Bernie Among the Nightingales

It was Arty from Philly who first told me about the project. A pilot. One hour. Written by a guy named Lonstein, a playwright I worked for back when I was a kid. Lonstein was as queer as a priest in Paris, but the sonofabitch could write. I asked Arty if there was a part for me.

“Read it,” he says.

I did and there was. The role of an offbeat Jewish attorney with an attitude. Had my name all over it. “And here’s the kicker,” says Arty. “It’s already picked up for thirteen.”

In layman’s terms, that meant if I booked it, I’d get thirty grand for the pilot plus another thirty for each of the 13 episodes guaranteed by the network. That meant $420,000 for four months “work,” a sum roughly equivalent to my entire net worth times 420,000. Plus I knew the playwright. I dare say the bastard even owed me one for saving a piece of shit he had running off-Broadway some fifteen years back. Things were looking good.

I called my agent’s office first thing on a Thursday to tell him to get me the audition. Amy, his half-wit assistant, picked up the phone.

“Put Bernie on,” I says.


“Why not?”

“He’s in the hospital.”

“What’s he doing there?”

“Don’t know.”

“Oh Christ,” I says. “Who’s covering the Lonstein project?”

“Beats me.”

Amy was a sensational fuck up. For five years she’d been in that office, and she still couldn’t work the copier. Or the fax. Or even the fucking water cooler. At least once a week, I begged Bernie to fire her, but the old man wouldn’t do it.

“Amy,” I says real nice and slow, “can you please find out who the casting director is?”

“Sometimes,” she says.

“Look at the breakdown.”

“Nothing’s broken,” she says. “Except the water cooler.”

“I know nothing’s broken,” and now I’m struggling to stop myself from going down there and smacking her across the head. “I’m talking about the breakdown — the description that comes over the computer and tells you about the project.”

“The computers don’t tell me nothin’,” she says. “They only talk to each other.”

This was going nowhere. I hung up the phone and called Arty from Philly, thinking maybe he knew who the casting director was.

“Cheryl Zuckerman.”

“Oh nuts,” I says. “You think she’ll remember?”

“What do you think?”

Years ago, at a rave, Cheryl Zuckerman bought $200 worth of ecstasy off me before blowing a pair of Persians in the bathroom. Though she initially blamed the incident on the drugs, the fact is I sold her aspirin, and by the time her friends told her she’d been had, Cheryl Zuckerman was already a Hollywood punch line. The woman swore an oath of vengeance against me, a vendetta that fueled a massive increase in her weight and a meteoric rise from the mailroom of Buchwald to the casting office at CBS. At 250 pounds of angry Jewish flesh, Cheryl Zuckerman stood as a formidable obstacle between me and the $420,000 I’d get if I booked that pilot. There was no way I’d get the audition through her, so I scoured an old address book to see if I still had Lonstein’s home number. I did. I called it. Disconnected. I tried information on Fire Island, but they had no listing.

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Cute Meat

She stared narcotic into space two stools to my left, an unlit Marlboro balanced between purple lips. Tattoos blanketed her pale, phthisic arms all the way down to the chipped black paint on her fingernails. I could not imagine her in the daylight.

“You look like a corpse,” I slurred.

She turned to me with a look that Mengele might have given a thalidomide baby. “Excuse me?”

“I said you look like a fucking corpse.” I turned back drunk to my pint, and when next I looked in her direction, she spat a large clot of phlegm into my eye. By the time I wiped it away, she was gone.

Arty from Philly worked the bar when he wasn’t getting paid to sit in the studio audience of a daytime talk show. He called me a week later.

“Remember that girl from the Burgundy Room?” he asked.

“Which one?”

“The one that spat in your eye.”

“What about her?”

“She was in here again, asking about you. Her name is Faye.”

That night, I went back to the Burgundy Room, and for my sins, so did Faye.

“You always introduce yourself to chicks by insulting them?” she asked.

“I’ve known llamas with more class than you.”


“Yeah. Llamas.”

“I don’t get it.”

Nothing worse than having to explain a joke in a loud and crowded bar. “Llamas,” I said. “‘Cause they spit.”

“Oh,” she replied. “That’s funny.” Only she wasn’t laughing. She turned and walked some drinks to her friends, a necromantic crew of punk rock groupies probably conceived in the back of a touring van. They mocked the jukebox, scowled at boys, then zombied their way out the door. Before leaving, Faye told me where they were headed, but I didn’t follow.

“I’m not one for the chase,” I told her.

I wasn’t always that way. During my college years, I pursued a beautiful, young virgin for the better part of three semesters. I woke every morning thinking of her. We made mix tapes for each other, wrote poems and love letters. We held hands in the bleachers at homecoming and pulled all-nighters studying for finals. Then she gave it up to a lacrosse player. Some cad she’d met that night who videotaped the encounter and posted the footage online. His camera work was a little verite for my taste, his editing too French new wave, and his lighting far from cinematic, but there was no denying it was a riveting piece of work. By revealing her unknowing in the sexual act, he had taken the woman I’d put on pedestal and reduced her to the frightened animal that she was. The animal that we all are when we’re fucking. At least if we’re doing it right. I must have watched that film a million times. Watched that preppy bastard fucking my girl, the one I thought I’d marry and live with the rest of my life. Watched it until I could only fantasize about her with him in the picture. I could never have fucked her the way he did. I didn’t have it in me then. I didn’t have the ability to even imagine being that brutal with a woman I was so madly in love with. And it was brutality she wanted. Brutality she needed from a man so that he could manage the rough surgery that he performed on her. It was a cruel lesson that sonofabitch taught me but one I needed to learn: one man’s chase is always another’s easy lay.

The next time I saw Faye was at the Ralph’s supermarket on Third and La Brea. I was picking up toilet paper and beer at three in the morning when I nearly tripped over her, sprawled out in the condiment section, licking mustard off the back of her hand.

“How ’bout a ride?” she asked, and an hour later, we were sitting on the floor of her studio apartment, smoking black tar heroin off of aluminum foil. With “Performance” playing on the television set and the Velvet Underground hissing from the speakers, I can remember feeling that her hardwood floor was the most comfortable surface I’d ever collapsed on. That the towel she’d thrown on top of me was better than the childhood blankie I once held over my head to hide from monsters. I nodded into an opiate slumber, devoured in the belief that everything was alright, always had been, and always would be.

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The Intervention

After a perfectly uneventful day at the office and a brief stop at the local video store, George Himmelman entered his apartment to find a large crowd gathered in his living room. He would have assumed it was a surprise party, planned by Caitlin, his fiancĂ©, but the somber tone of the guests, along with the fact that George’s 31st birthday had come and gone, implied otherwise. And what was his mother doing there, weeping into her highball next to Mr. Himmelman? Surely something dire was afoot if his parents, who had communicated with each other only through attorneys since The Scandal, were now together in the same room in violation of numerous orders of restraint. Could it be that someone had passed? But who? Everyone George knew or cared about was present. There was Caitlin, her hair pulled back so tight it stretched the skin on her forehead and lifted the tip of her nose to expose her nostrils. There was Arthur from Philadelphia, George’s best friend, staring at the floor and fidgeting uncomfortably as was his habit. There were George’s secretary and colleagues from the firm; the minister from his church; the family lawyer; Roderick and Charla from the club. Even Maria, the family maid and owner of the only spare key to George’s apartment, sat in the corner of the room, muttering a prayer in Spanish as she fingered a set of rosary beads.

“What’s going on here?” asked George, tucking the bag containing the videos he rented under his arm.

“Can you please sit down?” asked Caitlin. Her being the first to speak revealed that she was most likely the organizer of the event. “Your friends, family and I have something we’d like to share.”

“I can see that,” George replied. “And I’ll gladly sit down when I know what this is all about.”

“Please understand,” said Arthur from Philadelphia. “This is no easier for us than it is for you. But we felt that if we didn’t intervene now, things might get to the point where we could no longer stop you from destroying yourself.”

So that’s what this is, George realized. An intervention! He had heard of interventions before but had never actually seen one in the flesh: the strange combination of family, friends, and acquaintances; the us-against-you ambiance of the room; the obvious planning that had gone into it all. The only thing George couldn’t figure out was why? What pattern of behavior had he established that warranted such an intrusive measure? Sure, he thought, I enjoy a cocktail now and then, but I’m hardly an alcoholic. And whatever experimenting I did with drugs all came to a halt when Caitlin informed me she disapproved of activities that could jeopardize her father’s political ambitions. George didn’t gamble, so he knew that wasn’t it. He didn’t engage in homosexuality, though he had always suspected Arthur of certain proclivities. He ate in moderation, spent in moderation, worked in moderation. In fact, in every way he could conceive at that moment, George Himmelman considered himself the Goldilocks of all things, his only addiction being a strict adherence to moderation itself.

“Though I have no doubt of your honorable intentions,” George assured his uninvited guests, “I cannot think of one thing in the world I’m addicted to that would in any way require your taking such a drastic action on my behalf.”

Roderick from the club stood and took charge of the room. “You’re not alone,” he asserted. “It wasn’t long ago that I was in your position, being confronted by the people I love.” His wife, Charla, nodded at his side. “It’s natural to feel defensive and embarrassed. But with the right treatment and support, you can overcome this, George.”

“Overcome what?” George asked, masking his indignation as best he could. “Seriously, now. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

His father groaned as if to indicate the whole event was keeping him from some more urgent engagement. “You might as well come clean so we can get this over with, George.”

“Get what over with? What are you talking about? What in God’s name do you people think is wrong with me?”

“Oh for Chrissake,” his mother blurted out. “You jerk off too much!”

“Dios mio,” said Maria, crossing herself, as the room grew silent.

My God, George thought. Is that what this is about? Too much masturbation? George knew he enjoyed his daily dalliance with himself, but he never, in a million years, considered that his sessions had become so frequent as to warrant an intervention. He had never even heard of a masturbation addiction. He had always believed (as his health teacher back at Philips Exeter had taught) that masturbation did not cause blindness, hairy palms, or any other maladies. He believed that, apart from abstinence, it constituted the safest kind of sex there is. So what was the harm if he did masturbate a bit more than most? Which, in his mind, he did not. And who were these people to tell him what he could and couldn’t do on his own time by his own hand? And how did they know what they knew? George thought he had always taken the necessary precautions to ensure his masturbatory life was a secret, hidden away from all around him. Who or what gave these people the idea that he was too prolific in his practice?

“You must be kidding,” George laughed. “This is a joke! I hardly ever masturbate!”

It was Maria’s turn to speak. “Please, Meester George,” she said. ” I washa you underwear since you twelve year old. Some-a-the-time, they-a so hard, I scractha myself on you boxer short.” As if she were showing the jury exhibits A through F, Maria proceeded to hold up several pieces of George’s soiled laundry, evidence for all in the room to see of the crimes committed against cotton.

“Fine,” George responded. “I play with myself more than the next guy. But there’s nothing chronic or dangerous about my habit. I mean, at least I’ve never done it in public and been arrested like Arthur.”

“There’s no reason to lash out,” said his best friend.

“Can’t you see your friend is trying to help you?” asked Caitlin. How unlike her to defend Arthur, thought George. Normally, she can’t hide her contempt for the guy. Perhaps they bonded over their plan for my humiliation.

“How many times has it been?” asked Roderick. “How many times today?”

“Just once,” George said. “This morning in the shower.”

“Are you sure?”

George suddenly remembered an incident that occurred earlier in the day while he was eating lunch with a client. A waitress had walked by wearing a tight-fitting black skirt that inspired an interruption in the meeting and a brief sojourn to the restroom.

“Okay twice,” George admitted, but no sooner had he spoken then he remembered another incident at work, wherein some spam arrived in his inbox advertising a new porn site that, as the email stated, “Could not be missed.” And it could not be missed! After clicking the link, George told his secretary to hold all calls so that he could shut the blinds and do some quick handiwork into an outdated report.

“Three times,” George admitted. “But that’s highly unusual for me, and hardly enough to demand an outpouring such as this.”

“But it’s only six o’clock,” slurred his mother. “The night is young.”

“I’m not going to masturbate again tonight, Mother!”

Roderick asked him what it was he was concealing under his arm.

“What? This?” George asked, referring to the videos he was holding. “I just rented some new releases.”

George’s father took the tapes from his son. He read the titles out loud.

“Sodomania volumes one and two.”

“It’s a biblical epic,” George replied.

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The Ballad of Tessie Felice

Behind her back, she was “One-Tit Tessie,” so-called after undergoing a mastectomy at the ripe old age of twenty-seven.

“You should give her a call.”

Arty from Philly told me about her. Tess was a friend of Arty’s wife, Lauren. Actually, Lauren hated her. They swam together at Cornell where Tess had a reputation for being a frigid little bitch, moody and unpredictable. She was overly competitive, in and out of the water, rarely hung out with other swimmers, and sabotaged all attachments to the girls in her dorm.

“And she was always too busy!”

Too busy working towards her 4.0, too busy proving she was more than a pretty face with a great rack, too busy pursuing that job at Goldman Sachs where she knew she could out-hustle any of those limp-dick-prep-school faggots who dared meander across her path.

As luck would have it, one of those limp-dick-prep-school faggots did meander across her path, and he meandered with enough charm, enough swagger, and (of course) enough of Daddy’s money to convince Tess it would be worth her while to follow him out to California, where he could pursue a career as a budding cinematographer.

But Hollywood proved too much for the limp-dick-prep-school faggot and his analyst girlfriend. Tess worked long hours around the schedule of the New York Stock Exchange, up at four in the morning, back in bed by eight o’clock at night. She wore navy blue pinstripes while the limp-dick-prep-school faggot wore a mesh trucker’s hat and a Von Dutch sweatshirt. She read financials; he read screenplays. She made six figures; his parents cut him off. She took up kickboxing; he had affairs. She got cancer; he moved back east.

“You won’t have to play games with her, wine her and dine her. She just wants to get laid, which — let’s face it, pal — is pretty much all you want too.”

Arty had a point. I wasn’t exactly in “relationship condition.” My clothes were shoddy. My gut stuck out. I had a bad haircut and a rotting tooth that was beginning to smell. A year had passed since my last date, and that one ended in a lawsuit. I had a job at the time working for an exterminator, setting traps for pests and rodents. It was disgraceful work. The kind you take when you have no pride, no hope, and no love for insects. My paychecks didn’t even cover my bills let alone provide the cash necessary for taking a girl out for a “sit down” meal. I told Arty I wasn’t interested, but when he left Tess’ number on my couch, I didn’t throw it away.

Two weeks later, I was getting hammered at a bar where my money’s no good. I’d been listening to some tattooed blond ramble on for a couple of hours when, out of nowhere, she let it drop that her musician boyfriend was picking her up in fifteen minutes. I thanked her for wasting my time, then drunk-drove home through the skids of Hollywood. After browsing through some Internet porn that was becoming a little too familiar, I decided to give Tess a call. She picked up on the third ring, sounding like she’d been asleep.


“Hey, it’s Rodney.” I was kicking myself for calling so late.

“Who?” She had the kind of voice you hear on those new-fangled fire alarm systems that warn you to remain calm as you exit the building.

“Rodney,” I repeated. “Rodney Maciejewski. Arty told me I should give you a try.”

“Arty?” she asked.

“Lauren’s husband.”

It took her a second.

“Oh.” She didn’t sound enthused.

“Anyway, there’s a place by my house. It’s open late if you want to get some coffee or something.”

She paused. There was contempt in her pause.

“Why don’t you just… come over.”

I chugged the last beer in my fridge and drove a demolition derby to the West Side.

“Come in,” she said as she opened the door, and right away, I could see Tess was in possession of an angry beauty, cold and unasked for. She was slender and petite, with ice-pick cheekbones under fierce brown eyes. Her skin would have been olive if she’d ever seen the sun.

“Tess, right?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, turning her back as she walked into the living room. I watched her take the pillows off the couch and spread a white sheet across the cushions. I stared at her chest and the irregular triangle negotiated across her nightshirt, hanging by its vertex, formed from a bra-less and all too solitary breast.

“I’m Rodney,” I said, still standing by the door. My name was of no interest to her.

“Do you have a condom?” she asked.

Jesus, I thought. Arty didn’t lie. “Shouldn’t we exchange pleasantries first?”

“Why?” she asked.

I laughed nervously as I approached the couch. I always expect a measure of disappointment when a woman opens the door to reveal me instead of something with an ironed shirt and a head of hair, but Tess’ indifference was different. It seemed I was there to serve a purpose. Her purpose. I might as well have been delivering a pizza, and she was looking for exact change.

“Yeah,” I said, moving next to her. My gut brushed lightly against her arm. “I have a condom.”

With that, Tess Felice undid my pants and used her hand to get me aroused. I pulled out a rubber that had been in my wallet since the Clinton administration and rolled it onto my cock. Once she was sure everything was antiseptic, Tess turned around, lifted her nightshirt above her waist, and allowed me to enter her from behind. She held her balance with her right hand while using her left to rub and squeeze at her one remaining breast. When I put a clumsy hand on her hip, she shrugged it off with a wiggle. It took about fifteen minutes for us both to finish, after which Tess pulled down her nightshirt, stood up, and said something about having to get up in a few hours. I attempted to kiss her good-bye on the lips, but she gave me the cheek. In the course of the half hour or so we spent together, our eyes never met, and all told, I’d say our shared experience was about as intimate as a trip to an ATM.

Over the next several months, I made a series of visits to Tess’ apartment, and each time, the night followed the same script. If I suggested we have dinner or a drink, she would make an excuse about needing sleep or not having enough time, and before long, we were doing it again on the couch. She showed no desire to reveal any details of her life and no curiosity concerning mine. Almost everything I knew about her, I knew from Arty and Lauren.

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Raskolnikov’s Horse

Los Angeles is a miserable town filled with miserable people who do miserable and degrading things for money. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar, a huckster, or a brainwashed retard with an autographed copy of Dianetics on his bedside table. Dante himself never imagined a hell so loathsome as the 405 Freeway on an afternoon Friday, when the denizens of Hollywood’s ninth circle flee the metropolis to spend two days sucking a wind less foul then what’s blown out of the ass of the studios they work for. I have lived in this stagnant shitpot of a city for nine long years, been employed as an actor, and have found my career to be nothing less than a ruthless sham, a grotesque mockery of the American dream, and a medieval prison from which I will never escape. I waste my oxygen-deprived days here hustling to get hired to television shows I’d never watch, movies that only a flag-waving, inbred moron could enjoy, and commercials that saturate the air with the malignant hiss that converts suburban adolescents and postal employees into thrill-killing psychopaths. Despite my disdain for these jobs, I fight for them, each and every day, clawing for them like the starving rodent I’ve been reduced to.

And I’m one of the lucky ones.

So lucky I was recently hired to be a series regular on a new television show on a cable network. My contract guaranteed top billing, a salary in the low six, and a trailer next to the soundstage on a studio lot. The show was shit, but that’s irrelevant. ALL shows are shit. No doubt, there are degrees of shit. There’s the shit you wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole; the shit even flies wouldn’t buzz around; the shit so fetid that some Amazonian microbe (AKA Bruckheimer) must have been involved in its production. But this was just your average, run-of-the-mill shit. Harmless shit, though nothing you’d put your nose to. It wasn’t going to make me rich, or famous, and good God it wasn’t going to convince anyone I was an artist, but if it employed me for two seasons before getting canceled, I’d make enough money to have health insurance for the next five years. I’d have something to point to at my ten-year college reunion that wouldn’t make me look like a complete and total failure. I could get some clothes and pay off my debts, a reliable car, perhaps, and a new apartment where I wouldn’t be privy to my neighbors’ farts, snores, and sobs in the night. Perhaps I’d even go on a vacation for the first time since moving here. Perhaps I’d rouse Mother from her depression for a week.

Like I said, the job was shit… but it was shit that paid.

Two weeks ago, with four episodes in the can and the pilot yet to air, I was fired from the very piece of shit that had offered me, so temporarily, the promise of success.

“They tell you why?” I asked my manager.

“They said Eddy wanted to call you, but he’s on The East Coast.”

Eddy is the executive producer of the show. He was a very famous television actor in the eighties. I won’t say his real name or describe him in much detail, but I will mention that he played a character who was really into magic, and every time he was on Johnny Carson or Letterman, he’d do some really lame magic trick that bored the studio audience to tears. Eddy showed me some of his magic on set, where it occurred to me that I was acting for free and getting paid to feign amusement at Eddy’s pathetic attempts at prestidigitation.

“They tell you why?” I asked my manager.

“It was The Network’s decision.”

By placing the blame on The Network (a construct that exists beyond human culpability), the various bottom feeders who worked on the show and made the decision to fire my ass are able to protect themselves from any future retaliations that might follow should I ever find myself in a position of authority.

“They tell you why?” I asked my manager.

“Look,” he sighed. “What’s the difference?”

Thus it occurred that I was released from a series by no known person or persons for no given reason.

“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”

How ironic that Intimate Relationship #9.5 would be the first to console me in my time of grief. Ironic because I had had every intention of dumping her ass and getting in on some of that famous pussy as soon as the show went to air. Of course, I never told her this, but having lived in this town for most of her adult life, she certainly knew the score. Why else would she have lied about being on the pill for the last three months? Before I booked the pilot, IR#9.5 would scowl at me if I even looked at her without a condom on, but after landing the role, I couldn’t sleep for an hour without finding her on top of me, grunting and grinding at me with her crude babymaking technique. It was a terrifying perversion of the sexual act, and I’m lucky to have survived the experience without having spawned some unfortunate beast to whom I would have denied to its dying day that I ever knew its mother.

“They called my manager to ask what to do with my stuff,” I said as I lay on the couch swigging a beer. I had neither shaved, showered, nor moved from the couch in a week.

“You should have them put everything in a box and ship it over,” she suggested. “You shouldn’t have to go back there.”

I thought of the porno I left in the VCR in my trailer. The one I made on my own, featuring me and a pair of extras from episode two.

“No, I should go back,” I said

IR#9.5 made me promise to control my temper when I returned to my former place of employment.

“Living well is the best revenge,” she reminded me. “You take your lumps and you soldier on.”

Actors are expected to have an unwavering confidence. We’re expected to be gracious to the people who shit on us, the thinking being that one never knows how they’ll make it up to us down the road. I’ve been in this business for eighteen years, so I speak from experience when I say that after they shit on you, they seldom send flowers, and they never do you any favors down the road.

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