Authors: Armistead Maupin
For Tamara De Treaux
Tammy phone home
**** D: Philip Blenheim. Mary Lafferty, Roger Winninger, Callum Duff, Maria Koslek, Ray Crawford. A shy 11-year-old boy (Duff) discovers a displaced elf living in the woods behind his family’s suburban tract home. A warm, enduring fable of almost universal appeal about the nature of being different. Screenplay by Dianne Hartwig. Kevin Lauter’s beguiling sets, featuring the most magical trees since THE WIZARD OF OZ, won him an Oscar.
Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies and Video Guide 1992 Edition
THE DIARY WAS RENEE’S IDEA. SHE RAN ACROSS THIS NOTEBOOK
A WEEK LATER. ON MY AIR MATTRESS IN THE BACKYARD.
IT’S LATE AND I’M POOPED, BUT I’M WORKING AGAIN. THE
FIVE DAYS LATER. BACK ON MY AIR MATTRESS.
IT’S LATE, BUT I OWE YOU AN ENTRY.
RENEE WAS A NAVY BRAT, BORN AND RAISED IN SAN
TODAY, ACCORDING TO THE PAPERS, L.A. HAD ITS LAST TOTAL
THERE’S SOME BIG STUFF TO TELL YOU, BUT I’LL START WITH THE
I WOKE UP THIS MORNING AND FOUND A MOUSE IN A TRAP RENEE
A NEW JOURNAL, PLEASE NOTE—SMALLER THIS TIME BUT MUCH
I HAVEN’T WRITTEN FOR WEEKS. I’VE BEEN STRICKEN WITH WHAT
THIS STRANGELY OFF-KILTER DAY STARTED WITH A WEIRD PHONE
SO FAR, I HAVEN’T TOLD ANYONE WHAT HAPPENED ON CATALINA.
I’VE SWITCHED TO THIS KIND OF NOTEBOOK, WHERE I CAN
SOMETHING UGLY HAPPENED TO RENEE LAST NIGHT, SO SHE’S taken
I’VE BEEN AT ICON ALL DAY—THE ACTUAL STUDIO, NOT THE
THERE WAS A SMALL FIRE AT THE FABRIC BARN LAST
FIVE DAYS SINCE THE BIG LUNCH, AND STILL NO WORD
I’M SO MAD I COULD SPIT. ONE WEEK AND TWO
IT WAS RAINING HARD WHEN NEIL BROUGHT ME TO HIS
A DAY LATER, THANK GOD.
FIVE DAYS TO GO.
I’VE JUST HAD A WEIRD THOUGHT. WHAT IF ALL THE
THREE HOURS TO GO.
MY COMING-OUT PARTY, CONT.
OBVIOUSLY I’M NOT DEAD. I WROTE THAT LAST ENTRY YESTERDAY
SPEAK OF THE DEVIL. JEFF JUST RETURNED WITH ONE OF
I’VE BECOME EXHIBIT A AROUND HERE. THERE ARE MORE AND
NEIL STAYED AS LONG AS THEY’D LET HIM, THEN TOOK
HE DIARY WAS
HE RAN ACROSS THIS NOTEBOOK
at Walgreens last week and decided on the spot that it was time for me to start writing things down. Just so you’ll know, it’s a Mr. Woods notebook, the spiral kind, with a green cardboard cover and the little bastard himself gazing wistfully from his hole in the tree trunk. Renee took this as a major omen. That evening over dinner she made such a solemn ceremony out of giving it to me that I felt like Moses on Mount Sinai. Since then, so help me, she hasn’t stopped peeping at me sideways, watching my every move, waiting breathlessly for the muse to strike.
I probably shouldn’t start until my period is over, just to keep the pissing and moaning to a minimum, but Renee says that’s exactly the time I should be writing. Some journal expert she saw on
says all the important stuff happens while you’re feeling like a piece of shit; you just don’t realize it until later. I’ve got my doubts—serious ones—but I’m willing to risk it if you are.
At the moment, Renee is pretending to be engrossed in
America’s Most Wanted
. Though she’s all the way across the room, curled up on the sofa like some huge Himalayan kitten, I can almost feel her breath on my neck as I set pen to paper. The pres
sure is enormous, but I’ll try to muddle through, since it seems to mean so much to her.
Who knows? Maybe she’s right. Maybe there is a movie in my life. Maybe some brilliant young writer/director will discover these pages someday and see the perfect little film he or she has always wanted to make. And when that happens, who else but me could possibly play me? (After I’ve lost a few pounds, that is, and had my teeth capped.) Cadence Roth would join the ranks of Sophia Loren, Ann Jillian, Shirley MacLaine, and a handful of other actresses who’ve had the honor of portraying themselves on-screen. And due to the “special nature” of the material, the Academy would fall all over itself at Oscar time. I’d be a natural for talk shows too, and it’s not
much of a stretch to imagine a sitcom spun off from the movie.
Of course, the real reason Renee is pushing this is because she knows she’ll be part of the story. Yesterday, when we were sorting the laundry, she told me in all earnestness that Melanie Griffith would be her number one choice to play her in the movie. That’s not as farfetched as you might think, actually. Renee’s a little broader in the beam than Melanie, and her features are less delicate, but the general effect of soft, pink, babyfied sweetness is pretty much the same. (If you’re reading this, Renee, that’ll teach you to snoop.) At any rate, we’d have our pick of voluptuous blonde co-stars if we came up with the right script and director. That’s a big if, I know, but it never hurts to have a dream or two in the pipeline.
We could sure use the cash. My last job was in November, four whole months ago, a half-hour infomercial in which I played—say it ain’t so, Cady—a jar of anticellulite cream. I have yet to see this epic aired. My guess is that the FDA finally caught up with the sleazebag from Oxnard who was fronting the operation and nailed him with a cease and desist. It’s just as well. Poor Renee, the last of the true believers, glopped the stuff on her thighs for three weeks and got nothing for her troubles but a nasty rash.
Renee, I should mention, brings home a modest paycheck
from her job at The Fabric Barn, and that’s keeping us both in cornflakes at the moment. There’s no rent or even a mortgage, thank God, since I bought this house outright ten years ago with the pittance I made from
. Still, we’re feeling the pinch in this recession. While the wolf may not be at the door, he’s at least casing the neighborhood. Long gone are the days when Renee and I would treat ourselves to pedicures and pore cleansings at Hair Apparent, then tool into Hollywood for a night on the town.
Frankly, I’m beginning to feel a little trapped. Since I don’t drive, I’m fairly housebound while Renee’s at work, unless somebody else swings by on the way to God-knows-where. That’s the problem with the Valley: it isn’t near anything. I moved here when I was barely twenty, largely at the insistence of my mom, who got it into her thick Jewish skull that Studio City would be much safer than, say, West Hollywood—my personal choice. We lived here for seven years, Mom and me, right up to the day she died of a heart attack in the parking lot at Pack ’n Save.
I’d met Renee when I was shopping for mock leopardskin at The Fabric Barn. (I make all my own clothes, so I’ve haunted most of the outlets between here and West L.A.) I took to her right away, since she was the only clerk in the store who didn’t lose it completely when I walked in. She was so helpful and nice, and while she was cutting the fabric she told me a “dirty joke” that would only be dirty if you were twelve years old, maybe, and living in Salt Lake City. When I explained about the leopardskin, how Mom and me were planning to crash the premiere of
Out of Africa
, she got so excited you would’ve thought she was waiting on Meryl Streep herself.
“Gah,” she said, “that sounds so glamorous.”
I reminded her that we weren’t actually invited, that the jungle getup ploy was pretty much of a long shot.
“Still,” she said, “you’re gonna be there. You might even meet Robert Redford!”
I resisted the urge to tell her that I had already met Mr. Redford (and found him boring), back when Mom was working as
an extra on the set of
The Electric Horseman
. To be perfectly honest, I wanted Renee to like me not for who I knew but for who I was. “Actually,” I told her, “it’s more of a business-promo thing. I’m an actress myself.”
“You are? Have I seen you in anything?”
My face betrayed nothing as I moved in for the score. “Did you see
Renee’s big, soft mouth went slack with wonder. “You’re kidding! That’s my most favorite movie of all. I saw it four times when I was thirteen years old!”
I shrugged. “That was me.”
“Where? Which one?”
“C’mon.” I chuckled and bugged my eyes. “How many roles did they have for somebody my size?”
The poor baby reddened like crazy. “You mean…? Well, sure, but I thought that was…wasn’t that a mechanical thingamajig?”
“Not all the time. Sometimes it was a rubber suit.” I shrugged. “I wore the suit.”
“You swear to God?”
“Remember the scene where Mr. Woods leads the kids down to his hiding place by the creek?”
“That was me in there.”
Renee laid her scissors down and looked at me hard. “
I nodded. “Shvitzing like a pig.”
“Also,” I added, “the part at the end where they hug him goodbye.”
Her eyes, which are huge and Hershey brown, grew glassy with remembrance. She leaned against the wall for a moment, heaving a contented sigh as she folded her hands across her pillowy breasts. She reminded me somehow of a figure on a medieval tomb. “I just love that part.”
“I’m so glad,” I said, and really meant it, though I probably came off like Joan Crawford being gracious to her garbageman.
Frankly, I’ve heard this sort of thing for a long time, so my responses have begun to sound canned to me.
Renee didn’t notice, though; she was staring into the distance, lost in her own elfin reverie. “And the next day, when Jeremy finds that acorn in his lunch box. Gah, that was so
. I just sat out in the mall and cried all afternoon.” After a melancholy pause, her gaze swung back to me. “I even bought the doll. One of the life-size ones. I still have it. This is so amazing.”
“Did the eyes fall out?”
“The doll,” I explained. “People tell me the eyes fall out.”
She shook her head, looking stricken and slightly affronted, like a mother who’d just been asked if her child showed signs of malnutrition. “No,” she said. “The eyes are fine.”
“Do you totally swear you’re him?”
I held up my palm. “Totally swear.”
“This is so amazing.”
When I finally left the store, Renee was my escort, keeping pace a little awkwardly, but obviously thrilled to be seen in my company. I could feel the eyes of the other clerks on us as we threaded our way through the upright rolls of silk and satin. I knew Renee would tell them about me afterwards, and that made me gloat on her behalf. These gawking idiots would find that her friendliness had actually counted for something; that she’d had the last laugh, after all; that she wasn’t the blonde airhead they had probably figured her for.
I became a regular at The Fabric Barn. Since none of my outfits requires more than a yard of material, Renee would save odd remnants she thought I’d like: bits of rich, dark velvet or peacock satin or pink pajama flannel imprinted with flamingos. She kept these finds in a box under the counter, and we’d skulk off to the storeroom with them as soon as I arrived, chortling like buccaneers with
a fresh chest of doubloons. While I swathed myself in fabric, clowning shamelessly for my new old fan, Renee would perch on a packing crate and tell me long, convoluted stories about Ham.
Ham was the guy she lived with, a strapping, redheaded TV repairman whose likeness was captured on the baseball-sized photo button she wore on her purse. His real name was Arden Hamilton, which sounded classy, she thought, but none of his friends ever called him that. As near as I could make out, he spent most of his time on dirt bikes, but Renee was absolutely goofy over him. She fixed him box lunches every morning of the week, and—even more amazingly, I thought—didn’t care who knew it.
When Mom died I was a wreck. Not only had I lost my best friend and manager, but my dreaded Aunt Edie, Mom’s terminally uptight sister, swooped in from the desert “to take care of all the arrangements.” One of the things she’d hoped to arrange was my expeditious removal to Baker, California—the scene of my bleakest childhood memories. I would need someone to look after me, she said, and she had a perfectly nice Airstream trailer just going to waste behind her house. Why on earth didn’t I sell this run-down little cracker box and return to my hometown, where people still remembered and cared for me?
The hell of it was, I didn’t have a good answer for that. I did need someone to look after me, though God knows I never would have put it that way. Without someone to drive and manage the loftier household duties, I’d be marooned in no time amid a pile of empty Lean Cuisine boxes. What’s more, none of my friends at the time had the slightest need for a housemate. My best buddy, Jeff, the most likely candidate, was no longer single in the strictest sense of the word, having fallen in love several years earlier with a nurseryman from Silver Lake. The others were either officially married or confirmed loners or already making payments on a mortgage.
This was very much on my mind when Aunt Edie dropped me off at The Fabric Barn two days after Mom’s death. I was hardly in
the mood for shopping, of course, but I needed something dark and dignified for the funeral, since a black-sequined cocktail dress was the only thing in my wardrobe that even came close. When I told Renee what I required and why, she led me with blank-faced dignity to the storeroom, where she burst into tears, fell to her knees, and flung her arms around me. I didn’t want to rebuff her, certainly, but I had to maintain some degree of control. I knew that once I started blubbering I wouldn’t be able to stop.
“It’s OK,” I said evenly, patting her shoulder.
Renee let go of me but stayed on her knees on the cold concrete floor, swiping at her mascara-smeared cheeks with the backs of her hands. I remember thinking, even in the midst of my bridled grief, that she looked like something out of Fellini, some gorgeous bad girl at a shrine, pouring out her sins to the Holy Mother.
To be honest, I was thrown by her histrionic response. I’d shopped at The Fabric Barn less than half a dozen times, and my relationship with Renee had remained on a friendly but professional level. Now, for the first time, I wondered how she really regarded me—as a valued customer whose mother had just died or as some sort of tragic curiosity, an orphaned freak? Her fandom was one thing, I felt; her pity, quite another.
“What’ll you do?” she asked.
This came out sounding cross, so I offered her a smile to soften it, which didn’t seem to work because she looked more desolate than ever and sank back with a sigh onto her big dairymaid haunches. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I know it’s really none of my business.”
I told her as nicely as possible that I appreciated her concern.
She wiped her eyes again. “I didn’t mean to get weepy on you.”
“Did you expect it?”
She meant Mom’s death, I realized eventually, so I explained that my family has a history of heart problems.
“But I mean…you didn’t think…?”
“No. Not then.”
Renee shook her head for a moment, then said: “Is it OK if I sit down?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
She gave me a lopsided, bleary-eyed smile. “I wasn’t sure what people do.”
“People do all sorts of things.”
She laughed. “I’ll bet.”
“So,” I said, trying to get us back on track, “you think there’s something in a nice crepe de chine?”
“Oh…right.” She was looking distracted, as if her thoughts had already wandered elsewhere.
“What’s the matter?”
“It seems so stupid now.”
“Renee, talk to me.”
She gave me the most pathetic little shrug. “It’s over, that’s all.”
“Me and Ham. He says I have to go.”
When she drenched me with her tears all over again, sobbing so hard that she became incoherent, it dawned on me why she’d been so quick to participate in my mourning—and which one of us was really the orphan.
I won’t try to build the suspense here, because you already know what happened. Renee moved in a week later, three years ago next June, complete with seventeen pairs of pumps, her Christian exercise tapes, and the aforementioned Mr. Woods doll. (As I write this, the rubbery little wretch leers down at me from his niche in the stereo cabinet.) It was Renee, by the way, who insisted we room together, though I told her from the start I had serious reservations. We hardly knew each other, after all, and I felt that the stars in her eyes might have blinded her to the practical reali
ties of living with someone like me. For better or worse, I am not your standard-issue roommate. I just didn’t think she could handle it.