“I believe that food is the enemy and dream of blood that runs clear like water.”
Winter was the sound of coldness, nevermind the fact that temperature has no sound, or that it was unseasonably warm. Winter was the sound of coldness. Of doors shutting in one’s face. Of endless winding hours filled to the brim with the bitter tang of hopeless desperation. Winter is the sound of weary actors leaving auditions, trying to convince themselves to give up the game.
That sounds nice. Nicer than it is.
But this isn’t winter. Not anymore. This is summer, or at least the beginnings of one. Summer sounds better. Not just the word but the whole jangling piece of work. Summer is the sound of traffic through an open window. Of neighbors hollering at each other, still rankling over old fallen leaves and property lines and mailboxes damaged to varying degrees of worthlessness. Also: summer is the sound of waiting for the phone to ring. Which it has to, finally, at some point, somewhere. And not just phones, but people as well. Specifically delinquent talent agents. That’s who I was waiting for in the airport lounge, downing my third vodka-water (gotta stay trim to earn the camera’s love).
Finally he came. He’s not the guy I was expecting. Not even the kind of guy. I was expecting someone rugged, like Crocodile Dundee (but not Australian because honestly who can listen to that all day?). Like Crocodile Dundee, without the accent, and wearing a real shirt. Paul Hogan—and all those who consciously or unconsciously resemble him in either appearance or demeanor—is free to walk-about through life with nothing but a pig-sticker and a leather vest, but if he’s going to be my talent-agent/personal hit-man, I expect him to pop on a shirt. Drink my beer and grill up all the snake-meat you want out in the driveway, but do it without the vest, is all I’m saying.
But the guy who showed up. He had thinning hair, or at least in front. The back was tied up high on his head like a samurai, and right away I could tell that he was the kind of dude that talked in koans and probably had serious ideas on the topic of bathing. Before he even said a word homeboy ripped off his North Face parka and stood there with his hands on his hips like some kind of pan-Pacific Adonis. His Tommy Bahama shirt featured a map of the Pacific Rim, and whenever he moved, his incredibly defined pecs made Borneo leap out of the ocean like a goddamn flying fish. This was the kind of guy I wanted on my payroll. This was the kind of hombre I wanted to trust with not only my entertainment career, but the most intimate details of people I wanted dead as well.
“I don’t remember my real name,” he said. “But everyone calls me Scratch. You can also call me Reginald. Or Reg, or whatever.” His voice was a rusty baritone. Deep, brutal. The kind of voice that might stab you right in the eyes. “Where can I put my jacket?”
This was summer, so jacket storage was something I hadn’t even considered putting on my list of things on which to meditate. I’d given the matter zero thought in months, so the question took me for a spin. Why did he even have the jacket in the first place? Why cover up such a beautiful cotton shirt? Was he some kind of double-agent? Was I?
“I wish you hadn’t asked me that question.” I said, finally.
He looked at me. I watched his eyes illuminate with the glow of understanding. Like two beautiful wristwatches. He was also wearing two wristwatches.
“I apologize.” He rasped, casually ripping his parka into tiny pieces and swallowing them one after another.
“Wake me up when you’re finished.” I said and fell backwards into my hammock. I always have hammocks everywhere. I have to. The raw material of my life consists of vodka, hammocks, and international travel.
Speaking of which: it was days later all of a sudden, and I woke up to the sound of an adult macaw mourning the death of a loved one. Why do these things always happen to me? I was in the jungle. I knew I was in the jungle because when I fell out of my hammock I plummeted at least 30 feet straight through vines and spikes and whatever kinds of things are always stabbing you and trying to kill everything that you care about.
I was looking up at Reg. He was chopping down a tree with a machete.
“I’m going to build us a house,” he groaned, straining against the weight of his absurd muscles. “We’re going to live there for a while. Just until we can get things figured out.”
There were a lot of things to figure out, but frankly I wasn’t interested in any of it.
“Build the house,” I said. “But leave the thinking to me. Don’t ever try to figure things out on your own, because I just hate to imagine what that might look like. Also, did I get the callback for that episode of SVU? I forget to ask earlier when I blacked out for a few days.”
“They want you to read for a different part.” Reg said, leaning on a machete and wiping the sweat off his brow with some kind of small rodent, which he then tossed in a pile of other small rodents that had all lived and died in such similar ways it seemed silly they should be considered separate creatures. “It’s not the part you wanted, but it sounds interesting. You’d play a music teacher that drugs and rapes Detective Stabler, repeatedly, all the while maintaining the façade of your average child molester. It’s a 3-episode arc, and they want to pay you double union.”
“No shit,” I whistled, attracting a snake that Reg then dismembered with his machete. “I thought Christopher Malone left the show a few years ago.”
“He did. That’s what makes it so interesting.”
“Is Malone on board with this?”
Reg pretended not to hear me.
“What time is the reading?”
Reg looked up at the sun, or what he could see of it through the dense forest canopy. “It’s in about forty-five minutes.”
“Jesus Christ, Reg,” I belched. “Do you think you can finish that house in time, even? And on another note, why the shit are you building a fucking house in the jungle for anyway? When I’ve got a chance for an arc on SVU?”
“I just thought it would be nice for us to spend some time together.” Reg said, looking at his feet.
“Are we living in the jungle now?” I shrieked. “Is this what it’s come to? Do we even know what continent we’re closest to?”
Reg shook his head.
“I think I can build us the house and get us out of here in time to make the 101 by quarter after.”
“It’s a Saturday,” I hissed. “The 101’s gonna be a fucking parking-lot.”
“But the house…”
“Forget the fucking house! The house doesn’t exist! It never existed. Stop living in a goddamn fantasy world. You’re supposed to be my agent/hitman, not my husband! Why does this keep happening to me?”
It was true. My last 5 agents/hitmen had all eventually confessed their love for me, most of them within the first week. It was getting ridiculous, and my career was in a nose-dive. Not to mention all the people going un-assassinated because my employees were too busy making moon eyes at me to do their jobs.
“Fuck this,” I said. “I’m leaving you here, I’m taking my jetpack and going home and you’ll never see me again. Except possibly on Law & Order: SVU, assuming you haven’t fucked that up with your goddamn jungle obsession.”
Reg lowered his eyes and kicked softly at the dirt. Dirt that would never make a sodden floor in a jungle dwelling. Not if I had anything to say about it. Which I obviously did because I’d already said it. In fact I’d already said everything I felt compelled to say. Not just on the topic of makeshift dwellings, but on all possible topics.
I decided to give up acting.
“Go ahead and make the goddamn house if you must,” I said, leaning against a tree and gazing up at the scant shards of sun slashing through the canopy.
“You mean it?” Reg asked in a hopeful voice. “You really mean it?”
“Why not?” I shrugged. “My dreams are dead anyway.”
“There there,” Reg said, brushing the rough back of his hand against my cheek. “Maybe when I’m done building our new home I can build you a new dream.”
“Don’t push it, man.” I sighed. “You’re not the only jungle-dude in these parts, and don’t ever speak poetically to me again.”
“Done.” He said.
Done done done.