Miles pressed the up button and brushed a fuzz from his suit coat. Executives and their associates flowed through the monotone, white-collar hum of business, Miles only occasionally sensing eyes that, for the most part, were far too preoccupied to even be thinking about lunch yet. He filled his lungs with the ever-so-modern architectural sterility enveloping him and, instinctively fidgeting with his this-occasion-only necktie, slipped into an air of approachable sophistication, a well rehearsed guise. He glanced up at the numbers and muffled a forced, artificial throat clearing, rendering inaudible the anticipated ding.
“Well now, don’t you look so nice, deary,” opened the elevator.
Somebody’s grandmother, judged Miles, improving his posture. Wealthy. Servants. Poodle. Probably more than one. Miles kept a smile to himself as they exchanged places. And that scent, that marvelous aroma of venerability. Very wealthy, indeed.
“As do you, ma’am,” he polited in passing, considerately sideways, wishing he’d worn a hat to tip.
The woman leaned closer, eyes narrowed slightly. “Pardon me, deary?” she strained, pointing to an elderly, diamond-studded ear.
Miles allowed his smile to surface as he chose a destination from the shimmering brass panel in the otherwise floor-to-ceiling mirrored compartment. All CEOs have mothers, he reasoned silently, respectfully studying her, standing across from him, her blue veined hands white-knuckled onto a red leather hand bag, in refreshing contrast to the backdrop of bustling indifference buzzing past her, satisfying the what’s wrong with this picture subtitle that had momentarily scrolled through his brain. He assumed his finest elevator stance and resumed the never ending battle against lint.
“I said, you have yourself a nice day,” he enunciated obligingly louder as his vision began to narrow.
“Well, that’s so nice,” somebody’s grandmother smiled back, long ago having committed this scene to memory. “And you, young man, you have a…”
The reflective doors met, leaving Miles alone with himselves.
Now then–relax. Just relax. He did the inhale/exhale meditation thing a couple times, something he had picked up long ago in an acting seminar he had been talked into, checking and re-checking his hair from every possible angle, as the mechanical uplifting commenced. “A sorta soapy James Bond-ish type,” iterated in his ears, the exact words Bernie had used on the phone earlier that morning, characterizing the day’s role to be auditioned for. Miles affected a wry smile at the recollection; sometimes agents had a funny way of talking and, besides, this was one of Miles’ favorite and most practiced character types to read for, despite the fact that he had yet to reel in his first tall, dark, and handsome, cooler-than-cool leading man, starring role. Bernie had also mentioned something about it being “just a matter of time”—for about the hundredth time—Miles never quite sure where the real talk left off and the agent talk began, especially over the phone. Still, he thought he looked pretty good standing there, posed for objectivity, on his way up to “the big penthouse in the sky,” the top floor, corner suite no less, and he gave every effort to feel good about his chances, because he had been assured many times by many people that it might help. He talked himself into the idea that he was getting better at playing the sexy male stud lead role with each audition and the notion of portraying the gentleman’s idea of an ideal gentleman appealed to him in the grandest way; everybody loves those guys, he shrugged. What’s there not to like? He glanced up at his progress as the machinery began to slow. Robert Redford ran a quick comb through his hair. Harrison Ford perfected his entire attire into place. Richard Gere finished up with a few last second deep breaths. “Mirrors don’t lie,” said Miles out loud.
He was ready.
He posed himself for performance as the reflective doors parted. Miles made an entrance onto the thirty-ninth floor.
He quietly eased open the door to the casting agency’s outer office, inched his way inside, and gently clicked the door behind him. Once having satisfactorily composed himself he performed a momentary pan of the room. There was another man (“gee, he looks just like me, what a surprise,” Miles muttered under his breath) sitting in one of the two matching earth-tone, office-generic chairs, his legs stiffly crossed, apparently quite engrossed with and buried behind the day’s sports section.
“Script’s on the table. Help yourself.”
Miles performed a mental salute in the general direction of a quite attractive, blond and wavy, much-too-busy-to-overly-acknowledge-anyone receptionist, stiffly perched behind an immaculately uncluttered, warehouse close-out, redwood desk, peripherally veiled behind a large computer screen, in vigorous effeminate assault of a keyboard.
Miles sighed under his breath. “Thank you,” he said, choosing a seat.
Yet another vanilla holding tank for actors, he thought, suppressing mild ennui: browns and tans, tans and browns, vaguely familiar wall treatments, rental-scented furniture, double-digit aged carpeting, magazines aplenty, recycled classic pop tunes…same old yadda etcetera. He idly considered the possibility that there might actually, maybe, be more than just the one scheme of décor that would adequately suffice for such a waiting area–cheaply, of course–(which was evidently of significant importance with regard to rooms such as this), without sacrificing that inviting pick me! show-biz flavor, as he began rummaging through the myriad a periodicals this month had deposited on the rough wood and glass end table next to him. This magazine browsing ritual had, with many opportunities for refinement, developed into one of his favorite pre-audition staples. It allowed him to, a) relax, which was vital, of course, b) read a good article, c) initiate some opinions concerning the overall artistic psyche of the people he would be dealing with, and/or, d) look at all the pretty pictures, which is what he did most of the time. Since he was one of only two suits in the room, Miles–who was once reprimanded in class by a geometry professor for referring to Pythagorus as “a lucky S.O.B.”–felt sure that, for once, his would not be a lengthy wait. He began leafing through an art magazine, trying to visualize how the next twenty minutes of his life might transpire.
The casting director would be male, that much he knew (Bernie had been full of information that morning), which meant that the guy would, again, be reading the female role; Miles was used to that. He hoped the guy would offer a bit more in terms of believability this time. Miles also hoped it would be a light, happy, up scene, possibly with a little playful humor sprinkled in, maybe even a happy ending scene, and he particularly hoped he wouldn’t be expected to cry; he had always hated that in an audition, yet, lately, he seemed to have encountered precisely that type of negative-crap roles with great regularity. He hoped the guy would at least be pleasant, maybe even crack a smile once in a while, and that the end result this time would be a successful culmination of theatrical give and take, of fine dramatic and/or comedic synergy. In fact, Miles had tacked quite a list of hopes onto the bulletin board in his mind–as usual–and tried not to look at it–as usual. Instead, he began leafing through an article about an odd looking new art movement he couldn’t have cared less about.
“If you’d care to follow me, now…Miles, is it?”
Miles dropped his magazine, ripping several pages on the way down. The receptionist was a man, a very petite, impeccably groomed, contralto of a man. Miles fumbled for composure.
“Sorry, I…” he managed, clumsily piecing together the torn pieces. He returned the magazine into the middle of the pile and rose, grooming and de-linting, de-linting and grooming. “But…he…” he stammered, all but pointing directly at the other suit who, from all appearances, was really into his sports and, Miles deemed, looked equally perfect for the part to be read for.
The receptionist emitted a girlish twitter. “Oh, him. Not sure what he’s waiting for, silly boy. Seems like he’s been hanging around here for God-knows-how-long.”
The man-receptionist reached over to turn the page for the unresisting fellow, straightened his tie for him, then turned and addressed Miles through a silly grin. “Actually, I think he’s usually more of a funnies guy.” The receptionist aimed a knowing wink at Miles and oops-ed out loud when the newspaper slowly dropped from the other suit’s hands.
Miles forced himself to smile as the mannequin in the suit continued to stare straight ahead, because that’s what dummies do.
“G’mornin’. I’m Bobby. Have a seat. Tell me a little about yourself.”
Miles had been ushered into one of the most dimly lit, disordered, filthiest rooms he had ever seen, even for a casting director. Papers, books, scripts, tapes, overflowing ash trays, an assortment of mugs and glasses, and other cluttering desk camouflage provided a chaotic and disheveled buffer between Miles and the balding, bifocaled, obviously chain smoking, pear shaped miniature seated on the other side of the war zone that was Bobby’s desk. Dust scattered as the tiny troll-of-a-man lifted himself slightly to insignificantly shake Miles’ hand, then plopped himself back down in his chair with a grunt and a squeak. A small television, barely audible, made its presence known from somewhere under the mess, possibly under the plateau of strewn-about papers to his right, Miles guesstimated, as he considered several clever responses.
“Well…” he began, routinely brushing nothing from his left sleeve, fashioning a hint of a grin.
Bobby’s eyes sparkled as if he’d been cued. He looked directly at Miles. “A well is a hole in the ground, Howard. Make sure you don’t fall in it.”
Miles took a beat, as did his grin. He wasn’t sure what his next line should be. “My name is Howard…er, Miles…I…”
“That’s from Picnic,” puffed the smoke stack, peering over his glasses at the bemused Miles, who nodded dumbfounded acknowledgment. “Inge, you know. Damn good playwright, Inge.” Bobby’s wristwatch flashed. “Ever do any Inge?”
Miles considered lying. “I don’t believe so,” is what he settled on, feigning a quick mental perusal of a veteran acting resume.
Miles noted a hint of tarnish in Bobby’s sparkle.
“Damn fine playwright, Inge. Damn good. And Bill Holden–what can you say about Bill Holden? Damn good actor. No sir, no more Bill Holdens floatin’ through this office anymore, that’s for sure. That’s for damn sure.”
Bobby lit a new cigarette with the old and leaned across the clutter, his eyes opening wider. “How ‘bout Williams?” he glinted. “Ya musta done some Williams.”
Miles’ eyes met Bobby’s head-on; he knew this one. He Brandoed himself into character and rose dramatically, fine tuning attitude on the way up. He fashioned a sneer. “Stella!” he Stanleyed, slumping back into his chair with a porcine grunt.
“Streetcar!” Bobby was at once positively giddy, one loud reactionary clap’s worth of giddy. “That’s good, that’s good.”
“My old high school did it.” Miles sensed a favorable mood swing. “I was a shoo-in for the part. I was the only guy with chest hair to try out.”
“I can see it, I can see it. And the Karl Malden role? Who’d they get to play Karl’s part? Ooooh, I hope he was good.”
Miles jogged his memory for Bobby to see. “Uhhh…hmmm.”
“And Ann Margret? That role? Ooooh, Ann Margret…wasn’t she absolutely fabulous? Ya gotta love good ol’ Blanche.”
The ya lost me sign flashed several times through Miles’ brain before he was able to compose himself back into the conversation.
“Oh, but of course, the remake,” he humored along, clearing his throat. “Yes, yes, she was very good, too. Good role.”
“God, I love actors! But what a play, huh? Huh? That damn Williams…now there’s a playwright. And Inge…I mean, what can you say? You’re sure you never did any Inge?”
Miles sighed to himself. “I think…I might have read…”
“Say, come to think of it,” blurted Bobby while over-capacitating an ash tray. “I just saw the other day…hold on…” He began rifling wrist deep through the desk-top jungle, “…no, that’s not…no…wait!…here we go…yeah, right here, fourteen down: Picnic playwright—four letters. See? See?”
Miles wasn’t sure if he was seeing what the veteran casting director was suggesting he see but couldn’t help but notice that fourteen down was one of only three or four words penciled onto the haphazardly twice-folded newspaper crossword grid Bobby was referring to. He pried a play-along-with-Bobby uneven smile from his ever expanding repertoire of facial masks, feigning interest.
“That’s him, all right,” was what came out of his mouth.
“Damn right, it’s him. Him and Williams.”
“And Billy Holden.”
“Exactly. All those guys. Now we’re talkin’ real drama.”
“Real drama, yessir.”
“Yessir! But!…and I hate to rush things along, such a nice little chat and all…”
Another mood swing, thought Miles, as Bobby pivoted into his finest business demeanor, re-ignited a butt from the past, and handed Miles a tattered ream of semi-stapled papers, “…I want you to turn to page twenty-seven.”
“Uh…” a fair amount of upside-downing of papers was required, “…twenty-seven?”
“Right.” Bobby’s eyes were fixated on a spot in the papered-over area that, Miles now knew for certain, entombed the mini-T.V. from his view. The casting guru had no script in front of him, as far as Miles could tell, but it was hard to tell. A steady stream of smoke rings floated by and dissolved past Miles’ shoulder. A cosmetics commercial was playing.
“Middle of the page, Jeremy. Go.”
Miles deep breathed a potentially cancerous fog out of his face and dabbed at a perspiring sideburn as Bobby sharply struck an open handed blow to the mess atop where he gazed, sending a page of something to the floor, the volume increasing slightly. Miles tossed a startled glance at the elsewhere engrossed casting director–a glance not caught, much less returned—and tried to focus, collect his thoughts: Inge, Jeremy, Malden, Bond…feeling quite unprepared, Miles settled into a character with his customary throat-clearing.
“Stop,” Bobby snarled indifferently, his eyes never leaving the hidden screen, which now was featuring a soap opera, one that Miles had been rejected for no less than a month prior. “D’ya see more than one I in the line, Jeremy?”
Miles blankly stared at the crown of a bald head. Again, he cleared his throat, which so often seemed like the perfect thing to do, in so many similar situations–the vocal equivalent to adjusting himself. “Well, I just thought…”
“Don’t think, Jeremy, just read the line,” Bobby monotoned. “Be the damn line. Again.”
“A quick question?” Miles donned his serious theater student get-up, thinking it might help. “Am I supposed to love you or…what?”
Bobby banged away at the pile again, inducing yet more volume, and chose a mug to slurp at, his face contorted in apparent disapproval. “Right,” he spat, matching volume with volume, the floor-papering an ongoing process. “Only I think you’re a schmuck.”
An almost genuine smile crossed Miles’ face. “Oh, so it’s a comedy.”
Bobby dramatically removed his glasses and tore himself away from his program; a hollow stare was cast. “No,” he blanded, wiping his glasses on a shirt sleeve and replacing them on his nose, re-focusing on his soap. “Any other quick questions?”
Miles oopsed to himself, his heart doing cartwheels. “No, no.” he red-faced, hoping he hadn’t been too wordy. He stared at the page in front of him.
“Hit it, Jeremy.”
Miles swallowed hard. “Jennifer?”
“Good. Just go ahead and say it, Jeremy.”
Unaccustomed as he was to emoting for such a distracted audience Miles sensed beads of perspiration multiplying on his forehead, as he concentrated on his script. Unglued was the sub-text he read between the lines on page twenty-seven.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Sure you do.”
“I don’t know.”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
“Okay, then I’ll do it. It’s over.”
“I know. I guess I always knew. Or should have known.”
“I really think you’re a nice guy and all.”
“Yeah, that I know.”
“I’ll always think of you.”
“You’re a complicated woman, Jennifer.” Miles flipped the page, but the scene was over. “That’s it?”
“That’s it, Jeremy,” Bobby and the butt gestured, unsuccessfully pounding for volume with his other hand. “We’ll call you, blah, blah, blah.”
Miles made a mental note to look up audition in the dictionary when he got home but he could take a hint.
“Thank you, sir,” he formalitized with extended hand. For a moment, and a really long one at that, he thought he might have to slip away unnoticed, but Bobby caught a glimpse of Miles’ outstretched sweaty palm while on a one-handed excavation for a flame-bearing implement of any kind, anywhere within reach, and, for the record only, limply shook it. By the time Miles reached the office door Bobby was on the phone, apparently on hold, still engrossed with his soap, looking like The Great God of Acting, dropping ashes onto his kingdom.
Miles reached for the doorknob but stopped, suddenly feeling quite cheated. He turned to face Bobby. “Excuse me, please,” he voiced over the competition. “Could I just ask you one more question?”
“Quickly,” barked Bobby, flipping channels on the hour.
Miles struggled for some words of his own. “When you write down…about me, I mean…whatever it is you write down…” he stammered, gesturing in general at Bobby’s desk of disarray, “…if you write down anything at all, I don’t even know…what—just ball park comments, now—what would you say?”
Bobby peered up at Miles, who sensed yet another mood swing in the room. Bobby hung up on his holding pattern, manually turned down the T.V. volume and, rising agedly from his throne, wiped his glasses with a wrinkled handkerchief. He began methodically pacing behind his desk. Miles wondered how long anyone could be expected to tread dramatic effect and briefly looked away.
“Son,” said Bobby, apparently now willing to throw a line to a floundering young actor, “you’ve got to feel what you’re reading. Really feel it, as if it were a part of you. Trust the words, that’s what the author’s for and, believe me, there are some awfully good writers out there. Damn good writers. Then feel it, son. Be it. I can see you can act–and God knows how much I love actors–but don’t act, be. You’ve got to feel it before you can be it. Understand, son?”
Then, as if having satisfied his good-deed-for-the-daily-minimum-requirement, The Great God of Acting lit another cigarette, returned his freshly cleansed bifocals to their usefulness, and sat back down.
“I didn’t believe a word you said,” he stated, banging for volume.