Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ricky Sprague's Tales of Regret

As I've written on this blog countless times (and proven just as often with my incisive commentary and knowledge), I am a Hollywood insider. What I have not written about so much is my early career, and the road I took to achieve that insider status. Here is just such a tale, and it is a tale of regret:

Many years ago I was hired as an assistant in the International Marketing Department of a movie studio which I shall refrain from naming. My job was to do everything that my three bosses did not want to do, which was everything except attending screenings and meeting with celebrities. I got coffee and coissants, ordered lunches, created spreadsheets full of travel itineraries and interview schedules, organized and filed away promotional items, picked up press kits and posters from the printers, and dealt with members of the press. Members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, to be specific.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is a group of about 90 geriatrics who live in Hollywood but write for overseas publications. They write about Hollywood. So far, who cares, right? Well, many years ago, they created an awards show called The Golden Globes, as a way of generating revenue and publicity for themselves. This year's event notwithstanding, this is considered a big deal by publicity and marketing departments in Hollywood, since everyone wants to be able to say their film is "award winning," especially when people are voting for the Academy Awards (The Golden Globes event is usually held in January, which has traditionally been at the end of the Academy Awards voting window).

Anyway, the International Marketing Department's reason for existing (as the French say) was to appease the members of this organization. The screenings and events were organized for their benefit. Press kits were created for their benefit. Gift bags were created for their benefit. And I, as the lowliest man in the office, was charged with dealing with their needs.

One day, a member of the group I'll call Rarebit Juniper (not her real name), called us and told us she'd misplaced the press kit and poster for one of the studio's latest releases (I'll call this movie "Sweet Stang," even though that's not the actual title of the movie; I'm trying to be subtle and not reveal the name of the studio).

"Could you send me another copy of the poster for 'Sweet Stang,'" she weezed.

"Of course. I would be happy to do that," I lied, rolling my eyes.

"Actually, dear, could you send me maybe 10 copies of the poster," Rarebit amended.

They weren't supposed to sell the posters on eBay or to used bookstores in Hollywood, but there was a lot of speculation that's what they did. Why did they need 10 copies of a movie poster, for crying out loud?

Again, I said, "Happy to do that. I'll send them out right away."

"Could you make sure they get to me today," she said, then started coughing phlegmily into the phone reciever. After she'd finished coughing she said, "I need to be sure and get this stuff out today," cryptically.

"I'll have them messengered to you," I assured her. "They'll get there in just a couple of hours." We messengered all kinds of things, and charged them to accounts linked to the film in question. If you ever wondered why movies cost so much, well one reason is that we charged everything to the film's budgets: office supplies, lunches, shipping, printing, massages; as long as the work in question was directly related to the promotion of said film.

"I need them now," Rarebit insisted. "I'll need you to bring them here to my house. You have my address, don't you."

Of course I had her address, and she knew it. I'd sent her press kits and etc many times in the past. "I have the address. I'll get over there right away, I promise." We had to do anything they asked, because of those damned Golden Globe awards. We really wanted to win them.

As I was packing up the posters one of my supervisors, a really decent, charming guy, walked over and asked me what I was doing. I explained to him that Rarebit Juniper wanted me to bring her these posters myself, personally, that there was hurry and a messenger couldn't be trusted.

He laughed. "You're in for it," he said.

"Uh-oh," I said. "Whatfor you got to say that?"

"I've been over there myself. She does this to all of us, when we're new. Just keep in mind that you don't want to offend her; she has a lot of power in the HFPA. Just do whatever she says, don't complain about it, and you'll be fine." Then he added, ominously, "And go ahead and take the rest of the day off after you're done. You'll need it."

He turned and left in a hurry.

Now I was worried as hell. What was she going to do to me? Why had my boss, a decent guy, had that look of pity and irony on his face? The drive into the Hollywood Hills was a difficult one; I needed all my concentration to negotiate the winding, blind turns, but I was distracted by worry.

When I arrived, Rarebit was wearing a long, red silk robe that went all the way to the floor. Her skin was pale, and resembled crinkled paper. Her face was covered in about a pound of makeup. Her eyelids drooped in what I at first believed might have been caused by bells palsy, but I learned later that those were her "bedroom eyes."

She led me into the tiny living room, and directed me to place the posters in a corner, behind a Jacobean chair that was perhaps slightly younger than her.

"Would you care for a drink? I have sherry, and port if you'd like."

"Do whatever she says, don't complain about it," I heard my boss's admonition ringing in my ears. "Port," I said, as enthusiastically as possible.

"When you walked in the room," she told me, handing me the glass, "I could tell you were a port man." She winked at me, I thought; her wrinkles obscured most of her expressions.

"Tell me about the film business," she said languidly. Since all my best stories involved members of the HFPA, and their mild insanity, I was left with very little to tell her. But she laughed at everything I said, then put her hand on mine and said, "Just give me five minutes," in a confidential tone.

She left the room and ascended the stairs, and my blood ran cold. I had to get out of there, this was not going well, it had taken a very disturbing turn. But, again, I remembered my boss's advice, so I didn't run out of the house in terror. I waited. And waited. And waited. Five minutes became 10. Then 15. Then 20. I had a horrible thought: What if the elderly woman had fallen and broken her hip? What if she were in the upstairs bathroom moaning in pain, screaming, "I've fallen, and I can't get up," like that pathetic woman in the commercial that had been so popular just a few years before? I raced into the dining area, located a coater, and placed my glass of port atop that, put both on the dining room table, and bounded up the stairs.

My heart racing, panting, I walked down the narrow hallway to a door that was half open. She said, "I was wondering what was taking you so long," as I pushed the door all the way open. I'd wanted to say, "Are you alright," but I lost my breath. The sight of her is still seared in my memory, tattooed on my brain forever.

Her rail-thin yet sagging body was on almost full display, in a merrywidow and thigh-high stockings. Maybe the stockings were only meant to be knee high, I don't know. The creases on her face were nothing compared to the deep crevices that covered her body. Varicose veins an inch thick lined her legs. She smiled, and I could see that she had removed her teeth, which I now noticed were in the glass of port she'd poured herself earlier, and now rested on the table beside the bed. Her breathing was deep and deliberate.

"Be a dear and rub my feet," she said, and repeated the gesture I'd earlier thought might have been a wink.

"Do whatever she says, don't complain about it."

I went over to the bed, knelt on the floor, and began to rub the bony protuberances at the ends of her legs.

She cackled drily. "Oh, you are too literal! Get up here, boy!"

Her dry hands grabbed my neck and for a moment I hoped she might try to strangle me, but no, she merely lifted me up and directed me onto the bed. She spread her legs, and they made odd popping noises that I felt couldn't possibly be healthy, but before I could advise her to get her joints checked, she told me to lick her.

"Do whatever she says, don't complain about it."


Her vagina was dry, and her wrinkles were abrasive. I've never licked sandpaper before, but I feel confident this is what it must be like. I understood at that moment why pornographic film stars spit on body parts before placing them in their mouths.

"Oh, you're better than Warren Beatty," she moaned.

I closed my eyes, and thought of women Warren Beatty had dated. Julie Christie. Goldie Hawn. Carly Simon. Madonna. Annette Bening. Particularly, Annette Bening in The Grifters. That's a good movie, and she's hot in it.

To my surprise, I found I was becoming hard.

"Your turn," Rarebit insisted, pushing my head away from between her legs. She was so old and feeble that I had to help her get off her back. The process took several minutes, and I was afraid I might lose my erection, but she took good care of me.

Have you ever been gummed before? There are no teeth to get in the way, just pure pleasure. And of course I kept thinking about Annette Bening in The Grifters.

After a few minutes I realized she hadn't been moving for awhile, so I glanced down at her. Her head was resting on my stomach, and the gentle sounds of phlegmy snoring vibrated against my skin. In spite of myself, I felt it was a very sweet moment.

I pushed her off me, rolled her to the center of the bed, and tucked her in.

The next day I told my boss what had happened, and how I did exactly what he told me, I did whatever she said, and didn't complain about it.

His eyes had grown steadily more wide as I'd related the story, and finally he said, "Geezus, man, I just thought you'd have to clean her pool or something! The minute you saw her in that outfit, you should have turned and run away. Our movies all suck anyway, there's no way any of them are going to win any Golden Globes this year."

"But, maybe next year...?" I said, pathetically.

Needless to say, my adventure was the primary topic of conversation around the office for the rest of the week. At least until our next release, then everyone was all business again. But I really regret telling my boss about what happened. That was one brutal week for me.

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