We met Small Steve the next day outside a Chilean restaurant in Carlsbad. I still couldn't get over the change in personality he had gone through: he truly had been an asshole. A jerk, a prick, a dick-biter, a complete bastard. Now he greeted me with a solid handshake and a hug for Bekka, a warm smile for both of us. We went in to get a table.
In deference to his history, Bekka and I stuck with iced tea. The three of us ordered the house specialty, "Panqueques:" a burrito -like concoction made with a crepe instead of a tortilla, stuffed with grilled fresh vegetables, chunks of steak, sauce, and guacamole on top. I rated it as a "darling, where have you been all my life?" experience. "And I think they even have ice cream, too," Bekka told me.
We talked as we ate. Steve was surprisingly forthcoming about his drinking and about why he was such a prick for so long....
"I'd worked my way through all three network stations, getting the sack one after the other. I wasn't getting hammered at work, but I always had my flask with me, and I ignored the repeated warnings to leave it at home. Ba-ding, another job blown to hell. Soon I was out of stations to work at, in San Diego and Orange Counties.
"My biggest self-deception was that I'd never be drunk. I'd just hold onto this mild vodka buzz all damn day, and I couldn't understand why that bothered people so much. I'd be in my boss's office getting fired, and I'd want to argue with him. Hey, other people smoked cigarettes, what was the difference? Well, nobody got in fender-benders because they were smoking, for one. Also, other people wouldn't want to shoot straight news stories using Dutch angles or other idiot ideas. I'd wanna get artsy during shoots, which is right out. I rendered myself unemployable in the TV news business, and when that's all you know, you're in deep shit.
"The Director found me in a bar in La Costa and offered me a job, so long as I was sober. Two weeks in, he caught me with my flask and took it away from me. He pointed out I was making a good wage for easy work, and if I couldn't handle that, well, maybe it was time for a gig at Burger King. That day was the last drink I had, ever.
"The problem was that once I was sober, I realized how bored I was: any idiot could do my job, and that's what pissed me off: I had my own office before, I was coordinating multiple shoots all over San Diego, I had thirty people under me.... Now I was just some schmuck with a video camera filming other people fucking. No challenge, no responsibility, no nothin'. I was a loser making fuck films."
I said, "I kind of suspected as much. I knew through the grapevine that you were a guy who had his name on the credit roll every night and, well, the mighty had fallen.."
He toyed with his food, and said, "That's about it. I hated everyone, really. I hated the male performers because they got to fuck hot women and I didn't, I hated the female performers because I thought they were all stuck up and that was just me projecting, and to be frank, I hated you, Lenny, because I saw you as some criminal who had the job fall into his lap."
"You weren't so far off with me," I told him. "Technically, I am a criminal. And I got the photography gig because I happened to be in the right place at the right time, not because of any innate abilities. I know how to handle a Nikon, just like a billion other people on the planet."
Bekka spoke up. "You have to admit, Lenny takes some good shots. I've seen some of his prints, and they came out gorgeous."
Steve laughed. "That was the worst part! I was expecting the first shots to be a dog's breakfast, and they came out great! Oh, but I was pissed."
"Tell me," I said, "are you still hoping for me to fail?"
"What? Oh God no," he replied, sipping Pellegrino. "First of all, you're too much of an asset to Inana Productions. Screw your lack of pedigree, you're a damn good photographer. And second, I don't think like that anymore. I can't...."
Steve stared at his plate. He spoke without looking up. "Do you know what it's like to be constantly angry? To never have it go away? It's like a headache that never ends, an unending pain, and you can feel it driving you crazy. The promotion I got made a huge difference, but what kept me from reverting back to being an asshole was real simple: I didn't want to die. I was heading towards taking the ugly way out. If The Director hadn't given me the promotion? Shit, I wouldn't be here right now. And it would've been a small funeral, and given my behavior, I would have not blamed anyone for not showing up."
Bekka said, "It's a good thing Len---- oww!" I'd given her a sharp nudge with my boot.
"What's up, guys? I can understand if you thought it was a bad idea."
I said, "It's not that. It's.... You tell him, Bekka."
After punching me in the arm quite hard, Bekka said, "It was Lenny's idea. He suggested you be a director and technical producer."
"Are you serious?" asked Steve.
I said, "Well.... Yeah. Remember the day before, when you filled in for that poolside two-on-two? You were running a camera and directing, and you were doing a fantastic job of it. It was obvious you were totally in your element, enjoying yourself, using all the skills you've spend half a lifetime acquiring. You were doing what you were meant to be doing, not just being a camera monkey. Your personality was like night and day. Hell, you even joined us for dinner! You'd never done that!"
As if suddenly realizing it, Steve exclaimed, "I was.... I was happy! I was in control of a shoot, and it felt great! And I had hope: hey, if this loop comes out great, maybe they'll let me do another. I didn't expect to be promoted."
"That's where Lenny came in," said Bekka. "He went in and told The Director, 'I can solve several problems in one move: promote Steve, and you'll have time for your business dealings, the quality of shoots will go up, everyone will stop hating Steve because he'll be in a good mood, and the level of professionalism will increase with Steve in charge, since it's what he's been doing production work for years. His talents are wasted by just having him behind a camera. Give him a chance to run the show, and I'll bet you won't be disappointed.'"
"And they haven't been. The eponymous People In L.A. are pissing themselves with joy over the quality of video they get. Look at it this way: if the bad rumors turn out to be true, you'll be be one of the few crew members who's not scrambling for a job in the industry. You'll probably be the subject of a damn bidding war."
Small Steve looked embarassed. "Aw, c'mon guys, I direct fuck flicks, I ain't Bergman."
"No, for porn, you want to emulate Hal Needham, [select 'Director' under Filmography] if anyone." We all laughed.
I picked up the bill ("There's a use to my filthy drug money") and we went our separate ways.
Our immediate plan was to hit up Ralph's for snacks and sodas, then be on our merry way. But Bekka wanted to stop by her apartment first: "I keep feeling like I'm forgetting something," she explained. We went through the gates and drove past her front door.
Which was open, just a bit.
Something was very wrong.
I pulled into her second space (it was a two bedroom apartment so she had two spaces assigned to her) and got in the hatch of my Honda. I had two less-than-legal items in there: a machete, and an ax handle. Bekka chose the machete. We crept to the front door and, staying out of view, pushed the door open.
The floor was covered with rose petals.
Bekka rolled her eyes and strode into the apartment, through the living room, and into her bedroom, me on her tail. We were greeted by the sight of a lean-looking guy lying nude and semi-hard on the bed. He said, "Bekka, I've been waiiiwho the hell is this guy!?"
"I could ask the same of you. Move and I brain you."
"Fuck that," said Bekka. "I'll take off what equipment he has," and rested the blade of the machete on Captain Romance's cock, right at the base. "Lenny, i'd like you to meet a kidnapping Jesus freak sonofabitch named Cliff."
"Hey.... You told me about him. This is the guy who tried to have the intervention for you against your will."
"The same. From the looks of things, what's acceptable in God's eyes has taken a new and interesting turn. Wanna tell us how the hell you got in here?"
"The property manager let me in. I told him how much I loved you, and he sympathized with me and used his master key to let me in."
"WHAAATT!?" yelled Bekka. "I'm gonna go get that dumb bastard and explain a little law to him." She charged out the door.
"Can I move yet?"
"Shit no," I told him. "Start to get mobile, and I will immobilize you, but hard. And just to be friendly, my name's Lenny, I'm a close friend of Bekka's, and also a fellow pornographer. And I said not to move," prodding him with the machete We could hear Bekka returning with the property manager, Bekka going full bore. The phrase "you dumb motherfucker" was being used repeatedly, at high volume.
".....To any scumbag that says he knows me. I chose this fucking complex because I wanted safety and goddamn privacy. Am I getting it? Answer me, you dumb motherfucker! I don't think I am! Look what the fuck I come home to, asshole! LOOK!" And she shoved the P.M. into the bedroom, a sappy looking middle-aged bastard with a severe combover and a Mr. Rogers sweater.
"Look, I'm sorry Ms. Luchessi, he said he wanted to surprise you when you got off work, that you were dating."
"So any dickhead with a gooey story to tell can just wander into my apartment with your help. Goddamn peachy.
"As soon as you and Romeo clean up my floor, I'll be leaving for two weeks. Consider that two weeks my one month's notice, and amuse me by arguing about that time frame. I'm also going to be contacting the owners to get your dumb ass fired. You want soggy-ass romance, read Harlequin novels. But don't you fuckin' try to live them out using my apartment and my life. You!" She pointed at Cliff. "Put on your fucking clothes, help clean up your mess, and get the fuck out. God, I can't believe I used to get fucked with that tiny thing. I'm a better actress than I realized."
I stashed the machete and ax handle back in the Honda. We could take Cliff with a butter knife. Bekka stood inside and silently glared at the ultra-clowns as they cleaned, while I smoked cigarettes and and drank warm Mountain Dew outside. I was trying to remember what all Bekka had told me of Cliff. The more I remembered, the more frustrated I got.
The biggest immediate frustration was the hubris demonstrated by Cliff. He was hardly the only man to believe such a sappy-ass, cornball move would help him get the girl, even when it was her that had left him to begin with. Full nudity and a shower of rose petals, that's the ticket, right? Never mind the relationship was always shaky, a cheese-laden gesture like flowers and wine would have her galloping back. I viewed it as outdated and chauvinistic, a presumption that extravagant displays of affection would change a woman's feeling towards a man in a complete one-eighty: how could I resis such a romantic gesture?
The answer was, pretty flippin' easily. Bekka was inside demonstrating that at a strong volume. Call me a fatalist, but when the girl has told you to kindly fuck off, there isn't much hope of reconciliation. Continue from there and you move on to idiotic maneuvers, then to outright stalking.
My other concern about Cliff was whether he was still hooked up with the Bible-thumpers Bekka had told me about before: he had the opportunity to both get his rocks off, and still score brownie points by somehow dissuading Bekka from continuing her career in the adult film industry. When they first started dating, Bekka was attempting a strategy of not bringing the subject up, letting the topic come into play via osmosis. Even after Bekka had 'fessed up about her source of income, Cliff had asked sensible questions about her work, neither panicking or assuming he'd hit the orgasm jackpot. It was when his fellow church members found out he was romantically (and, gasp, physically!) involved with a strumpet, a woman who engaged in sexual activity for money that the fecal matter hit the oscillating wind generator. She must be saved! Whether she wanted to be or not!
Which is where the kidnapping came in. God's bullies decided that a good old fashioned intervention would have her on her knees (and not for the usual reasons) begging for forgiveness from God. They didn't count on someone, least of all a woman, arguing the point: that God had no objections to how she made a living, had provided human sexuality as a beautiful gift, and was probably fed up with pious dingbats who were suspicious of His gift.
None of this mattered to Cliff and his band of elves. They were going to keep her in their house until they made her see their version of The Light And The Way. Bekka did several things they didn't expect: She swore them blue (which they did not expect from anyone with an 'X' chromosome, pointed out that this was not an intervention but a kidnapping, and produced her butterfly knife. They were advised to call a cab and let her outside, like, now. If they did not meet this request, anyone who got too close to her for her comfort would lose chunks of themselves, and she'd ride with the ambulance. Or the cop car. Didn't matter to her, so long as she was away from Cliff and his pals.
They didn't feel like testing to see if she was bluffing. Goodness, a woman capable of wanton sexual activity and profane language was capable of anything!
Yeah, capable of acts like kindness and generosity, christian acts, that would never occur to those pud-knocks. That was what bugged me the most.... The people who would condemn all of us at Inana Productions were the ones least likely to engage in acts of generosity, to share and give and help. I can't think of a single guy, crew or performer, who wouldn't stop to help someone change a blown tire on the freeway, even if it meant doubling back an exit. While the female performers may not have taken the hungry out for a full meal, they would certainly give them enough money to buy one of their own. (That may be a difference: growing up, Bekka's family spent too many nights calling a bowl of rice with a single can of tuna mixed into it "dinner," her parents claiming to be not feeling hungry so there would be more for Bekka and her brother.)
No matter his presumptions, Cliff officially rated as dangerous to me. At least Bekka made it expressly clear that no, he was not welcome anywhere near her, and if this bullshit happened again, he'd be jail-bound. Do not pass go, etc. Her idiot property manager had got the hint, and if I had my way, we'd be stopping by Encinitas PD to report the incident. Maybe we could talk them into rolling through the complex once a day to make sure her door was closed and the lights were off. We'd check in a few times while we were gone by pay phone. (This was the era before practical cell phones, when they were these brick-like objects toted around in larger boxes suspended by a strap from one's shoulder, and cost something like four bucks a minute to use.)
The cleanup was complete, and Bekka shooed them out and locked the door, making sure all the windows were latched and the doors were bolted. She assured Cliff our next stop was the Cop Shop to file a TRO, and Mr. Krahulik should let no one in to the complex who didn't belong there.... In other words, Krahulik would do his job. We waited until Cliff was well out of sight before exiting the complex. Then we reminded Krahulik that my car would be sitting in one of Bekka's two spaces during our absence, it was not abandoned and to leave it alone. No petty revenge by having it towed.
Filing the TRO went smoothly, mostly. I was a bit nervous because of the large amount of drugs secreted in the car: 75 tablets of Ecstasy, about an ounce of meth, thirty or so Valium, a small bag of weed (I didn't smoke, so it was for Bekka), and an ounce of mushrooms in case we felt like getting seriously weird on the road or in San Francisco. I'd brought enough drugs to share with people we came across, far more than we'd go through ourselves.... Unless we decided to try and drive to Maui on a whim. Not really a "Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas" trip, but no chance of running out.
The only real hang-up was when the officer at the desk asked what we did for a living. "Adult Performer" and "Photographer" are not, in the cop-mind, valid answers.
"I see. Would you care to expand on what an 'adult performer' does?"
"Oh, of course! I guess that is rather vague. I perform in adult pornographic videos. Lenny does still photography, for producing the shoots into magazines." We both kept our friendliest faces on , not using any stronger language than "gosh."
"And how are you acquainted with the restrainee?"
"He's an ex-boyfriend. Many months after we broke up, he decided he wanted to resume our relationship. He did so by conning my property manager into letting him into my apartment where I found him nude on my bed. Our separation was not smooth,so I have no idea what he was thinking. I was glad I had Lenny here with me!" She said it as though I was her knight in shining armor, saving her from a single naked idiot on her bed.
"And are you two romantically involved?"
(Does lots of sex and cuddling on the sofa count, officer?) "No, we're just friends."
The cop finished his paperwork and said, "We'll have the sheriff's department serve the TRO, either at his home or his place of work. We'll also have a chat with your property manager about inappropriate behavior for his job. Personally, you're in a dangerous line of work, but from what you told me, you've never had this kind of trouble before. You don't have any other TROs on record, so I'll believe you when you say this is just a psycho ex-boyfriend. Enjoy your vacation."
"Nice of him to believe me," muttered Bekka as we walked through the parking lot to the Falcon. "Must be a drag, being that distrustful and paranoid all the time."
I said, "You know, we never did get a chance to find whatever you were looking for at your place. Did you remember what it was?"
She got behind the wheel and her face froze. Then she smiled and she said, "Yes! We need to go back!"
We jammed to her apartment complex and she said, "I won't be a minute. Pop the trunk." I got the trunk open and she really was back in a moment, bearing a bottle of Astro-Glide and a small hash pipe. "This was my mom's pipe from when she was sick. I feel closer to her when I use it."
"And the lube?"
"C'mon, you know I get dry when I get high. With all that speed and 'E' it'll come in handy. Now let's fuel up my baby and hit the road."