by Jonathan Ferrini
Hey, hey, hey
What ya got to say?
Cindy lived alone a block from the movie studio which enabled her to walk to and from work; convenient given the long days extending into late night. She arrived Monday morning at 8:00 AM sharp to the studio commissary as was her custom and met by the General Manager, “Tisha”, handing Cindy a tall black coffee and plain bagel with light schmear all carefully packed “To Go”.
“Hey, Cindy, got ‘my girl’s’ breakfast ready.”
“I see you have the ‘Monday morning blues’ under control with your seventies playlist on high volume inside the commissary.”
“Yeah, ‘Kool and the Gang. Hollywood Swinging’ puts a ‘spring’ in everybody’s step, mine too.”
“It seems like yesterday you were waiting tables and I was typing memos, Teisha”
“Our slogan was ‘We chicks learned the tricks’ for surviving studio life. It seemed to work out for a girl just out of Compton High School and an overeducated college grad workin’ in the typing pool.
“Here’s another oldie for ya’, ‘Don’t let the bastards get you down!’”
“Never did and never will, Teisha.”
Cindy found her personal golf cart freshly detailed and parked out front of the commissary awaiting her. On the seat, she found a rose with a hand scribbled note reading, “Have a Good Week”.
A member of the transportation union who are responsible for driving all of the heavy vehicles about the studio lot, Pepe, had made certain Cindy’s cart was ready for a long week of driving from set to set. Years earlier, Pepe’s son was returning from the Iraq war, and Cindy arranged for Hector to work himself into the transportation union on the lot. Pepe never forgot Cindy’s kindness which was legend among the silent, and rarely recognized legions of carpenters, electricians, painters, stage hands, janitors, and many more who work within the “Dream Factory”.
Cindy rose up through the motion picture studio ranks into the position of “Vice President, Facilities Management”. She knew every square foot of the massive studio lot including stages, electrical, plumbing, lighting, and numerous mechanical systems keeping the dream factory humming. She was “married” to her job and loyal to the venerable old studio providing her a first job out of college. Cindy routinely refused lucrative offers at competing studios.
She saw a parade of studio executives come and go but her skill in getting film and television sets completed on-time and under budget made her indispensable. Cindy knew everybody from the President to the janitors on a first name basis.
Cindy exercised “soft power” which enabled her to successfully handle the egos and temperaments of the cast and crews responsible for construction and demolition of the sets. She was a champion of the unheralded crew members who respected her.
She reported to the “Senior Vice President of Production who, like many before him, was just another “suit” passing through the revolving door onto their next opportunity. Cindy had a symbiotic relationship with these mostly male, ego-driven, often times arrogant, executives, making it clear through her dedication, attention to detail, and long hours that if they left her alone, she would make them shine. They provided her the opportunity to work independently and without supervision.
Cindy wasn’t a politician, the primary requisite for the SVP job, but preferred to work closely on a first name basis with the crews who did the “heavy lifting”. There was no Academy Award category for her job except personal satisfaction.
She pulled up to the trailer which served as her office while the two-way radio barked and two cellphones chimed. Cindy was supervising the construction of a dozen motion picture sets and far more being demolished, the stages readied for the next productions. She was frugal with the studios construction budget and salvaged every scrap of wood, metal, and hardware for the
next production. She maintained a studio “grave yard” of sorts at the extreme rear of the studio lot and could readily recall materials which could be salvaged for another production. The crews jokingly referred to Cindy as the “Ice Queen” because she treated even a single dime of construction money like it was frozen to her fingers, a reference to her frugality.
Cindy answered one of her cellphones and was summoned to the set where the production designer and producer were having a “melt down” because the popular lead actress of the film was demanding a last-minute change of stairwell.
“Cindy, we don’t have time to build a corkscrew style stairwell for the ‘Princess’. She claims the current staircase doesn’t ‘do justice’ to her Italian high-heel shoes. She’s threatening to hold up production!”
“The production designer is correct. We’ll blow the budget.”
Cindy recalled a swirling staircase which was disintegrating within the graveyard used for a swashbuckling film of the thirties.
“Everybody calm down and I’ll take a drive out to the graveyard and see what I can do.”
An announcement came over the two-way radio,
“There has been a sighting of a coyote on the lot. Please do not attempt to approach as it may be violent and carry rabies. Notify Security at once.”
Animals roaming the lot wasn’t uncommon as they would venture down from the hillsides near the studio attracted to the savory food smells carried by the breeze. Cindy phoned her friend “Teddy” the Chief of Security about the animal.
“What’s with the coyote, Teddy?”
“I was expecting your call, Cindy. You’re always on top of things.
“The coyote looks fierce and has one eye mangled. The animal is emaciated. My crew will put it out of its misery when sighted, don’t worry.
“By the way, rumor is spreading throughout the lot the animal is the ghost of the famous movie star dog, “Rin-Tin-Tin”.
“Do me a favor, Teddy, give me a call before your sharpshooters take it down, please. I can’t afford stray bullets flying around the lot. It’s a war zone around here already!”
“Well, if it’s a war zone, we’re lucky to have you as our general. I’ll reach out to you, Cindy.”
It was already late afternoon and the setting sun was creating shadows throughout the studio lot when Cindy reached the graveyard relegated to storing decaying vestiges of fabulous ballrooms of thirties musicals, big city neighborhoods, elaborate mansions, and old western towns all revealing the painted wood and framing which is the alchemy of Hollywood set designers, carpenters, and painters.
She entered the maze of discarded movie sets and into a bygone era of Hollywood.
Cindy caught a glimpse of the coyote darting towards the back of the lot. She knew it was no coyote but a German Shepherd which reminded her of a beloved stray she rescued and was her closest friend for fifteen years until the dog’s death. She felt a connection to the stray dog and was determined to rescue and get it off the lot before studio security intervened.
Cindy passed the rusting vintage camping trailers which had served as dressing rooms and a home away from home for actors on location or on the lot. She was startled by a voice,
“Hi Cindy. It’s Bennie.”
Bennie Blink was a kid actor growing up on the lot doing bit parts in the fifties and sixties. As an adult in the seventies and eighties, he continued to get bit parts but his career was over by the nineties. Like many of these bit actors, he was squeaking by on his actors guild pension and Social Security benefits.
“Bennie, you can’t live in that old trailer and use the portable toilets. I thought you were happy living at the group home I found you.”
“I don’t like it there. They’re not movie people and I have nothing to talk to them about. This is my home, Cindy.”
“I told you Bennie if studio security finds you, they’ll have you arrested for trespassing and you’ll be placed within the criminal justice system which will discover your cognitive decline resulting in placement within the state hospital.”
“I ran a hose to the faucet and have running water, Cindy. The toilets are fine. I crawl through a hole in the back fence and buy my food at the convenience market.”
Cindy was sympathetic to Bennie’s plight. She knew how difficult it was to leave the lot having seen fired studio executives escorted off crying like babies. She held the two-way radio to her mouth,
“Pepe, Cindy calling. Please meet me at the graveyard, alone, asap!”
“Yes, ma’am. On my way!”
“Bennie, I’ll have Pepe deliver meals to you every day until I can figure this out. Under no circumstance are you to wander down into the studio. Understand?”
“Yes, Cindy, but what about ‘Lot Dog’?”
Cindy glanced about the pavement and gravel spotting scat knowing immediately Bennie was referring to the coyote.
“Do you have a pet with a mangled eye and is very skinny like a coyote, Bennie?”
“He’s not a coyote. He’s a German Shepherd. My friend from the group home worked for a traveling carnival which mistreated the dog. He arranged for somebody to bring the dog here to keep me company.”
“You have to keep Lot Dog from roaming the studio, Bennie. Security has orders to kill him believing he’s a rabid coyote.”
“They can’t kill Lot Dog, Cindy. He’s a good dog and very curious about the movie business. When I fall asleep, he slips out at night and follows the aromas from craft services placing out all the food for the talent and crews on the sets.”
“I’ll have Pepe pick up some dog food and a rope but keep the dog here!”
“Come, Lot Dog. Come to Bennie and meet Cindy.”
Lot Dog cautiously crept out of the shadows. Cindy knelt and Lot Dog knew it was safe to approach her.
“The dog requires medical attention. Keep him here with you. I’ll take him to the emergency veterinarian to check him out after work.”
“No, you won’t take Lot Dog. We’ll both leave out the back of the fence and you won’t see us again. If security comes for us, I’ll fight until the death.”
Cindy was both impressed with Bennie’s determination and humored by his reference to fighting “until the death” having heard him recite the line in an old pirate movie.
“I warned you Bennie. Lot Dog is your responsibility until I make permanent arrangements for you both to find shelter off the lot.”
In the ensuing days, Cindy dealt with the usual construction and demolition of sets, late delivery of building materials, last minute changes of directors and set designers, each misstep inflating budgets. She was accustomed to this mayhem and thrived on it but Bennie and Lot Dog weighed heavy on her mind. Word was spreading amongst the crews of sighting Lot Dog and pressure from Teddy to remove Lot Dog was mounting.
Cindy successfully arranged for the renovation of the corkscrew staircase from the graveyard appeasing the starlet while saving money and time. Production began and all was quiet for days until Cindy was called to the set by the producer and dressed down about a one of a kind set of
handmade Italian high-heel’s owned by the starlet. Teddy arrived holding one of the shoes which had been chewed up by an animal.
“Cindy, I have orders from the President of the studio to get the coyote off the lot. My detail has placed poisoned meat throughout the studio. I’m sorry, I have no choice. If it was up to me….”
“I understand, Teddy. I appreciate your patience.”
Cindy had received orders earlier to have the graveyard cleared for studio expansion which she planned for after removing Bennie and Lot Dog.
Cindy feared she had run out of time to conjure up her customary “win-win” solution to problems.
She began receiving curious emails. The first was from a writer.
A surreal event occurred last night. I was plagued with ‘writers block’. I heard steps coming up the creaky old staircase of the writers building. It was a dog who laid at my feet and slept. His soft, furry, presence, provided inspiration freeing me from the block. I was reminded of my childhood dog ‘Rex’ who was always at my side through rejections of my writing until I caught my first break. My emotions overcame me, tears ran down my face, and the words spilled from my brain, into my fingers and onto the keypad. I was so ensconced in the writing I didn’t notice the dog quietly leave as the sun was rising in the early morning sky.
Great job solving the staircase drama! I was in a late-night meeting of studio brass when the Executive Vice President was fired. The slob cried like a baby. I watched him walk the death march carrying a box of belongings to his car. A dog followed the poor bastard like his only friend on the lot, watching him drive off. I may be up for his job, wish me luck! Keep up the good work.
She muttered in reply, “Be careful what you wish for…”
Cindy arrived to work as usual at 8:00 AM but Pepe was waiting behind the wheel in the golf cart.
“Let’s hurry to the graveyard, Cindy. Junk crews are ready to clear it but found a homeless man and the sick dog.”
Cindy and Pepe arrived and found Bennie weeping over the motionless dog. The junk crew stood about, some noticeably crying.
“What’s the meaning of this? I haven’t scheduled this removal.”
“Yes, ma’am but we received an order last night by the new Executive Vice President to clear this area immediately.”
“What’s the problem, Cindy?”
“Like a roulette wheel spinning, the revolving door of the executive suite landed on unlucky ‘13’. We have a dilemma.”
“Is that the coyote?”
“You poisoned my dog, copper!”
“I’ll be damned, is that Bennie Blink?”
“Yes, Teddy. I’ve been secreting Bennie and the dog until I could arrange to find them shelter. I accept full responsibility.”
“I’m a fan Mr. Blink. I remember all of your kid movies.
“You’ gotta’ clear out of here but Cindy will get you and the dog to the emergency vet immediately.
“I won’t say a word about this to anybody.”
The veterinarian confirmed Lot Dog was poisoned by the food laid out by Teddy’s squad. Lot Dog was in renal failure and would die without costly dialysis treatment immediately. In addition, removal of the mangled eye, broken teeth, x-rays, and repair of fractured ribs raised the bill to $20,000.
“It’s a lot of money to treat the dog I estimate to be ten years old. I understand if you would like me to euthanize the animal.”
“You can’t kill Lot Dog, doctor, please. He’s all I have left in the world.”
“How long can you keep him alive until we resolve the financial matter, doctor?”
“Well, Cindy, I conservatively say twenty-four hours but the quicker we get to work on the kidneys the better our chances.”
Cindy began typing a studio-wide text message alert reserved for emergencies. It was the only time she used it other than earthquakes, fires, and hazards,
“Dear Dream Factory colleagues:
“I’m at the veterinarian with a sweet dog you’ve come to know as a coyote. His name is ‘Lot Dog’. I’m with his owner, a former child star on the lot, Bennie Blink.
Lot Dog requires emergency dialysis to save his life. The bill is twenty thousand dollars.
I’m reaching out to my fellow show people to chip in and save a life and support two of our own.
We have twenty-four hours before it’s too late according to the vet.
Within minutes, Cindy received the following text replies,
“$1,000 from Lance.”
“Pepe, Hector, and the transportation team will pay $5,000.”
“Studio Security pledges $2,000 and we need a night watchman with a guard dog who can live in the bunkhouse above our headquarters.”
“Hey Cindy, carpenters, electricians, painters, and stage hands have raised $5,000!”
“Commissary staff have raised $3,000, Cindy.”
“Doctor, I’ve raised sixteen thousand dollars which will get you started. I’ll secure payment with my credit card for the balance.”
“Let’s get this canine into treatment, staff! Lot Dog will get the best treatment possible!”
“I want to be with Lot Dog. He needs me.”
“Bennie, let the doctor and his team do their work. I’ll stay with you.”
“Once we get Lot Dog stabilized, you’ll be able to visit with him as much as you want. In fact, we encourage it, Bennie.”
Cindy’s phone rang with a blocked caller ID. She was always hesitant to answer these blocked numbers but given the circumstances, she answered,
“Cindy, this is the ‘Princess’. I understand that damn dog who destroyed my beautiful shoe needs veterinary treatment. I’m paying the entire vet bill provided Bennie Blink gives me his autograph.”
Cindy finished muttering her reply to the boss’s email,
“…because ‘every dog shall have it’s day’”.
So here I am, here I am in this Hollywood city
The city of the stars, movies, women and cars
Well I guess, I guess I have to stay…
Saturday evening: “Shaken, not stirred.”
Roger enjoyed a quiet Saturday evening with his wife, Yvette. He built a thriving psychotherapy practice of forty years, enjoyed it’s rewards, and honed his practice down to a handful of carefully, and selfishly selected, long-standing, cash paying, geriatric clients requiring anxiety management relating mostly to their physical afflictions, grown children, and grandchildren.
Roger earned multiple degrees in psychology and psychoanalysis. He settled in Pasadena and praiseworthy word of mouth enabled him to build a successful practice catering to the mental health of the privileged who live behind iron gates with ivy-covered walls. These included patients living inside old-money Pasadena mansions and new-money Hollywood creatives in and around Beverly Hills.
Roger learned first-hand that “money doesn’t buy happiness” and mental health doesn’t know “zip codes”. Over the years, with exceptions, he limited his practice in favor of staid old-money found in Pasadena where legacy wealth from banking, railroad, real estate, and petroleum dividends was less “tedious” than psychological trauma related to Hollywood studio deals, actors, directors, writers, or studio chiefs.
Roger’s custom home was designed in reverence to Frank Lloyd Wright and the living room adhered to the principle of “Organic Architecture” promoting a symbiosis between habitation and natural surroundings which created a Zen-like harmony Roger revered.
The flames inside the quarried marble stone fireplace created shadow dancers pirouetting about the living room. Antique Tiffany lamps provided subtle, warm, amber lighting, inviting one into reflection, a good book, or conversation. Roger and his wife chose to indulge in “The Complete Collection of Oscar Wilde” and “Conde Nast Traveler”, respectively. Yvette was eager to surprise Roger with a wedding anniversary trip of a lifetime; the glossy pages were directing her to French Polynesia.
This evening, they selected Chopin’s “Nocturne Op:9 No:2” brimming with delicate beauty by the twenty-year old composer. It was perfect for a relaxing evening as the vinyl record elegantly revolved on the turntable placed atop a Herman Miller mid-century modern walnut desk upon which Roger placed a gold desk nameplate referencing his credo, borrowed from Ian Fleming, regarding the burdens of a psychoanalyst,
“Shaken, not stirred”.
A vintage green sixties rotary dial telephone attached to an obsolete answering machine with Roger since beginning his practice were the perfect pairing to the desk. They were attached to a long-forgotten landline.
Yvette was sipping chamomile tea and Roger enjoyed a premium cognac from a crystal snifter.
The obtrusive ring tone familiar with the old phone broke the stillness of the evening smashing the plate glass separating the past from the present. Roger awaited the tired answering machine to awake and greet the caller, but no message was left which heightened Roger’s curiosity to an uncomfortable level until the phone rang again.
Roger leapt from the chair to take the call. Yvette closed the pages of the Conde Nast magazine in astonishment because her husband was pulled away by an inextricable force she hadn’t witnessed in decades.
“Hello, Brendan. Of course, I remember….
“Priscilla, oh dear!
“We can manage this by telephone consultation….
“This is a most sudden and uncommon request but I understand the implications….
“That’s very generous of you…
“I’ll phone upon arrival. Goodnight.”
Roger was in “crisis mode” elevating his wife’s tension.
“I’ve been summoned, excuse me, we’ve been summoned to Acapulco for a crisis intervention.”
“What on earth are you referring to Roger? You’re flustered in a manner I haven’t witnessed since your days as a young psychotherapist on-call with the hospital.”
“A former patient phoned me and apparently reunited with a very troubled old flame named Priscilla.”
“Get hold of yourself. What’s going on?”
“Brendan has agreed to fly us both down to Acapulco immediately and arrange our stay while I sort out this crisis with him.”
“I seem to recall you mentioning ‘Priscilla’ about twenty years ago, a girlfriend of sorts, or wife to one of your Hollywood clients. If it’s the same woman, I won’t take this trip into savage depravity with you, honey.”
As Roger hurriedly packed a bag for the trip, he felt dizzy, his palms began to perspire, and took a seat on the edge of the bed. He recalled Brendan’s description of his whirlwind nine-month romance, marriage, and annulment with Priscilla as,
“A first-class ticket into the nine circles of Dante’s Inferno.”
Roger realized he was breaking every tenet of commonsense and therapist-patient management protocol but was pulled towards the trip like a magnet. Roger was acting as his own therapist, surmising the magnet was the mental release from a stayed, predictable existence, and his mind was starved for the adventure he enjoyed as a young, “fly by the pants” psychotherapist parachuting into “harm’s way” with every consult. Roger successfully “connected the dots” of his irrational action and breathed deeply enabling him to pack his bag.
“I’ll call you upon my arrival, dear. I apologize for this frenzied end to our beautiful evening together.”
“A black limousine has arrived out front, honey. Evidently, your patient wishes to ensure you a seamless trip into the first circle of purgatory.
“I hope for your sake he provided you with a return ticket!”
Roger settled into the comfort of his plush leather cabin seat and was the only passenger on board the eight-seat private jet. The captain’s announcement sounded,
“Weather in Acapulco is clear, eighties, and humid. The weather forecast indicates a tropical storm approaching from offshore. Flight time to the beautiful Mexican Riviera is four hours and twenty-two minutes. Enjoy the flight.”
Roger sipped a Martini and placed the plush seat into a reclining position. He reminisced about the romantic episodes of Brendan and recalled the trauma inflicted by his newlywed, Priscilla.
Although twenty years had passed since their sessions regarding the nine-month relationship, Roger’s memory became acutely sharp as if a warning signal deep within his mind had sounded.
“I met Priscilla on my fortieth birthday in the lobby of the famous pink hotel on the coast near San Diego after a month of emails and phone calls. It was our first meeting and in walked the most beautiful and elegant woman I could ever imagine; Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” magnified ten-fold!
“After a torrid night of lovemaking, I laid in bed alongside her as she slept. I was determined to marry her. Within a month, I found myself the groom at a no guest marriage ceremony within the Presidential Suite of a five-star hotel and casino in Vegas. The concierge found a Rabbi to perform the nuptials on last-minute notice.
“We engaged in a vicious depraved argument on our wedding night. It should have been a warning to get the hell out but each of her inexplicable emotional outbursts sucked me deeper into a masochistic dynamic I couldn’t free myself from. If only I could repair her mental torment, she might reciprocate the love I was devotedly providing her, Roger.
“With each month, I fell deeper into the pit of hell as if riding an express elevator. It wasn’t until she pulled a butcher’s knife on me in our kitchen, did I seek your counsel. Only a clever psychotic could lead me to believe the knife pull was my fault!
“I’ve produced a dozen horror movies but never thought I’d ‘star’ in one.
“Life dealt me a nine-month trip into Dante’s Inferno, the first circle was heavenly but the remaining circles became increasingly frightening, Roger.”
A chill ran down Roger’s spine at the same moment the jet hit turbulence causing the Martini to spill.
Roger’s intense grip to the leather seat was noticeable to the approaching flight attendant.
“Don’t let the turbulence shake you, doctor. I’ll fetch you a double. This trip may be a bumpy ride!”
The Water Charm
“He’s a smooth operator…
His eyes are like angels… Smooth operator…
“Put that Karaoke mic down, Charlene.”
“It’s your birthday and I want to serenade you, Le’Roy.”
“Climb off me and give this ‘ol man an opportunity to rest his weary bones, darlin’.”
“I’ll call over another girl, baby.”
“I come to see you, Charlene.”
“You’re a sweet and generous customer, Le’Roy. You’re my friend, too.”
“How long have you been dancing for me, Charlene?”
“Since I started this job at eighteen and I’ve seen you every Wednesday afternoon at noon for the past eleven years.”
“Why’s a young lady with a smart head on her shoulders workin’ in a dive like this?”
“I’ve got two hungry kids livin’ in a rusting trailer who depend upon me to bring home tips. I’m not ashamed of dancing. It’s the only work I can find which feeds, clothes, and sends my kids to school not wanting for anything.”
“Stop jabbering, Charlene! Get up and pole dance!”
“It’s okay, Pete. I’ve got Charlene’s time covered.”
“Thank you for wavin’ the ‘Benjamin’ at the boss so we can talk.
“I’ve told him about the “man camps” just thirty minutes from here with hungry, horny, and thirsty oil shale workers livin’ like pigs in dormitories.
“I told him to get a bus and provide transportation to and from this place and he’ll make big money from those workers paid in cash every Friday.
“He told me I don’t know anything about business.”
“Look outside the window and what do you see, Charlene?”
“A whole lotta’ nothing but vacant land.”
“Your lookin’ at the border of your Rez with the town.
“In few years, that side of the street will have a new tribal casino, hotel, and restaurants sittin’ on top of it, and this dusty old street runnin’ through a ‘one-horse town’ will be bustling with new businesses, jobs, and opportunities for you and others on your Rez.”
“How do you know about all of this Le’Roy? Nobody on the Rez said a word about a casino and hotel.”
“It’s being discussed at the statehouse. Very hush-hush.”
“I don’t know a thing about you. What do you do with all your time?”
“I’ll sound like your other customers bitchin’ about their wives and lousy lives.”
“I want to know you. Tell me.”
“I sit out on the porch, smoke my pipe, listen to favorite Motown tunes, and wonder about it all.”
“Wonder about what?”
“I read books written by great authors and philosophers describing ‘what’. I still haven’t found the meaning.”
“Don’t you want to get out of this dusty old town and live large?”
“Livin’ ‘large’ is starin’ up at the stars and lookin’ for the road map which lead me here.”
“What ‘road map’ brought you here?”
“I was a kid runnin’ from ‘Jim Crow’ down south finding refuge in the Air Force recruiting office. After completing basic training, I was assigned to an ICBM base up state. Tensions were high during the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ and we knew our base would be hit first in a nuclear attack!
“I drove a dump truck and hauled away dirt from the new missile silos they were drilling. I overheard some geologists say they were finding large deposits of Methane gas and pockets of sedimentary rock with ‘Oil shale’.
“Methane’s the stuff you burn on the stove but they add an odor to it for safety purposes. Oil shale is the stuff their fracking at the man camps.
“The geologists left behind a map dotted with giant underground pockets of Methane and Oil shale so I grabbed it.
“Gasoline was plentiful and only thirty cents per gallon so nobody was thinkin’about finding a way to extract the oil from the rock which they call ‘fracking’ today.
“The dinosaurs created the vast underground reserves of methane and shale oil underneath this state making millionaires out of those extracting it.
“They’d drill the silos right through their skeletal remains.
“I drove the dirt and skeletal remains out to the B-52 bomber airstrips they were building. I’d dump the load which would be pulverized by steam rollers before the concrete tarmac was laid over it.
“It’s ironic a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs which became part of the landing strip for the B-52’s carrying nuclear payloads capable of wiping out the planet.”
“It’s not ironic to me. For us, the steam roller was the United States Cavalry.”
“Yeah, just like Jim Crow.
“I retired from the Air Force and bought a tractor trailer hauling merchandise throughout the state. After a long day of driving, I’d park my rig in an empty field and check my location on the geology map. I was sittin’ on top of a large methane pocket.
“I bought my first one hundred acres with a ‘VA’ loan including the pocket of gas underneath.
“Money adds up living frugally in a big rig. I bought land wherever I found the gas and shale pockets for pennies on the dollar from failing farmers all over the state.
“If I was going to buy a piece of this precious Earth, I wanted to own it all; everything above ground and below right down to the Earth’s core.
“I liken it to lovin’ a woman. Any man can fall in love with a woman’s outward beauty but falling in love with her soul is special. It’s not on any map, a woman must reveal her soul to you, and that’s a precious gift.”
“Is that why there’s no Mrs. Charm?”
“Maybe so, Charlene, but time has a way of delivering gifts along the pathway of life unexpectedly, and sometimes, too late.
“I sat patiently on my land holdings never earning a dime but around the time of the ‘Arab Oil Embargo’ of the seventies, oil company executives began showing up offering to buy my land.
“My reply was always the same. ‘Not for sale!’
“They came back with offers to lease the gas and oil rights underneath my land. I signed a lease with the President of Standard Oil on the front porch of my farm shack.
“My mailbox filled with dividend checks, so many, it would take an hour to deposit them all at the bank. Now they’re all direct deposit.”
“So, you’re a wealthy man, Le’Roy, and I shouldn’t be fooled by those faded overall’s, flannel shirt, ‘John Deere’ cap, and old pipe you smoke?”
“I’m just an ‘ol boy who kept his eyes on the road and on the map.”
“Why don’t you travel the world?”
“My destiny brought me to River Wash and here is where I’m gonna’ stay ‘cause visiting with you gives me a second opportunity to peer beneath the surface and find riches.”
“Sometimes I wonder if you’re just flirting or, uh oh, Pete is givin’ me that ‘look’. I can’t afford to lose this job.”
“I own all the land on this side of the street and Pete pays me rent so ignore him.”
“The biggest nightly event around here is the chorus of barking dogs, Le’Roy. I just can’t see a casino and hotel across the street!”
“Somebody will get filthy rich from the new hotel casino project, Charlene.”
“Who gets to build and operate the hotel-casino, LeRoy?”
“The Governor solicited proposals from the usual Vegas and Atlantic City operators.”
“If they don’t live on the Rez, what gives them the right to build a casino and hotel?”
“They team up with a Native American ‘front man’ from the Rez. I hear your Rez chairman, Arrow Robles, has teamed up with an Atlantic City operator and has the support of the Governor.”
“Why not a ‘front lady’?”
“How would you build a successful hotel-casino?”
“I’ll have those shale workers board our luxury busses and stay in a four-star hotel, swim in our indoor heated pool, bowl, and get a massage in our spa. We’ll provide all the comforts of home.
“My gals will entertain them, liquor them up, and give ‘em a real ‘Tomahawk Steak’ I’ll call the ‘Maneater’ all the while takin’ their money at the gaming tables and slots!”
“Why can you win the contract from the state?”
“I’ll create opportunities for the women barely making ends meet on the Rez to have a good payin’ job with benefits.”
“What about the men?”
“Most of the folks livin’ on the Rez are single, divorced or widowed women. Lucky for my babies they were too young to witness their daddy bein’ wheeled out of the trailer by the coroner after an overdose.
“The young men who don’t leave the Rez fall victim to substance abuse, die, or commit suicide. It’s terrible to see them emasculated. They’re descendants of mighty warriors.
“My ideas must sound foolish, Le’Roy. I don’t have any experience or money.”
“If you can put down on paper exactly how you see a new hotel and casino benefiting people livin’ on the Rez, particularly women, I think your proposal is noteworthy because the Atlantic City and Vegas corporate operators will be stressing tax revenue tryin’ to win over the politicians.
“You’re comin’ at this with a female empowerment plan by a local gal from the Rez and it won’t hurt to have an African American as your partner.
“I’ll set up an LLC with you as the Managing Member and provide the balance sheet along with the banking and construction contacts. I sit on the board of the town’s bank who can finance the construction.
“It’s a long shot, so don’t get your hopes up but I think the stars have lined up for us.
“Why are you crying, darlin’?”
“They’re tears of happiness, Le’Roy. Nobody ever believed in me like you. It’s your birthday but you’re the one giving me the gift.”
“Hey Pete, bring us a bottle of champagne. Play some Sinatra and class this joint up for a change!”
Fairy tales can come true
It can happen to you
If you’re young at heart…
“As Governor, I call to order the meeting of the selection committee for the proposed new tribal casino and hotel project in River Wash. Joining me include Mr. Richard Head, Mayor of River Wash which adjoins the reservation property; Mr. Arrow Robles, Chairman of the Tribal Council representing the reservation which will host the new property; and Dr. Violetta Bravebird, Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“I’m pleased to inform you the State has received three applications. My staff has validated their credentials. Dr. Bravebird will read the names of the three applicants.”
“Thank you, Madam Governor.
“One entrant is a well-known Vegas casino and hotel operator.
“The second is a prestigious Atlantic City casino and hotel operator with gaming management concessions on tribal lands throughout the country.
“The third is local.”
“What! Who the hell is that?”
“Excuse me, Mr. Mayor, but let’s maintain decorum.”
“I apologize Governor Chen but my town’s future can’t be placed within the hands of a local amateur.”
“Please disclose the name of the applicant Dr. Bravebird.”
“Madame Governor, the name of the third entrant is ‘The Water Charm, LLC’. The partners include Charlene Highwater, Managing Member, and Le’Roy Charm, Partner.”
“Le’Roy Charm? He’s an old man who lives out on a broken-down farm outside town, Governor. We see him in town once a week gettin’ a lap dance at the strip joint, ‘Pete’s Playpen’”.
“Yes, he’s an elderly Black man, Mayor, who happens to own the oil and mineral rights underneath most of the state. Mr. Charm is a valued taxpayer.”
“I’m the Mayor and demand to know who the hell is Charlene Highwater?”
“You might know her as ‘Charlene Hustle’ the stripper at ‘Pete’s Playpen’ who lives on our Rez.”
“I vote against a proposal from a stipper livin’ on your Rez, Arrow. I won’t stand for it as Mayor!”
“From the perspective of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Ms. Highwater has identified as ‘Native American’ and resides on the Chairman’s tribal land. Mr. Charm’s impressive balance sheet is certified by a reputable national accounting firm. He also sits on the Board of Directors of the town’s bank willing to fund the construction, and Mr. Charm identifies as African American.
“The Bureau has completed background checks on Ms. Highwater and Mr. Charm; both are squeaky clean and the necessary financing is confirmed by River Wash Bank’s financing commitment.”
“It’s now my duty as Governor to hold a vote with a show of hands which entrant to select. The selected candidate must receive the majority of votes to be approved.
“All supporting the Vegas candidate? No show of hands.
“Atlantic City candidate? Chairman Robles affirms, Mayor Head affirms, and the Governor also supports the application.
“The Water Charm, LLC candidate? Dr. Bravebird affirms.
“It appears the Atlantic City application has received the majority of the votes.”
“May I speak on behalf of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Madame Governor?”
“After running a little ‘Game Theory’ in my head, I’ll break down our best decision as follows.
“First, I read each business plan associated with the three candidates.
“Ms. Highwater is clearly speaking from the heart about female economic empowerment.
“Furthermore, she’s the only applicant with concrete plans to create good union paying jobs, building tribal medical clinics, K-12 schools, and providing scholarships from the revenues.
“She stipulates that every facet of the construction shall require trade union apprenticeship opportunities for tribal residents including women.
“The other two proposals simply focus on tax revenue for the State with no mention of job training, schools, scholarships, or medical clinics.
“Second, Ms. Highwater’s proposal is the only one of the three with operators who aren’t ‘fronts’ and both partners are from marginalized communities. In this case, a Native American woman and African American man who are both locals.
“Third, The Water Charm provides you, Madame Governor, with Native American voters supporting your choice of a local woman from the Rez as well as African American voters.
“You’ll need their support when you enter the race for Senator as the first Chinese-American Governor of the state.
“As for Chairman Robles, he’ll receive support from his tribal constituents by selecting a member of his Rez to develop the casino, and a woman to boot. The Chairman will be touted as a progressive tribal leader with possibly a political career in his future.
“Fourth, the Bureau of Indian Affairs will receive favorable support of The Water Charm in Washington as we seldom have the opportunity to back a female tribal resident with the requisite balance sheet, banking, and construction contacts.
“It’s a huge political win for all associated with The Water Charm, LLC.
“Judging from the scent of what I believe is perfume on her business plan, Ms. Highwater is a smooth operator who knows how to win.
“It’s a no brainer, folks. Bigger isn’t best and local is better than corporate gaming from out of state.”
“River Wash deserves a professional operator, and I don’t care what some Washington bureaucrat has to say. Robles has invested a great amount of time with the Atlantic City operator. The deal is all worked out! My vote is no!”
“Mr. Mayor, I demand you apologize to Doctor Bravebird.”
“It’s not necessary, Governor. The mayor will send me roses and chocolates after The Water Charm revitalizes his ‘one horse town’. I have a positive feeling about Charlene and the Bureau of Indian Affairs votes to approve her application.
“It’s up to you, Arrow. Stand proud as Chief and support one of your own or sell out for ‘breadcrumbs’ thrown to you by the ‘man’”
“I’m not a ‘sell out’. You got my vote, Bravebird. I vote in favor of accepting the Water Charm proposal.”
“Let the record show the Governor also supports the Water Charm proposal. The Water Charm, LLC has received a majority of the vote and the committee has selected it to build and manage the hotel and project.”
…Pretend to be your friend
Smiling faces show no traces
Of the evil that lurks within…
“I want to introduce Mr. William Sherman who is the CEO of the Atlantic City gaming corporation who competed for the hotel-casino project.
“Sir, you know Chairman Robles but also in attendance is Charlene Hustle, excuse me, Highwater, and Le’Roy Charm. Also in attendance is the President of our local bank funding the selected project, Andy Jackson.”
“Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Let me get right to the point. My organization has the money, muscle, and corporate brand to make this project a success. I can point to many gaming concessions on reservations which prove my point.
“If an agreement can be made to assign the rights to build and manage this project to a new entity I’ll create, Charlene and Le’Roy will be made silent, minority partners, making them wealthy and banking dividends the remainder of their lives.
“You’ll score big Arrow because we have successful gaming concessions with tribes across the nation. You and the Mayor will look like geniuses to your constituents placing you both in the national limelight. Everybody wins!”
“Yeah, everyone but the women, men, and children who need job training, schools, clinics, and scholarships.”
“We’ll agree to throw the Rez a ‘bone’ with a scholarship fund but we’re bringing in our own construction crews and management to control costs and maximize profits solely from gaming and hospitality. We’re not in the education and healthcare business!”
“I don’t want a ‘minority silent-partner’ stake. I want it all!”
“You’re a no-good stripper who conned an old man to fund your application. Arrow, you promised to make this deal come together, now get to work and earn your piece of the pie!”
“I’m the stripper who danced for you mayor but you don’t recognize me because I was wearing a wig! You were a lousy tipper.”
“Charlene, history has taught us that we lose when we go up against ‘the man’. We hit the ‘jackpot’ with this deal, and each of should ride off into the ‘sunset’ with our winnings.”
“Well, Chairman, this chick and her partner don’t need no ‘bone’ thrown to us and the only person riding off into the ‘sunset’ is ‘the man’ with an arrow sticking out of his ass!”
“Well, honey, I’m the ‘Cavalry’ who has arrived from Atlantic City. Tell them your bank’s decision on financing their deal, Andy.”
“Le’Roy, the Board won’t permit the bank’s funding your project.”
“I submitted your signed letter of intent to fund the project with approval of the Bank’s Board of Directors to the Governor. You can’t back out now!”
“The questionable scruples of your business partner, Ms. Highwater, has come to the Board’s attention. I have the Board’s full support in rescinding the funding.”
“I was wondering when the ‘boys club’ would pull their ‘wild card’ about my dancing. Just another treaty broken”
“You’re playin’ ‘dirty pool’, Andy. I knew the bank was happy to have my money on their balance sheet and a token Black on their board, but I believed you were ethical businessmen.”
“It’s just business, Le’Roy. Let’s all shake hands on the deal and Mr. Sherman will have the contracts prepared.”
“Not so fast, banker! I have a ‘hold card’ up my sleeve. Come on in, ladies.”
“Sonya, Lupe, what are you doin’ in town? You didn’t call your mom or me!”
“We wouldn’t miss a meeting with daddy.
“Gentlemen, I’m Sonya Robles, attorney for The Water Charm, LLC. I’m accompanied by my sister, Lupe Robles, Doctor of Medicine, and Board Certified in Family Medicine who, in your parlance, is ‘spearheading’ the construction and operation of the planned family health and urgent care center to be completed simultaneously with the hotel-casino.
“We heard your ‘pow wow’ outside the door from the hallway. Like Mr. Sherman, I’ll ‘get right to the point’. The law firm of which I’m a partner specializes in tribal sovereignty law.
“It’s the intention of The Water Charm to employ union labor during construction and in the operation of the hotel-casino. These union officials, Mr. Sherman, are ‘banking’, on the collective bargaining agreements and union dues. They’ll be so ticked off losing this opportunity they’ll seek to organize the workers at your other reservation establishments.
“Mr. Sherman, your tribal gaming concessions across the country won’t appreciate the negative publicity of the law suit I’ll be filing, and you may lose their concessions when they seek political ‘cover’.
“Mr. Jackson, I’ll file suit against your bank for the discriminatory lending practice of ‘redlining’ by pulling your funding from my African American client’s project as well as breach of contract.
“I’m also prepared to file a charge of ‘tortious interference of contract’ against Mr. Sherman’s Atlantic City gaming company, the bank, and the mayor’s office by circumventing the statutory ruling by the Governor.
“Daddy, you’re subject to a conflict-of-interest lawsuit as an equity holder in this scheme. You’ll incur the wrath of everybody on the Rez who are anticipating the construction apprenticeship training, good paying union jobs with benefits, quality schools, and health care within walking distance of their homes.
“Mayor, my press release regarding the lawsuits will bring every media outlet to your small-town portraying you as the ‘Bull Connor’ of our times and Red Wash as the ‘Edmund Pettus’ Bridge’. Dr. Robles has something to add.”
“I’ve secured grant proposals from the Department of Education for the new K-12 school, vocational programs, and funding from federal agencies for the construction of the new clinic and urgent care center with the understanding I stay on as the Director.
“They’ll be very disappointed about your plan to move forward without schools or hospitals.”
“What my sister is saying, folks, you’ll all be in the ‘crosshairs’ of Washington, D.C.”
“I’ve heard enough and no longer have interest in proceeding. I’ll be flying private back to Jersey and enjoying the ‘sunset’ with a cocktail in my hand, Ms. Highwater.”
“When I turn The Water Charm into a big success, I’ll come gunnin’ for your tribal gamin’ concessions, Sherman. You better make that drink a double!
“Hey Mayor, can I buy you a lap dance over at ‘Pete’s Playpen’ before ya’ leave?”
“We’re not finished with you daddy. Wait until we tell mom about your deal!”
“…So, he’s leaving the life he’s come to know …
My heart is skippin’ beats and it’s getting’ difficult to draw a breath. Doc said my pipe smokin’ is the cause. Don’t bother me ‘cause life dealt this ‘ol boy a very good hand. I think about those dinosaurs givin’ me my start in life and I was happy to pay forward their generosity to Charlene who is paying forward to the Rez.
Charlene brought the hotel-casino project in on time and under budget with the help of Sonya and Lupe. She created high payin’ jobs for folks on the Rez and delivered on her promise to provide quality schools, clinics, vocational training, and scholarships.
Mayor Dick fell into line, never missing an opportunity to kiss Charlene’s ass.
Upon the advice of his daughters, Arrow Robles resigned as Chairman, admitting publicly he accepted a six-figure bribe from Sherman who was threatening to make it public if Arrow didn’t support his proposal. Arrow returned the money and retired. Charlene backed the candidacy of a
young lady from the Rez with a Master’s Degree in Public Administration who became Chairperson.
My partners at the bank lost out on financing our project. The ladies found better terms with another lender. The bank closed and was replaced by a new credit union on the Rez offering low interest loans to folks seekin’ to build a home or open a business.
I’ll never forget that look on Charlene’s face when she steered that bulldozer into Pete’s Playpen, flattening it, makin’ way for new development up and down the block.
The stars were maps for ancient mariners and I found my map at a drill site for nuclear missile silos. Charlene and me were like points on the map resembling stars in the sky which collided, creating a new constellation filled with opportunity named, “The Water Charm”.
I saw somethin’ more in Charlene than just a stripper. I wish I told her; I loved her.
Charlene, Charlene Hustle, Hustle, Hust…Hu…
“Welcome to the ‘The Water Charm Hotel and Casino’, Senator Chen. Our hotel, gaming, and restaurants have received a ‘Four Star’ rating by travel critics.
“You’ll notice the gaming tables are attended to by women from the Rez. I put their card dealer and croupier skills up against the best in Vegas, Atlantic City or Monte Carlo!
“We run luxury busses every hour to and from the man camps. We’re also creating a clientele from tourists hearing about us from out of state.”
“I’m concerned about your club, ‘Strictly Business’.”
“‘Strictly Business’ is all business, Senator. We sell alcohol, the best steaks, seafood, and lively entertainment in the state. Our shows rival those Vegas showgirl revues. The men require ‘eye candy’ and leave behind more money on the gaming floor.
“The bowling lanes are very popular with the gents ‘cause the players are attended to by our ‘Pin Girls’. Bowling a strike gets the bowler, ‘Pinned’, which is a dance with a girl of their choice.”
“Don’t you agree the skimpy costumes the waitresses and dancers wear are demeaning?”
“Why don’t you ask the ‘Pin Girls’ wearing those short leather skirts and thigh high moccasins embroidered with their names, if they feel demeaned, Senator Chen?
“Earning $500 in eight hours pays a lot of bills, books, and tuition. They also receive full medical, dental, and vision benefits as well as a matching 401k.
“Our ‘Pin Girls’ tell me they will proudly hang their pair of thigh high moccasins alongside their diplomas!”
“I’m sorry for the loss of your partner, Le’Roy.”
“Le’Roy’s legacy remains in my heart and on the Rez.
“All that land across the street was owned by Le’Roy and he insisted it be developed into commercial buildings with affordable rents so people from the Rez could open businesses. Le’Roy would be proud to know the majority of business operators renting space within this establishment and across the street are owned and operated by women from the Rez.
“Dr. Robles welcomed her first medical doctor into practice at the family medical clinic who received one hundred percent of her tuition paid through Le’Roys scholarship fund. Ninety percent of the graduating class from the new high school is attending college or vocational training tuition free thanks to Le’Roy.”
“Did Le’Roy have any family?”
“Nobody. His attorney provided me his ‘Last Will and Testament’ dated on my twenty-first birthday naming me sole beneficiary. Le’Roy never told me.
“I placed my inheritance including his oil, gas leases, and partnership interest in The Water Charm within a new trust underwriting the ‘Water Charm Entertainment Management Company’ benefitting tribal nations seeking the same economic opportunities we achieved. We’re wooing the gaming concession contracts away from corporate operators and providing a fair deal to the tribal nations.”
“I’m sharing your incredible success story with my colleagues in Washington. There may be a political future for you Charlene.”
“Tell ‘em what Le’Roy told me, ‘Never judge a book by its cover’. Even if it’s missing a ‘jacket’.
“Hey Pete, play Sinatra in memory of Le’Roy!”
…You can go to extremes
With impossible schemes…
…For as rich as you are
It’s much better by far…
…And here is the best part
You’ve had a head start
If you are among the very
Young at heart…
Jonathan Ferrini is a published author who resides in San Diego. A partial collection of his short stories may be found within “Hearts Without Sleeves. Twenty-Three Stories” at Amazon. Jonathan received his MFA in motion picture and television production from UCLA.