"I don't think I can stand another second of this," I muttered while looking for an escape from all of this confusion. Famous and/or powerful people milled about everywhere, and to be perfectly honest I was no longer star-struck. I was pretty well sick of the whole mess. I darted through rooms, ignoring the idiots who still wanted the opportunity to rub shoulders with the man of the hour, who was unfortunately me.
I know what you're thinking, what an asshole, I'd be so happy to be there. I thought that too once, sitting in my Economics class dreaming of riches and fame, or at least enough of each to feel as though I had accomplished something with my life. Maybe the beginning would be best while I storm through the endless rooms and throngs of people.
I write, or well, I wrote a book. Not just any book, mind you, but the mother lode of literature, the popular novel that captured imaginations like almost no other, the Great American Novel. What bullshit. Oh, I was proud of the book, don't get me wrong, it was the rest of it that made me sick, I should have locked it in the attic under a tarp with a scorpion or two to guard it, but no, not me. What did I do? I sought to publish it!
"There you are! I have someone I'd like you to meet!" some boring socialite squawked. I thought I'd shaken her earlier.
"I'm going to be sick, where is the men's room?" I replied quickly.
"Oh! I, ah, oh, I am not sure…" she trailed off uncertainly. No matter, I bulled by her and she was left with whoever was to be introduced, like I'd remember anyway. I have met so many people, it's a wonder I remember my own name. Where was I?
Oh, yes, publishing.
Publishing was actually the easy part, in retrospect. I shopped it about for a few months, around six I think, before the callbacks started. I was elated at the first two, overwhelmed at the third and fourth, and by the time the fifth came along I was thinking greedily. I admit it, I had dollar signs dancing in my eyes, and if you ask me I should have known better at that point. Nothing like that comes without strings attached. So I got a lawyer, played each publishing house one off the other and got a good rate for an unknown author and his first book.
There was some rewriting and editing to be done, all with a couple of their editors who weren't all that bad really. They did want to make some changes I opposed and that was a stumbling block for a while, all said maybe four months of editing. So the book goes to press and hits the shelves almost a year after it gets finished being written, and guess what? It's not a success, it's a happening. People are picking up the book like they have at no other time, by the end of the first month it lands at number eight on the bestseller list, and I do mean the New York Times bestseller list. Oh, such heady days those were! I was a celebrity overnight, a book signing tour was set up and I went to something obscene like eighty cities to do book signings, and there were all these people! They came to see me, to get their copies signed and maybe chat for a minute. It was cool for the first few stops, and then it got old. Everyone said the same thing, the faces and names ran together and dates and times meant nothing any more.
"Oh my, I didn't think I'd get to meet you! I just wanted to say I LOVED your book, it was so insightful and…" the man droned, a heavyset bearded fellow that I had no idea who he was.
"I need to find some fresh air, excuse me," I said to him hastily and made my escape.
I spotted the bathroom and headed in, locking the door behind me. I leaned against the sink, all done in marble with gold plated fixtures of course, darling, and sighed deeply. This is how life had been, and the praise is great actually, except that here in Los Angeles all the smiles are painted on and the commentaries nothing more than lip service to someone that may be powerful for a while. Made me sick. I'd rather do a thousand city book signings than another one of these soirees, and I'll tell you why. Most of the people on that tour were nice, honest people. I didn't appreciate that before, but after being smack in the middle of all these vultures, it was bound to happen.
So the book signing tour was in high gear, maybe three quarters of the way done and this phone call comes in for me, from my publisher. Someone is interested in the movie rights, am I interested? A movie? From my book? Hell yes, I was interested!
More than one studio was interested, and that sort of brings us to the here and now, almost. Some other things you should know, and I think these are universal to anyone that writes and anyone that reads what is written. If you read a book, you have a mental picture of the person, the character. They become real in your head, they may have a scar or a slight limp. Maybe you can see the face clear as day, and from a writing perspective this is also true. When I wrote, my main character had a face, a body, even a name. It was based, physically, on an actor, the character was he, and that brings us to the sticking point.
"Hey, open up, I have to piss!" Great, someone wants in. I flushed the toilet, just for show, and ran the tap water for the same reason. I opened the door to find one of the studio execs I am currently disagreeing with.
"You know, you're a lot of trouble. This deal could have been over, money in your pocket," he said to me with his brandied breath.
"And you just don't get it, the money isn't the issue. It's my story, and it gets told my way or it doesn't get told," I snapped back and stalked off. A few people were in the crowded entryway to the bathroom and overheard the conversation, such as it were. Well, I was going to tell you differently, but there it is for you. I had money now; more than I needed and I now realized that having more wasn't going to make me happier or make anything else better for that matter.
Things get more complicated at this point. While the offers began coming in from movie houses, the publisher I went with, a smaller company, was purchased by a conglomerate, and they had a movie making division. So guess where they wanted the movie to be made? Oh they brought all kinds of pressure, held up paychecks, legal posturing, you name it. They just didn't understand, my writing started off as a hobby, a way to pass the time, and the only reason it was considered groundbreaking was that it was gay themed and commercially popular. And that is the crux of the problem, my friends. Gay, queer, a faggot fairy tale, and it was HUGE. And that was a problem too, because the artists wanted to play the parts, regardless, but the male leads that were popular wanted nothing to do with it, afraid of staining their maleness I guess. I suppose in ten years it will have been looked on like some kind of fad, a fag version of the hula-hoop craze or something.
Honestly, I only cared about one actor, the main character. I wrote that character for Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and the studio execs said no. They wanted a bigger name; they wanted someone taller, wider, more sex appeal. Someone who hadn't already done gay roles. Someone on their agency payroll. I balked, of course, it wasn't anyone else's role, he was it, the character was him. It was a symbiosis of reality and fiction, twined together so that they should always be tied together. And they wanted someone else.
"Drink, sir?" asked the bartender. Somehow I had ended up at the bar.
"Glass of Lambrusco, please," I replied, "Actually, how about a glass and a decanter, can you do that for me?"
"Of course, sir," He hesitated as he prepared the order, "Sir, out of line though it may be, I would like to tell you how much I enjoyed your book. My wife and I bought a copy each and read it at the same time. We both really enjoyed it," he said hesitantly. He knew he could get fired for that, and it was honest. He was a bartender, paid to come here for one night, and it was honest.
"Thank you, what was your name? I'm sorry I missed it," I replied.
"Joel, Joel Kelley," he replied.
"Nice to meet you, Joel Kelley," I extended my hand and we shook. He placed my order on the bar and I tipped him, walking away with my glass and decanter. He'll go home tonight and tell his wife he met me, then tell her I was nice to him. Well, I was, and it's 'cause he was real. These people he's serving are another matter altogether. They are leaning somewhat drunkenly at this point, the movers and shakers of Tinseltown. Screw 'em, they weren't worth my time. I spotted some French glass doors, mostly obscured by heavy curtains, and headed for them. I stepped through the doors, closing the noise behind me, and stepped onto a balcony. Light spilled down the middle where I stood, but there were deep shadows to either side. I stepped into the inky night on the left hand side, placing the glass and decanter on the rail before knuckling my back.
"You're the big man tonight, shouldn't you be in there? It doesn't last forever, you know," came a raspy, somewhat familiar voice that scared the hell out of me. I couldn't see any details, just an outline here and there of someone in the shadows on the right side of the balcony.
"Jesus, you scared me!" I replied.
"Huh, sorry," was the reply.
"I didn't realize there was anyone else out here," I said.
"Whatever, It's a big balcony," came the reply.
A few moments of silence filled the air and I uncorked my decanter and poured myself a glass of the sweet red wine. "Smoke is bad in there," I commented.
"Someone must be thinking," he replied sourly, "Why aren't you inside?"
"I actually needed some air, and to get away from all these people before I spend so much time around them that I become one of them," I told him matter-of-factly.
"Well, business is done differently here than in East Podunk."
"At least in Podunk you can find some honesty, and fewer knives aimed at your back," I retorted.
Silence reigned again, and my mysterious companion tipped a glass, the light reflecting off it and revealing none of the person that hefted the glass.
"So what did the execs pull on you?" he asked idly.
"Artistic differences is the PC term," I replied while swirling the wine about in my glass before drinking, "Fucking with my story is the unvarnished truth."
"Ha! Why would they want to do that? It's the most unique thing to come out in years, I loved it. Probably too unique for them, have to hammer the round story into a square hole."
"Oh, you read it?" I asked.
"Well, duh! I'd be the only one on the Western seaboard who hasn't! I haven't seen the screenplay though, so I don't know what they are fucking with," he very nearly exclaimed.
"Well, the screenplay editing is pretty well done, relatively little problem there, especially with the special effects now available," I replied.
"So what's the holdup?" he asked.
"Well…The part was written with a certain actor in mind in the lead role, and they don't want to use him because they don't think they can get him. Mostly, they say, because he's straight and has already done gay roles," I sighed deeply.
"It's a political thing," he grunted, "what's the big deal? Use their guys, get the money."
"It's not about money!" I stated ardently, "I have worked nine to five for a long time, and I can do it again with no problem." I drank deeply, polishing off my glass, and began pouring another before continuing, "The problem is it's my vision, the story was created with that face in my head, and he's entitled to the role, he owns it."
"I've never heard of someone so set on one actor while in the conceptual stage," he mused.
"If I picture my character's face, I see this actor's face. It's my vision and I want people to see that face when they think of that character too," I took a deep breath, "The execs want it their way, but the way I see it, it's my story, not theirs."
"They don't care about people, their dreams or ambitions. I didn't want to act forever, I dreamed of directing, but they are blocking me left and right," he snorted, "they offered me commercials."
"Well, your words, but why don't you do it and take the money? This isn't Podunk after all," I said with a smile, not that he could see.
"Touché. 'Cause I want better? 'Cause I think I can do better things? Because commercials don't help me grow as an actor, parts, no, characters do. If I am a better actor, I can be a better director too."
I consumed a second glass and began to pour a third. I saw the silhouette on the other side of the balcony lean forward and rest its forearms on the railing. I took the first swallow from my glass as he spoke.
"So, who is he?" he asked.
"I'm not allowed to say, part of the rules of negotiation," I sneered.
"Ok, well then, why did the character get written based on him?" he responded.
"Well, I'll throw out right away that he's cute, that's a good thing in the gay community, but there were two major reasons," I took a sip of wine, "One, each time he performs his style and content improve, making the characters more and more believable. Second, I respect what I know of the way he thinks. I believe him to be intelligent and tolerant."
"Sounds like you're in love. Are you?"
"No! You can't be in love with someone you've never met! Besides, he's straight, there's no chance of anything," I hesitated, "I do respect him though."
"So come on, give me a hint," he said mischievously, "I'm curious."
"It'll cause more problems if I do," I muttered.
I downed the remainder of the glass and filled a fourth, emptying the decanter. Silence hung between my mystery conversationalist and myself.
"So what are you going to do then?" I asked him.
"Finish school, I guess. No, I know I'll finish school, I have to have something to fall back on," He fell silent for a moment, and I sipped on my last glass of Lambrusco, and then he spoke again, "So this actor, have you contacted him?" he asked me.
"I'd be too embarrassed, but the negotiations prohibit that anyway. The movie company has to handle all the negotiations. Unless, of course, another movie house gets it, but for now we're negotiating what isn't negotiable," I replied.
"Why would you be embarrassed? Hasn't this place shown you he's probably just an ego?" he snorted.
"I prefer not to think like that, I prefer to believe in his interviews and statements. If that makes me dumb, so be it," I replied coolly.
"So again, why would you be embarrassed?" he pressed.
"I wouldn't know what to say," I replied defensively.
"How about hello? You are both celebrities, ask him out to dinner!" he laughed.
"I don't know any vegetarian places," I replied.
"He's a vegetarian?" he asked quickly.
"Yeah," I replied.
"What do you think of that?" he asked deliberately.
"Well, I think if folks had to run down their own cow, there'd be more vegetarians," I stated, and he laughed a nice, musical laugh.
"Seriously, I can recommend some places to you," he said through his chuckles.
"Really? You're a vegetarian?"
"Yeah, have been since I was a kid," he paused, "So what would you say to him?"
"I don't know. Ask questions, get to know the person," I muttered. Why was he so interested? And why was I defensive about it?
"Well, come on, like what? What would be a question?" he asked, mirth showing in his voice. He was enjoying this!
"Music. Yes, music, what he likes to listen to. And what he likes to do," I responded.
"So what if he said, oh, I don't know, how about fly fishing in Montana?"
"Cool, it's a part of him, just like any other friend."
"So you think of him as your friend?" he asked, an edge to his voice.
"Well, no, I think of him as a potential friend, someone I'd like to have the opportunity to be friends with," I chuckled, "No sense counting him as an enemy until he proves that, right?"
"Yeah, makes sense, I guess. So, are you like infatuated or something?" he asked, an edge to his voice again.
"No, I like him, true, if I were his age he'd be my ideal partner, physically. Well, what I know of him physically and mentally. What I know of him is enough to make me interested, and a little lustful, ok? Enough questions about me, how about you?"
"I got a girlfriend at college. She's, oh, real cool, no pretensions about money and stuff, she's sweet, real sweet." "Sounds serious," I commented.
"Maybe one day, not yet. Well, not marriage serious anyway," he replied.
"So do you guys have a song?" I coughed into my hand for emphasis, "That's an indicator it's serious," I teased.
"Yeah, she picked it," he chuckled, "What about you and the mystery guy? Got a song?" he coughed as wel in mockery of my own.
"Yeah, I do," I said, grateful for the dark hiding my cheeks and what I was sure was a rosy glow.
"What is it?"
"Ok, it's that song by KC and JoJo, 'All My Life'. Your turn!" he chuckled again, seemingly enjoying this conversation.
"It's by Elton John, called 'A Word In Spanish'," I replied.
"I don't know that one. What's the word?"
"No one knows, it's never said in the song. It's probably a private, or dreamy word I imagine, filled with hope and friendship."
"So come on, give me a hint!" he whined.
"Well, he's stunning to look at of course," I began warming to the game and sipping close to my last sip from my glass.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah."
"He's played gay roles," I continued.
"And he's been on the cover of the Advocate to talk about all those gay rumors," I finished with a flourish.
"Oh my god," he breathed.
"What?" I asked while draining my glass.
"You mean Jonathan Taylor Thomas?" he asked.
"I can neither confirm nor deny that," I said while heading back into the glare from the windows with my empty glass and equally empty decanter, "But if I could say yes or no, I'd say yes."
I no sooner stepped in the door than the head exec's wife accosted me, squealing like a stuck pig, and I suddenly longed for the anonymity of the balcony.
"Darling, there you are!" she boomed.
"Here I am," I agreed, "It's been a wonderful party," I began.
"We heard you can play the guitar, and we just so happen to have a captive audience!" she continued to squeal.
My head hurt.
"I honestly couldn't," I began, "I haven't played in a very long time," I tried to protest but was hurried away into a room crowded with more people I can't stand, and suddenly my stomach felt violent as well. I was thrust on stage where the band had been; apparently they were on a break. I felt trapped, all these people and I was a little tipsy. Not too much, mind you, as I had eaten well beforehand, but still, a decanter of wine consumed is still a decanter of wine consumed.
I sat on a stool and an acoustic-electric guitar was placed in my hands, not a shiny spiffy one but this instrument was obviously someone's livelihood. Small scratches permeated the finish, and despite myself I strummed the strings to be rewarded with a rich cacophony of sound. I looked into the crowd, noticing the band to one side and one anxious fellow in the bunch, maybe late thirties, trimmed close beard and ruddy cheeks. This guitar obviously belonged to him, and although I wanted to play it, I asked for one of the other guitars, another acoustic-electric that was more like a showpiece. I strummed it and was handed a key that was technically correct, but lacked the soul of the other guitar. I began to thumb the theme to the 'Pink Panther' for filler and to steady my hands.
Scanning the crowd again I saw him, about five foot eight with short, dirty blond hair that was stylishly disorganized. It was he, Jonathan Taylor Thomas. He smiled broadly and approached me, and I think my fingers stopped moving.
"I loved your book," he said, extending a hand, which I extended automatically into his firm grip.
"Thank you," I replied, somewhat dazed.
"Do you think you would have time to get together for dinner with me before you leave town?" he asked. He asked me out to dinner!
"Uh, I, oh, I am sure I can find some time, yes, sure," I stuttered.
"Cool, oh, do you do requests?" he said, pointing to the guitar, " I had a friend recommend a song and if you know it, I'd like to hear it."
"Well, sure, I'll try," I replied, trying to regain some grasp on myself, "What's the song?"
"First," he said, leaning in close to me, "The word would be nublas, it means clouds and I spend a lot of time looking at them, spending time in my imagination," he leaned away, "and the song is by Elton John, it's called 'A Word In Spanish'."
My jaw dropped.
"I'd love to play that part, if it comes up, but in the meantime, I'd like the opportunity to be your friend, too," he said with a smile as he rejoined the crowd.
My fingers saved the moment as I watched him take a place in the crowd, as they started to play and the words I know so well filled the room.
Music by Elton John
Lyrics by Bernie Taupin
Available on the album Reg Strikes Back
I don't know why
I just know I do
I just can't explain
In this language that I use
Something leaves me speechless
Each time that you approach
Each time you glide right through me
As if I was a ghost
If I only could tell you
If you only would listen
I've got a line or two to use on you
I've got a romance we could christen
And there's a word in Spanish
I don't understand
But I heard it in a film one time
spoken by the leading man
He said it with devotion,
he sounded so sincere
And the words he spoke in Spanish
brought the female lead to tears
A word in Spanish, a word in Spanish
If you can't comprehend
Read it in my eyes
If you don't understand it's love
In a thin disguise
And what it takes to move you
Each time that you resist
Is more than just a pretty face
To prove that I exist
When manners make no difference
And my gifts all lay undone
I trade my accent in on chance
And fall back on a foreign tongue