Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Last Real Human Being in Hollywood

by Gay Degani

Selene’s Sunset Boulevard apartment was the two- bedroom on the left, away from the traffic, hidden behind hibiscus and bougainvillea. She’d moved in years ago when she married Hal, a Foley artist who had the place soundproofed to “save his ears for work.”
Back then, like now, the building had been filled with wannabe actors, actresses, writers, the occasional “best boy.” Industry people, one and all.

Her neighbors sought her out, especially the young women, because walking into Selene’s living room was like stepping back into 1952, onto an old movie set where Katharine Hepburn might wait for the director to yell “action”: the chartreuse sectional, the blond wood coffee table with matching cigarette box and lighter, the bold floral wallpaper.

The starlets and wannabe starlets would hover at Selene’s door, taking it all in, then let their faces split with grins. She made them sit down at the dinette and turn off their cells while she poured them mugs of Folgers coffee. The whole scene appealed to their romantic sides, their creative souls.

But what they really wanted was Selene herself. They liked to watch her move around the kitchen. They liked to let the little almond cookies she served melt in their mouths. They leaned toward her as she pulled out a chair for herself, her polyester pants as crisp as a day without smog, her perfume light and woody.

Selene was not in the business, but had worked instead for The Broadway Department Store on Hollywood and Vine in the handbag department. After a small part in the motion picture, “I Accuse My Parents,” back in the forties, she never kidded herself about being a movie star. She liked to whisper in people’s ears that her real claim to fame was having once sold a wallet to Marilyn Monroe. “Eel skin. Soft as a caterpillar.”

“There’s something very satisfying about selling the right purse to the right woman,” she told one young tenant who fretted about her grabby agent. “You, my dear, should find a handbag with some weight to it. Metal zippers, rivets too, a woven leather and chain shoulder strap, that kind of thing.”

She asked them what was going on in the movie biz these days. Who was hot and who was not. They told her everything, and she listened. There was something soft and gentle in her wrinkled face, her stained porcelain skin, the bob of gray hair, that allowed them to settle against the plastic seat-backs and tell her about the blown fuse on set, the blown audition, their own blown minds.

When it was her turn, Selene talked about purses and satchels, totes and messenger bags, suede v. fabric, Coach or Hobo or knock-offs. “Avoid the cheap and plastic,” she said as she patted their hands. “But the most important thing about quality leather goods is what they carry inside.”

“Everyone has a dream. I lived mine,” is what she told each new batch of waitresses, baristas, and Westside Pavilion salesclerks waiting for their big breaks. Most of them sat up straighter at this, lips pressed together, as they envisioned themselves climbing out of limos, adorning the cover of People, being pitched on “TMZ.” They smiled indulgently at Selene, alone in her apartment with no scrapbook of movie stills, publicity shots, award acceptance speeches. They didn’t believe her. Not yet.

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The Last Real Human Being in Hollywood is from Gay Degani's collection, Rattle of Want.

Gay Degani has had three flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Glass Woman Prize. Pure Slush Books published her collection, Rattle of Want, in 2015 and the second edition of her suspense novel, What Came Before was published by Truth Serum Press in 2016. She blogs at Words in Place.

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