Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Single Greatest Moment of Inspiration, by Len Howlett


Once, a long time ago, I was a virtual prisoner to the romantic allure of Southern California, having heard its siren song. I took the involuntary vow to remain there at any cost, to forsake the Gulf Coast of Texas where I had stultified into seemingly permanent, but happily ignorant innocent adolescence. I was compelled to ‘go Hollywood’ at any cost. And thus I took a job there as an office boy at a top modeling agency for starvation wages. At peril to body and spirit and my own economic future I hung on to be in the presence and bask in the glow of those internationally known honeys. Yes, I had been taken captive and interned in the infamous Concentration Camp of the Hot Kitties of Hollywood.

But I hung on for months, sorting the mail, and running errands, delivering eye-liner and mascara, and unknowable esoterica from Max Factor, in the wistful unspoken hope that one of these earth angels would notice me. There was one, whose name you would know were I, even though many years have passed, to dare to pronounce it aloud. She was the top model in the world. My days were filled with silent longings and my nights with unmentionable holy rituals as she smiled down at me from numerous ‘Vogue’ covers I had tacked to the musty walls of my rented garret. Even in the dark punctuated by the garish neon of the disco across the street she seemed to be with me, haunting my feverish waking dreams.

The days that I saw her grew progressively more oppressive, as I saw her occasionally come in, walk past the file cabinet where I was usually sorting paper clips and reams of typing paper and the like, and go into the office of a young executive, and leave for seemingly interminable long lunches at Musso and Frank’s and desserts I dared not even imagine. The gales of their laughter hung in agonizing echoes in the office long after they had departed doubtlessly for Happyland, while I sat alone to mind the phone and eat a hot tuna sandwich made at home in the darkness before work. I prayed that the blessing of salmonella might deliver me from the unrelenting torture that had come to be my existence.

And the days that she did not appear were worse. Much of the time I would hear stories of her cavorting in Europe and the playgrounds of the jet set. I would find myself wishing for a glimpse of her. It was only the small thumbnail portrait of her I had clipped from a fashion magazine and placed in a cameo my mother had given me affixed to a chain and worn around my neck over my heart that kept me lingering on in the pale semblance of existence that I had been handed in the place of a life. I would catch moments during the day to reach inside my Motorhead tee shirt and extract the brooch to snap open a glimpse of Paradise.

As it happened, one day when the Santa Ana winds blew the smoke from the innumerable forest fires in the canyons, which millions of Angelenos have learned to look forward to and love as one in a more temperate zone might call a "season," that I looked up from my stolen moment with the image of my secret love object to confront the holy sight of the genuine article walk through the front door and approach the receptionist. Embarrassed seemingly beyond redemption, I clicked the cameo shut too loudly and fumbled it back behind the garish images of Lemmy and Fast Eddie on my shirt. And I thanked providence that she had not seen it, and just as quickly I cursed the fate that protected me when I realzed that she would not notice my presence had I been standing there naked wearing only the chain with the cameo open and its contents visible.

Dimly, I heard the receptionist tell her that her friend--the executive who had everything in the world I wanted--was in conference and she would have to wait for an hour. And amazingly, she, one of the most wanted creatures in the world, nodded her head as in silent obedience and sat down silently to wait. Dumbly, I nodded though barely hearing, when the receptionist told me she was leaving for lunch and to mind the phone.

The door closed and the echo was interminable as I stared at the floor in front of the file cabinet, unable to move or to look up, too awed to regard the countenance of the vision of perfection with which for the first time in my miserable semblance of a life I found myself alone. But presently, I heard her breathe, and then murmur as if the light of the Heavens had suddenly shown through the smog. She was trying to get my attention, though still I gazed floorward, paralyzed in the fear of the moment in the presence of the Sanctum Sanctorum of haute couture.

Then, as if in a dream, I saw a pair of one-of-a-kind stilettos perilously close to my checkerboard Van Spiccoli skate shoes. And fearfully, I brought my eyes upward crawling across the dull gray exterior of the cabinet drawer by drawer to regard the countenance of the Sacred One, smiling at me, enigmatically, as all hot women who possess the Secret Smile that has enslaved countless geeks down through the Ages have.

Could she be...yes she was, or maybe not--it was as I said, enigmatic, looking into my eyes with secret friendship or maybe something more? God, I dared not consider, but there she was, smiling wordlessly, showing most of her teeth and the barest edge of her beautiful pink tongue and full, pouting lips in what seemed like pastures of plenty and more than a few acres of meaning. Time stood still, which is a rare event, despite how often the phrase is used.

Then, slower than a murder in a Peckinpah film, she reached into her designer handbag and began to draw forth something I dared not try to guess. But had I hoped, would it have been her card with her phone number, or a dagger to skewer my already broken, but perhaps mendable, heart?

No, no, it was a lipstick, and slowly with the Secret of Secrets still in her smile, she drew off the cover. I watched her touch the Passion Pink #9 to the gray workaday metal of the file cabinet. And there it was: she had drawn a happy face in the middle of my misery and spiritual squalor. And suddenly it seemed as if there was nothing else in the universe but the two of us. Two horn dogs adrift together in dream lifeboat on a sea of lust. The moment could have--should have--gone on forever. Then the stillness was broken, and she spoke.

"Go get me a Vanilla Latte, will you, Kid?"

I could only nod in dumb misery, holding-back the tears which fought to rain down on what looked like the fair weather of a bright future. I stumbled several steps toward the door.

Then she added, "And have a nice day."

But even that connection was severed too soon.

Before I could make it to the door, the executive, her "friend’ opened his office door and stepped out. He kissed her, casually, and said, "Let’s go to lunch, Babe. I’m starved--if you know what I mean."

She shrugged at me as though that was sufficient to cancel the order, and it was, for life. They headed for and through the door. He stuck his head back in and said, "Hey!" abruptly.

I looked up, startled into attention despite my misery.

"And get that graffiti off of the file cabinet. You think you’re back in the slums or something, Kid?’ He slammed the door shut as he left.

But that moment, that brief illusion of contact of the Kindred Spiritual kind has given me enough hopeful confusion to press on with the ridiculous optimism of the ensuing years. Who knows, I might even run for political office someday.