When I met him, it was by chance in a quiet bar in 1940 Hollywood. I can still remember it as clear as if I were looking him square in those energy filled blue eyes right now.
He was a bit too shiny for the place, if that was possible, but no one seemed to pay him any attention. It was as though he was part of the furniture. He belonged there.
I slid onto a stool as Eddie walked up to take my order. “What’ll you have? Bit early for you isn’t it?”
“Just a beer today, Eddie. I got a date later.”
Bushy eyebrows rose and tobacco stained teeth showed behind thick lips. “Bring her by here, I’ll set you up nice.”
I smiled but didn’t commit to anything. Figaro’s Bar was fine for a few with the boys at night, but a dame didn’t belong here. I took the mug of amber liquid and took a sip. My smile was the show appreciation Eddie had waited for. He was one of the best in the business. He remembered what people liked, and I liked my beer warm. You can’t taste an iceberg. If I wanted something cold, I’d ask for milk.
Leaning against the bar, I checked the mirror that ran above the length of bottles and glasses. I didn’t see any of the boys around to talk with. That’s the first time I saw him. Like I said, he was shiny, shiny on the outside of a worn out inside. He had sheets of paper in front of him and the glass he had wasn’t for beer.
“Guy’s a writer,” Eddie said, following my eyes. “Comes in here around this time every day. Says it helps him escapes life. I asked if it was the wife, he said she wouldn’t be caught dead in here. I get the feeling he wishes she would be caught dead somewhere.”
I didn’t like the chuckle Eddie gave. Maybe it was the amusement in his eyes. He thought he was being funny. Death wasn’t something I played around with, even in jest.
There was something about writers that intrigued me. Writers were strange people. They could make you believe things by using words and nothing else. It was like magic without the tricks. Everything was laid out in front of you but you still got fooled. No film or sound effects, just words, and you would swear you heard explosions, music, and you felt the girl in your arms and smelled the perfume as you kissed her.
He saw me coming. I guess it’s hard to miss me, being a big six footer with red hair. Hollywood wasn’t overrun with my type yet, but I wasn’t ever mistaken for Leslie Howard or Spencer Tracey.
He laid his pencil down about the time I reached his booth. “Is there something I may assist you with?”
He had class. The man was educated for sure. Better, even than the people I met though my work, and I met a lot of people up and down the money living line.
“Eddie said you were a writer and I wanted to ask you something.”
He smiled and leaned back stretching his shoulders. “Have a seat and ask away. I might even answer, if I have one. Writers don’t really know much about writing. We’re too busy being in the middle of it to think about it.”
I slipped into the booth. “So, how do you do the magic that you do with words? How do you take something so simple and turn it into something people, thousands of people, will breathe heavy over rushing to turn the page?”
“Be a whore.”
That wasn’t what I was expecting. “A what?”
He emptied his tumbler and signaled to Eddie before answering. He laughed. “It’s an old joke between me and a friend of mine, Ernest. Write your guts out and lay it all on the page. That’s art, that’s writing. If you want to eat, then you add the tits and ass, the sex and crime the public these days want to read about.”
I remained silent. The illusion I had of a writer was gone in under two minutes. I don’t think I’d ever heard anyone sound so bitter. “Then why do it at all if you hate it so much?”
Eddie set another glass down filled to the rim with something dark and dangerous for that time of day. “I don’t hate writing, I hate money. I hate having to have money. Money ruins a creation, art. All it does is create demons and evil.”
“Then write what you want to and live different.”
A smile spread across the handsome face. “Too many responsibilities for that. I knew what I was getting into when I became a writer. Writing a novel . . . you become famous after you are dead. To make a living you write for the magazines or film. You copy yourself and repeat the process over and over again. What works once will work again. I still write for myself, for after my death’s success.” He tapped the pages in front of him.
I shook my head. I couldn’t understand why stay in such a business. “Looks to me like this job would wear you down, instead you still look like you’re enjoying it. Why not try something else? How do you find the ability to keep going?”
The man stared at the glass on the table, cupped between his hands. “You need to find the energy to keep going in any business. Where do you get the will power to keep going? Some think I find it in this.” He picked up the glass and took a sip.
He set the glass back down and looked at me. “No. I find numbing escape from certain parts of my life. I will say that much. To the subject of energy when faced by time after time of compromising your work to make a living, I have one thought that comes to mind. Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.”
“Hey, Scott, telephone.” Eddie’s voice echoed in the quite bar.
“Excuse me a moment,” Scott said as he slipped from the booth.
As he went to the phone at the bar, I glanced over at the first page he’d been working on. Across the top was scribbled The Love of the Last Tycoon. Maybe it was going to be a movie or something.
Scott rushed back to the table. “Sorry, I have to rush out.” He gathered the pages into a stack. “I completely forgot about a movie premiere I’m to attend tonight.”
“Oh, which one?”
“Something with Rosalind Russell and Melvyn Douglas. I think it’s called This Thing Called Love or some such.”
He reached out one hand and I stood taking it. “Nice to have met you,” Scott said.
“You to, hope you keep that vitality going. Oh, and have a Merry Christmas.”
“You to.” He smiled, turned, and headed for the front door.
Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.
I guess that goes for people like me. I take hit but I keep coming back to be hit again or maybe dodge the punch next time.
Sitting my empty mug on the bar, I fished into my pocket. “Scott took care of you,” Eddie said.
“No, he’s a good guy, especially when he’s not around those society types. He likes being a normal guy. I don’t treat him like nothing special except keeping people out of his business when it gets crowded in here.”
“He was working on a book. I can see how this would be a good place to do that.”
“He’s good too.” Eddie stepped away to the cash register and came back. “Here, you can borrow this. And I mean I want it back. He signed it for me and everything. Got it?”
I did. I looked at the cover. The Great Gatsby
“Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.” F. Scott Fitzgerald (September 24, 1896 – December 21, 1940)
Fitzgerald was living in Hollywood with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, when he died the morning after attending a movie premiere with her.
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