Hollywood Car Wash A Novel, by Culwell, Lori
- ISBN: 9781416587781 | 1416587780
- Cover: Paperback
- Copyright: 5/5/2009
Really, if it hadn't been for my perky college roommate and her obsession with spinning class, none of this would have happened in the first place. In fact, I wouldn't have found out about the audition if it hadn't been for Carrie Ann and her annoying habit of getting up so early, which had led her to wake me up at 11:30 a.m. on a Monday in February. I'd been up all night and was really hoping she'd be gone all day so I could catch up on sleep.
No such luck. The door of our room closed with a loud thud and she flipped on the light, perhaps to spite me.
"Amy! Wake up! You're going to be late!" she said perkily.
I groaned. How one could at once be an early riser and a theater person was beyond me. I could tell she'd already been out in the world doing productive things while I was still sleeping off an all-night student film shoot that had gone on well past four a.m., and I resisted the urge to smack her in her already showered and made-up glory.People should not be allowed to be chipper before noon, I thought. At least not people who live in the fine arts dorm.
She redeemed herself by producing coffee and a huge muffin from a bag. I decided to speak to her again.
"What are you talking about?" I said, glancing over at the clock. "It's Monday, right? I don't have to be anywhere until three thirty. I have voice class, then English."
"I know that," she said. She was breathless with excitement. "There's an audition on the bulletin board for a TV show! You have to go right now...I signed you up for one of the first slots."
I laughed. "You signed me up for that bogus TV show thing? When I actually wake up, you are so dead." I attempted to cover up my head with a pillow to block the fluorescent dorm room light. A "modeling and acting school" had been posting the same fake TV show audition for months. I thought everyone in the department knew this.
She rolled her eyes. "It's not that one," she said insistently. "You have to go! You would be so perfect!" Carrie Ann perched herself on the edge of my bed. She and I had been roommates since freshman year -- a situation that worked out, in part, because we were so different we had never competed for a role. At five foot one with a head of curly red ringlets, Carrie Ann never met a musical she didn't like. I, on the other hand, was tall, had dark hair and pale skin, and fancied myself a cross between Parker Posey and Hope Davis in terms of being a serious indie film actress. We were the drama department's version of the Odd Couple.
I sat up. "It's probably an audition for some Stuckey's commercial. Now seriously -- go away."
Undeterred, she kept bouncing on my bed. "Yousaythat, but if you really want to be in indie films, you have to be willing to do anything! I would takeanypart on Broadway, just to get myself there. I would sweep floors! Remember what Mark Twain said about being willing to be lucky. You have to be willing! Plenty of well-known indie actors have been on TV! Michelle Williams was inDawson's Creek, Parker Posey was onBoston Legal, and even your beloved Philip Seymour Hoffman was once onLaw & Order, if you'll recall." She seemed prepared to go on this way forever.
"OK, stop!" I said. "It was E. B. White who said that thing about being 'willing to be lucky,' not Mark Twain." I huffed myself out of bed and pulled on a sweatshirt from the floor.
"I am not putting on makeup," I said, tying my hair in a knot and putting on my glasses. "If I get the job it's going to be on the basis of my talent, not my skills with mascara."
She rolled her eyes. "It wouldn't kill you to look your best!" she called as I passed her on my way out the door, hoping maybe she'd be gone when I got back. I knew she was right; I was just tired and cranky from shooting all night.
I shivered in the still-cold winter air as I sprinted to the drama department from the dorm, stopping to check the bulletin board. Hanging from the middle of the board was a typewritten sign.
Women age 18-20
Fresh-faced, Midwest types
Monday (yes, today!)
Auditions start at 12:00 pm SHARP
Bring any photos
The audition notice had already attracted a lot of attention. Serious-looking drama types had begun to crowd around the bulletin board.
"Is it a lead?"
"I don't know...it doesn't say."
"It's probably extra work...my cousin was an extra inWar of the Worlds, and he had to stand in the freezing rain for hours and hours. He said it sucked."
"Are you going to do it?"
"No, man...I'm staying true to my craft. Besides, they're not going to cast a real-looking person from Michigan for a Hollywood TV show. Never gonna happen."
I pushed through the crowd and into the main theater, where I'd starred in a production ofMiss Juliethe semester before, hoping to get in and out before anyone I knew spotted me there and mocked me. I arrived just in time to see the big exit of Rebecca Hartford, my drama department archrival. Apparently, she'd had the slot right before me.Great, I thought. She was beautiful, blonde, and had questionably large boobs. Rebecca had been beating me out for parts since we were both freshmen. She was the only girl in the department with headshots, courtesy of an overzealous stage mother who got her into pageants when she was a little kid. Crap! Double crap! Why did I think she wouldn't be all over this audition (and willing to do whatever it took to get out to Hollywood)? Just seeing her brought out the competitive side of me. I had only one shred of hope: In the back of my mind, I silently reasoned that there are even better-looking girls than Rebecca out in Hollywood and that if they'd wanted her type, they could have gotten it out there. Still, she was working her audition slot like she usually did when there was a man in the room.
"Thank youso much!" she called back, lingering in the doorway. "I'm really looking forward to hearing back!" More lingering, a slight toss of the golden blonde hair, and a throaty giggle followed. Someday, I thought, Iwill kill her.
As I walked down to the stage, I saw Jody Barker, one of my acting teachers, who was running the audition, and Eliot Jones, the cochair of the department. "Hi, Amy," Jody said, smiling and handing me a bunch of stapled-together papers. "Glad you're here. We're just going to ask you to do this scene...I'll read along with you. Some brief background -- this character's parents have been killed, she's just found out, and she's now going to have to go live with her gay uncle, whom she's never met before. This scene is at her parents' funeral."
I drew in a sharp breath at the description of the scene. This was definitely not something I wanted to start thinking about.I just woke up, I thought.I am not ready for this. The truth was, I hadn't even told that many people at school that my dad had died at Christmas my senior year of high school, something I was still grieving. That was hard enough, but having everyone in my high school give me that sympathy face every time they saw me made it that much worse. I'd made it through freshman year of college without telling that many people, and I was trying to keep it that way.
For a moment, though, I was frozen. Theater was usually where I stopped thinking about my dad. Besides, I wasn't at all sure I wanted to get out these emotions and use them for a TV show audition. Weren't some things supposed to be off-limits?
"Amy, are you OK?" said Jody. "We need you to start. The tape is rolling."
Her voice snapped me back to reality. Maggie Gyllenhaal would never let something like this get to her. She'd use the emotion in her performance. I took a deep breath and looked down at the script.
As I read over the lines, I decided that instead of giving the typical "hysterical crying" audition they were probably expecting, I would go for the most realistic portrayal possible, even though a totally real performance was unlikely to even get me a callback. I fumed inside -- if TV people who wrote some melodramatic show wanted to see what it was like to get news like that, I thought, I would show them. Tragedy of that magnitude doesn't make you hysterical, in fact -- it just crushes you and ends up making you feel like there's a wall between you and the rest of the world. Time stands still, and all of a sudden, all you can think about are all the things you're never going to do with that person, or that you haven't done, or that you didn't know you should've done. The more I thought about this, the more I felt like crying.
All at once, I was right back to when we got the phone call about my dad. Who knew a ringing phone could sound so ominous, but it's true; I knew something was wrong the minute it started ringing. I replayed the events in my head: my mom making a gargled little cry that caught in her throat, her telling us that we had to go to the hospital right away, and then, after a blur of days in the hospital -- the last day of his life.
Right before they took him off the respirator, we were supposed to say good-bye -- only I didn't know what to say. It seemed so final, like I would never get a chance to tell him anything again. He would never see me get married, or have kids, or even graduate from high school. His life was about to come to an end, and I was supposed to think of something to say.
I told a joke.
It was one of my dad's favorites -- "This grasshopper walks into a bar, and the bartender says, 'Hey! We have a drink named after you!' The grasshopper says, 'Really? You have a drink named Steve?'"
Dad was in a coma, so he probably didn't hear, or if he did, he didn't laugh. After I finished, I told him I loved him, and I laid my head on his chest, to hear his heart beating for the last time. Then we left, and shortly after that they came out and told us he was gone.
I thought of the grasshopper joke, read my lines, and before I knew it, it was over and I was on the way to lunch. While I was eating, I actually laughed about how stupid it was to make a show with that premise and how wrong they were going to get the portrayal of the character.I would never watch that show, I thought.Not in a million years.
A few days later, I was sitting in abnormal psych class, willing myself to stay awake through a lecture on "pica, a mental disorder that causes sufferers to eat dirt and cigarette butts," when I heard my cell phone ring in my backpack. I lunged for it, scolding myself for leaving it on. Because it was faster to just answer the phone than try to turn it off, I tried to answer with my head inside my backpack.
"Hello?" I whispered frantically. "Hold on one second." My abnormal psych professor had promised an instant F to anyone who talked on a cell phone during his lectures; rumor had it that even the buzzing of a phone on vibrate would set him off. I ran up the stairs and out of the lecture hall.
"This is Shannon from the drama department," said the voice in the phone as I made it outside and closed the door. "Can you come into the office right now to meet with Dr. Simon?"
"Of course," I said, intrigued. This was definitely preferable to the horrors of abnormal psych. Dr. Ellie Simon, dean of the drama department, was one of the coolest professors on campus. If the University of Michigan had a "rock star" equivalent, she'd be it. A renegade actress/punk/writer/performance artist from New York, she was supposed to be a personal friend of David Mamet. She was one of the most popular professors in the drama department and, in my estimation, a one-woman antidote to my mother's theory that "no one can make a living in the arts." Her production ofMiss Juliethe semester before had made history in the drama department by selling out every night and getting a rave review from the local paper, which praised my "haunting ability to capture grief onstage." This performance had led to my being cast in the cool student film I'd just finished. I felt like I was on my way, and I owed it all to her.
Twenty minutes later, I walked into the drama department office. "Hi, Dr. Simon," I said, poking my head in the door. "You called?"
She looked up, taking off her funky black glasses to reveal kohl-rimmed eyes. Maybe she was older than my mom, but you could never tell. "Amy -- come in. Sit down."
"Is this about the honors program?" I said. "I'm almost done with my application." In reality, the application was sitting under a pile of laundry in my closet and was on my to-do list, right under "Do laundry."
She smiled. "Actually, this is about your audition on Monday. Last week, I got a phone call from Kim Wilson, one of my old friends from New York. She's a casting director in L.A. now. She's been working on a pilot, and the actress playing the lead has just been fired, so she's in a panic. Kim couldn't find anybody else to replace her, so she called me to see if I could audition some students. I sent the tapes yesterday, and she called this morning. They loved your audition, Amy. They want to fly you out to Los Angeles to meet with the producers of the show. You've made it to the last part of the audition process."
For once, I was actually speechless. "Is there some mistake?" I said in disbelief. "I don't even...I mean, I don't...sorry, what are you talking about?" I stammered. My mind flashed back to the "dead parents" audition.Great, I thought.Just what I need. The thing I don't want gets me a callback. It didn't even occur to me to ask why the last person got fired.
She smiled excitedly, getting up from her desk and hugging me. "Congratulations! I know, you have a lot of questions, and this is all happening really fast." She opened up her desk and pulled out a thick manila envelope. "All of the information is in here."
"Is anyone else from the department going?" I said, mostly because I couldn't think of a better response. My mind was still racing. Did they seriously want to portray real people feeling real emotions about death on a network TV show? Maybe it had been too long since I'd watched TV.
Ellie looked up. "Nope, just you. This is great news! You should be happy!"
"OK, great...thanks!" I said, gathering up my stuff and trying not to have a panic attack. "I'll call you if anything exciting happens."
Maybe she could tell what I was thinking. I was almost down the stairs of the drama department building when she called back to me from the door. "Oh...Amy? I'd recommend not mentioning the fact that you don't watch TV while you're in L.A." She smiled. "These are good people, they have good writers, and from what I've read, it's going to be a show that evenyoumight watch. What I'm saying is...this is a really good opportunity, Amy. Don't blow it."
I laughed. "You know me too well," I said, giving her the thumbs-up. "I promise to behave myself and to not mouth off about stupid TVorget a boob job while I'm in Los Angeles. I will make you proud."
I took the long way back to the dorm to try to sort through my thoughts...was it creepy to be doing well at an audition based on the fact that my dadactuallydied? Was I exploiting the situation?ShouldI have been exploiting the situation? Wouldn't repeatedly revisiting those emotions put me in a permanently depressed state? Was it wrong to sell my emotions to a TV show? Was I getting ahead of myself? I finally decided that an all-expenses-paid trip to L.A. couldn't be bad; the odds against getting the part were probably huge anyway, so it couldn't hurt to take the free ticket. Maybe I could meet Richard Linklater or Cameron Crowe in a coffeehouse, and they could give me my big indie film break.
I more than anyone recognized the irony of the situation. I was not "L.A." in any sense of the word. I dressed in black. I loved indie films. I delighted in my pale skin. Because I'd promised to suspend my hatred of the Hollywood bullshit machine for forty-eight hours, I found myself with absolutely nothing to wear.
Two hours later, I was standing in front of my closet in a panic, attempting to pack for L.A. The floor of my tiny dorm room was covered with every piece of clothing I'd ever owned, and I was still not confident about my look. What, exactly, does one wear to a big Hollywood TV show audition?
I knew what I had to do. I took out my cell phone and called in reinforcements.
"Aim, go with a little skirt and a tank top. You don't want to look overdone."
My best friend, Vincent Ferrillo, an aspiring stylist, had been at work on my wardrobe since getting my emergency call. He'd shown up with a toolbox full of makeup, a set of hot rollers, and a stack of oldVoguemagazines under his arm.
"Vince, she said they wanted someone who looks like they livehere...Don't you think I'm going to look ridiculous if I try to look like I'm from California? Then again, what if they said 'Midwest,' but they really meant 'Hollywood Midwest'? Who even knows what they're thinking?" I lay down on a pile of clothes, flummoxed. For the first time in years, I wished that I was more in touch with what people on TV were wearing.
"Definitely the Hollywood Midwest," said Vince emphatically. "Who would do a series about real people who live here? I mean...look around you, Amy. My God," he whispered in a hushed stage voice. "Did you see the photos of the spring formal in the campus paper this week? Tragic! We are leaving here as soon as possible, lady! Get going and blaze the trail to the promised land! Now, decide on an outfit so I can give you a crash course in Hollywood gossip. Finally, this wealth of information will come in handy!"
I laughed. Vince always knew how to make me feel better. I even let him tell me about who Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie were, and why he had a mad crush on a blogger who'd named himself after one of them.
"Maybe you'll actually meet a guy you like there," said Vince, splaying out across my bed. "That would be the best."
"Why do I need a boyfriend? I have you, darling!" I laughed. Vince was always encouraging me to have a relationship with a guy, but after what happened with my dad, I guess I was still afraid to get emotionally involved. Even since I'd been at UM, my dating history had basically consisted of hooking up with a few guys while working on plays or films, and even then, I still preferred the company of my friends. Truthfully, since my dad died I'd felt a little like my feelings were on autopilot, and I certainly wasn't interested in forming any new attachments. Of course, this usually meant I attracted the guys who wanted to get married, and then I ended up dumping them. One thing I'd learned: Emotionally distant girls drive guys crazy.
"Promise you'll send for me when you get established," Vince said.
"What am I, your husband in a nineteen-fifties movie? Who sends for people anymore?"
"Promise, or I am getting out Carrie Ann'sLes Misbox set and singing along to every word."
"I promise! Now get out -- I have to leave in, like, five hours!"
Copyright © 2007, 2009 by Lori Culwell
Excerpted from Hollywood Car Wash by Lori Culwell
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.