I was on a cell phone, seated at a table inside the dining area, hollering at my agent over clanging dishes and the ruckus of Lakers basketball. Adjacent to me were a table of children wearing party hats screaming wildly without supervision. I pushed one finger in my ear.
“So what did they say? Do I have the part?!”
Alex Amendt was assigned to help me re-launch my career in film. He was a bald man, a gentle man, a man who most likely loved my earlier work. We had met through a mutual friend who introduced me to Alex in the hopes that I could rekindle my childhood star.
“Sorry, Marcus.” He sighed. “No dice.”
This would not be my first rejection since re-emerging onto the scene. I had just recently lost the role of Michael Kelso to Ashton Kutcher, a shaggy chimp with 12 years less experience.
“So what was the reason this time?”
I was irritated. Hollywood is a tough grind, a world that rewards clowns while trampling upon loyalty. The spoils of victory are given to the same batch of brats whose only talent is maintaining convention, swaying only to prey upon the harvest of those whose independence produces something fresh enough to expose.
“Pick up your chin, Marcus. We can’t let this get us down.” Alex, I should mention, relied on motivation. “I just got a call about a script that might be right up your alley.”
A waitress brought one of the children a birthday cake topped with sparkling candles; this erupted their table into a frenzy. I pressed my index finger further into my ear to block out their joy.
“Was it my earlier career?” I pestered, “Am I old news?”
“Well Marcus, the thing is…” He hesitated, “The thing is they’ve never heard of you before.”
I was stunned. They had never heard of me? But I was Marcus Tadpole, the former child porn star! I had dazzled men in over 13 black market films, appeared in over 2,500 photos, and was the NAMBLA poster child for three consecutive years. How does an industry survive being so fickle, so carnivorous and coldhearted? These people had taken me in, fed me cough syrup, dined me with milk & cookies, and gave me all the finest toys. Yet when I grew my first facial hair, they cast me away like spoiled fruit.
“How could they not remember me?!” I screamed. I was so angry I slammed my fist onto the table, rattling the silverware.
“Look Marcus…” He trailed off. Alex had a way of sensing my frustration, and administering advice which always helped to alleviate my worries, “Maybe we just need a few new headshots. We’ll give you a complete makeover.”
I was not in the mood to be comforted, I demanded justice. I had spent the past six years of my life wandering in and out of rehab facilities, sloshed on Midori, twisted on amphetamines, lingering on the pain of having been stripped of my adoration, loved and discarded. Tears gathered in the corners of my eyes. I stared at the children in their party hats, reflecting on how that used to be me, how I was once a young kid who had never heard the word “dungeon” and was yet to enjoy the flash of stardom.
“We don’t need new headshots,” I pouted. “What’s wrong with the ones I sent you?”
“Well Marcus,” He paused, and I imagined him in his office furrowing his forehead in a scramble to find the most delicate words, “Marcus, the pictures you sent me were from when you were a child.”
“Marcus…” He took a deep breath, “I just think we need something more recent.”
At the loneliest table at Chuck E. Cheese, I buried my head under my arms and sobbed. I thought about my first day as a kiddie porn actor. I thought about walking down that cold dank stairway, the director Roger Townsend fumbling to move the large painting of Venice which obstructed the tiny doorway. I stared up in wonder at the canals, wishing I were floating along the surface like a sea turtle. Roger was so kind to me when I had arrived, handing me a fruit punch juice-box and rubbing my scrappy blonde hair. He assured me that no matter how I performed, I was destined to be a sensation, and that I would fly high one day. Everything in the world seemed possible in those days. I could do anything.
“Marcus, are you still there?”
I pressed the phone lightly against my ear, the television at the bar had been turned off and the children were settled into eating their cake and ice cream.
“Yeah Alex,” I answered as I smudged a tear from my eye, “I’m still here.”
“Marcus, are you going to be alright?”
“Alex,” I sighed, “It’s just that I need money right now, I need work.”
“Marcus…” His voice was slightly ajar; he was probably sucking on the cap of his pen. “You’re a damn fine actor. And I believe in you. But it’s going to take time to make these people believe in you like I do. I know money is tight, but you should be using this time right now to get further in touch with your talents.”
I sniffled, “What do you mean?”
“Well, you know this business, you know film. You should maybe try writing, or directing. Start working on your own scripts, your own ideas, so that when we get our foot in the door we can really knock it down. Take what you know and make something with it.”
Alex was right. I thought about what I knew, and how easily I could use it to my advantage. I didn’t need to be bound by the inequity of Hollywood. I would conspire with my own raw energy and create, waiting for my opportunity to emerge.
“Marcus, I gotta go. But think about what I said.”
“Alright Alex, I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” I took a deep gasp of air, “And hey Alex?”
I was relieved, ready to try and try harder.
“No problem kiddo! Talk to you tomorrow.” And he hung up.
I stood from my table, and slung my leather jacket over my shoulder. I was ready to create, to be an artist again. At the birthday table, the sugar from chocolate frosting had sprung the children back to life as they laughed and screamed. I walked over, needing to have a final glimpse of my former self before I left.
Their faces were smudged with ice cream, each one adorned a yellow and purple glitter cone party hat.
They stopped laughing, staring up at me with eyes full of innocence and wonder.
“Any of you wanna be in show business?”