*col·lap·sar \kəˈlapˌsär\ noun [ASTRONOMY late 20th century: from collapse, on the pattern of words such as pulsar]
1. An elder star that has collapsed under its own gravity.
The waves of heat rising from the asphalt make the building on the other side of the boulevard flicker like a mirage. I toss glances left and right to time the traffic then walk through exhaust fumes to the other side and through the building’s front doors. Bass drones from a chic-this-week hip-hop anthem. A line of people snakes across the lobby and up some stairs. Without slowing down I jog along side of the line where it leads to double doors. The bass is now a full-on assault. I cut to the front and flash my neon-colored wristband to the guard who then lifts a velvet rope and I push my way through and onto the convention center floor.
Bodies and booths everywhere.
The booths are decorated with porn company logos and pictures of starlets. Most booths are staffed by bikini-clad girls perching on stools and signing autographs for lines of men. Nurses and schoolgirls and women in hot shorts weave through the crowd selling panties and pictures and DVDs. Hoards of men wander adrift in circles like reanimated corpses with their mouths agape at the circus of flesh gyrating on stripper poles or patrolling the floor.
I turn my shoulders sideways and back the other way as I squeeze through the crowd. A group of elderly men stand around an inflatable Sponge Bob kiddie pool. The pool is filled with oil and girls. The girls wrestle and slither and undulate in the pool like a snake mating ball for their spectators, whose cheers and shouts are drowned out by the thwump-thwump-THWUMP of the music.
On the other side of the melee I see the director who shot the scene in the hospital basement. The same director who kept me waiting from pre-dawn to sunset before he was ready to roll camera on my scene. The director whose set was a ratshit-and-asbestos-encrusted HVAC unit two stories up where, in my pneumonia-induced delirium, I almost rolled off the edge of and the scaffolding and into a half-gainer so he could get his shot. I gave him what he wanted without complaint. And in turn, he sliced my rate one-hundred dollars because I took longer than he wanted to deliver the pop shot. That c-note bought me a priceless lesson. In life, you either work for your own dreams or you’re a pawn in someone else’s. His eyes meet mine and dart away. I keep walking.
I’m confronted by a towering poster of myself with airbrushed cartoon abs vamping with an airbrushed girl with cartoon parts who is pulling me into bed that wasn’t really there when the picture was snapped. A pack of business-casual cubicle serfs encircles me. Their alpha thrusts a Sharpie and some cocktail napkins into my face. The pack leans in close so their questions can be heard over the music. Their breaths smell like happy hour at Friday’s. They shout questions like, What’s it like banging so-and-so? and, How do I get into the business? and, I got this problem getting hard/staying hard/coming too fast–what should I do? Alpha Serf shouts, My dick is bigger than yours. If I did porn I’d totally crush it. How much money do you make?
I could tell these guys truths, but I don’t. Nobody who asks about their fantasy ever wants to see the man behind the curtain. So I smile and sign and tell them what they want to hear then push on. Light flashes strobe like lightning above the crowd towards the far end of the floor. That’s where I head.
The red carpet runs between a wall plastered with event sponsor logos and a bank of photographers, journalists, and videographers. The girls stop to pose as they strut along the shooting gallery. Reporters shout. Flashbulbs pop. Sequins sparkle. Dan, the director for the [name redacted] movie, claps my shoulder. With Dan is a couple of contract starlets. One from VELVET and the other from Poison Apple. As we step onto the red carpet, Dan yells how amazed he is that I agreed to present for tonight’s award show. I follow Dan and the girls onto the red carpet. We advance and pose and walk some more. Journalists throw one question on top of the next at us. It’s difficult to tell where the questions are coming from because it’s like staring past the glare of oncoming headlights to see the people inside the car. A female voice cuts through the noise and a French-tipped finger stabs through my night blindness. The voice screams, Hit the “T”, Tyler! I follow her finger to where it’s pointing. A cross marked off in black tape on the carpet. It’s a mark for the photographers. There are nearly as many cameras and lights leveled on me all at once right now as there have been throughout my entire career all together. Flashes burst and pop. I want to squint. With no character or fourth wall to hide behind, I force myself to smile. A sweat drop tickles my forehead but I resist the urge to use the hem of my t-shirt to wipe it. Dan and the girls are way ahead of me. They glide from “T” to “T” and are now at the far end of carpet.
I move to the next “T” mark and smile and answer the same exact questions here as I did on the mark before it. Some of the voices at each tape-marked cross have foreign accents. A voice asks me, What’s it like living every man’s fantasy life? I smile and tell him to visit my blog.
Fantasy life…An hour ago I ate my dinner out of a laundromat vending machine. Later, I’ll feed some coins into another slot to pay for my bus ride home with swing-shift workers, the housekeepers, and the vomit-soaked transients. Right now, a Spanish-accented woman who wouldn’t give me change for either if she saw me on the street asks me if I have any message for my female fans in Latin America. I smile some more. When I emerge at the end of the perp walk, my cheek muscles burn from smiling and my lips quiver and there are white spots seared into my retinas.
The awards show is under way and I’m backstage talking with the president of Poison Apple pictures. He’s holding the trophy that I’m about to present for the Studio of the Year award. He thanks me for all the work I’ve done over the years for the studio, including the “Tyler’s Wood” movie, and the post-apocalyptic epic I had the male lead in that won Best Picture at another awards show. I thank him for taking an active interest in my career development. He tells me I’m to present this trophy with two girls. Arm candy. Heels click on the floor behind me and his eyes look past my shoulder, and he tells me my girls are here. I turn. One girl looks like a teenage Rose McGowan. The other woman is a MILF whom I wrote about in a story I published in a literary journal and on my blog.
I don’t set out to write unflattering portraits about anyone. I record human behavior as it happens so that the reader may unpack the details as-is and form their own judgement of character. Nobody is immune. Especially not me.
Before any of us can speak, the announcer on the other side of the curtain announces our names and the category we’re presenting for, and the girls each take me by an arm and we walk onto the stage and to the podium. People in the audience applaud and cheer. My hands shake as I read a scripted joke. It falls flat because of my delivery, but people laugh anyway. As the girls read their parts, I scan the MILF’s body language for clues or tells. Nothing.
I announce the winner for Studio of the Year, VELVET, and there’s more applause. Some VELVET studio execs lumber down the aisle and onto the stage. Someone snatches the trophy from my hand and the girls take my arms and guide me off of the stage. Backstage again, handlers shove the three of us into a side corridor and into the blinding lights and noise of yet another red carpet. This one for the post-show interviews. Someone yells for us to get closer to each other. Both girls, on either side of me, snuggle up. The MILF’s hand slides from my waist and onto my ass. Teen McGowan coos and pouts for the cameras and grinds her tits into my chest. Fuck it. I cup both their asses as we walk from “T” to “T” and pose for yet more pictures.
When we make it to the end of this red carpet the hugging and posing has devolved into three-way fondling and the pheromone-saturated air I’m breathing has already begun to redirect my blood flow to my crotch but common sense is telling me step away from the teenage-and-MILF pussy combo, and disappear. So, I pry myself away from the women to fade into the crowd, but before I get far, the MILF pulls me by the arm and tells me to program her phone number into my cell. I pretend to do so and I think I’m safe until she tells me to call her from my cell so she’ll have my number also. Maybe it’s my emotions swinging back and forth from fight-or-flight-or-fuck sensory overload–who the fuck knows why–but I do.
Night. My sweat-soaked t-shirt clings to my skin like a greasy film, and the cars slog along the boulevard at a lethargic pace. I wick sweat from my face with the back of my hand, and when I lick my lips a taste of salt dissolves on my tongue. I’m walking to the bus stop when my cell vibrates in my pocket. I pray it’s not the MILF. It’s not. It’s Dan, the director. He wants to know if I want to head to the after party with a bunch of people for drinks. Fuck it. I could use a drink.
When Dan and I make it to the restaurant where the after party is, the red carpet is over. A pair of post-fab blondes whom I could have fucked last week and wouldn’t remember says hello to me and grabs Dan and pulls him inside. They melt into the crowd. I jostle my way into the restaurant, but I’ve lost Dan. A Latina who dyes her hair blonde saunters by. I actually do remember fucking her so I say hello. She sneers. I need some Dutch courage so I head for the bar and order a Stoli, kill it, and chase it down with another. Some crew members come up to me and talk. Someone says he forwarded my BUKKAKE story to his civilian friends. More guys join the group and soon I’m surrounded by pornographers trying to guess who is whom in some of the stories I wrote. Many of them can identify other pornographers by the behavior and character traits, but not one of these guys can recognize himself. Someone puts another Stoli in my hand. The conversation runs its length so I excuse myself and walk the restaurant.
Another male talent walks up to me. We’ve seen each other maybe three times in a decade. Many of the studios that shoot him never shoot me because they never film black talent. He whips out his iPhone and shows me a picture of my vinyl blow up doll. It’s in bed and looking satisfied while a non plussed and naked girl counts a stack of money. The doll was also on a national TV comedy shows and has been photographed at parties where I’d never get past the velvet rope. My effigy has a half life of 30 millennium. I’ll be dead in 30 years. I ask him to forward the picture to my email. As he wanders off, a Euro-model/actress/whatever in a thin white Lycra dress back lit by disco lights rendering the effect of a human XXX-ray struts up to me, pulls herself in close and drapes her arms over my shoulder. She smells like soap. She straddles my leg with hers and pressing her crotch against my thigh. The heat from her pussy seeps through my pants leg. Her breath blows hot into my ear as she speaks to me and her accent is crisp and neat like my vodka. Most of her words are swept away into the background noise but the sentiment is clear. My eyes trace a line along the angles of her face…the planes of her cheek bones…the aquiline slope of her nose…those frosted glossy lips and her teeth as white as her dress. She grinds her pelvis into mine as I put my hands on her and I’m running a mental catalogue of every private nook in this place I can take this girl when someone yells, Fight! The restaurant empties into the parking lot. I take my time finishing the last of my drink. By the time I make it outside the fight is over and I’m left to sift through second-hand accounts. I ask a guy with a Justin Bieber haircut what happened. He says something about a fight between (probably the) only Asian male pornstar and another male talent. Then he grumbles about that bottle-blonde Latina girl who is “…walking around sneering at everyone and acting like a cunt!” I’m trying to discern if these two events are related when I spot Dan waving at me from across the parking lot. There are some contract girls in his SUV. I hop in and we speed off. One of the girls blasts Heart’s “Crazy On You” and the girls all sing along as we enter the 101 freeway on ramp.
‘80s rock blares and the minimalist, post-postmodern bathroom floor is overflowing with water. Some giggling porn starlets pour bottles of Mr. Bubble onto the floor and splash around, trying to make bubbles. Spilled vodka and champagne bottles and room service trays with untouched food litter every surface so I have to stand. Pornstars on the bed. Pornstars on the floor. “Flesh For Fantasy” begins to play and the irony is lost on everyone. A group of civilians whom somebody let in the suite huddles by the hotel room door whispering amongst themselves and pointing. A couple of girls, faction unknown, leads a male talent who keeps drifting in and out of consciousness to a chaise and dumps him on it. One of them mentions some pills he took earlier. People gossip about other people who aren’t in the room, and when a participant of the conversation leaves they gossip about the person who just left. In another conversation a man whom I don’t recognize says the words, My Lamborghini…, louder than the rest of his sentence for the benefit of everyone else to hear. The civilians, having seen enough of their favorite contract starlets and male talent in situ, walk out as Billy Idol claims to sing for culture. I step over people and bottles until I find Dan sitting by the window with a VELVET girl, smoking cigarettes and looking out at the city lights. I tell him I’m going home. He gives me a somber nod, bumps elbows with me and says, Thanks for hanging out. Then he looks out the window again. As I’m turning to leave, VELVET girl says, You better not write about tonight!
I push my way through the crowd and out of the door and it clicks shut behind me. Quiet. I walk along the stark white hallway trying to chew off my Borealis-colored wristband but I give up. At the elevator a couple my parent’s age glares at me with contempt.
Outside the hotel the streets are silent and the air is thick and wet. A bus approaches. I board it and feed some coins into the slot. Brown faces stare up at me. There’s a sheen of perspiration on everybody’s skin. No empty seats, so I stand and hold onto a pole. The bus is full but nobody talks to anyone else. I shut my eyes and feel the bus sway.
I tap the ID badge tethered to the lanyard around my neck on the panel next to the double doors. There’s a beep and a click and when the doors open a whoosh of cold air hits my face. I go through the doors and enter the trading floor: an open space filled with cubicles sprawling the length of a football field. Flatscreen TV monitors tuned to CNBC Business hang from the ceiling every few paces. I pass row after row of workstations. It’s still early, but many workstations are manned by people dressed in business casual tethered to their computers by headset cords and talking to clients. One woman paces back and forth up to the extent her leash allows her to, waving her arms as she makes a point. At another row, a man crouches under his desk so he may be heard over the din. A pair of men in oversized bowling shirts passes me without making eye contact. Internal corporate security. Their shirts hide gun and handcuff rigs attached to their belts. They talk to nobody, and in turn, we pretend they aren’t there.
People in a rush to log in to their workstations ignore me as I walk along the aisles. Every morning I show up to work at my day job selling commodities, there’s a risk that somebody at in the firm will recognize me. There was already a close call with the Fed-Ex guy in the courtyard last month. Thank God he caught himself. There are hundreds of traders on this floor. Someone will recognize and out me. Matter of time.
In this job market I can imagine the legions of hopefuls who’ve applied for my position. Most of the brokers on the trading floor earn enough to be among the privileged 1% each year. Many earn that sum in any given month.
They gave me a battery of personality, aptitude, empathy, logic, and ethics of tests, as well as pass comprehensive background and criminal checks to get hired on. During the interview I caught an upside down glimpse of the aptitude test scores. Probably intentional by the interviewer. Apparently I’m a psychopath. They hired me anyway.
As a trainee I have performance quotas to meet, and graded on metrics which become more difficult. Half way through the training program a fellow trainee was rolled out on a gurney with an oxygen mask strapped to his face.
I sit in my pod and log on to the intranet trading system. Intranet, because we’re disconnected from the Internet on the trading floor. Aside from the suit on your back, nothing you weren’t born with enters or leaves the trading floor. Not a pen nor a scrap of paper. Cell phones are locked away. Violation of this rule means instant termination. After I log on I pull up my client list. There’s a few hours until the 9:00 meeting, so I make some calls.
8:59 AM. The flatscreen TV monitors switch from CNBC to an internal feed. It’s time for the daily corporate propaganda meeting.
One of our corporate officers holds a microphone and paces back and forth and shrieks, “Good morning and happy Monday, everybody! Hope you had a good weekend! Time to get back to work! Let’s read the top ten producers for Friday. You had to earn at least $3,800 to make it to the top ten for the day…Coming in at number ten, from the new class, Erik Robinson earned $3,847 on Friday! Way to go, Erik!”
I get a round of Monday morning golf claps from my co-workers.
The trader next to me says, “You don’t seem very pleased.”
“It’s a corporation. They’ll put me on a throne today, and tomorrow I’m justifying my seat in front of a committee.”
The executive on the flat screens continues. “Coming in at number nine on Friday, earning $8,095…”
I’m eating lunch in the outdoor courtyard with some other trainees, listening to them brag about their weekends.
McNally is saying, “…Tompkins and I took those two skanks–remember the girls that–”
“Yeah, we remember. They were in the parking lot,” Cortez says, “Go on!”
The other trainees stop eating and wait for McNally to continue. He takes his time, enjoying the attention.
Tompkins jumps in. “You shoulda seen Mac! He talked those girls into a–”
McNally holds up his hand, cutting Tompkins off. After a sip of his Perrier he continues. “So, sixty seconds after we get those whores back to our room, I’m in the quasi-hot one’s asshole–no kissing, no pussy fucking. Straight to the A–while Tompkins is trying to convince the horseface bitch that the piss spot on the front of his pants is just spilled beer–”
Laughter erupts around the table.
McNally continues, “So, I’m pulling an ATM when–”
Cortez says, “What’s an ‘ATM’?”
“Ass-to-mouth. Jesus, you gotta get out more, dude–”
One of the senior account executives, A Megan Fox look-a-like, walks by our table. All the men stare at her ass.
Levinson says, “Oh my God, did you see her ass?”
“That’s the greatest ass I’ve ever seen in my life!” Tompkins says.
The Fox look-a-like turns around and catches the table staring. She scoffs and continues on.
“Eh, that’s nothing,” McNally says. “I’m getting a girlfriend experience from this porn chick whose ass is–”
“What? What ‘what’?” McNally says.
“A ‘girlfriend experience’.”
“Are you fucking kidding me, Cortez?” McNally says. “How can you not know these things? These porn chicks…they hook on the side, but they make you wear a condom. But most of them, if you toss a couple bills their way, they’ll fuck you bareback. That’s the girlfriend experience. Business is slow so they’ll do whatever they can to make ends meet–”
Levinson asks,“Why would you do that?”
“Fuck a porn chick bareback?” Levinson says. “Those girls have diseases.”
McNally sighs. He says, “Nah, dude, they test for everything like once a month. Besides, condoms fucking suck. It’s cool.”
Levinson says, “Erik, you’re always so quiet? What did you do this weekend?”
“Went out for a few drinks. Nothing special.”
“You get laid?”
McNally says, “Hang out with us next weekend. We’ll get you laid, dude.”
The contract starlet sits in a chair playing with her pussy. She says, “You wanna put that big black cock inside this tight white pussy, dontcha?”
I’m sitting in another chair and stroking my dick. “Sure.”
“I wanna feel your mahogany in-sida-me sooo baaad!”
This contract girl has requested me for the scene. But we’re on opposite sides of the room masturbating. This is the only way she will do an interracial scene. Under no circumstances will there be any physical contact between us. I sit two paces away from a flesh-and-blood porn star, but I’m rubbing it out to the memory of a civilian, the Megan Fox girl at my day job.
The director gives the signal for dual climax, so the contract starlet intensifies her masturbation and fakes her orgasm. My turn. The camera aims at me, so she gets on her hands and knees to show me her ass for visual stimulation. Her ass looks a bit…off. Then I see them under her cheeks. The scars from ass implants. I close my eyes and focus an image of the day job girl’s real ass.
Ken, the photographer for the scene, and I sit at the kitchen table. The contract girl is at the table, too.
Ken says, “I heard you’re off of the Viagra. That couldn’t have been an easy scene. Good job, Tyler.”
“Thanks, man. These past few scenes without drugs…it’s like learning how to perform all over again.”
He nods. I stab my fork into my salad and put it in my mouth.
Ken smooths his hair back and slides a baseball cap on backwards, “I’ve never seen this business so segregated. It’s ridiculous.”
“You think it’s getting worse?”
“Yeah. I mean, who’s left from your generation of black male talent? You, Pawn…Darkus…Rex?”
“I had my day in the sun.” I say.
“Yeah, but then there are scenes like this one. Across the room with no touching? Seriously?”
The contract starlet’s fingernails click across her iPhone, texting. If she’s listening, she doesn’t seem to care.
“The business is the the business.” I say. “Knowing that, you can either chose to accept it for what it is or you can do something else with your time, because it will never change.”
The girl gets up from the table and leaves the kitchen.
Ken says, “The people in porn sure do change. I shot Vagina Jones the other day…What a fucking nightmare.”
“I’ve heard the stories…”
“She was such a sweet girl before…”
“Before she won all those awards?”
“No,” Ken says, “No, she was still cool after the awards. It was when Lucius screwed her over. You hear about that?”
“Uh huh. It was on that mainstream film he directed, right? I know them both…It’s hard to know what to believe, really.”
“Well, yeah. It was a slasher film…but yeah. Lucius is actually going to film school. He has these ideas on how he can change the business.” Ken laughs. “Want to know what Lucius is doing now?”
“I heard he’s filming girls getting pies thrown in their faces, then fucked.”
I laugh. “Well, there you have it.”
We sit in silence.
I say, “Have I changed? I mean, for the worse? You’ve known me for years.”
He takes a bite of his salad and pushes it aside. He says, “I wouldn’t say I know you, Tyler. You never open up to anyone. But yeah, I’m sure you have. Hell, I know I’ve changed too. Man, Vagina was such a nice girl…”
Ken says, “I always tell my friends back East…you know the ring, Precious, from LORD of the RINGS?”
“I tell my civilian friends that this business is like Precious…It slowly corrupts everyone.”
There are three giant birthday cakes in the break room. Once a month the firm buys cakes to celebrate everyone who has a birthday during that month. I’m pouring hot water for tea. Megan Fox, next to me at the counter, is surrounded by men. She’s eating what looks like raw meat.
A man attempting to open up conversation with her says, “Ha ha, is that horse meat? What are you, French?”
She ignores him .
She says to me, “Hi.”
“Nope. None for me.”
“Are you on a low-carb diet?”
“No. I’m not hung up on my weight.”
Another man interjects himself into the conversation and says, “You look awesome, Jill.” He shoves an offering of cake at her. “Here, have some cake, ha ha ha.”
She ignores him. He gives up and takes his slice of cake and leaves. It’s just Jill and me in the break room. I need a spoon for my tea, but I have to reach over Jill to search the utensil bin for one. I say, “Please excuse me.” and reach for the spoon.
“You’re so polite.”
“I didn’t want to be rude and reach over you and your food.”
She squares her hips off to mine and tilts her head back and gives me that look that women sometimes give me. You don’t have to be a master poker player to figure it out. Fuck. With my double identity, this situation has HR trap written all over it.
She says, “You can handle my things anytime.”
…as my hands rip her blouse open and buttons fly every-which-way and her breasts tumble out. I suckle one, then the other, then I hike up her skirt while I fumble in the utensil drawer. I cut her panties off with a spork and lift her up onto the counter and taker her on top of the cake. This ruins everyone’s birthday…
She laughs and says, “…I meant my food. You can move it as you see fit.”
I smile and look away. Not going to take the bait.
She uses her eyes to devour me the same way I’m used to doing to women. It evokes a sense of vulnerable exhilaration, like skydiving and stepping out of an airplane at 12,000 feet and knitting your parachute on the way down.
She says, “What’s the matter. Are you married?”
What the fuck? What’s going on?
“So, Erik.” Her eyes narrow to slits. “What did you do before this? Where do you come from?”
I have an answer prepared for this question but I’m drawing a blank. “Uh…nowhere.”
“You had to come from somewhere. Come on.” She grins and whispers, “You can tell me. It will be our secret.”
“I was a stockbroker.”
“It was a boutique you probably never heard of.”
“ ‘Was’? What happened to it?”
She extends her hand. “I’m Jill. Nice to meet you, Erik.”
Jill leaves me standing there, holding my tea cup.
I say my lines, “It’s time to go,” and I walk down a hallway and out the door.
The director says, “Cut! That’s a picture wrap for Tyler Knight and Lance Sachs.”
This was a non-sex role, playing the president in an end-of-the-world disaster movie. In this movie, an asteroid is on course to collide with the earth causing an extinction level event. The script says this apocalyptic day of reckoning is November 11, 2011. My real life 40th birthday. In this movie, Lance Sachs had a non-sex role also as the Joint Chief of Staff.
As Lance and I are heading to wardrobe to change, a blond, Calvin Klein model-looking kid orbits us. The kid, porn’s next generation of male talent, asks us questions about performing and asks for any advice we may have. Lance is patient and answers every question.
I say my goodbyes to Franco; jennifer and her partner, and others on the crew. Part of me is glad these people are here because I’ve already decided to take an indefinite leave after a decade of doing nothing but working in the business–which is why I snagged a day gig–and you never know what may happen in life so that you may never see people again. I’ve kept this decision to take a break to myself until today.
The director, says, “If going straight doesn’t work out, you always have porn to fall back on.”
The cameraman, adds, “You spend eighteen-hour days on set with the same cast and crew years on end, you become a dysfunctional family.”
The way this business corrupts people, the Decadent crew is one of the few cliques that has managed to not fuck each other over.
Lance asks me if I’m ready. We leave the studio and drive off into the night.
“But you’re a legend.” I say. “You’ve got to be a hero for every man that would interview you.”
Lance takes a deep drag and blows smoke out the car window. “There in lies the problem.” he says. “Those kids who saw my work, they’re sitting across the desk from me and they’re thinking, ‘There’s no fucking way I can hire this guy. If something happens, like an HR problem, it’s my ass.’”
The Mercedes glides onto the freeway on-ramp. This time of night, the nearest car going our direction is a red dot of light ahead of us.
I say, “So, you’re out? For good?”
“That divorce fucking crushed me. When my directing and performing contract with Decadent expired there was nothing keeping me here. Getting as far away from the Valley is the best thing for me. Away from all kinds of bad shit…I’m happy…I’m healthy, now. Besides, I’ve got business interests going. I’ll be just fine.”
“That’s fucking great.”
The lane lines glow white under our approaching headlights and disappear one after the other as we pass them.
“You got a woman?”
“Amanda…been together ten years.”
“That’s a long time. She in the business?
“Uh oh! Possesive?”
“Not in the least.”
“And you’ve made it work for the entire time you’ve been in the business?”
“Yeah…she took me in on the wrong side of a nervous breakdown and despite everything…AIDS scares…remember the HIV outbreak of ‘04?”
“I was first-generation exposed and she…I put her life at risk so many times and I fucked up so many different ways and she never gave up on me. She…”
My eyes sting and I tilt my head back. Then I look out the window and watch exit-ramp signs lit up in a void of black nothingness pass by my window.
Lance whispers, “We’re damaged goods, bro.”
We exit the freeway and merge onto traffic on Ventura Boulevard, the main artery of PornValley. We pull up to the hotel and park and a valet gets behind the wheel and drives off. Lance and I stand a car’s width apart regarding each other.
I say, “What are you gonna do?”
He’s silent for a while. Then, he says, “I’m staying in Utah. Maybe start some kind of business. Then after that…shit, man, I don’t know. You?”
“I’m going for it. I’m taking a break and I’m going to I finish my book.”
He smiles. “Good for you, bro. Good for you! Listen to me, Tyler. A break is a good start, but, whatever happens…whatever happens, you get out of this business while you’ve still got something left and don’t look back. Don’t come back. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for Amanda. She’s waited long enough.”
I shrug and nod.
“By the way, my real name is Erik.”
He laughs. “I know. I’m Elliot.”
He crosses the distance between us and offers me his hand. In all these years of bumping elbows, I can’t remember anyone who has ever offered me his hand to shake. I take it.
I say, “Nice to meet you, Elliot.”
“What the hell, I’ve known you a decade, right? Good luck with the second half of your life.”
While still holding my hand he pulls me into a hug. He lets go and lights another cigarette. “We were the best in the world at what we did, Erik. The experiences we’ve had…nobody can ever take them away from us.”
I watch him walk through the hotel’s double doors.
The bus is coming and I have to run across the street, dodging traffic to catch it. I feed some coins into the slot and find a seat. Then I text Amanda.
Me: I’m taking a break.
Amanda: Really? You promise?
Amanda: I’m so proud of you! Te’ amo!
Me: Te’ amo, mujercita.
It’s Friday. This week saw America’s credit rating downgraded for the first time in history. The equity markets are in turmoil and the precious metals markets broke new record highs. When I exit the building I check my cell phone for any missed calls that came in during the day. Two texts. One text is from Frank, the director of the scenes when I strangled a girl with an iPod cord then titty fucked her corpse, and also the scene when I got blown by my baby sister.
Frank: How’s my favorite psychopath? Are you avail–”
The next text I missed is from a director who wants me to reprise my role as Tyler Wood and bang some mistresses for some French porn magazine. I text him back.
If you want to take the shortcut out of the office building complex you have to walk by a restaurant’s outdoor patio. It’s happy hour and a group of senior traders sit at a table with some expensive-looking women. Dane, one of the senior traders, waves me over. He introduces me to everyone, and everybody says hello except one man who leans back in his chair with his arms crossed. He’s got an expression that says, “What’s that smell?” on his hang-dog features and his clothes appear three sizes too big. He reminds me of a pissed-off Humphrey Bogart.
I say, “Hello.”
When Pissed Bogart speaks, his voice surprises me so much I think it has to be a joke. It’s the voice of a whining six-year-old. “What exactly do you do here?”
“What do you mean?”
Dane says, “Erik’s a new account executive. He’s got skills. He made the daily top ten a couple times.”
People at the table congratulate me. Pissed Bogart stares.
Dane says, “I see you met Jill. Stay away from her, Erik. She gets one new guy from each training class fired.”
“I figured as much.”
Pissed Bogart says, “What’s with the twelve-hour work days and the suits? You trying to impress somebody.”
“I’m compensating for my small penis.”
Laughter around the table.
Dane says, “You come up with that just now?”
“It’s old material. This is just the first time you’re hearing it.”
Pissed Bogart says, “I used to wear suits every day and come in early. But now that I’m a senior trader I don’t have to. I come and go as I please and I still made over a quarter-million dollars last year. What did you do last year?”
Pissed Bogart says, “You think you’re clever?”
“No. Excuse me, gentlemen.”
I’m waiting at the bus stop when a van drives by. On the side it says, “Better to be a somebody for a day than a nobody for a lifetime.”
The bus arrives. I board it, feed some coins in the slot and take a seat.