Paying for Original Sin
by Victoria Kelly <email@example.com>
It was still February and icky out. Slush was the designated fifth element, porous and bleeding its watery gray. I had to be in the garment center, as it's most widely known, though it's also a grotto for a certain kind of pond scum, my show business friends -- agents and casting directors. Today's mission is to suck up and I'm not thrilled about it. A voice rises up and above the hum of the street. It's a tenor voice, a scuffed voice. "'Scuse me, baby! 'Scuse me, baby!" says the voice. "Yo!" I already don't like the sound of it and I know it's not going anywhere, whether he's talking to me or not.
"You a model baby? Model baby, model baby? Heyareyou-a ..." accompanied by the accelerating beat of his footsteps. He keeps up the model business and soon his hot breath is unmistakably on my neck.
I take refuge by assuming the persona of the French Lieutenant's Woman from the movie of the same name, a woman I model myself after from time to time -- we both wear capes. Because I'm wearing one now, I feel cooler than perhaps I should. My interior soundtrack, usually poised to spin a tune, spins a Kraftwerk song called "The Model." I can sort of lope to this song, gazelle-like -- a living, breathing music video stealing up the block, and into a new reality that won't include this creep.
I keep track of the numbers above the doorways and in a certain section of my mind I even offer him a prayer of "pre-forgiveness." He's a molester, after all: what he wants is a victim, I refuse to be his victim, the drill is familiar. I think this is where I usually give the cool nod -- an Ice-Queen Cometh kind of thing.
"Fine lookin', yes sir!" he says, except that it's a whisper, except that it's rap, except that it's over and over again. "Where'd you get that fine bee-hine? That fine, fine bee-hine?"
I have to give him credit. He is a man of some lyricism. He is also a man of irony; due to my copious "Cliffs of Lyme" cape, there is no view of my behine. He has turned dark.
"You too good to talk to me, baby? Too good?" I'm thinking -- whadya talking about, I just gave you that nod. You were the one who decided I was a model; models nod. I also think that "baby" could turn into "bitch" at any second, and this, ladies, is why we call in the troops. But I haven't shown a shiver of recognition, so he doesn't know he's gotten my goat.
My boot heels protect me until I have distance on him, and then I see the right number -- 629 West 38th Street. I left-face and trot in. I'm out of his range now; I'm inside the building and I'll be upstairs in a flash.
The building is a pre-war, with that sort of narrow, suffocating, pre-war feel. My mind changes that to "cold war." The French Lieutenant's Woman meets The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. I feel in my purse for the lipstick and mirror I want and will need for the elevator ride. What story shall it be, I wonder, this cold-war intrigue? I want a big story, a dark one. Dark like a tunnel dark; good dark.
Meanwhile, in a small office on the seventh floor, appointed with crude desk, chair, and file cabinet, a woman stares at the remains of her breakfast -- a muffin bottom, a container of coffee. She is holding a rolled up copy of Variety. There's a morbid downturn to her face that looks unfortunately permanent. The decals on the office door spell out her name, and after it the initials "CSA." Katrina Ahrensen is one of the city's 2,000 casting directors. Reading from the daily, she mutters, "Two-thirds fewer pilots filmed in New York compared to last season; 75 percent less film production. Fuckin' writers strike, fuckin' L.A., fuckin' war!"
Though a worldly force is indeed pillaging a less than worldly place far away, the war she is referring to is more immediate, more personal, and wholly more outrageous. This war is Herself versus Herself, and it tends to flare when the chemicals in her nervous system take umbrage with the chemicals she ingests on the advice of her doctors. This morning, in fact, is one of chemical insurrection.
She smacks the breakfast remains into the garbage can next to the file cabinet. Her eyes flit from point to point until they come to rest on the row of little bottles laid out on the desk. She slurps the last of her coffee and jabs the redial button on her phone. She mutters under her breath, "You demon morsel! Get out of my skin. I'll rip you apart." She doesn't know who precisely she is talking to, but she knows that she means it.
Her voice scratches out, "Is he there yet? Yeah, Katrina." She can see her own face in her nails. They are long, well-polished, and magenta. "I am not taking any new drugs," she spits into the phone. "Just find out the minimum dose I have to take in order to function." She is looking at her mouth moving in the mirror of her nails -- ten magenta Katrinas. The room grows cold and still, and into that stillness she blurts, "We're talking about a ground-zero situation here! Ask him if he's ever heard of MELTDOWN!" The receiver comes down with a jolt.
Katrina realizes that she should take precautions to hide her psychic debacle from others. She goes to get the sign. It is kept in a bottom drawer of her desk -- a simple piece of gray cardboard that was once the back of a lined tablet. Sliding the drawer open she notices that each part of each gesture is charged with extra nuance. She can now see the energy fields of all objects and movements, a dizzying display of colors and trails and imbedded signals. It is in the tangle of this psychosis that Katrina must plot the rest of her day. The drums begin in her bloodstream, and her body begins to vibrate to their rhythm.
I'm wondering who to cast in my new cold-war epic when an alter ego called "Cool Babe" emerges laser-sharp from the catalogue. Cool Babe is a soldier-girl, an angel-like presence, as they all are -- the internal army. I make friends with mine; I'm an actor and it's convenient to be able to call upon my soldier-girl to help me out of dire straits, and there are a lot of those if you're unemployed "talent." So I'm basically thankful for Cool Babe's watchdoggin' my life and therefore lenient with whatever leftover space she wants to occupy. If she wants to be the boss, she can be the boss. The fact is, she's been around a lot longer than me. Like I said, she's an angel.
The doors of the elevators inch open to a dun-colored hallway with painted brown woodwork. I step out and Cool Babe casts a wary glance down the corridors that go in both directions from the elevator. The windows on each office door have one pane of bubble glass; centered on the pane are decal numbers. Cool Babe wants to cast the rest of my movie right away.
"I like John Schlesinger," she says. "What do you think?"
I say nothing, aware that it is rare for the star to pick the director.
"Or Howard Hawkes, if you want to go back. Either way, silky black and white photography with seamless flashbacks." Cool Babe has very good taste.
"I could be the moll in a raincoat," I say. "With a fifty-cent lipstick."
"Hell, you could even be the detective," she sneers. "Packing something a lot hotter'n lipstick!" Cool Babe has always wanted me to "use my power" more.
Below the windows are mail slots; that's good. I can drop my head-shot through Katrina Ahrensen's slot and be gone, if need be. I spot the one I believe is hers but wonder about a sign propped up on the glass. "Out to lunch" no doubt. "Back in ten"? But I get a sinking feeling, probably because of that creep outside and how the day is going so far. Closer to the door I see two words emblazoned with black marker on gray board -- GO AWAY. The words are heavily underlined.
Cool Babe starts yelling. 'What the fuck is this shit?" she says.
"Not so loud," I caution. "Besides, I'm not surprised," I admit. I wonder if Cool Babe needs to know the rumor that I've heard. As we're a team, I tell her.
"She's actually said to be deeply bipolar ..."
"Bipolar? You didn't you tell me that before."
"What for? Besides, you only just got here," I remind her. "Besides that's not such a horrible thing. That disease has been so sensationalized ..."
Cool Babe is narrowing her eyes (which also happen to be my eyes) as she calculates a rather martial decision. Cool Babe scares me a little when she's like this. I know somehow I'm gonna have to maintain the upper hand before she pulls some Rambo here in the hallway. I tell her to chill out and I mean it. Her eyes are demonic slits, but that doesn't bother me; as a matter of fact it's good. We're standing still as a steeple, in the middle of the hall, about twelve feet from the casting director's door. I don't know about her, but I'm scarcely breathing myself.
"Put it through the mail slot" my alter ego blares. The brass opening looks innocuous, friendly even. Mail, for most people, is a good thing. What would it hurt to slide the headshot through, I consider, after having brought it all this way. What could go wrong? I breathe in, Cool Babe breathes out, and we gather our forces to approach the door.
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