Samantha Flint, having crashed and burned in New York and Washington thanks to a combination of bizarre circumstances and her own decisions, accepts the charity of her college friend Miriam Mohr, and goes to work in Hollywood in her friend’s high-powered artist management firm.
And so she was back in her car. The only place, Samantha would attest, where she was really happy: her music, her air-conditioning, her bag of chocolate, her double-strength cappuccino in the console, her cigarette at the ashtray, her cellphone. If only all of life could be like her L.A. commute!
A lot of important agencies in New York worked out of holes-in-the-wall, like Sy Gold’s operation; there was a smug Dutch bequeathed frugality that seemed to say, “We run empires from this cubbyhole on West Twenty-sixth!” That wasn’t the California way. The Mimi Mohr agency was at 9265 Sunset Boulevard, one building east of the line where the Beverly Hills world of manicured topiary and elegant, power-operated security gates began. In the 1980s, this stretch of Sunset almost became a second Rodeo Drive full of couture and hair salons and café/wine-bar perches for upscale lunching ladies but the funkiness of Sunset had reasserted itself. Tower Records, the Whiskey, comedy clubs and their live cable broadcasts of expletive-spewing comics, get-your-maps-of-the-stars’-homes pavilions, Beverly Hills kids playing at being grunge lowlifes, authentic lowlifes working their way into Beverly Hills’ youthful circles, prostitutes waiting at curbside…
“Sunset Boulevard,” mused William once. “Where the sun sets daily on Western Civilization.”
Let it set, Samantha reflected. She parked in the garage underneath the building, with a fee of $2 for every twenty minutes to discourage the nobodies who might pester the big agencies.
“Excuse me, Ms. Flint?”
Sam turned to see a young woman, very pretty, approach with a small portfolio.
“I am so sorry to bother you this way, but I didn’t know what else to do. I got your name from Ruben,” she recited hurriedly. Ruben was one of the five guys in Tomorro Gs, the [barely talented boy band] handled by Mohr & Associates.
“… we were hanging out at the Romper Room, you know? And Ruben said you were real nice and I should come talk to you here but your assistant said I couldn’t have an appointment or even wait in the lobby to give you this.”
Since when are people saying I’m nice? Samantha took the woman’s portfolio. She opened it to the resume. Sandra Blake, 26. Sam knew in a glance that she had shaved more than a year or two off her real age.
“Have I heard of you? ” Samantha muttered, before scanning the resume. Sandra was a daughter on Gimme a Break! with Nell Carter, one of those bizarre ’80s shows where black people got on TV by ministering to straightlaced or wacky white families, providing all the warmth and soul and downhome wisdom, or by being freaky growth-retarded little boys farmed out to white homes. After that, Sandra had guest-starred on Saved By the Bell as a delinquent student, then Sister Kate as a runaway teen; there were one-offs on short-lived sitcoms Still Here and Uncle Buck. Her last TV gig was seven years back. Back then her name was Winona Blake.
“What was wrong with ‘Winona’ Blake?” Sam asked.
“Oh. Well there’s Wynonna Judd and Winona Rider. Too many Winonas.”
“Yeah, but there ‘s Sandra Bullock.”
”I could change it again,” she said slowly.
“But you’ve done some films,” Sam mumbled, turning the page. Straight-to-video , low-rent titles, serial-killer-chases-blonde-around-deserted-sorority-house kind of films … Sandra’s list included Avenger 3, Key West Nurses and, uh-oh, some of those softcore porn films available on Pay TV in hotels: Tracy’s Wild Ride, a hitchicker in hot pants number, and Boobwatch…
“It’s sort of a Baywatch take off,” Sandra offered.
“Except they take off a little bit more, hm?” Sam said, closing her portfolio. “You might want to consider dropping those titles from your resume. How naked did you get in these things?”
“I was never the main girl, I mean, I showed my tits, but that’s about it. Rubbed some lotion on some guys, but no…”
Samantha tried to escape with, “I don’t know what I can do for you. Mimi Mohr decides on the client list and she’s full up.”
Sandra had expected a rejection. Maybe the night before she had fooled herself into thinking Samantha Flint was her salvation, let her practice telling [Entertainment Tonight] about how she cornered her agent in a garage and the rest was Hollywood history. Sam was new enough to L.A. that she sided with the underdog… No. It had to end here, before unrealistic dreams were put in motion.
Samantha took the elevator to the ninth floor. The elevator doors opened upon an opulent lobby; behind the receptionist there were raised, shining brass cursive letters against a mahogany plaque: MIMI MOHR & ASSOCIATES. Below, in lesser raised letters, were the names of subpartners and powerful consultants. Samantha was not among them. It was clear, as well from her colleagues’ condescension, that everyone figured she was only there at the whim of the boss, Mimi’s college buddy who needed a job. Samantha knew if she asked Mimi to add her name to the shiny gold display of “players” in the lobby that Mimi would roll her eyes, apologize for overlooking it, and have the artisan busy tomorrow correcting the situation.
But Sam would die before she asked for that.
Samantha handed Tiffani the portfolio. “Could you file that under Talent, Miscellaneous, please.”
Tiffani saw it was Sandra Blake, the woman she’d effectively short-circuited for the last month. “Maybe I should throw it away?”
“Please file it where I asked.”
Samantha ventured down the hall. She caught Mimi’s eye and was waved inside her boss’s plush office; Sam leaned against the doorway, pretending not to eavesdrop.
Mimi’s facility with Hollywood-ese had excelled in order to titillate her fellow deal-makers. Harley-Davidson slang: “I like it, Ben-we’ll go into Sony together. You be hog daddy and l’ll ride bitch.” Topless bars: “Yeah, Miramax has got lots more money than they’re stuffin’ in my G; you and I gotta take ’em into the back room, Saul, for a lap dance.” Porn films : “Norm, I’m giving you the money shot and you go and leave the lens cap on…”
Mimi was on the phone with Joel Goldblum, the agent for Amber Wentworth, whom Mimi managed. Mimi loved carrying on for Joel, who was utterly smitten.
“Oh really. Uh-huh. It’s not workin’ my parts, Joel. I thought Amber was going to be in the story of three generations of New England women, Hallmark Hall of Fame with someone like Jessica Tandy. Yes, I know Jessica Tandy is dead — now I need to be hearing names like Joanne Woodward, Shirley MacLaine …”
Mimi rolled her eyes.
“Coco Lane? Hundred-year-old Vegas whore Coco Lane? What? They backed the Hollywood Squares grid up to the studio and … Oh please — that shot-out piece of work? Her career’s been circling the bowl for twenty years — jiggle the goddam handle, Joel! Mimi listened a moment more. “Okay then. Get back to me, sweetheart.” Now she turned to Samantha…
Mimi has solved Samantha’s housing problem. She has sued a rival manager who said she slept with one of her clients; Mimi won big and he had to sell her his house in the Hollywood Hills.
“You took the man’s house?”
“He shouldn’t have libeled me! Sam, I’ve got the greatest lawyer, you gotta meet him. A very attractive — Blakely!”
Her assistant was in the doorway: “Yes, Mimi?”
“Get Robert Donovan on the phone for me, and set up a lunch at Chinois on Main. After Tuesday sometime, I don’t care.”
“Sam, you’ll love the guy. If you get in trouble out here, he’s your scumbag-for-hire…”
“But,” said Samantha, still a beat behind, “you took the man’s home–”
“You can stay in the house,” Mimi commanded. “Until I get someone real to move in. You’ll love it!”
But nobody ever moved in. Samantha had dwelled lightly in 1995, waiting for an eviction which never came; by 1996 her few accumulated things had gradually emptied into the vast house, and she’d begun buying furniture. Her stuff filled one little room of this two-story, six-bedroom, five-bathroom, four-fireplace, three-car garage, ocher Mission Revival hillside mansion with patios overlooking Los Angeles to the south and east, a jacuzzi and sundeck on the red-clay roof, a kidney-shaped pool tiled with hand-painted Portuguese azulejos that made the water iridescently aquamarine and inviting, all amid a landscape of ever-blooming tropical verdure, bougainvillea and jacaranda, palms by the pool that supplied a seasonal crop of luscious medjool dates.
Samantha was at first depressed by all the blank, furnitureless rooms, and her own drably furnished cell amid the spatial splendor. Not even Troy’s moving in, after their marriage in December of ’96, seemed to fill out the place, since he only brought a few boxes full of things from Laguna Beach.
But if she never felt entirely at home there, she never felt entirely alone either. Cleaning women, Mexican immigrants all, burrowed in and out with no discernible schedule. Sam would be awakened at eight A.M. by a comprehensive second-floor vacuuming, or would be reading a trade magazine by the pool only to have Gabriela (the only domestic she learned the name of) approach silently from behind and scare the hell out of her:
“Will that be all, madam?”
After the heart-racing shock, Sam managed to say civilly, “Yes, that’s fine, Gabriela.” Sam had no idea what had been done or what when asked consented to. “Maybe you can knock on the glass patio door next time and not scare Miss Flint to death?”
Samantha had been surprised by workmen on the roof repairing the roof tiles, pool men and their assistants chlorinating and filtering, a small squad of illegal-alien personnel under the command of a master gardener who kept the grounds fertile and lush. She had learned not to walk around undressed or to leave her blinds open. And in time she came to be comforted by all the comings and goings of the place and its innumerable dependents. It was down right aristocratic, really — Samantha’s mother would approve — this constant buzz of servitude and anonymous upkeep.