8.06.2005

The Cheesecake is to Die For

My Former Wealthy Benefactress phoned today. Like the wives of many successful university alumni supporting my Big Deal Film School, she strikes me as someone with a lot of time on her hands who'd always wanted to do something artistic but didn't.

On the plus side, she must have awarded me a good ten grand toward tuition and expenses when I was getting my M.F.A. in Screenwriting, asking nothing in return but the opportunity to read my work. She liked comedy in particular, and unofficially preferred female voices. She also wanted to chat from time to time, though this wasn't a condition of her scholarships, just something that clearly inspired her. She liked the idea of having a network of writers around her, like a latter day Dorothy Parker presiding over some West Coast Round Table.

Clearly the product of a long line of philanthropists, she once gathered a group of "her favorite scholars" at The Grill in Beverly Hills, just across the street from the William Morris Agency, where the Superagents go with their Top-Notch Clientele. She said she wanted us to get used to what that felt like, to be wined and dined and plied with compliments, right in the thick of the action. She must have dropped five or six hundred bucks on the cobb salads alone, encouraging us to spend the whole afternoon. "Have another glass of wine," she'd say. "And the cheesecake is to die for."

When she calls these days, naturally I feel obligated to have good news to report, though today I can't quite come up with anything. Let's see, I did run into Martin Landau at Ralph's on La Brea and Fountain the other night. I tried to catch his eye, to impress upon him that unlike the other Self-Absorbed Hollywood Hipsters visiting the beverage aisle without so much as a glance his way, he and I, a Big Deal Film School Grad, are practically colleagues! His Oscar for Ed Wood was so very richly deserved, however bizarre the vehicle; though I never felt engaged by Crimes & Misdemeanors and deemed it the beginning of the end for Woody. Seeking feedback on all this, I brushed past him several times, but he was oddly engrossed by a sixteen-ounce bottle of Cactus Cooler, undoubtedly looking for the sugar content. Honestly, they won't let old people have anything these days. So that was that, I'd have to tell My Wealthy Former Benefactress. I got nothing.

I suppose I could share that last night I went to a new restaurant and bakery called Masa in Echo Park, where Frankie Muniz was eating. She'd have no idea who he is, so I'd tell her he's on a TV show called Malcolm In The Middle. "Television," she'd sniff dismissively. "Promise me you'll never work for those people." (You get a lot of this in film school.)

I'd then be obliged to report that I've yet to work at all, that I'm hanging on by the weakest of threads here in The Flats Of Big Deal Hollywood, nowhere near the famous sign. I'd demand to know why she'd believed in me so passionately in the first place, why she'd lavished me with all that money to prove it, why she'd given me so much false hope.

I suddenly realize how angry I am at every last one of my supporters, who'd promised me I had what it took and offered their help to see me through. Every Loving Mentor, every Special Professor, every Big Deal Hollywood Screenwriter who'd singled me out, taken a look at my work, and said, you really got it, kid. Don't let anything stop you.

What they won't tell you in film school is all the things that do stop you once you leave--things like rejection, and loneliness, and trying to come up with the rent every month without generous financial aid from the State of California along with a string of private donors.

I couldn't possibly answer the phone to one of them and confess that I spent the day in bed with a bag of microwave cheese popcorn and a six-pack of diet Minute Maid lemonade watching I Love Lucy re-runs. She didn't even want me to work in TV, let alone pass my days watching it.

What's worse, I heard from another Former Classmate Who Isn't Working that our shared benefactress has cancer. She's undergoing a round of chemotherapy, and while she seems as stoic as her waspiness would dictate, she really isn't doing well.

She's only calling me for a cheap laugh, I decide, for some of the witty quips I used to dole out like so much penny candy back in the day, back when I was so very sure all my Big Hollywood Dreams were just on the cusp of coming true. I'd already given her plenty of reasons to smile, both in the pages of the screenplays she liked enough to put her money where her mouth was and during those lunchtime conversations she never wanted to end.

The phone rings one last time. I promise myself she'll be the first person I call when I have something inspiring to offer, some tiny shred of proof that she backed the right horse. For now, I settle back into bed to pop open another can of lemonade, letting my machine take the message.

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