by Jon Cohen
It arrives out of nowhere, as certain as smog and the tiny Lakers flags that pop up in SUV windows when the team makes the Finals: The Buddhist bracelet with its polished tiger eye, turquoise, and forbidden lava rock beads. How did this spartan jewelry end up on the wrists of Hollywood power brokers and balding executives across Los Angeles, replacing gold Daytonas and Pepsi Submariner Rolexes? One bracelet, three bracelets, does one wear them on both wrists? Why the fuck not? Some say a great wind blew in from Tulum, Mexico to Los Angeles, a sirocco of positive vibes whipped up from a yoga summit, fueled by Ecstasy and Molly, and small-batch Tequila. Was the Buddhist jewelry a recent improvement on those fabric wristlets that Mexican street vendors and expats weave together from colorful thread that summarily fall apart in ocean water? Perhaps the more durable bracelet originated in Tibet. In the end, does it really matter? Does anything? Buddha would plainly say “no.” The vibe in L.A. has gone from relaxed, to terribly relaxed, Buddha might even say “complacent.” If a string of polished beads infiltrates this crazy world, one region at a time, who should question the reason why? Certainly not Pharaoh Goldberg, the doe-eyed Hollywood actor from New Jersey, son of a renowned tri-state orthodontist and an eighties supermodel. As the hottest property on the market, Pharaoh openly eschews his fame. His deepest desire (at the moment) is to popularize Mantra, his non-profit recycled-sea-plastic bracelet company that has recently capitalized on the mysterious trend of Buddhist adornments. Mantra has not only cleaned up a fraction of the ocean’s trash but unquestionably benefited the polar bears. Since boyhood, Pharaoh has dreamed of helping the bears. Pharaoh addresses the Screen Actors Guild at the Beauties, a new award show drummed up by Hulu. He’s won best actor in a split-season feature. “We continue to poison ourselves with leaching materials, and we poison our oceans with trash. Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful to the many people who brought ‘Earth-Metal Jacket’ to life, but I hate the terror inflicted on this planet by the rare-earth element industry.” Rare-earth metals… magic rocks that apparently help iPhones turn on, is a topic still confusing to Pharaoh despite starring in a movie about the industry’s evils. Gazing out at his fellow thespians across the spacious Velveeta Auditorium, Pharaoh locks eyes with the nearest TV camera, “Buddha preaches metta for all living souls and their actions. If the re-enactment of one horror can help me raise awareness for another horror -- the proliferation of plastics -- then I’m grateful. And that is why Mantra is so important to me. Raise your arms fellow guild members if you’re wearing a Mantra bracelet tonight.” A remarkable number of limbs fly up; Mantra’s plastic version of the original Buddha bracelets dangle from the wrists of Hollywood’s glitterati. Even the red-hot Pappas sisters are present, the TikTok duo that really put Mantra on the map with their zany endorsement vids. There are wide smiles and unity this evening, despite raging jealously over Pharaoh winning yet another award this season. “Plastics,” Pharaoh glances at Dustin Hoffman sitting in the audience. “That one word, uttered by one of our greatest living performers, and how far that line would travel.” Pharaoh raises his own arm, revealing ten Mantra bracelets. “Thank you, Dustin!” Hoffman cracks a tiny smile and nods to Pharaoh. “Complete idiot,” he mutters to his wife sitting next to him. House music kicks up. Pharaoh is out of time. “Remember the bears!” the young actor thrusts his Beauty above his head. “All of Mantra’s fundraising goes to their sanctuaries as the ice continues to melt.” And with a humble bow befitting the Dalai Lama, he disappears from stage. Of course, Pharaoh does anything but disappear from Hollywood. His portrayal of late activist Shay Hatch in “Earth-Metal Jacket” is legit, monster gravitas, fueling rumors that he’ll pick up an Oscar, mainly thanks to the film’s searing last scene, where Pharaoh, as Hatch, delivers that unforgettable soliloquy, chained to an earthmover in protest. (A real-life event by the way; the activist was ground to pieces as the machine ultimately prevailed). And yet…despite his early passion for eco-activism, Pharaoh’s interests are drifting. He’s got new shit on his plate, and it’s exciting! Like the superhero offer! It landed just before The Beauties, and it’s the ideal role for him. Aqualord is revered by Comicon geeks everywhere. The role was pursued by every hip actor, but Pharaoh won out. The water-born superhero holds special meaning for the rising performer, given the sea-plastic focus of Mantra. Like Downey Jr. and Cumberbatch before him, Pharaoh is a method-acting freak and he’s already spent three months in the gym -- split-workouts, Navy SEAL water training. Getting ripped is something he’s always fantasized about and he’s even rubbing bull testosterone into his thighs, bringing a Gen-Z cool to body-building. His dating life has gone berserk. He’s cycling through influencers three at a time, actresses and bartenders. His collection of toys has grown, but he vows to keep it green; his garage is filled with electric hyper-cars, from the four-motor Lambo Bravo to the electric Hummer III to the Hellcat Macho+. He’s keeping up with his Oscar push, the press junkets and dinners, but the focus in interviews has shifted to Aqualord. And Mantra…When the head of marketing pitches Pharaoh on a for-profit division, utilizing petroleum-based rubber duckies as source material, the actor jumps at it. What began as a call-to-arms to clean up the ocean has evolved into a commercial assortment of Buddha anklets and necklaces, including the yellow Aqualord line. As Pharaoh rings in his twenty-seventh new year with a clan of Kardashians, he receives a frantic call from his mother, Cheryl Lapp-Goldberg, who manages the actor, alongside his paid manager. Dr. Todd Wang, a prominent critic of the rare-earth industry, who protested alongside the late Shay Hatch, has reached out about Pharaoh; Wang is alarmed at Mantra’s shift to environmentally-irresponsible products, and the fact that the actor has cancelled two fund-raising appearances for rare-earth awareness. Cheryl chides her son; he’s needs to pull it together! Pharaoh’s integrity has been questioned by Wang and his followers; he’s pissing people off. Donations to “Save The Polar Bear” have slowed as the focus has shifted away from land-based bear sanctuaries to a sketchy plan to gird the melting ice-chunks with gargantuan plastic slabs. According to a Mantra spokesperson, the “Ice Slab Initiative” is being vigorously pursued, but by whom? Fuck everyone. Pharaoh can be an actor, a playboy, and an activist – and slay it all! (The swirling bull testosterone helps keep the doubts at bay). When the Oscar ceremony rolls around, Tommy Joyce and his Big Orchestra flood the Freedom Arena with swelling music from the ‘Rare-Earth Metal’ soundtrack as Pharaoh shakes his head and pulls himself to his feet. Josh Brolin claps those heavy mitts of his, joining wider applause, and slaps Pharaoh on the back as the young winner heads for the stage. Brolin played Moishe Alps in the film. Pharaoh’s visibly beefier in his tuxedo this year. Filming has begun for Aqualord. He’s wearing a miniature gold Buddha, dangling from a Koa-wood Mantra necklace. “Thank you so much,” he says from the dais, waving to the crowd and the tv cameras. His fire-hydrant neck is bulging, tears in his eyes. “This is…” he stammers. “This is…” He gathers himself and proceeds to tell everyone what “this is.” A quarter-of-the-way into his “thank-yous,” a commotion burbles up from the balcony. It’s hard to hear exactly what is going on, and the telecast doesn’t quite pick it up. The cries from the cheap seats are coming from the diminutive Dr. Todd Wang who is on his feet, yelling “shame on you” in Chinese. His quiet voice doesn’t travel far, and it’s only the seat-fillers in the balcony, mostly non-Chinese movie hands, that hear his cries – clearly directed at Pharaoh. Wang rushes toward the balcony stairs, hellbent on reaching the stage. His horn-rimmed glasses fly from his head as he’s tackled from behind by security. He’s dragged across the carpet, ass-first, through a curtained side-exit. It’s remarkable how quickly the Oscars producers clean up the incident, a DEFCON-4 darkening of the lights, a burst of white noise splashed into the balcony to drown out the hubbub. Pharaoh barely notices a thing from the podium. And yet… The actor feels something in his bones. It registers under the hardened magma of good luck and Buddhist recitations that’ve insulated him these past years. Something… “…And the great state of New Jersey, my birthplace,” he clutches his Oscar, a chill up his spine. Something in the air. He’s gotta wrap it up. Before he can finish his “gratefuls,” a gallery of muted lights pop up in the dimmed arena, cell phones buzzing in tuxedo pants and cracked-open hand bags. Hollywood’s elite glance down at their portables. It’s a torpedo into the side of Aqualord – er, Pharaoh -- at the worst possible moment. A career-torqueing blurb pops up on Deadline Hollywood, but it’s not Wang posting hysterically from backstage or anyone from the Polar bear community. A bartender from the Chateau Marmont, who Pharaoh reportedly slept with, uncorks a tell-all of the actor’s bedside confessions. Supposedly, Pharaoh could give-a-shit about Mantra’s non-profit division, or anything not making money, and he watches Fox News incessantly. To say the Hollywood audience at the Freedom arena is caught off-guard by the gossip is an understatement, but they are pros. Most employ only a fraction of their craft to conceal surprise. Meryl Streep emits a tiny gasp before “recovering,” and joining the rest of the crowd on their feet for muted applause as Pharaoh wraps up his speech, curls his Oscar and hurries offstage. The entire scene unfolds in seconds. It’s all a farce, Pharaoh’s press corps will later argue. The actor never met the bartender, and he despises the Chateau, which he bitched about in a recent exposé. Doesn’t matter. The public has ruled. Aqualord stays on track but there are weather delays in the Maldives, untimely winds and hurricane downpours. Hunkered down in the St. Regis Vommuli, Pharaoh isn’t eating much and his gym time has fallen off, despite his trainer shrieking at him. Are the gods speaking to him?! This couldn’t be Buddha – Buddha wouldn’t do something like this! On the set of Aqualord, things go from bad to worse. A spring-loaded trident launcher jams, sending a projectile off-track and impaling a compliance lawyer. There’s a wave of food poisoning. Pharaoh’s social media woes escalate. And back in the states, the Buddha bracelet starts to lose popularity, across the board. Mantra implodes. In a new viral video, The Pappas twins are barfing up Buddha bracelets from their young, luscious mouths, thanks to the inventive Kozi filter. Like an old birthday balloon wilting to the ground, the stone balls and wooden beads mysteriously sag and drop from the limbs of agents and producers, dog walkers and mechanics. And Pharaoh Goldberg, he disappears as well…at least for a while. His handlers whisk him into rehab, even though he doesn’t drink, where he’ll hopefully emerge, months later, apologetic and reborn. In retrospect, the origins of the L.A. Tibetan/Buddhist Bracelet still remain cloudy. Tulum, India, Tibet…some say the Angelino gangs started the craze alongside their bacon-wrapped hotdog empire. In the end, does it really matter? Does anything really matter? Worry not Magnanimous Buddha (not that worry is your thing); the Great Message was not missed on Angelinos. It was a lofty feat: an entire city focused on a singular piece of jewelry for more than a week. Blessedly, the indestructible wheel of Dharma, framed by its eight rugged spokes, is bigger than any one bracelet, and it shall roll on, as all enlightened souls know, and probably reach the City of Angels once again.
Jon Cohen is a writer trapped in the body of a music executive. In reviewing his long and reluctant career in the biz, Cohen has pinpointed one invaluable gift: the ability to stay up past his bedtime. It has proven quite valuable as a writer, and equal parts worthless, as Cohen no longer sleeps.