My age is increasingly becoming a factor. I’m thirty-eight, can pass for thirty, say I’m twenty-eight. And still even the mother roles are going to younger actresses. My looks are holding up, but shortly they will decline and I’ll have to decide whether to subject myself to the plastic surgery that is required of almost all aging women in my business, not that I’d be able to afford it anyway. I seem always to be down to my last nickel, and it’s no way to live.
I do imagine a life for myself that’s very different from my current situation. I dream of running off with a retired cop to live in the desert with him. The retired cop is somewhere in his fifties. He’s decided that he’s put in enough service toward humankind and now is ready to go off somewhere and live out the rest of his life in peace. I’d feel safe and protected living with my retired cop. I see him as strong and capable yet also kind, having dealt with so many types of people and predicaments over time. In this other life out in the desert, we’d live in a low adobe house with cool polished floors and large windows that look out on a bleached landscape of unusual shapes. I’d sit on my porch at sunrise with a cup of coffee in my hand and be there again at sunset with a glass of wine. In between the sunrise and sunset I’d do many things, but in a leisurely, enjoyable way.
My retired cop would have several brothers, all firefighters and policemen, with young families that would come and visit us in our desert home, where I would watch my man lift his nephews and nieces onto his shoulders.
In actual existence I know only fellow actors and these are the men I date. I feel that an actor wouldn’t know how to be with children. An actor would think too hard to himself what characteristics and mannerisms a father would have and then he would try to emulate that behavior. But it would not be his real behavior. More likely his real behavior would involve getting annoyed with his children and wanting a break from them so he could go back to being the main person in the picture. At least this is the impression I get from the actor men I know and date.
Jackson, the current actor in my life, lives with me. He moved from his friend’s living room into my apartment and brought with him just a few insubstantial belongings. Since he’s moved in he hasn’t added any furniture to the place despite the fact that we could use a table. He suggested a card table or a board laid across crates or cinder blocks but I’m tired of makeshift furnishings; at this point in my life I’d rather hold out for permanent buys. And so we live off the floor. We set our plates of food on the carpet and sit there to eat our meals. We lay our books and mail and magazines and scripts on the floor. I have come to see this way of living as a sign. A warning to heed. I brought this up to him.
“Don’t you see,” I said. “It’s like we’re down in the dumps, lowlifes.”
“Bottom dwellers,” he said, getting caught up in the game and ignoring the import I was trying to convey.
I call him Jackson because that’s how he first introduced himself to me. After we became involved he told me that his real name was Perry but I couldn’t make the switch. Perry didn’t suit him at all. I thought he must have been unlike himself when he was Perry. Perry belongs to a man in a business suit, an upstanding citizen with short, curly hair. As Jackson, he’s loose, tall and bony, with an easy laugh.
We met at a pool party where no one actually swam. We sat next to each other at the edge of the pool, took off our shoes, and let our feet dangle. It smelled of chlorine and honeysuckle, which reminded me of my childhood, even though I grew up without a pool. Still, there were enough pools in my old neighborhood that I’d sat on the coping, just as I was then, and smelled that smell enough times to remember it nostalgically. At one point he grabbed my hand for a thumb wrestle, which reminded me of something a teenager would do as an excuse to touch his date. And this act of a young boy perhaps put me in the mindset of a young girl and I felt a kind of tingling excitement run through my body as I sat there next to him in the heat of the sun.
He is in fact some degree younger than me, but old enough not to thumb wrestle a woman he’s trying to impress. We have a ten-year difference, which happens to be trendy in these parts, and probably elsewhere as well, but I don’t think I was trying to jump on the bandwagon with Jackson. I do think it was him, and not his age, that I was attracted to. Besides, as far as Hollywood is concerned, he and I are the same age. One good thing about being twenty-eight for a second time is that I get to compress twenty years of work experience into ten, which looks much better. Jackson likes to use the term “working actress” to describe me. He’s impressed with my accomplishments, though I’m not sure if he’s impressed with my accomplishments as a twenty-eight-year-old, who would have been able to make a living primarily off of acting, or as a thirty-eight-year-old, who has had to live many years off loans and handouts, and even had to endure a brief but humiliating move-in with my parents.
In addition to my apartment, we also share my car. His is broken down and too expensive to fix. It stands in my driveway until he saves up enough of his waiter’s money to get it repaired. In the meantime we have to coordinate our schedules so that we each get where we need to go. This usually involves one of us dropping off or picking up the other. We spend much of our time discussing our schedules and the need of the car.
This has been further complicated by the fact that Jackson has decided to take an acting class. The class is for stage acting, which he feels is more his forte than the screen. I haven’t been auditioning much lately, but then one did come up the other day and it conflicted with Jackson’s class.
“I’m going to need the car,” I said.
“So am I,” he said. “Can you drop me off on your way?”
His class was in the opposite direction of where I needed to go. I would have had to drop him off hours before his class started to which he agreed. “I’ll grab a bite and hang out,” he said.
“I don’t want to have to be rushed out of the house so early,” I said. “I need to relax and prepare, not drive in traffic for hours. I don’t want to show up there exhausted and worn out.”
“Driving is relaxing,” Jackson said in his lighthearted way. I’ve noticed that he will do this, he’ll put a positive spin on something I find annoying in order to make me seem like a difficult person.
In the end he said he’d take the bus to his acting class, though he pointed out that the trip would involve two transfers plus a lot of walking on top of that. I told him taking the bus sounded like fun.
I drove to a building in a corporate park in Culver City for my audition. It was for the part of a conspiring legal secretary who steals important files and unknowingly puts them in the wrong hands. She makes this terrible mistake because she has been seduced into being this wrong man’s lover. They gave me a briefcase to use as a prop.
The casting director sat behind the table with his two young female assistants on either side and watched me perform my lines. I read opposite the assistant director, a balding, unfriendly man who made a point to read the lines as poorly as possible to make sure no one would think he was trying to act. I was asked to do my read several times.
When I got home from the audition I told Jackson that I was fed up with acting and wanted to live an ordinary life.
“But what would you do?” he asked.
“Anything but acting,” I said. “Wouldn’t it be nice to just do any old job, and come home and not care about it, not always be striving for something?”
“Then we wouldn’t be who we are.”
“We’d still be ourselves, but happier.”
“But depressed, you mean.”
On the days that neither of us has any place we need to be, we often go for a drive, just to keep in motion and not fall into a state of inertia. One actor in the house is bad enough, two is difficult. On these drives we take, we sometimes stop for something to eat at El Gordo’s, a pink stucco taco stand out near Griffith Park. The owner’s bored young daughter runs the cash register and stares past us as she rings up our order. Jackson takes her as a personal challenge. He says he sees her as a tough audience and if he can get her to crack a smile, he’ll feel like he’s done his job. He flirts with her, leans in close across the counter, tilts his head to the side and plays with his hair. The menu board is covered with signs advertising all sorts of specials, and combination plates, and two-for-one offers. He asks the girl about each one in an effort to engage her. He wants to know all the details, he wants to know if he can mix and match the specials, he wants to know how hot hot is. She answers his questions in seriousness and looks at him blankly while her long, ceramic nails click against the keys on the register.
The last time we went to El Gordo’s there was a new sign on the board. It was for a free lunch on the day of your birthday. Jackson told me I should say it’s my birthday.
“Say it’s yours,” I said, not wanting any part of a free-meal scam.
“She knows me,” he said. “I’ll wait in the car and you go up by yourself.”
“She knows you?” I said. “She knows when your birthday is?”
“You do it,” he said.
“She’ll ask me for ID.”
“They aren’t going to card you for your birthday.”
“Yes they are,” I said. “How else do you think they monitor it? Anyone can come in here and say it’s their birthday.”
“Just make a convincing story,” he said. “You’re just a lonely loser out by yourself on your birthday getting a free meal. She won’t card you if she feels sorry for you.”
“You can do it,” I said.
“No, you’d be better,” he said. I wasn’t sure if it was meant as a compliment to my acting skills.
In the desert there would be no need to perform. A retired cop would be content to keep to himself, and when he did interact with others it would be in a natural way which the circumstances called for; he would have no interest in making an audience out of bored counter help. He would have a self-assured detachment that would make him pleasant and easy to be around. Most of our days would be spent in solitude. In the winter I might sit in a rocking chair in front of the fireplace with my feet on the coffee table doing needlepoint while the cop sits and reads with his feet up on the table too, our toes touching now and then to remind us of our connection. When the fire gets low, we’d go out back where our chopped wood is stacked to bring in more pieces. The air outside would be sharply cold under the vast open sky, and for just a moment before retrieving the wood, we’d huddle together and peer up at the blanket of stars, and then quickly we’d be back in our lamp-lit home next to a crackling fire.
I get a callback for the legal secretary role. It’s on the same day as Jackson’s class. To handle the shared-car situation, we come up with a plan whereby he’ll pick me up after he gets off work, drive me to my audition, wait in the car until I’m through, then we’ll drive to his acting class where I’ll drop him and then drive myself home.
What happens on this evening of complicated driving plans is that there’s an accident on the freeway and Jackson is forced to a standstill. It takes him half an hour until he can reach the off ramp and use the surface streets. When he pulls into the driveway I have just ten minutes to get to my audition, which is thirty minutes away.
“Go,” I say, getting in on the passenger side.
He backs the car out and immediately explains what it was that held him up. He speeds toward the stop sign, comes to an incomplete stop, and guns the car through the intersection and onto the boulevard. “I’m really sorry, but it wasn’t my fault.”
“The accident wasn’t your fault,” I say.
“Yeah,” he says. “What do you mean?”
“What time is it?” I say. “There’s so much traffic.”
He swings the car across two lanes so he can speed along the right shoulder. “I knew it bugged you to share your car. You should have said something. You should have just told me you didn’t want to share your car if you didn’t want to.”
“What can I do?” I say. “You live with me. Your car is broken. Yes, it’s an inconvenience but I’m willing to put up with it for the time being.”
He weaves in and out of traffic and shoots through a yellow light.
“You should have left earlier,” I say. “You know there’s always traffic.”
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’ll get you there.” He rides on the tails of the cars in front of us, swerving in and out of lanes, trying to break through, but he’s racing forward only to wait along with everyone else at the next light. It’s futile, but he keeps it up. Then, behind us come flashing lights and the blasts of a siren.
“Shit,” Jackson says.
“Now what?” I say.
“Don’t say anything.”
“What am I going to say?”
He pulls over and brings the car to a stop. I don’t want to arouse suspicion by turning around so I flip the rearview mirror toward me to see out the back window. “Don’t touch anything,” Jackson says. We’ve been pulled over by a motorcycle cop. He’s dismounted and is walking slowly toward us, weighted down by all his gear. He’s got on a thick flack vest that gives him an enormous chest. He reaches Jackson’s window, stands there a moment and removes his helmet before dramatically bending down and bringing his face into extreme close up. He’s not handsome. He’s young, with a tall crew cut of light blond that shows through to his scalp and the kind of red complexion that goes even redder from the merest exertion, such as removing a motorcycle helmet.
“In a rush?” he says.
“A little,” Jackson says. “I’m trying to get my girlfriend to her audition. I goofed, I was late and now I’m trying to get her there on time, but I know I should drive more carefully.”
The cop peers in and studies me. He shows no emotion on his face, and even behind his sunglasses I know his eyes are stony. “You were trying to get her there on time?” he repeats to Jackson.
“Yes,” Jackson says.
“Now you’re going to be even later. You should have thought of that.”
“I know. You’re right.”
“I know I’m right, sir,” this cop, as young as Jackson, says. He asks Jackson for his license. It’s not easy to extract. Jackson has to straighten his leg somewhat to get into his front pocket. He pulls out a little leather business card holder that he jams all his credit cards and IDs into, and yanks them all out in order to shuffle through and find the license, which he gives to the cop, his hand visibly shaking.
The cop asks Jackson a string of odd questions about how he spent his day and what he ate for breakfast, never looking up from the license as if it’s the answer key in this bizarre quiz he’s administering. After a long, silent moment with his eyes still glued to the license—what does he see?—he tells Jackson to get out of the car.
A look of terror flashes across Jackson’s face. “Uh-oh,” he says quietly before opening the door. He gets out and walks to the back of the car where he’s been directed to go. The cop shines his flashlight all around the inside of the car in an accusing way and gives me a long stare.
“Wait here,” he says.
This cop is not calm and kind the way I want my cop in the desert to be. And while I know he’s just one among many, seeing him here in the flesh and watching the way he spoke harshly to Jackson and used his flashlight like a weapon, I begin to have my doubts about my desert cop. Even if I did find an older, kinder, quieter cop to live in the desert with, he might use his flashlight like a weapon too, perhaps shining it in the eyes of night animals to scare them off. And he may like to keep loaded guns in the house and would have a low tolerance for shortcomings. I would find him rigid and set in his ways. And this wouldn’t be the man I wanted to live out the rest of my life with.
I can see in the rearview mirror, which is still angled toward me, that the cop appears to be questioning Jackson while making him stand with his hands on the trunk because Jackson has to keep craning his neck around to answer.
I watch as Jackson is made to walk along the curb, and then stand on one foot. A sick feeling comes over me as I realize he’s being given a sobriety test. He walks back and forth several times until he’s told to sit on the curb while the cop returns to his motorcycle to use the radio.
I open my door and call out to Jackson, “What’s going on?” He shrugs and looks down, afraid he’ll get in more trouble just for talking.
When the cop comes back, he doesn’t bend down to the window to speak to me the way he’d done with Jackson. He stands erect, making the most of his superior position. “Are you capable of driving this vehicle?” he asks.
“Yes, it’s my car,” I say, immediately mad at myself for giving extra information.
“I’d like you to get of the car, come around and get in on the driver’s side.”
“What’s happening? Are you arresting him?”
“He’s being taken to the station.”
“For a test.”
“What test? Why is he being tested?”
“What? He hasn’t been drinking,” I say. “He came from work.”
“He’ll get a test at the station. If it’s all clear, he’ll be released.”
I wonder why he’s trusting me not to be drunk. Wouldn’t it be likely that both parties have been drinking, if drinking has even happened? “Where is he being taken?”
“It depends on the patrol car,” he says. He explains that he radioed for a car and the unit sent by the dispatcher will take Jackson to their home station, but he doesn’t yet know which unit is going to show up.
“But how will I find him? Can I follow the unit to the station?”
“You cannot follow a patrol car, this isn’t an escort situation,” he says, with a slight snort in his sentence. “He can call you from the station.”
When I get out of the car to take the driver’s seat, I stand for a moment not wanting to leave. “He says you’re supposed to call me after you get to the station,” I tell Jackson. “What should I do?” Again, the shrug.
I don’t want to leave the scene. It seems the wrong thing to do, as if we’re admitting guilt, but I know I can’t stay, so I slowly pull away, glancing into the rearview mirror to see Jackson on the curb and the cop standing by his motorcycle. Something doesn’t feel right. I fear that the cop is going plant drugs on Jackson, or report a false number on the Breathalyzer test. I don’t trust this cop.
I think we should have a lawyer, that Jackson shouldn’t do anything at the police station without a lawyer present. If I’ve learned anything from television and the movies it’s that you need a lawyer in a situation like this. But what I don’t know is how to find one. On TV they somehow already have a lawyer of their own to call down to the station. But in real life, I have no clue how to find a lawyer. In real life, I’m at a loss.
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