Floating slowly over, feet grazing the mists like a crane’s wings on a still lake, Steve Jobs points at the table and said, "Put your hand right there, please."
Most can’t conceive of a heaven that includes pain. And they’re right: A sensation like pain requires a change in a particular stimulus, a certain something going from A to B. God has seen to it that doesn’t happen. But since even The Kingdom is sorta kinda subject to certain general universal principles, you might say that in this case baby has indeed followed bathwater, the upshot being we don’t have much in the way of what the still-living consider pleasure. You have to get creative with your jollies.
I says, "Now Steve —“
But he cuts me off wordlessly, perhaps the nastiest of all the churlish parlor tricks he’s devised and developed since his arrival. Never once during my living days did I fall prey to this sort of playground dynamic. But I never hung out with his sort of person, either.
Then things start shaking all around us. Little droplets of vaporous spacetime spumed up like dust on a Flagstaff butte. Jobs maintained eye contact; they smile, those Athenian eyes, here, finally, as clear and deep as they were always meant to be. Unfiltered.
Then He enters from across the … well, spacial stuff’s different here. Let’s call it a room. But He, the only one here who can walk-walk, comes in looking a bit like everyone I’ve ever seen, standing around twelve feet tall, having cooked up a perfect expression of placid amusement.
"You boys hear? Sendak’s about to hit the auction block." His brow folds handsomely.
"Wait don’t tell me," Jobs says. “The little guy wants ..."
Their eyes brighten. They counted together: "One… two… three… Mario Puzo!" and break into mismatched but, I must admit, wonderfully compatible laughter, like Jasmine and Aladdin finding how to dovetail distant registers into star-crossed love, The Big One’s big belly laugh, needless to say, pinging sonorously among the many translucent figures tessellating endlessly throughout the void.
I realize my hand is now stuck as if by invisible dart to that spot on the desk. My spirit sinks. I feel Jobsy smile off camera. I look to my Creator, trying to look as un-pleading as possible. He meets my gaze with an expression, actually truly convincing in its artlessness, that would translate literally into English as, "Huh?"
I make one last attempt to pull my hand off the spongy particle board to which it lies pinned. But this here’s one town where the sheriff doesn't answer to his constituents. And right now the law is for me to just sit tight while Jobs wraiths back on over real casual-like, pivoting clockwise as he moves, and docks in backside-first to douse my hand directly with a simmering fart that escapes with the sound of a dry train whistle.
God laughs. They high-five. I sigh, but that just makes the smell worse.
No one’s flying the ship at the Mickey Mouse Club, Vanessa Vanveen has lately concluded. She’s got one eye on the darkened production suite, alive with the shadowy ripples of grips performing thankless chores. Out beneath the scorching set lights sits a taut bridge of trapezius muscle linking shoulder to neck on one Leslie Pratt.
Having leapfrogged more than a couple more senior cast members since arriving this season, Leslie’s been getting the all-eyes-on treatment during shoots. Everyone’s asking all the time whether her hair should maybe do x or y while taking extended, theoretically sexless looks up and down the seams tracing her inner thighs. Though actually it’s not the lolita-style objectification that Vanessa finds repugnant.
“Stick with the flats. The little slip-ons,” says Kevin Royce, emerging from the shadows and shouldering past everyone with a cat carrier full of shoes for Leslie to try on. Leslie’s posture stiffens even more around him, Vanessa’s pretty sure she’s noticed. Kevin, for his part, takes care to be noticeably not-handsy. Whether it’s actually suspicious, Vanessa can’t tell.
A great morass of opinion has formed around Leslie. Set and costume designers, wardrobe all orbit her as adjustment-based worlds, making of Leslie a kind of communal art installation.
Vanessa steps out of position and moves reluctantly to join. “Kevin.”
“Yaap.” Kevin’s down on one knee, intently eyeing Leslie’s feet.
“Maybe Leslie has her own thoughts? I remember her saying she likes heels.”
Kevin stands. His broad red needle of hair swings to point right at her. He’s got a tall head, like home plate squeezed thin. “What are you … What?”
“She’s not… Let’s let her make some decisions of her own. Be an adult.”
Several crew members turn to ponytailed, turtlenecked Ellen The Director. She stands tapping her lip, eyes intently blank, looking through her scene into something more pure and timeless.
“Ellen.” Kevin starts toward production but halts after one step. Ellen doesn’t notice. Her non-response seems to have frozen the nineteen year-old former Mousketeer.
“Don’t you think,” Vanessa says slowly, “maybe people see past the ingenue schtick by now?”
Kevin’s mouth hangs open when he thinks. “Actors play younger,” he says. “They play young, period. That’s how they avoid getting old. Timberlake. Gosling. Spears.”
Vanessa can’t help getting scoffy. “Britney Spears pulled it off twenty years ago. Then the internet happened, and we all saw her vagina, then watched her lose her goddamn mind trying to hit every demo with this Peter-Pan-Honey-Boo-Boo-Nancy-Sinatra shit.”
“So we should what.” Kevin locks in now with Vanessa as if it’s just them in the room. “Paint up Leslie like a cabaret sliz and have her just shake that ass?”
“No, obvious — “
“On the FUCKING MICKEY MOUSE CLUB?”
Any scene-related topicality having clearly evacuated the room, Vanessa lets her face flush. “Let’s talk about that, Kevin. About how you — as the latest in a long line of people going from cast member to production track —”
“That’s got nothing to do —”
“As someone whose future depends on keeping people down and underpaid and feeling like they’re worth far less than they are — let’s talk about how you, as the charmingly overweight, superlatively white face of the Club’s darkest parts, have more than a couple incentives to keep Leslie under thumb. Or am I missing something?”
“Or,” Kevin lurching toward her now, finger raised. “OR is it possible that you, as the sad-sack, thick-in-the-hips poster child for coulda-been child stars everywhere — is it possible you can’t get over your failed career and are trying on vicarious living for size? Is that maybe kinda possible?”
“I’m trying to keep a young star from making the kind of decisions that held me back.”
“It wasn’t about decisions. You just aren’t good.” That finger is now within a foot of Vanessa’s face. “Your rhythm is off. You’ve got no face. Your time here will be nothing more than a story your grandkids get sick of before they’re old enough to tell you to stop your yapping.”
There’s movement near the line separating scene from darkened production area. “Okay,” Ellen calls. “Forget the shoes, actually. It’s going to be a waist-up.”
Leslie relaxes a little, it seems to Vanessa. “So should I stick to my mark?”
“Yeah,” Ellen adjusting her lens. “Just stand there and say the line. I’m gonna try something.”
Vanessa settles in beside the others in the cast tent. Leslie’s devastatingly neutral features bore into her from the set. Makeup crew backs away. Leslie breathes deep, shakes her tiny self loose. To her left Vanessa hears Kevin cough and mutter instructions to a grip.
Buster stood atop table six in a drop stance, the Glock cocked and wavering in his hand. Late summer dusk had finally settled in outside: a perfect night for sticking around, taking a moment to savor being alive. A tremor of warm air warbled up and over his pate. He was sure it was growing more exposed each day; this whorl he’d never tried to look at was now forfeiting its perfect form forever.
In the leftmost corner of his periphery Buster saw a single exception to the looks of horror fixed on him throughout the room. It was contempt, this Other Thing. Inaction as family-man courtesy rather than expression of fear. Buster couldn’t turn away completely from this strange patron, this cowboy brewing treason out of sight. He recalled the face, anyhow, recalled how the man had ordered the check without a second thought. Even then, the disdain was clear. So, no: There in that corner spot he’d stay, just visible enough to know Buster had him in check.
At no point had Buster commanded the low-lit diners to stay still. But thousands of collective years of movie watching had trained them. It seemed possible the itchy heart in the corner had grazed a different Friday-night buffet growing up, had absorbed some real tart ideas on how to act in the face of doom. But who knew. Buster felt the man breathe.
Throughout these long minutes he’d found it easiest to let his gaze rest on a pair of young children. One male, one female. Both wearing horizontal red-and-white stripes, both somewhere between five and ten. Buster could never tell anymore.
He’d learned lately to start targeting the little ones straightaway. Bearing the burden of parents’ hopes, they had a hand on the purse strings no charm could hope to match. Kids had never liked Buster, though, for some reason. He tried with them. Maybe too hard. These particular ones had feathery blonde hair and dark, dark eyes disinclined to focus.
“Cumawn, feel the noise,” came the exhortation, quieter now at Buster’s request, from the speakers in the ceiling. Nicole, working a solo Wednesday shift behind the bar, had been invited to keep her hands glued to the house music controls.
The little boy happened then to emerge from his rote, wide-eyed state and come, for once, to stare at Buster rather than through him. Inside, two gears met and clicked. Instantly Buster was transported back to that morning’s staff meeting, right here in the high-ceilinged dining room, morning light easing in from the now-regrettably large front window. The sole entrance and exit was to stay locked for an hour to come.
Mo, the long-tenured floor manager, a short guy with the darkest little pebbly peepers of his own, had gathered waitstaff, kitchen and bar to address some concern he wouldn’t specify in the email.
“Guys,” Mo’d said between loud slurps of coffee, “We’ve got to start selling more desserts.”