Are You Somebody?
She knew who he was. She had been following him for weeks. Tailing him like a detective. Getting to know his patterns, his habits. And now she was crossing the line. Her world merging with his: the beginning.
"Hey," she said.
He looked up, briefly, but didn't stop walking.
"You're that guy," she continued. "The actor. From that show. I used to watch it all the time growing up. That was a great fucking show. They sure don't make 'em like that anymore."
This was out on the sidewalk, in front of a Starbucks, West Hollywood, the sun crackling above. He: coming out. She: going in. Though she had been waiting. Waiting to run into him like this. Timing it just right.
"Thanks," he said, stopping now.
"It is you, isn't it?"
"It's me all right," he said.
He sounded a little sad, admitting who he was.
"I knew it. I said, I said to myself, 'That's the guy. That's him.'"
"Would you like an autograph?"
A part of L.A., because where else would he live? He had a baseball cap on. And sunglasses, the large wraparound kind. Although, really, there wasn't much of a danger of him being recognized. He hadn't worked in years. And he looked different. He looked old, even with the sunglasses and cap.
"That's sweet of you. Really, it is. But it's not that. I just saw you and thought, 'That's him. That's the guy.' I loved that show. And that movie you did about the football player with the disease."
"You remember that?"
"Sure. And I always thought you should have been nominated. You know, for the Oscar, I mean."
He smiled. He liked that.
"What's your name, darling?"
It was going to be easier than she thought.
He lived in the Valley. She lived here and there, all over, crashing with friends or somebody's cousin who didn't care. Most recently it was a vacant condo in the desert, La Quinta, out near Palm Springs, until all the bullshit with William and the checks happened and she had to leave. It was there, by the pool one day, that one of the condo residents told her something. She told her that the next best thing to being a celebrity was marrying one.
"But you don't go after an A-level-type celebrity," the woman explained. "That would be too obvious. Not your Brad Pitt. Not even your B-level. You go to C and D. Your formers and has-beens. People you'd recognize on the street but maybe not know their names. They wouldn't be as suspicious. People who were in a show that made it to syndication. Then it's just like walking up to a cash machine. They get these residuals. The checks just pour in. Ka-ching. The older the better."
The woman's face was tanned to a crisp. Her skin didn't look real, like if you touched it, it would come off in your hands, like putty.
Her new name, the one she chose on the drive from the desert to L.A., was Linda. Linda Snow. Snow, because it had been so damn hot and the car's air conditioner barely worked and she was trying to think of something cool, the opposite of her current situation. She believed in the power of the mind.
"The worst thing, Linda, the worst thing, is when people come up to you," he confided to her in bed, after, as she raised her hips and then kept still, helping to move things along. "When they come up to you and they're not sure, you look familiar, but they're not sure, and they say 'Are you somebody?' That hurts. That's always hard to hear. Are you somebody? Of course I'm somebody. We're all somebody. It's just—well, do you know what I mean, what I'm trying to say?"
"Sure, baby. I know what you mean."
"It's like I should be somebody but I'm not. And what can I say? If I say I'm somebody, then it's like I'm wanting the attention. But if I say I'm not, not somebody, how does that sound. 'No, I'm nobody.' Weird."
"You worry too much, baby. You know that? You're a little worrywart."
"I think I need a new agent. The guy I got isn't doing shit for me. He's a little punk."
"Then fire him. Fuck him."
"All right. He's gone. Tomorrow."
"Why not call him now?"
"It's almost midnight."
"Fuck it. Fire him right now. Wake his ass up."
He laughed. Picked up the phone.
"I like your style," he said.
The show ran from 1978 to 1984. Plus reruns of course. She'd seen him so many times over the years, a face as familiar as her sister's. And now she was living with him. No formal decision had been made, no conversation had occurred. It just happened. She moved in. She was living there.
He didn't have a mansion or anything. Just a regular house in a regular neighborhood. But nice. He did regular things, too, and that was hard getting used to, because somehow she thought he would be different. But he brushed his teeth. He snored. He clipped his toenails without cleaning them up. He hated oregano and rap music. He got quiet. He cried sometimes too.
Not the first test, but the second test: positive. But she'd known. She could feel it, the life taking root inside her. Now she was in. Set for life. So far he'd been cool on the idea of marriage—or rather, his business manager had been cool on the idea of marriage—but give it time, give it time.
Standing in the newly remodeled kitchen, mixing his daily scoop of Metamucil into his orange juice, he said, "Funny how random life can be."
She hadn't told him about the test. Soon, but not yet. Instead she imagined him seven months from now: an old man with a baby, a baby boy or girl who would grow up without knowing a father, only the former-cop-turned-private-detective who would appear periodically on a screen.
"You just walk into somebody one day, literally walk into them as they're walking into Starbucks and you're walking out, right on the sidewalk there, and then your life changes. All because of something completely random."
She ran a finger across the granite countertop, a gesture that she associated with TV commercials and living the good the life: if you had a kitchen countertop worth running a finger across, then you'd made it.
"Things happen the way they happen," she said, and he kissed her fatherly on the forehead and went into the living room to drink his juice and read his paper and then watch TV, the morning just like any other.
He was sixty-seven and his doctors were worried about white blood cell counts and bone density. More tests were scheduled for next week.
Downstairs, upstairs—she spent the rest of the morning walking through the house that eventually would be hers, taking inventory. Lately she'd been going back to something her third husband (she was Angela Taylor then) once said: "It's going to catch up with you. The ride will end. Somebody's going to come along and make you pay. Your luck will run out. Everyone's always does. Just the law of the universe."
Until then, she thought. Until then I'm still free.
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