Christine in Hollywood
When Christine arrived in Hollywood she brought with her a brand new B.A.
in film from a mountain college. She suspected that the other piece of paper,
on which her favorite teacher had scrawled the names of five video directors
and their phone numbers, was more important.
Amazingly, one of the directors steered her towards a job -- a week-end shoot
minding the cameras and lighting gear for a heavy metal video. What could be
better? She liked El Pinhead's records, and she loved working with cameras.
Though she was exhausted at the end of three 12-hour shooting days, she was
also exhilarated. Even better, the job led to another. And that job to a third.
Work begets work. She started to get to know people, and, with the confidence
of the employed, wasn't shy about calling people she'd just met, looking for
work. After all, it was Hollywood. Isn't that what you were supposed to do?
And she knew she was a good worker, good with people, anal about the equipment.
Unfailingly prompt, even if no one else was. When you started from the bottom
-- and who didn't? -- as a production assistant, you had to be good. And, you
had to know somebody.
Six months of regular work had made her complacent. But then the dusty Hollywood
spring eased into the steamy Hollywood summer, and the work just wasn't, well,
happening. Summer traditionally marks the season's end for nearly all TV work.
Tapings stop, bands go on tour, the entire capital-I Industry settles into a
stupor. In May, she coiled the last hundred feet of four-ought cable for a Dickwads
shoot, and didn't have any work on deck. That was all right -- she'd earned
a rest. By the first week of June she was getting concerned about finding work
again. If her calls were returned, it was invariably with discouraging words:
"Nope, sorry, band's out of town, no money for videos, they're shooting
in Mexico, the company folded, don't you know it's summer? Nobody shoots in
the summer, get a tan, geez, honey...."
Christine panicked. She had called everyone on her list. She had called everyone
she knew. She imagined a sea of pink WHILE YOU WERE OUT messages spiked on a
hundred empty desks. Unread. She wanted to cry, and then she called her college
"I don't know what to do," she found herself saying. "Everything
so well. There were all these jobs. And now--"
Her teacher sighed, and Christine realized she'd been whining. "I'm really
sorry for calling you up like this. It's just that I've spent the last week
punching numbers and getting nowhere."
"It's okay," her teacher said. He had been one of the younger faculty,
a serious guy with a real flair for teaching Fellini. "It happens to everyone.
It happened to me." He then told her a story about getting shut out of
a film set when he'd thought he had the Second Assistant Director job sewn up.
It was a story he'd told in class, of course. Christine looked at the clock,
and realized she'd been talking a time zone away for nearly half an hour. She
tried to wrap it up. "Well, listen, thanks for hearing me out," she
cut in. "I guess I should make some more calls."
But her teacher hadn't hung up. Instead, he'd given her another name and phone
number. "Margie's a little, uh, brusque, but tell her I gave you an A and
I never give As." He laughed, and Christine felt a bit better as she hung
up. She twisted the scrap of paper, and punched the number. She'd had to leave
a message of course. But somehow, it was okay.
The next day, she went down the phone list again, getting more machines, and
more disconnections. If she reached the administrative assistants, she tried
to be friendly but firm, making a note not to call the number until three days
had passed. She had a feeling there was a subtle distinction between forceful
and pushy and she didn't want to be one of those people. The pushy ones. But
she called Margie's number, and, a miracle, got Margie.
"It's perfect timing that you called," the producer said. "My
dear friend Sylvie -- you know, Sylvie Frost? the cabaret singer? is trying
to get her life together before her two weeks at the Coco Cabaret. She calls
it a comeback, but I said, `Darling, where did you go?' Nowhere -- but she's
looking for a personal assistant, to help her with the business. Call her,"
Margie urged. "I'll tell her to expect you."
Christine was astounded, and said nothing for a moment. Margie regarded silence
with suspicion. "You were a student of Bruce Prendergast, right?"
she said. "Oh yes," Christine said. "He told me to tell you I
got an A."
Instantly she regretted it. She sounded 18, a kid, not someone who was 23, with
six months real Hollywood experience under her belt. "Well, good for you,"
Margie said. Now, her voice sounded snappish. "Maybe you can help Sylvie
balance her checkbook. I'll tell her she can recognize you by your Phi Beta
Kappa key. That's a joke, honey, relax, and call her."
Christine had never heard of Sylvie Frost, let alone her Top-Ten 1965 hit, "Never
Ignore Me," but she called the number. The woman who answered the phone
sounded like she'd just been woken from a nightmare: "Yes?" she barked.
"Sylvie Frost?" Christine asked. "I'm Christine. Margie Feinbaum
said I should call you. I understand you're looking for an assistant."
Christine had rehearsed these three lines for about ten minutes before she called.
Sylvie sounded relieved. "Right -- Margie said you'd be calling. I need
someone to pick up my gowns at the studio, make some calls, lick some stamps,
and just generally clean up my files. Where do you live?"
"Hollywood," Christine told her, and waited to be asked for her experience,
"Right," Sylvie said. "You've got a car, right."
Christine was taken aback, "Of course I have a car," she said, bristling.
"I couldn't get to my job if I didn't have a car."
She was in curlers and kimono, but the hand that applied the face's make-up
was clearly experienced at having its subject seen from the nethermost galleries.
There was a moment's charged silence. Christine thought she'd offended the woman,
but it was the right answer for Sylvie, who laughed. A low growling chuckle
that was not devoid of warmth or humor. "Oh-kee, kiddo," she said,
and gave Christine directions to her house. Christine hastily grabbed her Thomas
Guide (she never left anything of value in her car -- the neighborhood), and
found the appropriate page. Carefully, she noted the twists and turns, the false
trails and cul-de-sacs of the Malibu hill system. Sylvie was moderately patient,
until she'd led Christine's pencil trail straight to 28944 Ruffled Wren Court,
a tiny lasso-tipped street that dangled from an intestinally twisted thoroughfare.
"Okay kid, Chris," she said. "Ten ayem mañana."
"Bye," Christine said to the dial tone.
Christine allowed an hour for the morning's drive, and she was glad to leave
the hanging heat and smog in her Hollywood delta `hood though she couldn't shake
off a feeling of foreboding. She punched up AC/DC on her stereo, "Highway
to Hell," and shook her head along to the flaying guitar solo. "It's
only for two weeks," she told herself. Two weeks, then back to leather
guitar boys and coiling cables.
She found the house without trouble, and was 15 minutes early. So she killed
the engine, and surveyed her new workplace. Two bougainvilleae, viciously pruned
though in full crimson glory adorned the front door of the perfectly ordinary
split-level. The curtains were drawn, and the garage door was closed. No plants
in the window, no lawn chairs on the patch of front porch -- not even a newspaper
on the doormat. Christine looked at the other houses. If there were cars, they
were concealed in the out-buildings. The neighborhood had the feel of a fortress,
though one temporarily abandoned.
Christine got out of the car and approached number 28944. It was five minutes
to ten. She pressed the button by the door knob and didn't hear an answering
ring. But the door suddenly swung open-- "as if she were waiting for me
by the mail slot," Christine thought later -- and Sylvie greeted her.
She was in curlers and kimono, but the hand that applied the face's make-up
was clearly experienced at having its subject seen from the nethermost galleries.
Sylvie's eyebrows were pencilled circumflexes, her blusher suggested the cheekbones
of an Apache, and her lipstick was as orange as a scraped carrot. Christine
nearly shook her head in amazement but caught herself. "Howyadoin' kid,"
was all Sylvie offered by way of greeting. "This way," she said, leading
her down a central hallway. Sylvie wore pink maribou-trimmed mules and lifted
her feet surely, as if she was used to the spike heels sinking into the thick
pile of the rather dingy beige wall-to-wall.
As she traipsed dutifully after Sylvie, Christine snuck glances at the framed
photographs that rested on the floor. They documented a frail gamine with Walter
Keen eyes and a wistful, black-lipstick smile. Campy `50s balloony-lettering
with titles such as "My Guy, Guy" and "Love Me Later."
The pictures had been arranged in chronological order, which gave Christine
the somewhat disturbing sensation of seeing Sylvie -- or the woman in the pictures,
who surely could not have been this antsy old hen stepping claw-like before
her -- age instantaneously. "My career," Sylvie said, sensing her
eye movements. "Someday, I'll tell you the whole story, and show you my
Grammy, but today it's work-work-work!"
Sylvie slowed down in the kitchen, an airy chamber of white ash paneling and
chrome-finishings. A rack of gleaming pots and pans dangled from iron hooks
in the ceiling. "Nice," Christine thought -- she once worked in a
restaurant, and could recognize quality cooking equipment. But the tile counter
was bare save for a coffee mug, a spoon, and an uncapped jar of instant coffee.
"Oh god," Christine thought. "I'll have to bring my own tea."
But, of course, she said nothing. Sylvie stood by a doorway at the other end
of the kitchen. "I work in here," Sylvie said, leading Christine to
a windowed alcove adjacent to the kitchen. A battered wooden desk held a large
computer, still in its manufacturer's plastic sacking. There was an office chair
in dingy black; it listed on its castors. "These are my files," Sylvie
gestured to a couple of Nordstrom's shopping bags, "and that's my Rolodex,"
she laughed as she yanked open a file drawer. It was brim-full: scraps of paper,
business cards, wrinkled napkins, all scrawled. "I need these typed on
cards, and eventually inputted into the computer, but I haven't hooked that
up yet. The business of today, the main business, is I need you to pick up my
gowns. The big show's in just two weeks. You know where The Studio is, right?"
"Sure," Christine said. "Burbank, off Cahuenga --"
Sylvie just stared at her. Christine noted that the mascara on her lower lashes
left little ellipses crawling across the slack skin under the eyes. She improvised.
"If you're coming from Hollywood," she said. "If you're coming
from the west, it's the 101 to the 134."
Satisfied, Sylvie handed her a crumpled receipt, and after agreeing to pay her
mileage, she released Christine to the cozier confines of her car. With the
door closed, Christine roared away so quickly she had to fumble with a pen and
a scrap of paper to note the odometer mileage. But she screamed along to "Highway
* * *
The wardrobe man at The Studio was a dour dumpling of a man who handed over
the big bundle with a cadenza of put-upon sighs. "You tell Sylvie if I
wasn't the biggest fan of hers she has on earth that we wouldn't keep her schmattes
here," he groused. "It's not the goddamn studio system anymore --
and we won't have room after this month because of the war picture," he
said. "But tell her she's past due on her bill." He handed her an
invoice, which Christine crammed into her pocket. "If I stick around, I'll
probably be the one cutting the check," she thought and then shuddered.
Cranking up the Nirvana tape on her ailing tape-deck, she drove at a gas-conserving
55 all the way back to the split-level.
She had to knock at the door, and Sylvie answered it, clutching a cordless phone
to her right ear. She shooed Christine back into the office, and gestured towards
the Nordstrom's bag. Christine took out a handful of crumpled paper and slowly
* * *
All that week, Sylvie called her at eight a.m., or a little after to ask if
she could come "a little earlier," than the ten a.m. they'd initially
agreed upon. By the end of the day, she would defiantly plead with her to stay
later than six p.m. But it wasn't too stressful, Christine thought. She was
able to make some headway on the Rolodex, and once Sylvie even offered her lunch.
Still, Christine brought her own, usually a sandwich and apples and bananas
to keep her going later in the afternoon. Sylvie's house was far from the mini-malls
in Christine's neighborhood that offered a bucket of Chinese noodles for two
bucks. Christine forced herself to take walks after she ate her lunch on Sylvie's
back stoop. She was used to working long hours without a break on the video
shoots, but after a few days with only Sylvie's presence for company, Christine
realized she was in danger of losing her mind. "Prolonged exposure to how
Sylvie's mind worked will send me running up the Hollywood hills to the big
sign, to fling myself off the H," Christine thought. "I just know
"In truth, Sylvie is a simple person who only needs to get her own way
to be happy," Christine realized. "If she is thwarted at any point
in the pursuit of that happiness, she is out for blood. Really," Christine
reflected, listening to Sylvie scream at her manager, "Well, tell the blood-sucking
bastards they can squeeze it out of my ass, do you hear, my fucking ass"
-- "Sylvie is just a filter for darker forces at work. If she was treated
nicely by the powers that be --" Christine overheard Sylvie telling the
same manager in the same conversation, "Really? Billboard compared Barbara
Streisand to me?" and then making a noise that resembled a sickening cat's
purr -- she just let those emotions slide through the mesh of her personality.
But, more often, Sylvie was shouting, and when she was shouting at her manager
-- "Well, fuck Milwaukee, how can a town that ruined beer have any taste?
I wouldn't go back there anyway" -- she knew that after Sylvie had slammed
down the phone she would ask Christine if she "hadn't finished that Rolodex
yet" or invoiced the bills (Sylvie had about a dozen credit card account
rolling, half of them with her name and half of them with her name and "incorporated"
after that), or done some other task that Christine considered bookkeeping,
and that she would not ask so much as demand in a petulant whine.
On Friday, she prudently handed Sylvie a typed invoice, stating her hours and
mileage. "$8.50 an hour, right?" Sylvie said, sweeping a pile of magazines
from her vanity chair as she sat down. She rummaged in her make-up satchel and
took out a white vinyl checkbook.
"It was nine," Christine said. "We agreed on nine. I asked for
$10 an hour, and you said $8. We settled on nine, plus 25 cents a mile."
Christine bit her tongue so she wouldn't say what she was thinking. "You
rude bitch," she fumed, folding the check and putting it in her back pocket.
"Now, next week --" Sylvie said. "I won't need you during the
days, because I'm rehearsing at The Studio, but on Thursday, you need to be
at Coco's at six. Dress nice, okay, kiddo?" -- this said with a grim little
half-smile. Christine nodded, and Sylvie continued, "And make sure that
my dressing room has two bottles of Evian and a fruit platter. The meshugganah
always scrimps on the fruit platter. Make sure there's kiwi. I have to have
kiwi when I perform."
"Sure thing, Sylvie," Christine said. "Have a good weekend,"
she offered, suddenly feeling guilty about call-
ing Sylvie a bitch. "I must not think bad thoughts," she sang along
with X on the tape deck on the long ride home. "I must not think bad thoughts."
* * *
On Monday afternoon, a miracle occurred, and Christine got a call from someone
she knew in a post-production house, needing some fill-in work. She worked for
the next 12 hours, and when she got home after midnight, found five messages
on her machine from people she didn't know. They were messages that went along
these lines: "Yes, this is Joe Henderson -- I'd like to make a reservation
for Friday's show. Please call me back to confirm," and "My name is
Gladys Temple. I would like a pair of tickets for Saturday -- the evening show.
Is there a matinee? Uh, I'll call back." When she'd played through them
all, Christine realized that these people must have mistaken her number for
the Club Cabaret. She started replaying the messages, and writing down the information.
"Mistaken it, or been told otherwise," she thought, as she wrote down
the last message -- "half a dozen seats for Ina Lazarowitz, Mrs., please
make them close to Sylvie." Exhausted, she ate a cold bowl of brown rice,
and fell asleep, without bothering to pull off her jeans.
On Tuesday, she woke at ten, and called Sylvie's house. No answer, so she called
the service. "Uh, Sylvie, this is Christine, I got a bunch of calls for
people wanting to see your show. Call me, if you want the information. I wrote
it down." She thought about calling the club, to relay the information,
but she was late at the post-house, so she just left. When she returned home,
dazed and worn after another 12-hour day, there were even more messages from
people wanting tickets, wanting orchestra seats, wanting dinner, not wanting
dinner, needing to change their reservation to Friday from Saturday. Christine
didn't bother to write them down. Instead, she called her friend Hope, whom
she knew would be up past midnight. "Can you believe it?" she said,
explaining the situation.
"Sounds like a bear," Hope said. "How long do you have to do
"Just for two weeks. God I hope something turns up before then, though."
"Well, hit those phones, honey."
"I'm hitting them with both fists."
* * *
Thursday afternoon Christine tinted a lock of her hair chartreuse. While the
color dried, she painted her finger and toe-nails black, and, as six o'clock
approached made up her eyes with inky streaks of powdered kohl, and squeezed
into her favorite dress-up outfit, a black vinyl jumpsuit with the front unlaced
right to her cleavage. She slipped into a pair of Frederick's of Hollywood hooker
heels which she'd bought years ago at a yard sale in Boulder. On each instep
was printed the Frederick's logo, with "Hollywood" in nearly-faded
gilt letters underneath. Back then, she'd never dreamed she'd actually live
there, or that her car (a battered, but still peppy Toyota) could have made
the trip over the Rockies. But she'd made it -- she had arrived. Smiling, she
put a Dead Kennedys' tape and a tube of black lipstick in her black leather
knapsack. Driving to the club, she found an unaccountable surge of excitement.
Not quite nervousness, more like pleasurable anticipation. She hadn't seen Sylvie
in three days, and, though she couldn't think warmly of the woman -- that haggling
over 25 cents an hour -- she was sufficiently recovered from being around her.
"It will be different at the club," Christine thought. "It won't
be that awful unlived-in house."
She was a little early, and found the backstage door without difficulty. A custodian
directed her to "Miss Frost's" dressing room, and at the mention of
the name, Christine felt a thin tweak of dread. "Oh, god," she thought.
"The fruit platter. Did I call about the fruit platter?" She was sure
that she had. "Did I mention the kiwi slices? I must have mentioned the
kiwi slices. Oh god, if they're not there, I'll have to hit the Vons on the
next street and buy her some." Christine reached for the door, and flung
it open. The room, smallish, actually painted green, was empty. But there was
the fruit platter, cheerfully cartwheeled with slick green disks of kiwi berry
set on a table.
A moment later, Christine heard the tell-tale click of Sylvie's mules, and in
she swept on the arm of a heavy little man with a shameless toupée. She
wore a black bugle-beaded dress, with a purple rabbit-fur cloak. Violet high-lights
were added to her hair which had been styled in a 1920s bob. "Your hair
looks nice, Sylvie," Christine said by way of greeting. "Thanks kiddo.
Nice touch with the green in yours," Sylvie said, and handed her the cloak.
When Sylvie unwrappped herself, her gaze strayed to Christine's chest and she
whistled. "Nice bazooms, kiddo," she proclaimed, and then, seeing
Christine's eyes open wider, added "I'm KIDding," with a stagey wink.
Then she turned her attention to the fruit platter. She selected a slice of
kiwi and popped it into her mouth.
"Watch your lipstick, hon," the man said. Sylvie chewed and then extended
her tongue. "Thkin," she said, tweezing it off the tip with two red
lacquered fingernails. She flicked it on the floor, and turned to face the two
of them. "Marty, my manager, Christine my personal assistant."
"A pleasure," Marty said, grinning. Christine shuffled the cape in
her hands before extending her palm. "You can hang up the cape, honey,"
Sylvie said in a softer voice. "I won't need it until I blow out of here.
So, Marty, how's the celebrity count out there?"
"All the biggies,"Marty said, reeling off a couple of names of stars
from sitcoms long running in syndication. "A veritable Who Was in show
business," Christine thought, but kept silent. Sylvie was busy at her vanity,
thickening her eyebrows with a stub of pencil. "Marty, do you want a drink?"
Sylvie asked, and then, to Christine, "Kiddo, ask the barman for a double
"Chivas," Marty corrected.
"-- for my manager, and order something for yourself. Then, come back here,
and help me get ready to go on, and then you can watch the show up front. With
Marty -- we get a side table -- we rate, right, Mart? Haw!" Sylvie barked,
winking elaborately at her reflection.
Christine departed and after briefly rambling in the mysterious backstage hallways,
opened a door and found herself in the darkened barroom of the Coco Cabaret.
The bartender polished glasses with a bit of towel and a couple of cocktail
waitresses leaned against the counter. They looked at Christine and looked at
each other. Christine felt very conspicuous standing there alone. She shrugged
her shoulders to get the bosom part of her jumpsuit to hike up a little higher
and said, in a voice that was almost loud, "Excuse me. I'm Sylvie Frost's
assistant. Can I get a double Chivas and a Coke please?"
"No problem. How is working for the diva?"
"It's a job," Christine said, but with a smile, so he won't get the
wrong idea. "Ya gotta work," the barman said. He was a good-looking
guy, with a swathe of jet-black hair. He might have been 25 in the cozy amber
light of the Coco Cabaret Starlight Room, but he wouldn't see 40 again. "Hollywood,"
Christine thought. "I gotta get a real job." She received the drink,
and initialed the bar tab. She made her way back to the dressing room without
incident, and delivered the drink, then sat quietly in a folding chair in the
corner while Sylvie and Marty chatted conspiratorially. Another man had arrived,
who wore a tux: Sylvie's accompanist, Peter Gumble. "I love ya, Pete,"
Sylvie said, fixing Peter a steely gaze. "Just take it easy on the arpeggios
in `Second Hand Rose,' Okay hon?"
It wasn't a question, and Peter nodded over his fingertips which were pressed
together in a kind of spread-out prayer position. "Salaam, mistress,"
he muttered, and Sylvie laughed. Christine leaned against the wall and sipped
at her Coke. The four of them were silent, and then Sylvie started warming up.
She sang a series of "La la las." Then she warbled, "Do re mi
fuck you la ti do!" and then down the scale, "Do ti la so fuck me
re do." Marty laughed dutifully, but Peter yawned, and lifted a leg onto
the other knee so he could scratch his calf. He was wearing garters. "I
gotta get out of here," Christine thought. "Everyone I've seen tonight
is at least 30 years older than me." Finally, Sylvie's warm-up was interupted
when another young man, this one with -- oh no -- dyed blond hair and a falling
face lift -- knocked on the door and opened it simultaneously. "Five minutes
Miss Frost," he said. "Awright," Sylvie said. "Well, family,
showtime." She rose, and gestured for Marty to take Christine out to the
front room. "Time to make the money to pay all of you sweet people,"
Sylvie muttered. As they walked through the backstage hall, Marty and Sylvie
fell behind Peter and Christine. There was a fire door at the end of the hall,
and all four stopped. Marty kissed Sylvie on the cheek -- peck peck -- air kisses.
"Oh god," Christine thought. "I hope she's not going to make
us hold hands and say a prayer. I'll leave right now if she does."
But Sylvie didn't, she just gave Marty a push, and he opened the fire door for
himself and Christine, and led them into a back lobby of the nightclub.
"This way," he said gruffly, pushing Christine through another door.
They were at the front of the room, facing an endlessly long and blindingly
shiny black grand piano. "That's ours," Marty whispered, pointing
to a tiny table scant yards from the piano. "Oh god," Christine thought.
"I'm going to be trapped here, up front." She maneuvered past the
piano, and pulled out the chair farthest from the stage. The stage was a tiny
platform painted black, with a stool and a solitary standing mike. Though the
club was dark, and Christine's eyes were still adjusting, she could see that
the house was indeed pretty full. Marty took the seat next to her and moved
the chair so that he was facing the stool. After a moment the house lights dimmed
even more, and a voice over the PA announced in huskily masculine tones, "Ladies
and gentlemen, The Starlight Room is delighted to present the inimitable --"
the voice stumbled over the word, pronoucing it "intimable" "--
Peter Gumble entered through the opposite side and took his place at the piano.
The spotlight that was trained on the mike stand shot unsteadily over to him,
and his eyes were closed. After a moment, he began to play. Very loudly, and
very quickly, something that sounded, to Christine's confused ears, a jazzy
medley of Adult Contemporary themes. A vamping bassline and a little ragtime,
and then, after a dramatic pause following some crashing chords, a wheedling
little theme, thick with sentiment that Paul McCartney would have tossed out
of his post-Beatles oeuvre for being too gooey.
He played the melody three times and then Sylvie swept on stage with her arms
raised in welcome. The spotlight lurched off of Peter and came to rest on Sylvie.
A harsh blue-white light, but it made her sequinned dress irridescent. "Like
an oil spill," Christine thought. Sylvie was smiling, and snatched the
mike from its stand, deftly unlooping the cord and tossing it in front of her.
"I have always loved you," she belted. "All the live long day.
And don't you know I'll always love to --" Here a conspiratorial smile,
and as she sang the final verse, Christine realized that a goodly portion of
the audience was singing along with Sylvie "-- Laugh and sing and play?"
Christine slumped in her chair. She had forgotten her drink in the dressing
room, and wished she had something to focus on besides the gaping mouth of her
employer. "I wish I smoked," she thought. "But she'd probably
bitch me out and refuse to pay me since I'm this close to the stage." Sylvie
sang the song, telling the audience as her lover that she "knows they want
the best for her/For what is life without true love/The world is big and mean
and cold/And must heaven be above?"
"No!" Sylvie sang, breaking up the song. "Heaven is right here
on earth -- right here tonight in the Starlight Room, where all you dear wonderful
people have come to have a laugh, and sing a song." Then she sang the theme
to "The Carol Burnett Show," "Seems we just get started --"
and, spoken, "Hey Pete!" Pete's hands lifted off the keyboard.
"Yes Sylvie?" Peter answered.
"Didn't we just get started?"
"I think we got started 20 years ago darling," Pete said. And then
launched back into another song, as the audience guffawed. "Jesus, it's
really an act!" Christine marveled. She looked at Marty who was smiling
broadly, although his eyes were narrow slits. Somehow, another full Chivas had
materialized on the table.
Christine found her attention drawn back to Sylvie. Mesmerized. She couldn't
take her eyes away. Sylvie sang, and sang, and sang. She told some jokes about
being married -- evidently she was married to another crooner who was famous
-- the people in the audience seemed to know who this was -- but Christine was
perplexed, and that was a lead in to "Send in the Clowns." "Pretty
cruel," Christine thought, but she couldn't help but be moved by this languorous
vibrato-drenched rendition of the first song -- save the Carol Burnett theme--
that she'd recognized thus far.
"She's something, huh, kid, What was your name?" Marty asked. "Christine,"
Christine said. "Yeah," she added, "She's something." When
Sylvie got around to singing her signature tune, "Never Ignore Me,"
which Christine remembered her producer friend had mentioned, it seemed like
years had passed since that phone call. All that existed in the world was Peter
Gumble hammering the keys, and Sylvie whispering, crooning, cajoling, into the
* * *
At last, it was over. Sylvie took her bow, and Christine felt a hand at her
elbow. Marty nudged her to stand up, to give Sylvie a standing ovation. Christine,
dazed, did as she was prompted. Then, Marty was gone, working the room, telling
the celebrities he'd spotted to join Sylvie in her hotel suite. Christine stood
and then sat, as the houselights came up, and people got up to leave. She wasn't
sure what to do. She suddenly realized she was tired to the bone, and wondered
whether she would get paid for the 90 minutes Sylvie was onstage. She looked
around for Marty, and saw him engaged in some backslapping by the bar. "The
hell with it," Christine thought. "I'm calling my machine before I
She made her way to the lobby and dropped her quarter in the phone. She punched
in her code, and heard, "Hi Christine, it's Nick over at CPR. Guess you're
not there. Well, give me a call when you can, I'll be here `til way past midnight.
We've got some stuff coming in that needs to go out in the next two weeks, so
if you want, you can work straight through." Christine checked her watch.
10:30. Excited, she dialed CPR. "I'm not too late, am I?" Christine
said. "Are you guys pulling an all-nighter?"
"Yeah, and my assistant just went home with food poisoning. Why -- you
want to start now?"
"Yes!" Christine said. "I just have to tie up some things, and
I'll be over in the next hour."
"Good," Nick said. "We can really use you. Bring your toothbrush
"I'm there." Christine told him.
When she got backstage, there were a few people waiting for Sylvie to come out.
Peter was standing against the wall smoking a cigarette. "Sylvie still
in there?" she asked. "Yeah -- " Peter said, "and she was
looking for you."
"Well, I'm here," Christine said, and thought, "Not for long."
Christine knocked at the door, an authoritative two raps. Marty opened it, revealing
Sylvie exhaling a gray plume of cigarette smoke. Two couples were in there with
her, the women both in red and black sequinned evening gowns. "It's my
little personal assistant!" Sylvie crooned. "Come in here and meet
my brothers and my in-laws. Or my out-laws. Haw haw haw!"
The sisters-in-law giggled but the brothers, two bankerly-looking types, extended
meaty hands as Christine sidled into the room. "I bet she wants her check
-- doesn't she!" Sylvie said, reaching into her handbag.
"So, Christine," Marty said. "Did she kill? Or what!"
"She killed," Christine said sincerely, amazed that Sylvie was actually
handing her a check for -- was it? -- it was! the full amount owed.
The two brothers went into conference with their wives, and Christine eased
back to the door. "So, darling, am I seeing you next week?"
"I'll call you," Christine said, smiling a smile as big and white
as the Hollywood sign that hovered over her next week's work at the production
"Kiss kiss!" Sylvie said to Christine, but she'd turned toward the
mirror as she said it.
"Kiss kiss," Christine said to herself, practically running down the
hall towards the exit sign.
Originally published in the June-August 1993
issue of Boston Review