To drive about the streets of the West Coast metropolis of Los Angeles at midday is to know a sense of emptiness that can only rival the experience of being marooned somewhere unexpectedly within a sea of other people. Minnows? Frankly! Minnows traveling in a similar school that almost too many have been taken up by and overwhelmed by that similar storm of enjoying a better existence always being elusively distant yet ever close at hand, The sheltering prospect of having a shot to be in a production with your own credit, even as an extra, reason enough to risk life and limb to escape that narrow possibility of what might have been mapped out for for you eons back somewhere East in ‘nowheresville‘. Those coral reefs of faded wooden clapboard apartments squatting laterally over low rise terrain, stretching outwards in any direction that your automobile might take you. The world’s largest car lot of what would invariably become, for too many, the last stop for broken dreams. Benny Williams had taken it all in before. He had even left Lake Erie Pennsylvania! Some sort of wisenheimer might have told him that he himself was a victim of the local nickelodeon in harboring all those foolish Saturday afternoon musings and allowing them to congeal through his youth into impossible big dreams. Maybe the despair of his immigrant parents in leaving the steppes of the Ukraine was still a type of fever that his kind had never gotten over. Ever being prone to surviving pogroms and then cast out as those that no one else would tolerate, save for arranging a loan for a ‘friend‘? The stain of this heritage though he, nor his own immediate family, had never possessed the gift of barter remained about them like the stench of garlic and onions along with the fatal family moniker of Zimmerman. How then could Benny resist a new world that had been created by others not to different than himself?
His partner Sy had originally made the drive across the back road byways’. Both starting out along the chain of lakes across to Indiana and then taking up that fabled route 66 West commencing by the big shoulders of Lake Michigan to eventually end up in the promised land of California. A train would have been better, his companion had squawked so often along the way. The crossing of the Sinai might have been curiously much less worse than what Benny had found that he had to put up with along the last throws of that lonesome desert dusty trail. Sy, the eternal pessimist, had conveniently taken his leave within the first two-weeks in L.A., swearing to himself that he must have been possessed some unexpected demons making him Mississauga not to see that he had gone forth on such a fool’s errand. He took up his most favored choice in cross country travel to ride upon a train back to his parent’s hardware concern with the money that they had wired to the local Western Union office. An amount sufficient enough to cover a ticket back to resume his career stocking the family businesses’ back room and manning the cash register, Benny, in the meantime, had taken up with another chap that was just a mishuga as himself. Reinventing himself under the wary eyes of a Goy named Jimmy. A hick from the high plains of a backwater Boise Idaho town. Something that seemed an unlikely match. Yet the effect of a quarter century plus of eight reeler’s had made its mark on all manner of out of the way places and others of a similar ken. Perhaps his new friend and associate might turn out to be an ersatz Henry Mencken? Someone spouting an unconscious but ever annoying form of latent disgust with all things pertaining to over-dominant Hebrews? Something that seem to lace this town up like steel wool? Benny could understand his companion’s frustration. Though he could not take the continual rejections quite that way. A hard nose Jew was to be expected to take it on the chin without public comment, as well he knew growing up in a neighborhood full of them. Jimmy was used to a different variety of rough and tumble knocks, his genes transplanted from some other distant vicinity far across the earth possessed by those who found it safer to savage the earth’s insides a mile down. All to shake out a few dollars a day with the expectation of a hot shower and hot meal to boot! All at company expense.
Opportunities in Hollywood were like watchful phantoms. Ever ready to descent like scavengers to tear apart your plans all for the briefest promise of a possibility, maybe. The slimmest of chances to snag that part by forcing you to give up what little that you might have been able to scraped up in terms of stability. All for the merest of hopes for that chance or possibility. To someone deeply unawares like his partner, this might have been not unlike a fly speck of terrain that his forebears had gotten in the habit of cursing. But still never thought to surrender up out of hardship. Simply redouble one’s efforts to hold on to! The successive months of their rocky association had matured from mutually held vainglorious notions of starring roles to character actors to more solidly possible occupations. Ones in their case of collaborating together to quickly come up with alternate script scenarios or reworking sequeys of shooting scripts. Equally tenuous perhaps, but something that fickle fate and some hard cash had randomly thrown to them as the best chance. The cleverness of their collaboration, whether it be genius or simply and inspired form of conventional banality, could reliably strike a tone with the money paying public. Those bigger ideas left in the can for the future to reach that small but more creatively important audience. One set of tenuous chances stacked one upon the other in house of cards fashion. Each supporting the next, hoping to not miss its mark. Benny being ever mindful of watching out for those types of inadvertent wisecracks that his companion’s lack of expertise with fellow Jewish immigrants might abhor. Had Jimmy been a bird sometimes Benny might have kept him tightly covered up in a cage.
It was early when Benny awoke to the sound of two tin cans clanking together. Some strange tale in the back of his brain of an inexplicable absurdity banging about in his half congealed consciousness? Something of dramatic possibility about Hollywood starlets that might have potential upon the big screen, or so he thought. Jimmy, that big lumbering mass of unchecked clumsy early morning misdirected energy was looking for something to fry up. A pan for the last few of their remaining eggs in. A wet cardboard smell of two day old warmed over chicory coffee pervading the small room. Something was coming to Benny’s mind’s eye and playing hide and seek tricks with it. Something from the night before that would open its bosom and share its secrets. He lay there still trying to keep still and weed out all other random thoughts. That notion of the ‘new man’ that he had been trying to become as of late, tasking him to evidence some essential form of mental discipline. He slowly sat up leaning his head over upon his hands while supporting them by his knees, trying to not give in to yield to knowing that a single distraction, if recognized, would permanently flush away all hope of returning to this unearthly state of creative grace. The metallic clinking sound of a spoon banging about within the tight enclosure of to porcelain mugs, one after the other, summarily dispatching any last hopes for recollection. His partner crossing the room then plopping down a mug upon the small side table with a small thunder clap before cheerfully announcing breakfast was served. Suddenly Benny was a stranger again. Not only to this foreign presence before him as an unbound force of nature. But to that tiny spark within deep within himself that often whispered carefully silently that this mollusk before him was a genius. The imminence of that damn bird of prey was now hovering high up over their heads somewhere above the roof tops like an albatross. A train wreck of an unfathomable dimension looming unseen straight ahead.
This mismatched Mastik-taped together duo were due at the studio by eight o’clock. Punctuality up to that point, never having been their weak suit. Schenk’s personal squad of studio yes men had been trying without success to come up with an appropriate vehicle for their new discovery of a shapely Mexican dancer. One that they had, in their industrial sign them up under a contract way, suddenly was to be discovered as a singer. Somebody in this frustrated group had had the mazel to offer Benny and Jimmy as the appropriate sounding board to use their noodle to bounce off some fresh ideas about what sort of appeal Mr and Mrs average movie going American public would have for such a papaya. The notion being that this oddly paired set of ‘egg’s’ might stumble onto something useful that could be handed up to higher more experienced pens to craft into a full ninety minutes of shoot-able script. The pair had hit upon a couple of tricks in the past that eventually led to first base driven homers. Ones that translated into respectable coin at the box office. It seemed appropriate to invite the pair in for an early morning bull session. The knowledge that they were both standing before the emissaries of the studio’s main grand vizier’s was not lost on Benny. The ultimate challenge was to transform this young budding Conchita into a Gladys, or Francis, or Rose in keeping with the standards of the age. But not lose that spark of inbred talent that had brought her to the fore to begin with. “Can she act?“, his partner blurted out, starting off the ball freely rolling off in the wrong direction down the hill towards the cliff of certain destruction. “Of course she can act!“, Benny instantly elbowing his Jimmy in the ribs as if on cue with a wide carnival grin as if it was only a kid. The pairs of eyebrows about the room still high like warring smoke signals of a tribe of Indians not quite on the warpath from the initial shock. A taciturn grimace being eventually being offered across the table along with a sarcastic, “So whaddaya got?”
The bench outside the front entrance of the main office then being the place for a conference to explain the the aftermath of what might, or might not have been, a total disaster. Benny’s face beet red from the tension of walking through uncharted territory in a land mine strewn inquisition where they were not only expected to spitball out ten well-manicured scenarios, but then speak to the possible appeal this new America’s filly for the apple pie and mom crowd. The impression that both shared was that they had been there more to sell their employers on what their employers had already sold themselves. But in true nitpicking fashion that initial faux pas by his partner had worked its magic. The fatal words could not wait to jump out of the back of Benny’s throat. His face contorted in an ugly mask spitting out insults unreservedly. Ones that he had long suppressed since his departure from that new world home town stetl back East. A terse sentence perhaps two might have sufficed. But the lost momentum of the morning had piled Benny’s angst to a point where his writing mate, in response, simply picked up his jacket and walked off without uttering a word. Browbeating had always been a sore topic between them. Never working out to inspire in the way it might have been expected to in a Kosher family. The day seemed a total lost all the way around as Benny sat there by himself wondering what the final outcome of all their efforts together might have achieved? Maybe he was better off alone? The studios seemed to thrive on a plurality of his kind of people! Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing? This moment was a sort of coming of age where he would find a new welcoming attitude within? Now that he had gotten rid of that Goyish schmuck? He languished on the bench for a long time as passing studio employees busied themselves, totally oblivious of his presence. He hope that when he returned to the apartment that he would never have to see his partner ever again.
The ride back up the hill in his roadster past all those sightless eyes of empty hotel room windows seemed a gaunt reminder of ranks of sun washed silent tombstone well-ordered in a cemetery-like precision. “What an empty cardboard town?“, Benny thought to himself as he purposely seemed to feather the gas pedal as if trying to elongate his return back to the apartment. “So many others on the make!“, he thought. But so few that seemed to want to let their guard down enough to even offer the smallest kindness in a random comment showing that they were all in the same boat. An empty town, painted over every day of two-dimensional flats, that passed as a city. Always full of those that were too willing to sell their souls piecemeal for another tiny morsel of bread to survive long enough to be discovered. Where was the equity in that? “Maybe Sy had hit on something after all?“, Benny mused. Something that Benny in all his blind enthusiasm had missed? Maybe the train coming out here would have been a better deal? Maybe going back too! Something leaving you less invested in following through on your own dreams at any cost. And be able to see at what point they would not possibly work out! Save, of course, at the price of your own destruction? Benny thought of his family, and his brother-in-law. The one that had filled in for his own place in the family business. A year and a half later after scrounging about without much more than a cotton tweed suit with a the seat of the pants going threadbare. And this decade old over worn Model A sportster. He began to feel a crushing level of pent up exhaustion that had been long concealed within. As if by their own volition, his arms made a sudden turn looping around the other way at the intersection. By that afternoon, the setting sun was far behind him. And the car was but a memory sitting abandoned on one of the many anonymous used car lots just down the boulevard from the train station. The money that he had gotten for it paying for a set of connecting train tickets taking him back home.
Some years later he was surprised to see an article in the local newspaper that a new successful recent talent had been discovered in Hollywood. One whose writing and directorial talent was enjoying a meteoric rise the the top having received his first Oscar. The taciturn slightly more polished visage of his long forgotten writing partner gracing center stage before a microphone striking a pose of formal gravitas in accepting the honor with an appropriate aplomb, No mention of his own name to be found within a dense paragraph of grateful acknowledgements offered by this new hero. An old feeling of the former nagging emptiness that had long become a stranger since his return and the birth of his first child with a nice new wife having misplaced such old sensations as out of place The movies in general had become something remote and less alive to him now. The need to be somebody important having been already fulfilled by the embodiment of himself, as same, in being who he was always truly meant to be.