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I’m parked and panicked outside the estate of Hollywood royalty Kathi Kannon, star of stage and screen and People magazine’s Worst Dressed list. The only barrier between us is her massive front gate, made of wood and steel, elements at once both warm and hard, welcoming and severe. The vertical beams of the gate are covered in art: an orange street sign that says DUMP, a painting of Santa Claus smoking a cigarette, a banner announcing CLOTHING OPTIONAL BEYOND THIS POINT.
My car, like my life, is idling out here, a couple minutes early for this job interview, the chance to be personal assistant to Kathi Kannon. My windshield frames the scene in front of me: her gate, bordered by the clear, cool landscape of Beverly Hills—blue sky above, bright greens and hot pinks of sprawling bougainvillea on the left, aged branches of a huge avocado tree on the right, and, along the bottom, the gold hood of my used and tattered 2002 Nissan Sentra. Mostly gold, that is; the paint is peeling off in some parts, exposing raw, rusted, pocked steel beneath.
I’m trying to chill out, wringing my hands, biting the inside of my mouth—the familiar and faint taste of my blood always marks occasions like this. When I’m nervous, when I’m insecure, when I desperately want something, sometimes there’s pain. I want to be inside this gate.
I’m thinking, I don’t belong here.
I’m sweating and grossly unsure what’s ahead for me. Through the beams of her gate, I see specks of an entire universe laid out in a curious mix of earth tones and neon. I can make out things shimmering and shining in her yard. It looks like a carnival. It looks like an acid trip. It looks like heaven.
I feel like I’m going to puke, sickened by the unfamiliar optimism that this may be exactly what I’m looking for—the beginning of something special for me. Her gate, an actual gateway to a better life.
I’m here for the opportunity of my lifetime, and I’m exhausted from having been up all night—not from partying or from insomnia or anxiety but working a job I hate; I’m a writer for local television news in Los Angeles. I’ve had the job seven years on the aptly named graveyard shift. I start at midnight and write, write, write news stories that go into some ungrateful server and through some disinterested wires and onto the emotionless teleprompter where the overpaid, contractually malnourished anchor reads the words I wrote with a smile on her face: Your toothpaste causes cancer, a dozen orphans are dead in a fire, today is gonna be sunny! We go off the air at seven A.M., and that’s when I leave work every morning, depressed and bleary-eyed. I drive home to eat bland, stale cereal, then go to sleep as the rest of the world starts waking, living. Friends are impossible to service with this schedule. There’s no line of lovers interested in me, a night crawler. My life feels like rot.
I’m desperate to change it all, and this meeting with Kathi Kannon is my foolhardy tug on a soggy wishbone. I’ve considered other career changes before, but none panned out, none made sense at the time, and none have been this exciting. Kathi Kannon, heroine of film, television, maybe my life: Save me from my boring, worse than basic existence; I beg you, be my hope.
I’ve loved Kathi since childhood, watching her as Priestess Talara, the leader of a future earth under attack by invaders in the epic film Nova Quest. Of course, I didn’t know her real name back then, but I knew I loved her. I had almost every action figure in her franchise. Almost. I had the bad guy. I had multiple versions of the good guys. I had every robot, spaceship, castle. But I didn’t have her, not for long, anyway. My sweet mother gave me the Priestess Talara action figure as an Easter gift—her royal silhouette replacing the boring chocolate bunny—but my dad wasted no time removing the priestess from my life. He thought female action figures were the reason I ran “like a girl,” as he put it. One rainy day, after a game of soccer—a sport he forced me to play—where I was the only kid running around the mud puddles instead of through them, he yanked the priestess from my hands. I cried out, bawling, “No, don’t take her from me!” I never saw her action figure again.
And now I’m outside her house. And not just hers but her family’s. Kathi Kannon isn’t famous only for film; she’s famous for DNA. Her mother is the Gracie Gold, America’s darling redhead sweetheart from countless Broadway hits and Hollywood films and TV shows and tabloid-magazine covers dating back to the fifties. Kathi’s late father was also well known, a music executive courted and cajoled across Hollywood and New York before his recent death. I’ll be entering not just Kathi’s world but also that of Gracie; they live in separate houses in this same compound, the one that’s now right in front of me, on the other side of this troublesome barrier.
Kathi’s gate intercom call box is stretching toward me like an aggressive handshake, with its little silver button and the words engraved beside it: PRESS TO CALL. I’m about to push a button no doubt pushed previously by her rich and famous friends who, according to Us Weekly, visit her regularly—Johnny Depp, Candice Bergen, Matthew McConaughey. That button, silver and shiny and scorching hot from the summer sun. I’m thinking, Pushing this button may burn me. I’m thinking, This new job will be worth it. I’m thinking, This all might hurt a little.
I always wondered how you get an opportunity like this. Turns out, a celebrity-assistant job only comes from one place: your enemy. The offer came spelled out in an email from Bruce, this guy I hate. I can’t even say his name without an insipid inflection. Bruce. We accidentally met one night at a gay bar after he spilled an entire dry martini on me. I would never normally stay in touch with someone like him, but I keep running into him at the Rite Aid in my neighborhood—Rite Aid, that cruel vortex of people I would rather never see. I remember Bruce because he’s hands-down handsome and uniquely annoying, overly obsessed with titles and social standing and the science of the fade of his buzz cut. And I suppose he remembers me because, although he can’t seem to remember my name, he once said I look like Frodo, so I guess that counts as me making an impression.
“Hey, Frodo,” he yelled as we bumped into each other a couple months ago near the pharmacy—him buying protein powder and me buying a neti pot.
“Please don’t call me Frodo,” I said. “I’m Charlie. Sorry.”
“Apology accepted,” Bruce said cheerfully, inexplicably giving me a thumbs-up. “I should be able to remember that. My ex ex-boyfriend had a dog named Charlie who got hit by a car and now has two legs and rides around in a little wheel thing with a diaper. It’s cute.”
The Rite Aid cashier piped up on the intercom, asking for help at the register. We’re all drowning, apparently.
Bruce: I resent him, I abhor him, I friended him on Facebook. I like to see the lives I’m not living. Every time I read one of his posts, I literally groan, “UGH!” before I click LIKE. He works for Kathi’s agent and was tasked with finding Kathi a new personal assistant. Bruce says Kathi’s prior personal assistant was straight, hot, Peruvian, and her reps heard rumors the two maybe got a little too personal. So Bruce says they’re looking for someone like me—a gay writer to help her keep her life together while specifically not having sex with her. Kathi’s team also wants someone who will help her pen more novels. She isn’t doing a lot of acting these days, and her books are apparently easy money. My job responsibilities would include: Encourage her to write, correct her punctuation, make her wear a bra. It took two seconds to consider my shit news job and then I told Bruce, “I want it!”
Outside Kathi’s gate, at arm’s length from her intercom, I roll down my Nissan’s window and the old, bubbled, fraying tinting makes a horrible crackling sound as it goes down. I still have my journalism brain turned on, thinking in terms of news headlines, of what it will look like, the story of me making my way into Kathi Kannon’s life.
The headline will read: LOSER GETS BIG BREAK.
The headline will read: MORON MEETS MOVIE STAR.
The headline will read: NERD’S DREAM COMES TRUE.
I close my eyes; I breathe deeply, sucking in that famous Beverly Hills air as I aggressively try to brush down my puffy hair, the bits on the sides that curl up, refusing to cooperate. My body often lets me down when I need it most.
I’m thinking, Can I do this?
My self-doubt is trying to ruin it. How hard can this job be? Sure, Kathi has some mental health issues she’s openly discussed, but it’s Hollywood—who doesn’t? Sure, Kathi is a former drug addict, but I can manage that. I know I won’t be an enabler, an assistant who drives their celebrity boss off the cliff. I know that cliff very well. I know nothing good comes from it. I know what self-destruction looks like. I have a long résumé of getting drunk and high and having unsafe sex a few too many times, a few too many close calls. My therapist calls it passive suicidal behavior and I figure she might be right. I’ve cut back on my drinking and smoking pot and casual fucking. If I’m going to kill myself, to end my crusty life, it will be active suicidal behavior.
Maybe if this job interview doesn’t go well.
I’m not exactly suicidal-suicidal—I don’t have a plan or anything—but suicide has always had a spot on my vision board. With my shitty news job and pathetic, lonely life, I admit I think of suicide like some people think of going back to college.
I reach my arm out of my trusty Nissan’s window and press the call button on the intercom; it’s hard to push and leaves a round indentation on my finger, like when I was a kid and squished my thumb down on the top of a pencil eraser. I’ve been in Kathi Kannon’s orbit for only a few moments and, staring at my finger, I realize I’m already, deliciously, marked by her, when suddenly a voice from the intercom screams: “HURRY!” And then cuts out.
Was that her?
Confused, alarmed, I look around and shout back at the silver box, “WHAT?!”
Silence. I look around for answers, advice, but her trees, her gate, that smoking Santa Claus painting offer nothing but derision, mockery, jeering.
I turn back to the intercom. I’m listening for anything, any sign of what to do next, how to proceed. I’m ready to introduce myself. To sell myself. To humbly accept rescheduling if she tells me she forgot about this meeting.
I reach out, about to push the button again, but then—
I hear a little click.
Did I break something?
Then I see the gates to Kathi Kannon’s estate parting, her world opening up to me, just like that, in a snap. Just like it’s no big deal. Just like she doesn’t even care if I could be a murderer, a stalker, a Mormon.
Did I break something? Did I break into something? Is something falling apart or snapping into place?
HURRY! I hear ringing in my ears.
I throw the Nissan into drive, gears catching and jolting, tires making a brief ripping sound as they catch the pavement, the car lurching forward toward the gates, which are opening slowly, slowly, slowly.
I inch and creep—start, stop, start, stop—through the gates until finally my side-view mirrors fit, and I speed onto the property toward some unknown emergency.
I’m thinking, This is great.
I’m thinking, This is luck.
I’m thinking, This is crazy.
Copyright © 2020 by Byron Lane