Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Makeover" Part 2

When he got home the house was empty.  The guys had taken him out to dinner.  One more quick lesson from Ramos on camera about how to behave in public and the cameraman had left them to the rest of their dinner.  Ramos never did have any advice about how to deal with his wife but he did tell him to hang in and admitted to working for barely more than minimum wage just a year ago.  “And look at me, I’m almost 50!”  It did make him feel somewhat better.
But the Jack buzz had long since been replaced by a paler wine-at-dinner buzz and he was lonely in the house after a week of too many people around.  Cath and the kids were put up in a nearby hotel, forbidden from seeing him till tomorrow night when he’d have cocktails and appetizers in his new studio – which had been re-keyed so even he couldn’t get in to see what they had done – and then off to the bar where he and the band would play a set for the cameras.  He couldn’t get to his guitars, couldn’t talk to his wife.  No comfort left but more booze.  He decided to go to the bar and have a drink even though it would ruin the surprise for Randy, the manager.
When he got there it was almost empty.  Randy poured him a shot and drew him a beer as he walked in.  Am I that predictable, he wondered.  He sat down and took the first sip of his beer before Randy really noticed his hair.  When he did all Randy said was “Wow”.  Keith wanted to ask if he thought it would affect the way people perceived his playing in the band but then it occurred to him that that was a pathetic question to ask.
He looked around and Lila was seated in a booth almost in the back.  He was about to look away, avoid her, when she looked up.  She didn’t recognize him at first, unless she’d done this so many times she’d gotten good at fake surprise.  He nodded when she wide eyed pointed to her head and mouthed ‘hair’.  She gathered up her papers and came over to him.
“My god. That’s good, really great haircut. Can I?” and she touched his now slightly wavy hair atop his head.  “I barely recognized you”.
“What are you doing here?”
“Just having a drink. Going over some stuff. We’re put up in the hotel next door”
“Oh. I didn’t know”.
“Yeah, right. Why would you?” she said without irony. “What are you doing here?”
“Drink. This is where I play. This is where the…”
“Right. Duh.” She ordered another drink and offered to buy him one and though he didn’t often turn down a free drink he turned down this one.  Age had taught him at least one useful thing and that was his limit on alcohol.
“Why weren’t you there today?” he asked after her drink arrived.
“What? The haircut? It’s sort of the guys’ thing. I don’t like to hover too much. Plus I had a phone interview this afternoon. I’m looking for a new job”.
“You don’t like this one?”
“Oh, it’s fine. I like it. It’s actually my first producing gig. It’s just, I’m 36. If I’m going to do anything with my life I need to get a move on.”
“What do you want to do?” he asked.
“Features.” Not quite sure what she meant he nodded anyway.  “I love your wife. She is so cool.” He wondered if she was trying to get the message across that she was not trying to hit on him.  Her eyes had that dreamy look that most guys mistake for amorous but is really just drunkenness. 
“Yeah. I pretty much haven’t accomplished anything I set out to do. I was supposed to have at least one Emmy by now. An Oscar would be fine, but I like television better. And be married, two kids. But I have a great dog, so… I guess I’m not a total loser.”
Keith couldn’t help but laugh.  It seemed ironic that she called herself a loser.  It occurred to him that Joe was right, his wife and kids were the one thing that would always have been the gage to who he was, even if he was the leader of some mega band.
“What would the difference be if you got this new job?” he asked.  Probably good to focus on someone else for a while.
“Uh, I’d work more probably… but it’s not reality TV so that’s good. I dunno. I guess I just feel like I have to keep scratching at it. Keep climbing or something. Like, that’s why they call people in Hollywood sharks. You have to keep moving otherwise you die.”
They talked a little more about Hollywood and Lila’s life there and how she wished she could find a chick as cool as Cathy to settle down with but that it was especially difficult in LA.  No one in the business really approved of lesbians even though technically they didn’t disapprove.  She asked him about his music and was impressed by his rock ballad that had ended up being a country hit.  She thought he ought to just go with it and write country songs.  He thought about the piles of finished and partially finished songs sitting on a bar stool in his studio.  And how, in his current band configuration was uninterested in practicing more than a couple hours a week, so his songs they never got tried out, arranged and played at a gig.  Why didn’t he just record them acoustic and sell them, Lila asked, and hinting at the new recording studio that they put into his studio.  She had tons of friends who were songwriters in LA who’d never had a song on the radio let alone a hit and who always seemed to have writer’s block.  She could introduce him to some managers who she knew were always looking for songs for their clients, she said.
He went home that night feeling filled up.  Not because of the conversation with Lila at the bar so much as the whole thing.  How impressed everyone had been with his kids, his wife, his life and the small successes in the business that he had always thought of as sure signs of what a pathetic, old wannabe rock star he was.  Maybe he should try to need less reassurance from everyone else.  Maybe he spent way too much time worrying about himself and what he didn’t have.  It seemed so stupid that he should have such a revelation after a weeklong makeover reality show shoot and not before in the stillness of some Fall night like this one, standing alone on his gazebo.
The next morning, the crew was late in arriving, well after ten.  The day went like all the others, both long and short.  It seemed like a week and an instant both getting to 10 pm that night when he was supposed to start his ‘gig’.  When they finally arrived at the bar there the crew were lighting and his family were waiting in the lobby.  Of course, the kids couldn’t actually come into the bar but they could listen from the lobby.  Randy thought they might make an exception for the actual shooting though, technically, it wasn’t legal.  Keith was not sure what to expect or what he would say.  He’d been up late playing – Nathan’s small, kid sized guitar, the only one not in his studio – and had written a sort of dedication as a surprise for his wife and kids.  He wasn’t even sure he was going to play it until the cameras started to roll.  His band was a little miffed, he could see out of the corner of his eye, but ten seconds into the song he, finally, for the first time in a long time, didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought and he didn’t need anyone to reassure him. 
When the song was done even his band were a little misty, though they tried to hide it with macho pats on the back and “Great song, man”.  He could see Lila in the back of the room and when he caught her eye she gave him a thumbs up.
He wouldn’t say that week changed his life.  Change takes a lot longer than a week when it’s self inflicted.  He’d gotten some contacts from Lila that had actually panned out. He flew to LA for several days, took meetings and was commissioned to write a couple of ballads for some new pop sensation whose name he couldn’t remember, only that she’d already been on commercials and his kids thought she was ‘pretty good’.  And a new young rock band was recording the song he’d written for his family for their new album… whether it actually ended up on the album, well…  He wasn’t sure if he cared much about that anymore.  In a funny way, doing the whole makeover for the show had made him recapture his youth.  Not the ambition part, but that part of music that had totally absorbed him, where he would disappear into the sensation of just playing and writing and time would pass without needing to eat or rest or even go take a leak.  He could play for 3, 4 hours in a row now and he hadn’t been able to do that in a long time.
Part of it was Joe and Lila and just meeting people outside of his world, and even Ramon a little bit.  And knowing that life is random mostly and ordered sometimes, and there is fate and there is hard work and really none of it matters one way or the other.  It was experiencing his own world just the way it was, he finally realized, that meant something to him.  And when Lila left a message on their machine telling them the show would air that weekend, and she’d gotten the job she had wanted and they should keep in touch, though he knew they wouldn’t, Cath had  wanted to throw a big party for the airing.  But nope, he decided that all he really wanted was a bowl of popcorn, Cath, Nathan and Tilda next to him.  It’d been almost six months since the taping.  He’d forgotten a lot of what happened and a lot of what he had said.  There was some embarrassing stuff.  But the thing that he had missed then, and the thing that made him know now that rabid ambition would never take over and control his happiness again, was when the camera caught his son at the bar, looking at his sister and saying “Dad is so cool” and she nodding her head in agreement.  What more was there really.

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