".... So you see how this could be a very beneficial arrangement," said Ian Hollis of the pay cable channel Cinemax. "So, are you on board? I can fax you contracts to sign in five minutes."
I laughed into the phone. "You're kidding, right? A major deal like you're talking about, and you'd have contracts ready in five minutes? Do you have any idea how many details we've gotta cover? Don't expect my signature on anything for at least a couple weeks.... And it won't be just my signature you're after. There's no way in hell I'd even start an agreement like this without talking to Angel, the owner."
"The who?" queried Hollis.
"Angel Morelli, majority owner of Inana Productions. He's my boss. I may be the Big Cheese around here, but I'm ultimately just an employee. Did you think I own this joint?"
"It's the impression I've had," Hollis responded, sounding a bit annoyed. "I've never heard any mention of a silent partner."
"He's not a silent partner," I chuckled. "Angel handles the long view and the okay on major products. He is the final arbiter, and he knows exactly what's going on around here. But Angel also owns five other adult studios, as well as a couple other businesses. You're in LA, right?"
"You familiar with 5110 Century Park West in Century City? The Italian place? That's his. If we're gonna be negotiating, plan on spending a bit of time there. Even if we end up yelling at each other to fuck off, you'll at least have had a few damn good meals." I paused. "You know, the longer I think about it, the more curious I am about the contract you said you can fax me in five minutes. You already have a contract ready, for a deal between Inana and Cinemax."
"Yes, I do," bubbled Hollis.
"What does it say?" I asked.
Hollis' voice took on a dishonest purr, like a used car salesman trying to unload a Mercedes whose block was cracked. "Really, Mr. Schneider, this deal isn't all that complex. For two years, Inana Productions produces fifteen episodes of each of your four series, which Cinemax will have exclusive rights to. Cinemax will ---"
I cut in. "Um, excuse me? What the fuck did you just say? Cinemax holds exclusive rights? Yeah, no. You've already told me you're going to pixelate out the genitalia and hardcore action. You'd better believe Inana will be holding ultimate control of the different series, tapes of the series will be available, un-edited, through mail order and in the video stores. No, Cinemax is licensing the use of the series', and that's it. I don't give things away for free, at least not things I put my heart and soul into."
"How sentimental," said Hollis in a sneering voice. "Okay, fine, Cinemax is the only entity the series' will be licensed to. Inana will retain ownership, and Cinemax holds all the rights for two years. Inana will receive ---"
I growled into the phone, "Oh Jesus Christ. I hope you simply misspoke when you said Cinemax holds 'all the rights.' That covers a lot of territory, and I have a hunch that I'd not be willing to cede all that territory." A thought struck me. I suddenly made my voice friendlier. "Tell you what, Mr. Hollis, why don't you fax me this contract you've already got prepared, and I'll take a look at it. If I see something I think needs changing, we'll go over it, you know, hash things out."
"Absolutely, Mr. Schneider," Hollis chirped. He was sure I was almost on his hook, he'd be reeling me in shortly. "Tell you what, you read over the contract, sign it, and fax it back. Any issues you have can be corrected and written in later. How does that sound?"
Like a complete con, I thought. I said out loud, "Works for me. Send that fax."
Four minutes later the fax machine in my office kicked into action. It spit out three pages and stopped. I took a glance: the machine had paper, it wasn't jammed, and the display said the fax was complete. So, the contract for a deal between a broadcaster (Cinemax) and a production company (Inana), which would cover four separate series and last two years, fit on three pieces of paper.
Silly me, only two. The first sheet was a cover page. The "contract" was written in a clumsy version of Legalese, like the author was a junior high kid pretending to be a lawyer. The actual stipulations were crafted in a very nebulous manner, which could easily be interpreted to greatly benefit Cinemax. Basically, the contract was written in a way that would give Cinemax everything, leaving Inana holding an empty bag for two years.... Oh wait, the two year time frame would actually restart for the first year's series when Cinemax received their final second season episodes.
One of the most insulting things about the contract was what Cinemax thought was a fair price for 120 original episodes of programming. I punched at my calculator for a couple minutes and realized we would be losing money on production alone. Okay, some ventures are produced in the red, but their plan was to make a mint off merchandising.... But since Cinemax would hold "all the rights" to the four series for three years, we couldn't sell a thing, not without having to give Cinemax a large percentage of our gross.
To me, it was obvious what the logic had been. Lenny Schneider, the auteur behind Inana Productions, was young, and thus stupid. Have you seen pictures of him? Definitely stupid. He may be a talented writer and producer, but those types never hack it running a business. We'll act like we're trying to be helpful by keeping the contract sort and simple, we'll make it sound important --- throw a few words in Latin, to confuse the little asshole --- And he'll sign it in a heartbeat. We'll practically be getting two years of free original programming.
I rang back Hollis, saying into the phone, "Hello, Ian baby."
"So shall I listen for my fax machine?" Hollis asked.
"No.... No, not yet. Just a few things we need to clear up. Tell me, Ian, what do you know about me?"
"What do you mean?"
In an airy manner, I told him, "You know, basic bio information, what you've read about me, what sort of person I am. I'm just curious. With a celebrity wife, I sometimes wonder how well I'm known to the general public."
"Let's see.... You're twenty-five, about six foot, and into the punk rock thing. You're married to Becky Page. Um.... You wrote and produced the first ten or so features Inana released, so you're pretty darn smart. Oh, and you like Johnnie Walker Red."
"Is that all? You hold no other opinions of me? Looking at the contract, it's obvious you think I'm a fucking idiot."
Silence from Hollis, then a bit of fake indignant annoyance sputtered out. "What the hell do you mean by that?"
"The contract has such broad reach, has so few details, that it could easily be interpreted to say that Cinemax holds the right to all four series for three years, during which it can do merchandising, theater showings.... Hell, you could duplicate your own copies of the videos. What you're offering to pay me demonstrates either you are stupid, or you think I'm stupid. And of course your instructions were to sign the contract and fax it back, and we'd fix any details later. Um, no, you can't modify a signed contract after the fact.
"So does Cinemax have a real interest in doing business with Inana? Or was this just a way to pass the time this afternoon, seeing if you could reel in a sucker?" I paused, then asked. "Do you read Variety?"
I made an evil cackle. "I figured you do. You've read all the mean things the mainstream studio honchos have said about me, you've seen my picture. I'm gonna guess you figured I really am the halfwit thug Mancuso and Diller and the rest say I am, that I'm numb from the neck up. Cinemax would get 120 episodes of original hardcore for next to nothing, and could profit in a lot of ways, and Inana couldn't say a thing about it. You'd have a signed contract from Leonard Schneider.
"This may be a bit crass, but.... Suck my motherfucking dick, Hollis. You try and treat me like a mook, some dumb asshole? You figure that I'm young, and Barry Diller says I'm a lout, so you can pull a hustle on me, and a sizable one. Answer me this, Ian. Does Cinemax want to do business with Inana Productions or not?"
Low breathing on the phone. "Answer me!" I yelled.
I must have punched through his crust, as he responded to me in the manner all Hollywood/LA types He didn't yell or curse me back, but instead kicked into a sharp bored voice saying, "Look Schneider, you're down in San Diego, playing around at running a damn porn studio. I wasn't going to waste too much time with you, I figured you really are as dumb as you look. Okay, maybe you do have a brain cell or two. Yeah, Cinemax would love to work something out with Inana, your studio's garbage has everyone all ga-ga. Don't worry, my next contract will be better, but I'll still rob you blind. Maybe you're not entirely stupid, but you're not that smart, either. Shit, you pick fights with the studio executives here in LA, like a drunk street criminal. You piss those guys off, you may as well move to Bakersfield and get a job as a field hand. Your career in Hollywood is finished.... stupid."
"My goodness," I shot back. "So I'm now finished with a career I'd never started? All those times I said 'Fuck Hollywood,' and the executives should all kill themselves, I wasn't kidding. I wasn't trying to attract attention to myself. I was asked my feelings on a subject, and I answered honestly.
"This may come as a surprise, but these days I don't sign a fucking room service slip without having it vetted by a couple lawyers. Um, I'd have caught your phrases and weasel words myself, plus the added layer of protection from the lawyers. If Cinemax is serious, you and I will have a nice meal together, just the two of us. You and me, we'll eat, drink and talk, and I'll see if your brain has rolled back into place. Any more comedy routines, and your afternoon will start to take a downturn."
"Oh, what are you going to do, Schneider, beat me up?" asked Hollis. "Gonna prove you're just the violent punker criminal you appear to be? Is that your solution to everything?"
"Hardly," I snickered. "But I've noticed, with a lot of LA and Hollywood types, it's the only thing that gets them to pay attention to what I'm saying. LA people, Jesus. An entire tribe of snotty, condescending jerks with the most baseless superiority complexes ever witnessed. Minnesotans live up to their passive-aggressive rep, but you LA people take the cake. Do you know how much deep shit you all would be in if you were anywhere else on the planet? I mean, the very first time you interact with me, you try to rip me off, fuck me over. Now you've been talking shit, like I'm supposed to put up with being verbally abused by you, for some reason. Literally, anywhere else in the country you'd be missing teeth right now, if you were face to face with someone. LA people confuse poor manners with 'being honest,' elitism with nonchalance, and a big mouth with wit.
"Be at 5110 Century Park West tomorrow at 12.30, we'll have lunch. Feel free to bring a friend. I'll be bringing one, a girl named Terry. Bring a date, bring a friend, bring a bodyguard for all I care. You say Cinemax wants to do business with me. I'll decide if that's true tomorrow, it depends on your actions, words, and behavior. If I think Cinemax is serious, we'll set up a real business meeting for Monday. If I think you're yanking my chain, patronizing me, or otherwise treating me as though I have no honor.... Well.... Anyway, we'll eat out on the patio, surrounded by other people."
I almost could hear Hollis directing a supercilious look at his phone. "The patio, huh?" he asked. "At that five star Italian place in Century City.... Okay, Schneider, if you say so. I figure that maybe you're cousins with one of the kitchen workers, and they might get you seated.... But not on the patio, you're full of shit. Tell you what, let's make a little bet. A thousand dollars says we're eating with the tourists in the main dining room tomorrow. You got a grand?"
"I do," I replied. "What the hell, let's make it five grand."
A few ticks slipped past, then Hollis said, "You're that confident."
"You'd better believe it."
Another handful of ticks, then, "Never mind, forget it. See you tomorrow." The phone was clattered into its cradle. I drummed my fingers briefly, then called Terry and Bekka to know of my business meeting the next day.
Terry the Terror and I drove up in Jane's Cutlass. Normally we'd have rode the putts, but I wanted some conversation as we drove. "You think this motherfucker is squirrely?" asked Terry.
"I think he's a Los Angeles native," I responded. "He's got a lot of behaviors in common with Ron Haley, you know? He automatically assumed I'm a moron, and --- since he's so smart --- decided to rip off Inana, big time. When I called him out on it, he didn't have the slightest sense of recrimination. Instead, he started the same bullshit Haley did, verbally abusing me, putting me down, and acting like it's my duty to sit there and take it. I explained that anywhere else in the country, he'd be getting an attitude adjustment, but I don't think he believed me."
"Why the fuck are you dealing with this dude at all?"
I ran my fingers through my hair, and said, "Because it could potentially be very lucrative. Cinemax would be drawing more subscribers by being able to announce they have original programming from Inana Productions and Becky Page. The sex and the genitalia will be pixelated when the episodes air, but Inana will have the uncensored tapes available. And if any of the series picks up a solid following, we'll have a great opportunity for merchandising. Shit, Inana and Cinemax can split merchandising, they can carry some products, we'll carry others in retail shops. Oh, and tapes are released for sale before the episodes on the broadcast are shown."
The day before, Terry and Bekka had put on sort of an impromptu signing at the Smut 'N' Stuff in Mira Mesa. "Becky" signed autographs, and gently prodded customers about what they thought regarding the four series. Overall, a positive response. The two comedies seemed to be the most popular. Bekka's personal hunch was that if the series was more female-friendly, the series "Co-ed Housing" would rank higher, women would want the emotional involvement that came with the drama. "Pulse of Night" really was falling flat, no question about its replacement now. This surprised me, I figured anyone who just wanted a good suck and fuck loop starring Inana Girls would be pleased with "Pulse." Nope, people pointed out that it was just like a loop, with maybe a dozen lines of dialogue mixed in.... As if that was a bad thing. It seemed that anyone looking for Inana's videos wanted genuine entertainment, not merely wank-fodder.
We arrived, turned the car in to the valet, and landed on a bench outside the entry arch. Hollis arrived in the usual Los Angeles native manner, "fashionably late." About fifteen or twenty minutes late, just at the point when the person who's waiting on you starts to wonder if you ditched out. I had no clue what Hollis looked like, it was safe to assume he'd recognize me, even if I'd still been blonde in my last Variety photos. (My hair was blue now.) A 5-Series BMW shot into the valet driveway way too fast, coming to a halt with a screech of rubber. The valets opened doors, and the occupants got out.
The passenger was a thirty-ish bleached blonde woman, looking like the white girl in a Benneton ad. She stood on the walkway and waited for the driver, who seemed to be giving instructions to the valet tasked with parking the car. Finally, I got a look at him. 100% Hollywood player. Blow-dried and moussed hair (lightened some), pastel sport coat over a red t-shirt, creased Levi 501s, and top-siders. One eyebrow was cocked up, and his mouth held a teeth-baring grin. Even from that distance, the teeth seemed unnaturally white. This seemed to be his default facial expression, it dstayed that way as he spotted and approached me, attache in hand.
Terry is a pure gold Biker Bitch. Boots, tight black jeans, Jack Daniels t-shirt, sleeveless flannel shirt, hair held captive by a bandanna, and cheap wraparound shades, just like me. I was in my usual Doc Martens, Ben Davis, t-shirt, and stud-covered denim jacket. The jacket had seen better days, I'd been shot while wearing it three times. It was a talisman at this point, I'd wear it until it rotted. My hair was about an inch and a half long, slightly spiky. I had three rings in one ear, two in the other, and a ten-gauge septum ring in my nose (a.k.a. a bull ring). I was pretty recognizable.
I nudged Terry and we stood, watching them approach, puffing our respective cigarettes. Hollis got up close and said, "Hello, you must be Leonard! I'm Ian Hollis." (He didn't extend his hand, and neither did I.) "This is Ambrosia, a friend of mine."
The blonde nodded at us loosely, then said, "Oh my God, he really does look like that."
I ignored this and said, "Lenny Schneider. This is Terry Patton, she's part-time production crew and part-time bodyguard for my wife."
"Your wife?" asked Ambrosia.
"I know her as Bekka Schneider. The rest of the world knows her as Becky Page."
Hollis started giggling. "Are you really going to hold on to that fabrication?"
A bit lost, I said, "What to the who?"
"The whole tale about Becky Page being married to her producer, Lenny Schneider. It's a fantasy your studio concocted, for whatever reason. Becky Page would not be married to.... you."
I stared at him briefly, then said, "You know what? I'm not even going to bother arguing with you. That will waste time and energy. We're here to discuss specific things, and I have an odd feeling you're going to try the old strategy of keeping me distracted and annoyed by constantly trying to pick fights over irrelevant subjects.... Like who my wife is. Let's go in."
The doorman swung the heavy glass doors open for us. giving me a smile and saying, "Good afternoon, Mr. Schneider."
"How ya doing, Ray?" I responded. "Still lifting?"
"Oh yeah. I'm benching about 210 now, and I'm getting more defined where I want to be. Enjoy your lunch, sir."
Two couples were standing at the maitre'd's podium. They were together. And they were obviously of the Midwest tourist class. Bruno the maitre'd, 120 pounds of raging queen, wasn't allowing them in.... Well, he wasn't telling them that, merely smiling and telling them it would be about ninety minutes before a free table. His eyes lit on me, and he broke off with them mid-word to come and greet me. "Hello, Mr. Schneider! It's been weeks since I've laid eyes on you, sugar. Four, on the patio?"
I put my hand out to shake. Bruno felt the twenty I had palmed as we shook hands, and my palm was empty when I took the hand back. Bruno trotted down to find a table. The tourists had all pivoted to watch him as he left his podium to greet me, then go out onto the patio. They were making sounds of confusion and annoyance. "What is he... Of all the.... We were here first...."
All of them were glaring at me. With my shades still in place, I said, "I have reservations, Bruno knows me. I eat here a lot."
All four were in sneakers and sweat pants, the two men had fanny packs. One of them scowled and said in a shallow Southern twang, "They'll allow you to eat here dressed like that?"
Terry and I both giggled briefly. I replied, "Well, you know, there is a certain cachet and style about my sense of dress. Um, to be frank? Y'all are in sweat pants and cheap running shoes. I seriously doubt Bruno will allow you to eat here, dressed like that."
Terry added, "Besides, Lenny here has been shot while wearing that jacket three or four times. It's his good luck jacket."
"That doesn't sound like good luck to me," commented one of the women.
"He's still alive, isn't he?"
The other man asked, "What were you doing, that you were being shot at?"
I gave an airy look at the ceiling and said, "Oh.... You know. Driving on the local freeways." I pointed out different holes and rips. "This was on the 405. This one was on I-10. This was on I-110, right in Compton."
"But why were people shooting at you at all?"
Terry answered, "Aw, who fuckin' knows most of the time, dude. Some motherfuckers wanna loot your car. There'll be four of them in a big American car. They'll pick a victim and shoot them. If the driver isn't killed and the car crashes, the driver is gonna at least pull over and try to ring 911 on their cell phones. But the crew will jump out of their car and swarm the victim. They steal the stereo, of course, and take anything and everything else of value. They search the driver. If the crew isn't happy with what they got, sometimes they'll throw the driver, living or dead, into traffic. Ba da bing, another missing persons report filed, the traffic on the freeways will pulverize your entire body into a long red streak in about a half hour. Even your teeth get ground to powder. CalTrans will spot the places where people were smeared and use a pressure hose to clean up late at night."
I continued the tall tale. "Or, maybe someone thinks you cut him off or was otherwise rude. He can't handle the blow to his ego, so bang bang bang. Gang members go 'hunting' for fun. The gang will choose a model of car to 'hunt' that day, everyone gets in cars, and they all go out on the freeways to look for anyone driving that car. When they spot one, they're start blasting away at it, putting as much fuckin' lead into the car as possible. The driver is killed, of course. They just do that shit for fun, though, they're not looting cars."
"And, you know, there's a whole fuckin' lot of wingnuts in California," Terry went on. "Thank fuckin' Reagan for that. He closed the mental hospitals to save money and turned all the loonys out on the street. Well, shit, that was in the early Seventies. There's a whole underground culture of seriously mentally ill people in California. The majority are homeless. And at this point, they're reproducing, you think crazy people don't wanna get laid? So you'll have two nuts living in an overturned dumpster, and they've got a kid now, and their kids have inherited the craziness from both parents.
"So there are some people on the freeways who are seriously unhinged. They can't even process the concept of 'killing' or 'murder.' They'll steal a car and drive around in it all day, shooting at random people, until they run out of gas. Then they'll abandon the car and go home."
"There's also the crooked cops, and the survivalists, and the racists, and on and on," I elaborated. "The cops are the worst. Meth addiction is nearly universal in the California Highway Patrol. So these cops all need extra money to score dope, and they'll shake down random motorists. Pull you over, do the usual bullshit with your license and registration, and they'll ask straight up how much cash you have on you. Sometimes, if they don't like the answer, they'll just pull their guns and shoot you in the head where you sit.
"Me, I learned a trick. While the cop is still at my window, I'll tell him, 'Gosh, officer, I'll let you know I have drugs in the car right now, I won't hide it.' The cop will ask where, I'll tell him in the glove box. I keep an eight ball of dope in there, for exactly this purpose. The cop says he'll look for himself. He gets in the passenger side and digs through the glove box. He'll find the dope, palm it, then tell me he can't find anything, I'm clean. We go from there."
"Fuckin' CHP is off the hook these days," said Terry. "They might be the scariest thing on the fuckin' road. All the CHP officers are totally tweaked out, they'll go for a couple weeks at a time without sleeping. So naturally they're on edge and jumpy. They've become this psycho vigilante group, funded by the state. Some of them don't even have homes anymore, they'll basically live out of their patrol cars. They'll use the bathrooms in fast food places to wash and shave. Then it's back on the road, just constantly cruising, cruising, cruising, twenty-four hours a day. They'll make traffic stops and shit, respond to dispatch, but.... You'll see the lights in the mirror and pull over. You'll check the mirror again and realize the CHP car has a fuckin' blower sticking out of the hood. Seriously, patrolmen will customize their squad cars. And the patrolman will walk up. Unshaven, reeking of meth-sweat, he'll have hacked the sleeves off his uniform shirt. Also, along with his usual sidearm, he's got a fuckin' MAC-10 hanging across his back by a strap. You'll barely be able to understand what he's saying 'cos he's gritting his teeth so hard."
I continued, "And they all have this really twisted sense of duty. They think they're the Knights Errant or something, on a holy quest to keep California's freeways safe. It's rare to see more than two running on a freeway, but they'll hang out together. They have their radios, so five or seven will say, 'Hey, let's go get some beer and head for the city park!' Holy fuckin' shit. Crips only wish they were that scary, when they're all in one group. They'll drive straight into the middle of the park, get out, and party for a few hours. Then they start, ahem, patrolling again.
"Yeah, if you're driving, and the CHP lights you up? Just stay as calm as possible. Smile, slow motions, simple and clear responses to questions. You've got a heavily armed feral animal demanding to see your insurance card, you know? Don't even dream about trying to bolt. First off, you can't drive faster than radio signals. Also, the patrol cars have a sub-frame under the bodywork. They can use their cars like a fuckin' battering ram, and do. If they're pissed at you, and it's the right layout, they'll hit you until you're disabled, then get a running start and knock your car onto the surface streets below. In too much of LA, being white, unarmed, and on foot is a death sentence. You're not gonna live to see dawn. The locals will feed your bodies to their fighting pit bulls, to make them like the taste of human blood."
The four tourists stared in horror at Terry and me. Terry got one last jab in. "By the way? All the looters and muggers and gang bangers would like to thank you for wearing fanny packs. That way, all your good expensive shit, plus your money and plastic, are in one spot and easy to carry."
"How do you stand it?" asked one of the men in a quavering voice.
Terry and I looked at each other. I said, "Well, shit. It's just what life is like, you know? Both of us are SoCal natives. It's all we've ever known. We both think it's funny as hell when we meet people from out of the area, and they're wearing religious symbols.... like that one." I pointed at the small gold cross around one woman's neck. "There is no point to life, there is no meaning, there is no God.... You try to keep alive, and have as much fun as possible, 'cos it might be your last day on earth. Our lives revolve around guns, fast cars, sex, violence, drugs, more sex, and loud music. God is dead, he got rolled by a pipe-head for the loose change in his pocket."
"Think about the most intense adrenaline rush you've ever had," smiled Terry. "Now imagine that feeling never going away. If you can do that, you can kind of understand how we live. Hup, Bruno is ready for us."
Bruno was standing patiently, waiting for us with a smile. I started to move towards him, and he led out out onto the patio to a table. He asked, "So what terrible lies are you telling the tourists now?"
"About the culture of death that is Los Angeles. Especially the freeways. I convinced them the CHP are some sort of tax-funded band of marauders at this point. The patrolmen are all tweakers, and they're always wanting to score, so they'll shake down random motorists."
Bruno squinted about sixty feet away, to where his station was. "They seem to have flown the coop," he observed. "Once again, thank you, Lenny."
"No sweat, sweetie," I said, giving him a maiden aunt kiss on the cheek. Benny, our waiter, replaced Bruno at the table. He smiled and greeted me cordially. Having learned from repetition, he stated, "Double Johnnie Walker over ice for Mr. Schneider, and three Budweisers for Miss Terror." Terry and I nodded our assent. Addressing Hollis and Ambrosia, he asked for their drink orders. A white wine spritzer (Ambrosia), and a Bartles and Jaymes wine cooler (Hollis, God help us all).
We waited for the drinks to arrive in silence, glaring at each other through our sunglasses.