“Well that was incredibly depressing,” Sara said, her face puckered in discontent. She wasn’t looking at Jean, otherwise she would have seen that ‘depressing’ was not the word she would have used. Jean would have called it a travesty; a nightmare of epic proportions, but then Jean was a tad dramatic.
Sara picked a piece of fuzz from her sweater, “Really Jean, what did you expect? I’m surprised that you’re surprised.”
Jean frowned, and looked towards the park. It was warm out and she briefly wondered why the fat red headed kid playing in the sand box was wearing a windbreaker.
“But I thought he would leave her,” Jean said and bit at her lower lip.
Sara rolled her eyes and made a sound that suggested she was frustrated. “You are such a cliché, I hate to sound unfeeling but really? You really believed that?”
Jean placed a hand over her abdomen as if protecting it from Sara’s cynicism. Sara watched her do this and sighed. She lit a cigarette and collected her Tupperware.
“I have to go back to work, do you want to meet after for drinks?” She paused, “No I suppose you don’t.” She laughed awkwardly.
Children in the park were laughing too, swings were clanging, a baby was crying somewhere, and in the distance there was the hum of cars and occasional horns. Sara had turned away from Jean: a conductor surveying her orchestra and then, finding that it lacked something, looked back at Jean. Her eyes softened and she placed a hand on her friend’s cheek.
“We’ll go to one of those tea houses that you always tell me about; that might be nice.”
Jean smiled. Sara was like one of those bitch dogs that would eat their pups rather then let them starve. Jean had always been drawn to that kind of brutal protection.
“Who needs bars anyways?” Sara slung her purse over her shoulder; “Perhaps I’ll find a nice English gentleman at a tea house- a lord for you and an Earl for me- yeah?”
She winked at Jean over her shoulder.
“I’ll call you at five?” Jean asked.
Sara waved at her without turning around, and made a sign to call her.
Jean watched her walk until she disappeared behind a soft serve ice cream truck, and then sighed. Her hand was still warmly cupping her abdomen.
She found herself an hour later not at work, which was where she was supposed to be, but at a travel agency, purchasing maps.
When he had first left, last spring, she bought an assortment of Hollywood maps; movie stars had always fascinated her. She felt they were the type of people that couldn’t possibly live real lives. How could they be so many people and have a single personality as well? It just couldn’t be—and that appealed to Jean. A city of thousands that felt nothing- except on cue- what a marvelous concept.
That spring had whistled by: the blossoms bloomed, light rain showers- everything full of so much life. It was ironic, and painful. She had bought maps with pictures of the Hollywood sign (almost all of them had that), then there were the ones with stars on sidewalks, fashion shops on Rodeo, downtown buildings, but her favorites had the great domed observatory overlooking the valley of god-like actors.
That was where she wanted to be: the Griffith Park Observatory. Not in fashion shops, or on Highland and Hollywood, not in Beverly Hills, but perched up on the Griffith Park Conservatory, watching.
Watching the traffic swell and reside like some artificial tide, watching the breeze rustle the palms, the sun arching across the sky, trailed by a crescent moon and haze blanketed stars, their twinkle only sometimes penetrating. What a marvelous thing, Jean often thought. That the stars that swept over with such authority in Jean’s night sky, dimmed when confronted with the stars of Hollywood, but then Jean was a tad dramatic.
It was summer now. A full cycle had elapsed since that spring: a mild fall, a warmer winter and a spring that had been plagued with frosts.
This hot summer day—when red headed children at the playground wore wind breakers for no reason, and baby’s in strollers and on blankets cried and couples ate soft serve—on this summer day that was not very out of the ordinary, Jean purchased road maps instead of tourist maps.
The travel agent helped mark one up so she wouldn’t get lost. Who knew? Maybe she would drive down to Hollywood, in some rented convertible- a mustang, maybe even a red one- stay in a hotel on the beach, and be discovered on her way to the Observatory. The idea that someone would be watching her while she was watching the city made her nearly bubble over with laughter- to think, a city of watchers- all of them with emotions worth exactly the price of a matinee. How marvelous.
The convertible crapped out on her somewhere on the 101 between Calabasas and a place called Tarzana. It was hazy, and unbelievably humid, which reminded her of a short vacation she once took to New Orleans with Mr. M—. She instinctively placed a hand over her abdomen at the thought.
Jean would not let herself think of Mr. M— (the human resources administrator of a fruit company in Salinas, oh no, she would not think of him). Instead she would think of Los Angeles, a city of art deco buildings and Nouveau philosophy- well that was how she imagined it. She had never been there, but she knew that Los Angeles was the city of angels; angels that basked underneath a palm silhouetted skyline and mingled with producers and directors.
The Ramada Inn on De Soto was not the hotel on the beach that Jean had fantasized about. Indeed, there was no Ferris wheel that joyfully lit up the night, or long spans of dark sky, or polished sand and palm trees, open air and—well there was nothing really; except for a Starbucks with a drive thru and a video store that had a bathroom with porn magazine wallpaper. Jean slept peacefully though, despite not having actually reached Hollywood. The Griffith Park Observatory would be there tomorrow.
That very next morning she woke up early, dressed in the outfit that she had envisioned herself wearing as she cruised into Hollywood: khaki capris, white blouse and safari-style jacket, complete with a wide brimmed straw hat. It was already humid when she walked to the bagel shop across from the Ramada Inn. It was in a strip mall between a nail spa and a paper notary. Its windows were painted with rather crude portraits of a rabbit and Easter eggs, but Jean liked that it had the letter ‘B’ in the window. Not an “A”, that would be too patronizing. Everybody liked a solid ‘B’; she had made it a point to always strive for just above the mark. Anything more and then you became noticed, and she was not the type of person worth noticing. People worth noticing were those that lived in Los Angeles, in Hollywood.
She ordered a blueberry bagel, toasted with cream cheese and a cup of coffee. She ate quietly, feeling anxious, which made her toes curl. Excitement made her stomach knot. In just a few short hours she would be at the Observatory! Looking down on a city that was as much a mystery to her as that child wearing a windbreaker on a hot summer’s day.
She admired the framed pictures that hung clustered and sporadic on the wall; some had signatures and scrawled messages, others were just posed smiling faces.
“Is that Burt Reynolds?” Jean asked taking a bite out of her bagel, and then with her mouth full, “And Tom Selleck?”
The bulbous nosed woman behind the bagel counter leaned across to look at which picture Jean was pointing at. She was a rather frazzled looking woman- all curly dark hair, and nose, and blemishes. Some might say she reminded them of a character from Shakespeare, but Jean of course was unfamiliar with such airs, and “intelligent” comparisons- instead she just thought she was homely, and enjoyed the thought that people outside of the city were perfectly normal in comparison to those magnificent angels of Hollywood.
“Yep it is,” she said and smiled at Jean with a kind of weathered curiosity.
“Do you know them?” Jean asked.
The bulbous nosed woman laughed, “Only when their production crews need bagels, and then I know their P.As.”
Jean smiled and nodded, even though she had no idea what the abbreviation stood for.
“Stella,” the bulbous nosed woman said, and stuck her hand across the counter and Jean reached for it. “New to the area?”
“Jean, Jean Harloe. And I’m vacationing. ” Jean shook Stella’s hand and smiled.
“Is that really your name or did you change it for the industry- because you might want to die your hair, hun.” Stella was smiling at her, a crooked smile that looked kind of painful.
“No, my name is really Jean Harloe,” Jean said, still smiling and shaking her hand.
“Well, some parents, huh? Where you from?”
“Salinas—“ the glass door swung open and the little bell chimed.
Stella held up her hand as if pausing the conversation in mid air and turned to greet the young man who had just entered. He was wearing sunglasses, and stooped a little, as if he was trying to look shorter, which was ridiculous—he was already short. Stella was talking to him in a friendly, familiar manner but her posture had stiffened. She was now moving in fluid motions, which would have been graceful if she hadn’t been forcing them, rather like a robot imitating ballet. And she was smiling oddly, and kept patting her frizzy hair.
The young man talked in a loud, slow monotone voice; it reminded Jean of molasses or sap. She listened to him tell a story about flying into LAX and drinking too much at one of the airport bars. He smiled slow too; the side of his mouth rose into a deliberate smirk as if he had spent all morning practicing it. And his hair! Dark, thick and curly; it would have been rather nice (it wasn’t curly like Stella’s), but he had molded it in a hairstyle much like Elvis. In fact that was who he somewhat resembled: Elvis. From his heeled boots to his beaten in black shirt and smirk, he looked like young Elvis incarnate.
Jean smiled at him, and he smiled right back at her. Stella was motioning behind his back and she looked at where she was pointing. She squinted at the framed photograph on the wall up behind the cash register, but couldn’t make out the name.
“New to the area?” the young Elvis asked without looking up from his coffee.
“Yes, I am vacationing.” Jean felt absurdly silly.
Young Elvis nodded, “in the Valley?”
Jean knitted her eyebrows together. “No,” she said slowly. “In Hollywood.”
Young Elvis laughed, “You aren’t in Hollywood lamb.”
“I know that, I’m on my way there today. In fact I was on my way there yesterday when my car broke down,” Jean trailed off, a bit perturbed. “I know where Hollywood is,” she mumbled.
He was looking at her, or rather his sunglasses were directed at her, she couldn’t really tell where he was looking. She thought for a moment that maybe he had fallen asleep or perhaps was looking at something else—maybe he was on a cell phone. Jean had heard about how small phones were becoming, maybe he had one in his ear, beneath all that hair. She tilted her head to look and then jumped when he spoke again.
“What’s your name?” He asked.
“Jean, Jean Harloe.”
Young Elvis thought this was incredibly funny, he laughed and laughed- he even took off his sunglasses to wipe at his eyes. Jean noticed that his eyes were brown, and felt slightly disappointed; didn’t Elvis have blue eyes?
He placed the glasses on the table, and Jean realized then that young Elvis was the man in the picture above Stella’s cash register.
“Are you an actor?” She said without hiding the awe in her voice.
Young Elvis stopped laughing, he tilted his head and pushed out his jaw. “Yes.”
Jean felt her stomach tighten and she placed her hand on her abdomen, “Really?”
“Yes, really- what kind of question is that?”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” She looked at Stella for help, but she just rolled her eyes and stomped into the back of the shop.
“Do I- um- do I know your, work?” She asked awkwardly.
“Did you see any of the Jerry Bruckheimer movies? Or the Michael Bay film that just came out?” He asked, and reached across his table for Jean’s cream cheese.
“No, I’ve only seen Jerry Bruckheimer’s talk show,” She said. He motioned at the cream cheese, and she, bewildered, nodded that he could of course have it—he was an actor for God sake. “Before they cancelled it of course- can you believe he was on Dancing with the Stars?”
He looked at her with a sort of sad, diminishing interest, and then shrugged.
“What’s your name?” Jean asked meekly, after a moment had passed.
Young Elvis bit into his bagel, the cream cheese smearing just above his lip. He grabbed at her napkin and used it to wipe his mouth, “Edward Blanco- but that’s my stage name.”
She waited a moment- did actor’s have fake names? She thought that they were all named those spectacular names at birth, like Cher or P. Diddy.
“My birth name is- well, IMDB me- it’s on there.” He leaned back against the red leather booth and casually rested an arm across its length.
She felt like he was waiting for her to say something so she blurted out, “What are you doing today?”
He raised his eyebrows as if an emotion was passing over him, but it hadn’t quite penetrated his skin, it only skewed a few of his features. “I’m driving back into town for a meeting with my agent and then grabbing dinner with some friends at this sidewalk café, they have the best pomme frites.” He kept his jaw jutting out, and looked at her with something near boredom and humor.
“What are you doing today?” He asked.
Jean was silent for a second, she felt empty inside. “Going to the Griffith Park Observatory.”
“To do what,” he asked, sounding accusing.
“To—to—watch people,” she said and felt heavy and light at once.
“Well, good luck with that, it’s been nice talking to you, Jean- Jean Harloe.” He laughed again when he said her name and held out his hand.
She shook it. He called back to her when he was in the doorway.
“Hey- I tell you what I’m going to do.” He looked at his watch, “At two o’clock I’m going to wave towards Griffith Park Observatory- I’m really going to do it, so look for me Jean Harloe.”
Young Elvis laughed- it wasn’t a malicious laugh, rather void of something, of everything- it was a practiced, hollowed out laugh: not worth the price of a matinee ticket.