DINNER IN L.A.
a short story in three chapters
Though daylight was dimming, Susan scrounged up a pair of binoculars for a better look as the others all stared at the motionless body. No one thought he was dead except me. Ben suggested I’d been writing crime stories far too long and that the man was probably a “B” movie director resting after a long day dealing with petulant actors and uncreative studio heads. Jim asked why a “B” movie director giving Ben an opening to expound on his theory that “B” movie directors wore colorful Hawaiian shirts as a cheerful uniform to brighten their glum days of incessant studio interference. He went on to explain that “A” movie directors who get “final cut” tend to favor calm, monochromatic polo shirts except Quentin Tarantino, of course, who dresses like an accountant from Bakersfield. Everyone actually thought seriously about this for a minute until Carol wondered if the man was in the midst of a new kabala meditation exercise. Jim thought the guy was probably stretching out his back muscles after too many hours at the gym.
Susan looked through the binoculars and focused.
“I think his eyes are open,” she said as she handed them to me. I looked through the lenses. His eyes were open. I watched carefully for 30 seconds. They didn’t blink.
“OK, smarty,” I said as I gave the binoculars to Ben. “You tell me what director, “A” or “B” lies on his back at dusk, not moving, staring at the sky not blinking. That guy’s deader than a Neiman-Marcus mannequin.”
Ben looked. Bob, Carol and Jim looked. They all looked at me. I got my cell and dialed 911. After a dozen rings (the operators were probably on latte breaks) an upbeat “Britney” finally answered, convincing me that women named “Vera” should answer emergency calls. It strikes me as odd and a bit scary that so many years after the advent of the women’s movement, an abundance of bubbly Lindsays, Chelseas and Tiffanys are being groomed as the nation’s future CEOs. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind those names as long as they don’t end in “i” with a little heart over it, but not that long ago there was a certain dignity to a woman’s name… solid, practical and somehow comforting. No-nonsense names like Nora, Agnes and Harriet. Even when new parents back then reached for the fanciful or poetic, they picked names like Rose, Ivy, Fern, Pearl, Ruby, Opal... names rooted or dug out of the earth. I wondered if this was an L.A. phenomenon. Were there more Idas than Ashleys in America’s heartland?
I snapped out of my musing and explained to Britney who I was, where I was and what we saw. Cheerfully, she thanked me for calling, promising to report my body (well, not my body, Hawaiian shirt’s body) to the nearest police precinct. She then told me to have a nice day.
My day had been a wash, but the evening was showing promise. I had done my civic duty and now our little party had something to talk about other than work or lack, thereof. We wondered who “he” was, if in fact he was a director or even in show business. Usually we automatically assume as much… L.A. is a company town, after all. But maybe he was a drifter picked up by a buxom blonde and lured to that rooftop to be murdered in a real-life film noir… well “noir” anyway.
Noir? Suddenly I had an uncontrollable urge for pinot noir, so I filled my glass and gorged on chips and guacamole (an L.A. staple) until the pizza finally arrived. Not New York’s wonderfully artery-clogging sausage and pepperoni pizza, but California nouvelle pizza--- barbeque chicken… arugula and pine nuts… goat cheese with sun-dried tomatoes. I actually like these pizzas, but I’d definitely move back to Manhattan if the pizza joints in L.A. started making tofu pizza. They can make Prozac pizza or kid’s pizza with Ritalin (heaven forbid we Angelenos be seen as hyper or edgy), but tofu… my transplanted New York mind just couldn’t get behind that.
Led Zeppelin was now blasting from the catered party below, drowning the mellow jazz of Miles Davis’ “Sketches In Spain” wafting out of Susan and Jim’s open French doors. Rather than compete, Jim turned Miles off as we ate our pizza and continued to wonder who the man was lying prone on a Malibu rooftop.
The sun was now down. I sat on a lounge chair next to Ben and bit into my slice of goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. I had already eaten two barbeque chicken slices, so I wanted a new taste bud experience. Being outside, sipping wine and eating fancy pizza, little lights shining in the terrace’s sweet-smelling fruit trees and candles glowing in and outside the house, reminded me just how seductive L.A. can be.
Talk turned to politics, the second favorite topic of conversation in a town filled with Hollywood-types who want to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom, but by the time I was on my fifth piece of pizza (did I mention how much I love pizza?) the topic returned to the “industry”… whose TV series was ending… whose marriage was ending… yada, yada, yada.
I got up to check on the man with the Hawaiian shirt. The glow of the lights shining up from PCH offered just enough illumination to see that the body was still there… still in the same position… still not moving. It had been more than an hour since I called 9ll, so I called again. This time “Effie” answered the phone, a definite Vera-type making me believe I was now in competent hands. After repeating my story, Effie put me on hold, then returned and assured me that the police had been notified… they would be there any minute. Happily, she did not wish me a nice day.
Suddenly, news and police helicopters were circling above, light beams shining down the hill and onto the highway, the noise of their engines eliminating all ambient sounds, including the rock music from below.
To be continued…