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“I’ll restore you to a full head of hair of you sign the contract,” I said, trying to put as much force into my words as possible.

Steve glanced down from the illuminated mirror to the contract for a split second, and then back to the mirror.  “You’re asking too much,” he says.

“More than your leeching agent and manager?  More than the studio, sucking away your skill and making a thousand times off of your effort than you make?  They say you’re rich, but you make but a fraction of what you earn for the studio.”

“Still, it’s too much.  I don’t know what else is out there.”

“Believe me, not much.  Not anything better than what I’m offering you.  I’m a liar, I admit, but would I lie to you about this?”

“I don’t know,” he says.  This is typical of the Hollywood sort.  Actors like to pretend they’re geniuses, like the characters they so often portray, when in reality their intelligence is, on average, lower than the norm.

“Fuck you then,” I say.  “You’ll be bald in a season or two, and then what are you going to do?  You, and everyone else on your beloved show will be out of the job when your numbers plummet.  Americans might stand a bald guy on the morning news, but not for the lead of a sitcom.”

Through the mirror I see him frown, and then he spins around in his swivel chair so fast that I hear his back pop in several places.  Fixing his spine will be his next request after I talk him into this initial deal.

“I think you’re severely underestimating the market.  People are primed for change.  We have a black president, for Christ’s sake.”

“I’m much older than you, Steve.  I know better.  I know people.”

“Get out.”

I walk to the dressing room door and open it.  “See you next week,” I say, just before I open it and walk out.

“See you,” I hear him call meekly as I shut the door behind me.

“Now to the next cast member,” I say aloud, rubbing my hands together.  A passing writer looks at me sideways, and I cock my head and smile.  He keeps walking.

“Andrea,” I say, using my most reasonable tone, “The point is that you’re 40.  Even with plastic surgery, extensive plastic surgery, you’re looking at 5 more good years in your career, 8 at the most.  After that, you’ll be snagging nothing but a few guest appearances a year, playing spinsters and grandmothers.  Beauty, that’s what the viewers want.  That’s what I’m offering you.”

“I don’t believe you,” she says.  I raise an eyebrow, so she adds “I don’t believe you can do what you say.”

“I assure you, I can.  In any event, if it doesn’t work, which won’t happen, you won’t owe our company anything.”

“Nothing?” she asks.

“Nothing.”

“But if it works?”

“Then it’s something.”

As I exit the dressing room, I feel surprised at how easy it was.  I thought Andrea would have been the toughest of them all, what with all of her Christian preachings.  A proper little Lutheran girl, that one was.  Was.

“Ten years,” I say to Kel.  Nearing 60, near-obese, and black, Kel is one of my favorites.  “It’s the best I could get out of my bosses.”

“That’s more than reasonable,” he says.  “I’m in.”

Janessa will probably be the hardest, besides James, I remind myself as I walk into her dressing room.

“So they, my agent and manager, I mean, say that you’re some sort of consultant,” she says as soon as I walk in, before I can even get the door closed behind me.

“In a way,” I say, closing the door as quietly as I can.   She’s going to take a fine touch, this one.

“So tell me about your career,” I say, turning back to her.

“Well,” she says, and I can tell that she already knows my gig, “I’ve been working at it since I was about twenty.

“I grew up in Ohio, and came here after I became the star of the local theater culture over there.  ‘LA is the only place for you to go’, they said.

“I worked my way up diligently, taking any job I could, and working waitressing gigs as a stopgap.  I earned this.”

I love her.  Love her stubbornness, the way that her eyes gloss over as she reflects on the past, everything sprawling out in front of her in some holographic display only she could see, the way that her brow wrinkles as she reflects on these things.

“You worked hard, I admit,” I say, interrupting her.  “I know that.  But, the fact is you didn’t get your big break on the show until you were 28, practically ancient by starlet standards.  The show is ending, what are you going to do next?”

“I have some auditions lined up for movies.”

“You’ve already been in movies.  Bad movies, if I may be blunt.  The stinkiest of all movies to the studios: money losers.  You think the Finklestein brothers will be excited about having you in their next project?  I’ve read the script, and it’s really quite remarkable.”  She looks hurt, and I feel the tiniest bit bad for a moment.  “Those auditions won’t go well, unless you have my and my firm’s help.”

“And what do you want in return?  I’ll just face the surface of the su-“

“Shh, I say.  There’s no reason to discuss that all now.  Why don’t you just try a free trial, no strings attached.  I’ll give you my firm’s services free of charge for say, 6 months, and then and then at the end of it you can go whatever direction you want.

“I don’t know, I’ll have to get back to you on it.” She turns back to her mirror.  She’s trembling slightly, I see, and flicking her eyes to mine through the reflection every so often.  I give her my most sympathetic look.

“You don’t want to wait long.  Time is passing fast.  We’ll guarantee that you stay successful for the next thirty years.”

“Just go,” she says, and I walk out of the room.  “I’ll get back to you,” she says as I leave.”

Bored of wandering about the dressing room wing, I wander over to the set.  I’ve already got most of the crew under our wing.  Even under the union they are dreadfully underpaid, and only a few of them managed to resist the substantial bonuses we were offering.

“Come to see the final episode while it’s still in the sausage maker, eh Ace?” one of the crewmen, J-something, maybe Jack, says to me in passing, hurrying off carrying a lamp for one set or the other.

“Yes, going to make a killing,” I mumble absentmindedly, speaking so quietly that no one hears me, even myself.

I think back for a moment to how I got here.  A seemingly endless series of bad decisions, somehow, almost miraculously putting me into the semi-decent position I’m in now.  I think of of the hell I was in before, and shudder.

There is something magical about being on a set.  Everything is so fake, and yet so real at the same time.  If I look down, I see a normal American office, if I look up, I see a building sitting inexplicably in the middle of an enormous warehouse.

An overhead crane starts to lower down a set piece, and the drone of the machinery brings me back to existence.  I stand in awe as I watch the crew scuttle away from the crane, reflecting on how this work, this finale, will be seen easily by 40 million people after the broadcast and internet numbers are added up.  It might even pass the finale of MASH, the pinnacle of television success, set all the way back in the late 80’s.  I remember because I was there.  It’s mind-boggling, how well this show has been going.

Filming starts, and all of the actors take the stage, ready to play out imaginary people in an imaginary setting, like children, but it’s for the consumption and pleasure of adults.  Though I’ve seen it many times by now, I never cease to wonder why it all works.

The first few scenes are entertaining, in a bit of a mindless way.  The last episode of a 10-year run, this one seems to be more about nostalgia and feel-good convenient closures, rather than the normal humor of the show.  It’s tacky, but I can see why they’re doing it.

Bored, my mind drifts for a few moments to the cat sitting in a burlap bag in my trunk that I brought for lunch, and my stomach growls.  I lured it into my car out of an alley with a can of Delicious Dish on the way to the lot this morning.  The quarter Methaqualone that I mixed into the can had the cat out before it’d even finished half the can.  The 80’s are the only place I can still get ‘ludes from.  I hope that the cat doesn’t die from the powerful drug before I consume it.  Fresh meat is always better.  I like the first few bites to be heavily bleeding.

Steve will have his money and his full head of hair.  He’ll be sitting in a coma on a hospital bed while he enjoys them, eating from a feeding tube as harried nurses turn his blue body twice a day to prevent bedsores and keep the blood from settling.  Kel will get his additional years, but he’ll spend them in the bed next to Steve, his health slowly failing as he paranoidly follows every little story on Fox News.

Angela comes up to me during a break.  “I’ll take the deal, you don’t need me to sign it though,” she whispers in my ear.  She’s right, I don’t need the paper.  Her acquiescence is good enough.  She will have the eternal beauty she seeks.  After an unexpected car crash in two weeks’ time she’ll sit happily underneath the earth in an expensive box, immaculately preserved for the duration of her contract, after which she’ll rapidly dissipate into a particularly hideous skeleton that may be used for our work down the road as a soldier.  If only you thought to look left before you turned, I think as she smiles and turns away, seeing the future event in my mind’s eye as crystal clear as the day I saw it.

The director calls “CUT!”, and the actors start ambling off the stage. Some walk off quickly, while others go hesitantly, as if they can’t or don’t want to give up the illusion. They live in this world as their job, and much like the working woman sometimes loses track of which is her office self and which is her True self, actors often forget if they’re the role they play or the kid that grew up in Peoria, bullied so hard that she can’t remember a day she actually wanted to go to school.

Those that haven’t signed yet will eventually.  It’s just a matter of time.   It’s Hollywood, and everyone here has signed their soul away time after time.  What’s one more?  I reward them amply.  I may take things a bit literally from time to time, and I do have a penchant for playing pranks, but ultimately, everyone gets exactly what they ask for from me and my company.  I consider myself to be a generous being, all in all.

I turn to walk out.  Just as I’m almost out the door, I turn and give one last wistful look at the set as the crew scurries about to get the next scene ready.  I really loved the show.

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