Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dope (Part 5)

     On the first night of meetings, everyone rode in a stretch limo to dinner, at Angel's trattoria in Century City.  Angel was a bit nervous about this, hoping his kitchen's flavors were not too Americanized.  However, the visiting Italians congratulated Angel and his staff not only for authentic cooking, but also having the different regions of Italy recognized in the menu, with their different styles and fillips.  Through Bekka, one of them explained, "Italy is a nation.  Showing regional bias in cooking is the sport of peasants."

     The second night Bekka begged off riding in the limo, she took her own car.  After dinner at Vinny's bistro, she wanted to hit a record store, an indie place in Hollywood, where her and Lenny had tracked down some rare punk rock vinyl from the Seventies.  Arriving at the restaurant, Bekka pulled in behind the limo in the valet lane.  The visiting Italians exited the limo and froze, staring at the hot rod '64 Ford Falcon Bekka was driving, with the ass end jacked up slightly, the hood scoop for the supercharger, and an exhaust note as subtle as an explosion in a cymbal factory.  Ford clubs are big in Europe, but to see this degree of hot rod menace in person was a once in a lifetime experience.  The valet opened Bekka's door and she exited, smiling and joining the others.
     Bekka had long lost track of the names of the three visitors, and would simply address them in translation as "this gentleman."  In her head, she had named them Manny, Moe and Jack.  The one she called Moe spoke to her (in Italian), asking, "Do you often drive this vehicle?"
     "It is my daily driver, more or less," Bekka answered.  "Getting around each day, I drive either my Falcon, or ride my motorcycle, a Harley Davidson Sportster.  I cannot lie, I enjoy driving machines with lots of power."
     The three mafioso, chattered among themselves briefly, the tenor of the discussion being that this was behavior utterly foreign to them.  In Europe, the Falcon would be transported from show to show riding on a trailer, only occasionally being run for demonstration purposes.  To operate such a rare and custom vehicle as if it was a Fiat seemed profligate and risky.
     Bekka smilingly explained, "Southern California is the birthplace of hot rod culture, car culture.  We spend so much time in our cars that modifying one for style or performance is not an aberration, but a fairly common hobby.  Who knows how many Falcons Ford built, they were basic transportation, common because of their affordability.  Even two and a half decades later, it would be simple enough for someone to track down a running Ford Falcon, if they were so inclined, and pay a decent price for it.  There are many, many other models of American cars which were also tuned and modified for speed and performance, not to mention the muscle cars released by Detroit in the mid- to late Sixties.
     "My Falcon came with a 289 cubic inch motor and a four speed transmission when it left the factory.  The motor has since had both a Holley four-barrel carburetor and a supercharger added, the supercharger adding an amazing amount of power when called into action.  The exhaust was opened up.  My Falcon is set up for road racing, not drag, as reflected in its gearing, suspension, and brakes.  I am not sure of its top speed, I have had it up to 145 but had to back off due to traffic.  My car, in its current form, is the last thing anyone at Ford envisioned it ending up as.  It took California car culture and hot rodders to make a vehicle like mine not only a reality, but also a project anyone who likes to turn wrenches can engage in, without being economically privileged.  My Falcon, and other cars like it, are somewhat unique but hardly rare in Southern California.  We invented the damn things."
     "Did you build yours?" asked Manny.
     "No.  This was a gift from Don Vito Ventimiglia.  This car is actually my second Falcon hot rod, my first being a car my younger brother built.  That one was destroyed in a firebombing during a, uh, conflict.  The Don knew how much I loved my old Falcon, tracked down another stock Falcon, and had it customized with me in mind, it was an act of fantastic kindness and graciousness.  No, I do not do my own wrenching....  But then again, neither does Mario Andretti."
     The three huddled up and spoke quietly.  Then Jack gestured to Bekka and said, "Miss Schneider, would you oblige us a favor?  When we travel to Disneyland tomorrow, may we use your car?  We would enjoy it greatly."
     Bekka cocked and eyebrow and said, "If you wish, yes.  I will warn you now, you will not be comfortable.  The ride is stiff for performance reasons, and the seat in the back has springs and cushions which are twenty-seven years old.  Both front seats are racing buckets, designed with ergonomics and not luxury in mind."
     "The honor of experiencing such a vehicle firsthand is a once in a lifetime chance for us, probably.  Yes, a Ferrari may be faster than yours, but your car is....  Your car is so much cooler, do you understand?  Collectors in Europe would trade their Ferraris straight across for a machine such as yours.  Not only would a Ford of its vintage be very rare in Europe, it is obvious that the customization was done by hand, and by people who loved what they were doing.  Your Falcon carries both a purpose and style lacking in vehicles on the Continent."
     "Prego, prego.  I am very flattered.  Yes, we will take my car to Disneyland tomorrow."
     With Bekka translating, the three guests explained to Vinny and Angel the change in plans, and the need to cancel the morning reservation for the limo.  The group entered the bistro and were seated, Vinny ducking back to his office to take care of this bit of business.  For the benefit of Angel and Boss, Bekka encapsulated the Italians' interest in the Falcon, both were quietly amused.  "Good thing ya didn't ride yer purple putt, huh girl?" said Boss.
     The spastic multicultural fusion that is "California cuisine" was confusing to the visiting Italians, so Bekka spent a bit of time elaborating on different menu items.  Over pre-dinner drinks, Manny and Jack prodded Boss (through Bekka) on details about where he was from.  To them, Texas was a concept, not a place.
     "What is your hometown?" asked Jack.
     "Lubbock, over is West Texas, the desert side of the state," replied Boss.  "It's a decent sized town, but its only real claim to fame is that Buddy Holly was born there."
     "Did you live on a ranch?" Manny queried.
     "Oh hell no.  Shit, I spent the first sixteen years of my life in trailer parks, envious of them rich folks in the park who could afford a single-wide, not just a damn fifth wheel trailer.  And the ranches were getting sold off and turned into subdivisions anyway."
     Both Manny and Jack looked disappointed at this news.  Jack prodded, "So....  What did you do?"
     "I took off for Dallas when I was sixteen, living with an aunt and finishing high school.  I went to the University of Texas in Austin for two years, but had to drop out, I was so damn broke I jist couldn't make tuition for my junior year.  Hell, I worked as a strip club bouncer in Houston, I was a gas line repair welder, I washed dishes, I was a journeyman diesel mechanic, I even drove a damn tour bus in Matamoros, on the Messican side of the border.  I made good money doing that, 'cos I'd tell the tourists the best ways to hide whatever it was they didn't want found by the Customs inspectors at the border.
     "I got my first motorcycle at the age of fifteen, a Triumph that had been wrecked.  It took me ten months, but I got ir running and registered, then rode it to Dallas.  Sold it and bought my first Harley, an' stuck with Harleys ever since."
     "You went to university," said Manny, "but you were only there for two years.  How did you pick up your knowledge of pharmaceutical chemistry?  It is a very complicated discipline."
     Boss grinned widely.  "Well....  When I was still in high school, I figgered out that college libraries got the hell beat out of public libraries, if you want to really learn a lot about a subject.  I took some courses at UT, my goal was to be a boring old pharmacist, a good solid career.  Uh, I got to hangin' around with some no-'counts, dope-cookin' fools who could never figger out why their product never came out the same way twice.  I went to the UT library, did the research, then sat them fools down and said, 'I kin git yer product to where it's not only uniform, but better dope that what you make now.  You dipshits are gonna follow me around fer that next three days at yer lab, and yer gonna pay attention to what the fuck I tell you.'
     "Yep, believe it er not, I'm self-taught as a chemist.  Pharmaceuticals genuinely interested me, so really, I studied the craft fer fun.  When I came out to California, I started hanging around serious outlaws, and all them dipshits want to get rich cookin' dope.  Only thing is, they never bothered to study what it was they wanted to accomplish, all their knowledge was word of mouth and bullshit.  I hooked up with some guys and said, 'Hell yes, I know how to cook dope, ain't no harder than bakin' cookies if you got the knowledge.'  They took me to their lab, and I immediately pissed 'em off by saying, 'The way your doin' things, no damn wonder yer product is garbage.  Damn miracle you assholes ain't blown yerselves up yet.'  But like them boys in Texas, I told 'em to just trust me long enough to make one batch, follow my instructions and pay attention to what the hell I'm saying.  Ba-blam, all of a sudden they got good dope."
     "Would you recommend we travel to Texas as tourists?" asked Manny.  "What we know of Texas only comes from movies."
     Boss stroked his beard and said, "Naw.  Unless you got something specific you want to see or do, just bein' a random tourist in Texas ain't no damn fun.  To be honest, the only town worth a shit in the whole damn state is Austin, that's the only place where most people seem to have brains and open minds, y'know?  Everywhere else, yer jist surrounded by a bunch of damn fools who are just a little too damn proud of the state's redneck roots.  Y'all would run into trouble on your own in some small towns, jist 'cos yer foreign.  Shit, be glad you ain't black, too.  Even Dallas, with all its money, is still a dusty town full of yahoos.  If yer lookin' fer the Texas you saw in movies, it ain't there no more.  The Wild West is dead.  Texas traded the Wild West fer fifty bucks worth of lottery tickets, an ATV, and a damn case of Budweiser."  Boss paused.  "Hey Bekka, what's the best translation for 'white trash?"
     Bekka frowned and answered, "Well, the literal translation would be spazzatura bianco.  But to carry the meaning and connotation I believe you want, I would say povero, ignorante, e fiero di esserlo: poor, ignorant, and proud of it."
     "Jist tell these guys that if they want to be around people like that, to go ahead and be tourists in Texas, especially in the smaller towns.  I git the feelin' they think Texas is like a rerun of 'Gunsmoke,' and I don't want them trying to hunt it down."

     The next morning, three criminal Italian nationals and a porn star piled in a hot rod in Beverley Hills and headed out for the city of Anaheim, home of the world's first large successful theme park and some of the most hideous motels to appear in any architect's fever dreams.  They were visiting Disneyland, what the whole world would be like if the Nazis had won the war.  As a Southern California native, Bekka had visited the Mouse House often enough that it held no real appeal or novelty.  In a way, this familiarity was an aid today, along with her fluency in Italian.  She would make a good tour guide for the visiting mafioso.
     In response to a question as they got in the car, Bekka explained that there was almost zero chance of her being able to demonstrate using the supercharger to her passengers.  Rush hour may have been over, but the 405 was always busy, and the jet-on-takeoff effect of the supercharger would be useless.  Just no room to work.  This news was greeted with a vague sense of disappointment.
     Bekka grinned into the rear view at her passengers and asked, "Do you wish me to demonstrate the abilities of my car?"  Yes indeed, was the response.
     At the W. Florence exit, Bekka headed east off the freeway.  Florence Blvd. was wide and not clogged with traffic lights, so on a clear stretch, she laid into the gas and activated the supercharger.  The sudden increase in power pushed everyone back in their seats, and in less than three blocks the Falcon was moving eighty mph in a  thirty-five zone.
     Keeping the supercharger activated, Bekka threw the Falcon into an ass-swinging right turn on S. Prairie Ave, skirting the west side of Inglewood Park Cemetery.  Bekka covered the distance to W. Manchester Blvd. in about sixty-five seconds, slaloming through the light traffic.  Turning east onto Manchester, she rolled forward a few blocks at a legal speed, then turned into the cemetery.  The Italians were confused.  "Why are we here?" one asked.
     With a sinister chuckle, Bekka said, "Because here, we will not disturb the neighbors."
     She rolled a distance into the cemetery, looking for one of the roads she remembered.  Finding it, she turned and hit the supercharger again, barreling forward at high speed.  This road terminated at a cross-road, and faced into a wall.  Bekka seemed to be aiming straight for the wall at a stupid speed.  The Italians cringed.  At the right moment, Bekka spun the wheel and drifted the Falcon sideways, then popped the clutch and shot down the cross-road.  She did this drifting turn on two more roads, then came to a stop in the middle of an intersection.  Bekka stopped, lit a cigarette, then cranked the wheel over, floored the gas, and quickly let out the clutch.  The Falcon began to spin in slow motion, rear tires screaming and pouring smoke.  After going in a ful circle, Bekka came to a halt and backed away.  There was a near perfect circle of black burnt rubber on the asphalt.  "Not a bad one," she commented.
     Leaving the Falcon in reverse, Bekka accelerated sharply, bolting the car backwards at high speed.  At the next cross-road, she flipped the wheel and shifted into second, jabbing the gas at the right moment. She had accomplished a reverse 180, with almost no loss of speed in the direction of travel.  The Italians applauded.
     "A brief demonstration, gentlemen.  Now you may understand my affection for this car.  Let us go to Disneyland now."
     Talking privately later, the gentlemen agreed that to possess such a vehicle would be a long-term goal.  With its dated design, the Falcon had no artsy styling like a Ferrari or Porsche.  The Falcon's power did not come from complex German engineering, but that growling V8, pure horsepower, brute energy.  The Falcon approached its tasks with the subtlety of a brick through a bank window.  No one but Americans would conceive of such a vehicle, and no one but Californians would bother to actually build it.  But they had, and the Falcon, in the minds of the Italians, was a rolling monument to having balls, in the Cosa Nostra sense.  Bekka ---  Becky --- had balls.  They agreed the mafia would benefit from her inclusion.
     Arriving at Disneyland, Bekka distributed hits of Ecstasy to everyone.  By her estimate, the drug would just be starting to kick in by the time they were actually inside, after trekking through the massive parking lot and then waiting in the long and always glacial line to pay for entrance.  The Italians stuck out like Black Muslims at a Travis Tritt concert, they were (as always) in expensive tailored designer suits, hair perfectly in place, shoes so shiny you could comb your hair in the reflection.  And of course sunglasses.  They looked like the Cosa Nostra big wheels they were.  Bekka was dressed, well, as Bekka, or Becky Page, and also had her wraparounds on.  They all patiently waited in line with the mobs of tourists in Bermuda shorts and fanny packs and Instamatics.  Bekka had already explained that everything at Disneyland involved waiting in line, sometimes including just using the fucking bathroom.
     Once they were through the gates, Bekka asked the Italians if they had anywhere they wished to visit first.  Fantasyland was the answer, which surprised Bekka.  Fantasyland had always seemed aimed at seven year old girls.  When they arrived, the Italians expanded, they wished to go on the "It's A Small World" ride, to Bekka's amazement and horror.  She told them she would wait in line with them, and wait at the exit for their egress, but would not go on the ride itself.  They asked why.  She considered her words  briefly and answered, "Because, gentlemen, I believe when sinners die they each have a special hell built just for them.  I have been on this ride, so I now know what my hell will look and sound like."
     Bekka waited in line with the gentlemen, then positioned herself near the exit.  When they appeared, all three had disturbed looks on their faces.  Bekka asked what they thought.  They glanced at each other, and finally Manny said, "For anyone to have that experience, and claim to take pleasure from it, must require a level of derangement only seen among the hopelessly insane."  Bekka gave them a sad smile and said, "And the worst news is, you are going to have that fucking song stuck in your heads for the next two hours."
     Overall, the Italians enjoyed the royal hell out of themselves.  Their Smiley high agreed with them, and it gave them the energy to engage in the vast amount of walking involved in any Disneyland visit.  And boy howdy, did they walk.  Despite consulting over a map of the park with Bekka and agreeing on what they wanted to see, the order in which they saw things meant crossing back and forth across the whole damn park, over and over.  Bekka was glad she'd worn her Doc Martens.  The Italians would browse shops and souvenir stands, but only bought postcards.  Lots and lots of postcards, which were all deposited in an empty briefcase one of them was carrying.  One explained, "We wish to bring back pictures of our visit, but the Italian Cosa Nostra has a, um, a certain aversion to cameras, and their use.  When we notice a camera pointed in our direction, the assumption is that it is Interpol, trying to interfere with our business.  I don't believe any of the three of us even own a camera."
     By mid-afternoon everyone was in the mood for a meal.  Preferably a real one.  Another explanation Bekka had provided was that Disneyland food sucked shit, overall.  Sure, there were plenty of places to buy something to eat, but it was all either candy or fried greasy crap.  In a bit of a dig at the dining quality of the park, Bekka had bought the gentlemen churros, the ubiquitous fried sticks of dough covered in cinnamon sugar.  She explained her feeling that eating a Disneyland churro was actually an act of penance, for those who felt they were enjoying themselves too much.  A churro would take care of that feeling.
     "There are exactly two decent restaurants in Disneyland.  One is the Blue Bayou, which is situated above the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, you may have noticed it when we went on that ride.  The other...."  Bekka paused to chuckle.  "The other, we will simply not be admitted to.  It is a private club, simply called Club 33, located in the French Quarter.  It is highly exclusive, believe it or not, a total contradiction to the egalitarian ethos of the park overall.  The door is always locked, you must speak into an intercom and request admittance, and you will be buzzed in, if they feel like it.  Reportedly, Club 33 has a membership ceiling of five hundred, the waiting list to join is years long.  I suppose the saving grace of the joint, for members anyway, is rumored top-notch food and a full bar, and a level of service that makes the Beverley Hills Hilton look like a McDonald's.  So, we'll be eating at the Bue Bayou.  If nothing else, they have real silverware."
     All three men stared briefly at Bekka.  Even through the sunglasses, it was clear their minds were in full-on Mafioso Mode.  Decisions made in this mode were as flexible as the Chrysler Building.  The three pointedly stepped away from Bekka and conferred.  Then they turned, and Moe said, "Take us to this club.  We shall purchase memberships."
     Bekka replied, "Sei cazzo.  Memberships are fucking $25,000.  Each.  And I mentioned the waiting list."
     With a steely slither Bekka recognized, Manny said, "Nonetheless, we wish to dine at this club.  I am sure we can arrange an agreement with the management.  Take us there."
     Bekka knew better than to argue further.  All three men seemed as unflappable as Steven Wright, so she wasn't worried about a scene, but she was sure they would eventually end up disappointed.  They began strolling towards the French Quarter.  Bekka knew where the entrance door was, it had been pointed out to her by friends who were big Disneyland fans, blurbs of gossip about the place tacked on.  One of the rumors was that Club 33 was the one place you'd find a park employee in possession of a gun.
     Arriving at the unmarked door, Bekka pushed the intercom button and simply stood in silence.  To her amazement, the buzzer on the door sounded, indicating the lock was open.  She glanced up and saw a security camera staring back at her, and assumed whoever was on security duty that day was a Becky Page fan.  The four of them entered and began walking up the stairs.
     They were met.  A well-dressed guy greeted them and asked, "Are you guests of a member?  What is the name of the member?"
     Bekka steeled herself and said, "These gentlemen wish to purchase memberships, or otherwise make arrangemnts so they may dine here this afternoon."  Bekka's memory came through in the pinch, and she continued, "This is Don Guiseppe Bianco of Palermo.  This is Don Vincent Milano of Rome, and Don Antony Forzetta, also of Rome."  Bekka paused.  "I am commonly known as Becky Page, that is my stage name.  I am functioning as translator for these gentlemen, as I am fluent in Italian and English.  I shall translate for you."
     The guy (who had a pretty impressive bit of steel in his own look) said, "Ms. Page, I must ask you to inform these gentlemen that the club is not accepting new members at this time.  I am sorry, but the club will not make special arrangements to allow temporary use of the club.  There are no exceptions."  His own pause.  "Ms. Page, you were recognized on the camera, which is why the door was opened for you.  We assumed you may be here to meet a member.  I am sorry, but we cannot help you, you cannot stay."
     Bekka, still wearing her sunglasses like the three mafioso, translated what had been spoken.  The reaction from the three was as boisterous as ash falling from a cigarette.  They creased their brows, ever so slightly, then Jack spoke to Bekka in Italian.  When he finished, he gave a nod to the Club 33 guy and curved his lips up about two millimeters.
     With an expression and voice that was totally passive, Bekka said in English, "Don Milano wishes me to assure you that any courtesy afforded to them here will be repaid in kind to the club in Rome and Palermo, and in fact throughout the entire region.  He says a mutual cooperation will be beneficial for all concerned, and while they do not wish to spend a great deal of their time here at the park discussing business, some basic accords could be reached in only a few minutes.  And he wants to know if you serve veal."
     Club 33 guy was starting to look annoyed.  He said, "I'm not sure what this man means, or what he is getting at.  And no, we do not serve veal.  What is---"
     Bekka cut him off.  "If I may, I believe the feeling is that as the club is a business, and they are businessmen, there is no reason why an understanding, agreeable to all, cannot be reached.  I know these men, they are used to negotiating with tens of millions of dollars on a daily basis, and have for years.  An acceptable solution can always be found, somehow."
     "There is nothing to negotiate, there is nothing to discuss.  This is a private club, you are not guests or members, so you must leave.  Do so now."
     Manny stepped forward, bowed slightly, and spoke in Italian directly to the Club 33 guy.  The guy hissed at Bekka, "What is he saying?"
     Bekka listened briefly and answered, "He is saying that any interests the club has, or develops, in Europe would have the protection of these men and their, uh, extended associates...."
     From one side a new voice said, "What's going on, Orson?  Is someone speaking Italian over here?"
     Looking at the newcomer, Bekka gawked behind her sunglasses.  Standing there, big as day, was Robert freaking DeNiro.  He took in the gentlemen with a smile and a nod, then let his eyes hit Bekka, where they locked in pleasure.  DeNiro said, "Christ onna crutch, Becky Page?  Hi, I'm Bobby, pleased to meetcha.  I love your work."
     Bekka kept her cool and gave one of her demure smiles.  "The pleasure is all mine, Mr. DeNiro.  I enjoy your work, too."
     "So, are you a member or guest here?" DeNiro asked, all smiles.
     "Neither, I'm afraid.  These three gentlemen are, uh, close family acquaintances of mine, visiting from Italy.  I am functioning as their guide and translator during their visit.  To be brutally honest, I have had the food here at the park often enough to find it.... sub-par.  I explained that the two 'good' restaurants here are the Blue Bayou, and Club 33.  The gentlemen felt that if they extended their hand, the club would allow them to dine, just for the day.  We are being rebuffed."
     DeNiro whacked the Club 33 guy on the arm and said, "Orson, these people are gonna be my guests today, okay?  These three and Ms. Page will eat with me.  Let 'em in, they'll be at my table."
     Orson was skilled enough at his job to understand what the power structure at a place like Club 33 was.  He beamed a smile and said, "Absolutely, Mr. DeNiro.  Please, come this way."
     Everyone was led into the restaurant, to a table of an appropriate size.  As they walked DeNiro muttered in Bekka's ear that he was third generation immigrant, so his Italian was shoddy but serviceable.  And wow, so it's true Becky Page is full-blooded Sicilian, huh?  Wow, too much, homegirl.  Once seated, DeNiro began slightly halting conversation with the three mafioso.  They picked up on DeNiro's language weakness and would answer a bit slowly, and in simple phrases.  Yes, this was their first visit to Southern California, or even the United States.  Yes, they found themselves continually amazed by California.  They were pleased and honored to have ridden in Becky Page's hot rod (Bekka elaborated a bit for DeNiro's understanding).  No, they would not have time to visit the Actor's Studio, this was primarily a business trip, and their time was very limited.
     DeNiro turned his attention to Bekka.  He said, "You have no goddamn idea how happy I am our paths crossed.  You're a genius.  I won't lie, when somebody first said to me that I hadda see this movie 'Bewitched,' I was thinking, come on, it's porn, quit yankin' my chain.  Then I saw it, and a couple other of your movies, and my mind was blown.  They're actual goddamn movies, and girl, you set the screen on fire.  So your husband writes and produces your stuff.  You two are a powerhouse.  So what kinda guy is your husband?"
     Bekka smiled and rolled her eyes.  She said, "Mr. DeNiro---"
     "Bobby, please.  I insist."
     "And I wish you to call me Bekka.  Not Becky, Bekka.  Anyway, my husband, the man I love, flummoxes people constantly.  Lenny is a twenty-three year old punk rocker, and very much looks the part.  He is self-described suburban white trash who graduated high school, barely.  Lenny is a former drug dealer, a brawler, a hard-ass with the scar tissue on his knuckles to prove it.  People expect Leonard Schneider to be both a Hollywood type and a rather cerebral creative genius.  They are horrified when they are introduced to Lenny, as he'll probably be standing there in his tattered denim jacket and spikes, smoking a Marlboro.  I cannot lie, Mr. De--- Bobby.  My husband looks, and sometimes acts, like a street criminal. But as much as he hates the description, he truly is a genius, I'd love to see his score on a Stanford Binet IQ test.  He is very creative, his instincts for both business  and film-making are amazing, and he has the self-discipline to learn fairly complex tasks, like learning script writing, using nothing more than his library card.  He is also the most caring, generous, sensitive, and strong men I've ever met in my life.  I'd like to think if you met Lenny, and gave him thirty seconds of your time, you would like him.  He's a wonderful guy."
     Laughing, DeNiro said, "Yeah, I'd heard rumors that Lenny Schneider was both young and a dangerous nut, a psycho.  I know he's hated around both Columbia and Universal and Paramount.  Frank Mancuso's nickname for your husband is 'the porno pit bull.'  Inana Productions, and especially Lenny, just irritate the hell out of the studios.  Not only does he make these dirty movies that have incredible critical response and sales, he produces them for pocket change, then turns around and sells nine zillion copies each on video.  And I guess he's said in interviews that he thinks Hollywood is a shithole and he hopes every movie executive dies of AIDS."
     "Brain syphilis, not AIDS," corrected Bekka.  "Yes, Lenny is very contemptuous of the Hollywood machine.  You say you've seen my movies?  Making 'Bewitched' cost $400,000, and a big chunk of that was to pay for the effects.  Our most expensive movie is 'Succubus,' which cost 4.5 million.  In adult film, that sort of money is supposed to pay for fifteen features, not one.  But at the same time, Lenny suspects it would have cost a movie studio about seventy million to make 'Succubus,' and he can't see how, or why.  He figures everyone at the studios eats condor's egg omelettes for breakfast every day, use cocaine for baby powder, and set fire to their BMWs every night, so they have to go buy a new one in the morning.  Lenny says what Hollywood spends versus what it produces makes no sense, and the whole business deserves to just completely fail."
     Looking a bit embarrassed, DeNiro replied, "Yeah.... well....  Actors like me don't help things, either.  These days I can call a damn high price for my performance, and get it.  You sit back and think about it and it's crazy money, stupid money, what Hollywood leads can receive for one goddamn role.  Feel free to tell your husband, ham-acting jagoffs like Bobby DeNiro are a big part of the problem in Hollywood.  If it's not too rude of me to ask, how financially successful have you been, for what you've accomplished?  Do you at least live comfortably?"
     "I live very, very comfortably," smiled Bekka.  "Lenny and I are millionaires at this point, and our tastes are not terribly expensive.  We don't drive Mercedes, we drive muscle car-era hot rods.  We do our own grocery shopping.  I once had a guilt complex one morning when it struck me I owned five pairs of Doc Martens, $100 boots.  Why do I need five pairs of Docs, that's just wasteful and profligate.
     "The thing is, what Inana is paying its performers, and what they actually receive, are very different things.  Here's an example.  According to my contract with Inana Productions, I was paid $12,000 to star in 'Succubus.'  The thing is that Angel Morelli, who owns Inana, is a very generous man.  Okay, I got my twelve grand for appearing in 'Succubus,' but Angel has sent me about $300,000 in bonuses for that feature.   Angel sees the sales reports on a feature and starts sending out cashiers checks, big ones, to all the performers involved like they're confetti.  Hell, the male lead in 'Succubus' was a kid named Roach.  He got paid nine grand as the male lead....  Which is huge money for any man in porn.  But with the bonuses Angel sent him, he's up about $80,000 for just one feature.  Shit, Ron Jeremy or Peter North only dream about seeing that kind of bread in one year.  Inana performers will always be very comfortable, we work as much or as little as we want.  Between features, Inana girls probably make about $2700 per week, on average.  That's for about sixteen hours work, doing loops.  Even our studs make okay money, they see $300 every time they come on camera.  They get a living wage, which is almost unheard of for porn studs."
     Orders were taken and drinks were delivered.  DeNiro raised his eyebrows and smiled at Bekka's double Johnnie Walker.
     "A weakness I picked up from Lenny," Bekka said.  "In a way, it's another example of our lack of terribly expensive tastes.  We like good scotch, and Johnnie Walker fits the bill for us.  Logic would impinge that since we're now wealthy, we should start knocking back Glenfiddich instead.  But that would double our booze budget, and we just don't care enough.  We'll still say to each other, 'Let's go out to eat tonight,' and end up at a taco stand.  We could go to some ninety dollar a plate joint, but dammit, we love our carne asada burritos, and they don't serve those at places with cloth napkins."
     "Uh.... You are aware you're all still wearing sunglasses, right?" commented DeNiro.
     Bekka began to chuckle.  "I believe so, yes. It's a bit of defense.  To be honest, Bobby, all four of us are high on Smiley Ecstasy right now, and I'm sure anyone seeing our eyes would immediately conclude, 'These people are high as shit.'"
     "How hard of a time do you have scoring Smiley?" asked DeNiiro.  "I wish I could find a steady line on it, I've been trying to find some for three weeks.  You'd think with all the connections a studio has, I'd have no problem.  Nope, I'm crapping out."
     Bekka briefly considered the actor next to her, then reached in her purse.  She pulled out the Tic-Tac container she always carried full of Smiley, looked at it, then handed it to DeNiro.  "Take this," she said.  "That's about forty or so hits of Smiley.  If you're using it responsibly, that should keep you amused for a while.  Yes, it's real, and no, you don't want to know how and why I can randomly give the crap away to people I've just met."
     DeNiro gawked at the small plastic box in his hand.  "Are you shitting me, Beck--- Bekka?  Just like that, all these damn doses?  Well hell, now I really am curious...."
     "All I will say is Lenny and I have a connection extremely high on the supply chain.  We've been taking the stuff since its manufacturers were generating a whole thousand hits a week, out of a trailer.  You did us the courtesy of getting us in here, consider that to be me returning the courtesy, a small thank you.  Now let us discuss it no more."
     DeNiro paused briefly, then said, "Okay, back to performance.  I've wondered, where did you study acting?  Where did you train?"
     Bekka stared at the table briefly, then answered, "Bobby, you will probably hate hearing this.  I was in drama club for three semesters in college.  That is the extent of my training and study.  Yeah, we were tackling real heavy stuff, too, like Neil Simon and 'Bye Bye Birdie.'  Whatever talents and gifts I have for acting is entirely organic, an instinctive thing.  Remember, when we make a feature, we'll spend three weeks in pre-production blocking, nailing our lines, and refining our characters, finding ways to really bring them alive...."
     DeNiro butrst out laughing.  "Okay, your studio spends three fucking weeks doing the same damn things the movie studios do, only the movie studios spend a couple months working out the characters.  Jesus, now I'm even more impressed with your talents.  You want me to perform as a character who has any life or nuance?  I wouldn't take a gig making a toilet paper commercial with only three weeks to prepare.  How do you do it?"
     "Lenny and our director, Steve Stillman, coach us closely.  Also, performers are openly encouraged to think up the aspects of a character which make them more human and accessible....  Or at least distinct.  I'll use 'Succubus' as an example again.  Okay, all the female road pirates were pretty damn loony, right?  But there were personas in their lunacy, which made them stand out as individuals.  Our girls were the ones who created all that nuance.  They were given parameters by Lenny and Steve, but otherwise follow the damn muse.  Like Wreck, Tawny Smith's character.  She had a thought one day, which is that people are very highly conscious of personal space, but also don't really know how to defend it.  Invade someone's personal space, they could give you  a shove and tell you to back the fuck off, but that is far too confrontational for the overwhelming majority.  Instead, people will shift and squirm and just be supremely uncomfortable, like a nails on chalkboard feeling.  So Tawny decided Wreck would have no concept of personal space, she would stand three inches away from people, for no reason.  The other pirates are used to her, but just watching her would make the audience squirm.
     "Another good example would be Itsy, my little sidekick and shotgun rider.  It is obvious Itsy is younger than the other pirates, by several years, and it is never explained where she came from.  She is also conscious of her tiny size.  Well, hell, that reflected the real life experience with the girl playing Itsy, she's called Feather.  She was just barely eighteen when she came to Inana, while the other girls are generally in their twenties.  In the social interaction at Inana, Feather wasn't shut out or marginalized.  No new girl ever is, everyone knows what she went through to work for us.  But the age difference was a barrier.  She couldn't go out for drinks with the other girls, a very common social event for Inana girls.  I believe everyone tried to not treat her as 'that kid,' but her youth could not be ignored.  And she was around the studio constantly, her home life was a mess, so she'd hang out all day whether she was working or not.  What Feather did was reflect on her own defensive behaviors when she first arrived at Inana, and magnified them for her character.  Itsy is aloof and analytical, she uses a lot of ten dollar words when she talks.  She was a bit similar to Spock from Star Trek.  Well, Feather didn't want people to treat her like the high school dropout she was, so she was busting her ass to appear really knowledgeable and well-read.  She would tell people about the most recent Noam Chomsky essay she'd read, or would sit around working on the New York Times crossword puzzle."
     Frowning, DeNiro said, "Barely eighteen?  Who the hell is she?  How did you get her to work for you, and why?  I'm sorry, but that's just too damn young for doing porn, legal or not."
     "Oh boy," sighed Bekka.  "Feather is quite the story.  She was a high school student at Carlsbad high who met me when she was still seventeen.  Afterwards, she decided that being a porn star would be her path, it was a bit of hero worship on her part.  She'd try to hang around at the studio, and Lenny would have to run her off.  She tried talking him into interviewing and hiring her before her birthday, and Lenny told her he wasn't going to prison just so she could jump start her chosen line of work.  She made her interview appointments for the two days after her eighteenth birthday, passed with flying colors, dropped out of school, and started working as many loops per week as Lenny and Steve would schedule her, wanting to stay busy and make as much money as possible.  I did that when I was young, and it is miserable.  There's no other way to explain it, if you're a woman in porn, working eight hour days four days a week, you are in a lot of damn pain most of the time.  Think about it."
     DeNiro frowned, then his eyes got wide.  "Oh.  Oh boy.  Just from constantly, uh, you know...."
     "Exactly.  I was trying to pay my dying mother's medical bills.  Feather was trying to get the hell out of her parents' house as quickly as possible..
     "What came out over time was that her home life was really bad and toxic.  I don't know the details, but there seems to be some highly disturbing vibes going through her house, and they revolve around her father.  The first time we met, she told me her dad literally did nothing all day except masturbate to porn in the living room, just lie there playing with his dick, no matter who was around.  Feather wanted out, and as quickly as possible.  She knew how well women in porn are paid and saw her answer, she'd do porn and have the money to move out in no time flat.  She did, and took her little sister with her.  Her dad does nothing, and her mom is an alcoholic floor walker at Nordstrom's.  Feather gives her mom money every month, so her parents can pay utilities and the mortgage payment.  The girl just plain had to grow up way too fast."
     One of the Italians leaned over and spoke to DeNiro, who didn't catch what was being said.  He looked to Bekka for help.  With an amused smirk, she said, "He wishes to tell you he loved you in 'Goodfellas.'  He says it is the best satire he has ever seen."
     DeNiro looked amazed, then said, "Uh, he got something very different out of that movie than most people.  Tell me....  Um.....  What sort of things are these guys really into?"
     "Oh, Bobby," smirked Bekka.  Let's just say they will always identify themselves as 'legitimate businessmen,' and leave it at that.  It's a teensy bit complicated, and not my place to discuss."
     "I'll stay a lot healthier for a lot longer by not prying, won't I?"
     "Sui denaro, paisano," Bekka replied.

     After they ate, one of the gentlemen broke out with cigars.  Bekka gestured she wanted one too, and looked at the label.  Cubans, the same ones Don Vito smoked.  She told this to DeNiro, and to enjoy, they were wonderful.  All four men tried to not look too amused at the sight of Bekka puffing on a stogie.  It was a rather Freudian image, abetted by what Bekka often had in her mouth at work.
     As everyone puffed and sipped, Orson oozed up to ask DeNiro how his meal was, everything up to snuff?  Of course.  And did you enjoy the company of these men?
     With a cool look, DeNiro said, "Orson, you gotta remember I'm just another New York guido who somehow got big as an actor. These gentlemen are from the old country.  I heard them speaking and felt it only right to extend a hand in greeting.  I'm glad I was here to invite them as my guests, they are exactly the sort of men Club 33 wants as patrons.  In fact, I'm going to petition the club for these men, and their associates, to be allowed to patronize the club at their own discretion.  As they are all living half a world away, this is mostly a symbolic gesture, but I feel it is one that should be made.  Do you have any feelings on this idea?"
     Orson was not about to tell a member of Robert DeNiro's stature he felt it would flood the club with olive-skinned Mediterranean criminals.  These guys are all in suits that cost more than Orson's car, but they have their damn sunglasses on inside.  Doctors who perform assisted suicides are more espressive, these guys look like they used the rental lockers at the park entrance to store their tommy guns.  Orson was smart enough to keep these thoughts to himself, simply smiling and saying, "A very diplomatic suggestion, sir."
     After Orson had breezed off, DeNiro said to Bekka, "I can't lie, it's dudes like Orson who will always keep me from calling LA home.  He's about as genuine as Carol Doda's tits.  What the hell is it about LA that the locals all seem to harbor the same barely-suppressed contempt for everyone else, and treat you like you're a special needs kid if you smile at them?  Where do they learn that shit?"
     Bekka pondered this and said, "I'm not sure.  Perhaps....  It might be the reliance on cars.  Be honest, people are at their worst when they drive.  In your car, you are shut off from everyone around you, you are in your own tiny dominion.  People will let their worst instincts out when they drive.  Well, In LA everybody's in their cars all the time.  Since Americans are assholes behind the wheel, everybody in LA assumes they're constantly surrounded by assholes, that's their main interaction with their fellow residents.  So when people in LA actually meet face to face, they are conditioned to assume the other person is an asshole, and act accordingly.
     "Lenny is a native of San Diego, and doesn't like the town much for its conservatism, but he also knows he'd be traceable by the trail of bodies if he lived in Los Angeles.  Lenny will not put up with LA attitude, he will merrily engage people by being really vicious and sarcastic, indirectly challenging people to say what they mean.  He tries to get reactions out of people.  If he and Orson had to interact in public, Lenny would put up with Orson for about ninety seconds, then tell Orson he could carve a better man out of a banana.  Lenny would ask Orson if he still likes to jack off to his own high school yearbook photo, and that the contemptuous sneer he's trying to cultivate just makes him look like a drag queen with indigestion.  Really?  Lenny thinks almost everyone in LA are pussies.  He'll verbally abuse people, trying to get them pissed off enough to actually react and throw a fist.  They never do.  Lenny says that in LA, 'honor' is something businesses do with credit cards, and nothing else.  LA people would stand and watch their sisters be raped by Visigoths without interference.  It isn't actually cowardice, it is genuine detachment from everyone except the person who stares back at you while you shave."
     DeNiro was chuckling at all this.  He said, "Bekka, we have to exchange information.  I want to see you again, and at this point I really want to meet your husband.  From what you've said about the man, apparently his tolerance for bullshit is nil, and he has no compunction about calling people out on it, and could care less about whose feelings he's hurting.  Would you consider him a misanthrope?"
     "Not really, no.  Lenny really does try to give people a chance when he meets them.  He cherishes those he likes, his friends, the people at Inana.  He does distrust organizations, though.  He says any organization more complex than a pickup softball game allows individuals to hide behind the mass, they can just parrot a party line and not be troubled by the effort of thinking for themselves any more.  In a lot of ways, he really is an anarchist.  He jokes he dropped out of Boy Scouts when he learned there were no merit badges for questioning faith, fomenting unrest, or prolonging orgasm."
     "Now I'm really looking forward to meeting this guy.  I think I'm safe in saying that no matter what, meeting him will not be boring."
     Mr. DeNiro provided Bekka with five phone numbers.  "Just go through the list, and leave messages at all of them if they don't know where I am.  I'll let people know I'm expecting a call from Becky Page, and I want to know when she calls ASAP."
     "Don't you think that might disturb the people at this number for Paramount?" asked Bekka.
     "Fuck 'em.  They're renting me, they don't own me.  I'll talk to who I damn please."

     The next day at home, Bekka was still positively buzzing over this encounter, and the start of what sounded like a mutual admiration society.  "Holy shit.  Robert fuckin' DeNiro told me how incredibly impressed he is by my acting talents.  The guy who played Raging Bull and Travis Bickle.  My God.  It's like having Stephen Hawking complimenting you on your high intellect, you know?  A master at the game thinks I can act."
     I commented, "Maybe now you will stop referring to yourself as a porn slut.  I'm still a bit alarmed that he wants to meet me.  What the hell for?   Does he want to check to see if I have my rabies vaccination, before I'm allowed to travel north of Melrose Avenue again?  Or is DeNiro a part-time hit man, and Barry Diller finally took a contract out on me?"
     "Just in case, don't let him steal a lock of your hair.  Frank Mancuso might be trying voodoo dolls now.  Puzzola, I told him about you.  I told him what a wonderful person you are, and that you're one of about seven people in the entertainment industry whose integrity doesn't have a price tag on it.  He just thinks you'd be a cool person to meet face to face, you know?"
     "Let's meet him at Angel's trattoria in about a week.  How much of our private life did you tell him about?"
     "Almost none," Bekka frowned.  "Bobby's an old hand at being a celebrity, he knows how precious privacy can be.  Neither of us shared our souls or our skeletons."
     "Oh, it's Bobby, is it?" I smirked.
     In a tone like a seventh grade girl, Bekka sniffed, "That's what he told me to call him.  And remember, he approached me.  It felt very strange, having Robert DeNiro going all fanboy on me.  I was in mafioso mode, because of my wards that day, and I'm glad I was.  If I'd met him in any other situation, I'd have been blushing and staring at the floor and stumbling over my words, just looking like a total dingbat.  Oh, don't worry, he thinks the cold war between you and Hollywood is pretty funny.  He likes that there's some smartass down in San Diego who routinely tells Hollywood to commit mass suicide, and could care less of Hollywood's opinion of him."
     "I guess he didn't hear of Stanley Jaffee's latest little salvo at Inana," I said.
     "Neither have I, what's up?"
     "Aw, Angel tipped me off about it.  In an interview in Variety, Jaffee started spewing on about how Inana will poison the well of 'respectable' movies, the viewing public is going to start expecting hardcore sex in any movie that doesn't star the Muppets.  I must be some kind of criminal psychotic pervert, since I seem incapable of making entertainment that doesn't have sexual content.  Inana is just some shady little collections of sex maniacs, we're not really making any money, and the proof of that is we work with video, not film.  Oh!  You weren't left out.  Jaffee says that in truth, you're actually so untalented you can't say your own name without coaching.  He babbled some bullshit about how 'any actress whose vagina is as well known as her face must be unable to look in mirror, due to the guilt.'  And you were typecast as Ursula."
     "What a sad, angry little man," sneered Bekka.  "I know what his problem is.  Jaffee gets too turned on and worked up watching your movies, so he comes too quick when he jerks off, and feels like he didn't get his money's worth.  He's used to old porn, where the stories sucked and the sex was mediocre, you had to sort of filter through to find the hot scenes.  Now, he's probably blowing his load while he's still in the parking lot of the video store."
     "I can't lie, one of my biggest fears is that one of these clowns is going to call me a pimp, in public, where reporters can hear them.  And I'll be going to jail for a long, long time, because I will take the motherfucker out, no matter what the obstacles."
     "Don't do the job yourself, silly.  The family can do it.  They got rid of Detective Ross and kept us squeaky clean.  They can do it again.  And if it's Diller, I hope one of his little gold-plated stud hustler boy toys is collateral damage.  That's not homophobia, that's mercy.  Those twinks traded in their souls, they get paid big dollars so Barry Diller can suck their dicks whenever he feels like.  Fucking catamites.  Ten dollar street whores have more self respect than Diller's little pet fashion faggots."
     U gazed off.  "I wonder if there is a drug in the world that makes users examine their souls, makes them shine light into all the hidden corners and pockets of their souls, and they have to face things they have hidden from themselves.  A drug that makes the user face the reality about what sort of a person he really is."
     "And what would you do with this drug?"
     I would get it into the water supply of the Hollywood studios, and just wait.  There wouldn't be a mass suicide, not exactly, but over the course of about three weeks vast numbers of people in the boardrooms and upper offices will have croaked themselves.  The entire industry would crash to the ground, totally rudderless.  And in the chaos, I'd be able to make a feature starring Courtney Love and Jim Carrey.  Lots of fuck scenes with those two.  It would be the worst porn movie ever made, and people would still line up to buy it, because it would still be better than the crap from Hollywood."
     "That idea proves one thing right.  There is no problem which cannot somehow be fixed with dope."

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