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The way it started was that my Dad and I were cleaning this guy’s pool. Big fuckin’ house, like the Bain De Soleil ad, but apparently the guy wasn’t happy because he fired the Mexican dude that was taking care of it and before you know it the whole thing was filled with leaves and shit, which he must have been okay with because it was obviously a few weeks’ buildup by the time we got there. Eventually a squirrel drowned in it. Maybe it was depressed. Anyway, this guy wasn’t going to fish out a mammal on his own, so he found us in the phone book. Aardvark Pool Company. It works, you’d be surprised.
So we’re there skimming and adding chemicals and shit and the guy is there screaming into his phone, circling the pool in a terrycloth bathrobe and throwing down Pall Malls like he’s in a contest. “She couldn’t even fucking type, Jerry! That’s the whole job! I don’t care that she wouldn’t show me her tits – this may surprise you, but I’ve seen tits! The fuck should I know, she’s your niece!” There was a pause, and then, “Hello? Hello? Motherfucker!” He whipped the phone into the stucco and it exploded into about a trillion pieces. The only sound was this guy huffing like the bull in the Bugs Bunny cartoon.
My father has balls. Always has. He takes a beat and says to the guy, “You know it’s cheaper to just hang up.” There’s like 5 seconds of dead air, which in a situation like that feels like a crazy long time. Then the guy starts laughing. Really laughing, holding his gut, and then starts coughing like he’s got TB. Deep, horrible coughs, pretty gross actually, then spits some inhuman wad of I don’t know what into the hedges. “Funny shit, pool guy. I’m a writer, I know funny shit.”
Now my old man saw an opening. He’s from Lebanon, they have an instinct.
So, it ended up that I started working for Joe Marino, Hollywood screenwriter, cocaine enthusiast, and neglectful pool owner. My main qualifications – as my father laid out for Joe poolside that day – were that I could type 60 words a minute and shut the fuck up at the same time. Joe was working on the rewrite of a movie called Two In The Chest, which he described as “a psychosexual journey into the belly of the LAPD.” This was his thing, it’s how he bought the Bain De Soleil house. “I’m the first guy to show muff in the cop thriller genre,” he told me on at least four occasions. “You want to get somewhere, be a pioneer.”
My day would start at 10. He usually rolled in around 1-1:30. The shades needed to be down, a Fresca on ice should appear as if by magic, and most importantly the radio should be OFF. He’d walk in, slug down about half the Fresca, and then with great seriousness he’d walk over and flip on the receiver. It was a giant old Sansui that drew so much power the fucking lights dimmed. Most importantly, it was always tuned to the same channel, some way-right-on-the-dial signal that played this insane combination of minor AOR hits and old soul and the occasional new wave track that made it seem like the Payola guy got his envelopes switched. Anyway, it was a great fucking station. So, he’d come in, flip that big bastard on, and then just stand in front of it swaying with his eyes closed, like he was sucking the electricity out of the air, and then he would just start talking. My job was to type it as fast as he spit it out. It usually went something like:
McFetridge struts through Chinatown, steam pouring up through the grates around him, pigeons taking wing. A bum takes a step back and tips his ratty fedora, giving a wide berth to the cop whose name rings out in these streets. From a second floor fire escape, a whistle. A stacked blonde in a negligee tosses her hair back, nipples hard against the sateen despite the fetid air. “Hey McFetridge,” she coos, “I might be carrying some contraband! Why don’t you come up and frisk me?” He doesn’t even break stride. “I gotta be somewhere kid,” he sneers. “Start without me.”
Sometimes he would go for 20 minutes, sometimes it would be 10 hours. Occasionally he’d break to take a dump, or eat a tuna sandwich, or hoover a pile of blow the size of a spaghetti dinner. He never asked me any questions, except for “Where’d we leave off?” or “What was that guy’s name again?” I just typed and typed and never talked unless it was absolutely necessary. At the end of each day, whenever it was, he’d say “Ok, good job,” and then hand me some crumpled bills and just walk out. It was like playing the lottery. Usually it was 50-60 bucks. Once it was 620. Once it was 8. It was a fuckin’ great job.
Joe never went back and looked at what we did, never asked, just steamrolled on. Every Friday I had to turn the pages into the producers, who’d send back passive-aggressive notes on Mondays. Joe hated that part. “These fucking Jews are trying to destroy me! They don’t care about art! They want power! They want to see me fail, so they can take this all away! They don’t know who they’re dealing with! I’ll fucking slaughter them all!” This speech was punctuated by assorted key bumps and coughing and maniacal laughter, but the funniest part is that the whole thing was soundtracked by that fucking radio station. “Pied Piper”, or whatever. It was pretty cinematic, honestly.
Anyway, the notes from the producers started getting more aggressive-aggressive, telling him he had to cut down on the bad language, that the women should occasionally be fully dressed, etc. Joe was flipping the fuck out. He turned the receiver up louder and louder, which would seem counterintuitive, but we still busted out pages day after day.
McFetridge leaps over the bar and grabs Schatzie by the balls. “You ever want to use these again, you better tell me where he’s holed up!” Schatzie yelps and splutters out “I can’t tell you! He’ll kill me!” McFetridge smashes a bottle on the bar and holds the jagged spout to Schatzie’s left eye. “It’s up to you. You want to die later or now?”
Anyway, we were getting close, and the days were getting longer. Joe was spiraling either up or down – I honestly couldn’t tell – and he was getting more and more paranoid. His metaphors started bleeding into each other. “You fly too close to the sun, and motherfuckers try to shoot you down because they’re jealous and they want to get to the sun first, but you know how the space race ends, and I’m not fucking Russian. I’m Italian!” That song about the amusement park was playing at a volume that would melt steel.
There was a knock on the door – it was Friday night, and they wanted their pages. “Get rid of them,” he hissed. I went to the door and told the intern we were working and that we needed a few hours. He whispered, “C’mon man, I have to pick up my girlfriend, we have concert tickets!” I shrugged and shut the door in his face. We dove back into it, the music thumping, the typewriter banging crazy percussion, Joe leaning his head into the speaker cone, shouting dictation.
Juliana pushes his head down between her legs, her face contorting in a rictus of ecstasy, her mouth opening slightly, a moan escaping from her throat. McFetridge rises and thrusts away savagely, his hips in time with the drums as the music swells. Juliana reaches behind the sofa and pulls out the meat cleaver, still dripping with Schatzie’s blood. The sound of a train grows closer. “Go on,” she says, “Come for me. I want you to finish first! Go on! Finish! Finish!” The train throws a spark, illuminating the room, glinting off the knife and waking McFetridge from his lustful stupor. As she brings the cleaver down, he rolls off her, climaxing as the blade glances off his shoulder, narrowly missing his exposed jugular. He crawls across the rug, balls swinging, and grabs the gun off the coffee table as she charges at him. He turns and fires twice, dropping her instantly into a pile on the floor. He stands over her, his naked body silhouetted by the streetlights. Smoke trails from the barrel of the gun. “You told me to finish,” he says almost sweetly. “Now it’s finished.”
We looked at each other then, smiles widening. He came over and embraced me, squeezing me tightly, and I heard him crying softly.
There was a knock on the door. An angry knock. It wasn’t the intern.
“Joe, it’s Marty. I want those fucking pages NOW. I don’t know what you think is happening here, but I’m not playing around!” Marty was the Executive Producer, the one who wrote the checks.
“Grab the pages! We’re getting out of here!” Joe ran toward the door like an Olympic athlete and karate kicked it, sending Marty and the intern flying. I scooped up the pages and followed.
We made it down the stairs and out to the parking lot. Marty and the intern had recovered and were maybe 50 yards behind us. A security guard in a golf cart closed in from the east. We scrambled into Joe’s Carmen Ghia and he gunned the engine, but I couldn’t get my door to close. “YOU HAVE TO JIGGLE IT!” he screamed as we flew across the lot. I was turned backward in the passenger seat slamming it over and over and it wouldn’t stay shut. I threw the pages in the back seat and used both hands, and then it shut for good.
With my left ring finger crushed in it.
Blood shot all over the windshield and all over Joe, who screamed and jerked the wheel right, burying the hood of the Carmen Ghia into a honey wagon. Glass flew everywhere, and then time just sort of…. stopped. Nothing moved. Joe, who was naturally completely unharmed, looked over at me wide-eyed as blood continued to spray in pulses out of my hand, which was still jammed in the door. That’s when I noticed the same fucking radio station was playing in the car. “Itchycoo Park”. I was still laughing when the paramedics got there.
I lost my finger at the second knuckle, which hasn’t been that big a deal, but it did cost me that job. I wasn’t jack shit for a typist after that. The studio gave me a nice severance package (pun intended). Joe came to visit me in the hospital, semi-apologized, had me sign a non-disclosure agreement, and gave me $1100. It was the least he could do, considering the movie went on to make $300 million and he had points. I’m in the credits! Assistant to Mr. Marino. Still the best job I ever had.
Download: Summer Gold 2017