A Los Angeles Friend by Pierrino Mascarino

The two men, Sam, and Frank, met on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles--old friends, but seeing each other less lately.

"Wow! Nice suit!" said fat Sam, smiling a florid smile that only slightly twitched his ruddy mouth comers, his ruddy face matched his red tie.

"My best clothes," said Frank to his old friend.

"Really? What's the occasion?"

"Just for remembrance, Sandy liked this suit," this embarrassed ruddy Sam, suddenly remembering with the remnants of a vestigial conscience that he had forgotten to attend or acknowledge or condole his friend Sandy's funeral.

Sandy and Frank had been his best friends when Sam first came to LA; but now--well, after all, ruddy Sam liked pleasant windy sunshine and quiet profitable dinner parties in expensive influential Santa Monica homes, preferably on the beach, ones with night illumined Palm trees out front, doorbells that chimed out a dozen notes. And inside, even if a rising actor were bored, he could at least make valuable show business contacts, but here, on boiling Fairfax Ave, Frank, Sam's former friend, now looked at him in an embarrassingly intimate way, as though Sam had given him some indication of sympathy, "you remember," Frank was saying, with a small smile, looking into the past, remembering,

"Sandy always liked seeing both of us, you and me back then, dressed up, remember when you only had one suit, I think it was also a blue one. This is Merino wool. This is my blue one. I used to wear this here only when I wanted to look as Sandy used to say, "distinguished," remember her saying that?

Remember how we used to make each other feel good before auditions? Pump each other up?"

"I see." Sam said shuffling, embarrassed, not wanting to remember those days, did not like this maudlin mention of Sandy, a dead person, felt it was in bad taste, the dead should be quickly forgotten especially here on this sunny street--what a way to spoil a sunny day.

So sweating Sam, suddenly, as though he had just remembered, now looked down at his watch, "Well--holy smokes, three o'clock--nice seeing you Frank, gotta get together sometime--wow! think my meter's expired--expensive tickets in this part of town."

The trouble for their friendship was that Frank had never really risen in the film business as Sam had because he really didn't know how to prioritize, how to make it his business, to make the right acquaintances: the ones that could help an enterprising actor and Sam had, in Hollywood parlance, left Frank behind. Not with talent so much, but with the right acquaintances and party going skills. So Sam knew that Frank was still poor and that the mention of money, a fine, would be persuasive.

But Frank, still lost in memory, did not seem to even hear him; "I always saved this beautiful deep blue suit and my soft gray suit for our special times, me and Sandy. All times are special now."

"Well, I'm off," Sam said, just as he used to when he was going to an audition, shuffling away now, "I'd like to stay and catch up"--the last thing Sam really wanted-- "but I gotta get to that meter right-a-way," trying to be leaving without seeming to do so.

But Frank was smiling his sweet sad smile that he always smiled in the old days, the same equanimity, the same friendly acceptance and nostalgic celebration of small things in life, now walking quickly along by his struggling friend, and saying, "Both of 'em, both my suits, made by the best Italian tailor in Toronto. Cost a thousand dollars apiece. Had a good job then, you remember? We had a party when I got the job. You told me it was just the beginning and that there would be many more and gosh wouldn't it be great if we could work together someday. Yes it was always someday. Sandy loved this one here specially. Sometimes I just walk around the streets remembering how good I felt walking with her wearing this suit, her whispering in my ear little sexy things. I think that was part of why I never really pushed in the business: I just liked so much being with her, being in love with her, our little house we rented and planted those flowers, you remember the flowers in the front yard? I can almost still feel her hand on my arm. "

"Well it sure is... seeing you Frank. Give Sandy...," and Sam stopped himself remembering that the Sandy he was about to send his regards to was dead. He had hoped to leave Frank here but Frank was still following. Frank saw this moment of embarrassment and guilt and said quietly, companionably, as he always had in the past, "I'll walk you to your car, Sam."

They walked along in silence for a few moments.

Years ago when Sam was new to LA and needed Frank for contacts, for a start in the business-ÂÁ he didn't even have an agent or know how to get one and Frank was more established, Sam then had been an affable, interested; and interesting man then, especially when Frank got Sam his first Hollywood agent, talked to his own agent asked him to take his friend Sam on and what good actor he was, and what wonderful experience he had had in repertory theatres and then when the agent was slow to do so, even got Sam into the auditions his agent had sent him out on. But that was before Sam really became a blank face, skating along the surface of life, an anesthetized California zombie, before he had acquired the alienated lexicon of these empty eyed soulless Los Angeles folk, that they were now passing near Cantor's delicatessen, a meeting place for Hollywood inhabitants, a place to be seen and re-establish contacts with others in this race of animate button eyed dolls.

"Gosh Frank," said Sam, not stopping walking, his shoes felt tight, hurt when he walked and squeaked, and "I hope you're parked this way too?"

Now outright hurrying, his Florsheim's flashing in the sun--he suddenly just remembered, with a small twinge, he also owed Frank a $1000, he had never paid Frank back--who was still beside him keeping up.

Frank's acting made Sam itchy. He had always been quite jealous of Frank's ability, it's richness and truth: it made him itch with envy. He always had dormant tension hives on the insides of his fat thighs. Sam guessed condescendingly, that Frank, poor fella, had gone nutty since Sandy's death, he knew that since he had gained weight he began to smell quickly when he sweat, and he felt drops running out of his hair just now, tickling his ear, "Wish I hadn't parked two blocks away--whew, that Cantor's air conditioning, I miss it, felt good while I was in there. Where are you parked?" Hoping it was not in his same direction.

Frank was not to be dislodged from his world of memory, "You know Sam, I always told myself me and Sandy were saving up the best part of our lives, saving up that enjoyment like it could just be done some day when we were completely ready, some time in the future; for instance we only put our special clothes on for our little infrequent celebrations--things we saved for and doled out to ourselves penuriously--no time was ever good enough for us quite yet. But it would certainly be someday...now time itself has gypped us, God took Sandy and only these little special things that we saved up are left, little remainders, like this suit, are left. And I'm trying to enjoy them for both of us. You should see the gray one, fits terrific." Sam said, "I hate taking you out of your way," Sam's shoes burned on this hot street; silly talking sideways to this persistent sadsack Frank, "well...look at this Jane put me another handkerchief in here," and then was wishing he had not alluded to his wife especially since the subject of wives had provoked so much... " women, what would we do without 'em? Well... "

But thinner Frank was not at all winded by Sam pace, and even able to go on talking and walking, "Look," said Sam, "there's George Harrison over there. Hi George. How's the wife?" George Harrison didn't have time to answer, Sam was reluctant to break or even slow his pace, just to stand and boil in the sun, but it kept going and answered George Harrison back as though he had answered and in the affirmative, "Good good."

Frank went on, "Gray is such a binding color, makes everything else come together. If Sandy wore her green and blue dress it looked nice with my gray suit--I'm using them up, our rainy day treats, the reserves. All our tip top best moments."

"Ah, I'm gonna tum right at this comer here. Good God!" An enormous black shiny rushing form flashed its chrome almost into Sam stepping off the curb: a speeding Mercedes black car.

"Careful!" Frank held him back, "you're a little winded and overheated. Sun's in your eyes here, they come around this comer so fast. Dangerous. Are you all right? You see there's just no figuring it out, when it's gonna happen "

"Look Frank," Sam breathing hard now, in exasperation and really frightened by this sudden intrusion of mortal reality, "I... Sandy... Life goes on."

"It certainly does in some fashion. The car could have ended it for you in just a moment; God could've decided that he was lonely for you. But life doesn't go on with any gusto or passion unless we really celebrate it. See this? Silk tie. Silk has a special feel don't you think?" Taking his still shaky friend's arm, "and on and on life goes. So I'm using up the best stuff now, all the little sweet extravagances, saying all the things to anybody who'll listen what I should have said to her now, perhaps see only to myself, but they still count, she still hears them like, "I love it when the light hits your eyes like that," or, "love it when you touch me on the back of my hand..." or," when you cook that spaghetti with that great sauce specially for me... The echoes of his life are deafening Sam."

"I'm parked in either this block or the next one over the... "

"That blue dress makes your hair so beautiful I want to touch it, touch all of you... I should have said it to her, Sam, and said it to her over and over again because just the saying is a pleasure. Just all by itself. Ever notice that? You don't want to do it--you think maybe you don't know how to do it right or it'll make you look weak to her, sentimental or corny or some damn thing but once you get started you know it's right; feels good to say those things, to take a chance just for a moment. Everytime you say one of those loving words it gives you back 10 times more courage to say again and again.

Being happy was a skill I was just getting the hang of..."

Sam now realized that his gasping exasperation had led him to go past his car or tum down the wrong street he wasn't sure which, "That, I'm sorry Frank--just not sure where...! think I parked in the middle of the block and came here to the comer and then turned right."

"Easy. That's a high curb to stumble on. You'll hurt yourself. Are you okay? All those shining pretties in my life, were just supposed to be there and me not bother to notice. I held back saying anything for some special time. Maybe to get some something from her or get her to say them first, so I stinged those things I should have said say, stingy with them. I dribbled them out so the saying wouldn't get old...so she wouldn't laugh at me, get tired of me -- maybe that's it--maybe it was revenge for when I wanted her to understand but she never did understand what was I was feeling, and of course that was because I kept it secret and then I was mad when she didn't somehow guess--or took it the wrong way, didn't want to take a chance. Or that I was still mad at her from our last fight. That if I said them," he thought deeply for a moment and remembered, "I just can't imagine how anything was ever important enough for us to fight about. "

"Look Frank, I hope things get better for you...I can't find my keys."

"I have them. Sentimental or corny, I thought all those things, I thought they were, don't you see? Don't you see it, that I would put myself in a bad position with her? It's all beside the point now. "

"What is?"

"You're in a hurry Sam. Don't be."

"I am. But we'll have lunch sometime soon. Where did I leave my keys?"

"You dropped them on the rug. We won't have lunch. I couldn't stand to watch you eat. You're two hundred and 60 pounds--! want to show you something ."

"A mirror?"

Frank pointed to Sam's ruddy face perspiring face in the mirror.

"That man is the point. You are forgetting everything, everything that is part of our lives, part of the tenderness part of you. You even forgot I called and told you Sandy died two months ago."

"I'm sorry."

"No, you're not. You're fat. You're morbidly obese."

"Look Frank..."

"You will ignore everything I'm saying and test your life to a bust, you'll go on doing what you have done before, until all time runs out for you too--but I said it all. I wish someone had said it to me when there was still time for it to mean something. Everyone deserves to be confronted. When you and Titania were married you had a special light in your eyes: like you struck gold. You showed her off. Then I said to myself there's man who knows how. She glowed in your admiration."

"Look Frank, a street comer is not the place to have this discussion."

"If not here, where? if not now, when?"

"Well, let me have my keys... "

"And you were right, Titania loved you back, but that made you nervous; came too easy; you couldn't be deserving it... "

"I didn't... "

"No, you couldn't get over being the boy you were when I knew you before acting, before Hollywood, before all the ambition just crowded everything else out of your life, at St. Patrick's 35 years ago, little boy that nobody had any time for... "

"What is this? Popular psychology? Some book you read? I know it's tough but you got no right to take it out another people. Do you think your life has been so terrific and you did everything right?"

"The opposite. I'll give you you're keys in a minute. No one talks to you like this or ever will except me. Titania still loves the you that was. That handsome thin healthy young man you were once... she hasn't forgotten."

"Frank, I know you mean well... "

"I don't know ifl mean well... "

"I'm sure another time... "

"No, you're wrong about time, it doesn't stretch."

"Gives me my keys this instant. I could have you put in jail for this. This is kidnapping. How dare you?"

"Right. How dare I?"

"I suppose you think "

"No, I don't anymore. I did too much of that. Now I just do what there's still time to do. This is a nice car."

"You always were crazy."

"Right. Crazy. Here are you're keys."

2008- Mascarino

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