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Sunday, March 06, 2005

 

AWARD NIGHT

Fiction is always about truths, not facts. What made this story different from most of the others I have written is that it is closer to the truth than any fiction I have written before or since. The party really happened. The meeting really occurred. The Academy Awards ceremony was playing on the television.

Much of the dialogue is what I remembered. I changed the circumstances of the male protagonist so he wouldn't be me. My life story is different from his -- in some ways. The screenplay is very real. Kerri is exactly as I pictured and described her with two exceptions: Her name isn't Kerri and her inner dialogue about the man she meets isn't real because the man isn't real, nor is his situation like mine. After all, I had to change something to make it fictional.

I showed the story to the real "Kerri" and she loved it. Kerri never became a famous actress. As far as I know, she may have gone back to Texas and presently is raising a brood of kids . . . or cattle.

AWARD NIGHT

by Milton Trachtenburg
copyright 1989

Actresses. They fall in love hard. They fall in love often. But they always try to fall in love advantageously. Kerri Miles had been assiduously avoiding the frump at a variety of social gatherings both had been attending. She sized him up to be a typical hanger-on who can always be found around beautiful actresses at parties. Maybe an accountant, she thought, with distaste. If he is, I'll bet he wears one of those green eye shades and works for Scrooge. She smiled to herself. I haven't seen clothes that out of style since I worked on that sit-com about the sixties..

Despite her first impressions, Kerri couldn't help but notice that the most important people in the room gathered around Mr. Frump. Come to think of it, the important people always seem to be around him. Maybe he does their taxes. It is April. Which reminds me, I have to get my damn taxes done. What a fucking pain in the ass that is. I sure don't want him to do mine. She snapped out of her reverie in time to hear Bobby Stark, the producer, say to the man, "There probably won't be more than minimal revisions. We all think you developed a script we can go with - of course depending on what Darryl has to say. "Of course," she heard the man mumble in response. She missed what they said next, but she homed in on their conversation like a cop with a radar detector zeroing in on a Chevy with a chain-link steering wheel.

Script? she thought, what does he have to do with scripts? What are they saying?

"I was shocked when you called, she heard him saying. I never expected something like this would happen. I never wrote a screenplay before." She focused her attention as he spoke and wondered how she could have been so mistaken about this intense, shy and honest person.

The man looked up for an instant, their eyes met, then he quickly looked away. Her gaze and smile continued for a few moments longer. He returned to his conversation, but she caught him furtively looking at her - she counted three times. Kerry decided she would wait for a propitious moment to approach him. What do I have to lose? she thought. I lost that a long time ago.

"Hi!" she said in her best actress voice, rich in undertones that offered more than she planned to deliver. Her smile said that the door was open to pursue this conversation if he chose to do so. Perhaps even if he didn't choose to.

If he's a screenwriter, maybe there's a part for me - if I play my cards just right, she thought.

"I couldn't help but overhear your conversation . . . ," said Kerry.

"Sure you could. It's ok to say you wanted to overhear it. You're an actress, right?" His smile softened the blow somewhat. Kerry, who prided herself on being able to judge character was taken by his soft, light brown eyes. They contradicted the harshness of his response. She wasn't used to such honesty. Not, at least, since she left her home town some years earlier.

His eyes held her focus upon his face, even before his words had a chance to penetrate her mind. She was used to the typical show business power conversations, with their phoney compliments, while just under the surface, the real messages lay, and I do mean lay, she thought, with distaste. The men's eyes usually made the full circuit, from her face, to her breasts, to her crotch, to her legs, and then sometimes even returning to her face. Most of the men got vapor-locked about a foot south of her clear, blue eyes. His gaze never left her eyes, except to wander to her mouth when she spoke. She didn't know what to make of it, but, since she had heard every line under the sun, she waited patiently to see what his would be.

"I'm sorry?" she questioned, not certain that what she had heard him say had actually transpired.

"I'm not," he reiterated instantly.

She squirmed uncomfortably; for the first time in her career, she felt out of place in her low-cut, clingy silk dress. She had never before been placed in a situation with a man when she didn't immediately attain the upper hand. Her devastating looks and little-girl persona had always wasted every wise-ass who thought he could get her to melt before his so-called charms.. She shifted gears, and asked, "What did you write?"

Not a bad recovery, he thought. In the past, his honesty had always given him the ability to fend off the sycophants who circled successful people like groupers around a shark. He studied her and wondered what was beneath that manicured exterior.

"I wrote books, mainly," he answered after an unduly long pause, "but I recently completed my first screenplay. It's called . . ."

"Oh, God, you're . . ." She looked at him with a new realization and put her initial impressions to rest. Frumpy became individualistic. She thought to herself, I'll bet he still has a line just like all the rest of them.

"Am I keeping you from watching the awards? You must be interested in them." she asked.

"Interested? They bore me to distraction. I'm here because I have to be here. I guess the actor-droids and the bean counters think they're important. Oops! Hope I haven't offended you." They looked at each other, and both began to enjoy this conspiracy.

"Hell, no,!" she shouted, loud enough to attract the attention of the crowd gathered around the fifty-two inch television screen in the far corner of the room. She slipped into a Panhandle drawl, which appeared to the man to be her natural speech pattern.

"Texas gal?" he asked, tentatively.

"You kin tell?" she replied, with pleasant sarcasm.

"Shore can, Mam," he mimicked in his best Randolph Scott imitation, remembering that Randolph Scott had come to Hollywood from Pennsylvania.
"I've seen you in Garth's acting class. You're damn good. You look like you have a real sense of yourself a lot of the other actors in the class are lacking," he continued, realizing that he was beginning to enjoy this conversation.

"Thank you," Usually the first thing anyone mentioned was how pretty she was, or how funny, or any of the personal characteristics she worked so hard to develop.

"Why don't you drop the ingenue role you're playing. If you take off your mask, I won't hurt you. I promise." He smiled and looked directly into her eyes.

"Wow! You are something!" she responded with a giggle. "How do you know that?"

"Your intelligence shows through. Your dumb act is so perfect that only an intelligent person could pull it off so well." They both burst into gales of laughter. She touched his chest gently and he covered her hand with his for a brief moment. "I won't hurt you," he repeated. "That's not what I'm about."

"You are somethin', y'know. I never met anyone quite like you. I don't know quite how to take you." She remained close to him and looked at him as if to discover secrets hidden in dark corners of his soul, but she saw only the openness he presented.

"I forgot something very important. I'm Marc - Marcus really - no not Marcus really. Marcus Leonard, comma, really." She laughed somewhat nervously, not quite knowing what to make of this unusual encounter, yet not wanting to break the connection. She had temporarily forgotten that she had originally approached this man to try to promote her career and here she was, opening doors which she had assiduously barricaded for years. "What's your name?" he added, bringing her back to reality.

"I'm Kerri," she responded, "Kerri Miles."

"Pleased to meet you, well actually, I have already met you, so, I'm pleased to be introduced to you as an afterthought to our meeting." She looked puzzled for a moment and then realized that he was playing with words. I suppose writers like to do that. Maybe that's what makes them so crazed, she thought.

"You're funny, and strange. I like that." She touched him again and this time, he chose not to react to it. I heard you're a therapist as well as an author?" she said. He laughed. "What's funny? Did I say something?"

"No," he said, "I was just thinking. I was ready to play therapist and ask you why you asked that question." He touched her hand gently and noted that she didn't withdraw it.

"I never saw a therapist - I mean, not professionally." By this time, both Marc and Kerri were giggling almost uncontrollably.

"Hey, quiet down over there!" the detached and agitated voice called from the darkness on the other side of the room where the group was engrossed in the television presentation of the awards ceremony, silent except for an occasional punctuation of cheers for an award to a favored candidate.

"Oops!" Marc and Kerry exclaimed in unison and giggled even harder.

"Tell me about your screen play," Kerry blurted. Anyone who can talk the way you do must write interesting characters."

Marc looked at Kerri for a moment, but saw none of the self-interest which had led her to initiate this conversation. She was looking at him with an openness that appeared real. He noticed they were beginning to attract attention from some of the others in the group of about thirty people. They had been standing together like co-conspirators for over a half-hour now and, you know the show business crowd; if they didn't have a topic to gossip about, they would create one. No, folks, we're not talking about going to bed together, he thought, quickly shutting out the existence of the group and returning to their conversation.

"I wrote about someone who used to be my client," he continued. I fictionalized her story. She was the child of alcoholic parents and was abused by them and went on to become an abused wife." Marc noticed the flicker of pain crossing Kerri's ingenuous face. "Did I push a button?" he asked gently.

"You see right on through me, don't you? I never talk to people about myself. What they don't know won't hurt me." Kerri studied Marc carefully, trying to make certain she was safe.

Marc reached the few inches separating them. He gently took Kerri's hands in his. He felt the surprising strength in her hands, realizing that this was a woman who probably had been used to hard work before she came to California. Marc pictured Kerri putting the lights out on some yahoo who had the temerity to try to hit on her at the local soda fountain - or whatever served as her hometown hangout. Now that he intuitively knew what he was looking at, he saw all the pain, loneliness and rage needed to create a good actor. If you don't have a wonderful life, create one, he thought, reminiscing about his own invalidated childhood of loneliness. pain and rage. He recalled with joy the doors acting had opened for him long before he chose to become a therapist, author and playwright. Writing this screenplay changes everything in my life, he mused. Maybe I can find public anonymity. He laughed.

Tears welling in Kerri's enormous, blue eyes brought Marc back to reality. He felt the powerful need for simple human connection coming from her. "You know," he said, I don't mean to intrude upon your life, but perhaps our meeting was more than co-incidence. I began this conversation expecting you to hit on me for a part in the screenplay. Before I wrote it, women like you . . . well, you know. I don't want to put myself down, but I can pass for pretty ordinary."

"Oh, God, you're anything but ordinary."

"But until you get to know me . . ."

"I see what you mean. I hope you don't think that I . . ." She reached up and brushed her eyes, attempting to appear to be rubbing them.

"It's really ok to cry when something hurts you, Kerri. I do it all the time." He paused, and they stood, each giving the other one last test to determine if trust would be offered and confidences shared in this encounter. They had, by this time, been standing together almost motionless for over an hour, oblivious to the activity around them. There was suddenly a raucous cheer from the group around the flickering tv on the other end of the huge loft. "Politics as usual," he said, wincing at his non-sequitur.

"You know, if I offend you with anything I'm going to say, you can kick me in the shins and leave. Kerri, I know what pain is and if you want to talk to someone who in just a few minutes has developed a genuine respect for you and a sense of who you are - without knowing why - go for it. I'm not going to try to play therapist. As a matter of fact, I feel there are some things about me that I would like to share with you - but you go first. Tell me what your hurt is - the one that is so strong that the mention of a character in a script sets it off.

"I can't just talk about this. I . . ." She looked at Marc in embarrassment.

Marc took Kerri's hands in his again, and this time she squeezed his hands tightly. "Kerri, I use an expression as a therapist that sometimes helps my clients open up things they can't deal with. I want to share it with you, ok? You can do anything you want to with it. Want to hear it?"

"Yes, of course. Yes." She began softening, slowly accepting that she was about to do something new for her.

Marc released her hands and moved even closer to her. He was oblivious to the stares from across the room.

He said, "Tell me what you cannot tell me, so that tomorrow you may dream the dream you dared not dream."

"I . . . wow! You do have a way with words, mister. Say it again." Marc repeated the simple, complex, profound words.

Kerri stood for a moment, repeating them for herself, absorbing their meaning into herself. ". . . so I can dream the dream . . . I don't know where to begin. You're right. I'm not what I play myself as. My dad and my brother - they have drinking problems. My other brother - he's retarded, but don't get me wrong, I love him just the same. Because I'm pretty, everybody thinks I must be happy." Kerri finished, and they stood silently for a few moments. Then, Marc told her about his failing marriage and handicapped son.

"I can't believe we're talking like this. I've known you only a few minutes and I'm standing here sharing my whole life with you. And it feels so right. I learned something tonight about judging people too quickly." Kerri smiled, comfortable as she'd ever been in her life. "You know, I have one secret I don't share with anybody, but I want you to know. I have a husband back in Texas. I don't know what's going to happen to my marriage either, but I'm not ready to give it up yet."

"Maybe we both learned something important about ourselves tonight," Marc answered. "I expect people to treat me as if I don't exist, so they do. You expect everyone to treat you like a ditsy actress, and they do. But tonight, we took a chance and treated each other like we were important, and something special happened, at least for me."

"For both of us," Kerri responded.

"By the way," Marc said, "if you would like to try out for a part in the screenplay, give me a call. I can't promise anything, I'm only the writer, but what the hell, I'll talk to the right people anyway. It can't hurt."

"I . . . thanks, Marc. I really mean that. Thanks for everything." Kerri took Marc's hand and explored it like a blind person reading braille.

"I have to leave now," Kerri said. "Have to go home and walk the dog. Thanks for tonight. I really mean that."

Marc watched as Kerri walked across the room to get her coat. As she moved further away, he could almost feel her masks being reapplied so that she could deal with the crazy world of her chosen profession He saw her making affected goodbyes to the crowd and felt his own frump mask realigning. He smiled briefly knowing that there was a different level of reality to which he could attach occasionally when the right person came along.

Marc moved over to the crowd and sat on a sofa arm. The crowd had thinned considerably and the program was almost over. "You and Kerri were having quite a conversation there," a voice called out in the darkness.

"Yeah, weren't we, though." Marc smiled and stared at the screen as an actress with an ample bosom spilling out of a too-tight dress breathily announced the award for best picture of the year. The crowd cheered or grumbled. Marc was too busy feeling a strong yet delicate hand tracing patterns in his own to know or care about what was happening in the room.

Comments:
Hello! Thanks for leaving the note on my blog! The whole audio-blogging concept is just an experimental thing, for me at least. I have an actual blog where I try to write interesting and humorous things, but often fail. I also post a lot of photos. I was actually in New York recently and was hanging out with Andrew Katz (I'm sure you know him) and Jason and there are a couple of photos of Jason, here and I have yet to post a few more, and even a video of Jason performing at the Bowery Poetry Club. Your son is very talented, and I'm really happy that he's becoming as famous as he is. I love the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, and I've seen them twice, both times when they came to the Mad Art Gallery in St. Louis.
You seem like a very interesting person as well; your blog is very intruiging. Keep up the awesome work!
 
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