To drive about the streets of West Coast metropolis of Los Angeles by midday is to know a sense of emptiness that rivals the experience of being marooned somewhere unexpectedly within a sea of other people. Minnows frankly? Minnows traveling of a similar school in that almost too many have been taken up by that overwhelmingly similar storm of enjoying a better existence being ever elusively close at hand, The sheltering prospect of having a shot in a production to your credit, even as an extra, reason enough to risk life and limb to escape the narrow possibility of what might have been mapped out for you eons back somewhere East in ‘nowheresville‘. Those coal reefs of faded wooden clapboard apartments hanging 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 many the last stop for broken dreams. Benny Williams had taken it all in before he had even left Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. Some sort of wisenheimer might have told him that he was himself a victim of the local nickelodeon harboring those foolish Saturday afternoon musings allowing them to congeal through his youth into big dreams. Maybe the despair of his immigrant parents leaving the steppes of the Ukraine was still a fever that his kind had never gotten over being prone to surviving pogroms and cast out as those that no one else would tolerate save for arranging a loan from a ‘friend‘? The stain of his heritage though he or his own immediate family had never had the gift of barter still hung about them like the stench of onions and garlic and the fatal family moniker of Zimmerman. How then could Benny resist a new world that had been created by others not ever so different like him?
His partner Sy had originally made the drive across the back road’s byways starting out along the chain of lakes across Indiana and taking up that fabled route West commencing by the shores of Lake Michigan and ending at the promised land of L.A. A train would have been better, his companion had squawked too often along the way. The crossing of the Sinai could have been much less curiously worse than what Benny had found that he had to put up with along the last throws of that lonesome dusty desert trail. Sy had conveniently taken his leave within the first two-weeks swearing that he must have been possessed some unexpected demons making him mishugana to see that he had mounted such a fool’s errand. He took up his most favored chance to ride upon a train at last as his parents with their hardware concern had wired the local Western Union office an amount enough to cover the ticket back to resume his career stocking the back room and manning the cash register, Benny had taken up with another chap in the interim just a mishuga as he. Having reinvented himself with wary eyes this association with a Goy named Jimmy from the high plains of backwater Boise Idaho seemed an unlikely match. Yet the quarter plus century of eight reeler’s had made their mark in all manner of out of the way places with others or every ken. Perhaps his new friend and associate was an ersatz Henry Mencken spouting an unconscious but underlying form of occasional disgust with all things pertaining to Hebrew that seem to lace this town like a steel web? Benny could understand his frustration though he of course could not take the rejections that way. A hard nose Jew was to be expected as he well know growing up in a neighborhood of them. Jimmy was used to a different variety of rough and tumble stock transplanted from other distant vicinity’s far across the earth who found it safer to savage the insides of the earth a mile down to shake out a few dollars a day and expect a hot shower and meal to boot all at company expense.
Opportunities were like watchful phantoms. Ever ready to descent like vultures to disrupt your plans for the briefest promise of possibility forcing you to give up what little that you might have scraped up in terms of stability all for the merest when of the hope of a chance of possibility. To something deep and unawares within his partner it might have been not too much like the unforgiving terrain that like a fly speck his recent forebears had gotten into the habit of cursing but never thought to surrender to. Simply redouble their efforts. The successive months of their association had matured from vainglorious notions of respective starring roles as lead and character actor to more solid possible occupations of quickly coming up with alternate scenarios and rewriting short snippets of larger scripts. Equally tenuous perhaps but something that fickle fate had randomly thrown to them as a chance. Their cleverness together whether it be genius or simply and inspired form of conventional banality that could reliably strike a tone with the money paying public had reached a small but more important audience. One set of small tenuous chances laid one on the other in a house of cards fashion supporting the next one hoping to not miss its mark. Benny ever mindful of watching for the inadvertent cracks his companion’s lack of expertise with these fellow immigrants might reveal. Had Jimmy been a bird sometimes he might have kept him covered up in a cage.
It was early when Benny awoke to the sound of two olive tin cans clanking together. Some strange tale of inexplicable absurdity banging about in his half congealed consciousness. Something of possibility about Hollywood starlets that might have some potential on the big screen, or so he thought. Jimmy, the big lumbering mass of unchecked clumsy misdirected early morning energy was looking for something to fry the last few of their eggs in. The wet cardboard smell of two day old warmed over chicory coffee developing in his nostrils. Something was coming to him. playing hide and seek tricks with him. Something from the night before that would open his bosom and share her secrets. He lay there still trying to keep out all other random thoughts at bay. His notion of the ‘new man’ that he had become at late tasking him to evidence some simple mental discipline. He sat leaning over on his hands supported by his knees trying to not give in to yielding that fullness feeling knowing that this single distraction if heeded would permanently flush away all hope of returning to that unearthly state of grace. The sound of a spoon clinking about within a small enclosure of porcelain mugs dispatching his last hopes for recollection. His partner entering the room plopping down a mug on the small side table like a small thunder clap before him announcing breakfast was served. Suddenly he was a stranger again. Not only to this strange presence as force of an unfamiliar form of nature but to that spark within himself that he often whispered carefully to himself as genius. The imminence of that damn bird of prey was hovering high up their above the roof tops like an albatross. A train wreck of some unfathomable dimension looming ahead.
This mismatched Mastic’k taped duo were due at the studio at eight. Punctuality having never been their weak suit. Schenk’s personal squad of yes men were trying to come up with an appropriate vehicle for a new discovery in the shape of a Mexican dancer that they had in their industrial way suddenly discovered that she could sing. Somebody had had the mazel to offer Benny and Jimmy as an appropriate sounding board to use their noodles to bounce off some ideas about what sort of way that she could appeal to Mr and Mrs average movie going American. The notion being that this oddly paired set of ‘egg’s’ might stumble onto something that could be handed up higher to more experienced pens to craft into ninety minutes. They had hit on a couple of tricks in the past leading to first base driven homers that had brought in respectable coin at the box office. It seemed appropriate to invite them in for an early morning bull session. The knowledge that they were both standing before the studio’s main Grand Vizier’s emissaries not lost on Benny. The challenge was to transform this young budding Conchita into a Gladys or Francis, in keeping with this age but not lose that spark of talent that had brought her to the fore to begin with. “Can she act?“, his partner started off the ball a little too freely rolling off down the hill to the cliff of destruction. “Of course she can act!“, Benny instantly painting on a wide grin like some carnival show man elbowing his straight man in the ribs on cue. The eyebrows about the room like a warring tribe of Indians not quite raised too high in initial shock. That taciturn grimace in return across the table responding with the usual, “So whaddaya got?”
The bench outside the main offices waiting room nearly an hour later a place for an after conference to explain the the aftermath of what might or might not have been quite a total disaster. Benny’s face red from tension walking through that uncharted land mine strewn inquisition where not only were they expected to spitball out well-dressed scenarios but speak to possible appeal this new America’s fill in for the apple pie and mom crowd. The impression that both of them shared being that they had been there more to sell their employers more on what they had already sold themselves. But in true nitpicking fashion the initial faux pas committed by his partner could not wait to jump out of its craw at the back of Benny’s throat. His red face spitting out insults unreservedly that he had long suppressed since his departure from that New World stetl back East. A sentence perhaps two would have sufficed, but the lost inspiration of the morning had been piled to the point where his writing mate simply picked up his jacket from where it was draped and walked off without uttering a word. Browbeating having always been a sore topic between them never working out the way it might have to inspire further effort as one might have expected in a Kosher family. The day seemed lost all around as Benny sat there wondering what the final outcome of their efforts might have achieved? Maybe he was better alone? The studios seemed to thrive on a plurality of his kind of people? Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing? A sort of coming of age where he would find a new welcoming attitude now that he had gotten rid of the Goyish schmuck? He waited on the bench for a long time as others busied themselves oblivious of his presence as they passed. He hope that when he returned to the apartment that he would never see his partner again.
The ride back up the hill in the car past all the sightless eyes of hotel room windows was a gaunt reminder of sun washed tombstone ranks in silent cemetery-like precision. What an empty cardboard town Benny thought to himself as he purposely seemed to feather the gas pedal trying to elongate his return. So many others on the make but so few that seemed to want to let their guard down enough on the their own behalf to offer even the smallest cup of kindness in a 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 full of those that were too willing to sell their souls piecemeal for simply another tiny morsel of bread. Where was the equity in that? Maybe Sy had hit on something after all that Benny in all his enthusiasm had missed? Maybe the train coming both out and back was a better deal? Something leaving you less invested in following through with your own dreams at any cost and able to see at what point they could not possibly work out save at the price of your own destruction? He thought of his family and his brother-in-law who had filled in for his place in the family business. A year and a half later after scrounging about without much more than a cotton tweed suit with a threadbare bottom and a decade old very worn Model A sportster, he began to feel that level of exhaustion that had been long concealed within. As if by its own volition, his arms made a sudden turn the other way around at the intersection. By that afternoon, the setting sun was behind him and the car was but a memory on a used car lot just down the boulevard from the train station where he had put down the money he had gotten for it upon the connecting set of tickets directing him back home.
Some years later he was surprised to note in a local newsprint section of the paper that a new successful discovery of writing and directorial talent had enjoyed the latest meteoric rise the the top having received his first Oscar. A slightly more polished and taciturn visage of his long forgotten writing partner gracing center stage before the microphone in a pose of gravitas accepting the honor with appropriate aplomb, No mention of his own name found amidst the dense paragraph of grateful acknowledgements. That old feeling of former nagging emptiness that had become a stranger since the birth of his first child with a nice new wife having misplaced such old out of date sensations. The movies had become remote and less alive to him now within the fold of his own which truly embraced him without the necessity of all the former hard sell that he had once been expected to mount on his own. The need to be somebody important already fulfilled within the current embodiment of himself as who he was truly meant to be.