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Movieland - Chapter 11
You oughta be in pictures.
Looking out the school bus window, Raymond was astonished to find where he actually was.
“Los Angle-less,” he said to himself, reading a road sign, pronouncing the word as “angle” instead of “angel.” It was the old-fashioned way of saying the city’s name, picked up from his mother, who as a fair-haired child came to the Golden Land with her unlettered Oklahoma people to escape the barren wastes of the dustbowl.
“Los Angle-less,” he repeated again to make sure it was real, a place that had a mythical quality, for it was the name on the road signs outside the Fireside Log Cabins, the place the summer people were always coming from or going to.
He'd sometimes get this eerie heightened clarity, a lightning flash that made his head hurt. He’d feel he was peering behind a blurry curtain of film, watching the wheels and gears of a machine click and spin. He’d wonder if the ’Los Angeles” on the road signs existed at all, if the upward climbing road didn’t just loop around the mountain, and everybody he saw he had seen before and would see again, that they were all going round and round like a toy train on toy tracks, trapped in Echo Valley.
That’s crazy talk. Mama always said you were nuttier than a pecan pie.
Raymond swatted Ruby away from behind his ear, and once again to his surprise he seemed to have a new power over his tormenting little sister, for the voice cut out in mid-snicker and his eyes stopped fluttering.
The bus turned off the highway and soon arrived at a large, bumpy parking lot behind a high school. The men piled out and were herded into the gym, already teaming with actors. The “mission people” as their group was called were soon separated out from the “pros” (the extras being paid union scale) and “the Camp Pendleton boys” (marines from the base, picking up some off-the-books cash). The mission men were brought to a line at the side, just for them.
A harried young man with a cigarette screwed into the side of his face climbed up on a metal folding chair and then at the top of his voice said “Can I have everyone’s attention!”
The hubbub died down.
“Think of this film you’re about to be in as Beach Blanket Bingo, except Frankie and Annette are zombies.”
Raymond had no idea what he was talking about.
“Zombies have made peace with the world of the living, but not everybody welcomes them,” he continued dryly. “When they start hitting the beaches of Southern California for some fun and sun, the usual tight-asses come out in force. With AR-15s — headshots kill zombies dead," he added in a quick aside.
“Now the truce is off. Frankie and Annette turn feral and start wailing on the shooters, turning them into brain food. Then some mean biker zombies show up with a bad habit of snacking on stoned surfers and anyone else they find sleeping on the beach. So basically, it’s biker zombies, homeless zombies, and the newly made surfer zombies against screaming townies, running for their lives.
“Desperate, the city fathers call in the marines from Pendleton — that’s you, boys (he nodded to a cadre of young men with buzz cuts, who responded as one with a lusty “ooh-rah!”). You guys mow down the troublemakers (“Get some,” one of them called out). But all good things must come to an end, and eventually, the romance between Annette’s younger sister Tammy and Moondog, a townie boy, causes peace to break out.
“Not everybody gets the message, though, not the hardasses who are still gunning for headshots and not the zombie bikers who are wedded to chaos and don’t give a shit, going after zombie kids and townies alike. So that’s what we’re filming today, the Massacre at Blood Beach, where everybody gets mowed down, blown up, or set on fire. (“Cool,” someone cooed.) Now once you’re cast, follow the instructions on the sheet you’ll be given. That will tell you where to report next.”
A young man with a neatly trimmed beard came from behind the table where the mission men were lined up and began handing out instruction sheets, doing it by rote, with tired eyes, until he came to Raymond. He pulled him out of line and turned to the boyish girl who had accompanied them on the bus. “What is this!” he demanded gruffly. He did not wait for an answer. “Was it not clear that we wanted the hard cases!” His voice reverberated in the gym’s hollow acoustics. “The real dregs!”
“Stop shouting! Yes! I know! Jesus!”
“Wait here,” the young man with the beard said, somewhat more kindly, to Raymond. He finished sending the rest of the men off, Shane stepping backward for a moment to whisper a hasty “Hang in there, Stretch.”
The bearded man was conferring with the girl with the clipboard in a low voice when he gestured to another young man to join them, each one at some point glancing back at Raymond. The new man was sent over to deliver the verdict. “Hey, guy, my name’s Rooney,” he said with a smooth smile. “I’m one of the PAs on this shindig. And you are?”
“Listen, Ray,” he lowered his voice intimately and, being quite tall himself, hooked his arm around Raymond’s neck. The touch made Raymond wince, but he smiled along, mirroring the man. The silky voice continued: “We’re looking for homeless guys —and that’s not a judgment, okay —but the real down-and-outers. You know what I’m talking about here, right?”
Raymond kept smiling uncomfortably.
“See, we’re a young outfit, and the makeup budget on this film … you can imagine! Zombies, right! I mean, seriously! So we gotta use what the … um, universe is handing us, to get all Deepak about it. Still with me, Holmes?”
Raymond nodded vacantly.
“Wow, do I know you, Ray? Cause you’re looking suddenly so familiar. Anyway, besides the point. Well, a little on-point because you look too normal for what we’re going for here. Shit, you look like an actor. Are those perfect teeth? And the clear skin! Just a sidebar, do you sing, Ray? Because I got a brother-in-law over at — I mean, you got those big goo-goo eyes that just crushes the Hello Kitty demo. I know, I know. Showbiz is a tough racket. Seriously, how did a guy like you end up on your ass?— and I mean that in the best way. Drugs? Afghanistan?”
Raymond knew an answer was expected but didn’t understand the questions. And again he had to wonder, was he the only sane person in Los Angle-less?
“Hey, I get it,” the young man said, hooking him closer. “None of my eff-ing beeswax. Anyway, here’s the skinny. We’re going to pay you, um … something … for your trouble today. We can’t use you in this picture, but,” his voice rose, excitedly, “you’ve been seen by an assistant director!” He pitched his head forward, indicating the bearded man. “And that’s a big deal in this town, Ray. We’ll keep you on file. Mentally, I mean. Don’t freak. We don’t put you guys on the books. The union … and the whole mishegas around social security numbers which…” He lowered his voice, winking conspiratorially “… some of your coo-coo-for-Cocoa-Puff pals, with all due respect, lost track of on their last orbit around Mars, but, hey, Ray, we can always contact you through the mission, right? So it’s win-win. You’re top of the world., bro.”
He unhooked and pointed to a table that some of the extras were milling around. “Now you got your waters, your bagels, your kiwis … grab whatever— huh?”
The girl with the clipboard from the bus had just tugged him away. He went with her to join the bearded man when a striking young man joined them. He had electro-shock Einstein hair, prematurely white, and he scrutinized Raymond steadily as the others spoke to him. The young man had Asian eyes.
After a while, the clipboard girl returned with a triumphant smile. “That,” she told Raymond, pointing to Einstein man, “is Charlie Luxemburg. He’s the director on this picture … and kind of a genius, by the way. And Charlie says he has a much better idea for you.”
Preview: How did you ever escape?