Flashback Friday: Christmas in Hollywood (Part One)

A fictional Christmas story from the 1980 issue of ‘High Times.’
Flashback Friday: Christmas in Hollywood (Part One)
Illustration by Steve McCoy

From December, 1980 comes the first in a two-part Christmas special written by “Johnny Bob, a Nootka Indian.” Stay tuned next Friday for Part Two of “Christmas in Hollywood.”

WARNING: The following is purely a figment of the sick imagination of a Nootka madman in the throes of terminal delirium tremens. Read it at your own risk…

It was the day before Christmas, the holy day of Christians everywhere, and widely celebrated in America. Johnny Bob, Indian author, had come to the attention of Hollywood. Johnny is the first to admit that as an author he is unfamous. Nevertheless he was still important to Hollywood because it meant that the man who had found him, Sheldon, had a real eye for talent.

Sheldon was an agent. Not a secret agent or anything, just a Hollywood agent. He had met Johnny at the airport in a big limousine and they sat together in the back of the outsize car. Outside, the lights of the city slid by in a blur. The city lights through the tinted window glass looked like something a stumbling man might see through a kaleidoscope as he fell.

Johnny stared at the shiny varnished heads of the brass screws on the stained wooden handle. The handle was set in the middle of a polished walnut panel in the middle of the limousine’s back seat.

“What would happen if I pulled that handle? Would the seat shoot out through the roof? Something like that? Or is that by chance a bar?”

“A bar?” Sheldon paused. “I don’t know. I suppose it’s a bar.” He gave Johnny a serious look. “Look, I’m taking you to a party at Jack’s house. He’s a star, remember. So even if it is a bar you probably shouldn’t drink it. There are a lot of people there I want you to meet. Do you want them to think you’ve been to a bar?”

“Maybe you’re right,” allowed Johnny, “maybe I should wait till I’m older or have marital problems…”

The Nootka Indian savagely jerked the contraption open. A rack of odd gear swarmed into view like a 3-D diorama in a popout card: mixed cocktails, a shallow pan of ice, and the end of several implements of curious design, obviously intended for use. Johnny jumped back startled.

“What the shit is this?” the Indian inquired.

Sheldon studied the rack of miniature bottles.

“Well, that’s a brown cow… there’s a daiquiri… a mai tai… a Singapore sling… oh my god, there’s a Margarita. My one weakness. What will they think of next?”

“Scotch?” said Johnny. “Never mind.”

The Indian grabbed a bitsy bottle with a brownish color and a name you could swallow.

It tasted as if it had condensed inside a raincoat. Johnny Bob accepted his concoction. Though it was the night before Christmas he decided to go with the flow. Jack was a movie star. A big Hollywood movie star. And Johnny was being taken to his place. Like the agent said, “If you’d been invited I wouldn’t have been able to bring you. You’d be a star. Do you know what I mean?” The limousine pulled to a stop in a driveway jammed with similar vehicles.

“We’ll get out here,” said Sheldon.

“It’s only a few minutes from here by sidewalk…” added Johnny.

The limo driver was instructed to wait. He evinced bitterness and displayed his disenchantment by burning rubber reversing out of the driveway.

“Punks,” said Sheldon, “punks with no respect even for radial tires. Where are values today? Ask yourself that?”

Johnny shrugged Looking toward the house he saw a scene at the front door. A young man with hair carefully combed to hide a receding hairline was shouting at the man who had opened the door.

“Do you know how long I’ve been here?” the man screamed. He threw an arm behind him gesturing at the jam of limousines in the driveway.

“It’s taken me over an hour to get from the road to the door! I’m a director of horror movies. They’ve been successful! Surely you can explain what has happened!”

The man who had opened the door shrugged.

“I guess you’re a fucking idiot…”

The irate guest leapt toward him and gestured as if to slap him on the face. Then quickly he turned.

“I don’t take that from anyone,” he screamed “Driver. Driver! We’re leaving.” Yanking open the door to his waiting car, he looked back over his shoulder. “I directed 1942 and Scabs, buddy, and if I’m an idiot, who isn’t?”

The man slammed the door of the limousine. From within he could be heard shouting to the driver. “Burn rubber! Really screech the tires! I’m leaving and I want them to know it by the pool!”

“Scumbag with a reservoir tip…” Johnny mumbled.

“Not so,” said Sheldon. “Director. Brilliant director. He’s young…”

The man with whom the “director” had quarreled lingered by the door.

“I’m a black belt,” he said to Sheldon, “who are you?”

“I’m his agent. The invitation’s in the car. Everybody knows me… who are you?”

“I’m a black belt,” said the guy at the door. He winked at Johnny. He stared hard at Sheldon.

“Have you ever heard a guy claim he was a green belt? Or a blue belt? Or a white belt? An organdy belt?”

“No…” said Sheldon.

“Did you ever wonder why?”

“No…”

“Because I killed them. That’s how I got my black belt!”

“Rick!” Sheldon shouted at someone within and pushed his way through.

Johnny followed. The man by the door grabbed Johnny’s arm.

“You’ll see me later tonight. I’ll be in a karate suit. Different, right? Look, I didn’t mean to give you a hard time. Orders are orders. I’ve got to tell everyone I’m a black belt…”

“Why?” asked Johnny.

“The usual. I work for Ryan.” Noticing Johnny’s look of incomprehension, he continued. “Oh, you’re new here? I work for Ryan O’Neal. The actor. You’ll see me later. I talk dirty in front of his girl and then he kicks the shit out of me. You know. As an example. I have to tell everyone I’m a black belt so he doesn’t get a bad rep. You know? For kicking the shit out of wimps. A couple of hours. Then you’ll see…” Johnny stared unbelieving.

“Just wait. You’ll see. I’ll start it. But he’ll finish it. Then he splits without me. Can I have a ride home with you guys, if you know what I mean? It takes hours to get a cab out here. I shouldn’t be telling you all this. Hell, you’re an Indian anyway, aren’t you?”

Johnny nodded and passed through. The phone rang. It seemed to be ringing forever. Finally Johnny saw a bald mustachioed man of medium height pick up the handset in an irritated manner. He cupped his hand over an ear and harkened. The irritation slipped from his free like mercury off a mirror. Too quickly a look of concern replaced it. He began to wave his free hand for silence. Gradually conversation came to a halt. The room was silent but for the stereo. It blared. He waved his hands again at the stereo. Someone shut it off The room was utterly silent

“Oh my god… You’re kidding… If this is some kind of sick joke we’ll wreck you in the business, Morton… It isn’t, it’s really true? How bad is it? No! Is there anything we can do? Anything at all? Send telegrams, witty telegrams, whatever? Well, what are his chances? The doctors are refusing to talk? What about Jimmy the Greek?” The man’s face went as pale as steamrolled Wonder bread. “Fifty-fifty… that’s bad. Sure, I’ll call you back. If I hear anything. On the movie? Warners says wait. We should hear by Monday. On the pilot—who knows? That studio is crazy…” Someone moved toward the stereo. “Listen, I got to go. There are people here. Sure I’ll tell them you love them… yeah… goodbye, Mort. You too.”

The room stood in silent anticipation. They looked, thought Johnny, as pointless as light bulbs, lined up and waiting for the current to hit. It did.

“It’s Herve. He’s had an accident…”

A startled mumble rolled like thunder around the room.

“Who’s Herve?” asked someone. Amidst a chorus of shhs the response could barely be heard.

“The dwarf. On Fantasy Island…”

A more cognizant mumble ran about the room.

“Why did it have to happen to someone so cute?”

“Was his accent hurt?”

“I’m truly sorry it happened, but I have to say that honestly he was a terrible actor. All he had going for him was his lack of size. That’s what I feel and I’ve said it…”

The man who had taken the phone call waved his hands for silence.

“It seems an electric carving knife malfunctioned. God knows those things should have been banned a long time ago. The police say Herve was using it to cut cocaine with, his lawyer says he was attempting to trim the family miniature toy poodle when the beast went berserk and kicked the knife into his lap. Wait! Quiet please! We don’t know what really happened. It doesn’t matter. Herve has lost his legs. Completely severed. Unless by some miracle he has an identical twin willing to donate at least one leg, he will spend the rest of his life no further from the ground than a normal person’s kneecap.”

The crowd gasped.

“I think, circumstances being what they are, that we should send him a telegram…”

“Sure!”

“What shall we say?”

“Ask Bob to think something up, or Mike, or David… they could collaborate. They all worked on Laugh-In together!”

“Great idea!”

A telegram was duly sent. It was written by some guys who used to work together on a very successful TV comedy show. It had the light touch. Yet it was sincere. So was the Laugh-In show they worked on.

Herve,

Bummer about your legs being cut off. I guess you’re the living answer to the question, “How low can you go”! Seriously though, our hopes and thoughts are with you no matter how low you sink! Even though you never hung around much with our “Hollywood” crowd, we respected your ability and had great reverence for your dignity and can think of no finer example to people of a successful actor who is very, very small. It’s no “tall tale” we’re telling when we hope you’ll be with us “shortly,” though you might be a “dwarf” among men, you are a “giant” among actors. Even if your legs have been “cut” and left on the editing room floor of life, remember that there’s a lot to be said for “short and sweet.” We always will.

Jack and all your friends.

Johnny Bob immediately sent off his own telegram.

Fuck them all.

Your pal, Johnny Bob.

After the telegram had been dispatched, the Christmas Eve party at Jack’s place resumed its course. Johnny Bob was introduced to many actors. Johnny Bob, hick, Indian and so forth, could only remember them by the names they bore on television. The roles they played.

“Is Kojak,” Johnny asked a man who acted on the well-known series, “really an asshole? Or is that a wig?”

The man who played Kojak’s assistant blinked. Suddenly the front door was kicked down. There stood two members of the LAPD, flashlights at the ready, guns in reserve.

“Don’t anybody move. You probably want to know, ‘What’s this all about, officer.’ Well, it’s police business. Cover me, Mike.”

The cops partner raised his flashlight and gestured at the room at large.

“Simple Simon says freeze…” he sneered unbecomingly.

“What’s your name,” said the first cop moving into the crowd. “What’s your name…?”

“Ryan, O’Malley, Tulley, Clanahan…”

The cop at the door spoke, his flashlight still leveled, never taking his eyes off the crowd for a minute. “Nothing but a bunch of Jews here, Pete. Let’s fuck off and get a burger.”

Officer Pete stopped in front of Johnny Bob.

“We’re lookin’ for people with Spanish accents. You wouldn’t just happen to have a Spanish accent, would you?” The cop jabbed Johnny in the stomach with the business end of his flashlight.

“No, I’m an Indian. A Nootka Indian.”

“Well, see you keep it that way.” The cop rubbed his chin. “Just a warning this time, but if I see you again tonight I will pistol-whip you. And that’s just a start.”

He turned and headed toward the door, then paused.

“You!” He gestured with his flashlight at Sheldon, Johnny’s agent. “You should know better than to get these people worked up. You got off easy this time, but we’ll be around again and if we find anyone with a Spanish accent, you’re accountable. Understand?” The cop slapped his flashlight hard into his hands and left.

The party gradually resumed.

“They’re really down on Mexicans, particularly illegal ones,” Sheldon explained to Johnny. “A lot of people have been smuggling them into America so they can be free of oppression and tyranny and secret police.”

“What’s wrong with that?” asked Johnny Bob.

“Well, in order to get them in they have to be disguised as servants.”

“So,” said JB, “the cop wasn’t looking for servants…”

“Well,” said Sheldon, “you can’t say they’re servants—you have to pretend they’re relatives or friends, otherwise the minimum wage applies, and other trouble.”

Before Johnny could fathom his agent’s meaning, a vicious fight broke out in a comer of the room. It was over almost as soon as it had begun. A man dressed in a karate uniform had made a rude remark to a young woman. Ryan O’Neal, the movie star, happened to overhear. He had just been passing by, Johnny was told, but he brooked no insult to the weaker sex. He beat the poor fellow to a stack of ground meat.

“The guy had a black belt,” confided a woman standing near Johnny.

A waiter passed with a tray of idiotic-looking chunks of something.

Johnny stared at them. The things on the tray—they looked like Zippo lighters, mauled olives, AAA batteries.

“What are those?” asked the Indian.

The girl standing by said, “You’re supposed to think they’re hors d’oeuvres and be amazed at how they look. But Jack’s a complete phony. Really they’re Zippo lighters and mauled olives and AAA batteries. Not food at all.”

“Oh.” Johnny replaced the Zippo lighter on the tray. He glanced into the waiter’s eyes. “Habla español?”

The waiter collapsed in a dead faint. A woman at the other end of the room screamed.

“It’s Manson! He killed her!”

A crowd clustered around.

“What happened? Is he crushed? If he’s not dead he’ll be embarrassed… Who invited him?”

“A waiter,” someone screamed “A waiter is unconscious! Someone get me a drink before I pass out!”

Jack, the actor, forced his way through the crowd.

“Let me through—I’m a vet,” he said jokingly. The crowd parted.

Suddenly the door burst open again.

“As you can see we’re back!” The smaller, meaner of the two cops eyed those grouped about the fallen waiter. “Interesting… I’d like to see you explain this…”

His partner gave him a dismissive glance and moved into the room.

“Sorry to bother you again, folks, but we’ve had a report that Elliot Gould, the movie actor, known as the ‘man of a couple of faces,’ was here. Normally that would be your problem. But we heard he was attempting to impersonate a Mexican. Somebody said he couldn’t get arrested and I guess he just had to prove he could.”

The collapsed waiter regained his feet and bolted for the door.

The cop grabbed him. “Hold it, buddy. If I’m not mistaken… Elliot Gould!”

“Yahh wight, opisser…” The man mumbled, his head hanging.

“What’s wrong with his voice? What’s happening? Where’s my drink?”

“Pretty obvious, isn’t it?” said the cop. “He couldn’t do a Spanish accent so he cut his tongue out. Thought he’d play dumb. Come on, Elliot, well take you home…”

“Ahh mean ah not aressing me?”

“Forget it.”

At parties where movie stars are present Johnny Bob tends to drift to comers. Well, not so much drift as get shoved, really. After a while the cocaine came out. It was passed ostentatiously on one of Jack’s old publicity photos. It was heaped to enormous heights on the photo, and when Johnny bent to try his nose one of the two men hired to pass it about said, “Don’t be piggy, Injun.”

Jack and a number of other actors clustered in the center of the room. As if they were unaware of anyone else present, they began to be themselves.

“I wish all these fucking agents and stuff would leave,” said Cliff.

“Why do they keep hanging around? It’s not as if they were friends or something,” said John. But everyone in the actor group sneered because John’s last movie had bombed.

“Everywhere I go I can feel their eyes on me, like bloodsucking vampires from the grave,” said Burt. “I keep getting the feeling that they want to talk to me—do you know what I mean?”

“Christ,” said one actor glancing scornfully about the room, “I feel like one of those guys that got blackballed during the ’30s, if you know what I mean. Why don’t they just fuck off?”

“Let’s go, Sheldon,” said Johnny.

“Wait, this is just getting interesting.”

“Look, Sheldon,” said Johnny, “I’ve seen some things in my time that would vaporize the minds of lesser men. But I do not understand this at all. Who the hell are those cops? What was that shit about Elliot Gould not being able to get arrested? What is all this? Furthermore, all these actors seem to hate us and I think we should split because honestly I think the reason they hate us is they somehow found out what I think of actors…”

“Wait a minute… I forgot… you don’t understand… this is Hollywood. These are actors, right?”

Johnny nodded.

“It’s all theater, Johnny. The cops, the Elliot Gould, the whole shmear. It’s an act. It’s satire. It’s supposed to be funny. Topical jokes, you know…”

Johnny blinked. “You mean all that stuff about the dwarf, that was a put-on? And the telegram they sent? Everything? All this stuff with the actors in the center of the room talking about how much they wish we would leave? All of it’s a fancy gag?”

“It’s just an act, Johnny, it’s called being on. All these people are actors and even when they’re not working they’re always ‘on.’ Understand?”

“Amazing,” said Johnny. “Do they think all this stuff up themselves?…”

Sheldon shot Johnny a glance of impatient pity. “Of course not. What do you think writers are for. See those guys over there?” He pointed to a group of men and a large horsey-boned woman clotted intensely about a round table. “They’re the writers. They make this whole party happen. All the scenes—everything. Most of the dialogue. Some of it is improvised, naturally. A good actor can improvise when he has to. Come on, I’ll introduce you. Maybe they’ll write you in. Maybe you have some ideas yourself…”

Johnny followed Sheldon, sputtering in disbelief. The writer invited Johnny to sit down.

“ We’ve got a bit of a problem,” said one. “You see, Jack is supposed to take Jill, the blonde going with Randy, out for a walk by the pool. Randy is supposed to follow and discover them making love in the pump room and then drink too much, rage about women, and drive off furiously in his car.”

Another broke in. “Everyone is supposed to get really worried about him and the party breaks up. A darker moment, we call it.”

“Jack feels guilty and concerned,” continued the large-boned woman. “He drives off to look for Randy. The few left at the house wait anxiously. Randy’s girlfriend is crying and blaming herself. That’s where we are stuck.”

All the writers begin to talk at once.

“I say a freak hurricane tears Randy out of his car and drives him through a tree like a straw. The police think Jack did it but find out he’s innocent when a deaf and dumb witness regains the power of speech.”

“I think they should have a car chase. The winner gets the girl. They jump over bridges, go through red lights. The race ends in a tie. They decide to drive both cars into a solid rock face at the same time. The one who survives will get Jill. They begin their run straight at the wall! At the last moment Jack realizes Randy is really going to drive straight into the wall because he loves the girl; Jack swerves and knocks Randy’s car aside. His car cushions Randy’s impact with the wall and Randy is saved. Jack dies. Randy marries the girl, but their life is hollow.”

“No! No! We want comedy” said the big-boned woman. “Jack goes out to look for Randy. He searches for days and eventually discovers that Randy has run off to join the American Legion. Randy says he would have joined the French Foreign Legion except that he was an American patriate. Jack gets Randy to dress up as a Negro and pretend he’s Jewish to get him out of the legion. Randy drinks Campari instead of beer, smokes pot, talks about Communism, and pretends to be bisexual. His whole legion post think he’s adorable and they all become Commie bisexuals. Finally, at the Shriner’s Day parade, the whole legion post is thrown out of the legion, and Jack breathes a sigh of relief!”

“What do you think?” They all looked at Johnny expectantly.

“I don’t know,” said Johnny. “It all sounds… weird. Of course, I only write stories. Stories about things that have happened to me. Not party scripts or whatever this is…”

“This isn’t a party script,” said the big-boned woman writer. She flung her huge forearms like a dismissive mantis. “This is a TV movie for Jack. It’s supposed to be based on his life. We’ve got it partially worked out. We’re just trying some of it out tonight. At the party. Acting parts of it to see how it meshes with reality. I think the dwarf bit is out. It came off too weird. But the Ryan O’Neal fight with the hired villain went home. For me.”

“Absolutely.”

“Absolutely.”

“Absolutely.”

“I don’t know what gave you the idea we’re writing this party.” She drew her arms close to her chest and waggled her hands like an agitated kangaroo. “We’re using this party as a forum. A proving ground, a sounding board. We find out what the ratings are before we even sit down to write.”

“We can see if life will fit in with our ideas,” said another writer.

“Comedy, tragedy, all the human emotions, life is our stage…”

“It’s here, it’s free, we work with it…”

A smallish writer wearing a T-shirt on which was printed a bare, nearly hairless chest, looked up from the sheet upon which he had been intensely scribbling.

“I think I’ve got something! Let’s try this out! If it works it works! If it doesn’t we’ll keep trying…”

He rushed over with the sheet of paper to where the actors were standing in the center of the room. He began to talk animatedly to Jack, gesturing wildly about the room as he set the scene for his skit. Dubious at first, Jack and the other actors gradually became more enthusiastic They ended by bobbing their heads in excited comprehension and split up.

The actors involved stood in their various positions about the party, some practicing slight grimaces or shrugs they intended to employ in their performances. The party continued to swirl and mill about the bar, the table of hors d’oeuvres, the drugs, the men in a position to employ, and a sexy videotape screened on the TV. In short, they swarmed like an anthill run over by a dirt bike, clustering and grabbing at anything that could be carried away in the stomach or the bloodstream or the brain. They elbowed and shoved for gossip from the lips of those who had it, they slandered and backbit for preeminence in the eyes of baby moguls, fetal moguls, or even unfertilized zygote moguls who might one day run motion-picture studios.

If the people at the party were aware that the actors and writers were about to test another scene, Johnny could not see the evidence. Nasty, aging men who looked like their tans were dyed on with RIT coyly hunched and snuggled up to awestruck blondes trembling behind false fronts. Hideous old carnivores reeking of out-of-date aftershaves and pulling back their lips to smile the smile that rattled loose and false in their striving mouths. Running con, no longer artists, that skill gone as long ago as their natural teeth. The girls there willing to believe in the future forecast by these sock-breathed fools, willing to believe that the skeletal embraces they endured and joked about would lead to stardom and joy because of the very myths the withered producers put about in the vain and venal TV motion pictures they produced. Motion pictures purporting to condemn Hollywood as a callous jungle burg, but showing corn silk-haired twits from the lush center of America the facts of life. A girl fucks an old producer. Rough but she gets a break that way and finally her talent is recognized and she never has to screw a single solitary soul again, so great is her ability. Of course, if she wants to she can have her pick. Children, too, if it comes to that. Face it, says the girl, that’s the way it is. If you don’t believe me, check out a TV movie.

The actors held their places. Occasionally they closed their eyes or their lips, and faces moved in silent rehearsal. The author of the scene returned to the table and began to speak quickly and softly to the large-boned woman. She nodded quickly or looked quizzical, turning her head sideways to ask an inaudible question.

The party continued. Young, earnest men, on the way up, left the women to the old producers. Young men carefully dressed to be individuals striving to make their every statement or silence or laugh as memorable as possible. They hoped to impress the studio heads with their originality. Constantly, therefore, they could be heard laughing where there was no humor or burst into tears at a moment inexplicable to anyone else. After such an outburst the young men would excuse themselves and burden anyone foolish enough not to feign an ungovernable desire to piss with a delicately turned anecdote of explanation.

Johnny knows this may be hard to understand. Here is an example of this behavior:

PRODUCER: So then Bob said to Billy, “Hell, if you don’t want to play golf let’s just take the dune buggies out and ram some cactus on the Injun reserve!”

YOUNG MAN: (Burst into tears. Brushes off questions. Composes self.) I’m sorry. I know it isn’t fair to burden you. But something in what you just said was so insightful it struck me really deep. Sorry. Sorry. It won’t happen again.

PRODUCER: (Intrigued) Something I said? What?

WRITER: Partly what you said. More the way you said it. You told a comic story in a tragic voice. I heard a record when I was a boy. An old man named Bojangles was talking. A great man who told funny stories in the same kind of voice. They were funny and courageous and true… and, well, I thought I heard that voice again just now… (Manfully) Shit, I guess I’ve had too much to drink…”

More often than not is all Johnny could say when asked to describe how often such scenes occurred at Jack’s house that night.

Other young men took less emotional tacks. Some spoke solid horse sense, talking business like rock-nosed pragmatists.

“Art has its place. It also has its budget and its deadlines. Goddamn it, if it doesn’t meet those it’s not art—it’s self-indulgence. You think Fellini doesn’t know that? Fucking right he knows that. Shit, Michelangelo knew that. When he had a ceiling due he did it on time or he bloody well paid the price. All the other stuff is horseshit. I could bring most of these pictures that cost twelve million today in on half the money. Shoot in Mexico, use recycled film, shoot the actors from the neck down so you can use stand-ins, get a director who’s a junkie and write him a dud check, let the actors wear street clothes, get the sound track off Chinese 78’s, use orphans for stunt men, steal the props from hotels…”

This often works, too. Other young men try something like this… unfortunately it never works.

“Fucking Coppola. Scummy little prima donna. So maybe you think he’s a genius. Well, let me tell you something. I wrote that movie. The whole thing. I took it to him. He ripped me off. It’s as simple as that. I tell you, my next film I want money for… Jesus!”

The older men, the prosperous-looking recipients of these desperate attentions, hold strategic positions about the room. The rising stars in the center of the room stroke their graying temples and glance omnivorously about. The falling stars stand discreetly spaced closer to the exits, radiating their few remaining watts of power ready to buttonhole a departing rising star—to exchange a few meaningless words of farewell in the easy manner of equals. The superstars who are neither rising nor falling are forces in the industry but are bursting with a glorious novalike blaze with success behind them, and in preproduction, and being currently edited, these fortunate few whose very handshake might turn a man to gold, sit cross-legged on the floor.

They are not above chairs. They are not beneath chairs. They do not even notice chairs. They do not notice the young men. They do not notice them young hustlers, most of all. They do not notice the actors and actresses, second least of all. Writers they notice third least of all. They barely notice falling stars, collapsing forces as they are, and you have to look very, very closely to see them notice rising stars. Yet if you watch closely when a rising star moves or speaks loudly, there is a barely perceptible reaction. Often no more than the slight shiver of a reptile upon a rock when a passing bird’s shadow blocks off the sun.

These things perhaps only an Indian like Johnny Bob can see. It was Johnny Bob who has been trying to suggest an unpleasant party. A joyless gathering of immoral parasites, the spiritual equivalent of a pirate’s gang-fuck in an Indonesian drunk tank.

The only people Johnny has left undescribed at the party were the losers. Those hors de combat mumblers who blamed the system, or human greed, or microwave ovens for their failure.

“I worked for the old Smothers Brothers show,” slurred one drunken wreck clutching Johnny’s shoulder. “Remember? Of course. Everyone. Remembers. But they’ve all forgotten. I was knocking Nixon when he was still vice-president. Hitting him where it counted. In the minds of the viewers of TV. And we had ratings. But did that stop them from killing the show? Not when the Rockefellers worked out the deal with the Cuban pig Battista in exchange for the mob’s baccarat system it didn’t. Pffft! We were gone. One word to the Trilateral Commission and the network caved in like a jelly donut grabbed by a gorilla. Do you know what I do now? I repair TVs. After what TV did to me. I repair TVs. Can you believe that? That’s not enough for them either. They still got me under surveillance from one of these new high-altitude blimps full of gas with almost no molecules. Those things are so far up they’re out of sight to telescopes you can buy in a store. You ever wonder why they don’t let you watch up in Mt. Palomar? Not only that, they bugged my teeth and the dentist wouldn’t take them out so I had to use pliers…”

So it went. It seemed to Johnny, a humble Nootka Indian, willing at all times to believe the best of his fellows, that there was not a single decent person in the room, bar the maids, and maybe a few of the writers. But they were crazy.

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