Big Things - Jody Horowitz - ebook

Big Things ebook

Jody Horowitz

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When David lands in L.A. with very little money and no real prospect of publishing his first novel, he takes a succession of dead-end jobs. Soon he realizes that he has to o ffer something really special if he wants to make good money. And so he decides to think big-and to cash in on his massive, yet most personal asset. "Big Things" by Jody Horowitz is a cleverly written story. It's racy, juicy, funny and sometimes sad.

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For my parents

who started this wonderful foolhardy life.

My sisters

Lisa, Wendy and Elfie

who have offered years of encouragement

and sharp editorial advice.

Particularly my brother, Robin

who taught me to examine each word

and make sure it was the best candidate for the job.

Marsha

who supported this book when it first tried to surface.

And Stephan

for generous and sensitive advice nursing this book to its feet.

Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.

Oscar Wilde

My mother loved children. She would have given anything if I had been one.

Groucho Marx

Experience is what you get looking for something else.

Mary Pettibone Poole

Love is a taste for prostitution. In fact, there is no noble pleasure that cannot be reduced to prostitution.

Charles Baudelaire

I don’t know anything about sex. I have always been married.

Zsa Zsa Gabor

ONE

I couldn’t sleep.

There’s nothing worse than lying in bed pretending. While time welds you to the spot. Refusing to budge. The sheet wrinkled beneath me whenever I changed my position until it felt like that furrowed skin you get from staying in the bath too long.

I was leaving Australia in the morning and a roar of unresolved thoughts used my head for a racetrack. Crashing into nervous junk against the walls. Everything that seemed so clear during the day had puddled into doubt by night.

Night had a talent for that.

My destination, Los Angeles, remained a jumble of insubstantial images. A tangle of freeways under a burnt orange sky. Aging Hollywood stars. Dodging their fame behind tinted glasses. Disneyland. Who knew what I’d find? I just knew I was leaving in the morning. If morning ever came.

My family had migrated from New York to Sydney when I was fourteen. Back when Australia was still welcoming people in by the boatload. Eager to fill empty space. Of course they preferred you to be skilled and Caucasian even back then. Believing successful hospitality required both a stringent guest list and careful seating arrangements.

I guess I never forgave my parents for dragging me away from junior high when I was just finding my feet and conquering the embarrassment adolescence so amply provides.

Australia seemed like such a pale imitation. Wedged at the end of the world. And even though I knew it wasn’t really true, there were persistent rumors that kangaroos still delivered the mail out there.

Which sounded neither safe nor hygienic.

I secretly believed I would return to America one day. It seemed as much a part of my destiny as the nasal accent I never lost and the citizenship I never relinquished. It was something from my Russian ancestry that made me feel like a defiant mail-order bride. Honoring the contract I signed. But vowing to only give my body. Never my heart!

George was probably awake in the next room. I had met him after moving to Melbourne. And after a few hothouse weeks of seeing each other, it seemed foolish not to dignify all the feverish visiting with some permanent habitation.

We were barely out of each other’s sight for the next seven years.

His life had been poisoned by a childhood accident that happened before he was five. His father left a rake lying outside in their backyard. George lost one eye when he stepped on it.

Not only did his father’s unspoken guilt destroy their relationship. Avoiding him afterward. It colored the way George viewed himself. Like an amputee. Someone always displaying an ugly scar.

He wore a glass eye in public. Hiding it behind a pair of sunglasses. But the replica was uncomfortable, irritating the socket. At home he resorted to a black eye patch. Lending him a cavalier appearance, fulfilling any pirate fantasies a man may have harbored.

Not that it made any difference to the satellite of ex-lovers and admirers I had interrupted. Many, who never forgave me for dominating his time. George owned a naturally athletic body and knew his way around sex. Combining both the reassuring confidence and industrious investigation any great explorer needed.

Sexual expertise was a skill that had eluded me so far. I had been spoiled by the attention men traditionally paid to my cock. One of the benefits of being well-endowed.

Having only one eye affected the way George lived. Unless you were sitting in a prearranged position, he couldn’t even see you. Everything needed an assigned place in the flat. Cups and dishes were practically catalogued in the cupboard. At night he could locate anything he needed without even turning on the light.

Clothes were always ironed in a methodical procedure. Dishes washed in a particular sequence.

I had rarely thought about practical matters before. I was a wild thing. George helped tame me.

I wanted to crawl into his bed. But I had lost that privilege. The atmosphere had deteriorated between us as my departure approached. We slept separately now. He was a proud and unequivocal man. Once the rules were set, he followed them to the letter and made sure I did too.

Leaving him was either incredibly foolish or brave. I couldn’t decide which. Nobody had really loved me before him. People had liked me. Laughed at my jokes and stayed long enough to have sex. But not even my mother had offered concrete lessons in love.

She had been much too busy working out her complicated relationship with the world. Dazzled by a natural inclination toward selfishness. A fascination generously imparted to each of her children.

My relationship with George was nearly perfect. Except sexually. Although we both tried to adapt, I never really supplied what he required. George was six years older than me. Spoiled by his previous ten-year relationship, where they had dined their way through the entire sexual menu. I was still ordering finger food.

He always believed I was just enduring anal sex for his pleasure. And it was probably true. I thought I was giving it the proper holiday spirit. But I guess even though you might be proudly wearing a Rolex, you always know when it’s really a fake.

Over the years we had even tried bringing other people into our sex. But I wasn’t comfortable with threesomes. I’m sure there were many successful combinations that didn’t require any special acrobatic or trapeze skills.

But in my limited experience, there was usually an imbalance of attraction that left one participant feeling like chilled turd at a banquet.The dish nobody wants to try.

It was difficult enough satisfying one person without juggling in another set of genitals. That seemed like asking for trouble.

He often used an expression I didn’t quite understand. ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, David.’ I knew it sounded insulting but it took seven years before I felt the sad resignation it actually implied.

I wasn’t being completely truthful with either of us. I knew what the problem was. He was more attracted to me than I was to him. That kind of imbalance always put a strain on things. But I needed the nourishment of our relationship too much to reveal the flaw.

Besides, it’s not an easy thing to say.

I hoped attraction would grow with intimacy and friendship. But that’s not the way things work. It was either there or it wasn’t. You felt it or you didn’t. It was either a purse or a pig.

I guess I did learn what that expression meant.

In some ways, this was the perfect moment to break up. George had just landed his dream job, editing a popular gay magazine. Most were just thin excuses for lingering underpants ads, endless celebrity gossip and promotions for the latest club single. But this one was an intelligent blend of stories, reviews and articles. Aimed higher than the crotch. Although the crotch was never completely ignored.

I had just finished my first novel: Projection. There was no doubt in my mind that success was patting me firmly on the back and handing me a fat Cuban cigar. My book had lashings of sex, astral projection and vampires. What else could anyone possibly want?

An American publisher had already expressed interest in the sample chapters I sent. And in my blush of confidence, I was already signing advanced copies, posing for publicity photos and deciding just what to reveal on the talk show circuit.

One of my optimistic English teachers had made the fatal mistake of encouraging my fledgling efforts at writing. Afterward, I couldn’t take anything else seriously. My initial flurry of short stories all concluded with the main characters dead. It seemed such an appropriate way to tidy up any loose ends.

Twisted bodies with one line of dialogue left to exhale expired in horrible train crashes during surprise tornados and assorted airport disasters. I loved a good death. At least I’d graduated to sex and vampires. Things were looking up.

George numbed us both with valiums before driving us to the airport. After my ticket was issued we ordered cocktails and sat like furniture in the bar. Nothing left to say. Both impatient for a scab to heal over the wound.

It felt like that dead time in a doctor’s office as our glasses sweated against their cardboard coasters. Until an androgynous voice announced my flight. We hugged goodbye near the terminal gate. One place where men could embrace without causing a ruckus.

His familiar aftershave filled my nose.

I noticed tears staining his sunglasses. It was going to be harder for him. Returning to our apartment. At least I had the muffling benefit of new surroundings. I counted the steps leading away from him until the corridor finally digested me.

I sat in my assigned seat with all the enthusiasm of a discarded sock until the engine shuddered alive. When the plane lifted, Australia became a collection of tanned toys beneath me. Embroidered by the foam of coastline and the slouch of gum trees.

I wasn’t sorry to leave.

George was my only regret.

A loud fraternity of young men sat nearby, wearing the same sporting emblem on their jackets. Intent on drinking as much complimentary liquor as they could hold. They sang a rousing chorus of Waltzing Matilda before we left Sydney harbor.

I tried not to stare when their jackets were removed later. Revealing some award-winning chests. The last thing I needed was to be called a faggot and beaten up before I even landed.

The team slurred into exaggerated stories that no one was taking seriously or bothering to finish. They flirted with the hostess, annoyed their closest neighbors but eventually fell asleep, leaving the toilet sticky from their drunken aims.

My ass felt permanently dented by the time we reached Los Angeles. I had systematically squeezed the air from every square inch, searching for the last comfortable spot. The relentless trays of food that orchestrated the trip had bound into one serious turd that refused to detonate.

The hum from the engine was still vibrating in my head when I finally left the plane. Like a song you couldn’t forget. My brain exhibited all the sparkle and intelligence of chewed gum.

I couldn’t feel George beside me anymore.

I was on my own.

David wrote:

Dear George,

Thanks for your e-mail. It was great finding it waiting for me this week.

I miss you like a motherfucker. I’m sitting in one of those starchy internet cafés where everybody ignores everyone else, making believe I know what I’m doing. You know how brilliant I am around computers. Like a blind man in an art gallery! At least you taught me how to e-mail!

It was a long trip, George. I felt like a stunned cave creature crawling from the plane afterward. Completely prehistoric. Guards patrolled the airport. Connected by walkie-talkies and matching arrogant expressions. Displaying their guns as proudly as hard-ons. Even the women! It made me remember that L.A. is just as famous for street gangs and drive-by shootings as MGM and Disneyland. How could I have forgotten?

This is Charlie Manson’s old town.

Everything looked so ordinary as the taxi pulled away from the curb.

Is there some building ordinance that demands all airport suburbs look alike?

A ribbon of cars barely avoided collision as we joined the traffic. I could taste a bitter concoction from the exhaust in the back of my throat.

Hollywood was sobering, George. Like finding your favorite film star living in a nursing home, wearing too much makeup and drooling in a flannel robe. Billboards screamed endorsements as we moved toward my hotel. Enthusiastic neon signs offered beds, burgers and glazed donuts. A few landmark buildings survive. But it’s a bacterium of fast food chains now.

The only restoration going on around here is handled by the plastic surgeons. The only magic left is the kind you buy for a few dollars in the novelty shops. Those cheap plastic tricks that look so intriguing—until you bring them home and find out how they worked.

The Hollywood sign is still etched over the hills and those legendary names decorate the boulevard. But Hollywood and Vine is just another intersection offering charbroiled steaks, espresso coffee and fifty-nine flavors of ice cream.

Japanese tourists inhabit a fleet of buses, wearing their cameras like jewelry. Marilyn Monroe and James Dean still live vibrant lives. Their images sell everything from tee shirts to coffee cups to baseball caps along the boulevard.

I almost told the driver to turn around. It was all looking pretty grim. Until the sun roasted into a deep orange sunset. Unexpectedly satisfying all my Hollywood dreams. I swear, George, the silhouette of palm trees against the horizon made it look like ‘Gone with the Fucking Wind.’

“Now that’s what I was hoping for!” I told the taxi driver.

“Don’t get too excited,” he advised. “It’s just the pollution turns it that color. Wait till you see what we got floating in the water!”

I’m glad to hear how much you like the magazine. It took a long time to find something worthy of your talents. I’m flattered you want me to contribute. That series of articles about childhood sounds perfect for me.

I already have a piece, Holes, that might be suitable. I’m sending it as an attachment. Let me know if it’s the kind of material you want. I might even try a few articles later.

Much love …

E-mail attachment

Holes

My mother’s hand reached through the fabric of sleep to wake me. When my eyes graduated from blur to vision I saw her leaning across my bed. Huddled in a robe. Wedged into slippers.

She walked to the window still half asleep. Drew back the curtain more by habit than design. Frost pimpled the glass. Night wore that bruised expression. Before light had a chance to charm it. Before warmth had a chance to heal it.

I was eight.

“It’s a cold morning. Do you still want to go? There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind.” It was so early, she whispered.

My younger brother slept nearby. His customary thumb plunged into his mouth like a wet cork. Emitting stray gurgles. But my mind was made up. I would accompany my father to work that day. It had been planned for weeks. A pile of my clothes waited on a nearby chair. I hated the woolen sweater she had selected. Two stupid reindeer faced each other across the chest. It always scratched against my neck like steel wool. Maybe that’s why I hated the reindeers.

Once I was dressed my father was impatient to leave. Steering us toward the door. My winter coat was slipped on. Complete with dangling mittens. On a string through the arms.

“Look at your hair!” she complained, when the hall light revealed my primitive attempt at combing. “What did you use? An egg beater?”

“We’re late, honey. Stop fussing. I gotta open the place!” He kissed her goodbye before the door opened, hoping to speed things along. She still managed to persuade my hair into a new landscape before he propelled us outside.

This marked their first attempt to weave me from boy to man.

A problematic tapestry at best.

Night had iced the grass into hard white swords. I stamped and tortured them all the way to the car. Splintering the blades under my shoes. My mother would have stopped me. Saying the neighbors were sleeping and my shoes were getting wet. Two disturbingly valid points. That was the trouble with her. She made such good sense. But my father didn’t say anything. It was always a holiday with him. If I huffed deeply enough I left clouds on the air just like his cigar smoke.

“Sit on your mother’s side,” he invited, unlocking the door on the special side. A smile burnt across my mouth.

I don’t know if we spoke. If the radio was on or we were just silent companions through that crisp dawn. I remember the odor of old leather. After a night of stewing in his car. I remember being anxious for the motor to stop complaining and sing into life. Sitting on my mother’s side. Watching the struggling heater finally lick some steam against the windshield. And my father. Rubbing his hands together. Eager for the day to begin.

He owned one of those narrow corner diners that became a cliché in the fifties. Gleaming in plastic and chrome. Red upholstered booths sat close together. Like friends gossiping. The counter was dotted by a congregation of stools. You could see the street from the front window.

“Sit wherever you want while I open up.”

I lifted myself up to the stools by holding both the seat and the counter. I tried this about forty or fifty times. Spinning the seats around like carnival plates balanced on sticks. My father switched on the overhead lights and a long unusual looking machine in the front window. It resembled a train set.

“Better warm this baby up.”

“What is it?”

“Our bread and butter!” He tapped it affectionately. “This and the coffee pot. Which I better start brewing. Why don’t you make yourself useful and fold some napkins. Hungry?”

“Not yet.”

“Let me know when.”

He placed a stack of napkins on the counter and showed me how to insert them into springy metal holders. After the coffee was started, he lifted a container of golden liquid, upturning it into the heating machine in the window.

“What’s that?”

“Oil. For frying!”

By the time he mixed up a lazy yellow batter, I had spun myself into a suitably nauseous state. First a bakery delivery arrived. Two long cardboard boxes filled with treats. Then the cook and waitress showed up. They were married. He grunted something inaudible and lumbered into the kitchen for an apron. She came over. Horribly friendly so early in the morning. Only my father was good in the morning. Whistling and singing little snatches of songs.

My mother was a zombie until doused with medicinal coffee.

We were trained to keep low profiles until the caffeine hit home.

“Now who’s this here?” she asked. Knowing all the time. I’d met her a few months ago with the whole family and remembered her name. Easy to remember. Bunny.

I didn’t know people could be named after animals. My mother told me not to be stupid later when I asked if other people were called Cow and Rat.

I had a gift for always carrying things too far.

After shedding her coat and changing into an apron, Bunny became a hive of activity. Filling up sugars and milk jugs. Planting straws into containers. Distributing strategic ashtrays.

She displayed a nervous bloom of blond hair that faltered into black toward the scalp. It had been criminally teased by a comb. Held in mid-flight by an allegiance of hair spray and willpower. A pencil protruded from one ear. An order pad bulged from a side pocket.

She eventually returned and took my hand in hers. I could still feel the outside cold on it.

“Now, what can I get you to drink. Are you a coffee or tea man?” she teased.

“He can have whatever he wants,” recklessly advised my father. Filling the display case with a fresh apple pie. Bumpy with glazed fruit. A shellacked pecan tart. Punched through with nuts. And a selection of shiny morning Danish.

“I know what.” Bunny moved in closer. As if we were sharing a secret. “I’ll get you a root beer. It’s the same color as the real thing and just as tasty. Now don’t you go falling off that stool before I get back! How about some music, boss,” she ribbed my father. “Don’t be a cheapskate. You know how to get that box running without using any money.”

He laughed and told us to pick any song we wanted. Then he switched on a huge jukebox that I had failed to notice before. Now it dominated the room with a lively circuit of dancing lights. I walked over and read all the unfamiliar song titles.

The only one that meant anything to me was called Lollipop. I knew lollipops. They had never disappointed me in the past. Bunny showed me how to press the right numbers into the pad.

The machine in the window actually made donuts. My father attached a funnel over the top, feeding the batter into the oil. The droppings obediently followed each other. Browning while they were transported. Until ladled out and left to cool and drain. Finally dusted in a bowl of cinnamon sugar.

The spectacle of traveling donuts soon attracted business. Bunny brought over my root beer before the restaurant filled up. Later, after the breakfast rush died down, my father approached me, carrying something mysteriously behind his back.

“Not everyone gets the chance to see this,” he confided.

A plate was laid in front of me. Piled high with a mound of sugared balls.

“Don’t tell anyone about this!”

“What are they?”

He looked nervously around, making sure nobody overheard us.

“The holes from the donuts,” he whispered.

Sometimes I return to that morning for refreshment. Sipping that curious brown root beer. Wondering if it would make me drunk. While a procession of donuts swam upstream like trout. Bunny holding my hand, like we were out on a first date. Tapping my foot against the stool as my song came on.

“LOLLIPOP, LOLLIPOP, HEY LOLLI LOLLI LOLLI

LOLLIPOP, LOLLIPOP, HEY LOLLI LOLLI LOLLI

LOLLIPOP!”

Eating the holes from the donuts.

TWO

I landed my first American job at a gloomy discount deli, gracelessly named L & H Meats. The front window sported huge block letters. WE SELL THE CHEAPEST MEAT, it proclaimed. A dangerous boast that probably sent potential customers elsewhere. Who wanted to admit they ate cheap meat?

A blue ringed incinerator was nailed above the wall. Roasting unfortunate insects with a delighted high-pitched sizzle. Underscoring the silence with instant fiery deaths. The only hint of daylight entered the shop through one glass door. The panel of overhead lights struggled to dispel the interior darkness, with modest results.

A series of wooden platforms ran behind the counter, elevating the server above the escaped crumbs. Making the customers look dwarfed. A fraternity of salamis hung above the counter on strings. Like a harvest of old wrinkled cocks. Rolls of meat and blocks of cheese were displayed in ancient refrigerated cases that made everything resemble museum exhibits.

Marvin Gould, the proud owner, was in his mid-forties. An overabundance of food and liquor had ballooned his features and rouged his nose. He even developed the bulging cheeks of a chipmunk. Delivering winter nuts.

The white apron, religiously tied around his waist, only reinforced the impression he was ten months pregnant. With twins. He wore gold rimmed glasses that offered a dignified impression of a deliberating lawyer. He even sounded like one.

“The chicken liver is lovely today, Mrs. Rosen, but have you considered wings for a change? They’re on special. You know what they say about a change being as good as a holiday. But it’s entirely up to you. Maybe you don’t feel like traveling today.”

Although my deli experience was minimal, being Jewish provided the deciding factor in my employment. Most of his customers were Jewish, like him. “I think I can use you,” he informed me, rather chillingly. And that’s exactly what he intended to do.

It didn’t take him long to teach me more than I ever wanted to know about corned beef and brisket. I knew the difference between Swiss, Muenster and American cheese before the afternoon elapsed.

By the end of the week I could slip the old salami in front of the new before the customer even knew the difference. Then Marvin introduced me to the musical language of deli salesmanship.

“You always try to sell them something besides what they came in for!” He encouraged. “If they want a quarter roast beef, suggest potato salad to go with. And remember, never just say potato salad.” He moved closer, like a conspirator sharing a state secret. “Use mouthwatering adjectives. It’s ‘delicious’ potato salad, ‘fresh’ cole slaw and ‘lean’ corned beef. Do you see what I mean?” Oh yes I did.

Howard, his only son, had certainly learned the lessons well. He was twenty-five. Standing six feet three over a famine stricken body. With a farm of pimples across his face. Marvin was always forcing sandwiches down his throat.

“Eat something, Howard, for God's sake. It’s not good for business when you look so skinny. They’ll think the food’s no good!”

Together they operated the business like used car salesmen on their wizened clientele. Squeezing out an extra quarter here, an extra fifty cents there. Stirring up yesterday’s salad and calling it fresh. Watering the cream cheese. Leaving a collar of fat around the meat. I was surprised they didn’t just tell me to leave my finger on the scale and be done with it.

“You’d be surprised what people buy if you’re firm enough. It’s all in the approach,” bragged Howard, who was wrapped a few times in an apron of his own. “Plan out a week of meals for them. They’ll be grateful. Remember to weigh everything just over the pound. Just never use the kosher slicer for non-kosher meat or we’re out of business. Don’t worry. It’s easy. You’ll pick it up.”

I watched. I listened. I trembled with embarrassment.

The display case was so old and stiff, the glass doors stuck whenever I tried to close them. Just when I thought they would never move, they would slam shut, turning my nail blue. I often slunk home with cauliflower fingers. Just another tired con man in a city of smiling salesmen.

Marvin had acquired a top-heavy girlfriend. She was usually the only Christian presence in the shop. Originally from the Midwest, Cindy sported a small bird-like body, going a little round at the center.

Prominent breasts pointed unnaturally skywards. Held in place by the determination of some hardworking bras. You always noticed the bite of straps into her shoulders from the weight they supported.

Her hair kept changing colors. A different shade of blond each time we met. The chemicals stiffened it into a permanent crest that threatened to splinter if brushed too vigorously.

She insisted on wearing stiletto heels after someone told her they made her legs look thinner. Accented by a gold ankle-bracelet. One marriage and three grown children behind her, she was embarked on her last desperate mission. To land a man! With a business! Marvin must have looked like a gift from the gods.

They argued easily. She’d disappear for a few weeks until they made up again. Howard hated her. He thought she was only after the money. Maybe she was. Marvin’s bank account must have acted like an aphrodisiac. He was no Cary Grant, and Cindy was nobody’s fool. But I think she really did like him. Admiration glistened in her eyes as she listened to his golden mouth steering each sale toward completion.

I responded to Cindy even though her smile was just as unnaturally wide as Marvin’s. It trembled around her lips in sick moth fashion, uncertain how long to stay in place. The icy shop made her nose run constantly.

She nursed a cold during my entire employment there.

A photo was displayed above the counter, showing them both featured on a fake cover of People magazine. Bought for a few dollars at some amusement park. Couple of the Year, it announced. It provided the perfect counterfeit testimony to their nervous relationship.

A disturbing sexual tension bristled between them. They teased and criticized each other with a disturbing carnal glow in their eyes. I used the image of their beach ball bodies bouncing against each other to brighten many a slow afternoon.

My arrival sent a burst of shop pride through Cindy. She was the only one who really noticed what a toilet the deli actually was. Marvin thought he had discovered Shangri-La.

“Honey, we really need to do something about this place. It’s so dark inside.”

“It’s a delicatessen, Cindy. We’re not selling light fixtures.”

“At least we could brighten it up a little. You want to attract people inside.”

“Whaddaya want, sweetie? Dancing girls and a jazz band?”

“Come on Marv. Be serious.”

“Okay sweetie. Do whatever you want. Just don’t spend more than twenty dollars!”

Before the words left his mouth she staggered off. Wiping her nose with the sad damp creature that resided in her pocket on a permanent basis. She returned an hour later with the tiniest row of frilled green curtains I’d ever seen, made from stiff polyester. They looked like false drag queen eyelashes.

I held the ladder steady while she hammered them above the door.

“There! It’s not much but at least it adds some color.”

“You’re right Cindy. Even the salami looks better!” he admitted.

After popping a fresh stick of cinnamon gum in her mouth she revealed a second bag, previously concealed. The blood blanched from Marvin’s face. But he relaxed once he saw the contents. Cindy extracted ten inexpensively framed photographs of old Hollywood stars. Before tacking them to the wall, she removed each from its frame.

“You gotta help me now,” she pleaded.

I had no idea what she expected until she grabbed Marvin’s pen and started writing on the first photo.

DEAR MARVIN,

ALL THE BEST WITH YOUR NEW BUSINESS!

CLARK GABLE

I was horrified.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, honey,” she assured me, ignoring my surprise. “People do it all the time. You don’t believe all those photos of stars in the barber shops actually had their hair cut there, do you?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“Don’t be crazy. And what’s Santa getting for you this year? Come on. It’s your turn.”

When she handed me a pouting shot of Shirley Temple, I only hesitated for a moment.

DEAR MR. MARVIN

THANKS FOR MY BREAK IN THE MOVIES

YOU’RE THE GREATEST!

YOUR BEST FRIEND,

SHIRLEY TEMPLE

I wondered if I had gone too far. But nothing was far enough for Cindy. By the time I was handed Marilyn Monroe, bursting out of a sequined gown, I was warming up to the task.

DARLING MARVIN

I’LL NEVER FORGET OUR STEAMY NIGHTS IN PARIS

AND THOSE LAZY MORNINGS IN ROME …

ALL MY LOVE

MARILYN

Marvin congratulated us on the forged gallery after we finished.

“It’s really great sweetie. I just hope it doesn’t make us look too much like a barbershop.”

Cindy brightened under the encouragement. Her chest rose another few notches. In the glow of the moment I heard myself making a suggestion.

“We could give haircuts in the back!”

Marvin stopped what he was doing and put his arm around my shoulders.

He smiled with deep paternal pride.

“He’s learning!” he told Cindy. “He’s learning.”

David wrote:

Dear George,

I left the world’s worst job. A discount deli where they watered the salad and overweighed the meat. You know you have a rotten job when you’re looking for something else before each shift.

Marvin, the overfed proprietor, offered some penetrating advice before I left.

“You wanna know something that works like gold with the ladies? If you’re not in love but want to give that impression, just say, I care for you. I really care for you. It doesn’t involve any real commitment even though it sounds like it. You won’t believe how well it works.”

Oh yes I did. He used it often enough on his girlfriend, Cindy. I knew it was on par with his previous advice about tempting customers with ‘delicious’ coleslaw and ‘lean’ corned beef.

I really ‘cared’ for them both, George. I really did.

I’m enjoying the Technicolor sunsets over the Hollywood hills. It’s winter now but feels like spring. Of course, we’re living on a fault line, the air is knife-and-fork thick with pollution, and suspicious debris floats in the water supply.

But these are small prices to pay for being in Tinsel Town. Aren’t they?

I won’t lie. I’m a bit petrified of L.A. It’s huge. More chance to find trouble or let it to find you here. I’m old enough to know how attractive trouble can look at first glance. Before it develops into something ugly.

There’s desperation here. A lot of ‘have nots’ looking over their shoulders at what the ‘haves’ are driving and wearing. Tension simmers between the blacks, whites, Latinos and Mexicans. There’s religious friction. Political division. And oodles of automatic weapons. I know I stand a better chance being mugged or raped here, just on the law of averages.

That’s if I’m lucky and don’t get fucking murdered.

This is such face-and-body town. Hair, teeth and tits. There’s an artificial brightness. Fueled by gyms, tanning salons and plastic surgeons.

Everyone is preparing for their close-up.

That faint promise of success is seductive. It sucks you in. It’s a suck-off kind of town! What a great license plate emblem that would make.

Welcome to L.A. It’s a suck-off kind of town!

I’m pleased to hear my donut story received positive feedback. Even more pleased that you want more.

Much love …

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A House is not a Home

We all noticed it before leaving home that morning. Before our parents herded us into the car. It was difficult to miss. The neighbor had discarded the largest box I’d ever seen.

A real dinosaur.

Soft blonde plywood that whispered things to a boy my age. The sun was beginning to lick against it. Outlining a rib of wooden planks inside. Like a skeleton.

Suddenly it was looking like a pet.

I can’t remember where we were going that day. I guess it doesn’t matter. I do remember stopping for a moment. Caught in the hush that surprise can provide. I ran over for a closer look. Even though my mother was starting to yell. Not a good thing to encourage so early in the day.