Fiction

An L.A. Tale

By: Alan Swyer

Waking up in the morning, which had long been a joy for Ed Rubin, turned instead into a source of dread once Valerie, along with two other junior account execs, lost her job at an ad agency.

Promising herself three or four months to determine whether advertising was indeed the right field for her, Valerie found herself less and less able to sleep properly.  Even with her rapidly mounting new running program, which she hoped would bring not just a physical glow, but also better rest, tossing and turning until 4 AM or so became the norm, followed by lying in bed stewing until her boyfriend showed the first signs of life.

Before Ed had a chance to regain full consciousness, Valerie would begin to unload.  “Maybe I should give public relations a shot,” she blurted one Tuesday while her bedmate was still trying to figure out not merely where he was, but also who he was.  On a Thursday it was, “Think my photography is good enough to turn professional?”  On a Saturday she asked, “Would you like it if my hair were red?”  After a two day respite came a question – “What do you think about moving to New York?” – to which Ed, who usually just groaned or shrugged, instead frowned.  “Not a chance,” he muttered, coming to his senses in record time.  “Not for all the money in the world – which, in case you’re wondering, we do not have.”

The following morning, after being questioned before his eyes were fully opened about whether they should consider looking for a puppy, Ed forced himself to sit up.  “Here’s the deal,” he announced.  “We can talk about anything you want.  Understood?”

Valerie nodded.

“But –”

 “But what?”

“Not until I’ve thrown water on my face, done some stretching, and have my breakfast in front of me.”

“Ed –”

“I know you’ve been up, I know your thoughts and ideas have been brewing and percolating.  But it can’t start until I rejoin the human race.”

“But what if –” Valerie mumbled.

“What if what?”

“It’s really important?”

“If the house is on fire. or there’s a burglar, okay,” said Ed.

Three days of cold shouldering ensued, with Valerie’s few utterances, when she deigned to reply to Ed’s questions at all, monosyllabic at best.  Then came nearly a week of what would have seemed like normalcy had it not been for Ed’s sense that something was brewing.

What might have seemed like paranoia proved to be heightened awareness on a Sunday morning in April when, as he first began to stir, he found himself confronted by an accusation.

“You don’t take my running seriously,” an agitated Valerie groused.

“W-what?” managed Ed, still groggy.

“My running,” Valerie insisted.  “You refuse to take it seriously.”

Trying his best not to counterpunch, Ed took a deep breath.  “Am I missing something?” he asked.

“I try to tell you about my progress, but you don’t seem the least bit interested.”

“Valerie, listen,” Ed began, as he struggled to regain full use of his senses.  “At the moment we’re a one-income household.  Which means that I have very little breathing room.”

“Because?”

“Because I’m doubling up, cutting one trailer every day until after lunch, then jockeying with another one each evening until I run out of steam.  And in case you haven’t noticed, that also includes weekends.”

“Still –”

“Or if you want the truth, I’m actually tripling up, since I’m also helping Jerry hustle for new films as well.”

“Aren’t you heroic?” offered an unimpressed Valerie.

“Not heroic,” replied Ed.  “Realistic.  Look, I’m happy you’re taking the time to find yourself, or whatever you want to call it, rather than just jumping back into a field that wasn’t satisfying.  And I’m happy you’re enjoying the running.”

“Are you?” asked Valerie dubiously.

“Sure I am.  The same way I’d be happy if you took up tennis, chess, or, I don’t know, raising orchids.”

“That’s condescending.”

“No, it’s truth.  Unless you’re training for the Olympics, or finding a way to somehow make it remunerative, running is not exactly a vocation, a calling, or a full-time pursuit.”

“Says who?” hissed Valerie.

“Says anybody who understands the way things work.”

Another period of the silent treatment resulted.

Though his dream was, and likely always would be, to make films on his own, Ed really enjoyed the challenge, the creativity, and ultimately the power of editing trailers.  Because the company he worked for rarely was approached with projects destined for consideration by the Oscars, the Golden Globes, or even the Independent Spirit Awards, it was films in need of a marketing boost that came Ed’s way.

Using the tools of his trade – voice-overs, music, sound effects, plus, of course, judicious selection of the footage available – Ed’s task was to transmogrify dreariness into drama, unfunny into funny, schmaltz into sentimentality, and silly into scary.  All in an allotted running time of 114 seconds or so.

It was, as he sometimes joked, a kind of alchemy that turned dross if not into gold, then at least into something commercial, fungible, and surprisingly, albeit deceptively, appealing.

The problem was that Ed’s prowess professionally did not carry over into his private life.  A six-month relationship with a model named Tanya fell apart when he was expected to fill more and more of her time once requests for her services diminished.  A fling with a singer-songwriter who changed her name from Margaret to Gypsy turned nightmarish when her unacknowledged drug habit exploded.  Most troubling of all was the metamorphosis in seemingly stable Valerie when, as a result of downsizing, she and her two colleagues were let go by the advertising agency on the eve of her thirtieth birthday.

Though art may sometimes mirror life, Ed came to realize, life does not necessarily mirror art.  Nor is life anywhere near as controllable.

Trying not to rue the day he suggested that Valerie move in with him, Ed was attempting to figure out how to how to end the relationship with a minimum of histrionics or ill will when he noticed a difference in her.

Instead of brooding, Valerie’s spirits began to seem lighter.  In place of her increasing captiousness, there were frequent smiles.  Best of all, the early morning eruptions became not just less frequent, but virtually nonexistent.

Despite his inclination to figure out the whys and wherefores of this welcomed evolution, Ed made a conscious choice to squelch his curiosity and simply accept the newfound peace and quiet.

From his editing bay one Thursday afternoon, he placed a call to Valerie.  “Anybody up for a special dinner tonight?” he asked.

“I thought you’re still deluged,” Valerie replied.

“Well, I finished the work on that monster movie –”

“Okay –”

“And you’ve been wanting to try that French place on Abbot Kinney.”

“It’s supposed to be impossible to get into.”

“Jerry’s sister-in-law just happens to be living with the manager.”

Seated in a corner booth, Ed watched the waiter uncork a bottle of Moulin-A-Vent and pour a little for him to taste.  “Nice,” he announced.

After half-filling Valerie’s glass, the waiter did the same for Ed.

“To the future?” he then asked Valerie, lifting his glass to toast.

Once each of them had taken a sip, Ed studied Valerie.  “Okay if I ask a question?”

“Fire away.”

“Am I mistaken in thinking that you’re happier of late?”

“Not wrong at all,” Valerie replied.

“Is there a reason?”

Valerie nodded.

“Does it have to do with career?” Ed asked.  “Or outlook? 

“Not exactly.”

“Okay if I ask what?”

Valerie took another sip of wine.  “Really want to know?”

“Sure.”

“Mostly it owes to Phil.”

“The gay guy who was your running partner?”

“That was George.”

“And Phil is?”

Valerie hesitated for a moment before speaking.  “Decidedly not gay.”

Suddenly it was Ed’s turn to hesitate.  “I-I’m not sure what that means.”

“Then I’ll explain,” responded Valerie.  “I’m moving out.”

Categories: Fiction

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