Wednesday, July 27, 2011
The #7 Sunset
Is that seat taken? No? (The bus angles into traffic on Sunset. Sunlight bathes the San Gabriels in a golden iridescence; the first time they’ve been visible in a week.) You too tired to talk? Cool. What do I do? I’m trying to break into film, but I work in a coffee shop. You? That’s cool. No. Not Starbucks. Anybody tell you look like Rob Thomas? Yeah the Matchbox Twenty singer. Yeah, I’d say that’s a compliment. Hey, I’m no ordinary barista. I have a life that’s quite different from my public persona. The side of me nobody sees. I took this job for two reasons. First, I like public exposure. All the world’s a stage so the saying goes, and I love the spotlight. I love standing there in front of hundreds of total strangers every day practicing my main line, “Can I help you?” I know it by heart and can put enough different inflections on it that Coppola or the Coen brothers would be impressed. After all, this is Hollywood. Even though Mr. Bob, our manager doesn’t approve, I try to change my look every other day just to see the reaction of the “regulars”, or the “regular cuppa Joe’s” as I like to call them. Nobody thinks that’s funny, but no matter. Some people got no sense of humor. The other reason I took this job is I needed benefits. I needed dental work to tell the truth. Bad. I had this molar that was making like the Grand Canyon and life was becoming a blur of aspirins, salt packs, and any Vicodins I could steal or borrow. Borrowing only goes so far when it comes to Vicodins, so it always progresses to thievery. Anyone can tell you that. You been there, huh? It was getting harder and harder to make casting calls between the tooth pain and the vic hangovers. I hadn’t landed any parts and I have to believe it was the distraction of the toothache, so the choice became to get really altered and jerk the molar with pliers or find a quick job with the right bennies. I’m fairly mechanically challenged, so the thought of doing my own repair work, in my own mouth no less, didn’t appeal to me. I don’t think I could get that pissed even though I’ll admit – off the record, of course - that I am a professional at altering my reality. But I’m also a big chicken. There’s lots of jobs in LA if you don’t care about pay. Or benefits. But if you want benefits and don’t have a pedigree, the obvious choice is barista. It’s a job with a future. I had to fudge my application a little when I applied and said I’d worked in a coffee shop called Espresso Jo’s back in Billings. Yeah, Montana. But just to get me a leg up if you know what I mean. Barista work may not require a lot of skills, but there is expensive equipment to operate and all. Believe you me, the first time you stand in front of a two-station espresso machine it’s like staring at the flight deck of a 747. You can experience brain freeze. So I figured I’d better fudge a little if I was going to get any dental work soon. Thank God you don’t have to actually audition and they don’t throw newbies to the wolves, because, well, there’s quality standards to be upheld. Based upon the strength of my resume and my fictitious tour of duty at Espresso Jo’s, they hired me the day I applied, but the other employees were on to me within the first five minutes because I didn’t know how to do anything. I couldn’t understand a thing customers ordered unless it was a tall drip. All that skinny, half-calf, Americano, chai latte stuff was like another language back then. But I’m a quick study and after a week of asking for translations from Beth… Oh, she’s my purple-haired, snaky-tattooed associate…I began to get the hang of the lingo. It’s been two months now and I actually enjoy the lilt, the beauty of barista language. There’s a certain poetry about it. My tooth is better too. Actually it’s gone, but that won’t affect my film career. I was too impatient for all the return trips necessary for crowns and root canals. It was a back molar and I figure I can always get the proper bridges and caps once the money starts rolling in. But hey, check out my smile. See. Can’t see it, can you? Yeah, I told you. Thanks. You have a nice smile too. Robbie, she’s the shift captain, tried to get me on the business side of the espresso machine the second day of my employment. Somebody stiffed their shift and we were short-handed. I’d been keeping my eyes open the first day and pretty much had the part down about how you compress the espresso grind in the French press, but the rest of it was pretty esoteric. But I’m pretty resourceful and had a plan. “Suzi, can you run the espresso machine?” Robbie asked me. “I think so,” I lied. “Let me check out the equipment.” I walked back and stood beside her on the business side of the shiny Astoria. That’s the brand of our espresso machine. It was a total maze of dials, and gauges, and mysterious chrome swing arms. Robbie stood there waiting. “Oh, man, this is a lot different from the Hobart we used at Jo’s. Not to mention there was kind of a social stigma against frou-frou coffee in Billings. You know…cowboys, Indians…miners.” “You don’t know how to use it do you?” She says to me “I will if you show me.” I have to admit I sounded pretty lame. I could have used a Vicodin about then. And where did I come up with Hobart? Sometimes my mind just latches on to something somewhere and it stays there in my C drive under the random access tab. She slammed the cup to the side and looked at me like I was a piece of shit. “Why do they hire fucks like you? All you do is get in the way and create more work for the rest of us.” Can you believe it? I was beginning to not like Robbie and started figuring I could probably whip her ass even though she’s big and probably a dyke. “Go on back and work the register then,” she told me, like she was banishing me to Bangladesh or somewhere. I was happy though because I’m a star, not a supporting actress. Who wants to be back there behind the Astoria like a drummer in some rock band? Nobody notices the drummer. Do you know who drums for Matchbox Twenty? Me neither. That’s what I mean. I’m more like those two sisters from Heart. Put me out front. Besides, when the tip jar is divvied up at the end of shift, you don’t get hazardous duty money for running the Astoria. It’s split equally. So what’s the point? Heart? They’re retro. Eighties band with two sisters. Well check them out on Itunes. I’m not putting you to sleep am I? Good. I feel like I’m kind of monopolizing the conversation. So that’s my life at the moment. Billings to LA by way of Winnemucca, Nevada where I did truck stop duty – waitressing and supplemental blow jobs – until I could get another bus ticket out. Did I really say that? Oh my God, excuse me. But the job wasn’t so bad because I had a lot of down time on the graveyard shift to read magazines to find out who was leaving who, what Angelina and Brad were up to and all that. It’s important to stay in the know if you’re in this business. Knowledge is power, right? And it only took ten days to earn enough to get my ticket here and rent money for a week or two. Just between you and me, the bj’s pay better than tips, but these were not star material guys. They’re fat and they stink and they want you to swallow. Brad I’d swallow. Not Vic from Bayonne. You’re the only one I’ve told about the bj’s, so keep it LA confidential, okay? I don’t want to be reading about myself on the front page of the Inquirer, you know. Man, I can’t believe I’m telling you this. Well, there’s also my dancing gig over on Sunset. I’ve been told I’m a tight little package for a farm girl and like I told you, I love the spotlight. It pays way better than my barista job but there’s no benefits, so I moonlight it. To tell the truth, there’s something that gets me off about making you guys lusty enough to pad my g with twenties. Usually it’s ones and fives, but lap dances bring out the twenties, and sometimes the Franklins. Especially when this corn-fed Norwegian gets into the proverbial swing of things. Yeah, men are crazy. They know they can’t have me but they still like to dream. You’re probably not like that, huh? Yeah, sure. All you guys are the same. Anyhow, the money’s way good and affords me some vikes now and then, which I need to sleep but then I’m late to work and Robbie is a royal bitch about it. She doesn’t understand how hard I work. Mr. Bob has called me in a couple of times for being late, but he’s a fool for the extracurricular activities. He likes me to call him Mr. President. He calls me Monica. Can you believe it? It’s our personal joke. And I love how furious Robbie gets when I come out of Mr. Bob’s back office with my hair all crazy from the way Bob likes to hold it like a horse’s mane when he gets excited. I don’t think his wife does him. And Robbie’s just mad because her persuasion doesn’t go in for giving head. Her bad. Yeah, the mountains are really pretty today. You know I lived here a month before I even realized there were mountains over there because of the smog. Big Bear? Where’s that? I swear I’ve recognized some of my customers from the club at the coffee shop. They’re rattling off an order in barista-speak when our eyes meet and I can see the recognition in theirs, but I stay in character. They’d like to ask. They think it might be me, Miss Crazy Table Dancer, but they can never be sure because I’m demure by day, in another role, another scene and they can never be certain because the club lights make you look different. More seductive. Of course nudity does too. They can’t be certain. It’s like when you seen stars here in LA, they don’t look like stars. They look like me and you. The other day Winona Ryder, you know, from Girl Interrupted, came in for a latte and I never knew it was her. I mean, she looked street. Bad. I thought Beth was yanking me when she nudged me. “That’s Winona Ryder,” she hissed, all excited. “No way,” I said and I meant it. This girl looked common, not screen royalty. When I’m on that level, you better know I’m dolling up anytime I go out. It’s a disservice to your fans to look that common. Christ. You work hard to get there to look common? Not this Janie. Did I tell you about my love/hate relationship with casting calls? God yes. First you have to find out about them. There’s a couple of good websites. Then you have to drag your ass out of bed at a very uncivilized hour to get to the cattle call. That’s what us insiders call them. I hate the standing around sizing up the competition. I have this bad habit of empowering anyone I have to compete against, which is exactly what my Daddy used to tell me when I ran track. “Suzanne, you let yourself get psyched out too easily. You just need to stay within yourself and not pay any attention to those other runners.” Coming from a guy who turned my big brother into a fairy by pushing him so hard at football and wrestling, or any other sport du jour, it just didn’t have the impact on me that he hoped for. You have to tune that crap out just for your own self-preservation. I was a solid mid-pack runner at best. I guess I was fast for a white chick, but those Indian School girls could run like the wind. This was Billings, mind you. There weren’t too many soul sisters around or we all would have looked pretty slow. It was after my junior year that I decided to be an actress because I hated that I had to hear it from Daddy after every meet. About how I wasn’t giving it my all. Or that I really didn’t believe in my mind that I could beat those Indian girls. Maybe he was right. I do have confidence issues but I’ve learned to hide them pretty well. You couldn’t tell? Cool. I didn’t think so. My brother? He owns a hair salon in Boise now. Drives the old man crazy. No, I left Billings after my Mom walked out, but I got my GED. That’s one of the reasons I dance. When I’m on stage nobody says shit to me like “Honey, if you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” I know that. I just don’t want to be told. But when I’m at the cattle calls, every other woman that walks in seems to look better than me, dress more chi-chi, have a haircut I’d kill for, or have better tits. I think Daddy was right and I’m just empowering those bitches. They put their panties on one leg at a time just like I do. If they wear any. You think so? Yeah, I’ve been told mine are nice. Thanks. I think I’m probably blushing now. Anyhow, these casting calls are a necessary evil. I’ve been short listed a couple of times, but I’ve just landed extra parts so far. No lines. Just a lot of stand around and wait, but they feed you and give you all the coffee you can stand and it’s a chance to learn something about the business. You always hear about somebody like Anna Nicole being discovered working at the DQ back in BFE, so I figure there’s an outside chance one of the high mukety-mucks might happen to pick me out of the crowd of us standing around in costume, bored shitless, swilling lukewarm Starbucks. It could happen. That’s why I take the extra jobs and dance and work the register instead of the cappuccino hardware. I’m increasing my chances for discovery. You said you’re in telemarketing, right? Well, it’s just like the notion that if you make more calls, your chances of someone saying yes get better, right? Daddy was in sales, too. True, but I get so darn nervous standing there in front of the casting director and his entourage of sucks who like to feel important by association, who sit there and look at you like you’re nude and smirk when you flub the lines they just handed to you two minutes ago like they expect you to come across like Clarice Starling on your first try. “Okay, thanks. We’ll call you. Ciao.” I hate it. But one thing about me is I’m persistent. I smile and say thank you even though I’m a wreck inside and want to smash faces. That’s another trait I got from Daddy. A short fuse. But I kiss ass in this town because I read somewhere that you have to be nice to everyone in the business because this week’s asshole may be tomorrow’s hot director. You just never know. I just know when I make it the directors will be telling each other that Suzi Blakely is such the jewel to work with. On time. Considerate. And such a work ethic! I promise you they will, because that’s just how I am. I’m getting off at the next stop, but it’s been great talking with you. Hey, I’m heading to work at the club right now. You doing anything? Yeah, okay. I understand family and all that. No worries. But if you ever get the urge, the club’s called Gentlemen Prefer Blondes over on Santa Monica. Ask for Tiffany. That’s my stage name. But remember the name Suzanne Blakely. When I make it you can say you rode the #7 Sunset with her back in the day.