(Make sure you’re properly caught up, as we had a post skip accidentally last week, and I went back and inserted it in its proper place. Preceding this post, these should be read in this order:
Putting on the Ritz (the skipped one that popped up briefly in the wrong place)
The next morning there were two days left until Ziggy’s program ended, and breakfast turned into a pep talk for Jonathan. We had his agent on speakerphone.
“Honestly, Jonathan,” she said. “If anything your problem in Hollywood is that you’ll always be the smartest guy in the room. I’ve seen the pages you faxed. You’re doing great. They love you. They think it’s novel and interesting that you’re invested in the character development arcs.”
“But how am I going to tell them that we’re going to kill off one of the main characters?”
“You have to sell it as literature. The whole concept here is that we’re bringing the Great American Novel to television, right? I mean, tell me about this death, is it a huge downer?”
“Well, the thing is, it’s a moral triumph, and it’s the right thing for the character and the world. I think it’s earned. I really do. It’s not cheap.”
“Okay, you know what they say to baseball pitchers when the manager goes to the mound? Trust your stuff. You have great stuff, Jonathan. Go in there and knock them out. If you hit resistance, you have them call me and we’ll conference in. Something will work out. I promise.”
“What if they laugh me out of the room as a fraud?”
“Then you can forever hold your head up high saying you were too good for Hollywood. But that’s not going to happen. Look, I set the meeting for noon your time, that’ll be three o’clock here, so if it goes south just call me. If it all goes well, you’ll end up going out to lunch with those guys and I’ll go off to have cocktails here. Be goal oriented. Positive visualization. I’m visualizing a cosmo in my hand in a few hours. Let’s get there, all right?”
After she hung up, I picked up the ball. “She’s right, you know. They didn’t bring you onto the development team out of pity for you as a poor novelist. They need you. Without you, it doesn’t work. And you have to keep reminding them of that. You’re indispensable.”
He looked like he was about to argue, but he didn’t. “Okay. I better hit the road though in case I hit traffic.”
And then we had this moment where neither of us moved, where I wasn’t sure if it was okay to give him a goodbye kiss and I guess he wasn’t sure if he still wanted one? Or had the right to ask for one?
He finally leaned in and gave me a quick peck on the cheek and we both laughed. “Sorry I’m so ridiculous. I’ll be sane again once this screenplay is done.”
“We’re both ridiculous. Now go.” I shooed him out.
After he left I put on my swim trunks and actually swam in the pool, which I didn’t do anywhere near as often as I would have thought what with the pool right there in the back. Then I dried off and went into the studio out of habit.
There was email from Sarah Rogue with her phone number saying she wanted to know when she could come and jam. I called her back and an hour or so later I was giving her a tour of the house. She was in jeans and a batik-print shirt, carrying a western-type jacket with fringe on it. She looked the most comfortable I’d seen her, though the first thing she did once we got inside was take her shoes off.
“So what’s the story with you and Remo again?” she asked while we drank some soda in the kitchen. She was sitting on a stool while I leaned against the stone countertop.
“Long story short: when I was a kid he and Digger were friends and I used to play with Nomad sometimes when I was 12, 13, 14. Then they got discovered and he moved out here and I didn’t see him for a couple of years.”
“Did he teach you to play the guitar?”
“He got me started, anyway.” I drained my glass and put it in the sink. “What about you? Did you have a cool uncle-type?”
“My mother tells the story that when I was two or three, I would climb up to the piano, push it open, and push the keys. At first she didn’t think anything of it. Toddlers will bang on anything. But then she realized I was playing along with TV commercials.”
“Wow. That’s young.”
“Well, she swept me straight into a special arts program and by the time I was seven I was in the Julliard pre-college program.”
“Julliard!” I made bowing motions in her direction. “You went there for undergrad, too?”
She snorted. “I quit before I could finish.”
“Huh. Me, too. RIMCon.”
“No kidding. Why’d you quit?”
“Ran out of money. How about you?”
“Ran out of patience.” She came toward me and set her glass next to mine in the sink. “Come on. Let’s play.”
Okay, Julliard, do I have to explain that? I mean, my school was a good one, but Julliard is to other music schools what Harvard is to other universities. It’s the household name. It’s the best. It’s also supposedly the toughest. Bart once told me he didn’t want to go there because he didn’t want to have to work that hard, but that his father wanted him to apply anyway. Presumably so if he got in, his father could say he had a son who got into Julliard.
What was great about Sarah having gone to Julliard was that I didn’t worry for one second that she couldn’t keep up with me. Didn’t even enter my mind. In fact there was a half-second when we were warming up where I wondered if I was going to keep up with her. But the moment passed and the rest was just fun.
We jammed a bit, using some jazz improv chord progressions first, but then she played me a thing of hers and we played with that, passing the solo back and forth. Then we had a little break, and then I played her one of the things I had cooked up for the soundtrack but which I hadn’t really developed. And the next thing you know we were writing a song, planning out a bridge and parts and all that kind of thing. It wasn’t even like we intended to, it was more like a reflex we couldn’t stop. We ended up recording it and I dubbed us cassettes of it. Then, for total hilarity, I sat down at the keyboard and she picked up the guitar and we ended up with a kind of halting country-ish thing–country because she knew pretty much just folk chords and the Ovation easily leans that way, and because all I really knew how to do with the piano as an accompanist was when to hit the seven. So we ended up with something that sounded like Johnny Cash’s backing band had gotten into the wrong drugs.
I had no idea how much time had passed, but my thumb was starting to hurt a little. I looked up from the keyboard, which I had to look at most of the time as I played, and saw Jonathan in the doorway. I stopped playing and Sarah looked up from her fingers, too, and said, “Oh, hey!”
“Hey,” Jonathan said, looking a little surprised but mostly bemused. “I thought that didn’t sound like you.” Meaning me on the guitar.
“Heh, yeah. You guys met at one of those parties, right? Sarah, Jonathan, Jonathan, Sarah.” I stood up from the keyboard and my stomach growled. “Did you have lunch?”
Jonathan nodded. “And it’s getting closer to dinner, you guys.”
“Wait.” I blinked at him. “So does that mean he lives or he dies?”
“He dies!” Jonathan said exultantly.
“Yeah!” We high-fived. Then I turned to Sarah, who was giving us a quizzical look. “Um, long story. And, dinner?”
Jonathan looked chagrined. “I didn’t know we’d have a guest, so I only bought for two.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” she said. “I should probably get going.” She looked at her watch.
“But if you leave now, you’ll be in traffic for two hours. Or more. It’s Friday and everyone and their brother is out there.” Jonathan waved his hands. “I’ll make it tomorrow. And I’m still full from lunch anyway. Why don’t you guys have a snack and then let’s go out.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“I would love to hang out more with you guys,” Sarah said. “I just don’t want to impose.”
My stomach growled again.
“Snack,” Jonathan said, pointing at my belly button. “That’s the first priority.”
“Okay.” So we followed him to the kitchen, where he looked like he was in the middle of putting away groceries. There was now a bowl of fruit on the counter that hadn’t been there before, a handful of avocados on the window sill, and a vase of flowers on the breakfast table.
J. felt up the avocados, picked two, pitted and skinned them, then mashed them up in a bowl with onion salt. He handed us the bowl and a bag of tortilla chips and stood back.
Okay we were slightly more civilized than that might lead you to believe. We sat down on the stools at the eating counter, and while she and I methodically devoured every morsel of guacamole he told us about the meeting and subsequent champagne lunch.
“I would have been home sooner but I had to sober up before I could drive,” he said. “Those guys can drink.”
“So what did you tell them?”
“In the end I approached it just like pitching a feature story to a major magazine. In other words, hey, I got this absolutely brilliant idea, here’s why it’s brilliant, here’s why it’s perfect for You, and here’s why I am the perfect one to write it. While I was driving in I realized of course that’s how I should approach it. I kept thinking of it in terms of relationship, you know? Like I’m nothing, just a pimple on the ass of the industry, but hey, when you’re a writer, there’s always someone who thinks that. When you’re a freelance journalist, you’re a dime a dozen. But someone has to write the cover story for Rolling Stone, for SPIN. That’s been me. Why shouldn’t this also be me? It’s my novel, my story. I basically had to convince them I’m a genius.”
“But you are a genius,” I said.
“Sounds like you had to convince yourself you’re a genius,” Sarah put in.
“Exactly, my dear, exactly. And so they listened to me, decided I was right about where the story should go, and off we went to have champagne and caviar.”
“Is caviar good?” Sarah asked.
“Well, they give you such a teensy amount on a cracker with some other stuff… I guess it was okay. It tasted mostly like cream cheese on a cracker with a little something salty.” He got up and poured us all ice water. “If it were a bigger production company maybe we would have gotten more. Hollywood. Who knows how it works.”
Sarah was nodding like she was listening to a song in her head, but agreeing at the same time. “Well, wish me luck. Tomorrow I meet Mills.”
“Mr. Magic Pen,” I said. “So it’s tomorrow?”
“We had champagne when he signed us, but no caviar. Of course, we were in the green room of some hockey arena in Seattle at the time…” Which wasn’t exactly true but it was a good story.
“And you played hard to get,” Jonathan said.
Her eyes got wide. “You did?”
“Not really.” I explained the circumstances of our contract with Charles River, and how in the end we broke that one with their blessing and signed a brand new one with BNC and got a chunky cash advance.
“And Digger negotiated it for you?” She was all ears. I would’ve been too, at that stage.
“No. I negotiated it myself. We were still self-managing at that point. It was when dealing with Mills became too much for me to handle that we brought Digger in.”
“And he’s your dad?”
“Yeah.” I bit my lip. “I’m going to fire him, though.”
“Why? Because it’s too weird having your dad as a manager?”
“Uh, it’s complicated, but yeah, it boils down to that.”
“The funny thing is,” she said, “the reason I got him is because I didn’t want my mother trying to manage me. And for some weird reason he’s the only one she’ll listen to. First we were with a big agency in New York, but the guy there and my mother, it was like oil and water. Or like oil and fire, BOOM, every time they talked something blew up. He introduced us to Digger and here we are.”
“Whatever works,” I said, trying to stay really neutral. “I haven’t told him I plan to fire him. I guess I’m waiting for the right moment.”
Jonathan looked at me with concern. “What kind of moment?”
“Oh, you know, when he really pisses me off and I want to kick him in the nuts, but I’ll fire him instead…?” I suggested. “Bad idea?”
“Well, I’m thinking if you want to make sure all the finances transfer properly, it might be better not to do it when you’re having a fight, you know? Don’t get him all pissed off at you.”
“Oh, he’ll be pissed off from being fired no matter what,” I said.
“Is Ziggy going to stay with him?” J. asked.
“I assume so. They’ve been really chummy lately.” I didn’t explain about the whole Betty Ford family orientation thing.
“He introduced me to Galani Gilliman,” Sarah said. “She seems pretty happy with him. But yeah, parent as manager? I’d go nuts. I go nuts as it is.”
Jonathan went into friendly reporter mode. “How old are you, Sarah?”
“No way!” I burst out. “I could swear you were younger than me.”
“That’s because I look like I’m fourteen in the stupid dresses they make me wear.” She sighed. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-two. What are you going to wear to the meeting?”
“Oh, fuck if I know. What does this guy Mills like?”
“Well, I’ll leave my outfit to the fashion consultant. She probably planned it weeks ago.”
“Long way from Julliard,” I said.
“Hang on, Julliard?” Jonathan did not do an actual double-take, but he came close. “I thought you were mostly a fashion model.”
“That’s exactly what they want you to think,” she said. “I wouldn’t put it past them to decide to lie and say I’m younger, too.”
“Oh, right, and you had that indie album. Daron told me about it.” Jonathan shook his head. “Well, good luck tomorrow.”
“Huh, wish me luck, too. I think Digger and I are going to try to pin him down on making the commitment to the next record. If not tomorrow, before he leaves town. You first, though.”
She gave me a little bow across the table.
The three of us went out to dinner shortly after that, and got stalked by a paparazzo in the parking lot, but Sarah said she was used to it.