Saturday, May 12, 2007

"The Liquid Life" (installment twenty-five)


It never became known as anything other than “The Company” and its moment was fleeting, but bright like anything burning itself out is.
Cassius first engaged a group of French filmmakers and poets who were starting a club. The owner, Andi, really couldn’t see what it was that Cassius could offer him for the $1,500 price. He declined the deal.

“Don’t. Don’t do that!” Cassius smiled him, charm-shot him. “My power, my people with me, we will get you what you need now. If you just follow me,” he told the club-runner who remained unmoved.

So what Cassius did was pay for all his garter girls to get in and he set them down at the bar, in the Frenchmen’s club, Sandbox. Elendele love the name so much she went too, although she knew about and disliked the contracts and the dress code Cassius was holding the girls to.

They all sat coolly reordering waters on ice over and over, using up all the barstools, blocking business, refusing all requests to dance or partake of an invited drink. In the surrounding streets Cassius stalked like a wounded coyote, confronting people heading for Sandbox, telling them he’d just been there and that it was dead inside.

By 12:45, Cassius had $2,500 of the Frenchmen’s money in his pocket, which included a refund for what he’d paid to get the girls in. Then he directed his harem to harangue the dance floor.

The hit it, a pack of future Gypsies in aluminum foil faces and candy apple breasts, twenty-five twenty-year olds shaking their new woman bodies faster than their minds around the 4 a.m. dance floor, as time-lost near-children flashed freak fashion and teeth fashion and new ways to take people home.

The next day the filmmakers agreed to an under-the-table deal. They conceded to use The Company, make use of its assets (such as they were), for three months. They also assented to a small acting role for Elendele in a low-budget affair they were involved in. It was a short piece, artistic and rhetorical, in which she was miscast as a young peasant girl, and never went too far, not even in video, but I still covet my copy

Saturn agreed to help Cassius run The Company after an all-night negotiating session behind closed doors to determine the proper compensation for her. Details of her package were never revealed by Saturn or Cassius.

She’d given up on acting because the Writers’ strike was still going. “I don’t want to be a part of an industry with a union this dumb,” she read from a tersely worded statement to an empty salon, before locking herself in her room to avoid the inevitable attack from the shop steward in her life.

Elendele, for her part, had lent a helping hand and was now turning to other things. She felt she was bigger than anything The Company could offer and she was right. Some interesting projects were within her reach.

A few months into the thing Cassius and Saturn and The Company girls were all getting used to the good money game when the French refused to sign for another semester. The truth was their moment on the slipline of style, their club on the Miracle Mile had been eclipsed. But worse for Cassius, some of the girls were falling in love with the scotch boys of certain strength and character drawn to the club and lyrical conversation. He hadn’t considered this. The clientele were beginning to complain that replacement girls had bad party etiquette, mostly because he hadn’t had the time to train them.

Many had fallen for the gone gals without ever knowing it and would shadow him with phone calls at midnight and other kinds of madness, over and over, asking him things such as, “What ever happened to that girl Anise with breath like black licorice?”

So Cassius tried to power Elendele back into the concern. Elendele shouted Cassius to do more for her career and then we would see. She was the queen of his company, she pointed him, raising her skirt up her thigh. But he was programmed to damage her on this one and he showed her the contract she’d signed, when he’d gotten her drunk, on the backside of a cocktail napkin.

It said, “I grant all control over my career direction to the personal manager, and anything else he decides he wants to do with me.”

“Cassius, you can’t do this,” I plugged him after a quick survey of the offending rag.

“Pretty girls shouldn’t take pretty little pills,” came his face-forward challenge.

So Elendele went to Gina Night’s father. He owed her from the hand she gave him with the El Salvador dissidents during the stage employees’ rebellion. He’d been in town, but Whitey McEntee told me, wasn’t the same since he had to move Gina away. His house of cards had basically tumbled without her and Whitey said he was getting about as much disrespect as he used to get respect. Still, he was able ruffle Cassius up and unhook Elendele without much effort.

Elendele came back from seeing Gina’s dad with an envelope, addressed to me and Saturn and herself, as it if were the old days of the salon.

The manila sheet inside the envelope paper-blossomed into a giant poster from Teatro Alla Scala in Milan. “Eugenio Oneghin” was the name of the opera it announced and next to the almost important character Tatiana, was the name in bigger block print: Gina Notte.

It was a shock, but a short one. Her solutions were always for the long-term and her patience always confounded and left us feeling inadequate, because to be that deliberate was inconsistent with the liquid life.

After Elendele got the terms on her contract rewritten the bad blood between she and Cassius became badder. It confused their already confused friendship. Cassius was embarrassed around us all because we knew he’d been bullied and that his power wasn’t so much stronger than a union thug’s big stick.

One day soon after that, while we were sitting around debating the benefits of the city’s new and progressive family leave policy, we heard over the radio that the Writers’ strike was over. They went back to work for less money than they were offered at the beginning, but they had done years’ worth of damage and Elendele was pleased with the results. “That’ll teach them” she decreed.

Gina Night’s career breakthrough and the resumption of studio production set Elendele onto Cassius like fire over a dry Texas plain. She wanted work.

Soon after, Cassius surprised everybody when he landed a role in a movie he promised would break her big. She bit again on his incessant bait; then played with it in her mouth like a fox lunching on prairie dog. She kissed Cassius on the mouth after his announcement in the salon, where Cortez felt slighted because he was showing us his newest series of the Pope, and another of the mass murderer of the month. Elendele and Cassius went to the back room and closed off a space for themselves until morning.

Nightgirl. Maid Marian of the garbageways and long tunnels of the subconscious mind; go back to where you came from. Go back to nowhere.

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