Our employer's mod clifftop manor was 4 stories tall, built in the shape of a white 6-sided die. Each side was dimpled with a single dot: if you could roll the house, it would roll only is. The house was optically engineered to appear infinitesimally readier and readier, on consecutive viewings, to teeter off the cliff and into the bay.
"So does my house count as a symbol of something? If so, what?" our employer asked anew each time his long chopper tilted in homeward descent and his manor appeared below, shrunk by distance to the usual size of a die.
The six of us declined to comment. It was his house, and we felt that gave him first dibs on deconstructing its imagery.
Our employer's parents parentally detached years ago, going absent. Few gifts, fewer thank-you cards.
They lived back in Montana, were superficial Mormons fixated on floating a second, sexier child star across the headwaters of Mormon TV, down the tributaries of Disney, and into the kaleidoscope of the secular mainstream.
Our employer breakfasted in a sun-blanched mod breakfast cubby, lit by an in-house "sun" said to emit vitamin F--an unaccredited vitamin said to "accelerate problem-solving brain functions."
While our employer gnawed and swallowed his nibbles of bagel, we six stood lined up behind him in descending order of Heimlich proficiency He was 5'2", 120 lb.: a dispassionate grazer of greens and baked goods. The first objective of our Heimlich was Succeed; the second, Do not fracture him.
Midnights, deranged by insolvable fidgeting, our employer left his bed to wander his 14 hallways, each mooded by a different tint of pea green. In one hand he lugged with him an uncapped, sweating half-gallon of whole milk; in the other, an emergency pillow in case elusive yawns sifted up from his lactose-opiated little anatomy, at which point he would drop to the floor in pursuit of sleep.
Locating him curled up in a section of hallway, milk jug sitting vigil over his slumber, we six unfolded his gurney and wheeled him to bed. We were our employer's balding maternal brudes. Trim grey suits packaging porky shoulders. Fatherly hands, ready to assist, instruct, and defend.
We each had children of our own, lucid middle-class youth who, like panicked fauna in line of a wildfire, we trusted to identify and finesse life stressors.
Our employer, like a tourist in that line, we did not.
Some nights we six peeked at the camera feed but saw no fans at the gate. Just the permissive nodding of palm fronds under the floodlamp. Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.
"Any fans?" our employer prompted again on the intercom.
We feared to tell him the truth in case he got all sleepless and heartbroken, the way he had on nights we used to tell him the truth.
So we sent one of us out with cash from the incidentals budget to pick up a woman from a specialty pimp ("Pimp of the Stars") we'd located for the purposes of what he, this careful pimp, termed impostor jobs. "Maybe sex," we reminded these women, "maybe not. Be cool. As if it's enough just to be in his house, beholding him, or holding him. If he falls asleep, sneak away. Don't wake him to say goodbye." We unfoldered an enumerated crash course on impersonating fans of our employer.
1. Assure him that childhood Mormonism doesn't necessarily stunt an adult personality.
2. Ask him to enact notable scenes from favorites in his oeuvre
3. Below, his biography, as depicted in tabloids ...
Of course, most of these multicultural but all vaguely gazelleish women could already rattle through our employer's tabloid biography, even if they didn't care to.
And others of them really were solid fans, so.
Alone with us six in a studio elevator, our employer asked, "So, brudes, why don't I ever see your fans?" pointing at us and squinting, as if curious to lift our shirts and measure our navels. "You can have them over, if you want."
"We don't have fans," we said. "Not everyone does." Pensive stillness.
"Really?" our employer insisted. "Do yours maybe ... just not know where to find you?"
We bowed heads, conceding his maybe.
Our employer had a wife, a nonrapping pop diva preparing to exit her teens, at which point she would divorce our employer in robotic accord with the prenup, citing "divergent emotional potentials." The wedded couple interfaced once a week for a half-hour when she helicoptered to his house in the company of her private paparazzo to stage candid poses of wedded contentment.
We asked our employer: "Now as this copter lands, are you wincing because the blades fluster you or in hesitation over seeing your wife?"
Wincing, our employer said, "Both."
The shyness between husband and wife made their politeness a dry agony for all of us: thank you hunny this and please babe could you that and so tell me more about yourself.
"I miss my fans," he sighed to us as we dug his board shorts out from his backup dresser for some breezy handholding through receding tidal shallows on the beach below his cliff (die-shaped house teetering above). "So does she, I think."
To buoy spirits, we imitated waiters and plied the couple with espresso shots and snap peas served on pewter trays we salvaged from a cabinet in his untouched kitchen. The kitchen still ranked pretty far down on our list of rooms to tour our employer through and teach him the critical vocabulary of. It sat just above Laundry Room, just below Terrarium.
A line in our employer's homeschool curriculum read:
In Western culture, a spouse and his/her partner form a stable economic and sexual unit, in which monogamy establishes the trust needed to engage in mutual financial pursuits such as a home, childrearing, etc.
We took liberties and altered the line to fit more with his sense of the world:
In Western culture, a celebrity and his/her fans form a stable economic and sexual unit, in which low-expectation hook-ups establish the mutual gratification and sense of youth needed to relax, feel wanted, and support cinematic endeavors on both sides of the theater screen.
"Makes sense," he said, a week before acing his exam.
In place of friends and friendships, our employer spent his down time on patio tete-a-tetes with contemporary somebodies. Whenever the popular media elected a new somebody (ping-ponger, physicist, etc.), our employer would ask us, his six, to harass that individual with flattery until he or she agreed to a coffee date.
When reporting back to our employer, we always disguised a refusal as a scheduling faux pas.
"Scheduling must be a hard thing in life, huh?" our employer asked.
We nodded yes.
Our employer referred to somebodies as "people like me," though he said this humbly, without perspective, like an umpire nodding hello to an umpire or one cat napping on another. Somehow our employer's parents had taught him that his "somebodiness" was inevitable and therefore not much to be proud of. As in different but not better.
Once, two of us chauffeured the appointed "world's best" aphorist to the airport--had to listen to her mutter through drafts of an aphorism meant to summarize our employer.
"Talent is like a wave: it rises without intellect ... hm, er ... Talent is what we call inspiration before we unmask it as impulse ... Talent is just stupidity proven useful ... ner ..."
We dropped that thankless woman at the wrong terminal, then frowned at her obliviousness.
Our employer liked to leak photos of himself in various slouched reading postures, holding various enormous texts. In his library were stacks of books with bookmarks all marked at the second page.
"This guy's hogging fans!" he said, rushing to find us one morning after reading the first paragraph of The Emperor's Forbidden City.
The paragraph described an Emperor behind his walls with a thousand concubines and a hundred eunuch servants.
He read us a line:
The emperor preferred his to be the only penis his concubines had any concept of. It eased a mind otherwise rotted by jealousy.
That night our employer hired a writer and stayed up dictating a script in which a peasant sneaks over the forbidden walls and into the bedrooms of a thousand forbidden concubines over the course of three onscreen hours. The emperor senses trouble afoot when one of his concubines, instead of offering her usual encouraging moan, begins snickering into her hand. He violently upends his empire, sending eunuch soldiers to route out his priapic intruder--who ends up goading the concubines with a shepherd's staff into a stampede over the moat of the city.
Our employer titled his script Give and Let Give and cast himself in the lead.
We six covertly maintained two fake twitter handles in addition to our employer's official one.
The first, John Smyth, "a 52-year-old premiere acting coach," was a redundant testifier to our employer's talent, one who leaned pretty lamely on vocab like convincing, timeless, and fun to watch.
The second, Bo Larpentuer, was an 8th-grade stickler for onscreen originality who accused our employer of copying maneuvers off other actors (complete with youtube links).
Creatively, we six felt pinched between an angry professional fear of Larpentuer and an unwillingness to side with the creepy elder Smyth and his huggable phrases. The two characters had matured in directions we'd hardly intended, their fictional psyches grown beyond our power to convincingly revise. Late nights, we split into teams of three and authored long-volleying debates, our point being to have Larpentuer give Smyth a harrowing run for his money, then forfeit, citing inferior logic. Our tweets, seldom spaced more than a minute apart, were disguised by a littering of typos: run-ons, the messing of past tense and present, the swapping of wonder with wander.
Our employer was an anti-porn zealot.
At 19, he pulled assets from his line of dental whitening strips to produce and star in an ultimately unaired run of national PSAs on the importance of having sex with other people and not alone, with cinema. Onscreen, he sent heartfelt magnanimous frowns out to "the victims."
It was we (his all-purpose attendants, bodyguards, homeschooling tutors) who, on a morning years earlier, first informed our unworldly employer about porn--that there was such a difficulty in the world as porn.
"... oh and sometimes mechanized phalli get involved," we said, concluding our summary of the relevant physics. Our employer went pale with moral injury. He sank back shuddering, as if the fibers of his bathrobe were gently electrocuting him. Unappetitized, he slid his plated artisanal bagel toward us. We split it six ways--secret sneaking addicts of his chivey Neufchatel, a brand not sold in stores but sent around to socialites as catering promos.
"How can they do that to cameras?" our employer asked. He had whiled his accidentally friendless childhood in front of cameras, which a team of top-dollar adults had convinced him were very wise and ethical entities deserving of respect. To him, cameras were the glimmering eyeballs of delicate grandparents.
"Have you guys seen porn?"
We bowed heads in performance of shame.
In an upper quadrant of his mod clifftop manor, our employer kept an off-limits room, allegedly windowless.
One midnight, while wandering his halls with his pillow and sweating jug, our wide-eyed and lactose-flatulent employer rounded an upstairs corner and caught us, the six of us, knelt at the far end, attempting against our nightly boredom to view the off-limits room through its keyhole. We were just beginning to admit it might not be the kind of keyhole you can look through.
"Who said this was off-limits?" our employer asked. "Who said windowless? Did I?"
The handle was locked. Even the grip and twist of Darrel, our employer's trainer, failed to intimidate the lock. Against the door our employer pounded his petite fists--pleading, then pouty--as if fun people whom he loved had wittingly sealed themselves inside.
Weeks of unslept sleep sometimes precipitated in our employer, such that all at once he toppled back into our arms.
Like a trust-fall, we agreed, but unconscious. As in expressive of deepest unconscious trust.
When we received final notice that one of our imposter prostitutes had contacted People Magazine with her story and was encouraging her fellow prostitutes to do the same, the six of us took our employer aside and told him he was about to embark on the longest acting gig of his life.
"It's an epic fictional narrative shot in the form of a reality show," we said. "You're going to play yourself undergoing a prostitution scandal. Some of the cameras will be hidden and some will appear to be news cameras. You'll 'lose' this house, you'll lose' your money, but remember it's just a film. You'll have to stay in character for years and years, maybe for the rest of your life. It's all improvised, since you'll be on camera 24/7. You won't meet the director, but know that he picked you for this out of all available options. Lots of the footage'll be aired on TV news and everyone you meet will behave like they're extras in the film. Your character's misdeeds will sound so depraved and in such contrast to the cleanliness of his post-Mormon image that no studio or commercial house will hire him. Tons of his fans will turn against him and may not want to visit anymore, but it's all an act; in private they still love him. It's likely your character will undergo a kind of identity swapping program where they radically alter your appearance, marry you off to a suburban woman, and get you a job at a hardware store--but the concept team hasn't settled that yet. All in all, this is the biggest film ever made and it will immortalize you in the communal mind. It'll rank you among the most serious and committed actors of all time."
Our employer had a clarifying question. "How is one wife meant to replace all my character's fans? Is that believable?"
We explained that the one wife would attempt to serve as the sexual and encouragemental surrogate of so many fans.
"But don't expect her to do this perfectly," we said.
"Aha," he said. "So this is like a deep psychological movie."
"Exactly," we said.
Our poor gullible employer squinted with dictatorial grandeur, said the expectable stuff like Been preparing for a role like this all my life, then peered unseeingly out his vast bubbled window, the dot of the northern face of his die-shaped manor.
A ragged gull, arcing close, was enlarged horridly in the magnifying window. "Bah!" we all barked and sheltered our employer's head with our twelve practiced hands.
Stepping out today from the tour bus of our new employer, a popular musician, we six enter a hardware store in search of a 12.75" length of extension cord, or someone who can cut one to that size. Now that she's marketable, our new employer fetishizes precise lengths of cord.
And in the store, there he was--our old employer. Manning the register. Disguised in a blonde wig and a chipped incisor. His uniform: red polo, pressed khakis.
He really is a decent actor, our old employer. All through bagging our purchased cord, swiping our credit card, bagging our receipt, he held to character. He commented on the welcome puddles in the street, the emptiness of the store that day. We walked away convinced he actually is a cashier.
Which, duh, he is.
A moving performance, all in all, right down to the have a good day. Only once did his eye twinkle at us, in suppressed hello.
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|Publication:||The Carolina Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Short story|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2016|
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