes I am supposed to run through which have been expertly hacked away to expose an easy trail and the dirt mound where I am supposed to fall while bullets zip by and an explosion takes place off-screen and where one, two, then fourteen G.I.’s will “rescue” me — in the only way they can. Putting on my hat, I look off to the side and can see one of my co-stars, Randall Randy – tall, muscular and whose hair is so yellow it makes me want to squint. “That’s good,” says Bruce, “but I still wanta’ see your eyes.” Randall’s wearing an Army uniform and carrying an M-16 loaded with blanks – they will be loud and cause a lot of smoke, but they can’t kill you. It’s not real. This is the outskirts of LA, not the Mekong Delta.
“Run,” says Bruce.
I go scampering through the bushes in a thong, a sheer cotton blouse clinging to my chest and trying to keep the large wok-shaped straw-hat from falling off my head and I can feel my implants bouncing inside me and there’s the pop-pop-pop of gunfire and I almost scratch myself on a prickly vine and Bruce is yelling, “Go for the mound! Go for the mound!” and I see the dirt mound coming up, a mound where a blanket is resting and my flip-flops are digging into the dirt like shovels and I’m breathing hard and my implants are killing [There was a suicide] me and I let my hat fall away as I collapse, feeling the soft earth reshape itself to my body and I’m looking up and can see a Huey chopper pass by overhead, loud and steady, its undercarriage shadowing me and there’s an explosion off to the side [Danny’s dead] and it’s real just like the chopper and I get covered with some small rocks, but it’s nothing major and I wipe them off my face and there’s another explosion, an even bigger one, and I see a midget with an erection flying through the air and he looks horrible [Dead] but after he lands on top of an air mattress and gets up, safe and uninjured, I can see he wasn’t what I thought because he pulls out the buckteeth and throws away the glasses that had slitted eyes painted on them and he tosses the Kamikaze headband way up to where it hovers, riding a gust of wind and it’s clear the guy’s not even Asian and then Randall Randy is standing over me and he shoots three, four blanks to one side of my head and I flinch for real [Danny] and then he throws aside the M-16, rips away my blouse and slowly peels off my thong while yet another explosion goes off [Danny!] and then another G.I. shows up and another and another and one of them is a huge Black guy, his face all sweaty, and I get slapped and someone else pulls at my hair, so hard my scalp is on fire, and something goes inside me and I feel like I’m being cleaved in half and my legs are getting pulled further and further apart and one guy yells, “Die bitch!” and it feels like one of my arms is being torn away and then an Asian girl shows up and she’s helping the guys, helping them complete their mission, and then I get flipped over and my face is pushed into the ground and I can’t breathe, gagging on dirt and I think my arms will dislocate from my shoulders at any moment and I’m splitting apart, becoming two pieces and reaching an even higher stratosphere of pain, something I couldn’t believe was possible, and when they turn me back over, I’m spitting out dirt and my face gets slathered with something wet and I give out a cry that not even Gary, former employee of Paramount, had thought of:
When everyone is done, lying like the wounded on a battlefield, Randall crawls over to where his pants are, unholsters his gun, crawls back to me and shoots me four, five, six times in the face.
Then I die.
I sit next to Danny high above the earth. I’m eleven or twelve. This is my second trip to the Old Country; the first one I can’t remember because I was a baby. Outside, the air is full of cotton balls and the sun is flashing along the steel wing of the plane. In the cabin, someone – maybe the woman who got me my pillow – is making announcements in two languages. Danny looks happy. He is only five or six and sometimes I have to wipe his mouth because he is a sloppy eater. Mom, on the aisle seat next to me, says we need to buckle up. I clasp the belt around me and then reach over and do the same for Danny. He squirms a little and I tell him to relax: “Be a good boy.” Dad, who’s sitting in the row in front of us, turns around and asks me if I’m excited. I tell him I am. Then Danny squeals, pointing at the window. I look and can see that the wing is changing – some of the flaps that stood up like sails are going down and the plane is starting to dip. “Cool!” squeals Danny. Mom mentions that the flight has been too long and that there will be a time change and probably the airport will be very crowded. I touch her arm and say, [Don’t worry, Mother.] And Dad says, [That’s right.] Mom smiles at me and checks to make sure my seat is all the way up and then checks on Danny. There’s another announcement, this time about the weather, about how sunny it’ll be and that we’ll be arriving ahead of schedule. And then it’s repeated, but in a language I won’t be using for awhile, so I don’t really listen. When we touch down and get off, everyone will look like us and it’ll be strange at first, but I’ll get used to it and this time I won’t mope around, wishing to go back, complaining about the yucky food and the stupid stores and the way people drive and the weird smells on the street. I won’t get into a fight with Dad. He will never slap me. And Mom won’t cry, dropping to the floor. Danny won’t forget how to smile. I’ll always be Big Sister to my Little Brother. With the plane rocking slightly, Danny turns to me and says, “We’re going down.” “Yeah,” I say and smile back.
I clean myself in a porta-shower outside my trailer. After soaping up and washing off, I let the water hit me in the face. The water’s not very warm, almost cold, but I keep standing there with my eyes closed, one hand gripping a support bar because my knees feel incredibly weak. Then I hear a knocking and someone’s asking me how long I plan to be in the shower, because the crew is packing up, and not only that, the water tank’s almost empty.
“But that’s cool,” he says. “Use it all if you want. I’m just saying we’re getting ready to go.”
“Bruce?” I say, but it comes out weak, muted. My throat feels raw and scratched. I have to turn off the water – whose pressure is not even that strong – to make myself heard. “Bruce?” I say again.
“`Okay’? Wha’da’ya kiddin’ me? Angie – you were fucking phenomenal.”
Water’s dripping from the shower, splattering at my feet.
“Too bad about the midget though,” says Bruce.
I’m wet, feeling cold. The gray walls of the porta-shower are streaked with hard water stains. I shudder.
“Yeah,” says Bruce. “It would’ve been great if we had one.” He goes on to say that despite the lack of the midget and the explosions and the Huey choppers, it will still go down as “one of the greatest scenes of all time.”
The water’s still dripping and looking somehow rust-colored. There’s a bar of soap in the soap dish and it looks completely mashed up. My throat hurts. I grip the support bar a little harder and one or two veins ride along the top of my hand like caterpillars.
“Yeah,” I say, almost whisper. “It would’ve been great…if we’d had all that stuff.”
“Next time, baby. Next time.”
“Who was the girl?” I ask, cupping my hands on my breasts, trying to gauge exactly where my tissue ends and the silicone begins.
“Got her through Michelle,” says Bruce. “You like her?”
“She’s…” I drop my hands. My breasts are fine. They’re “highly resilient” just like the doctor said. “…alright.”
Bruce makes a snickering sound and again reminds me that we’re leaving, packing up and going back to the city. “So, um, you done, Angie?”
“Almost,” I say, then turn the water back on and let it hit me in the face full-blast.
Joseph Kim was born, raised and currently lives in San Francisco, CA. “Superstar” is his first published work of fiction and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
In his lifetime, he’s held a variety of positions, including: high school dropout, homeless person, prisoner, lifeguard, addict, security guard, and escapee.
You can reach him by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org