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Friday, April 22, 2011
Sur La Plage (red COFFEE Chapter 7)
Every once in a while I get called to play the tall, blonde vamp in a comedy short when they need an icy, harsh blonde. Today was one of those awful spring days on the beach where the sun comes out for a few minutes, decides it hates being out, and crawls back in behind the clouds. The climate alternated wildly between sweltering warmth and an annoying chill. Because of the transitory nature of the sunlight the director was tearing his hair out and screaming at everybody all day.
We were shooting a comedy short starring Pip Collins, a fading silent comedy star whose gimmick was looking and acting like an oversized baby that just fell out of bed. He wasn't terribly funny, but as long as he had smoking babes in his movies there was a guaranteed load of hard-up guys ready to put their money down to see his next unlaughable flop.
In this masterpiece Pip was in a Gay 90's bathing suit onesie cutting up around the beach, Santa Monica, and trying to impress all the girls including the snobby vamp, me. I was dressed in a very small bathing suit and freezing my sardine can off.
Pip did this annoying thing where he would stutter and stammer while he fluttered his eyelashes like a mentally deranged baby boy. "H-hey, Leticia, want to see me dive off the c-c-c-c-cliff?" he stammered. I didn't have any lines; all I had to do was roll me eyes and act stuck up. What I really wanted to do was punch him in the head. "Chucky, you bad boy!" Martha, a doe-eyed brunette with sweaty peach fuzz over her lip, was supposed to run over and grab Stupid by the earlobe. She missed her cue. "CUT! CUT!" the director yelled, "God damn it! You dumb bitch, you're supposed to run over from the right, the blonde stands to the left". Pip grinned real big. "I'd like the blonde to stand on my jimmy, you bet!" The creeps in the crew laughed. "Pip, you're a stitch!" "We just lost the light". "Cast break!" I walked away. "Aw, stuck up like your character, huh, babe?" whined Pip.
I grabbed my handbag and pulled out my cigarette case and lighter. I walked towards the sunken dunes with tall grass growing around them for some privacy. As I walked further away from the set I felt something on my head, gripping me gently like little needles. It was a blackbird that landed on my head. I shook my hair and it flapped its wings and hopped off right in front of me. "What gives, buster?" The bird just looked up at me with a puzzled look on its face. Everybody's a comedian, only the birds are funnier than Pip Collins.
I walked a little further and saw a couple lying on the sand behind a bush. As I got closer I realized it was two men locked in embrace glancing at me with a sliver of annoyance. Carry on, boys. I must have been yards away from the set far away from everyone and lit up, taking a few much needed drags. "Young lady, are you smoking tobacco cigarettes?" I turned around to see an old woman in her Eighties sitting in a rocking chair in the sand staring at me. "Yes, ma'am". "Could you trouble an old woman a cigarette?" She had a Southern accent. I smiled, "Here you go", I handed a Lucky Strike to her and even lit her up. "I'm Lois". "Thank you very kindly. I'm Charlotte. Forgot mine today, seems like I'm forgetting more things every day. Well, dang".
I stood and she sat, both quietly smoking among the tall weeds and sand, the booming waves crashing in the distance. I looked at her as she stared off, then she looked at me while I looked down, until she said, "What brings you to the beach on such an inclement day like today?" "We're filming a comedy short", I spoke, smoke filtering out my nostrils. "I haven't been to a picture show in ages". "You're not missing anything. They're still awful". "How long have you been out here in Los Angeles, if I may ask?" "I'm a native. One of the few". "Ah, well, you need to go out and see the world, young lady. Paris, Berlin, Florence, the Tower of London, even the streets of New Orleans, what's left of them", she picked tobacco off her lips. "Are you from New Orleans?" "No, child, I'm from Georgia. I had a happy and quiet life there when I was about sixteen, we had money, we had a the biggest, most beautiful house, Daddy had a gin mill, livestock, and then the Union Army came right in and destroyed it all. My Daddy stood his ground and they shot him in the head. Even our Negroes cried when he died in Mother's arms. We had to escape from the Army or they would have put us in a camp. They were so busy burning and destroying our land they didn't see the Negroes riding away with us hidden in the wagon". "I'm sorry you lost everything that young". "Let me tell you, between you and me. There are Southern folks still mad at Yankees and want a taste of good old Christian revenge. An eye for an eye, like the Bible says". "How?" "I can see some good ol' boys coming around acting all neighborly to the Yanks and then when they least expect it, they'll get even. It will happen".
We got real quiet and once again just stared at each other to the sounds of the ocean waves hissing and crashing. "Do you know what I remember seeing as we were riding away? The scarecrows by the corn fields on fire, looking like burning Dixie soldiers". I felt a sudden chill at this remark. "Well, you don't have to worry about anything burning around here". "No. I suppose not".
A black woman in a nurse's uniform came by and got all over Charlotte's business. "Miss Charlotte, you know you're not supposed to be out here in the cold like this. You're going to catch your death of cold. And you've been smoking! I can't keep my eyes off you for a second!" She turned around to face me. "She's here every day, ma'am. You can see her tomorrow. It's right about time for her daily elixir". Charlotte scowled. "Well, toodle-oo, young lady", she waved weakly. "So long. Welcome to L. A."
I trudged over to the movie set and progressively heard more voices yelling at each other. Pip Collins was chasing a few bathing suit beauties around the set. He saw me walking towards the klieg lights. "Heyyyy! There's my girlie!" he yelled, grabbing his tiny winkie. He ran towards me, fast enough so I could pick him up by the hips and toss him into the klieg lights, toppling two of them over, narrowly missing the director.
"YOU BITCH! YOU CUNT!! YOU'RE FIRED!!! DON'T EVER BRING YOUR SNAPPER ON SET AGAIN! YOU'RE FINISHED IN HOLLYWOOD!"
Two days later my phone rang every two hours so I left it off the hook. Later that day I got a telegram from Pip Collins begging me to come back on set. I used it to light my stove. The name of the game is burning things. Charlotte said so.