“Home was just another place
For you to win another race
To set your picture on your shelf
You needed to be believing
from the song, “I Hate, Hate, Hate You”
Rosie Everlasting (ASCAP)
Out of the sanctum burst a group of Asian guys in drapy suits, laughing and chatting among themselves. Chester could hear Mitchell’s voice. Valerie slipped inside the door. Jim Rook grinned at the secretary. She smiled back. Jim Rook told her, in a reasonable tone of voice, as if discussing her investment portfolio, that she looked like the kind of woman who would really enjoy sleeping with him. She actually blushed. The big wooden door, carved with Northwest totem figures, opened and there was Mitchell Honeyacre, the great man himself.
“My hero. Jim Rook,” he said solemnly and he strode to Rook and hugged him in the manner of Hollywood people who don’t even know one another, embracing him like a brother.
“Hey, Chester, man,” he burbled, to his actual brother, his head buried some where in Jim Rook’s coat. “It’s great to see you, hey.” His hand reached out and patted at Chester. He had a pony tail now and Chester had a momentary, timeless urge to pull on it. His little brother, this little guy. Mitchell pulled back and stared up at Rook.
“God,” he said. “If I could tell you how much you’ve meant to me.”
Jim Rook knew the feeling. It was not news to him that he had meant a lot to people.
“You know, Mitch,” he said in a chummy manner, “I’m probably the guy that’s going to save your ass. Why hasn’t there ever been a movie made of ‘The Drifter’?
“That’s an interesting coincidence, Jim. Interesting that you would say that,” said Mitchell. Together they walked into the recesses of Mitchell’s office, leaving Chester to bring up the rear. Chester brought it along and set it up and sat it down and waited for the monsoon of affection to clear.
“It’s been a secret, Jim, but, you know, actually, we’re, you know, trying to get it made right now. There’s huge complications. There’s been two versions of it made, one by Griffith – but it’s lost – and one Technicolor shitpile from the thirties that they fucked up so bad it doesn’t have one bit of The Drifter left in it. And of course there’s the estate problems. It’s worse than Disney and ‘Winnie The Pooh.’ But all that’s going to change. We’ve got the answer on staff, under control.”
“Well, nothing would be better than a movie of ‘The Drifter’ that’s for sure,” Chester gambled. “It’s a natural, why hasn’t somebody done it before?”
“They have, I just said that.”
“They have, he just said that.”
“You’re saying all this because I’m an Indian, right?” asked Jim Rook glumly. “You’re saying what everyone’s always said; that it’s ironic and interesting that an Indian guy like me is who I am but that Hollywood could never cast an Indian as The Drifter himself.”
“Well, it is a problem. I mean, a lot of ‘The Drifter’ concerns the fact that he – The Drifter – isn’t an Indian, if you see what I mean.”
“I’m not stupid,” said Jim Rook. “I see what you mean.”
Valerie had guarded Mitchell for years now, carefully pointing his worst instincts in the right direction – as she herself said – which was the direction that insured as much money and security for her and all the people at Honeyacre Pictures as Mitchell could provide. To Valerie, this meant that Mitchell didn’t listen to losers and failures, that he kept to the right people, astride the thin edge of the wave where the work was, where the people balanced who worked forever in this town, as they said.
“You know,” she said with a thin smile. “Let’s cut the crap, Jim. You’re too old to play the Drifter.”
“Oh,” said Jim Rook. “Ah. I see what you mean. I hadn’t thought of that. You’re saying that you are not a white race-prejudiced devil, but that you feel that I am old.”
“You have an interesting face.”
“A real interesting face. Remember that time you were on “The Rookies?” asked Mitchell.
“You saw that?” Jim Rook was pleased.
“I did, indeed. You were great.”
“You were great,” said Valerie, still smiling.
“I was great. I sprayed people with machine gun fire.”
Mitchell abruptly changed the subject, saying he needed to get out, he needed to feel free, he needed to entertain his two kids for the summer and he was rich and successful and unhappy and neurotic and he had had it with wanting to believe in things. He didn’t want to believe anymore and he didn’t think he had to believe anymore. He was rich enough not to have to believe any more.
“I’ve got to get out of this hole I’m in, though,” he said candidly. “I want to take my chances out in the real world, you know cops and motherfuckers on the grafitti streets, the way life is really!” He was shouting. “Fucking Charlie wants me to do – where’s that script, Val? – this “Die, Pinnochio!” thing looks great, though. A cop can’t tell a lie because something gets bigger on his body.”
“His nose?” said Chester.
“It used to be the nose in the original, but I hate that. I want something better. Can’t be his cock, really, although that would be great. I don’t want some stupid mechanical nose like – where’s the script, Val? – is in the – oh, forget it – like Klaut Heft wants, but it’s great casting.” He paused for effect. “Klaut Heft as Pinocchio and Egypt Washington as his cop buddy.”
Chester nodded up and down as if he thought this was great. Val looked pleased.
“Klaut Heft and Egypt Washington are fags,” said Jim Rook, who did not seem happy at all. “Is that what you want to do, make fag movies?”
That stopped Mitchell for a moment. There was a sudden crazy look in Rook’s eyes that made Chester very nervous.
“Don’t get me wrong,” said Rook, sensing the shock in the air. “Your average fag is a great guy, unusually intelligent, sensitive and hard-working. Egypt Washington is very well remembered in the NDL and he contributes generously to the Player’s Fund.”
“I think what Jim is trying to say here, kid, is that “The Drifter” couldn’t ever be a fag movie because it’s basically only about one person,” said Chester.
“Ah, I see your point,” said Mitchell, who didn’t really.
“The whole thing is just about me,” smiled Jim Rook. “See?”
“Uh, huh,” said Mitchell. He tried to change the subject again.
“Listen, Chester. I’m glad you’re here,” he said in that amusingly direct way of his.
Chester said that he, too was glad to be here in that amusingly direct way he had that reminded people of Mitchell.
“Listen, Chester,” said Mitchell. “You guys have got to come with me and see the kids. Boy, is Corvin gonna die when he sees that it’s Jim Rook. Oh, and there’s a big party tonight, you guys should come to that. You’re staying out at my place, that’s for sure, there’s plenty of room.”
And then Rosie Everlasting just came bursting in the door, all full of herself in the way of ex-wives who are still adored by the men whom they have abandoned. And on this second of the three great days of his life, Chester Honeyacre had to face the great emptiness of that life as he looked at Rosie Everlasting, the only woman he had truly ever loved, the woman he could not have, the woman he loved who did not love him. His darling Rosie. Single. Available to anyone, even Jim Rook. From behind, presumably.
Rosie was certainly older, thought Chester, but she looked great. She was Westernized to the best extent that expensive bootmakers from Wichita or Tulsa who shipped their finest goods to Manhattan could make her. She looked like the kind of Western gal who could swing up on behind Gene or Tex or Red and hightail it out for the old Mine Shaft with the best of them. Her boots must have been stitched from the skins of reptiles and birds. Her beautiful hair was still very long – trademark long – and she had for some time now woven through it not only the subtle golds of her youth but the hinted silvers of her time to come as well.
Chester just about fainted dead away, overwhelmed by the jumbled cacophony of his feelings.
“Hey!” she yelled. “Look who’s here. Mitchell, it’s the big guy! You didn’t tell me! Wow, Chester!” She hurled herself at him and kissed him with the certainty of a woman who can come and go as she damn well pleases. Chester’s mind was racing. The smell of this woman, he thought, like big white clean sheets flapping in the sun under blowing clouds; not just cleanliness, but a palpable cleaness about her.
“Rosie, honey, this is Jim Rook.” He had mixed feelings about itroducing them at all and, in fact, he wanted to hold her, to cradle her in his arms, but he decided to hope for the favor of his luck and charge the issue head on.
“I’ve been telling Jim about you being named the Parade – you know – Queen.”
She looked up at Chester, only a suspicious glance, but he knew he might yet have trouble. She looked sideways at Mitchell for an even briefer moment, but then she stared up at the big man who had risen and was holding out his big paw.
“Jim Rook. Jesus,” she said. Her eyes were wide. He, in his turn, shook her hand carefully, as if assuring himself that she was real.
“My boy-kid will die when I say I’ve met Jim Rook. Wow.” Her eyes had taken on the look of stunned innocence that was usually reserved for audiences who had coaxed her into a fourth encore. “It’ll mean such a lot to him.”
“Hell, this means a whole lot to me ,” said Jim Rook with an air of genuine reverence.
“We were just going over to the stage and introduce him to the kids, Rosie,” said Mitchell. “You should come with us.” It was obvious that Mitchell didn’t enjoy being upstaged where his kids were concerned. Also, Chester noticed, Mitchell seemed to be glancing out the huge log-framed windows more than was absolutely necessary. Chester knew that he would be reading volumes into the lunch arrivals and departures on the lot below. At one point Chester saw him purposefully move his wrist in a way that brought his Rolex into view without Jim Rook noticing. Rook began telling Rosie of his deep feelings about himself as an actor and Chester saw Mitchell and Valerie explore each other’s eyes at least twice. Mitchell then leaned into the conversation, trying to step down the rising tide of Jim Rook’s sensitivity and desire for action by returning the subject to himself.
“You know, Ches, the breaking point came this year when I realized that I had needed so badly to believe in really minute differences in approval of me and my work by almost anyone, the public, those fucking idiots in Hollywood – I mean here in Hollywood – you know, anyone; bums on the street, passersby, whores. It didn’t matter to me, everything was the same, everyone was the fucking same. Did I have to be liked by everyone ? You know?”
“It’s like what Rosie said in that song of hers,” he said.
“You mean, you needed to be believing?” said Jim Rook. He was obviously up to date on his Rosie Everlasting song catalogue.
Rosie blushed briefly with pleasure.
“I needed to be believing, that was it,” said Mitchell, somewhat taken aback that Rook would know such a thing. “I was a passionate believer in myself but this myself was nothing but a kind of seismic gauge of any available audience quiverings. It was chilling when I saw it.” He was lighting a cigarette now.
“Uh, huh,” said Jim Rook, who could not take his eyes off Rosie. Chester had never known Mitchell to smoke.
“I had to be hospitalized for nerves or exhaustion or something. Did you know
that, Chester? Val checked me into Cedars one night. The wind was blowing, right, Val?”
Chester said that he’d heard about it but since Mitchell never called, Chester had to rely on the CoolLife section of the Midden Record-Times for snippets and bitlets of news about him.
“You thought it was drugs, right?” Mitchell seemed puffed up at this.
“I thought it was drugs,” Chester said, but he knew better. Rosie briefly rolled her eyes skyward. Mitchell had never been one for drugs.
“That’s what everyone thought.” He said it with some pride.”Well, I saw it then, sure as shit. I saw that I just needed to believe that some project of mine would succeed or some piece of shit of my competitors might fail. I needed to show up on the TV set in the goddamn hospital, for Christ’s sake! I needed to believe that my interests might prevail upon this or that summer- no, hell, it was daily . I actually cared which ticket gross was higher, which percentage greater ON A DAILY BASIS. Get it? Which multiple of screens the greatest, which points worth what, which which whicher, which which whichest???” He let his voice trail off, staring balefully up at Jim Rook. He sounded sad and alone. He was adept at sounding sad and alone, Chester noticed.
“Drugs ??? boy!” said Jim Rook wistfully.
“Mitchell,” said Rosie firmly, “I don’t want you taking the kids to Tahiti or somewhere in your condition. Really.”
“Listen,” Chester said. “You don’t actually need any more money.” Everyone laughed. “Come back up home, kid. Come back for the parade. You owe it to yourself. Jim here is going to be the Grand Marshall this year.” He let this sink in with everyone. He was skating on thin ice. He noticed a kind of tilt in the turn in Rosie’s head as she looked at him closely.
“What did you say there, Chester? Before? I’m the queen of what?” But before Jim Rook understood what was going on, he could see the old look pass over Mitchell’s face, that look of loss and anger about the goddamn Beaverteeth parade. When he saw the look, he struck, before Rosie could ask any more questions.
“You know,” he said slowly enough. “You know that this year there’s sure been a lot of people wishing you’d be in the parade, kid. Especially since everyone knows how well you and Rosie ??? you know ??? get along. You’re so goddamn famous now that ???”
“Beaverteeth can blow it out its ass, as far as I’m concerned,” muttered Mitchell but then he stopped himself. He saw the sudden hurt look on Jim Rook’s broken face as he sensed Chester’s need, as he calculated Rosie’s discomfort. There is a great allure in an older brother’s need for a younger, in a famous sportsman’s need for patronage, in the discomfiture of an ex-wife, no matter how well you pretend to get along with her.
“Well, you know,” he said carefully, “it might be sort of different if Mr. Jim Rook here is going to be the Grand Marshall and Rosie’s the Queen. I’d never be in the parade on my own. They can go fuck themselves. But the Squilimuks never have been given any chance at all, right Jim?”
“Fuck right,” said Jim.
“Besides,” said Chester, “You look like you could use a dose of real life.”
Mitchell groaned, appreciative of Chester’s understanding of the toughness of his life, the sort of thing regular people don’t understand; the toughness of the life of the Imaginer, the loneliness of wealth. He sighed, peering again out the window.
“Well. I deserve a break, that’s for sure.”
Give me a break, thought Chester. He was suddenly struck with the fact that there was not much brotherly reunion going on here. There was a lot unsaid, he thought. He caught Valerie looking at him. There was a look in her eyes that he did not want to understand.
“Is there something I’m missing here? Chester?” Rosie was off balance, but since Rosie had devoted her life to charging head-on into any available convention, he knew he didn’t have much time.
“Rosie, you’re the unanimous choice,” he said, practically shouting. “This year you’re going to do it! Everyone up there knows you’re going to do it!” He tried to make it sound as if he had discussed this with her a thousand times, which he hadn’t in maybe seven or eight years. Her eyes burned into him. He could see her calculating. She seemed to be trying a little too hard to get along with Mitchell and Chester thought that he glimpsed some need in her. He took a breath and stood on his luck.
“How about the kids? Could the kids ride in the parade?” asked Mitchell, out of the blue.
There it was, there was his luck, thought Chester. This was a card he hadn’t even known he had. Suddenly, the mood in the room changed. Jim Rook caught the spirit instantly and even put an arm around Rosie’s padded shoulders and gave her a little hug that meant that he would really like for her – and her kids – to be in his parade.
“The kids!” crowed Chester. “Hey, that’s great. God, they’ll love it! Kids love parades.”
Rosie and Mitchell stared at each other very quickly, as if reaching some lightening-quick compromise on a fight that hadn’t even happened yet. Chester struck again, like a rattlesnake.
“We should take the kids camping out as part of the whole experience, huh? And we should drive up north and camp out, the whole deal.” Chester was rolling now.
“How about that?” shouted Mitchell “Like we used to do with Grampa Rolf, remember? Up at Hopeful Mountain? And that lake ??? What was the name of that lake?” Mitchell was practically shouting at Chester, hopping up and down on his toes like a kid.
“Naked Lake!” Chester shouted back. The two brothers and Jim Rook laughed and laughed. Naked Lake was a standing joke with every kid who ever grew up in the Squilimuk Valley.
Chester was pleased, but not amazed, by this quick turn of events. This, he remembered, was how Art was conceived and produced, in the swift currents of emotion generated by people like Mitchell, people who did not have grappling irons hooked to every single passing ship in their journey through life.
“Ha! Yeah, Naked Lake. God, that was fun. Yeah, let’s take the kids camping . Like real life. Those kids are spoiled. Rosie just spoils them rotten in New York. I’m sorry, sweetheart, but you do, you know you do.” He had that tone of voice Chester had come to love, that defensive tone of voice in which it could be discerned that Rosie Everlasting had not only hurt him once, but hurt him still. It made Chester feel better, that tone of voice.
Rosie had pierced his heart from the moment he purchased her first album.
“You’re not taking those kids somewhere on some mountain that’s about to explode, for God’s sake!! Read the papers. Mitchell, in fact, you aren’t going to take those kids anywhere this year without me there, too. Don’t think I’m kidding.”
“I’m not kidding. Are you kidding?” Mitchell was grinning. “It’ll be great for you to be with us. Hell, I’m excited about this. It isn’t like we don’t get along, you and me.”
“It isn’t like you don’t get along,” said Jim Rook, like a member of the family.
“You’re kidding, Mitchell,” said Valerie. “You want to be in some one-horse parade? And drag your kids down some one-horse street in public? No offense, Chester.”
“No offense, Val. The horse needs the exercise.” Chester smiled at her as if he felt like marrying her. She stared at him as if she were planning a nasty divorce.
“Yes, I do,” said Mitchell. “Get it done, Val. Besides, the parade is on what? NBC? The publicity people will be more than pleased. It’s a damn write-off. I’ll call in from the North. The call of the Road, the call of the Wild.”
“The call from the Highway Patrol. The call from the Looney Bin,” said Valerie sourly.
“So, Chester,” said Rosie Everlasting in a sweet tone of voice. “Let me get this straight. I’m the Queen of the Beaverteeth Podunk Parade?”
Chester noticed Mitchell jump visibly at something he saw out the window and Chester got up, talking and inveigling Rosie the while, and without appearing to do so, looked down on the studio street below. There seemed to be a small camera crew idly waiting outside, next to a panel truck on the side of which were the words “Amusement Now!” The phone rang on the huge wooden slab desk. Mitchell started out the door.
“Damn. I know what they want. Tell them we’re on the way, coach.” He always called Val “coach” when he was happy.
“Let’s walk over to the stage. We’re just over on six. They’re set up and ready to go, or at least they’re supposed to be,” said Mitchell. Val picked up the phone.
“Last shot, boss. They want you. Car is waiting.”
Mitchell said he wanted to walk over, for God’s sake, like a normal person. Did he have to be driven everywhere? It was only a couple of blocks and Val rolled her eyes. Mitchell led the way out, treating Rosie like a queen. For a moment, Chester was horribly jealous but at that moment his head swelled up to about twice its size and he had a rushy feeling of little neon bugs all around him and he asked if he could use the phone and he’d catch up with them in a minute and he sat down and everyone left. He could hear Mitchell talking away, chattering like a kid.
“I heard things are crazy up at home. The mountain is erupting? Like Mt. St. Helens?”
“It’s nothing, a little runoff, a little steam vent. There was a lot of snow this winter,” said Jim Rook, sounding like a shill for the Beaverteeth Chamber of Commerce.
“Ha!” snorted Rosie. “That’s not what I heard. The New York Times says it’s going to blow sky high. It’ll probably take Chester’s stupid parade and all of us with it.”
Chester could hear Mitchell’s delighted laugh fade away. He turned to the milk-white child floating in the copper basin in the black sea and asked him if any of this were true, but the child replied that he had nothing to do with the future and began to sing a little tune.
“I dreamed I went to Hillbilly Heaven,” the child sang. Then he stopped and looked at Chester. “Make the call, big guy,” said the white child. “Nothing is ordained.”