My pitch done, the movie producer hmms and nods his head from side to side as he sits back in the slightly bendy outdoor patio chair. The green health drink from the coffee shop behind us drips condensation onto his orange track suit as he brings it to his lips. The green rockets up the straw, taps his lips, drops again. Was that a sip? Was that even a taste?
“Giant parasite…hard sell,” says the movie producer. He smiles kindly, letting me know he knows that I’m getting his drift. I nod along, an idiot, my dull compliance and politeness exactly what I will later realize I shouldn’t be showing him. My desire to feel like a player in this game has led me to smiling at everything, spouting “Mmmhmms” like I’m some sort of subservient cricket roasting beneath the desert sun.
But the rant about how we’re all giant parasites, and how the kids love shit like this, and about how this is the feel-good story America needs right now, these all blast through my head in an instant and they all sound typical, desperate, most of all baseless, and so rather than go full Beethoven, I sit and nod like a moron. Less than a block away, my rental car is ticketed for being parked on the inner curb of a traffic circle.
The sun casts everything in an atomic yellow. The neighborhood around us looks like one of those live-in outdoor strip malls you find in the Southwest, adult dorms with miniature villages of designer stores built into their bases. The furniture outside of this coffee shop would be charming and familiar if it were sticky with ketchup and swarming with yellowjackets, but it is immaculately clean, so much that I feel the need to furtively brush at the ring of sweat my own iced coffee drink leaves behind. All of the neighborhoods in this town are either vacation home-charming or utterly dystopian; as I drove to this meeting, they seemed to change like patches in a camouflage pattern, interlocked and attempting to blur but very distinct.
The movie producer cocks his head and rests his folded hands on his neat little round belly. He is maybe 62, with all the tightness and tan of a late-in-life man who is actively fighting the influences of age, which appears to be gospel here. His track suit is open, the T-shirt under it gray. No gold chain which for some reason bothers me. I wish he wasn’t wearing sunglasses so I could see what his eyes are doing. Is he staring dreamily into the sky, trying to find me an answer? Or is he sizing me up the way the last one did, his face curled in gentle-judgment? I don’t get the same feeling from this movie producer—I felt it immediately with the last one, that Aren’t you cute? loathing that can only be expressed with wide smiles and under-the-brow eye contact—but this seems to have taken a weird turn.
“Well, but it’s a good start,” he says, and that glimmer of pathetic hope feeds me, makes me imagine that my plane ticket and rental car and hotel room shared with my look-but-don’t-touch writing partner were not just money spent in vain, that there is hope for me to make enough of a pittance to move out to this blazing city I hate and live in a neighborhood that the movie producer would never go to. The dream, of bringing coffee to people who are proud that they’re ugly on the inside, of being talked into paying more than my share for bottle service liquor I despise in a place where I can’t take a shit, of nearly getting side-swiped by a car as I walk on sidewalk-less roads to get to corner stores that don’t have the beer I like—this dream is still alive, if I play my cards right, grind down my edges, and present them with a person who meets their criteria of Genuine.
We shake hands, and I trundle back to my car, shocked by the ticket that will later seem like an omen. I get on the road and cruise back to my ramshackle motel, mentally staging a future where I can embed my head into the flesh of this city and perpetuate a time-honored disease while drinking deeply.