The Saturday Morning Post #69: Pamela Rewarded Part 4

CONCLUSION. Previously: Pamela is an Emmy award-winning TV producer without a show, and she’s been desperately trying to get back in the game, but so far has only faced rejection, because everything she pitches is too much like her old show. Meanwhile, she’s also dealing with her recalcitrant children — son Walter, who took a dive out of his bedroom and seriously broke his arm because of her controlling nature, and daughter Althea, who despite having her every whim indulged seems bitter and resentful. Pamela has arranged for the social event of the season to mark Althea’s 18th birthday, but none of the invitees have replied. Instead, she’s hired 350 extras for the evening, hoping that Althea won’t know. Here’s the last installment.

The extras arrived in dribs and drabs on cue, and by seven-forty-five the party looked like a gigantic success. Althea still wasn’t down yet, but that wasn’t unusual. Strangers made her nervous, and she’d have to be coaxed. Pamela had allowed her to invite a friend, but the friend hadn’t shown up yet. When she did, whoever it was, Althea would loosen up.

Walter was another matter. He attacked the bar the second it opened up, even though Pamela had told him not to drink tonight. He was already weaving pretty well when he stumbled up to her as she stood by the stairs, waiting for the guest of honor to descend.

“No more for you tonight,” she said sternly, taking the glass out of his uninjured hand. “You’re barely 19 anyway. And I don’t want you ruining this evening for your sister.”

“You don’t want me ruining it for you.”

“Walter, what is wrong with you? You used to be such a good boy, but now look. Acting like a cheap drunk, falling down and hurting yourself. What happened? Is this what a year in the dorms has done to you?”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going back there.”

“I know, we’ve already settled that. And I think it’s a good thing.”

“No. I mean, I’m not going back there. My first semester, I applied to NYU — “

“But you got accepted to S.C. — “

“No, no. I mean, while I was a freshman and they accepted me. I’m transferring.”

Pamela stared at him, then sipped from the glass in her hand. “You want to run that by me again?” she said.

“I am going to NYU in September. I’m moving to New York next week.”

Pamela laughed. “No you’re not.”

“I’m an adult and you’re not telling me what to do. It’s bad enough I went to a college I didin’t want to. Don’t make it worse.”

“How have I made it worse?”

“Let me live my life.”

“How have I made it worse, Walter? Look around you, look at all this. This house. Your car, expensive clothes. Have you ever not had anything you wanted, and you have the nerve to stand there and tell me that I’ve made your life worse?”

His lip trembled and he bit it, staring at her with barely concealed fury. “I am going to NYU,” he finally spat out, low, his voice cracking.

“Then you’re paying for NYU,” Pamela shot back, “Because I’m not. I’m only paying for USC.”

“Only paying. That’s the problem, that’s the goddamn problem.”

“Watch your language.”

“I’m going.” He pushed past her and started up the stairs. “And fuck you.”

She dropped the glass, screamed for the maid to clean the carpet, then headed up the stairs, going to Althea’s door and knocking as she tried the knob. Locked. She had to find out who kept putting the locks back on after she’d have Oded remove them.

“Sweetie, are you coming down soon?”

“Just a minute.”

“Everybody’s here, they can’t wait to see you.”

“I said just a minute.”

“And you have to open your presents. There are lots of presents.”

Silence, then she heard movement inside, voices. Strange, Althea was supposed to be alone. Then she opened the door, already in her party dress and Pamela saw the boy, standing over by the vanity.

“Mom, Dale. Dale, mom.” Althea noticed Pamela’s horrified reaction, added, “You said I could bring a friend.”

“I meant girlfriend.”

“So I brought my boyfriend. Excuse me.” Althea stepped past Pamela, toward the stairs.

“Wait, wait. What do you mean ‘boyfriend?’” Pamela asked. “You don’t have a boyfriend.”

“Yes I do, his name’s Dale, that’s him.” Dale had emerged from the bedroom and Althea took his hand, pulling him toward the stairs. When the hell did she even meet someone to become a boyfriend, Pamela wondered. And where could Althea have met him? she didn’t know any black people. She didn’t know any people.

But before Pamela could say a word, Althea smiled at her and said the one thing that could possibly shut her up at this moment. “Don’t make a scene in front of the guests,” Althea whispered, and then she and Dale were bouncing down the stairs, holding hands.

Pamela grabbed the banister to keep from swaying. Oded came out of his room, saw her and bounded over.

“Great party, huh?”

“Fasten your seatbelts,” Pamela said. Then, “Oh, never mind.”

* * *
“Surprise!” the extras yelled, hitting their cue and getting their line right as Althea made her entrance.

Pamela had done her best to distract her daughter downstairs, latching onto her and taking her around to meet the guests, but the poor girl looked incredibly bored and didn’t say much of anything to anyone. Finally, she shoved Pamela’s arm off her shoulder. “You’re crushing me,” she said, moving three feet away and signaling for Dale to join them.

“Should we open your presents now?” Pamela cheered.

“Isn’t there a band or something?” Althea asked.

“Band first, then presents?”

“Okay.”

And the show went on and Althea stood by her mother’s side during the first song, then whispered in her ear, “I’m going to dance with Dale,” and wandered away. Pamela nodded, keeping an eye on them. Althea stopped briefly to talk to Oded, and then she and Dale faded into the crowd and onto the dance floor. She turned to watch the group play and then Oded popped up with a drink, standing at her side.

“They’re pretty good, huh?” he said.

“Not really,” Pamela told him, “They only charge like they are.” And it was true. The second song sounded just like the first, which sounded identical to the third, all of them variations on the theme of “Ooh, do you love me, girl? I love you.” It was all so hormonally puerile, except that these five boys all looked like virgins, and one of them was obviously queer — not that he’d know it for another decade.

It was over soon enough and then it was time for the presents, except that Althea was AWOL. Pamela and Oded looked everywhere for her, but she was nowhere. Pamela stomped up the stairs, beelined to Althea’s door and knocked as she grabbed the knob. It wasn’t locked. She flung the door open, finding the room empty.

Finding the room almost empty. There was an envelope on the floor, addressed simply, “Mom.”

She read the letter three times, stunned. The short version was, “I’m leaving. You suck.” The long version was three handwritten pages, every sin Althea thought Pamela had ever committed, every normal thing she hadn’t let her have. She shoved the note in her pocket, went downstairs and grabbed the microphone.

“Okay, thanks, party’s over. Everybody, out, out. Go. Home.”

And the extras scattered like ants, Pamela’s one-hundred-dollar guests, boy band long gone and unopened presents stacked on tables. The yard was devoid of partiers in five minutes, Pamela standing on the stage, alone as the caterers began to clean up.

She didn’t remember starting to do it, but certainly enjoyed it when she found herself in the middle of flinging boxes to the ground, kicking in fancy wrapping paper, hurling expensive foreign electronics into the pool, heaving fragile items hard into the flagstones, half-screaming all the while.

She’d trashed everything and overturned all the tables and had turned toward the car, which was concealed under a huge drape on the back lawn, when Oded raced up to her, grabbed her arm.

“Pam, stop it. This isn’t helping. She’ll be back.”

“No she won’t,” Pamela sputtered, pulling out the letter and shoving it in Oded’s arms. He took it but didn’t look at it. He was staring at her.

And then Pamela knew. Oded and Althea had been talking at the party. And Oded hadn’t seemed particularly surprised to meet Dale. Oded knew, he knew everything, he was in on everything. Just another one in a long line of people to betray her and plot against her, and it all made sense now. That was why Walter did what he did, why Althea had run away.

She raked her nails across his face, drawing four long red gashes down his left cheek. He jumped away. “Ow. What the hell did you do that for — ”:

“Get out.”

“What?”

“This is all your fault.”

What?”

“You know what I’m talking about. You hate me, you always have. Well, I’m done with you. Good-bye.”

She turned her back on him.

“Come on, Pamela. We’ll find Althea, we’ll bring her back.”

“You have fifteen minutes, and then I’m calling the police.”

There was a long silence, then Oded finally spoke. “All right. Okay, I’m gone. But you know what? You are one severely fucked up lady. And you can just kiss…” He balled up his face in rage, then shook his head, turned his back and walked away.

But Pamela wasn’t looking and she didn’t acknowledge him at all, and finally she heard him stomp across the patio, into the house. It was Dennis all over again, in its own way.

She went inside later, making sure Oded was gone, then poured herself a drink and stood in the living room, just staring at the Emmy. It was a beautiful statue, really. Majestic and hopeful. A Grammy was stupid, a Tony was way too small and an Oscar was too plain. But this one was perfection. It was all she’d ever really wanted.

She thought she heard a strange buzzing sound from somewhere, cocked her head to listen, but then it stopped. Maybe she’d had too much to drink. But then something hit her nose and she sniffed. Smoke? Was somebody smoking in the house? Great, she thought, Oded is back.

She went into the foyer, but there was no one there. The front door was locked. But she could still smell the smoke…

And then the buzzing again, and she knew what it was. One of the smoke detectors, the one at the top of the stairs. She looked up, and saw the smoke billowing down the hallway, gathering in a slow-forming pool at the top of the stairwell. She raced up the stairs, looked into the hall, which was already obscured. There was a flicker of flame from the distance, heat drifting toward her.

And there was Walter, emerging from one of the bedrooms, coughing. He stumbled toward the stairs, stopped and looked down at her, still holding the burnt-out match in his hand.

“Walter…” was all she could say.

“You’re going to pay for it,” he answered. And then the door to Pamela’s room swung open on a gust of flame and huge ball of black smoke coughed into the hall, drifting around Walter, above Pamela. She reached forward, grabbed for him and got hold of his bad arm, pulling him toward the stairs.

“Out,” she said. “Get outside. Now.”

But he sat down, refusing to move.

“Walter, don’t do this.”

“Which one do you really care about more?” he asked.

“Which, who?”

“Which thing, mommy. Me or the house?”

“I care about you, Walter. Now get out of here.”

“Don’t you think you should be calling 9-1-1?”

“Get your ass downstairs right now.”

She could hear the crackling flames, roaring into the hall, the smoke getting thicker, every alarm upstairs going off. She didn’t have to call 9-1-1 and Walter knew that. The security company had already been notified.

“Who’s paying for NYU?” Walter asked, waving smoke away, his eyes watering.

“We’ll talk about it later,” Pamela said, grabbing the front of his shirt, trying to pull him up.

“We’ll talk about it now,” he replied.

“You can go to NYU if you get out of this house right now.”

“Swear?”

“Yes, I swear, goddammit, now move.”

With a smug grin, Walter got up and hurried down the stairs, Pamela following. He was at the door when she suddenly remembered, turned back toward the living room.

“Leave it,” he said.

“No,” she answered.

“Okay,” he replied, walking back to the bottom of the stairs. “You can take it or me out, not both.”

“Stop screwing around.”

“I’m not screwing around. Which one is more important to you, me or that lump of brass? It’s D-Day, mommy. Or maybe that should be V-Day. You know. Victory. Yours or mine, but not both.”

There was a sudden creaking from the back of the house, then a crash. Pamela could see the flicker of flames through the dining room doors, and then the smoke started pouring in. Something in the kitchen had gone up fast, and then flames exploded through the dining room, licking at the living room doors, flanking the display case.

In the far distance, sirens trembled, approaching and receding slowly, up the canyon roads.

The flames were advancing, crawling around the walls now, crawling toward it. They were reflected in the polished gold, highlighting it, making it shine.

Pamela stepped into the living room, started toward the statue, but then the flames roared up, cutting her off. There was nothing she could do but watch as the walls blackened and the fire crawled ever closer to the winged lady.

She backed out of the room, heading for the front door. Walter wasn’t sitting on the stairs. Maybe he’d finally done something sensible.

She opened the front door and the flames in the house roared up, jumping at her. She ran, down the drive, hearing now the terrible crackling of shattering wood and the wail of the sirens finally arriving on the other side of the front wall. Walter wasn’t there. But he had to have gotten out. He had to.

She turned and looked at the house, which was belching hot yellow and black smoke from its entire upper floor, downstairs windows glimmering. From where she stood, she could see through the front window, through the living room doors, could just catch a glimpse of the edge of the statue, flames now dancing at its base. And then the vision was gone, buried in the cataclysm and firemen were racing past her, two men in white uniforms taking her arms and leading her to a stretcher and an oxygen mask.

But they couldn’t save the house, nobody could, not even Pamela. Everything burned, even the garage, the Emmy reduced to a melted, blackened thing and Walter… Walter gone.

And Althea and Oded. She had worked so hard to make everything exactly perfect, and it was all gone so easily and despite the oxygen, or because of it, she started hyperventilating and wound up in the hospital anyway. The baskets of flowers and the Things Executives Sent were lovely, but none of them came with job offers. They all wrote notes about how terribly tragic her loss was, and if she needed anything blah, blah, blah. But the blah blah blah meant nothing. None of it had meant anything. And six months later, somebody else produced her story, fictionalized, as a movie of the week.

It won four fucking Emmys.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #68: Pamela Rewarded Part 3

Previously: It’s May 2000, and Pamela is an Emmy-winning former show runner, just after the last season of that award-winning show. We learned a bit about her life and early career, then jump back to the present as her son, Walter, winds up in the hospital. Pamela’s first husband, Roger, is actually Walter’s son, but he doesn’t know it. To find out why, read Part 2.

“The doctor said it’s a spiral fracture, which I guess means it’s worse than a normal one. He’ll be in there a while,” Pamela explained as she and Oded stood outside the ER entrance, along with Roger and some bored-looking young blond boytoy, Pamela the only one not smoking. She wasn’t sure why she had called Roger. It just seemed like the proper thing to do when someone’s son fell off a second-story roof.

“But it’s just his arm?” Roger asked, and he was truly concerned.

“And his wrist,” Pamela said. “He’s going to have pins and everything in it. It’ll be a few months.”

“What was he doing up on the roof, anyway?” the boytoy injected with a vague drawl.

“Brian…” Roger hissed, and Pamela wondered how many Y’s were in the name.

“We don’t know,” Oded offered, Pamela giving him a stern look. “Well, we don’t,” he defended.

Well, she did, she thought, hoping no one else knew. She’d only been trying to talk to Walter, up in his room, the one he stayed in when he wasn’t in school, to convince him to live here the next semester instead of in the dorms on campus.

It had been hard enough steering him into USC in the first place. He’d wanted to go to NYU. But she’d convinced him that he’d make much better connections in the industry at a local school, and especially a prestigious film program, for which she could yank strings like nobody’s business, guaranteeing he’d get in.

She’d never expected him to move on campus. Yes, it wasn’t that far away, but it wasn’t in the greatest neighborhood, either. That was the approach she’d used, making a plea to his personal safety, but he didn’t seem worried at all. Then again, he was six-five and broad-shouldered. He never would have been a football player, but he probably didn’t have to worry about being mugged. That argument exhausted; she was trying to think of a second attack when Walter started crying.

“Honey, what is it, what’s wrong?”

He blubbered incoherently, couldn’t say anything for a long time. She sat there with him, arm around his shoulder, listening to the sniffles, muttering her own encouragements. He could tell her anything, she was his mother.

After about the third round of that, he suddenly bolted from the bed, tearing out of her arms, and he yelled, “Stop running my life!” She tried to approach him, to give him a reassuring hug, but he kept backing away, arm out to fend her off. He was babbling something about how she always made his decisions, always had to know what he was doing, was always intruding into everything, but she wasn’t really listening to that. She just wanted him to stop crying, and for everything to be okay. He finally backed into a corner and stood there, not looking at her, eyes red and angry.

“It’s okay,” she said, walking up to him, arms out.

“No it’s not, it all sucks,” he yelled at her, suddenly making a decision. He shoved past her, walked to the far end of the room and threw open the window.

“Walter — “

“This is your fault,” he announced, and then he lumbered out the window, onto the eave, somehow managing to fold himself through the small opening.

Pamela rushed to the window and got there just in time to see Walter vanishing in a swan-dive, heard the crash and thud below, and then a groan.

She was down the stairs in a second, flipping open her cell phone on the way, out the back door over to Walter, who had bounced off a redwood table, half into a flower bed. He was holding his right arm, mouth open to scream but sound not coming out. Pamela was already talking to 9-1-1 as she knelt next to Walter, gently touched his cheek.

“Mommy…” he whimpered.

“Sssssh,” she said.

And then the waiting, she and Oded and Roger and Brian, doing nothing for hours in the quiet place. If they asked, she’d tell the doctor he’d been cleaning the gutters or something. No, why would he be doing that after dark? Maybe he was chasing a chattering squirrel away.

But then a candystriper was escorting Walter out the double doors and Pamela got to him first, kissing his cheek, carefully avoiding his right arm, which was slinged and wrapped in plaster, metal bars protruding from the casing.

“Guess I’ll be living at the house next semester,” he said, indicating his arm and smiling. Then he saw Roger and reacted strangely. “Yo, Brian. Whazzup?”

It turned out that Roger’s boytoy went to school with Walter — or to put it another way, Pamela’s son was friends with Pamela’s gay ex-husband’s little blond whore.

Only in LA.

* * *
She’d been taking meetings but nothing was happening. It had been three months already since the last episode aired. Pitching stories left and right, but she’d inevitably hear through the grapevine that whatever suit she had played her heart out to had said, “No, it’s too much like Father’s Daughters. Different lyrics, same tune.”

And Walter had been quiet and surly lately, avoiding her. At least he hadn’t tried to do anything stupid and self-destructive, not since that dive off the roof. Anyway, he’d be living at with her in September. That was one big headache out of the way. Being on campus all the time, away from… Well, there were just so many bad influences out there.

But, she had more important things to worry about right now. It was almost Althea’s eighteenth birthday, and Pamela was throwing her a big party. The girl had seemed so depressed and withdrawn lately, which was a mystery. Althea had had everything she’d ever wanted, and her mother indulged her every whim. Why wasn’t she happy?

Well, the party would fix that. There’d be a tent in the yard, clowns and magicians, maybe she’d rent horses. She’d find some boyband to hire for the evening, invite everyone she knew, and the highlight of the evening would be the last of many gifts bestowed, a new car, she hadn’t decided exactly what yet, but it would be black, Pamela’s favorite color.

The preparations kept her distracted, so she almost didn’t notice that the RSVPs weren’t coming back. A week before the party, and only three of the five hundred invitees had responded, although two of those were “No.” That was unusual. She should have at least heard something. She made some phone calls, left mostly messages, got vague excuses from other associates. “Oh. You know, Pam, we’re not sure yet if we can make it. That’s a busy weekend…”

“Oh, bullshit,” she thought after a few of those. This was the height of production, the slowest part of the social calendar, and anyway, people in these positions could arrange to not be working, if they really wanted to do something.

But that was impossible. Everybody knew how important Althea was to her. What a big occasion this was. Was somebody else having a big party that they hadn’t invited her to? No, that couldn’t be it, because the two-party arrangement was standard practice in Hollywood. Always mention the other party, whether it exists or not, so there’s an excuse to leave if the first party sucks.

By three days before the party, she was frantic. Only she, Steph, Walter and Oded were on the guest list. Even the old man hadn’t replied, and Narita just kept taking messages when Pamela called, giving no reasons for his lack of response.

There was only one thing left to do, so she called an old friend in extras casting. Althea would never know the difference and her party would be a success. The “friend” insisted he couldn’t offer any discount, but Pamela still booked three hundred and fifty extras at a hundred bucks a head. The specifications were “studio executive and young mogul types, and their significant others.”

Dammit, now she’d have to have nametags. Well, Oded could do that and make himself useful for something. He’d tried to poke his nose into the planning and arrangement, but Pamela shooed him off. He knew nothing about that sort of thing.

It’s funny, he’d been her accountant originally, starting the year she’d become a staff writer. She blasted up the ranks so fast that she soon outgrew his practice and was going to move up to an entertainment management firm, but when she came in to tell him his services were no longer required, she could tell he’d been crying.

He tried to cover it up, act as if nothing had happened, but she pried it out of him. He’d fled Iraq just before Desert Storm and was trying to get asylum, but his application had been rejected and he was expected to leave the country in two weeks. Just like that, some bureaucratic decision. Pamela was outraged.

“Isn’t there anything you can do?” she asked.

“No,” Oded replied. “Well, get married, but I don’t know anybody, that’s not going to happen.”

“Marry me.”

“What?”

She repeated the question, just as abruptly. Why not? She needed somebody to keep an eye on the kids, and the accounting thing could be useful. Not to mention the tax breaks, if she paid him for his work.

“It would be strictly a business arrangement,” she explained. “Pre-nup, of course, what’s yours is yours and what’s mine is all mine.”

“Let me think about it…” Oded said, but she could tell he seriously was considering it.

Ten days later, he said yes and they were married the next day, which was Valentine’s Day, but that was strictly coincidental. That was seven years ago, just before Father’s Daughters aired as a mid-season replacement. By their first anniversary, Pamela finally had everything she’d ever wanted — career, house, children, husband. Everything except the Emmy, but now she had that, and life was complete.

And the party on Saturday was going to be a success if it killed her, and Althea would be happy again.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #67: Pamela Rewarded Part 2

Continuing a short story from a collection I wrote around the turn of the century. In part 1: It’s September, 1999, and Pamela is the producer of a hit TV show — the only hit on a crappy network, which just won an Emmy. But that didn’t stop the network from deciding that this would be the last season, and the show ends in May, 2000. Also, keep your eyes peeled for an appearance by someone you may have met a couple of Saturdays ago in another short story from this collection.

The last season came together and Pamela had managed to talk Vince and Mister out of their stupider ideas — no, she was not going to have a disgruntled ex-employee blow up the family’s church during services in the penultimate episode leading into the sweeps month two-hour series finale, nor have the oldest son come out as gay. “This show is not Sunset Circle,” she’d told them in response to that one, taking one last swipe at Chuck and Cindy and their show, which had been renewed. Again.

At least she managed to talk them into giving two of the daughters less than happy endings. In the back of her mind, these were her secret spin-off seeds that might bear fruit later.

But as May rolled around, it was time for that annual ritual, the wrap party, that was always at its most maudlin when it happened for the final time.

She stood by the bar at the Century Club, Althea and Oded at her side, holding court as one network exec after another came by to say how sad they were that Father’s Daughters was over. She smiled, shook their hands, pretended to accept their condolences, knowing exactly which ones had voted her down. The grand finale aired in two days, the writers’ offices had long since been abandoned and the studio space was already re-rented and being re-tooled for a new show. This party was a footnote, but an obligatory one, the official wake for the corpse that was already decomposing.

The actors were avoiding her, the ones that had bothered to show up. A cast of seven regulars and three top-of-show recurring roles, and four of them weren’t there. The leading lady, the oldest daughter, middle daughter’s boyfriend and the wise-beyond his years teenage son, all missing in action. So was a big chunk of the crew and half of the writing staff. That would never have happened before, not in the days when she had everybody walking on eggshells to keep their jobs. But that power had been broken. She couldn’t fire people who didn’t work for her anymore.

The exec parade petered out and Pamela finished her drink — club soda — and Oded took her glass unbidden, heading to the bar for refills. Pamela wasn’t paying attention to him, though. She rarely did. She was wondering where her son had snuck off to, then she looked at her daughter.

Althea was brooding, face down, looking bored out of her skull. She’d been doing that a lot lately. Pamela had tried everything to snap her out of it — a shopping trip to the original Neiman-Marcus in Dallas, a new car, tickets and a backstage pass to an N’Sync concert, a spa-day makeover. Nothing worked. She’d never thought of things like family counseling or Prozac, not for any of them, because they weren’t that kind of family. They were a happy family, an ideal family, Pamela was convinced of that. They were the family that rarely existed in the real world, the old-time, traditional, fully functional TV family. There were no flaws here, none that Pamela could see.

“Isn’t this a great party?” she said to Althea.

“Can we go?” Althea muttered.

“In a while,” Pamela answered. “I kind of have to be here, you know.”

Althea rolled her eyes, sighed.

“Hey, tomorrow, why don’t you and I go to Tiffany — “

“I’m busy tomorrow.”

“All day?”

“Yeah.”

“You know, somebody has a birthday coming up,” Pamela sing-songed. “Have you made your list yet?”

“No.” Althea glanced up, on the edge of saying something, but then she looked down again, shook her head, started to walk away. “I’m going to dance.”

And Pamela was reaching after her, but Althea had blasted off and was already halfway to the dance floor. “Why don’t you dance with Oded?” she called out, but it was buried in the noise from the DJ and the thousand schmoozy conversations. That was the real function of one of these parties, she knew. Finding the next job. Nobody was here for her.

Nobody, goddammit. Nobody. The few of her own people who’d bothered to show weren’t even coming to this corner. She could see all the writers’ assistants huddled on the balcony, looking down at the dance floor, glum. Her story editors were off with Chuck, laughing and joking.

Her co-executive producer wasn’t here yet, but that was par for the course. It always took that woman four hours to get ready to go anywhere, and it was amazing she ever found designer-anything for these affairs in her size, which was thirty-four if it was a day. Still, Steph was the only one Pamela could trust, the one who was always letting her know who was out to get her, the one confirming rumors that would otherwise have just been paranoia.

“I’m worried about so-an-so” coming from Steph’s lips was usually the thin end of the wedge that would always end, a few weeks later, in somebody else getting fired. She was a good person to have around.

But, until she got here, Pamela was standing alone by the bar in the Century Club, feeling isolated in the darkness, waiting for the proper obeisance to be paid. She remembered some old movie line, some Chinese actor, saying “I see a room full of empty people.” That was certainly true. Empty, and apparently blind.

Oded returned, handed her the glass. She looked at it, thrust it back to him.

“Where’s the goddamn ice?” she snapped.

Oded shot back to the bar without a word.

* * *
Pamela sat in the garden behind the house, best-selling novel she was trying to option for a movie-of-the-week splayed open on the ground next to her iced-tea. It was the story of a young Irish Catholic priest in Seattle who becomes an Anglican minister in order to get married, but then moves to England when his wife’s father gets sick. The whole thing was perfect for TV. But after two months, she hadn’t convinced anyone else of that. At least she didn’t have to worry about going broke, not for a long time, but a big shot of cash soon would still be nice. It always was.

Her life had been perfect for TV. She’d lived one sitcom after another, wound up in a one-hour drama, ending in a heartwarming family show. Her first husband had been a soldier, her high school boyfriend. She’d married him in a fit of panic before he shipped off to Viet Nam. God, whenever she thought about that, she felt so old.

By the time he’d come back two years later, she’d really grown cold on him, but they were married, after all, and he came with benefits — medical insurance, housing. He’d also come out of the war relatively unscathed, decision made to become a career soldier.

But it had turned into a strange marriage of convenience a few years later, when she caught him with that Navy boy — and didn’t really care. Roger had freaked out, but she told him they had a pretty nice arrangement. She got to live a lot of places, meet a lot of people. He got to have the show wife, obligatory for an officer. And necessary, to cover up other activities, which could have led to a court martial and dishonorable discharge. But, naturally, if he was fooling around, there was no reason for her not to. She’d always wanted children.

Roger never knew that Walter was actually his. It had been a very strange night, after a very rough year. Pamela had been pregnant — that one belonged to a very nice young Sergeant who worked with Roger at the DOD — but then she had a miscarriage. That had been at Thanksgiving. Then, about a week later, Roger came in, drunk, depressed. She’d been inside all day, hadn’t watched the news, so she had no idea.

But he was crying and started drinking everything in the house. Then he lay on the sofa next to her, put his head in her arms. She stroked his hair and he kept crying, then he suddenly sat up, turned and kissed her, jamming his tongue in her mouth. God, they hadn’t done that since high school.

Suddenly, he was all over her, which was strange, but she didn’t stop him. He pulled off her clothes with silent need, dragged her into the bedroom while pulling off his own, then threw her on the bed and climbed on top.

Pamela was amazed. She had never been fucked with such desperate energy before, or as roughly. Roger was pounding her like uncooked Chicken Kiev, headboard slamming into the wall, and then he ripped the fitted sheet off the bed as he clutched it in orgasmic spasm, elastic snapping into Pamela’s shoulders as Roger shuddered out a groan, then rolled off of her.

He didn’t remember a thing in the morning, and she never reminded him. But she would never forget the night that Walter was conceived. How could anyone of her generation ever forget the date December 8, 1980?

Just to make sure, she didn’t see the young sergeant again until the doctor told her she was pregnant. But she never told Roger that he was the baby’s father. Better that way. Yes, officially, Walter was Roger’s son. But the emotional value of Roger not knowing that would help if any future arguments about those sorts of things came up.

Althea was definitely not his, and Pamela didn’t have to withhold any information to assure him of it. That night in December was the one and only time she and her first husband had ever had sex. One single incident in nearly twenty years.

And then it was over, divorce finally granted not long before Roger suddenly “retired” from the military. She always knew there was something funny about that, him leaving the service at the ripe old age of thirty-nine after an abrupt three pay-grade promotion, and with a ridiculous pension.

But they’d made a deal. Roger would never try to see Walter, and Pamela would release all rights to any of his benefits. She hadn’t been living with him for about five years at that point, anyway. She’d already moved out to Los Angeles. She ran into Roger once, after the divorce, saw him getting out of a brand-new BMW — a seven series, not a three, meaning he really had money, he wasn’t just pretending. They chatted briefly, he mentioned his house in Laurel Canyon, which he’d just bought. So, maybe Pamela had gotten the short end on that one.

But that didn’t matter. It freed her up to marry Dennis, finally. It was about time, since they’d been together for four years already. The kids needed a father in the house, and Dennis repaired motorcycles for a living, out of the garage. Sure, it was a little blue collar, but it gave her time, so she could take a job as a production assistant for a TV show and work insane hours. But some day, she hoped, it would be worth it.

Apparently, though, she wasn’t the only one working long hours. She’d found that out when she went to look for a screwdriver in the garage one night, opened the toolbox and a plastic bag fell off the bottom of the worktable, splitting open on the floor, spattering white powder across her feet.

She could smell it from here and knew what it was, and she went ballistic. Nobody was going to endanger her children like that. If the cops raided the place, arrested them both, what would happen to the kids?

When Dennis returned that evening, she dragged him out to the garage, pointed at the debris on the floor and said one word. “Bye.” That night, she had a twenty-four-hour locksmith change everything. The next morning, she called a lawyer to arrange one divorce and one arrest. As soon as she was absolutely sure she wouldn’t get into any legal trouble by reporting what was in the garage, she called the police, told them the story and they found Dennis three hours later. Of course, that hadn’t been difficult. He was already in custody, picked up for drunk driving the night before.

By that point, she’d maneuvered over to a position as writer’s assistant on a hit half-hour sitcom. It was an easier show than most, because every episode was written by the producer. He didn’t have a writing staff. He didn’t need one. The man seemed to work twenty-four hours a day, and he was funny, pulling off elaborate verbal riffs in dialogue that just kept building and building on jokes until it all just exploded in a brilliant comedy gut-punch right before the act out. He’d been doing that for two seasons now, solo, with no sign of slowing down.

Then, one day, he suddenly had her calling writer’s agents, setting up meetings. And he farmed out a script to an up-and-coming twenty-two-year-old. And then another, two in seven weeks. By the middle of the season, he was wondering aloud to Pamela whether he should hire a writing staff next season. By the time they got picked up for another two seasons and had eight shows left to shoot for this one, he offered her a script. Of course she said yes, despite having no experience, which she admitted — but he just told her that never stopped anyone else in this business.

And suddenly, Pamela had become a TV writer and climbed up a rung, and she became a staff writer the next season and she never knew why the producer had suddenly changed his ways. She wasn’t in the gossip loop. Yet.

She never would know that the man had been one of Dennis’ clients, and the arrest had spooked him out of all his bad habits.

That falling bag had been her big break in more ways than one.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #66: Pamela Rewarded Part 1

All you need to know: This story, which I’ll have to serialize, was part of the 24 Exposures collection, which I wrote around 1999-2001. It’s definitely pre-911, pre smart phones, pre social media. This story, though, was largely inspired by my own career in television. Enjoy!

She held the thing in her hands, feeling its weight, admiring its elegant yet simple curves, sweeping up from the base and straining for the heavens with its big, round summit. It was huge. And heavy. Much heavier than she’d expected.

She lifted it up to her chin, then carefully slid it into place, backwards onto the high shelf, where two precisely arranged pin-lights perfectly augmented its gleaming golden highlights, its engraved plaque, upswept wings and wire-work globe. It was a woman, winged Victory or a take on Nike, carrying the world. It was a token that the woman looking at it, Pamela, had succeeded, finally, in a man’s world.

“The Emmy is up, let’s go out to dinner!” Pamela shouted, her voice booming off the high ceiling and enormous walls. Her husband, Oded, came dashing into the room, that worried look on his face that he’d done something else wrong. “Where are the kids?” she asked him.

He shrugged. “Walter, off with his friends somewhere. I think Althea’s in her room.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be watching them?” She was giving him that look he hated.

“Walter’s on winter break, let him enjoy it.”

“My daughter isn’t.”

“Uh… Althea doesn’t really like me following her around everywhere. She is seventeen — “

“Seventeen, not eighteen. Seven. Seven, as in not eight, not old enough, not an adult — “

“Okay, okay, got it,” Oded waved her off. He hated it when she started writing TV dialogue, and especially when she started spouting her own show’s party line, mid-argument. Frequent mid-argument, lately. “Should I go get her?”

“Yes,” Pamela blurted, volume up to emphasize the stupidity of the question. Oded hurried out of the room. “Well,” she thought to herself, “At least I managed to find the one docile Iraqi on the planet.”

She looked at the Emmy again, staring at it. At hers. It was the crown jewel of her life, new centerpiece (besides herself) of this four-million-dollar house with the full five-car garage, money pouring in hand over fist because TV was a mammon machine (for the right people), the servants, the garden, two kids, her husband. And an Emmy.

“Here we go again,” she thought to herself as she got to work very early on Monday morning, her office still stuffed with week-old congratulatory baskets and flowers and other clones of Things Executives Sent that were all bought at the same Store Where Executives Get Them. Well, more correctly, Where Executives’ Assistants Order Them by Phone, she thought as her assistant popped in the door, messages in hand. He was holding one out to her, saying words she hadn’t quite focused on yet. But she never let on to that. Instead, she had subtly conditioned her staff to over-explain everything, so she could catch it the second or third time around, then cut them off. Always make them feel like the dumb ones, that was the key.

“Narita called three times already. She said Mister wants to see you as soon as you’re in — “

“Now?” she asked. Her assistant nodded. “Okay,” she said, instinctively reaching for her purse as he stepped out the door. How did make-up always manage to vanish in the car? She touched up her lips and her eyes, checked the hair, the teeth. Made a mental note — collagen, no; Botox, god yes; have Louanne touch up the roots Friday; remember to get that cap checked. Good. Instinctively, she knew this was just going to be an official face-to-face congratulations for finally snagging the company its golden lady, a thank you from the old man for all her help. Still, any trip up to Mr. Torand’s office that hadn’t been scheduled three weeks in advance made her nervous.

She walked the long hall, came at last to the far lobby, and saw the guard pick up the phone the instant she was in sight, heard him say, “She’s here.” Before she could speak, he’d hung up and was buzzing open the door. “They’re expecting you,” he said, and she passed through to the inner sanctum.

They are expecting you. How did he mean that? “They” meaning the boss and his execs, or they meaning the boss and… network execs? Maybe, but they never went out of their way to compliment awards. Anyway, the pick-up for next season and the one after that were a slam dunk. That was all the compliment she needed.

Narita stood up and said hello, escorting Pamela to the big door. She swung it open and stepped into the room, where the boss’s big oak desk was dwarfed by the walls, looking a third its real size at the end of a long, white carpet. Mr. Torand was the only one in there. It wasn’t until she saw Narita that Pamela realized the guard was talking about the assistants when he said “they.” Well, of course he would. His “they” was not Pamela’s “they.” His “they” didn’t matter. Obvious now, but Pamela hadn’t thought of it before. At least it meant the meeting would be short and easy.

Mr. Torand was standing by a bookshelf, which was crammed with People’s Choice type awards, staring intently at a singing bass, which was going through its routine. He was humming along with it, laughing. Pamela approached cautiously. She was always amazed at what the boss found amusing. Sometimes, it was hard to believe he was the founder of a billion-dollar empire. He looked like somebody’s slightly ditzy grandfather, and preferred jeans, sneakers and sweaters around the office. He was holding a pipe in one hand, which he now brought to his lips and lit. He took a puff, chuckled at the fish again, then looked toward her, gave her a big smile. “Pammy, how’s my girl?” he asked. He was one of those people who was so respected that a comment like that never elicited any negative response. He was too old for it to have those connotations, a relic of a different world. “Like my fish?”

Pamela forced a smile. “It’s very funny. Where did you get it?” Of course, she knew damn well where. It was the sixth one she’d seen this month.

“Chuck got it somewhere for me, I don’t know exactly.” He looked at it again and chuckled. He loved animated toys. He still owned one of every Furby ever made, but he never used a computer.

“So…” he suddenly turned the fish off, trotted to the door and closed it, signaling to Narita, no calls. Bad sign, Pamela thought, getting a little nervous as she walked to his desk. He gestured her over to the sofa instead. Really bad sign, Pamela knew. She sat, sinking into the leather bedlam that spanned three walls. Mr. Torand sat in an armchair.

“You guys,” he began. “We finally have an Emmy.” He looked dreamily at the ceiling. He’d been in the business for decades but was never associated with that elusive “quality” that put TV shows into rarefied ranks. And yet, he’d had one hit after another, so he was obviously doing something right. Since his own peers did the nominating for the real awards, it was obvious they had begrudged him his success until, finally, acknowledgement had become unavoidable. At least, that’s what he’d thought when the winner was announced. He’d found out not long after that there were other reasons, and so the Emmy lost a little bit of the vindicatory power it had wielded on awards night. And sweet Jesus, he had to try to explain that now. How the hell was he going to do that?

Pamela saw the drifting look in his eyes, the slightly open mouth, avoiding her gaze. She knew that look. It was the stasis before disaster, the firefly moment when the news is telegraphed before delivery. It lasted half a second, and then the old man inhaled, flipped his hands, began.

“I don’t know how to tell you this,” he said. “But I just got the call from the network, and they’ve decided not to pick you up after this season. Your last episode will be next May. I’m sorry.”

The floor fell away. She couldn’t believe it. She stared at the old man, rage building. What were they thinking? Hers was the only show that had any kind of audience on that crappy network. The only one to ever even be nominated for an Emmy, much less win one. The only goddamn thing they had going for them, and they were pulling the plug?

“Motherfuckers,” she spat out. “Why?”

“They said that they felt the series had explored all the areas it had to explore and that it tapped out its potential, and nothing further could ever live up to how good it was in the past. They decided to end it on a high note.”

“I got them a fucking Emmy!” she shouted, then caught the faux pas. “We have done more for them than anybody else.”

“I know, I know, Pammy,” he said. “You guys have been doing great work. I fought for you, I really pleaded with them, said you had a lot more great material in you, could win them a few more next year, but… well, you know how political these things can be. What with Billy getting fired last year, and he was a big supporter of yours. Look on the bright side. Syndication.”

True, she thought. After seven years, there were enough shows in the can to make Father’s Daughters as ubiquitous as I Love Lucy. The money would keep rolling in for a long time. But, despite that, she was going to become the most useless commodity in the industry in eight months. Well, realistically when they wrapped, in six months: An out-of-work show‑runner.

“Anyway,” the old man went on, “we want to do something really special with the farewell arc and the finale. I’ll have Vince come by with our ideas later.”

And he was standing already. That was it. So she knew two things, at least. One, there was no way in hell the network would be convinced to change their mind, not by anyone, not for anything. Two, all the old man’s comments about fighting for her had been bullshit. That was par for the course. Pamela stood, walking to the door. The one thing of which there was no shortage in the television business was bullshit. The politics made it as horrific and treacherous as a junior high school playground.

Oh, but the money.

And syndication —money for nothing, and the tricks are free.

* * *
Her head was reeling as she walked back down the long hallway. As she neared the elevators, she heard familiar voices, the producers on another company show. She stopped and listened. News traveled through this place like air through a natural blonde.

“But, come on, that show was over two seasons ago,” one of them said. It was Chuck, who had had more cancellations and resurrections than anybody else on the planet.

“True,” that was Cindy, his co-producer. “It was pretty tired last season. I’m surprised they’re even going to try to squeeze one more out of it.”

“Well, how many times can you do the ‘Father Rick Saves the Runaway Teen’ story, anyway?” Chuck laughed. “Bor-ing.”

Well, of course someone like him would find it boring, Pamela thought. His shows were always overheated soap operas, one couple after another playing randy roulette, no basic values, everybody out to screw everybody else, literally and figuratively. His shows weren’t like real life. They were like… hell, they were just like TV.

“Think she’ll manage to fire this staff before the series ends?” Cindy wondered.

“Why not? She’s done it, what, five times?”

Pamela drew herself up, thinking “God, what losers.” She decided this was the moment for the awkward end-of-act entrance, the big handjob that would bring the viewers back after the commercial: “INSERT Pamela, just off the lobby, listening. She reacts, then walks by.” No… “She reacts, then draws herself up with dignity and walks by.”

“Hello!” Pamela called out. Cindy blanched, but Chuck, ever the pro, smiled and waved as if nothing had happened.

“Hey, congrats on that Emmy,” he called out.

“Thanks,” Pamela answered, continuing on. She wrote the tag in her head. “Chuck and Cindy exchange a look. Busted. Fade out. End of Act.”

But not end of show. Not for one more season.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #14, Part 5

More of the L.A. social event of 2029. You can catch up to last week’s installment here or start at the top here.

TAKING HOPE

The food and festivities at the private party were just as lavish as the wedding, with six different buffet options, each one curated by a different five star L.A. chef, and each one centered around one specific thing. There was the beef buffet, poultry buffet, pork buffet, seafood buffet, vegetarian buffet, and vegan buffet. Each one basically laid out several paths through a seven course meal,

Dessert was being provided by three different vendors, with a variety of cakes baked traditionally, gluten-free, dairy-free, gluten- and dairy-free, vegan, and certified created nowhere near any surfaces to have ever come into contact with any kind of nuts or tree nuts or their byproducts. There were six of them, each one designed to resemble a famous Los Angeles Landmark: the City Hall cake was traditional; the Cinerama Dome cake was gluten-free; the Capitol Records building was gluten- and dairy-free; Griffith Observatory was vegan; and the Hollywood sign and Mount Lee was certified nutless. So to speak.

All of this really amused the hell of Edna, especially the allergy stuff, and she thought to herself as she looked at all the posted menus, “Jesus fucking Christ, half of the kids born after 1990 wouldn’t have lasted a day in 1984.” She blamed it on clean-freak parents of the era, who never let their kids play in the dirt, and soaked everything in anti-bacterial sanitizer.

Science said that she was probably right, but that message had only just started to get through about five years earlier, once superbugs started killed absolutely everyone in hospitals — doctors, staff, patients, and visitors alike.

Toby was just impressed by the smooth logistics of the whole thing. The Cathedral had been packed to the rafters, and a quick search told him that it held 3,000 people. He couldn’t even conceive of what kind of an event staff that would take, and he was very into logistics, so he stopped to ask one of the Captains of the staff about it.

“How many people are working catering on this little party?”

The Captain immediately went into proud bragging mode. It was clear that he’d been waiting for someone to ask exactly this question. “Not counting security, or the creative level — executive chefs, bakers, designers, stylists, and so on, and just counting the serving staff, there are 312 people,” he replied.

“Wow,” Toby said. “Impressive.”

“That breaks down to 24 barbacks; 36 floor captains, like myself; 48 bartenders; 84 cooks and washers, split about two to one; and 120 servers and bussers, split four to one. Oh. In case you can’t do the math in your head, that’s 56 cooks and 28 washers, plus 96 servers and 24 bussers.”

“Are there really three thousand guests?” Toby went on.

“A little over that,” he explained. “But it’s okay. The Plaza above can hold 5,000, and the park can hold 50,000, easily.”

“Can it?” Toby said, incredulous.

“Were you here about ten years ago during the last protests?” he said. “It held way more than that. Then again the thing did spill out all over the city and the country, so it was hard to say. And right after the quake, we had a lot of people who’d been displaced camping out here.”

“I guess it cleaned up quick.”

“That’s kind of what L.A. does,” the Captain explained. “It probably comes from there being so many crewies and performers living here. We see something amiss, we have the natural reflex to come together and fix it before someone important, like the lead or a producer, sees it. It’s self-preservation in action.”

“I suppose it is,” Toby mused before adding, “Thank you. Carry on!” He slipped a five wrapped around to hide three hundreds into the tip jar on the Captain’s counter as he walked away.

“Oh, thank you very much,” the Captain called out.

“Don’t mention it,” Toby called back then stopped and turned back. “Sorry. I’m rude. What’s your name?”

“Nathan,” the Captain replied.

“Toby,” Toby said, stepping back and extending his hand. They shook and smiled at each other.

“Have a great rest of your day,” Toby said.

“You, too,” Nathan answered. “And… thanks!”

Toby walked away reminding himself that he would have to make a conscious effort to do more of this. Not only to get out of his aerie and into the real world, but to interact with the real people — the ones who actually make things happen. And, of course, the ones who helped others like them on that level, despite limited resources.

He found it ironic that he had been moved less by the quake than he had been about his simple inability to do anything to help a fellow human in distress while in line to buy ice cream, and it had been eating him up ever since.

That was why Toby hung back, and asked Adrian to stay with him (to Adrian’s great annoyance) while everyone else who wasn’t part of the über-class (or was that the non-Uber class?) trotted down the hill through Grand Park, to dance dance dance their booties off. Toby had bigger fish to fry, and Adrian was going to be his lure.

“This is my booty, it’s so fine. I love this booty, ‘cause it is mine,” Finley remembered hearing that line somewhere as they got down to the party, but it took him a while to remember where and when. It had been Tycho, dancing and singing in the shower with him one morning together during about their first or second week at the Lexen, and it was Finley’s booty, not Tycho’s, that he’d been singing about, right before Tycho dove down to rim the hell out of him.

That seemed so long ago now.

Everything did, and it was surreal. So much was still in ruins, and yet so much had seemed to have bounced back right way. The aftershocks had really died down, and people’s sense of being constantly on edge had as well, although the sense of community stayed.

The concert and party amazed them all, and Tycho and Finley got to meet and hang out with all of Adam and Tony’s fellow housemates from Alice’s art collective, as well as Alice herself, Edna, Cindy, and Finley’s boss Jackson.

They had arrived around 7:30, near the end of the act with Maná, Natalia Jiménez and others. A lot of the group knew who the artists were and a lot didn’t, so they hovered at the bottom edge of Grand Park, some watching the show and others talking — particularly the white boys.

“Do I get to design your wedding?” Finley asked Jackson after he and Cindy had announced their engagement.

“No,” Jackson replied, “But I’d be honored if you were in the wedding party.”

“Alice is going to be my maid of honor,” Cindy said.

“I am so happy for you, dear,” Edna chimed in and Jackson gave her a long look.

“Aren’t you Wanda Cox?” he suddenly asked her.

“Not anymore,” she said. “Not since my husband and co-star died. But thank you for remembering.”

Jackson was amazed. He had grown up a film buff and while he had been too young to see most of her films when they first came out, they did run in the old revival houses as examples of the attempt at a higher class of porn from the era. Then again, the late 60s and 70s were a lot looser with their film standards once the Hays Code was laughed out of the industry, with one X-rated best picture winner, Midnight Cowboy, and in the year The Godfather came out and was the 22nd top-grossing film of 1972, it was beat out by the not-quite-pornographic but still X-rated (and apparently somewhat rapey IRL) Last Tango in Paris at number eight, and the totally hardcore porno Beyond the Green Door at number three. All of those films played in legitimate cinemas, too.

And not every X-rated film was just porn. A Clockwork Orange, If…, Performance, and others, were all legitimate stories that didn’t hold back on the sex and nudity. The trend ran until about the end of the 70s, when the X-rated Caligula opened in first-run theaters, and combined a big name, all-star cast, with an award-winning novelist screenwriter, lavish sets and costumes, the story of a mad Roman emperor, and wall-to-wall fucking and depravity and violence and cumshots galore.

Oddly enough, the same actor, Malcolm McDowell, was the lead in three of those named films, Performance being the only exception, where that honor went to Mick Jagger.

Jackson had seen a lot of the Shakespeare films Wanda Cox had done with her partner, Stony Boon, back in the 60s, before Linda Lovelace became famous for fellatio, and a number more of the films they did together during that brief time when porn because mainstream, often with literary sources: The Adventures of Fuckleberry Finn, The Harlot Letter, The Cunt of Monte Crisco, Bone with the Wind.

He also remembered that each of them also occasionally did gay porn separately, and had seen Wanda’s films Moby Dyke, Who’s Afraid of Vagina Woolf?, and For Whom the Belle Toils. Stony had actually done a lot more gay male films — On the Choad, Brothering Heights (apparently, incest-themed), The Son Also Arouses, The Picture of Dorian Gay, and James Juices’YouSissies,’ among many others, but the only one Jackson had seen, on a dare, was The Catcher and His Guy, which is where he learned that pitcher and catcher were the terms that referred to the guy sticking it in and the guy getting it stuck in respectively. He was rather surprised, though, to see that Stony was the titular catcher. Since Stony was a married man, Jackson had thought it would be the other way around, but he was young then, only in his mid-20s, and the world outside of the LGBTQ+ community still had so much to learn.

It also made him sad that, by the time he’d caught up with their later movies, Stony had been dead already for at least five years, one of the first victims of the AIDS epidemic that would change everything for so long a time. Jackson had often wondered whether Wanda had suffered the same fate, although he’d mostly forgotten about them by the time the internet could have easily answered that question.

But here she was, alive and a survivor. He surreptitiously checked on his phone after that and was blown away to find out that she was 82. She really didn’t look a day over 55, but she hadn’t had any obvious work done. He envied her secret, but supposed that maybe it had been all of that sex she’d had back in the day, and her clear lack of guilt or shame over it. After all, Linda Lovelace had a famous change of heart, became a born-again Christian, and died at 53.

Adam had heard Jackson’s comment and searched “Wanda Cox” on his phone, only to find out who she had been back in her day, and to read the tragic story of her husband, who was hotter than hell in a strangely nerdy way. He clued Tony in on it, but Tony surprised him by saying, “Oh, yeah John Richfield. I’ve heard of him.”

“You think she could hook us up to get into porn?” Adam asked.

“Dude, she hasn’t done it since… shit, probably when our parents were in kindergarten. “I doubt that she has any connections.” Tony replied.

“Yeah, but we’ve always talked about doing it,” Adam responded, “And she must have advice.”

“There are probably better — ” but Adam was already walking over to Wanda and Tony just muttered. “Shit.”

“Hi,” Adam said to her. “I overheard that name and looked you up, and, well, see, my boyfriend and I are interested in doing porn, and I was wondering if you had any advice…?”

She laughed and smiled at him. “Honey, first of all, don’t use the ‘P’ word. It literally means ‘writing about whores,’ and that ain’t what it’s about. Call it ‘adult entertainment.’ Second, are you interested in doing it because you like money, or you like fucking?”

“Fucking, but with an audience.”

“All right, that’s the right answer,” she said. “Second, I haven’t been in the biz since it was just discovering video, and I certainly haven’t been connected to anyone else. Remember, my husband and I were our own production company, and that’s long gone. Anyone else in the business at the time still alive would have been our rivals, so… sorry. Bridges burnt. I couldn’t provide you any connections, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“No, no, I wasn’t asking that,” Adam replied. “I just meant… how do my boyfriend — ” Tony appeared and latched onto Adam’s arm. “Hi, honey. Yeah, me and him — ”

“He and I,” Edna corrected.

“Right. How do we get into the business in the first place?”

“You boys are so precious. And really cute together. And I bet that you two could make a fortune. But, how old are you? Eighteen, nineteen?”

“We’re both 23,” Tony chimes in.

“But you can pass for younger, so say you just turned eighteen. You’ll get a bigger audience. And you’re both 23, but don’t know the answer that my 82-year-old ass does? Amazing.”

“That’s why we’re asking?” Adam adds, tentatively.

“We’re almost a third of the way through the 21st century, my dears. Everyone is their own production company and studio. You want to become adult entertainment stars, then you start fucking on camera. If you have a trusted friend who wouldn’t mind, get them to do the filming, maybe even spring for editing. Then you tease it in ways that all the various social media will allow, and set up your own firewalled pay sites that you drive your fans to for the whole, uncensored thing. It also helps to find a gimmick. My husband and I had literary parodies. What do you two do otherwise?”

“We’re both actors and improvisors, and I’m a dancer,” Adam explains.

“Great. And who’s the top and who’s the bottom?”

“Um, actually,” Adam and Tony both mutter, “Neither?”

“Versatile, both of you? Fantastic! Yeah, you two could clean up in this business like I did. I’m thinking maybe some kind of on-demand fan channel, as in they pay a ton to think that they’re ordering you two around.”

“Think?” Tony asks.

“Well, of course,” she explains. “They don’t know that the options that pop up on screen aren’t fan suggestions, and naturally you set the algorithm to always make at least half of them be the most popular fan suggestions. But behind the scenes, the two of you pick the few options you’re willing to do and in the mood for, ta-da — the fan voting turns out to match those results.”

“Isn’t that like, election fraud, or something?” Adam wonders.

“Darling, this is porn, not politics, pardon my use of the ‘P’ words. It doesn’t matter. The fans will be happy no matter what you do, and you’ll hit a combo that makes some of them feel like they got their choice often enough that they’ll keep coming back. And, when it comes to adult entertainment, it’s all about keeping them coming.” She paused. “Back.”

“Wow,” Tony muttered as Adam nodded.

“Thank you so much, Ms. Cox,” Adam said, shaking her hand.

“You’re welcome,” she said, “But Wanda Cox died with my husband. I’m just Edna now.”

“Thank you, Edna,” Tony and Adam chimed in in unison, and then she headed off with Alice and the two of them just looked at each other.

“I guess we know what we’re doing tomorrow,” Tony said, and Adam just smiled, took his hand, and led him off into the crowd. Maná and Natalia had finished by this point, and it was going to be half an hour before the next act.

“We’ve got half an hour until the Divas,” Adam whispered into Tony’s ear. “Know of anywhere around here we can fuck?”

“Any?” Tony replied. “Honey, I know of at least a dozen places.”

“Oh, really,” Adam said in mock shock. “And how would you know that, you slut?”

“Because I was a slut before I met you, and did a lot of my sluttery here.”

“So what are you now?” Adam asked him in a sort of well-rehearsed game.

“A slut for you.”

“Great. So…?”

“Ad hoc,” Tony explained. “You notice how many porta-potties there are?”

“Um… pardon the expression… a shitload?”

“Exactly. So…?”

“So you want to fuck me in a shitter?” Adam asked, incredulous but, again, just acting.

“No,” Tony replied. “I want to fuck in the shitter.”

“Sold!” Adam gurgled, and then they took hands and raced to the nearest portable toilet. At least they weren’t the open pit chemical disasters that their parents might have faced. Instead, they used high tech to suck down the nasties immediately, remove them to a separate processing tank located discretely behind the row of shit-cans, and immediately start turning all of that organic material into sources of electricity.

Porta-potties of their parents’ era were maybe one step above an outhouse. These were probably two steps above first-class shitters on an airplane. And yes, they even had bidets.

None of which really mattered as Adam and Tony stepped in, locked the door, got nude, and got busy, Adam bent over the sink while Tony plowed away. They both came just as they heard the announcer declare, “Here they are. Give it up for Barbra, Bette, and Cher… or is it Bette, Cher, and Barbra? Or even Cher, and the other two… Or…”

“Shut up, David,” the very familiar voice of Bette Midler blasted out over the speakers.

“We don’t care what order we’re in,” Barbra Streisand intoned.

“We’re just lucky to be alive.” That was clearly Cher.

“Everyone, give a big welcome to… OMG O-G-aycons!”

* * *

To be continued…

The Saturday Morning Post #14, Part 3

Today brings us to the third part of the closing novella, which takes place at the wedding of the daughter of the mayor of Los Angeles and brings all of the main characters together at one event.  You can catch up to last week’s installment here or start at the top here. Last week, we saw the wedding ceremony and the plans for the post-wedding receptions, public and private. Now, we catch up with our main characters as they celebrate.

TAKING HOPE

Toby’s reason for getting to the wedding and bringing Adrian along had a single purpose. His attempts to rebuild Edna’s property had hit a brick wall, and it was called Wendy Rue, the City Council representative for the 10th District, although Toby thought of her more as the big developer’s rep for herself. Less than two weeks after the quake, she was making pronouncements about rebuilding her district, but she was so far in the back pockets of the developers that what this really meant was eminent-domaining the shit out of any red-tagged property slated for demolition, and then tossing out the building permits for luxury condos like they were, well, birdseed at a wedding.

She had set her sights on Edna’s property early on, with dreams of putting up a fifty story mixed-use commercial property and luxury hotel, and Toby had sicced his lawyers on her almost immediately. Luckily, he didn’t live in the 10th. He lived and did business in the 13th, and that council member, Jay Beeber, hated the gentrification of the city with a passion. Toby knew him personally — he was a major campaign donor — and Jay was trying to talk sense into Wendy on Toby’s behalf, but she was having none of it.

At least Toby had managed to get an injunction against the imminent domain attempt back in July, but it was only for 90 days, so there wasn’t a lot of time left.

So his quest at the wedding was to get some face time with Alejandra, explain what was going on, and asking her to intercede. Fortunately, because of the various scandals back in ‘23 that had seen half of the Council Members recalled and half of the rest lose their re-elections, the replacements had actually passed laws giving the Mayor a lot more power over them, akin to what governors and the president had in terms of veto power, something that had long been lacking. This also included a very California innovation, borrowed from San Francisco, and it was called the Right of Absolute Intervention or, as the public had dubbed it, giving the mayor teeth.

In short, any government contract that a single council member or the entire council chose to enter into could be voided, without penalty, by the mayor, and without appeal short of a two-thirds majority referendum vote by either the district in question or the city at large, whichever applied.

And that was what Toby was banking on, since he knew Alejandra’s leanings, and once he’d gotten the chance to explain to her that he was determined to create what would truly be low income housing for people in need, he had no doubt that she would bare her teeth and bite Wendy Rue off at the knees.

He just needed to actually get that time with her and, honestly, the only person busier than the happy couple at a wedding were the mothers of both of them. That was why he brought Adrian. The kid was amazing and brilliant, and if Toby couldn’t get to her, Adrian would.

Alice and Edna couldn’t have been happier when they walked the green carpet and entered the cathedral, which was awe-inspiring inside. They were even more blown away when they were shown their seats, to the left of the altar and in the front row. Then again, this was well after their wedding outfits and shoes had been delivered to them, “Courtesy of the Bride and Groom,” although those weren’t quite a surprise, since a nice young man named Finley had come out to measure them.

They hadn’t known each other before now, but when they’d been introduced in line by the kid named Adrian they’d both met, they formed an immediate connection. After all, they were property owners on the 3400 block of West 8th Street in Koreatown, Adrian and Toby were trying to help out both of them, and while only Edna had been directly threatened by that City Council woman whose name she refused to remember, Alice had known of and hated her for years, because she did not understand the value of the arts, and had constantly lobbied Alice with ineffective bribes to try to get her to move out in order to raze the building and put up a boutique hotel on top of a bunch of upscale shops.

When that woman had visited her in person to try to push her agenda, it was the one and only time in her life that Alice said the words, “Fuck you” to another person. This managed to make the City Councilor stalk off in high dudgeon, as well as get a round of applause from her students, who had been standing behind her at the time. That applause was the only thing that made her not feel utterly ashamed for having been so rude to a government official. In fact, it made her feel more American than she ever had in her life.

And, at this wedding, Alice and Edna feel young and important, and look beautiful, and could not believe where they were sitting and, more importantly, which famous people they spotted as the room filled up. They kept quietly whispering to each other.

Edna: “Oh my god, is that Brad Pitt? He’s still hot as hell and he’s what? Sixty-five?”

Alice: “Yeah, but damn. Tarantino just looks… old.”

Edna: “I didn’t even know that Angelyne was still alive.” Of course, she was seated way in the back.

Alice: “Please tell me that Justin Bieber is crashing this and they’re going to kick him… Oh. Great. No.”

Edna: “All right, that’s it. Betty White is a vampire or something. How old is she now?”

Alice: “She looks amazing. I think she’s like… 107 or something?”

Edna: “Wow. I should only look so good in 25 years.”

Alice: “That’d be 2054. Wow. And I’d only be 98.”

Edna: “You know, with science nowadays — ”

Alice: “Yeah, but only if I get to look like I’m thirty.”

Edna turns to her and they fist bump.

At that same moment, James was quietly trying to figure out whether he could casually finger-bang Finley behind Tycho’s back without anyone noticing it, but Tycho noticed, grabbed James’ arm, and moved it back to his right side.

“We are at work, dude. We do not fuck at work. Got it?”

“Not even a little?” James pleaded, giving his best puppy-dog eyes.

“Not even at all, you horny whore-bag. But if you manage to keep it in your pants until we get home, I promise that Fin and I are going to DP you until your face explodes. And if you’re really well behaved, we might even invite Adam and Tony along to see how many dicks we can get up your ass at once.”

“Behaving!” James replied, and then he shut up and kept his hands to himself.

The whole complicated sex thing between Tycho, Finley, James, Adam, and Tony had finally settled into a pattern once Tycho actually moved into his government condo, but that had taken a bit longer than until the middle of May, mainly because there were two groups that hadn’t gotten moved into new permanent headquarters, and it was all due to a single city council member who Tycho had taken to referring to (privately to Finley and James) as “that Goddamn Shit-cunt Wendy.”

She was trying to take over their properties when both orgs had sufficient endowments to rebuild. He had had to work through the County Board of Supervisors to get the Mayor of L.A. to basically tell Wendy to fuck off, which she immediately did as soon as she got the scoop — it did help that one group was a Catholic org, and the RAI order was fired off so fast and hard that, Tycho hoped, it singed away half of Wendy’s Karen haircut.

He had managed to fast-track it, so that by June 1st the properties were secured, plans were being submitted for approval and permitting, and temporary quarters were placed on the sites, ending his need to stay down there. Although he’d found it laughable that this was even a requirement at all, because of how it worked out.

In theory, everyone should have been lodged as close to their area as could be, in this case Koreatown. In practice, that wasn’t possible. But the great irony was that Tycho’s condo downtown was actually closer, and on the same B Line that brought him down from the Valley in the opposite direction.

The only upside was that hotel sex was totally awesome, and their whirlpool tubs and showerheads could do amazing things in the right hand and aimed at or up the right parts. Otherwise, though, it was absolutely stupid, but he wasn’t going to waste his breath complaining about that to any of his superiors, because it would never change.

He guessed that at least a couple of the members of the Board of Supervisors owned stock in the various hotels people were being lodged at, so had a vested interest in keeping business booming at taxpayer expense. Yeah, one thing he’d really learned on the job was that the Supervisors’ level of corruption made the shit that had finally destroyed and rebuilt the City Council look as trivial as a fourth-grader charging other kids a dollar to copy from their homework.

It had been going on for a lot longer, and nobody ever did anything about it. It almost made him angry enough to want to run for the Board and change things from inside, but he knew that this wasn’t possible and feared that he’d become just as corrupt.

The City Council has fifteen members and the County Board of Supervisors has five. At the wedding, as Tycho scans the crowd, he spots all five of the Supes, but only fourteen of the Council, and secretly does a little internal dance of joy when it’s still only fourteen right before show time.

He leans over to Finley and whispers, “Shit-Cunt’s not here.”

“You think she was invited?” he asks.

“Inevitably,” Tycho explains. “The invitations went out months ago, and all the council and department managers and other top levels would have gotten one. It’s protocol.”

“So she decided not to show up?” Finley wonders.

“Most likely,” Tycho replies. “She’s known for being petty and vindictive.”

Adam leans over to whisper to the two of them. “Cindy told me that she’s trying to take over her old landlady’s property and turn it into more luxury condos for rich people.”

“What does the landlady think of that?” Finley asks.

“Of course she hates the idea, but Rue’s been going around doing eminent domain.”

“What a bitch,” Tony adds.

“I am definitely going to chat up the Supes today to see what they can do to cut that shit-cunt off at the knees,” Tycho tells them all as the lights change and a sudden plaintive flute starts up at the back of the nave. It’s followed by drums and then, to their total shock, a bunch of accordions playing a polka kick in from the other side of the house.

The rest of it is the most awesome thing any of them have even seen in a church.

Image: US Bank Tower, Downtown Los Angeles, © 2018 Jon Bastian. All rights reserved.