Sunday, June 19, 2005

MY KEEPER

(Fiction)
(About 3700 words)

I can’t write. Every time I get near a keyboard my mind goes blank. I’ve tried it with pen and paper but it’s the same thing. So I guess it seems kind of odd that I’m listed as the head writer of our TV show. Hell, in the beginning I was the only writer. My brother took a writing credit on the pilot but that was because the network would never sign up a show with only one writer.
Technically though, you’d have to say my brother was a writer. He wrote down the stories I told him. That’s writing.
My brother is the smart one. He’s the producer. He gave me a producing credit just to even things out, but it’s all him. I don’t know anything about producing or anything else except telling stories. He kids me about how inept I am, saying I need a keeper.
Once the network bought the series my brother hired some real writers. That was a relief. There was no way I could come up with stuff for a whole season. Just the thought of it would dry me out completely.
Working with comedy is strange (I was going to say funny). I can’t just turn it off and on. It just comes sometimes and never on demand. It’s not that I’m moody or anything. Sometimes I just get on a high and away we go. And it has nothing to do with drugs. An audience has a lot to do with it. Not in a club or like that. I could never do that. I mean in a conversation.
My best audience was a guy named Eric Gostenhoffer. He was a discriminating laugher. I don’t like an audience that laughs at anything. It makes it too easy. You lose touch with good, mediocre and bad. With Eric, it had to be good. And there was a big payoff. If it got very good, you could put him on the floor.
Eric was a writer on a syndicated science fiction show. All those guys are awesome. They can do more than one thing. To me, that’s awesome. Some of those guys could program computers or put together a TV set. One of them had a PHD and another understood electricity. I don’t think I could ever have anything in common with someone who understood electricity.
Comedy writers can do only one thing. If we couldn’t write comedy we’d be laborers or on welfare or something, objects of derision in the community. People laugh at our stuff so we live in Malibu and deride the community. Go figure.
I met Eric at a small party at my brother’s house some years ago, before our first show went on the air. We’d all had a few drinks and I started winging it about something that had happened to me that day. I hardly ever tell jokes, can’t even remember them. I tell stories, usually true when they start out, and then they gradually get more and more absurd until they’re in another dimension. I seldom know where the story is going when I start, but usually I get lucky and find a punch line. If you’ve seen our show you know what I’m talking about.
This night I was pretty hot. The audience really got me rolling. At the end of the story, I even came up with a punch line that surprised me and everyone else and it fit in perfectly.
Next thing I know, Eric is on his back on the floor laughing helplessly. My first clean knockdown.
There’s a rule in comedy: When you knock ‘em down, keep ‘em down. I bent over Eric and somehow came up with a line that topped the last and then another that topped that! All of this delivered in as vicious a voice as I could manage under the circumstances.
Eric screeched at each line and kicked both legs out stiff, six inches off the carpet before flopping them down.
A woman, I think it was his wife, screamed, “Stop it! Stop it! You’re killing him!”
Eric screeched and flopped again.
One of his writer friends came up and said in a put-on Dudley Do-Right voice, “Leave him alone when he’s down. Where do you think you are? This is America.”
Eric screeched and flopped again.
---
My brother, Jerry, who was always producing, called me early the next morning. “Did you get the stuff from the party?” he asked. From the beginning he knew how I worked best.
“I taped it as soon as I got home. “
“Great. Great. Did you get it all?”
“Almost.”
There was a pause. I could picture that disgusted look. “What did you miss?”
“It will come to me.”
“What did you miss?”
“Only those last couple of lines.”
“After you got him down?”
“Yeah.”
“Idiot!”
“Can you remember what they were?”
“I was clear across the room. How could I hear anything?”
“It will come to me.”
“Tom,” he got into his lecture mode, “this is our bread and butter. That stuff was pure gold. We can’t afford to throw out the baby with the bath water.” You can see why he doesn’t write.
“It will come to me.”
But it never did. The story I told that night was the one about the overweight lady and the Jacuzzi. Even without the two cappers it made our best show that first season and would have won an Emmy if they hadn’t decided it was in bad taste. Taste, schmaste, it was funny.
Jerry spent thousands on tape recorders after that. He got me microphones in tie clips, lapel pins, fake hearing aids, cufflinks, you name it. They weren’t hard to get used to. I bugged myself wherever I went. Why not? We never lost another line.
I’ve put Eric on the floor about a dozen times since then. That may seem like a lot but it works out to about two times a year. We’d all get together pretty often so my percentage was pretty low. But being around him never failed to inspire me. It always brought out my best work. He was a challenging audience and the reward for putting him on the floor was getting material for one of our best shows.
Anyway, I told you all that just to explain why I have a tape recorder wherever I go.
Then the thing I really wanted to tell you about happened last summer.
I’m in Jerry’s office one day and he says, “I’ve got a little job for you.”
Jerry, see, thinks I’m mostly unemployed. Writing 5 to 7 of our shows a season, he doesn’t count that as real work. So to protect me from the danger of ‘idle hands’ he will think up little projects for me.
“Don’t get excited,” he said when he saw my resistance building up. “I only want you to take a girl to a Dodger game.”
That didn’t sound too bad. “Who’s the girl?”
“Her name’s Myra Glick But She’s Not Jewish.”
“That’s a long name. Is that Miss or Mrs. Jewish. I wonder how that translates into Spanish. I’ve suspected that those long Spanish names told something about the person. Like Consuela You’ll Never Know How Much Pain You Caused Your Mother When You Were Born Hernandez.”
“Maybe we can use that,” Jerry Always The Producer said. “You got the recorder on?”
“Sure. But I think I heard it somewhere.”
“So?” he said quickly, dismissing the subject. “She likes baseball. I got you tickets behind the third base dugout. You’ll be able to see the twinkle in the manager’s eyes.”
“Gives me a hard-on just thinking about it.”
“Don’t try to ball her!”
“I was thinking about the manager.”
“I mean it Tom. Her old man is big bucks spelt M-O-N-E-Y. He could back the movie deal all by himself. He’s come all the way from Chicago just to find out about this deal. Don’t piss him off by screwing his daughter.”
He wanted a movie deal bad. I was satisfied with our weekly TV show. Six months off a year during which I got enough material so I could coast through the other six months. It was about to go into syndication. How much money can you spend, anyway?
“Just be charming. You can be charming as hell when you want to be.”
“Yes Daddy.” I stuck out my lower lip in a little boy pout.
“And while you’re doing that, I’ll be charming the old man.” He waited the classic two beats. “Unless you want to trade places.”
So I went to the Beverly Hills Hotel to pick up the Rich Bitch. I was not in a charming mood. She was in one of the bungalows. Where else? She opened the door and scurried away. All I saw of her was the back of her head and the robe the hotel provided. The kind they encourage you to steal, for a price.
“Be with you in a sec,” she called as she disappeared into a bedroom.
I didn’t figure on seeing her again for hours, but she was out in a couple of minutes, blinking her eyes. The robe was gone. She was dressed in white. She was a pleasant surprise. Of course with a name like Myra Glick, expectations were not high. But she looked all right, sort of pretty. Her nose wasn’t quite right, a little too strong by Hollywood standards. But with her dough she could have made it perfect if she wanted to. One point for her.
“I just put some drops in my eyes so it looks like I’m crying.” She blinked at me.
“That would make a good country-western song.”
“What would?” She squinted at me through slitted eyes, like a snake.
“What you said. ‘I just put drops in my eyes so it looks like I’m cryin’ but I’m not’”
She stiffened like someone had fingered her butt. “That’s funny,” she said as if it were a great revelation. It would have been perfect if she had added, “I think.”
“Is it? Really? I have no idea. I have absolutely no sense of humor whatever.”
She came close and peered at my face, her head kinda tilted to one side, her expression kinda skeptical. “My father said you were a writer on that comedy show.”
“No,” I said, rationalizing the meaning so I wouldn’t be lying. “I don’t write. My brother does all that.”
“Aren’t you Tom Ferriss? He told me Tom Ferriss would be picking me up.”
“Yeah, that’s me. Jerry’s little brother.” Jerry was five years older and, at six foot four, was four inches taller. But I was a lot better looking. At least mom always thought so.
“I saw your name on the credits.” She wasn’t challenging me. It sounded like she only wanted to get the facts straight.
“Jerry does stuff like that. He can do what he wants. It’s his show.”
“Then what do you do?”
“I do what he tells me to do. You know. Run errands and things.”
“Like now?”
I shrugged, admitting it.
“You’re a gofer?”
That did describe me pretty well, sometimes. “Yeah, kinda.”
She kept her eyes on me, digesting that, not appearing to be too disappointed. Then she stepped back a couple of steps and spun around, showing me her outfit. “Will this be all right for the ballgame?”
I sucked in a breath. She was wearing white pants and blouse. The pants had a pattern of sequins around the waist. The blouse had sequins in front. The pants were the stretch kind, the kind that shows everything if the lady lets you see it. Some wear a loose blouse that comes down to the middle of their thighs so you can’t see it. I hate it when they do that. Her blouse stopped at the waist. She was showing one of the all-time great asses in a town of great asses. A tiny waist made it look better.
“Sure,” I finally said.
My mother always told me, “Tommy, look for a girl with character. Looks go. First they lose their figures, then they lose their looks. Their character, that stays forever.” With advice like that a man could stay single forever. It had kept me single for thirty years.
Men can’t fall in love with character. You can’t screw character. Who would want to? Character will give you a limp dick. Men will fall in love with what they can see. You can screw what you can see.
And there she was, all 5’ 8” of her if you included the two inch heels, with the prettiest buns I’d ever seen since the last time. They were youthful buns filled out just enough to leave no doubt that here was a grown woman. They cried out, “Touch me. Squeeze me. Kiss me. Bite me.” A tush man’s dream.
The arrow of lust had found my heart and a couple of other places. Had I really promised Jerry no fooling around? I’d better not play semantics with him on this. The deal meant a lot to him. It was going to be a long day. Look but don’t touch.
She had put on a broad-brimmed white hat and was checking it out in the mirror, stealing peeks at me looking her over from behind.
“Does this look all right?’ She twisted half way round and struck a sideways pose calculated to showcase her marvelous asset. She was teasing me. Women can sense lust the way animals can sense fear. I would have to be cool. Like a comic once said, a woman and sex was like a banker and money. If she thinks you need it bad, there’s no way in hell you’re going to get it.
“It looks fine,” I said quietly, which was an understatement because I wasn’t looking at her hat
“Is it time to go?” She was frozen in the pose, knowing what it was doing to me. I started to wonder if she was nothing but a teaser.
“I guess we could, unless you can think of something better to do.”
She paused slightly before shaking her head. “We better go,” she said.
We walked to the parking lot.
“Do you have any other brothers or sisters?”
“No, just Jerry.”
She didn’t say anything for a while. I knew what she was thinking but was afraid to ask. I saved her the trouble. “It was Jerry’s idea to name me Tom. That was his favorite show.”
“Oh.”
“He was five when I was born. He thought he was getting a mouse he could play with like in the
cartoon.”
“But…”
“Yeah. It was a couple of years more before he found out he was the mouse. He never got over it. Stunted his growth even.”
“It did?” Her brow furrowed. She was genuinely concerned. This was going to be fun.
“Have you met him?”
“No.”
“He’s only this tall.” I held my hand, palm flat, a little below my waist.
She turned her head away for what sounded like a small sneeze. When she turned back she was all wide-eyed innocence. “Oh,” she said. “The poor little thing.”
I suddenly got goose-bumps! She was doing a Gracie Allen! She was playing straight-man to my nonsense. “Don’t mention how short he is in front of him. He’s very self conscious.”
“I won’t. My goodness.”
When the valet went off to get my car she took my hand and leaned against me.
“I got the right brother didn’t I?”
I didn’t know how to answer.
In the car she asked, “Why did you say you weren’t a writer?”
“Because I’m not, really. I don’t write a word. I tell stories to a tape recorders.”
“That’s the same thing. Are you taping now?”
“Yeah. It’s in the dash.”
“Tell me a story.”
“Just like that?”
She came close and whispered in my ear. “You have no idea how humor turns me on.”
“There is a story I’ve been thinking about. You know baseball, right?”
“Yes.”
“The premise is that little league mothers start running big league baseball.”
So I took off on that. She wasn’t kidding about getting turned on. On the whole drive, I didn’t get one laugh, but that was okay. The better I got, the more she’d moan and rub herself and rub me. The more she’d do that, the better I got. I drove right by Dodger Stadium once and started back. We were almost there again when I came to a decent ending. Not great, but pretty good considering.
“Turn off the recorder,” she ordered.
I turned it off.
She squirmed in her seat. “These clothes, they’re too tight. I’ve gotta get out of them.”
“Now?”
“Screw the game,” she said. “Let’s go to your place.”
---
About ten that night Jerry called me, as I knew he would. He got me as I was getting a snack in the kitchen. Myra was resting in the bedroom, as I should have been.
“You bastard!” he said.
When you get called that often enough you start wondering if everyone knows something you don’t. Close relations ought to be careful what they call each other. My mother once called me a son-of-a-bitch. I had to think about that.
“Where is she?” Jerry asked.
About two hours before, Myra had surprised me by asking, in a pleading little voice, “Can I stay?”
I nearly fell out of the bed in which we’d spent the previous six hours. “What about your father?” I was really thinking, what about Jerry? He’d kill me.
“I’m 23. I can do what I want, can’t I?”
“Well, sure you can stay. I guess. For how long? When do you go back to Chicago?”
“No, no. You don’t understand. I mean really stay.” She gave me a beseeching little look. “Please. I don’t eat much.”
Now that really got me. All my notions about her being a Rich Bitch were gone forever. The idea that the best argument she could come up with to convince me to keep her was that she didn’t eat much, that touched me deeply. There was no way I’d let her leave after that. Of course I loved the idea of getting into bed with that delicious little body every night and most days. That may have had something to do with it. And then too, I was curious as hell to find out what she was really like. She never seemed to be the same person from minute to minute. I knew she would never bore me. But the best argument, the killer, was the one I’d saved for Jerry.
“Where is she?” Jerry asked again.
“She’s here.”
“Dammit! You’re going to screw up everything. Okay, okay. There may be a way out. It may not be too late. Here’s the way we’ll play it. You take her back the Beverly Hills Hotel. You tell her father you took her to your place so she could try on some of your dresses. If she backs you up and you play it straight, that’ll work.”
“What’re you talking about? What dresses?”
“Oh yeah. I forgot to tell you. I told her old man you were gay.”
“What?”
“It was the only way he’d trust her alone with you. He’s very protective. I had to tell him something.”
“Thanks a lot. Why didn’t you tell him I lost my dick in the war?”
“I could have, huh. I didn’t think of it. Anyway, get her back quick. The way I said, I think it’ll be okay.”
“I’m keeping her.”
“What?”
“You heard me. I’m keeping her.”
“Tom,” he got into the lecture mode again, “this is not a cat that followed you home. This is a human being. You can’t just decide to keep a human being. Now just forget the movie deal for now. Just put it out of your mind. That’s not important now. We’ve got this other problem to deal with. Do you have her tied up?”
“No, no. It’s nothing like that. She wants to stay. It was her idea.”
“Oh. Well. That’s different then.” There was a moments pause. “Dammit! You’re screwing up my movie deal. Old man Glick will never trust me after this.”
“Why not?”
“Would trust someone who said his brother was gay when he wasn’t?”
He had a good point there. “Probably not.”
“See. So get her back to the hotel.”
“Jerry, listen to me a minute. Hear me out.”
“Okay, okay. I’m listening.”
“This girl, Myra, she’s a better audience than Eric Gostenhoffer.”
There was a long silence on the other end of the line. Jerry never underestimated Eric’s contribution to the show. He sent Eric presents every Christmas. Once, it was a Volvo. When Eric asked me about them, I told him it was because Jerry was in love with him. I told him to keep the presents but pretend he never got them. Anything else would only encourage Jerry.
Jerry has more than a respect for the creative process. He has a reverence for it. He sees the hand of God in it. He’s probably right.
“Better than Eric?” he finally asked. I could picture him toting up the gains and losses on the deal.
“Better than Eric,” I assured him.
“Does she fall on her back, flop around and get spastic like he does?”
“Yes. Pretty much.”
“Shrieks too?”
“Yep.”
“Sounds like you got a keeper there.”
“I think so.”
“Okay. I’ll try to straighten it out with her old man. Have her call him.”
“Yeah. She has to do that.”
---
Jerry lost his movie deal. You win some, you lose some.
Our show moved back into the top ten and went into syndication.
I got to keep the best audience I’d ever had. Talk about motivations and rewards. Better than that, Myra turned out to be a dear, sweet person. She always considered my humor an expression of love, which of course it was. She also took it as a form of foreplay, which it came to be.
Oh yeah, we changed her name to Ferriss. Glick just didn’t work.

2 Comments:

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September 3, 2005 at 2:09 AM  
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