the spin

The only thing Brandon can’t tolerate during the trip are the prolonged conversations, the ones where he nods and smiles but hears nothing and says nothing.  He should probably answer as different people, he thinks.  Practice.  But it feels dishonest when it’s for real and so he smiles and he nods and a thin glaze, a dull glaze, begins to coat him.  When the bus is four hours from Los Angeles, Brandon is restless.  He no longer has trouble severing the streams of mindless chit-chat, but he has a hard time staying focused on anything.  The space here is different than the vacancy of Ohio.  There is desert with signs stuck into it like red, cellophane wrapped toothpicks poked into a club sandwich, shimmering to provoke excitement: Come to Las Vegas, Come to Laughlin…Come to Los Angeles.  Ok, he thinks and licks the front of his teeth, a little nervously.  Four hours is too long to stay drunk on daydreams.  He’s intoxicated and sleeping.

He’s woken an hour away, already well inside the concrete jungle.  Where is that space he remembers?  There’s no desert, only stacked buildings that seem to be smothering and cars that want to consume each other.  He peers through the tinted glass, across an Olympic size freeway, and begins to medicate his nerves by silently reciting the only Shakespeare he’s ever memorized. Each day is fueled by a thought, part memory and part wish, of what it feels like to be good at something.

__________________________________________

The fish, the fish…Amused and disgusted, Courvier watches them unpack from the sooty Greyhound.  He’s French, but that doesn’t matter to him or anyone else.  His culture is black and celebrated in spurts of porno and charcoal filtered vodka from the supermarket.  Some people tap melons to see if they’re ripe.  Some squeeze tomatoes.  Courvier knows it’s the eyes.  When they dart around, bouncing almost like fireflies with no particular target, he knows he’s close.  Stare up in the air, spin around and look at the bus station like you’re touring a museum for the first time…you’re liable to make the grade.  Big blue eyes peek out from underneath sandy blonde hair.  He stops and the smoke Courvier’s been holding leaks out of his lips.  There’s the spin.  Courvier nods across the room at someone in particular and pushes himself off the ledge he’s been sitting on.  His cigarette drops to the ground and begins dying.

Brandon makes a full circle as he looks around.  The bus station is dirty, so it’s not Hollywood.  Just the same, the filth is penetrating and after running his eyes like a dust rag over the bus station patrons, he wants to wash.  Turning another quick circle, he spots the Restrooms sign and begins towards it stopping twice to give right of way to people that seem more determined than he.  The bathroom stinks like sewage and rotting hope.  That’s something he can’t miss but he carelessly passes the dreams that are staked and crucified on the broken tile wall that supports the piss depositories on his right.  The last stall is empty and he closes the door behind him, feeling inaccurately safe.

Courvier is a fixture in the bus station bathroom.  Who’s there enough to notice?  To the homeless men that forage for warmth, he may be familiar.  If they’re psychotic he may be elastic.  The “mirror” on the wall is tarnished steel, once polished, now cut to the bone by a thousand blades of irreverence, defiance and secret distress.  Courvier knows which corner he must dip to to be able and muster a faint reflection out of the scarred paradigm.  He touches his shiny black hair and studies day old whiskers and everything else on his face, except for the eyes.  The eyes he avoids.  When the last human casing exits, he throws a glance over the bathroom, slides to the last stall and bangs on the door.

Solitude is over with a jolt.  “Um, I’m in here,” Brandon calls.  Courvier shoots a look at the door to the john and gives his scripted answer.  “Yeah, I’ve got an emergency out here.  Can you hurry up?”  He knocks on the door again for dramatics and the rustling sound that returns tells him to put his right foot behind him, to center his balance.

Inside the stall, Brandon still wants to wash.  He thinks that impatience is something he should develop.  It’s a different style of life out here, he thinks, as he spins a roll of coarse, white paper.

Come on buddy,” Courvier says in rhythm with his fist on the door.  “Hurry up, would you?”  Impatience is poured over purpose like syrup and now everything tastes the same to the fish.  The fingers on his right hand stroke the air like a fan and then huddle inside a ringed fist.

Coming,” Brandon calls.  Definitely develop impatience.  It gives more dimension, more depth.  A final zip and flush and its again time for Shakespeare.  Brandon opens the door to help Los Angeles recover from it’s emergency.  Courvier is waiting.  When the door begins to crack open, he helps it with a shove from the left hand and buries the rings on his right deep inside the fish’s face.  Once, twice.  That all it takes and the fish is lifeless in a pond of toilet water, nightmares and dirt from a thousand cities.  Courvier jams his hands into the fish’s pockets.  Two hundred and sixty seven dollars.  He smiles at the arrogance of the fish, thinking, in a way, he’s doing the boy an incredible favor. He picks up the Manchester Renegades bag and Courvier goes home, stopping only to throw the unopened bag into the dumpster on the side of the station.

__________________________________________

Eddie likes to make people feel better.  If you ask him, he’ll say that’s his greatest attribute, that he’s a humanitarian of sort.  Casually clad in well-ironed khaki’s and a pure and white oxford, he carries just enough scent of a freshly shaven face to make almost anyone feel comfortable.  He hates the men’s bathroom at the station.  God damned filthy is what it is.  The thuggish looking guy in the hooded leather jacket passes Eddie going the opposite direction carrying a red bag that says Manchester something or another.  The two share a space and a hinted look but never break stride.  Inside, the bathroom’s empty of sight or sound.  Eddie’s well schooled on the valley of lost souls that is the Los Angeles Bus Station men’s bathroom.  He was one of its founders.  Troubled by the absence of suffering, he crouches to glance under the first stall and then makes his way down the row, pushing the doors open one at a time.

Oh my God.” says Eddie without a trace of monotony.  “Oh my God.” He pulls the boy to a sitting position and lets his head rest in the palm of his hand.  The fish, Brandon, is coming around.  Eddie looks at the child with red smeared across his face and the puffy, pulsating biscuit under his eye and takes a deep breath.  Courvier needs to avoid the face, Eddie thinks.  He could do his entire job without ever touching the face.  And the chin…  Eddie eyes and then touches it, possibly with envy, until the eyelashes begin to flicker and the boy’s forehead folds into a crease.  Both of his pockets are turned inside out.

__________________________________________

His head is peeling away like sliced apples.  Brandon has no idea what has happened.  Somehow, the last fifteen minutes of his life have been corrupted and taken without his consent.  In a booth, in a Denny’s, through one eye full of dull yellow and twisted expectations, he looks at the man in the clean white shirt and waits for someone to bring him the missing pieces.

I think we should call the police,” the man says to the boy.  “There’s been a terrible crime committed here.”  The waitress delivers a chocolate milkshake to Brandon and a coffee to the man.  Brandon looks at the shake and then at the ground.  And then he looks at the shake again.  It’s a pivotal answer and Eddie waits attentively.  “I don’t know,” Brandon says and his eyes swell and melted glass drips over his red cheek, lumpy like a hill of moguls.  “I don’t know what to do.”  He slips away.  Battered and crying in front of a stranger with his pockets turned out has broken him.  Brandon is gaping.  His boyish naiveté has been exposed and bruised.

Eddie took an acting class years ago, before tarnish and clouds eclipsed good intentions.  Afterwards, he never knew he’d be an actor.  He pouts his lips and his eyes sag.  Inside, he fights the urge for a cigarette to stir his coffee.  Knowledge learned is never wasted.

The man is familiar to the waitress, but she can’t quite recall from where, she sees so many faces.  And the boy is familiar too, but not in a particular way.  He’s familiar the way a war on TV squeezes suffering onto a screen but never actually wring out the terror that’s been boxed and stacked in the minds of the men inside.  Sara usually changes the channel, mostly to avoid guilt she doesn’t believe she’s due.  She does the same today as she refills the man’s coffee.

There are a lot of things that can make sense when you’re caught in the undertow of a swirling crisis.  And Eddie knows all the things that make the most sense.  Hollywood is no place to be without a friend, that’s for sure.  Especially for a kid.  A kid with a chin like that?  Half of the producers and movie directors that Eddie knows on a first name basis wouldn’t even give an audition to a chin like that if it didn’t come from a trusted source.  And anyway, the silver screen has got to wait a week, maybe two, until the swelling goes down and the bruises are gone.  In fact, after thinking about it in those terms, it’s probably best that the police aren’t involved.  For someone getting ready to make a big splash in Hollywood, a police report with their name on it is a time bomb.  Those things can really sneak up on you later in life. When you’re on top people get jealous, they’d practically do anything to dethrone you, even go through your trash.  Eddie has seen it happen, again and again.  But he’s got a nice place with an extra room, cable TV and a full refrigerator, not to mention platinum connections in the industry.  See, he’s a banker and works with a lot of the studios.  Heck, he’d even opened a checking account for Brad Pitt earlier this year.  As a favor to a friend, he’d let Brad in the back door and handled all the paperwork in his office, just he and Brad.

Brandon looks out the window.  It hurts when he blinks and his eyelid flickers in an unusual rhythm…with his pulse.  As the sun drops down behind the one-dimensional city he thinks, this town is starting to brighten up.

__________________________________________

It’s a two-bedroom apartment on Vine avenue, right in the heart of everything or nothing, depending on who you are.  As long as he’s been the landlord, Johanson has charged $825 for the 3rd floor unit.  And he can’t figure out why there’s never been any problems with the pipes leaking in 327, though, he’s much too overworked to care about it much.  Seems like every room in the flaky stucco building has spit up some water at one time or another.  Some guy with kids lives there, in 327.  Could be a plumber, Johanson thinks.  Kids.  Lots of them.  Different kids, maybe brothers and sisters…they all look a little alike.  Lease says no kids.  Lease also says $825 a month.  The clean-cut guy’s checks have been an even grand for the year and a half that Johanson’s been there.  Maybe he knows it, maybe he don’t.  Maybe it’s a gratuity that need not be recognized.  And besides there’s a fucking leak on the 2nd floor…again, 218.  That lady with all the ferns.  It’s like a God damned jungle.  Johansen squeezes the last drop of his last beer and leaves the empty can on the corner of the dented coffee table.  He pushes himself out of the worn recliner with some difficulty.  Just keep them kids quiet.

__________________________________________

Fruit Loops have been Brandon’s favorite since last week when he was a child.  He needs to be quiet during the day.  Eat all the Fruit Loops you like, but stay inside, he’s told.  With all that’s gone on…it’s probably best that Brandon stay out of the limelight for a while, at least while he heals.  Hollywood can be a big place or a small place, depending on who you know. It would be a shame for that asshole that took Brandon’s things to see him again.  Better lay low.  There’s cable on the TV, any channel Brandon cares to watch, even the dirty ones.  You’re grown up now kid.  Time to make grown up decisions, do grown up things.  Banker’s hours can be long, but Eddie will call and check in during the day.  Maybe tomorrow they can go and meet some people, maybe that kid actor that does the movies with the dog that can talk and drive cars.  Eddie and he are practically best friends.  Just lay low today Brandon.  Eat some fruit loops.  Try channel 37.

Three days later there’s a family on Channel 9, on a stage, that bears resemblance to a picture that hangs on the back of Brandon’s eyes, and he watches, unaware of how intrigued he is, and why.  The mother’s hair is straw and wants to behave wildly.  The father’s pants have been working hard and seem scarred with dirt and dollars.  There’s a satchel of skin under mom’s eyes that seems to say “A half pack of Lucky Strikes ain’t breakfast, but it sure can take the edge off the day.”  She’ll wear red spike heels despite being out of season.  Her ankles are thick balls.  Beside them both is a young pool of good nature that has gathered under braids and sits quietly.  It’s hard to tell if the pool is taking things in, or if its present or someplace else, dreaming about being important, dreaming about being good at something.   The pool takes the stage though.  Even though it’s not the focus of chaotic chatter, it takes the stage.  The host knows it.  The world knows it.  Brandon, sitting under an afghan on a leather couch that’s 961 miles away in foreign Hollywood knows it.  Today he can understand the pool a little better.

After five days the bruises are fading.  The swelling on his face has reduced to, in Hollywood, what might be considered normal.  3 boxes of Fruit Loops.  One short swim at the pool that he had to sneak while Eddie was at the bank.  He’s memorized more Shakespeare and is doing his best to emulate the pain, the bliss and the envy that the daytime drama TV players display.  Eddie brings home personal photos of famous people laughing, posing.  He keeps them at work, he says.  Helps with business.  He allows Brandon to keep a few on the nightstand next to the bed in the spare room.  To keep you motivated, he tells the boy.

__________________________________________

Wilson paid big money for that tie, before he’d ever seen it.  He’s an executive.  That’s his style, that’s what he does.  And he can pick wine for any meal.  People ask him to, sometimes.  He usually suggests more often than they ask.  He overeats, sure.  Why wouldn’t he?  The baggy skin beneath the suits is pale and jello-y and it jiggles in the pockets of fabric that were specially cut and tucked to house every bulbous glob.  Excess is something Wilson knows well and that he’d probably say he respects.  But he avoids eye contact with the mirror when he gets out of the shower.  He avoids it until he’s nestled in a suit…and he curses himself if when he’s resting, halfway up a flight of stairs.  He curses himself if he’s alone.

3,500 square feet isn’t big enough to keep Marla’s disgust for her husband hidden.  She may try and hide it, not speak of it, but at times, Wilson sees it spreading across the white, marble floor in all directions, like spilled milk, almost blending in, if you didn’t know it had been an unexpected casualty; like Marla’s face against the rest of the world.  Four little girls seem to benefit from the presentation of a family that is functional and full, and so she never mentioned the magazines, not officially.  But she left the drawer of the desk open, just wide enough.  She left the drawer open just wide enough to leave a wordless description of the trash she thinks of as her husband. He moved them, shortly after he’d been discovered, not that he needed to.  They’ve played little role since he joined The Club.  Now, after every reunion he hides memories from Marla, from himself…from God.  Wilson has memories he hopes he never finds.

__________________________________________

Outside of the bank, Eddie’s a businessman.  It’s Thursday and he makes a call to The Club.  He’s set a meeting for Saturday evening.  He’s got regulars, they’ve got regulars that he doesn’t know or care about.  He saves his top-bread call for last.  Some character he knows from the bank, a real corporate slob from the Valley with a pool, a few kids and a wife.  Eddie shakes his head.  Not his style to go meddling but…Jesus Christ man, take a look around you, he thinks.  Hell, Eddie unloads $175 a month to the building manager, $200 a pop to Courvier, he’s been able to drop $750 a month into a Roth and he’s got bills just like anyone else.  Two grand a month just to keep his head above water, just to keep breathing.  Eddie listens to the ringing on the other end of the phone and when Marla answers he’s relieved.  Maybe two more years of this bullshit.

It’s been 8 days and Eddie has spent the last hour or so at the kitchen table with an adding machine.  The distance that seems to hang between he and the boy is evident to Brandon.  $678, Eddie figures.  That’s how much Brandon has used in rent, utilities, cable TV and food.  That’s his bill so far.  And now there’s confusion.  Then again, this is Hollywood.  Brandon does want to make it, right?  Grow up Brandon.

You need a job to start paying me back, start getting on your feet.  Eddie knows a guy.  It’s easy money really.  Besides, Eddie has lined him up a screen test.

So Brandon’s got his first job.  It’s been set up for him, another favor from the man.  He watches a passing thought that seems to say Hollywood is full of favors and unknowns and inside, he wonders if this is right.  The man has told him that this will be more like an audition, a blind date with the side of Hollywood that moves people, moves them forward or moves them out of the way.  Act Brandon.  Always act.  Don’t let anyone have anything real because, after all, the reality is that you’re an actor.  Brandon’s never used mousse before.  He rubs it in, cautiously at first until a childish grin creeps across his lips without him even noticing.  He works it in and around like a sculptor.  The man has some clothes.  Brandon puts them on, right over his nerves.  Though the excitement of leaving the two bedroom apartment on Vine has got him relieved, there’s an unrecognizable churn in his stomach.  The jeans feel to small, he wiggles around.  Brandon tugs at the crotch and the back pockets of the jeans, twisting around.  They’re tight…some old clothes the man had in the spare bedroom.  They look good on the boy, Eddie thinks.

On the drive to work, the man is thinking about two of his other “employees” that haven’t shown up to work lately.  He rubs the whiskers that are spreading across his trustful shave.  The boy thinks about Ohio and he shifts around in his new jeans, pulling at the insides of the legs.  The Club is only blocks away, off Sunset with the entrance in the alley.  It’s hard to tell the back street cats and people apart as the quiet car snakes through the dark passageway, between hidden doors and stacks of garbage or treasure, depending on who you are.  The man and the boy slalom between dumpsters and faceless shadows.  It’s a quiet drive for personal reasons.

The dented door of The Club is a hidden mouth.  Three knocks and it cracks open, red laser tongues lash out and flicker over the next meal.  Passed it, and at the end of the dark hallway is a velvet rope.  Brandon runs his hand along it and is reminded of something, but he’s not sure what.  It feels comfortable for a moment but he gets a sharp sliver in his mind and he quickly pulls his hand away.  He tries to get the sliver out, but it looks a lot like home.  It will disintegrate in minutes he hopes.  It does.  A thin man in a black turtleneck, a tiny little man with very large black glasses, breaks eye contact with Eddie and takes Brandon’s hand, leading him away.

Eddie walks the length of the rope with the boy but stops at the brass stand that cordon’s the evil that lurks inside from the rest of the world, not always effectively.  He watches the boy’s back and waits until Wilson’s eyes look up and meet his.  Across the room Wilson rises from his seat, feeling nervous and excited.  He sees the boy up and down, down and up.  His mouth has begun to dry and he wrings his hands together anxiously.  He breathes in and out in accelerated chunks and he feels clumsy.  He has been transformed.  He looks at the man at the velvet rope to nod an approval, but it’s not necessary.  Eddie saw the hand wring and had already turned to leave.  He would collect his fee later, when he returned for the boy.

Other boy’s, mostly older than Brandon, are eyeing him as they dance and pulsate to the techno music that is thumping then pounding, evaporating words into a mist that floats to the tall walls and then trickles down them into a lagoon that is intention.  A tangy liquid, crystal blue and electric is placed in the boy’s hand.  He looks up past a psychedelic tie, up into a round face towering above him.  Brandon and Wilson meet.

After minutes the boy feels loosely connected.  The blue liquid that poured down his throat has unstitched his sensations and they begin to lazily orbit him.  There are walls of dancing flesh surrounding and shaking.  And there are looks that have detached from faces floating about the room.  Some hang motionless and others seem to converse with him, but he’s not sure what they’re saying.  Brandon doesn’t speak a word.  The music begins to liquefy around his feet and now he’s swimming.  Soon he’s submerged and he notes on the back of his consciousness that there’s nothing familiar except for the sharp colors that seem to be thrashing in time with a distant pulse.  He feels embalmed and struggles to perforate the thin sheath that is encasing him and reality, not necessarily together. There’s that guy, he thinks, a stranger yet vaguely familiar from the last minutes of memory.  Brandon spins his head and with a delayed blink of both eyes he begins to lean to the right.  Soon he is on his knees and grabs hand over hand at the last thought he had before it is wrenched from his head and whisked away into the colors.  Immediately he is helped into a chair by the man in the psychedelic tie.  Minutes and then hours are stolen from the boy.

He begins to see his body several hours later, from above, and he’s sitting in a bathtub he doesn’t recognize.  There is a torn open wrapper from the thin bar of soap that is sitting in the bottom of the sink basin.  He doesn’t see any clothes in the strange bathroom, only white towels, and too many, he thinks.  Soon he is absorbed back into the pale carrion that has been blending into the ceramic tub.  It is his own and inside it he realizes just why he may have left for awhile.  There are pains from all sides, in all indentations of his body and mind and he’s not sure how to respond to them or which to react to first.  A conflict arises, somewhere between the lava lamp that is his stomach and the throbbing cranium atop his slumped shoulders.  A wretched tear begins to separate his equilibrium.  After vomiting a sharp blue broth down his pasty chest, he folds over the tub’s ledge and drops his head into the toilet.  Brandon’s thrown up bile before, but never sin.  Sin hurts much, much worse.

Back in the tub he’s vaguely familiar to himself.  Despite lying naked in stagnant water, he is warm.  He lies back, still unaware of the sapphire bib of turbulence he wears across his chest.  His eyelids become weighty.  Scattered across an unruly consciousness are jagged pieces of history, but they’re unrecognizable to him because they are disconnected and foreign.  Rather than assemble them, he decides they will lie there for a spell because it’s quiet and he’s so tired… He seems to see a familiar hand with water in a glass and he feels his tongue push something grainy past his pallet and down his throat, he thinks.  He’s not sure.

__________________________________________

A thin blade of light chisels between the drawn curtains and it cuts through the darkness the way the lasers cut through smoke just hours earlier at The Club. From the hotel chair, Wilson traces the bead of light with his finger from the window to the bed, where it comes to rest on the forehead of a drugged boy, sleeping more soundly than he’s ever slept before.  The terry cloth robe Wilson has on is comfortable and it’s the only thing that is, he thinks, as he takes his bath in guilt.  These morning hours are torturesome for the man.  The memories that he hides are loose and running back and forth across the small box of a room.  They are screaming at each other and sometimes lunging at him, laughing when he ducks his head and covers his eyes.  Wilson can pick wine for any occasion, but don’t ask him to today.  The man in the robe in the chair in the hotel room that employs and controls an empire of two thousand people is absent.  At 9a.m on a Friday there is no one on the planet that can locate him precisely.  That includes himself.  He exhales harder than he inhales and covers his hot face with meaty hands.  A silent scream.  Resolutions are made that, in the past, have lasted nearly six days.

At home in the valley Marlene folds the last delicate crease of a strawberry crepe.  There are eggs on the table already.  Four little girls are picking through them, eating less than they should and chattering about plans on this vacation Friday.  The crystal serving tray she brings to the dinette has six crepes stacked in a pyramid.  Marlene realizes she’s made too many and glances at the clock as her jaw tightens.  9a.m.  When she looks back at the table a memory collides with her and there are pages of daughters sitting around the table, cut out of a magazine.  She gasps and the girls spin.  As she stabilizes herself, Bonnie, Abbie, Carlie and Maxie watch the platter of strawberries descend from her hand to the ground.

Brandon is awoken hours later, in a bed in the apartment where he has slept for 8 days.  His eyes open, aware of the lost time and they dart around as best they can.  The man stands in the doorway, his hand still on the light switch.  It’s time to get up, time to be a star.  When the door is again shut, Brandon pulls himself to the first sitting position he’s been in in years.  There are cobwebs he needs to clear, though, he’s not quite sure where or how.  After several seconds he begins to pull on the only clothes in the room which seem to have been laid out for him, over the chair in the corner.

__________________________________________

Eddie’s shave is especially close.  He’s got a familiar white oxford on and he opens a fresh box of Fruit Loops by sliding a butter knife under the sealed box tab.  When a glazed boy pads into the kitchen, he takes a second and looks him over, assessing the degree of disconnectedness in his eyes, and how much aging the boy had done in the last 12 hours.  He offers up a smile with the bowl of Fruit Loops.  Today is the first day of the rest of your life, kid.  Today is about making things happen.  Silence.  The boy shifts in his chair, physically uncomfortable.  He looks at the bowl of cereal, trying to make sense out of it, or out of something.  Eddie watches, strategically evaluating.  Part of him is afraid he’ll need to terminate this relationship before it really begins to blooms.

This time in the car Eddie doesn’t let silence linger.  He spoon feeds hope into the boy, checking subtly between traffic lights to see if it’s being properly digested.  They day is gray, which doesn’t help flavor anything.  He notices the boy shifting as he attempts to sit comfortably in the front seat.  He remembers that discomfort.  When the time is right, Eddie brings up enough pieces of the previous night out to fill a portion of the cavity in the small child’s memory.  He knows things got a little crazy, but that’s how Hollywood can be so it’s good that Brandon made the effort to educate himself a little.  At the next light he reaches into his pocket.  After making a payment towards the debt he has with Eddie, the result is a crisp hundred dollar bill.  Eddie passes it to him and laughs at the look on the boy’s face.  Not bad for a night’s work, eh?  That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

And there’s Brandon, in the front seat of a car.  1500 hundred air miles and a light year from home and himself, he takes his first feel of a hundred dollar bill.  His missing memories are ever so slightly eclipsed.  On the corner of Sunset and Highland, just past a woman wearing a pillowcase and pushing a carriage full of blemished ambitions, he thinks, this town is starting to look up.

There is a house packed into a hillside.  These are the Hollywood Hills BrandonThere are stars on these windy roads, in every direction. The car stops at the base of a short driveway and Eddie leads the boy towards the door with a hand of apparent protection rested on his shoulders.  Up some stairs, inside the house, the only furniture in the room is covered in white sheets.  Eddie meets and greets the two men in the room.  They look at Brandon while they speak and while they listen.  So this is the next big thingvery goodLook at that chin. So nice to meet you Brandon. The boy thinks the open hands he shakes are smoother than any other hands he’s felt before.  He’s right.  He doesn’t know how right he is.  There are silver dishes on black stands, lights…and several cameras are strewn about.  There’s one hanging on a small ladder.

Thirty minutes later the breeze through the screenless upstairs window chills the parts of the boy’s flesh that are bare.  There are flashing lights and Brandon’s Hollywood begins to exist in purple splotches.  And a faint resonance ticks through him as he hooks each thumb under that band of his white underpants and presses the requested smile.  The camera clicks simultaneously with his conscience and there are pictures that are drawn like shades, in front of his eyes, and they loop between the violet mushrooms.  The missing pieces from the misplaced night begin to assemble themselves and he becomes nervous.  Something is wrong.

Eddie senses the facade almost as soon as its construction is complete and he begins planning for the ride home.  Brandon’s skin is thicker than he thought.  In the car he can see that the boy is gazing farther than usual, farther than just down the street…he is over the hill and past the horizon.  The whiskers he rubs with his right hand feel sharp and he asks the boy if he remembers the bus station.  He reminds the boy of his life in pieces, on the bus station floor.  And he reminds the boy of his weaknesses, of his naive boyishness that left Eddie nursing a painfully battered face for two weeks.  If that’s the lifestyle Brandon wants, if he doesn’t have the God Damn commitment to make it, to be somebody, then what the fuck is Eddie wasting his time for?  On the other side of the car there are apologies and memories, and there are cracked visions, pressed together and bleeding.  Brandon is gaping again and Eddie is driving.

There is no work the next day.  Eddie bandaged the wounds in the morning with a hundred dollar bill and a small bouquet of promises.  But there is the bank and he’s got to leave for several hours.  Where’s that Shakespeare book Brandon?  Contacts and pictures are one thing, but a good screen test seals the deal.  Why not practice for the day? That night, over a dinner of McDonald’s hamburgers they’ll create the next leg of the boy’s career.  Ok?  Ok? Ok.  I’ll call you in awhile.  The door shuts with Eddie in the hall, blinking through it.  On the other side of the wall, wrapped in a blue blanket is uncertainty.  The glaze on the youngster’s face is a thicker coat than he’d like.  Eddie will need to come home for lunch.

Out the window Brandon watches the white car emerge from the subterranean garage and coast down Vine, turning right at the stop sign.  He waits for a beat and the car makes a lap around the block, passing the building slowly, this time making a left at the corner.  He steps away from the window, and stands slightly behind the curtain.  Twenty minutes past the second lap the phone rings and it’s the man.  How’s it going? He just met the guy who made that movie about the kid that builds the time machine.  Well, he told him all about Brandon and the man was very interested.  Very interested.  How does that strike the boy?  Well…it strikes him flatly.  And after hanging up the phone, Eddie thinks he may need to leave early, to protect his investment.

Without his Manchester Renegades bag it’s very easy for Brandon to pack.  He finds a backpack in the hall closet, with school books in it, and he fills it with two shirts and a pair of jeans that the man gave him.  In the man’s bedroom drawers, Brandon finds a knotted sock with a heavy package in it.  A fat roll of bills, bound with a cross of two rubber bands falls into Brandon’s hands after he unties and shakes the sock.  It’s quickly tossed into the pack.  The boy makes a sandwich and throws it in the knapsack and takes another look out the window before he throws open the door and swings down the stairwell.  There’s a man on the landing.  Brandon jumps over five stairs, lands flatly on his feet and the two stop and look at each other.  Hi, Brandon says first and he pushes past the man without waiting for a response.  God Damn kids, Johanson thinks.

On the street the child is a foreigner, but he’s a few tricks older these days.  The first cab he sees stops and he peels a bill off of the fat fold of green money and orders his destination…the Los Angeles bus station.

__________________________________________

Three years in a row Melanie won Brigby’s Young Miss Pageant.  For that title she wore a gown that her mother made, emceed the Chili Cook-Off and spoke 17 year-old philosophy on love and destruction in front of the town prominence.  Two months ago she played Malaguania at the Brigby Variety show and she’s still the Prom queen. The family gathers every Tuesday at 7 p.m. for the favored sitcom My Crazy Sister, popcorn and giggles. Melanie is head analyst.  See the way she tilts her head when she smiles?  You’re so smart honey. Katie-Marie Hartunian didn’t just fall into her star role on the weekly series.  She took some chances.  Chances are spread thinly, Melanie thinks.  Sometimes so thinly that Brigby is still visible.

There’s an open window in Los Angeles.  Talent scouts are looking for the next big thing and they’ll know it when they see it.  Teen magazine knows it and that’s where Melanie read the ad.  You and I don’t have the keenness required to look into a face and see stars twirling in a circle, stars waiting to be sprung.  But talent scouts…that’s all they do.  They can practically look at a picture and tell you how many magazines they could sell with your smiling face on the front.  We gauge value by our own definitions, and as far as Melanie knows, no one in Brigby had the faintest idea what specialties simmered in the heart of a star.  Talent is spontaneous and cultured.  But some talent soars above the world and decides who will laugh and cry and who will change and who will die.  Some talent bottles blue ribbon pickles at the Brigby county fair.  She holds a breath and wonders when she’ll exhale.  Melanie thinks about all these things.  She thinks about them and then she let’s the hum of the back wheels of the bus put her to sleep.

__________________________________________

The Los Angeles bus station promotes anxiety and bleeds a melancholy sadness once you’ve made it in the door.  Somewhere among the flow of poor nomads and broken families Brandon sits on a green bench, next to a pair of torn meal tickets.  His youth has been husked like the skin of an aging snake and the budding maturity is a thick shell, providing both a thin disguise and an impenetrable protection from the Hollywood demons lurking about.  On the wall, an oversized clock with a leering face reminds the unlucky that time is still passing.  2:15.  One hour until the bus to Ohio leaves.  Brandon tugs at the crotch of the too tight jeans and glances around.

The bus arrives early and Brandon is first in line to board.  He’ll have to wait, he’s informed.  Fine with him.  He glances around.  In the next bay another motor coach from somewhere in the Midwest arrives with a fresh load of vitality and animation.  As it unpacks, Brandon takes a step back to allow the passengers the space they need to gather their bags and adjust to the dilating mouth of this decoy city.  Out steps a young girl with the biggest blue eyes Brandon has ever seen.  She’s near his age and without him knowing, his lips part when she passes the cool blue ovals of ice over his.  Melanie’s eyes blink briefly, punctuated with coyness, she passes a friendly hello before moving into the flowing traffic of people disappearing down the station’s esophagus. A stiff pat on the back startles him and he’s informed that it is time for him to board.  When he is seated Brandon presses his face against the glass.  She is nearly eclipsed.  Brandon stretches his neck to see any part of the girl.  He watches her back, her head…it turns twice, once left and once right and then she turns a full circle.

Courvier has a chunky new silver ring and he pulls the top of it over whiskers three days ripe for a harvest.  Some people tap melons to see if they’re ripe.  Some squeeze tomatoes.  Courvier knows it’s the eyes.  When they dart around, bouncing like ricocheting bullets he knows he’s close.  Stare up in the air, spin around and look at the bus station like you’re a stranger in a strange land…you’re bound to make the grade.  Blue eyes, big as pools, shimmer despite the tarnished bus station.  He stops and the smoke Courvier’s been holding leaks out of his lips.  Courvier has no one particular to nod to and he pushes himself off the ledge he’s been sitting on.  His cigarette drops to the ground and begins dying.  After three steps he stops, watches, and waits.  And then there’s the spin.

Registered WGA#1054690