Chester, too, had severely mixed feelings about Hollywood. When his brother Mitchell first came there in the Seventies, it was considered a joke to live down in the town itself like some holdover from the Old Hollywood. It was a kitschy thing to do, that’s the way people talked in those days. Everyone knew that Hollywood was dead; as a concept. The old families and their old studios were dead. A new generation was taking hold of the old bank accounts, a generation with wide belts and sideburns and no brassieres, adrift in the hilarity of youth and cheap marijuana, torn between Ho Chi Minh and cash money. But Mitchell loved the town itself and used to live right down on Salad Avenue, off Sunset Boulevard, in a little white frame house that could have been a Charlie Chaplin bungalow, looking up at the mortuary-like walls that surrounded both a studio and the actual mortuary and cemetery in which reposed a good many of the studio’s executive dead. That was when Mitchell was married to Rosie Everlasting and they were happy and Chester was happy too, just to sleep on the clean hardwood floors of the little bungalow, by the boards-on-bricks improvised bookshelves, and to be with her while Mitchell went off to shoot film. Chester liked to listen to Rosie’s voice and drive her Volkswagon painted with paisley designs up to her friends in Laurel Canyon for days and nights of singing and guitar-playing and the ingestion of God knows what unsanitary mushrooms and the like. It had surely changed Chester’s life when his little brother Mitchell had married the famous Rosie Everlasting, “America’s premiere mod protest voice for today,” according to no less than a 1971 Time Magazine cover story. Chester had loved Rosie Everlasting since her first record album, “Rosie Everlasting: Here I Am!” (Columbia Records, 1967), and he had acquired every Rosie Everlasting album since, in some cases even multiple copies, big clumsy old vinyl platters for the most part, some of the later ones complete with their original shrink-wrap. Shirley Anne (formerly) Honeyacre had not been interested in getting A. Aaron Baxter to steal them from him as she had most everything else that he considered his. He still owned:
Mod as a Hatter! Rosie Everlasting (Columbia 1968)
Working Class Blue : Rosie Everlasting (Columbia 1968)
Wake up, Pigs, and Smell the Music! : Rosie Everlasting (Columbia 1969)
What It Is Is Exactly Clear! : Rosie Everlasting (A&M 1969)
Magic Strawberry Gossamer Carousel : Rosie Everlasting (Columbia 1970)
IAMMEROSIE : Rosie Everlasting (Fem/Now Records 1974)
The Disco Kid : Rosie Everlasting (RCA 1977)
Little People’s Precious Songs : Rosie Everlasting (Unicorn Records (1979)
Honesty: Barbara Segelman (Rosie Everlasting) (Canterbury Records 1981)
Country Girl Again! : Rosie Everlasting (RCA 1983)
Outlaw Woman : Rosie Everlasting (RCA 1985)
Porch Rose Waltz : Rosie Everlasting (with Linda Ronstadt and Emmie Lou Harris)
Grammy Award winner (Sony 1989)
There had been notable appearances for Rosie in films as well, but Chester had not collected the DVD reissues of them because he thought that being in the movies diminished her stature as a writer and a singer of music that had always affected him deeply. He cherished the memories of her in jail or singing to thousands upon thousands at peace marches, her candid interviews in the Village Voice about feminism and human rights and her lifelong commitment to honor and her principles. He was an
old-time Rosie Everlasting fan and he did not enjoy seeing her in a movie kissing some guy with swept-back hair and arms pumped up with secret pushups in the dressing-room just before the camera rolled.
In fact, his pure vision of Rosie had helped him endure Shirley Anne longer than he might have, because while he might have come to see himself as nothing more than a sickening sex slave and degenerate in league with the devil herself, he might contrast this with his inner vision; the high-minded purity of a folk-singing girl with big eyes and big teeth and long straight blonde hair to her waist on whose wooden floors he once had slept. Deep down, he knew that Rosie was not what she appeared to be, but he didn’t have to live with her and so he kept his illusions and his lists and his collections as treasured amulets that might ward off evil when it appeared. Rosie Everlasting still looked like the most beautiful hippie girl you ever saw, still to this day and God alone knows what day that is. Every time Chester looked at one of those album cover pictures of her foolish face and her long helmet of hair and her overbite and her hellishly lovely eyes he felt the same way. He would love her the same when she was eighty as he did today, as he did the day before. One of Chester’s strengths was that he knew certain things about himself and this was chief among them.
Rosie Everlasting and his little brother Mitchell had lasted the requisite few years as lovers and then parents, losing the original bonds that had held them, the bonds of youth and Art and generational striving. As Rosie spent more time on the road and Mitchell more on location, it had all just gone away; the laughter and the fun and the feeling of improbable invulnerability that show business marriages – at their best – can have. Rosie Everlasting, too, had just gone away one day. She left Mitchell for someone else and therefore abandoned Chester as well and went back to New York, taking both kids with her. And while Chester had been happy because then she wasn’t Mitchell’s wife, still he couldn’t see her anymore, too shy as he was to ever pursue her. She and New York were far away from his life and his own crazy marriage to Shirley Anne in Beaverteeth.
Because of all this (and there was more that he did not even want to think about) Chester had necessarily mixed feelings about going down to Hollywood, much less doing it burdened with the presence of two dangerous amateurs necessarily unskilled in the arts of pleasing and cajoling Hollywood weirdos like his little brother into doing things they had no real reason to do. And, back home, he knew he would be in for a fight when the time came – all too soon – in which he must propose that the town keep up the parade even without the presence of the Middenites, without NBC, without the national exposure and its brief glamour. He knew that everyone in town would feel lessened by the cowardly abandonment of the bigger city, that all along, the parade was nothing without Midden’s money and prestige. He knew he had a selling job ahead of him. But he had some cards. He had the luminary card, for instance, and he had never played it. The town had forgotten that he held it and when they remembered, they would suddenly feel a whole lot better. He was, after all, Mitchell Honeyacre’s big brother. Not only that, he was Mitchell Honeyacre’s big brother who had never before asked for a Hollywood favor. And simply, guided by Giant Beavers, now he would ask. The train must ask permission of the dispatcher, as he remembered Old Man Petersunn saying, years ago. The parade must ask permission of its luminaries. He could no longer afford to be proud. The giant beavers were right. In fact, when he thought about it, his parade might have Hollywood’s balls in its hand. He remembered one of the giant beavers saying something to that effect in his dream. A brother cannot refuse a brother, that was another good thought.
He thought that maybe the giant beaver dreams he had been having were somehow connected with his vision of the day before, but then he dimly remembered the giant beavers telling him that they were not.
On the ground, in Los Angeles, as Chester stood in line at the rent-a-car office, he noticed a big limousine and a driver pulled up to meet someone important and surprisingly it seemed to be the red-haired woman whom he did not yet know was Karen Mae Petersunn. He looked at her from the front now and realized that this was also the Woodswoman from the day before. This was beyond coincidence, he thought. She was very good looking, she was unnaturally tall, she seemed familiar to him, he couldn’t quite tell how old she was, she was dressed strangely, she was clutching two very large Indian baskets with lids and, most important, for a brief moment, she locked eyes with him.
She noticed him as well, of course – the wild, balding man in the woods, etc., someone she knew from somewhere, etc. – and she pulled her eyes away from his with a stiff little smile of recognition of some kind and she climbed in the back of the limo which Valerie – who worked for Mitchell Honeyacre – had nicely sent for her after Karen Mae told her on the cell phone about her father’s death and therefore why she would be late that day for work and she set the big porker mushrooms in their baskets up in front of the air conditioning vent and had a beer from the little bar in the limo and heard the latest updates of life at Honeyacre Pictures from Ricky the driver as she was driven like a queen back into a world that she did not think she wanted to be a part of anymore. If she went back up home, she wondered if she might again see the big man she had locked eyes with at the airport, the man who must live in Beaverteeth, perhaps someone she had known long ago, even in high school perhaps. Fat chance, she thought. Fat chance.
Chester rented a Cadillac at the airport using the Towhead Beech platinum card and signed the requisite paperwork “Spike Lee” and then steered the big car up La Cienega on the way to Hollywood, feeling like the kind of insider who knows that it’s faster than the freeway that way. He had downed only three drinks on the plane and he drove carefully, trying to think. After all, here he was in a place where mistakes might be made, as they had been in the past. He noticed that Jim Rook had a flask of something, tequila maybe, which he had somehow smuggled on and off the plane and he and Baxter seemed to have had quite a lot of the contents. Baxter sat in the front passenger seat and every once in a while he would wink at Chester and pat his pocket, evidently to signify the presence of a gun, although Chester didn’t think such a thing would make it past airport security in this day and age. Baxter also clutched his manuscript, in which Jim Rook had displayed no interest so far, and he rocked back and forth in his seat with what could only be anticipation. At times Chester could see his lips moving, as if silently encouraging himself. From the back seat came the rumble of Jim Rook’s voice.
“This is a town where an Indian feels at home,” it proclaimed. “This is Indian Territory. This town makes me feel like rounding up white people and setting fire to them.”
Baxter tried to light a cigarette and snubbed the end of it off on his pants. He frantically attempted to hunt down the burning ember like a crazy person. Chester thought again that if Baxter were spontaneously incendiary, getting past an airplane ride with him was a major sign that luck was still hovering somewhere nearby.
“See,” said Jim Rook, “I should be killing white people and black people and yellow people in scenes where I’d drop from a big crane only it would look like I was jumping off a building or an assault helicopter and then I’d have like a really nice automatic weapon and in a matched cut I’d pull it out and I’d blast all the people of other races and they’d all – I mean all the races in the movie theatre – they would all feel ok because everyone feels guilty down deep about what everybody else did to us Native Americans, see? And I’d have a stunt double and my own trailer and my top-rank Jewish agents would drop by at lunch and we’d play cards and drink scotch and talk sports.”
“Violence is wrong,” said Baxter. “Wait until you find out the truth, brother. You’ll see and you’ll feel much better about things. You’ll be in synch with ??? higher forces and you’ll have a purpose and some self-esteem.”
“Fuck self-esteem,” said Jim Rook pleasantly.
Looking out the windshield, Chester noticed that something had happened to Los Angeles in the years since he had been down here and it wasn’t just the occasional armored personnel carrier staffed with National Guardsmen or the occasional burned building still standing after some years; it wasn’t only the odd crumpled apartment building resting on squashed cars from the latest earthquake. There was trouble here, everyone knew that. He was not bothered by trouble anymore because it had now become his whole life. He was sensitive to trouble and its geography, he practically welcomed it. What he felt was more as if something were bigger, or fuller perhaps, and it could have nothing to do with Hollywood, which he knew to be still some miles ahead of them. It was Los Angeles itself. They had entered a strange Catholic World of the Angels which seemed to be stuffed with every extra human, every extra Indian from the south with a Spanish name as well as every overflow Indian from Calcutta and New Delhi, every extra Cambodian or Vietnamese or Djimboudian whom the Far East and the Far Everywhere could no longer hope to contain. He read the papers, particularly the Seattle and Midden ones, and he knew – smugly, like most people in the Northwest – that Los Angeles had rocketed up in population, firing its handguns randomly into its tortured air. The bullets plunged downward, tumbling through the precious skulls of the innocent and the poor.
A broken and dirty man along the way held up a hand-lettered sign: “Fear Never, Then Know Forever,” it read. He stared at the black people on the streets outside the car. Some were dressed right out of the pages of fashion magazines and some sauntered dangerously with hats onbackwards and fastenings unfastened, flashing cryptic, double-handed signals with their fingers at the passing cars. He glimpsed signs of the approach of Hollywood and the land of the white people in the increasingly frequent vanity license plates: MYSTAR 88 (particularly poignant, whether 88 was a year or an age, he thought); IAMMEONE, (presumably a fan of Rosie Everlasting); JENSVETTE, (isn’t it great that Jenny got a ‘vette?) He nodded to more police and National Guard at a street corner where two buildings were leaking smoke, seemingly about to explode. He passed the secure bacterial joy of the Garden of Yogurt and the happy world of the Sports Junkie Attic and the Mall. He could see down the broad intersecting avenues fringed with palms, leading into
the old Chandler Oil Fields. It was hot, or so it seemed to Chester. A hot wind had blown into town and he had left even Spring far behind. An acrid plume of smoke, flat-topped, was rising from the next purple range of hills beyond. A gilded Chrysler sailed next to him, driven by a beautiful black woman wearing a snow-white turban and more gold jewelry than he had ever seen. In the back seat, her children sat with their maid.
The woman looked not right nor left, like Cleopatra among her subjects. Her childrens’ heads were bowed over the computer screens of their homework.
On the sidewalk, near the Meatty Meat Burgers, a man completely covered in a tight-fitting snood, a featureless thing, all black, danced up and down. His hardened penis stuck out before him like a bowsprit. He hopped in some silent erotic world of his own. With a chill, Chester remembered the creature with the bundle and the snake. Baxter glanced at the low and flat world of pastel squares and generally undressed people as they crossed into the Wilshire District.
“I hate California,” said Baxter.
“Don’t be an asshole. There’s a major lot of world-class pussy in this town,” countered Jim Rook from the depths of the back seat. He passed the flask up to Baxter.
“There’s guys in this town driving Rolls fucking Royces,” whined Baxter. “They buy colleges so their stupid children can go to them, that’s how rich they are, and all for doing nothing, for going out to lunch with dying old people and getting their secretaries to type up wills. It’s a goddamn goldmine of easy money. Look at them, the smug bastards, letting their women run around like whores.” Baxter caught Chester’s eye again and patted his pocket again.
“Baxter, I could let you off around here,” muttered Chester. “It would probably take you five or six minutes to fit right in.” They were crossing Wilshire boulevard.
“I hate it here. What the hell month is this? And it’s hot, for Christ’s sake.”
“It’s April, almost May,” said Jim Rook, who was getting positively sociable.
“May,” Baxter snorted. “They’re still digging out up at Boomer Pass! Look at these fags. See, those are fags, you can tell by how short their hair is. Jesus! Would you look at those assholes? Looks like some goddamn Iranian beach party!” Chester wasn’t sure how he was going to get rid of Baxter, but he certainly had to. He could tell that Jim Rook was wondering about his sanity, because Baxter was so obviously off one rocker or another. Rook didn’t seem all that stable himself. Chester got jumpy when the big man leaned forward and stuck his big, battered head into the space between them.
“So, Baxie,” said Rook. Baxter lit up with a smile. “Is that a movie script you’ve got there? I should be in the movies. Lemme see it.”
Rook reached for it faster than Baxter could conceive that a hand might move and ripped it out of his grasp and sat back and carefully, slowly took it out of its envelope and opened it up. Chester could see that Baxter was pleased, but nervous. He didn’t offer the flask to Chester.
“Yessir, it’s going to interest Chester’s brother, I can tell you that, Jim,” Baxter cooed. “It’s not your everyday movie, no sir.” He had begun to writhe around in his seat again.
Rook ceremoniously pulled out a thick, loosely bound sheaf of papers and read the title page:
” I Am The Drifter! By Chief Smoattle, The Prophet.
(As told through Shirley Anne Honeyacre)
Original Screenplay by Shirley Anne Honeyacre
and A. Aaron Baxter.
Sole property of the Vegetable Mental Foundation,
Midden, WA. Registered with WGAW,
Shirley Anne Honeyacre Beech, Producer”
“Sounds like a load of crap, Baxter,” Jim Rook said. “This is real stupid stuff, this kind of spiritual bullshit.”
“Don’t you get it?” shouted Baxter. “See, Chief Smoattle says his last incarnation on this planet was as the Drifter, see? I mean, someone has to play the Drifter, see?”
He was nodding and winking at Jim Rook.
“They just laugh at you when you come in with this kind of shit, Baxter.” Rook stared at him and idly pulled out the three brass brads that bound the script together. “I know, I lived down here for a while and I was on three network TV shows – they’re called episodics – and I know what I’m talking about. If you want to know about the Drifter, son, you best come to me.” He said this last kindly enough and then he smiled at Baxter and tossed the script out the window.
“OH MY GOD STOP THE FUCKING CAR HONEYACRE OR YOU’RE GOING TO JAIL!” Baxter shrieked. Chester pulled over and the outraged lawyer scrambled out into the traffic. They had stopped in front of a restaurant with no windows, in and out of which sailed big and expensive cars. They could see the sweating Baxter dodging across La Cienega Boulevard, frantically picking up the drifting pages.
“Let’s go, hoss,” said Jim Rook. He smiled at Chester and Chester smiled at him in the rearview and drove off like a chaffeur.
“I don’t want that guy at my party.” Jim Rook said. “You got that? Not if you want me in your two-bit parade, Honeyacre.”
“I was not going to take him with us.”
“You were too. He’s got something on you.”
“He’s crazy. I feel sorry for him.”
“That’s why he can send you to jail?”
“Yeah. That’s life these days. You feel sorry enough for somebody, they’ll send you to jail.”
Jim Rook had to laugh at that.
“Man,” he said. “If that was true, I’d have turned myself in years ago. Sometimes I feel so sorry for myself I could ???”
“I don’t know. Shit, or something I guess. I never spent much time in English classes, you know? I can barely express myself in my native tongue.”
“Well, hardly anyone your age can speak Squilimuk anymore.”
“No, English. The English language is my native tongue and I speak it poorly, you know? I haven’t got that gift of gab the way you seem to, Honeyacre.”
“It’s my job.”
“To be persuasive.”
“You might say so.”
“I just did say so. Stop at that liquor store. We need inspiration to go to a meeting with Mitchell Honeyacre, regardless of how persuasive you are, big brother.”