Once in Hollywood proper, or Burbank or whatever they called it these days, Chester pulled up to the ornate gates of The Studio and had the guy with the bulging arms and the bright smile and the uniform and the nametag that said – believe it or not – “Ken Hollywood” call inside to his brother’s executive assistant Valerie. Although their arrival was a surprise, they were magically welcome and given passes and called Sir. They were shown where to go and told where to park and Chester happily gave up all his rights, especially the right to be searched while leaving. They must be looking for people who steal dreams in the trunks of their rental cars. He chuckled to himself. Hollywood was his. Baxter was no more.
“Man! Honeyacre, look at that!”
A young girl was crossing the street in front of them. Jim Rook rose to
the bait. The Bait wore jeans in which holes had been ripped to strategically expose her body. She scowled at no one in particular as she strode across the crosswalk. She had on heels as high as the moon. She had hair that was a huge cascade of white, blown through with straw or something, and frozen into a cloud. Her butt was high and her breasts were higher and her face was beautiful. She had on a black leather motorcycle jacket and underneath, nothing but a black push-up bra. She carried a huge portfolio of what were certainly pictures of herself under her muscular arm.
“Oh, my God,” breathed Rook. “You forget what it’s like. I’ve been away too long!” He stared out the back window at the sight.
“Wow!” he yelled. He howled like a wolf howling at the moon. Because it was lunchtime, the narrow streets were filled with studio people and Chester had to drive slowly so as not to run over too many of them. They all stared briefly and carefully at the howling giant in the back seat of the rent-a-Cad and Jim Rook smiled at them and winked sweetly and howled again. Chester began to feel that he needed to get closer to Jim Rook.
“Give me that bottle,” he said. Rook laughed and handed it forward.
“It’s vodka, hundred proof. WOW!” He howled some more. Chester had a swig. What the hell, it was lunchtime. He had another swig.
They twisted and turned through the peculiar world of normalized surreality that is peculiar to movie studios no longer, now that amusement parks the world over have adopted their features. Here, on the real thing, Chester felt he might be at Disneyland on a day when it was closed to the public so that the employees could slant-park their cars right on the rides and attractions themselves. He steered down the pastel canyons created by the big stages, creeping onto New York Street, then Midwestern Street (where Judy Garland might have sung, where Donald O’Conner might have danced), then a dusty small-town square with a movie theater marquee that read “Kill Some Monsters!” There
were hidden parks and Mediterranean harbors and half-drained sailing tanks enclosed with gigantic sky backgrounds and false-fronted buildings, their alleyways invitations to decay and ruin and high voltage. On the horizon he could see the dinosaur heads high above the walls of what he knew must be the Jack O’Saurus Theme Park with its attendant restaurants. The Studio made a whole lot of money on its rides and attractions, perhaps more than on its movies, this much he knew from reading the Seattle papers. It was one of the big differences in a town he had lived and worked in years ago. Along one edge of this vast complex ran the concrete channel of the Los Angeles River, contained to a trickle down inside its ravine-like walls. Beyond it, the little rows and rows of ranch-box houses enclosed the lives of the residents. This was not a world of triangles, thought Chester. The Northwest was long triangles of dark fir trees and shorter triangles of steep-roofed, gabled houses. Here, things were pueblo-like, all soft rectangles, pastel shoe boxes, stacked or single, studded with palm trees. Jim Rook stopped howling now and
Chester took another slug of vodka and handed the flask back to him.
“We need drugs,” announced Jim Rook.
Chester was drawn to these women he began to see, the ones who had not-quite shoulder-length hair, dressed sensibly and expensively without a lot of makeup. These women were the opposites of Shirley Anne Honeyacre and Lorene Supplemeir and the women of his life. These were women in six hundred dollar jeans and two hundred dollar t-shirts with stop watches around their necks. Here in the Wilderness of Beauty, out among the actresses, he remembered, looking like you wanted to look too good was like working in a mattress factory and spending the day sleeping. He noticed of himself that he had begun already to feel perfectly at home with studio life, the same way he used to feel, years ago, when he had worked for a while in the publicity department of this very lot in a building that dated back to the Twenties and that had once housed the cubicles of artists drawing funny ducks.
Chester stopped at a little intersection, huge sound stages looming up above them. A group of men in drapy expensive suits, looking like women in tight, flowing ankle-length dresses, all talking at once, ponytails drifting down their backs, passed in front of them. He picked up speed slowly past suspiciously chisel-faced young men holding styrofoam cups, shirt collars smeared by makeup. Otherwise normal people outfitted with beepers and carrying walkie-talkies hurried by. He noticed the kind of crew guys who wear shorts all year long, even if they are on location in Alaska in January. He heard the ringing of distant bells on the stages, he saw the huge doors opened for lunch. The whole cast of characters that the rubes knew nothing about; assistant directors, grips, prop-masters, gaffers, script girls, bug wranglers, set decorators, best boys, craft service people, wardrobe people, food stylists, riggers, juicers, wranglers, greensmen. Some of the grizzled older veterans looked like comedy cowboys riding bicycles too small for them; old, fat-tired bicycles with big corny baskets. The uniformed guards rode in silent electric golf carts, as if some Latin American dictator had ordered his entire army to play lunchtime golf. There was the huge nursery filled with movable trees and shrubs of every kind and in there, through the bamboo groves, the old New Orleans mystery house with big yellow electric cables snaking in to power the massive lights. And finally, there it was, the legendary Stage Six, its Babylonian facade rising to greet them. All around were the traces of an older history and an uncertain future. The ancient stucco stage was surrounded by temporary huts and trailers for production offices, giving the feeling that nothing was permanent. This sheltered half-world with its trucks and cowboys and limos, thought Chester. I should have owned the joint, he thought sadly.
He made his final turn according to directions and at the same time a gorgeous woman with very long straight hair walking ahead of him, striding and flinging her head around and dragging an oversized purse by a strap so long that the bag almost touched the ground. His heart dropped. His heart rose. How could it be? She veered away behind some cars and was gone from sight. Ahead of him was a collection of log structures, huge gorgeous log houses and outbuildings grouped into a kind of castle of golden timbers. Massive logs had been set in place one above the other to make cavernous lower stories above which diminishingly smaller logs, burnished and finished by hand, notched and stacked up to make walls and doors and frame huge glass windows leaded elegantly in the California Craftsman style.
This, he recognized from pictures, was the famous Honeyacre Pictures’ complex. This was the fabled Northwest style studio within The Studio that Charlie Christianstein had built for Chester’s little brother because Chester’s little brother’s films had saved The Studio’s ass one fine day. The Honeyacre Pictures complex was Mitchell’s creation and it was a virtual shrine to a Northwest that Mitchell – so far as Chester knew – hadn’t even visited in years.
“Whoa. That’s a great-looking butt on that one,” said Jim Rook as he spotted again the woman with the long, straight hair dragging what had to be a thousand-dollar purse by its long strap. Chester’s heart stopped when she turned her head and he saw her beautiful face.
“Jesus,” breathed Rook. “That’s Rosie Everlasting, isn’t it? You weren’t lying, Honeyacre. You deliver. Wow. Rosie Everlasting. Wow.”
Chester stopped the car. Rosie Everlasting – or what might have been someone made up and costumed to look like her, don’t forget where you are, he thought to himself – disappeared inside the tower of logs. He was probably in trouble now, he thought.
“Are you alright, Chester?”
It was Valerie, peering in the window of the car. Chester remembered enough about Hollywood to know that Mitchell was really showing his greatest affection by sending her, his number one girl, instead of coming out himself to greet his own flesh and blood. He got out of the Cadillac and kissed her warmly.
Valerie looked the same as ever. Cold. Cute. Fearless. Smart.
“Val. Hi, honey. It’s great to see you,” he said, looking around for Rosie Everlasting. He stretched to emphasize how big he was, in case Valerie had forgotten
“I always forget how tall you really are,” she said. He had always flirted some with Val.
“I don’t,” he said. “Where’s the little dictator?”
She smiled. She pointed at the building.
“Fort Honeyacre,” she said. He laughed. “The kids are here for the annual visit, did you know that?” He knew she knew he didn’t know that.
“You want to see them?” she said.
“You’re kidding? This is great. I want to see them, of course. That was Rosie I just saw, wasn’t it?”
“Uh, huh. She just showed up today unannounced, too.”
“Well, Mitchell’s going to have to see me. A brother’s love is eternal, Val. An ex-wife’s is ephemeral at best.” She laughed shortly, but she was no longer listening to him. Her eyes were following the appearance of Jim Rook as he heaved himself out of the car and up to his full height, greater than Chester’s. He carried a broad and delighted smile across his scarred and handsome face.
“Who’s this?” she asked of Chester.
“Val, this is Jim Rook.”
“I’ve heard of you,” she said. They shook hands. Jim Rook seemed chastened, like a little boy. He shyly shook her hand for way too long and said that he was sure glad to meet her. She looked carefully at Chester for a moment, as if suspecting that the two of them were drunk or up to something.
“Well, actually, you came at a good time.”
“This is a good time, isn’t it?” smiled Jim Rook, holding one of the huge carved doors open for her. She smiled carefully up at him and led the two big men inside the vast, vaulted reception area which was, to say the least, starkly modern; the floors of cracked waxed concrete and the reception desk of packing crates and the cold little minimalist seats that seemed to be stacks of paper and the sailcloth walls that billowed from puffs of hidden wind. Once inside, she walked them past all the smart young people in their smart young clothes and haircuts, past the innumerable partitioned production offices and video game areas and coffee machines and cute secretaries, up slanting overview ramps, past artworks of the Indian Northwest that were so casually displayed that it would have been hard to convince average people that they were even valuable. Luckily, thought Chester, there were no average people here.
Then he saw the tall, red-haired, familiar woman again, clutching to her chest the two big covered Indian baskets she had been carrying on the plane. He was very surprised and so was she. She looked at him as if about to speak.
“Hey, KM,” Val called out to her. “You made it. We’re at lunch. There’s some problems with the morels. He was asking where you were.”
“Hi, Val. I’m here. Can I put these in the refrigerator in your office?”
“Sure. But they want you on the stage, Honey. Right now.”
“I know, I’m on my way,” the big woman said. She looked at Chester again in what he thought was an odd manner and for a moment they almost spoke, but Val swept him and Jim Rook along and past her.
At the top of the sprawling building, Mitchell’s office was in a sort of aerie lofted high above the comings and goings along the busy offices and walkways and ramps below. The whole atmosphere was that of an amusement fort at a big miniature golf course. After all, it was the fresh childlike quality of “Jack Manosaurus!” that was responsible, thought Chester, for this vast and casual display of wealth. Mitchell Honeyacre often appeared like a fool to normal people and that’s probably why normal people never made close to the money that Mitchell made. He had never really been educated beyond two zoned-out years at Beaverteeth University College (home of the Battling Beavers) because everything had to go on hold when he directed some local TV commercials and did pretty well at it and then moved to Seattle and then down to Hollywood and made more commercials and fell in with the local hipsters, all of whom believed that Hollywood films were a dead issue artistically. Mitchell decided yes, but he might save the situation, he might make a great film in black-and-white, out of the full-blown spirit of the time and his latent adolescence. He had burned too many bridges, he realized, once he went around trying to get someone to finance this movie.
He went back up to Beaverteeth and coerced some money out of old friends who knew dentists who knew cocaine dealers with cash to burn. Then he said goodbye to Beaverteeth and set out across the country to make his beautiful film.
Rosie Everlasting wrote a song once about someone with long hair stretching behind him, like unspooled threads which might yet lead him back home. This was when she was a Lady of the Canyon and was trying to figure out how to write songs about California. Before that, in the mysterious East – that is, in the State of New York – Mitchell first met this folksinging girl soon to be named Rosie Everlasting, although then her name was Barbara Segelman. His film became about her and the rage that was surging through the colleges of the land. The film, “Knock It Down!” (Janus Films, 1971) won him fame so quickly that it was like a sharp and deep breath of Arctic air from which his lungs never quite recovered. For it, he received an Academy Award for Short Subjects and suddenly he was the youngest genius in Hollywood. He and Rosie became world-famous together. They had two kids and then they split up.
Names are recapitulations, thought Chester, little histories. They are subjects more for speculation than for study, truncated lines of descent, all their modifications lost in tribal fashions of nomenclature. Rosie’s was no exception. Chester had never wanted to call her Barbara Segelman even when she had wanted him to and he never would.
“Hey, Val.” He kept his voice low. “Why is Rosie here?” He didn’t want Rook to hear him ask. He didn’t want to see Rosie, either, much as he loved her.
“Iím not sure. She says she’s got some deal going for a picture. She says Charlie wants her out here. Swear to God.” Charlie Christianstein was the head of this very studio and it was well known that Rosie was not exactly a hot property as a movie actress these days.
Rosie’s career as a movie star had not gone far. Indeed, Val’s tone of sarcasm about her said it all. Rosie Everlasting had not burned up the marquee out here, although some people – her avid fans – thought she was wonderful. He had always thought, in defense of the movies, that at least they were a better working environment for a mother with two kids than being on the road with musicians. Anyway, the kids had always spent more time with Mitchell when they were little. He was always working and he used to make Chester and Valerie and even Charlie Christianstein babysit on the set. That was when Charlie was his agent. Then came the very bad reviews of their first films and Rosie decided
that she hated acting and went back on the concert road and Mitchell was quickly reduced to making cheap features and then movies for TV and everyone back home had pretty much forgotten about him and his deflated bubble until, five years ago, there was the sudden appearance of “Jack Manosaurus!” And then the world had transformed itself to suit Mitchell’s dreams and it had not changed back since. From that point on, everything Mitchell Honeyacre did was popular and made money for everyone concerned.
That was the way Mitchell liked it. Mitchell had made the number one-grossing film of all time. Mitchell was a genius. People, thought Chester, were excited about Mitchell. Valerie made them wait in a kind of sub-lobby.
“Just be cool now, Jim. I can’t promise anything, you know, but I want you to understand what a big deal it is to even get to see him,” said Chester.
“You’re a frightened wimp, aren’t you, big brother?” said Jim Rook, without rancor.