Jimmy was sweating in the midsummer heat, counting all the places he used to work at as he passed them. Tending bar at The Friar, waiting tables at Chef Bianco’s and Eleganza, several taxi companies he identified by cab markings as they beeped and honked their way through the congested street. He stopped to wipe the greasy pomaded sweat off his forehead and light a cigarette, wondering where he would have to work next if his script didn’t make it. Money was still rolling in from the last movie he did, a leading role in a low budget mobster flick, but rent for his shitty studio apartment was due in two weeks and what he had left in his bank account wouldn’t cover it. He started to regret all those weeks he spent writing, a hefty drain on his account. He couldn’t just sit down and write, he had to spend countless hours planted in a stool at The Friar, drinking expensive whiskey and talking about the screenplay to anyone who would listen. They’d regret not taking him seriously and he told them so, going off on long drunken tangents that he thought were Shakespearean but were really just semi coherent ramblings he would come to regret the next day. It didn’t matter to him, there was truth in it– what was that old saying, in vino veritas? The saying made him shudder if he kept thinking about it. He flicked his cigarette, half smoked, into the street. A cab ran it over.
He came to the office building and hit the bathroom in the lobby before going to talk to the receptionist. He looked at his face in the mirror after splashing some water on it, trying to rid himself of anxiety. He smoothed his slim mustache and ran a comb through his greasy hair. He rubbed his pockmarked cheeks and tried to psyche himself up. This is your moment, Jim, he read your script and he’s gonna give you a green light, take it easy. He nodded with faux confidence at his bloated reflection and sprayed a shot of cologne on his neck before heading back into the lobby. He greeted the receptionist with a smile.
“Hey there sweetie, James Spagnuello, here to see Mr. Lasten at 3:30?”
The receptionist looked at his long toothed smile with disdain. “You’re early Mr. Spagnuello. Let me see if he’s available.” The fucking bitch knew he was available, he was barely early at 3:23pm. His smile faded and he stared off past her shoulder at the door to his office while she phoned him. “Mr. Lasten? There’s a Mr. Spagnuello here to see you, should I let him in?” Pause. “Ok,” she said, hanging up the phone. “Mr. Lasten will see you now.” He turned his smile on again. “Thanks hun.” He strolled with confidence past her desk. She shook her head behind him and went back to regarding her fingernails.
When he walked in the door, Lenny Lasten stood up with open arms. “Jimmy!” His greeting was protracted, like they were old friends.
“How ya doin, Mr. Lasten, thanks for takin the time to meet me today, I really appreciate it, I really do,” Jimmy said, going in to receive a handshake that was rigorous and overly tight.
“Take a seat, can I get you something to drink? Water bottle, cappuccino? Wait, let me stop right there. I know what’ll get you going,” Lasten said, picking up his phone. “Cath? Get two bourbons in here, on the bounce, we’re thirsty in here!” Hanging up the phone, he gestured at the leather chair across from his desk. “Jimmy, please, take a seat. Take a load off, I read your script, I wanna talk to you about it.”
“Ah that’s great Lenny–Mr. Lasten, that’s just great.” Jimmy sat down.
“Lenny’s fine, Jim, cmon, how long we known each other? How’s your mother? I heard she took ill a few months back.”
Jimmy winced. “She uh, she passed, Len.” He lifted his hands and held them upturned for a second before letting them drop back into his lap. Lasten’s smile disappeared and he took on an overly concerned look.
“How you taking it Jim? I know you two were close.”
“I’m doin ok, Len, I’m doin ok, y’know? Just been writing, working my coglioni off, y’know? I think I really got somethin here. What’d you think of the script?”
“Let’s wait until the drinks get here, we can talk about it like gentlemen, right? You know, a lotta guys have been worried about you. You know the whole bit, it gets me worrying. Pictures are a risk to take on these days, Jim, if a guy’s stressed out, maybe he’s not ready to take on a feature production.” Jimmy was silent. Lasten shook his head. “I don’t know, Jim. Ah, there she is, about damn time Cath, we’re parched!” The receptionist placed two filled glasses and a bottle of whiskey down on the desk. Lasten picked his up and held it in the air. “What is it you guys say, salud? Whadya say Jim?”
Jimmy sighed and picked up his glass. “Salud.” They drank together, and a brief moment of silence passed, comforting Jimmy. He spoke first. “So what’d ya think, Len? Did you read the script?”
“Whole thing, Jimmy, I read it all.” He took a deep breath through his nose and smiled weakly. “How can I put this… Jimmy, you’re a mob guy, why do you wanna go this route?”
“I don’t wanna do mob pictures no more, Len, I’m tryna branch out. I put my whole heart into this thing, you didn’t like it?”
“It’s not that Jim.” Lasten looked at his finger as he traced it around the edge of his glass. “It’s just that… this isn’t what we were expecting, is all. Mob pictures are a no brainer, the sets are easy, the effects are easy, mob guys are a dime a dozen.” That made Jimmy wince. “No, no, I’m not saying anything like that about you, Jim, you were one of the best. You could be up there, look at what Pacino’s doing now, and that other guy, De Niro. They’re killing it. This script you sent me, I looked it over, it was good, I loved it. Personally? If it was up to me Jim?”
“I’d greenlight it and throw half a million at it, no problem. But you gotta take in the angles.”
“What angles, Len?”
“Investors, marketing. I just think,” Lasten uncorked the bottle and refilled the glasses, “that maybe now just isn’t the right time, is all. I got 3 pictures coming up, mob stuff, you’d be a real shoe in. Take the work, get your affairs in order, we can revisit this in a few months.”
Jimmy blew air. He wasn’t totally surprised, but it still hurt anyway.
“Get my affairs in order? Whadya mean by that, Len? I took a few weeks off to write this thing, and now you’re telling me I need to get my affairs in order, what is that? What’s this really about, you didn’t like the script, that’s what I’m hearin.”
Lasten took a sip. “Jim, I’ll be square with you here. The script is fine, it’s weird, it’s creepy, sure, you’re getting over your mother, I know, you’re tryna make art or something, I know what art is, what it involves. I can see it, it’ll be big one day. But look…”
“I’m fine, Len. Don’t keep bringin up my mother, ok? You’re startin to piss me off now.”
“Jimmy, Jimmy,” Lasten said, with that drawn out way he had of saying Jimmy’s name. “Look at yourself buddy, you’re a mess. You wanna star in your own picture, direct your own picture, and it’s about, what? It’s fucked up, and I get it, I know art, I know you’re tryna make art, but to be completely straight with you, it’s fucked up. Nobody’s gonna wanna watch this shit, not right now, with everything you got going on? Come on, I’m sitting here with three pictures, three, Jimmy,” Lasten moved three fat fingers back and forth in the air, “you could do good with these, make a little dough, get your shit together…”
“I don’t need a little dough Len, I don’t need to get my shit together, I need you to give me the green light on this, it’s my life’s work.”
“I don’t think the time’s right on this one, Jim. Listen, take on a little work, we’ll revisit this later, ok? How’s that sound?”
Jimmy waved his hands at Lasten, as if he could produce a gust of wind that would blow the fat little executive backwards and through the window behind him. “I, I’m done here, Len,” he stood up and pushed the chair forward, “I don’t need this shit. Take your charity work and shove it up your stronzo, ok? I don’t need this.”
Lasten stood up as Jimmy opened the door. “I’ll always have something for you, Jim. You change your mind, you come back, ok?” Jimmy smirked at him, a silent ‘fuck you’ as he gently closed the door behind him.
“Have a good night, hun,” he said as he walked briskly past the receptionist.
He stopped at a corner store and bought a small bottle of whiskey and smokes. He was feeling down, more than usual, so he decided he would take a detour at Marie’s. He stopped at a payphone and rang her.
“Yeah?” Her voice was old and brittle.
“Marie, it’s Jimmy.”
“How you doing Jimmy? You ok? You sound like you ain’t ok.”
“I’m ok, Marie. You think I can stop by? I need to hear you sing.”
She chuckled. “You know I love singing, Jimmy. Wish more people would ask me that. Come on by, just give me twenty minutes, I’m still in my robe.”
“I’ll be by in an hour, that sound good? I need a little time to get ready, myself.” As if the phone wires plugged directly into Jimmy’s soul and Marie’s smile could travel through them, he felt it, warm and comforting.
“I’ll see you in an hour then,” she said. He hung up the phone and walked to The Friar. Marie lived three buildings down from it, so he had almost an hour to drink, leaving aside the 10 minutes it would take to walk to her building and up the stairs to her room.
“Jimmy!” The same extended pronunciation of his name that Lasten had given him, except this time issued to him by the bartender at The Friar. “How’d that meeting go?”
“It went good Lou, it went real well. The studio needs a little time to hash out the details, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
“Thank God Jimmy, last thing I wanted to hear you ranting about was this script not working out. How you feeling today? You don’t look so good.”
“I feel good, pour me a double, would ya? I gotta get home to work on that script, tighten up some corners.”
“Sure thing Jimmy.”
Jimmy spent the better part of an hour chugging whiskey and checking the time. He slid the bar stool out. “Well Lou, my time is up,” he said, tapping his watch. Lou saluted him.
“See ya tomorrow, Jimmy.”
Jimmy opened the door to Marie’s building. There were always bums or whores in the lobby, he hated bums. Whores didn’t bother him too much, but he hadn’t been in the mood for them lately, not since his mother passed. He blew smoke at them, silently dismissive, as he went for the steps, forgoing the elevator as its pissy smell upset his stomach.
Marie opened the door. “Marie, you’re dressed to the nines, you didn’t hafta do all this for me.”
Marie smiled and hugged him. “How you holding up Jimmy?”
“Eh, not so good Marie, I’ll be honest with ya.”
Marie’s room was, much like herself, a throwback to the 50’s. Yellow and pale blue floor tiles, cyan green wallpaper. Her furniture was immaculate and matched the wallpaper. She brought him into the living room and he plopped down on her cyan sofa, squeaking against the tight plastic that covered it.
“Can I make some coffee Jimmy?”
“I got my own beverage here, Marie, you don’t mind, do ya?”
“You know I hate that stuff.” She sighed. “I know you’re in a bad way,” she said, exasperatedly, “go ahead.”
“Thanks Marie.” He unscrewed the cap and tipped it upside down. He squeezed the plastic bottle as he chugged a third of it, bubbles rising to the bottle’s upturned bottom.
“I know you’re in a bad way, Jimmy, but you’re killing yourself.”
Jimmy leaned back and closed his eyes. She sat down next to him, gently touching his knee. He put his hand on hers. She patted his hand with her free one, and then stood up. “You know I love singing for you Jimmy, I just hate seeing you this way.”
“Just sing Marie, please? I had a really bad week, I just wanna hear you sing.”
She cleared her throat and began to sing, her trademark rendition of O Mio Babbino Caro. She couldn’t look at Jimmy when she sang, she couldn’t look at anyone, but when she was finished she looked down at him on her couch. He was white knuckling the bottle and his eyes were closed tightly, tears streaming from each of them. She again took her position on the couch next to him, half sitting. She stroked his hair, as much as the thick grease disgusted her.
“Everything’s gonna be ok Jimmy, everything’s gonna be ok.”
He nodded and swallowed. “I know, Marie.”
“Do you want me to sing another one?”
He shook his head, wiped his eyes and opened them. He took a quick swig off the bottle and pocketed it. “Nah, that’s ok. Thank you, really. I needed that.” He stood up. “I gotta go.”
“If you ever need to talk, I’m always here Jimmy.”
“I’m not one for talkin, you know that Marie.” He smiled, but it was wrong. “Thanks. I’ll see ya later, ok? Thanks again, I really appreciate it.”
“I worry about you Jimmy.”
He nodded. “I know. But ya don’t need to, I’ll be fine, I promise. Thanks Marie, I’ll see ya later.”
“Any time Jimmy. Nobody wants to hear me sing anymore, it makes me feel nice.”
“It makes me feel nice, too, Marie. I’ll see ya later.”
He opened the door to leave. “I’ll see ya soon, ok?”
“See you, Jimmy.”
The old lady was alone again. She wondered, like every other time she sang for him, if she would ever see him again.
— William Dustice