PALO ALTO—2 a.m. Sunday. I'm nesting in my dressing coup waiting for makeup. The humidifier is set just below “maximum chill,” and I turn the dial up as I light another cigarette. Call time isn’t for another three hours but I can’t sleep. Sleep is impossible under Palo Alto lights, the low hum of windmills overhead and the buzz of servers and data slicing through the air. You can smell the wi-fi here—after a few drinks and an Ambien, you can see it, too: the Internet spiders out through the sky spiraling out through stalks in the desert ground. Everyone gets their medication comped here, courtesy of the production company: uppers, downers, and mind-wipers. The pills spill out like Pez onto the cracked white earth of the safest city in America. I am safe here: respected, cared for, well-known, regarded with a deference directly related to my ability to have anybody on set instantly fired and banished from show business.
Did I pay my dues? No: my only prior acting experience was in a shoestring production of Death of a Salesman put on in Bishop Boston’s barn last year. There were only three performances, but James Franco was in the audience for every one. He sent me a telegram with an offer to star in his new short film, If Wishes, no audition necessary. He stressed that the budget was small, and all they could afford for my performance was 50 grand—he apologized profusely, acknowledging that yes, this offer was a pittance and might be insulting, but better to get it all on the table now than have a row on set and have someone injured in a tornado of pecking and spur claws.
The Ambien is not working. It hasn’t worked at all this week, and because they’re dispensed dose by dose by Benny the Best Boy, I can’t double or triple up and get a nice long night of uninterrupted, dreamless sleep. I remember running into old friends walking down the street or mulling about in coffee shops at a loss for words about what I’m doing now—acting, I guess. “Oh…” Suddenly they have to return some videotapes. Unable to sleep and staying up on the Ambien hasn’t just made me loopy: I can see these people, their smiles contorting into pairs of pursed lips and awkward disappointment, not so much sympathy as second-hand embarrassment, something that’s contagious and spreading onto them the longer they look me in the eye and humor my presence. I am a rooster never getting younger cooped up in the same barn I’ve been in all my life—no New York internships, no genius grants, just, um, “acting.” Despite all the feather ruffling, I never mention my decades old work with Prince or Bowie. You can call a Quibbits many things, but immodest? Arrogant? No. Good friends and old friends know not to mess with the temper of he who struts with spur claws.
It’s five a.m. James walks in before my coterie of stylists are even awake—he smiles and hands me the script, a single page, with exactly one line. “It’s a crucial moment, Rooster—this is your Rosebud.” I look down at the page and see my name bolded in all caps, and under it, my one line: “If wishes and buts were candies and nuts, we’d all have a bowl of granola.” Nonplussed, I look up at James, too tired and too pissed to do say anything. This is my breakout role? He sees my eyes narrowing and insists that, yes, “this is the focal point. This is when the strings come in, this is your close-up.” Before I can respond, he’s out the door, and in come my makeup people, ready to exfoliate me and put cucumbers over my eyes. Finally I drift off, thinking of my $50,000, wondering what I’m going to tell all my friends what I was up to when I get home.
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