UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
ZACHARY AMENDT

Idiot Savant-Garde

The evangelist in every American director is gunning for your heart-

strings. And perhaps Cahn Hartzeim is the best of those who thinks the worst of his audience: youíre his meal tickets, his marionettes. The evangelist is Orson Welles one year, Scott Fitzgerald another; in each project he seduces the talent, or as Cahn puts it, the "merchandise," with that story of his that everyone he sleeps with gets told only once.

Crosby's waterproof mascara is holding its own. Meanwhile I'm down in the street screaming Stella. Suddenly: the shrill brakes of a taxi. The horizon is at eye-level, and wavering. Dew on everything, and everywhere, sodden leaves. I fall under the wheels. Credits.

She was flirting with the cameras in her trousers, and the rain, and her devil-may-care look from the balcony, as if to say: "You dragged me out here into the damp, at least do me the courtesy of a close-up."

It was an art film built around the crux of falling leaves. But instead of something gradual, all the leaves came down at once, and out came the rakes, and there went the season.

I proposed a working dinner, so we could review the script, her cues, her grievances.

It's the same with all actresses. Hold her gently. Let her almost take flight. Let her think flight was her idea. Then, mercifully, chainsaw her perches.

Her chaperone, a distant aunt, was an unfair referee. She didn't like my "western costume:" a sly smile and old boots. I confined my advances to underneath the table, and when the old bag wasn't looking, during her long consultations of the menu.

I started out talking about myself, disparagingly, stories where I was the villain, to lighten everyone's mood. I can't recall winning anyone over with self-effacement, especially teenage girls, but Crosby warmed up and started sticking up for me.

I drink as she talks, until her mouth is not synchronized with her words.

That night we finished a methuselah of champagne. I studied how my words hit her. She rested her feet on a stack of my old leather suitcases, and folded her arms.

"Your writing is wooden," she said. "Look at this: 'He took a cigar from his shirtfront. He lit a match.'" She threw down the script and spit on it. "No shit he lit a match."

"A wooden match," I said.

"Does it matter?"

"He's lighting rare tobacco, not kindling."

She lost every argument that night, down to the sleeping arrangements. All the dues I had paid, and what I could do for her career. She had read Nabokov -- she knew 17 wasn't young. And I, I only felt young. Youth is not a state-of-mind when the prostate throbs, and the blood-pressure headaches, and two packs of antacids a day. I introduced her to Bunuel, to Reifenstahl. Nothing mindless, only what would profit her in future liaisons.

Film introduced to me the disposability of existence, and what to do when confronted with your expendability. You should take life for granted, not obsess over its intransigence, or envy those who rise early, sober, enervated by weak coffee, a jog. Just don't think small, and don't act poor. My soul might be in peril, but that's what mankind is here for, peril, and anyone who does not agree needs to open a history book, or watch the news, or pay that store clerk who said sheíd kill you if you didnít get her that five dollars you owed. To succeed, you have to have the lust for it. Must exaggerate your days. Outspend your competitors. Live large. Most nights without her it was bourbon out of my favorite coffee mug, pages all over my dining room table, pages falling to the floor, and me, sitting there, trying to write at least ten good lines for the screen. And later: skateboarding intoxicated, falling off of the skateboard, hysterical laughter. Long beautiful nights of recitations and walking the path close to the lake, lights strung up everywhere, everything open late. Our house was rent-free and a hindrance. Spilled ink everywhere, and, when I Rorschact it, I see words dribbling, an empty cahier, a mop. Wasn't it all better on typewriters, which made you, if not actually think linearly, then storytell in a straight line?

"We should get out of the habit of telling everyone our pains," Crosby said one night, "and by we I mean you."

Her trouble is self-absorption, but how I can reproach her for thinking of herself, when nobody else ever has. I cringed when she woodenly listed off the names of books she had purportedly read, but I liked her, and so I owed it to her to be normal, my level-best. In love you became a thinking person again, not just a living person, which is not to say you weren't alive, but that you were more adult about it now, less maddeningly stubborn, and the car was not in impound any longer because you drunkenly jumped the curb and left it parked on the sidewalk.

At the wrap party, I watched her start to sleep her way back down the ladder. A slow descent into the slack arms of the key grips.

I couldn't help but think of the way my mother left us, just packed up and left, door wide open, I in my crib, while Pops was away on a hunting trip.

The best films are about women who appear to have discharged their parental obligations at conception.

I concede that time heals all wounds, but what good is that to us, whose days are numbered?

A native of Southern California, Zachary Amendt worked as a bureau chief for City News Service, Inc., the nation's largest regional news wire service.







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