Authors: Beth Ciotta
LL NEVER WORK IN
this town again
droned in my ears as I parked my used Subaru on Atlantic Avenue. I'd heard those words before, but this time, for the first time, I feared they might actually be true. I didn't regret my tirade, just the actions. I'd bared my breasts in public. And for what? It's not as if the execs were amused or impressed enough to give me the job. Nope. No Hollywood moment for me.
Instead they'd had security escort me off the premises, my girlfriends trotting behind, simultaneously applauding and bemoaning my spontaneous wardrobe malfunction. That's when it occurred to me that my antics had probably been caught on film. Casinos are rampant with strategically placed security cameras. Great. Next, they'd be selling the video on QVC.
Specialty Performers Gone Wild
Talk about an opening line for tonight's diary entry. Twenty years from now, I'd relive the moment, recorded in vibrant purple-penned detail, and laugh.
Back in the parking garage, I'd begged off lunchâBloody Marysâwith the girls, claiming an appointment. As much as I loved them, and as much as they commiserated, panic and despair had me racing toward Michael. He'd put a positive spin on my moment of insanity. He'd salvage my career. At least that's what I'd told myself, over and over, on the three-minute drive from the boardwalk casino to his midtown office.
I left my car and entered the turn-of-the-century brownstone, oblivious to the sights, sounds and smells of town. Though branded a seaside resort, Atlantic City falls miles short of paradise. In order to compete with Vegas, politicians and investors are revitalizing, but mostly it feels like too little too late. Even the Miss America Pageant skipped town. So much for tradition. The only recent addition worth celebrating was an impressive development of designer outlets that appealed to both tourists and locals. Not that I'll ever shop again. Hard to shop without moolah and, as I stated before, chances are I'll never work in this town again.
I climbed the stairs to the second floor and walked toward the door marked Michael Stone Entertainment, Inc. Before I could second-guess the wisdom of this visit, I let myself in. My stomach churned as I hovered on the threshold of Michael's private office. I wondered if he'd heard about
I knocked lightly on the doorjamb, trying not to notice how handsome he looked in his dress shirt and power tie. Trying not to admire his new funky reading glassesâsexyâand the fact that he was wearing his sandy-brown hair shorter and his sideburns longerâalso sexy. Noticing would only depress me. He was no longer mine to admire.
He glanced up from a file and motioned for me to take a seat. He was on the phone. He was always on the phoneâ¦or the Internet. He made the majority of his living wheeling and dealing with clients and buyers via modern technology. I assumed he wasn't talking to the people I'd just flashed, otherwise he would've spared me more than a two-second glance.
He didn't know yet.
I blew out a tense breath and sank down on the brown leather wing chair. I should break the news myself, beat the execs to the punch, make my excuses. I could hear Michael now.
Convincing him that I'd bared my boobies in public was going to take some doing. Although I've worn my share of skimpy costumes in the past, in everyday life, real life, I'm preppy-trendy. Kind of a funky, contemporary Doris Day. Even in the privacy of my bedroom. Michael had never appreciated my preference for cartoon pajamas over lace teddies. Oh, yes. He was going to have a very hard time digesting the flashing incident. I was having a hard time with it myself.
He hung up the phone, keyed up a document on his computer. “How did the audition go, hon?” Michael's pet name for all of his female artists, including his ex-wife.
My cheeks burned. “I'm pretty sure I didn't get it.” I twirled the cosmic green ring, scuffed my bargain sandals back and forth over the carpet in a bid to warm my frozen toes. Forty-five degrees outside and here I sat in a bikini, sarong and open-toed shoes. Thank goodness for my knee-length furry coat.
I hugged my arms around my middle, looked everywhere but at Michael. I wanted to confess my sin. My fears. I wanted to crawl onto his lap, to cry on his shoulder, to lament the fact that I was washed up at forty-one. I wanted to smack him because he'd made it impossible to take comfort in his arms by divorcing me and taking up with a lingerie model half my age. Not that I'm bitter. Okay. That's a lie. I'm bitter. But it's something I'm trying very hard to conquer. After all, it's not as if I still love him. I don't.
I blinked back tears.
Michael cleared his throat and tapped a Cross pen on his cluttered desk. “You know, Evelyn, I've been thinking about taking on an associate.”
The fact that he called me Evelyn instead of Evie signaled we were entering uncomfortable territory. Evelyn is my given name, but only my mom and childhood friends call me that. And Michaelâ¦when he has something unpleasant to discuss.
I picked imaginary lint off my sleeve, fidgeted in my seat. I chose to pretend that he wasn't considering
for the associate position. In the past, pre-divorce settlement, on those occasions when I hit an abnormally dry spell and gigs were nonexistent, I did have to work a day job, aka real job. Jobs that require right-brain skills. I did not excel at or enjoy any one of those
To this day the term
makes my eye twitch and my stomach spasm. You can imagine all the twitching and spasming going on just now. I focused on relaxing my clenched jaw. I've been struggling with TMJâTemporomandibular Joint Syndromeâfor months. Stress related, my doctor said. Avoid stress.
This moment I was wired tighter than a newly tuned piano.
Temples throbbing, I massaged the right side of my jaw and prayed it wouldn't lock open when I spoke. I'd hit my quota of embarrassing moments this day, thank you very much. “That's great, Michael. I guess that means business is jamming.” Not that he ever suffered slow periods, but he'd always operated solo with the exception of a secretary.
He pushed his trendy glasses up his nose, nodded. “I'm really swamped. You're diplomatic, organized and friendly. You know the business inside and out. You'd make a damned good agent.”
To my credit, I refrained from shrieking in horror. In my mind's eye he morphed into Darth Vader.
Come to the dark side, Evie
I shuddered. “I appreciate your praise and the job offer, but you know me and nine-to-fives.” Wow. He was right. I
“Office hours are ten to six,” he said, as if that one-hour difference mattered. It was still eight regimented hours, five days a week, and entailedâACK!âcomputer skills. “The job would be steady, hon, with potential for growth.”
He rattled off a few more perks. For all my twitching, I had to admit, he knew how to pitch an idea. Then again, Michael could sell a Speedo to an Eskimo. I frowned. “Don't you think that Sasha would have a problem with us working together?” Sasha's the twentysomething hard-body who took my place in his bed. “I mean on a day-to-day basis? Same office and all?”
“She knows there's nothing between us.”
Okay. We've been divorced for several months, separated even longer. But, still. Didn't fifteen years of amiable bliss count for anything?
The phone rang.
He mouthed an apology and snatched up the receiver. At this point I didn't care if it was the corporate yahoos calling to report
. I needed a moment to recover from that zinger and to collect my thoughts.
Logically, I knew that Michael thought he was doing me a favor by offering me a job within my field. A job where I could make good money, steady money, if I learned to play both sides of the fence. There was definite longevity on the business side of entertainment and I couldn't eke out a living by dipping into the proceeds from the sale of our house forever. But instead of doing me a favor, it felt as if he was putting me out to pasture.
I could feel my arteries hardening and the grey hairs sprouting.
My lungs constricted to the size of lima beans.
He hung up the phone, straightened his tie and glanced at his watch. Since he was wearing a suit I assumed he had an impending meeting with a client. Before he could dismiss me, I sucked air into my bean-size lungs and made a last-ditch effort. “I heard through the grapevine that Tropicana is starting up a costumed greeter program.”
He set his open briefcase on his cluttered desk. “Yeah, I got a call a couple of days ago. They're looking for attractive, animated women who can interact easily with guests while providing information on sweepstakes, slot tournamentsâ¦you know.”
Yeah, I knew. That was the point.
“They're looking for someone exactly like you.” He tossed three files and a bottle of Tylenol into his briefcase. “Only younger.”
He latched shut his case and glanced up, meeting my steady, albeit hurt, gaze. A slight grimace indicated he'd just realized how that sounded. The phone rang, saving us both from addressing what he'd been skirting.
“Pam, slow down,” he said into the mouthpiece as I massaged a sudden, crushing ache in my chest. “I can't understand you. Calm down, hon. Take a breath.”
Was he talking to Pam or me? Sweat beaded on my forehead and my fingers tingled. What, I wondered, did a heart attack feel like? I was certainly old enough to have one. Actor John Candy keeled over at forty-four. Okay, he had weight issues, but still.
“A car accident? Whatâ¦Dammit, Pam.” He whipped off his glasses and squeezed the bridge of his nose. “Of course I understand. I'll handle it. Somehow. I'm just glad it's not worse. Take care of yourself and check in when you can. Bye, hon.”
He hung up the phone, shoved his glasses back on and scanned computer files. “Who the hell am I going to get to cover this gig on such short notice?”
What about me?
I wanted to ask, but didn't. Pride dictated a more subtle route. Besides, I didn't even know what the gig was. I ignored my own sudden and mysterious ailments and voiced concern for Pam what's-her-name. “What's wrong?” I scooted to the edge of my seat in a not-so-subtle attempt to peek at his flat-screen monitor. “What happened?”
“A disaster by way of a three-car pileup,” Michael snapped while scanning his database. “Instead of heading for the airport for a contracted engagement, Pam Jones is on her way to the hospital with a broken leg and bruised ribs.”
“That's awful, but like you said, at least it's not worse.” I didn't know Pam Jones, but I had a good view of her head shot and physical stats via Michael's computer screen. It was almost like looking into a mirror. We both had an all-American vibe going. Pale skin that freckles in the sun, wide blue-green eyes, golden-blond hair. Only Pam had been blessed with long, fairylike curls. The woman could've posed for a Pre-Raphaelite painting whereas I looked like a trendy poster girl for Ivory soap. My pain-in-the-butt, stick-straight hair was currently shoulder length and razor-cut into funky layers.
I refocused on Pam's stats. Okay, she was four inches taller than me and probably a
blonde, but, that and hairstyle aside, we were pretty interchangeable. Why not dull the shock of a last-minute replacement by offering the client a similar product? Meaning,
My anxiety over being put out to pasture dampened my sensitivity to Pam's injuries. “Which airport? A.C. or Philly? Maybe I can help. What is it? A meet and greet for conventioneers?” A few years ago I appeared as a mermaid at the Atlantic City Train Station, part of the hoopla to celebrate the arrival of the Miss America contestants. Nothing fazes me. I'm willing to lend atmospheric hoopla to any visiting organization. Well, except the porno convention I saw featured once on HBO. I draw the line at Darla-the-Dancing-Dildo.
Michael spared me a sidelong glance as he stood and rushed to his file cabinet. “It's aâ” he waggled his fingers as if to snatch words from the air “âspecial interest gig. Out of state. Pam was supposed to meet her contact at Philadelphia International. The ship sails out of Fort Lauderdale.”
“A cruise ship, huh?” I chewed my thumbnail, musing as he sorted through select head shots and rÃ©sumÃ©s. I'd never performed on a cruise ship, but I was familiar with the venue via the experiences of friends. “How long is the engagement? What's the pay?” Never mind that I was prone to motion sickness. I was desperate to do what I love, what I was born to do, for as long as I could. Even if it meant existing on Dramamine.
“Eight days for three plus all expenses,” he mumbled, distracted.
The timing was sweet, but the moneyâ¦“Three hundred dollars?” For eight days of my life?