Chapter Eight of Below the Line, a saga that begins with a prologue—a little life, interrupted
So this is my body:
Wet blood and female slime
Fermenting on my groin,
Wet seed upon your hair.
Do we come from the sea
That thus we smell like fish?
Nights when we slept chastely
Were subtle bodies' love;
Our least alighting touch
Was cooling as blue jade.
Far deeper than the womb,
Our love was in the spine,
Trunk of the world's tree.
Above body's mud, we climbed
Becoming Quetzal birds.
On top the trees in light,
We were always, only
Alive in sunlit air.
Now this wet, matted hair,
This dripping genital swamp.
Like newborn men, I slide
Down mothers' thighs in scum.
_____________Blue Jade from the Morning Star
While champagne corks were popping across town at Estudios Chiliverde, Jeff Brock and Deirdre Malone met for dinner at Fouquet's, as fine and civilized an establishment as any in the city, located in the Zona Rosa at the Hotel Camino Real.
A string ensemble was working its way through a medley of Andrew Lloyd Webber tunes. Jeff was enjoying his second refresca chia and Deirdre was quoting Shaw on Ibsen:
"'The sum of the matter,'" she said, a bit too reverent and actressy, "'is that unless Woman repudiates her womanliness, her duty to her husband, to her children, to society, to the law, and to everyone but herself, she cannot emancipate herself.'"
Jeff grinned his all-purpose grin, the one you think of when you think of Jeff Brock, because The Grin, like The Bod, is an easily packaged commodity, recognizable the world over. He was being polite. Deirdre had worked herself up to some considerable excitement. She was, after all, midway through her Life Story:
"Well," she continued, "to a girl practically raised in a convent who had never even kissed a man, Dr. Driver, talking like that, in his apartment, over very interesting sherry, was very attractive. I spent the night and we married the next year. It lasted through my second season with the Bristol Old Vic. That's when I met James. He was playing Petruchio to my Kate. I suppose I was attracted to his possessiveness. He wanted me. But he couldn't handle my Work. And I was miserable for the next two years. Thank God I had the abortion and left him. I'd be choreographing children's games in Islington to this day otherwise."
The musicians had segued to High Flying, Adored. Deirdre closed her eyes. "Evita," she said, "I would love to do. But I can't sing and I'm too tall."
She lit an herbal cigarette. It smelled like burnt straw and peppermint.
"So I've specialized in Ibsen and Shaw...tough-minded women who get what they want. And now I realize, so many years after my 'emancipation,' that I really want to curl up with the kids and a book of fairy tales. That's during the day. At night I would play these bitches and the world would think that's the way I really am. An actress gets to have it both ways. If she can find the right man before she gets too old. Quite a life, hunh?"
"Yeah," Jeff agreed, in order to put an end to the subject. He indicated the menu: "Anything in here look good?"
"I won't know till I have another drinkie-poo. That's Martha in Virginia Wolff, isn't it?"
"Beats me. Never saw it."
"Scrumptious! One great part I'm still too young for." She switched gears abruptly, easily, since people expect it of actresses and expectations must be met or exceeded:
"Do you think my American accent's OK?"
Jeff was beginning to feel ferociously bored. He looked around for the waiter. He avoided motioning for another round.
"I mean I've worked on it constantly since The Great White Hope. I met these darling little punkettes in Soho. They had simply horrid clothes and no idea that Soho's dead now, but for the tourists and the sex shops, and even the sex shops have been legislated to within an inch of their lives. This is Cleveland," she enunciated with perfect mid-American flatness. "And then you have New Yawk, which of cawse is a snap if ya godda ear. Perfectly terrible sound. I wonder, do they ever listen to themselves? Longeyeland and all of that. I should think our Girl's from the mountain states, not? Colorado, maybe, or Utah. Someplace the war hasn't really got to yet. What do you think, Jeff?"
Jeff Brock took one of the famous chances that he was famous for. He had nothing to lose but the boredom:
"I think we should blow this joint, go back upstairs to your place and fuck our brains out. What do you think, Deirdre?"
Deirdre took an actressy beat, blinked her eyes coquettishly, and answered, Blanche Du Bois:
"Ah had no idea you'd wait this long!" She reached across the table, taking his rough hand in hers. She pressed a long, stockinged leg between his knees. "Pay the man, please!"
During her entire acting career, all the way back to Our Town at Saint Bernadette's School for Young Ladies, Deirdre Malone had never failed to sleep with her leading man. It was a perverse point of honor for her, a way of coming to know the dramatic ins and outs of his character and her own. It was, quite simply, Her Method. Since the few hours they'd spent together on the plane down, during the brief limo ride to the hotel, while she'd taken her usual long bath before dinner, and all through the collected works of Andrew Lloyd Webber in Fouquet's, Deirdre had wondered about the size and shape of her seduction.
Jeff's directness was refreshing, and terribly exciting, not to mention expeditious. Deirdre's panties were moist as she and the hero of UNTITLED walked across the broad modern tasteful lobby of the Hotel Camino Real, past the Calder stabile, and into the elevator. She snuggled aggressively against her leading man when they were alone in the lift. She nibbled at his ear and pecked lightly his neck, which smelled masculine and strange. He did not wear cologne.
When they had arrived at her floor, she left first, walking some five or six steps ahead of him, swaying her famous derriere provocatively. Her figure was perfect, of course, and Jeff was aroused easily and honestly. Deirdre slowed her walk, maddeningly. Were she a lioness she would flick her tail at him, sending unmistakable pheromones of desire his way, promising uncountable hours of mating ritual ahead. As a female human being, Deirdre Malone need only slow the gentle back and forth play of her haunches further to put Jeff Brock in agony by the time they'd reached her door.
She checked the hallway quickly. It was empty. She found her key easily and with a turn of her wrist they were inside.
Jeff flattened her against the quick-closed door. He pressed himself against her roughly, the way he knew she expected. Her suit was expensive. It had that odd odor of quality peculiar to silk.
Deirdre's breath was hot in his ear. Her need was immediate. Jeff understood it in a very uncomplicated way, being a man of much experience in these matters. There was very much more to it than simple sexual desire however. By the time Deirdre had grown as old as Kate Hepburn, biographers would have leveled whole forests attempting to illuminate the source of her promiscuity.
Similar thoughts ran through Jeff Brock's mind as Deirdre's broad accomplished lips nipped and sucked at him: Irish Catholic girlhood; the ultra-demanding father; the passion for make-believe; the sense of inferiority at the heart of every real actor's existence. Jeff was glad he was only playing at being a real actor.
Deirdre's hands encircled his neck, swooping like elegant seabirds around his collar. Fingernails hard as diamond clacked like knitting needles as she hurriedly undid his shirt-buttons. Her breasts thrust at him through her light green blouse, heaving already they were, hard nipples promising unbelievable visions of Irish hill country, lengthy rappels in deep clefts of Celtic mystery.
Jeff undid her blouse. Deirdre helped. She reached around and tugged at the zipper of her linen skirt. It slid soundlessly past her Parisian slip. She kicked it away and she drew the slip up over her head. Her chestnut hair caught at the lace of its hem, tumbling free finally when her arms stretched whitely over her head...
Deirdre pushed him gently away, held a finger briefly to his lips, brushed past him in taupe garter belt, breasts swaying firmly, stepping sexily through the anteroom and the dressing room to the bathroom in sheer hose and green Pierre Cardin|Cardin heels].
In the beginning the actor is lost, frightfully as any child who ever wandered out of grandma's house to look for gingerbread faeries. To be lost is his job. To find himself is his true reward.
Woe betide the actor in an Anthony Essex film who gives up the search and sets out for home and a cup of hot chocolate before he's examined every breadcrumb on the floor of the forest, for it is the act of watching this child, muddled, fearful, entirely unheroic in a strange place in the dark, that we, the audience, find so interesting.
Jeff finished removing his shirt on his way to the bedroom. He took off his slacks and folded them once over a chair. He slipped his socks quickly off, as though perhaps he had not changed them that morning. He never wore underwear. His erection was excruciating.
The streets below her windows were shiny with rain. Jeff drew the light gauze curtain slowly across the scene. The possibility of someone seeing them excited him, but he knew the sun would wake them early and he wanted to sleep when it was over.
He could hear the clatter of plastic on marble in the bathroom. An old-fashioned girl....Diaphragm over The Pill. Time-consuming perhaps, but somehow more natural. Even that excited him. He noticed flowers from Judy and Gerry on a table. There was a note which he could have read but did not.
There was wine and a basket of fruit on the desk. They'd want the wine later. In the middle, maybe, and after. Thoughtful of somebody to chill it. He opened it, poured a glass, tried it, liked it, poured a second glass for Deirdre. There was a rush of water in the bathroom. Full, heavily aerated, potable, Gringo-pleasing water.
Deirdre would splash water lightly on her neck and breast which would be flushed with desire. She would brush her striking red-brown hair long and vigorously. She would place perhaps a single dollop of expensive perfume near the source of her need and she would make her entrance.
Jeff sat, quickly, on the bed, thought better of it, and rose hurriedly to tilt a mirrored armoire door to reflect their imminent coupling. He was a nut for mirrors. When he'd made his living as a carpenter, he'd once done a whole room—a masturbatorium its owner had called it—in mirrors. Wall, floors, ceiling; all antique beveled gold-veined erotic mirror.
He hopped back to the bed, reclining carelessly, his head against the mirror above the headboard. Deirdre was still in the bathroom.
She would make her entrance, one leggy step carefully ahead of the other, Cardin sandals turned just so for his enjoyment. She was a thoughtful wench, he'd give her that. She knew men of his generation went nuts over heels and hose; reminded them of their mothers, probably; getting ready for a night on the town, all perfumed and pretty for Dad, maybe a little dinner after the eight o'clock screening of the original Peyton Place.
She would stand before him, hands cupping girlishly the large white breasts with the silver dollar-sized cinnamon aureolae, turning the upper body this way, then that, making him wait.
She would leave the heels on the first time. And she would start by taking him gently in her hand, perhaps; kneeling for him; maybe letting him run his hands through her hair the color of candied apples seen through very dark sunglasses on a Saturday afternoon at the county fair.
And then she would—
Jeff's reverie was smacked in the face by the rapid opening of the bedroom door, which had the effect of moving the air in the room quickly past him and towards his co-star. Jesus, she was wearing a tigersuit, the hard green and black-striped camouflage outfit like he'd worn in Nam. Heavy canvas jungleboots. A wicked scar of O.D. makeup across her face. Her hair back in a killer ponytail. She screamed, like a goddamned Ninja assassin, and leapt upon him, biting his neck ferociously, grinding the heavy-duty zipper of her jungle fatigues against what was now the softest part of him.
Actors were Sir Anthony Essex's particular peculiar delight. He adored making their lives miserable. He did not share his countryman Alfred Hitchcock's opinion that actors were cattle. He considered them rather lower on the evolutionary scale, more like hairy gastropods or perhaps particularly gifted bivalves.
The poor performers, for their part, were ignorant of the director's persuasions. This merely served to underscore Sir Anthony's theory. The trash papers and magazines for years have been full of stories of how he 'brought me out of my schizophrenic darkness,' or 'cured me of my need to be me.'
"Sir Anthony Essex," wrote an infamous alcoholic actress in her autobiography, "is the only director I know who can make filmmaking as difficult as life and I love him for it."
"I thought I'd seen hell in the Pacific, but this picture was a thousand times worse and it's all because of him! I love the sonuvabitch!" wrote a grizzled ex-Marine who'd also fallen off the wagon during the filming of BLITZ.
Well, the stories range hither and yon, all variations on the theme of sadomasochism for the good of the project.
It would be something She would do. The Girl. Deirdre explained some of it while they enjoyed the wine, hours later, after she had literally raped Jeff Brock.
Maybe She might. Deirdre was exploring maybes. A Girl who'd survived the Second Civil War, by herself, never staying anyplace long enough to become the property of any man in those imaginary futuristic times, would fuck like a man. Or an animal. It would be a political act. The Way You Made a Baby and a Freedom Fighter.
Subtext, she called it. The actor's excuse for doing any goddamned thing she pleased in the name of getting some Reality on the bones of her character.
Jeff's cock hurt. This is not to say he hadn't enjoyed it. After she'd had him rough and quick, he'd stripped her fucking jungle fatigues off her impossibly beautiful body and done it the old-fashioned way, over and over for hours. And Deirdre enjoyed it too. She told him about the lion and his mate. How she would circle the lion, flicking her tail to give him her scent, allowing him to initiate the coupling only once, then fighting him off till she felt like more, then going for it again and again, maybe twenty or thirty times till the old lion wished she'd let him sleep.
This was some of what she wanted for their love scenes, she explained, licking the salt and the gyzm off his belly between her sips of wine: the primitive, unthinking bestiality of the king and queen of the jungle in a war. If Anthony Essex had been in on their impromptu rehearsal, there would have been milk and cookies all around.
This drugstore never closed. North thanked God. He didn't need it yet, in fact he felt like a million bucks—make that two million bucks—but experience had always been his best teacher, and Don knew he was drunk. Polluted. Blottoed. Totalled. Wiped-out, Fucked Up and Done For. He said something to the cute lil' guy behind the counter and put the Alka-Seltzer in his pocket, cause he knew he'd manage to lose a bag on the way home.
In the Bag. Shit-faced. Pie-eyed. Plastered, Wasted and Totally Inebriated.
This drugstore on the corner of the Krystal Rosa was always open and North would need his Alka-Seltzer in the morning. If he lived to morning. If he wasn't run over by the same cab driver who'd driven him to work...was that only this morning...only...how many hours ago?
Same day. Same Don. Same old Anthony with his goddamn champagne. He got out of the combi with the kids from the Hotel Krystal Rosa cause he knew this drugstore was open and he needed...air...he really needed some air...
The air would do him good...reason number two for not letting the driver take him to the Sheraton...around the block and 'cross the Paseo Reforma. Pass the statue in the middle of the Paseo Reforma and don't walk against the light!
North found himself walking the wrong way, towards the Krystal. The aluminum and steel windows had been put up for the night in front of the little market they had on the street there. He could smell something smelling awful coming from one of those places where they carve the beef off the flank of a dead cow. There was gaslight burning up the middle of it, and at the bottom of it, and dark and leathery-looking pachucos staring at him and the meat-smell making him think he was gonna lose it.
Don came to a shop, that lingerie shop a couple doors down from the Krystal where they sold the pasties, and he knew there was a whorehouse right here too, upstairs, all red light streaming down, ugly guy at the top watching him, but please, God, let him get past the hotel and these smells....
Maybe he should hail a cab. Good idea. A cab. Bad idea. A cab. He wasn't careful he'd die in a taxi in this city.
Keep walking. Got to walk it like you talk it or you'll lose that beat... Krystal Bar is still open. Some of the stunt dudes having nightcaps. Missed a party, boys. Good ole Anthony....
Didn't stop at Krystal Bar. Kept walking, past the novelty shop with clocks and water pistols and souvenirs cheaper than the Gift Shop in the Krystal and past the record shop. Kids are still up. Can't be midnight yet. On his right the newsstand. Got porno there. Funny...thought Mexicans didn't. Same in Spain. Thought they didn't, but they did too. World moving too fast these days. Can't keep up...Got to walk it like you talk it....
Corner. Hang a left. Bright lights of Zona Rosa. Rotha. Thona Roetha. Trees and new streetlights and well-dressed people looking at you.
Straight. Think. A store named Cocaine. Very funny. Very cute. Wished you had some Co Cah Een right now to see you through this. Straighten you up all right. Better than hair of the dog, old Peruvian Marching Powder, lil' Alpine Skiing Equipment. Snow. Blow. Toot. Boot...
Tram tramp tramp, the boy's polluted. One foot in front of the other, G.I.. Like a forced march that time in AIT. Getchu ready for Nam, GI., Asshole Drill Instructors. D.I.. D.I., G.I.. Die, G.I.. Hut two three four. What the hell'r we fightin' for? Nothing gets you ready for the motherfucking jungle, blinding bright with the sounds and smells of death, boys. Don't tell you that. Can't tell you that. No idea, the jungle….
Great city. People on the streets. Got modern American music. Feel for Jock Mal. Good. In the pocket. Mexican acid rock with flutes. In the pocket. Glad the rain rain went away, come again another day, but not when we're at Popo. Popo, poo poo. They will be ruined, it rains at Poo Poo. Like that time at LZ Thunderbird, they lost the dozers over the hill, both tracks...torrential rainfall in the motherfucking jungle. Rain rain go away...hut two three four.
One two three RED LIGHT! This is int'resting. They got a goddamn Denny's fer Kee-ryst's sake, right here. Maybe have a cuppa coffee...no...no... get some sleepy weepy is the thing. Green light! Little pedestrian walking...one two three four...just like the USA...this ain't no backwards-thinkin' country... this ain't no disco...I ain't no Dee Jay...this ain't movin' pictures ...this is suicide!....... three...four....
There's Aca-Joe's...clothes fer schmos...the schmart man knows...he blows his nose...at Aca-Joe's….
A little pizza place on the right. Pizza Camino Real. I like ah try ah you pizza por favor. Anchobies optional... Street's a gettin' dark now...turn the corner...past the bank...past the Travel Agencies...good time to travel...peso's crashing through to the center of the earth...make Pat Boone a rich man... there's The Angel...All's Right wit duh Woild...
Don's Coming Home...So High...
Wednesday morning at nine o'clock, will UNTITLED begin?
Sappily clutching the run from before,
Don will have wished that he could have saved more...
We'll go Down, Down There Below The Line
Where the Living's Free...
Hombres who work for the price of their clothes...
Cocaine is cheap so we'll all blow our nose...
We'll Go Down, Down There Below the Line
Where the bosses don't live.
Only the slaves and the peons exist.
Donny and stuntmen and makeup exist.
Raw stock and lunches and lumber exist.
Fringes and Pensions and Dental exist.
But Judy and Gerry and Ant'ny insist:
That it's Down, Down There Below the Line
Where we'll make it up.
Squeeze them and soak them and keep them all down.
Smile like an angel, but Jew them all down.
Try like the Devil so they will not frown.
Try like a mother, so we all don't get drowned.
Get this thing right, son, or get out of town...
And there's my hotel so I'll see you around....
Most of the lot of them slept like babies on barbiturates. Weary, they had traveled. From New York and L.A., across the borders of propriety, crossing the thresholds of their dreams.
Judy slept, alone and happy, in spite of Gerry, who had spluttered all night long that Tony had let him down. Smiley slept, because he had drunk too much champagne and because he was happy his editor was un hombre bueno and because he had a short easy day tomorrow.
Jacques and Jessica and Ana and Eduardo slept because they could ill afford not to. And the lovers slept, of course, the deep and wonderful sleep that strange new sex will bring, like a gift, free and easy, side by side like the two ells in the Spanish verb 'to rain': llover.
Those of UNTITLED's company who were not in love slept with the idea that they might be, and soon. Movie locations breed love affairs as everyone knows. Their temporary world was full of possibilities.
And all over the city los mejicanos slept, for the rain had come in a season where usually it was absent, and the sounds of the rain on their roofs reminded them of summer and their vacations and of the possibility for growth and change, even in what the gringos call the dead of winter.
But at Benito Juárez International Airport, nobody save the passen-gers who'd been stranded slept, and they fitfully. Airport Harry Golonka cursed his bad luck. Wind shear joined the thunderstorms that danced across the plateau this evening. Flights had been diverted, one out of three since seven o'clock, to Acapulco, Manzanillo and Poza Rica. There were artillery pieces in military transports awaiting further routing in Zihuatanejo. He had two aircraft with UNTITLED items manifested grounded at the tiny airport in Tehuacán, and two featured actors were laid up in Aguascalientes, having missed an earlier connection out of Houston. Aguascalientes, that was a laugh. He'd be in muy aguascalientes if he didn't have this business straightened out by morning.
He called his Angelita after midnight. She had just come from the theater in La Zona Rosa where they were showing Dunas. Rosita had not liked the movie; she did not understand the popularity of this man they called Sting as a movie actor, though some of his music was muy agradable. Harry's credit was very large at the end of the film, though she and her girl friend had wished they had not stayed so long to see it.
Harry explained his predicament and Rosita understood, as she always did. Muchos besos para los ninos y hasta manana. He would be up all night.
It was a lousy job. Somebody had to do it. Every time he looked at his bank book, Airport Harry was glad he was the one.
On Hollywood and filmmaking:
Below the Line
sex drugs and divorce
a little life, interrupted
- Hecho en Mejico
- Sam's Song
- Hemingway and Fortuna
- Hummingbird on the Left
- The Long and Drunken Afternoon
- Safe in the Lap of the Gods
- Quetzal Birds in Love
- Angela in Paradise
- And the machine ran backwards
a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon
I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind
Below the Line
Final Cut Pro
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Apocalypse Now Redux
The Jazz Singer
We Were Soldiers