28 December 2010

The Denouement of the Holiday Troika is Upon Us (this Friday)!


Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve, the big three ... er, I mean, The Big Three! This holiday troika (at least for us Yanks in America) magically assembles food, family, fond memories, and revelry into six weeks of one giant bolus of sheer deliciousness (eww?!). Man, do I love the Holidays! Admittedly, at times, for some, the big three are accompanied by a dull misery of forced affection, disappointment, close quarters with odd-job relatives, and stark, oppressive loneliness. But, mostly, I think you'd agree, when all's said and done, the Big Three are just what we usually assign to them: joy and cheer, wrapped up in a puff pastry of warm intentions, topped with a soupçon of whipped sugary nostalgia that we look forward to, or back on, with equal parts eager anticipation and longing.

Since I've been so/too busy the last year trying to see my little company succeed, I've been rightfully so/too preoccupied to give myself the requisite time that a typical (lame arse) FatScribe entry deserves. There have been so many nights that I'd kick my suede boots up onto my writing desk and just read (with jealousy and amazement) the wonderfully creative blog entries from so many of my blogger pals. There just hasn't been the time to put something down on the "new post" entry web interface that matches their efforts and skill. So many excuses, so little time.

What follows are a few CHEERS! (toasts) that I'd like to make, as well as a few snarky DYMI (Dude, you totally freakin' missed it!) comments that are long overdue. So, here goes:

* CHEERS! To my ex-wife and mother of our amazing and handsome and brilliant boys, may you be blessed beyond comprehension for all that you do for our kids. You're a great mom.
* CHEERS! To my blogger pals. I have left dozens (and dozens) of comments in 2010 at the bottom of a lot of amazing posts and pithy entries and lengthy (beautifully written) articles and (unbelievable) photos and stunning (read fattening) recipes and inspiring fashion/decor/beauty posts. God bless all of you guys in 2011! I admire so many of you from afar, and have been blessed to become friends with a goodly number of you. (Even though some of you politely put up with my conservative leanings!)

* CHEERS! President Obama, for visiting the military around the world, putting yourself in harm's way to support the men and woman of our armed forces who give their lives and sacred honor to protect us. Good on ya.

* CHEERS! The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf is a softer, hipper version of Starbucks. I've never (and I mean ever) warmed to Starbucks. Don't know what it is. Maybe it's that in almost 10 years of business consulting with legal departments, I've never gotten in to pitch to Starbucks in-house legal department up in Seattle. I got through to the General Counsel of Coffee Bean first try, probably because they're L.A.-based and a bit more laid back (and maybe, b/c they're 1/20th the size of Starbucks!). But, more importantly, I LOVE their coffee. Actually, I guess it's the Coffee Bean powder in their vanilla lattes that I prefer over the Starbucks syrup.

Many of you, Dear Reader, comment via email on the so-called "star-sightings" in L.A./Coffee Bean that I chronicle here at the ole porkster; one quick Holiday update: As I was hopping out of my black MKX, an amazing black Range Rover was pulling in next to me. The driver thought she recognized me and shot me a wonderfully flirty smile. We exchanged hello's, and then she realized as we were walking into the Coffee Bean in Calabasas (across the street from Kim Kardashian's retail store) that I was not her acquaintance. Nicolette Sheridan (from Desperate Housewives) and I shared a few moments chatting whilst we waited for our lattes to arrive. In spite of the rumors I'd read about in the Hollywood Reporter of her being "insane," I remained remarkably close to her cougar hotness the entire time. The day before I instantly recognized Brad Garrett's (Everyone Loves Raymond) deep, resonant voice in Westlake Village, where I was getting a latte for my niece and myself. Brad was with his brood and ex-wife. And, last but by far not least, I spied Ms. Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) in Malibu as I (and she) sat outside in the wonderful Holiday cold sipping something warm and cheery. Gotta love Coffee Bean.

Our Mother, Joan Isabelle
* CHEERS! To my family and close family friends this Holiday Season. We had an amazingly beautiful, bittersweet Christmas together this year, and a horribly sad one being our first without our mother, sister, Aunt Joanie, Grandma and dear friend. Joan Isabelle was the glue that kept us together even when we couldn't stand each other (which, thankfully, was not that often). She was our best friend and touchstone and matriarch. Gawd, I miss her so much that I can scarcely write about her. But, knowing her, she'd want us to plow ahead, even if she might not be the center of attention any longer (which she loved being). And, she was there with us, in the midst of our joy of being together. In our playing pool and X-Box 360. Sitting out back with us around the patio chimney, whilst we smoked a cigar and had a Jack-n-Coke. When Christmas Eve presents were opened by her 60 yr-old son side-by-side her great-grandson.   As a mother to eleven (yes, 11), and grandmother to 25 and great-grandmother to six, she was admired and loved and fawned over and is deservedly missed.  Love you, mom. Miss you, mom.

* CHEERS! To my business partner for his efforts in our humble little company. May he and our clients and our company be blessed in 2011 (even if I go back into consulting)!

* CHEERS! To the incoming Congress. May you clowns be better than the last clowns. You might be a bunch of clowns, er, politicians with an (R) next to your funny little names, but let's see if y'all can at least govern like you're a bunch of conservative little clowns.

And, now a few DYMIs. I say, *pace professore! With all due respect, here are a few Bronx Cheers, aka, the FatScribe DYMIs.

* "pa·ce" (pä'chā) With the permission of; with deference to. Used to express polite or ironically polite disagreement.

* DYMI President Obama, for taking a small city with him to escape mid-term election results in India, costing the taxpayers untold and unnecessary millions. 3,000 people? Really?

* DYMI Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, The Social Network) you are an amazingly talented writer/producer. But, you are nonetheless proving yourself an extremist liberal hack, and you deserve the FatScribe Bronx Cheer of the DYMI. I will watch all of the programs or films you write, but your insisting that Barrack Obama is amongst the smartest people in America is untennable. How do you know this, Aaron? If you have the president's college transcripts, please share with the rest of the class (and no, I don't want to see his birth certificate!). For some reason, even the ubiquitous (and feckless) media haven't produced these (as you would say) dispositive documents. So, please stop already. Where were you when people were picking on George W. Bush who got BETTER grades than Al Gore while he was at Harvard and Yale. Even I have an IQ higher than Al Gore, and I'm not shouting to all who will hear that George W. Bush is amongst the smartest Americans I know ...because he's not, and neither are your favorite libs, Mssrs. A. Gore and B. Obama. You, though, admittedly, are pretty damn smart.

Note to Aaron and rest of the class: Being (supposedly) articulate, or having charisma (Jon Stewart/Bill Mahr) or billions in the bank (Bill Gates/Warren Buffet/Ted Turner), does NOT mean you're amongst the smartest people in America. Just sayin'. Give me the first 500 names in the Boston phone book to run things over the Eastern establishment elitists any day of the week and twice on Sunday. (Miss you too, Bill Buckley!)

* DYMI Ricky Gervais You are an amazingly talented writer/actor. But, you are nonetheless an extremist atheist hack, and you deserve the FatScribe Bronx Cheer of the DYMI. I will watch all of the (well, most of your) programs and films you write and star in (and see the stand-up shows you put on), but your insisting that anyone who believes in God is a fool is foolish and untennable. Like Dawkins, or Hitchens, et.al., you all may be brilliant, but when 98% of the souls inhabiting the bodies on this planet believe in a higher being, you cannot truly believe that we are fools, or that you have the sole revelatory insight into the hereafter. Just sayin', brother.

Here's wishing everyone a wonderful, FatScribe Happy New Year!!!!

* Photo credit "Fountain Pen" at Athena!

.

18 November 2010

Bigger and better ... than California?


One of my best friends (since kindergarten) has been offered an exciting new opportunity on the other side of the country, where houses are one-third the cost they are here in SoCal. His lovely 2,800 sq. ft. home here in Los Angeles recently sold for about $750k, whilst the bigger 4,000 sq. ft.model homes he and his lovely wife are looking at on the East Coast are going for a little above $250k -- fully furnished to help close the deal ... and such a deal. (Btw, these homes are the signature homes of a large, high-end home builder, not some schmaltzy remnants of a slipshod company.)

I picked him up at LAX upon his return from this East Coast trip where they offered him the gig (following a national search out of roughly 600 candidates), and after a quick (and de rigueur) stop at In-n-Out Burger next door to the airport, I shuttled him home via Malibu in my MKX to remind him of what he'll soon be leaving behind: a perfect 73 degrees on the coast (in mid-November); seeing Paul Allen's impressive yacht, Octopus (one of the largest private vessels in the world with crew of 60, two helicopters, and two submarines. Last week I watched as one of the helicopters landed on the rear of the ship with surfers aplenty providing perspective in the foreground.) anchored off of billionaire row on Malibu's Carbon Beach; sun-kissed beach activities; fantastic restaurants; and canyons and mountains with their winding roads nestled next to pristine coastline that never cease to inspire middle-aged blokes with thick middles to think back upon gossamer dreams of a misspent youth.

(There's also The Coffee Bean that I'd be hard-pressed to leave behind, where I occasionally do some writing, take a meeting, drink some light drip coffee with a scoop of vanilla powder and where I recently spied Elizabeth Moss from Mad Men, Minnie Driver, and Diane Neal from NCIS and Law and Order minding their own business and not being bothered, thank you very much. Gotta love L.A.)

But, he's not chasing a dream with this probable move, but rather securing the next stage of his career and improving the lifestyle for him and his wife and their daughters. He'll take on a staff and budget roughly triple the size he had here. Both of their beautiful and talented and funny (and sarcastic) daughters are in college (one film school, and the other ready to start grad school), so there's no family concerns to keep him local. And, upon finishing his own graduate degree next year he'll be ready to finally publish the material for the two or three books he already has compiled (if only he had an editor! His wife and I have been encouraging him for almost 10 years to write his first book). To borrow a phrase from President Obama (and the backers of the "stimulus package"), his career is shovel-ready for a meteoric rise into the mesosphere. I'm so proud of him.

Moves across the country are an interesting conundrum (moving across town is tough enough). One of our dear blogger friends (the redoubtable Ms. Deb over at Dumbwit Tellher) recently considered a move out of country, to Scotland, I believe. If she did go, she would raise the level of my impression of expats considerably. When I moved to Virginia for grad school, it was four years of sheer enjoyment (and about a year of hell). Hell because it was law school and tough and my brother died and my marriage was fraying. Sheer enjoyment because my ex and I both loved the area, the weather, our first son was born there and we used to have picnics in our large backyard under our elm tree with our son and our dog, Mr. Beebe (before the tornado topped it with an unreal brute force, leaving it looking forlorn with a bad, asymmetrical haircut). At some point a few years back, we both admitted that had we stayed in Virginia we'd most likely still be married. It was an odd, though refreshing moment. She also revealed around this time (of our nuptial demise) her regret for not encouraging me (and trusting) to pursue my writing rather than a degree in law. Late-coming, back-handed compliments are better late and backward than never I guess.

When you "go for it," trying to improve your lot in life (like my childhood pal), there's that moment before the roller coaster of life drops you into zero gravity, when your stomach and heart and mind ask, "what the hellll?!" as you plummet into the unknown. Taking the plunge like that is good, but consider the cost of what you're undertaking. Jesus gave us the metaphor of the builder of the tower and its attendant costs. Go for it, take the plunge, build the tower, make the move, but consider those pesky costs. You could: lose a marriage or a job or a house over it. You just might also: Make that million. Find that husband. Earn that MBA from Harvard. Write that screenplay. Or start a new life on the East Coast with nothing but upside.


12 November 2010

Thick headed update ...



Wow. From great news regarding action by Congress, to some really unbelievably bad news from a client (delivered by email, of course). Seems that when I took several weeks off because of the death of my mother (and the weeks of her being in the hospital and then planning the service and then taking care of my 80 yr-old father), this one particular client took umbrage. Perhaps that's a bit too simplistic, but at the end of the day, that's basically what happened. WWBD?

When you are on a shoestring budget, and have few employees to cover your absence, and there are questions that are asked and the client wants to speak with you personally, well, the next-best choice sometimes isn't best-enough to satisfy the client's demands. So, we had a cease and desist letter (er, electronic missive, otherwise known as an email), notifying us (our company) that we are no longer representing five (5) of the biggest names in the business (picture extremely popular white crooners from the 50's and 60's).

So, whilst we still represent 25 of the biggest names (ugh!!), with one fell swoop we lost five pretty much due to a misunderstanding and because yours truly wasn't there to handle the tough questions. Do I think I could have prevented some of this desertion? Yes, well, at least for two maybe three of the artists. The others? Not so much. WWBD?

But, what really bothered me was the personal relationship I had developed with these acts and the client handling them (the one who sent the C&D). The months and months of meetings and dinners and lunches and sharing our personal lives with each other. So, on a winding road in Malibu Canyon this week whilst in the middle of moving half of my house from Los Angeles, I pulled my truck over to take a conference call with five of us on the line to flesh-out the several issues driving their decision and concern. The view to Catalina island -- twenty-six miles out in the Pacific -- was spectacular. Some Santa Ana winds had cleared out the smog and haze and Catalina looked close enough to swim to.

I'll apologize now for this update being so close to the last one, but I thought it important enough to share the ups and downs of a new business struggling to get its legs underneath itself. Bottom line is that we still have 25 clients, and are still in discussions with two investor groups to bankroll us. In business school we learned that there are many things to focus on when in start-up phase: getting new clients; raising money; hiring the right people; proving up the business plan; etc. If I had to start this over, I would begin with the money first, but then we would lose our leverage if we didn't have the clients signed. Lots of issues to wade through. WWBD ... indeed, what would Branson do?   Gotta love being an entrepreneur.

POST --> Forgot to mention, Dear Reader, that a bank from Nashville flew in to meet with us to discuss our clientele. We've had discussions with banks from Beverly Hills, Nashville, Atlanta, and L.A.. Professor Lassiter of Harvard Business School said, "never in recorded history has the supply of capital not overwhelmed the supply of opportunity." Or, as Philip Broughton rephrased these sentiments in his book, Ahead of the Curve, "there's always money for a good idea." Let's hope so.



06 November 2010

Thinly Veiled Update ...




Yes, there is a Santa Claus, Virginia ... and a God above who completely blessed me and my business partner beyond what we deserve this week with news from Congress.

Our company is very focused on signing new clients for our (very) entertainment-related business. As I have mentioned in the past, we have signed the who's who of artists and musicians who have sold hundreds of millions of records -- and no, that's not an exaggeration. Growing up in SoCal, I've never (and I mean EVER) asked for so much as an autograph from any celeb. Several of my childhood friends have had their own shows on television and cable and starred in feature films. Friends of mine are writers (successful) and producers (oh-my-gawd successful!) and actors and even ridiculously hot fitness models. The first actor I can remember meeting was Robert Young (Father Knows Best, Marcus Welby, M.D.) when I was about 5. My little brother had run around a corner (of course, with me in hot pursuit) and ran headlong into Mr. Young. Of course, Chad fell down, and Robert Young, who was no stranger to a wee nip in the morning, helped my brother Chad to his feet. I grabbed Chad's hand to pull him away from this tall, gray-haired gentleman in his bespoke suit, and with Robert Young's words of "slow down young man" hanging in the air, we quickly ran back to where our parents were standing in line with a half-dozen of our siblings for the famous champagne brunch. (I've written in this space about my encounter -- at my house, twice no less -- with Michael Jackson. Surreal to say the least. It's a SoCal thing, not a Jg. FatScribe thing in case anyone thinks I think I'm all that, with a bag of chips.)

Which brings me to my partner: Dude has everybody's autograph. His house and garage and storage facility are loaded floor to ceiling with memorabilia. He is the antithesis of yours truly when it comes to his relationship with those in the entertainment business. And, in some respects, I am jealous of the guy. There he is with Miles Davis. And again with Ice Cube. And, yet again with Pat Boone. He loves the music business. And, if our venture is successful, he'll be a pig in slop for the next 20 years.

But, this week, as we had one business group from India, that owns 26 businesses around the globe with revenues exceeding $1.5B per annum, pass on investing in our firm -- which stung and stunk, thank you very much -- we nonetheless had GREAT news from Congress. They asked the Copyright Office to receive comments about a new law they're considering. So ... the C.O. called us about several of our clients and asked that we enter comments into the record, as well as encourage our clients for their comments. This new law's potential passage could launch our valuation into the multiples of millions if we can get our ducks in a row. It's great to have clients signed-up and excited, but we still need a few planets to align, and a few special interest groups to stop sharpening their claws (they'd love to kill us, or at least put us out of business), and one or two investors to step-up with several million dollars.

And, there you have it. An update from the ether, where I'm perennially finding myself dreaming of fat cats and their wallets and their millions falling into our bank account to hire 42 staff w/in the next six months. Of course, only after we give up 30% of our company.

Good times, Dear Reader. Broke times (our original six-figures of investment from our non-equity investor) is, after 13 months, g-o-n-e. Bootstrapping a new business has never been so fun, er, tough, er tiresome. Ugh. But, still. Thanks, God, for your seemingly miraculous timing.

Keep you posted.


29 October 2010

It's not business ... it's biznasty.





Yikes.  Egads.  And substitute any other self-vituperations you typically use or can think of here in this space.  (One of my six brother's wont in such circumstances finds him using a rather nasty "eff" (word) followed by "me" which I'll only reference as to illustrate how truly bad I feel about not posting for over six month's time here on the ole porkster.)

I have been ... remiss.  (trying to conquer the world!)

I have been ... distracted.  (trying to write new screenplays and land a new job and start a new company!)

I have been ... exhausted. (from all of the above.)

One could safely say that I've been otherwise preoccupied creating a new business that saw me traveling throughout the U.S. signing some of the truly legendary music icons of the 1950s and 1960s to my new company.  I have also been traveling throughout the U.S. pitching a new company to a half-dozen VERY well-healed individuals or business groups (read, investors), one of whom owns a major sports franchise that almost made the World Series.  Other groups include two billionaires.  It has been heady times and frustrating days ... and wearisome seconds of seeking those investment funds and new clients and ... get this: trying to prove-up the viability of this new company.  Talking to VCs and angel investors and business and investor groups comprising both the former and the latter takes literally 10x the effort of simply signing new clients.  Exhausting.

I wish (I really do wish, Dear Reader) that I could tell you about this amazing opportunity with specificity that my partner and I have been trying to get off the ground.  It could be a HUGE success (with literally business magazine and newspaper/Calendar headlines), or simply and horrifically and with finality crash and burn into a serious conflagration of wasted time and effort and monies (other people's mostly) and disappointment for us and our clients.

Wow.  Can't believe I just wrote/admitted that.  But, it's true.  True for all new businesses or relationships or things worth herculean efforts.  We must risk to become a or have true success in this world -- the two usually go hand in hand, no?

I'll tell you more about this business (thinly veiled, though it must be) over the next week or two.  We have raised money from two non-equity sources, but only enough to cover expenses the last 12 months, and now we find ourselves on the cusp of ... success and/or failure (yes, both are possible).  Crucial times.  Heady times.  And, knowing the many, many businesses and websites and novels and screenplays that you all have been engaged in, I know you know of which I speak (whine, complain, vent).

Just thought I'd share ... mea culpa for my absence.  And, as always, thank you for your slightest interest.  I truly don't know how you all juggle and multi-task your lives.  I've much to learn.

24 May 2010

Brankton Walks Austin (p8)





Earl said, “Brankton, do me a favor and let me look into this. I'll make a few phone calls about Marcus and then call you back. In the meantime, I’ve got this.” Earl stood up from his chair, a man about to swing some of his Fred Flintstone physique around. “What is your assistant’s name?” He dug his toes into the shag white area rug that framed his desk with an extra three feet of matting. Earl was wearing his best grandson birthday party shorts and Riviera Country Club golf shirt with his sandals slipped off somewhere near the ottoman next to his desk.

Brankton's admin was still in his office occupying his $1,200 chair. “Sophia,” she said answering Earl.  She heard the door open in the “reception area” where her desk was. “Hello?” she said.  Sophia and Friday both jumped when the door slammed behind the security officer’s entrance, shaking the wall as it always did when visitors arrived.

“NBC Security!” said a beefy, recently honorably discharged U.S. Marine. "Is Mr. Brankton Newhan here?”

Brankton looked up at Moises Yauch and pointed to an area of the courtyard, asking if he could sit there on the low brick wall. The Rebbe gave him the pointer-thumb okay sign.

“Sophia, can you please put me on speaker phone,” said Earl.

The door opened again, and for a moment Friday thought security had left the office. But, a distinctly high-pitched Brooklyn accent said, “NBC Universal Security!”

The Marine security officer rolled his eyes at his security guard colleague from Brooklyn, “I just said that,” he said. “What, you don’t see me standing here?”

“Yeah, but did you mean it?” asked Brooklyn security.  Brooklyn had been at NBC for twelve years and Marine all of three months. Brooklyn held a visceral and visible chip on his narrow shoulder because some jarhead from Newport Beach, California, already outranked him and was telling him what to do. It didn’t matter to Brooklyn that he himself never graduated high school and that Marine was an officer in the Marine Corps for six years, two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a degree in Criminology from University California Irvine.

“Where are the banker’s boxes?” asked the Marine.

“I thought this was a priority walk-out?” said Brooklyn.

Marine walked back and opened the door a third time, “Here’s the priority: go get several boxes for this office to pack up some personal belongings and double-time it back here.” Marine gave Brooklyn wide berth to walk out the door with some semblance of dignity to carry out his assignment.

“Hello?” said Friday as she walked down the hallway toward Brankton’s office. She and Sophia looked at each other and shrugged shoulders.

Marine turned back to his assignment. He pulled out the email from Marcus Spilka’s office and re-read it to confirm the odd name of the executive he was to escort from the lot. “Is Brankton Newhan here?” he said as he walked in next to Brankton’s office looking about.

Friday with her long-legged stride met him within a few steps. She placed herself between Marine and Sophia. “Can I help you?”

“I don’t know if your office was made aware of this communication, but our Security group has been notified to escort Mr. Brankton’s office from the premises immediately.” Marine held up the email.

“May I see this please,” said Friday firmly as she tried to snatch it out of Marine’s hands. She was surprised how rapidly he moved it, leaving her with an awkward swipe at nothing. “Well, no we didn’t get this communication, and I’d like to read it,” she said.

“Yes, then this must be surprising to say the least, so I apologize,” said Marine ignoring her plea to read the directive and folding the email into his back pocket. “Is Mr. Newhan here or on the campus? Because we have to escort him out as well”

Brankton and Earl Buntz were both speaking, answering Marine and asking questions of their own, but could not be heard because Sophia hadn’t put the line on speaker phone properly. “Brankton, let me,” barked Earl with some finality as to which of them would be speaking to NBC Universal Security. Brankton now quiet in Austin, and Earl Buntz with a lung full of bated breath ready to pounce; both men waited for Sophia to remedy the speaker situation.

The door opened again. A slender 5’ 7” Brooklyn stood with the banker’s boxes next to 6’2” Marine who filled every seam and stretched every stitch of his paramilitary security uniform like some ancient wineskin.

“Let’s get these filled up ladies,” said Brooklyn as he tossed one in Brankton’s office and then another down the hall toward Friday’s office. “You’ve got three and a half minutes.” Brooklyn once heard a colleague say something similar to this some ten years earlier, and it just sort of slipped out of him now, like the kid who knocks the glass of chocolate milk with his elbow and knows it's on its way to the floor and that there's nothing to be done now but watch the final results splash out in an ugly way.

“Hey, what is going on here?” Friday immediately disliked the little guy with the accent that reminded her of her first husband who also just happened to be a full four inches shorter than her height of 5' 11" without heels.

Sophia added, “Yeah, who in the hell are you?” Sophia looked down at the speaker phone waiting for a word of authority to finally emanate from her GE phone system and realized her snafu. She punched the button, “Mr. Buntz, sorry about that – you’re on speaker phone now.”

“Who the hell am I?” Brooklyn looked up at Friday as he walked past her to show Sophia exactly who the hell he was. “I’m the guy who’s going to drag your bony ass up and out of here if you don’t get to steppin’, sweetie.”

Brooklyn grabbed Sophia by the arm and hauled her up and out of the Herman Miller chair. “Ouch, hey!” she screamed not so much in pain but fear and annoyance because no asshole should be allowed touch a woman with such disrespect. Friday immediately moved to the nearest object to swing, a silver platter sitting on its edge on one of Brankton’s bookshelves would have to do. It was engraved with the first public offering information for an Idealab company that Brankton was partly responsible for early in his career: four million shares were issued in its name raising over $22 million. It had never been used for anything but proud display, and with its two carrying slats on the side, it was perfectly suited for Friday’s double grip and her French tipped acrylic fingernails.

Marine hesitated for a brief second when he heard someone barking, “This is Earl Buntz! This is Earl Buntz!” He moved to go around the desk to grab a hold of Brooklyn's arm, hopefully snapping it in the process. He imagined throttling the little jerk’s neck as well once they got this office cleared.

Friday spun and aimed for Brooklyn’s head. Having played 3 years of softball and swung a hammer for almost 7 years as a contractor, she could bring the lumber when she needed to. She swung the platter with all of her might, wanting to knock Brooklyn into unconsciousness. She caught Marine mid-step and square in the side of the face instead. Pwang! The reverberation of the impact on Marine’s head almost broke Friday’s hand. She dropped the tray writhing in pain. The former-Marine security guard just stood there. Still. Not reacting.

“Son of a bitch!” said Friday. “Oh, my gawd, I think I broke my hand,” she grabbed her hand and held it close to her body. "Oh, my gawd!"

Earl continued, “This is Earl Buntz! This is Earl Buntz! My name is Earl Buntz! I am the President of NBC Universal.” Earl had a bank of three sliding doors that lead to his veranda. They were all slid opened and the entire party heard Earl telling all who had ears to hear that he was Earl Buntz. The clowns in clown make-up; the 6 yr-olds in Sponge Bob regalia; the moms and dads sipping on beers; the Mariachi band sipping on tequila shots with hot sauce between sets; and Earl’s wife Marjorie who just rolled her eyes. For about 30 seconds, the party turned in to an E.F. Hutton commercial waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Brooklyn looked on with full satisfaction at the left side of Marine’s face that was already turning three shades of red. “Oh, that’s gonna leave a terrific mark, Col. Oliver North!” Still, Marine just stood his ground.  He had once been in a Humvee in Falluja when his squad drove over an IED and the explosion threw the 6-ton jeep upside down and over the wall of a compound.  He and his men all thankfully survived the attack and subsequent burning vehicle and rocket-propelled grenades; the noise and pain was nothing like what just hit him in the side of the head.  Six years of near-death experiences and bloodcurdling combat, no problem.  Six months back and a sixty year-old, well-endowed administrative assistant  from NBC Universal knocks the living piss out of him but good.

Sophia twisted her arm free from Brooklyn’s grip like she had learned in self-defense class, “Let go of me.” She turned back to the phone, “Mr. Buntz, security is here trying to make us leave the office and we don’t know why.” She almost teared up, but fought it with all of her might.

“Who is there with you, Sophia? Can you read me their names that should be on their uniform,” said Earl.

“Sir,” Marine spoke up, “I recognize your name from your memos. Uh, we were told by Marcus Spilka’s office to come and escort Mr. Brankton and his staff from the lot.”  Marine yawned, trying to hear right.  His hearing was muffled, except for the ringing from platter up against the side of his head.  That was pitch perfect.

Earl cut him off, “Let me stop you right there, sir. I’m going to look into this right now. And, by "this" I mean the way Security treated our NBC colleagues in Mr. Brankton’s office and the sequence of events that lead you to believe you were supposed to escort these folks from the lot. And by "right now," I mean right effing now! If it is even half as bad as what I just heard, somebody’s going to lose a job. Sophia, are you and your colleague okay?”

“We’re okay,” Sophia looked over everyone in Brankton's office, and only Brooklyn seemed unscathed by the entire incident.  He was still smiling at Marine.

Brankton hung up the phone. He had heard enough. He knew someone would be calling him back with details, even if not good news. Brankton half-expected that there was a chance he’d lose his job this year, but he didn’t think Marcus Spilka would be the one terminating his livelihood. His hands were shaking a bit, so he rubbed them on his jeans and let out a long exhale -- a nervous habit from his mom the sigher. He hadn’t noticed at first with all of the yelling back at Team Brankton HQ, but there was the unmistakable aroma in the air of a dry-rub. Mo' the Texan had fired up the grill and had whipped up a mean rub to season the tri-tip steak that was going on the grill for his afternoon meal. It smelled like carnivore heaven.
Please find part 9 here to continue reading ...

20 May 2010

Brankton Walks Austin (p7)



Brankton’s phone rang. He welcomed the interruption, immediately thumbing the green talk button out of habit expecting his unflappable gal Friday or the other smart one whose name he rarely said because it was the same as his ex’s. “Excuse me,” he said walking away from the Rebbe with his finger in one ear and phone to the other.

“I’m actually glad you called,” he said as he moved beneath the shade of a nearby palm on the far corner of the synagogue’s pie-shaped lot.

“Brankton! It’s Pat O’ from UTA!” Pat O’ was always yelling into phones as he was usually en route to or from his office on the Miracle Mile with the convertible top down. Apparently the uber-agent had never gotten the memo that cell phones no longer require such shouting in the 21st century or that sunblock should be amply lathered on sun-exposed pasty skin – he had recently lost several pieces of his scalp, nose and ear to the surgeon’s scalpel. At least he was now wearing a Woody Allen-styled hat during his commutes.

“Oh, sorry, man,” said Brankton. “Thought you were my admin.”

“Yeah, no worries; not sure you’re going to be so glad about my calling though. I’ve got some news.” Pat O’ said ‘some’ as if he had just substituted it for the word bad, like he had done with the words "illness" for "cancer" when he told his aged mother about her only son's skin issues.

“What’s going on, Pat?”

“Apparently you have a script with a UTA cover on it from a cat in Austin or Nashville or someplace in flyover land?” he asked.

“Austin. Yeah, it’s pretty good. Just read it,” said Brankton lying about having read the script like most in the business in L.A. have lied to their writer friends when asked if they got a chance to read their scripts. They say things like, "Yes, of course." Or, the more inspired, "Really liked the story, thought the characters were interesting." Brankton, however, had two admins and a professional service to provide coverage for any project in need of some executive notes for the writers on the shows under his purview.

“Well, it’s not from my office, B-dawg. We never sent this -- Jack Mann project is it? -- to NBC. And you know we wouldn’t have sent it to you regardless, but over to that king of all assholes, Spilka.”   Even though Pat was in his late fifties, he could still carry himself at a Hollywood Hills soiree; and with his money and Power100 ranking, he went home with many young (and old) industry talent in skirts.  Even one or two well-known starlets, feeling it all slip away, willing to stoke the ego of a not unattractive, still slim, vapid agent, had made that walk of shame from casa de Pat.

“Marcus Spilka is on his way out, Pat,” Brankton was taking stock of the situation. “Let this play out.”

Jacqueline Manon Laurent strained to hear what Brankton was saying from her own convertible. Jackie was having a hard time of deciphering it, the conversation, since it was all one-sided responses of a pissed-off Angelino.

“Brankton, I’ve only got a quick second! But, you need to know that this writer was hip-pocketed -- without approval -- by some dumb-ass assistant here, and when I find out who it was, they’re fired.”

“Pat! Just a second!” Brankton looked sideways to see if this scene he found himself in was attracting attention. “I’m here in Austin, now, and by the time we’re done working up a deal with the writer, you’ll promote this assistant, whoever he is, to agent.” Brankton considered that Pat O’ could be working with Marcus Spilka, head of NBC Universal Comedy Development, class-A douche bag rumored soon to be fired, and currently in possession of the job Brankton wanted. “Don’t bet on the wrong horse here,” he said.

“NBC’s my bet, Brankton. Gotta run!” Pat O’ hung up his cell phone and tossed it across his expansive desk in his even larger office slightly disgusted with himself. He picked up his office phone and called NBC.  Pat O' was making a bet, against his better, cancer treatment induced hazy judgement.

“Jesus Christ!” Brankton said as he walked off the grass and onto the street. Even among Texas Jews it was considered poor form to throw messianic epithets into the ether so casually. Mo and Nels Yauch raised eyebrows to each other, sharing an awkward and conjoined moment of father-son disapproval.

Jackie started the Mini Cooper, “Sit your ass down, Nels.”

“What are we doing?”

Jackie waived at the Rabbi and said, “Gotta go, c’mon!” then gave Nelson the universal and impatient sign for wrap it up.

“Dad, probably see you later tonight,” Nelson said with Doppler effect as Jackie roared down the street.

A sheepish Brankton looked up at the Rabbi, watching the rear of the dark-green British import flee the scene.

“Uh, sorry about that,” he said.

“Work?”

“Yeah.” Every sinew in his dialing thumb wanted to call the office, but Brankton’s home-brewed sui generis Sabbath conditions forbad his using any modern conveniences unilaterally. However, if work were to call him, he could respond because to his way of thinking that meant it was an emergency and was therefore granted a special dispensation. And like clockwork, his phone rang.

“Yeah!?” he said again this time recognizing the number as being NBC L.A. “What did you guys do to me with this Jack Mann project?”

“We’ve got bigger fish to fry, boss,” said his admin. “Marcus Spilka’s assistant just called looking for you.”

“Spilka can go eff himself!”

“Yes, well maybe he can and maybe he can’t, but supposedly his office just asked security to come over to our building to escort us off the campus,” said Friday also on the line, whose real name was Rosalind. Brankton came up with the nickname "Friday" for her after Rosalind Russell, although he knew it was bit ham-fisted. She liked it and the name stuck. Besides, he liked to imagine himself as playing Cary Grant the leading man in the classic His Gal Friday, with loyal support staff, and himself rocking nice suits, affecting a smooth, winning way with all who came into contact with his office, handing out cool nicknames as he went along.

“What?!”

“Yeah, apparently he’s convinced facilities that he has the power to tell us to leave the premises,” said Friday. “I know they’re short-staffed on the weekend, so maybe it won’t be for a bit, but what should we do?”

Get Earl Buntz right now at his house and conference me in,” said Brankton. The Rabbi offered his courtyard as a base of operations with a wave of his hand. Brankton gave a non-verbal assent as he followed him up the driveway.

In Hancock Park -- an exclusive enclave of five to ten million-dollar homes in the heart of Los Angeles with old-growth trees and old-money families -- a private office line to Earl Buntz’s home was ringing before Brankton could finish verbalizing his request. The Spanish villa styled manse of Earl and Marjorie Buntz sitting on two shady acres was originally built in 1902, but subsequently gutted and refurbished according to Hollywood executive standards in 1999. Earl’s office overlooked the tennis court, pool, putting green and pergola with the wisteria climbing throughout. It was his sanctuary. Churchill had his Chartwell. Superman his Fortress of Solitude. And, Earl Buntz had his Hancock Park home-office to keep wives of 45-years, grand kids, directors from the NBC Universal Board, and pesky 30-something parvenu execs from Cast.com, the most recent company to buy Universal, all at bay. Even if only for a brief respite.

NBC Universal had several Presidents. Earl Buntz was the least sexy but hardest working. The company had changed hands no less than a half-dozen times since he began there some thirty years before, but he remained. He was the overseer of all things production. He worked out budgets like a big-five certified public accountant, and kept all the moving parts and players saluting his standard that he flew proudly over the NBC Universal campus: the unions, the consultants with their outsourced business processes, the C-Suite of execs dealing with heavy-handed Sarbanes-Oxley compliance issues and the HR staff dealing with employee demands that could sink every publically traded company. Earl became a fan of Brankton’s after a few drinks together at several company retreats, which was fine. However, more important for the problem at hand, Earl hated Marcus Spilka. Spilka was an Ivy League graduate who would tell you within two minutes of meeting you that when he “was in Cambridge recently, meeting with Obama at a private function,” blah, blah, blah. He also had family connections to the industry and a major sense of entitlement. Brankton was counting on Earl’s hatred of Spilka.

“Earl Buntz,” said the squat-heavy man sitting behind his desk.

“Mr. Buntz, I have Brankton from NBC Current Comedy on the line for you,” said Friday. Brankton in his own short time in the business had become a one-name sort of executive, with absolutely zero power or clout. Name recognition, yes.

“Brankton! How are you?”

Brankton said, “Sorry to bother you at home, Earl. Do you have a quick second?”

“Well, I have about 30 kids and their parents down stairs for my grandson’s birthday party,” said Earl. “Can’t you hear the music playing and the kids peeing in my pool?” Earl Buntz muted the company-owned MSNBC cable channel playing on three TVs in his office.

“Listen, Marcus Spilka is asking security to escort my staff from the lot. I have no idea what’s going on, but I’m assuming he thinks he can fire me and my people, which as you know I have no solid or dotted-line relationship to his office.”

“That little prick,” said Earl, music to Brankton’s ears.

“Since I’m on business in Austin, I’m not there to deal with this in-person. Not that it’d do any good, Earl. Do you know anything about this?”

A worried Friday cut into the conversation, “Excuse me, gentlemen, but we have security trying to unlock our door as we speak.”

Click here to continue reading part 8.




12 May 2010

Brankton Walks Austin (p6)



“What now?” An incredulous Jackie shook her head. “How about now you don’t offer my taxi services to complete strangers,” she said. "I might be the Sabbath Goy-toy, but I'm your Goy-toy." The designated and occasional Gentile driver for Nelson showed her irritation.

“Jackie, chill. I bought your breakfast again. And, stop saying Goy, you sound ridiculous. Let’s just see where big man needs to go,” Nelson and Jackie looked at Brankton in unison.

Jackie worked the convertible's clutch, turning the car off. Her flexed runner’s calf muscle pulled her sock down just enough to reveal the top of a tattoo, six tiny numbers from her grandmother's Auschwitz internment as a non-Jewish political prisoner. As freshmen at the University of Texas, Nelson and Jackie became best friends the semester he asked her about the tat.

Brankton didn't want the ride. He was about to head-off for one of two places on his list before heading over to The Driskill to check in and get his car. The other person in their group reappeared and walked down the driveway halfway.

“Okay, kids, all set,” he said. “Thanks again for the lift.” He waved them goodbye.

“Dad, come meet someone,” said Nelson. Nelson’s father obviously wasn't from the not-so-secret society of same sexed singles breakfast earlier in the day. Brankton had gotten the wrong end of the stick on that one.

Nelson switched to kneeling on the seat as he directed his dad over towards Brankton. His long frame and muscular shoulders and arms tested the Mini car seat’s integrity as he pushed forward over the headrest with folded arms. Several women and one male admirer had suggested that Nelson get a tattoo on one of his oversize they-make-me-weak-in-the-knees shoulders. Jackie also thought it the perfect canvass for some ink, like some “baller in the NBA.” Nelson would only answer this chorus of devotees that he wasn't about to put ink on the temple of God.

Brankton and Nelson’s dad met at the rear bumper like the Union and Central Pacific railroads coming together, two men running on the same gauge tracks, but most likely not quite on the same page in life. The Rabbi, a man of faith, and Brankton a man of what exactly? In search of meaning through his father’s faith, with his father’s off-the-rack suit of Judaism not quite fitting as snug as he would’ve hoped.

“Very nice to meet you,” said the Rabbi. “Rabbi Yauch.”

“You, too,” said Brankton trying not to say too much.

Up front Jackie said to Nelson under her breath, “I’m a yuck mouth, ‘cuz I don’t brush!” mimicking a PSA from the ‘80s.

“Shut it.” said Nelson.

“So, how do you know my son and Jacqueline?” asked the Rabbi with a bit of twang, surprising Brankton who expected a bit more of a New Yorker, Yiddish sort of vibe.

“I don’t, really,” said Brankton.

Jackie piped in more loudly this time up to the sky, “He flipped me off, Rabbi! In front of a young family, on the Sabbath no less!”

Brankton shifted on his feet a bit embarrassed and tried to put a hand on the back of the car to act more casual but he misjudged the height slipping off the well-polished ride. The Rabbi jumped in lending a hand.

“Jacqueline, is that what I saw you doing just a moment ago? A reenactment of this alleged malfeasance?” he asked. Jackie looked about curious. Nelson tapped her and pointed aloft to a pole-mounted security camera some 30 feet in the air.

“Full HD security video feed. Dad had it put in last week and can check-in from the house or even his Smartphone,” said Nelson. “Two more in the back”

“So, are you a Jew also?” the Rabbi asked as he let go of Brankton’s arm. Brankton was surprised by the directness of the query which is why he probably answered so directly in reply.

“Well, my father was a Jew, so I guess I’m not really a Jew by birth, but I have been trying to follow in my own way by keeping Shabbat as best I can.”

“As should we all,” said the Rabbi.

“Dude, are you going to … what’s your name, by the way?” asked Nelson sensing a moniker was sorely lacking amongst the group.

“Brankton,” he said. Brankton thought the less people who knew his name, the less likely his being hurt. He had a belief that when meeting strangers if he gave his name they would instantly Google or search public records to get to bank accounts, family member addresses, and college transcripts. He was often the guy at the party that kept his back to the wall searching sight lines for ill-intentioned interlopers and exits should the need arise.

“Brankton?!” said Jackie to herself adjusting the mirror to look out the back.

“Brankton -- huh, that’s cool. So, Brankton, what, are you like walking all over Austin observing the Sabbath? We saw you a few hours ago on 6th and now over here. That’s like walking a marathon to catch up on some rest,” Nelson put finger quotes up for emphasis mocking the observant non-Jewish Jew.

Rabbi Yauch was a tall man, who looked every bit the part of a movie star styled cowboy, with several discernible features similar to his obviously racially mixed son. Brankton wanted to ask about this, but thought against it because, one, it would be rude as shit. And, two, it would only delay his absolute desire to be the hell on his way, and presently two was much more on his mind than one.

“Brankton, if I may, please forgive my son’s bluntness. However, for Reform Jews, your Jewishness, if I may use an awkward term, is as secure as mine or my wife’s or that of my son’s,” said the Rabbi. That last part raised more questions for Brankton.

Jackie was still watching from the rear-view mirror when she decided to switch her vantage point as well by kneeling like Nelson. The two of them appeared as kids looking out the back of their parent’s car at the local drive-in movie theater.

“Even without converting?” said Brankton.

“It’s certainly not required, unless you seek to return to Israel. But here in the US, your efforts would certainly fall within the practices of Reform Jews like us here at Temple Beth Selah,” said the Rabbi. Brankton was convinced the Rabbi was really working an angle here for his membership and commitment of money, but then the Rabbi asked, “Where are you visiting from, Brankton?”

Instead of asking how he knew, Brankton simply said, “Los Angeles,” and assumed that it must have been his debonair manner and swarthy good looks that shouted “visiting Angelino!” to inquiring Rabbis.

“Oh, shit!” Jackie turned and slid down her seat adjusting the mirror again.

“Los Angeles. A wonderful place to visit,” said the Rabbi with a wink.
Brankton felt sure cowboy Moises Yauch (“Mo” to his friends, Goy and Jew alike) was making a joke of some kind about L.A. not being a place to live. Maybe this was what Reform Texas Jews looked like. Brankton felt sure that the Yauchs must be the exception.

“Have you traveled here today to Austin for business?” asked the Rabbi.

“Yeah, flew in early this morning for a meeting,” said Brankton. “But, I really should be going now.”

“Well, we've already said Kiddush, my son and I, and I’m having several friends over for an after service luncheon. Why don’t we continue our conversation out in the courtyard?” said the Rabbi. Mo-the-Rabbi poked a finger up toward the synagogue like a man pointing out his choice of doughnut to his local baker.

“Dad, I told you that Jackie and I are going to Barton Springs for a swim at the pool and then we have some things to do tonight,” said Nelson.

The Rabbi gave a fatherly shushing with his hand, clearly the paterfamilias even to 6’4” scions. “Nobody was asking you, kiddo,” said the Rabbi with a bit more of his Texan drawl creeping in again. Unbeknownst to Brankton, the Rabbi played strong safety for the University of Texas, still holding the record for most tackles in a single game -- 28 tackles, 18 solo. He was used to telling large men how to behave on and off the field. Brankton pictured the Rabbi saying Kiddush as John Wayne with leather and hat and spurs, he thought he might like to hear how that would sound.

09 May 2010

Brankton Walks Austin (p5)


Brankton removed his hand after a moment’s hesitation. She said what he thought she might.

“Don’t,” she shook her head not exactly believing her own body language which leaned toward him like some far off tower in an Italian suburb. “I mean,” she tried to soften it a bit, “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

“Yeah, probably not,” he said.

He reached out of habit for her hands -- the hands with the many lines and wrinkles on her palms as if she had been swimming for an hour, even when she hadn’t. She inherited this trait from her cherished grandfather and would most likely pass this oh-so-minor flaw on to her children. She didn’t like to think about that, the passing of an imperfect gene. The rest of her was as smooth and tan as the calfskin car seats of her 1957 SL Roadster. Brankton convinced himself long ago that she loved the car more than him. She placed her hands in his as she used to, but now a reserve could be felt, reflecting the permanence and resolve behind the decision she made in Dr. Sheila Stein’s office on a shady little street in Larchmont Village just a few shorts months earlier.

“You look good, girl … no matter what friend you’re meeting at The Roosevelt,” he said.

She didn’t answer him or his searching, not even with her eyes. She just looked at him. He was amazed how much difficulty he was having trying not to say “honey” to her. It crossed his mind that such pet names were really just pleasant conversation fillers or simply habit, like “um” and “you know” for couples who said nothing to each other, really.

The taste of his beer (the one still sitting on the desk behind him with condensation drops running down the side of the green bottle leaving ring after ring on his job offer from NBC) made him self-conscious about his breath. Although Brankton’s mind was a bit muddled from mixing his beer with two Vicodin, it only partially explained his inability to engage his brain in any meaningful way. There was also the scent of “eau de ex” now filling the carriage house, an amalgam of her private label perfume, shampoo and oils; the sound of her walking in those heals; the way she looked in those heals; and the memory of the last time those heals were safely tucked under his bed. The depressing night he caught her cheating was also thrown into the memory mix for good measure. Brankton was trafficking these emotions and feelings and memories like some illicit drug runner through the overburdened transformer that was his frontal lobe now arriving on time at the juncture of recrimination and longing and sexual tension when it finally blew spectacularly. A million cognitively dissonant thoughts and then … nothing.

“Turn around, let me see,” he finally said out of instinct.

“One last twirl, huh?”

“No, just one last look,” he said as she began to spin with an easy expertise. She was always willing to dance, to work the practice bar with grand plié, arabesque and demi-plié under the watchful eye of her Italian ballet teacher, the Cecchetti task master with her arthritic, withered hands clenching a stick from the old country to whack unsuspecting, inconsistent and imperfect students. She also tap, tap, tapped the floor incessantly with it, inculcating the girls with a metronome of rhythm for their trips across the floor. If a woman could be a misogynist, her teacher with the broken English was it. He reached for his ex’s hip and felt her body spin under his touch as her hand stayed perfectly balanced in his. When she stopped turning, she pressed into and through him kissing Brankton with a warm and wet aggressiveness that he had forgotten existed. He matched her efforts like any good partner in a pas de deux. Her countenance of indifference replaced with bedroom eyes, she reached up to the mattress still wrapped in its Ikea protective plastic that partially covered the window, adroitly avoiding the half-dozen empty beers, and handed the ashtray with half-attempted cigars to Brankton.

“That’s a nasty habit,” she said. She looked back at him through hair falling over her face and grabbed a fistful of plastic, yanking down the mattress. One bottle flew squarely into the fireplace and shattered into a dozen large and small pieces. The rest just bounced off wood floors like so many bowling pins finding their way into the kitchen, hallway, with one even bouncing back onto the mattress. “I approve.”

As Brankton walked south on Lavaca heading toward Barton Springs, he tried to remember that afternoon and those sixteen minutes of tussle and lusty rekindled affection. He remembered her and that dress and what was under that dress, the tan lines, matching lingerie, the things they said to each other and the things they didn't. He was, in fact, haunted by these things, stunted into a half-lived life of victim status whilst she moved on to a better life.

Two things Brankton the peripatetic Jew from Los Angeles didn't expect to see in the Capital of Texas: a Jewish Temple, and the woman he had only hours earlier flipped the bird in a hasty exit. Jackie and Nelson were dropping someone off -- Brankton assumed he was part of the gay coffee clutch -- at the Temple Beth Selah. It was a smallish, unremarkable building next to an Austin firehouse. Nelson carried some sort of dish behind their friend who was juggling several. Jackie recognized Brankton walking up to her British green convertible Mini Cooper.

“Oh, hey!” she said. “You left before I could give you this,” Jackie flipped him off enthusiastically and turned her back to play with her iPod to change songs.

“That’s mature,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“I said …”

Jackie looked at Brankton and turned the volume up to “10.”

Mirror in the bathroom, please talk free. The door is locked just you and me. Can I take you to a restaurant that’s got glass tables? You can watch yourself while you are eating.

Brankton was mouthing something, pretending to use sign language. Jackie just smiled at him. She relented turning it down to a still-loud “6.”

“I said very funny. You could be a comedian,” he said.

“How do you know I’m not?” she asked. Nelson came around the building running down the driveway to where Jackie and Brankton continued to size each other up. Nelson with his baby dreads hopped into the Mini.

"You two kids still going at it?" Nelson said. He turned down the radio. "Where you going, dude? We'll drop you." Jackie looked with full disapproval at Nelson who was rocking shades and a t-shirt that said Not on my watch! featuring a tiny dog lifting his leg on to a Rolex. "What now?!"


29 April 2010

Brankton Walks Austin (p4)


“Soooo, I was on my way over to The Roosevelt,” she said over her shoulder as she was inspecting the mantel’s rather spartan display of nostalgia, none of which featured her.

She tugged at the dress’s hem, pulling it down. This was not to draw attention to her figure; it was her nature to tug and to fix. The Roosevelt is a hotel in Hollywood with a true “old” Hollywood provenance sitting amidst new Hollywood gentrification. Just a decade ago the area was the armpit of Los Angeles with its Pussycat Theatre, tattoo parlors, gangs and stores hawking knickknacks at 99 cents a pop up and down Hollywood Blvd. And now, well, now restaurateurs and The W Hotel and high profile clubs and New York-inspired luxury lofts with lofty price tags were the talk of the town. And, there, still proving to be a player in a town of washed-up, wannabe and new players, was The Roosevelt with its old soul charm and neo soul soundtrack.

Rumored to be haunted by two deceased silver screen icons from the 40’s, whose ghostie penumbra make for inconvenient, though now kitschy, appearances on several floors, the hotel was finding new legs from a decent anchor restaurant (which isn’t saying much in Los Angeles where restaurants are known to flip every six to nine months – very much like a bad play opening on Broadway), and a de rigueur pool on the roof and bar with some house dj spinning records most weekends with an electronica eclecticism steeped in a heavy bass, surrounded by short skirts. Today's Roosevelt is a far cry from its former self where the first Academy Awards dinner was hosted in 1929.

His ex was a trust fund beautiful baby with an expat Italian Baron father and black American mother who looked like Lena Horne. It should go without saying that her family’s team of lawyers saw to it that her small fortune was safely bifurcated away from her husband’s hands and assets vis-à-vis one massive pre-nup. There might have been premarital cohabitation between him and his ex, but nuptial commingling of funds, never. The Baron owned The Roosevelt. He also owned several other hotels across the country through a network of corporations, LLCs and joint-ventures that never ceased to impress and confuse Brankton.

“So, why are you here?” he finally asked.

“Well, you’re like the one person I’ve trusted for the last 10 years to tell me how my outfits look," she brought her hands together and her chin down like a bad girl, twisted one foot in and looked up with big eyes. "Your place ... what does one call this? It's sort of like Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina meets O.J. Simpson's Brentwood guest house, isn't it? Anyway, you were on the way and I needed your expert opinion.”

She moved from the flameless ornamental fireplace, which reminded her of a plastic rose on a restaurant table, towards Brankton and the large writing desk he had facing out the carriage house’s living room window. She was nervous, which knotted him up because he believed her nervousness to be for somebody new -- not to mention that he was pissed for the hubris she displayed in coming here ... dressed like that. He feared this visit might rip his heart out, or at the very least Julienne, dice and cube it with a dull blade.

Brankton noticed her stirring a bit as she does when she’s wrapping up, preparing to make her exit. It was nicely orchestrated after years of practice. There was the quickstep drumming of her fingers, usually accompanied by stacking of papers or finally setting an object in its place, and then the wrapping it up neatly with a phrase that was as practiced as any radio disc jockey cueing up the commercials heading into his break at the top of hour.

He walked over to her where she had put one-half of her ass on his desk, clutching a sandstone bookend which was still in search of becoming the terminus for a dozen or so books stacked on the far corner of his desk. Brankton picked up its mate and caught a glimpse of her out the corner of his eye. She didn’t look up as their legs touched and he pressed his palm on her lower back almost out of habit. Almost.

26 April 2010

Brankton Walks Austin (p3)


Brankton moved across the street seeking the shade of the oaks lining the other side. He liked the houses over there better besides.

“No, I haven’t read it yet. Can you make sure that Pat O’ knows I’m definitely going to see his guy at the comedy club?”

“It’s not a club!” she interrupted him, which he hated. “It’s some music venue, and from what I gather he’s opening for the band.”

“Put Friday on the phone,” he said.

Brankton’s other assistant was a former stripper, general contractor, and current law student. She was 62-years old and could get anything done, not unlike Radar on M*A*S*H, but with varicose veins and an AARP membership. "Friday," as most assistants in large agencies and some studios, was already on the line listening. She unmuted her line.

“Yes?”

“Can you please make sure my car is waiting for me at – what’s this place called that I’m staying at?" Brankton could hear Friday’s long nails punching the keyboard in its face with enthusiasm.

“You’re at the Driskill, and yes, your car is confirmed to be waiting for you after sunset,” she said leaning back in her chair, shaking her head looking down the hallway that led to Brankton's office where his other assistant was holed-up. Saturday office hours working for the network that had become a perennial loser. If you don't come in on Saturday, don't bother coming in on Sunday it was sometimes said during these desperate times.

“Thanks, guys. Let’s keep our fingers crossed,” Brankton was wrapping up when his other assistant interrupted again.

“Please read the script! I put it in your man-purse...”

He hung-up in his usual style that revealed to the triumvirate of Team Brankton that she had been heard. 7 blocks from Brankton’s current GPS location, and within walking distance, was the Austin, Texas, home of his ex. Had it not been Shabbat, he would have punched up on his iPhone her address and turned his convertible in her general direction where he would have watched from the street to see who had inherited his problems and was now taking deep dives into the path of her verbal scythe and psyche.

Divorce finalized for a month or so, Brankton’s ex dropped by unannounced, where she witnessed first-hand the post-apocalyptic proof of her 30 year-old mid-life crisis and his moving in to a new place scattered throughout in the form of boxes, forwarding addresses yet to be affixed to envelopes, crates filled with knickknacks breaking under their own weight, an unplugged fridge and a freshly painted green front door wide open drying in the Culver City sun.

There was also a new mattress standing in the corner of the living room playing hostess to several Rolling Rock empties competing to see who could get closest to the edge without falling, and an ashtray with several half-attempts at his new habit of cigar smoking. The divorce and separation were complete before his new gig was finalized, and it made him feel a little better that she would have been proud of him for landing such a plum on her watch. When she frog marched up the back stairs to the carriage house early that evening -- carried both by a modicum of guilt and a dark secret -- he recognized her familiar gait, with YSL pumps pounding the way bravely.

“Hello?” she said.

Her curled brunette hair and buxom figure found their way over Brankton’s stoop like an octogenarian unsure of the distance of the next step. She wore a leopard print dress with pumps that rhymed with “eff” and “me.” Brankton first knew her as a twenty-year-old, when she was sinewy in the arms and thin faced as all women of her age are who have studied ballet for a dozen years, with a shapely figure that she was able to hide beneath most of her outfits as she was a modest, though sexual person. As a dancer, she was ashamed, for a while at least, of her large breasts, the talented dancer’s curse.

After one miscarriage and two decade’s worth of living in her twenties, only the blind could not see a woman to behold and to be held, with strong arms and legs, a curvaceousness that men admired and women envied, and green eyes that could size-up a person and adjudicate in a glance. Their relationship, though, was never about sex. Brankton felt it was about his disappointing her and him resenting like hell the nagging and judging that followed whenever he would make promises that were often not kept because of, well, for various reasons. They had both searched in earnest, treading water for the entirety of their relationship, taking that “deep dive” in counseling sessions into their psyche, looking for that important lever that could rescue them and haul their heavy burdens out of their troubled waters and onto a passing trash barge heading to New Jersey.

He was told by their marriage counselor, Dr. Sheila Stein, that renowned MFT who liked to say “deep dive” at least once a week to them, that he would have had a lot more sex had he kept a lot more promises whenever he complained about the lack of it.

“Huh? Oh, hey …” he feigned surprise at her arrival.

Half the neighborhood could hear her steps and their echo bouncing off of the walls of the too closely positioned homes with their stucco and brick walls, with her as the fleeing bad guy in a Western riding like hell through some winding canyon in the middle of nowhere with a tracking shot above as she outdistances the feckless posse.

“Where you going?” he asked in a tone intimating that one of these things just didn’t belong there.

Please find Part 4 here to continue reading


24 April 2010

Brankton Walks Austin (p2)




Too late. Brankton had already packed-up noise-reducing headphones, a next gen iPhone, a tin of Macanudos for smoking after the show, a Montblanc fountain pen, the Wall St. Journal and a GQ with Eva Mendes on the cover (whom he went to undergrad with) into his leather satchel in record -- and it must be said, Dear Reader -- stealthy time. His back was already to Jackie as he headed out toward the doorway that led to the main dining room. Behind him lay two ten-dollar bills occupying their own little competing pile, face-up with two dead, white male Sec. Treasury Hamiltons (illegitimate bastard child that he was) enjoying the view.

“Pussy,” she said as quietly yet forcefully as she could muster, seeing now for the first time the family that had front row seats to her “blue” performance. She also saw clearly Brankton swing a hand behind his head with a middle-finger salute to show his appreciation for their conversation that never really started.

Out on 6th St. Brankton stripped off his sweater, tied it around his waist, and hoped his sense of direction was true. The right arm of his aviator sunglasses in his mouth showed a decade’s worth of teeth marks, while the left was as new as the day his ex-wife had bought them for him.

He hated confrontations and heated conversations, which is most likely why he was still single. His older brother, the one who was a borderline sociopath (somehow, Brankton drove his older brother to this border often in their childhood), had once beaten him to within an inch of his life when he was ten year’s old because Brankton had discovered and eaten his brother’s entire Almond Roca stash. His brother simply followed the gold foil wrapper trail back to its source and found a contented if not bloated Brankton sitting on the couch watching a rerun of Highway Patrol starring Broderick Crawford, that porcine-looking actor with a waddle that wobbled every time he barked his lines. That was the last time Brankton ever talked to his brother-the-rabbi of his own accord, who now has a congregation in upstate New York, and by all accounts weighs over 300 pounds and closely resembles Broderick Crawford with his broad brimmed hats and sizeable waddle of his own that sways whenever he speaks his mellifluous Hebrew sermons.

The theme song for an NBC hit show began to play from the bottom of his leather messenger bag. Brankton continued walking and dug around inside his bag until his fingers felt the familiar plastic of an Apple-made Steve Jobs-designed product. Each time he swung his arm around inside his bag, he was reminded of the thousands of times his mother and wife had whisked hands around their own purses, with that rustling sound of hard and soft objects rolling over each other like so many socks and thongs and jeans in a dryer.

“Yeah,” Brankton said to his assistant. “Are you at work?”

“Yes,” she said. “Remember you were supposed to call me when you landed?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked.”

“Are you still going to see that guy tonight?” she asked. “The one that Pat O’ from UTA asked you to see?” Brankton pulled out the coverage of the script his assistant prepped for him earlier in the week. “Is it really this good?” he wondered.

“It’s the best thing UTA has sent us this year. Best script I’ve ever read. So, yeah, it’s pretty good.” His assistant was an MBA grad from Wharton who was probably one year from landing an incredibly high-paying job herself if Brankton didn’t get fired before she could transition out and up. "So, did you actually read the script, and not just the coverage?" she asked.

Brankton, as an exec at NBC overseeing “current comedy" didn't actually read spec scripts for development. However, as certain gigs go, this position at NBC was tenuous at best because of several seasons reflecting NBC’s ratings nadir, and Brankton was ready to develop some hits if he could. The low ratings weren't Brankton’s fault; he transitioned into this job after a merger of several companies that landed him atop the pile of mid-level execs as VP Current Comedy. Salary above $300k, and a staff of two talented and incredibly loyal assistants, it was hard not to like his “new” role. 18 months later, and Brankton knew his head was on the chopping block if things didn't change. When times are tough, it's better to ask forgiveness rather than permission which is why he and Team Brankton were now looking to land new writers and producers for development deals for the Peacock Network which was outside of his normal purview. It was a desperate move that reflected Brankton's and NBC's contretemps.