Sunday, May 11, 2008

True Hollywood by James Buchanan

Silence and pain of seven years filled with questions. Had to start to reconnect somewhere. Jason dropped his own empty on the bar. "Well, I had a great gig on a regular action prime-time show and a sometimes gig on a reenactment docudrama." He huffed out the frustration. "Then the writers walked out. We had three scripts for the new season. Shot those. Then they laid us all off. The educational shit dried up a little bit after."

"That sucks."

More drinking ate up time. Jason half finished his beer before he asked, "You?"

"I've got a few movies in the pipes that were in pre-production prior." Ernie watched the beer swirl in the bottle for a while. "Those are still going forward. CGI's stealing a lot of screen time. Five hours of work here and there in front of a blue screen just doesn't have the thrill. And it's not as steady or as fast as I'd like, but it's work."

"I hear that." Both downed the remaining beer and stared at the empties. "Like old times? Tequila?" They'd always finished off a night with the Old Man with a round of shots.

"Great." Ernie waggled two fingers at the barkeep. "Two shots, Cuervo." When the drinks came, gold liquid fire in chipped shot glasses, they turned and raised their drinks to the wall of headshots. Somewhere, three or four rows up and across, their own, younger, faces stared out at them. The Old Man's was there, too, higher up and in a frame darkened by time. They slammed back the tequila.

Ernie dropped some cash on the bar while Jason shouldered into his jacket. Jason realized Ernie'd never removed his coat, the bomber jacket he'd liberated off a set. Probably figured they wouldn't be there very long. Sunday nights ranked low as party time for most people. While they were inside the rain had started back up. Jason followed Ernie's run to his car. A damn nice and fairly new Nissan X-Terra beeped and unlocked itself when Ernie punched the key-fob. Hell of a lot better ride than Jason's twenty-year-old Jetta.

Sliding into an interior that still smelled vaguely of new car, Jason gave himself a moment to wallow in jealousy. Newish vehicle, high-end clothes—things Jason didn't usually see except on Talent. As he yanked the door shut, he tried to rationalize. Ernie'd always been better at the high paying gags, super risky stunts that gave you the bump. Then again, Ernie also knew how to hustle for jobs. He had the knack for showing up on set about the time some idiot got booted off filming. It was almost a second sense. And, once you were known, you were known. Hard core hustles were for stuntmen who didn't have a rolodex full of connections.

"You know," Ernie slammed the driver's door, then twisted the key in the ignition, "I could use something to eat."

Delaying things. They both knew where they'd end up. Still, it was awkward in almost a first date kinda way. "Pink's should still be open."

"Sounds good." Pulling into the street, Ernie headed back into the nicer part of Hollywood. "Won't be much of a line with the rain." They dropped down to Melrose, aiming for La Brea. The sound of rain drumming on the roof mixed with the shush of the wipers and the muted hum of the radio. Otherwise, silence filled the car. Not a completely uncomfortable silence, but one that somehow captured really knowing someone and yet missing a big chunk of their life. Ahead of them, on the corner of La Brea and Melrose, sat a one-story box painted white and sporting red trim: Pink's, one of those LA late night traditions. Bright signs bordered in yellow and lettered in fuchsia announced chili-dogs, burgers, and other items. "So, what you doing now?"

"Selling Harleys." A metal, under-lit awning covered the lines of patrons waiting to order from exterior service windows. Pink tiles walled up to the lip of the chrome counter, and steel pipe linked by chain kept the lines neat and moving. Not that they were really necessary on a night like this. Jason studied the small crowd for a bit before asking, "You?" Not too busy, the outside line didn't quite make it to the front of the antique store next door. In better weather, it might wrap all the way around the block.

"Drive a limo for my dad's company when I'm off set."

"Make good money?"

"Okay. Tips are pretty good." Ernie angled the SUV into the back parking lot. "Keeps me from going stir crazy on weekends. I, ah, moved back in with my folks after the whole thing with Steven went to hell." Even with the rain, spaces ran at a premium and Ernie had to park a bit of distance from the building. They jumped out and threaded across a back patio strewn with concrete tables and plastic chairs. Most of the pink and white umbrellas were folded and tied down against the wind. They jogged around the corner and slipped to the end of the line. "What do you want?" Ernie pressed himself against the wall, avoiding the worst of the rain.

The awning didn't quite cover far enough out to the side. If he wanted to keep from being thoroughly soaked, Jason had one choice. He squeezed into the small bit of space next to Ernie. "Is there anything other than a hot dog to order at Pink's?" The warmth of Ernie's body reminded him of lazy mornings in bed and evenings spent shaking the chill after a day on the slopes. Polo cologne…God, he used to steal Ernie's jacket just to smell it when he wasn't around. How his hip fit right against Jason's like a puzzle piece, went right to Jason's groin. He shifted, trying to adjust things without being overly obvious.

Ernie bumped his shoulder, breaking Jason out of his thoughts. "Well, yeah." To emphasize, he jerked his chin to the side. A painted menu was barely visible through the window.

"Okay," Jason conceded, "but why would you want to?"

With the skimpy crowds and normally uber-efficient service, they hardly had time to talk before their turn came. Ernie smiled at the gal taking orders. "Make mine a chili-dog." Then he glanced at Jason, asking, "You?" At Jason's nod he added, "Two then."

Jason leaned into the counter. "Make 'em bacon chili-cheese with onions." The smell of burger grease, chili, and steamed bread wafted out. Nobody really knew why Pink's hot-dogs tasted so damned good, they just did. Especially at one-thirty in the morning after drinking, few things compared.

"You really are looking to gas us out tonight." Ernie fished some bills from his wallet, exchanging them for his change.

Reaching over the counter, Jason snagged the tray. Hot dogs, smothered in dark chili and sprinkled with onions, hung out the end of buns. "I've thrown up on you," he teased, "after that, what's a few farts between friends?" He handed over Ernie's food and ducked into what passed for an indoor dining room at Pink's.

They cradled the mess in tinfoil and ate standing in one corner of the dining room, hardly adequate to accommodate the number of people seeking shelter from the rain. The ubiquitous gallery of Hollywood celebs surrounded them. At Pink's, to get your face on the wall…well, the names read like a red carpet A-list on Oscar Night.

"So how you doing otherwise?" Ernie mumbled around a mouthful of dog. "Besides the work thing?"

Nasty thoughts about what other long and hard things should be shoved between those lips hit Jason hard. He swallowed and choked out. "Surviving." God, how hard up was he if he was fantasizing about hot dogs? It had to be the corniest thing in the world.

"I hear you." Ernie'd always been a master at eating and talking simultaneously. "We had some great times, you know?"

"Yeah, it was a great crew."

"No," Ernie stopped eating, "I mean you and me."